January 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


New court filing indicates prosecutors have extensive details on Manafort actions not yet made public (Spencer S. Hsu January 15, 2019, Washington Post)

Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III have intensively scrutinized Paul Manafort's activities after President Trump's election -- including after Manafort was criminally charged -- and indicated they have extensive details not yet made public about Manafort's interactions with former Russian aide Konstantin Kilimnik and others, a Tuesday court filing showed.

Although heavily redacted, the documents state that Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, claimed he was trying to get people appointed in the new presidential administration. The filing also states that in another Justice Department investigation, Manafort provided information that appears related to an event while he was with the campaign in August 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Donald Trump's Pattern of Deference to the Kremlin Is Clear (DAVID A. GRAHAM, 1/15/19, THE ATLANTIC)

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Putin, and downplayed objections to Russia's seizure of Crimea. In one extraordinary campaign rally, he called on Russia to hack emails from the former U.S. secretary of state, who happened to be his rival for the presidency. (Russian hackers made their first attempt to do so that very day.) He hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager despite copious warning signs, including his work as a lobbyist for foreign dictators and his offer to work for free. Manafort was one of several aides who in June 2016 met with Russians who, the aides believed, were bringing damaging info about Clinton. (Trump would later dictate a misleading statement about the meeting.)

Several Trump advisers, especially George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, had extensive contacts with Russians, which they have attempted to downplay. The Trump Organization also claimed it had cut off discussions about building a tower in Russia, when in fact it remained in close contact with Russian government officials about the project.

Before and after the election, Trump dismissed the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was interfering in U.S. politics. During the presidential transition, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner (who attended the June 2016 meeting) sought to set up a secret backchannel with Russia that would bypass the federal government. Meanwhile, National-Security Adviser-designate Michael Flynn had conversations with the Russian ambassador, about which he lied to FBI agents and Vice President Mike Pence. Trump only fired Flynn when his lying was revealed in the press.

During a February 2017 interview with Bill O'Reilly, Trump dismissed concerns about Putin killing dissidents and journalists. In May 2017, he abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, citing the Russia investigation as his motivation. The day after he fired Comey, he welcomed Russia's U.S. and ambassador and foreign minister to the White House--an arrangement that rattled some intelligence experts on its own--where he told them that firing that "nutjob" Comey had relieved "great pressure because of Russia" on him. Trump also disclosed sensitive classified information to the Russians.

During the summer of 2017, Trump continued to deny that Russia had interfered in the presidential election, despite a growing body of evidence. In July 2017, he met with Putin in Hamburg, with a tiny team of advisers; Trump greeted Putin warmly, and according to the Russians, Trump "accepted" Putin's denials of interference in the election.

That meeting turned out to be only a warm-up for a disastrous meeting with Putin in Helsinki the following summer, in which Trump kowtowed to the Russian leader; openly took Putin's side over U.S. intelligence on the interference issue; suggested allowing Russia to take part in the inquiry; and entertaining allowing the Russians to question a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

More recently, Trump regurgitated a strange and bogus Russian assertion that the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979 to fight terrorists. According to TheTimes, the president has also discussed the idea of withdrawing the U.S. from NATO, which would effectively destroy the organization and fulfill one of Putin's greatest desires in geopolitics.

Any of these specific incidents, and many others that I have omitted, might be individually explained away fairly easily. As a pattern, they're too weird to dismiss with a shrug or cobbled together explanations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


The red state that loves free college: How Tennessee is making Bernie Sanders' favorite education idea a reality. (BENJAMIN WERMUND, 01/16/2019, Politico)

From the beginning, free college in Tennessee was framed not as a form of personal betterment, or social welfare, but in terms of economic development. State leaders found that companies considering locating in Tennessee wanted a broad base of skilled workers more than just about any financial incentive they could offer.

"I can't emphasize enough to anybody who's not in the middle of these economic development conversations how much it has changed - literally it is all about workforce development," Haslam said. "You could look out and say, 'We're really close to having a big mismatch and jobs are going to go somewhere else and we're going to have a lot of people here who won't have jobs.' So that's the primary emphasis, that was the primary motivating factor."

Increasingly, that means workers with some form of postsecondary education. For Tennessee, this was a problem: The percentage of Tennessee residents with a degree beyond high school was in the low 30s - nearly 10 points below the national average at the time. Haslam created a statewide initiative to bring that up to 55 percent by 2025.

The centerpiece of that initiative was free college. Haslam saw it as the quickest, most surefire way to get people - especially those who had never considered college - talking about it. It had to make a splash - even if it meant running up against political resistance from his own party.

"We wanted it to be an easy thing to sell and describe," Haslam said. "If I say, 'Well, it's free unless your income's above this level,' or, 'it's free unless you make a 2.5 GPA' ... Free was an easy discussion so we could say, 'If you walk across that high school stage, then you could go to college free.' And that was a conversation we wanted people to have around their dinner tables."

But "free" wasn't an automatic sell to the Republican lawmakers who would have to sign off. "There were people, particularly on my side of the aisle, who had an issue around, like, 'free - free? - so you don't have to do anything to qualify for it?'" Haslam said. "There was a sense in which this is going to be another entitlement program. That was one of the issues. Mainly from Republicans."

Haslam enlisted Mark Norris, the Senate majority leader and one of the state Legislature's most conservative members, to draft free college legislation and get their Republican colleagues on board. The plan would be funded from a lottery reserve - meaning no new taxes - and it would require students do community service to qualify, so it wouldn't be seen as a handout.

Norris, now a district judge after he was tapped by Trump to a federal bench in western Tennessee, was quickly faced with "concern this was, quote unquote, just another entitlement program that was costing taxpayers money," Norris said. But "when people came to learn it wasn't costing taxpayers money unless they play the lottery, it gave them pause."

In retrospect, Tennessee Republicans came up with a remarkably effective strategy for how free-market politicians could talk about free college to their donors, voters and national colleagues. First Tennessee Promise is billed as an economic-growth program, a way to boost the workforce and lure companies - and jobs - to the state. It focuses on community colleges and technical colleges where students train for those jobs, rather than more elite universities that serve better-off students and come with what critics see as a liberal political culture.

Second, the program is open to everyone, not just low-income students. That sends a signal that it's not a "poverty" program or an "entitlement," and gets buy-in from wealthier families who have their own concerns about the growing cost of college. And importantly, Tennessee's programs are state-based, not a federal mandate or "just another entitlement check from Washington," as Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and former state governor, put it.

"It's different than the Bernie Sanders, 'We'll just send you a check from Washington," said Alexander, who also served as president of the University of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of Education. "That's why Republicans are very comfortable with it, conservatives are very comfortable with it ... We don't think of it as an entitlement, we think of it as a ladder to the middle class."

To make it affordable for a non-wealthy state, Tennessee's program is "last dollar" - meaning the state pays only what isn't covered by Pell Grants, the federal aid program for low-income students. It costs the state about $45 million a year, an amount covered entirely by the lottery reserve fund.

"We did it without raising taxes. We didn't add any debt or add to the deficit," said Michael Sullivan, executive director of the state's Republican Party and a supporter of the program. "We took the fiscally responsible steps."

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 AM


The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Getting History Right (Seth G. Jones, January 13, 2019, LawFare)

To understand Soviet concerns about Afghanistan, it is helpful to go back to 1973, six years before the Soviet invasion. On July 16, 1973, Muhammad Daoud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah, who had ruled the country since 1933, in a coup d'état. Moscow, which had been providing military aid to Afghanistan since at least 1955, grew increasingly alarmed about instability in Afghanistan. In April 1978, Daoud was assassinated during a coup led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, further increasing Soviet fears about their southern flank.

The next year, it was Washington's turn to become alarmed after its ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolf Dubs, was kidnapped by armed extremists posing as police. When Afghan security forces attempted to rescue him, Dubs was shot and killed. President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, blamed the incident on "either Soviet ineptitude or collusion."

Afghanistan headed toward the abyss. Demonstrations erupted in cities like Herat, and, as one top-secret Soviet assessment concluded, key parts of the Afghan Army "essentially collapsed." In June 1979, there was yet another coup, as Taraki was replaced by Hafizullah Amin. This was the last straw for Moscow. As the Soviet archives indicate, Moscow's leaders believed that Amin was growing too close to Washington. A top-secret report to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned: "It is known, in particular, that representatives of the USA, on the basis of their contacts with the Afghans, are coming to a conclusion about the possibility of a change in the political line of Afghanistan in a direction which is pleasing to Washington." The KGB came to similar conclusions and assessed that Amin would likely turn to Washington for aid.

On December 8, 1979, Brezhnev hosted a meeting with several trusted Politburo members, including ideologist Mikhail Suslov, KGB head Yuri Andropov, Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov, and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Andropov and Ustinov argued that Washington was trying to expand its influence in Afghanistan. The group tentatively agreed to direct the KGB to remove Amin and replace him with the Babrak Karmal. They also deliberated about sending Soviet troops to Afghanistan. On December 12, Brezhnev, Suslov, Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko met again. The group assessed that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan threatened the security of the Soviet Union's southern borders, which the United States and other countries could take advantage of by aiding the Afghan regime. In addition, Afghanistan could become a future U.S. forward operating base situated in the Soviet Union's "soft underbelly" in Central Asia.

On Christmas Eve 1979, elite Soviet forces began flying into Kabul airport and the military airbase at Bagram. The 357th and 66th Motorized Rifle Divisions of the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and began advancing south along the main highway. The 360th and 201st Motorized Rifle Divisions crossed the Amu Darya River from Uzbekistan.

The Soviet invasion created an immediate global uproar. In response, over five dozen countries--including the United States--boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. The Soviet invasion increased already-high tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Terrorism had nothing to do with all this. While Soviet leaders were concerned about "religious fanatics" that were involved in Afghan protests, the Soviets were overwhelmingly worried about U.S. power and influence. To argue that the Soviets were "right to be there," as President Trump remarked, is either to misunderstand Cold War history or, even worse, to legitimize Brezhnev's cold-blooded, anti-U.S. strategic rationale for invading Afghanistan.

In response to the Soviet invasion, the United States conducted one of its most successful covert action programs during the Cold War. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


US must stand with Congo's voters and its civil society (K. RIVA LEVINSON, 01/14/19, The Hill)

"Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi clinches surprise win in presidential election," reported Reuters. The BBC announced "Felix Tshisekedi steps out of his father's shadow to lead DR Congo," and the United Nations extolled the country's "first peaceful transfer of power." [...]

On Sunday 30 December 2018, millions of Congolese went to the polls to elect a new president and national lawmakers. Despite a two-year delay, a chaotic process, and the exclusion of four percent of the electorate because of the on-going Ebola health emergency, the vote came off with relative calm.

The presidential contest was fought between Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the choice of the country's president Joseph Kabila (who is under EU sanctions for human rights crimes), Felix Tshiekedi, the son of the country's veteran opposition leader who founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress in 1982 and died in 2017, and Martin Fayulu, a former executive of Mobil Oil who was backed two political leaders the government barred from standing.

Just getting to this point of electoral uncertainty was a struggle of epic proportion for Congo's 85 million people -- and why the final certified result must be just, and evidence-based.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Confessions of a Recovering Libertarian (Charlie Sykes, January 15th, 2019, The Bulwark)

On today's Daily Bulwark Podcast, Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center joins host Charlie Sykes to discuss Jerry's confessions as a recovering libertarian, virtue signalling in the GOP, how the decline of broad political knowledge is fueling excessive partisanship, and the future of moderation in our hyper-partisan times.

As per below, this is a great conversation about what partisanship does to the mind.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Steve King's Fall Offers Three Lessons for Conservatives (Ramesh Ponnuru, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

[C]onservatives themselves need to be better at policing that distinction. Too often conservatives react to unjustified charges of racism by discounting all such charges. Conservatives ought to be realistic, too, about the unsavory supporters that even defensible causes can draw.

The third is that the frequency and offensiveness of King's provocations have grown as Donald Trump has become the dominant force in the Republican Party. That is probably not a coincidence.

During his presidential campaign, Trump barely and belatedly disavowed the white nationalist David Duke, attacked a judge for having Mexican ancestry, and urged the banning of all adherents of a global faith. And he won.

Maybe King felt liberated by his example to be less politic about his views. 

The thing that has really surprised conservatives about this time is the revelation of just how racist the Right, which we've often made common cause with, is. It's quite salutary.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Attempt to Bypass Democratic Leaders on Wall Falls Flat (Justin Sink  and Sahil Kapur, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's attempt to bypass Democratic congressional leaders to break open negotiations on the government shutdown fell flat as he failed to persuade any of the party's rank-and-file members to attend a hastily arranged White House meeting Tuesday.

Could have at least gone and scored some burgers...

January 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Defying Trump, U.S. Senate advances measure critical of easing Russia sanctions (Patricia Zengerle, 1/15/19, Reuters) 

The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to move ahead with a resolution disapproving of a Trump administration plan to ease sanctions on Russian companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, clearing the way for debate and a vote on the plan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Why Conservative Media and the Far Right Love Tulsi Gabbard for President: The enigmatic congresswoman has earned substantial praise from many across the right--from Fox News star Tucker Carlson to white nationalists like David Duke. (Maxwell Tani,  Kelly Weill, 01.15.19, Daily Beast)

In a Monday evening segment, featuring anti-war leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald, the Fox News host argued that Gabbard had been unfairly maligned because of her deep skepticism about intervention in Syria and willingness to talk to Assad.

"There's something so stealthy and feline and dishonest about the way they're attacking her," Tucker said. "If you don't like her foreign policy views, let's just say so. But no one ever really wants to debate what our foreign policy should be. They just attack anyone who deviates from their own dumb ideas."

Gabbard first became an in-demand Fox News guest in 2015 after she criticized Barack Obama's unwillingness to use the label "radical Islamic terrorism." Her media tour explaining that position earned her positively-tilted coverage in right-wing outlets like Breitbart and The Daily Caller--a trend that continued when she later expressed skepticism of Obama's Iran nuclear deal. [...]

Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House chief strategist, reportedly admired Gabbard's foreign policy, and arranged a meeting with her and Trump shortly after his election. Bannon was reportedly considering Gabbard for an administration role, although no such job ever materialized.

"He loves Tulsi Gabbard. Loves her," a person close to Bannon told The Hill at the time. "Wants to work with her on everything." The person added that Gabbard "would fit perfectly too [inside the administration] ... She gets the foreign policy stuff, the Islamic terrorism stuff."

Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and alleged domestic abuser who has called for "peaceful ethnic cleansing," has tweeted multiple times in support of Gabbard. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and current racist, has also heaped praise upon her.

"Tulsi Gabbard is brave and the kind of person we need in the diplomatic corps," Spencer tweeted in January 2017. "Tulsi Gabbard 2020," he tweeted later that year.

In a November 2016 tweet, Duke said Gabbard was representative of a "political realignment" he hoped to see in the U.S., and called for Donald Trump to appoint her secretary of state. Duke ran a favorable blog post about Gabbard on his website.

Gabbard hit back at Duke. "U didn't know I'm Polynesian/Cauc?" she tweeted at the former KKK leader. "Dad couldn't use 'whites only' water fountain. No thanks. Ur white nationalism is pure evil." But he continued to laud her, writing "God bless Tulsi Gabbard" later that year.

Spencer and Duke credited their Gabbard support to her stance on Syria, where civil war has resulted in an estimated half-million deaths. (Some on the far right view Assad as a hero. The Intercept reported that fascists in the U.S. and abroad see Assad as creating an ideal "homogeneous" authoritarian state, free of political dissent. And James Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who murdered a woman with a car at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Virginia in 2017, posted a meme of Assad on Facebook, alongside pictures of swastikas and Hitler.)

Gabbard has billed herself as an anti-interventionist in Syria, but she's gone further than many pacifists--most famously by meeting with Assad on the trip organized by members of a far-right group in early 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


The Supreme Court Just Handed a Big, Unanimous Victory to Workers. Wait, What?   (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 15, 2019, Slate)

Tuesday's case, New Prime v. Oliveira, involves a dispute between a trucking company (New Prime) and one of its drivers, Dominic Oliveira. When he began work, Oliveira was required to complete 10,000 miles hauling freight for New Prime--for free, as an "apprentice." He was then compelled to complete another 30,000 miles as a "trainee," for which he was paid about $4 an hour. Once he became a full-fledged driver, Oliveira was designated as a contractor rather than an employee. He was forced to lease his own truck (from a company owned by the owners of New Prime), buy his own equipment (from the New Prime store), and pay for his own gas, often from New Prime gas pumps.

Typically, New Prime would have to pay all these expenses. But because it classified Oliveira as a contractor, it deducted the costs from his paycheck. Sometimes, that paycheck wound up negative due to these deductions, meaning New Prime essentially charged Oliveira to work for the company.

In 2015, Oliveira filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and tens of thousands of other "contractors." He alleged that New Prime had misclassified him as a contractor to underpay him, a violation of federal labor law. But Oliveira's contract with the company declared that all disputes must be resolved through individual arbitration, a process that is costly, time-consuming, and often unjust, favoring employers over workers. New Prime asserted that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, courts must enforce this "agreement" and dismiss Oliveira's claims. That's no surprise: In recent years, SCOTUS has repeatedly used the FAA to crush labor lawsuits, deploying the 1925 law to throw class actions and labor disputes out of court.

But New Prime had a problem. The FAA generally obligates courts to enforce arbitration clauses. But it expressly excludes "contracts of employment of ... workers engaged in ... interstate commerce," such as "seamen" and "railroad employees." Everyone agrees that truckers qualify for this exception. New Prime, however, asserted that truckers who work as contractors do not have "contracts of employment" and thus do not qualify. And by classifying so many workers as contractors, the company believed it had worked around the FAA's exemption.

Not so, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court on Tuesday. We may see a formal distinction between "employment" and contractor work today. But when Congress passed the FAA in 1925, Gorsuch explained, "Dictionaries tended to treat 'employment' more or less as a synonym for 'work.' " Indeed, "all work was treated as employment," whether or not "a formal employer-employee or master-servant relationship" existed. Citing six dictionaries from the era, as well as contemporaneous statutes and rulings, Gorsuch concluded that "contract of employment" was understood to encompass "work agreements involving independent contractors." As a result, Oliveira, along with other truckers and transportation contractors, qualify for the FAA's exemption. His class-action lawsuit may proceed in court.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump once dismissed Pat Buchanan's politics as for the 'right-wacko vote.' Now he's quoting him. (The Week, 1/15/19)

In 1999, President Trump briefly ran against paleo-conservative Patrick Buchanan for the Reform Party presidential nomination, and before dropping out of the race, Trump told NBC's Tim Russert that Buchanan is "a Hitler lover" and apparent "anti-Semite," and "it's just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy. And maybe he'll get 4 or 5 percent of the vote and it'll be a really staunch, right-wacko vote. I'm not even sure if it's right. It's just a wacko vote." Upon dropping out, Trump wrote in The New York Times: "I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan, and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep."

On Sunday night, Trump tweet-quoted approvingly from a recent Buchanan column about militarizing the border to preserve white male America.

He went further than that: "The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Alabama judge overturns law protecting Confederate monuments (Gina Cherelus, 1/15/19, Reuters)

An Alabama judge has voided a 2017 state law preventing the removal or alteration of historic memorials, saying it infringed citizens' free-speech rights and effectively enshrined a pro-Confederacy message in the southern U.S. state.

The ruling was the latest blow in an ongoing national fight over memorials to the pro-slavery Confederacy, which lost in the 1861-1865 U.S. Civil War. Backers of the monuments call them a tribute to history and heritage, while opponents decry them as powerful tributes to institutionalized racism.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Chris Christie accuses Jared Kushner of political 'hit job' in explosive new book (Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly in New York,  15 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

As Bannon was carrying out the firing, at Trump Tower in New York, Christie forced him to tell him who was really behind the dismissal by threatening to go to the media and point the finger at Bannon instead.

"Steve Bannon ... made clear to me that one person and one person only was responsible for the faceless execution that Steve was now attempting to carry out. Jared Kushner, still apparently seething over events that had occurred a decade ago."

The political assassination was carried out by Kushner as a personal vendetta, Christie writes, that had its roots in his prosecution, as a then federal attorney, of Charles Kushner in 2005. The real estate tycoon was charged with witness tampering and tax evasion and served more than a year in federal prison. [...]

The elder Kushner hired a sex worker to seduce his brother-in-law Bill Schulder, then filmed them having sex in a motel and sent the tape to his own sister, Esther. The bizarre plot was an attempt to blackmail the Schulders into keeping their silence about Bill's knowledge of Charles's fraudulent activities.

Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 charges and served 14 months in a federal prison in Alabama.

In one of the most visceral passages of the book, Christie recounts for the first time how Jared Kushner badmouthed him to Trump in April 2016, pleading with his father-in-law not to make Christie transition chairman. Remarkably, he did so while Christie was in the room.

"He implied I had acted unethically and inappropriately but didn't state one fact to back that up," Christie writes. "Just a lot of feelings - very raw feelings that had been simmering for a dozen years."

Kushner went on to tell Trump that it wasn't fair his father spent so long in prison. He insisted the sex tape and blackmailing was a family matter that should have been kept away from federal authorities: "This was a family matter, a matter to be handled by the family or by the rabbis."

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


NBC News Tells Staffers Not To Directly Call Steve King's Racist Remarks Racist (Yashar Ali, 1/15/19, Huffington Post)

NBC News' standards department sent an email to staffers Tuesday telling them not to directly refer to Rep. Steve King's recent comments about white supremacy as "racist."

"Be careful to avoid characterizing [King's] remarks as racist," reads the email, which two NBC News staffers shared with HuffPost. "It is ok to attribute to others as in 'what many are calling racist' or something like that."

It speaks well of the American people that we're reluctant to say that racists are racist, but, on the other hand,  it strips words of their meaning.
Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


When America Stared Into the Abyss (John Lawrence, Jan. 7th, 2019, The Atlantic)

The commission appointed by Congress in 2009 to investigate the causes of the meltdown concluded that it "was the result of human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire." A "combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis." And perhaps most tellingly, the commissioners determined, the crisis had been "avoidable."

In the leadership meeting Pelosi convened after her phone calls with Bernanke and Paulson, the Federal Reserve chairman described a "very severe financial crisis--hundreds of billions in losses." The administration was forced to turn to Congress, Bernanke declared, because the Fed was "no longer able to use the tools we have to maintain stability. It is a matter of days," the chairman warned, before "a major meltdown [would occur] in the United States and globally." Paulson agreed. "I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Once in 100 years."

Congress would have to authorize the Treasury to purchase the toxic assets. "If we don't deal with it by next week, the country could collapse," Paulson warned. The alternative, Bernanke predicted, was a "deep, long recession." Congressional leaders, many of whom considered the two financial managers politically naive and partly responsible for the unfolding catastrophe, were stunned. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked how much the purchase would cost. "Hundreds of billions," Paulson admitted, and even then, it was inevitable that widespread foreclosures would cost millions of Americans their homes.

Democratic leaders immediately seized on the strategy of using Wall Street's crisis to benefit millions of Americans on "Main Street" who were seeing their homes, savings, and jobs evaporate without generating any comparable urgent response. Congress had negotiated with Paulson and the Bush administration a meager $168 billion stimulus bill in February, but the law had minimal impact on the worsening recession. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York insisted that something like Paulson and Bernanke's audacious proposal could only secure Democratic votes if it included billions of dollars in anti-recessionary spending to promote job creation, extend unemployment assistance, and fund other initiatives to reduce the "perception the bill is a [corporate] bailout." Barney Frank, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, also demanded restrictions on the exorbitant executive-compensation packages of financial-services companies to help secure the needed votes.

The administration and congressional Republicans reacted negatively to these efforts to expand the scope of the legislation. "We won't get there if you take that approach," Paulson admonished. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, agreed, advising the Democrats, "Don't play politics." Other Republicans raised their own concerns. Dick Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, skeptically described the administration's proposal as "a blank check." Reid explained that Democrats would also face challenges rounding up votes without incentives. "It's political reality," Reid declared in defense of the additional spending. Without the anti-recessionary provisions, Frank advised, "I can't tell you the bill will pass." After a tense moment, Paulson glumly responded, "Then God help us." [...]

Administration negotiators were also exasperated by a plethora of conservative-generated TARP alternatives, including one from Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor that would have substituted a federal insurance plan for the bailout. Paulson dismissed these alternatives as "pretty ridiculous" and focused on crafting the legislation with Democrats. Meanwhile, on the Senate side of the Capitol, Paulson was "laying an egg" with the Senate Finance Committee, a top Boehner aide confided in me. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told Democratic leaders their Republican counterparts were "horrid," according to Reid, and Obama quoted Bush as having declared, "My problem is House Republicans." According to a senior White House staffer, neither Senator Shelby nor the ranking member Spencer Bachus of Alabama was being helpful. The obstinacy of Bachus, said Paulson, was "disgraceful."

Reid was flabbergasted to hear that even McCain was leaning against the bill. "We can't pass a bill unless 80 percent of Republicans vote for it," he told Pelosi, who called McCain's opposition "just pathetic." When McCain called Pelosi on September 24 to complain about the pace of the discussions, Pelosi sharply rebuked him. "We are making progress," she said. "It is not accurate to say otherwise." McCain then proposed a suspension of the presidential campaign and the convening of a bipartisan White House summit to hash out a legislative agreement. Pelosi was concerned that a White House meeting would cause delays. When Bolten called to invite her to attend the meeting, the speaker reproached him for capitulating to McCain's "political stunt." She instructed Paulson, "Tell the president to lead! ... I will not allow Congress to look like it's in disarray!" Later in the meeting, she reminded him, "The president never listened to us on Iraq ... He never broaches disagreement." Unless Bush embraced the TARP design they had fashioned together, she told the Treasury secretary, "we have wasted our time, and it is an insult to you." Sardonically, Paulson noted, "I'm beyond that point."

Schumer thought McCain's suggestion was "just weird," especially coming from someone who had offered little "except for an occasional, unhelpful statement, sort of thrown [in] from far away." The Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, was similarly skeptical of the meeting, which might force the postponement of his first debate with McCain, but he was also wary of rejecting the kind of invitation he might soon as president extend to congressional leaders. "We've got him boxed in ... We have him on the ropes," Obama said. "If we didn't go, it would be a bad precedent," he told Reid and Pelosi. They unenthusiastically decided to participate, and decided Obama would serve as their leader. However, they agreed, there would be no deal-making at the meeting, and the exit statement to the press would emphasize that it was the Republicans who needed to "get their ducks in a row."

"We've got a serious economic crisis," Bush declared to the participants around the enormous oval table in the Cabinet Room. "This meeting is an attempt to reach agreement quickly. I can't tell you how important it is to get something done." He cautioned against loading up the bailout with controversial provisions that could jeopardize passage, but he also signaled flexibility, adding that if Paulson and Bernanke signed off, "we're for it. You damn sure don't want to be the people who see it crater." He made, I recall, a point of singling out Pelosi for her collaboration with administration officials.

Obama's opening statement focused on the proposal under negotiation, while Boehner and Bachus again floated alternative approaches. Their ideas, like the insurance scheme, drew sharp rebukes from Frank and Reid, who accused the Republicans of leading negotiators "down a primrose path" only to throw up obstacles at the last minute. As the parties parried, Bush became increasingly restless. "It's easy for smart guys to sit around," he said, but "if money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down." Although he had proposed the meeting, McCain remained silent for nearly an hour. A CNN reporter confidentially disclosed to me later that McCain's campaign staff had feared that his presence in the meeting could be "political dynamite," and a Boehner staff person privately expressed to me deep concern at the nominee's lack of preparation, admitting he had requested staff assistance from Boehner only the day before the meeting.

After nearly every other principal had spoken, Obama turned to his rival. "We need to hear from John," he declared, and all heads turned to the silent senator. McCain awkwardly stumbled through a rambling statement, thanking Bush for convening the meeting and declaring his support for the concerns expressed by other Republicans. Puzzled looks flew around the Cabinet Room.  [...]

Afterward, Nowakowski told me the Republican leader was displeased with the outcome of the White House meeting and furious with Paulson for seemingly siding with Democrats against the GOP proposals. Perhaps, she mused, Pelosi should "start thinking" about a bill that could pass with only Democratic votes. Confidentially, a top White House aide admitted that Boehner's conference was filled with "hardheads" and that the meeting had been awful, "chaos ... typical of McCain world," allowing others to "outmaneuver him." I recall one Republican aide telling me, "The only person in the room who looked presidential was your guy," Obama. [...]

Unease hung over the House chamber as the debate began on September 29. Blunt advised Pelosi, "Don't count on the Republicans," while Nowakowski advised that some Republicans would undoubtedly "beat their chests" in opposition. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Paulson, and Bernanke continued to call House members, the White House liaison Dan Meyer reported, but there might be only 75 Republican votes for the bill. He asked for additional time to convince recalcitrant Republicans, but Pelosi, worried that her own members might begin to drift away, insisted that the vote go forward.

In a leadership meeting, Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn confidentially predicted that only half of the Democrats' 235 members would support the bill, but far fewer if the Republicans produced only 75 of their own. Pelosi dispatched Barney Frank to meet with skeptical Democratic factions, including the liberal Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and the conservative Blue Dogs. Steeling himself for the onslaught of complaints, Frank asked, "When is the Asshole Caucus, and do I have to address them?"

Shortly after the New York stock market had opened that morning, Citigroup announced it was taking over the failing Wachovia Bank, and several central banks announced plans to shore up the credit markets. Neither action prevented the Dow from beginning a precipitous decline, a worrisome backdrop to the debate. In her statement in support of the bill on the House floor, Pelosi acknowledged, "We have a situation where on Wall Street, people are flying high. They are making unconscionable amounts of money. They make a lot of money. They privatize the gain. The minute things go tough, they nationalize the risk ... they drive their firm into the ground, and the American people have to pick up the tab. Something is very, very wrong with this picture."

She castigated Bush for squandering the $5.6 trillion surplus bequeathed him by President Bill Clinton on unpaid wars, tax cuts, and a Medicare expansion. "No regulation" and "fiscal irresponsibility, combined with an 'anything goes' economic policy, has taken us to where we are today," she asserted. Now, she assured the skeptics in her caucus, "the party is over." She promised that "before long, we will have a new Congress, a new president of the United States, and we will be able to take our country in a new direction."

In his floor speech, Jerry Lewis, a well-respected Southern California Republican, offered a rationale for his recalcitrant fellow conservatives to support the bill. "Frankly, I'm furious," he admitted. "The idea of spending taxpayer dollars to prop up risky investments keeps me awake at night. It goes against all the principles I have lived by." But there was little choice. "Doing nothing will cause a potential catastrophe."

The toughest selling job fell to Boehner, who had privately described the bill to Republicans as a "crap sandwich, but I'm going to eat it anyway." His voice cracking as he spoke in the well of the House chamber, his cheeks streaked with the tears, he acknowledged, "Nobody wants to vote for this, nobody wants to be anywhere around it ... I didn't come here to vote for bills like this. But let me tell you this, I believe Congress has to act." He pleaded with members on both sides of the aisle: "What's in the best interest of our country? Not what's in the best interest of our party [or] our own reelection." His earnest plea received tepid applause, and then it was time to vote.

As the seconds ticked down on the 15-minute clocks flanking the chamber, it became evident that the bipartisan entreaties and White House pressure had failed. The bill was defeated by a vote of 205-228, a rare loss on the floor for Pelosi. Nearly 60 percent of Democrats (140 out of 235) voted "yea," compared with just 33 percent of Republicans (65 of 198). Bush, who had called all 19 Republican members of his Texas delegation, had persuaded just four to support the bill. One of the Texas dissenters, Jeb Hensarling, denounced TARP as the first step "on the slippery slope to socialism."

Anxiety over the fast-approaching election played a significant role in the defeat. Of 18 members in "toss-up" races, 15 voted against the bill, including all six freshman Democrats facing tight campaigns. Some voiced skepticism about the accuracy of the administration's description of the crisis, recalling the misleading information provided Congress about weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the war in Iraq. Many in the Hispanic and Black Caucuses proved unwilling to explain to their economically suffering constituents the massive spending for Wall Street, particularly since the bill contained little of what Democrats had sought for the jobless and those at risk of losing their homes.

In the cloakroom, stunned members watched the Dow Jones average plunge sharply lower. When the final vote was announced, the bottom fell out. Within minutes, the market had lost nearly 700 points off its opening, ending 778 points lower for the day, a record one-day point loss. By day's end, $1.2 trillion in IRAs, pension funds, and savings was gone--nearly twice the size of the bailout package itself. The VIX index that chronicled market volatility, the so-called fear index, closed at the highest level in its 28-year history.

Reality always trumps ideology, but not often as quickly as that week.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Pelosi learned the art of "no" from working with Bush. Trump is a whole new test. (Ella Nilsen,   Jan 15, 2019, Vox)

[I]n the fall of 2008, Pelosi still wrangled the votes for a massive bank bailout proposed by Bush's administration, in part because of a willingness to give Democrats some key demands in exchange.

Admitting his party had taken a "thumping" in the 2006 midterms, Bush pledged to work with Pelosi. And he did; in 2007 and 2008, Pelosi and Bush partnered on a fiscal stimulus bill and a large energy bill that raised fuel efficiency standards, among other things.

"We had good lines of communication, we had regular meetings down at the White House," remembered John Lawrence, Pelosi's chief of staff from 2005 to 2011.

Pelosi is an old-school politician who sees the role of speaker of the House as standing up for the institution, ensuring it fulfills its constitutional responsibilities, and making deals on bills. Even with a powerful position in the majority, she has had to compromise with the Senate and the White House; for example, agreeing to cut a public option from the final version of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But she still has a strong record working with both Democratic and Republican presidents.

"She makes it very clear going into negotiations with the executive branch that she is not there to simply follow the dictates of any other branch," Lawrence told me recently.

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As Pelosi begins her second tenure as speaker of the House -- this time, amid a government shutdown -- Trump would be wise to look back at her working relationship with Bush. The 43rd president learned that when he came to the table willing to truly engage, he could get a deal with Democrats. When he wasn't, Pelosi wouldn't cave.

She's earned respect from her Republican opponents. "I don't think there's any question that she's a very accomplished legislator," said Michael Steel, who served as a spokesperson for former Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


The disturbing timeline of events surrounding the first Trump-Putin meeting (Luiz Romero, 1/15/19, Quartz)

July 7, 2017 -- First meeting

Trump received some disturbing news on the morning of July 7, when the New York Times reached out to the White House seeking comment on a bombastic story. The Times had learned that Trump's son, Don Jr., together with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. The meeting took place at Trump Tower, in the midst of the presidential campaign in June 2016.

(Last week, prosecutors charged Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice in the context of a money laundering probe. The case is unrelated to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but helped confirm Veselnitskaya's ties to the Russian government.)

Later that day, Trump and Putin met in person for the first time. Their encounter, which was scheduled as part of the G20 summit in Hamburg, lasted more than two hours, and was surrounded by secrecy. The only people present were Trump and Putin's translators, and the American and Russian foreign ministers. Afterwards, both presidents gave reporters vague descriptions of what was discussed.

Trump reportedly ensured the content of the meeting was kept secret by keeping his translator's notes, and demanding that she not brief anyone on what was discussed, according to the Post.

Secret chat

Then, on the evening of July 7, during a formal dinner in Hamburg, Trump walked up to Putin, and the two talked "privately and animatedly" for almost an hour, Ian Bremmer, the head of political risk consultancy Eurasia, said at the time, citing world leaders who had been present at the dinner. [...]

July 8 -- Statement to the Times

While flying back to Washington from the Hamburg summit, the president dictated a statement to aides regarding the Trump Tower meeting. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Barr sent or discussed controversial memo with Trump lawyers (Ariane de Vogue, January 15, 2019, CNN)

Attorney General nominee William Barr shared a controversial memo last year with nearly all of President Donald Trump's lawyers concluding that an aspect of special counsel Robert Mueller's case could be "fatally misconceived," Barr acknowledged Monday.

Barr's 19-page memo -- which concluded that Trump's publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice -- was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel and released as a part of Barr's Senate questionnaire last month. But it was previously unclear who else had seen it.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham Monday night, Barr said that he had sent it to White House special counsel Emmet Flood, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and his former Justice Department colleague Pat Cipollone who is now White House counsel. He also discussed the issues raised in the memo with Trump lawyers Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow. In addition he sent a copy, or had a conversation about the contents of the memo with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner.

While it's obviously pertinent that his memo misreads the law, it was one thing when he'd just shared his thoughts with the DOJ, but acting as virtual counsel for the suspect in the biggest case before the Department he wishes to head has to be disqualifying.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Mueller Probes an Event With Nunes, Flynn, and Foreign Officials at Trump's D.C. Hotel (Erin Banco, Asawin Suebsaeng, Betsy Woodruff, Spencer Ackerman, 01.14.19, The Daily Beast

The Special Counsel's Office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are scrutinizing a meeting involving former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and dozens of foreign officials, according to three sources familiar with the investigations.

The breakfast event, which was first reported by The Daily Sabah, a pro-government Turkish paper, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. at 8.30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2017--two days before President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Nice that Erdogan has kompromat too.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia (Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper, Jan. 14, 2019, NY Times)

There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States. [...]

[M]r. Trump's national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington's influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.

Now, the president's repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump's efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration's Russia ties.

So we do know the content of Vlad and Donald's pillow talk. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


This CO2 machine could transform the way we fight climate change: Carbon Engineering's affordable, scalable way to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere might just wean us off our addiction to fossil fuels. (JACKSON RYAN, JUNE 7, 2018, CNet)

Previous research suggested the idea of sucking carbon out of the air -- "direct air capture" -- would prove too costly, with CO2 removal breaking the bank at $600 per ton. However, new research published in Joule on June 7 by Canadian company Carbon Engineering demonstrates that they can suck CO2 out of the air for between $94 and $232 per ton.

"It's unlike CO2 capture that's designed to work from a power plant. We're capturing CO2 from the atmosphere -- that's what our technology does," David Keith, founder of Carbon Engineering, tells CNET.

"The purpose of capturing from the air is that you can make low carbon fuels from renewable power."

The research is a major breakthrough demonstrating direct air capture technology can be economically viable and provide an alternative means of generating low-carbon fuels that can "drop-in" to existing infrastructure -- meaning they might be powering cars and planes in the future.

That's important because solar and wind power continue to get cheaper, even powering entire cities, but Keith says that "doesn't allow us to make airplanes fly and trucks drive." By combining existing renewable energy sources with the direct air capture system, Carbon Engineering can generate fuel that is essentially carbon-neutral and affordable.

"You can make gasoline or diesel fuel [via direct air capture] but, of course, they didn't come from the ground, so the amount of carbon they emit when they burn is just the amount you used making them, so they're carbon neutral," says Keith.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


Republicans need to condemn Trump's brazen bigotry (Michael Gerson, January 14, 2019, Washington Postr)This article has been updated.

In their criticism of King, you get the sense that Republicans are actually relieved to be in the position of attacking racism for a change, instead of being forced to defend it from the president. They seem to be signaling that they are not really the bigots they appear to be. Republicans seem desperate to explain that they are normal and moral -- despite all the evidence. Attacking King reveals some sense of shame at what they have become.

Yet, in the end, Republican critics of King manage to look worse rather than better. If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender. And the GOP's relative silence on Trump is a sign of hypocrisy and weakness. [...]

By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Pompeo Trip Fails to Ease Questions Over U.S. Goals in Mideast (Nick Wadhams, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

Missing throughout the trip was any concrete plan or vision for how to move beyond the problems that already bedevil the region -- from the 18-month diplomatic spat between the gas-rich state of Qatar and its Gulf neighbors to the investigation into the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose killing has become a hurdle for U.S.-Saudi ties.

In the background was the drumbeat of the continuing federal government shutdown, new reports about the investigations into Trump and Russia, and the president's own Twitter feed. It all made for weakened leverage for America's top diplomat.

"The U.S. rolls in hot without a plan or the architecture of policy planning and bureaucracy to support its aims," said Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on the Middle East. "The underlying anxiety of dealing with the Trump administration, with its domestic upheaval, and its foreign policy towards the Middle East that changes daily, is exhausting and counterproductive to diplomacy."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

TRUMPONOMICS (profanity alert):

Trump's Shutdown Turns Atlanta International, the World's Busiest Airport, Into a 'Shitshow' (Pilar Melendez, 01.14.19, Daily Beast)

The world's busiest airport has descended into chaos as President Trump's government shutdown drags into its fourth week.

Travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are reporting hours-long waits at domestic terminals, missed flights due to lack of security personnel, and the closure of checkpoints across the airport due to a lack of TSA agents.

For one Atlanta air traffic controller, the airport, which processes more than 100 million passengers per year, has become "a total s[***]show."

January 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The Week in Public Finance: The 10 States That Give More to the Feds Than They Get Back (LIZ FARMER, JANUARY 11, 2019, Governing)
Residents in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have some of the highest tax bills in the nation. They also pay thousands more in federal taxes than their state receives back in federal funding.

In total, 10 states are so-called donor states, meaning they pay more in taxes to the federal government than they receive back in funding for, say, Medicaid or public education. North Dakota, Illinois, New Hampshire, Washington state, Nebraska and Colorado round out the list.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


How the Trump administration's secret efforts to ease Russia sanctions fell short (Michael Isikoff, 6/01/17,Yahoo News)

In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia, according to multiple sources familiar with the events.

Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.

These efforts to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia's intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election alarmed some State Department officials, who immediately began lobbying congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation to block the move, the sources said.

"There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February. He said in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several "panicky" calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, "Please, my God, can't you stop this?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Contactless payments are coming to the US, another threat to the use of cash (John Detrixhe, January 9, 2019, Quartz)

The US has long been a laggard when it comes to payment technology. But several factors, from changes in how fraud liability is handled to the biggest credit card issuer's embrace of contactless technology, are now coming together (paywall) for a reboot. Even the Federal Reserve is contemplating how best to upgrade the country's payment plumbing to make it real-time and available 24 hours a day.

Britain's experience with contactless payments shows how it gives physical cash a run for its money. Spending using contactless cards rose to £3 billion ($3.8 billion) in 2017, up from £117 million in 2014, according to the UK Cards Association. A CMSPI consultancy case study of a large fast-food chain found that contactless payments catch on quickly, "cannibalizing both cash and card payments." The study showed that contactless transactions increased by 64% in one year to account for 27% of all purchases, while cash declined by 11%.

"In the UK, contactless payments have been key in digitizing low-value high-frequency payments," Bernstein research analysts wrote in a report this month. [....]

The US, encumbered by entrenched interests and aging transactions systems, has been slow to change. But the massive data breach in 2013 at retail company Target helped spur the shift away from the magnetic stripe, an older and more vulnerable way of processing payments. Since then, a change in fraud liability (pdf) has given merchants, like stores and restaurants, an incentive to switch to EMV chip technology that's more secure. Merchants, instead of card issuing banks, have been on the hook for fraudulent magnetic stripe payments since 2015. While the US has lagged behind in NFC and contactless payments, "that is rapidly changing"  given the recent overhaul in payment terminals, Bernstein wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


What Someone Needs to Explain to Trump About 'National Emergencies' (BOB BAUER, JANUARY 11, 2019, Defense One)

It is critical to bear in mind what is at stake here: Congress has exclusive control of the power to appropriate. The expenditure of federal funds without lawful congressional authorization is a criminal offense. Congress could have written into the law the president's unfettered discretion to determine the existence of an emergency. It did not. Courts will not lightly read into the law what Congress does not expressly provide on an issue central to the constitutional separation of powers.

Moreover, the more questionable the case for an emergency, the more unlikely that a court would read the statutory authorizations as broadly as the administration would like. You can only push the courts so far. A president who's trying to advance the most aggressive case for deference to his judgment about an emergency may succeed on that front, and then fail to convince the courts that even with the emergency in place, he has clear statutory authorization for the particular project--in Trump's case, of course, the construction of the "beautiful" steel wall with slats that enable stateside observers to peer through to the other side.

So the first problem the president faces is seeking to exercise discretion under this statute that he does not have. The second is that some of what he has said about the "emergency" undercuts the very claim that there is one. In fact, the president has periodically declared that things are going quite swimmingly at the border, as he did in remarks in meetings with congressional leaders:

A lot of the wall is built. It's been very effective. I asked for a couple of notes on that. If you look at San Diego, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent once the wall was up. El Paso, illegal traffic dropped 72 percent, then ultimately 95 percent once the wall was up. In Tucson, Arizona, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent. Yuma, it dropped illegal traffic 95 to 96 percent.

Now, of course, the administration will argue that these comments merely showcase the virtues of the wall. If walls work in San Diego or Tucson or El Paso, they can be expected to work with similarly spectacular results elsewhere.

The downside of this argument, however, is that to take the president at his word, the administration is making do quite nicely without the declaration of an emergency--and he has pushed his point hard. At Christmastime, he advised the American public that "our country is doing very well ... We are securing our borders," after tweeting two weeks before that, "Border Patrol and our Military have done a FANTASTIC job of securing our Southern Border ..." What, then, supports the need for the use of extraordinary authorities in the name of an "emergency"?

Trump is not helped in answering this question by his other, repeated public utterances on the subject. He and his spokespersons have repeatedly made false statements about the terrorists, drugs, human trafficking, and ordinary criminals crossing over into the United States on foot at the southern border. These claims have been debunked by fact-checking just about everywhere, including at his own State Department. So he starts off in a bad place when claiming legal authority to proclaim an emergency, having both bragged that he is doing quite well without one and then misrepresented the grounds that might exist for such a proclamation if he nonetheless decided to issue it.

Finally, courts will not fail to note the considerable evidence in the president's public statements that he is looking to the national emergency as a tool to resolve a conflict with the Congress. He has said that one way or another, he is going to build the wall, and the shutdown was the first bare-knuckled maneuver to break the stalemate in congressional negotiations. Now he's speaking of an emergency. It is, on its face, a negotiating gambit, apparently also a political rallying cry. But because he is treating the declaration of an emergency as a tactic, he has added considerably to his difficulties in having his "emergency" taken seriously by the courts.

The president's predilection for trampling on his own case brings to mind his unhappy experience with the travel-ban litigation caused by his statements on Twitter and on the campaign trail. Eventually, after considerable trimming and adjustment, the administration was able to do better with a revised executive order and a superseding proclamation. These cases tested difficult questions about the extent to which the president's public utterances--including statements on the campaign trail--invite the examination of the true motives behind executive action.

That Trump eventually survived this scrutiny in the travel cases will have little relevance to his efforts to concoct a national emergency now to support his wall-building project. In the travel-ban cases, the Supreme Court found that he was operating under an immigration law that "exudes deference to the President in every clause."  The National Emergencies Act only "exudes" deference to his decision to proclaim an actual emergency. Moreover, none of the tricky issues presented by campaign-trail statements made prior to the election are present in this instance. Trump has issued a steady stream of statements as president. No one has to engage in any raw speculation or psychological testing to ferret out his motives. He has said what he has said, in clear terms and consistently. These are not slips of the tongue, but one statement after another, most of them separately--and all of them in the aggregate--damning to his legal position on the existence of an emergency.

Commentators looking for illuminating constitutional precedents typically begin with the Youngstown Steel and Tube Co. case, in which the Supreme Court rejected President Harry Truman's claimed authority to direct the secretary of commerce to seize steel-producing facilities. The majority in that case produced two opinions, and other justices wrote as well, so it is fair to say that teasing out lucid doctrine from that case is no simple matter. However, it has become clear over time, from the more developed historical record, that the Court was decisively influenced by the evidence that no steel-shortage crisis existed. There was no emergency, and the Court was aware of this.

And so, for that matter, was the Truman White House. One staff memorandum that later came to light openly acknowledged public skepticism about the claim of emergency and conceded that it was well founded. "The fact is that the public has never believed this contention, and in the face of recent releases of steel for racetracks and bowling alleys, they are even less likely to believe this now."

For this reason, Maeva Marcus, a leading historian of the case, has written: "The Court simply was not convinced of the crisis confronting the nation was sufficiently grave to justify the president's assertion of power." The factual circumstances surrounding the president's claim of authority drove the court's decision. Marcus notes approvingly one commentator's view that "the legal arguments between the two divisions of the Court [in Youngstown] were consequently of little significance; the vital disagreement was over premises." The Truman administration's key premise was an emergency shortage in steel production--and there was none.

Trump has manufactured for himself the same problem from which Truman suffered: an absence of presidential credibility. It is possible, of course, that the courts will let Trump off the hook, giving him more of the benefit of the doubt than Truman enjoyed. Trump would purportedly be acting pursuant to a statute, not on an expansive claim of inherent, constitutional authority. But is also true that when Truman misrepresented the emergency steel shortage, he was at least leading a nation at war.  

It is also worth noting that Trump is repeating another mistake that Truman made. Like his distinguished predecessor, he is flaunting his view of the unqualified "absolute right" to declare this emergency. It never serves presidents well to enter into these constitutional tests with a show of arrogance, especially when their legal footing is far from secure. If Trump doubts this, he might ask legal veterans of the George W. Bush administration how they fared before the courts in advancing confrontational positions on rule-of-law issues in the War on Terror.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


Credit and cash sink as Australians find new ways to pay (Shane Wright, 14 January 2019, SMH)

Conservative Australian shoppers started to wind down their use of cash and credit in the run-up to the key Christmas shopping period, new figures show amid suggestions this year could see record numbers give up their credit cards for good.

Figures from the Reserve Bank released on Monday showed the number of withdrawals out of the nation's network of ATMs at their lowest level for a November since 2001.

ATM transactions dropped by 3.9 per cent over the past year.

The number of credit cards on issue has fallen below 16 million, dropping steadily over the past six months ahead of a string of new rules that started from January 1. They have now fallen to their lowest level since March 2015.

Those laws included a requirement that credit card issuers assess an application based on the ability of the customer to repay the entire credit limit within a three-year period.

Card issuers must also give customers the ability to reduce the limit or cancel their cards online, while they must not charge interest retrospectively on outstanding balances.

As credit card accounts are shut down they are being replaced with debit cards.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


With a Single Action, Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles Just Showed Us What True Leadership Looks Like (Justin Bariso, 1/14/19, Inc)

Despite being unable to get much going in the second half, Foles and the Eagles offense found themselves deep in Saints territory, poised to retake the lead on a final drive. Foles dropped back and threw a bullet to one of his favorite targets, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Except the ball sailed right through Jeffery's hands and was intercepted by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, in effect sealing the game.

Jeffery dropped to the ground, devastated.

 But then, just a few minutes later, this happened:

Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles consoles WR Alshon Jeffery after 4th quarter interception. According to Jeffery, Foles "told me he loved playing with me and we wouldn't have won a Super Bowl without me."

Now that's #leadership.

#Eagles #NickFoles #AlshonJeffery #Eagles pic.twitter.com/iKYwFYMgEn

-- Justin Bariso (@JustinJBariso) January 14, 2019

Now that's what true leadership looks like.

Jeffery hadn't dropped a pass all game. In fact, Jeffery has never dropped a pass in the postseason.

No matter how skilled you are at your profession, you will make mistakes. That's life, and it doesn't matter if you work for a professional sports team or a fast food restaurant.

But here's the thing: It's how you deal with those mistakes that will define the type of influence you have on the people you work with.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM



YEARS BEFORE HE was a potential 2020 presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke was a city councilman in El Paso--and a leading voice in a high-profile battle with unions representing police and firefighters.

At the height of the conflict, O'Rourke publicly mused about disbanding the police union, calling it "out of control" and lamenting his colleagues' unwillingness to stand up to the powerful political force. A year later, he was calling for "better checks on collective bargaining in the public sector."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


No president has ever been asked: Are you a Russian agent? (Jennifer Rubin, January 13, 2019, Washington Post)

[I]n Trump's concealing and perhaps destroying of records of conversations with Vladimir Putin, the question is raised: Was he destroying evidence of collusion and in fact continuing to collude with Putin? "I'm at a loss to figure out a legitimate much less reassuring explanation for the impounding of his interpreter's notes," former federal prosecutor Harry Litman tells me. "How could intelligence agencies, not to mention the American people, not react to that with extreme alarm?"

There is no logical reason that Trump would be going to such efforts to keep everyone else from knowing what he told Putin if there was not something untoward, embarrassing and/or incriminating in those discussions. Otherwise, those records would be essential for his own senior staff in formulating Trump's desired Russia policy. Not knowing what was said would mean his own aides might work at cross purposes with the president and/or not take advantage of Putin's own words. You tie your administration up in knots in this way only if the discussions didn't concern U.S. policy (but instead Trump's private affairs) and/or there was something compromising in the discussions. The very fact that Putin knows what was said and we don't raises the potential for blackmail.

Let's remember where we started: "No collusion." Since then we've learned of: more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, Moscow Trump Tower dealmaking that continued through the 2016 campaign, a June Trump Tower meeting where Russians offered "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort sharing polling data with a Russian linked to Kremlin intelligence operations.

As if that were not all bone-chilling enough, we saw Trump refuse to flat-out deny he was a Russian agent when asked by Fox News gadfly Jeanine Pirro. Republican senators, when asked on Sunday, didn't offer a complete rebuttal. Far from it. (Asked about subpoenaing the translator to report on the Trump-Putin Helsinki meeting, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz weakly replied, "You know, I think it's premature for that. I've seen the allegations. I want to find out a little bit more about what happened there. I want to learn more than just the allegations in the press.") Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), invariably sober and circumspect, declined to rule out the possibility that the president was knowingly or unknowingly a Russian asset. He said: "Well, Jake, that's the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation."

To many this seems like a bad movie plot. "The Manchurian Candidate scenario, by its very nature, has always been highly implausible," Litman acknowledges. "But the question seems to be becoming 'Is it the least implausible explanation for a long chain of bizarre and worrisome actions by the President?'"

January 13, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


'They screwed the whole thing up': Inside the attempt to derail Trump's erratic Syria withdrawal (Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey, John Hudson, January 13, 2019, Washington Post)

President Trump dispatched national security adviser John Bolton on a cleanup mission a week ago, with a three-day itinerary in Israel that was intended to reassure a close ally that Trump's impulsive decision to immediately withdraw troops from Syria would be carried out more slowly and with important caveats.

The plan seemed to work at first. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was all smiles, thanking Bolton profusely for the show of U.S. support.

But by the end of the week, attempts to dissuade Trump or place conditions on the withdrawal faded as the U.S. military announced it had "begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria." A multipronged effort to significantly alter or reverse Trump's decision by alarmed U.S. national security officials, foreign allies and Republican hawks in Congress was effectively a bust.

Since Trump's abrupt Syria announcement last month, a tug-of-war with allies and his own advisers has roiled the national security apparatus over how, and whether, to execute a pullout. Netanyahu spoke to Trump two days before the president's announcement and again a day afterward. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron tried to get the president to change his mind. Even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who liked the policy, was concerned it could not be safely executed so quickly.

The episode illustrates the far-reaching consequences of Trump's proclivity to make rash decisions with uneven follow-through, according to accounts of the discussions from more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials and international diplomats. The president's erratic behavior on Syria cost him the most respected member of his cabinet, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; rattled allies and partners unsure about U.S. commitment to the region; and increased the possibility of a military confrontation between Turkey and Kurdish forces.

...that repeatedly bankrupting businesses and being bailed out by Dad or Vlad wouldn't prepare him to govern?

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Donald Trump reopens door to TPP participation, Asia reset (Jacob Greber, 13 Jan 2019, AFR)

In the final hours of 2018 Donald Trump signed into law an act that reopens the door to a TPP-style deal in Asia.  CARLOS BARRIA

However, the enacting of a new law is a significant step for the Congress and White House, which have delivered a bold statement of intent that the US is determined to stay engaged across the Indo-Pacific on security and trade.

It represents a major effort to assuage allies' concerns that a US withdrawal would create a power vacuum in favour of a more assertive China.

The so-called Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which Mr Trump ratified without fanfare as one of his final acts on New Year's Eve, includes a call for the US to return to multilateral trade deals, countering the President's own tendency to pursue agreements with individual countries such as Mexico, Canada and Japan.

Responding to questions from The Australian Financial Review, Republican senator for Colorado, Cory Gardner, who spearheaded the law's passage through Congress, described it as an opportunity to "re-engage in trade conversations" including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So much for Trumponomics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Xi Jinping silences dissent on anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre (Philip Sherwell, January 13 2019, The Sunday Times)

China has launched a sweeping crackdown on social media and internet use as it prepares for the 30th anniversary in June of the bloody suppression of student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.

The internet censor has unveiled a six-month campaign against online "negative and harmful information" even though the highly sensitive milestone is already banned from mention by name.

The government censors the internet widely through a "Great Firewall" of regulation and has recently started prosecuting those who use proxy servers, or virtual private networks, to access banned sites such as Facebook and Google.

President Xi Jinping has a blanket policy of official amnesia about the events of 1989, which marked the greatest challenge to the Communist Party during its seven decades in power.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Trump dodges question on whether he has worked for Russia (DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Jan 13, 2019, The Associated Press)

President Donald Trump avoided directly answering when asked whether he currently is or has ever worked for Russia after a published report said law enforcement officials, concerned about his behavior after he fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017, had begun investigating that possibility.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


The Case for the Longer Term (Tyler Cowen, January 9, 2019, Cato Unbound)

In Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals I argue that we should have two and only two "stubborn attachments" in our social philosophy:

Sustainable economic growth

Absolute human rights

Of those two concepts, economic growth is the focus of the book, and the key point is that economic growth has ethical value. More broadly, I argue for a perspective which is more forward-looking, more oriented toward investment, more respectful of common sense morality (which I see as growth-enhancing), calling for more epistemic humility on the small questions and questions of implementation, and also more utopian in the sense of asking people to focus their attention on how we might make the future a much, much better place, most of all through the medium of economic growth.

If you find it useful to ask whom a book alienates, I would say the emphasis on growth runs contrary to much of the discourse amongst left-wing progressives and egalitarians, and the focus on sustainability might turn off many of those on the current political right.

Behind all that are particular pieces of argumentation, a few of which I will try to summarize.

First, the fundamental problem of moral judgment addressed in the book is one of aggregation. If a choice or policy makes some people better off and others worse off, how are we to weight those competing interests? I respond by finding one case where aggregative judgments are relatively unproblematic. In particular, I believe that life in a much wealthier society is better for virtually everyone. It is much better to live in the United States than Albania, or better to live in Denmark than Burkina Faso. Alternately, you might say that Denmark today is a much better place to live than say Denmark in 1930.

Second, I work backwards from those judgments. If significantly greater wealth is indeed a positive social good, which choices can we in fact endorse? We can endorse choices that bring us to the much wealthier state of affairs, namely higher rates of sustainable economic growth.

As an aside, but an important one, my concept of wealth is broader than most current measures of GDP. We need to adjust GDP for instance to take into account environmental sustainability, the value of leisure time, and the value of possibly unmeasured social indicators, noting that many of the latter are in fact indirectly reflected in GDP. For instance, health matters above and beyond wealth, but still a healthier population is likely to be more productive.

Third, the power of compound returns remains underrated. In the early 1960s, South Korea was as poor as much of sub-Saharan Africa, but since then compound returns have made for a huge difference. Or considering the years 1870 to 1990, if the United States had grown one percentage point less per year, the country would in 1990 have had the same standard of living as Mexico. More abstractly, if you can boost the growth rate by two percentage points a year (by no means a utopian scenario for many emerging economies), after a time horizon of 55.5 years income will be three times higher than it otherwise would have been. Compound growth truly matters.

Fourth, we should not discount the future well-being of humans and also future humans. Significant gains or costs in the future should not dwindle in moral importance simply because they are distant in time. You don't have to believe the discount rate on future well-being should be exactly zero in all circumstances; it suffices to regard the ability to bring about a much, much better and sustainable future as having decisive weight in our current choices. Furthermore, you can believe in this treatment of well-being without denying the appropriateness of the positive discounting of financial flows in a variety of settings, including corporate decision-making.

Mr. Cowen was recently on The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg and I find little to disagree with him about. If anything, I would argue that he blunts his own arguments by not framing them well enough.

Suppose we begin an examination of the proper economic system by simply asking what the point of an economy is, the end, rather than the means.  It seems incontrovertible that the point is to maximize and preserve social wealth.  

Once we establish this first principle, it follows that the means we use to guide that economy should be geared towards efficiency, rendering the greatest value at the lowest possible cost.  Because costs include externalities we capture the concerns for sustainability and future well-being--for example: environmental impacts.

Importantly, the maximization and preservation of wealth suggests the means a tax regime should take: it should punish the consumption of wealth rather than its creation and investment/savings. [The end of taxation being to fund the operations of government.]

But here the rainbows and buttercups end, because of a fundamental reality that we are failing to reckon with: there is nothing instrinsic to an economy that dictates how the wealth it creates should be distributed/redistributed.  And while over the long course of human history we have found it efficacious to use labor as a means of accomplishing that redistribution, labor is just a cost and a system aimed at driving costs down is destined to eliminate the labor cost altogether. Ultimately, this is going to be a political question rather than an economic one and our politics is ill-equipped to deal with it right now. Both parties are still trying to maximize employment.  Neither is even remotely concerned with the economic value of those jobs.  Neither are they concerned with the question of how much spiritual satisfaction can possibly be derived from a job that has no value. Of course, both parties give lip service to the idea that our economic selves are not only not our entire selves but not even our most important selves.  We hear about family, friends, neighborhood, church, voluntary associations, civic groups, parties, etc. but suggest that we should redirect wealth to encourage and enable these superior institutions and folks get their knickers in a twist. 

This, I would argue, is the attachment that Mr. Cowen, perhaps inevitably given his libertarian focus on the individual, misses: enduring social capital.   

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


CNN Poll: Trump bears most blame for shutdown (Jennifer Agiesta, 1/13/19, CNN)

Among those who do see the situation as a crisis, most feel that a border wall would help improve things. The subset who feels that way, however, amounts to only 31% of US adults. [...]

The increase in disapproval for the President comes primarily among whites without college degrees, 45% of whom approve and 47% disapprove, marking the first time his approval rating with this group has been underwater in CNN polling since February 2018. In December, his approval rating with whites who have not received a four-year degree stood at 54%, with 39% disapproving. Among whites who do hold college degrees, Trump's ratings are largely unchanged in the last month and remain sharply negative -- 64% disapprove and 32% approve.

Those whites who do not have college degrees remain in favor of a wall along the border with Mexico (51% favor it, 46% oppose it), but they tilt toward blaming the President for the government shutdown (45% say he is more responsible for it, 39% the Democrats in Congress).

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Tea With Assad, Hugs With Adelson: An Iraq veteran who endorsed Sanders, Gabbard is hoping to win over progressive Dems with a rare brand of isolationism that even right-wing Evangelicals like (Amir Tibon, Jan 13, 2019, Ha'aretz)

Gabbard's views and actions on this war-torn area can be described as unique and controversial. She has opposed recent American military interventions in the Middle East, often citing her own experience of serving in Iraq to explain why she is so suspicious of American attempts to spread democracy or take down autocrats in the region. This has made her a favorite of many U.S. progressives, who are angry about the "forever wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the same time, Gabbard has developed during her six years in Congress some surprising relationships with right-wing supporters of Israel, who are affiliated with the Republican Party. Her contacts with such groups took place mostly during Barack Obama's time in the Oval Office.

In 2015 she spoke at a conference of Christians United for Israel, an organization that strongly opposes Palestinian statehood and supports Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The organization had a leading role in fighting against Obama's policies in the Middle East. CUFI's leader, Pastor John Hagee, for example, is an outspoken supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump; Hagee was invited by the Trump administration to speak at the ceremony last year marking the transfer of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In 2016, Gabbard received an award from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a New Jersey based Rabbi with close ties to casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the largest donor to the Republican Party. A year before Gabbard attended Boteach's gala dinner and received his "Champion of Freedom" Award, Boteach published full-page advertisements in leading American newspapers in which he accused Obama's National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, of being responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. (Leading Jewish groups denounced the ads, and Boteach later apologized.)

A picture from the 2016 gala dinner, which Boteach uploaded on his Twitter account, shows him and Gabbard together with Miriam Adelson, the Israeli-born wife of Sheldon Adelson and a partner to his political donations to many Republican politicians.

There's nothing odd about co-operation among those who oppose democracy in the Middle East 

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The Lethal Crescent: Where the Cold War was hot. : a review of THE COLD WAR'S KILLING FIELDS: RETHINKING THE LONG PEACE by Paul Thomas Chamberlin  (Daniel Immerwahr, DECEMBER 20, 2018, The Nation)

Scholars still debate why the Cold War stayed cold. Gaddis, like Orwell, emphasized nuclear weapons, which forced caution on the superpowers. Unwilling to gamble on all-out war, Washington and Moscow sought to contain, not destroy, each other, and they largely stuck to their own spheres of influence. They pressed frequently on the boundaries of those spheres, but just as often, they backed down from conflict.

That pattern can be seen clearly in the first true Cold War crisis in Europe, Joseph Stalin's 1948 blockade of the Western-controlled parts of Berlin, a city located in the middle of the Soviet zone of occupied Germany. Harry Truman could have gone to war over this, but he didn't. Instead, he responded with a creative workaround, a round-the-clock stream of planes that flew 2.3 million tons of supplies to the city's sealed-off sectors. In a swaggering show of abundance, one squadron developed the habit of parachuting candy to Berlin's overjoyed children. For his part, Stalin could have shot the planes down, but he didn't. Instead, after 11 humiliating months and more than a quarter-million overflights, he reopened the roads. Not a single shot was fired.

But is Berlin a good stand-in for the entire Cold War? Perhaps not. Just as Stalin and Truman were facing off over that contested capital, a similar showdown was taking place nearly 5,000 miles away in Changchun, a prosperous provincial capital in Manchuria. As with Berlin, communist forces--this time under the leadership of Mao Zedong--controlled the zone around the city, but Changchun itself remained under the control of Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang government. As with Berlin, Mao closed the roads to the city.

Yet here this tale of two cities diverges. Mao didn't expect Chiang to relinquish Changchun peacefully. Rather, the point of his five-month blockade was (as one of Mao's generals put it) to "turn Changchun into a city of death." The trapped, starved, and freezing residents started dying in the streets. "There were corpses everywhere," recalled the general charged with defending the city. "It had become a living tomb." The siege very likely killed more people than the bombing of Hiroshima did, with estimates between 120,000 and 200,000.

Many more people died in the campaign that followed. On the eve of his victory, Mao bragged to Stalin that his forces had killed more than 5 million since 1946, though between 2 million and 2.5 million killed on all sides seems like a sturdier number. But however many millions of people died, one thing was clear: The contrast between Berlin and Changchun--planes dropping candy versus corpses in the streets--represented a larger divide. The Cold War in Europe may have been a patient chess game, or a Long Peace. But in Asia, it was a bloodbath.

Paul Chamberlin's eye-opening The Cold War's Killing Fields offers us a precise, painful account of the Cold War as narrated from the Changchuns of the world rather than the Berlins. His focus is not on the capitals where grand strategies were spun, as in Gaddis's telling, but on the blood-soaked locales where those strategies took their greatest toll. By Chamberlin's calculations, more than 20 million people died in conflicts related to the Cold War.

What makes the Cold War so deeply unjust is that we had the capacity to end it throughout.  The reality of Mutual Assured Destruction was that both US and Russian leaders were assured that only the latter was mortally threatened.  Had Curtis LeMay been allowed to decapitate the regime in the 40s-50s untold millions of lives could have been saved, along with incalculable levels of human suffering:

The General and World War III: Curtis LeMay believed that the only sure nuclear defense was to launch a preëmptive first strike. During the Cuban missile crisis, he almost did it. (Richard Rhodes, 6/19/95, The New Yorker)

[W]hen LeMay took his ideas for a sac war plan to his superiors in the Air Force, he proposed that "the primary mission of sac should be to establish a force in being capable of dropping 80% of the stockpile in one mission." By then he was confident, he assured them, that "the next war will be primarily a strategic air war and the atomic attack should be laid down in a matter of hours." The Air Force agreed: the plan that resulted entailed destroying seventy Soviet cities in thirty days with a hundred and thirty-three atomic bombs, causing up to 2.7 million deaths and another four million casualties. American air-power strategists had a name for such an attack as LeMay was proposing: "killing a nation."

In the spring of 1953, a committee headed by retired Air Force General James Doolittle proposed giving the Russians a two-year deadline to come to terms and attacking them if they failed to do so (thus using the wasting asset to force a decision). The following year, President Eisenhower rejected this bizarre nuclear ultimatum and issued an updated Basic National Security Policy statement: "The United States and its allies must reject the concept of preventive war or acts intended to provoke war."

At the outset of the Korean War, in 1950, LeMay had asked the Pentagon, as he said later, to "turn sac loose with incendiaries" on North Korea; Truman's advisers had rejected such a blitzkrieg of mass destruction. sac was ultimately authorized to bomb urban and rural North Korea anyway, piecemeal, and carried out its assignment brutally, burning out cities and breaking big agricultural dams, scouring out entire valleys of peasant villages and rice paddies as far as twenty-seven miles downstream, spreading the agony across the years of war. More than two million North Korean civilians died in that campaign, a little-known toll comparable to civilian losses in Japan during the Second World War. "Over a period of three years or so," LeMay remembered, "we killed off--what--twenty percent of the population of [North] Korea. . . . This seemed to be acceptable to everybody; but to kill a few people at the start right away, no, we can't seem to stomach that." Such inconsistencies further undermined LeMay's trust in Presidential decisiveness. If deterrence had to be his formal strategy, he would also prepare darker strategies against the hazard that deterrence might fail.

Since preventive war was not an available remedy to the enlarging Soviet capacity for a first strike, sac was authorized to plan for preëmption--for beating the Soviet forces to the punch if intelligence indicated they were beginning a first strike. The C.I.A. estimated that the Soviet Union would need a month to assemble and deliver its small stock of nuclear weapons. The Joint Chiefs ordered sac to assign highest priority to a "blunting mission" that would take out Soviet airfields first upon Presidential determination that a Soviet attack had begun, followed by attacks on advancing Soviet troops, followed finally by attacks on cities and government control centers.

LeMay had no interest in dribbling out his forces on three disparate missions. The Soviets might need a month in 1954 to deliver their arsenal of about a hundred and fifty atomic bombs; his thousand and eight bomber crews, once deployed, could deliver as many as seven hundred and fifty bombs in a few hours. The sac commander continued to believe obstinately that the most effective attack would be his "Sunday punch": simultaneous assault from all sides with everything in the stockpile. According to documents analyzed in International Security by the defense consultant David Alan Rosenberg, Captain William Brigham Moore, a Navy officer, attended a sac standard briefing on March 15, 1954, kept notes, and came away appalled: "The final impression was that virtually all of Russia would be nothing but a smoking, radiating ruin at the end of two hours." During the post-briefing question period, someone asked LeMay what course he would advocate if hostilities were renewed in Korea--by then at truce. He answered that he would drop a few bombs in China, Manchuria, and southeastern Russia. "In those 'poker games,' " the Navy captain quotes LeMay, "such as Korea and Indo-China [where the French were then engaged], we . . . have never raised the ante--we have always just called the bet. We ought to try raising sometime."

By 1954, Curtis LeMay had apparently begun raising the ante with the Soviet Union on his own, covertly and extralegally. Reconnaissance overflights of the Soviet Union had begun no later than 1950. LeMay used these flights not only to gather electronic and photographic intelligence; he also used them to probe Soviet air defenses, knowing as he did so that he might be provoking war. There is testimony that he may have meant to do just that. If he could not initiate preventive war, he seems to have concluded, he might be able to push the Soviets to sufficiently high levels of alert to justify launching a full preëmptive attack. He linked reconnaissance with provocation in an interview after he retired:

There was a time in the 1950s when we could have won a war against Russia. It would have cost us essentially the accident rate of the flying time, because their defenses were pretty weak. One time in the 1950s we flew all of the reconnaissance aircraft that SAC possessed over Vladivostok at high noon. Two reconnaissance airplanes saw MiGs, but there were no interceptions made. It was well planned, too--crisscrossing paths of all the reconnaissance airplanes. Each target was hit by at least two, and usually three, reconnaissance airplanes to make sure we got pictures of it. We practically mapped the place up there with no resistance at all. We could have launched bombing attacks, planned and executed just as well, at that time.

Soviet defense forces had no way of knowing if LeMay's crisscrossing reconnaissance aircraft carried nuclear weapons or not. If Soviet aircraft had crisscrossed American cities under similar circumstances, sac would certainly have preëmpted. The Soviets hunkered down, because they had no adequate response, but their lack of defenses predictably emboldened LeMay.

In 1954, LeMay remarked to a reconnaissance pilot whose plane had been damaged by a MiG-17 while over the Soviet Union, "Well, maybe if we do this overflight right, we can get World War III started." The pilot, Hal Austin, told the documentary filmmaker Paul Lashmar that he assumed LeMay was joking, but years later, after LeMay retired, Austin saw him again and "brought up the subject of the mission we had flown. And he remembered it like it was yesterday. We chatted about it a little bit. His comment again was, 'Well, we'd have been a hell of a lot better off if we'd got World War III started in those days.' "

Unfortunately, not only did we fail to end the Soviet ,Union we also pretended that they were our peers.  Not only did we treat them as if they were a serious threat, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis--when we could have destroyed them with impunity--we also treated them like a plausible regime:

Kissinger regularly mixed violence and the threat of it with diplomacy, so that the diplomacy had credibility. He preserved what he saw as the legitimate order, in which the Soviet Union was both contained and accepted, so that revolutionary chaos was confined to the edges of the superpower battlefield, in the Third World. (In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.)

While RWR obviously deserves great credit for reversing the narrative and denying their permanence and legitimacy, he was, unfortunately, a leader among those who elevated them as a military threat.  Essentially, we ended up with a dynamic where left, right and center over-estimated the USSR all for their various--often conflicting--purposes, making the USA an effective guarantor of the manifestly failed evil state.

Bill Kristol's most recent Conversations, with Stephen Rosen touches on many of these themes before getting to China.  Like the Cold Warriors before him, Mr. Rosen overestimates the potential of the PRC (the size of the economy of 1.3 billion people can look large, but it masks a GDP per capita of $9k in a state with imploding demographics), but he does plumb its greatest weakness: The Party is terrified of its own citizenry in a way that it is not clear the Soviets ever were.  They spend as much or more on internal security as they do on external.  This affords us tremendous opportunities.  Besides supporting independent nationhood for Hong Kong, Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet and Uighurstan, the removal of the North Korean regime would serve to destabilize China proper and we could make disrupting the Great Firewall a focus of our military policy. As important as any concrete actions is a change in our rhetoric. Rather than treat them as a Great Power, as we did the USSR, we need to constantly diminish them and aggresively deny their legitimacy and potential for any future significance. They are a fine source of cheap labor, but little more, and as we develop other Third World countries and switch to robotics they'll be displaced from even that minimal role.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Listening to the Bible With David Suchet  (Michael De Sapio, 1/13/19, Imaginative Conservative)

Mr. Suchet's delivery combines force and gentleness--the phrase "power in reserve" comes to mind. He does not give us the nicey-nice Jesus of popular lore; there is an uncompromising sternness and irony in His speeches. When He denounces the hypocrisy of the scribes, the words sting. Never do you sense that Mr. Suchet is simply doing a celebrity gig, or offering the Bible as a literary monument; he truly believes in the words. There is in his reading a humility and directness likely belonging to Mr. Suchet himself.

I bet that the power of David Suchet's Gospel reading derives, in part, from Hercule Poirot. Mr. Suchet has spoken in interviews about the appeal of the Belgian sleuth--of how he is a "great moral compass" who "when you're with him, you feel everything's all right in the world." As a foreigner in England, Poirot is able to mix with all strata of society; he particularly gets along well with and has compassion for the servant class. He's an excellent listener, able to see into the workings of a person's psychology. In the denouement, when Poirot reveals the identity of the culprit, he becomes the instrument of divine justice, bringing what is hidden to light.

A good rehearsal, I should think, for embodying the Son of God and the poets and prophets of the Old Testament. Despite all his roles on stage, film, and television, Mr. Suchet's Bible will stand as one of his signature accomplishments. 

I would say that David Suchet is, in his low-key way, an evangelist--a rare thing in today's world and especially in the acting profession. Drama and the faith are not often yoked together, but this is a mistake and listening to Mr. Suchet's work reminds us of the relationship.

An actor--particularly a fine classical actor like Mr. Suchet--studies the context behind the words he speaks and attempts to enter into the spirit of the times when they were written. Not too dissimilar, when you think about it, from how a thoughtful person should approach the text of the Bible. Such a reader uses rational analysis to bring out proper emphasis, to pace and punctuate, to bring linguistic intelligence and psychological insight, to create audible rhetoric that leaps from the page. To read Jesus' parables with these principles in mind is not unlike reciting a soliloquy of Shakespeare.

The experience of audible reading used to be an everyday part of our culture. In the nineteenth century American homes were furnished with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, and both were often read aloud by the hearth. Elocution was a widely taught art, and crowds willingly stood to hear lengthy speeches and debates. A stock of popular literature, passed on by voice, created a common literacy. Even more, it helped connect people to the physicality of words, making the text more than merely intellectual.

Nowadays we hear the Bible read in installments at our weekly liturgies (not usually by David Suchet, alas), but sustained reading aloud is rare. Most of our reading is silent and abstract. Yet reading out loud is irreplaceable. It is a social act, incarnating the words and message in a personal way. In hearing the Bible read, the Word takes flesh before us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Gregory Lewis on the Hammond B-3 (Adam Perlmutter, 1/04/19, Jazz Times)

"Piano's great," Gregory Lewis says. "But the organ--I don't want to say it's better, but it's just different. You have more power and control, and I do like to be in control when I'm playing."

Lewis, a New York-based keyboardist and composer, is both one of the modern jazz masters of the Hammond B-3 organ and a Thelonious Monk specialist. His latest release--Organ Monk Blue, a trio with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jeremy Clemons--is one of four albums on which he finds his own voice within Monk's music. Like many B-3 players, he learned to play piano before taking up the organ. He got serious about the Hammond while studying at the New School in New York and likens the process of transferring his keyboard skills to the instrument to learning to drive a stick shift. [...]

1954 saw the introduction of the B-3, which would prove to be the company's most popular model. In the 1950s and '60s, it emerged as a commanding voice in jazz and popular music. Jimmy Smith used the instrument to set the prototype for the jazz organist, using its bass pedals to mimic an upright bassist, while at the same time playing virtuosic lines with both hands. Rock and R&B musicians like Steve Winwood, Keith Emerson, Booker T. Jones, and Billy Preston harnessed the instrument's growling sounds to excellent effect.

Though the B-3 produces a massive wall of sound, Lewis finds that he doesn't need to adjust his conception of the keyboard to reduce sonic clutter. He tends to approach a Monk composition like "Little Rootie Tootie," with its dense chordal accents in the A section, just as he would if at the piano. "I definitely don't shy away from those 10-note chords," he says. "They sound monstrous on the B-3, and it works really well for some reason. Maybe it's the same idea as in gospel, where the power can make churchgoers very emotional."

January 12, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration (Greg Miller January 12, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Was Modernism Meant to Keep the Working Classes Out? : In the 19th century, more working class readers started partaking in contemporary fiction. Modernist literature, however, was specifically not for them. (Matthew Wills, January 9, 2019, J Stor Daily)

The first working-class libraries, which originated in Scotland, concentrated on religious books. Some banned fiction outright; into the early nineteenth century, fiction was considered too avant-garde for the general reader. The popularity of Walter Scott's Waverley novels started to change that. But, as scholar Jonathan Rose details, "a kind of cultural conservatism" lingered for nearly two centuries among working-class readers in the British Isles.

The "cultural lag" was partly economic: new books and periodicals were expensive. Rose, who has made an extensive study of the intellectual life of the British working class, quotes a Welsh collier born in 1871:

Volumes by living authors were too high-priced for me...Our school-books never mentioned living writers, and the impression in my mind was that an author... must be dead; and that his work was all the better if he had died of neglect and starvation.

This helps explain the nineteenth-century mania for Shakespeare; Victorian "Bardolatry" was driven by working class audiences. As Rose writes, however, the "long-term trend in the West [was] away from a common public culture and toward increasingly differentiated and fragmented audiences."

Meanwhile, by the late nineteenth century, inexpensive reprints of classics by authors such as Swift, Pope, Fielding, Byron, and the Greek philosophers were becoming popular. Many of these were cheap because they were out of copyright. This occurrence, combined with the growth of public education, soon had ordinary folks reading more and more books, including seeking out more contemporary writers. Rose has an interesting theory about how this trend helped to create the literary movement of modernism:

The intelligentsia was driven to create literary modernism by a profound loathing of ordinary common readers. The intellectuals feared the masses not because they were illiterate but because, by the early twentieth century, they were becoming more literate, thanks to public education, adult education, scholarships, and cheap editions of the great books.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


THE BORDER PATROL HAS BEEN A CULT OF BRUTALITY SINCE 1924 (Greg Grandin, January 12 2019,The Intercept)

SINCE ITS FOUNDING in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement -- even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover's directorship.

The 1924 Immigration Act tapped into a xenophobia with deep roots in the U.S. history. The law effectively eliminated immigration from Asia and sharply reduced arrivals from southern and eastern Europe. Most countries were now subject to a set quota system, with the highest numbers assigned to western Europe. As a result, new arrivals to the United States were mostly white Protestants. Nativists were largely happy with this new arrangement, but not with the fact that Mexico, due to the influence of U.S. business interests that wanted to maintain access to low-wage workers, remained exempt from the quota system. "Texas needs these Mexican immigrants," said the state's Chamber of Commerce.

Having lost the national debate when it came to restricting Mexicans, white supremacists -- fearing that the country's open-border policy with Mexico was hastening the "mongrelization" of the United States -- took control of the U.S. Border Patrol, also established in 1924, and turned it into a frontline instrument of race vigilantism. As the historian Kelly Lytle Hernández has shown, the patrol's first recruits were white men one or two generations removed from farm life. Some had a military or county sheriff background, while others transferred from border-town police departments or the Texas Rangers -- all agencies with their own long tradition of unaccountable brutality. Their politics stood in opposition to the big borderland farmers and ranchers. They didn't think that Texas -- or Arizona, New Mexico, and California -- needed Mexican migrants.

Earlier, in the mid-1800s, the Mexican-American War had unleashed a broad, generalized racism against Mexicans throughout the nation. That racism slowly concentrated along an ever-more focused line: the border. While the 1924 immigration law spared Mexico a quota, a series of secondary laws -- including one that made it a crime to enter the country outside official ports of entry -- gave border and customs agents on-the-spot discretion to decide who could enter the country legally. They had the power to turn what had been a routine daily or seasonal event -- crossing the border to go to work -- into a ritual of abuse. Hygienic inspections became more widespread and even more degrading. Migrants had their heads shaved, and they were subjected to an increasingly arbitrary set of requirements and the discretion of patrollers, including literacy tests and entrance fees.

The patrol wasn't a large agency at first -- just a few hundred men during its early years -- and its reach along a 2,000-mile line was limited. But over the years, its reported brutality grew as the number of agents it deployed increased. Border agents beat, shot, and hung migrants with regularity. Two patrollers, former Texas Rangers, tied the feet of one migrant and dragged him in and out of a river until he confessed to having entered the country illegally. Other patrollers were members of the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, active in border towns from Texas to California. "Practically every other member" of El Paso's National Guard "was in the Klan," one military officer recalled, and many had joined the Border Patrol upon its establishment. [...]

In 1993, the House Subcommittee on International Law, Immigration, and Refugees held hearings on Border Patrol abuse, and its transcript is a catalogue of horrors. One former guard, Tony Hefner, at the INS detention center in Port Isabel, Texas, reported that "a young Salvadoran girl" was forced to "perform personal duties, like dancing the Lambada, for INS officials." (In 2011, Hefner published a memoir with more accusations of sexual abuse by, as Hefner writes, the INS "brass"). Roberto Martinez, who worked with the San Diego-based U.S.-Mexico Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee, testified that "human and civil rights violations" by the Border Patrol "run the gamut of abuses imaginable" -- from rape to murder. Agents regularly seized "original birth certificates and green cards" from Latino citizens, "leaving the victim with the financial burden of having to go through a lengthy process of applying for a new document." "Rapes and sexual abuse in INS detention centers around the United States," Martinez said, "seem to be escalating throughout the border region."

Brutality continued as Washington further militarized both the border and broader immigration policy -- first after the 1993 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and then years later with the creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks. Since 2003, Border Patrol agents have killed at least 97 people, including six children. Few agents were prosecuted. Last year, a 19-year-old Guatemalan Maya woman, Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzáles was killed, shot in the head by a still-unnamed Texas Border Patrol agent shortly after she entered the United States. According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union, young girls apprehended by the Patrol have been physically abused and threatened with rape, while unaccompanied children have experienced "physical and psychological abuse, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, isolation from family members, extended period of detention, and denial of access to legal medical service."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Is India Becoming a Hindu Pakistan? (Mihir Sharma, January 10, 2019, Bloomberg)

A decades-old accord set the date beyond which cross-border migration became illegal at 1971, the same year that Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Now, the government is demanding people prove they or their parents arrived before then -- an absurd process that, if carried to its logical end, would require India to set up internment camps for literally hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. (Some camps have already been built.) The government hopes, through the new citizenship rules, to ensure that no non-Muslims are caught up in this sweep of "foreigners."

Assam's sub-nationalists are furious: They don't want to welcome any outsiders, Hindus included. Yet the government is facing a tight reelection later this year, and at least some BJP strategists appear to hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will serve as a wedge issue elsewhere in India -- especially in nearby West Bengal state.

Personally, I doubt that will work; like Assam, West Bengal is one of those parts of India where ethnicity has traditionally counted for more than religion. In the religiously polarized north and west of India, however, the law might help the BJP mobilize a few million extra voters.

Surely even a few million votes aren't worth allowing India to lose a seven-decade old argument and accept that Jinnah's "two-nation theory" was correct after all? Is an election victory worth making India's 170 million Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country?

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


GM accelerates China push with electric Cadillacs (SHUJI NAKAYAMA, 1/13/19, Nikkei)

General Motors is preparing to sell electric versions of its luxury Cadillac brand, challenging Tesla and other high-end competitors in China's growing market for environmentally friendly vehicles.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


'In the White House waiting': Inside Trump's defiance on the longest shutdown ever (Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Seung Min Kim January 12, 2019, washington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the president that he had no leverage and that, without a clear strategy, he would be "boxed in a canyon." He tried to make the case to Trump that even if Pelosi and Schumer were interested in cutting a deal with him, they would be constrained from compromising because of internal Democratic Party pressures to oppose Trump's wall, these officials said.

Then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) talked with Trump by phone for 45 minutes the day before the shutdown, warning that he saw no way to win as he paced in a Capitol hallway just outside a conference room where House Republicans were meeting. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned about the perils of a shutdown during the Christmas season. 

Inside, some of the more hard-line members urged a showdown over border wall funding, arguing that Trump's core supporters would revolt otherwise. But McCarthy asked, "Tell me what happens when we get into a shutdown? I want to know what our next move is."

A senior White House official characterized Republican leaders as "supportive" throughout the shutdown.

Trump's advisers are scrambling to build an exit ramp while also bracing for the shutdown to last weeks longer. Current and former aides said there is little strategy in the White House; people are frustrated and, in the words of one, "freaking out."

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Brazil president says he wants free trade with 'the entire world' (Reuters, 1/12/19)

Latin America's largest economy is also one of the world's most restrictive. The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, last year ranked Brazil 153 out of 180 countries in its Index of Economic Freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Why China Clings to State Capitalism (Robert SamuelsonJanuary 09, 2019, Washington Post)

 In a new book -- "The State Strikes Back: The End of Economic Reform in China?" -- economist Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics argues that, until a few years ago, China seemed to be moving gradually toward a system of private enterprise.

In 1978, when Deng Xiaoping launched China's present economic reform, state-owned firms dominated the economy. Now, according to Lardy's estimates, private firms account for roughly 70 percent of the country's output (gross domestic product).

The reversal came after Xi Jinping assumed leadership of the Communist Party in 2012 and, later, the presidency. He changed course, favoring state-owned firms, as Lardy shows by citing loans to businesses.

In 2013, 57 percent of loans went to private firms and 35 percent to state-controlled firms. By 2016, there had been a stunning reversal; state firms received 83 percent of loans, compared with 11 percent for private firms. Much of this lending came from state-owned banks.

This relates to a larger issue: the ferocious debate, mostly among economists, over China's future economic growth rate. In the decade leading up to the 2007-09 Great Recession, GDP growth averaged 10 percent annually. Since then, it has dropped to a 6 percent to 7 percent range, and some economists predict it will ultimately fall to a 2 percent to 4 percent range.

Many theories have been advanced to explain this shift. After years of fast growth, it's said, China has exploited most existing technologies. It will now act more like a "normal" economy. Or: China has too much debt, limiting expansion. Or: China's population is rapidly aging, hampering labor force growth.

Lardy dissents. He attributes the slowdown mainly to two factors: a declining trade surplus and the misguided decision to favor state-owned firms, which he regards as monstrously inefficient. He reports that the profitability of private-sector firms is more than double that of state-controlled companies.

The PRC has no future, but it can speed its own demise.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Kamala Harris Is Hard to Define Politically. Maybe That's the Point. (Astead W. Herndon, Jan. 12, 2019, NY Times)

Longtime strategists and admirers of Ms. Harris believe she is well positioned to create electoral coalitions among Democrats desperate to beat Mr. Trump, partly because she is not tethered to any one of the divergent and sometimes warring factions of the party. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday morning, Ms. Harris was asked, "Why would you want to be president?" and responded by citing the need for leaders who have a "vision of our country in which everyone can see themselves."

"Her message of unity, that's the key," said Valoree Celona, a 50-year-old insurance executive who came to the 92nd Street Y with friends. "If she can get people to have that hope again, that's what's important. That's what President Obama did."

But Ms. Harris would also need to grapple with Democratic rivals who are more ideologically liberal and may try to move the debate to the left in ways that could force difficult choices for her. [...]

Reviews of Ms. Harris's book have been mixed, as critics have accused her of not adequately grappling with several controversial stances she took as California attorney general and others have characterized it as overly reliant on political clichés.

In the memoir, which was released simultaneously with a children's book by Ms. Harris called "Superheroes Are Everywhere," she repeatedly writes that she does not believe in "false choices." This can mean both meaningful workers' rights and a strong economy, she writes at one point, but she also applies the concept to police accountability and public safety.

"I know how hard it is for the officers' families, who have to wonder if the person they love will be coming home at the end of each shift," Ms. Harris writes. "I also know this: It is a false choice to suggest you must either be for the police or for police accountability. I am for both. Most people I know are for both. Let's speak some truth about that, too."

Sean Clegg, a longtime political adviser who is expected to play a senior role in any presidential campaign from Ms. Harris, said that if she ran she would discuss issues like income inequality, but that the message would be coupled with a call for partisan healing. [...]

Sarah Weiss, a 33-year-old book editor, said she was disappointed by Ms. Harris's talk, especially after the heavy policy focus of Ms. Warren's trip to Iowa.

"My concern is that she's not liberal enough, and she talks in clichés that are kind of meaningless," Ms. Weiss said of Ms. Harris. "She keeps saying there's more that connects us than divides us, but at this time in politics, it seems like that's not enough."

It's more than enough if, unlikely as it is, Donald is running in 2020.  It's inadequate against Nikki.

Kamala Harris Is Laughing (David Catanese, Jan. 10, 2019, US News)

[O]ne highbrow takeaway from all the talk is that she loves to laugh. And she's pretty good at it.

"I love her laugh," one man was overheard saying as he walked out of GW's Lisner Auditorium on Wednesday night after listening to Harris field questions from Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post for about an hour.

A week after Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts faced a critique that uncorked a touchy debate about "likeability" - and whether that wholly subjective evaluation should be made about female candidates - Harris is proving herself to be a comfortable conversationalist, bubbly and engaging, and prone to openly cackling at her own wisecracks.

In other words, she's likeable. Even to those well outside of her political ideology.

"Really likeable," declared blogger Jennifer Rubin of the Post after watching her on "The View."

"Dare I say it, I find her likeable," said Jim Antle, editor of The American Conservative, following her first book event.

Harris' likeability derives from a relaxed disposition that presents someone who doesn't take herself too seriously and genuinely appears to be having a good time - even as she prepares to embark on the most audacious venture of her life.

She's literally laughing her way through the process, with a wink and a shrug and promise of more to come soon.

To George Stephanopoulos, she laughed at how her late mother would characterize the country's political situation. ("It is a hot mess!") On "The View," she laughed at her own quip as to why the U.S. should use paper ballots in elections. ("Russia can't hack a piece of paper!") And at GW, she laughed so hard recalling a story about her razor-close race for attorney general, the audience began to laugh at her extended laughter.

At a time when the nation is on the brink of a daily meltdown, Harris is having fun - and inviting you to do so, too.

"I've never heard anybody call Kamala Harris dislikable," Republican commentator Ana Navarro said on CNN following the network's interview with the 2020 candidate-in-waiting. "Maybe it's not a woman thing. Maybe it's an Elizabeth Warren thing."

Minyon Moore, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton who is uncommitted ahead of 2020, says Harris "has a great command of the issues, mixed with a lot of wit. ... She's going to be a force."

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


What Happened to Bioethics? (Yuval Levin, Summer/Fall 2018, New Atlantis, ) 

[C]ritics of the research, and most prominently President George W. Bush himself, tried to offer a kind of case for moderation -- for finding a way to advance medicine while also respecting some boundaries on research, by insisting there was room and time for ethics.

By moderation I don't mean finding some mushy middle or avoiding controversy. Bush certainly didn't do that. I mean moderation in the deepest sense -- a moderation that consists of properly balancing genuinely competing practical goods by grounding our judgments about them in a commitment to the moral principles at the foundation of our society. That's what a durable moderation in politics would require, and I think it's also a kind of definition of statesmanship: prudence in defense of principle.

Bush tried to do this in two different ways in the course of his presidency. First, in setting his administration's funding policy, he said that the government would fund research using embryos that had already been destroyed before the policy was announced but would not permit federal dollars to be an enticement to further embryo destruction. Whether he found it or not, he was seeking a principled middle ground.

And second, particularly in his second term, Bush emphasized funding research on scientific alternatives to embryo research, and especially on ways of giving non-embryonic cells the characteristics of embryonic stem cells, to avoid the need to destroy embryos. [...]

Under the Bush administration's compromise policy, 21 viable stem cell lines were eligible for research. Today the number is 398, including 20 that have been added since the Trump administration began. But that number offers a misleading impression of the direction of policy.

In fact, funding for embryonic stem cell research has not grown that dramatically since the end of the Bush years. In 2008, the NIH spent $88 million on the research. This year it is set to spend $266 million. That's a lot of money, but it's nothing like the explosion of support researchers expected and Democrats promised once the Bush policy was undone. It's only half as much as the $516 million set to be spent this year on non-embryonic human stem cell research, and 15 percent of all NIH spending on stem cell research -- human and animal, embryonic and adult.

Even more telling, spending this year for research on so-called "induced pluripotent human stem cells" -- that is, adult cells induced to function like embryonic stem cells -- will be fifty percent higher than the amount spent on human embryonic stem cell research. Roughly the same was true over the last three years of the Obama administration. That's telling because the category of induced human pluripotent stem cells didn't even exist for most of the time that the debate over the Bush stem cell policy was going on, and it's fair to say that the category came into being, or at least got a very big boost, as a direct result of Bush's policy itself.

Bush's prohibition on funding for newly created lines of embryonic stem cells propelled the development of alternatives, and therefore encouraged work on developing cells that have the same properties as embryonic stem cells but can be generated without destroying human embryos. This new category of cells could well turn out to be more significant for the advancement of cell biology than embryonic stem cells themselves. The pattern of NIH funding certainly suggests researchers in the field think it is already. And it can, at least in part, be considered an achievement of the Bush policy, and of the prioritization of human life and human dignity in this area of policy.

But of course, neither these new cells nor embryonic stem cells have so far yielded anything like the miracle cures that some politicians were promising a decade ago. That's the most significant story on the stem cell front over this period of relative political calm around the issue: Stem cell science has proven valuable for better understanding developmental biology, but its direct application for therapies looks further off and more implausible now than it did ten and fifteen years ago.

This isn't necessarily a scientific setback: Better understanding the nature of cells and of human development is very important. But as with the more complicated promises of genomics and other flashy subfields of biology, investment in research, rather than opening up a direct path to therapy, often turns out to reveal a more complicated scientific reality. That is what scientific progress often involves.

This argues for humility in the political case for medical research, and it might also argue in particular for taking the time and making the effort to seek scientific paths around threats to human dignity and life in medical research, rather than setting the advance of medicine and the protection of vulnerable human life in opposition to each other. It argues for moderation, rightly understood, and for putting medical research in perspective in a way that makes room for ethics.

Government is exceptionally good at forcing innovation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Maduro Kicks Off Second Term With an Economic Disaster of His Own Making (Alex Vasquez  and Andrew Rosati, January 10, 2019, Bloomberg)

Since Maduro was elected in 2013 after Chavez died, the country has been brought low by mismanagement, corruption and the oil industry's collapse. In 2018, exports of crude, which once made the the nation South America's wealthiest, plummeted to a three-decade low of 1.25 million barrels a day. That's ravaged a population that now grapples with Soviet-style shortages, soaring prices and malnutrition.

"Last year was catastrophic, the worst I can remember," said Betty Diaz, who runs a soup kitchen in Petare, a hillside slum in eastern Caracas. Diaz feeds 130 children daily, but began turning teenagers away in favor of the youngest and most desperate. "For many of the children, the only meal a day they eat comes from us, but it's harder and harder for us to provide; every day it's more expensive."

Rolling blackouts and crumbling public services are endemic in countryside and capital alike. In Caracas, residents line up at mountainside springs to fill jugs and bathe children, while the hungry pick through garbage bins. Any plastic trash bag left on the street is methodically slit and sorted.

People are fleeing as they face both hunger and hyperinflation, which according to Bloomberg's Cafe Con Leche Index stands at almost 225,000 percent. Some 3 million Venezuelans now live abroad, and thousands more leave every day. The exodus has overwhelmed Venezuela's neighbors, but regional leaders have been unable to coordinate a response that would make Maduro change course -- and the outflow lowers pressure for change.

On Thursday, the Organization of American states voted to not recognize Maduro's second term, while Paraguay formally broke relations, the first South American country to do so.

Last week, Colombian President Ivan Duque stood alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and called on governments to "unite to reject the dictatorship of Venezuela and make all the necessary efforts to restore democracy." Twelve Latin American nations plus Canada -- the so-called Lima Group -- urged Maduro last week to hand over power to the opposition-led National Assembly and call fresh elections.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Bolsonaro Was Not Elected to Take Brazil as He Found It: Latin America's biggest democracy has a bigger global role to play. (Ernesto Araujo, January 7, 2019, Bloomberg)

We want to promote freedom of thought and freedom of expression around the world. This is essential to promote any other sort of change and any other sort of freedom. Bolsonaro's election in Brazil was only possible because people could freely exchange their ideas and express their feelings unencumbered by mainstream media's straitjacket. This lesson is priceless.

Unfortunately, today's world has countries where thought is directly controlled by the state. It also has countries, mainly in the West, where thought is indirectly and insidiously controlled by the media and academia, leaving very few places untouched by Wittgensteinian death-of-the-subject oppression. Brazil has now shown that it is possible to break free and, through the sheer force of speech, transform the political reality of a country of 200 million people and peacefully dismantle a decades-old system of crime and corruption with courage, determination and sincerity.

We also want to promote peace and security in our region and everywhere. But you don't promote peace and security by pretending that the threats you face either don't exist or can't realistically be addressed. You have to face the threats, and the main one comes from non-democratic regimes that export crime, instability and oppression. You can't simply wish away dictatorships such as Venezuela and Cuba. Especially when you don't even wish. Especially when you let them preserve and extend their power, with the excuse that this is "the world as we found it" or "the natural march of things."

And we want, of course, to expand trade. Brazilian trade policy, as part of our foreign policy, has slumbered for too long. We are determined to negotiate trade, investment and technology deals with all our partners, in an ambitious and creative way, exploring different models with different partners, always with the concrete needs of the productive sector in mind.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Tulsi Gabbard: how a progressive rising star is a paradox for the left (Sabrina Siddiqui, 10 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

[G]abbard's critics say her views on foreign policy and tolerance for dictators such as Bashar al-Assad deserve another look.

As one of the few Democrats to meet with Donald Trump following his election, Gabbard's unorthodox positioning has drawn scrutiny at a time when progressives have rallied their midterm messaging around opposition to the president. Her highly controversial visit last year to Syria, where she met with Assad, also raised eyebrows both nationally and at home.

"The wake up call, for most of us, came when Gabbard met with Trump soon after his inauguration and then with Assad, instead of marching on DC with us and the rest of the Hawaii's congressional delegation during the Women's March in protest of what has become an unprecedented abolition of human and civil rights in America," said Sherry Alu Campagna, an environmental scientist who is among Gabbard's most well-known primary challengers. [...]

In 2015, Gabbard was among a minority of Democrats who voted for additional restrictions on refugees entering the US from Syria and Iraq. She has also previously expressed "skepticism" that the Assad regime is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and aligned herself with nationalist figures such as Narendra Modi of India.


LONG BEFORE THE Indian strongman Narendra Modi became prime minister of the world's largest democracy, he was a prominent leader of the Hindu right. He rose as a public figure through the nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, whose ideology includes a desire to carve out a Hindu nation in which Muslims and Christians are considered second-class citizens. It was a well-known activist who once had links to the RSS who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, accusing him of appeasing Muslims during the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent.

That anti-Muslim sentiment has been a major driving force of Modi's political career in the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. In 2002, when Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he oversaw an outbreak of violence by Hindu nationalists against the minority Muslim population that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. Local and international fact-finding groups accused Modi of complicity in the killings, charging that he did not do enough to contain the violence. Indian courts eventually exonerated him for a lack of evidence, but his image was pilloried. The United Kingdom and some European countries refused to deal with him and in 2005, the United States barred him from entering the country.

Modi's ascent has normalized nationalist rhetoric, the silencing of dissent, and violence against religious minorities in India -- and it's also had global implications. Elected prime minister in 2014, he was one of the first of a class of populist autocrats who've risen to power in recent years. That group includes Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected in the same month as Modi; Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been in office for more than a decade but has been increasingly consolidating power; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose war on drugs has killed thousands of people; Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected in October despite his pro-military dictatorship stance; and, of course, America's Donald Trump.

In the United States, Modi's reputation has been helped by a group of Hindu-American supporters with links to the RSS and other Hindu nationalist organizations, who've been working in tandem with a peculiar congressional ally: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu in Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Christian Group Reported Expenses for Having Russians at National Prayer Breakfast (Jonathan Larsen, with additional research by Dylan Digel, Jan 11, 2019, TYT)

A Christian charity with ties to the National Prayer Breakfast reported unspecified expenses associated with having Russian guests attend the event in 2017 and possibly other years, federal tax documents show.

The guests may have included people picked by convicted Russian agent Maria Butina as part of a plan to create back-channel connections with U.S. policy-makers, many of whom attend the breakfast. One leader of the charity appears to match details the FBI has given about an unnamed breakfast organizer who aided Butina.

In her plea agreement, Butina admitted to acting as an agent of the Russian government without registering with the Justice Department.

The FBI says that Butina and her handler -- widely reported to be Alexander Torshin, a Russian official said to be close to President Vladimir Putin -- attended the breakfast to influence U.S politics. The tax records reviewed by TYT represent the first indication they may have received direct financial support in their efforts.

"[I]n furtherance of the conspiracy," Butina's plea deal says, "Butina helped [Torshin] organize a Russian delegation to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast... [Torshin] directed Butina to include certain people."

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Bolton's Big Iran Con (JOE CIRINCIONE, 1/12/19, Defense One)

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats certainly does not agree with Bolton. He testified to the Senate last year that Iran "wants to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" which expressly forbids Iran from ever having nuclear weapons. He said that the accord "has also enhanced the transparency of Iran's nuclear activities, mainly by fostering improved access to Iranian nuclear facilities." That is, we have increased our already formidable ability to detect any Iran violations. The International Atomic Energy Agency concludes, and U.S. intelligence agencies agree, that Iran remains in strict compliance with the deal that shrank and then largely froze its nuclear complex.

In his 2017 statement, "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community," Coats was crystal clear on the issue of intent: "We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." That is, Bolton has no basis for his statement. "We" -- the U.S. intelligence agencies--do not believe that Iran is committed to building nuclear weapons.

Nor is this a new judgement, one that Bolton might have somehow missed in the press of his duties. Paul Kerr, in his comprehensive 2018 report for the Congressional Research Service, finds: "Since at least 2007, the U.S. intelligence community has issued unclassified assessments that Iran has not decided whether to develop nuclear weapons. According to the 2007 NIE, 'Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons' until fall 2003, after which Iran halted its nuclear weapons program 'primarily in response to international pressure.'"

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


The new citizenship bill and the Hinduisation of India (Al Jazeera, 1/12/19)

On January 8, India's lower house of parliament approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to undocumented non-Muslim immigrants, sparking protests in the country's northeast. The protests took place mainly in the state of Assam, where millions of people were accused of being foreigners and effectively stripped of their citizenship last year.

The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which still needs the approval of the upper house of parliament, seeks to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act to make Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from three Muslim-majority countries - Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan - eligible for Indian citizenship. This would mean migrants belonging to these religious communities who entered India without the necessary documents prior to 2014 would not be imprisoned or deported and would gain permanent citizenship after six years of residency in India.

The government says the bill aims to provide succour to persons who have been persecuted in their homelands because of their religious identities and who have "nowhere else to go but India". The proposal assumes persons who identify as Muslim cannot be persecuted in Muslim-dominated countries, and therefore excludes all Muslim immigrants. Hence, members of the Ahmadiya and Shia communities of Pakistan, despite being persistently targeted by extremists, would not be able to seek refuge in India. 

The bill has been widely criticised for attempting to make religion an eligibility criterion for Indian citizenship - an act that would fundamentally alter the secular character of India.

....is being persecuted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times's Latest Bombshell (Benjamin Wittes, January 11, 2019, KLawFare)

Shortly before the holidays, I received a call from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asking me to meet with him about some reporting he had done. Schmidt did not describe the subject until we met up, when he went over with me a portion of the congressional interview of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, who was then my Brookings colleague and remains my Lawfare colleague. When he shared what Baker had said, and when I thought about it over the next few days in conjunction with some other documents and statements, a question gelled in my mind. Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller's work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion--or at least a part of it?

Late last year, I wrote a memo for Schmidt outlining how I read all of this material, a memo from which this post is adapted.

Today, the New York Times is reporting that in the days following the firing of James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump. It wasn't simply the obstruction investigation that many of us have assumed. It was also a counterintelligence investigation predicated on the notion that the president's own actions might constitute a national security threat:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president's behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

The following is an adaption of the memo I sent Schmidt. I have updated it in important respects in light of the reporting in the Times's actual story. The analysis remains, however, tentative; I want to be careful not to overread the threads of evidence I am pulling together here.

The analysis that follows is lengthy and takes a number of twists and turns before laying out what I think is the significance of the whole thing. Here's the bottom line: I believe that between today's New York Times story and some other earlier material I have been sifting through and thinking about, we might be in a position to revisit the relationship between the "collusion" and obstruction components of the Mueller investigation. Specifically, I now believe they are far more integrated with one another than I previously understood.

There's this fun thing the Trumpbots do where they start from the premise that there was nothing wrong with Vlad interfering in the election and nothing wrong with Donald and company seeking his help to do so, then, on that basis, assume that the only basis for the investigation must be some kind of grand conspiracy among private political consultants and FBI staffers who don't like their hero.  It's sublime.

Senate intel committee grilling ex-Trump campaign members in Russia probe (Katy Tur, 1/11/18, NBC News)

"They are doing an exhaustive investigation," Nunberg told NBC News after his interview, which he said appeared to be "narrowly focused on collusion." [...]

Nunberg, who sat with committee staff for four and half hours, said he was asked repeatedly about how Trump formulated his policy positions regarding Russia. Trump has voiced support for numerous foreign policy positions beneficial to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nunberg said he told the committee that Trump, as a candidate, said "he would take the position that he was happy Russia was in Syria."

At the time, Nunberg said that position raised no red flags because he saw it as consistent with Trump's generally held view that the United States should not be involved in the Middle East. Nunberg said the campaign was getting questions at that time about how he saw U.S. involvement in Syria.

Also of interest to investigators, Nunberg said, was the campaign's relationship with the National Rifle Association and efforts by a Russian national to get a meeting with Trump through the NRA. Nunberg says he told investigators Friday that he was aware of efforts by Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty last month to conspiring with a Russian official to interfere in American politics, to seek a meeting with Trump, using the NRA as a conduit.

Investigators also peppered Nunberg with questions which suggested to him that they were trying to pin down specific relationships among members of Trump's campaign and organization and outside actors, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. [...]

Nunberg said he was surprised by the interest in a Moscow tower since the campaign's official position was that it would not seek new foreign deals. Nunberg said he was asked to review public statements, emails, tweets and text messages obtained by investigators related to potential Russian interference.

Nunberg described the committee's investigation as professional and bipartisan. "If I were the White House, I would be concerned," said Nunberg, who joined the campaign early but was fired in August 2015 after racially charged Facebook posts were uncovered. He later apologized.

Unlike the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation, which was shuttered by Republicans last spring over the protest of Democrats, the Senate committee's probe has proceeded deliberately and in a largely non-partisan manner. Led by Burr and Ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel has broken its probe into five parts and began releasing preliminary findings and recommendations last fall.

Darn, the adults are in charge now.

January 11, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Dem Rep: Stop Drunk Driving by Requiring Breathalyzers in Cars (Nic Rowan, January 11, 2019, Free Beacon)

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.) has a plan to reduce drunk driving: Put breathalyzers in all vehicles.

Dingell announced Thursday she would introduce legislation to require car manufacturers to install breathalyzers, called ignition interlock devices, to ignition systems of all new cars. Before starting a car, drivers would have to self-submit to a breathalyzer test. If a driver's blood alcohol content is above the legal limit, the car will not start.

The pot breathayzer next.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Trump stops short of emergency declaration in border wall fight (Richard Cowan, Steve Holland, 1/11/19, Reuters) 

President Donald Trump said on Friday he would not declare a national emergency "right now" to end a standoff over border security that has idled large swaths of the U.S. government, all but guaranteeing that he will preside over the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Why are Republicans accused of racism? Because we're silent on things like this. (Tim Scott January 11, 2019, Washington Post)

When people with opinions similar to King's open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole. They want to be treated with fairness for some perceived slights but refuse to return the favor to those on the other side.

Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism -- it is because of our silence when things like this are said. Immigration is the perfect example, in which somehow our affection for the rule of law has become conflated with a perceived racism against brown and black people.

The Purge We Need: It's past time for the GOP to expel the mouth-breathers and bigots who are ruining the party. (CHARLES SYKES  JANUARY 11, 2019, The Bulwark)

[T]he push to oust Shafi was never about his actual positions on issues. The campaign to oust him began in August with a post on the "Protect Texas" Facebook page, denouncing him as "a practicing, Mosque-attending muslim who claims not to follow sharia law or know what it is." "As a practicing muslim that is an overt falsehood." wrote GOP activist  Sara Legvold. "Sharia law is anathema to our Constitution because Islam recognizes no other law but shariah. As the most conservative county in the nation, this is a demoralizing blow to the conservative rank and file of the Republican Party across the nation and in Texas." Levgold warned against what she saw as the Islamization of the GOP.

Those of us who follow this islamisation (sic) issue closely are very concerned at this infiltration of the nation's most conservative county and the ramifications to our continuing to remain a red State. The conservative base of the Republican Party has always been the conscience and moral compass of our Party and the fact that alleged conservatives are enabling this is disconcerting and must surely alarm us. ...The Big Tent with "diversity" and "inclusion" as its cornerstones will continue chipping away at the morale of the rank and file Republicans who vehemently oppose this push.

As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported, others also chimed in. "Please explain to me ... why we need a Muslim in the SREC in Tarrant County! There are no Conservative Muslims or Moderate ones!" a woman named Vicky Underhill posted on the "Republican Women of Arlington" Facebook page.

It never got any better. When other Tarrant GOP officials and stepped forward to defend Shafi, the anti-Shafi activists began to call for their removal as well. When Texas's Republican governor, Greg Abbott came to Shafi's defense, Protect Texas lashed out. "Governor Abbott came out in support of the Islamization of our Republican Party of Texas today. How's that for shariah compliance?"

And they doubled down on the ugly.

The "Protect Texas" page provides a glimpse into what the GOP faces. is a cesspool of anti-Muslim memes and white supremacist links. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Progressive Groups Blast Bustos for Tapping Moderate Dems for DCCC Leadership Team (Cameron Cawthorne, January 10, 2019, Free Beacon)

Several progressive organizations blasted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, on Wednesday for announcing a leadership team consisting entirely of pro-business Democrats from the New Democrat Coalition.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D., Ill.), who was recently elected to be the DCCC chairwoman, announced her racially diverse team of two women and four men, but she received backlash for not tapping any members from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has over 95 members and is the largest single bloc in the House Democratic Caucus.

Donald too would be too far Left to serve.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Pompeo's Cairo speech panned as 'tone-deaf,' 'hyper-partisan,' 'offensive' (Laura Rozen, January 10, 2019, Al Monitor)

Pompeo's speech "was a regurgitation of what they have been saying for two years. There was nothing new, and it was offensive," former career US diplomat and ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Al-Monitor. "That they think that anyone still wants to hear about Barack Obama's 2009 Cairo speech -- get over it."

"You own the issue now, you own the policy," Feierstein continued. "People want to know what you are going to do, not what you think Barack Obama did wrong. And on that score, there was nothing there, Just a lot of empty rhetoric of all things they are going to do and how wonderful the United States is and it never occupied anybody. So what."

Pompeo's speech is unlikely to reassure American allies and partners frustrated by constantly shifting Donald Trump administration positions on the region that they are not properly consulted about, said former FBI and Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt.

"I do not think they [the Trump administration] fully appreciate the level of anxiety among our allies and potential allies in the region and beyond in Europe in terms of how reliable we are as a partner," Levitt, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor.

"It is not just the decision to withdraw US forces in Syria," Levitt continued. "Much more than that, it is the way the decision was arrived at and announced. [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey said one thing one day, Trump says the opposite the next day. ... People can't keep up with the pace of the back and forth, ping pong. The lack of clarity, the lack of procedure in the policy making process -- the allies see that."

"While it is great to go to the region in a time of anxiety to reassure people you mean to have a reinvigorated role in the Middle East, it is not enough to say it," Levitt said.

The extensive swipes in the speech at the previous administration were also discomfiting, Levitt said.

Whether it is done by Republicans or Democrats, "I always felt uncomfortable when Americans travel abroad and hang out dirty laundry," he said.

"Embarrassing and shameful speech by the small, hyper-partisan Trump suck-up Pompeo," Ellen Tauscher, a former undersecretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration and a former member of Congress, wrote on Twitter. "There's not a 'non-partisan statesman' pore in his body."

"Seriously. A joke. They really are struggling along with the C team only two years in," a former US diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor of Pompeo's speech. "Honestly, it'll be forgotten in about five minutes."

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM



The imminent Financial Services Committee announcement would take some sting out of several disappointments for the Congressional Progressive Caucus's high-profile rising stars, who on Wednesday were largely shut out of new assignments to three critical committees where they sought expanded representation.

The Progressive Caucus had cut a deal with Pelosi for increased representation on the so-called money committees that handle most domestic legislation. They sought membership on the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, and Financial Services committees equal to their roughly 40 percent membership in the Democratic caucus.

Progressive Caucus members did receive several new assignments announced Wednesday night, but only hit 40 percent on Ways and Means, on which progressives had already achieved a 40 percent threshold in the previous Congress. As of now, the total averages out to 38.3 percent across all three, but those numbers will rise to 41.8 percent if three committee members join the CPC as expected.

According to numbers provided by the Progressive Caucus, membership increased on Ways and Means from 42 percent to 54 percent. Energy and Commerce moved from 29 percent to 31 percent, and Appropriations held steady at 36 percent.

Progressives have also asked for increased representation on the Financial Services Committee, with jurisdiction over Wall Street, whose makeup is still to be determined. So far, though, the caucus's most prominent figures have not been given new committee assignments on the three major committees. Ocasio-Cortez; Tlaib; CPC co-chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; and vice chair Ro Khanna, D-Calif., all vocally pushed for inclusion on the money committees. Justice Democrats waged an outside campaign on their behalf, and other organizations engaged in petition drives and marched on Pelosi's office. None of that was successful, showing the limits of an outside campaign on an insider issue like committee assignments.

The party is neo-liberal, not Progressive.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Prosecutors Examining Ukrainians Who Flocked to Trump Inaugural (Kenneth P. Vogel, Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Iuliia Mendel, Jan. 10, 2019, NY Times)

Serhiy Kivalov, a Ukrainian lawmaker known for pro-Russian initiatives, took photos of the dance, as well as of his coveted tickets and passes to the soiree where it took place, the Liberty Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, posting them on Facebook and declaring that "it was an honor" to attend.

He was one of at least a dozen Ukrainian political and business figures who made their way to Washington for the inauguration, several of whom attended the Liberty Ball. Most had more on their dance cards than just parties.

They attended meetings and orchestrated encounters at Trump International Hotel with influential Republican members of Congress and close allies of President Trump. Representing a range of views, including a contingent seen as sympathetic to Moscow, they positioned themselves as brokers who could help solve one of the thorniest foreign policy problems facing the new administration -- the ugly military stalemate between Russia and Ukraine and the tough sanctions imposed on Moscow following its seizure of Crimea. [...]

Evidence of the Ukrainians' presence eventually prompted interest from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as he investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, and has spawned a number of related inquiries by federal prosecutors. The investigations are playing out against growing indications that some of the Ukrainians who came to Washington for the inaugural, or their allies, were promoting grand bargains, or "peace" plans, that aligned with Russia's interests, including by lifting sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


More and more states are seeing job openings outnumbering jobless (Reuters, 1/09/19)

In October, there were 7.1 million job openings nationwide, about 1 million more than the number of unemployed workers. The spread was widest in the Midwest, where there were 463,000 more openings than jobless workers, and in the South, where the spread was 317,000. The spread was 77,000 in the West and 51,000 in the Northeast.

January 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Populists in Power Around the World (Jordan Kyle & Limor Gultchin, :7th November 2018, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)

Populism has two essential features. First, it holds that the people are locked into conflict with outsiders. Second, it claims that nothing should constrain the will of the true people.

Populism draws an unbridgeable divide between the people and outsiders. The people are depicted as "morally decent . . . economically struggling, hard-working, family-oriented, plain-spoken, and endowed with common sense", in the words of sociologist Rogers Brubaker.18 The people are defined in opposition to outsiders, who allegedly do not belong to the moral and hard-working true people. While many studies of populism define the essential social conflict as between the people and the elite, this report uses the more general term "outsiders", because populists as often stoke divisions between marginalised communities as between marginalised communities and elite.

From there, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people.19 This general will of the people, populists argue, is not represented by the cartel of self-serving establishment elites who guard status quo politics.

There are three main strategies that populists use to stoke this insider-outsider division:

* a political style in which populists identify with insiders;

* an effort to define and delegitimise outsiders; and

* a rhetoric of crisis that elevates the conflict between insiders and outsiders to a matter of national urgency.

One of the most enjoyable things about Nationalism is that it claims unique virtue for the in-group, a unique threat from the out-groups, and a unique set of crises and it claims these things no matter where it is advocated, no matter when, no matter by whom and no matter against whom. It's quite precious from without.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


For Trump, Storming Out of a Meeting Is a Signature Ploy (Shannon Pettypiece  and Margaret Talev, January 10, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's decision to abruptly storm out of a meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday shocked some on Capitol Hill. But those who have done business with him recognized it as one of his trademark negotiating tactics.

Long before he entered the White House -- where the latest turn on his heel occurred -- Trump was known to have done the same thing when a deal wasn't going his way. He even walked out of a judge's chambers during divorce proceedings.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Visibly shaken Netanyahu blows live TV address (Ben Caspit, January 9, 2019, Al Monitor)

"It was the appearance of someone who finally put two and two together, who suddenly understood that he lost control over his situation and his fate," said a senior Israeli political figure who was loyal to Netanyahu for a long time, adding to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Evidently he understood that the attorney general is really going to indict him and announce his decision even before elections."

Netanyahu made a number of mistakes on the way to the appearance. They began at five p.m., when his office spread the word that the prime minister would deliver "a dramatic announcement" at eight p.m. In Israel, that kind of buildup can cause panic and sweep an entire country with crazy rumors. This is exactly what happened on Monday afternoon. As the clock ticked closer to eight, Netanyahu's people understood the terrible mistake they had made and tried to lighten the atmosphere.[...]

"He lost touch with reality," one of Netanyahu's ministers told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity after the broadcast. "He thinks this is a reality show and that he is the director."

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Groom wins NIS 30,000 damages after injuring his foot breaking the glass (Times of Israel, 1/10/19)

A Tel Aviv court has awarded a groom NIS 30,000 ($8,000) in damages after he injured his foot performing the glass breaking ritual at his wedding ceremony.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say (DOUG SOVERN, JANUARY 09, 2019, KCBS)

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Obviously Mrs. Obama is their optimal candidate, but Ms Harris becomes the immediate front-runner in her absence.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Pacific trade deal spurs Canadian farm sales to Japan as U.S. watches (Rod Nickel, 1/10/19, Reuters)

A trade deal among Pacific nations - called the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) - took effect on Dec. 30 among the first six of 11 member countries to ratify it, including Canada, Japan and Australia.

CPTPP's real prize, Canadian exporters say, are reduced Japanese tariffs for beef, pork, wheat and canola oil. Japan is the world's third-largest beef importer and seventh-largest wheat buyer, often buying top-quality supplies to meet consumer demand for soft, white breads and beef raised on grain not grass.

For Canada, following a year of volatile relations with the United States and China, the deal offers a rare opportunity to seize market share from the United States, which withdrew from the pact after President Donald Trump took office.

Canada's opportunity illustrates the risks of Trump's drastic trade actions. Farmers are key Trump supporters, but they have been among the hardest-hit from a trade war with China.

U.S. beef packers such as Tyson Inc and National Beef Packing Co also stand to lose, while Canadian grain exporters Richardson International and Viterra [VILC.UL] may gain.

At the Tokyo beef buffet, enthusiasm about Canadian beef transcended borders.

"The interest was as high as I've ever seen," said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, who has been visiting Japan since the 1980s. "This new agreement is one of the most significant opportunities we've seen since the original NAFTA (North American Free Trade) agreement was signed."

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through (Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley, 1/10/18, NBC News)

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as "absolutely critical to border security" in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Before Trump, Steve King Set the Agenda for the Wall and Anti-Immigrant Politics (Trip Gabriel, Jan. 10, 2019, NY Times)

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization -- how did that language become offensive?" Mr. King said.

Dude, you're at least supposed to pretend there's another reason you oppose immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Reform Bid Said to Be A No-Go For Trump (ADAM NAGOURNEY, FEB. 14, 2000, NY Times)

The new interim head of the Reform Party, Pat Choate, described Mr. Trump as a ''hustler'' last night, and said he had never believed that Mr. Trump had any interest beyond promoting himself and a new book that happened to be published at exactly the time he started his light schedule of campaign travel.

''Donald Trump came in, promoted his hotels, he promoted his book, he promoted himself at our expense, and I think he understands very fully that we've ended the possibilities for such abuse of our party,'' Mr. Choate said. ''We're taking our party back to our very principles, and exploiters such as Donald Trump will not be able to exploit us again -- and he realizes it.''

''We saw no evidence that he was a serious candidate at all,'' Mr. Choate said. ''All this was, was a serious hustle of the media, and I think the media should send him a massive bill on it.''

Mr. Trump apparently anticipated such speculation -- which, in fact, is fairly common in political circles -- and in his statement went out of his way to say that this was more than a frolic. ''For those who suggest that this has just been a promotion, I want to strongly deny that,'' he said.

He said that although his book and his businesses had probably benefited from the exposure his campaign generated, ''I did not launch my exploratory campaign for that reason.''

Mr. Trump painted a fairly dark picture of the Reform Party in his statement, noting the role of Mr. Buchanan, along with the roles of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lenora Fulani, the former standard-bearer of the New Alliance Party and an advocate of Marxist-Leninist politics.

''The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani,'' he said in his statement. ''This is not company I wish to keep.''

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Shutdown's economic damage: $1 billion a week: The mounting toll is adding new risks to the Trump administration's economic hopes for 2019. (VICTORIA GUIDA 01/09/2019, Politico)

The roughly 800,000 government employees who are either furloughed or working without pay will be forced to start slashing their consumer spending when paychecks don't appear this week. Private-sector contractors and other workers tied to the government are already seeing damage from lost business.

And a hit to the nation's financial standing is on the horizon with a warning from Fitch Ratings on Wednesday about downgrading the government's credit rating if the shutdown persists.

Estimates from President Donald Trump's chief economist peg the cost to the overall U.S. economy at about $1.2 billion for each week the shutdown persists.

People seem unable to compute the fact that a tanking economy is a desirable outcome for Nativists as it makes America a less desirable destination.
Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Texas landowners prepare wall fight; Trump to visit border (NOMAAN MERCHANT, 1/10/19, AP) 

As President Donald Trump travels to the border in Texas to make the case for his $5.7 billion wall, landowner Eloisa Cavazos says she knows firsthand how the project will play out if the White House gets its way.

The federal government has started surveying land along the border in Texas and announced plans to start construction next month. Rather than surrender their land, some property owners are digging in, vowing to reject buyout offers and preparing to fight the administration in court.

"You could give me a trillion dollars and I wouldn't take it," said Cavazos, whose land sits along the Rio Grande, the river separating the U.S. and Mexico in Texas. "It's not about money."

Only Keystone made them love eminent domain this much.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


People older than 65 share the most fake news, a new study finds (Casey Newton, Jan 9, 2019, The Verge)

Older Americans are disproportionately more likely to share fake news on Facebook, according to a new analysis by researchers at New York and Princeton Universities. Older users shared more fake news than younger ones regardless of education, sex, race, income, or how many links they shared. In fact, age predicted their behavior better than any other characteristic -- including party affiliation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Report: US sanctions threaten Russian plans for passenger jet (Reuters, 01.10.19)

US sanctions have cut off imports of foreign components needed to produce Russia's first post-Soviet mainline commercial aircraft, threatening its production schedule, the newspaper Kommersant reported on Thursday.
Russia hopes the MS-21, a twin-engine, medium-range passenger plane, will give Boeing and Airbus a run for their money. Three prototypes have been built and the plane had been set to enter serial production in 2020.
But Kommersant, citing a senior government official and Russian aviation industry sources, said US sanctions had cut off imports of components from the United States and Japan that were needed to make the plane's wings and part of its tail fin.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Trump's team had over 100 contacts with Russian-linked officials, report shows (Christal Hayes, 1/10/19, USA TODAY)

"This wasn't just one email or call, or one this or that," said Talia Dessel, a research analyst for the left-leaning organization. "Over 100 contacts is really significant because you don't just have 100 contacts with a foreign power if there's nothing going on there."

The organization used publicly available court documents and reporting to tally up the number of contacts. Each meeting and message was counted as a separate contact.

The number of contacts was raised to 101 this week after it was reported that Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, a former campaign aide, shared polling data with Manafort's former Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik. 

Dessel noted the group's list of contacts is on the "conservative" end and the "very minimum amount of contacts" between Russian-linked officials and those within the Trump campaign and transition. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


Yemen soldiers killed in Houthi drone attack on base (BBC, 1/10/19)

A drone attack on a Yemeni government base by the rebel Houthi movement has reportedly killed at least six soldiers and injured several senior officials.

A video appeared to show one drone exploding above al-Anad base, in Lahj province, during a military parade.

Sky News Arabia said army chief of staff Gen Abdullah al-Nakhi and Lahj governor Ahmed Abdullah were hurt.

A Houthi-run TV channel said the rebels had targeted personnel from the Saudi-led coalition backing the government.

January 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Trump Storms Out of White House Meeting with Democrats on Shutdown (Nicholas Fandos and Michael Tackett, Jan. 9, 2019, NY Times)

 President Trump slammed his hand on a table and stormed out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Wednesday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said she would not fund a wall along the southern border, dramatically escalating the confrontation over the government shutdown.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Exclusive: Mueller Is Holding Top Secret Intelligence That Will Sink the Trump Presidency (John R. Schindler, 01/09/19, NY Observer)

What really ought to worry the president and his inner circle is what Mueller knows about the election and has yet to reveal. The Special Counsel doesn't have to disclose to suspects how it knows certain things, and it's apparent that Mueller and his investigators asked Manafort about his dealings with Kilimnik, which he lied about--and the ostrich jacket connoisseur is now trying to come clean before he gets a de facto life sentence in prison.

That Mueller knew about Manafort's 2016 dealings with Kilimnik is no surprise, given that the two men communicated frequently for many years, and the Special Counsel seized all of those communications from Manafort. But how did Mueller know about their secret Madrid meeting in early 2017, despite Manafort's denials?

The answer lies in a highly secretive intelligence program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). It's called travel tracking and its existence, like so many NSA top-secret operations, was revealed by Edward Snowden, the disgruntled agency IT contractor who fled to Moscow in June 2013 with over a million classified documents from the NSA and other U.S. spy agencies.

Travel tracking means that the NSA and its Five Eyes Anglosphere intelligence partners know who's going where by air, and when, anywhere. They can even crack into WiFi and mobile phones in flight, according to top secret-plus documents stolen and leaked by Snowden. Unless you're traveling under alias documents of the kind issued by higher-end spy services, the NSA and its close friends know where you're headed.

There ends the mystery of how Mueller and his investigators knew about Manafort and Kilimnik's off-record rendezvous in Madrid at the beginning of Donald Trump's presidency. It also means that the Special Counsel knows the truth regarding Michael Cohen's alleged summer 2016 trip to Prague to parley with Kremlin spies on behalf of his then-client, our 45th president.

"Mueller really does know everything," joked a former Intelligence Community (IC) senior official whom I've known for years. "The IC gave the Special Counsel everything we had that might be of relevance to their investigation, most of it came from NSA." Which hardly surprises, since something like 80 percent of the actionable intelligence in the IC emanates from the NSA, the world's most productive spy agency.

Fmr Fed Prosecutor: It Doesn't Get Much More 'Collusive' Than Manafort Sharing Poll Data with Kilimnik (Matt Naham, January 9th, 2019, Law & Crime)

Former federal prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said Wednesday on New Day that this was a revelation with potentially serious implications. While Manafort's attorneys spent the majority of their response to Mueller's allegations arguing that the special counsel has no proof Manafort "intentionally lied," they also noticeably failed to redact information.

Here's what one of those redactions said:

In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort's mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government's allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

In short, Manafort said that he didn't lie about sharing polling data related to the Trump campaign, he just needed his memory jogged. It wasn't the first time, however, that Manafort has been accused of offering high-level Russians insight on the Trump campaign. Manafort allegedly offered Vladimir Putin-connected Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska "private briefings" on the 2016 Trump campaign -- an oligarch he apparently owed millions of dollars.

Honig said that the detail of Manafort sharing polling data is significant.

"The campaign chair is the campaign. The campaign was sharing polling data with someone known to be connected to Russian intelligence," he said. "Is it collusion in the everyday non-legal sense before Rudy Giuliani started using the word? Sure. What could be more collusive than the top guy in a campaign with a Russian operative giving him the most sensitive data a campaign has?"

"Could it be a crime? Yes," Honig continued. "It is a federal crime to solicit or attempt to receive foreign election aid."

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Iranian Leader Calls Trump Officials 'First Class Idiots' During Pompeo Mideast Tour (Davis Richardson • 01/09/19, ny oBSERVER)

...they're third rate at best.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


What was the president really saying last night? (Jeffrey Salkin, 1/09/19, rELIGION nEWS sERVICE)

Did you watch the President's speech last night?

If so, then you might have noticed something.

Its main theme was fear. Fear of "them." Fear of being overrun. Fear of crime. Fear of drugs. Fear of....

Whatever else you might want to say about his speech, whatever other inquiries you might want to make into the veracity of his remarks, that was what was going on.

Pure, unadulterated fear. His speech was a binder bulging with fears.

Fears have a way of becoming pathological. When that happens, they become phobias.

Phobias have a way of migrating into hatred -- to the extent that we often confuse phobia with hatred, as in homophobia, Judeophobia...

Oh, right.

Xenophobia. The fear of foreigners/the hatred of foreigners.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Why Would Any Man Not Want to Be Bald? (Edith Zimmerman, 1/09/19, The Cut)

[I] say, objectively, why would any man resist going bald? It's so attractive, it boggles my mind. If I were a guy, I'd be excited. I'd kneel beside my bed at night and pray for it. Baldness signals testosterone (well, complicatedly), wisdom, and manliness; why would anyone fight that? I know we're all different, but honestly why would anyone have any other opinion on this topic?

Bald guys are hot. Bald guys are no-nonsense, bald guys have other things to think about. Bald guys aren't using a bunch of hair supplies, bald guys have more time to spend doing attractive and useful things, like building houses and making jokes. Bald guys are magnificent. Bald guys seem to have seen something more of life. Bald guys know things, if you know what I mean.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Trump's National Address Escalates Border Wall Fight (Peter Baker, Jan. 8, 2019, NY Times)

[P]rivately, Mr. Trump dismissed his own new strategy as pointless. In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before the address, he made clear in blunt terms that he was not inclined to give the speech or go to Texas, but was talked into it by advisers, according to two people briefed on the discussion who asked not to be identified sharing details.

"It's not going to change a damn thing, but I'm still doing it," Mr. Trump said of the border visit, according to one of the people, who was in the room. The trip was merely a photo opportunity, he said. "But," he added, gesturing at his communications aides Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, "these people behind you say it's worth it."

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


TV: Shin Bet chief warns a 'foreign country' is trying to influence elections (Times of Israel, 8 January 2019)

The head of the Shin Bet security services warned that a foreign state "intends to intervene" through cyberattacks in Israel's national elections in April, local television reported Tuesday.

Though Nadav Argaman's statements Monday were made during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University attended by a large crowd, Israel's military censor is barring from publication much of what he said, according to Hadashot TV news.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Can religious and civil marriage coexist in Israel? (Nechama Goldman Barash, AN 9, 2019, Times of Israel)

[T]here is a growing crisis on several fronts, religious, national, cultural and social, democratic and a growing demand for a change in the policy towards civil marriage in Israel. In the aftermath of the immigration from the former Soviet Union, there are hundreds of thousands of citizens who cannot marry in Israel because they are not recognized as halakhically Jewish. There are also a considerable number of couples who are not able to marry according to Jewish law and there are thousands of Israeli citizens who are recognized as Jewish, but choose to travel to Cyprus or elsewhere to marry. There are also an increasing number who want to marry in a Jewish but not Orthodox ceremony, who are forced to break the law when they choose a Reform or Conservative rabbi to perform the ceremony.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Trump Wants Trade Deal With China to Boost Stocks, Sources Say (Jenny Leonard , Jennifer Jacobs , Saleha Mohsin , and Shawn Donnan, January 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump is increasingly eager to strike a deal with China soon in an effort to perk up financial markets that have slumped on concerns over the trade war, according to people familiar with internal White House deliberations. [...]

Inside the White House, some key economic advisers are campaigning for a quick resolution to the trade conflict to help soothe battered markets. The S&P 500 Index has fallen about 8 percent since Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on a 90-day truce at a Dec. 1 meeting in Argentina.

It's the discipline of the markets.

Now join TPP.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Italy's Populist Revolution Is Gone in 480 Seconds (Ferdinando Giugliano, January 9, 2019, Bloomberg)

It took Italy's populists just eight minutes to renege on one of their flagship stances. On Monday night, the coalition government gave its go-ahead to a bank bailout, saying it is willing to recapitalize Banca Carige, a troubled mid-sized lender, if needed.

The plan smacks of hypocrisy. For years, the Five Star Movement has accused its political opponents of using public money to help the banks instead of supporting ordinary citizens. Most important, it may not work. It's not clear that Italy can inject public money into Carige without breaking the European Union's state-aid rules.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Whoppers Sizzle in Land of Steak as Burger King Surges in Brazil (Gerson Freitas Jr, January 9, 2019, Bloomberg)

Brazil, known for its unique steak houses and premium beef exports, is seeing a growing appetite for a different type of meal, Burger King's 680-calorie whopper.

Burger King is opening a new site in Brazil every three to four days, said Iuri Miranda, chief executive officer of BK Brasil SA, the world's fastest-growing restaurant operator by revenue. With 736 sites since 2011, BK Brasil is challenging McDonald's Corp. for Brazil's fast-food crown. McDonald's, which opened its first restaurant in Rio de Janeiro in 1979, has 939 in place.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Trump Has Defeated Himself (David Frum, 1/08/19, The Atlantic)

"Leverage: don't make deals without it." The words appeared under Donald Trump's byline on page 55 of the 1987 best seller The Art of the Deal. Trump did not write them, and he seems not to have understood how to apply them. In this budget shutdown, Trump discarded his leverage from the very start, by declaring for the cameras that the budget shutdown was his decision, his responsibility. When the shutdown began to hurt, Trump and his surrogates hastily tried to transfer the onus--but it was too late. Everybody knew that it was Trump's doing, and that it was done for reasons rejected by large majorities of Americans.

The idea of invoking "emergency powers" was a last grasp for the leverage Trump had already abdicated, and it had to be abandoned for fear of what the courts and public opinion would say.

After the January 8 Oval Office address, little doubt remains of how this shutdown will end. Sooner or later--probably sooner--it will end the way Trump's threats of nuclear war upon North Korea ended: with a sudden Trump about-face. It is now only a matter of time. The polls will arrive over the next hours. Democrats and Republicans will both see that Trump did not move public opinion in his favor. They might see that Trump could not even motivate very many Americans to watch him. The panic slowly building among congressional Republicans will boil. Trump, trapped without a decent exit in a predicament of his own making, will yield everything and get nothing.

Neither Fred nor Vlad can bail him out this time.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Why Unpaid Federal Workers Don't Just Strike During a Shutdown: The law prohibits federal employees from walking off the job--even if they're not being paid. (RUSSELL BERMAN, 1/09/19, The Atlantic)

Eric Young is the president of the union that represents the approximately 30,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons who are working during the government shutdown.

Young's members, scattered at 122 facilities located in largely rural areas across the country, aren't being paid and don't know when their next paycheck will come. Like the leaders of virtually every federal-employee union during the past three weeks, he has condemned the shutdown and its toll on innocent workers as "unconscionable."

"My personal opinion," Young told me over the phone from his office in Alabama, "is that it constitutes involuntary servitude."

Neither Young nor any of his partners in union leadership will urge their members to do the one thing that would seem most natural for employees facing the same treatment in the private sector: If they don't pay you, stay home.

"We can't call or advocate for a strike," Young said.

Since the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, federal employees have been legally prohibited from striking.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Educated Americans Paved the Way for Divorce--Then Embraced Marriage: The countercultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s didn't get rid of the institution of marriage. It transformed it along class lines. (ELI J. FINKEL, JAN 8, 2019, The Atlantic)

Almost nobody anticipated what happened next. After 1980, the likelihood of divorce among college-educated Americans plummeted. Despite their loosened romantic and sexual values, educated liberals became more dedicated to family stability and intensive parenting. They did adopt the beliefs that marriage is optional and divorce is acceptable, but in their personal lives, they also sought to build and sustain an egalitarian, mutually fulfilling marriage. Today, educated liberals certainly value individuality and self-expression, but they tend to pursue family stability as a primary means of realizing those values.

Poorer, less-educated Americans, especially those without a high-school degree, have exhibited the opposite trend. Although they are no less likely to cohabitate today than in previous eras, they are less likely to marry. When they do marry, they are less satisfied and more likely to divorce.

Social analysts have offered three major explanations for these marital difficulties. The first--that less-educated Americans have lost respect for the institution of marriage--is refuted by data. The psychologists Thomas Trail and Benjamin Karney conducted a definitive study asking Americans to indicate their agreement with the statement that "a happy, healthy marriage is one of the most important things in life." The agreement rates were virtually identical among Americans of all income and education levels--and quite high all around.

The second explanation is that poorer, less-educated Americans have a different, perhaps faulty, vision of how an ideal marriage should work. Given the marital turmoil that started in the 1960s, it was reasonable to hypothesize that different segments of American society would arrive at different visions of the optimal marriage, and that some of these visions might be more conducive to happiness and longevity than others. But here, too, the best evidence suggests that most Americans, across income and education levels, have adopted a new marital ideal in which spouses look to each other not only for love, but also for self-expression and personal growth. Most Americans agree, for example, that "understanding each other's hopes and dreams" is essential for a successful marriage--much more important than having sufficient savings, sharing values, or having good sex. Americans today want a partner who can help bring out their best self.

The third explanation is that building and sustaining a marriage that meets these lofty aspirations typically requires substantial investments of time, attention, patience, and responsiveness, investments that are harder for poorer, less-educated Americans to make. When life happens--when the car breaks down or a ligament snaps--they are at greater risk for unemployment, eviction, and destitution. They tend to have less control over their schedules and less money to pay a babysitter, so they may struggle to get regular time alone with their spouse. When they find such time, they are more likely to arrive to the conversation feeling emotionally depleted from other stressors, and the topics of discussion--how to stretch the money this month, how to wrangle child care with a demanding work schedule--are often thornier. The evidence is generally supportive of this third explanation: a major reason why the marriages of poorer, less-educated Americans are struggling is that economic realities make it difficult to live up to the new cultural ideal. This struggle is leading many to opt out of marriage altogether and, for those who opt in, to make the path to marital success more challenging.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 AM


How Trumpism Actually Made Americans More Favorable Toward Immigrants: The more the president decries immigration, the more Americans support it (Brendan Nyhan, Oct 26, 2018, Medium)

Strikingly, however, public opinion data suggest that Trump has failed to convince the public on immigration and has even helped to turn the public against his positions -- an effect that may grow stronger as his anti-immigration campaign intensifies.

The evidence suggests Trump has failed to convince most Americans to support his views on immigration. Since he took office, for instance, the number of Americans who say immigration is a good thing for the country has reached record highs in Gallup polls. The increase is expectedly most pronounced among Democrats, who typically react negatively to positions that Trump takes, but it's also noticeable among Republicans. Similarly, he is proposing immigration restrictions that a majority of Americans oppose. Polling shows that approximately six in 10 Americans are against building a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a figure that has been stable since fall 2016, and approximately seven in 10 support allowing undocumented residents to stay and apply for citizenship.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


The question Trump's border wall speech didn't answer: Why now? (Philip Klein, January 08, 2019, Washington Examiner)

He's been president for nearly two years, and up until last week, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. At any point during that two years, Republicans could have passed a bill to fund the border wall, and he could have gotten at least $5.6 billion.

Republicans were ready to use the reconciliation process, allowing the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, to repeal and replace Obamacare. They successfully used the procedure to pass a massive tax cut. They certainly could have found a way to use it to put some money into building a border wall had Trump actually fought for it earlier in his administration.

In 2017, Trump had just won the presidency and building a wall was a significant part of his platform. At the time, he had significant political capital among Republicans, who would have been reticent to defy him on such a central issue.

Instead, he waited until now to make a firm stand, at a time when his party just lost control of the House and he has zero leverage over Democrats, whose base expects maximum resistance.

There are many possible explanations for why Trump waited until now to make his stand. But the most straight forward is this is the downside of having an "outsider" president. Trump's supporters loved that he wasn't a typical politician, that he came from a business background, and that he shot from the hip. But translating campaign rhetoric into tangible policy success as president takes a lot more organization, competence, and discipline than Trump has demonstrated. So the most likely outcome of the current shutdown fight is that Trump will end up politically damaged, but with nothing to show for it. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


US Chamber of Commerce demands end to government shutdown (Katelyn Caralle, January 08, 2019, Washington Examiner)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called on President Trump and Congress to reopen the government.

"The shutdown is harming the American people, the business community and the economy," the conservative-leaning group's executive vice president Neil Bradley wrote in a letter Tuesday. 

In the letter, Bradley listed challenges U.S. businesses, companies, and citizens were facing without all the agencies of the federal government being fully operational.

"[T]he adverse consequences of the shutdown are wide and growing," the letter said. Although it did recognize the "broken immigration system" in the U.S., the Chamber said that the situation for American citizens and businesses would only get worse if the shutdown continues.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


REVEALED: How Gulf states hatched plan with Israel to rehabilitate Assad (David Hearst, 8 January 2019, Middle East Eye)

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have hatched a plan with Israel to welcome Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab League to marginalise the regional influence of Turkey and Iran, Middle East Eye can exclusively reveal.

The diplomatic initiative was agreed at a secret meeting held in a Gulf capital last month which was attended by senior intelligence officials from the four countries including Yossi Cohen, the director of Mossad, Gulf sources with knowledge of the meeting have told MEE.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Proud Boy Member Accused of Murdering His Brother With a Sword (Will Sommer, 01.09.19, Daily Beast)

A self-proclaimed member of the far-right Proud Boys group who also believes in the QAnon conspiracy theory allegedly murdered his own brother with a sword.

Prosecutors say Buckey Wolfe, 26, killed his brother in Seattle on Sunday night by stabbing him in the head with a four-foot long sword.

Wolfe, who prosecutors say exhibited signs of mental illness, called police himself after the murder and claimed he thought his brother was a lizard, according to The Seattle Times. When detectives arrived, he reportedly believed they were also lizards. Wolfe has been charged with second-degree murder.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

(SAM) HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM (profanity alert):


Trump's aides fear he has given himself no way out. "The president put himself in a box," the former official in touch with the White House told me. "The problem is there's no endgame. Right now the White House is at a seven on the panic scale. If this thing goes on past the State of the Union they're going to be at an 11." Another prominent Republican close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described Trump's handling of the shutdown as "total f[***]ing chaos."

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, installed in the job just before Christmas, may already be looking at escape routes. Unlike his long-suffering predecessor, John Kelly, Mulvaney has indicated he's prepared to walk away if things go south with the president. "Mick has both eyes open," said a person who spoke with Mulvaney recently. "So far, Trump has been more DIY than ever before. It's a continuation of where things left off with Kelly. Mulvaney is not going to stick around and get ground up." Before Christmas, Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told people that Mulvaney wouldn't last long, according to a person who spoke with Lewandowski. Last night, The New York Times reported Mulvaney is interested in becoming president of the University of South Carolina.

A growing number of Americans blame Trump for shutdown: Reuters-Ipsos poll (Chris Kahn, 1/09/18, Reuters) 

The national opinion poll, which ran from Jan. 1 to Jan. 7, found that 51 percent of adults believe Trump "deserves most of the blame" for the shutdown, which entered its 18th day on Tuesday. That is up 4 percentage points from a similar poll that ran from Dec. 21 to 25.

Another 32 percent blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the poll. 

January 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution (Ferris Jabr, Jan. 9, 2019, NY Times)

A male flame bowerbird is a creature of incandescent beauty. The hue of his plumage transitions seamlessly from molten red to sunshine yellow. But that radiance is not enough to attract a mate. When males of most bowerbird species are ready to begin courting, they set about building the structure for which they are named: an assemblage of twigs shaped into a spire, corridor or hut. They decorate their bowers with scores of colorful objects, like flowers, berries, snail shells or, if they are near an urban area, bottle caps and plastic cutlery. Some bowerbirds even arrange the items in their collection from smallest to largest, forming a walkway that makes themselves and their trinkets all the more striking to a female -- an optical illusion known as forced perspective that humans did not perfect until the 15th century.

Yet even this remarkable exhibition is not sufficient to satisfy a female flame bowerbird. Should a female show initial interest, the male must react immediately. Staring at the female, his pupils swelling and shrinking like a heartbeat, he begins a dance best described as psychotically sultry. He bobs, flutters, puffs his chest. He crouches low and rises slowly, brandishing one wing in front of his head like a magician's cape. Suddenly his whole body convulses like a windup alarm clock. If the female approves, she will copulate with him for two or three seconds. They will never meet again.

The bowerbird defies traditional assumptions about animal behavior. Here is a creature that spends hours meticulously curating a cabinet of wonder, grouping his treasures by color and likeness. Here is a creature that single-beakedly builds something far more sophisticated than many celebrated examples of animal toolmaking; the stripped twigs that chimpanzees use to fish termites from their mounds pale in comparison. The bowerbird's bower, as at least one scientist has argued, is nothing less than art. When you consider every element of his courtship -- the costumes, dance and sculpture -- it evokes a concept beloved by the German composer Richard Wagner: Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, one that blends many different forms and stimulates all the senses.

This extravagance is also an affront to the rules of natural selection. Adaptations are meant to be useful -- that's the whole point -- and the most successful creatures should be the ones best adapted to their particular environments. So what is the evolutionary justification for the bowerbird's ostentatious display? Not only do the bowerbird's colorful feathers and elaborate constructions lack obvious value outside courtship, but they also hinder his survival and general well-being, draining precious calories and making him much more noticeable to predators.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Supreme Court Rejects Mystery Company in Case Linked to Mueller (Greg Stohr, January 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to shield a mystery company from having to provide information in what is believed to be the criminal investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Acting on a sealed request from the company and making no comment, the justices Tuesday declined to block a federal appeals court ruling that apparently favored Mueller. The appeals court upheld daily fines -- revealed Tuesday to be $50,000 a day -- against the company, owned by an unidentified foreign country, for failing to comply with a grand jury subpoena.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Manafort Shared Trump Campaign Data With Russian Associate, Prosecutors Say (Sharon LaFraniere and Kenneth P. Vogel, Jan. 8, 201, NY Times)

Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with an associate tied to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, prosecutors alleged, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

The accusations came to light in a document filed by Mr. Manafort's defense lawyers that was supposed to be partly blacked out but contained a formatting error that accidentally revealed the information. [...]

In one portion of the filing that Mr. Manafort's lawyers tried to redact, they instead also revealed that Mr. Manafort "may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan" with the Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, "on more than one occasion."

Investigators have been questioning witnesses about whether Russia tried to influence the Trump administration to broker a resolution to hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


A bulwark against Trump and Trumpism (Jennifer Rubin, January 8, 2019, Washington Post)

On Monday, that void was filled, at least in part, by a new online news outlet, the Bulwark, featuring many of the Weekly Standard's familiar faces -- Charlie Sykes as editor in chief, Bill Kristol as editor at large, former Weekly Standard writers Jim Swift and Jonathan Last -- but also new writers and new contributors. Judging from Monday's edition, it offers the possibility of a no-holds-barred critique of the right during the Trump era and its less-than intellectually honest apologists. Sykes was good enough to answer a few questions:

Jennifer Rubin: What's the origin and purpose of the Bulwark?

Sykes: The Bulwark isn't going to be The Weekly Standard 2.0, but the murder of the Standard made it urgently necessary to create a home for rational, principled, fact-based center-right voices who were not cowed by Trumpism. We were lucky to get some of the magazine's most talented on-line personnel on board right away. Our mission is to be smart, conservative, non-tribal and to say out loud what too many conservatives only say in private. We also wanted to move quickly because the next few months may prove decisive.

We also intend to have fun and name names. One of our core missions will be to call out the grifters and trolls who've done so much to corrupt conservatism.

The mission of Conservatism today is to differentiate conservatism from the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Pence says Trump's wall claim was 'impression' (Associated Press, January 8, 2019)

Vice President Mike Pence says President Donald Trump's recent claim that his predecessors endorsed his idea of a U.S.-Mexico border wall was an "impression."

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Exclusive: NBCUniversal is slashing even more TV ads (Sara Fischer, 1/09/18, Axios)

NBCUniversal will reduce the number of commercial breaks in prime-time TV shows by more than 20% across all of its networks by 2020. Last year it committed to a 10% reduction in ad breaks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Border wall would do nothing to stop terrorism. And there is no national emergency. (Peter Bergen, 1/08/19, CNN)

Let's start with the fact that there is no terrorism emergency. 2018 saw one of the lowest yearly numbers of jihadist terrorism cases in the United States -- 14 -- since the 9/11 attacks, according to New America, a research institution that tracks terrorism.

While the number of terrorism cases is not an exact proxy for levels of threat, it certainly says something about the scale of the threat and the United States has seen a steep decline in the number of jihadist terrorism cases over the past four years.

This decline tracks with the declining fortunes of ISIS. When it controlled territory the size of the United Kingdom, thousands of Islamist militants joined or attempted to join ISIS, including from the United States. Now the geographical caliphate is almost entirely gone and ISIS recruitment has slowed to a trickle.

In the United States since the 9/11 attacks, 455 jihadist terrorists have been charged or convicted or died before they faced trial. Not one of these terrorists crossed the southern border.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Veselnitskaya, Russian in Trump Tower Meeting, Is Charged in Case That Shows Kremlin Ties (Benjamin Weiser, Jan. 8, 2019, NY Times)

Last April, Ms. Veselnitskaya acknowledged in an interview with NBC News that she was not merely a private lawyer, but a source of information for the Russian prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika.

Now prosecutors say she collaborated clandestinely with that office to write an official letter than benefited her client, the investment firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd., and its owner, Denis P. Katsyv, in the Justice Department's civil fraud case.

For years, Ms. Veselnitskaya has been regarded as a trusted insider and go-to lawyer for the Moscow regional government.

In the fraud case, filed in 2013, the prosecutors in the Southern District accused Prevezon and other defendants of using real estate purchases in New York to launder a small portion of the profits of an elaborate $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. The lawsuit was settled last May on the eve of trial for about $6 million, with Prevezon admitting no fault.

The broader Russian scheme had been uncovered by Sergei L. Magnitsky, the Russian tax lawyer who was imprisoned after exposing the scheme and died in a Moscow jail.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Shamkhani: It is Trump who begs for dialogue with Iran (Tehran Times, January 7, 2019)

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, announced on Monday that the U.S. requested talks with Iran for two times during his recent visit to Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


The Partisans and the Ideologues (PETER SAVODNIK, JANUARY 4, 2019 , Vanity Fair)

If you can't distinguish between Mitch McConnell and Joseph Goebbels, if you're the kind of progressive who thinks free speech is violence, or whiteness is a crime--there are a lot of you out there--the Kremlin social-media mavens have you in their sights. You're the fruit that hangs low.

It's not just the insidious threat of pro-Bernie Sanders memes cooked up in a St. Petersburg basement, or Moscow's fondness for Jill Stein, or the post-election spike in shady, Resistance-ish Twitter accounts like @RogueNASA and @RoguePOTUSStaff. It's the vulnerability in the way the Democratic partisan thinks, which is not that different from the way the Republican partisan thinks, which is not really thinking. It's speaking in tongues. It's faith. The progressive pines for elected representatives one can fall in love with, as if all politicians were not focus-grouped escorts. The partisan can't stomach this tension--one of the reasons, presumably, we've heard so little about Beto O'Rourke's father-in-law being a very rich real-estate developer. (To the true progressive, money is "filthy lucre," and Beto can't be filthy--Beto is . . . Beto.) The partisan--ranty, feverish, fully cocooned--craves simplicity. The partisan, in the end, is not really left or right, but needy, in search of a cartoon god that can impose order--a moral calculus--on one's life. This person is simultaneously dangerous and in danger.

It's important, at this juncture, to distinguish between the partisan and the ideologue. In this country, there used to be a species of human known as the ideologue, one who believed deeply in certain principles (for example, the benevolent power of the re-distributive state, or the moral superiority of free markets). Of course, these people still exist, but their proposals (mostly) feel stale, better suited to the old order--when liberals were champions of free speech and conservatives still trafficked in ideas, when capitalism and democracy were assumed to coexist in harmony, when we weren't so in love with our gadgets, with the hyper-positivism and small-minded concreteness and practicality of the new technology.

The ideologues, alas, have been eclipsed by the partisans, who retain vaguely ideological beliefs, but who are less principled than combative. (Sidenote to all my Bernie Bro bros out there: The happy talk you lapped up way, way back in the faraway land of early 2016, about free college and living wages, was some good old-fashioned ideology. You thought it sounded fresh, because you were born in the 1990s--and because it lacked the partisan guile of the Clintonistas, who would never allow something so quaint as an ideological commitment to get in the way of winning. Hasta la vista, Bernie!) Bottom line: The partisan loves the fight! The partisan craves the Manichaean clash of good and evil. The partisan, naturally, would object to this, but the partisan is basically an idiot.

Our president, who resides in a subterranean alt-reality in which no one is expected to believe in anything except the president, perfectly embodies this transmogrification. 

Image result for new yorker cartoon dogs cats must fail


Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Trump's 'authenticity' is merely moral laziness and cruelty (Michael Gerson, January 7, 2019, Washington Post)

Without intending it, Tlaib and Trump have wandered into an important moral debate. And not a new one. In any ethical system derived from Aristotle, human beings fulfill their nature by exercising their reason and habituating certain virtues, such as courage, temperance, honor, equanimity, truthfulness, justice and friendship. Authenticity -- at least, authenticity defined as congruence with your unformed self -- is not on the list. In fact, this view of ethics requires a kind of virtuous hypocrisy -- modeling ourselves on a moral example, until, through action and habit, we come to embody that ideal. Ethical development is, in a certain way, theatrical. We play the role of someone we admire until we become someone worthy of admiration.

But there is a rival tradition. In any ethical tradition derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, authenticity is at the apex of the virtues. This view begins from the premise that man is born free but is everywhere in social chains. Being true to yourself, and expressing yourself freely, is seen as the chief requirement of a meaningful and happy life. In this system, the worst sin is hypocrisy -- being untrue to your real self.

This approach to ethics is also theatrical, but in a different way. In Rousseau's view, we are performers as ourselves, and life is a kind of transgressive art form. Being true to ourselves means being true to our eccentricities. Especially to our eccentricities.

At the root of the Aristotelian approach is the premise that the human person is originally in need of formation. At the root of the other approach is the premise that the human person is only in need of liberation. This has marked a long-standing difference between right and left, with conservatism often on the side of character building and progressivism often on the side of personal expression. But with Trump, something remarkable has happened: The right is increasingly on Rousseau's side as well.

This view of ethics is a perfect philosophic fit for the president's narcissism. 

Morality is the war on human nature.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


More TSA Agents Are Calling Out Sick as Shutdown Forces Them to Work Without Pay (DANIEL POLITI, JAN 05, 2019, Slate)

Transportation Security Administration officers are increasingly calling out sick ever since the partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22 and forced personnel to work without pay. CNN was first to report the story, saying that hundreds of TSA officers called out sick from work this past week. One source even called it a "blue flu," in reference to the blue shirts that the security officers who check bags at airports wear. "This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect," Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN.

Some of the numbers are staggering. More than 150 TSA employees called out sick on Friday morning at Kennedy International Airport in New York, reports the New York Times. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the number of TSA officers who are calling out sick has increased by 200 to 300 percent, according to CNN.

...it can at least demonstrate what a waste most of TSA and ICE are.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


A Qualified Defense of the Barr Memo: Part I (Jack Goldsmith, January 4, 2019, LawFare)

As Barr says:

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding's truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction. Indeed, the acts of obstruction alleged against Presidents Nixon and Clinton in their respective impeachments were all such "bad acts" involving the impairment of evidence. Enforcing these laws against the President in no way infringes on the President's plenary power over law enforcement because exercising this discretion--such as his complete authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding--does not involve commission of any of these inherently wrongful, subversive acts.

This is a broad statement about presidential exposure to criminal obstruction of justice. As Marcy Wheeler has noted, and as I explain further below, this statement holds potential peril for Trump. Wheeler thinks that Trump has suborned false statements from former national security adviser Michael Flynn that, under Barr's theory, counts as obstruction of justice. She may be right--the answer is not yet clear. The point for now is that Barr's memo in no way rules out this conclusion and, indeed, invites it, depending on the facts--which Barr concedes he does not know. This shows that Barr has not, as Hemel and Posner allege, "made up his mind about the investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


To Keep Medicare for All at Bay, Offer a Better Alternative (James C. Capretta, 1/07/19, RealClearPolicy)

But do opponents of government-run health care have a competing vision for improving the health system? Because, over the long run, it may not be enough just to be against government-run health care if the public perceives the alternative as inadequate, and, currently, there is widespread agreement that the status quo is inadequate. The provision of medical care remains far too costly. Waste is rampant. Administrative costs are high. The system is fragmented and uncoordinated, the paperwork is maddening, and the quality of care provided to patients is uneven. The persistence of these problems over many years is a major reason why the U.S. has been on a steady march toward greater government control of the health system, even without a full embrace of a nationalized plan. [...]

Market-driven health care requires different reforms. First, the tax preference for employer-provided health care needs to be limited, to give both employers and workers stronger incentives to seek out lower cost and higher value insurance and medical care. It is estimated that the current open-ended tax break increases the cost of employer coverage by 35 percent. The ACA's Cadillac tax is an imperfect answer to this problem, but it is better than nothing. Unfortunately, Republicans have been leading the effort to repeal the tax without replacing it with a better alternative. If the GOP is serious about a market-driven health system (and that's a big "if"), it must change course and embrace some version of a limit on the tax break for job-based coverage. That's the surest way to bring new cost discipline to the system, which will mean lower costs for patients.

A second critical change is transformation of Medicare into a premium support program. Beneficiaries would select their insurance coverage from competing plans, including the traditional, government-run fee-for-service option. Beneficiaries choosing more expensive options would pay for the higher premiums with their own money. Those selecting less costly options would keep 100 percent of the savings. This design would ensure the insurance plans would compete vigorously with each other to keep their premiums as low as possible. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that a certain specification of this reform would lower costs both for the Medicare program and for the beneficiaries.

Beyond these major adjustments, the role of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) needs to be updated, to allow them to become more effective instruments of consumer-driven health care. Among other things, HSA enrollees should be allowed to use their accounts to pay for  primary care using a monthly fee model instead of fee-for-service. Further, there needs to be an effort to make the suppliers of common medical interventions compete with other on the prices they charge by allowing all HSA enrollees to pay posted prices for these services.

The important thing about a universal HSA/catastrophic regime is that it would return us to growing the Ownership Society and Anglospheric elections are won by Third Way parties.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Kamala Harris readies her 2020 rollout: A book tour and a flurry of TV appearances enable the California senator to launch a campaign on her own terms. (CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO,  01/07/2019, Politico)

In October, Harris visited Iowa, South Carolina and Wisconsin, but it was to campaign for Democratic candidates ahead of the midterm elections. This week's soft launch enables her to reveal -- on her own terms and at length -- more about her backstory as the child of immigrants who were civil rights activists.

The senator's book is not a traditional memoir, but according to her publisher, "a book about the core truths that unite us, and the long struggle to discern what those truths are and how best to act upon them, in her own life and across the life of our country."

Those truths guide her thinking "on issues ranging from health care and the new economy to immigration, national security, the opioid crisis, and accelerating inequality" -- all elements of Harris' speeches since ascending to the Senate.

The intent is to draw a contrast with Donald Trump by presenting her credentials as a tough, fact-based prosecutor against a factually challenged president who has been under a legal cloud for much of his presidency.

Harris isn't likely to follow the book tour with the creation of a presidential exploratory committee, according to three people familiar with Harris' thinking. Their expectation, if she runs, is that the senator would simply launch the formal campaign, which would be led by key staffers from her 2016 Senate run.

...but does she have the political nous to run as the reassurance candidate?

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Revisiting the Trump-Russia dossier: What's right, wrong and still unclear? (Marshall Cohen and Jeremy Herb, 1/08/19, CNN)

Russian meddling in the 2016 election

While Trump and his supporters have seized on the most salacious, uncorroborated claims to discredit the dossier as a "pile of garbage," much of Steele's memos focused on Russia's role interfering in the 2016 election. Steele's intelligence memos detail a pattern and preference for Trump that have since been confirmed by the US intelligence community and indictments against Russians brought by Mueller's investigation.

Steele, a former MI6 intelligence operative, has a history of working with US agencies, including the FBI, and helped with the corruption investigation into FIFA, the world soccer governing body. Steele's dossier eventually made its way to the FBI, which cross-referenced Steele's work with its own burgeoning investigation into Russian meddling.

Written in the midst of the campaign, Steele's memos contained allegations that Russia was waging a broad effort to interfere, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the effort, motivated by his "fear and hatred" of Clinton. That assertion is now accepted as fact by the US intelligence community and Trump's handpicked intelligence leaders, though Trump himself has refused to unequivocally accept the conclusion that Putin was trying to help him.

Even Putin has seemingly endorsed the conclusion that he favored Trump's candidacy. Asked during his summit with Trump last year in Helsinki, Finland, if he wanted Trump to win the election, Putin responded: "Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal."

The dossier said that the hacks against Democrats, which were publicly released by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, were part of a wider Russian hacking effort. That has since been confirmed in Mueller's court filings, and last year, the special counsel indicted a dozen Russian intelligence agents in connection with the hacks.

The dossier also noted efforts from the Russian government to exploit political divisions within the US and the Democratic Party after the bruising primary fight between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. A separate Mueller indictment dealt with disinformation efforts by a Kremlin-linked troll farm that played on those divisions. Since the 2016 election, social media companies have pulled thousands of accounts tied to Russia.

Trump's real estate dealings in Russia

The dossier claimed that the Russians tried to influence Trump by offering him "sweetener" real estate deals, in hopes of drawing him closer to Moscow. The specific details about these purported deals haven't been corroborated, but the dossier said Trump declined these offers.

Throughout the campaign, Trump said he had "nothing to do with Russia." When the dossier was first published, there wasn't any indication that Trump's company was involved in Russia beyond the Miss Universe pageant that he hosted in Moscow in 2013.

But it recently became public knowledge that Trump pursued a lucrative project in Moscow deep into the 2016 campaign, and that his then-attorney Michael Cohen sought help from the Kremlin to move the project along. Cohen admitted these shocking details when he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow proposal, which never came to fruition.

Steele's sources were right that Trump had recently explored business dealings in Russia. And his suggestion that it could be linked to the election has also been made by Mueller's team. In court fillings, the special counsel said that the proposal "likely required" help from the Kremlin and highlighted how it overlapped with "sustained efforts" by the Russians to influence the election.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Eminent Domain, Emergency Powers, and Trump's Wall (Ilya Somin, Jan. 7, 2019, Reason)

If Trump is able to overcome legal obstacles and use an emergency declaration to secure funds for the wall without congressional authorization and use eminent domain to seize the land he needs, conservatives are likely to have good reason to regret the precedent it would set. The same powers could easily be used by the next Democratic president for purposes that the right would hate.

Consider a scenario where Elizabeth Warren wins the presidency in 2020, but Republicans in Congress refuse to allocate funds she claims are necessary to combat climate change and institute the gigantic "Green New Deal" program many progressives advocate. President Warren could then declare climate change to be a "national emergency" and start reallocating various military and civilian funds to build all kinds of "green" construction projects. She could declare that climate change is a threat to national security, and use the Army Corps of Engineers and other military agencies to participate in the project.

Indeed, the claim that climate change is a menace to national security is at least as plausible as the claim that undocumented immigrants on the Mexican border are. The Obama Administration Department of Defense even published a report on the subject in 2014. And, of course, if President Warren decides she needs to seize some private property to carry out her plans, she could cite the Trump precedent to use eminent domain for that purpose. This is just one of many ways in which liberal Democrats could exploit the sorts of powers Trump claims here. It would not be difficult to imagine others.

Both Democrats and Republicans often fail to consider the long-term effects of presidential power-grabs they support when their party occupies the White House. 

It would be tied up in court until he's just a bad memory.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Trump wages intense but lonely campaign for his border wall (ELIANA JOHNSON, 01/07/2019, Politico)

Fighting a virtual one-man messaging battle for his border wall, President Donald Trump is growing frustrated that he doesn't have more public defenders in his shutdown fight with Congressional Democrats.

Dude, it's not actually a thing.  Your aides were just messing with you.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


A Tale of Conflict and Disagreement (David Biale, JANUARY 7, 2019, LA Review of Books)

IN THE WAKE of the October 2018 massacre of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the place of Jews and Judaism in the United States has suddenly come into sharp relief. In particular, the awkward attempt of political and religious leaders in Israel to express their solidarity only highlighted how different American Jews are from their Israeli cousins. So, for example, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel refused to call the site of the murders a synagogue because the worshipers were either Conservative or Reconstructionist Jews rather than Orthodox. And Israel's Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, tried to tie the crime of the White Nationalist shooter to the rockets that Hamas in Gaza regularly shoots at the south of Israel. As if all hatred of Jews is the same.

What also became clear after the Pittsburgh murders is how American Jews as a whole are defined by a commitment to social justice. The murderer was incensed by the work of HIAS, the Jewish immigrant aid society, in resettling refugees and immigrants (never mind that there are eight other non-Jewish agencies funded by the federal government to engage in the same work). This was a charge to which many in the synagogue would no doubt plead guilty.

Steven Weisman's The Chosen Wars offers a nuanced analysis of how this American Judaism arose and how it came to define Jews in the United States. Weisman's focus is on the early history of American Jews, with a particular emphasis on the 19th century. He pays relatively little attention to the period of mass migration from Eastern Europe, starting in the 1880s and lasting until the 1924 restrictive immigration law. Although he does not say so explicitly, Weisman seems to hold that the institutions created by Sephardic and German Jewish immigrants before the East-European influx were the ones that persisted into the present day. Said differently, the new immigrants from Eastern Europe, who would vastly out-number earlier Jewish immigrants, ultimately came to accept the Judaism that those earlier American Jews created. [...]

In 1885, a conference of rabbis issued the "Pittsburgh Platform," the would-be constitution for classical Reform Judaism. This was not a declaration of independence for American Judaism tout court, as Wise had envisioned, but instead, says Weisman, a "declaration of war." The result was not unity, but the rise of Conservative Judaism, a more traditionalist compromise and of new forms of Orthodoxy as well.

The prevailing belief of Reform Jews was that while revelation may not have been divine, the Jews nevertheless had a divine mission, which was tikkun olam (social justice), the Jewish equivalent of the social gospel of late-19th-century Christianity. In the formulation of the Reform leader Kaufmann Kohler, who was influenced by Charles Darwin, the Jews are the most morally fit people, a product of divine natural selection. As Arnold Eisen showed many years ago, American Jewish thinkers like Kohler were able to transform the old idea of the Jews as a chosen people into a uniquely American doctrine.

January 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


We tried cooking the new Impossible Burger: The meatless burger that bleeds has a new, even more convincing formula-and will soon be sold in supermarkets, not just restaurants. We took it for a spin in the kitchen. (ADELE PETERS, 1/07/19, Fast Company)

"If you had lied to me and told me this was store-bought ground beef, I would have believed you." So says my friend John as we stand in his kitchen, experimenting with the newly revamped Impossible Burger, which will begin to show up in some restaurants this week. Later this year, the plant-based burger will also be available in grocery stores for the first time. [...]

The new version, the first to be released since the burger was first sold in restaurants in 2016, has better nutrition, with less fat and sodium than the previous recipe. It has as much iron and high-quality protein as a comparable serving from an animal but fewer calories and no cholesterol.

"We're a little tight-lipped about our IP, but it all has to do with the nearly seven and a half years we spent determining what makes meat perform, from raw to cooked, like meat," says Lee. "Not just in terms of its taste, but how it smells, how it sizzles, ultimately even how it looks." The startup considers itself a technology company; the new product is launching at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show.

In John's kitchen, we start with a burger. The raw patty looks like beef. In a cast iron pan, it sounds like any burger frying. Like beef, the color changes from pink to brown as it sizzles. The finished burger has a nice sear; inside, it still looks a little rare. "It tastes right," John says.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


Trump struggles to replace Mattis as Pentagon chief (ELIANA JOHNSON and DANIEL LIPPMAN, 01/07/2019. Politico)

Jon Kyl, the retired Arizona Republican senator, became the second person to wave off Trump's overtures last week, telling the White House he is not interested in the job. Ret. Gen. Jack Keane also turned down the job shortly after Mattis' resignation. (Keane, who frequently advises Trump, had refused the position once before, during the 2016 presidential transition.)

The refusals are particularly striking given that the top Pentagon job is historically among the Cabinet's most prestigious and powerful, and coveted by national security veterans. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


House GOP leaders fear support eroding for Trump's shutdown fight (JOHN BRESNAHAN and SARAH FERRIS, 01/07/2019, Politico)

Several dozen House Republicans might cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government, spurring the White House into a dramatic effort to stem potential GOP defections.

White House officials and Republican congressional leaders worry that GOP support for the shutdown is eroding, weakening President Donald Trump's hand as he seeks billions of dollars for a border wall that Democrats have vowed to oppose, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Trump-appointed judge defends Mueller, scolds lawyer for Russian firm (Charlie Gile and Rich Schapiro, 1/07/19, NBC News)

A federal judge on Monday defended special counsel Robert Mueller while delivering a scathing denunciation of a lawyer for a Russian company charged with meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The confrontation took place inside a Washington courtroom where Judge Dabney Friedrich scolded Eric Dubelier, the attorney for Concord Management, over a recent court filing.

"I thought your brief was inappropriate and unprofessional and ineffective," Friedrich told Dubelier. "You have undermined your credibility in this courthouse."

"Knock it off," added Friedrich.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?: Permitting pot is one thing; promoting its use is another. (Malcolm Gladwell, 1/07/19, The New Yorker)

Berenson, in his role as devil's advocate, emphasizes the research that sees cannabis as opening the door to opioid use. For example, two studies of identical twins--in the Netherlands and in Australia--show that, in cases where one twin used cannabis before the age of seventeen and the other didn't, the cannabis user was several times more likely to develop an addiction to opioids. Berenson also enlists a statistician at N.Y.U. to help him sort through state-level overdose data, and what he finds is not encouraging: "States where more people used cannabis tended to have more overdoses."

The National Academy panel is more judicious. Its conclusion is that we simply don't know enough, because there haven't been any "systematic" studies. But the panel's uncertainty is scarcely more reassuring than Berenson's alarmism. Seventy-two thousand Americans died in 2017 of drug overdoses. Should you embark on a pro-cannabis crusade without knowing whether it will add to or subtract from that number?

Drug policy is always clearest at the fringes. Illegal opioids are at one end. They are dangerous. Manufacturers and distributors belong in prison, and users belong in drug-treatment programs. The cannabis industry would have us believe that its product, like coffee, belongs at the other end of the continuum. "Flow Kana partners with independent multi-generational farmers who cultivate under full sun, sustainably, and in small batches," the promotional literature for one California cannabis brand reads. "Using only organic methods, these stewards of the land have spent their lives balancing a unique and harmonious relationship between the farm, the genetics and the terroir." But cannabis is not coffee. It's somewhere in the middle. The experience of most users is relatively benign and predictable; the experience of a few, at the margins, is not. Products or behaviors that have that kind of muddled risk profile are confusing, because it is very difficult for those in the benign middle to appreciate the experiences of those at the statistical tails. Low-frequency risks also take longer and are far harder to quantify, and the lesson of "Tell Your Children" and the National Academy report is that we aren't yet in a position to do so. For the moment, cannabis probably belongs in the category of substances that society permits but simultaneously discourages. Cigarettes are heavily taxed, and smoking is prohibited in most workplaces and public spaces. Alcohol can't be sold without a license and is kept out of the hands of children. Prescription drugs have rules about dosages, labels that describe their risks, and policies that govern their availability. The advice that seasoned potheads sometimes give new users--"start low and go slow"--is probably good advice for society as a whole, at least until we better understand what we are dealing with.

Late last year, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, announced a federal crackdown on e-cigarettes. He had seen the data on soaring use among teen-agers, and, he said, "it shocked my conscience." He announced that the F.D.A. would ban many kinds of flavored e-cigarettes, which are especially popular with teens, and would restrict the retail outlets where e-cigarettes were available.

In the dozen years since e-cigarettes were introduced into the marketplace, they have attracted an enormous amount of attention. There are scores of studies and papers on the subject in the medical and legal literature, grappling with the questions raised by the new technology. Vaping is clearly popular among kids. Is it a gateway to traditional tobacco use? Some public-health experts worry that we're grooming a younger generation for a lifetime of dangerous addiction. Yet other people see e-cigarettes as a much safer alternative for adult smokers looking to satisfy their nicotine addiction. That's the British perspective. Last year, a Parliamentary committee recommended cutting taxes on e-cigarettes and allowing vaping in areas where it had previously been banned. Since e-cigarettes are as much as ninety-five per cent less harmful than regular cigarettes, the committee argued, why not promote them? Gottlieb said that he was splitting the difference between the two positions--giving adults "opportunities to transition to non-combustible products," while upholding the F.D.A.'s "solemn mandate to make nicotine products less accessible and less appealing to children." He was immediately criticized.

"Somehow, we have completely lost all sense of public-health perspective," Michael Siegel, a public-health researcher at Boston University, wrote after the F.D.A. announcement:

Every argument that the F.D.A. is making in justifying a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations applies even more strongly for real tobacco cigarettes: you know, the ones that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Something is terribly wrong with our sense of perspective when we take the e-cigarettes off the shelf but allow the old-fashioned ones to remain.

Among members of the public-health community, it is impossible to spend five minutes on the e-cigarette question without getting into an argument. And this is nicotine they are arguing about, a drug that has been exhaustively studied by generations of scientists. We don't worry that e-cigarettes increase the number of fatal car accidents, diminish motivation and cognition, or impair academic achievement. The drugs through the gateway that we worry about with e-cigarettes are Marlboros, not opioids. There are no enormous scientific question marks over nicotine's dosing and bio-availability. Yet we still proceed cautiously and carefully with nicotine, because it is a powerful drug, and when powerful drugs are consumed by lots of people in new and untested ways we have an obligation to try to figure out what will happen.

A week after Gottlieb announced his crackdown on e-cigarettes, on the ground that they are too enticing to children, Siegel visited the first recreational-marijuana facility in Massachusetts. Here is what he found on the menu, each offering laced with large amounts of a drug, THC, that no one knows much about:

Strawberry-flavored chewy bites
Large, citrus gummy bears
Delectable Belgian dark chocolate bars
Assorted fruit-flavored chews
Assorted fruit-flavored cubes
Raspberry flavored confection
Raspberry flavored lozenges
Chewy, cocoa caramel bite-sized treats
Raspberry & watermelon flavored lozenges
Chocolate-chip brownies.

He concludes, "This is public health in 2018?"

Health issues provide perfect cover for puritanism.
Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Rival fiefdoms emerge in scramble over Trump's Syria withdrawal (Laura Rozen, January 7, 2019, Al Monitor)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asserted, in both internal briefings and public interviews, that Trump's instructions are clear and the troops are coming out, while saying the administration's overall goals for the region have not changed. Meanwhile, national security adviser John Bolton, currently traveling in Israel and Turkey with a press pool in tow, has said any US withdrawal from Syria will be conditions-based, and won't occur until the so-called Islamic State in Syria (IS or ISIS) is fully defeated and unless Turkey guarantees protection for Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers terrorists. [...]

"My understanding is Bolton is maximally interpreting his brief -- and is attempting to present Trump with a false choice," Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Al-Monitor today. "Leave and it's chaos vs. stay in a different way and things will be fine."

"I think Bolton will lose because, once again, his actions are at odds with the directives of his boss," Stein continued. "Trump wanted US forces out within 30 days, but has accepted the military's recommendation to leave over the next four months. This suggests US forces will be gone in 2019."

"The danger, I think, is that in the absence of a hard plan, you get competing fiefdoms," Stein added. "Bolton and [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey are probably broadly aligned on the need to stage manage the exit, but Jeffrey would never have signaled to Ankara in the way Bolton did. I'm sure Jim is going to have an awful time in Ankara because of things someone else said."

Bolton's comments over the weekend on an entirely conditions-based withdrawal from Syria seem out of step with Trump's instructions, former State Department official Amanda Sloat said.

"I was surprised to see Bolton's comments in the press, which seemingly return to the old strategy -- defeat ISIS, counter Iran and diplomatically end the civil war," Sloat, now with the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor. "Trump's tweet this morning suggests he is doubling down on his desire to withdraw and doesn't want to look managed by his staff.

"These disjointed messages reflect the lack of a real policy process inside the government," Sloat continued. "Instead, we have decision-making by presidential tweet or pronouncement followed by advisers scrambling to implement Trump's guidance in a more rational way. If nothing else, it makes it hard for local actors to trust what Trump's envoys are telling them when they know it could be undermined by the president."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The "skills gap" was a lie (Matthew Yglesias, Jan 7, 2019, Vox)

Five or six years ago, everyone from the US Chamber of Commerce to the Obama White House was talking about a "skills gap."

The theory here was that high unemployment reflected a structural shift in the labor market such that jobs were available, but workers simply didn't have the right education or training for them. Harvard Business Review ran articles about this -- including articles rebutting people who said the "skills gap" didn't exist -- and big companies like Siemens ran paid sponsor content in the Atlantic explaining how to fix the skills gap.

But nothing was really done to transform the American education system, and no enormous investment was made in retraining unemployed workers. And yet the unemployment rate kept steadily falling in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 as continued low interest rates from the Federal Reserve let a demand-side recovery continue. Donald Trump became president, injected a bunch of new fiscal stimulus on both the spending and tax sides, and in 2017 and 2018 the unemployment rate kept falling and the labor force participation rate kept rising.

Now along comes a new paper from Alicia Sasser Modestino, Daniel Shoag, and Joshua Ballance presented this week at the American Economics Association's annual conference that shows the skeptics were right all along -- employers responded to high unemployment by making their job descriptions more stringent. When unemployment went down thanks to the demand-side recovery, suddenly employers got more relaxed again.

Of course, the important point is that there is no education crisis.
Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Sotomayor and Gorsuch Resume Their Fight for the Future of the Sixth Amendment (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 07, 2019, Slate)

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch are on a mission to restore criminal defendants' constitutional rights. In November, the two justices teamed up to champion Sixth Amendment safeguards against notoriously flawed forensic analysis. Weeks later, they came together to attack policing for profit, endorsing Eighth Amendment protections against civil forfeiture. And on Monday, the two joined forces once again to stick up for the right to a trial by jury when the government seeks to impose crippling fines in the form of criminal restitution.

It's no surprise that Sotomayor and Gorsuch are emerging as the court's staunchest defenders of the Sixth Amendment. Sotomayor is a crusader for the rights of the accused and views government overreach through the lens of social justice. Gorsuch is a libertarian skeptic of state power who sees juries as a bulwark against tyranny. (For what it's worth, so did John Adams, who called representative government and trial by jury "the heart and lungs of liberty.") The two justices may disagree on much. But it's perfectly logical that they'd unite to stick up for defendants who demand that a jury--not a judge--decide the facts that justify criminal penalties.

The case in question, Hester v. United States, should be an easy one. In 2000's Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must prove any fact that increases the maximum sentence for a crime to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This rule is quite sensible and tracks the Framers' understanding of the Sixth Amendment. After all, if a judge can unilaterally increase a sentence by finding facts not proved to the jury, then the Constitution's guarantee of a trial by jury is rendered meaningless. In 2012's Southern Union Company v. United States, the court extended Apprendi to criminal fines, holding that any fact that increases a maximum fine must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


How AOC Owns the Cons (RACHAEL LARIMORE, JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

One of the #MAGA crowd's favorite pastimes, aside from twisting themselves into logic pretzels to defend and celebrate Donald Trump, is to cackle about how easily the snowflakes are triggered. Nothing feels as good as owning the libs.

Which is why it's almost amusing to see the same people who mock others' outrage freak out every time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist and newly elected House member from the Bronx, does something interesting or, dare we say, even entertaining.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Half of the people who think they have food allergies actually don't (Sara Chodosh, 1/07/19, Popular Science)

Even though common wisdom holds that allergies of all kinds have been on the rise in recent years, researchers actually have very little data on allergies in adults since many of them never get diagnosed by a physician. Some studies have attempted to use hospitalization data as a proxy, but that only picks up people with sufficiently serious allergies to go to the ER for anaphylaxis. Another study used data from NHANES, a massive national survey study that occurs every few years, to look at actual blood test results.

This new study, out last week in the journal JAMA Network Open, took a far broader approach, and focused solely on food allergies: Researchers based out of Northwestern University surveyed some 40,443 American adults and asked them a series of questions designed to figure out how many people actually had food allergies versus how many just thought they did. What they found? Although one in five people surveyed reported having an allergy, only about one in 10 actually does.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Trump, Weaker Than People Realize (David Leonhardt, Jan. 7, 2019, NY Times)

In his recent book on the history of impeachment, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein asks readers to do a mental exercise. When thinking about the impeachment of a given president, imagine that he was a member of your political party, Sunstein suggests. In that case, would you still support impeaching him?

Here is the basic evidence about our current president:

1. He has accepted money from foreign governments, used the presidency to promote his businesses and hidden his personal finances from the American people.

2. He directed a criminal campaign-finance violation scheme, in the final month of the presidential campaign, and lied to the American people about it.

3. He pressured Justice Department officials to go easy on an investigation into the president himself and his campaign.

4. He attempted to undermine the credibility of multiple checks and balances on the executive branch, including the justice system, the press, the electoral system and the Central Intelligence Agency.

No other president, Republican or Democrat, has ever behaved as Donald Trump has. I think Americans, regardless of party, should come to see that he is unfit for the office and is damaging the country.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Netanyahu's TV broadcast: Rather desperate, and ultimately irrelevant  (David Horovitz, 1/07/19, Times of Israel)

The Benjamin Netanyahu who addressed a large proportion of Israel's voters on Monday night -- his appearance at the start of the night's main TV news broadcasts was estimated to garner a 40 percent rating -- was a prime minister rattled and fighting for his life. Not his political life, in the narrow definition: he looks set, for now, to win re-election in April. But his long-term career -- his capacity to continue to hold office before, during, and after those elections, and to depart the scene at a time of his choosing.

Throughout the course of the three investigations of corruption against him, carried out by the police under the close oversight of the state prosecution and the attorney general, Netanyahu has repeated the mantra that "there is nothing" to the allegations, and that therefore "there will be nothing" to hold against him when the evidence is weighed. But in the last few days, indications have been multiplying that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit -- the official who has to decide whether to indict him -- is concluding that, actually, there is something.

Instead of closing the cases, as Netanyahu would have hoped he would, and still hopes he will -- Mandelblit has reportedly consulted with veteran legal officials about the propriety of announcing an intention to indict, subject to a hearing, in the course of an election campaign. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Case Closed: The Justice Department Won't Stand Behind its Report on Immigrants and Terrorism (Benjamin Wittes, January 7, 2019, LawFare)

Don't look now, but the United States Department of Justice just came perilously close to admitting that it engaged in disinformation about immigrants and terrorism in a formal government report.

I say perilously close, because the department did not quite admit it; in fact, the letter sent to a group of people, including me, who had raised concerns about a report the Justice Department published last January, announces that the department has concluded that "the Report should not be withdrawn or corrected."

But the letter, sent to us by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael H. Allen, also concedes that "the Report could be criticized by some readers, consistent with some of the concerns presented," and promises that the department will follow the "principles" of an obscure law known as the Information Quality Act better "in issuing future reports ... to better present such information to the public." This is about as close as the Trump administration is going to get to admitting that it used a formal government report to distort data to slime Muslims and immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Two Months: A lot has changed since Election Day. (WILLIAM KRISTOL  JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

Two months ago, on the morning of Tuesday, November 6, 2018, Republicans easily controlled the House of Representatives and held two-thirds of all governors' mansions. The Dow Jones average stood at 25,461. The Trump administration had retired four-star generals James Mattis as secretary of defense and John Kelly as chief-of-staff. Former senator Jeff Sessions was the attorney general, and the president had been relatively disciplined (if demagogic) on the campaign trail.

Today, two months later, Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House, and more Americans have a Democratic governor than a Republican one. The Dow Jones average has fallen about 10 percent. The Trump administration features a chief-of-staff who was a backbench congressman, a secretary of defense with no military or foreign policy experience, and an acting attorney general who hasn't been (and could not be) confirmed by the Senate. The president is in an obvious state of meltdown just as the guardrails have disappeared.

Furthermore, the most prominent incoming Republican senator has gone out of his way to say that the president hasn't risen to the occasion of the presidency and may well lack the character ever to do so.

And a large part of the federal government is shutdown in a way that has damaged the president's credibility among Republicans on the Hill and that is unlikely to end well for him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Posing as Prohibitionists, 2nd Effort Used Online Fakery in Alabama Race (Scott Shane and Alan Blinder, Jan. 7, 2019, NY Times)

The "Dry Alabama" Facebook page, illustrated with stark images of car wrecks and videos of families ruined by drink, had a blunt message: Alcohol is the devil's work, and the state should ban it entirely.

Along with a companion Twitter feed, the Facebook page appeared to be the work of Baptist teetotalers who supported the Republican, Roy S. Moore, in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. "Pray for Roy Moore," one tweet exhorted.

In fact, the Dry Alabama campaign, not previously reported, was the stealth creation of progressive Democrats who were out to defeat Mr. Moore -- the second such secret effort to be unmasked. In a political bank shot made in the last two weeks of the campaign, they thought associating Mr. Moore with calls for a statewide alcohol ban would hurt him with moderate, business-oriented Republicans and assist the Democrat, Doug Jones, who won the special election by a hair-thin margin.

Matt Osborne, a veteran progressive activist who worked on the project, said he hoped that such deceptive tactics would someday be banned from American politics. But in the meantime, he said, he believes that Republicans are using such trickery and that Democrats cannot unilaterally give it up.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM



Russia chose Donald Trump as the U.S. presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency, according to a former agent of the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad.

"Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 U.S. presidential race and asked, 'Which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?' And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president," former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told the audience at the Marker's digital conference in Israel on Monday, where experts gathered to discuss online disinformation campaigns and bots.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Hamas has a positive legacy with Christians but it faces a serious test (Dr Adnan Abu Amer, January 7, 2019, Middle East Monitor)

Hamas has a positive legacy of good relations with Palestinian Christians. The head of the movement's Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, and a delegation of senior officials visited the Latin Monastery in Gaza City recently to wish Palestinian Christians compliments of the season. He stressed the strong relationship between Muslim and Christian Palestinians, as one nation belonging to one country and with one cause. There is, stressed Haniyeh, a deep historical relationship between them.

When a presenter on Hamas-controlled Aqsa TV used the term "Christian community" in reference to dealing with Palestinian Christians as a minority, the movement believed that this emphasised a non-existent issue. Attempts to create difficulties for Hamas were contrived, as the term carries no negative connotations.

It is estimated that there are 1,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, out of a total population of two million. Seventy per cent of them are Greek Orthodox; the rest are Roman Catholics.

The official position of Hamas on Christians can be read from the point of view that, since its foundation in the 1980s, its relationship with Palestinian Christians distinguishes only between "those who lived with us, who have what we have and receive what we receive, and those who participate in Western attacks against us." The movement's founding charter, written in 1988, stated that Hamas "adheres to the permissibility of Islam with regards to followers of other religions. It is not hostile towards them, except those who fight it. According to Islam, followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism coexist in security and safety."

In the political document issued in mid-2017, Hamas asserted that, "The Palestinian people, with all their religious and cultural components, are one and believe that Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance. Palestine was and will remain a model of coexistence and tolerance and Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, including all of its Muslim and Christian sanctities."

In addition, Hamas has always included Christian holidays and religious events in its statements and activities, and officials have participated when possible. When strikes were called which coincided with a Christian celebration, then the strikes were switched to another date. This happened on several occasions during the First and Second Intifadas. Moreover, the movement has made sure to include Christians in Palestinian political life, maintained open relations with religious leaders, and had them on their side in national matters. The position taken by Palestinian Roman Catholic priest Father Manuel Musallam, for example, indicates the strong relationship that he has with Hamas.

"Hamas deals with its Christian brothers as a major component of the nation and an active player in the struggle against the occupation," explained the former head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khalid Meshaal. "It does not differentiate between Muslims and Christians in these matters, as we are partners in our homeland and everyone has rights and responsibilities."

When pro-Hamas candidates stood on the Change and Reform electoral list in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, they called for "respect for the rights of all on the basis of citizenship, and to maintain the Palestinian Muslim and Christian Awqaf [religious endowments], alongside justice and equality of opportunity for all citizens in recruitment, employment and promotion."

In practical terms, Hamas does not formulate its position on Christians and even Jews based on their respective views and beliefs, but on their stance on what the Palestinian people are exposed to. This stems from the reaction to aggression, not religious beliefs, which has paved the way throughout the long history of Palestine to good relations between Muslims and Christians across Palestine in general, and the Gaza Strip in particular.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


What Romney Exposed About Late-Stage Trumpism: For some reason, Trump supporters get angry when critics discuss the president's character. (CHARLES SYKES  JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

Roger Kimball has heroically taken up Jonah Goldberg's challenge to "come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear."

I use the term "heroically," advisedly because Kimball brings to the task all of his formidable intellectual and rhetorical skills, including the use of original Greek, quotes from Voltaire, and commentary from Cardinal Newman.

In his book The Grammar of Assent, Newman devotes some interesting pages to Aristotle's concept of φρόνησις, "prudence." "Properly speaking," Newman says, "there are as many kinds of phronesis as there are virtues: for the judgment, good sense, or tact which is conspicuous in a man's conduct in one subject-matter, is not necessarily traceable in another."

Rising to the challenge, Kimball writes that voters did not vote for Trump because they thought he was "a candidate for sainthood."

On the contrary, people supported him, first, because of what he promised to do and, second, because of what, over the past two years, he has accomplished. These accomplishments, from rolling back the regulatory state and scores of conservative judicial appointments, from moving our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem to resuscitating our military, working to end Obamacare, and fighting to keep our borders secure, are not morally neutral data points.

These accomplishments, Kimball says, are "evidences of a political vision and of promises made and kept."

And it is here that Kimball makes the audacious bid to redefine the meaning of the word "character." Add up the list of Trump wins, Kimball concludes, "and I think they go a long way towards a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear."

Do not overlook Kimball's accomplishment here: There as a time when character referred to such hoary values as justice, prudence, truth, temperance, and fortitude. But in this telling, character becomes simply a threshold to be clear by tabulating policy outcomes.

In his response, Goldberg notes that Kimball "employs an enormous amount of logic-chopping and squirrel-spotting," to come up with a "new and wholly instrumental definition of good character":

He is saying that a man who bedded a porn star while his (third) wife was home with their newborn child now fits the--or at least a--definition of good character because he delivers tax cuts. A man, who by his own admission, "whines until he wins" and boasts of how he screwed over business partners, a man who lies more egregiously and incessantly than Bill Clinton and used his family charity in Clintonian ways, has a good character because he's "working to end Obamacare, and fighting to keep our borders secure." Is that really what conservatives should be telling presidents? That so long as you fulfill your promises to the base of the party, not only will we abstain from meaningful criticism, but we will in fact redefine good character to fit the president? I have deep admiration for Roger, but if I knew what the original Greek for "bologna" is, I would use it here.

But this is where I have to differ from Jonah a bit. The Trumpian celebration of strength over goodness and the sneering at traditional values as emblems of weakness is not utterly new. It is, in fact, somewhat surprising that Kimball would quote Newman and Voltaire, but not Nietzsche, since he seems to channeling his transvaluation of values.

Peter Wehner noted the intellectual patrimony of the Trumpian ethos more than two years ago.

To better understand Mr. Trump's approach to life, ethics, and politics, we should not look to Christ but to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ. "What is good?" Nietzsche asks in "The Anti-Christ": "Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases--that resistance is overcome."

In other words #winning.

Wehner recognized the intellectual antecedents of the strutting bully-boys of Trumpism, even if they were oblivious of the source. Nietzsche would have fit seamlessly into the pages of American Greatness or on Fox News' primetime lineup. His twitter feed would have been lit. As Wehner wrote:

Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I'm guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the "Übermensch," or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.

This is what Romney exposed. While mouthing pieties about Christian values, late stage Trumpism is edging ever closer to explicitly embracing Nietzsche's upside down moral universe. And this is as dangerous as it is disappointing.

Donald's removal will not be a function of the Right coming to Jesus, but their coming to Gallup and realizing he's about to give us unified Democratic government. As the midterms showed, he's a #loser.

The Trump Primary Has Already Begun (JONATHAN LAST  JANUARY 6, 2019, The Bulwark)

[(]1) Primary challenges are not, in fact, extraordinary insurrections incited by deranged elements within the party. And (2) whether a primary challenge is a cause or a symptom, it usually correlates with a failed re-election bid.

You can imagine that if Trump is challenged, the first thing the Julie Kellys and Mollie Hemingways of the world will say is that his challenger represents another paroxysm of NeverTrump insanity. As a historical matter, this argument would be false. When sitting presidents are unpopular and have politically unsuccessful first terms, a primary challenge is the norm, not the exception. And as for the second matter, anyone who wants to claim that a Republican challenger actually helps Trump will have have to argue the four most dangerous words in the English language: "This time is different."

Good luck with that.

The modern political age more or less begins with the advent of televised politics in the 1960s. Since then we've had nine sitting presidents stand for re-election. Five of them were challenged in the primaries. Of those five, only one--Richard Nixon in 1972--won.

When you look at the data on presidential approval ratings, a few things stand out. Not all of the presidents to draw primary challenges were terribly unpopular. George H.W. Bush, for instance, was at close to 60 percent approval at this point in the cycle. (This was an artificial level created by the Gulf War, obviously.) But most were under the 50 percent mark and trending downward. The presidents who avoided primaries--Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama--generally had approval rates above 45 percent and generally trended upward leading into the re-elect year.

Look at the graph below and you'll note that 45 percent is a mark Trump hasn't yet touched. His average has remained closer to 40 percent and there is virtually no directional trend: He has topped out, once or twice, at 44 percent and bottomed out, more than a few times, at 36 percent. His range of possible outcomes here seems locked into a very narrow band. In order for him to break out of it, something extraordinary would have to happen.

Have you seen anything in the last three years to suggest that Donald Trump is capable of making himself markedly more popular with the people who don't already like him?

Me neither.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Why Republicans Should Support Immigration (Jordan Bruneau, Jan. 2, 2019, NY Times)

Hard as it is to believe today, California once reliably voted Republican in presidential elections. Other than Lyndon Johnson, no Democratic presidential candidate won the Golden State in the four decades between Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. Now, Democrats control the entire state government and hold 46 of its 53 House seats and both Senate seats.

What happened? Mr. Wilson, then governor, went after immigrants, championing Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that barred illegal immigrant children from attending public schools and using other social services. Though the measure passed after a contentious fight, it was a hollow victory. An injunction was granted three days after passage, and the measure was ultimately deemed unconstitutional.

Several studies have found that Republican support of Proposition 187 and other anti-immigrant efforts alienated white and Latino voters in California from the Republican Party. One of these studies, published in The American Journal of Political Science, points out that Proposition 187 actually reversed the trend of Latinos increasingly supporting Republicans, with "no counterbalancing gain in party supporters from other groups, particularly non-Hispanic whites." The authors conclude that the "results raise serious questions about the long-term efficacy of racially divisive strategies for electoral gain." This study should be required reading for Trump Republicans.

The Hispanic portion of the United States population today is similar to the portion in California in the early 1990s. About 20 percent of the country is Hispanic; in 1990, 26 percent of California's population was. You don't have to be a political wizard to understand that alienating growing blocs of voters -- not just Latinos, but also other immigrants and younger people -- is bad political strategy.

"I hate you; vote for us!"

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 AM


Trump aides may be in legal jeopardy as Democrats give evidence to Mueller (David Taylor, 6 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

Speaking on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, Schiff made clear he would be handing over transcripts which had been withheld from Mueller's investigation by Republicans when they controlled the panel.

The committee staged 73 interviews with dozens of witnesses, including Jared Kushner, Trump Jr and Stone. Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, has already pleaded guilty to perjury for lying to Congress over attempts to make a deal to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Schiff said he was "trying to deconflict" with special counsel Mueller's investigation because over the last two years the committee, under Republican leadership, had actively tried to make the special counsel's work more difficult.

Schiff said he planned "as one of our first acts to make the transcripts of our witnesses fully available to special counsel for any purpose, including the bringing of perjury charges".

Trump Jr is in peril because he orchestrated the now infamous Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians after being promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. He would face problems if he told Congress that his father was unaware of the meeting but Mueller has obtained evidence to contradict that.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


'Sonic attack' on US embassy in Havana could have been crickets, say scientists (Ian Sample,  6 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

[A] fresh analysis of the audio recording has revealed what scientists in the UK and the US now believe is the true source of the piercing din: it is the song of the Indies short-tailed cricket, known formally as Anurogryllus celerinictus.

"The recording is definitively a cricket that belongs to the same group," said Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, a professor of sensory biology at the University of Lincoln. "The call of this Caribbean species is about 7 kHz, and is delivered at an unusually high rate, which gives humans the sensation of a continuous sharp trill."


January 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


This Reporter Took a Deep Look Into the Science of Smoking Pot. What He Found Is Scary.: Alex Berenson's new book delves into research linking heavy use with violent crime and mental illness. (STEPHANIE MENCIMERJANUARY 5, 2019, mOTHER jONES)

The book was seeded one night a few years ago when Berenson's wife, a psychologist who evaluates mentally ill criminal defendants in New York, started talking about a horrific case she was handling. It was "the usual horror story, somebody who'd cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment--typical bedtime chat in the Berenson house," he writes. But then, his wife added, "Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life."

Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn't have strong feelings about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate pizza and played video games--they didn't hack up family members. Yet his Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the science on the subject.

We look back and laugh at Reefer Madness, which was pretty over-the-top, after all, but Berenson found himself immersed in some pretty sobering evidence: Cannabis has been associated with legitimate reports of psychotic behavior and violence dating at least to the 19th century, when British colonial officials in India noted that 20 to 30 percent of patients in mental hospitals were committed for cannabis-related insanity. The British reports, like Berenson's wife, described horrific crimes--at least one beheading. The Brits attributed far more cases of mental illness to cannabis than to alcohol or opium. The Mexican government reached similar conclusions, banning cannabis sales in 1920--nearly 20 years before the United States did--after years of credible reports of cannabis-induced madness and violent crime.

Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that THC--the active compound in cannabis--is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. Berenson interviewed far-flung researchers who've quietly but methodically documented the effects of THC on serious mental illness and he makes a convincing case that a recreational drug marketed as an all-around health product may, in fact, be really dangerous--especially for people with a family history of mental illness, and for adolescents with developing brains.

Now that drugs are finally legal they're facing the same public policy onslaught as alcohol and cigarettes as health concerns converge with moral qualms. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


A newly discovered account of jazz legend Buddy Bolden's mental decline (James Karst, 1/03/19, NOLA)

Buddy Bolden is a towering yet enigmatic figure in American popular music. The cornet player was said to be the most popular jazz musician in New Orleans for a brief period in the early 20th century, before the homegrown genre was even known by that name. Bolden is sometimes credited as having single-handedly invented jazz, although the truth of its genesis is complicated. The bawdy "Buddy Bolden's Blues," AKA "Funky Butt," remains a traditional jazz staple to this day.

Tragically, the first king of jazz was debilitated by mental illness at what should have been the height of his career. After a series of arrests, he was committed to the Louisiana mental asylum in 1907. He lived out the rest of his life at the institution and died in obscurity. Bolden is believed to have made a wax cylinder recording around the turn of the century, but it has never been found, and the conventional wisdom is that it probably no longer exists.

Limited details are known about Bolden's life, and separating fiction from fact has often proven difficult. Much of what we do know has come from police and medical records and from interviews conducted years after his death with people who had known Bolden.

During Bolden's career, in the early decades of Jim Crow, newspapers in New Orleans rarely wrote about black people except to hold them up for ridicule or to document alleged criminal offenses. As a result, any contemporary slivers of information about Bolden have great significance to jazz historians. Don Marquis writes in his definitive Bolden biography, "In Search of Buddy Bolden," that reports in the Daily Picayune and Item in late March of 1906 constituted the only newspaper coverage of the famed musician during his lifetime.

But a third New Orleans newspaper, the Daily States, also wrote about the incident that is believed to have marked the beginning of Bolden's downfall. For reasons that are unclear, it was lost to history until this December, when it was discovered by this writer on microfilm in the New Orleans City Archives. This newly unearthed report provides another perspective on beginning of the mental health crisis of the jazz pioneer, sharing details not addressed in the other newspapers or the police report, and offers a rare contemporary glimpse at the life of a tragic figure whose enduring fame exists at the intersection of madness and genius.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Frank Kimbrough: Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside): Review of six-disc comprehensive Monk set on which the pianist is joined by Scott Robinson, Rufus Reid, and Billy Drummond (Dan Bilawsky, 1/05/19, Jazz Times)

The fact that these men had the stamina and discipline to accomplish such a feat in such a concentrated amount of time is a marvel in and of itself. And that's to say nothing of the quality of what they created, which is incredibly high, and the level of respect within it, which runs deep. Walking a careful line, Kimbrough and his companions never obscure the master's truths, muddy his language, or attempt to erect a revisionist playground. Fidelity is a foremost concern, as melodies, harmonies, and shape are largely honored. Kimbrough even adopts a more percussive touch than usual, hewing closer to Monk's mannerisms. But that doesn't mean creative thought is suppressed. This is anything but mundane Monk.

Wonders abound across these five-and-a-half hours of music spanning six CDs, but it's the hidden gems in Monk's portfolio that stand tallest. "Humph" is angular chic all the way, showcasing the chemistry between Robinson's tenor and Kimbrough's keys; "Bluehawk" uses simplicity as elevating grace, giving Robinson's echo cornet and Reid's centered bass a chance to connect; "San Francisco Holiday" is a captivating affair built on descending lines and some artful connections from Drummond; and "Hornin' In" is the stuff of casual brilliance, highlighting the group's near-telepathic interplay.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Dirty Harry: The Rage of the Anti-Hero (K. V. Turley, 1/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Also in 1968, Steve McQueen had scored box office success with the à la mode police drama: Bullitt. Set in San Francisco, the McQueen police character, Frank Bullitt, has only the semblance of a police officer. Equally as much a loner as the later Callaghan, both characters are alienated from their superior officers if for different reasons. Bullitt despises the Establishment as represented by those superior officers and their political masters. In this aspect McQueen's character is more counter-cultural than law and order. In contrast, Callaghan would despise his police superiors solely for being weak on the perpetrators of crime; so weak, in fact, that there is, under Callaghan's glib one-liners, a visceral rage against their hypocritical inaction. By 1971, Mr. Eastwood's character was tapping into a wider rage that was then seething through a large segment of American society, the same constituency who had voted for Nixon just a few years earlier. On screen, it is this rage that propels Callaghan to become less a law enforcement officer than an enforcer of his laws.

In Dirty Harry this is nowhere more exemplified than when Callaghan is confronted about his arrest tactics. To free a girl being held hostage, he tortures the reptilian psychopath Scorpio (played by Andy Robinson). When, later, Callaghan is told the confession and weapons retrieved from Scorpio's lair, to say nothing of the dead girl's body, are all inadmissible as evidence, the police inspector is rightly outraged. We watch as a shabbily dressed bureaucrat berates Callaghan over the so-called "Miranda warning." This was the 1966 United States Supreme Court decision confirming that criminal suspects must have their rights read to them prior to any interrogation. Thinking only of the victim, Callaghan had dispensed with this while torturing Scorpio, and, what's more, later, makes no apology for doing so.

Predictably, liberal film critics loathed Dirty Harry. In particular, they seized upon the torture scene as well as other aspects of the plot to come up with a catalogue of perceived "crimes" committed by Mr. Eastwood. The Scorpio figure is obviously counter-cultural, speaking in that argot, and dressed accordingly. He even wears a very San Francisco "love and peace" sign. He might be a rampaging killer but to some film critics he was representative of an emerging America with which they identified, one seemingly under attack from the Frontier Justice of Mr. Eastwood's perceived alter ego.

Reminiscent of Spillane, despite these negative critical pronouncements, Dirty Harry was a box office smash: one of the highest-grossing movies of 1971. As well as a huge success worldwide, it was this film that moved Mr. Eastwood from Hollywood star to a Hollywood Super Star.

It seems odd to miss the fact that Scorpio is modeled after the Zodiac Killer, and which brings one to another film that should be viewed in conjunction with Dirty Harry and Bullitt: Zodiac.  The last is based on journalist Robert Graysmith's memoir of the actual case and features Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, who both Eastwood and McQueen used as inspiration for their portrayals of Harry and Frank.  Each film is excellent in its own way.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Don't run (Times Argus, Jan 5, 2019)

Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to.

That is an unfavorable opinion, especially among most Vermonters and progressives who support the platform that has come to define him. But at this point, there are more things about another Sanders run at the White House that concern us than excite us.

In this space, we have repeatedly hit the senator on where his loyalties lay: Vermont or a bigger calling? We have asked him to make a choice, which he would argue was his recent re-election to Congress. But in his previous run for the presidency, Sanders, an independent who ran for the White House as a Democrat, missed dozens of votes that likely would have helped Vermonters. And, while he handily defeated his challenger, can Vermonters point to Sanders' record and say definitively, "This is what he's done for us?"

Walker Ending Term With $588.5 Million Budget Surplus (Bethany Blankley, January 6, 2019, Free Beacon)

Gov. Scott Walker leaves office next week, finishing his second term by posting a budget surplus for the eighth year in a row. Wisconsin ended last fiscal year with a $588.5 million surplus and will start 2018-2019 with the second-highest opening balance since 2000.

"We are leaving Wisconsin in the best financial condition in a generation," Walker announced. "This is part of our legacy and it will continue to drive Wisconsin forward."

Walker, who had not previously discussed publicly what he planned to do after leaving office, said Tuesday he would join a speaking tour across the country and "focus on new methods to articulate a conservative message."

Walker's legacy includes cutting Wisconsin residents' taxes by $8 billion and reducing the collective bargaining rights of government workers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Did the Rich Really Pay Much Higher Taxes in the 1950s? The Answer Is a Little Complicated. (JORDAN WEISSMANN, AUG 07, 2017, Slate)

American progressives like to remember the mid-20th century as a time when the only thing higher than a Cadillac's tail fin was the top marginal tax rate (which, during the Eisenhower years peaked above 90 percent for the very rich). Uncle Sam took 90 cents on the dollar off the highest incomes, and--as any good Bernie Sanders devotee will remind you--the economy thrived.

Conservatives, however, often try to push back on this version of history, pointing out that those staggeringly high tax rates existed mostly on paper; relatively few Americans actually paid them. Recently, the Tax Foundation's Scott Greenberg went so far as to argue that "taxes on the rich were not that much higher" in the 1950s than today. Between 1950 and 1959, he notes, the highest earning 1 percent of Americans paid an effective tax rate of 42 percent. By 2014, it was only down to 36.4 percent--a substantial but by no means astronomical decline.

Greenberg is not pulling his numbers out of thin air. Rather, he's drawing them directly from a recent paper by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman in which the three economists--all well-loved by progressives--estimate the average tax rates Americans at different income levels have actually paid over time. Their historical measure includes federal, state, and local levies--including corporate, property, income, estate, sales, and payroll taxes.

45% of Americans pay no federal income tax (CATEY HILL, 4/18/16, MarketWatch)

On average, those in the bottom 40% of the income spectrum end up getting money from the government. Meanwhile, the richest 20% of Americans, by far, pay the most in income taxes, forking over nearly 87% of all the income tax collected by Uncle Sam.

Rich people pay nearly 87% of all federal individual income tax in America

Income levelShare of total federal 
individual income tax paid
Average income tax bill 
per person
Lowest 20%-2.2%-$643
Second lowest 20%-1.7%-$621
Middle income4.2%$1,743
Second richest 20%12.9%$6,285
Richest 20%86.8%$50,176

Source: Tax Policy Center

The top 1% of Americans, who have an average income of more than $2.1 million, pay 43.6% of all the federal individual income tax in the U.S.; the top 0.1% -- just 115,000 households, whose average income is more than $9.4 million -- pay more than 20% of it.

Having fought a Revolution based on the idea that representation is a function of taxation, it seems problematic to have a tax system that is so fundamentally unbalanced.  Meanwhile, economically it is odd to use taxes to punish earning, profits, saving and investing. Thus, the Neoconomic notion of transitioning to a regime of consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Labor shortage drives more bankruptcies in Japan (TSUKASA MORIKUNI, JANUARY 06, 2019, Nikkei)

More Japanese companies went under for lack of personnel last year, reflecting the growing toll of the country's ongoing labor crunch on businesses that fail to secure or keep workers.

Tokyo Shoko Research counted 362 such bankruptcies during the year through November 2018, up more than 20% on the year. The total has already surpassed the full-year 2015 figure of 340, the highest since the research firm began tracking this data in 2013.

The number of companies that had to shut their doors because they lacked enough employees to handle the necessary work jumped 66% to 53, while another 24 -- a 71% rise -- increased compensation to hold on to existing staff but could not bear the higher costs. A total of 261 companies went out of business because the head fell ill or retired without a successor, up 13%.

The problem is particularly severe in the service sector, including such areas as the restaurant industry, nursing homes and care providers for the elderly, and trucking companies.

January 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Donald Trump, master revisionist: What he said about Afghanistan, and what it says about him (GARRY KASPAROV, JAN 04, 2019, NY Daily News)

Terrorists going into Russia wasn't even part of the Soviet Union's pretexts for invading Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviets went in to secure a much-hated pro-Kremlin Communist regime and to kill anyone who resisted. (The similarities with Vladimir Putin's bloody efforts in Syria today are notable.) The only talk about insurgents was of the local mujahideen variety that was waging guerilla war against the brutal Communist government, with American aid.

As for being "right to be there," the American President justifying the Soviet invasion of a neighboring country is very dangerous at a time when Putin is doing the very same thing.

Intent on vindicating his own hostile acts, Putin has been steadily rehabilitating the deeds of Joseph Stalin and other Soviet actions. After all, if the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan was wrong -- it was officially condemned "morally and politically" in the USSR in December 1989 -- what to make of Putin's invasions of neighboring Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014? With that in mind, the puppet Russian parliament has prepared a resolution declaring that the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan was lawful and just and is scheduled to vote on it on Feb. 15.

Just a coincidence? So where did the President get this idea that the Soviets were right to be in Afghanistan? Keen observers have noted that Trump's Twitter rants regularly regurgitate talking points from Fox News morning shows, but unless I've seriously underestimated the show, upcoming Russian parliamentary votes and Soviet history aren't much in the mix on "Fox & Friends."

The only beneficiary of Trump making this wild claim is the person who originated it: Vladimir Putin. State-controlled Russian media are delighted to have the American President's endorsement of the right to invade neighboring countries under the flimsiest of pretexts. Nor is this the first time Trump has shared an oddly specific non-sequitur in line with Kremlin talking points. Last summer he suddenly criticized new NATO member Montenegro, which was the target of a Russian coup plot in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Federal prison guards fume inmates get special holiday meals while they work without pay (PETER SBLENDORIO, 1/05/18,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

While federal prison officers worked through the holidays without pay, the inmates they guarded were treated to special yuletide meals, union officials reportedly fumed.

At the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Orlando, convicts dined on Cornish game hen and pie on Christmas and beef with black eyed peas and sweet desserts, according to USA Today.

"This is appalling," Joe Rojas, Coleman's union chief, told the newspaper. "We're not getting paid, and the inmates are eating steak. The inmates know what's going on; they know about the shutdown, and they are laughing at us."

After years of Trump's dire warnings, a 'crisis' has hit border but generates little urgency (Nick Miroff and David Nakamura, 1/05/19, The Washington Post)

In recent weeks, so many parents with children have been among the 2,000 unauthorized migrants who are being taken into federal custody each day that authorities have resorted to mass releases of families onto the streets of El Paso and other border cities. U.S. agents are bringing dozens of migrants coughing and feverish each day to clinics and hospitals after stays in jam-packed holding cells where children sleep on concrete floors and huddle in plastic sheets for warmth.

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will travel to New Mexico on Monday to the Border Patrol station where 8-year-old Felipe Alonso Gomez was detained before he died on Christmas Eve with flulike symptoms. But Democrats critical of the administration's treatment of migrant families have offered few solutions to stem the unprecedented influx of parents with children that is buckling the U.S. immigration system.

The government shutdown has made the strains worse. Many immigration judges have been furloughed, deepening dysfunction in a court system crippled by a backlog of nearly 1 million cases. Along the border, U.S. agents and officers are being forced to work indefinitely without pay. "Morale is down in the dumps," said one border agent in South Texas who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The Border Wall: How a Potent Symbol Is Now Boxing Trump In (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker, Jan. 5, 2019, NY Times)

As Mr. Trump began exploring a presidential run in 2014, his political advisers landed on the idea of a border wall as a mnemonic device of sorts, a way to make sure their candidate -- who hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder -- would remember to talk about getting tough on immigration, which was to be a signature issue in his nascent campaign.

"How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?" Sam Nunberg, one of Mr. Trump's early political advisers, recalled telling Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser. "We're going to get him to talk about he's going to build a wall."

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Trump Keeps Giving Mueller Reasons to Pursue the 'Collusion' Probe (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, January 5, 2019, National Review)

[T]rump's remarks, echoing Russian propaganda about its aggression, are apt to be of interest to the special counsel. [...]

Just sticking with what we know (as if Mueller has no other information): Cronies of Putin told Trump-campaign officials that the Russian government wanted Trump to win the election. Trump recruited into his campaign the likes of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who had close ties and multi-million-dollar business dealings with Putin cronies, including leaders of the Kremlin-backed Ukranian political party that was largely responsible for the strife in Ukraine that has led to civil war and Putin's annexation of Crimea. Manafort, who became Trump's campaign chairman, offered briefings on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch so close to Putin that the latter has interceded on Deripaska's behalf to protest U.S. travel restrictions. The Trump campaign also recruited as a foreign-policy adviser Carter Page, an obscure figure best known for being so sympathetic to the Kremlin, and so financially involved in the Russian energy sector, that Russian intelligence attempted to recruit him as an asset in 2013 (apparently unsuccessfully).

Meantime, top Trump-campaign officials elected to take a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at which they expected to receive incriminating information on Hillary Clinton that came straight from Russian-government files. The meeting was a bust -- the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, appears to have used it as an opportunity to lobby top Trump associates against the Magnitsky Act, a notorious pet peeve of Putin's. Yet the president's son, Don Jr., apparently at the president's urging, attempted to mislead the New York Times about the genesis of the meeting, coming clean only after learning that the Times had, and was about to publish, Trump Jr.'s emails detailing the expected transmission of campaign dirt about Clinton.

There is no known indication of any Trump-campaign participation in the hacking of Democratic email accounts. Nevertheless, Mueller is known to be investigating Trump associate Roger Stone, who is known to have communicated online with a hacker known as "Guccifer 2.0." An indictment filed by Mueller identifies a persona known as Guccifer 2.0 as a front for Russian military intelligence, responsible for hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee, which were leaked to the media right before the 2016 Democratic convention.

In August 2016, weeks before WikiLeaks published the emails stolen from the account of Clinton-campaign chairman John Podesta, Stone posted a tweet that could be interpreted as (but did not necessarily indicate) foreknowledge of the Podesta hack. ("Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel. #crookedHillary" [sic].) In October 2016, as WikiLeaks was preparing to publish the Podesta emails, Stone was in touch with Randy Credico, a left-wing radio host who credibly claimed to be in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Stone described Credico as his "back-channel communication with Assange." Stone was also exchanging emails with Steve Bannon, then Trump's campaign manager. Stone tweeted on October 3, "I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #LockHerUp." WikiLeaks began publishing the Podesta emails on October 7.

It has been credibly reported that Mueller is investigating the controversial conservative writer Jerome Corsi over his contacts with Stone -- and has pressured Corsi to plead guilty to misleading the grand jury about them. Mueller is also investigating the efforts of a Republican activist, Peter Smith (who died in 2017), to locate through hackers the 33,000 emails Hillary Clinton purged from her private server system. Smith was not part of the Trump campaign, but he reportedly told people that Trump-campaign officials, including Flynn, were aware of his efforts and encouraged them.

Trump officials have denied these claims. But the allegation can come as no surprise since candidate Trump himself infamously exclaimed (at a July 2016 press conference): "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Why free-market economists aren't impressed with Trump's deregulation efforts (Scott Sumner, Dec 19, 2018, Market Watch)

In many cases, the regulations being removed are much more defensible than those being added, even from a free-market perspective.

In early October, the Treasury Department put into effect regulations that will restrict foreign investment in a wide range of fields, such as biotechnology and nuclear power generation. This could make it harder for startups to find financing, given how the biotech sector is increasingly dependent on inflows of money; Asian investors contributed nearly 50% of venture-capital investments in U.S. biotech companies during the first eight months of 2018.

The federal government has also increased the hurdles that companies must overcome to hire foreign workers, ranging from high-tech professionals to summer workers in hotels and restaurants. There is now much more paperwork, and work visas are being denied much more frequently.

A recent bill aimed at dealing with the opioid epidemic will also increase regulation. The New York Times reports new rules will require the U.S. Postal Service to collect the name and address of the sender as well as the sender's description of the contents of the package by the end of this year for all shipments from China and at least 70% of all international packages. It will have to do so for all international packages by the end of 2020.

All of these regulations, as well as the recent tariff rate increases, reflect a deep distrust of interactions with the rest of the world. Some of this involves suspicions about Chinese government spying, but the concerns go far beyond foreign policy, to broader issues of trade and immigration.

The specific areas of deregulation also raise some concerns. The Trump administration has trimmed regulations in areas such as energy production, labor rules and financial markets. Yet even free-market economists often favor regulation when there are negative effects from an activity, called "externalities", such as the environmental effects of burning coal.

The financial industry is especially problematic, as we saw during the 2008 financial crisis. In many cases, an economy is most efficient when operating under free-market principles, free of regulation. However, the financial sector is already heavily distorted by government backstops such as deposit insurance (through the FDIC), government-protected enterprises that purchase mortgages such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as an implicit policy of "too big to fail" -- the federal government's tendency to bail out big banks during a crisis. The Trump administration has not reduced these serious market distortions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Fact Check: Did the U.S. catch 4,000 terrorists at the southern border in 2018? (Julia Ainsley, 1/04/19, NBC News)

According to Justice Department public records and two former counterterrorism officials, no immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Gavin McInnes Writes Letters to Neighbors to Take Down Anti-Hate Signs (Will Sommer, 01.04.19, Daily Beast)

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes is still struggling to distance himself from his extreme image. After stepping down in November from the far-right group he created, McInnes now wants neighbors in his tony New York suburb to take down yard signs aimed at him and his former group. [...]

After the New York attack, one of McInnes's neighbors in the wealthy suburb of Larchmont proposed that residents buy "Hate Has No Home Here" signs as a quiet rebuke to McInnes and the Proud Boys. The signs, which feature the message in several languages, soon started appearing in Larchmont.

If you are pro-hate they obviously are an attack on you.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Former Weekly Standard staffers find new home at The Bulwark, a conservative site unafraid to take on Trump (Oliver Darcy, 1/04/19, CNN)

Starting Monday, Bill Kristol, a co-founder of The Weekly Standard, and Charlie Sykes, the former talk radio host and conservative commentator, will beef up The Bulwark, a conservative website that has until now served as an aggregator for Kristol's non-profit group, the Defending Democracy Together Institute.

"The Bulwark was an aggregator," Sykes told CNN in a phone interview Friday. "We are going to turn it into a full-fledged opinion news website, with really the core digital staff of The Weekly Standard."

"I think the need for a rational, non-Trumpist forum was more urgent than ever," Sykes added. "And I do think that contrary to some of the conventional wisdom, there is a market for center-right commentary that pushes back against Trumpism."

Sykes will serve as editor-in-chief, and Kristol will be an editor-at-large. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump claims support from past presidents for the wall: Clinton, Bush and Obama beg to differ (ANDREW RESTUCCIA, 01/04/2019, Politico)

President Donald Trump claimed without evidence on Friday that past presidents have privately confided to him that they regret not building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But at least three of the four living U.S. presidents -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- did no such thing.

January 4, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup (Jonathan Weisman, Jan. 4, 2019, NY Times)

The divide between American Jews and Israeli Jews goes beyond politics. A recent law tried to reinstate the Chief Rabbinate as the only authority that can legally convert non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, after the slaughter in Pittsburgh, refused to refer to the Conservative Tree of Life as a synagogue at all, calling it "a place with a profound Jewish flavor."

Already only Orthodox Jewish weddings are legal in Israel. Reform Jews have been roughed up when praying at the Western Wall. Promises to Jewish women that the Israeli rabbinate would become more inclusive have largely led to disappointment. Last summer, the group Women of the Wall was warned that if it did not remain confined to the small, barricaded area within the "women's section," its members would be barred from praying there altogether.  [...]

In a historical stroke with resonance today, American Jewish leaders gathered in Pittsburgh in 1885 to produce what is known as the Pittsburgh Platform, a new theology for an American Judaism, less focused on a Messianic return to the land of Israel and more on fixing a broken world, the concept of Tikkun Olam. Jews, the rabbi behind the platform urged, must achieve God's purpose by "living and working in and with the world."

For a faith that for thousands of years was insular and self-contained, its people often in mandated ghettos, praying for the Messiah to return them to the Promised Land, this was a radical notion. But for most American Jews, it is now accepted as a tenet of their religion: building a better, more equal, more tolerant world now, where they live.

Last summer, when a Conservative rabbi in Haifa was hauled in for questioning by the Israeli police after he officiated at a non-Orthodox wedding, it was too much for Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the umbrella organization of the Conservative movement in North America.

"I do not believe we can talk about a 'gap' between Israel and the Diaspora," Rabbi Wernick wrote in a letter to the Israeli government. "It is now a 'canyon.'"

My rabbi in Washington, Daniel Zemel, said in despair during Kol Nidre, the Yom Kippur evening service, this fall: "For the first time in my life, I feel a genuine threat to my life in Israel. This is not an external threat. It is an internal threat from nationalists and racists."

The key to the divide is that while Americans do not reject Zionism, Israel rejects Tikkun Olam.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Wall Street Journal Edit Page Breaks With Trump, Trashes Afghanistan Mockery as 'Slander' (Olivia Messer, 01.04.19, Daily Beast)

Among his eye-opening Wednesday statements, Trump ridiculed other nations' commitment to fight alongside U.S. troops following the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

"They tell me a hundred times," Trump said. "'Oh, we sent you soldiers. We sent you soldiers.'"

The Journal's editorial called Trump's mocking words "a slander against every ally that has supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan with troops who fought and often died." In fact, the U.K. sent thousands of soldiers to the country between 2001 and 2014 and has--to date--lost more than 450 people in the fighting in Afghanistan.

Trump also said, during that meeting, that "the reason Russia was in Afghanistan [in 1979] was because terrorists were going into Russia" and that "they were right to be there."

In response, the opinion piece said it could not "recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American president" and noted that the Soviet Union, in fact, invaded Afghanistan "to prop up a fellow communist government."

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


House Democrats slash aid to Egypt (Bryant Harris, January 4, 2019, Al Monitor)

House Democrats sharply rebuked Egypt over its human rights record on Thursday, putting Cairo on a path to lose $300 million in military assistance this year.

As part of a spending package for the rest of the 2019 fiscal year, Democrats slashed Egypt's annual $1.3 billion in military aid, appropriating only $1 billion in a mostly party-line vote.

Cut the other billion until they restore the Brotherhood.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Why most new immigrants to Israel aren't considered Jewish (SAM SOKOL, 1/04/19, JTA)

For the first time, Israel announced that Jewish immigrants to Israel were outnumbered by non-Jewish immigrants.

The headlines might suggest that Christians and perhaps Muslims have been moving to the Jewish state in significant numbers, but the truth is more complicated: According to numbers released Monday by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 17,700 of the 32,600 migrants who moved to Israel in 2018 came under the Law of Return but were listed as "having no religion."

Such immigrants, hailing largely from the former Soviet Union and Baltic states, count Jewish ancestry but are ineligible to marry as Jews, for example, under the state-controlled rabbinic court system. In 2017, there were 11,400 such immigrants out of a migratory population of 29,100.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GOP senator calls on Congress to end shutdown without border deal (ALEXANDER BOLTON, - 01/03/19, The Hill)

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who faces a potentially tough reelection in 2020, says Congress should re-open the federal government, even without a deal on funding President Trump's border wall. 

Gardner is the first Senate Republican to call for ending the partial shutdown even without a deal on Trump's demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall. 

"I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'They can do what they want': Trump's Iran comments defy the position of his top aides (Missy Ryan and John Hudson January 3, 2018, Washington Post)

In his first Cabinet meeting of the year, President Trump stuck a dagger in a major initiative advanced by his foreign policy team: Iran's leaders, the president said, "can do what they want" in Syria.

With a stray remark, Trump snuffed out a plan from his national security adviser, John Bolton, who this fall vowed that the United States would not leave Syria "as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders."

January 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Two-year yield dips below key Fed rate for first time since 2008 (Kate Duguid, 1/03/19, Reuters)

The fed funds effective rate, which was 2.4 percent on Thursday, moves within the Federal Reserve's key policy range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent. The market move suggests investors believe the U.S. central bank will not be able to continue to tighten monetary policy as its forecast suggests, after having lifted benchmark interest rates four times in 2018.

"This is a big deal," said Ian Lyngen, head of U.S. rates strategy at BMO Capital Markets.

"The market is effectively saying that at some point in the next 24 months, the Fed is going to have to not only stop hiking, but actively start easing."

New Fed chairmen feel compelled to demonstrate their inflation bona fides, despite our being in a 30-year deflationary epoch.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Shutdown worsens strain on U.S. immigration system (Nick Miroff, January 2, 2018, Washington Post)

Tens of thousands of U.S. immigration officers and agents are showing up for work each day to guard the Mexico border, where President Trump insists on putting a wall. But the government is shut down, so no one is getting paid.

The paralysis in bank accounts extends to overburdened U.S. immigration courts. New filings are piling up on dockets already backlogged by nearly 1 million cases, but many of the judges and clerks who process them have been sent home.

And when U.S. companies and employers want to check the immigration status of potential hires, they are greeted by a red banner across the top of the government's E-Verify website. Those services are "currently unavailable due to a lapse in government appropriations," it says.

Twelve days into the standoff over Trump's $5 billion border-wall demand, major components of the U.S. immigration system are offline, out of order or under worsening strain.

"So much winning...."

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Undocumented Worker Says Trump Resort Shielded Her From Secret Service (Miriam Jordan, Jan. 3, 2019, NY Times)

A former employee of the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey said that her name was removed from a list of workers to be vetted by the Secret Service after she reminded management that she was unlawfully in the United States, the latest worker to assert that supervisors at the elite resort were aware that some members of their work force were undocumented.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Who gets to vote in Israel's 'democracy' in 2019 (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man,  January 3, 2019, +972)

At the end of 2018, the population of Israel was approximately 8,972,000 people. That includes more than 330,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who do not have Israeli citizenship and thus do not have the right to vote in national elections. It also includes more than 214,000 Jewish Israeli citizens who live in occupied East Jerusalem and more than 435,000 Jewish Israelis who live in the occupied West Bank.

Then there is the West Bank, which has been governed undemocratically by the Israeli military since it occupied the territory in 1967. Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed again and again, the Israel will not give up military control over the West Bank -- ever.

In that territory, over which Israel plans to rule in perpetuity, live more than 2,623,000 (2,953,000 including East Jerusalem Palestinians) Palestinians who do not have the right to vote in Israeli elections. In the West Bank, Israel and its army are responsible for everything from road infrastructure, deciding who may live where, who may build where and what, who is allowed to move between different parts of the territory and when, who is allowed in and out of the West Bank, who is allowed to hold a political protest (only Jews), what the laws are and how they are enforced, and whether they will ever be granted independence.

The 435,000 Jewish Israelis who live in the West Bank have the right to vote in elections that can determine every one of those policies. They have elected representatives who can work to rectify any grievances they might have regarding how those policies affect their lives. The 2,623,000 Palestinians living in the same territory do not have the right to vote in elections that determine any of those policies. When their lives are negatively affected by the democratic country that rules over so many aspects of their lives, they have zero recourse within that democratic system to address their grievances.

Then there is the Gaza Strip. Despite having withdrawn its troops from inside the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel and its military still control a great number of significant aspects of life in the strip and the way it is governed. Israel determines what may be imported and exported; who can come in and out of the territory; and who can travel between the West Bank and Gaza. It has unilaterally claimed a buffer zone of farmland inside Gazan territory and enforces who may enter it; it determines and enforces limits to where Palestinian fishermen can fish; it controls the flow of electricity; and even had to give its permission for cash from a third country to be brought into Gaza to pay civil servants' salaries.

None of the 1,961,000 people living in Gaza get to vote in the democratic elections that could affect those policies, including how much violence Israel uses against them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 AM


2019 Government Shutdown Report: Most & Least Affected States (https://wallethub.com/edu/government-shutdown-report/1111/John S Kiernan, 1/03/19, WalletHub)

Some states are hit harder by a government shutdown than others. To determine the places most affected by the 2019 partial shutdown, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics. They range from each state's share of federal jobs to federal contract dollars per capita to the share of families receiving food stamps. You can check out the findings below, followed by a complete description of our methodology.
Source: WalletHub

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


Backing Trump on Syria, America's So-called 'Progressives' Are Enabling a Kurdish Genocide (Anna-Sara Malmgren  and Robert Hockett  Jan 02, 2019, Ha'aretz)

As best as we can tell from the news accounts, Mr. Trump simply "gave" northern Syria, as if he owned it, to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a whim, as the two discussed Syria and other matters by telephone Thursday. He did this against the explicit advice of his Defense Secretary James Mattis, who then resigned, and in full knowledge of Erdogan's plans to launch a large-scale military operation against SDF's Kurdish contingent (the YPG and YPJ) east of the Euphrates. 

It is a reckless and irresponsible move, that is almost certain to reinvigorate what remains of ISIS, enable Erdogan to take his brutal persecution of the Kurds further into Syria, and lead to chaos and destruction in what has for years been the most stable part of the country and a safe haven for refugees: the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, better known as Rojava.

To our astonishment, many self-styled "progressives" in the U.S. have applauded Mr. Trump's move.

Through their post-9/11 filter, it apparently represents a long-awaited rollback of American imperial involvements that grew especially pronounced during the Obama, Bush and late Clinton years (and that our less recent history is full of). 

There's nothing more Progressive than Isolationism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump Defends Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan for Some Reason (Jonathan Chait, 01/02/19, New York)

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan. The American interpretation of this invasion, shared by both parties, is that the Soviets were propping up a faltering communist client state, following the "Brezhnev Doctrine," which held that any country that had gone socialist could not be allowed to revert. President Trump bizarrely interjected a different interpretation of this episode.

"The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia," he told reporters today. "They were right to be there."

The most favorable interpretation is that he's so compromised he has to do whatever Vlad tells him to do.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Graham: Trump giving up on border wall fight would be the 'end of his presidency' (MICHAEL BURKE, 01/02/19, The Hill)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday cautioned President Trump against giving in on his demand for funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, claiming that doing so would likely be "the end of his presidency."

A bad hand, played poorly.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


January 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Brazil markets soar as new government vows to shrink state (Anthony Boadle, 1/02/19, Reuters)

Brazil's real currency strengthened 2.4 percent and the Sao Paulo Bovespa stock index rose 3.6 percent as investors cheered pledges by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes - a former investment banker - to reduce taxes and overhaul Brazil's costly social security system.

"If we have solid pension reform, we will get 10 years of growth," said Guedes, who heads a team of orthodox economists already being likened to the 'Chicago boys' who radically overhauled Chile's economy in the 1970s and 1980s.

Guedes said he planned to cut Brazil's tax burden to 20 percent of gross domestic product from 36 percent, free the credit market from overcrowding by state banks, and reduce protectionism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Conservatism & the politics of prudence: On Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk & the conservative ethos.  (Daniel J. Mahoney, January 2019, New Criterion)

Kirk made two additional contributions to Burke studies, both of some significance. Kirk stressed that Burke was among the first to see the limits, all the limits, of social contract theorizing. Choice and consent play some legitimate role in politics (guided by humane and prudent judgment), but they should never obscure obligatory duties that are not a "matter of choice." Parents, citizens, neighbors, and children all have "burdensome duties" (as Burke puts it in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs) that they are obliged to carry out with grace and a sense of responsibility. Likewise, Kirk noted, Burke believed that every member of a political community was "obliged to obey the laws and sustain the state." Choice plays an important role in politics (and marriage), but it cannot be the basis of every aspect of life. Duty is as fundamental as consent. Kirk stresses the multiple ways in which Burke's conservative liberalism was decidedly un-Lockean: while defending the rights of property, Burke never believed that civil society arose from a pre-political "state of nature." Men and women are not truly born "free and independent," and the only true social contract is "between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." That is the great primeval contract that Burke so eloquently invokes in the Reflections on the Revolution in France. In the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns, he sides with the classics and the Christians against full-blown modern "individualism."

Kirk is surely right that such a "conservative" basis of the social tie would unnerve classical Whigs from John Locke in the seventeenth century to Thomas Babington Macaulay in the nineteenth. Unlike Burke, they were blind, or at least inattentive, to what I have called, in a book of that name, "the conservative foundations of the liberal order." This is especially true of John Locke. In his most "reactionary" moments (I do not mean this formulation as a criticism), Kirk hopes for the restoration of a "society guided by veneration and prescription." That is too much to hope for societies profoundly transformed by the individualist premises at the heart of Lockean liberalism. There is seemingly no going back to the world of prejudice, prescription, and presumption, all understood in the elevated Burkean meaning of those terms. Burke and Kirk are right: the "spirit of religion" and the "spirit of the gentleman" were in large part responsible for the greatness of Western civilization. As Harvey Mansfield has compellingly argued, modern bureaucrats, technicians, and ideologues are no substitute for the noblesse oblige and the humane and prudent judgment of the gentleman at his very best. But the moral capital represented by religion and the gentleman is fast eroding and cannot become the explicit foundation of Western societies, at least in a world consumed by the "acids of modernity," to borrow a phrase from Walter Lippmann. Yet Lockean premises remain woefully inadequate for understanding the sources of the Western spirit and the true grounds of moral and political obligation.

John Locke and Conservatism: Indispensable or Antithetical? (Gregory Collins, Imaginative Conservative)

The first conservative lesson we can extract from Locke's moral philosophy is the importance of order as revealed by natural law. Locke's popularity in Britain and America derived largely from his commentary on natural rights, but an overlooked element of his commentary in the Second Treatise is the function natural law plays in ordering human action. Locke's state of nature preserves individual freedom, but it is not a "state of license," as he writes. [i]The proper exercise of individuals' perfect freedom stays "within the bounds by the law of nature"[ii] to "order their actions,"[iii] and which "obliges every one."[iv] "[T]he law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as other," he contends.[v]Individuals possess rights, but those rights come with responsibilities and duties. And even though conservatives rightly criticize Locke for failing to identify original sin in his conception of the state of nature, Locke is acutely aware of the human temptation to sin through licentious action severed from moral obligation. This awareness is evident by virtue of the fact that he asserts the primacy of natural law and moral limits in the Second Treatise's very first paragraph describing the state of nature.

No, Locke's moral philosophy is not reminiscent of Plato's transcendent moral order. No, the purpose of identifying Locke's acknowledgment of natural law is not to transmogrify him into an English Thomas Aquinas. And no, the command of natural law is not an end in and of itself in traditional conservatism. The purpose of considering Locke's moral philosophy, rather, is to demonstrate his understanding of the moral futility of unrestrained freedom; to show his principled desire for ordered liberty; and to challenge the claim from some conservatives that Locke promoted hedonistic individualism liberated from ethical constraints. One more interrelated point on this conservative critique: if conservative critics charge that Locke's appeals to natural law and Richard Hooker in the Second Treatise were polemical instruments intended merely to attract the ears of contemporary religious readers--rather than as genuine insights into morality--then one could claim with just as much textual evidence in Reflections on the Revolution of France that Edmund Burke's overtures to natural law were included simply to placate potential criticism that his Reflections dipped into a quicksand of moral relativism.

Order is inextricably linked with limits, and limits signify the core of conservatism. Not only do limits on individual action occupy a role in Locke's moral philosophy, but limits on institutional action exert even a larger role in preserving ordered liberty in Locke's political philosophy. Indeed, students of Western political thought are familiar with his lucid descriptions of political institutions--such as the rule of law, popular sovereignty, and separation of powers--that emerge as the clearest political expressions of limited and self-restrained government. And so, in reading Locke's Second Treatise, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that limits are the essence of the Lockean conception of government. Government's legitimacy is limited by the consent of the governed. 

Jonah Goldberg has done podcasts with both Yoram Hazony and Patrick Deneen recently and noted their out-sized hostility to John Locke.  One would merely note his entirely orthodox statement of republican liberty, inherited from our Roman republican past and handed on to the American republican future. It is conservative by its nature:

THE natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the common-wealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


James Francies: Cleared for Takeoff (John Murph, 1/02/19, Jazz Times)

James Francies appeared humbled and startled to see a full house for his gig at New York's Jazz Standard. It was a chilly Friday evening in early November, and it was pouring outside. "Wow. I'm glad y'all came out in all of this rain," he said, after introducing members of his band. "If I didn't have to be here, I would be at home watching Law and Order or something."

The audience had reason to brave the elements. Not only is the 23-year-old Francies one of the most talked-about pianists in jazz today, but the concert was celebrating the release of his auspicious Blue Note debut, Flight. Hailing from Houston and having attended the city's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts--alma mater to such jazz luminaries as Jason Moran and Robert Glasper--Francies has quickly risen to the high ranks of his generation. He's already played with Pat Metheny, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Stefon Harris, as well as hip-hop royalty like the Roots, Common, and Nas. [...]

The concert continued with rapturous renditions of Francies' tugging, waltz-like "Sway" and the rhythmically intrepid "Reciprocal." In between those two, Francies delivered a picturesque synth-piano interlude that sounded as if it could have been lifted from Sun Ra's songbook.

Hekselman had only played with Francies a few times prior to the Jazz Standard engagement and, as he described after the first set, "I had to spend a lot of time trying to understand his rhythmic world, specifically with all the odd meters. But it was a nice challenge because there is substance to his music. He also has a rich harmonic world that comes out of gospel music and a lot of modern jazz. I definitely plan on looking back at some of those charts to better understand how the harmonies connect with one another. His music has a lot of pretty movements inside."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


California divided: Will the Trump era fuel the Jefferson separatist movement's efforts to split off into a new, 51st state? (Stephen Magagnini , 11.29.18, Chico News & Review)

Almost anywhere you drive through Northern California, you'll see green and gold signs, flags and banners heralding the arrival of the state of Jefferson, a separatist movement that nearly succeeded in 1941 and, more recently, has grown significantly in the era of Trump.

The signs feature "The Great Seal of the State of Jefferson," a gold pan emblazoned with two X's--Jeffersonians have long believed they've been double-crossed by big-city politicians in Sacramento who take their money but ignore their concerns.

Over the last two years, the signs have popped up on billboards, front yards and haystacks, sometimes next to Confederate flags and anti-immigrant slogans.

They also can be seen at county fairs and frequent rallies featuring supporters, some in camouflage fatigues, outside the Federal Building in Sacramento, where the secessionists have taken their fight all the way the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jeffersonians argue that, since Southern California has 111 elected state reps (74 Assembly members and 37 senators) and Northern California above the San Francisco Bay Area only nine (six in the Assembly, three in the Senate), the courts have "a legal, moral and constitutional" obligation to fix this imbalance by adding more state legislators, especially in far-flung rural counties.

"Taxation without representation," the rallying cry of the American Revolution, now resonates with tens of thousands of Jeffersonians in 23 counties from Stanislaus to the Oregon border--nearly all of which voted for Trump. The "double cross" dates back to 1941, when residents of five counties, sick of paying taxes and not getting needed roads in return, joined forces with rural Northern Californians to secede and then formed their own border patrol.

Today, they reflect a growing sentiment that California should be carved into anywhere from two to six states in order to adequately govern its 40 million people and their conflicting political views on a broad range of issues, including immigration, gun control, water rights and environmental regulations.

Just this summer, a measure to ask Congress to split California into three states, backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Tim Draper, qualified for the November ballot. It was eventually invalidated by the California Supreme Court, which questioned the measure's constitutionality.

The legal setback didn't discourage Jeffersonians.

Indeed, this unlikely assortment of survivalists and hippies, pot growers and hardline cops, real estate appraisers and loggers, fencing instructors and gun lovers, Latinos and anti-immigrants has joined forces, seemingly impervious to criticisms.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Mizzou Official: Tall Man Asking Short Woman Out Could Be Considered 'Sexual Harassment' (ABC 30 News, December 28th 2018)

 If a man asks a woman out on a date, and he is taller than her, can that be considered "sexual harassment"? According to a former University of Missouri vice chancellor, the answer is yes.

Court documents filed by a black male student (John Doe) at Mizzou quote testimony by the former official, but the university calls Doe's claims "inaccurate" and "out of context".

Doe was suspended from the University of Missouri for four years due to findings from a Title IX case is suing the school for racial and sexual discrimination. School officials ruled that Doe was guilty of sexual harassment because his size and gender gave him "power" over a female he pursued romantically.

Short men are indirectly aggressive toward taller men, study finds (STEPHEN JOHNSON, 02 January, 2019, Big Think)

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science uses economic games to examine the Napoleon complex, providing some of the first results on the importance of height in competition between men. [...]

The study suggests that shorter men are more likely to show indirect, rather than direct, aggression toward taller men in competitions for resources. For shorter men, the researchers wrote that these indirect strategies represent safer options than physical combat. Also, the results suggest that the Napoleon complex is most likely to manifest in situations where the shorter man has all the power, and the taller man can't retaliate.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Bernie would be 83 after a term as president. Is that too old? (Jon Margolis, Jan 1 2019, VT Digger)

[F]or the first time, three people in their late 70s -- Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- are on the verge of mounting credible campaigns for president. If any of them gets elected next year, he will turn 80 before his first term ends. That may be too old.

No president has been 80. Most presidents have been in their 50s or 60s when they left office. George Washington was 65. Grant was 54. Teddy Roosevelt was 50, and Dwight Eisenhower, the oldest until Ronald Reagan, was 70. Barack Obama was 55.

Reagan left office a couple of weeks before his 78th birthday. Five years later, he announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. He was then 83. That's how old Sanders will be when the next presidential term ends. Biden will be 82.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 AM


Tom Brady overestimated himself and lost $5 million (Anthony Barstow, January 1, 2019, NY Post)

As part of a series of team-friendly deals the three-time MVP has taken from the Patriots, Brady had $5 million in performance bonuses built into his contract for 2018, and he will receive exactly none of that money.

Brady was in line to receive $1 million for finishing in the top five in the league in each of passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown passes and passing yards, according to contract data from Spotrac.com. He failed to accomplish any of those.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump's character falls short. (Mitt Romney, January 1, 2019, Washington Post)

To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow "our better angels." A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent's shortfall has been most glaring.

The world is also watching. America has long been looked to for leadership. Our economic and military strength was part of that, of course, but our enduring commitment to principled conduct in foreign relations, and to the rights of all people to freedom and equal justice, was even more esteemed. Trump's words and actions have caused dismay around the world. In a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Sweden believed the American president would "do the right thing in world affairs." One year later, that number had fallen to 16 percent.

...if Mitt hadn't run as a Nativist in the 2012 primaries. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


James Watson Won't Stop Talking About Race (Amy Harmon, Jan. 1, 2019, NY Times)

It has been more than a decade since James D. Watson, a founder of modern genetics, landed in a kind of professional exile by suggesting that black people are intrinsically less intelligent than whites.

In 2007, Dr. Watson, who shared a 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, told a British journalist that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really."

Moreover, he added, although he wished everyone were equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true." [...]

[O]ffered the chance recently to recast a tarnished legacy, Dr. Watson has chosen to reaffirm it, this time on camera. In a new documentary, "American Masters: Decoding Watson,'' to be broadcast on P.B.S. on Wednesday night, he is asked whether his views about the relationship between race and intelligence have changed.

"No,'' Dr. Watson said. "Not at all. I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven't seen any knowledge. And there's a difference on the average between blacks and whites on I.Q. tests. I would say the difference is, it's genetic.''

Strip it of its teleology and no one would believe in it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Rural Jobs: A Big Reason Midwest Should Love Clean Energy: From wind power maintenance to energy efficiency upgrades, clean energy job opportunities outnumber fossil fuel work in much of the rural Midwest. (Dan Gearino, DEC 7, 2018, inside Climate News)

In 2017, the latest data in the report, clean energy employed about 158,000 people in the rural Midwest, according to NRDC. While a larger number of clean energy jobs overall were in urban areas, the rural clean energy jobs stand out for making up a bigger percentage of the overall rural economy. 

Gary Easton has seen the growth in his rural southeastern Ohio business, Appalachian Renewable Power. The company, with six employees, installs rooftop solar systems, and most of its customers are in small towns or out in the woods or farms. This week, his clients include a flower shop in Barnesville, Ohio, population about 4,100, where his employees installed solar panels.

"There are years we're experiencing 100 percent growth," Easton said.

"I'm a rural business because this is where I want to live," he said. "This is the kind of place where I want to be."

Fossil fuel industries have faded as major employers in most of the rural Midwest, despite a history in some states closely tied to coal, oil and natural gas production, the report shows. Ten of the 12 states have more rural clean energy jobs than rural fossil fuel jobs. The exceptions are North Dakota, which has the Bakken oil field, and Kansas, where the numbers are close.

Meanwhile, renewable energy has been booming in the region as prices have fallen and wind power has become cheaper than both coal and natural gas in many areas.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


'Wow': NASA startles with invitation to sanctioned Russian (BEN SCHRECKINGER, 01/01/2019, Politico)

A Trump administration official's plan to host a sanctioned Russian nationalist in the U.S. in the coming months is raising alarms among Russia hawks in Washington.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine extended an October invitation for his counterpart, Dmitry Rogozin, to visit NASA headquarters in Houston in early 2019. U.S.-Russia space cooperation is nothing new. But Rogozin is no typical rocket-science technocrat. He is an ultranationalist politician with a record of stark racism and homophobia who is under American sanctions, which typically bar him from entering the U.S. over his 2014 role, as deputy prime minister, in Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll: What do Democrats want in 2020? Someone new - and Biden  (Susan Page and Bill Theobald, 12/26/18, USA TODAY)

Asking voters their pick for president more than a year before the primaries begin typically doesn't tell you much beyond name recognition. Instead of asking about support, a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll tested which candidates now seem intriguing to voters, and who turns them off, in an effort to get clues about the dynamic ahead. 

Landing at the top of the list of 11 options was "someone entirely new" - perhaps a prospect not on the political radar screen yet. Nearly six in 10 of those surveyed - 59 percent - said they would be "excited" about a candidate like that; only 11 percent said they'd prefer that a new face not run.  [...]

Voters were open to the idea of considering someone new to challenge Trump, who announced his campaign for re-election on the day he was inaugurated for his first term. Four newcomers to national politics scored net positive reactions to potential candidacies.

Thirty percent said they would be excited about O'Rourke, 46, running; just 13 percent said he shouldn't, a net positive of 17 percentage points. He also had room to grow: More than a third of those surveyed, 35 percent, said they had never heard of him. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kentucky Distillers Scientifically Emulate A Century-Old Bottle Of Bourbon (ASHLIE STEVENS, 1/01/19, Louisville Public Media)

[T]hat antique bottle of Old Taylor, which was originally released in 1917, inspired Eaves -- whose background is in chemical engineering -- to use new technology to examine the bourbon's past. [...]

Susan Reigler, a bourbon historian and biologist, explains that in order for a distillate to be considered bourbon, it must meet a few basic requirements: the spirit has to be grain based; the mash bill (mix of grains) has to be 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new, charred-oak barrels; and it must not be introduced to the barrel at higher than 125 proof.

"Because of this, certainly, the process that goes on in the still is basically the same -- the chemistry is the same," says Reigler, who is also the author of The Bourbon Tasting Notebook. "And the compounds in the spirit are something that can be assessed."

Which is exactly what Eaves did.

"We decided to use a good old-fashioned 'GC' -- gas chromatography," she says.

Chromatography is a process used by scientists to separate a mixture of chemicals, in liquid or gas form, into components by running it over the surface of another substance, typically a liquid or solid. A visual example often used in classrooms is pouring a water droplet onto an ink mark on a piece of paper. The ink -- which is a liquid mixture of several dyes -- will separate on the paper into distinct, colored streaks.

In the case of the Old Taylor bourbon, the liquid was separated into different chemical compounds.

"Then we looked at these chemical compounds and from there, we were able to figure out what grains he was using, [and found] a yeast strain that has a similar flavor profile," Eaves says. "So that's how we went about it and constructed our recipe based on it, loosely. We didn't really want to replicate what he was making exactly, but take those flavor cues from the past, and then model our recipe around that."

January 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


More than 13 million Palestinians in the world by end of 2018 (Middle East Monitor, January 1, 2019)

The projected number of Palestinians in the world is 13.05 million, of whom 4.91 million are in the State of Palestine, 1.57 million in Israel, 5.85 million in Arab countries and around 717,000 in foreign countries, Ola Awad, President of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said on Monday in a brief on the status of the Palestinian people at the end of 2018. [...]

The total fertility rate declined during (2011-2013) to 4.1 births (compared to 5.9 births in 1999). In Gaza Strip, the rate was 4.5 births compared to 3.7 births in the West Bank during 2011-2013.

Israel's population nears 9 million on eve of 2019 (STUART WINER, 31 December 2018, Times Of Israel)

Of that number, 6,668,000 (74.3%) are Jews, 1,878,000 are Arabs (20.9%) and 426,000 (4.8%) are other.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Brazil Is About To Show The World How A Modern Democracy Collapses (Travis Waldron, 01/01/2019, The Guardian)
Brazil was already one of the world's most unequal countries in terms of income distribution, and while the poor unquestionably benefited from the Workers' Party's policies ― including a hike in the minimum wage ― the vast majority of the economic gains achieved under da Silva went to the richest 1 percent of Brazil's population. So even as a new lower-middle class earned more than it ever had, Brazil's obscene levels of income inequality likely expanded during the good years. Violent crime had been reduced, but not to levels befitting a developed democracy: Even before the economic collapse, Brazil was home to more than a dozen of the planet's 50 most violent cities. 

Things got worse: The economy collapsed in 2013, plunging millions out of work and millions more back into poverty. In 2014, a money-laundering investigation turned into the world's broadest political corruption investigation. Known as Operation Car Wash, or "Lava Jato" in Portuguese, it has implicated hundreds of Brazilian politicians, including da Silva and outgoing President Michel Temer, of the centrist Democratic Movement Party. Violent crime has surged ― there were more than 60,000 homicides in each of the last two years. President Dilma Rousseff, da Silva's hand-picked successor, was impeached in 2016. Da Silva was convicted on money-laundering charges in 2017 and imprisoned this year; Temer has only narrowly escaped trial on bribery charges.

Brazil's Incoming President Enjoys Strong Support, Poll Shows (Mario Sergio Lima, December 13, 2018, Bloomberg)

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is backed by the vast majority of Brazilians, according to a public opinion poll published less than three weeks ahead of his inauguration.

Roughly 75 percent of the population believes the incoming president is on the right path, according to an Ibope survey published on Thursday by Brazil's National Industry Confederation, or CNI. Sixty-four percent expect his government to be good or great, while 14 percent said it will be bad or terrible.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Shutdowns Always Backfire--Especially on Republicans (Brian Riedl, 12/25/18, The Daily Beast)

[S]hutdowns backfire for four reasons:

First, they never succeed at winning the demand in question. The 1995-1996 "Gingrich shutdown" was intended to force President Clinton to accept significant spending reforms. The 2013 "ObamaCare shutdown" was meant to pressure President Obama to repeal his signature law.

The early-2018 "Dreamer shutdown" saw Senate Democrats filibuster government funding legislation in hopes of forcing Republicans to re-open immigration policy. In all three cases, an intense public backlash weakened the aggressors' hands, until vulnerable members decided to stop committing political suicide. There is no reason to believe the latest shutdown will end differently.
Second, shutdowns alienate moderates and independents. While the party's base cheers their lawmakers' "fighting spirit," moderates and independents see a temper tantrum and a government held hostage. As national parks close, passports are delayed, and federal loans go unprocessed, the party shutting down the government alienates the swing voters who decide elections. Approximately two-thirds of independents oppose the new shutdown.

Third, failed shutdowns disillusion party activists. During the 2013 ObamaCare shutdown, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Republican lawmakers convinced many conservatives that they could force Democrats to repeal ObamaCare if only they show the requisite backbone. This was absurd. No level of congressional Republican unity could change the fact that Democrats controlled the Senate, and President Obama was never going to repeal his signature law--especially with the public firmly opposing the shutdown.

When the gambit inevitably failed, many conservative activists concluded that Republican lawmakers must have lacked the promised backbone. This sense of betrayal fed the chaotic 2014 Senate primaries that ended up costing the GOP several winnable Senate seats, and that feeling of betrayal continues to feed the Republican activist base's distrust of its congressional leaders. Over-promising and under-delivering is a recipe for political disaster.

Fourth, the backlash against shutdowns sabotages their initial policy goals. Back in 1995, the new Republican congressional majority enjoyed strong public support in its effort to rein in spending and balance the budget. Yet by foolishly overplaying their hand and shutting down the government for 26 days, Republicans fed the stereotype of heartless budget-cutters willing to burn Washington to the ground to get their way.

Gingrich became the least popular politician in America, while a previously vulnerable President Clinton coasted to re-election in his new role as the defender of key spending priorities and policy stability.

Democrats ought not even return to Washington until he folds.

Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


Beyond 'no comment': The White House has no response -- at all -- to many media questions (Paul Farhi, December 31, 2018, Washington Post)

Instead of "no comment," Trump's press representatives often don't bother saying anything at all.

"This is the least responsive White House press operation I've ever dealt with by far," said Peter Baker, a veteran White House reporter for the New York Times and one of the co-authors of the story about Trump's isolation. "There are certainly individuals there who are professional and try to be helpful when they can, and I appreciate their efforts, I really do. But as a whole, I've learned not to expect answers even to basic questions."

Adds Baker, "I don't know why that is. I don't take it personally. But it's a lost opportunity on their part to get their side of the story out."

The White House has had no response to stories large and small in recent days: reports that Trump planned to meet with Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell, whom he has criticized (no response to Agence France-Presse); the partial shutdown of the federal government (no response to Reuters or USA Today); a report by an advocacy group that wealthy donors gave $55 million to groups supporting his reelection, despite Trump's stated opposition to such donations during the 2016 campaign (no response to Washington Post); Trump's statement that former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was "dumb as a rock" (no response to CNBC); a piece in the Times reporting that a podiatrist may have helped Trump dodge the draft when Trump was a young man at the height of the Vietnam War.

At the same time, the White House seems to have all but stopped explaining Trump's bizarre tweets.

...it's evil defending evil.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


If we must look to the past, let's make it 1989 - a year of transformation (John Harris, 1 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

Whatever happened to the future? Brexiteers cling on to a fantastical mixture of empire, war and an England whose genius was supposedly embodied by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. In the United States, Donald Trump harks back to an America of economic might: musclebound men toiling in car factories and coalmines, and splendid isolation. A recent issue of the Economist surveyed politics in Europe and the US and observed "an orgy of reminiscence", partly traceable to the fact that millions of westerners cannot shake off a deep and understandable sense of decline.

There's an obvious irony in having to look back to find something better, but 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of a run of events that embodied pretty much the polar opposite: optimism, faith in the future and a sense of shared humanity that could not be more different from the polarised, rancorous mood of today. As this year unfolds, the events of 1989 - a year as replete with significance as 1848, 1945 or 1968 - will be celebrated and picked apart; in Berlin there will be an impressive run of commemorative events . Leafing through histories of the time, and thinking back to what happened, what most sticks out is a set of emotions and impulses that we would do well to revive: defiance, joy, an urge to run headlong into whatever happened next.

The year 1989 was one of largely peaceful revolutions that swept through central and eastern Europe, calling time on Soviet communism. In that region of the world, humanity confronted a wall of power that surreally crumbled away.

Mr. Harris is entirely right; he just misunderstands his own point.  The end of the Cold War was simply a matter of electorates reclaiming self-rule from oppressive transnational entities.  While that is most obvious in the case of the fall of the Iron Curtain and eventually the USSR itself, in the West the removal of the Soviet threat meant that we could no longer justify occupying several nations along important naval choke points: South Africa, Palestine and Ireland.  Likewise, our fascist allies in places like Chile and the Philippines were forced to liberalize once the threat had passed.

Subsequent and ongoing armed conflicts are overwhelmingly just a function of working out the rest of these transnationalist breakups--Yugoslavia, China, Russia, Iraq, the Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.

Meanwhile, though the Left dreams of, and the Right is terrorized by fears of, a transnationalist future, the reality is that the determinative political force in the West is centrifugal, not centripetal.  Voters in Catalonia and Scotland will get their own nations back soon enough; places like Belgium, the PRC, Iraq, Israel and the Lebanon are unsustainable as single entities; and if a Puerto Rico or a Wales coalesced around an independence movement no one would stop them from leaving.

All of this helps explain why, contrary to the Remain crowd, the Leavers represent the future, not the past.  The fancy of a unified European state has always been delusional and never moreso than when the entire political globe is being driven by a movement towards increased popular sovereignty. To look at the long run of Anglospheric history and see in it a destiny where Englishmen would allow their nation to be governed by unelected bureaucrats from France and Germany is to indulge in fantasy.

Of course, the flipside of this is that the Right is indulging its own fantasy when it dreams of a walled nation, impervious to immigration and trade. Even the most nationalistic and demographically challenged of states, like Japan, are being forced to accept greater immigration and seek out freer trade, just to preserve their economies. Globalization--which amounts to nothing more than the information revolution exposing the entire globe to Anglospheric ideas--has sped the End of History, which consists of the democracy, capitalism and protestantism that Britain and its children had arrived at by the late 18th century.  Various states may try to resist one of the three strands, but their efforts to do so are doomed. Mankind has proven ludicrously unable to determine any superior way to organize itself.  

Why Britain decided to leave the EU - but other countries haven't (Anthony Browne, 29 December 2018, The Spectator)

We are just about the only EU member that has not had experience of dictatorship in living memory (Sweden is the other major exception). In Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Lithuania and so on, the older generations remember what it is like to live under a dictatorship - sometimes into the 1970s and 80s - where the government really is the enemy. That is not true in the UK. That leads to a far more fundamental trust in our own government and institutions than in almost all other EU countries. I know that might sound incredible with our politics in the doldrums, but we fundamentally expect and unashamedly demand our government works for us, in a way that is very rare in other EU countries, where the population are often astonishingly suspicious of their governments. In Italy, for example, people so distrust their successive national governments because of their incompetence and corruption that they have been generally happy to transfer power to Brussels as a way to raise standards. In the UK, Denmark and Sweden, popular belief in democracy is notably more fundamental than other EU members, quite simple because we have been practicing it continuously for so much longer (albeit interrupted by Nazi occupation in Denmark's case).

Finally, we are the only EU member with an alternative family we belong to. Living in Brussels, I was always impressed by how much other EU diplomats felt their countries had to hang together to protect themselves against the outside world. 'It is all we have: each other,' I remember one explaining. But as a country we also feel very close - indeed closer - to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is not just at government level with agreements like the Five Eyes intelligence sharing regime and (except the US) a common head of state, but it is part of our culture, as a result of shared history and language. If you look at the statistics on where British people go to study, go on holiday, go to work, and who they marry, we are far closer to these other English speaking countries than any other EU country is. No other EU country has that alternative large and successful developed family (yes, Spain has much of Latin America, Portugal has Brazil, France has Quebec, the Netherlands has the Afrikaaners, but in no case is it a large family of peers; the Scandinavian countries are all very close, but three of them are already in the EU). A third of the global economy is countries we feel very close to who speak our language, and that makes us more secure as a country about striking out on our own. Leading Australian politicians have been notably vocal in urging us to leave the EU and come back to our family.

None of this is an argument for Brexit, but it does help explain why Euroscepticism led to a referendum to leave the EU here, and not anywhere else.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


How Nirvana's Iconic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Came to Be: An Animated Video Narrated by T-Bone Burnett Tells the True Story (Open Culture,  January 1st, 2019)

Cobain played this up to a degree--the irony of an indie band announcing the second coming of charged DIY punk rock with a song that netted them a major label deal and put him on the path to superstardom. When Nirvana debuted their soon-to-be iconic hit live at Seattle's OK Hotel on April 17th, 1991, the usually taciturn frontman introduced himself by saying, "Hello. We're major label corporate rock sellouts."

Given his sardonic sense of humor, fans have generally assumed some kind of anti-capitalist in-joke in the title of the song, with its reference to a popular brand of deodorant. But in a more dramatic irony, Cobain had no idea when he wrote and recorded it that "Teen Spirit was a product, aimed at teenage girls." The song's title, as you'll learn in the short, animated backstory in the video above, originated with Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna, who scrawled it on Cobain's wall with a Sharpie after the two shared a night of heavy drinking and politically righteous vandalism.

Narrated by T-Bone Burnett and animated by Drew Christie, the award-winning short "Drawn & Recorded: Teen Spirit" condenses the song's story (which you can read about in more depth here) into two and a half minutes of pop culture history and commentary. Upon waking up and seeing Hanna's message on the wall, Cobain was immediately flattered: "Kurt thought it meant he was a radical, a revolutionary, a feminist, a punk, an anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anarchist crusader." He got right to work on the song's chorus.

But Hanna mainly meant to say he literally smelled like Teen Spirit, which happened to be the brand of deodorant his then-girlfriend--Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail--used. "I didn't know that the deodorant spray existed until six months after the single came out," he told Michael Azerrad in the biography Come as You Are. He didn't intend to write an advertisement, of course. But in yet another grim twist, "after the song came out," Burnett monotones, "sales of Teen Spirit went through the roof."

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Batman at His Gritty and Virtuous Best (BRADLEY J. BIRZER, November 27, 2018, American Conservative)

Conceived by Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Mitch Brian, Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS) brought something radically and profoundly new to the character. Unlike previous incarnations, this Batman was moody, brooding, violent, conflicted, driven, and heroic from his opening moments. He did not carry shark spray, dance with go-go girls, crack one-liners, dress down Robin in moral tones, drive the Batmobile through the express window at the local fast food joint, or hire artists formerly known as Prince to write theme music.

Instead, he applied his many finely honed and inherited skills to saving his metropolis from near-certain doom. Though B:TAS drew much of its character inspiration from Frank Miller's then-recently published graphic novel masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns, it drew even more upon the Batman as re-conceived in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Denny O'Neil, Len Wein, and Neal Adams. Their Batman--remembered as the Bronze Age Batman--was first and foremost a detective in the noir and gothic traditions, searching alleys, apartments, and graveyards. As with many of the best storytellers of the last half century, Timm also found much to love in the pulps of the first half of the 20th century, especially in Doc Savage and The Shadow. [...]

Most tellingly, though, B:TAS refused to compromise when it came to storytelling and heroic virtue. B:TAS's Batman is a wonderfully intense and serious Batman, dedicating himself fully and somewhat obsessively to bettering the world of American urban grit, crime, and terror. Significantly, he is first and foremost a vigilante, though one with a strong moral and ethical set of self-imposed rules and limitations. He never kills, though he does terrorize when necessary. "Batman does not work directly with the police. He's not a member of the force or a deputized agent," the series' bible insists. Rather he's "on a one-man fight against crime."

While a billionaire, as in the traditional telling of the Batman story, Wayne is more concerned with technique and the art of deception than he is with endless gadgets. He has honed his abilities--in fighting and in perception--to the height of human capability. Gotham as a whole never knows exactly what to make of Batman, unsure of his intentions and his methods, viewing him as neither a patron saint nor a guardian angel.

Equally critical, the villains in B:TAS represent evil, not mere wrongdoing. "Our stories will be hard-edged crime dramas with villains who play for keeps," says the series' bible, which describes the bad guys as "wild, dark, and sinister." Yet, importantly, the writers never made the bad guys absurdly evil. Instead, the best of the B:TAS writers, such as Paul Dini, recognized the necessity of endowing motivation as well as depth to each. "I think the villains are really consumed with personal pain and that pain sort of stimulates a sense of the theatrical and wicked in them," he told an interviewer.

is his desire to kill Joe Chill set off against his acceptance of the strictures of civilization.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro tries to unite the entire right (Deutsche-Welle, 1/01/19)

Politics without ideologies and party cliques -- this was Jair Messias Bolsonaro's campaign promise. And Brazil's incoming president has indeed assembled an administration with diverse affiliations. There are seven career politicians in Bolsonaro's cabinet, seven military men and eight "technocrats."

The most obvious division is between the "Chicago boys" -- nicknamed for their affinity for the laissez-faire economists turned out for decades by the University of Chicago -- and the military wing, including Bolsonaro himself and his vice president, General Hamilton Mourao. Led by the finance guru, banker and incoming economy minister Paulo Guedes, the classically liberal economists intend to cut state spending as much as they can.

Guedes intends to cut subsidies for entrepreneurs, as well as pensions in the public sector. State-owned enterprises are to be privatized. This puts him on a collision course with the military, which does not want to see strategic industries, such as oil production and electricity supply, in foreign hands.

"There are major differences in economic policy," the political scientist Oliver Stuenkel told DW. "However, the military also knows that the Chicago boys were incredibly important in winning the elections. This is the reason banks and investors supported Bolsonaro's candidacy." [...]

Bolsonaro's core election promise was to keep political parties out of government. He had blamed them for Brazil's years of political instability and corruption scandals. "Not only will that fail, but I doubt it will even be attempted," the FGV's Praca said. "Of course, there is a desire to govern differently than before. It's also a way of making it clear to party leaders that the new government won't go along with the way everything used to be done."

Things will probably continue as before. "You can't govern without making concessions to the parties," Praca said. "Perhaps we could keep it going for a month or two, but it doesn't work as a government strategy. There is going to be a fast learning curve."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Did Jerome Corsi Flip? Roger Stone Is Suspicious -- And Furious (Matthew Chapman, December 31, 2018, National Memo)

According to the Washington Examiner, Stone's anger comes from the fact that Corsi stated in recent interviews he had told Stone and "many" others about the Russia-linked theft of emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta before they had been published to WikiLeaks.

Stone hinted he had advance knowledge of the document dump in 2016, tweeting that it would soon be Podesta's "time in the barrel" weeks before the first of his emails were released on the vigilante intelligence group's website. He has since tried to claim he was not involved in the operation and only heard about it from comedian Randy Credico -- who vehemently denies it. Mueller has opened an investigation into the full extent of Stone's involvement, and if it turned out that Stone lied to investigators or to Congress, he could be in serious trouble.

But the fact that Stone is now turning on Corsi is especially notable, as Corsi has -- at least publicly -- been one of Stone's most steadfast and loyal allies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Netanyahu says Arab countries see Israel as 'ally' against Iran (AFP, 1/01/19)

Donald has us on the wrong side of History here.

The U.S. put a Yemeni warlord on a terrorist list. One of its close allies is still arming him. (Sudarsan Raghavan December 29, 2018, Washington Post)

Last year, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a powerful Yemeni Islamist warlord, accusing him of being a "prominent military instructor" and fundraiser for al-Qaeda who had also at one point "served with" the Islamic State and financed its forces.

But Abu al-Abbas is not on the run. He is not even in hiding.

By his own admission, Abbas continues to receive millions of dollars in weapons and financial support for his fighters from one of Washington's closest Middle East allies, the United Arab Emirates, undermining U.S. counterterrorism goals in Yemen.

The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, leads a regional coalition waging war in Yemen even as a humanitarian crisis there worsens. The coalition's main goal is to defeat the northern Yemeni rebels known as Houthis and restore the country's ousted government. The United States assists it with intelligence gathering, logistical support and the sale of billions of dollars in weapons and equipment -- including several MRAP armored vehicles that have ended up in Abbas's hands, according to one of the warlord's top aides and photos publicly available online.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


India said to hand Iran $637m tax break for oil import deal (MICHAEL BACHNER, 1/01/19, Times of India)

India has reportedly handed Iran a tax break worth hundreds of millions of dollars, effectively green-lighting a crude oil import deal that had thus far been hindered by sweeping US sanctions.

India, one of among eight countries exempted from those sanctions for six months, has moved to pay for the oil in its currency, rupee, since the main banking channels dealing with global currencies are blocked by Washington's measures.

The $1.5 billion crude oil deal was signed on November 2 between India's finance ministry and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Reuters reported Monday, citing a government order.