June 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Qatar Won the Saudi Blockade (HASSAN HASSAN | JUNE 4, 2018, Foreign Policy)
A year ago Tuesday, a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia imposed a historic land, maritime, and air blockade on Qatar. The measures were designed to strong-arm Doha to comply with a list of demands that involved alleged support for Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East, including within the four countries -- Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia -- that later became known as the anti-Qatar quartet.

The quartet received added momentum one day after the start of the blockade from U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted: "So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding ... extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!"

A year on, however, Qatar has not only weathered the storm -- it also appears to have emerged as the main winner of the conflict.

Always bet on liberal democratic values.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Study: Democrat College Students Far Less Tolerant Of Opposing Views Than Republicans (HANK BERRIEN, June 6, 2018, DailyWire)

The Dartmouth, America's oldest college newspaper, conducted a study of roughly 4,400 undergraduates at Dartmouth University to determine how tolerant students were of opposing viewpoints, and found that, surprise, surprise, Republicans were far more tolerant than Democrats.

The study found that students who were Democrats were far less likely to tolerate someone with an opposing viewpoint than Republican students. 82% of Democrats averred they would be less likely to date someone with opposing political beliefs; only 42% of Republicans agreed, and only 47% of Independents agreed. Additionally, 55% of Democratic respondents said they would be less likely to befriend someone with an opposing political viewpoint, while 21% of Independents and only a paltry 12% of Republicans agreed.

The prejudice extended beyond friendships or romances; 38% of Democratic students were less willing to take classes from a Republican professor while only 23% of Republican students felt that way about Democratic professors.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Delaying Immigration Reform Is a Missed Opportunity for Republicans (JEB BUSH June 6, 2018, TIME)

First, it is past time to truly secure our border, and there are new technologies to supplement physical barriers that can be more effective at a dramatically lower cost than constructing a 2,200-mile wall-- an unrealistic idea that has little chance of coming fully to fruition, regardless of who pays for it. Considering the latest idea is to "crowdfund" the estimated $21.6 billion project, it would seem pragmatic to focus on the achievable, including bolstering drone surveillance and improving infrastructure that will allow for better monitoring of our border.

Second, we must end the diversity lottery -- which results in 50,000 visas annually -- and narrow family reunification to what every other country allots for: spouses and minor children. Chain migration accounts for a substantial portion of immigrant entrances into our country with no respect to merit or prospective benefit to our nation.

Countries like Canada and Australia have prioritized economic-driven factors in their immigration systems, with substantial benefits for their economies. Based on current research, we already know legal immigrants are almost twice as likely to start a business than individuals born here, comprise a quarter of all entrepreneurs in the country and are three times more likely to file patents for innovations.

Dramatically cutting legal immigration isn't the answer. We need a guest worker program linked to market demand. We need to make it easier for foreign students gaining valuable college educations here to obtain work visas. And we must reform the H-1B visa program to help address the 6.7 million job openings that remain unfilled because employers can't find enough skilled workers.

Third, we must modernize our system, overhaul the bureaucracy and effectively enforce our immigration laws. The biggest immigration problem we face is the large population of immigrants who overstay their visas, accounting for a full two-thirds of those here illegally in recent years. Investments in our court system and law enforcement are critical -- currently, there is a backlog of more than 700,000 cases before immigration judges. E-Verify, a Department of Homeland Security resource that enables businesses to check if prospective employees are eligible to work in the U.S., must be enhanced and made mandatory to use; employers who don't should face sanctions. We also have to improve the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act so it no longer provides an unintended incentive for sending Central American children into the country illegally.

Finally -- and likely the most difficult element to achieve consensus on -- we need to address the full population of illegal immigrants in our country today.

For all law-abiding DREAMers, there should be a path to citizenship. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


U.S. Household Net Worth $100 Trillion in First-Quarter 2018 (Reuters, 6/07/18) 

U.S. households added $1 trillion to their wealth in the first three months of this year, boosted by rising stock prices and home values, the Federal Reserve said on Thursday.

U.S. household wealth reached $100.8 trillion in the January-March period.

...folks have nowhere near as much debt as they should, given the return on investment vs the cost of borrowing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Top Democrat on House Intel Committee seeks release of all Russia probe interviews (Mike Memoli / Jun.07.2018, NBC)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., wrote to the committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., two weeks ago requesting that the dozens of transcripts be released, saying they could shed "additional light on the issues of collusion and obstruction of justice."

While Mr. Schiff's rectitude has been admirable, his job does require some gamesmanship.  Forcing the admission that Donald and Devin can't afford openness is long overdue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Social Security's future is safe (Christian Weller, 6/07/18, The Conversation)

The trustees report stated that the federal government will have to tap Social Security reserves to pay a small portion of promised benefits in the current fiscal year for the first time since 1982. They also projected Social Security can continue to pay 100 percent of benefits through 2034 by relying in part on the money in the trust funds.

At that point, the trust funds will be depleted, and Congress will need to decide whether to increase revenue, cut benefits or both. Otherwise, Social Security will be able to pay just 79 percent of promised benefits in 2035 and a little less for the foreseeable future.

Social Security's projected shortfalls over the coming decades are larger than initially estimated because, as my research has shown, rising economic inequality has pushed more individual income beyond the reach of its payroll tax, which was capped at $127,200 in 2017. This has meant less revenue and higher costs than projected.

Despite the alarmist headlines, however, this is neither the end of the world or the end of Social Security. The trust funds were never intended to be left alone - and indeed have been tapped many times since they started.

In other words, addressing the financial shortfall poses a manageable long-term challenge. For example, increasing the payroll tax by just 2.88 percentage points would cover the expected shortfall over the next 75 years.

The annual shortfall is also equivalent to about 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. To put this in perspective, that's less than the 1.4 percent of GDP the recent tax cuts are projected to cost in 2019.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Giuliani says people in the porn business are not credible. (Christopher Massie, 6/07/18, CNN)

When Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that Stormy Daniels has no credibility because she is is a porn star, he neglected to mention that his client, President Donald Trump, has appeared in three Playboy videos that feature nudity and softcore pornographic content.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Trump urges punishment for former House IT worker (Devlin Barrett, June 7, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump weighed in Thursday on a pending criminal case involving a former technology staffer for congressional lawmakers -- another instance in which he publicly lobbied for a specific legal outcome and appeared to embrace and promote unfounded allegations.

The case surrounding Imran Awan and his wife has been the subject of interest among conservatives and conspiracy theorists for more than a year. [...]

Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, called it "highly improper for the president to weigh in on a pending case and to urge the Justice Department not to accept a plea deal involving Mr. Awan and his wife."

She noted if the Awans' plea talks break down, "the defendants would have a good case to say the negotiations were obstructed by the president's tweet."

...anti-Muslim hysterics, obstruction of justice and tweeting.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


White House Analysis Finds Tariffs Will Hurt Growth, as Officials Insist Otherwise (Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport, June 7, 2018, NY Times)

A White House economic analysis of President Trump's trade agenda has concluded that Mr. Trump's tariffs will hurt economic growth in the United States, according to several people familiar with the research.

The findings from the White House Council of Economic Advisers have been circulated only internally and not publicly released, as is often the case with the council's work, making the exact economic projections unknown. But the determination comes as top White House officials continue to insist publicly that Mr. Trump's trade approach will be "massively good for the U.S. economy."

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


A Secretive Owner of Triple-Crown Contender Justify: George Soros (Melissa Hoppert and Matthew Goldstein, June 7, 2018, NY Times)

If the strapping chestnut colt Justify wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday to become just the 13th horse in history to claim horse racing's Triple Crown, two of the three groups that have an ownership stake in the horse's breeding rights will be front and center during the celebration.

WinStar Farm, one of North America's leading thoroughbred racing and breeding operations, owns 60 percent of Justify's breeding rights. China Horse Club owns 25 percent. A third group, a secretive entity that holds the remaining 15 percent, will remain out of the spotlight because it vigorously avoids any public attention. It is a company controlled by top employees of the billionaire investor George Soros.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM


Trump complains about traveling to Canada ahead of Singapore summit with Kim (Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker, June 6, 2018, Washington Post)

The president has vented privately about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as their trade tensions have spilled into public view. He has mused about finding new ways to punish the United States' northern neighbor in recent days, frustrated with the country's retaliatory trade moves.

And Trump has complained to aides about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip is a distraction from his upcoming Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to three people familiar with Trump's views.

In particular, the president said Tuesday to several advisers that he fears attending the Group of Seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec, may not be a good use of his time because he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts -- and does not want to be lectured by them.

Additionally, Trump has griped periodically both about German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- largely because they disagree on many issues and have had an uneasy rapport -- as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he sees as too politically correct, advisers say.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


This Ohio factory thought it could bring U.S. jobs back from China. Then Trump got involved. (David J. Lynch, June 6, 2018, The Washington Post)

CLEVELAND -- Bill Adler was invited last year to bid on a contract to make commercial sausage stuffers for a company that wanted to replace its Chinese supplier. The customer had just one non­negotiable demand: Match China's price.

Adler, owner of metal-parts maker Stripmatic Products, thought he could. But even as he readied his proposal, talk of President Trump's steel tariffs sent the price of Stripmatic's main raw material soaring.

In April, with prices up nearly 50 percent from October and the first wave of tariffs in place, Adler's bid failed. His costs were too high.

Today, instead of taking business from China, Adler worries about hanging onto the work he has. He hopes that the president's tariffs are just a negotiating tactic.

"It's got to be short-term, or I've got to find another way to make a living," Adler said, only half joking. "It's going to be an ugly scenario if it doesn't end quickly."

Stripmatic's plight is an example of the hidden costs of Trump's "America First" protectionism. 

It's a high price to pay for hating the other.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Ahmadinejad attacks Rouhani, Khamenei over nuclear deal (Al-Monitor, June 6, 2018)

In a new onslaught on moderate President Hassan Rouhani, former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has attacked the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the signature foreign policy achievement of the incumbent administration. [...]

Ahmadinejad also took a swipe at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying, "Despite all the claims, the sanctions are back. ... We don't seek to [say that] a person is blameworthy, because all officials approved [the deal]. We want to [learn] from experiences. We still don't know what happened in the [nuclear] talks. The members of parliament still state that they haven't seen the content of the [nuclear] agreement."

In an article, moderate Asr-e-Iran slammed the former president over his attack on Rouhani and the JCPOA, writing June 5, "Ahmadinejad has seemingly forgotten that most of the problems of today in Iran is because of himself and his government's decisions. ... Ahmadinejad, like an inexperienced youth, was flexing his muscles against the other sides."

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


Massive Genetic Study Reveals 90 Percent Of Earth's Animals Appeared At The Same Time (Nicole Arce, 5/30/18,  Tech Times)

Landmark new research that involves analyzing millions of DNA barcodes has debunked much about what we know today about the evolution of species.

In a massive genetic study, senior research associate at the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University Mark Stoeckle and University of Basel geneticist David Thaler discovered that virtually 90 percent of all animals on Earth appeared at right around the same time.

More specifically, they found out that 9 out of 10 animal species on the planet came to being at the same time as humans did some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.

"This conclusion is very surprising," says Thaler, "and I fought against it as hard as I could." [...]

In analyzing the COI of 100,000 species, Stoeckle and Thaler arrived at the conclusion that most animals appeared simultaneously. They found that the neutral mutation across species were not as varied as expected. Neutral mutation refers to the slight DNA changes that occur across generations. They can be compared to tree rings because they can tell how old a certain specie or individual is.

As to how that could have happened, it's unclear. A likely possibility is the occurrence of a sudden event...

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


How to rescue retirement: A bold plan for a transformed private retirement system that would actually provide financial security to older Americans. (JACOB S. HACKER, 06/07/2018, Politico)

First, it would feature a stronger Social Security system. I once believed Social Security needed to be moderately pared back. Now I'm convinced we should close its financing gap by raising additional revenues--mainly by lifting or eliminating the cap on earnings subject to its payroll tax and extending that tax to investment earnings. And we need to boost Social Security payouts for some vulnerable populations, such as women who were caregivers during their working lives.

Moreover, we should not raise the retirement age. A wave of startling studies have shown that workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution have experienced virtually no increase in life expectancy over the past two decades. Instead of subjecting these workers to ever more penurious post-work years, we should maintain earlier retirement as an option but increase the incentives for later retirement by boosting benefits for those who are able to wait.

Second, we need to fix 401(k)s. Too few workers are offered them, enroll in them or put enough in them--a reflection of perverse incentives built into their very structure. We should build on what people are familiar with, but 401(k)s need a major overhaul, not modest tweaks.

Step No. 1 of that overhaul is to make a 401(k)-style plan available to all workers, whether or not their employer offers one. Step No. 2 is to automatically enroll workers and set a default contribution rate. Workers could opt out only if they showed they had adequate retirement savings from other sources.

In turn, employers would be encouraged to match worker contributions to these plans, and government would offer additional matching funds for less affluent workers. These public contributions could and should replace the highly regressive tax subsidies now offered. In other words, tax breaks for higher-income workers should be capped to provide greater support for lower-income workers.

Universal 401(k)s with required contributions and public matching would represent a fundamental change for the better. Everyone would be covered; people would save much more. Moreover, because the accounts would be universal, workers wouldn't have to roll their benefits over when they lost or changed jobs; they could just keep the account. (Not surprisingly, many workers don't roll over balances today--faced with a job change, they spend rather than save the often modest sums in their accounts.)

Unlike the present system, however, revamped 401(k)s would be governed by the same rules that protect traditional pension plans against excessive investment in company stock (the problem, recall, that took down Enron's 401(k) plan). And the default investment option under 401(k)s would be a low-cost index fund with a mix of stocks and bonds that automatically shifts over time as workers age to limit market risk as workers approach retirement.

Finally, I would take one more step--OK, leap--toward a guaranteed benefit. Under this proposal, 401(k) accounts would be converted into a lifetime guaranteed income at retirement. These new annuities would be provided directly by Social Security. Today, 401(k)s can't offer a simple defined benefit, because private employers don't want to take on this task and private insurers lack the ability to spread risks over time and across large numbers of people. But that's something the federal government has the ability to do. If Social Security allowed people to convert some or all of their 401(k) accounts into a defined benefit, then 401(k)s could provide the same reliable monthly check that Social Security does.

Yale legal scholar Ian Ayres and I call this new public option "Social Security Plus." 

We all know where we're headed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Netanyahu concerned scrapped soccer match could portend future cancellations (Times of Israel, 6 June 2018)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday voiced concern over Argentina's "disappointing" decision to scrap its friendly soccer match against Israel, saying he hoped it did not foreshadow cancellations of future cultural events in the Jewish state.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Judge Calls Trump's Border Separations of Children `Brutal' (Erik Larson, June 6, 2018, Bloomberg)

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss the suit, in which the American Civil Liberties Union argues that splitting up families at the border violates their due process rights.

The practice, spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, caused widespread outrage after images of children in detention centers circulated on social media. The government argues separations are necessary to properly prosecute adults who cross into the U.S. illegally, while activists say children are being used as pawns in an informal policy intended to deter migrants.

"These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child," the judge wrote. The conduct, if true, "is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency."