May 18, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


GOP lawmaker says Trump's conduct meets 'threshold for impeachment' (Colby Itkowitz, May 18, 2019, Washington Post)

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a critic of President Trump who has entertained a run against him in 2020, became the first Republican congressman to say the president "engaged in impeachable conduct" based on the Mueller report.

The Michigan lawmaker, often the lone Trump dissenter on his side of the House aisle, shared his conclusions in a lengthy Twitter thread Saturday after reviewing the full report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Amash wrote that after reading the 448-page report, he had concluded that not only did Mueller's team show Trump attempting to obstruct justice, but that Attorney General William P. Barr had "deliberately misrepresented" the findings. He added that "few members of Congress even read Mueller's report."

"Contrary to Barr's portrayal, Mueller's report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment," Amash wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


At campaign rally, Biden decries Democratic 'anger' and pledges unity (James Oliphant, 5/18/19, Reuters) 

Seeking to build on early momentum in his 2020 presidential bid, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday condemned "anger" within his own Democratic Party and pledged to work to unify the country in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency.

At a rally in downtown Philadelphia, Biden, as he has done throughout the beginning stages of his campaign, made Trump his central target, blasting him as "the divider-in-chief."

But he also chided other Democratic presidential candidates in the field, suggesting that anger toward Trump within his party was not enough to win next year's presidential election.

His message, Biden said, was expressly aimed at Democratic, Republican and independent voters alike.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Trump Likely Violated Two Laws in One Tweet (Jerry Lambe, May 18th, 2019, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump filmed a brief video from his office on Air Force One Thursday, deriding New York City mayor and newly announced presidential candidate Bill DeBlasio, calling him "the worst mayor in the history of New York City." Trump made the campaign-related video while on his way to New York for a campaign fundraiser and posted it to his official Twitter account.

In the video, the presidential seal is prominently displayed just above the window to the left of Trump, lending priceless gravitas to Trump's screed against a possible future election opponent.

After it was posted online, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Washington, DC based watchdog group, responded by tweeting: "Nice political ad filmed on Air Force One. You now legally need to reimburse the Treasury for the use of Air Force One on a political trip. Since you had no problem tweeting out the video, you should have no problem tweeting out the receipts when you reimburse the taxpayers."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Austrian leader calls for snap election amid video scandal (DAVID MCHUGH and KAMILA JAFARU, 5/18/19, AP) 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for an early election after his vice chancellor resigned Saturday over a covertly shot video that showed him apparently promising government contracts to a purported Russian investor.

Kurz said he would ask President Alexander Van der Bellen to set a date for a new election "as soon as possible."

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned after two German publications, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the weekly Der Spiegel, on Friday published extracts of a covert video purportedly showing Strache offering Austrian government contracts to a Russian woman who was allegedly interested in investing large amounts of money in Austria.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


CICERO'S REPUBLIC: IMPLANTED IN THE NATURE OF MAN (Bradley J. Birzer|, May 17th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

The best society, Cicero continues, cultivates us as free individuals, not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the community. "For, in truth, our country has not given us birth and education without expecting to receive some sustenance, as it were, from us in return; nor has it been merely to serve our convenience that she has granted to our leisure a safe refuge and for our moments of repose a calm retreat," he argues forcibly and persuasively. "On the contrary, she has given us these advantages so that she may appropriate to her own use the greater and more important part of our courage, our talents, and our wisdom, leaving to us for our own private uses only so much as may be left after her needs have been satisfied." Though unpalatable to modern libertine ears, Cicero's words certainly anticipate those of Edmund Burke. Additionally, Cicero notes, a man must act not merely on behalf of his own republic, but on behalf of the universe as seen through the republic and the actions of its citizens. "Do you not think it important for our homes that we should know what is happening and being done in that home which is not shut in by the walls we built, but is the whole universe, a fatherland which the gods have given us the privilege of sharing with them."

One must presume, especially given his other writings, that Cicero means an example not only for the world of any one person's generation, but for all generations, past, present, and future. Scipio, one of Cicero's characters, states as much when he famously argues: "A commonwealth is the property of a people. But a people is not any collection of human beings brought together in any sort of way, but an assemblage of people in large numbers associated in an agreement with respect to justice and partnership for the common good." In this, he echoes the future views of Edmund Burke, again, in the Anglo-Irish statesman's explanation of the eternal contract between those dead, those living, and those yet to be born. "The first cause of such an association," Scipio continues, "is not so much the weakness of the individual as a certain social spirit which nature has implanted in man." As with Aristotle, Scipio claims "man is not a solitary or unsocial creature, but born with such a nature that not even under conditions of great prosperity of every sort" does he choose to leave the company of others, permanently.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Herman Wouk obituary: Author of The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War who championed traditional Jewish values and American patriotism (Eric Homberger,  17 May 2019, The Guardian)

Wouk, who has died aged 103, was an award-winning novelist whose books were made into Hollywood movies, a playwright and an author of screenplays. He wrote books about Judaism and modern belief. Throughout, he voiced a conservative view of ethics and morality that remained largely unamended in the course of a writing career of more than six decades.

The Caine Mutiny (1951), awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction, was made into a popular movie by Edward Dmytryk in 1954. In the role of the paranoid Captain Queeg, Humphrey Bogart gave one of his most mesmerising performances. The interrogation scene, with Bogart twisting ball bearings in his hand while breaking down under the questioning of the defence attorney Lt Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer), would have made a powerful end to the film. But the last scene, the celebration dinner for the acquitted defendants Maryk and Keith, accused of mutiny through relieving Queeg of his command when the minesweeper USS Caine was at risk of sinking during a typhoon, brought a different meaning to the story.

Greenwald's drunken speech in praise of Queeg and disdain for Lt Keefer (Fred MacMurray), who had encouraged Maryk and Keith, gave a moral victory to career navy men. It was the regulars like Queeg, "standing guard on this fat, dumb and happy country of ours", who saved Greenwald's mother, a "little gray-headed Jewish lady", from being melted down into a bar of soap.

Greenwald's speech made vivid theatre when Wouk's stage play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, opened in New York in 1954, with Henry Fonda playing Greenwald. Dmytryk, Bogart and Ferrer had all come to the attention of the House Un-American Activities committee, seeking out political subversion, and Wouk's story provided impeccable conservative cover for them.

Wouk actually meant what Greenwald said. His conservative social and political attitudes and religious faith made him an atypical figure in American Jewish life after the second world war. He was an orthodox Jew, a Republican, a patriot and a sharp critic of assimilation. His novel Marjorie Morningstar (1955) ended with the renunciation of worldly ambition by a New York Jewish girl, and with an affirmation of marriage, suburbia, family and duty. It was one of the last moments when such a novel might have been written without apology, and published without embarrassment.

Maybe that's why people read him and not his peers?

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Lindsey Graham, Russian Oil Money & A Campaign Finance Scandal (The Democratic Coalition, May 17, 2019)

Len Blavatnik is a Russian oligarch with US and UK citizenship who donated to Sen. Graham's 2016 presidential campaign. Blavatnik made many of his billions off Russian oil. He is also long-term business partner of Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska at RuSal, the aluminum giant in which he is a major investor, as well as Viktor Vekselberg, who is entangled with Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen through his U.S. family office Columbus Nova.

Sen. Graham's political action committee received a total of $800,000 from Blavatnik via his company, Access Industries. He received $500,000 in May 2015 just before Donald Trump declared and another $300,000 in October 2015, long after it was publicly apparent Graham's campaign had no traction in the polls. The Blavatnik family, including Len, donated another $57,000 to Graham's campaign directly, but the Senator's campaign later returned $13,500.

Senator Graham abandoned his 2016 campaign for president on December 21, 2015. Blavatnik gave $7.35 million to PACs working for high-ranking Republicans, including both the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader, during the 2015-16 federal campaign cycle. Special Counsel Robert Mueller was probing donor Blavatnik for his ties to Donald Trump and specifically a million dollar inaugural donation.

Forbes amply documented Blavatnik's source funds from the Kremlin in 2013 by exhibiting a copy of the wire transfer itself in a story entitled "The Four Horsemen of Russia's Economic Collapse." It described his sale of a private Russian oil company to state-controlled Rosneft.

This report also indicates that a Ukrainian food industry executive -- who used to work for the sanctioned Russian bank, Sberbank -- and his family, who are based in New Jersey, were also significant donors to Graham's presidential campaign, who had excessive donations returned.

May 17, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Second U.S. appeals court rules Trump cannot end protections for 'Dreamers' (Tom Hals, 5/17/19, Reuters) 

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that President Donald Trump cannot end a program that shielded from deportation immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, the second time the administration has lost an appeal on the issue.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


We're Laughing At Trump, Not With Him (CHRISTIAN SCHNEIDER  MAY 16, 2019, The Bulwark)

In crafting his famous "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker" sketch for Saturday Night Live, Chris Farley stumbled--literally--onto a name for his style of comedy. The portly actor, who combined a graceful athleticism with a preternatural ability to crash through things, explained his popularity succinctly: "Everybody laughs when fatty falls down." [...]

But the only time Trump is truly funny is when he's trying to be deadly serious. Watching him try to explain U.S. trade deficits with China is as adorable as viewing a rat on the New York City streets try to drag a piece of pizza up a flight of stairs. It's funny because we're not laughing with him; we're laughing at him.

If SNL understood comedy it would not impersonate Donald, just show clips of him speaking.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


White House Suffering 'Unprecedented' Job Vacancies Under Trump (Alex Henderson, May 15, 2019, Alternet)

(Dareh Gregorian for NBC News)  reports that presently, there are "138 nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate" and "132 positions that have no nominee at all." And according to Max Stier, president of Partnership for Public Service (a nonprofit that tracks presidential appointments), "what we have seen is unprecedented, with consistent vacancies across the government."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bad news, journalists: Robots are writing really good headlines now (BRYAN CLARK, 5/16/19, Next Web)

Primer, an AI company, recently built a tool capable of writing headlines that look like those a human would produce. It's not perfect, but in speaking with Axios, the examples it came up with were often quite good -- those that didn't miss the mark entirely, that is.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Paul Rosenzweig, Former Starr Prosecutor, Shreds Trump's Obstruction (Emily Singer, May 15, 2019, National Memo)

Trump's attempts to stonewall Congress and block the legislative branch from conducting oversight are blatant acts of obstruction of justice and are in violation of the Constitution -- according to conservative Republican lawyer Paul Rosenzweig, who served as a senior counsel on the team led by Kenneth Starr that investigated former President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s. [...]

"Adherence to the rule of law means that rules have to be applied even-handedly, regardless of whether a political party or other interest is immediately benefited," Rosenzweig said in a witness statement to the House Judiciary Committee. "It means not invoking privileges to conceal wrongdoing; and it means not invoking them to frustrate legitimate congressional inquiry."

Rosenzweig went on to say that he believes Trump's attempts to assert executive privilege, such as trying to retroactively declare special counsel Robert Mueller's report to be secret, are unconstitutional.

"If you continue to think that President Clinton's use of the privilege to avoid scrutiny of his actions was violative of his oath of office and deserving of condemnation -- as I do -- you can say no less about President Trump," he said.

Rosenzweig concluded: "Sadly, today, it increasingly appears that the president is acting in a manner designed to denigrate and disregard checks on his use of executive authority. To date, his actions appear unable to distinguish between the public interests that undergird the privilege and his own personal and political interests."

May 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Flynn gave info on attempts to obstruct Mueller probe: court filing (Nathan Layne, 5/16/19, Reuters) 

Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn gave Special Counsel Robert Mueller information about multiple attempts by people to obstruct the Russia investigation, according to court documents made public on Thursday.

The attempts to obstruct Mueller's probe were made by people associated with the administration of President Donald Trump or with Congress, according to the filings, which were unsealed at prosecutors' request.

Flynn "informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation," Mueller wrote in a memo originally submitted under seal ahead of Flynn's planned sentencing on Dec. 18, 2018.

"The defendant even provided a voicemail recording of one such communication. In some instances, the SCO was unaware of the outreach until being alerted to it by the defendant," he wrote, using the acronym for the Special Counsel's Office.

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


An electronic strike zone is coming to the Atlantic League (Jayson Stark, 5/16/19, The athletic)

For a century, here's how a strike was called in baseball games across the world: An umpire peered intently as the pitch soared toward home plate. Then that umpire rose up out of his crouch. He thrust a finger, dramatically, into the air. He let out a mighty "Stee-rike" call. Rinse and repeat.

But next month in the Atlantic League, that time-honored scene is about to be altered forever - because once the technology is in place and umpires get the gist of it, an electronic TrackMan radar tracking system will be making those ball/strike calls. And you know who will be watching closely?

Major League Baseball, of course.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Tariff Crossfire (Todd Seavey, 5/16/19, Splice Today)

Somehow learning nothing from all the decades he spent around free-marketeers and would-be government-shrinkers, [Pat Buchanan] now joins the vicious, myopic Ann Coulter in praising taxes. Those two don't seem to have any principled objection to taxation so long as it harms their enemies, the Chinese in Buchanan's case and the Koch Brothers in Coulter's (she's peeved they like immigrants).

Taxes are a perfectly coherent way to achieve the Trumpbot goal of reducing free trade and movement of peoples.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Bob Hawke, former Australian prime minister, dies age 89: Labor PM, who served from 1983 to 1991, modernised Australia's economy and introduced significant social reforms (Anne Davies and Paul Karp, 16 May 2019, The Guardian)

Hawke's government, in which he and his treasurer, Paul Keating, forged a strong partnership, will be remembered for its reforming zeal and for modernising the Australian economy, including floating the Australian dollar, removing tariffs and modernising industrial awards.

The Accord, struck with the trade union movement in 1983, brought relative industrial harmony to Australia and allowed Hawke's government to rein in inflation, while transforming work practices and the economy.

The accord also delivered Australia's first compulsory superannuation scheme, after Hawke agreed with the unions that a 3% pay rise would instead be paid by employers as superannuation. The scheme was initially opposed by business but is now regarded as a landmark reform and delivers 9% in retirement savings to all workers.

In a statement Keating said the country was "much poorer" for Hawke's passing, praising the "morale framework" he brought to public life, representing working people and the country at large.

"He understood that imagination was central to policy-making and never lacked the courage to do what had to be done to turn that imagination into reality," Keating said.

"And that reality was the reformation of Australia's economy and society and its place in the world."

Hawke's government also introduced significant social reforms including reintroducing universal health care, rebadged as Medicare, lifting school retention rates and expanding youth skills programs and ending poverty traps inherent in the social security system.

Early in his term Hawke halted the Franklin dam in Tasmania, saving wilderness areas from destruction. He went on to deal with other difficult environmental challenges, such as preserving old-growth forests.

However, Hawke's willingness to compromise and accommodate business interests as prime minister earned him criticism from his former union colleagues, particularly when he embarked on a program of privatising government assets and sided with the airlines during a pilot's strike.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


We must confront threat of white nationalism -- together (Ilhan Omar and Jan Schakowsky, May. 14th, 2019, CNN)

As a Muslim American and a Jewish American elected to the United States Congress, we can no longer sit silently as terror strikes our communities. We cannot allow those who seek to divide and intimidate us to succeed. Whatever our differences, our two communities, Muslim and Jewish, must come together to confront the twin evils of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence. [...]

It is no secret that the President normalized white nationalism when he referred to some of the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville as 'very fine people' -- and again doubled down on this statement last month in a speech before the National Rifle Association, by characterizing those who attended the Unite the Right rally as people who "felt very strongly about the statue of Robert E. Lee."

Less well-known are the policies put in place by this administration, which undermine the fight against domestic terrorism. Last year, President Trump ended grants from the Department of Homeland Security designed to help fight white supremacist violence. And just weeks before the Poway attack, Trump's Department of Homeland Security disbanded a group of intelligence analysts focused on domestic terrorism.

White nationalists win when our two communities are divided. They seek to exploit our divisions and grievances to further an agenda of hate. But we know that when are united, we are stronger. We know this because in our own communities, Jewish and Muslim constituents have joined hands in solidarity and denounced these hate-filled massacres.

We saw it when Muslim-American organizations raised more than $200,000 to support the victims and their families after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. And we saw it again in March, when Jewish groups from the city of Pittsburgh raised money to support the New Zealand Muslim community in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shooting.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


Robots Take the Wheel as Autonomous Farm Machines Hit the Field (Ashley Robinson , Lydia Mulvany , and David Stringer, May 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

Robots are taking over farms faster than anyone saw coming.

The first fully autonomous farm equipment is becoming commercially available, which means machines will be able to completely take over a multitude of tasks. Tractors will drive with no farmer in the cab, and specialized equipment will be able to spray, plant, plow and weed cropland. And it's all happening well before many analysts had predicted thanks to small startups in Canada and Australia.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


May 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Opposition lambastes Netanyahu after report says he will push for immunity law (Times of Israel, 5/15/19)

Opposition politicians on Wednesday evening lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a report said he had resolved to push for legislation granting himself immunity from three pending corruption cases, despite repeatedly denying such intentions ahead of last month's Knesset elections.

Having until now given mixed signals about whether he would seek to pass legislation in order to evade prosecution in the three criminal cases for which he faces indictment, Netanyahu has now taken the firm decision to push legislation to guarantee himself immunity from prosecution, the Channel 12 report said. The legislation has reportedly been discussed in the current negotiations on the formation of Netanyahu's new coalition government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Jeff Sessions's Grave Conflict of Interest (Murray Waas, 5/15/19, NYRB)

Last year, in March 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions enlisted his subordinates to lie on his behalf that he did not know he was under federal investigation when he fired then Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe--an investigation initiated by McCabe and overseen by him until it was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

By doing so, Sessions and his allies succeeded in shutting down a major controversy. If it had been made public that the attorney general had knowingly fired the deputy FBI director (and later, acting director) who'd opened and supervised that criminal investigation, the resulting scandal would have engulfed Sessions and would likely have even more seriously threatened his already tumultuous tenure as attorney general. Besides the scrutiny of the media and Congress, Sessions might have faced an inquiry by one of the Justice Department's internal watchdog agencies, the Department's Inspector General or Office of Professional Responsibility, as well as incurring the wrath of an already embittered president.

A government official with first-hand knowledge of the matter told me that the attorney general therefore instructed aides to make false statements in briefings to the press. The official's account of what was at stake for Sessions is corroborated in part by a mass of evidence in the Mueller Report detailing the special counsel's investigation of the former attorney general.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Association of a Beverage Tax on Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages With Changes in Beverage Prices and Sales at Chain Retailers in a Large Urban Setting (Christina A. Roberto, PhD1; Hannah G. Lawman, PhD2; Michael T. LeVasseur, PhD, MPH1; et al Nandita Mitra, PhD3; Ana Peterhans, MPH1; Bradley Herring, PhD4; Sara N. Bleich, PhD5, 5/14/19, JAMA)

Question  What was the association between a beverage excise tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages implemented in Philadelphia in 2017 with changes in beverage prices and volume of sales?

Findings  In this difference-in-differences analysis of retailer sales data in the year before and the year after implementation of an excise tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, the tax was associated with significant increases in price-per-ounce of 0.65 cents at supermarkets, 0.87 cents by mass merchandise stores, and 1.56 cents at pharmacies. Total volume sales of taxed beverages in Philadelphia decreased by 1.3 billion ounces after tax implementation (51%), but sales in Pennsylvania border zip codes increased by 308.2 million ounces, partially offsetting the decrease in Philadelphia's volume sales by 24.4%.

Meaning  A beverage excise tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages in a large urban setting was associated with a significant increase in beverage prices and a significant reduction in volume sales of taxed beverages, although changes in sales volume were partially offset by purchases in neighboring areas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Weak U.S. retail sales point to slowing economy (Lucia Mutikani, 5/15/19, Reuters) 

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in April as households cut back on purchases of motor vehicles and a range of other goods, pointing to a slowdown in economic growth after a temporary boost from exports and inventories in the first quarter.

Thankfully Donald and company are consumed by racism, because if he shifted back towards the American norm of free movement of goods and people the economy might save even him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


It's time we stopped human evolution - geneticist (1Alasdair Mackenzie, Reader, Molecular Genetics, University of Aberdeen, 5 May, 2019, Big Think)

Our greatest achievement as a species has been to break free from the sheer naked ferocity of evolution. 


Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


After Walking Thousands Of Miles, Mink The Bear Is Almost Back Home (BRITTA GREENE, 5/15/19, NPR: Morning Edition)

She had become comfortable around humans, and people in town grew to love her -- a lumbering, strong but gentle animal that would come right up to your door. She's named Mink, after a local natural area called Mink Brook.

"She's a beautiful bear. She's an amazing bear," said Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin. "Anybody that likes animals was enchanted by her."

But others were scared, and state wildlife officials decided, for safety's sake, the bear needed to go. They planned to shoot her, but local news outlets picked up the story and a petition to save Mink got thousands of signatures.

Then, New Hampshire's governor intervened, and had Mink relocated instead.

Mink had to move

Just under a year ago, officials dropped Mink off with a tracking collar far north, near the Canadian border.

But she immediately started making her way back.

"She was going 30 miles a day," said Ben Kilham, a biologist who has been tracking Mink's location. "If anything, we should get her into a triathlon."

She has logged thousands of looping miles, crossing Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River multiple times.

The lead bear official for the state of New Hampshire said he's never dealt with an animal that's traveled so long, hibernating for the winter and then continuing on. He now checks her progress first thing every morning.

He's not alone in his interest. Even the governor asked to be included on the data. "And he's clearly been watching," Kilham said. "Probably the whole office down there has been watching, because it's fascinating the way she moves."

Bears are known to be able to find their way home, or at least try to. That's why wildlife officials believed killing Mink was more humane than putting her through an arduous journey.

"To see how far she traveled, and how thin she was last fall, we all felt like -- oh boy -- what have we done to this sow?" Griffin said.

Until recently, though, the general public didn't know Mink was getting close. But earlier this spring, a woman named Patricia Campbell spotted a bear outside her house, less than 20 miles from Hanover.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Ignoring Trump's Orders, Hoping He'll Forget: Slow-walking or flat-out disobeying Trump's fleeting obsessions has become common practice across various sectors of government. (ELAINA PLOTT, 5/15/19, The Atlantic)

On March 29, during a weekend jaunt to Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump announced a major policy decision that surprised top-ranking officials within several government agencies. The United States was cutting off aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the president said. Never mind that Trump lacked the authority to unilaterally scrap and redirect the funds in question; his decision was sure to please supporters such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who had previously argued that one of the only ways to stop the "border crush" is to threaten a "foreign aid cut-off."

Stunned State Department officials hurried to put together a statement that evening. The letter promised to "[carry] out the president's direction and [end] FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle. We will be engaging Congress as part of this process." A similar situation played out in January 2017, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection was sent into a frenzy trying to implement Trump's Muslim ban seven days after he took office.

A month and a half has passed since the president's Central America announcement, and according to lawmakers and aides, the administration is not advancing the issue. Senator Patrick Leahy, who serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee that funds foreign aid, told me that this was the inevitable result of an "impulsive and illogical" decision by the president. "It caught the State Department and USAID by surprise, and they have been scrambling to figure out how to limit the damage it would cause," Leahy said.

"We have heard nothing so far," a senior Democratic official on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must sign off on any funds that State wants to reallocate, told me. "What money are we talking about? For what purposes? What's the timeline for this? It's been weeks now, and we've asked multiple times, and we know nothing." (The State Department did not respond to my request for comment.)

In the Trump White House a month and a-half is more like a lifetime, meaning that many officials, voters, and reporters--not to mention Trump himself--have long since moved on from the momentary chaos. (Indeed, one outside adviser to the president's 2020 campaign told me he didn't even recall that Trump had pledged to cut off the aid.)

This routine has both drawbacks and benefits for the president. But for American taxpayers and citizens of other countries, the effects can be devastating. By impulsively announcing a policy, Trump often harms his chances of actually seeing it brought to life, given a directive's typical lack of vetting. But because so much of the news cycle is driven by Trump's off-the-cuff statements and tweets--and not necessarily the follow-through--his supporters are often left with the image of a president who has, in fact, slashed aid to Central America, even if the money is still flowing into the three countries in question. (It is.) As one senior Trump-campaign official told me last week, the president's appeal is about "the fight," not "the resolution."

It's the best of both worlds; the Trumpbots are satisfied that he's done stuff while the Deep State renders him a nullity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Did the Left Misread the 2020 Democratic Primary? (Bill Scher, 5/14/19, Politico)

For a huge swath of political observers, from pundits to Democratic activists, it was obvious that Joe Biden was going to flop. Before the former vice president entered the race, he was written off as a relic. He was too old (a problem for a party pulsating with millennials and Generation Z). He was too undisciplined (a flaw exposed during his short-lived presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008.) And he was too wedded to a bygone era of bipartisanship--a centrist out of step with rising progressive stars like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

"Biden is opposing where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party," Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid said.

"I think there's going to be a lot less air in the room than it looks like for Biden. The reality is that Biden's time is passed," predicted Democracy for America chairman Charles Chamberlain.

"We're in a new moment. This is not Joe Biden's moment," Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green said.

But it was Joe Biden's moment, and it sure still seems to be Joe Biden's moment. He has dominated the polls since he entered the race last month. Before Biden announced, he was at a measly 29 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, only 6 percentage points ahead of progressive favorite Bernie Sanders, who not all that long ago looked like a genuine co-front-runner. Since then, Biden has surged to 40 percent, kicking Sanders down to the mid-teens. In the past week, Biden has posted intimidating double-digit leads in polls from the early-contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. His dominance of the Democratic Party's moderate wing has helped stall the rise of Mayor Pete Buttigieg while also squeezing the ability of candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris from positioning themselves as more viable progressive alternatives to Sanders.

It's not just Biden's rising poll numbers that suggest that the activist left is out of step with most Democrats; it's the ideological makeup of the entire Democratic Party. Fifty-six percent of Democrats self-identify as "moderate" and 9 percent even embrace "conservative," according to an April poll from the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. While leftist activists pine for the end of the legislative filibuster to grease the skids for partisan legislation, a December GW Politics poll found that 66 percent of Democrats said they prefer elected officials who "make compromises with people they disagree with" over those who "stick to their positions." Only 36 percent of Republicans said the same.

The analysis for months has been that there are three pools of voters to appeal to for Democrats--those who want a reassuring hand at the wheel (older voters); women and minorities (particularly black women); and the ideological Left.  No one is running who ticks all three boxes, so one would expect the eventual nominee to be able to get votes from two. Uncle Joe nails pool one and has residual cred in pool two.  In the absence of a governor who has substantial minority constituents, who else can even compete besides Kamala Harris, at least on paper (a black female prosecutor)?  

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Why Arizona Is Emerging as Top 2020 Battleground (Josh Kraushaar, May 14, 2019, National Journal)

If there's one development that threatens to disrupt the best laid plans of Republicans, it's the transformation of Arizona from a rock-ribbed GOP stronghold into a bona fide battleground state. In recent years, Republicans have struggled to balance the energy of their activist base with the pragmatism necessary to win over the state's critical mass of suburban independents.

At the same time, Democrats are eyeing Arizona as a critical political prize that could make or break their national ambitions. Win Arizona, and the party could withstand a Rust Belt stumble in Wisconsin. Pick off the state's second Senate seat, and the prospect of an upper-chamber majority becomes more realistic. Hold their 6-3 advantage in the House delegation, and Democrats should feel confident about their ability to maintain control in the lower chamber.

There have been some troubling signs for Arizona Republicans in recent weeks. A statewide poll showed Joe Biden leading Trump by 5 points--with the president failing to hit 50 percent against any of the prospective Democratic challengers (including Bernie Sanders). The same poll found appointed Sen. Martha McSally leading presumptive Democratic nominee Mark Kelly by only 1 point, 45 to 44 percent.

All this is taking place with the state GOP infrastructure in shambles after controversial hard-liner Kelli Ward won the chairmanship in January. Since then, Arizona Republicans have struggled to raise money and maintain a unified front. Ward, as a Senate candidate, alienated the party's moderate wing with deeply personal attacks against former Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake.

"Joe Biden would create a real race here in Arizona," said Arizona-based GOP operative Barrett Marson. "There's substantial dissatisfaction with the president among independents and Republican-leaners."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


U.S. Farmer Income Drops Most Since 2016 as Trade War Losses Mount (Mike Dorning  and Katia Dmitrieva, April 29, 2019, Bloomberg)

Personal income for farmers fell by the most in three years in the first quarter, as losses to U.S. agriculture mount from President Donald Trump's trade wars.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Trump untouchable? His lawyers argue Congress can't probe for corruption (William Goldschlag and Dan Janison, May 14, 2019, Newsday)

Donald Trump's lawyers argued in federal court Tuesday that Congress has no power to investigate potential corruption by a president. The judge reacted with astonishment, according to The Washington Post.

The hearing was on Trump's suit to stop his former accounting firm from turning over years of his financial records that have been subpoenaed by the House oversight committee. It's the first of what are expected to be many courtroom battles over Trump's effort to stonewall probes by the Democratic-led House.

"Say a president was involved in some corrupt enterprise, you mean to tell me because he is the president of the United States, Congress would not have power to investigate?" Judge Amit P. Mehta asked Trump's legal team. He continued: What if "we're talking about a presidential violation of a constitutional prohibition that only Congress has authority to approve," such as the acceptance for emoluments or gifts from a foreign government?

Trump's attorney William Consovoy said that's a job for "law enforcement," not Congress. 

Mehta asked whether under that reasoning, Congress was within its rights to have investigated cases such as Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, and the Whitewater case involving President Bill Clinton. Consovoy avoided a direct answer, saying he would have to look at them more closely.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


The Folly of Protectionist Tariffs (MICHAEL TANNER, May 15, 2019, National Review)

Trump's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, most of the cost of tariffs is paid by American consumers (through higher prices), not by the countries being sanctioned. For instance, it is estimated that the president's latest round of tariffs on China will cost the American family an average of at least $767.

But that cost does not fall equally on poor and rich alike. To state the obvious, $767 means a lot more to a poor family struggling to pay its bills than it does to a wealthy one. Moreover, tariffs are more likely to fall on goods and services that the poor depend on, daily necessities of which they often lack a reserve supply.

Consider that among the companies that have announced they will be most impacted by the China tariffs are Walmart, Target, and Costco, none of which are known as the store of choice for global elites.

Studies show that the lower your income is, the harder you'll be hit by tariffs. Tariffs imposed by Trump last year have already cost poor families 0.33 percent of after-tax income, as opposed to 0.28 percent for wealthy families, and hurt single parents even more than they hurt families. Trump's latest tariffs will likely be even more regressive. And while each new tariff's impact is relatively small, they cumulatively take a big hit out of poor people's income.

"Sadly, there has to be some collateral damage in the war on the Asiatic horde."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


A Friend to Israel, and to Bigots: Viktor Orban's 'Double Game' on Anti-Semitism (Patrick Kingsley, May 14, 2019, NY Times)

In late November, the office of Hungary's far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, announced it would donate $3.4 million to causes fighting anti-Semitism in Europe.

The next day, a magazine controlled by Mr. Orban's lawyer devoted its cover to an image depicting Andras Heisler, the leader of Hungary's largest Jewish organization, showered with bank notes. Jewish groups across the world swiftly denounced the cover as anti-Semitic. [...]

A hero to many far-right nationalists in Europe and the United States, Mr. Orban won a major public relations prize on Monday: an Oval Office meeting with President Trump. The two men gushed over each other. Mr. Trump described the Hungarian leader as "controversial," but he clearly meant it as a compliment -- Mr. Trump said some people considered him controversial, too.

The meeting itself caused controversy, as critics accused Mr. Trump of coddling a neo-authoritarian leader accused of rolling back democracy in the heart of the European Union. Nine Democratic members of Congress had demanded that Mr. Trump cancel the meeting because of Mr. Orban's record of alleged anti-Semitism, as well as his remarks critical of Muslims.

But if anything, Mr. Orban and Mr. Trump have followed the same playbook, with each leader navigating to his own political advantage the confusing and contradictory ways in which anti-Semitism has resurfaced in Europe and North America. It is a point of overlap for both the far left and the far right, for Islamists and Islamophobes, for those who revile Israel as well as those who support it.

Mr. Orban is the apogee of these contradictions: He is a far-right leader of a country whose Jewish citizens say they face less harassment than Jews in any other part of Europe. Mr. Orban and his party, Fidesz, have used anti-Semitic tropes to promote his vision of Hungarian nationalism, and have been accused of trying to understate Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust -- even as he has bankrolled many Jewish institutions and causes.

And he has drawn close to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a bid to win respectability abroad, even as he instigated a series of anti-Semitic political campaigns in Hungary in an attempt to appeal to bigots at home. [...]

Mr. Orban's critics acknowledge that his approach to Judaism has a certain political logic. He supports the Israeli prime minister because the two politicians share a wariness of Islam and cosmopolitan liberalism. 

It's a single game: Israeli Nationalism combines with its immunity from criticism to give other Nationalisms cover.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Trump Can't Stop Attacking Biden. G.O.P. Strategists Wish He Would. (Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, May 14, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's attacks on Mr. Biden have defied the pleadings of his own aides, who think almost any other candidate would be easier to defeat, and left Republicans puzzled while delighting Biden supporters.

"It just shows everybody that the vice president is the candidate Trump is most concerned about," said Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, a Biden supporter, adding with evident relish: "He just can't help himself during executive time."

Matt Gorman, a veteran of past Republican presidential campaigns, said that Mr. Trump was simply handing Mr. Biden a gift.

"In a Democratic primary, attacks from President Trump are the best thing that can happen to you," Mr. Gorman said. "It elevates you, gives you a huge fund-raising boost and sucks the oxygen from your competitors."

The president's drumbeat of attacks on Mr. Biden have also gotten the attention of congressional Republicans, who would prefer a more easily caricatured boogeyman on top of the Democratic ticket next year. "Bernie Sanders is the perfect guy for us," said Chris LaCivita, a longtime Republican strategist. "He looks like the professor out of 'Back to the Future' and is a hard-core socialist."

Mr. Trump's offensive has also hastened calls by G.O.P. officials to bring together White House aides, Trump campaign officials and Capitol Hill Republicans in a gathering similar to one last year at Camp David, according to a senior Republican Senate official.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


House panel opens inquiry into claims Trump legal team edited Michael Cohen's testimony (LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, May 14, 2019, ABC News)

During public testimony in March, before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen said Trump's current personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, changed his statement to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding the duration of those discussions before he submitted it to Capitol Hill.

In his initial statement to Congress, Cohen said discussions about the Moscow project ended in January of 2016, when in reality conversations about the prospective deal continued through the summer of 2016 -- well after Trump became the Republican nominee for president. Federal prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller's office later wrote that Cohen also sought to "minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1," referring to then-candidate Trump.

Cohen, who is currently serving a three-year prison term at the federal corrections facility in Otisville, New York, pleaded guilty late last year to lying to Congress about the content of that statement. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


An Oral History of Trump's Bigotry: His racism and intolerance have always been in evidence; only slowly did he begin to understand how to use them to his advantage. (DAVID A. GRAHAM, ADRIENNE GREEN, CULLEN MURPHY, AND PARKER RICHARDS  JUNE 2019, The Atlantic)

VI. "On Many Sides"

Roughly six months into Trump's presidency, on the night of Friday, August 11, 2017, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched onto the University of Virginia's campus in Charlottesville chanting "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and soil," a Nazi slogan. The "Unite the Right" rally was protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Confrontations arose between members of the so-called alt-right and groups of counterprotesters, including members of the anti-fascist movement known as "antifa."

Mike Signer, Charlottesville's mayor, had been dealing with far-right protests all summer. Richard Spencer was one of the key figures behind the "Unite the Right" rally.

MIKE SIGNER: The first event was in May of 2017, led by Richard Spencer, who invented the term alt-right and is a UVA graduate. He had done an event right after Trump's inauguration where he had led a fascist salute with all these people at a hotel in Washington, D.C.--buzz cuts, uniforms, very frightening.

RICHARD SPENCER: There is no question that Charlottesville wouldn't have occurred without Trump. It really was because of his campaign and this new potential for a nationalist candidate who was resonating with the public in a very intense way. The alt-right found something in Trump. He changed the paradigm and made this kind of public presence of the alt-right possible.

David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, who participated in the Charlottesville rally, called it a "turning point" for his own movement, which seeks to "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

60-40 NATION:

Poll: 'Medicare for All' Support Is High ... But Complicated (Carl M. Cannon, 5/15/19, RCP)

The first question was this one: "Do you support or oppose Medicare for All, which is a system where all Americans, not just older ones, get health insurance through the government's Medicare system? Nearly two-thirds of respondents answered yes, with only 27% opposed (and the rest undecided). When the description of the proposal was phrased in a different way -- that Medicare for All entails the end of their existing health insurance, which is what several prominent proponents have conceded -- support for it ebbed, but not by as much as Republicans might think.

"Do you support or oppose Medicare for All, which is a system that will eliminate all private health insurance companies, and where all Americans, not just older ones, get health insurance through the government's Medicare system?" Even with that caveat, 55% were in support, with 34% opposed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Allies split with US over Iranian threat as war worries mount (AP, 5/15/19)

As tensions in the region started to surge, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his nation was worried about the risk of accidental conflict "with an escalation that is unintended really on either side." Then on Tuesday, Spain temporarily pulled one of its frigates from the US-led combat fleet heading toward the Strait of Hormuz. That was followed by the unusual public challenge to the Trump administration by the general.

"No, there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," said Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a British senior officer in the US-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group. Ghika, speaking in a video conference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that the coalition monitors the presence of Iranian-backed forces "along with a whole range of others because that's the environment we're in."

...except opponents of democracy in the Middle East.  Iran and the US are jointly a threat to their hold on power.

Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump's New Claims of Threats From Iran (Helene Cooper and Edward Wong, May 14, 2019, NY Times)

One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was "small stuff" and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States. [...]

Iraqi officials said they were skeptical of the American intelligence that Mr. Pompeo presented last week on a surprise trip to Baghdad. Mr. Pompeo said the threat was to American "facilities" and military personnel in Iraq. [...]

Some of the president's critics accept that Iran continues to engage in what United States officials call "malign behavior," be it in Yemen, Syria or the Palestinian territories. But they blamed the administration for aggravating the standoff with Tehran.

"This is a crisis that has entirely been manufactured by the Trump administration," said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

He pointed to Mr. Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, coupled with the administration's failure to get any other nations to do so.

"None of the other signatories to the deal were persuaded by the case the U.S. was making," Mr. Nasr said. "And that is because this administration's policy on Iran, at a fundamental level, does not have credibility."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


EDITOR'S COLUMN: What did Rashida Tlaib say about the Holocaust? It's probably not what you think. (ANDREW SILOW-CARROLL, MAY 14, 2019, Jewish Telegraph Agency)

[I]t's not just Republicans who appeared to distort Tlaib's now notorious remarks. It was the ostensibly nonpartisan Jewish commentariat and media as well, in which I will include our own site, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and take full responsibility. [...]

Tlaib does not assert that Palestinians welcomed Jews or worked in any way to create  the "safe haven." Instead, she says, using the passive voice, that Palestinians were displaced "in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews." In fact, "it was forced on them" -- that is, the Palestinians. And despite the cost to her people in property and dignity, she goes on, she "love[s] the fact that" something good came of it  -- a safe haven for Jews who were suffering "horrific persecution" around the world.

She does say that it was her "ancestors that provided that," but "provided" is different than "created." And Tlaib qualifies "provided" with "in many ways" -- hardly an assertion of open arms -- and immediately says that "they did it" (presumably, Jews created the haven) in a way that "took their human dignity" (that is, the Palestinians' dignity).

Far from claiming that her ancestors worked to bring Jews to Palestine, or welcomed them when they arrived, she is saying that even if the Jews did come and take their land and rights away, at least it was for the alleviation of another people's suffering.

In acknowledging that suffering and noting her own people's, her remarks are closer in spirit to the anti-Zionist refrain that the Jews escaped the window of a burning house only to land on someone else's head.

Rashida Tlaib's Comments Weren't Anti-Semitic - They Were Philosemitic (Raphael Magarik, May 14, 2019, The Forward)

Yesterday, Representative Rashida Tlaib was smeared as an anti-Semite by Donald Trump and company. The accusation is false, but that's not news. Republicans have been using the anti-Semitism charge cynically for some time.

What is new, bitterly ironic, and quite sad, is that not only did Tlaib say nothing at all anti-Semitic, but what she did say was remarkably philo-Semitic. She made a morally courageous attempt to reach out to American Jews, a statement of almost heartbreaking moral generosity--and for that, she is being called "anti-Semitic."

May 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


GIVING UP DARWIN (David Gelernter, May 1, 2019, Claremont Review of Books)

There's no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether he can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture--not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. The origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.

Stephen Meyer's thoughtful and meticulous Darwin's Doubt (2013) convinced me that Darwin has failed. He cannot answer the big question. Two other books are also essential: The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (2009), by David Berlinski, and Debating Darwin's Doubt (2015), an anthology edited by David Klinghoffer, which collects some of the arguments Meyer's book stirred up. These three form a fateful battle group that most people would rather ignore. Bringing to bear the work of many dozen scientists over many decades, Meyer, who after a stint as a geophysicist in Dallas earned a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge and now directs the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, disassembles the theory of evolution piece by piece. Darwin's Doubt is one of the most important books in a generation. Few open-minded people will finish it with their faith in Darwin intact.

Meyer doesn't only demolish Darwin; he defends a replacement theory, intelligent design (I.D.). Although I can't accept intelligent design as Meyer presents it, he does show that it is a plain case of the emperor's new clothes: it says aloud what anyone who ponders biology must think, at some point, while sifting possible answers to hard questions. Intelligent design as Meyer explains it never uses religious arguments, draws religious conclusions, or refers to religion in any way. It does underline an obvious but important truth: Darwin's mission was exactly to explain the flagrant appearance of design in nature.

The religion is all on the other side. Meyer and other proponents of I.D. are the dispassionate intellectuals making orderly scientific arguments. Some I.D.-haters have shown themselves willing to use any argument--fair or not, true or not, ad hominem or not--to keep this dangerous idea locked in a box forever. They remind us of the extent to which Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but the basis of a worldview, and an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one.

As for Biblical religion, it forces its way into the discussion although Meyer didn't invite it, and neither did Darwin. Some have always been bothered by the harm Darwin is said to have done religion. His theory has been thought by some naïfs (fundamentalists as well as intellectuals) to have shown or alleged that the Bible is wrong, and Judeo-Christian religion bunk. But this view assumes a childishly primitive reading of Scripture. Anyone can see that there are two different creation stories in Genesis, one based on seven days, the other on the Garden of Eden. When the Bible gives us two different versions of one story, it stands to reason that the facts on which they disagree are without basic religious significance. The facts on which they agree are the ones that matter: God created the universe, and put man there for a reason. Darwin has nothing to say on these or any other key religious issues.

Fundamentalists and intellectuals might go on arguing these things forever. But normal people will want to come to grips with Meyer and the downfall of a beautiful idea. I will mention several of his arguments, one of them in (just a bit of) detail. This is one of the most important intellectual issues of modern times, and every thinking person has the right and duty to judge for himself.

Darwin deserves his due: he observed the way local farmers bred animals and thought that something similar might occur "naturally."  Of course, the limitations of this observation are obvious and have never been overcome.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Anti-miscegenation activist calls out Likud MK over daughter dating Arab Israeli (JACOB MAGID, 5/14/19, Times of Israel)

The head of a far-right anti-coexistence organization sent an open letter to a prominent Likud lawmaker on Tuesday, urging him to break up his daughter's relationship with an Arab Israeli.

The letter from Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein came less than a day after the Maariv daily reported that MK Gideon Sa'ar's daughter Alona is dating actor Amir Khoury of the hit Israeli show "Fauda."

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


It's clear why Trump likes autocrats. But why are American conservatives following him (Anne Applebaum, May 13, 2019, Washington Post)

On Monday, President Trump hosted one of these exotic foreign ideologues at the White House. Viktor Orban, prime minister of a country with just under 10 million inhabitants -- less than the population of North Carolina -- has set out to persuade British and American intellectuals to join his war against liberal democracy. At embassy dinners in London and at Washington events sponsored by Hungarian government foundations, elegantly dressed Hungarian officials expound the values of their corrupt, authoritarian state -- and now some U.S. conservatives, perhaps frustrated because they can't vanquish their own opponents so easily, have come to believe them. Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation imagines that other Europeans dislike Orban because Hungarians are "constantly reminding their neighbors not to be embarrassed by Europe's history." Christopher Caldwell, writing recently in the Claremont Review of Books, admires Orban's attack on "neutral social structures and a level playing field," presuming that the Hungarian leader derives these policies from some mystical need for organic community.

In fact, European anger at Orban has nothing do with being reminded of history, and everything to do with Orban's all-out assault on his country's legal and judicial institutions, on independent media, on academia and on culture. And the purpose of this assault has nothing to do with mystical organic communities: The reason the ruling party has undermined judicial independence and expelled the country's leading university is because it wants to maintain its monopoly on power and continue accumulating wealth. No large business can operate in Hungary without ruling-party approval; many in Orban's inner circle have mysteriously managed to make fortunes; independent businesspeople who do not toe the line are quietly threatened until they leave the country.

It's not hard, of course, to see why this might appeal to an amoral operator such as Trump, who openly admires the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia. As Trump's ambassador to Hungary recently put it, in an overly honest interview in the Atlantic, Trump "would love to have the situation that Viktor Orban has, but he doesn't."

But how does it appeal to conservative intellectuals?  [...]

To be absolutely clear: We are talking about a European leader who uses overt racism and covert anti-Semitism in his election propaganda, speaking of fighting an unnamed "enemy" who is "crafty" and "international" and "speculates with money." We are talking about a European leader who has thumbed his nose at the United States, bent over backwards to welcome a Russian bank that is thought to have espionage links and undermined U.S. policy in Ukraine.

We are talking about a European leader who inspired one Hungarian academic to write, in a tragic, elegiac article, that his country had "committed suicide in plain sight." The educated young are leaving Hungary, if they aren't already gone; the prospects for anyone who rejects the public festivals of hatred and prejudice are dire. But because they don't actually have to live in Hungary, a certain kind of American conservative, just like a certain kind of American leftist long ago, will continue admiring this leader, because they can.

He's Donald without a Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Supreme Court president invokes Nazi era in implicit swipe at Netanyahu: Esther Hayut says judicial institutions can't 'withstand every attack'; PM said to be seeking legislation that would shatter judicial oversight (MICHAEL BACHNER, 5/14/19, Times of Israel)

The chief justice of Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday made a speech in Nuremberg, Germany, that expressed implied criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned judicial reforms and invoked the Nazi takeover of Germany in the 1930s.

"History is not repeating itself," Esther Hayut clarified at an event hosted by the Israeli German Lawyers Association, "but it gives us the opportunity to learn from it and enables us to see patterns and judge for ourselves." [...]

Hayut, referring to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, said that, in the very city where she was speaking, "law and justice reached one of the lowest points in human history," in the country that had "one of the most progressive constitutions protecting human rights and liberties -- the Weimar Constitution."

As proof that institutions protecting democracy could not "withstand every attack," Hayut cited a 1933 editorial in a German Jewish newspaper that argued that Adolf Hitler and his newly elected Nazi party wouldn't be able to carry out their stated plans due to the country's checks and balances on government power.

"One of the universal lessons we should learn from the historical events I mentioned is that judicial independence, on the institutional and personal level, is one of the most important guarantees that the individual has an address to turn to to protect their rights," she said.

"The safeguarding of that principle and judges' independence is therefore one of the cornerstones of every democratic regime," Hayut continued.

She mentioned the quasi-constitutional 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the main legislation protecting human rights in Israel.

"In order for the provisions of this Basic Law to be fulfilled in practice and receive adequate protection, judicial review is needed. And for 25 years, the Supreme Court of Israel has indeed been conducting judicial review of the validity of laws, out of the view that human dignity is the primary right, from which most human rights are derived," Hayut said.

One of the objectives of the proposed legislation in coalition talks is thought to be a possible Knesset decision to grant Netanyahu retroactive immunity from a series of criminal cases in which he is facing an indictment.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Despite Missteps, High-Speed Rail Lines in Three States Point to Progress  (DANIEL C. VOCK | MAY 14, 2019, Governing)

The projects in California, Florida and Texas differ quite a bit from one another in size, scope and funding sources. But each one of those projects seems to be moving forward despite significant obstacles, something many rail proponents see as as a promising sign.

"This seems to be the convergence of a lot of things, all bubbling up at the same time," says Andy Kunz, the CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association. People are increasingly worried about the effect driving carbon dioxide-emitting cars has on climate change, while road congestion seems to have "reached epic levels," he says. Meanwhile, private investors see the potential of making money from passenger rail service between city pairs that are too far away to drive between, but too close to fly between.

Rick Harnish, the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, says the progress on the new rail projects stands in sharp contrast to the slow processes used by Amtrak and individual states in improving rail service.

"The states have always looked at very small steps. They'll add one train and see how it does, and then add another and see how it does," he says. "The problem is that there's a tipping point, because the train has to be frequent enough that you can ride it. You've got to be able to take the capital costs [for new construction and trains] and spread them out over a larger number of trains. That has been the biggest error, particularly in the Midwest, is these tiny little steps."

In Florida, where the newly christened Virgin Trains have been running between Miami and West Palm Beach for a year, the private owners were able to prove their concept with frequent service on a short route, Harnish notes. "The strategy is incredibly different. Frankly, it's hard to imagine a state taking that type of leap of faith. And that's the problem," he says. "It's difficult to imagine, but that's what has to happen."

Of course, there's no bigger leap of faith with new rail service than the state-led project in California, which eventually promises to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains traveling at more than 200 mph. Gov. Gavin Newsom, shortly after he was inaugurated this year, tried to tamp down expectations about the project even as the state continues to build it. Many observers interpreted his remarks as cancelling the project altogether, and soon President Trump was demanding that California return the federal stimulus money it has used to help build the new line.

But in fact, the California project has not been cancelled. "Some have suggested the state should walk away from the more than a decade of collaboration and progress that Republican and Democratic administrations and a generation of legislative leaders have made to bring the project this far," the California High-Speed Rail Authority wrote in a report issued last week. "Such a path would leave California, having spent $5 billion, with nothing but lawsuits, job losses and billions of IOUs with nothing to show for our debts.

"Given those two options, the path forward is clear," the authority added. "The California High-Speed Rail Authority will continue its efforts toward getting a working section completed in a responsible and transparent way."

The California, Florida and Texas projects all share the goal of connecting big cities with fast passenger rail service.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Brazil and US hit restart button on trade relations (Andres Schipani in Brasília and James Politi in Washington, 5/14/19, Fimnancial Times)

Bilateral trade between Brazil and the US is just $100bn a year. This is just a sixth of Mexico-US trade, even though Brazil's $2tn economy is nearly twice as big as Mexico's. In the Americas, Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, has been focused on pushing the revised Nafta deal with Canada and Mexico through Congress. Beyond that, Mr Lighthizer's attention has been dominated by the denouement of trade talks with China, and the possible launch of new ones with Japan and the EU.

Optimism prevailed among US officials and business executives during Mr Bolsonaro's visit, but this was largely because trade relations have been so testy that the bar for improvement was very low. "The Bolsonaro government views the US as a strategic partner and wants to reset the relationship on more positive terms -- and the US government appears to be on board," said Cassia Carvalho, executive director of the Brazil-US business council.

There were some advances. Both countries reached a deal to support US space launches from the Alcântara base in northern Brazil through a series of technological safeguards; Brazil dropped its visa requirements for US citizens; and the US said it would back Brazil's membership of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, in exchange for Brazil abandoning preferential treatment at the World Trade Organization.

"For Brazil it is important to enter the OECD and, in fact, the US was blocking its entrance there, so giving up the preferential treatment was reasonable," said Pedro da Motta Veiga, director of the Brazilian Center for Integration and Development Studies.

Meanwhile, some steps were taken to reduce tensions around access to the agricultural markets in both countries. Brazil showed a willingness to allow more pork from the US into the country alongside tariff-free wheat imports, and the US is exploring options to reopen imports of fresh Brazilian beef.

A big opportunity for the next president in a neoliberal Brazil.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Fed's Williams says policymakers need to better prepare for lower interest rate world (Reuters, 5/14/19) 

Lower birthrates are keeping population growth down in the world's wealthier economies and technological advancement has shifted down to more normal levels. Each trend is capping how much economies can grow, Williams said.

The lower growth leads to less investment and aging populations in those advanced economies increases saving. Lower demand for and a higher supply of savings has reduced the "neutral" level of interest rates around the world that would, in theory, not restrict or heat up the economy.

Those factors keep rates close to zero, where they lose their potency to respond to a recession, the economist argued, adding that there is no sign that "neutral" rates will go back to previously normal levels absent a change in demographics or a scientific or technological breakthrough. The Fed has set rates in the United States between 2.25-2.50%, but they are lower and in some cases even negative in places, such as Japan and Europe.

Williams, who earlier in his career was a researcher at the San Francisco Fed, is known for helping develop estimates of what the "neutral" interest rate might be. Now, he is pushing to encode some of that thinking in how the Fed approaches inflation from now on.

As part of a broad policy review, Williams has been advocating for the Fed to systematically respond to periods of tepid inflation by keeping U.S. interest rates "lower for longer."

And technology and consumption taxes will just keep driving prices lower.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Pompeo Fails to Sway Allies on Iran in Awkward Surprise Visit (Patrick Donahue , Jonathan Stearns , and Nick Wadhams, May 13, 2019, Bloomberg)

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made scant progress persuading European Union counterparts to take a harder line toward Iran during a quick visit to Brussels, with the EU standing behind the nuclear accord abandoned by Washington -- and warning of a potential military conflict.

Pompeo presented what the U.S. says is fresh intelligence on the threat posed by Iran in meetings with counterparts from the three EU nations that joined the landmark 2015 accord that President Donald Trump abandoned a year ago. The top U.S. diplomat received a cool initial response to the surprise visit as foreign ministers from the 28-member bloc convened in the Belgian capital.

What do our allies have to do with Donald?

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Is There a Connection Between Undocumented Immigrants and Crime?: It's a widely held perception, but a new analysis finds no evidence to support it. (Anna Flagg, May 13, 2019, NY Times)

A lot of research has shown that there's no causal connection between immigration and crime in the United States. But after one such study was reported on jointly by The Marshall Project and The Upshot last year, readers had one major complaint: Many argued it was unauthorized immigrants who increase crime, not immigrants over all.

An analysis derived from new data is now able to help address this question, suggesting that growth in illegal immigration does not lead to higher local crime rates.

In part because it's hard to collect data on them, undocumented immigrants have been the subjects of few studies, including those related to crime. But the Pew Research Center recently released estimates of undocumented populations sorted by metro area, which The Marshall Project has compared with local crime rates published by the F.B.I. For the first time, there is an opportunity for a broader analysis of how unauthorized immigration might have affected crime rates since 2007.

A large majority of the areas recorded decreases in both violent and property crime between 2007 and 2016, consistent with a quarter-century decline in crime across the United States. The analysis found that crime went down at similar rates regardless of whether the undocumented population rose or fell. Areas with more unauthorized migration appeared to have larger drops in crime, although the difference was small and uncertain.

Opposition to immigration is racist, not fact-based.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Judiciary chairman says Trump Jr. should plead the Fifth to Intelligence panel (Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis May 13, 2019, Washington Post)

The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee encouraged Donald Trump Jr. to invoke his right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee if he complies with the panel's subpoena for a second closed-door interview.

"You just show up and plead the Fifth and it's over with," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Monday, adding that Trump Jr.'s lawyer would "have to be an idiot" to let him testify again.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Before Trump's purge at DHS, top officials challenged plan for mass family arrests (Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey May 13, 2019, Washington Post)
In the weeks before they were ousted last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and top immigration enforcement official Ronald Vitiello challenged a secret White House plan to arrest thousands of parents and children in a blitz operation against migrants in 10 major U.S. cities. [...]

But Vitiello and Nielsen halted it, concerned about a lack of preparation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the risk of public outrage and worries that it would divert resources from the border.

Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence were especially supportive of the plan, officials said, eager to execute dramatic, highly visible mass arrests that they argued would help deter the soaring influx of families.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump praises Hungary's Orban as 'tough' defender of Christians: President ignores calls from lawmakers of both parties to call out right-wing leader as anti-Semitic and anti-democratic (RON KAMPEAS, May 13, 2019, JTA) 

"Viktor Orban has done a tremendous job in so many different ways," Trump said Monday in greeting Orban at the White House. "Highly respected. Respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's okay. That's okay. You've done a good job and you've kept your country safe."

Trump's expressed belief that Orban is "respected all over Europe" comes days after one of Trump's top aides noted that Orban's authoritarianism has been unpopular among other European leaders. [...]

When a reporter asked Trump about "democratic backsliding" in Hungary, where Orban has imposed restrictions on the press and on universities, Trump praised Orban as "tough."

Critics of Orban say he peddles anti-Semitic tropes in his attacks on George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and liberal donor, and that his government has distorted Holocaust history by seeking to shift full blame for the fate of Hungarian Jews on Germany. is anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

May 13, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Trump Is Angry That the FBI Won't Endorse His Theory of Victimhood (David Frum, 5/13/19, The Atlantic)

Trump got extra angry Sunday night. Uncheered by Mother's Day, the president launched into a sequence of rage tweets that included the line: "The FBI has no leadership." Trump has fired one FBI director, James Comey, for looking into the Russia matter. He fired an acting director, Andrew McCabe, for the same apparent reason. Apparently, he is now gunning for the present director, Chris Wray.

Why is Trump angry? Trump disjointedly tweeted over linked messages: "The Director is protecting the same gang.....that tried to........overthrow the President through an illegal coup. (Recommended by previous DOJ) @TomFitton @JudicialWatch"

Trump wants the FBI to endorse his own theory of victimhood--and it won't. Worse, the FBI was embedded in the Mueller investigation. The FBI received, and still holds, whatever information the investigation gathered about Russia's interference in the 2016 election, including potential answers to the all-important question: Why? Why was Vladimir Putin so eager to help Trump into the presidency? Why did Russia care so much, and run such risks for him?

The answer may be indicated in an underappreciated pair of sentences on page 76 of Volume II of the Mueller report: "As described in Volume I, the evidence uncovered in the investigation did not establish that the President or those close to him were involved in the charged Russian computer-hacking or active-measure conspiracies, or that the President otherwise had any unlawful relationship with any Russian official. But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal or political concerns."

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Supreme Court Rules Against Apple, As Kavanaugh Sides With Liberal Justices (BILL CHAPPELL &  Nina Totenberg, 5/13/19, NPR)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that a major antitrust lawsuit against Apple over its App Store can move forward. The 5-to-4 ruling immediately plunged Apple's stock prices and opened the door to the possibility of enormous future damages against the company.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, appointed by President Trump last year, wrote the decision for himself and the court's four liberal justices. [...]

Apple sought to block the lawsuit, asserting that it had not set the prices on the apps and thus the iPhone owners had no standing to sue.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Apple, and on Monday the Supreme Court agreed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Trump's Trade War Escalation Will Exact Economic Pain, Adviser Says (Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley and Mark Landler, May 12, 2019, NY Times)

Analysts at the Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank that forecast a large increase to economic growth from the tax cuts Mr. Trump signed in 2017, now say that the tariffs the president has put in place or threatened -- and the effects of Chinese retaliatory tariffs on American exporters -- would more than cancel out all the economic benefits of the tax law.

"The tariffs, if allowed to continue, will mute the economic benefits of tax reform," said Nicole M. Kaeding, a Tax Foundation economist -- particularly for low- and middle-income consumers who will be stuck paying higher prices. "Economists argue about many things, but the impact of tariffs on the economy is not debated. They are harmful."

Many of those groups say growth would be even stronger this year if Mr. Trump had reached a deal with China and averted a prolonged government shutdown. They blame Mr. Trump's fundamental misunderstanding of tariffs -- which he believes are lifting the economy -- for driving the country into a danger zone.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Democrats don't need a left-wing nominee to turn out the base (Jennifer Rubin, 5/10/19, Washington Post)

In the wake of the enormous gains in the House in the 2018 midterms, the moderate Democratic group Third Way reminded us that it wasn't the far-left candidates who delivered the House majority:

The moderate New Democratic caucus in the U.S. House endorsed 37 candidates in primary races, and 32 earned the nomination -- an 86 percent win rate. By contrast, Our Revolution, the grass-roots organization founded and run by Bernie Sanders's backers, had a win rate under 40 percent in the primaries. Once the general election rolled around, 23 New Democrat-backed candidates flipped House seats to help gain the majority, while not a single Our Revolution-endorsed candidate captured a red seat. Zero.

Speaking of zero, our team watched every one of the 967 ads that Democrats ran in competitive House districts since Labor Day, and just two candidates mentioned either Medicare-for-all or single payer, and of those, neither won.

Lest you think that Democratic moderates couldn't turn out young voters or nonwhite voters, census data showed soaring participation by both categories of voters: "Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group -- a 79 percent jump. ... Voter turnout increased among non-Hispanic Asians by 13 percentage points, a 49 percent increase." And African American turnout increased by 11 percent.

While moderate candidates showed the ability to energize a diverse electorate, the same cannot be said for the far left. The far left talks a good game on diversity, but that segment of the electorate is among the least diverse:

In its groundbreaking 8,000-person survey, More in Common found that "progressive activists" in the electorate are 92 percent white. Of all the "political tribes" it identified in its report on "The Exhausted Majority," only "devoted conservatives" (at 94 percent) are more consistently white. Appealing to the broad demographic diversity of the party is an absolute imperative for 2020. But presidential candidates should not conflate that with appealing to the far left with populist rhetoric and a democratic socialist agenda.

To sum up, the lesson from 2018 was that moderate Democrats could flip seats from red to blue.

A party dependent on Latino, black women and under-educated whites can't help but skew conservative.

The Democrats' Culture Divide (DAVID FREEDLANDER November/December 2018, Politico)

New York's 14th Congressional District is more than 70 percent people of color, and 50 percent Hispanic. Ocasio-Cortez, who was born in the Bronx to a Puerto Rican mother, fit the district's changing demographics, and neatly fit a larger narrative of a national Democratic Party in which increasing progressivism and diversity go hand and hand.

But a closer examination of the data tells a different story. Ocasio-Cortez's best precincts were places like the neighborhood where Bonthius and his friends live: highly educated, whiter and richer than the district as a whole. In those neighborhoods, Ocasio-Cortez clobbered Crowley by 70 percent or more. Crowley's best precincts, meanwhile, were the working-class African-American enclave of LeFrak City, where he got more than 60 percent of the vote, and portions of heavily Hispanic Corona. He pulled some of his best numbers in Ocasio-Cortez's heavily Latino and African-American neighborhood of Parkchester, in the Bronx--beating her by more than 25 points on her home turf. [...]

The Democratic party has always been a loose coalition; a century ago, it was an uneasy mix of agrarian farmers and big-city political machines with a handful of lefty intellectuals sprinkled on top. But in the past two decades, it has seen a new sea change: It has become the preferred party of college graduates. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1994, voters with college degrees favored Republicans over Democrats 54 to 39; by 2017, those numbers were exactly reversed. Among voters with post-college degrees, the Democratic lean is even more extreme.

Implicit in this division is a class and race divide as well. Those more educated voters are also whiter and richer. But when it comes to reliable support, it's still voters of color who deliver for the party. Nonwhite voters went 3-to-1 for Clinton in 2016, according to exit polling, and the most reliable group, black women, voted an astonishing 94 percent for Clinton in 2016.

Increasingly, the Democratic Party features what social scientists call an hourglass structure, with a smattering of elites at the top and a vast working class on the bottom. It is those on the top who drive policy, and their interests don't always coincide with the party's longtime base. Lee Drutman, senior fellow on political reform at New America, puts it more bluntly: "Democrats have an upstairs/downstairs coalition with an affluent class that does quite well. And they are in a coalition with a poorer set of voters who don't seem to get ahead but who are trapped in that coalition, since if they are poor African-Americans or poor Latinos they view the Republicans as a racist party."

As the upper end of the party gets more and more liberal, it risks moving away from what the base really wants. Surveys show that less-educated Democrats tend to harbor a host of more conservative views--more skepticism of government regulation, for example, more concern about illegal immigration, less interest in the environment and gay rights, and even less interest in a robust social-welfare state. The only area in which better-educated Democrats lean more conservative than their less-educated counterparts is on the question of corporate power: Better-educated Democrats are slightly more likely to think that corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit. (Republican views on such matters are far more homogeneous across income groups.)

In 2017, David Winston, a Republican pollster, did a study of the American electorate for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, an organization of more than two dozen scholars and analysts that researches the views of voters, and he identified five distinct groupings of voters based on their policy priorities. One of these groupings he called "Democrat/Independent Liberal Elites," or "DILEs," and in looking at both their policy preferences and their demographics, he found they had little in common with the rest of the electorate--and even with their fellow Democrats.

As a group, DILEs are younger, whiter, richer and better-educated than the rest of the country. Strikingly, it is the only cohort across the political spectrum not to rank jobs and the economy as a top priority, preferring the environment and climate change. Polls show that people like Winston's DILEs are also far less religious and far more socially liberal than the rest of the Democratic Party on issues like abortion and LGBT rights. In evaluating candidates, these Democrats consider diversity, and hailing from outside the political establishment, hugely important.

Except that hailing from outside the establishment isn't much of a selling point to people who actually need things from government, who rely on social services or federally enforced fairness-in-lending laws, or decent government jobs in their districts. For these voters, what matters is relationships, and an ability to deliver. And when they see a Crowley or a Capuano unseated by a fresh new challenger, they see decades of seniority vanishing for largely symbolic reasons.

"Any loss of seniority in any legislative position is hard," says Jeffrion Aubry, a longtime New York state lawmaker from LeFrak City. "It takes forever to be able to deliver. And if the Congress is taken back by the Democrats, it will be a huge loss, whether Joe ended up as speaker or just at a high level in the majority. You won't have the power to take care of some issues you might want taken care of."

Such internal fissures have appeared periodically among the parties. Establishment Republicans are still facing a restive far-right base that views any compromise with Democrats as betrayal, even as they grab scalp after scalp and have installed a fellow traveler in the White House. In the 1970s, the Democrats tossed aside a generation of senior lawmakers in favor of the "Watergate Babies," who saw the old order as corrupt and compromising. But then again, those older Democrats were a pre-civil rights cohort that had fallen outside the mainstream of the party. This time, it is good liberal seats getting taken, their biggest crime being length of service.

It can be hard to find Democrats who are willing to speak openly about these matters, cutting as they do among the fault lines of race and class. "For people on the left, the fact that black and Hispanic voters aren't with them on everything is a huge source of embarrassment," said one social scientist, who asked to not be named in order to wade freely into the fraught territory of race and class in America.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


UN: Over 1m Palestinians in Gaza may not have food in June (Middle East Monitor, May 13, 2019)

UNRWA warned today that unless it secures $60m in funding by June, its ability to continue providing food to more than one million Palestinian refugees in Gaza will be severely curtailed.

In a statement the international organisation said: "At a time when Muslims around the world are observing the holy month of Ramadan, often characterised by the festive nature of its Iftars, in Gaza, more than half the population depends on food aid from the international community." [...]

Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, said: "This is a near ten-fold increase caused by the blockade that lead to the closure of Gaza and its disastrous impact on the local economy, the successive conflicts that razed entire neighbourhoods and public infrastructure to the ground, and the ongoing internal Palestinian political crisis that started in 2007 with the arrival of Hamas to power in Gaza."

A report issued by the United Nations in 2017 warned that the Gaza Strip would be "uninhabitable" by 2020.

The unemployment rate in Gaza rose to 52 per cent last year, with more than one million of the enclaves two million population dependent on quarterly UNRWA food handouts.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


House Democrats will likely get Trump's tax information. Did Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes ease their path? (The Week, 5/13/19)

One way or another, Congress will almost certain obtain President Trump's financial records, "and Republican efforts to investigate the Christopher Steele dossier could be one reason why," writes CNN's Katelyn Polantz. Specifically, Democrats could find an unwitting helper in Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a Trump ally who successfully subpoenaed the bank records of Fusion GPS when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The House Oversight, Intelligence, and Financial Services committees have subpoenaed Trump's business and personal financial records from his accounting firm, Mazars USA, and lenders Deutsche Bank and Capital One. Like Fusion GPS, Trump has sued his banks and accountants to prevent them from releasing his records. Fusion GPS had to disclose who financed the Steele dossier after losing its fight in federal court, using some of the same arguments Trump's lawyers are testing. 

May 12, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Early universe much brighter than predicted (Andrew Masterson, 5/13/19, Cosmos)

Observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have revealed that some galaxies within the early universe were much brighter than cosmologists had predicted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Trump lashes out at former White House counsel Don McGahn (QUINT FORGEY, 05/11/2019, Politico)

President Donald Trump lashed out at Don McGahn on Saturday, tweeting that he was "Never a big fan" of the former White House counsel amid an ongoing battle between House Democrats and the administration over documents and testimony related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

"I was NOT going to fire Bob Mueller, and did not fire Bob Mueller. In fact, he was allowed to finish his Report with unprecedented help from the Trump Administration," the president wrote online. "Actually, lawyer Don McGahn had a much better chance of being fired than Mueller. Never a big fan!"

The broadside follows a Friday report by The Wall Street Journal that McGahn rebuffed a request from the White House last month to publicly state that he did not believe the president obstructed justice when Trump ordered McGahn to seek Mueller's firing in June 2017.

According to the redacted version of the special counsel's report released by the Justice Department in April, Trump instructed McGahn to inform Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller must be removed. McGahn refused Trump's subsequent request to refute press reports of the president's directive, according to Mueller's report.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Palestinian-American lawmaker says Israeli policies pushed her to one-state view (Times of Israel, 5.12/19)

The Israeli government "gave up" on the two-state solution, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in the US Congress, charged in an interview published Friday.

The only Democrat to openly challenge the party's two-state consensus on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tlaib, of Michigan, was challenged on whether she had "given up" on a two-state peace in an interview on the Skullduggery podcast.

"I didn't give it up," she said of the two-state solution. "[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his party gave it up, and the Israeli government gave it up."

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She insisted it was Netanyahu who was working to ensure the proposal would not be achievable.

"If Netanyahu got up tomorrow morning and decided, 'You know what? I'm going to take down the walls. I'm not going to expand settlements. Enough is enough, I really want to push toward a two-state solution' -- he has every power to do that. And then people like myself and others will truly believe in that."

Michael Oren Cuts Short a Conversation About Israel (Isaac ChotinerMay 11, 2019, The New Yorker)

Is that what annexing settlements and building more settlements is about? The safety and security of the Jewish people?

It's assuring that you won't be withdrawing from them so fast. Remember, this is a deeply traumatized generation. This is a generation that--virtually everyone in it has lost friends and family members to terror. And Israel, in contrast to every other Western society, becomes more traditional, more religious, and you can't overlook the fact that people are deeply connected to the land of Israel.

Right, I am trying to disaggregate the ideas that this is being done for safety and security and there is no alternative, and that it is being done because people are traditional and religious--

That's my point. It's not just security. It's also ideology, it's also belief.

Do you think that there are moral consequences to those beliefs, if they include increasing settlements in the West Bank?

I have to distinguish between what's right and what's smart.

Increasing settlements is which?

Again, you want to put this in black-and-white terms, but it is not black and white. Increasing settlements where? They are not all the same.

Sure. I just didn't understand what you meant by right versus smart. I didn't mean to interrupt you.

It is definitely our right. I think it is our incontrovertible right as Jews to live anywhere in our ancestral homeland.


No question. No question about it. Anywhere. And a member of the Sioux nation has a right to live on Sioux-nation territory. These are our tribal lands. The cradle of our civilization.

Just to be clear: You were born in New York, correct?

I was.

So you think that you, as a Jewish person born in New York, have a right to be anywhere in Israel--


Plus the West Bank, plus Gaza.

Absolutely. Not Gaza. We can debate whether Gaza is part of the land of Israel.

O.K., Israel plus the West Bank.

Even if you wanted to include Gaza, I'd say absolutely, yeah. The question is what is smart. What's possible.

Who gave you the right to live anywhere you want in the West Bank? That's what I am trying to understand.


Where did you get that right?

It's my heritage for three thousand years. It's the same exact right I have from where I am talking to you. I am talking to you from Jaffa. I live in Jaffa. The same right I have to live in Jaffa I have in [the settlement] Beit El or Efrat, or in Hebron. Exact same right. Take away one right, the other right makes no sense. By the way, P.S., most of the lands of pre-1967 Israel are not even in the Bible. Haifa is not in the Bible; Tel Aviv is not in the Bible.

O.K., I just want to understand this because I don't want to misunderstand it. You are saying there are Palestinians living in various areas of the West Bank right now--

There are, indeed.

--which may or may not at some point become a state. But you are saying that, wherever they are living, they have less right to be there than you as a Jew born in New York.

I didn't say that. Don't impute words to me I didn't say.

I'm sorry, I thought you just said that.

No, I did not say that in any way. Listen, I don't think I want to continue this interview. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Jim Fowler, intrepid host of 'Wild Kingdom' nature series, dies at 89 (HARRISON SMITH, 5/11/19, The Washington Post)

He was charged by a herd of 200 elephants, escaping only with the help of a flatbed truck, and was once knocked unconscious by a surly chimpanzee named Mr. Moke, who punched him "square between the eyes." But neither incident compared to the time a 22-foot anaconda swallowed his arm, up to the shoulder.

"Luckily," said Jim Fowler, the longtime co-host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, "I knew what to do." As the indigenous tribe gathered around him fled the scene, Fowler remained calm, waiting for the anaconda to tire itself out before he wriggled out of its grasp and returned to work, preparing for another episode the show.

For more than two decades, Fowler brought the wonders of the natural world to millions of Americans, mixing entertainment and adventure with storytelling that raised awareness of the planet's biological diversity and environmental woes. He was 89 and had a heart ailment when he died May 8 at his home in Rowayton, Conn., said his son, Mark Fowler.

Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing more than 200 pounds, the elder Fowler was known for swimming through snake-infested waters, diving with sharks and rappelling down remote cliff faces while his partner, zoologist Marlin Perkins, often watched from the Jeep or narrated from the studio -- much to the delight of Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. [...]

Fowler was honorary chairman of the Explorers Club and created several wildlife refuges, including at his former estate in New Canaan, Conn.

In interviews, he sometimes recalled that the first episode of Wild Kingdom nearly ended in disaster. Filmed in Chicago's Lincoln Park, it featured one of the massive harpy eagles that Fowler had captured and trained.

He said he kept the bird on a line to prevent it from escaping and frightening Chicagoans who might mistake the bird for "a pterodactyl." But after the crew encouraged him to let the bird fly free in an effort to improve the shot, Fowler tried an experiment, placing it in a tree but still on the line.

Unfortunately, he told the Omaha World-Herald, a woman and her poodle had made their way into the roped-off filming area. The bird took flight, apparently spotting a meal. "Thank goodness I was able to grab the line," Fowler said. "Had the eagle grabbed the woman or the dog, my career would have been over before it started."

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


RETAIL ROBOTS (MELISSA HELLMAN, 5/11/19, The Seattle Times)

When an autonomous floor scrubber was rolled out in Walmart's Bonney Lake store last month, shoppers mistook the teal blue scrubber zipping down the aisles for a runaway machine, said manager David Klein. "Some customers are a little freaked out."

Klein said the Auto-C robot has relieved his employees of several hours of cleaning every evening, and has allowed him to avoid hiring another maintenance worker on the previously understaffed team. The 4-foot-tall scrubber, which resembles a riding lawn mower but is considerably quieter, uses sensors to scan its environment and to avoid people or objects in its way.

The San Diego-based tech company, called Brain Corp., that makes the Auto-C robot's operating system, also provides the software that powers autonomous floor cleaners at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

At Walmart, the automated machines are just part of a push to bring this pioneer of big-box discounting into the future of brick-and-mortar retail, with implications for its workforce that are still unknown.

Oh, they're known; they're just not accepted because they require finding an alternative way to distribute the wealth we create.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


GOP candidate Weld talks Trump at Valley News-sponsored forum (DAVID CORRIVEAU, 5/11/19, Valley News)

Near the end of his first visit to the Upper Valley as a 2020 candidate for president on Saturday, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld estimated that he'd shaken the hands of some 240 people at three diners in Lebanon earlier in the day.

"I didn't meet a single person who didn't express disdain and dismay about Donald Trump," Weld recalled during a midafternoon forum at Hartford High School on Saturday.

The 73-year-old is counting on enough like-minded Republicans to show up for next winter's New Hampshire primary to boost his challenge to the incumbent president.

And just in case the anti-Trump voters aren't enough, Weld has been highlighting his own credentials as a hard-line federal prosecutor and a two-term, tax-slashing governor of Massachusetts; his libertarian stance on gun ownership; and his current policy positions including support for LGBTQ Americans and welcoming instead of demonizing immigrants.

All those issues came up at the forum on Saturday, which the Valley News co-sponsored with news website VtDigger and which the VN's News Editor John Gregg hosted. Gregg worked for Weld as his chief speechwriter when Weld was governor.

More than 100 forum attendees, a mix of New Hampshire and Vermont residents, seemed mostly open to Weld's candidacy -- even Democrats such as Strafford resident John Freitag.

"I like that he's a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, which I think a lot of Vermonters are," Freitag said after the forum. "And I like people who are willing to be forthright in their opinions, even ones I might disagree with. ... He represents the best of the Republican Party -- those who are committed to the Constitution and our republic."

Vermont's current Republican governor, who has often disagreed, politely, with many of Trump's policies and with much of the president's combative style, also listened with interest.

May 11, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Rhode Island's Governor Uses Her VC Chops to Boost the Economy:  Gina Raimondo, who co-founded a venture capital firm, is spreading prosperity through fiscal responsibility, investment in education, and business development. (Matthew A. Winkler, May 1, 2019, Bloomberg)

Not only is she the first gubernatorial winner of a majority in more than a decade (52.6 percent), she's the first woman to be reelected to the position as well as the first Democrat elected to lead the Ocean State since 1991. The Harvard-educated economist and Rhodes scholar is effectively writing a turnaround case study in how a state government with little going its way can become something of a benchmark. Her three-pronged strategy: create fiscal stability, invest in education and infrastructure, and recruit companies--relentlessly.

That last part comes naturally. Raimondo co-founded the venture capital firm Point Judith Capital in 2001, the only Rhode Island firm then devoted to financing new businesses. She stepped into politics in 2010 by successfully running for general treasurer after widening deficits resulted in budget cuts that threatened to shutter hundreds of local libraries, including the one favored by her two children and another where her grandfather learned English as a 14-year-old Italian immigrant. "We were headed in the wrong direction," she says.

As her first order of business, Raimondo confronted labor unions that supported her own Democratic Party about their pension debt--fraught politics, to be sure. Their pensions, she told them, wouldn't survive their unfunded $7 billion liability, the second-highest in the country on a per capita basis. She said they could settle for either "a quarter of a loaf or none." The unions still refused to budge.

Amid that standoff, Raimondo announced her candidacy for governor. In a heated three-way race, voters lifted her to the statehouse with 40 percent of the vote. Soon after her election, she solved Rhode Island's pension crisis--without having to raise taxes--when the two sides reached a settlement in state Supreme Court. "Gina Raimondo led Rhode Island to enact the boldest pension reform of any state in recent years," wrote Josh Barro in the Washington Examiner in 2012.

As governor, Raimondo immediately set out to improve the state's education system. "The policymaker in me, the economist in me, the businessperson in me knows it's a no-brainer to invest in education," she says. To reverse a brain drain, her initial budget relieved graduates from any Rhode Island-based college or university of their student loans--as long as they agreed to live and work in the state for four years in jobs related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Providence Journal rated the so-called Wavemaker Fellowship "a promise kept." A year later, her government guaranteed two years of free college or community college to every in-state student, tripling the community college graduation rate. More recently, Raimondo's "CS4RI" initiative makes Rhode Island the first state poised to bring computer science into every public school. To help pay for these programs, revenue from taxes increased 17.3 percent over the past four years.

Yet the single best investment for long-term economic prosperity are her 4-year-old constituents, says Raimondo, who cites the Brooking Institution's April 2017 report, The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, when discussing the importance early learning plays in shaping brain development. "You shouldn't have to be rich or lucky to get your kid into school," adds Raimondo, who's tripled the number of pre-K classes in the state and also guaranteed that every child can attend all-day kindergarten. Rhode Island allocates $14,889 per student, or 138.3 percent of the U.S. average and the ninth-highest figure in the nation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Revenge of the Coastal Elites: How California, Oregon and Washington are winning the fight against Trump's hateful policies (Timothy Egan, May 10, 2019, NY Times)

[T]his president has a particular strain of hatred within his tiny dark heart for the Pacific states. And they hate him back. After the wipeout in last year's congressional elections, only a mere 38-mile strip of the Pacific shore in the lower-48 states, in Washington, remains in Republican hands.

In California and Washington, the ranks of the uninsured have fallen to record lows because of Obamacare. Would any other sitting president go out of his way to reverse that lifesaving progress? He recently directed his Justice Department to try to kill the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.

If the law stands, and the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions keep their legal protections, you can thank California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, for leading an aggressive coalition to defend Obama's greatest legacy.

Federal judges have repeatedly sided with California against Trump on air pollution, toxic pesticides and oil drilling. In April, the Interior Department was forced to suspend a plan to drill off the Pacific shore. And a federal judge in Oregon has so far backed a far-reaching attempt to hold Trump's government responsible for averting climate change. [...]

Washington's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, has filed 36 lawsuits against the Trump administration and has not lost a case. His first takedown of the tyrant halted, nationwide, the initial Muslim ban.

Last week, Trump went to bat for social media extremists and conspiracy theorists, issuing a warning to the Silicon Valley companies that are trying to banish the hatemongers: "We are monitoring and watching, closely!" Actually, they're monitoring and watching him -- closely. It's, um, what they do in Big Tech.

Under Trump's guidance, the United States is running up debt faster than one of his bankrupt casinos. It's what he does. By contrast, California, after raising taxes on the rich and wages for the poor, after extending family leave and health care, is projecting a $21 billion budget surplus for the coming fiscal year.

Talent and capital can go anywhere. It's drawn to the West Coast, because creativity doesn't grow well in nurseries of fear and tired thinking. Washington was named the best state for business in 2017, and the best place for workers in 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


The Iraq War Was Not About Oil (Tal Tyagi, 5/11/19, Quillette)

With American troops building up on the border in March 2003, Saddam made a desperate attempt to cling on to power. His secret service sought out American-Lebanese businessman Imad Hage, who acted as an intermediary, meeting influential White House-advisor Richard Perle. Hage reported that in return for the regime's survival, "the U.S. will be given first priority as it relates to Iraq oil." The offer was rejected.

The situation is best summarized by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker: "If oil were the driving force behind the Bush Administration's hard line on Iraq, avoiding war would be the most appropriate policy."

It is often considered laughable and ludicrous to claim the U.S. and U.K. cared about bringing democracy to Iraq, given their historical record in the region. On countless occasions, oil interests have trumped human rights. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, with an archaic attitude to women that holds public beheadings and sponsors Islamic terrorism, but where is the outcry or intervention? Since 1945, oil has flowed and arms have been sold, fostering a close connection between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, the "war for oil" thesis makes even less sense in this context. Given that Saudi Arabia (alongside all the other oil-rich Gulf states with the exception of Kuwait) opposed the war, invading Iraq risked future deals. Leading war proponent and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was reported to be "more than pleased" that democracy in Iraq would make the Saudis uneasy and was supportive of "rocking the stability of tyrannies in the Arab world." Such antagonism was antithetical to the interests of Shell and Exxon-Mobil who had made huge investments in the Kingdom's natural gas.

Cosying up to dictators is not the only reason the motives of the U.S. and U.K. have come under suspicion. It's also their remarkable double standards and duplicity when it comes to supporting democracy. Iran's Mohammed Mossadegh was democratically elected but was deposed in a CIA/MI6-backed coup in 1953 after he nationalised the Anglo-Persian oil company (now BP). He was replaced by the Shah who suppressed opposition while guaranteeing Anglo-American business interests.

Although parallels have been drawn between the Iranian incident and the Iraq invasion, this comparison not only ignores the coup's Cold War context but it equates the overthrow of democracy and installation of a dictatorship with the overthrow of dictatorship and installation of a democracy. Both the Saudi monarchy and the Shah show that Big Oil's profits are often better protected by a despotism that keeps its people down while passing on money to the West. If an appetite for Iraq's oil fields was what drove U.S. policy then why not replace Saddam with a compliant strongman who could be controlled? Why insist on elections that would put the power to shape the Iraqi oil industry into the hands of the Iraqi people?

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, no major oil company could even consider investing in Iraq. While an unstable underdeveloped country may hand over its resources to multinationals because it's desperate for investment, the risk is that once a country recovers its government will reject what it sees as an unfair deal. This is known as the Obsolescing Model in international trade. Since elections were not scheduled until December 2005 and a permanent government would not be formed until May 2006, Big Oil would have to wait three years before its representatives could bargain with a government that would be considered sovereign. Only this could allow them to sign contracts that would be protected under international law.

An additional problem Iraq's parliamentary system posed to the creation of conditions favorable to outside oil companies was legislation from the 1960s that stated any oilfield development contract would have to be approved by a specific new law passed in the Iraqi parliament, potentially stalling or torpedoing new deals.

An even bigger blow to the stability required for a smooth oil agreement was when the December elections in 2005 delivered a decisive defeat for the secular pro-U.S. elements (such as the INA) and a huge victory for Shia Islamist parties, in the form of the United Iraq Alliance (UIA). This group had links to the Islamic Republic of Iran, arch enemy of the U.S. It also included the Sadr Current, the political wing of the Mahdi Army, which had engaged in attacks on Coalition forces. The dominant group was the Da'wah Party, whose founding philosophy forbids the private ownership of oil. From 2005 to 2018, three of Iraq's four elected prime ministers, al-Jaafari, al-Maliki and al-Abadi, have been drawn from Da'wah.

By 2007, Iraq's parliament was debating the direction of the oil industry. A plan was put forward to "promote foreign investment and private sector development" of Iraq's oil, gas and electricity, known as the Hydrocarbon Law. However, this infuriated Iraqis and united them across class, region and religion.

Previously outlawed unions were able to organise oil workers, strike and issue statements declaring that "privatization of oil is a red line that may not be crossed." The Association of Muslim Scholars (possibly Iraq's most influential Sunni group) used their new-found free speech to issue a fatwa against the plans, outlining how "oil is the common property of the ummah." Four hundred and nineteen members of Iraq's intelligentsia, including diplomats, doctors, engineers, former ministers and lawyers, expressed opposition by signing a petition. Iraqi parliamentarians responded to concerns of their constituents by opposing the proposals.

Ultimately, the post-Saddam order, which gave birth to a thriving democracy and civil society, was a far cry from a playground for foreign oil companies or the "client state" resource colony Noam Chomsky accused the U.S. of invading Iraq to create.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


More Strange Tales from the Collapse of the AAF: From a quixotic attempt at a Bill Murray Super Bowl ad to the uncommon bond built up through it all, players and employees share their experiences with the ill-fated Alliance of American Football. (Conor Orr, May 08, 2019, Sports Illustrated)

In the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII last February, the Alliance's brain trust, its in-house creative team and an outside ad agency all spitballed ideas for a commercial that would run during the NFL's tent-pole event and capture the 110 million sets of eyeballs tuned in to America's most-watched television program. The more meetings the group held, though, the bigger the idea grew, until, according to one Alliance higher-up who attended a few of those meetings, the vision--for some dreamers, at least--became clear: Bill Murray would sit at a piano, singing and playing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," while the ad cut back and forth between him and a montage of football hits.

One problem. Murray is notoriously reclusive. He doesn't have an agent and is reachable only through the voicemail on a 1-800 number--plus he was apparently overseas on vacation. Amazingly, though, a liaison of the AAF's ad agency finally got Murray on the phone with the request. The actor's response was classic Billy Murray:

"Let me check my horoscope," he said. Then he ghosted them.

As did everyone else.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Answering a work-related call or text while driving puts lives at risk, study shows (Daniel B. Kline, 5/11/19, The Motley Fool)

Younger workers - those who grew up with smartphones and constant texting - said they feel a higher degree of compulsion when it comes to answering work-related messages while driving. Among survey respondents aged 18 to 34, 37% said they felt that pressure, compared to an average of 25% across all age groups.

Checking your messages while driving may seem like a small risk, but there are real consequences. Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, causes the death of nine people a day or roughly 3,500 per year. That's below the 29 people a day killed by drunk drivers, but it's still a major, avoidable loss of life.

In addition, distracted driving has a negative economic impact to the tune of $40 billion a year, which is pretty close to the $44 billion that drunk driving costs the economy annually, according to data provided by The Zebra.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Rudy Giuliani Cancels His Trip to Ukraine, Blaming Democrats' 'Spin' (Kenneth P. Vogel, May 11, 2019, NY Times)

Facing withering attacks accusing him of seeking foreign assistance for President Trump's re-election campaign, Rudolph W. Giuliani announced on Friday night that he had canceled a trip to Kiev in which he planned to push the incoming Ukrainian government to press ahead with investigations that he hoped would benefit Mr. Trump. [...]

"Today, Giuliani admitted to seeking political help from a foreign power. Again," tweeted Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He called the plan "immoral, unethical, unpatriotic and, now, standard procedure."

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters, "We have come to a very sorry state when it is considered O.K. for an American politician, never mind an attorney for the president, to go and seek foreign intervention in American politics."

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


O'Rourke won't commit to unconditionally supporting Democrats in exchange with New Hampshire voter (Donald Judd and Sarah Mucha, May 10, 2019, CNN)

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on Friday refused to commit his unconditional support to Democrats down the ticket in 2020 should he secure his party's nomination, in a contentious exchange with a New Hampshire voter.

"I can't take a pledge to support every single Democrat in the country," the Texas Democrat told Deb Nelson, the chair of the Hanover/Lyme Town Democrats, during a house party in Lebanon, New Hampshire. "I need to know about them first, right? Would you want me to make a blanket commitment about people I know nothing about, who I've never met?"

He has to get to the right of Joe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Former top FBI lawyer James Baker defends origins of the Russia investigation (Marshall Cohen, May 10, 2019, CNN)

Almost all of the top FBI officials who oversaw the Russia investigation have now publicly spoken out against Trump, an extraordinary and unprecedented rebuke of a sitting president.

"There was a point in time relatively recently where I just became sick of all the BS that is said about the origins of the (Russia) investigation, and I just got fed up with it," Baker said.

"I want to talk about the origin of the investigation to reassure the American people that it was done for lawful, legitimate reasons and was apolitical throughout, in my experience."

The wide-ranging interview, held in Washington and hosted by the Brookings Institution, featured Baker's most extensive public comments about the inner workings of the probe. As the FBI's top lawyer at the time, Baker played a key role in overseeing FBI techniques and was one of the few people then-FBI Director James Comey briefed about his interactions with Trump.

Refuting a debunked theory peddled by Trump and his Republican allies, Baker said that the investigation began in July 2016 because of a tip that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had inside information about Russian meddling. Trump has asserted, without any evidence, that the investigation started based on a dossier compiled by a former British spy.

"The Papadopoulos information is what triggered us going down this path," Baker said. "... It would have been a dereliction of our duty not to investigate this information."

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report also offered this explanation about the origins of the investigation, as have reports issued by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Nonetheless, Trump has continued to claim that the dossier triggered the Russia investigation.

Cue the "he's in on it" bots...

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM



[B]eyond him being (obviously) a genocidal maniac, there's an aspect to Hitler's rule that kind of gets missed in our standard view of him. Even if popular culture has long enjoyed turning him into an object of mockery, we still tend to believe that the Nazi machine was ruthlessly efficient, and that the great dictator spent most of his time...well, dictating things.

So it's worth remembering that Hitler was actually an incompetent, lazy egomaniac and his government was an absolute clown show.

In fact, this may even have helped his rise to power, as he was consistently underestimated by the German elite. Before he became chancellor, many of his opponents had dismissed him as a joke for his crude speeches and tacky rallies. Even after elections had made the Nazis the largest party in the Reichstag, people still kept thinking that Hitler was an easy mark, a blustering idiot who could easily be controlled by smart people.

Why did the elites of Germany so consistently underestimate Hitler? Possibly because they weren't actually wrong in their assessment of his competency--they just failed to realise that this wasn't enough to stand in the way of his ambition. As it would turn out, Hitler was really bad at running a government. As his own press chief Otto Dietrich later wrote in his memoir The Hitler I Knew, "In the twelve years of his rule in Germany Hitler produced the biggest confusion in government that has ever existed in a civilized state."

His government was constantly in chaos, with officials having no idea what he wanted them to do, and nobody was entirely clear who was actually in charge of what. He procrastinated wildly when asked to make difficult decisions, and would often end up relying on gut feeling, leaving even close allies in the dark about his plans. His "unreliability had those who worked with him pulling out their hair," as his confidant Ernst Hanfstaengl later wrote in his memoir Zwischen Weißem und Braunem Haus. This meant that rather than carrying out the duties of state, they spent most of their time in-fighting and back-stabbing each other in an attempt to either win his approval or avoid his attention altogether, depending on what mood he was in that day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Farrakhan refers to 'Satanic Jews' while denying he's anti-Semitic (HERBERT G. MCCANN, 5/11/19, AP) 

Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan referenced "Satanic Jews" in a speech denying allegations of anti-Semitism, misogyny and homophobia after Facebook banned him from the social media platform.

During the speech Thursday at a Roman Catholic church on Chicago's South Side, Farrakhan asserted people shouldn't be angry with him if "I stand on God's word," and said that he separates "the good Jews from the Satanic Jews."

Farrakhan was invited to speak at the church by the Rev. Michael Pfleger after Facebook banned Farrakhan, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and conservative personality Milo Yiannopoulos, saying they violated its ban on "dangerous individuals."

May 10, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


Don McGahn Rebuffed White House Request to Say Trump Didn't Obstruct Justice (Rebecca Ballhaus, May 10, 2019 , WSJ)

Within a day of the release of the Mueller report last month, President Trump sought to have former White House counsel Don McGahn declare he didn't consider the president's 2017 directive that he seek Robert Mueller's dismissal to be obstruction of justice, but Mr. McGahn rebuffed the request, according to people familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


Brazil Pivots Toward Economic Freedom (Rafael Ribeiro  , 5/10/19, FEE)

It looks like we are on our way toward replicating the Chilean miracle. 

Yet, if I were to pick up only one action taken by his economic team to best demonstrate to my foreign friends the pro-liberty momentum Brazil is experiencing right now, it would be the so-called declaration of economic freedom that was just signed. Conceived by the founder of Instituto Mises Brasil, Hélio Beltrão, in collaboration with members of the Ministry of Economy, the Executive Provisional Act is a set of rules designed to boost free enterprise and impose limits to government intervention over small businesses. It has a 120-day validation period before Congress votes on its permanent implementation.

17 Freedom Principles
Here are the 17 freedom principles that drive the document:

Freedom against bureaucracy--to eliminate unnecessary certifications required by state agents;
Freedom to work and produce--to prevent actions from unions or agencies that restrict the operation of small businesses or intervene in their policies;
Freedom to set prices--to prevent bills from being manipulated so that monopolies are not created;
Freedom against arbitrariness--to avoid state agents benefiting one entrepreneur at the expense of others;
Freedom to be presumed in good faith--to guarantee that contracts and private agreements are respected when the interpretation of a law or right is not clear;
Freedom to modernize--outdated regulations cannot rule modern businesses;
Freedom to innovate--no license may be required while the company is still testing, developing, or implementing a product or service that is not of high risk;
Freedom to agree--if two parties agree in contract, no judiciary action can be taken to alter it;
Freedom not to go unanswered--every license or application will have to have a maximum time, which, when passed, will mean approval in silence;
Freedom to go digital--all papers will be digitalized so companies will not have costs in stocking documents;
Freedom to grow--to guarantee small companies access to the capital market;
Freedom to endeavor--to protect business owners and entrepreneurs from being pre-judged as villains before a clear demonstration of their guilt;
Freedom to write contracts with international standards--to limit the cases in which judiciary decisions can alter contracts;
Freedom against abuse--to prevent state agents from issuing abusive remarks and regulations;
Freedom against economic regulation--no economic regulation may be issued without a consistent analysis of its impact;
Freedom of corporate regulation--commercial associations will be legalized;
Freedom of contractual risks--the right of two parts to agree to the allocation of risks in contracts will be licit and respected.

Besides the economic outcomes expected from the implementation of the decree, it will also have a positive impact on our mindset. For many decades, Brazilians have systematically been taught countless economic fallacies which say capitalism generates poverty and that the state is the only entity able to stimulate the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 PM


Saving the Nordics from the Mongrels: Review of 'The Guarded Gate' By Daniel Okrent (RICHARD STARR, April 2019, Commentary)

The men whose vision was embodied in the 1924 Act did not by and large believe that the immigrant masses could or even should be assimilated and Americanized. Okrent gives us the view of Kenneth Roberts, who for years had been banging the drum for restriction in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, the largest and most influential of American magazines in those pre-radio, pre-TV days: "If America doesn't keep out the queer, alien, mongrelized people of Southeastern Europe, her crop of citizens will eventually be dwarfed and mongrelized in return." This was not the extreme view of an outlying crank; the Saturday Evening Post was the beating heart of the mainstream media. 

For the highbrow version, Okrent gives us Fairfield Osborn (Princeton, 1877), Columbia University professor of zoology and president of the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Society. In 1925, Osborn gave thanks to the philanthropist Mary Harriman (mother of Averell), winner of the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences, whose munificence had helped make possible the great legislative triumph of the year before--the "wise, deliberate... exclusion of citizens we cannot welcome to our country." Osborn's concern, to be clear, was not the assimilation of the lower orders but the protection and perfection of those at the top. At last, he said, "we are tending toward the selection of the best, the exclusion of the worst."

The Immigration Act of 1924 was hugely popular. The vote in the House was 308-62; in the Senate, 69-9. Good old-fashioned prejudice and xenophobia no doubt played a part, along with fears of Bolshevists and anarchist bombers. What really ran up the score, however, was the prestige and authority of pseudoscience.

A few Boston Brahmins had, since the 1890s, been pushing for literacy tests and other stratagems to slow the rate of immigration, but success kept eluding them. Then, starting in the years before World War I, America went crazy for the new branch of applied biology known as eugenics. 

In a nutshell, the eugenicists were hereditarian extremists. Extrapolating from Darwin's theory of evolution via natural selection and the more recent laws of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in his experiments on pea plants, they thought they could enhance the human race. Humanity, they believed, was built on a hierarchy of races, genetically determined. Those at the top of the pyramid (Nordics), if only they could be exhorted or induced to mate with one another, would pass their moral, physical, intellectual, and spiritual gifts to their offspring (along with blue eyes and blond hair). The lesser breeds, morally, physically, and intellectually inferior by various degrees, were unfortunately surpassing their betters in one key skill: reproduction. Even worse, they were intermarrying with their betters to produce mongrel offspring. Best that they be kept at a distance, or even sterilized. (Dozens of states passed compulsory sterilization laws for the mentally defective and were blessed with the approval of the Supreme Court, 8-1 in the notorious 1927 Buck v. Bell case.)

As Okrent notes, "this ferment of racial analysis was a direct, if almost certainly unintended, product of the Darwinian revolution: once you establish that not everyone is descended from Adam and Eve--and thus not genetically related to one another--anything goes: racial differences, racial hierarchies, racial hatred." And though eugenics may sound to modern ears like Darwin for Dummies, it wasn't the dummies who led the parade. It was the best and brightest, good progressives, pioneering conservationists, highly credentialed scientists and intellectuals.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Don Jr. Has Some Explaining to Do: Triumph of the rule of law. (NOAH ROTHMAN, 5/09/19, Commentary)

The president's son testified before congressional investigators in September 2017 behind closed doors. But, according to the opening statement he released to the public, he characterized the Trump Tower meeting as "primarily focused on Russian adoptions." He also claimed that he had always maintained that this was the case, but that was not true. The president personally dictated a statement on his son's behalf claiming that the meeting was unrelated to the campaign. White House emails subsequently revealed that the agenda was going to include substantive support for the president's reelection efforts as part of "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." The question the Mueller probe declined to resolve was whether Donald Trump Jr. was aware of the campaign-finance laws he was violating at the time of the meeting. That's a question that can only be satisfactorily resolved by the president's son under oath.

This wasn't the only occasion in which Don Jr. appears to have been manipulated by Russian assets with a few degrees of separation from Moscow. In November 2017, media reports revealed that the president's son had exchanged direct messages with Wikileaks's Twitter account in 2016, which was often utilized by Julian Assange himself. By that point, it was already public knowledge that the entity known as Guccifer 2.0, which was understood to be a front for Russian military intelligence, was responsible for the hack of Democratic National Committee servers and had funneled the documents it stole through Wikileaks. According to Mueller's report, Wikileaks gave the password to an anti-Trump website to Don Jr., who proceeded to inform campaign officials of the find without disclosing its provenance. "I tried the password and it works," the younger Trump revealed. This could constitute illegal hacking.

But the Senate Intelligence Committee is reportedly most curious about the extent to which Don Trump Jr. was aware of his father's efforts to secure the rights to construct a skyscraper in Moscow--efforts that reportedly continued well into 2016, even after Trump had secured the Republican nomination for president. The president's son told Senate investigators that he "wasn't involved" in those negotiations and was only "peripherally aware of it." But Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified in his plea agreement with prosecutors that he repeatedly briefed both Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump about the status of negotiations regarding the Moscow tower project. Someone has not been entirely truthful.

This subpoena suggests that the president's son declined to cooperate with Congress voluntarily. The New York Times revealed that, according to someone close to Don Jr., "he could invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in a written response." Congressional investigators are obliged to pursue these outstanding issues and reconcile Donald Trump Jr.'s 2017 testimony with what we know today.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Viktor Orbán and the corruption of conservatism (Dalibor Rohac, 5/10/19, cAPx)

During the early 1960s, the conservative movement in the United States underwent a deep transformation, largely thanks to the leadership of William F. Buckley, Jr., the editor of National Review. Initially, the magazine was sceptical of federal efforts at desegregation, on the grounds of defending the rights of US states to govern themselves. For Buckley, that position became untenable in the light of the actual policies that Southern states were pursuing. "I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow," he said in a 2004 interview. "I was wrong. Federal intervention was necessary."

Buckley famously purged the magazine, and with it much of the conservative movement, of anti-Semites, racists, conspiracy theorists, and kooks - and enabled it to thrive as a healthy, intelligent stream of Western intellectual life for decades to come.

Today, the conservative movement is in dire need of a similar cleanse. The dividing line is no longer the issue of the rights of individual US states but includes more broadly the questions of globalism, global governance, and local control. Unlike the distinctly American controversy of the 1960s, it affects conservatively-minded individuals on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet the underlying substantive issues are strikingly similar. At what point does the defence of the nation-state vis-à-vis expansive forms of international cooperation become an apology for racism, arbitrary state power, authoritarianism - or anti-Semitic tropes?

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Fifty-Fifty Follies (Lionel Shriver, May 2019, Harper's)

Last spring, the BBC officially took up a "50:50 challenge" to achieve an equal number of male and female experts on news and current-events shows within the following year. We're seeing an upsurge in the insistence that women must constitute half of everyone doing anything, since underrepresentation in any arena or sector is surely a sign of unconscious bias, misogyny, or institutionalized sexism begging for instantaneous redress. Over the past year, I myself have been approached more frequently to appear on BBC radio and television. Has the uptick in these invitations been occasioned by some great elevation of my public profile or some meteoric increase in my expertise? No. I have become a more valuable commodity for the Corporation because--­my first name notwithstanding--­I am female.

Hence the New York Times' official lament earlier this year, following a lengthy letter of complaint, that, alas, the paper's letters to the editor did indeed "skew heavily male." In their reply, "We Hear You," two editors explained that, while the Times tried to select letters for publication without regard to gender, only a quarter, at best a third, of submissions were from women, and this disparity translated to the page. The editors fervently solicited more letters from female readers, and asked for help understanding why we women are so shy with our opinions--­with an aim to reaching the "goal" of fifty-fifty representation in the letters section. Promising to report back by next February, the staffers were clearly hoping to achieve this parity, like the BBC, within a single year's time.

"Goals" and "challenges" are airy, aspirational synonyms for "quotas"--and maybe it's a small sign of progress that the quota has achieved a sufficiently negative connotation to require a euphemism. Moreover, the Times' "goal" is an unusually pure illustration of the contrast between equality of opportunity and equality of results. For there is certainly no barrier to an infinite number of women clicking the cobalt-blue on their screens, or to women availing themselves of the same postal address that so many more men have heretofore copied down.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Erdogan could lose more than Istanbul in high-stakes electoral gamble (Cengiz Candar, May 10, 2019, Al Monitor)

[I]f there is a man who can navigate these choppy waters, it is Ekrem Imamoglu, Istanbul's elected mayor who run on the ticket of an alliance led by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

The general sentiment among the opposition voters is that Imamoglu will win again by an even bigger margin, with voters outraged that the country's judiciary yielded to the increasingly autocratic president.

Although many opponents called for a boycott of the redo, the CHP ruled out the idea after a meeting convened immediately after the announcement of the electoral nullification. The main opposition party's decision is clear: There will be no boycott and it will participate in the rerun despite its anger at the YSK's decision. CHP head Kemal Kilicdaroglu asked for the resignation of the council members, describing the decision as "black stain" on the country's democratic history.

The YSK has inadvertently enhanced the standing of a political figure who can defeat and replace Erdogan. Imamoglu displayed a very calm, self-controlled and optimistic outlook in his address to the media immediately after the announcement. He is no more the mayor of Istanbul, but his charm offensive is exceeding the city's limits. He is most formidable candidate yet to take on Erdogan, who was once presumed invincible. Now that image has been shattered.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


How football raised its game: Our national sport has been transformed by the free movement of labour and capital (Ian Birrell , r10 MAY 2019, UnHerd)

English football at both national and club level is in strong shape after an extraordinary season - one of the most thrilling that I can recall in half a century of following the sport.

But one of my favourite moments was rather more mundane: when Neil Warnock, manager of struggling Cardiff City, delivered a rant against the Government's inept handling of Brexit. "I can't wait to get out of it," he said, referring to the European Union. "I think we'll be far better out of the bloody thing. In every aspect. Football-wise as well, absolutely. To hell with the rest of the world."

This was a surreal pleasure. A perfect metaphor. Here was this Yorkshireman of pensionable age, struggling with failure to compete, lashing out against globalisation - while standing in front of his club's 'Visit Malaysia' banner.

Vincent Tan, their wealthy foreign owner, even changed the colour of their shirts to attract more Asian fans. Their club chairman was born in Cyprus. The players come from Denmark, Iceland, Ireland and Spain in Europe, along with others from Africa, Asia and north America.

Even though relegated, this club shows how top-flight football has thrived as teams have evolved into international coalitions. The sport is now a commercial powerhouse with billions of worldwide fans. The Bluebirds may not be good enough for premiership survival. But their standard of play is far higher today than many more successful clubs in the recent past and their brand has global allure. This is how Cardiff City can pay players two million pounds a year to play in its fine ten-year-old stadium - and even hand fringe players a seven-figure annual wage.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


How Nancy Pelosi Can Expose Trump and Barr's Extraordinary Power Grab (HEIDI LI FELDMAN, MAY 09, 2019, Slate)

The practice of congressional investigation and exacting of witness testimony dates back to at least 1792. Congress' power to subpoena witnesses and documents has been fully articulated and entrenched in U.S. constitutional law since 1927, when the Supreme Court decided McGrain v. Daugherty, a case that itself pitted the U.S. attorney general against a Senate committee investigating him for misconduct. The decision in McGrain firmly established the principle that inherent in the Constitution's grant of legislative powers to Congress is the power to investigate and obtain information necessary to legislate, including by means of subpoena. Subsequent decisions strengthened and enhanced this proposition.

Existing Supreme Court precedent on executive privilege, meanwhile, is sparse and arises from factual and legal circumstances entirely different from those posed by a congressional inquiry into presidential misconduct. The main cases date from the Nixon era. In one, U.S. v. Nixon, the Supreme Court squarely acknowledged a presidential interest in confidentiality in communications between executive branch officials. But the court actually held that, in the circumstances, the president's interest in confidential communications with executive aides was outweighed by the needs of justice in criminal adjudication. Nixon had to hand over the tapes that eventually brought down his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Younger Arabs embrace Palestinian identity, redefining Israeli citizenship (Reuters, May 09, 2019)

Loudspeakers blared nationalist Arabic music across hillsides in northern Israel on Thursday as children ran across a field waving Palestinian flags.

The scene was a rally for members of Israel's 21% Arab minority. The Israeli term for them is Israeli Arabs, but many now reject that label, identifying instead as "Palestinian with Israeli citizenship," or simply "Palestinian."

Each year they hold a gathering to mark the Nakba -- or "Catastrophe" -- when Palestinians lament the loss of their homeland in the 1948-49 war that surrounded the creation of the modern Jewish state.

Related: Two views of the Gaza protests, from each side of the border fence

The event is a celebration of Palestinian identity that, Arab politicians and academics say, reflects a change in thinking over the decades. [...]

Shouting over the music, Rula Nasr-Mazzawi, 42, a psychologist, said many of the first two generations of Arabs in post-1948 Israel were too scared to discuss matters of identity openly.

"But now we are seeing the younger generation, the third generation, more and more identifying very frankly and very loudly as Palestinians," she said.

"The term Israeli Arabs is mistaken, it's not accurate. We are Palestinians by nationality, and we are Israeli citizens."

In an interview earlier this year, Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel's parliament with the Ta'al party said: "The term Israeli Arabs is mistaken, it's not accurate. We are Palestinians by nationality, and we are Israeli citizens."

He added: "They are saying Arab Israeli or Israeli Arabs in order to say that we are not Palestinians. We bypassed that. We are part of the Palestinian people, and we are struggling in order to be equal citizens."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Giuliani Plans Ukraine Trip to Push for Inquiries That Could Help Trump (Kenneth P. Vogel, May 9, 2019, NY Times)

"We're not meddling in an election, we're meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do," Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday when asked about the parallel to the special counsel's inquiry.

May 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


VIDEO: Iraq's Islamic seminaries revive since Saddam Hussein's death: During the rule of Saddam Hussein, the seminaries had their powers and number of students limited but now they are witnessing a revival. (Dorsa Jabbari, 5/09/19, Al Jazeera)

Such freedom for Muslims is what the Right means when it says the war was a mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Putin, battling ratings slump, reviews Red Square military parade (Christian Lowe, Andrew Osborn, 5/09/19, Reuters)

Battling a ratings slump as Russia grinds through a sixth consecutive year of falling real incomes, Putin looked on as thousands of troops marched past and columns of tanks rumbled across the famous square in a display reminiscent of the Cold War era. [...]

Russia's ties with the West soured following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and Moscow has continued to challenge the United States through its staunch support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

World leaders have attended in the past, but were conspicuous by their absence on Thursday, something the Kremlin played down.

These tin pots do love them some parades...

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM

(self reference alert):

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


Study: U.S. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Exceed Pentagon Spending (TIM DICKINSON, 5/09/19, Rolling Stone)

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


How Voter Access Laws Led to Higher Turnout at the Pollls (Tim Henderson, 5/08/19, Stateline)

Around the country, state efforts to widen ballot access and Trump-era political passion spurred more voters to the polls in November than the last midterm elections in 2014. Nationally, 53% of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2018, a 12-point bump from the previous midterms, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump Jr. subpoenaed as Congress battles White House over Russia report (MICHAEL MATHES, 5/09/19, Times of Israel)

A day after the top Republican in Congress called the Russia probe "case closed," Trump's conflict with his Democratic opponents escalated to new heights as a House panel voted to hold the nation's Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt for refusing to turn over key documents.

Following a day of drama that included Trump asserting executive privilege for the first time in his presidency, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee took the surprise step of issuing a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. to testify as part of its investigation into Russian election interference, US media reported.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Why Ramadan is called Ramadan: 6 questions answered (Mohammad Hassan Khalil, 5/22/17, The Conversation)

What is the significance of Ramadan?

Ramadan is a period of fasting and spiritual growth, and is one of the five "pillars of Islam" (the others being the declaration of faith, daily prayer, alms-giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca). Able-bodied Muslims are expected to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn to sunset each day of the month. Many practicing Muslims also perform additional prayers, especially at night, and attempt to recite the entire Qur'an (Koran). The prevailing belief among Muslims is that it was in the final 10 nights of Ramadan that the Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

What is the connection between soul and body that the observance of Ramadan seeks to explain?

The Qur'an states that fasting was prescribed for believers so that they may be conscious of God. By abstaining from things that people tend to take for granted (such as water), it is believed, one may be moved to reflect on the purpose of life and grow closer to the creator and sustainer of all existence. As such, engaging in wrongdoing effectively undermines the fast. Many Muslims also maintain that fasting allows them to get a feeling of poverty, and this may foster feelings of empathy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



According to sources, Trump campaign officials are sounding the alarm over the president's early fund-raising hauls. Trump's son Don Jr. has privately warned donors that Trump only raised around $30 million in the last quarter, and pointed out that the number fell far short of the roughly $45 million Barack Obama raised in the second quarter of 2011 for his 2012 re-election bid, according to a source briefed on the conversations (A source close to Don Jr. disputed this). "They need more money, and there's no enthusiasm. They need to amp it up," a Trump donor told me. "Wall Street never liked Trump from the beginning. Goldman is filled with people who were Obama fund-raisers," another Trump donor told me. In 2016, Trump raised only about $351 million. Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign took in $483 million.

Sources say the anemic fund-raising is being driven by several factors. The biggest is Trump himself. Trump's shambolic governing style and endless tweeting are exhausting donors. "There's Trump fatigue," the longtime Republican donor told me. "The 2020 bumper sticker should be: 'Same Policies, but We Promise Less Crazy.'" Then there's Trump's difficult re-election pathway. According to a source, some donors aren't stepping up because Trump's numbers in must-win states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin continue to disappoint.

They need to be spending now in TX, AZ, etc.. Those three are long lost. It's just down ticket damage control now.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A frustrated Trump questions his administration's Venezuela strategy (Anne Gearan, Josh Dawsey, John Hudson and Seung Min Kim May 8, 2019, Washington Post)

President Trump is questioning his administration's aggressive strategy in Venezuela following the failure of a U.S.-backed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro, complaining he was misled...

McMaster blasts former colleagues as 'danger to the Constitution' (WESLEY MORGAN,  05/08/2019, Politico)

"The second group of people, and I think this is true in any administration," he explained, are those "who are not there to give the president options -- they're there to try to manipulate the situation based on their own agenda, not the president's agenda."

The third group of Trump advisers are those who "cast themselves in the role of saving the country, even the world, from the president," McMaster told an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank where he is now a scholar.

The first group does not exist.

May 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


New Polling Study: 2016 Trump Voters Turning Against Him (Cody Fenwick, May 8, 2019, National Memo)

In a new examination of voter preference changes between 2016 and 2019, the Voter Study Group found a marked difference in the opinions of a much-discussed group in the electorate: voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and then Trump in 2016. Unsurprisingly, this group largely had a positive opinion of Trump in 2016 -- 85 percent of these voters approved of him, the survey found.

But these opinions have significantly shifted. In 2019, only 66 percent of these voters still approved of Trump -- a 19-point drop.

"Even small movement among these voters -- who represented 9 percent of voters in 2016 -- may prove significant heading into the 2020 presidential election," wrote Robert Griffin of the Voter Study Group. "Obama-Trump voters are also disproportionately white, non-college educated and, as a result, are likely to be well distributed geographically for the purpose of electoral impact." [...]

State-by-state polling also supports this inference. Morning Consult presents data on Trump's approval across the country and over time. In the key states where Trump won in 2016 -- Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania -- the president started out in early 2017 with a net positive approval rating:

PA: +10
WI: +6
MI: +7

But by April 2019,  he was significantly underwater in each of these states:

PA: -7
WI: -13
MI: -10

There are other states where he's also looking weak. In Ohio, he's at -4; Arizona, -7; Florida, -2; North Carolina, -2; Iowa, -8. Meanwhile, there are no states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 in which Trump now has a positive approval rating.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Eugenics, Anti-Immigration Laws Of The Past Still Resonate Today, Journalist Says (Terry Gross, 5/08/19, fresh Air)

Journalist Daniel Okrent says that the eugenics movement -- a junk science that stemmed from the belief that certain races and ethnicities were morally and genetically superior to others -- informed the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted entrance to the U.S.

"Eugenics was used as a primary weapon in the effort to keep Southern and Eastern Europeans out of the country," Okrent says. "[The eugenics movement] made it a palatable act, because it was based on science or presumed science."

Okrent notes the 1924 law drastically cut the number of Jews, Italians, Greeks and Eastern Europeans that could enter the country. Even during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and dying, access remained limited. The limits remained in place until 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act ended immigration restrictions based on nationality, ethnicity and race.

Okrent sees echos of the 1924 act in President Trump's hard-line stance regarding immigration: "The [current] rhetoric of criminality, the attribution of criminality -- not to individual criminals but to hundreds of thousands of people of various nationalities -- that's very similar to the notion of moral deficiency that was hurled by the eugenicists at the Southern and Eastern Europeans of the 1910s and '20s."

Only the groups the Darwinists hate most ever change,

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Florida's pitch for growth: more diversity (Kim Hart, 5/08/19, Axios)

The big picture: The state is harnessing its increasingly diverse population to offset the long-held perception that Florida is a destination only for retirees and vacationers.

That's an important pitch for the state. In Tampa alone, deaths outnumbered births by almost 900 people between 2017 and 2018, per CBS Miami's analysis of recent Census Bureau data. That means the city would have shrunk without the migration of newcomers.

Re-branding itself as a place where under-represented groups -- people of color, immigrants and women -- can thrive economically is the key to changing Florida's "God's waiting room" reputation.

Nationwide, the rate of entrepreneurs among immigrants is substantially higher than among native-born Americans, according to the Kauffman Foundation. The share of Latino and Asian entrepreneurs has also risen substantially since 1996, while the share of white entrepreneurs declined during that period, per Kauffman.

In Orlando, two-thirds of the new residents came from outside the U.S. between 2017 and 2018. City officials estimate that 1,500 people will move to the city every week over the next decade.

In the area's fastest growing county -- Osceola -- 76% of that growth will come from the Hispanic community, per the city's 2030 projections.

The city also became home to tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The city rallied around its LBGTQ community in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting three years ago. "That was a defining moment for our city," said Jennifer Foster, executive director of OneOrlando Alliance, a nonprofit.

In Miami, more than half of the population was born outside of the city, and some of the startup ecosystem's most important support organizations, venture funds and startups are led by women. The city's tagline: "An ecosystem built by immigrants, led by women."

Miami was a finalist for Amazon's HQ2 (Jeff Bezos went to high school there), and it is also a finalist to be an artificial intelligence hub SoftBank wants to create in the Caribbean-Latin America region, per the Miami Herald.

Between the lines: Florida is a perennial battleground state with divisions much like the rest of the country. The fastest-growing metropolitan areas tend to be more liberal and open to outsiders than the large rural areas, where the majority of voters supported Trump in 2016 and helped elect the state's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Clash Between Trump and House Democrats Poses Threat to Constitutional Order (Adam Liptak, May 7, 2019, NY Times)

"A president who refuses to respond to congressional oversight is taking the presidency to new levels of danger," said William P. Marshall, a law professor at the University of North Carolina. "We're supposed to be in a system of checks and balances, and one of the biggest checks that Congress has over the executive is the power of congressional oversight."

"Not responding to that is to literally say that you're above the law and you're above the Constitution," he said. "There's nothing in history that comes even close to that."

John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former official in the George W. Bush administration, said Mr. Trump's approach was novel and dangerous.

"The thing that's unusual is the blanket refusal," Professor Yoo said. "It would be extraordinary if the president actually were to try to stop all congressional testimony on subpoenaed issues. That would actually be unprecedented if it were a complete ban."

"He's treating Congress like they're the Chinese or a local labor union working on a Trump building," he said. effectively wipe out all privilege claims.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


Fox & Friends is very impressed with Trump for reportedly losing over $1 billion (The Week, 5/08/19)

Trump's favorite morning show spoke after The New York Times obtained financial documents showing that Trump's businesses lost more than $1 billion from 1985 to 1994.

"He's a bold businessman, which is chronicled here," Brian Kilmeade said in response to the story. Kilmeade went on to argue that the article shouldn't "surprise anybody" and that the business practices described in the story "make sense" because Trump wanted to "take chances."

Even better is the defense that he falsified his returns for the tax breaks. Criminal Genius! 

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM

THE rIGHT IS THE lEFT (profanity alert):

The Trade and Immigration Views of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are Basically Trump's (VIKRAM BATH · MAY 8, 2019, Ordinary Times)

I. Trade

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren share Trump's trade agenda verbatim. The three of them argue that trade with China and other countries should be drastically curtailed if not stopped altogether. Warren, if anything, attacks Trump from the right, expressing concern that by negotiating with Canada at the same time with China, Trump isn't being strong enough in fighting China [...]

II. Immigration

When it comes to immigration policy, Bernie Sanders has famously called open borders a Koch-brothers proposal.

Trump says "our country is full." What does Bernie Sanders say when asked about open borders?

I think what we need is comprehensive immigration reform. That is not simply--You're quite right--if your point is you open the borders, my God, you know, there's a lot of poverty in this world and you're going to have people from all over the world, and I don't think that's something we can do at this point. Can't do it.

It's understandable to oppose open borders as a policy, but Sanders goes far beyond that. His rhetoric describes poverty and "people from all over the world" as akin to an infections disease that will enter if we let our guard down. While his language is rated G, his sentiment is certainly akin to someone who might use the phrase "sh[***]le countries."

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Biden Soars, Everyone Else Stalls (David Catanese, May 7, 2019, US news)

Biden got even more good news from a pollster in Arizona on Tuesday that bolsters his most persuasive argument of electability. According to the Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights, Biden is ahead of President Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election match-up in the Grand Canyon State.

Biden leads Trump 49 percent to 44 percent and was the only one of the six Democrats tested who came out on top of the president in traditionally red Arizona. The last Republican presidential nominee to lose Arizona in a general election was Bob Dole in 1996, when President Bill Clinton carried the state during his re-election.

It'll be nice not to see any ads for Donald here.
Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


You don't need that: Average American spends almost $18,000 a year on nonessentials (Maurie Backman, 5/08/19, The Motley Fool)

It's one thing to spend a bit of money treating ourselves to life's various luxuries, but it's another thing to splurge to the point where it hurts our finances. Many Americans are guilty of the latter.

In fact, the average adult in the USA spends $1,497 a month on nonessential items, according to research commissioned by Ladder and conducted by OnePoll. All told, that's roughly $18,000 a year on things we can all do without. And that's a lot of money, considering the extent to which Americans are letting their savings and other crucial goals fall by the wayside.

Consumption taxes will force savings.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM




The fastball rate was down from 64 percent as recently as 2003. That year, sliders and cutters made up 14.6 percent of all pitches thrown. Last year, that secondary rate was up to 22.6 percent. Put simply, pitching repertoires have never been more diverse, making it impossible to know what's coming in the batter's box. No wonder strikeouts are at an all-time high.

Of the 15 hardest-throwing qualified starting pitchers this season, only Syndergaard (60.5 percent), the Rays' Tyler Glasnow (64.1 percent), the Yankees' James Paxton (63.6 percent) and Miami's José Ureña (64.3 percent) throw their fastball at least 60 percent of the time (all stats as of Tuesday). Meanwhile, aces Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros -- MLB's most progressive pitching staff -- rank among the top average velocity, but throw fastballs barely more than half the time.

"It's no longer just specialists or aging veterans throwing more off-speed pitches," says MLB Network analyst Mark DeRosa. "Every pitcher in the league can deliver two, three, four 'plus' pitches in any spot in any count in an at-bat. How [is a hitter] supposed to handle that?"

Take Cleveland Indians ace Trevor Bauer, one of the game's leading data-driven thinkers, who has focused on adding a plus-pitch (aka a pitch that would receive an "A" grade) each off-season. This winter's experiment, the changeup, gave Bauer a fifth pitch in his arsenal.

Bauer throws one of the hardest fastballs in the league (94.7 mph average) just 47 percent of the time -- in the bottom third of the league. While in the past he leaned heavily on his curveball, this year his four secondary pitches are fairly evenly distributed, making it that much harder to know what's coming. "Just knowing [Bauer's curveball] exists is enough to give a hitter pause," says former MLB catcher turned ESPN analyst David Ross. "And then it's even more devastating when you finally see it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump deplores Chavistas, but did he cash in selling property to one of them? (BEN WIEDER AND  KEVIN G. HALL, MAY 07, 2019, McClatchy)

The Trump Organization sold an ocean-view property in the Dominican Republic in 2015 to a mysterious shell company that appears tied to Venezuelans linked to a powerful politician now under U.S. sanctions, according to records obtained by McClatchy and the Miami Herald.

The Venezuelans are close associates of Diosdado Cabello Rondón, widely believed to be the second most powerful man in President Nicolás Maduro's regime in the troubled, oil-rich South American nation. The Trump administration has accused Cabello of drug trafficking and money laundering.

The family business is money laundering.

May 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Decade in the Red: Trump Tax Figures Show Over $1 Billion in Business Losses (RUSS BUETTNER and SUSANNE CRAIG, May 7, 2019, NY Times)

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir "Trump: The Art of the Deal" hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

The data -- printouts from Mr. Trump's official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax form, the 1040, for the years 1985 to 1994 -- represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president's taxes, information he has kept from public view. Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career -- an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses -- largely c[*****]s, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 -- more than $250 million each year -- were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


The Sho Returns: Why the Angels feel Shohei Ohtani's encore performance could be even better than 2018 (Fabian Ardaya May 6, 2019, The Athletic)

[W]hen they worked out Ohtani -- who selected the Angels over the Mariners, Dodgers, Giants, Rangers, Padres and Cubs the previous December -- for the first time at the Ham Fighters' spring complex in Okinawa, his score, particularly in the vertical jump portion of testing, was average at best.

A month later, in Tempe, Ohtani ran through the same battery of tests. His vertical jump had increased by nine inches to become one of the highest in the organization. Eppler was blown away. It was not until Ohtani revealed to Li what happened that it all made sense.

Up until that January workout in Okinawa, Ohtani had never done a vertical jump test in his life. So when his results came back mediocre, the hyper-competitive Ohtani spent the next month watching YouTube videos and practicing on his own to develop the proper technique. He learned how to properly load his hips so as to not spring off of one leg and ruin the efficiency of his jump. He studied how to use his static starting position to generate force from the ground, maximizing his ability to jump up, and not forward.

So the 6-foot-4 Ohtani, who already had a fastball that could top 100 mph and the power to crush baseballs more than 500 feet while also proving to be fleet of foot, added the ability to jump.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Exclusive: Trump fixer Cohen says he helped Falwell handle racy photos (Aram Roston , 5/07/19, Reuters) 

The Falwells wanted to keep "a bunch of photographs, personal photographs" from becoming public, Cohen told Arnold. "I actually have one of the photos," he said, without going into specifics. "It's terrible."

Cohen would later prove successful in another matter involving Falwell, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Cohen helped persuade Falwell to issue his endorsement of Trump's presidential candidacy at a critical moment, they said: just before the Iowa caucuses. Falwell subsequently barnstormed with Trump and vouched for the candidate's Christian virtues.

Is it better or worse that Jerry was blackmailed into being unChristian?

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


UK goes more than 100 hours without using coal power for first time in a century (Tom Embury-Dennis, 5/07/19, The Independent)

Britain has gone more than four days without using coal-fired power to generate its electricity, smashing the previous record set during last month's Easter weekend.

By late Monday morning, the National Grid said the UK had gone 122 hours in a row and rising without using coal, the burning of which is one of the world's biggest contributors to climate change. 

It is the first time the nation has been powered for so long without the fossil fuel since the world's first coal-fired power station for public use was opened in London in 1882. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


With Mueller on Justice staff, Barr has sway over testimony (MICHAEL BALSAMO and JONATHAN LEMIRE, 5/07/19, AP)

The president stewed for days about the prospect of the media coverage that would be given to Mueller, a man Trump believes has been unfairly lionized across cable news and the front pages of the nation's leading newspapers for two years, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House.

Trump feared a repeat -- but bigger -- of the February testimony of his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, which dominated news coverage and even overshadowed a nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.

Trump has long known the power of televised images and feared that Americans would be captivated by seeing -- and hearing -- Mueller, who has not spoken publicly since being named special counsel.

While Mueller is a Justice Department employee, the department would generally handle requests for him to appear before Congress, and the Justice Department could delay or block Mueller from voluntarily appearing. Congress could issue a subpoena to compel him to appear before the committee.

It isn't clear what grounds the Justice Department would use to justify an attempt to block Mueller's testimony.

As a private citizen, Mueller could decide whether to accept an invitation to appear or, if he declines, whether to attempt to resist any effort to subpoena him.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said last week the committee was "firming up the date" for Mueller's testimony and hoping it would be May 15. If the Justice Department tries to block Mueller's testimony, Democrats could issue a subpoena to try to compel his appearance.

Any showdown over Mueller's testimony would add to tensions between House Democrats and the Justice Department. Barr has already defied a subpoena to provide the full, unredacted version of Mueller's report, and Nadler has scheduled a Wednesday vote to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


A New Version Of The Mueller Report Has Been Released In Response To A BuzzFeed News Lawsuit: The new version released Monday further explains why certain details were redacted from the public report. (Jason Leopold & Anthony Cormier, May 6, 2019, aBuzzfeed News)

Before the report was released, BuzzFeed News filed its public records request, as well as the related lawsuit, to compel the Department of Justice to explain any redactions in accordance with FOIA's nine exemptions. Each of those exemptions spell out the type of information the government can withhold and the harm that would result if it was disclosed.

Earlier this month, during a hearing in the case, US District Judge Reggie Walton said Barr had "created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned about whether there will be full transparency."

Walton, who made those comments before the report was publicly released, told the government attorney he may want to review an unredacted copy of the report to better understand the reasons for the redactions.

BuzzFeed News and EPIC will now have the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the redactions and argue before Walton that overwhelming public interest compels the disclosure of additional information in the report. At a hearing last week, Walton said he will still consider whether he should review an unredacted copy of the report but will wait until BuzzFeed News, EPIC, and the government finish arguments over the redactions.

Information wants to be free...

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


'Put Them All in a Gas Chamber,' Said Border Militia Member: Report (Ken Klippenstein, May 6, 2019, TYT)

"Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them," a border militia member in New Mexico is alleged to have said of border migrants that the group had been monitoring.

"We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber," the militia member, Armando Gonzalez, is also alleged to have said. Gonzalez did not respond to multiple requests for comment by TYT.

The disturbing comments appear in an April 24 police report containing allegations by a former member of the militia group. The former member, Steven Brant, contacted the Sunland Park Police Department to notify them of what he called "terroristic threats" he had witnessed by the group. The report was produced by the Sunland Park Police Department and was obtained by TYT through a public records request.

On April 18, the border militia, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), sparked national outrage after reportedly detaining about 200 border migrants, including several children, at gunpoint. After video surfaced appearing to show UCP impersonating Border Patrol -- a federal offense -- the FBI arrested UCP's leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins,.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Surprised advisers downplay Trump's tweet about Mueller testimony (DARREN SAMUELSOHN, DANIEL LIPPMAN and ELIANA JOHNSON, 05/06/2019, Politico)

Legal experts said that a direct order from Trump to stifle Mueller's testimony could trigger a battle over executive privilege as consequential as it is unpredictable.

"We are in uncharted waters here," said Greg Brower, former head of the FBI's congressional affairs office.

Democrats so far have shown no sign of backing down in their push for what would be blockbuster testimony from Mueller, who has not spoken publicly since his May 2017 appointment as special counsel investigating Russian election interference.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has said he'd like to bring Mueller before his panel in mid-May. 

Mr Mueller wrote the report for Mr. Nadler, not for the Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As cow milk loses popularity, big dairy and plant-based milk makers team up (LYDIA MULVANY, DEENA SHANKER and LESLIE PATTON, MAY 06, 2019, Bloomberg)

Dairy farmers are indignant about beverages being called milks when they are actually made of oats or almonds or sunflower seeds. Even worse, these impostors have been draining the market share of what cows produce.

But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Although farmers loudly voice their complaints about alt-dairy products, conventional processors are starting to churn them out alongside traditional milk, aiming to cash in on their fast-growing popularity in the United States. One of the country's oldest dairies, HP Hood, has released a product called Planet Oat. The giant dairy cooperative Organic Valley is the distributor for a line of almond-based drinks made by New Barn Organics, and a dairy processor handles the packing.

"We wouldn't exist without Organic Valley," said Ted Robb, chief executive of New Barn, which makes the almond drinks and other nut-based products, including what it calls a buttery spread. "They have a very hard time calling it milk. That really, really bothers them. But they do understand we're thinking the same way around organic and deeper values." [...]

"From a processor perspective, they don't care what goes into the cartons, they just want the cartons filled," she said.

Milk is milk.

May 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


John Lukacs, iconoclastic historian and Holocaust survivor, dies at 95 (HILLEL ITALIE, 6 May 2019, Times of Israel)

A proud and old-fashioned man with a prominent forehead, cosmopolitan accent, and erudite but personal prose style, Lukacs was a maverick among historians. In a profession where liberals were a clear majority, he was sharply critical of the left and of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. But he was also unhappy with the modern conservative movement, opposing the Iraq war, mocking hydrogen bomb developer Edward Teller as the "Zsa Zsa Gabor of physics" and disliking the "puerile" tradition, apparently started by Ronald Reagan, of presidents returning military salutes from the armed forces.

"John Lukacs is well known not so much for speaking truth to power as speaking truth to audiences he senses have settled into safe and unexamined opinions," John Willson wrote in The American Conservative in 2013. "This has earned him, among friends and critics alike, a somewhat curmudgeonly reputation."

Lukacs completed more than 30 books, on everything from his native country to 20th century American history to the meaning of history itself. His books include "Five Days in London," the memoir "Confessions of an Original Sinner," and "Historical Consciousness," in which he contended that the best way to study any subject, whether science or politics, was through its history.

He considered himself a "reactionary," a mourner for the "civilization and culture of the past 500 years, European and Western." He saw decline in the worship of technological progress, the elevation of science to religion, and the rise of materialism. Drawing openly upon Alexis de Tocqueville's warnings about a "tyranny of the majority," Lukacs was especially wary of populism and was quoted by other historians as Donald Trump rose to the presidency. Lukacs feared that the public was too easily manipulated into committing terrible crimes.

"The kind of populist nationalism that Hitler incarnated has been and continues to be the most deadly of modern plagues," he once wrote.

His peculiar tragedy was that he hated his allies against the Left/Right, Conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Google's Attack on the Claremont Institute Must Not Stand (STANLEY KURTZ, May 6, 2019, National Review)

Claremont is rightly highlighting the contradiction between the constitutional principle of individual rights and the premises of identity politics. It is this contradiction, not gerrymandering or talking heads on cable television, that lies at the root of America's growing polarization.

Whether you agree or disagree with the thrust of Claremont's view, if Google can censor it, then conservatism itself is banned in this country. To prevent conservatives from defending constitutional principles as they understand them is to ban America itself.'s that government must intervene in matters of speech, the press, and assembly to force private companies to accept Nativism!

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Syrian militants rocket Russian airbase in Syria - Russian military (Reuters, 5/06/19) 

The Russian defense ministry said Syrian militants rocketed Russia's Hmeimim airbase near Syria's coastal city of Latakia twice on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


No Joke: White Nationalists Are Now Using Clowns To Spread Hatred (Aiden Pink, 5/06/19, The Forward)

Prominent far-right online platforms, including the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer and the increasingly-popular white nationalist podcast "Goy Talk," have used these memes in their posts. And many anonymous troll accounts have changed their profile pictures to photos of clowns or their pseudonyms to things like "Honkler Honklersen."

For example, in response to an article about the Florida state legislature passing a law strengthening bans on anti-Semitism in public schools, a user with the avatar of an anime cartoon with a rainbow wig and red nose wrote, "Meanwhile they will let them [Jews] continue to lie to make slavery and the treatment of native americans seem worse to incite hatred against whites. honk honk."

While some users depict themselves as clowns who are "in" on the "joke" of the alleged downfall of white society in a multiracial country, others have targeted their supposed enemies by depicting them as clowns. Goy Talk tweeted an image last month of a stereotypical scheming Jew in clown garb; one of the current top posts on R/The_Donald, the popular pro-Trump Reddit page that is the frequent source of racist and anti-Semitic invective, features an image that appears to be the Prophet Muhammad in a clown wig.

While much of this behavior is confined to the internet, some has extended itself to the physical world as well. On April 22, two members of the American Identity Movement - the white nationalist group formerly known as Identity Evropa - dressed as clowns and entered a New Orleans public library to disrupt a children's story time program being led by local drag queens. "Welcome to clown world, honk honk," their sign said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Universal Pattern Explains Why Materials Conduct (Kevin Hartnett, May 6, 2019, Quanta)

In a wire, electrons rebound off each other in such a complicated fashion that there's no way to follow exactly what's happening.

But over the last 50 years, mathematicians and physicists have begun to grasp that this blizzard of movement settles into elegant statistical patterns. Electron movement takes one statistical shape in a conductor and a different statistical shape in an insulator.

That, at least, has been the hunch. Over the last half-century mathematicians have been searching for mathematical models that bear it out. They've been trying to prove that this beautiful statistical picture really does hold absolutely.

And in a paper posted online last summer, a trio of mathematicians have come the closest yet to doing so. In that work, Paul Bourgade of New York University, Horng-Tzer Yau of Harvard University, and Jun Yin of the University of California, Los Angeles, prove the existence of a mathematical signature called "universality" that certifies that a material conducts electricity.

"What they show, which I think is a breakthrough mathematically ... is that first you have conduction, and second [you have] universality," said Tom Spencer, a mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Trump's Other Impeachable Offense: As Nixon learned, Congress will not abide a president who defies its subpoenas. (James Reston Jr., May 5, 2019, NY Times)

On July 30, 1974, nine days before President Richard Nixon resigned, the House Judiciary Committee added a third article to its impeachment charges against the president. The first two had dealt with obstruction of justice and abuse of power; Article III charged that Nixon had failed to comply with eight congressional subpoenas related to the Watergate investigation.

Now, with President Trump and William Barr, his attorney general, refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations, the Democrats in the House should take yet another lesson from Watergate. They are reportedly already preparing impeachment articles on obstruction of justice; they should add failure to comply with Congress to the list.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


How Anti-Humanism Conquered the Left (Chelsea Follett, 5/01/19, Quillette)

Just last year, Ehrlich compared human population growth to the spread of cancer, informing the Guardian, "It is a near certainty in the next few decades, and the risk is increasing continually as long as perpetual growth of the human enterprise remains the goal of economic and political systems ... As I've said many times, 'perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell.'"

Once anti-humanism had infected the environmental movement, it soon spread through the political Left. Robert Zubrin's book Merchants of Despair gives an overview of the Left's reversal of its traditional commitment to advancing the human condition, in favor of a project that viewed humanity as a plague upon the Earth:

Instead of The Grapes of Wrath, they carried copies of The Population Bomb ... Instead of "Stop the War," their buttons read "Stop at two" [children]; instead of "Power to the people," their slogan was "People pollute."

These environmentally-concerned anti-natalists believe that a world without humans, or with significantly fewer of them, would eventually revert to a pollution-free paradise with abundant natural resources. As one human extinction proponent put it just last month in a letter to his local paper, "In approximately 20,000 years after human extinction, this magnificent resistant biosphere will return to its perfection." If humanity fails to reduce its numbers, extinction proponents fear resource shortages and environmental catastrophe. "How could anybody," an official Vhemt member, Gwynn Mackellen, wondered aloud to the Guardian, "produce a new human when the effects of humans are very obvious, I feel, and the situation is getting worse."

These extinction advocates, however, have misunderstood the evidence about population growth's impact on the planet and its resources. The late University of Maryland economist Julian Simon rejected the idea of overpopulation as a problem. He believed that, on the contrary, more people in the world means more people to solve problems, and less resource scarcity. "There is no physical or economic reason," he wrote, "why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose."

In his 1981 book The Ultimate Resource, Simon argued that humans are intelligent beings, capable of innovating their way out of shortages through greater efficiency, increased supply, or development of substitutes. Humans, with their inventive potential, are themselves, in Simon's phrase, "The Ultimate Resource." A growing population produces more ideas. More ideas lead to more innovations and more innovations can improve productivity. That higher productivity then translates into more resources to go around and better standards of living.

In 1980, Simon made a bet with Ehrlich. Ehrlich would choose a "basket" of raw materials that he expected to become more scarce in the coming years. At the end of a specified time period, if the inflation-adjusted price of the basket was higher than at the beginning of the period, that would indicate the materials had indeed become scarcer and Ehrlich would win the wager; if the price was lower, that would mean the resources had instead become more abundant, and Simon would win. The stakes would be the ultimate price difference of the basket at the beginning and end of the time period. Simon ultimately won, and Ehrlich duly sent him a check for the price difference.

New research, inspired by the Ehrlich-Simon wager, has further confirmed that, contrary to the anti-humanists' claims, population growth goes hand-in-hand with more abundant resources. Consider the amount of time it takes an average worker to earn enough to buy a basket of common commodities--the "time-price" of those items. The Simon Abundance Index found that between 1980 and 2017, "the time-price of our basket of 50 basic commodities declined by 0.934 percent for every one percent increase in population. That means that every additional human being born on our planet seems to be making resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us."

It's the rare lunacy where simply to continue your own existence demonstrates hypocrisy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Imperfect Comedy in an Age of Perfection (Tanael Joachim, 5/06/19, Quillette)

For as long as there has been comedy, there have been heated debates over what is and is not a legitimate topic for humor. It's a valid question over which reasonable people can disagree. The only problem is that those with the noisiest opinions are often those who know and understand nothing about comedy. And so they worry about jokes "normalizing" or "validating" various reprehensible behaviors and attitudes, and they ask nervous questions like "How far is too far?" What they don't seem to appreciate is that this kind of thing is generally self-regulating. Usually, if there's no laugh, it's too far. Every joke has a single goal: to elicit involuntary laughter. No comedian in his right mind would continue to perform a joke that never gets a laugh. Comedy is a dialogue, and when an audience disapproves, it stops participating.

My heckler need not have worried, for comedy cannot change human nature. Terrible things do not exist in the world because we joke about them; we joke about terrible things because they exist in the world. What you joke about or find funny does not say anything about who you are. (Bill Cosby, I would remind you, was not known for telling rape jokes.)

In an age of performative virtue, people are rewarded with applause and "likes" for telling us how forward thinking, how righteous, and how progressive they are. Comedy, on the other hand, reminds us that we all have a dark side and that we might want to reconsider before casting stones. Each of us is a complex creature capable of entertaining good and bad thoughts. And art has always been the place best suited to exploring the parts of ourselves we must live with, but seldom show.

One of the keys to comedy is that it rubs the human nature we seek to deny in our faces.

May 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


It's the Bizzaro First Amendment!
Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


On Trump's Trade Policy, A Democratic Echo (Steve Chapman, May 5, 2019, National Memo)

If you want to get an unanimous verdict from any gathering of economists, just ask them about Donald Trump's trade policy. If it were a movie, its Rotten Tomatoes score would be zero. One expert analysis after another has torched it.

A report from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago found his tariffs on washing machines cost consumers $1.5 billion, or more than $815,000 per U.S. job saved. A study for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that Trump's trade war has reduced Americans' real incomes by $1.4 billion per month.

The Tax Foundation says the new tariffs amount to a tax increase of $42 billion on Americans. A team of economists from the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Stanford estimate that tariffs and trade squabbles cut investment in U.S. manufacturing by 4.2 percent last year.

NBER notes that Trump's tariff hikes "are unprecedented in the post-World War II era in terms of breadth, magnitude and the sizes of the countries involved." They haven't worked in the most basic sense. The overall trade deficit in goods, which he promised to eliminate, hit a record high last year, and the imbalance with China.

To the surprise of no economist, his policy of blocking trade, and threatening to do so, turns out to be bad for consumers, producers and the economy. So how are Democrats running for president handling the issue? By offering their own version of protectionism.

On Monday, Bernie Sanders attacked Joe Biden by saying, "I helped lead the fight against NAFTA; he voted for NAFTA." Like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mammoth free trade deal among the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations. Both also oppose the administration's modest revision of NAFTA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The positions of Sanders and Warren, write Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Euijin Jung of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, "do not differ greatly from President Trump." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Scoop: Inside a top Trump adviser's fundraising mirage (Alayna Treene, Jonathan Swan, Harry Stevens, 5/05/19, Axios)

A political organization run by David Bossie, President Trump's former deputy campaign manager, has raised millions of dollars by saying it's supporting Trump-aligned conservative candidates -- but has spent only a tiny fraction of that money supporting candidates. [...]

[B]ased on the 527 organization's IRS data, just $425,442 (or 3%) of the $15.4 million it spent during 2017 and 2018 went to direct political activity, which CLC defines as "direct donations to candidates or political committees, and a small number of state-level candidate ads."

Trumpbots exist to be used.
Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


U.S. stock futures tumble after Trump threatens China with steeper tariffs (Reuters, 5/05/19) 

Wall Street stock index futures fell on Sunday after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would hike U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods this week and soon target hundreds of billions more.

Only Donald can slow the Obama Boom.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM

(profanity alert) HE WAS RIGHT ABOUT BEING F'ED :

Trump says Special Counsel Mueller should not testify on Russia probe (Reuters, 5/05/19) 

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday said Special Counsel Robert Mueller should not testify in Congress about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Not that the Battle of Winterfell wasn't great tv, but obviously Bran should have peeled his face off to reveal that it was really Arya and then she kills the Night King. That's the biggest whiff since the final episode of Cheers failed to have Michelle Pfeiffer play Vera and come to the bar to fetch Norm home.
Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Study finds sense of touch develops before birth (PAUL RATNER, 05 May, 2019, Big Think)

Figuring out exactly how we get the sense of touch has not been conclusively understood so far, despite previous studies. A new study suggests that it develops in the brain before birth.

The research was carried out on mice by a team from the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante of the ISIC in Spain. They focused on understanding embryonic brain development and found that a "map" controlling the senses is there before the baby is born.

Prior studies indicated that once a sense of touch develops a kind of map becomes a part of the cerebral cortex. The theory was that data points from sensory input are added to this map during the newborn's development.

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Muslim American Society investigating 'oversight' following controversial video at Philly Islamic center; event organizer 'dismissed' (Kristin E. Holmes, May 5, 2019,
A national Muslim group says it will conduct an investigation into an event at a Philadelphia Islamic center last month during which a group of youngsters sang songs it said were not "properly vetted," calling that "an unintended mistake and an oversight."

Youngsters at the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in North Philadelphia are shown in video footage speaking in Arabic during a celebration of "Ummah Day," said the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East monitoring organization. One girl says "we will chop off their heads" to "liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque" in Jerusalem, according to the MEMRI. [...]

"While we celebrate the coming together of different cultures and languages, not all songs were properly vetted," the Muslim American Society, based in Washington, said in a statement issued Friday. "This was an unintended mistake and an oversight in which the center and the students are remorseful. MAS will conduct an internal investigation to ensure this does not occur again." [...]

"As a faith-based organization dedicated to moving people to strive for God-consciousness and a just and virtuous society, we affirm our long-standing position on our shared values of humanity. We stand resolutely in our condemnation of hate, bigotry, Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and all the illnesses of hate that plague our society," MAS said in its statement.

In a subsequent statement late Saturday night, MAS said it has been informed that "the person in charge" of the April 17 event has been "dismissed" and that the organization in charge of it "will form a local commission to aid in sensitivity training and proper oversight for future programs." 

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


A Chaplain. A Rabbi. A Professor. An Editor. A Soldier. These Are the Faces of Jewish America: We sat down with five very different figures, all Jewish, all American, to discuss the tectonic shifts taking place within U.S. Jewry (Yair Ettinger, 5/05/19, Ha'aretz)

Groundbreaking U.S. Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, who heads the Central Synagogue in midtown Manhattan, explains why she changed her position on Jewish intermarriage, and what it's like to be the face of Judaism for many Americans, while still not being kosher enough for Israel. 

"When I go to Israel, in some way I feel deeply at home. I also I am a unicorn or a freak. Being a female rabbi is still a little strange for most Israelis, and being Asian and Jewish - I represent a Judaism that basically does not exist in Israel. There is still peoplehood, but I bring a whole other cultural identity as a Korean woman. There are many Israelis for whom their identity is nationality and ethnicity." 

"There are two unlikely keys to [Jewish] survival, which are both relevant and irrelevant to the present century. The first key is assimilation, in the absence of which Jewish culture would have stagnated long ago. The second component - which is crucial and plays a dialectic role together with the first factor - is anti-Semitism. I'm of course talking about anti-Semitism in nonlethal doses. Without assimilation, there would be no absorption of the cultural norms and habits of the host society; but without anti-Semitism there would be no limits to this process of integration nor affirmation of Jewish difference." [...]

Prof. David Myers, a historian, finds it hard to define himself as a Zionist, and at the same time he calls himself a "tribal Jew" who thinks it will be "a serious blow" if his daughters get married outside of the tribe. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Live Ultrasounds Will Be Shown in Times Square to Reveal How Unborn Babies are Human Beings (MICAIAH BILGER, MAY 3, 2019, Life News)

A huge, pro-life display that demonstrates the value of unborn babies will be featured in one of America's most iconic places this weekend: Times Square in New York City.

Sponsored by Focus on the Family, "Alive From New York" will show a live, 4D ultrasound of an unborn baby in the center of Times Square for thousands to see.

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Right-Wing Israeli Author Writes "The Virtue of Nationalism" -- and Accidentally Exposes Its Pitfalls (Murtaza Hussain, May. 5th, 2019, The Intercept)

Nationalism has a reputation for starting wars, a painful historical legacy that caused the idea to fall out of favor. But "The Virtue of Nationalism" makes the case for embracing it again as a positive force. Hazony argues that nationalism is the only defense against "imperialism" -- defined today, by Hazony and some other nationalists, as the tyranny of universal values and liberal international organizations like the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the International Criminal Court. The book is a rallying cry against a world of universal rights and laws. It calls instead for each individual nation to govern itself as it sees fit. Such an arrangement will bring greater peace to the world, Hazony suggests, as each country focuses on tending its own garden instead of going on ideological adventures abroad.

There's an important subtext running through the book: Hazony's anger over international criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. Despite the incredible international support extended to Israel over the years, Hazony feels that recent criticisms of its abuses amount to "a shaming campaign of a kind that few nations have historically experienced." For this insult, he's ready to cast all the liberal institutions of the world -- the ones that have been sustaining and defending Israel for decades -- as its mortal enemies. He appears positively gleeful about the potential destruction of liberal internationalism at the hands of the new nationalist vanguard. [...]

The case for the new nationalism is justified by an old ideology: the anti-imperialism of the right. This version of anti-imperialism is distinct from its left-wing variant. Right-wing anti-imperialism holds that outsiders have no legitimate interest in what countries do within their own borders. Unlike liberals and leftists, they recoil from the idea of global standards for human rights and governance. In their worldview, the major imperialists of today are the international institutions that seek to impose such standards -- notably the EU and the U.N.

These institutions, Hazony argues, are "a version of the old imperialism" which bludgeons the sovereignty of nations. Their tools are global governance and the ideology they seek to impose is liberalism. In the words of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, they are the "globalists," a term that Hazony also uses. The heroes fighting this global empire, meanwhile, are anti-EU political movements, Trump supporters, and illiberal governments like Brazil and Hungary.

"The Virtue of Nationalism" is in large part a work of nostalgia -- calling back to and justifying historic notions of nationalism. As for the baggage that entails, Hazony gets around it by claiming that the two world wars it helped foment happened because the countries involved weren't really nations. Germany under the Nazis was actually an "empire" because it sought to interfere in the affairs of others, as the EU does. Even World War I happened not because of a scramble to steal the wealth of overseas colonies, the traditional historical explanation, but because Europeans had been seduced by the idea of making their way of life universal.

Nationalism is simply the argument that Anglospheric values ought not be applied universally (which is shared with The Left), but particularly within the Anglosphere where these ideals forbid racism and other bigotries as organizing principles for the electorate (which is distinctly the Right's project). Globalism is, after all, nothing more than Anglofication of the globe.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Robots and Lasers Are Bringing Shipbuilding into the Digital Age (MARCUS WEISGERBER, 5/05/19, Defense One)

When the USS George Washington took shape here in the late 1980s, endless paper blueprints guided the welders and shipfitters of Newport News Shipbuilding. Now, with the aircraft carrier back in a drydock for its midlife overhaul, shipyard workers are laser-scanning its spaces and bulkheads.

They're compiling a digital model of the 104,000-ton carrier, which will allow subsequent Nimitz-class projects to be designed and planned on computers. That will help bring the shipyard's carrier-overhaul work in line with its digital design-and-manufacturing processes that are already speeding up construction and maintenance on newer vessels.

Newport News executives say these digital shipbuilding concepts are revolutionizing the way ships are designed and built.

"We want to leverage technology, learn by doing and really drive it to the deckplates," Chris Miner, vice president of in-service carriers, said during a tour of the shipyard. This is the future. This isn't about if. This is where we need to go." [...]

Parts for the future USS Enterprise (CVN 80) -- the third Ford-class carrier -- are being built digitally. Data from the ship's computerized blueprints are being fed into machines that fabricate parts.

"We're seeing over 20 percent improvement in performance," Miner said.

When the Navy announced it would buy two aircraft carriers at the same time, something not done since the 1980s, James Geurts, the head Navy acquisition, said digital design would contribute to "about an 82 percent learning from CVN79 through to CVN 81" -- the second through fourth Ford ships. Geurts called the savings "a pretty remarkable accomplishment for the team."

In the future, even more of that data will be pumped directly into the manufacturing robots that cut and weld more and more of a ship's steel parts.

"That's the future," Miner said. "No drawings. They get a tablet. They can visualize it. They can manipulate it, see what it looks like before they even build it."

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Seafood Without The Sea: Will Lab-Grown Fish Hook Consumers? (CLARE LESCHIN-HOAR, 5/05/19, NPR)

[Lou Cooperhouse's] company, BlueNalu (a play on a Hawaiian term that means both ocean waves and mindfulness), is racing to bring to market what's known as cell-based seafood --- that is, seafood grown from cells in a lab, not harvested from the oceans.

BlueNalu is aiming for serious scalability -- a future where cities around the globe will be home to 150,000-square-foot facilities, each able to produce enough cell-based seafood to meet the consumption demands of more than 10 million nearby residents.

But unlike Impossible Foods, BlueNalu is not creating a plant-based seafood alternative like vegan Toona or shrimpless shrimp. Instead, Cooperhouse and his team are extracting a needle biopsy's worth of muscle cells from a single fish, such as a Patagonian toothfish, orange roughy and mahi-mahi.

Those cells are then carefully cultivated and fed a proprietary custom blend of liquid vitamins, amino acids and sugars. Eventually, the cells will grow into broad sheets of whole muscle tissue that can be cut into filets and sold fresh, frozen or packaged into other types of seafood entrees.

But unlike today's wild-caught or farmed fish options, BlueNalu's version of seafood will have no head, no tail, no bones, no blood. It's finfish, just without the swimming and breathing part. It's seafood without the sea.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


What Biden and Trump Have In Common: Before reinventing himself as an Obama ally, the former VP built his career as an icon of white working-class grievance. (Joshua Alvarez May 5, 2019, Washington Monthly)

Joe Biden is one of those Democrats who makes you wonder if there really is a liberal party in America, or if one is even possible. The substance of Biden's politics--the legislation he's authored or voted on, the actions he's taken when political convictions mattered--has, as the New York Times' Jamelle Bouie notes, a consistent pattern: "For decades Biden gave liberal cover to white backlash [against the Civil Rights movement]. He wasn't an incidental opponent of busing; he was a leader who helped derail integration. He didn't just vote for punitive legislation on crime and drugs; he wrote it."

Biden built his career as the political avatar of the white "Middle America" everyman--protective of his blue-collar job, suspicious of cities, and even more suspicious of societal change. Biden's candidacy and potential election to the presidency, Bouie writes, might "affirm the assumptions" of Trump's politics, in particular that white resentment and racial chauvinism make up the "center of American politics." Biden will likely present himself "as the real embodiment of working-class white identity." By taking up that role, however, he would not be repudiating Trump's politics--he'd be affirming it.

Obviously, Biden did not invent his constituency, nor did he invent the racialized politics that earned him consistent reelection. Stoking--or at least attending to--parochial whites' fears and resentments is the dirty energy fueling American politics. Lyndon Johnson understood what's "at the bottom of it" and told Bill Moyers in a Tennessee hotel barroom in 1960: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

Johnson's knowledge of how white anxiety works, and of how easily it can be exploited, haunted him four years later. The night he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, he told Moyers, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Theresa May wanted Biden to reassure her US-UK 'special relationship' holds (SBS, 5/05/19)

Former US vice president Joe Biden, who is a candidate for president in 2020, says British Prime Minister Theresa May has asked him for reassurance about the "special relationship" between the UK and the US.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


White gang members forcibly tattoo a racial slur on a member and spell it wrong, cops say (DAVID J. NEAL, MAY 02, 2019, Miami Herald)

White members of a gang forcibly covered a fellow gang member's gang tattoo with a phrase including a racial slur, according to Marion County Sheriff's Office.

The evidence on Michael Hart's neck said, "F--- you, Niger."

What are you smocking? A brief guide to Trump's many misspellings. (Jeva Lange, December 10, 2018, The Week)

The most powerful man in the world is flummoxed by basic grammar.

Practically every week, there's a minor hullabaloo over President Trump's shaky grasp of the English language, from his head-scratching grammatical tics to his painfully obvious misspellings. The errors have become so much of a trademark that his staffers reportedly make them on purpose to imitate his style.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Inside Sanders' trip to the USSR: 1988 honeymoon laid the groundwork for presidential bid (MICHAEL KRANISH, May 04, 2019, The Washington Post)

Bernie Sanders was bare-chested, towel-draped, sitting at a table lined with vodka bottles, as he sang This Land Is Your Land to his hosts in the Soviet Union in the spring of 1988.

The just-married socialist mayor from Vermont was on what he called "a very strange honeymoon," an official 10-day visit to the communist country, and he was enthralled with the hospitality and the lessons that could be brought home.

"Let's take the strengths of both systems," he said upon completing the trip. "Let's learn from each other." [...]

An examination by The Washington Post of the trip -- based on interviews with five people who accompanied Sanders, as well as audio and video of it -- provides a fresh look at this formative time for Sanders, foreshadowing much of what animates his presidential bid.

As he campaigns for president a second time, Sanders, an independent who is running in the Democratic primaries, takes credit for moving the party to the left, and he now finds himself competing with candidates who advocate for the kind of activist government positions Sanders touted during his Soviet trip, such as government-sponsored health care for all.

As he stood on Soviet soil, Sanders, then 46 years old, criticized the cost of housing and health care in the United States, while lauding the lower prices -- but not the quality -- of that available in the Soviet Union. Then, at a banquet attended by about 100 people, Sanders blasted the way the United States had intervened in other countries, stunning one of those who had accompanied him.

"I got really upset and walked out," said David F. Kelley, who had helped arrange the trip and was the only Republican in Sanders' entourage. "When you are a critic of your country, you can say anything you want on home soil. At that point, the Cold War wasn't over, the arms race wasn't over, and I just wasn't comfortable with it."

Sanders declined to be interviewed for this article. Jeff Weaver, his senior adviser, said the trip fits into Sanders' effort to form partnerships between people who may seem at odds with each other.

"Just like his politics in the U.S. are animated by bringing ordinary people together," Weaver said, the trip to the Soviet Union "was an example of that, if you can get people from everyday walks of life together, you can break through some of the animosity that exists on a governmental level."

Sanders often has stressed the difference between his views as a democratic socialist and communist dogma, noting that he supports democratic elections and business enterprises that were inimical to the Soviet system. Sanders, who in 1988 had been mayor of Burlington for seven years, took the trip at a time when he was trying to put himself on the national stage. He wrote that Burlington, a city of about 40,000, had a foreign policy because "I saw no magic line separating local, state, national and international issues. ... How could issues of war and peace not be a local issue?"

He already was known as a firebrand on foreign affairs, finding much to like in socialist and communist countries.

Sanders had visited Nicaragua in 1985 and hailed the revolution led by Daniel Ortega, which President Ronald Reagan opposed. "I was impressed," Sanders said then of Ortega, while allowing that "I will be attacked by every editorial writer for being a dumb dope." At the same time, Sanders voiced admiration for the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, whom Reagan and many others in both parties routinely denounced.

Sanders, in turn, said Americans dismissed socialist and communist regimes because they didn't understand the poverty faced by many in Third World countries. "The American people, many of us, are intellectually lazy," Sanders said in a 1985 interview with a Burlington television station.

Russia Says Trump Initiated Friday's 1.5-Hour Call With Putin (Justin Sink, May 4, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump initiated a lengthy call with his Russian counterpart on Friday, in which Vladimir Putin urged sanctions relief for North Korea and warned against interference in Venezuela, the Russian embassy in Washington said.

The leaders' call lasted for 1.5 hours, according to a post on the embassy's Facebook page, and the pair discussed a "shared commitment to step up dialogue in various areas, including on issues of strategic stability." White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday the leaders spoke for more than an hour.

Trump tweeted about the chat for a second time on Saturday, saying there was "tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia." [...]

On Friday, Trump told reporters at the White House that Putin had assured him Moscow isn't seeking to "get involved" in the crisis in Venezuela, despite assertions by the U.S. president's top national security advisers that the Kremlin is offering critical support to Nicolas Maduro's regime.

"He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela," Trump said of Putin. "And I feel the same way." [...]

Trump said Saturday on Twitter he was confident Kim "does not want to break his promise to me."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Kamala Harris Sticks the Landing: Being a former prosecutor can come in handy when questioning the attorney general. (RUSSELL BERMAN, MAY 1, 2019, The Atlantic)

Harris, by contrast, dispensed with any speechifying. She has said that, as the Democratic nominee, she would "prosecute the case" against the president. And on Wednesday, she set about to prove it. As has been her standard practice with Trump nominees and administration officials, she launched right into her questions as if she were cross-examining a witness. As the most junior Democrat on the committee, she was the last of 10 to question Barr. But she covered terrain that no one else had, and an attorney general whose slipperiness and legalistic hairsplitting had frustrated Democrats for several hours finally appeared to be caught off guard.

"Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?" Harris began. "Yes or no?"

Barr briefly stammered.

"Could you repeat the question?" he asked.

Ultimately, the attorney general said no one had directly asked him to open an investigation, but he allowed that the topic had come up. "I'm trying to grapple with the word suggest," he told Harris. "I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation, but ..."

The question was relevant, given Trump's habit of using his Twitter account to demand that Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, launch inquiries of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats who have criticized him. Her point apparently made, Harris moved on to the Mueller report. She asked the attorney general whether he had reviewed the underlying evidence Mueller's team had compiled before he reached his conclusion that the president would not be charged with a crime.

Barr said that he had not, and neither had Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had previously overseen the Mueller probe, after Sessions recused himself. "We accepted the statements in the report as factual record," he said. "We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate."

Harris seemed to anticipate Barr's answer, and pounced. "As the attorney general of the United States, you run the United States Department of Justice," she began. "If, in any U.S. attorney's office around the country, the head of that office, when being asked to make a critical decision about--in this case--the person who holds the highest office in the land, and whether or not that person committed a crime, would you accept them recommending a charging decision to you, if they had not reviewed the evidence?"

Barr tried to pass the decision off to Mueller, but Harris stopped him. "You made the decision not to charge him," she declared.

Harris then questioned whether Rosenstein's involvement in the decision was ethical, given that the report documented how he was also a witness in the firing of FBI Director James Comey--an incident Mueller investigated for possible obstruction of justice. She asked Barr whether Rosenstein had been cleared by career officials in the department's ethics office of potential conflicts of interest. Barr again seemed flustered, at one point turning around to aides to consult on his answer. Rosenstein was cleared of a conflict before Barr's arrival in February, the attorney general eventually replied.

Soon Harris's time was up. She left the hearing soon after and called on Barr to resign.

May 4, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Russia's Lavrov To Meet Venezuelan Counterpart Over Unrest (rADIO lIBERTY, May 04, 2019)

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with his counterpart from Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, in Moscow on May 5 to discuss possible steps to help solve the power struggle that is crippling the South American nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Here Are the Alt-Right Figures Trump Thinks Are the Innocent Victims of Censorship (MOLLY OLMSTEAD, MAY 04, 2019, Slate)

In particular, Trump focused on Joseph Paul Watson, an InfoWars personality known also for his conspiracy-mongering. Trump mentioned Watson in his own tweet Friday, and he retweeted a video Watson made criticizing Facebook the next morning.

Watson's conspiracies are not harmless. While it can sometimes be hard to see the ways in which "chemtrails" and 9/11 conspiracies--conspiracy theories he supports that have been popular for many years--are harmful, his efforts to push the conspiracy theory about murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich directly brought anguish to Rich's mourning family.

Besides his conspiracy-mongering, Watson is also known for his racism and sexism. He once joked that the Women's March should be renamed "handful of self-entitled, fat, ugly feminists trying to get arrested in desperate attempt to impress any man." He once said "science" proves African and Middle Eastern people have problems with "aggression" because of "low IQ." He has asserted that "there's no such thing as moderate Islam. Islam is a violent, intolerant religion which, in its current form, has no place in liberal western democracies." But the greatest harm likely has to do with his insistence on constantly amplifying absurd right-wing fake news stories without any apparent concern for the truth.

Trump also retweeted Lauren Southern, a far-right Canadian activist who has faked transitioning genders as a pretext to interview transgender activists. She claimed Black Lives Matter caused more deaths than the KKK. She showed up at an anti-rape protest with a sign that read, "There is no rape culture in the West."

Even actor James Woods, who has used slurs to describe Muslims, had his Twitter account briefly suspended because of a tweet that violated the site's rules, according to CNN Business.

The president has amplified the voices of racists, misogynists, and white supremacists on his Twitter feed before. But in a dust-up between tech companies and extremists over those extremists' right to say offensive and bigoted things on those platforms, he sided explicitly with the extremists in a shared sense of victimhood.

His presidency is nothing more than a platform for hate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Pelosi Warns Democrats: Stay in the Center or Trump May Contest Election Results (Glenn Thrush, May 4, 2019, NY Times)

"Own the center left, own the mainstream," Ms. Pelosi, 79, said.

"Our passions were for health care, bigger paychecks, cleaner government -- a simple message," Ms. Pelosi said of the 40-seat Democratic pickup last year that resulted in her second ascent to the speakership. "We did not engage in some of the other exuberances that exist in our party" -- a reference to some of the most ambitious plans advocated by the left wing of her party and some 2020 candidates, including "Medicare for all" and the Green New Deal, which she has declined to support.

Nearly five months into her second speakership, Ms. Pelosi appears to be embracing her role as the only Democrat with the power to oppose Mr. Trump. While she seems comfortable in waging battle with him, her unease about the president's behavior has only intensified since the Democrats' triumphal election.

Few people outside Ms. Pelosi's inner circle were aware of how worried she was that Mr. Trump would try to stop the opposition party from taking control of the House unless the Democrats' victory was emphatic enough to be indisputable.

"If we win by four seats, by a thousand votes each, he's not going to respect the election," said Ms. Pelosi, recalling her thinking in the run-up to the 2018 elections.

"He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can't seat these people," she added. "We had to win. Imagine if we hadn't won -- oh, don't even imagine. So, as we go forward, we have to have the same approach."

In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump's repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative not to play into the president's hands, especially on impeachment.

He refuses to accept even the 2016 results that seated him.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Trump's Surreal Phone Call With Vladimir Putin (David A. Graham, 5/03/19,  The Atlantic)

On June 13, 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 officers of the GRU, the Russian intelligence agency, with committing "large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election." Three days later, President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Speaking at a press conference beside Putin, Trump absolved Russia of any hacking.

"He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump said. "So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer."

The remarks forced Trump's approval rating, politicians' pretenses, and jaws to drop. Republicans who'd been reluctant to criticize the president were horrified to see him taking the Kremlin's word over that of his own aides and the U.S. intelligence community.

Trump repeated the sin in an hour-long phone call with Putin on Friday. 

It's not as if he's a patriot.

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Trump urges caution as Bolton and Pompeo tease a military intervention in Venezuela (Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak,May 3, 2019, CNN)

After US expectations were dashed this week for a transition of power in Venezuela, President Donald Trump is urging caution among senior advisers moving forward and expressing frustration that some aides are more openly teasing military intervention, according to officials familiar with the matter.

After a phone call with President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Trump also downplayed Russia's involvement in Venezuela, contradicting claims from top Trump administration officials that Moscow continues to prop up the regime there.

You have to feel sorry for the Trumpbots, who hate "Socialism" but have to defend their leader being governed by Russia. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Trump's Misguided U-Turn on the Jones Act: A waiver for natural-gas shipments would have helped to end a protectionist law long past its prime. (Editorial Board, May 2, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Trump has reportedly just rejected a waiver of the Jones Act -- the law that requires the use of vessels built in the U.S. and owned and crewed by Americans to move cargo between U.S. ports -- for shipments of liquefied natural gas. That's bad news, and not just for U.S. producers of LNG.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


US sanctions on Venezuela responsible for 'tens of thousands' of deaths, claims new report (Andrew Buncombe,  26 April 2019, The Independent US)

As many as 40,000 people may have died in Venezuela as a result of US sanctions that made it harder for ordinary citizens to access food, medicine and medical equipment, a new report has claimed.

The report, published by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) a progressive, Washington DC-based think tank, says those deaths took place following the imposition of sanctions in the summer of 2017. It said the situation had probably worsened since the imposition earlier this year, of tougher sanctions targetting Venezuela's vital oil industry, as part of the Trump administration's effort to oust president Nicolas Maduro.

"The sanctions are depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food, and other essential imports," says the report, co-authored by Jeffrey Sachs, an award-winning economist based at Columbia University, and Mark Weisbrot. "This is illegal under US and international law, and treaties that the US has signed. Congress should move to stop it." long as we're honest about it.  We like to pretend that sanctions regimes just cause pressure. And we're always surprised that sanctioned nations react.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


What Thatcher got right (Oliver Wiseman, 5/04/19, CapX)

For all that Thatcherism is rightly recognised as an ideological revolution in British public life, it is important to remember its pragmatic roots. In her foreword to the 1979 Conservative manifesto, she wrote:

"This election may be the last chance we have to... restore the balance of power in favour of the people. It is therefore the most crucial election since the war... It contains no magic formula or lavish promises. It is not a recipe for an easy or a perfect life. But it sets out a broad framework for the recovery of our country, based not on dogma but on reason, on common sense, above all on the liberty of the people under the law."

What lessons does this message hold for Conservatives today?

First it is a reminder that electoral success lies in the application of Conservative policies and ideas to the problems of the day, not in fighting yesterday's battles. Securing popular capitalism in 1979 meant tackling inflation and facing down overmighty union leaders. Today I think it means solving the housing crisis and unlocking the productivity growth that will deliver higher wages and greater prosperity.

It was obviously crucial that she was able to tag team with Volcker/Reagan in crushing inflation/wage growth.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Why the anti-Israel narrative is winning, and why that matters (Fred Maroun, MAY 1, 2019, Times of israel)

The pro-Palestinian narrative is extremely powerful at the emotional level because it uses three simple facts that have a strong emotional resonance:

The large number of Palestinian refugees who are stateless and vulnerable, and who live in camps with only limited rights.

The military presence of Israel in Judea and Samaria resulting in lack of self-determination for the Palestinians and their dependency on Israel.

The conflict with Gaza that results in high unemployment, poverty, and frequent casualties among Gazans.

Declare Palestine a nation and end the war.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The resurrection of 'new atheism': As white supremacy reigns supreme in the US, a new book seeks to bring back to the fore one of its ideological branches. (Hamid Dabashi , 5/04/19, Al Jazeera)

In March this year, a new volume called, The Four Horsemen, hit the book market in the United States. The book boasts an introduction by British comedian Stephen Fry, three essays and the transcript of the 2007 recorded discussion among four proponents of the so-called "new atheism" - Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. 

Prior to this encounter, all four had authored books arguing that religion and "holy war" pose the greatest threat to human civilisation and therefore, religiosity should not be tolerated in "Western societies".

Their works - Dawkins's, The God Delusion, Harris's, The End of Faith, Dennett's, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Hitchens's, God Is Not Great - were all essentially written as a blind reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and all zoomed in on Islam and the Muslim world, demonstrating a remarkable ignorance of both. 

Needless to say, neither of the four was able to offer any serious historical understanding of this terror act, why it happened, what it meant, or how to prevent similar acts of wanton violence in the future. Nor did they make any intellectually challenging or noteworthy contribution to the millennia-old debate on belief and disbelief in God. 

That publishers have chosen to resurrect, today, this 12-year-old Islamophobic backslapping session advertised as a "landmark discussion about modern atheism" is indeed quite telling. With white supremacy currently flourishing in the US and elsewhere, a book on "new atheism" - a pseudo-intellectual movement that has heavily contributed to its rise - would surely sell. [...]

[I]t is quite clear from the writings of the "four horsemen" that "new atheism" has little to do with atheism or any serious intellectual examination of the belief in God and everything to do with hatred and power.  

Indeed, "new atheism" is the ideological foregrounding of liberal imperialism whose fanatical secularism extends the racist logic of white supremacy. It purports to be areligious, but it is not. It is, in fact, the twin brother of the rabid Christian conservatism which currently feeds the Trump administration's destructive policies at home and abroad - minus all the biblical references. 

While the right-wing conservatives favour the "Judeo-Christian" canard (the idea that the "Judeo-Christian civilisation" is superior to all others), the liberals opt for "new atheism" (or the idea that "secular" Western societies are superior to all others). Both, however, are in perfect agreement about their perceived white supremacy, which supposedly gives them the right to wreak havoc across the world as they please. That is - they are the two faces of that same cheap imperialist coin.

And just as religious white supremacy encourages individual and state-sponsored violence against those perceived as "inferior", so does its "new atheist" version. Historically, the "liberal atheists" have always eagerly joined their "Christian conservative" brethren in the battle call in advance of any US aggression anywhere in the world. 

However, this is, not to say that such deadly fanaticism occurs only in the US (and by extension Europe). Militant Islamism and extremist Zionism have the same exact roots. If Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden are the symbols of Muslim fanaticism, Meir Kahane, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ayelet Shaked, and Naftali Bennett are the prime examples of the Zionist equivalent, while the "four horsemen", along with Steve Bannon, Mike Pompeo et al are the flag bearers of secular-Christian imperialism in full power.  

In the raging battle between these hateful, toxic ideologies, they thrive and feed off of each other. Caught in the crossfire of this clash of ignorance and barbarity, are billions of human beings - Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists - who pay the price with their lives. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Five well-known 2020 Democrats descend on Texas, signaling the state's growing influence in the primaries (PATRICK SVITEK, MAY 3, 2019, Texas Tribune)

The dueling events helped kick off a weekend in which Texas was set to be close to the center of the national political universe, with five declared and potential presidential candidates swinging through in a sign of the state's growing influence in the nominating process. In addition to O'Rourke and Buttigieg, the state received a visit Friday from Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial nominee who has kept the door open to a White House bid. And later in the weekend, two other declared candidates were scheduled to make stops: O'Rourke's fellow Texan, Julián Castro, as well as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

For some of the Democrats, the weekend was first and foremost an opportunity to raise money in Texas, long an ATM for presidential contenders. But the addition of some less private events signaled that they are at least seeing the benefit of starting to build goodwill -- or in the Texans' case, shore up goodwill -- with the party faithful here 10 months before the state's primary.

O'Rourke's Fort Worth rally was particularly wrought with political significance. It was his first visit as a presidential candidate to Tarrant County, the state's biggest reliably red county, which he flipped last year in his closer-than-expected loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Before launching into his 2020 stump speech, O'Rourke addressed a more urgent matter: the mayoral election Saturday in Fort Worth. Deborah Peoples, the chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, is challenging incumbent Betsy Price, one of the few remaining GOP big-city mayors. She is vying for an unprecedented fifth term. [...]

The presidential contest was not the only 2020 election that factored into Friday's events. Abrams helped rally Annie's List supporters to flip the Texas House -- where Democrats are nine seats away from the majority -- as the group made a push to raise $50,000 for the cause at the luncheon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Report: PM mulling law to allow more than one minister per portfolio (Times of Israel, 5/04/19)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, working to satisfy the many demands of the six parties that are set to form his coalition, may ask MKs to approve legislation allowing more than one minister per government portfolio, a TV report said Friday.

Sadly, the Deep State in Israel has values that are the opposite of ours, particularist instead of universalist.
Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Ex-mob prosecutor says Trump's talk with Putin was a 'get your stories straight call' like she used to hear on wiretaps (Bob Brigham, 03 MAY 2019, Raw Story)

The former chief of the organized crime and racketeering unit at the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York explained on MSNBC Friday how President Donald Trump's call with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin reminded her of what she used to hear listening to mob wiretaps.

MSNBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah was interviewed on "Deadline: White House" with Nicolle Wallace.

"Official after official, when brought up to Capitol Hill, has bemoaned the fact there's no top-down order to tell Russia to stay out of our democracy," Wallace noted.

"There's no order," Rocah agreed. "He's doing the opposite."

"This phone call between Trump and Putin today reminded me of what we would call -- when we were on wires of criminals and listening to their conversations and they didn't know it -- the 'get your story straight call,'" Rocah replied. "They would do something, they didn't know we were listening to them after whatever crime they just committed, they robbed a bank or whatever, then they're on the phone, sort of talking, kind of sort of in code, but it's a yeah, 'when we went to the store earlier and I bought the milk,' you know, they're making their cover story, congratulating each other, patting each other on the back, saying 'it's all good, we made it, we didn't get caught.' That's what this reminded me of."

"If you look at the obstruction that Trump, I think, clearly committed, it was obstruction of the investigation into Russia, not just Trump, but into Russia's actions," Rocah suggested. "And that's what this phone call was about."

...Donald also had to let Vlad know he doesn't care about VZ, it's just politics.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Trump's bipartisan infrastructure plan already imperiled as Mulvaney, GOP lawmakers object to cost (Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis May 3m, 2019, Washington Post)

A $2 trillion infrastructure deal outlined this week by President Trump and top Democrats is already losing momentum, as the president's own chief of staff is telling people inside and outside the administration that the effort is too expensive and unlikely to succeed.

it's like Bob Alexander never even bothered to hire Dave.

May 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


Here's Why ISIS And Al-Qaida Will Lose Their War Of Attrition (AKI PERITZ, 5/03/19, NPR)

In an exceedingly rare video that came to light this week, its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, shows his face and renews his call for jihad against the terrorist group's adversaries by calling for, among other efforts, a "battle of attrition."

This is a classic insurgent strategy of bleeding a better-resourced adversary using a blend of regular and irregular forces to harass and degrade. Over time, the theory goes, the enemy becomes exhausted, frustrated, and loses the will to fight. It's "winning by not losing" or "the war of the flea." George Washington employed this strategy to varying degrees; Mao Zedong and others codified it; Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap deployed it against U.S. forces in Vietnam. Today, the Taliban use it against allied forces in Afghanistan.

But the Islamic State's and al-Qaida's strategy is likely doomed to fail. Why? Because the U.S. has shown itself willing to expend essentially infinite resources on warring with these terrorist groups. The Stimson Center in 2018 indicated the U.S. spent 16 percent of its discretionary budget on broadly defined counter-terrorism efforts and war-fighting -- some $2.8 trillion between fiscal years 2002 and 2017. America sees this as an existential fight -- a battle to the death -- which strengthens its resolve to wage this battle for the foreseeable future.

It's not a war of attrition when your side is the only one suffering losses.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


The Case for Free Trade: It is both economic and moral (SCOTT LINCICOME, May 2, 2019, National Review)

Trade and globalization have provided undeniable economic benefits for the vast majority of American families, businesses, and workers. Most obvious are the consumer gains. Several recent studies have found that freer trade with China, for example, has generated, through increased competition and lower prices, hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. consumer benefits -- benefits that, according to economists Xavier Jaravel and Erick Sager, are the equivalent of giving every American "$260 of extra spending per year for the rest of their lives." Consumer gains from imports, in general tilted toward the poor and the middle class, are especially tilted toward them when it comes to goods that are made in China and sold at stores like Walmart. The magnitude of such benefits also debunks the well-worn myth that free trade is mainly about cheap T-shirts. Indeed, trade's consumer surplus is a big reason that Americans today work far fewer hours to own far better essentials than at any prior time in U.S. history.

Then there are trade's overall benefits for the economy. A 2017 Peterson Institute paper calculated the payoff to the United States from expanded trade between 1950 and 2016 to be $2.1 trillion, increasing U.S. GDP per capita and per household by around $7,000 and $18,000 -- with benefits, again, disproportionately accruing to households in the bottom income decile. The U.S. International Trade Commission, moreover, found in 2016 that U.S. bilateral and regional trade agreements such as NAFTA generated small but significant annual increases in GDP, as well as in employment and real wages among highly skilled and less skilled American workers. As the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Strain has noted, trade-skeptical populists who downplay this impressive macroeconomic boost ignore that, as our current economic moment attests, a small bit of extra GDP growth can mean big things for lower-wage, lower-skill workers in terms of employment and possible government assistance.

Trade and globalization also support American companies and workers, even in manufacturing. The Commerce Department, for example, has estimated that almost 11 million jobs depended on exports of U.S. goods and services in 2016, and foreign direct investment in the United States -- the necessary flip side of our oft-maligned trade deficit -- supported millions more. Meanwhile, American companies that adapt and thrive in today's economy most often do so by making use of imports and global supply chains. The San Francisco Fed, for instance, recently estimated that almost half of U.S. imports are intermediate products purchased by American manufacturers to make globally competitive finished goods; the country's biggest exporters, therefore, are also its biggest importers. Numerous other studies have found that the vast majority of the value of an American company's assembled-abroad product (such as an iPhone, assembled in China) accrues to the U.S. company, including its workers and shareholders -- not to the place of final assembly (despite what a gross bilateral trade balance, which attributes an import's full cost to its final export source, might say).

These supply chains not only deliver modern marvels at amazing prices but also allow American companies and workers to focus on our high-value comparative advantages, such as professional services and advanced manufacturing, and leave the lower-value stuff to other countries and workers who lack such skills. Imports, the San Francisco Fed study found, also support millions of other American jobs in transportation, logistics, and wholesale and retail trade -- indeed, almost half of all U.S. consumption dollars spent on items not "made in the USA" go to these Americans, not to foreigners.

Finally, there are the immense, unseen benefits of import competition on American economic dynamism (a market's rate of change and innovation) and living standards. "When we find ways to get more from less, that means more resources available to expand opportunities elsewhere in the economy," George Mason's Russ Roberts recently noted. "That expansion is unseen. . . . But it's hugely important." Whether this creative destruction comes from trade or technology is irrelevant: The outcome is not just cheaper stuff but better (and once unimaginable) stuff, better jobs, better companies, and better lives. And it can occur only by letting consumers and their capital seek more-productive ends.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Trump: Putin 'Not Looking at All to Get Involved in Venezuela' (MAIREAD MCARDLE, May 3, 2019, National Review)

President Donald Trump said Friday after a phone call with Russian president Vladimir Putin that Putin has no desire to involve Russia in the spiraling political crisis in Venezuela.

"We talked about many things. Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela, and I feel the same way," Trump told reporters at the White House.

People gave Donald the benefit of the doubt and assumed Vlad was blackmailing him.  But they're soulmates.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Robert Mueller told us everything we need to know (Sarah Longwell, May 2, 2019, usa tODAY)

The government draws its power from the people, and if the people acquiesce to government corruption, then all the judges, juries and prosecutors in the country won't make a difference.

That's why it was so important that Mueller wrote his report so clearly and comprehensively, and that the report was released to the public. He explained in clear, detailed prose exactly how unpatriotic, irresponsible and immoral the White House has become.

The special counsel did so despite the Justice Department policies that prevented him from formally accusing the president of a crime. By strictly adhering to the rules, Mueller ensured that his report was above legal reproach. Its legitimacy under the law is without question. So are the facts.

And these facts set a choice squarely before the American people and their representatives in Congress: Is this the government the American people want? Is this the best we can do?

The special counsel's report tells us everything we need to know. The answer isn't good.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM


John Kelly joins board of company operating largest shelter for unaccompanied migrant children (GRAHAM KATES, MAY 3, 2019, CBS NEWS)

In April, protesters outside the nation's largest facility for unaccompanied migrant children noticed a familiar face enter the massive, fenced site in Homestead, Florida: former White House chief of staff John Kelly. Soon after, a local television station recorded footage of him riding on the back of a golf cart as he toured the grounds.

It wasn't clear why he was there, but Friday, Caliburn International confirmed to CBS News that Kelly had joined its board of directors. Caliburn is the parent company of Comprehensive Health Services, which operates Homestead and three other shelters for unaccompanied migrant children in Texas. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Carbon Taxes: What Can We Learn From International Experience? (Gilbert Metcalf,·May 3, 2019, Econofact)

Pollution is a textbook example of how government intervention can correct a problem of a "missing market." Burning fossil fuels when we use gasoline to power our vehicles, coal to produce electricity, and natural gas to cook our meals and warm our homes during winter, generates pollution. While this imposes a cost on society, those who pollute do not bear that cost. Economists call this a "negative externality" because the costs are external (not borne by) those engaged in the activity. There is, from a societal viewpoint, an undesirably high level of production and consumption of goods that have negative externalities, since the prices charged for such goods do not reflect their true social cost, which is higher than the market cost. This market failure justifies government intervention. One possible intervention is a tax that raises the price of these goods and activities, and thus lowers their consumption.

Carbon taxes are a practical way to have consumers and producers take account of the social cost of pollution that increases greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide, CO2, is a greenhouse gas, and there is scientific consensus that greenhouse gases emitted from human activity are an important source of global warming. The amount of CO2 associated with burning a ton of coal or a gallon of gasoline, or producing a therm of energy from natural gas, is a physical constant. Carbon taxes can therefore be accurately assessed in terms of how the reduction in the use of coal, gasoline or natural gas leads to a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide. [...]

As the British Columbia case shows, the additional revenues generated by a carbon tax can be used by governments to reduce their potential negative impacts. The more than $1 billion that have been collected each year by BC's local government, have been returned to households and businesses through different mechanisms. Low-income families and small businesses are receiving tax credits, and their tax rates have been reduced. A one-time dividend was also given to every BC resident, a measure that is highly progressive since a cash rebate has a larger impact on the disposable income of lower-income families. I have also found that, thanks to these counter-measures, BC's overall economic activity has not been adversely affected by the carbon tax. Additionally, while carbon taxes have stimulated employment (although modestly) across all industries, jobs have shifted from carbon and trade sensitive sectors, such as chemical manufacturing, to cleaner service industries, such as health care.

After Supreme Court ruling, Texas bills would bring in $850 million in online sales tax: Lawmakers moved to apply the state's sales tax to goods sold by remote vendors who don't have physical operations in Texas. (EDGAR WALTERS MAY 3, 2019, Texas Tribune)

Texans who shop online could soon see purchase prices go up -- filling the state treasury by roughly a half-billion dollars over the next two years -- thanks to a proposed new sales tax levy on out-of-state sellers.

A pair of bills unanimously advanced by the Texas Senate on Friday would allow the state to collect sales tax on items sold by vendors who do not have a physical presence in Texas. A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. held that such taxes were constitutional.

One bill allows for the Texas Comptroller to identify a single tax rate to apply to remote sellers and is expected to generate $300 million over the next two years. Because local taxing jurisdictions in Texas have varying sales tax rates, ranging from 6.25 to 8.25 percent, lawmakers say the bill is intended to simplify online vendors' sales tax calculations.

Lawmakers already assumed they would have the additional $300 million available to them after the Supreme Court ruling, so the bill would have no effect on the 2020-2021 budget that lawmakers are currently deliberating. That bill was agreed to by both chambers and heads next to Gov. Greg Abbott.

But another bill would apply the state sales tax to remote sellers who use online, third-party marketplaces such as Etsy, Ebay and Amazon, and is expected to yield more than half a billion dollars for the state. If a Texan purchases an item online from a seller in another state using a "marketplace," a definition that includes websites and software applications, the marketplace would be responsible for collecting and paying sales tax on those transactions. Officials estimate the bill would yield an additional $550 million in 2020 and 2021 above what lawmakers included in their budget assumptions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Some U.S. Fed officials are more worried by weak inflation (Johan Ahlander, Ann Saphir, 5/03/19, Reuters) 

Two Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday said they were increasingly worried about weak inflation, an indication that some U.S. central bankers see a growing case for a future interest rate cut even as others push for continued patience.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


A Century Ago, America Built Another Kind of Wall: There was a time when even Ivy League scientists supported racial restrictions at the border. (Daniel Okrent, May 3, 2019, NY Times)

The anti-immigrant fervor at the heart of current White House policymaking is not a new phenomenon, nor is the xenophobia that has infected the political mainstream. In fact, race-based nativism comes with an exalted pedigree -- and that pedigree is something we all should remember as the Trump administration continues its assault on immigrants of specific nationalities. The scientific arguments Coolidge invoked were advanced by men bearing imposing credentials. Some were highly regarded scholars from Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Stanford. One ran the nation's foremost genetics laboratory. Another was America's leading environmentalist at the time. Yet another was the director of the country's most respected natural history museum.

Together, they popularized "racial eugenics," a junk science that made ethnically based racism respectable. "The day of the sociologist is passing," said the Harvard professor Robert DeCourcy Ward, "and the day of the biologist has come." The biologists and their publicists achieved what their political allies had failed to accomplish for 30 years: enactment of a law stemming the influx of Jews, Italians, Greeks and other eastern and southern Europeans. "The need of restriction is manifest," The New York Times declared in an editorial, for "American institutions are menaced" by "swarms of aliens."

Keeping people out of the country because of their nationality was hardly a novel idea. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was avowedly racist. In 1923 a unanimous Supreme Court declared that immigrants from India could be barred from citizenship strictly on racial grounds.

What was different about the new, putatively scientific campaign was that even whiteness was no ticket to entry.

Writing about Slavic immigrants, the sociologist Edward A. Ross of the University of Wisconsin -- later the national chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union -- declared, they "are immune to certain kinds of dirt. They can stand what would kill a white man." The president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology said newcomers from eastern and southern Europe were "vast masses of filth" who were "living like swine."

The Washington Post editorialized that 90 percent of Italians coming to the United States were "the degenerate spawn" of "Asiatic hordes." A Boston philanthropist, Joseph Lee, his city's leading supporter of progressive causes, explained to friends why he became the single largest financial backer of the anti-immigrant campaign: His concern, he wrote, was that without a restriction law, Europe would be "drained of Jews -- to its benefit no doubt but not to ours."

The "biological" justifications for this nativism were first developed in Cold Spring Harbor, on Long Island, in laboratories financed by the widow of the railroad baron E.H. Harriman. (One of her goals, Mary Harriman said, was preventing "the decay of the American race.") The laboratory's head, the zoologist Charles B. Davenport, took the ideas of the British gentleman scientist Francis Galton -- who had coined the word "eugenics" in 1883 -- welded them to a gross misunderstanding of the genetic discoveries of Gregor Mendel, and concluded that the makeup of the nation's population could be improved by the careful control of human breeding. One of the first steps, he believed, was to impose new controls on open immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Two Days After Declaring 'It's Over,' Lindsey Graham Invites Mueller to Provide Testimony (Matt Naham, May 3rd, 2019, Law & Crime)

After U.S. Attorney General William Barr was grilled before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared "it's over" and said he had no plans to invite Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify. Now it's Friday and Graham has sent Mueller a letter inviting him to testify.

He couldn't let Mueller only testify to the House without a chance to obstruct.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Trump Says He Discussed the 'Russian Hoax' in Phone Call With Putin (Mark Landler, May 3, 2019, NY Times)

President Trump said on Friday that he discussed the "Russian Hoax" with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in their first conversation since the release of the special counsel's report, which found that "the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."

Now they have to pretend that Vlad wasn't either?

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


How the Iron Lady became a progressive icon: Margaret Thatcher's legacy has found some surprising supporters (Ian Birrell, 03 MAY 2019, Array)

There is a supreme irony in the fact that Thatcher is now a progressive icon on some of the most important issues of our age - especially as Right-wingers tear apart her party and torture the nation while claiming to be devout followers of her creed. Few people would admit this, of course, since six years after her death she still divides opinion sharply: loved by conservatives, loathed by liberals and the Left. Yet like it or not, she was largely on the correct side of critical issues that still plague politics today, amid the rise of nationalism and populism: on Britain's place in Europe, on climate change and on globalisation.

Climate change is perhaps the least controversial of these areas. Her passionate rallying calls towards the end of the Eighties in key speeches to the Royal Society and United Nations were clear, concise and absolutely critical in pushing this vital cause onto the global stage. Her message was later underscored in speeches both at home and abroad. She took the issue away from the fringe and - as smarter green activists admit - planted it firmly in the political mainstream.

Thatcher saw that Conservatism should embrace the environment. Aided by her scientific expertise - which enabled her to appreciate and assess evidence emerging from forests, polar regions and pollution hotspots - she understood that real Conservatives could not be climate change deniers. She argued for the urgent need for concerted international action, endorsing smart state policies allied with private sector innovation, rather than simply crass attacks on capitalism.

"The danger of global warning is as yet unseen but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices so that we do not live at the expense of future generations," she told a Geneva climate conference in 1990. "Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world's environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community."

Despite her intuitive nationalism, Thatcher stood also for economic globalisation as part of her energetic mission to open markets and roll back state intervention, alongside her Washington soulmate Ronald Reagan. Among the early acts of 1979 was the abolition of foreign exchange controls - a significant breach with the past that played a critical role in rebuilding the economy and proved vital to London's revival after grim years of decline and population loss. This was followed by the 'big bang' financial reforms that led the UK capital to blossom as a global city - with one-third of its population now born abroad - and helped fuel national resurgence (along with more corrosive issues such as inequality and tax avoidance).

So successful was this revival that by the time the euro was launched at the end of last century, the City dominated trading in the new currency despite British refusal to adopt it - the perfect symbol of how opening up trade, importing talent and tearing down walls can restore national fortunes.

Thatcher also became personally involved in luring foreign owners to create Canary Wharf on the ramshackle old docklands of east London and to invest in Britain's moribund motor manufacturing industry. She enticed Nissan to Sunderland by selling the idea of Britain as an unfettered 'gateway' into the European Union, helping spark revival of a sector so emblematic of decline in the Seventies.

Then there is the vexed issue of Europe. Yet even here, where both sides angrily feud over Thatcher's legacy, there should be no doubt that her finest acts included her leadership in the creation of single market freedoms. "We must get this right - too often in the past Britain has missed opportunities," she said in a landmark 1988 speech, continuing:

Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers - visible or invisible - giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world's wealthiest and most prosperous people. Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it.

She was right. This was a superb achievement, which her successor Sir John Major called her "greatest triumph" - except that today this market that accounts for almost half our exports and helped foster our renaissance is much bigger, with another 215 million customers. "When you read her papers for 1988, you see her sheer level of enthusiasm for the single market," said historian Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation last year.

All successful modern Anglospheric (and allied) politicians have followed the same Pinochet/Thatcher/Reagan model of economic liberalization. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Biden's Key: Pennsylvania: The former vice president places electoral hopes on his boyhood home state. (Charles F. McElwee, May 2, 2019, City Journal)

Now a free agent, Biden hopes to establish himself as the frontrunner, one capable of returning Pennsylvania, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, to the Democratic fold.  [...]

In Pennsylvania, though, such establishment support, combined with the Democrats' 900,000-voter advantage, creates an opening for Biden. His statewide base, historically working class, now resides mostly in Philadelphia's suburbs. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the number of registered Democrats in the city's four "collar counties" surrounding Philadelphia increased by 75 percent since 1998. In last year's midterms, Senator Bob Casey won reelection, and the party picked up five House seats--four from Montgomery County and Delaware County, both former Republican strongholds. At the state level, incumbent Governor Tom Wolf prevailed, and in Greater Philadelphia, statehouse Democrats flipped 14 seats--the most since 1974. An affluent suburban population--fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and formerly Republican--carried the night. 

Republicans understand that the state party is in critical condition--last week, the Trump campaign's senior advisers met with top GOP officials in Harrisburg. In 2016, the party benefitted from disaffected Democrats in the state's northeast, southwest, northwest, and Lehigh Valley. Trump won Luzerne County by 20 points, and he barely lost neighboring Lackawanna County, home to Biden's Scranton. (In 2012, Barack Obama won the county by over 27 points.) The region's voters, while loyal to Trump, still vote Democratic at the state and local level, as a recent special House election showed. This working-class, semi-urban population--fiscally liberal, socially conservative, and still Democratic--constitutes an unreliable voting base. Biden aims to win them back.

These states won't even be in play if Donald is the nominee.  The GOP will be pumping resources into safe states, like Texas.

The 2019 governor's race that has Trump's team sweating (ALEX ISENSTADT, 05/03/2019, Politico)

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is a presidential phone-buddy and White House regular who's become one of President Donald Trump's loudest surrogates.

He's also one of the most unpopular governors in the country, facing a treacherous reelection in November. And the White House, fearing that an embarrassing loss in a deep-red state would stoke doubts about the president's own ability to win another term, is preparing to go all-in to save him. [...]

The Trump team has watched with growing concern as Bevin's approval ratings have plummeted to the low 30s. With the presidential campaign kicking into gear, the Kentucky governor's race is likely to be the most closely-watched contest in the run-up to 2020, and Trump aides acknowledge alarm bells will go off if one of the president's closest allies loses in a state that Trump won by nearly 30 percentage points.

"You want to be winning and not losing in red states ahead of your reelection bid," said Scott Jennings, a Louisville-based Republican strategist who served as a top political aide in the George W. Bush White House. "I think having the president come and remind everyone what's at stake is important."

Bevin has visited the White House so frequently that his presence in the West Wing has become a running joke among some Trump aides. Since Jan. 2018, the Kentucky governor has visited the White House 10 times, according to a count provided by an administration official. Over the past year, the White House has dispatched at least nine cabinet heads and top officials to Kentucky to promote the Trump agenda with the governor. First daughter Ivanka Trump has gone twice.

The Kentucky governor is on the president's speed-dial. In March, Trump called Bevin while the governor was announcing the construction a new steel plant. Bevin held his iPhone and put Trump on speakerphone so he could address the gathering.

And when Trump kicked off a post-2016 election victory tour with a Cincinnati rally, Bevin was onstage.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Watergate had the Nixon tapes. Mueller had Annie Donaldson's notes. (Carol D. Leonnig, May 3, 2019, wASHINGTON pOST)

The notes, scribbled rapidly on a legal pad, captured the fear inside the White House when President Trump raged over the Russia investigation and decreed he was firing the FBI director who led it: "Is this the beginning of the end?"

The angst-filled entry is part of a shorthand diary that chronicled the chaotic days in Trump's West Wing, a trove that the special counsel report cited more than 65 times as part of the evidence that the president sought to blunt a criminal investigation bearing down on him.

The public airing of the notes -- which document then-White House counsel Donald McGahn's contemporaneous account of events and his fear that the president was engaged in legally risky conduct -- has infuriated Trump.

Only one type of person opposes record keeping.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Trump, Wrecker of Reputations: On Attorney General William Barr's testimony and the coming constitutional crisis. (Susan B. GlasserMay 2, 2019, The New Yorker)

In his short time in politics, President Trump has shred the careers, professional integrity, and dignity of many who have worked for him. Attorney General William Barr is no exception.Photograph by Evan Vucci / AP

In the first year of the Trump Presidency, White House advisers often promised reporters that this would be the week when they would unveil Trump's plans for a massive investment in American infrastructure. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump had vowed to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding roads, bridges, and airports. He said that he would work with Democrats to do it. For a time, it seemed to be the only bipartisan project that might actually go somewhere. But, of course, Infrastructure Week never happened. There was always some distraction, some P.R. disaster that overwhelmed it--a chief of staff to be fired, an errant tweet upending foreign policy. Infrastructure Week lived on as an Internet meme, a Twitter hashtag, a joke; it became shorthand for the Administration's inability to stay on message or organize itself to promote a legislative agenda it claimed to support.

Trump never fully gave up on the infrastructure idea, though, and this week he resurrected it in a rare meeting with congressional Democratic leaders, who emerged from the White House on Tuesday morning, smiling and apparently excited. The President, they explained, had decided to double the price tag of his proposal, from a trillion to two trillion dollars, because it sounded more impressive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to whom the President reportedly offered Tic Tacs at the meeting in a friendly gesture, praised his vision for a "big and bold" plan. The meeting, Senator Chuck Schumer added, had been a "very, very good start."

But it was all just a form of Washington performance art. There are no Republican votes for such an expensive package, as the Democrats well knew, and there is no way that the President's allies on Capitol Hill, nor his own penny-pinching White House chief of staff, would agree to such a budget-busting deal. Trump's "extreme and aspirational" idea, as Senator Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota, put it, had Republicans "rolling their eyes," Politico reported. The ranking member of the House committee that would have to approve any measure had offered a simple answer to the question of whether Trump's idea could ever be passed. "No," he said. It would not be Infrastructure Week, or even Infrastructure Day. The new era of bipartisan dealmaking was over before it began.

By late Tuesday, the news cycle had moved on. Trump's Attorney General, William Barr, was refusing to testify before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee and would not turn over the unredacted Mueller report or its underlying evidence. The Administration, in fact, was refusing to comply with more or less any congressional demands for information and testimony on an array of investigations of the President, from his business-related conflicts of interest to his family-separation policy at the border. Then came more news: Barr had a behind-the-scenes dispute with the special counsel about his characterization of the report. Robert Mueller, it turned out, had sent a letter to Barr (who later called the missive "snitty") weeks earlier, but it was only now being revealed. In the letter, Mueller suggested that Barr had minimized and deflected the serious questions about the President that Mueller's investigation had turned up. The next day, the whole mess was fought over in excruciating detail when Barr appeared before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to testify for the first time since the release of the Mueller report.

By Thursday, House Democrats were holding a hearing, with an empty chair where Barr would have been seated, had he shown up, and threatening to take the Attorney General to court. One of the Democrats had brought fried chicken, which some of his fellow-representatives ate during the hearing, to mock Barr--he's a chicken, get it? It was all a "stunt," a "circus," and a "travesty," Representative Doug Collins, the panel's top Republican, complained. But Representative Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee's Democratic chairman, said that nothing less than the "integrity of this chamber," the Constitution, and the American system of "not having a President as a dictator" was at stake in Barr's refusal to comply with the Judiciary Committee's subpoena. "There is no way forward for this country that does not include a reckoning with this clear and present danger to our constitutional order," Nadler added. Soon after, Pelosi, at a press conference, told reporters that the Administration's refusal to coöperate with Congress on so many matters was itself obstruction. As for Barr, she said, he had lied under oath to Congress about his dealings with Mueller and "disgraced" his office. "We are in a very, very, very challenging place," she said. So much for Infrastructure Week. The constitutional crisis was back on.

The Trump Presidency has been a great wrecker of reputations. In his short time in politics, Trump has managed to shred the careers, professional integrity, and dignity of many of those who worked for him.

His Beltway and Commentariat backers come off even worse; they aren't being paid.  Better a hooker...

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Machiavelli: Still Shocking after 5 Centuries: His distinction between the public and private sphere of morality remains jarring. (Stewart Patrick, 11/20/14, National Interest)

Of all the writers in the "realist" canon--from Thucydides and Hobbes to Morgenthau and Mearsheimer--it is Niccolo Machiavelli who retains the greatest capacity to shock. In 1513, banished from his beloved Florence, Machiavelli drafted his masterwork, The Prince. Five centuries later his primer on statecraft remains required if unsettling reading for practitioners and students of politics. Machiavelli's originality--and the source of his enduring, if notorious, reputation--was his blatant rejection of traditional morality as a guide to political action, and his insistence that statecraft be based on a realistic view of corrupted human nature.

Although frequently damned as an amoral cynic--author of "a handbook for gangsters", in Bertrand Russell's words--Machiavelli in fact occupies a more complicated ethical terrain. His central claim is that politics has a moral logic of its own, at times requiring actions to preserve the state that might be regarded as reprehensible within polite society. There are times, in other words, when conventional ethics must be set aside for the pragmatic and expedient dictates of (what would later become known as) raison d'etat or "reasons of state".

Those who oppose democracy will always counsel caution in saving the republic and couch it in moral terms hoping to restore dictatorship.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Democrats Are Stifling Their Liberal Wing's Biggest Ideas (Perry Bacon Jr., 4/30/19, 538)

Here's a short list of the progressive wing's defeats since Democrats took control of the House in January:

The Green New Deal. Of the 235 Democratic members in the House, 91 have signed on to Ocasio-Cortez's signature resolution that calls for aggressive action to combat climate change but also includes other liberal priorities such as guaranteeing jobs for all Americans who want them. There is no indication, however, that House Democratic leaders are trying to write a version that would unify the party and be approved in a vote.

"Medicare for all." Nearly half (107) of House Democrats support the single-payer health care bill written by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a bloc of the most liberal figures on Capitol Hill. But there is virtually no chance that Pelosi (who has not embraced the legislation) will put it up for a vote in the full House any time soon.

Primary challenges. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats' campaign arm, confirmed last month that it would not work with any campaign consultant or firm that helped Democratic candidates mount primary challenges against the party's incumbents. Remember that influential progressives like Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ocasio-Cortez got to Congress by first defeating Democratic incumbents. The liberal wing protested the policy, but Democratic leaders have said that it will remain in place.

A resolution condemning Ilhan Omar. Veteran House Democrats pushed for a resolution condemning Rep. Omar of Minnesota in the wake of comments she made that some in the party felt were anti-Semitic.2 Pelosi brought the resolution up for a vote, although the version that the House adopted was a broad condemnation of bigotry that addressed Islamophobia and other kinds of hate, in addition to anti-Semitism. News coverage still reflected the fact that Democrats initially came up with the resolution as a way to chastise Omar.

In all, the newly elected progressive members have made a lot of news but less legislative impact -- a fact not lost on the members themselves.

Republicans have likewise quashed Donald's extreme Right agenda except for what he can do by fiat.  the consensus that obtains for 60%+ of Americans is Republican.

May 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


Stephen Moore, Trump ally, withdraws from contention for Fed seat (DON LEE, MAY 02, 2019, LA Times)

President Trump was dealt another setback in his bid to put a political ally on the Federal Reserve board as plans to appoint Stephen Moore, a conservative commentator and economist, collapsed amid a backlash sparked by Moore's past writings and statements that disparaged women and gender equity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


Why Barr Can't Whitewash the Mueller Report: We have a system in place for our government to uncover evidence against a sitting president. And it's working (Neal K. Katyal, May 1, 2019, NY Times)

When it comes to investigating a president, the special counsel regulations I had the privilege of drafting in 1998-99 say that such inquiries have one ultimate destination: Congress. That is where this process is going, and has to go. We are in the fifth inning, and we should celebrate a system in which our own government can uncover so much evidence against a sitting president.

Some commentators have attacked the special counsel regulations as giving the attorney general the power to close a case against the president, as Mr. Barr did with the obstruction of justice investigation into Donald Trump. But the critics' complaint here is not with the regulations but with the Constitution itself. Article II gives the executive branch control over prosecutions, so there isn't an easy way to remove the attorney general from the process.

Instead, the idea behind the regulations was to say, "We recognize the constitutional reality that the attorney general controls the prosecution power, so what else can we do?" My colleagues and I (a group that included many career officials at the Justice Department as well as bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate) settled on two things. First, provide a mechanism to enable an independent investigation, and thereby generate public confidence in the outcome of that investigation. Second, design that mechanism so that if the attorney general interferes with the special counsel's inquiry, that interference would be reported to Congress and ultimately become public.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 4:56 PM

Happy Birthday, Bing!

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Gospel Music as Liberation: They answer to God, not the politeness or respectability of middle-class society or popular culture. (Crispin Sartwell, 5/01/19, spliced)

Seemingly parochial, or of interest primarily to certain sorts of Christians, gospel in fact carries the main line of African-American--and hence American--popular music.

In the 1940s, some of the best acts in gospel were straightforwardly blueswomen. And often they were instrumentalists too, which is not something that women were doing on pop and swing bandstands, for the most part. Someone like Sister Rosetta Tharpe--recently inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame--was rocking the guitar as she sang her way gently or ferociously through both God-oriented and secular blues music. But she was emblematic of a cohort whose story is little told, of fiercely distinctive blues-gospel shouters, such as Willie Mae Ford Smith and Sister Cora Martin.

There were more directly beautiful and delicate approaches too, and my favorite recent re-acquaintance Edna Gallmon Cooke took her audience from a blues and jazz orientation in the 1940s to an almost Patsy-Cline-like sophistication by the early-60s, and from South Carolina to Philly, expressing her ecstatic devotion to Jesus the whole way. The great Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers never lost sight of this connection, even as they translated it to electric guitars and Civil Rights. For that matter, I don't think you get to the melismatic style of contemporary r 'n' b (Beyoncé, for example) without these singers, who developed elaborate vocabularies of ornament over their churches' stable, powerful substructure of keyboard and choir.

That these women were singing for God's glory is, I think, one element in the astonishing feeling of immediate presence and freedom that's embodied in their recordings. They answer to God, not the politeness or respectability of middle-class society or popular culture, and God lets them go, lets them believe in and affirm themselves, or demands that they do so. The congregations for which or with which they performed were often predominantly female, and are often audible on the recordings. That too was a factor in the liberation of these voices into the highest realms of spirit and art, and in the supremely confident embodied experience that was the spiritual and artistic foundation of church communities. [...]

But though the translation of the vocabulary to the theme of romantic love and its discontents awaited the secularization of gospel performers such as Sam Cooke and Aretha, many different themes and moods are struck in gospel music. It's a way of grappling with death (Albertina Walker, "If I Perish"), oppression (Davis Sisters, "Sinner Man, Where You Gonna Run To?"), and liberation (Edna Gallmon Cooke, "I've Been Redeemed"). Every mood of the religious is touched, from prophetic visions of the apocalypse (the evil groove of Shirley Caesar's "Millennial Reign"), loneliness and nostalgia for home (Caesar's "Stranger on the Road"), to mystical experiences of apotheosis (Marion Williams, "Jesus is All in All"). What emerges from a body of work such as Williams' or Dorothy Love Coates' is a rounded experience of a whole life, the biography of an individual spoken in her real voice, and of a congregation and a people, made whole and compelling as it emerges from the testimony of a particular body and spirit.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Biden calls for end to U.S. support for Saudi war in Yemen (Josh Rogin, May 1, 2019, Washington Post)

Former vice president Joe Biden is taking his first major foreign policy stance since officially announcing his candidacy for president by calling for the United States to end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen. This aligns him with Senate Democrats and against President Trump.

Biden's decision to weigh in on the Yemen issue is a clear sign he plans to rely on his long experience and record on foreign policy as he lays his claim to the role of commander in chief. That means foreign policy will indeed be featured in the Democratic primary, something Biden's opponents within the party are already preparing for.

But on the issue of U.S. involvement in Yemen, Biden is aligned with the entire Senate Democratic caucus -- and even some Republicans -- who want the president to halt U.S. support for the Saudi-led war there, which has fueled a massive humanitarian crisis.

Iran just needs to run out the clock.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 AM


A majority of seniors now say they definitely won't back Trump in 2020 (Kathryn Krawczyk, 4/29/19, The Week)

In an earlier analysis of 2016 voter data, Pew Research Center found that Trump easily won over voters age 65 and up, with a margin of 53-44. Yet that group may now be at risk for Trump, with 53 percent saying they definitely wouldn't vote for him in 2020, a Washington Post/ABC News poll has found.

Beyond seniors, the Washington Post/ABC News poll also shows Trump's support among other groups is waning. A solid 62 percent of women now say they definitely won't vote for Trump in 2020, and 41 percent of white women without a college degree say the same. Per Pew's 2016 analysis, Trump only lost 54 percent and 34 percent of those groups to Hillary Clinton, respectively.

Trump is also seeing a significant loss of independent voters, with 42 percent voting against him in 2016 and 51 percent saying they definitely won't now, the Washington Post/ABC News poll reveals. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 AM


The True Story Of A Man-Eating Tiger's 'Vengeance' (NPR, September 14, 2010,  Morning Edition)

John Vaillant's The Tiger is part natural history, part Russian history and part thriller; it tells a gripping and gory story of what it's like to stalk -- and be stalked by -- the largest species of cat still walking the Earth. [...]

At the center of the story is Vladimir Markov, a poacher who met a grisly end in the winter of 1997 after he shot and wounded a tiger, and then stole part of the tiger's kill.

The injured tiger hunted Markov down in a way that appears to be chillingly premeditated. The tiger staked out Markov's cabin, systematically destroyed anything that had Markov's scent on it, and then waited by the front door for Markov to come home.

"This wasn't an impulsive response," Vaillant says. "The tiger was able to hold this idea over a period of time." The animal waited for 12 to 48 hours before attacking.

When Markov finally appeared, the tiger killed him, dragged him into the bush and ate him. "The eating may have been secondary," Vaillant explains. "I think he killed him because he had a bone to pick."

May 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM



Islamophobia Index Inches Up

A measure of the level of public endorsement of five negative stereotypes associated with Muslims in America, our Islamophobia Index inched up from 24 in 2018 to 28 in 2019. The Islamophobia Index calculates reported levels of agreement with the following statements:

Most Muslims living in the United States are more prone to violence than others.
Most Muslims living in the United States discriminate against women.
Most Muslims living in the United States are hostile to the United States.
Most Muslims living in the United States are less civilized than other people.
Most Muslims living in the United States are partially responsible for acts of violence carried out by other Muslims

Jews and Hispanic Americans Are Most Favorable Toward Muslims and White Evangelicals Least

Of all faith groups apart from Muslims, Jews score the lowest on the Islamophobia Index. A majority (53%) of Jews report having positive views of Muslims with 13% reporting negative views. In contrast, white Evangelicals score the highest on the Islamophobia Index with as many as 44% holding unfavorable opinions about Muslims, which is twice as many as those who hold favorable opinions (20%).

Analyzed by race, Hispanic Americans are five times as likely to hold favorable opinions of Muslims as they are to have negative attitudes (51% vs. 10%). In comparison, white Americans are almost as likely to hold favorable as unfavorable opinions (33% vs. 26%), whereas 40% have no opinion. Black Americans are seven times as likely to hold positive opinions (35%) as negative views (5%) of Muslims, but the majority report having no opinion (51%).

Hispanic Americans are five times as likely to hold favorable opinions of Muslims as they are to have negative attitudes.
Knowing a Muslim Linked to Lower Islamophobia

Our analysis reveals that knowing a Muslim personally is among several protective factors against Islamophobia. When a Muslim is a close friend, Islamophobia is further reduced. We found that three in four Jews know a Muslim, about half of the general public know a Muslim, but only about one in three among white Evangelicals know an American who is Muslim.

Other predictors of lower Islamophobia include Democratic leanings; knowledge about Islam; favorable views of Jews, Black Americans, and feminists; and higher income. To a lesser extent, negative views of Evangelicals are significantly linked to a lower score on the Islamophobia Index (less Islamophobia), though the correlation is weak. Notably, respondents' nativity, sex, age, education, and religiosity have no bearing on Islamophobia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The Justice Department Suddenly Changed Its Mind About the Constitution to Defend Trump's Businesses (KATHLEEN CLARK, 5/01/19, TIME)

When Justice Department lawyers introduce themselves in court, they proclaim a specific affiliation: "I represent the United States." That's because the Justice Department has the responsibility by statute to represent the interests of the nation. That obligation to act on behalf of the nation has also motivated the Department's legal advice on a question central to the integrity of our democracy -- until now. Recent arguments show that the Department is putting President Trump's interests before the nation's.

For more than 150 years, the Department interpreted the Constitution's "emoluments" clause to protect the government from the corrupting influence of foreign powers through gifts, emoluments and titles. The Department has issued more than 50 legal opinions declaring that the clause prohibits important federal officials from accepting anything of value -- even token gifts -- from such powers, unless Congress consents.

The prohibitions went further. Engineers and scientists who work for the federal government are prohibited from accepting any benefit (including consulting fees or travel reimbursement) that comes from a foreign government. The Department even prohibited a part-time federal employee who was also a partner in a law firm from accepting any money from the firm's legal work for foreign governments, even though he had not worked on those cases, because "the partnership would in effect be a conduit" for foreign governments. When it interpreted this constitutional clause, the Department explicitly examined whether the particular payment "would raise the kind of concern [i.e.,] the potential for 'corruption and foreign influence'... that motivated the Framers in enacting the constitutional prohibition." At every turn, the Justice Department was on the lookout to ensure that federal officials did not accept direct or indirect foreign government payments.

But starting two years ago, the Department veered away from this long track record.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr (James Comey, May 1, 2019, NY Times)

What happened to these people?

I don't know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.

Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.

But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that's at least part of what we've seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can't resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis's to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


U.S. factory activity at 2-1/2-year low, points to slowing economy (Lucia Mutikani, 5/01/19, Reuters) 

U.S. manufacturing activity slowed to a 2-1/2-year low in April amid a sharp drop in new orders while construction spending unexpectedly fell in March, suggesting economic growth was moderating after surging in the first quarter.

One of the reports from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) on Wednesday showed businesses increasingly anxious that President Donald Trump's threats to close the U.S.-Mexico boarder would further disrupt the supply chain. Washington's trade war with China has created bottlenecks at factories, pushing up prices of some raw materials.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


In Venezuela, root for the people (Frida Ghitis, April 30, 2019, CNN)

The Venezuelan conflict may seem complicated, but what's at stake is simple. Sure, there are geopolitical ramifications and multiple forces at play. But above all, we should view Venezuela as a human tragedy. If you don't know who to root for as you see reports of competing forces and hear accounts of rival narratives, root for the Venezuelan people.

Rooting for the Venezuelan people means hoping that Maduro will step down peacefully, bringing to a close the most disastrous regime Venezuela has ever seen. It means recognizing that the opposition deserves to emerge victorious.

News organizations, including CNN at times on Tuesday, labeled the opposition-led revolt an "attempted coup" -- but that was not only unfortunate, it was also incorrect and harmful. Venezuela has already had a coup. Maduro and his cronies took power illegally. Maduro rigged elections, locked up opposition candidates and took control of the judiciary and every "independent" government entity.

The last relatively fair elections came in 2015. That's when the opposition won an overwhelming two-thirds of the seats in Congress. Maduro and his acolytes then stripped the legislature of all its powers.

In last year's presidential election, Maduro, whose approval rating has barely budged above 20%, somehow won with nearly 70% of the vote. It was a sham, but he took office in January.

That's when Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president, in keeping with the Venezuelan constitution. He vows to call new elections and fully restore the constitutional order as soon as Maduro is out.

Rooting does not suffice.  Marco Rubio should be preparing a massive economic package to help them as soon as the regime falls. And it should be advertised as a model for other failed states.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Can Washington rethink Iran? (Jason Rezaian, April 30, 2019, Washington Post)

While U.S. officials and commentators always pay lip service to the Iranian people, the reality is that both the regime in Tehran and the administration in Washington see Iranians as collateral damage in their power struggle. Actual insight into the lives of Iranians remains mysteriously absent.

The "Rethinking Iran" program spans a wide range of topics, from Iran's Jewish community to the fashion industry. And yes, politics is part of the mix as well.

In the absence of direct contact with Iran and Iranians, such gatherings fill an important void -- and particularly at a moment of growing tensions. We need scholars and commentators who can claim some actual knowledge of contemporary realities in Iran to inform the discussion, and the SAIS program aims to do this.

" 'Maximum pressure' aims to bring Iran to its knees in the minimum amount of time," Ali Vaez, International Crisis Group's Iran project director, said in his opening comments, in reference to the Trump administration's strategy for dealing with Tehran. That was about as succinct and accurate a description of White House Iran policy as you will find.

But it isn't only the current White House that finds itself almost entirely cut off from the realities of the country. We also needed windows into Iran during the Obama administration, but they were few even back then.

The situation improved a bit as President Barack Obama launched his policy of engagement in the run-up to the nuclear deal. A flurry of journalists, scholars, investors and tourists arrived in Tehran and began to reimagine a country that had been reduced by the American imagination to hollow stereotypes.

The dividends of this period were varied. The most important, in my opinion, was a shift in how ordinary Americans viewed Iran. For the first time, we managed to start separating the Iranian people from their leadership. In my book about my imprisonment in Tehran, I write about this period at length, because I was there chronicling it from up close in a way that few other observers had an opportunity to do.

This was no full opening, no reversal of course for an authoritarian regime that counts on the supposed word of God to maintain its power. But neither was it business as usual.

The run-up to the nuclear deal was a period when Iranians felt empowered to speak their minds and make demands. The most urgent concern was the incredible damage caused by years of sanctions on the country's economy.

People were focused less on their freedom and civil rights -- as previous rounds of protest I witnessed in 2003 and 2009 were -- and more on the desire for a better economic future. I saw firsthand how economic turmoil has the effect of diverting a people's political aspirations toward self-preservation.

That period was short-lived. Now, once again, the Iranian people have their backs against the wall, and we again lack real insight into what's happening there.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ex-Justice Department officials are shocked Mueller put his displeasure with Barr down in writing (Peter Weber, 5/01/19, The Week)

"We are conditioned not to 'go to paper,'" Chuck Rosenberg, who was Mueller's counsel as FBI director, told Politico. "There are times you get mad, or frustrated, and think someone is making a bad decision. But you pick up the phone and call them. I think I only went to paper a handful of times in 20 years at the Justice Department. In the time I worked for Bob in the FBI, I can't think of a time he did that."

Former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich called the letter "an extraordinary move" for Mueller, who "doesn't do things like this. Apparently he didn't appreciate having his hard work falsified." Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman said that "for the laconic and obedient Mueller, it's almost like lighting yourself on fire in front of the DOJ."

We already knew members of Mueller's team were upset with Barr's characterization of their work, but "what we didn't know until today is that Mueller was pissed," legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN Tuesday night. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman had another explanation: "Muller seems to have learned the lesson that a lot of people who have been around Donald Trump's world learned -- and Mueller knows, because almost all of them were witnesses for him -- that you have to put everything down on paper. This was not enough to just voice his concerns privately to Barr, there had to be a letter documenting it, and it's a stunning letter." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Two Scoops of Vanilla With Extra Vanilla on Top (JOSH VOORHEES, APRIL 30, 2019, Slate)

It is hard to imagine a more conventional start to a presidential campaign than the one Joe Biden has put together. The 76-year-old kicked things off with a video in which he spoke directly to the camera about "what makes America, America." He followed that with a string of endorsements from establishment politicians and a big-ticket fundraising dinner with corporate lobbyists. He then sat down for his first extended interview Friday on the soft-focus set of The View. At his first rally Monday, at a union hall in Pittsburgh, he stepped on stage to the same Bruce Springsteen song used by Barack Obama for his 2012 reelection effort. The speech that followed was heavy on timeless stump filler--"When I travel this country and I meet people like all of you..."--and light on surprises.

Biden's strategy is so conventional that it can look boring, particularly for journalists like myself who have a professional bias toward things that are new and different, and it looks the same to an activist base trying to shake up the status quo. But Biden's uncreative approach looks like something else to those Democrats most desperate to defeat Donald Trump: comforting.

He'll be a disastrous president too, but in the normal way.