January 1, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


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.