January 21, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


There is no dark matter. Instead, information has mass, physicist says (PHILIP PERRY, 21 January, 2020, Rightly Understood)

Since the '70s, astronomers and physicists have been unable to identify any evidence of dark matter. One theory is it's all tied up in space-bound objects called MACHOs (Massive Compact Halo Objects). These include black holes, supermassive black holes, brown dwarfs, and neutron stars.

Another theory is that dark matter is made up of a type of non-baryonic matter, called WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Baryonic matter is the kind made up of baryons, such as protons and neutrons and everything composed of them, which is anything with an atomic nucleus. Electrons, neutrinos, muons, and tau particles aren't baryons, however, but a class of particles called leptons. Even though the (hypothetical) WIMPS would have ten to a hundred times the mass of a proton, their interactions with normal matter would be weak, making them hard to detect.

Then there are those aforementioned neutrinos. Did you know that giant streams of them pass from the Sun through the Earth each day, without us ever noticing? They're the focus of another theory that says that neutral neutrinos, that only interact with normal matter through gravity, are what dark matter is comprised of. Other candidates include two theoretical particles, the neutral axion and the uncharged photino.

Now, one theoretical physicist posits an even more radical notion. What if dark matter didn't exist at all? Dr. Melvin Vopson of the University of Portsmouth, in the UK, has a hypothesis he calls the mass-energy-information equivalence. It states that information is the fundamental building block of the universe, and it has mass. This accounts for the missing mass within galaxies, thus eliminating the hypothesis of dark matter entirely.

Information theory 
To be clear, the idea that information is an essential building block of the universe isn't new. Classical Information Theory was first posited by Claude Elwood Shannon, the "father of the digital age" in the mid-20th century. The mathematician and engineer, well-known in scientific circles--but not so much outside of them, had a stroke of genius back in 1940. He realized that Boolean algebra coincided perfectly with telephone switching circuits. Soon, he proved that mathematics could be employed to design electrical systems.

Shannon was hired at Bell Labs to figure out how to transfer information over a system of wires. He wrote the bible on using mathematics to set up communication systems, thereby laying the foundation for the digital age. Shannon was also the first to define one unit of information as a bit.

There was perhaps no greater proponent of information theory than another unsung paragon of science, John Archibald Wheeler. Wheeler was part of the Manhattan Project, worked out the "S-Matrix" with Niels Bohr and helped Einstein develop a unified theory of physics. In his later years, he proclaimed, "Everything is information." Then he went about exploring connections between quantum mechanics and information theory.

He also coined the phrase "it from bit" or that every particle in the universe emanates from the information locked inside it. At the Santa Fe Institute in 1989, Wheeler announced that everything, from particles to forces to the fabric of spacetime itself "... derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely ... from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits."

In the Beginning was the Word.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Neo-Nazi Terror Group Leader Calls FBI Arrests 'Witch Hunt' (Ben Makuch and Mack Lamoureux, Jan 21 2020, Vice News)

After a nationwide FBI operation resulted in the arrest of eight members of The Base--a neo-Nazi terror group with cells of radical followers around the world--its shadowy leader released a statement on an encrypted chat network.

Roman Wolf--not a real name, but an alias--told followers on what is believed to be one of the group's official propaganda channels that the recent arrests of eight members wouldn't stop his militant organization from continuing its plans preparing for a "race war."

Wolf's defiance comes at a time when eight members of his group across the U.S. face various court cases and potentially lengthy sentences for serious crimes, as The Base continues to exhibit its evolution into a dangerous domestic terror threat on the radar of the FBI.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


The US Sanctions on Iran Are Causing a Major Humanitarian Crisis (Ahmad Jalalpour, 1/21/20, The Nation)

The plight of those sliding into the category known as "absolute poverty" is even more tragic. According to the Iranian Parliament's Research Center, in fiscal year 2016-17 (calculated in the Iranian calendar), 16 percent of the population lived in absolute poverty, defined as living on or less than $1.08 a day. In 2017-18, the figure increased by an average of 30 percent. That figure must have risen even higher in the past year. This means at least another 10 percent of the population has fallen into absolute poverty in just two years.

All you have to do to see the impact of the sanctions is observe buyers' behavior in municipal stores reserved for fruits and vegetables. "Before, except for the homeless people, you would hardly ever see anyone asking for rotting produce from us," said a manager at one of these stores. "We just threw them into giant bins to be picked up by garbage trucks the next day. Today, for every individual buying our 'normal' produce, twice, sometimes three times as many people could be seen scurrying about until the closing hours when we offer our rejected produce at reduced rates." He said the competition to grab this rejected produce could get quite fierce. "They just need to feed themselves and their family no matter what, pride be damned," he added wryly.

Available data for the economy are hard to come by, but from what is published, the emerging picture is of a society on the brink. For instance, according to the Central Bank of Iran, after a 12 percent growth in GDP in 2016, the first year after the conclusion of the multilateral nuclear agreement (officially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), it dropped to 3 percent growth in 2017, followed by a 4 percent contraction in 2018 and a further projected 10 percent contraction in 2019, showing the effect of the new sanctions imposed after Trump's 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA. This is a cumulative contraction of 14 percent in just two years, which, when combined with the impact of the previous sanctions regime, easily surpasses the Great Depression in its severity and devastating consequences (this year's conditions are expected to be worse than those of the previous two years).
It seems that, for once, Trump is not exaggerating when he describes the sanctions against Iran as "the most severe ever imposed on a country." Indeed, the situation is uniformly bleak for all social and economic indicators. From suicide rates to divorce rates to substance abuse to air and water quality to crime rates, the story is the same.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Half of Americans Say Trump Has Personally Invited Election Interference (ANDY KROLL, 1/21/20, Rolling Stone)

President Trump -- who in 2016 invited Russia to "find" Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails ("Russia, if you're listening ..."), who was impeached partly for soliciting Ukraine's help to damage Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and who has also called on China to interfere in the 2020 campaign -- fared poorly in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. More than half of Americans (56 percent) said he has done little or nothing at all to prepare the country for interference and online propaganda in the upcoming election.

And almost as many people (51 percent) said Trump has personally invited election interference.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Trump privately told donors new details about Soleimani airstrike at Mar-a-Lago fundraiser (Colby Itkowitz and David A. Fahrenthold, Jan. 18, 2020, Washington Post)

The official on the line told the president that Soleimani and the Iraqi military leader he was meeting with were "gone" and then hung up, according to Trump.

"I said, 'Where is this guy?' " Trump said. "That was the last I heard from him."

While the dramatic description of Trump's experience watching the strike is new, Trump has spoken at rallies and on Twitter about the Soleimani attack as he hones his reelection talking points on his capability as commander in chief.

In a separate audio clip, Trump is heard boasting about increasing the defense budget by $2.5 trillion -- a massive sum he may have gotten to by adding several years' budgets; the Pentagon budget for fiscal 2020 is $738 billion. To those who criticized his spending and the growing national debt, Trump said: "Who the hell cares about the budget? We're going to have a country."

For most of President Barack Obama's time in office, Republicans seemed to care very much about the budget, making fears around the national debt and deficit their top talking point. They've backed off those concerns under Trump.

...that the Tea Party was just racism in budget hawk dress. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Police: NH man chokes coyote to death after it attacked child near pond (Jim Morelli,  January 21, 2020, Boston 25)

KENSINGTON, N.H. -- A New Hampshire man fought off and eventually killed a coyote that attacked his family Monday near Judes Pond on the Exeter-Kensington line, local police departments confirmed to Boston 25 News. [...]
"There was no interest in it going away. [I] ultimately had to make the decision to become the aggressor and jumped on it, attacked it and [got] it to the ground," O'Reilly said. "When I was able to get on top of it, I put my hand on its snout so it wasn't able to attack me. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground, so I shoved the face into the snow and then eventually was able [to] put my hand on its snout and expire it through suffocation. Ultimately one hand on its windpipe and one hand on its snout did the trick."

O'Reilly was apparently bitten in the arm and chest by the coyote. The child involved was also bitten, though the animal did not break the child's skin due to the snowsuit he was wearing at the time. Since the incident, O'Reilly has already received his first round of rabies shots; he'll have four more follow-up visits with doctors for more.

The father of three said he was running off of adrenaline and instinct when the nearly 10-minute long struggle ensued. He added that he did not take any pleasure in killing the animal, but believed he had no choice but to protect his wife and kids, given the coyote's behavior.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New solar power source and storage developed (Claire Heald, 1/21/20, BBC News)

A new form of combined solar power generation and storage is being developed for the UK.

It couples thin, flexible, lighter solar sheets with energy storage to power buildings or charge vehicles off-grid.

The company behind it, Solivus, plans to cover the roofs of large industrial buildings with the solar fabric.

These include supermarket warehouses and delivery company distribution centres.

But Solivus also plans to manufacture solar units or "arcs" for home use.

The aim is to create local, renewable energy, to give people and business their own power supply and help the UK towards its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The fast, deadly missile system thought to have shot down Ukrainian Flight 752 is one of the best Iran has (Gerry Doyle, 1/20/20, Reuters)

The Tor is among the most modern air-defense systems Iran has, Duitsman said, and can attack two targets at once with up to two missiles each. When Iran purchased them from Russia in the mid-2000s, "the capability was such that at the time the US was concerned about the sale," he added.

Iran fields "small numbers" of Tor systems, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report last year.

All that hysteria spent blaming the UR...

Iran warns that 'freedom-seekers' around world will avenge Soleimani's killing (The Times of Israel, 1/20/20)

"They hit General Soleimani in a cowardly act, but there are freedom-seekers across the world who want to revenge for him with God's help, and God willing, we will hit his enemy chivalrously," said Gen. Esmail Ghaani at a ceremony in Tehran.

"Our enemy understands no language but force and therefore, we should stand against them strongly," he added, according to the Fars news agency.

A people who think themselves a nation are one.

January 20, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


New poll on the eve of Trump's impeachment trial finds that 51% of Americans think he should be removed from office (Sonam Sheth, 1/20/20, Business Insider)

CNN's poll also found that 58% of Americans believe the president abused his power and 57% believe he obstructed the inquiry by Congress into the matter.

These statistics represent an uptick in public sentiment against the president across almost every measure.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Trump's Backward March on Trade (ANNE O. KRUEGER, 1/20/20, Project Syndicate)

The result has been disastrous. Trade relations between the US and its major international partners are now fraught. The global growth rates of both trade and GDP have fallen sharply, and growth projections are being downgraded as further evidence of the economic damage caused by US trade policies comes to light.

One early step by the Trump administration was to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum. This policy hurt Canada, the European Union, Mexico, and Japan - all US friends or allies - but not China, which accounted for only 2% of US steel imports at the time. It is estimated that the metal tariffs have cost Americans $900,000 per year per job "saved." Worse, US employment in steelmaking has continued to decline, and US steel exports have remained flat since the tariffs were introduced in early 2018.

Since then, Trump bullied Canada and Mexico into renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has now been replaced by the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The revised deal tightens US regulations on imports of automobiles and auto parts, and requires that 40-45% of Mexican auto workers be paid at least $16 per hour by 2023. For comparison, that is tantamount to introducing a pay floor for US autoworkers of more than $75 per hour - obviously an unthinkable proposition.

The Trump administration has also forced a "renegotiation" of the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, with the main result being to restrict imports of steel from South Korea and to prolong a US tariff on imported light trucks.

And then there is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim countries (excluding China) and signed on February 4, 2016. Immediately upon taking office, Trump withdrew America from the TPP, leaving the remaining signatories to salvage the deal, which they have done under Japanese leadership. As a result, US exports to those countries are now subject to much higher tariffs than is trade among the remaining 11 members.

Then came Trump's trade war against China, which has both undercut global trade and brought the bilateral relationship to its lowest point since the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Even with the "phase one" agreement that has just been signed, the average US tariff on imports from China will be around 19%, up from 3% before the trade war. Worse, the US has gained little from the process. Yes, the latest deal includes a Chinese commitment to import more US agricultural and other products. But to represent a "gain," those additional purchases would have to be great enough to compensate for the lost exports of 2018-19.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Trump just ran a two-year trade war experiment. It failed. (James Pethokoukis, January 17, 2020, The Week)

Fans of free-market capitalism, you have reason to rejoice. Break out those green Adam Smith neckties hanging in the back of your closet. Party like it's 1999 -- or, even better, 2000 when the internet-fueled Nasdaq hit a record high of 5000 and the U.S. normalized trade relations with China.

The cause for celebration today is President Trump signing a "phase one" trade deal with China. After two years of back-and-forth tariffs that marked the world's worst trade conflict in a century, Beijing and Washington have reached a historic agreement that accomplishes ... not so much, really. It doesn't create balanced trade between the United States and China. It doesn't disentangle the two mega-economies. And it doesn't force China to alter its "state capitalist" economic model built on central planning and subsidies. China doesn't even concede that it has a history of forcing American firms to hand over their technology.

But "not so much" isn't nothing. The singular achievement of President Trump's protectionist experiment is to vividly demonstrate on a global stage that protectionism doesn't work. And for that welcome-if-unintentional result, free marketeers should be delighted -- though not really surprised. After all, Trump's fundamental economic observation about trade is flat-out wrong. 

He will be forgotten in record time.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



In 1911, Harriet Tubman moved into a home she had never imagined she would need herself: the Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes. The famed abolitionist had created the haven to lift up the poor and aging in her community. She hadn't necessarily planned to spend her own final years there. But after a lifetime of seizures, headaches and narcoleptic attacks as a result of a childhood head trauma, she'd become increasingly frail at nearly 90 years of age.

Tubman, who was born into slavery, is famous for guiding hundreds of slaves to safer ground through the Underground Railroad in the 1800s following her own escape from bondage. But many of her numerous post-Civil War accomplishments to fight for the poor and vulnerable remain obscured. In addition to being an outspoken suffragist and co-founder of the NACW -- the National Association of Colored Women -- Tubman opened what some historians say was the first nursing home for aging Black people.

Located in Auburn, New York, the Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes formally opened in 1908 but had been a project years in the making. She created a place for former slaves to receive housing and health care that would enable them to age in dignity and decency, says Karen V. Hill, president and CEO of Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. "This is the culmination of her life's work" in freedom, says Kimberly Szewczyk, a park ranger and senior interpretive specialist at the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Barghouti is preparing for the presidential elections amid expected support from Hamas (Dr Adnan Abu Amer, January 14, 2020, Middle East Monitor)

Once again, the name of Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is serving life sentences in Israeli prisons, has returned to the Palestinian political arena. This comes after the revelation that Hamas is exchanging messages with him regarding the upcoming elections, to ally with him, which causes President Mahmoud Abbas fearful of announcing the date of the election.

While Fatah circles confirmed that Abbas sent one of his advisers to meet Barghouti in the Israeli prison, asking him to give up his upcoming candidacy for the presidential elections, in exchange for his appointment as head of the Fatah list in the legislative elections, but the latter rejected the proposal because his eye is on running in the presidential elections.

It is clear that the PA is afraid to announce the elections because of the strength of Hamas on the one hand, and the possibility of its alliance with other Fatah leaders on the other, namely Barghouti, who Israel has so far refused to release as part of a prisoner exchange deal that it may reach with Hamas. This is despite regional and international mediators held separate talks with Hamas and Israel to prepare for a prisoner exchange deal, in which Hamas secures Barghouti's release.

The one thing neither the PLO nor Israel can afford is a democratic Palestine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scoop: "Birth tourism" is Trump's next immigration target (Stef W. Kight, Jonathan Swan, 1/20/20. Axios)

The Trump administration has a new target on the immigration front -- pregnant women visiting from other countries -- with plans as early as this week to roll out a new rule cracking down on "birth tourism," three administration officials told Axios.

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is the 'beating' video a one-off or part of a wider problem with French policing? (The Local, 20 January 2020)

The policing methods for protests have certainly been under the spotlight in recent months with the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité (CRS), the specialist unit that deals with crowd control, singled out for harsh criticism.

The months of 'yellow vest' protests saw violence from both sides, but dozens of protesters were seriously injured, with several losing a hand or an eye from the controversial Flash Ball riot guns used by French police.

The subject of police brutality became an extra strand to the 'yellow vest' campaign and there have been several demonstrations on the subject, with marchers holding up pictures of the gruesome mutilations suffered by some participants in demonstrations.

France is a model of what happens when you don't deal with the rabble.

January 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Graham: Senate GOP doesn't 'have the votes' to dismiss impeachment trial  (ELEANOR MUELLER, 01/19/2020, pOLITICO)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham acknowledged on Sunday the Republican majority "does not have the votes" in the Senate to quickly dismiss the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Just because Mitch & Lindsay don't take oaths seriously doesn't mean no one does.
Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


Happily Ever After -- Even in Hollywood (W. BRADFORD WILCOX & WENDY WANG, January 17, 2020, National Review)

The movie is but the latest offering in a long line of movies and shows -- from The Graduate to Friends to Single Parents -- from an industry that mostly shies away from depicting stably married families in a positive light, and spotlights, more often than not, the rise of diverse families that depart from the traditional intact-family model. Hollywood's offerings are also emblematic of the larger cultural and legal role that California has played in pioneering and amplifying particular cultural values -- e.g., from individual fulfillment to "if-it-feels-good-do-it-ism" to easy divorce -- that have undercut stable marriage across the nation. After all, no-fault divorce was invented by California, signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan just over 50 years ago, before being exported across the United States, to the detriment of kids across America.

The irony in all this, though, is that our  new research indicates that the actual neighborhood that stands at the center of historic Hollywood, the Whitley Heights neighborhood just between the Hollywood sign and the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are held, has virtually no single parents amid the hundreds of families who make their home there. And it turns out that most of the best neighborhoods in the hills or along the beaches of Southern California -- from Pacific Palisades to Rancho Palos Verdes to Beverly Hills -- are dominated by two-parent families. These neighborhoods have fewer than 20 percent of children living in single-parent families, which makes them among the most stable in the state.

They are also consistent with another major theme in our report: When it comes to family, California elites tend to "talk left" but "live right." Of Californians ages 18 to 50, we find that college-educated Californians stand out for their more progressive views on family issues. The vast majority of Californians (85 percent) with a college or graduate degree agree that family diversity, "where kids grow up in different kinds of families today," should be publicly celebrated, compared with 69 percent of Californians without a college education. But a clear majority of college-educated Californians, 68 percent, report that it is personally important to them to have their own kids in marriage, and 80 percent of them who are parents are in intact marriages, compared with just 60 percent of their peers in the state who don't have a college degree. So, California elites pair progressive family values with traditional family living -- including steering clear of divorce court.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


New Poll: Black Voters Say Trump Has Made Racism Worse (Dan Desai Martin, January 18, 2020, National Memo)

Donald Trump is racist and has made racism in the United States worse, according to the overwhelming majority of African Americans in a new Washington Post -Ipsos poll.

When asked directly whether Trump is a racist, 83 percent of black Americans said yes, with just 13 percent saying no. Another 4 percent had no opinion.

Asked if Trump had made racism a bigger or smaller problem in the United States since taking office, 83 percent said Trump had made it a bigger problem, 2 percent said he'd made it smaller, and 15 percent said Trump had made no difference or didn't share an opinion.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Trump's trade deal with China looks designed to implode (Linette Lopez, 1/19/20, Business Insider)

Here's another extremely fungible passage:

"China shall require the administrative authorities to transfer a case for criminal enforcement, if, under an objective standard, there is 'reasonable suspicion' based on articulately facts that a criminal violation of an intellectual property right has occurred. "

It's 2020, if there's anything world knows now it's that it's not hard to argue about "articulable facts," and when politics are involved any "objective standard" tends to go out the window. And politics will be involved, because the enforcement mechanism is inherently political. We'll tackle that next.

This deal has an enforcement agreement unlike any other, according to Chad Bown, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute. In a call following the its signing, he told reporters that it was odd that the deal makes no mention of the word "tariff." That is to say, it lacks any specifics for how to punish a party if it transgresses in this deal -- there are no guidelines on what is appropriate.

Even stranger, according to Bown, is that this deal does not take disputes to an overarching enforcement body. Enforcement is left to the office of the US Trade Representative, which then undertakes an up to 90-day adjudication and discussion process with its Chinese counterparts to try to resolve the conflict.

After the enforcement process is through, if the company that feels it has been wronged is not satisfied with the remedies presented by the offender its home country agrees, the country can "in good faith" put tariffs on the offending country. The offending country, then, is not supposed to retaliate.

However, and this is a big however: If the country hit by those new tariffs doesn't agree the import taxes were put on "in good faith," it has no recourse but to leave the deal, a senior administration official told reporters in a call following the deal's signing.

That's it. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


British lawyers seek arrest warrant for Egypt's president over Morsi death (Middle East Eye, 19 January 2020)

A legal chambers in the UK has filed a criminal complaint with London police requesting an investigation be opened into allegations of torture and murder over the death of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and that an arrest warrant be issued against Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. [...]

A panel of UN experts - including Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions - and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Morsi was held under "brutal" conditions.

"Dr Morsi was held in conditions that can only be described as brutal, particularly during his five-year detention in the Tora prison complex," the experts wrote. 

"Dr Morsi's death after enduring those conditions could amount to a state-sanctioned arbitrary killing."

Nice to see someone standing for Anglospheric values.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Hamas insists on release of jailed Fatah leader (Rasha Abou Jalal January 19, 2020, Al Monitor)

A senior Hamas leader told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that recent talks between the Hamas leadership and several mediating countries -- which he did not name and which Hamas' politburo head Ismail Haniyeh visited on his foreign tour that began Dec. 7 -- aimed to outline a new prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas acknowledged back in 2016 that it is holding four Israelis, including soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, whom Israel believes are dead. Israel says the soldiers were killed in the 2014 war on Gaza. Hamas, meanwhile, refuses to reveal their fate as well as that of the other two Israelis -- citizens Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian Jew, and Hisham al-Sayed, an Arab -- who both willingly entered the Gaza Strip in 2014.

The source, who is also a member of Hamas' politburo, added, "The main provision of the deal is for Israel to release all 50 Palestinians who were re-arrested after their release as per the [2011] Gilad Shalit deal and to include the names of detainees that it previously refused to release as per the deal. These include Marwan Barghouti, member of Fatah's Central Committee and secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ahmad Saadat."

However, the source said Israel turned down Hamas' conditions, namely the inclusion of Barghouti in the next exchange deal, which pushed Hamas to suspend talks about the case. 

If Israel is to permanently occupy Palestine they aren't going to release its first president.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reforming Arab economies in times of distrust (Rabah Arezki, January 17, 2020, Brookings)

[T]here is a strong rationale for moving away from universal consumer subsidies, especially for fuel--at a minimum because of how heavily subsidies weigh on the budget. Yet, attempts at reforms have caused protests, at times violent, even when measures were taken to mitigate the effect on the poor.

Opposition to subsidy reform is so strong because consumer subsidies are at the heart of the unspoken social compact in which Arab citizens give up their voice and tolerate low government accountability in exchange for subsidies, free education and medical care, and public jobs. That social contract is being tested by a burgeoning youth population and emptying budget coffers. Dissatisfaction is exacerbated by the failure of many Arab states to deliver adequate services in the subsidized sectors such as public transportation. In many Arab countries, private and mostly informal operators provide the lion's share of transportation services. These operators stepped in where the state failed to deliver and in many ways the fuel subsidy was a transfer in kind to compensate the non-state operators for doing the state's job. The removal of fuel subsidy is perceived by the often-large number of small operators as a transfer from their pockets to those of a state that has done nothing to deserve it.

A new approach to reform is thus needed to account for the dynamics of the constantly evolving social contract between the (political and economic) elites and the people. Reform of consumer subsidies cannot be considered independently of the implicit producer subsidies including to inefficient state-owned enterprises and exclusive access to public contracts by cronies. The approach should articulate the broader vision of economic transformation toward a more genuine private sector and therefore address both consumer and producer sides. Transformation should also be complemented by a more vibrant social protection system that cushions individuals from bad economic shocks and poverty. Currently, protection systems in Arab countries are limited, inefficient, and fragmented. Well-designed and well-implemented systems can encourage more individual risk-taking and the development of entrepreneurship and sustainable private sector development.

The inability of many Arab governments to deliver reliable basic services such as electricity, water, waste management, public transportation, and telecoms is at the heart of the distrust. While universal subsidies should be reformed promptly, it is appropriate that the government first improve its performance and encourage competition in key sectors on which citizens depend. Such reforms would improve the quality of services making it easier to justify to consumers the higher tariffs that would result from reduced subsidies.

Transparency and data disclosure is essential to reform in the public sector and to create accountability mechanisms to limit corruption. In too many Arab countries, there is limited open government, which reduces the likelihood of achieving open markets that have no barriers to entry. For instance, the lack of transparent public procurement and the failure to digitalize government payments and receipts encourage red tape and the capture of markets by elites with connections to the government. What is more, inadequate disclosure of data and statistics prevents evidence-based policymaking and limits the ability of governments to self-correct and avoid big mistakes. In other words, the burden of reforms in Arab countries should fall first on governments to help ensure that citizens will accept the burdens occasioned by transformative reforms.

As Iran lifts fuel subsidies it needs to expand freedom, but the destabilizing nature of such reforms scares the leaders of the Republic.  A mentally healthy America would be helping, not hindering the process.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Die Partei -- which translates as "the party" -- was founded in 2004 by a group of German comedians, and satirizes the world of politics with humorous campaigns and policy suggestions. After Aschenbach was elected in the East German city of Dresden, however, the political prankster soon made headlines around the world for a very serious reason. He put forward a successful motion declaring that Dresden has a "Nazi emergency," meaning that the city, which is home to the anti-Islam Pegida movement and where a quarter of the population voted for the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party, has a problem with extremism on a level with the climate emergency. "I've been interviewed by Russians, Canadians -- everyone!" he says.

Die Partei is known in Germany for its joke policies, such as a pledge to annul votes if voters cannot answer questions such as "What is the capital of Paris?" It prints posters with slogans such as "Yes to Europe! No to Europe!" But last year it won enough votes to gain two seats in the European Parliament and attracted 9 percent of the youth vote.

And as it enters the world of real-life politics, its stunts have taken a more serious turn, and it is quickly emerging as a thorn in the side of Germany's far right. In 2017, Die Partei members took over 31 of AfD's Facebook groups a week before the country's election. And after finding out the party was exploiting a loophole in Germany's political financing rules by selling gold coins and bars online, Die Partei began selling 100 euro notes for 105 euros. This led to AfD being reprimanded.

"I think satire can be more honest because it doesn't have to struggle for favor," says Aschenbach, a lanky figure who teams his politician's shirt and tie with battered DM boots and frayed jeans.

January 18, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


High-profile influx of Latin American talent is altering Major League Soccer for the best (Andy Deossa, 1/18/20, Yahoo Sports)

There's a shift happening in Major League Soccer that can't be ignored. 

Say goodbye to the days of "retirement league" labels and welcome a fresh batch of highly ambitious players arriving from various parts of the world. The impact of stars like David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was vital for building exposure. But this is officially a new era. 

Take a look at some of the biggest offseason acquisitions and you'll notice a trend of Latin American players jumping on board. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was the biggest splash, with the Los Angeles Galaxy reportedly signing the Mexican star on Friday.

Another prime example is new Sporting Kansas City striker Alan Pulido, the leading scorer during Liga MX's Apertura season last fall. With aspirations of donning the Mexican national team jersey again, Pulido saw the move to MLS as a no-brainer.

"The decision I made to be here is because the league has become very competitive, they've brought in players of high caliber," Pulido said. "The quality has improved and it also makes me happy that there are more and more Mexicans here."

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Why Are Militia Groups Descending on Virginia? (DAVID J. TOSCANO, JAN 18, 2020, Slate)

Some proponents have even resurrected words like nullification and interposition, terms first used extensively by Southern secessionists prior to the Civil War and more recently during the "massive resistance" to federal laws requiring desegregation in the 1960s. [...]

Despite the rhetoric about gun confiscation and governmental overreach, most of the measures proposed by Democrats are widely supported by Virginians. A December poll indicated that universal background checks, one of the first measures that will be enacted, are supported by 86 percent of Virginia voters. A bill that would allow courts to temporarily prevent the dangerously mentally ill from having access to firearms, the so-called "red flag" law, enjoys the support of 73 percent of Virginians, and similar measures have been passed in seventeen states and D.C., including Florida, Nevada, New York, and Colorado.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Trump privately details Soleimani air strike to donors at Mar-a-Lago fundraiser (MEE and agencies,  18 January 2020)

CNN said that in the audio, Trump did not repeat that Soleimani was an imminent threat. Trump said Soleimani was "saying bad things about our country" before the strike, which led to his decision to authorise the assassination.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump (Joe Heim, Jan. 17, 2020, Washington Post)

The large color photograph that greets visitors to a National Archives exhibit celebrating the centennial of women's suffrage shows a massive crowd filling Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the Women's March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Trump's inauguration.

The 49-by-69-inch photograph is a powerful display. Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women's suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue. The display links momentous demonstrations for women's rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement.

But a closer look reveals a different story.

The Archives acknowledged in a statement this week that it made multiple alterations to the photo of the 2017 Women's March showcased at the museum, blurring signs held by marchers that were critical of Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nunes aide communicated with Parnas about Ukraine campaign (Paul Sonne, Rosalind S. Helderman and Greg Miller, Jan. 17, 2020, Washington Post)

In March, Parnas sent Harvey a link to a story by conservative columnist John Solomon suggesting the Ukrainians sought to help Hillary Clinton win in 2016.

"Any documents for us or are you going to keep working through Solomon?" the Nunes aide texted back a few days later.

...who still can't process the fact that Solomon was playing them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lev Parnas and Michael Cohen are right to think working for Trump was like being in a cult (Lauren Frias, 1/18/20, Business Insider)

Steve Hassen, a cult expert and author of a book called "The Cult of Trump," spoke to Insider about the ways in which Trump and his circle behave share characteristics with cults.

"What's interesting and shocking to me is to hear Lev Parnas describe [Trump] as a cult leader and such, and I'm curious how he arrived to that insight," Hassen said, referring to an MSNBC interview Parnas gave.

"I knew that Trump fit the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, which is essentially malignant narcissism, which is the narcissism -- plus the psychopathic elements of feeling above the law, the pathological lying, paranoia, the jealousy, the harassment," he added.

The cult comparison has also been used by Michael Cohen, Trump's one-time lawyer. A friend of Cohen's told The New York Times last February that Cohen "would describe it as being something akin to a cult" and he "got sucked into it."

"First of all, cult leaders think they're above everybody else, above the law, and then everything exists for their adulation," Hassen said.

"Cult leaders think nothing of using people like pawns to get their way, and it doesn't matter if there are people on the staff saying this is a bad idea, which apparently Bolton did," Hassen said. In December The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John Bolton tried to convince Trump to release military aid to Ukraine.

"His will matters more than any rationality and the potential consequence," Hassen continued.

He said cult leaders also have a tendency to cast out anyone who disagrees with them. He says this can be seen in the record high turnover of staff in the Trump White House.

What's poor Lindsay Graham but a Manson girl in a suit.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Text messages reveal that Lev Parnas had extensive contact with a Devin Nunes aide about Ukraine (KEITH GRIFFITH, 18 January 2020, Daily Mirror)

Newly released text messages show the extensive communication between Rudy Giuliani's indicted 'fixer' Lev Parnas and an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

House Democrats released the messages in a document dump on Friday, showing Parnas texting with Derek Harvey, a top Nunes aide.

The messages show that Harvey was far more involved than previously known in Parnas and Giuliani's freelance investigation into Ukraine matters, including their theory that Joe Biden had corruptly influenced an investigation into a gas company where his son sat on the board.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Jeffrey Epstein's 'first victim' was introduced to Donald Trump when she was 14: suit (Stephen Rex Brown, JAN 17, 2020, New York Daily News)

A woman who says she was Jeffrey Epstein's first known victim claims in a new lawsuit that the multimillionaire sex offender introduced her to Donald Trump when she was 14, saying "This is a good one, right?"

January 17, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Times Taps White Nationalist Organization for Thought-Provoking Perspective on Immigration (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, JAN 17, 2020, Slate)

More concerning than any of these specific problems, though, is the piece's provenance: It's written by someone named Jerry Kammer, a fellow at a think tank called the Center for Immigration Studies. Kammer has made a career out of covering immigration policy, he writes, for two reasons: "I was fascinated by its human, political and moral complexity. I also wanted to push back against the campaign by activist groups to label restrictionism as inherently racist." He expresses regret that "odious people" with white-power affiliations have given the cause of cutting back on immigration a "bad name."

What neither Kammer nor the Times discloses is that the Center for Immigration Studies was in fact founded by these people, most prominent among them a white nationalist named John Tanton who died last year. Tanton, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, believed that the United States needed to maintain a "European-American majority, and a clear one at that"; he founded CIS, he wrote in the 1980s, in order to give his ideas the appearance of independent "credibility." [...]

In 1997, the Wall Street Journal wrote about Tanton in a piece called "The Intellectual Roots of Nativism." It was a scathing article which noted that Tanton had once described the immigrant's contribution to society as "defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs." The piece expressed concern that "otherwise sober-minded conservatives" and "reasonable critics of immigration" were affiliating themselves with his ideas. The author of that WSJ article, a 28-year-old journalist named Tucker Carlson, has since made the career-advancing decision to embrace Tanton-style nativism; he was in the news not too long ago for complaining in his role as a Fox News host that immigrants make the United States physically "dirtier."

Whatever space ever existed between mainstream conservatism and white-power nationalism, Carlson demonstrates, has collapsed. And it turns out that the "odious people" that Kammer references in the Times are actually his colleagues and forebears, who created his organization so that policies intended to perpetuate "European-American" and "Anglo-Saxon" superiority could be laundered into the respectable discourse. What else is there to say but: It worked!

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


U.S.-Bound Migrants Gambling on Trump Defeat in November (Todd Bensman, January 17, 2020, CIS)

Honduran Katherine Cabrera is among thousands of migrants who didn't expect to get bottled up in this southern Mexican city, unable to proceed to the American border as planned, because of President Donald Trump's insistence that Mexico block them with troop deployments and whatever else the Mexicans could come up with.

New Mexican travel restriction rules required that Cabrera either go home with her newborn child or stay here in Tapachula to apply for Mexican asylum and await an outcome perhaps months in the future. Rather than return home as some have, though, Cabrera said she reached a carefully reasoned-out decision. She'll stay in Mexico and pursue that asylum claim in a calculated gambit: that Donald Trump will lose the November 2020 election and once the Democrats control the White House, they'll reverse everything Trump did and reopen the U.S. southern border so that she can finally breach it.

"I want Trump out!" Cabrera said. "I'll wait for that because it would make things easier to get in."

In this calculus and in their perhaps surprising savvy about national American politics and timing, Cabrera has plenty of company all over Tapachula, where thousands like her have been forced to pool up for long asylum process waits or returns home.

Dozens of politically woke migrants, like Honduran Wilson Valladaras, recently told CIS their decisions to stay in Mexico were predicated on the Trump-defeat gamble. Valladaras said he would wait for his Mexican asylum approval, move to Tijuana "until Trump leaves", and then cross over the U.S. border when the Democrats undo his policies because "right now, the Americans will throw you back" to Mexico.

Outside Tapachula's main detention center where they had to check in, CIS asked five migrant women to raise their hands if they had chosen to stay in Mexico to await the hoped-for Trump defeat. All did so without reservation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Trump berates Azar over bad health care polling (NANCY COOK, DAN DIAMOND and ADAM CANCRYN, 01/17/2020, Politico)

President Donald Trump lashed out at HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Thursday after senior aides presented him with polling data showing that voters prefer Democrats on health care, according to six people with knowledge of the conversation. [...]

Voters have consistently said they trust Democrats more than Trump to handle health care issues, a gap that widened since Republicans' extensive efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during his first year in office. Trump has often defended his record on Obamacare in misleading terms, including this week when he tweeted that he "Saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare." Trump's claims were roundly rejected by fact checkers, who pointed to the administration's long-running efforts to weaken Obamacare's protections, including its support for a lawsuit that could kill the entire law.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM

THE ENABLERS (profanity alert):

'You're a bunch of dopes and babies': Inside Trump's stunning tirade against generals (Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker , Jan. 17, 2020, Washington Post)

Before they could debate the Iran deal, Trump erupted to revive another frequent complaint: the war in Afghanistan, which was now America's longest war. He demanded an explanation for why the United States hadn't won in Afghanistan yet, now 16 years after the nation began fighting there in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a "loser war." That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief's commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

"You're all losers," Trump said. "You don't know how to win anymore."

Trump questioned why the United States couldn't get some oil as payment for the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. "We spent $7 trillion; they're ripping us off," Trump boomed. "Where is the f---ing oil?"

Trump seemed to be speaking up for the voters who elected him, and several attendees thought they heard Bannon in Trump's words. Bannon had been trying to persuade Trump to withdraw forces by telling him, "The American people are saying we can't spend a trillion dollars a year on this. We just can't. It's going to bankrupt us."

"And not just that, the deplorables don't want their kids in the South China Sea at the 38th parallel or in Syria, in Afghanistan, in perpetuity," Bannon would add, invoking Hillary Clinton's infamous "basket of deplorables" reference to Trump supporters.

Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. "I don't think he knows how to win," the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.

Dunford tried to come to Nicholson's defense, but the mild-mannered general struggled to convey his points to the irascible president.

"Mr. President, that's just not . . .," Dunford started. "We've been under different orders."

Dunford sought to explain that he hadn't been charged with annihilating the enemy in Afghanistan but was instead following a strategy started by the Obama administration to gradually reduce the military presence in the country in hopes of training locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out. Trump shot back in more plain language.

"I want to win," he said. "We don't win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we're not winning anymore."

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn't taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

"I wouldn't go to war with you people," Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, "You're a bunch of dopes and babies."

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called "locker room talk," this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. "How does the commander in chief say that?" one thought. "What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?"

This was a president who had been labeled a "draft dodger" for avoiding service in the Vietnam War under questionable circumstances. Trump was a young man born of privilege and in seemingly perfect health: six feet two inches with a muscular build and a flawless medical record. He played several sports, including football. Then, in 1968 at age 22, he obtained a diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that exempted him from military service just as the United States was drafting men his age to fulfill massive troop deployments to Vietnam.

Tillerson in particular was stunned by Trump's diatribe and began visibly seething. For too many minutes, others in the room noticed, he had been staring straight, dumbfounded, at Mattis, who was speechless, his head bowed down toward the table. Tillerson thought to himself, "Gosh darn it, Jim, say something. Why aren't you saying something?"

But, as he would later tell close aides, Tillerson realized in that moment that Mattis was genetically a Marine, unable to talk back to his commander in chief, no matter what nonsense came out of his mouth.

The more perplexing silence was from Pence, a leader who should have been able to stand up to Trump. Instead, one attendee thought, "He's sitting there frozen like a statue. Why doesn't he stop the president?" Another recalled the vice president was "a wax museum guy." From the start of the meeting, Pence looked as if he wanted to escape and put an end to the president's torrent. Surely, he disagreed with Trump's characterization of military leaders as "dopes and babies," considering his son, Michael, was a Marine first lieutenant then training for his naval aviator wings. But some surmised Pence feared getting crosswise with Trump. "A total deer in the headlights," recalled a third attendee.

Others at the table noticed Trump's stream of venom had taken an emotional toll. So many people in that room had gone to war and risked their lives for their country, and now they were being dressed down by a president who had not. They felt sick to their stomachs. Tillerson told others he thought he saw a woman in the room silently crying. He was furious and decided he couldn't stand it another minute. His voice broke into Trump's tirade, this one about trying to make money off U.S. troops.

"No, that's just wrong," the secretary of state said. "Mr. President, you're totally wrong. None of that is true."

Tillerson's father and uncle had both been combat veterans, and he was deeply proud of their service.

"The men and women who put on a uniform don't do it to become soldiers of fortune," Tillerson said. "That's not why they put on a uniform and go out and die . . . They do it to protect our freedom."

There was silence in the Tank. Several military officers in the room were grateful to the secretary of state for defending them when no one else would. The meeting soon ended and Trump walked out, saying goodbye to a group of servicemen lining the corridor as he made his way to his motorcade waiting outside. Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn were deflated. Standing in the hall with a small cluster of people he trusted, Tillerson finally let down his guard.

"He's a f---ing moron," the secretary of state said of the president.

Sorry, but sitting there listening to him and continuing on the job in silence is not honorable service.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Demand for L.A. office space is healthy and expected to grow (ROGER VINCENT, JAN. 17, 2020, LA Times)

The Los Angeles County office rental market has been on the upswing since 2013 and finished last year in positive territory for landlords as rents rose and the vacancy rate held steady in spite of new office construction.

Although technology and media giants such as Google and Netflix made dramatic moves earlier in the year by committing to big blocks of space, office leasing in the fourth quarter was dominated by small firms moving and expanding, a sign of health for the local business community.

"People are building new businesses," real estate broker Jeff Pion of CBRE said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


The Iranian Woman In The #IraniansDetestSoleimani Viral Video Was Also A Lobbyist For A Militia In Libya (Ryan Broderick & Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News)

A viral video titled "Truth From an Iranian," which has amassed more than 10 million views across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, was created by a registered lobbyist who previously worked for a militia group fighting in a bitter civil war in Libya.

At no point during the five-minute video, in which she praised the US drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, did Saghar Erica Kasraie mention that she had worked in 2019 for Linden Government Solutions, a Texas-based lobbying firm hired to represent the Libyan National Army, a militia in the north African country led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a former officer in Muammar al-Qaddafi's government who spent much of the last two decades living in Virginia, during which time he worked with the CIA.

In the first six days following the death of Soleimani, the head of the country's Quds Force, Kasraie's video was the single most popular piece of content about Iran on Facebook, aside from posts from President Donald Trump's own page.

In the video, Kasraie, who describes herself as an Iranian activist, says Iranians were celebrating Soleimani's death, thanking Trump, and giving out cakes on the street as a symbol of their joy. "I feel like we're living in the Twilight Zone, guys. I'm completely outraged at this notion that the propaganda machine that is the media is glorifying Qassem Soleimani," she says in the video.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM

SUPER ON-BRAND (profanity alert):

Mike Pence's Impeachment Hero Is a Corrupt 19th Century Politician (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 17, 2020, Slate)

Pence writes that Johnson "shared Lincoln's desire to bring the Southern states back into the fold as soon as possible" and wished to "continue Lincoln's policies." Is that true?

No. Johnson was not continuing Lincoln's policy. First of all, no one knew exactly what Lincoln's policy would be in the first place--he hadn't formulated one, but he was open-minded, which Johnson never was. Second, Lincoln had suggested that he was very open to giving the vote to black men, particularly those who had served in the Union army.

Johnson's position, by contrast, was very clear; he said: "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men."

Johnson not only opposed votes for blacks--he opposed political and civil rights for blacks, too. He vetoed civil rights legislation. He campaigned against the 14th Amendment. And instead of calling a special session of Congress after Lincoln's assassination, he began to reconstruct the Southern government along his own lines. That included pardoning nearly 100 former Confederates a day, allowing them to rejoin the legislature, and letting those legislatures pass "Black Codes," which were ordinances that reinstituted slavery by another name because they denied all civil rights to blacks, including the right to marry, to serve on a jury, even to move freely. [...]

One obvious goal of Pence's op-ed is to favorably compare Trump to Johnson by framing Johnson as a principled president unfairly vilified and undermined by a partisan Congress. Where does Pence's rosy view of Johnson come from?

Until the rise of the KKK in the early 20th century, Johnson was a toxic figure. The Democrats, his own party, wouldn't even nominate him for president in 1868. He was inept, vulgar, and an abuser of power. He was unfit for office, and across the board, it was understood that he was in over his head. His reputation was in the cellar until Birth of a Nation, the 1915 movie that popularized the "lost cause" point of view. It depicted Radical Republicans as power-hungry fanatics. After Birth of a Nation, the KKK began popularizing Johnson again.

the only president Donald is more like is Wilson.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Dershowitz to defend Trump at impeachment to protect 'integrity of constitution' (Times of Israel, 1/17/20)

Dershowitz, meanwhile, has been embroiled in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. A woman who went public with claims she was a teenage victim of Epstein's sex trafficking ring has said Epstein trafficked her to several prominent men, including Dershowitz.

She says she had sex with Dershowitz on several occasions-- allegations Dershowitz has vehemently denied.

Dershowitz defends '97 column claiming statutory rape an 'outdated concept' (ANDREW SILOW-CARROLL and BEN SALES, 31 July 2019, Times of Israel)

Dershowitz, a prominent defense lawyer and emeritus Harvard University law professor, himself faces accusations of sexual abuse from two of Epstein's alleged victims -- Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Sarah Ransome. He vehemently denies the accusations against him.


Among the lurid details of the lawsuit, Jane Doe alleged Trump tied her to a bed, "forcibly raped" her and threatened her and her family with physical harm, if not death, if she told anyone about the assault. "I understood that Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein knew that I was 13 years old," Jane Doe wrote in an affidavit.

Farrow alleges that after the suit was filed in September 2016, Enquirer editor Howard and Trump lawyer Cohen were in contact frequently. (Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last December on charges including campaign finance violations for his part in hush payments to McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels.)

"There was no opportunity to buy this story," Farrow writes, claiming that AMI chief Pecker--a longtime friend of Trump's--only found out about the lawsuit after it was filed.

Still, Farrow says, Howard, now chief content officer at AMI, tried to use his influence to convince Lisa Bloom, a power attorney who agreed to represent Jane Doe, to drop her client.

In November 2016, just days before the presidential election, Bloom suddenly announced a press conference with Jane Doe had been canceled, saying Doe had become frightened after receiving death threats. Two days later, Doe's lead attorney, Thomas Meager, filed to dismiss the case. Jane Doe has not been heard from since.

Speaking to Newsweek Tuesday, Bloom said that while the Enquirer editor "did tell me he thought Jane Doe lacked credibility ... that wasn't the reason she asked her other attorney to drop her case."

"After we received numerous death threats and my law firm's website and emails were hacked, she did not want to go forward," Bloom added.

The ties that bind.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Trump accuses Dems of using impeachment trial to hurt Sanders campaign (CAITLIN OPRYSKO, 01/17/2020, Politico)

President Donald Trump on Friday accused Democrats of trying to sabotage Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, echoing allegations from Sanders supporters during the 2016 primary.

"They are rigging the election again against Bernie Sanders, just like last time, only even more obviously," Trump said in a pair of tweets, claiming that Democrats were using his impeachment trial beginning next week to keep Sanders off the campaign trail in the critical final weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

Wait'll he figures of that Rand Paul's witness plan will get the trial to the State of the Union.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Black Americans deeply pessimistic about country under Trump, whom more than 8 in 10 describe as 'a racist,' Post-Ipsos poll finds (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Vanessa Williams, Dan Balz and Scott Clement, Jan. 17, 2020, Washington Post)

More than 8 in 10 black Americans say they believe Trump is a racist and that he has made racism a bigger problem in the country. Nine in 10 disapprove of his job performance overall.

The pessimism goes well beyond assessments of the president. A 65 percent majority of African Americans say it is a "bad time" to be a black person in America. That view is widely shared by clear majorities of black adults across income, generational and political lines. By contrast, 77 percent of black Americans say it is a "good time" to be a white person, with a wide majority saying white people don't understand the discrimination faced by black Americans.

Nothing better demonstrates the contempt in which Trumpbots hold others than their insistence that open hatred will be rewarded with votes.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Inconvenient Evidence Puts GOP Senators on the Spot in Impeachment Trial (JONAH GOLDBERG, January 17, 2020, National Review)

People are going to watch the hearings. They're going to see miserable senators presented with ample evidence that the president used his office to pressure the Ukrainians to sully a political opponent. If the only times Republican senators make a fuss are when they maneuver to avoid hearing even more damning evidence, or demand that the Senate participate in the president's strategy of making Joe Biden the issue, they won't merely be violating their oaths to deliver impartial justice; they will risk going down in history -- and appearing to voters -- as participants in a cover-up.

Some senators will be fine with that, because that's what a majority of their voters want. For those who either come from states that don't have enough Trump-base voters to get reelected or are burdened with a politically inconvenient concern about their reputations, it will be a real problem. The one thing none of them will be able to claim, however, is that they don't know the facts because they weren't paying attention.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


It's time to scrap APD and bring in a carbon tax (Jethro Elsden, 1/17/20, CapX)

This is clearly far from an optimal situation. In building a tax system you should aim to bake in as few distortions as possible. It should be as broad and low as possible - ensuring that you don't encourage or discourage one activity relative to another. Of course, when there are externalities, such as with the environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions, then you may want the tax system to change behaviour, by encouraging more environmentally friendly travel, for example.

In order to eliminate the numerous distortions in the UK tax system, while also allowing us to incentivise the market to solve environmental issues, we need tax on carbon emissions. Ideally this would cover the entire economy, and be levied as far upstream as possible on every activity that involved the emission of greenhouse gases, creating a strong incentive to develop less carbon intensive products and processes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump again denied knowing Lev Parnas. So Parnas' lawyer posted more robust proof. (The Week, 1/16/20)

Despite a warning from Lev Parnas, President Trump claimed not to know him again Thursday. "I don't know Parnas, other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "I don't know him at all, don't know what he's about, don't know where he comes from, know nothing about him. ... I don't believe I've ever spoken to him."

Jospeh Bondy, Parnas' lawyer, brought the receipts, posting a video taken at Mar-a-Lago in December 2016, where Trump is clearly talking with Parnas, who is standing next to him and also Roman Nasirov, a former Ukrainian official charged with embezzlement.

January 16, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


The rise of American anti-Semitism: Trump has helped to propagate dangerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. (WENDY KAMINER, 16th January 2020, spiked)

It's an increasingly weird phenomenon, attracting the strangest bedfellows: Christian evangelicals convinced that all Jews are damned, quite literally, (unless they convert) embrace hell-bound, right-wing Zionist Jews and cast themselves as better friends to Israel (and all Jewry) than Jews who vote Democratic and oppose current Israeli government policies. This evangelical 'love' of Israel is not exactly ecumenical or particularly humane. It's mostly reflective of an apocalyptic theology - the belief that the Second Coming and the long-awaited rapture that will teleport Christians to heaven will occur only after the Jews return to Israel. Once, these views flourished mainly on the political fringe. Today they drive US foreign policy. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo is a fervent right-wing Christian Zionist, a holy warrior, engaged in a 'neverending struggle' until 'the rapture'.

It should be obvious that this transactional support for Israel, based on a very particular Christian theology, is not inconsistent with at least inchoate anti-Semitism. (How else might we categorise the conviction that Jews are damned?) But the alliance between right-wing Christian and Jewish Zionists is transactional on both sides, and is partly a tribute to the power of partisan politics. Orthodox Jewish Republicans, like presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, are content to share the stage with far-right Republican preachers who have long expressed dim views of Jews and Judaism. As the New York Times observed: 'A Dallas evangelical pastor who once said that Jewish people are going to hell and a megachurch televangelist who claimed that Hitler was part of God's plan to return Jews to Israel both played prominent roles on Monday in the opening ceremony of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem.'

But the weirdness of anti-Semitism today is not simply rooted in theology. It is also political, or perhaps, in some cases, psychological. Consider the strangeness of xenophobic presidential adviser Stephen Miller, a descendent of Jewish immigrants and an architect of Trump's draconian anti-immigration policies who embraces white nationalism. Listen to the rantings of Rudy Giuliani, the erratic, possibly demented, Italian-American Trump fixer, who declares himself a better Jew than Holocaust survivor George Soros. He 'doesn't go to church, he doesn't go to religion', Giuliani explains nonsensically. But Soros's real sin, of course, is the fact that he has devoted much of his considerable fortune to supporting liberal or progressive causes and candidates, and, according to Giuliani, 'he's an enemy of Israel'.

What do Trumpists like Giuliani mean when they label someone an enemy of Israel? They mean that he opposes Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems to share a motto with Donald Trump: L'etat c'est moi. From this perspective, a lot of Israeli Jews eager to oust Netanyahu are also enemies of Israel, just as Americans who oppose Donald Trump are enemies of his state. (Trumpists, for example, condemn Americans who question the wisdom or legality of the Soleimani killing as treasonous terrorist lovers who mourn his death.)

Jewish Americans who oppose both Trump and Netanyahu are deemed doubly treasonous. The nominally Protestant, apparently irreligious Donald Trump casts himself as 'King of Israel' and 'the chosen one' and claims that Jews who support Democrats (a majority of Jewish voters) are guilty of 'either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty... you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel.'

So Trump, this gentile 'King of Israel', schools Jews on their tribal obligations partly by indulging in anti-Semitic stereotypes: he chides them for violating what he assumes are, or should be, their dual loyalties to Israel and the US. He reminds them that they love money and will vote for him, even if they dislike him, because Democrats like Elizabeth Warren want to tax their wealth. 'You're brutal killers, not nice people at all', the president told a group of wealthy Jews, approvingly. [...]

[S]tereotyping is, of course, the basis of bigotry, and while Trump may feel some kinship with his stereotyped vision of 'money-grubbing' Jews, while he has Jewish grandchildren and a favoured daughter who converted to Judaism, he's encouraged and benefitted from a Christian nationalist movement and the rise of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Indeed, he employs anti-Semitic memes when they serve him politically. He has, for example, advanced the fiction that Jewish billionaire Soros funded the caravan of 'very dangerous' Central American immigrants seeking refuge in the US. After all, 'a lot of people are saying' that Soros, the right-wing symbol of an imagined globalist Jewish conspiracy, was behind the 'invasion' of people who 'don't have the wellbeing of our country in mind'. Trump made these remarks shortly after a crazed wingnut murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, in the belief that Jews were behind an 'invasion' of non-white immigrants.

Given his oft-stated sexual desire for Ivanka, it can't help that Jared is Jewish, but Donald was anti-Semitic long before she was even born.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Lev Parnas just accused Giuliani of a criminal conspiracy with Trump (Greg Sargent, Jan. 16, 2020, Washington Post)

The key exchange with Maddow comes after she asks Parnas if he met with Sergey Shaffer, a senior Zelensky aide. Maddow notes that it has been reported that Parnas conveyed to Schaffer that Zelensky must announce an investigation of Biden, in order to get the military aid released.

Then this happened:

PARNAS: The message that I was supposed -- that I gave Sergey Shaffer was a very harsh message. I was told to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.
MADDOW: Who told you to give it to him a harsh way?
PARNAS: Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting the president at the White House. He called me. The message was, it wasn't just military aid, it was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour, that he would -- that we would stop giving them any kind of aid that --
MADDOW: Unless?
PARNAS: -- unless there was an announcement made.

The important thing here is that Parnas is alleging that Giuliani directly told him to convey the message to Ukraine that the military aid was contingent on announcing the investigations Trump wanted -- after talking to Trump about it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


FBI arrests 3 alleged members of white supremacist group 'the Base' (Shane Harris and  Devlin Barrett , Jan. 16, 2020, Washington Post)

The FBI has arrested three alleged members of a white supremacist group on federal gun charges and other alleged crimes, according to people familiar with the matter.

The charges, expected to be unsealed Thursday, grew from an investigation of a somewhat new effort among online extremists who refer to themselves as "the Base," which is the English translation of "al Qaida." According to experts who track hate groups, the Base promotes racist views and seeks to unite different hate groups in preparation for a "race war."

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


'I owe the American people an apology': A former healthcare executive says he's sorry for devising the biggest argument against Medicare for All (Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Jan. 16, 2020, Business Insider)

"Those of us in the insurance industry constantly hustled to prevent significant reforms because changes threatened to eat into our companies' enormous profits," Potter wrote.

Potter resigned his position at Cigna in 2008. And he testified to Congress a year later about the practices of an industry that "flouts regulations" and "makes promises they have no intention of keeping." He's since become a leading reform advocate.

The activist said in the Times op-ed that healthcare executives were well aware their insurance often severely limited the ability of Americans to personally decide how they accessed and received medical care, unless they wanted to pay huge sums of money out of their own pockets.

"But those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice," Potter said. "In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals - at least, not without incurring huge 'out of network' bills."

The "choice" talking point, Potter wrote, polled well in focus groups that insurers set up to test their messaging against reform plans, leading them to adopt it.

Now he is shocked to see an argument that he had a hand in engineering used among Democrats battling to claim their party's nomination to face off against President Trump in the 2020 election - and Potter says the insurers likely see it as a huge victory for them.

"What's different now is that it's the Democrats parroting the misleading 'choice' talking point - and even using it as a weapon against one another," Potter wrote. "Back in my days working in insurance P.R., this would have stunned me. It's why I believe my former colleagues are celebrating today."

...the notion that the illusion of choice is worth the costs we incur is a function of our not paying our own bills.

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


White House violated the law by freezing Ukraine aid, GAO says (ANDREW DESIDERIO, 01/16/2020, politico)

The White House budget office violated the law when it froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a new report.

"Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the GAO wrote in an eight-page report.

you lost the Right at "faithful".

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


With rivals stuck in impeachment trial, Biden and Buttigieg to barnstorm Iowa (Tim Reid, Michael Martina, 1/16/20, Reuters) 

Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg will blitz Iowa before the state kicks off the party's nominating contest on Feb. 3, while their key rivals will be largely unable to campaign because they must sit as Senate jurors in Republican President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Iranians Would Kindly Like Donald Trump To "Shut Up": Anti-government protests in Iran show a complicated opposition to repression and foreign power. (DANIEL MOATTAR, 1/16/20, Mother jones)

To understand more about the motivations driving the rallies, and where they might lead, Mother Jones spoke at length to [Peyman Jafari, a researcher and historian at Princeton University's Center for Iran Persian Gulf Studies], who studies Iran's history, social movements, and politics.

Could you give some background on the massive Iranian protests in November and December, and connect them to what's going on now?

[T]here has been an accumulation of crises in Iran. The crises of competency, of legitimacy, the socioeconomic crisis. The current establishment has moved away from promises of social justice and equality, and has introduced more neoliberal policies since the 1990s. Now we see flexibility in the labor market, lots of precarious jobs, subcontracting. Wages are basically low. Lots of strikes we see happening are about unpaid wages or low wages. And then we have an environmental crisis, particularly in southern Iran, with drought and so on.

All these crises are converging, and the demands are affecting both the lower classes and the middle classes, which have seen a huge drop in their income. So there is a chance of these [different protests] converging, but this will not happen automatically. What you need is actually people, organizations, trade unions, NGOs, activist networks that can make these connections, that can formulate these kinds of demands.

Was there any overlap between Iranians who protested the Soleimani assassination and the people who demonstrated against the airplane attack or the gas price hike?

Some people have been commenting that these protests mean Iranians were not united by the Soleimani assassination. But it's important to stress that Iran is a large country, and it's not monolithic. These can be existing groups, parallel to each other. Even more so, the same person can be against the assassination of Soleimani and be against corruption and authoritarianism in Iran. I think the assassination of Soleimani crystallized a nationalism that is still very strong in Iran. Those things can really exist simultaneously.

There's a lot of Iran-related disinformation on social media, especially Twitter, Telegram, and Instagram, where accounts with few followers sometimes share unverifiable info about demonstrations and crackdowns. How concerned should we be about disinformation as we try to make sense of these protests?

Disinformation is being sent out by the Iranian government and by the US government, which also organizes a disinfo campaign. You have these bots organized by very small but rich outside groups, such as the MKO [an armed, US-backed opposition group] and royalists, that create an echo chamber.

Trump was bragging about his tweet in Persian being the most retweeted Persian-language tweet. But much of that retweeting happens by these bots, and through these online activist cyber armies like the MKO. Their activism, now, is basically tweeting. They have these halls of aging activists sitting behind computers and sending out tweets all day long. [On Saturday, Trump issued his first Farsi tweet: "To the brave and suffering people of Iran: from the beginning of my presidency, I have stood with you, and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspirational."]

That's definitely part of reality, but not the entire reality. There are other Iranians on Twitter, on social media, both outside of and within Iran, who are very active and taking positions. One should not dismiss those as not genuine. There is lots of genuine activity.

Are distortions on social media a major concern within Iran, especially for protestors?

In Iran, no. In Iran, people, by this time, know where everything's happening. When Trump tweeted in Persian, a lot of Iranians' reaction was just, "Shut up. You have instituted a travel ban. You have targeted our cultural sites. You have been sanctioning us." People are aware of that. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


What's in the U.S.-China trade deal -- and what's missing? (Martha C. White, 1/15/20, NBC)

The phase one trade deal between the U.S. and China signed in Washington on Wednesday is notable not for what it includes, but for what it omits, according to international trade experts.

"Phase one is not a trade agreement but just puts an end to costly escalation that was going nowhere," said Peter Petri, a professor of international finance at the Brandeis International Business School.

The agreement focuses heavily on a commitment by China for purchases of $200 billion worth of U.S. farm products and other exports, with much less emphasis on the bigger issues standing between the two countries. The two sides also agreed to restart semi-annual meetings to discuss economic reform and dispute resolution.

In a highly unusual move, the administration did not make the actual agreement available ahead of the signing, as is customary -- raising some skepticism about the enforcement mechanisms contained in the text. "I'm looking at the technology transfer and intellectual property provisions to see what the specific enforcement mechanisms are. My question is, how is this going to work?" said Dean A. Pinkert, senior counsel at the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed and a former commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission.

"The two sides have reached a deal simply by avoiding the difficult issues like intellectual property protection in China," said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics. "China has no desire to change the way its economy operates."

"It doesn't so far include anything that is related to the entire issues surrounding Huawei, 5G, export controls, or a host of new technologies," said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "More importantly, there is nothing here concerning Chinese subsidies and I think that, in many ways, is the big omission," he said. "If you're worried about China as a long-term tech competitor, then clearly the logic of that argument rests with the fact that the Chinese are quote-unquote rigging the system through state-owned subsidies."

Donald promised to bring all his business experience to bear on running the government and that's exactly what he's delivered: we lose tons of money on every deal but his name goes on the building. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Did Trump bet 2020 on Iran? (Edward Morrissey, January 16, 2020, The Week)

For a man who owned casinos -- with a famously rocky track record on them -- President Trump doesn't evince much interest in safe bets. Most presidents with a booming economy look to consolidate their winnings ahead of a re-election campaign and dial down risks that could upend their electoral standing. But with the strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Trump has rolled the dice in his biggest foreign-policy gamble yet -- and might end up paying the price for it in November.

What makes this gamble particularly remarkable is that Trump won over the right-leaning populists in the GOP by explicitly rejecting the interventionist "neo-conservatism" of the Bush administrations. He ran against the liberal-democracy interventionism of the Clinton and Obama administrations. Trump not only promised to stop starting new wars, especially in the Middle East, he pledged to end the wars in which we found ourselves.

Why take this risk at the start of an election year? With near-unanimous backing in the GOP, Trump had kept both foreign-policy wings of the party in the same tent. His need was not to consolidate Republicans but to attract new voters without losing old ones.

In this sense, the drone strike has already taken its toll. The more popular leaders of the GOP's non-interventionist wing have joined Democrats in publicly scolding Trump for overstepping his authority by killing an official of a foreign government, and without any consultation with Congress. Those include usual allies, like Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), as well as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), normally an enthusiastic supporter of Trump. They are not alone in their unhappiness; as many as 10 Senate Republicans may vote for a Democrat-initiated resolution rebuking Trump for overstepping his authority, limiting him to 30 days of action against Iran regardless of imminence without congressional approval. That's not enough to survive a veto, but it's enough to demonstrate the serious split the Soleimani strike has created within the GOP.

It's just a function of his ignorance and narcissism: he thinks everyone hates Muslims, Latinos, Asians, women, blacks and Jews as much as he does.  He doesn't see any downside to attacking them so he always does when he's trying to drum up support.  To be fair, his hardcore supporters--the 15% who oppose even DACA--worship him for it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


'Jeopardy!' contestants can't identify impeachment inquiry prosecution lead Adam Schiff from a photo (RYAN FAHEY, 16 January 2020, Daily Mail)

He may have grabbed headlines this week after his appointment to lead the prosecution team into Donald Trump's impeachment, but not a single contestant on 'Jeopardy!' last night could identify House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff from a photograph. 

The photo, a clue for a $12,000 prize, was within the 'US Representatives' category and accompanied by the hint: 'One-fifty-third of California's House delegation is this House Intelligence Committee chairman.'

None of the three contestants buzzed in to identify him.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Mike Bloomberg holds 7-point lead on Trump in Michigan, poll shows (Todd Spangler, 1/16/20, Detroit Free Press)

His 49%-42% lead is the largest among all the Democrats, though 9% remain undecided with voting for the Democratic nomination getting underway in Iowa on Feb. 3. Michigan's primary is March 10.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads Trump 50%-44% and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont holds a 50%-45% lead on the president in the survey, for which 600 likely voters were polled between Thursday and Sunday. 

The poll, which has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, also shows South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with a 47%-43% lead on Trump and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts edging the president 48%-45%.

January 15, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The English Reformation: England's First Brexit (BRAD LITTLEJOHN, 1/15/20, American Conservative)

Last month, the political and cultural earthquake of 2016's Brexit vote produced another powerful aftershock. Once again, pundits and prognosticators were shocked by the British people's determination to assert their sovereignty by electing Boris Johnson as prime minister. They shouldn't have been. Nor should the broader nationalist awakening that has since swept the Western world occasion the astonishment and angst that it has. This is nothing new.

Searching for analogues to explain this sudden preoccupation with national sovereignty, our intelligentsia have reached about as far back in history as our culture still seems able to remember, to the clash of Great Powers in the First World War and the clash of civilizations in the Second. But to understand the motivations driving the tectonic realignment of our politics today, and the long-awaited Brexit that now seems set to rapidly become reality, we must look a bit further back--to the original Brexit that helped birth what Yoram Hazony has called "the Protestant construction of the West" and the order of sovereign nation-states that anchored it.

In the spring of 1533, the Parliament of England, meeting in an extraordinary fifth consecutive annual session, passed a landmark piece of legislation that profoundly altered the course of the island-kingdom's history: the Act in Restraint of Appeals. Striking a decisive blow against the Pope's supremacy over a host of legal and fiscal matters across the European continent, the Act forbade any further judicial appeals beyond England to Rome, and asserted the supremacy of the Crown and Parliament in English law. 

But what prompted this bold declaration of independence? The standard history books have a ready answer: so that King Henry VIII could divorce the aging Queen Catherine of Aragon and marry the fetching young Anne Boleyn! This explanation may tickle our fancy for scandal, but it hardly suffices as an explanation of the most significant constitutional reform in English history, one which required the consent of Parliament and ultimately the support of a whole people. How did a divorce case lead a devout Catholic monarch and nation to renounce their allegiance to the supra-national authority of the Papacy and to chart their own national course, establishing the legal framework for church, Crown, and Parliament that would anchor the development of British and American institutions for the next five centuries? 

Whether we explain this original Brexit from the perspective of its capricious but charismatic monarch, his exasperated subjects, or his shrewd advisors, we find ourselves presented with the central elements of nationalism--national security, economic nationalism, and legal sovereignty--which together shed light on our own contemporary Brexit and the broader nationalist awakening it represents.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Visa taps cheaper solar and wind to reach 100% renewable-electricity goal (RACHEL KONING BEALS, 1/15/20, Market Watch)

Financial-services giant Visa says it has met its goal to use 100% renewable electricity by 2020 across its 131 offices in 76 countries and four global processing centers.

Since setting the renewable goal in 2018, Visa V, +0.20%   pursued a sustainable mix of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Globally, the average costs to generate electricity from solar photovoltaic and onshore wind both declined 13% year-on-year in 2018, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Amnesty slams Iran's use of force against plane shootdown protesters (AFP, 1/15/20)

The rights group cited verified images and eyewitness testimonies indicating authorities had targeted protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray, along with pointed air-gun pellets normally used for hunting.

It's impressive that they are only using about as much force as we would, but they can dial it back even further.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Trump's China trade deal doesn't even get us back to square one, despite immense cost (MICHAEL HILTZIK, JAN. 15, 2020, LA Times)

That sound you may have heard Wednesday morning was that of a heavy truck spinning its wheels, as President Trump signed an agreement with China that imposes a cease-fire in a trade war that has achieved virtually nothing for Americans, except the imposition of enormous economic costs on U.S. consumers, farmers and manufacturers. [...]

Notwithstanding Trump's mantra that the tariffs are paid by the Chinese, trade experts are virtually unanimous in concluding that they've been paid entirely by Americans. As a result, according to recent research by the Federal Reserve, that meant higher prices for U.S. consumers, lower manufacturing growth and the cratering of agricultural exports.

Steep tariffs are "the new normal in the troubled US-China economic relationship," Chad P. Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics observed last month after the essentials of the deal were first announced.

Even after the agreement, the average U.S. tariff on China imports will still be 19.3%, a modest reduction from the pre-agreement level of 21% and more than six times its level of 3% before Trump launched the tariff war.

...but he'll have bought the naming rights.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Defining the doctrine of our age; What does "neoliberalism" really mean? (HETTIE O'BRIEN, 1/15/20. New Statesman)

Neoliberalism is a slippery concept with a contested history. Its intellectual origins date back to the aftermath of the First World War, when the break-up of central European empires and the emergence of democratic nation states put private property at the mercy of elected governments.

Faced with this political transformation, conservative neoliberals set out to insulate the market economy from democratic forces. In the mid-20th century, while John Maynard Keynes sketched out the postwar order and led the British delegation at the 1944 Breton Woods conference, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek attacked technocratic planning and state intervention in The Road to Serfdom, which was published the same year.

But it wasn't until the 1980s that neoliberalism became the ascendant doctrine of modern politics, when world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Augusto Pinochet in Chile instigated a now-familiar programme of economic deregulation, financial privatisation and union-busting.

A major weakness of the term "neoliberalism" is its ubiquity - especially on the left, it has become a rhetorical insult so hackneyed it fails to capture anything in particular. The term "can mean whatever you want it to mean", Ed Conway, the economics editor of Sky News, wrote in 2018. The Observer's Will Hutton called it "a catch-all to indicate contempt for any policy or figure... the left considers to be departing from true 'socialism'".

That "departing" would seem to be the key if the term is to have any meaning.  Thus, conservatism is liberalism, which always stood in opposition to socialism, but neoliberalism (the Third Way) represents the rejection of socialism and turn to liberalism by those formerly of the Left--chiefly Hawke, Blair, Clinton and Scandinavia.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Iran's Rouhani slams disqualification of thousands from running for parliament (NASSER KARIMI and MOHAMMAD NASIRI, 1/15/20, AP) 

Iran's president on Wednesday slammed the disqualification of thousands of people, including 90 current lawmakers, from running in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Although hard-liners were among those disqualified by the powerful Guardian Council, most of those rejected were reformist and moderate candidates, according to Tehran's reformist newspaper Etemad.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared to confirm this in his stinging critique of the council, which barred more than 9,000 from the over 14,000 people who had registered to run. Among them are 90 sitting lawmakers out of some 247 who registered to run for re-election.

Rouhani said it is not possible to run the country with just one faction in power.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Virginia Declares State of Emergency After Armed Militias Threaten to Storm the Capitol (Tess Owen, Jan 15 2020, Vice News)

In response to what he described as "credible intelligence" of threats of violence at an upcoming gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency and will temporarily ban individuals from carrying firearms on Capitol grounds.

The governor said at a press conference on Wednesday that authorities believe "armed militia groups plan to storm the Capitol" during the January 20 rally.

He also said that law enforcement had intercepted threats and "extremist rhetoric" similar to what was observed prior to the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. "We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here," he said.

As Virginia gun rally approaches, Alex Jones and his Infowars outlet hype prospect of violence (TIMOTHY JOHNSON, 01/15/20, Media Matters)

Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars outlet have been hyping the prospect of violence in Virginia, particularly at an upcoming pro-gun rally, as the commonwealth considers passing stronger gun laws. 

Jones and his associates are also preemptively claiming that any violence that does occur at the rally, planned for January 20 outside the Virginia Capitol, will be a "false flag," a similar claim to what he's said about violence that occurred at the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. 

Jones said that he and "dozens of our people" will be at the January 20 rally, and he has invited white nationalist Richard Spencer to join him. One of Jones' other rally invitees, conspiracy theorist Matt Bracken, has made frequent appearances on Jones' outlet Infowars to espouse violent rhetoric while discussing Virginia's gun laws and has even showed people how to best equip their assault weapons for battle. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Idea of a Conspiratorial Deep State Is... Just the Regular Government (Rebecca Gordon, 1/15/20, The Nation)

[M]aybe this is exactly the moment to think about the so-called deep state, if by that we mean the little-noticed machinery of governance that keeps dependably churning on in that same snow globe's pedestal, whatever mayhem may be swirling around above it. Maybe this is even the moment to be grateful for those parts of the government whose inertia keeps the ship of state moving in the same general direction, regardless of who's on the bridge at any given time.

Deep State usually refers to the power behind the throne and the beauty of a republic is that pr is all of us and our institutions.  Such an popular president,  with even more unpopular ambitions, inevitably hates us.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Justin Amash Has a Decision to Make (Declan Garvey, 1/14/20, The Dispatch)

The son of two immigrants, he graduated high school valedictorian of his class and earned his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Michigan, sticking around Ann Arbor long enough to nab a law degree as well.

But he is disloyal--at least in the Trumpian sense of the word. Amash has voted in line with Trump's position just 63 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight, a lower "Trump score" than any Republican save Walter Jones, who passed away last February, and Jeff Van Drew, who was a Democrat until about four weeks ago. Amash spent his final few months in the GOP calling for the president to be impeached, much to the joy of Democrats and some of his constituents, but much to the chagrin of everyone in his own party.

Amash isn't any less libertarian now than he was when he rode the Tea Party wave to D.C. in 2010, just two years after being elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. He'd contend it's those around him who've changed.

On January 26, 2015, Amash and a group of eight other Republican congressmen (all men) formed the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) to stand up to a House leadership--then helmed by Speaker John Boehner--that they believed wasn't conservative enough. Amash wrote the mission statement.

"The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety, and prosperity of all Americans."

On May 20, 2019, the bloc, now boasting more than 30 members, unanimously condemned their co-founder when Amash determined--after the release of the Mueller Report--that President Trump had "engaged in impeachable conduct." Three-and-a-half weeks later, Amash quit the group of limited-government stalwarts he helped create.

They "sanctioned him for coming out in favor of impeachment in the same week that like, they increased the debt by another trillion dollars or something," Welch said, referring to a two-year budget deal that was floated at the time, but ultimately never came to fruition. "It's like, what is the use of this group?"

"As soon as you had a Republican president, and especially one who is fairly charismatic and entertaining and can rally a lot of people," Amash said, choosing his words very carefully, "Republicans totally mailed it in. They said, 'Look, we're just going to go with this guy on everything.' And when I started to see even my House Freedom Caucus colleagues do that, it was really disheartening."

"This is a group that had formed," he continued, "for the purpose of standing on principle, standing up for the American people, doing what was right, ensuring that all voices were heard. And now, the group had moved more toward Trump cheerleading and that's not why the group was formed. And that was really tough."

Not everyone in Washington would agree with Amash's assessment of the caucus, which, once it grew large enough, wielded its influence to hold Republican leaders hostage and otherwise wreak havoc on the legislative process.

"Previously, groups of members on the right flank of the House Republican Conference operated under a version of the 'Buckley Rule': they fought for the most conservative legislation that could pass," said Michael Steel, former aide to Speaker John Boehner. "The self-described 'Freedom Caucus' often seemed more about the fight than the result, and--when they chose not to get to 'yes' on must-pass bills--the House Republican leadership had to go to Democrats for votes, leading to worse policies and higher spending."

When Trump was first elected, many wondered if the House Freedom Caucus would even continue to serve a purpose. After all, the GOP center of gravity no longer revolved around the speaker of the House. But the HFC made its presence known early on in 2017, scuttling the White House's first attempt to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. 

"The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast," Trump wrote at the time. "We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!"

Now? One of the caucus's founding members, Mick Mulvaney, serves as Trump's chief of staff. Another, Mark Meadows, is one of the president's most enthusiastic advocates, and is rumored to be Mulvaney's replacement in waiting.

Amash believes the co-opting of the Freedom Caucus was no accident. "I think that was intentional," he said. "Whether it was the president's calculation or someone else's, to try to take some of the House Freedom Caucus members and bring them into the fold ... I think this was a concerted effort by leadership and perhaps White House officials to pick off House Freedom Caucus members, to bring them in, to make them a part of the Republican team, in some sense, and then get them to stop battling Republicans."

While his old Freedom Caucus buddies may have finally stopped battling Republicans under Trump, Amash was just getting started. But he claims his newfound independence has actually improved his connections on the Hill. 

"I have better relationships with Republicans and with Democrats. When you're a Republican and you break from the Republicans on a piece of legislation or you disagree with the president or whatever it might be, they tend to come down hard on you because it's like you're a family member who has betrayed the family," he said. "Since becoming an independent, my colleagues are more trusting. They are friendlier, on both sides of the aisle, and it's certainly been an improvement on the Republican side."

Efforts to talk to his peers about this bore little fruit. A spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus declined to comment for the story, and no individual members contacted responded to emails from The Dispatch.

"I think John Boehner is the best speaker that we've had since I've been here," said Amash. "And I say that as someone who tried to oust him from the speakership!"

This sentiment doesn't represent a newfound appreciation for the Republican establishment or hint at new moderation from Amash. Instead, it's a reflection of his belief in having big, messy debates--not avoiding them.

"If I were to create, like, an ideal speaker in my imagination, it would not be John Boehner," Amash said. But in retrospect, "his successors are not better than him."

"Boehner would swear at me, he would curse me, he would criticize me in public," Amash recounted with a grin, almost fondly. "But he also, in some sense, would listen. He didn't dismiss you totally. You could engage with him. You could have some back and forth. He might swear at you, but then also allow you to have an amendment vote."

Never too late to try to repair the damage you did.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Indicted Giuliani Ally Has Money-Tied Republicans Seeking Cover (ADAM KLASFELD and MEGAN MINEIRO, 1/14/20, CN)

Three years later, down to the same month, the Justice Department on Oct. 10 unsealed an indictment of Parnas for using a straw donor and laundering foreign money into U.S. elections. Federal prosecutors claim he and his Fraud Guarantee co-owner, Igor Fruman, used the shell company Global Energy Producers to funnel $325,000 in foreign cash into America First Action, a Trump super-PAC.

Federal records show that the total donations from Parnas, Fruman, Global Energy Producers and an alter ego identified by prosecutors exceeded $620,000.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader of the Democrat-controlled House, would later redirect to charity the $2,700 campaign contribution he received from Parnas, as well as a $2,173 contribution from Fruman to Majority Committee PAC, McCarthy's leadership political action committee.  [...]

Now that Parnas is sharing information with the House Intelligence Committee, top Republicans financially tied to the indicted Giuliani allies have been pulled back into a scandal that erupted with their arrests in October.

Donald Sherman, deputy director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, explained why politicians are quick to dispose of foreign money.

"Accepting foreign donations is obviously a crime, and that is the threshold problem," said Sherman, whose group is often abbreviated as CREW.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Meet the Trump Donor Who Allegedly Stalked America's Ambassador in Ukraine (Will Sommer and Betsy Swan, Jan. 15, 2020, Daily Beast)

Before Tuesday, he was best known as a little-known, scandal-scarred Republican congressional candidate who tweeted an obscene joke at Kamala Harris. But new documents from the House Intelligence Committee have put a completely different kind of spotlight on Robert F. Hyde, the Trump donor who appears to have tracked U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's movements in Ukraine. 

In WhatsApp messages exchanged in March 2019 with Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who provided the committee with the files, Hyde and Parnas discussed Yovanovitch's location. Hyde, a retired Marine, appeared to have associates in Ukraine monitoring her.

"They know she's a political puppet," Hyde wrote to Parnas. "They will let me know when she's on the move... They are willing to help if you/we would like a price."

"Guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money... what I was told," Hyde wrote in another message.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Here's the case for Tesla $6,000 (Shawn Langlois, Jan 14, 2020, MarketWatch)

"As we're looking at other auto companies, seeing how far behind Tesla they are, we're beginning to believe they might not lose market share, which is a huge change in our assumptions," [Ark Investment founder Catherine Wood] said, pointing out that market share was a concern when she first predicted in February 2018 that Tesla would reach $4,000.

Autonomous vehicles will also be a big driver going forward, with Tesla, in her view, positioned to be the dominant player in the space. "The winner in autonomous platforms, and in any artificial intelligence project, is that company with the most data and the highest-quality data," she said. "That company is Tesla."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


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A newly revealed letter from Rudy Giuliani -- Trump's own lawyer -- destroys the president's last defense in Ukraine scandal (Sonam Sheth, 1/15/20, Business Insider)

Dated May 10, 2019, the letter showed the former New York mayor telling Zelensky he wanted to meet in person on May 13 and May 14.

"Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States," Giuliani wrote. "This is quite common under American law because the duties and privileges of a President and a private citizen are not the same." [...]

"We're not meddling in an election, we're meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do," Giuliani told The Times when asked whether by going to Ukraine and pressing for the inquiry, he was inviting foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Trump and Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine into delivering dirt on the Bidens and Burisma make up the center of Congress' impeachment proceedings against Trump. Last month, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The president has said that his request for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was linked to an interest in rooting out corruption, which is in the US's national interest.

But Giuliani's letter directly undercuts that because it specifies he was acting in his capacity as Trump's private attorney; in other words, he was representing the president's personal political interests, and not the country's interests.

January 14, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


House Democrats Just Dropped a Boatload of Impeachment Documents That Look Really Bad for Trump (Greg Walters, Jan 14 2020, Vice News)

House Democrats just unveiled a trove of fresh impeachment evidence against President Trump in a surprise move just days before his impeachment trial is set to kick off in the Senate.

The files include a copy of a letter from Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani addressed to the President of Ukraine that casts Trump as fully aware of Giuliani's actions in Ukraine -- at a moment when Giuliani was publicly calling for the country to investigate Trump's Democratic 2020 challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

That letter, which requests a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, directly links Trump to a trip even Giuliani described at the time as "meddling in an investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


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FISA Court Not Apolitical in Addressing Spying Abuses Against Trump Campaign (Sharyl Attkisson, January 12, 2020, The Epoch Times)

To some, the appointment of Kris to help with the job is as mysterious as to why the FISA Court's judges failed to flag the FBI abuses on their own. It would seem more important than ever to have an apolitical person, or a balanced group of people, conducting oversight of these politically sensitive matters. Kris's vocal criticisms of President Donald Trump present numerous, obvious conflicts of interest.

On Twitter, Kris called Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) "a politicized, dishonest [Intelligence Community] overseer who attempts to mislead," and wrote that Trump and his advisers should be "worried" that the "walls are closing in" regarding the Mueller probe. Kris also bought into the now-disproven conspiracy theory about Trump colluding with Russia and Putin.

But even more importantly, since that time, Kris has advocated for Trump's removal.

"Do we want to be a country in which elected officials can use their governmental power to attack political opponents? If not, it's pretty simple: Trump has to go," Kris wrote on Twitter in October 2019. Specifically, Kris criticized what he said was Trump using government powers against political opponents, seeming to dismiss the possibility that the government had used its powers improperly against Trump.

Always fun when reality penetrates the bubble.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Fourth GOP senator wants vote on witnesses (Billy House, 1/14/20, Bloomberg)

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said Tuesday he wants a guaranteed vote during the trial on whether senators will hear from new witnesses and see additional documents.

"First we need to hear the case - not dismiss the case, we need to hear it," said Alexander of Tennessee, who plans to retire after this session of Congress. "That means hear the arguments, ask our questions and then be guaranteed a right to vote on whether we need more evidence."

"And that could be witnesses, it could be documents," Alexander said. "I'll reserve that decision until I hear the case and I ask questions."

Alexander is the fourth GOP senator to publicly speak in favor of hearing new evidence during Trump's trial. Four GOP votes would be needed to join the 47 Democrats to make a majority in favor of calling witnesses.

A day earlier, GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah said they wanted to ensure there will be an opportunity to vote on calling witnesses or other information later in the trial.

House GOP Leader Suggests Pelosi Timed Impeachment Trial to Hurt Sanders's Presidential Run (MAIREAD MCARDLE, January 14, 2020, National Review)

"This is the dirty little secret that nobody is talking about, why the speaker held these papers," McCarthy told Fox News on Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Iraqi cleric Sadr urges mass protests against US presence (AFP, 1/14/20)

Firebrand Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr called Tuesday for a "million-strong march" against the presence of US troops in Iraq, days after parliament voted for their departure following Washington's killing of an Iranian general in a Baghdad drone strike.

"The skies, land and sovereignty of Iraq are being violated every day by occupying forces," the Shiite cleric turned populist politician wrote on Twitter.

He urged Iraqis to hold "a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations," without giving a date.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


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Trump Admin Walks Back Anti-MEK Memo (Betsy Swan, Erin Banco, Asawin Suebsaeng. Jan. 13, 2020, Daily Beast)

At whiplash speed, the State Department is walking back an order barring American diplomats from meeting with controversial Iranian dissident groups--including one close with Trump World allies and previously designated as a terror group, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). The initial memo, greenlit by a career State Department employee, angered Congressional Iran hawks. And the Department's move to change its guidance has drawn cheers from them. 

This is who the Right thinks should replace the Shi'a, Who is the Iranian group targeted by bombers and beloved of Trump allies? (Saeed Kamali Dehghan,  2 Jul 2018, The Guardian)

Believed to have between 5,000 to 13,000 members, the MeK was established in the 1960s to express a mixture of Marxism and Islamism. It launched bombing campaigns against the Shah, continuing after the 1979 Islamic revolution, against the Islamic Republic. In 1981, in a series of attacks, it killed 74 senior officials, including 27 MPs. Later that year, its bombings killed Iran's president and prime minister.

During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the MeK, by then sheltered in camps in Iraq, fought against Iran alongside the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a turning point for the group, which sought to reinvent itself as a democratic force.

Today, it functions as a fringe exiled group with characteristics of a cult that works for regime change in Iran, though it has little visible support inside the country. It portrays itself as a democratic political institution although its own internal structure is anything but.

Eli Clifton, a fellow at the Nation Institute, said the MeK's influence in the US is multilayered. "When [MeK] members go and swarm Capitol Hill and seek meetings with the members of Congress," Clifton said, "they're very often the only voices that are heard, because there is simply not a lot of Iranian-American presence on Capitol Hill."

Clifton said the MeK, which operates under a set of front groups, writes very large cheques to those speaking at their events. Estimates are in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 per speech. Bolton is estimated to have received upwards of $180,000 to speak at multiple events for MeK. His recent financial disclosure shows that he was paid $40,000 for one speech at an MeK event last year.

Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Washington Post journalist who was jailed in Tehran for more than a year, wrote in March that in the seven years he lived in the country, he saw a great deal of criticism towards the ayatollahs but "never met a person who thought the MeK should, or could, present a viable alternative".

Clifton said the MeK "shares many qualities of a cult". That description was echoed by Iraj Mesdaghi, a Sweden-based Iranian activist who was jailed in Iran from 1981 to 1991 for his links to the MeK. Mesdaghi left Iran in 1994 and worked for the MeK in its headquarters in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, until 2001.

"In the MeK, everything has to morph into leadership, and leadership means Masoud Rajavi [Maryam Rajavi's husband, missing since 2003]. Not only your heart belongs to him, any love belongs to him, it's forbidden to have love for spouse, mother, children," he said.

He compared working for the MeK to holding an electric wire. "You have to follow the path, you have to transfer what you're given, you're not meant to add or reduce anything, you can't pose any ifs."

A 2007 state department report included claims that MeK has forced members to divorce. Human Rights Watch, in a 28-page report, has shed light on the MeK's mistreatment of its members, including claims that those wishing to leave the group have been subjected to "lengthy solitary confinements, severe beatings, and torture".

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Russians hack energy company that played major role in Trump Ukraine scandal (Brian Fung, January 14, 2020, CNN)

The New York Times was the first to report the hack, and noted the attempts began in early November, as the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment were dominating the news in the United States while the House impeachment hearings were underway.

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Sanders Refused to Condemn Farrakhan Official's Anti-Semitic Screed (Adam Kredo, JANUARY 14, 2020, Free Beacon)

As the Nation of Islam faced public and private pressure to moderate its rhetoric in the mid-1990s, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against a congressional measure condemning a series of virulent anti-Semitic statements by a leading member of the group.

In 1994, Sanders was one of a small minority of congressmen who declined to back a resolution condemning the remarks by Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a black nationalist and New Black Panther Party member, who became a lightning rod for criticism in the 1990s due to his repeated public displays of anti-Semitism. The remarks, delivered at New Jersey's Kean College in 1993, drew the condemnation of African-American leader Jesse Jackson, who called them "racist, anti-Semitic, divisive, untrue, and chilling," and ultimately forced Farrakhan to expel Muhammad from the Nation of Islam.

January 13, 2020

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The Soviet Economy Was Not Growing; It Was Dying (Phillip W. Magness, January 10, 2020, AIER)

At the midcentury mark, economist G. Warren Nutter (1923-79) provided one of the lone dissenting voices to challenge what had become a matter of conventional wisdom among Sovietologists. Whereas others perceived vibrancy and vitality in the socialist society's industrial growth, Nutter recognized its long-term economic decline concealed behind a politically crafted veneer of propaganda about socialist industrial prowess.

From 1956 onward, he labored on providing a statistical corrective that painted a picture of a society gradually succumbing to the weight of its own central planning and the wasteful accretions of a graft-riddled and politically repressive bureaucracy.[2] The early reception of Nutter's work expressed doubt about its accuracy compared to more optimistic portrayals from the textbooks and accompanying Sovietology literature, yet history proved him right. Nutter had scooped the field and accurately identified an economy with deep structural problems--most of them directly traceable to its destruction of a functional price mechanism through the tools of state management.

Nutter's assessment was no abstraction, but rather the result of years of close study of the relationship between state policy and industrial concentration in the United States - the subject of his dissertation at the University of Chicago. But he also possessed an uncommonly keen eye for extracting observations from his surroundings. He deployed the latter during a twenty-eight-day visit to the Soviet Union in 1956 as a self-described "tourist" researcher, which he contrasted with other American experts whose longer visits occurred under the heavy scrutiny and management of handlers from the Soviet government[3].

Whereas others largely picked up on what the Soviets wanted them to see and incorporated curated factory tours and contrived statistical claims into their assessments, Nutter apparently had a knack for looking beneath the surface through everyday observations of his surroundings - simply by keeping an eye on the types of goods in the shop window, the patterns of workers entering the factory in the background, and the way that the people he encountered described even the most mundane economic transactions of their daily lives.[4]

He had no formal training in Russian and does not appear to have claimed fluency, describing his tour as having taken place "under the severe handicap of not knowing the language."[5] Yet Nutter was also something of a linguistic autodidact--an ability he realized in the US Army during the liberation of Europe a little over a decade prior. In reading his travelogue, one gathers that he may have gleaned more from observing the surrounding conversations than he let on - more than, importantly, his Soviet guides realized at the time.

While many of us are old enough to recall the Kitchen Debate, many have forgotten that Khruschev and other Soviet leaders genuinely did not comprehend how far behind ours their economy was, so a basic American kitchen seemed like fantastical propaganda.  It took the rise of the head of the KGB before they had a leader who understood how desperate the situation was and he died before he could do much more than promote a few reform minded leaders, but even they  did not comprehend.  Thus, Gorbachev did take power but still thought Communism could succeed with a few tweaks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Capitalism Isn't Broken (MICHAEL R. STRAIN, January 10, 2020, National Review)

* Now is a bizarre time to argue that capitalism is broken. The unemployment rate is at a half-century low, and employment (for prime-age workers) has recovered fully from the Great Recession.

* From the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 through 2016 (the most recent year for which data are available), the Congressional Budget Office finds that inequality of post-tax-and-transfer income has fallen by 7 percent.

* Technology innovators -- who receive a lot of criticism in "late capitalism" discussions -- have created trillions of dollars of value for the American people.

* Median household income (after taxes and transfers) is up 44 percent since 1990.

The Left believes it's broken because classes they hate are doing well.  The Right thinks it's broken because races they hate are doing well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


This is the best one hour economics lesson imaginable.
Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Tensions between president Rouhani and Iran's Revolutionary Guard spill into open (Raf Sanchez  and Ahmed Vahdat, 13 JANUARY 2020, The Telegraph)

Tensions between the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guard spilled into the open on Monday as the president's office accused the elite military force of misleading them over the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner. 

As protesters took to the streets for a third consecutive day, allies of Hassan Rouhani, the democratically elected president, appeared to be directing the public's anger towards their more hardline rivals in the Revolutionary Guard. 

A spokesman for Mr Rouhani said the Revolutionary Guard had falsely told the president they were not involved as he tried to explain why Iran spent the first days after the crash denying any responsibility for the 176 deaths.

"All relevant authorities had assured us that there had been no missile involved in the downing of the Ukrainian plane," said Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman.

Meanwhile, a leaked recording appeared to show a Revolutionary Guard officer complaining that Mr Rouhani's administration was leaving them out to dry as they faced widespread fury over the downing of Flight PS752.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Public University's Ban on 'Sexually Suggestive' Posters Is Insanely Puritanical (KATHERINE TIMPF, January 13, 2020, National Review)

The sexual-misconduct policy at Morehead State University, a public school in Kentucky, states that "sexual gestures," "degrading words," and the display of "sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters" count as examples of sexual harassment.

The policy, which was last updated in the fall, is so restrictive that it was named "Speech Code of the Month" by a pro-free speech organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The Culture Wars are a rout.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Maybe Nominating Bloomberg for President Isn't a Crazy Idea (Jonathan Chait, 1/09/20, New York)

Back to School is a 1987 comedy in which Rodney Dangerfield plays a déclassé millionaire who buys his way into college. A professor objects to admitting a rich guy simply because he donated to the school, to which the dean replies, "I don't think Dr. Barbay understands the actual amounts that are involved here."

You surely realize that Bloomberg is a very wealthy individual with the ability to self-fund, but you may not have focused on the actual amount of money Bloomberg could bring to bear on the campaign. It is beyond any experience in presidential history. In the last presidential election, Donald Trump spent $343 million. Spending by both sides, including outside money, barely exceeded $1 billion. Bloomberg is personally worth $56 billion. If nominated, he could easily part with one-tenth of his fortune and outspend the entire Republican party by five to one.

He needs to spend it to defeat Donald, not just to help himself.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Call Trumpism what it is: a cult (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, JAN. 10, 2020, LA Times)

The discourse around cults partakes of some woolly theories. "Mind control" and "brainwashing" are shibboleths from the 1950s, when the coinages were used to describe what Chinese Communists did to convert freethinkers to their cause. The implicit suggestion is that unsavory ideas and ideologies can only win adherents using extreme and witchy measures.

All that put me off the notion of Trumpism as a cult. But then in August, Trump looked heavenward and called himself "the chosen one."

Suddenly, among evangelicals, it wasn't enough to make comparisons with Cyrus or even King David. He had to be the savior himself. The far-right radio host Wayne Allyn Root called Trump "the second coming of God." Then former Energy Secretary Rick Perry straight up affirmed Trump's craziness, telling him, "You are here in this time because God ordained you."

As 2019 drew to a close, my doubts about Trumpism as a cult dissolved. And I'm not alone.

Republican lawyer George Conway reportedly described his wife, Trump's presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, as a member of a cult. Former GOP strategist John Weaver has used the term. Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's onetime communications director, concurs. Also news vet Dan Rather, conservative political scientist Norman Ornstein, science journalist Steve Silberman, pastor John Pavlovitz and academic and journalist Jared Yates Sexton.

What the cult diagnosis may lack in scholarly rigor, it makes up for in explanatory power. When polled, far too many Republicans come across as having abandoned their commitment to libertarianism, family values or simple logic in favor of Trump worship. They're lost to paranoia and factually unmoored talking points, just the way Hassan was lost to Sun Myung Moon.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


66% of Americans want John Bolton to testify (Marisa Fernandez, 1/13/20, Axios)

Two-thirds of Americans surveyed want former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in the Senate impeachment trial, according to a Quinnipiac national poll of 1,562 voters released Monday.

Obviously just torqueing up the pressure for a real trial was a win, but add in keeping Sanders and Warren out of IA and potentially forcing Donald to give the State of the Union while he's in the dock and she may hit the trifecta.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


U.S. Budget Deficit Widens 11.8% in First Quarter of Fiscal Year (Katia Dmitrieva, January 13, 2020, Bloomberg)

The U.S. budget deficit widened to $356.6 billion in the first three months of fiscal 2020 as spending rose more than revenue, keeping the federal shortfall on pace to exceed $1 trillion by year-end.

The gap increased 11.8% from the $318.9 billion in October-December of the previous year, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget report Monday. Government outlays increased 6.7%, while receipts rose 4.6%. The U.S. posted a $13.3 billion deficit in December alone compared with $13.5 billion a year earlier.

The three biggest spending categories are social security, national defense and Medicare, which all increased in the quarter.

the reason the Right is completely silent about spending is because they only ever worried that white entitlement money might go to blacks under a black president.  It was just hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Trump Takes Credit For Obamacare, Says Democrats Want to Repeal It (Jonathan Chait, 1/13/20, New York)

Since he began running for president, Donald Trump has been lying about health care in general, and protections for patients with preexisting conditions in particular. Trump's long-standing lie is that he has a plan to help people with preexisting conditions afford insurance, or will shortly unveil such a plan. His most recent version of this lie goes even farther. Trump is now saying that he actually created the protection for preexisting conditions, and that Democrats are trying to take it away.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


The Trump administration is struggling to explain why the US killed top Iranian general Soleimani (Ryan Pickrell, 1/13/20, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, ratcheting up tensions between the US and Iran, but in the aftermath, the US has struggled to explain and justify why it had the infamous commander was killed.

He was killed because he was an agent of democratizing the Middle East, which the Right opposes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Sanders Says He Held Hawkish Immigration Views '250 Years Ago' (It Was 2015) (Alex Griswold - JANUARY 13, 2020, Free Beacon)

In an interview transcript released on Monday, New York Times editor Nick Fox asked Sanders if he still believed that foreign workers depress wages for Americans. "No," Sanders responded. "That's what I said on the Lou Dobbs show 250 years ago, right?"

Sanders made that argument in 2015 on at least two occasions. "What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy," Sanders said in a Vox interview. "Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that."

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Majority of Americans, including independents, disapprove of Trump's Iran handling (The Week, 1/13/20)

Majorities of Americans disapprove of President Trump's handling of the Iran situation, feel less safe after the U.S. drone strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and are concerned about a new war in the Middle East, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday. There is a sharp partisan split in the answers, but independents align pretty well with the overall findings.

The poll found that 56 percent of all U.S. adults and 57 parent of independents disapprove of Trump's handling of Tehran tensions, versus 43 percent of both groups who approve of the job Trump's doing with Iran. When asked if the Soleimani strike made them feel more safe, 28 percent of independents and 25 percent of Americans said yes while 51 percent of independents and 52 percent of all voters said no, they feel less safe now.

Donald losing to even Ayatollah Khameini looks about right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Evangelicals Who Pray for War With Iran (SARAH POSNER, January 9, 2020, New Republic)

Pompeo and Pence reportedly were the top officials pushing Trump to kill Soleimani. They're also devout evangelicals and major allies of CUFI. This is not a coincidence. While the organization is best known for its unflagging "support" for Israel--that is, for Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and protracted erasure of the possibility of a future Palestinian state--it has, since its founding in 2006, depicted Iran as an existential threat to Israel. The group opposed President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, denouncing it as "dangerous for Israel, the United States and the entire world," and in the Trump administration, CUFI has found hope for a more bellicose posture.

Televangelist John Hagee launched CUFI in 2006, calling for military action against Iran, then led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Hagee compared to Hitler. At the time, Hagee had been claiming that Iran would soon "have the nuclear capability to make a bomb, a suitcase bomb, a missile head, or anything they want to do with it." That was untrue, given contemporaneous expert assessments of Iran's projected nuclear advances. But for Hagee, a more militaristic approach was necessary in order to avert "an American Hiroshima." He urged his supporters to take a stand, as they were meant to "for a time such as this," a common evangelical reference to Queen Esther, celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Purim, who saved the Jews from extermination at the hands of Haman, the genocidal adviser to the Persian king.

In his 2006 book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee imagined an elaborate scenario in which a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran would trigger an "inferno [that] will explode across the Middle East, plunging the world toward Armageddon." Faced with scrutiny over his apocalyptic theology, he strained to create a discrete image for his new political organization, insisting that his extensive writings on biblical prophecy about the Rapture and Second Coming were distinct from CUFI's lobbying agenda. But it was a rocky start for the organization. In 2008, while running for president, John McCain first accepted, then rejected, Hagee's endorsement. The rebuff was seen as damaging to the political neophyte and a brave stance by McCain against fringe elements within the GOP's evangelical base. At CUFI's annual Washington Summit, held just two months later, only three members of Congress attended.

But one of those three members was a certain congressman from Indiana: Pence.

It's no coincidence that the Right opposes democracy everywhere it exists in the Middle East.

January 12, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Donald Trump tweets extraordinary attack on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wearing a hijab and a turban  (NIKKI SCHWAB,, 13 January 2020, dAILY mAIL)

In his ideology, that demonizes them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Hillary Clinton: The most exonerated politician ever (Jennifer Rubin, Jan. 12, 2020, Washington Post)

 It may be hard to remember given then-FBI Director James B. Comey's voluminous investigative report in the midst of the 2016 election, his testimony before Congress and his intrusion into the campaign 11 days before Election Day, but he found no basis she committed a crime. His subjective comments about poor judgment and negligence were entirely irrelevant (and frankly inappropriate for the FBI, which is charged with finding or not finding criminal conduct). The bottom line: Clinton committed no crimes.

That was not enough for Trump. Based on no new evidence but rather on an undisguised personal vendetta, Trump opened up another investigation. The Post reported:

John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, was tapped in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation and during Clinton's time as secretary of state, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One.

As a part of his review, Huber examined documents and conferred with federal law enforcement officials in Little Rock who were handling a meandering probe into the Clinton Foundation, people familiar with the matter said. Current and former officials said that Huber has largely finished and found nothing worth pursuing -- though the assignment has not formally ended and no official notice has been sent to the Justice Department or to lawmakers, these people said.

The coverage of her exoneration has been minimal. The number of stories such as Clinton cleared in witch-hunt probe or Right-wing accusations debunked has been underwhelming. The legitimate media does not seem interested in asking Trump or other Republicans to acknowledge that their accusations were baseless. You would think legitimate media outlets at the very least would self-reflect on their coverage that often treated long-ago disproved accusations as still unsettled.

The hordes of right-wing media pundits and columnists will not fess up for pushing a blatantly false narrative. Because they are held to such a low standard by legitimate media outlets, the voices in the right-wing echo chamber pay no price for joining in the persecution of Trump's nemesis.

"One of the most common tools of autocrats around the world is to use law enforcement as a weapon to go after political opponents," explains Ian Bassin, executive director of the nonpartisan organization Protect Democracy, which has litigated against Trump's unconstitutional actions. "That this misguided investigation has been brought to an end is a sign the walls of our system are still holding; that it was allowed to happen at all is a sign that Trump's constant pounding at those walls is producing cracks." Bassin adds, "With a president who has boasted wrongly that he can do 'whatever he wants' with the Justice Department, we can't afford to just hope that sanity prevails the next time -- and there will be a next time."

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The weird phenomenon of Death in Paradise: One writer's mid-life crisis pipe-dream has birthed that rarest of things: the unkillable franchise (Ed Power, 1/12/20, The Independent)

The puzzle of Death in Paradise's appeal is, in fact, easily cracked. For all its impressive body-count, Thorogood's romp harks back to breezier and more innocent times. Each week a fresh crime is committed on Saint Marie, a fictional setting loosely based on the French-governed archipelago of Guadeloupe (where Death in Paradise is filmed).  

Enter Detective Inspector Mooney, that rare modern TV detective whose personal life is not a distracting mess. As with his two predecessors on the show - played in chronological order by Ben Miller and Kris Marshall - he disentangles the mystery, the killer is unmasked. All before the news and bedtime.  

To say I'm an obsessive Death in Paradise fan would be an exaggeration. I did not spend December counting down to the latest series. Nor did the revelation that Ardal O'Hanlon is moving on after three years - apparently the relentlessly sunny weather is too much - send me to the internet to vent my outrage. The news that he is to be replaced by Royal Family star Ralf Little wasn't a topic of conversation with my friends in the pub over Christmas. There is no Death in Paradise expanded universe to become immersed in. Once done, each episode immediately erases itself from your memory. 

But if it's on and I'm not doing anything else - such as meaningfully engaging my brain - then, sure, I'll watch. Such, I suspect, is the general feeling among its regular viewers. They, like me, may enjoy being reminded of such uncomplicated treats of yesteryear as Bergerac, Lovejoy or Murder, She Wrote​. The world is angry and frightening, full of people shouting at one another on Twitter. Death in Paradise presents an irresistible weekly escape hatch. 

It has a charming backstory too. In the mid-Noughties, Thorogood was nearing 40 - a struggling writer beginning to suspect he was wasting his life. His wife, a broadcast journalist with Classic FM, was supporting the family. His days were spent knocking around in his pyjamas writing scripts he knew would never amount to anything. 

Then, one morning in 2007, he happened to switch the radio on and hear a news report about the suspicious death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer at the Cricket World Cup in Jamaica. The detail that intrigued him was that local police had brought in detectives from Scotland Yard to help with the murder investigation (it was never proved conclusively whether or not Woolmer was the victim of a crime). In his bedroom office, where he was wrapped in his dressing gown and feeling slightly sorry for himself, a light-bulb went off.  

"I imagined an uptight and by-the-book London copper trying to solve a murder in the sweltering heat of the Tropics. There was a series in this. I was sure of it," Thorogood later told the BBC. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


On-farm solar grows as farmers see economic rewards -- and risks (LISA HELD, JANUARY 11, 2020, Salon)

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms with solar panels increased nearly 150 percent between 2012 and 2017, from 36,000 to 90,000. Even American Farmland Trust (AFT), an organization dedicated to preserving agricultural land, is promoting agriculture and solar "co-location." AFT just hosted an event last month for Long Island farmers called, "Combating Climate Change: Solar Energy, Farming, and the Future in New York."

"Renewable energy is a natural fit for America's farmlands. When you put a solar array or wind turbine on a farm, it pays dividends both economically and environmentally," said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). "We're just scratching the surface of the partnership potential."

"The commitment to sustainability is waking up before the sun and farming in a way that supports ecosystems--and solar has been part of our on-farm work for years," said Stanley Minnick, Organic Valley's energy services and technology manager, during a presentation at the Solar Energy Industries Association conference in November. Minnick was at the event to present the results of a project the company had completed at its corporate headquarters. After installing solar panels on three rooftops, investing in both solar and wind farms, and forming creative alliances, the company's operations are now powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Study links Medicaid expansion to 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths (German Lopez, Jan 10, 2020, Vox)

Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, which gave millions of low-income adults access to health insurance, was linked to a 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose death rates -- potentially preventing thousands of deaths -- according to a new study in JAMA Network Open.

The study looked at what happened in counties in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by 2017, compared to counties in states that didn't expand Medicaid, accounting for variables like demographic and policy differences. The Medicaid expansion was made optional in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, and only 32 states and Washington, DC, had opted to expand by the study period (with the total rising to 37 in the past few years).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The UK is abandoning its alliance with Trump as the United States 'withdraws from its leadership around the world' (Adam Bienkov, 1/12/20, Business Insider)

In remarkably outspoken comments, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Sunday that Trump's isolationist foreign policy stance meant the UK was now looking for alternative allies around the world.

"I worry if the United States withdraws from its leadership around the world," he told the Sunday Times.

He added: "The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be."

The comments came after Boris Johnson's government distanced itself from the attack last week, with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab labelling it a "dangerous escalation," which risked a conflict in which "terrorists would be the only winners."

Whoever replaces Donald in November is going to have the easiest presidency this side of Bill Clinton.

January 11, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


Beijing's man lost by a shocking landslide in Taiwan's presidential election (Isabella Steger, 1/11/20, qUARTZ)

Though the polls showed Tsai was the favorite to win, her large margin of victory was unexpected. A result made more shocking following the drubbing her party received in local elections a little over a year ago. In November 2018, the independence-leaning DPP lost seven of the 13 cities and counties it had held to the China-friendly Kuomintang. The result was seen as a rebuke of Tsai's economic and social policies.

Then the Hong Kong protests happened. Taiwanese watched in fear as Beijing responded to the protests with force and violence, shattering any belief that the "one country, two systems" model by which Hong Kong is governed could ever work in Taiwan. Tsai has consistently supported the Hong Kong protests, and has allowed about 60 protesters who fled to extend their temporary stays in Taiwan, even though local law does not allow them to gain asylum.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Misenchantment: a review of 'The Enchantments of Mammon' by Eugene McCarraher    (David Bentley Hart, January 6, 2020, Commonweal)

In McCarraher's telling, capitalism as it has taken shape over the past few centuries is not the product of any kind of epochal "disenchantment" of the world (the Reformation, the scientific revolution, what have you). Far less does it represent the triumph of a more "realist" and "pragmatic" understanding of private wealth and civil society. Instead, it is another kind of religion, one whose chief tenets may be more irrational than almost any of the creeds it replaced at the various centers of global culture. It is the coldest and most stupefying of idolatries: a faith that has forsaken the sacral understanding of creation as something charged with God's grandeur, flowing from the inexhaustible wellsprings of God's charity, in favor of an entirely opposed order of sacred attachments. Rather than a sane calculation of material possibilities and human motives, it is in fact an enthusiast cult of insatiable consumption allied to a degrading metaphysics of human nature. And it is sustained, like any creed, by doctrines and miracles, mysteries and revelations, devotions and credulities, promises of beatitude and threats of dereliction. 

the problem with this view is obvious.  Let us suppose a simple thought experiment: all we know of Family A is that they have been devout since 1776 and have tithed 10% of their income to the church every year; all we know of Family B is that they are capitalists and have invested 10% of their income in broad market indexes for those same years.  We can not know whether either Family today is happy, healthy  or wise, which is to say that their faith has been rewarded, spiritually, nevermind materially.  Nor can we know whether Family B is healthy, happy and wise or whether they are miserable; we do, however, know that they are wealthy.  Their calculation has been entirely sane, though not sufficient.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Sympathy for the Devil in the Cultural Moment of 1969 (ALEXANDER RILEY, 1/08/20, Public Discourse)

Just a few days before Woodstock, the Manson murders were taking place on the other side of the country in California. Lebo's consideration of this dreadful piece of 1969 is admirable, emphasizing some of the broader connections of Manson's insanity to the '60s musical counterculture. Still, he fails to connect as fully as he might all the sinister dots linking Manson, the deeds of his "Family," and the rest of the counterculture he inhabited.

In a December 1968 interview with the title "I Live With 17 Girls," the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson described his relationship with a number of Manson's female cult members--"space ladies," in his terms--whom he was thinking of launching in a musical career. Through them, he met their "guru, a guy named Charlie who'd recently come out of jail after twelve years." Manson, Wilson went on, had "drifted into crime, but when I met him, I found he had great musical ideas. We're writing together now. He's dumb, in some ways, but I accept his approach and have learnt from him." Wilson let members of the Manson Family live in his Sunset Boulevard home, and he introduced Manson to Terry Melcher, the music producer son of Doris Day. Manson later dropped by Melcher's home unannounced, but Melcher had moved. The new resident was Sharon Tate, who turned him away. Manson did not forget this spurning.

Charles Manson did not become a famous musician, and his failure in the music industry motivated some of his monstrous rage. A Beach Boys' song, "Never Learn Not to Love," was a rewritten version of a Manson composition titled "Cease to Exist," and the lack of a songwriting credit greatly angered him. When the Beatles' White Album was released in November 1968, Manson heard it as a call to violent social revolution through assassination, murder, and race war.

It is too easy now, especially given a certain political predilection, to see this as a wholly distinctive and idiosyncratic reading of the cultural temperature of the moment.

Quentin Tarantino's new film is a stinging rebuke to the romanticization of the '60s, right down to the title's implication that they were unAmerican.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Bruce Springsteen's "Rhinestone Cowboy": The Bard of Authenticity Salutes Cheesy Seventies Style (Kyle Smith, January 10th, 2020, The Imaginative Conservative)

Mr. Springsteen hardly every sings others' songs (it's the only cover in the movie). He doesn't sing this one with a smirk or a wink. Why did he choose this one to wrap up the movie? I think it's a sly confession. Glen Campbell and Bruce Springsteen are not so far apart as they appear.

One of these two men lived a reckless rock-and-roll life as though he expected never to see 40. The other was a relative Romney. As a British tabloid once put it, with delightful concision: "Glen Campbell's dark side: Cocaine binges, booze addiction, three failed marriages and eating squirrel to stay alive." Campbell had eight children with four women, one of whom he married when she was 15 (and pregnant by Campbell, who was 17). That's straight out of "The River." Campbell was more of a Springsteen character than Mr. Springsteen.

At the time of "Rhinestone Cowboy" Campbell was a cocaine fiend. He was freebasing, too. Sometimes he would snort the white stuff while he had the Bible open on his table. In the Eighties, his relationship with Tanya Tucker was chaos; during his affair with her he busted up his room at the Plaza Hotel in New York and did $1,200 worth of damage. Tucker said he hit her so hard he knocked out two of her front teeth. In 1981, after a dispute on an airplane, he told an Indonesian gentleman, "I'm going to call my friend Ronald Reagan and bomb Jakarta." Campbell became a born-again Christian and said he kicked the bad habits, but they kicked back. As late as 2003, he earned himself ten days in prison after being busted for drinking and driving in Phoenix. When asked his name, he said, "Glen Campbell, the Rhinestone Cowboy." He insisted he wasn't drunk but had merely been "over-served" via a Coke he did not know also contained rum. He tried to knee a cop in the thigh.

Campbell's songs (which he didn't write) were not about desperation and woe, but his life was. For Mr. Springsteen it was the reverse; the darkness in his songs is strictly make-believe. This would have been obvious to anyone paying attention, but should you doubt it, I refer you to Springsteen on Broadway, in which Mr. Springsteen admits he made it all up, using the following words: "I made it all up." He went to the movies and borrowed from features such as Thunder Road (1958) and Badlands (1973). In 1987, his album Tunnel of Love reflected frankly on his (brief, unwise) first marriage, to Julianne Phillips, and in his 1992 song "Better Days" he drops a reference to being "a rich man in a poor man's shirt," but for the most part what Mr. Springsteen has been doing his whole career is speak through fictional characters -- gangsters and losers and Tom Joad. He never raced cars. He was never a street punk. He never saw the inside of a factory. "Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something about which he has had absolutely no personal experience," he said in the Broadway show. How could it be otherwise? He's been a rich man since his early thirties. He lives on a 380-acre estate in New Jersey, when he isn't at his $60 million property in Benedict Canyon. His daughter is an equestrian. If Mr. Springsteen were being frank, "The River" would be about a Mississippi of money.

No one should feel cheated, though. Mr. Springsteen is a creative artist, and he spent most of his career carefully refining his greatest creation: "Bruce Springsteen."

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


New Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows Americans view Obama as 'more effective' than Trump on Iran (Andrew Romano, January 10, 2020, Yahoo News)

According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, Americans are evenly divided over President Trump's decision to kill Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, but a plurality of the public opposes Trump's overall approach to the Islamic Republic and believes his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama was more effective in dealing with Tehran.

Conducted from Jan. 8 to 10 -- after Iranian ballistic missiles struck Iraqi bases in retaliation without causing American casualties and Trump declared that "Iran appears to be standing down" -- the poll found that 42 percent of Americans opposed Trump's approach to Iran (versus 36 percent who supported it). Forty percent said Trump was wrong to withdraw from the Obama administration's nuclear treaty with Tehran (versus 35 percent who said he was right), while 41 percent said Trump has been less effective on Iran than Obama (versus 34 percent who said the current president has been more effective).

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Sudan races for peace, then democracy: An incomplete democratic revolution has wisely focused on talks to end armed movements to unite Africa's third-largest country. (CS Monitor Editorial Board, January 10, 2020)

Sudan, which is Africa's third largest country, is in the midst of a democratic revolution, the result of a nationwide uprising a year ago that led to the ouster - and later conviction for corruption - of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. An interim ruling council, which includes still-distrusted military figures, promises democratic elections in 2022. Yet that goal is hardly achievable without peace across a divided land of 40 million people.

Mr. Hamdok, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, took office in August and quickly set an ambitious target of negotiating "comprehensive" peace agreements with five armed movements by mid-February. Last September, all groups signed on to a "Declaration of Principles" that lays out a pathway for talks. So far, with the help of Western countries as well as Ethiopia and South Sudan, most of the negotiations are largely on track.

The reason, claims Mr. Hamdok, is that the armed groups are responding positively to his promised "pillars" for peace. These include economic growth, better security, accountability for human rights abuses, uplift of marginalized groups, and a focus on root causes for conflict, such as land grabs and religious repression. [...]

Yet Hamdok says his first priority is spreading a culture of peace, bringing reformers and rebels together. Only then, after shaping a common Sudanese identity, can the country's democratic revolution be complete.

If you can't secure the regime you don't get to remain democratic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Man who tackled London attacker with tusk says Trump is 'feeding terror' (Robert Booth, 10 Jan 2020, The guardian)

The man who used a narwhal tusk to tackle the London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan has accused Donald Trump of "feeding terror" with his belligerent Middle East policy, warning it will breed more murderous attackers like the one he and others faced.

In his first interview since Khan killed two people and injured several more at a criminal justice conference on 29 November, Darryn Frost said the US president's decision to assassinate General Qassem Suleimani would cost lives and added: "The next generation of terrorists will rise as a direct result of these actions and we must condemn them now."

Speaking in detail about his ordeal for the first time, Frost, 38, a civil servant working for HM Prisons and Probation, revealed how he tackled Khan alongside two convicted men, using an ornamental tusk to stab Khan through the abdomen, and pinned him to the ground, despite believing that he was wearing an explosive device.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Trump angered by House ally's push to limit his authority on Iran (Josh Dawsey, Jan. 10, 2020, Washington Post)

It was a risky move that surprised the president and showed rare fissures in a Republican Party that Trump has firmly controlled. Trump fiercely complained about Gaetz after aides informed Trump that his office had sent the email backing the resolution, which was pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Trump's team lobbied heavily against the nonbinding resolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


MAGA Socialite Sentenced to 1 Month in Prison for Fraud (Tracy Connor, Jan. 11, 2020, Daily Beast)

A Trump-loving socialite was sentenced to one month in prison this week for stealing her elderly mother's Social Security benefits. Karyn Turk, a former Ms. Florida and self-styled conservative pundit, pleaded guilty but is appealing, according to the Sun Sentinel. Prosecutors said the 47-year-old pocketed $43,000 worth of checks that should have gone to the nursing home caring for her dementia-stricken mother, who has since died. The day she was sentenced to federal prison and five months of house arrest, Turk posted a photo on Instagram of herself posing in front of Mar-a-Lago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Iranian Military Apologizes For Shooting Down Ukraine-Bound Flight, Cites 'Human Error': Report (CHUCK ROSS, January 10, 2020, Daily Caller)

The Iranian military apologized Friday for shooting down a commercial airliner bound for Ukraine, and blamed "human error" for launching the missile that took down the airplane, according to Iranian state media.

"The plane was accidentally hit by a human error, which unfortunately results in the martyrdom of dear compatriots and the death of a number of foreign nationals," the military's general staff said in a statement published by the Islamic Republican News Agency.

REAGAN APOLOGIZED TO IRAN FOR DOWNING OF JETLINER (Molly Moore and Bill McAllisterJuly 6, 1988, Washington Post)

President Reagan said yesterday that he apologized to Iran on Sunday for the USS Vincennes' shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf that killed all 290 persons aboard and declared that reparations or compensation to the families of victims are "a matter that has to be discussed."

Reagan, a White House spokesman disclosed yesterday, sent a five-paragraph diplomatic note expressing "deep regret" to the Iranian government on Sunday, shortly after U.S. military leaders learned that the guided-missile cruiser had destroyed the Iran Air A300 Airbus after mistaking it for an Iranian F14 fighter plane.

The president's message sought to assure the Iranian government that the attack was an accident, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


FBI Director Tells Surveillance Court He 'Deeply Regrets' Failures In Carter Page FISA Process (CHUCK ROSS, January 10, 2020, Daily Caller)

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the federal surveillance court in a letter Friday that he "deeply regrets" the bureau's many errors in the process to obtain surveillance warrants on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

"The FBI has the utmost respect for this Court, and deeply regrets the errors and omissions identified by the OIG," Wray wrote in a letter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

A judge on the FISC ordered the FBI on Dec. 17 to respond by Friday with a roadmap on how the bureau plans to address the problems identified in a Justice Department inspector general's (IG) report regarding applications for warrants to wiretap Page. [...]

Wray, who took over the FBI more than a month after the fourth and final Page FISA had been approved, said that one remedy he plans to implement will be to use the Page FISA as a case study in training sessions that FBI personnel will be required to undergo.

"FBI personnel will be instructed on the errors and omissions that were made in the Carter Page FISA applications and associated processes," Wray said.

The training will include a test "to confirm that personnel understand the expectations and the materials," as well as certification for FBI employees who have completed the training, he added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Vermont GOP governor affirms refugee welcome, seeks more (WILSON RING, 1/10/20, Associated Press)

Vermont's Republican governor has reaffirmed the state's commitment to accepting refugees from across the world and says he would like to return the number of people arriving in the state to the levels before President Donald Trump took office.

In a letter to the president and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Gov. Phil Scott said the state has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees since 1989 and that before Trump took office, the state was accepting about 325 to 350 a year.

In fiscal year 2019, Vermont took in 115 refugees, said Amila Merdzanovic, of the Vermont office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

"Vermont's refugee communities have made countless contributions to our state," said Scott's letter to the president, which was dated Monday and released by the governor's office to those who asked for it. "Refugees help ensure a healthy sized and diverse student population. They help employers fill open positions, contributing to the community and local economy, and pay federal, state and local taxes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


We Found Major Trump Tax Inconsistencies. New York's Mayor Wants a Criminal Investigation. (Heather Vogell Jan. 10, 2020, ProPublica)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that he had asked Manhattan's district attorney to investigate discrepancies ProPublica and WNYC revealed last fall between what President Donald Trump's company reported in filings to city tax officials and what it reported in loan filings. The discrepancies made his properties seem more profitable to a lender and less profitable to the city's tax authorities.

After ProPublica published its findings, de Blasio said Friday, the city decided to examine the issues. That process resulted in one matter being turned over to the district attorney in November. De Blasio said he made the referral "because there is a possibility of a criminal act having been committed." The referral related to Trump's historic downtown skyscraper at 40 Wall Street, a city spokeswoman added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


White House Considering Major Travel Ban Expansion (Associated Press, January 10, 2020)

The White House is considering dramatically expanding its much-litigated travel ban to additional countries amid a renewed election-year focus on immigration by President Donald Trump, according to six people familiar with the deliberations.

A document outlining the plans -- timed to coincide with the third anniversary of Trump's January 2017 executive order -- has been circulating in the White House. But the countries that would be affected if it moves forward are blacked out, according to two of the people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the measure has yet to be finalized.

It's unclear exactly how many countries would be included in the expansion if it proceeds, but two of the people said that seven countries -- a majority of them Muslim -- would be added to the list. 

Every Republican who claims they couldn't vote Donald but couldn't bring themself to vote Hillary supports the Musliim Ban.  He has to bring it back.

January 10, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


ISIS welcomes the death of Iran's Qaseem Soleimani and declare it an act of 'divine intervention' that will let them regroup in Iraq (RYAN FAHEY, 1/10/20, MAILONLINE)

ISIS has claimed the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was an act of 'divine intervention' and that it will benefit their jihadist cause.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Intelligence officials are probing whether Russia is targeting Joe Biden (EMILY GOODIN, 1/10/20,DAILYMAIL.COM)

Russia's been using its state-run media to promote favorable and unfavorable information about American presidential candidates, according to an analysis by the Foreign Policy Research Institute's Foreign Influence Election 2020.

Biden received the most negative coverage by RT and Sputnik News through December, the analysis found. 

Russian media repeatedly referenced his role in the Ukraine as vice president and Hunters's work there. 

And their work could be boosted by the narrative being pushed by President Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and other allies that has put the Bidens and the Ukraine into the public zeitgeist.  

'Biden is to 2020 what [Hillary] Clinton was to 2016,' Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who has been tracking Russia's foreign influence operations, told Bloomberg.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Reports: US Military Tried but Failed to Kill Iranian Commander in Yemen (VOA News, January 10, 2020)

U.S. media are reporting that the United States tried but failed to kill a top Iranian commander in Yemen on the same day a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

The information, first reported by The Washington Post, indicates the operation that killed Soleimani last week was intended to be broader in scope.

Isolationists/Realists always prefer dictatorship to democracy: it keeps the natives quiet.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Trump privately admits he killed Soleimani "under pressure" from upcoming impeachment trial: report (IGOR DERYSH, JANUARY 10, 2020, Salon)

President Donald Trump privately told associates that his upcoming impeachment trial factored heavily into his decision to kill top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate," associates of the president told the outlet.

There's nothing surer to keep the Right on-sides than murdering minorities. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


'Can you make this go away?' Bombshell report reveals new details about Trump's mistress payoff schemes (Tom Boggioni, 1/10/20, Raw Story)

In a deep dive into Donald Trump's usage of lawyers, go-betweens and loyalists to keep him out of legal and public relations trouble, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the then-presidential candidate was actively involved in paying off a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair.

In particular, it reveals a conversation between the New York real estate developer and tabloid publisher David Pecker with whom he had a history of manipulating coverage -- and burying stories Trump didn't want to see the light of day.

Pointing out that "Mr. Pecker's celebrity gossip and personal-lifestyle empire--primarily the tabloid National Enquirer--promoted Mr. Trump's political aspirations for almost two decades, starting in 1999," the Journal reports, "Mr. Trump's reward to his fixers was what he offered all those in his service over the decades: exposure to his world, the chance to play a bit part in his story. These operatives were attracted to Mr. Trump's aura, to the force of the huge personality that led him to the presidency. But when they had fulfilled their missions, they were dispensable. Mr. Trump didn't believe he owed his fixers anything."

According to the report, Trump, along with "fixer" attorney Michael Cohen, who is now serving time, met with Pecker in "Mr. Trump's office in August 2015, and Mr. Pecker offered to use the Enquirer--in coordination with Mr. Cohen--to intercept harmful stories and ensure they never surfaced."

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


U.S. Rejects Iraqi Demand to Withdraw Troops. Can We Do That? (JOSHUA KEATING, JAN 10, 2020, Slate)

In the wake of the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iraq says it wants Americans gone once and for all. In a conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi asked the U.S. to send a delegation to set up a mechanism for withdrawing U.S. troops from his country. This came after a confusing and violent week in which the Iraqi Parliament voted to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the U.S. sent and then disavowed a letter agreeing to do so, and Iran launched a missile strike against bases hosting U.S. troops.

The U.S. response to Mahdi's demand has been more or less "no." A State Department statement on Friday, after beginning dramatically, "America is a force for good in the Middle East," made clear that any future negotiations would be "dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership--not to discuss troop withdrawal."

...that when a democratic people fight an occupying power it's not actually terrorism but freedom-fighting.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Saudi-led attacks on civilians threaten fragile Yemen truce (Naseh Shaker January 10, 2020, Al Monitor)

Dozens of civilians have been killed or injured in recent attacks on al-Raqw market in Yemen's Saada province, with most victims being African migrants who had fled poverty in their own countries.

The latest attack occurred Dec. 24 when artillery shelling hit the market in Munabbeh district, killing at least 17 civilians and wounding 12, most of whom were Ethiopians, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Justice Dept. winds down Clinton-related inquiry once championed by Trump. (Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, Jan. 9, 2020, Washington Post)

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, was tapped in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation and during Clinton's time as secretary of state, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One.

As a part of his review, Huber examined documents and conferred with federal law enforcement officials in Little Rock who were handling a meandering probe into the Clinton Foundation, people familiar with the matter said.

Good thing Donald didn't go into oil; it's all dry holes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Sweden reaches new wind power record (The Local, 1/10/20)

For the first time ever, Swedish wind power produced more than a terawatt-hour of energy in one week. [...]

Sweden's net exports of electricity rose by around a half in 2019 compared to 2018. Net exports were equivalent to around 15 percent of Sweden's total electricity production.

The electricity was primarily exported to Norway and Finland, which were not able to produce enough electricity to cover their needs. 

Swedish electricity comes mostly from water, and nuclear power with wind power production raised by almost a fifth in 2019.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Wishes North Korea's Kim a Happy Birthday (Reuters, January 10, 2020)

U.S. President Donald Trump sent a happy birthday message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea's national security adviser Chung Eui-Yong said Friday.

Chung, who met Trump in Washington this week, told reporters that he was given a message to pass to North Korea and it was delivered Thursday.

"The day we met was Kim Jong Un's birthday, and President Trump remembered this and asked me to deliver the message," Chung said upon arrival back in South Korea.

January 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


New documents show government targeted NYC pastor for officiating immigrant weddings (Jack Jenkins, 1/09/20, RNS) 

New documents unearthed in an ongoing federal lawsuit indicate the U.S. government surveilled and investigated a New York pastor and immigrant rights activist over allegations that she committed marriage fraud by officiating immigrant weddings along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the cleric says she did nothing wrong and is accusing the federal government of violating her religious freedom by targeting her.

"My faith and belief in ministering to the vulnerable brought me to the border," the Rev. Kaji Douša, senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church in New York, told Religion News Service in a statement. "It's now undeniably clear the government targeted me for this very calling, based on the language contained in its own documents. This evidence reinforces the need for me to fight this injustice -- to stand up for my First Amendment rights and the dignity of the people I serve."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Army general denies request by officer pardoned by Trump to have his Special Forces tab reinstated (Dan Lamothe, Jan. 9, 2020, Washington Post)

An Army general has denied a request by an officer pardoned in an open murder case by President Trump to have his Special Forces tab reinstated, setting up a potential showdown between senior defense officials and the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Yemen's warring parties conflicted over Soleimani's killing (AL mONITOR, January 9, 2020)

Houthis share a close ideology with Iran, while the Yemeni government follows Saudi Arabia's approach. Parties to the conflict in Yemen hinge on outside players, and their reactions to regional developments are analogous to those of their foreign backers.

Houthis orchestrated mass rallies Jan. 6 in Sanaa and Saada province, expressing support for Iran and denouncing the killing of Soleimani. The participants chanted anti-American slogans, calling for the expulsion of US forces from the region. They carried pictures of Soleimani and raised placards reading, "God is great. Death to America."

"The entire [Muslim] umma has the right to respond to the crime of assassinating Soleimani and [Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and all martyrs] to counter the American hegemony," said the Sanaa rally in a statement. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Units, a pro-Iranian group in Iraq.

​Dhaif Allah al-Shami, the information minister of the Houthi government, gave a speech before the gatherings in Sanaa, saying, "The blood of Soleimani does not belong to Iran or Iraq. Instead, it belongs to all Muslims and the free people."

The late Iranian commander is now not only a national hero for Iranians but for Yemen's Houthis, who have taken to the streets and displayed his photos.

Abu Marwan, a school teacher in Sanaa, has seen several huge photos of Soleimani in the capital Sanaa. "The ordinary people here did not know about him before his killing," he said. "Now, they have come to know about him. Houthis cherish this Iranian military commander, and they have hung his photos because Iran and Houthis have common enemies."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


New Kansas proposal breaks impasse on expanding Medicaid (John Hanna, 1/09/20, AP )

Kansas' Democratic governor and a top Republican lawmaker on Thursday outlined a new proposal for expanding the state's Medicaid program, breaking an impasse that had allowed a handful of GOP leaders to thwart bipartisan legislative majorities.

The plan from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning would give Kelly the straightforward expansion of state health coverage that she has advocated, covering as many as 150,000 additional people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Senate Democrats Decide to Shut Up and Let Nancy Pelosi Do Her Thing (JEREMY STAHL, JAN 09, 2020, Slate)

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her plans clear: She's not budging. "I'll send them over when I'm ready. And that will probably be soon," Pelosi said at her weekly news conference, indicating that she still wanted to see a concrete proposal from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for Senate trial rules before the articles would advance. "Now we want to see what they're willing to do and the manner in which they will do it."

The Democratic senators seem to have received the message. Within hours, many of her critics seemed to fall back in line.

Feinstein on Thursday morning was still criticizing the speaker, saying, "I don't quite know what the strategy is, but it doesn't--if you're going to do it, do it, if you're not going to do it, don't. And obviously, they're going to do it so I don't understand the delay." By Thursday afternoon--after McConnell had used Feinstein's statements and those of other Democrats to attack Pelosi--she had changed her tune. "My comments on this have been misunderstood," Feinstein said, according to Politico. "She's going to send them and it's her decision."

"We have plenty to do, and the speaker will send them over when she's ready to send them over," Feinstein emphasized in an interview with NBC News.

NBC News further reported that other previously critical voices, such as Sens. Joe Manchin and Richard Blumenthal, "also took a step back Thursday, saying the decision was up to Pelosi."

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


The Boys Who Wear Shorts All Winter: The kid who refuses to wear pants is a familiar sight to parents, students, and educators--and a mystifying one. What's so great about being underdressed? (ASHLEY FETTERS, 1/09/20, The Atlantic)

Lindsey Miller first took note of the boys who refused to wear long pants when she was in grade school. At her elementary school in Maryland, a few particular boys made a habit of wearing shorts to school all winter, even though January temperatures in the mid-Atlantic state routinely drop below freezing. And it was always boys, she told me, never female students--"Girls made fun of them, but other guys cheered them on," she recalled. One kid she knew in third grade, whose name has escaped her memory in the decade-plus since, "wore basically the same pair of shorts all year," Miller, now 20, remembered.

The "one kid who wears shorts to school all year": In regions that get cold and snowy in the winter, he's a figure that's equal parts familiar and bewildering to kids and teachers alike, and his clothing choices present an annual hassle for his parents. On Twitter, where Lindsey Miller once joked about the middle-school winter-shorts boy, he is in fact the butt of a number of observational jokes, many of them from classmates and beleaguered moms and dads: "There's really this dude wearing shorts at school... IN THE WINTER." "Have kids so you can argue with tiny, opinionated people about why they can't wear shorts in winter and then coats when it's 80 degrees." Educators at a middle school and high school in Minnesota confirmed to me that they can count on having two or three of him every year, arriving at school after braving the morning windchill with bare calves. (In the interest of transparency, both were former teachers of mine, who I'm sure were perplexed to hear from me for the first time in more than a decade only to be asked about this.)

In other words, the Boy Who Wears Shorts All Winter is a highly recognizable but largely inscrutable character, and when I asked parents, teachers, child psychologists, and a former B.W.W.S.A.W. himself to try to explain what exactly motivates such a plainly impractical clothing choice, they all offered different answers.

the question answers itself if you reverse it: why do they people who bundle up the most always talk about how cold it is?

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Exclusive: Americans say Soleimani's killing made US less safe, Trump 'reckless' on Iran (Susan Page, 1/09/20, USA TODAY)

Americans by more than 2-1 say the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani has made the United States less safe, a nationwide USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll finds, amid broad concerns about the potential consequences ahead.

A majority of those surveyed, by 52%-34%, called Trump's behavior with Iran "reckless."

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Occam's Election: The simplest answer is also the most likely. Why is everyone discounting it? (JONATHAN V. LAST  JANUARY 9, 2020, The Bulwark)

[T]he most likely scenario for 2020 is that the vice president for the last sitting Democratic president--who has led the primary field by a wide margin from the moment he declared--will win his party's nomination.

And then what?

Again, let's stipulate that on any given Tuesday, yadda yadda yadda. But we have some pretty clear polling data on what to expect in a Trump versus Biden election.

Biden has led Trump in all but three of the head-to-head polls taken this cycle. That's 61 polls showing Biden leading, three polls showing Trump leading.

This is not an artifact of Trump just having a bad run. Right now Trump's job approval is at 45 percent, which is just about the highest it has ever been. Biden is still leading him by an average of 5 points.

And that's just the national number.

When you go to state-level polling, Biden's position is also strong: His starting point is roughly 268 votes in the Electoral College where Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina are the toss-ups. Biden has had small, but consistent, leads in North Carolina, Florida, and Wisconsin. And remember: This is before Democrats have coalesced around their nominee and while Trump is on a relative upswing.

And Donald's at 42%.
Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


'He is our O.J.': POLITICO readers explain why they're standing with Trump during impeachment. (JOHN F. HARRIS, 01/09/2020, Politico)

For Keith Swartz, who is 66 years old and runs a recruiting firm based in Tacoma, almost anything includes a president he regards as "manic, uneducated, illogical," and also "essentially a horrible person....vulgar, amoral, narcissistic."

Wait, this a defense of Trump? Yes, hang on. He's done a fine job on the economy, in particular, in the face of a Democratic opposition that has bent rules and abused process for three years in an implacable bid to thwart him. "To those of us who support what he has accomplished," Swartz concluded, "it feels like he is our O.J."

That's right: O.J. Simpson, not previously a conservative hero. In his 2016 promises to "Make America Great Again," Trump did not invoke the racially riven Los Angeles of the 1990s as his model. But Swartz's admirably forthright comparison--with biased media and unscrupulous Democrats serving as proxies for racist cops--captured the spirit of many replies.

The metaphor also echoed for me, since I began covering national politics (after a stretch as local reporter) just as the sordid O.J. melodrama was underway--with no premonition on my part that the deeply embedded malice and competing perceptions of reality on display in that case would come to define our public culture broadly.

Of course, black Americans are historically oppressed, so sticking it to the man is mildly understandable.  The oppressors adopting the same whinge is embarrassing. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


By killing Qassem Suleimani, Trump has achieved the impossible: uniting Iran (Dina Esfandiary,  7 Jan 2020, The Guardian)

Ordinary people continue to be squeezed by Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign, with no prospects for improvement. This, along with general discontent, led to significant protests in November 2019. These caught the government off guard, but didn't prevent it swiftly crushing the demonstrations and enacting a nationwide ban on the internet that lasted five days. That response, unsurprisingly, further entrenched the discontent. Trump's killing of Suleimani, however, has put those concerns on the back burner. Instead, Iranians have adopted a "better the devil you know" approach: unifying across the spectrum, even to the point of standing behind their government, in order to resist increasing US aggression.

And this means that, while Suleimani's loss is a significant blow for Iran, the strike by the US was in one sense a gift to the Iranian government. It could never have dreamed of achieving such unity in difficult times otherwise.

The assassination has also had the effect of bringing together a divided elite, at least for the time being. Leading figures from the conservative and reformist camps spoke in unison, from the supreme leader, who vowed "revenge", to the former presidential candidate and leader of the Green movement, Mehdi Karroubi, still under house arrest, who reportedly expressed his condolences. Even the former foreign minister of Iran under the shah, Ardeshir Zahedi, described Suleimani as a "patriotic and honorable soldier who was a son of Iran".

The US withdrawal from the nuclear deal already meant that moderates had been forced to harden their positions. The Rouhani administration, for example, could no longer actively support dialogue with the US, instead cautiously calling for discussions on the condition that all sanctions were lifted beforehand. Today, even that position has become difficult. Who in the political establishment can expend political capital suggesting rapprochement with the US after what it has done and, importantly, after the level of public mourning? The answer is easy: no one.

With the killing of Suleimani, Trump has accomplished what no one in the Iranian elite thought possible: he has united a fractured, exhausted and desperate Iranian public in a show of unity.

"Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you."

January 8, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 PM


GOP Sen. Mike Lee furious after an 'insulting' Senate briefing on Trump's Iran strike (Sonam Sheth, 1/08/20, Business Insider)

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah was furious on Wednesday after a Senate briefing on President Donald Trump's decision to order an airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, which brought tensions with Iran to a boiling point.

Lee told reporters that he "walked into that briefing undecided" on whether to support a war-powers resolution being pushed by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The resolution would limit the Trump administration's ability to take further military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

"That briefing is what changed my mind," Lee said. "I'm now going to support it."

He went on to call the briefing "probably the worst briefing, at least on a military issue, I've seen in nine years I've been here."

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Low unemployment isn't worth much if the jobs barely pay (Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman, January 8, 2020, Brookings)

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Under siege, McSally pleads for outside help on the airwaves (Robin Bravender, January 3, 2020, Arizona Mirror)

McSally said at the GOP gathering, "We don't have the resources to fight. If I went up on TV right now, my campaign coffers would be empty. If we're going to fight back with a TV ad, it's going to cost us millions of dollars."

Kelly has outraised McSally so far in his bid to unseat her. The next round of fundraising reports is due to be released later this month. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Trump has been getting advice on Iran from officials and allies linked to a shadowy Iranian dissident group that celebrated Soleimani's death (Tom Porter, 1/08/20, business Insider)

In the wake of the US assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, an obscure group of Iranian dissidents once classified as a terrorist organisation by the US celebrated the news. 

"In Tehran, Isfahan, Qom and Qaemshahr, among numerous other cities, MEK supporters were celebrating Soleimani's death by throwing parties and handing out pastries," the People's Mujahideen of Iran tweeted, with pictures of jubilant supporters. 

The MEK -- officially the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or the People's Mujahideen of Iran in English -- has waged war against the Islamist regime in Iran since it seized power in 1979. Formerly based in Iraq, the group is believed to have killed thousands of Iranians in terror attacks. 

But far away from the battlefields of the Middle East, the MEK has also waged a campaign for influence in glossy functions at diplomatic events in western capitals, successfully cultivating powerful allies in western governments. 

Among them are current and former officials in the top echelons of the Trump administration -- including those who Trump regularly turns to advice on Iran, such as personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


America's Dangerous Iran Obsession (JEFFREY D. SACHS, 1/08/20, Project Syndicate)

Consider the key milestones since the early 1950s.

First, the US and the United Kingdom overthrew Iran's government in 1953, after the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, moved to regain control of Iran's oil, which had been captured by the British empire. The US then replaced the democracy it had overthrown with the authoritarian regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was propped up by the SAVAK, his brutal intelligence agency and secret police, during the quarter-century from 1953 to 1978. The Iranian students seized the US embassy in Tehran after the deposed Shah was admitted to the US for medical treatment.

The following year, the US armed and encouraged Saddam Hussein's Iraq to invade Iran, triggering a nearly decade-long war that killed around 500,000 Iranians. As of 2014, some 75,000 Iranians were still being treated for injuries from the chemical attacks Saddam used.

The US also hit civilian targets. In 1988, the US military shot down Iran Air 655 - easily identifiable as an Airbus A300 if the US had been taking suitable precautions - killing all 290 people on board. And in 1995, the Iranian public became subject to tough US economic sanctions that have never been removed, only tightened over time.

This continued even after 9/11. Iran supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, and also supported the new US-backed president, Hamid Karzai. Yet in January 2002, US President George W. Bush called Iran part of an "Axis of Evil," along with Saddam's Iraq and North Korea.

Likewise, rather than press all Middle East countries, including Israel (with an estimated 80 nuclear warheads), to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and support efforts to establish a nuclear-free region, the US exclusively pressured Iran.

Then, in 2015, the US, under President Barack Obama, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany, negotiated a deal with Iran under which Iran agreed to end its nuclear reprocessing in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions by the US and others. The United Nations Security Council unanimously backed the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Yet, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the JCPOA was an act of appeasement. Trump unilaterally repudiated the deal in 2018, the only signatory to do so, and then dramatically tightened US sanctions.

The purpose of stricter sanctions is not to change Iran's behavior, but to crush the Iranian economy in an attempt to destabilize the regime. Iran is now in a US-induced depression, with GDP down 14% between 2017 and 2019 and inflation in 2019 at 36% (both according to recent IMF estimates), and severe shortages of medicines and other vital goods. Meanwhile, despite repudiating the JCPOA, the US has continued to insist that Iran abide by its terms.

The US, seemingly with no awareness of this history, and led by an emotionally unbalanced president who believes he may commit murder in broad daylight and get away with it, is still acting out a 40-year-old psychological trauma.

It would almost be funny how immature we are about Iran if it weren't so violative of our own ideals.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wildlife caught on camera throughout Fukushima (Cosmos, 1/08/20)

Scientists have provided what they say is the first evidence that wildlife is abundant in Japan's Fukushima Evacuation Zone despite the continuing presence of radiological contamination nearly a decade after the nuclear accident.

They took around 267,000 photographs at 106 different sites over 120 days and recorded more than 20 different species, including Japanese hare, macaques, pheasant, fox and the raccoon dog, a relative of the fox.

Notably prominent were species that are often in conflict with humans, particularly wild boar.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Is The Most Unpopular President Since Ford To Run For Reelection (Nathaniel Rakich, 1/07/19, 538)

On Jan. 1, 42.6 percent of Americans approved of President Trump's job performance, according to FiveThirtyEight's presidential approval tracker (52.9 percent disapproved). That's a pretty typical number for Trump (although it's worth noting that, since Jan. 1, the U.S. and Iran have taken actions that could shake Trump's approval rating loose from that anchor), but ominously for the president, that's the second-lowest FiveThirtyEight average approval rating of any recent1 president on the first day of their reelection year. Only Gerald Ford (39.3 percent on Jan. 1, 1976) was less popular -- and, of course, Ford lost that campaign to Jimmy Carter.

Hard to imagine what Jimmy would win this election by, but it might well be 56-42.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Britain created the Middle East crisis: The carve-up of the region after the First World War led to the fanaticism and conflict of today (James Barr, 1/07/19, UnHerd)

The revolt that convulsed Iraq in 1920 was a taster of the consequences of three irreconcilable promises the British had made during the First World War, which became apparent over the next ten years. Under pressure in 1915 they had sent Mecca's ruler Sharif Hussein a weasel-worded letter that recognised his claim to an empire encompassing Iraq and Syria if he rose up against the Turks. In 1916, in the Sykes-Picot agreement, they then secretly pledged a northerly wedge of this same territory to the French, to patch up the entente cordiale.

Then in the Balfour Declaration in 1917 publicly committed themselves to a Jewish national home in Palestine -- land that Hussein believed they had already acknowledged as his. During the next decade the British contorted themselves to try to square these promises with each other. The widespread anti-western sentiment, the Arab-Jewish conflict, and Islamism we see in today's Middle East are all the result.

The most immediate problem arose from the clash between the promises to Hussein and the French. If you have seen Lawrence of Arabia you will recall that the end of the war left Lawrence's ally, Sharif Hussein's son Feisal, in control of Damascus, the city that, defended by Saladin, had defied the crusaders eight centuries earlier. Now the French, citing their 1916 deal with the British, felt it was theirs.

While the French were in no position to oust Feisal, the British tried not to take sides, and Anglo-French relations deteriorated. By January 1920, however, the British had begun to wonder if continuing to sit on the fence was wise.

The British had initially hoped that they could directly govern Iraq, in order to exploit the country's oil, while buying off the Arabs with independence in Syria. It now dawned on them that whatever happened on one side of the Sykes-Picot frontier would soon happen on the other. Were Feisal's confident and vocal Arab nationalist supporters able to gain independence for Syria they would set an uncomfortable precedent for Iraq. Moreover the French would be likely to veto British rule in Palestine in revenge.

These factors, together with the growing realisation that sooner or later they would need French support to fight another war with Germany, led the British to decide that they would have to side with their old rivals. In March 1920 news from Damascus, where the nationalists had proclaimed Feisal king of Syria and his elder brother Abdullah emir of Iraq, spurred a Franco-British rapprochement.

At the Italian resort of San Remo a month later, the British and French governments firmed up the 1916 Sykes-Picot deal. Britain got Palestine and Iraq; France: Syria and a quarter share of Iraq's oil, to compensate her for the loss of the city of Mosul -- hers by the 1916 agreement but which the British had seized just after the end of the war.

We are deservedly paying the price for betraying our own ideals. And every time we double down--like refusing to accept elections in Turkey, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran--we make things worse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Top US allies are abandoning Trump and warning ISIS will benefit following the assassination of an Iranian general (Eliza Relman Jan 6, 2020, Business Insider)

The United States' top allies, including the UK and France, have abandoned President Donald Trump over his decision to assassinate Iran's most powerful military commander, Qassim Soleimani. 

Some European allies argue the US's dramatic escalation of conflict with Iran will benefit the Islamic State -- in part because the US-led coalition has frozen its operations against ISIS in Iraq following the US attack. 

"You must always ask who is served by and who profits from this instability," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a Monday radio interview. "The instability in the Mideast today benefits only one organization: the Islamic State group." 

They are right to not help wage war on our Shi'a allies, but bringing instability is the point of that alliance.  The regimes in Egypt, Syria, the Sa'ud, etc., need to be destabilized and replaced with liberal regimes.

January 7, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Every American family basically pays an $8,000 'poll tax' under the U.S. health system, top economists say (Heather Long, Jan. 7, 2020, washington Post)

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system -- Switzerland's. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton call this extra cost a "poll tax," meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay. ("Polle" was an archaic German word for "head," so the idea behind a poll tax is that it falls on every head.)

Despite paying $8,000 more a year than anyone else, American families do not have better health outcomes, the economists argue. Life expectancy in the United States is lower than in Europe.

"We can brag we have the most expensive health care. We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country," Case said.

Case and Deaton, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, made the critical remarks about U.S. health care during a talk at the American Economic Association's annual meeting, where thousands of economists gather to discuss the health of the U.S. economy and their latest research on what's working and what's not.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


For Some Never Trumpers, Killing Suleimani Was Finally Something to Like (Michael Crowley, Jan. 6, 2020, NY Times)

Many of those hawks have long applauded Mr. Trump's sanctions-based "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, but they had come to doubt the president's willingness to use military force and were delighted to see him take action against someone responsible for consolidating Iranian influence at the expense of many American lives.

Other frequent Trump critics who cheered the strike against General Suleimani include Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a frequent critic of Mr. Trump's foreign policy who posted on Twitter shortly after the Iranian commander's death that Mr. Trump was "was right to order decisive action to kill" him.

Adding to the praise was Mr. Trump's former, and at least somewhat estranged, national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who issued his own triumphal tweet: "Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani," Mr. Bolton wrote, calling the strike a "decisive blow" to the Quds Force and potentially "the first step to regime change in Tehran. "

Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, supported the killing of General Suleimani.Credit...Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
Calls for regime change in Tehran -- which Mr. Trump himself says he does not seek -- are deeply unsettling to Democrats, as is the track record of Mr. Bolton and other Republicans applauding the strike on General Suleimani.

Mr. Bolton has refused opportunities to call the Iraq war a mistake, and Mr. Gerecht said on Monday that he did not "regret the fall of Saddam Hussein." Ms. Cheney's father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was a main proponent of the invasion and subsequent occupation, and she supported them both.

...they'd recognize themselves in him. They feel about the Shi'a the way Donald does about every minority.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that 'in any other country' she and Joe Biden 'would not be in the same party' (Rosie Perper, 1/07/20, Business Insider)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York defended a statement she made about former Vice President Joe Biden in a profile for New York magazine that was published on Monday: She said that elsewhere in the world she and Biden would not be in the same political party.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Gov. Inslee on border detainments: 'This will not stand' (Bainbridge Island Review, January 6, 2020)

Inslee, in a statement released Monday, invoked the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Inslee's residential home is on Bainbridge Island, where the first Japanese in the United States -- 227 men, women, and children of Japanese descent -- were forcibly removed in March 1942 and sent to the internment camp in Manzanar, California.

"The reports out of the border crossing at Blaine are deeply alarming," Inslee said in a statement. "Washingtonians who happen to be Iranian-American were detained at the Canadian-U.S. border for extended periods of time for no other reason than their ethnicity or country of origin.

"This is wrong and rife with constitutional and moral problems. No one should be treated differently due to where they come from, how they look or what language they speak.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hardliners in the U.S. and Iran Are Each Other's Best Friend (Pankaj Mishra, January 7, 2020, Bloomberg)

This pungent historical irony has been verified right from 1953, when the United States overthrew Iran's elected secular leader, creating the soil in which a religious ideology could flourish. It then watered this soil for decades by supporting a corrupt, inept and brutal despot, the Shah of Iran. The CIA, in particular, helped the Shah's murderous secret police to create martyrs for the coming revolution.

When the revolution erupted in 1979, the United States, instead of heeding the demand of Iranians, and dumping the hated Shah, chose to mollycoddle him. It was American hospitality to the Shah that provoked hard-line Iranian students to occupy the U.S. embassy in Tehran and take 52 hostages.

The Iranian Revolution was still a fragile affair, with many potential outcomes, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. The urgencies of national consolidation against a vicious and initially successful invader was what empowered Ayatollah Khomeini and other hardliners; they also overturned Khomeini's deep-rooted Islamic objection to the Shah's nuclear program.

By choosing to back Saddam Hussein against Iran, the United States played an inadvertently stalwart role in strengthening Islamic revolutionaries during a calamitous eight-year-long war that spawned, among others, the legend of Soleimani.

The U.S. became more directly helpful to Tehran after 9/11. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military toppled regimes that had long plagued the Iranian regime (Iran had come close to a full-scale invasion of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan before 9/11).

Then, while the U.S. struggled against two lethal counterinsurgencies, Iran expanded its sphere of influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Its network of proxies across the Middle East grew even stronger, as Islamic State emerged out of the ruins of the American invasion of Iraq, and the U.S-backed Saudi Arabian assault on Yemen created a strategic opening for closer ties between Iran and Yemen's Houthi rebels.

This list omits the way our democratization of the Middle East benefited the Shi'a of Lebanon as well.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Chief rabbi: Immigrants from former Soviet Union are 'religion-hating gentiles' (The Times of Israel, 1/07/20)

Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi came under fire Tuesday morning, including from the prime minister, after it was revealed he had referred to immigrants from the former Soviet Union as "religion-hating gentiles."

The Ynet news site reported that at a rabbinical gathering last week in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef told the audience that "hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of gentiles came to Israel under the Law of Return.

"There are many, many non-Jews here, some of them communists, hostile to religion, haters of religion. They are not Jews at all, gentiles. Then they vote for parties that incite against the ultra-Orthodox and against religion."

January 6, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Finland ends homelessness and provides shelter for all in need (Scoop.me, November 14, 2019)

The policy applied in Finland is called "HousingFirst". It reverses conventional homeless aid. More commonly, those affected are expected to look for a job and free themselves from their psychological problems or addictions. Only then they get help in finding accommodation.

"Housing First", on the other hand, reverses the path: Homeless people get a flat - without any preconditions. Social workers help them with applications for social benefits and are available for counselling in general. In such a new, secure situation, it is easier for those affected to find a job and take care of their physical and mental health.

The result is impressive: 4 out of 5 homeless people will be able to keep their flat for a long time with "Housing First" and lead a more stable life.

In the last 10 years, the "Housing First" programme provided 4,600 homes in Finland. In 2017 there were still about 1,900 people living on the streets - but there were enough places for them in emergency shelters so that they at least didn't have to sleep outside anymore.

Creating housing for people costs money. In the past 10 years, 270 million euros were spent on the construction, purchase and renovation of housing as part of the "Housing First" programme. However, Juha Kaakinen points out, this is far less than the cost of homelessness itself. Because when people are in emergency situations, emergencies are more frequent: Assaults, injuries, breakdowns. The police, health care and justice systems are more often called upon to step in - and this also costs money.

In comparison, "Housing First" is cheaper than accepting homelessness: Now, the state spends 15,000 euros less per year per homeless person than before.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Pompeo reportedly tells McConnell he won't run for Kansas Senate seat (Zachary Basu, 1/06/20, Axios)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Monday to inform him that he will not be running for Kansas' open Senate seat in 2020, the New York Times first reported and the Wall Street Journal confirmed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Romney wants 'to hear from John Bolton' in impeachment trial (JORDAIN CARNEY, 01/06/2020, The Hill)
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on Monday that he wants to hear from John Bolton after the former White House national security adviser offered to testify in President Trump's impeachment trial if subpoenaed.

Romney told reporters at the Capitol that he wants to hear from Bolton and find out "what he knows" about Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Jason Moran is making jazz history. Don't miss it. (Chris Richards, Jan. 2, 2020, Washington Post)

When was the last time you visited the observation deck of the Washington Monument? Amazing view, but what's the rush to see it? Same for browsing the shelves of the Library of Congress or dropping by the National Archives to catch a glimpse of that Constitution that everyone keeps talking about. In a city that constantly beckons us to check out its most astonishing perma-stuff, it's easy to put things off forever.

I'm ashamed to admit that I thought of Jason Moran the same way. As the Kennedy Center's artistic director for jazz, the New York-based pianist graces our town nearly a dozen times a year, routinely proving he's one of the most sensitive and inventive musicians alive. And while Moran has been working intensely with the Kennedy Center since 2011, it was only recently that I realized I was suffering a bad case of the I'll-catch-him-next-times.

To remedy that, I resolved to hear him as often as possible in 2019, and here's one thing I learned very quickly: Moran isn't like all those other Washington monuments. He changes. From show to show, he adapts to the contours of the moment, and his flexibility sparks big questions about how artists square bold vision with deep empathy.

Moran grew up in Houston listening to Thelonious Monk and hip-hop, and by the time he turned 22, he was one of jazz music's brightest rising stars. He won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2010 and became Kennedy Center's artistic adviser for jazz in 2011 before being promoted to artistic director in 2014. Now, at 44, Moran is a towering figure in this music of endless possibility, and he appears to be taking those possibilities more seriously than ever.

The New York Times recently declared that the work Moran has undertaken in 2019 ranks among the decade's most significant achievements in jazz. His performances in Washington were only a part of it. Moran opened a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York in September, blending live performance and installation to enthusiastic reviews. Before that, the pianist and his wife, vocalist Alicia Hall Moran, had assembled "Two Wings," an ambitious musical program about the Great Migration that they toured from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center to Berlin. It's been a massive year for sure.

And when an aesthetic proposition feels as broad as Jason Moran's, the best way to understand it is to experience as much of it as you can. I tried.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


ICE Detention Center Captain Was on a Neo-Nazi Website and Wanted to Start a White Nationalist Group (Tess Owen, Jan 6 2020, Vice)

A senior employee at a for-profit immigrant detention center in Nevada was active on the neo-Nazi site Iron March and aspired to establish a white nationalist chapter in his area.

Travis Frey, 31, is currently employed as a captain at the Nevada Southern Detention Center, which is run by private prison behemoth CoreCivic and contracted with ICE.

Frey joined Iron March in 2013, and posted at least a dozen times between 2016 and 2017 while he was working as head of security at a CoreCivic jail in Indianapolis, which was also authorized to house detainees on behalf of ICE.

The archives of the now-defunct website were leaked online in November, offering a glimpse into the early organizational efforts driving the modern, international white nationalist movement. The foundations of violent neo-Nazi groups such as Atomwaffen were established in Iron March chats, and white nationalist leaders like Matthew Heimbach have said they were radicalized by the time they spent on the site.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


America should neither fear nor envy the Chinese economic model (James Pethokoukis, January 6, 2020, AEIdeas)

That decline in total factor productivity -- a rough measure of growth due to technological and organizational innovation -- is particularly noteworthy given China's massive program of industrial subsidy. From that Economist piece: "There is evidence that China's heavy-handed intervention is becoming increasingly ineffective. Total factor productivity growth in China in recent years has been a third of what it was before the 2008 global financial crisis. Productivity has also slowed in other countries, but the World Bank, in a recent book about Chinese innovation, notes that China's slowdown has been unusually sharp." 

Or as The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip wrote of China last year, "... the country's state-led growth model is running out of gas. ... Absent a change in direction, China may never become rich."

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


How Trump's Trade War Is Making Lobbyists Rich And Slamming Small Businesses (Lydia DePillis,  Jan. 6, 2020, ProPublica)

Overall, Trump's tariffs have not had the effect that the self-described "Tariff Man" promised. Companies have moved manufacturing out of China -- and it has mostly gone to Vietnam, Taiwan and Mexico. Tariffs are chiefly behind a months-long decline in domestic manufacturing, Federal Reserve researchers have found. The total loss of jobs across the economy may be as high as 300,000.

But constantly up-in-the-air trade agreements and the byzantine, opaque exclusion process has been a blessing for one set of players: Washington's influence industry, including the firms of former Trump officials and allies like inauguration committee chief Brian Ballard, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump fundraiser Marc Lampkin.

Ballard was once Trump's lobbyist in Florida. He's since been dubbed "the most powerful lobbyist in Trump's Washington." A cancer therapy firm, Varian Medical Systems, paid Ballard and a colleague $540,000 to lobby the White House, the trade office and Vice President Mike Pence on trade issues, filings show. The outreach included a meeting with Trump's director of trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro.

Since then, four of Varian's five exclusion requests have been approved -- which, the company said in an SEC filing, boosted revenues by $23 million. (Navarro said he doesn't intervene in the exclusion process.)

Priebus' firm, Michael Best Strategies, was hired by a Wisconsin company, Primex, to handle exemptions for its timekeeping and temperature measurement devices. "You're not gonna do it on your own," Primex CEO Paul Shekoski said in an interview. "It's suicide actually."

Shekoski said he wanted help understanding the process and making sure all the requests were filed correctly. With Michael Best's guidance, he personally wrote letters to and met with his representatives in Washington.

The collective effort may have made it all the way to the Oval Office. Shekoski said in an email last fall that he heard from his lobbyist at Michael Best, Denise Bode, that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. cited Primex as an example of a Wisconsin company suffering from tariffs when the senator took the issue to the president. "He not only called USTR, he was able to bring our specific case up to Trump directly," Shekoski said. Bode did not respond to a request for comment, and a Johnson spokesman did not respond to questions about the Trump contact, saying only that Johnson had advocated for many Wisconsin companies.

Days before this story was published, Shekoski denied knowing whether Johnson brought up the issue with Trump. He said he was just trying to give his elected representatives concrete stories about small businesses struggling with tariffs that they could use to advocate for tariff relief.

Lobbying records show that Primex paid Priebus' firm, Michael Best Strategies, $85,000 in 2018 and 2019 for its services. "I'm not selling access," Priebus once told Politico. "I'm merely providing strategic advice and helping them handle their problems."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Planned Parenthood's New Annual Report Proves Abortion Is Its Mission (ALEXANDRA DESANCTIS, January 6, 2020, National Review)

Based on the CDC statistics, then, Planned Parenthood clinics perform more than half of the total reported abortions in the U.S. and, based on Guttmacher's reporting, well over one-third of the estimated annual abortions each year. Planned Parenthood executives ritually insist that abortion is just 3 percent of group's "services" -- a carefully manufactured statistic that has been deemed inaccurate and misleading by left-leaning outlets such as Slate and the Washington Post -- even as the group performs somewhere between one-third and half the total abortions in the U.S. every year.

Contrast Planned Parenthood's 345,672 abortions in 2018 with the other actual services the group's facilities offered. According to the report, the group offered 9,798 prenatal-care services and made 4,279 adoption referrals, which means that its facilities performed 35 abortions for every instance of prenatal care and 81 abortions for every adoption referral.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Obamacare looks surprisingly sturdy after the individual mandate's repeal (Dylan Scott,  Jan 6, 2020, Vox)

Insurers are doing just fine, according to new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The margins they're seeing per individual customer (the difference between the premiums they're paid and the medical claims they pay out) look as healthy as they have in years. Despite fears the lack of the mandate would drive healthier people out of the market, there is little evidence that's actually happened.

Instead, the individual market continues to go through a soft attrition: Premiums continue to increase, but only slightly, and enrollment is shrinking, again slightly. It's not a death spiral, but the market is slowly being winnowed to a core customer base: People who get federal assistance to cover their premiums, and unsubsidized customers who don't receive that help but need good health insurance.

"Before the ACA, a lot of people who were sick or low-income were unable to buy their own coverage on the individual market," Cynthia Cox, who studies the Obamacare markets for KFF, says. "Now we are seeing that the market is working for low and moderate-income people who are able to get a subsidy, but prohibitively expensive for some upper-middle income people who do not qualify for financial help."

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Here's What Americans Think About Trump's Iran Policy (Ariel Edwards-Levy, 1/06/19, HuffPo)

Forty-three percent of Americans approve of the decision to order the airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, according to the poll, with 38% disapproving and 19% unsure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hamas leader praises Soleimani at Tehran funeral in show of support for Iran (The Times of Israel, 1/06/20)

The leader of the Hamas terror group spoke at the Tehran funeral of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Monday, crediting the Quds Force leader  with building his and other Palestinian groups.

What Soleimani "provided to Palestine and the resistance has brought them to the position they are in today in terms of power and steadfastness," Haniyeh said.

Dubbing Soleimani "the martyr of Jerusalem," Haniyeh said his death would not deter Palestinian terror groups from fighting Israel.

Because they don't consider Muslims to be human, they expect their demands for self-government to end from Lebanon to Yemen, just because one guy is dead.  It's like thinking blacks would accept Jim Crow once MLK was murdered.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Iraqi prime minister says Qassem Soleimani was in Iraq to 'discuss de-escalating tensions between Iran and Saudis' when he was killed - and claims Trump had asked for help mediating talks after embassy attack (ARIEL ZILBER FOR DAILYMAIL.COM and ASSOCIATED PRESS and AFP, 5 January 2020, Daily Mail)

Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq's caretaker prime minister, told his parliament on Sunday that President Trump called him to ask for help in mediating with Iran after the American embassy in Baghdad was attacked. [...]

Abdul Mahdi said he worked hard to defuse tensions outside the embassy.

He said he went so far as to threaten to resign if the crowds did not disperse, according to Axios. 

Abdul Mahdi even told Iraq's parliament that Trump thanked him for his efforts. He expressed disappointment that while the American president was grateful, he was also simultaneously planning an attack on Soleimani. 

Soon after Trump made his request to Abdul Mahdi for mediation, US forces launched their drone strike on Friday killing Soleimani, the Iraqi leader was quoted as saying by National Public Radio.

Abdul Mahdi slammed the Americans on Sunday for what he called a 'political assassination' in targeting Soleimani.

Abdul Mahdi suggested that the Iranian military leader was in Baghdad as part of Iraqi-mediated negotiations with Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

He said that Soleimani was going to meet him on the same day that he was killed.

'He came to deliver me a message from Iran, responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran,' Abdul Mahdi told The Washington Post.

January 5, 2020

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Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Resignation calls for Republican Party leader in Delaware over Facebook posts about Jews (JTA, 1/05/20) 

A Republican Party leader in Delaware is under fire for Facebook comments about Jews.

Sussex County Republican Party Vice Chair Nelly Jordan in her post singled out Jews as mainly responsible for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Her Facebook page appears to have been deleted.

"What amazes me the most in these theatrical Congress hearings, is to see how many Jews 'In Name Only' lend themselves to be in the hoaks (sic) of the pure made up story of Impeachment that the Democrats have woven as spiders catching flies and bugs," the post said, according to a report Friday in the Delaware State News.

Scratch a supporter of Donald, find an anti-Semite.
Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Iraqi parliament votes to expel US troops -- awaits government approval (Deutsche-Welle, 1/05/20)

The Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to remove US troops from Iraq.

In an extraordinary session, lawmakers voted for a resolution to ask the government to end an agreement with Washington to station 5,200 troops in Iraq. 

Iraq's Sadr calls for "humiliating" U.S. troop exit -letter (Reuters, 1/05/19)

"I consider this a weak response insufficient against American violation of Iraqi sovereignty and regional escalation," Sadr, who leads the largest bloc in parliament, said in a letter to the assembly read out by a supporter.

Sadr said a security agreement with the United States should be cancelled immediately, the U.S. embassy should be closed down, U.S. troops must be expelled in a humiliating manner, and communication with the U.S. government should be criminalised.

You really can't misunderstand the Shi'a more than the Iran hawks do.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Not fake news: Major study finds no "liberal bias" in media -- but there are other problems (PAUL ROSENBERG, JANUARY 5, 2020, Salon)

A new study, forthcoming in Science Advances, provides the strongest evidence ever that they're half-right -- but only the least important half: Yes, reporters overall are significantly more liberal than the general population. In fact, almost one in six are more liberal than Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, based on who they follow on Twitter. But no, that doesn't matter -- even for the most liberal cohort of them. The title of the study says it all: "There is No Liberal Media Bias in the News Political Journalists Choose to Cover."  

Even though "journalists are dominantly liberal and often fall far to the left of Americans," the paper itself was emphatically clear in its conclusion:

In short, despite being dominantly liberals/Democrats, journalists do not seem to be exhibiting liberal media bias (or conservative media bias) in what they choose to cover. This null is vitally important -- showing that overall, journalists do not display political gatekeeping bias in the stories they choose to cover.

In a way, that's not that surprising: Journalists place a high value on objectivity and balance. Avoiding ideological bias "rates very high" among journalists, lead author Hans Hassell told Salon -- 8.5 on scale of 10 in the survey these researchers conducted. 

January 4, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


For Trump and his generals, 'victory' has different meanings (Greg Jaffe, April 5, 2018, Washington Post)

[W]hen the agency's head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, "Why did you wait?" one participant in the meeting recalled.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Iran general steps out of Soleimani's shadow to lead proxies (AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELL, 1/04/20, AP)

"We are children of war," Ghaani once said of his relationship with Soleimani, according to Iran's state-run IRNA news agency. "We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle."

The Guard has seen its influence grow ever-stronger both militarily and politically in recent decades. Iran's conventional military was decimated by the execution of its old officer class during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and later by sanctions.

A key driver of that influence comes from the elite Quds Force, which works across the region with allied groups to offer an asymmetrical threat to counter the advanced weaponry wielded by the U.S. and its regional allies. Those partners include Iraqi militiamen, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels.

In announcing Ghaani as Soleimani's replacement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the new leader "one of the most prominent commanders" in service to Iran.

The Quds Force "will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor," Khamenei said, according to IRNA.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


The Mainstream Media Is a Cheerleader for War With Iran (BELÉN FERNÁNDEZ, 1/04/20, Jacobin)

In reality, the oft-invoked allegation of "polarization" in the media and the broader political establishment hardly holds water; it's like arguing that 21 degrees Fahrenheit and 22 degrees Fahrenheit are polar opposites. Just recall, for example, that time Trump fired cruise missiles at Syria and the liberal media thought it was pretty much the most exciting thing to have ever happened.

A glance at media coverage of the Soleimani assassination also fails to produce much evidence of a fanatical anti-Trump campaign. The lead paragraph of a New York Times article about the "Master of Iran's Intrigue" is devoted to establishing how Soleimani was "behind hundreds of American deaths in Iraq and waves of militia attacks against Israel." The second paragraph reiterates that he was a "powerful and shadowy . . . spymaster at the head of Iran's security machinery."

In other words: he deserved it. And never mind that the United States has been behind countless thousands of Iraqi deaths in Iraq or that -- as the article later reveals -- the "waves of militia attacks" took place during the brutal twenty-two-year military occupation of south Lebanon by Israel, which also boasts the distinction of having slaughtered tens of thousands of people in that country.

When you're not actually in the business of speaking truth to power, some things are better left unsaid.

The New York Times article also mentions that Soleimani and other Iranian officials were "designated as terrorists by the United States and Israel in 2011, accused of a plot to kill the ambassador of Saudi Arabia . . . in Washington." Although that whole alleged plot has been soundly debunked, it bears raising the question: if the United States assassinated an Iranian official on foreign soil, doesn't that qualify as terrorism?

The Washington Post opinion section, meanwhile, offered the analysis that, in killing Soleimani, Trump competently "enforce[d] the red line he drew on Iran" -- i.e., everything is Iran's fault, and if the country "miscalculates again, then the regime has been warned: Next time, the target will likely be Iran."

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Iran says US asked for 'proportionate response' to Soleimani's killing (AFP, 1/04/20)

Washington asked Tehran to respond "in proportion" after US forces killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards said Friday. [...]

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in separate television interview on Friday night that "Switzerland's envoy transmitted a foolish message from the Americans this morning."

January 3, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


THE SHADOW COMMANDER: Qassem Suleimani is the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East. Now he's directing Assad's war in Syria. (Dexter Filkins, September 23, 2013, The New Yorker)

Iran's leaders took two lessons from the Iran-Iraq War. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. To the regime, the invasion was not so much an Iraqi plot as a Western one. American officials were aware of Saddam's preparations to invade Iran in 1980, and they later provided him with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks; the weapons themselves were built with the help of Western European firms. The memory of these attacks is an especially bitter one. "Do you know how many people are still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons?" Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. "Thousands of former soldiers. They believe these were Western weapons given to Saddam." In 1987, during a battle with the Iraqi Army, a division under Suleimani's command was attacked by artillery shells containing chemical weapons. More than a hundred of his men suffered the effects.

The other lesson drawn from the Iran-Iraq War was the futility of fighting a head-to-head confrontation. In 1982, after the Iranians expelled the Iraqi forces, Khomeini ordered his men to keep going, to "liberate" Iraq and push on to Jerusalem. Six years and hundreds of thousands of lives later, he agreed to a ceasefire. According to Alfoneh, many of the generals of Suleimani's generation believe they could have succeeded had the clerics not flinched. "Many of them feel like they were stabbed in the back," he said. "They have nurtured this myth for nearly thirty years." But Iran's leaders did not want another bloodbath. Instead, they had to build the capacity to wage asymmetrical warfare--attacking stronger powers indirectly, outside of Iran. [...]

After taking command, Suleimani strengthened relationships in Lebanon, with Mughniyeh and with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's chief. By then, the Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Suleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. "They had a huge presence--training, advising, planning," Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. It was a signal victory for the Shiites, and, Crocker said, "another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can't."

Since then, the regime has given aid to a variety of militant Islamist groups opposed to America's allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The help has gone not only to Shiites but also to Sunni groups like Hamas--helping to form an archipelago of alliances that stretches from Baghdad to Beirut. "No one in Tehran started out with a master plan to build the Axis of Resistance, but opportunities presented themselves," a Western diplomat in Baghdad told me. "In each case, Suleimani was smarter, faster, and better resourced than anyone else in the region. By grasping at opportunities as they came, he built the thing, slowly but surely."

In the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. "I'd fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I'd been," Crocker told me. "We'd stay up all night in those meetings." It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as "Haji Qassem," and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn't surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible. "You don't live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic," he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. "Haji Qassem's way too smart for that," Crocker said. "He's not going to leave paper trails for the Americans."

Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. "If you guys don't stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!" he shouted. "When you're ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me." He stomped out of the room. "It was a great moment," Crocker said.

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. "Here's our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here's the logic." Stunned, Crocker asked, "Can I take notes?" The negotiator replied, "You can keep the map." The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan's new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, "Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation."

The good will didn't last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil." Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. "You completely damaged me," Crocker recalled him saying. "Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised." The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, "Maybe it's time to rethink our relationship with the Americans." The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. "We were just that close," he said. "One word in one speech changed history."

W's biggest error.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


There's a great meme on Twitter right now that goes something like this: "We just assassinated some guy I never heard of, but let me tell you exactly what it means..."

It's funny not just because so many are engaging in precisely that behavior, but because the one thing Left and Right are absolutely certain of is that it must have some massive significance.

Ironically, that's because both objectify people to such a degree that they are barely human.  It's why both are so invested in Identity politics.  

Most of us, instead, believe in self-evident truths, like all men being Created equal with a universal desire for self-governance.

So where the Left/Right insists that liberalization has been forced by America and the West on other peoples who are unsuited to it, experience has always found peoples eager for it, irrespective of race, religion, history, stage of economic development, etc.

So we had Realists, Isolationists, Communists, etc., preaching to us during the Cold War that Slavs and Asiatics and the like had no interest in democracy and preferred the firm hand.  Likewise, the notion that the Muslim world today is somehow naturally anti-democratic (despite the fact that most Muslims live in democratic societies.)

Part and parcel of these prejudices is the notion that when the Shi'a of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. or the Sunni of Egypt, Palestine, etc. demand that they be allowed to govern themselves they obviously have to be victims of manipulation. And where they do achieve democracy but then elect Muslim parties to govern their societies, we get our panties in a twist in a way we never did when Christian Democrats won.  

Because we have failed so spectacularly over the last century in helping to liberate such peoples and because we have often forged bonds with their oppressors, we resist them even though they are seeking to vindicate our own principles.  And, because we refuse to see their liberation politics as organic, we think that by disposing of the "manipulators" we can end the "threat."  

Thus do we arrive at the moment where people have convinced themselves, at least for a few hours, that the removal of one Iranian general is a world historical event.  As if the Houthi, the Palestinians, the South Lebanese, etc. were going to walk away from their demands for self-governance now that the evil genius was gone.  You see, it's not as if they were human beings with the same expectations as we Americans.  It was all just a plot by the mullahs.

The reality, of course, is that the general has been replaced, the people of South Lebanon and the Palestinians and the Houthi still want to govern themselves, and Muslim electorates are still likely to elect Muslim leaders (for at least as long as we English-speaking have Christians).

Nothing significant has changed today because human nature can not be changed by a drone. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Manafort Said Hannity Served as His Trump Backchannel: Docs (Maxwell Tani, Jan. 03, 2020, Daily Beast)

Paul Manafort said he used Fox News host Sean Hannity to receive backchannel messages from President Donald Trump while prosecutors investigated him for financial crimes, according to newly released memos from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. 

Among the several hundred pages of memos published by BuzzFeed News on Thursday, which contain summaries of FBI interviews with key Trump administration and campaign officials, the Fox News anchor's alleged role as an unofficial messenger between the president and his former campaign chairman comes into sharp focus.

According to the release, Manafort did not speak to Trump or anyone closely associated with the president or his legal team besides Hannity around the time that The New York Times and other outlets reported on a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner and a lawyer linked to the Kremlin. Manafort described Hannity as a close friend and "certainly a backchannel" to Trump, saying that he understood Hannity was in communication with the president.

"Manafort knew Hannity was speaking to Trump because Hannity would tell Manafort to hang in there, that he had been talking to Trump, that Trump had his back, and things like that," the memos said. "Manafort understood his conversations with Hannity to be a message from Trump."

Fun the way the network that started out conservative turned into Tass.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Give Me Liberty (STEPHANIE SLADE, FEBRUARY 2020, reason)

"The two great political parties in America represent only one English party, the middle-class Liberal party, the party of industrialism and freedom," H.G. Wells once observed. "There are no Tories...and no Labor Party....All Americans are, from the English point of view, Liberals of one sort or another." [...]

In Give Me Liberty, a 13-part podcast from National Review based on Brookhiser's new book of the same name, he and election historian Luke Thompson discuss the origins of American exceptionalism. Each episode examines an important "document" from the last 400 years--from the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance, which set the stage for religious tolerance as we know it, to the Gettysburg Address, to Emma Lazarus' paean to immigration, "The New Colossus" (source of the famous line "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"). Whatever the specific topic under consideration, the major takeaway is, as Thompson puts it, that "America is a story with liberty at its heart."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Republican Governors Are Rejecting Trump's Anti-Refugee Agenda (Nancy LeTourneau, January 3, 2020, Washington Monthly)

Ever since Trump issued a Muslim travel ban during his first week in office, this administration has made it clear that their goal is to dismantle the refugee system in this country. Every year they have lowered the number of refugees that are permitted to enter the United States, which now stands at the 40-year low of 18,000.

In order to turn refugee resettlement into a wedge issue and garner support for his policies from red states, the president signed an executive order last September that required every state and local jurisdiction to sign a consent letter authorizing the settlement of refugees in their jurisdiction. The order was designed to put pressure on local officials, by forcing them to opt in to the resettlement program rather than opt out.

Given that on the two occasions that Trump visited my home state he used the opportunity to demonize Somali refugees, I am particularly fond of the letter Minnesota Governor Tim Walz sent to the State Department on December 13th opting in. He stated the following.

Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. The are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors...As the Holiday Season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.

Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat from a swing state, upped the ante a bit by writing that his state would "gladly accept refugees turned away by other states or local jurisdictions. Their loss, he noted, would be Colorado's gain."

That's why Republican governors are so popular and Donald so un.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM

60-40 NATION:

Our Poll Finds A Majority Of Americans Think The Evidence Supports Trump's Removal (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Laura Bronner, 2/02/20, 538)

There might not be a broad consensus about whether Trump should be removed from office, but our survey found that a majority of the public is on the same page about one thing -- they want a Senate trial with new witnesses who did not appear during the impeachment process in the House.

According to the survey, 57 percent of Americans think it would be better if the upcoming trial included new witnesses who could potentially shed light on Trump's conduct, while 39 percent said it would be better to keep the focus solely on the evidence introduced in the House hearings and included in the articles of impeachment, without calling new witnesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 65 percent of Democrats support calling new witnesses in the Senate trial. But 48 percent of Republicans also support calling new witnesses -- although about the same number still want the trial to proceed with only the evidence introduced in the House hearings (50 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


How Anti-Semitism Rises on the Left and Right (Isaac Chotiner, January 2, 2020, The new Yorker)

To discuss these questions, I recently spoke by phone with David Nirenberg, the dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, who has written extensively on the history of anti-Semitism. . [...]

Do you think it is worth thinking of anti-Semitism today as akin to the prejudices that afflict many different religious and ethnic minorities, such as Muslims or Hispanics in the United States? Or is it distinct in important ways?

That's a really tough question, and, in some ways, I hate to distinguish between different forms of prejudice or hate. When you think about some of the most enduring prejudices--for example, the asymmetries of power between men and women--these are structural aspects of our global society. But I do think anti-Semitism is distinctive in certain ways. One of those ways is that it really does transcend particular political contexts. There aren't a great number of Jews in Hungary or Poland, but thinking about Jews is a crucial part of nationalism--or anti-globalization or whatever you want to call it--in Hungary and Poland today. And I think that's different from the way most of the other groups you mentioned are used in the world's imagination.

This is a really difficult topic to think about, and I would like to think we are each entitled to study our own hate without having to study all the others. But we can see symptoms of a distinction in our own age. I don't think, for example, that people in many parts of the world where there aren't Muslim immigrants are thinking really centrally about their own society in terms of Islam, and I would say the same thing might be true of some racial prejudices that are central to the United States but don't play a very large role in other societies. But what's curious about anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism is how it can be put to work by many societies that really have nothing to do with living Jews or Judaism.

When many of the people in these societies think about immigration, even though the problem they see isn't Jews immigrating to these societies, they do think about Judaism in order to explain the immigration they see as threatening their society. So, in the United States, France, Hungary, and many other places, replacement-theory ideologies explain replacement in terms of the machinations of the Jews, or the Jewish global order. Anti-Judaism is actually a system of thought that people can use to explain many of the challenges they face, even when there are no Jews around. And that has a flexibility that, in the worst moments, allows many parts of society to agree that Jews are the problem in a way you don't always see coalescing around other distinctions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Ex-Fox News reporter Courtney Friel claims Donald Trump invited her to Trump Tower to 'kiss' (NANCY DILLON, 1/02/20, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Former Fox News reporter Courtney Friel says Donald Trump called her with a creepy come-on before he became president -- while they were both married.

Friel, who sometimes worked as a fill-in host on Trump's beloved "Fox & Friends," details the alleged proposition in her upcoming memoir, "Tonight At 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News," due out Tuesday.

She says Trump told her she was "the hottest one at Fox News" and called her office line a few weeks after she mentioned an interest in working as a judge on his Miss USA beauty pageant.

"Though he said I couldn't be a judge since I worked at a different network, he did ask me about my career goals and complimented my work at FNC," Friel, 39, wrote in a sneak peek of her book shared with the Daily News.

"Then, out of nowhere, he said: 'You should come up to my office sometime, so we can kiss,'" Friel claimed.

The journalist who now works as an anchor at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles says she was "shocked" by the advance.

"'Donald,' I responded, 'I believe we're both married.' I quickly ended the call," she wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Unredacted documents show Trump explicitly broke the law (Quin Hillyer, January 02, 2020, Washington Examiner)

Before examining that evidence, though, please consider that this is only one of three ways in which Trump's actions were so inappropriate as to be impeachable. First, Trump's request for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was, on its own, wildly out of bounds. As former ambassador Bill Taylor testified, the president has no authority to ask a foreign government to investigate a U.S. citizen based on that nation's laws rather than our own.

Second, to turn the request into what amounts (in the vernacular) to an extortionary demand, the now-famous issue of a quid pro quo, is to misuse presidential power while unlawfully seeking a "thing of value" from a foreign entity for use in an American campaign. And, yes, as even some of Trump's most learned and eloquent defenders admit, the existence of a quid pro quo was obvious.

Third, as I have argued for months, it was illegal for Trump to withhold the military aid even if he had not asked the Ukrainians for anything of personal and political value in return. By delaying the assistance beyond the point at which it could actually be obligated before the budget year ran out, Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 and, probably, the Constitution. That 1974 law provides that once an appropriation has been duly passed and signed into law, the president cannot withhold it for policy reasons without formally notifying Congress. Even then, the money must be spent unless Congress approves the president's request.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


The world is not enough: Guessing at the game God is playing (Samuel Graydon, January 3, 2020, TLS)

Photons have the same discrete energy, which depends on the colour of the light. The brighter the light the more photons, but their energy stays the same. "After a hundred years of thinking of light as a wave, physicists had to start thinking of it as a particle." It was for this work, and not for the theory of relativity, that Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize.

It's no secret, however, that light does act like a wave as well - which is very much where the questions start. And, in fact, wave-particle duality exists not just as a phenomenon of light, but, seemingly, of all matter as well. One of the most famous experiments in all quantum theory is the double slit experiment. It relies on diffraction, which most of us are familiar with from school. Pass a water wave through two slits close to each other and ripples will propagate from them both; as the two sets of ripples encounter one another you will see a pattern of constructive and destructive interference between them, as they either enhance or attenuate the oscillations. The same is true of other at least nominally more corpuscular things. Fire a beam of electrons towards two slits and you will also see peaks and troughs spread out on the wall behind them.

Moreover, if you fire one electron at a time through the slits, so that they cannot interfere with any other particle, you still get peaks and troughs at the other end. An interference pattern emerges over time as you fire electrons one by one through the slits, though individually they arrive on the other side of the slits in a defined place. We are forced to conclude that electrons can interfere with themselves like waves. They pass through both slits at once.

But this isn't the strangest thing about the experiment. Every attempt - every attempt - to measure an electron passing through the slits has destroyed the interference pattern, and produced a definitive answer to which path the electron took. Without a measurement there is concrete evidence for a wave-like nature; but as soon as one is made, however it is made, all evidence of it disappears and we are just left with particles.

This seems baffling - or at least it should. Niels Bohr, one of the fathers, and for a good time high priests, of quantum mechanics, is said to have given a talk on the subject to a group of philosophers, and was disappointed when they simply accepted what he told them about it, instead of protesting vehemently: "If a man does not feel dizzy", he said, "when he first learns about the quantum of action, then he has not understood a word". While it may seem complicated, it is perfectly possible to explain what goes on in the subatomic world, what happens when you do this or that, and in fact, once you have the knack, it can feel quite intuitive - but nobody knows why things behave the way they do. For this reason, in 1964, the same year he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics, Richard Feynman could tell a lecture hall: "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics".

Once physicists staked out a position of incomprehensibility, intellectuals of all stripes followed.

January 2, 2020

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'Somebody Should Go to the Slammer for This': Legal Experts Shocked and Appalled by DOJ's Ukraine Redactions (Colin Kalmbacher, January 2nd, 2020, Law & Crime)

News of those significant redactions broke early Thursday morning and Law&Crime has a lengthy write-up of the overall story here. The amount of information released, however, is somewhat dizzying and part of an increasingly complex story line. We turned to the experts for the upshot of this groundbreaking release.

Federal defense attorney and computer law expert Tor Ekeland was appalled.

In an email, Ekeland rubbished DOJ's decision-making:

This is a mess. Did they provide a redaction log listing the basis for their redactions, e.g., privilege or word product or what not? You just don't get to redact things willy nilly because you don't want information that looks bad coming to public view. There might be cognizable privilege claims for redaction here, but when you try to ascertain what, you quickly get mired in the confusion and chaos of this administration. In order to claim privilege for redactions, you first need to be clear on who is claiming the privilege, and what privilege is being claimed. It's not immediately clear from this romper room mess.

Just Security's co-editor-in-chief and former Department of Defense special counsel Ryan Goodman explained several key aspects of the release in a thread on Twitter Thursday morning.

"The emails appear to contradict OMB General Counsel [Mark] Paoletta's letter to Congress (which set forth new rationale for hold on Ukraine aid on eve of HJC vote on impeachment articles)," he said. Goodman cited the following sentence from that letter as an intentionally false statement:

In fact, at no point during the pause in obligations did DOD OGC indicate to OMB that, as a matter of law, the apportionments would prevent DOD from being able to obligate the funds before the end of the fiscal year.

"When Politico broke the news of Ukraine hold in August, what did OMB General Counsel Paoletta do?" Goodman continued. "He circulated false Talking Points. The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense in an email said that Paoletta's talking point was 'just not accurate' and that OMB knew it to be false."

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


'What the hell were you thinking?': Trump berated White House staff for not telling him Putin was trying to call him (David Choi, 1/02/20, Business Insider)

On January 27, 2017, weeks after winning the presidency, Trump had his first official visit from a foreign leader at the White House, with British Prime Minister Theresa May. During lunch, May asked Trump if he had talked to Putin, according to Bergen.

"No, I haven't," Trump replied.

Flynn, a former three-star US Army general, was nearby and leaned in to tell Trump: "Sir, we're arranging that call now. President Putin called several days ago, but we haven't been able to get it on your calendar yet."

Trump, upset by the response, lambasted Flynn.

"Are you kidding me? Vladimir Putin tried to call me, and you didn't put him through? What the hell were you thinking?" Trump said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Trump spent his holidays retweeting QAnon and Pizzagate accounts (Aaron Rupar, Jan 2, 2020, Vox)

Trump amplifying conspiracy theories is not new. A New York Times investigation published in November found that since he took office, Trump retweeted 145 accounts that "pushed conspiracy or extremist content," including at least one run by Russian intelligence. And Trump has previously on occasion retweeted QAnon accounts.

But stewing about impeachment from the Mar-a-Lago club he still owns and profits from over the holidays, the president took things up a notch.

In addition to retweeting a QAnon and Pizzagate accounts, Trump retweeted a post that described his fans as a cult (#Cult45). One of his first tweets of the new year was a quote-tweet of @heatherjones333, an account that has promoted Pizzagate and QAnon that he also retweeted on New Year's Eve.

Perhaps even more troubling, Trump also retweeted a post containing the alleged name of the government whistleblower who first sounded the alarm about his dealings with Ukraine. That tweet originated from an account that used a stock photo as an avatar and had previously pushed conspiracy theories about Obama being a secret Muslim and accused the Clintons of murdering Jeffrey Epstein.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Explosive new documents reveal the lengths to which the Justice Department went to conceal the Pentagon's concerns about Trump's Ukraine aid freeze (Sonam Sheth and Grace Panetta, 1/02/20, Business Insider)

For weeks, officials at the Office of Management and Budget ignored warnings from the Department of Defense that placing a hold on a congressionally-appropriated $391 million aid package to Ukraine violated the law, according to new unredacted emails obtained and published by Just Security.

The emails between DOD and OMB officials were secured through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) launched by the Center for Public Integrity. In December, a court ordered the federal government to turn over 300 pages of emails, many of which were heavily redacted in their initial release. 

The emails newly published by Just Security reveal that between June and September -- when the aid was ultimately released following an anonymous whistleblower's complaint -- the DOD repeatedly asked OMB about why the military aid was being held up.

Crucially, the DOD warned several times that continuing to withhold the aid violated the Impoundment Control Act, which stipulates that if the federal funds are not spent towards their designated purpose within a certain period of time, they will be taken, or impounded, by the US Treasury Department.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Emails Reveal "Clear Direction From POTUS" on Ukraine Scandal (Dan Friedman, 1/02/20, MoJo)

Newly revealed communications between White House staffers and officials at the Pentagon are shedding additional light on the Ukraine Scandal--even as the Senate prepares for President Donald Trump's trial following his impeachment by the House of Representatives last month. Just Security reported Thursday that Michael Duffey, a political appointee who oversees defense spending at the White House Office of Management and Budget, told Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker in an August 30 email that he had "clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold" vital military aid that was supposed to be sent to Ukraine. That statement was one of a number of redacted lines in 300 pages of emails the administration released last month to the Center for Public Integrity after a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM



More American adults believe the U.S. Senate should remove President Donald Trump from office than those who think it should not, according to a poll.

The Economist/YouGov survey found that 45 percent of people think the Senate should remove Trump from office against 41 percent who said it should not. 14 percent were not sure.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


MC Beaton, multimillion-selling author of Agatha Raisin novels, dies aged 83 (Alison Flood, 2 Jan 2020, The Guardian)

Beaton, a pseudonym for Marion Chesney Gibbons, was widely known as the queen of cosy crime, selling more than 21m copies of her books around the world and regularly being named the most borrowed adult author from UK libraries. But the novelist, who was born in Glasgow, was not a fan of the "cosy" moniker.

"It is patronising and implies that my books, which are easy to read, must be easy to write. Nobody calls Agatha Christie cosy," she told the Crime Hub in 2019. "To keep writing in clear well-balanced sentences takes a lot of hard work and if anyone doesn't want a Glasgow kiss, swallow that opinion and put it where the sun don't shine."

Beaton started out in bookselling, moving into journalism as the theatre critic for the Scottish Daily Mail before becoming a reporter for the Daily Express. She and her husband, Harry Scott Gibbons, moved to the US after the birth of their son. Marion turned to writing Regency romances in order to spend more time with her young son, and had written almost 100 before she began to write detective stories under the MC Beaton pseudonym.

Her Hamish Macbeth stories, about a quick-witted but unambitious Highland village policeman, were inspired by a fishing holiday in Scotland, with the first published in 1985 and later televised with great success.

Hamish is available on Amazon Prime.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Civility and Its Critics: Some self-righteous writers believe that their goodness--and their opponents' badness--justifies incivility. (ANDY SMARICK  JANUARY 2, 2020, The Bulwark)

[F]ree societies tend to evolve a variety of norms around public morality. Citizens are taught that although we are often tempted to do rash, unkind, unhealthy things, and although constitutional and legal protections give us license to do many of them, we ought not to. Hence the social value of inculcating such virtues as honesty, prudence, charity, humility, forgiveness, abstemiousness, accommodation, and self-discipline.

This is the glory and genius of liberal communities that have had the opportunity to learn and adapt: Through trial and error over generations, they develop remarkable social tools that allow human beings to live well together.

One of these indispensable tools is political civility.

We have the right to offend, badger, prevaricate, provoke, bloviate, and exaggerate. And often our gut tells us to do just that. But the wisdom of experience advises us that doing so is hazardous. It's hard to have productive discussions when facts are in doubt, when someone monopolizes the floor, or when participants drown out others' sound arguments by turning up their own volume.

But civility is even more important because it creates an environment in which people are able to have meaningful conversations on the most difficult matters. Incivility infuriates opponents, making them want to respond in kind. Incivility makes opponents feel under assault and vulnerable, causing them to lash out. Incivility turns a discussion about a policy matter into a personal fight between combatants.

We can disagree passionately with our opponents' positions. We can even dislike them personally. But civility is the common currency of conversation--it organizes the public's business and allows the market of ideas to function. Civility is a shrewd social creation that enables the combustible combination of base human impulses, liberty, and democracy to still produce positive results.

Tragically, some American commentators are attempting to normalize incivility, or even frame it as a virtue. Their argument usually goes like this: This moment is so significant, or these particular issues are of such gravity, that we cannot be shackled by rules of decorum.

The problem, of course, is that some number of people will always believe that the current moment is of the utmost importance. 

If our times are ordinary then our lives are and that thought is intolerable to many of us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Day 9: God's Dilemma (Walter Russell Mead, January 2, 2020, Providence)

[A]t the end of the day, for Christians, the heart of the matter is this: God is love. Love doesn't just describe God's relationship to the creation; it describes God's essence--His inner life and being. This, as we have seen, is the origin of the Christian idea of the Trinity: love is so intrinsic to the divine nature that we cannot conceive of His unity as solitude.

From a Christian perspective, God's act of creation is an expression of love. God made the world because He wants an abundance of beings and sensibilities to love, to be with, to share life with, and to make happy. [...]

All this means that human beings present God with an extraordinary problem.

On the one hand, God finds us irresistibly lovable, beautiful, and, where God's love is concerned, needy. How could we not be? Beings made by love out of love are inescapably drawn to the perfect love from which they come. No matter how grizzled and grumpy we become with the passing years, or how pimpled and snarky we turn in our adolescence, God looks at us with the kind of tender solicitude and hopeful anxiety with which we look at small children.

Yet at the same time, like many angelic-looking children, we can be a fairly nasty bunch of characters, more Lord of the Flies than Little Lord Fauntleroy. Just pick up a newspaper or go to your favorite news site: genocides, starvation, sexual tyranny and exploitation, vast contrasts of poverty and wealth; terror, arms races, environmental destruction; the rich and the poor cheating and stealing from one another, with the rich generally doing best because they've got more power to abuse; nations nursing ancient wounds as hatreds fester.

Or back off from these entrenched historical evils and look at what goes on in families, neighborhoods, and among friends. Abused children grow up to repeat the cycle. Children of alcoholics and addicts grow up with psychological wounds that predispose them to repeat the same sad behavior. Widespread epidemics of cheating in school, cheating on taxes, cheating on expense accounts, cheating on spouses. It's a bit like the national debt; each generation gets the bill for its parents' shortcomings--and passes that bill with some additional charges down to their own heirs.

Christians talk about this situation under the heading of "original sin," saying that our species has been a dysfunctional family since the dawn of time, and that each of us repeats and adds to that cycle of abuse and betrayal in our own way, even as we suffer from the damage done by those who came before. Other religions object to the kind of metaphysical structure that Christians give to the concept, but virtually everyone intuitively gets this picture of a human race somehow at war with itself and fundamentally out of whack.

This flawed race, trapped in a cycle of cascading pain and wrong, is what and who God is bound and determined to love; the question is, How can He do it? [...]

To hold everyone to a strict standard is to condemn the whole world, but to wink at the real evil that people do is to give up on the moral standard of true justice, and to leave people trapped in a cycle of evil and pain. Christians believe that God refused to choose between His love and His justice. He refused to overlook the evil of the world and say things were OK when they weren't, but He also refused to walk away from the whole ugly mess.

Instead, God chose to engage. He would draw closer to us, but not in a way that took evil lightly. Specifically, God chose to become a human being, to live with us, and ultimately to do for the human race what we could never have done for ourselves. The baby in the manger wasn't just there to look cute and beam rays of benevolence to shepherds and kings. He was born to suffer rejection and injustice, to be tortured and scourged, humiliated and mocked, to face an unjust trial before an oppressive foreign ruler, to feel the full weight of the wrath of God due to all the evil in the world, and to die a cruel death while being ridiculed and mocked by those He came to serve.

God resolved the dilemma between love and justice by taking them both all the way. The Creator of the world took the hit we had coming. The anger, the condemnation, the judgment all fell on Jesus, who bore it all out of love. That, for Christians, is what makes Christmas such a special time of year. God really knows us; He knows the worst things about us and isn't fooled by our rationalizations and evasions. And He still loves us enough to be born among us and to pay the price for all we have done.

Jesus came to deal with the flaws, the weakness, and the twisted selfishness that stand between us and God. He came to deal with the reality that no matter how much we might wish to live the right way--we haven't and don't.

Finding Himself alone and unloved on the Cross, he finally became fully Man:  "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 

Forgive us, Father, we know not what we do.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


January 1, 2020

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White nationalist who ran for Senate arrested in Florida (AP, 1/01/20)

 A white nationalist who ran for the US Senate in Florida and was a featured speaker during the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was arrested on charges of kidnapping and domestic violence. [...]

White nationalist Richard Spencer, who organized the deadly Charlottesville rally that refocused attention on the country's frayed race relations, had credited Invictus with drafting the core tenets behind the rally.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Trump Throws Fresh Fuel on Dangerous QAnon Conspiracy Theory (Will Sommer, Jan. 01, 2020, Daily Beast)

[L]ate last week, Trump or someone with access to his account retweeted a message of support containing the "WWG1WGA" hashtag, a reference to a QAnon motto. In total, Trump retweeted QAnon fans more than twenty times on the same day. 

Trump's Twitter activity provided new fuel for QAnon fans, who are convinced, among other things, that Trump is on the verge of arresting and executing top Democrats at Guantanamo Bay. QAnon Twitter accounts and messages boards seized on Trump's retweets as a tacit acknowledgment of their conspiracy theory's validity, while the retweets also provided the QAnon promoters Trump boosted with access to tens of millions of new potential believers.

"It draws more eyes," Roy Davis--a QAnon promoter known to believers as "Captain Roy" and the co-author of an Amazon chart-topping book pushing the conspiracy theory--told The Daily Beast.

It wasn't the first time Trump pushed QAnon on his more than 68 million followers. In November, Media Matters counted more than thirty times that Trump had retweeted QAnon believers, a number that has only gone up since then. 

Nor was this the first time Trump or his campaign have referred to QAnon in ways that have been seen by the conspiracy theory's believers as proof that it's real. In July, Trump invited QAnon promoters and other social media figures to the White House for a "social media summit." A warm-up speaker at a Trump rally used a QAnon slogan in a speech, and Trump's campaign featured two QAnon believers in an ad, apparently accidentally. 

But QAnon believers, some of whom have alienated friends and family for their conspiracy theory, are especially desperate for validation from the president himself -- or, saving that, from his Twitter account. That makes Trump's retweets especially potent at further entrenching their beliefs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Climate change hope for hydrogen fuel (Roger Harrabin, 1/01/20, BBC)

The project - known as HyDeploy - is the UK's first live trial of hydrogen in a modern gas network. Keele was chosen because it has a private gas system.

Its hydrogen is produced in an electrolyser - a device that splits water (H2O) into its constituents: hydrogen and oxygen. The machine is located in a glossy green shipping container in the corner of the university's sports field.

The gas distribution firm Cadent, which is leading the project, says that if a 20% blend were to be rolled out across Britain, it would reduce emissions of CO2 by six million tonnes - equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

The hydrogen could be generated pollution-free by using surplus wind power at night to split water molecules using electrolysis.

The 20% proportion was chosen because it's an optimal blend that won't affect gas pipes and appliances.

Currently, the UK has only small supplies of hydrogen, but the firm say increasing production would offer a quick way of cutting emissions from heating.

Consultant engineer Ed Syson told BBC News: "The prize is a large one. If we were to roll this system out across the UK it would be on broadly the same scale as offshore wind is today. So it's a significant technology.

"What's more, it makes those carbon savings without having customers change their behaviour in any way."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Iraqi protesters leave US embassy compound in Baghdad (Middle East Eye, 1 January 2020)

On Wednesday, the paramilitary group called on its supporters to leave the embassy and gather outside the Green Zone out of "respect" for the state.

"You delivered your message," the PMU  said in a statement.

A photographer with the AFP news agency said they saw protesters dismantling their tents and leaving the Green Zone.

Kataib Hezbollah, the PMU faction targeted in the US raids, initially said it would stay at the embassy, but the group's spokesman Mohammad Mohyeddin later backed down, saying the group was abiding by the PMU's order.

"We scored a huge win: We arrived at the US embassy, which no one had done before," he told AFP. [...]

Iran's supreme leader on Wednesday condemned the US attacks in Iraq and warned that Tehran was ready to hit back.

"First of all, you can't do a d[**]n thing. This has nothing to do with Iran," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech on state television.

"If the Islamic Republic decides to oppose or fight against a country, it will do this explicitly," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Amid Baghdad embassy attacks, US spending on diplomatic security drops 11% (Justin Rohrlich, 1/01/20, Quartz)

[T]he Trump administration has in fact cut the diplomatic security budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. This, said Brett Bruen, who served as a diplomat in the Obama administration, including a posting to Iraq, has made US foreign service members in places like Baghdad less safe overall.

"Spending on embassy security went down 14% last year, and they're proposing another 18% cut this year, which to me seems like a huge story," Bruen told Quartz. "The administration has been essentially weakening our defenses and what we saw play out yesterday a was in part a result of that. We have not been doing enough to fortify our diplomatic posts, especially with the kind of situation we have in Iraq--they never should have gotten that close. It's just alarming on so many different levels."

The diplomatic security budget did indeed drop precipitously during the past two years, as evidenced by this chart from the US government's fiscal 2019 budget plan, which shows an 11% cut to overall diplomatic security in fiscal year 2020, with 18% specifically cut from embassy security, construction, and maintenance:

The Trump administration's cuts came on top of previous ones by Republican legislators, which began in 2011. Diplomatic security budgets continued to decline, at the insistence of GOP lawmakers, even after the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya was attacked in 2012.

When secretary of state Mike Pompeo defended the State Department's budget request before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last May, Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, challenged the Trump administration's position on the subject. The cuts included a $50 million reduction in diplomatic security operations in Iraq "due to the suspension of operations at the U.S. consulate in Basra," the budget proposal explained. In the summer of 2018, the State Department evacuated US personnel and temporarily closed the American consulate in the port city after both the consulate and embassy compound in Baghdad were hit by attacks attributed to Iranian-backed forces.

Pompeo told Meeks that diplomatic security "is not about dollars and spending," but rather, "being thoughtful about where you put people."

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes (Ayal Feinberg, Regina Branton and Valerie Martinez-Ebers, March 22, 2019, Washington Post) 

Using the Anti-Defamation League's Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism map data (HEAT map), we examined whether there was a correlation between the counties that hosted one of Trump's 275 presidential campaign rallies in 2016 and increased incidents of hate crimes in subsequent months.

To test this, we aggregated hate-crime incident data and Trump rally data to the county level and then used statistical tools to estimate a rally's impact. We included controls for factors such as the county's crime rates, its number of active hate groups, its minority populations, its percentage with college educations, its location in the country and the month when the rallies occurred.

We found that counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally.

Of course, our analysis cannot be certain it was Trump's campaign rally rhetoric that caused people to commit more hate crimes in the host county. However, suggestions that this effect can be explained through a plethora of faux hate crimes are at best unrealistic. In fact, this charge is frequently used as a political tool to dismiss concerns about hate crimes. Research shows it is far more likely that hate crime statistics are considerably lower because of underreporting.

Additionally, it is hard to discount a "Trump effect" when a considerable number of these reported hate crimes reference Trump. According to the ADL's 2016 data, these incidents included vandalism, intimidation and assault.

What's more, according to the FBI's Universal Crime report in 2017, reported hate crimes increased 17 percent over 2016. Recent research also shows that reading or hearing Trump's statements of bias against particular groups makes people more likely to write offensive things about the groups he targets.

To be fair, it's not necessarily the case that Donald being a megaphone for Anti-Semitism, Nativism, Islamophobia, etc. helps contribute to an increase in such incidents; it might just be that he prefers appearing where auduiences are already receptive to those messages.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


FBI Agents: McCabe Apologized for Changing His Story on Leak (Betsy Swan & Sam Brodey,  Dec. 31, 2019, Daily Beast)

In the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Journal broke news about an FBI investigation involving then-candidate Hillary Clinton, describing internal discussions among senior FBI officials.

The apparent leak drew scrutiny from the bureau's internal investigation team, which interviewed McCabe on May 9, 2017, the day President Donald Trump fired James Comey from his post as FBI director. The agents interviewed him as part of an investigation regarding a different media leak to the online publication Circa, and also asked him about the Journal story. 

In that interview, McCabe said he did not know how the Journal story came to be. But a few months later, his story changed after he reviewed his answer. 

On Aug. 18, FBI officials met with McCabe in an attempt to work through what they said was "conflicting information" they had gathered about the possible leak to the Journal.

"I need to know from you," an agent said he told McCabe in a sit-down meeting, "did you authorize this article? Were you aware of it? Did you authorize it?" 

McCabe then looked at the story he had reviewed months earlier. 

The FBI investigator described his response this way: "And as nice as could be, he said, yep. Yep I did."

...for assisting his own campaign in violation of FBI rules.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Iraq riots expose an America weaker and with fewer options (Julian Borger, 31 Dec 2019, The Guardian)

The mobbing of a US embassy has historically served as an emblem of America in decline, so the scenes around the embattled mission in Baghdad are a fitting end to the decade.

Tuesday's events are not quite as decisive as the 1975 helicopter evacuation of the embassy in Saigon, or the seizure of the Tehran embassy four years later. Iraqi forces did turn up eventually to protect the Baghdad mission. It turned out the ambassador was on holiday anyway, so he did not have to endure the humiliation of a rooftop escape. But the demonstration of US weakness, after spending $2tn in Iraq, was plain for all to see.

The rioters, organised by the Iranian proxy militia Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH), brushed past Iraqi checkpoints, and there were members of parliament from the government bloc among them. Security forces who have had no compunction about firing tear gas canisters into the skulls of anti-Iranian protesters on Tahrir Square, stood by and watched molotov cocktails thrown at the US embassy. In its public pronouncements, the Iraqis put more blame on Washington than Tehran.

For Iran, the embassy riot was the latest move in a deliberate strategy, to raise the costs of the US presence in Iraq and drive a wedge between the Iraqi government and Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Zero-carbon electricity outstrips fossil fuels in Britain across 2019 (Julia Kollewe, 1 Jan 2020, The Guardian)

Zero-carbon energy became Britain's largest electricity source in 2019, delivering nearly half the country's power and outstripping fossil fuels for the first time.

Following a dramatic decline in coal-fired power and a rise in renewable and low-carbon energy, 2019 was the cleanest energy year on record for Britain, according to National Grid, which owns and operates the electricity transmission network in England and Wales, and also runs the Scottish networks.

National Grid's latest data shows that wind farms, solar and nuclear energy, alongside energy imported by subsea cables, delivered 48.5% of Britain's electricity in 2019. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Fifty Years of Worship at the Church of John Coltrane (Hua Hsu, December 24, 2019, The New Yorker)

The Coltrane Church attracts visitors from all over the world. Its existence is a story of devotion, but it's also a story of family. Franzo and Marina--now Reverend King--raised their children there. Their daughter, Wanika, is now a pastor and bishop-elect at the church; Franzo, Jr., is a deacon; both of them along with the couple's other daughter, Nakeda, are "sound ministers." If you watch "The Church of John Coltrane," Jeff Swimmer's documentary, from 1996, you'll recognize many of the same worshippers who are still there today and who form the congregation's core. It's just that the city around them has changed.

The church seems more radiant and hopeful than ever, a refuge from the rhythms of the present. It is, as the Kings hoped, a community. Coltrane, too, only seems more visionary as time passes. He remains a beloved and inspirational figure because the strength of his vision, in service of, as he put it, "A Love Supreme," was so clear. From the elegant precision of his recordings in the fifties to his mid-sixties feats of conjuring, he saw himself as a vessel for higher possibilities. Where he wanted us to go remains an aspiration that guides the Kings and those who join them. 

The Church of Saint Coltrane from Aeon Video on Vimeo.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Initial U.S.-China trade deal has major hole: Beijing's massive business subsidies (David J. Lynch, Dec. 31, 2019, Washington Post)

President Trump's trade deal with Beijing leaves untouched the marriage of business and government known as China Inc. that American executives for nearly two decades have said tilted global markets against them.

Trump insisted for months that he wanted to resolve all outstanding trade issues with China in a single, comprehensive accord that would refashion the Chinese state's economic role. As late as September, he rejected talk of a partial agreement, saying instead that he wanted "the big deal."

The two sides discussed industrial subsidies in the early rounds of negotiations over an agreement that exceeded 150 pages. But Chinese officials resisted making structural changes, and by the time officials settled this month on an 86-page partial accord, any commitments to reduce subsidies had been excised.

when you're getting your donald handed to you, declare victory and cave.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Trump administration says it will approve largest U.S. solar farm (SAMMY ROTH, JAN. 1, 2020, LA Times)

Federal officials plan to approve a massive solar farm with energy storage in the desert outside Las Vegas, paving the way for a $1-billion project that will provide electricity to Nevada residents served by billionaire Warren Buffett's NV Energy.

At 690 megawatts across 7,100 acres, the facility would generate more power than the largest solar farm currently operating in the United States, a 579-megawatt plant in Southern California. The energy storage component -- at least 380 megawatts of four-hour lithium-ion batteries, capable of storing solar power for use after dark -- would also be one of the largest facilities of its kind. [...]

Falling prices and supportive state policies have continued to drive demand for renewable energy, even with the Trump administration taxing imported solar panels and more recently rejecting a proposed extension for clean energy tax credits.

The investment bank Lazard reported in November that onshore wind and solar power are two of the cheapest sources of new electricity generation in the United States, averaging $28 per megawatt-hour and $36 per megawatt-hour, respectively. Electricity from a new natural gas plant, by comparison, typically costs $44 to $68 per megawatt-hour, according to Lazard.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Liberty, Equality, and Identity: Who we are--as a country and as individuals--owes an enormous debt to African American history. (VICTORIA BUTLER, JANUARY 1, 2020, The Bulwark)

Hand-in-hand with my grandchildren--11-year-old Lucia and 9-year-old William--I recently walked out of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., filled with gratitude and a deeper understanding of what it means to be an American. Museums hold our personal and collective histories. The photographs and artifacts, the paintings and panoramas, the documents and maps, the uniforms and tattered textiles from lives long gone not only show us where we came from, but they help us understand who we are. Although I am white, I left the African American Museum with a deepened appreciation of the fact that my understanding of myself as an American--indeed, my very identity, the sum of all the things that make me who I am--owes a great deal to the African American experience.

We began our visit in the museum basement, in the bowels of the slave ships with the shackles and sickness, recoiling at the cruelty but also bearing witness to the indomitable human spirit. My granddaughter, Lucia, was visibly moved by both the suffering and the resilience. [...]

Like my grandchildren, I was awed by the triumphs of individual African Americans--but what inspired me most was the persistent, unwavering faith of an oppressed people in the American ideal of equality, an ideal best and most famously expressed by a slave holder: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Year after year, decade after decade, century after century--despite very grim objective realities--African Americans held tight to the American founding rhetoric of equality and liberty. They have believed in the promise of America and, in their fights for liberty and rights and respect and dignity and equality, struggled relentlessly to realize that promise.

African Americans are not alone in treasuring the promise of America. Immigrants and refugees, representing every faith and ethnicity on earth, have fled famine, violence, political repression, religious discrimination, and economic hardship to build new lives here. Tearing themselves from families and friends, they headed for an alien shore that offered the hope of equality and opportunity. These immigrant communities, many of which have fully assimilated, have contributed enormously to our economy, politics, and culture.

As we wandered from gallery to gallery in the African American Museum, I thought about the alchemy that gives a nation its identity. The notion, popularized a century ago, of America as a "melting pot" in which various metals combine to form a durable alloy has lost credence. More recently, the metaphor of a "salad bowl"--in which different cultures retain their distinctiveness, like ingredients tossed together and splashed with oil and vinegar--has been in vogue. Pollsters and pundits crudely pigeonhole us into groups, magnifying our differences and minimizing our commonalities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


York to ban cars from city centre (BBC, 31 December 2019)

Private cars are to be banned from York's medieval city centre by 2023, under plans approved by councillors.

The City of York Council wants an end to "non-essential" car journeys within the city walls.

The authority, which is run by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, wants to make the city carbon neutral by 2030 - 20 years ahead of the UK government's net zero target.

It said those who rely on cars, such as disabled residents, would be exempt.

The idea was proposed by Labour councillor Johnny Crawshaw but received support from a majority of councillors, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM



Fixing solar photovoltaic panels (or "PV panels") on rooftops has the highest projected growth rate that doesn't require more than a high school education and professional certification -- yet pays at least $40,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Right behind it is a wind turbine service technician, which requires more advanced education. Solar power is by far the fastest-growing field of renewable energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. It's projected to generate 700 gigawatts by 2024, compared to around 350 gigawatts from onshore wind. (For reference, it takes 3.125 million PV panels to produce just 1 gigawatt.)

Most U.S. companies on the lookout for potential installers have two things in mind, says Larry Sherwood, president and CEO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council: a solid work ethic and a willingness to climb roofs. Firms are often willing to train candidates on the rest. What's more, he says, there's a wide variety of options within that subfield, from residential homes and commercial locations to major industrial sites. "There are lots of different scales and job opportunities," Sherwood says. These days, an average solar panel system costs around $12,500, but prices have dropped and are expected to continue dropping, expanding the potential pool of consumers.

That trend is reflected around the world. Because solar power is cheaper and less labor-intensive than wind energy, the entry barrier is correspondingly lower. Theoretically, that allows small-time investors or even entrepreneurial individuals in Africa, for example, to install a single panel to power a household. "Or you can build a power plant of 500 megawatts in the middle of a desert in Chile. So we are talking about a huge range which actually unlocks a lot of potential investors and a lot of jobs," says Heymi Bahar, a renewable energy analyst at the IEA.

We're gonna need a lot more immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Here's why Congress wants to look inside the bank that fronted Donald Trump $2 billion (Dana Kennedy, 12/31/19, Raw Story)

Vrablic, a one-time bank teller turned Deutsche Bank private wealth managing director, was Trump's liaison at the bank. She sat in a hoodie in the VIP section at the Trump inauguration.

Trump borrowed more than $2 billion in the past two decades. Many allege the loans could hold the key to Russian funding of Trump.

Hired in 2006 with celebratory ads in The New York Times and a sweet deal guaranteeing her $3 million a year, Vrablic's work raised the bank's public profile-at first in a good way. Now the opposite is true.

Trump burned through his relationships with bank investment and commercial real estate departments because of his constant defaults and failures. Then Vrablic stepped up in 2010.

Trump's daughter Ivanka had just married Jared Kushner, who was a longtime client of Vrablic along with his mother Seryl. Ivanka steered Vrablic in the private bank sector of Deutsche Bank her father's way. It turned out to be the financial lifeline crucial in helping him win the election.

People at Vrablic's level in the banking world, even when they are swept up in such international scandals, are rarely household names unless they die suddenly... read suspiciously. Even then, they are familiar to only the most inside-baseball financial journalists. They are never part of the daily Trump-Schiff-Pelosi-Schumer-AOC-Nunes-McConnell etc. political narrative though their influence is often greater.

The suicides of the shamed are not actually suspicious.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


REVIEW: of The Triumph of Evolution: Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution by Gertrude Himmelfar  H. R. Trevor-Roper, september 1959, Commentary)

The protective piety of his family (or rather, of his wife and daughter) has now been pierced, and Darwin's own faults of memory or errors of reconstruction have been corrected. Miss Himmelfarb is particularly skillful at such correction. Where Darwin looked back for the origin of the Origin, and found it in the voyage of the Beagle, she works scrupulously forward from the Beagle and finds no such thing. Where the Victorians looked back for the revolution which shattered their faith and arrived at Darwin, she looks forward from Buffon and Hutton and finds Darwin not at the beginning but at the end of the revolution: "that there was a Darwinian revolution, there is little doubt. But what kind of a revolution was it that was so generously prepared for beforehand and so strongly resisted afterwards? . . . many of his enemies must have agreed with Butler: Buffon planted, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck watered; but it was Mr. Darwin who said, "That fruit is ripe" and shook it into his lap.'"

This is not, of course, to deny Darwin's genius, but it is to see it in a new light. What Miss Himmelfarb most clearly shows is Darwin's marvelous fertility in theorizing. Darwin thought that he proceeded from observation, believed, in retrospect, that his observations in South America had put into his mind the idea of natural selection. In fact, Miss Himmelfarb points out, all his observations in South America had been directed toward geology, not zoology. But he was (as his own son remarked) "charged with theorizing power ready to flow into any channel on the slightest disturbance, so that no fact, however small, could avoid releasing a stream of theory"; and afterwards--to be precise, in 1837--he thought, a priori, of his theory, and having written a first theoretical sketch of it in 1842, turned back to his South American experiences to find, there as elsewhere, a multitude of facts on which to rest it. To be fair, this is generally the way of genius: perhaps the only way. But it does no harm to see it documented.

Miss Himmelfarb documents it very thoroughly. The hypothetical nature of Darwin's reasoning is exposed by her, at times, with almost as much subtlety and virtuosity as she discovers in him. She shows how powerfully Darwin was influenced by Malthus: the intellectual stimulant which also inspired Wallace almost to forestall Darwin with the same theory. She shows how evolution, as distinct from natural selection, was accepted by most scientists before Darwin, and how the mutability of species, by other means than natural selection, had been advanced before him. Having thus carefully limited Darwin's originality, she shows how his own thesis fails by every applicable test, and how it was defended by Darwin with reasons so abstruse, so hypothetical, and so contradictory that in the end, even by his own admission, there was little left, and the "Darwinism" which he ended by establishing was not his own theory of natural selection but the theory of evolution which he had merely assumed and illustrated. In this victory--for undoubtedly it was a victory--it must be added that he was helped as much by the intellectual bankruptcy of his opponents as by his own strength. The theory of creation was a weak adversary for the massive forces of evolution, given temporary form and motion by the novel but inessential theory of natural selection.

The observations that actually drove his theory were of how farmers breed their animals, demonstrating the opposite of his theory.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


The Study of Man: The Prophets of the New Conservatism (Gertrude Himmelfarb, January 1950, Commentary)

The liberal whom Viereck undertakes to engage in combat is possessed of an optimistic and secular, often hedonistic, religion of progress; a faith in the masses, in the natural goodness of man, and in modern technics; a taste for equality rather than freedom, change rather than tradition, and relative rather than absolute standards. The conservative presumably represents the contradictory of these propositions, although Viereck does not catalogue them in such bald form. But Viereck is no hotheaded agitator of conservatism. In a period of Communist totalitarian expansion, he looks upon liberalism as distinctly a lesser evil and a potential ally. By "mediation, reconciliation, and tolerant compromise," he hopes that liberal conservatism and conservative liberalism, coming from opposite directions, can be brought together at the point which Goethe once designated as genuine liberalism: a reliance upon gradual reform and a patient toleration of "inevitable wrongs."

Reminiscent of Eric Hoffer's portrayal of the well-balanced citizen, which is, likewise, devastating to Left/Right:

 Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and
    die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions,
    that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded
    of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect.  The rejection of
    approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes
    freedom, tolerance, and equity.