April 30, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Moore's bid for Federal Reserve looks increasingly shaky (SYLVAN LANE AND JORDAIN CARNEY - 04/30/19, The Hill)

One of President Trump's closest allies in the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said Moore's nomination would be "very problematic" given his controversial statements and writings about women and a host of other subjects, adding that it would be "tough" for him to win confirmation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Congressional Democrats' emoluments lawsuit targeting President Trump's private business can proceed, judge says (Jonathan O'Connell, Ann E. Marimow and Carol D. Leonnig April 30, 2019, Washington Post)

The decision in Washington from U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan adopted a broad definition of the anti-corruption law and could set the stage for Democratic lawmakers to begin seeking information from the Trump Organization. The Justice Department can try to delay or block the process by asking an appeals court to intervene.

In a 48-page opinion, the judge refused the request of the president's legal team to dismiss the case and rejected Trump's narrow definition of emoluments, finding it "unpersuasive and inconsistent." [...]

Led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the Democrats filed their suit last year asking the court to force Trump to stop accepting payments they consider violations of the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause. They say the provision was designed to guard against undue influence by foreign governments by barring any "emolument" -- meaning a gift or payment -- without prior approval from Congress.

Sullivan agreed, writing that dictionaries from the era of the Founding Fathers, as well as legal historians and government practice, point to the broader definition backed by the congressional Democrats that "ensures that the clause fulfills this purpose" of excluding the possibility of corruption and foreign influence. Sullivan described the record as "overwhelming evidence" from "over two hundred years of understanding the scope of the clause to be broad."

"The Court is persuaded that the text and structure of the Clause, together with the other uses of the term in the Constitution, support plaintiffs' definition of 'Emolument' rather than that of the President," the judge wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Mueller complained that Barr's letter did not capture 'context' of Trump probe (Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky April 30, 2019, Washington Post)

Days after Barr's announcement, Mueller wrote a previously unknown private letter to the Justice Department, which revealed a degree of dissatisfaction with the public discussion of Mueller's work that shocked senior Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions," Mueller wrote. "There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."

"Stop lying, Bill"

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Make Physics Real Again : Why have so many physicists shrugged off the paradoxes of quantum mechanics? (David Guaspari, April 2019, New Atlantis)

Consider the famous "double-slit" experiment. The experimental apparatus consists of a device that sends electrons, one at a time, toward a barrier with a slit in it and, at some distance behind the barrier, a screen that glows wherever an electron strikes it. The journey of each electron can be usefully thought of in two parts. In the first, the electron either hits the barrier and stops, or it passes through the slit. In the second, if the electron does pass through the slit, it continues on to the screen. The flashes seen on the screen line up with the gun and slit, just as we'd expect from a particle fired like a bullet from the electron gun.

But if we now cut another slit in the barrier, it turns out that its mere existence somehow affects the second part of an electron's journey. The screen lights up in unexpected places, not always lined up with either of the slits -- as if, on reaching one slit, an electron checks whether it had the option of going through the other one and, if so, acquires permission to go anywhere it likes. Well, not quite anywhere: Although we can't predict where any particular shot will strike the screen, we can statistically predict the overall results of many shots. Their accumulation produces a pattern that looks like the pattern formed by two waves meeting on the surface of a pond. Waves interfere with one another: When two crests or two troughs meet, they reinforce by making a taller crest or deeper trough; when a crest meets a trough, they cancel and leave the surface undisturbed. In the pattern that accumulates on the screen, bright places correspond to reinforcement, dim places to cancellation.

We rethink. Perhaps, taking the pattern as a clue, an electron is really like a wave, a ripple in some field. When the electron wave reaches the barrier, part of it passes through one slit, part through the other, and the pattern we see results from their interference.

There's an obvious problem: Maybe a stream of electrons can act like a wave (as a stream of water molecules makes up a water wave), but our apparatus sends electrons one at a time. The electron-as-wave model thus requires that firing a single electron causes something to pass through both slits. To check that, we place beside each slit a monitor that will signal when it sees something pass. What we find on firing the gun is that one monitor or the other may signal, but never both; a single electron doesn't go through both slits. Even worse, when the monitors are in place, no interference pattern forms on the screen. This attempt to observe directly how the pattern arose eliminates what we're trying to explain. We have to rethink again.

At which point Copenhagen says: Stop! This is puzzling enough without creating unnecessary difficulties. All we actually observe is where an electron strikes the screen -- or, if the monitors have been installed, which slit it passes through. If we insist on a theory that accounts for the electron's journey -- the purely hypothetical track of locations it passes through on the way to where it's actually seen -- that theory will be forced to account for where it is when we're not looking. Pascual Jordan, an important member of Bohr's circle, cut the Gordian knot: An electron does not have a position until it is observed; the observation is what compels it to assume one. Quantum mechanics makes statistical predictions about where it is more or less likely to be observed.

That move eliminates some awkward questions but sounds uncomfortably like an old joke: The patient lifts his arm and says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this." The doctor responds, "So don't do that." But Jordan's assertion was not gratuitous. The best available theory did not make it possible to refer to the current location of an unobserved electron, yet that did not prevent it from explaining experimental data or making accurate and testable predictions. Further, there seemed to be no obvious way to incorporate such references, and it was widely believed that it would be impossible to do so (about which more later). It seemed natural, if not quite logically obligatory, to take the leap of asserting that there is no such thing as the location of an electron that is not being observed. For many, this hardened into dogma -- that quantum mechanics was a complete and final theory, and attempts to incorporate allegedly missing information were dangerously wrongheaded.

But what is an observation, and what gives it such magical power that it can force a particle to have a location? Is there something special about an observation that distinguishes it from any other physical interaction? Does an observation require an observer? (If so, what was the universe doing before we showed up to observe it?) This constellation of puzzles has come to be called "the measurement problem."

Bohr postulated a distinction between the quantum world and the world of everyday objects. A "classical" object is an object of everyday experience. It has, for example, a definite position and momentum, whether observed or not. A "quantum" object, such as an electron, has a different status; it's an abstraction. Some properties, such as electrical charge, belong to the electron abstraction intrinsically, but others can be said to exist only when they are measured or observed. An observation is an event that occurs when the two worlds interact: A quantum-mechanical measurement takes place at the boundary, when a (very small) quantum object interacts with a (much larger) classical object such as a measuring device in a lab.

Experiments have steadily pushed the boundary outward, having demonstrated the double-slit experiment not only with photons and electrons, but also with atoms and even with large molecules consisting of hundreds of atoms, thus millions of times more massive than electrons. Why shouldn't the same laws of physics apply even to large, classical objects?

Enter Schrödinger's cat, the famous thought experiment beloved by pop-physics expositors and often deployed to wow (and cow) laymen by demonstrating the deep strangeness of quantum mechanics and the mental might of the Scientists who wield it. In fact, Schrödinger offered it as a reductio ad absurdum of the Copenhagen interpretation.

The experiment -- buried in a lengthy 1935 paper, "The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics" -- asks us to imagine a sealed box with a tiny amount of radioactive substance, a Geiger counter for detecting its decay, a glass jar of cyanide, a mechanism that controls a hammer, and a cat. If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive substance has decayed, it activates the hammer, which breaks the jar and poisons the cat. Spontaneous decay is a quantum event about whose occurrence we can make only probabilistic predictions. The amount of the radioactive substance is chosen so that the probability of its decaying within one hour is 50 percent. If we leave this sealed box to itself, what can we say about the radioactive substance, and hence the cat, when the hour is up?

If it's literally true, as the Copenhagen interpretation claims, that an unstable atom is in an "indeterminate" state -- neither decayed nor undecayed -- until an act of observation compels it to choose which, then the cat is also in an indeterminate state -- neither alive nor dead -- until we observe it. Someone who takes Copenhagen seriously, Schrödinger says, must say that the cat is neither alive nor dead until we open the box and that, if it is dead, opening the box is what killed it.

Schrödinger describes the thought experiment as a "quite ridiculous case," demonstrating that the attempt to make a principled, radical distinction between a quantum world and a classical world made no sense.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Schiff Hires Ex-Chief of FBI Financial Crimes Section as House Intel Probes Trump's Finances (Betsy Woodruff, 04.30.19, Daily Beast)

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has hired Patrick Fallon, former chief of the FBI's Financial Crimes Section, according to two sources familiar with the move. [...]

Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, called Fallon's hiring significant.

"The fact that the Committee has hired someone at the former senior executive service level from within the FBI's Financial Crimes Section is significant, and to me denotes an effort to apply significant resources to examining and analyzing financial findings," Figliuzzi said. "By the time you got to the head of the Financial Crimes section, you would have substantial white collar crime and global financial crime experience, both at the street level and the supervisory level. And his role at headquarters would have had him overseeing the bulk of all financial crime cases in the FBI."

Always bet on the Deep state.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


An Unexpected Current That's Remaking American Politics: New forms of electricity storage are making the grid more renewable and more reliable--and may change the politics of climate change. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD April 29, 2019, Politico)

[A]nother technology revolution is underway that could help solve that problem: an electricity storage boom. The cost of lithium-ion batteries has plunged 85 percent in a decade, and 30 percent in just the past year, so utilities across the U.S. have started attaching containers full of them to the grid--and they're planning to install far more of them in the coming years. Electricity has always been the toughest commodity to manage, because unlike water, grain, fuel or steel, it has been largely impossible to store for later use. But that is changing fast, and even though the dramatic growth of batteries on the grid will be invisible to most Americans, it has the potential to transform how we produce and consume power, creating more flexible and resilient electricity systems with less waste, lower costs and fewer emissions.

"This will be like the change from analog to digital, or landlines to cell phones," says Advanced Microgrid Systems CEO Susan Kennedy, whose firm's software helps utilities optimize their power choices every instant of every day. "The energy industry will never be the same."

Electricity storage will reshape the grid in many ways, but the most important is its potential to accelerate the already explosive growth of renewable energy--and that will have political implications. Of the 21 states with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, Trump won 20 of them, and the lone exception, New Mexico, just passed a law committing to 100 percent clean power by 2045. By contrast, Hillary Clinton won the eight states with the lowest emissions per capita. But that carbon divide is not necessarily permanent. Eighty percent of the wind power installed during Trump's presidency has been built in states he won, and the five most wind-dependent states were all Trump states. And while the storage boom started in blue states like California and Hawaii, it is taking off in Texas, Florida, and the rest of Red America as well. Polls suggest "clean energy" is now popular throughout the country, even though "climate action" is not, and there are now more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America, versus only 50,000 coal-mining jobs. The president's fossil-fueled rhetoric no longer reflects the reality on the ground. And the politics of energy might become less partisan in a world in which renewable power becomes much more common.

The energy world really is changing at the speed of light. Wind and solar generation has almost quintupled in the past decade, providing 9 percent of U.S. electricity last year without emitting any greenhouse gases. This has further complicated the already daunting task of balancing supply and demand on the grid every instant, forcing utilities to respond to every passing cloud and lull in the wind. The rise of Big Data has helped to identify where more electrons are needed in real time, while new transmission lines have helped move electrons longer distances to meet those needs. But lithium-ion batteries were too expensive to use to capture power on the grid before yet another technology transformation--the growth of electric vehicles, from zero a decade ago to more than 1 million on American roads today--drove down their costs through mass production.

Now grid storage is poised to grow at a faster pace than the electric cars that made it cost-effective, and even faster than the renewables it will help to accommodate on the grid.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Explainer: Probes spawned by Mueller target Trump business, others (Reuters, 4/30/19) 

Numerous investigations spun out of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe are still alive and kicking, presenting potential ongoing legal and political risk for President Donald Trump, some of his former advisers and others.

Even though Trump avoided a knockout blow from the April 18 Mueller report, the special counsel disclosed more than a dozen active criminal inquiries that will play out for months to come, some possibly into the 2020 election campaign season.

Details on most of these cases are unclear as they were redacted in the 448-page report. Only two were not blacked out: one case versus former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen; and one versus Greg Craig, a former White House counsel in the Obama administration.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Waive the Jones Act (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, April 29, 2019, National Review)

The United States is producing beaucoup natural gas -- you knew that. But do you really know how much? The United States is now the world's largest natural-gas producer by far, with No. 2, Russia, nowhere close. The growth alone in U.S. natural gas is equal to about twice the annual production of Iran, which is the world's third-largest producer.

So why are people in New England importing natural gas from Russia?

Welcome to the batty world of trade protectionism.

The United States has on the books and enforces an antediluvian piece of legislation known as the Jones Act, signed into law by that great malefactor of his day, Woodrow Wilson. The Jones Act forbids the transportation of goods, commodities, or people between U.S. seaports unless the vessels used are manufactured, registered, flagged, and owned in the United States -- and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It's the reason why a cruise ship picking up passengers in Fort Lauderdale can't disembark them in Key West -- and also the reason why we can't get natural gas from the Gulf Coast to users in the Northeast and in Puerto Rico.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Profitable Giants Like Amazon Pay $0 in Corporate Taxes. Some Voters Are Sick of It. (Stephanie Saul and Patricia Cohen, April 29, 2019, NY Times)

Corporations' ability to whittle down their tax bills has long been a target of criticism by Democrats, and this presidential campaign is no exception, particularly among left-wing candidates who argue that corporations should be accountable for wage inequality and its impact on low- and middle-income workers.

Though both parties have sought to lower the top corporate tax rate in the last decade -- President Barack Obama proposed lowering it from 35 percent to 28 percent -- Republicans in 2017 pushed it down to 21 percent, in addition to expanding some generous tax breaks. The new law allowed immediate expensing of capital expenditures, for example, in order to goose investment. That was one of the primary reasons that more corporations paid no federal taxes, according to the report.

The threshold problem with these arguments is: why would we want to punish business for being profitable when that is literally the point of being in business.  Tax their consumption instead.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Renewable energy to surpass coal for first time in the US - but why not Australia? (SBS, 4/30/19)

New data from the United States shows renewable energy, such as wind and solar power are, for the first time this month, set to surpass coal.

Research analyst, Dennis Wamstead said the news, published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, was phenomenal.

"The data is pretty astounding," he told SBS News.

"It's an indication of the massive transition underway in the US electricity industry, where the share of coal generated electricity is declining steadily, and the share of both, natural gas generation and renewable generation, is increasing."

The Right chooses a lot of peculiar hills to die on, but few odder than their denial of technology, innovation and productivity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Right Wing Smear Campaigners Try to Cook Up Fake Sexual Assault Accusations Against Pete Buttigieg (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 29, 2019, Slate)

The Daily Beast reported Monday that noted right-wing smear campaigners Jacob Wohl and lobbyist Jack Burkman have been busy trying to cook up a controversy about Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The pair have reportedly been trying to recruit Republican men to make sexual assault accusations against Buttigieg, the openly gay Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind. As with most things Wohl and Burkman touch, the scheme appears to be comically simplistic, deeply cynical, and possibly illegal.

..but require that he behave like their other hero, Donald?

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Netanyahu won't condemn the real danger to U.S. Jews: White nationalism (Mairav Zonszein, April 29, 2019, Washington Post)

For the second time in six months, Jews have been gunned down, allegedly by a self-proclaimed white supremacist, in their house of worship on U.S. soil, just for being Jewish. And for the second time in six months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to the killing of American Jews, allegedly by a self-identified white supremacist, without calling out the alleged perpetrator or mentioning their right-wing white-supremacist ideology.

In his condemnation of the shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., on Twitter, Netanyahu called the incident an attack on the "heart of the Jewish people," but he followed that with a vague assertion that "the international community must step up its struggle against antisemitism." He didn't use the word "terrorist," which he and other Israeli leaders and media reach for systematically to describe violent attacks in which the assailants are Muslim or Arab -- even when the victims are not Jewish. Netanyahu's politics won't allow him to explicitly condemn anti-Semitic ideology unless it manifests in explicitly Islamist ways. Anti-Semitism that doesn't have anything to do with groups Netanyahu sees as enemies of Israel barely seems to move him at all.

Embracing racism, rabbis at pre-army yeshiva laud Hitler, urge enslaving Arabs (TAMAR PILEGGI, 4/30/19, Times of Israel)

In a series of undated recordings published by Channel 13 news on Monday, Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, the head of the Bnei David academy in Eli, can be heard calling for the enslavement of the "stupid and violent" non-Jews due to their genetic inferiority.

"The gentiles will want to be our slaves. Being a slave to a Jew is the best. They're glad to be slaves, they want to be slaves," he told a class in one of the video clips. "Instead of just walking the streets and being stupid and violent and harming each other, once they're slaves, their lives can begin to take shape."

"All around us, we are surrounded by peoples with genetic problems. Ask a simple Arab 'where do you want to be?' He wants to be under the occupation. Why? Because they have genetic problems, they don't know how to run a country, they don't know how to do anything. Look at them."

In the lecture, Kashtiel goes on to embrace racism against non-Jews.

"Yes, we're racists. We believe in racism... There are races in the world and peoples have genetic traits, and that requires us to try to help them," he said. "The Jews are a more successful race."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump's lack of cooperation with Congress intensifies impeachment push in House (Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis April 29, 2019, Washington Post)

Frustration among House Democratic investigators is intensifying after President Trump's refusal to cooperate with congressional inquiries, leading some to privately question whether they should try to pressure Speaker Nancy Pelosi into launching impeachment proceedings.

The chairmen and members of the six panels investigating the president are increasingly angered by the White House's unwillingness to comply as they carry out their oversight role, according to several House Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely. But that anger extends into the ranks of Pelosi's team as well, according to multiple leadership officials.

In fairness, it's not as if he can ever co-operate with legal authorities without implicating himself in crimes.
Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump directs officials to toughen asylum rules (Yeganeh Torbati, Mica Rosenberg, 4/30/19, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump directed officials to toughen rules for asylum seekers on Monday, including by introducing a fee for their applications and barring those who entered the country illegally from working until their claims are approved.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


2020 Texas: Biden and Beto in Dead Heat in Democratic Primary. (Emerson Polling, 4/29/19)

In general election matchups, Trump is in statistical dead heats with four of the top six Democratic opponents and leads the other two. In a Donald Trump versus Joe Biden matchup, the two are almost exactly even at 50% for Biden and 49% for Trump. Beto O'Rourke versus Trump is very similar, with 50% going to Beto and 50% supporting Trump.