June 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


In the Army and the Klan, he hated Muslims.: Now one was coming to Chris Buckley's home. (Steve Hendrix, Photos by Kevin D. Liles, JUNE 5, 2018, Washington Post)

Chris Buckley walks out to his porch, where the doormat once greeted customers at a Subway, and looks up and down the empty street.

"I admit it, I'm nervous," he says, lighting a cigarette with heavily tattooed hands.

His densely colored arms -- and much of his body -- are a paisley record of his many hates. KKK symbols dot his left knuckles, another surrounds his navel; an anti-government militia tag covers his neck. Most prominent is the big word in Arabic emblazoned on the back of his forearm: "Infidel."

"I wanted them to know I was the one the imam warned them about," he says, looking down at the mark he himself tattooed on his skin during a hot, angry week in Helmand province. It was one of three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, during which the former Army sergeant fired thousands of rounds at an enemy he learned to despise.

Admitting to nerves doesn't come easily to a man who built his life denying fear, who thrived in combat, who never hesitated to snort or swallow any abusable substance, who burned crosses in public.

But months of halting transformation have led to this moment and the arrival of an unlikely guest. Buckley, a machine mechanic at a carpet mill, lights his second Marlboro in 10 minutes, blowing blue smoke into the warm spring morning.

"I worry that he's going to be disappointed," Buckley says, scanning the road, seeing nothing out his front door but the back of a Family Dollar store and a line of overflowing donated-clothing bins.

Leaving the door open, he paces back into the apartment, one of three carved out of a single-family home, where his two kids sleep on a frameless mattress in the only bedroom. Buckley and his wife, Melissa, sleep in the living room, next to the bathroom that has no door and a kitchen with only a dorm fridge. When Buckley is off probation for drug possession in February they hope to move to a better place.

Melissa, buttoning the collar of the floral dress her husband asked her to wear, is more concerned about his reaction than the visitor he's waiting for. The last time he got close to a Muslim, he shoved the man into a rack of potato chips in his own gas station.

She had spent years with that version of her husband, the onetime imperial nighthawk of the Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who despised "towel heads," swore Barack Obama was a Muslim agent and believed terrorists were pouring into the country disguised as refugees.

She was still getting to know this version, the one who had invited one of those refugees to their home.

"What if it's like the gas station all over again?" she asks, arranging a peony bloom in a plastic sippy cup.

"He's here," Buckley calls, flipping his cigarette as a black Mercedes sedan pulls under the pine trees.

Out steps a tall man with stylish glasses and glossy black hair. Like Buckley, he's 34. He has a nice car now that he is a doctor in Atlanta, two hours south, but he grew up in Kurdish refugee camps and apartments as bleak as the one he's about to enter in this small town in the North Georgia hills. It's the reason he's here, to see what a Kurd might have in common with an ex-Klansman.

"Are you ready for your blind date?" asks Heval Mohamed Kelli, his hand out, the faded shades of Syria faint in his accent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Putin brags of close Trump relationship (Axios, 6/05/18)

Russian President Vladimir Putin tells Austrian TV that he and President Trump have a close working relationship, although it's complicated by U.S. politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Pardoned Sailor Says He'll Sue Obama, Comey (Marc Giller, 6/05/18, The Resurgent)

You might recall the story. Kristian Saucier was a machinist's mate serving on board USS Alexandria in 2012 when he admittedly violated regulations by snapping pictures of the engine room with his cell phone. He was later arrested in 2015 and sentenced to a year in prison for that crime, which the judge in the case decided was "beyond stupid" on Saucier's part but was not committed with malicious intent. During his hearing, Saucier tried to argue that he should be given the same leniency shown Hillary Clinton, whom the Justice Department had declined to indict for similar crimes, but the judge didn't buy it. Donald Trump mentioned the case frequently on the campaign trail, citing it as an example of the blatant double standard at work when it came to Crooked Hillary and the law.

Well, now Trump has pardoned Saucier--and the former sailor says he plans to file a lawsuit against the people who sent him to the clink while letting Hillary skate...

We do indeed have different standards for the admittedly guilty and those not charged with anything.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM



So far, we have looked at the economics of UCC in the abstract. This section turns to the challenging issue of estimating the actual dollar cost of a specific UCC plan.

To date, the most ambitious attempt to do so is one by Jodi L. Liu of the RAND Corporation. Liu uses a detailed simulation model that includes population data, estimates of demand elasticities, and estimates of additional cost-saving measures, all drawn from reviews of the literature. She applies the model to two different national health care plans: a 2013 version of Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All proposal and a UCC plan outlined in 2012 in National Affairs by Kip Hagopian and Dana Goldman.

For purposes of estimation, Liu sets the parameters of the catastrophic plan as follows: The low-income threshold is 100 percent of the FPL. The deductible is 10 percent of eligible income. Copays are 5 percent, subject to an out-of-pocket maximum of 14.5 percent of eligible income. Given these parameters, households thus hit their out-of-pocket maximum at the point where health care expenses reach 100 percent of eligible income. Liu also assumes a fixed charge, waived for incomes up to FPL and assessed on a sliding linear scale up to a maximum of $3,350 at 300 percent of the FPL. She calls this charge a "tax," although Hagopian and Goldman themselves, writing in Forbes, call it a "premium." Liu does not model the cost of a package of free preventive services, even though the original Hagopian-Goldman plan that she draws on recommends such a feature.

The basic version of the UCC plan that Liu considers leaves Medicaid and Medicare intact, and covers everyone who does not participate in either of those programs. As such, it completely replaces all employer-sponsored insurance. She also considers variants that preserve employer-sponsored plans as optional alternatives.

Liu estimates that for 2027, the basic UCC plan would reduce total national health care expenditures by $211 billion, or about 8.7 percent. She estimates that total federal expenditures on health care would increase by $648 billion compared with expenditures under the ACA for that year. Of that increase, $524 billion would be covered by revenue from the dedicated tax/premium. The remainder would be slightly more than offset by increased revenue from income and payroll taxes due to elimination of the deduction for employer-sponsored insurance. As a result, the net impact of the basic UCC plan on the national budget would be a saving of $40 billion.

For comparison, Liu estimates that Sanders-style first-dollar coverage would increase total national health care expenditures by 18 percent and federal health care expenditures by 60 percent. Most of the additional federal spending for the Sanders plan would come from new taxes.

Next, Liu estimates potential savings in administrative costs for insurers and providers, together with further savings from negotiation of better prices for prescription drugs, hospital services, and other provider services. The net effect, with the further cost savings, would be a reduction of total national health care expenditures by $767 billion dollars, or 35 percent.

Although some of the $767 billion of further savings in national health care expenditures would accrue to individuals, Liu estimates that $556 billion of those savings would accrue to the federal budget. Including the further cost savings, then, total impact of the basic UCC plan on the federal budget would be a net saving of $596 billion, rather than the $40 billion estimated for UCC without further cost saving. Note also that the federal share of further cost savings of $556 billion is  slightly greater than the estimated $524 billion of revenue that would be raised by the tax/premium feature of the basic UCC plan. Putting this all together, then, total federal expenditures on health care would be $72 billion less than under the ACA even if the tax/premium were dropped from the plan.

Liu's estimates are carefully constructed and draw on the best available data. Nonetheless, they should be considered as illustrative, not as definitive. Further research might reach different conclusions regarding the responsiveness of health care consumers to system changes, the success of cost control efforts, and changes in tax revenues. Other investigators would doubtless want to explore the effects of changes in various UCC parameters, and to examine a broader UCC plan that replaced Medicaid and/or Medicare. Still, UCC proponents will find Liu's estimates encouraging, since they are consistent with the expectation that a reasonable UCC plan could be implemented without new taxes or large increases federal health care spending.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Tesla has installed a truly huge amount of energy storage (ADELE PETERS, 6/05/18, Co.Exist)

The cost of battery storage keeps falling; between 2010 and 2016, the price across the industry fell 73%, from $1,000 a kilowatt-hour to $273 a kilowatt-hour. By 2020, it may drop to $145 a kilowatt-hour, and by 2025, to $69.5 a kilowatt-hour.

The market is growing as renewable energy is also becoming cheaper and expanding. Batteries can be used to store any type of energy-on a grid with traditional fossil fuel plants, the technology can be used, for example, when power demand suddenly peaks on a hot day and thousands of air conditioners turn on (this helps avoid the need to fire up an extra coal or gas plant). But it's particularly critical for renewables, since batteries make it possible to use solar power at night, or wind power when the wind isn't blowing.

In Australia, the world's largest lithium-ion battery, installed by Tesla over an area the size of a football field at a wind farm, is saving consumers millions of dollars by making the grid more reliable. On the Pacific island of Ta'u in American Samoa, a solar microgrid using 60 of Tesla's large Powerpack batteries has fully replaced diesel power. In Hawaii, Tesla batteries store energy generated during the day at a solar farm on Kauai to release it at night. In Southern California, a Powerpack system handles peak energy demand without requiring extra fossil-fuel-powered plants to come online.

In Puerto Rico, after helping to provide emergency power following Hurricane Maria, Tesla is now installing permanent microgrids. More than 1,000 households on the island, like others around the world, now also use Tesla Powerwalls, the company's product for home electricity storage, which can be connected to home solar panels to help keep lights on after disasters. Powerwalls can also be connected to each other to form "virtual power plants." In Australia, for example, Tesla is working with the government on a new plan to distribute solar panels and batteries to 50,000 homes, which will work together to supply clean energy to the grid.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Could agricultural robots replace glyphosate? (Nils Zimmermann, 6/04/18, Deutsche Welle)

Professor Simon Blackmore, head of robotic agriculture at the UK's National Centre for Precision Farming at Harper Adams University in England, says that increasingly sensitive and precise sensors and instruments are being developed that can measure the "complex nature of the growing environment" on every square meter of farmland -- the soil and water conditions; the presence of pests and diseases; the location of weeds, and the size of crop plants.

In addition to measuring the state of a crop, robots will be able to actively improve growing conditions, not least by getting rid of weeds.

"We're developing a whole range of smart machines now that potentially might be able to replace the tractor and the combine harvester," Blackmore said. "And we're coming up with systems that will allow us to replace herbicides... One project I'm developing is called laser weeding."

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


By Disinviting Eagles, Trumps Shows True Colors (Marcus Hayes, 6/05/18, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

In the end, Donald Trump couldn't stand the thought of another tiny crowd.

Not after the inauguration photos.

Not after so many Patriots no-showed last year. Even Tom Brady and his MAGA hat didn't show up.

On their way to winning Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles were a team at the forefront of NFL player protests during the national anthem the last two seasons. The ownership group largely despises the administration, but the team and Trump's representatives spent weeks hammering out a trip to Washington that was palatable to all. Recently, a handful of Eagles said they would boycott the White House portion. A handful more said they might not go.

Still, the visit was set for today. On Monday evening, Trump disinvited the Eagles. Why? Because he couldn't stand to have so few show him fealty.