April 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Trump campaign adviser was wiretapped under secret court orders: CNN (Reuters, 9/18/17)

 U.S. investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the 2016 election, CNN reported on Monday.

...who ordered that the Intelligence agencies discontinue the spying on a known foreign asset who was running a US presidential campaign during the race.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Barr: I think FBI 'spying did occur' on Trump campaign (ANDREW DESIDERIO 04/10/2019, Politico)

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday appeared to back up President Donald Trump's assertion that the Justice Department "spied" on his presidential campaign...

This is a reiteration of fact.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Another Mock Putin Gravestone Reported In St. Petersburg (RFE/RL, 4/10/19)

Another mock gravestone with the name Vladimir Putin on it has reportedly appeared in Russia's second-biggest city, St. Petersburg, which is the hometown of the Russian president.

A group called Pyatnitsa (Friday) posted on the Telegram social network on April 9 a picture of the mock gravestone with Putin's picture on it and an inscription reading "A political corpse of the Russian Federation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Frank Hamer vs. Bonnie and Clyde (JOHN BOESSENECKER, March 2019, True West)

Frank Hamer's career began during the closing years of the Texas frontier, and saw him transition from a horseback Ranger into a motorized gangbuster of the 1930s. In between, he served decades as a lawman, in and out of the Texas Rangers: city marshal of the rowdy east Texas town of Navasota, special officer in Houston, deputy sheriff of Kimble County, U.S. prohibition officer and Texas Ranger captain. Among his countless exploits, he played a prominent role in the so‑called Bandit War of 1915, when Mexican revolutionaries surged across the border and raided in south Texas. In 1917 he got mixed up in the Johnson‑Sims feud, killing one man in the feud's climactic gunfight in Sweetwater. Hamer's role in a violent vendetta was certainly the low point in his professional life. In 1921, as a Texas Ranger captain, he and his men crossed the Mexican border and ambushed and killed the gang of Rafael Lopez, who had murdered five lawmen in Utah's worst law enforcement tragedy. Captain Hamer then led the Rangers who tamed the oil boomtowns of Mexia and Borger, and investigated--and solved-- some of the most sensational Texas murders of the 1920s.

-- Courtesy of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas --
Although a white supremacist of the Jim Crow era, Hamer was sympathetic to black Americans. Beginning in 1908, he saved 15 black men from certain death at the hands of lynch mobs in various towns and cities in east Texas. During the Roaring Twenties, Hamer led an unpopular fight against the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. In 1930, at the courthouse in Sherman in north Texas, Hamer and three of his Rangers held off a mob of 6,000 intent on lynching a black man who had raped a white woman. When the rioters burned down their own courthouse in order to kill the prisoner locked up inside, Frank Hamer became the first and only Texas Ranger to lose a prisoner to a lynch mob. He and his men barely escaped the raging inferno alive. Nonetheless, Hamer's stubborn refusal to back down against massive odds, and his shooting of two of the Sherman mob leaders, constitute one of the greatest displays of raw courage in the history of American law enforcement.

But to many people in Jim Crow‑era Texas, saving the lives of black suspects really did not matter. Hamer's actions in Sherman were quickly forgotten. What the public did remember was a much more famous--and by comparison, a much less important--exploit. That was Hamer's 1934 manhunt for Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The true story of his manhunt was long muddied by myth, misinformation and unreliable reminiscences from old-timers. Then, in 2006, the voluminous FBI file on Bonnie and Clyde was discovered in Dallas and declassified in 2009. The special agents' reports described in detail the twists and turns in the Barrow manhunt, and made obsolete much of what had been written before about Frank Hamer's leading role in tracking down the love‑struck outlaw duo.

The Legendary Maney Gault: Frank Hamer's best friend and partner in tracking down Bonnie and Clyde should be remembered as one of the greatest Texas Rangers. (JOHN FUSCO, March 2019, True West)

Maney Gault's career as a Texas Ranger started in 1929 after his friend, Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer, recruited him into the Headquarters Company in Austin. Like Hamer, Gault was as comfortable enforcing the law on horseback as in a patrol car.
Frank Hamer had known Maney Gault since the mid-1920s, when they were neighbors in Austin. The diminutive, steely-eyed Gault had been a stock and dairy farmer until crashing milk prices forced him to find work in a sawmill. Regardless, he was a man after Hamer's own heart--laconic, loyal, modest, conservative, sardonic and perfectly unbreakable. Hamer appreciated the fact that Maney was from a "Travis County pioneer family."

As neighbors in the Riverside area of Austin, Hamer and Gault became tight, as did their feisty wives, Gladys and Rebecca. The late Frank Hamer Jr., a preteen then, remembered Gault being as "smooth as satin with a pistol," but also proficient on the guitar. Captain Hamer was also a competent hill country fiddler, and the two spent many a night playing cards or dominoes, blue grass music, and sharing terse, wry, Texas-style stories. Gladys Hamer had a parrot in a cage who repeated every damn thing a body said; Frank had a pet javelina named Porky who had free run of the house. It was a lively time on Riverside Drive. Hamer, whom Gault called "Pancho," was a casual and careful sipper while Maney "enjoyed his whiskey" and both were known to "cuss up a storm," much to the amusement of young Frank Jr., who came to think of Maney Gault as an uncle.

This was years before Gault joined the Texas Rangers, but Hamer was already using his friend and neighbor for specialized undercover work. Maney might have been a cow man and mill worker, but Hamer recognized in him the ability to blend in and "talk his way through," his lack of fear and the principled moral compass that Hamer valued above all else. He could also kick ass--literally, on more than one occasion. Hamer privately put his friend Maney underground during the rough-and-tumble days of Prohibition, illegal gambling and in lawless oil boomtowns like Mexia and Borger.

As the Great Depression grew near and private sector jobs dried up--even the sawmills--Hamer offered his friend a job in the Texas Rangers Headquarters Company. Hamer and Gault now began to team together in earnest, particularly in the violent Jim Crow climate when African-American men were frequently lynched before due process and trials. Gault was likely among the handful of Rangers who stood with Hamer when he protected a black rape suspect from a lynch mob of 6,000 in Sherman, Texas. As senior captain, Hamer was leading the fight in Texas against the Ku Klux Klan.

Hamer and Gault worked seamlessly together as Rangers up until Miriam "Ma" Ferguson was re-elected as governor of Texas. Hamer and the  Rangers had sup-ported rival Governor Ross Sterling, so when the truculent "Ma" won, she fired every Ranger (that is, those who had not already resigned in protest like Hamer and Gault) for their partisanship. Texas became a haven for lawless types, from Machine Gun Kelly to the Barrow Gang. Ma Ferguson was known for generously granting furloughs to prisoners, issuing more than 4,000 pardons during her two non-consecutive terms as governor.

While Gault found work with the Texas Highway Patrol, Hamer took on sporadic detective and security assignments. That's what he was doing when when Lee Simmons, head of the Texas Prison System, recruited Hamer to hunt down the Barrow Gang.

By April 14, 1934, Frank and Maney were back together--this time as Highway Patrol officers--sharing the cramped space of Hamer's Ford and hunting down the notorious killers. Like their quarry, they slept in their car, drove 500 or more miles per day, and mostly lived on crackers and sardines. According to the late Frank Jr., they took guitar and fiddle with them--along with modern firepower.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Are You Sure You Need a Human?: A Form From the Future looks at what humans and machines do best. (ROSE EVELETH, APRIL 10, 2019, Slate)

Let's say you're a manager at a big box store or a fast-food franchise or even a hospital. You might also need to fill out paperwork justifying your request for an actual person to pull boxes from a shelf, check people out at a store, deliver medication, or make a hamburger. How long do you think you'll need this human for, and who is responsible for her safety? Do you really need a human? Or could a machine do the same job for longer and for cheaper?

Trying to quantify the projected length of a person's working life can be traced back to the early 1900s in the United States. Nineteenth-century life insurance companies relied on mortality tables provided by cities and churches to calculate their policies and payouts. In the early 1900s, AT&T became one of the first huge companies to adopt the idea of a "service life" for its machinery--keeping track of things like telephone poles and vehicles and gear and trying to predict when they might fail. Today, the concept of a "service life" for a piece of equipment is commonplace, but at the time it was relatively unusual. "These graphs allowed them to predict the lives of their machinery," says Dan Bouk, a historian and the author of How Our Days Became Numbered. They meant that the company could replace things before they were run into the ground and failed. Then, in 1927, the opportunity arose to apply the same thinking to people.

The late 1920s saw the rise of pensions beyond the military in the United States. Which meant that huge companies like AT&T suddenly had an incentive to predict how much work they were getting out of their employees and how much they might be expected to pay them back once they retired. Just like with their telephone poles, vehicles, and gear, AT&T began collecting data on everything from employment tenure to wages. The company designed tables to better understand its workforce, "which they can use to predict what the service life of their various employees will be," Bouk says. With this data, it was able to offer retirement to workers who might not have been thinking about it but who the company predicted would no longer provide enough work or efficiency to be worth employing.

Today, the conflation of service life and human life is less about pensions and more about mitigating other kinds of financial risks. Gone are the days when many workers spent their entire professional career at a single company. In a world where Amazon has patented (although doesn't seem to have actually developed) a cage to protect humans from their robotic co-workers, companies looking to get more work for less money (and trouble) are turning to machines that won't complain or get sick or unionize. Machines usually have a higher upfront cost, but they don't require health care or safe working conditions. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The Growing Obsession With Linking Iran to Terrorism: Iran has not posed a serious terror threat to the United States since the 1980s. Sunni terrorism, on the other hand, has. (JEFFERSON MORLEY, April 10, 2019, New Republic)

For the past twenty years or so, the annual reports of the National Counterterrorism Center have attributed the vast majority of the Islamic terrorist attacks around the world since 2001 to "Sunni extremists"--jihadists inspired by the anti-imperialist Salafist theology of Saudi Arabia. ISIS and other fundamentalist militias fall under this category of Sunni extremism, often funded by wealthy Persian Gulf Arabs. They hate the heretical--as they see them--Shia Muslims of Iran almost as much as they hate the "Crusaders and Jews" of Washington and Tel Aviv. The fanatics behind the attacks of 9/11, Madrid, London, Paris, and San Bernardino were all Sunni extremists. None of the terrorists involved in those bloody attacks was Iranian.

This is an uncomfortable fact for the Zionist-Saudi intersection of interests in Washington right now--a group including Mike Pompeo, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Israeli allies as well. All have reason to want to confront and destroy Iranian power, which represents a threat to Israel and a rival to Saudi Arabia. So the party of war in Washington (and Tel Aviv and Riyadh) needs to change the subject. They need to divert U.S. news media coverage from Saudi-funded Sunni terrorism (as well as the state-backed assassination of Jamal Khashoggi) to Shiite terrorism. [...]

The idea that Tehran was Terror Central originated in 1979 when Iranians held 52 American diplomats hostage for some 400 days. When Iran then used covert operatives and proxy forces to wage war on Western targets after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Reagan administration depicted Iran as the biggest state sponsor of terrorism. The charge stuck, even as Iran's revolutionary fervor cooled and factions within the government pursued better relations with Washington.

Since 9/11, however, Iran's attacks on Western targets have dwindled while the violence of non-state anti-Iranian terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS has gone global. Read the NCTC reports of the last 20 years, and you will see Iranian/Shiite terrorism is not even a category in U.S. counterterrorism reporting. By any objective measure, it is a much smaller threat to Americans and the world than either Sunni terrorism or white nationalist terrorism.

Looking for specifics, I emailed a couple of experts and asked for their take on the State Department claim. Which Americans were killed by Iran? When?

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA station chief, replied by email, "The best case is in Iraq after 2003 when IRGC supported Iraqis [who] killed US troops." Bruce Hoffman, counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University, told me via email that the State Department was probably referring "to the intense fighting in Sadr City in Baghdad in 2008 between IRGC and U.S. military forces."

Iranian terror, like American, is liberationist.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Bolsonaro targets deadly gangs run from Brazil's prisons (Gabriel Stargardter, 4/10/19, Reuters) 

Before Brazilian prosecutors could conduct an inspection last year of the prison considered the country's worst, its warden had to clear their visit with the jail's de facto authorities: in-house prison gangs.

As Brazil's incarcerated population has surged eight-fold in three decades to around 750,000 inmates, the world's third-highest tally, its prison gangs have come to wield vast power that reaches far beyond the jailhouse walls.

New President Jair Bolsonaro's vow to crack down on spiraling crime has put him on a collision course with the jail gangs. In a strategy detailed to Reuters for the first time, top security officials said they plan to isolate gang bosses, ramp up surveillance, build more lockups and deploy federal forces to beleaguered state prison systems.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Ray Dalio is wrong about capitalism (James Pethokoukis, April 10, 2019, The Week)

Right off the bat Dalio writes, "There has been little or no real income growth for most people for decades." It's a gloomy statistic that many policymakers on the left and right accept as inarguable fact.

But they shouldn't, and neither should Dalio. If you use an inflation adjustment like the one preferred by the Federal Reserve -- it assumes consumers alter their buying habits in response to changing prices -- then it turns out that real wages for production and nonsupervisory workers have risen by a quarter since the mid-1970s, according to 2017 research by Dartmouth University economist Bruce Sacerdote. (Or maybe even twice as much.) And if you broaden things out to income rather than just wages, then the stagnation argument looks even weaker. According to the Congressional Budget Office, middle-class incomes after government transfers and federal taxes rose by 46 percent from 1979 to 2015. And incomes in the bottom fifth did even better, rising 79 percent.

And if those numbers seem too abstract, there's the simple reality that lower income folks are living better today than decades ago. For instance: The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980, notes Sacerdote, and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size.

Dalio also cites research that finds that only half of 30-year-olds today earn more than their parents at the same age. Or to be more specific, half of Americans born in 1984 grew up to earn more than their parents did at age 30, adjusting for inflation, vs. 92 percent of children born in 1940. So clearly upward mobility isn't what it used to be. But, again, Dalio offers the worst possible interpretation of the data. If you adjust that 50 percent stat for all sorts of reasonable tweaks -- changes in family size, a better inflation measure, increasing employer and federal benefits -- researcher Scott Winship concludes, "roughly three in four adults -- and the overwhelming majority of poor children -- live better off than their parents after taking the rising cost of living into account."

Accounting for deflation is a psychological roadblock, not just a mathematical one.  Equally difficult is accounting for how little actual labor our jobs entail now.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Iran and Iraq lead way in reducing executions in the Middle East (James Reinl, 9 April 2019, MEE)

The Middle East saw far fewer executions in 2018 than it did the previous year, driven largely by sharp reductions in the number of people being put to death in Iran and Iraq, according to Amnesty International.

A report from the human rights group released on Tuesday found that the number of executions in the Middle East fell by 41 percent in one year, from 847 in 2017 to 501 in 2018. [...]

"A 50 percent drop in Iran shows that when legal reforms take place, executions can fall."

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Inside Trump's 'truly bizarre' visit to Mt. Vernon: The 45th president -- no student of history -- marveled at the first president's failure to name his historic compound after himself. (ELIANA JOHNSON and DANIEL LIPPMAN 04/10/2019, Politico)

During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn't understand why America's first president didn't name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.

"If he was smart, he would've put his name on it," Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. "You've got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."

The VIPs' tour guide for the evening, Mount Vernon president and CEO Doug Bradburn, told the president that Washington did, after all, succeed in getting the nation's capital named after him.

Donald will be remembered only as the butt of jokes, like Spiro Agnew.
Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


A country can never be too rich, too beautiful or too full of people (Jay L. Zagorsky, 4/09/19, The Conversation)

The first economist to suggest there were limits to how many inhabitants a country could support was Thomas Malthus, who wrote his most famous work, "An Essay on the Principle of Population," in 1798.

Malthus believed that each country had a "carrying capacity," a maximum number of people it can support. When the population is above its carrying capacity, it is full.

Carrying capacity is based on environmental factors, such as the amount of food resources that can be grown on land or harvested from the sea. If Malthus were alive today, he would point out there is a fixed amount of oil in the Earth and a fixed amount of farmland to grow crops. Sooner or later the oil will run out, and if population grows without bound, there will not be enough food to feed everyone.

Malthus' predictions about what happens after a country rises above its carrying capacity were dire: Disease, famine and wars break out to bring the population back down to a sustainable level. In simple terms, Malthus' theory was that the population in a country cannot grow indefinitely. Death will constrain it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Big gods came after the rise of civilisations, not before, finds study using huge historical database (Harvey Whitehouse, Patrick E. Savage, Peter Turchin, Pieter Francois, 3/20/19, The Conversation)

One of the earliest questions we're testing is whether morally concerned deities drove the rise of complex societies. We analysed data on 414 societies from 30 world regions, using 51 measures of social complexity and four measures of supernatural enforcement of moral norms to get to the bottom of the matter. New research we've just published in the journal Nature reveals that moralising gods come later than many people thought, well after the sharpest rises in social complexity in world history. In other words, gods who care about whether we are good or bad did not drive the initial rise of civilisations - but came later. [...]

Our statistical analysis showed that beliefs in supernatural punishment tend to appear only when societies make the transition from simple to complex, around the time when the overall population exceed about a million individuals.

Social complexity tends to increase more rapidly before the appearance of moralising gods, not after. Whitehouse, Francois Savage et al. Nature., Author provided
We are now looking to other factors that may have driven the rise of the first large civilisation. For example, Seshat data suggests that daily or weekly collective rituals - the equivalent of today's Sunday services or Friday prayers - appear early in the rise of social complexity and we're looking further at their impact.

If the original function of moralising gods in world history was to hold together fragile, ethnically diverse coalitions, what might declining belief in such deities mean for the future of societies today? Could modern secularisation, for example, contribute to the unravelling of efforts to cooperate regionally - such as the European Union? If beliefs in big gods decline, what will that mean for cooperation across ethnic groups in the face of migration, warfare, or the spread of xenophobia? Can the functions of moralising gods simply be replaced by other forms of surveillance?

Such is the narrative arc of the Bible.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A First for Florida: GOP Governor Appoints Chief Science Officer (David Fleshler, 4/04/19, Tribune News Service)

"Obviously as many of you know, we have had persistent water problems, and I've been very clear that the time for us to address this is now," the governor said at a news conference at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. "We have taken action. We're going to take more today."

Frazer said he understood that addressing the water problems would be his priority.

"Our water-dominated environment is inextricably linked to the health and happiness of all Floridians and the state's economic well-being," he said. "In fact, the legacy of our leadership will rest squarely on an ability to ensure the water resources in this state are restored, protected and conserved to meet the needs of current and future generations." [...]

In an interview, the governor's new science officer said the head of his department, Florida Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, took climate change seriously and so did he.

"The secretary is clearly on the record that climate change is real and that humans are responsible for it, and my view is consistent with that," he said. "I feel comfortable, after talking with Noah, that we'll have the freedom to talk and discuss science in an open, collegial manner like you would do anywhere, so I feel really good about that."

Initial reaction to the announcement was favorable.

"Science is back in the state of Florida," said Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of Everglades Trust, who attended the news conference. "Science is back with a vengeance."