February 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


The TPP is up and running without us, and we're losing out on its opportunities (Doug McCullough, February 01, 2019, Washington Examiner)

The TPP is a free trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration that would have allowed the United States to participate in a free-trade zone with several countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico, and several others. TPP had critics on both sides of the aisle, but it offered an extended free-trade zone and was part of an Obama administration effort to counter Chinese economic influence.

As it stands, the TPP features 11 countries that make up nearly 13.5 percent of the global GDP. That figure would have been 38 percent with the inclusion of the United States. The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently described the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP as the greatest "own goal" in recent economic history.

American manufacturers, exporters, and farmers all stood to gain from access to the TPP trade zone. With America on the outside looking in, US producers will be missing out on those opportunities. The Peterson Institute for International Economics has estimated that: "U.S. real income under the original TPP would have increased by $131 billion annually, or 0.5 percent of GDP."

Other countries, like Canada, are actively taking advantage of this opportunity. Jim Carr, Canada's Minister of International Trade Diversification, is busily promoting the concept of "diversification" of Canadian trade away from reliance on trade with the United States. For instance, Carr has recently been in Japan (a party to the TPP) promoting Canadian goods and services, and specifically Canadian beef.

Pulling out of TPP has put U.S. producers at a competitive disadvantage compared to Canada and other parties to the trade pact.

There's a high cost to hating Asians.
Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Who Is Justin Fairfax, Virginia's Lieutenant Governor? (Mitch Smith and Sandra E. Garcia, Feb. 2, 2019, NY Times)

When he was sworn in last year as Virginia's lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax kept in his pocket the document that freed his great-great-great-grandfather from slavery. When state legislators moved to honor the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Mr. Fairfax left the Senate dais as a form of quiet protest. And after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Mr. Fairfax offered his support for efforts to remove a statue of Lee. [...]

Mr. Fairfax, a married father of two, grew up in Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood that he described on his campaign website as having shifted "from a close-knit middle-class community to one ravaged by a growing drug epidemic, increasing violence, and dwindling economic opportunities." He attended Duke University on a scholarship, graduated with a degree in public policy and got a low-level job on Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, compiling briefing books for Mr. Gore's wife, Tipper.

"There was just sort of a dynamism and kind of an ebullience to him," said Bruce Jentleson, a Duke professor who worked in the State Department during Bill Clinton's presidency and who helped Mr. Fairfax get the job on the Gore campaign.

From there, Mr. Fairfax's career moved fast. He graduated in 2005 from Columbia Law School, where he worked on the Law Review, and served as an intern and clerk for a federal judge in Virginia, Gerald Bruce Lee.

Judge Lee, who later officiated at Mr. Fairfax's wedding and administered his oath of office as lieutenant governor, recalled one occasion when he granted a prisoner's handwritten habeas corpus petition because of an advanced legal analysis that Mr. Fairfax had performed as an intern.

"I knew that he wanted to be engaged in impactful work as a lawyer, and I detected early on that he was also interested in public service," said Judge Lee, who is now retired.

Zuberi Williams, who worked as a clerk for Judge Lee alongside Mr. Fairfax, recalled staying up late at night with him talking through legal issues in the case against Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an American citizen who was charged and ultimately convicted of training with Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush.

"When you're thrown into the fire like that at age 24, 25," said Mr. Williams, now a state court judge in Maryland, "it's like baptism by fire."

When the clerkship ended, others picked up on Mr. Fairfax's political potential. He worked for a time for John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina and vice-presidential candidate, who described his ex-aide in an email on Saturday as "bright, idealistic and a natural leader." When Mr. Fairfax returned a few years later to work as an assistant federal prosecutor in Virginia, Judge Lee said, some in the courthouse referred to him as "Senator Fairfax."

"If he becomes governor, he'll combine the sunny, inclusive style of President Reagan and the hope and inspiration of President Obama," Neil H. MacBride, the former United States attorney who hired Mr. Fairfax and assigned him to help lead a sex trafficking task force, said in an email on Saturday.

Having been John Edwards's body man in 2004, he's basically already run in a national campaign.
Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Further positive signs of life in Chernobyl: Scavenger activity verifies movement of nutritional resources, study suggests. Nick Carne, 2/03/19, Cosmos)

There's further evidence that wildlife is once again abundant in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) in the Ukraine, three decades after the world's most famous nuclear disaster.

A one-month study by a team from the University of Georgia, US, sighted 10 mammal and five bird species, including the rarely seen Eurasian otter.

Hiroshima has a population of 1.2 million.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Locana, Italy Is Paying Families $10,000 to Move There (MICHELE DEBCZAK, JANUARY 31, 2019, Mental Floss)

Not long after Sambuca, Italy enticed people to move there with $1 houses, a different quaint Italian village is offering an even better deal. People reports that Locana, a town located in the Italian Alps, will pay you $10,300 over three years to move there--but the catch is that you have to have at least one child.

Locana is one of many towns in rural Italy that has seen its population age and decline in recent decades. There are roughly 1500 residents in Locana today compared to the 7000 that lived there a century ago, and with 40 deaths and only 10 births per year, the downward trend isn't stopping.

By paying people, specifically families, to move to town, Locana mayor Giovanni Bruno Mattiet hopes to rebuild the community and renew hope for its future.

The bidding wars will only get more generous.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Venezuela: European Union nations set to recognize opposition leader Guaido as Maduro deadline runs out (Deutsche-Welle, 2/03/19)

The deadline set by seven EU nations for Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro to call new elections is set to run out Sunday. Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium have said they will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president if Maduro fails to announce a second vote before the eight-day ultimatum expires.

France's European affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, told LCI television on Sunday that "if by tonight [President] Maduro does not commit to organizing presidential elections, then France will consider Juan Guaido as legitimate to organize them in his place and we will consider him as the interim president until legitimate elections in Venezuela [take place]."

In the absence of W, no one even questions that we have redefined sovereignty to mean compliance with Anglospheric norms of democracy, capitalism and protestantism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


A Hope Beyond Our Sight: a review of The Fall of Gondolin  by J. R. R. Tolkien,  edited by Christopher Tolkien.  (Reviewed by Ben Reinhard, 2/03/19, Kirk Center)

Some of the defects in this early "Tale" are, however, a net benefit for our understanding of Tolkien's legendarium. The comparatively artless composition of the story leaves many seams showing--a disappointment to the aesthetician, maybe, but a treat for the student. It is common knowledge that Tolkien's imagination was formed throughout his career by his academic study and by his Catholic faith, but in his mature works his artistry is often so skillful that its roots are concealed. This is not yet the case in the "Tale," however, and as a result Tolkien's imaginative debts are obvious. So for instance the Lord of the Waters, Ulmo, is in this version heavily indebted to the classical Neptune--complete with an undersea palace, the music of horns, and a ride in a chariot drawn by sea creatures (compare, for instance, Gondolin 45 with Aeneid I.124-56). The debate between Tuor and Turgon on pp. 56-7 owes much--up to and including its chiastic structure--to council scenes from Greek and Roman epic. Most importantly, the fall of Gondolin itself is a transparent re-presentation of the fall of Troy as anticipated in the Iliad and recounted in the Aeneid. The connection between Gondolin and Troy is encouraged, indeed demanded, by the text itself: as the narrator Littleheart says, the fall of Gondolin "was the most dread of all the sacks of cities upon the face of Earth. Nor Bablon, nor Ninwi, nor the towers of Trui ... saw such terror as fell that day" (Gondolin 111).

Once the relationship is recognized, endless similarities can be supplied. Each work (Iliad, Aeneid, the "Tale") gives a hero (Hector, Aeneas, Tuor) who must balance his duty to protect his wife (Andromache, Creusa, Idril) and son (Astyanax, Iulus, Eärendel) with his desire to heroically protect his city; each city has a lord (Priam, Turgon) who refuses divine counsel and stubbornly trusts to the pride of his city; each assault features crashing towers and animals bearing enemy soldiers in their bellies--the Trojan horse for the Aeneid, and orc-bearing dragons for the "Tale" (see Gondolin 69ff). As the city falls, the survivors escape by a secret way to the sea.

For all this, the "Tale" is not a straightforward retelling of the fall of Troy--and the differences give us a valuable glimpse at Tolkien's moral imagination and visionary creativity. So, for instance, the tale of the fall of Troy is dominated by three villains: the liar Sinon, who betrays the Trojans; the brutal warrior Pyrrhus, who slays Priam and takes Andromache as his sex slave; and the amoral and calculating Ulysses, who casts Astyanax from the battlements of Troy. In the "Tale" these three villains coalesce into one--the dark elf Meglin--who betrays Gondolin to Morgoth, attempts to carry off Idril, and intends "to take Eärendel and cast him into the fire beneath the walls" (Gondolin 80). But unlike the classical Hector--or even pius Aeneas--Tuor never wavers in his duty, putting the safety of his family over the prospect of a glorious death in a doomed defense. As a result, the traitor Meglin fares in Gondolin as Ulysses ought to have fared in Troy: the new Hector catches him in the act, and Meglin is thrown from the ramparts himself. His family secured, the new Aeneas leads child and wife safely from the sack of the city to a dim and distant new hope.

The rescue of Eärendel brings us to what is, perhaps, the central animating idea of all of Tolkien's works: the hope "beyond the walls of the world," as "On Fairy Stories" has it. Eärendel is simply Tolkien's most transparent Christ figure. His name and basic character are drawn from an Old English paraphrase of the fifth O Antiphon, and his literary descent is borne out in his role in the Silmarillion. Both man and immortal, he intercedes with the gods to win mercy for his exiled and sinful people; in the apocalyptic War of Wrath, he defeats the great dragon and secures the eucatastrophic victory. Some version of the tale dispense with any typological subtlety whatsoever: in the 1951 version, Eärendel has become "a hope beyond thy sight, and a light that shall pierce the darkness" (Gondolin 166).

The hope embodied in Eärendel marks a significant departure from Tolkien's classical models: for all their differences, both the Iliad and the Aeneid root their hopes, such as they are, firmly in this world. It also introduces the central moral conflict of the story: a distant hope from outside the world can be hard to credit; Turgon and his people prefer, as he says, "to trust to ourselves and our city" (Gondolin 57). The exiles mistake the land of their sojourn for the promised home. The conflict between the great otherworldly hope and its counterfeit in this-worldly satisfaction is the great unifying theme in the tale's development, and remains consistent through the successive versions (see, for instance, Gondolin 77, 124, 133, 138).

The central Anglospheric insight being that humanity is insufficient to the task of perfecting the world and hope lies beyond Man. It's how we managed to avoid every utopianism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


JVP just declared itself anti-Zionist and it's already shifting the conversation (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man,  January 30, 2019, +972)

In many ways, JVP's decision to declare and formalize its position on Zionism is reflective of the political moment in the United States at large, but also specifically regarding Israel-Palestine. After years in which its supporters took great pains to try and prevent Israel from becoming a divisive, partisan issue, it seems all sides are drawing lines around each other -- and just like a growing number of issues, both sides seem to be embracing those divisions, hardening their positions, and demanding litmus tests of varying degrees from their supporters.

The decision to adopt those lines, however, is not always just about standing on a particular side but also creating space for others to fit within them. While much of the demand to make the change came from within the organization, Vilkomerson says in a telephone interview last week, another part had a lot to do with JVP's Palestinian partners, helping frustrate attempts to label Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic, and making it easier for JVP chapters to enter into explicitly anti-Zionist coalitions.

'There's no doubt some people will leave JVP because of it. I hope it will be very few people and that a lot of people will stay even if they feel uncomfortable with it right now,' says Rebecca Vilkomerson, Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, seen at the organization's offices in Brooklyn on January 23, 2019. (Photo: Kevin Hagen for +972 Magazine)

At least temporarily, the result has been advancing a small shift in the discourse about Zionism. This week, J Street, one of the only other progressive Jewish political outfits on the national scene, came to the defense of JVP and the Workmen's Circle, the organization that was threatened with banishment from the Boston Jewish community over its ties to JVP.

"We reject the contention that Jewish identity itself or inclusion in the organized Jewish community demands support for Israel or Zionism," J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote, while reaffirming that his organization is Zionist and proudly pro-Israel. "We do not accept the contention that all anti-Zionism should be automatically defined as anti-Semitism."

A change is clearly happening in the way that American Jews talk -- and think about -- Israel and its ruling ideology. +972 Magazine spoke with Rebecca Vilkomerson about why and what it means that JVP has declared itself to be "unequivocally opposed" to Zionism, but perhaps more interestingly, the broader political moment for the question of Israel-Palestine. [...]

How do you address that question beyond your supporters?

"Obviously there are people who are anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist and there are people who mask their anti-Semitism with anti-Zionist language. That's a given, but that doesn't paint anti-Zionism as concept."

"Ever since [the advent of] Zionism there has been anti-Zionism within Jewish communities. One of the things we're most interested and excited about talking about is Jewishness beyond Zionism, decoupling Zionism from Jewishness, and exploring what Jewishness is like beyond Zionism."

"The other piece is how important it is for people other than Palestinians [to be] talking about anti-Zionism not being anti-Semitism. When anti-Zionism is defined as anti-Semitism, that means that Palestinians can't speak of their own oppression without being called anti-Semitic, which is obviously an exceptionally damaging and dangerous thing for someone to say. What it does is silence Palestinian voices from being able to talk about their lived experiences. It's really important as part of a broader movement to be able to stake out a position that says thoroughly that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism."

The important thing to recognize is that Zionism is anti-Semitic.

Ilhan Omar Says U.S. Should Call Out Israel Like Iran, 'Chuckles' When Israel 'Upheld as a Democracy' (Haaretz, Feb 03, 2019)

"I want to talk about Israel because it has been a point of contention," Salbi began. "How can America work productively towards a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians in your opinion?"

"By having an equal approach to dealing with both. Most of the things that have been aggravating to me is that we have had a policy that makes one superior to the other," Omar responded. "And we mask it with a conversation about justice and a two-state solution. When you have policies that clearly prioritize one over the other."

When Omar was pushed to clarify, she added, "I mean just our relationship with the Israeli government and the Israeli state. And so when I see Israel institute laws that recognize it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it  and we still uphold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost chuckle because I know that if, you know, we [...] see that in any other society we would criticize it."

"We would call it out," Omar continued. "We do that to Iran, to any other place that sort of upholds its religion. And I see that now in Saudi Arabia and so I am aggravated truly in those contradictions."

Forcing the contradictions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


El Salvador votes for new president, with anti-corruption outsider in lead (Nelson Renteria, Noe Torres, 2/03/19, Reuters)

Bukele, who was mayor of San Salvador between 2015 to 2018, has said he wants to create an international anti-corruption commission with the support of the United Nations, following similar schemes in Guatemala and Honduras.

"We'll create a (commission) ... so that the corrupt can't hide where they always hide, instead they'll have to give back what they stole," Bukele said in January.

The country of 6 million people ranked 105 in Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, alongside Brazil, which elected far-right Jair Bolsonaro last year on a similar anti-corruption platform.

Bukele, who slicks back his hair and often sports a backwards baseball cap, has a large social media following, uses Facebook Live for official announcements, and challenges opponents on Twitter.

Growing up, Bukele's relatively wealthy family were sympathetic to the FMLN, the former leftist guerrilla army that became a political party at the end of El Salvador's civil war in 1992.

But Bukele has turned away from Latin America's traditional left, branding Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega as well as conservative Honduran Juan Orlando Hernandez dictators.

"A dictator is a dictator, on the "right" or the "left"," Bukele wrote in a tweet last week.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Judge Orders Pentagon To Stop Discriminating Against Naturalized Citizen Soldiers (Richard Gonzales, 2/02/19, NPR)

A federal judge in Seattle has ordered the Defense Department to stop discriminating against naturalized citizens who volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army under a program to attract certain immigrants with specialized skills.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly ruled Thursday that the Pentagon may not require soldiers who are naturalized citizens to undergo "continuous monitoring," or security checks every two years, when such scrutiny is not applied to U.S.-born soldiers.

The plaintiffs are 17 naturalized citizens who enlisted through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. Begun in 2009, the program recruits immigrants with critical foreign language or medical skills in exchange for a fast track to citizenship. More than 10,000 soldiers have served in the U.S. military through the MAVNI program. The program was frozen in 2016 due to security concerns.

The Defense Department "has provided no explanation for engaging in flagrant profiling, i.e., equating MAVNI status with national security risk, rather than justifying on a case-by-case basis the heightened monitoring or screening that the DoD wishes to conduct," Zilly wrote in a 32-page ruling that followed five days of testimony in November 2018.

The willingness of generals to serve Donald was a troubling sign, not a reassuring one.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Yes, I'm Rooting for Brady Sunday. Because He's Old. (Matt Lewis, 02.03.17, Daily Beast)

At some point in your life, you will wake up and something horrible will have happened: Every professional athlete in America will be younger than you are. Nobody informs you of this. Nobody asks you about it, but it happens. When it does happen, so goes the pretense--and I'm not suggesting it's anything other than a pretense (although it is a powerful one)--that you could suit up and play, too.

This is a ridiculous conceit, but it's in everyone's interest to perpetuate this myth for as long as possible. At some point, however, it becomes untenable. Eventually, even some of the head coaches are younger than you are. This is a turning point--a rite of passage, of sorts.

That is exactly why I'm rooting for Tom Brady to win his fifth Super Bowl on Sunday. And if you're pushing 40 (and don't live in Atlanta), you should be, too.

At 39 years old, Brady is competing against guys half his age. He was playing football at the University of Michigan during the Bill Clinton administration, for crying out loud. He was scoring touchdowns while Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House.

If he can continue performing (and, let's be honest, all he does is win--just like his friend Donald Trump), then I can surely compete against those kids at BuzzFeed. Not to make too big a deal out of this, but at the end of the day, Brady's success is really all about our own mortality. As long as he keeps scoring, we keep living--we get at least one more season.

Is it time for an 88-year-old manager? Jack McKeon is ready if baseball is (Jayson Stark, Feb 1, 2019, The Athletic)

In case you missed it, the Washington Nationals hired one of those energetic, whiz-kid front-office guys the other day. Some kid named Jack McKeon.

That makes him the first 88-year-old front-office whiz kid ever, best we can tell.

"I don't look at myself as old," the distinguished whiz kid himself told us, when we tracked him down at an Atlantic City slot-machine emporium. "Heck, sometimes we'll go out to eat and I'll say to my wife, 'Look at that old guy.' And she'll say, 'You're older than he is.'"

Oh, technically maybe. But age, the whiz kid says, "is just a number." Nevertheless, nobody we've surveyed can remember any team hiring an 88-year-old executive in this or any sport.

But you should know that front-office history isn't the only kind of history Jack McKeon would be interested in making. Just when you thought everything that could possibly happen in baseball has already happened, here's a thing that has never, ever happened:

An 88-year-old manager. That's what.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Taxing the Wealthy Sounds Easy. It's Not. (Paul Sullivan, Feb. 1, 2019, NY Times)

A third issue is logistical. A wealth tax would be like an estate tax levied every year. Figuring out the tax owed on large estates is complicated, costly and time-consuming. The Internal Revenue Service gives estates a year to file a return, but even then, executors often have to file extensions. And on the other end, auditors go through the returns, which can take years before an estate is settled.

The process requires not just lawyers and accountants but valuation experts who assess the worth of assets like closely held family businesses.

"It would be a highly cumbersome tax return to prepare on an annual basis," said Jeff Moes, executive vice president and chief fiduciary officer at FineMark National Bank & Trust, which serves high-net-worth clients. "Every federal estate tax goes through an audit, and presumably this would go through an audit as well. They'd have to figure out if the valuation methodology is correct."

"A billionaire would have a return that would be literally three feet high," he added. "Our $100 million clients own multiple closely held businesses. All of them would require an expert valuation and five-year financials."

And then the government would need to have enough auditors to verify everything that was submitted. In 2018, for example, an estimated 4,000 estate tax returns will be filed, with tax owed on 1,900 of them. That's a tenth the number of tax returns that would be filed under Ms. Warren's wealth tax plan.

Tax the wealth when we consume it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


'Willful Ignorance.' Inside President Trump's Troubled Intelligence Briefings (JOHN WALCOTT, February 2, 2019, TIME)

Citing multiple in-person episodes, these intelligence officials say Trump displays what one called "willful ignorance" when presented with analyses generated by America's $81 billion-a-year intelligence services. The officials, who include analysts who prepare Trump's briefs and the briefers themselves, describe futile attempts to keep his attention by using visual aids, confining some briefing points to two or three sentences, and repeating his name and title as frequently as possible.

What is most troubling, say these officials and others in government and on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on the episodes, are Trump's angry reactions when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds. Two intelligence officers even reported that they have been warned to avoid giving the President intelligence assessments that contradict stances he has taken in public.

In fairness, a president would be better served by consuming open sources than by secret bureaucratic briefings.  Unfortunately, Donalds maintains a wall of ignorance from journalism as well.