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.