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 Wei├čem 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."