April 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


Trump's DHS purge floors Republicans: Even GOP allies of the president are distressed by the chaos unleashed on federal immigration policy. (BURGESS EVERETT, JOHN BRESNAHAN and MELANIE ZANONA 04/08/2019, Politico)

The president's frantic four days of bloodletting at DHS and other agencies blindsided senior Republicans who are already fretting about difficult confirmation battles ahead. Some are worried about the rising influence of top White House aide Stephen Miller. And after November elections in which suburban voters rejected Trump's hard-line immigration agenda, the president is once again making it the centerpiece of the GOP's platform.

"It's a mess," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, summing up the dynamic on the border and in Washington. [...]

"Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem. Honestly, it wasn't Secretary Nielsen's fault. It wasn't for lack of effort on her part. I don't know if there's anybody who's going to be able to do more," said Cornyn, who spoke to Nielsen on Monday and planned to speak to her interim replacement, Kevin McAleenan, later in the day.

Cornyn said he has no idea what Miller's "agenda" is in determining immigration policy because he isn't Senate-confirmed and doesn't correspond with the Hill.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Conservatives Elected Trump with SCOTUS in Mind, But Is Kavanaugh Just a Roberts Mini-Me? (Elura Nanos, April 8th, 2019, Law & Crime)

For many conservatives, one major allure of a Donald Trump presidency was the president's determination to pack the Supreme Court with right-leaning justices. Indeed, conservatives and liberals alike took it as a foregone conclusion that freshman Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh could be counted upon to further a Trump agenda by rounding out a predictable majority.

But there's something that such hopefuls may have overlooked: the one-two punch of a John Roberts swing-vote and Kavanaugh as the chief justice's mini-me. Now, after Kavanaugh has taken part in 25 official SCOTUS opinions, recognition of a potentially budding bromance between the senior and junior justices is captivating court-watchers.

Kavanaugh and Roberts, both alumni justices of the D.C. Circuit Court, have voted together on the high bench in all but one official decision. The cases in which a Roberts- Kavanaugh duo have sided with the court's liberals include both civil and criminal cases, and range from the sensational to the mundane.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Thwarted on Immigration, Trump Is Firing Everyone: Even America's biggest opponents of immigration warn that he's on the verge of a "colossal mistake." (Noah Lanard, 4/08/19, Mother Jones)

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump has told Stephen Miller, his top immigration adviser, that he is now in charge of all immigration and border policy. With the number of families crossing the southern border at a record high, Miller is deflecting blame away blame from the White House and onto DHS. On Friday, Miller succeeded in getting Trump to pull his nominee for ICE director, the agency's acting head, Ronald Vitiello. On Sunday, Trump forced out DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whom Miller also disliked, and announced that he would replace her on an acting basis with CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. In the midst of what Trump has declared to be a national emergency at the southern border, the United States will have no permanent leader at DHS, CBP, or ICE. At DHS, ICE, and USCIS, the deputy directors are also serving on a temporary basis.

Now Miller is reportedly pushing Trump to fire Lee Francis Cissna, the head of USCIS, the DHS agency that handles legal immigration. Cissna is a methodical hardliner who is arguably doing a more effective job of keeping immigrants out of the United States than any other Trump official. USCIS is in the process of implementing a rule to deny green cards to immigrants who are likely to use public benefits like Medicare, a move that could reshape the future of legal immigration. What Miller hopes to gain by getting rid of Cissna is unclear. Even the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Miller ally that seeks to eliminate almost all legal immigration, believes firing Cissna would be a "colossal mistake." The New York Times reported on Monday that Cissna is expected to leave government soon.

Miller and Trump had no clear endgame in getting rid of Vitiello and Nielsen, either. Nielsen was the face of the administration's disastrous--and ultimately abandoned--family separation policy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Judge Blocks Trump Policy That Forces Asylum-Seekers to Wait in Mexico (NOAH LANARD & FERNANDA ECHAVARRI, 4/08/19, mOTHER jONES)

The preliminary injunction was issued by San Francisco district court judge Richard Seeborg. The administration's policy, known as Remain in Mexico, was announced in December and went into effect in late January. It forces migrants to wait in dangerous border cities and makes it impossible for many of them to find lawyers. [...]

"We're thrilled that the judge agreed with our arguments and has blocked this heinous policy," said Melissa Crow, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs challenging the policy. "It's a huge statement that he agreed with our arguments."

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Trump Administration Set to Tighten Rules for Baseball Players From Cuba (Vivian Salama and Jared Diamond, April 8, 2019, WSJ)

The Trump administration has informed Major League Baseball that it may impose a new waiver system that makes it tougher for Cuban baseball players to play professionally in the U.S., citing what it called the dangers of doing business with Havana.

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Iran designates U.S. military forces as 'terrorist' group: state TV (Reuters, 4/08/19) 

Iran's top security council has designated U.S. military forces a "terrorist organization" in reaction to Washington's decision to blacklist Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist group.

It's the Salafi we're terrorizing together.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Few Americans think they're getting a Trump tax cut: NBC/WSJ poll (John Harwood, 4/08/19, CNBC.com)

No wonder the 2017 Republican tax cut remains so unpopular -- the vast majority of Americans don't think they got one at all.

As the annual IRS filing deadline of April 15 approaches, just 17% believe their own taxes will go down, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found. By contrast, 28% believe they'll pay more, 27% expect to pay about the same and 28% don't know enough to say.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Democratic freshmen already posting huge fundraising numbers (David M. Drucker, April 08, 2019, Washington Examiner)

Democrats collectively raised more than $1 billion in 2017 and 2018 on their way to flipping 40 House seats and winning control of the chamber after eight years in the minority. The party lost a net of two Senate seats but successfully defended a handful of targeted seats while capturing two from the GOP in the key battlegrounds of Arizona and Nevada. In doing so, Democrats vastly outraised the Republicans.

Some Republicans assumed that the progressive energy fueling the Democratic Party's green wave of fundraising and activism in 2018 would cool down post-election. According to this line of this line of thinking, seizing the House, and exercising the power it afforded, would satisfy some of the hunger to combat Trump.

But some Republicans are warning colleagues to ignore this conventional wisdom after seeing the initial wave of first quarter fundraising figures from House Democrats who were elected just last November and are far from household names. "Democrats are serious about defeating the president and they want a House that will be helpful," said a veteran Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to avoid publicly criticizing the party.

"In 2018, Democrats were just getting started," this operative added.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


POLL: Warren Trailing In Her Home State of Massachusetts (Michael Graham, 4/07/19, NH Journal)

A new poll from Boston-based Emerson University finds Sen. Elizabeth Warren in third place among Democratic primary voters in her home state of Massachusetts, yet another sign that the one-time front runner's 2020 POTUS bid has failed to launch. It also raises the stakes in New Hampshire for her presidential campaign.

According to the poll released on Sunday, Warren trails Sen. Bernie Sanders (29 percent) and former Vice President Joe Biden (26 percent) with just 14 percent support among Massachusetts Democrats.  That puts Warren just three points ahead of political newcomer Pete Buttigieg, mayor of the small Indiana city of South Bend.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


An analysis of nearly 4 million pitches shows just how many mistakes umpires make (Mark T. Williams, 4/08/19, The Conversation)

All 30 Major League Baseball stadiums are outfitted with triangulated tracking cameras that follow baseballs from the pitcher's hand until it crosses home plate. Ball location can be tracked up to 50 times during each pitch, and accuracy is said to have a margin of error of 1 inch. This information is used to evaluate players, but MLB doesn't share the results in a way that allows fans to easily evaluate the performance of umpires.

We analyzed nearly 4 million pitches over the course of the last 11 regular seasons. This data, which had been collected by MLB-owned Statcast and  Pitch f/x, was sorted, formatted and superimposed on a standard strike zone map.

Using this available technology, we measured ball and strike calls for accuracy. We then ranked the error rates for each active umpire, creating a "Bad Call Ratio." The higher the ratio, the worse the umpire.

The findings were troubling.

Botched calls and high error rates are rampant. MLB home plate umpires make incorrect calls at least 20% of the time - one in every five calls. In the 2018 season, MLB umpires made 34,246 incorrect ball and strike calls for an average of 14 per game, or 1.6 per inning. Last season, 55 games - 2.2% of the total played - ended with an incorrect call.

When batters had two strikes, the error rate for all umpires increased - incorrect calls happen 29% of the time, almost double the error rate when the batter had one or no strikes.

We also found that the highest error rates did not come from younger, less experienced umpires; they came from the older, veteran umpires. The average MLB umpire is 46 years old, with 13 years of experience. But the top performers between 2008 and 2018 had an average age of 33 years old and had less than three years of experience at the big league level. Like professional baseball players, professional umpires seem to peak at a certain age.

Despite years of data-driven evidence, MLB has notoriously resisted retiring poorly performing umpires and hiring better-performing ones. The league remains top heavy with aging umpires, making it difficult for fresh new talent to make impact.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Trump says America 'is full!' A new report says 4 in 10 U.S. counties are suffering Japan-level population decline. (The Week, 4/08/19)

[A] report released last week suggests that, in fact, much of America -- especially America's rural "heartland" -- is increasingly, troublingly empty.

The report, from Washington think tank the Economic Innovation Group, found that 80 percent of U.S. counties lost prime working-age adults (25-54) between 2007 and 2017, and 65 percent of counties will lose more prime workers in the next decade. Forty-one percent of U.S. counties, home to 38 million people, are "experiencing rates of demographic decline similar to Japan's," the report found. And "the demographic challenges facing large parts of the country are not benign," the authors add. "Demographic decline and population loss are not just symptoms of place-based economic decline, they are direct causes of it."

For example, "a shrinking supply of working-age people can prompt employers to look elsewhere to expand, making it harder for local governments to raise enough taxes to pay for infrastructure and education, and encouraging those younger people who remain to head elsewhere for more opportunity," New York Times economics correspondent Neil Irwin explains. These "left-behind" communities "can get stuck in a vicious cycle," potentially hitting "a point of no return that undermines the long-term economic potential of huge swaths of the United States."

The bidding war is going to really drive the MAGAs crazy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM

WHEN MARCH USED TO MATTER (profanity alert):

The Legacy of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird's NCAA Championship Showdown, 40 Years Later: In 1979, two generational talents faced off on college basketball's biggest stage. The game sparked a rivalry that helped shape the landscape of the sport as we know it, and four decades later it still serves as a cultural touchstone. (Michael Weinreb, Apr 8, 2019, The Ringer)

During a March weekend in 1978, Bob Ryan covered what was, in retrospect, the most prophetic back-to-back of his decadeslong writing career. This came three months before the Boston Celtics would use the sixth pick in that June's NBA draft to select a forward from a state university in Indiana, and 15 months before the Los Angeles Lakers would use the first pick in the following year's draft on a guard from a state university in Michigan. And it came a year before those two players would converge in the 1979 NCAA championship game, a moment that would forever alter the trajectory of college basketball, the NBA, and America's cultural and racial fabric.

There is, of course, no earthly way that Ryan could have contemporaneously grasped the full context of what he was about to witness during those two days. He was merely a Boston Globe journalist on assignment, headed to Indianapolis to cover Providence's first-round NCAA tournament matchup against Michigan State and its ebullient point guard, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. That game was on a Saturday, but Ryan decided to fly to Indiana on Friday, rent a car with a pair of colleagues, and drive the roughly 75 minutes down Interstate 70 to Terre Haute to catch another game featuring a young prospect who had been gathering buzz despite having never appeared on national television. That night, not long after Ryan took his seat for Indiana State's first-round NIT game against Illinois State, a lanky forward named Larry Joe Bird rebounded an Illinois State miss, dribbled to half court, cocked his right hand, and seamlessly whipped a 45-foot bullet pass to a teammate streaking to the basket for a layup.

It was in that instant that Ryan first became an evangelist, the one, he says, who was "beating the drums" for the Celtics to draft Bird, who finished that night with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. The next day, Ryan watched Johnson put up 14 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds in Michigan State's 77-63 victory over Providence. Ryan could not have known then that he would spend a large portion of his career chronicling the interplay between these two men; he could not have known, either, that he would watch them go head-to-head in Salt Lake City for the national title a year later. But after watching Bird make that pass, Ryan felt--for the first time, but not for the last--like he was witnessing something almost supernaturally ordained.

"Oh my god," he exclaimed.

Forty years later, that 1979 NCAA championship game, with all of its narrative threads and lasting mythology, feels more like the starting point of a Great American Novel than a real-life occurrence. The funny thing is that the game itself was an unmitigated dud: Michigan State led virtually the entire way and defeated Indiana State, 75-64. Johnson played very well, scoring 24 points, and Bird shot uncharacteristically poorly, going 7-of-21 from the field and finishing with 19. But the game stands as perhaps the greatest historic convergence in college basketball history, an origin story of Marvelesque proportions that affected everything that came after.

Here was the first meeting between two players whose careers would soon become intertwined--as nemeses (and later friends), as stylistic mirrors, and as avatars of America's racial obsessions. Here was the moment when the NCAA tournament graduated into something larger than life, and here was the moment when the NBA, without even realizing it, first bore witness to the path that would lead to its own resurrection in the midst of declining ratings and fan interest--much of it driven by the open discussions among both fans and executives about the lack of star white players like Bird and the lack of passing-driven guards like Magic. "In the late 1970s, the NBA was in trouble," says former Chicago Tribune columnist David Israel. "And the reason why people decided it was in trouble was because they had too many black players."

By the time Magic and Bird reached that title game, they were already burgeoning celebrities and potential avatars of basketball's future; their names alone, says former Washington Post columnist Dave Kindred, "suggesting flight and sleight of hand," felt as if they'd always been destined to meet. "It was Phantom of the Opera and Gone With the Wind and the Olympics all in one," former NBC commentator Al McGuire, whose network televised the game, told the Los Angeles Times a decade later.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Modernity's Projects and the Loss of Human Dignity : a review of Rémi Brague's The Kingdom of Man  (LEE TREPANIER, 4/07/19, Law & Liberty)

The third and final section of the book examines the consequences of the modern project. While conferring many benefits, the domination of nature also included destructive effects on individuals, classes of people, and humanity itself (e.g., slavery, colonialism). But perhaps more insidious was the countervailing tradition in modernity that belittled human dignity, making people slaves to nature in them (e.g., Freud) or to historical forces (e.g., Marx) that they do not control. This "ironic dialectic" that Brague calls made the modern person not master over the earth but master only over others and even over oneself by one's own project. Human beings were controlled and conquered by the projects they had created: they were no longer the subject of creation but its object.

As the object of creation, the modern person was remade, an idea that existed since antiquity. But this aspiration was restrained by the Greek's account of nature and the Christian's belief that humans were made in the "image" of God. In this new view, with God banished from the modern cosmos, humans were to be transformed with the only problem being, as asked by André Malraux (1901-76), "what form we can re-create man."

The creation of a new view of the human person inevitably raised the question which characteristics were to be selected and which ones disregarded, which easily was broaden to questions of which types of people were to be preserved and which ones eliminated. Thus, eugenics, fascism, and the "new Soviet man" were logically consequences of this project. Human nature was not to be fulfilled, but rather surpassed, unleashing a destructive dialectic that reversed the project of a domination of nature by man into a domination by nature over man. The final result is a humanism that has transformed itself into anti-humanism, with thinkers proclaiming "the death of man" (Michel Foucault, 1926-84), "to go beyond man and humanism" (Jacques Derrida, 1930-2004), and "the final goal of human sciences is not to constitute man, but to dissolve him" (Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2008). As Brague puts it, "The project of the kingdom of man ends with a dispossession of man, in the name of the kingdom to realize."

But one wonders whether this is the complete story, for Brague neglects those thinkers, organizations, and movements that have pushed back against anti-humanism. The Abolition and Civil Rights Movements and the widespread acceptance of human rights have preserved features of human dignity that protects humans from the anti-humanist forces of slavery, segregation, and human right abuses. Religion, particularly the growth of evangelical Christianity in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, also challenges the "ironic dialectic" of modernity by claiming humans are made in the image of God and therefore are to be cherished. Finally, "traditionalist" thinkers like Leo Strauss  (1899-1973), Eric Voegelin (1901-85), and Michael Oakeshott (1901-90) have presented philosophies that critique modernity and present alternative answers to the modern anti-humanist project. While anti-humanism may reign in academia and in other aspects of western culture, its dominance is far from complete.

For Brague, humanism was possible, realized in the pre-modern world where humans were afforded dignity and superiority and made technological advances without an intention to dominate the world. It was only in the deployment of the modern project where certain ideas were chosen by philosophers, scientists, and rulers to go further in mastery of the world that led to the banishment of nature and God as normative guides. However, the modern project has not only run up against an external critique, some of which has labeled "reactionary," but also an internal self-destructive dialectic by which the modern project has produced something other than it had wanted. The result is an anti-humanism that cannot affirm the goodness of the human: modernity can produce material, cultural, and moral goods but is incapable of explaining why they are good for human beings to enjoy.

Brague closes his book with thoughts on "Athens" and "Jerusalem" and how humans originally had a metaphysical foundation that they did not produce but rather produced them. Nature and God provided the task for humans to be human, whereas modernity repudiated these natural and divine origins for projects of human desire. The question for our time is whether the modern person has the will to survive in this project--to be able to grant legitimacy to oneself without the need of nature or God. Believing otherwise, Brague thinks only a return to nature and the divine will enable humans to be able to restore their dignity, singularity, and, most importantly, humanity.

No matter how much we have changed about ourselves and the world around us the one fundamental reality is that we have not managed to make ourselves good and all the rational schemes aimed at that end only bring out the worst in us.  Our Fallen natures are impervious to human endeavor, casting us back on the divine forever. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Margaret Thatcher 'changed the economy of the world' (Louise Armitstead, 08 Apr 2013, The Telegraph)

Lady Thatcher died on Monday aged 87, bringing praise for her efforts to transform Britain's moribund economy with ground-breaking policies such as privatisation, reducing trade union power and cutting taxes. [...]

Lord (Digby) Jones, former head of the CBI and DTI, said: "She set the business environment free; she gave a dictator a bloody nose; she freed up the individual from the undemocratic grasp of unrepresentative trades unionism. She changed a nation and very few people can say that about their time on this earth." [...]

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "The reforms Lady Thatcher introduced, though deeply controversial at the time, have subsequently become accepted wisdom."

John Cridland, the director general of the CBI, said Lady Thatcher "took the UK out of the economic relegation zone and into the first division. What Baroness Thatcher did to reshape the British economy gave us a generation of growth."

Sir David Lees, chairman of the court of the Bank of England and former GKN chairman, said: "She was prime minister in that awful period of 1979 with inflation rushing away and the trade unions being a significant menace to business. Her strength and courage are the two things I would pick out in dealing with them and giving business the confidence to address the trade unions. It is a huge legacy."

City veteran Brian Winterflood: "She was at the forefront of Big Bang. That put us in better shape, made us big and the pre-eminent financial centre of the world. She introduced the share owning and property owning democracies and gave us Sid."

Though, obviously, the central achievement of Thatcher/Reagan was permanently breaking inflation via central bank rate hikes and the assault on unions/wages.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kirstjen Nielsen reportedly sought to mend ties with Trump in meeting that ended in her resignation (The Week, 4/08/19)

Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had requested Sunday evening's meeting with President Trump to work out "a way forward" at the U.S.-Mexico border and came prepared with "a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with Mr. Trump," The New York Times reports. Instead, during the "cordial" 30-minute meeting, "Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it." The resignation was effective immediately.