April 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Muhammad: an anticlerical hero of the European Enlightenment (John Tolan, 4/05/19, Aeon)

Publishing the Quran and making it available in translation was a dangerous enterprise in the 16th century, apt to confuse or seduce the faithful Christian. This, at least, was the opinion of the Protestant city councillors of Basel in 1542, when they briefly jailed a local printer for planning to publish a Latin translation of the Muslim holy book. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther intervened to salvage the project: there was no better way to combat the Turk, he wrote, than to expose the 'lies of Muhammad' for all to see. 

The resulting publication in 1543 made the Quran available to European intellectuals, most of whom studied it in order to better understand and combat Islam. There were others, however, who used their reading of the Quran to question Christian doctrine. The Catalonian polymath and theologian Michael Servetus found numerous Quranic arguments to employ in his anti-Trinitarian tract, Christianismi Restitutio (1553), in which he called Muhammad a true reformer who preached a return to the pure monotheism that Christian theologians had corrupted by inventing the perverse and irrational doctrine of the Trinity. After publishing these heretical ideas, Servetus was condemned by the Catholic Inquisition in Vienne, and finally burned with his own books in Calvin's Geneva.

During the European Enlightenment, a number of authors presented Muhammad in a similar vein, as an anticlerical hero; some saw Islam as a pure form of monotheism close to philosophic Deism and the Quran as a rational paean to the Creator. In 1734, George Sale published a new English translation. In his introduction, he traced the early history of Islam and idealised the Prophet as an iconoclastic, anticlerical reformer who had banished the 'superstitious' beliefs and practices of early Christians - the cult of the saints, holy relics - and quashed the power of a corrupt and avaricious clergy. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


'Our country is full': Trump says migrants straining system (ZEKE MILLER and JONATHAN LEMIRE, 4/05/19, AP)

Declaring "our country is full," President Donald Trump on Friday insisted the U.S. immigration system was overburdened and illegal crossings must be stopped as he inspected a refurbished section of fencing at the Mexican border.

Always fun when they accidentally admit they're anti-immigrant. Period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


In bid to remain out of jail, Michael Cohen tells Congress he has more to add (Jeremy Herb, 4/04/19, CNN)

Cohen provided several financial documents to corroborate his accusations against Trump, including a $35,000 reimbursement check signed by Trump that was displayed during his public testimony. Cohen's attorneys wrote that his testimony has sparked new requests for information and assistance from both Congress and New York state authorities.

But now Cohen is claiming he had found a new hard drive that contains millions of additional files.

"Working alone, Mr. Cohen has only had the time to go through less than 1 percent of the drive, or approximately 3,500 files," Cohen's attorneys wrote. "Mr. Cohen needs time, resources, and assistance to separate out privileged and personal documents from these 14 million files to make the rest available for review by various congressional committees."

When Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison, the Manhattan US Attorney's office did not give Cohen a cooperation agreement that could have helped reduce his sentence.

In prosecutors' statements in court and their sentencing submission, they stressed that Cohen shouldn't be considered a cooperating witness. Cohen did assist the special counsel's investigation, they said, but he "repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Does China have feet of clay? (Joseph S. Nye, 4/05/19, The Strategist)

First, there is the country's unfavourable demographic profile. China's labour force peaked in 2015, and it has passed the point of easy gains from urbanisation. The population is ageing, and China will face major rising health costs for which it is poorly prepared. This will impose a significant burden on the economy and exacerbate growing inequality.

Second, China needs to change its economic model. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping wisely switched China from Maoist autarky to the East Asian export-led growth model successfully pioneered by Japan and Taiwan. Today, however, China has outgrown that model and the tolerance of foreign governments that made it possible. For example, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is focusing on the lack of reciprocity, subsidies to state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and coerced intellectual property transfer that have allowed China to tilt the playing field in its favour. Europeans are also complaining about these issues. China's intellectual property policies and rule-of-law deficiencies are discouraging foreign investment and costing it the international political support such investment often brings. And China's high rates of government investment and subsidies to SOEs disguise inefficiency in the allocation of capital.

Third, while China for more than three decades picked the low-hanging fruit of relatively easy reforms, the changes it needs to make now are much more difficult to introduce: an independent judiciary, rationalisation of SOEs, and liberalisation or elimination of the hukou system of residential registration, which limits mobility and fuels inequality. Moreover, Deng's political reforms to separate the party and the state have been reversed by Xi.

That brings us to the fourth problem. Ironically, China has become a victim of its success. The Leninist model imposed by Mao in 1949 fit well with Chinese imperial tradition, but rapid economic development has changed China and its political needs. China has become an urban middle-class society, but its ruling elites remain trapped in circular political reasoning. They believe that only the Communist Party can save China and that any reforms must strengthen the party's monopoly on power.

But this is exactly what China does not need. Deep structural reforms that can move China away from reliance on high levels of government investment and SOEs are opposed by party elites who derive tremendous wealth from the existing system. Xi's anti-corruption campaign can't overcome this resistance; instead, it is merely discouraging initiative. On a recent visit to Beijing, a Chinese economist told me that Xi's campaign cost China 1% of GDP per year. A Chinese businessman told me real growth was less than half the official figure. Perhaps this can be countered by the private sector's dynamism, but even there, fear of losing of control is increasing the party's role.

Finally, there is China's soft-power deficit. Xi has proclaimed a 'Chinese Dream' of a return to global greatness. As economic growth slows and social problems increase, the party's legitimacy will increasingly rest on such nationalist appeals. Over the past decade, China has spent billions of dollars to increase its attractiveness to other countries, but international opinion polls show that China has not gained a good return on its investment. Repressing ethnic minorities, jailing human-rights lawyers, creating a surveillance state and alienating creative members of civil society such as renowned artist Ai Weiwei undercut China's attraction in Europe, Australia and the US.

Nor are Hong Kong, Tibet, Uighurstan, etc. even part of China.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM

60-40 NATION:

Poll: Majority of voters don't trust Trump on health care (STEVEN SHEPARD, 04/03/2019, Politico)

Voters are broadly skeptical of President Donald Trump's renewed push to dismantle the 2010 health care law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. [...]

The poll shows that any health care battle will be fought on Democrats' turf. Asked whom they trust when it comes to health care, 45 percent of voters pick Democrats in Congress, while 35 percent choose Republicans in Congress. A majority of voters, 54 percent, have "a lot" or "some" trust in congressional Democrats to protect the health care system or make improvements to it -- significantly more than have those levels of trust in congressional Republicans (41 percent) or Trump (41 percent) on the issue.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the GOP has been super-secretive about its opposition to Obamacare...

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Trump suddenly pulls ICE nominee to go with someone 'tougher' (Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands, Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond and Jim Acosta, 4/05/19, CNN)

The move to withdraw the nomination came as a surprise to the Department of Homeland Security and members of Congress, sources familiar with the nomination told CNN. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was unaware what was happening until after the nomination had been pulled, a person familiar with the news said

Vitiello did not come into the office Friday, according to an ICE official. He had been scheduled to travel with Trump on the President's trip to the US-Mexico border, and was told Thursday he would not be attending.

The White House on Thursday evening informed the Senate it was withdrawing its nomination of Vitiello to lead ICE, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

ICE leadership was under the impression, even Friday morning, that it was a clerical error, according to someone with knowledge of the nomination process. The agency was anticipating a positive outcome in the next couple of weeks.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Trump Tourism: How Charlottesville enabled Cindy Yang to market Mar-a-Lago in China (SARAH BLASKEY,  NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, AND  CAITLIN OSTROFF, MARCH 29, 2019, Miami Herald)

In Yang's new world of selling access to the Trump family any Mar-a-Lago event would do, not only ones that would benefit his 2020 campaign for reelection.

She pitched a pro-Israel event -- planned last minute by a local activist -- as an opportunity to meet top American politicians. A Mar-a-Lago New Year's party became an invite to an exclusive dinner with the president's family. A fundraiser for orphaned babies by a Virginia-based Christian group became a chance to meet the president, according to her company website.

On her website, which was taken down after initial reporting, Yang said she invites "elites from various places, including Chinese elite in the U.S., Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions." One online advertisement for a planned 2019 event listed different levels of sponsorship; the top two with the most perks, Diamond Title Sponsor and Gold Sponsor, were reserved for foreigners only.

Yang's ads caught the eye of Dr. Charles Lee, an event bundler and seller of access to Chinese clients looking for face time with major politicians.

Lee bundled Yang's 2018 Safari Night invitation into an all inclusive eight-day "business travel diplomacy package" that for $13,000 would take guests from Beijing to visit the United Nations, U.S. Congress, and finish at Trump's South Florida residence. He brought three more Chinese businessmen to the pro-Israel event.

Jon Deng, who knew Yang through Florida's small but growing Asian-American Republican community, said it was common knowledge that Mar-a-Lago events are packaged and advertised online in China.

"It's sort of a known fact that there are buyers, and there are sellers," he said.

In the 14 months after they were pictured together at Safari Night 2018, Lee would recruit clients for five more events advertised by Yang as opportunities to pay for face time with Donald Trump.

Together Yang and Lee brought more than 20 guests to Mar-a-Lago in 2018, according to their posts on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.

According to his website, Lee's honored guests included an executive of a line of beauty products who settled for a photo with future Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after Trump did not attend the pro-Israel event and a Chinese actress, Sun Ye, who The New York Times first reported took a picture with both adult Trump sons on New Year's Eve. She said she was staying with Yang at the time.

Yang and Lee also promoted access to a March 2018 fundraiser for Trump's reelection campaign, an event only citizens and green card holders could legally pay to attend. On the list of attendees was the owner of a chain of preschools in China who also served in the lower body of the Chinese legislature.

Yang has maintained that she has no allegiance to the Chinese government. But Lee's travel packages were explicitly intended to promote Chinese President Xi Jinping's 2015 business diplomacy agenda. The initiative included pushing Chinese business owners to promote China's Communist Party through their connections abroad, according to Lee's website. The website was taken down after Lee spoke with a Herald reporter.

Lee, who sometimes calls himself Prince Charles, is the founder of United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which gives out "U.S.-China Ambassador" awards to clients who attend Trump events. Despite the name of the organization, no such group is listed as affiliated with the United Nations. On his website, Lee also claimed that two prominent Asian-American members of Congress, Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Judy Chu, D-Calif., served as members of the group's advisory board. Their staffs told the Miami Herald that was not true and said they would ask Lee to remove their names. [...]

Presidential tourism has historically involved the homes or estates of dead presidents. But living, breathing sightseeing -- like what is on offer at Mar-a-Lago -- seems to be a new phenomenon, said June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science and China expert at the University of Miami.

"This is the first time I've heard of sitting presidents and their homes being put on tour," Teufel Dreyer said. "I think it's definitely new for China. I don't think this was done for Ronald Reagan or even somebody who was very nice to the Chinese like Barack Obama."

Yang and Lee are not alone in their efforts to capitalize on their access to the Trump family. According to a Herald analysis of Chinese social media and classified advertisements, at least five other groups are marketing Trump-related tours to Chinese elites. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Supreme Court Refuses to Block Bump Stock Ban Over Thomas and Gorsuch's Dissent (MARK JOSEPH STERN, APRIL 05, 2019, Slate)

[T]homas and Gorsuch may be irritated that the D.C. Circuit upheld the rule by applying Chevron deference. Both justices publicly oppose this doctrine, which they recently decried as "letting an interested party [an executive branch agency] ... dictate an inferior interpretation of the law that may be more the product of politics than a scrupulous reading of the statute." Thomas and Gorsuch would prefer that a court "buckles down to its job of saying what the law is" without deferring to the government's reading of an ambiguous measure. By deferring to the Trump administration's view of the federal machine gun ban, the D.C. Circuit surely rankled both justices.

Regardless of the dissenters' views, it's apparent that there is little appetite by a majority of the court to protect a device that aided a recent, horrific, and notorious massacre. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh do not seem eager to use this case to bolster the Second Amendment or curtail Chevron deference. And so hundreds of thousands of gun owners will now need to dispose of their bump stocks--or become federal criminals. 

Which is a limitation on guns.