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."