December 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Republicans in turmoil as redistricting looms (ALLY MUTNICK, 12/02/2019, Politico)

The GOP group charged with winning state legislatures is in turmoil -- sparking concerns that the party is at risk of blowing the next round of redistricting.

The Republican State Leadership Committee has seen an exodus of top staff in recent months, has lagged behind its Democratic counterpart in fundraising and is struggling to explain why its new president, Austin Chambers, was also moonlighting as a general consultant for Louisiana businessman Eddie Rispone's failed bid for governor.

The troubles come on the cusp of a crucial opportunity for the party to amass political power for the next decade: the 2020 state-level elections, which will determine which party controls the process of redrawing the political maps for the next decade.

Republicans are reeling after major 2019 losses in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana -- as Democrats are organizing and fundraising at a record-breaking clip. Led by former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, they are working to prioritize state-level races after getting clobbered in the post-2010 redistricting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Prosecutor who aided Giuliani's hunt for damaging details on Biden fired in anti-corruption purge (IGOR DERYSH, DECEMBER 2, 2019, Salon)

Kostiantyn Kulyk, one of Giuliani's earliest contacts in Ukraine, was given a dismissal notice last week after failing to show up for an exam that was part of a review process for prosecutors held over from the previous administration, The Washington Post reported. More than 500 prosecutors have been fired as part of the review.

Kulyk has denied meeting Giuliani, but his former associates say he prepared a seven-page dossier, which was passed along to Giuliani, according to The Post.

The former prosecutor later appeared in a report by The Hill's John Solomon, to whom Giuliani fed dubious claims to fuel the debunked narrative that Biden had a prosecutor terminated while he was investigating a Ukrainian firm that employed his son. Kulyk also helped fuel what former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch described as a Giuliani-led smear campaign to get her fired. The prosecutor told Solomon that Yovanovitch blocked him and other officials from getting a visa to travel to the U.S. to share information about his findings.

Giuliani told The Blaze host Glenn Beck last month that he used Solomon to push the claims in the U.S. Senior State Department official George Kent also testified last month that Solomon's reporting, "if not entirely made up in full cloth," was filled with "non-truths and non-sequiturs."

That feeling when everything you whole-heartedly believe is non-truth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


UN: Israeli occupation costs Palestinians $48 billion (MEMO, December 2, 2019)

A UN report found that the fiscal cost of Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people in 2000-2017 period is estimated at $47.7 billion, or three times the size of the Palestinian economy in 2017, reports Anadolu Agency.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


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Senate panel look into Ukraine interference comes up short (NATASHA BERTRAND, 12/02/2019, Politico)

[T]he Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly investigated that theory, according to people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin's efforts to help Trump win in 2016.

The committee's Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said in October 2017 that the panel would be examining "collusion by either campaign during the 2016 elections."

But an interview that fall with the Democratic consultant at the heart of the accusation that Kyiv meddled, Alexandra Chalupa, was fruitless, a committee source said, and Republicans didn't follow up or request any more witnesses related to the issue.

The Senate interview largely focused on a POLITICO article published in January 2017, according to a person with direct knowledge of the closed-door hearing, in which Chalupa was quoted as saying officials at the Ukrainian Embassy were "helpful" to her effort to raise the alarm about Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort in 2016.

"If I asked a question, they would provide guidance, or if there was someone I needed to follow up with," she said at the time. She cautioned, however, that the embassy was "very careful" not to get involved politically because of the bipartisan support Ukraine has traditionally enjoyed from U.S. lawmakers. As the POLITICO article noted, there was "little evidence" of a "top-down effort" by the Ukraianian government to sabotage Trump's campaign. And the article did not allege that Poroshenko "actively worked" for Clinton, as Kennedy claimed.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Historians uncover fourth Soviet spy who stole US atomic secrets in WWII (RICH TENORIO, 12/02/19, Times of Israel)

As a mushroom cloud illuminated the sky over the top-secret Trinity test site in New Mexico, an engineer named Oscar Seborer was part of a United States Army unit monitoring seismological activity at the site.

But, it turns out, Seborer was not merely a technician and has recently been named as a fourth Soviet spy at Los Alamos in a recent paper, joining Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, and David Greenglass in an alleged espionage ring. And while there is no established link between the spy rings, Greenglass' sister was notably the ill-famed Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed along with her husband Julius Rosenberg in 1951, after a controversial espionage trial.

The paper, "Project SOLO and the Seborers: On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos," was written by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes for Studies in Intelligence -- a publication of the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


How to Get Solar Power on a Rainy Day? Beam It From Space (Daniel Oberhaus, 12/02/19, Wired)

Like fusion energy, space-based solar power seemed doomed to become a technology that was always 30 years away. Technical problems kept cropping up, cost estimates remained stratospheric, and as solar cells became cheaper and more efficient, the case for space-based solar seemed to be shrinking.

That didn't stop government research agencies from trying. In 1975, after partnering with the Department of Energy on a series of space solar power feasibility studies, NASA beamed 30 kilowatts of power over a mile using a giant microwave dish. Beamed energy is a crucial aspect of space solar power, but this test remains the most powerful demonstration of the technology to date. "The fact that it's been almost 45 years since NASA's demonstration, and it remains the high-water mark, speaks for itself," Jaffe says. "Space solar wasn't a national imperative, and so a lot of this technology didn't meaningfully progress."

John Mankins, a former physicist at NASA and director of Solar Space Technologies, witnessed how government bureaucracy killed space solar power development firsthand. In the late 1990s, Mankins authored a report for NASA that concluded it was again time to take space solar power seriously and led a project to do design studies on a satellite system. Despite some promising results, the agency ended up abandoning it.

In 2005, Mankins left NASA to work as a consultant, but he couldn't shake the idea of space solar power. He did some modest space solar power experiments himself and even got a grant from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program in 2011. The result was SPS-ALPHA, which Mankins called "the first practical solar power satellite." The idea, says Mankins, was "to build a large solar-powered satellite out of thousands of small pieces." His modular design brought the cost of hardware down significantly, at least in principle.

Jaffe, who was just starting to work on hardware for space solar power at the Naval Research Lab, got excited about Mankins' concept. At the time he was developing a "sandwich module" consisting of a small solar panel on one side and a microwave transmitter on the other. His electronic sandwich demonstrated all the elements of an actual space solar power system and, perhaps most important, it was modular. It could work beautifully with something like Mankins' concept, he figured. All they were missing was the financial support to bring the idea from the laboratory into space.

Jaffe invited Mankins to join a small team of researchers entering a Defense Department competition, in which they were planning to pitch a space solar power concept based on SPS-ALPHA. In 2016, the team presented the idea to top Defense officials and ended up winning four out of the seven award categories. Both Jaffe and Mankins described it as a crucial moment for reviving the US government's interest in space solar power.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


An interview with historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times' 1619 Project (Tom Mackaman, 28 November 2019, World Socialist web Site)

Gordon Wood is professor emeritus at Brown University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, as well as Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, and dozens of other books and articles on the colonial period, the American Revolution and the early republic.

Historian Gordan Wood speaks with WSWS about American Revolution and the NYT 1619 Project

Q. The claim made by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the 1619 Project that the Revolution was really about founding a slavocracy seems to be coming from arguments made elsewhere that it was really Great Britain that was the progressive contestant in the conflict, and that the American Revolution was, in fact, a counterrevolution, basically a conspiracy to defend slavery.

A. It's been argued by some historians, people other than Hannah-Jones, that some planters in colonial Virginia were worried about what the British might do about slavery. Certainly, Dunmore's proclamation in 1775, which promised the slaves freedom if they joined the Crown's cause, provoked many hesitant Virginia planters to become patriots. There may have been individuals who were worried about their slaves in 1776, but to see the whole revolution in those terms is to miss the complexity.

In 1776, Britain, despite the Somerset decision, was certainly not the great champion of antislavery that the Project 1619 suggests. Indeed, it is the northern states in 1776 that are the world's leaders in the antislavery cause. The first anti-slavery meeting in the history of the world takes place in Philadelphia in 1775. That coincidence I think is important. I would have liked to have asked Hannah-Jones, how would she explain the fact that in 1791 in Virginia at the College of William and Mary, the Board of Visitors, the board of trustees, who were big slaveholding planters, awarded an honorary degree to Granville Sharp, who was the leading British abolitionist of the day. That's the kind of question that should provoke historical curiosity. You ask yourself what were these slaveholding planters thinking? It's the kind of question, the kind of seeming anomaly, that should provoke a historian into research.

The idea that the Revolution occurred as a means of protecting slavery--I just don't think there is much evidence for it, and in fact the contrary is more true to what happened. The Revolution unleashed antislavery sentiments that led to the first abolition movements in the history of the world.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


When Harry Met Sally, They Both Should've Run (Noah Berlatsky, 12/02/19, Splice)

When Harry Met Sally, directed by Rob Reiner and written by Nora Ephron, is getting a 30th anniversary screening this month. It remains an iconic romantic comedy--for reasons that are understandable, but depressing.

In a good romantic comedy, you fall in love with both characters as they fall in love with each other. Pride and Prejudice is a delight because it's impossible not to be swept away by Elizabeth Bennett's sly wit, or Darcy's stiff but sincere gallantry. In His Girl Friday, Hildy (Rosalind Russell) and Walter (Cary Grant) compete in flights of dazzling verbiage to make you swoon in admiration. [...] A romantic comedy has to create characters that you want to spend time with. If it can't do that, it's a failure.

Or so you'd think. Yet, When Harry Met Sally hangs its romance on two of the least appealing main characters Hollywood has ever commanded audiences to embrace.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What happens when people win this basic income raffle? They have time find meaning in their lives (JULIA HOTZ, 12/02/19, FastCompany)

The idea started five years ago when Michael Bohmeyer, then a 29-year old web developer, crowdfunded his own salary. In an interview with The Local, Bohmeyer said that year helped him improve his health, read more often, join nonprofit projects, and recognize the importance of "time over money." So, rather than wait on a politically unmotivated Germany to do it, Bohmeyer launched an independent basic income campaign to help others recognize their "great potential."

Since then, more than 150,000 individuals have donated to Mein Grundeinkommen's online fund--which will have awarded nearly 500 basic incomes by the end of 2019. The process works like a raffle; any person anywhere in the world, for no fee at all, can register to receive €1000 (about $1,100) per month for a year.

"It's kind of a reset button for people in the middle of their life," says Steven Strehl, Mein Grundeinkommen's Platform Development Associate. "Most people continue to work, but when they do, they can take a step back, look at themselves, and analyze what's going on." [...]

About half (47%) say the basic income has helped them reimagine their work as a contribution to society, and even greater majorities say it's made them less anxious (80%), and more energetic (81%), courageous (80%), and curious (60%). Though only four surveyed winners either changed or quit their jobs, more than half say that the basic income allowed them to continue their education, and 35% say they've since become more "motivated" at work.

Tonći Vidović, another winner, is among the re-"motivated." As a 48 year-old freelance software developer living in Bournemouth, England, he says he's never short of work, but sometimes has the opposite problem. "I'm in this business because I enjoy doing it, but the reason I haven't been enjoying it is because I have this pressure to keep my family alive."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Will Iran's 50% gas price hike pay off for the economy? (Bijan Khajehpour,  December 1, 2019, Al Monitor)

There were three key economic drivers to change the fuel pricing system in Iran: to contain smuggling, reduce energy consumption and improve the government's financial position.

As the introduction of fuel cards a year ago indicated, the government was concerned about fuel being smuggled into neighboring countries, which also facilitates money laundering. There are diverse data on the quantity of smuggled fuel, but based on an average estimate of 20 million liters of gas and diesel being smuggled out daily, and benchmarking the old gas price against the new higher one of 30,000 rials, the annual damage to the Iranian economy would have been about $1.3 billion. On top of that, in most cases, revenues generated through smuggling return to the country in the form of imported goods, hence functioning as money laundering for perpetrators. Such smuggling also imposes a heavy burden on local industries and employment in the country. 

As for energy consumption, the debates that took place in advance of the 2010 law on removing subsidies produced one key conclusion: The only path to containing consumption in the transportation sector would be through fuel prices. Later studies showed that in the Iranian year 1390 (which started March 21, 2011), fuel consumption in the transportation sector declined by 9.2% compared with 1388, the last year in which old subsidized prices prevailed through the whole year.

Obviously, the relationship between fuel consumption and price isn't linear; there are many other factors involved including the availability of public transportation, fuel efficiency and the increased use of vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas. Nonetheless, there is a degree of price sensitivity and the government hopes the higher prices will reduce consumption. According to Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, the country has recorded a 20 million liter decline in daily consumption of gasoline since the price hikes.

One of the main objectives of the latest reforms is to improve the government's overall financial position by reducing the cost of subsidizing people's fuel purchases. According to Vice President Mohammad Nobakht, who heads the government's Management and Planning Organization, the fuel price hikes will annually inject an additional 300 trillion rials ($2.6 billion at the free market exchange rate) into state coffers, which officials said would then be allocated to citizens in the form of cash handouts. At the same time, the government has revamped the handout system to increase payments to the poorer social classes and discontinue those for richer families. Some 60 million citizens (about 73% of the population) will receive the new higher monthly payment, which has been adjusted based on the number of family members.

Even if the government allocates all of the new resources to cash handouts, it will still benefit from the expected decline in smuggling and, more importantly, the opportunity to export fuel to neighboring markets. In fact, officials in the Ministry of Petroleum expect the country to be able to generate $5.5 billion in annual revenues from exporting the surplus fuel that will be freed as a result of reduced consumption and reduced smuggling activity. This would compensate for some of the loss of crude oil exports as a result of US sanctions.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


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Are you as grateful as you deserve to be? (Richard Gunderman, 11/26/19, The Conversation)

As a physician, I have helped to care for many patients and families whose lives have been turned upside down by serious illnesses and injuries. In the throes of such catastrophes, it can be difficult to find cause for anything but lament. Yet Thanksgiving presents us with an opportunity to develop one of the healthiest, most life-affirming and convivial of all habits - that of counting and rejoicing in our blessings.

Research shows that grateful people tend to be healthy and happy. They exhibit lower levels of stress and depression, cope better with adversity and sleep better. They tend to be happier and more satisfied with life. Even their partners tend to be more content with their relationships.

Perhaps when we are more focused on the good things we enjoy in life, we have more to live for and tend to take better care of ourselves and each other.

When researchers asked people to reflect on the past week and write about things that either irritated them or about which they felt grateful, those tasked with recalling good things were more optimistic, felt better about their lives and actually visited their physicians less.

It is no surprise that receiving thanks makes people happier, but so does expressing gratitude. An experiment that asked participants to write and deliver thank-you notes found large increases in reported levels of happiness, a benefit that lasted for an entire month.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Georgia governor set to buck Trump on Senate appointment (ALEX ISENSTADT and MELANIE ZANONA, 12/01/2019, Politico)

[K]emp has held firm. Those close to the governor say he believes Loeffler will help the party appeal to suburban and female voters who've drifted from the GOP since Trump took office.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ron DeSantis isn't on Donald Trump's TV anymore. That's on purpose. (Steve Contorno, 12/01/19, Tampa Bay Times)

DeSantis' absence from Fox News is a drastic shift in media strategy. DeSantis' allies say it's intentional, allowing the governor to avoid questions that could suck him into polarizing partisan battles and divert him from his new job of governing 21 million residents. [...]

It's smart for a governor to sidestep national political fights, said Adam Goodman, a longtime media consultant for Florida Republicans, and it seems to be working. Early in his first term, DeSantis has ridden a spate of positive reaction to his proposals on the environment and teacher pay to become one of the country's most popular governors.

"If I had to lay out a branding game plan for Ron DeSantis as a relatively new member of the gubernatorial class, I would take the plan they've been on and double down," Goodman said. "Build a resume of achievement, which is something public leaders are in short supply of these days. Then, he can say he's all action, less talk."

But DeSantis' exodus from the national airwaves comes at the most perilous moment of the Trump presidency. As the impeachment investigation marches forward in the House of Representatives, DeSantis is no longer on the front lines defending Trump, who is known to keep tabs on who has his back -- and how they perform on TV.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The White House Says Nursing Home Regulations Are Too Tough (Ina Jaffe, November 30, 2019, Weekend Edition)

SIMON: These are proposed changes. What might change if they're approved?

JAFFE: Well, one proposal that's attracted a lot of attention would change the way antipsychotic drugs can be prescribed. Now, Scott, these are drugs that are approved for treating serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia. They also come with a black box warning that says they can raise the risk of death in older people with dementia. But in nursing homes, that's usually who gets them. It's a practice that's widely criticized. So the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, has spent years trying to get nursing homes to reduce the use of antipsychotics. But critics say the proposed new rule would actually make it easier to prescribe them.

SIMON: Why would the government make it easier to do something they've been discouraging?

JAFFE: Well, currently, if a nursing home resident gets a new prescription for an antipsychotic, it can't be renewed after two weeks without a doctor's exam. But under the proposed rule, the doctor could keep renewing the prescription without seeing the patient again for a month or two. This has been condemned by elder rights organizations like the Long Term Care Community Coalition. Their executive director, Richard Mollot, told me that the physician he's consulted also condemns the proposal.

RICHARD MOLLOT: What he said was that no other insurance company would ever accept that a doctor didn't have to see a patient before continuing a prescription for medicine. But CMS is saying now that that's OK for nursing homes in this very vulnerable population. And people die from this. They're affected so catastrophically.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


White House won't take part in first House Judiciary impeachment hearing (ANDREW DESIDERIO and KYLE CHENEY, 12/01/2019, Politico)

Nadler had asked Trump to indicate by Sunday whether the president himself or a White House attorney would attend Wednesday's hearing, an offer that Democrats said was an attempt to afford due process to Trump as he faces a likely impeachment vote before the end of the month.

The President having confessed, released transcripts of the crime and repeated it in public, there is no defense to offer.