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