February 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 PM


Carter Page Touted Kremlin Contacts in 2013 Letter (MASSIMO CALABRESI and ALANA ABRAMSON, 2/03/18, time)

Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page bragged that he was an adviser to the Kremlin in a letter obtained by TIME that raises new questions about the extent of Page's contacts with the Russian government over the years.

The letter, dated Aug. 25, 2013, was sent by Page to an academic press during a dispute over edits to an unpublished manuscript he had submitted for publication, according to an editor who worked with Page.

"Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda," the letter reads.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Kashyap Patel, Main Author of Secret Memo, Is No Stranger to Quarrels (KATIE ROGERS and MATTHEW ROSENBERG, FEB. 2, 2018, Washington Post)

As a lawyer in Florida, Mr. Patel, 37, entered and then dropped out of a charity bachelor auction featuring some colleagues after a blogger pointed out that his license to practice in the state appeared out of date. In 2016, as a counterterrorism prosecutor for the Justice Department, he was berated by a federal judge who then issued an "Order on Ineptitude" directed at the entire agency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


AN ARCTIC SPY MYSTERY : An arrest in Moscow shakes Norway's far north (Anton Troianovski, FEBRUARY 3, 2018, Washington Post)

Frode Berg volunteered in a soup kitchen in rural Russia. He helped organize an annual cross-border festival and ski race. His congregation supported a new church in a Russian town just over the boundary line that divides East from West.

Then the Russians arrested him and accused him of being a spy.

That an espionage mystery is unfolding here on the Arctic frontier confounds residents who didn't expect to be swept up in the confrontation between Russia and the West. On the snowbound shore of an icy fjord, a three-decade experiment in building cross-border ties independent of geopolitics now hangs in the balance.

Accusations that a retired border inspector was spying have jolted Kirkenes, Norway.
No one in this Barents Sea port town, a 15-minute drive from the Russian border, seems to know why the police arrested Berg, a 62-year-old retired border inspector, near Moscow's Red Square in December. His lawyers say Berg stands accused of mailing envelopes with cash and spy instructions addressed to a Moscow woman named Natalia and now faces a virtually certain espionage conviction.

"I can guarantee you that he is not a spy," said Kirkenes Mayor Rune Rafaelsen. "What I'm wondering is, has someone used him?"

The case has received scant international attention, in part because the Norwegian government has resisted the entreaties of Berg's friends to bring more public pressure to bear on the Kremlin. But it has jolted Kirkenes, where residents say that Berg personified this remote region's efforts to foster bonds even after geopolitical tensions spiked in recent years.

Did Russian spies set up Berg to provoke an international incident with Norway, a front-line member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?

Did Norwegian intelligence use Berg as an unwitting courier in an operation gone wrong? Or -- in a scenario that Berg's friends categorically rule out -- did he truly lead some kind of double life?

Which is must see tv.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Syria rebels shoot down Russian jet, kill pilot - monitor (deutsche-Welle, 2/03/18)

Syrian opposition fighters downed a Russian warplane near the town of Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

[I]t later emerged that the Russian pilot had been killed by rebel fighters after he resisted capture by opening fire with his pistol. "The pilot was killed as he fought Islamist rebels who had shot down his plane and were taking him captive," Rahman said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Christ Vs. The Crowd: An Interview With Professor Jordan Peterson (David Gornoski,  01/30/2018, Daily Caller)

Today, we see clearly that the ancient world's antidote to chaos -- collective violence against an innocent person (or at least, no more guilty than anyone else for social tensions) -- is nothing more than crowd madness and scapegoating. We are able to see this because of the lens the Bible provides us after two millennia of its narrative and ethic clarifying our perspective.

In the Gospels, as René Girard helps us see, we have the inauguration of a personhood revolution in which every human being is made to be a sacred temple deserving of love and respect. In the Gospel accounts of his passion, Jesus wrestles the camera of mythic history away from the persecuting collective always searching for a scapegoat and undresses the crowd of all its power. It is not the gods or, in our modern case, ideology, that demands coercion and violence but petty, crowd-possessed people blinded by fear and envy.

It is in that vein that Peterson's "12 Rules for Life" strikes such a powerful chord in our cultural moment. Each of the 12 axioms center on self-sacrifice rather than sacrifice of someone else -- a radical new antidote for chaos much more dangerous and powerful than the old antidote of violent sacrifice that shaped our ancestral roots.

Peterson's defiance of victim-garbed collective aggression is in service to Jesus's personhood revolution: the simple notion that instead of sacrificing your neighbors and blaming them for the chaos you feel, it is better to sacrifice your own pride, clean your own room and resist the urge to reciprocate aggression and insult to those who seek to harm you. In short, it is better that we stop unconsciously imitating Caiaphas because the old pharmakos prescription is past its expiration. We no longer need to cling to our collective group identities (race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) to shape laws as a tool of vengeance against those we fear and hate. We can instead crucify the monster inside us.

What made the West great was this simple truth. God desires mercy, not sacrifice. That the individual human being is sacred in body, mind, speech and, by extension, the fruits of his or her labor. That no ideology or witch hunt can repeal the beauty and dignity of the individual, no matter who they are.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


STRATEGIC REALIGNMENT: The Indo-Pacific Moment (APARNA PANDE, 2/03/18, American Interest)

India's growing economic and security relationships and interest in the Indo-Pacific region are aligned with its deepening partnership with the United States. Two years after signing the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision of 2015, India is a member of the Quad (a strategic grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia) and there is talk about making the grouping something more than an annual talk shop.

India, the United States, and Japan already participate in the annual Malabar naval exercises, and Australia may soon join them. While the symbolism of annual joint military exercises under Malabar should not be underestimated, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has rightly noted, the Quad should in addition include technology sharing, military training and strategic planning, while helping to build military-to-military institutional relationships between India and the United States. This is something Washington shares with its close allies in both Europe and Asia, but which is still being built with India.

Yet the two countries have undeniably made great strides already. From being "estranged" democracies during the Cold War, India and the United States today share, in the words of Secretary Tillerson, a "growing strategic convergence." From having almost no military relations during the Cold War, India is today a Major Defense Partner of the United States. From $20 billion in bilateral trade in the year 2000, today the two countries' trade flows stand at $115 billion.

Ever since 1947, Indian leaders have sought recognition for India, based on their belief in its civilizational greatness and the role it is destined to play on the global stage. For most of that time, American leaders have not shared that vision, or even understood what India wanted, given the preoccupations of the Cold War, priorities in other regions of the world, and Washington's convoluted relationship with Pakistan.

Today, however, the United States views India as a potential regional security provider and seeks to build India's security capacity through commercial and defense cooperation between the two militaries.

When it looks at the Indo-Pacific, Washington sees India and the United States as the two "bookends of stability," in Tillerson's words, two "natural allies" who share a commitment to "upholding the rule of law, freedom of navigation, universal values, and free trade." The recent National Security Strategy for 2017 also spoke of America seeking to support India's "leadership role" in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Best American President India's Ever Had (Ashok Malik, 11/03/09, Forbes)

The prime minister had Bush over for lunch, also inviting the parliamentary leader of the opposition BJP as well as his Foreign Ministry team. At the Leadership Summit dinner, Bush shared the high table with Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party and India's most powerful individual politician. It was a thanksgiving moment--a gesture to the man widely seen as the best American president India has ever had.

The emblem of India's fascination with Bush is, of course, the game-changing civil nuclear cooperation agreement that he pushed through between 2005 and 2008. He put his weight behind persuading Capitol Hill, the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency to, in Singh's words, "end India's nuclear apartheid," learn to live with its nuclear weapons and permit it civilian nuclear commerce.

Yet, in a country where he consistently had high--70% and more--opinion ratings almost through his eight years in the White House, Bush's reputation is more than the sum of his gifts. India's ambitious and recognition-hungry middle classes and its business and foreign elites have found themselves completely in tune with his instincts.

In his speech in New Delhi, Bush seemed to see India exactly as Indians imagine it to be: "A vibrant, modern nation built on an ancient civilization"; "a force for stability and peace in one of the most strategically important regions in the world."

On both protectionism and Afghanistan, he echoed Indian sentiment. He thought the recovery from the recession wouldn't be easy but warned against import tariffs--which so worry Indian IT service providers that have clients in the United States--and said his instincts were still with free trade.

On the war against terrorism--which has consumed the Bush legacy--he was categorical that it was an "ideological struggle," made no distinction between Al-Qaida and the Taliban, hoped the "free world" would not "lose its nerve" and warned "I don't think you can negotiate with extremists." In India's dreams, this is the AfPak briefing note Barack Obama will read.

As more than one person in his audience observed, Bush was different from American/Western visitors who either talked down to Indians, sometimes inadvertently, or sought to clumsily second guess them. Bush did neither.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Amid stock market selloff, U.S. profit forecasts rise (Caroline Valetkevitch, 2/02/18, Reuters) 

Forecasts for earnings, one of the fundamental factors that drives stock prices, are rising fast as analysts factor in benefits from the U.S. tax overhaul.

Optimism over forecasts has caught the attention of anxious investors, who hope that strong earnings can support lofty stock valuations and offset the concerns over rising bond yields and the pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Rising interest rates in general mean higher borrowing costs for companies.

This week, fears of higher rates overwhelmed the upbeat profit picture as the benchmark S&P 500 stock index .SPX fell 3.9 percent and raised some concern about a deeper pullback.

"This uptick in bond rates has everybody nervous obviously," said Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas.

"But we step back and look, and so far earnings have been awful good. Even though you have seen rates move up some here, they are still very low, inflation is still low," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Connecticut paper claps back at Rhode Island paper's dis (AP, 2/02/18)

The biggest newspapers in Connecticut and Rhode Island are feuding over which state is worse.

The Hartford Courant in Connecticut wrote a scathing editorial after The Providence Journal in Rhode Island published an editorial calling its New England neighbor struggling, and blasting its business climate as enormously difficult.

Of course, they're inferior to New England, but that's too high a bar.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Carter Page, Ex-Trump Aide Once Shunned by Right, Is Back at the Center of the Russia Case (ALI WATKINS, FEB. 2, 2018, NY Times)

In 2013, Mr. Page struck up a professional friendship with the operative, Victor Podobny, who was working undercover in New York City. Mr. Page -- who at the time did not have any role in American government -- gave documents to Mr. Podobny about the energy sector.

Mr. Podobny was picked up by the authorities on a tapped phone calling Mr. Page an "idiot" to his Russian intelligence colleagues. He was charged by the Justice Department and spirited back to Moscow before he could be arrested. Mr. Page was questioned by law enforcement officials about his contacts but never charged in the case.

Mr. Page has openly acknowledged he is the unnamed male referred to in federal court documents about Mr. Podobny.

A dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative hired to investigate Mr. Trump's links to Russia, claimed that Mr. Page maintained deep ties to the Kremlin, including with officials sanctioned by the United States.

Mr. Nunes's memo claims that the dossier, whose research was funded in part by Democrats, was improperly used to justify surveilling Mr. Page after he had cut ties with Mr. Trump. But the memo left out that the research was initially funded by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website.

Mr. Page's mannerisms amid the unfolding Russia investigations have emerged as a sort of Washington sideshow. Despite being under scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators as a possible agent of Russia, Mr. Page has waged a near-constant public affairs campaign, appearing on TV news shows and engaging with reporters, sometimes with obscure GIFs or movie clips.

For months, Mr. Page showed up regularly, uninvited and unannounced, at the secure offices of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, where he dropped off documents he had compiled himself. One was his own dossier in which he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime by the Hillary Clinton campaign because he was a Catholic and a man.

...that last line shows anybody can do it with these laughingstocks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM

PARTICULARLY WHEN THEIR FATHER...(self-reference alert):

Technology Adds to Bedtime Distractions (Kelly Burch, 2/02/18, Valley Parents)

When it comes to the many battles between teenagers and their parents, sleep is often at the top of the list, especially with teens constantly plugged in to technology. Parents get frustrated when they wake in the middle of the night and see the tell-tale glow emanating from their child's room long after lights-out. Teens become irritated when they're told to go to sleep when they're still feeling wide awake, or to hand over devices that are their lifelines to their social circles. Yet everyone is cranky when mornings devolve as tired teens who were up too late scrolling struggle to get out the door on time.

"Being sleep deprived has negative consequences in terms of mood and school performance, driving safety," said Dr. Brooke Judd, the section chief of sleep medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. [...]

The addition of technology -- particularly smartphones and tablets -- has made an already fraught situation even more difficult, adding a behavioral aspect to the physiological reasons teens are going to bed late.

"They might be tired, but become very involved in using their devices, phones or the internet," Judd said. "Then they're more voluntarily delaying their sleep."

Whether it's stress from interpersonal relationships or worry about the news alerts that they see online, technology use can ramp teens up at a time when they should be unwinding.

"Anybody who is getting more emotionally activated, (will find) it harder to get to sleep in general," Judd said.

Another important issue is the fact that the light from screens and tablets can activate the brain, delaying production of melatonin, a hormone that helps facilitate sleep. Although people have spent time unwinding in front of screens for generations, the blue light given off by LED devices suppresses melatonin more than any other type of light. The effect is even stronger when the light source is held close to your eyes, as phones and tablets often are, Judd said.

Although Americans -- and teens in particular -- are loathe to put down their devices, Judd said doing so is essential for establishing healthy sleep habits.

"We say try to eliminate screen use in terms of tablets, phones and other devices that are close to your eyes after 9 p.m.," she said. "That is partially to minimize the effect that that light has on altering the circadian rhythms, but also to provide some wind-down time away from the devices."

Judd, who has raised three teenagers, does not allow her kids to use devices in their beds.

"I feel very strongly about enforcing that it's important to get enough sleep, which is really difficult with (modern) lifestyles," she said.

Rather than enforcing a specific bedtime -- which might be met with resistance -- Judd recommends that parents keep an open dialogue with their teens about the importance of healthy sleep habits.

"A teenager naturally wants to have more control over these personal decisions, and truly may not be sleepy at (the) same time as their parents," she said. "You can't force someone to fall asleep, so instead of enforcing bedtime, promote the habits that will help them be able to get enough sleep."

...sleeps 8:30 to 4:30....

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Schools Consider Later Start Times  (VALLEY PARENTS, 2/02/18)

There is one especially compelling reason to give later start times a second look: They have been shown to reduce the number of car accidents involving young drivers.

In 2015, the National Highway Safety Administration commissioned a study to examine the connection between car accidents and early start times. The research showed that when high school start times in one county in North Carolina were moved from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. there was a 14 percent decrease in accidents involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers over the course of the day.

Dr. Brooke Judd, the section chief of sleep medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said that the issue of early high school start times and their effect on sleep is especially important in a rural area like the Upper Valley, where many high schoolers commute long distances to school.

"It can be really challenging for kids coming from far away for early school start times," she said. "It can become very easy to get very sleep deprived."

With an estimated 16.5 percent of fatal accidents involving drowsy drivers, having later school start times could very well save a life.

"I don't think adults understand that there is this natural shift to fall asleep later, and this may require some adjustments on the other end," Judd said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Why did a congressman give a Holocaust denier a ticket to the SotU? : Chuck Johnson, who was given pass to speech by Matt Gaetz, has been banned from numerous platforms for online harassment of others (JTA, 2/03/18)

Gaetz, speaking on the Fox Business Network, also denied that Johnson had denied the Holocaust.

"Some of the claims against Mr. Johnson are not accurate," he said in an interview captured by Mediaite. "He's not a Holocaust denier, he's not a white supremacist. Those are unfortunate characterizations of him, but I did not know he was as perhaps as infamous and controversial as he was when he came by to my office. ... He was a polite and just entirely appropriate guest I thought."

Johnson denied the Holocaust in an "Ask Reddit" session from January 2017. (The sub-Reddit that hosted the session, "altright," has since been banned by Reddit because its members practiced "doxxing," publishing personal information about enemies -- a practice that Johnson has indulged and which contributed to his notoriety. The exchange has been captured elsewhere, including here at the Little Green Footballs blog.) He also praised Holocaust deniers like David Irving and David Cole.

Asked about the "Jewish Question" and the Holocaust, Johnson replied, "I do not and never have believed the 6 million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a war crime. I agree with David Cole about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real. I read the German War (highly recommend), Bloodlands, Mein Kampf, and all of David Irving." He added: "But I support Israel as a Jewish state and Zionism as a concept. I'm pro-ethno state, generally."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Romney Is Already Being Considered for a Republican Leadership Position (ELAINA PLOTT AND MCKAY COPPINS  FEB 2, 2018, The Atlantic)

Mitt Romney hasn't even officially announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, yet Republican leadership is already seeing stars.

According to a Republican donor with direct knowledge, Senate GOP leaders have expressed an early interest in having Romney succeed Colorado Senator Cory Gardner as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The role involves leading the Senate GOP's fundraising arm and helping recruit and vet prospective GOP candidates for the upper chamber. A Republican source close to Romney confirmed that the idea of the Utah Republican taking over the NRSC has generated chatter in recent weeks.

On Thursday afternoon, Gardner placed a call to a GOP donor, and said that he and Senate leadership "liked Romney" for the NRSC post. "It made perfect sense to me," said the source, who requested anonymity to share details of the private conversation. "He's got the stature and a virtually unmatched fundraising base to draw upon. And he's running because he wants a national platform to help the party anyway."

The key will be to jettison the Donald-Lite primary-version of Mitt and run as the Governor.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Thoughts on the Nunes Memo: We Need to Talk About Devin (Quinta Jurecic, Shannon Togawa Mercer, Benjamin Wittes, February 2, 2018, Lawfare)

[L]et's briefly put aside the reality that the memo is probably neither a complete nor a fair account of the FBI's handling of the Page matter. For a moment, let's assume that every fact in the memo is true and that the memo contains all relevant facts on the matter--in other words, that it is entirely accurate and not selective. What would that mean?

As the document tells the story, on Oct. 21, 2016, the Justice Department and FBI successfully applied for a FISA warrant against Carter Page from the FISA court. Presumably, though the memo does not state this explicitly, it did so under Title I of FISA, as Page is a U.S. citizen and the warrant seems to have been an individualized one directed at him. The initial warrant was renewed three times, once every 90 days, each time requiring renewed showing of probable cause that Page was acting as the agent of a foreign power.

FISA warrants must be approved by both the FBI and the Justice Department. On behalf of the FBI, then-Director James Comey signed three warrants and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein eached signed at least one warrant on behalf of the Justice Department. (Based on the 90-day clock, the renewals took place in January, April and July of 2017. Given who was in office at the relevant times, it seems likely that Comey and Yates signed off on the initial warrant in October 2016; that Comey and Yates signed off on the first renewal in January 2017; that Comey and Boente signed off on the second renewal in April 2017; and that McCabe and Rosenstein signed off on the third renewal in July 2017. Note that by the time of second and third renewals, and perhaps even by the time of the first renewal, the dossier--which Buzzfeed published on Jan. 10, 2017--was a matter of intense public controversy. What's more, incoming President Trump had been briefed on the dossier on Jan. 6, 2017, by FBI Director Comey. So to the extent that the FBI relied on Steele material in the renewals, it did so knowing it was invoking material that was already publicly controversial.

Individual complaints listed in the Nunes memo include:

The memo reports that the Steele dossier was an "essential" part of at least the initial FISA application. Although the initial FISA application does include the fact that Steele was working for a "named U.S. person," the memo claims that neither the initial application nor any of the applications for renewal mentioned his connections to the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, which were indirectly funding his efforts through the law firm Perkins Coie. That law firm had hired the firm Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump, and Fusion GPS then retained Steele.

The memo also asserts that the FBI "authorized payment" to Steele for his information on the Trump campaign. This fact was also not included in any of the FISA applications.

The memo also claims that the initial FISA application "cite[s] extensively" a Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff on Carter Page's July 2017 trip to Moscow but "inaccurately assesses" that Steele did not provide information on his work to Isikoff. Also on the subject of Steele's media contacts, the memo states that the FBI cut ties with Steele after discovering that he had discussed his relationship with the FBI with journalist David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones.

According to the memo, Steele maintained contact with then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr before and after he was terminated as a source. The FBI reportedly failed to include in the FISA warrant renewals that Steele had told Ohr that he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president." Furthermore, Ohr's wife was an employee of Fusion GPS, cultivating opposition research on the Trump campaign. The memo reports that Ohr's relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was not disclosed to the FISC.

The memo quotes FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap, head of the bureau's counterintelligence division, as saying that the Steele dossier was in its "infancy" when the first FISA warrant application was submitted. A later source validation report conducted by the FBI assessed Steele's report as "minimally corroborated." In January 2017, Comey briefed President-Elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier even though it was "salacious and unverified." The memo asserts that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified before the House intelligence committee that no surveillance warrant from the FISA court would have been sought without the Steele dossier information.

The FISA warrant application reportedly mentions George Papadopoulos, and the memo says that while there was no established "cooperation or conspiracy" between Carter Page and Papadopoulos, the Papadopoulos intelligence triggered the FBI counterintelligence investigation run by Peter Strozk. Strzok was then reassigned by the special counsel's office for text messages exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page; text messages that demonstrate extensive discussions about the Mueller investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media and discussing a meeting with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to discuss an "insurance" policy against Trump's election.

To all of which, a reasonable person must ask: Huh? Indeed, if the above makes for difficult reading from which no particularly strong, let alone scandalous, narrative thread emerges, that's because the points recounted (assuming they are true) don't make out a coherent complaint.

To the extent that the complaint is that Page's civil liberties have been violated, the outraged are crying crocodile tears. For one thing, it is not at all clear that Page's civil liberties were, in fact, violated by the surveillance; the memo does not even purport to argue that the Justice Department lacked probable cause to support its warrant application. It does not suggest that Page was not, after all, an agent of a foreign power. What's more, the only clear violation of Page's civil liberties apparent here lies in the disclosure of the memo itself, which named him formally as a surveillance target and announced to the world at large that probable cause had been found to support his surveillance no fewer than four times by the court. Violating Page's civil liberties is a particularly strange way to complain about conduct that probably did not violate his civil liberties.

To the extent the complaint is that the FBI relied on a biased source in Steele, the FBI relies every day on information from far more dubious characters than former intelligence officers working for political parties. The FBI gets information from narco-traffickers, mobsters and terrorists. Surely it's not scandalous for it to get information from a Democrat--much less from a former British intelligence officer working for Democrats, even if he expresses dislike of a presidential candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Twin States' Destiny Is Demographics (Valley News, February 02, 2018)

A study commission convened a couple of years ago noted in its final report that between 1960 and 1990, the state prospered from net in-migration as people "voted with their feet" to live in the Granite State. The average annual population increase was 16,744 people in those years, 78 percent of whom came from somewhere else, mainly Massachusetts. After that, in-migration slowed considerably and young people continued to leave, with alarming implications as the baby boom generation hit retirement age. "If this demographic trajectory proceeds unchecked," the report warned, "it will mean decades of constrained economic growth, significant shifts in the composition of the demand for public services and private sector goods and services, and a public sector facing fiscal challenges."

Interestingly, in-migration to New Hampshire rebounded sharply between July 2016 and July 2017, with 4,700 more people moving in than leaving. But it is considered unlikely to will rebound to 20th-century levels on its own.

Of course, attracting people, especially young people, to Vermont and New Hampshire will require more than simply better telling what the states have to offer (which is considerable in terms of jobs and quality of life). And it's important to remember that New England's cold climate will inevitably limit the appeal among people accustomed to milder weather. But Scott is on to something when he pinpoints lack of affordability as a barrier to attracting newcomers, repatriating former Vermonters and keeping young people at home.

Lack of affordable housing and a housing mix that does not match well with developing demographic trends is just one obstacle in both states. The vexing nature of the demographic problem is well illustrated by the education situation in Vermont, where the combination of declining student enrollment and rising costs has produced considerable pressure to consolidate services and cut costs. But little is more important to young families who are thinking of moving than the quality of the schools where they might be going. At the same time, education taxes have a real impact on affordability, so there is a needle to be threaded here to refill the state's classrooms.

...is that across the developed world, immigrants will be able to write their own tickets in a few years, because we need them more than they need us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Gov. Unveils Income Tax Reforms (Elizabeth Gribkoff, 2/02/18, VtDigger)

The Tax Department announced a plan on Friday to reduce the state tax burden on Vermonters who will be adversely impacted by a change in the federal tax law.

The plan would return an estimated $30 million in tax revenue to Vermont residents that would otherwise fill the state coffers in fiscal year 2019.

The Scott administration's proposal is in keeping with the governor's commitment to hold the line on tax increases.

The Agency of Administration Secretary Susanne Young said the plan will "insulate Vermonters as much as possible from the inadvertent tax hikes created by the federal tax reform."

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction but eliminated personal exemptions. Since the state's tax code is closely tied to federal standards, Vermont taxpayers now cannot claim personal exemptions on their state taxes. That means about half of Vermont taxpayers will pay significantly more in taxes.

Young said the Vermonters most impacted by changes to the federal tax code are "primarily middle-income families with children."

Married couples filing jointly and residents with incomes of between $50,000 and $300,000 will see the biggest tax increases if no changes are made to the state tax system.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Justice Dept. told court of source's political influence in request to wiretap ex-Trump campaign aide, officials say (Ellen Nakashima February 2, 2018, Washington Post)

[I]ts central allegation -- that the government failed to disclose a source's political bias -- is baseless, the officials said.

The Justice Department made "ample disclosure of relevant, material facts" to the court that revealed "the research was being paid for by a political entity," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

"No thinking person who read any of these applications would come to any other conclusion but that" the work was being undertaken "at the behest of people with a partisan aim and that it was being done in opposition to Trump," the official said.

...no one has accused Nunes of having any idea what was in the application and he acknowledges his ignorance before going on to pretend that he has some idea.

This is, of course, why Donald would have declassified the applications and released them if they weren't damning. Instead, he let this poor flack make himself a laughingstock. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


A Deep Dive into Jordan Peterson's Channel 4 Interview (Uri Harris, 2/02/18, Quillete)

So what are Peterson's views, and why did Newman consider them so controversial? He laid them out in part towards the end of the interview, when they were discussing lobsters:

Peterson: "[T]he reason that I write about lobsters is because there's this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it's almost unbelievable. And I use the lobster as an example, because we diverged from lobsters in evolutionary history about 350 million years ago, common ancestor. And lobsters exist in hierarchies, and they have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy, and that nervous system runs on serotonin, just like our nervous systems do. And the nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it's part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn't."

Newman: "Let me just get this straight. You're saying we should organise our societies along the lines of the lobsters?"

Peterson: "I'm saying that it's inevitable that there will be continuity in the way that animals and human beings organise their structures. It's absolutely inevitable, and there's one third of a billion years of evolutionary history behind that. That's so long, that a third of a billion years ago, there weren't even trees. It's a long time. You have a mechanism in your brain that runs on serotonin that's similar to the lobster mechanism that tracks your status, and the higher your status the better your emotions are regulated. So as your serotonin levels increase, you feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion."

Newman: "So you're saying like the lobsters, we're hardwired as men and women to do certain things, to sort of run along tramlines and there's nothing we can do about it?"

Peterson: "No, I'm not saying there's nothing we can do about it, because it's like in a chess game, right, there's lots of things you can do, although you can't break the rules of the chess game and continue to play chess. Your biological nature is somewhat like that, it sets the rules of the game, but within those rules you have a lot of leeway. But one thing we can't do is say that hierarchical organisation is a consequence of the capitalist patriarchy, it's like that's patently absurd. It's wrong. It's not a matter of opinion, it's seriously wrong."

Newman interprets Peterson as suggesting we should use lobsters as a model for human society, but that's not what he's doing. Rather, he's searching for the origins of our social hierarchies. Several thinkers--from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Herbert Marcuse--have argued that modern human civilization, especially capitalism, has made humans competitive and status-seeking, causing them to form systems of domination against their true nature. These ideas are popular with parts of the political left, but Peterson argues they're false; human hierarchies rely on similar biological mechanisms to lobsters, which we diverged from hundreds of millions of years ago, so they can't possibly be the result of something that began a few hundred years ago. To truly understand our social hierarchies, we need to understand our biology, which forms the basis for our culture.

And it's not just hierarchies. Earlier in the interview, Peterson argues that men and women on average exhibit distinct personality differences, and that these become most clear in places like Scandinavia where people are most free to choose their occupation. Here also it's clear Peterson is referring to biology, although he doesn't say so directly. This brings us to the core of the disagreement between Peterson and Newman: the role biology plays in human society, and the constraints it sets on it. Peterson's views--as he lays out in the interview--are well-known: he believes that biology plays an important role in human behaviour, not just with respect to hierarchies, but also how men and women differ in their interests, and he believes that attempts to force equality of outcomes are harmful to men, women, and society. It's these views, quite clearly, that Newman finds problematic.

Newman's view--and the general attitude towards Peterson--demonstrates what psychologist Steven Pinker wrote about in The Blank Slate fifteen years ago, where he argued that any suggestion that biology plays a role in human social behaviour is often met with derision and hostility, despite the abundant evidence that biology and culture each play a role. As Pinker wrote in the introduction:

My goal in this book is not to argue that genes are everything and culture is nothing--no one believes that--but to explore why the extreme position (that culture is everything) is so often seen as moderate, and the moderate position is seen as extreme.

Peterson is considered 'controversial' because he suggests that human social behaviour, including career choices, are determined by a combination of biology and culture, and that the biological differences between men and women influence their choices. The view he's opposing, which Newman appeared to hold, is that human social behaviour is determined entirely by culture, and that any differences in outcomes between men and women are due to culturally-imposed barriers.

And that view is wrong to precisely the same degree as the biological (material) determinism ideology of the New Atheists he also jousts with.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Even If the Nunes Memo Were True, So What? It Wouldn't Matter. (David Atkins, February 3, 2018, Washington Monthly)

[T]he one thing that keeps jumping out at me in all this is that it wouldn't even matter if all Nunes' claims were true and honestly argued. The underlying investigation is still completely valid, and no one's civil rights were violated. It's a point made very well at the Lawfare Blog:

To all of which, a reasonable person must ask: Huh? Indeed, if the above makes for difficult reading from which no particularly strong, let alone scandalous, narrative thread emerges, that's because the points recounted (assuming they are true) don't make out a coherent complaint.

To the extent that the complaint is that Page's civil liberties have been violated, the outraged are crying crocodile tears. For one thing, it is not at all clear that Page's civil liberties were, in fact, violated by the surveillance; the memo does not even purport to argue that the Justice Department lacked probable cause to support its warrant application. It does not suggest that Page was not, after all, an agent of a foreign power. What's more, the only clear violation of Page's civil liberties apparent here lies in the disclosure of the memo itself, which named him formally as a surveillance target and announced to the world at large that probable cause had been found to support his surveillance no fewer than four times by the court. Violating Page's civil liberties is a particularly strange way to complain about conduct that probably did not violate his civil liberties.

To the extent the complaint is that the FBI relied on a biased source in Steele, the FBI relies every day on information from far more dubious characters than former intelligence officers working for political parties. The FBI gets information from narco-traffickers, mobsters and terrorists. Surely it's not scandalous for it to get information from a Democrat--much less from a former British intelligence officer working for Democrats, even if he expresses dislike of a presidential candidate.

It's remarkable. Few want to go down the road of making this argument because it's much easier to point to the myriad inaccuracies in the memo. That makes sense, but ignoring the thrust of the memo's implication is a problem. Either the Republican argument is riotously funny, or it's deeply chilling-and it's hard to know which.

Nunes and crew are trying to maintain that if, say, a politically liberal FBI agent got information from a credible source who also happened to be politically liberal about potential criminal activity by a conservative target and obtained a surveillance warrant based on that information, then everything that came by way of that surveillance would be fruit of a rotten tree.


God bless Sean Hannity.

Devin Nunes's Nothingburger (Bret Stephens, 2/03/18, NY Times)

The important questions [...] are:

First, did the F.B.I. have solid reasons to suspect that people in Donald Trump's campaign had unusual, dangerous and possibly criminal ties to Moscow?

Second, did this suspicion warrant surveillance and investigation by the F.B.I.?

The answers are yes and yes, and nothing in the Nunes memo changes that -- except to provide the president with a misleading pretext to fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and discredit Robert Mueller's probe.

Let's review. Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman until August 2016, is credibly alleged to have received $12.7 million in "undisclosed cash payments" from then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian stooge. Had Manafort not been exposed, he might have gone on to occupy a position of trust in the Trump administration, much as Reagan campaign manager Bill Casey wound up running the C.I.A. He would then have been easy prey to Russian blackmail.

George Papadopoulos, the young adviser who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the F.B.I., spent his time on the campaign trying to make overtures to Russia. In May 2016 he blabbed to an Australian diplomat that Moscow had political dirt on Hillary Clinton -- information that proved true and was passed on to U.S. intelligence. This was the genesis of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation, as the Nunes memo itself admits.

And then there's Carter Page, the man at the center of the Nunes memo. By turns stupid (his Ph.D. thesis was twice rejected), self-important (he has compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.), and money-hungry (a suspected Russian agent who tried to recruit him in 2013 was recorded saying he "got hooked on Gazprom"), Page happens also to be highly sympathetic to the Putin regime. The Russian phrase for such characters is polezni durak -- useful idiot. No wonder he was invited to give a commencement speech at a Russian university in the summer of 2016. That's how assets are cultivated in the world of intelligence.

Given the profile and his relative proximity to team Trump, it would have been professionally negligent of the F.B.I. not to keep tabs on him.