March 6, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


AUDIO: McCoy Tyner: The Pianist (SONYA WILLIAMS, 2/07/99, NPR's 'Jazz Profiles')

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Newly obtained documents show $157,000 in additional payments by the Secret Service to Trump properties (David A. Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow, Jonathan O'Connell and Carol D. Leonnig , March 5, 2020, Washington Post)

President Trump's company charged the Secret Service $157,000 more than was previously known -- billing taxpayers for rooms at his clubs at rates far higher than his company has claimed, according to a new trove of receipts and billing documents released by the Secret Service.

Many of the new receipts were obtained by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which spent three years battling the Secret Service over a public-records request from January 2017.

When added to dozens of charges already reported by The Washington Post, the new documents show that Trump's company has charged the Secret Service more than $628,000 since he took office in 2017.

The payments show Trump has an unprecedented -- and still partially hidden -- business relationship with his own government. The full scope of that relationship is still unknown because the publicly available records are largely from 2017 and 2018, leaving huge gaps in the data.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


American Machiavelli (Daniel McCarthy, OCTOBER 28, 2014, American Conservative)

The man whose mind explains our politics today and suggests a diagnosis--if not a cure--for our condition is James Burnham. Once a Marxist, he became the American Machiavelli, master analyst of the oligarchic nature of power in his day and ours.

He was one of William F. Buckley Jr.'s first recruits for the masthead of National Review before the magazine's launch in 1955. Burnham, born in 1905, had already had a distinguished career. He had worked with the CIA and its World War II-era precursor, the OSS. Before that, as a professor of philosophy at New York University, he had been a leading figure in the American Trotskyist movement, a co-founder of the socialist American Workers Party.

But he broke with Trotsky, and with socialism itself, in the 1940s, and he sought a new theory to explain what was happening in the world. In FDR's era, as now, there was a paradox: America was a capitalist country, yet capitalism under the New Deal no longer resembled what it had been in the 19th century. And socialism in the Soviet Union looked nothing at all like the dictatorship of the proletariat: just "dictatorship" would be closer to the mark. (If not quite a bull's-eye, in Burnham's view.)

Real power in America did not rest with the great capitalists of old, just as real power in the USSR did not lie with the workers. Burnham analyzed this reality, as well as the fascist system of Nazi Germany, and devised a theory of what he called the "managerial revolution." Economic control, thus inevitably political control, in all these states lay in the hands of a new class of professional managers in business and government alike--engineers, technocrats, and planners rather than workers or owners.

The Managerial Revolution, the 1941 book in which Burnham laid out his theory, was a bestseller and critical success. It strongly influenced George Orwell, who adapted several of its ideas for his own even more famous work, 1984. Burnham described World War II as the first in a series of conflicts between managerial powers for control over three great industrial regions of the world--North America, Europe, and East Asia. The geographic scheme and condition of perpetual war are reflected in Orwell's novel by the ceaseless struggles between Oceania (America with its Atlantic and Pacific outposts), Eurasia (Russian-dominated Europe), and Eastasia (the Orient). The Managerial Revolution itself appears in 1984 as Emmanuel Goldstein's forbidden book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.

Could freedom of any sort survive in the world of 1984 or the real world of the managerial revolution? Burnham provided an answer--one Orwell didn't want to hear--in his next book, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. Liberty's only chance under any economic or political system at all was to be found in a school of political realism beginning with the author of The Prince.

Machiavelli poses yet another paradox. The Florentine political theorist seems to recommend a ruthless and manipulative ethos to monarchs in The Prince--the book is a veritable handbook of tyranny. Yet his other great work, the Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy, is as deeply republican as The Prince appears to be despotic. Whose side was Machiavelli on?

Scholars still argue, but Burnham anticipated what is today a widely accepted view: Machiavelli was fundamentally a republican, a man of the people, yet one who took a clear-eyed, even scientific view of power. And by discussing the true, brutal nature of politics openly, Machiavelli provided any of his countrymen who could learn a lesson about how freedom is won and lost. As Burnham writes:

If the political truths stated or approximated by Machiavelli were widely known by men, the success of tyranny and all the other bad forms of oppressive political rule would become much less likely. A deeper freedom would be possible in society than Machiavelli himself believed attainable. If men generally understood as much of the mechanism of rule and privilege as Machiavelli understood, they would no longer be deceived into accepting their rule and privilege, and they would know what steps to take to overcome them.

From his experience in government and reading of the classics Machiavelli distilled a number of lessons, which Burnham further refines. "Machiavelli insists," he notes, that in a republic "no person and no magistrate may be permitted to be above the law; there must be legal means for any citizen to bring accusations against any other citizen or any official..." Freedom also requires a certain extent of territory, even if the means by which that territory is to be acquired are not as republican as one would wish: hence Machiavelli's call for a prince to unify Italy. Machiavelli was a Florentine patriot, but he had seen his beloved city ruined by wars with other cities while mighty foreign kingdoms like France overawed them all. Cities like Florence and their citizens could be free only if Italy was.

Boiled down to its essentials, it's stunning how many problems a strict adherence to republican liberty ameliorates.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Trump gets heat from supporters on virus in Fox News town hall (Kevin Freking, 3/06/20, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump defended the administration's response to the coronavirus and his confrontational style of name-calling political opponents as he fielded questions Thursday from select members of the public in his first TV town hall of the 2020 election cycle.

Mr. Trump, who regularly calls his top Democratic presidential opponents "Sleepy Joe" and "Crazy Bernie," was asked whether he could deliver his message without the controversial rhetoric. "When they hit us, we have to hit back. I really feel that," Mr. Trump said in response to the first of two questions about civility. "You can't turn your cheek."

Nicely captures how defending Donald requires rejecting Jesus.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Trump says he'll cut entitlements like Social Security and Medicare if reelected to shrink trillions in national debt (Joseph Zeballos-Roig, Mar. 6, 2020, Business Insider)

Trump was asked during the interview about the $23 trillion national debt, which has continued surging under his watch. He campaigned on 2016 on wiping it out but instead passed laws like the 2017 tax cuts, which piled more onto it.
At the town hall, Fox News host Martha MacCallum told the president that if "you don't cut something in entitlements, you will never really deal with the debt," and Trump immediately responded.

"Oh, we'll be cutting," he said to the Scranton, Pennsylvania, audience.

Has any politician ever hated his own base more?

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


The Caliphate of Man: Popular Sovereignty in Modern Islamic Thought  (Usman Butt, March 6, 2020, MEMO)

Interrogating the works of Rashid Rida, Sayyid Qutb, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Abul A'la Maududi, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini and others, March captures the diversity and tensions of modern political Islamist thought. He puts forward the interesting argument that Islamist thinkers generally view the people -- the Muslim Ummah -- as being the living embodiment of the Shari'ah and God's Will. Unlike secular political thinkers, who tend to see the people as the sole embodiment of sovereignty, law and political rights, 20th century Islamist thinkers tended to argue for the notion of dual sovereignty, where law is both divinely decreed and exercised through the will of the people at the same time.

The tensions between the religious and secular occupy an important area of Islamic political thinking, according to March, as Islamists try to harmonise the two ideas of sovereignty. "A core thesis of my analysis is that the divine and popular elements in Islamic democratic theory are often derived from the same commitments and materials," he writes. "Divine command is not just a constraint on human freedom, and human freedom is not just the absence of divine command. Rather, the foundation of Islamic democratic theory is the same as the foundations of Islamic theocratic theory... The political theology of popular sovereignty in Islam is that the Umma [sic] has been entrusted by God with the realisation of His law on Earth. God is the principle agent and actor, and the first response of the people-as-deputy is a passive and receptive one. But the force of God dignified mankind as His caliph is that He has deputised no one else between God and man -- no kings, no priests, no scholars."

This is why Sunni Islam is not the natural ally of liberal democracy that Shi'ism is: it is Utopian.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


This village for the homeless just got a new addition: 3D-printed houses (ADELE PETERS, 3/06/20, Fast Company)

For the last few years, Tim Shea has lived in an RV in a small community outside Austin that was designed for people who were once chronically homeless. In early May, he'll move from the RV into one of the community's first 3D-printed homes--a small house with walls made from a concrete-like material that were automatically extruded from a giant, 33-foot-long machine.

"It's amazing," says Shea, who has been watching the new home rise from his RV. "Sometimes I'll just stand at the end of the property for an hour and watch them work."

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


How Sweden is developing green batteries for a more sustainable future (Tim Marringa, 6 March 2020, The Local)

"If you want more electrified society, batteries need to have very high efficiency," explains University of Uppsala researcher Kristina Edström.

"The amount of energy you lose when you store it has to be very low. It also has to be scaleable, from really big batteries to very small ones, to be able to use them in different applications. They are crucial as a tool for a new generation of renewable energy cities."

Swedish company SaltX stores energy in the form of heat in large tanks filled with nano-coated salt. This heat can then be used to generate electricity when needed.

"There are a lot of days with wind that you're not going to need at that specific time and there are going to be days that you don't have any wind," says Corey Blackman, head of technology at the company. "The whole point of energy storage is that you store energy in times of surplus, and utilize this in times that you don't have enough."

"It's very similar to electrical batteries where you would store electricity in chemical bonds," Blackman tells The Local. "But instead of storing electricity, we store heat. Salt and water react with each other. When you put in certain amounts of heat you separate and when you bring them back together this heat is released from the system again, which you can utilise."

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Review: Devs: Nick Offerman and Alison Pill in Alex Garland's wild sci-fi mystery. (KURT LODER | 3.6.2020, reason)

Alex Garland, who wrote and directed every installment of this movie (let's call it that) has deep roots in the sci-fantasy world, having written two memorable Danny Boyle films (including the great Sunshine), the mega-dystopian Never Let Me Go, the comic-book adaptation Dread, and two films that he also directed, both unforgettable: Ex Machina and Annihilation.

With Devs, Garland takes on one of the oldest philosophical disputes--the one between determinism and randomness. You remember:

Determinism: "Every action in this world is predetermined, why worry?"

Randomness: "No, free will exists--let me demonstrate with this punch in your face."

Determinism: "I knew you were going to do that."

Variations on this conundrum have launched many a sci-fi story, but probably never at such painstaking length as in Devs. This could be a problem for some viewers, who might find the movie's measured, trance-like pace to be simply too slow (and indeed, there are an awful lot of lingering aerial shots of freeways and forests, and some scenes that may have been given a little too much room to breathe--they feel as if they were shot underwater). But still, the rich, hypnotic spell that Garland casts is hard to deny.

He's become one of our more interesting filmmakers and did a really enjoyable interview with Sean Fennessey of The Ringer.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


The Arabs' Moment (MARWAN MUASHER, March 06, 2020, Carnegie Endowment)

[E]lections are cementing what many analysts have already pointed out: We are in a one-state reality. The two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is supported by no more than a handful of Jewish-majority parties in Israel. Aside from the Arab parties, only seven Jewish members of the Knesset today explicitly support it! Long gone are the days when a majority of Israeli lawmakers expressed their strong support for an Israeli and a Palestinian state living side by side.

Whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his electoral rival Benny Gantz forms a government, or whether Israel has a national-unity government, will not have any direct bearing on the conflict. Neither candidate is serious about a viable two-state solution, with changing demographics making a one-state outcome--not necessarily a solution--a stark reality on the ground. Regardless of what any party to the conflict, or the international community, thinks, we are already in a post-Oslo paradigm. The question has ceased to be whether a two-state solution is possible or not, but what kind of a single state will emerge. Will it be an apartheid system, a democratic state, or something in between?

The second outcome of the three elections is the steady, and probably permanent, rise of an Arab bloc in the Knesset. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Arab citizens have gone from feeling besieged, marginalized, and uneasy about being part of the Israeli system, to slowly becoming empowered, aware of their own strength, and determined to fight discrimination and marginalization by standing up to the system through the rules it has laid down.

While Israel's declaration of "independence" in 1948 assured Arabs full citizenship rights, most Israeli parties today are openly supportive of Israel as "a nation state for the Jewish people." This leaves 20 percent of the country's non-Jewish population wondering where they fit in this framework.

By insisting on a state only for the Jewish people, Israeli leaders adopted a racist attitude that backfired in the elections. The Arabs decided to fight back, put their differences aside, and run by uniting four Arab parties into one electoral list. Arabs also voted in record numbers, bringing their usually low voter turnout much closer to its Jewish equivalent, and even drawing support from some Jewish voters. The result is fifteen seats in the Knesset, making the Arab bloc the third largest in Israel's parliament, and rendering the formation of any Israeli government more difficult without Arab support. Who would have guessed that the Arabs in Israel today would hold more than twice the number of seats in parliament than David Ben Gurion's Labor Party does?

Times have changed. While a two-state solution has become almost impossible to implement, the struggle for Palestinian rights is itself undergoing an evolution. As a 2017 Carnegie report, "Revitalizing Palestinian Nationalism: Options Versus Realities," indicated, "[T]here are signs of an evolution in the thinking of Palestinian activists and political theorists, including inside Israel, toward an approach that seeks legal protections..." The Palestinians appear to be shifting from defining the shape of any solution--through two states or one state--to securing their rights.

The best option for the Occupied at this point is to simply insist on their full rights as Israeli citizens and let demographics do the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The Biden veepstakes  (Damon Linker, March 6, 2020, The Week)

That leaves the person who might be the best choice of all -- and a true dark horse in the competition to become second in line to the most powerful job on the planet: Sixty-year-old Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. A lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives, where she served as chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Lujan Grisham became the first Democratic Latina governor in the country in 2018. Along the way, she's also served as New Mexico's secretary of health. On the personal side, she shares with Biden a family history marked by tragedy: Her sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor as a child and died at age 21, while her husband (with whom she had two children) died of a brain aneurysm in 2004.

Solid experience as a legislator and chief executive, the potential to woo Hispanic voters to the polls, a compelling and relatable biography -- in all of these ways, Lujan Grisham could well prove to be the perfect choice to serve as Joe Biden's running mate and potential VP.

No one has ever assembled a better team than W, who chose a former Chief of Staff for VP and Defense, a former Deputy Chief of Staff for Chief of Staff, a Chair of the Joint Chiefs/NSC head for State, governors for AG, HHS, EPA, etc, and Senate Chief of Staff for OMB.  He essentially had a senior team where 10 people were qualified to be president.  Of course, he was able to do so because of his confidence in his own qualification.

Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama and Donald Trump, in stark contrast, demonstrated their insecurities by choosing VPs and senior staff for political reasons and for their conspicuous lack of heft.  Uncertain about their own ability to govern they did not want to surround themselves with the better qualified.

Given Uncle Joe's age and the institutional damage done by his predecessor, it would seem a moral duty and patriotic obligation to choose--in particular--a VP, Chief of Staff and Treasury/Defense/State/AG/HHS heads who have actually governed or run governments.  The problem is that the Democratic bench is so shallow.  The best recent governor is Jerry Brown, who is 81.  Pretty nearly none of the sitting governors are popular--the ten most popular are all Republicans and most of the least popular are Democrats--even in overwhelmingly Blue states.  He could, of course, demonstrate bipartisanship by picking a few of the moderate Republicans who are beloved in Blue states--Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker & Phil Scott--but he'd have to be willing to face down the grousing from his own party and likely could not get away with taking one as VP.  He could prevail on his old boss to take State.  He could recycle Kathy Sibelius and Austin Goolsbee from the Obama Administration.  Howard Dean might be plausible at HHS?  But you're really scrambling to assemble a qualified team here.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Warren calls out Sanders for 'organized nastiness' and 'bullying' by his supporters (Fred Barbash, March 6, 2020, Washington Post)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called out Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for not taking steps to control the "organized nastiness" of some of his supporters during the presidential campaign.

"It's not just about me," Warren said in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday following her decision to suspend her campaign for the Democratic nomination. "I think that's a real problem with this online bullying and sort of organized nastiness. ... I'm talking about some really ugly stuff that went on."

While politics has become riddled with such behavior, she said it was a particular problem with Sanders's supporters. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Trump administration 'brain drain' is impeding the coronavirus response: Efforts to address the outbreak risk are being undermined by an exodus of scientists and a leader who regularly distorts facts (Oliver Milman, 6 Mar 2020, The Guardian)

[T]he efforts to address the outbreak risk being undermined by three years of a Trump administration that has seen an exodus of scientists from a variety of agencies, the scrapping and remodeling of scientific panels to favor industry interests and a president who regularly dismisses or distorts scientific facts - from the climate crisis to whether the moon is part of Mars - in public.

"The US is badly positioned; the federal government isn't up to the task," said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "When I learned more about this virus my heart sank because I know the Trump administration doesn't value basic science, it doesn't understand it and it tends to reject it when it conflicts with its political narrative."

Enck said that Trump "doesn't seem to understand what a clinical trial is", a reference to a White House meeting with pharmaceutical executives and public health officials on Monday where the president urged the attendees to release the anti-coronavirus drugs they are working on. "So you have a medicine that's already involved with the coronaviruses, and now you have to see if it's specifically for this," Trump said. "You can know that tomorrow, can't you?"

In the meeting, Trump wondered aloud why the flu vaccine can't just be used for coronavirus. When told by Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that it could be up to 18 months before a vaccine is available to the public, Trump responded: "I mean, I like the sound of a couple months better, if I must be honest."

At a political rally in Charlotte later that day, Trump told the crowd that a vaccine will be available "relatively soon" before adding that there are "fringe globalists that would rather keep our borders open than keep our infection - think of it - keep all of the infection, let it come in."

The fringe being Americans.