November 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


New York investigating Trump's tax write-offs on fees paid to Ivanka as a crime: report (Matthew Chapman , 11/19/20, rAW sTORY)

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that officials in New York State have opened a civil and a criminal fraud investigation into tax write-offs outgoing President Donald Trump took on various consulting fees he paid out, including some to his daughter Ivanka.

"The inquiries -- a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and a civil one by the state attorney general, Letitia James -- are being conducted independently. But both offices issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization in recent weeks for records related to the fees," reported Danny Hakim, Mike McIntire, William K. Rashbaum and Ben Protess. "The subpoenas were the latest steps in the two investigations of the Trump Organization, and underscore the legal challenges awaiting the president when he leaves office in January. There is no indication that his daughter is a focus of either inquiry, which the Trump Organization has derided as politically motivated."

"Among the revelations was that Mr. Trump reduced his taxable income by deducting about $26 million in fees to unidentified consultants as a business expense on numerous projects between 2010 and 2018," said the report. "Some of those fees appear to have been paid to Ms. Trump, The Times found. On a 2017 disclosure she filed when joining the White House as a presidential adviser, she reported receiving payments from a consulting company she co-owned, totaling $747,622, that exactly matched consulting fees claimed as tax deductions by the Trump Organization for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia."

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Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


The universe works like a huge human brain, discover scientists (PAUL RATNER, 19 November, 2020, Big Think)

Scientists found similarities in the workings of two systems completely different in scale - the network of neuronal cells in the human brain and the cosmic web of galaxies.

Researchers studied the two systems from a variety of angles, looking at structure, morphology, memory capacity, and other properties. Their quantitative analysis revealed that very dissimilar physical processes can create structures sharing levels of complexity and organization, even if they are varied in size by 27 orders of magnitude.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Race Consciousness: Fascism and Frank Herbert's "Dune" (Jordan S. Carroll, NOVEMBER 19, 2020, LA Review of Books)

FASCISTS LOVE Dune: Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation was highly anticipated on white nationalist sites such as Counter-Currents and the Daily Stormer. As soon as the trailer dropped, they began poring over it for signs of deviation from their pet interpretations of Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel.

Popular SF narratives like Dune play a central role in white nationalist propaganda. The alt-right now regularly denounces or promotes science fiction films as part of its recruiting strategy: fascist Twitter popularized the "white genocide" hashtag during a boycott campaign against inclusive casting in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But Villeneuve's film seemed to provoke greater outrage than normal because Herbert's book is such a key text for the alt-right.

Dune was initially received as a countercultural parable warning against ecological devastation and autocratic rule, but geek fascists see the novel as a blueprint for the future. Dune is set thousands of years from now in an interstellar neofeudal society that forestalled the rise of dangerous artificial intelligences by banning computers and replacing them with human beings conditioned with parapsychological disciplines that allow them to perform at the same level as thinking machines. Spaceships navigate through space using the superhuman abilities of psychics whose powers are derived from a mind-enhancing drug known as melange, a substance found only on the desert planet of Arrakis.

The narrative follows the rise of Paul Atreides, a prince who reconquers Arrakis, controls the spice, and eventually becomes the messianic emperor of the Known Universe. Dune was first published in serial form in John W. Campbell's Analog Science Fiction and Fact and, like many protagonists in Campbell-edited stories, Paul is a mutant ├╝bermensch whose potential sets him apart from everyone else. He turns out to be the product of a eugenics program that imbues him with immense precognitive abilities that allow him to bend the galaxy to his will. Paul's army also turns out to be selected for greatness: the harsh desert environment of Arrakis culls the weak, evolving a race of battle-hardened warriors.

In the fascist reading of the novel, space colonization has scattered the human species, but what Herbert calls a "race consciousness" moves them to unite under Paul, who sweeps away all opposition in a jihad that kills 60,000,000,000. For the alt-right, Paul stands as the ideal of a sovereign ruler who violently overthrows a decadent regime to bring together "Europid" peoples into a single imperium or ethnostate. 

It would be fun to crush that state too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A new #Resistance hero emerges amid the Trump endgame: The dutiful civil servantWe hadn't heard of Brad Raffensperger or Chris Krebs a week ago. Now they're heroes standing tall for democracy (SOPHIA TESFAYE, NOVEMBER 19, 2020, Salon)

The Michigan episode exposes how loyal some Trump supporters are when faced with even the slightest bit of scrutiny. To be sure, it's beyond dismaying to watch one of only two major political parties in the nation use any means necessary to sow doubt about the integrity of our democracy. And while there's no question our political situation has radically shifted for the worse, it's also worth noting that, as damaging as the Trump era has been, the last two weeks have reintroduced the nation to a species many believed to have long gone extinct: Republicans in elected office, and even in the Trump administration, who act with integrity. 

Things would be undoubtedly worse right now if not for a handful of honest Republican election officials and dutiful civil servants. While the Trump campaign has relentlessly attempted to weaponize the government in a bid to stop Biden from receiving 270 certified Electoral College votes, a Republican like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stands as a lonely voice of integrity among elected leaders in the GOP. 

Raffensperger is being attacked by his own party for the sin of running a clean election. Georgia's two Republican U.S. senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both facing Jan. 5 runoffs against Democratic challengers, have demanded his resignation. Both Raffensperger and his wife have received death threats. Even after all of that, Raffensperger went public after Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, pressured him to exclude legally cast absentee ballots in the middle of Georgia's recount.

What Graham did would be a felony in Georgia, and likely also a felony under federal law, since it was done through an interstate communication. Yet Graham took to Twitter to laugh about his attempted election interference, admitting that he had also contacted officials in Arizona and Nevada. Arizona's secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, blamed the violent threats she and her family have received on Trump and his allies in the Republican Party. 

The Trump campaign is attempting to throw out ballots cast in at least six states, often in the most populous counties where voters of color comprise the majority. It's a transparent attempt to smear any votes not cast by rural and suburban voters as suspicious. Of course, if the Trump campaign were serious they'd also be seeking recounts in heavily red counties to scrounge up more votes. That suggests this entire charade isn't intended to change the outcome of the election; it is intended to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt about the integrity of our democracy -- and to generate "legal defense fund" donations to line the pockets of the man identified in previous legal cases as "Individual-1." 

Trump has sought to undermine public confidence in the electoral process since 2012, when he baselessly alleged that voting machines changed votes for Mitt Romney to Barack Obama -- a claim he resurfaced on Wednesday. The day before, he unceremoniously fired the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security via tweet. 

That was Chris Krebs, a highly regarded tech expert who had received bipartisan praise for his work in making sure the 2020 election was secure. His "Rumor Control" website meticulously tracked false claims undermining the elections and corrected them, no matter the source. Hours before he was fired, Krebs spread this message on Twitter: "Please don't retweet wild and baseless claims about voting machines, even if they're made by the president." Don't expect the usual suspects who decry "cancel culture" to utter a peep, even as Trump's flunkies spread lies about Krebs' job performance. 

For every loyalist Trump has installed in the government -- like GSA administrator Emily Miller, whose refusal to allow for the formal Biden transition to commence ma cause delays in the next administration's COVID response plan, or Trey Trainor, the Federal Elections Commission chairman who floats baseless election conspiracy theories contrived by a Trump lawyer who thinks the Federal Reserve is deliberately sabotaging the economy to enrich George Soros -- there are noble public servants like Krebs, willing to sacrifice their positions to speak truth to power. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Solar power stations in space could be the answer to our energy needs (Amanda Jane Hughes, Lecturer, Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering, University of Liverpool & Stefania Soldini, Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, University of Liverpool, 11/19/20, The Conversation)

Renewable energy technologies have developed drastically in recent years, with improved efficiency and lower cost. But one major barrier to their uptake is the fact that they don't provide a constant supply of energy. Wind and solar farms only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining - but we need electricity around the clock, every day. Ultimately, we need a way to store energy on a large scale before we can make the switch to renewable sources.

A possible way around this would be to generate solar energy in space. There are many advantages to this. A space-based solar power station could orbit to face the Sun 24 hours a day. The Earth's atmosphere also absorbs and reflects some of the Sun's light, so solar cells above the atmosphere will receive more sunlight and produce more energy.

But one of the key challenges to overcome is how to assemble, launch and deploy such large structures. A single solar power station may have to be as much as 10 kilometres squared in area - equivalent to 1,400 football pitches. Using lightweight materials will also be critical, as the biggest expense will be the cost of launching the station into space on a rocket.

One proposed solution is to develop a swarm of thousands of smaller satellites that will come together and configure to form a single, large solar generator. In 2017, researchers at the California Institute of Technology outlined designs for a modular power station, consisting of thousands of ultralight solar cell tiles. They also demonstrated a prototype tile weighing just 280 grams per square metre, similar to the weight of card.

Recently, developments in manufacturing, such as 3D printing, are also being looked at for this application. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China is Quite Unhappy America Keeps Selling Weapons to Taiwan (Caleb Larson, 11/1/20, National Interest)

Taiwan does already possess a number of missiles that can strike targets deep inside China, but this most recent tranche of American weaponry would provide Taipei with a more robust and survivable equipment suite aimed at deterring a Chinese invasion by increasing the cost in manpower and material to Beijing.

Though Taiwan has been cleared for these three purchases, they are not yet final. Total costs as well as the exact number of equipment pieces could be expected to change. One thing is certain, however--irrespective of the overwhelming military advantage China enjoys over Taiwan, Beijing would prefer that this most recent defense acquisition remain nothing more than on paper.

In a daily press briefing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that they "urge the United States to strictly observe the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqu├ęs, and stop selling weapons to Taiwan or having any military ties with it. We will continue taking necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and security interests."

We hired the PRC to manufacture stuff cheaply, not for their opinions. Back to work...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The reactionary alliance between Moscow, Abu Dhabi and Cairo (MEMO, November 19, 2020)

Moscow has gone from supporting progressive regimes in the Arab world, most of which were dictatorships -- as was the Soviet Union -- before the regimes lost their progressive character in the 1970s; to supporting reactionary regimes, most of which are permanently authoritarian. The most dangerous result of this political shift in the Arab region is the reactionary alliance between Russia, the UAE and Egypt.

It's why these are the folks terrified of an American/Shi'a rapprochement. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anyone else. Can Amazon Pharmacy change that? (Andrew Keshner, and Elisabeth Buchwald, 11/19/20, Market Watch)

"More competition is generally good for consumers. It's probably not great for retail pharmacies. It sort of depends on what Amazon does from here," said Craig Garthwaite, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management who studies drug pricing.

Earlier this week, Amazon AMZN, -0.96%   announced two separate, but related forays into the pharmacy world. There's the establishment of Amazon Pharmacy, which is open to anyone and lets users buy and manage prescriptions. A Prime member also gets unlimited free two-day deliveries coming in "discreet packaging."

Additionally, the company said Prime members can save up to 80% on generic medication, and 40% on brand names when they pay without insurance.

At check out, customers can compare what it will cost if a co-pay applies, what the price is without insurance and what savings are through Prime membership, an Amazon spokeswoman said. "Customers should always consider other factors, such as their deductible," she added.

Prime members paying without insurance can also get the savings at 50,000 pharmacies across the country by presenting their Amazon savings card.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


PODCAST: Authenticity (In Our Time)

In a programme first broadcast in 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, 'thou canst not be false to any man' - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible?

Sillies. The entire point of Creation is to beat down your authentic self until you resemble a decent person.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

ON TO '22:

Senate 2022: An Early LookDemocrats may ultimately have a better shot to win the Senate than the House in two years, although winning either will be challenging (Kyle KondikIn, November 19, 2020, Sabato's Crystal Ball)

PROBABLY COMPETITIVE 3 R, 3 D, 1 undecided

Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

That leaves seven races where we are assuming a high level of competition, although not all of these races are guaranteed to be close in the end. Democrats are defending three of these states, Republicans are defending three, and one other -- the Georgia special -- will be decided in January. Let's set that one aside and focus on the remaining others.

The six closest states in the presidential election all feature Senate races in 2022: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and they are all included here. The seventh is New Hampshire, a politically fickle state where Joe Biden performed very well in 2020, carrying the state by seven points after Hillary Clinton carried it by less than half a point four years ago. Its inclusion here is predicated on the Republicans producing a strong challenger for Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) -- and they very well may have such a challenger waiting in the wings.

The GOP's top choice to run against Hassan is almost certainly Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), who just easily won a third, two-year term. Sununu considered running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in this past election, but ran for reelection instead; immediately following the election, Sununu's campaign manager signaled in a tweet directed to Hassan that Sununu may be closer to taking the plunge this time, and a Hassan-Sununu race would be very expensive and closely contested.

Republicans seem likely to take another shot at Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who will be back on the ballot in search of a full term in 2022, and Republicans may be able to produce a nominee who performs better than outgoing Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who lost in 2018 and 2020. Term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would seem to be the leading potential Republican candidate, although there are plenty of other possibilities.

In Nevada, former Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) would be a great potential opponent for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), but Sandoval could have run for Senate six years ago and opted not to, and he recently took a job as the president of the University of Nevada-Reno. In all likelihood, Republicans will have to look elsewhere for a challenger to Cortez Masto in an evenly-divided state where Democrats nonetheless appear to retain a narrow statewide organizing edge. In some ways, Nevada is to Republicans what Florida is to Democrats: an elusive and frustrating target.

The three most vulnerable Republican-held seats are in three closely-contested states, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) have already announced their retirements. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) may or may not run again. So these may all be open seats, which would be a change from the 2018 and 2020 cycles, when almost all of the top races on both sides featured incumbents running for reelection.

Current or former House members could be factors in all three races. In the Tar Heel State, outgoing Rep. Mark Walker (R, NC-6) saw his district made much more Democratic in redistricting. He retired but could seek the Senate seat in 2022. Democrats surely would love to see newly-reelected Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) run for the Senate, but they may have to look elsewhere -- and Democrats ended up striking out in North Carolina this year when their lower-tier nominee, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D), blew up his campaign with a late-breaking affair (although Cunningham may very well have lost anyway absent the scandal given Biden's inability to win the state).

Redistricting in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could determine whether members such as Reps. Conor Lamb (D, PA-17) or Ron Kind (D, WI-3) would try to make the statewide jump; meanwhile, a couple of Pennsylvania Republicans who retired in advance of 2018, former Reps. Ryan Costello (R, PA-6) and Charlie Dent (R, PA-15), might make sense as the Senate nominee, although if they ran they might have competition to their right in a primary.

Our assumption is that both parties will be able to produce strong candidates in these three races; of the three, North Carolina is the heaviest lift for the Democrats, but with good candidates and a good environment (two big assumptions), Democrats can credibly compete for all three.

Winning two of the three and holding the line elsewhere would get the Democrats a Senate majority even if they lose both Georgia seats in January.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Zimbabwe's odious debts: At a time when the country is grappling with Covid-19 and acute droughts, can debt cancellation save its economy? (Kudzai Chimhangwa, 11/18/20, openDemocracy)

The debt burden of most African countries to Bretton Woods institutions and the Paris Club has for years continued to limit their capacity to get external development finance. This in turn defeats the idea of market liberalism and export diversification strongly advocated for by these international lenders.

Worse effects of such debts are lower national income, lower national savings and diminished tax revenue. Through commitment to reforms, currently being demanded of Zimbabwe, government would be compelled to spend most collected revenue on servicing national debts. The problem lies in that the country remains in arrears without a solid repayment plan. [...]

Government is currently implementing a transitional stabilization plan (TSP) which is anchored on the IMF's Article IV consultations and technical assistance. Minister Ncube claims the TSP has met most indicators with the fiscal and current account deficits having been eradicated. The issuance of treasury bills is supposedly now on budget while the public sector wage bill is now below 50% of total government revenues from 92% in 2017.

These austerity measures have come at a great cost to citizens. Civil servants are now earning salaries below the poverty datum line, with medical doctors embarking on industrial action and teachers reporting incapacitation to return to work. The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) recently called for the country's debt cancellation and warned that failure to do so would push more people into extreme poverty.

ZIMCODD notes that the country really needs cancellation at a time when it is grappling with the effects of COVID-19, acute droughts, pervasive corruption, poor governance and the high debt overhang.

The Asian tiger economies have proven that export led growth could pull them out of poverty in less than 50 years. The tiger economies include Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Over the course of years of serious industrialization, coupled with setting up advanced financial and trading centers, the Asian tigers kept budget deficits within financial limits. These measures led to stable macro economies.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan never had foreign debt during this boom.

Perhaps, with debt cancellation, these booming economies' growth models could work for countries now stuck in mounting debts.

No nation ought ever honor the debt obligations incurred by an undemocratic regime.