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.