July 12, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


Dogs Are Bad And Owners Are 'Accursed,' Israeli Orthodox Rabbis Rule (Cnaan Liphshiz, 7/12/19, JTA)

More than a dozen rabbis from the city of Elad near Tel Aviv issued an edict declaring all dogs bad and warning residents that keeping them will make them accursed.

The edict, dated to June 14, contains the signatures of all the Sephardic rabbis in Elad, a city of about 46,000 residents where most of the population is haredi Orthodox and the city's chief rabbi, Mordechai Malka, the news site bhol reported Friday.

"We have heard and have seen that lately, a serious phenomenon has spread in our city Elad, in which young boys and children walk around publicly with dogs. This is strictly forbidden, as explained in the Talmud and by the Rambam, anyone raising a dog is accursed and especially in our city where many women and children are afraid of dogs," the anti-canine edict states.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Report: Border Patrol Chief Participated in Facebook Group Where Agents Joked About Migrant Deaths (MOLLY OLMSTEAD, JULY 12, 2019, Slate)

Carla Provost, the chief of the United States Border Patrol, was one of a number of Border Patrol personnel to participate in a Facebook group in which members joked about migrant deaths and made other offensive comments about immigrants and asylum-seekers, the Intercept reported Friday. The group's discovery led to two separate investigations by government watchdog groups into unprofessional behavior.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


U.S. House passes $733 billion defense policy bill after Trump threatens veto (Mike Stone, 7/12/19, Reuters)

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $733 billion defense policy bill on Friday, defying President Donald Trump's veto threat by including provisions like a clampdown on funding for his planned wall on the border with Mexico.

U.S. appeals court judges spar with Trump lawyer over bid to block House subpoena (Jan Wolfe, 7/11/19, Reuters)

The three judges on the panel did not say how or when they would rule. But they repeatedly sparred with Trump's personal lawyer William Consovoy over his central argument that the subpoena is unconstitutional because it is "law enforcement" that would not further Congress' main task of enacting laws.

Judge David Tatel said the House is already working on legislation relating to presidential conflicts of interest and government ethics, and suggested that the financial records requested from Mazars are reasonably related to that effort.

"These bills have passed the House and are directly related to the subject of this subpoena," Tatel said.

Trump is reportedly 'eager' to fire Dan Coats (The Week, 7/12/19)

As Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigns, yet another administration departure could be imminent.

President Trump has been telling confidants that he's "eager" to remove Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Axios reported on Friday. In fact, Trump has reportedly been saying he'd like to get rid of the entire Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- or at least "downsize" it, since he's been told scrapping the whole office isn't possible.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


A Midsummer Overview Of The Democratic Field (Nate Silver, 7/11/19, 538)

Tier 1: The front-runners: Biden, Harris and Warren

Biden, Harris and Warren represent three relatively distinct, but fairly traditional, archetypes for party nominees:

Biden, as a former vice president, is a "next-in-line" candidate who is rather explicitly promising to perpetuate the legacy of President Obama and uphold the party's current agenda. It might not be exciting, but these candidates have pretty good track records.

Harris is a coalition-builder who would hope to unite the different factions of the party -- black, white, left, liberal, moderate, etc. -- as a consensus choice.

Warren is offering more red meat (or should it be blue meat?) and would represent more of a leftward transformation from the status quo. But she's simpatico enough with party elites and has broad enough appeal that she isn't necessarily a factional candidate in the way that Sanders is. Instead, a better analogy for Warren might be Ronald Reagan; they are not comparable in terms of their backgrounds or their political styles, but they are both candidates who straddle the boundary between the ideological wings of their party and the party establishment.

On an empirical basis, the Biden and Harris strategies have produced more winners than the Warren one, although all three approaches are viable. That doesn't mean that Biden, Harris and Warren are the only candidates pursuing these strategies. Cory Booker's coalition could look a lot like Harris's, for instance, were he ever to gain traction. But they're the only candidates who are both (a) taking approaches that have worked well in the past and (b) polling reasonably well at the moment. That puts them in the top tier.

How you would rank them within the top tier is harder. But we should probably start with the fact that Biden is still ahead of the other two in the polls. It's closer in early state polls, and it's closer once you account for the fact that Harris and Warren still aren't as well-known as Biden is. But Biden's lead is nontrivial -- he's ahead of Harris by 12 percentage points (and Warren by 13) in the RealClearPolitics average.

And while you might claim that Harris and Warren have momentum, you need to be careful with that. Often, polling bounces from debates and other events fade, so it's at least possible that Harris and Warren are at their high-water marks. Or not. But Biden is (POKER ANALOGY ALERT!) a bit like a poker player who's just lost a big pot. Before, he had way more chips than Warren and Harris did; now, he has only slightly more than they do. But you'd still rather be the candidate with more chips than fewer, momentum be damned.

Unless ... the way you lost that hand reveals something about your game that could come back to bite you again in the future. Biden wasn't very effective in the debates, according to the voters we surveyed along with Morning Consult. And some of his decline in the polls has to do with what could be Biden's two biggest vulnerabilities: his electability halo bursting and voters expressing concern about his age. The age problem isn't going away. And while Biden can still make an electability case -- there are plenty of polls showing him doing better than other Democrats against President Trump -- voters are at least likely to scrutinize his argument rather than take it for granted.

Only Biden and Kamala appeal to two of the three core constituencies required: the folks who just want reassurance; black women and Progressives.  

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Absurd, Shocking, Embarrassingly Bad: So say conservatives about Trump's health care lawsuit. (David Leonhardt, 7/11/19, NY Times)

[E]ven some conservative legal experts who supported past efforts to throw out the law think this challenge is outrageous. Jonathan Adler of Case Western University has called the current case "just absurd," as well as "unmoored" and "shocking." Ted Frank, a lawyer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, called the trial judge's decision "embarrassingly bad." Ilya Somin of George Mason University has signed a brief opposing the lawsuit.

And conservative writers including Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner and the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon have criticized the lawsuit. The headline on Klein's piece is: "I hate Obamacare, but Texas judge's decision on its unconstitutionality is an assault on the rule of law."

How has this case managed to go so far? Jonathan Cohn of HuffPost has written a helpful summary.

The brief version is: The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the health law was legal even though it overreached in requiring people to buy health insurance, because that requirement -- known as the mandate -- wasn't really a requirement. People could choose not to have insurance and instead pay a fee, which meant that the mandate was more akin to a tax on the uninsured.  Congress clearly has the right to impose taxes.

Trump's tax law, passed in 2017, reduced this fee on the uninsured to zero. In the current lawsuit, the plaintiffs have taken advantage of this change to argue that the mandate is now back to being a mandate rather than a tax -- even if it's an irrelevant mandate, because ignoring it brings no penalty. As Cohn wrote, "It doesn't take a fancypants law degree to see that the new scheme is, if anything, less intrusive than the old one -- a point that the attorneys for California and the U.S. House [who were arguing against the Trump administration] made several times."

Given the advantages of incumbency and the inheritance of the Obamaconomy, Donald still has a non-zero chance of re-election, unless he succeeds in demolishing Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


New book details how Republican leaders learned to stop worrying and love Trump (Josh Dawsey July 11, 2019, Washington Post)

"These guys have all convinced themselves that to be successful and keep their jobs, they need to stand by Trump," Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), who recently left the GOP over his differences with Trump, said in an interview for the book. "But Trump won't stand with them as soon as he doesn't need them. He's not loyal. They're very loyal to Trump, but the second he thinks it's to his advantage to throw someone under the bus, he'll be happy to do it."

Alberta dings Vice President Pence and others for seeking to defend Trump as an evangelical and humble man behind the scenes seeking to help his country -- while casting aside their core convictions. He reports that the vice president's wife, Karen Pence, did not want to appear in public with her husband after the "Access Hollywood" tape and that Pence disagreed with Trump on many key issues, from immigration to trade.

Now, Pence's oldest friends joke about whether Trump has blackmail material on him.

"Pence's talents for bootlicking -- he was nicknamed 'the Bobblehead' by Republicans on Capitol Hill for his solemn nodding routine whenever Trump spoke -- were at their most obscene during meetings at the White House," Alberta writes. 

Mick Mulvaney is cast as ambitious and clear-eyed about Trump before the election, telling fellow lawmakers that he read "The Art of the Deal" and could play to Trump's ego while blocking his worst inclinations.

"We're not going to let Donald Trump dismantle the Bill of Rights," Mulvaney said to Alberta in 2016 when he was still a congressman from South Carolina. "For five and half years, every time we got to the floor and try to push back against an overreaching president, we get accused of being partisan at best and racist at worst. When we do it against a Republican president, maybe people will see it was a principled objection in the first place." 

Now, as the president's acting chief of staff, Mulvaney says to others that he "lets Trump be Trump."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who basked in Trump's glory during a large rally that helped him win a tight Texas race down the stretch of the 2018 midterms, once felt differently about the president.

Cruz "told confidantes there was 'no way in hell' he was prepared to subjugate himself to Trump in front of tens of millions of viewers," Alberta writes. " 'History isn't kind to the man who holds Mussolini's jacket,' Cruz told friends in 2016." Even later, he bemoaned Trump for seeking to end birthright citizenship, saying he would cost the party seats.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Alberta in June 2016 that he wishes the Republican-controlled Congress could have done things differently to "avoid creating this environment that was conducive to someone like Donald Trump becoming the nominee." Jordan is now on Fox News defending Trump more than almost any other of the president's allies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM

rIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING (profanity alert):

The Forgotten Man: On Murray Rothbard, philosophical harbinger of Trump and the alt-right (John Ganz, 12/15/17, The Baffler)

True, Trump may not be a man of ideas, but his presidency and political style were imagined by one man: the libertarian economist and philosopher Murray N. Rothbard, who died in 1995. Not long before his death, Rothbard rejoiced when he saw in the emergence of David Duke and Pat Buchanan, in 1992, his long-held vision for America's right and concluded that what was needed was more of the same:

And so the proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call "right-wing populism": exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this era where the intellectual and media elites are all establishment liberal-conservatives, all in a deep sense one variety or another of social democrat, all bitterly hostile to a genuine Right, we need a dynamic, charismatic leader who has the ability to short-circuit the media elites, and to reach and rouse the masses directly. We need a leadership that can reach the masses and cut through the crippling and distorting hermeneutical fog spread by the media elites.

Despite the eerie accuracy of his vision, Rothbard's name is not widely known.

Despite the eerie accuracy of his vision and his prolific writing on every subject from contemporary cinema to the Federal Reserve system, Rothbard's name is not widely known. It's not likely to be found in bibliography of a contemporary economist's paper, but you will find it scrawled on the seamy underbelly of the web, in the message boards of the alt-right, where fewer voices are more in the air than Rothbard's. One can look at the recent profiles of neo-fascists to find the name Rothbard, and that of his favorite pupil and protégé, Hans Hermann-Hoppe, again and again. In The New Yorker's piece on Mike Enoch, the founder of the "Daily Shoah" podcast, Enoch notes that his path to the alt-right began with reading Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and Ludwig von Mises. When asked how he began to move "so far right," Tony Hovater, the Indiana Nazi from the infamous New York Times profile, "name-drops Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe." Chris Cantwell, the crying Nazi of Vice News notoriety, says he was a "big fan of Murray Rothbard" and then went on to "read Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed."  Trump backer Peter Thiel's essay, "The Education of a Libertarian," shows the clear influence of Rothbard's apostle Hoppe, who invited Thiel to a conference that also hosted American Renaissance's Jared Taylor and VDARE's Peter Brimelow. For a time before his death, Rothbard had the ear of Pat Buchanan. Paul Gottfried, the erstwhile ally of Richard Spencer, who is sometimes credited with coining the term "alternative right," was a friend and admirer of Rothbard, and he also delivered the Murray N. Rothbard Memorial lectures at the Mises Institute.

Inching more to the mainstream, Andrew Breitbart and Steve Bannon's fusion of libertarianism and populism seems Rothbardian in inspiration. Indeed, Justin Raimondo, Rothbard's disciple and the author of the biography Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard, pronounced in February 2017, "Bannonism is libertarianism." A few days, later Bannon announced his fight for the "deconstruction of the administrative state," a goal that would have garnered Rothbard's enthusiastic applause. Rothbard and Bannon apparently also both share an appreciation for Vladimir Lenin as political sensei, but the latter's familiarity with the Russian revolutionary's ideas might very well have come from the former's writings.

The literature about Rothbard tends to be hagiographic; at times, almost literally so. One biographer, right off the bat, compares him to Saint Augustine and Soren Kierkegaard. Raimondo, sounding like something that might have been written in the nineteenth century about Beethoven or Goethe, is taken by the man's physiognomy: "The high forehead, the nose prominent but finely formed, the half-smile exuding an earnest intelligence." The Mises Institute, named for Rothbard's mentor, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, which served his intellectual home for many years, is almost a personality cult dedicated to the memory of Rothbard the Great; its website is sprinkled with many fond reminiscences of his intellectual and personal virtues. [...]

No matter how abstract the economics he liked were, Rothbard never lost his taste for concrete politics. He was particularly drawn to the first reactions against the early stirrings of civil rights legislation. In 1948, he horrified his fellow Jewish students by leading a meeting of a Students for Thurmond group. He claimed toward the end of his life to have founded the group, but if he did, he did not cop to it in his effusive fan letter to Strom Thurmond's States Rights Democrats in Jackson, Mississippi: "Although a New Yorker born and bred, I was a staunch supporter of the Thurmond movement; a good friend of mine headed the Columbia Students for Thurmond, which I believe was the only such collegiate movement north of the Mason-Dixon line." But he only regretted that Thurmond's movement was too regional, too Southern, saying it was "imperative for the States Rights movement to establish itself on a nation-wide scale" where "[it] could grow into a mighty movement if you have the will and vision. There are millions of Americans throughout the country, Republicans and Democrats, who would flock to your banner."

He did not find himself at home with the New Right rallying around William F. Buckley's National Review.

But it was Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism that provided Rothbard with one of his main political inspirations. In 1954, when Roy Cohn was forced to resign as McCarthy's counsel, Rothbard wrote a speech for Students for America's George Reisman to give at what would be a raucous goodbye fete for Cohn at the Hotel Astor. With McCarthy in attendance, Reisman declaimed Rothbard's words:

There's been only one thing wrong with the famous methods of you or that other great American Senator Joe McCarthy: You have been too kind, too courteous, too considerate, too decent to realize in the fullest sense the viciousness and venom of the left's smear bund that's dedicated to drive every effective anti-communist from public life. The communists and their New Dealer cousins may have their family quarrels at times, but essentially they have been united, united for 21 years in a popular front regime of the left. [...]

The other big idea that Rothbard cooked up during his years at the Volker Fund was to borrow from a particular tradition on the left, one that would've been very familiar from his Bronx boyhood. In a 1961 memo entitled "What Is To Be Done," after Lenin's 1901 pamphlet of the same name, Rothbard outlined a strategy for the movement:

Here we stand, then, a "hard core" of libertarian-individualist "revolutionaries," anxious not only to develop our own understanding of this wonderful system of thought, but also anxious to spread its principles--and its policies--to the rest of society. How do we go about it? I think that here we can learn a great deal from Lenin and the Leninists--not too much, of course--but particularly the idea that the Leninist party is the main, or indeed only, moral principle.

What Rothbard thought the libertarian movement needed to copy from Leninism were professional cadres of dedicated ideologues to organize cells and spread the faith. After an abortive attempt to woo the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was almost certainly the vision Rothbard brought to Charles Koch, when he inspired him to found the Cato Institute at the Koch's ski lodge in Vail. Justin Raimondo illustrates the scene vividly: "Over the course of a weekend, in the winter of 1976," Raimondo writes, "Rothbard and the heir to one of the largest family held corporations in the nation talked into the night. As the roaring fire in the elaborate stone fireplace, burned down to flickering embers, Rothbard outlined the need to organize and systematize the burgeoning libertarian movement and bring order out of chaos." [...]

The writing Rockwell produced on behalf of Ron Paul in the 1980s and early 1990s is quite frank in its racism, homophobia, and paranoia about AIDS--part of what Rothbard described as an "Outreach to the Rednecks." By 1990, the Ron Paul newsletters started discussing David Duke in favorable terms. But it was in 1992, after David Duke's failed presidential run, that Rothbard in an article entitled "Right Wing Populism," from the Rockwell-Rothbard Report, fully puts Duke's politics in the context of his earlier articulated "populist short-circuit" strategy. There he encourages emulation of Duke:

It is fascinating that there was nothing in Duke's current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians: lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what's wrong with any of that?

Ultimately it was Pat Buchanan who was to be Rothbard's man in 1992.

Rothbard applauded The Bell Curve for destroying "the egalitarian myth" that "has been the major ideological groundwork for the welfare state."

But the clearest expression of Rothbard's racism comes in his review of Charles Murray's and Richard Herrnstein's book The Bell Curve in 1994. As far back as his undergraduate years Rothbard believed that the statistical regularities expressed in bell curves were a load of bulls[**]t: "Well, what is the evidence for this vital assumption around a normal curve? None whatever. It is a purely mystical act of faith." He stayed remarkably consistent in his review of Murray's book: he thought there was entirely too much reliance on boring numbers and evidence, that it doesn't get to the good stuff fast enough: ". . . the Herrnstein-Murray book almost drowns its subject in statistics and qualifications, and it tries to downplay the entire race issue, devoting most of its space to inheritable differences among individuals within each ethnic or racial group." He applauds the book for destroying "the egalitarian myth" that "has been the major ideological groundwork for the welfare state, and, in its racial aspect, for the entire vast, ever expanding civil rights-affirmative action-set aside-quota aspect of the welfare state. The recognition of inheritance and natural inequalities among races as well as among individuals knocks the props out from under the welfare state system." Rothbard continues:

If and when we as populists and libertarians abolish the welfare state in all of its aspects, and property rights and the free market shall be triumphant once more, many individuals and groups will predictably not like the end result. In that case, those ethnic and other groups who might be concentrated in lower-income or less prestigious occupations, guided by their socialistic mentors, will predictably raise the cry that free-market capitalism is evil and "discriminatory" and that therefore collectivism is needed to redress the balance . . . In short; racialist science is properly not an act of aggression or a cover for oppression of one group over another, but, on the contrary, an operation in defense of private property against assaults by aggressors.

Here what Rothbard meant when he talks about non-aggression and self-defense is made plain: the ideological rampart of the post-welfare order against egalitarian attacks would have to be scientifically dressed up racism, defending the "property rights" of the rightful masters, sorted to the top by the ineluctable logic of the market. At this point his appeal to the alt-right shouldn't be much of a mystery.

Justin Raimondo was the gay, ferociously anti-war precursor to Donald Trump (Curt Mills, July 11, 2019, Spectator USA)

Justin Raimondo is dying. It's October 2018 and I am headed to the 'Raimondo Ranch', in Sebastopol, northern California, to visit the home of the founder of Antiwar.com, the cult website that kept the faith in the early days of the net as Bill Clinton mindlessly bombed Yugoslavia, and George W. Bush leveled Iraq. No one cared, of course. And everyone else was wrong.

Raimondo is a legend. The 'ranch' is no paleoconservative plantation. It's a quaint shack with a garden that looks like it's used to grow marijuana, but charmingly probably isn't. The property will go to Yoshi, who Raimondo describes as his boyfriend, though in fact the pair are married. Raimondo wouldn't like such talk: if you want a spouse, get a wife, seems to be his sentiment, but he will bend the knee for those he loves.

Raimondo cuts an ascetic figure: wiry, chain-smoking, dressed punky but plainly. His reputation is the same to friends and enemies: warrior-monk and a[***]hole.

There is no God, Raimondo says. This is it; this is all there is. 'My country's f[***]ed up,' he tells me, through tears. Time is short. [...]

Like a lot of people who encountered him, I am still grappling with what to make of Justin Raimondo. He was a conservative, of sorts, committed at his death to the new Republican party as a vehicle of national salvation. When I asked him if he considered himself an intellectual, not merely a brawler, he answered hesitantly: 'I would say yes.'

As a tween reader of Antiwar and kindred publication The American Conservative, anti-Bush staples, I found meeting Raimondo reminded me of that scene in Almost Famous, when the green reporter protagonist, William Miller encounters underground rock journalist Lester Bangs. Bangs tells Miller: 'It's just a damned shame you missed out on rock 'n' roll. It's over.'

Proto-Trumps are dropping like flies. Raimondo's demise was followed this week by the death of Ross Perot, the anti-Bush populist, whom acolytes Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, remarkably for any viewer with long-term memory, paid moving tribute to on primetime Fox News Tuesday night. Justin Raimondo may be dead, but the sentiment that the country is to the dogs and the wars are very much to blame is alive as it's ever been.

Raimondo's death comes at an inflection point for Trumpism. On the one hand, if Trump leaves office today, he will be the first American president of my lifetime to not push the union into a new war. On the other hand, Trump's been maddeningly sluggish on the promise of the 2016 campaign: we're still in Syria, we're still in Afghanistan, and we've riskily turned up the heat on Iran. Tehran's already 120 degrees in the summer.

Consider Raimondo as a dying optimist - at least on Donald Trump - however. He was also, oddly for a libertine, a culture warrior.

It's common nowadays to wonder what happened to the conservatism that gave us Ike, Reagan and the Bushes that we have been stuck with the open racism of Donald, but the ideological Paleocons/Libertarians always lurked under the movement and periodically popped their heads out: Wallace, Perot, Buchanan, etc.   As much good as W did, his failure to lance the immigration boil, followed by the election of a black man and the threat of a woman president, allowed a disease of the extremities to infect the brain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Humans Fold: AI Conquers Poker's Final Milestone: A new program outperforms professionals in six-player games. Could business, political or military applications come next? (Jeremy Hsu, July 11, 2019, Scientific American)

During a 2017 casino tournament, a poker-playing program called Libratus deftly defeated four professional players in 120,000 hands of two-player poker. But the program's co-creator, Tuomas Sandholm, did not believe artificial intelligence could achieve a similar performance against a greater number of players.

Two years later, he has proved himself wrong. Sandholm has co-created an AI program called Pluribus, which can consistently defeat human experts in six-player matches of no-limit Texas Hold'em poker. "I never would have imagined we would reach this in my lifetime," says Sandholm, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Past AI victories over humans have involved two-player or two-team games such as checkers, chess, Go and two-player no-limit poker. All of these games are zero-sum--they have just one winning side and one losing side. But six-player poker comes much closer to resembling real-life situations in which one party must make decisions without knowing about multiple opponents' decision-making processes and resources. "This is the first major benchmark that is not two-player or two-team zero-sum games," says Noam Brown, a research scientist at Facebook AI Research and co-creator of Pluribus. "For the first time, we're going beyond that paradigm and showing AI can do well even in a general setting."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


As Its Drug Pricing Plans Fall Through, Trump Administration Turns To Congress To Act (Selena Simmons-Duffin, 7/11/19, npr)

The Trump administration has dropped one of the meatiest portions of its plan to reduce drug prices.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it will no longer pursue a rule that would have prohibited the payment of certain rebates on drugs in Medicare Part D and Medicaid plans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


China June trade surplus with U.S. rises 11% to $29.92 billion (Reuters)

 China's trade surplus with the United States, a major source of friction with its biggest trading partner, rose 11% in June to $29.92 billion from $26.9 billion in May, customs data showed on Friday.

All that racial hysteria wasted....

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


The White House social media summit was full of hypocrisy -- and comedy (Casey Newton, Jul 12, 2019, The Interface)

At the White House today, amid much concern that conservative voices are being silenced by social media platforms, President Donald Trump (after a "morning of tweets [that] was off the rails, even by his standards") stood before a group of activists to deliver a message of support. "Some of you are extraordinary," the president said. "The crap you think of is unbelievable."

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


PODCAST: Ben Wittes on What Congress Should Ask Mueller (Charlie Sykes, July 10th, 2019, The Bulwark)

On today's Bulwark podcast, Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes joins host Charlie Sykes to discuss the upcoming Mueller hearing, the recent reporting about Russia's involvement promoting the Seth Rich conspiracy, the resignation of Ambassador Kim Darroch, and the future of the emoluments clause.

While the main discussion is, of course, worthwhile--Mr. Wittes lays out the rather simple task before Congress in their questioning of Mr. Mueller--the highlight is the exchange about Kim Darroch, whose intelligence background makes him particularly contemptuous of the current occupant of the Oval.  Mr. Wittes tells a variation of this story, to illustrate how closely knit the Anglosphere is and why our friends responded so forcefully to Donald's collusion with Vlad:

The Time U.S. Spies Thought Al Qaeda Was Ready to Nuke D.C. (Shane Harris, 09.10.16, The Daily Beast)

On Christmas Eve 2003, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the secretive U.S. National Security Agency, made a secure phone call to his British counterpart, David Pepper, the director of the Government Communications Headquarters.

"Happy Christmas, David," Hayden said, speaking to Pepper from NSA headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland, about 20 miles from the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Such social calls weren't unusual. The NSA and GCHQ were the closest of allies in a global hunt for the phone calls, emails, and other electronic communications of spies and terrorists.

But Hayden had more on his mind than season's greetings. In recent days, the NSA had been collecting what Hayden would later describe as a "massive amount of chatter"--phone calls and emails from terrorists--that suggested al Qaeda was planning multiple attacks inside the United States, timed to the holidays.

"One more thing, David," Hayden said after the two men exchanged pleasantries. "We actually feel a bit under threat here. And so I've told my liaison to your office that should there be catastrophic loss at Ft. Meade, we are turning the functioning of the American [signals intelligence] system over to GCHQ."

There was a long pause as Pepper absorbed what his American colleague had just told him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


How the Department of Defense Bankrolled Silicon Valley: THE CODE: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America By Margaret O'Mara (Stephen Mihm, July 9, 2019, NY Times)

Shockley turned out to be a boss from hell, and, in a legendary rupture, a handful of his most talented employees -- the "Traitorous Eight" -- parted ways from him and founded Fairchild Semiconductor. Fairchild became the Valley's ur-corporation: Its founders subsequently launched many more storied firms, from the chip maker Intel to the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

O'Mara argues persuasively that Fairchild "established a blueprint that thousands followed in the decades to come: Find outside investors willing to put in capital, give employees stock ownership, disrupt existing markets and create new ones." But she makes clear that this formula wasn't just a matter of free markets working their magic; it took a whole lot of Defense Department dollars to transform the region. Conveniently, the Soviets launched Sputnik three days after Fairchild was incorporated, inaugurating a torrent of money into the tech sector that only increased with the space race.

Something similar happened again in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative and Darpa's Strategic Computing Initiative -- aimed at threats posed by the Soviet Union and Japan, respectively -- funneled even more resources into the region's companies. Defense money, O'Mara observes, "remained the big-government engine hidden under the hood of the Valley's shiny new entrepreneurial sports car, flying largely under the radar screen of the saturation media coverage of hackers and capitalists."

But it was how these defense dollars got distributed -- via Stanford and a growing number of subcontractors in the region -- that mattered as much, if not more. O'Mara argues that the decentralized, privatized system of doling out public contracts fostered entrepreneurship. So, too, did Congress, which passed the Small Business Investment Act in 1958, offering generous tax breaks to the kinds of start-ups proliferating in the shadow of Stanford.

These same factors prevailed at other aspiring tech hubs, notably Route 128 outside Boston, which housed several iconic firms, including Wang and Polaroid. Yet California eventually bested Route 128, and not just because the state had a clear edge when it came to winter weather.

The sources of its success, O'Mara contends, had to do with a host of regulations and legal decisions that governed how firms in the Valley did business. Foremost among these was California's longstanding prohibition on noncompete clauses. This made it easy for employees to job-hop and share news of the latest innovations without fear of reprisal or recrimination. The turnover was staggering at Valley start-ups compared with established corporations such as I.B.M. on the other side of the country. But the creativity unleashed in the process left other regions far behind.

No less important was the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which unexpectedly led to an influx of newcomers, many of them skilled in the technical fields that are Silicon Valley's bread and butter. Between 1995 and 2005, more than half the founders of companies in the Valley were born outside the United States.

There's a hilarious EconTalk where the normally data-driven Russ Roberts simply can't process the determinative role government played in these tech businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


No, my marriage is not a "second holocaust": For some Jews, marrying out is a greater threat than antisemitism (Giles Fraser, 11 JULY 2019, UnHerd)

Childhood sweethearts, Boris and Rosa Shoenbaum, were born in 1896 in the small town of Beresteczko, in what is now western Ukraine. They were wealthy and lived in a large 11-bedroom house in Lvov, with servants. In June 1941, the German army occupied the town in the course of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Before the Nazis arrived there were 330,000 Jews in Lvov. By the end of the war, almost none were left.

Two of the very few who did survive were Grisha and Luba, the Shoenbaum's two children. The family were originally taken off to the local concentration camp, Janowaska. But Boris bribed his captors, and managed to engineer their escape. Within days, Boris and Rosa had been recaptured and shot. But the teenage Luba managed to pass herself off as a Christian and got a job as a local housekeeper. She hid her brother in a local clock tower for three years, secretly taking him food as he struggled to stay alive amid the constant fear of discovery and the stench of pigeon shit.

After the war, Luba made her way to Israel where she became a financial advisor to the government. Even as an elderly woman in Tel Aviv, she would cross herself and exclaim "Jesus, Mary and Joseph" - the deception had been so deep. Her little brother, Grisha, now Gregory, left for America where he became an eminent biochemist, working to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy at St Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He passed away last month at the age of 91. Luba, also now passed away, was my wife's grandmother. Every year, my mother-in-law goes to Yad Vashem to light a candle for Boris and Rosa.

A few months ago, my wife had a baby boy, and we have named him Jonah Boris. Given this back story, you can imagine how much we appreciated it when some of my more delightful Twitter followers decided that Boris (my son now inevitably nicknamed Jo Bo) was a less than appropriate name, with some interpreting this as indicative of fascist sympathies. My reaction was unpublishable.

So too was my reaction to the latest comments of the newly appointed Israeli education minister, Rafi Peretz that intermarriage - Jews 'marrying out' - "is like a second holocaust". His comment, made last week, during a government cabinet meeting is indicative of a growing rift between hard line Israeli nationalists and the increasingly liberal Jewish diaspora, especially in places like the United States. Peretz was commenting on a briefing given to the Netanyahu government by Dennis Ross, formerly a senior official in the Obama administration, on recent trends in Jewish communities around the world. Peretz pointedly commented that over the last 70 years, the Jewish community has "lost six million people" - a figure that is commonly understood to be the number of Jews that were murdered in the Shoah.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Trump's cave on Census stuns allies (Jonathan Swan, 7/11/19, Axios)

Top figures in the conservative legal community are stunned and depressed by President Trump's cave in his fight for a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

The state of play: Sources say Leonard Leo and other Federalist Society stalwarts were shocked and floored by how weak the decision was. "What was the dance ... all about if this was going to be the end result?" a conservative leader asked.

"A total waste of everyone's time. ... It's certainly going to give people pause the next time one has to decide how far to stick one's neck out."

One GOP strategist called it a "punch in the gut."

Like Proud Boys meeting Antifa....

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Can Christian Compassion Influence How We Treat Migrants?: Finding a holistic solution to the humanitarian crisis at the border is going to take more than an enforcement-deterrence only approach. (ALAN CROSS,  JULY 11, 2019, The Bulwark)

Christians have been speaking out about this and have gotten louder over the past week. Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention tweeted recently that "The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this."

This should be a pretty basic, run of the mill response from a Christian theologian to reports of migrant children sleeping on concrete floors and not being able to bathe for weeks at a time or have their diapers changed. But, in an odd turn of events (or what would have been considered odd just two years ago), Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, represented another take on the collision of religion and politics and fired back at Dr. Moore over what he perceived to be a swipe at President Trump. He tweeted, "Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll?  Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What gives you authority to speak on any issue? I'm being serious.  You're nothing but an employee- a bureaucrat."

Falwell's perspective is ridiculous. He himself has inherited his wealth and position from his own father as have many others. But, he demonstrates that what cannot be inherited is compassion.

Jesus shows us how to have compassion for others. Matthew 9:35-36 says "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." When Jesus saw the crowds, instead of judging them or rejecting them or ascribing base motives to them, he was moved with compassion for them. Jesus says something similar in Luke 10:33 when he says that the Good Samaritan had "compassion" on the man beaten and lying on the side of the road by tangibly caring for him. This kind of compassion doesn't come automatically to individuals, nor is it inherited by a nation from past generations. It has to be cultivated through the development of character and through proximity and engagement with people in need. And that isn't always an easy process. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


The Real Story of Brazil's Pension Reform (MONICA DE BOLLE, JULY 11, 2019, Americas Quarterly)

The Brazilian pension reform has become a defining issue for the left and the anti-left. For leftists, or those identified by the anti-left as members of that camp, Bolsonaro and any policy proposed by members of his government are the target of attacks and rejection. Facts and hard evidence have become just as irrelevant for this group of society as they are for Bolsonaro supporters and others. The left has staged a visceral campaign against pension reform in Brazil, often citing half-truths or unverified information to back up their arguments, mirroring the approach of Bolsonaro and his die-hard base of supporters on other highly-charged themes such as gender and climate issues. The left's fight against pension reform has thus served to rally anti-leftists in support of pension reform, leading to street demonstrations and unrelenting pro-reform posts on social media. Add to the mix the fact that the current Congress leans conservative and has all the ingredients to deliver a seemingly shocking vote in favor of the reform, which even claimed support from moderate deputies who did not associate themselves with the positions of their left or center-left parties.

Thus head scratch no more. Brazil's pension reform vote is only surprising if one analyzes it from the viewpoint of relatively normal political conditions. Brazil today, not unlike much of the world, is anything but normal.