December 31, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Next Christmas That Swiss Watch You Covet Could Be 3-D Printed (Corinne Gretler, December 15, 2016, Bloomberg)

When the spindle broke off his wife's sewing machine, Michael Sorkin refused to replace the device. Instead, he bought a 3-D printer and built the part himself.

Four years later, he's using the technology to change how to make the Swiss watch you might get for Christmas.

On a rainy afternoon in Sorkin's company's dimly lit office in central Berlin, an employee in a white lab coat checks on the progress of six cubes tinted in see-through orange. A laser silently slices resin, layer by layer. Formlabs' product: 3-D printers. Interested customers include Swiss watchmakers and jewelers, which are quietly testing the process's potential.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Matt Patricia, Bill Belichick's Right-Hand Man (Tim Rohan, Nov. 28th, 2016, MMQB)

Belichick felt strongly because, the way he runs the Patriots, his coaching assistants serve a vital role. More than most NFL coaches, Belichick morphs his defense each week, tailoring it to stop that specific opponent, requiring endless amounts of preparation. The assistants study hours of film, write scouting reports and handle whatever work trickles down from the coaches. They do a lot of necessary but grueling grunt work.

Belichick likes hiring assistants young because they have a "clean mind," says Mike Judge, a former Patriots coaching assistant, and Belichick can program them to think the way he wants. Josh McDaniels was selling plastics in Cleveland when Belichick hired him. Bill O'Brien had no NFL experience and was the offensive coordinator on Duke team that had just gone 0-12. Eric Mangini was a Browns ball boy and public relations assistant.

When the Patriots brought Patricia in for an interview, his résumé wouldn't have caught the eye of many NFL teams:

• Bachelor of Science degree, aeronautical engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
• Application Engineer, two years, Hoffman Air & Filtration Systems, East Syracuse, N.Y.
• Defensive line coach, two seasons, Amherst College
• Graduate Assistant, three seasons, Syracuse University 

Patricia spent his first two years out of college working at Hoffman Air & Filtration, where he helped sales reps supply industrial blowers to wastewater plants. The sales reps loved him, called him brilliant, and so did his colleagues. He convinced them to use computers and input data in spreadsheets, and it streamlined Hoffman's entire ordering process. The market for selling blowers was competitive, says Jim Ward, Patricia's boss at the time, and the new computer system allowed them to "focus more on the strategic side of the sale. It gave us more time to think: What more can we do to position our products better?" Patricia became a rising star in the engineering world. General Electric and General Dynamics showed interest in him, according to his father, Ed. Westinghouse reportedly offered him a job maintaining nuclear subs and aircraft carriers, for a salary close to six figures.   

Then fall came around, and Patricia smelled the fresh-cut grass of the local football fields and realized he missed the game. Through his RPI connections he got a job coaching the Amherst defensive line, for less than $10,000 a year. He rented a room in another coach's apartment and rode his bike to the football facility up a hill each day, dodging passing cars, questioning his decision whenever one came too close...

When Belichick hired him as an assistant, Patricia felt indebted. He worked so hard and watched so much film that he often ended up sleeping at his desk at Gillette. At one point, he stashed an air mattress there for convenience. Patricia told one friend that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel worried for his health. Boy, you've got to go home and sleep! Take a break. Relax a little.

But those nights reminded Patricia of his RPI days, when he pulled all-nighters studying for engineering exams, chugging Mountain Dew and downing Pixy Stix powdered candy to stay awake. Watching film, Patricia used the same note-taking technique he had developed at RPI. Engineering students were usually allowed to bring a page of notes to exams, and Patricia had a reputation for having arguably the best. "You'd look at it and it'd be like hieroglyphics," says Mike Mucci, another RPI engineer. "All these crazy equations."

Patricia's specific engineering discipline had also prepared him well for hours of meticulous film study. "[Aeronautical engineering] promotes a very structured, very rigorous, very systematic way of thinking," says John Tichy, a long-time RPI engineering professor. Building a rocket and getting it off the ground requires more precision than building a bridge that will stand in place. With the rocket, Tichy says, "every little last decision is delicate."

With that attention to detail, Patricia, a lowly coaching assistant, established himself as one of the smartest coaches in any room. When Belichick rattled off the daily practice schedule, Patricia organized everything down to the minute, in his head. When Belichick approached the coaching assistants with special "projects"--opponents' tendencies he wanted studied on film--Patricia juggled eight, nine, 10 of them at a time. "He'd be helping crack the code for that week's opponent," says Judge, the coaching assistant who worked alongside Patricia in 2005. "There were guys in the building that didn't see [a tendency on film] until he pointed it out."

Patricia told friends that, when he arrived, Belichick was still "a pencil and paper guy," writing film notes by hand. Patricia helped digitize the Patriots' film review system, just as he did at Hoffman. He ran a seminar teaching Patriots rookies the video system, gave older coaches basic computer training and showed the savvier coaches how to input data into spreadsheets, analyze it and incorporate the information into their weekly game plan.

Patricia told one friend that he saved Belichick "two to three hours" a day because the new system gave Belichick, a notorious film junkie, an easier way to study tape. Which gave Belichick that much more time to scheme and strategize for each week's opponent.

Belichick started taking Patricia on scouting trips, giving him a glimpse into his world. "[Matt] logged a lot of hours driving Bill around," says former Patriots lineman Matt Light, who is friends with Patricia. "[Bill] wanted him close because he saw the value in a guy like Matt. People talk about players, but a really good coach? That may be more rare than an elite corner or quarterback or defensive end. They're very difficult to find in this league."

And they are all that matters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


House Republicans Fret About Winning Their Health Care Suit (CARL HULSE DEC. 31, 2016, NY Times)

Congressional Republicans have a new fear when it comes to their two-year-old health care lawsuit against the Obama administration: They might win.

The incoming Trump administration could choose to no longer defend the executive branch against the suit, which challenges the administration's authority to spend billions of dollars on health insurance subsidies for low- and moderate-income Americans, handing House Republicans a big victory on separation-of-power issues.

But a sudden loss of the disputed subsidies could conceivably cause the health care program to implode, leaving millions of people without access to health insurance before Republicans have prepared a replacement. That could lead to chaos in the insurance market and spur a political backlash just as Republicans gain full control of the government.

To stave off that outcome, Republicans could find themselves in the awkward position of appropriating huge sums to temporarily prop up the Obama health care law, angering conservative voters who have been demanding an end to the law for years.

Screwing up Obamacare is pretty nearly the only the GOP can lose its dominance, given that 60% of Americans support replacing it with straightforward National Health.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


My take on the Republicans' new, interesting corporate tax plan (Jared Bernstein December 30, 2016, Washington Post)

The BAT makes a number of consequential changes to the current corporate tax:

-- Destination basis: Instead of taxing corporate income minus costs (i.e., profits), the BAT taxes U.S. sales at their destination. This is a simple, smart change for one very good reason: It takes tax-avoidance location decisions off the table. Right now, because they don't have to pay taxes on foreign profits held (or booked) abroad, a U.S. firm that sells stuff here has a huge incentive to locate in some tax haven. Under the BAT, however, any goods or service sold here is taxed here, regardless of where it is produced.

-- Border adjustment: That means U.S. exports, as they're sold abroad, are no longer taxed; conversely, domestic firms can no longer net out the cost of imported inputs from their taxable income. This, too, sounds like an attractive feature: a tax on the trade deficit! But there's a wrinkle I'll get to in a sec.

-- Lower rate: The Republican proposal calls for a 20 percent corporate tax rate, down from the current statutory rate of 35 percent (though given all the loopholes and carve-outs in the current system, the effective corporate rate -- firms' actual liability as a share of their income -- is closer to 25 percent).

-- 100 percent expensing: Capital investments would be fully expensed upon purchase (no depreciation schedules), and interest expenses would no longer be deductible.

As the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center notes: "Adopting a destination-based tax system and eliminating deductibility of net interest expense would eliminate U.S. corporations' incentives to move their tax residences overseas (i.e., 'corporate inversions') and to recharacterize domestic corporate income as foreign-source income. Border adjustability would remove these incentives, because the amount of U.S. income tax a corporation paid would not depend on where it was incorporated, where its product or service was produced, or where its shareholders resided."

TPC also estimates that the BAT raises over $1 trillion over a decade. To be sure, and this is important, the Republican plan still manages to lose around $3 trillion, on net, so this revenue-raising part is probably important to them.

Okay, them's the technical details. What do I think of this change?

I apologize to readers who want a clean thumbs up or down. The fact is, it's a big change, and no one knows how it will play out. That's not a reason to oppose it -- the current corporate code is a hot mess, fraught with loopholes and special treatment to chosen players. But there's much we don't know about how this significant change would play out in the real world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Atheist group offers church-like gathering in Salt Lake City (Associated Press, 12/31/16)

A new Salt Lake City atheist group is offering nonbelievers a churchlike service that offers music, readings and community for those who don't belong to the state's dominant religion, Mormonism or other faith groups.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


Agatha Christie had little-known role in ancient Nimrud (LORI HINNANT, December 31, 2016, AP)

Her diligence and face cream cleaned Nimrud's most famous ivory. She captured the archaeological dig on celluloid and Kodak film, developing the prints in water painstakingly filtered from the nearby Tigris River.

And every day, after she balanced the books and arranged for the next day's meals, Agatha Christie sat down to write.

The British mystery writer's second husband, Max Mallowan, was an archaeologist -- respected in his field, but with nowhere near the renown of his older wife. But Christie set aside her career for months each year to accompany Mallowan into the field.

Mallowan built his career on digs in the 1950s in Nimrud, the remains of the ancient Assyrian city that survived 3,000 years only to be blown into rubble by Islamic State group conquerors last year. And Christie, then in her 60s, was there to document his work, in photo and film.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Red-state tide could flood into Minnesota (SALENA ZITO, 12/29/16, Washington Examiner)

One of the most underreported stories of this year's election cycle was how darn close the race finished in Minnesota for Donald Trump.

Yes, Minnesota.

The president-elect did not win the North Star State on Election Day, but he was 44,000 votes shy in a state he was supposed to lose by a predicted 8 percentage points.

That near-miss shows how red Minnesota has become and illustrates how much the entire Great Lake Rust Belt has changed. Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania all flipped their support from President Obama to Trump.

They all are or routinely are governed by Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Code associated with Russia hacking found on Vermont utility computer (Reuters, 12/31/16)

A code associated with a broad Russian hacking campaign dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected on a laptop associated with a Vermont electric utility but not connected to the grid, the utility said on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


As Iron Sharpens Iron : Review: Sebastian Smee, 'The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art (Bruce Fleming, December 31, 2016, Free Beacon)

Male-male relations, if they are not sexual, are rarely considered these days, generally absent from the mental screen of those who consider men and women. Now all are reduced to the abstraction of "gender." Or rather men are. Sisterhood is powerful; OK, sure. The closest we get to a male version of this is the military's idea of "band of brothers," men united by combat. But this is increasingly under siege, as now women are to be admitted to all branches of the military and into all realms of combat. So much for the notion of the band of brothers. Now perhaps the band of humanoids?

And it's not just the military. Straight men aren't the flavor of the month. Nobody cares about their odd ballet of love and hate with each other. Of course I do, and so do many other men. It's just that we can't let on that we do. Sebastian Smee, the art critic for the Boston Globe, also cares. But in what seems like a clever sleight-of-hand, his book about the way men bond and compete with each other as dearly loved rivals is offered as (and will clearly be sold as) "art history" rather than as Men's Studies: The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art.

Say it loud and say it proud: Straight men both love and hate each other. Why wouldn't we? Our nature as the king of our small preserve means that other men fall either into the category of threats or bosom buddies. Or go from one to the other. We compete with each other, but we know that we're the closest the other has to a mirror image. Do we love each other more than we hate each other? Or the reverse? Things can get messy.

Ilsa is incidental to Casablanca.  Rick and Louis find love.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Everything Is (Still) Awesome! : Maybe the message didn't break through, but things continue to be pretty great--and getting better--in America. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD December 29, 2016, Politico)

The economy grew at a solid 3.5 percent clip in the third quarter, and is now significantly larger than it was before the Great Recession. The jobless rate is down to 4.6 percent, which almost qualifies as full employment. The stock market and high school graduation rate are at all-time highs, while the uninsured rate, abortion rate and teen pregnancy rate are at all-time lows. Oil imports, crime and health care inflation are also near historic lows, with carbon emissions, foreclosures and illegal immigration falling, too. Meanwhile, retirement assets, auto sales and renewable power have skyrocketed, and the once-teetering Medicare Trust Fund has stabilized. We live in the world's richest and most powerful nation; we can access most of humanity's accumulated knowledge on machines we carry in our pockets; and we can now binge-watch better TV shows than ever before.

...was not that no one heard the news but that everyone did.  It's why we returned the Republicans who govern us to office and why even a candidate as unpopular as Donald didn't break historical models that all said the presidency was nearly unlosable.  Great conditions gave us the most Establishment year ever.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


To Make the World Better, Think Small (Arthur C. Brooks DEC. 30, 2016, NY Times)

The 1 > 1 million axiom is more than a fund-raising secret. It is a formula for each of us in an existentialist funk to connect to our deepest values and apply them to a hurting world.

The first step is to see individual faces in our own beliefs. There is an old joke that a Marxist is someone who loves humanity in groups of one million or more. While I am no Marxist, I confess that my arguments sound like this at times as well. For example, as an economist I have for years waxed rhapsodic about globalization. Billions have been pulled out of starvation-level poverty because of free trade, my data say.

The trouble is that, from left to right, politics of late has turned against globalization and even converted the word "globalist" into an epithet. My data about the billions haven't stood up very well to the winds of populism.

This has led me to focus on the actual people in my life who have been saved by a globalized world. I think of my friend Krishna Pujari, who was born into extreme poverty in a village in India and is today a middle-class entrepreneur giving tours to Westerners of micro enterprises in Mumbai. Deeper still, I think of my own daughter, Marina, whom my wife and I adopted 12 years ago from an orphanage in China and who today is like my own beating heart.

The second step is to move our ideals from politics and opinions to action. The way to do so is by finding a way to exercise my beliefs in the life of another person -- today.

Pope Francis gave his followers a wonderful lesson in this principle in the recently concluded Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Roman Catholic Church. It sounds like a get-out-of-jail-free card for sinners. In reality, it was an exhortation to all Catholics to forgive another person this very day.

The pope's insight is not just useful for Catholics. Good people of all beliefs, on facing harsh global realities, can retreat to cynicism. It seems like naïve kumbaya to bless a world full of cruelty and exploitation, right? The pope invites me to remember that it is well within my capacity to look with mercy on one person -- and thus in that one person, to see my own face. I crave forgiveness and love; I get it by forgiving and loving others.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


I'm way behind on my book review, but here are a few of the best I read this year:


Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

REVIEW : HOLY FOOLERY (Ken Kalfus, The New Yorker)

A book that takes faith, but not itself, seriously.

They Were Counted by Miklos Banffy 

REVIEW: The Romance of a Decaying World : Miklós Bánffy's tale of the Austria-Hungarian empire in decline captures the charm and decadence of a doomed civilization. (MAX EGREMONT, WSJ)

Best read in conjunction with Fermor and De Waal below--portraits of the world that was lost to the Nazis and Soviets

The Golden Age by John C. Wright

INTERVIEW: "The Soul of Sci-Fi": An Interview with John C. Wright (Janice Walker & Eleanor Bourg Donlon, DAPPLED THINGS)

Initially difficult to orient yourself, but it's an ambitious and morally serious sci-fi novel.


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow  

REVIEW: How We Got Shafted at the Revolution (Walter Isaacson, New York Magazine)

I'd read and liked Richard Brookhiser's Hamilton book, so skipped this one, until the Hamilton phenomenon and the whole family read and loved it.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

REVIEW: They Began a New Era (James Salter, NY Review of Books)

I was genuinely stunned at how moved I was when Wilbur shut up their critics with his first flight in France and his humility about it.

The Isis Apocalypse : The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State by Will McCants

Not quite on the level of The Looming Tower, but indispensable to understanding the second half of the WoT.

Between the Woods and the Water : From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates by Patrick Leigh Fermor

REVIEW: The Inspired Voyage of Patrick Leigh Fermor (Daniel Mendelsohn, NY Review of Books)

Fermor is a revered travel writer who I'd never read until now.  He justifies the hype.

The Hare With Amber Eyes : A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal

Maybe the most surprising book I read this year.  De Waal is a sculptor whose family were not unlike the Rothschilds.  He traces their history by way of a collection of Japanese netsuke figures that were handed around the family. The Holocaust lurks but never really figures in the story.  It's more about the very Europeanized Jewish culture that was likewise exterminated.


The Perfect Pass : American Genius and the Reinvention of Football by S.C. Gwynne 

It may not be the only book that is insightful about the actual geometry of the game of football, but it's the only one I'm aware of.  Reminiscent of David Winner's Brilliant Orange 

REVIEW: Mind of a Team: David Peace's Red or Dead (MARK LANE, The Millions)

Peace, who wrote the book on which Damned United was based, here portrays Bill Shankly, the legendary coach of the dominant Liverpool team of the 60s and early 70s. The sing-song narrative style creates an oddly epic poem quality to the text.  

Anyone read anything good this year?

N.B. : It was a dire year for movies.  I think I only saw two I'd recommend, both Icelandic films that seem ripped from the Sagas:


Two estranged brothers try to save the family's historic sheep herd from a scabies outbreak.


The Deep

When a fishing boat capsizes off the Norther coast of an outlying island, one man swam three miles back to shore in 41 degree water and then walked across a lava field to get home. No one knows why he was able to survive the temperatures. (based on a true story)

December 30, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 PM


Migrants committing fewer crimes, according to BKA report (Deutsche-Welle, 12/31/16)

A research team led by German broadcaster NDR and the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper on Friday reported that confidential BKA documents show that the number of crimes in which the perpetrator or suspect was a migrant sank over the course of 2016. [...]

The BKA report said a great proportion of offenses can be regarded as mere trivialities. As many as 17 percent of recorded crimes were cases of people evading public transport fares. [...]

As has often been the case in previous BKA surveys, trends in crime greatly vary depending on the perpetrators' nationality or country of origin. 

As a result, Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan migrants - the main group of recent migrants into Germany - feature relatively little in the research. Overall, migrants from the three countries make up two-thirds of all migrants and a third of all criminal perpetrators.

The migrant demographics most likely to be suspected or found guilty of criminal acts are those from the Balkans (11 per cent of all immigrants, 19 percent of all acts)...

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


A Month Without Sugar (David Leonhardt, 12/30/16, NY Times)

If you give up sugar for a month, you'll become part of a growing anti-sugar movement. Research increasingly indicates that an overabundance of simple carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, is the No. 1 problem in modern diets. An aggressive, well-financed campaign by the sugar industry masked this reality for years. Big Sugar instead placed the blame on fats -- which seem, after all, as if they should cause obesity.

But fats tend to have more nutritional value than sugar, and sugar is far easier to overeat. Put it this way: Would you find it easier to eat two steaks or two pieces of cake?

Fortunately, the growing understanding of sugar's dangers has led to a backlash, both in politics and in our diets. Taxes on sweetened drinks -- and soda is probably the most efficient delivery system for sugar -- have recently passed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, San Francisco and Boulder, Colo. Mexico and France now have one as well, and Ireland and Britain soon will.

Even before the taxes, Americans were cutting back on sugar. Since 1999, per capita consumption of added sweeteners has fallen about 14 percent, according to the Agriculture Department.

Yet it needs to drop a lot more -- another 40 percent or so -- to return to a healthy level. "Most public authorities think everybody would be healthier eating less sugar," says Marion Nestle of N.Y.U. "There is tons of evidence."

A good long-term limit for most adults is no more than 50 grams (or about 12 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, and closer to 25 is healthier. A single 16-ounce bottle of Coke has 52 grams.

You don't have to cut out sugar for a month to eat less of it, of course. But it can be difficult to reduce your consumption in scattered little ways. You can usually find an excuse to say yes to the plate of cookies at a friend's house or the candy jar during a meeting. Eliminating added sugar gives you a new baseline and forces you to make changes. Once you do, you'll probably decide to keep some of your new habits.

My breakfasts, for example, have completely changed. Over the past few decades, typical breakfasts in this country have become "lower-fat versions of dessert," as Gary Taubes, the author of a new book, "The Case Against Sugar," puts it.

Mine used to revolve around cereal and granola, which are almost always sweetened. Now I eat a combination of eggs, nuts, fruit, plain yogurt and some well-spiced vegetables. It feels decadent, yet it's actually healthier than a big bowl of granola.

How should you define sugar during your month? I recommend the definition used by Whole 30, a popular food regimen (which eliminates many things in addition to sugar). The sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables and dairy is allowed. "Nobody eats too much of those," Nestle says, "not with the fiber and vitamins and minerals they have."

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


China Investment In The U.S. Hit An All-Time High In 2016, But Don't Expect The Same In 2017 (Ellen Sheng, Dec. 18th, 2016, Forbes)

Chinese investments in the U.S. hit an all-time high this year, surging 359% from the year before.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


James Mattis, Trump's Reported Pick for Defense Post, Sees Israel Turning Into Apartheid State (JTA, Dec 01, 2016)

Mattis ran U.S. Central Command in from August 2010 to March 2013. In that position he had command authority for all U.S. forces in the Middle East.

"I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can't come out publicly in support of people who don't show respect for the Arab Palestinians," Mattis said in 2013 at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

At the same forum he criticized Israel for settlement building, saying that the settlements "are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option."

He said the settlements would undermine Israel as both a Jewish and Democratic state, and said the settlements would lead to apartheid.

"If I'm in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there's 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don't get to vote -- apartheid," he said.

No one disagrees.  Some just don't care what happens to the Palestinians.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Story of Ralph Branca and Jackie Robinson still resonates : The day Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier, Ralph Branca stood beside him. For years after, they stood beside each other. During a racially charged 2016, we lost Branca. But we shouldn't forget him. (Ian O'Connor, 12/30/16, ESPN)

More than seven years before Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation, more than eight years before Rosa Parks wouldn't surrender her seat on an Alabama bus, and more than 16 years before King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, Robinson became the first black man to play in a major league baseball game. Branca famously stood next to Robinson during Opening Day introductions at Ebbets Field, though they started to get acquainted during an exhibition game the previous week when Robinson, then a minor-league member of the Montreal Royals, mumbled a word of gratitude to the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher while passing by the mound.

Branca thought the stranger might be thanking him for grooving a fastball. Soon enough, he realized Robinson was thanking him for refusing to sign a teammate's petition to keep the Dodgers as white as the first-base line. [...]

[E]ven when reliving his worst hour, Branca loved mentioning how Robinson was there for him like no other teammate. As Thomson joyfully raced around the bases and the losers trudged off the field, Robinson was the lone Dodger smart enough to watch Thomson's feet to see if the delirium caused him to miss a bag.

Branca recalled sobbing on the clubhouse steps, and hearing reassuring words from, again, just one teammate. "Hang in there Ralph," Robinson told him. "If it wasn't for you we wouldn't even have been here."

Robinson was only paying off a four-year-old debt. On Robinson's arrival in 1947, Branca lobbied the resistant Dodgers to set aside their racist beliefs for the good of the team. "If you don't want to socialize with Jackie," Branca told them, "at least work with him. Unless you're blind, you can see he'll help us win the pennant."

Branca understood that Southern players such as Dixie Walker and Bobby Bragan were facing intense pressure from friends and family back home who couldn't fathom the thought of a black man as an equal. Branca wished they'd grown up in his integrated community of Mount Vernon, New York. "Living and playing with blacks," he said, "was part of my life."

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


A Tally of Iran Sanctions Relief Includes More Than $10 Billion in Cash, Gold (CAROL E. LEE and  JAY SOLOMON, Dec. 30, 2016, WSJ)

In the three years since a preliminary nuclear deal was struck with Iran, Tehran has received more than $10 billion in sanctions relief from around the world in the form of cash and gold, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The large shipments of gold and cash, from oil funds unfrozen in numerous countries, represents the kind of financial relief that made Iran's leaders eager to complete the international nuclear accord. Some of the cash and gold went to Iran while the U.S. and other world powers negotiated with Tehran on a final nuclear deal. More shipments took place after final deal went into effect last January.

This tallying of the sanctions relief to date includes payments previously announced and others that haven't been. In one previously unreported payment, the U.S. authorized Iran to receive $1.4 billion in sanctions relief between when the final deal was struck in July 2015 and when it took effect, according to the U.S. officials.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


2016: Best Year Ever -- No, Really : Buck up, you pansies: (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, December 28, 2016 , National Review)

Let's take a ride in the Wayback Machine to the ancient, practically antediluvian days of 1984. Remember 1984? The big news that year was a drought in Ethiopia, an ordinary natural occurrence turned into a humanitarian disaster by the fact that the country was one of the worst-governed places in the world. Of the major famines of the 20th century (four of which were in Ethiopia), almost all were caused not by natural forces but by political forces. During the 1984 drought, Ethiopia's economy shrank by 15 percent and more than 600,000 people died. Americans engaged in the characteristic pursuit of their time: making it about us, in this case convening a celebrity super-group to record "We Are the World."

Stardom in action, as Pete Townshend would say. But there was a lot more than stardom in action, as it turns out.

In 2016, Ethiopia had another drought. It is still one of the worst-governed countries in the world, one in which the government fixes agricultural prices and interferes with the normal operation of food markets. (That is how Venezuela went from being a rich country to one that literally cannot produce what it needs to wipe its own ass.) But you know how many people died from the famine resulting from the 2016 drought?


In spite of the drought, Ethiopia's mortality rate remains unchanged.

Alex de Waal reported what he saw there in the New York Times in May:

I've studied famine and humanitarian relief for more than 30 years, and I wasn't prepared for what I saw during a visit to Ethiopia last month. As I traveled through northern and central provinces, I saw imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks. Water was delivered to places where wells had run dry. Malnourished children were being treated in properly staffed clinics.

The situation in Ethiopia in 2016 was, as one government official put it, the worst food crisis the country has seen in 50 years. But here's the weird thing: Despite all of the promises from the Malthusians and environmentalists, there is enough food in the world. There's more than enough, in fact. Here in the United States, the government is dumping cheese into landfills because there's so much of the stuff that the bureaucrats believe they have to save consumers from the threat of low dairy prices. (No, it doesn't make much sense.) The problem isn't -- and for a long time hasn't been -- having enough food. It's getting politicians out of the way to get it to the people who need it. Ethiopia, in spite of its corrupt and stupid government, has figured out that much, and it had $800 million of its own on hand to invest in staving off crisis this time around. Which is to say, Ethiopia took a lead role in saving Ethiopia, albeit with a good deal of help from abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Poll: Most people think 2016 was good for them personally -- but bad for the world (The Week, 12/30/16)
2016 was a bad year for the world, but a pretty good one on a personal level, said people in 21 countries questioned for a new YouGov survey. The poll results, released Friday, found many respondents also took a dim view of the year's impact on their nation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


And the poor shall rise (Johan Norberg, 12/30/16, spiked)

These figures are still very high, but they mean that extreme poverty is now rarer in Africa than it was in the world's richest countries in 1820. In the US, Britain and France, between 40 and 50 per cent of the population lived in what we today call extreme poverty. In Scandinavia, Austria-Hungary, Germany and Spain between 60 and 70 per cent were extremely poor. Between 10 and 20 per cent of the European and American population were classified as paupers and vagrants by officials.

The Industrial Revolution began to change that. The doubling of the material standard of living, which by earlier trends should have taken mankind more than 2,000 years to achieve, took the British only 30 years. Now the rest of the world is doing likewise, but even faster.

Between 1960 and 2000, rich countries still grew faster economically than poor countries on average. Only 30 per cent of the so-called developing countries grew faster than the US. In 1997, Lant Pritchett, then chief economist of the World Bank, published the paper Divergence, Big Time, a title that left little to the imagination. He wrote that divergence in living standards 'is the dominant feature of modern economic history', and that periods when poor countries rapidly approach the rich were 'historically rare'.

But since then, that is exactly what has happened. Between 2000 and 2011, 90 per cent of the world's developing countries grew faster than the US, and they have done it on average by three per cent annually. In just a decade, per capita income in the world's low- and middle-income countries has doubled.

Between 2000 and 2011, per capita-income in the world's low- and middle-income countries has doubled.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Trump Weighs Letting Veterans Opt Out of V.A. Medical Care (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, DEC. 28, 2016, NY Times)

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, provided no details about how the plans would work, how much they would cost, or the possibility of unintended consequences from privatizing part of the V.A.'s sprawling medical system. [...]

But veterans groups and Democrats strongly oppose any move toward privatization.

Vets consider the VA a spoil of war that separates them from the commoners.  They won't give it up willingly.  So it's just as well he has no plans.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Patriots offense better equipped to be without Rob Gronkowski this year (Karen Guregian, December 29, 2016, Boston Herald)

In the past, the loss of Rob Gronkowski has had dire consequences for the Patriots. [...]

The collection of talent around Brady right now is more complete than it's ever been. There's more depth with this cast of leftovers. Not only that, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels doesn't have to surrender the tight end position as a viable piece of the offense like he has in the past.

They're undefeated without him.  They'd be even better if the QB wasn't so reliant on the declining Edelman.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Pork giant Smithfield skips middlemen in grain supply chain (Michael Hirtzer, 12/30/16, Reuters)

Smithfield Food Inc [SFII.UL], the world's biggest pork producer, is buying grain elevators and purchasing grain directly from farmers, a move that hits grain handlers already reeling from multiyear lows in corn and soybean prices.

The Virginia-based company bought two Ohio grain elevators in September. For the first time, it can ship grain directly from Ohio to feed the pigs that Smithfield slaughters at its Tar Heel, North Carolina, packing plant - the world's largest, processing about 32,000 hogs daily.

Smithfield now buys 65 percent of its animal feed directly from farmers, up from the 10 percent of feed it directly bought in 2010.

The direct buying strategy aims to lower feed costs and could provide a model for other large meat companies that still largely rely on commercial grain handlers, such as Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. Grain can account for up to 60 percent of Smithfield's costs. The company's expenses in 2015 totaled $4.67 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


'Grizzly Steppe': How Russia Hacked This Year's Presidential Election (Chris Strohm, December 30, 2016, Heat Street)

The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the "spearphishing" e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee -- although the party organization wasn't identified by name in the report -- and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

"This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens," according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country's and our allies' networks." [...]

In addition to providing evidence, the report was intended to embarrass and stymie the Russian government by making public its tactics, techniques and procedures, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.

Along with the report, the Homeland Security Department released an extensive list of Internet Protocol addresses, computer files, malware code and other "signatures" that it said the Russian hackers have used.

"These actors set up operational infrastructure to obfuscate their source infrastructure, host domains and malware for targeting organizations, establish command and control nodes, and harvest credentials and other valuable information from their targets," the report said.

The initial hackers worked for Russia's FSB, the successor to the Soviet Union's KGB. Once inside the DNC, the group dubbed "Advanced Persistent Threat 29" or "APT 29," used stolen credentials to expand its access to directories and other data, and made off with e-mail from several accounts through encrypted communication channels, according to the report.

Then, a second wave came in the spring of 2016. Hackers working for Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU, and dubbed "Advanced Persistent Threat 28" or APT 28, infiltrated the DNC's networks through more spearphishing e-mails, the report said.

"This time, the spearphishing e-mail tricked recipients into changing their passwords through a fake webmail domain hosted on APT 28 operational infrastructure," according to the report. "Using the harvested credentials, APT 28 was able to gain access and steal content, likely leading to the exfiltration of information from multiple senior party members. The U.S. government assesses that information was leaked to the press and publicly disclosed."

While the report doesn't name the DNC, U.S. officials and cybersecurity researchers have confirmed that it was a prime target of the Russian hackers.

"A great deal of analysis and forensic information related to Russian government activity has been published by a wide range of security companies," according to the statement from the FBI, DHS and DNI. "The U.S. government can confirm that the Russian government, including Russia's civilian and military intelligence services, conducted many of the activities generally described by a number of these security companies."

The singular lesson of the email and hacking kerfuffles is that Hillary and the DNC should have just publicly released everything.  None of the actual content did any harm.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


9 States Which Brought Down National Unemployment in 2016 (Connor Wolf, Dec 29, 2016, NH Journal)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found in a report Wednesday that nine states still saw a significant decline in unemployment.

"The largest of these was in Massachusetts, where the unemployment rate went from 4.9 percent in November 2015 to 2.9 percent in November 2016," the report detailed. "Nevada and South Carolina also had unemployment rate decreases of more than 1.0 percentage point."

California, Nevada, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont saw a notable decline in unemployment. The report found 39 states had no significant change in their unemployment rates. Many of those states already achieved low unemployment numbers in years past.

"New Hampshire and South Dakota had the lowest unemployment rates in November 2016, both 2.7 percent," the report stated. 

..just people who don't want jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Brothers of invention : A review of The Wright Brothers by David Mccullough (Michael Taube, June 2015, The New Criterion)

With no college education between them, the Wright brothers became entrepreneurs. They ran a series of failed daily and weekly newspapers and repaired and sold bicycles in a store close to their Dayton home.

Yet their thoughts often returned to the flight of birds and especially flying machines. In the latter case, this was something that had intrigued them since their father brought home a small toy helicopter, with twin propellors and rubber bands, that the then-young boys called the "bat." Inspired by aviation pioneers, including Pierre Mouillard and Otto Lilienthal, the "dream had taken hold" of them. These individuals had "infected us with their own unquenchable enthusiasm," the brothers remarked, "and transformed idle curiosity into the active zeal of workers."

Orville and Wilbur worked on different prototypes, including a glider-kite. Their first aircraft was a biplane, made of split bamboo and paper. They contacted the U.S. Weather Bureau to identify the best potential flying location for wind velocity. This, in turn, led them to Kitty Hawk, which "offered all the isolation one might wish for to carry on experimental work in privacy."

Chapter after chapter, the Wright brothers' pursuit of their American Dream is detailed in McCullough's elegant writing and passion for history and storytelling.

Early aviation experts, and the Smithsonian Institution, didn't pay much attention to them in the beginning. The Wrights were seen as outsiders (or worse) with no education, connections, or experience to prove their mettle. Their determination was dogged, however. Reading all they could and contacting anyone who would speak with them, they constructed the Wright Flyer, or "whopper flying machine" as they liked to call it, over four grueling years.

Then, it flew. On multiple occasions. With witnesses on the ground.

"They had endured violent storms," writes McCullough, "accidents, one disappointment after another, public indifference or ridicule, and clouds of demon mosquitoes." But none of this mattered--"they had done it." Their achievement was "one of the turning points in history, the beginning of change for the world far greater than any of those present could have possibly imagined."

U.S. media organizations could hardly contain their enthusiasm, including Scientific American. The Wright Flyer was eventually patented, and the Wright Company was incorporated. More versions of their airplane were built. Contracts were signed with a French syndicate and the U.S. Army. Legions of doubters, especially in Europe, became believers after a successful August 8, 1908 flight in Le Mans, France.

In one of my favorites bits from Brian Lamb, he was talking to Mr. McCullough about a Picasso project he abandoned and the author said he couldn't write the book because he found the artist so despicable.  But he should never even have bothered with work on a subject who wasn't American.  The nature of the country and its people deeply infuses every biography/history he writes and makes the books a joy to read.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Why cheaper food in 2016 was not necessarily good news (Geoffrey Mohan, 12/28/16, LA Times)

For food shoppers, 2016 was a back-to-the-future experience, with retail prices deflating for the first time since Lyndon Johnson was president.

The year is expected to end with an annual drop of between 0.5% and 1.5% in the retail price of food prepared at home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. [...]

Privately held Albertsons, which has postponed an initial public offering of stock, acknowledged struggling with "deflationary trends" this year. The company, which operates Vons, Safeway and Pavilions stores among other brands, reported  that sales growth dropped to 1.7% in the first two quarters of 2016, compared with nearly 5% annual sales growth in 2015, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

"For grocers, of course, it's harder for them to show top-line increases in sales," said Brian Todd, president and chief executive of the Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that tracks economic trends from farm to plate. "They've gone toward trying to save money in other areas."

The annual value of U.S. agricultural sector production is expected to fall 5.9%, to $403.7 billion in 2016, almost entirely due to declines in the value of animals and animal products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Cubans surf the web at home in Havana pilot project (Rodrigo Gutierrez and Mario Fuentes, 12/29/16, Reuters)

Downtown Havana resident Margarita Marquez says she received a special Christmas gift this year: web access at home, a rarity in a country with one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world.

Marquez, a 67-year-old retired university professor, was among those selected by the government two weeks ago to participate in a pilot project bringing the web into the homes of 2,000 inhabitants of the historic center of the island's capital. [...]

Cuba says it has been slow to develop network infrastructure because of high costs in part due to the U.S. trade embargo. Critics say the real reason is fear of losing control.

Before Wi-Fi signals became available last year, broadband internet access had been limited largely to desktops at state internet parlors and pricy hotels.

However, the government has said it wants to ensure everyone has access and has installed 237 Wi-Fi hotspots so far. In September, it announced it would install Wi-Fi along Havana's picturesque seafront boulevard, the Malecon.

"There are many places now where you can go and sit and connect along the Malecon," said Eliecer Samada as he sat on the stone wall lining the boulevard, checking social media on his phone. "We're happy with this."

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


UBER FREIGHT GOES AFTER THE TRUCKING BUSINESS (Kelsey D. Atherton,  December 27, 2016, Popular Science)

A truck is a means to get cargo from point A to point B. A truck is a home, a job, a frequent guest in small towns that straddle highways, a way of life, and the beating heart of several supporting industries, all designed to keep the truck and its human pilot running. A truck is expenses, a breakable machine controlled by a fallible human, subject to labor laws and rules about interstate commerce. A truck is all of those things, and it may soon be a robot, too.

Uber, the technology company (which, because of its ride-hailing app, functions a lot like a transportation company) launched Uber Freight on Monday night. The minimalist website features a gentle clip, filmed from above, of an 18-wheeler driving on a green hillside. There's a place for carriers and shippers to give their email addresses to Uber, and links for media to contact the company. It doesn't reveal much.

Fortunately, we already know a little about Uber's freight launch, because its first autonomous truck delivered a load of cargo last week. The cargo was a load of beer, and the vehicle was operated by Uber's self-driving division Otto (almost certainly a groan-worthy play on "autonomous"). The truck departed Fort Collins, Colorado and drove 120 miles south to Colorado Springs on I-25, the main artery that connects the two cities through Denver and links much of the mountain west.

"It's like a train on software rails," said Anthony Levandowski, co-founder of Otto. "When you see a vehicle with nobody in it, you know it's very unlikely to get in a collision."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Israel said to skip General Assembly vote on Syria, on Netanyahu's orders (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 28, 2016)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israeli UN mission in New York to skip a vote last week at the General Assembly on a resolution that would have allowed for the establishment of a mechanism to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

According to a report in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, this directive came amid heavy diplomatic pressure from Russia, which is deeply involved in the ongoing Syrian civil war and which did not want its military implicated in any international probes.

December 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Laughter and the Love of Friends (Joseph Pearce, 12/28/16, Imaginative Conservative)

Ultimately the reason we should rejoice in the love of laughter as we rejoice in the love of friends is that laughter, like love, is a gift of God. It is indeed a mark of God's image in man, as is love itself, and as is reason, and as are creativity and free will. We know that Man is made in God's image because, like God, he loves; we know he is made in God's image because, like God, he reasons; we know he is made in God's image because, like God, he has the power to see beauty and to make beautiful things; we know that he is made in God's image because, like God, his will is free from the slavery of instinct; and we know that he is made in God's image because, like God, he can laugh.

At this point, it must be confessed that we do not usually visualize the face of God as one that is laughing. But is it really conceivable that a cosmos lightened and enlightened by the joy of laughter received such a blessing from a God who does not Himself possess the gift He is giving? Can we really believe that the God of love is not the God of laughter also? It is for this reason that Chesterton was convinced that God's best kept secret is His mirth? It is for this reason that Chesterton quipped that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly and that the devil fell by the force of his own gravity. In this way we can see that humour goes hand in glove with humility, whereas pride is the sin of those, like the devil, who take themselves far too seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


A Rockette Speaks Out : Amidst the media storm about the pressure to perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, one dancer breaks rank for an exclusive interview about the turmoil behind the scenes. (KAITLIN MENZA, Dec 27, 2016, Marie Claire)

The dancer next to Mary was crying. Tears streamed down her face through all 90 minutes of their world-famous Christmas Spectacular as they kicked and pirouetted and hit mark after mark on the glittering Radio City Music Hall stage. This was Thursday, three days before Christmas, the day the Rockettes discovered they'd been booked to perform at the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

"She felt she was being forced to perform for this monster," Mary told in an exclusive interview. "I wouldn't feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes," said another dancer in an email to her colleagues. [...]

Controversy hit within hours of the announcement last week that the Rockettes will perform at the presidential inauguration on January 20, an event that's been contentious already, between the very public refusals of so many celebrities to participate and the Twitter drama Trump himself has stirred up about it. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the swearing-in of one of the most polemical presidential candidates in American history is proving to be just as divisive as he is.

"We actually found out through text messages from friends," Mary says of being blindsided by the news. "They sent me screenshots of CNN, where the screen said: 'Rockettes to Perform at Trump's Inauguration.'" Some dancers lashed out immediately on social media. Then an email leaked from the dancers' union, the American Guild of Variety Artists, reminding the women that they were contractually obligated to perform. Their jobs were at stake.

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


Flying Scotsman: a journey in slow television : An hour-long television special of a real time train journey through England hopes to be 'absorbing for its own sake' (Esther Addley,  29 December 2016, The Guardian)

It's not everyone's idea of gripping television. A train advances steadily along a railway track, without commentary or music. After a full, wordless minute, the view switches to the front of the train, where a static camera captures the track being eaten up, sleeper by sleeper. [...]

[T]he BBC is hoping that these scenes could provide an unlikely audience hit this Christmas, when it screens an hour-long, real time journey of the most famous steam locomotive in the world: the newly restored Flying Scotsman.

The programme, broadcast on 29 December, captures a journey made this summer by the locomotive from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster, a distance of 16 miles, shot almost entirely from static cameras fixed to the locomotive: inside the cab, on top of the coal stack and next to the pistons and crank shafts. Other cameras on bridges or signal boxes capture lingering shots as the locomotive, pulling nine carriages, chuffs past.

No one interacts with the cameras, and aside from a moment when the fireman Ryan Green puts a little too much coal on the fire and has to vent some steam, nothing much happens.

Yet to judge from the crowds of people who can be glimpsed crammed on to bridges and platforms and bunched in fields to wave and film on their phones, the fascination with this particular locomotive extends far beyond railway enthusiasts.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Democrats Have a Religion Problem : A conversation with Michael Wear, a former Obama White House staffer, about the party's illiteracy on and hostility toward faith (EMMA GREEN, 12/29/16, The Atlantic)

There aren't many people like Michael Wear in today's Democratic Party. The former director of Barack Obama's 2012 faith-outreach efforts is a theologically conservative evangelical Christian. He is opposed to both abortion and same-sex marriage, although he would argue that those are primarily theological positions, and other issues, including poverty and immigration, are also important to his faith.

During his time working for Obama, Wear was often alone in many of his views, he writes in his new book, Reclaiming Hope. He helped with faith-outreach strategies for Obama's 2008 campaign, but was surprised when some state-level officials decided not to pursue this kind of engagement: "Sometimes--as I came to understand the more I worked in politics--a person's reaction to religious ideas is not ideological at all, but personal," he writes.

Several years later, he watched battles over abortion funding and contraception requirements in the Affordable Care Act with chagrin: The administration was unnecessarily antagonistic toward religious conservatives in both of those fights, Wear argues, and it eventually lost, anyway. When Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor, was pressured to withdraw from giving the 2012 inaugural benediction because of his teachings on homosexuality, Wear almost quit.

Some of his colleagues also didn't understand his work, he writes. He once drafted a faith-outreach fact sheet describing Obama's views on poverty, titling it "Economic Fairness and the Least of These," a reference to a famous teaching from Jesus in the Bible. Another staffer repeatedly deleted "the least of these," commenting, "Is this a typo? It doesn't make any sense to me. Who/what are 'these'?" [...]

Green: You're a little bit of a man in the wilderness. You have worked for the Democratic Party, but you have conservative views on social issues, and you are conservative in terms of theology. There just aren't a lot of people like you. Does it feel lonely?

Wear: It's not as lonely as it might appear on the outside.

One of the things I found at the White House and since I left is this class of people who aren't driving the political decisions right now, and have significant forces against them, but who are not satisfied with the political tribalism that we have right now. I think we're actually in a time of intense political isolation across the board. I've been speaking across the country for the year leading up to the election, and I would be doing these events, and without fail, the last questioner or second-to-last questioner would cry. I've been doing political events for a long time, and I've never seen that kind of raw emotion. And out of that, I came to the conclusion that politics was causing a deep spiritual harm in our country. We've allowed politics to take up emotional space in our lives that it's not meant to take up.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


Labor market near full strength (Jason Lange, 12/29/16, Reuters)

[I]nitial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended Dec. 24, the Labor Department said.

It was the 95th straight week that claims were below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Record number of Obamacare sign-ups on for 2017 health insurance coverage (Dan Mangan, 21 Dec 2016,

Federal health officials Wednesday touted a record 6.4 million customer sign-ups on the federal Obamacare marketplace so far this open enrollment season -- topping last year's pace during the same time period by 400,000 customers. [...]

"Today's enrollment numbers confirm that some of the doomsday predictions about the marketplace are not bearing out," Burwell said. "Some people asked whether customers would sign up ... and today, we know that answer is 'yes.' "

Last Thursday was the largest day for an open enrollment ever on, with 670,000 plan selections.
Thursday had been the original deadline for selecting a plan that begins coverage effective Jan. 1. But federal officials extended the deadline through this past Monday because of the volume of customers.
Open enrollment for 2017 plans, which began Nov. 1, runs through Jan. 31 -- 11 days after Trump is scheduled to be sworn in as president.

Burwell on Wednesday said that more than 30,000 people who have called the customer help line at have asked whether they should sign up in a plan given the election of Trump, who has vowed to repeal Obamacare.

"Again, our answer is 'yes,'" Burwell said. "The coverage people sign up for today is a contract for 2017."

Trump has said he wants to replace Obamacare after its repeal with something "better," but it's not clear what form such a replacement would take.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


The Robotic Grocery Store of the Future Is Here : Swarm robotics, autonomous delivery vehicles, and machine-learned preferences will help deliver your food faster. (Jamie Condliffe  December 29, 2016, MIT Technology Review)

Most people don't buy a jar of relish every week. But when they decide to buy one from Ocado--the world's largest online-only grocery retailer--they don't have to scrabble at the back of the store. Instead, they call on robots and artificial intelligence to have it delivered to their door.

Ocado claims that its 350,000-square-foot warehouse in Dorden, near the U.K.'s second city of Birmingham, is more heavily automated than Amazon's warehouse facilities. The company's task is certainly more challenging in many respects: most of the 48,000 lines of goods that it sells are perishable, and many must be chilled or frozen. Some, such as sushi, must be delivered on the same day they arrive in the warehouse.

That turns storing, picking, and shipping items into a complex, time-constrained optimization problem. But in order for Ocado to grow and turn a profit--which it does, despite a crowded U.K. grocery market--it has to make every step as efficient as possible.

Currently, when a customer orders groceries via Ocado's website, large plastic crates are swiftly filled. The containers are packed by hand, but little legwork is required: 30 kilometers of conveyor belts at the Dorden warehouse carry empty boxes straight to people who work as pickers. They grab items from shelves that are replenished by robots, or from boxes brought out of storage via cranes and conveyors. Ocado's algorithms monitor demand for products and use the information to map out an optimal storage scheme, so that popular items are always within easy reach.

Once an order is packed, it's hauled off in a large truck and taken to a distribution center to be loaded into a van. Each van then embarks on a delivery route that can be carefully optimized according to factors such as customer time preferences, traffic, and even weather.

But Ocado wants to be faster. "Fractions of a second in our business count," says Paul Clarke, Ocado's chief technology officer. "It's all about how we can shave the next little bit off our process."

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


David Fahrenthold tells the behind-the-scenes story of his year covering Trump (David A. Fahrenthold, December 29, 2016, Washington Post Magazine)

Trump was in Waterloo, Iowa, for a caucus-day rally at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center -- named for five local siblings who had been assigned to the same Navy cruiser in World War II. They all died when the ship went down at Guadalcanal.

Trump had stopped his rally to do something presidential candidates don't normally do. He was giving away money.

Arnold and Tim, whom he had called to the stage, were from a local veterans group. Although their big check had Trump's name on it, it wasn't actually Trump's money. Instead, the cash had been raised from other donors a few days earlier, at a televised fundraiser that Trump had held while he skipped a GOP debate because of a feud with Fox News.

Trump said he had raised $6 million that night, including a $1 million gift from his own pocket. Now Trump was giving it, a little at a time, to charities in the towns where he held campaign events.

"See you in the White House," one of the men said to Trump, leaving the stage with this check that married a nonprofit's name and a campaign's slogan.

"He said, 'We'll see you in the White House,' " Trump repeated to the crowd. "That's nice."

After that, Trump lost Iowa.

He won New Hampshire.

Then he stopped giving away money.

But as far as I could tell, just over $1.1 million had been given away. Far less than what Trump said he raised. And there was no sign of the $1 million Trump had promised from his own pocket.

So what happened to the rest of the money?

It sounded like an easy question that the Trump campaign could answer quickly. I thought I'd be through with the story in a day or two.

I was wrong.

That was the start of nine months of work for me, trying to dig up the truth about a part of Trump's life that he wanted to keep secret. I didn't understand -- and I don't think Trump understood, either -- where that one check, and that one question, would lead.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Putin's problems surface at home (Fiona Clark, 12/29/16, Deutsche-Welle)

Over the past few weeks hundreds of people have died from drinking a liquid that is supposed to be used in your bath - although looking at the ingredients it's hard to know why you'd even put it there. It usually contains ethanol alcohol and at 18 rubles (3 euro cents) for a liter it's a whole lot cheaper than a bottle of vodka at around 200 rubles a bottle. But somehow the ethanol got swapped to methanol and in one town alone 60 people died in a week. That's 60 more to add to the average annual death rate of more than 15,000 from alcohol poisoning. And let's be clear here - that's straight alcohol poisoning, not alcohol-related deaths which include car crashes, alcohol-related violence and accidental drownings. This is just those who have drunk themselves quite literally into oblivion.

These are often Russia's poorest - and their numbers are growing rapidly. In 2014 before the sanctions were placed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, some 16 million people were living below the poverty line. By the first quarter of 2016 that figure had risen to almost 22 million or 15.7 percent of its 140 million or so people.

A survey of 1,500 Russians earlier this year showed that 70 percent considered inflation and rising prices to be their most acute problem, according to the Interfax news agency. Some 66 percent of respondents said they were worried about poverty and low wages and 41 percent named unemployment as a major problem. Another study in July by Moscow's Higher School of Economics showed that 41 percent of Russian families struggled to find the money to buy food or clothing, with 23 percent describing their situation as "bad" or "very bad."

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


UK officials say they were behind UN settlements vote (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 29, 2016)

While Israeli officials have pointed the finger for last week's UN Security Council anti-settlements resolution firmly at US President Barack Obama, senior UK officials reportedly said Thursday that the motion -- submitted by New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia, Venezuela -- was effectively a British initiative.

Israel's ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have insisted since Friday's Security Council vote that there's "absolutely incontestable" proof that the Obama administration pushed the resolution, and that "the United States was actually behind that gang-up," respectively.

However, UK officials have stepped up in recent days to say the resolution was theirs, not the White House's. The Jewish Chronicle quoted an unnamed senior British political source Thursday saying that by the time the text reached the 15-member body, it was "in effect a British resolution." A day earlier, The Guardian reported Britain "played a key behind-the-scenes role" in ensuring the resolution passed.

The Brits didn't get to keep India either...

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM



The political center of gravity in Israel has been moving to the right for many years, so much so that the greatest threat to Netanyahu's personal power comes from politicians and parties who support some form of annexation of the West Bank or some form of one-state resolution in which the Palestinians do not have full civil rights. And even though Netanyahu has paid lip service to a final settlement and two states for two peoples, he always, given a choice between power and principle, acts to preserve his power. In his last electoral campaign, he made it plain that he has no intention of uprooting any settlements, and warned Jewish voters that Israeli Palestinians were coming to the polls "in droves."

For at least two years, President Obama, frustrated by Netanyahu and by failed attempts to make serious progress on the Palestinian question, has been considering the question of legacy. Pressed by Kerry, who has shown an almost quixotic desire to press the Israelis, Obama considered laying out a framework of any future peace. Two things prevented it. The first was that such a gesture would not much influence the Israeli leadership. Second, Obama expected that Hillary Clinton would win the election; he thought it would be better to coördinate what sort of diplomatic gesture to make before leaving the White House.

But then came the Trump victory. The President-elect's appointment of David Friedman, a pro-settlement bankruptcy lawyer, as the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel "had a lot of weight in the President's thinking" about what to do next, one senior Administration official told me. The official told me that the Administration had been "alarmed" by many of Trump's appointments to his national-security team--notably the appointment of Michael Flynn as national-security adviser--but the selection of Friedman was "over the top."

"The last thing you want to do as you leave office is to pick a fight with the organized Jewish community, but Friedman is so beyond the pale," the adviser said. "He put his political and charitable support directly into the settlements; he compares Jews on the left to the kapos in the concentration camps--it just put it over the top."
In 2011, Obama, in explaining why the U.S. vetoed a resolution condemning the settlements, told the U.N. General Assembly that a peace agreement cannot be imposed on the Israelis and Palestinians. But that was five years ago, when negotiations were still a possibility (though a resolution was never close). Now, as settlements expand and reach new, more distant corners of the West Bank, as the Palestinian leadership ages and fractures and grows more dispirited, as younger right-wing politicians, such as Naftali Bennett, gain more and more influence in Israeli politics, Obama, the avatar of hope, has lost hope. Or, at least he has lost hope for the near future. As time ran out, he came to believe that setting down a marker was essential.

It may be impossible to stop the Israelis from destroying their own society, but we're obligated to try if we care about them. Those doing the opposite are not motivated by a love of Jews but a hatred of Arabs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


5 Pieces of News That Show Global Warming Still Isn't Happening The Way Leftists Say (AARON BANDLER, DECEMBER 29, 2016, Daily Wire)

4. There were 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers in 2016 that concluded there was not wide-scale global warming. In fact, the papers showed that there was more of a cooling trend than a warming trend, and in places where there was warming, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. The scientific literature has been compiled here.

5. The weather trends don't indicate that anything severe is occurring. The Fabius Maximus blog has compiled a list of these trends that include:

No upswing in hurricanes.
Slow increase of ocean heat content since 1970.
Global surface temperatures being relatively flat for 13 years.
Lower troposphere temperatures based on satellite data.

The evidence simply does not support the global warming alarmist's contention that rising temperatures are going to lead to disaster for the planet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


S&P Says Obamacare Isn't Failing (KEVIN DRUM, DEC. 27, 2016, Mother Jones)

S&P says that Obamacare isn't failing at all:

With better data supported by actual individual market experience, most insurers put in for increased premium pricing for 2016. Also, several insurers introduced narrower network products to control medical costs. Regulatory changes such as tightening the SEP rules also helped this year-over-year improvement. We expect the full-year 2016 underwriting losses to be lower than in 2015 and 2014.

....Insurers have put in meaningful premium rate increases for 2017...[but] we view 2017 as a one-time pricing correction....For 2017, we believe the continued pricing correction and network design changes, along with regulatory fine-tuning of ACA rules, will result in closer to break-even results, in aggregate, for the individual market, and more insurers reporting profits in this segment.

Hey, how about that! Now that insurers are pricing their coverage about where the CBO expected it to be, they're starting to move toward profitability. Who could have guessed that?

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


The Psychological Research That Helps Explain the Election (Maria Konnikova, Dec. 25th, 2016, The New Yorker)

Dan Kahan's "Cultural Cognition"

Over the last decade, Dan Kahan, a psychologist at Yale University, has been studying a phenomenon he calls "cultural cognition," or how values shape perception of risk and policy beliefs. One of his insights is that people often engage in something called "identity-protective cognition." They process information in a way that protects their idea of themselves. Incongruous information is discarded, and supporting information is eagerly retained. Our memory actually ends up skewed: we are better able to process and recall the facts that we are motivated to process and recall, while conveniently forgetting those that we would prefer weren't true. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, one of several to nominate Kahan for this list, said that his theory is best called "political and intellectual tribalism." Like seeks like, and like affirms like--and people gravitate to the intellectually similar others, even when all of their actions should rightly set off alarm bells.

Trump, Pinker said, won over pretty much the entire Republican Party, and all those who felt alienated from the left, by declaring himself to be opposed to the "establishment" and political correctness. And this all happened, Pinker wrote to me, "despite his obvious temperamental unsuitability for the responsibilities of the Presidency, his opposition to free trade and open borders (which should have, but did not, poison him with the libertarian right), his libertine and irreligious lifestyle (which should have, but did not, poison him with evangelicals), his sympathies with Putin's Russia (which should have, but did not, poison him with patriots), and his hostility to American military and political alliances with democracies (which should have, but did not, poison him with neoconservatives)."

It's been particularly amusing to watch people who were bothered by his lack of qualifications and temperament, and the racist nature of his campaign, buy in completely and become fanboys based almost exclusively on the fact that he isn't Hillary or the UR. It's emotion, not thought, which makes it all the more unshakable.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


The left might be ailing, but it is not dead yet (John Lloyd, 12/29/16, Financial Times)

Though some mainstream left-of-centre parties call themselves "socialist", others "labour", none in government now promotes socialism nor gives pride of place to labour. The mainstream candidates for the French presidency from the left -- former prime minister Manuel Valls and former economy minster Emmanuel Macron -- are keener to support business growth than increase the power of workers.

By contrast, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front stresses social justice, a more progressive tax system and state intervention in threatened industries. Donald Trump, the US president-elect, has in the past called for a one-off wealth tax on those with a net worth of more than $10m, and earlier this month reiterated a campaign pledge to impose a 35 per cent tariff on US companies that import products from their factories abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


John Kerry's six principles for Israeli-Palestinian peace (DAVE CLARK, December 29, 2016, Times of Israel)

Here are the "six principles" Kerry says must underlie a renewed search for peace based on an Israel-Palestine two-state solution.

'Recognized international borders'

On November 22, 1967, after Israel's victory in the Six-Day War over its Arab neighbors, the UN Security Council passed its Resolution 242.

Israel's win left it in possession of the Golan Heights, Gaza, Sinai, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in addition to its original territory.

Under UNSC 242, Israel should hand back captured territory and in 1993 the Palestinian Liberation Organization agreed that 242 could serve as a basis for talks.

Israel has pulled out of Sinai and Gaza, annexed Golan and east Jerusalem and is occupying and settling the West Bank.

Kerry's speech insisted that UNSC 242 has long been "accepted by both sides" and must be followed, albeit with "mutually agreed equivalent swaps."

And he warned: "No changes by Israel to the 1967 lines will be recognized by the international community unless agreed to by both sides."

'Two states for two peoples'

Israel did not welcome Kerry's speech, but many Israelis will welcome his second "core principle" for any deal.

While the final settlement will see the Palestinians installed in their own state, they must in turn recognize Israel "as a Jewish state."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the Palestinian hostility to the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland is a key barrier to peace.

But Kerry noted that this has been enshrined in the plan since 1947, when the disputed area was partitioned under UN General Assembly resolution 181.

'Realistic solution for refugees'

There are an estimated five million Palestinians claiming descent from those displaced from their homes during the creation of Israel.

Their long-standing demand for a "right of return" to homes in some cases now within pre-1967 Israel has long been a stumbling block.

Kerry's principles acknowledged that international assistance and some kind of compensation will be necessary and fair for these people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


You're Wrong: All Isn't Getting Worse (Carter Eskew, Dec. 28th, 2016, Washington Post)

What if Americans' failure to know the facts about progress becomes in itself a barrier to further progress?

That is the message of some recent findings by "Our World in Data," an online publication of the University of Oxford. Since 1930, the global rate of extreme poverty has fallen from 75 percent to 10 percent. The literacy rate has increased from 30 percent to 85 percent. Child mortality has been reduced by a factor of 10. Democracy has flourished; colonialism has almost disappeared. Education rates have soared, and population growth has slowed to the point where it could be zero by the end of the century.

The article goes on to blame the media for creating the impression that the world is headed to hell, when in reality life is vastly and relatively better for almost everyone in the world. That is a familiar and not very helpful criticism: The media has always specialized, and, presumably always will, in not just news, but also bad news. But the study's interpretation is more on point when it calls for greater historical perspective: "Freedom is impossible without faith in free people. And if we are not aware of our history and falsely believe the opposite of what is true we risk losing faith in each other." In other words, our suspicious pessimism, built on false premises, only fosters more suspicious pessimism.

All you really n3eed to know about how easy life has become is that the two great problems we face are : (1) obesity, because food is too plentiful and cheap; and, (2) the end of employment, because machines create wealth more efficiently than we do.
Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


U.S. coalition says senior Islamic State commander Kuwaiti killed in Syria (Reuters, 12/29/16)

One of Islamic State's top commanders in Syria has been killed in a U.S.-led coalition air strike, the coalition's spokesman said on Thursday, corroborating an earlier report.

Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti, a member of Islamic State's war committee, was killed on Monday by the Tabqa Dam, a strategic objective in northern Syria near Raqqa city, the jihadists' main stronghold in the country, the spokesman said.

December 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Turf War Before Trade War (PHIL LEVY, DECEMBER 28, 2016, Foreign Policy)

The most striking process announcement this week was the creation of the National Trade Council, which is also supposed to deal with industrial policy. This new entity will presumably sit alongside the existing National Economic Council, as well as the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council. Three significant problems with this structure leap to mind:

Redundancy. Navarro will be a White House official tasked with overseeing trade policy and coordinating between relevant agencies. That's almost exactly the job description of the current USTR (an agency that is in the broader White House). Issues of industrial policy are also issues of economic policy, so would presumably be in the domain of the National Economic Council, to be headed by Goldman Sachs veteran Gary Cohn. Competing policy processes sound like a prescription for confusion and turf battles.

Congress. Trump is not the first to arrive in Washington with plans to reorganize the trade policy process. His predecessor tried to do the same. As noted above, though, Congress ultimately controls trade policy and an important key to success is keeping Congress happy. Trump's announced plans seem likely to set off alarms on Capitol Hill. Trade is overseen by the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee. They are used to having a cabinet-level principal reporting to them (the USTR). In addition to the empowerment of Navarro, who as a White House official would not have the same relationship with Congress, Trump has indicated that the Commerce Department, under Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross, would lead on trade. Commerce is primarily overseen by Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and by House Energy and Commerce. If this sounds trivial, you've never seen a Capitol Hill turf battle.

Other countries. Trump talks of striking better deals with U.S. trading partners. The question is who will strike those deals. With an empowered USTR, this is not really a question. That person, an ambassador, both leads policy creation and flies around to conclude deals. What happens when the roles of trade policy architect and trade negotiator are separated? We don't have to speculate; that was essentially the case in President Barack Obama's first term, when Ron Kirk was USTR, flying around to national capitols, and Michael Froman was deputy national security advisor. Froman, sitting in the West Wing, was the true overseer of trade policy creation. Other countries quickly figured out that they were not talking to the right guy. Most of the Obama administration's advances in trade policy had to wait for the second term, when Froman took over as USTR and the two roles were reunited. 

...which are basically licenses to print money, so there's little chance he can run a government, but he's consistently exacerbating his disadvantages.  Thankfully...

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Donald Trump's economic inheritance in 7 charts (Financial Times, 12/28/16)

On Thursday, the Department of Commerce reported that the US economy grew at a far faster pace in the third quarter of 2016 than previously thought -- an annualised rate of 3.5 per cent. Since the 1980s, the only president to have taken office while the economy was growing at a faster rate was George HW Bush.

The latest data stand in sharp contrast to the free-falling economy Barack Obama inherited in 2009, when the US was losing almost 800,000 jobs a month. On the campaign trail, Mr Trump repeatedly characterised the economy under Mr Obama as a disaster, but the economy has come a long way since then.

An analysis of economic metrics paints a picture of an economy finding solid footing after the financial crisis. Unemployment stands at a nine-year low, the S&P 500 continues to break records, and home sales hit their highest rate since 2007.

Here are seven charts showing how the trends Mr Trump will inherit compared with the state of the US economy at other recent presidential inaugurations...

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Happy Retirement Dr. Sowell! (DAVID HOGBERG, December 27, 2016, The American Spectator)

I'll leave you with a quote from Sowell's column "The Century of the Intellectual," available in his book Barbarians Inside The Gate. Give it a few seconds to sink in, and you'll see another reason why so many on the political left have come unhinged by the impending presidency of Donald Trump:

What all these movements [Nazism, Communism, etc.] have in common is a sense of a revelation grasped only by the anointed, but a revelation that needs to be imposed on the benighted masses for their own good. Could anything be more of an ego trip, or more in keeping with intellectuals' exalted view of themselves, or their resentment at seeing wealth and power in the hands of lesser beings?

It was Dr. Sowell who changed my mind about reparations, with his work showing that black immigrants (mainly from Africa and Haiti) enjoy the same levels of success as other immigrant groups, making them distinct from the native born.  What slavery seems to have done, in part, was to deprive its victims and succeeding generations of the normal immigrant experience.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Americans -- especially but not exclusively Trump voters -- believe crazy, wrong things (Catherine Rampell, December 28, 2016, Washington Post)

Another conspiracy theory still held by the president-elect is that millions of illegal votes were cast in the recent election. About 6 in 10 of his own voters agree with him. Surprisingly, about a quarter of Clinton voters agree, too.

Trump voters are unlikely to buy the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia hacked Democratic emails in order to help elect Trump, a view widely held by Clinton voters:

But on the other hand, about half of Clinton voters also believe that Russia tampered with vote tallies to help elect Trump, a theory that the Obama administration has repeatedly said there's no evidence to support. This poll result is yet more proof that waning trust in the integrity of the democratic process is bipartisan, and that liberals should maybe keep any smug comments about paranoid, evidence-ignoring Trumpkins in check.

Alarming shares of both Trump and Clinton voters also believe that vaccines cause autism, despite the medical community's reviews finding no connection (and the many outbreaks resulting from refusals to vaccinate children).

Conspiracy theories are hardly the only arena in which Americans have proven themselves ill-informed. The same survey also found that, astonishingly, about a third of respondents believe the share of Americans without health insurance has risen in the last five years. Even a sizable chunk of Clinton voters (21 percent) believes this.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Detroit demolishes thousands of structures; many more to go (COREY WILLIAMS, 12/28/16, Associated Press)

When leveled, the structure that a local resident said had once housed an industrial laundry or dry cleaners, will mark about 3,130 structures cleared in 2016 and about 10,700 -- mostly houses -- razed since 2014. The vast majority are owned by the city's Land Bank Authority.

But the city has a long way to go. A blight task force in 2014 said 40,000 needed to be torn down and 38,000 others were falling apart in one of the nation's poorest major cities that emerged in December 2014 from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Many blocks have more abandoned houses and empty lots than lived-in homes, a result of the exodus of whites and much of the black middle class from the city. About 1.8 million people lived in Detroit in the 1950s. Fewer than 700,000 currently call Detroit home, according to the U.S. Census.

Mayor Mike Duggan has said the mass demolitions are necessary for Detroit to attract families to city neighborhoods and stop decades of population loss.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Mining 24 Hours a Day with Robots : Mining companies are rolling out autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, which will boost efficiency but also reduce the need for human employees. (Tom Simonite  December 28, 2016, MIT Technology Review)

Each of these trucks is the size of a small two-story house. None has a driver or anyone else on board.

Mining company Rio Tinto has 73 of these titans hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia's Mars-red northwest corner. At this one, known as West Angelas, the vehicles work alongside robotic rock drilling rigs. The company is also upgrading the locomotives that haul ore hundreds of miles to port--the upgrades will allow the trains to drive themselves, and be loaded and unloaded automatically.

Rio Tinto intends its automated operations in Australia to preview a more efficient future for all of its mines--one that will also reduce the need for human miners. The rising capabilities and falling costs of robotics technology are allowing mining and oil companies to reimagine the dirty, dangerous business of getting resources out of the ground.

BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada's largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


This long-term investment leads to a guaranteed 100% return on Day 1 (Philip van Doorn, Dec 28, 2016, MarketWatch)

In May 2015, Financial Engines released the results of a study that concluded workers in the U.S. were leaving $24 billion a year on the table because they don't contribute enough to take full advantage of employers' matching 401(k) retirement-plan contributions.

A 401(k) is a tax-deferred retirement plan that allows you to contribute a portion of your salary before taxes. The money is then invested according to your selections and remains tax deferred. The price is that you cannot withdraw any of the money until the year you turn 59 and a half, without paying a penalty. Then, when you are retired and begin withdrawing the money, it will be taxable income, presumably at a lower rate.

But what can be even more significant is that many employers offer matching contributions, up to a certain percentage of your salary.

Let's say your annual salary is $75,000. Your employer offers, for example, a match of up to 5%. (In my own experience, the lowest employer match I was ever offered was 3%, and the highest was 8%.)

In this example, if you were to contribute 5% of your salary, or $3,750 a year, to your 401(k) account, your employer would also contribute $3,750 a year. Contributions are typically made every pay period. The bottom line is: Each of your contributions would earn an immediate 100% return -- a doubling of your initial investment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Syrian Kurds, allies set to approve new government blueprint (Tom Perry, 12/28/16, Reuters)

Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies are this week expected to approve a detailed blueprint for a system of federal government in northern Syria, Kurdish officials said, reaffirming their plans for autonomy as Russia and Turkey seek to revive peace diplomacy.

The aim is to increase the autonomy of areas of northern Syria where Kurdish groups have already carved out self-governing regions since the start of the war in 2011, though Kurdish leaders say an independent state is not the goal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Dozens of Boko Haram fighters surrender in southern Niger (Reuters, 12/27/16)

Dozens of Boko Haram fighters have given themselves up to authorities in southern Niger, the interior minister said, days after the Islamist group suffered key losses over the border in Nigeria. [...]

Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters surrendered in Chad in October and November as the group ceded territory.

The group controlled an area about the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has since been pushed back by international forces including troops from Niger. Nigeria's army captured its last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest on Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Trump could hit a brick wall on NAFTA (DOUG PALMER 12/28/16, Politico)

"You want to get rid of NAFTA?," U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tom Donohue asked in an interview with Fox News earlier this year. "NAFTA is 14 million jobs in the United States."

Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers calls NAFTA "a boost to U.S. manufacturing competitiveness."

"We look forward to working with government officials - the incoming administration, leaders in Mexico and Canada - on possible improvements to reduce barriers and improve U.S. manufacturing competitiveness given the agreement is now over 20 years old," Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs at the manufacturers group, said in an email. "At the same time, it is critical not to put at risk the 2 million U.S. manufacturing workers whose jobs rely on U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico."

So far, Trump has offered few details about what changes he'd like to make to the pact, other than threatening to withdraw from it entirely unless Mexico and Canada agree to new terms. Business groups are hoping they can convince him to instead "fix" the agreement in ways that will benefit them.

In an ironic twist, many business groups hope Trump will steal ideas from another trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- as he seeks to upgrade NAFTA. That should be possible since both Canada and Mexico are part of the 12-nation deal that Trump is vowing to jettison on his first day in office. They'd like to see rules similar to those in the TPP covering digital trade and the movement of electronic business data across borders, concerns that didn't exist when negotiators crafted NAFTA.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Does a Never Trumper Need to Be Forgiven? (Jonah Goldberg, December 16, 2016, National Review)

I did get the election wrong. Although there were occasions when I wrote that Trump had a shot, certainly at the end I was convinced that he'd lose. And yet, defensive though it may sound, I think the claim that I got "everything wrong" in 2016 reveals more about my detractors than about me. No doubt I got much wrong this year (this is true of every year ending in a number divisible by 1), but the only sense in which one could plausibly claim I got everything wrong is if Donald Trump is your everything. [...]

[T]hat brings me to what I think I got right: Trump's character. I am not referring to his personal conduct toward women, a culture-war weapon that Trump and Bill Clinton together have removed from partisan arsenals for the foreseeable future. Nor am I necessarily referring to how he has managed his businesses, though I think those patterns of behavior are entirely relevant to understanding our next president. 

What I have chiefly in mind is that rich nexus of unrestrained ego, impoverished impulse control, and contempt for policy due diligence. I firmly and passionately believe that character is destiny. From his reported refusal to accept daily intelligence briefings to his freelancing every issue under the sun on Twitter -- including, most recently, nuclear-arms policy -- Trump's blasé attitude troubles me deeply, just as it did during the campaign.

It really speaks to the strength of the historical models that they successfully forecast the winner, no matter how unpopular he was.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Connecticut's Spendthrift Capital Eyes the Wealthy Suburbs (Stephen Eide, 12/17/16, The Wall Street Journal)

When the Nutmeg State's next legislative session begins in January, lawmakers will face two crises: a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion and the looming insolvency of Hartford, the capital city. Though it doesn't make many national headlines, Hartford's budgetary challenge--taxed to the max, junk-rated and facing escalating deficits--ranks among the most serious of any American city. Bankruptcy might be the only way out.

Hartford's mayor, Luke Bronin, knows that a bailout from the cash-strapped state government is not a likely option. So he has turned to the suburbs for support in stabilizing the city's budget. At a town meeting Monday evening in Rocky Hill, a pleasant bedroom community to the south, Mr. Bronin spoke in grand terms about how "investing in getting cities strong helps economic growth for the state as a whole."

The mayor has talked up a "regional" solution to the city's woes. Interpretations vary as to what that means, but Mr. Bronin has floated the idea of a regional sales tax. If it is to help Hartford's bottom line, however, it would have to entail some sort of redistribution from higher-income areas.

Suburban taxpayers are perplexed as to how and why they should be responsible for Hartford's long record of mismanagement. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Basic income makes more sense than ever in the Trump era (Chris Weller, 12/12/16, Business Insider)

According to the latest forecasts, jobs in America are poised to disappear much faster than new ones will get created.

A 2015 McKinsey report found that current technologies could feasibly replace 45% of American jobs right now. Two years prior to that, a report from Oxford University estimated half of all American jobs would fall to automation somewhere between 2023 and 2033. That's unsettling stuff when you consider unemployment rates would blow past those of the Great Depression.

That's why many basic income proponents say the system isn't just the most viable solution, but the only one. As more and more workers lose their jobs, advocates say it'll be up to federal and state governments to implement policies and reorganize tax codes that favor the out-of-work.

"There's a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a November 4 interview with CNBC.

Robots can create far more wealth than humans ever could. Robots make more stuff, increasing the supply of those goods and thereby driving costs down.

In the future, society could have a surplus of wealth and millions of people out of a job. Basic income advocates like Musk say the way to reconcile those two outcomes is obvious: Spread the surplus equally.

"I'm not sure what else one would do," he said to CNBC. "That's what I think would happen."

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


'The Wealthy Would Never Steal' -- A Credo for Trump's Party (Jonathan Chait, 12/27/16, NY Magazine)

 In a National Review column, Kudlow makes the case not only that Trump and his administration are not corrupt, but also that they cannot be corrupt, by virtue of their wealth. "Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people?" reasons Kudlow, "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Why NFL Coaches Take No Chances : Rex Ryan, fired on Tuesday, stuck with a conservative style that most math experts say doesn't add up but remains the league norm. (MICHAEL SALFINO and  JIM CHAIRUSMI, Dec. 27, 2016, WSJ)

A Wall Street Journal analysis of NFL play calling this season shows that--despite a legion of mathematicians, economists and win probability models urging them to take more chances--most of the league's coaches still reach for the conventional choice by habit.

The Journal analysis examines how coaches played their hand this season across three broad categories of game management: fourth downs; play calling (blitzing on defense; passing on early downs or with the lead on offense) and special teams (going for a 2-point conversion and onside kicks when ahead).

Since the data in the analysis is relative to what average coaches did in each situation, it didn't take much to stand out.

The analysis shows that the four most aggressive coaches are on track to guide teams to the playoffs--the New York Giants' Ben McAdoo, Detroit's Jim Caldwell, Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and Atlanta's Dan Quinn. Eight of the top 10 most risk-averse coaches, will watch the playoffs from home.

University of Pennsylvania professor Cade Massey, who researches behavior and judgment, said many NFL coaches habitually choose to postpone the certainty of losing in football for as long as possible--even if doing so actually lowers the odds of losing in the end, such as opting to punt on fourth-and-short in overtime.

The best example of the mystifying conformity among the NFL's head coaches occurs in the fourth quarter when a team is losing by two possessions--between nine and 16 points (factoring in the chance for 2-point conversions)--with more than four minutes remaining. On 4th and 10 yards or less outside of their opponent's 40-yard line, teams punt 80% of the time-- 32 times in 40 chances.

Strangely, when faced with fourth and five or less, coaches opt to punt about as frequently (9 times out of 12). The New York Jets' Todd Bowles has been in the latter situation three times this year and punted each time.

It's an uninteresting sport to begin with, made worse by the low skill levels, shoddy officiating, and abysmal coaching.

December 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 PM


Watership Down author Richard Adams dies at 96 (Reuters, 12/27/16)

British novelist Richard Adams, the author of "Watership Down", which sold millions of copies and captivated a generation of children, has died aged 96, his family said.

The tale of brave rabbits searching for safety when their warren is threatened was at first rejected by major publishers. But the adventures of Hazel and Fiver went on to become a best-seller and the book is now considered a classic.

It was also made into a hugely successful animated film and won the Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children's Fiction Award.

Adams, a self-confessed countryside-loving man, was a civil servant who left government after realizing the city was not for him.

Richard Adams: a unique writer whose masterwork made literary history : In Watership Down, he created a book ahead of its time, a multi-layered novel that appealed to adults and children alike. But Adams was no one-hit wonder (Philip Ardagh, 28 December 2016, The Guardian)

[T]hose of us who read and loved Adams's original book will be transported to quite a different place: a world of rabbits with their own traditions, customs and legends, but not outwardly anthropomorphic (no waistcoats, pocket watches or two-legged walking here). There is something unique about the novel, so multi-layered and complete. Since its publication, we've had William Horwood's moles in Duncton Wood, and attempts at similar approaches with deer and crows and the like, but none has achieved quite what Adams did with rabbits.

What many people may be unaware of is that Watership Down was first published, at the end of 1972, by one-man publishing outfit Rex Collings, well before the days of Kickstarter, print on demand or digital downloads. The book looked decidedly amateurish but went on to be snapped up by Penguin, who took the then extremely unusual step of publishing it under both the Puffin and Penguin imprints; in other words, for children and adults. The novel won immediate recognition with the Guardian children's fiction prize and the Carnegie medal.

It's easy to forget what a phenomenon Watership Down was at the time. Here was a book - over 400 pages long - read by young and old alike. It propelled Adams into the limelight like few other authors. The phrase "capturing the zeitgeist" might have been invented for it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Kasich vetoes bill weakening clean-energy standards (Dan Gearino, 12/27/16, The Columbus Dispatch)

In vetoing the energy bill, Kasich defied a House and Senate controlled by fellow Republicans. This slight could be felt as the next General Assembly begins its work. The governor has warned that his upcoming budget will be tight, and Republicans are adding to their majorities in both chambers.

"It is apparent that Gov. Kasich cares more about appeasing his coastal elite friends in the renewable-energy business than he does about the millions of Ohioans who decisively rejected this ideology when they voted for President-elect Trump," said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, a leading supporter of the bill.

The bill passed the House and Senate this month, but the majorities were not large enough to override a veto. [...]

Kasich said in his veto message that the bill risks hurting the state by taking away some of the energy options that are "most prized by the companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms."

For example, Amazon has invested heavily in the state and supports policies that encourage renewable energy, although Kasich did not name any companies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller? (Nicholas Kristof DEC. 23, 2016, NY Times)

 As you know better than I, the Scriptures themselves indicate that the Resurrection wasn't so clear cut. Mary Magdalene didn't initially recognize the risen Jesus, nor did some disciples, and the gospels are fuzzy about Jesus' literal presence -- especially Mark, the first gospel to be written. So if you take these passages as meaning that Jesus literally rose from the dead, why the fuzziness?

I wouldn't characterize the New Testament descriptions of the risen Jesus as fuzzy. They are very concrete in their details. Yes, Mary doesn't recognize Jesus at first, but then she does. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) also don't recognize Jesus at first. Their experience was analogous to meeting someone you last saw as a child 20 years ago. Many historians have argued that this has the ring of eyewitness authenticity. If you were making up a story about the Resurrection, would you have imagined that Jesus was altered enough to not be identified immediately but not so much that he couldn't be recognized after a few moments? As for Mark's gospel, yes, it ends very abruptly without getting to the Resurrection, but most scholars believe that the last part of the book or scroll was lost to us.

Skeptics should consider another surprising aspect of these accounts. Mary Magdalene is named as the first eyewitness of the risen Christ, and other women are mentioned as the earliest eyewitnesses in the other gospels, too. This was a time in which the testimony of women was not admissible evidence in courts because of their low social status. The early pagan critics of Christianity latched on to this and dismissed the Resurrection as the word of "hysterical females." If the gospel writers were inventing these narratives, they would never have put women in them. So they didn't invent them.

The Christian Church is pretty much inexplicable if we don't believe in a physical resurrection. N.T. Wright has argued in "The Resurrection of the Son of God" that it is difficult to come up with any historically plausible alternate explanation for the birth of the Christian movement. It is hard to account for thousands of Jews virtually overnight worshiping a human being as divine when everything about their religion and culture conditioned them to believe that was not only impossible, but deeply heretical. The best explanation for the change was that many hundreds of them had actually seen Jesus with their own eyes.

So where does that leave people like me? Am I a Christian? A Jesus follower? A secular Christian? Can I be a Christian while doubting the Resurrection?

I wouldn't draw any conclusion about an individual without talking to him or her at length. But, in general, if you don't accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles' Creed, I'd say you are on the outside of the boundary.

Tim, people sometimes say that the answer is faith. But, as a journalist, I've found skepticism useful. If I hear something that sounds superstitious, I want eyewitnesses and evidence. That's the attitude we take toward Islam and Hinduism and Taoism, so why suspend skepticism in our own faith tradition?

I agree. We should require evidence and good reasoning, and we should not write off other religions as 'superstitious' and then fail to question our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition.

But I don't want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren't. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. For example, my faith is to some degree based on reasoning that the existence of God makes the most sense of what we see in nature, history and experience. Thomas Nagel recently wrote that the thoroughly materialistic view of nature can't account for human consciousness, cognition and moral values. That's part of the reasoning behind my faith. So my faith is based on logic and argument.

In the end, however, no one can demonstrably prove the primary things human beings base their lives on, whether we are talking about the existence of God or the importance of human rights and equality. Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being "covert Christians" because it required a leap of faith to hold to them. We must all live by faith.

I'll grudgingly concede your point: My belief in human rights and morality may be more about faith than logic.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Newark Sees Overall Drop in Crime This Year, According to City Officials' Tally (KATE KING, Dec. 27, 2016, WSJ)

New Jersey's largest city is on track to end the year with an overall reduction in crime, including homicides, officials said Tuesday.

The city of 280,000 people that has long been plagued by violence saw a 13% decrease in overall crime as of Tuesday compared with the same period last year, according to statistics maintained by the Newark Police Division.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


AP FACT CHECK: Ex-agent didn't write book outing Obama (The Associated Press, 12/27/16)

A widely shared story that claimed a former Secret Service agent outed President Barack Obama as a gay man and a radical Muslim is false.

The fake story says an ex-agent named Paul Horner published the claims in a book titled "The Black House." The article also features an interview that the former agent conducted with a supposed senior political analyst with NBC News named Tom Downey.

They didn't disprove his closet socialism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


An idea that should die after 2016: the universal basic income (Josh Barro , 12/27/16, Business Insider)

[A]fter watching voters act out their rage at the establishment this year, I have become convinced that a UBI is a very bad idea that would further destabilize the global order -- and that the assumptions that had policy wonks interested in the UBI in the first place are bad, too.

Work is one of the core institutions that holds our society together. It serves two purposes: It provides people with the income they need to support themselves and their families, and it provides a sense of purpose in life and society.

Over the past four decades, work has become less effective as a way to provide income, because wage growth has lagged behind economic growth and wages themselves have become more unequal across the skills spectrum.

Workforce participation has also declined, meaning that even as work is getting less fulfilling for those who do work, a growing share of adults does not work or try to work.

In this environment, the logic behind the UBI is obvious: It is supposed to cushion the landing when an increasingly automated economy generates fewer jobs, and it is supposed to make wage labor less central to the human existence.

One problem is that a UBI does nothing to replace the sense of reward or purpose that comes from a job. It gives you money, but it doesn't give you the sense that you got the money because you did something useful.

The belief that caring for your spouse, children, parents, neighbors, fellow church members, fellow citizens, etc. and working with them to create a better family, community, society, state and world is not useful but that doing a task a computer can do better is strikes one as tragic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Israel 'reducing ties' with nations over settlements (Al Jazeera, 12/27/16)

Israel's foreign ministry has said the country is "reducing" ties with nations that voted for last week's UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to settlement building in Palestinian territory.

Foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a message to journalists that Israel was "temporarily reducing" visits and work with embassies, without providing further details.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM



There are species today that will be two totally distinct animals a hundred years from now. But at what point in the process do they become different enough for us to treat them as such?

A new study by a group of French biologists highlights just how much trouble this question poses. They found what they call a "grey zone" in which different populations of animals are starting to diverge into two separate populations, but aren't yet so distinct that they are obviously different species. Their study, published on Tuesday in PLOS Biology, looked at 61 pairs of populations or species to see how much they were sharing genetic information, and found that the line between distinct groups of animals was pretty fuzzy. When animals diverged genetically by 0.5 to 2 percent, it was hard to tell whether the pairs of animals were one species or two.

That might not seem like it matters. Why should we care about a tiny minority of organisms that are in the process of evolving? Either they'll become separate species, at which point we'll give them different names, or they won't and it'll all be a moot point anyway.

But of course it matters. Because if we can't decide when a species becomes a species, it means we don't have a very useful definition of "species." 

It's turtles all the way down....
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Tesla, Panasonic deepen ties with tentative solar panel manufacturing agreement : The partnership is contingent on Tesla buying SolarCity. (MEGAN GEUSS - 10/17/2016, Ars Technica)

Sunday evening, Tesla announced that it would be partnering with Panasonic to create photovoltaic cells and modules at SolarCity's new Buffalo, New York factory--if Tesla's shareholders approve the company's purchase of SolarCity, that is.

Tesla currently has a partnership with Panasonic to help build its Gigafactory outside of Reno, NV, and manufacture batteries in it. Last year, Tesla announced its foray into stationary battery manufacturing, which it said was a natural extension of its electric vehicle business. The Gigafactory has just begun churning out batteries for Tesla vehicles and so-called Powerwalls (7kWh stationary batteries for residential use), as well as battery systems for industrial use, which Tesla calls the Powerpack.

Panasonic has decades of experience building photovoltaic cells, and Tesla says if the SolarCity deal goes through, Panasonic will start manufacturing in the Buffalo facility sometime in 2017. "Tesla intends to provide a long-term purchase commitment for those cells from Panasonic," the electric vehicle company said in a press release.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM

NOR THE DRIVERS (self-reference alert):

Automakers Prepare for an America That's Over the Whole Car Thing (NEAL E. BOUDETTE, DEC. 22, 2016, NY Times)

FOR decades, automakers have been able to count on a fundamental fact of American life: You pretty much need a car to get around.

But lately, novel technologies, including ride-hailing services like Uber and advances in self-driving cars, are creating new alternatives for commuting, shuttling children and going to the store -- particularly in urban settings.

There are also demographic and economic trends in play. Many younger Americans do not consider owning a car a goal or necessity -- or a necessary expense. So carmakers are looking ahead to a day when the automobile plays a smaller role, or even no role at all, in many people's daily routines.

We used Uber for the first time this weekend and it was indistinguishable from magic.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Israel's self-imposed exile (Ryan Cooper, December 27, 2016, The Week)

Last week, the U.S. declined to veto a U.N. resolution condemning the settlements. Absent an American veto, the resolution sailed through 14-0.

Israeli officials reacted with furious outrage. On Saturday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fumed about this "shameful ambush by the Obama administration," and quickly summoned the U.S. ambassador to Israel for a dressing down. It's a preposterous, ginned-up overreaction -- but it should not distract from the realization that this is a vision of what life will be like for Israel in its self-chosen exile when it inevitably loses its American protection.

Make no mistake: That really is inevitable. On its current track, Israel will one day be utterly alone before the crushing condemnation of nearly the entire world. And it has only itself to blame. [...]

Israel has become an abusive drunk of a nation that enforces an apartheid regime over the Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It controls both places absolutely and barely anyone -- including Netanyahu himself -- even bothers to pretend that permanent control of Palestinian lands, and permanent disenfranchisement of the human beings who live there, is Israeli policy. The West Bank is shot through with ever-growing Israeli settlements, its citizens are subjected to endless harassment from occupying Israeli troops, and its government is totally in thrall to Israel. Gaza is basically an open-air prison camp, its citizens trapped in grueling poverty, its economy and infrastructure shattered by routine Israeli bombardment.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Russia calls U.S. move to supply Syria rebels weapons a hostile act: RIA (Reuters, 12/27/16)

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it viewed a U.S. decision to ease restrictions on weapons supplies to Syrian rebels as a "hostile act" which threatened the safety of Russian warplanes and military personnel, the RIA news agency reported.

December 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Controversial study claims there are only two types of tiger (Kai Kupferschmidt, Jun. 26, 2015, Science)

Tiger numbers have dwindled worldwide, but tiger types may also be about to take a big hit. A controversial new study suggests that instead of nine subspecies of tiger, there are only two. 

And they can interbreed, so there's not even one.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Netanyahu goes to war with the world : His tactics on Thursday were a mess, and he now seems to be deepening the damage (David Horovitz, 12/26/16, The Times of Israel')

Israel has a solitary vote in the United Nations General Assembly, and no vote at all at the United Nations Security Council. Israel was annihilated in the Security Council vote on Friday that demanded an end to all settlement activity and that designated all the land that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, which includes the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, as "occupied Palestinian territory." The prime minister's hope is that he can stave off further, and still more devastating, potential diplomatic defeat at the hands of the outgoing Obama administration via a mixture of pleas, threats and boycotts. [...]

Tellingly, in remarks to the Saban Forum earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry left open the door to a US abstention: "There are any number of countries talking about bringing resolutions to the United Nations," Kerry noted. "If it's biased and unfair, and a resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, we'll oppose it. Obviously, we will. We always have. But it's getting more complicated now..."

The administration insists, by contrast, in the words of deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, "We did not draft this resolution; we did not introduce this resolution. We made this decision when it came up for a vote."

There can be little doubt, however, that a number of very recent moves by Netanyahu made that abstention -- that decision by Obama, for the first time in his presidency, to allow an anti-Israel resolution to pass at the Security Council -- more likely.

Obama's UN envoy, Samantha Power, cited in her post-vote address the prime minister's recent delighted public claim that his government is "more committed to settlements than any in Israel's history." More specifically, she referenced the current legislative moves in Israel to retroactively legalize dozens of West Bank settlement outposts -- legislation that Israel's own attorney general warns is in breach of international law, and that Netanyahu had himself previously opposed.

Ultimately, an Israel that isn't Western isn't an ally. They just need to decide whether they prefer being an isolated racial regime to being a part of the Anglosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM



"To an editor," Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, wrote in 2001, "space may be money, but to a cartoonist, space is time. Space provides the tempo and rhythm of the strip." Watterson was right, perhaps in more ways than he knew. Newspaper comics, he wrote, provide a unique space for many readers before they start their day; we get to pass, briefly, through a door into a calmer, simpler world, where the characters often remain largely the same, even down to their clothing. Not all newspaper comics are like this, of course, particularly the more complex narrative comics of the past like Little Nemo in Slumberland or Terry and the Pirates, and the worst comics--of which there are many--retain that sense of sameness by being formulaic and uninspired. But this, too, is related to space. Space, broadly speaking, is what defines Calvin and Hobbes. [...]

Calvin and Hobbes feels so inventive because it is: the strips take us to new planets, to parodies of film noir, to the Cretaceous period, to encounters with aliens in American suburbs and bicycles coming to life and reality itself being revised into Cubist art. Calvin and Hobbes ponder whether or not life and art have any meaning--often while careening off the edge of a cliff on a wagon or sled. At times, the strip simply abandons panels or dialogue altogether, using black and white space and wordless narrative in fascinating ways. Like Alice, Calvin shrinks in one sequence, becoming tiny enough to transport himself on a passing house fly; in another, he grows larger than the planet itself. In "Nauseous Nocturne," a poem in The Essential Calvin and Hobbes that reads faintly like a parody of Poe, Watterson treats us to lovely art and to absurd yet brilliant lines like "Oh, blood-red eyes and tentacles! / Throbbing, pulsing ventricles! Mucus-oozing pores and frightful claws! / Worse, in terms of outright scariness, / Are the suckers multifarious / That grab and force you in its mighty jaws"; the "disgusting aberration" "demonstrates defenestration" at the sight of Hobbes. In one gloriously profane strip, Calvin even becomes an ancient, vengeful god who attempts to sacrifice humanity. Nothing, except perhaps the beauty of imagination, is sacred here. Watterson dissolves the boundaries of highbrow and lowbrow art. The comic's freedom is confined--it's not totally random--yet the depths it can go to feel fathomless all the same. Few other strips allow themselves such vastness.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Murder in Paradise : Mysteries like Inspector Morse remind us of lost Eden. (ALAN JACOBS, December 26, 2016, American Conservative)

There's a wonderful moment in one of the old Inspector Morse shows--the one called "Promised Land," set in Australia instead of the series' home base of Oxford--when Morse has reached a dead end in his investigation (and in his life as well, more or less), and he's talking to his sidekick Lewis and calls him Robbie. Which is indeed Lewis's first name, but in all the many episodes before that, Morse had never called him anything but Lewis--often in a distinctively sneering way: Lyeeewis.

A certain habitual guard has been let down, partly as a result of exhaustion, but mostly, I think, because of location--displacement yields disinhibition. Morse never would have called him Robbie had they remained in Oxford, where the structures of everyday routine reinforced their differences in class and rank. And if he calls him Robbie again later, it is only because of the barrier that came down, however briefly, when they were in the antipodes.

I haven't seen that episode in 20 years, but I still remember it vividly, in large part because of the reaction of Kevin Whately as Lewis: an almost imperceptible flickering of the eyelids and then the resumption of stoicism. It's a wonderful bit of acting by Whately, and not only does he not speak, he doesn't even move.

Whately played Robbie Lewis for the first time when Inspector Morse began, on ITV in England, in 1987, and has now played him for the last time, the sequel-series Lewis having ended in November 2015. There were hiatuses along the way--six years separated the wrapping-up of Morse and the beginning of Lewis--but still, that's quite a run with a single character, and I've been watching pretty much the entire time. The end of Lewis is the end of an era for Kevin Whately, certainly, but also for me.

Neither the original Inspector Morse nor its successor Lewis was uniformly excellent. The productions were clearly done on a strictly limited budget; the plotting was sometimes muddy, often convoluted, and hole-prone. But the acting was always fine, and my wife and I tuned in so regularly not because we were intrigued by any particular mystery but because we wanted to see Morse-plus-Lewis and then, later, Lewis-plus-Hathaway. (James Hathaway, a young policeman assigned to work with the now-senior Lewis, is played superbly by Laurence Fox.) These are buddy shows, but of a high order: Morse acts always on impulse and instinct, like Don Quixote, to whom Lewis acts the grounded and rational Sancho Panza. The Lewis-Hathaway dynamic differs, though Hathaway also has some windmills to tilt at, in a comparatively subdued way.

There is nothing worse than cop shows that try to depict the detectives' home lives.  The relationship that matters is with their partner.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Batteries Key To Energy Future in Vt. (Dave Gram, 12/25/16, Associated Press)

[Green Mountain Power] has been pushing to be a leader in the search for the Holy Grail of renewable energy -- economical batteries to store energy from wind farms and solar panels for those times when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.

In an interview last year, Mary Powell, the company's CEO, told The Associated Press that batteries would be a linchpin in a newly envisioned future for electrical energy. They would store solar energy and provide backup power during outages and put electricity on the grid at times of peak demand.

All signs are that it's happening.

Phillips is one of 20 GMP customers to have installed Tesla Powerwalls -- 70 more are in the queue. GMP charges $37 a month over the life of the battery, or allows customers to buy them up-front for about $7,000 installed. [...]

On a larger scale, GMP in the summer of 2015 put into service a solar and battery storage project on the former Stafford Hill landfill in Rutland. The system has multiple purposes. During long-duration power outages, it can be used for electricity to serve the emergency shelter that would be set up at the neighboring high school, said Dan Mackey, whose job title at GMP is "innovation champion."

But on an August afternoon, when air conditioners were cranking and the six-state New England region was hitting its annual peak demand, the Stafford Hill project was used to load the batteries' 2.2 megawatts of power onto the grid. GMP was able to avoid its spot power purchases during a time of peak prices. The total savings: $200,000, the company said.

"Through careful planning, we anticipated when the New England peak load would occur, and worked tirelessly to ensure that control technology would enable us to draw down the power from Stafford Hill providing significant benefit to customers," Powell said.

Last week, the company took what it called "the next step in the evolution of energy." It became the first utility to announce a package of products and services designed to enable a customer to go off the grid.

It used to be anathema for utilities to encourage customers to disconnect from the power grid. But spokeswoman Kristin Carlson said if the company can reduce the miles of line it has to run to homes and businesses in remote places, it could be a cost savings to everyone.

"This off-grid suite of products illustrates very well where energy is going and for us at GMP. We are leading the revolution toward clean, affordable, local and highly reliable power," Powell said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


The Executive Mr. Trump : The surprising truth about Trump as a boss--from the people he's hired, fired and micromanaged (MICHAEL KRUSE, July/August 2016, Politico)

Based on conversations with people who have worked for him, people who still work for him and a half dozen of his biographers, the reality of Trump as an executive--his methods and his manner--bears little resemblance to the man viewers saw on the show. Rather than magisterial and decisive, Trump the actual boss swings wildly between micromanaging meddler and can't-be-bothered, broad-brush, big-picture thinker. He is both impulsive and intuitive, for better and for worse. He hires on gut instinct rather than qualifications; he listens to others, but not as much or as often as he listens to himself.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM

60 IN '18:

Can Republican senators get to 60 seats in 2018? (Stuart Rothenberg December 20, 2016, Washington Post)

The upcoming Senate class is unusually unbalanced. Only eight Republican Senate seats are up for election in 2018, compared with 25 Democratic seats (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats). Ten of those Democratic seats are in states carried by Donald Trump. [...]

The only Republican Senate seat at risk as the cycle begins is in Nevada. GOP freshman Dean Heller was elected in 2012 when he squeezed by Democrat Shelley Berkley in a photo finish, 46 percent to 45 percent. This year, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Nevada narrowly in the presidential race, so you can bet Democrats will go after Heller with everything they have. [...]

On the other hand, five Democratic senators in the class represent states normally classified as anywhere from leaning Republican to strongly Republican: Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Two other states are pure swing states: Florida and Ohio. And three states often lean Democratic but were carried by Trump last month: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. (Both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin currently have one Republican senator.)

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


2016 was the year solar panels finally became cheaper than fossil fuels. Just wait for 2017 (Michael J. Coren, 12/26/16, Quartz)

Solar and wind is now the same price or cheaper than fossil fuels in more than 30 countries, the WEF reported in December (pdf). As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as "grid parity" within a few years, even without subsidies. "Renewable energy has reached a tipping point," Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, said in a statement. "It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns."

Those numbers are already translating into vast new acres of silicon and glass. In 2016, utilities added 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic capacity to the US grid, making solar the top fuel source for the first time in a calendar year, according to the US Energy Information Administration's estimates. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Cuban President Raul Castro faces deep problems in 2017 (ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, 12/26/16, Associated Press)

Cuba publishes few credible economic statistics, but experts expect the country to end this year with gross domestic product growth of 1 percent or less. It maintained a rate close to 3 percent from 2011-2015.

One bright spot is tourism, booming since Obama and Castro's Dec. 17, 2014, detente announcement set off a surge in overall visitor numbers, up more than 15 percent in 2015 and again this year.

"I've never seen as many tourists as I have this year," said Magalys Pupo, a street-corner pastry vendor in Old Havana. "They're everywhere and they're the income that we need in this country."

The slowness of macroeconomic growth despite a surge of interest in foreign investment and the greatest tourism boom in decades attests to both long-term mismanagement of the Cuban economy and the depth of the crisis in other sectors, particularly aid from Venezuelan in the form of deeply subsidized oil.

Analysts believe that as Venezuela's Cuba-inspired socialist economy has disintegrated, exports to Cuba has dropped from 115,000 barrels daily in 2008 to 90,000 in recent years to 40,000 a day over the last few months.

Venezuela was the prime destination alongside Brazil for Cuban doctors and other professionals whose salaries go directly to the Cuban government, providing another vital source of hard currency believed to be slackening in recent years. Nickel, another of Cuba's main exports, has seen a sharp price drop this year.

The revenue drop may be creating a vicious cycle for Cuba's state-run industries. Experts say cutbacks in imported industrial inputs this year will lead to lower productivity in Cuba's few domestic industries in 2017 and make zero growth or recession highly likely.

"Raul Castro's government has a year left and it should be planning what needs to be done," said Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia. "Above all, it will be managing a crisis."

The government cut back summer working hours and gas rations for state-owned vehicles and has so far avoided any sustained power outages. But a crackdown on black-market gasoline sales to taxi drivers led them to increase prices, causing drivers to raise their prices, squeezing many Cubans already struggling to get by on state salaries of about $30 a month. Many Cubans say, however, that worsening conditions could drive them to rally around the government rather than against it.

"It's going to be a tough year," said Antenor Stevens, a 66-year-old retired public water specialist. "We're a people who've suffered a lot. We've felt a lot of need, but there's still a revolutionary consciousness."

One cushion will be remittances from Cuban expatriates in the United States and other countries, estimated by some experts to be in excess of $3 billion a year and rising as Cubans flood to the United States in fear that they may soon lose special immigration privileges.

Another bright spot is Cuba's growing private sector, particularly businesses boosted by increased demand from tourists.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Oil Producers Turn to Wind Power (ZEKE TURNER and  SARAH KENT, Dec. 26, 2016, WSJ)

The Netherlands wants to build the world's largest offshore wind project, and an unlikely company is helping: Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

The oil-and-gas giant is facing shareholder pressure to develop its renewable business. Add in falling construction costs for such projects, and Shell has decided to join a handful of other oil companies aiming to leverage their experience drilling under punishing conditions at sea.

Norway's Statoil ASA is already building its third offshore wind farm, in the Baltic Sea, and is developing the world's first floating wind farm off the east coast of Scotland. Denmark's state-owned Dong Energy AS--once a fossil-fuel champion--is now the biggest player in the offshore wind market.

A Shell-led consortium won a bid this month to build and operate a portion of the Netherlands' giant Borssele wind project in the North Sea. Once complete, the Shell-built section will generate enough power for roughly a million homes at a price of €54.50 ($56.95) per megawatt hour--a customer rate approaching that of cheaper power sources like coal or gas.

Offshore wind's competitiveness is highly subject to local power prices and government measures, including tax credits, subsidies and rate guarantees. Nonetheless, in European markets, the wind industry had thought near parity was years away.

"Right now the offshore wind project is competitive with any power source," said Dorine Bosman, Shell's manager developing its wind business.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


ReflexLOLogy: Inside the Groan-Inducing World of Pun Competitions (Peter Rubin, 9/29/16, Wired)

The rules of the 39th annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship's "Punslingers" competition are simple: Two people take turns punning on a theme in head-to-head rounds. Failure to make a pun in the five seconds allowed gets you eliminated; make a nonpun or reuse a word three times and you've reached the banishing point. Round by round and pair by pair, a field of 32 dwindles until the last of the halved-nots finally gets to claim the mantle of best punster in the world and what most people would agree are some pretty dubious bragging rights. It's exactly like a rap battle, if 8 Mile had been about software engineers and podcasters and improv nerds vying for supremacy. (Also just like 8 Mile: My first-round opponent had frozen when his turn came to pun on waterborne vehicles. Seriously, yacht a word came out. Canoe believe it?)

Eventually, there we stood, two among the final eight: me, a first-timer, squaring off against the Floyd Mayweather of the pun world. Actually, only one of us was standing; I found myself doing the world's slowest two-step just to keep my legs from trembling. I'd been a little jittery in my first couple of rounds, sure, but those were standard-issue butterflies, perched on a layer of misguided confidence. This was the anxiety of the sacrificial lamb. I was punning above my weight, and I knew it. Once the judges announced that we'd be punning on diseases--hence Ziek's joke about star-crossed livers--we began.

"Mumps the word!" I said, hoping that my voice wasn't shaking.

Ziek immediately fired back: "That was a measle-y pun." Not only was he confident, with a malleable voice that was equal parts game show host and morning-radio DJ, but his jokes were seemingly fully formed. Worse, he was nimble enough to turn your own pun against you.

"Well, I had a croup-on for it," I responded. Whoa. Where'd that come from?

He switched gears. "I have a Buddha at home, and sometimes"--making a rubbing motion with his hand--"I like to rubella."

I was barely paying attention. Diseases, diseases--oh! I pointed at people in different parts of the audience. "If you've got a yam, and you've got a potato, whose tuber's closest?"

"There was a guy out here earlier painted light red," Ziek said. "Did you see the pink guy?"

"I didn't," I responded. "Cold you see him?"

Again and again we pun-upped each other, a philharmonic of harmful phonics. From AIDS to Zika we ranged, covering SARS, migraines, Ebola, chicken pox, ague, shingles, fasciitis, streptococcus, West Nile, coronavirus, poison oak, avian flu, gangrene, syphilis, and herpes. Almost five minutes later, we'd gone through 32 puns between the two of us, and I was running dry. As far as my brain was concerned, there wasn't a medical textbook in existence that contained something we hadn't used. Ziek, though, had a seemingly endless stockpile and tossed off a quick alopecia pun; I could have bald right then and there. The judge counted down, and I slunk offstage to watch the rest of the competition--which Ziek won, for the fifth time.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Top Bond Manager Woolnough Rebounds With Bullish Call on Economy (Sarah Jones, December 21, 2016, Bloomberg)

Listening to Richard Woolnough talk about the economy, you wouldn't think he's a bond manager.

Woolnough, whose 15.5 billion pound ($19.2 billion) M&G Optimal Income Fund has beaten 83 percent of peers over the past five years, says low interest rates are working, economies are recovering, and investors have gotten too worked up about macroeconomic risks. He's so bullish, he started buying equities for the first time in two years, saying they're more attractive than bonds.

"There are no headwinds and you need a headwind to slow the economy down," he said in an interview from M&G's headquarters in London.

The world has never been a better place. Don't believe us? Look at this chart (Keith Breene,  22 Dec 2016, World Economic Forum)

This chart shows that back in 1820, the vast majority of the world's population lived in extreme poverty. That remained the case right through the first half of the 20th century.

After the Second World War, as the global population started to grow rapidly, so did the number of people in extreme poverty.

Around 1970, though, something fundamentally changed: as the population continued to grow, the number of people living in extreme poverty started to fall, and has been on a downward trajectory ever since. Around 2010, the figure dropped below 1 billion for the first time.

Extreme poverty is defined as living at a consumption (or income) level below 1.90 international dollars per day. International dollars are adjusted for price differences between countries and for price changes over time.

The progress of the past 200 years was achieved as economic growth brought higher incomes to more and more people in the world.

With the onset of industrialization and rising productivity, the share of people living in poverty has been decreasing, and continues to do so as further economic growth brings greater wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM



December 21, 2016

Out of the Park Baseball 17 Named Metacritic's 2016 PC Game of The Year and, for the first time ever, surpasses 100,000 units sold

Out of the Park Developments, an official licensee of and the MLBPA, today announced that Out of the Park Baseball 17 has been offically named 2016 PC Game of The Year by Metacritic. Out of the Park Baseball 17's 92 rating on Metacritic represents the highest cumulative score from critics around the web given to a single game on PC. In addition, for the first time ever, an Out of the Park Baseball title has surpassed 100,000 units sold with Out of the Park Baseball 17. This caps an extraordinary year for Out of the Park Developments, a small, independent developer that has been making sports strategy games for nearly twenty years.

"I am delighted and humbled by the Metacritic award and the number of people that are playing OOTP 17," said Markus Heinsohn, the CEO of Out of the Park Developments and the creator of the OOTP franchise. "It's been a long road to this kind of success, and it's a tribute to the incredible team of talented programmers, designers, and community that we've created since we started our little company back in the 1990s. We're incredibly proud of what we've accomplished, and are more excited than ever about where we're headed in the future."

"Out of the Park Baseball has been the gold standard of sports strategy games for years," said Richard Grisham, Chief Marketing Officer of Out of the Park Developments. "This prestigious award and the huge number of people that are now experiencing OOTP 17 is a testament to that. All the credit in the world goes to Markus and his amazing team, as well as the one-of-a-kind community of OOTP fans that continually push them to make bold decisions and create a baseball experience that's as true to life as the real world."

For more information on Out of the Park Baseball 17, please visit For more information on the Metacritic 2016 PC Game of the Year, please visit 

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


The Sadness and Beauty of Watching Google's AI Play Go (Cade Metz, 3/11/16, Wired)

At first, Fan Hui thought the move was rather odd. But then he saw its beauty.

"It's not a human move. I've never seen a human play this move," he says. "So beautiful." It's a word he keeps repeating. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

The move was the 37th in the second game of the historic Go match between Lee Sedol, one of the world's top players, and AlphaGo, an artificially intelligent computing system built by researchers at Google. Inside the towering Four Seasons hotel in downtown Seoul, the game was approaching the end of its first hour when AlphaGo instructed its human assistant to place a black stone in a largely open area on the right-hand side of the 19-by-19 grid that defines this ancient game. And just about everyone was shocked.

"That's a very surprising move," said one of the match's English language commentators, who is himself a very talented Go player. Then the other chuckled and said: "I thought it was a mistake." But perhaps no one was more surprised than Lee Sedol, who stood up and left the match room. "He had to go wash his face or something--just to recover," said the first commentator.

Even after Lee Sedol returned to the table, he didn't quite know what to do, spending nearly 15 minutes considering his next play. AlphaGo's move didn't seem to connect with what had come before. In essence, the machine was abandoning a group of stones on the lower half of the board to make a play in a different area. AlphaGo placed its black stone just beneath a single white stone played earlier by Lee Sedol, and though the move may have made sense in another situation, it was completely unexpected in that particular place at that particular time--a surprise all the more remarkable when you consider that people have been playing Go for more than 2,500 years. The commentators couldn't even begin to evaluate the merits of the move.

Then, over the next three hours, AlphaGo went on to win the game, taking a two-games-to-none lead in this best-of-five contest.

December 25, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


RNC Message Celebrating Christmas (December 25, 2016)

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chair Sharon Day released the following statement celebrating Christmas:
"Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King...."

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Weakened Militarily, ISIS Still Has Power to Sow Deadly Mayhem (ROBERT F. WORTH, DEC. 25, 2016, NY Times)

In the past few weeks, the Islamic State has sustain a string of military defeats: ousted from its refuge on the Libyan coast, struggling to maintain its hold on the Iraqi city of Mosul, and losing ground in Syria. Yet as the deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin made clear, those losses do not diminish the group's extraordinary power to inspire terrorist mayhem around the world, and may even help fuel it.

In just the past year, even while under near continual bombardment by the American-led coalition, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for more than three dozen attacks, stretching across 16 countries in four continents.

That figure does not include the organization's home terrain in Syria and Iraq, where it has lost 50,000 fighters in the past two years, according to the Pentagon -- nearly as many dead as the United States lost in the Vietnam War. Many of the attacks beyond the Middle East were carried out by assailants who cited their inability to reach the group's Syria refuge, its self-proclaimed caliphate, as a motive for acting at home. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


Janet Yellen can't find the natural interest rate (Mark Spitznagel, 12/25/16, Business Insider)

In short, the neutral interest rate is one where the central bank is not itself distorting the economy. Monetary policy would really be nonexistent, as the Fed would not be altering the interest rate resulting from a free market discovery process between borrowers and savers. (This of course raises the question, why do central planners need to fabricate something that would naturally exist in their absence?) This is near where Yellen actually thinks we are these days, hence she sees little urgency in raising rates and thus lessening what, on the face of it, looks like a very loose current monetary policy.

Much of this neutral rate talk at the Fed is supposedly supported by the work of Swedish economist Knut Wicksell (1851-1926), who argued that the "natural" interest rate would express the exchange rate of present for future goods in a barter economy. If in practice the banks actually charged an interest rate below this natural rate, Wicksell argued that commodity prices would rise, whereas if the banks in practice charged an interest rate above the natural one, then commodity prices would fall. But that's where Wicksell--often associated with the free-market Austrian School of economics--would cease to recognize his own ideas in current central bank thinking. Wicksell's natural rate was a freely discovered market price in an economy, which reflected the implicit (real) rate of return on capital investments. For Wicksell, the natural interest rate was not a policy lever to be manipulated, in order to hit some employment or output goal. Yellen and the other Fed economists writing on this topic have conveniently (and probably unwittingly) co-opted Wicksell into their own Keynesian (and exceedingly un-Austrian) framework.

Everything has been commodified and no one believes commodity prices rise.

The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It's Automation. (Claire Cain Miller, DEC. 21, 2016, NY Times)

Donald J. Trump told workers like Ms. Johnson that he would bring back their jobs by clamping down on trade, offshoring and immigration. But economists say the bigger threat to their jobs has been something else: automation.

"Over the long haul, clearly automation's been much more important -- it's not even close," said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard who studies labor and technological change.

No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the United States and benefit the country in many ways.

Mr. Trump told a group of tech company leaders last Wednesday: "We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. Anything we can do to help this go along, we're going to be there for you."

Andrew F. Puzder, Mr. Trump's pick for labor secretary and chief executive of CKE Restaurants, extolled the virtues of robot employees over the human kind in an interview with Business Insider in March. "They're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case," he said.

How robots will change the American workforce (Gary Robbins, 12/13/16, San Diego Union-Tribune)

The experts are being brought together by Henrik Christensen, the prominent Georgia Tech engineer who was hired in July to run UC San Diego's young Contextual Robotics Institute. [...]

Christensen sat down with The San Diego Union-Tribune this week to talk about what's likely to happen in the near term. The following is an edited version of that conversation:

Q: Automation and robotics are advancing quickly. What impact will this have on employment in the United States?

A: We see two trends. We will use robots and automation to bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas, primarily from Southeast Asia. At the same time, we will see some jobs get displaced by automation. There will be fully automated, driverless transportation in this country by 2020, and that will eliminate some jobs now held by workers like truck drivers and taxi drivers.  [...]

Q: We're both baby boomers. We've driven all of our lives. How do you feel about kids never having this experience?

A: I love to drive my car, but it's a question of how much time people waste sitting in traffic and not doing something else. The average person in San Diego probably spends an hour commuting every day. If they could become more productive, that would be good.

With autonomous, driverless cars, we can put twice as many vehicles on the road as we have today, and do it without improving the infrastructure. 

Q: Does that mean San Diego County will need fewer parking garages?  

A: There would be no need to have parking garages in downtown San Diego. In theory, you'd get out of the car and say, 'Pick me up at 4 p.m.' Long-term -- we're talking 20 years into the future -- you're not even going to own a car. A car becomes a service.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Gluten allergies aren't increasing. So why are gluten-free diets skyrocketing? (Sarah Frostenson, Sep 6, 2016, Vox)

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the percentage of Americans practicing a gluten-free diet rose from 0.52 percent in 2009 to 1.69 percent in 2014. But the percentage of Americans with celiac disease actually declined slightly from 0.70 percent in 2009 to 0.58 percent in 2014 (although the study said this decline wasn't statistically significant).

People just want to feel special.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Wolves 'at the gates of Paris' as super predator pursues spectacular comeback around Europe (Henry Samuel, paris  James Badcock, madrid  Nick Squires, rome  Justin Huggler, berlin, 25 DECEMBER 2016, The Telegraph)

Wolves are "at the gates of Paris", it has been claimed, in the latest spectacular sign of the super-predator's comeback in Europe.

Buoyed by conservation efforts, massive rural depopulation and the spread of scrub and forest around the continent, wolves are fanning out to new territories, with one spotted in the Belgium-Luxembourg border last month for the first time in 118 years.

For his last act, the UR should just declare Southern Europe a wildlife preserve.
Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Trump adopting same behavior he criticized Clinton for (AP, 12/25/16)

Here's a look at what Trump said then -- and what he's doing now:


Then: "I know the guys at Goldman Sachs," Trump said at a South Carolina rally in February, when he was locked in a fierce primary battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. "They have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton."

Now: A number of former employees of the Wall Street bank will pay a key role in crafting Trump's economic policy.[...]


Then: "She doesn't do news conferences, because she can't," Trump said at an August rally in Ashburn, Virginia. "She's so dishonest she doesn't want people peppering her with questions."

Now: Trump opened his last news conference on July 27, saying: "You know, I put myself through your news conferences often, not that it's fun."

He hasn't held once since. [...]


Then: "It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money," Trump said at an August rally in Austin.

Now: While Trump has promised to separate himself from his businesses, there is plenty of overlap between his enterprises and his immediate family. [...]


Then: "If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we're going to have a special prosecutor," Trump said in the October presidential debate.

Now: Since winning office, Trump has said he has no intention of pushing for an investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of State or the workings of her family foundation.

And, while Hillary was exonerated, Donald has already had to pay off the students he defrauded and there's worse coming.
Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Texas to Defund Planned Parenthood (AMANDA PRESTIGIACOMO, DECEMBER 22, 2016, Daily Wire)

On Tuesday, Texas Health and Human Services officials informed Planned Parenthood that their abortion mill will no longer be funded by taxpayer dollars. In 30 days, the lucrative "nonprofit" will be relieved of their Medicaid funds, which equates to $3.1 million annually, reports The Texas Tribune. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


USA TODAY poll: There's a clear Democratic front-runner for 2020 (Susan Page , 12/22/16, USA TODAY)

[T]he new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll has identified an overwhelming front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

It's someone entirely new.

Literally. Not an identifiable person. Just "someone entirely new." When that description was included on a list of possible contenders, 66% of Democrats and independents said they would be "excited" to see such a person jump in the race; just 9% thought he or she shouldn't run. That's an overwhelming yes-please-run score of 57 percentage points for, you know, whomever. [...

There is one Democrat who swamps the others in generating support. In response to a separate question, Democrats by 61%-32% said Michelle Obama should run for some sort of elective office in the future. The only problem: She's made it clear she won't. "It's not something I would do," she said flatly in an interview with Oprah Winfrey released Tuesday. Period.

Bad enough for the Democrats that the UR leaves the country in even better shape than GHWB did, which was so good that even Bill Clinton could survive himself.  Even worse, they have no one to run in 2020 other than Michelle, whose popularity would drop with every personal political position she defined.

MICHELLE OBAMA AND US : The tenure of a First Lady who leaves the White House as one of the most popular political figures in recent memory. (Amy Davidson, 12/24/16, The New Yorker)

Her success in the White House has had as much to do with her comfort with herself as with what might be her central precept: never believe that there is a room you have no right to walk into. It's a message that she has delivered in speeches at historically black colleges and in her mentorship of girls. It has also come across in her work, with Jill Biden, to support military families. As the stages got bigger, Obama's oratory became more dominant and yet, at the same time, more intimate. In one of her enduring speeches, given at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, she revisited her fears that the Presidency would change her husband. What she had realized, she said, was that power doesn't change who you are--"it reveals who you are."

In her case, it revealed, by way of "Carpool Karaoke," what it's like to drive around with a First Lady singing "Get Ur Freak On." Her cool seems effortless, though her control of it is precise. Her iconoclasm gains strength from its fusion with irreproachability. She has been cheerfully scrupulous about White House traditions and rituals, including such niceties as designing what will be known as the Obama China. The trim color is Kailua Blue, an homage to the waters off Honolulu, where her husband grew up. She brought out the new china for tea with Melania Trump, two days after the election. "Melania liked Mrs. O a lot!" President-elect Trump tweeted afterward. Indeed, Melania, in her Convention speech, had photocopied Michelle.

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Life After Gronk (Danny Kelly, 12/23/16, The Ringer)

[W]hen Gronk got hurt, Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn't try to replace him. Instead, they just totally revamped their offense.

Now, tight ends are an afterthought, and the passing game is more conventional. Bennett has caught just 12 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in the past five games. Edelman has returned to his familiar role as Brady's no. 1 option, catching passes on 37 of 67 targets for 409 yards and a score. Behind him, New England has leaned on its running backs in the passing game, with White and Dion Lewis, who recently returned from injury, combining for 34 catches for 293 yards and a touchdown. Malcolm Mitchell has emerged as another option, catching 22 balls for 277 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. (He had just three catches for 20 yards on six targets in the five games after Brady returned and before Gronk got hurt.) The only guy whose role has remained relatively constant is Hogan, who has 14 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns in that stretch.

Without Gronk, Brady has fallen back toward earth, but he's still been one of the best quarterbacks in football. In the past five games, he's completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,429 yards (285.8 per game), thrown 10 touchdowns and one interception, and compiled a 96.9 passer rating and thrown for 6.94 yards per pass attempt. Keep in mind: This stretch included games against two of the league's best defenses in the Ravens and Broncos.

As a whole, New England's offense has averaged 24.8 points per game and 5.7 yards per play since Gronkowski went down. While the passing game has slowed, the offensive line has kept Brady upright (they've surrendered just four sacks since Week 10), and the ground game has picked up some of the slack, averaging 125.2 yards per game at 4.32 yards per carry. And although the offense looks different, it remains pretty matchup proof: Whether the Patriots are facing a suffocating run defense or an unparalleled pass defense, they've shown the ability to change their game plan and execute it accordingly.

Just look at the past two weeks: Against Baltimore's elite run defense (which came into that week surrendering a league-low 3.41 yards per carry and 74 yards per game), the Patriots leaned on their pass attack to score points. Brady threw the ball 38 times for 406 yards and connected with his receivers for three touchdowns, but he did surrender one interception. The next week, against Denver's elite pass defense (which came into the game surrendering a league-low 183 passing yards and a 67.4 passer rating to opponents), the Patriots leaned on the run, rushing 39 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. They also identified Denver's linebackers as the vulnerability in the pass defense and looked early and often to White and Lewis out of the backfield. In total, 50 of the Patriots' 73 plays (68 percent) went through a running back, whether on the ground or through the air.

New England continues to benefit from being one of the most diverse, versatile offenses in the NFL. Hell, they're even getting fullback James Develin more involved. He played a season-high 43 snaps last Sunday and was instrumental on several run plays with his lead blocking. The Patriots come out with a different game plan every single week, and different playmakers are featured from game to game. They can beat you through the air with finesse, and they can run through you on the ground with power.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


GOP and Dem Governors Are Closing Ranks Against Obamacare Repeal (Eric Pianin, December 23, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Republican and Democratic governors rarely see eye to eye, especially when it comes to spending on big ticket items like food stamps, unemployment insurance and other social services.

But as the Senate Finance Committee prepares for a roundtable discussion with GOP governors next month to discuss the impact of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid coverage, governors from both parties are warning of potentially disastrous consequences for state budgets if GOP leaders make good on their pledge to repeal Obamacare.

Nearly half of the 31 states and the District of Columbia that agreed to expand their Medicaid coverage under Obamacare are controlled by Republicans - including Vice President-elect Mike Pence's home state of Indiana. Since the Nov. 8 election, Republican governors such as Susana Martinez of New Mexico have voiced alarm over possibly losing millions in federal funding to provide Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance coverage for seven million people.

Republicans Are Having Second Thoughts About Scrapping Obamacare Taxes (Eric Pianin, December 22, 2016, Fiscal Times)

[I]t is now dawning on the Republicans that repealing the dozen or so major Obamacare tax increases along with the premium subsidies for low and middle-income Americans would seriously crimp their effort to devise and finance a substitute health insurance program down the road.

Obamacare is financed by a combination of tax increases, Medicare tax increases and cost-saving measures, and other federal and state tax revenues. When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it required hospitals, the health insurance industry, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to share in the cost because of the huge profits they would likely accrue from millions of new paying customers.

Republican critics of Obamacare have long derided these additional taxes - especially the 2.3 percent medical devices tax, a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services, and taxes on brand-name drugs and health insurance companies selling policies on and off the government exchanges as millstones around the necks of businesses large and small.

They have also targeted two other Obamacare tax hikes on the earnings and investments of those making more than $250,000 a year.

But there is compelling evidence that if the Republicans go ahead next month and scrap all the taxes hikes as part of an overall repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they will not have enough revenue to finance a replacement plan.

Obamacare operating costs are likely to total $1.24 trillion between 2019 and 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. A new Brookings Institution analysis released earlier this week estimates that only 40 percent of that total - or $496 billion - would be available to finance a Republican replacement over that same period if all the existing tax provisions were scrapped.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Candidates for DNC Top Job: Obama Failed Us (REID J. EPSTEIN, Dec. 22, 2016, WSJ)

The top candidates to lead the Democratic National Committee are positioning their campaigns as a repudiation of what they see as the political legacy of President Barack Obama.

Though they rarely mention the president by name or address his policies, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison have sent a clear message that Mr. Obama has left the party in a weakened state.

Awfully late to figure out he's not a Progressive...

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


China to levy new taxes in bid to strengthen pollution fight (Reuters, 12/25/16)

China's largely rubber-stamp parliament passed a law on Sunday that will levy specific environmental protection taxes on industry for the first time from 2018, as part of a renewed focus on fighting the country's pollution woes.

Anger has risen in the world's second-largest economy at the government's repeated failure to tackle land, water and air pollution, with large parts of northern China enveloped in dangerous smog in recent days.

"Tax revenue is an important economic means to promote environmental protection," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Jason Miller quits as newly named White House communications director after Trump staffer hints at sex scandal (RICH SCHAPIRO, 12/24/16, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Donald Trump's inner circle was thrown into turmoil Saturday when his newly-named White House communications director resigned after a transition team staffer posted cryptic tweets suggesting he's a philanderer. [...]

[A]J Delgado, a senior advisor in Trump's transition team, posted several tweets hinting that Miller was at the center of a sex scandal.

"Congratulations to the baby-daddy on being named WH Comms Director!" she wrote in one now-deleted tweet.

"The 2016 version of John Edwards," she wrote in another, referring to the disgraced ex-Democratic senator who fathered a child with his mistress.

Trump 'friend' and N.Y. campaign co-chair says he wants Obama dead of 'mad cow disease' in 2017 (Abby Phillip December 23 , 2016, Washington Post)

Carl Paladino, a former Republican nominee for governor of New York and an adviser to president-elect Trump, included the death of President Obama and "return" of first lady Michelle Obama to Africa on his list of things he wanted for 2017.

Paladino was responding to a survey by an alternative weekly magazine, Artvoice.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Operation Raqqa: British RAF pilots to switch bombing raids to 'the heart' of Isil  (Steven Swinford, 25 DECEMBER 2016, The Telegraph)

The RAF is preparing to mount a major offensive in Syria next year as it takes the fight against Isil to the "heart of the caliphate" in Raqqa.

Senior military sources said that from next Spring the RAF is likely to "pivot" its focus from Iraq to Syria as it seeks to bolster rebel forces fighting Syria.

Salafism required Longstreet but got stuck with Lee.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


The Band's 'Christmas Must Be Tonight' Remains an Unjustly Overlooked Holiday Classic ( JIMMY NELSON, 12/25/16, Something Else!)

Composed in the style of scripture, the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" -- Robbie Robertson's ambitious Yuletide gift to his new son Sebastian during the sessions for Northern Lights-Southern Cross -- never became the seasonal favorite it should have been. Tucked away inside the 1977 odds-and-ends package Islands, the song remains a too-often-neglected gem. It's not corny, boozy or jokey enough, I suppose.

In its way, however, "Christmas Must Be Tonight" represents a canny distillation of what has made the Band such an enduring presence, from Garth Hudson's spectral colorings, to its spacious cadence, to Robertson's lyric -- offered from the perspective of a shepherd in that holy moment. "Christmas Must Be Tonight," and maybe this doomed it from the start, would take on the same kind of emotionally direct underpinning that lifted moments like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Acadian Driftwood."

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Trump Vows to Dissolve Controversial Foundation (Daniel Politi, 12/24/16, Slate)

Trump said he has ordered his lawyers to come up with a plan to close down the foundation. But it doesn't seem the move will be easy--or quick. The foundation is currently under investigation by the New York attorney general and won't be able to close its doors until that has been completed. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had already ordered the foundation stop taking money because it violated state law.

No wongder he's squandered a fortune; he's closing the only business he makes money off of....

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Census Says U.S. Population Grew at Lowest Rate Since Great Depression This Year (JANET ADAMY and  PAUL OVERBERG, Dec. 20, 2016, WSJ)

An uptick in deaths, a slowdown in births and a slight drop in immigration all damped American population growth for the year ended July 1. The 0.7% increase, to 323.1 million, was the smallest on record since 1936-37, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

The figures show Americans continue to leave the North for Western states, with Utah, Nevada, Idaho and several others in that region topping the country in percentage growth. Besides New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois also shrunk in notable ways, with the land of Lincoln losing more people than any other state.

Madiganistan : How House Speaker Michael Madigan helped ruin Illinois (Daniel DiSalvo, Autumn 2016, City Journal)

Illinois currently holds the dubious distinction of being the most fiscally derelict state in America. In 2015, Moody's downgraded Illinois' general-obligation bonds from A3 to Baa1, the lowest ranking among the 50 states. The state's pension systems are only 40 percent funded, the worst ratio in the country. Forbes rated Illinois' business climate 38th among states last year. Chicago, the state's economic engine, has been cratering under the weight of huge pension costs, and had to enact a $500 million property-tax increase last year. In addition, Chicago's schools are in crisis, and--most disturbing of all--the city has watched its crime rate explode. The migration rate out of Illinois over the last five years has been the highest of any state.

Digging so deep a fiscal and economic hole takes effort. Many people doubtless share some of the culpability. But if one person should be singled out as responsible for Illinois' political and economic mess, it would be House Speaker Madigan. Unlike Rauner, who just arrived on the political scene, Madigan is at the heart of Illinois' political establishment. Chicago magazine has long ranked him among the "most powerful" people in the Windy City.

Madigan, 74, has been involved in electoral politics for 43 years and has served as speaker of the Illinois House for 31 of those--making him the longest-serving state house speaker in U.S. history. His duties hardly stop there. He is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, a partner in Chicago's most successful property-tax law firm, and--last, but not least--a committeeman for Chicago's 13th Ward, a post he has held since he was 27. These four positions and their associated networks of patronage appointees, legislative staffers, corporate lobbyists, campaign donors, industry clients, and family members are what some in Illinois refer to as "Madiganistan" or the "Madigan industrial complex."

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Middle Class Retirement Accounts at Record Levels. Low-Income Households Still Saving Little. (Andrew G. Biggs, 12/23/16, AEIdeas)

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez are two French economists who are beloved by the American left. Their work on income inequality and rising disparities in wealth have motivated U.S. progressives to call for greater redistribution throughout the economy. And Piketty and Saez's work aggregating data on income trends over many decades has earned them respect even among researchers who may not agree with all of their conclusions. But in new work published with their colleague Gabriel Zucman, Piketty and Saez released data showing rapidly rising retirement savings for the U.S. middle class. Middle class Americans have never before held so much wealth in retirement plans such as 401(k)s, defined benefit pension plans and IRAs. [...]

The Piketty, Saez and Zucman data provide running totals of assets held in retirement plans, including traditional defined benefit (DB) pensions, defined contribution (DC) pensions such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). From their data, I calculated a fairly simple measure of retirement saving adequacy: assets held in retirement plans as a percentage of annual incomes (specifically, I measure income here as employee compensation, leaving out earnings on investments to avoid double-counting).

The idea is that people build savings so they can replace their annual salaries once they hit retirement. There's no firm idea of how big a ratio of savings to earnings you need - I suspect it's lower than many financial companies claim. But we can look at the direction of retirement assets as a percentage of annual incomes; if it's stagnant, Americans may not have enough savings to last through longer retirement. If ratios are falling, then Americans may indeed face a retirement crisis.


In fact, retirement plan savings for middle class U. S. households have increased dramatically over time, even when measured against the growth of the annual incomes these savings are meant to replace. For the middle class - measured as the middle 40 percent of the population - retirement plan savings rose from 33 percent of annual incomes in 1970; to 53 percent in 1980; to 101 percent in 1990; to 168 percent in 2000; to 210 percent in 2014. There are occasional short-term declines coinciding with large stock market downturns, but the broader trend is toward higher retirement savings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


What would men do if they didn't have to impress women? (Barking up the Wrong Tree)

What if a guy's job had no effect on his value in the marriage market? How would that affect a young man's career choices? He'd be a heck of a lot less ambitious:
This paper examines the extent to which human capital and career decisions are affected by their potential returns in the marriage market. [...] The results show that if there were no returns to career choices in the marriage market, men would tend to work less, study less, and choose blue‐collar jobs over white‐collar jobs. These findings suggest that the existing literature underestimates the true returns to human capital investments by ignoring their returns in the marriage market.

Source: "Marriage and Career: The Dynamic Decisions of Young Men" from "Journal of Human Capital"

...was just a scam so we could stop working.
Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Are Negative Rates Backfiring? Here's Some Early Evidence (GEORGI KANTCHEV,  CHRISTOPHER WHITTALL and  MIHO INADA,  Aug. 8, 2016, WSJ)

Recent economic data show consumers are saving more in Germany and Japan, and in Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden, three non-eurozone countries with negative rates, savings are at their highest since 1995, the year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development started collecting data on those countries. Companies in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Japan also are holding on to more cash.

Economists point to a variety of other possible factors confounding central-bank policy: Low inflation has left consumers with more money to sock away; aging populations are naturally more inclined to save; central banks themselves may have failed to properly explain their actions.

But there is a growing suspicion that part of problem may be negative rates themselves. Some economists and bankers contend that negative rates communicate fear over the growth outlook and the central bank's ability to manage it.

Negative rates reflect the banks' realization that deflation is a long-term phenomenon, so even if you put your money in a mattress it will be worth more when you spend it.  Invest it and your returns are staggering.

The Destructive Power of Inflation (Martin Feldstein, 12/22/16, Project Syndicate)

[I] remember being in Argentina in the mid-1990s, when there was virtually no inflation. Back then, the Argentine peso was pegged to the US dollar, and both currencies were used equally for day-to-day transactions on the streets of Buenos Aires.

But the subsequent collapse of the peso's dollar peg, and the forced conversion of dollar contracts into peso contracts at a non-market exchange rate, caused inflation to soar. By 2003, the annual rate had increased to 40%. It then fell to 10% for a few years. But it rose again during the presidencies of Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to 25%. It finally jumped back up to 40% in 2016, propelled by the removal of distortionary price subsidies that had previously been used to disguise the true inflation rate.

The recent high rates of inflation, and the public's memory of even higher rates in the past, have severely harmed Argentina's economy.

Because market interest rates rise to compensate for high inflation, even the government must now pay an interest rate of about 25% to borrow in pesos for short periods. Lenders are unwilling to provide long-term credit at fixed interest rates, because a jump in inflation would destroy the value of their bonds and loans.

Households and businesses are reluctant to finance long-term investments with short-term loans or with variable-interest-rate loans, because a jump in inflation would cause their interest payments to rise sharply. Indeed, Argentina's history of high and variable inflation has destroyed the domestic mortgage market, making it impossible for a household to use a mortgage to buy a home. Businesses are also reluctant to borrow, because they recall how previous increases in inflation - and thus in interest rates - pushed otherwise healthy companies into bankruptcy.

The life insurance industry has been destroyed by high and uncertain inflation as well. Given that no one knows what the peso will be worth when future claims are paid, why would anyone buy insurance with today's pesos?

Economists might respond by suggesting that mortgages, insurance contracts, and other agreements could be indexed to the price level, adjusting payments to the contemporary rate of inflation. But when the inflation rate is changing rapidly, it is hard to know what the contemporary rate even is.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Obama's Betrayal of Israel Is a Black Day for American Diplomacy (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, December 24, 2016, National Review)

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Conventional Threat to Trump (RICH LOWRY, December 23, 2016 , National Review)

Donald Trump was supposed to take over the Republican party, but the question going forward will be whether the Republican party takes over him. 

So far the early legislative agenda of Republicans after the Trump revolution is shaping up to be what you would have expected prior to the Trump revolution. It's a cookie-cutter GOP program that any Republican who ran for president in the past 40 years would feel comfortable signing, with its prospective centerpiece being another round of across-the-board tax cuts.

Donald required a Democrat Congress and Court to achieve his personal politics.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Woe to Those Disrupted by Amazon (Barry Ritholtz, 12/21/16, Bloomberg View)

What made me think about this was a simple purchase this past summer. I bought a couple of TVs from a local retailer, a 50-inch LG for my basement (less than $400), and a 60-inch Samsung (less than $800) for the weekend house.

Until recently, I had no idea that Amazon was part of this process from beginning to end.

First, I used a mobile app -- Amazon Price Check -- to compare prices. The TVs were less expensive at a local retailer by a few bucks, which the Amazon app let me know, so I bought them there. But the wall mount to hang the 50-inch (the 60-inch was going to sit on a table top) was so much cheaper at Amazon -- $40 versus more than $100 -- that I had to order it from Amazon. Which leads to the most interesting part of our story.

The 50-inch sat on the floor in front of the treadmill for three months. I was going to hang it myself, but you know how it goes with household chores. Once it was clear to me I was never going to get around to it, I went back to the local retailer to inquire about them hanging it for me. The quoted price was $399, about the same as the television itself; that made no sense.

I did a Google search that I expected that would take me to Angie's List or something similar. Instead, I was shocked to see something called Amazon Home Services pop up as an option. The prices were $69 for a set that was 50-inches or smaller. This wasn't just a little cheaper: it was less than 20 percent of the price quoted by the local retailer. I clicked, scheduled and that Friday a guy hung the television, giving me new inspiration to get on the treadmill.

He told me some interesting things: Depending upon the day, he does five to 10 installations. He does contract work for several different companies. Lastly, he has hung three sets in houses on the same block, working for three different companies -- and the charges were $400, $200 and $69. He gets paid the same amount, and does the exact same work.

Now consider the potential threat this poses to Amazon's competition. Work like this has to be a source of revenue and very likely profit for these other retailers. I have to think this kind of market inefficiency eventually will be competed away by Amazon. We've seen it happen before, remember.

This sent me back to Amazon's website to look at what else it offered -- and it's pretty much any local service you can imagine. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Military plane crashes into Black Sea near Sochi (Al Jazeera, 12/24/16)

A Russian military plane with 92 people on board, including members of a famed army choir, has crashed into the Black Sea shortly after taking off, the Russian defence ministry said.

The Russian defence ministry said there was no sign of survivors. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a national day of mourning.

Local news agencies, citing the defence ministry, said the Tu-154 plane had departed from the southern Russian city of Adler on Sunday moring and was heading towards Latakia in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


After UN vote, Bennett plans to bring annexation bill to Knesset (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 25, 2016)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Israel must use a United Nations Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlement activity as a spur to effectively annex large parts of the West Bank, and vowed to push ahead with plans to introduce potentially explosive legislation to extend sovereignty to a large settlement near Jerusalem.

Mr. Bennett misunderstands the term--Israel can not be the sovereign of the Palestinians.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


China's love affair with the dollar (Salvatore Babones, 12/24/16, Al Jazeera)

When former Chinese Politburo member Zhou Yongkang was arrested in 2014 on corruption charges, the scale of his ill-gotten gains was astounding, totalling some $16bn. When sums that large are involved most of the assets have to be invested in financial instruments and real estate.

But the list of physical currency found in his homes is revealing: 152.7 million Chinese yuan (valued at the time at $24.5m), 662,000 Euros, 10,000 British pounds, 55,000 Swiss francs - and $275m.

The former head of China's internal security services and one of the 10 most powerful men in China apparently preferred to keep his "petty cash" mainly in US dollars.

He's not alone. China lost around $1 trillion to capital flight in 2015, before clamping down hard at the beginning of 2016. Much of this money leaves China via fake invoicing in Hong Kong, where the local currency is pegged to the US dollar. Illicit outflows are also facilitated by casinos in the Philippines, South Korea, and on remote Pacific islands, all of which operate primarily in dollars.

Predictions of the dollar's demise, and eventual replacement by the Chinese yuan, are a staple of global economic punditry, but they have little basis in reality.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 AM


The strange serenity of Barack Obama (Scott Galupo, December 21, 2016, The Week)

[F]or better and worse, Obama has been the Serenity Prayer president.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference. [Serenity Prayer]

This is our president. He accepts the things he cannot change, and tries to change the things he believes he can. In political rather than spiritual terms, Obama's presidency has seemingly toggled between resignation and targeted, bold strikes.

Rewind to January 2010, when Scott Brown, a little-known Massachusetts Republican, won a special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy -- robbing Obama of his 60-seat supermajority in the Senate. Though counseled to moderate his healthcare reform proposal, Obama famously told aides "I feel lucky" and committed to an aggressive plan to push through a portion of the bill under Senate budget-reconciliation rules, thereby avoiding a Republican filibuster. Senior strategist David Axelrod recalled Obama's thinking thusly: "I get the politics of this, but if we don't do this now, it probably wouldn't happen ... Are we going to put our approval rating on the shelf and admire it for eight years, or are we here to spend our political capital and try and do things of lasting importance for the country?"

The Serenity Prayer famously asks for wisdom to know the difference between changeable and unchangeable situations. On healthcare, wisely or not, Obama boldly chose to push for change. He succeeded. And he paid the price.

After the disastrous 2010 congressional midterm elections, Obama, reflecting on his party's "shellacking," predicted his relationship with the public would "have some more ups and downs." Obama then, quietly and improbably, reached one of the few compromises he would ever reach with congressional Republicans: a deal to extend Bush-era tax rates for two years paired with a package of unemployment benefits and tax incentives for businesses. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer decried the compromise bill as "Stimulus II," a deficit-financed "free lunch": "[T]he package will add as much as 1 percent to GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points. That could easily be the difference between victory and defeat in 2012...

U.S. economy grew strong 3.5% in third quarter (Patrick Gillespie, 12/22/16, CNNMoney)

The U.S. economy grew 3.5% in the third quarter -- July to September -- compared to the same time a year ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 AM


Was Barack Obama Bad for Democrats? (STANLEY B. GREENBERG and ANNA GREENBERGDEC. 23, 2016, NY Times)

President Obama will be remembered as a thoughtful and dignified president who led a scrupulously honest administration that achieved major changes.

People argue over whether his impatience with politicians and Republican intransigence denied him bigger accomplishments, but that argument is beside the point: He rescued an economy in crisis and passed the recovery program, pulled America back from its military overreach, passed the Affordable Care Act and committed the nation to addressing climate change. To be truly transformative in the way he wanted, however, his success had to translate into electoral gains for those who shared his vision and wanted to reform government. On that count, Mr. Obama failed.

His legacy regrettably includes the more than 1,000 Democrats who lost their elections during his two terms. Republicans now have total control in half of America's states.

Hard to demonize Republicans when you govern as one.

December 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM

1215, 1640, 1688, 1776...:

Russell Kirk & the American Constitutional Founding (Mark C. Henrie, 11/06/16, Imaginative Conservative)

Ever the conservative, Dr. Kirk attempted to demonstrate the unoriginality of the American Revolution. To him, ours was "a revolution not made but prevented," a conservative revolt against the novelty of George III's centralizing rule and Parliament's departure from past practice into direct taxation of the colonies.[2] At a political level, Kirk was more impressed by the continuity between the arguments of 1688 (the "Glorious Revolution") and those of 1776 than by their differences, while he was more impressed by the discontinuity between 1776 and 1789 (the French Revolution) than by their similarities. Following Edmund Burke's implicit view and the arguments of such later conservative thinkers as Friedrich von Gentz, Kirk distinguished the American experience from that of other nations during the so-called "Age of Democratic Revolution."[3] What was truly novel about America's experience for Kirk was that it had undergone a political "revolution" precisely while escaping the ideological novelty of the age.

Furthermore, Kirk's view of the American Constitutional Founding in 1787 was captured in his refusal even to speak of a "Founding"--a word that conjures images of some Great Man, a Solon, Lycurgus, or Aeneas. A Founding implies the quasi-divine legislation of an entirely new way of life, the creation of a people. Kirk, however, read the Constitution of 1787 as a reworking of traditional English and colonial American practice, rather than anything new or particularly speculative. Certainly it is fanciful to imagine immediately deducing bicameralism, for example, from any postulate of natural right. For Kirk, just as the constitutions of the states were prudent revisions of colonial charters, so also the 1787 U.S. Constitution was a slight adjustment of the Articles of Confederation. Kirk was surely correct that whatever the "intention" of the drafters of the Constitution, this was the "understanding" of the ratifying conventions of the states, whose consent established our political regime.[4]

Even if we can speak of an American Founding, Kirk's conservative political science raised and attempted to answer questions that are otherwise begged in the patriotic narrative: Whence came that Founding generation of Americans? Whence can we trace their "roots?" Some commentators ignore these questions, but only by presuming an ahistorical, "mythic" Founding. On the other hand, to address such questions seriously, we cannot only look to the political order under which the founding generation were raised, for since the collapse of the unity of the ancient polis it is a mistake simply to equate the political regime with the totality of a way of life of a people. To determine whom these men of the founding generation were--and who we are--we must look instead to tradition and culture, to all the elements of our civilization.

Here Kirk found his field, which was fitting. For conservative theorists have always been less interested in formal political institutions than in manners and mores. A fundamental proposition of conservative reflection on social matters is the supremacy of the "unwritten" constitution of a people to "written" political forms.[5] The many traditions that constitute a people are where we discover the meaning of our common life, for culture is deeper than politics. As Kirk put it, "Culture cannot really be planned by political authority, for much of culture is unconscious; and politics grows out of culture, not culture out of politics."[6] Placing the American Founding into the context of our cultural traditions yields quite a different understanding of the meaning of America.

Specifically then, Kirk insisted that America's is a "British Culture," one clearly continuous with that of our Anglo-Saxon forebears. We can speak of our Anglo-Saxon forbears, for whatever a particular American's ethnic descent, our common life, Kirk believed, reveals a British heritage. Because Americans speak English, our most vivid common images and metaphors are the products of the British literary tradition. Politically, we inherit an attachment to the rule of law, a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon practice.[7] Kirk also drew attention to our appropriation of representative government and most fundamental of all, our heritage of Anglo-Saxon mores, manners, habits, and domestic institutions.[8] For Kirk, both our Founders and we share this British culture, and this more than anything defines "us."

December 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


The Art of Letting Go : MLB's code is clear: Flip your bat and you'll pay. But in South Korea, flips are an art. How does this alternate world exist? And what does it say about us? (Writer Mina Kimes trekked across South Korea with illustrator Mickey Duzyj to unravel the mystery, ESPN the Magazine)

As Major League Baseball struggles to overcome its staid image and lure younger fans -- according to Nielsen, most of the sport's TV viewers are over 50 -- the simple bat flip has come to symbolize the culture war being waged within its ranks. It's a conflict between those who believe the game should embrace the traditions of other countries and flashier elements of other sports, and those who, as Bautista wrote in The Players' Tribune, are "old-school, my-way-or-the-highway type of people who never want the game to evolve."

Meanwhile, in the Korea Baseball Organization, bat flips aren't just permitted -- they're embraced. "A bat flip isn't disrespectful here in Korea, which is a very formal, respectful country," says Dan Kurtz, a Korean-American who started in 2002 as a message board for English-speaking fans. "A guy flips and the pitchers don't do anything about it. It's just part of the game." Kurtz explains that bat flips, which are called ppa dun in Korea -- a term that combines the words for "bat" and "throw" -- are ubiquitous in the KBO. But he isn't sure how that happened. "People ask me, 'Why can't we do this in Major League Baseball?'" he says. "I want to know: Where in Korea did it originate and why?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


What the World Got Wrong About Kareem Abdul-Jabbar : A long, strange day with the least understood basketball star of all time. (JAY CASPIAN KANG, SEPT. 17, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

In the sleek, cold lobby of the Langham Place hotel in Midtown Manhattan, one of those thoroughly designed spaces in which one cannot find a right angle, much less a comfortable chair, the 68-year-old, 7-foot-2 former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sitting on a leather bench with his arms draped around his protruding knees. It was a melancholy pose, best suited for the solitude of a beach at night or a rocky summit after a long hike. A U.C.L.A. T-shirt and a pair of jeans hung loosely off his narrow frame. Despite having had quadruple-bypass surgery just a few months earlier, Abdul-Jabbar didn't look all that different than he did during his last days on the Los Angeles Lakers in the late 1980s. The only evidence, really, that he had passed retirement age was a dash of white in his goatee.

''Hi, I'm the reporter who is going to follow you around today,'' I said, sticking out my hand.

''O.K.,'' he said. It was clear there would be no handshake.

I sat down next to him. He made no effort to start a conversation, so neither did I. We sat in silence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Ever Bought Art on a Cruise? Prepare to Be Seasick : Park West, the biggest art gallery in the world, knows how to sell at sea--where there's bad Wi-Fi and plenty of Champagne. (Vernon Silver  December 14, 2016, Bloomberg)

Among the passengers gathered for the art auction, the guy sitting in front of me seemed the most likely to have attended just for the free booze. The advertisements left in our staterooms had promised Champagne, and amid the smart polo shirts and sundresses, this middle-aged man stood out as exceptionally casual: a white tank top with a faded "Virginia Beach" graphic, black athletic shorts, and a blue baseball cap pulled down close to his eyeglasses. It was 11:15 a.m., and our cruise ship, the Norwegian Epic, was transiting the strait between Sardinia and Corsica, taking almost 6,000 passengers and crew on an eastward course to mainland Italy. As the auction staff ushered in potential bidders, a waiter approached with a silver tray of bubbly. The man in the tank top scooped up a flute. "Breakfast!" he said.

Before bidding could start, the auctioneer instructed us to explore scores of artworks set up on easels around the room--impressionistic seasides, twee cottages by Thomas Kinkade, the Statue of Liberty as rendered by Peter Max, and a surreal composition featuring an anthropomorphic cocktail olive.

My Champagne-sampling neighbor's name was Chuck Bialon, from Pittsburgh. He said he'd been to dozens of these auctions over the years and whispered a warning: "It's a shell game." Gallery staff milled about within earshot, offering potential collectors special prebid prices at what they said were steep discounts. Bialon, his voice lowered, outlined the hidden danger. The spotty onboard Wi-Fi made it next to impossible to Google around for fair-market prices, he said--and also made it unlikely passengers would learn that the company running the auction, Park West Gallery, has long been accused by angry customers of selling overpriced art as investments.

Still, Bialon added, there was that time he'd bought a Rembrandt. Paid almost $12,000 for it on a Carnival cruise of the western Caribbean. Hangs on his dining room wall. I wanted to ask more, but the head auctioneer had seen me taking notes. For the moment, I needed to move along and mingle with others. The whiff of scandal surrounding high-seas art auctions was the reason I was on the Epic.

December 22, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


The Secret History of Tiger Woods : The death of his father set a battle raging inside the world's greatest golfer. How he waged that war -- through an obsession with the Navy SEALs -- is the tale of how Tiger lost his way (WRIGHT THOMPSON, 4/21/16, ESPN the Magazine)

TIGER BOUGHT A pair of combat boots. They were black, made by the tactical outfitter Blackhawk, popular with ex-special ops guys who become contractors and mercenaries. The boots were inevitable, in hindsight. You can't insert something as intense as the SEAL culture into the mind of someone like Tiger Woods and not have him chase it down a deep, dark hole. He started doing the timed 4-mile run in combat boots, required by everyone who wants to graduate from BUD/S. A friend named Corey Carroll, who refused to comment and whose parents lived near Tiger, did the workouts with him. They'd leave from Carroll's parents' home, heading north, out onto the golf course. The rare sighting was almost too strange to process: Tiger Woods in combat boots, wearing Nike workout pants or long combat-style trousers, depending on the weather, pounding out 8 1/2-minute miles, within striking distance of the time needed for BUD/S.

Tiger knew the SEAL physical requirements by heart, easily knocking out the pushups, pullups and situps. When he couldn't sleep, he'd end up at a nearby Gold's Gym at 3 a.m., grinding. One of his favorite workouts was the ladder, or PT pyramid, a popular Navy SEAL exercise: one pullup, two pushups, three situps, then two, four, six, up to 10, 20, 30 and back down again.

Soon, the training at La Posta didn't cut it. He found something more intense with Duane Dieter, a man allowed by the Navy to train SEALs in a specialized form of martial arts that he invented. Dieter is a divisive figure in the special operations world, working out of his own training compound on the Maryland shore. His method is called Close Quarters Defense, or CQD, and some students look at him as an almost spiritual guide, like a modern samurai. Others think he's overrated. For Dieter, few things were more important than ancient warrior principles like light and dark energy.

Tiger got introduced by the Navy and learned CQD in Coronado. Hooked, he wanted to go further and ended up making trips to Dieter's compound in Maryland. He'd fly in and either stay at the facility or at the nearby fancy resort, Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond, according to a source who saw Tiger with Dieter. He'd park outside a nearby Target, sending someone else inside for cheap throwaway clothes that they could ruin with the Simunition. The practice rounds left huge bruises. He did all sorts of weapons training and fighting there, including this drill invented by Dieter: He would stand in a room, hands by his side, wearing a helmet with a protective face shield. A hood would be lowered over the helmet and loud white noise would play. It sounded like an approaching train, the speakers turning on and off at random intervals, lasting 30 seconds, or maybe just five. Then the hood would fly up and there would be a scenario. Maybe two people were talking. Or maybe one was a hostile and the other a hostage. If the people posed no threat, the correct response was to check corners and not draw your weapon. Then the hood would go back down, and there'd be more music, and when it came up, the scenario had changed. Sometimes a guy threw punches, to the body and head, and Tiger would need to free himself and draw his weapon. At first, the instructors went easy, not hitting him as hard as they'd hit a SEAL. Tiger put a stop to that and soon they jumped him as aggressively as everyone else. When the drill finally ended, the room smelled like gunpowder.

An idea began to take hold, a dream, really, one that could destroy the disconnect Tiger felt in his life, completely killing off the character he played in public. Maybe he could just disappear into the shadow world of special operations. He mentioned his plans to people around him, one by one. He pulled over a car at a tournament once and told Steve Williams he wanted to join the Navy. He told Haney he thought it would be cool to go through training. Once, Carroll had to talk him down via text message, according to someone present for the exchange, because Tiger wanted to quit golf and join the Navy. There's only one reason to run 4 miles in pants and combat boots. This wasn't some proto-training to develop a new gear of mental toughness. "The goal was to make it through BUD/S," says a former friend who knew about the training. "It had nothing to do with golf."

To many people inside Tiger's circle, Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors wasn't as important to Tiger as it was to the golfing media and fans. He never mentioned it. Multiple people who've spent significant amounts of time with him say that. When Tiger did talk about it, someone else usually brought it up and he merely responded. The record instead became something to break so he could chase something that truly mattered. He loved the anonymity of wearing a uniform and being part of a team. "It was very, very serious," the friend says. "If he had had a hot two years and broken the record, he would have hung up his clubs and enlisted. No doubt."

Tiger talked about some of these military trips with his friends, including describing skydiving to Michael Jordan, who saw a pattern repeating from his own past. Years before, he'd lost his father, and in his grief, he sought solace doing something his dad loved, quitting the Bulls and riding minor league buses for the Birmingham Barons. "It could be his way of playing baseball," Jordan would say years later. "Soothing his father's interest."

Jordan looked sad as he said this, perhaps feeling the heaviness of it all or even the luck involved. He somehow got through his grief and reclaimed his greatness, while Tiger has tried and failed over and over again.

"Ah, boy," Jordan sighed. [...]

THE REAL WORK of his life -- how to deal with having been Tiger Woods -- will begin only once he accepts that his golfing career is finished. All driven people experience a reckoning at the end of their life's work, but when that work feels incomplete, or somehow tainted, the regrets can fester with time. This reckoning is coming for Tiger, which worries his friend Michael Jordan, who knows more about the next 10 years of Tiger's life than nearly anyone alive. It's jarring to be dominant and then have it suddenly end. "I don't know if he's happy about that or sad about that," Jordan says. "I think he's tired. I think he really wishes he could retire, but he doesn't know how to do it yet, and I don't think he wants to leave it where it is right now. If he could win a major and walk away, he would, I think."

A few months ago, sitting in his office in Charlotte, Jordan picked up his phone and dialed Tiger's number. It rang a few times and went to voicemail: I'm sorry, but the person you called has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet. He tried twice more, the phone rang five or six times, and then he smiled.

"Playing video games," he said.

They texted in November, the day after a big group went out to dinner at Tiger's restaurant. Tiger got drunk and they all laughed and told stories, and Michael thought Tiger seemed relaxed, which made him hopeful. Tiger talked about his injuries a lot but not much about the future. "The thing is," Jordan says, "I love him so much that I can't tell him, 'You're not gonna be great again.'"

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM

REVERB (profanity alert):

A Conversation With Greil Marcus: 'Mystery Train' Keeps Rolling at 40 : "These artists just keep reverberating," says Marcus of figures that populate landmark 1975 work (Rob Sheffield, October 19, 2015, Rolling Stone)

Ever since Greil Marcus published Mystery Train in 1975, it's been hailed as the greatest book ever written about rock & roll. The world was a different place 40 years ago -- Elvis Presley was alive; Robert Johnson was just another forgotten dead bluesman; there were barely any rock tomes for competition. But Mystery Train is still the best and funniest book ever written about America or its music. Marcus takes a few key artists -- Presley, Johnson, Sly Stone, Randy Newman, the Band -- as a map to the country, making the whole story sound like a crazed adventure anyone can join by reading.

The idea, as Marcus wrote in 1975: "To deal with rock & roll not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture." The book takes in history, politics, philosophy, literature, cars, movies, sex, death, dread, connecting folk heroes from Superfly to Abe Lincoln to Little Richard to Moby Dick. Mystery Train is like reading Queequeg's tattoos -- the whole country's secrets seem to be in here somewhere.

Generation of fans have gotten their minds blown by it, as I did at a tender age -- it was like a "mystery train to your brain," as Sonic Youth sang. Over the years, one of the strangest things is how much music it's inspired, from Nick Cave to Wilco to Bruce Springsteen -- the Clash echoed it all over their classic London Calling. And since the saga never ends -- Elvis, Robert Johnson and crew keep showing up all over our culture -- the book keeps growing, as Marcus updates the ever-expanding "Notes and Discographies" section to catch up with the story so far. (The 2015 anniversary edition is definitive, though hardcore fans also prize the 1997 and 1982 versions). [...]

There's always more to all these stories.

There's always more. Robert Johnson -- his presence in the culture gets bigger and bigger, as he becomes more of a focus of fascination. Not just because Barack Obama is there in the White House singing "Sweet Home Chicago" -- and that's a big part of it; it's wonderful -- but there's also things like the brewery that made Hellhound on My Ale.

Then there was this thing on Alabama Public Radio where some folklorists tracked down the daughter of Robert Johnson's legendary guitar teacher in Mississippi. He was always referred to in the literature as "Ike Zinnerman" or "Zinnman," all these different names. But they're interviewing his daughter, and she knows what the family name is. It's "Zimmerman." I think if Bob Dylan knew that, he would have connected himself to Robert Johnson's teacher -- "that's my third cousin on my father's side" or something.
Ike Zimmerman was a preacher in Compton, California. He was considered the devil because he had an ability to teach people to play guitar. But she stressed that mainly the people he taught were women. All those kinds of stories, they make it fun to keep up. These artists just keep reverberating. Whenever I finish a new edition, I start a new file.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


How I rescued one of the greatest -- and longest -- films ever made : Kevin Brownlow on how he rediscovered Abel Gance's epic 1927 silent film Napoleon in a library in Bromley (Kevin Brownlow, 5 November 2016, The Spectator)

I shall never forget my first encounter with Abel Gance's Napoleon. I saw it under the most unpromising circumstances -- fragments of the great original, shown on a home projector, 25 years after its original release. Yet those fragments changed my life.

I was 15, still at school in Hampstead, and already obsessed by the cinema. My parents had given me a projector for my 11th birthday. Since the only films available to me were silent films, I found myself immersed in the rarefied atmosphere of a forgotten art.

As home movies were being abandoned in favour of television, I found a surprising number in London's junk shops. Among the best were the French silent films.

My admiration for them, however, was subject to the occasional shattering blow. When I was offered a print of Jean Epstein's Le Lion des Mogols (1924), it proved abysmal, the sort of silent film which parodies the whole period. Depressed, I phoned the film library in Bromley from which I had bought it and asked if they would exchange it. They agreed and suggested I chose an alternative.

I examined their list with care. There was nothing much of interest. One of the two-reelers was called Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Revolution, but who wanted a classroom film, full of textbook titles and static engravings?

The moment the parcel arrived, I set up my projector and summoned my parents. On 18 January 1954, I saw scenes from Napoléon vu par Abel Gance for the first time. The first shot faded in to reveal the leaders of the French Revolution -- Marat, Danton, Robespierre. What struck me most were the superbly chosen faces. I had no idea that the legendary Artaud was playing Marat. I felt the film blaze into life, like a masterly newsreel of the 18th century. This was no educational film!

In the revolutionary Club des Cordeliers were more extraordinary, expectant faces -- all chosen with uncanny skill. I was exhilarated by the rapid cutting and the swirling camera movement. By the time Napoleon had been introduced, in no contrived, theatrical manner, but as an obscure artillery lieutenant on the edge of the crowd, I was in love with the picture.

When the action moved to Corsica, and Napoleon was forced to flee, the furious storm at sea intercut with a storm in the Convention made me realise I was watching something exceptional. 'That,' said my mother, 'is a beautiful film. It's the best one you've got.'

I had only two reels. I gathered that six had originally been released on 9.5mm in Britain. I determined to find the remainder. I placed advertisements in Exchange and Mart. I continued combing London for junk shops and photographic stores. Every so often, another reel would turn up -- to be pronounced by my parents as 'the
best yet'.

The last episode of Napoleon arrived soon afterwards. The film stopped as Bonaparte's legendary career began. It was to have included the Emperor's entire career, but Gance had run out of money. However, far from sloughing off the final scenes, he had presented them with astonishing spectacle and imagination across three screens.

With Abel Gance as the fountainhead of so much modern technique, it seemed criminal that he was so little known. I felt it was up to me to do what little I could to revive Gance's reputation and that of Napoléon.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM



The big thing happening in the economy that is not well understood is that there are two very different parts of the economy. There's the part where there's rapid technological change and very rapid productivity improvement. In that part of the economy, you would include things like media -- podcasts versus radio is a great example of rapid technological change. Streaming versus broadcast TV and so forth. Retail is obviously going through massive productivity improvements and changes. Manufacturing -- the price of televisions has dramatically collapsed in the last 10 years, and the TV [you can buy] now for 400 bucks is like science fiction compared to what you could get 10 years ago. Cars are going through rapid productivity changes now. You've got these sectors that have gone through these massive productivity changes. They are characterized by rapidly improving quality, but also collapsing prices and rapid productivity growth.

You've got this other, second part of the economy that's the exact opposite -- where quality is not improving and prices are rising. There you talk about health care, where it feels like every year you pay 10 or 15 percent more and you get some new stuff, but you don't get a lot of new stuff for the money. You talk about education, where the rising cost of a modern college education is just staggering. Actually, it's funny -- all forms of media are collapsing in price, other than textbooks. Textbooks are rising in price exactly the same as college tuition, which is a good illustration of the difference between the two sectors. Construction, real estate -- there's been a lot of conversation recently about how we're still fundamentally wedded to physical location way more than you would think at this point with the internet and everything else.

In the industries where there's rapid productivity growth, everybody is freaked out, because what are people going to do after everything gets automated? In the other part of the economy, that second part, health care and education, people are freaked out about, "Oh my God, it's going to eat the entire budget! It's going to eat my personal budget. Health care and education is going to be every dollar I make as income, and it's going to eat the national budget and drive the United States bankrupt!" And everybody in the economy is going to become either a nurse or teacher. It's really funny, both sides of the economy get polar opposite emotional reactions.

I go through all of that to say that the tech industry has been able to build startups and new technologies against that first category but not that second category. Tech is super present in retail in the form of e-commerce, we're super present in media in the form of internet, we're super present in consumer electronics in the smartphone. We are very much not present, in what we would consider to be a healthy way, in education, health care, construction, childcare, senior care. The great twist on that is that second category -- that's most of the GDP. Most of the spending is most of the GDP, and these are the areas where we have not yet been able to crack the code.

The big thing happening in the valley right now is valley entrepreneurs are getting much more aggressive at starting tech companies in that second category. We are seeing a lot more startups going into, especially, health care, biotech, different applications on that side. We're seeing a lot of startups going into education. We're not so much seeing startups going into construction, but we're seeing lots of startups going into the collaborative work: Slack and GitHub and telepresence and Skype and all of these things, that in theory, in the long run, will make geography less relevant and maybe solve the cost of housing and access to economic opportunity.

Financial services has had rising costs, not falling costs, which it really shouldn't have -- we're seeing a lot of fintech startups going into that. It's this reorientation, and the valley is still doing all of the first category things, but it feels like we're now layering on a lot of the second categories.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


James Thurber, The Art of Fiction No. 10  (Interviewed by George Plimpton & Max Steele ISSUE 10, FALL 1955, Paris Review)


Henry James was a strong influence, then?


I have the reputation for having read all of Henry James. Which would argue a misspent youth and middle age.


But there were things to be learned from him?


Yes, but again he was an influence you had to get over. Especially if you wrote for The New Yorker. Harold Ross wouldn't have understood it. I once wrote a piece called "The Beast in the Dingle" which everybody took as a parody. Actually it was a conscious attempt to write the story as James would have written it. Ross looked at it and said: "Goddamn it, this is too literary; I got only fifteen percent of the allusions." My wife and I often tried to figure out which were the fifteen percent he could have got.

You know, I've occasionally wondered what James would have done with our world. I've just written a piece--"Preface to Old Friends," it's called--in which James at the age of a hundred and four writes a preface to a novel about our age in which he summarizes the trends and complications, but at the end is so completely lost he doesn't really care enough to read it over to find his way out again.

That's the trouble with James. You get bored with him finally. He lived in the time of four-wheelers, and no bombs, and the problems then seemed a bit special and separate. That's one reason you feel restless reading him. James is like--well, I had a bulldog once who used to drag rails around, enormous ones--six-, eight-, twelve-foot rails. He loved to get them in the middle and you'd hear him growling out there, trying to bring the thing home. Once he brought home a chest of drawers--without the drawers in it. Found it on an ash-heap. Well, he'd start to get these things in the garden gate, everything finely balanced, you see, and then crash, he'd come up against the gate posts. He'd get it through finally, but I had that feeling in some of the James novels: that he was trying to get that rail through a gate not wide enough for it. [...]

Though you've never done a long serious work you have written stories--"The Cane in the Corridor" and "The Whippoorwill" in particular--in which the mood is far from humorous.

In anything funny you write that isn't close to serious you've missed something along the line.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


How A Christmas Story Went from Low-Budget Fluke to an American Tradition : The cinematic season once ruled by Irving Berlin, Charles Dickens, and It's a Wonderful Life now belongs to a little 1983 sleeper of a movie, A Christmas Story. A look back at how Bob Clark's new holiday classic upended the sentimental old order by showing something every family could recognize. (SAM KASHNER, November 2016, Vanity Fair)

Years later, when he was moving his acting career in another direction, Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie, took Robert McKee's famed three-day crash course in screenplay writing. McKee--aptly portrayed by Brian Cox in the satirical Charlie Kaufman film Adaptation--is something of a gruff guru in the art of storytelling. Billingsley recalled how McKee told his screenwriting hopefuls, "Don't tell me you're going to create a new genre for your movie. Everyone's always saying there's a new genre. There is no new genre. There are comedies, dramas, and tragedy." But then Billingsley was surprised to hear McKee say, "There's only one movie that I can argue has been a new genre in the modern era, and that movie's a little movie--I don't know if you guys have heard of it--called A Christmas Story."

Though the movie did respectable box office, it disappeared in just a few weeks. But over the years its popularity grew, and 14 years after its release, it had become such a staple of holiday fare that TNT began running it in a continuous loop at Christmastime.

The movie's director, Bob Clark, who died in a 2007 car accident, once recalled being in a restaurant in New Hampshire when he overheard a family at a nearby table speaking what sounded like dialogue from A Christmas Story. Turned out, it was. The maître d' explained that it was a ritual every Christmas Eve for this family to come to the restaurant, sit around a table, and recite dialogue from every scene. "That's when it began to sink in," said Clark. "This low-budget fluke of a movie" had become a quintessential Christmas tradition. [...]
Peter, who grew up in New York City, is related to the bootlegger turned restaurateur Sherman Billingsley, founder and owner of the Stork Club, a centerpiece of café society from speakeasy days through the 1960s. But that glory didn't extend to his descendants. Until Peter was nine, his family of six shared a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side, before moving to California and eventually settling in Phoenix.

Ralphie's father, Frank Parker--always referred to as "the Old Man" in the movie--is a perennially grumpy, obscenity-spewing, but loving dad who forever does battle with the family's smoke-belching furnace and with his neighbors', the Bumpuses', passel of hound dogs. Darren McGavin--remembered for his title role in the 1970s television horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker and in supporting roles in films and television--brings just the right amount of gruff tenderness to the role. Screenwriter Jean Shepherd felt that McGavin got the character exactly right. "I saw the Old Man . . . as a guy who grew up hustling pool games at the age of 12 and was supporting himself at the age of 14." Abandoned by his parents when he was a teen, McGavin had a hardscrabble life that made him a believable, hard-boiled dad, trying to provide a good Christmas for his family against the indignities of 1940, small-town American life at the dawn of rampant consumerism.

Irascible as the Old Man can be, he is in fact the Grinch Who Saves Christmas for Ralphie, by--spoiler alert!--getting him his cherished but heretofore denied Red Ryder BB gun. (Everyone else--including the department-store Santa--just tells Ralphie, "You'll shoot your eye out!") Jack Nicholson was considered for the role, though it's hard to imagine anyone else but McGavin in the part. "I love [Jack]," Clark later said, "but thank God he didn't [end up with the part] because Darren is the Old Man." Even better, McGavin, who died in 2006 at the age of 83, was good with kids. Billingsley recalled he "didn't feel condescended to. A lot of people don't like child actors," but McGavin wasn't one of them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


David Bowie's 'Hunky Dory': How America Inspired 1971 Masterpiece (Andy Greene, 12/16/16, Rolling Stone)

When David Bowie began writing songs for Hunky Dory, in 1970, he had little to show for the six years he spent trying to make it as a singer. His first three albums had tanked, and he didn't have a record deal. Then, in January 1971, Bowie arrived in the United States for a three-week promotional tour, a journey that broadened his universe and inspired his first great artistic statement. "The whole Hunky Dory album reflected my newfound enthusiasm for this new continent that had been opened up to me," Bowie said in 1999. "That was the first time a real outside situation affected me so 100 percent that it changed my way of writing and the way I look at things." [...]

Bowie assembled a band - including guitarist Mick Ronson and future Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman - that could amplify his folk tunes into glammy, grandiose rockers. "We went into the studio, and I had total freedom to do whatever I liked," Wakeman said. "I still rate it as the finest collection of songs on one album."

On "Changes," Bowie offered a challenge to pop's reigning stars, singing, "Look out, you rock & rollers." "I guess it was more being sort of arrogant," he said in 2002. "It's sort of baiting an audience, saying, 'Look, I'm going to be so fast, you're not going to keep up with me.'" "Life on Mars?" (based on the 1967 song "Comme d'Habitude," by French composer Claude François) told the story of a girl with "mousy hair" who goes to the movies as an escape from life.

The album was recorded in just two weeks, with the group averaging one song per day. The band shacked up in Bowie's London apartment, crashing in sleeping bags on the balcony. "Dave would drive us and all the gear into central London in the morning," said Bolder. "Afterward, we'd all go down to the pub and drink. Nobody really knew who David was at that point."

Hunky Dory wasn't a commercial success at first, but it paved the way for Ziggy Stardust and everything that would come after it. "It provided me, for the first time, with an actual audience," Bowie later said. "I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, 'Good album, good songs.' That hadn't happened to me before."

December 21, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


New law makes history, extends protections to atheists (KIMBERLY WINSTON, 12/19/16,  Religion News Service)

The law, called the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act -- IFRA for short -- has been in place since 1998. The original version established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a religious freedom watchdog that has charted abuses against Christians, Jews, Baha'is and other religious minorities in countries that include Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam.

The new version, named for a former Virginia congressman who championed the original model, specifically extends protection to atheists as well. [...]

The new law has been heralded by both Christians and atheists. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the legislation "a vital step toward protecting conscience freedom for millions of the world's most vulnerable, most oppressed people," while Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, called it "a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals."

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Interview: 'If Assad wins the war, he will lose the peace afterwards' : Russia, Iran and Turkey have agreed to broker peace talks between Syrian rebels and the Assad regime. Middle East expert, Meysam Behravesh, says this is an unprecedented and unique initiative. (Deutsche-Welle, 12/21/16)

How do you foresee the future of Syria?

Whether we like to believe it or not, there is indeed no military solution to the Syrian crisis. This means, among other things, that there is no future for Syria with Assad. His regime has presided over the death of around half a million people, as well as the displacement, both internal and external, of over 11 million Syrians in a civil war that has so far devastated much of the country's urban and critical infrastructure. 

Even if Assad wins the war, he will lose the peace afterwards. He will have to deal with emerging pockets of rebellion and resistance. This is to say that either the Syrian civil war could persist unabated for years to come, wreaking havoc in its wake, as it has so far. Or it will break down into a series of destabilizing yet resilient insurgencies, similar to what we saw in post-invasion Iraq, where the outcome was nothing but insecurity and terrorism. The fact of the matter is that under the existing circumstances, Syria without Assad, whether it be it through his personal resignation or negotiations for political transition, elections or referendum, is far from realistic and plausible. In a nutshell, I don't see a bright future for Syria.    

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Climate, energy, and Trump: Progress is still possible (Mark Muro, November 15, 2016, Brookings)

A first reassuring feature of the current situation is the fact that much of the legal power--and most of the creativity--to clean up the economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions resides outside Washington, D.C.  To be sure, nations are the most prominent units in international climate negotiations--and rules like this nation's Clean Power Plan to compel power plants to slash emissions matter enormously.  However, states and cities arguably matter just as much because they control so many of the most crucial policy levers that can control emissions. State commissions will continue to regulate investor-owned electric utilities, for example. State legislatures will continue to set and update renewable energy targets and portfolio standards.  And cities will continue to manage land-use and transportation systems and enforce energy-efficient building codes.  What is more, every sign to date suggests that globally consequential states like California and New York are going to double down on their respective climate policies. A forthcoming Metropolitan Policy Program paper will demonstrate that state-level decisions about fuel sourcing, economic structure, and other factors are delivering significant emissions reductions in dozens states. The bottom line: Progress can still be made even if Trump begins to dismantle national and global policies and processes.

Technology change and market forces will continue to drive gains.

Similarly, much of the nation's recent progress on emissions reductions resulted from market dynamics, not policy, and will proceed without regard to Donald Trump's preferences.  For example, the largest major carbon advances in the United States over the last decade have resulted from market changes that have resulted from the onset, thanks to technology breakthroughs, of cheap natural gas and cheap renewables. The massive adoption of "hydraulic fracking" has unleashed a gale of cheap, lower-carbon natural gas that has been the main driver of a wholesale switch from coal to natural gas in fueling power plants. This will continue. At the same time, wind and solar power keep getting cheaper, and in some places they are becoming competitive with new fossil-fuel plants.  Soon such renewables will become cost-competitive without federal supports.  [...]

Private finance will continue to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Finally, climate-oriented finance is gaining force. To be sure, direct federal investments, subsidies, and frameworks remain critical to support and accelerate favorable state-local and market-tech trends mentioned above. And to the extent those are reduced will be a problem.  However, the prevailing consensus is that the bulk of the $10+ trillion that the International Energy Agency estimates will be needed to finance global decarbonization in the next 15 years will consist of private capital.  And in fact, creative financing solutions have already been coming online to drive large-scale private and institutional capital flows into clean energy projects. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Scientists fired lasers at antimatter in an experiment that probes the deepest human question: why are we here? (Jesse Emspak, 12/21/16, Quartz)

Antimatter--the fictional power source in countless sci-fi stories--isn't just a great source of energy; understanding it could tell us why we exist at all. That's why a recent Nature paper outlining the results of an experiment at CERN with the antimatter version of hydrogen is so important to physicists.

Called the ALPHA experiment, it involves firing a laser at some atoms of antihydrogen to see if they behave the same way as normal, ordinary matter. And so far, it looks like it does. The problem with that is if matter and antimatter act that way, we shouldn't be here.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


5 facts about Christmas in America (MICHAEL LIPKA, 12/20/16, Pew Research)

1 About nine-in-ten Americans (92%) and nearly all Christians (96%) say they celebrate Christmas, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. This is no surprise, but what might be more unexpected is that a big majority (81%) of non-Christians in the U.S. also celebrate Christmas. This includes 87% of people with no religion and even about three-quarters of Asian-American Buddhists (76%) and Hindus (73%). Roughly a third of U.S. Jews (32%) - many of whom have non-Jewish spouses - said in a 2013 survey that they had a Christmas tree in their homes during the most recent holiday season. [...]

4 Americans largely believe that elements of the traditional Christmas story reflect actual historical events. More than seven-in-ten (73%) say that Jesus was born to a virgin and 81% believe he was laid in a manger. And similar shares say that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (75%) and that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus (74%). Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) believe that all four of these things actually happened, while 14% say none of them happened.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


CHRISTMAS AND THE DIVINE PROXIMITY (George Weigel, 12 . 21 . 16, First Things)

Loneliness is the modern predicament and it's getting worse. I was recently in New York, and as walking is the only way get around traffic-choked Manhattan, I hoofed it. And what powerfully struck me is how isolated the denizens of the Concrete Jungle are--and are by choice. For the vast majority of people you bump into (sometimes literally) on the sidewalks of New York are living inside their own reality: Pod World, I started calling it when the iPod was all the rage. Today, there are very few New York pedestrians to be found without ear buds of some sort stuck into their heads. The iPod is ancient history, but the buds are still there, and so is the isolation.

Social media is no antidote to this isolation, for tweets or Facebook postings (not to mention comment threads beneath online articles) are not substitutes for real conversation. In many cases, I fear, they intensify the loneliness and the self-absorption from which it often springs.

Christmas reminds us what Christians have to say to this pervasive loneliness. We say "God is with us," as throughout the Christmas season we celebrate the divine answer to the Advent plea, "O come, o come Emmanuel." That plea did not go unrequited. We see the answer to it in the crèches in our homes. God is with us, not in awe and majesty, but in that most accessible of human forms, the baby who reaches out for our embrace.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


One Way Not to Be Like Trump (PETER WEHNER, DEC. 17, 2016, NY Times)

For many, moderation is what the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre called a "tender souls philosophy."

This is quite a serious problem, as Aurelian Craiutu argues in his superb and timely new book, "Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes," in which he profiles several prominent 20th-century thinkers, including Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin and Michael Oakeshott. Mr. Craiutu, a professor of political science at Indiana University, argues that the success of representative government and its institutions depends on moderation because these cannot properly function without compromise, which is the governing manifestation of moderation.

The case for political moderation requires untangling some misconceptions.

Moderation does not mean truth is always found equidistant between two extreme positions, nor does it mean that bold and at times even radical steps are not necessary to advance moral ends. Moderation takes into account what is needed at any given moment; it allows circumstances to determine action in the way that weather patterns dictate which route a ship will follow.

But there are general characteristics we associate with moderation, including prudence, the humility to recognize limits (including our own), the willingness to balance competing principles and an aversion to fanaticism. Moderation accepts the complexity of life in this world and distrusts utopian visions and simple solutions. The way to think about moderation is as a disposition, not as an ideology. Its antithesis is not conviction but intemperance.

Moderates "do not see the world in Manichaean terms that divide it into forces of good (or light) and agents of evil (or darkness)," according to Professor Craiutu. "They refuse the posture of prophets, champion sobriety in political thinking and action, and endorse an ethics of responsibility as opposed to an ethics of absolute ends." This allows authentic moderates to remain open to facts that challenge their assumptions and makes them more likely to engage in debate free of invective. The survival of a functioning parliamentary system, Sir William Harcourt said, depends on "constant dining with the opposition."

...that when you look at polling on political issues Americans tend to be moderates, not wingnuts, by large margins. 
Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


California secession organizers say they've opened an embassy -- in Moscow (John Myers, 12/20/16, LA Times)

California gained an embassy in Russia last weekend, at least in the eyes of those who have promised to seek a statewide vote on secession, nicknamed "Calexit," in 2018.

Louis Marinelli, a San Diego resident who is the leader of the group promoting an effort to turn the state into an independent country , organized the Moscow event that was publicized on social media.

"We want to start laying the groundwork for a dialogue about an independent California joining the United Nations now," he said in an email Monday.

December 20, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Why Millions Watched this Church Christmas Video (KATE SHELLNUTT, DECEMBER 2016, Christianity Today)

The video came from a Kentucky megachurch, where church staff interviewed kids from the congregation about Jesus' birth then dressed up to reenact their responses.

"Of all the stories in the Bible, the story of the birth of Christ is the most widely accepted and known," said Hanna Wahlbrink, creative director at the non-denominational Southland Christian Church. "Combined with how hilarious the kids are, it's that story that people want to hear told."

They prompted children to imagine scenes of the famous biblical narrative. What was Mary doing when the angel came to her? "She was doing laundry," surmised one respondent. What about the gifts for the baby Jesus? Answers ranged from a stuffed hippo "like one I have at home" to Air Jordans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Does a doctor's gender affect your chance of survival? (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 20, 2016)

Patients who got most of their care from women doctors were more likely to leave the hospital alive than those treated by men.

The differences were small -- about 11 percent of patients treated mostly by women died within 30 days of entering the hospital, versus 11.5 percent of those treated by men. But the all-male research team estimated that there would be about 32,000 fewer deaths each year in the U.S. if male physicians performed at the same level as their female peers.

There are too many men in the workforce.
Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


This is an especially obvious lie.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


All This Talk of Voter Fraud? Across U.S., Officials Found Next to None (MICHAEL WINES, DEC. 18, 2016, NY Times)

[I]nquiries to all 50 states (every one but Kansas responded) found no states that reported indications of widespread fraud. And while additional allegations could surface as states wind up postelection reviews, their conclusions are unlikely to change significantly.

The findings unambiguously debunk repeated statements by President-elect Donald J. Trump that millions of illegal voters backed his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. They also refute warnings by Republican governors in Maine and North Carolina that election results could not be trusted.

And they underscore what researchers and scholars have said for years: Fraud by voters casting ballots illegally is a minuscule problem, but a potent political weapon.

"The old notion that somehow there are all these impostors out there, people not eligible to vote that are voting -- it's a lie," said Thomas E. Mann, a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Samantha Bee and Glenn Beck try to found anti-Trumpism alliance, bizarrely find so much more (Peter Weber, 12/20/16, The Week)

Beck has been acting strange lately -- and not in the way her audience may think. "In the spirit of peace, love, and reconciliation, Glenn and I put on our Christmas sweaters and got to work on healing the nation," Bee said. They began by noting their "mutual tribal animosities" -- their audiences despise each other. Beck asked why she invited him on her show, and Bee said: "Because I think that our future is going to require a broad coalition of nonpartisan decency It's not just individual people against Donald Trump, it's all of us against Trumpism."

Beck agreed, and said he came on the show because he doesn't think Bee is trying to do harm, like he did in the early Obama years. "My message to you is: Please don't make the mistakes that I made," he said. "And I think all of us are doing it. We're doing it on Facebook, we're doing it on Twitter. We tear each other apart, and we don't see the human on the other side." Bee was having trouble believing she and Beck were on the same page. Beck tried to help.

"I've been watching you," Beck said. "You've adopted a lot of my catastrophe kind of traits." "Sam Bee's having a Christmas crisis," she said. "Let me ask you this," Beck said. "Do you believe there's a chance we fall into a dictatorship under Donald Trump? Do you believe there's a chance we lose our freedom of speech and press under this president?" Bee shook her head in disbelief that she had become a Beck-style "catastrophist." "What I was thinking about is that this had honestly been one of the strangest days I've ever had," Bee said in a voiceover. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Voters Really Did Switch To Trump At The Last Minute (Dan Hopkins, 12/20/16, 538)

[T]he latest wave of the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics panel survey that my University of Pennsylvania colleague Diana Mutz and I have been overseeing is now complete, and it provides new evidence that voters did shift to Trump in the final weeks of the campaign, too.

Panel surveys differ from other polls in that they re-interview the same people repeatedly, allowing us to see how specific Americans' attitudes shift over time. They thus help us sidestep the problem that some groups of people might be more likely to take polls when their candidate is thought to be doing well or receiving favorable press coverage. Our October 2016 wave was conducted with nationally sampled adults over age 26 between Oct. 14 and Oct. 24, meaning that it ended soon after the third Clinton-Trump debate. At the time, Clinton was riding high in the polls -- and 43 percent of our panelists in that wave expressed support for Clinton, as opposed to 36 percent for Trump. By way of benchmarking, this same group of panelists had gone for President Obama over Mitt Romney 46 percent to 39 percent in October 2012.

At first glance, it might seem as if Clinton in October 2016 was in roughly the same position as Obama was in October 2012, at least with respect to the distribution of votes nationally: Both enjoyed margins of 7 percentage points among exactly the same group of people. But there were critical differences, even beyond the fact that the geographic distribution of support is crucial in making one candidate president. First, the number of undecided respondents in 2016 was 21 percent, significantly outpacing the 15 percent we saw in 2012. Second, our 2016 survey ended on Oct. 24, leaving two full weeks before the Nov. 8 election for people's minds to change. There was still a lot of time on the clock. [...]

As to what moved these Americans in the final weeks of the campaign, the panel has little to say. The timing of James Comey's letter to Congress -- released on Friday, Oct. 28 -- makes it one potential explanation. When making sense of campaigns, people often search for overarching narratives, and Comey's letter provides a ready-made story. No less a political observer than Bill Clinton recently explained his wife's loss by pointing to Comey's letter.

Still, we shouldn't discount the possibility that voters might have gravitated to Trump anyhow. Research has long suggested that over the course of a campaign, partisans come home to their party's candidate. Between mid-October and our post-election wave, Trump picked up almost 4 percentage points from people who had backed Romney four years before, suggesting that Republican identifiers were doing just that. Trump's media coverage in the final two weeks was markedly more positive than it had been during the prior weeks, and it's possible that shift in coverage was just the opening some Republicans and Republican-leaning voters needed to get behind Trump.

As much as Democrats want to believe that it was a particular strategy or tactic or subterfuge that cost them the election, and the Right and the media wish to find some hidden value in Donald that led him to victory, they risk ignoring several basic facts:

(1) Hillary was a historically unpopular nominee [only Donald was ever more disliked]

(2) the historical models all called for a GOP victory [only Donald was capable of so drastically underperforming the models]

(3) she was on track to win anyway until the Comey intercession [which liberated Republicans to vote for a party nominee they don't think should be president]

(4) she ultimately lost to the Republican party, whose congressional and state level candidates widely out-polled the party nominee, as well as her, and carried Donald to victory.

At the end of the day, the conservative brand simply remains more powerful than the liberal in American (Anglospheric) politics.  Moving Left in response to the election will be just as deadly for Democrats as it has been for Labour in England.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Patriots defense goes extra Mile (Ron Borges Monday, December 19, 2016, Boston Herald)

All season long, they all knew they'd been doubted, questioned and maligned. All season long they'd ignored those doubters, worked to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses. And over the last month they came to believe in themselves and, perhaps more importantly, the plan. [...]

One can say what one wants about the quality of the opposition's offense, but when you hold a professional football team (Browns and Rams excluded) to a 17-percent conversion rate on third down (2-for-12), a 0 percent conversion rate in the red zone (0-for-2), have five straight three-and-out defensive stands and produce four sacks, inordinate amounts of pressure on a young quarterback and two turnovers (of the three Denver committed), you are the equivalent of The Great Wall of China. You are, at least this week, impregnable.

Using rotations of defensive linemen and mixing and matching coverages and personnel, the Patriots defense has grown week by week to this moment -- a moment when they had to win the game because the offense was being uncharacteristically (although not unusually here in Denver) stymied.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Slim got positive vibe from Trump on Mexico at meeting: spokesman (Reuters, 12/20/16)

Carlos Slim got a "very positive" impression from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump about ties with Mexico after the two met for dinner on Saturday in Florida, a spokesman for the Mexican telecoms billionaire said on Monday.

Arturo Elias, Slim's son-in-law and spokesman, confirmed a report in The Washington Post that the two men dined at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, saying that the meal was "very cordial and with a very good vibe for Mexico."

"(Slim) was left with a very positive taste in his mouth regarding the relationship with Mexico," Elias said, noting that the meeting had taken place at Trump's invitation.

December 19, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Syrian-Americans: model immigrants? (Monitor's Editorial Board, DECEMBER 19, 2016, CS Monitor)

An indicator of how these new arrivals may do in the United States is found in data on the 90,000 Syrian immigrants who have been in America over a much longer period of time. It shows them to be nothing short of a model group of new Americans.

"[I]mmigrants from Syria who live in the United States are in fact doing very well. They are learning English, getting good jobs, owning homes, and starting businesses at impressive rates," say the authors of an analysis of these earlier Syrian immigrants conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. "These findings are reassuring and should provide the basis for more informed and thoughtful consideration of how to think about current and future Syrian immigrants and refugees," the analysis concludes.

Takeaways from the report include the following:

Syrian immigrants in the US earn a good living, with a median annual wage of $52,000. This compares very favorably with the $36,000 median wage for all immigrants in the workforce and the average $45,000 annual median wage for workers born in the US, the analysis says.

Syrian immigrants are often entrepreneurs and have a high rate of business ownership. Some 3 percent of people born in the US own their own businesses; more than 11 percent of Syrian immigrants do.

Syrian-Americans tend to be well-educated, too. More than a quarter (27 percent) of Syrian-born men in the US hold advanced college degrees (master's degree or higher).

After living in the US for at least 20 years, the data show, more than 90 percent of Syrian immigrants have become US citizens, a rate about 20 percent higher than that of US immigrants in general.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world : He has influenced leaders from Melinda Gates to Fidel Castro. Now, he is on a mission to save people from their preconceived ideas. (Amy Maxmen, 14 December 2016, Nature)

Rosling's charm appeals to those frustrated by the persistence of myths about the world. Looming large is an idea popularized by Paul Ehrlich, an entomologist at Stanford University in California, who warned in 1968 that the world was heading towards mass starvation owing to overpopulation. Melinda Gates says that after a drink or two, people often tell her that they think the Gates Foundation may be contributing to overpopulation and environmental collapse by saving children's lives with interventions such as vaccines. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


Russia's ambassador to Turkey shot and seriously wounded in assassination attempt (Daily Telegraph, 19 DECEMBER 2016)

Russia's ambassador to Ankara has been badly wounded in a gun attack while visiting an art exhibition opening in the Turkish capital, television reports said. [...]
Witnesses say the attacker who opened fire on Andrey Karlov shouted "Aleppo" and "revenge."

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That's Cheaper Than Wind : Emerging markets are leapfrogging the developed world thanks to cheap panels. (Tom Randall, December 15, 2016,Bloomberg)

A transformation is happening in global energy markets that's worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity. 

This has happened in isolated projects in the past: an especially competitive auction in the Middle East, for example, resulting in record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 

It's even cheaper to make shower rings with your 3-D printer....

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Preaching the Gospel of Diversity, but Not Following It (Liz Spayd : THE PUBLIC EDITOR DEC. 17, 2016, NY Times)

The Times celebrates foreign correspondent Alissa J. Rubin's Pulitzer Prize as executive editor Dean Baquet and the newsroom look on last April. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times
ONLY two of the 20-plus reporters who covered the presidential campaign for The New York Times were black. None were Latino or Asian. That's less diversity than you'll find in Donald Trump's cabinet thus far. Of The Times's newly named White House team, all six are white, as is most everyone in the Washington bureau.

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


The Traumatic Foundation of Male Homosexuality (JOSEPH NICOLOSI, 12/19/16, Crisis)

As a psychologist treating homosexually oriented men, I've watched with dismay as the LGBT movement has convinced the world that "gay" requires a revised understanding of the human person.

The psychological profession is much to blame for this shift. Once, it was generally agreed that normality is "that which functions in accordance with its design." There was no such thing as a "gay person," for humanity was recognized as naturally and fundamentally heterosexual. In my 30-plus years of clinical practice, I have seen the truth of that original anthropological understanding.

Homosexuality is, in my view, primarily a symptom of gender trauma. Although some people may have been born with biological conditions (prenatal hormonal influences, inborn emotional sensitivity) that make them especially vulnerable to such trauma, what distinguishes the male homosexual condition is that there was an interruption in the normal masculine identification process.

Homosexual behavior is a symptomatic attempt to "repair" the original wound that left the boy alienated from the innate masculinity that he has failed to claim. This differentiates it from heterosexuality, which arises naturally from undisturbed gender-identity development.

The basic conflict in most homosexuality is this: the boy--usually a sensitive child, more prone than average to emotional injury--desires love and acceptance from the same-sex parent, yet feels frustration and rage against him because the parent is experienced by this particular child as unresponsive or abusive. (Note that this child may have siblings who experienced the same parent differently).

Homosexual activity will be the erotic reenactment of this love-hate relationship. Like all the "perversions"--and I use that term not to be unkind, but in the sense that homosexual development "perverts," or "turns a person away from," the biologically appropriate object of erotic attachment--same-sex eroticism contains an intrinsic dimension of hostility.

It's an odd sort of political correctness that holds that to love a gay person means to not want to heal them nor help them avoid destructive behaviors.

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


Green Charge: The Energy Storage Startup Transforming A $100 Billion Market (Julian Mitchell , 12/18/16, Forbes)

The energy storage industry has grown to become a $100 billion market, projected to reach $250 billion by 2040.

This massive valuation is due, in part, to more than 50% of consumer energy bills being attributed to peak hour charges. Noticing the need to make energy usage more affordable and efficient, paired with a passion to improve the planet, one entrepreneur launched a company aimed at transforming the way we use energy.

Founded in 2009 by Vic Shao, Green Charge Networks designs and installs commercial energy storage systems. Their mission is to empower businesses, municipalities, and schools of all scales to use energy more efficiently, by limiting carbon emissions and minimizing costs through servicing energy storage. Energy storage is designed to help avoid drawing energy from the grid during peak hours, instead charging itself during regular hours when energy is cheaper. By using energy storage as a method to balance peak power demands, power efficiency increases. This subsequently reduces demand charges, reduces capital expenditures for service upgrades, and improves the planet by decreasing the usage of power plants.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Tech Meets Trump : Silicon Valley won't make political statements because it has always been part of the military-industrial complex (Jacob Silverman, December 16, 2016, The Baffler)

 As Ben Tarnoff persuasively argued in The Guardian, Trump's victory is, above all, a victory for the already ascendant forces of neoliberalism. For years, conservative politicians have pledged to run the country more like a business--slashing taxes on the rich, privatizing services, eliminating regulations, condemning workers to immiseration--and Trump is in many ways the limit-case example of this promise. "Trump has taken it to an extreme," Tarnoff writes, "applying the logic of neoliberalism so literally as to be almost parody."

Trump's boardroom meeting this week with tech bigwigs was cast as a clash between Silicon Valley social liberalism and the Orange One's boorish outer-borough 'tude. But as Tarnoff and a few other critics have noted, this was a meeting of mostly like minds, united by the driving logic of the market. In digitizing so much of life, the tech industry has established surveillance as its standard business model and remapped the world as a series of competing metrics. The unceasing appetite for personal information and ever-more granular ad-targeting reflect neoliberalism's drive to turn all of life into markets. By capturing more and more human activity in the form of personal data, and by turning the internet into a vast arbitrage machine for human attention, tech companies have distinguished themselves as the lead proselytizers of the neoliberal faith. In Trump, whose pathological fixation on "deals" and tacky luxuries is only matched by his wounded narcissism, they've found a suitable match. 

If they weren't neo-liberal ()capitalist) they wouldn't be running successful companies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Why is it so hard to overcome bias in decision-making? Becasue you're human (Shana Lebowitz, 11/25/16, Business Insider)

[Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology at Princeton University,] went on:

"I can teach about the endowment effect, and yet, when I have something, I don't want to give it up. Am I resisting more than I should or not? Even when I know about the endowment effect, how do I gauge if my reaction is correct or not?"

That is to say, humans are not machines. Just because you're aware that you might be overvaluing the car you're trying to sell doesn't mean you know exactly how much you're overvaluing it, or what the price "should" be.

That said, knowing you're biased, there are some steps you can take to make better decisions. In a follow-up email, Shafir gave an example of police departments' policy of having lineups conducted by officers who don't know which of the men is the suspect. That's because, when the officer knows who the suspect is, the eyewitness is more likely to choose that person -- even though the officer is well-intentioned, Shafir said.

When making big decisions in your personal life, Shafir said you can do some exercises to test how robust your preference really is. For example, you can ask yourself: Would I do the same thing had the decision been offered to me in the summer rather than the winter? Again though, this exercise is hardly a panacea.

I asked Shafir if he found this -- the fact that no amount of knowledge can counteract our susceptibility to cognitive biases -- frustrating.

"Sometimes it's frustrating," he acknowledged. "Sometimes it's amusing. Just having insight into our fallibilities -- we're funny. And sometimes it makes life more interesting."

He added: "It sometimes makes you more modest because you realize that most of your decisions, most of your preferences are in some sense accidental. They could easily have been otherwise."

December 18, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM


Pep Guardiola is now a prisoner of his own idealism... instinctively I'm in his camp and I have loved watching his teams but what we are seeing is footballing suicide (GLENN HODDLE, 12/18/16, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

I spent the best part of the Seventies despairing over English football. I spent much of the Eighties in an England midfield watching the ball soar over my head and being out-numbered and out-passed. 

I longed for the day when we would pass the ball out and try to focus on skill rather than physicality. [...]

Instinctively, I'm in his camp. I've loved watching his teams. But when he came to England I did also say that it would be his biggest test and that he would have to adapt to our game. At the moment what I'm watching is footballing suicide.

Teams are relishing playing City, rubbing their hands together saying: 'Well, if they want to play like that, great. We'll press them, cut down the angles and let them make their mistakes.'

There's nothing wrong with playing out from the back but it's where you choose to do so which is important. Guardiola's team seem to want to do so from very deep. 

So when the centre halves split, they stay almost adjacent to the six-yard box. That is what was happening to John Stones or Bacary Sagna last Saturday.

They would receive the ball very deep and wide, get pressed immediately and have to go back to the goalkeeper. But if the ball goes back to the keeper, he's also too deep and disengaged from the full backs and midfield players. 

So he ends up playing a hurried long ball. With your centre backs still spread out wide, you're then left horribly exposed to a quick counter-attack if you lose the second ball. 

And because, as Guardiola said, English teams are good at winning back the second ball, that happens a lot here.

The out ball the keeper is looking for in that situation is to the full backs, who are pushed on in Guardiola's system. But opposition teams are now just pressing those players high and making sure to have someone good in the air up against them. 

Pep could get away with it at Barcelona and Bayern, as most opponents would fear them and wouldn't press them high up the pitch. But in England it's different and at City, Guardiola has nowhere near the squad he had at Bayern or Barca.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Trump set to reshape judiciary after GOP blockade : The Senate left town with 99 judicial vacancies, as well as the current Supreme Court opening. (BURGESS EVERETT 12/16/16, Politico)

The Senate left town last week with 99 judicial vacancies covering district and appeals courts, as well as the current Supreme Court opening. There are 52 Obama nominations to those courts pending, with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland the most prominent nominee still waiting for action.

Garland never even received a hearing as Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) gambled on a strategy to block any Supreme Court confirmation until the next president was sworn in. That gambit will now pay off handsomely for conservatives looking to reshape the judiciary. Most, if not all of Obama's nominations, will be wiped away next year by Trump and Senate Republicans.

There are also 38 judicial emergencies, according to the federal judiciary. Republicans had mulled confirming some judges if Hillary Clinton had won, GOP sources said before the election, but since Trump prevailed Republicans believed there was little reason to do any judicial confirmations in the lame duck. The Senate last voted on a judge on July 6, when Brian Martinotti was confirmed to a New Jersey district court.

The CRS data stretches back to 1987, and there is no modern equivalent to the slow-pace of judicial confirmations over the past two years. The second-fewest over that period was during the GOP-led Senate of 2005 and 2006, when just 51 of President George W. Bush's judicial picks were confirmed.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


GOP eyes best chance in years to defund Planned Parenthood : The election of a Republican president and Congress has upended what's long been a futile battle for anti-abortion groups. (JENNIFER HABERKORN and BURGESS EVERETT, 11/28/16, Politico)

Congressional Republicans are aiming to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood early next year, according to GOP sources on and off the Hill, as social conservatives press for a milestone win under Donald Trump's presidency after years of thwarted attempts to defund the health care group.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Detroit's advantage : Self-driving cars will probably go mainstream because of traditional automakers -- not tech companies (David Gilbert, Dec 17, 2016, Vice)

While tech companies are struggling, traditional car manufacturers are making smart investments, led by an icon of old Detroit: General Motors. This week it announced it would produce its next-generation driverless cars at its Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan -- where lawmakers just introduced a series of bills permitting driverless-vehicle tests on public roads.

Earlier this year GM spent over $1 billion to buy San Francisco-based autonomous driving startup Cruise Automation, with the company planning to roll out some of that tech in its 2017 fleet of cars.

But GM isn't just betting on driverless cars, it's also actively looking at how car ownership and mobility will change in the future. In January, the company invested $500 million in ride-sharing company Lyft, and has said its first batch of driverless cars would become part of the Lyft fleet. It has also launched its own ride-sharing service, called Maven.

In this space it will compete with Uber, which this week rolled out its driverless car technology -- in partnership with carmaker Volvo -- in San Francisco. However, it was immediately ordered to stop testing by the California regulators as it didn't have the right license.

While Apple and Google were assessing their ability to build a car, the companies that have been building cars for decades began to make their own investments in technology.

"Car companies have way more leverage than I think the technology companies thought - and maybe even [more than] the car companies thought," Ramsey said. That leverage includes years of experience in the supply chain, production, safety requirements, and the sales channel.

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


A new poll shows an astonishing 52% of Republicans incorrectly think Trump won the popular vote (John Sides, December 18, 2016, Washington Post)

A large fraction of Republicans -- 52 percent -- said Trump won the popular vote, compared with only 7 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents. Among Republicans without any college education, the share was even larger: 60 percent, compared with 37 percent of Republicans with a college degree.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Elizabeth Warren Condemns the Wrong Man (Andrew Ross Sorkin, DEC. 12, 2016, NY Times)

Senator Elizabeth Warren, furious about President-elect Donald J. Trump's appointments of finance industry insiders, took to Facebook a little over a week ago to fire off a message to her nearly 2.5 million followers.

She took aim at an individual she described as a "hedge fund billionaire" who is "thrilled by Donald Trump's economic team of Wall Street insiders."

The hedge fund manager she condemned was Whitney Tilson, who runs Kase Capital. Ms. Warren -- the fiery Massachusetts Democrat who is known for her stern mistrust of Wall Street -- called him out by saying, "Tilson knows that, despite all the stunts and rhetoric, Donald Trump isn't going to change the economic system." Then she added, "The next four years are going to be a bonanza for the Whitney Tilsons of the world."

There's one rather glaring problem with Ms. Warren's attack: Mr. Tilson happens to be one of the few financial executives who publicly fought Mr. Trump's election and supported Hillary Clinton. A lifelong Democrat who was involved in helping to start Teach for America, Mr. Tilson also happened to be one of the rare Wall Street executives who had donated to Ms. Warren and actively sought new regulations for the industry. Recently, he gave Mrs. Clinton $1,000 so he could see Ms. Warren speak at a campaign fund-raiser. (He's also far, far from a billionaire.)

"I've donated money to her, attended her events, and did everything in my power to stop Donald Trump," Mr. Tilson told me, talking about Ms. Warren and expressing dismay that he somehow became the target of her derision. "In addition, I agree with her 100 percent that large swaths of the financial industry have run amok and prey on vulnerable Americans, and thus strong regulation, including a muscular Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is sorely needed," he said.

Ms. Warren appears to be suffering from the same affliction that Mr. Trump's critics accuse of him: a knee-jerk, fact-free reaction to something she had read in the news.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


21 Gifts Only Grammar Nerds Will Appreciate (Mallory McInnis, 12/12/16, BuzzFeed)

A judgmental owl tee.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Born to Sing the Gospel (Max Nelson, 12/17/16, NY Review of Books)

Of the range of musicians included on Goodbye, Babylon--Baptist and Pentecostal; urban and rural; black and white--the Texas singer and preacher Washington Phillips was both one of the best-known among gospel enthusiasts and one of the most mysterious. The sixteen songs he recorded for Walker in five Dallas sessions over three consecutive Decembers--1927, 1928, and 1929--had been available together since 1979, and some began circulating on compilations well before then. (Another pair of songs, now lost, was recorded but never released.) In his own time, Phillips had been a brief commercial success. His first 78 sold more than eight thousand copies, and one wonders how many other songs he'd have had the chance to record if the Depression hadn't forestalled his three-year-long career.

SOME OF US ARE HAUNTED BY WASHINGTON PHILLIPS (Amanda Petrusich, October 20, 2016, The New Yorker)

In the book that accompanies "Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams," a newly remastered boxed set that will arrive later this fall, the writer Michael Corcoran calls Phillips's sound "highly developed to the point of being almost psychedelic." Its prettiness is disorienting, hypnotic. Imagine, for a moment, pulling down a heavy, cobwebbed music box from a high shelf in a dim corner of an antique barn. Picture yourself creaking it open. And then, over the box's strange, mechanical tinkling, you hear a man's voice--the sweetest you've ever known--imploring you to better serve your God: "Lift him up, that's all."

A reasonable response would be to get spooked, whack the box shut, back away. But Phillips's songs--ethereal, elysian, toothsome--have inspired plenty of scholars and fans to go scouting for more information, beginning with the musical apparatus that might have been responsible for that celestial chiming. On the catalogue card for Phillips's first recording session, the box marked "Accomp."--or accompaniment--contains only the word "Novelty," written in a steady, loping script. For decades, it was reported that Phillips played a dolceola, a kind of "portable grand piano" manufactured in Toledo, Ohio, between 1903 and 1908. A photo taken in 1928 shows him holding two conjoined instruments that vaguely resemble fretless zithers--later identified as a celestaphone and a phonoharp, variations on the hammered dulcimer, a percussive string instrument that was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages, and in America starting in the eighteenth century. Corcoran, a critic and reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, recently excavated a short article--published in the Teague Chronicle, a local Texas newspaper, in 1907--that clarifies Phillips's equipment, describing it as homemade and "the most unique musical instrument we ever saw. It is a box about 2×3 feet, 6 inches deep, [on] which he has strung violin strings, something on the order of an autoharp. . . . He uses both hands and plays all sorts of airs. He calls it a 'Manzarene.' " [...]

Corcoran reports that Frank B. Walker, a talent scout from Columbia's New York office, probably discovered Phillips via his association with Blind Lemon Jefferson. (In Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield's "Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas," it's suggested that they played fish fries and house parties together.) Jefferson was a popular country-blues singer from the same county as Phillips. Walker had an ear for rural visionaries--he'd previously launched the careers of Bessie Smith and Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers. In December of 1927, he set up a temporary recording studio in Columbia's warehouse on Lamar Street in Dallas.

No one knows for sure how Phillips got there, though he likely took the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway up from Teague. A couple of days earlier, a blues singer named Blind Willie Johnson had travelled north from Marlin, Texas, to record "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)" for Walker in the very same room. Johnson plays his acoustic guitar with a bottleneck slide--or maybe a penknife--and moans a great deal. His singing voice is raw and gory, like the sound of something alive being slowly fed into a meat grinder. The song has no lyrics; Johnson seems given over, only half there. "Mmmm-mmm, well, oh well," he mumbles. There is an indescribable depth of melancholy in his vocal. I can't imagine what Walker must have been feeling, hearing Johnson and Phillips perform in the same weekend--the sorts of dreams he must've had, what he saw at night when he closed his eyes.

Phillips recorded six songs at that first session, including "Denomination Blues," which is in two parts, one for each side of the record. It's nominally a recounting of the differing beliefs of various Christian faiths, followed by an indictment of hypocritical preachers ("A lot of preachers is preaching, and they think they're doing well / All they want is your money and you can go to Hell"), and then, finally, a calm entreaty for solidarity ("It's right to stand together, it's wrong to stand apart / 'Cause none's gonna enter but the pure in heart"). There's something plaintive in Phillips's voice--some blamelessness, or sanctitude--that makes me feel endlessly delinquent, as if my own ceaseless and licentious carousing is now at least partially to blame for all the suffering in the world.

Phillips was known as a jackleg preacher, meaning he wasn't formally ordained by any religious organization, but he made regular appearances in the pulpit of the Pleasant Hill Trinity Baptist Church, just down the road from the eighty-seven-acre farm where he grew up. When he wasn't espousing the gospel, Phillips sold plums, ribbon-cane syrup, and homemade tinctures from his mule cart. Corcoran interviewed one of his former neighbors, Doris Foreman Nealy, in 2014. "He was just so different from everyone else," she told him. Darnell Nelms, who still worships at Pleasant Hill every Sunday, said, "He was a good church man. But he was so peculiar."

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


China to return seized U.S. drone, says Washington 'hyping up' incident (Ben Blanchard and Steve Holland, 12/17/16, Reuters)

China's Defense Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel discovered a piece of "unidentified equipment" and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues before discovering it was a U.S. drone.

"China decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it," the ministry said on its website.

"During this process, the U.S. side's unilateral and open hyping up is inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this issue. We express regret at this," it added.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


A Possible Break in One of Evolution's Biggest Mysteries (PETER BRANNEN,  DEC 12, 2016, The Atlantic)

Once upon a time, before India knew Asia, when alligators sunned themselves on shores north of the Arctic Circle, a small, timid, dog-like creature tentatively waded into a river. Fifty million years passed. The continents wandered and crashed, and the ocean reconfigured itself.

Now, where there were once Arctic alligators, there was ice. As for the creature who once dipped its toes into the tepid river, it now swam the frigid seas. The intervening age had transformed it into the largest animal in the history of life on Earth.

That's not science; it's faith.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM

ONE BOOK WOULD HAVE BEEN AMPLE (self-reference alert):

An Empire Divided (Graham J. Murphy, DECEMBER 17, 2016, LA Review of Books)

Within the trilogy, far-flung star systems comprise the territory of the Imperial Radch, ruled for the past 3,000 years by the authoritarian Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, whose clone bodies and interstellar gates enable her to achieve a distributed consciousness stretching across light years. This distributed consciousness is also the source of the empire's central conflict: ruling a vast empire is difficult for the Lord of the Radch when "it could take weeks for a thought to reach all the way across herself," an inconvenience that proves increasingly problematic when various parts of herself begin plotting against others. Lord Mianaai is quite literally at war with herself over the future of the Radch; this schism results partially from her own conflicted feelings about an insurrection by the Garsedd star system that ended in the utter destruction of Garsedd and its people, triggering Lord Anaander Mianaai's internal division.
Furthermore, myriad internal and external complications threaten the Radchaai in addition to Lord Mianaai's schismatic condition. First, the empire is beset by resistance to the changing shape of the Radchaai military. There are three classes of starship -- Justice, Sword, and Mercy -- and each ship is commanded by human officers; the composition of a ship's crew, however, is an increasing source of tension within the empire. For thousands of years, the crew had been largely comprised of ancillaries, corporeal extensions of a ship's central Artificial Intelligence (AI) arranged hierarchically into units under a human commanding officer. In the years prior to the main events of the first novel, however, the Imperial Radch has moved away from ancillaries in favor of human crews. This decision fuels divisions within the military as an increasingly emboldened contingent seeks to abandon human crews and return to the more profitable (and brutally exploitative) ancillary system, which depends upon the conquest of new worlds to harvest the bodies that become enslaved as ancillaries to the Radchaai ship systems.

Second, alien threats like the Geck and the Rrrrrr from outside Radchaai space perpetually haunt the empire, but it is the Presger -- a vicious and unstoppable species that has defeated the Radchaai in every previous encounter -- who are the greatest concern. Although the Presger never actually appear in the series, they conduct their business through envoys or operate behind the scenes. It is the Presger, for example, who not-so-secretly supplied the Garsedd with powerful weaponry to mobilize their failed rebellion against the Radch. Although a truce keeps the Presger from declaring all-out war, there is ongoing speculation that the Presger are directly or indirectly responsible for provoking Lord Anaander Mianaai's internal schism, which ultimately leads to the Radchaai civil conflict.

The adventures of a former ancillary known as Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen (who simply calls herself Breq) serve as the narrative heart of the series. Threats to the Radchaai empire are intensely personal for Breq: she spent most of her life as an ancillary, but her greater self, Justice of Toren, has been destroyed by one version of Anaander Mianaai in a strategic move against another; all that is left to fuel Breq is her rage at every version of the Lord of the Radch. The first book in the trilogy, Ancillary Justice, opens 19 years after Justice of Toren's destruction: Breq is on the planet Nilt searching for Arilesperas Strigan, a doctor who hides an unregistered Presger gun in her possession -- one that can easily penetrate Radch personal armor and ship shielding. Before Breq can find Dr. Strigan and the gun, however, she stumbles across Seivarden Vendaai, beaten and unconscious in the snow outside a local tavern. Seivarden served with Breq as a lieutenant on the Justice of Toren over 1,000 years earlier until she was promoted to captain the Sword of Nathtas: this was a disastrous posting that saw the Sword of Nathtas destroyed and Seivarden trapped in a stasis tube for a millennium. Seivarden is now a shadow of her former self, a temporally displaced officer addicted to kef whose life is wasting away. And, much like Breq, Seivarden finds the current Imperial Radch largely inhospitable: "You lost your ship," Breq explains to Seivarden. "You were frozen for a thousand years. You wake up to find the Radch has changed -- no more invasions, a humiliating treaty with the Presger, your house has lost financial and social status. No one knows you or remembers you, or cares whether you live or die." Breq could just as easily be talking about herself; she too is lost in an empire she no longer recognizes.

Pairing Breq and Seivarden in Ancillary Justice is key to the former ancillary's humanization. As Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen, Breq was part of a localized distributed consciousness with access to a vast body of knowledge, but as a displaced survivor of the destruction of her larger self, she experiences herself as a vastly diminished entity. Breq's story throughout the trilogy involves balancing her quest for vengeance with an exploration of what it means to be human. Breq is a relatively flat protagonist, which shouldn't be surprising considering she is a lone segment of a powerful AI trapped in a human body; as a result, her feelings often struggle against the cold equations of the artificial logic that once governed her existence. Breq can be an off-putting character at times, demonstrating minimal levels of emotional warmth, although she warms up considerably as the trilogy continues. Seivarden helps to thaw Breq out of her isolationism: for reasons unknown even to the former AI segment, Breq bonds with Seivarden, and in so doing, she slowly learns about her own humanity, particularly when Breq risks her life and incurs a leg injury to save Seivarden from a fall off an ice bridge. As Ancillary Justice draws to a close, Seivarden has developed a fierce loyalty to Breq, all the while unaware that Breq is the last remaining segment of Justice of Toren. This loyalty remains unwavering throughout the remaining two books, particularly in Ancillary Mercy. At the same time, Breq develops a sense of responsibility for Seivarden. This relationship between two broken characters allows Leckie to explore questions of identity, loyalty, and addiction. Over the course of the trilogy, the two slowly piece their lives together, and although Breq is stronger in handling her fractures, they both come to rely upon one another in unexpected ways. 

Ancillary Justice also introduces key narrative strategies that help explain why the Imperial Radch trilogy has achieved its stunning success. First, Leckie refuses to allow biological sex to dictate characterization or unduly influence our reading practices. The Radchaai language doesn't differentiate sex or gender, so Breq makes no distinctions; at the same time, the narrative refers to everyone largely as she and her regardless of biological sex.

First, a confession, I listened to the books while walking the dog.  It's narrated by a woman, so every character had a female voice, even the ones I just assumed were men.  I truly didn't notice at first that they were all called she and her.  Of course, the fact that I assigned gender roles so easily must make some metaphysical feminist point or something.

Second, I happened to be listening to them at the same that I was reading a bunch about the fall of the Roman Republic and the American Revolution.  The trilogy itself is pretty glacially paced with almost nothing happening even at the climax and the characters are not terribly engaging, but I did enjoy the parallels to those historical moments and the decision about when it is proper to defy and move against state authority. But i'd rather that have been contemplated in about 400 pages.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Corbyn Versus the Third Way : Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to transform a Labour Party that represents labor in name only. (Jason Schulman, September 2015, Jacobin)

For decades, the leaders of Europe's social-democratic and labor parties attempted to use the machinery of the liberal-democratic state to transform capitalism from within. But as Gerassimos Moschonas demonstrates in his 2002 book In the Name of Social Democracy, it is capitalism that has transformed social democracy -- not the other way around.

Over the last thirty years, virtually all social-democratic parties have presided over some degree of market deregulation, commercialization, and privatization of the public sector, and at least the piecemeal implementation of welfare-state retrenchment. One might expect working-class parties, even ones with fairly autocratic internal lives, to be largely immune from an intellectual, ideological embrace of neoliberal doctrine. Workers and union leaders tend not to demand that austerity measures be imposed upon themselves.

Yet social-democratic parties have hardly inoculated themselves and are increasingly led by advocates of deregulation, privatization, and the free market. Social-democratic parties have generally made no concerted effort to find alternatives to what all countries but the United States call "neoliberalism" -- their role in government in recent decades has been, at best, to slightly dull the sharpest edges of the market.

This has been true both for the continental European social-democratic parties and for the union-based labor parties of Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. In the case of the New Zealand Labour government of 1984-1990 and the British Labour government of 1997-2007, the shift at the macroeconomic level involved a fundamental refutation of traditional left policies. A similar shift also occurred in Australia under Labor governments between 1983 and 1996, even though it was less radical and was accompanied by some renovation of the welfare state.

Various explanations for this dramatic change in how social-democratic parties govern have been offered. Most frequently, they have pointed to the globalization of production and finance, the shrinking of the blue-collar working class, and the rise of "post-materialist politics" (feminism, environmentalism, gay and lesbian rights, etc.).

This is the great danger for the Democrats, that they too will decide to rebel against economic reality. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


HRW: Iraqi Government-Backed Militia Killed Prisoners (RFE/RL, 12/17/16)

An Iraqi government-backed militia has killed execution-style at least four men suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

December 17, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Wonder and Worry, as a Syrian Child Transforms : Canada welcomes Syrian refugees like no other country. But for one 10-year-old's parents, is she leaving too much behind? (CATRIN EINHORN and JODI KANTORDEC. 17, 2016, NY Times)

As soon as Bayan Mohammad, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, arrived here last winter, she began her transformation. In her first hour of ice-skating, she managed to glide on her own. She made fast friends with girls different from any she had ever known. New to competitive sports, she propelled herself down the school track so fast that she was soon collecting ribbons.

Bayan glued herself to the movie "Annie," the ballet "Cinderella" and episodes of "Wheel of Fortune," all stories of metamorphosis. As her English went from halting to chatty, she ticked off everything she hungered to do: An overnight school trip. Gymnastics lessons. Building a snowman -- no, a snow-woman.

"I just want to be Canadian," she said. [...]

[O]ver 10 months, the relationship was reshaping the family, rewriting roles and rules they had always followed. Abdullah and Eman found their marriage on new ground, the fundamental compact between them shifting. Bayan, their oldest child, was going from girl to adolescent, Middle Eastern to North American all at the same time. She was the one most likely to remember their now-obliterated life in Syria. On some days, her parents believed that she could meld her old and new identities; on others, they feared her Syrianness was being erased.

It can't be erased quickly enough.  That is the genius of Anglospheric immigration; in the absence of racial/ethnic identification, there is no bar to complete conformity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Exclusive: Britain will be front of the queue for trade deal with US under Donald Trump's new commerce secretary (Ben Riley-Smith, 17 DECEMBER 2016, The Telegraph)

Donald Trump's commerce secretary has made securing a free trade deal between America and Britain one of his top priorities, The Telegraph has learnt. 

Wilbur Ross, the billionaire nominated to lead on trade in Mr Trump's administration, is understood to be determined to lower barriers between the two countries. 

He is said to have "extensive" business relationships and social links to Britain after decades as an investor and wants to embolden the "special relationship". 

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. :Finland will soon hand out cash to 2,000 jobless people, free of bureaucracy or limits on side earnings. The idea, universal basic income, is gaining traction worldwide (PETER S. GOODMAN, DEC. 17, 2016, NY Times)

While entrepreneurs are eager to put these people to work, the rules of Finland's generous social safety net effectively discourage this. Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance. For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again.

Now, the Finnish government is exploring how to change that calculus, initiating an experiment in a form of social welfare: universal basic income. Early next year, the government plans to randomly select roughly 2,000 unemployed people -- from white-collar coders to blue-collar construction workers. It will give them benefits automatically, absent bureaucratic hassle and minus penalties for amassing extra income.

The government is eager to see what happens next. Will more people pursue jobs or start businesses? How many will stop working and squander their money on vodka? Will those liberated from the time-sucking entanglements of the unemployment system use their freedom to gain education, setting themselves up for promising new careers? These areas of inquiry extend beyond economic policy, into the realm of human nature.

The answers -- to be determined over a two-year trial -- could shape social welfare policy far beyond Nordic terrain. In communities around the world, officials are exploring basic income as a way to lessen the vulnerabilities of working people exposed to the vagaries of global trade and automation. While basic income is still an emerging idea, one far from being deployed on a large scale, the growing experimentation underscores the deep need to find effective means to alleviate the perils of globalization.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Donald Trump Says His Supporters Were 'Vicious, Violent, Screaming' During the Campaign (Katie Reilly, 12/16/16, TIME)

President-elect Donald Trump on Friday told his supporters they had been "nasty and mean and vicious" at rallies during his presidential campaign.

"You people were vicious, violent, screaming, 'Where's the wall? We want the wall!' Screaming, 'Prison! Prison! Lock her up!' I mean, you are going crazy. I mean, you were nasty and mean and vicious and you wanted to win, right?" Trump said, speaking in Orlando, Florida, at one of the stops on his "Thank You" tour.

No one has more contempt for his enthusiasts than he does.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


13 Free Things on the Internet You Should Be Using (Ethan Wolff-Mann, Feb. 19, 2016, Money)
Why pay when you can get it for free?

The Internet has broadened our world considerably, bringing people together and putting reams upon reams of information at our fingertips.

One of the biggest benefits the Internet has conferred upon us is the ability to spend less. Though we all know about free email (Gmail), free reference librarians (Quora, Google), and free videos (YouTube), there are countless other valuable things the Internet can provide at no charge.

You may already be familiar with some of the items on this list, which is based on a seminal Reddit thread. But many of these free services are still hidden in the margins, not quite in the mainstream. So if you don't regularly patrol the Internet looking for interesting free things, you might be in for some pleasant surprises.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


OUR AUTOMATED FUTURE : How long will it be before you lose your job to a robot? (Elizabeth Kolbert, 12/16/16, The New Yorker)

Economic history suggests that this basic pattern will continue, and that the jobs eliminated by Watson and his ilk will be balanced by those created in enterprises yet to be imagined--but not without a good deal of suffering. If nearly half the occupations in the U.S. are "potentially automatable," and if this could play out within "a decade or two," then we are looking at economic disruption on an unparalleled scale. Picture the entire Industrial Revolution compressed into the life span of a beagle.

And that's assuming history repeats itself. What if it doesn't? What if the jobs of the future are also potentially automatable?

"This time is always different where technology is concerned," Ford observes. "That, after all, is the entire point of innovation."

Jerry Kaplan is a computer scientist and entrepreneur who teaches at Stanford. In "Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence" (Yale), he notes that most workplaces are set up to suit the way people think. In a warehouse staffed by people, like items are stored near one another--mops next to brooms next to dustpans--so their location is easy for stock clerks to remember. Computers don't need such mnemonics; they're programmed to know where things are. So a warehouse organized for a robotic workforce can be arranged according to entirely different principles, with mops, say, stored next to glue guns because the two happen to be often ordered together.

"When most people think about automation, they usually have in mind only the simple replacement of labor or improving workers' speed or productivity, not the more extensive disruption caused by process reengineering," Kaplan writes. Process reëngineering means that, no matter how much the warehouse business expands, it's not going to hire more humans, because they'll just get in the way. It's worth noting that in 2012 Amazon acquired a robotics company, called Kiva, for three-quarters of a billion dollars. The company's squat orange bots look like microwave ovens with a grudge. They zip around on the ground, retrieving whole racks' worth of merchandise. Amazon now deploys at least thirty thousand of them in its fulfillment centers. Speaking of the next wave of automation, Amazon's chairman, Jeff Bezos, said recently, "It's probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it's going to have on society over the next twenty years."

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Defining the Upper Valley: Dartmouth Geography Researcher Seeks the Public's Input (Alex Hanson, 12/16/16, Valley News)

Garrett Dash Nelson, a post-doctoral fellow in geography at Dartmouth College,] has adapted an idea from a project that mapped out Boston's neighborhoods -- another place where lines of demarcation aren't always clear -- and chose to ask people who live here what the Upper Valley looks like. He set up a website on which anyone can draw their conceptions of the Upper Valley and comment about the boundaries as they sees them.

As with every descriptor that lives only in the popular imagination, Nelson said in a recent interview in Dartmouth's Baker Library, "there's no consensus on where it ends."

The site,, went up in November, and so far, the lines people have drawn have been, well, kind of all over the map.

"I've been struck by how almost every map is centered on that ... four-town area," Nelson said. "But then the diversity of responses stretches out pretty considerably."

Based on the maps people have drawn, some view the Upper Valley as a narrow strip, or even just the four core towns of Hanover, Norwich, Lebanon and Hartford. But some people drew maps that extend as far south as Walpole, N.H., and Westminster, Vt., and as far north as Littleton, N.H., and Waterford, Vt. At least one person drew the western boundary out to Rochester, Vt., which is about a 50-minute drive from White River Junction. Rochester might seem far from the core Upper Valley towns, but it isn't quite in the orbit of Rutland, Waitsfield or Middlebury, either.

Many of the people who drew their versions of the Upper Valley on Nelson's map didn't comment, but some did, and what they had to say gets at both the solidity of the Upper Valley's boundaries and their vaporousness.

"I've always thought of the 'Upper Valley' as more of a feeling than a science; therefore my choices of UV towns are as difficult to explain as melancholy or joy," wrote one respondent who drew a big, generous Upper Valley. "It's an explanation so lame that it's bound to make you cringe, but it's what I've got right now. This project is excellent, by the way."

"We lived west of Woodstock, Vermont for over 40 years," wrote another person, who conceived of the UV as a narrow band of towns on either side of the river. "We referred to the river-bordering towns as the Upper Valley. We didn't consider ourselves part of it, although we knew we shopped and worked there. Now, we live in Lebanon, so we're in the thick of it."

The only person who signed a statement was none other than former longtime Valley News reporter and editor Susan Boutwell, who now works at Dartmouth College. She noted the newspaper's coverage map, and that it incorporates school supervisory unions in both states. She was among a handful of people who drew maps and said that the Upper Valley is essentially the Valley News' coverage area.

While the idea of a region centered on the Connecticut River dates to Colonial times, the geographic term is more recent, and more prosaic.

"It's a marketing ploy," said Steve Taylor, a Meriden native, a former editor of the Valley News and former New Hampshire Agriculture commissioner. The paper's founders coined the term "Upper Valley," assigning the term to a vague region carved out of the northern half of the Claremont Eagle's territory, Taylor said in a telephone intervew this week.

The first issue of the Valley News, published June 9, 1952, calls the paper, in all capital letters on the front page banner, "A daily newspaper, published at West Lebanon, for Lebanon, White River Junction, Hanover and the Upper Valley area." And the editorial in that first day's paper says, "... the Tri-Towns and the Upper Valley wanted a daily paper of their own." Nowhere is the term explained, nor are the boundaries set out.

The paper's sense of its territory grew over the years, Taylor said. It didn't include Claremont or New London or Grantham, which seemed far afield in 1952. The interstates came through in the late 1960s and early 1970s and helped carry the paper farther out, to Randolph, Haverhill and New London.

The legitimacy of "Upper Valley" as a regional description is questionable. For starters, there's something that sounds a bit sniffy about it, as in "upper crust," or "upper middle class."

"It's still kind of a sore point with older folks in Claremont," Taylor said, a resentment of the implied elitism of the Hanover-Lebanon axis.

Taylor, who was 13 when the newspaper first appeared, pulled no punches about the name it bestowed on his region: "It's a preposterous term."

That seems indisputable. What exactly is "upper" about the Upper Valley if it ends at Haverhill? What would you call the Connecticut River Valley farther north? The Upper Upper Valley?

Even so, the name has stuck and now has a momentum of its own, independent of its origin.

"That connection between a sort of branding device and a geographical descriptor is not uncommon," Nelson said. (New England itself was "a creation of anxious marketing boards in the early 20th century" who felt a need to establish a regional identity for the six northeastern-most states, Nelson said.)

The Census Bureau already did this and we are, ironically, America's largest Micropolis:

By the Numbers: The Upper Valley (Lee Michaelides, November 7, 2015  The Observer 

We refer to our region as the Upper Valley -- hence the moniker But the U.S. Census bureau has another name for the place: the Claremont-Lebanon NH-VT Micro Area.

To the census takers we're what's called a Micropolitan Statistical Area. They define such a place as a  "Core Based Statistical Area associated with at least one urban cluster that has a population of at least 10,000, but less  than 50,000. The Micropolitan Statistical Area comprises the central  county or counties containing the core, plus adjacent outlying counties having a high degree of social and economic integration with the central county or counties as measured through commuting."

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Trump Picks Mick Mulvaney, South Carolina Congressman, as Budget Director (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, DEC. 16, 2016, NY Times)

Once on Capitol Hill, Mr. Mulvaney joined a conservative bloc that pressed for slashing federal spending more deeply than House Republican leaders preferred, and became a prominent face of the anti-Washington movement on Capitol Hill. He was one of several dozen House Republicans who refused to back the deal to raise the statutory debt limit.

Mr. Mulvaney has repeatedly opposed some of his own party's budget proposals, and quickly established himself as one of the most outspoken members of that 2010 class of Republicans. By 2013, at the outset of his second term, he declined to support Mr. Boehner's re-election as speaker, abstaining from the vote in protest.

Strongly anti-establishment, Mr. Mulvaney, who has a degree in international economics from Georgetown and a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, chafed as much at the Republican leadership in the House as he did at Mr. Obama's direction from the White House.

If confirmed by the Senate to run the Office of Management and Budget, Mr. Mulvaney will be responsible for helping to shepherd the president's spending requests through a Republican-controlled Congress.

We've seen this movie before and we all know how it ends, The Education of David Stockman  (WILLIAM GREIDER,  DECEMBER 1981, The Atlantic)

GENERALLY, he had no time for idle sentimentality, but David A. Stockman indulged himself for a moment as he and I approached the farmhouse in western Michigan where Stockrnan was reared. With feeling, he described a youthful world of hard work, variety, and manageable challenges. "It's something that's disappearing now, the working family farm," Stockman observed. "We had a little of everything--an acre of strawberries, an acre of peaches, a field of corn, fifteen cows. We did everything."

A light snow had fallen the day before, dusting the fields and orchards with white, which softened the dour outline of the Stockman brick farmhouse. It was built seventy years ago by Stockman's maternal grandfather, who also planted the silver birches that ring the house. He was county treasurer of Berrien County for twenty years, and his reputation in local politics was an asset for his grandson.

The farm has changed since Stockman's boyhood; it is more specialized. The bright-red outbuildings behind the house include a wooden barn where livestock was once kept, a chicken coop also no longer in use, a garage, and a large metal-sided building, where the heavy equipment-- in particular, a mechanical grape picker-- is stored. Grapes are now the principal crop that Allen Stockman, David's father, produces. He earns additional income by leasing out the grape picker. The farm is a small but authentic example of the entrepreneurial capitalism that David Stockman so admires.

As the car approached the house, Stockman's attention was diverted by a minor anomaly in the idyllic rural landscape: two tennis courts. They seemed out of place, alone, amidst the snow-covered fields at an intersection next to the Stockman farm. Stockman hastened to explain that, despite appearances, these were not his family's private tennis courts. They belonged to the township. Royalton Township (of which Al Stockman was treasurer) had received, like all other local units of government, its portion of the federal revenue-sharing funds, and this was how the trustees had decided to spend part of the money from Washington. "It's all right, I suppose," Stockman said amiably, "but these people would never have taxed themselves to build that. Not these tight-fisted taxpayers! As long as someone is giving them the money, sure, they are willing to spend it. But they would never have used their own money."

Stockman's contempt was directed not at the local citizens who had spent the money but at the people in Washington who had sent it. And soon he would be in a position to do something about them. This winter weekend was a final brief holiday with his parents; in a few weeks he would become director of the Office of Management and Budget in the new administration in Washington. Technically, Stockman was still the U. S. congressman from Michigan's Fourth District, but his mind and exceptional energy were already concentrated on running OMB, a small but awesomely complicated power center in the federal government, through which a President attempts to monitor all of the other federal bureaucracies.

Stockman carried with him a big black binder enclosing a "Current Services Budget," which listed every federal program and its current cost projections. He hoped to memorize the names of 500 to 1,000 program titles and major accounts by the time he was sworn in--an objective that seemed reasonable to him, since he already knew many of the budget details. During four years in Congress, Stockman had made himself a leading conservative gadfly, attacking Democratic budgets and proposing leaner alternatives. Now the President-elect was inviting him to do the same thing from within. Stockman had lobbied for the OMB job and was probably better prepared for it, despite his youthfulness, than most of his predecessors.

He was thirty-four years old and looked younger. His shaggy hair was streaked with gray, and yet he seemed like a gawky collegian, with unstylish glasses and a prominent Adam's apple. In the corridors of the Capitol, where all ambitious staff aides scurried about in serious blue suits, Representative Stockman wore the same uniform, and was frequently mistaken for one of them.

Inside the farmhouse, the family greetings were casual and restrained. His parents and his brothers and in-laws did not seem overly impressed by the prospect that the eldest son would soon occupy one of the most powerful positions of government. Opening presents in the cluttered living room, watching the holiday football games on television, the Stockmans seemed a friendly, restrained, classic Protestant farm family of the Middle West, conservative and striving. As sometimes happens in those families, however, the energy and ambition seemed to have been concentrated disproportionately in one child, David, perhaps at the expense of the others. His mother, Carol, a big-boned woman with metallic blond hair, was the family organizer, an active committee member in local Republican politics, and the one who made David work for A's in school. In political debate, David Stockman was capable of dazzling opponents with words; his brothers seemed shy and taciturn in his presence. One brother worked as a county corrections officer in Michigan. Another, after looking on Capitol Hill, found a job in an employment agency. A third, who had that distant look of a sixties child grown older, did day labor, odd jobs. His sister was trained as an educator and worked as a consultant to manpower-training programs in Missouri that were financed by the federal government. "She believes in what she's doing and I don't quarrel with it," Stockman said. "Basically, there are gobs of this money out there. CETA grants have to do evaluation and career planning and so forth. What does it amount to? Somebody rents a room in a Marriott Hotel somewhere and my sister comes in and talks to them. I think Marriott may get more out of it than anyone else. That's part of what we're trying to get at, and it's layered all over the government."

While David Stockman would speak passionately against the government in Washington and its self-aggrandizing habits, there was this small irony about his siblings and himself: most of them worked for government in one way or another--protected from the dynamic risk-taking of the private economy. Stockman himself had never had any employer other than the federal government, but the adventure in his career lay in challenging it. Or, more precisely, in challenging the "permanent government" that modern liberalism had spawned.

By that phrase, Stockman and other conservatives meant not only the layers and layers of federal bureaucrats and liberal politicians who sustained open-ended growth of the central government but also the less visible infrastructure of private interests that fed off of it and prospered--the law firms and lobbyists and trade associations in rows of shining office buildings along K Street in Washington; the consulting firms and contractors; the constituencies of special interests, from schoolteachers to construction workers to failing businesses and multinational giants, all of whom came to Washington for money and for legal protection against the perils of free competition.

While ideology would guide Stockman in his new job, he would be confronted with a large and tangible political problem: how to resolve the three-sided dilemma created by Ronald Reagan's contradictory campaign promises. In private, Stockman agreed that his former congressional mentor, John Anderson, running as an independent candidate for President in 1980, had asked the right question: How is it possible to raise defense spending, cut income taxes, and balace the budget, all at the same time? Anderson had taunted Reagan with that question, again and again, and most conventional political thinkers, from orthodox Republican to Keynesian liberal, agreed with Anderson that it could not be done.

But Stockman was confident, even cocky, that he and some of his fellow conservatives had the answer...

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Ivanka Trump May Fill Role of First Lady (Philip Bump, 12/16/16, The Washington Post)

On Wednesday, CNN reported an intriguing possibility: Ivanka might use office space in the East Wing of the White House, which, in recent administrations, has been the domain of the first lady and her work. In other words: Ivanka might be looking to be something of a first daughter, advocating for policy in the way that first ladies have in the past.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


The Art of Detente : In the works of muralist Mehdi Ghadyanloo, it's possible to imagine a new phase in U.S.-Iran relations. (John Feffer, Dec. 15, 2016, US News)

On a wall in Boston, artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo is taking a quiet but historic step forward in U.S.-Iranian relations.

His fanciful mural on an air intake structure in Boston's Dewey Square represents a first. Ghadyanloo, who has completed more than a hundred surrealistic murals in downtown Tehran, is the first Iranian artist to do work commissioned by municipal authorities in both Iran and the United States. [...]

Quietly, however, the Obama administration has moved to build on the rapprochement initiated by the 2015 nuclear deal. In September, the Obama administration greenlighted a Boeing deal to sell commercial jets to Tehran. The Treasury Department also loosened the sanctions regulations to make it possible for foreigners to use dollars in transactions with Iran. And the administration wants to encourage more U.S. firms to do business in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Baby, It's Cold Outside : Steyn's Song of the Week by Frank Loesser (Mark Steyn, December 11, 2016, Steyn Online)

Some years ago, my late BBC comrade Alistair Cooke took a young friend to New York's famous Plaza Hotel, where a pianist was gaily tinkling. As Alistair enthused about each song, it gradually dawned on him that these familiar standards by Gershwin and Kern were entirely unfamiliar to his callow companion. I experience a slightly more unsettling form of cultural dislocation each Christmas season: People still know the songs, but have no idea what they mean. "Baby, It's Cold Outside is a fun song, but one line in particular is apparently a major micro-aggression that come December is mass-triggering the safe-spaced generation across our winter wonderland:

SHE:The neighbors might think . . .
HE: But baby, it's bad out there.
SHE: Say, what's in this drink?
HE: No cabs to be had out there . . .

As Mollie Hemingway remarked, "My feminist friends assure me that this is really a song about date rape and roofies." I'd like to think her feminist friends are maybe half-joking, or at any rate half her feminist friends are quarter-joking, and it's merely their way of deriding the obsolete "gender roles" of man as the seducer and the gal as the receiving end. I mean, they're not seriously arguing it's about drugging a woman into sex, are they? If it were, wouldn't it be available as a celebrity duet between Bill Cosby & [Insert Name Here]?

The song dates from ...well, a lost world. Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944 not for a show or a film but for a housewarming party. So that night in their new flat in the Navarro Hotel in New York he and his wife Lynn wowed a showbiz crowd with the first performance:

SHE: I really can't stay...
HE: But Baby, It's Cold Outside!
SHE: I've got to go 'way...
HE: But Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Richard Rodgers, never the most generous man, pronounced it "brilliant". Back then, everyone got it. You want the girl to stay, just another hour . . . okay, half . . . okay, 20 minutes: "Give me Five Minutes More, only Five Minutes More," as Frank Sinatra pleaded around the same time. And if Sinatra needs to plead, who doesn't? But nice girls go -- or at least insist on being talked into staying...

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM

NOW THAT'S A GREAT NAME FOR A BAND (profanity alert):

Iron Reagan - "Grim Business" (Tom Breihan, December 12, 2016, stereogum)

Iron Reagan -- whose members have played in fellow Richmond metal bands like Municipal Waste and Darkest Hour -- play a revved-up take on the '80s crossover sound, the one where speed metal and hardcore merged into one giddy and pummeling skateboard soundtrack. They play it with fervor and commitment and a sense of fun.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Newer U.S. homes are 30% larger but consume about as much energy as older homes (US Energy Information Administration, 2/12/13)

Analysis from EIA's most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) shows that U.S. homes built in 2000 and later consume only 2% more energy on average than homes built prior to 2000, despite being on average 30% larger.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Understanding the Hillbilly Shakespeare : Review: Mark Ribowsky, 'Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams' (Joseph Bottum, December 17, 2016, Free Beacon)

This is someone, after all, whose friends and band-mates were already worried about his heavy drinking in late 1939, when he was 17--and that was before he added amphetamines, chloral hydrate, and morphine to the mix. He couldn't read or write music. Couldn't soar in his singing, in any traditional sense. He could play the guitar pretty well, having been taught when he was a child by an African-American street performer named Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, who gave him lessons in return for meals during the Depression. But he was never more than a run-of-the-mill professional, lacking the superior skills of the studio players. Oh, add a little fiddling, a little tinkling on the piano, an ability to carry his part in the close harmony that Southern church music taught, and there isn't much doubt that Hank Williams was a genuine musician. It's just that there were dozens of others who were as good or better at all that.

What made Williams different, what lifted him above the other performers of his time, was his presence--a persona that came through in his singing and playing. Between his constant touring and his regular radio shows, he played perhaps a thousand of other people's songs, and he wrote over 150 of his own before his early death.

Maybe more to the point, he managed to write not just songs but classics, following each of the templates of true American compositions. Has there ever been a weeper as good as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"? Among his famous bouncers are "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" and "Hey, Good Lookin'." And his Christian-driven music includes the much-covered "I Saw the Light"--although I think "The Angel of Death" is a better marker of the religious feeling that actually moved him. [...]

Hank Williams knew the music that Harlan Howard once simultaneously dismissed and lauded as "nothing but three chords and the truth." The real heart of American music lies somewhere in a mix of Civil War marches and Methodist hymns, African rhythms and British folksongs. It's a kind of muddy cauldron of God and sex and death, joy and sorrow, class resentment and race, booze and barn-dancing. You do a little hell-raising Saturday night, a little church-going Sunday morning, and on Monday you pick out on your guitar something that tries to speak to it all.

Maybe we get from that just another entry in the endless category of "My Baby Done Left Me All Alone" songs. Or maybe we get another "Gonna Get Drunk and Wrassle a Bear" ditty, or yet one more reminder that "God's Great Fire Is Comin', Sooner Than You Think." But every onc't, we get "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," or "Hey, Good Lookin'," or "The Angel of Death." Every onc't, we get Hank Williams.

December 16, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Trump lays out limits of business involvement (DARREN SAMUELSOHN and JOSH DAWSEY, 12/16/16, Politico)

Another former Trump associate said part of the delay also stems from the president-elect's brash management style and quick temper, which can make it difficult to raise uncomfortable topics tied to his livelihood. "Nobody is going to flat out just tell him he shouldn't be involved in the business," the source said. "He'll just kick you out of the room. They have to find a happy medium for him."

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Uh-Oh: Ivanka Pushing Congress For Leftist Childcare Policy Already (AMANDA PRESTIGIACOMO, DECEMBER 16, 2016, Daily Wire)

[P]resident and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership Sarah Chamberlain claims that Ivanka is already calling Republican members of Congress to get the ball rolling on childcare legislation.

"She's calling some to talk about the child care provisions," said Chamberlain. "It's gonna be a big issue for her."

This is not good news for conservatives. If Ivanka's past remarks on healthcare and her speech at the Republican National Convention in particular are any indication of her policy prescriptions, potential childcare reform will satisfy the left, not the right nor small businesses. In fact, under Ivanka's influence, President-elect Trump has already unveiled left-leaning childcare policy proposals.

Fortunately we have the more powerful side of the divided government.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Obama talks Russian hacking and other key moments from the president's year-end news conference (POLITICO, 12/16/16)

Obama took a hard swipe at Republicans for what he said was a partisan reaction to the intelligence community's finding of Russian hacking, noting a poll showing that 37 percent of GOP voters now approve of Putin. He said he worried that "because of the fierceness of the partisan battle you've started to see folks in the Republican Party and Republican voters suddenly finding a government and individuals who stand contrary to everything that we stand for as being OK because that's how much we dislike Democrats." Pointing to the poll numbers, he said, "Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave."

...when Democrats would side with the Soviets because they were opposed by Reagan.  To see our side do the same thing because the president has a D next to his name is humiliating.  Thank goodness the Gipper doesn't have to watch.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Stop Blaming Hillary Clinton's Loss on Racism (DAVID FRENCH, December 16, 2016, National Review)

According to the Huffington Post, liberal icon Ta-Nehisi Coates explained it "perfectly" to The Daily Show's Trevor Noah. Here's the exchange: 

If I have to jump six feet to get the same thing that you have to jump two feet for ― that's how racism works. To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds. . . . Donald Trump had to be rich and white. That was it. That's the difference. 

This is pure, unadulterated nonsense. There's no better word for it. For proof, look no further than Barack Obama's two presidential campaigns. Can Coates look America in the face and say that Obama had to jump higher than John McCain to win the presidency? McCain was shot down over North Vietnam, badly wounded, tortured in enemy prison camps, and put in solitary confinement for two years. Yet he still refused an offer of early release unless every person captured before him was released as well. McCain then went on to serve in the House and then, for two decades, in the Senate before he ran for president against a first-term senator barely removed from the Illinois legislature. But, yeah, Obama had to do more.

It is, unfortunately, more plausible to argue that all of his career successes prior to his presidency were a function of racial preferences.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


FBI backs CIA view that Russia intervened to help Trump win election (Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima, December 16, 2016, Washington Post)

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to U.S. officials.

Comey's support for the CIA's conclusion -- and officials say that he never changed his position -- suggests that the leaders of the three agencies are in agreement on Russian intentions, contrary to suggestions by some lawmakers that the FBI disagreed with the CIA.

...they had no influence on the result.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Immigrants lead the way in demanding assimilation, study finds : Detractors of immigration to Germany often claim that migrants fail to integrate into the mainstream. A study by a conservative think tank has concluded exactly the opposite is the case. (Deutsche-Welle, 12/16/16)

Resident aliens in Germany and Germans with immigrant backgrounds are, in some respects, more "German" than people whose families have been German citizens for generations. That's the main conclusion of a 104-page study by the conservative Konrad Adenauer Foundation, entitled "What Makes Us Who We Are, What Unites Us," which was unveiled in Berlin on Friday.

"Integration entails the willingness to take majority society on board and to adopt the rules of that society as one's own," said Peter Altmaier, the head of the Chancellor's Office and the government's refugee coordinator, at the presentation. "What the study tells us is that this willingness is abundantly and distinctly present."

The author of the study, sociologist Sabine Pokorny, conducted extensive interviews with three groups of roughly 1,000 people each: resident aliens, German citizens who either were not born in Germany or have one parent born elsewhere, and citizens from longer-standing German families. The surveys indicated that first- and second-generation immigrants valued integration slightly more than anyone else.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Clinton May Gain Nearly 30,000 More Votes Over Trump In New York City (Harry Enten, 12/16/16, 538)

Last week, the New York State Board of Elections released their "certified" 2016 election results. The problem, FiveThirtyEight contributor David Wasserman pointed out, was that those results were different from the "certified" results for New York City according to the New York City Board of Elections.

For instance, Hillary Clinton earned 347,893 votes on the Democratic line in Bronx County in the city's certified results, but she notched only 319,392 votes according to the state's count. Overall, Clinton's margin over Donald Trump in New York City was 26,903 votes bigger in the City's count.

That's a pretty big difference. So I emailed the New York State Board of Elections. Deputy Director of Public Information Thomas Connolly promptly responded that they were "aware that some discrepancies exist in the results that were posted online." The large difference in the Bronx was "the result of a staff error but was part of what was originally certified." Connolly said that amended results that fix this error and any others caught up to this point will be posted on Friday by the state. The city's count seems to be correct.

The fact that we aren't very good at running elections is different than fraud.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


The U.S. is helping train Iraqi militias historically tied to Iran (Molly Hennessy-Fiske and W.J. Hennigan, 12/15/16, LA Times)
In a significant break with past policy, U.S.-led forces in Iraq have started arming and training hundreds of fighters belonging to Shiite militias historically known for having ties to Iran.

The sectarian militias are being trained for the operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul. While Mosul's future remains uncertain, the cooperative effort is expected to strengthen the Shiite forces both militarily and politically.

The U.S.-led coalition has provided hundreds of guns and training to the fighters in recent weeks, indicating a new level of cooperation, although U.S. military officials quickly moved to downplay it, saying the fighters being trained have no ties to the Iranian-backed groups that targeted Americans in the past.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Pssst...Trump: You Won By Running to Clinton's Left (Jud Lounsbury, 12/16/16, The Progressive)

This year, however, the Democrats put forth a candidate who looked a lot like Republican candidates of the past. On trade, Trump was successfully able to paint "the Clintons" as the authors of bad trade deals that many of these voters have seen ravish their communities. And even though Trump is a billionaire CEO who is horrible to his workers, the lasting impression of Clinton was of someone hopelessly beholden to Wall Street, big banks and anyone else who wrote six-figure checks to her, her campaign, or the Clinton Foundation.

Clearly, on the tipping points of these tipping point states, Trump appealed to voters by running to Hillary's left on key economic issues.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Who said what inside the Trump tech meeting: Immigration, paid maternity leave and becoming the 'software president' (KARA SWISHER, DEC 15, 2016, Recode)

[A]fter the press left and the doors were closed, the visitors from the digital world actually did try to bring up a number of substantive major issues with Trump and those gathered there. Trump's three eldest kids were present, which most sources close to the execs (no, I am not saying which ones) thought was inappropriate on a number of levels.

"They took up three seats that should have gone to key tech people," said one source, pointing to the odd absence of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Another source said that the conflict of interest seemed clear, while another just laughed and joked, "The U.S. is now a family business, I guess."

One Trump family member did rise to a level of interest for the group: Son-in-law and chief whisperer Jared Kushner, who kicked off the session and seemed more engaged than any other administration member there.

"It was clear that Kushner was the one thinking about this stuff and framing it," said one source with knowledge of the meeting.

At the top of the gathering (I may not have the order of all the topics exactly right), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella brought up perhaps the most thorny issue: Immigration and how the government can help tech with things like H-1B visas to keep and bring in more talent. Nadella pointed out that much of the company's spending on research and development was in the U.S., even if 50 percent of the sales were elsewhere, so that immigration would benefit those here.

Surprisingly to the group, Trump apparently responded favorably, "Let's fix that," he said, without a specific promise, and then asked, "What can I do to make it better?"

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Tibet's leader says he's encouraged by Trump's tough stance on China (Sanjeev Miglani, 12/16/16, Reuters) 

The head of the Tibetan government-in-exile said on Friday he was encouraged by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's tough stand on China and urged him to ditch backdoor diplomacy on furthering the Tibetan cause and be more confrontational.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


How The Right-Wing Media Helped Trump Voters Warm Up To Putin (Nick Fernandez, December 15, 2016,  Media Matters)

A new YouGov/Economist poll found that among registered Republicans and Trump voters, more than a third now hold a "favorable" view of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Though a majority still view Putin negatively, right-wing media -- which spent years holding Putin up as a "better leader" than President Barack Obama -- set the stage for Republican opinions to shift in the autocrat's favor, leading to a nearly 50-point swing in support from conservatives in just over two years. And after the United States intelligence community publicly disclosed that its members believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election, many right-wing media figures doubled down on their support for Putin and are downplaying Russia's involvement in the election.

Putin is an authoritarian "strongman" who has cracked down in Russia on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, signed into law draconian anti-gay legislation, and invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine. Nevertheless, for years, right-wing media have praised Vladimir Putin as a great leader, comparing him favorably against Obama.

It would be funnier if you weren't so embarrassed for them.
Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


A Trump Strategy to End Syria's Nightmare (MICHAEL O'HANLON, Dec. 15, 2016, WSJ)

President Obama's approach--with its focus on defeating Islamic State and displacing Syrian President Bashar Assad simultaneously, while devoting few American resources to the tasks--has failed to stop or even contain this humanitarian disaster. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, half of the country's prewar population has been displaced and nearly 500,000 have been killed. The conflict provided a sanctuary for ISIS that it used to take a quarter of Iraq and to catalyze attacks on Western targets. ISIS is losing ground, but it and the country's al Qaeda affiliate are far from defeated, and the war remains far from over.

President-elect Trump has stated that his priority in Syria will be to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to hasten the defeat of ISIS. Any attempt to push Mr. Assad out of power would be deferred. In Jordan, as I learned on a recent trip, many see this approach as more realistic than trying to defeat ISIS while simultaneously expediting Mr. Assad's ouster. The acute threat posed by ISIS, as well as the al Qaeda affiliate operating in the country, makes such a strategy appealing. [...]

To achieve peace, Syria will need self-governance within a number of autonomous zones. One option is a confederal system by which the whole country is divided into such zones. A less desirable but minimally acceptable alternative could be several autonomous zones within an otherwise still-centralized state--similar to how Iraqi Kurdistan has functioned for a quarter-century.

Ideally, Mr. Assad would go. But the prospect of his ouster is not realistic now, given recent battlefield trends and Russia's role. More plausibly, he could rule an autonomous zone in a new confederation. Less desirably, he could remain president of the country for a time, provided that Sunni and Kurd areas did not have to suffer his direct rule or the presence of his security forces again.

The best time to remove Assad was immediately after toppling Saddam.  This change in focus would also have allowed the Shi'a and Kurds to deal with the recalcitrant Sunni, forestalling the creation of ISIS.

Now it's best to kill as many as the Salafi, who have conveniently gathered under the ISIS flag, as possible and then dispose of Assad. Both the Russians and Iranians have declared him expendable.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


How Will History Judge Barack Obama? : The president succeeded in repairing our institutions--but millions of Americans wanted to blow them up instead. (Christopher Hayes, 12/15/16, The Nation)

Despite his pledge to "fundamentally change the way Washington works," Barack Obama was always an institutionalist. He ran on the promise of restoring wise stewardship to institutions that had been trashed by the reckless and feckless. Rather than blowing them up, he urged significant reforms aimed at making our institutions more responsive. Standing before the millions who had gathered on the National Mall on the blindingly frigid morning of January 20, 2009, he delivered a kind of institutionalist pep talk: "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

As a substantive project, Obama's institutionalism was, in many ways, a historic success. For all the flaws in his handling of the foreclosure crisis, for all the insanity of the early-onset austerity he agreed to in his negotiations with congressional Republicans, for all the unprecedented obstructionism of that same Republican Congress, the fact is that the United States emerged from the financial crisis in better shape than almost any other similarly positioned economy. By the end of Obama's two terms, wages were growing at their fastest pace in 60 years, unemployment was down to 4.6 percent, and 20 million more people had health insurance. Life had improved--tangibly, if at the margins--for millions. You could fill a book (indeed, a library) with celebrations and criticisms of the Obama administration, but we grade presidents on a curve, and who since Franklin Roosevelt has been a better Democratic president? Given Lyndon Johnson's shameful legacy in Vietnam, I think the answer is no one.

It's not just that he is indistinguishable from the previous 4 presidents, but that every English-speaking country has been governed identically for those four decades and will continue to be.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Please take us to Mars, President Trump (James Poulos, December 15, 2016, The Week)

 Working on colonizing Mars will encourage and deliver better, stronger, faster, and cleaner transportation technologies here on Earth, too. Scandalously, it still takes about as long to fly from New York to Los Angeles as it did when the hydrogen bomb was invented. I guarantee this will no longer be true once humans are cruising to Mars.

Doing the work of readying for Mars will organize the best of scientific thought and action around perfecting alternative energy, shifting from a subsidy model to one where fossil fuels are a bad or unnecessary option for millions of people.

And perhaps most significant of all, putting in the time and effort to prepare for a future with Mars will organize large-scale transportation and energy innovation in accordance with a new approach to climate technology. Climate control science should be a natural next step in our human stewardship of this and other planets -- ensuring stable futures for the flourishing of life.

Not enough people in Washington understand that the mission to Mars must be pursued as a mission to make Earth great again. "Astronauts want to go to Mars or the Moon or wherever," former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver recently sighed. "But why do they want to go there? We went to the Moon in the 1960s to beat the Russians and advance technology in the Cold War and be world leaders. But what's our reason now?" Instead, Garver wants NASA to focus on "technologies that are a real benefit to society."

But that's the thing. Mars tech and Earth tech are one and the same -- part of the same essential goal of creating a future many more billions of humans can love.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Sanders, Ellison look to rebuild party decimated under Obama (DAVID M. DRUCKER, 12/15/16, Daily Examiner)

The Democrats have lost majorities in the House and Senate and been obliterated by the Republicans at the state and local level since Obama assumed office in 2009. In a speech this week to progressive activists at a rally for Ellison's candidacy to lead the Democratic National Committee, Ellison and Sanders both said the party needed new leadership and noted that it had declined during recent years.

"Clearly, whatever the leadership of the Democratic Party has been doing over the last many years has failed, and we need fundamental change," Sanders said. [...]

Over Obama's eight years, Democrats went from controlling 28 governor's mansions to 18; they went from controlling 25 state legislatures to 12; they went from controlling 60 Senate seats to 48; and from controlling 257 House seats to 194.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


What Would It Look Like if New Hampshire Gets Rid of Common Core? (Kyle Plantz, Dec 16, 2016, NH Journal)

[S]ince he has a Republican majority in the House and Senate, it can be expected that education reform is a top priority for his administration.

But if the Republican-controlled State House votes to get rid of the Common Core standards, what replaces it might not look that different from what's already in place.

"There is no place in our state more than our classrooms where Washington has reached in with their regulation, with their bureaucracy," Sununu said in a September debate.

It's important to note that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were implemented in 2010 for math and English, are not a national curriculum and were created at the state level by governors and school administrators. President-elect Donald Trump has also called for a repeal of Common Core, but the Republican-controlled Congress recently passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which explicitly forbids federal involvement in state standards.

Since 2010, states were allowed to adopt and adapt the standards to fit their own local needs. Also, states and school districts are not required to adopt Common Core, and some have even created their own standards. Currently, 42 states have implemented Common Core standards.

Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma all adopted Common Core, but then later repealed the standards in response to political pressure. What ended up happening is that Indiana and South Carolina attempted to replace Common Core with their own standards, but eventually these states essentially reverted back to Common Core.

For example, South Carolina's math standards became 92 percent in alignment with Common Core standards.

Oklahoma wrote completely new standards, with very few similarities to Common Core. But critics on both sides of the political aisle and education experts seem to agree that the standards are a disaster.

Although New Hampshire could pull out of Common Core standards, which they have almost done twice during Gov. Maggie Hassan's terms, what replaces it might end up looking very similar to the standards that they just scrapped.

December 15, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Four Nations Are Winning the Global War for Talent (ADAM CREIGHTON, Oct 18, 2016, WSJ)

The world's highly skilled immigrants are increasingly living in just four nations: the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, according to new World Bank research highlighting the challenges of brain drain for non-English-speaking and developing countries.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Russia drops out of world's top 5 defense spenders (Ryan Maass, Dec. 14, 2016, UPI) 

A new report by the IHS Jane's Defense Budget team reveals Russia has dropped out of the top five global defense spenders for the first time in 30 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Trump Pick For NSA Shared Files (Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller, 12/14/16, The Washington Post)

A secret U.S. military investigation in 2010 determined that Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army general tapped to serve as national security adviser in the Trump White House, "inappropriately shared" classified information with foreign military officers in Afghanistan, newly released documents show.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


These are America's top trading partners (Alanna Petroff, Ivory Sherman, Tal Yellin, 12/14/16, CNN MOney)

U.S. trade with other nations is worth $5 trillion per year. China, Canada and Mexico are the country's largest trading partners, accounting for nearly $2 trillion worth of imports and exports. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


The Full English : AA Gill, 1954-2016 (Mark Steyn, December 14, 2016, SteynOnline)

Everyone of Gill's generation will recognize that vanished Britain, but only a few could evoke it that deftly and economically - and with the sense of wistfulness that comes from realizing that the life you're living has somehow become the life you've lived. It's one typical passage from a routine journalistic assignment:

Last week an editor breezily mentioned that as I was coming up to a milestone decade would I perhaps like to write something about it? You know, is 60 the new 40? Why do you make those little noises when you get out of a chair? Am I considering getting a shed, or a cruise, or Velcro? And what about sex?

The only people who ask about significant birthdays are younger than you. No 70-year-olds are inquiring about my insights on being 60. Age is the great terra incognita. But then, all the people who tell me to do anything are younger than me now. [...]

I liked this bit, too:

Every morning, after taking our twins to school, Nicola and I read the papers over breakfast and I recite the birthday list and she will guess the ages. She's uncannily accurate. Yesterday The Guardian will have said: AA Gill, critic and baboon-murdering bastard, 60.

I share a birthday with Henry VIII and the shot that started the Great War. I've always read the anniversary roll and over the years I've watched people my age go from rarely mentioned as sportsmen and pop stars to more commonly as leading actors and television presenters and now ubiquitously I find myself in the thick of captains of industry, ennobled politicians, retired sportsmen and character actors.

As I said, all that's from just one A A Gill column, written at a far higher level than a dying industry demands, at least to judge from The New York Times or The Washington Post. It was published just two years ago, when he confidently expected to live to see another four World Cups, as he put it. Thus he neglected to note that another sign of the accumulating years is that more and more of your contemporaries, whether former pop stars or mighty captains of industry, migrate from "Today's Birthdays" to the obituary column. And so a few weeks ago he mentioned to his readers in the course of a restaurant review that he had "an embarrassment of cancer, the full English" - for non-Britons, that's an allusion to the huge and indigestible "full English breakfast" (which, credit where it's due, is a vegan snack next to the full Irish).

So he coined a phrase even for his death sentence, and one that's almost too perfect for a gourmand and restaurant critic. And its rueful if faintly parodic stiff-upper-lipped stoicism would have earned the gruff approval of all those long-gone Englishmen of the Fifties opening up pub doors and asking if the major had been in. Rest in peace.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Will Donald Trump's historic unpopularity hamstring his presidency? (Paul Waldman, December 15, 2016, The Week)

He'll be taking office as the most unpopular incoming president in memory, too. Trump himself doesn't believe this -- he's telling anyone who'll listen that he won an enormous and historic Electoral College landslide (false), and he's not exactly one to trim his sails in consideration of those who oppose him. But might that lack of popularity hamstring his presidency?

Let's look first at where he stands. In the latest polls, Trump's favorable ratings are in the 40s -- a touch better than they were during most of the campaign, but still awful. As a point of comparison, eight years ago Barack Obama had favorable ratings 20 points higher than Trump's are now.

And according to Gallup, Americans aren't that happy with the Trump transition, either. We're split 48-48 percent on whether we approve of how he's handling the transition, which might not seem all that bad until you learn that in ordinary circumstances, most people give the incoming president much more of a benefit of the doubt. The approval numbers for Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton's transitions were 75 percent, 65 percent, and 67 percent, respectively. And it isn't like there wasn't plenty of partisanship around in 2008, 2000, or 1992. [...]

In any case, Trump doesn't start with the public behind him.

Like Scut Farkus, the bully is all bluster.

Americans and Trump part ways over Russia (Kathy Frankovic, YouGov)

December 14, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


The US Navy's Autonomous Swarm Boats Can Now Decide What to Attack : An autonomous Navy vessel performing a demonstration on the Chesapeake Bay in September. (PATRICK TUCKER, 12/14/16, Defense One)

A Sept. 6-Oct. 3 test in the lower Chesapeake Bay demonstrated several new capabilities that will "open up the aperture" for more missions, said ONR program manager Robert Brizzolara.

One was "enhanced vessel classification," the boats' ability to separate friend from foe, using images fed into CARACaS. No small task, this advance required new research and development into target classification.

"We looked at a relatively large number of automated target recognition approaches...taking algorithms for [automated target recognition] and using them in our maritime environment was not straightforward," said Brizzolara. "In the end, we finally came up with an approach that works very well."

But the boats can also evaluate potential threats based on their behaviors; for example, taking note of how close a suspect vessel is getting to a port, ship, or other asset. This capability, which was not demonstrated in the recent tests, allows new images and behaviors to be entered into the boats' threat library.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Wind Energy Picking Up Steam Onshore and Off : Government approval of power lines to carry wind energy to the coasts is a sign that momentum is building in the renewable energy sector. (Kate Wheeling, 12/14/16, Pacific Standard)

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the approval of the TransWest Express--a green energy power line that stretches more than 700 miles across the Southwest United States. The approval of the transmission line project is the result of a partnership between the Department of the Interior and Western states to encourage and expedite the development of renewable energy projects on federal lands. For the Power Company of Wyoming--the massive wind farm that will generate the 3,000 megawatts of energy expected to course through the TransWest Express--the approval is a long time coming. [...]

[O]n Monday, the first offshore wind farm in the country--a five turbine installation off the coast of Rhode Island--began operations.

Recent technological advances by engineers in Ohio that ease the installation of turbines and reduce their environmental impacts will only accelerate the pace of offshore development, Thomas explained:

Instead of drilling the turbine's foundation directly into seafloor bedrock, a massive steel drum, known as a Mono Bucket, establishes a suction cup-like grip on the lake's floor. The drums, which take just 12 hours to install, are less likely to disturb the environment than traditional "pile-driving" foundations, which are prone to releasing pollution and sediment trapped in deeper waters.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Ted Kennedy Made Secret Overtures to Russia to Prevent Ronald Reagan's Re-Election (Kevin Mooney, December 14, 2016, Daily Signal)

Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy had "selfish political and ideological motives" when he made secret overtures to the Soviet Union's spy agency during the Cold War to thwart then-President Ronald Reagan's re-election, a Reagan biographer said in an interview with The Daily Signal.

When they came to light years later, Kennedy's secret contacts with the Russians through their KGB spy agency in the early 1980s didn't cause nearly the tizzy that Russia's alleged interference with this year's election has for President-elect Donald Trump among liberal activists and reporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump has said he hopes to "get along," is a former foreign intelligence officer and lieutenant colonel in the KGB.

They really can't do any better than defend Donald buy comparing him to Teddy?

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Will the Fed do something stupid today? (Jeff Spross, December 14, 2016, The Week)

The Fed's role is to strike a balance between maximizing employment and controlling inflation. The trouble is, as the job market improves, the overall dynamic in the economy flips: Instead of workers competing for scarce jobs, employers are competing for scarce workers. Employees thus gain a lot more leverage to demand pay and benefit increases. But business owners and shareholders still want their profit margins, and have to fight harder to prevent rising wages from pushing profits to zero. The obvious way to do this is by jacking up prices.

If this arms race between workers and owners spreads across the entire economy, prices everywhere rise -- thus, inflation.

This is where the Fed steps in. The way it "cools off" the economy is by raising interest rates: It makes credit harder to come by, which encourages businesses to either scale back or delay growing. Practically speaking, that means people losing their jobs, or not being able to find jobs when they need them.

It's up to individual businesses to decide how they respond to the credit squeeze. And it's not like they start by cutting upper management's pay. Instead, the first people to lose their jobs, and the ones most likely to be denied jobs to begin with, are the people with the least power. That means people with less education, or people with chronic disabilities or health problems, or workers who have suffered spells of unemployment before. It means the young and people with felony convictions in their past. It means racial minorities and female service workers.

These are the Americans we throw under the bus whenever we decide that inflation needs to be tamped down.

It gets worse. Mainstream economics has concluded that the way to keep inflation under control long-term is to not let the unemployment rate fall below a certain threshold. The 4.6 percent unemployment we're at now is already low compared to the 5-to-6 percent range the Fed has historically targeted. That's why Fed officials are itching to hike interest rates.

Think about that! It's the explicit purpose of American monetary policy to force joblessness on people who would otherwise work -- to maintain a pool of unemployed Americans by brute policy decree, when the unemployment rate could go lower.

Except that with 5.5 million job openings you can't make an intellectually honest argument that anyone who wants to work can't find any.  

Now you could plausibly claim that the increasing lack of interest in mere employment is destined to create wage pressure, as employers compete for the shrinking pool of people who will accept jobs.

However, technology, trade and immigration will quickly solve that problem.

It is a deflationary epoch in the long term and nothing the Fed does in the short can change that.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Why the British love the National Health Service (Andrew Street, 12/14/16, The Conversation)

 Satisfaction with the NHS has increased over the past few years, with 60 percent of those surveyed in 2015 saying they were quite or very satisfied with the NHS.

According to the Commonwealth Fund's recent survey, 63 percent of those from the U.K. said the NHS worked well.

In contrast, only 25 percent of those from the U.S. said the same about their health system.

The British, take more pride in the NHS than anything else, the royal family included.

International comparisons show that the NHS outperforms other countries, including the U.S., in terms of quality of care, efficiency, access and equity. it is one.  The GOP's challenge is to deliver it via private means before onl;y the public option remains.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


I was wrong on Brexit (Niall Ferguson, DECEMBER 12, 2016, Boston Globe)

The three words you are least likely to hear from an academic are "I was wrong." Well, I was wrong to argue against "Brexit," as I admitted in public last week. By this I do not mean to say "I wish I had backed the winning side." Rather, I mean "I wish I had stuck to my principles."

For years I have argued that Europe became the world's most dynamic civilization after around 1500 partly because of political fragmentation and competition between multiple independent states. I have also argued that the rule of law -- and specifically the English common law -- was one of the "killer applications" of western civilization.

I was a staunch Thatcherite. I was a proud Eurosceptic. So what on earth, many old friends wondered, prompted me to take the side of "remain" in the referendum on EU membership?

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


It's Not Looking Good for Roe v. Wade (SCOTT LEMIEUX, December 14, 2016, New Republic)

Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's cynical but politically brilliant gamble of refusing to give a hearing to President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, the people's second choice will enter office with a Supreme Court vacancy to fill. [...]

The real potential danger lies down the road. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an 83-year-old cancer survivor, Justice Stephen Breyer is 78, and Kennedy himself is 80. Ginsburg and Breyer will almost certainly stay on the Court as long as they're physically able to serve, but four years is a long time. And it's possible that Kennedy could resign to be replaced by a Republican successor, although he might be the kind of nearly extinct moderate Republican who disdains Trump. Democrats will face the odd situation of doing their damnedest to keep Kennedy on the court for four more years.

But if Trump is able to get one more nominee confirmed after replacing Scalia, that will make Chief Justice John Roberts the median vote on the Court. What happens then? At that point, the only question is whether Roe is quickly executed or slowly strangled to death.

With a Democratic Congress, Donald would have been likely to nominate a pro-choice juror; but the GOP victory restricts his options severely.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Why the GOP Congress Will Stop Trump from Going Too Far : The coming resistance from Republican lawmakers who hate Trump, fear executive overreach--or both. (Daniel Stid, January 2017, Washington Monthly)

Consider the many ways in which the substantial ambitions of GOP legislators could bring them into conflict with the Trump administration. While Republicans may find some common ground on issues such as tax reform and opposition to Obamacare, Trump's priorities on other issues--such as trade, entitlements, infrastructure investment, and government spending in general--run counter to those espoused by many congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Second, Trump and many of his advisers, like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, disrespect and dislike the GOP legislators and the institution they inhabit, seeing it as an independent center of political power that they do not yet control. Before Bannon came aboard Trump's campaign, he was determined to use his platform at Breitbart News to drive Ryan from the speaker's chair because of the latter's free-trading globalism and Washington insider status. It's no accident that Trump has become a devotee of congressional term limits. Trump executed a hostile takeover of the presidential wing of the GOP and now wants to bring the congressional wing to heel.

It's a safe bet that the loathing is mutual. While Ryan's eventual and lukewarm endorsement of Trump struck many critics as feckless, it is hard to imagine him taking any other course and retaining the speaker's chair. And time and again throughout the campaign, Ryan sharply criticized Trump's statements and actions as inconsistent with GOP and conservative principles--even after giving Trump his endorsement.

Ryan wasn't the only House Republican who was profoundly ambivalent about Trump. A cheat sheet by David Graham at the Atlantic found that at least twenty-five members of Ryan's majority--more than 10 percent--declared on the record that they would not vote for their party's standard-bearer. This is a highly unusual development in an age of intense party unity--and not a harbinger of a majority that will serve as a presidential rubber stamp.

Though less apt to withhold their votes, the true believers in the House Freedom Caucus are another potential thorn in Trump's side. Prominent members of this group have already challenged expectations that they will be passive passengers on the Trump train. "November 8th wasn't the election of a monarch," Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie observed. "It was the election of the head of a third of our government as envisioned by the Founding Fathers." For his part, Michigan Representative Justin Amash has been upbraiding the president-elect on Twitter for his threats to curtail civil liberties and intervene in free markets. When Trump boasted about his negotiations with Carrier, Amash tweeted, "Not the president(-elect)'s job. We live in a constitutional republic, not an autocracy. Business-specific meddling should not be normalized."

Over in the Senate, where the GOP holds a mere two-seat majority, and where individual legislators wield considerable power, there is even more reason to expect that Republican lawmakers will frustrate Trump. In a post-election day press conference, McConnell fired shots across the president-elect's bow, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO and pointedly stating that term limits would not be on the Senate's agenda. "We have term limits now," the Kentuckian quipped to the assembled reporters. "They are called elections."

Other senators could also set Trump's wispy orange hair on fire. Ten Republicans in the next Senate--20 percent of the GOP majority--publicly affirmed that they would not vote for Trump, including stalwart Never Trump Senators Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), and Mike Lee (Utah). Maine Senator Susan Collins disavowed Trump in August. After the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October, Alaskan Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan condemned Trump's actions and said they would not vote for him, as did John McCain, Colorado's Cory Gardner, and Rob Portman of Ohio. With the Republicans' narrow majority, a few defectors could thwart passage of a bill or a confirmation of a weak appointee.

Donald only ever owes; he is never owed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


McConnell, Warning of 'Dangerous' Debt, Wants Tax Cut Offsets (Steven T. Dennis  and Sahil Kapur, December 12, 2016, Bloomberg)

President-elect Donald Trump's race to enact the biggest tax cuts since the 1980s went under a caution flag Monday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned he considers current levels of U.S. debt "dangerous" and said he wants any tax overhaul to avoid adding to the deficit.

"I think this level of national debt is dangerous and unacceptable," McConnell said, adding he hopes Congress doesn't lose sight of that when it acts next year. "My preference on tax reform is that it be revenue neutral," he said.

December 13, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


What Is Nduja and Why Is It Suddenly on Every Menu? (Richard Vines, December 13, 2016, Bloomberg)

Nduja -- pronounced, in Mazzei's Calabrian accent, as in-DOOJ-ah -- is made with pork fat, herbs and spices, along with spicy Calabrian peppers, which give nduja chili heat and a distinctive red color. It originated in Vibo Valentia province, and much of it still comes from the town of Spilinga.

"It's great with anything from burrata to shellfish to pizza, and you can whack it in almost any pasta," said Jacob Kenedy, the chef behind Bocca di Lupo, near Piccadilly Circus in London. "It's the go-to ingredient for a bit of a kick. It's like a non-vegetarian chili oil."

Kenedy has served regional Italian dishes such as orecchiette with nduja, red onion, tomato and rocket at Bocca di Lupo. (It's not on the menu currently, but he says he can make it if you ask ahead.) The flavor works particularly well for the British palate, he says.

"Nduja deserves to be popular because it is fiery-hot and piggy, which are two very good things together," Kenedy says.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Your Balance History

03/01/1605/01/1607/01/1609/01/1611/01/16$90K$100K$110K$120K$130KMonday, Jan 25, 2016$104,044.93$125K

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Drone Strike Finally Catches Up With Paris Attack Planners (JACOB BOJESSON, 12/13/2016, The Daily Caller)

Two Islamic State leaders behind the terrorist attacks in Paris last year were killed in a U.S.-led drone strike Dec. 4 in Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.

The two targets, Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou, worked with external terror operations and recruitment of foreign fighters in Europe. They were directly involved in facilitating the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

Gourmat and Djedou were close associates of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, ISIS's former chief spokesman who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August. (RELATED: ISIS Leader Sees Sunshine For First Time In Months, Hellfire Missile Obliterates Him)

Walid Hamman, the third terrorist killed in the drone strike, was a suicide attack planner, Hamman was convicted in absentia by a Belgian court for a terror plot foiled in 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


There's hope: Fewer teens are doing drugs than ever before (Karen Weintraub, 12/13/16, USA TODAY)

American teenagers are the best behaved they've ever been -- drinking and smoking less and doing fewer drugs than their predecessors in more than 40 years of tracking.

Even use of marijuana is down among 8th- and 10th-graders, though it's flat among high school seniors, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey of American teens.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Iraqi Shi'ite forces aim to clear border strip with Syria (Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Hameed, 12/13/16, Reuters)

Iraqi Shi'ite forces fighting Islamic State west of Mosul aim to clear a large strip of land on the border with Syria to prevent the militants melting into the remote desert region and using it as a base for counter attacks, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

The Popular Mobilisation fighters - mainly Shi'ite, Iranian-backed paramilitary groups who form part of a wider Iraqi force waging the eight-week Mosul campaign - have deployed west of the city to cut the route to Islamic State-held territory in Syria.

They have taken an air base south of the town of Tal Afar, about 60 km (40 miles) west of Mosul, and linked up with Kurdish peshmerga fighters to seal off the town's western flank.

Jafaar Hussaini said the Kata'ib Hezbollah, one of the Shi'ite armed groups, would advance further west to clear the border region where he said the militants had hidden many weapons stores for future use.

"The key objective is to ... make sure that the terrorists lose the ability to regroup and launch counter attacks against advancing forces," said Hussaini, speaking by telephone from a desert area near Tal Afar.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Al Franken Faces Donald Trump and the Next Four Years (Mark Leibovitch, 12/13/16, NY Times)

Donald Trump never laughs," Al Franken said.

This was the senator's first observation to me on a recent afternoon. It was exactly three weeks from the day the punch line became the president-elect. And Trump's mysterious absence of laughter had never occurred to me before, even though I'd spoken to him a fair amount and he has lived pretty much nonstop in our faces for 18 months, no end in sight.

Franken, the second-term Democratic senator from Minnesota and, before that, a longtime writer and performer on "Saturday Night Live," has studied this. He provided commentary for MSNBC at the Al Smith Dinner, the Catholic charity fund-raiser in October where presidential nominees engage in good-natured ribbing of themselves and each other (Trump mostly skipped the "good-natured" part and was booed). "I wanted to see if Trump laughed," Franken said. "And he didn't. He smiled, but didn't laugh. I don't know what it is."

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Google, Cuba sign deal allowing fast access to company data (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, 12/13/16,Associated Press)

The deal removes one of the many obstacles to a normal internet in Cuba, which suffers from some of the world's most limited and expensive access. Home connections remain illegal for most Cubans and the government charges the equivalent of a month's average salary for 10 hours of access to public WiFi spots with speeds frequently too slow to download files or watch streaming video.

The agreement does not affect Cuba's antiquated communications infrastructure or broaden public access to the internet, but it could make Google websites like YouTube or Gmail up to 10 times faster for users inside Cuba. Content hosted by other companies will not be affected. [...]

Cuban officials appear to be accelerating their approvals of deals with U.S. companies in an attempt to build momentum behind U.S.-Cuba normalization before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month. The Google pact was announced less than a week after Cuba gave three U.S. cruise companies permission to begin sailing to the island next year. Officials familiar with the negotiations say other deals, including one with General Electric, are in the works.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


New Approach to Corporate Tax Reform has House GOP Support (Steve Lohr, 12/12/16, NY Times)

"It would be the biggest change in business tax law ever in the United States," said Martin A. Sullivan, the chief economist at Tax Analysts, a nonprofit tax research organization and publisher. "It might actually work, and I don't think it's a partisan issue."

A central idea is that goods would be taxed based on where they were consumed rather than where they were produced, meaning that imports would be taxed by Washington while exports would not. Tax experts call this a destination-based consumption tax.

This would be a sharp departure for the United States in a number of ways, but taxing imports but not exports is in step with nearly all of America's trading partners, which have so-called value-added taxes. The import-and-export tax treatment is known as border adjustment.

The proposed overhaul would have other changes. The cost of capital investments would be deducted immediately rather than depreciated over years, but interest costs would no longer be deductible.

The package of ideas has evolved over years, mainly in academic circles. Its principal intellectual champion in the United States is Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. Mr. Auerbach's goal, he said, is to transform the economics of the corporate tax system so that "incentives will align with the national interest."

The destination-based concept, according to Mr. Auerbach, is an adaptation to the modern economy of open borders and advancing technology. Much business value is now in intellectual property like patents and software.

Multinationals are adept at shifting these intangible assets to low-tax nations as a way to shelter profits and avoid taxes. A destination-based system, focusing on where a product is consumed, would be much simplified, eliminating incentives to game the system, Mr. Auerbach said.

By not taxing exports, he said, it would "strongly encourage American companies to locate activities in the United States."

It's not a question of whether we switch to consumption taxes, just how rapidly.
Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


A look at Bill English, New Zealand's new prime minister (The Associated Press, 12/12/16)

Has pledged to use budget surpluses to cut taxes, spend more on infrastructure and pay down government debt.

Says he's not bound by Key's pledge to keep the age at which people can receive a government pension at 65. Some people say the age should be raised to reflect an aging population which is working longer.

Says he supports the British monarchy and has no timetable for New Zealand to become a republic. Says any constitutional change would need to be driven by the people.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Bill Belichick Is the Master of the Sick Burn : Good coaching requires discipline, intelligence, and a little luck. It also requires, in the case of the Patriots head coach, a knack for insult comedy. (Kevin Clark, 12/13/16, The Ringer)

Belichick is perhaps the greatest coach in the history of football. He has won 234 regular-season games and four Super Bowls. He wins due to constant innovation, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and supernaturally smart game plans that slow opponents. He also wins, players say, due to a ruthlessly effective communication style that is short, funny, and, more than anything, sarcastic. There is no coach who uses succinct, biting jokes to convey a coaching point with as much efficiency (and comic timing) as the Patriots head coach. Bill Belichick is the master of the sick burn.

"You don't think it's funny if it's happening to you, but everyone else does," said safety Devin McCourty.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


NY's Cuomo finds common ground with Trump on infrastructure (AP, 12/13/16)
[T]he Democrat Cuomo is hoping a fondness for building things can be the common ground with the Republican Trump. Cuomo said he spoke to Trump the day after the election and specifically mentioned the importance of infrastructure.

"He is a New Yorker," Cuomo said. "Mr. Trump is very much a private sector builder. ... So, he has a natural orientation toward the needs of this type of urban area. I think that's a good thing."

December 12, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Comey FBI letter 'almost certainly' cost Hillary Clinton the election, numbers reveal (Samuel Osborne, 12/12/16, The Independent)

FBI director James Comey's letter announcing the FBI was reopening its probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server may have played a key role in her election loss, figures suggest.

Renowned pollster Nate Silver said Ms Clinton would "almost certainly" be President-elect of the US if the election had been held on 27 October, the day before Mr Comey's announcement.

...turnout would have been lower.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Mitch McConnell Warns Against 'Trillion-Dollar Stimulus' In Trump's Infrastructure Plan (Igor Bobic, 12/12/16, The Huffington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday expressed some early skepticism about President-elect Donald Trump's proposal to upgrade the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and waterways.

During a press conference on Capitol Hill, McConnell warned against trying to pass a "trillion-dollar stimulus" through a Republican-controlled Congress.

"It will be interesting to see how this is put together," McConnell told reporters. "I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus."

Ah, the perils of being a president with no I.O.U.'s on the Hill...

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


In Latest PR Gambit, Neo-Nazis Shed the Swastika, Keep the Racism (Sam Kestenbaum, December 12, 2016, The Forward)

The National Socialist Movement, which has its roots in the original American Nazi Party, has replaced it's swastika insignia for an a pre-Roman symbol known as the Othala Rune also embraced by the Nazis.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Trump says the F-35 program and cost 'out of control' (Reuters, 12/12/16)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said on Monday the cost of Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet program is too high and that he would save billions on that once he takes office.

...this time the GOP gets credit for the Peace Dividend instead of a Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Unopposed : The Labour Party will drift into irrelevance (Jeremy Cliffe, 12/12/16, The Economist)

Mr Corbyn will say and do the bare minimum to help Sir Keir Starmer, his shadow Brexit secretary--who along with Sadiq Khan, London's mayor, will consolidate his status as a vessel for moderates' hopes. Instead Labour's leader will focus on internal battles: between his most hardline allies and younger, more nuanced lefties like Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary; between Unite, Labour's largest affiliated union, and the more Corbyn-sceptic GMB; between different factions on Labour's executive, as he tries to rewrite party rules to give members--his ultimate power base--more say.

The result will be something like a one-party state. The Conservative left, the Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats will try to hold Theresa May and her government to account.

The existential threat to the Democrats is that their party faces the ptential for this same lurch backwards.  The Progressives are regressive.
Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Escape Your Echo Chamber And Understand What Really Makes Trump Supporters Tick
The country may feel divided, but a meticulous data analysis reveals that Trump and Clinton supporters aren't as different as they may seem (ELIZABETH SEGRAN 12.12.16, Fasct Company)

While on the whole Trump supporters tended to be slightly more racist than Clinton supporters, they were only marginally so.

Some people were clearly racist, saying things like, "Muslims . . . hate us and come here to take our welfare dollars. As their numbers grow and we don't speak out against it, there will no longer be a tolerant, loving USA." But there were other people whose follow-up answers did not appear to be racist at all. They said things like, "Immigrants may emphasize their own culture over American culture, but this is not necessarily a bad thing." In this case, the person answering appeared to simply be acknowledging the fact that immigrants would change American culture, not making a value judgment about it. When Clearer Thinking went through the follow-up responses and coded them by how racist they actually were, they found that while on the whole Trump supporters tended to be slightly more racist than Clinton supporters, they were only marginally so.

Greenberg believes that these overall results should be heartening. The websites that claim Trump supporters voted for him because they are racist don't have the data to back this up. It would be fair to assume, then, that the average Trump supporter you meet is not racist. And many Trump supporters feel angry and defensive about being accused of being racist, when they aren't. Leffler is among them. "Racism is more systematic across society than within individuals," he says. "The solution isn't to train individuals, but to train society as a whole to be more tolerant."

Among Clearer Thinking's 138 variables, the biggest predictor of whether someone would vote for Trump was their official party affiliation. But the second biggest predictor of support for Trump was whether they believe there is too much political correctness in this country. This is something that came up repeatedly during the election. One Washington Post writer pointed out, "If there is one uniting principle the defines Donald Trump's campaign for president--besides, perhaps, winning and being classy--it is that political correctness is bad."

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Barack Obama, Donald Trump Forge an Unlikely Rapport (PETER NICHOLAS and  CAROL E. LEE, Dec. 9, 2016, WSJ)

Mr. Obama views Mr. Trump as a pragmatic figure with no hard ideological leanings, aides said. The president's conversations with Mr. Trump are largely aimed at trying to preserve pieces of his legacy that his successor's administration might be looking to dismantle.

Mr. Obama has walked Mr. Trump through the details of some of his most noted foreign-policy achievements. He outlined to him the agreement with Iran aimed at restraining its nuclear program and what, in his view, are the pitfalls of backtracking on it. In one 45-minute phone call, Mr. Obama detailed what he sees as the upsides of maintaining U.S. relations with Cuba, the re-establishment of which has been one of Mr. Obama's top priorities.

The president also has advised Mr. Trump on how to prioritize some of the challenges he will face beginning next month. Mr. Obama told Mr. Trump, for instance, that North Korea will be the biggest foreign-policy threat with which he has to contend, people familiar with the conversation said.

Mr. Trump seemed to signal that he had heard the advice when, during a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, he called on China to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Beijing slams Trump for questioning longtime 'one-China' policy (Deutsche-Welle, 12/12/16)

US President-elect Donald Trump threw into doubt four decades of US foreign policy towards China by saying Washington is not bound to maintain its long-standing position that Taiwan is part of "one China." whether a four China policy is desirable or whether it will devolve further than the PRC, Tibet, Uighurstan and Taiwan. One suspects there is much more dissolution to come.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Boeing Seals Nearly $17 Billion Iran Deal (ROBERT WALL and  ASA FITCH, Dec. 11, 2016 , WSJ)

Boeing Co. clinched a deal to sell 80 jetliners to Iran, completing the first major agreement between a U.S. company and the Islamic Republic, just as the political winds are changing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


How the Democratic Party Lost Its Way : During my 20 years in Democratic campaigns, I've seen the party operation decline into an insular and myopic letdown. But I also know how it can recover. (THOMAS MILLS December 10, 2016, Politico)

I've spent 20 years working on political campaigns, and the political organization I encountered in 2016 was an utter disappointment. Back in the '90s when I started out, the DCCC was tasked with contesting as many races as possible and providing staff, training and direction to the campaigns in the field. Today, they're narrowly focused on a small number of highly targeted races. Other campaigns get little attention or support.

Democrats need to be sharper going into the next election cycle. With a 50-plus seat deficit in the House, the party will have to win more than just the most competitive seats. They'll probably need a wave in which they figure out how to win some longshot races. That won't happen unless the party actively recruits good candidates around the country and treats them with respect and encouragement. And it also won't happen unless the party provides campaigns--especially in the toughest districts--with the training, support and infrastructure to create or take advantage of opportunities.

Except that you have tremendous difficulty recruiting great candidates when they know they'll either lose or end up in the permanent minority.  It's why the Reagan babies were so easy to defeat. They weren't good candidates. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


Forget populism -- Trump's picking orthodox Republicans (Doyle McManus, 12/12/16, LA Times)

[I]f you watch what Trump does, not what he says -- which at this point, mostly means the choices he makes for Cabinet positions -- he doesn't look unusual at all.

In Trump's picks for economic and domestic policymaking jobs, there's a consistent underlying thread. And no, it's not that so many of them are billionaires.

It's Republican orthodoxy. Trump's choices have all been thoroughgoing conservatives who believe in the free market, deregulation and, wherever possible, privatization of government functions.

Most of them could have been nominated by any GOP nominee, including Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

There's nary a populist among them - not even the conservative kind.

"Conservatives are happy," Scott Reed, a political advisor to the business-establishment U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told me. "It's a mainstream conservative list of very competent people."

Republicans holding on to Congress was the key to a Trump presidency.

December 11, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Finance Minister English named as New Zealand prime minister (Swati Pandey and Charlotte Greenfield, 12/11/16, Reuters)

As finance minister, his key policies included moves to partly privatize several state-owned energy firms and Air New Zealand, cutting personal tax and corporate tax rates and increasing the goods and services tax.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


U.S. household net worth rose to $90.2 trillion in the third-quarter: Fed (Reuters, 12/11/16)

The net worth of U.S. households increased in the third quarter as U.S. stock prices and real estate values continued to flourish, a report by the Federal Reserve showed on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Six donors that Trump appointed gave almost $12 million with their families to back his campaign and the party (Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy, December 9 , 2016, Washington Post)

With his choice of restaurant executive Andrew Puzder to serve as his Labor secretary, President-elect Donald Trump has now tapped six big donors and fundraisers to serve in his administration, lining up an unprecedented concentration of wealthy backers for top posts.

Together with their families, Trump's nominees gave $11.6 million to support his presidential bid, his allied super PACs and the Republican National Committee, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign filings.

One single appointee -- WWE co-founder Linda McMahon -- contributed $7.5 million to back his White House run before Trump selected her to run the Small Business Administration this week. She and her husband Vince were also the top outside donors to Trump's private foundation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Silicon Valley Is Trying to Reinvent Health Care, Starting in New Jersey : Tech investors have injected about $300 million into Clover Health, an insurance startup attempting to use data to keep its customers healthy. (Lizette Chapman, December 7, 2016, Bloomberg)

Clover has built data science, design, engineering and product teams with pedigrees from several Valley giants, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The technical groups are led by Kris Gale, who started the business with Garipalli after leaving Microsoft's Yammer. They're developing software to organize the trove of data coming from workers on the ground in New Jersey, mine it for likely health problems and suggest ways to prevent them before they happen.

A recent addition to the team is Sandy Ryza. He joined as a senior data scientist in March from Cloudera, where he was crunching data for banks and telecoms. He says he likes the challenge of bringing order to disparate health data and believes in Clover's mission of fixing the nation's health system. "By the time I'm an adult, we will have hopefully put our country on a better track," says the 27-year-old. "It may sound cheesy, but I really want to make a difference."

As an insurer, Clover pays all its members' bills. This gives the company an evolving health profile for every customer. Since Medicare members visit doctors more frequently and have higher costs than anyone else in the country, Clover is amassing a huge volume of data. The company has trained its system to look for anomalies, such as missed doctor's appointments, failures to pick up prescriptions or visits to the ER.

"We're building a learning machine, and we're using it for health"
This year Clover's system was tracking the recovery of a member in his 80s who was admitted to the hospital after a fall. Frail, with leg ulcers and Type II diabetes, the man used a walker and, based on his Clover risk profile, would likely fall again. When he was discharged, Clover alerted its customer care team in New Jersey, which dispatched a nurse practitioner to the man's home. She found a problem: To climb into his bed at night, the member was using a pink plastic stepstool designed for toddlers. The nurse called for a railing to be installed by his bed that day.

The incredible healing powers of data are a guiding principle for dozens of startup founders hoping to reinvent health care. VCs injected $1.2 billion into tech-centric health insurance companies last year, led by Zenefits, Oscar Health, Collective Health and Clover, according to research firm CB Insights.

But many of the new-generation health companies give off a whiff of "arrogance," says Les Funtleyder, a health care portfolio manager at E Squared Capital Management. He says they're overvalued and that their technology isn't all that different from what traditional insurers use. "A lot of people from Silicon Valley say, 'We'll just apply data to everything,'" he says. "So far, we haven't seen any of these new guys do anything interesting. This is going to end poorly with a lot of money wasted."

Donald Trump has promised to undo portions of Obamacare, which is causing panic among insurance giants and startups alike. But health policy experts say Medicare Advantage will likely remain intact and that the president-elect poses little risk to Clover's business. "There could be some small tweaks, but I don't expect it will be weakened," says Stacy Sanders, federal policy director for the Medicare Rights Center, a consumer advocacy group. The Advantage plan has "broad bipartisan support," says John Gorman, founder of government consulting firm Gorman Health Group.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Tina Brown: 'The Trumps look like a Kardashian Camelot' (Rachel Cooke, 10 December 2016, The Guardian)

On the night of the US presidential election, Tina Brown was at a party hosted by Snapchat deep in liberal elite Manhattan. There she was, gossiping away, when her husband Harry - aka the celebrated journalist, Sir Harold Evans - appeared. "I was holding a plate of sushi," she says, in a voice that is eight parts brisk Home Counties to two parts twangy Upper East Side. "He said: 'Things are going very badly for Hillary.' Well, that was the end of the chatting for me. After that, I was glued to a screen in a corner." Was she expecting what happened next? "No, none of us were. Though it's fair to say that every time I saw Trump walk across the stage with the family, I thought: my God, they look like the Kardashian Camelot. Beautiful girls married to good-looking guys; the big patriarch with the private plane. I mean, it's Dyyy-nasty. That is a show people want to watch. Do they want to watch a show with the Clintons earnestly discussing healthcare? No, they don't. They want a show about making it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Bergoglio, Politician. The Myth of the Chosen People : The pope of mercy is also the one of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalization "popular movements." Castro dies, Trump wins, the South American populist regimes crumble, but he isn't giving up. He is certain that the future of humanity is in the people of the excluded  (Sandro Magister, December 11, 2016, Chiesa)

It is evident by now that the pontificate of Francis has two linchpins, religious and political. The religious one is the shower of mercy that purifies everyone and everything. The political one is the battle on a worldwide scale against "the economy that kills," which the pope wants to fight together with those "popular movements," his definition, in which he sees the future of humanity shining.

One has to go back to Paul VI to find another pope wedded to an organic political framework, in his case that of the European Catholic parties of the twentieth century, in Italy the DC of Alcide De Gasperi and in Germany the CDU of Konrad Adenauer. To this European political tradition, which moreover has faded away, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is an outsider. As an Argentine, his seedling ground is another one altogether. And it has a name that has a negative connotation in Europe, but not in the pope's native land: populism.

"The word 'people' is not a logical category, it is a mystical category," Francis said last February, on his way back from Mexico. Afterward, interviewed by his Jesuit confrere Antonio Spadaro, he adjusted his aim. Rather than "mystical," he said, "in the sense that everything the people does is good," it is better to say "mythical." "It takes a myth to understand the people."

Bergoglio recounts this myth every time he calls around him the "popular movements." He has done it three times so far: the first time in Rome in 2014, the second in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, in 2015, the third last November 5, again in Rome. Every time he rouses the audience with endless speeches, of around thirty pages each, which when put together now form the political manifesto of this pope.

The movements that Francis calls to himself are not ones that he created, they preexist him. There is nothing overtly Catholic about them. They are in part the heirs of the memorable anti-capitalist and anti-globalization gatherings in Seattle and Porto Alegre. [...]

Meanwhile, however, the populist South American leftists for whom Bergoglio shows such a liking are going through one downfall after another: in Argentina, in Brazil, in Peru, in Venezuela.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Wondering about Trump (PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER, December 10, 2016, National Review)

If those WikiLeaks did influence the outcome of the election, it would be along these lines: Clinton was revealed to be a secret suck-up to Goldman Sachs and all too attuned to its elitist, globalist priorities. Those leaks actually reassured some moderate Republicans and libertarian economists that Clinton wouldn't be so bad as president. But they also reinforced the Bernie Sanders narrative about Clinton being a tool of Wall Street, a narrative that contributed to the flipping in the rust-belt states as well as to keeping some Bernie enthusiasts home on Election Day. And certainly a significant part of Trump's campaign was trumpeting that his opponents -- such as Cruz and Clinton -- were on the Goldman Sachs take in the way Bernie charged. 

But now, Trump is hiring Goldman Sachs guys, including its president! It's tempting to say: the new boss, same as the old boss. 

And chosen for secretary of labor is a fast-food executive who thinks of citizenship (or Americans clamoring about unfair competition from immigrant labor) as just another form of rent-seeking, someone who thinks just like the economists at the WSJ. Not to mention a secretary of education who's not only "the scourge of the teachers' unions" but from a family that's been hugely about taking out unions in general, including those of the families that flipped for Trump. 

Finally for now, the top Exxon executive for secretary of state, someone who might readily confuse making business deals with dealing with the leader of a sovereign nation (nobody's more sovereign that Putin) over national security issues. All in all, a key member of the globalized elite especially adept at doing huge business with Russia.

December 10, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


GOP gained ground in middle-class communities in 2016 (RUTH IGIELNIK AND RAKESH KOCHHAR, 12/08/16, Pew Research)

The Republican Party made deep inroads into America's middle-class communities in 2016. Although many middle-class areas voted for Barack Obama in 2008, they overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump in 2016, a shift that was a key to his victory. Meanwhile, Democrats had more success retaining a loose "coalition" of lower-income and upper-income communities.

These findings emerge from a new Pew Research Center analysis that correlates how counties voted with the Center's estimates of the size of the middle class in U.S. metropolitan areas. Post-election reporting has covered the role of white working-class or college-educated voters in the election, but this analysis focuses on how the middle class shifted allegiance over the course of Obama's two terms as president.

For purposes of this analysis, our standard of measure was metropolitan areas that are middle class, not middle-class voters specifically. Middle-class communities were defined as metropolitan areas in which at least 55% of the adult population lived in middle-income households in 2014. (The national share of the population that is middle class is 51%.)

Of the 221 areas examined, there are 57 such solidly middle-class areas, and they were almost equally split in 2008, with 30 areas voting for Democrats and 27 for Republicans.

In 2016, Trump successfully defended all 27 middle-class areas won by Republicans in 2008. In a dramatic shift, however, Hillary Clinton lost in 18 of the 30 middle-class areas won by Democrats in 2008.

Most of these middle-class communities are located in the Midwest or the Northeast. In many of these areas, Democrats experienced double-digit drops in support, compared with a 5-percentage-point drop nationally. For example, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Obama won with 50% of the vote in 2008; in 2016 that share dropped to 30% for Clinton. In heavily middle-class Wausau, Wisconsin, a similar pattern also emerges: 54% voted for Obama in 2008 versus 38% for Clinton in 2016.

In communities with somewhat smaller middle-class shares, Democrats experienced similar losses. Of the 115 such metropolitan areas in which 50% to 55% of the adult population lives in middle-income households, 59 voted Democratic in 2008. But 16 of those 59 areas flipped Republican in 2016.

This leaves 49 metropolitan areas in which the middle class makes up less than 50% of the adult population. Some, such as the Washington, D.C., area, have relatively large upper-income populations, while others, such as Merced, California, have a relatively large lower-income population.

This mix of lower- and upper-income areas scarcely budged in its voting preferences. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Doctors have alarmingly high rates of depression. One reason: medical school. (Julia Belluz,   Dec 9, 2016, Vox)

[T]he way we train doctors may endanger their mental health. In a new systematic review and meta-analysis in JAMA that draws from 195 studies on depression among medical students, researchers found that 27 percent experienced depression or depressive symptoms, about three times higher than the general population.

Across studies, the researchers also found that 11 percent of medical students reported contemplating suicide.

This isn't the first analysis to find higher-than-average mental health issues among physicians in training. In 2015, another JAMA systematic review and meta-analysis on depression among medical residents found that 29 percent experienced depression -- about the same proportion as medical students.

Taken together, the research shows that about one in three residents or medical students are clinically depressed at some point during their training.

Things don't necessarily improve after residents get licensed. Doctors have higher rates of suicide on average. "The suicide rate among male physicians is 1.41 times higher than the general male population. And among female physicians, the relative risk is even more pronounced -- 2.27 times greater than the general female population," according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. (There's no comprehensive data on how many medical students or residents take their own lives every year, but bleak anecdotes abound.)

The researcher behind the systematic reviews, Douglas Mata, agreed that the problem is bigger than individual doctors. "That the symptoms are so widespread," he said, "is indicative of systematic systemic problems, factors in the environment of medical school that are causing these issues."

The robots aren't just better at the work, they don't have these issues.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


REDISCOVERING OBAMA'S IRISH ROOTS : In a tiny Irish village, one man will always be President. (Chris Colin   December 10, 2016, The New Yorker)

During the eighteenth century, a wigmaker in Ireland could expect to have a prosperous career. Wigs were popular among the aristocracy, and useful in a pre-shampoo era. But the eighteen-hundreds brought a cold reappraisal of artificial hair. In the tiny village of Moneygall, on the border of Offaly and Tipperary, the Kearney family turned to shoemaking. By the arrival of the Great Famine, they'd joined millions of fellow-citizens who were hungry for a restart. When, in 1850, the Kearney family learned that a relative in America had bequeathed them a parcel of land, Falmouth Kearney, then nineteen years old, set out from his twelve-and-a-half-foot-wide house for Liverpool. There, he boarded a New York-bound coffin ship, so named for the high mortality rate among passengers. From New York, Kearney, an intense-looking man with a pressed-down mat of dark hair, made his way to Ohio, and married an Ohio woman named Charlotte Holloway. They had children and resettled, eventually, in Indiana, where Kearney worked as a farmer. Their youngest daughter had children of her own, and those children had children, and those children had children. One of the little Irish babies was Barack Obama.

The Irish roots of America's first African-American President have a way of registering perpetually as a news flash. But it was back in 2007 that the world, and Obama himself, first learned about great-great-great-grandfather Falmouth. That year, a genealogist from pieced together the family story with the help of a rector in Ireland who had access to church records from the nineteenth century. For the young senator from Illinois, this newfound heritage became occasional campaign-trail fodder; it was a hoot, and didn't hurt with Irish-American voters.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Move to a leafy suburb to cut cancer risk (Sarah Knapton, 14 APRIL 2016, Telegraph)

Overall mortality was 12 per cent less for people who had the most greenery within 250 metres of their homes during the eight year follow-up period.

It is thought that being surrounded by vegetation improves mental health and lowers depression. It also allows people to get out and about more, giving more opportunities for exercise and social engagement, both of which are known to be protective against disease. The lack of air pollution in green areas also plays an important role.

Nevertheless, the researchers said they were not expecting the effect size to be so startling. 

"We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates," said Peter James, research associate in the Harvard Chan School Department of Epidemiology.

"We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health."

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Trump's secretary of labor pick is exactly the type of pro-immigration Republican Trump campaigned against : Andy Puzder sounds a lot more like Jeb Bush than Donald Trump. (Dara Linddara, Dec 8, 2016, Vox)

President-elect Donald Trump has a known tendency to agree with the last person he spoke to. By naming fast-food CEO Andy Puzder as his nominee for secretary of labor, Trump is guaranteeing that at least one of the people speaking to him will be an advocate for Trump to flip-flop on his signature issue of immigration.

As an executive in a low-wage industry dominated by "low-skilled" workers (many of them immigrants, and often unauthorized immigrants), Puzder has been an outspoken supporter of low-skilled immigration to the US -- and of immigration reform that would legalize unauthorized immigrants who are already here.

To some observers who were hoping for Trump to follow through on his promises, like David Frum of the Atlantic, this is proof of an enormous betrayal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Red State Homes Are Luring Young Blue Buyers Inland : Affordable Rust Belt real estate may be changing America's political demographics. (Patrick Clark, December 5, 2016, Bloomberg)

Dayton, Ohio, gave the world the Wright Brothers and the electric cash register. As recently as 1990, manufacturing jobs there were the backbone of the local economy. But in the two decades since, the area has lost thousands of blue-collar jobs, and the local housing market still wears the scars of the foreclosure crisis.

Those attributes make the city representative of the Rust Belt malaise that carried Donald Trump to his electoral college victory. Montgomery County, composed of Dayton and its environs, opted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. This year, the county favored Republican Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 1.3 percentage points, or about 3,000 votes.

But the demographics that shifted to the real estate mogul's favor in places like Dayton may be short lived. Health-care companies and Internet marketers are powering a nascent knowledge economy in the Ohio city, one that also boasts an innovation district seeking to lure tech companies from more expensive locales. City developers have spent recent years trying to replicate the success of the Cannery Lofts, a trendy Dayton rental building carved out of an old downtown warehouse. And there are three new microbreweries and a handful of historic districts where listings pitch homes to "urban pioneers."

That mix of urban renaissance and bargain real estate has made the city appealing to young workers. During the first 10 months of this year, 51 percent of homebuyers were under 35 years old. That's the highest share in the U.S., according to a analysis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Spain aims to raise environmental taxes to cut deficit (Reuters, 12/10/16)

Spain aims to raise 500 million euros ($528 million) through a reform of environmental taxes next year in its bid to bring down its public deficit, according to the government's revised budget plan for 2017. [...]

Other measures already outlined by ministers include tax hikes on alcohol, tobacco and sugared drinks as well as a crackdown on tax fraud and the elimination of some tax breaks for companies.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


In Chicago, Bodies Pile Up at Intersection of 'Depression and Rage' (MONICA DAVEY, DEC. 9, 2016, NY Times)

Over Memorial Day weekend, when The New York Times tracked every shooting in this city, the largest concentration of them happened here, in about six square miles that make up Chicago's 11th police district. Of 64 people shot that weekend, 16 were in this district. Three people were shot on this same stretch of Walnut Street.

The Times returned to the blocks in the 11th District where the Memorial Day weekend shootings occurred to try to better understand Chicago's crisis of violence.

Residents along Walnut Street and at other crime scenes told of a fractured community -- isolated by this city's entrenched segregation, hollowed out by joblessness and poverty, and battered by resignation and indifference.

Here, graystone homes and brick cottages line elegant boulevards with wide, grassy medians. Garfield Park, once known as Chicago's Central Park, sits in the 11th's middle.

But on Walnut Street, one vacant lot has been there so long that walking paths are worn through it. Young men gather on this section of the street, and neighbors say they hear calls for "Pills!" or "Flats!"-- slang for drugs -- in the middle of the day.

In places like this, cycles reinforce themselves: Poverty and joblessness breed an underground economy that leads to jail and makes it harder to get jobs. Struggling, emptying schools result in the closings of the very institutions that hold communities together. Segregation throws up obstacles to economic investment. And people and programs with good intentions come and go, thwarting hopes, reinforcing frustrations while never quite addressing the underlying problems, anyway.

Into it all comes a lethal mix of readily available guns, a growing number of splintering gangs and groups, and a sense among some here that the punishment for carrying a weapon on these streets will never be larger than the risk of not carrying one.

...of the fact that 75-90% of shooting victims in such cities have criminal records.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Nov. 15, 1864: Sherman's March to the Sea Changes Tactical Warfare (Tony Long, 11/15/10, Wired)

In a 62-day campaign of destruction, the 62,000-man Union force cut a ruinous, 60-mile-wide swath through Georgia: tearing up railroads, firing factories, destroying bridges, burning plantations, seizing livestock and freeing slaves. The army lived off the land, sacking the unfortunate homesteads and plantations that lay along the line of march.

After Savannah fell Dec. 22, Sherman paused only long enough to secure the seaport before swinging north into the Carolinas. The destruction wrought by the Federals in South Carolina -- the first Southern state to secede from the Union -- was even worse than it had been in Georgia.

Vengeance aside, the real objective of Sherman's march was to cut the Confederacy in two, cripple Southern industrial capacity, destroy the railroad system and compel an early Confederate surrender. It was also intended to break Southern morale -- in Sherman's words, to "make Georgia howl."

Sherman was vilified for his barbarism, but the Union commander was a realist, not a romantic. He understood -- as few of his contemporaries seemed to -- that technology and industrialization were radically changing the nature of warfare.

Tragically, the Europeans--other than Churchill--hadn't figured that out even in WWI, where Gallipolli was just about the only sensible military action. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House (Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, December 9, 2016, Washington Post)

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton's chances.

"It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia's goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected," said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. "That's the consensus view."

December 9, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


The House GOP's Idea for Business Taxes Could Win Bipartisan Support (Peter Coy, December 9, 2016, bLOOMBERG)

 The core idea in the GOP plan--something called a destination-based cash-flow tax--is bipartisan. A version was promoted in 2010 by a Democratic think tank, the Center for American Progress.

The clean little secret about tax policy is that it's not inherently political. Republicans and Democrats do disagree about how much revenue the tax code should raise, but that's really a difference of opinion over how big government should be. They also have different ideas about soaking the rich. But there's a surprising amount of agreement on the technical issue of how to raise any given sum of money while minimizing distortions of incentives to work and invest. Think of taxation as the engine of government; there's not a Democratic or a Republican way to fix a car with cracked pistons.

"The current system has flaws that don't make sense under any perspective," says Alan Viard, a resident scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. A basic rule of taxation is that a low tax rate on a broad base of income is less distorting--i.e., more efficient--than a high tax rate on a small base. The U.S. breaks that rule. It has one of the world's highest corporate income tax rates, 35 percent, but it raises less money from it as a share of gross domestic product than the average of the 35 mostly rich countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. U.S. businesses have found ways to avoid taxes by shifting operations or headquarters abroad or by organizing into entities that aren't subject to the corporate levy.

The U.S. is also one of the few countries that attempt to tax domestic companies on their worldwide profits. It taxes profits made overseas only when they're brought home, which induces companies to keep more than $2 trillion stashed abroad. The House GOP plan doesn't just cut the rate on the corporate income tax--which would leave the flawed structure in place--it repeals it outright. Companies would be allowed to deduct the full cost of new equipment, software, or structures in the year they were purchased, rather than bit by bit as they depreciate. Because it taxes based on receipts and outlays as they occur, economists term it a cash-flow tax. The Better Way plan ends preferential tax treatment for interest payments, an old but unwise policy that induces companies to take on debt. And it brings the U.S. in line with the rest of the world by applying the tax territorially. Imports are taxed; exports aren't. That's fair to trading partners: Imports face about the same tax treatment as domestic products. And while exports aren't taxed by the U.S., they can be--and probably are--taxed by the receiving country. (One snag: While economists judge the tax to be equitable, lawyers at the World Trade Organization may feel differently.)

A hidden beauty of the Better Way approach is that the U.S. would keep more jobs at home without racing to the bottom of corporate tax rates (chart). The tax would be immune to most strategies that minimize U.S. earnings, such as assigning patents to subsidiaries in low-tax jurisdictions.

In fact, the unavoidability of the new tax raises the question of why the House is setting its target rate for it at just 20 percent, thus losing revenue that could go toward shrinking budget deficits. "Because you eliminate all those disincentives you can afford a higher rate," says the American Enterprise Institute's Viard. "The 20 percent is really very low."

Taxing only but all consumption would provide a much broader base and not on income.
Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


How Ted Williams described being John Glenn's wingman (Hayden Bird,  12/09/16, bOSTON gLOBE)
For several missions in the Korean War, the United States Marine Corps had one of the nation's greatest ever baseball players flying alongside one of its (soon to be) greatest astronauts.

John Glenn, who died on Thursday at the age of 95, once led Red Sox great Ted Williams into battle. Williams, so often the dominant personality, was awed by Glenn.

"John Glenn? Oh ... could he fly an airplane," Williams once told the Chicago Tribune's Bob Greene. "Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Trump just offered yet another Goldman veteran a spot in his administration (Jacob Pramuk, 12/09/16, NBC)

Donald Trump has offered Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn a key economic post, which would add to the administration another veteran of the powerful firm he bashed during his campaign, sources close to Cohn told NBC News.  [...]

Trump Treasury secretary pick Steven Mnuchin and senior advisor Steve Bannon also worked at Goldman Sachs, which Trump repeatedly attacked on the campaign trail. He cited Goldman as evidence that corporate and financial interests have influence over politicians...

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Grand Rapids' worker-run, no-tipping restaurant closes (Shandra Martine, November 29, 2016, Michigan Live)

In its first year, Bartertown landed on VegNews' list of "10 Hot New Vegan Restaurants," sharing the spotlight with eateries in London, Toronto, Vancouver and Las Vegas.

Not only was the menu unconventional, so was the business model. Bartertown was a collective, which meant there were no bosses, according to Cappelletti. The inspiration for the worker-owned restaurant was based on Cappelletti's own restaurant experience.

"Because of our economy, people are working 12- to-15-hour shifts, servers take home $200 to $300 a night in tips, the cooks are making $10 an hour and the owner takes whatever he takes, " Cappelletti told MLive in 2011. "We're going to have equal pay and equal say across the board. Everyone working together."

Employees would be expected to join the union, Industrial Workers of the World, he said.

In keeping with the worker empowerment theme, he commissioned a mural depicting Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong and other provocative leaders tackling restaurant duties.

In the end, the restaurant failed to achieve the employee business model it envisioned.

"It had never been a worker-owned restaurant," said Cummings. "That was a misnomer. We still bought locally and paid living wages."

The living wage, no-tipping model required the restaurant to do a high level of sales to sustain the higher operational costs, he added.

While the restaurant's menu garnered a loyal following and hefty praise, there were complaints about 40-minute waits for sandwiches and limited hours of operation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


US airstrike kills IS terrorist linked to Charlie Hebdo attack (LOLITA C. BALDOR, December 9, 2016, Times of Israel)

An Islamic State leader linked to the 2015 attacks at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was killed in a US airstrike in Syria, American military officials said Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Suburbs Outstrip Cities in Population Growth, Study Finds (LAURA KUSISTO, Dec. 3, 2016, WSJ)

[R]esearch shows that suburbs are continuing to outstrip downtowns in overall population growth, diversity and even younger residents.

The suburban areas surrounding the 50 largest metropolitan areas make up 79% of the population of those areas but accounted for 91% of population growth over the past 15 years, according to the study. What's more, three-quarters of people age 25 to 34 in these metro areas live in suburbs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


The Left's insistence that us must always include them denies them access to humor.
Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Don't Worry, Trump Supporters Love Renewable Energy (BEN SCHILLER 12.07.16, Co.Exist)

 A new survey from the Conservative Energy Network finds Trump supporters are actually quite enthusiastic about clean energy, and want to see more of it.

Asked whether they "support or oppose taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy," 75% of Trump supporters say they "strongly" or "somewhat" support it. More than 60% say there should be "more emphasis" on solar power (compared to 17% who say there should be less). 52% want more emphasis on wind power (22% want less). In fact, Trump supporters want more emphasis on renewables in greater numbers than those who say the same about coal: only 38% want more emphasis on that. The poll, based on 1,000 interviews, comes from Republican survey firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Every Other Country Sucks Compared To The USA And This Survey Proves It (Eric Owens, 12/09/16, Daily Caller)

Here is the complete Anholt-GfK top 10 among national brands for 2016:

table by Eric Owens

The United States scored strongly in several areas including exports -- #1 worldwide, naturally. The USA was also #2 globally in culture, #2 in immigration and #5 in people.

Read more:

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM

Crispy Parmesan Potato Stacks (Lisa Lin, December 8, 2016, Simply Recipes)

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 pounds Yukon potatoes
1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Special equipment:
12-cup muffin pan
Silicone pastry brush


1 Preheat oven to 375F. Set an oven rack in the center position. Coat a standard 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or brush on a thin layer of oil.

2 In a small bowl, mix olive oil, garlic powder and salt together. Set aside.

3 Slice the potatoes: Rinse and scrub your potatoes. Slice each potato thinly, between 1/8 and 1/16-inch thick. I use a mandoline to get 1/16-inch thick slices.

4 Assemble the potato stacks: Place 4 slices of potatoes at the bottom of each cup of the muffin tin. Using a silicone brush, lightly brush the potatoes with some of the oil mixture. Sprinkle some thyme leaves on top. Continue stacking several layers of potatoes, brushing the oil and sprinkling thyme leaves until you have stacked all the potato slices. Each muffin cup should be filled to the top with potato slices.
Sprinkle half of the Parmesan evenly over the potato stacks.

5 Bake the potato stacks: Bake the stacks for 30 minutes, then pull out the potatoes and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake another 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how brown and crispy you want them to be (35 to 45 minutes total).

6 Transfer the stacks to plates or serving dish: Use a spoon to help release the potato stacks from the muffin pan. Season potato stacks with more salt and pepper, if you like. Serve immediately while hot and crispy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Those Carrier jobs Donald Trump saved? They'll soon be done by robots. (The Week, 12/09/16)

 It turns out, even those 800 jobs won't all stay in Indianapolis for long, according to the CEO of Carrier's parent company, United Technologies, and the reason is the other part of the Trump-brokered deal.

"We're going to make a $16 million investment in that factory in Indianapolis to automate, to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive," United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes told CNBC's Jim Cramer this week. "Now, is it as cheap as moving to Mexico with lower-cost labor? No. But we will make that plant competitive just because we'll make the capital investments there. But what that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs." 

Anyone who voted for Donald based on anything he said deserves exactly what they're going to get.
Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Donald Trump's Labor Secretary Pick Wants More Cheap Immigrants in American Jobs (Zaid Jilani, December 8 2016, The Intercept)

[P]uzder's devotion to cheap labor extends to being an outspoken proponent of offering legal status to undocumented workers and pushing for immigration reform -- something that is discordant with Trump's obsession with blocking and deporting undocumented immigrants.

"Our values indicate we should be the party of immigration reform," Puzder said on a conference call of GOP donors in favor of immigration reform earlier in the year. Many undocumented immigrants "live in fear of being deported, losing what they've built and being separated from their families," he said.

His less noble and more opportunistic reasoning was apparent during an event at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute in June of 2013 -- as Congress was engaged in debate about immigration reform --  where Puzder offered his candid view on the value of an immigrant workforce.

"Our Hardee's restaurant operators in the Midwest and Southeast often use the labor force in California as an example of what they would like their labor force to be," he explained. "They're very hardworking, dedicated, creative people that really appreciate the fact they have a job. Whereas in other parts of the country you often get people that are saying, 'I can't believe I have to work this job.' With the immigrant population you always have the 'Thank God I have this job' kind of attitude. So you end up with a real different feeling."

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


US Wind Generation Sets New Records Throughout 2016 (Jesse Broehl, 12/09/16, Forbes)

The past decade of steady wind plant commissioning throughout the United States is paying dividends with new records being achieved on the proportion of electricity demand sourced by wind. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator for the state, recently announced it had hit an all-time record of wind output on November 27, with 15,033 MW of wind online just after noon that day. This represented around 45% of total electricity demand in the state, with over 24 million residents served by the ERCOT grid. The portion of load served by wind that day ranged from about 35% to more than 46%, averaging nearly 41% throughout the day. The previous wind generation output record of 14,122 MW was set on November 17, 2016. The current record for percentage of load served--48.28%--was set on March 23, 2016, at 1:10 a.m.

On an overall annual basis, in 2015, wind generation provided 11.7% of the energy used in the ERCOT region. As of the end of October, wind had served 14.7% of the region's energy needs so far in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Hanover Christmas Pageant Celebrates 100 Years (Nicola Smith, 12/07/16, Valley News)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Mystery in Hanover, a beloved annual tradition that brings together the community for a choral performance reenacting the birth of Christ.

The Christmas Mystery has two performances, at 4 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, in Dartmouth College's Rollins Chapel. Both are open to the public at no charge, although donations are welcome.

The mystery is two-fold. First, of course, there's the mystery and awe surrounding the events in the manger in Bethlehem, and second, there's the question of which Hanover High School student will play Mary, which is kept a closely-guarded secret until she appears on stage during the pageant.

The celebration dates from 1917, when the wife of the then-pastor of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College organized the first performance at the church, according to an article by Marilyn "Willy" Black, a retired teacher and former Hanover Selectboard member. After the church burned in 1931, the Mystery moved to Rollins Chapel for good. [...]

Students from the high school and other Hanover residents play the roles of the angels, shepherds, the Magi, and a page. The young woman who plays Mary is, according to tradition, one year out of high school and is chosen by her peers for demonstrating kindness, thoughtfulness and integrity.

"It's not always a popularity contest, it's really lovely to see who they pick," said Pam Mobilia, the steering committee chair. Three generations of her family have participated: her father, herself and now, her daughter.

Joseph is typically played by an older man who has contributed in a significant way to the life of the town. Although his identity isn't as hush-hush as that of the student who will play Mary, organizers still like to keep it quiet, so there's a sense of surprise when he walks on stage. The narrator is Aharon Boghosian of Gilberte Interiors in Hanover.

This year, Mobilia said, a large number of Hanover residents have volunteered to participate. She estimated that there are about 50 angels and 18 to 19 shepherds.

The audience and performers sing carols throughout, culminating in Oh Come All Ye Faithful, during which audience members, who have been encouraged to bring at least one wrapped gift for a child, bring the presents to the front of the chapel. The gifts are donated to The Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


US-led coalition kills 50,000 Islamic State militants since 2014 (Deutsche-Welle, 12/08/16)

The US-led coalition has killed 50,000 so-called Islamic State militants since 2014 in Iraq and Syria. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior US military official said the figure was a 'conservative' estimate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


'Godspeed John Glenn' July 18, 1921 -- Dec. 8, 2016 (David Shribman, 12/08/16, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Americans of his or any generation remained at the center of American life for so long, personifying his time and the American character for all time. He explored the new frontier of space for a nation that defined itself by the frontiers it pierced. He embodied the New Frontier for a nation eager for challenge.

He was exceptional because he was in so many ways unexceptional -- except for the 4 hours, 55 minutes of the flight of Friendship 7, which rallied an American space program that had fallen dangerously far behind the Soviets and which rallied a nation that seemed stunned by the chill of the Cold War.

His was, in many ways, the classic American life. He grew up the son of a plumber in New Concord, Ohio, in the center of the country, and though he didn't marry the girl next door he began a courtship, love affair and marriage with the girl just down Bloomfield Road, the former Anna Margaret Castor, that spanned 73 years.

He became arguably the least colorful, least iconoclastic, least wild-eyed test pilot in history. He was not especially articulate, especially visionary or especially interesting. Scores of reporters combed his childhood and adult years, failing utterly in their desperate effort to uncover a single anecdote of note. (The one exception: A devoted airman and a proud symbol of pilots everywhere, Mr. Glenn flew until he was 90 years old -- and sold his plane the day after he passed his last aviation test.)

A Puritan among pugilists and a rector among reprobates, he fought in America's wars of the mid-century, World War II and Korea, and retained an elemental and abiding fascination for the very field of aviation that had provided the only other American hero of his century who rivaled Mr. Glenn, Charles Lindbergh.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


How much can Scott Pruitt really change the EPA? (Weston Williams, DECEMBER 8, 2016, CS Monitor)

While many critics are concerned about the future of the EPA under the nominee, Pruitt is not as vocally radical on the subject of climate change denial as some of the other names rumored for the position. Of Mr. Trump's cabinet picks, Pruitt also represents a more established Republican voice coming from outside the president-elect's inner circle, which may signal a more traditional, if still antagonistic, Republican path for the EPA over the next four years.

Oklahoma May Resist Federal Regulation, But Its Environmental Record Isn't Terrible (Maggie Koerth-Baker, 12/08/16, 538)

Pruitt's history -- and the state's notorious issues with earthquakes caused by the disposal of wastewater from the oil and gas industry -- might suggest that Oklahoma would fare particularly poorly on indicators of environmental quality and protection. But the state is solidly middle-of-the-road in many respects, neither the best nor the worst, and even boasts some environmental wins that could come as a surprise.

Take fossil fuels for instance. While coal is Oklahoma's primary source of electricity, its use in the state had been on the decline for a decade before Obama's Clean Power Plan came along. (That means -- regardless of what the lawsuit suggests -- the CPP isn't what's hurting the state's coal power plant business.)

What's more, Oklahoma has been bullish on renewables. The shift away from coal has largely been the result of an increased reliance on wind power, as opposed to natural gas, which has replaced coal in a lot of other states. Despite a lack of state standards or incentives pushing it, Oklahoma's use of non-hydroelectric renewables increased by 16 percentage points between 2004 and 2014, while the use of coal dropped 13 percentage points. Because of this, the state emissions rate for electricity production (which is what the CPP would regulate) has already been going down. Ultimately, the decrease that the CPP dictates for Oklahoma between 2012 and 2024 is smaller than the amount the state's electricity emissions rate fell between 2004 and 2014.

Overall, though, the state's greenhouse gas emissions are up just a bit since 2004. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


WALK-BACK: Trump's No Longer Interested in Mass Deportation (FRANK CAMP, DECEMBER 8, 2016, Daily Wire)

During his "Person of the Year" interview with Time, Trump offered more insight into his ever-evolving position on illegal immigrants:

"We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud...They got brought here at a very young age, they've worked here, they've gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they're in never-never land because they don't know what's going to happen."

Trump's remarks could be considered a "walk-back" if the president-elect actually held a consistent position prior to the interview. However, since 2012, Donald Trump has stood on every side of the immigration debate. This isn't a "walk-back," it's just another mutation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Ivanka Trump Appears Set To Become Donald Trump's First Lady (Emily Zanotti, December 8, 2016, Heat Street)
Melania Trump will stay in New York until Barron Trump finishes out the year at his prestigious private elementary school, so the White House will be without a First Lady for much of President Donald Trump's first year. Or will it?

It seems Trump's daughter Ivanka, who was instrumental in his Presidential campaign, may be looking to fill the ceremonial role. [...]

"I'm going to be a daughter," she told 60 Minutes recently. "But I've said throughout the campaign that I am very passionate about certain issues. And that I want to fight for them.... So, you know there are a lot of things that I feel deeply, strongly about. But not in a formal administrative capacity."

And yet, she's been by her father's side as he's met with everyone from the Japanese Prime Minister to Al Gore.

All indications are that she intends to become an advocate, a confidant, and a trusted strategist for her father, Donald Trump, in the White House just as she was in his corporation -- and that dovetails nicely with the open First Lady position.

December 8, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


The High Tory Tradition: An Alternative Future for America? (Christopher Morrissey, 12/08/16, Imaginative Conservative)

In his new book published this year, The North American High Tory Tradition, Professor Ron Dart presents this largely forgotten political tradition, by drawing upon his expertise in Canadian history. Prof. Dart argues that this historical influence in the Canadian tradition actually offers everybody in North America a humane political philosophy worth rediscovering.

Prof. Dart's new book offers an excellent introduction to the venerable conservative principles of the North American High Tory tradition. As the book starts out, Prof. Dart identifies ten characteristics that can be seen to define this High Tory tradition.

First, there is an emphasis on the wisdom of tradition as an antidote to the danger of "chronological snobbery." The current generation may always consider itself to be the wisest of all, but High Tory politics strives to avoid the perennial folly of this prejudice.

Second, the High Tory maintains a resolute focus on the common good, instead of on inflexible ideological programs. Political prudence keeps in mind the difficulty of politics, steering a middle course between the extremes of unprincipled pragmatism, on the one hand, and the geometric certainties of ideological action plans, on the other.

Third, ethics is considered more important than economics. A politics that reduces everything to jobs and economic concerns must be rejected. Politics has a higher calling, to address the full human person.

Fourth, the environment cannot be sacrificed to economics. This is a corollary to the previous point, which aims to avoid economic reductionism, because "economic nationalism" is simply too reductive a notion for a nation ever to base itself upon. Moreover, any nation shares the same planet with other nations.

Fifth, state and society must work together, which is unlike the approach of either the usual conservative politics (which distrusts the state and exalts a society of individuals) or the usual liberal politics (which uses state power to reengineer society).

Sixth, public spaces and commons can serve the commonweal, in ways that complement private property. Private property is not the only way that citizens can attain the good life. Communal spaces are also essential to nourish the human spirit in ways conducive to its full flourishing.

Seventh, education needs to focus on the classics. This may also be seen as a corollary to the first point above, which seeks always to keep the wisdom of the ancients in mind.

Eighth, too much power should not be concentrated in one place. This is because of the fallibility of human nature. Unfortunately, the "authoritarians of the right" seem destined to learn this lesson the hard way in America's near future. The ancient Greek appellation of "tyrant", for the strongman who promises a quick fix, soon became a historically pejorative term, because human experience always shows that such a ruler will end up doing more harm than good, at least in the long run.

Ninth, religious traditions spanning the centuries are what will bring true vitality to political life. Religious diversity is thus a net benefit to political life, because it affords the wisdom of the ages many opportunities to find its way into public life, as people of all traditions bring their respective gifts to bear upon the most difficult problems of political life.

Tenth, we must admit there are things beyond politics, higher things to which we all must aspire. The High Tory tradition recognizes that, if we don't admit this, then politics ends up endorsing relativism, which disastrously lowers our sights. In short, the High Tory is best known by his or her affirmation of their tradition's judiciously high aspirations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The Life-Extending Health Benefits of Optimism  (Tom Jacobs, 12/08/16, Pacific Standard)

A study that followed 70,000 women over eight years found those who maintained a positive attitude were significantly less likely than their pessimistic counterparts to succumb to cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, and infection.

While this is partly explained by the fact that optimists are more likely to engage in healthy behavior, it also provides additional evidence that a hopeful attitude has a direct, positive impact on our bodily systems.

Better or Worse Since the 1950s? Trump, Clinton Supporters at Odds over America's Past and Future (PRRI, Oct 25, 2016)

Two weeks before the presidential election, a new national survey from PRRI finds supporters of each presidential candidate view cultural changes in America since 1950 very differently: 72 percent of Donald Trump likely voters say American culture and way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s while roughly as many (70 percent) Hillary Clinton likely voters say things have changed for the better since that time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


The centenary of the Russian revolution should be mourned, not celebrated : As its centenary looms, never forget the brutal oppression ushered in by the Russian Revolution (Max Hastings, 12/10/16, Spectator)

October 1917 would not have made its seismic impact had it represented merely a domestic Russian change of government, however bloody. Foreign observers had long predicted the Romanovs' doom. Russia's condition fulfilled de Tocqueville's dictum that servitude becomes intolerable when there is some lightening of its chains. Contrary to later Soviet propaganda, industrialisation was making great strides across the 1914 Russian empire.

But the Bolshevik ascent to power took place in the midst of the greatest war in human history. Russia's withdrawal from the conflict, through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918, for some weeks seemed likely to precipitate a victory for the Central Powers. Though such an outcome was averted, the new dispensation in Moscow put the fear of God into the western allies.

The Bolsheviks proclaimed their commitment to the destruction of established governments worldwide. The Communist International, established in 1919, promised to fight 'by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie, and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State'.

The objectives of Lenin, Trotsky and their followers thus threatened the interests of rulers and property-owners everywhere. Churchill persuaded Lloyd George, as Britain's prime minister, together with the governments of the US, France, Canada, Italy and other allies, to launch a half-hearted and disastrous armed intervention in Russia, aimed at assisting the Whites and especially the Czech Legion to reverse the events of October 1917.

Three VCs were awarded in 1919 to Royal Navy torpedo-boat commanders who attacked Bolshevik warships in the Baltic. That extraordinary episode cries out for a good modern history. Until this gets written, I recommend a very slight but rewarding 1967 historical novel by John Harris entitled A Light Cavalry Action, which focused on the British army's role.

It is a familiar student essay question, whether the revolution could have been averted, but for the world war and resultant loss of up to three million Russian lives. It seems more useful merely to suggest that, in the political and ideological climate of the early 20th century, the collectivist experiment was bound to be attempted somewhere, and Russia or China were obvious testbeds. The consequences for millions of Russian peasants, together with the ferocity of Soviet oppression, were successfully concealed from most western eyes for half a century. The 1789 French revolution killed only a few thousand aristocrats and transferred land to peasants, who thus became ardent upholders of property rights. The Russian version required liquidation of the entire governing class and transfer of land to collective ownership, an incomparably more radical proceeding. Douglas Smith's 2012 book Former People gives a harrowing account of the fate of the Tsarist aristocracy.

In the West, the gullibility of the Webbs, Bernard Shaw and the rest of the 'true believers' was fed by a desperation to suppose the Soviet example viable. 'Looking around us at our own hells,' wrote the historian Philip Toynbee, who became a communist at Cambridge, 'we had to invent an earthly paradise somewhere else'. As late as 1945, the leftist publisher Victor Gollancz brought posterity's contempt upon himself by declining to publish Animal Farm, George Orwell's great satire on Bolshevism. [...]

No believable economist would claim that the Russian people benefited from Leninist or Stalinist social and economic policies. It is easier to project an upward trend for Russian living standards after 1918 had the Tsarist regime survived than to make a case that the Soviet system profited anyone, save the commissars. It has proved a common characteristic of communist regimes around the world that -- to paraphrase Orwell -- all pigs are equal, but some secure access to bigger troughs than others. British visitors to Moscow in the darkest days of the second world war cringed at the extravagance of the banquets they were served at a time when most of the country was starving and even -- in extreme circumstances, such as those of besieged Leningrad -- eating each other.

Yet until the last years of the 20th century the supply of useful idiots -- western apologists for the Soviet Union -- seemed limitless, and included such figures as Tony Benn. Anthony Powell's novel Books Do Furnish a Room captures the enthusiasm for Soviet communism that pervaded post-1945 London socialist sitting rooms and literary gatherings.

No modern reader can set down the works of Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, Robert Service or Anne Applebaum without a sense of awe at the cruelties committed in the name of 'the people', the cause of Russian communism; cruelties indulged almost to this day by their western defenders. It bears notice that German people under the Nazis, with the exception of Jews, enjoyed much greater personal freedom than did Russians at any time after 1917.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Trump's new tone on immigrant kids divides GOP (AP, Dec. 8, 2016)

Donald Trump's promise to "work something out" for immigrants brought here illegally as kids is dividing fellow Republicans, underscoring how difficult it will be for Congress to take any action on immigration, whether it's building a wall or dealing with immigrant youths.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


How Anyone Can Invest Like Warren Buffett (Dani Burger, December 7, 2016 , Bloomberg)

What do George Soros, Warren Buffett and a computer have in common? Turns out, a lot.

At least that's the view of AQR Capital Management, the program-driven investment firm whose founders made their names finding the math behind investment success. A new paper, which isn't publicly available, posits that a lot of the gains reaped by the legendary managers over time were, in theory, available to anyone using a handful of buy-and-sell signals known to quantitative analysts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


The shadow president (Emily L. Hauser, December 8, 2016, The Week)

As Stephen Myrow, former Treasury Department official under George W. Bush, said last month, "The one person people aren't talking enough about is Vice President-elect Mike Pence."

Pence already appears to be putting an enormous stamp on the incoming administration. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), close enough to Pence to be his debate coach, has been tapped to direct the CIA; Seema Verma, named administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, designed Pence's ObamaCare expansion model in Indiana; Tom Price, Trump's pick for the Department of Health and Human Services, has chaired the Republican Study Group, the same influential House Republican caucus once also chaired by Pence.

In this season of thanksgiving, we are grateful for : Mike Pence, Rence Preibus, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and John Roberts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Muslim-owned restaurant offers elderly and homeless free meals on Christmas Day so 'no one eats alone' (Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, Monday 5 December 2016, Independent)

A Muslim-owned restaurant in London is offering a three-course meal to homeless and elderly people on Christmas Day so that "no one eats alone".

Shish Restaurant, in Sidcup, is asking local residents to spread the word of its offer and has put up posters saying "We are here to sit with you" on 25 December.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


China's statistics chief admits some economic data are false : Acknowledgement of 'fraud and deception' follows suspicions about stable GDP figures (Philip Stephens, 12/08/16, Financial Times)

"Currently, some local statistics are falsified, and fraud and deception happen from time to time, in violation of statistics laws and regulations," Ning Jizhe, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, wrote in a column for Communist party mouthpiece the People's Daily on Thursday. 

Foreign economists and investors have long expressed doubts about China's economic data. Most prominent are concerns about gross domestic product figures. Compared with other countries. China's inflation-adjusted GDP growth rates are remarkably stable from quarter to quarter, even as nominal figures show considerable volatility.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Information overload? Most Americans say it's not a problem (Michael J. Coren, 12./08/16, Quartz)

A Pew Research Center survey published Dec. 7 found most Americans report information overload is not a problem. The organization wanted to know if the exponential growth of digital media was weighing on people's minds. The survey was conducted in April 2016 among 1,520 American adults.

Only about 20% of those surveyed say they feel overloaded, down from 27% a decade ago, and most (77%) like having information at their fingertips. Two-thirds even said it simplifies their lives.

Information is just another commodity making us all extraordinarily wealthy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Cuba's Surge in Tourism Keeps Food Off Residents' Plates (AZAM AHMED, DEC. 8, 2016, NY Times)

The changes in Cuba in recent years have often hinted at a new era of possibilities: a slowly opening economy, warming relations with the United States after decades of isolation, a flood of tourists meant to lift the fortunes of Cubans long marooned on the outskirts of modern prosperity.

But the record arrival of nearly 3.5 million visitors to Cuba last year has caused a surging demand for food, causing ripple effects that are upsetting the very promise of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Tourists are quite literally eating Cuba's lunch. Thanks in part to the United States embargo, but also to poor planning by the island's government, goods that Cubans have long relied on are going to well-heeled tourists and the hundreds of private restaurants that cater to them, leading to soaring prices and empty shelves.

Without supplies to match the increased appetite, some foods have become so expensive that even basic staples are becoming unaffordable for regular Cubans.

"The private tourism industry is in direct competition for good supplies with the general population," said Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and specialist on the Cuban economy. "There are a lot of unanticipated consequences and distortions."

The whole point of the opening was to force more reform.

December 7, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Ohio House passes Senate's version of 'Heartbeat Bill'; Now goes to Governor (Associated Press and Courtney Yuen, December 6, 2016)

 Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate and House approved banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, clearing the way for what would be one of the nation's most stringent abortion restrictions.

The so-called "heartbeat bill" approved Tuesday would prohibit most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy after the first detectable heartbeat.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


How Humans Shape Evolution, and Why It Matters (Nathan Collins, 12/07/16, Pacific Standard)

[W]e're having a major effect on the evolution of all manner of plants and animals. Now, a review of the evidence looks at the broad ways in which we've shaped biological evolution worldwide--and how that's already coming back to haunt us.

"Humans have dramatic, diverse and far-reaching influences on the evolution of other organisms," Andrew P. Hendry, Kiyoko M. Gotanda, and Erik I. Svensson write in the introduction to a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on humanity's awesome evolutionary power. "[T]he time has come to consider them together and thereby seek important similarities and differences."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Did interbreeding with wolves prepare Tibetan Mastiffs for the high life? (Eva Botkin-Kowacki, DECEMBER 7, 2016, CS Monitor)

Tibetan Mastiffs may have wolves to thank for their high-altitude adaptations. Scientists suggest in a paper published Tuesday in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution that the dogs interbred with their wild relatives that were already well-adapted to the Tibetan Plateau, capturing some of their genetics in the process. 

But this isn't just a dog's tale. This new research suggests the canine's story mirrors how scientists think the people of Tibet adapted to the high-altitude conditions. Previous research suggested the humans got their genetic adaptations by interbreeding with another human species, the now-extinct Denisovans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


America's economic future isn't about factory jobs and trade deals. It's about robots. (James Pethokoukis, December 7, 2016, The Week)

[I]nstead of cajoling factory bosses or trying to rework 25-year-old trade deals, a modern, forward-looking American president would take note of Amazon Go, the online retailer's new brick-and-mortar grocery store project. Walk in, flash your phone, then grab and go. It's "frictionless," meaning no human cashiers to deal with. So what does this portend for the nation's 3.5 million cashiers?

Along the same lines, what do autonomous vehicles mean for the nation's nearly 3 million truck drivers? Toss in taxi and bus drivers, and it's another million jobs. Indeed, most of the decline in factory jobs has been due to automation rather than offshoring to cheaper labor markets overseas. Indeed, "now the chief executive of United Technologies, Carrier's parent company, says in the end, many of those jobs (he put the figure at 800) likely will fall to automation rather than Mexico," says The New York Times.

There are lots of competing forecasts about how automation will gobble up American jobs. A recent McKinsey analysis of job automation risk found nearly half of current job tasks could be automated "using already demonstrated technology" -- but fewer than 5 percent of jobs could be entirely automated. The caveat here, as with all such analyses, is that emerging technologies could change these calculations and make more jobs vulnerable. Regardless, it seems safe to say that smart robots and software will at least do more and more routine or repetitive bits of jobs, hopefully allowing workers more time to focus on the creative, design, or emotion-driven parts of their work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Pearl Harbor Hype (Thomas Fleming, 7/05/02, History News Network)

Stop for a moment and ponder the meaning of these two statements. They reveal some startling facts about Pearl Harbor that you will not find in the movie or in the hype that is gushing from the TV screen. The first reveals that FDR knew the Japanese were going to attack the United States somewhere. But he did not think they would inflict serious damage. The second makes it clear that Franklin D. Roosevelt could have averted or at least delayed a war with Japan.

Perhaps more disturbing, what the president told Admiral Hart was a lie. In November 1941, the top commanders of the U.S. Army and Navy had begged FDR to keep negotiating with the Japanese for at least another three months to give them time to complete a buildup of air and ground forces in the Philippines. He chose to ignore these pleas, which were couched in unmistakably serious language.

Until November 26, 1941, Roosevelt had been negotiating with two Japanese diplomats who had come to Washington to try to resolve a crisis with the United States which began in August 1941. At that time, with no warning, the United States embargoed all shipments of oil to Japan. The Japanese were baffled and infuriated by this decision. For three previous years, the United States had supplied fifty percent of Japan's oil, while her army conquered much of China. Why had Roosevelt chosen this moment to cut off the oil?

The answer, it is now apparent, was FDR's desperate desire to start a war with Japan that would get America into the war he wanted to fight -- with Nazi Germany. Roosevelt had tried hard to start a war with Germany. He had flaunted documents fabricated by British intelligence, supposedly proving Berlin was planning to invade South America. He ordered the Navy to attack German U-boats on sight, in effect fighting an undeclared war in the Atlantic.

A U-boat put a torpedo into the magazine of the USS Reuben James. One hundred and fifteen American sailors died in the freezing Atlantic. The public reaction? Robert Sherwood, FDR's speechwriter, summed it up: people were more interested in who was going to win the Army-Notre Dame football game.

Until the day before Pearl Harbor, polls showed eighty percent of the American people did not want to fight either Germany or Japan. They approved Roosevelt's policy of all aid short of war to the nations fighting the Axis powers. But they trusted FDR's 1940 promise that he would not send their sons to fight in a foreign war. That promise was another lie -- whereby the president had painted himself into an agonizing political corner.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Senior Russian officer killed in Aleppo (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 7, 2016)

Russia said Wednesday that an army colonel working as a military adviser in Syria had died, several days after being wounded by rebel shelling in Aleppo.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


How Iran closed the Mosul 'horseshoe' and changed Iraq war (Dominic Evans, Maher Chmaytelli and Patrick Markey, 12/07/16, Reuters)

The original campaign strategy called for Iraqi forces to close in around Mosul in a horseshoe formation, blocking three fronts but leaving open the fourth - to the west of the city leading to Islamic State territory in neighboring Syria.

That model, used to recapture several Iraqi cities from the ultra-hardline militants in the last two years, would have left fighters and civilians a clear route of escape and could have made the Mosul battle quicker and simpler.

But Tehran, anxious that retreating fighters would sweep back into Syria just as Iran's ally President Bashar al-Assad was gaining the upper hand in his country's five-year civil war, wanted Islamic State crushed and eliminated in Mosul.

The sources say Iran lobbied for Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization fighters to be sent to the western front to seal off the link between Mosul and Raqqa, the two main cities of Islamic State's self-declared cross-border caliphate.

That link is now broken. For the first time in Iraq's two-and-half-year, Western-backed drive to defeat Islamic State, several thousand militants have little choice but to fight to the death, and 1 million remaining Mosul citizens have no escape from the front lines creeping ever closer to the city center.

"If you corner your enemy and don't leave an escape, he will fight till the end," said a Kurdish official involved in planning the Mosul battle.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Trump says he's running cabinet picks past Obama - whose recommendations he takes 'very seriously' - and has nominated someone the outgoing President 'very highly' respects (Francesca Chambers, 7 December 2016, Daily Mail)

'I really, I do, like him. I love getting his ideas. And I may differ, in many cases I differ very greatly,' he said.

Lauer pushed him to say whether he at least heeded Obama's hiring advice, even if he refused to say which person or persons they'd discussed.

'I would say that yes, I take his recommendations very seriously, and there are some people that I will be appointing, and in one case have appointed, where he thought very highly of that person, yes,' Trump said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


States with background checks for those who buy guns and bullets also have fewer school shootings (Karen Kaplan , 12/07/16, LA Times)

An analysis of recent school shootings suggests a way to make them less likely: Mandatory background checks.

States that required background checks for gun buyers were about half as likely to experience a school shooting compared with states with no such requirement, a new study reports. In addition, the handful of states that forced people to submit to background checks before purchasing ammunition had dramatically lower odds of a school shooting.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Exclusive: In mammoth task, BP sends almost three million barrels of U.S. oil to Asia (Florence Tan, 12/07/16, Reuters)

Oil major BP (BP.L) is shipping almost three million barrels of U.S. crude to customers across Asia, pioneering a lengthy and complex operation likely to become more popular after OPEC last week announced deep production cuts.

BP's efforts, involving one of the world's longest sea routes, seven tankers and a series of ship-to-ship transfers, underscore a desire among oil traders to develop new routes to sell swelling supplies of cheap U.S. shale oil to Asia, the world's biggest consumer region.

December 6, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The Pentagon Reportedly Wasted $125 Billion, Then Hid the Evidence (Charley Lanyon, 12/06/16, New York)

The Pentagon's Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work commissioned an internal report on administrative waste, then moved to bury it and discredit its findings when the study uncovered much more unnecessary spending -- to the tune of $125 billion -- than was anticipated, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


How Latinos are driving income growth in America (Melody Hahm, 12/06/16, Yahoo Finance)

As an economist, Eisenach says he occasionally sees a piece of data that may be interesting or exciting but doesn't fit with a larger phenomenon and doesn't tell a full story. This data on Latinos, however, sheds light on the potential of people behind a big demographic shift in the US. In the case of Latinos, be they entrepreneurs, consumers, marketers or wealth managers, there is a rich road of opportunity ahead. He says the data speaks for itself.

"The data surrounding Latinos' economic implications pull together a story that's compelling, pervasive and deep. Especially because the average Latino is nine years younger than the overall population, we know that this demographic will be with us for a while, and we can take advantage of that," he says.

In addition to holding a Ph.D. in economics, Eisenach has been an outspoken advocate for less regulation, and has been a consultant who worked for Verizon (VZ) and other companies in the telecommunications space to push back against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He's co-leading Trump's telecommunications policy team, which means he's responsible for hiring the new staff members of the FCC.

He says he decided to pursue this report through the lens of economics, not politics.  "The study is completely separate from my relationship with Trump," he says. "I embarked on this as an economist."

Eisenach says he was surprised by much of the data. For example, Latinos are creating new businesses and increasing headcount at a faster pace than the overall population. Hispanics have had the highest entrepreneurship rate of any ethnic group each year since 2002. Latinos accounted for more than one out of five new entrepreneurs, up from 10% in 1996. Of course, many of these businesses remain small -- there are over 4 million Latino-owned business in the US, but only 2% of them earn over $1 million in annual revenue, according to data compiled by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

And, despite the threat of wage stagnation over the past several years, Eisenach says Latinos are responsible for 29% of real income growth in the US between 2005 and 2015, with the number of Latino households with incomes over $150,000 growing 194% over the same period. Though the median income among Latino households is below the country's average, the growth is rapid, and signals significant momentum for the Latino population.

In fact, over the last decade (between 2005 to 2015), Hispanics -- who account for just 18% of the population -- accounted for 29% of the growth in real aggregate income. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers rose nearly 11% for Hispanics between the first quarter of 2000 and the first quarter 2016, more than triple the increase for the population overall.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The greatest threat to the colonization of 'Mars' is no surprise (EMILY BICKS, DECEMBER 5, 2016, Screener)

Thus far, every minute spent watching "Mars" has been beautifully humbling. The unified goal of the docuseries, in which the entire planet joins hands in a shared mission, is a venture which finally makes things such as race, nationality, gender, etc., totally irrelevant. It's awe-inducing. We are all the same: Earthlings. And we are all looking for ways to both preserve and improve human life.

Watching the people on "Mars" -- each representing the most intelligent minds on Earth -- spar with each other is infuriating. The matters in which they are pulling rank, and making decisions based on ego not science, could have catastrophic repercussions. Why even colonize Mars, if we're only going to ravage it with things that are already ailing Earth?

We talked about this at length with Stephen Petranek, on whose book ("How We'll Live on Mars") the series is based: "We need to establish a governing system, decide who owns what land. Is it all free territory? There has to be some sort of governing system in place."

As more people and privately owned space companies establish roots on Mars, these questions become exponentially more important. If these questions are left unanswered, Mars may see its first planetary war sooner rather than later.

Petranek quotes this little known fact from NASA's website in his book: "The mineral wealth resident in the best of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter would be equivalent to about 100 billion dollars for every person on Earth today." Petranek dubs the colonization of Mars as "the next Gold Rush" -- and there are roughly 8 million Earthlings who if they had any misgivings about traveling to Mars, upon learning this information, would jump on the next available spaceship.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Did Germany Just Unlock Nuclear Fusion? (Andrew Follett, 12/06/2016, Daily Caller)

Researchers found fusion reactors are feasible by determining that an experimental reactor was generating the right kind of magnetic field to trap plasma for long enough for nuclear fusion to occur. The scientists confined the hot plasma in a magnetic field with a device called a "stellarator." [...]

The scientific team was led by American physicist Dr. Sam Lazerson of the Department of Energy and the German scientists.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Dole lobbied Trump's team on Taiwan for months : Private briefings, convention delegation, tougher platform language all preceded protocol-breaking phone call. (ISAAC ARNSDORF 12/06/16, Politico)

Dole, the only past Republican presidential nominee to endorse Trump before the election, briefed the campaign's policy director, set up meetings between campaign staff and Taiwanese emissaries, arranged for Taiwan's delegation to attend the Republican National Convention, and helped tilt the party platform further in the island's favor, the disclosure released to POLITICO shows. He even arranged for members of Taiwan's ruling party to take a White House tour, according to the filing.

Taiwan paid the 93-year-old Dole and his law firm, Alston & Bird, $140,000 between May and October, according to the new disclosure. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


House G.O.P. Signals Break With Trump Over Tariff Threat (JENNIFER STEINHAUER, DEC. 5, 2016, NY Times)

House Republican leaders signaled on Monday that they would not support President-elect Donald J. Trump's threat to impose a heavy tax on companies that move jobs overseas, the first significant confrontation over the conservative economic orthodoxy that Mr. Trump relishes trampling.

"I don't want to get into some kind of trade war," Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and majority leader, told reporters in response to Mr. Trump's threats over the weekend to seek a 35 percent import tariff on goods sold by United States companies that move jobs overseas and displace American workers.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan also pushed back against Mr. Trump on Monday in an interview with a Wisconsin reporter, saying an overhaul of the corporate tax code would more effectively keep companies in the United States than tax penalties. "I think we can get at the goal here," he said, "which is to keep American businesses American, build things in America and sell them overseas -- that can be properly addressed with comprehensive tax reform." [...]

The response from Republican leaders underscored the limits of legislating 140 characters at a time on Twitter, and gave Democrats cause to believe they can work with Mr. Trump to outmaneuver congressional Republicans next year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM



After losing his grandmother, sister, father and daughter in the span of six months, Ralphael Plescia turned his grief into art. Nearly fifty years later, Plescia's larger-than-life sculptures and drawings have become an obsession, filling every nook and cranny of his private museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. His project has one overriding vision: to tell the real story of Biblical creation by rendering characters and tales lost to history. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Trump: Cancel Boeing's Air Force One contract (LOUIS NELSON 12/06/16, Politico)

Trump's tweet came just 22 minutes after the Chicago Tribune published comments by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who said he worried that Trump's promises of a more protectionist trade policy could hurt his company, which does robust business with China. Muilenburg told the Tribune that he would urge the president-elect to take a warmer stance toward the kinds of trade deals he railed against on the campaign trail, warning, "If we do not lead when it comes to writing these rules, our competitors will write them for us."

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


China can't lead (y'all are driving me nuts) (Derek Scissors, 12/05/16, AEIdeas)

I come to bury Caesar's critics, not to praise him. President-elect Trump says strange things on Twitter and is panned. His opponents say strange things and heads nod. A standout example: "Trump is ceding global leadership to China." This is absurd. China may not be able to lead northeast Asia, much less the world. If a Trump administration curbs American leadership, the true risk is the world splintering.

The ultimate foundation of global leadership is economic power - you can't lead if you can't afford to lead. Starting with the People's Republic, China would struggle if leadership actually depended on GDP, as many incorrectly think. The PRC remains $7 trillion behind the US in annual GDP. The gap is supposedly closing but (i) fairly slowly and (ii) only if you believe the Communist Party.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Google will hit a renewable energy milestone in 2017 (Matt McFarland, December 6, 2016, CNN)

Google will buy enough renewable energy in 2017 to power all of its operations, including its 13 data centers and offices in 150 cities.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Carrier Workers Are Skeptical of Donald Trump's Plan to Save Their Jobs (Brad Tuttle,  Dec. 1, 2016, Money)

Many other Carrier workers, however, expressed deep skepticism about the arrangement. "We don't know anything. We don't have any details on how they worked it out. We just know that supposedly he's saving 1,000 jobs. But what does that really mean?" Donnisha Taylor, a 12-year veteran of the Carrier plant said to the Star. "Something is fishy. Something is not adding up."

Brenda Battle, a Carrier employee for 24 years, said she was happy workers will be keeping their jobs, but based on previous difficulties negotiating with their employer assumes the final deal won't be great for workers. "As of yet we don't know what kind of concessions we're going to have to put up with to keep our jobs," she said. "I smell a rat."

USW: 730 union jobs saved in Carrier deal - not 1,100 (JENNIE RUNEVITCH, 2/05/16, WTHR)

"We didn't know the breakdown before because no one would give us any information," Union President Chuck Jones told Eyewitness News by phone Monday. "Now what we're losing is 550 member jobs."

"We found out today that more jobs are leaving than what we originally thought," Bray said. "It seemed like since Thursday, it was 1,100 then it was maybe 900 and then now we're at 700. So I'm hoping it doesn't go any lower than that."

Union workers got a letter at the plant saying Trump's deal with Carrier will save only 730 factory jobs in Indianapolis, plus 70 salaried positions - 553 jobs in the plant's fan coil lines are still moving to Monterrey, Mexico.

All 700 workers at Carrier's Huntington plant will also lose their jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Solar panels have paid their energy debt - or are very close to it (Amy Middleton, 12/06/16, Cosmos)

Solar power has produced more energy than it took to make and install the systems, a new study has found.

Researchers in the Netherlands calculated the global solar panel - or photovoltaic - industry will also break even within the next couple of years when it comes to greenhouse gases too.

"Over the whole life-cycle of a [photovoltaic] system, it pays back the energy invested and greenhouse gas emissions released during its production multiple times," Atse Louwen from Utrecht University and colleagues write in Nature Communications.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Nikola Motor unveils its hydrogen fuel cell 18-wheeler : Company has accepted reservations totaling nearly $3 billion in future truck orders (Lucas Mearian, 12/05/16, Computerworld)

Startup Nikola Motor Co. unveiled a hydrogen fuel-cell powered 18-wheel tractor trailer truck that will have a range of 800 to 1,200 miles on a fill-up, which is nearly double that of any other semi-truck on the road.

The custom-built, hydrogen-electric, 800-volt fuel cell 18-wheeler, is a class 8 rig that will have up to 2,000 horse power and be able to haul 80,000 lbs., more powerful than any other production diesel truck on the road, the company said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Can I Go to Great Books Camp? (Molly Worthen, DEC. 3, 2016, NY Times)

A small but growing number of young conservatives see themselves not only as engaged citizens, but as guardians of an ancient intellectual tradition. The members of Ms. Havard's group were alumni of a seven-week crash course in political theory offered by the Hertog Foundation, the family foundation of the Wall Street financier Roger Hertog. Attendees discuss authors like Aristotle, James Madison and Leo Strauss and hear lectures by scholars and policy experts. "Our curriculum represents what we think ought to be a high-level introduction to politics, one you rarely find in any political science department," Peter Berkowitz, the program's dean, told me.

The Hertog course is one of more than a dozen similar seminars sponsored by conservative and libertarian organizations around the country. Some last for months, others just a few days. Some recruit older participants, but most target college students and 20-somethings.

The syllabuses and faculty range from say, the secular Jewish milieu of Hertog to the libertarian Cato Institute to the Christian traditionalism of the John Jay Institute. But all these programs seek to correct the defects they see in mainstream higher education by stressing principles over pluralism, immersing students in the wisdom of old books and encouraging them to apply that wisdom to contemporary politics.

Liberals have their own activist workshops and reading groups, but these rarely instruct students in an intellectual tradition, a centuries-long canon of political philosophy. Why have philosophical summer schools become a vibrant subculture on the right, but only a feeble presence on the left?

Because the Left espouses whatever the most recent idea is by the most transgressive writer they can find? It's the opposite of tradition and culture.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Team Trump's New Pledge on Tax Cuts (David Leonhardt, DEC. 6, 2016, NY Times)

Last week, though, Steven Mnuchin said something unexpected on CNBC, in his first interview after becoming Donald Trump's choice for Treasury secretary. A friendly host invited Mnuchin to respond to the liberal charge that Trump's tax cut was a sop to the rich. Mnuchin, a financier and former Goldman Sachs partner, refused -- and made news instead.

"It's not the case at all," he said. "Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions, so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class. There will be a big tax cut for the middle class, but any tax cuts we have for the upper class will be offset by less deductions that pay for it."

This is now a clear standard by which any Trump tax cut should be judged.

The plan that Mnuchin described would set Trump apart from the Republican establishment that he thumped in the primaries. It would be consistent with Trump's working-class base. It would even be a policy that Democrats could feel comfortable working on.

December 5, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Reasons Why The US Will Dominate The World Economy For The Foreseeable Future (Peter High, 12/05/16, Forbes)

Peter High: In your book, The Accidental Superpower, you talked about how a variety of rules that we have come to take as given over the past seventy years are going to be changed regarding geopolitics. Especially considering the recent election, I would be curious about how the theses you had posited in that book remain, are amplified, or are changed.

Peter Zeihan: There are a couple of things going on simultaneously. First, because of demographic aging on a global scale, the United States is emerging as the only market over the long-term. Second, the United States is backing away from the world. It is reducing the American footprint overseas while its ability to intervene increases. What we have done with Special Forces, what we are doing with drones, what we are doing with satellite tech--the ability to reach out is higher than it has been for decades. But our need to do that with troops on the ground or maintaining the day-to-day order of the international system is going away. Third, Trump is taking a lot of the trends that already existed in American politics and kicked them up a notch. We are already going through this period of new isolationism and here comes a trade warrior who wants to renegotiate every trade deal on the books, specifically fingering Mexico and China, two of our three biggest trading partners.

You put these three things together and you get a United States that is transitioning from being the global guarantor of security, global trade, and energy markets to one that, at best, has stepped back from it all and, more likely, even sees a vested interest in disrupting it to a certain degree. At the same time, the U.S. is the only market. The split between successful countries and failed countries in the future is how well can you buddy up with the only country that matters? Everything else is going to be a free for all. In the United States, you have the market, the financial capital, the labor system, the consumption base, the energy--and you can project power out, rather than have to defend your own borders.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Here's Where Donald Trump Gets His News : BuzzFeed News analyzed all the links Donald Trump tweeted since he launched his presidential campaign to determine where the president-elect gets his news. (Charlie Warzel & Lam Thuy Vo, 12/03/16, BuzzFeed)

BuzzFeed News reviewed 26,234 of Trump's 34,062 tweets, which we received through the Twitter API and developer Brendan Brown, who has archived Trump's tweets beyond what is accessible via the API (a stream of data that includes information like tweet text, time, and date). We filtered that data down to the 2,687 hyperlinks tweeted by Trump's personal Twitter account since he announced his candidacy in June 2015. By programmatically expanding the shortened links in his tweets we were able to group and count them to generate a rudimentary portrait of the news and opinion he publicizes and, presumably, consumes. [...]

Our analysis revealed a media ecosystem that appears to largely reinforce and affirm the views publicly expressed by Trump and his closest advisers. The news stories Trump tweets share several characteristics: 1) They often favor sensationalism over facts and reporting; 2) They frequently echo direct quotes from Trump himself or his closest advisers; and 3) They routinely malign his enemies and vindicate his most controversial opinions.

When it comes to news sources, the stories tweeted by Trump (and the staffers who sometimes manage his Twitter account) suggest that he is unfazed by news of questionable accuracy, likely to rely on hyper-partisan news, and apt to promote mainstream news only when it validates his opinions. While politicians from both sides of the aisle use their Twitter accounts to share content that furthers their agendas, Trump's reliance on sources and stories of questionable accuracy stands out both in frequency and in engagement. The stories shared by Trump's account throughout his campaign suggest the president-elect has constructed a powerful online filter bubble that largely flatters and confirms that which he claims to be true.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM

UR 3, ISIS 0:

IS loses Libya bastion in major blow to jihadists (RIM TAHER December 5, 2016, Times of Israel)

The battle for the coastal city, which was the last significant territory held by IS in Libya, cost the lives of hundreds of loyalist troops as well as an unknown number of IS fighters.

"Our forces have total control of Sirte," Reda Issa, a spokesman for pro-government forces, told AFP. "Our forces saw Daesh (IS) totally collapse."

Forces allied with the country's unity government launched an offensive to retake the city on May 12, quickly seizing large areas of the city and cornering the jihadists.

But IS put up fierce resistance with suicide car bombings, snipers and improvised explosive devices.

"Daesh has totally collapsed and dozens of them have given themselves up to our forces," said a statement on the loyalist forces' official Facebook page. 

The capture of Sirte boosts the authority of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which was launched in Tripoli last March but whose legitimacy is contested by a rival administration based in eastern Libya.

The United States started a bombing campaign in August at the request of the GNA to help local forces recapture the city, seized by jihadists in June 2015.

As of December 1, US warplanes, drones and helicopters had conducted 470 strikes. [...]

The fall of Sirte -- Gaddafi's hometown located 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Tripoli -- represents a major setback for IS, which has also faced a series of military defeats in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi forces are advancing on the IS stronghold of Mosul, while a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance last month launched an offensive to retake Raqa, the Syrian capital of the "caliphate" the jihadists proclaimed in 2014.

"Losing it (Sirte) could cause a momentary loss of traction, but a lot will depend on what happens in Syria and Iraq and whether the ungoverned spaces in Libya will remain such," said Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert with the European Council of Foreign Relations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Human evolution 'not over yet' (Helen Briggs, 12/05/16, BBC News)

The regular use of Caesarean sections is having an impact on human evolution, say scientists.

More mothers now need surgery to deliver a baby due to their narrow pelvis size, according to a study.

Researchers estimate cases where the baby cannot fit down the birth canal have increased from 30 in 1,000 in the 1960s to 36 in 1,000 births today.

Historically, these genes would not have been passed from mother to child as both would have died in labour.

Well, sure, except the mother had the gene...

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Trump's Budding Bromance With Democrat Schumer Spells Economic Trouble (IRA STOLL, December 5, 2016, NY Sun)

Mr. Trump's decision to reappoint the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, was met with horror and dismay among those who, like myself, consider Mr. Bharara's string of insider trading prosecutions, reversed by appellate courts, to be "sadistic" and "sleazy." Those aren't my words -- they are descriptions that two distinguished federal appellate judges have applied to Mr. Bharara's tactics.

There's plenty of blame to go around for Mr. Bharara's reappointment, which was announced last week. The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank with a distinguished record that ought to have known better, published a piece under the headline "Memo to Trump: Let Preet Stay," lauding the prosecutor's efforts against political corruption.

Senator Schumer's role, though, was central. The New York Times reminded its readers that before becoming the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Mr. Bharara was chief counsel to Senator Schumer. "Mr. Trump also asked Mr. Schumer how best to reach Mr. Bharara, and the senator provided Mr. Trump with Mr. Bharara's direct line," the Times reported. Mr. Trump had called Mr. Schumer to ask his advice on keeping on Mr. Bharara, which Mr. Schumer recommended, the Times said.

Mr. Trump ran as a change candidate, criticizing Hillary Clinton as "secretary of the status quo." Now he's taking personnel recommendations from Senator Schumer, who has been serving in Congress since 1981, or nearly 36 years. It is breathtaking.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Trump Commerce pick said in TV appearances he supported TPP (Andrew Kaczynski, December 5, 2016, CNN Money)

Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who is Donald Trump's pick to be Commerce Secretary, advocated for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in television appearances this year.

CNN's KFile previously reported that Ross signed on to a letter urging New York's Congressional delegation to support the trade agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


John Key: New Zealand's popular 'anti-politician' PM (NEIL SANDS, December 5, 2016, Times of Israel)

Political commentator Matthew Hooton said it was typical that Key wanted to leave on his own terms, rather than cling on to power as long as possible.

"The one thing about him, while he's an incredibly skilled politician, clearly there has always been an element of the anti-politician within him," Hooton told Radio New Zealand. [...]

He came to politics late, winning his seat after a successful career in the financial markets that saw him become global head of foreign exchange for Merrill Lynch.

Just four years after taking his place in the chamber, Key became leader of the center-right National Party. By 2008 he had ended nine years of Labour Party rule, ousting then-prime minister Helen Clark.

He quickly demonstrated that behind the affable exterior was an acute political operator, a man who ensured the Nationals adopted moderate economic policies rather than the ideological campaigns against welfare and unions the party had pursued in the 1990s.

"What he has been able to do is demonstrate that if you make the case for reform, clearly cogently, persuasively, you can win and retain strong public support for economic reform," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters Monday.

Key "has done an extraordinary job for New Zealand," Turnbull added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Selective Memory : a review of The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller  (Christoph Irmscher, DECEMBER 5, 2016, American Scholar)

Maybe, given the right circumstances and the right people, Darwin's Origin of Species really could have changed America. But it didn't. Gray, for all his support of natural selection, couldn't ultimately let go of a benign creator; Emerson never distanced himself from Agassiz's horrifying theories of racial mixing; and Thoreau, perhaps the only character in Fuller's book who was fully Darwin's intellectual peer, did not have enough time left to apply what he had learned from Darwin to his research on the distribution of seeds in the forest. On a larger scale, the benefits slaves gained from emancipation yielded only too quickly to what the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar called the "sly convenient hell" of Jim Crow.

About halfway through his book, Fuller mentions a short review of Origin of Species published in Dial, signed by someone who mysteriously gave only his initials, M. B. B. After offering some halfhearted praise, M. B. B. stated his aversion to Darwin's materialism and quoted Thoreau to bolster his argument that accepting natural selection would destroy any appreciation of nature's beauty and especially of the human form, which, as everyone knew, was made in God's image. Darwin's theory would, M. B. B. said, give us a world populated by Calibans. But who was M. B. B.? A Thoreau-loving creationist? Fuller doesn't tell us. In fact, he was Myron Beecher Benton, a poet and farmer from the Webutuck Valley, New York, a close friend of naturalist John Burroughs and an avid correspondent with the transcendentalists, a man not given, in the words of a friend, to "worrying about the universe." As it turns out, Emerson was a great fan of Benton's work and had memorized large sections of his poem "Orchis," a fond celebration of how everything in the forest, even the shyest orchid, has been put there for us to find: "Rarest, dream-odored, delicate flowers, sisterhood fairest-- / Found by thy prescient search, as gold by the pale treasure-seeker!"

A century and a half later, we are still much closer to Benton of Webutuck Valley than to Thoreau of Walden Pond. 

We convicted Scopes and still only about 14% of Americans believe in Darwinism. We're Americans; we don't do intellectualisms.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Did Trump Get Played By His Advisers on Taiwan? (David Atkins, December 5, 2016, Washington Monthly)

It's hard to know which scenario is worse: 1) that Donald Trump ignorantly took a call with the president of Taiwan without knowing how badly it would provoke China; 2) that he intentionally took the call to create a provocation with China over a month before even taking office; or 3) that Trump took the call because he wanted to cement business dealings in Taiwan.

Increasingly, it seems it may have been the worst of all worlds: Trump's advisers strategically planned the call with Taiwan, but Trump may not have known what he was getting into. And yes, Trump has business dealings in Taiwan despite his denials. one could believe it was #1.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Was the speed of light faster at the beginning of the universe? : Physicists challenge the theory of inflation and Einstein's special relativity to explain the uniform temperature of the universe. (Cathal O'Connell, 12/05/16, Cosmos)

They don't make light like they used to. Today's light, chugging along at 299,792,458 metres per second, would have been blown away by photons of the early universe travelling trillions of times faster - or so says a newly beefed-up theory of physics.

Portuguese physicist João Magueijo first proposed superfast light in 1998 to explain the uniform temperature of the early universe. But because it contradicts Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity, it never quite caught on.

Now, writing in Physical Review D, Magueijo and his colleague Niayesh Afshordi produced a testable prediction from the theory. That's something a rival idea, cosmic inflation, has never managed to achieve.

"If true, it would mean that the laws of nature were not always the same as they are today," Magueijo said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


The Hell General Sherman Made : a review of William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country, James Lee McDonough (STEVE DONOGHUE • December 5, 2016, American Conservative)

In his fiery temper and autocratic command style, he became the ideological counterpoint to his dour friend Grant, and the two men came to dominate the Union war effort. In September 1864, Sherman captured the stronghold of Atlanta, and in September he embarked on his notorious "March to the Sea," leading two large armies through the heart of the supine Confederacy. He severed communications with Washington and ordered his men to "forage liberally" off the land. In his Memoirs, Sherman almost seems to believe his own euphemism, and whole phalanxes of historians since have taken him at his word, as flatly absurd as that word is. In reality, as Bruce Catton put it, "The army went down to the sea like a prairie fire forty miles wide, living on the supplies it took from plantation barns and smokehouses and pantries, looting where it did not burn, making war with the lid off as if the whole business had come down to a wild Halloween brawl."

That "war with the lid off" was brutal, yes; Sherman intended it to be so, in order to send a message to the Southern population that their government couldn't protect them and so didn't deserve their support. But the brutality was also its own end, ordered and countenanced by Sherman to an extent that would land him in a courtroom at the Hague today. McDonough is content to soft-pedal the whole business, writing that however we categorize things, "Sherman's intentions were clear: destroy anything of military value to the Confederacy, while subjecting Southern civilians to the inevitable depredations inflicted by a large army tramping through their country and living off the land."

But those depredations weren't inevitable until Sherman made them that way, and the definition of "military value" was from the onset stretched so far as to lose any meaning. Whole towns were put to the torch, despite pleas not to dispossess their women, children, elderly, and infirm. Whole populations were uprooted and put on forced marches. Assaults, rapes, and murders, absent from the general's recollections, were liberally reported by Southerners; reading accounts less accommodating than McDonough's leads to the inescapable conclusion that war was "all hell" largely because William Tecumseh Sherman made it that way. In Sherman's March was born No Gun Ri, My Lai, and a dozen other massacres perpetrated on a helpless and innocent civilian population by U.S. forces allowed to conduct "war with the lid off."

Innocent?  They followed enslaving blacks with one hundred years of Jim Crow.
Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Russian Aircraft Carrier Off Syria Loses Second Fighter Jet In Weeks (Radio Liberty, December 05, 2016)

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov has lost an Su-33 fighter jet, the second warplane based on the ship to be involved in an accident since it arrived off Syria's coast as part of Russia's campaign in support of government forces in the civil war there.

Putin is sacrificing Russian lives to fight ISIS, under the delusion that a naval base matters. And the Right worships his genius....

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Al Gore Meets Donald Trump for 'Extremely Interesting' Conversation (ANDREW RAFFERTY, 12/05/16, NBC News)

Former Vice President Al Gore met with President-elect Donald Trump for what he described as "an extremely interesting conversation" at Trump Tower on Monday.

Gore, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, declined to say what exactly he and Trump spoke about during the meeting. But he said he met with both the president-elect and Ivanka Trump, who reportedly wants to make climate change one of her signature issues.

If only Donald had a sense of humor, it would be necessary to think his candidacy a huge prank played on the Right. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Get a Free Fire Tablet When You Buy an Amazon Tap (Mental Floss, 12/05/16)

The Amazon Tap usually retails for $129.99. Today, though, Amazon is running a pretty incredible deal on the Amazon Tap. For $119.98, you can get an Amazon Tap, and Amazon will kick in a the seven-inch, 16 GB version of its popular Fire Tablet for free. Yes, you read that correctly: Picking up an Amazon Tap bundled with a 7" Fire Tablet is actually $10 cheaper than buying an Amazon Tap on its own. The 16 GB version of the Fire Tablet retails for $69.99, so the bundle knocks $80 off the two items' normal price. If you've been on the fence about picking up an Amazon Tap or a Fire Tablet, jump on this one while it lasts.  

If only I were still a kid....

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Kevin McCarthy won't defend Donald Trump's 35-percent tariff (Tom Howell Jr., 12/05/16, The Washington Times)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday refused to back President-elect Donald Trump's push for a 35-percent tariff on companies that move operations abroad and then sell their goods back in the United States, saying corporate tax reform is the key to retaining American jobs.

They are a smoot point.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


U.S. Jobless Claims Rose to 268,000 During Thanksgiving Week (Ben Leubsdorf, 12/02/16, WSJ)

Initial claims have now remained below 300,000 for 91 consecutive weeks, the longest such streak since 1970--when the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller than they are today.

December 4, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Trump is about to inherit the 'strongest overall job market in a generation' (Akin Oyedele, December 1, 2016, Business Insider)

"Despite lots of uncertainty about upcoming Trump policies, the good news is that the incoming administration stands to inherit a stable and growing economy with the strongest overall job market in a generation," said Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist at Glassdoor, in a note. Private-sector employment is on its longest streak of growth on record. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Italy Votes 'No' in Referendum, Projections Indicate (DEBORAH BALL and  GIADA ZAMPANO, Dec. 4, 2016, WSJ)

Projections late Sunday indicated that Italian voters have rejected proposed constitutional changes, in what if confirmed would be a stinging rebuke to the country's leader and a victory for populists in the heartland of Europe.

The natural momentum of sovereignty--especially in the absence of force--is centrifugal, not centripital.  They'd do better to vote on dissolving the country into its constituent regions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Tim Raines is a Hall of Famer, and the numbers couldn't be more convincing (Ryan Spaeder,  Nov. 30, 2016, Sporting News)

Raines may have never played for the numbers, but he still managed to amass huge ones:

-- He's the only player in baseball history with more than two seasons with at least 50 extra-base hits and 70 stolen bases; he had four, from 1983 to 1986.

-- He's the only player, among seven, with at least 600 extra-base hits and 700 stolen bases not in the Hall of Fame.

-- He's the only player in baseball history with at least 100 triples, 150 home runs and 600 stolen bases. He amassed 113 triples, 170 home runs, and 808 stolen bases.

-- Sixteen of the first 18 players to accumulate at least 2,600 hits and 1,300 walks were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Raines and Pete Rose, who is banned from baseball for life, are the odd men out.

Raines was a career .294/.385/.425 (123 OPS+) hitter. He reached base safely 3,977 times and tallied 69.1 WAR, averaging 4.55 WAR per 162 games played.

Lou Brock had a career .293 batting average. Willie Mays had a career .384 on-base percentage. Rickey Henderson had a career .422 slugging percentage. Ernie Banks had a career 122 OPS+. Tony Gwynn reached base safely 3,955 times and tallied 68.8 career WAR. Derek Jeter averaged 4.23 WAR per 162 games played.

Still not convinced? Raines is the only player in baseball history with consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases. He had five in a row, from 1982 to 1986. Before 1982, the last player with such a season was Ty Cobb in 1915. When Raines failed to reach that level for a sixth straight season, stealing just 50 bases in 1987, he batted .330/.429/.526. That made him the first player to bat at least .325/.425/.525 with at least 50 stolen bases since George Sisler in 1922, his MVP season. In fact, Sisler, Raines and Henderson -- who did it in 1990, when he won the AL MVP -- are the only players with such a season during the live ball era.

Raines had five seasons with at least 70 walks and 70 stolen bases. Hall of Famers "Sliding" Billy Hamilton (six) and Henderson (seven) are the only players with more. No other player has more than two. Ty Cobb had just one.

Three players in history have hit at least 10 home runs and stolen at least 90 bases in a season: Harry Stovey (1890), Henderson (1982) and Raines (1983). Henderson and Raines had sneaky power, and Henderson is hailed for his record 81 career leadoff home runs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Should Your Employer Go Full Robo on Your Retirement Savings? : Robo-adviser Betterment picks up steam with its pitch to handle 401(k) plans for companies. (Suzanne Woolley, December 1, 2016, Bloomberg)

 The Department of Labor's fiduciary rule, which takes effect in April, requires advisers for retirement investments to put a client's interest before their own. A 2015 government report estimated that adviser conflicts of interest cost investors some $17 billion a year. The rule could be a regulatory catalyst for growth, said Tyler Cloherty, senior manager with Casey Quirk by Deloitte.

"There will be more impediments to moving small-balance accounts to advisers, so more money will likely stay within the 401(k)," he said, rather than be rolled into an IRA, for example, with the plan's outside administrator. 1

Why would a company choose a 401(k) upstart over the long-established pros? Among the reasons ticked off by Cynthia Loh, general manager for the product, are lower fees; managed, personalized portfolios for all participants; no conflicts of interest in fund selection; and a modern, intuitive user interface. Betterment 401(k) accounts also can use a new algorithmic service the company launched in September that aims to improve a portfolio's tax efficiency, which adds to returns over time.

"The opportunity is that innovation has to happen, and the 401(k) space is not blessed with innovation," said Alois Pirker, research director for Aite Group. "It has been a shielded kind of space."

Others have made inroads with online 401(k) advisory services, although they don't tend to have a soup-to-nuts operation that stretches from record-keeping to asset management as Betterment does. Financial Engines, a well-established online advisory service that acts as a fiduciary for 401(k) plans, works with about 700 companies that employ a total of 10 million workers. It offers basic portfolio advice for all accounts and more personalized advice for an additional fee. Morningstar is also a player in the managed account advisory business for 401(k) plans.

Betterment's 401(k) offering operates much like its regular advisory service. It creates portfolios of exchange-traded funds based on your age and answers to a risk questionnaire, and it rebalances portfolios to your planned asset allocation regularly. It charges an asset-based fee ranging from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points, depending on plan size. The ETF fees are typically 0.1 to 0.12 percentage points in the tax-deferred accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Police Officer Secretly Paints For 25 Years, Leaves Behind Incredible Collection (Masha Froliak, December 3, 2016, Heat Street)
Standing in front of a painting by Richard De Cosmis - in his studio, improvised from a garage of his house in Weehawken, NJ - was a revelation to me.

Broken turbulent lines depicted a figure of a man, his torso bent, placed against an abstract background. It was reminiscent of the contorted bodies in the work of Michelangelo and Francis Bacon. But the painting I was looking at had its own unique style and emotional intensity. Who is this artist? And why we haven't heard of him?

Richard De Cosmis was a police officer. He died last year, leaving behind a large collection of paintings and drawings, as well as a mystery yet to be solved, on the over 100 paintings he produced, in seclusion, over the last 25 years. [...]

A series of paintings in which figures are huddled together, positioned off balance, slumping over the other's shoulder, or even as if floating weightless in mid air, were particularly striking.

His family reveals, that De Cosmis began painting after retiring his 30 year service as a police officer and was a self taught painter, a total outsider in the art world.

However, a great amount of books, sketches, and notes scattered in the studio suggest that he was very conscious about what it was he was trying to achieve.

I look through some handwritten notes: "Traditional out. Paint: or quit!", "Essentials: mood, emotions, tension" , "Forget realism", "Reduce Definitions", "Negative space needs movement." [...]

I am stricken by the fact that such a profound collection was created without any academic training, any creative surrounding and no direct interaction with other artists.

And I am truly wondering if this man, a former police officer, and a father of five children, might at some point be recognized as a great American painter.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Job Retraining Won't Work. We'll Need Government Jobs, Then a Universal Basic Income (David Atkins, December 4, 2016, Washington Monthly)

For all the hoopla over china, trade and immigration, 85% of the manufacturing losses in the United States were due to automation, not trade. And it's not just manufacturing. Automation imperils huge swaths of employment, from the medical profession to the finance industry. Drivers of all kinds, from truckers to cabbies to worksite drivers, are all on the chopping block. Big data threatens to slash middle level managers and analysts of all kinds. Something will have to be done.

But most people aren't ready for a universal basic income. Wherever the public has had a chance to vote on it, it has failed-and usually dramatically. People aren't comfortable with the idea yet-they worry about creating a class of layabouts, and about removing the dignity that comes with a job, and about losing the leverage workers have had against capital since the dawn of the labor movement. Most of these are cultural fears that will dissipate over time, but they are very real.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


What It Will Take for Us to Trust AI (Guru Banavar, NOVEMBER 29, 2016, Harvard Business Review)

The early days of artificial intelligence have been met with some very public hand wringing. Well-respected technologists and business leaders have voiced their concerns over the (responsible) development of AI. And Hollywood's appetite for dystopian AI narratives appears to be bottomless.

This is not unusual, nor is it unreasonable. Change, technological or otherwise, always excites the imagination. And it often makes us a little uncomfortable.

But in my opinion, we have never known a technology with more potential to benefit society than artificial intelligence. We now have AI systems that learn from vast amounts of complex, unstructured information and turn it into actionable insight. It is not unreasonable to expect that within this growing body of digital data -- 2.5 exabytes every day -- lie the secrets to defeating cancer, reversing climate change, or managing the complexity of the global economy.

We also expect AI systems to pervasively support the decisions we make in our professional and personal lives in just a few years. In fact, this is already happening in many industries and governments. However, if we are ever to reap the full spectrum of societal and industrial benefits from artificial intelligence, we will first need to trust it.

Trust of AI systems will be earned over time, just as in any personal relationship. Put simply, we trust things that behave as we expect them to. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin (ALAN FEUER and ANDREW HIGGINS, DEC. 3, 2016, NY Times)

As the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, an American group that aims to preserve the privileged place of whiteness in Western civilization and fight "anti-Christian degeneracy," Matthew Heimbach knows whom he envisions as the ideal ruler: the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.

"Russia is our biggest inspiration," Mr. Heimbach said. "I see President Putin as the leader of the free world."

Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump mystified many on the left and in the foreign policy establishment with his praise for Mr. Putin and his criticism of the Obama administration's efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But what seemed inexplicable when Mr. Trump first expressed his admiration for the Russian leader seems, in retrospect, to have been a shrewd dog whistle to a small but highly motivated part of his base.

For Mr. Heimbach is far from alone in his esteem for Mr. Putin. Throughout the collection of white ethnocentrists, nationalists, populists and neo-Nazis that has taken root on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Putin is widely revered as a kind of white knight: a symbol of strength, racial purity and traditional Christian values in a world under threat from Islam, immigrants and rootless cosmopolitan elites.

By which they mean (((rootless cosmopolitan elites))).

December 3, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Donald Trump's Trade Policies: Blessing Or Curse? (Stuart Anderson, 12/03/16, Forbes)   

What do economists think of Donald Trump's proposed trade policies? To find out, I decided to ask two leading economists, Daniel Griswold, a Mercatus Center senior research fellow and co-director of the Program on the American Economy and Globalization, and Mark Perry, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's Flint campus and creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem.

Perry: One very important, but almost always overlooked point is that there really is no overall deficit (or surplus) for international transactions once we account for both: a) cash flows for goods and services (current account) and b) cash flows for financial assets (capital account). A full accounting for all cash inflows and cash outflows over a certain period for all international trade in goods, services and financial assets in known as a country's "balance of payments." And just like a corporate balance sheet for a company, our balance of payments as a country always has to balance once we consider our "current account" (which has been in deficit for many decades) and our "capital account" (which has been in surplus for many decades).

Beyond the fact that the discussion on the trade deficit is typically incomplete by focusing only on trade flows for goods and services while ignoring trade flows for financial assets, there is a larger issue with the obsession with America's trade deficit. And that's the fact that the trade deficit is almost always reported in the media as a sign of America's economic weakness, when that is not the case at all. After all, the flip-side of the "trade deficit" is an inflow of foreign capital that provides a vital source of financing that fuels capital creation and business expansion in America, which leads to increased future output and employment in the U.S., and a more dynamic and vibrant economy. George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux expressed it this way: "To lament America's trade deficit is to lament the fact that foreigners are investing in America. And that seems very odd."

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Is Trump's Deal With Carrier A Form Of Crony Capitalism? : interview with Donald Evans, commerce secretary during George W. Bush's first term, and Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University  (NPR,December 2, 2016)

Cowen: We're supposed to live under a republic of the rule of law, not the rule of men. This deal is completely nontransparent, and the notion that every major American company has to negotiate person-to-person with the president over Twitter is going to make all business decisions politicized.

We don't know exactly what the company is getting. There's plenty of talk that the reason Carrier went along with the deal was because they were afraid their parent company would lose a lot of defense contracts, so this now creates the specter of a president always being willing to punish or reward companies depending on whether or not they give him a good press release.

On whether there's a right or wrong way to interact with American corporations

Evans: Certainly over the long haul you can't get into the mode of picking winners and losers. The great hallmark of this country is we love to compete. And so what I think government's role needs to be, should be, will be under this president-elect, I'm confident, is create a playing field for our companies in America to compete not only here at home but around the world and provide that environment so that companies here in America are willing to stay here, employ more people and build their companies here in America instead of some other country in the world.

On United Technologies, Carrier's parent company

Cowen: They do a lot of defense contracting; it's at least 10 percent of their revenue. Carrier from the state of Indiana was already offered the tax break before the election. They turned it down. Now all of a sudden Trump is president, Bernie Sanders is telling Trump to threaten the defense contracts of the parent company. And now all of a sudden the company takes the deal, and Trump is known for being somewhat vindictive.

On crony capitalism

Cowen: Trump and Bernie Sanders, for all of their populist talk, their actual recipes in both case lead to crony capitalism ... a system where businesses who are in bed with the government and who give the president positive press releases are rewarded and where companies who oppose or speak out against the president are in some way punished.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Simmons vs. Gladwell: The Future of Football : Sagging ratings, national controversy, horrifying head injuries, shameless greed: The conversation about the NFL has officially changed. Is it too late to fix it? (Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, 12/03/16, The Ringer)

Gladwell: [...] Football has a problem. I thought of this the other day when I had the fun job of interviewing Astros GM Jeff Luhnow at a RAND conference in Santa Monica. He talked entirely about analytics, and what all the data they now collect mean for the decisions they make -- how they didn't bid on a major free agent after doing a micro-analysis of his swing, or what can be learned, in real time, by precisely measuring the rotation on a pitcher's slider. That kind of stuff. The audience found him fascinating. Here's the thing, though: I'm guessing that less than half of the people in the room were actually baseball fans. But it didn't matter: There is now a second conversation about baseball -- the Moneyball conversation -- that is interesting even to people who don't follow the first conversation, the one that takes place on the field. Same thing for basketball. There's an obsessive first conversation about a beautiful game, and a great second conversation about how basketball has become a mixed-up culture of personality and celebrity. Boxing had a wonderful second conversation in its glory years: It was a metaphor of social mobility. Jack Dempsey, one of the most popular boxers of all time, dropped out of school before he even got to high school; Joe Louis's family got chased out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan. That underlying narrative made what happened in the ring matter. When the second conversation about boxing became about people like Don King and the financial and physical exploitation of athletes, the sport became a circus.

So what's the second conversation about football? It's concussions. There's the game on the field and then there's a conversation off the field about why nobody wants their kids to play the game on the field. How does a sport survive in the long run when the second conversation contradicts the first? I thought you were going to mention the other excruciating Panthers game this season: the league-opening-night Super Bowl rematch with the Broncos, where one Denver defender after another made a run at Cam Newton's head. After that happened a second time, a few weeks later, remember what Newton said? He doesn't "feel safe on the field" anymore. Newton is one of the league's biggest young stars, and the most memorable thing he has said all year is that playing football now scares him. Good lord.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


The General Who Should Lead the Pentagon (THOMAS E. RICKS, DEC. 2, 2016, NY Times)

Usually, I'd oppose having a general as secretary of defense, because it could undermine our tradition of civilian control of the military.

But these are not normal times. The incoming president appears to be a profoundly ignorant man who often seems to act on gut impulse or on what pleases the crowd. That is a dangerous combination to have in the White House. Having known General Mattis for many years, I am confident that he will be a restraint on Mr. Trump's impulsiveness. I also think he will provide a strong counterweight to some of those around Mr. Trump who hold isolationist or pro-Putin views.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


What the Alt-Right Really Means (CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, DEC. 2, 2016, NY Times)

[M]ost of all there is sex. The alt-right has a lot of young men in it, young men whose ideology can be assumed to confront them with obstacles to meeting people and dating. Sex-cynicism and race-pessimism, of course, often travel in tandem. At the National Policy Institute conference, the writer F. Roger Devlin gave a talk on why young Norwegian women in Groruddalen, outside Oslo, preferred dating Somali and Pakistani gang members to ethnic Norwegian boys-next-door. "The female instinct is to mate with socially dominant men," he explained, "and it does not matter how such dominance is achieved." [...]

The internet liberates us to be our worst selves. Where other movements have orators and activists, the alt-right also has ruthless trolls and "doxers." The trolls bombard Twitter and email accounts with slur-filled letters and Photoshopped art. Doxing is the releasing of personal information onto the internet. Last month, several alt-right writers, including Mr. Spencer, had their accounts suspended by Twitter. Mr. Spencer says he appreciates the "frenetic energy" of trolling but doesn't do it himself.

The alt-right did not invent these tactics. But during this election the trolling reached a sadistic pitch. Journalists who opposed Mr. Trump received photos of themselves -- and in some cases their children -- dead, or in gas chambers. Jewish and Jewish-surnamed journalists were particular targets, especially those seen to be thwarting Mr. Trump's rise: Jonah Goldberg, Julia Ioffe and Ben Shapiro, among others. The Daily Stormer has been particularly aggressive in deploying its "troll army" against those with whom it disagrees. A signature punctuation of the alt-right is to mark Jewish names with "echoes," or triple parentheses, like (((this))).

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Iran's Game in Aleppo (Ahmed Rashid, 12/01/16, NY Review of Books)

This could be a turning point in the conflict. The fall of East Aleppo would give the regime control of the country's five largest cities and the critical western part of Syria where the regime has its major popular support, now assisted by Russian air power and Iranian militias. Rebel groups would be reduced to a few strongholds in the north of the country and a few other remaining pockets--some around the capital Damascus. [...]

Yet one of the real victors in a post-Aleppo peace deal would also be Iran, which has been supporting the Syrian regime for the past five years and has been recruiting a series of militias from Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Arab states to fight alongside the Syrian army. In doing so, Iran has enforced a sectarian divide, with its Shia forces allying with Syria's Alawite regime against the rebels, who are predominantly Sunni but also include other groups. 

Iranian forces have become a critical element in Assad's dramatic recent successes in the war. In late November, an Iranian official acknowledged that large numbers of Iranian fighters have been killed in Syria. "Now the number of Iran's martyrs as defenders of [the] shrine has exceeded 1,000," Mohammadali Shahidi Mahallati, head of Iran's Foundation of Martyrs, which offers financial support to the relatives of those killed fighting in Syria, told an Iranian news agency.

Iran labels its Shia fighters in Syria "defenders of the shrine," referring to Sayyida Zainab, a mosque near Damascus where a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. The new Iranian death toll was much higher than the four hundred reported at the beginning of the summer--a clear sign of Iran's stepped-up involvement and also that the Syrian regime is chronically short of manpower. And showing the extent to which Iran has created a broader Shia front in Syria, Mahallati also admitted that the largest number of foreign fighters killed in August were Afghan Shias whom Iran had enlisted--although he did not refer to any number.

A US-Russia deal on Syria would be seen by many Syrians and by the Arab countries in the region as a surrender to Tehran, allowing the Islamic Republic to consolidate its influence across the Levant.

Leaving the Alawites with their rump state and elections to choose who they want to lead them. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Will Total deal pave way for other oil majors' return to Iran? (Al-Monitor, 12/01/16)

French energy giant Total SA is back in Iran, six years after it was forced to halt its operations due to nuclear-related sanctions on Tehran. Leading a consortium with China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and Petropars, the company signed a heads of agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) worth $4.8 billion to develop phase 11 of the giant South Pars natural gas field. The project is expected to produce 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The preliminary agreement, due to be finalized by early 2017, gives Total a 50.1% stake. Other consortium members CNPC and NIOC subsidiary Petropars will take 30% and 19.9%, respectively.

The gas field, which is divided into 29 development phases on the Iranian side, is the world's largest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Inventor of General Tso's Chicken, Chef Peng Chang-Kuei, is dead at 98  (CONSTANCE GIBBS, 12/02/16, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Peng spent most of his life in the kitchen, first as a banquet chef for the Nationalists before they were ousted by Mao's Communists in 1949.

Peng fled the revolution and ended up in Taiwan, where he continued as a top government cook. His date with destiny came in 1952 when he was assigned to prepare a meal for visiting U.S. Admiral Arthur W. Radford, who had been a guest of Peng on prior visits.

The master chef wanted to create an entirely new item for the dignitary and the resulting battered chicken in a spicy sweet sauce was dubbed "General Tso's Chicken" in honor of the legendary Qing Dynasty military and political leader Zuo Zongtang, who died in glory in 1885.

Peng moved to New York in 1973 and opened his own restaurant, Peng Garden, on E. 44th St. near the United Nations -- where then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger raved about the General Tso's chicken, which Peng once admitted in an interview he had reformulated to be sweeter in deference to the American palate.

December 2, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


Republicans are suddenly confronted with the notion of responsibility. And they're terrified. (Paul Waldman, December 2, 2016, The Week)

The truth Republicans are confronting is that while this thing called "ObamaCare" is unpopular in the abstract, most of the things ObamaCare does are quite popular. Just look at these results from the Kaiser Family Foundation's latest tracking poll on the law:

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Even Republicans like most of the law, which may be why only 26 percent of respondents in that poll said that it should be repealed. And if you take all those popular provisions away, people aren't going to be too pleased. Remember what a big deal Republicans made out of the fact that a small number of people getting coverage on the individual market had to change plans after the ACA went into effect? Now imagine 20 million people losing their coverage all at once, while the rest of us lose the security we've enjoyed for the last few years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Report: Iran owns 4.5% share in German company building Israeli subs (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 2, 2016)

An Iranian government company owns 4.5 percent of the German shipbuilding company at the center of a scandal over its provision of submarines and other services to the Israel Navy, the Hebrew-language newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Hillary Clinton's "Corrupt Establishment" Is Now Advising Donald Trump (Zaid Jilani, December 2 2016, The Intercept)

Now, less than four weeks after riding that line to victory, he formally invited the establishment into his administration.

On Friday, Trump announced the creation of a "Strategic and Policy Forum" that will serve to advise him on domestic economic matters. The list of advisers is a who's-who of corporate elites.

He's not the only one making a major turnaround; many of them had previously and enthusiastically supported his Democratic opponent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


U.S. greenlights Norwegian Air flights in blow to U.S. industry (Jeffrey Dastin, 12/02/16, Reuters)

U.S. airlines and unions have said the subsidiary, Norwegian Air International, would undermine U.S. wages and working standards, claims Norwegian has dismissed.

The accusations have come as a fare war has escalated over the Atlantic, forcing large and established airlines to consider chopping prices, redesigning cabins and adding restrictions to win budget-conscious vacationers back from the likes of Norwegian.

The contrast of our free marketeer President with the protectionist president-elect is hilarious.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


But... Wait... The Good Guys Won't Win With More Crony Capitalism (Gov. Sarah Palin, December 2, 2016, Young Conservatives)

When government steps in arbitrarily with individual subsidies, favoring one business over others, it sets inconsistent, unfair, illogical precedent. Meanwhile, the invisible hand that best orchestrates a free people's free enterprise system gets amputated. Then, special interests creep in and manipulate markets. Republicans oppose this, remember? Instead, we support competition on a level playing field, remember? Because we know special interest crony capitalism is one big fail.

Politicians picking and choosing recipients of corporate welfare is railed against by fiscal conservatives, for it's a hallmark of corruption. And socialism. The Obama Administration dealt in it in spades. Recall Solyndra, Stimulus boondoggles, and all their other taxpayer-subsidized anchors on our economy. A $20 trillion debt-ridden country can't afford this sinfully stupid practice, so vigilantly guard against its continuance, or we're doomed.

Reaganites learned it is POLICY change that changes economic trajectory. Reagan's successes were built on establishing a fiscal framework that invigorated our entire economy, revitalized growth and investment while decreasing spending, tax rates, over-reaching regulations, unemployment, and favoritism via individual subsidies. We need Reaganites in the new Administration.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Trump's Breezy Calls to World Leaders Leave Diplomats Aghast (MARK LANDLER, DEC. 1, 2016, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has generated the most angst, because, as Mr. Earnest put it, the relationship between Mr. Sharif's country and the United States is "quite complicated," with disputes over issues ranging from counterterrorism to nuclear proliferation.

In a remarkably candid readout of the phone call, the Pakistani government said Mr. Trump had told Mr. Sharif that he was "a terrific guy" who made him feel as though "I'm talking to a person I have known for long." He described Pakistanis as "one of the most intelligent people." When Mr. Sharif invited him to visit Pakistan, the president-elect replied that he would "love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people."

The Trump transition office, in its more circumspect readout, said only that Mr. Trump and Mr. Sharif "had a productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future." It did not confirm or deny the Pakistani account of Mr. Trump's remarks.

The breezy tone of the readout left diplomats in Washington slack-jawed, with some initially assuming it was a parody. 

December 1, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


The Secret Movement to Draft General James Mattis for President : Gen. James Mattis doesn't necessarily want to be president--but that's not stopping a group of billionaire donors from hatching a plan to get him there. (Tim Mak, 04.08.16, Daily Beast)

An anonymous group of conservative billionaires is ready to place their bets on a man dubbed "Mad Dog," hoping to draft him into the presidential race to confront Donald Trump. [...]

But this situation involves far bigger players: Close to a dozen influential donors--involving politically-involved billionaires with deep pockets and conservative leanings--are ready to put their resources behind Mattis. At their request, a small group of political operatives have taken the first steps in the strategic legwork needed for a bid: a package of six strategic memos outlining how Mattis could win the race, in hopes of coaxing him in.
The general has received the package of memos, according to two individuals involved with the project.

[W]eekly Standard editor Bill Kristol poured fuel onto the fire Feb. 22, after Trump victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Speaking at a fundraiser for the Hoover Institute, where Mattis is a visiting fellow, Kristol suggested--perhaps jokingly--that the former four-star general might be conscripted into the race. [...]

The pro-Mattis donors, who want to stay anonymous for the time being, have assembled a core group of seven political operatives, led by Joel Searby, a Republican consultant based in Florida. The group of strategists also includes lead attorney Mohammad Jazil; ballot access specialist Matthew Sawyer; and former George W. Bush pollster Jan Lohuizen, along with a finance team and a "top firm" that has been secured to lead the ballot access petition gathering, members of the team tell The Daily Beast.

Wilson and Noonan co-authored a memo on how Mattis might capitalize on the current media environment, arguing that Trump's "fake-macho act falls apart" before a bona fide American hero like Mattis. The general's overall bearing "immediately blows a hole into the central narrative of Trump: his toughness," they argue in a memo obtained by The Daily Beast. "[A]nd the drama of watching it fall apart under fire would be amazing television."

Comparing him to President Dwight Eisenhower, the memo concludes that Mattis has "all the iconoclastic, authentic style of non-politician Trump--and all the serious government service credibility of Hillary Clinton."

Some conservatives, disgusted with Trump's candidacy, have already warmed to the idea of a run by Mattis--including conservative commentators Erick Erickson and Kristol.

God Bless Mike Pence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


High school heroes recreate the pill Martin Shkreli priced at $750 for a measly $20 (Next Web, 12/01/16)

The resourceful high-schoolers successfully recreated Daraprim's key ingredient in their school lab. What's particularly impressive is that the teenage collective managed to produce 3.7 grams of the compound Pyrimethamine for about $15 (or AU$20).

The Sydney Grammar School pupils told ABC Australia they wanted to draw attention to the awfully inflated price of the drug, which student Milan Leonard described as "ridiculous."

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


ADL Reverses on Keith Ellison, Now Opposes His DNC Leadership Bid : The anti-bigotry watchdog drew the line when audio surfaced of Ellison claiming that U.S. foreign policy is 'governed' by Israeli interests. Its stance poses a test for the left and the organization itself. (Yair Rosenberg, December 1, 2016, The Tablet)

[E]arlier this week, new audio came to light that has altered the ADL's stance. In a 2010 speech at a private fundraiser released by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Ellison was recorded saying:

The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes. Can I say that again?

This sort of conspiracy theorizing about the Jewish state's immense power has been debunked at some length, and looks particularly foolish in light of the Iran deal that was passed over Israel's very public objections. In response, the ADL reversed course on Ellison this afternoon, calling his remarks "deeply disturbing and disqualifying"

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


'The Mother of All Deals': Abe Could Gift Trump a Trade Pact : A bilateral trade deal between the U.S. and Japan would leave other would-be TPP members behind. (Anthony Fensom, November 30, 2016, The Diplomat)

Both Abe and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have reportedly attempted to convince Trump to stick to the pact, which took over a decade to negotiate and encompasses some 40 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Abe was the first foreign leader to meet the new U.S. president-in-waiting after his upset election victory, presenting him with a set of golf clubs, with some suggesting that Trump could enlist Abe as his "man in Asia."

"I think they both have a track record of pragmatism. Pragmatism on both sides is going to make their relationship somewhat productive," Stephen Nagy, associate professor of politics and international affairs at the International Christian University in Tokyo, told Australia's ABC News.

Despite Trump's pledge, Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has vowed to have the TPP ratified by Japan's parliament by mid-December, underscoring the nation's support for the pact. According to Japan's Nikkei, Japanese public opinion on the TPP is evenly split, with 37 percent in favor and 37 percent against, although Abe's Cabinet has retained a high public approval rating of 58 percent.

Australia's leader also spoke to Trump soon after the U.S. presidential elections, saying he was confident the president-elect would maintain his nation's influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

"That commitment, I am certain, will continue," Turnbull said. Both leaders entered into politics after making their fortunes in business - a similarity noted by the center-right Australian leader.

"I suppose as both being businessmen who found our way into politics, somewhat later in life, we come to the problems of our own nations and indeed world problems with a pragmatic approach," Turnbull said.

The Australian leader has also noted the "strong support among the other 11 parties to the TPP to ratify it and to seek to bring it into force."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


McDonald's unveils new job-killing self-service machines thanks to 'Fight for $15' (Brandon Morse, November 29, 2016, The Blaze)

It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone with a slim understanding of economics that driving up costs for businesses means bad news for customers and employees alike. In terms of driving up wages by force, there were only two results that could follow. Either that business was going to have to lay off employees in order to afford their work force, or find a way to circumvent having employees in the first place.

In the case of the major fast food chain McDonald's, they took the latter path and rolled out a shiny new line of self-service machines that allow you to order your food without the need for employees at a register.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Can this man save France from the far right? (Christine Ockrent, November 30, 2016, Washington Post)

Fillon is bad news for the far right. He would not commit the mistake of Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president he defeated in the first round, by copying Le Pen's oratory or her Trump-style "anti-system" populism. On the contrary, a practicing Catholic with five children, the president of "Les Républicains" is the embodiment of the French establishment, entrenched in old bourgeois, provincial tradition.

An elected politician since the age of 27, Fillon has quietly and consistently played to concerns about identity and values, which have proved to be more acute than pollsters had assumed. He has condemned Islamism and pleaded against multiculturalism on the premise that citizens have to abide by the same principles whatever their origins or religion. The noise and rattle of Le Pen's arguments, with their subtle racial overtones, do not go down quite as well. The shift already shows: according to the first polls conducted since last Sunday, Fillon would defeat Le Pen if elections were to be held now.

The National Front leader has been prompt to realize she has no other choice but to attack Fillon on his economic and social platform. The bazookas are ready: Isn't he the "ultra-liberal" disciple of that English witch Margaret Thatcher? Hasn't he promised to erase 500,000 jobs in the public sector, curb the unions, end the 35-hour workweek and even revisit the welfare system? That could be more than enough to energize the blue-collar workers, teachers and civil servants who have enlarged the core of the far right.

The paradox is that the Socialist party would use exactly the same arguments against Fillon -- if only it had a leader. 

Actually, that's just a dox.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Republicans suddenly discover that Obamacare repeal might not be so awesome, after all (Greg Sargent, November 30, 2016, Washington Post)

Talking Points Memo has a good piece that captures the contortions this is forcing Republicans to put themselves through right now. There are a number of questions they are trying to resolve: How can we keep protections for people with preexisting conditions while scrapping the mandate that keeps the insurance pool from getting too old and sick? How much can be repealed through "reconciliation" and a simple-majority Senate vote? All of those are difficult problems.

But I wanted to focus for the moment on one particular question: What will Republican legislators from states that have expanded Medicaid do? Note this quote that TPM got from Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from Trump-friendly West Virginia:

"I'm from a state that has an expanded Medicaid population that I am very concerned about....I don't want to throw them off into the cold, and I don't think that's a strategy that I want to see. It's too many people. That's over 200,000 people in my state. So we need a transition. I think we'll repeal and then we'll work during the transition period for the replacement vehicle."

Capito knows that repeal would mean 200,000 of her constituents lose health coverage. And it turns out there are many other GOP Senators in a similar situation.

Oh, yeah, that's why he followed the Heritage Foundation plan....
Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM