February 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Joe Biden embraced segregation in 1975, claiming it was a matter of 'black pride' (Alana Goodman, January 31, 2019, Washington Examiner)

[4]4 years ago, facing a backlash against busing from white voters, the future vice president voiced concerns not just about the policy of busing, which he had supported when first seeking election in 1972, but about the impact of desegregation on American society. He argued that segregation was good for blacks and was what they wanted.

"I think the concept of busing ... that we are going to integrate people so that they all have the same access and they learn to grow up with one another and all the rest, is a rejection of the whole movement of black pride," said Biden. Desegregation, he argued, was "a rejection of the entire black awareness concept, where black is beautiful, black culture should be studied; and the cultural awareness of the importance of their own identity, their own individuality."

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Naturalized citizens suing over Texas voter citizenship review, calling it conspiracy to single out foreign-born Texans (ALEXA URA, FEB. 2, 2019, Texas Tribune)

A group of Latino voters is suing top state officials who they allege unlawfully conspired to violate their constitutional rights by singling them out for investigation and removal from the voter rolls because they are foreign-born.

Filed in a Corpus Christi-based federal court on Friday night, the suit alleges that the decision by state officials to advise counties to review the citizenship status of tens of thousands of registered voters it flagged using flawed data runs contrary to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act because it imposes additional requirements to register to vote on naturalized citizens.

Joined in the suit by several organizations that advocate for Latinos in Texas, the seven voters suing the state all obtained their driver's license before becoming naturalized citizens and subsequently registered to vote.

Their lawsuit -- which names Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas secretary of state David Whitley, attorney general Ken Paxton and one local official as defendants -- asks the court to halt the state's review and block officials from taking any action against them based on their national origin. It also asks Whitley to refrain from targeting new citizens for voter purges and to withdraw his current list "unless and until it acquires information that the voters are currently ineligible to vote."

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


In the Pale of Winter, Trump's Tan Remains a State Secret (Katie Rogers, Feb. 2, 2019, Washington Post)

Certainly Mr. Trump, who has long taken antibiotics to treat rosacea, a condition that can make the skin appear rosy and ruddy, is attentive to how he looks on television. He has complained that his skin and hair appear too yellow or orange on the screen, according to one person familiar with his views.

As a result, events in the White House are now more dimly lit than in previous administrations.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Howard Schultz Derangement Syndrome (Bret Stephens, Feb. 1, 2019, NY Times)

Schultz's politics are to the left of mine, but I would vote for someone like him in a heartbeat if the other names on the ballot are Trump and, say, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Isn't candidate diversity supposed to be something liberals believe in?

I'm not alone. Tens of millions of Americans were defined as the "Exhausted Majority" by last year's pathbreaking "Hidden Tribes" report from the More In Common research group. It found that two-thirds of Americans are neither conservatives nor progressives. They are moderates, liberals and the disengaged, defined by their ideological flexibility, support for compromise, fatigue with the political debate -- and the sense that they're being ignored and forgotten.

"America's Exhausted Majority wants to see the opposing tribes move beyond constant conflict," the report notes. "Many who have disengaged from politics (especially in the Passive Liberal and Politically Disengaged groups) cite the tribal behavior of political combatants as a reason."

An independent candidacy like Schultz's exists to appeal to this silent majority. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Gantz and Lapid in talks to unite, decision 'within 2 weeks,' says Yesh Atid MK (Times of Israel, 2/02/19)

A leading member of the centrist opposition party, Yesh Atid, said Saturday his party was holding talks with Benny Gantz's Israel Resilience party on the possibility of joining forces in the April 9 election. [...]

Gantz formally launched his Israel Resilience party's election campaign last Tuesday, when he also announced an electoral alliance with fellow former IDF chief and ex-Likud defense minister Moshe Ya'alon.

Polls released the day after showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud leading with around 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, followed by Israel Resilience with 21-24 seats. One survey indicated Gantz was polling neck-and-neck with Netanyahu as the public's preferred choice of prime minister.

That same poll also said Gantz could defeat Netanyahu if he led an alliance with Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid -- with 35 seats to Likud's 30 --  though Lapid has not indicated he would be willing to be second in such a tie-up.

Also on Saturday, a lawmaker from Likud said the party had made a mistake in going after Gantz.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


David Axelrod on Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and the 2020 Field (Isaac Chotiner, 2/02/19, The New Yorker)

Trump is at around thirty-nine per cent in the polls. That's all adults. When you make that registered voters or likely voters, it's probably forty-three per cent or so. We know he may only need to get forty-six, forty-seven per cent to win, thanks to the Electoral College. Given that he's just had a horrific couple months, it doesn't seem to me like he's actually that far off from once again stitching together a winning coalition.

I think it's hard for him. He drew an inside straight in the last [Presidential] election and squeaked through in the upper Midwest, which showed real resistance to him in the midterm elections. If he were to lose Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all of which had strong Democratic showings in 2018, he would lose the Presidency, and there's not one state I can think of that Trump could add. [...]

Are you worried about Democrats possibly moving too far left on cultural or economic issues?

I think that what is most important is to not send the signals that were sent in 2016, which is, "We've got young people, we've got minorities, we've got women, so, you white working-class guys, we don't really need you." They believed it. They voted for Trump. And that is something that you can affect at the margins by addressing your message broadly, and I think Democrats should do that.

I think the country as a whole is restless on the issue of health care, whether it's Medicare-for-all or some other prescription, as it were. I think people are eager for another round of health-care reform. I do think people think that there's something wrong with our system right now, with this tremendous aggregation of wealth at the top while the majority of people are pedalling faster and faster to keep up. So I don't think those issues are particularly radical. How you address them is another question.

What's your biggest fear about how they're addressed politically?

I don't have that much of a concern. I mean, obviously, Democrats made big gains in the suburbs. One could make the argument that talk of a wealth tax or taxing people who make more than ten million dollars a year and so on is somehow radical. I don't think most Americans, broadly, feel that way. So, on the economic issues, I have less concerns.

We are a very diverse country, culturally, and how you approach those issues is important. I think about what made Beto O'Rourke, for example, a successful candidate in Texas. He had a progressive platform. But the thing that made him successful, to the extent he was successful there, was this sense that he was going out, he was having honest dialogue with people, he was listening to them, he was respectful of who they were, he was trying to work through some of these issues. And I think that's the tone that the Democrats should set.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Russia Is Attacking the U.S. System From Within: A new filing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller shows how Russia uses the federal courts to go after its adversaries. (NATASHA BERTRAND, 2/01/19, The Atlantic)

According to the filing, the special counsel's office turned over one million pages of evidence to lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting as part of the discovery process. The firm is accused of funding the troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency. But someone connected to Concord allegedly manipulated and leaked those documents to reporters, hoping the documents would make people think that Mueller's evidence against the troll farm and its owners was flimsy. The tactic didn't seem to convince anyone, but it appeared to mark yet another example of Russia exploiting the U.S. justice system to undercut its rivals abroad.

Last year, I detailed how Russia has figured out how to use the U.S. immigration courts and so-called "Red Notices" issued by Interpol to harrass and even detain its enemies. But it doesn't end there. Experts say Kremlin proxies have targeted their rivals and other disfavored individuals by exploiting U.S. courts to pursue bogus claims via "superficially legitimate lawsuits," Anders Aslund, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said in a recent report. He worked as an economic adviser to the Russian government from 1991 to 1994. The Kremlin proxies have done so not only to perpetuate global harassment campaigns against their perceived enemies, Anders argued, but also to "enrich themselves through bad faith claims made possible by the Russian state's abuse of disfavored individuals and their businesses."  

When Mueller indicted Concord Management and Consulting in February 2018, along with two other corporate entities and 13 Russian nationals allegedly connected to the Internet Research Agency, it seemed highly unlikely that the indictment would result in a trial because Russians cannot be extradited to the United States. But Concord unexpectedly hired the well-connected American law firm, Reed Smith, to fight Mueller, arguing that the charges should be dropped because the special counsel was illegally appointed. The judge in the case, Dabney Friedrich, has twice refused to dismiss the case and recently lambasted Concord's American  lawyers for submitting "unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective" court filings, and the legal battle has raged on.

Now, according to the Mueller filing this week, unidentified actors working out of Russia appear to have weaponize the U.S. discovery process to Concord's benefit. 

Note that the Concord case has been a main Trumpbot talking point as they were used to supply information to Vlad, exactly as Devin Nunes was. It's just one way in which the Right is objectively pro-Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


The $300 Million Paydays Eluding Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (Brandon Kochkodin, February 1, 2019, Bloomberg)

[U]nlike in the free-wheeling days of A-Rod, the Moneyball principles made famous by Billy Beane's Oakland Athletics have taken over the game. The theoretical value of huge talents like Harper and Machado -- who hit a combined 359 home runs over the past seven seasons -- are determined by stats fed through algorithms in the front office.

Those algos are often similar, leading most teams to come to a like-minded valuation of every player, wrenching all life from the free agent market.

"I wonder if the front offices have finally figured out that they have for years systematically overpaid older free agents, and that the money is better spent on piles of younger ones, who they don't have to pay much," Michael Lewis, whose book "Moneyball" traced the evolution of baseball analytics, said in an email.

While not giving money to older free agents makes perfect sense in the post-PED era, not giving it to these young guys makes less.  Machado's best comp is Adrian Beltre and, if you measure by WAR (wins above replacement player) with each WAR currently costing under $8 million, even a $300 million contract only needs to buy you 37.5 wins, which Beltre basically did in just his next 7 years at the same stage of his career.   Of course, Beltre was a world-class teammate and clubs are reportedly less interested in signing Manny after meeting with him....
Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


The keys to the brilliant Brady-Belichick partnership can be found in the Patriots' Wednesday morning meetings (Michael Lombardi Feb 1, 2019, The Athletic)

Former Knicks coach and current ESPN announcer Jeff Van Gundy has a quote that perfectly describes Tom Brady: "Your best player has to set a tone of intolerance for anything that gets in the way of winning." Brady sets that tone. He has been the best player on the Patriots since 2001, and his eagerness to always put the team first, his willingness to work the hardest, prepare the longest and, most of all, never find satisfaction in any individual honor or single Super Bowl victory sets him apart from most great players. Both Brady and Belichick have an insatiable appetite for winning and share the philosophy that legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi displayed when he said: "The greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more." The drive to always do more regardless of what they've already achieved is the secret sauce to Brady and Belichick's success.

Many NFL fans believe that without Brady under center for all these years, Belichick would be an average coach. That is misguided. Of course Brady is hugely responsible for the success of the Patriots, but no player can dominate any sport without the supporting cast, the right scheme, the right coaches and, most of all, the right culture that the coach sets. Just ask Lakers star LeBron James or any frustrated Packers fans who have watched two of the greatest quarterbacks of our generation, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and yet have only seen two Super Bowl victories between them. Part of what makes Brady so great is his willingness to develop and accept Belichick's culture. The partnership of Brady and Belichick makes the team strong; it makes the organization consistent and allows the culture to nourish.

In those 8 a.m. team meetings, Brady is not immune from being criticized. Belichick shows no favoritism when making his point. The coach is chasing perfection. And since Brady is often the driving force toward that perfection, he will make mistakes and then deal with Belichick's mild-mannered but harsh assessment. Never raising his voice, Belichick is evident with his analysis. And by being able to disparage Brady, he gains the attention of the other players. There were so many times when I've overheard a new player leaving his first team meeting express to a new teammate: "Man. If he gets on Brady, no one is safe."

No matter how well Brady plays on the field, no matter how many touchdown passes he throws or comeback drives he leads, allowing Belichick to coach him hard is his most beautiful trait and one that has allowed the Patriots' dynasty to continue.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


The President Said No Site Was Picked For Trump Moscow -- But Documents Show His Fixers Were Scoping A Prime Location (Emma Loop, 2/01/19, BuzzFeed News)

 President Donald Trump said Thursday that his company had not selected a location to build a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential election.

"That deal was not important. It was essentially a letter of intent or an option. I'm not even sure that they had a site," Trump told the New York Times in a wide-ranging interview, excerpts of which the paper published online.

"I don't think they had a location," he said later in the interview. "I'm not even sure if they had a location."

In fact, hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans obtained by BuzzFeed News show that the Trump Organization was scoping at least one prime location for the luxury glass skyscraper. The signed letter of intent includes a proposal to build the tower in Moscow City, a former industrial complex near the edge of the Moscow River that has since been converted into an ambitious commercial district clustered with several of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


One Of The Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With The FBI (Salvador Hernandez, 1/31/19, BuzzFeed News)

Family Tree DNA, one of the largest private genetic testing companies whose home-testing kits enable people to trace their ancestry and locate relatives, is working with the FBI and allowing agents to search its vast genealogy database in an effort to solve violent crime cases, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Federal and local law enforcement have used public genealogy databases for more than two years to solve cold cases, including the landmark capture of the suspected Golden State Killer, but the cooperation with Family Tree DNA and the FBI marks the first time a private firm has agreed to voluntarily allow law enforcement access to its database.

While the FBI does not have the ability to freely browse genetic profiles in the library, the move is sure to raise privacy concerns about law enforcement gaining the ability to look for DNA matches, or more likely, relatives linked by uploaded user data.

For law enforcement officials, the access could be the key to unlocking murders and rapes that have gone cold for years, opening up what many argue is the greatest investigative tactic since the advent of DNA identification. For privacy advocates, the FBI's new ability to match the genetic profiles from a private company could set a dangerous precedent in a world where DNA test kits have become as common as a Christmas stocking stuffer.

The Houston-based company, which touts itself as a pioneer in the genetic testing industry and the first to offer a direct-to-consumer test kit, disclosed its relationship with the FBI to BuzzFeed News on Thursday, saying in a statement that allowing access "would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever."

People should be paid to provide their DNA, perhaps via a tax rebate with the feds then making the data universally available.

Bear Brook Podcast (NHPR)


IT WAS THE last Saturday of June and CeCe Moore had been working on her couch, hunched over her laptop for 16 hours straight. The month before, the genetic genealogist had been hired by a forensic DNA company in Virginia called Parabon, to lead its new division devoted to long-range familial searching. She was immersed in a case out of Fort Wayne, Indiana; In the spring of 1998, eight-year-old April Tinsley went missing from her home. Three days later, a jogger discovered her body in a ditch on DeKalb County Road 68, about 20 miles outside of town. She had been raped and strangled to death.

For years, Tinsley's killer haunted that northeastern corner of Indiana, leaving messages scrawled on a barn bragging of his crime. In 2004, four threatening notes appeared on bicycles owned by young girls that had been left in their yards. The notes, which were claimed to be written by the same person that killed Tinsley, were placed inside baggies alongside used condoms. The semen matched DNA found in Tinsley's underwear.

This summer, Indiana investigators extracted DNA from the original crime scene and sent it to Parabon. There, the company reverse-engineered the information into a DNA data profile similar to what you would get back from consumer genetics companies like 23andMe or Ancestry. Then they uploaded it to GEDMatch and waited for a match. They got 12. Twelve relatives, ranging from fifth to third cousins.

So that's where Moore started, that weekend in June. The cousins represented four different family trees containing thousands of people, all of which somehow had to tie into the Fort Wayne killer. The first thing she did was work backward in time to locate ancestors from whom the suspect and the 12 matches were both descended. Eventually she found four couples, born between 1809 and 1849. Once she had them, she could move forward in history, building out family trees of every generation until the present. She did this by tracking names and faces through census records, newspaper archives, school yearbooks, and social media.

By the time night fell over her home in San Diego, she had begun to close in on a single branch, into which the four genetic tributaries all ran. From there things moved quickly. As the clock ticked past midnight, she found the relatives that had struck out for Indiana. It didn't take much longer to circle in on two brothers who lived in the area where Tinsley was murdered. Full siblings are as close as genetic genealogy can get. But Moore had a hunch. One brother struck her as a recluse; he had no wife or kids, he lived in a trailer, there were no pictures of him anywhere, and his family never mentioned him on Facebook.

Moore laid this all out for the Indiana investigators. A few days later they came back to her with a photo of one of the two brothers, with a hand-written note underneath. She gasped. "I thought it was him, but I wasn't sure until I saw his writing," Moore says. "It was the same as those notes and that barn."

Indiana authorities staked out the trailer the first week of July and collected a piece of trash with the suspect's DNA on it. Lab tests confirmed that the DNA recovered from the condoms in 2004, and the crime scene in 1988, belonged to the same man: 59-year-old John Dale Miller. Police arrested him July 15th. According to local reports, when the police asked him why they were at his home, Miller replied, "April Tinsley." On Friday, December 7, Miller pled guilty in the Allen County Courthouse to murder and child molestation, as part of a plea agreement. On December 21, a judge sentenced him to 80 years in prison.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


In the Future, Senior Citizens Will Play Video Games All Day: How gaming could help treat many of the worst symptoms of old age (Jack Crosbie, Jan 31, 2019, Medium)

Super Mario 64 is not an easy game to navigate. In it, the player works through a labyrinth of different levels accessed through portal-paintings in a central hub of Peach's castle. Its mechanics and layout are complex enough that groups of players have spent years competing with one another to find the quickest way through the game's mazes and challenges. To beat it, players have to use their spatial memory to remember how to navigate through the game's stages levels.

What they found was that people in the groups that played Super Mario 64, in both studies, had an increase in grey matter in their hippocampus. The results, West was careful to point out, don't mean that Super Mario 64 is a cure for Alzheimer's but rather that there's a realistic chance that playing games that test our spatial memory could help preserve or even restore grey matter in healthy adults as they age, helping cut down their risks of neurological decay later in life, something he calls a "cognitive intervention."

"At this point, we simply have a proof of concept," West said. "We don't really have the data to show that this is the case yet." [...]

In clinical settings, advances in video game technology could also make researching and applying these techniques much easier. Roger Anguera is the director of interactive media at Neuroscape, a neuroscience center at the University of California, San Francisco, that focuses on using "cutting edge technologies" to assess people's brains. Anguera's specialty is virtual reality, which is widely seen as the future of video games. One of the most practical applications of VR, Anguera says, is in simulations and games that precisely target and train the parts of the brain that West's Super Mario 64 studies focused on. In one simulator, Anguera uses VR and motion-tracking to create an immersive VR "neighborhood" that patients can walk around in and observe. The subject is given 10 minutes to explore the neighborhood, taking note of landmarks and "errand" locations, like a coffee shop or post office. Then, Anguera spawns their digital avatar in a different location and asks them to complete a task, like picking up a coffee or delivering a letter, and then tracks how efficient their path is around the environment, adjusting the complexity of assignments and neighborhoods to test the subject's recollection.

"The game will constantly adapt its difficulty to how well you're doing, so that it's always pushing you," Anguera said, but unlike Super Mario 64, it allows researchers to control every variable and tailor the subject's experiences, keeping them challenged but not overtaxed in order to improve the brain's plasticity and vigor. Neuroscape works with patients and participants of all ages, but the core idea behind its therapies could have dramatic effects on how we deal with age. Dr. Adam Gazzaley, Neuroscape's founder and executive director, said that he sees interactive experiences like Anguera's closed-loop, adaptable video games as a way to change our brains for the better without relying on molecular-based therapies like drugs.

"We think it's going to be an entirely new type of medicine," Gazzaley said. Experiential treatments, he said, are ideally preventative care rather than cures but, if applied correctly as we age, could drastically increase our quality of life.

"All of it is on the table as far as I'm concerned," Gazzaley said. "Depression, dementia, the host of cognitive impairments that are associated with aging as well as the other factors of purpose and loneliness also have potential for solutions with this approach."

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Russia's propaganda machine discovers 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard (Robert Windrem and Ben Popken, 2/02/19, NBC News)

The Russian propaganda machine that tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election is now promoting the presidential aspirations of a controversial Hawaii Democrat who earlier this month declared her intention to run for president in 2020.

An NBC News analysis of the main English-language news sites employed by Russia in its 2016 election meddling shows Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is set to make her formal announcement Saturday, has become a favorite of the sites Moscow used when it interfered in 2016.

All Nationalists are the same. Which is why you only hear the Right defending her.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


If you're still working for Trump, his stink won't ever wash off (Rick Wilson, February 1, 2019, Washington Post)

There was a window of time during which giving Trump a chance was justifiable out of a sense of duty to country. You might have been vindicated for doing so if Trump had surprised us all and made good on his boast that, "with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office." But that window closed. You had ample opportunity to see, up close, the capriciousness, vainglory and allergic reaction to facts that the rest of us saw from afar. If you're just now disavowing Trump, or explaining away your support for him, don't bother. You own it. Leaving 2016 to 2019 blank on your LinkedIn page won't save you from disgrace.

Nothing so becomes Donald's opponents as their charitableness about the raison d'etre for supporting him.

Ann Coulter: 'Lunatic' Trump could be challenged in 2020 -- from the right (Michael Isikoff, February 1, 2019, Yahoo! News)

Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter called President Trump "lazy and incompetent" and a "lunatic" and warned that he could face a Republican primary challenger from the right if he doesn't fulfill his promise to build a wall across the Mexican border.

"We put this lunatic in the White House for one reason," said Coulter in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery.

Coulter even suggested a possible "terrific" primary challenger to the president -- Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.,  who recently charged that Democratic leaders in Congress have "American blood" on their hands for refusing to fund the wall.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Marshall, the Dartmouth College Case, and Originalism (CARSON HOLLOWAY, 1/31/19, Law & Liberty)

Long before Bork or Meese appeared, John Marshall sought the original meaning of the Constitution. Not only that, his quest, as recorded in his opinion for the Court written back in 1819, prefigures the intellectual development of originalism two centuries later. That is, Marshall began with an examination of the intentions of the authors of the Contracts Clause, but then dispensed with that inquiry in favor of a more justifiable quest for the original public meaning of that clause.

Those who defended what the state of New Hampshire had done held that Dartmouth's charter should not be understood as a contract within the meaning of the Constitution's provision forbidding state laws that "impair the obligation of contracts." In support of their view, they appealed to the intentions of "the Framers of the Constitution." When the Contracts Clause was written, they contended, its authors were not thinking about institutions like Dartmouth College or the corporate charters by which such institutions are created. Rather, the Framers were responding to a specific abuse that had arisen, in the various states, in the period following the Revolution. State legislatures were attacking the rights of property by passing laws that diminished, or even cancelled outright, what debtors owed to their creditors.

Thus the Contracts Clause, as Marshall summarized this argument, "must be understood as intended to guard against" only such abuses, and application of the clause  "ought to be confined to cases of this description; to cases within the mischief" that "it was intended to remedy."

Although Marshall's opinion recounted this argument, he and the other members of the Court were not persuaded by it. Marshall admitted that those who argued this way were probably correct in their presentation of the Framers' intentions. "It is more than possible," he wrote, that the protection of corporate charters like the one at issue in the Dartmouth case "was not particularly in the view of the framers of the Constitution, when the clause under consideration was introduced into that instrument." It was even "probable," he conceded, that other, more frequent kinds of interference with contracts "constituted the great motive for imposing this restriction on the state legislatures."

Nevertheless, Marshall continued, those who sought the intentions of the Framers were not asking the most important question. The key consideration, he suggested, was the words of the Constitution itself, understood according to their ordinary meaning. While "a particular and a rare case may not, in itself, be of sufficient magnitude to induce a rule, yet it must be governed by the rule, when established, unless some strong reason for excluding it can be given." Put another way: "The case being within the words of the rule, must be within its operation likewise, unless there be something in the literal construction so obviously absurd, or mischievous, or repugnant to the general spirit of the instrument, as to justify those who expound the Constitution in making it an exception."

This is to say that, for Marshall and for the Court, the immediate intentions of the Framers of the Constitution mattered less than the original meaning of the words they chose to employ in writing the document's particular provisions. And, Marshall added, those words clearly embraced and therefore protected Dartmouth's charter of incorporation. For a lawyer, he suggested, it was so obvious as to "require no argument to prove" that a corporate charter is a kind of contract. Moreover, Marshall noted, in being guided by the original meaning of the words used in the Constitution, the Court was simply following "the ordinary rules of construction."

...words have meaning.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Islam, Blasphemy, and the East-West Divide (MUSTAFA AKYOL, 2/01/19, Law & Liberty)

The reformist argument has a two key components. The first and the most important is to go back to the most fundamental source of Islam, the Qur'an. Much of what later became established as Islamic law is absent from the Qur'an, and that is true for earthly punishments for blasphemy (or apostasy) as well. The Qur'an, on the contrary,  has verses that command peaceful responses to blasphemy such as refusing to "sit together" with those who "ridicule [God's] revelations" (as, again, I have explained elsewhere).

The second component of reform is to revisit the Sunna--the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that is written down in "hadith" collections, or sayings, that were canonized almost two centuries after the Prophet's death in 632 AD. These hadith collections, on which much of the Sharia is based, do include stories of the Prophet Muhammad's ordering the execution of some blasphemers during the formative years of Islam. In particular, the story of Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, a Jewish poet in Medina, whose execution by Muslims is narrated in the most authoritative hadith collection, has been taken by jurists as a precedent to execute blasphemers.

The reformist argument here is to reason that Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf was not killed for insulting the Prophet or Islam, but rather for "inciting people to go to war [against Muslims]," as Ismail Royer notes in an important article that criticizes Pakistan's blasphemy laws from an Islamic perspective. Royer refers to traditional Hanafi scholars who had a more liberal take on the matter, including the 15th century jurist Badr al-Din al-Ayni, who insisted that Ka'b and a few other like him "were not killed merely for their insults [of the Prophet], but rather it was surely because they aided [the enemy] against him, and joined with those who fought wars against him."

There is another kind of reformist argument as well, which is called "historicism." It suggests that whatever one may find in the Qur'an or the prophetic tradition in terms of jurisprudence constitutes a body of historical  facts that are bounded by their context, and are not necessarily normative for all Muslims at all times. The fact that the Qur'an legislates slavery, for example, doesn't mean that slavery is a justified institution. One of the pioneers of this "historicist" reading of the Qur'an and the broader Islamic tradition was the Pakistani-born scholar Fazlur Rahman Malik (1919-1988), who spent his later life in the United States, teaching at the University of Chicago. Today there are "Fazlur Rahmanist" theologians in Turkey, Indonesia, and elsewhere who are trying to advance his approach.

Such reformist arguments can be heard all over the Muslim world--along with the conservative reactions to them. Comparatively speaking, the Muslim world, on average, is at the very same period when John Locke wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) or John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty (1859). There are liberals pushing for change, in other words, against conservatives who think the heretics and the infidels must be punished and all subversive ideas must be banned.

There is no straight path along which this reform may proceed, given that Islam, unlike Catholicism, has no central authority that can change the religious doctrine of its 1.5 billion followers. In this sense it is more like Protestantism, where authority is diffused into countless numbers of national institutions, traditional centers of learning, charismatic leaders, televangelists, modern theologians, moderates, radicals, and many perplexed individuals.

Progress--towards liberalism--may take place only as more and more Muslims find reformist arguments convincing. And that can take place only as more and more Muslims feel themselves at home in the modern world, rather than being "otherized" by that world--let alone being threatened, invaded, or bombed by it.

On blasphemy, in particular, Muslims will come to accept liberal norms when they understand that they are not helping their religion by meeting criticism, or even mockery, with violence and fury. They are only proving to be immature, and are only provoking more insults against the faith.

This may be hard to understand for the militant Islamists in the slums of Pakistan, but Muslims living in the West seem to be finally getting how things work here. This was evident in the remarkably mild stance that Dutch Muslims took when Wilders tried to organize his "Muhammad Cartoon Contest" in Holland. Anger waxed in Pakistan, but not in the streets of Dutch cities or towns, as the Guardian reported. "It's easy to spread hate," said one Dutch Muslim, Usman Firdausi, "but the best response is dignity."

Dignity, indeed, is the right response to the Muhammad cartoons or The Satanic Verses. And 30 years after the Ayatollah's death fatwa, not all Muslims but at least some Muslims seem to be getting this right.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Only Democrats can save this president (George F. Will, February 1, 2019, Washington Post)

For the separation of powers to function properly, producing constitutional equilibrium, there must be rivalry between the legislative and executive branches. As James Madison said, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place." Or, today, the interest of the woman.

Greg Weiner, author of the best book about Madison's thought ("Madison's Metronome"), rightly celebrates the way the 35-day government shutdown ended: The House "stared down the presidency and won." In losing, Donald Trump behaved (reluctantly) as a president should, as "a constitutional actor subservient in policymaking matters to the will of Congress." Pelosi "acted like a speaker of the House laying a claim to primacy in policymaking." Says Weiner, "This was institutional hardball between branches not just with respect to policy but, more important, with respect to authority. Madisonians should rejoice." [...]

Jeffries understands intra-branch rivalry: Much that this Democratic-controlled House will send to the Republican-controlled Senate will be euthanized there. But the Democratic Party will thereby define itself and its opponent regarding such matters as curbing health-care costs, particularly (this was the most surprisingly salient issue of the 2018 elections) the cost of prescription drugs, by using the government's bulk-purchasing power. Furthermore, having participated in last year's bipartisan criminal-justice reform, Jeffries thinks a big bipartisan infrastructure measure is possible.

His district is five miles from that of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the left's enfant terrible du jour, who provides sophomores of all ages with daily frissons from socialist daring ("We [millennials] never experienced, really, a time of true economic prosperity in the United States"; zero carbon emissions in 12 years). For her, politics is performance art; for Jeffries, it is a continuation of his life of adult seriousness.

After New York University Law School, Jeffries spent seven years at a premier law firm (Paul, Weiss), then was at Viacom and CBS, then spent six years in New York's state legislature. Last week, while he was enjoying an almost abstemious breakfast (yogurt and cereal with berries, but also bacon), the morning paper was reporting Sen. Kamala D. Harris's (D-Calif.) intriguing plan to win the presidency while promising to take away 177 million Americans' private health insurance. That morning's paper also reported that 56 percent of Americans -- including majorities of women, Hispanics, blacks, urban residents, suburban residents, those under 65, college-educated whites -- say they will "definitely not" vote to reelect the incumbent president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


How Republicans Erased Trumpism (Matthew Glassman, Feb. 1, 2019, NY Times)

Political power is not simply the ability to influence the positions citizens or lawmakers take on issues, but also the ability to control what issues are discussed and voted on.

Throughout the last Congress, Republican leaders simply declined to take up legislation that reflected the priority of the president but not their own. There were no votes on immigration restrictions or funding for a border wall, protectionist trade legislation or infrastructure.

The Trump budget proposals for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years requested deep cuts in nondefense discretionary spending. Congressional Republicans quietly buried them and delivered bills both years that increased nondefense spending.

Such "negative" agenda-setting leaves little trace; without a vote, it becomes difficult for opponents or voters to identify or understand what happened. President Trump's priorities weren't voted down in the House or the Senate; they were just never considered.

Agenda-setting also provides congressional leaders "positive" power to set legislative priorities. Mr. Trump has famously shown little interest in the details of policy, and Republican leaders in Washington easily convinced him to accept as his priorities the party's orthodox issues of Affordable Care Act repeal and tax cuts during his first year in office.

By setting the agenda and having the president sign on, Republican legislators controlled policy while sharing the position of the president. When Republicans held a White House celebration after passing tax legislation, Mr. Trump claimed credit, and legislators publicly praised the "Trump" tax bill, and the president himself.

This trade-off, in which orthodox Republicans get policy control and Mr. Trump gets the glory, is also apparent in the nominations of judges and executive branch officials. The president was quite successful in having judicial nominees confirmed. But virtually all of his confirmed judges have been standard conservatives; likewise, his successful executive branch appointments much more reflect Republican priorities than his own.

By privately influencing Mr. Trump to nominate people who reflect Republican priorities, congressional leaders not only win substantively, but the president gets to show off a perfect record of confirmations on the Senate floor, and a high rate of Republican support for his nominees.

Despite this, Mr. Trump has had an unusually large number of nominees rejected by the Senate, many of whom were put forth without previous input from congressional leaders. 

At Donald's presidential Museum, the pee tape may be the only evidence that he existed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Belarusian model: I gave info on Trump to Russian tycoon (NATALIYA VASILYEVA, 1 February 2019, AP)

Vashukevich, 28, told the AP in an interview Friday that, contrary to earlier reports that she had destroyed the recordings, she had given them to Deripaska because it "relates to him" and that she "did not want any more trouble."

Vashukevich rose to prominence in February last year when Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny published an investigation detailing dealings between Deripaska and Sergei Prikhodko, then-Russian deputy prime minister who played a prominent role in shaping Russia's foreign policy.

Navalny drew on Vashukevich's video from summer 2016 when Deripaska was hosting Prikhodko on his yacht and was caught on tape saying that relations between Russia and the US were bad because of then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.

Deripaska is close to Putin and also had a working relationship with Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. Manafort was investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the probe into the 2016 election and was convicted last year of tax and bank fraud. [...]

Vashukevich later told reporters outside a Thai courtroom that she had promised Deripaska not to speak about the US election interference anymore.

Vashukevich and Kirillov were briefly detained upon their arrival in Moscow late last month on suspicion of soliciting sex in Russia but were promptly released.

When pressed Friday by the AP about her previous claims, Vashukevich said she had emailed "everything I had" to Deripaska and dodged a question of whether she kept a copy for herself.

"Oleg (Deripaska) has it all. If he wants to make any of it public, if he thinks that it's a good idea, he can do it himself," she said. [...]

Russian publications The Bell and Proyekt last year pointed to another high-profile visitor who Vashukevich caught on tape spending time with Deripaska.

One video posted on her YouTube account showed a meeting between Deripaska and Adam Waldman, a US lobbyist who has been working for Deripaska and who has had repeated meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The reported January 2017 meeting was several days before Waldman's visit to Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Trump lifts sanctions on firms linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (Reuters, 27 Jan 2019)

The Trump administration has lifted sanctions on three companies, including the aluminum giant Rusal, linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Democrats had led a push in Congress to continue the restrictions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Venezuela's Guaido extends olive branch to China (SBS News, 2/02/19)

Venezuela's self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido has promised China he will honour bilateral agreements and said he was ready to start a dialogue with Beijing "as soon as possible".

Guaido's comments to the South China Morning Post, published Saturday, appear aimed at laying to rest questions over whether his political challenge to President Nicolas Maduro would disrupt ties with Venezuela's main creditor.

It's odious debt; repudiate it. Honoring it recognizes the legitimacy of the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


US Democratic governor under fire for racist yearbook photo  (Deutsche-Welle, 2/02/19)

[I]n the event of a resignation, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is African-American, would assume the governor's office. [...]

The growth of a diverse population surrounding Washington, DC, in the northern part of the state, helped Democrats make gains in Virginia. But as a historically Southern state that was the seat of the Confederacy during the Civil War, Virginia has been an epicenter in the battle between progressives and conservatives over identity issues.

In 2017, the city of Charlottesville was the scene of the Unite the Right rally that saw neo-Nazis march through the city and led to counterprotests, in which a 32-year-old woman was intentionally run over and killed by a white nationalist. 

The governor's race that Northam won was fraught with racial animosity, with Republican candidates courting Donald Trump's voting base through hard-line immigration stances. Northam, conversely, ran as a champion of the state's burgeoning Central American immigrant community and supporter of multiculturalism.

Fairfax is only the second African-American to be elected statewide and would immediately become at least a top vp pick.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


The two-sided jobs picture (Steve LeVine, 2/02/9, Axios)

That was the 100th straight month of job growth -- by far the longest streak since the number has been tracked in the 1930s.

And the economic expansion is now just five months shy of a record. As one example, factory production picked up steam last month, rising to 56.6 on the Institute for Supply Management Index (above 50 means expansion), up from 54.2 in December.

"Usually, as expansions go on, they slow down a little bit. But it's really unclear when that is going to happen," said Martha Gimbel, research director at Indeed's Hiring Lab.

"Job seekers are still in the driver seat," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, the jobs site.

But, but, but: Though wages grew by 3.2%, or 1.3% after accounting for inflation, that is about half what it should be, said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM.

"At this point in the business cycle, we traditionally have 4% to 5% nominal wage gains," he said, and about 2.5% after inflation.

"It was another month of anemic gains in hourly wages," Brusuelas said.

Barring any more damage from Donald, this stands to be the strongest recovery in history.  If the recent limitations on the free movement of goods and people are removed there's no reason in sight for it to end.  If Donald's successor joins the TPP it will be a huge help too.