August 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Analyst: Renewable energy will be 'effectively free' by 2030 (BRYAN CLARK, 8/14/18, Next Web)

Analysts at Swiss investment bank UBS believe that by 2030, we could all be living without much of a carbon footprint -- at least at home. The analysts believe that the cost of renewable energy will continue to dive heading into the next decade, and that by 2030, costs will be so low they will "effectively be free," according to new research published this morning in the Financial Times (paywall).

The analysis explained that solar and wind farms are getting bigger a move that is "great news for the planet, and probably also for the economy." With its increased popularity among consumers and, more importantly, energy providers, the economics of scale come into play. With declining prices, it makes little sense to ignore alternative energy sources, especially those that are renewable.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Is God Dead... or is it Nietzsche? (Donald Devine, 8/12/18, Imaginative Conservative)

It turns out the authoritative Pew Research Center had just completed a comprehensive study of 24,000 people in fifteen Western European countries finding, as most everyone thought they knew, that most Europeans were religiously non-practicing, with only one-fifth attending religious services monthly or more.[4] Yet, contrary to expectations, 71 percent of Europeans insisted they were still Christian, with 65 percent believing in God or a higher power, and 51 percent saying they pray. Moreover, 70 percent said they were raising their children as Christians.

There were differences by country. In Italy 40 percent did attend church regularly (and another 40 percent were non-attending Christians), with 35 percent attending church in Portugal, 34 percent in Ireland, 28 percent in Austria, and 27 percent in Switzerland (Poland was not included in the survey), all near U.S. levels. There was a very distinct north-south and Protestant-Catholic difference: In the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark only one-in-ten attended regularly and four-in-ten were unaffiliated with religion. Only Netherlands had a non-Christian plurality but even there only 17 percent said they were specifically atheist or agnostic.

The British magazine Christian Today was intrigued by the study finding that European Christians were more likely to "express anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish views" than those not affiliated with religion, although it is hardly surprising that those with stronger beliefs would be more protective of their values.[5] Specifically the study asked whether it was important to have a British family background or to have Muslims or Jews accepted into their families. Was this simple prejudice or perhaps not wanting daughters pressured into hijab or prohibited from shaking hands with men?

The Atlantic magazine's intriguing headline about the Pew study was "Atheists Are Sometimes More Religious than Christians."[6] It noted that many religiously unaffiliated were still religious in many ways. Even more "striking" was that American religiously unaffiliated were "as religious as--or even more religious than--Christians in several European countries, including France, Germany, and the U.K." "The notion that religiously unaffiliated people can be religious at all may seem contradictory, but if you disaffiliate from organized religion it does not necessarily mean you've sworn off belief in God, say, or prayer."

...who would be affiliated with the Institution?

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Few Have Genuine Allergy to Penicillin (Kate Furby, 8/10/18, The Washington Post)

Ten percent of all patients in the United States claim to have a penicillin allergy. Of those people, 90 percent are not truly allergic and can tolerate the drug. That means millions of people take alternative antibiotics, which are more expensive and can put their health and potentially the health of others at risk. The solution is a simple allergy test.

A study in the British Medical Journal looked at six years' worth of medical records for patients in the United Kingdom and found that those with a penicillin allergy had an almost 70 percent greater chance of acquiring a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection and a 26 percent increased risk of Clostridium difficile-related colitis (C. diff.). MRSA and C. diff. are major health risks worldwide. The study compared adults with a known penicillin allergy to similar people without a known penicillin allergy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Trump Wants to Destroy the World Order. So What? : Whatever the U.S. president's intentions, his efforts to rock the foundation of international politics are hopeless.  (JAMES KIRCHICK,  JULY 26, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Were Trump to exist in a different political system, one with fewer checks and balances and external limitations on a leader's power, he would be far more dangerous. Trump's behavior as a businessman, his authoritarian rhetoric, and his frequently expressed admiration for strongmen suggest dictatorial tendencies.

But as Trump would probably be the first to admit, running a democratic country--with a free media, independent judiciary, active civil society, energized opposition party, and regular elections--isn't at all like running a family business. If Trump were president of a banana republic like Venezuela, or a nonconsolidated democracy like Hungary, it would be much easier for him to single-handedly undermine his country's democratic institutions and geopolitically reorient it away from the free world. Fortunately, Trump--however despotic his inclinations--is the democratically elected leader of the world's oldest constitutional republic, and his attempts to undo the seven-decade-old liberal world order that republic built and sustained have thus far largely been frustrated.

The primary reason for this is that, at least in the realm of foreign and defense policy, Trump has either been unwilling or unable to staff his administration with like-minded "America First" nationalists. The U.S. diplomatic and security apparatus is a behemoth, comprising tens of thousands of people, and it requires a great number of ideologically committed and bureaucratically skilled individuals to transform America's world role in the way Trump desires. Beginning with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and continuing further down the bureaucratic chain to Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Fiona Hill, the National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, there is no one in the upper echelons of the U.S. diplomatic and military firmament who even remotely shares the president's antipathy to the EU, NATO, or U.S. global leadership, never mind his bizarre affinity for Putin. (The role of these patriotic officials in restraining Trump's worst impulses, and the likelihood of their replacement by incompetent and obsequious ideologues, makes the recurring calls for them to resign shortsighted.) Until he was fired last summer, Steve Bannon was the closest thing Trump had to an advisor capable of translating his gut prejudices, conspiratorial delusions, and half-baked proposals about the world into actual policies. For a taste of the damage Bannon might have wreaked were he still in the White House, look to Brussels, where he has decamped to set up a nationalist political network he claims will rival George Soros's Open Society Foundations.

Absent Bannon whispering in his ear, Trump's ability to wreck the liberal world order hinges upon the degree to which he can translate his nationalistic, zero-sum worldview into actions on the world stage. Thus far, the damage he has done is mostly rhetorical. And nowhere has the gap between wild presidential rhetoric and actual governmental deeds been more apparent than Russia. The media's obsessive coverage of the Trump-Putin summit as if it were a major title boxing match--with television news outlets dispatching entire teams to Helsinki for nonstop coverage--exemplifies its simplistic reduction of U.S.-Russia relations to mere personalities and is seriously distorting analysis. For all the talk of Trump's "treasonous" behavior last week (and it was indeed morally despicable), there were no actual U.S. policy concessions to Russia as a result of his disastrous performance. From expulsions of Russian diplomats to sanctions on Russian individuals and entities to Ukrainian arms sales and increased support for--yes-- NATO, the posture of the United States toward Russia is tougher than it has ever been since the end of the Cold War. "Trump and the U.S. are not exactly the same thing right now," a person close to a Russian business tycoon recently lamented to the Financial Times, with more than a little understatement.

A common misperception of presidents (not least Trump's predecessor) is that they can change the world by their mere presence on the international stage. By treating Trump's rhetoric as if it constitutes policy, many are essentially endorsing a simplistic "great man theory" of history. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Celeste Wallander, a former National Security Council staffer under President Barack Obama, says that because of Trump's comportment, "Americans must face the fact that the biggest threat to NATO today may be the United States itself"--not the country that has perpetrated the first territorial annexation on European soil since World War II, whose military doctrine paints NATO as its main adversary, and that simulates nuclear strikes on NATO territory. If the biggest threat to NATO is its most powerful member, the other nations in the alliance certainly are not acting like it.

Yes, a handful of European leaders--namely German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister, Heiko Maas--have repeatedly made statements to the effect that Europe can no longer fully depend on the United States as it used to in the past. But like Trump's alleged single-handed destruction of the liberal world order, their pursuit of alternate arrangements to work around or replace the status quo has been almost entirely rhetorical. Aside from the activation of an EU defense collaboration initiative called PESCO ("Permanent Structured Cooperation"), which was envisioned long before the arrival of Trump and is not intended to replace NATO, there is little evidence to indicate that European policymakers are genuinely preparing for a post-American future. In Asia, meanwhile, "Trump's focus on China as a great-power rival will compel him or some future administration to refurbish and expand U.S. alliances rather than withdraw from them," Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry write in Foreign Affairs.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Turkey's Economy is on a Collision Course with Reality (Jonah Shepp, 8/14/18, New York)

Turkey's economy has been on a collision course with reality for years, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bought his popularity with low interest rates and cheap credit, which has fueled several years of rapid growth in the country's real GDP. Unfortunately, it has also fueled high inflation and a massive current account deficit: All that growth was greased with easily available loans in foreign currencies, and with the collapse of the lira, that debt has suddenly become unmanageable.

The Turkish bonanza of the past few years can be easily blamed on foreign financiers, who saw Turkey and other developing economies as attractive investment destinations compared to the ultra-low-interest-rate environments being maintained by central banks in the United States and Europe. Now that interest rates are beginning to rise again in these more stable economies, investors are turning away from emerging markets again. [...]

Investors are wary of Turkey largely because they are wary of Erdogan: The strongman has run the country for the past 15 years (first as prime minister, and since 2014 as president) and in that time has grown increasingly paranoid and authoritarian. He appointed his son-in-law as minister of finance last month and has attacked the independence of the Turkish central bank. Investors are rightly concerned that a more authoritarian Turkey will be a riskier place to do business.

Erdogan also believes in voodoo economics: The purpose of his recent meddling with the central bank has been to prevent it from raising interest rates, which he believes to be the cause of inflation rather than a cure for it. For a while, it was possible to write this belief off as merely a product of his recognition that low rates mean faster growth and faster growth means more votes for Erdogan. Now, however, it is increasingly clear that Erdogan's opposition to high interest rates is more fundamental and philosophical, guided perhaps by the Islamic proscription against usury.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


New Omarosa Tape Lends More Credence to Possibility of Trump N-word Recording (Benjamin Hart, 8/14/18, New York)

During an October 2016 phone conversation that Manigault Newman surreptitiously recorded -- as was her wont during her Trump tenure -- she speaks about the possibility of the tape's release with Lynne Patton, who was then an aide to Eric Trump, campaign communications director Jason Miller, and spokeswoman Katrina Pierson.

From the CBS transcript:

"I am trying to find at least what context it was used in to help us maybe try to figure out a way to spin it," Pierson is heard saying.

Patton then described a conversation she had with then-candidate Trump about making the slur.

Patton: "I said, 'Well, sir, can you think of anytime where this happened?' And he said, 'no.'"

Omarosa: "Well, that is not true."

Patton: "He goes, how do you think I should handle it and I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about. And he said, well, why don't you just go ahead and put it to bed."

Pierson: "He said. No, he said it. He is embarrassed by it."

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


The Trump Administration Is Launching Stealth Attacks on Veterans (Eric Levitz, 8/14/18, New York)

Many veterans hail from humble backgrounds and enter the military early in adulthood, before they've had the opportunity to build much credit. For decades, this made them a prime target for unscrupulous lenders; according to Defense Department research, vets are four times more likely than other Americans to be exploited by payday lenders. The Pentagon claimed such practices hurt the morale of America's fighting forces, and thus, national security. In response, Congress passed the Military Lending Act (MLA), which bars lenders from charging military members an annual interest rate above 36 percent, forcing vets to settle legal disputes over loans through arbitration, or imposing penalties for early payment, among other restrictions.

After Elizabeth Warren pushed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) into existence, the federal government stepped up enforcement of the MLA. In addition to investigating individual reports of abuse, the CFPB began conducting routine inspections of various lenders' practices -- essentially stopping and frisking shady financial institutions. Through this tactic and others, the CFPB has redistributed more than $130 million from abusive lenders to military members and their families since 2011.

But some of the Republican Party's best friends are abusive lenders. And so, according to documents obtained by the New York Times and NPR, the Trump administration will soon suspend the CFPB's efforts to enforce the MLA through proactive investigations; instead, the agency will merely react to individual reports of alleged malpractice.

This change will make it significantly easier for payday lenders to profit off of veterans' financial desperation with impunity. This fact is so plain, the administration is not even arguing that the CFPB's proactive investigations are unnecessary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Donald Trump and the disturbing power of dehumanizing language: Dehumanization is already prevalent in America. We don't need anyone -- especially Trump -- stoking it further. (Brian Resnick,  Aug 14, 2018, Vox)

As a president, Donald Trump can be erratic. But there's at least one area where he's consistent: using demeaning and dehumanizing language, especially when he's talking about refugees, immigrants, and his critics.

Here's the most recent example. On Tuesday, he tweeted this apparent attack against former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman, calling her a "dog."

Trump has been railing against the former Apprentice contestant for the past few days, calling her "wacky," "vicious," and "not smart," in retaliation for her tell-all book about her time in the White House.

All these attacks -- on a woman of color, in particular -- are concerning. But it's important to focus on Trump's propensity to compare those he does not like to animals, or inferior beings.

History and psychological science show us that when we refer to people as "animals" or anything other than "people," it can flip a mental switch in our minds. It may increase our anger and disgust toward them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Fox compared 'socialist' Denmark to Venezuela, sparking a puzzled backlash from top officials (Rick Noack, August 14, 2018, Washington Post)

"Everyone in Denmark is working for the government," anchor Trish Regan announced in a segment aired last week. "And no one wants to work."

"Not only is school free; they actually pay you.... You know what happens then? Nobody graduates from school.... They just stay in school," Regan went on to say, referring to university-level education.

"Because that's the reality of socialism. As one person who studied Denmark said: Nowadays all the kids graduating from schools in Denmark, they want to start cupcake cafes," Regan said, before breaking into laughter. "Denmark -- like Venezuela -- has stripped people of their opportunities," the anchor concluded on a more serious note.

The Danish government wasn't very amused. "We are working much more than Americans and at the same time ranking as the worlds best in Work-Life-Balance," Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen wrote Monday on Twitter. Addressing the Fox Business Network anchor directly, he added: "You should come to Denmark if you dare be confronted with facts."

On the other hand, Denmark produces no decent baseball players.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Stephen Miller is a product of "chain migration," his uncle says (Emily Stewart  Aug 13, 2018, Vox)

Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser to the president and one of the ideologues pushing the administration's hardline immigration policies, is a product of the so-called "chain migration" he and President Donald Trump often deride. That's according to his uncle, who penned an essay in Politico outlining Miller's family's immigration story on Monday.

David Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist and Miller's uncle on his mother's side, detailed the story of how the family came to live in the United States. Miller's great-great-grandfather Wolf-Leib Glosser left the village of Antopol in what is now Belarus amid "violent anti-Jewish pogroms" there and came to the US. He landed on Ellis Island in 1903 and, over time, was able to bring over the rest of his family. [...]

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses -- the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants -- been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the US just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the "America First" nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Erdoğan Tilts at Windmills as Lira's Decline Continues: The central bank took steps to halt the slide of the currency--but stayed mum about raising interest rates (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR, AUG 13, 2018, The Atlantic)

Although the lira's decline stemmed from a number of factors, the actual chain of events leading to the crisis is fairly straightforward. Turkey's economic growth came on the back of low interest rates and foreign capital. The low rates allowed Turkish companies to borrow money cheaply to finance projects. But corporate debt swelled to 70 percent of gross domestic product--one of the highest shares among major economies. Much of this borrowing was done in foreign currencies like the U.S. dollar--not in liras. This factor is one reason why Turkey's broader economy could be vulnerable as the lira continues to slide. The loans incurred by Turkish companies in U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies will now be more expensive to repay; profits will also be hit because of the depreciation.  

"This is a foreign currency crisis in its origin, but given the reliance of Turkey--both in the government and corporate sectors--on external finance, this could turn into a debt crisis which engulfs its banks," Hasnain Malik, the head of equity research at Exotix Capital, said Monday in a research note. "Because of the high participation of foreign banks and portfolio investors in Turkey, there are clear risks of contagion."

Investors would like to see Turkey's central bank raise interest rates (its benchmark rate is at 17.75 percent), address inflation (which is at 16 percent), and engage with multilateral lenders to keep the crisis from spreading. Erdoğan, however, has railed against higher interest rates. Turkey's central bank has stayed mum on rates, casting doubts about its independence. Erdoğan's appointment of his son-in-law as the country's finance minister hasn't inspired confidence either.   

Economists worry that Turkey's troubles could cause investors to start pulling money from other emerging economies. Other currencies fell Monday against the U.S. dollar, including the Indian rupee, which hit a record low, and the South African rand. Markets in Asia and Europe fell as well on Monday before recovering.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Trump's Dangerous Obsession With Iran: Why Hostility Is Counterproductive (Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson, 8/13/18, Foreign Affairs)

The United States' treatment of Iran as a serious strategic competitor is deeply illogical. Iran imperils no core U.S. interests. It refrains from attacking U.S. forces or using terrorism to target U.S. assets or territory, coexists with the United States in Iraq with little friction, and has agreed to limits on its nuclear program. Tehran scarcely reacts to Israeli strikes on its assets in Syria, where it maintains only a small forward-deployed force supplemented by ragtag Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian Shiite militias. Iran is economically beleaguered and militarily weak, and its navy is a coastal defense force, capable of disrupting shipping but not of seriously challenging the U.S. Fifth Fleet or the battle groups in the Pacific theater it can call upon in a crisis. According to independent, informed assessments, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance, Iranian forces are plagued by outdated equipment, an inadequate defense-industrial base, and a large conscript army that is substantially undeployable on a large scale. Its air force flies planes incorporating 1960s technology, and it has virtually no amphibious capability.

Iran's annual defense spending, about $16 billion, or 3.7 percent of GDP, on both measures falls considerably short of Israel's, Saudi Arabia's, or the UAE's individually, and is positively dwarfed by their collective spending. Moreover, the United States' military capabilities overwhelm those of Iran on every conceivable measure. Although those capabilities are intended to support the United States' global interests, given U.S. forces' astounding operational effectiveness, honed in continuous warfare in the Middle East and Central Asia since 2011, any serious Iranian challenge to U.S. regional interests that could not be contained through diplomacy would be easily suppressed, even if it morphed into a long-term, low-intensity conflict marked by persistent Iranian terrorism. But of course that is why diplomacy is such an attractive alternative to the use of force.

Iran does have some high-end military capabilities: it has deployed a 2,000-kilometer range ballistic missile, fields the advanced Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile system, and is thought to have substantial cyberwarfare capabilities. But the latter is an asymmetric asset, scarcely a match for its U.S. and Israeli equivalents, and Syria's S-300s have not helped it defend against the Israeli Air Force, which destroyed its nuclear weapons infrastructure in 2007. Iran's ballistic missile program would be a serious threat if it were coupled with mass production of compatible nuclear warheads, but this is a distant concern as long as the JCPOA remains in force. Overall, Iran's ability to project military force in the region is severely limited. Iranian troops in Syria probably peaked at about 4,500, roughly equal to the 4,000 or so that the United States has deployed in the eastern part of the country. In Yemen, Iran's military presence is even smaller. In Iraq, there is a residual Iranian military presence because Iran was a combatant in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS). Even there, however, it has reportedly inserted only around 2,000 troops to complement the Shiite militias that it supports, and these assets seem to be overmatched by the presence of an estimated 5,000 U.S. military personnel.

The Iranian intrigues that so alarm the Trump administration mainly boil down to its influence with the Iraqi government and support for Shiite militias, its ongoing reinforcement of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and its backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Some would also throw in its support for Shiite groups in Bahrain, a vassal state of Saudi Arabia ruled by a Sunni minority. Yet Iran's foreign policy has evolved essentially on the basis of opportunistic realism rather than especially aggressive revisionism, and, as noted, it has a sparse military presence in the region.

Iran, to be sure, is theoretically a problem for the United States in Iraq. But the United States created that problem by overthrowing the Sunni minority government of Saddam Hussein, ushering in a Shiite-dominated Iraq that would inevitably be subject to Iranian influence. Trump must of course deal with Iranian clout in Iraq, but U.S. strategic interests do not demand overriding Washington's short-term need to stabilize the country. Recently, especially in the campaign against ISIS, the United States and Iran have been on the same side, and it appears that the Iraqi government has figured out how to work simultaneously with Washington and Tehran. There are still areas of clear U.S.-Iranian friction--Iraq, for instance, allows Iranian weapons to cross Iraq into Syria--but these are critical from Washington's point of view only if Iran's involvement in Syria poses a major threat to core U.S. interests, which it does not.

The main incoherence of US policy towards Iran remains the same as it has ever been; it is based on opposing democracy in the Middle East, which we treat as our main interest everywhere else on Earth. Essentially, we just remain petulant because of the hostage crisis.  But the generation behind the one in government won't even remember what it was.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Turkey's Lira Crisis Tests Erdogan's Authoritarian Approach (Carlotta Gall, Aug. 13, 2018, NY Times)

Turkey's economic troubles, analysts say, are largely of Mr. Erdogan's own making. They have less to do with his dispute with the United States and the prospect of greater sanctions than with Mr. Erdogan's deepening economic interference as he attempts to bend the logic of monetary policy and global financial markets to suit his political purposes.

Yet while Mr. Erdogan asserts greater control over life in Turkey -- including the media, the judiciary, foreign policy and political decision-making -- it is far less clear that he can bully an economy increasingly beholden to global markets to submit to his will, they say.

Business leaders warn that the many strands of the president's authoritarian approach are intertwined, and that Turkey will not climb out of its hole until the country enacts major structural reforms that would undo many of Mr. Erdogan's constraints.

Those would include allowing a free press, an independent judiciary and returning powers to Parliament. Another step, the release of political prisoners, would help repair relations with Europe.

August 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Fact-checking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's media blitz: The self-described "democratic socialist" keeps making statements that are false, misleading or incorrect. (Glenn Kessler, August 10, 2018, Washington Post)

For instance, in an appearance on CNN on Monday, when challenged on the costs of government-financed health care, she answered: "Why aren't we incorporating the cost of all the funeral expenses of those who died because they can't afford access to health care? That is part of the cost of our system."

Huh? [...]

"Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family."
-- interview on PBS's "Firing Line," July 13, 2018

This is an example of sweeping language -- "everyone has two jobs" -- that can get a rookie politician in trouble. She may personally know people who have two jobs, but the data is pretty clear that this statement is poppycock.

First of all, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the percentage of people working two jobs has actually declined since the Great Recession -- and been relatively steady at around 5 percent since 2010. The percentage bounced around a bit but it was as low as 4.7 percent in October 2017 and was 5.2 percent in the July jobs report, the most recent available. That hardly adds up to "everyone."
"After reaching a peak of 6.2 percent during 1995-96, the multiple job-holding rate began to recede," the BLS noted in a report. "By the mid-2000s, the rate had declined to 5.2 percent and remained close to that level from 2006 to 2009. In 2010, the multiple job-holding rate decreased to 4.9 percent and has remained at 4.9 percent or 5.0 percent from 2010 to 2017."

The July data shows most of these people juggling two jobs -- 58 percent -- have a primary job and a part-time job. Only 6 percent have two full-time jobs, which calls into question her claim that people are working "60, 70, 80 hours a week." Indeed, the average hours worked per week for private employees has remained steady at just under 35 hours for years.

"ICE is the only criminal investigative agency, the only enforcement agency in the United States, that has a bed quota. So ICE is required to fill 34,000 beds with detainees every single night and that number has only been increasing since 2009."
-- in an interview with the Intercepted podcast, May 30

As our friends at PolitiFact documented, this is an urban legend. There is language in the 2016 appropriations bill that requires ICE to have 34,000 beds available -- ICE "shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds through September 30, 2016" -- but it is not required to fill them. The main point of such language, a version of which dated to 2009, is to make sure the money is not spent on something else. [...]

"They [national Democrats] were campaigning most when we had more of an American middle class. This upper-middle class is probably more moderate but that upper-middle class does not exist anymore in America."
-- interview on "Pod Save America," Aug. 7

Here's some more sweeping rhetoric. In knocking the current leaders of the Democrats, stuck in " '90s politics," Ocasio-Cortez said the "upper-middle class does not exist anymore."

But the data show that while the middle class overall may have shrunk a bit, the upper-middle class has actually grown. In a 2016 paper published by the Urban Institute, Stephen J. Rose documented that the upper-middle class has grown substantially, from 12.9 percent of the population in 1979 to 29.4 percent in 2014. His analysis showed that there was a massive shift in the center of gravity of the economy, with an increasing share of income going to the upper-middle class and rich.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM

SMACKING DOWN BETA MALES (profanity alert):

The failure of the 2018 Unite the Right march shows that - for now - Antifa's tactics work (NICKY WOOLF, 8/13/18, New Statesman)

Remember, that this is an administration that cried foul at the supposed lack of "civility" shown by the staff at the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia, who quietly and politely asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, but which refused to publicly condemn Heather Heyer's murderers.

Instead it has chosen to focus its ire on the Antifa movement, which aims to respond to neo-Nazi violence in kind, with sticks and fists. This tactic may be unseemly, but when the instruments of the state fail to clamp down on rising far-right agitators, it is unsurprising that a grassroots movement would rise up to fill the vacuum.

Whether the violent tactics of Antifa are the most moral option in the face of emboldened Nazi marchers is also one for debate by future historians. On one hand, their violent attacks against the Nazis marching in Charlottesville and at other white supremacist rallies like one in Berkeley just two weeks later gave Trump cover to pretend moral equilibrium between the two sides.

But on the other hand, those who said that stooping to their level would in some way undermine the counter-movement do not yet seem to have been proven right.

In the end, in Washington DC, the outer bands of a torrential rainstorm to the north of the city dampened this weekend's Unite the Right rally. Two dozen soggy white supremacists arrived at the White House flanked by rows of police officers, allocated for their protection from the masses of counter-protesters who gathered to show that they were not welcome, and from the black-clad Antifa in their midst.

The message seems to have gone out that, at least as far as the American people are concerned, Nazis will not be allowed to march through the streets with impunity.

Inside Omarosa's reign of terror (Jonathan Swan, 8/13/18, Axios)

[S]ome of the most powerful men in government were terrified of her. [...]

"I'm scared s[***]less of her... She's a physically intimidating presence," a male former colleague of Omarosa's told me. (He wouldn't let me use a more precise description of his former White House role because he admitted he's still scared of retribution from Omarosa. Other senior officials have admitted the same to me.)

"I never said no to her," the source added. "Anything she wanted, 'Yes, brilliant.' I'm afraid of her. I'm afraid of getting my ass kicked."

Three other former officials shared that sentiment: "One hundred percent, everyone was scared of her," said another former official.

The big picture: Trump has nobody to blame but himself for Omarosa's raucous book tour, in which she calls him a racist and a misogynist, and says he's in mental decline. Trump brought her into the White House at the senior-most level with the top salary. In many ways, two former senior administration officials pointed out, what Omarosa is doing now is pure Trump.

"She may be the purest of all the Trump characters," one told me. "She may be the most Trumpian. She knows media, she knows about physical presence, like Trump does...that's why I think he's rattled."

"The only reason Trump works is because he gives less of a crap than anybody in the world," the other source told me. "That's where she's at. She's totally undeterred by things that would freak out most people.

"She's out-Trumping Trump right now," the source added, before losing his train of thought in a fit of laughter.

Behind the scenes: Former chief of staff Reince Priebus made valiant efforts to keep Omarosa out of the Oval. And former press secretary Sean Spicer kept having to rebuff administrative officials who were lugging desks over to the West Wing to set up a personal workstation for Omarosa at her command.

But Omarosa answered to nobody. And senior staff told me last year they felt paralyzed because she was the only top-level official in the White House who was African-American.

On a weekend last April, Omarosa caused a security and ethics stir when she dropped into the White House in full bridal attire and with members of her bridal party to try to hold a wedding photoshoot in the Rose Garden and throughout the West Wing.

Faith-based protesters flock to Washington to counter white supremacists (Jack Jenkins, 8/12/18, RNS) 

Some religious groups have been actively fighting against racism throughout America's history, and a band of faith leaders and theologians were among the few who stared down white supremacists in Charlottesville last year. But a broad swath of religious groups began organizing ahead of this year's rally in Washington, hosting vigils, trainings and events. Auburn Seminary, the Council on American-Islamic Relations) and Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., also issued statements condemning racism, the planned white supremacist rally or both.

"Let us pray for those who shout 'Jews will not replace us' or 'you will not replace us,'" the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign declared at a teach-in Friday at Washington Hebrew Congregation. He was referring to the haunting chant bellowed by white supremacists the year before as they marched with torches onto the University of Virginia campus -- all while, as Barber noted, a group of religious activists met to condemn racism in a church across the street.

"(We know) those who have been overcome by the insanity of hate and the insanity of racism. For we know it is a disease, a terrible disease of the spirit that diminishes the humanity of anyone it infects."

On Sunday, this blitz of faith-based activism was evident across the city, beginning with a "United to Love" rally on the National Mall organized by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. Dozens of attendees swayed and sang as a choir led the group in singing hymns, and some waved signs emblazoned with slogans such as "Jesus was black" and quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., such as, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that."

The event also included a sermon from the conference's Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, who stood silhouetted against the U.S. Capitol as she spoke. She repeatedly condemned racism and white supremacy, arguing that those who champion racism "betray God."

"Hate kills," she declared. "Hate destroys. Hate controls. Hate dominates. Hate imprisons. Hate legislates inequality. Hate hides behind religion and politics to promote oppression and inequality. Hate is not of God."

United Methodist Bishop LaTrelle Easterling preaches during the "United to Love" rally in Washington, D.C., in opposition to the "Unite the Right 2" white supremacist demonstration on August 12, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

As she spoke, a lone white man walked up to demonstrators and began shouting racial slurs, insisting white supremacists will "rule the night." When security officials turned to face him, he quickly fled.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


The Prague Spring still haunts Europe : The human thirst for political rights, justice and national freedom is unquenchable (TONY BARBER, 8/13/18, Financial Times)

The Prague Spring seems far off because the geopolitical setting in which it took place is long gone. In 1968 the cold war divided Europe in two. Its eastern half languished under communism -- a repressive, dreary system of government imported from Moscow in the 1940s and not to be cast aside for another 21 years. Nowadays, the reborn Czech and Slovak states are independent, increasingly prosperous democracies and members of Nato and the EU.

Yet there are still lessons to be learnt from the Prague Spring. The first is that doctrinaire ideologies and political practices, whether they be 1960s-style communism or the intolerant dogmas of today's radical right and left, contain the seeds of their own downfall. They propose inadequate solutions to the complex problems of modern societies. They bully critics, deride experts and degrade reason. In so doing, they generate economic inefficiency, social tension and political discontent.

The second lesson is that the human thirst for political rights, justice and national freedom is unquenchable. This was on display throughout the communist era: East Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956, Prague in 1968, Gdansk in 1980 and across the Baltic states in 1988-91. The patriotism of Czechs and Slovaks is more civic than nationalist in nature. But the recovery of independence is one of their most cherished gains of 1989.

The third lesson is that political struggle need not be conducted, as in much of today's world, in the language of the gutter and with the manners of the yahoo. In 1968, Dubcek wore a permanent smile on his face and celebrated the dignity of the individual. He can be faulted for a naive faith that communism was reformable. But he had the last laugh when he returned to a hero's welcome on Wenceslas Square after the triumph of the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

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CHILE VS. VENEZUELA (Steven F. Hayward, 8/12/18, Powerline)

What's the difference between Chile and Venezuela? Socialism, sure, but we should take this point one large step further: the only reason Chile isn't also a socialist basket case is that it had a military coup in 1973 to prevent the socialist government of Salvador Allende from making Chile into the prototype for Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Allende had every intention of following the same playbook of rigging elections and legislative bodies, subverting rival power structures, censoring the press and arresting opposition leaders, nationalizing industries and launching Chile's economy down the same road to oppressive mediocrity like all other socialist regimes.

Likewise, Spain's GDP per capita is triple Romania's, and so on.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Under Trump, the rare act of denaturalizing U.S. citizens on the rise (BRITTNY MEJIA, AUG 12, 2018, LA Times)

The move comes at a time when Trump and top advisors have made it clear that they want to dramatically reduce immigration, both illegal and legal.

The administration granted fewer visas and accepted fewer refugees in 2017 than in previous years.

Recently, the federal government moved to block victims of gang violence and domestic abuse from claiming asylum. White House senior advisor Stephen Miller -- an immigration hawk -- is pushing a policy that could make it more difficult for those who have received public benefits, including Obamacare, to become citizens or green card holders, according to multiple news outlets.

Shusterman, now a private immigration attorney in L.A., said he's concerned denaturalization could be used as another tool to achieve the president's goals.

"I think they'll ... find people with very minor transgressions," he said, "and they'll take away their citizenship."

Dozens of U.S. mayors, including L.A.'s Eric Garcetti, signed a letter sent to the citizenship agency's director in late July, criticizing a backlog in naturalization applications and the agency's commitment of resources to "stripping citizenship from naturalized Americans."

"The new measure to investigate thousands of cases from almost 30 years ago, under the pretext of the incredibly minimal problem of fraud in citizenship applications, instead of managing resources in a manner that processes the backlogs before them, suggests that the agency is more interested in following an aggressive political agenda rather than its own mission," the letter stated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


White House exploring legal options against Omarosa Manigault Newman for making secret recording in Situation Room (MERIDITH MCGRAW TARA PALMERI, Aug 12, 2018, ABC News)

Omarosa Manigault Newman's former White House colleagues are looking into legal options to stop her from releasing more tapes and to punish her for secretly recording her conversation with Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly, White House officials tell ABC News.

August 12, 2018

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Steel users are frustrated by process of seeking tariff exemptions (David Nicklaus, 8/12/18,  St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

RotoMetrics, a cutting-die manufacturer in Eureka, thought it had a strong case for being exempted from President Donald Trump's steel tariffs.

Nearly three months after it started asking for such an exclusion, the company is still waiting for an answer.

So is Deutsche Precision, a transmission parts manufacturer in Maryland Heights. The Commerce Department took weeks to even post its exemption requests.

Both companies import thousands of tons of steel a year, and they continue to price and sell their products despite not knowing how much that steel will cost -- the price suppliers were charging before Trump announced his trade action in March, or 25 percent more to cover the tariffs.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said up front that companies could apply for exemptions "through a fair and transparent process" with decisions based on "whether a product is produced in the United States of a satisfactory quality or in a sufficient and reasonably available amount."

RotoMetrics buys 71 percent of its steel domestically. It asked for tariff exclusions on types of tool steel that aren't available in the U.S.

Deutsche Precision imports all of its steel from Italy and Japan. Carlo Ilardi, the company's general manager, said domestic mills can't meet its customers' specifications for hardness and purity.

Each firm must file a separate request for each size, grade or chemical composition of a steel product it imports. So far, that adds up to 72 requests by RotoMetrics and 14 by Deutsche Precision.

Ken McInnis, RotoMetrics' director of supply chain-Americas and global purchasing, says dozens of his requests were kicked back for being incomplete.

Of the requests that went through the required 30-day comment period, several drew objections from steel suppliers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas that say they can meet RotoMetrics' needs.

McInnis has checked; they can't. "They had huge lead times and were charging three times the price," he said. "Financially, we can't pay that and be viable."

The process, though, provides no way for him to answer the steel companies' claims. An objection seems to stop the request in its tracks.

"The process has just been a fiasco," McInnis said. "They kill it even though it (an objection) is not legitimate."

Ilardi, too, is frustrated by the exemption process. "There's nobody to call. You just email an address and hope they will respond," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Omarosa Released A Secret Recording From When John Kelly Fired Her From The White House (Mary Ann Georgantopoulos, 8/12/18, BuzzFeed News)

On the recording, Kelly can be heard saying:

"There are pretty significant legal issues that we hope don't develop into something that, that'll make it ugly for you. But I think it's important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure we can all be, you know, you can look at, look at your time here in, in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation. " [...]

On the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Manigault Newman on Sunday said she was "totally complicit" when she defended the president after he blamed "both sides" for the violence.

"He should have been denouncing what we saw as clearly racist Nazis," she said Sunday

"I was complicit with this White House deceiving this nation, they continue to deceive this nation," she said.

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The Left's Contempt for Jordan Peterson Is Perfectly Rational (Eric Levitz, 8/12/18, New York)

Is it actually the case that Peterson's argument against identity politics is profound, and that the left has no coherent reason for disdaining him on the basis of it?

To answer this query, let's take a look at what Peterson's own fans have identified as "his finest moment" -- his nutshell case for rejecting identity politics and embracing the individualist, "free market" traditions of "the West."

This viral clip from one of Peterson's lectures begins with the professor arguing that every single person in his audience is "oppressed." The ensuing rant is worth quoting at length:

God only knows why. Maybe you're too short, or you're not as beautiful as you could be, or, you know, your parent, your grandparent was a serf -- likely, because almost everbody's grand-, great-grandparent was. And you're not as smart as you could be. And you have a sick relative, and you have your own physical problems -- and it's like, frankly, you're a mess. And you're oppressed in every possible way including your ancestry and your biology. And the entire sum of human history has conspired to produce victimized you, with all your individual pathological problems. It's like: YES! TRUE! OKAY!

But the problem is that, if you take the oppressed, you have to fractionate them and fractionate them, and it's like: You're a woman? Yeah, okay -- well I'm a black woman. Well, I'm a black woman who has two children. Well, I'm a black woman who has two children, and one of them isn't very healthy. And then, well, I'm a Hispanic woman, and I have a genius son who doesn't have any money, so that he can't go to university -- and, you know, I had a hell of a time getting across the border. It was really hard on me to get my citizenship. My husband is an alcoholic brute. It's like, well, yeah, that sucks too. And so, let's fix all your oppression. And we'll take every single thing into account, and then we'll fix yours too. We'll take every single thing into account.

It's like: NO, you won't because you can't. You can't. It is technically impossible. First of all, you can't even list all the ways that you're oppressed. Second, how are you going to weight them? Third, who's going to decide? And that's the bloody thing: Who's gonna decide? That's the thing. 

Well, what's the answer in the West? It's like, in free markets ... We're going to outsource it to the marketplace. You're going to take your sorry pathetic being, and you're gonna try to offer me something that maybe I want. And I'm going to take my sorry pathetic being, and I'm gonna say, "well, all things considered, as well as I can understand them, maybe I could give you this much money", which is actually a promise for that thing. And you've packed all of your damn oppression into the price. And I packed all my oppression into the willingness to pay it. And that solution sucks. It's a bad solution. But compared to every other solution - man, it's why 10 percent of us have freedom!

Here, Peterson argues that seeking political solutions to problems of identity-based oppression is futile; that attempts to do so will inevitably bestow arbitrary powers on some tyrannical authority (Who's gonna decide?); and thus, that the best society can do is to maintain free markets, where all individuals can seek to transcend their oppression by selling goods and services that other individuals wish to buy.

This narrative rests on so many flimsy premises it's hard to know where to begin. Does Peterson genuinely believe that "free markets" are the best solution "the West" has found for a woman whose "genius son" can't afford to go to college? Or for a mother with a sick child? Is he unaware of the existence of public universities, and his home country's single-payer health-care system? Or does he not understand that people had to organize collectively -- around shared identities of oppression (as with workers in trade unions or people who suffer from disabilities, in lobbying groups) -- to bring these kinds of public goods into being? And is the question of "who will get to decide" whose oppression the state should prioritize redressing really so confounding? Didn't "the West" develop republican institutions precisely so that the people's elected representatives could adjudicate such claims, and be voted out of office if they do so in way that displeases a majority of the public?

But the core problem with Peterson's argument -- the one that best justifies the left's contempt for him -- is that it proceeds from the premise that it is impossible to draw a categorical distinction between oppressions that are rooted in race, gender, or class, and ineluctable misfortunes like "being less tall than one might prefer."

That is, of course, precisely the opposite of what Mr. Peterson said in the quoted excerpt (see bold).  It's rather easy to draw categorical distinctions.  When Donald Trump rages against immigrants, Muslims, etc. he's just drawing categorical distinctions. The Left and the Right, both being rational, simply believe themselves uniquely well-suited to drawing them and then basing public policy on them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


The Outrage Over Sarah Jeong: Let he who is without a bad tweet cast the first stone. (Bret Stephens, Aug. 9, 2018, NY Times)

In March, a liberal furor erupted when The Atlantic magazine briefly hired Kevin Williamson, a conservative writer with National Review. Several years earlier, Williamson had written a short tweet in which he seemed to suggest that women who obtain abortions should be hanged. Though he insists this is far from his real view, his fate was sealed when it turned out he had said something similar in a podcast. He was fired almost immediately.

I defended Williamson at the time, [...] [s]o allow me to apply precisely the same logic in defense of my soon-to-be colleague at The Times, Korean-American technology writer Sarah Jeong, who is joining the editorial board with her own extensive history of unfortunate tweets. [...]

I've spent the last few days reading some of Jeong's longer-form journalism. It's consistently smart and interesting and as distant from some of her more notorious social-media output as a brain is from a bottom. But you'll struggle to find her articles on an internet search, because her serious work is overwhelmed by the controversy her tweets have generated.

Is it ultimately her fault for writing those ugly tweets? Yes. Does it represent the core truth of who she is? I doubt it. Anyone who has been the victim of the social-media furies knows just how distorting and dishonest those furies can be. I'm routinely described on social media as an Arab-hating, climate-denying, pedophile apologist. It's enough for me that my family, friends and employer know I'm none of those things. God save us all when those pillars crumble in the face of our new culture of denunciation.

So welcome, Sarah, to The Times. I look forward to reading you with interest irrespective of agreement. I trust you'll extend the same good faith to all of your new colleagues. Only through such faith do the people, institutions, and nations thrive.

Whether it's funny or not, the intent of snark is comic.
Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


ICE Withheld Deported Parents' Phone Numbers From Lawyers, ACLU Says (Angelina Chapin, 8/11/18, Huffington Post)

The American Civil Liberties Union told HuffPost that the government finally handed over phone numbers this week for the more than 400 migrant parents who were separated from their children and then deported under the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy on immigration. 

But the organization believes that Immigration and Customs Enforcement deliberately withheld these phone numbers for more than a month, despite the fact that this contact information could have helped reunite many families. 

ICE is essentially a military organization now and immigrants are its enemy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Coal industry on steady decline under Trump's leadership (MARK HAND, AUG 7, 2018, ThinkProgress)

Meanwhile, newly released data shows the coal industry is doing worse today than it was when President Barack Obama was preparing to leave office in January 2017. Coal production is still on the decline. Coal-fired power plants are still closing. And Trump's own Department of Energy doesn't see these trends reversing anytime soon. In other words, Trump hasn't reversed the downward financial trajectory of the industry that started years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Who are the Sikhs and what are their beliefs? (Simran Jeet Singh, 8/10/18, RNS)

To start at the beginning, the founder of the Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak was born in 1469 in the Punjab region of South Asia, which is currently split between Pakistan and the northwestern area of India. A majority of the global Sikh population still resides in Punjab on the Indian side of the border.

From a young age, Guru Nanak was disillusioned by the social inequities and religious hypocrisies he observed around him. He believed that a single divine force created the entire world and resided within it. In his belief, God was not separate from the world and watching from a distance, but fully present in every aspect of creation.

He therefore asserted that all people are equally divine and deserve to be treated as such.

To promote this vision of divine oneness and social equality, Guru Nanak created institutions and religious practices. He established community centers and places of worship, wrote his own scriptural compositions and institutionalized a system of leadership (gurus) that would carry forward his vision.

The Sikh view thus rejects all social distinctions that produce inequities, including gender, race, religion and caste, the predominant structure for social hierarchy in South Asia.

A community kitchen run by the Sikhs to provide free meals to anyone, irrespective of caste, faith or religion, in the Golden Temple, in Punjab, India. Photo by Shankar S./Creative Commons

Serving the world is a natural expression of the Sikh prayer and worship. Sikhs call this prayerful service "seva," and it is a core part of their practice.

In the Sikh tradition, a truly religious person is one who cultivates the spiritual self while also serving the communities around them - or a saint-soldier. The saint-soldier ideal applies to women and men alike.

In this spirit, Sikh women and men maintain five articles of faith, popularly known as the five Ks. These are: kes (long, uncut hair), kara (steel bracelet), kanga (wooden comb), kirpan (small sword) and kachera (soldier-shorts).

Although little historical evidence exists to explain why these particular articles were chosen, the 5 Ks continue provide the community with a collective identity, binding together individuals on the basis of a shared belief and practice. As I understand, Sikhs cherish these articles of faith as gifts from their gurus.

Turbans are an important part of the Sikh identity. Both women and men may wear turbans. Like the articles of faith, Sikhs regard their turbans as gifts given by their beloved gurus, and its meaning is deeply personal. In South Asian culture, wearing a turban typically indicated one's social status - kings and rulers once wore turbans. The Sikh gurus adopted the turban, in part, to remind Sikhs that all humans are sovereign, royal and ultimately equal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Study: 11 million white Americans think like the alt-right (Zack Beauchamp, Aug 10, 2018, Vox)

[N]ew research from the University of Alabama's George Hawley, published by UVA's Institute for Family Studies, suggests this isn't the case. According to Hawley, a political scientist who specializes in demography and the far right, roughly 5.64 percent of America's 198 million non-Hispanic whites have beliefs consistent with the alt-right's worldview. Whether or not they would describe themselves as alt-right, Hawley argues, they share the movement's belief in a politics that promotes white interests above those of other racial groups.

[W]hile the alt-right as a practical political movement is marginal, Hawley's research shows that its ideas are more popular than it might seem. Large numbers of people think the way that they do, and shape their political identity around a sense of white grievance and identity. They may not march around the streets yelling, "Jews will not replace us!" but they are extremely receptive to a politics that positions whites as victims and a growing minority population as an existential threat.

This kind of white identity politics has become more and more common in the mainstream conservative movement since Trump's ascendancy. Just this week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham went on an anti-immigration rant that could just as easily been given by alt-right luminary Richard Spencer. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke even tweeted out his endorsement of Ingraham's monologue.

"The America we know and love doesn't exist anymore," Ingraham said during her Wednesday night show. "Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like."

You can find similar rhetoric from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whom the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer has referred to as "literally our greatest ally." Rep. Steve King, a prominent anti-immigration Republican from Iowa, tweeted last year that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies"; the Daily Stormer has termed King "our guy."

These mainstream figures are activating this latent alt-right constituency, bringing them into the conservative movement and the Republican Party as a core constituency. And nobody has done this more effectively than President Donald Trump: Study after study has shown that Trump's primary and general election victories were driven by the racial resentment and demographic panic he activated among white voters.

By their obsession with immigration shall you know them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Some workers say Carrier faces low morale, absenteeism at factory kept open by Trump: report (JOHN BOWDEN, 08/10/18, The Hill)

Several employees at Indiana's Carrier factory say the facility is at risk of shuttering again because of low morale and rampant absenteeism, despite President Trump's efforts which helped keep the facility open.

The New York Times reported Friday that multiple employees and union officials have complained about rising absenteeism, which has led to the factory missing quotas and even shutting down production early.

* with apologies to Sarah Jeong for stealing her bit

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Trump's War With Harley-Davidson Has Divided America's Bikers: A move by the company has put one of the country's most iconic brands in the uncomfortable position of clashing with a president who is immensely popular with most of its customers. (Alan Rappeport, Aug. 11, 2018, NY Times)

"We're not going to sit back on a hope and a promise that they're going to do the right thing," said Mr. Cox, who brought with him a leather jacket autographed by Mr. Trump at the White House when he was in Washington for a recent visit with some bikers. He said that Mr. Trump insisted that he visit the Oval Office because his group has been so supportive and loyal.

Explaining the importance of domestic production, Mr. Cox said that Vietnam veterans who joined motorcycle clubs after the war were disappointed decades later when the new brake pads they needed to buy were made in Vietnam. He said that many bikers he knows are now wearing long sleeves to conceal their Harley tattoos.

But even Mr. Cox, a South Carolina chain saw artist who carves trees and other objects, could not escape the realities of global supply chains and the high cost of making some products in the United States. While he used to sell American-made T-shirts, the $20 Trump shirts he was selling outside his R.V. were made in Haiti. The American-made shirts proved to be a hard sell.

"If I get a T-shirt made in the U.S.A., it's going to cost about $8 more," Mr. Cox said. "I looked far and wide to try to get a shirt made in America, it's just they get you, they gouge you."

Donald and the Trumpbots have turned the Times into one of the great comedic publications in history.

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Syrian rebels build an army with Turkish help, face challenges (Khalil Ashawi, 8/12/18, Reuters) 

A "National Army" being set up by Syrian rebels with Turkey's help could become a long-term obstacle to President Bashar al-Assad's recovery of the northwest - if they can end factional rivalries that have long blighted the opposition. [...]

Turkey's role has gone beyond supporting allied Syrian forces to rebuilding schools and hospitals. At least five branches of the Turkish post office have opened in the area.

Colonel Haitham Afisi, head of the National Army, says setting up the force has been no easy task over the last year.

"We are at the beginning. We face many difficulties but we are working to overcome them," Afisi told Reuters in an interview in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border.

There is no Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Tens of thousands protest in Tel Aviv against 'nation-state law' (Al Jazeera, 8/12/18)

"This is amazing. This is the first time I remember Jews and Palestinians fighting together for something. This is a really big moment for people that believe in democracy and equality," an unidentified demonstrator told Al Jazeera.

A Jewish participant agreed, saying all citizens of Israel should be equal under the law. 

"We, a lot of Israelis, believe that they [minorities] are entitled to be equal to us," protester Dan Meiri said. "It is the Jewish state but the people that live here are entitled to be equal to us across the board in education, in the army, in the universities, in the parliament - all over."

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Melania's Family Immigration Lawyer Blasts Trump Policy (Matthew Chapman, August 12, 2018, AlterNet.)

One such person who noticed this contradiction was Michael Wildes, the former mayor of Englewood, NJ, and the attorney who represented the Knavses during the immigration process in the first place. And he is not happy about what Trump has been saying. [...]

'Let me take off one hat as the First Lady's immigration lawyer and her family, and put on my own personal hat. It's unconscionable to scare people into believing that. You cannot bring nephews. You cannot bring neices or uncles. You can't bring 32 people here. And some of the quotas are backed up for 10 or 15 years from particular countries."

"This whole notion of 'chain migration' is actually a beautiful bedrock of immigration law and policy, called family reunification," he went on. "Imagine this. People will work harder and love more and do more for America, knowing that their loved ones, their immediate relatives, their parents, their children, to say you can bring one relative and not another relative, I can understand that some of them may be in jeopardy, and you may want to retool and ancient migration system ... but chain migration is not family reunification."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Wisconsin May Cut Income Tax Rates to Offset Rise in Online Sales Tax Revenues (Michael Carroll, August 12, 2018, Free Beacon)

Income tax filers in Wisconsin may soon reap benefits from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring that more out-of-state online retailers collect and remit sales taxes on purchases.

Remote sellers that conduct at least 200 annual transactions - or annual sales topping $100,000 - in Wisconsin will have to collect state sales taxes, the court ruled recently in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. The ruling in June overturned a previous high court decision that said such taxes need not be collected by online retailers unless they had a physical presence in the state where they were doing business.

In a report sent to members of the state legislature, the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau pointed out that current state law may require the additional sales tax revenues received as a result of the court decision be used to reduce income tax rates. Under that scenario, the average Wisconsin income tax filer would see a tax reduction of $52 annually, according to the bureau's report.

That idea now has the endorsement of Gov. Scott Walker.

There's his 2020 platform--tax consumption, not income.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


V.S. Naipaul, Who Explored Colonialism Through Unsparing Books, Dies at 85 (Rachel Donadio, Aug. 11, 2018, NY Times)

In a 1974 essay that marked a breakthrough in his own understanding of himself as a writer, Mr. Naipaul wrote of his debt to the Ukrainian-born Conrad, who had also willed himself to be an artist in England and also traveled to the far corners of the colonized world. "I found that Conrad -- 60 years before, in a time of a great peace -- had been everywhere before me," he wrote. But in an interview with The Times in 2005, Mr. Naipaul revised this judgment. While conceding that Conrad was "great," he insisted that he "had no influence on me."

"Actually, I think 'A Bend in the River' is much, much better than Conrad," Mr. Naipaul said.

Mr. Naipaul's writing about Africa drew criticism from many who were unsettled by his portraits of Africans. The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe called him "a new purveyor of the old comforting myths" of the white West.

He was also criticized for his unflattering portrayals of women. In "A Bend in the River," the protagonist spits on the naked body of his Belgian lover. In his 1975 novel "Guerrillas," the English girlfriend of an exiled South African resistance hero acts on her fantasies of native sexual power to disastrous effect.

Always attuned to the tides of history, Mr. Naipaul began to travel in non-Arab Islamic countries around the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He visited Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia in the late 1970s, when they were witnessing a rise in political power and Islamic fundamentalism. His first travelogue, "Among the Believers," was published in 1981. A sequel, "Beyond Belief," followed in 1998.

He started his inquiry, he later explained, by asking simple questions: To what extent had "people who lock themselves away in belief shut themselves away from the active, busy world?" "To what extent without knowing it" were they "parasitic on that world"? And why did they have "no thinkers to point out to them where their thoughts and their passion had led them?"

The books are grounded in Mr. Naipaul's belief that Islamic societies lead to tyranny, which he essentially attributed to a flaw in Islam, that it "offered no political or practical solution."

"It offered only the faith," he wrote.

These books were harshly criticized. The critic and Palestinian rights advocate Edward Said argued that Mr. Naipaul had interviewed only those who would confirm his pre-established thesis about flaws in Islam while playing down local political situations that might better explain the rise in Islamic fundamentalism.

Mr. Naipaul also wrote perceptively about America. "A Turn in the South" (1989) is a travelogue about the Deep South, and in an essay on the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, "The Air-Conditioned Bubble," he dissected American political pieties. "The fundamentalism that the Republicans had embraced went beyond religion," he wrote. "It simplified the world in general; it rolled together many different kinds of anxieties -- schools, drugs, race, buggery, Russia, to give just a few; and it offered the simplest, the vaguest solution: Americanism, the assertion of the American self."

Mr. Naipaul increasingly lamented the limitations of fiction. The novel had reached its peak in the 19th century, he said, and Modernism was dead. Instead, he thought nonfiction better captured the complexities of the world. He said he wrote his novel "Half a Life" (2001) only to fulfill a publisher's contract.

In 1996, two months after the death of his first wife, Mr. Naipaul married Nadira Khannum Alvi, a divorced Pakistani journalist more than 20 years his junior. She survives him. He had met her at the home of the American consul-general in Lahore. In 2003 Mr. Naipaul adopted Nadira's daughter, Maleeha, who was then 25.

A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

The writer Paul Theroux, who was one of Mr. Naipaul's closest friends, had a falling out with Mr. Naipaul not long after the marriage to Ms. Alvi. In his book "Sir Vidia's Shadow" (1998), Mr. Theroux documented the arc of their complicated literary friendship, which began in Uganda in 1966 and ended abruptly in 1997 after Mr. Theroux saw books he had written and inscribed to his mentor listed for sale in an auction catalog. He depicts Mr. Naipaul as a great inspiration as a writer, but also petty, cruel and needy. The two men later reconciled.

For all his pessimism, Mr. Naipaul was confident that what he called "Our Universal Civilization" would prevail. In a 1992 lecture, he said his optimism derived from his belief in the idea of the pursuit of happiness, which lay "at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery."

"It is an elastic idea; it fits all men," he said. "It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don't imagine my parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away."

Which nicely captures his contradictions, the pursuit of happiness being quintessential Americanism. And nothing better captures the contradictory relationship of intellectuals to his work than the fact that he was awarded the Nobel immediately after 9-11.

V.S. Naipaul, a Writer of Many Contradictions and Obvious Greatness (Dwight Garner, Aug. 12, 2018, NY Times)

Naipaul's unsympathetic views of postcolonial life made him among the most controversial writers of his time. No white Westerner could have spoken as he did. He wrote of the "primitivism" and "barbarism" of African societies. He fixated in India on the lack of plumbing: "They defecate on the hills; they defecate on the riverbanks; they defecate on the streets." He denigrated the country of his birth: "I was born there, yes. I thought it was a mistake." He was a critic of Islam.

He was loathed by third world intellectuals and called, among other things, a "restorer of the comforting myths of the white race" (Chinua Achebe), "a despicable lackey of neocolonialism" (H.B. Singh) and a "cold and sneering prophet" (Eric Roach).

He made enemies as easily as sipping tea. He said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me." He physically abused Margaret Murray, his mistress of many years. He spoke openly about disliking overweight people and about visiting prostitutes. A bindi on a woman's forehead signifies, he said, "My head is empty."

He had as many ardent defenders. Ian Buruma, the editor of The New York Review of Books, thought it was a mistake to view Naipaul as "a dark man mimicking the prejudices of the white imperialists." He wrote: "This view is not only superficial, it is wrong. Naipaul's rage is not the result of being unable to feel the native's plight; on the contrary, he is angry because he feels it so keenly."

At its best, Naipaul's work made these questions nearly moot. He was a self-styled heir to Joseph Conrad, and a legitimate one. "This is what I would ask of the writer," he once said. "How much of the modern world does his work contain?" Naipaul's work contained multitudes -- subtle and overlapping meanings, only rarely sledgehammer ones. He is the subject of an excellent biography, "The World Is What It Is" (2008), by Patrick French -- a good starting point, along with "A House for Mr. Biswas," for those interested in Naipaul's work.

August 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


When the Tide Comes In (JONAH GOLDBERG, August 11, 2018, National Review)

In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial "revealing" a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as "a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist," asked, "Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?"

(More about that "supposedly" later.)

"But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent," Judis recounts. "He wrote Bonbrake, "I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives]."

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review's editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn't be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers enthusiastically agreed with Buckley. Chambers welcomed the memo as a "liberation." "How good, and how strong, it is to take a principled position," Chambers wrote to Buckley. "It defines, and defining, frees. Now what is good and strong outside us can draw to us, about whom there is, in this connection, no longer question, equivocation. The dregs will be drawn to the dregs, and sink where they belong."

A few subscriptions were cancelled, but not many. Quickly, other leading conservatives followed NR's example and repudiated The Mercury.

Maguire was furious that Buckley had broken the popular-front orthodoxy of the Right. Maguire soon shriveled up to a footnote in obscure books; Buckley went the other direction, to understate it dramatically.

Now, I am not trying to whitewash National Review's history. NR would go on to make some morally grievous editorial errors, particularly on civil rights. It would also rally to the defense of cranks, anti-Semites, and demagogues on too many occasions, albeit on free-speech grounds or in the name of the noble cause of anti-Communism.

And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right. That is always an issue with conservatives, who, by nature and design, prefer to measure at least twice before cutting even once. ("I must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes," as Edmund Burke said.)

...but when they metastasize they need to be cut.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Trump's résumé is rife with mob connections (David Von Drehle, August 10, 2018, Washington Post)

New York construction, for starters. In 1988, Vincent "the Fish" Cafaro of the Genovese crime family testified before a U.S. Senate committee concerning the Mafia's control of building projects in New York. Construction unions and concrete contractors were deeply dirty, Cafaro confirmed, and four of the city's five crime families worked cooperatively to keep it that way.

This would not have been news to Trump, whose early political mentor and personal lawyer was Roy Cohn, consigliere to such dons as Fat Tony Salerno and Carmine Galante. After Cohn guided the brash young developer through the gutters of city politics to win permits for Trump Plaza and Trump Tower, it happened that Trump elected to build primarily with concrete rather than steel. He bought the mud at inflated prices from S&A Concrete, co-owned by Cohn's client Salerno and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family. [...]

His gambling interests led him into the world of boxing promotion, where Trump became chums with fight impresario Don King, a former Cleveland numbers runner. (Trump once told me that he owes his remarkable coiffure to King, who advised the future president, from personal experience, that outlandish hair is great PR) King hasn't been convicted since the 1960s, when he did time for stomping a man to death. But investigators at the FBI and U.S. Senate concluded that his Mafia ties ran from Cleveland to New York, Las Vegas to Atlantic City. Mobsters "were looking to launder illicit cash," wrote one sleuth. "Boxing, of all the sports, was perhaps the most accommodating laundromat, what with its international subculture of unsavory characters who play by their own rules."

But an even more accommodating laundromat came along: luxury real estate -- yet another mob-adjacent field in which the Trump name has loomed large. Because buyers of high-end properties often hide their identities, it's impossible to say how many Russian Mafia oligarchs own Trump-branded condos. Donald Trump Jr. gave a hint in 2008: "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets."

For instance: In 2013, federal prosecutors indicted Russian mob boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and 33 others on charges related to a gambling ring operating from two Trump Tower condos that allegedly laundered more than $100 million. A few months later, the same Mr. Tokhtakhounov, a fugitive from U.S. justice, was seen on the red carpet at Trump's Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Trump Tears Into Jeff Sessions (JEREMY SCHULMAN, AUG. 11, 2018, Mother Jones)

President Donald Trump on Saturday publicly excoriated his attorney general in a series of tweets about the Russian investigation, describing Jeff Sessions as "scared stiff and Missing in Action."

...he's an extremely good judge of lack of character.  He can't treat guys like Beauregard and General Kelly with enough contempt for any of them to resign.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Poll: Trump is as strongly disliked now as Nixon was before he resigned (Harry Enten, 8/11/18, CNN)

Trump is as strongly disliked as President Richard Nixon was when he resigned the presidency 44 years ago this week. Back then, 45% of people said Nixon was doing a poor job as president in a Harris poll.

Among Democrats, the intensity of the dislike toward Trump is even deeper today than it was against Nixon back in 1974. Back in 1974, 70% of those who said they voted for Democrat George McGovern in 1972 (37% of the sample) gave Nixon a poor rating. That's 10 percentage points below the 80% of Democrats (35% of the Marist sample) who give Trump a poor rating today.

What's so interesting is that even though a majority of people didn't strongly dislike Nixon, it's not like they wanted to stay him in office. The Harris poll back in 1974 found that 56% of Americans wanted him impeached and removed from office compared with only 34% who didn't want that to happen. Among McGovern voters, it was 83%. Clearly, Americans didn't like Nixon, but it didn't boil over into strong dislike in the same way it does with Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Of Course There Is Such a Thing as a 'Perjury Trap' (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, August 11, 2018, National Review)

The theme the anti-Trump camp is pushing -- again, a sweet-sounding political claim that defies real-world experience -- is that an honest person has nothing to fear from a prosecutor. If you simply answer the questions truthfully, there is no possibility of a false-statements charge. [...]

Former national-security adviser Michael Flynn was questioned about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. There were some discrepancies between Flynn's account of the discussions and the FBI's understanding of them (we'll come back to why). Did that necessarily mean Flynn lied? Of course not. To take the most obvious possibility, Flynn could have had an innocent failure of recollection. It happens to all of us; it would happen to you if you tried to describe this this column to someone without having a copy of it in hand.

The investigators and prosecutors had to weigh whether Flynn's discrepancies were honest mistakes or conscious misstatements. It appears that the first set of investigators gave him the benefit of the doubt, but Mueller's team drew the opposite conclusion. Yes, Flynn ultimately pled guilty, but when highly experienced investigators assess the same basic facts differently, the matter cannot be black-and-white.

Or take the George Papadopoulos case. The false-statements charge against him was largely based on misleading investigators about the timing of his conversations about Russia.

Get it?  Perjury traps are real because Donald's wiseguys are pleading guilty to misleading investigators. Sublime.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


As I See It: Race and Equality (Mitt Romney, AUGUST 10, 2018)

A year ago in Charlottesville, a Nazi white supremacist plowed his car into a group of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring several others. His object was to brutalize and terrorize demonstrators whom he and his hate brigade opposed. The President opined that there were good people in both groups, a statement for which he was widely criticized. My view --then and now -- is that people who knowingly march under the Nazi banner have disqualified themselves as "good people." Accordingly, I wrote:

Prior to and after Charlottesville, the President made public statements that were viewed by some as expressing or evoking racism. He objected to this characterization and insisted that he opposes racism. What followed has been a national conversation about the implications of race in America. Today, one year after Charlottesville, I again add my voice to this discussion.

I firmly believe in the moral foundation that underlies and is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution: "all men are created equal." I recognize that while individuals are born with unequal talents, unequal family circumstances, and unequal opportunity for education and advancement, the equality of the intrinsic worth of every person is a truth fundamental to our national founding and moral order.

As citizens of a nation founded on the principle of human equality, we must categorically and consistently reject racism and discrimination. We must refuse to allow our estimation of others to be based upon their ethnicity rather than upon their qualities as individuals. We must insist that those we elect as our leaders respect and embrace Americans of every race, sexual orientation, gender, and national origin. In this country, it must be electorally disqualifying to equivocate on racism.

There are some who feel that in our effort to create equality of opportunity for some we have, in certain circumstances, created discrimination for others. That surely would be unfortunate and ill-advised. Our aim must be equality of opportunity, not superiority of opportunity. That said, my personal experience working in communities of color is that in the great majority of circumstances, it is still a distinct disadvantage of opportunity to be African-American or Hispanic-American. My understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, is that it is not intended to elevate minority lives above white lives; it is intended to draw vivid attention to the too frequent reality of deadly racial discrimination in law enforcement and in the courts.

My convictions regarding the equality of mankind were unquestionably shaped by my parents and by my belief that we are all children of God. Civil rights were a passion for both my father and mother; Dad refused to support a presidential nominee of his party due in part to that person's perceived equivocation on civil rights. As a governor, he established the first state Civil Rights Commission. In our home, Mom and he taught us to respect people different than ourselves and to champion racial equality.

There are some besotted and misguided souls who long for a population that is more homogeneous--more white. They even disparage legal immigration, ignoring the fact that nearly all Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. But can they not at least recognize--whether or not they like it--we are, in fact, a highly diverse population? And given this reality, "united we stand and divided we fall."

The matter of race and racism is not tangential to the great issues of our day: it is one of them. It is impossible for America to achieve and sustain high growth, economic superiority, and global leadership if our citizenry is divided, disengaged, and angry. But more than this, we must foster equality if we are to remain a great and good nation. And we ourselves must embrace the dignity of all God's children if we are to merit His love.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Cheer up, Deutschland: The biggest risk to Germany is excessive pessimism (Charlemagne, Aug 2nd 2018, The Economist)

Pessimism, and the associated perfectionism, may be a German strength--but in moderation. And that moderation risks succumbing to the latest bout of hyperventilating self-denigration, along with basic facts about the state of the country. Germany's economy, for example, is powering ahead. Unemployment is at a record low, and exports are booming. Its infrastructure is among the best in the world. Inequality remains lower than in most other rich countries and the quality of life higher (the fourth best in the world, according to the UN's Human Development Index). German politics, it is true, is fragmenting, as in other European countries, but Mrs Merkel remains a sensible and decent leader, and moderate forces still dominate.

And the immigrants? By April this year 26% of refugees admitted to Germany since 2015 were in employment, more than expected. Crime fell to a 30-year low last year, with the largest long-term falls among immigrants. If rightists are becoming more vocal in their opposition to Germans of immigrant background, like Mr Özil, it is because their monocultural vision of Germany is losing the battle: the proportion of non-ethnic German residents is rising fast, with ever more reaching prominent roles in public life. The share of MPs with a migrant background rose from 3% to 9% over the two elections to 2017. Germany's most popular politician, Cem Özdemir of the Greens, is of Turkish origin, too.

Germany overlooks such facts at its peril. Mainstream politicians will not halt the rise of the AfD by parroting its inaccurate portrayal of the country as an unruly shambles. The country does not invest enough--threatening its competitiveness and contributing to international economic imbalances--but pessimists do not invest. Cracks in the liberal international order threaten German interests, but introspective gloom will surely prevent the country from taking more responsibility for its preservation. For its own sake and that of others, it is time for Germany to lift its gaze from its navel, grasp the bigger picture--and cheer up.

People are understandably confused that we've made the world and our societies so much better but not improved human nature one iota.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Environmental regulations drove steep declines in U.S. factory pollution (Public Affairs, UC Berkeley | AUGUST 9, 2018)

The study, forthcoming in the American Economic Review, found that polluting emissions from U.S. manufacturing fell by 60 percent between 1990 and 2008--a period in which manufacturing output grew significantly--primarily because manufacturers adopted cleaner production methods in tandem with increasingly strict environmental regulation.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, people worried that Los Angeles, New York and other U.S. cities would have unbearable air pollution levels by the end of the 20th century," said Joseph Shapiro, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics who co-authored the study with Reed Walker, an associate professor in the Haas School of Business and Department of Economics. "Instead, air pollution levels have plummeted, and the evidence shows that environmental regulation and the associated cleanup of production processes have played important roles in those steep declines."

Shapiro and Walker analyzed newly available data on over 1,400 different products produced by U.S. plants between 1990 and 2008. They combined this with plant-level pollution emissions data over the same period. The authors then categorized reductions in overall emissions into those that can be explained by changes in manufacturing output, changes in the types of goods produced or changes in production technologies.

The researchers found that most of the decreases in emissions of important pollutants from manufacturing--such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide--came from changes in production technologies.

"People often assume that manufacturing production pollutes less today because manufacturing output has declined, when in fact output was 30 percent greater in 2008 than in 1990," said Walker. "Others argue that manufacturing has shifted towards cleaner, high-tech products or that the manufacturing of 'dirty' products like steel has moved to China, Mexico or other foreign countries. Our analysis showed that changes in the product-mix of U.S. manufacturing do not explain much of the reduction in emissions. Instead, manufacturers are producing the same types of goods, but they've taken significant steps to clean up their production processes."

The researchers sought to identify the key driver of the change in production technology. They quantified the importance of reductions in tariffs and other trade costs, improved productivity and environmental regulation in explaining decreases in air pollution emissions. Then they showed that the stringency of environmental regulation for manufacturing firms nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008. The researchers demonstrate that this increase in regulatory stringency, rather than improvements in manufacturing productivity or trade exposure, accounted for most of the decreases in pollution emissions.

August 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


GOP Operative Made "Suspicious" Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails (Jason Leopold, Anthony Cormier. August 10, 2018, BuzzFeed News)

In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton's emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith's project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers "many thousands of dollars" for Clinton's emails -- and ultimately did so. [...]

The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith's effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials -- particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton's emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Strange Bedfellows: Is the US Supporting al-Qaeda in Yemen? (Abigail Liebing, August 10, 2018, Politico)

For the past two years, the civil war in Yemen has gone almost unnoticed in the US. Yemen is currently one of the most dangerous countries in the world, suffering from violence, starvation, and now an outbreak of cholera. The focus of the news media in the US has been elsewhere. Case in point, out that in the past year MSNBC has hardly mentioned Yemen but has had 455 segments about Stormy Daniels. But with the recent discovery of how al-Qaeda has been involved with the US-supported, Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, there may be a few more eyes turned towards the fray.

A Saudi-led coalition, that is predominantly Sunni, has been sweeping through Yemen fighting the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels and driving al-Qaeda out of some of its strongholds throughout the country. , the coalition has been bargaining with al-Qaeda militants, paying them to leave cities, or letting them retreat with weapons, money, and equipment. In addition, the coalition has been recruiting al-Qaeda fighters to join them in the bigger fight against the Shiite Houthis.

Though this discovery is rather recent, it appears as though the quid pro quo has been going on for some time. In February 2018, Emirati forces (which are part of the bigger Saudi-led, Arab coalition) reclaimed al-Said, a region that has been largely under al-Qaeda control. It was recognized as quite a victory. But a tribal mediator who was involved said that the al-Qaeda forces left weeks before the Emirati forces and their Yemeni counterparts even arrived. And they left peacefully. Al Jazeera reported that "under the terms of the agreement, the coalition promised al-Qaeda members it would pay them up to 100,000 Saudi riyals ($26,000) to leave, according to Awad al-Dahboul, the province's security chief." And the recruitment of al-Qaeda fighters was part of the agreement. Two officials and a mediator estimated that for every 1,000 fighters recruited into the Emirati forces to fight the Houthis, 50 to 70 would be al-Qaeda.

Then we feign confusion about why we aren't loved in the Middle East...

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Omarosa says Trump is a racist who uses N-word - and claims there's tape to prove it (dAVID sMITH, 8/10/18, tHE gUARDIAN)

Donald Trump is a "racist" who has used the "N-word" repeatedly, Omarosa Manigault Newman, once the most prominent African American in the White House, claims in a searing memoir.

The future US president was caught on mic uttering the taboo racial slur "multiple times" during the making of his reality TV show The Apprentice and there is a tape to prove it, according to Manigault Newman, citing three unnamed sources.

Trump has been haunted from around the time of his election in 2016 by allegations that outtakes from the reality TV show exist in which he is heard saying the N-word and using other offensive language.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


White anxiety finds a home at Fox News (Tom Kludt and Brian Stelter, 8/09/18, CNNMoney)

It wasn't so much a dog whistle as it was an airhorn. Or perhaps a primal scream. But whatever it was, Laura Ingraham's forceful denunciation of "massive demographic changes" served as another raw example of a Fox News host echoing white nationalist language.
Perhaps it was a glimpse into President Donald Trump's well of support, too.

The Fox News audience is almost 100% white, according to Nielsen. And on the channel's highest-rated shows, the politics of white anxiety play out practically every day, as hosts and guests warn about the impacts of immigration and minimize or mock the perspectives of people of color. The talk show segments are clearly intended to appeal to people who perceive they are losing their grip on power.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Trump's staff tricked him into signing a pro-NATO agreement. (Jeet Heer, 8/09/18, New Republic)

The New York Times has published a remarkable reconstruction of the July NATO meeting, the upshot of which is that the staff of President Donald Trump successfully conspired to get him to sign an agreement supporting the troubled alliance against his own policy preferences. The machinations, which were led by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, were done to avoid the fiasco of the June G-7 summit in Quebec, where the president ended up not signing the final communiqué.

As The Times notes, "In June, weeks before the meeting, Mr. Bolton sent his demand to Brussels through Kay Bailey Hutchison, the American ambassador to NATO. He wanted the NATO communiqué to be completed early, before the president left for Europe."

The idea was to reach an agreement that was strongly pro-NATO,and could counteract the president's tendency to criticize the alliance and to call for greater co-operation with Russia.

When John Bolton is a moderating influence you're in deep trouble.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


U.S. curbs on Russian banks would be act of economic war: PM (Reuters) 

Russia would consider any U.S. move to curb the operations of Russian banks or their foreign currency dealings a declaration of economic war, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.

No one questions that Vlad opposing Hillary's election was a simple matter of national defense.

August 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Putin's Pension Headache: For the Russian President and his team, social security reform is no walk in the park. (Aaron Schwartzbaum, 8/09/18, American Interest)

There are currently 46.5 million pensioners in Russia, roughly a third of the country's population. Annual expenditures on pensions this year are set to total 7.35 billion rubles ($120 billion) compared to 16.5 trillion in budget spending. Suffice it to say, this is a large and expensive system. The key problem is a demographic one: Russia's working-age population, the tax base for the pension system, is decreasing as a proportion of the overall population. In 2010 working-age Russians made up 62 percent of the population. This year the figure is only 58 percent, and that number will only shrink over the next decade. This is not a case of Russia the "dying bear," as a familiar trope goes; the trend is occurring across Europe as a whole. But it nonetheless poses a particular problem for Putin.

When the Pension Fund of Russia (PFR) operates at a deficit, as it has in recent years, the federal government must transfer funds out of the budget to close the gap. That reduces the fiscal space available for key items such as Putin's bold spending plans for his current term. It is also a political legitimacy problem: Part of the social contract in Putin's Russia, at the very least until the economic crisis, was the exchange of political freedoms for prosperity.

There are two components of the pension reform, one of which has received significantly more news play than the other. First is a gradual hike in the retirement age: from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women. It bears note that the current retirement age was stipulated in 1932 and by modern standards is very generous, despite the actual pension benefits being fairly meagre.

Second is a change to the mandatory savings component of Russia's pension system--roughly equivalent to a 401(k). Under the most recent edits to Russia's pension code, workers could elect to divert up to 6 percent of the 22 percent payroll tax they face into individual savings accounts, the sort of "nest egg" concept that has been floated in the United States on occasion. The issue with this system was that these accounts were technically property of the state, and contributions to them were "frozen" starting in 2013: The government used these contributions to cover present pension needs instead. Under the new system, with a roadmap expected in the coming weeks, workers will contribute the whole 22 percent payroll tax to present pension needs and be able to save an additional 6 percent--likely on an opt-out basis, to the alarm of some. It is an unofficial mantra for local economy officials that if a policy can't be made to work on a market basis, rigid laws often do the trick.

A slew of public polling since pension reform was announced--particularly following the closing of the World Cup--shows warning signs for the Kremlin. According to the independent Levada Center, approval of the Duma sits at 33 percent, approval of the government sits at 37 percent, and approval of Prime Minister Medvedev is at 31 percent. Putin's approval rating is at 67 percent, low by his standards. Measures of protest potential--a gauge of how liable Russians are to take to the street--should worry the Kremlin as well. Pollster VTsIOM's protest index is presently at 43, the highest it has been since 2005 (more on that year shortly). Its accompanying measure of personal protest potential recently reached 36, a high since the mass protests that rocked Russia in 2011 and 2012. Another measure by Levada finds 41 percent of Russians believe protests over economic issues are "entirely possible" while 28 percent would personally take part: the highest level these figures have reached since Russia defaulted on its debt in 1998. It can be said that the current reform project has firmly put to rest the Crimean consensus, the massive boost in popularity enjoyed by officials after the annexation of Crimea. We're back to 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


NBCU's Latest Online Video Idea: Paying Viewers  (Tom Dotan and Jessica Toonkel,  Aug 09, 2018, The Information)

The battle to win over viewers online may be reaching new levels of intensity. Comcast's NBCUniversal is considering the launch of a streaming service that would pay people to watch it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Who's A Good Fox? Soviet Experiment Reveals Genetic Roots Of Behavior (Charles Choi, August 9, 2018, Discover)

[O]ver the course of nearly 60 years, researchers bred foxes to be either friendly or aggressive. On a farm in Novosibirsk in Siberia, Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev started a project that selectively bred hundreds of foxes over more than 40 generations, mating the friendliest foxes together, the most hostile foxes with each other, and keeping another group that were not bred for any specific behavior. His aim, and those of his successors after he died in 1985, was to recreate the process by which ancient humans domesticated wolves into dogs.

The results included the world's first domesticated foxes. "They do not just allow humans to pet them, but actively solicit human contact and enjoy it," says behavioral geneticist Anna Kukekova at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "It is very touching."

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Identitarianism, Unite the Right, and Pro-Lifers (HANNAH HOWARD, August 9, 2018, Weekly Standard)

Having a label on the political right is no guarantee of shared values. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

While subtle differences might exist between white nationalists, white supremacists, racists, and identitarians, all four groups share the common philosophy of dividing people along racial lines. Pro-lifers who have spent decades building an inclusive movement oriented around the idea that human life has innate value should reject any promise of unity that defines itself through racial division. [...]

In his video Why Tomi Lahren Is Right on Abortion, Spencer advocates aborting babies who are prenatally diagnosed with genetic abnormalities such as Down Syndrome: "Smart people are using abortion when you have a situation like Down Syndrome," he says. Spencer makes his comment on selective abortion within a larger discussion of T. Lothrop Stoddard's views on contraceptive use and eugenics. T. Lothrop Stoddard was a eugenicist who wrote The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood (formerly the American Birth Control League) promoted Stoddard's work, and chose him as a board member for the League. In "Birth Control and Racial Betterment," a 1919 essay published in her journal Birth Control Review, Sanger explained the following relationship between her mission of government action for birth control and the mission of her eugenist contemporaries:

Before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for Birth Control. Like the advocates of Birth Control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit. Both are seeking a single end but they lay emphasis upon different methods.

Sanger was closely associated with many racial fanatics and eugenicists throughout her life. Her successor as president of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Alan F. Guttmacher, had also served as vice president of the American Eugenics Society.

Recognizing a material attribute, such as race, as the foundation of "everything" assumes a debased scheme of thought which equates physical characteristics with moral worth. As such, inherent human dignity is replaced with perverse quantifications of genetics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


'Turn the Plane Around': Judge Threatens Sessions After Woman, Child Deported Mid-Court Hearing (Ronn Blitzer, August 9th, 2018, Law & Order)

The woman, identified only as Carmen, and her daughter had been scheduled to be deported, but the government agreed to postpone their removal until Thursday night so an appeal of the decision could be heard in court, the Washington Post reported. When court was in recess in the middle of the hearing, however, an attorney with the ACLU-which is representing them in a lawsuit-received an email notification that Carmen and her child had been taken from the detention center where they had been kept, and were being deported.

Judge Sullivan had strong words for Sessions when he found out about this, and even threatened to hold him in contempt of court.

"This is pretty outrageous," the judge said. "That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?"

"I'm not happy about this at all," Sullivan said. He ruled in favor of the ACLU's request to put the deportation on hold, and ordered the Trump administration to "turn the plane around."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Meet the newest US citizens: Melania Trump's parents (MICHAEL R. SISAK, 8/09/18, AP)

First lady Melania Trump's parents were sworn in as U.S. citizens on Thursday, completing a legal path to citizenship that their son-in-law has suggested eliminating.


Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Laura Ingraham: America as we know it doesn't exist anymore due to 'demographic changes' (BRETT SAMUELS, 08/09/18, The Hill)

Trumpism, to the extent it represents a coherent ideology, begins with hatred of America--the rest follows.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Devin Nunes, in secretly recorded tape, tells donors GOP majority is necessary to protect Trump: 'We're the only ones' ( Isaac Stanley-Becker, August 9, 2018, Washington Post)

"If Sessions won't unrecuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones, which is really the danger," Nunes said at an event for Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, referring to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. [...]

Others observed that the lawmaker's actions over the past year made his comments unsurprising. "After all," tweeted University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck, "this has been the only explanation -- for quite some time -- for his ridiculous behavior on everything from the unmasking scandal" to the "Rosenstein impeachment." [...]

[A]t another point during the fundraiser, he addressed the issue of collusion, considering a hypothetical situation in which a campaign received stolen emails from a foreign power and then released them, labeling this activity "criminal."

"Now if somebody thinks that my campaign or Cathy's campaign is colluding with the Chinese, or you name the country, hey, could happen, it would be a very bad thing if Cathy was getting secrets from the Portuguese, let's say, just because I'm Portuguese, my family was," Nunes said, using McMorris Rodgers as an example in his hypothetical. "But, ultimately, let's say the Portuguese came and brought her some stolen emails, and she decided to release those. Okay, now we have a problem, right? Because somebody stole the emails, gave them to Cathy, Cathy released them. Well, if that's the case, then that's criminal."

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


There Are Better Ways to Mock Trump Than Joking That He's Putin's Gay Lover (ROWAN WALRATH, AUG. 9, 2018, Mother Jones)
It's not just the New York Times. Since 2016, a flood of editorial cartoons, magazine covers, late-night skits, and memes have depicted Trump as being romantically involved or sexually attracted to strongmen and right-wing political leaders. Although intended to mock Trump's strange--and noteworthy--political attraction to authoritarian leaders, these illustrations invoke old sexist and homophobic tropes. As they've become increasingly visible, some LGBTQ advocates and journalists have asked what message they really send.

Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, chair of gender studies at the University of Southern California's Dornsife College, says it all comes down to old-school gender dynamics. "We live in a culture where there is this casual homophobia that still persists," she says. "It becomes our default way of thinking about the world. Thinking about who has greater power and who has lesser power, we think about dominance and submissiveness."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson: The Canadian psychology professor's stardom is evidence that leftism is on the decline--and deeply vulnerable. (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 8/09/18, The Atlantic)

Two years ago, I walked downstairs and saw one of my teenage sons watching a strange YouTube video on the television.

"What is that?" I asked.

He turned to me earnestly and explained, "It's a psychology professor at the University of Toronto talking about Canadian law."

"Huh?" I said, but he had already turned back to the screen. I figured he had finally gotten to the end of the internet, and this was the very last thing on it.

That night, my son tried to explain the thing to me, but it was a buzzing in my ear, and I wanted to talk about something more interesting. It didn't matter; it turned out a number of his friends--all of them like him: progressive Democrats, with the full range of social positions you would expect of adolescents growing up in liberal households in blue-bubble Los Angeles--had watched the video as well, and they talked about it to one another.  

The boys graduated from high school and went off to colleges where they were exposed to the kind of policed discourse that dominates American campuses. They did not make waves; they did not confront the students who were raging about cultural appropriation and violent speech; in fact, they forged close friendships with many of them. They studied and wrote essays and--in their dorm rooms, on the bus to away games, while they were working out--began listening to more and more podcasts and lectures by this man, Jordan Peterson.

The young men voted for Hillary, they called home in shock when Trump won, they talked about flipping the House, and they followed Peterson to other podcasts--to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.

That might seem like a small thing, but it's not. With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things--religion, philosophy, history, myth--in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology. All of these young people, without quite realizing it, were joining a huge group of American college students who were pursuing a parallel curriculum, right under the noses of the people who were delivering their official educations.

Because all of this was happening silently, called down from satellites and poured in through earbuds--and not on campus free-speech zones where it could be monitored, shouted down, and reported to the appropriate authorities--the left was late in realizing what an enormous problem it was becoming for it. that the former have simply embraced the Left's identitarianism, while the latter recognize that the Left/Right is talking anti-Christian/anti-American nonsense.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM



For instance, the poll found that 66 percent of Americans would find "government-paid college tuition" as a "very effective" or "somewhat effective solution" to social barriers, with more than half of those lining up on the "very effective" side.

Americans For Prosperity, the Koch-funded political advocacy organization, campaigned against free college tuition in 2016, just as the idea was becoming a central plank of Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign. AFP Wisconsin called it a "terrible idea," while the state director of AFP Colorado called it "pie-in-the-sky."  [...]

A third of respondents believe that more regulation of Wall Street would be very effective, while 36 percent said it would be somewhat effective. Nearly seven in 10 respondents said increasing government assistance for child care would be a very or somewhat effective policy response to social barriers.

The top concern of those polled is the growing cost of health care, with 92 percent saying it is a problem. A combined 55 percent said a government-run health care system would be a very or somewhat effective policy response.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Russia reels, cries foul after U.S. sanctions spiral escalates (Andrew Osborn, 8/09/18, Reuters) 

Russia condemned a new round of U.S. sanctions as draconian on Thursday after news of the measures sent the rouble tumbling to two-year lows and sparked a wider asset sell-off over fears that Moscow was locked in a spiral of never-ending sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


August 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


'My Israel has died': British philanthropist lambasts Jewish nation-state law (Mustafa Abu Sneineh, Wednesday 8 August 2018, Middle East Eye)

Dame Vivien Duffield, one of Britain's most prominent donors to Israel, called the Jewish nation-state law "apartheid" and said that "my Israel has died' in an interview in Hebrew with Haaretz, published on Tuesday.

Duffield, 72, is the chairman of the Clore Duffield Foundation in Israel, which has donated millions of British pounds since 1979 to build libraries, parks, shelters for battered women, houses for Israel's Association for Children with Disabilities, classrooms and clinics, among a long list of philanthropic efforts.

She also donates money to the Weizmann Institute of Science in the Israeli city of Rehovot and the Tower of David Museum in the citadel of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem.

"To be honest, 'my' Israel has died. The Israel that I knew and loved is no more," Duffield was quoted as saying.

"I'm a very pragmatic person, but do I like what has been going on in Israel in the past few years? No. I hate what is going on there."

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Activists wave Declaration of Independence in stormy Knesset nation-state debate  (Times of Israel, 8/08/18)

Zionist Union activists waved copies of Israel's Declaration of Independence in the Knesset plenum Wednesday during a special debate on the nation-state law.

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni delivered the main address at the gathering, which was called after the opposition obtained the requisite 25 MKs' signatures for holding a special plenum debate during the summer recess.

In her speech, Livni railed against the right-wing government, called for early elections and said the opposition would pass the Declaration of Independence as a basic law in lieu of the nation-state law passed by the right-wing coalition on July 19.

Castigating the prime minister for failing to include a commitment to equality for all Israeli citizens in the nation-state law, Livni stormed: "What the hell has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got against the Declaration of Independence?", which includes a specific commitment to full equality.

"We're the side that believes in a covenant of equals," she said. "Every citizen of Israel has equal rights."

"We commit to bringing the principles of the Declaration of Independence back into our lives. That's our commitment, and we will fight for it until we win the elections. Your time is over," she said to leaders of the right-wing coalition -- who were not present in the plenum.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:44 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


How low can investment fees go? Fidelity launches a race to zero (THOMAS HEATH, AUG 08, 2018, LA Times)
Fidelity Investments announced recently it was launching two zero-cost index mutual funds, escalating a price race that could leave investors questioning whether to pay mutual fund management fees at all.

"The most meaningful impact of all of this is its effect on what investors expect to pay for broad market exposure, which is now, at least in the case of a pair of Fidelity funds, nothing," said Ben Johnson, director of global exchange traded funds and passive strategies research at Morningstar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


N.H. Predicts Lower Cost For 'Obamacare' Plans (Nora Doyle-Burr, 8/08/18, Valley News)

In the short term, New Hampshire residents who buy health insurance through the federal marketplace can expect lower rates. In the longer term, there's a good chance they'll have more plans to choose from, although there's disagreement about whether that's a positive development.

Rates for the coming year won't be available until enrollment begins on Nov. 1, but the New Hampshire Insurance Department predicts a 6.75 percent rate decrease between 2018 and 2019, according to a news release issued on Monday. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


The Shadow Rulers of the VA: How Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter and two other Mar-a-Lago cronies are secretly shaping the Trump administration's veterans policies. (Isaac Arnsdorf Aug. 7, 2018, ProPublica)

Last February, shortly after Peter O'Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA. "Received," O'Rourke replied. "I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action."

O'Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss. In fact, he is not even a government official. Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service "concierge" medical care.

More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump's. The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman. None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.

Yet from a thousand miles away, they have leaned on VA officials and steered policies affecting millions of Americans. They have remained hidden except to a few VA insiders, who have come to call them "the Mar-a-Lago Crowd." [...]

[H]undreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell a different story -- of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. "Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring," a former administration official said.

...they'd get an actual VA scandal!

August 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Technology helped America's economy way more than we thought (Lydia DePillis, 8/03/18, CNNMoney)

At the end of July, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its blockbuster 4.1% economic growth rate estimate for the second quarter, few noticed another announcement from the statistical agency: A total revamp of its gross domestic product calculations, going back decades.

Deep in the guts of what makes up the GDP, the agency had incorporated new information about cloud computing, cell phones, and other rapidly evolving technologies. And while the updated calculations only changed overall economic growth by a tiny bit each year, total business investments climbed by almost a whole percentage point on average for each year between 2002 and 2017.

That's a big jump, and presents a brighter picture of economic activity after the recession than the one we had before last Friday, the agency said in a briefing with reporters.

Such adjustments aren't new. Every five years, the federal government's economic number crunchers announce that they were a little bit off, because of changes in business practices that they couldn't track in real time.

Accelerating inflation in the 1960s prompted better measurement of price changes, for example. In the 1980s, IBM helped the agency understand how computers were getting cheaper and better at the same time.

"When BEA does one of these benchmarks, they try to target one of these areas where they know there's been a lot of technological advance that hasn't been captured in the numbers," says Brent Moulton, who recently retired after a 30-year career split between BEA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "When the decision was made that software really should be counted as part of investment along with hardware, that led to a large increase in growth rates over the 1980s and '90s."

But it's become harder to keep up with those changes lately, as new technologies have diffused through workplaces in ways that statisticians still don't fully understand.

That mismeasurement could be part of the reason why growth numbers have been disappointing in recent years. If federal agencies haven't been able to capture all new economic activity, that's a lot less concerning than the idea that America is really becoming a less dynamic nation.

"One question is whether it accounts for the slowdown that we've had in productivity," says Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies the impact of technology on the economy. "I think we're probably missing more and more over time because more of the economy's becoming digitized."

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


How Trump Radicalized ICE: A long-running inferiority complex, vast statutory power, a chilling new directive from the top--inside America's unfolding immigration tragedy (FRANKLIN FOER  SEPTEMBER 2018, The Atlantic)

Settling into a sense of safety is hard when your life's catalog of memories teaches you the opposite lesson. Imagine: You fled from a government militia intent on murdering you; swam across a river with the uncertain hope of sanctuary on the far bank; had the dawning realization that you could never return to your village, because it had been torched; and heard pervasive rumors of former neighbors being raped and enslaved. Imagine that, following all this, you then found yourself in New York City, with travel documents that were unreliable at best.

This is the shared narrative of thousands of emigrants from the West African nation of Mauritania. The country is ruled by Arabs, but these refugees were members of a black subpopulation that speaks its own languages. In 1989, in a fit of nationalism, the Mauritanian government came to consider these differences capital offenses. It arrested, tortured, and violently expelled many black citizens. The country forcibly displaced more than 70,000 of them and rescinded their citizenship. Those who remained behind fared no better. Approximately 43,000 black Mauritanians are now enslaved--by percentage, one of the largest enslaved populations in the world.

After years of rootless wandering--through makeshift camps, through the villages and cities of Senegal--some of the Mauritanian emigrants slowly began arriving in the United States in the late 1990s. They were not yet adept in English, and were unworldly in almost every respect. But serendipity--and the prospect of jobs--soon transplanted their community of roughly 3,000 to Columbus, Ohio, where they clustered mostly in neighborhoods near a long boulevard that bore a fateful name: Refugee Road. It commemorated a moment at the start of the 19th century, when Ohio had extended its arms to accept another influx of strangers, providing tracts of land to Canadians who had expressed sympathy for the American Revolution.

Refugee Road wasn't paved with gold, but in the early years of this century, it fulfilled the promise of its name. The Mauritanians converted an old grocery store into a cavernous, blue-carpeted mosque. They opened restaurants that served familiar fish and rice dishes, and stores that sold CDs and sodas imported from across Africa.

Over time, as the new arrivals gave birth to American citizens and became fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Cavaliers, they mentally buried the fact that their presence in America had never been fully sanctioned. When they had arrived in New York, many of them had paid an English-speaking compatriot to fill out their application for asylum. But instead of recording their individual stories in specific detail, the man simply cut and pasted together generic narratives. (It is not uncommon for new arrivals to the United States, desperate and naive, to fall prey to such scams.) A year or two after the refugees arrived in the country, judges reviewed their cases and, noticing the suspicious repetitions, accused a number of them of fraud and ordered them deported.

But those deportation orders never amounted to more than paper pronouncements. Where would Immigration and Customs Enforcement even send them? The Mauritanian government had erased the refugees from its databases and refused to issue them travel documents. It had no interest in taking back the villagers it had so violently removed. So ice let their cases slide. They were required to regularly report to the agency's local office and to maintain a record of letter-perfect compliance with the law. But as the years passed, the threat of deportation seemed ever less ominous.

Then came the election of Donald Trump. Suddenly, in the warehouses where many of the Mauritanians worked, white colleagues took them aside and warned them that their lives were likely to get worse. The early days of the administration gave substance to these cautions. The first thing to change was the frequency of their summonses to ice. During the Obama administration, many of the Mauritanians had been required to "check in" about once a year. Abruptly, ice instructed them to appear more often, some of them every month. ice officers began visiting their homes on occasion. Like the cable company, they would provide a six-hour window during which to expect a visit--a requirement that meant days off from work and disrupted life routines. The Mauritanians say that when they met with ice, they were told the U.S. had finally persuaded their government to readmit them--a small part of a global push by the State Department to remove any diplomatic obstacles to deportation.

Fear is a contagion that spreads quickly. One ice officer warned some Mauritanians sympathetically, "It's not a matter of if you'll be deported, but when." Another flatly said, "My job is to get you to leave this country." At meetings, officers would insist that the immigrants go to the Mauritanian consulate and apply for passports to return to the very country whose government had attempted to murder them.

One afternoon this spring, I sat in the bare conference room of the Columbus mosque after Friday prayer, an occasion for which men dress in traditional garb: brightly colored robes and scarves wrapped around their heads. The imam asked those who were comfortable to share their stories with me. Congregants lined up outside the door.

One by one, the Mauritanians described to me the preparations they had made for a quick exit. Some said that they had already sold their homes; others had liquidated their 401(k)s. Everyone I spoke with could name at least one friend who had taken a bus to the Canadian border and applied for asylum there, rather than risk further appointments with ice.

A lithe, haggard man named Thierno told me that his brother had been detained by ice, awaiting deportation, for several months now. The Mauritanians considered it a terrible portent that the agency had chosen to focus its attention on Thierno's brother--a businessman and philanthropically minded benefactor of the mosque. If he was vulnerable, then nobody was safe. Eyes watering, Thierno showed me a video on his iPhone of the fate he feared for his brother: a tight shot of a black Mauritanian left behind in the old country. His face was swollen from a beating, and he was begging for mercy. "I'm going to sleep with your wife!" a voice shouts at him, before a hand appears on-screen and slaps him over and over.

In 21st-century America, it is difficult to conjure the possibility of the federal government taking an eraser to the map and scrubbing away an entire ethnic group. I had arrived in Columbus at the suggestion of a Cleveland-based lawyer named David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Leopold has kept in touch with an old client who attends the Mauritanian mosque. When he mentioned the community's plight to me, he called it "ethnic cleansing"--which initially sounded like wild hyperbole. But on each of my trips back to Columbus, I heard new stories of departures to Canada--and about others who had left for New York, where hiding from ice is easier in the shadows of the big city. The refugees were fleeing Refugee Road. [...]

Approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently live in this country, a number larger than the population of Sweden. Two-thirds of them have resided in the U.S. for a decade or longer. The laws on the books endow ice with the technical authority to deport almost every single one of them. Trump's predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, allowed for a measure of compassion, permitting prosecutors and judges to stay the removals of some defendants in immigration court, and encouraging a rigorous focus on serious criminals. Congress, for its part, has for nearly two decades offered broad, bipartisan support for the grand bargain known as comprehensive immigration reform. The point of such legislation is to balance tough enforcement of the law with a path to amnesty for undocumented immigrants and the ultimate possibility of citizenship.

Yet no politician has ever quite summoned the will to overcome the systematic obstacles that block reform. Democrats didn't make it a top priority when they briefly controlled Congress during Obama's first term, and Republican reformers have again and again been stymied by anti-immigration hard-liners in the House. A comprehensive reform bill passed the Senate in 2013 by a resounding 68-32 margin, but then-Speaker John Boehner refused to allow it a vote in the House. The 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio went from staking his political identity on immigration reform to suggesting that he'd never truly supported the reforms in the first place.

Under the current administration, many of the formal restraints on ice have been removed. In the first eight months of the Trump presidency, ice increased arrests by 42 percent. Immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small clique of militant anti-immigration wonks. This group has carefully studied the apparatus it now controls. It knows that the best strategy for accomplishing its goal of driving out undocumented immigrants is quite simply the cultivation of fear. And it knows that the latent power of ice, amassed with the tacit assent of both parties, has yet to be fully realized.

Now the Trump administration wants to limit citizenship for legal immigrants: The most significant change to legal immigration in decades could affect millions of would-be citizens, say lawyers and advocates. (Julia Ainsley / Aug.07.2018, NBC News)

The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.

The move, which would not need congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller's plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.

Whenever someone defends Donald this is why they do so.
Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


New Details About Wilbur Ross' Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting (Dan Alexander, 8/07/18, Forbes)

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been quietly making its way through the New York State court system over the last three years, pitting a private equity manager named David Storper against his former boss: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, eventually at the firm, WL Ross & Co.--where, Storper later alleged, Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a trial with $4 million on the line, Ross and Storper agreed to a confidential settlement, whose existence has never been reported and whose terms remain secret.

It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet'N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn't have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales "petty nonsense," and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.  

There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations--which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine--come to more than $120 million. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


There's Little Confusion About Trump's Regulatory Record (Cass R. Sunstein, August 6, 2018, 1Bloomberg)

In late 2008 and early 2009, I worked on Barack Obama's transition team, scrutinizing President George Bush's regulations to see what we might want to abandon. We were surprised to find that we were pretty comfortable with much of what Bush had done. Even when we didn't love it, we often concluded that it wasn't worth the time and effort to change it.

There has been a lot of noise since January 2017 about how Trump is obliterating Obama's regulatory legacy. That view is false. Most areas show continuity.  [...]

[T]he system has important safeguards against excessively abrupt changes. Regulators listen carefully to the private sector, and when companies value stability, they are not shy about saying so. 

Would-be deregulators are sometimes amazed to learn that companies have adjusted to the rules of the road, even if they opposed them vociferously in the first place. And officials are unlikely to work on behalf of deregulation when companies don't want it.

Sure, companies often want to remove regulations that have not yet gone into effect. Trump's proposed weakening of the fuel-economy standards is a case in point (though automobile companies are divided). 

But even if you don't like the Trump proposal (and you really shouldn't), it's noteworthy that his regulators did nothing to affect the Obama administration's fuel-economy standards through 2020. And before the president's proposed freeze can go into effect, he will have to deal with a host of objections, and undoubtedly a serious legal challenge. 

The overall picture shows a lot more regulatory continuity than people think, even across administrations with dramatically different views.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Immigration "loophole" that Trump bemoaned returns after zero tolerance rollback (DAVID YAFFE-BELLANY AUG. 7, 2018, Texas Tribune)

As the United States' immigration policies continue to shift, the procedures that dictated the fates of asylum-seeking families as recently as a few weeks ago already seem like ancient history. A head-spinning sequence of events -- chaotic procedural changes, followed by furious public outcry and abrupt policy reversals -- appears to have put the Trump administration back where it started: running an immigration enforcement system in which migrant families who cross the border illegally are allowed to stay in the country while the government processes their asylum claims.

"The administration has backed off," said Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "The procedures that we're seeing at the border are those that were previously conducted, prior to the announcement of zero tolerance."

Under the zero-tolerance policy, which the Trump administration announced in May, Border Patrol officers handed migrant parents who crossed the border illegally to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. That process resulted in thousands of family separations, as immigrant children -- who the government cannot detain for longer than 20 days under a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores Agreement -- were transferred to shelters while their parents went to detention centers.

But in late June, after President Donald Trump issued an executive order ending family separations, Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced that agents had temporarily stopped referring adult migrants with children for prosecution. A Border Patrol spokesman confirmed last week that a "temporary suspension" remains in effect as the agency works with the Justice Department to "maintain family unity while enforcing prosecution efforts."

The administration's retreat from "zero tolerance" was on full display at McAllen's bus station last Tuesday as a long line of recently released immigrant parents arrived with tracking devices strapped to their ankles. Among them was Carla Molina, 27, who said she paid smugglers $7,000 to help her and her 6-year-old daughter travel to the border from Honduras.

Molina said she and her daughter were headed to San Antonio, where they plan to stay with friends.

"I always trust in God," she said. "With God, anything is possible."

August 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Only a Pawn in Their Game: Seymour Hersh's memoir reveals not a fearless reporter but a useful idiot: a man who spent a lifetime channeling faulty intelligence in a game of intrigue he did not understand. (Liel Liebovitz, 8/06/18, American Interest)

[P]roperly read, Reporter isn't a memoir at all: It's a novel about the sort of chap le Carré knows best, the gullible guy who becomes a pawn in a game of intelligence and intrigue whose rules he doesn't understand but whose players, for some strange reasons, he trusts.

Read almost any Hersh story, going back now for decades, and sooner or later you'll come across a staple of his reporting: unnamed sources. These shadowy figures emerge at critical junctures to shed light on astonishing plots, like the alleged one by the Bush Administration to manipulate Iraq's democratic elections: "I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials," Hersh wrote in the New Yorker in 2005, "that the activities were kept, in part, 'off the books'--they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress." A year earlier, unnamed sources also informed Hersh that the Department of Defense, inspired by a 1973 book about Arab psychology, had launched a program, codenamed "Copper Green," designed to use sexual abuse and humiliation to get Iraqi prisoners to share useful intelligence. And in 2017, Hersh published a widely criticized article in the German Die Welt, rushing to the defense of Syria's Bashar al-Assad: The World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders may have ruled the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, leaving 92 dead, to be a chemical attack orchestrated by the Syrian regime, but unnamed sources assured Hersh that the deaths were caused by toxic discharge released as a result of a conventional attack on a nearby jihadi facility.

These outlandish allegations nearly always turn out to be unverifiable. Frequently, they turn out to be dead wrong: In 1974, for example, another anonymous source informed Hersh that the one-time American Ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, was instrumental in orchestrating that country's coup d'état. Seven years later, faced with incontrovertible disconfirming information, Hersh was forced to write a 3,000-word story correcting the record and recanting his earlier reporting.

Of course, relying on anonymous sources is an important part of an investigative journalist's job. People in a position to know sensitive information, especially information pertaining to national security, aren't likely to amble into a newsroom and volunteer information that is likely to jeopardize their careers and, sometimes, their freedom. Even our best reporters err from time to time, an inconvenient truth you're taught sometime during your first semester in journalism school. But Hersh errs far more than most, and the pattern of his errors is instructive.

Take l'affaire JFK, in which Hersh, accepting papers that allegedly belonged to the late President, was duped into believing that Kennedy was beholden to mob boss Sam Giancana and blackmailed by Marilyn Monroe. In Reporter, Hersh dispenses with the entire episode, one of the most seminal of his career, in a handful of pages. A 1997 account in the New Yorker by David Samuels, however, paints a more satisfying--and more troubling--picture. [...]

Why would a reporter fudge the facts? And why, given Hersh's record for running into trouble with the truth, would venerable publications like the New Yorker continue to employ him?  The answer to all these questions is the same: It's because, in Hersh's worldview, it's always 1969, there's always a secret war going on, and the American military is always seeking for the next target to destroy. There is always another target for Hersh's permanent adolescent rebelliousness, which took on the form of an infantile left-wing radicalism and is what years ago led New York Times' editor Abe Rosenthal to refer to Hersh, playfully one supposes, as "my little commie."

Often, this forever-hippie worldview comes off as entertaining. In his seminal March 2012 Commentary takedown of Hersh, James Kirchick dug up an interview that Hersh gave the Progressive in 1997. "It was easy to go to war against the Vietnamese," Hersh opined then. "I thought in the 1992 campaign Bill Clinton might be the first president since the end of World War II to actually bomb white people. But I was disappointed, as usual. He found it easier to go after the Somalians. Just like Ronald Reagan found it easy to go to Grenada, and Bush found it easy to go to Panama, to the Third World, or to people of a different hue. There seems to be some sort of general pattern here." That Clinton had in fact bombed Serbia, a European country inhabited by Caucasians, did little to cure Hersh of his vision of America's perpetual malignant racism.

Put a man like that in continuous proximity to our national security apparatus, and you hardly need a John le Carré to dream up a scenario or six in which the idealistic journalist with an impressive capacity for ignoring facts that contradict his wishful thinking gets played by his unnamed sources. Believing anything a source would tell him merely to preserve the source, Hersh is an intelligence officer's dream reporter; all you have to do is make sure that the story you tell him hints at some sort of official American malfeasance, and he's bound to buy into the tale, no matter how tall.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Why [the President] Must Resign Or Be Impeached  (Mike Pence)

News flash to the major media networks: we live in a constitutional republic. We are governed by written constitution which defines, among other things, the rights, privileges and responsibilities of high office with great clarity. Under Article II, Section 1 the executive power of the United States of America is vested in the President. In the oath of office proscribed, a president commits to faithfully execute the office and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. 

While the office brings with it the duties that attend the administration of the government, as President Herbert C. Hoover wrote, "The Presidency is more than executive responsibility. It is the inspiring supreme symbol of all that is highest in our American ideals." When a president fails to fulfill his oath of office, as is the case where the law is broken in a big way or a small way (another way of saying high crimes or misdemeanors), the Constitution provides for a mechanism whereby the legislative branch might impeach him. 

This may seem drastic to the average American. It is. Our founders intended it to be so because they intended the President of the United States to be the center of the government of the United States. Other constructs were considered, including the appointment of a prime minister-like president by the legislative branch, but all were rejected in favor of a strong and elected President. Alexander Hamilton defended this concept in 'The Federalist' writing, "the Executive is a leading characteristic in the definition of good government... it is essential to the steady administration of the law." Hamilton also cautioned against long suffering where a President failed to meet this high standard, writing, "a feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of government. A feeble Executive is but another name for a bad executive; and a government ill-executed... must be proclaimed a bad government."

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


The Voters Who Will Decide the Midterms (Henry Olsen, Aug. 6, 2018, NY Times)

"Romney-Clinton" voters are generally the sort of highly educated, affluent, more moderate voters who disapprove of Donald Trump. The most recent Voter Survey shows Mr. Trump had less than a 20 percent job approval rating among them; nearly 70 percent of these formerly Republican voters disapprove of his job performance. And they are taking this dislike with them to the voting booth. Forty-three percent say they will vote for Democrats this fall; only about 20 percent intend to back Republicans.

These voters are very important for the battle for the House. Democrats need to pick up 24 House seats to get a majority, and Republicans hold 25 seats in areas that Hillary Clinton carried. Mitt Romney won the districts of 13 of those seats in 2012, and his margin of defeat was smaller than Mr. Trump's in another nine. Democrats simply cannot retake the House unless they get a lot of these voters to stick with them when Mr. Trump isn't personally on the ballot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Fact and Fiction About the Amendment of the Israeli Supreme Court's Jurisdiction Over West Bank Cases (Elena Chachko, Amichai Cohen  Monday, August 6, 2018, LawFare)

The Israeli legislature has taken another step toward blurring the lines distinguishing the Israeli legal system from the one that exists in the West Bank. The Knesset recently passed an amendment that transfers original jurisdiction over certain cases concerning the West Bank from the Supreme Court of Israel (in its capacity as the High Court of Justice) to the Administrative Affairs Court in Jerusalem (a subdivision of the Jerusalem District Court). The amendment's proponents, chiefly the right-wing Jewish Home party, have publicly asserted that it would make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to order the removal of illegal West Bank outposts and settlements. But a look at the amendment's language reveals that it actually does something quite different. [...]

As leaders of the Jewish Home party, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have repeatedly stated, the amendment primarily serves to advance the so-called "normalization of Judea and Samaria." It deviates from the longstanding convention that Knesset legislation only applies within Israel's sovereign territory. Legal adviser Bligh underscored this issue during the parliamentary committee deliberations, noting that the amendment would be the first time that Knesset legislation specifically refers to Jordanian planning and construction law applicable in the West Bank. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Beyond the Stigma: 'The next wave of gun safety' (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM, 8/05/18, New Hampshire Union Leader)

Ralph Demicco still remembers the "sinking feeling" nine years ago when he learned that three customers who had purchased guns from his Hooksett shop had used them to kill themselves -- all unrelated deaths and all within a six-day period.

"It was just shocking," he said. 

In the years since, Demicco, former owner of Riley's Sport Shop, has been part of a band of strange bedfellows dedicated to improving gun safety. The New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition has promoted trigger locks, and created a suicide prevention campaign for gun shops that has become a model for the nation.

Now they want to enlist firearms instructors to promote suicide awareness.

The coalition, which includes public health and firearms experts, put together a video for instructors to use in their classes. It depicts a despondent man whose wife has left him and taken his beloved dog. When family members come to his home to check on him, they convince him to let them hold onto his gun for a time -- and to call a suicide hotline together.

The group hopes the video will prompt important conversations about gun safety.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Is Japan Becoming a Country of Immigration?  (Yunchen Tian and Erin Aeran Chung, 8/02/18, Foreign Affairs)

As the only advanced industrial democracy that has closed its borders to unskilled migrant labor since the end of World War II, Japan has long been viewed as hostile to immigration. Although the number of foreign nationals in Japan has grown at a rapid pace in recent years--from 850,000 in 1985 to almost 2.6 million in 2017--foreign residents still make up less than two percent of the total population, compared with between eight and 25 percent in western European countries. And only one-fifth of Japan's foreign workers hold visas explicitly intended for labor immigration, which is restricted to the highly skilled.

Japan's aging population, however, is creating a demand for foreign labor. Japan's population peaked at 127.8 million in 2004 and has fallen by over 1.5 million since then, and its working-age population has dropped by over ten million since 1997. Nationwide, the ratio of job openings to applicants now stands at around 1.6, the highest it has been since the height of the so-called economic miracle over four decades ago. Workers in construction and mining, caretaking, food service, hospitality, and retail are in particularly short supply. In July 2018, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the country's small- and medium-sized businesses, reported that around 65 percent of members had difficulty meeting labor requirements despite wage increases.

In the face of these shortages, the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shifted toward a greater openness to foreign workers, although the word "immigration" remains taboo.

Immigrants are in the driver's seat and will be able to demand benefits in exchange for emigrating, including housing.

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Sacha Baron Cohen and Joe Arpaio have an amazingly inappropriate chat about Trump (Peter Weber, 8/06/18, The Week)

OMGWhizzBoyOMG appeared to win Arpaio over when he said he had a large gun collection himself, to prepare for the coming "race war."

Cohen shifted the conversation to President Trump, appearing surprised that Arpaio knows the president. And things got weird, fast. Arpaio said it "wouldn't surprise me" if Trump "had a golden shower," and when Cohen asked if Trump would give him a "golden shower," Arpaio said, "If he sees this and the way you're speaking, he's going to like you, because you think like he thinks." OMGWhizzBoyOMG's use of a creative malapropism for manual labor appeared to throw Arpaio off, because when Cohen asked if Arpaio would accept a certain kind of sexual favor from Trump, Arpaio responded, "I may have to say yes." 

They're all willing to in exchange for race war. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Lawyer Explains: His Client Trump Misled Him (Tommy ChristopherAugust 6, 2018, Shareblue)

First, Stephanopoulos showed video of Sekulow denying that Trump had anything to do with the bogus cover story -- and reminded Sekulow that White House Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later admitted that Trump "weighed in" about the Trump Tower cover story, but that he "certainly didn't dictate" it.

Finally, Stephanopoulos reminded Sekulow that Trump did, in fact, dictate the statement -- as Trump's own legal team, including Sekulow, eventually admitted.

"So why did you deny President Trump's involvement?" Stephanopoulos asked. "When did you learn that the denial wasn't true?"

Sekulow first tried to make excuses about having been new to the case at that point.

But then he finally admitted that he made a "mistake" because Trump gave him "bad information" about Trump's own role in the coverup.

"I had bad information at that time, and made a mistake in my statement," Sekulow said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Democrats surging on eve of pivotal special election (ALEX ISENSTADT 08/05/2018, Politico)

The entire Republican Party machinery has converged on this suburban Columbus district for a furious eleventh-hour campaign aimed at saving a conservative House seat and averting another special election disaster.

But in the final days ahead of Tuesday's election, signs were everywhere that Democrats are surging -- from recent polling to the private and public statements of many Republicans, including the GOP candidate himself. The district has been reliably red for more than three decades, but the sheer size of the Republican cavalry made clear how worried the party is about losing it. [...]

The all-out push underscores the GOP's trepidation about the final special election before the midterms. A loss, following startling Republican defeats in Pennsylvania and Alabama, would offer more evidence that a blue wave is on the horizon. And it would further fuel fears of what's becoming evident: that Democrats are simply more amped up, even in areas that have long been safely Republican.

August 5, 2018

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Study: Minnesota's Minimum Wage Hikes Lead to Job Losses for Younger Workers (Andrew Burger, August 5, 2018, Free Beacon)

Noah Williams, professor of Economics and director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economics at the University of Wisconsin, compared jobs and economic data in Minnesota and Wisconsin since Minnesota began increasing its minimum wage in 2014.

Wisconsin last raised its minimum wage in 2010 to keep pace with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Minnesota's began a series of minimum wage increases in 2014. It has increased from $6 per hour to $9.65 as of this January.

Those minimum wage hikes have led to slower job growth as compared to neighboring Wisconsin, particularly in the restaurant industry and among younger workers, Williams research found.

All else being equal, "businesses will demand less labor, which could mean fewer workers and/or shorter hours per worker," Williams said. "There were workers willing to work for wages that were less than the new, higher minimum wage and businesses that were willing to hire them for that ... The distortion is that the minimum wage rules out mutually beneficial agreements between workers and firms."

Taxing labor is presumably intended to get rid of it.

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Amish man puts new spin on ride-sharing with Amish Uber . (WPVI, 8/14/18) 

An Amish man in Colon, Michigan is putting a new spin on ride-sharing.

Timothy Hoch-Stedler is giving customers a lift with his horse and buggy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Radical new law making everyone an organ donor unless they opt-out could save 700 per year, government says (Alex Matthews-King, 8/05/18, Independent)

As many as 700 lives a year will be saved by new organ donation laws which will presume everyone is a donor unless they explicitly opt-out, the government has said.

The new system will now be introduced after a consultation showed the public are overwhelmingly in favour of organ donation, but only a minority have registered as organ donors.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


August 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 PM


Trump at a precarious moment in his presidency: Privately brooding and publicly roaring (Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, August 4, 2018, Washington Post)

[T]rump has latched onto Giuliani's talking point that "collusion is not a crime," believing it is catchy and brilliantly simplistic, according to people with knowledge of internal talks.

Still, Trump has confided to friends and advisers that he is worried the Mueller probe could destroy the lives of what he calls "innocent and decent people" -- namely Trump Jr., who is under scrutiny by Mueller for his role organizing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. As one adviser described the president's thinking, he does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal ­jeopardy.

The true-believers are the only ones left pretending he's not guilty.

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GOP consultants say Kobach campaign has white nationalists on payroll (Sherman Smith, Aug 3, 2018,  The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kris Kobach's gubernatorial campaign employs three men identified as members of a white nationalist group by two political consultants who have worked with Republicans in Kansas. [...]

The consultants in early July independently named the three men, all in their early 20s, as members of American Heritage Initiative, a splinter of Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as as a campus-based white supremacy group that builds community from shared racial identity.

Kurtis Engel, Collin Gustin and Michael Pyles received $1,250 to $3,100 in payments from Kobach's campaign between June 8 and July 26, according to expense reports made public this week. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM

IF THE GAME IS FIXED, I'M NOT A LOSER! (profanity alert):

Trump Fans Are Suckers and QAnon Is Perfect for Them: And aggrieved, and paranoid, and thrilled to have "An Answer" that explains everything about the world they hate and tells them Trump is great and they're pretty good, too. (Rick Wilson, 08.03.18, dAILY bEAST)

Some people need a single, grand unifying theory of why the world refuses to line up with their expectations. When difficult realities confront people without the intellectual horsepower to understand and accept the truth, some turn to conspiracy theories to paper over the holes in their worldview. No matter how absurd, baroque, and improbable, conspiracies grow on their own like mental kudzu where inconsistencies aren't signs of illogical conclusions, but of another, deeper layer of some hidden truth, some skein of powerful forces holding the world in its grip.

After Donald Trump's rally in Tampa this week, the notorious QAnon scam became America's conspiracy of the moment. And why not? In the face of Trump's daily meltdowns, mood swings, and unmedicated rage episodes in which he lashes out at every target in reach, his base is desperately looking for a version of reality that gives them some comfort and stability.

This Q conspiracy is filling the political bloodstream of the Trumpentariat and has been bubbling up inside the right for the last few months, and while Will Sommer and others have covered the story, there seemed to be a media shock moment after the Qbots showed up at Trump's Tampa rally.

Conspiracies--this one in particular--give their devotees a sense of coherence that is lacking in everything Trump does. QAnon presents Trump as the character he plays on TV; bold, commanding, strategic, and opposed to the real Donald Trump, who displays the dignity, intelligence, and honesty of a strip-club tout with tertiary syphilis.

In Q's world, Donald Trump is courageously leading an effort to round up and punish--I'm not exaggerating--tens of thousands of child predators who occupy the highest reaches of government.  Q and Don, side by side, doling out the secret knowledge to the new elite. Instead of getting a clearance, all you need to do is check out 4chan, Reddit, or YouTube.

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The Accidental Universe : Science's crisis of faith (Alan Lightman, December 2011, Harper's)

The scientists most distressed by Weinberg's "fork in the road" are theoretical physicists. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion. Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the "laws of nature," which govern the behavior of all matter and energy. An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special relativity. An example of a fundamental parameter is the mass of an electron, considered one of the two dozen or so "elementary" particles of nature. As far as physicists are concerned, the fewer the fundamental principles and parameters, the better. The underlying hope and belief of this enterprise has always been that these basic principles are so restrictive that only one, self-consistent universe is possible, like a crossword puzzle with only one solution. That one universe would be, of course, the universe we live in. Theoretical physicists are Platonists. Until the past few years, they agreed that the entire universe, the one universe, is generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron. It seemed that we were closing in on a vision of our universe in which everything could be calculated, predicted, and understood.

However, two theories in physics, eternal inflation and string theory, now suggest that the same fundamental principles from which the laws of nature derive may lead to many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties. It is as if you walked into a shoe store, had your feet measured, and found that a size 5 would fit you, a size 8 would also fit, and a size 12 would fit equally well. Such wishy-washy results make theoretical physicists extremely unhappy. Evidently, the fundamental laws of nature do not pin down a single and unique universe. According to the current thinking of many physicists, we are living in one of a vast number of universes. We are living in an accidental universe. We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s," says Alan Guth, "the feeling was that we were so smart, we almost had everything figured out." What physicists had figured out were very accurate theories of three of the four fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force that binds atomic nuclei together, the weak force that is responsible for some forms of radioactive decay, and the electromagnetic force between electrically charged particles. And there were prospects for merging the theory known as quantum physics with Einstein's theory of the fourth force, gravity, and thus pulling all of them into the fold of what physicists called the Theory of Everything, or the Final Theory. These theories of the 1970s and 1980s required the specification of a couple dozen parameters corresponding to the masses of the elementary particles, and another half dozen or so parameters corresponding to the strengths of the fundamental forces. The next step would then have been to derive most of the elementary particle masses in terms of one or two fundamental masses and define the strengths of all the fundamental forces in terms of a single fundamental force.

There were good reasons to think that physicists were poised to take this next step. Indeed, since the time of Galileo, physics has been extremely successful in discovering principles and laws that have fewer and fewer free parameters and that are also in close agreement with the observed facts of the world. For example, the observed rotation of the ellipse of the orbit of Mercury, 0.012 degrees per century, was successfully calculated using the theory of general relativity, and the observed magnetic strength of an electron, 2.002319 magnetons, was derived using the theory of quantum electrodynamics. More than any other science, physics brims with highly accurate agreements between theory and experiment.

Guth started his physics career in this sunny scientific world. Now sixty-four years old and a professor at MIT, he was in his early thirties when he proposed a major revision to the Big Bang theory, something called inflation. We now have a great deal of evidence suggesting that our universe began as a nugget of extremely high density and temperature about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding, thinning out, and cooling ever since. The theory of inflation proposes that when our universe was only about a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, a peculiar type of energy caused the cosmos to expand very rapidly. A tiny fraction of a second later, the universe returned to the more leisurely rate of expansion of the standard Big Bang model. Inflation solved a number of outstanding problems in cosmology, such as why the universe appears so homogeneous on large scales.

When I visited Guth in his third-floor office at MIT one cool day in May, I could barely see him above the stacks of paper and empty Diet Coke bottles on his desk. More piles of paper and dozens of magazines littered the floor. In fact, a few years ago Guth won a contest sponsored by the Boston Globe for the messiest office in the city. The prize was the services of a professional organizer for one day. "She was actually more a nuisance than a help. She took piles of envelopes from the floor and began sorting them according to size." He wears aviator-style eyeglasses, keeps his hair long, and chain-drinks Diet Cokes. "The reason I went into theoretical physics," Guth tells me, "is that I liked the idea that we could understand everything--i.e., the universe--in terms of mathematics and logic." He gives a bitter laugh. We have been talking about the multiverse.

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be "fine-tuned" to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for "man," is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars' Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, "To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability.... [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles."

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties--for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker--then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn't matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn't be here to ask the question.

The explanation is similar to the explanation of why we happen to live on a planet that has so many nice things for our comfortable existence: oxygen, water, a temperature between the freezing and boiling points of water, and so on. Is this happy coincidence just good luck, or an act of Providence, or what? No, it is simply that we could not live on planets without such properties. Many other planets exist that are not so hospitable to life, such as Uranus, where the temperature is -371 degrees Fahrenheit, and Venus, where it rains sulfuric acid.

The multiverse offers an explanation to the fine-tuning conundrum that does not require the presence of a Designer. As Steven Weinberg says: "Over many centuries science has weakened the hold of religion, not by disproving the existence of God but by invalidating arguments for God based on what we observe in the natural world. The multiverse idea offers an explanation of why we find ourselves in a universe favorable to life that does not rely on the benevolence of a creator, and so if correct will leave still less support for religion."

Some physicists remain skeptical of the anthropic principle and the reliance on multiple universes to explain the values of the fundamental parameters of physics. Others, such as Weinberg and Guth, have reluctantly accepted the anthropic principle and the multiverse idea as together providing the best possible explanation for the observed facts.

Because every finding in physics confirms Design, those who oppose God have been forced to invent a theory for which there is no evidence.

Thus Robert Griffiths's line : "If we need an atheist for a debate, we go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn't much use."

[originally posted: 2/25/17]

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Horseman, Pass By: Glory, grief, and the race for the Triple Crown (John Jeremiah Sullivan, October 2002, Harper's)

My only real awareness of the Kentucky Derby, growing up across the river from Louisville, lay in noticing the new commemorative glass that appeared in the cupboard each May, to be dropped and broken, as often as not by me, before the next one arrived. Although my father attended the race every year for more than a decade, occasionally taking my older brother along, he never said anything to me about it apart from to ask, when I got old enough, which horse I would like him to bet on with my allotted two dollars. His position, in general, was that to talk about work was the same as being at work, and there was already plenty of that.

A sportswriter gets used to people coming up to him in restaurants or at PTA meetings and taking issue with something he said in a column or on some call-in show. And my father was sensitive to the slightest criticism --really the slightest mention--of his writing, almost to the point of wincing, which may have stemmed from his having come to the job somewhat backward. As opposed to the typical sportswriter, who has a passion for the subject and can put together a sentence, my father's ambition had been to Write (poetry, no less), and sports were what he knew, so he sort of stumbled onto making his living that way. When the alternative weekly paper in Columbus, Ohio--where we moved when I was twelve so he could take a job writing for the Columbus Dispatch--started running a regular column entitled "The Sully," in which they would select and expand upon what they felt to be my father's most bizarre sentence from the previous week (e.g., "'Second base is still an undefined area that we haven't wrapped our arms around,' Tribe general manager John Hart said, sounding very much like a man about to have his face savagely bitten"), we were amazed by his pained reaction. The compliment behind the teasing would have been plain to anyone else, but he would not have the thing in the house.

Two years ago, in May, I sat with him in his hospital room at Riverside Methodist, in Columbus. He was in recovery from what was supposed to have been a quintuple bypass operation but became, on the surgeon's actually seeing the heart, a sextuple bypass. There had, in the preceding year, already been the aneurysm surgery, then the surgery (unsuccessful) to repair the hernia caused by the aneurysm surgery. "My succession of infirmities," as he put it to me in a letter, "has tended finally to confront me with blunt intimations of mortality." Otherwise it was not a morbid scene. The last operation had gone well, and he seemed to be feeling better than he had any right to. The waning sedative and, I suppose, twenty-four hours without cigarettes had left him edgy, but he was happy to talk, which we did in whispers, because the old man with whom he was sharing a room that night had already gone to sleep.

I asked him to tell me what he remembered from all those years of writing about sports, for he had seen some things in his time: Michael Jordan at North Carolina, a teenage John McEnroe, Bear Bryant, the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. This is what he told me:

I was at Secretariat's Derby, in '73, the year before you were born-l don't guess you were even conceived yet. That was...just beauty, you know? He started in last place, which he tended to do. I was covering the second-place horse, which wound up being Sham. It looked like Sham's race going into the last turn, I think. The thing you have to understand is that Sham was fast, a beautiful horse. He would have had the Triple Crown in another year. And it just didn't seem like there could be anything faster than that. Everybody was watching him. It was over, more or less. And all of a sudden there was, just a disruption in the comer of your eye, in your peripheral vision. And then before you could make out what it was, here Secretariat came. And then Secretariat had passed him. No one had ever seen anything run like that--a lot of the old guys said the same thing. It was like he was some other animal out there...

I wrote that down when I got back to my father's apartment, where my younger sister and I were staying the night. He lived two more months, but that was the last time I saw him alive. [...]

My trip to the September yearling sale was only the second time I had been back to Lexington since we had buried my father there a year before. On the evening of the twelfth, after the last hip number had been called and most of the buyers had been driven to the airport, I pulled away from Keeneland under an almost radioactive violet sky that had the first tinge of fall in it, passing a skinny, bald-headed man who was walking shirtless along the side of the road, listlessly waving an American flag. The car was pointed toward my grandmother's house, where I was staying, but I veered at the last minute toward the cemetery.

His grave is at Calvary, a Catholic cemetery that lies directly across the road from Lexington Cemetery, site, as it happens, of the first racetrack in town and the place where all of my Episcopalian family on my mother's side are buried. The two graveyards, starkly separated from each other by the road and the traffic and the fences, seemed at the time to sum up rather neatly how opposite my parents were in almost every way: he Catholic, she Protestant; she Old Lexington, he a grandson of Irish immigrants, brought up in White Plains, New York, who moved to Lexington only as a teenager when his father, a construction supervisor, got a job overseeing the building of an IBM plant outside of town; she a former boarding-school cheerleader, he a former Memphis hippie (the freakiest of the hippies, as any survivor can tell you); and the list is long. It is a riddle how they stayed together for twenty years

The headstone was not on the grave yet, the grass had not come in. No one else was around. I had no flowers or anything else to leave and felt slightly awkward, as if I were trespassing.

One of the most difficult things in dealing with my father's death--for many of the people he left behind, I think--is how totally inappropriate grief and mourning seem beside any memory of the man himself. He was a deeply funny person, a collector and disseminator of bawdy jokes and carefully clipped page 10 stories about insane trailer park crimes. He had inherited some variant of that dark and antic strain of Irish humor that runs through Synge and Flann O'Brien, by which the worst imaginable scenarios, the worst outbursts of temper, would flower in a joke that made everything bearable. It was a quality not without its regrettable side, for he used it to keep our concern over his health at bay. I have a letter from him, written less than a month before he died, in response to my having asked him about an exercise regimen that his doctor had him on. In typically epithetic style (it was his weakness), he wrote, "Three days ago didst I most stylishly drive these plucky limbs once around the 1.2-mile girth of Antrim Lake--and wasn't it a lark watching the repellently 'buff' exercise cultists scatter and cower in fear as I gunned the Toyota around the tight turns!"

For all the joking, his disappointments and sadnesses never quit him. His own father had died when he was only nineteen, dropping dead in harness, as it were, on the job at a construction site. "Four men came up to my mother at the funeral," my father told me once, "and claimed to be the one who caught him, which is how she knew that no one did." He was devastated; he had worshiped the man. He dropped out of college, utterly lost for a while. I see now that he was always, in some sense, a son. In one of his journals are plans for a book that would tell his father's story, the story of "a great and unknown man." But he never wrote it. His temperament was not suited for the long commitment, for the artist's obliviousness to competing responsibilities, which necessitates a certain cruelty, let us admit. So he accepted his defeat, with dignity, and with a total lack of self-pity. He wrote his newspaper stories, and wrote them well, downstairs at his vast green-leather-topped desk, on his creaking chair, in a haze of smoke. The desk was accidentally lost during the settlement of his estate. It is in a Salvation Army somewhere in Louisville, or at the dump.

The night he died I went back to his bachelor apartment in the dismal complex and sat down at the old desk, among his few things. In the drawers were his "quitting journals," as he called them, special notebooks, set apart from the others, filled with his rapid, loopy script. He would start a clean one with each new attempt to kick cigarettes. I had glanced at them once or twice, without permission, when he was alive. Now they belonged to me, along with all of his "creative work," under the terms of the will. They were largely self-excoriations, full of dark thoughts, efforts to locate and take hold of his own willpower. How badly he wanted co change. Worse than any of us could want that for him. I remember a notecard on the table by the bed, written during a brief period when he was attending a support group: "Reasons to quit: I} It worries my children."

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Kobach promised cities help. It cost them millions -- and powered his political rise (HUNTER WOODALL, JESSICA HUSEMAN, BRYAN LOWRY AND BLAKE PATERSON, August 01, 2018, Kansas City Star)

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Mo. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town's hard-line anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his "victory" there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But "victory" isn't the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach's work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them.

After two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to "knowingly" hire illegal immigrants there -- something that was already illegal under federal law. The town's attorney can't recall a single case brought under the ordinance.

"Ambulance chasing" is how Grant Young, a former mayor of Valley Park, describes Kobach's role. Young characterized Kobach's attitude as, "Let's find a town that's got some issues or pretends to have some issues, let's drum up an immigration problem and maybe I can advance my political position, my political thinking and maybe make some money at the same time."

Kobach used his work in Valley Park to attract other clients, with sometimes disastrous effects on the municipalities. The towns -- some with budgets in the single-digit-millions -- ran up hefty legal costs after hiring him to defend similar ordinances.

Farmers Branch, Texas, wound up owing $7 million in legal bills. Hazleton, Pa., took on debt to pay $1.4 million and eventually had to file for a state bailout. Fremont, Neb., raised property taxes to pay for Kobach's services. None of the towns is currently enforcing an ordinance he helped craft.

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The Devil's Party?: Why we love Lucifer--and why Milton might have, too (Edwin M. Yoder Jr.,  July 31, 2018, American Scholar)

The paramount issue, since John Milton's great poem Paradise Lost first appeared in 1667, is that his magnificent articulation of the myth of the Fall of Man should, for many readers, make a hero of the archangel Lucifer, the leader of the celestial rebellion that precipitates the legend. For attentive readers, notably William Blake, Satan overshadows the Almighty, in color if not in virtue. Whether or not Milton was the Devil's unconscious partisan, Satan's distinction in the poem remains controversial.

We are assured by the formidable critic and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis that it is a misreading of the poem to find Satan a more attractive figure than the God against whom he leads the rebel angels. But a recent rereading leaves me with the persistent impression that the issue is less easily resolved than Lewis supposed. [...]

Milton installs Adam and Eve as innocents in a paradise of flower and fruit. Their enjoyment is circumscribed by a single rule: They may eat all the fruit in the Garden except that from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This exception is obviously significant, since Milton's epic appeared at a time when certain forms of knowledge were dangerous in and of themselves. The temptation and fall, and its consequences, are preceded in the poem by the rebellion of a third of the angelic host. Satan's followers are cast out of Heaven in a celestial war in which the divine son volunteers to rally the loyal angels. Satan's expulsion, to the fiery waters and "darkness visible" of Hell, becomes one of the spectacular scenes of the epic:

Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf, ...
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes ...

The description of Satan's expulsion is a vivid example of Milton's masterly interplay of vowels and consonants, offering an auditory sensation of falling; and the plunge is earth-shaking--or would be, had our world existed then. That comes later in time, if not poetic sequence. Milton's God excites Satan's envy by creating a new and favored being, Adam, and sets him up in Paradise. The Creator stipulates a unique test of fidelity: the tree laden with forbidden fruit, deathly to the touch. God dispatches Raphael and other angelic messengers to counsel Adam and Eve about the penalties of disobedience--indeed, these angels harp upon the dangers of certain kinds of inquiry. The First Parents are admonished to content themselves with information of a more practical and earthly kind:

And thus the godlike Angel answered ...
Such commission from above
I have received, to answer thy desire
Of knowledge within bounds; beyond abstain
To ask, nor let thine own inventions hope
Things not revealed, which the invisible King,
Only omniscient, hath suppressed in night,
To none communicable in Earth or Heaven:
Enough is left besides to search and know.
But knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her temperance over appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind. ...

Thus the perils of excessive learning! And here lies the heart of the mystery, for me, as for others before me.

Milton's inventive power is nowhere more dramatic than in the sequence in which Satan, stealing into Eden as a toad and then a serpent, spies Eve at a distance and is smitten by her beauty. His malicious resolve briefly falters. The temptation of Eve is open to a suspicion of misogyny; during the first of Milton's three marriages, his young Royalist wife fled his household at the outbreak of civil conflict, returning only when the parliamentary side was clearly winning. Eve pleads with her distrustful lord and master Adam to be permitted to work alone one morning, and Adam reluctantly grants permission--till lunchtime. So "hapless Eve" is pictured as easy prey for Satan's sophistries:

Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought.
That space the Evil One abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge,
But the hot Hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid Heaven, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more, the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordained; then soon
Fierce hate he recollects.

Satan offers arguments that, we are to assume, Adam would have seen through and dismissed. The serpent leads her to the tree of knowledge, and boastfully plucks and eats without the penalty of death. The benefits are lavish:

"O sacred, wise, and wisdom-giving Plant,
Mother of science, now I feel thy power
Within me clear, not only to discern
Things in their causes, but to trace the ways
Of highest agents, deemed however wise.
Queen of this Universe, do not believe
Those rigid threats of death; ye shall not die: ...
Shall that be shut to man, which to the beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue ... ?

The grievance, absorbed and echoed by Eve, is that humankind should enjoy at least the same privileges as the beasts. Eve elaborates her own fallacious rationalization:

How dies the Serpent? He hath eaten and lives,
And knows, and speaks, and reasons, and discerns,
Irrational till then. For us alone
Was death invented? or to us denied
This intellectual food, for beasts reserved?

And so Eve falls, with cosmic effect, as the poet returns to the universal calamity in third-person narration:

... in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat,
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. Back to the thicket slunk
The guilty Serpent, and well might, for Eve
Intent now wholly on her taste, nought else
Regarded ...
Greedily she ingorged without restraint,
And knew not eating death. Satiate at length,
And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon ...

Disobedience, as promised, brings death into the fallen world, but the effect is not immediate. Adam, dismayed by Eve's lapse, administers a husbandly tongue-lashing but then chivalrously joins in her death sentence. The immediate consequence is an abrupt surge of sexual lust and self-conscious nakedness.

Despite the warnings of C. S. Lewis and others, I am left echoing Eve's question: if the beasts, why not man? Why, having armed his new creatures with intellectual curiosity, should their thirst for intellectual adventure become the paramount sin and its exercise a cosmic catastrophe? This prohibition seems especially odd because it contradicts what we know of Milton the lifelong scholar and polymath.

The warning communicated by angelic messengers is so categorical that it trivializes the original evil. Myths of overweening curiosity--forbidden knowledge--are plentiful; they neither began nor ended with Faust. But God's ban in this case seems to call for an elaboration that the archangels don't provide. Because God said so, is what it amounts to--the eternal edict of parent to child.

The extravagance of our punishment for simply being true to our nature is why He is equally extravagant with His love after sinning Himself.

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Cracks appear in 'invincible' Xi Jinping's authority over China: Intellectuals voice criticism as analysts point to disharmony in the Communist party (Lily Kuo, 4 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

This week, an essay by a law professor at Tsinghua University, one of the country's top schools, made the rounds on Chinese social media. The essay - Our dread now and our hopes - by Xu Zhangrun offered one of the most direct criticisms of the Chinese government under Xi's direction.

Referring to Xi only as "that official", Xu accused him of reversing years of reforms, effectively returning China to an era of totalitarian politics and a style of dictatorship last seen under Mao Zedong.

"After 40 years of reform, overnight we're back to the ancien régime," he wrote, calling for the return of term limits, abolished under Xi earlier this year, the rehabilitation of those punished for the 4 June pro-democracy protests crushed by the government and an end to the cult of personality surrounding Xi.

"The party is going to great lengths to create a new idol, and in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as modern totalitarianism," he wrote.

Xu is one among several intellectuals voicing dissent. Zi Zhongyun, an international politics scholar, blamed the US-China trade war on the Xi administration's failure to implement reforms in an article in June. Wenguang Sun, a retired professor at Shandong University published an essay in July urging Xi to stop spending money abroad on projects such as the Belt and Road initiative, and spend it at home instead.

"For the first time since Xi Jinping gained power in 2012, he is facing a pushback from within the party, from liberal intellectuals and so forth," said Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The pushback is also emerging in other ways. A group of alumni from Tsinghua published an open letter on Wednesday calling for the sacking of a professor over his claims China had emerged as the world's top superpower.

Hu Angang, who claimed in a series of speeches that China had surpassed the US in economic strength and technological know-how, is one of many who have echoed Xi's claims that China has entered a new era of power on the world stage, reversing his predecessors' more muted global aspirations.

"[Hu] misleads government policy, confuses the public, causes other countries to be overly cautious about China and for neighbours to be afraid of China. Overall, it does harm to the country and its people," the former students said, according to images of the letter posted online.

Such criticism is an indirect rebuke of Xi's more assertive foreign policy, and comes as his opponents use economic troubles and failed trade negotiations with the US as pretext to question him, according to analysts.

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On the Constant Hunt for Fresh Outrage (JONAH GOLDBERG, August 3, 2018, National Review)

We live in a time when partisan affiliation and ideological worldviews serve as substitute religions. And if we've learned anything from the last few years, the capacity for outrage on the left and right is near infinite. There's nothing wrong with forcefully expressing disagreement, but the constant hunt for scalps will leave everyone bald and bloodied.

Newspapers, magazines, and other businesses have every right to hire and fire whomever they want, but if they do hire someone, they should stand by their decision until the new employee does something worthy of firing while employed by them, not because a mob chooses to weaponize something they said in the past. And even then, they should make the decision on the merits, not simply to appease jackals. Obviously this can't be an inflexible law, but it should be the rule of thumb.

At the same time, people shouldn't tweet -- or say -- indefensibly stupid, racist, or dumb things on the assumption that only "their people" will see it, hear it, or process it in precisely the way the author intended. The Internet has made it impossible for such "narrowcasting" to stay narrow. As Jeong has learned, we all live in one "general audience" now. Again, it can't be law: People shouldn't hold themselves hostage to the most excitable and humorless among us. But it's a worthy principle.

And so is this: We should all save our outrage for when it's really needed.

Everything offensive is not comedy, but all comedy is offensive. And ideologues are, necessarily, offended by every challenge.

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New polls show Ted Cruz could really lose in 2018 (Tara Golshan, Aug 3, 2018, Vox)

Democrat Rep. Beto O'Rourke is within single digits of beating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, two recent polls find -- a development that has pushed the Cook Political Report to change the state's partisan rating from "Likely Republican" to "Lean Republican."

A new poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday put O'Rourke just 6 points behind Cruz. Cruz drew the support of 49 percent of registered Texas voters; 43 percent of registered voters backed O'Rourke. The poll, which has a 3.5-point margin of error, shows the Texas Senate race tightening since an earlier poll in May when O'Rourke was 11 points behind Cruz.

Another poll from Texas Lyceum, with a slightly smaller sample size, had Cruz up by just 2 points -- a statistical dead heat. Cruz had the support of 36 percent of registered voters, and O'Rourke had the support of 34 percent. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Beto behind by 6.5 points.

Put simply: It's becoming a very real possibility that Cruz could lose reelection to a Democrat -- an upset that would seriously imperil Republicans' hold on the Senate majority. Texas has not had a Democratic senator in more than 20 years. [...]

O'Rourke notably underperformed in the Texas primaries; he won the primary and avoided a runoff but still lost some crucial border counties to a complete political unknown, Sema Hernandez. In March, it was a sign that O'Rourke didn't have name recognition. Now, in July, the Quinnipiac poll finds 43 percent of voters still haven't heard enough about O'Rourke to form an opinion about him. Only 7 percent of voters said the same of Cruz. [...]

Some things are clearer. O'Rourke has a lot of money, and voters who do know him overwhelmingly like him. The Quinnipiac poll shows black, Hispanic, and women voters prefer him to Cruz.

Who needs them?

Democrats Don't Need to Win Texas--But They Just Might, Anyway (TIM MURPHY, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017, Mother Jones)

O'Rourke's politics, forged in one of the largest border communities on Earth, are in many ways the antithesis of President Donald Trump's; he supports single-payer health care and marijuana legalization, hates the wall, and loves Mexico. Trump's platform was all but designed in a lab to devastate predominantly Hispanic ports of entry like El Paso. But in Texas, a state gripped by one-party rule, anemic turnout, and a photo ID law that makes voting disproportionately harder for college students and people of color, O'Rourke believes the same frustration that ushered in Trumpism can also be harnessed to thwart it. A year ago, running against Cruz might have looked like a suicide mission--maybe it still is. But something is happening in Texas.

After Election Day, when the Democrats' fabled Great Lakes "blue wall" crumbled, party leaders descended on white working-class enclaves of the Rust Belt intent on finding the path back. Sen. Bernie Sanders huddled with miners in West Virginia. Joe Biden reflected on what went wrong in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Mark Zuckerberg put on his pith helmet and parachuted into Ohio. "We've gotta find a way to get them back in," said Rep. Tim Ryan, whose Youngstown district was ground zero for blue-collar anthropology, "and that starts with a message that resonates in the flyover states."

But there is another way of looking at what happened. The Trump wave masked a riptide. Hillary Clinton made huge gains across the Sun Belt, in such bastions of Republicanism as Orange County, California, and the suburbs of Houston and Dallas. Texas was closer than Iowa. Arizona was closer than Ohio. The white women and energized Hispanic voters Clinton was counting on really did exist--they just didn't live where she thought they did.

Now the dilemma facing party leaders is this: In 2016 the Democratic presidential nominee received 43 percent of the vote in two states. The first state is 80 percent white. Its population is stagnant and graying. Democrats have performed successively worse there in the last two presidential elections, and the last Democrat to run for governor lost by 30 points. The second state is 44 percent white. A majority of the population is 34 or younger. Democrats are coming off their best presidential showing in 20 years. Maybe you still think Ohio is more winnable than Texas--but would you bet your party's future on it?

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There's a virus in Trumpland (Philip Bump, August 3, 2018, Washington Post)

At Thursday's rally, though, it's certainly the case that there were more overt supporters of QAnon than there were of Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner or Senate candidate Lou Barletta -- who was ostensibly the reason for Trump's visit. One guy with a "Lou" sticker didn't want to talk; one woman in a Scott Wagner shirt explained that it was her only political shirt. She also called him "Scott Walker."

QAnon fans were both more numerous and generally better able to explain their support. Explanations of what Q was and what he stood for were varied but, then, so were the explanations of what Trump was doing and had achieved among his mainstream supporters.

Mark Emmett, 55, said he was at the Trump rally because he likes the president's focus on making things in the United States. We spoke after he finished signing a petition in support of Brett M. Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.

"I'm in manufacturing," Emmett said. "You can't build your military if you don't manufacture your own steel. You fire up the steel mills, you're going to fire up not just the mills, you're going to fire up the mines."

He added: "Everything we buy says 'Made in China.' So hopefully everything we buy in the next 20 years will say 'Made in America.' "

His son Colton, 18, suddenly took off his Make America Great Again hat.

"This is 'Made in China!' " he said.

He does seem to be actively promoting mine fires.

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DACA Ruling Puts Republicans on the Defensive Approaching the Midterms (David Atkins, August 4, 2018, Washington Monthly)

But voters haven't forgotten. DACA remains incredibly popular, with upwards of 80% or even 90% support depending on the poll. That means support for DACA cuts into even Trump's most hardcore supporters. This is not a fight Republicans want front and center as November approaches.

But it looks like it's going to be:

The ruling sets up potentially conflicting DACA orders from federal judges by the end of the month.

The decision comes less than a week before a hearing in a related case in Texas. In that case, Texas and other states are suing to have DACA ended entirely, and the judge is expected to side with them based on his prior rulings.
Previous court rulings in California and New York have already prevented the administration from ending DACA, but they only ordered the government to continue renewing existing applications. Bates' ruling would go further and order the program reopened in its entirety. The earlier decisions are pending before appeals courts.

The administration has two choices here: do the decent and honorable thing, abiding by the agreement while facing the temporary wrath of Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus and the merry racists at Breitbart-or use the conflicting to appeal this fight as far as necessary, prolonging the political damage.

A normal administration would simply take the loss and move on. But that's not Trump's style or his instinct. Trump's first gut reaction is to eliminate whatever Obama did before him, and cater to the most stridently deplorable racists from among his supporters.

It's the campaign they deserve.

GOP grumbles as Donald Trump reshapes midterm campaigns (LISA LERER and KEN THOMAS, 8/04/18, AP)

The president is casting himself as the star of the midterms, eagerly inserting himself into hotly contested primaries, headlining rallies in pivotal swing states and increasing his fundraising efforts for Republicans. Last week, Trump agreed to donate a portion of his reelection fund to 100 GOP candidates running in competitive House and Senate races.

He's expected to be even more aggressive in the fall. White House officials say he's reserving time on his schedule for midterm travel and fundraising likely to surpass that of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

"This is now about Donald Trump," said Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican chairman. "It's a high-risk, high-stakes proposition."

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicts the media -- on bogus, Trumped-up charges (Aaron Blake, August 3, 2018, Washington Post)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has taken to the briefing room podium twice this week. Both times, she has come loaded for bear with a list of grievances.

Recognizing the moment is charged because of the verbal abuse CNN reporter Jim Acosta received at a Trump rally this week -- and knowing she was likely be asked about Ivanka Trump disagreeing with her father having labeled the news media the "enemy of the American people" -- Sanders wanted to be ready. Rather than dealing with the issues at hand, she instead read from prepared statements and listed the media's sins.

The problem: Her arguments showed exactly why the media is so hard on the Trump White House -- and rightfully so.

On Wednesday, it was an allegation that the media effectively damaged the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, by disclosing classified information about his use of a satellite phone. Except that claim had long ago been debunked -- and the media didn't even disclose that it was being used for surveilling the al-Qaeda leader.

On Thursday, with Acosta pressing Sanders on whether she thinks the media is the American people's foe, she opted to list the cases in which she personally has been allegedly wronged by the media. Except, again, her evidence was lacking.

The one thing she seems to have learned from her boss is how to wallow in self-pity.

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The Americanization of James Iredell (M.E. Bradford, 8/02/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Before he undertook to shape its meaning, James Iredell paid a great price for his American citizenship. He was disowned by a wealthy uncle in the West Indies--an uncle whose heir he had been. Also he lost his powerful patrons in England and Ireland. Moreover, he was cut off from his closest relations, left for many years with only a tenuous connection through the mails. Finally, he was separated from a total culture which, as he wrote the King in 1777, he continued to cherish, feeling, even in self-imposed exile, "a strong attachment to my native country." Edenton, his family and friends there, the regard for him which they expressed, made good Iredell's losses, and transformed the young attorney, as he participated fully in the public life of North Carolina, into one of the representative Southerners of his time.

Iredell's careful apologia for the American cause--a teaching which he developed in a series of essays and public letters written from 1773-1778--clearly contains a foreshadowing of what he thought should be in a constitution for the United States. In response to the Declaratory Act (1766), the Coercive Act (1774), and the "Declaration for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition" (1775), the young lawyer from Edenton backed slowly toward the conclusion that Crown and Parliament would never agree to any restraint upon their powers of supervision over the colonies and that therefore they had forfeited all the authority over Americans they had once enjoyed.

And while he was withdrawing from the King's no-longer-paternal protection, the entire Tidewater section of North Carolina, a very conservative community, was inwardly, often unknowingly, quietly, doing the same. As Professor Don Higginbotham has maintained, James Iredell wrote originally of his politics in the hope of preserving a connection with Great Britain, and also the liberty of his neighbors under the British constitution. In his "Essay on the Law Court Controversy," his "To the Inhabitants of Great Britain," "The Principles of an American Whig," "Causes of the American Revolution," "To His Majesty George the Third, King of Great Britain," and "To the Commissioners of the King of Great Britain for Restoring Peace, etc...," he envisaged an empire of equal parts, like what came later with the British Commonwealth of Nations. Only a small change in the colonial pattern before 1763 was needed, but no less would serve. As early as September 1773 he had written, "I have always been taught and, till I am better informed, will continue to believe, that the Constitution of this country [North Carolina] is founded on the Provincial Charter, which may be considered the original contract between King and inhabitants." In the same spirit, looking back on relations between colonies and mother country since the first English settlement on this continent, he later informed King George III (as he withdrew his allegiance from that prince) that there would have been no Revolution "if your Majesty had disliked innovation as much as we did."

The great failing of the British system, according to James Iredell, was that it did not include a judiciary powerful enough to protect its constitution from the abusive acts of Crown and Parliament. Divided sovereignty, enforced by a judiciary speaking for an antecedent (and truly sovereign) fundamental law, provided a formula for preserving both liberty and civil order. Such an argument Iredell may have learned from his friend William Hooper, who in 1774 wrote to the young immigrant from Bristol of a hope for setting up on these shores "a British constitution purged of its impurities." But whatever its source, it is in keeping with the point of view which he affirmed throughout his public life. For well before most Americans, James Iredell came to believe that what we now call judicial review is essential to any hope for a government of laws. Functioning as a private attorney, he established the doctrine in North Carolina in the 1787 case of Baynard v. Singleton, and affirmed it again at every opportunity.

Looking back on a war fought more against the "700 or 800 Tyrants" of the House of Commons than the despotism of a monarch, Iredell in "An Address to the Public" wrote:

We had not only been sickened and disgusted for years with the high and almost impious language from Great Britain, of the omnipotent power of the British Parliament, but had severely smarted under the effects. We felt, in all its rigor, the mischiefs of an absolute and unbounded authority, claimed by so weak a creature as man, and should have been guilty of the basest breach of trust, as well as the grossest folly, if in the same moment, when we spumed at the insolent despotism of Great Britain, we had established a despotic power among ourselves.

Because of what he had learned as an Englishman in America, he wished no system of legislative supremacy on these shores. Instead, even with respect to North Carolina, he insisted that "it has ever been my opinion that an act inconsistent with the [state] Constitution was void, and that the judges, consistently with their duties, could not carry it into effect. The Constitution appears to me to be a fundamental law, limiting the powers of the legislature, and with which every exercise of those powers must, necessarily, be compared." In 1783 he observed, "In a Republic... the Law is superior to any or all Individuals, and the Constitution superior even to the Legislature, of which the Judges are the guardians and protectors." Legislative supremacy was an idea of democratic, doctrinaire egalitarians. And Iredell was assuredly not of that company.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


"The Brothers Karamazov" and the Power of Memory (Robert Stacey, 8/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

On my desk sits a small, clear acrylic cube. Inside that cube rests an old baseball. On the surface of that baseball is printed the swashbuckling emblem of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Surrounding that emblem and covering the rest of the ball are a number of signatures in ink--signatures of the men who constituted the starting line-up of the 1979 World Series Champions.

To a memorabilia collector, that baseball would likely have some monetary value. To a Pirates fan (like myself), that baseball might have some sentimental value, as it commemorates the last time the team won a World Series.

But that baseball has an entirely different value in my eyes, one that could not really be shared by anyone else.

You see, when I was about ten years old, my grandfather took me to Three Rivers Stadium, a couple hours' drive from my home, to see my first ever professional baseball game. He bought me that baseball at the game as a memento of our special trip. I can still remember driving in the car together, sitting with him in the impossibly large stadium, and holding his enormous hand as we navigated the biggest crowd I had ever seen in my young life.

Oddly enough, I remember very little of the actual ball game. What I remember most is the certain knowledge that my grandfather loved me and that we shared a wonderful day together.

Every time I look at that baseball, a whole set of beautiful memories rushes back to me. I don't think of athletic heroes like Willie Stargell or Phil Garner. I don't recall championships or victories. I simply remember my grandfather's love and our special day. My grandfather passed away nearly twenty-five years ago now, but I never grow tired of looking at that baseball!

August 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


China is quietly relaxing its sanctions against North Korea, complicating matters for Trump (Don Lee, AUG 03, 2018, LA Times)

After his dramatic summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, Trump declared on Twitter, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

Administration officials were quick to say the actual elimination of that threat would be the subject of negotiations now underway.

And, they said, the trade embargo that China has played a pivotal role in enforcing would ease only after North Korea had taken significant steps to stop developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The visits by North Korean trade officials in Dandong, along with a boomlet in Chinese tourists to Pyongyang and elsewhere in North Korea, are far from the only signs that Beijing is not waiting.

Instead, it has quietly begun loosening the screws on its long-time ally.

U.S. satellite images and Japanese naval photos have captured suspected illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil. And experts say North Korean workers are returning to jobs inside China, some under the guise of educational exchanges. Thousands of North Korean laborers also have entered Russia since the U.N. ban against new work permits last September, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Those workers send home hard-cash wages that, combined with large slush funds likely from prior years of coal sales and clandestine trading networks built up across China and southeast Asia, allow Pyongyang to pursue its nuclear ambitions while keeping its political elite happy with fine liquor, designer watches and the latest electronics normally unobtainable at home.

Some of these transactions, like procuring luxury goods, are clear violations of United Nations resolutions aimed at choking back Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


'Enemy of the people': Trump's phrase and its echoes of totalitarianism (Emma Graham-Harrison,  3 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

The phrase has old roots, even appearing in a Shakespeare play, but it became well known in the 20th century when it was adopted by dictators from Stalin to Mao, and Nazi propagandists, to justify their murderous purges of millions.

Stalin was perhaps most closely associated with the phrase, which successor Nikita Khrushchev specifically denounced in a landmark speech after Stalin's death, which he used to begin dismantling the dictator's poisonous legacy.

"Stalin originated the concept 'enemy of the people'. This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man be proven," Khrushchev said in his secret address to the Communist party's inner circle.

"It made possible the use of the cruellest repression, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations."

In fact the phrase was first deployed in a modern political sense during the French Revolution, allied with a form of another favourite Trump phrase, "fake news", according to the New York Times.

So much tendency,. so little talent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Omarosa Claims Trump Has 'Mental Decline That Could Not Be Denied' (Ed Mazza, 8/03/18, Huffington Post)

In an excerpt of her upcoming book, reality TV star and former White House official Omarosa Manigault Newman claims President Donald Trump is suffering from "mental decline."
Trump had been prepped to say former FBI Director James Comey was fired on the recommendation of the Department of Justice and not because of the Russia investigation, Manigault-Newman claimed, but that's not what he said in the interview.

"I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it," Trump said. "And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.'"

In the book excerpt, Manigault-Newman wrote:

"While watching the interview I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald's brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many didn't notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. They thought Trump was being Trump, off the cuff. But I knew something wasn't right."

You can't decline from the gutter.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


The Western Illusion of Chinese Innovation (ZHANG JUN, 7/30/18, Project Syndicate)

 While it is true that digital technologies are transforming China's economy, this reflects the implementation of mobile-Internet-enabled business models more than the development of cutting-edge technologies, and it affects consumption patterns more than, say, manufacturing. This kind of transformation is hardly unique to China, though it is occurring particularly rapidly here, thanks to a huge consumer market and weak financial regulation.

Furthermore, it is not so obvious that these changes have anything to do with the government's industrial policies. On the contrary, the growth of China's Internet economy has been driven largely by the entrepreneurship of privately owned companies like Alibaba and Tencent.

In fact, Western observers - not just the media, but also academics and government leaders, including US President Donald Trump - have fundamentally misunderstood the nature and exaggerated the role of China's policies for developing strategic and high-tech industries. Contrary to popular belief, these policies do little more than help lower the entry cost for firms and enhance competition. In fact, such policies encourage excessive entry, and the resulting competition and lack of protection for existing firms have been constantly criticized in China. Therefore, if China relies on effective industrial policies, they would not create much unfairness in terms of global rules.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions (Zack Beauchamp, Aug 3, 2018, Vox)

The Free Speech Project's researchers have cataloged more than 90 incidents since 2016 that fit their criteria for a person's free speech rights being threatened. Of those 90, about two-thirds took place on college campuses. These incidents range from a speaker being disinvited to a faculty member being fired over allegedly offensive comments to a student-run play being canceled over concerns it would offend.

The raw numbers here should already raise questions about the so-called political correctness epidemic. According to the Department of Education, there are 4,583 colleges and universities in the United States (including two- and four-year institutions). The fact that there were roughly only 60 incidents in the past two years suggests that free speech crises are extremely rare events and don't define university life in the way that critics suggest.

Moreover, there's a consistent pattern in the data when it comes to conservatives -- one that tells a different story than you hear among free speech panickers.

"Most of the incidents where presumptively conservative speech has been interrupted or squelched in the last two or three years seem to involve the same few speakers: Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, Charles Murray, and Ann Coulter ," Sanford Ungar, the Free Speech Project's director, writes. "In some instances, they seem to invite, and delight in, disruption."

What Ungar is suggesting here is that the "campus free speech" crisis is somewhat manufactured. Conservative student groups invite speakers famous for offensive and racially charged speech -- all of the above speakers fit that bill -- in a deliberate attempt to provoke the campus left. In other words, they're trolling. When students react by protesting or disrupting the event, the conservatives use it as proof that there's real intolerance for conservative ideas.

The other key thing that emerges from the Georgetown data, according to Ungar, is that these protests and disruptions don't just target the right. "Our data also include many incidents, generally less well-publicized, where lower-profile scholars, speakers, or students who could be considered to be on the left have been silenced or shut down," he writes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Ex-leader of SC Republican Party says he's Christ and God told him to kill mom's dog, police say (NOAH FEIT,  August 02, 2018, The State)

The former leader of the South Carolina Republican Party was recently arrested after police said he "cruelly" killed his mother's dog, and told them he did it because he was acting on a command from God -- and that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ.

...the Trumpbots would be telling us the pooch was Satan....

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Will the 'Trump economy' save the GOP?  (Greg Sargent, August 3, 2018, washington Post)

Priorities USA surveyed 1,000 presidential-year voters and people who recently registered to vote and found:

Voters are evenly divided on Trump's economic policies in general, with 41 percent viewing them favorably and 41 percent viewing them unfavorably.
However, on some of the specifics, Trump fares worse:

By 56-31, voters say they have an unfavorable reaction to what they've been hearing about Trump's trade policies and his developing trade war with China and Europe.

Only 33 percent view the Trump/GOP tax law favorably, while 21 percent are neutral and 38 percent view it unfavorably.

By 47-22, voters say things are getting worse rather than better in terms of wages keeping pace with the cost of living.

64 percent say the cost of health care is getting worse.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


The NRA Says It's in Deep Financial Trouble, May Be 'Unable to Exist' (TIM DICKINSON, 8/02/18, Rolling Stone)

The National Rifle Association warns that it is in grave financial jeopardy, according to a recent court filing obtained by Rolling Stone, and that it could soon "be unable to exist... or pursue its advocacy mission."

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Trump Administration Says the ACLU Should Reunite Separated Families (TONYA RILEY, AUG. 3, 2018, Mother Jones)

Nearly a week after missing its deadline to reunite all the migrant families it separated at the border, the Trump administration has a new solution: The American Civil Liberties Union should do it.

On June 27, a federal judge gave the administration 30 days to reunite these families. But more than 570 children remain separated from their parents. Now the Justice Department is suggesting that the ACLU, which sued the administration for separating families, should be responsible for reuniting these remaining children with their parents.

Just turn over immigration to them wholesale. They understand it better.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Ivanka Trump rebukes Donald: Media is not the enemy (Deutsche-Welle, 8/03/18)

US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump appeared to distance herself Thursday from her father's ongoing attacks on the US media. The first daughter said she did not believe the media was "the enemy of the people" as the US president has repeated many times on Twitter.

Next she'll be telling us that Latinos aren't subhuman....

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Employee Charged With Molested 8 Kids At Immigrant Shelter (Topher Sanders, August 3, 2018,  ProPublica)

A youth care worker for Southwest Key has been charged with 11 sex offenses after authorities accused him of molesting at least eight unaccompanied immigrant boys over nearly a year at one of the company's shelters in Mesa, Arizona, federal court records show.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM



Trump's latest attacks on Mueller are partly being enabled by conversations with his attorney Emmet Flood, one source told me. "Emmet feels there's nothing there with collusion, so it's fine for Trump to comment and tweet," the source explained. This person added that Trump appears to be in earnest about his desire for Sessions to end the Mueller probe, and spoke of a timeline of a couple of weeks. Otherwise, Trump has threatened to fire Rosenstein himself.

Inside the White House, West Wing advisers fear that Trump is careening toward disaster with few guardrails. One prominent Republican close to the White House told me Chief of Staff John Kelly made his decision to stay on past his one-year mark, in part, to be present in case Trump makes a calamitous decision. "Kelly knows he's the last bulwark against insanity in that White House," the Republican said.

Seeking to strengthen his hand against being fired, Kelly went to Trump this week and said he needed Trump's support. Afterward, Kelly told White House staff that Trump assured him he could stay on until 2020. According to two sources familiar with the matter, Trump was surprised that Kelly made their conversation public. From Trump's point of view, the sources said, it was an offhand comment, not a formal commitment to keep Kelly. "Trump is like, 'Whatever, we'll deal with Kelly after the midterms,'" a source said.

August 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM



Kirk was criticized, then and later, for writing in an anachronistic style, one not suited to confronting the seemingly rationalist arguments of liberalism. In order to defend what they thought to be worth conserving, some conservatives believed that they had to engage liberalism on its own terms, in a "dialectic" mode that is foreign to the conservative language of custom and tradition. Kirk rejected this approach.

As early as the 1950s, he had become convinced that liberalism would exhaust itself because it could not inspire and sustain what he called the "moral imagination." For conservatives to buy into its premises would seal their defeat. Something else would replace liberalism eventually, and Kirk offered a richly imaginative vision of conservatism that could survive liberal modernity's collapse. One element of that vision was a revived respect for religious faith.

As early as 1982, in an essay for National Review , Kirk suggested that "the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes [of postmodernism] may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives." He went so far as to state that he thought that it "may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age." (One of the earliest uses of the word postmodern was by the conservative Episcopalian cleric Bernard Iddings Bell, in a book of that title published in 1926; not surprisingly, Bell was an early influence on Kirk.)

Kirk had little patience for the trendy radicalism and sometimes simply nonsensical expressions of postmodern hacks. Nonetheless, he saw in postmodernism a chance to escape the strictures of liberalism and reconnect with the older, pre-Enlightenment tradition of the West. This approach has its weaknesses--Kirk, for example, too often simply assumed the existence of historical continuity, and perhaps did not sufficiently confront the corrosive effects of liberalism on the kinds of social forces he believed could sustain tradition. Nevertheless, his work stands as a stark alternative to a much bleaker postmodern future.

Kirk's intellectual legacy remains widespread, if too often unacknowledged by the movement he helped create. Two of the journals he founded, the University Bookman and Modern Age , continue to appear, and his books remain in print. The localist writer Bill Kauffman has outlined a defense of regionalism that is very much in Kirk's spirit. Kauffman wants to reclaim the particularities of the American experience from the domination of big government and the monotone culture emanating from Hollywood, Washington, and New York. His lyrical prose elevates half-forgotten episodes and figures in American history and weaves them into a compelling counter-cultural story.

Scholars such as Robert Kraynak and Peter Augustine Lawler have followed Kirk in studying postmodernism through a traditionalist lens, and popular writers such as Rod Dreher, author of the provocative Crunchy Cons , draw from Kirk's writings to support a localist, organic lifestyle. Despite Kirk's suspicion of the cult of technology, a number of influential bloggers also look to him for inspiration in shaping their own conservative visions, rejecting purely utilitarian views of rationality and promoting the ideal of the "postmodern conservative" who transcends traditional political labels of left and right.

In addition, scholars like Barry Alan Shain, in their writings on early America, have confirmed Kirk's contention that that the colonies were not Lockean utopias expressing the values of modern political theory, but closely knit, highly religious Protestant villages for whom "Christian liberty" had real meaning. The world of the Founders was not, in other words, an earlier version of our own secular society.

...the left's roundabout way back to pre-modernism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Coffee Fights Disease and Extends Your Life, Especially if You Drink It This Way: Coffee is the ultimate superfood, especially if you know the right way to drink it. (Geoffrey James, 8/02/18,

As I explained last month, a meta-analysis of 127 studies revealed that drinking two to four 8-ounce cups of coffee each day results in enormous health benefits. The consensus of these studies is that coffee:

Reduces your risk of cancer up to 20 percent.
Reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 30 percent.
Reduces your risk of Parkinson's disease by 30 percent.
Reduces your risk for heart disease by 5 percent.
That alone is enough to qualify coffee as a superfood, but there's more to it than that. Almost all of the 127 studies tracked coffee-drinkers versus non-coffee-drinkers without regard for HOW the coffee-drinkers take their coffee.

In other words, some percentage--probably a pretty large percentage--of the coffee-drinkers in those studies drink coffee with sugar, creamer, and artificial flavorings. As a result, the potential reduction in heart disease is probably much, much larger than 5 percent. [...]

[I]f you gradually accustom yourself to drinking your coffee black, the health benefits go through the roof.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Remember Trump's Tweet Saying He Was Pulling Out Of The G7 Summit Agreement? No One Ever Did Anything About It. (Alberto Nardelli, 8/02/18, BuzzFeed News)

US inaction means Trump effectively endorsed the final statement after all.

Trump had left the leaders of Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the UK stunned and bewildered after tweeting that he'd "instructed U.S. Reps" not to endorse the G7 communique, the official name of the joint leaders' statement that he'd signed up to in Quebec, before flying to Singapore to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In his tweets, Trump claimed that he was pulling out of the agreement because Trudeau had made "false statements" at his press conference.

Since Trump's tweet, however, there has been no formal or official follow-up by the US on the president's demand, the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

"The White House and State Dept. are actively ignoring the tweets of the president," one of the sources said. "It's like there's a reality TV president, in his own bubble, thinking he controls stuff. It's like The Truman Show."

Impeach him but give him a FOX show where he pretends to be president.  Everybody wins.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Case Against Screening For Thyroid Cancer (Christie Aschwanden, 8/02/18, 538)

The bad news first: Thyroid cancer incidence in the U.S. has tripled since the mid-1990s, and although the number of deaths remains very low, thousands of people are having their thyroid glands removed. Now here's the good news: We can bring those cancer rates down and save most of those thyroids with one weird trick -- stop looking for these cancers.

Forgoing cancer screening might seem like a reckless choice, but the current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening for thyroid cancer in people with no symptoms, and neither the American Thyroid Association nor the American Cancer Society advise routine thyroid cancer screening. "There's no evidence that screening for thyroid cancer saves lives," said Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society.

That's because most thyroid cancers aren't life-threatening. Even as rates of thyroid cancer have risen, one number hasn't budged: 98.1 percent of patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer survive at least five years -- the highest survival rate among the 12 most common cancers. Among patients whose cancer had not spread beyond the thyroid, the five-year survival rate is 99.9 percent. Most of the new cases being diagnosed are a type called papillary thyroid cancer, which is almost always benign, Brawley said. (The deadly types are less common and rarely found early by screening.)

Thyroid cancer screening isn't a routine check like breast cancer or prostate cancer screenings are, so why are we finding so many more cases now than 25 years ago? The answer is a combination of "haphazard screening" that happens as part of general health care (a doctor feeling the patient's neck during a visit for something else) and incidental findings seen on imaging tests done for some other reason, said H. Gilbert Welch, a physician at Dartmouth. Last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, Welch and surgeon Gerard M. Doherty wrote that "efforts to reduce thyroid cancer detection are clearly warranted."

The current slapdash, somewhat unintentional method of screening may also explain why about 75 percent of thyroid cancers are diagnosed in women. Women tend to get more health care than men do, Welch said, often because they're seeking reproductive health care.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


'We are Q': A deranged conspiracy cult leaps from the Internet to the crowd at Trump's 'MAGA' tour (Isaac Stanley-Becker, August 1, 2018, Washington Post)

The prominence of the "Q" symbol turned parts of the audience into a tableau of delusion and paranoia -- and offered evidence that QAnon, an outgrowth of the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory that led a gunman to open fire in a D.C. restaurant last year, has leaped from Internet message boards to the president's "Make America Great Again" tour through America.

"Pray Trump mentions Q!" one user wrote on 8chan. He didn't need to. As hazy corners of the Internet buzzed about the president's speech, his appearance became a real-life show of force for the community that has mostly operated behind the veil of anonymity on subreddits.

Trump himself has at times been a purveyor of conspiracy theories, most notably in refusing for years to back down from his false claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He also asserted without evidence that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, peddled the debunked idea that millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote and associated the father of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with the assassin who shot John F. Kennedy.

But viewing their message boards, it's clear that QAnon crosses a new frontier. In the black hole of conspiracy in which "Q" has plunged its followers, Trump only feigned collusion to create a pretense for the hiring of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is actually working as a "white hat," or hero, to expose the Democrats. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are planning a coup -- and traffic children in their spare time. J.P. Morgan, the American financier, sank the Titanic.

In the world in which QAnon believers live, Trump's detractors, such as Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, wear ankle monitors that track their whereabouts. Press reports are dismissed as "Operation Mockingbird," the name given to the alleged midcentury infiltration of the American media by the CIA. The Illuminati looms large in QAnon, as do the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family vilified by the conspiracy theorists as the leaders of a satanic cult. Among the world leaders wise to satanic influences, the theory holds, is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

QAnon flirts with eschatology, fascist philosophy and the filmmaking of Francis Ford Coppola. Adherents believe a "Great Awakening" will precede the final storm foretold by Trump. Once they make sense of the information drip-fed to them by "Q," they will usher in a Christian revival presaging total victory.

The implication is that resolving the clues left by "Q" would not just explain Trump's planned countercoup. It would also explain the whole universe. they seem almost indistinguishable from him and the rest of his defenders.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Trump Says You Need an ID to Buy Groceries. Shoppers Say, 'Huh?' (Katie Rogers, Aug. 1, 2018, NY Times)

Several of the president's friends -- one of them a billionaire owner of a chain of grocery stores -- said they cannot recall Mr. Trump ever doing his own grocery shopping. John A. Catsimatidis, the owner of Gristedes Foods, a chain of small grocery stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, said in an interview that he has known the president for 40 years, but cannot recall a time when Mr. Trump entered one of his stores.

"I wouldn't know," Mr. Catsimatidis said. "I don't have any pictures with him in Gristedes."

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., another billionaire friend of the president's, was blunt when asked if Mr. Trump ever did his own grocery shopping.

"No," Mr. Barrack said in a text complete with a smiley face emoji. Mr. Barrack, a financier, did not respond to a follow-up question about how he got his own groceries.

Mr. Catsimatidis said that he knew Mr. Trump as a homebody who preferred to host associates in the comfort of a Trump Tower boardroom rather than go out to dinner. When he did dine out, Mr. Catsimatidis said, Mr. Trump was often in the company of one or two bodyguards, perhaps making him too conspicuous for the express lane at Whole Foods on 57th Street between Second and Third Avenues, four blocks from Trump Tower.

Mr. Trump has, at the very least, shown that he knows his way around a shopping cart. Last December, the president was photographed as he nudged a cart around a food distribution center in Utah, pointing at his bounty with a "can you believe this" look on his face and a grin before setting off through the facility.

One of his handlers suggested he add a five-pound bag of potatoes to his cart: "These?" Mr. Trump asked of the potatoes, looking around for reassurance before giving no one in particular a thumbs up.

He also picked up and examined a can of food, holding it up and rotating it in his hands, seemingly fascinated.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


How Econ Went From Philosophy to Science: A new study shows how much the field now relies on hard data instead of airy theories. (Noah Smith, August 2, 2018, Bloomberg)

Big changes have been happening in the economics profession, but many people still don't seem to realize this. Maybe it's the steady drumbeat of think pieces reiterating the same outdated critiques. Or maybe there's a lingering collective memory of the time when the public face of economics was strongly libertarian. Or perhaps think tanks and pundits have publicized a caricature of economics.

But recognized or not, the changes are real and substantial. First, the profession has become much more empirical, increasingly emphasizing evidence and data over theoretical conjecture. Second, economists are much more concerned with inequality these days. And finally, economists are more willing to question basic assumptions, such as the premise that economic actors are perfectly rational.

Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven recently gave a presentation in which he evaluated how the profession has changed in recent years. Kleven used software to search the texts of National Bureau of Economics Research working papers. His search was limited to the field of public economics, which deals with taxes, government spending and similar issues. But it probably reflects trends that are present, to a greater or lesser degree, across the discipline.

The first thing Kleven found is that empiricism is on the rise. Many more papers mention the term "identification," which basically means testing models against data:

This empirical revolution takes many forms. More papers are making use of the data collected by government agencies, and techniques like machine learning are rapidly gaining in popularity. But the biggest change has been the increased emphasis on separating correlation from causation.

Economists basically don't disagree about any core question.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Americans are far more religious than adults in other wealthy nations (DALIA FAHMY, 7/31/18, Pew Research)

In 1966, Time magazine famously examined whether the United States was on a path to secularization when it published its now-iconic "Is God Dead?" cover. However, the question proved premature: The U.S. remains a robustly religious country and the most devout of all the rich Western democracies.

In fact, Americans pray more often, are more likely to attend weekly religious services and ascribe higher importance to faith in their lives than adults in other wealthy, Western democracies, such as Canada, Australia and most European states, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

For instance, more than half of American adults (55%) say they pray daily, compared with 25% in Canada, 18% in Australia and 6% in Great Britain. (The average European country stands at 22%.) Actually, when it comes to their prayer habits, Americans are more like people in many poorer, developing nations - including South Africa (52%), Bangladesh (57%) and Bolivia (56%) - than people in richer countries.

As it turns out, the U.S. is the only country out of 102 examined in the study that has higher-than-average levels of both prayer and wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Trump's Boast About Getting Fallen Heroes From Korea Is Collapsing (Jonathan Chait, 8/02/18, New York)
As North Korea's vague, timetable-free promises to one day denuclearize the Korean peninsula have melted away, President Trump has emphasized his shrewd bargaining for the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War. "We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back," boasted Donald Trump earlier this summer.

Unsurprisingly, this is false. North Korea has almost certainly not sent back anything close to 200 bodies. In the past, the regime has promised to return the remains of servicemen, but actually handed over unidentifiable bones of many people and some animals.

The latest batch of 55 boxes of remains from North Korea has just been received, and appears to fit the historic pattern. According to the Associated Press, the boxes contain "a single military dog tag but no other information that could help U.S. forensics experts determine their individual identities."

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


No Shirt, No Swipe, No Service   (HENRY GRABAR, JULY 24, 2018, Slate)

For years, small businesses have asked customers to pay cash, set credit card minimums, or added a surcharge onto card transactions, in an effort to defray the premiums imposed by companies like Mastercard and Visa. Now, an increasing number of businesses are doing the opposite. Head out of Slate's offices for lunch and you might wind up at Dos Toros, a local burrito minichain; for coffee you might pick Devoción, a Colombian-born coffeehouse with an airy storefront. In either case, you'd be confronted with the same demand: Pay with plastic.

Stores are eliminating cash registers and coin rolls in pursuit of what they say is a safer, more streamlined payment process--and one that most of their customers want to use anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


TSA mulling end to security checks at small US airports, but 'no decision' yet (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 8/02/18, CNN)

The US Transportation Security Administration is reportedly considering an end to its passenger screening at more than 150 American airports, a move that, if carried out, would mark a dramatic shift in the rigorous airport security reforms that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.

There's nothing Donald loves more than yanking the rug out from under his vassals. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Trump's Groceries Gaffe Is Even More Baseless Than It Seems: Contrary to what the president says, you don't need ID to buy food. Lots of people don't need ID for anything at all. (VANN R. NEWKIRK II, 8/02/18, The Atlantic)

Strict photo-ID requirements--that is, requirements without reasonable workarounds for those who lack said identification--are relatively rare in American society. Even alcohol and cigarette purchases--which could charitably count as "groceries"--aren't as tightly and universally bound by photo ID as proponents of the election measures suggest. Aside from the few states, like Tennessee and Indiana, that have implemented "universal carding," most states allow people who look to be well older than 21 to purchase alcohol and tobacco without the hassle. (Most Americans would probably consider it pretty weird if great-grandmothers got carded on beer runs.)

Their sale isn't really analogous to voting, though--alcohol and tobacco are vices. Photo ID in that context is mostly used to avoid fines related to underage sales, not matters of security and fraud prevention.

It might seem that commercial flying, an act that is regulated through the national-security apparatus, would be a better example, since driver's licenses and passports are such integral parts of the check-in process. But that's not right either: People don't actually need a government-issued photo ID to fly. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration's website states that travelers without ID are asked "to complete an identity verification process which includes collecting information such as your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity." Barring criminal warrants or other red flags, most passengers without ID are allowed to fly after a pat-down and a bag inspection. I'm one of them: Speaking from experience, the process is a hassle, but one designed specifically to accommodate people who've lost or don't have a driver's license. (From that experience, I can say that the hassle is well worth it to avoid being trapped in Las Vegas forever.)

Defenders of voter ID often see parallels between other areas of daily life where the federal bureaucracy extends: The Patriot Act and related laws pertaining to the Department of Homeland Security have created much tougher identification requirements for a number of tasks, including opening bank accounts, buying houses, buying regulated behind-the-counter drugs, and seeking employment.

But for each, again, there are some reasonable loopholes for the few citizens without the required documents. All bank transactions and new accounts--including home mortgages--are governed by a Patriot Act-enhanced version of the Bank Secrecy Act. That requires financial institutions to run a Customer Identification Program (CIP), an effort to crack down on suspicious financial activity on behalf of terrorist groups and organized crime. But the CIP allows banks to use different tiers of verification for customers who lack photo ID for specific reasons; allows employee discretion in verifying the identification of customers they know; and also, in some cases, might allow a combination of Social Security cards and voter-registration cards to serve as acceptable ID. Some local banks specifically account for people without photo ID in their written procedures. For example, the Callaway Bank, which serves mid-Missouri cities, says that people opening new accounts "can bring in 2 forms of ID," including a Social Security card, a birth certificate, a Medicare card, or an insurance card.

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Trump administration must stop giving psychotropic drugs to migrant children without consent, judge rules (Samantha Schmidt, July 31, 2018, Washington Post)

August 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet : No language in history has dominated the world quite like English does today. Is there any point in resisting? (Jacob Mikanowski,  Jul 2018, The Guardian)

Behemoth, bully, loudmouth, thief: English is everywhere, and everywhere, English dominates. From inauspicious beginnings on the edge of a minor European archipelago, it has grown to vast size and astonishing influence. Almost 400m people speak it as their first language; a billion more know it as a secondary tongue. It is an official language in at least 59 countries, the unofficial lingua franca of dozens more. No language in history has been used by so many people or spanned a greater portion of the globe. It is aspirational: the golden ticket to the worlds of education and international commerce, a parent's dream and a student's misery, winnower of the haves from the have-nots. It is inescapable: the language of global business, the internet, science, diplomacy, stellar navigation, avian pathology. And everywhere it goes, it leaves behind a trail of dead: dialects crushed, languages forgotten, literatures mangled.

One straightforward way to trace the growing influence of English is in the way its vocabulary has infiltrated so many other languages. For a millennium or more, English was a great importer of words, absorbing vocabulary from Latin, Greek, French, Hindi, Nahuatl and many others. During the 20th century, though, as the US became the dominant superpower and the world grew more connected, English became a net exporter of words. In 2001, Manfred Görlach, a German scholar who studies the dizzying number of regional variants of English - he is the author of the collections Englishes, More Englishes, Still More Englishes, and Even More Englishes - published the Dictionary of European Anglicisms, which gathers together English terms found in 16 European languages. A few of the most prevalent include "last-minute", "fitness", "group sex", and a number of terms related to seagoing and train travel.

In some countries, such as France and Israel, special linguistic commissions have been working for decades to stem the English tide by creating new coinages of their own - to little avail, for the most part. (As the journalist Lauren Collins has wryly noted: "Does anyone really think that French teenagers, per the academy's diktat, are going to trade out 'sexting' for texto pornographique?") Thanks to the internet, the spread of English has almost certainly sped up.

The gravitational pull that English now exerts on other languages can also be seen in the world of fiction. The writer and translator Tim Parks has argued that European novels are increasingly being written in a kind of denatured, international vernacular, shorn of country-specific references and difficult-to-translate wordplay or grammar. Novels in this mode - whether written in Dutch, Italian or Swiss German - have not only assimilated the style of English, but perhaps more insidiously limit themselves to describing subjects in a way that would be easily digestible in an anglophone context.

Yet the influence of English now goes beyond simple lexical borrowing or literary influence. Researchers at the IULM University in Milan have noticed that, in the past 50 years, Italian syntax has shifted towards patterns that mimic English models, for instance in the use of possessives instead of reflexives to indicate body parts and the frequency with which adjectives are placed before nouns. German is also increasingly adopting English grammatical forms, while in Swedish its influence has been changing the rules governing word formation and phonology.

Within the anglophone world, that English should be the key to all the world's knowledge and all the world's places is rarely questioned. The hegemony of English is so natural as to be invisible. Protesting it feels like yelling at the moon. Outside the anglophone world, living with English is like drifting into the proximity of a supermassive black hole, whose gravity warps everything in its reach. Every day English spreads, the world becomes a little more homogenous and a little more bland.

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

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Too Many Jobs Feel Meaningless Because They Are (Mark Buchanan, August 1, 2018, Bloomberg)

David Graeber of the London School of Economics argues in a recent book that the prevailing myths about the efficiency of capitalism blind us to the fact that much of economic reality is shaped by jockeying for power and status and serves no economic function at all. [...]

In an essay five years ago, he made the seemingly bizarre assertion that perhaps as many as 30 percent of all jobs actually contribute nothing of use to society. It might seem an obnoxious claim, if not for the fact that a huge number of people willingly attest to the worthlessness of their own jobs. A 2015 U.K. survey found that 37 percent of people felt their jobs "did not make a meaningful contribution to the world," and a later poll in the Netherlands found 40 percent saying the same thing.

Perhaps even more surprising is the nature of these "bull[***]t" jobs, as Graeber calls them. They aren't in teaching, cleaning, garbage collecting or firefighting, but seem mostly to be in the professional services sector. Since writing his essay, Graeber says he has been contacted by hundreds of people saying they agree -- they work in pointless jobs which could be eliminated with absolutely no loss to society -- and they've come mostly from human resources, public relations, lobbying or telemarketing, or in finance and banking, consulting, management and corporate law. Of course, neither Graeber nor anyone else can be a final judge which jobs are useful or not, but the people who offer this view of their own jobs come most frequently from the service sector.

Consider the case of Eric, a history graduate hired to oversee a software project ostensibly intended to improve the coordination of different groups in a large firm. Eric only discovered after several years on the job that one of the firm's partners had initiated the project, but that several others were against it and were acting to sabotage its success. His job -- and that of a large staff hired beneath him -- was a meaningless effort to put into place a change that most of the company didn't want.

Another example Graeber provides in the books is of a senior manager for one of the big accounting firms hired by banks to oversee the disbursement of funds for claims against mis-sold insurance. The company, this manager claimed, purposefully mistrained accounting staff and saddled them with impossible tasks so the work could not be done in time and the contract would need to be extended. In other words, the job was intentionally structured so as to siphon off as much of the available funds into the accounting firm, which placed itself as a machine of extraction between the funds and their intended recipients.

These examples are typical, Graeber argues, of jobs generated naturally out of the corporate managerial struggle for influence, status and control of resources.

This is a long way from true capitalism, as Graeber notes, and actually looks more like classic medieval feudalism. Much within the modern corporation is less about making things or solving problems and more about the political process of gaining control over the flows of resources. The result is a proliferation of jobs that actually serve very little if any economic function, and only make sense from the perspective of rent seeking and power relations. Many like to laugh at the absurd inefficiencies of the Soviet Union, where so many people only pretended to do useful work, yet this may be significantly true in Western economies as well (only in the West they actually get paid for it).

Power is measured by the number of employees who report to you, not by the quality of work.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Taliban says defeats Islamic State fighters in north Afghanistan (Abdul Matin Sahak, 8/01/18, Reuters) 

More than 150 Islamic State fighters surrendered to Afghan security forces in the northwestern province of Jawzjan after they were defeated and driven out by the Taliban, Taliban and government officials said on Wednesday.

The defeat represents a major setback for the group, which first appeared in eastern Afghanistan around four years ago and which had gained a foothold in southern Jawzjan, where it fought for control of smuggling routes into neighboring Turkmenistan.