January 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Trump Picks Neil Gorsuch, A Scalia Clone, For The Supreme Court (Oliver Roeder and Harry Enten, 1/31/17, 538)

Gorsuch is a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Denver-based federal court that covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, as well as the portions of Yellowstone National Park that extend into Montana and Idaho. He was appointed to the position by George W. Bush in 2006 and was confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote.

He attended Harvard Law School, as well as Columbia and Oxford, and clerked for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court. (White retired in 1993 and died in 2002.) It's the sort of gleaming ivory C.V. that was largely absent from the rest of Trump's shortlist. Academically, Gorsuch would fit right in: Every current justice attended law school at either Harvard or Yale. But if he's confirmed, it would be the first time a justice and his former clerk sat together on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch is 49. The youngest member of the current court, Justice Elena Kagan, is 56.

Ideologically, Gorsuch would almost certainly represent a reliably conservative vote and voice, restoring the tenuous balance on the court that existed before Scalia's death. According to "judicial common space" scores, developed by a team of political scientists and legal scholars, Gorsuch would be the most conservative justice save for the silent stalwart Justice Clarence Thomas and would sit somewhere just to the right of the ideological space occupied by Scalia.

Neil Gorsuch: A Worthy Heir to Scalia Judge Neil Gorsuch (RAMESH PONNURU,, 1/31/17, National Review)

Gorsuch's tie to Justice Kennedy, frequently a swing vote on the Supreme Court, may also be an asset. If Gorsuch can persuade Kennedy to join an opinion, a narrow loss for the conservative position could become a narrow win. There is also the possibility that Gorsuch's presence would reassure Kennedy about the direction of the Court and make him more willing to let Trump name his own replacement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Statement of Linda A. Klein, ABA president, Re: Recent executive orders on immigration
WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2017 -- Our nation has the right to protect its borders to keep our citizens safe. At the same time, protecting the rights of the most vulnerable is an important tenet of our country.  We do both within the bounds of our Constitution and the rights it secures.

The American Bar Association is concerned by significant portions of the immigration-related executive orders issued on January 25 and 27, 2017, regarding border security, immigration enforcement and terrorism.  Together, they make significant changes to our nation's immigration policies and jeopardize fundamental principles of justice, due process and the rule of law. 

Our nation must protect the rights secured by the U.S. Constitution, including those of noncitizens.  Drawing on the 14th Amendment and other provisions, the Supreme Court has held that many of these rights cover all "persons" within the United States, regardless of citizenship or status.

While every sovereign nation has the right to secure its borders, any specific enforcement efforts must avoid sweeping bans based on religion or national origin. 

The Jan. 25 executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement will likely have an even larger impact on our immigration system. The orders call for the establishment of new detention facilities along the southwest border, already at an all-time high, and require that all persons be detained throughout their removal proceedings.  Detention is a serious deprivation of liberty that separates families. The ABA therefore opposes detention except in extraordinary circumstances, such as a threat to public safety or flight risk.

The order further expands the use of expedited removal through which an individual can be deported without an opportunity for a hearing before an immigration judge.  The ABA maintains that removal decisions should be made only by impartial adjudicators, preferably immigration judges, following a formal hearing that conforms with accepted norms of due process. Under the rule of law, we owe due process to all, including those who face deportation.

The ABA has an interest and responsibility to protect the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and ensure the sanctity of the rule of law. Our association sponsors projects along the southern border that provide legal information and representation to detained, indigent adults and children and provide training and technical assistance to pro bono attorneys and legal service providers. All of this to ensure access to justice for all.

The Jan. 27 executive order--which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocks refugees and other citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days--raises several constitutional questions. Some of these have already been challenged in federal court. Additional litigation is bound to follow.

This order comes at a time when we are witnessing the highest levels of refugee displacement since World War II. It seriously disrupts our nation's immigration system and calls into question the United States as a leader in protecting the world's refugees.

Unfortunately, the haste of the order's implementation has also created confusion among the very agencies assigned to implement and enforce it. The lack of clarity has added to the chaos and caused panic among affected families and communities.

We applaud the numerous lawyers across the country who have flocked to airports where immigrants were detained to ensure that they received due process and equal protection under the law. The legal profession in the United States and the ABA are dedicated to safeguarding the rights of those in need of protection.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


First on CNN: Trump bringing Supreme Court favorites to Washington (Ariane de Vogue and Pamela Brown,  January 31, 2017, CNN)

The two judges who have been considered the top finalists to be President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court -- Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman -- are being brought to Washington ahead of tonight's White House announcement, sources tell CNN.

...but do these two not respect the Court either?

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


White Supremacist Cheers Trump's 'De-Judification' of Holocaust (Sam Kestenbaum, January 31, 2017, The Forward)

For Richard Spencer, the leading ideologue of the "alt-right," Donald Trump's Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism was an important, perhaps revolutionary, step.

Spencer dubbed it the "de-Judification" of the Holocaust. [...]

While other influential members of the movement, like Andrew Anglin, clearly identify with Nazis (Anglin's Daily Stormer website is named after the Nazi propaganda sheet Der Stürmer), Spencer says he is no a Nazi and denies the label that is often attributed to him, preferring the term "identitarian," a reference to a far right political movement that has roots in France.

Spencer dismissed Jewish responses to Trump's statement as "kvetching," using a Yiddish term for complaining.

In speaking about Hitler and the Holocaust, Spencer has also elided Jewish suffering, telling the Daily Caller that "terrible things were done to many different people during that terrible war."

He also does not outright condemn Hitler, calling him a "historical figure." "He's done things that I think are despicable," Spencer told the Daily Caller, but did not go into details. "I'm not going to play this game."

In Spencer's eyes, the "de-Judefication" of the Holocaust is a quintessentially "Trumpian" statement. Spencer championed Trump through the presidential campaign -- and though he has been critical of the president at times, seems to have come around to Trump.

"Trump is a white nationalist, so to speak, he is alt-right whether he likes it or not," Spencer in a recent interview on "The David Pakman Show."

...it is the notion that you should not be allowed to call out racism because the supremacist gets to play the Hitler card.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


The Top Threat to the US Economy? A Trump Trade War (Steve Liesman, 1/31/17, CNBC)

Concern about protectionism from President Donald Trump is clouding the outlook on Wall Street, with respondents to the January CNBC Fed Survey saying trade policies could overshadow the effects of the administration's pro-growth plans.

Protectionism is seen as the No. 1 threat to U.S. expansion by 51 percent of respondents, almost double the percentage from the December survey and the first time in the survey's history that any single concern has been expressed by a majority. It eclipses the 44 percent who were worried about global economic weakness early in 2016 -- concerns that sent markets into a nosedive.

"Investors can get behind pro-growth policies and can't and won't support protectionist policies," Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, said in response to the survey. "Trade wars, like all wars, end negatively for all."

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


CAN JARED AND IVANKA OUTRUN DONALD TRUMP'S SCANDALS? : Less than a fortnight into his new post, Kushner appears unable to control his father-in-law--and is "furious" that his efforts are being undermined (EMILY JANE FOX, JANUARY 30, 2017, Vanity Fair)

Little more than a week into the Trump presidency, the timing of the Friday sunset seems to be growing increasingly important. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and West Wing adviser, has been positioned as something of a mollifying presence upon his mercurial boss. "I have a feeling that Jared's going to do a great job. He's going to do a great job. You'll work with him," Trump recently declared at his pre-inaugural gala to assorted well-wishers and friends from the business community. In a White House split between those seemingly loyal to the Republican Party (Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the R.N.C., now Trump's chief of staff), and its rabid base (Breitbart chairman turned chief strategist Stephen Bannon), Kushner appeared to be a Valerie Jarrett type--a steady familiar voice who could suss out the signal from the noise.

Kushner, along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, is also an orthodox Jew who observes Shabbat. From sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, the couple abstains from technology and work. And early in the incipient Trump administration, that brief period has been unusually fraught. Last week, the president personally called the Park Service on the morning after his inauguration to inquire about the size of the crowds who came to watch him take the oath of office. He subsequently delivered a widely derided speech at C.I.A. headquarters that afternoon, during which he blathered on about the media's treatment of him and his inaugural crowd size. He then sent his press secretary, Sean Spicer, into the briefing room to falsely claim that it was the largest audience for an inauguration in history. During the tumult, some noticed the conspicuous absence of Kushner's allegedly calming presence. "He wasn't rolling calls on Saturday when this happened," one person close to Kushner told me last week. "To me, that's not a coincidence."

The timing of Trump's executive order on Friday, just moments before sundown, meant that Kushner would not be in the West Wing to absorb another cataclysmic Saturday. Indeed, Kushner observed the Sabbath as thousands of people protested outside airports across the country, children waited for their detained parents, lawyers rushed to federal court rooms, taxi drivers went on strike, and one Democratic leader broke down in tears on live television. [...]

[A]ccording to a source familiar with the situation, Kushner's influence on his boss may be flagging. Last week, Kushner spent 24 hours trying to broker a meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The source said that Kushner was even considering flying to Mexico in order to convince Peña Nieto, who had butted heads with Trump over various issues, to travel to the White House. Ultimately, Peña Nieto agreed--a feat Kushner presented to his father-in-law on Wednesday night. It was his first real victory in the West Wing in his role as senior adviser, and it would be a major step toward turning one of Trump's main campaign promises into a reality.

Less than 12 hours later, though, it all fell apart. After Peña Nieto reiterated that Mexico does not plan to pay for Trump's proposed wall, Trump tweeted that if Mexico is "unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting." Just like that, the meeting was canceled. "Kushner was f[***]g furious," the source told me. "I'd never once heard him say he was angry throughout the entire campaign. But he was furious." (A representative for the Trump administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Kushner also appears to have already endured the physical toll of the job. He has become pale, the source noted. His body language and his demeanor toward Trump had changed, and he had lost a noticeable amount of weight from his already slight frame in just a week. 

Just how the alt-right likes them....
Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Breitbart still hasn't launched in France, and an activist has bought its URLs (Amar Toor, Jan 31, 2017, The Verge)

[B]reitbart still has yet to launch a French-language website. A 22-year-old student is hoping to keep it that way.

The student, who asked to be identified only as Antonin, bought the domain name breitbart.fr following the US election, along with two other related domains: breitbartnews.fr and breitbartnewsnetwork.fr. In an interview at a cafe outside Paris on Saturday, Antonin said he bought the domains in a bid to limit Breitbart's influence over the French presidential elections, which begin in April.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Israelis born in Arab states excluded from Trump travel ban -- US embassy (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 31, 2017)

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv has clarified that President Donald Trump's travel ban will largely not affect the tens of thousands of Israeli Jews born in Middle Eastern countries.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Robot Baristas Serve Up the Future of Coffee at Cafe X (GEOFFREY A. FOWLER, Jan. 30, 2017, WSJ)

At San Francisco's new Cafe X, the barista doesn't make small talk or sport a hip mustache. But its industrial-strength claw sure knows espresso drinks.

Cafe X is a new breed of coffee shop pushing the boundaries of automation both to make food and to serve it.

It is mesmerizing efficiency. Tap your desired beverage, flavor and artisanal bean on a phone or kiosk screen. That beams the order to the robot, which uses a Mitsubishi six-axis arm to grab a cup, pump in some syrup and pop it in front of one of its coffee-brewing cores, which grind beans and foam milk into an espresso confection. In 22 to 55 seconds, depending on the order, the arm lowers the cup on a hydraulic pedestal, revealing your coffee like the Batmobile heading out of the Batcave.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Little National Security Benefit to Trump's Executive Order on Immigration (ALEX NOWRASTEH, 1/25/17, Cato)
Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.  Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemini have been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Zero Libyans or Syrians have been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil during that time period.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


SEAL, American Girl Die in First Trump-Era U.S. Military Raid (ROBERT WINDREM, WILLIAM M. ARKIN, COURTNEY KUBE and CHARLENE GUBASH, 1/31/17, NBC)

Contrary to earlier reporting, the senior military official said, the raid was Trump's first clandestine strike -- not a holdover mission approved by President Barack Obama. The mission involved "boots on the ground" at an al Qaeda camp near al Bayda in south central Yemen, the official said.

"Almost everything went wrong," the official said.

An MV-22 Osprey experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground, as were some noncombatants, including females.

Defense Secretary James Mattis had to leave one of Washington's biggest annual social events, the Alfalfa Club Dinner, to deal with the repercussions, according to the official. He did not return.

Thanks, President Carter Trump...

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Steve Bannon Is Making Sure There's No White House Paper Trail, Says Intel Source : The Trump administration's chief strategist has already taken control of both policy and process on national security. (KATE BRANNEN, JANUARY 30, 2017, Politico)

"He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC," the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what's being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized. [...]

The lack of a paper trail documenting the decision-making process is also troubling, the intelligence official said. For example, under previous administrations, after a principals or deputies meeting of the National Security Council, the discussion, the final agreement, and the recommendations would be written up in what's called a "summary of conclusions" -- or SOC in government-speak.

"Under [President George W. Bush], the National Security Council was quite strict about recording SOCs," said Matthew Waxman, a law professor at Columbia University who served on Bush's National Security Council. "There was often a high level of generality, and there may have been some exceptions, but they were carefully crafted."

These summaries also provided a record to refer back to, especially important if a debate over an issue came up again, including among agencies that needed to implement the conclusions reached.

If someone thought the discussion was mischaracterized, he or she would call for a correction to be issued to set the record straight, said Loren DeJonge Schulman, who previously served in former President Barack Obama's administration as a senior advisor to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Schulman is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

"People took the document seriously," she said.

During the first week of the Trump administration, there were no SOCs, the intelligence official said. In fact, according to him, there is surprisingly very little paper being generated, and whatever paper there is, the NSC staff is not privy to it. He sees this as a deterioration of transparency and accountability.

"It would worry me if written records of these meeting were eliminated, because they contribute to good governance," Waxman said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Immigrants From Banned Nations: Educated, Mostly Citizens and Found in Every State (FORD FESSENDEN, JASMINE C. LEE, SERGIO PEÇANHA and ANJALI SINGHVI, JAN. 30, 2017, NY Times)

As a whole, residents from the seven predominantly Muslim countries, especially Iranians and the small group of Libyans, are better educated than the rest of America. People from Syria and Sudan also tend to be better educated than the national average. [...]

Most United States residents from these seven countries have become citizens, a rate higher than that of the foreign-born population in the country as a whole. A small number, about 10,000, have served in the American military.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Make China Great Again (David Leonhardt JAN. 31, 2017, NY Times)

One clear beneficiary has been ISIS, which has spent years trying to persuade Muslims that the United States is at war with Islam. ISIS wants to eliminate the world's "gray zone," the places where Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews live in harmony.

No wonder that ISIS-affiliated social media gleefully posted President Trump's executive order this weekend, as Rukmini Callimachi of The Times reported. Trump's call for a Muslim ban, like his unsubtle attempt to implement one, plays right into ISIS' desire to eliminate the gray zone. The president of the United States himself now seems to agree that Muslims and non-Muslims can't live together.

Besides the immorality and apparent illegality of Trump's order, it's worth weighing the strategic effects as well. Yes, it is conceivable that barring visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would keep out a future terrorist. But it's highly unlikely.

They are already intensely vetted, and previous attackers have generally come from other countries. "The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks," as dozens of American diplomats wrote, in a dissenting draft memo that leaked. Instead, "it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and" -- because of the chilling effect on travel -- "a threat towards our economy."

So any strategic benefits are tiny while the costs are substantial: Trump has just helped ISIS recruiters. He has angered Iraq, France and others battling ISIS. He's started a new argument in the Middle East, which long distracted the United States. Most alarmingly, he has undercut our claim to stand for larger principles -- freedom, rule of law, even basic competence.

This undermining of both American values and interests has been an early theme of the administration. And the ultimate beneficiary is not likely to be ISIS. Although it poses serious threats, it is not a serious rival to the United States. The ultimate beneficiary is instead likely to be America's biggest global rival: China.

The damage he's doing is gratuitous, not existential.
Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Icelandic Athlete Denied Entry to US (VALA HAFSTAÐ, January 31, 2017, Iceland Review)

Meisam Rafiei is an Icelandic citizen, born in Iran and carrying dual citizenship. He has competed for Iceland numerous times at major tournaments, including a world championship and European championship. He was the world youth champion in 2002 and the Nordic champion in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


The Babel Story Is About Speaking the Truth (PETE JERMANN, 1/31/17, Crisis)

As a small child the tale of Babel's tower seemed a large story, one filled with men who were wicked and a god who was powerful. Yet the actual biblical account is tersely told in only nine lines. It turns out that the actual text does not reflect the grandeur of a child's imagination. In its brevity, man is less wicked and God is much smaller. Certainly, the hubris remains in man's search for a "name for ourselves." God, however, perceives mankind as a threat: "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" (Gen 11:6). God counters man's arrogance by fragmenting his common language into many, dividing and destroying the nascent power that threatens his own.

This doesn't seem quite right. This is neither a God of love nor of infinite power. Rather, he is man writ large, powerful yet finite. Where is the inspired truth in this story? Through the revelations that follow Genesis and end with Jesus, any man now living can see what even the inspired author of Genesis could not see, a God who gives everything to renew the communion sundered by Adam's fall.

Indeed, He only becomes the God worthy of our reciprocal love when He dies as one of us and achieves full understanding of our mortal plight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


LeGarrette Blount: From One Stoplight to the Super Bowl Spotlight : The bruising Patriots running back's NFL journey took a two-year detour through tiny Scooba, Miss., about as far from big game--psychologically, at least--as you can get (Jennry Vrentas, 1/30/17, TheMMQB)

For two years, LeGarrette Blount's life was mostly contained within a distance not much longer than a few football fields.

The campus of East Mississippi Community College can be lapped in about five minutes by a good miler, and when Blount was a student here he slept in a dorm so close to the football stadium that it's barely out of range of a wide-right field goal. His home was Sullivan Hall, a two-story brown brick building with olive green doors that looks like a roadside motel. Blount made a name for himself right across the street at the old Sullivan-Windham Field, a plot of grass flanked by a chainlink fence and seven rows of bleachers.

EMCC's football games were, and still are, played on Thursday nights. With no classes on Fridays, students flock out of this tiny town (population less than 1,000) for the weekends. Plus, in this part of the country, Friday nights are for high school lights, and Saturdays are reserved for the SEC. In the fall of 2006 and 2007, the grand stage of Super Bowl Sunday couldn't have felt farther away for Blount than it did in this tiny town near the Alabama border marked by a single flashing red light.

This is just the second four-way stop on U.S. 45 in the 55 miles from Starksville, Miss., so says one campus employee. Scooba's "downtown" consists of a pair of gas stations at the intersection, catty-corner from a sign that announces: "Birthplace of World Champion Turkey Caller Jack Lewis Dudley." The big news in town right now is the pending opening of a Dollar General store right behind Scooba's main restaurant, the Subway at the Chevron station.
Scooba's other claim to fame.

"If you are going to Scooba, Miss.," says Roger Carr, who was Blount's head coach at East Mississippi, "you are going there just to find it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS (Luke Mogelson, Jan. 30th, 2017, The New Yorker)

When the campaign to expel the Islamic State from Mosul began, on October 17th, the Nineveh Province SWAT team was deployed far from the action, in the village of Kharbardan. For weeks, the élite police unit, made up almost entirely of native sons of Mosul, had been patrolling a bulldozed trench that divided bleak and vacant enemy-held plains from bleak and vacant government-held plains. The men, needing a headquarters, had commandeered an abandoned mud-mortar house whose primary charm was its location: the building next door had been obliterated by an air strike, and the remains of half a dozen Islamic State fighters--charred torsos, limbs, and heads--still littered the rubble.

The SWAT-team members huddled around a lieutenant with a radio, listening to news of the offensive. The Kurdish Army, or peshmerga, was advancing toward Mosul from the north; various divisions of the Iraqi military were preparing a push from the south. More than a hundred thousand soldiers, policemen, and government-sanctioned-militia members were expected to participate in the fight to liberate Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. It had been occupied since June, 2014, and was now home to about six thousand militants from the Islamic State, or ISIS. The SWAT-team members were desperate to join the battle. They called relatives in Mosul, chain-smoked cigarettes, and excoriated the war planners, from Baghdad, who seemed to have forgotten them. Major Mezher Sadoon, the deputy commander, urged patience: the campaign would unfold in stages. At forty-six, he had a flattop and a paintbrush mustache that were equal parts black and gray. He had been shot in the face in Mosul, in 2004, and since then his jaw had been held together by four metal pins. The deformed bone caused his speech to slur--subtly when he spoke at a normal pace and volume (rare), and severely when he was angry or excited (often). Many villages surrounding Mosul had to be cleared before forces could retake the city, Mezher told his men. Holding out his hands, he added, "When you kill a chicken, first you have to boil it. Then you have to pluck it. Only after that do you get to butcher it."

Few of the policemen seemed reassured by the analogy. They were hungry, and they'd been waiting to butcher this chicken for a long time. The SWAT team was created in 2008 and, in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, conducted raids in Mosul to arrest high-value terrorism suspects. After the American withdrawal from the country, in 2011, the unit hunted down insurgents on its own.

In early 2014, ISIS attacked the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Falluja. Then, riding out of Syria in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, the militants stormed Mosul. They had aspired merely to secure a couple of the city's western neighborhoods, but they quickly reached the Tigris River, which snakes south through the middle of Mosul. Along the way, they overran several military bases, seizing the heavy weapons, armored vehicles, and ammunition depots inside them. The SWAT team, which at the time was based at a compound near the Mosul airport, consisted of roughly eighty men, only half of whom were on duty. As ISIS surged through the city, the commander of the SWAT team, Lieutenant Colonel Rayyan Abdelrazzak, consolidated his troops in the Mosul Hotel, a ten-story terraced building on the western bank of the Tigris. The SWAT team held the position for four days, while the thirty thousand Army soldiers stationed in Mosul--nearly all of whom came from elsewhere in Iraq--ditched their weapons and fled. On the fifth day, a water tanker loaded with explosives detonated outside the hotel, killing three SWAT-team members and wounding twenty-five. Rayyan and the survivors retreated to the airport compound.

A detention facility next to the compound contained approximately nine hundred convicted terrorists, many of whom had been apprehended by the SWAT team. With the fall of Mosul imminent, Rayyan's men loaded two hundred and fifty-six of the inmates into vans and spirited them out of the city. The captives they had to leave behind were freed by ISIS the next day. A week later, so were the two hundred and fifty-six, when the town to which Rayyan had transferred them also fell to ISIS.

In the areas it controls, ISIS typically offers Iraqi security forces a kind of amnesty by means of an Islamic procedure called towba, in which one repents and pledges allegiance to the Caliphate. But the SWAT team was not eligible for towba. "We had killed too many of them," Rayyan told me. Some members of the force who had not been at the Mosul Hotel escaped to Kurdistan, but, among those who failed to make it out of the city, twenty-six were rounded up and executed.

Eventually, the chief of police for Nineveh Province, whose capital is Mosul, reconstituted his forces at a spartan base north of the city. Rayyan brought the remnants of the SWAT team there, and began enlisting new volunteers. Aside from martial aptitude, there were two principal requirements for recruits: they had to have been wounded by ISIS or its Islamist precursors--either physically, by bullets and blasts, or psychically, by the death of a loved one--and they had to crave revenge. 

...if we'd allowed them to take revenge in the first place. 
Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Watch Jeff Sessions urge the attorney general Trump just fired to resist a president's unlawful orders (The Week, 1/31/17)

Yates had been planning to leave the department a few days after the Senate confirmed Trump's nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and she reportedly knew her letter could lead to her early termination. But sometimes "the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper." That last quote is from Jeff Sessions -- whose protégés reportedly wrote Trump's executive order -- talking to Yates at her deputy attorney general Senate confirmation hearing in March 2015. "If the views a president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or deputy attorney general say no?" Sessions asked. "Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution," Yates replied.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Hill staffers secretly worked on Trump's immigration order : Several House Judiciary Committee aides helped craft the controversial directive without telling Republican leaders. (RACHAEL BADE, JAKE SHERMAN and JOSH DAWSEY 01/30/17, Politico)

Senior staffers on the House Judiciary Committee helped Donald Trump's top aides draft the executive order curbing immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, but the Republican committee chairman and party leadership were not informed, according to multiple sources involved in the process. [...]

The work of the committee aides began during the transition period after the election and before Donald Trump was sworn in. The staffers signed nondisclosure agreements, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Trump's transition operation forced its staff to sign these agreements, but it would be unusual to extend that requirement to congressional employees.

Sadly, that is more likely to move the Hill than the actual order.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Democrats should shut down the government until Trump reverses his Muslim ban (Paul Blest, January 31, 2017, The Week)

President Donald Trump's immigration executive orders -- and let's call them what they are: a Muslim ban -- represent the first of many constitutional crises that are going to unfold in the Trump era. For Democrats, this has to be a line in the sand: Any and all cooperation with Republicans has got to end, at least until the executive orders are reversed and heads roll for the hell the Trump administration put refugees, immigrants, and their families through this weekend; ideally, all cooperation would cease for the next four years. [...]

[O]n Saturday night, the ACLU won a nationwide temporary injunction against the order from District Court Judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn; judges in Massachusetts, Washington, and Virginia also ruled against the order.

In an unprecedented move, however, Trump and his administration simply decided not to comply with the judge's order.

During DHS Secretary John Kelly's confirmation hearing less than three weeks ago, he won rave reviews from some liberals for his stated willingness to break with Trump on several issues; this, however, hasn't been one of them, even as a federal judge orders Kelly's agency to stop enforcing Trump's order. In a surreal scene, multiple Democratic congressmen at Dulles International Airport were unable to speak with Customs and Border Patrol agents, and on Sunday night, Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin of Illinois called for an investigation into the failure to comply with court orders.

A plea to my fellow conservatives: Stand against Trump's immigration order (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Jan. 31st, 2017, The Weel)

I'll own up to it. For many conservatives, progressive tears are delicious. So many hysterics on the left have clearly decided that Trump is not just an adversary, but the capital-E Enemy. He is Darth Vader and the KKK rolled into one. These panicking liberals are melting down. So is much of the liberal-friendly media. And conservatives take a certain pleasure in that. I do. I admit it.

But none of this should blind conservatives to the truly bad things President Trump is doing. On these issues, it is incumbent on every true conservative to speak out. [...]

This order is also troubling because of the way it was implemented. The executive order was badly drafted, which suggests that its amateurish authors bypassed the White House Office of Legal Counsel. The order was issued without guidance, and on a Friday night, which led to chaos at airports, leaving local Customs and Border Patrol officials to essentially make up the rules as they went along, with no guidance from above. These snafus likely would have been avoided if the executive order had gone through the normal interagency process.

You don't have to fear a fascist coup to worry about an administration where people are just shooting from the hip all the time. If this is the regular order of doing business, the Trump administration will simply be a catastrophe.

Here's A Complete List of Republicans Who Don't Support Trump's Immigration/Refugee Executive Order (AARON BANDLER JANUARY 31, 2017, Daily Wire)

Numerous Republicans came out in opposition to the executive order or expressed serious concerns about the executive order.

Here is the full list of Republicans who don't support Trump's executive order.

January 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


AP: Trump's voter fraud expert registered in 3 states (GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press)

A man who President Donald Trump has promoted as an authority on voter fraud was registered to vote in multiple states during the 2016 presidential election, the Associated Press has learned.

Gregg Phillips, whose unsubstantiated claim that the election was marred by 3 million illegal votes was tweeted by the president, was listed on the rolls in Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, according to voting records and election officials in those states. He voted only in Alabama in November, records show.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


How Conan Doyle Landed on Sherlock Holmes and Why He's Stayed With Us : a review of ARTHUR AND SHERLOCK  : Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes  By Michael Sims  (Graham Moore, Jan. 26th, 2017, NY Times Book Review)

[H]ow did a 26-year-old doctor, with only two unpublished novels and a few ignored short stories under his belt, create, in the span of six weeks, the most enduring literary accomplishment of his generation?

This is the puzzle Michael Sims sets out to solve, with all the brilliance of Sherlock himself, in "Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes." Sims's magnificent work of scholarship isn't a birth-to-death biography of Conan Doyle but a more specific investigation into the events leading up to those fateful weeks in the late winter and early spring of 1886. From what personal adventures did Conan Doyle draw when he invented the world's first "consulting detective"? From whom did he derive inspiration?

Sims's narrative reads something like a superhero's origin story as we follow Conan Doyle from his poor childhood in Edinburgh through a medical education with an eccentric yet astonishingly astute diagnostician, a stint as the medical officer on a whaling ship, a medical practice established on shaky financial footing, a marriage and a first novel that was not merely unpublished but literally lost in the mail. Yet the omens of a blood-speckled creativity are there: An alcoholic father who stopped drinking away the family's few coins only when he was sent to live out his remaining days in a sanitarium; the teenage street brawls after which Arthur would boast not of winning but of having done the most damage to his opponent. While murder and police work were unknown to Conan Doyle by his 20s, violence most certainly was not.

In Sims's telling, the figure of Sherlock Holmes looms over Conan Doyle's early days like a Delphic prophecy. When we read of Conan Doyle's initial literary rejections, we know the riches and fame that will one day greet him. When we read of his fears and frustrations at not becoming the writer he hopes to be, we know that the success awaiting him is greater than anything of which he might dream.

Sims derives dramatic tension from this disconnect when, for example, he describes the advertisements for the first Holmes story, "A Study in Scarlet" -- with Conan Doyle's name misspelled. The initial reviews are middling. Finally there's an outright rave, which even manages to get his name right. Such moments serve as cliffhangers, closing out chapters. "This review ended with a prediction for Arthur: 'His book is bound to have many readers.' " That's one way of putting it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Why Your Business Should Ditch Cash (Christopher Mims, 1/29/17, WSJ)

After his business was robbed for the fifth time in just over three months, the owner of Park Cafe & Coffee Bar in Baltimore decided to do something that would have seemed radical for a neighborhood business just a few years ago: He stopped taking cash. It was a desperation move, but what happened next surprised owner David Hart. His sales didn't go down.

A much larger experiment conducted by salad chain Sweetgreen, which has 66 locations on both coasts, yielded the same result. After a year-long trial, the company has decided to go completely cashless in 2017, says a spokeswoman. There were many factors in its decision, from increased transaction speed to the unhygienic nature of cash, but the first reason Sweetgreen's spokeswoman cites is the same as Mr. Hart's--keeping employees safe by reducing the chance of robbery.

The U.S. has been slowly moving toward becoming a cashless society ever since the introduction of the first general-purpose credit cards in the 1950s. But, as many businesses are discovering, it's only now possible to ditch it altogether.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


'PATRIOT WAY' STILL GOING STRONG (Ross Tucker, 1/30/17, Sports on Earth)

What makes this season, and this team, even more impressive is Belichick's usage of castoffs from other franchises all over his roster. It's nothing short of remarkable.

Let's start on defense where the Patriots' best run defender, defensive tackle Alan Branch, is on his fourth team after New England signed him as a street free agent in the middle of the 2014 season. Like a lot of guys, he's gotten better each year during his time in Foxboro.

The Patriots also get solid contributions up front along the defensive line from Rams cap casualty Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard, a player the Browns allowed to walk after the 2014 season.

This doesn't even count defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who was cut numerous times by both the Saints and Dolphins before finding a permanent home in New England. That's old news at this point.

The linebacker level is more of the same where the Pats are getting productive play from former Bears first-round pick Shea McClellin and Lions second-round pick Kyle Van Noy. Neither the Bears nor the Lions could get anything out of either player, yet Belichick found ways to allow them to flourish. Van Noy, for example, has a very specific niche as a match-up guy in coverage against tight ends and running backs and is brought in when that need arises.

That is probably the best example of the difference between Belichick and most of the other teams around the NFL. While they primarily focus on what guys can't do, Belichick just figures out what they can do well and only asks them to do that. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


IS DONALD TRUMP JUST A PAWN IN STEVE BANNON'S GAME? : With his man in the White House, the architect of Trumpism takes a victory lap around the media. (EMILY JANE FOX, JANUARY 26, 2017, Vanity Fair)

With Trump in the White House, Bannon has found himself emboldened in a way that he could only dream of several months ago, when he stepped away from his "alt-right" media empire to join the struggling Trump campaign as its chief executive. Since taking the oath of office, Trump has mostly stayed close to Bannon's agenda--delivering an inaugural address written in part by Bannon himself that spoke gloomily of "American carnage" and shutting the nation off from the rest of the world in order to make it great again. He has signed executive orders, also written by Bannon, directing the federal government to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, shut out refugees, increase deportations, and begin the repeal of Obamacare.

None of it would have been possible had Trump not made an enemy of the media, sowing mistrust in the army of journalists tut-tutting his apocalyptic diatribes, his excoriation of immigrants, his fiery denunciations of the consensus on free trade. "You're the opposition party," Bannon said repeatedly in his interview with the Times, which the paper said he requested to defend Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who was upbraided by the media this week for lying to the press. "We think that's a badge of honor. 'Questioning [Spicer's] integrity'--are you kidding me?"

It's just one piece of Bannon's ideological game of chess, rewiring the media landscape to clear the path for a radical reimagining of conservative politics in line with his own nationalist agenda. The president himself, Bannon has admitted in the past, is just one piece of the puzzle. Trump is a "blunt instrument for us," Bannon told Ken Stern for Vanity Fair last summer. "I don't know whether he really gets it or not."

More than anyone else in his inner circle, Bannon has a good reason to use his boss. Sure, Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, now has an inconceivably large platform as a 36-year-old political novice. Conway, who has a longer history in politics, can probably parlay her White House gig into whatever gig she so chooses next, assuming the ship doesn't go down in flames while she is still on board. But Bannon, who jokingly refers to himself as "Darth Vader," is perhaps alone in viewing the Trump administration as a means to a specific philosophical end.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Trump's hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, January 30, 2017, Washington Post)

The early days of the Trump presidency have rushed a nationalist agenda long on the fringes of American life into action -- and Sessions, the quiet Alabaman who long cultivated those ideas as a Senate backbencher, has become a singular power in this new Washington.

Sessions's nomination as Trump's attorney general is scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, yet his influence in the administration extends far beyond the Justice Department. From immigration and health care to national security and trade, Sessions is the intellectual godfather of the president's policies. Sessions's reach extends throughout the White House, with his aides and allies accelerating the president's most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and migrants from seven mostly Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe.

The author of many of Trump's executive orders is senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a Sessions confidant who was mentored by him and who spent the weekend overseeing the government's implementation of the refu­gee ban. The tactician turning Trump's agenda into law is deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, Sessions's longtime chief of staff in the Senate. The mastermind behind Trump's incendiary brand of populism is chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who promoted Sessions for years as chairman of the Breitbart website.

 Sessions, left, and then-President-elect Donald Trump speak at a "USA Thank You Tour" rally in Sessions's home town of Mobile, Ala., on Dec. 17. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Then there is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump's trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.

In a lengthy email, Bannon described Sessions as "the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy" in Trump's administration, saying he and the senator are joined at the center of Trump's "pro-America movement" and the global nationalist phenomenon.

"In America and Europe, working people are reasserting their right to control their own destinies," Bannon wrote. "Jeff Sessions has been at the forefront of this movement for years, developing populist nation-state policies that are supported by the vast and overwhelming majority of Americans, but are poorly understood by cosmopolitan elites in the media that live in a handful of our larger cities."

Justice head tells staff not to defend Trump refugee order (JULIE PACE, AP)

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a Democratic appointee, says she's directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend President Donald Trump's executive order on refugees. [...]

Her directive will be in place until she leaves the department, which will happen once the Senate confirms Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general.

Vote down the nomination.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


A DANGEROUSLY ISOLATED PRESIDENT (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, January 29, 2017, The New Yorker)

In the first week of the Trump Presidency, influence has run through a very select group of advisers--maybe as many as half a dozen, maybe as few as two. The President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Bannon have consolidated their influence. Kushner, who has spent his brief career running his father's real-estate empire, reportedly has been told to lead negotiations with Mexico. Kushner was also involved in a discussion with British officials, and denounced the United Kingdom's support of a United Nations resolution opposing Israeli settlements. According to the Washington Post, some former campaign aides "have been alarmed by Kushner's efforts to elbow aside anyone he perceives as a possible threat to his role as Trump's chief consigliere." But Bannon's portfolio may be even broader. His hand was apparent in the President's dark Inauguration speech, in his economic nationalism, and in his early, aggressive stances against Mexico and refugees.

The President's isolation runs deeper than that. As the confusion around the immigration ban made clear, the vast government he oversees has little input on his actions. In an interview this week, Trump said that he reads the Times, the New York Post, and the Washington Post each day, but he seems to scan them as an actor does, for reviews of his own performance. His campaign made clear that he was not interested in the findings of scientists, social scientists, or the American government. Trump's transition has alienated him from the American public. Gallup found on Friday that fifty per cent of Americans disapproved of Trump's performance, the highest disapproval rating on record for any American President this early in his term.

It's strange that we're on our second consecutive president with no close friends.  It did not serve the UR well either.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Julio Jones Is the Best : At catching footballs -- and everything else a receiver can do. (Neil Paine, 1/30/17, 538)

Let's get this out of the way at the top: Julio Jones was the best receiver in football this season. Just about any way you slice it, whether using traditional stats,1 advanced metrics2 or even play-by-play grades,3 Jones was the receiver who kept defensive coordinators up at night worrying about all the havoc he could wreak. His explosiveness and diversity of skills enabled offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to build the one of the best offenses in NFL history.

The Falcons went 11-5 this year.  They were 6-0 in games where Jones either didn't play or had less than 50 yards receiving.

Patriots may apply Rams plan to stop Falcons offense (Karen Guregian, January 30, 2017, Boston Herald)

NFL analyst Heath Evans, speaking with the Herald last week, seemed to think that would be the strategy Belichick would employ to try and take away Jones.

"I think he'll try and have everyone just try and tattoo Julio, because I think he's kind of beat up," Evans said, "but I also think he's physically soft in a lot of ways."

So they'll hit Jones whenever possible, and see where that leads.

Evans then provided an example from the NFC Championship Game where Jones didn't appear to have the kind of toughness you'd like to see, especially at this time of year. The receiver got dinged up on a second-and-11 play that went for an incompletion, and then, facing a third-and-11, took himself off the field. He returned one play later, after the Falcons converted.

"You're Julio Jones. It's third-and-11. You're not going to be on the field?," Evans said. "Imagine, Randy (Moss), or Wes (Welker), or Jules (Edelman) taking themselves off the field on third-and-11? It just doesn't make any sense.

"He is as gifted, as gifted gets, but, c'mon," Evans went on. "You expect something different out of someone with that greatness in him. You expect him to be mentally tough."

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Bannon Is Given Security Role Usually Held for Generals (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JAN. 29, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Flynn, a lifelong Democrat sacked as head of the Pentagon's intelligence arm after clashing with Obama administration officials in 2014, has gotten on the nerves of Mr. Trump and other administration officials because of his sometimes overbearing demeanor, and has further diminished his internal standing by presiding over a chaotic and opaque N.S.C. transition process that prioritized the hiring of military officials over civilian experts recommended to him by his own team.

Mr. Flynn's penchant for talking too much was on display on Friday in a meeting with Theresa May, the British prime minister, according to two people with direct knowledge of the events.

When Mrs. May said that she understood wanting a dialogue with Mr. Putin but stressed the need to be careful, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Flynn when the two were scheduled to speak.

Mr. Flynn replied it was Saturday -- he had delayed it to fit in Mrs. May's meeting for "protocol" as a United States ally, adding at length that Mr. Putin was impatient to chat.

Mr. Trump, the person said, appeared irritated by the response.

Still, the episode that did the most damage to the Trump-Flynn relationship occurred in early December when Mr. Flynn's son, also named Michael, unleashed a series of tweets pushing a discredited conspiracy theory that Clinton associates had run a [***]slave ring out of a Washington pizza restaurant.

Mr. Trump told his staff to get rid of the younger Mr. Flynn, who had been hired by his father to help during the transition. But Mr. Trump did so reluctantly because of his loyalty during the campaign, when dozens of former military officials were dismissing Mr. Trump as too unstable to command.

"I want him fired immediately," Mr. Trump said in a muted rendition of his "You're fired!" line in "The Apprentice," according to two people with knowledge of the interaction.

That has not stopped the general's son from spouting off: On Saturday, at a time when Trump surrogates were pushing back on the idea that the executive order did not discriminate against any religion, the younger Mr. Flynn tweeted his approval of the policy, adding "#MuslimBan." The tweet was subsequently deleted; his entire account disappeared later in the day.

Still, the national security adviser has also continued to dabble in the kind of bomb-throwing behavior that concerns Mr. Trump's allies, such as planning to attend an anti-Clinton "Deploraball" event at the time of the inauguration. He was urged to skip it by Trump allies, and ultimately agreed.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Mystery death of ex-KGB chief linked to MI6 spy's dossier on Donald Trump (Robert Mendick, 27 JANUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

An ex-KGB chief suspected of helping the former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to compile his dossier on Donald Trump may have been murdered by the Kremlin and his death covered up. it has been claimed.

Oleg Erovinkin, a former general in the KGB and its successor the FSB, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day in mysterious circumstances.

Erovinkin was a key aide to Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and now head of Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, who is repeatedly named in the dossier.

Erovinkin has been described as a key liaison between Sechin and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr Steele writes in an intelligence report dated July 19, 2016, he has a source close to Sechin, who had disclosed alleged links between Mr Trump's supporters and Moscow.

The death of Erovinkin has prompted speculation it is linked to Mr Steele's explosive dossier, which was made public earlier this month. Mr Trump has dismissed the dossier as "fake news" and no evidence has emerged to support its lurid claims.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Fighting Flexibility With Flexibility (Danny Kelly, Jan. 30th, 2017, The Ringer)

The key to Atlanta's success this year has been its ability to identify the opposition's weakness, and then attack it with both the run and the pass from the same formations. Matt Ryan has a potent mix of multifaceted players at his disposal -- tight ends that can block and catch, a running back duo that can run and catch. As such, the Falcons balanced a seventh-ranked rushing attack with a league-best passing offense.

Opposing defensive coordinators just never know when the Falcons are going to throw or when they're going to pass. So, do you bring out your base defense against multi-running-back or multi-tight-end looks and risk losing effectiveness in coverage? Or do you bring in an extra defensive back and lose that size and strength against the run?

But maybe New England's figured out what to do when faced with an impossible question: refuse to answer it.

The Patriots' versatility starts with the variety of their scheme. Nominally, New England has run a 4-3 scheme for the past several years, but it's common to see Belichick and Co. tailor the defensive design to the skill sets of the available talent. On Sunday, we'll see elements of both the 4-3 and the 3-4, and on some plays, we'll even see 4-3 and 3-4 principles combined into a unique one-gap/two-gap hybrid. In a league where traditional position designations grow ever more irrelevant, New England's defense has been the archetype of adaptability.

Like just about every other defense in the league right now, the Patriots' base defense has five or more defensive backs on the field, whether it's a "big-nickel" package (which features three safeties), a nickel look (with three cornerbacks), dime personnel (with six defensive backs), or some other permutation. But the Patriots don't run those subpackages like everyone else. By moving Flowers, Hightower, Ryan, Chung, and McCourty around based on opposing personnel groups and formations, the Patriots can match up with whatever the offense presents.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


A new twist on fusion power could help bring limitless clean energy (Matthew Hole, 1/30/17, Cosmos)

What makes the W-7X particularly interesting is its stellarator design. It comprises a vacuum chamber embedded in a magnetic bottle created by a system of 70 superconducting magnet coils. These produce a powerful magnetic field for confining the hot plasma.

Stellarators and tokamaks are both types of toroidal (doughnut-shaped) magnetic confinement devices that are being investigated for fusion power. In these experiments a strong toroidal (or ring) magnetic field creates a magnetic bottle to confine the plasma.

However, in order for the plasma to have good confinement in the doughnut-shaped chamber, the magnetic field needs to have a twist. In a tokamak, such as in the ITER reactor, a large current flows in the plasma to generate the required twisted path. However, the large current can drive "kink" instabilities, which can cause the plasma to become disrupted.

If the plasma is disrupted, the reactor needs to be flooded with gas to quench the plasma and prevent it from damaging the experiment.

In a stellarator, the twist in the magnetic field is obtained by twisting the entire machine itself. This removes the large toroidal current, and makes the plasma intrinsically more stable. The cost comes in the engineering complexity of the field coils and reduced confinement, meaning the plasma is less easily contained within the magnetic bubble.

While the W7-X and ITER use different approaches, most of the underlying technology is identical. They are both toroidal superconducting machines, and both use external heating systems such as radio frequency and neutral beam injection to heat the plasma, and much of the plasma diagnostic technology is in common.

In a power plant, heavy isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) fuse to form helium along with an energetic neutron. While the helium is contained within the plasma, the neutron is has a neutral electric charge, and shoots off into the "blanket" surrounding the plasma. This heats it up, which in turn drives a steam turbine that generates electricity.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


WH insiders dump on Flynn (Stef W. Kight, Jan. 30th, 2017, Axios)

Talking too much: "Mr. Flynn's penchant for talking too much was on display on Friday in a meeting with Theresa May, the British prime minister, according to two people with direct knowledge of the events."

His son's tweets: Michael Flynn, Jr. already caused trouble on Twitter when he promoted the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory, and most recently referred to the immigration ban as "the Muslim ban" and claimed it was "necessary." His account has been deleted.

Skipped a meeting with Mattis, Pompeo and Tillerson: "Mr. Flynn was invited but did not attend. Part of the meeting was devoted to discussing concerns about Mr. Flynn, according to an official with knowledge of it."

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


]Koch network could serve as potent resistance in Trump era (Matea Gold and James Hohmann January 30, 2017, Washington Post)

[With President Trump already embroiled in chaos and controversy, the conservative financiers assembled at a desert resort here were also forced to contend with a new uncertainty: whether the new president will be an ally or an obstacle.

In their first formal break with the administration, top network officials on Sunday condemned Trump's travel ban on some refugees and immigrants, calling it "the wrong approach." Some here expressed alarm that Trump has staked out positions anathema to the network's libertarian principles, targeting individual companies that produce goods abroad and indicating possible support for a border tax on imports. And the network's chief patron, billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who pointedly declined to back Trump in the presidential campaign, warned in stark terms of the potential perils of the anti-establishment mood that gave rise to Trump.

"We have a tremendous danger because we can go the authoritarian route . . . or we can move toward a free and open society," he told a packed ballroom Sunday afternoon.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


President Donald Trump smashes record to get fastest majority disapproval rating ever (Ashley Kirk, 30 JANUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

In normal times, it takes American presidents hundreds of days before they reach a majority disapproval rating. 

This has been the case for the last five presidents - with Bill Clinton being the previous record holder after taking 573 days to have more than 50 per cent of Americans disapprove of his presidency.

But Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman, TV star and now US President, has smashed this record after his victory on a wave of anti-establishment anger.
It has taken just eight days for him to gain a majority disapproval rating, according to Gallup polling, with 51 per cent of Americans saying they disapproved of the President on 28 January 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


The Most Coveted Ball in Golf Is From Costco (Brian Costa, 1/30/17, WSJ)

Costco, the warehouse retail giant, first began selling golf balls last fall, under its Kirkland Signature brand that is affixed to a wide range of products and carries discount prices. Available for $29.99 for two dozen, the balls instantly ranked among the cheapest on the market.

But what made the balls a hot item among fanatical golfers is the revelation that, by some accounts, they perform like rivals that sell for more than twice as much.

That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport's long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for.

"This is just a perception killer," said Adam Beach, owner of an equipment review website called MyGolfSpy, which bills itself as the Consumer Reports of golf. "This will change the entire industry."

Making the phenomenon all the more surprising is that Costco isn't really in the golf business. It doesn't employ teams of ball engineers, researchers and designers like name-brand ball makers such as Titleist, Callaway and Bridgestone. It doesn't endorse any professional golfers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


The ACLU says it got $24 million in donations this weekend, six times its yearly average (Katie Mettler, January 30, 2017, Washington Post)

In the weeks after the Nov. 8 election, when Donald Trump secured a surprise victory to become president of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union received so much money in online donations -- more than $15 million -- that an official with the 100-year-old organization called the flood "unprecedented in our history."

That was before Trump had even sworn the oath of office. [...]

This weekend alone, the civil liberties group received more than $24 million in online donations from 356,306 people, a spokesman told The Washington Post early Monday morning, a total that supersedes its annual online donations by six times.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Amateur hour for Donald Trump and the National Security Council (Richard Clarke, 1/30/17, NY Daily News)

General Flynn, the current NSC Advisor, has never served as an NSC Deputy, or as an NSC Senior Director, or as a regular attendee at the crucial Principals Committee or Deputies Committee representing the Defense Department or any other component. His Deputy, K.T. Mcfarland, who every day will run what is in effect the U.S. Government's Operating Committee for national security, has never held a policy position in the U.S. Government and was last a government employee as a press liaison thirty years ago. She has spent her time since on Fox television.

Why does this matter? Because national security is not bumper cars. You cannot just walk in off the street and assume you know how to run the millions of people, civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence and civil servants deployed all around the world in dangerous places doing important jobs.

I suspect that Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, would be aghast at the thought of Flynn and Mcfarland showing up to run Exxon. After years at Exxon, Tillerson knows how hard and complex that task is. Well, running a Superpower is even more difficult and cannot be done by people who have never held any position of responsibility before in the NSC system.

The first proof of this team's incompetence has been the drafting, vetting and implementation of their ban of people from any of seven nations entering the United States, including those that already live here. Whether or not you agree with the idea, which I do not, the chaos at airports around the country and the massive and spontaneous popular protest of the move might well have been avoided if the NSC system had been used to draft, vet and implement the idea. That system, properly employed, analyses proposals, identifies what will not work, prepares the groundwork with the Congress, media, and interest groups, and ensures that federal agencies are ready to carry out the new policy. Most importantly, the NSC system makes sure that any new policy is actually legal.

is that this clown show comes only at a time when we face no security challenges.

Trump's Signing of Immigrant Ban Puts Pentagon in Uncomfortable Light (HELENE COOPER, JAN. 28, 2017, NY Times)

In a building where uniformed men and women work alongside civilian officials, several rank-and-file workers expressed outrage that Mr. Trump would use the Defense Department, home to a military that includes people of many faiths, including Islam, to announce that he was blocking visa applicants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

"Using the military as a backdrop for politically charged activities is bad for the military," said Kori Schake, a Hoover Institution fellow who edited the new book "Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military" with Mr. Mattis. She added that associating the military with "unconstitutional policies is especially damaging, since our military take their oath to the Constitution, not to the president."

The president cited the Sept. 11 attacks in his decision to issue the immigration restrictions, which he cast in national security terms. "We will never forget the lessons of 9/11," he said, nor the people "who lost their lives at the Pentagon."

But none of the 19 terrorists who were on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., were from any of the countries on Mr. Trump's visa ban list.

Instead, Iraq, where the American military is fighting with Iraqi security forces against the Islamic State, is among the countries on the list. Military officials have repeatedly called the nation an American ally.

"After all the money and lives spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon knows better than anyone that terrorism is a problem of a small number of enemies embedded in a population of people you need to win over," said Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I don't see the part of this that's meant to win over anyone."

Two people close to Mr. Mattis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they said they were wary of undercutting him, said he was still sharply opposed to the Muslim ban. But he spent this week battling the White House on other issues, including the establishment of "safe zones" in Syria, something the Pentagon has long opposed because it would deepen American involvement in the war there, out of the executive order.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Liger cub Tsar born in Russian touring zoo (Deutsche-Welle, 1/30/17)

A rare cross between a tiger and a lion has been born in a zoo that is touring Russia. It was being nurtured with milk from a neighboring goat.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free  (Sam Dresser, Aeon)

In October 1951, Camus published The Rebel. In it, he gave voice to a roughly drawn 'philosophy of revolt'. This wasn't a philosophical system per se, but an amalgamation of philosophical and political ideas: every human is free, but freedom itself is relative; one must embrace limits, moderation, 'calculated risk'; absolutes are anti-human. Most of all, Camus condemned revolutionary violence. Violence might be used in extreme circumstances (he supported the French war effort, after all) but the use of revolutionary violence to nudge history in the direction you desire is utopian, absolutist, and a betrayal of yourself.

'Absolute freedom is the right of the strongest to dominate,' Camus wrote, while 'absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom.' The conflict between justice and freedom required constant re-balancing, political moderation, an acceptance and celebration of that which limits the most: our humanity. 'To live and let live,' he said, 'in order to create what we are.'

Sartre read The Rebel with disgust. As far as he was concerned, it was possible to achieve perfect justice and freedom - that described the achievement of communism. Under capitalism, and in poverty, workers could not be free. Their options were unpalatable and inhumane: to work a pitiless and alienating job, or to die. But by removing the oppressors and broadly returning autonomy to the workers, communism allows each individual to live without material want, and therefore to choose how best they can realise themselves. This makes them free, and through this unbending equality, it is also just.

The problem is that, for Sartre and many others on the Left, communism required revolutionary violence to achieve because the existing order must be smashed. Not all leftists, of course, endorsed such violence. This division between hardline and moderate leftists - broadly, between communists and socialists - was nothing new. The 1930s and early '40s, however, had seen the Left temporarily united against fascism. With the destruction of fascism, the rupture between hardline leftists willing to condone violence and moderates who condemned it returned. This split was made all the more dramatic by the practical disappearance of the Right and the ascendancy of the Soviet Union - which empowered hardliners throughout Europe, but raised disquieting questions for communists as the horrors of gulags, terror and show trials came to light. The question for every leftist of the postwar era was simple: which side are you on?

With the publication of The Rebel, Camus declared for a peaceful socialism that would not resort to revolutionary violence. He was appalled by the stories emerging from the USSR: it was not a country of hand-in-hand communists, living freely, but a country with no freedom at all. Sartre, meanwhile, would fight for communism, and he was prepared to endorse violence to do so. [....]

The violence of communism sent Camus on a different trajectory. 'Finally,' he wrote in The Rebel, 'I choose freedom. For even if justice is not realised, freedom maintains the power of protest against injustice and keeps communication open.' From the other side of the Cold War, it is hard not to sympathise with Camus, and to wonder at the fervour with which Sartre remained a loyal communist. Camus's embrace of sober political reality, of moral humility, of limits and fallible humanity, remains a message well-heeded today. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


75-year-old grandmother from Iran tells the story of her detention at LAX (Alene Tchekmedyian, 1/29/17, LA Times)

Marzieh Moosavizadeh and her grandson follow a routine when she visits almost every year from Iran.

The 75-year-old, who travels in a wheelchair and speaks little English, struggles to find direct flights to Phoenix, where he and his family live. So they meet in Los Angeles and he escorts her on the last leg of her trip.

This time was different. [...]

For Moosavizadeh, who her grandson said has held a green card since 1997, the anxiety set in when she landed shortly after 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Customs officers scanned her passport, held it up next to her head and told her to wait. Then, they ushered her to a room where she said a couple dozen passengers -- Iranians, Africans and Asians -- were being held.

She sat there for two hours before officers led her, along with a handful of others passengers from her flight, to another room filled with travelers from Iran. She spent the next several hours there.

Despite her life in Texas, she fears deportation to Iraq -- where she is a stranger (Sandhya Somashekhar January 29, 2017, Washington Post)

Two years ago, Roslyn Sinha was swept off her feet. The television personality from Dubai had traveled to Los Angeles for work and met the hotel manager who would eventually become the love of her life. The two married last summer and settled down in his home town of Hurst, Tex.

"Christmas there was the time of my life," Sinha, 30, recalled Sunday. "I feel at home in Texas."

But one thing pulled Sinha back to the United Arab Emirates -- her mother, who had suffered multiple strokes that left her paralyzed. Because Sinha is in the United States on a work permit, she had to request special permission from U.S. immigration authorities to leave the country and return. After waiting six months for that permission, she finally boarded a plane Friday.

Now she may be stuck in Dubai, stranded by President Trump's executive order banning U.S. entry for migrants, refugees and others from seven Middle Eastern countries. He signed it while Sinha was in the air.

Trump's executive order could block 500,000 legal US residents from returning to America from trips (Marcelo Rochabrun, Jan. 27, 2017, Business Insider)

[T]he order signed on Friday by Trump is actually more severe, increasing the ban to 90 days. And its effects could extend well beyond preventing newcomers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, from entering the U.S., lawyers consulted by ProPublica said.

It's also expected to have substantial effects on hundreds of thousands of people from these countries who already live in the U.S. under green cards or on temporary student or employee visas.

Since the order's travel ban applies to all "aliens" 2014 a term that encompasses anyone who isn't an American citizen 2014 it could bar those with current visas or even green cards from returning to the U.S. from trips abroad, said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Obama.

"It's extraordinarily cruel," he said.

The order bans the "entry" of foreigners from those countries and specifically exempts from the ban those who hold certain diplomatic visas.

Not included in the exemption, however, are those who hold long-term temporary visas 2014 such as students or employees 2014 who have the right to live in the United States for years at a time, as well as to travel abroad and back as they please.

US Customs and Border Patrol immigration terrorism refugees Joe Raedle/Getty Images
"If applied literally, this provision would bar even those visitors who had made temporary trips abroad, for example a student who went home on winter break and is now returning," Legomsky said on Friday evening executive order.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Trump's Immigration Order Jolts Iraqis, U.S.'s Top Allies Against ISIS (MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT, JAN. 29, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump's executive order on immigration is straining relations with the partner the United States needs most to reclaim the Islamic State's stronghold in Mosul: the Iraqis.

Iraqi officials were taken aback by the directive, which they learned about through the American news media because they had not been consulted first.

The order blocks citizens from Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days. That lumps Iraq together with Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, nations with no strategic alliance with Washington.

"The effect is that many Iraqis will feel that the United States does not want a long-term relationship with Iraq," said Lukman Faily, who completed a three-year stint as Iraq's ambassador to Washington in June. "We hope it is a blip. It makes it difficult for us to decipher what President Trump is up to with regard to Iraq."

Mr. Faily has been directly affected by the order. Though he holds dual British and Iraqi citizenship, he said information he had received from the American Embassy in Baghdad indicated that he would not be allowed to travel to the United States in the coming weeks to participate in a long-planned conference, he said in a telephone interview from Iraq.

Jihadist groups hail Trump's travel ban as a victory (Joby Warrick, January 29, 2017, Washington Post)

Several postings suggested that Trump was fulfilling the predictions of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born al-Qaeda leader and preacher who famously said that the "West would eventually turn against its Muslim citizens." Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

"When U.S. President Donald Trump says 'We don't want them here' and bans the Muslim immigrants from Muslim countries, there is one thing that comes to our mind," said another posting, beneath a banner of al-Awlaki and his quote.

Another posting on the Telegram channel "Abu Magrebi" said Trump's actions "clearly revealed the truth and harsh reality behind the American government's hatred toward Muslims."

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


The White House Holocaust Horror : Taking the Jews out of the Holocaust (JOHN PODHORETZ / JAN. 28, 2017, Commentary)

So much for giving people the benefit of the doubt who offer no sign they deserve it. The Trump White House issued a statement on Friday commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the statement didn't make specific mention of the Jewish people--who were the target of the Holocaust, or Shoah, which is a term devised after World War II to describe the effort by Nazi Germany to eradicate Jews from the face of the earth. After reading it, I thought to myself, "The Trump White House is an amateur operation, understaffed and without much executive-branch experience, and whoever wrote the statement and issued it blew it out of ignorance and sloppiness."

I won't be making that mistake again.

Jake Tapper of CNN reported Saturday night that Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks defended and even celebrated the White House statement. The decision not to mention the Jews was deliberate, Hicks said, a way of demonstrating the inclusive approach of the Trump administration: "Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered...it was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day."

No, Hope Hicks, and no to whomever you are serving as a mouthpiece. The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups--Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others. But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews. There is no "proud" way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact. To universalize it to "all those who suffered" is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Back to zero: Companies use 1970s budget tool to cut costs as they hunt for growth (Tim McLaughlin, 1/30/17, Reuters)

The number of U.S. companies using a budgeting tool made famous in the 1970s by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is surging as they turn their spending habits upside down to boost profits and to re-invest in their businesses.

The upswing in zero-based budgeting (ZBB) signals that a broader cross-section of U.S. companies anticipate turbulence in their revenue growth. They face more pressure on profits, too, as wages and interest rates increase, and a stronger dollar makes their products more expensive overseas. [...]

A ZBB approach requires corporate managers to justify each line item of spending in their budgets, or even build their budgets from scratch. That is a departure from the typical process of using the previous year's budget as a starting point and adjusting it based on revenue and inflation projections, for example.

It often cracks down on the size of a company's real estate footprint, corporate travel, terms of international assignments, redundant technology and outside consultants. Employees get cut, too.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Cardinal Cupich: Trump's refugee ban "a dark moment in U.S. history" (Michael O'Loughlin, Jan. 29th, 2017, America)

Catholic leaders in the United States are reacting with anger to President Donald J. Trump's newly signed executive order that bars Syrian refugees from entering the country and halts resettlement programs for up to four months and are urging him to reconsider the policy.

"This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history," Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a statement on Jan. 29. "The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values."

With immigration in spotlight, congregations hear messages of inclusion (Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Jan. 29th, 2017, Washington Post)

The liturgy read in churches across America on Sunday said: "Blessed are those who are persecuted."

What clergy said in many pulpits, reacting to President Trump's most recent executive order: "Blessed are the refugees."

The words of the Beatitudes -- the nine blessings recounted in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount -- happened to be prescribed in the liturgical calendar used by Catholics and many Protestants for this week's readings.

After Trump issued an order Friday temporarily barring refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, clergy across the nation scrapped earlier sermons to build on the lesson and urge parishioners to stand up for what they see as a biblical call to care for "the stranger."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Can Stark Break the $400 Barrier for Electric Bikes? (Brad Auerbach ,  1/30/17, Forbes)

I recently had a chat with Oscar Stark, the founder of Stark Drive, and he thinks he can drive down the price point for electric bikes along the lines of Henry Ford and his Model T.

"Electric bikes are insanely expensive in Sweden," lamented Oscar from his office in Stockholm. "We set out to fix that and deliver a lower price point globally. We have a 25% tax rate in Sweden, and plenty of overhead costs with employees and their benefits. Our goal was to beat the Sondors bike." Originally available in Europe only, Sondors is cracking into the North American market at an eye-catching $598 price point.

Stark is countering with its basic model for $399. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


When Muslims got blocked at American airports, U.S. veterans rushed to help (Matt Pearce and Shashank Bengali, Jan. 29th, 2017, LA Times)

Jeffrey Buchalter was reflooring his foyer in Chesapeake Beach, Md., and listening to MSNBC over the weekend when he heard the news: An Iraqi who had worked with American forces as an interpreter had been stopped from entering the U.S. under a new executive order on immigration from President Trump.

The story stopped him cold. Buchalter, an Army veteran who works as a law-enforcement instructor at the Department of Homeland Security, had served multiple tours of duty as a military policeman in Iraq, service that cost him dearly.

He was decorated for injuries sustained from gunfire and improvised explosive devices. Exams revealed he'd suffered herniated discs, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, and he spent 2 ½ years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center trying to get right.

But he was still alive, and now the married father of two children. And he believes that's thanks in part to the work of Iraqi interpreters who acted as guides during his work in their country. So he told his younger daughter and son they were going to take a trip: a two-hour drive to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., where, for the first time in his life, Buchalter would join a protest.

"This is not what we fought for, having been in Iraq and working with these interpreters," Buchalter said in a phone interview Sunday. When he saw an Iraqi family emerge from detention, he presented them with something he hoped would convey America's goodwill -- a Purple Heart.

"Knowing their culture and how they view America, for me, it was a way to send a message to them: What they believe America was, it is," Buchalter said. "It's the greatest place in the world."

Trump's executive order Friday to block travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations triggered confusion, fear and anger around the nation as protesters and attorneys gathered at airports to try to force the release of at least dozens of travelers who had unexpectedly become detainees. Many of America's veterans were among those frustrated by the order, inspired largely by the story of Iraqi interpreter Hameed Khalid Darweesh.

January 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence: Trump's Horrifying Executive Order on Refugees and Visas (Benjamin Wittes, January 28, 2017, Lawfare)

I don't use the word "malevolence" here lightly. As readers of my work know, I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I've got no problem with drone strikes. I'm positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA's interrogations in the years after September 11. I have defended military commissions.

Some of these policies were effective; some were not. Some worked out better than others. And I don't mean to relitigate any of those questions here. My sole point is that all of these policies were conceptualized and designed and implemented by people who were earnestly trying to protect the country from very real threats. And the policies were, to a one, proximately related to important goals in the effort. While some of these policies proved tragically misguided and caused great harm to innocent people, none of them was designed or intended to be cruel to vulnerable, concededly innocent people. Even the CIA's interrogation program, after all, was deployed against people the agency believed (mostly correctly) to be senior terrorists of the most dangerous sort and to garner information from them that would prevent attacks.

I actually cannot say that about Trump's new executive order--and neither can anyone else.

Here's how the order describes its purpose:

Section 1. Purpose. The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States. Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans. And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.

Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program. Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States. The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.

In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including "honor" killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Color me skeptical that this is the real purpose. After all, if this is the real purpose, then the document is both wildly over-inclusive and wildly under-inclusive. On the over-inclusive side, it will keep tens of thousands of innocent refugees who have been subject to unspeakable violence outside of the protection of the United States on the vanishingly small chance that these people might be terrorists--indeed, to make it impossible for them even to apply for refugee admission if they are Syrian. It will prevent untold numbers of people about whom there is no whiff of suspicion from coming here as students, as professionals, as tourists. It overtly treats members of a particular religion differently from other people.

On the underinclusive side, the order wouldn't have blocked the entry of many of the people responsible for the worst recent terrorist attacks. There is, in fact, simply no rational relationship between cutting off visits from the particular countries that Trump targets (Muslim countries that don't happen to be close U.S. allies) and any expected counterterrorism goods. The 9/11 hijackers, after all, didn't come from Somalia or Syria or Iran; they came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a few other countries not affected by the order. Of the San Bernardino attackers (both of Pakistani origin, one a U.S. citizen and the other a lawful permanent resident), the Orlando shooter (a U.S. citizen whose parents were born in Afghanistan), and the Boston marathon bombers (one a naturalized U.S. citizen, one a green card holder who arrived in Massachusetts from Kyrgyzstan), none came from countries listed in the order. One might argue, I suppose, that the document is tied to current threats. But come now, how could Pakistan not be on a list guided by current threat perception?

What's more, the document also takes steps that strike me as utterly orthogonal to any relevant security interest. If the purpose of the order is the one it describes, for example, I can think of no good reason to burden the lives of students individually suspected of nothing who are here lawfully and just happen to be temporarily overseas, or to detain tourists and refugees who were mid-flight when the order came down. I have trouble imagining any reason to raise questions about whether green card holders who have lived here for years can leave the country and then return. Yes, it's temporary, and that may lessen the costs (or it may not, depending on the outcome of the policy review the order mandates), but temporarily irrational is still irrational.

Put simply, I don't believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It's a grave charge, I know, and I'm not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don't marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don't target the wrong people in nutty ways when you're rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you're elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you've made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

To be sure, the executive order does not say anything as crass as: "Sec. 14. Burdening Muslim Lives to Make Political Point." It doesn't need to. There's simply no reason in reading it to ignore everything Trump said during the campaign, during which he repeatedly called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Even while he was preparing to sign the order itself, he declared, "This is the 'Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.' We all know what that means." Indeed, we do. This document is the implementation of a campaign promise to keep out Muslims moderated only by the fact that certain allied Muslim countries are left out because the diplomatic repercussions of including them would be too detrimental.

Many years ago, the great constitutional law scholar Charles Black Jr., contemplating the separate but equal doctrine, asked:

does segregation offend against equality? Equality, like all general concepts, has marginal areas where philosophic difficulties are encountered. But if a whole race of people finds itself confined within a system which is set up and continued for the very purpose of keeping it in an inferior station, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether such a race is being treated "equally," I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers--that of laughter.
I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers--that of laughter.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Inside the confusion of the Trump executive order and travel ban (Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Kevin Liptak, 1/27/17, CNN)

It wasn't until Friday -- the day Trump signed the order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days -- that career homeland security staff were allowed to see the final details of the order, a person familiar with the matter said.

The result was widespread confusion across the country on Saturday as airports struggled to adjust to the new directives. In New York, two Iraqi nationals sued the federal government after they were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and 10 others were detained as well.

In Philadelphia, a Syrian family of six who had a visa through a family connection in the US was placed on a return flight to Doha, Qatar, and Department of Homeland Security officials said others who were in the air would be detained upon arrival and put back on a plane to their home country.

Asked during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office Saturday afternoon about the rollout, Trump said his government was "totally prepared."

"It's working out very nicely," Trump told reporters. "You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It's working out very nicely and we're going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years."

The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, according to numerous officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen -- did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President's inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon.

...if he'd made money off of it we could call it a Donald Grand Slam.

N.B. Oops, I stand corrected--Grand Slam!

Koch network condemns Trump ban on refugees and immigrants (Matea Gold and James Hohmann January 29, 2017, Washington Post)

Leaders of the influential Koch network on Sunday expressed opposition to President Trump's ban on refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, saying the executive order is not in keeping with their aims to build a free and open society.

"We believe it is possible to keep Americans safe without excluding people who wish to come here to contribute and pursue a better life for their families," said Brian Hooks, the president of the Charles Koch Foundation, who is co-chairing a weekend conference of donors who help finance the Koch operation.

"The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive," he added. "Our country has benefited tremendously from a history of welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is a hallmark of free and open societies."

How Trump's Rush to Enact an Immigration Ban Unleashed Global Chaos (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and RON NIXON, JANUARY 29, 2017, NY Times)

Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, had dialed in from a Coast Guard plane as he headed back to Washington from Miami. Along with other top officials, he needed guidance from the White House, which had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.

Halfway into the briefing, someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. "The president is signing the executive order that we're discussing," the official said, stunned. [...]

"The details of it were not thought through," said Stephen Heifetz, who served in the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, as well as the C.I.A., under the previous three presidents. "It is not surprising there was mass confusion, and I expect the confusion and chaos will continue for some time."

Stephen K. Bannon, the chief White House strategist, oversaw the writing of the order, which was done by a small White House team, including Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump's policy chief. But it was first imagined more than a year ago, when Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican nomination, reacted to terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., by calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

Trump's Immigration Order Unleashed a Policy Disaster (Jonasthan Bernstein, Jan. 30th, 2017, Bloomberg View)

So why is the new administration botching things so badly? 

I've seen a strategic explanation, and I've seen a personality-based explanation for why this appears to be a gang that can't shoot straight. I'll supply a structural one: Perhaps it's because they're trying to do policy from the White House, and (as I explained long before Trump showed up on the scene) that's usually a recipe for disaster.  [....]

Presidents (and White House staff) are often tempted to do things themselves because expertise comes bureaucratic procedure, which slows things down. All administrations arrive with bold plans to execute swift changes, and Trump's is no different. But shortcuts are dangerous.

They also are tempted to do things themselves because executive branch agencies are likely to push back against presidential priorities. But the truth presidents need to accept is that such pushback isn't arbitrary. It's a way for the president to learn about the legitimate opposition of established groups within the political system -- opposition the president needs to know about before he or she acts. It's not that presidents should always give in to opposition; it's just that without fully understanding who objects to a presidential plan (and how and how strongly), presidents can't understand the risks of action and make informed decisions when to give in, when to compromise, and when to fight. In that sense, the entire executive branch is a giant information-generating machine available to the president, one that they are foolish not to take advantage of even if the information isn't what they want to hear.

Even if Trump had used the proper executive branch departments and agencies in formulating his policy, it's likely the result would have sparked opposition, and perhaps strong opposition. But the administration could have built alliances, too, and avoided some unnecessary battles. Did Trump really want to pick a fight with veterans (and active duty military) upset because Iraqis who had worked with U.S. forces during the war were being abandoned? Would proper procedures have picked up on the strong opposition of religious organizations, and provided a chance to head off that public relations problem either by accommodating some of their requests or at least knowing to mobilize Trump-friendly churches? At the very least, bringing in the relevant agencies might have produced executive action which was easier to implement and which would hold up better in court. Even if it sacrificed a little speed and, maybe, some of the portions of the original order which didn't survive anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


The Commander Stumbles (Fred Kaplan, 1/29/17, Slate)

After President Trump signed an executive order on Saturday giving the Joint Chiefs of Staff 30 days to devise a plan for destroying ISIS, I emailed several senior U.S. military officers--some active duty, some retired, all with combat experience in our recent wars--and asked them what sort of plan the chiefs should submit.

One of the officers, a general, wrote back, "They might begin by telling him to lift this stupid and heinous visa ban."

The remark highlights a big problem not just with Trump's scattershot orders but also with his tenure so far as commander-in-chief: He doesn't seem to understand the political nature of war or the strategic consequences of politics.

Trump redefines the enemy and 15 years of counterterrorism policy (Greg Jaffe January 28, 2017, Washington Post)

Both former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had defined the enemy in significantly narrower terms while in office, eager to avoid any moves that might make it appear as if the United States was at war with Islam.

For Bush, the enemy was al-Qaeda and state sponsors of terrorism to include former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Iran and the Taliban. Obama insisted that Bush's definition was a recipe for "endless war" and singled out an even smaller group. To him, the enemy was a series of terrorist death cults that he said were perverting the peaceful religion of Islam.

The executive order on immigration and refugees was produced at a "frenetic pace" that included none of the interagency reviews that characterized similar orders in the Bush and Obama administrations, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said.

"The process was remarkable," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. "Nobody in the counterterrorism community pushed for this. None of us ever asked for it." [...]

The measure drew negative responses across the world, some of which was heard by U.S. forces on the ground in the Middle East.

U.S. commanders advising Iraqi forces reported back that their partners were mystified by the order. "It's already flowing back," said the senior counterterrorism official. "They are asking, 'What do you think of us? Do you see us as the threat?' "

Some Iraqi lawmakers proposed banning U.S. troops and civilians from entering Iraq -- an action, if followed through, that could lead the authorities in Baghdad to turn to Russia and seek more support from Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the ban would be "recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


More to the Story: Giuliani Says Trump's Goal was Initially a 'Muslim Ban' (FRANK CAMP JANUARY 29, 2017, Daily Wire)

JEANINE PIRRO: "I want to ask you about this ban, and the protests. Does the ban have anything to do with religion? How did the president decide the seven countries? I understand the permanent ban on the refugees--ok, talk to me."

GIULIANI: "I'll tell you the whole history of it. So, when he first announced it, he said: 'Muslim ban.' He called me up, he said: 'Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.' 

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Logan Ryan backs Patriots WRs after Keyshawn Johnson criticism (Stephen Hewitt, January 29, 2017, Boston Herald)

In simple terms, Johnson said the group lacked talent, and that they're a product of New England's system, and went as far as to suggest they'd be left on the practice squad anywhere else in the league.

"When you see guys that fail and play for other teams at the receiver position, they can go to New England and excel and everybody goes, 'Oh my God, Oh my God, these receivers are top of the game,'" Johnson said. "Well, they couldn't excel with other teams because of the system. If they were on other teams right now, they probably wouldn't be on the 53-man roster.

"It is the system and it is Tom Brady," Johnson added. "As long as they are precise and are doing everything they are supposed to do, which is the reason they are there for the Patriots, because they don't make the mistakes, that is why they excel. You get a high caliber wide receiver with the Patriots, typically they probably aren't going to do what they are supposed to do. They are going to freelance a little bit because they have that luxury to do that because of their ability."


Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Why did Russia offer autonomy for Syria's Kurds? (Al Monitor, 1/29/17)

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura praised the Russian-brokered Syria talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which ended Jan. 24, as a "concrete step" toward implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions dealing with Syria, commending Russia, Turkey and Iran for setting up a mechanism to ensure compliance with the cease-fire announced last month. 

Russia's diplomatic blitz did not end in Astana, however. On Jan. 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Syrian opposition parties in Moscow for further discussion of a Russian draft of a new Syrian Constitution that had been offered in Astana. While representatives of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian opposition and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces refused to attend, the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey had excluded from the Astana talks, participated in the Moscow meeting.

Maxim Suchkov reports that the draft constitution includes restrictions on the power of the Syrian presidency, with most powers deferred to the parliament and a newly created "Assembly of Regions." Under the draft, the president would serve for seven years with no option for a second consecutive term. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


It's Unconstitutional (Mark Joseph Stern, 1/29/17, Slate)

On Saturday night, several federal judges ruled that part of Donald Trump's immigration ban, which targeted refugees from Muslim-majority countries, likely ran afoul the United States Constitution. The rulings freed hundreds of lawful immigrants who were detained pursuant to Trump's executive order and threatened with deportation. Protesters who had gathered at airports around the country rightfully celebrated the rulings as an extraordinary victory.

But that triumph was really just the start of the legal battle against Trump's discriminatory executive order. The Saturday decisions apply only to immigrants who were already in the U.S. or on their way here when Trump signed the order, because the government was actively depriving them of liberty without due process. The rulings do nothing for the thousands of refugees overseas who, as long as the executive order stands, will still be denied entry simply because they are Muslims from majority-Muslim countries.

Luckily for these refugees, the entire executive order--not just its application to those currently in the country--is unlawful.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky offers free housing to those stranded by Trump's travel ban (Matthew Hughes, 1/29/17, Next Web)

The shambolic way this order came into force has caused chaos at airports worldwide. With the stroke of a pen, people were prevented from boarding aircraft home. Those actually in the air when the order was signed landed to find themselves in a limbo situation reminiscent of The Terminal.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has said that the company intends to respond to this ban by offering free housing to "to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US." He added that details would be forthcoming, but in the meantime anyone with an urgent need for housing should contact him.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


U.S. service member killed in raid on al Qaeda in Yemen: Pentagon (Reuters, 1/29/17)

A U.S. service member was killed and three were wounded in a raid on al Qaeda headquarters in Yemen on Saturday, the Pentagon said.

The Right thinks using men instead of missiles makes us seem tough.  All it does is needlessly waste American lives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


The Future of France : Review of Faire by François Fillon (EAMON MOYNIHAN, University Bookman)

With respect to his political program, two themes stand out. In a chapter entitled "Regaining Control of our Destiny," he calls for a significant reduction in the size and cost of government, stating that on a percentage basis, France employs twice the number of government workers that Germany does; he has subsequently said that he wants to reduce the number of government employees by 500,000. As part of this reduction process, he plans to extend the work week from 35 to 39 hours. For those workers who are retained, he has promised to increase salaries. Fillon also says he will restore the age of retirement to 65 to reduce the cost of pensions. Further, he promises significant changes in labor law. In another chapter entitled "Belief in Progress," Fillon makes clear that he has no time for modern environmentalism. Deriding what he refers to as a "new religion" that is dedicated to "décroissance" or "shrinkage," he writes, "We have learned to be afraid of everything, of nuclear energy, genetically modified organisms, fracking, nanotechnologies, globalization." Rejecting what he calls the "absurd precautionary principle," he wonders whether "the land of the Enlightenment" is still recognizable. "The world challenges us," he says, "and we respond with obscurantism, jealousy, fear of progress, hatred of success, a blind egalitarianism that drives talent into exile and causes poverty to rise."

Fillon's politics also involve an unusual willingness to acknowledge his Catholicism and a more tentative willingness to support social conservatism. He tackles these issues in two chapters, one entitled "Faith" and the other "Authority." In the chapter entitled "Faith," he writes, "I see in religion an interior force that summons life to rise towards an ideal. It is, since its origins, a remarkable attempt to humanize a desperately untamed humanity and give it the hope of an eternity that can render its brief passage on earth more bearable." In this context, he addresses two controversial social issues, abortion and same-sex marriage. Of abortion he writes, "I believe in the sacred nature of life that Catholicism has taught me, but I consider choice as a fundamental right. I made that decision in good conscience a long time ago." With respect to same-sex marriage, he writes, "I understand the desire of homosexual couples to be recognized for who they are." But, "I contest the desire to have children, which can only be satisfied through adoption or surrogacy, which puts into question one of the fundamental principles of our society, which is kinship [filiation]." And then: "There is no right to a child. This notion is profoundly unhealthy. It proceeds from an incredible egoism that makes a child into a mere instrument for the happiness of its parents."

In the chapter on "Authority," he makes a strong defense of the family in general. "Nothing," he says, "can replace the family in terms of human development, in how we learn to master authority and respect." In a reference to the massive but unsuccessful protests against the imposition of same-sex marriage in France, he says, "The movements that were born in opposition to mariage pour tous were all based on a belief that I share: the essential role of the family. Without it, society would be dehumanized, totalitarian, "socialist" in the sense of the stultifying regimes in the East that lost fifty years of history to the twentieth century. Without it, life consists of loneliness, filling out forms, and waiting in line." In this chapter, Fillon also weighs in on transgenderism, which arguably is the Lysenkoist cousin of the effort to redefine the family. Here he writes, "The force of popular opposition to the wacky [farfelu] project of introducing gender theory into the school curriculum is explained by the exasperation of seeing the State intrude everywhere, going directly into the home, trying to regulate everything."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Netanyahu in hot water over praise of Trump's wall  (Luke Baker, 1/28/17, Reuters)

The adverse reaction to Netanyahu's tweet, which was retweeted by Trump and drew far more attention than Netanyahu's tweets usually do as a result, appeared to be an early sign of the danger Netanyahu faces with aligning himself with Trump.

The Mexican government was outraged that he would involve himself in what it regards as a bilateral issue.

"The foreign ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over Prime Minister Netanyahu's message," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Mexico is a friend of Israel and should be treated as such by its Prime Minister."

Dan Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel under Obama until nine days ago and still lives in the country, ditched diplomacy to question Netanyahu's motives in sending the tweet.

"Hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic U.S. politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump's demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants," he wrote on Twitter, suggesting it may be linked to Trump's promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard."

Opposition politician Yair Lapid, who is ahead of Netanyahu in recent opinion polls, was also scathing. Whereas Lapid has shied away from criticizing Netanyahu over the police investigations into him, this time he didn't hold back:

"A serious mistake by Netanyahu," Lapid tweeted in Hebrew.

"It is a needless declaration of war on Mexico and Hispanics and a rupture with the Democrats (including the majority of U.S. Jews). It doesn't matter what we think of the wall, don't we have enough troubles of our own?"

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


The Classicism of Robert Frost (Gorham Munson, Imaginative Conservative)

"I may as well confess myself the author of several books against the world in general."

What did Frost mean by these lines, I asked; for up to then, Frost had been classified by Amy Lowell, Waldo Frank and other champions of the "new poetry" as a votary of the new movement in American literature. But in "New Hamp­shire" Frost seemed to disassociate him­ self from the new wave of American writers. He took a stand against their tendencies and revolts.

I was made equally curious by Frost's reply in "New Hampshire" to "a narrow choice the age insists on." According to the poem, Frost had been commanded: "Choose you which you will be--a prude, or puke, / Mewling and puking in the pub­lic arms." "Me for the hills where I don't have to choose" was Frost's first reply, and then he said: "How about being a good Greek, for instance?" In that question I seemed to discover a key to Frost's poetic intentions, but I needed corroboration. That confirmation I received from an acci­dent of reading that same summer at Woodstock.

Edwin and Vera Seaver were living at Zena, near Woodstock, and Edwin was producing a short-lived "little magazine," 1924--had it survived it would have changed its name with the new year each year--to which I contributed an essay on the negativism of T.S. Eliot. I liked to walk over from "Ma" Russell's boarding house to the Seavers' shack for chit-chat about letters and the young generation. One afternoon, Seaver told me of the stimulation he had received from Irving Babbitt's famous course at Harvard on Rousseau and romanticism, and he so far overcame my prejudice against Babbitt, which I had acquired from the aspersions of H.L. Mencken and Van Wyck Brooks, that I found myself carrying Seaver's copy of Rousseau and Romanticism back to "Ma" Russell's. Soon, I was engrossed in this illuminating study of the imagination, its nature, kinds, and function, and the further I read into it, the more light it seemed to throw on the poetics of Robert Frost. Babbitt's study of the imagination gave me an explanation of why Frost went against the general drift of the world and why he wanted to be a good Greek. I saw that Frost was not a romantic poet, as some would have it, but rather a classi­cal poet, as nobody seemed to be remark­ing.

So I wrote a paper at the end of that summer of '24 that was intended to show that Robert Frost was a poet of humanistic temper. "The purest classical poet of America today is Robert Frost," I de­clared at the outset of this paper. This was the "something different," the "some­thing new" that I said about Frost that led him to leave a note in my mailbox a couple of years later.

I did not know at the time that Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, the leaders of the New Humanism, as it was to be called in the last years of the twenties, had discovered the humanistic nature of Frost's poetry as early as 1916. In that year, Frost was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. "It was over the dead body of Robert Underwood Johnson, and with the backing of Wilbur Cross, Irving Babbitt, and Paul Elmer More that I got in," Frost told Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant. "Johnson's resistance had its source in my early refusals by magazines. My back­ers could only bring me in as a Humanist." "Which means a Platonist," Frost mistak­enly added, forgetting that while More was a Platonist, Babbitt might better be termed an Aristotelian.

Nor had I then read an essay on Frost's neighborliness by a follower of Babbitt and More, a young Amherst professor, G.R. Elliott, in which Frost's neighborliness was differentiated from humanitarianism, a romantic cult Frost despised. As Law­rence Thompson was to observe long after Elliott's essay, "the metaphor which represents the key to Frost's social outlook is the metaphor of community relationship: neighborliness." Frost felt, in Thompson's well-chosen words, that "the well-meaning pity of the humanitarians encourages the abandonment of that self-discipline and individual action which is the basic unit of social strength." [...]

The most classical trait of Frost, I should say, is the high place he gives to form in his ars poetica. In his early conversations with me, he several times men­tioned form as one of the highest literary qualities. Four years later, at one of his New School for Social Research lectures, I took down verbatim his definition of creation: "Creation has its end implicit in the beginning but not foreknown." Has a better definition of organic form ever been offered? Frost said it again in 1939 in his prose introduction to Collected Poems. Of the course of a true poem, he said that "it has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image of the original mood­ and indeed from the very mood." The principle of the unforeseen but predestined is the very principle of growth or organic form, and in its working exemplifies the classical laws of probability and inevit­ability.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Strictly Business Between Brady, Belichick (Sally Jenkins, 1/28/17, The Washington Post)

First, they share a workaholic absorption in the tedium of football strategy, a love for cataloging tendencies and almost mechanistic work habits. Last February, Brady had a digital clock installed in his workout room at home that ticks down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the 2017 Super Bowl, so that he would know "he had exactly 11,325 minutes and 14 seconds to go," Tom Sr. said.

Second, they share an instinct that self-deprecation is the heart of real leadership. One of the marvels of their collaboration is that they have been able to fight the corrosions of stardom so consistently and build a culture that, for all of its disparate personalities, is essentially egoless and sublimating. As Brady remarked on his weekly radio show last week, the Patriots are "brainwashed."

"We have a sign on our wall that says 'Doing the right thing for the team when it may not be the right thing for you,' " Brady said.

"And that's just putting everything aside and ignoring the noise and all the positive things that people may say about you, all the negative things people may say about you and just believing in yourself and not making excuses," he added. "I think our coach does a great job of never buying into that B.S. He never makes it about one player; he never makes it about one play. He never makes it about one call or one situation. ... And he never lets his foot off the gas pedal, so really, when you come to our team, it's just, you're brainwashed. It's just the way it goes."

But if Belichick is a brainwasher, Brady has been the lead hypnotist. According to close observers, the Patriots' ethos begins with Brady's fundamental acquiescence to Belichick's authority, even when it hurts.

"Players learn from players, and when you walk into that place and watch how Brady conducts his business, you know that's how you do it there," says Damon Huard, who served as a backup quarterback for the Patriots from 2001-03.

Brady willingly lets Belichick use him as the example, in everything from renegotiating cap-friendly contracts to absorbing Belichick's scathing sarcasm for mistakes. One team insider notes that no matter how brilliant Belichick's game-planning and personnel decisions, "If Brady had a different personality and didn't buy in and wasn't this type of leader, it would be difficult."

According to someone who knows both men, the tone was set during Brady's rookie season, when he sat impatiently in meetings that would halt while former starter Drew Bledsoe left the room for a bathroom break. Brady determined then not to be a quarterback who could make a room revolve around him, even unintentionally.

Former players cite example after example in which Brady has served as Belichick's company man, without resentment. Gary Myers documented in one of his books, Brady vs Manning, The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL, how Belichick would intentionally resist praising Brady for individual records, finally relenting only when he surpassed 50,000 yards.

Former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib told ESPN of one day in practice when Brady threw an interception on a seam route and Belichick exploded at him in full view of everyone: "You got 130 career interceptions, and half of them are on this route. You keep doing the same s-- over and over, and this is what happens."

His father cites an instance when Belichick told Brady witheringly after an incompletion, "You're supposed to be an all-pro, and I can go down the street to the local high (school) and find a quarterback who could complete that pass."

The message is that Belichick demands from all players equally, and Brady has been secure enough to accept it -- though not without feeling as if he has taken, as Brady's father puts it, some "piercing shots" from Belichick, even at 39.

"When you've been doing this a lot of years, you don't expect to keep taking shots," Tom Sr. said. "On the other hand, there is a process to team-building. If any player on the team holds himself out to be better than somebody else, then the team-building is not solid. If you can shoot the big dog, all the other dogs in the pack are going to pay attention. ... And the players love it because it signals that they're all in this together. ... When he gets knocked down, they all kind of revel in it."

Brady has told his father that he aims to be "the perfect soldier." That doesn't mean he always has understood his orders, or that there haven't been clashes. If there is a fundamental difference between the two men, it's in temperament: Brady is fierce, Belichick famously detached. Brady has struggled to understand some of Belichick's cooler roster decisions, how he could discard players who seemed essential or with whom Brady was close, such as Lawyer Milloy, Deion Branch and Logan Mankins. It was apparently hard for Brady to see how it was for the betterment of the team to trade Mankins, his best offensive lineman, just before the 2014 season, over financial calculations.

"When trades are made or changes are made, they impact Tom emotionally," Tom Sr. says. "Bill is not the emotional leader of the team. He does not make emotional decisions; he makes intellectual decisions, financial decisions, strategic decisions. He is involved with those rational parts of team-building, whereas the players have to connect emotionally. When Bill makes decisions, he knows what's behind Door No. 2 or Door No. 3, whereas players are dealing with it more myopically."

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


White House Omits Slaughter of 6 Million Jews in Holocaust Remembrance Statement (Adam Kredo, January 27, 2017, Free Beacon)

The Trump White House has omitted mention of the slaughter of 6 million Jews in its official statement in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a first for any White House, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

The Trump administration's statement honors "those who died," but does not specifically mention the systematic murder of more than 6 million Jews by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


TRUMP'S MUSLIM BAN TRIGGERS CHAOS, HEARTBREAK, AND RESISTANCE (Ryan Devereaux, Murtaza Hussain, Alice Speri, January 29 2017, The Intercept)

Trump's order triggered waves of outrage and condemnation at home and abroad, prompting thousands of protesters to flood several American airports and ultimately culminating in a stay issued by a federal district judge in New York City on the deportation of people who were being detained by immigration officials. Similar stays were issued by judges in Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

The administration's assault on civil liberties explicitly targeted the world's most vulnerable populations -- refugees and asylum seekers fleeing devastating wars -- as well as young people with student visas pursuing an education in the United States, green card holders with deep roots in the country, and a number of citizens of countries not included in the ban. It also impacted American children traveling with, or waiting to meet, their non-citizen parents.

With an estimated 500,000 people in the crosshairs, Trump's order was carried out swiftly and sowed confusion among the nation's immigration and homeland security agencies -- which were excluded from the drafting process and were scrambling to understand how to implement it, according to media reports and two government officials who spoke to The Intercept.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Six other times the US has banned immigrants (Al Jazeera, 1/28/17)

Exclusion of the Chinese

President Chester A. Arthur.

Signed on May 6, 1882. 

The Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned "skilled and unskilled labourers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering the US for 10 years, was the first significant law restricting immigration to the country. It came at a time when the US was struggling with high unemployment and, although Chinese made up a very small segment of the country's workforce, they were nevertheless scapegoated for its social and economic woes.

The law also placed restrictions on Chinese who were already in the US, forcing them to obtain certificates in order to re-enter if they left the country and banning them from securing citizenship.

The act expired in 1892 but was extended for a further 10 years in the form of another - the Geary Act. This placed additional restrictions on Chinese residents of the country, forcing them to register and to obtain a certificate of residence, without which they could be deported.

This changed in 1943 with the Magnuson Act - which allowed some Chinese immigration and for some Chinese already residing in the country to become naturalised citizens, but which maintained the ban on property and business ownership. This came at a time when China was a US ally during World War II.

Jewish refugees during World War II

President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As millions of people became refugees during World War II, US President Franklin D Roosevelt argued that refugees posed a serious threat to the country's national security. Drawing on fears that Nazi spies could be hiding among them, the country limited the number of German Jews who could be admitted to 26,000 annually. And it is estimated that for most of the Hitler era, less than 25 percent of that quota was actually filled.

In one of the most notorious cases, the US turned away the St Louis ocean liner, which was carrying 937 passengers, almost all of whom are thought to have been Jewish, in June 1939. The ship was forced to return to Europe, where more than a quarter of its passengers are thought to have been killed in the Holocaust.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Trump is in the way of Theresa May's global gamble : With Brexit, Theresa May is seeking alternative free trade partners, but Trump's nativism is standing in her way. (Richard Seymour, 1/28/17, Al Jazeera)

[T]he British prime minister is out to achieve something improbable. If Britain is going to leave the European Union, May has decided, it will leave decisively, even sacrificing tariff-free access to the single market - Britain's largest export market - and seek its fortune elsewhere.

But if the British state is to put border controls and withdrawal from the European Court of Justice ahead of its major trading relationship with Europe, it will need a world in which it can turn a profit. And for May, that means an American-led world, a "free trade empire" in which US-led multilateral institutions open markets in labour, goods and capital, suppress legal obstacles and defend strong property rights for corporations.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Trump has overruled with an executive order, would have given new property rights to companies, such as pharmaceuticals, and allowed businesses to sue over environmental and other restrictions to their profit-making. It was worth hundreds of billions to US corporations and would have been a goldmine to anyone who gained access.

Only in this context can May's pivot to "hard Brexit" make sense. The Financial Times pointed out a particular irony in her turning her back on the single market, a model Thatcherite institution. But it has long been a dream of the middle-class right in Britain that it could recover its old colonial elan by shaking off European shackles and becoming a dominant, freewheeling "global trader".

If May could achieve this epochal shift, she would reconcile diverging branches of conservatism, restore the Tories as the dominant party of government, tighten the Atlantic alliance, and use new agreements to drive down labour costs and make British capitalism more competitive.

Her biggest problem is Donald Trump. 

January 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM



Trump signed the order, titled "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States," on International Holocaust Remembrance Day- a decision that riled American Jewish groups.

"The terrorist threat attributed to refugees is a cruel and distracting fiction, especially when viewed against the actual incidence of mass violence committed with chilling frequency- in schools, churches, shopping malls and other venues- against Americans by Americans," the American Jewish Committee said in a strong statement. "Blanket suspensions of visas and refugee admission would suggest guilt by association- targeted primarily at Muslims fleeing violence and oppression."

Several Jewish human rights organizations, including T'ruah, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Bend the Arc, mobilized on Friday to fight Trump's action in courts of law and public opinion. So too did the Anti-Defamation League, which vowed a "relentless fight" against an order that it characterized as a fundamental challenge to Jewish values.

"History will look back on this order as a sad moment in American history- the time when the president turned his back on people fleeing for their lives," reads the ADL statement. "This will effectively shut America's doors to the most vulnerable people in the world who seek refuge from unspeakable pain and suffering."

"Our history and heritage compel us to take a stand," it adds.

Over 1,700 American rabbis signed a letter in support of the US refugee resettlement program, and nearly 600 Soviet Jews who emigrated to the US signed a petition in opposition to Trump's decision "to close America's doors to vulnerable refugees desperately seeking our protection."

"Ending all admission of refugees? A religious test for those admitted to the country? Legal immigrants denied reentry? Ugly all around," wrote Dan Shapiro, former ambassador to Israel under US President Barack Obama, describing himself as "sickened" by the move.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Gallup Daily: Trump Job Approval (Gallup, 1/28/17)

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Where Christian Leaders Stand on Trump's Refugee Policy (EMMA GREEN  JAN 27, 2017, The Atlantic)

The announcement was met with immediate backlash from leaders of nearly every Christian denomination, along with those of other faiths. They argue that Trump's actions do not reflect the teachings of the Bible, nor the traditions of the United States, and they have urged the president to let them get back to work--many of the country's most prominent refugee resettlement organizations are faith-based.

If so many prominent Christian leaders reject the notion that their fellow Christians should get preferential treatment, why has this become Trump's policy? One possible answer is that these leaders don't necessarily reflect what their flocks believe. Even if they think an open refugee policy is in line with the teachings of Christianity, lay Americans don't necessarily feel the same way.

From religious leaders' perspectives, backlash against Trump's immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now. Hundreds of prominent clergy signed onto a letter condemning the "derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors," calling on Trump to reinstate the refugee program.

While these efforts included many progressive and mainline denomination leaders, along with an interfaith coalition of other clergy, it's not just liberals who are pushing back against Trump. A wide range of conservative Christian leaders, along with other relief organizations, have also spoken out against the president's decision.

"Christ calls us to care for everyone, regardless of who they are and where they come from," said Jenny Yang, the senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, the arm of the National Association of Evangelicals that provides refugee and immigration resettlement services. "That has to be a core part of our witness--not just caring for our own, but caring for others as well."

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


President Trump's predecessors learned about tariffs the hard way (Ethan Wolff-Mann, January 27, 2017, Yahoo)

In March 2002, President George W. Bush imposed a 30% tariff on Chinese steel. The results were chaotic. In a report put out by Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition in February of that year, the coalition found the tariffs against China boosted the overall prices of steel and cost the U.S. 200,000 jobs in businesses that buy steel, representing $4 billion.

In another recent situation, in September 2009, President Obama imposed a three-year tariff on car tires from China. Chinese imports went down, but the tires were simply sourced from other countries, the LA Times noted. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, 1,200 tire jobs were saved in the U.S., but through costs passed along to American consumers, 2,500 jobs were lost indirectly.

In Bush's case, seven months after the tariffs were imposed more American jobs had been lost than Americans employed by domestic steel producers. Writing about the trickling effect of trying to help a certain domestic industry, CITAC noted: "In making policy for the revitalization of manufacturing, including the steel industry, our conclusions suggest that the effects across the full industrial spectrum should be considered."

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


How a Clever GOP Tax Plan Managed to Baffle Everyone (Ramesh Ponnuru, 1/27/17, Bloomberg View)

The idea is to tax all domestically consumed goods, whether those goods are produced here or abroad.

This "border adjusted" tax wouldn't be a tariff, because it wouldn't discriminate between imports and goods produced in America for Americans. It therefore wouldn't bias a consumer's choice between a domestically produced good and a competing import.

Some Republicans think that other countries' VATs help to reduce their trade deficits and that we could reduce ours by adopting a border-adjusted tax. They are probably wrong about that: Most economists believe that when countries adopt such taxes, their currencies appreciate and their total imports and exports end up roughly unchanged. (How fast this happens is an open question.)

But since we import more than we export, applying taxes to imports but not to exports also raises money for the federal government. The economist Martin Feldstein estimates that border adjustment could raise $120 billion a year. That's another reason House Republicans like it: They could use the revenue to offset some of the tax cuts they want to enact.

The best argument for border adjustment is that it is a way for free traders to tell Trump that they are going to discourage imports and encourage exports, while at the same time they avoid outright protectionism. That rationale depends on Trump's not quite grasping what's going on.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Chevrolet Bolt EV Surprises - Range Anxiety Gone (George Peterson ,   1/27/17, Forbes)

The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the real deal.  It is an electric vehicle purpose-built around a five module battery pack that forms the floor of the car.  These batteries give a maximum range of 238 miles.  AutoPacific's research on electric vehicles over the years has concluded that the holy grail for EV range is 225 miles to avoid range anxiety.  So Bolt EV achieves that range with a little to spare.

The designed-in-South Korea Bolt EV is a crossover SUV in Chevrolet's mind.  I see it as more of a 5-door hatchback, but Chevrolet contends its higher seating position and relatively high roof deserve a crossover classification.  Besides, crossovers are selling like hotcakes these days and cars are not.  Bolt EV looks modern with forward sloping character lines that you could see on a crossover today.  OK, it's a crossover.

The Bolt EV is spacious enough for four people.  Getting in and out is relatively easy but the front A-Pillars are so fast that you have to be careful to duck or else you will hit your head.  The instrument panel in the top model includes a reconfigurable instrument cluster and a 10.2 inch screen in the center stack that provides all the information concerning its electric operation and the usual connectivity features like Bluetooth.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are how you get navigation in the car.  There is no resident NAV.  The Bolt EV is available with the typical General Motors driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane keeping warning, surround view camera, blind spot warning, etc.

The real surprise comes when driving the Bolt EV.  Its powerpack provides 200-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque.  This output is like a peppy 1.6L or 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder in a hot hatch small car.  Bolt EV does not have to apologize to anyone on the freeway.  The car can be operated in "one-foot mode" where regenerative braking is activated.  This would be my normal driving mode.  When you lift off the accelerator, the brakes engage to put electricity back into the batteries.  The deceleration can be controlled by a paddle behind the steering wheel.   Using regen, you rarely have to actually press on the brake pedal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Why is a red state the number-one wind energy producer in America? (Charlie Wood, JANUARY 27, 2017, CS Monitor)

Even in the midst of the fracking revolution, then-Gov. Rick Perry signed on for a goal of generating 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2025, according to the Wall Street Journal, stretching a previous target of 2,000 megawatts set by George W. Bush as part of a 1999 deregulation of the power market. In April of last year, the state was already making 19,000.

For some proponents of renewables, their benefits have little to do with the environment, but are green all the same. As 2017 begins, Texas's Georgetown is set to become one of the first cities in the country to ditch fossil fuels entirely. But as then-interim city manager Jim Briggs, the engineer of the switch, told The Guardian in 2015, "We didn't do this to save the world - we did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


That Awkward Clip of Donald and Melania at the Inauguration Is Definitely Real (Gabriella Paiella, 1/23/17, New York)

January 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Donald Trump Blows Up the U.S.-Mexico Relationship (Ryan Lizza, Jan. 27th, 2017, The New Yorker)

On Wednesday, when Videgaray and his colleagues came to the White House for a day of meetings with Jared Kushner and other senior Trump aides, Trump signed one executive order calling for "the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border" and another greatly expanding the categories of undocumented immigrants who will be prioritized for deportation. The Embassy official said the team of diplomats at the White House was furious and despondent at the timing. "They were like, 'What the [f***] are we going to negotiate?' " the official said. " 'You've done the job. What are we going to negotiate if you've signed this? What's wrong with you?' "

Peña Nieto made an emotional televised statement to his country on Wednesday evening condemning Trump's executive orders. "Mexico will not pay for any wall," he said. He promised to turn Mexico's fifty consulates in the United States into "true ramparts in defense of migrant rights."

The relationship between the two leaders completely ruptured yesterday. In one of his first instances of Twitter diplomacy as President, Trump wrote on Thursday morning, "If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting." Not surprisingly, Peña Nieto cancelled.

This depressing episode confirms several of the worst fears about Trump. The first is that he is not a good negotiator. Rather than waiting a week before he issued his executive orders on immigration, Trump signed them at a moment that maximally embarrassed Videgaray, the Mexican official who is the most sympathetic to him. The moves left the unpopular Peña Nieto with no choice but to cancel next week's visit, and poisoned the relationship with one of America's closest allies and our third-largest trading partner.

Furthermore, it showed that with his impulsive use of Twitter to make foreign-policy statements, Trump is turning American diplomacy into a series of personal relationships unguided by strategy or forethought. He praises foreign leaders who flatter him, such as Vladimir Putin, and marginalizes those who criticize him, like Peña Nieto, without regard to the strategic value of the relationship. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Behind closed doors, Republican lawmakers fret about how to repeal Obamacare (Mike DeBonis January 27, 2017, Washington Post)

Republican lawmakers aired sharp concerns about their party's quick push to repeal the Affordable Care Act at a closed-door meeting Thursday, according to a recording of the session obtained by The Washington Post.

The recording reveals a GOP that appears to be filled with doubts about how to make good on a long-standing promise to get rid of Obamacare without explicit guidance from President Trump or his administration. The thorny issues with which lawmakers grapple on the tape -- including who may end up either losing coverage or paying more under a revamped system -- highlight the financial and political challenges that flow from upending the current law.

Senators and House members expressed a range of concerns about the task ahead: how to prepare a replacement plan that can be ready to launch at the time of repeal; how to avoid deep damage to the health insurance market; how to keep premiums affordable for middle-class families; even how to avoid the political consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood, the women's health-care organization, as many Republicans hope to do with the repeal of the ACA.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Leaks out of White House cast Donald Trump as a clueless child (Chris Cillizza,  Jan 28, 2017, Washington Post)

All White Houses leak. Sometimes the leaks are big, sometimes small. But there are always people willing to talk to reporters about the "real" story or about why the chief executive made a mistake in regard to some decision he made.

That said, I've never seen so much leaking so quickly - and with such disdain for the president - as I have in the first six days of Donald Trump's presidency. [...]

Time and again, the image of Trump pushed by his "aides" is one of a clueless child - someone who acts on impulse, disregarding the better advice of people who know better. We know he needs to be managed or else he will say and do stupid things, the message seems to be. We're working on it.

And what we know about Trump from his presidential campaign is that some of his top staffers - most notably Kellyanne Conway - often communicated to the boss via the media. What that strategy suggests is that Trump is influenced at least as much - and, in truth, likely more - by reading the sniping of his aides on background (meaning without their names attached) in the news than he is by private conversations. That the best way to reach him, change his mind or otherwise bend his ear is through a public airing of grievances.

Trump has shown that his tendency to obsessively consume media - especially cable television - is unchanged in the six days since he has become president. He appears to be making policy decisions via things he watches or reads. (Remember Trump's famous/infamous statement that he got his military information and advice "mostly from the shows.")

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


The Patriots Improved Their Defense by Trading Their Best Defender (Jim Chairusmi, 1/27/17, WSJ)

As a star approaching some contract turbulence, Collins fit the operating model at Patriot Place: get something in return for a player that the team isn't planning to extend. He was in the final year of his rookie contract and reportedly seeking a lucrative extension, something that the Patriots were unwilling to give him given the team's salary-cap constraints. This week, the Browns gave Collins a 4-year, $50 million extension, with $26 million guaranteed.

"Bill Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt," CBS analyst and former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said. "His record is what it is and he has the best feel for his team."

Although Collins played every defensive snap in the team's first four games this season, the Patriots coaching staff appeared unhappy with his play against the run. By Week 8 against Buffalo, Collins had lost his starting job and was on the field for only 62% of the team's defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders.

Although he was leading the team with 43 combined tackles and assists at the time of the trade, the move to transition away from Collins had already begun in his final game as a Patriot. In the Oct. 30 game against the Bills, Collins was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Elandon Roberts. After entering on the game's second play, Collins, playing at right outside linebacker, blew his assignment and gave up a 28-yard run. New England's defense allowed a season-high 167 yards rushing for the game.

The following day, Collins was traded to Cleveland.

"We did what we felt like was best for the team and that was really it," Belichick said about trading Collins. "Sometimes it doesn't work out one place and works out somewhere else and that's life. A lot of us have been in those situations."

With a deep linebacker corps that includes Roberts, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, the Patriots deemed Collins expendable. Abruptly demoting Collins, a leader on the field, to a part-time player might have threatened the team's morale.

"The problem is when you get in the huddle with your leader, who is your leader?" said ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Herm Edwards. "It's kind of like, if we take him out, why don't we take the left tackle out too? Why don't we take the middle linebacker out when he's struggling? Why don't we take the wide receiver out when he drops two balls? You don't want players playing like that."

The Patriots defense took a short-term hit, but the long-term effects of the trade actually made the team better, with faster and younger players such as Roberts, McClellin and Van Noy playing expanded roles.

Another successful aspect of the Patriot Way is identifying players with talent that have been undervalued by their former teams.

Van Noy, a former second-round pick by the Lions, was acquired in a trade a week before the Collins deal, while McClellin, the Bears' first-round pick in 2012, was signed in the offseason after Chicago declined to pick up his option. In Sunday's AFC Championship, Van Noy made four tackles and forced a fumble.

After allowing 101.6 rushing yards per game in the first eight games of the season with Collins in the lineup, the Patriots held teams to 76.3 rushing yards in the 10 games after the trade. New England also finished the regular season as the No. 1-ranked scoring defense, limiting teams to only 15.6 points per game.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Why Are So Many People Registered to Vote in Multiple States? : It's not just Trump's administration: Thanks to voting rights protections and federalism, many Americans are registered in more than one state--whether they know it or not. (Jack Denton, 1/27/17, Pacific Standard)

Beyond the wastefulness of an investigation into a non-issue--research shows that voter fraud almost never occurs--Trump's focus on double registration became especially curious after reporters discovered that members of his administration and family are registered to vote in two states. First, a reporter at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune uncovered that Stephen Bannon, senior adviser to the president, was registered to vote in both Florida and New York.

Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, White House advisor (and Trump's son-in-law) Jared Kushner, and First Daughter Tiffany Trump were also all registered to vote in two states, as CNN, the Washington Post, and Heatstreet reported, respectively.

The national press took justifiable pleasure in pointing out the hypocrisy of Trump's investigation plans, but confusion about duplicate registrations is understandable. While voting in multiple jurisdictions or precincts in the same election is illegal, being registered in multiple states is not. In fact, across the United States, having multiple voter registrations is fairly common. A 2012 study conducted by the Pew Center found that at least 2.75 million people were registered to vote in more than one state, likely the result of moving from one state to another. But why do these outdated registrations persist when someone moves to a new state and becomes registered to vote there? [...]

This is partly because 1993's National Voter Registration Act (NRVA), which codified many of the practices of voter roll maintenance, leaving the practice almost entirely up to the states. The Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002 in an attempt to fix some of the voting problems (both real and imagined) of the 2000 election, required states to keep centralized voter registration databases, but did not mandate inter-state sharing. The federal government still does not maintain any national voter registration database, and few states cross-reference their voter rolls to avoid duplication. Political consulting firms (and hackers) may be the only ones to aggregate nationwide voter registration data.

...why not sell the right to maintain a national system?
Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


In 59 Philadelphia voting divisions, Mitt Romney got zero votes (Miriam Hill, Andrew Seidman, and John Duchneskie, Nov. 12, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Still, was there not one contrarian voter in those 59 divisions, where unofficial vote tallies have President Obama outscoring Romney by a combined 19,605 to 0?

The unanimous support for Obama in these Philadelphia neighborhoods - clustered in almost exclusively black sections of West and North Philadelphia - fertilizes fears of fraud, despite little hard evidence.

Upon hearing the numbers, Steve Miskin, a spokesman for Republicans in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, brought up his party's voter-identification initiative - which was held off for this election - and said, "We believe we need to continue ensuring the integrity of the ballot."

The absence of a voter-ID law, however, would not stop anyone from voting for a Republican candidate.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who has studied African American precincts, said he had occasionally seen 100 percent of the vote go for the Democratic candidate. Chicago and Atlanta each had precincts that registered no votes for Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008.

"I'd be surprised if there weren't a handful of precincts that didn't cast a vote for Romney," he said. But the number of zero precincts in Philadelphia deserves examination, Sabato added.

"Not a single vote for Romney or even an error? That's worth looking into," he said.

In a city with 1,687 of the ward subsets known as divisions, each with hundreds of voters, 59 is about 3.5 percent of the total.

In some of those divisions, it's not only Romney supporters who are missing. Republicans in general are nearly extinct.

Take North Philadelphia's 28th Ward, third division, bounded by York, 24th, and 28th Streets and Susquehanna Avenue.

About 94 percent of the 633 people who live in that division are black. Seven white residents were counted in the 2010 census.

In the entire 28th Ward, Romney received only 34 votes to Obama's 5,920.

Although voter registration lists, which often contain outdated information, show 12 Republicans live in the ward's third division, The Inquirer was unable to find any of them by calling or visiting their homes.

Four of the registered Republicans no longer lived there; four others didn't answer their doors. City Board of Elections registration data say a registered Republican used to live at 25th and York Streets, but none of the neighbors across the street Friday knew him. Cathy Santos, 56, founder of the National Alliance of Women Veterans, had one theory: "We ran him out of town!" she said and laughed.

James Norris, 19, who lives down the street, is listed as a Republican in city data. But he said he's a Democrat and voted for Obama because he thinks the president will help the middle class.

A few blocks away, Eric Sapp, a 42-year-old chef, looked skeptical when told that city data had him listed as a registered Republican. "I got to check on that," said Sapp, who voted for Obama.

Eighteen Republicans reportedly live in the nearby 15th Division, according to city registration records. The 15th has the distinction of pitching two straight Republican shutouts - zero votes for McCain in 2008, zero for Romney on Tuesday. Oh, and 13 other city divisions did the same thing in 2008 and 2012.

Three of the 15th's registered Republicans were listed as living in the same apartment, but the tenant there said he had never heard of them. The addresses of several others could not be found.

On West Albert Street, Duke Dunston says he knows he's a registered Republican, but he's never voted for one.

The leader of the 28th Ward is Democrat Anthony Clark, who grew up under the tutelage of the late power broker and Democratic ward leader Carol Ann Campbell. Clark is also a city commissioner, one of three elected officials who oversee Philadelphia elections.

"In the African American community from 33d to 24th between Ridge and Somerset, there is a large population of Democrats and there are not many Republicans in there at all. I think it's the issues. People are not feeling that Romney is in touch with them," Clark said.

Despite the Democratic advantage in the 28th Ward, Clark says he also makes sure party workers are getting the vote out.

"People get out, give out literature, talk to people about the issues. Also, they work the polls," Clark said. "People know them in their divisions."

Clark struggled to recall anyone in his area who ever identified as a Republican. Though that is not something anyone would likely volunteer to a Democratic ward leader, Clark eventually remembered Lewis Harris, the GOP leader in the nearby 29th ward, and that rare species: an urban black Republican.

Harris, in an interview, said he works for the GOP mostly because he believes city neighborhoods need attention from both parties.

"I open the door to the community and let them be exposed to diversity in the political party," Harris said. "I want political community-based leverage."

Harris cast his vote for Romney, but he's also an Obama fan.

"I love both of those people," he said.

Nationally, 93 percent of African Americans voted for Obama, according to exit polls, so it's not surprising that in some parts of Philadelphia, the president did even better than that.

January 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Trump pressured Park Service to find proof for his claims about inauguration crowd (Karen Tumulty and Juliet Eilperin,  January 26, 2017, Washington Post)
On the morning after Donald Trump's inauguration, acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds received an extraordinary summons: The new president wanted to talk to him.

In a Saturday phone call, Trump personally ordered Reynolds to produce additional photographs of the previous day's crowds on the Mall, according to three individuals who have knowledge of the conversation. The president believed that the photos might prove that the media had lied in reporting that attendance had been no better than average.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Trump Is Not Actually Planning to Pay for His Wall With a 20 Percent Tax on Mexican Imports (Yet) (Jordan Weissmann, 1/26/17, Slate)

So how do I know Spicer was talking about an obscure change to corporate taxation rather than a big, fat tariff?

Let's look at Spicer's actual comments:

When you look at the plan that's taking shape now, using comprehensive tax reform as a means to tax imports from countries that we have a trade deficit from, like Mexico--if you tax tax that $50 billion at 20 percent of imports--which is by the way a practice that 160 other countries do--right now our country's is to tax exports and let imports flow freely in, which is ridiculous. By doing it that we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone. That's really going to provide the funding.

First, he said "using comprehensive tax reform."That's a pretty clear hint that he's talking about the plan that Ryan and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady have concocted. Later, while clarifying, he elaborated that he was talking about "this idea that Speaker Ryan and other have floated through tax reform." Second, and just as importantly, he says 160 other countries do it. He then repeats this point: "Keep in mind: There are 160 other countries that do just this. We're one of the only major countries that doesn't treat imports this way. In fact we currently tax exports, not imports. So this gets us in line frankly with policies that other countries around the world treat our products."

Obviously, 160 other countries do not have 20 percent tariffs on imports from countries with which they have a bilateral trade deficit. What they do have are value-added taxes, or VATs, which are border-adjusted. That's because a VAT is meant to be a tax on domestic consumption--it's basically a sales tax that's collected at each stage of production, rather than just at the retail level--and it wouldn't make any sense to slap it on exports, since that would just make a country's wares uncompetitive in overseas markets.

Under World Trade Organization rules, countries are allowed to border-adjust VATs. For reasons that are kind of complicated and occssionally debated, they're not allowed to border-adjust "direct" taxes like the corporate income tax. This has long chafed Republicans, because the United States relies heavily on the corporate income tax and does not have a VAT. They believe (wrongly, in my opinion) that this puts our goods at a significant competitive disadvantage. The DBCFT is basically their attempt to skirt around those rules, which may or may not pass muster.

But if the greenback adjusts to the tax as many economists expect, it wouldn't really be a tax on Mexican (or Chinese, or German) imports either, since all those car parts and bottles of Mezcal would end up costing the same in dollar terms. Instead, the burden ends up falling on investors with foreign-denominated investments or companies with a lot of overseas profits, since the appreciating dollar would eat into their value. (So, Apple's iPhone sales in China wouldn't be as profitable.)

Transitioning from taxes on income and savings to taxes on consumption is just another way that W was way out ahead of the curve (or arc of progress?).

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Obamacare attack dog to lead GOP effort to replace it (KYLE CHENEY and RACHAEL BADE 01/19/17, Politico)

[Rep. Greg] Walden (R-Ore.) just seized the gavel of the powerful House panel that oversees health care policy, the Energy and Commerce Committee. He he won the job in part because of his success getting Republicans elected to Congress when he ran the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

The new role puts Walden in the unfamiliar role steering House Republican efforts to replace the health law he skewered for years. He sounded like he intends to employ a soft touch.

In a recent interview with POLITICO late, his first since taking his new chairmanship, Walden displayed political sensitivities about the GOP effort to dismantle Obamacare. Rather than adopt the apocalyptic rhetoric his colleagues have often used to justify plans to wipe Obamacare from the books, Walden pointedly used the words "repair" and "rebuild" to describe his own approach.

"I don't care what you call it. It needs to be fixed," he said. "We need to work aggressively on the repairs to the individual market, to Obamacare. Some might call that replacement. I call that a rebuild. I call it repair."

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


What Physicians Say About Repeal of the Affordable Care Act (David Grande, MD, MPA and Craig Pollack, MD, MS, 1/25/17, Penn LDI)

We report our findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, and summarize them below.

First, very few primary care physicians want the ACA repealed. Just 15% supported repeal - even among physicians voting for Donald Trump - only 38% supported repeal. 

Second, primary care physicians strongly support key elements of the ACA and feel they are important to the health of the nation. Most primary care physicians supported the ACA's insurance market regulations that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions, providing subsidies to individuals to make insurance more affordable, and expanding Medicaid. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Texas has the longest U.S. border with Mexico. Zero of its 38 members of Congress support Trump's wall. (The Week, 1/26/17)

Texas sends 38 lawmakers to Congress -- 36 House members and two senators -- and 25 of them are Republican. None of them are willing to endorse President Trump's plan for a gulf-to-sea border wall. Not all of Texas' congressional delegation necessarily opposes the wall, but when The Texas Tribune asked about Trump's signature policy issue a few weeks ago, none would go on record as thinking it is a good idea.

Many of them were in favor of erecting barriers in some sections of the border, adding Border Patrol officers, and using surveillance technology, but Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R) only backed completing the last 50 miles of 700 miles of border fencing approved by Congress in 2006, most of it in Arizona. Others fretted about using eminent domain to seize land from ranchers, often family land passed down for generations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Diversity for the Sake of Democracy (Carrie Pritt, 1/24/17, Quillette)

"Stand up if you identify as Caucasian."

The minister's voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn't be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. "Look at your community," he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you," the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of "Caucasian": black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University's freshman class had been branded with a demographic.

This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every other piece of our identities. He faced a crowd of singular young adults and essentially told them that their heritage outweighed their humanity.  The message was clear: know your kind and stick to it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


As Trump Thunders, G.O.P. Lawmakers Duck and Cover (MATT FLEGENHEIMER, JAN. 26, 2017, NY Times)

Representative Mark Sanford, Republican of South Carolina, noted Mr. Trump had thrived on presenting himself as "real" to the public.

"I think you can move from real to bizarre if you don't watch out," said Mr. Sanford, who was his state's governor when he famously disappeared to Argentina to pursue an extramarital affair. "And some of what he's done in tweet-world and others certainly fit that mold." [...]

Mr. Sanford recalled a recent conversation with a colleague in his party about the president's false statements on voter fraud.

"A fellow member turned to me and pointed to it and said, 'That's what third-world dictators do,'" Mr. Sanford said. "They just repeat the same misinformation over and over and over again until it sinks in."

Mr. Sanford was asked if he shared his peer's concerns that Mr. Trump had displayed authoritarian tendencies. He paused for a beat.

"I'm going to give anybody the benefit of the doubt," he said, "over the first three days."

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


How Antonin Scalia's Ghost Could Block Donald Trump's Wall (DANIEL HEMEL, JONATHAN MASUR and ERIC POSNERJAN. 25, 2017, NY Times)

[I]n one of his last opinions, Justice Scalia supplied a powerful weapon to resist Mr. Trump's plans for a border wall.

Justice Scalia's June 2015 opinion in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency may not seem helpful at first sight. It blocked an E.P.A. rule that would have limited mercury emissions from power plants. The Clean Air Act instructs the E.P.A. to issue "appropriate and necessary" regulations, and Justice Scalia said that language required the E.P.A. to consider the costs of its proposed rules, which it did not properly do. "No regulation is 'appropriate' if it does significantly more harm than good," Justice Scalia wrote. And even though the final vote in the case was 5-4, all nine members of the court agreed that the E.P.A. could not ignore the costs of its actions when deciding whether or how stringently to regulate.

Why is Justice Scalia's opinion an obstacle to President Trump's wall-building plans? Mr. Trump is reported to be planning to rely on a law called the Secure Fence Act of 2006 as a source of statutory authority for the wall -- apparently to avoid asking Congress to pass a new statute, which could be filibustered by Senate Democrats.

But the 2006 law authorizes the secretary of homeland security only to take actions to secure the border that are "necessary and appropriate." These are the same words (in the opposite order) the Supreme Court interpreted in Michigan v. E.P.A. As Justice Scalia said, it would not be "appropriate" to "impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars" in benefits. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


The first days inside Trump's White House: Fury, tumult and a reboot (Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Matea Gold, January 23, 2017, Washington Post)

President Trump had just returned to the White House on Saturday from his final inauguration event, a tranquil interfaith prayer service, when the flashes of anger began to build.

Trump turned on the television to see a jarring juxtaposition -- massive demonstrations around the globe protesting his day-old presidency and footage of the sparser crowd at his inauguration, with large patches of white empty space on the Mall. 

As his press secretary, Sean Spicer, was still unpacking boxes in his spacious new West Wing office, Trump grew increasingly and visibly enraged.  [...]

The broader power struggles within the Trump operation have touched everything from the new administration's communications shop to the expansive role of the president's son-in-law to the formation of Trump's political organization. At the center, as always, is Trump himself, whose ascent to the White House seems to have only heightened his acute sensitivity to criticism. 

This account of Trump's tumultuous first days in office comes from interviews with nearly a dozen senior White House officials and other Trump advisers and confidants, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations and moments.

By most standards, Spicer's statement Saturday did not go well. He appeared tired and nervous in an ill-fitting gray pinstripe suit. He publicly gave faulty facts and figures -- which he said were provided to him by the Presidential Inaugural Committee -- that prompted a new round of media scrutiny.

Many critics thought Spicer went too far and compromised his integrity. But in Trump's mind, Spicer's attack on the news media was not forceful enough. The president was also bothered that the spokesman read, at times haltingly, from a printed statement. [...]

But tensions and internal power struggles have plagued other parts of Trump's fledgling orbit, too. 

Efforts to launch an outside group supporting Trump's agenda have stalled amid fighting between Kushner loyalists, such as the campaign's data and digital strategist Brad Parscale, and conservative donor Rebekah Mercer, according to people familiar with the tensions. Major disputes include who would control the data the outside group would use, with Mercer advocating for Cambridge Analytica, a firm in which her father is invested, and who would control the lucrative contracts with vendors, these people said.

Two people close to the transition also said a number of Trump's most loyal campaign aides have been alarmed by Kushner's efforts to elbow aside anyone he perceives as a possible threat to his role as Trump's chief consigliere. At one point during the transition, Kushner had argued internally against giving Conway a White House role, these two people said.

Because Conway operates outside of the official communications department, some aides grumble that she can go rogue when she pleases, offering her own message and promoting herself as much as the president. One suggested that Conway's office on the second floor of the West Wing, as opposed to one closer to the Oval Office, was a sign of her diminished standing. Though Conway took over the workspace previously occupied by Valerie Jarrett, who had been Obama's closest adviser, the confidant dismissively predicted that Trump would rarely climb a flight of stairs.

After two super disciplined White House teams, it's fun to be back to an administration where everyone's out for himself.
Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


The State Department's entire senior management team just resigned (Josh Rogin January 26, 2017, Washington Post)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don't want to stick around for the Trump era. [...]

"It's the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that's incredibly difficult to replicate," said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. "Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector."

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Federalism, the Constitution, and sanctuary cities (Ilya Somin, November 26, 2016, Washington Post)

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to engage in large-scale deportation of undocumented immigrants. In order to accomplish that goal, he is likely to need the cooperation of state and local governments, as federal law enforcement personnel are extremely limited. But numerous cities have "sanctuary" policies under which they are committed to refusing cooperation with most federal deportation efforts. They include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and other cities with large immigrant populations. Sanctuary cities refuse to facilitate deportation both because city leaders believe it to be harmful and unjust, and because local law enforcement officials have concluded that it poisons community relations and undermines efforts to combat violent crime. They also recognize that mass deportation would have severe economic costs.

Under the Constitution, state and local governments have every right to refuse to help enforce federal law. In cases like Printz v. United States (1997) and New York v. United States (1992), the Supreme Court has ruled that the Tenth Amendment forbids federal "commandeering" of state governments to help enforce federal law. Most of the support for this anti-commandeering principle came from conservative justices such as the late Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in Printz.

Trump has said that he intends to break the resistance of sanctuary cities by cutting off all of their federal funding. The cities might continue resisting even if they do lose some federal funds. But Trump's threat is not as formidable as it might seem.

Few if any federal grants to state and local governments are conditioned on cooperation with federal deportation efforts. The Supreme Court has long ruled that conditions on federal grants to state and local governments are not enforceable unless they are "unambiguously" stated in the text of the law "so that the States can knowingly decide whether or not to accept those funds." In ambiguous cases, courts must assume that state and local governments are not required to meet the condition in question. In sum, the Trump administration can't cut off any federal grants to sanctuary cities unless it can show that those grants were clearly conditioned on cooperation with federal deportation policies.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Roger Sherman: An Old Puritan in the New Republic (Mark David Hall, Jan. 26th, 2017, Online Library of Law & Liberty)

Roger Sherman (1721-1793) is important in his own right, but his views on religious liberty and church-state relations are also representative of the 50 to 75 percent of the Founders who were Calvinists. He certainly reflects their views far better than the nominally Anglican Madison and Jefferson (about 16 percent of Americans were Anglican at that time).

By the late 18th century, Calvinists were scattered throughout America, but Connecticut was absolutely dominated by them. They accounted for 85 to 90 percent of the state's population.  America's break with Great Britain could have been devastating for Connecticut's religious dissenters.  Earlier, the colony had been forced to tolerate Quakers, Anglicans, and Baptists because of Parliament's 1689 Act of Toleration. Now that Connecticut was a state, and one no longer bound by this law, it could expel these non-Calvinists or limit their rights.

In 1783, Connecticut's General Assembly charged Roger Sherman and the aptly named Richard Law with the task of revising the state's laws. Among Sherman's contributions was "An Act for Securing the Rights of Conscience in Matters of Religion, to Christians of Every Denomination in This State." This act, which was approved by the legislature with few changes, guaranteed religious liberty for all citizens--including Quakers, Anglicans, and Baptists.

An obvious but anachronistic objection to the act is that it does not protect non-Christians. There are no records of any citizen in the state being anything other than a Christian, so it is a mistake to read too much into this limitation.

Separationists ignore Sherman not because of his views of religious liberty, but because he believed that protecting it was compatible with governmental support for Christianity. Indeed, even his religious liberty statute begins: "As the happiness of a People, and the good Order of Civil Society, essentially depend upon Piety, Religion and Morality, it is the Duty of the Civil Authority to provide for the Support and Encouragement thereof."

Other statutes drafted by Sherman and Law created a system whereby citizens were taxed support the churches they chose to join. Excellent arguments can be made against this sort of multiple establishment, and eventually Connecticut's civic leaders became convinced by them--but not until 1819. At the time, many Founders embraced both religious liberty and state support for Christianity.

(As an aside, it should be noted that the revisions also included a gradual manumission statute that put slavery in the state on the road to extinction . The statute was likely drafted by Richard Law, but there is every reason to believe that Sherman, a life-long opponent of slavery, supported it.)

In 1788, Sherman was elected to be one of five members of Connecticut's delegation to the U.S.  House of Representatives. His colleague from Virginia, James Madison, fulfilling a promise made to his constituents, pushed the House to adopt a bill of rights. Representative Sherman originally dissented, pleading that there was more important business to which to attend. But once Congress began debating possible constitutional amendments, he was an active participant.

To consider the many proposed amendments, the House created a select committee composed of one member from each state. Sherman represented Connecticut. There are no records of the committee's deliberations, but it produced a draft bill of rights in Sherman's handwriting. This the only handwritten draft of the Bill of Rights known to exist.

Madison's first draft of the Bill of Rights contained proposed amendments that would have been interspersed throughout the Constitution. Sherman objected, contending that "we cannot incorporate these amendments in the body of the Constitution. It would be mixing brass, iron, and clay." Sherman won the point.

Two months after ratification of the Constitution, on August 15, 1788, the House turned to Madison's proposal to insert the phrase "No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed" into the document's Article 1, Section 9. Sherman contended that "the amendment altogether unnecessary, insomuch as congress has no authority whatever delegated to them by the constitution, to make religious establishments, he would therefore move to have it struck out." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


How Donald Trump can succeed without really trying (Matthew Yglesias, Jan 26, 2017, Vox)

He's caught between a congressional Republican majority whose support he needs to survive in office and a mass public that has very little interest in a GOP plan to roll back the welfare state in order to finance enormous tax cuts for millionaires. The frenetic yet seemingly pointless combativeness could be a strategy in its own right -- shiny objects for the base to let him run out the clock and drag the Republican Party toward the center on some key issues.

It is very difficult, mostly with good reason, for alarmed liberals to see Trump this way, but in some respects he was a classic "moderate" nominee of the sort a party might choose after a series of presidential election defeats. Trump ditched longstanding GOP promises to overhaul Social Security and Medicare, downplayed anti-LGBTQ themes, poached the anti-outsourcing theme straight from the Democrats' playbook, and was sharply critical of the messianism of neoconservative foreign policy.

And yet, as president, Trump is captive in a somewhat unique way to very ideologically orthodox forces inside the GOP.

For starters, there is no real "Trump wing" of the congressional Republican Party. His insurgent primary campaign had no down-ballot coattails, and the entire GOP congressional leadership -- plus the supporting apparatus in think tanks and state parties -- remains committed to rolling back the welfare state. Democrats, meanwhile, regard him as a completely illegitimate president -- a racist and a liar who won thanks to malfeasance by the FBI director and the Russian government. And Trump himself is vulnerable -- seemingly hiding something in his tax returns, averse to an independent investigation of Russian activity during the 2016 campaign, and subject to massive and unprecedented financial conflicts of interest.

He gets away with it because congressional Republicans think it's smart to let him get away with it. And they think it's smart because they expect Trump to go along with their agenda -- up to and including appointing a health and human services secretary who favors drastic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and a budget director who wants to raise the Social Security retirement age.

But Trump knows that actually doing these things isn't popular, and while these issues are at the center of Paul Ryan's emotional and intellectual worldview, they aren't at the center of Trump's. 

The only truly disastrous outcome possible in the election was that Donald would win and get a Democrat Congress to work with.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Trump Follows Obama's Lead in Flexing Executive Muscle (CARL HULSE, JAN. 26, 2017, NY Times)

When President Obama relied heavily on executive orders to push through policies that had no chance in Congress, Republicans called him a dictator who abused his power and disregarded the Constitution. They even took him to court.

"We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and laws without going through Congress," Representative Paul D. Ryan, then the Budget Committee chairman, said in a 2014 television interview after Mr. Obama made clear in his State of the Union address that he would readily take unilateral action to get his way.

Now President Trump, at the start of his tenure, is relying heavily on executive actions not just to reverse Obama administration initiatives, but to enact new federal policies covering immigration, health care and other areas in ways that could be seen more as the province of the House and Senate. And he is doing that with clear Republican majorities in Congress.

The flurry of administration edicts flowing from the Trump White House puts some top Republicans in the awkward position of welcoming aggressive executive muscle flexing from a president of their own party after castigating Mr. Obama for using the same approach.

Why Obama Struggled at Court, and Trump May Strain to Do Better (ADAM LIPTAK, JAN. 23, 2017, NY Times)

"Barack Obama's win rate before the Supreme Court is extremely low, lower than any president of this century," said Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago and an author of a new study on the subject.

On average, presidents win in the Supreme Court about two-thirds of the time. The Obama administration won just 50.5 percent of its cases. That record, the study said, "may be the worst since the Zachary Taylor administration," which began in 1849. [...]

But it is also part of a trend that started after the Reagan administration, which won 75 percent of the time. Each succeeding president did worse than the last. President George Bush won 70 percent of his cases, President Bill Clinton 63 percent and President George W. Bush 60 percent.

"It may be that the Obama administration is just the latest victim of a court that has gradually been losing confidence in the executive branch," the study concluded.

If that is so, President Trump may have no more success in the Supreme Court than his predecessor did.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Shedding Light on Progressivism's Dark Side (Samuel Gregg, Jan. 26th, 2017, Public Discourse)

The words "progress" and "progressive" evoke images of enlightened reformers selflessly promoting justice and overcoming ignorance and bigotry. I guarantee, however, that anyone who reads Thomas C. Leonard's new book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, & American Economics in the Progressive Era, will be troubled--and, in many cases, shocked--by some of the motivations of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century progressives who sought to dismantle the American experiment in ordered liberty and replace it with the administrative state. [...]

This mixture of utopianism, faith in the state, and sheer confidence in their own righteousness was one aspect of the progressives' mindset. Another influence, Leonard illustrates, stemmed from particular ideas flowing from or associated with Darwinism.

To be sure, Leonard points out, people from across the political spectrum found something in Darwin's thinking to support their positions. Some economic conservatives, most notably Herbert Spencer, appealed to survival of the fittest (though his own evolutionary views predated Darwin's, as Leonard points out). Yet this principle also inspired economic progressives such as the English mathematician Karl Pearson (a father of modern statistical theory but also a eugenicist), who, as Leonard observes, "found a case for socialism in Darwin."

These ideas made their way into economic progressives' arguments for systematic state intervention. Many economic progressives held, Leonard demonstrates, that "regulation was the most efficient route to better hereditary." Science, they believed, had opened the way to identify the fittest. It followed, so the progressives believed, that "state experts would select the fittest by regulating immigration, labor, marriage, and reproduction."

The broader effect was to advance the "scientific" case for dispensing with the divided government bequeathed by America's founders. Economic progressives regarded such arrangements as obstructing the development of a centralized government capable of ensuring that society remained a "healthy organism." The use of such language was partly about grounding the progressives' agenda in the authority conferred by the new science of biology. It also reflected, however, the progressives' lack of interest in and hostility toward individual liberty.

The proliferation of such concepts made it easier for two other elements to acquire traction among economic progressives. The first was eugenics, in the sense of replacing random natural selection with purposeful social selection. The second was "race science." Grounded on the then-widespread conviction that different races were inherently dissimilar in abilities and habits, race science drew heavily on "polygenism": the now-generally rejected theory that humans evolved from several independent pairs of ancestors.

Today we associate eugenics and race science with the policies of regimes such as National Socialist Germany. These included the 1935 Nuremburg race laws, the regime's efforts to sterilize (beginning in 1934) and euthanize (beginning in 1939) the mentally and physically impaired, and its frenzied and yet systematically planned attempt to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth during World War II.

For a long time, however, eugenics and race science enjoyed great respectability. For at least three decades, Leonard notes, "eugenic ideas were politically influential, culturally fashionable, and scientifically mainstream." They flourished, he adds, in "nearly all non-Catholic Western countries." In 1911, for example, the Governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, signed forcible sterilization legislation that targeted what eugenicists regarded as "the hopelessly defective and criminal classes." Likewise, the claims of race science were widely accepted by progressives. In his History of the American People (1902), for instance, Wilson asserted that southern and eastern Europeans had "neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence."

So how did such ideas shape the economic progressives' policy prescriptions? Economic progressives, Leonard shows, didn't hesitate to invoke eugenics' emphasis on planned selection as part of their proofs for economic planning's superiority over free markets: "Just as the plant or animal breeder outdid nature, the analogy went, so too did the intelligent administrator of the economy outdo the economy left alone."

In some cases, the influence of eugenics and race science combined to produce very specific policy advocacy by progressives. Many, for instance, tried to ensure that the health care provided to black Americans was "accompanied by eugenic measures designed to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of black births."

Economic progressives also concluded that the "unemployable" (such as the mentally and physically disabled) or those who threatened to drag down the wages of inherently more productive Anglo-Saxons (such as Eastern European Jews or migrants from Asia and Southern Europe) had to be squeezed out of labor markets in the name of greater economic productivity. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Big in Business: drowning in oil (Christopher Matthews, 1/26/17, Axios)

BP revealed its annual energy outlook Wednesday, warning that the oil exploration industry will be drowning in oversupply for years to come. Despite the recent stabilization of prices, BP's chief economist, Spencer Dale, argued that the combination of shale technology and advances in renewable energy would leave oil-rich nations with excess reserves that will never be profitably recovered.

Pity the poor Malthusians; they were so counting on Peak Oil.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Toby Cosgrove on VA reform, Obamacare's hits and misses (David Nather, 1/26/17, Axios)

On why he supports more private treatment options outside the VA:

Not enough VA hospitals to go around. Only three in Ohio -- in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. "All of those are a long ways from Toledo ... You just can't really cover the state of Ohio with three hospitals."

VA electronic medical records were developed 20 years ago. They're way behind the times now and don't communicate well with other systems. "They need to have an electronic medical record that is 21st century." [...]

On the Affordable Care Act's hits and misses:

"We needed to do something that moved us from paying for volume to paying for value. I think that was something that was really pushed hard by the ACA."

Quality metrics have improved "gradually," including reduced hospital readmissions. And, of course, 22 million people gained coverage.

Health care inflation came down, but is now rising again. So the law's effectiveness in controlling costs is "probably open for discussion."

But the law "really did not do very much" to push people to stay healthy -- partly because it's politically unpopular to tax cigarettes, and the powerful sugar lobby will always fight efforts to reduce obesity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


We need to talk about school start times (McGill University, 1/23/17)

Delaying school start times could help Canadian teenagers sleep better - giving them a better chance for success, according to McGill University researchers.

In a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, the researchers found that students from schools that started earlier slept less, were less likely to meet the national sleep recommendations for their age, and were more often tired in the morning. The findings help explain why, according to recent data, one in three Canadian teenagers don't get enough sleep.

"It is time that we have a conversation about school start time in Canada," says lead author Geneviève Gariépy, a post-doctoral student in McGill's Institute of Health and Social Policy.

"The problem is that early school start times conflict with the natural circadian clock of teenagers," Gariépy says. "As teenagers go through puberty, their circadian clock gets delayed by two to three hours. By the time they reach junior high, falling asleep before 11 p.m. becomes biologically difficult, and waking up before 8 a.m. is a struggle. Adolescents are fighting biology to get to school on time."

Previous research internationally has shown that teenagers who are sleep-deprived do worse at school, have more health problems, and are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and behavioural problems.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


The Fantasy of Addiction (Peter Hitchens, February 2017, First Things)

The chief difficulty with the word "addiction" is the idea that it describes a power greater than the will. If it exists in the way we use it and in the way our legal and medical systems assume it exists, then free will has been abolished. I know there are people who think and argue this is so. But this is not one of those things that can be demonstrated by falsifiable experiment. In the end, the idea that humans do not really have free will is a contentious opinion, not an objective fact.

So to use the word "addiction" is to embrace one side in one of those ancient unresolved debates that cannot be settled this side of the grave. To decline to use it, by contrast, is to accept that all kinds of influences, inheritances, and misfortunes may well operate on us, and propel us towards mistaken, foolish, wrong, and dangerous actions or habits. It is to leave open the question whether we can resist these forces. I am convinced that declining the word "addiction" is both the only honest thing to do, and the only kind and wise thing to do, when we are faced with fellow creatures struggling with harmful habits and desires. It is all very well to relieve someone of the responsibility for such actions, by telling him his body is to blame. But what is that solace worth if he takes it as permission to carry on as before? Once or twice I have managed to explain to a few of my critics that this is what I am saying. But generally they are too furious, or astonished by my sheer nerve, to listen.

So let us approach it another way. The English language belongs to no state or government. It is not ruled by academies or even defined by dictionaries, however good. It operates on a sort of linguistic version of common law, by usage and precedent. And the expression "addiction" is very widely and variously used. There are people who claim, seriously, to be "addicted" to sex or to gambling.

It is now impolite to refer to habitual drunkards. They are "alcoholics," supposedly suffering from a complaint that is not their fault. The curious variable ambiguity of Alcoholics Anonymous on this point has added to the confusion. AA, to begin with, asked its adherents to admit they had no control over themselves, as a preliminary to giving that power to God. Somehow I suspect that God plays less of a part in modern AA doctrine, but the idea of powerlessness remains. Members of the organization quietly moved from calling alcoholism an "illness" or a "malady" to describing it as a "disease," round about the time that the medical profession began to do the same thing.

We are ceaselessly told that cigarettes are "addictive." Most powerfully, most of us believe that the abusers of the illegal drug heroin are "addicted" to it. Once again, the public, the government, and the legal and medical systems are more or less ordered to believe that users of these things are involuntary sufferers. A British celebrity and alleged comedian, Russell Brand, wrote recently, "The mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless [my emphasis] over their addiction and, unless they have structured help, they have no hope."

Brand is a former heroin abuser who has by now rather famously given up the drug. But how can that be, if what he says about addiction is true? The phrase "wholly irrational" simply cannot withstand the facts of Brand's own life. It will have to be replaced by something much less emphatic--let us say, "partly irrational." The same thing happens to the phrase "completely powerless." Neither the adverb nor the adjective can survive. Nor can the word "addiction" itself, which is visibly evaporating. We have to say "they struggle over their compulsion."

Or you might turn to this definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

This definition prompted one writer at Alternet, an influential pro-addiction website, to say:

If you think addiction is all about booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food and other irresistible vices, think again. And if you believe that a person has a choice whether or not to indulge in an addictive behavior, get over it. . . . Fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.

In other words, conscious choice plays little or no role in the actual state of addiction; as a result, a person cannot choose not to be addicted. The most an addict can do is choose not to use the substance or engage in the behavior that reinforces the entire self-destructive reward-circuitry loop. So even if the supposed "addict" ceases (as many do) to be "addicted" in practice to the addictive substance or activity, he remains "addicted" in some spiritual, subjective way, which cannot actually be seen in his behavior.

The defender of the concept of "addiction," confronted with evidence that many "addicts" cease to be "addicted," will say that of course he didn't mean to suggest the phenomenon was wholly irresistible and could not be mastered by will. Oh no, he will say, reasonable people quite understand that it is not like that at all. In any normal argument, this would be the end of the matter. Anyone who confesses to using a word in one sense when it suits him, and in a wholly contradictory sense when it also suits him, has expelled himself from the company of all reasonable people and admitted that he respects neither truth nor logic.

Mr. Hitchens is, of course, absolutely correct that it is a contradiction in terms to say that one is powerless over an addiction as the means for overcoming the addiction.  On the other hand, it works.  

If you've ever been to a 12-Step program what you observe is essentially people replacing one addiction--to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.--with another--to the program itself and, most often, to God via the program.  Now, no one refers to the latter as an "addiction" and it would be hard to even pretend that it is a physical form of addiction, but it is certainly a dependency.

Here's the thing though, the chronic use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, whatever is self-destructive and ruinous to one's relations with others.  It takes a toll both physically and spiritually.

On the other hand--let us reserve final judgment about the spiritual health involved in a dependency on the Program--there can be no question of the physical and social benefits that go along with ceasing to use the substances. And it has to be healthier as a spiritual matter to engage in behaviors and accept beliefs that are designed to save the life you were destroying. And, where is the harm in allowing folks who do get better to believe in a bit of mumbo jumbo about how they are powerless as regards addiction? After all, we know that they came to grips with their problems as a function of exercising free will.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Six myths about national security intelligence (Frederic Lemieux, Jan. 12th, 2017, The Conversation)

Myth #3: Intelligence results from covert operations

Perhaps surprisingly, approximately 80 percent of the intelligence used by security agencies is not secret and does not require covert operations.

Most intelligence is gathered through "open sources intelligence," like internet content; traditional mass media, including television, radio, newspapers and magazines; specialized journals, conference proceedings and think tank studies; photos; maps and commercial imagery; and publicly accessible databases.

There are two main challenges with "open source intelligence." Sometimes the information needed isn't available in digital format, and sometimes it's not in English.

The most dangerous myth--following from that one--is that intelligence analysis is in turn best done in secret by experts.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Trump's Voter Fraud Example? A Troubled Tale With Bernhard Langer (GLENN THRUSH, JANUARY 25, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump kicked off the meeting, participants said, by retelling his debunked claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for the three million to five million ballots cast by "illegals." He followed it up with a Twitter post early Wednesday calling for a major investigation into voter fraud.

When one of the Democrats protested, Mr. Trump said he was told a story by "the very famous golfer, Bernhard Langer," whom he described as a friend, according to three staff members who were in the room for the meeting. [...]

The witnesses described the story this way: Mr. Langer, a 59-year-old native of Bavaria, Germany -- a winner of the Masters twice and of more than 100 events on major professional golf tours around the world -- was standing in line at a polling place near his home in Florida on Election Day, the president explained, when an official informed Mr. Langer he would not be able to vote.

Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members -- but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from.

Mr. Langer, whom he described as a supporter, left feeling frustrated, according to a version of events later contradicted by a White House official.

The anecdote, the aides said, was greeted with silence, and Mr. Trump was prodded to change the subject by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

Just one problem: Mr. Langer, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., is a German citizen with permanent residence status in the United States who is, by law, barred from voting, according to Mr. Langer's daughter Christina.

"He is a citizen of Germany," she said, when reached on her father's cellphone. "He is not a friend of President Trump's, and I don't know why he would talk about him."

He's not a president; he's a punchline.
Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Mexican official widens tax-dodge complaint against Trump (Natalie Schachar, 1/26/17, Reuters)

A Mexican official widened a tax evasion complaint against U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, the same day the new American leader signed a decree to speed up construction of a border wall between the two countries.

The complaint was originally filed in October alleging the Trump Organization and Los Angeles real estate firm Irongate did not pay federal taxes, or have proper building permits for an ultimately failed luxury condominium project in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

The complaint was broadened on Wednesday to allege Trump violated Mexican law by, as a foreigner, seeking to buy property within 31 miles (50 km) of the U.S. border to develop the Trump Ocean Resort Baja project, the official Jaime Martinez, who filed the complaint as a private citizen, told reporters.

The filing was also expanded to question whether Trump was issued a visa in relation with the project, in compliance with Mexican immigration laws, Martinez said.

January 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


  Mary Tyler Moore, Who Incarnated the Modern Woman on TV, Dies at 80 (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, JAN. 25, 2017, NY Times)

Ms. Moore had earlier, in a decidedly different era, played another beloved television character: Laura Petrie, the stylish wife of the comedy writer played by Dick Van Dyke on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Also on CBS, the show ran from 1961 to 1966.

Ms. Moore was the lesser star in those days, but she shared Mr. Van Dyke's background in song and dance, and as a comedy duo they magnified each other's charm. Ms. Moore transformed and tamed the vaudeville style that had dominated sitcoms, perfecting a comic housewifely hysteria in Laura, made visible in the way she often appeared to be fighting back tears. Her "Dick Van Dyke Show" performance won her two Emmys.

"I heard something in her voice that got to me," Carl Reiner, who created and produced the show, once said. "I think the fact that Mary and Dick were dancers gave the whole program a grace that very few programs have." [...]

As the answering-service girl Sam on "Richard Diamond, Private Detective," she was more heard than seen: Her character existed only in sexy close-ups of parts of her body, including her mouth, her hands and her elegant legs.

There are a bunch of Richard Diamond's available on You-Tube.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Who supplies the news? : Patrick Cockburn on misreporting in Syria and Iraq (Patrick Cockburn, 1/25/17, London Review of Books)

All wars always produce phony atrocity stories - along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War. The ease with which propaganda can now be disseminated is frequently attributed to modern information technology: YouTube, smartphones, Facebook, Twitter. But this is to let mainstream media off the hook: it's hardly surprising that in a civil war each side will use whatever means are available to publicise and exaggerate the crimes of the other, while denying or concealing similar actions by their own forces. The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.

Since at least 2013 it has been too dangerous for journalists to visit rebel-held areas because of well-founded fears that they will be kidnapped and held to ransom or murdered, usually by decapitation. Journalists who took the risk paid a heavy price: James Foley was kidnapped in November 2012 and executed by Islamic State in August 2014. Steven Sotloff was kidnapped in Aleppo in August 2013 and beheaded soon after Foley. But there is tremendous public demand to know what is happening in such places, and news providers, almost without exception, have responded by delegating their reporting to local media and political activists, who now appear regularly on television screens across the world. In areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them, it has never been plausible that unaffiliated local citizens would be allowed to report freely.

In East Aleppo any reporting had to be done under licence from one of the Salafi-jihadi groups which dominated the armed opposition and controlled the area - including Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly known as the Syrian branch of al-Qaida. What happens to people who criticise, oppose or even act independently of these extremist groups was made clear in an Amnesty International report published last year and entitled 'Torture Was My Punishment': Abduction, Torture and Summary Killings under Armed Group Rule in Aleppo and Idlib. Ibrahim, whom al-Nusra fighters hung from the ceiling by his wrists while they beat him for holding a meeting to commemorate the 2011 uprising without their permission, is quoted as saying: 'I heard and read about the government security forces' torture techniques. I thought I would be safe from that now that I am living in an opposition-held area. I was wrong. I was subjected to the same torture techniques but at the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra.'

The fact that groups linked to al-Qaida had a monopoly on the supply of news from East Aleppo doesn't necessarily mean that the reports in the press about the devastating effects of shelling and bombing were untrue. Pictures of flattened buildings and civilians covered in cement dust weren't fabricated. But they were selective. It's worth recalling that - according to UN figures - there were between 8000 and 10,000 rebel fighters in East Aleppo, yet almost none of the videos on TV ever showed any armed men. Western broadcasters commonly referred to the groups defending East Aleppo as 'the opposition' with no mention of al-Qaida or its associated groups. There was an implicit assumption that all the inhabitants of East Aleppo were firmly opposed to Assad and supported the insurgents, yet it's striking that when offered a choice in mid-December only a third of evacuees- 36,000 - asked to be taken to rebel-held Idlib. The majority - 80,000 - elected to go to government-held territory in West Aleppo. This isn't necessarily because they expected to be treated well by the government authorities - it's just that they believed life under the rebels would be even more dangerous. In the Syrian civil war, the choice is often between bad and worse.

It's all against the Salafi.
Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM

60 in '18:

Peyton Manning Reportedly Speaking At GOP Retreat, Fueling Speculation About Future In Politics (Charles Campbell January 25, 2017, Western Journalism)

He donated $2,700 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign, $5,000 to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential run in 2012, and $2,000 to former President George W. Bush's campaign in 2004.

Manning's family has also donated to Republican candidates. His brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, matched his brother's donation to Jeb Bush.

Even though the reason for Manning's attendance is unknown, people are speculating that the former Denver Bronco and Indianapolis Colt might attempt to transition his post-football downtime into a political career.

"Great personality, very well-liked, high integrity. He would be a formidable candidate if he was interested in running for office," WTHR-TV Republican political analyst Jennifer Hallowell said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


WILL DONALD TRUMP MAKE IT A YEAR IN THE WHITE HOUSE? : Oddsmakers don't think so. And perhaps some on Capitol Hill agree. Herewith, a bettor's guide. (T.A. FRANK, JANUARY 25, 2017, Vanity Fair)

[B]ookmaker Paddy Power offers a 7:4 payout on Trump failing to complete his first term (i.e., seven dollars in potential winnings for each four dollars you bet) and 4:1 on his getting impeached during his first six months in office (versus 500:1 on Trump painting the White House gold). Many people don't just think it's possible that Trump will exit office early; they think it'll happen within his first year. We can't deny that it's daffy, but if people have the idea, let's entertain it. It's time for a bettor's guide.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM



Senior Trump administration staffers including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon have active accounts on a Republican National Committee email system, Newsweek has learned.

The system (rnchq.org) is the same one the George W. Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have "lost" 22 million emails.

Making use of separate political email accounts at the White House is not illegal. In fact, they serve a purpose by allowing staff to divide political conversations (say, arranging for the president to support a congressional re-election campaign) from actual White House work. Commingling politics and state business violates the Hatch Act, which restricts many executive branch employees from engaging in political activity on government time.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Why the Keystone XL Pipeline May Never Happen, Even With Trump's Approval (Nick Cunningham, 1/25/17, Oilprice.com)

Just a few weeks ago the Canadian government gave the greenlight to Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Expansion, which would nearly triple the volume of the pipeline's existing line from 300,000 to 890,000 bpd, taking Alberta oil to the Pacific coast for export. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also approved Enbridge's Line 3, a more than $7 billion overhaul of a pipeline that runs from Alberta to Wisconsin in the U.S., taking Canadian oil to Midwestern refineries. Enbridge's project has received considerably less attention from environmental activists, but it would double the pipeline's capacity to 760,000 bpd. The two pipelines together would add more capacity than Keystone XL would. The midstream market is different than it was back when Keystone XL was the only game in town. It is not at all clear that Keystone XL makes sense anymore with two major competing pipelines now moving forward.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


EXCLUSIVE: Tiffany Trump Is Currently Registered to Vote in Two States (Jillian Kay Melchior, January 25, 2017, hEAT sTREET)

Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he would request an investigation into voter fraud, "including those registered to vote in two states." But the new president's own daughter Tiffany Trump is registered to vote in both Pennsylvania and New York, Heat Street has learned.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


It's No Trump Tower, but White House Has 'Beautiful' Phones (MAGGIE HABERMANJAN. 25, 2017, NY Times)

"These are the most beautiful phones I've ever used in my life," Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.

"The world's most secure system," he added, laughing. "The words just explode in the air." What he meant was that no one was listening in and recording his words. [...]

Mr. Trump's wife, Melania, went back to New York on Sunday night with their 10-year-old son, Barron, and so Mr. Trump has the television -- and his old, unsecured Android phone, to the protests of some of his aides -- to keep him company. That was the case after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, when Mr. Trump appeared to be reacting to Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News, which was airing a feature on crime in Chicago.

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM



Each year five million American moles, freckles, and skin spots turn out to be malignant, costing the healthcare system $8 billion. Catching deadly cancers like melanoma early makes a huge difference--survival rates drop from 98 percent to as low as 16 percent if the disease progresses to the lymph nodes.

Dermatologists use a variety of magnifying instruments to identify possible bad blemishes, and because the outcomes can be so disastrous, they tend to be a cautious bunch. For every 10 lesions surgically biopsied, only one melanoma gets discovered. That's a lot of unnecessary knifing.

So doctors are now turning to artificial intelligence to tell the difference between innocuous and potentially fatal blotches. The hope is that computer vision, with its ability to make thousands of tiny measurements, will catch cancers early enough and with enough specificity to cut down on the amount of cutting doctors do. And by initial measures, it's well on its way. Computer scientists and physicians at Stanford University recently teamed up to train a deep learning algorithm on 130,000 images of 2,000 skin diseases. The result, the subject of a paper out today in Nature, performed as well as 21 board-certified dermatologists in picking out deadly skin lesions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump Is Running the White House Like a Democrat (Jonathan Bernstein, 1/25/17, Bloomberg View)

It appeared, in January 2009, that the old argument was finally settled in Eisenhower's favor when Barack Obama began his presidency with Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff. While the Obama administration had its share of rocky moments, little of it appeared to be traced to White House disorder, and it seemed both parties had adopted the same model. 

So it's a bit of a surprise that Trump has abandoned the Eisenhower model, but appears to be trying out the failed Democratic style. Trump does have a designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus. But he appears to have a weak version of the job, with a three- or four- or perhaps even five-headed organizational structure a better description of what's happening. Originally, Priebus was announced as part of a duel-command structure with Steve Bannon, but Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner made it three, and Kellyanne Conway has been portrayed as one of a "Big Four." And don't forget Vice President Mike Pence, who might make it five. Could National Security Advisor Michael Flynn even mean six? That's part of the problem; without a solid structure, everything is up in the air, which gives everyone strong incentives for turf wars. 

Each appears to have fairly arbitrary portfolios -- Kushner for example is supposedly in charge of a Middle East peace initiative, while Conway has been tasked with health care -- and each has brought staff with them (Priebus from the Republican National Committee, Bannon from Breitbart) who it appears are clearly identified with the person who brought them. It can't help, either, that the total government experience among the Big Four was Conway's brief early-career stint as a judicial clerk. None of them have hands-on experience with how a presidency works -- or how a presidency can go wrong. 

This appears to be producing exactly what Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter could have predicted: A White House with competing factions, with frequent leaks and the air of chaos. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Lawyers are being replaced by machines that read (Ephrat Livni, 1/25/17, Quartz)

Academically trained attorneys are increasingly being replaced by technology to analyze evidence and assess it for relevance in investigations, lawsuits, compliance efforts, and more. Forty percent of more than 100 in-house attorneys in major American corporations told the industry publication Corporate Counsel, in a survey published on Jan. 23, that they rely on technology assisted review (TAR).

Technology assisted review (TAR) is a term that covers many different aspects of machine reading, including analytics, predictive coding, and more. Predictive coding uses patterns of human responses to "train machines to read" and decide if documents are relevant to a legal matter, ostensibly as attorneys would. So, rather than having many lawyers read a million documents, a few review a percentage of the possible evidence and predictive coding technology uses those answers to guide a computer review of the rest. This eliminates the need for all but a few lawyers to review evidence and assess it, then train machines, rather than lawyers with training eyeballing all the documents.

As the Wall Street Journal asked in 2012, "Why hire lawyers? Computers are cheaper."

One of the quainter notions about income inequality is that professionals are so bright they won't be replaced by technology.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Peak Millennial? Cities Can't Assume a Continued Boost From the Young (Conor Dougherty, Jan. 23rd, 2017, NY Times)

Dowell Myers, a professor of demography and urban planning at the University of Southern California, recently published a paper that noted American cities reached "peak millennial" in 2015. Over the next few years, he predicts, the growth in demand for urban living is likely to stall.

The flow of young professionals into Philadelphia has flattened, according to JLL Research, while apartment rents have started to soften in a number of big cities because of a glut of new construction geared toward urban newcomers who haven't arrived. Apartment rents in San Francisco, Washington, Denver, Miami and New York are moderating or even declining from a year ago, according to Zillow.

"Certainly the softening of rents is one sign that they are not coming in at the pace that people thought they would," said Diane Swonk, an independent economist in Chicago.

The debate is full of contours and caveats, but it really boils down to this: Are large numbers of millennials really so enamored with city living that they will age and raise families inside the urban core, or will many of them, like earlier generations, eventually head to the suburbs in search of bigger homes and better school districts?

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Trump Euphoria Turns to Market Frustration (Jason Schenker, 1/25/17, Bloomberg View)

Some tax cuts and spending increases are likely to be part of the 2017 budget, but not all of them. The new budget probably won't be balanced, but there are limits to the deficit spending that Republicans could find acceptable. And this is likely to become apparent rather quickly. The prospect of disappointment presents downside risks to equity markets, especially in the first half of 2017.

Trump's pick for budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said in his confirmation hearings last week that the national debt is the equivalent of an ordinary American family owing more than $250,000 on their credit cards.

Mulvaney, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, was part of the wave of fiscal-conservative Tea Party members elected in 2010, and he has been one of the most vocal advocates for cutting government spending. His long-held position that new spending must be offset by cuts elsewhere could put him at odds with Trump when it comes time to make good on the president's promise to invest $1 trillion in roads, bridges and other infrastructure. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Banks' AI plans pose threat to thousands of jobs : Automated compliance systems set to wipe out post-crisis regulatory roles (Martin Arnold, 1/25/17, Financial Times)

Thousands of jobs will be put at risk as the world's biggest banks harness artificial intelligence systems to the wave of roles created in recent years to meet ever-growing regulatory demands, industry experts have warned.

New technologies mean that banks could make vast savings in compliance, according to Richard Lumb, head of financial services at Accenture, who estimated that "thousands of roles" in the banks' internal policing could be replaced by automated systems.

"We are seeing work with clients today which is very much around big data and robotic process automation, where in compliance -- take anti-money laundering -- you can take out thousands of roles," Mr Lumb told the Financial Times at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos. "That is coming quite quickly now and that will sweep across the industry."

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


The Democrats' Rise Is Far From Inevitable (Megan McArdle, 1/24/17, Bloomberg View)

Why are the left's public demonstrations more impressive than its voter turnout? Because there are a whole lot of Democrats in the large population centers where such demonstrations are generally held. People can join a protest simply by getting on the subway; it's an easy show of force.

But there are a lot of small towns in America, and as Sean Trende and David Byler recently demonstrated, those small towns are redder than ever. Effectively, the Democratic coalition has self-gerrymandered into a small number of places where they can turn out an impressive number of feet on the ground, but not enough votes to win the House. Certainly not enough to win the Senate or the Electoral College, which both favor sparsely populated states and discount the increasingly dense parts of the nation.

The Senate map in 2018 is brutal for Democrats. If Democrats want to get their mojo back, they're going to need to do more than get a small minority of voters to turn out for a march. They're going to need to get back some of those rural votes.

To do that, they're probably going to have to let go of the most soul-satisfying, brain-melting political theory of the last two decades: that Democrats are inevitably the Party of the Future, guaranteed ownership of the future by an emerging Democratic majority in minority-white America. This theory underlay a lot of Obama's presidency, and Clinton's campaign. With President Trump's inauguration on Friday, we saw the results.

The Democrats emerging advantage was that in a society of "self-sufficient" workers and government-funded non- or low-wage workers they were the party of the latter.   It's why married women are Republicans while single women are Democrats.

The problem is that technology and globalization are advancing so fast that the GOP is going to be forced to be a party of the latter too.  (Once white men aren't employed it is no longer a pathology to be tutted about but a problem to be dealt with by government.) 

In a contest to see which party can deliver benefits more generously, efficiently and cost-effectively, we all know that the market-oriented party has the advantage.  For instance, given a choice between citizen enriching universal HSAs; insurance company enriching Obamacare; and National Health, the GOP has an easy sell.


January 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Ways to Burst Your Filter Bubble (Tyler Cowen, 1/24/17, Bloomberg View)

So I have a second proposal and one you may find less pleasant, perhaps precisely because it may turn out to be effective. Keep a diary, write a blog, or set up a separate and anonymous Twitter account. And through that medium, write occasional material in support of views you don't agree with. Try to make them sound as persuasive as possible. If need be, to keep your own sense of internal balance, write a dialogue between opposing views, just as Plato and David Hume did in some of their very best philosophical works.

You don't have to do this a lot, but make the best case for the opposing point of view at least once a month. If you don't trust the anonymity of your chosen medium, write out your entries and then destroy or delete them.

My George Mason University colleague, Bryan Caplan, defined what he called "the ideological Turing test." The original Turing test concerned whether a computer could respond in a way that was indistinguishable from the answers of a human. An ideological Turing test is whether you could write out the views of a Trump or Clinton supporter, or of some other point of view contrary to your own, in a way that would be indistinguishable from the writings of supporters.

Give it a try. See if you can make the best case for whatever you might find to be deplorable, or at least objectionable, in today's debate. If you're feeling really secure, show it to someone you disagree with, and ask them if they can recognize their own views in there, honestly stated.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Internal Aetna Email Suggest Its Obamacare Withdrawals Weren't Business As Usual : A federal judge concludes the company was trying to push through a controversial merger. (Jonathan Cohn, 1/24/17, The Huffington Post)

Over and over again, Obamacare's political opponents, including then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, cited the company's withdrawals as proof that insurance carriers were losing money and the new state insurance exchanges were falling apart.

Aetna executives backed up those arguments by citing poor financial performance as a reason for its withdrawals.

But internal company communications suggest that, in three states, Aetna had other motives: It was trying to win approval of its controversial bid to merge with Humana.

Some of the plans that Aetna shut down were actually making money, the documents indicate. And Aetna remained optimistic that Obamacare plans would be profitable in the long run.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


How Russia Came to America -- and Gave Us Trump (Cathy Young, Jan 23, 2017, The Forward)

I doubt Trump is the Kremlin's "Manchurian candidate." Still, the parallels between Trump and Putin, and between Trumpism and Putinism, are real and troubling -- enough to raise questions about our immunity to authoritarianism. But as we confront those questions, it is also important to recognize the authoritarian trends at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum; the "politically correct" progressive culture also has echoes of the Russian/Soviet experience. [...]

Personalities aside, there's no question that Trump's rise has brought a Putin-style political culture to America in at least one regard: Conspiracy-mongering and propaganda are increasingly indistinguishable from news and commentary (a good portion of Trump's fan base gravitates to conspiracy-peddling media such as "Infowars" and the Alex Jones radio show (both of which have links to the Kremlin media machine); brazen lying is now viewed as smart, and bullying is respected as strength; dissenters are deemed enemies.

Like Putinism, Trumpism appeals to a sense of collective humiliation and grievance: a promise to reclaim lost greatness, but also a dark vision of one's country being constantly wronged, subverted and cheated by foreign powers and by aliens and traitors within. And there is another troublesome similarity: Both Putinist and Trumpian populism flirt with racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic movements when strategically useful.

Trump's America definitely has moments of uncomfortable recognition for any Russia watcher. But before "the resistance" gets too smug, the culture of the American left has given me at least as many uncomfortable moments of Russian -- in this case, Soviet -- déjà vu.

No, I don't mean that Obamacare is a communist plot. But the "social justice" left has taken on distinctly totalitarian overtones. Unlike communism, modern political correctness focuses on a wide range of identities rather than on class; but it, too, seeks a utopia of radical equality in which every trace of possible disadvantage is eliminated -- even the risk of irritation at an innocent comment insensitive to one's identity. And the atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy can be very similar, even if the punishment for deviation is not the gulag but a public shaming and/or a ruined career. (By the way, if the Trumpian right sometimes dabbles in the old-style anti-Semitism that has a solid niche in post-Soviet Russia, the social justice left is prone to Soviet-style anti-Zionism that can easily slide into anti-Semitism.)

At many colleges, freshman orientation serves as an indoctrination session in which students must learn to express correct attitudes about identities and social issues, going far beyond respect for fellow students. Campus "bias response teams" have turned into zealous thought-and-speech policing, with students and employees investigated and punished for offenses like believing that there are only two genders, or favoring the slogan "All Lives Matter" over "Black Lives Matter." Recently, a University of Oregon law professor was found guilty of "racial harassment" for wearing "blackface" -- in fact, a costume meant in tribute to a memoir by a black doctor -- at a Halloween party in her own home.

The same atmosphere of groupthink and scrutiny for transgressions has been spreading in literary, artistic, "geek culture" and other communities espousing progressive values. Sci-fi and fantasy writers will say, if promised anonymity, that they fear getting published if their stories don't feature feminist, anti-racist or pro-gay themes -- and if they are careful not to express any heretical views around editors. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Why Trump's Staff Is Lying (Tyler Cowen, 1/23/17, Bloomberg View)

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren't fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

In this view, loyalty tests are especially frequent for new hires and at the beginning of new regimes, when the least is known about the propensities of subordinates. You don't have to view President Trump as necessarily making a lot of complicated calculations, rather he may simply be replicating tactics that he found useful in his earlier business and media careers.

...one really feels embarrassed for the fanboys who follow Donald's line for free.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


'We Specialize in Abortions': Planned Parenthood's Claim to Provide Prenatal Care Gets Busted (NANCY FLORY, January 24, 2017, The Stream)

As the video below demonstrates, Planned Parenthood does not provide prenatal care at the vast majority of its facilities. Of 97 facilities nationwide contacted by Live Action, only five locations provided prenatal care. The audio and video montage of those conversations is devastating, as facility after facility admits to the undercover "client" that no pre-natal care is offered.

Some kindly go on explain their core business  -- "We specialize in abortions. You know, that's what our ultrasounds are for, to see how far along the patient is." Some clarify, "We don't see pregnant women as a way of giving prenatal care. We see pregnant women, um, you know, if they are considering other options." When asked about those other options, the employee said, "medication abortions."

Others laughingly admit to Planned Parenthood's con. "[Planned Parenthood] is a deceptive name, right?" one worker laughs, "I think the same thing!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Senate Democrats unveil a Trump-size infrastructure plan (Ed O'Keefe and Steven Mufson January 24, 2017, Washington Post)

A group of senior Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled their own $1 trillion plan to revamp the nation's airports, bridges, roads and seaports, urging President Trump to back their proposal, which they say would create 15 million jobs over 10 years.

The Democrats said their infrastructure plan would rely on direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation's broadband network, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and schools. [...]

However, neither the Democrats nor Trump have come to grips with how they would pay for their infrastructure plans without adding to the government's budget deficit.

They badly misunderstand the relationship between the Republican Party if they think they can propose $1 trillion in taxes or deficit spending just because Donald has and the GOP won't pounce.

Trump's Budget Head Set to Cut Spending as Debt Climbs Toward $20 Trillion (Eric Pianin, Jan. 24th, 2017, Fiscal Times)

President Donald Trump's choice to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) declared on Tuesday that the government must address the nearly $20 trillion national debt in the short term by making "fundamental changes" in the way Washington spends and taxes.

During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) foreshadowed the Trump administration's drive to eliminate waste, fraud, and duplication of effort in government and scale back the size of the federal workforce. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Researchers Created Fake News. Here's What They Found. (NEIL IRWIN, JANUARY 18, 2017, NY Times)

Some new research from two economists throws at least a bit of cold water on the theory that false news was a major influence on the election result. They offer some hard data on how pervasive voters' consumption of fake news really was during the 2016 election cycle. The research also reveals some disturbing truths about the modern media environment and how people make sense of the incoming gush of news.

Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford commissioned a survey in late November hoping to discern just how deeply some of the fake news embedded itself with American voters. The two asked people, among other things, whether they had heard various pieces of news that reflected positively or negatively on one of the candidates -- of three varieties.

There was completely true news: Hillary Clinton called some Trump supporters a "basket of deplorables," for example, or Mr. Trump refused to say at a debate whether he would concede the election if he lost.

There was fake news, as identified by fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact -- big things like the Pope Francis story and smaller items, like Mr. Trump threatening to deport the "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to Puerto Rico.

The third category was most interesting. The researchers created "fake fake" news. That is, they invented some headlines that were the type of thing fake sites produce, but had never actually been published during the campaign. One of these placebo headlines was that "leaked documents reveal that the Clinton campaign planned a scheme to offer to drive Republican voters to the polls but then take them to the wrong place," and its inverse in which it was the Trump campaign scheming to take Democrats to the wrong polling place.

There is some good news in that more people reported having heard, and believed, the true statements than the false statements. Only 15.3 percent of the population recalled seeing the fake news stories, and 7.9 percent recalled seeing them and believing them.

The more interesting result: Those numbers are nearly identical to the proportion who reported seeing (14.1 percent) and believing (8.3 percent) the placebos, the "fake fake" news stories. In other words, as many people recalled seeing and believing fake news that had been published and distributed through social media as recalled seeing fake news that had never existed and was purely an invention of researchers.

That's a strong indication about what is going on with consumers of fake news. It may be less that false information from dubious news sources is shaping their view of the world. Rather, some people (about 8 percent of the adult population, if we take the survey data at face value) are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heroes and villains in politics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Critics: Trump's Deputies Break His Cheap-Labor Immigration Promise on Day One (NEIL MUNRO, 23 Jan 2017, Breitbart)

President Donald Trump's deputies have yet to stop the Department of Homeland Security from printing more of President Obama's work permits for younger illegals who claim they were brought into the United States when they were younger than 16.

This inaction is in violation of one of Trump's most prominent campaign promises, and it also gives away bargaining power that Trump needs to make the GOP-led Congress implement his popular campaign promises on immigration reform, warns Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies.

"It is an explicit betrayal of a promise he made -- Point number five in his Phoenix speech" on immigration policy, Krikorian told Breitbart News. "That is a red line they have crossed less than three days into their administration."

Dude, it's one thing to be a dupe, another to advertise it....

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


On Day 2, Trump sticks to media bashing and boasting (MATTHEW NUSSBAUM and SARAH WHEATON, 01/21/17, Politico)

Disorganization continued to be a running theme at the White House. Some of the White House's press wranglers continued using personal email addresses because their official ones had yet to be set up, and there was confusion as to whether or not the prayer service was open to the press (it was). And Trump's plans for the day, usually disseminated directly to the media, were instead blasted out on Twitter by Spicer.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 2:18 PM



I found out last night that Ed Berger died over the weekend.  Although not a musician, Ed was one of the great guys of jazz...historian, discographer, biographer, lecturer, record producer, photographer and true mensch.   This New York Times article is from 2000, but gives you a sense of the scope of Ed's activities and accomplishments.

Ed started his career as a jazz historian as a college student, compiling the massive discography (it fills an entire volume) for the biography of Benny Carter written by Ed's father, the late Princeton sociology Professor Morroe Berger.  Ed wrote the biography of trumpeter Joe Wilder and read the publisher's proof to Joe at his bedside in the days before Joe died.  Ed also wrote a biography of bassist George Duvivier.  Although he was a white, Jewish guy a generation (or more) younger than his subjects, I think Ed was attracted to Benny, Joe and George because, like them, he was scholarly, had a wry sense of humor, was genuinely humble and had an incredible generosity of spirit.  

This past Thursday evening, I saw a Facebook post from Wynton Marsalis in which he explained why, if he had been asked, he would have played at the Trump inauguration. 

I wrote to Ed and asked him how he thought Benny (who was known and respected in the music world for his principles, whether it was dealing with record executives or club owners trying to take advantage of musicians or challenging discriminatory hiring or housing practices) would have handled the situation, and he replied almost immediately that, in fact, Benny was faced with a similar dilemma: he was asked to assemble a big band to perform at Reagan's second inaugural in January 1985.  Although Benny disagreed with Reagan's politics, he performed out of respect for the office and respect for the transition process.  Ed continued saying that he didn't know if Benny would have done the same for Trump, given that his rhetoric and actions were far beyond anything Reagan had ever said or done.  But, Ed said he was seeing Benny's widow on Saturday, so was going to ask her what she thought Benny would have done and that he would let me know.  I was surprised when I hadn't heard back from him....now I know why.   

Ed's photos of Benny and other musicians have been featured in museums and galleries.   Here are two favorite of Benny that he sent me over the years...



Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM

60 in '18:

Initial 2018 Senate Ratings Map Filled With GOP Opportunities : Democrats defending 25 seats next year, compared to just 8 for Republicans (Nathan L. Gonzales, 1/17/17, Roll Call)

Here are the initial race ratings provided by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Trump's Trade Action Shuffles Old Party Alliances (Caitlin Huey-Burns & James Arkin, Jan. 24th, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

[T]rump's position on trade -- he also pledged to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement -- puts him at odds with Republican orthodoxy. Most Republicans support free trade agreements and voted overwhelmingly to give former President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate them in 2015 over the dissent of most Democrats. Republicans have also raised concern about additional economic plans that deviate from traditional conservatism, such as imposing a border tax on companies that move American manufacturing jobs overseas -- a proposal Trump reminded the country's top chief executives about during a roundtable discussion Monday.

Trump's decision on TPP highlighted divisions between Democrats and Obama. Several Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Tim Casey of Pennsylvania -- both states Trump won in November -- praised Trump for the executive action. Sanders said he was "glad the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead and gone."

Despite Obama pushing for TPP as a legacy item in his final year in office, Democratic leaders in both chambers panned the agreement without giving Trump credit for discarding it. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said his trade views were closer to Trump's than to Obama's, but said Democrats "await real action on trade." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Trump's order "largely symbolic," and said TPP failed, thanks to Democratic opposition.

"We will see how many Republicans now pretend to have been on the same side as Democrats in demanding a better trade agreement for American workers," Pelosi said.

While several Democrats were positive about Trump's action and echoed his rhetoric on trade, some Republicans voiced concern with the implications of the withdrawal. Notably, they used an argument Obama often employed when pitching the trade agreement, questioning what it might do to embolden China -- even if they voiced them more quietly than they would have if the new president had not run on their party's ticket.

Trade and immigration are pretty much the only ways he could tank the boom that the UR handed him, but, thankfully, Republicans are there to stop him.  The real catastrophe would have been if he'd won and Democrats carried Congress too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


The Silent Minority : America's largest ethnic group has assimilated so well that people barely notice it (The Economist, 1/24/17)

Everyone knows that Michael Dukakis is Greek-American, the Kennedy clan hail from Ireland and Mario Cuomo was an Italian-American. Fewer notice that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky with presidential ambitions, are of German origin.

Companies founded by German-Americans tend to play down their roots, too: think of Pfizer, Boeing, Steinway, Levi Strauss or Heinz. Buried somewhere on their websites may be a brief note that "Steinway & Sons was founded in 1853 by German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway in a Manhattan loft on Varick Street". But firms that play up their Germanic history--as Kohler does, in a short film shown at the Waelderhaus--are rare.

German immigrants have flavoured American culture like cinnamon in an Apfelkuchen. They imported Christmas trees and Easter bunnies and gave America a taste for pretzels, hot dogs, bratwursts and sauerkraut. They built big Lutheran churches wherever they went. Germans in Wisconsin launched America's first kindergarten and set up Turnvereine, or gymnastics clubs, in Milwaukee, Cincinnati and other cities.

After a failed revolution in Germany in 1848, disillusioned revolutionaries decamped to America and spread progressive ideas. "Germanism, socialism and beer makes Milwaukee different," says John Gurda, a historian. Milwaukee is the only big American city that had Socialist mayors for several decades, of whom two, Emil Seidel and Frank Zeidler, were of German stock. As in so many other countries where Germans have settled, they have dominated the brewing trade. Beer barons such as Jacob Best, Joseph Schlitz, Frederick Pabst and Frederick Miller made Milwaukee the kind of city that more or less had to call its baseball team the Brewers.

"Germans were not part of the colonial aristocracy," says Rüdiger Lentz, director of the Aspen Institute Germany. Many Italian and Polish immigrants were middle-class, and they quickly became politically active. German immigrants tended to be poor farmers, which is why they headed for the vast fertile spaces of the Midwest. "The Italians stormed the city halls; the Germans stormed the beer halls," went the saying.

During the first world war, parts of America grew hysterically anti-German. Some Germans were spat at in the street. The teaching of their language was banned in schools. Sauerkraut was renamed "liberty cabbage". German books were burned, dachshunds kicked and German-Americans forced to buy war bonds to prove their patriotism. When New Ulm, a predominantly German town in Minnesota, refused to let its young men join the draft, the National Guard was sent in. After the war, German-Americans hunkered down. Many stopped speaking German and anglicised their names.

Thomas Sowell made a useful comparison of the economic success enjoyed by immigrant cohorts who focussed on making money--Germans, Chinese, etc.--and those who focussed on politics--Italians, Irish, etc. They all succeeded at similar rates eventually, but the progress of the latter was retarded. It suggests what current and future waves should do.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Under cover of night, Syrian wounded seek help from enemy Israel (Rami Amichay and Baz Ratner, 1/24/17, Reuters)

"We're doing everything we can to save their lives, to stabilize them and evacuate them to hospital," said Captain Aviad Camisa, deputy chief medical officer of the Golan brigade.

The medics lift the wounded men onto an army ambulance which slowly drives off down a dirt road.

"Some of the stories stir your emotions. When children come, as a father, it touches me personally," Camisa said.

Millions have fled and hundreds of thousands have been killed in Syria's conflict, which shows only fitful signs of being resolved.

The trail to Israel is full of risks.

Those who spoke to Reuters at Ziv medical Center in Safed, northern Israel, did so freely but asked not to be identified by name or have their faces photographed or filmed for fear of retribution back home.

The Israeli army helped facilitate access to the hospital, perhaps concerned to counter the negative image it has in most of the Arab world.

One man, his legs pierced by shrapnel, survived a bomb attack in his village in which 23 people were killed.

"In the past we used to know Israel as our enemy. That's what the regime used to tell us," he said. "When we came to Israel we changed our minds, there is no enmity between us.

"In the end we discovered that our regime is the enemy of us all," he said, referring to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


I was exiled from the UAE - and I can finally speak up about its dark truth (Iyad el-Baghdadi, Dec. 18th, 2015, IB Times)

The United Arab Emirates has peaked. The social, political and economic model that initially worked for the UAE so well carries within it the seeds of its own demise. The model of a rentier state in which citizens are a tiny privileged minority is internally coherent, but dangerously unsustainable, and is moving towards an inevitable moment of reckoning. The coming years, I predict, will see this distressing reality become far more urgently manifest.

When the UAE was founded, it had a population of less than 300,000. Today, it is home to over 10 million - and 88% of those are non-citizens. Officially, these non-citizens are labelled "temporary migrant workers", but many are in fact life-long residents. Since the 1970s, hundreds of thousands of Arab and Asian families moved to the country, contributing significantly to its success story, and founding most of its key development sectors. But the UAE did not provide a path to citizenship and decades later, a significant and growing demographic in the country is second and third-generation immigrants, who have never known another home. They are still referred to as "temporary". Notwithstanding their inferior legal status, these non-citizen natives are undeniably an integral part of the UAE's history and of its multicultural, modern society.

The government often refers to the country's striking population make-up as a "demographic imbalance" (or a "defect in demographic make-up") - but more than just being a defect, it's a solid trend. The UAE's rapid advancement in human development has predictably caused its family size to plummet - more education and more fulfilling careers for women came with a delayed age of first marriage and delayed child bearing. The UAE's birth rate has plummeted from nearly seven births per woman before the union, to 1.82 today (the replacement birth rate is 2.1). Local Emiratis, in short, cannot bridge the demographic gap through natural birth.

But this demographic defect is actually the cornerstone of some of the UAE's most important political and economic models. The local population is small enough to allow a generous and moderately sustainable cradle-to-grave welfare system - a system that would not scale up well if the population was much larger.

The vast majority of Emirati citizens work either directly for the government, or for semi-government corporations (99% of the private-sector workforce are non-citizens). For the vast majority of Emiratis, the government is - literally - their boss. The significance of this cannot be overstated - it sets the dynamic for the relationship between Emiratis and their government.

The model has been stable so far but can it continue? Studies project that by 2050, the UAE will be made up of only 4% citizens, and 96% non-citizens - which by then would include third and fourth-generation immigrants. The current regime cannot subsume such a big and diverse population as citizens without serious social, cultural, and political transformation; it cannot make up the difference via natural birth; it cannot "deport" nine-tenth of its population; and it cannot continue down the path of "demographic imbalance" without something or the other giving way. How sustainable is a country in which only 4% of the population are citizens?

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM

60 in '18:

Playbook : POLITICO's must-read briefing on what's driving the day in Washington (Politico, 1/24/17)

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK -- PEYTON MANNING TO SPEAK TO GOP -- Peyton Manning, the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, is scheduled to speak at the joint Senate-House GOP retreat in Philadelphia this week, according to multiple sources familiar with the plan. Manning is part of a lineup that includes President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Hard to believe he could lose if he ran for the Senate against Joe Donnelly next cycle,

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Markets Are Right More Often Than You Think (Ben Carlson, Jan. 24th, 2017, Bloomberg View)

In 2015 alone, world equity markets averaged almost 99 million trades, accounting for almost $450 billion a day, according to Dimensional Fund Advisors, Take the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500. Its three-month daily average trading volume for is 88,218,539 shares through mid-January. For 2016, it averaged 104,904,708 shares traded a day, or more than $22 billion in turnover. For the underlying S&P 500 constituent stocks, the three-month daily average trading volume is 600,116,291; the average for 2016 was 641,398,857. Apple itself averages more than 30 million shares traded every day.

Last year my colleague Barry Ritholtz interviewed Burton Malkiel, author of "A Random Walk Down Wall Street," for his Masters in Business podcast. Malkiel explained why it's so difficult to predict where all these trades will take the markets:

What efficient markets are associated with which is wrong is that efficient markets mean that the price is always right - that the price is exactly the present value of all of the dividends and the earnings that are going to come in the future and the price is perfectly right. That's wrong. The price is never right. In fact, prices are always wrong. What's right is that nobody knows for sure whether they're too high or too low. It's not that the prices are always right, it's that it's never clear that they are wrong. The market is very, very difficult to beat. 

I'm not suggesting that markets are perfectly efficient. Anyone who invested during the financial crisis and subsequent recovery could tell you that. Markets will never be completely efficient because humans are making the buy and sell decisions and humans are often wildly irrational. The problem is that far too many investors believe they will know exactly when this irrationality will start or end. The author and behavioral finance professor Meir Statman once said, "The market may be crazy, but that doesn't make you a psychologist."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Donald Trump's Presidency Is the Twilight Zone Episode About a Terrifying 6-Year-Old (Jonathan Chait, 1/23/17, New York)

The evidence for Trump's unfitness for office comes from Republicans themselves, who discuss the president in the most patronizing terms. The managerial catastrophe begins with the fact that Trump knows extremely little about public policy. Because he knows so little about government, Trump gives incoherent or contradictory statements that leave even his allies confused about his beliefs. "Senior Congressional Republicans have privately told several people that Trump seems to have no clarity on where he stands on many issues," reported Maggie Haberman recently. Many of them simply dismiss his statements as empty puffery. After Trump said he would cut regulation by 75 percent, one Republican member of Congress told John Harwood, "[T]hat's Trump just making a large number." There is little prospect this will change, because Trump lacks the attention span to read anything of substance. Something as long as a book is out of the question. Even memos strain his mental capacity. Trump is committed to reading as little as possible. This is not an insult. "As little as possible" is Trump's own account of his reading habits. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don't need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page," he tells Axios.

Trump's inability to read anything of length has unfortunately freed him up for hours of channel surfing. But his addiction to television reinforces other character weaknesses: his wild mood swings and irritability. "One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides have to push back privately against his worst impulses in the White House, like the news conference idea, and have to control information that may infuriate him," reports Josh Dawsey. "He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that."

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM

NETHERLANDS SECOND! (profanity alert):

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet (David A. Graham, Jan. 23rd, 2017, The Atlantic)

Donald Trump is now president and not just a private citizen, but that doesn't mean he's free of the controversies that dogged him in his former life.

Last week, a few days before Trump's inauguration, former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos sued him in New York state, accusing the president of defamation. Zervos, who's represented by the famous lawyer Gloria Allred, was one of the several women who accused Trump of sexual assault or misconduct prior to the election. She claims that he kissed her and pressed his genitals against her non-consensually. Trump denied those claims, saying all of the women who had accused him had made their stories up. So Zervos sued him for defamation.

"I wanted to give Mr. Trump the opportunity to retract his false statements about me and the other women who came forward," she said, as my colleague Nora Kelly reported. She added that she would withdraw the suit if Trump said she had been truthful. That seems unlikely, since a spokeswoman dismissed the suit immediately.

It's unusual for a president to be in such a legal situation--though not entirely unprecedented. Bill Clinton settled a suit for sexual harassment filed by Paula Jones. Zervos's suit serves to underscore an even more unusual fact, though, which is that Trump won election despite a raft of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct lodged by women in multiple places, from different eras.

The 2016 presidential campaign saw a long string of stories showing scandals involving Trump, both large and small--from questionable business dealings to allegations of sexual assault. While they did not derail his presidential hopes, many of them remain live issues as Trump begins his transition to the White House.

The breadth of Trump's controversies is truly yuge, ranging from allegations of mafia ties to unscrupulous business dealings, and from racial discrimination to alleged marital rape. They stretch over more than four decades, from the mid-1970s to the present day. To catalogue the full sweep of allegations would require thousands of words and lump together the trivial with the truly scandalous. Including business deals that have simply failed, without any hint of impropriety, would require thousands more. This is a snapshot of some of the most interesting and largest of those scandals.

Given that he's bragged about the sexual assaults and the openness of his Putinophilia, the IRS appears to pose the greatest threat to him.

Key Claims in Trump Dossier Came From Head of Russian-American Business Group: Source (MARK MAREMONT, Jan. 24, 2017, WSJ)

Some of the most explosive parts of a dossier containing unverified allegations that President Donald Trump had secret ties to Russian leaders originated from the Belarus-born head of a Russian-American business group, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Sergei Millian, a 38-year-old American citizen who has claimed he helped market Trump properties to Russian buyers, wasn't a direct source for the 35-page dossier, this person said. Rather, his statements about the Trump-Russia relationship were relayed by at least one third party to the British ex-spy who prepared the dossier, the person said.

Among the unverified allegations of Mr. Millian's that an intermediary passed along, the person said: The claim that the Russians had compromising video of Mr. Trump that could be used to blackmail him, and a claim that there was a "conspiracy of cooperation" between the Trump camp and Russian leadership that involved hacking the computers of Mr. Trump's Democratic opponents. [...]

Mr. Millian may not have realized he was feeding information to anyone acting on behalf of the ex-spy. In the dossier, the source believed to be Mr. Millian is referred to at various times as both Source D and Source E and is cited as somebody "speaking in confidence to a compatriot" or "speaking in confidence to a trusted associate."

This is a common technique among spies, according to a former CIA case officer, who said "it makes it a lot easier to get your target to open up if they think they are talking to somebody of the same background."

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


How Gambia's peaceful transition offers new hope for the rule of law (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, January 24, 2017, The Week)

To recap: In December of last year, Gambia held an election, and the incumbent dictator, Yahya Jammeh, lost. Jammeh's response to losing the election was pretty straightforward: After initially accepting the results, he then decided to shrug them off and just stay in power anyway.

But what happened afterwards is pretty stunning. Jammeh's opposition, along with the U.N., and Gambia's neighboring countries, said, "Oh no you don't."

Regional bodies like the African Union and especially the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) almost immediately put pressure on Jammeh to step down. Heavyweights like Nigeria and especially Senegal threatened to send in troops, and eventually made good on those threats. Last Friday, Jammeh finally relented and left the country for an ECOWAS-brokered exile, while his rival, Adama Barrow, who had already been sworn in, was ushered in as leader. This was all done with minimal violence.

This is hugely significant.

Even though democracy and the rule of law have been steadily (albeit often with frustrating slowness and setbacks) improving in Africa since the end of the Cold War, a relatively peaceful transition of power is still an important milestone. For Gambia, this is actually its very first democratic transition -- the country experienced one-party authoritarian rule between independence and Jammeh's military coup. That alone is worth noting and celebrating.

But much more significant is how it happened: The country's neighbors reacted with the expectation that norms of peaceful transition of power would be upheld.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


The 3D-printed wheelchair: a revolution in comfort? (Bianca Britton, 1/24/17,   @CNNTech)

If Benjamin Hubert gets his way, the days of the one-size-fits-all wheelchair could be numbered.

For millions of users, the essential mobility device can feel clinical, mechanical and uncomfortable. Now the British industrial designer thinks he's found the answer: 3D-printing.

His agency, Layer, is using 3-D digital data to map biometric information. The technology allows the design team to create a bespoke wheelchair that fits an individual's body shape, weight and disability.

"This... object performed better, decreased injuries and expressed the individual's sense of style, movement and emotions," Hubert said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Why the secret to productivity isn't longer hours : Alex Soojung-Kim Pang noticed that he got more done on sabbatical than at work. His latest book is about the benefits of rest and shorter working days (Andrew Anthony, 22 January 2017, The Guardian)

Up until you wrote the book, you thought the more you worked the more productive you were?

Yes, there was a straight line going up. More hours equalled more productivity. This is an assumption - a mistake - that we've been making for a very long time. And now there's more than a century's worth of work that overwork in the long run is bad for people and organisations and also bad for productivity. It's something that can be sustained for periods of a few weeks but after that you start creating more problems than you solve. [...]

Historically there have been very different working cultures in the United States and Europe. We have longer holidays and shorter working weeks than the US and have been told that we're lagging behind in productivity. But are you saying that maybe Europe was right all along?

More often than Americans like to admit, Europe has been right. I think when you look at the statistics on the relationship between working hours and productivity in the developed world, one of the striking things you find is that it's not as clear and linear a relationship as you think. Countries like Mexico and South Korea have longer working weeks and longer working years than Scandinavia and France or even Germany, but they have lower productivity rates. As easy as it is for Americans to make fun of the European economic environment as one that is beset with stifling regulation, the idea that it's important to maintain better work-life balance turns out in the long run to have a lot going for it.

In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours (Melanie Curtin, 7/21/16, Inc.)

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren't working for most of the time they're at work.

The most popular unproductive activities listed were:

Reading news websites - 1 hour 5 min
Checking social media - 44 min
Discussing non-work-related things with coworkers - 40 min
Searching for new jobs - 26 min
Taking smoke breaks - 23 min
Making calls to partners/ friends - 18 min
Making hot drinks - 17 min
Texting or instant messaging - 14 min
Eating snacks - 8 min
Making food in office - 7 min

This is particularly good news for freelancers and others who work from home. It's easy to feel like you're not "doing" enough when you don't have to go into an office. Yet this research suggests that if you're productive for just 3 hours a day, you're outputting the same amount as someone in the office for 8 hours.

And imagine if we truly embraced this information. Even if we didn't cut a workday down to 3 hours, what if we cut it to 6? What if the norm was a workday of 11am-5pm?

People would be better rested, more focused, and likely more productive.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and EMMARIE HUETTEMAN, JAN. 23, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday to falsely claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants had robbed him of a popular vote majority, a return to his obsession with the election's results even as he seeks support for his legislative agenda. [...]

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, who attended the meeting, said that Mr. Trump also talked about the size of the crowd for his Inaugural Address.

"It was a huge crowd, a magnificent crowd. I haven't seen such a crowd as big as this," Mr. Hoyer told CNN, quoting Mr. Trump. He added that Mr. Trump did not "spend a lot of time on that, but it was clear that it was still on his mind."

...if he didn't have so much to compensate for...

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


U.S. Defense Chief Assures Allies Of 'Unshakable' NATO Commitment (Radio Liberty, January 24, 2017)

Mattis "emphasized the United States' unshakable commitment to NATO," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

In the call with Stoltenberg, "the two leaders discussed the importance of our shared values, and the secretary emphasized that when looking for allies to help defend these values, the United States always starts with Europe," Davis said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Are you ready for some better football? Hopefully in Houston (BARRY WILNER, Jan. 23, 2017, AP) 

There's this football game planned for Feb. 5 in Houston. Let's hope it turns out much better than most of the postseason matchups the NFL has provided this year.

To say Sunday's championship games were duds is being kind. Blame the two losing teams, the Packers and Steelers, who were so helpless that they looked like they should have been done playing last month. All credit to the Patriots and Falcons, of course, who could give fans an all-time great shootout in two weeks.

But don't count on it considering how eight of the 10 playoff contests were, well, no contest.

Any play now Mike Tomlin will make a defensive adjustment....

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Patience, Impatience, and Political Life Today (Paul Dafydd Jones, 1/12/17, Enhancing Life)

What should an academic Christian theologian do in this context? How might his or her work encourage the enhancement of life in unsettled times? Karl Barth, a guiding voice in my research, offered an intriguing answer to such questions in Theological Existence Today!, which was written soon after the Nazis seized power in 1933: 

I endeavor to carry on theology, and only theology, now as previously, and as if nothing had happened. Perhaps there is a slightly increased tone, but without direct allusions: something like the chanting of the hours by the Benedictines nearby in the Maria Laach, which goes on undoubtedly without break or interruption, pursuing the even tenor of its way even in the Third Reich.

A recipe for political quietism? Certainly not. For Barth, a principal task of Christian theology was the toppling of idols, of which demagogic strongmen are an exemplary instance. This does not mean, however, that theologians ought necessarily to busy themselves with literal or figurative hammers. Barth favored a different approach: a style of theological writing that, in refusing to esteem that which is ethically and politically inexcusable, in declining to "normalize" the new status quo, focuses attention on the future that God promises,and provides a thick description of what it means for human beings to turn their backs on sin and commit themselves to realizing the "two commandments" on which "hang all the law and the prophets": love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). Theological reflection and political resistance, at this point, form two sides of the same coin; they motivate a style of writing that traces the shape of a spiritual counter-world, in order that those who encounter it might - should God so will - play their part in transforming the quotidian in which they exist. To be sure, none of this helps citizens decide how they should vote, or how they should comply (or not comply) with discrete laws, policies, and programs. Yet a theology that can't be easily "operationalized" is a theology that stands some chance of resisting cooptation, and - at least in principle - urges individuals and communities to act differently in the here and now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM



But Trump's seemingly warm reception might have been somewhat stage-managed, according to various accounts. The Washington Post's longtime CIA watcher, Greg Miller, tweeted Saturday that the audience was "a self-selected bunch: CIA employees who signed up to come in on a Saturday to see the new POTUS. Mostly Trump voters." A pool reporter selected to witness the closed event indicated "the cheering and clapping was not from the CIA staffers but people who accompanied Trump," according to The Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler. He later clarified on Twitter that it was "unclear who the people on the side were. But the folks in the front apparently did not react until the end."

A different pool reporter wrote that Trump initally received an enthusiastic response from the 400 attendees, but as his remarks "strayed...the cheering was coming primarily from stage right...where the rank and file employees were seated. The senior staff, seated directly in front of POTUS, was noticeably far more subdued."

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


2 Indiana lawmakers under fire for posts after women's march (Vic Ryckaert and Chelsea Schneider, 1/23/17, IndyStar)

Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, took down the message but not before screenshots had been widely shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Sandlin's post appeared Sunday and showed a photo of protesters, many in pink hats and carrying signs, with the words, "In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years" - referencing the former first lady's fitness campaign.

January 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Patriots Won With Less Talent Than Usual (Ty Schalter, 1/27/17, 538)

The New England Patriots team that takes the field for Super Bowl LI will have far less star power than that of the Patriots team that won Super Bowl XLIX two years ago. But star power can be deceiving: This season's AFC champions are very much in the same league as the last six Super Pats squads. Despite this season's injuries, suspensions and trades that prioritized the future at the cost of the present, the Patriots finished No. 1 in wins, No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 3 in scoring offense and No. 1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Head coach Bill Belichick had already built a resume worthy of the Hall of Fame, but the Patriots' emphatic 36-17 win over the Steelers on Sunday might make this season his most impressive achievement yet. [...]

Kyle Van Noy, a former second-round pick whom the Patriots traded for in October, is one of the scrap-heap guys who have played a vital role for this no-name Patriots defense. From the time he made his Patriots debut in Week 11 through the end of the regular season, Van Noy finished fifth on the Patriots in combined tackles and assists. Against the Steelers on Sunday, he registered four solo tackles and forced the second-half fumble that clinched the game.

Despite these fill-ins, the Patriots led the NFL in regular season DVOA for the first time since the 2010 season.

Before the Steelers saw their season ended -- emphatically -- by New England, they had won nine straight games. Pittsburgh also had five players named to the Pro Bowl; in the AFC, only the Raiders had more. If there was an AFC team with the talent and experience to go into Gillette Stadium and win a playoff game, Pittsburgh was it. Yet the Steelers were out-coached and out-executed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Trump turns noncommittal on Jerusalem embassy move (Jerusalem Post, 23 January 2017)

Once committed to quickly moving America's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Trump administration is now expressing caution, promising only to review the matter extensively and in consultation with "stakeholders" in the conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Islamic State Is Collapsing -- So Why Is It Suddenly So Successful Against Assad? (James Miller, 1/23/17, Radio Liberty)

The physical "dawla," or "state," that was solidified by IS in 2014 at one point stretched from northwestern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad in Iraq. Now it is attacked on all sides and is rapidly shrinking.

On the eastern front, the Iraqi government, the Kurdish peshmerga, Turkish military units, Iraqi militias, U.S. Special Forces, and a broad coalition of international air support led by the United States has liberated Ramadi and Fallujah from IS control and is now rapidly retaking IS's western Iraqi stronghold, Mosul. It has been a tough fight, but progress in Mosul is now daily, or even hourly, news.

On the western front, in Syria, the Turkish military and Syrian rebels have dealt major blows to IS. Azaz, Jarabulus, Mari, and (most importantly) Dabiq have all been liberated from IS since August. The Turkish coalition has met heavy resistance in the IS stronghold of Al-Bab, but they are making progress in cleaving IS's territory in two pieces. IS's defeat is only a matter of time -- and lives.

At IS's center, the U.S. backed Syrian Defense Force (SDF), made up largely of Kurdish fighters, has eaten a giant crater in the northern part of IS's territory. The SDF is now threatening the IS capital, Raqqa, which is now regularly targeted by U.S. and coalition air strikes.

Together these three coalitions are besieging all of IS's most important cities. They are threatening to capture IS's most important oil and gas resources as well. Perhaps most importantly, the United States believes that it has trapped many of the extremist group's most important leaders in this area.

It's hard to imagine, then, that a fourth coalition, fighting for far less important outposts, would be losing ground to IS's offensives.

This fourth group is the coalition supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is made up of Russian soldiers, special forces, and private mercenaries (many of whom cut their teeth during Russia's invasion of Ukraine), as well as commandos from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Lebanese Hizballah extremists, and Shi'ite militiamen from Iraq. The purported mission of this coalition is to fight terrorists. And yet they have often let extremist groups like IS expand their territory while they concentrated on defeating U.S.-backed rebel groups, some of which were specifically organized to fight IS.

During the pro-Assad coalition's campaign to capture Aleppo from anti-Assad rebels, IS launched a surprise operation to recapture the historic city of Palmyra. IS easily won a victory there because so few military units were left to guard the city.

It's difficult to imagine a better scenario from the American perspective.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Israeli security establishment to Netanyahu: Don't touch Iran deal (Ben Caspit, January 23, 2017, Al Monitor)

The problem with Netanyahu is that he, like Trump, currently does not have the backing of the security and intelligence networks of their respective countries. Perhaps even the opposite is true. Those in Israel's various security branches are worriedly keeping track of developments. The recommendation of all the security branches, from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to the Mossad and Military Intelligence, is unequivocal: not to beg the Americans to reopen the nuclear agreement. Period. True, the IDF and Mossad were not enthusiastic about the deal itself, which has innate shortcomings and problems. Israel is convinced that a different approach in the negotiations could have brought about better results. But since the nuclear deal was signed, those in Israel's security system feel that reopening the agreement would cause more damage than it would benefit Israel. That is because such a step would necessarily cause a dramatic confrontation between the United States and Iran.

According to Israeli intelligence (and all the other intelligence organizations in the West), Iran is, at this point in time, adhering closely to the agreement. A reopening of the agreement would cause an immediate loss of the deal's main achievements, which are deferring Iranian nuclear danger by 10-15 years and lengthening the estimated Iranian "breakout time" (toward nuclear bomb capabilities) from only three months in the past to an estimated year and a half in the present (at least). The Israeli security system views the agreement as a positive development, despite the fact that it is full of holes and incomplete. The IDF's multiyear strategic plan is based on this deal. "We have a 10-year strategic opportunity to build up our strength, change our approach and carry out strategic processes," said a highly placed Israeli military source speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor. "That is the gift that the nuclear agreement gave Israel, and that is an irrevocable opportunity we must not squander."

Iran, according to a highly placed Israeli military expert, is an enemy of an entirely different order of magnitude compared to all the other traditional enemies Israel coped with, till now. Iran is a regional power, with substantively greater abilities than the countries bordering Israel. Israeli intelligence is keeping a close eye on the domestic situation in Iran. After decades of Israeli hopes for the fall of the ayatollah regime, Israel is lowering its expectations and hopes. "The Iranian government is stable," a member of the Israeli security system told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity. And he knows what he is talking about.

It turns out that the IDF' Military Intelligence wing conducts opinion polls in Iran. Modern media methods allow everyone to conduct polls anywhere, whether by social networks, telephone or special programming and algorithms that are capable of measuring and assessing the stability of a regime via what appears on the internet. Israeli experts believe that despite some inner agitation in Iran and despite the fact that there are more Iranians interested in freedom and Western brand names and values, still, President Hassan Rouhani's regime is stable. The Iranian nation still views Rouhani as their authentic representative, and the inner agitation doesn't threaten the regime. 

the most important thing to keep in mind is that Iran supports self-determination in the Middle East and Bibi opposes it, for obvious reasons.
Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Poll: Majority Of Americans Want SCOTUS To Restrict Abortion (HANK BERRIEN, JANUARY 23, 2017, daily Wire)

According to a new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, Americans are strongly opposed to using tax dollars to fund abortions and want the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the period in which abortions are available.

59% of voters thought abortion is morally wrong. 83% of respondents oppose tax dollars to support abortion in other countries; 61% want to stop taxpayers from funding abortions in the United States. 87% of Trump supporters want the U.S. funding to stop, as opposed to 39% of Clinton supporters.

But even among Clinton supporters, 55% support limiting the period in which abortions are legal; 91% of Trump supporters agree. 74% of Americans overall want abortion restricted to the first trimester; 74% of those, amounting to 55% of Americans, want the Supreme Court to restrict the time period for abortions.

34% of voters said restricting abortion should be implemented immediately; another 25% fell it is important to implement restrictions. Remarkably, 44% of those who identify as pro-choice, say restricting abortion is an immediate priority or important.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


David Gelernter and the Life of the Mind (Joseph Bottum, January 20, 2017, Free Beacon)

Kaplan hangs her column on the hook of a news item, an announcement by press secretary Sean Spicer that Gelernter had met with Donald Trump to discuss the administration's science policy--and possibly to be vetted as the new president's chief science adviser. The position would make sense. Gelernter had taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal in October to announce his support for Trump (albeit with admitted reluctance). In so doing, he became one of the few neoconservative intellectuals to endorse the Republican candidate.

Of course, to admit that would require Kaplan to admit that Gelernter is an intellectual, and she attempts throughout the column to prove the Yale professor is simply not an intellectual. "If appointed, he would be the first computer scientist to take the job, and the first adviser who is not a member of the National Academy of Sciences," she writes. "He has expressed doubt about the reality of man-made climate change--something that 97 percent of active researchers agree is a problem. And his anti-intellectualism makes him an outlier among scientists."

The proof she offers for his anti-intellectualism follows in the next sentence: "Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he hadn't heard of Gelernter until Tuesday." Kaplan had opened her column by naming Gelernter "a pioneer in the field of parallel computation" for his early work in computer programing. From such a beginning, you'd think she intends to criticize Rosenberg for never having heard of the man.

But no. Rosenberg is the foil by which the Washington Post develops its implicit claim that "intellectual" and even "scientist" identify what is essentially a social class, as though to say: You're one of us, one of our kind, or you're not an intellectual. Not a scientist. Not a thinker. Not a scholar. Not our sort, my dear.

And since politics over the past few decades has become perhaps the key marker of social class for those who see themselves as the intellectual elite, David Gelernter's politics mean that he cannot be an intellectual. Unfortunately, he's undeniably a very smart man, one of the youngest people ever to receive tenure at Yale. A dilemma, yes?

For Kaplan and the Washington Post's headline writers, the way out seems to be to declare that he's actually anti-intellectual. He has, from time to time, used his smarts to argue against the politics held by the class that occupies the key intellectual positions in the culture. He has, for that matter, attacked academics for identifying themselves as a superior social class, notably in his 2012 book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats). A better or more charitable reader might have noticed Gelernter's irony in that book when he suggests that American culture was weakened by "an increasing Jewish presence at top colleges," while Gelernter himself is a major Jewish presence at one of America's top colleges.

Irony, however, doesn't come easy to Kaplan and Rosenberg. They're too sincere, earnest, and convinced of their rightness for any such frivolity. They find the logic too convincing: To support Trump is to be déclassé, and to be inferior socially is to be inferior intellectually. David Gelernter cannot be an intellectual if he has the wrong politics, and the only way he could support or work with Donald Trump is by being anti-intellectual.

The normally astute Mr. Bottum stumbles into confusion here in his eagerness to defend Mr. Gelernter from a truism.  It is precisely because he is a scientist that Mr. Gelernter is anti-intellectual.  The dirtier secret though is that Donald Trump is an intellectual, which is why he pushes a political/economic program which can withstand the evidence of what results it has produced when applied in the real world.  A trade war and closed borders must be good thing just because you think they will punish Mexicans, Chinese, and other non-whites, no matter what happened in the 30s after we imposed racial quotas and Smoot-Hawley. The intellect can imagine the regime would "work" and that suffices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


How Congress And Trump Can Reform Taxes To Put America First (Mike Lee, JANUARY 23, 2017, The Federalist)

A number of economists on the Right and Left recognize the advantages of cutting corporate taxes and raising shareholder taxes. Although there are some important differences, this general approach is similar to a 2014 plan by Eric Toder of the Urban Institute and the American Enterprise Institute's Alan Viard. Indeed, in a global economy with global investment opportunities, there is no reason for the United States not to tax all income the same.

But, you might ask, won't hiking capital gains and dividends tax rates chase investment offshore? Not with that 0 percent corporate rate! That's the beauty of this approach.

For foreign investors, it would be an offer they couldn't refuse. But even for American investors, it would be a better deal than they could get anywhere else. Today, our 35 percent corporate tax rate, 20 percent rate on capital gains and dividends, and the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax add up to a 50 percent real top federal tax rate on investment income.

After eliminating the corporate tax, we could raise tax rates on capital gains and dividends all the way up to par with labor income (top rate today: 39.6 percent), and investors could still come out ahead, just not as much as workers will, and only if they invest in the United States. Americans would still be free to invest their capital around the world. They will just have to pay the same tax rates in their income all other Americans pay. Thus, this tax reform would not advantage workers over investors; it simply levels the playing field that globalization and current policy have tilted against them.

The good Senator first needs to explain why we wish to punish income and investment.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Trump at the CIA : Mr. President, the election is over. (WSJ, Jan. 22, 2017)

[M]r. Trump...couldn't resist turning the event into an extended and self-centered riff about the size of his campaign rallies, the times he's been on Time magazine's cover and how the "dishonest" media misreported his inaugural crowds. He all but begged for the political approval of the career CIA employees by suggesting most there had voted for him.

Such defensiveness about his victory and media coverage makes Mr. Trump look small and insecure. It also undermines his words to the CIA employees by suggesting the visit was really about him, not their vital work. The White House is still staffing up, but was it too much to ask National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's staff to write up five or 10 minutes of formal remarks that had something to do with the CIA?


Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Meretz chief accuses Netanyahu of 'serving apartheid lobby' (Tamar Pileggi, 1/23/17, Times of Israel)

Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon on Monday blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to expand Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the pledged move proved his government "operates at the service of the apartheid lobby." [...]

"One who surrounds and restricts the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem is in service of the apartheid lobby. There has been an attempt by the Israeli government in recent years to Judaize East Jerusalem," she said.

Galon went on to warn that Israeli government policies -- not US President Donald Trump's contentious promise to move his country's embassy to Jerusalem -- would ignite violent clashes among Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

"When the state abandons the security of East Jerusalem residents without doing anything to improve their lives, the subsequent violence will not be over transferring the embassy, but the pressure cooker that Netanyahu is heating," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


The Long March Ahead For Democrats : What Saturday's Women's Marches tell us about the party's path back to power. (Nate Silver, 1/23/17, 538)

As FiveThirtyEight did for the tea party protests in April 2009 and for the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, we sought to collect credible estimates of crowd sizes at the Women's Marches based on local news accounts. We wanted to avoid estimates given by march participants or organizers, since these often exaggerate attendance compared with estimates by public officials such as local police and fire departments. In St. Louis, for example, police estimated the crowd at 13,000 participants, while a march organizer said 20,000 people had come. [...]

Nonetheless, it's clear that the Women's Marches drew huge numbers of people. For most of the largest marches, we were able to identify a crowd-size estimate from public agencies, such as a police department or a mayor's office, or which was provided by nonpartisan experts who sought to estimate crowd sizes using photography or other techniques. Where we weren't able to find such sources, we discounted the reported march sizes by 40 percent if they were based on estimates given by organizers3 or by 20 percent if a news account's sourcing was ambiguous.

Even with this relatively cautious approach, we estimated the aggregate crowd size at 3.2 million people among the roughly 300 U.S. march sites4 for which we were able to find data. Our estimate of 3.2 million marchers is lower than other estimates that take organizer-provided estimates at face value, but is nonetheless an impressive figure. By comparison, using a similar technique, we estimated the tea party rallies on April 15, 2009, drew around 310,000 participants among about 350 cities.

Why the Women's March on Washington drew bigger crowds than Trump's inauguration (Emily Crockett, Jan. 19th, 2017, Vox)

One of the poll's many striking findings is this: While it may not have lost Trump the election in the end, the leaked 2005 Access Hollywood tape that featured Trump bragging about his ability to sexually assault women -- specifically, that he could "grab [women] by the pussy," kiss them without consent, and do whatever he wanted to them because he's a star -- had a major impact on many Americans, and hasn't been forgotten.

Most Americans surveyed, 83 percent, remembered hearing about the tape. Almost all of those surveyed (91 percent) said they found Trump's comments "unacceptable," and most (61 percent overall, 66 percent of women, and 55 percent of men) said they felt "upset" by the comments.

And many of those who felt upset were actually motivated to do something about it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


How Will Congress Cope With Trump? (Michelle Cottle, Jan. 23rd, 2017, The Atlantic)

[P]retty much everything about Trump's handling of his new gig has lawmakers speculating, in part because he is the first president with no record of public service. "It's a totally unique situation in American history," said senior House Republican Tom Cole. With Obama, "you at least had a clue," said Cole. But Trump? "We don't really know how he's going to react."

A House Democratic aide (who, like most people I spoke with, wished to remain nameless on the topic of Congress's navigating the Trump era) put it less charitably: "It's uncharted territory with a madman at the helm."

Amidst the ambiguity, however, there are Big-Picture adjustments that Hill folks acknowledge need to be made--by both teams--some of which go to the heart of how Congress has functioned (or not) in recent years.

For triumphant Republicans, the central challenge extends beyond the strategic into the existential: They must learn to function stripped of their unifying identity as anti-Obama warriors. Democrats, meanwhile, will be attempting a precarious balancing act of disagreeing, strongly and often, yet without being so disagreeable that they brass off the white-working-class Trump voters they are so desperate to win back.

This is a tougher transformation than you might think. For the past eight years, whether in the majority or minority, the House or the Senate, GOP lawmakers have rallied their conference, and their voters, around a single, straightforward mission: to make life as difficult as possible for the 44th president.

This was especially true in the House, where the bulk of Republicans were expressly elected to fight Obama. Less than a third of the conference has served under any other president. For the rest, a life of stalwart opposition is all they have ever known. And as frustrating as it may have been at times, the goal of stopping Obama at all costs stood clear and constant--comfortable even.

That all ended Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


WBUR Poll: Republican Gov. Baker More Popular Than Democrat Sen. Warren (Simón Rios, 1/23/17, WBUR)

[A]ccording to a new WBUR poll, only 44 percent think Warren "deserves reelection." Forty-six percent think voters ought to "give someone else a chance."

"No one's going to look at a 44 percent reelect number and think that that's a good number," said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR. "No one's going to look at it being close to even between 'reelect' and 'give someone else a chance' and think that that's reassuring." [...]

Warren's numbers contrast sharply with those of Gov. Charlie Baker. His favorability rating is 59 percent -- 8 points better than Warren. But what's more striking is that only 29 percent of poll respondents think someone else should get a chance at the governor's office.

Paging Senator Brown....

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How the Women's March Reinforced Every Negative Stereotype about Women EVER (SUSAN L.M. GOLDBERG, JANUARY 22, 2017, PJ Media)

The Women's March has done nothing more than highlight the utter abject failure that is modern feminism by focusing on feminists who happily personify every single negative stereotype about women. They are directionless airheads unable to properly channel their emotions verbally, let alone practically. So, they get together, stomp their feet and whine about nothing. But, you can't say "nothing" because if you do they'll start pulling out the PMS metaphors and threaten to...what, exactly? Go shopping? Drink wine? Pet a cat?

If you want to embrace your girl power, let's go less YaYa Sisterhood and more Working Girl. Trump or not, America's women have more freedom and dignity than most women in the world, especially those enslaved by Sharia law. Instead of using all that power and authority to whine and complain, take a cue from Melanie Griffith and use your power to your advantage to lift another woman up. Perhaps one who's working against her will as a sex slave, or one who is forced to hide her face under a hijab, or one who's facing a lifetime of harassment and abuse because she lives in an Islamic society, or one who is suffering in silence after having an abortion, or one who is still suffering the trauma of being tossed away because she was born a girl.

Those are the women Western feminists have the time, money and resources to help. Time, money and resources that are currently being spent on feel-good marches that produce armchair activists who dub themselves "community organizers" and host wine and cheese events to talk about "issues." Because who wants to really help a woman in need when you can just bitch about your own problems over Merlot?

...was that each cohort resented the other as much as they resent Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Republicans: Schumer Broke His Word on Pompeo Confirmation (Stephen F. Hayes, Jan. 23rd, 2017, Weekly Standard)

According to sources familiar with the discussions, Schumer asked his Republican colleagues to delay Pompeo's hearing for one day. "Democrats asked that the hearing be moved so that six hearings did not occur on one day," says a senior Democratic senate aide. "That many cabinet hearings in a single day had only happened once in American history, and it was an unfair schedule to senators on both sides. Republicans accommodated that request."

Among the reasons Schumer cited: Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had until this Congress been ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is currently ranking member on Senate Judiciary, complained that the schedule would prevent her from attending hearings for both Pompeo and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.

McConnell consulted Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Intel committee member Tom Cotton, and the incoming Trump administration. Republicans agreed to delay Pompeo, whose team was happy to have an extra day to prepare. But the Republicans had a condition. If we agree to push back Pompeo's hearing for a day, they told Schumer, you must agree to include him in the group of national security officials who will be confirmed by a voice vote on Inauguration Day, January 20. According to these sources, Schumer agreed, with alacrity, having secured the delay he'd sought.

But on January 19, one day before Trump's inauguration, Ron Wyden said he'd seek to delay Pompeo's confirmation when the Senate convened late Friday afternoon. That evening Cotton, who is close to Pompeo from their time together in the House of Representatives, began calling his colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Wyden, seeking to avoid the delay. Some of the calls were cordial. Others were testy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Trump Crowd Size Estimate May Involve 'The Power Of Positive Thinking' (Tamara Keith, Jan. 22nd, 2017, NPR)

To understand how President Donald Trump could look out at the National Mall as he delivered his inaugural address and see what "looked liked a million and a half people. Whatever it was, it was, but it went all the way back to the Washington Monument," it may be instructive the read the words of a man Trump has referred to as "my pastor."

The now-deceased celebrity pastor Norman Vincent Peale wrote about the ability of the mind to create its own more-positive reality.

"Any fact facing us, however difficult, even seemingly hopeless, is not so important as our attitude toward that fact," Peale wrote. "A confident and optimistic thought pattern can modify or overcome the fact altogether."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Audibles at the Line (compiled by Andrew Potter, Football Outsiders)

Aaron Schatz: They called unnecessary roughness on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after the first Falcons touchdown, and the Falcons just kicked deep from the 50 for an easy touchback. I do not understand why we are not seeing more onside kicks in that situation. With the touchback at the 25, you are talking about the difference between an unsuccessful onside kick and a successful touchback being roughly FIFTEEN YARDS. That is absolutely worth giving up for a 10 to 15 percent chance of keeping the ball and putting your offense back on the field -- especially in a game like this where we know there will be a ton of points scored!

And it took Green Bay two plays to move the ball past where they would have recovered a failed onside kick. Two plays.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


The U.S. shale oil business is not dead (Alanna Petroff, January 19, 2017, CNN Money)

Saudi Arabia tried to kill off the U.S. oil boom. Instead, it just made the industry more efficient.

The U.S. shale industry is "much leaner and fitter" following a massive slump in oil prices last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

"Not only is the [U.S.] rig count rising, but recent reports tell us that the productivity of shale activity has improved in leaps and bounds," the IEA said in a new report released Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Ships steer bullish bets for liquefied natural gas (Financial Times, 1/23/17)

The looming glut is focusing attention on whether existing customers stretching from Asia to the UK will benefit from lower prices, but also whether LNG can increase its market share by utilising a growing fleet of ships that can deliver directly into power plants and gas networks.

These so-called floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) have become the key to opening up new markets to LNG over the past five years, allowing deliveries into countries like Egypt and Argentina without the need for expensive new onshore import terminals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Book Review : THE GENIUS OF JUDAISM AND BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY : The morally minded French public intellectual applies 21st-century chutzpah to our radical age (Adam Kirsch, January 20, 2017, The Tablet)

The left, in particular, has long despised Lévy, in something like the way it came to despise Christopher Hitchens. That is because, even as he claims to be a socialist himself, he stands for three things that are anathema to the contemporary left. First, he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of revolution; he came to prominence in the 1970s as a spokesman for the "New Philosophers," a group of young thinkers who rejected the violent revolutionary fantasies of French Marxists and Maoists. Second, he advocates an interventionist foreign policy in defense of humanitarianism and human rights--most recently, he supported the NATO action in Libya. Since at least the Iraq War, if not earlier, this idea has been scorned by the left as a mere fig leaf for Western imperialism, and a recipe for international chaos (with Libya as a case in point). And third, Lévy is a committed Jew, who places Jewishness and the state of Israel at the heart of his political and intellectual identity.

This is particularly significant in a French context, because in recent years Alain Badiou, often considered France's greatest living philosopher, has helped to turn anti-Judaism into an intellectual point of pride. To Badiou, and his epigone Slavoj Žižek, Judaism is the enemy of utopianism; just as Jews denied Christ, so Jewish liberals today deny the transcendent dimension of the revolutionary Event. The only good Jews, according to this school, are the ones who reject solidarity with other Jews and turn themselves into revolutionaries and pariahs, like Spinoza and Marx. In particular, this form of left-wing anti-Judaism demands hostility to Israel as a token of liberation from Jewish particularism.

The significance of Lévy's new book, The Genius of Judaism, can fully appear only if this French context is kept in mind. Essentially, what Lévy does here is to accept all the charges against him, and turn them against his enemies. Yes, he writes, he is an enemy of revolutionary violence, a defender of Israel, and an interventionist--all because he is a Jew. But Jewishness is not an illegitimate form of identity, a betrayal of universalism, a vestigial backwardness, as much of the European left believes. On the contrary, it is precisely in his Jewishness that Lévy locates the inspiration for his progressive politics. The genius of Judaism--the title pays homage to the famous 19th-century book by Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity--is for Lévy "a certain idea of man and God, of history and power," which inspires his thinking and his actions.

When it comes to elucidating this genius, however, Lévy is not wholly satisfying. 

His problem is that Judaism is central to the Anglosphere but modern Zionism is a function of the Continent. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Why it's never funny to laugh at effeminate men (JEMAL POLSON, 23 JANUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

An odd thing happened as I attended a screening for Split recently. The film, opening in cinemas this month, sees James McAvoy play Kevin - a man with dissociative identity disorder. McAvoy does a fantastic job adopting the various personas Kevin is forced to live with - but I found myself squirming at the audience's reaction to one of Kevin's personalities. The camp, effeminate male one.

Every time McAvoy started to camp it up on screen, the audience - mostly men - would erupt with laughter. Why? This was no Kenneth Williams run-around; McAvoy was playing the personality seriously, not for laughs. Yet the people around me saw it naturally as a punchline. They thought the camp personality was a joke to ease the film's high tension.

The perception that effeminate or camp men are funny is, sadly, prevalent. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Civility: When Mere is More (Susan McWilliams, JANUARY 20, 2017, LA Review of Books)

Mere Civility is centered in the years after the Reformation, when the emergence of myriad Protestant sects splintered communities across Western Europe. [...]

Take the way in which Bejan's recovery of that uncivil era challenges the yearning for lost civility that is a commonplace of the chattering class. By revealing that there is little historical basis to justify such a yearning, Bejan exposes that yearning to be more romantic than rational. It is not grounded in deep knowledge of the history of modern liberalism, particularly in the early modern period when questions of civility were at the fore. It is grounded mostly in wishful thinking.

So today, when public intellectuals -- political theorists foremost among them -- make calls to restore or strengthen civility, their wistfulness clouds out wisdom. They aim at a standard that is more aspirational than actual, imagining civility to augur a society flourishing with mutual respect, empathy, fellow-feeling, open-mindedness, peace, love, rainbows, unicorns, and kumbayas (or at least some of those). Scholars as distinct as Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls, and Jeremy Waldron all imagine civility as the key to social harmony and imbue it with almost celestial importance.

As appealing as those visions of social harmony are, though, Bejan reminds us that they neglect key facts of human psychology. We humans are partial creatures, and we invariably disagree about important matters. When we encounter people with whom we differ about those important matters, we get frustrated with them. We disrespect them. We feel contempt for them. We try to ignore them. At best, we somewhat clunkily navigate through our disagreements. Even if we have deep and abiding love for someone, we can become unhinged with rage when that someone sees important issues differently -- a phenomenon Americans confront every year when trying to figure out how to survive Thanksgiving dinner with relatives whose political positions are anathema. You can call it a success if nobody gets stabbed with a carving knife; you're courting disappointment if you wish for much more.

Civility, therefore, should not be grounded in the unrealistic wish for fundamental human concord, but has to have its roots in what Bejan calls "the messy real word of unmurderous coexistence between individuals divided on the fundamentals and mutually disdainful of others' contrary commitments."

In other words, against the contemporary wish for more civility, Bejan would have us aspire to mere civility.

She takes this term from Roger Williams, the political and religious leader who, having been kicked out of Massachusetts by the Puritans, founded the Providence Plantation -- what would eventually become Rhode Island -- in the service of spiritual freedom. For Williams, the question of how you maintain some amount of order in a society where there are deep and enduring differences was an immediate and practical one. He did not imagine that profound mutual respect was going to emerge under such conditions. To the contrary: He knew that when faced with deep and enduring differences, people were going to want to yell at each other. Williams himself wanted to do that; he was an evangelist who never tired of telling others how damnable their beliefs were. His mere civility was a means by which people could be true to their own partiality within the context of a functioning society. Williams did not think that civility required deep respect for the inner lives of other individuals, just a minimal respect for social order. Bejan describes Williams's thought this way: "While we are stuck in the same boat with people we hate, we had better learn to make the most of it. There is no reason, however, to think that this will make us respect or like each other more. It is usually the opposite."

When compared with Williams, contemporary political theorists look pretty darn naïve, or at least pretty darn removed from real politics. Bejan becomes her most passionate self on this point, almost jumping off the page in italics. "In equating civility with mutual respect, theorists necessarily move the discussion to an aspirational realm of ideal theory in which the kinds of problems civility is needed to address do not even arise," she writes. These are "scholars we might hope would know better and be able to offer something more precise. It seems reasonable to expect theorists to understand reality, first, before moralizing about how to change it."

One of the subtle but important undertones of Bejan's argument is the idea that many contemporary intellectuals are blinded by a secularism that is best (if somewhat strangely) described as holier-than-thou. They fail to learn from debates among early moderns because those debates were couched in religious terms; they quickly assume that the debates have little to offer us in this more "enlightened" time. To paraphrase Bejan, they assume that religion was the problem (or that religion is the problem), when really people are the problem. We humans may have achieved many things in the last 500 years, but we have not transcended ourselves.

...that not only are our own times not special, but they are comparatively consensual. We have partisanship for its own sake, not because we have many actual political differences.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Popping Bubbles : I finally stepped out of my progressive bubble--and now I understand why people hate "the liberal elite" (Annalisa Merelli January 10, 2017, Vox)

On Facebook, my heavily "blue feed" shared news and commentary that unanimously condemned the victory of the "no" camp. Many of these articles claimed the vote was yet another example of democracy failing progress: The misguided, misinformed people who had voted "no" were helping to stunt Italy's growth or, worse, had fallen for the xenophobic promises and empty slogans of politicians like Grillo and Salvini.

Misguided, misinformed people like, me apparently.

I voted no, first and foremost because I disagreed with the reform. I didn't do it because I want Italy to leave Europe, dislike immigrants, or because I despise career politicians. Quite the contrary, in fact. I, too, am worried that Italy might end up going backwards, closing borders, and limiting chances. But--after gathering as much information as I could on the reform and its likely consequences--I concluded that, amongst other issues, the proposed changes to the constitution would end up making a future populist government's life unnecessarily easy and even more dangerous.

It was a difficult vote, and while I stand by it, I don't discount the possibility that history may prove me wrong. So I was eager to hear the reasons why so many of my friends had voted "yes." Before and after the vote, I wanted to understand their points, and I certainly respected their choices.

But they--the yes voters, whose opinions and commentary filled my social media platforms--didn't seem to have the same respect for my reasoning. As an opinionated citizen with consistently liberal views, I am used to being attacked and insulted by conservatives for my choices and opinions. But the liberal critiques I read weren't so much attacking my decision as they were questioning my intelligence and my ability to understand the issue.

For the first time in my life, I was on the outside of the so-called liberal bubble, looking in. And what I saw was not pretty. I watched as many of my highly educated friends and contacts addressed those who disagreed with them with contempt and arrogance, and an offensive air of intellectual superiority.
It was surprising and frustrating to find myself lumped in with political parties and ideologies I do not support. But it also provided some insight into why many liberals seem incapable of talking with those who hold different opinions. (This is, broadly speaking, not just a liberal problem.) In so much of what I read, there was a tone of odious condescension, the idea that us no voters were perhaps too simpleminded or too uninformed to really grasp the situation.

The majority of these arguments did not explain why my choice was wrong. And after reading piece after piece of snarky, bitter commentary, I too lost the desire to engage with my yes-voting peers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Chris Hogan is another Pats rags-to-riches story. (Kenneth Arthur|Jan. 23rd, 2017, Sports on Earth)

Hogan declined the option to play football at schools like UConn and Rutgers, instead going to Penn State -- which would seem like a really obvious choice, if it weren't for the fact that he didn't play football at Penn State. He played lacrosse. Said Hogan back in 2011 on why he chose the sport: "I had more influences on me playing lacrosse than I did have people telling me to play football ... If I could go back four years, I would have absolutely played football."

Still, Hogan was an exceptional lacrosse player, a senior captain, and when his time ran out, he still had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining. He opted to use it to play football at Monmouth, mostly doing what he does best: being a freak athlete. He had three touchdowns on offense (on only 12 catches) and three interceptions on defense. Not much could get him recognized by NFL scouts, especially since he wasn't invited to the combine. Not much other than a 4.47 in the forty-yard dash and 28 reps on the bench at Fordham's pro day. Yes, he had to go to another school just to get a pro day.

Now Hogan was a becoming a bit of a legend, getting workouts with various teams, being "that guy from that small school that intrigues everyone" during the 2011 NFL Draft. Nobody selected Hogan that year due to his almost complete lack of experience beyond high school, but he signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.

New Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh didn't see enough in Hogan to keep him around, as he was limited with an ankle injury, and he was released during final cuts. He was picked up by the New York Giants, but cut 11 days later. He was available for the next three months, finally signing with the Miami Dolphins practice squad in late December and then a futures contract in January. During the 2012 "Hard Knocks" series on HBO, Hogan became a featured personality, mostly because of a catchy nickname given to him by Dolphins teammate Reggie Bush: "7-Eleven" (because like the convenience store, he's always open).

Hogan wasn't open enough to keep a job, though, as he was released once again, until he signed with the Bills that November. By 2013, he got his first regular-season playing time, catching 10 passes for 83 yards. Then in 2014, three years after entering the league, he was a bona fide NFL receiver, catching 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns with Buffalo. He showed no dropoff in 2015 under new head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, catching 36 for 450 yards and two touchdowns. None of this should lead you to believe that Hogan was on a path to be a postseason superstar, though.

Which is one of the many reasons why none of us are Bill Belichick.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


New Front Runner Emerges In The SCOTUS Contest (Kevin Daley, Jan. 22nd, 2017, Daily Caller)

Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may be the leading candidate for President Donald Trump's first appointment to the Supreme Court.

Jan Crawford of CBS News, a veteran court-watcher, reports Trump may be close to settling on Gorsuch. At 49, he could conceivably serve on the Court for over 30 years if he is confirmed by the Senate.

A Marshall scholar with degrees from Oxford and Harvard Law School, Gorsuch clerked for Justices Anthony Kennedy and Byron White on the high court before entering private practice in Washington at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel PLLC. He served in the U.S. Department of Justice for two years prior to his nomination to the 10th Circuit in 2006 by President George W. Bush. He was approved by the Senate on a voice vote, as he was not considered a controversial nominee. [...]

He is consistently identified as one of the finest writers on the federal bench given his elegant and unpretentious prose.

January 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


'Alternative facts:' Why the Trump team is 'planting a flag' in war on media (Brian Stelter, January 22, 2017, CNN)

The alternative to "facts" is "fictions."

But President Trump's special adviser Kellyanne Conway proposed something new on Sunday: "alternative facts."

The strange phrase entered the lexicon when Conway told NBC's Chuck Todd that the numerous misstatements in press secretary Sean Spicer's angry statement to reporters Saturday were actually "alternative facts."

The phrase called into the question Conway's understanding of the word "facts" and caused widespread mockery on Sunday.

New White House press secretary Sean Spicer's grudge against the media dates back DECADES (GEOFF EARLE, 22 January 2017, Daily Mail)

New White House press secretary Sean Spicer's angry tirade against White House reporters on his first day on the job wasn't his first clash with the press: while in student government he brought a complaint against his college paper after it called him 'Sean Sphincter.'

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


TRUMP'S VAINGLORIOUS AFFRONT TO THE C.I.A. (Robin Wright   January 22, 2017, The New Yorker)

The death of Robert Ames, who was America's top intelligence officer for the Middle East, is commemorated among the hundred and seventeen stars on the white marble Memorial Wall at C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He served long years in the region's hellholes--Beirut; Tehran; Sanaa, Yemen; Kuwait City; and Cairo--often in the midst of war or turmoil. Along the way, Ames cultivated pivotal U.S. operatives and sources, even within the Palestine Liberation Organization when it ranked as the world's top terrorist group. In April, 1983, as chief of the C.I.A.'s Near East division, back in Washington, Ames returned to Beirut for consultations as Lebanon's civil war raged.

Shortly after 1 p.m. on April 18th, 1983, Ames was huddling with seven other C.I.A. staff at the high-rise U.S. Embassy overlooking the Mediterranean, when a delivery van laden with explosives made a sharp swing into the cobblestone entryway, sped past a guard station, and accelerated into the embassy's front wall. It set off a roar that echoed across Beirut. My office was just up the hill. A huge black cloud enveloped blocks.

It was the very first suicide bombing against the United States in the Middle East, and the onset of a new type of warfare. Carried out by an embryonic cell of extremists that later evolved into Hezbollah, it blew off the front of the embassy, leaving it like a seven-story, open-faced dollhouse. Sixty-four were killed, including all eight members of the C.I.A. team. It was, at the time, the deadliest attack on an American diplomatic facility anywhere in the world, and it remains the single deadliest attack on U.S. intelligence. (Only one of the thirty attacks on U.S. missions since then, in Nairobi, in 1998, has been deadlier.)

Ryan Crocker, the embassy's political officer, had met with Ames earlier that day. Crocker was blown against the wall by the bomb's impact, but escaped serious injury. He spent hours navigating smoke, fires, and tons of concrete, steel, and glass debris, searching for his colleagues.

"This is seared into my mind, irretrievably," Crocker recalled for me this weekend. "There wasn't an organized recovery plan, not in the initial hours after the bombing. I was de facto in charge that first awful night, when you dug a little and shouted out in case there was someone alive there, and then dug a bit more. Somewhere that night, I was on that rubble heap, and a radiator caught my eye. There was an object at the foot of the radiator. It looked like a beach ball, covered thick with dust. It was Bob Ames's head."

Ames left behind a widow and six children. He was so clandestine that his kids did not know that he was a spy until after he was killed. President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, saw the flag-draped coffins of the American victims arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, and met with the families of the deceased.

Reagan, who had known Ames, recounted the meetings in his diary, according to Kai Bird's book about Ames, "The Good Spy": "We were both in tears--I know all I could do was grip their hands--I was too choked up to speak." More than three thousand people turned out for the memorial service at the National Cathedral for Ames and the other American victims.

On his first full day in office, President Trump spoke at the C.I.A. headquarters in front of the hallowed Memorial Wall, with Ames's star on it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


In R-rated anti-Trump rant, Madonna muses about 'blowing up White House' (Eric Levenson, January 21, 2017, CNN)

Ever the provocateur, Madonna dropped a trio of f-bombs and admitted that she's "thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House" during a speech at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday.

Donald Trump and New York Tabloids Resume Their Elaborate Dance (MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, APRIL 11, 2016, NY Times)

In trying to influence a story, Mr. Trump's techniques ran the gamut from pugilistic to flattering to downright bizarre. Sometimes, his approach used all three.

Sue Carswell, a former writer for People magazine, had been wooing Mr. Trump for an interview in 1991 by mailing him gifts of pink Hermès ties. ("This is all back in the days when we had expense accounts," she recalled.) When Mr. Trump claimed he'd had an affair with Carla Bruni -- who denied it -- Ms. Carswell found herself on the telephone with a Trump spokesman who introduced himself as John Miller, and who claimed that Madonna and Kim Basinger were eager to date the real estate developer.

It dawned on her that the spokesman sounded a lot like somebody else: Mr. Trump. Ms. Maples, a friend, confirmed that it was indeed her husband on the line, impersonating his own (fake) spokesman. 

Just because we'd prefer that he not be president is no excuse for violence.
Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Netanyahu says Palestinians can have a 'state minus' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 22, 2017)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet ministers Sunday that he was prepared to give the Palestinians a "state minus." [...]

Netanyahu was responding to Science Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), who told the ministers that he opposes the prime minister's position and rejects a two-state solution. The minister insisted that this is also the official stance of the Likud party, according to the Haaretz daily.

"If you would listen to the details of my position I'm sure that you would not oppose it," the prime minister told Akunis.

At least he's not pretending the offer is just.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Trump's funeral oration at the death of Reaganism (Michael Gerson, January 21, 2017, Washington Post)

After every major Trump speech or event, the person I was before it seems desperately naive. I have been a consistent Trump critic, but my expectations are never quite low enough.

Some of us approach Inauguration Day with a kind of democratic reverence. Its customs encourage the love of country. The best inaugural addresses offer historical context, emphasize shared values, encourage engaged citizenship, express goals worthy of a great nation, and at least attempt to wrap it all up in a neat package of rhetorical ambition.

For Donald Trump, who lives in an eternal now, Inauguration Day was Friday, offering another opportunity to deliver a less raucous version of his stump speech -- a chance to slam the establishment and make Peronist promises to reverse globalization. Apart from a few nice phrases undoubtedly borrowed from other, superior drafts, the "American Carnage" speech was blunt, flat and devoid of craft. Also devoid of generosity, humility and grace. Making it perfectly credible as the work of Trump's own hand.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Ex-CIA director blasts Trump for carping about media during agency visit (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 22, 2017)

Former CIA director John Brennan said US President Donald Trump "should be ashamed of himself" for using his bridge-building first visit to the intelligence agency on Saturday to berate the media over its coverage of his inauguration.

A statement released by John Brennan's former aide said the ex-director was "deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump's despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA's Memorial Wall of Agency heroes," and that the president "should be ashamed of himself."

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


For One Day of Protest, Every City Belonged to Its Pedestrians (Justin Davidson, 1/21/17, New York)

Within 24 hours of his swearing-in, President Donald Trump accomplished something magnificent: he turned much of midtown Manhattan into an immense pedestrian plaza. Shortly after noon on Day 2 of the Trump Era, I found myself standing at the intersection of Third Avenue and East 48th Street, waiting for the signal to start shuffling along a prescribed route with the rest of the Women's March. Eventually, we gave in and started moving westward down an unauthorized block, flowing around suddenly stranded cars. A cabbie abandoned his taxi midstream, leaving the OFF DUTY light on, just in case anyone decided to climb in. A little boy scrambled onto the roof of the family minivan and started leading protest chants. A woman pulled her SUV out of an underground garage, only to discover that she wouldn't be going anywhere for hours. At Lexington Avenue, drivers honked madly, and the crowd echoed the horns, turning a mechanical snarl of protest into a joyous song.

Across the world, marchers commandeered traffic arteries, bridges, highways, squares, and streets, offering a glimpse of what cities could be if they were permanently retrofitted for pedestrians. The Women's March was also a de-facto Metropolitan March, a global act of resistance to the new administration's profoundly anti-urban philosophy. Cities--not just on America's coasts, but in the Rust Belt, the South, and the heartland, and even in Finland, France, and Nigeria--came out in force because they are havens for the openness and hybridization that Trump detests. One of this political moment's innumerable ironies is that a dyed-in-the-wool New York kid should grow up to be so unsympathetic to urban culture.

Trying to get to a show in Boston but stuck in the march, The Daughter turned to The Wife and said : "We're accidental activists!"  All I know is road closures made the Essex, VT hockey team late for our Bantam game.

That said, getting car traffic out of cities does make them mildly more tolerable.  Replacing them with a freak show isn't helpful though.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


French Socialists battle for relevance in Socialist primary (AFP, 22 January 2017)
The odds will be stacked against the victor, with many polls showing the Socialist candidate will be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election on April 23.
Current projections suggest the election is shaping up as a three-way battle between conservative ex-premier Francois Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old ex-economy minister who has also served in the governing Socialist government.
Macron, a relative newcomer to politics who resigned from the government in August to found his own centrist movement, has stolen a march on his Socialist rivals over the past two weeks with speeches packed to capacity.
A poll published Thursday gave Macron between 17 and 21 percent of the vote in the first round of the election.
"The Macron effect is real," said political analyst Stephane Rozes.
Some Socialist heavyweights have hinted they could support him over their party's nominee if he looks to have a better chance against Le Pen. Asked during a televised debate Thursday whether they would contemplate stepping back and supporting Macron, Valls, Montebourg and Hamon all demurred.
"He's a Tony Blair of 20 years ago," Hamon said dismissively.

High praise.  We'll see if it's warranted.
Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


You are not entitled to your own facts (Greg Mankiw, 1/22/17)

Readers of this blog will surely want to know about a new website: econofact.org, a "non-partisan publication designed to bring key facts and incisive analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


How Obama changed the conversation around 'first blacks' : The only relevant question now is when, not if, a black person will fill a particular job (MICHAEL A. FLETCHER, The Undefeated)

After a stellar playing career, Bill White was hired by the New York Yankees as a broadcaster in 1971, and he eventually became the first African American play-by-play announcer in major league sports. Eighteen years later, White was named the first black president of the National League, which made him the highest-ranking black executive in professional sports.
White's breakthroughs occurred decades before the nation elected its first black president. But the scrutiny and pressure that confronted White -- or any black "first" -- parallel what President Barack Obama encountered when he took office.

The weight of the race was on White's shoulders, creating pressures no white man would have faced. If he made a mistake on the air, would it fuel the haters who believed that a black man did not have the necessary skills for the job? Would people say black folks do not have what it takes to run a professional sports league?

The Yankees had to convince White to accept the broadcasting job. His reluctance was over the particulars of the post rather than the fear of being a racial pioneer. But he was aware that the Yankees were among the last Major League teams to field black players. Catcher Elston Howard broke the team's color barrier in 1955 -- eight years after Jackie Robinson joined the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers.

"I was persuaded to take the job. I also had to be convinced to take the league president's job," White said, because it required a more demanding work schedule than he wanted. Still, he said he felt well prepared and never focused on the implications of being the first black person to hold those positions. In any event, failure was not an option. "My family taught me to work as hard, at college, at sports, or anything. I've always carried that motto with me. I always wanted to do my best, which had nothing to do with race, and something to do with pride."

Today, the idea of a black man calling a baseball game hardly raises an eyebrow. White's work as a racial pioneer feels like the early steps in a long journey as the nation counts down the final hours of the Obama presidency.

Obama leaves office Friday boasting a consequential record that includes ending a crippling recession, saving millions of auto manufacturing jobs, expanding health care coverage and rekindling U.S. relations with Cuba. Still, the accomplishment for which he will be best remembered is breaking the ultimate racial barrier to become the nation's first black president.

It is an achievement that puts any future talk of black "firsts" in a different light. No longer should anyone doubt whether a black person could fill a particular job. The only relevant question will be when.

And the next black president can be elected based on his qualifications and be ready from day one, instead of being elected based on identity and taking years to learn how to govern.

January 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Is the DNC Chair Race Becoming A Disgrace? (D.R. Tucker, January 21, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Just as it's dishonest for apparent supporters of Democratic National Committee chairmanship candidate Keith Ellison to smear fellow candidate Tom Perez as a toady of the "establishment," it's equally dishonest for apparent supporters of Perez to demonize Ellison as some crypto-anti-Semite. The pro-Perez folks keep dredging up Ellison's history with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, even though Ellison long ago severed ties with Farrakhan:

In a lengthy letter to the Conservative movement's rabbinical arm, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said he regretted past positions that have unsettled Jews as he seeks the chairmanship of the Democratic Party...

Ellison, beginning his three-page letter to the Rabbinical Assembly with a quote from Pirkei Avot, Jewish ethical teachings - "The one who learns, learns from everyone" - expressed regrets, as he has several times since launching his bid to lead the DNC, for his association years ago with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.

"At the time, I did not grasp [Louis] Farrakhan's anti-Semitism," he wrote, referring to the movement's leader.

"It was difficult for me to see that the struggle for equality for African Americans could be subverted into hatred of others, specifically anti-Semitism," Ellison wrote. "I focused on Farrakhan speaking to concerns of Black men. When I became aware that he made hateful statements about other groups, including the Jewish community with whom I was so close, I knew that I must reject his teachings. And I rejected them completely."

To suggest that Ellison is an anti-Semite is to suggest that Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, both of whom have endorsed Ellison's candidacy, are trafficking in a form of self-loathing, that they are the Democratic equivalents of Ben Carson. Do members of the anti-Ellison crowd really think Sens. Sanders and Schumer-and others who are defending Ellison against allegations of anti-Semitism-are that sick?

The awesome parts of this are the comparison of anti-Semitism to saying a sitting Cabinet member is part of the Establishment and the assertion that it's okay to say a black man like Ben Carson is self-loathing but not that Jews are.  The apparent difference seems not to be race, just party affiliation.
Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Trump, Russia, and the News Story That Wasn't (Liz Spayd, THE PUBLIC EDITOR JAN. 20, 2017, NY Times)

LATE fall was a frantic period for New York Times reporters covering the country's secretive national security apparatus. Working sources at the F.B.I., the C.I.A., Capitol Hill and various intelligence agencies, the team chased several bizarre but provocative leads that, if true, could upend the presidential race. The most serious question raised by the material was this: Did a covert connection exist between Donald Trump and Russian officials trying to influence an American election?

One vein of reporting centered on a possible channel of communication between a Trump organization computer server and a Russian bank with ties to Vladimir Putin. Another source was offering The Times salacious material describing an odd cross-continental dance between Trump and Moscow. The most damning claim was that Trump was aware of Russia's efforts to hack Democratic computers, an allegation with implications of treason. Reporters Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers led the effort, aided by others.

Conversations over what to publish were prolonged and lively, involving Washington and New York, and often including the executive editor, Dean Baquet. If the allegations were true, it was a huge story. If false, they could damage The Times's reputation. With doubts about the material and with the F.B.I. discouraging publication, editors decided to hold their fire.

But was that the right decision? Was there a way to write about some of these allegations using sound journalistic principles but still surfacing the investigation and important leads? Eventually, The Times did just that, but only after other news outlets had gone first.

I have spoken privately with several journalists involved in the reporting last fall, and I believe a strong case can be made that The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had.

I appreciate the majority view that there wasn't enough proof of a link between Trump and the Kremlin to write a hard-hitting story. But The Times knew several critical facts: the F.B.I. had a sophisticated investigation underway on Trump's organization, possibly including FISA warrants. (Some news outlets now report that the F.B.I. did indeed have such warrants, an indication of probable cause.) Investigators had identified a mysterious communication channel, partly through a lead from anti-Trump operatives

At one point, the F.B.I. was so serious about its investigation into the server that it asked The Times to delay publication.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Bill Belichick calls Tom Brady 'greatest quarterback of all time' (Mike Reiss, Apr 8, 2016, ESPN)

"One of the things we've tried to do is be an outlier in some respects," Belichick explained.

In detailing one way in which the Patriots have done that, Belichick pointed out that when he arrived as Patriots coach in 2000, his team was one of only two to run the 3-4 defense. But by 2005, after the Patriots had won three Super Bowls, half the league was playing the 3-4 defense, making it harder to find players.

"We've had to find different ways to capitalize on the talent that's available. Otherwise, we're going to get like the fifth-, sixth-, seventh-best guy at whatever the position is. So we've tried to take more of our way in areas that are less populated," he said, adding that it comes down to having "great players" on a team to win.

Belichick also said that the "hallmark" of the Patriots has been that everyone is committed to a common goal and there is "great leadership with the Kraft family up at the top."

When asked how he keeps a varied group of players motivated, Belichick talked about how much he enjoys football, saying "it beats working." He naturally looks for players who have a similar mindset, though he said it can be challenging because players come from so many different backgrounds.

"If you like football, and you like to come in and work on football, then the New England Patriots is a great place to be," he said. "If you don't, if it's a job, if you'd rather be doing something else, honestly you'd be better off with another team.

"I think it starts there -- a love of the game, the passion for the game, a passion to be part of a team, be part of a group, be part of a commitment to perform at a high level, and be unselfish and to give up some of your own personal goals and desires for the good of the team for the opportunity to be part of something special in a team environment. I think those are the things that help us."

It is bizarre how much focus there is on the NFL draft given how little "talent" matters.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Division, Dialogue in Hanover (Rob Wolfe, 1/21/17, Valley News)

Messen declared his intentions in an op-ed in the student newspaper The Dartmouth on Thursday.

In his piece, he cited a Nov. 29 tweet in which the now 45th president opined that people who burn the American flag should lose their citizenship or face a year in prison. To Messen, Trump's attack on flag burning -- a practice that the Supreme Court deems constitutionally protected free speech -- smacked of authoritarianism. [...]

After Messen's op-ed went online, Dartmouth students sent a link to a talk radio host at WNTK-FM, a station licensed out of New London.

The host, Keith Hanson of "Live and Local in the Morning," mentioned on air Friday morning the possibility of a flag burning, and encouraged listeners to stage a counter-demonstration.

Hanson, who was among the crowd that grew around the flagbearers on Friday afternoon, said that after the show he had contacted area motorcycle groups, including the local chapter of Rolling Thunder, an organization that supports veterans. News also spread through social media, and soon scores of people were planning to attend.

Hanson acknowledged that burning the flag is a right afforded by the First Amendment's protections of free speech.

"Do I support freedom of expression?" he said. "Yes, you have a right to freedom of expression, but with that right comes responsibility. You have a responsibility to consider what that means to people who have pledged all to defend those rights."

John Hendrick, of Plainfield, was one of the bikers carrying a flag.

"It's their right," he allowed, but added, "The guy hasn't even been president a day and they're protesting him. They ought to put on their big boy pants."

Hendrick wouldn't say who he had voted for in November, but said he "in a way" supported Trump.

"I support some of the things he said," Hendrick said. "He might be the best president we ever had. We don't know yet."

Meanwhile, more and more people appeared on the green. By 4:30 p.m., more than a hundred were milling around the flagbearers, speculating aloud about what would happen.

"I don't think he'll dare show up," one student said.

Suddenly, the crowd rushed in one direction. Messen had arrived.

First, he told everyone, his voice faint despite the use of a bullhorn, "We won't be burning the American flag today."

Messen said he had a prepared statement to read, after which he hoped to have a conversation about free speech and the flag.

He looked down at a piece of paper and began to speak, and almost immediately was drowned out by people reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. His words came through in snippets, interspersed with the lines of the oath.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag--"

"Burning the flag is an act of respect, rather than sacrilege--"

"And to the Republic for which it stands--"

"To place the value of the American republic on a piece of striped cloth--"

"One Nation under God, indivisible--"

"--is to misplace and misvalue what is wonderful about living here."

In many other countries, Messen went on to say, flag burning is illegal. The United States is special for the very reason that its citizens are allowed to destroy the national symbol that draws them together, he said.

"It's illegal anywhere!" a man screamed, taking several steps toward Messen.

"Let him speak!" others shouted.

Hanson attempted to interrupt as well, but Messen kept going, enumerating Trump's cabinet picks and the reasons why he thought them unfit.

The heckling continued until Messen finished his statement. As he exhorted the crowd to "remain unafraid and educated," a woman shouted, "What about the blue-collar workers?"

As he asserted that Trump threatened to "bring America back into the early 1800s," the flag-bearers moved to his side, closing a tight circle around him.

"I thank all of you for provoking me" to have a candid public dialogue, he said in closing. "I thus pledge allegiance to the flag and a better United States of America with liberty and justice for all."

Hanson stepped in to reiterate his point about responsible use of freedoms.

"The reason you can stand here on this green and not get shot in the head is because of Americans who have fought and shed their blood so that you can be here," he said.

After that, Messen thanked the crowd, invited them to email him and left.

This was not Messen's first act of protest on campus. In 2014, he and other students disrupted a public forum with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, posing the then-presidential candidate lewd questions designed to mock his stances on LGBT issues.

The incident made national headlines thanks to a question from another student about whether Perry would be willing to have sex with a man in exchange for campaign contributions.

Messen, for his part, criticized Perry's past likenings of homosexuality to alcoholism, asking him what it had been like to work with Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston, who is openly gay.

Although the possibility of a flag burning had ended with Messen's speech and his departure, many of the protesters, the counter-demonstrators and the merely curious stayed afterward to talk.

Messen, meanwhile, moved to the nearby Collis Center for a talk with one of the leaders of the counter-protest, Skip Rollins, a state representative for Newport and Unity who is also a member of the Rolling Thunder group.

They sat down across from each other at a conference room table -- Rollins, his leather biker's vest festooned with pins; Messen, wearing a striped scarf over a hoodie -- and tried to find common ground.

The two men agreed that Messen had the right to burn the flag. Where they diverged was on the question of whether he should.

Messen said that his family had immigrated to the United States, in 1992, from Moscow, at a time when strongman rulers in Eastern Europe suppressed free speech and dissent in a way that to Messen resembled Donald Trump.

Exercising a right, Messen argued, is a way to protest an incoming leader who does not appear to respect it. In that sense, flag burning is a way of affirming democracy and freedom, he said.

"It's a paradox, right?" Messen said.

Rollins asked Messen and a few other students in the room whether they knew what a "gold-star" parent is. A gold-star parent has lost a son or daughter in combat, he explained.

Justin A. Rollins, a U.S. Army specialist who grew up in Newport, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on March 5, 2007.

Rollins on Friday said that his son had cherished the flag while he lived. After he died, the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group devoted to the military dead, attended the funeral.

To pay them back, Rollins said, he joined Rolling Thunder, a group that helps bring back troops missing or killed in action and raises money to aid struggling veterans at home.

"They've sacrificed and they've seen their sons die for this country," Rollins said, "Just like I saw my son die, although I didn't see him die. That flag to them symbolizes our freedom, and it's their sacrifice that they made that has given you the freedom to burn that flag."

It may be Messen's right to burn the flag, Rollins said, "but it is very painful to the veterans to see that happen, to see that someone doesn't respect ... the sacrifices they make to give you the freedom to still do that."

The two sides found little common ground on other topics, including what may happen during Trump's presidency. What they did agree on, however, was that the protest had sparked a conversation they otherwise wouldn't have had, and that they should talk some more.

"If there's any unity or cooperation or healing it has to come from below," Messen said. "It can't be forced on us."

That Rollins could agree with.

The two exchanged email addresses, and spoke of organizing some kind of discussion in the future. They parted ways with "biker hugs": clasping hands, then slapping each other on the back.

It is impossible to imagine many other societies where a protest essentially turns into a Constitutional debate.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Gambian Political Standoff Nears Resolution as Jammeh Agrees to Step Down (GABRIELE STEINHAUSER in Johannesburg and MATINA STEVIS in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 21, 2017, WSJ)

If indeed final this time, Mr. Jammeh's resignation is a victory for democracy on a continent where several leaders in recent year either outstayed their mandates or changed their constitutions to abolish term limits. It is also a rare example of regional collaboration where many attempts of cross-border cooperation have failed in the face of nationalist policies.

The Economic Community of West African states, a regional bloc of which Gambia is a member, had spent weeks working to convince Mr. Jammeh to accept the election results. After his term expired at midnight on Wednesday, it was Ecowas which decided, together with Mr. Barrow's coalition, that he should take his oath of office​on Thursday, even though Mr. Jammeh hadn't ceded power. The swearing-in took place​in Gambia's embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

At that point, an Ecowas standby force was already stationed at Gambia's border with Senegal. Hours later, they crossed. But not a single shot was fired when armored vehicles, carrying soldiers toting automatic rifles, rolled into the country. Gambia's army, which has traditionally been loyal to Mr. Jammeh, didn't resist the invasion.

In a brief news conference early Saturday, the chief of the armed forces, General Ousman Badjie, said he now recognized Mr. Barrow as commander-in-chief.

Despite the lingering doubts over Mr. Jammeh's future, Banjul was slowly returning to normalcy. Many shops, which had been closed for the past three days, were opening again and traffic was slowly returning to the streets.

Interventions by the Bush/Obama administrations in places like Liberia, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, etc. have helped establish democracy as the continental norm for other African nations to enforce.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


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And the hands down best video to come out of the inauguration is... (Grace Curley,  January 20, 2017, Howie Carr Show)

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Russia says airstrikes hit IS targets in Syria's Deir ez-Zor province: RIA (Reuters, 1/21/17)

Six Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor on Saturday, RIA news agency quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying.

January 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Trump's Inauguration vs. Obama's: Comparing the Crowds (TIM WALLACE, KAREN YOURISH and TROY GRIGGS JAN. 20, 2017, NY Times)

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Israeli far-right's new target: Arab bus drivers (Shlomi Eldar, 1/20/17, Al Monitor)

The extremist right-wing organization Lehava has launched yet another racist hate campaign, this time against drivers from the Egged bus company, which operates in the West Bank settlements of Ma'ale Adumim and Kiryat Arba, among other places. "Putting the Steering Wheel in Mohammad's Hands Is Not Good," a flyer distributed by Lehava activists, claims that more than 90% of employees of the Egged Transport Co-Operative are residents of Jabal Mukaber, the East Jerusalem neighborhood of the Palestinian who drove a truck into a group of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in Jerusalem on Jan. 8, killing four of them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Fact-checking President Trump's inaugural address (Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, January 20, 2017, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Air strikes kill dozens of rebels in northern Syria (Reuters, 1/20/17)

At least 40 fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham - one of the largest rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - have been killed in air strikes in Aleppo province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was unclear who carried out Thursday's raids in western Aleppo province since a US-led coalition, the Syrian regime, and Russia have all carried out strikes against Fateh al-Sham positions in recent weeks.

All against the Salafi...

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


It's time to relax about Trump (Hugh Hewitt, Jan. 19th, 2017, Washington Post)

People of moderate dispositions are unsettled by Trump's approach, and the single word they use is "temperament." This is a cultural clash as much as an ideological one. The president-elect is Jacksonian in his thunders, not Lincoln-like in his appeals regarding "malice toward none, with charity for all." Trump is loud and proud and big and bold and full of scorn for his opponents. That very nature carried him to his win. It isn't going to change.

Trump is the temperamental opposite of President Obama. Imagine changing the temperaments of your next-door neighbors as radically as we are about to change those of our president. Even if you grew to like the new folks, it would take some getting used to.

Those alarmed by Trump should recognize that those personality characteristics do not define the entire man or his agenda for the next four years -- and that, in fact, there are good reasons to welcome the brashness. The vast, suffocating bureaucratic state has grown so powerful and utterly muffling of genuine ideological diversity that we need to break the ice forming over the national conversation. Trump is Thor's hammer in that regard. It could get loud, but we could also end up hashing some hard things out.

Finally, there is this: The Constitution is very, very strong. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), not to mention the independent judiciary, represent significant checks on Trump, who, as Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn likes to point out, has never raised a word against the Constitution's design or institutions. Governors such as Arizona's Doug Ducey didn't like being pushed about by Obama, and they won't like it any more if Trump is doing the pushing. The media -- asleep and smiling through much of the past eight years -- woke up with a hangover and a backache, and are in a collective mood to go full Sam Donaldson. Terrific. Checks and balances.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Will Trumpcare just be rebranded Obamacare? (David Nather, 1/20/17, Axios)

I'm struck by how many people in D.C. health care circles are predicting the same outcome for the Obamacare repeal battles: Trump and congressional Republicans will end up with a program that's built on the framework of Obamacare, but modified to reflect Republican principles...

Even more Republican principles.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Questions Over Truth Of Labour's Pro-Corbyn Membership Surge (Paul T. Horgan, Jan. 20th, 2017, Heat Street)

Based on Labour's boasts about its membership levels, Jeremy Corbyn should have had a Christmas no.1 single about him; the Corbyn-supporting Momentum's membership should be into six figures; and the CND, of which Corbyn is a vice-president, should be enjoying a membership revival to compare with its heyday during the Cold War.

None of this has happened.

Instead, Corbyn has suffered disastrous personal and party polling; election setbacks; a catastrophic relaunch; an MPs' 4-to-1 no confidence vote against him; the retirement of some of Labour's most experienced MPs to the back benches; and now two Labour MPs quitting Parliament within less than a month of each other rather than serve under him, with the promise of more to come.

Remarkably, despite all this, Corbyn's position as leader of the Labour Party appears secure. His supporters argue his leadership is validated by the massive mandate given to him by the party members.  Large numbers are reported to have joined Labour just to support him.

Labour politicians maintain that their party is now the largest in Western Europe due to this membership surge.  But when Heat Street submitted twenty-one detailed questions about Labour's membership recently, it refused to answer a single one, not even wanting to admit exactly how many members the party actually has.

...is that given a leader mouthing their ideology, they don't care how weak the party is.  Democrats run a significant danger right now of following this path to oblivion. 

January 19, 2017

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Jobless claims fall to lowest levels in more than 40 years (Patrick Reilly, JANUARY 19, 2017, CS Monitor)

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that 234,000 Americans sought jobless aid in the week ending January 14th. The average claims for the four-week period ending on the 14th - which economists view as a less volatile measure - was 246,750.

Jobless claims serve as an index for layoffs in the economy, and these numbers are the lowest of their kind in over 40 years. Better yet, economists expect hiring to stay strong in 2017.

"The economy is doing great, whichever way you look at it," Harm Bandholz, the chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research, told Reuters. "The labor market is close to full employment and the housing market continues to heal. Trump is inheriting a strong economy."

Now if only he'd do what he should have done with the fortune his dad handed him : nothing.
Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Trump Sought Military Equipment For Inauguration, Granted 20-Plane Flyover (Jessica Schulberg, 1/19/17, The Huffington Post)

Part of being a great president is showing off America's military strength, according to President-elect Donald Trump.

The military "may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue," Trump told the Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday. "That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we're going to be showing our military."

Trump spoke about his vision of military parades in vague terms, suggesting it was something he might oversee in the future. But according to several sources involved in his inaugural preparations, Trump has endeavored to ensure that his first day as commander-in-chief is marked by an unusual display of heavy military equipment.

During the preparation for Friday's transfer-of-power, a member of Trump's transition team floated the idea of including tanks and missile launchers in the inaugural parade, a source involved in inaugural planning told The Huffington Post. "They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade," the source said, referring to massive military parades in Moscow and Pyongyang, typically seen as an aggressive display of muscle-flexing. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


A MAN NAMED JOE : Before the 'road rage' killing, before the racially charged trial, Joe McKnight ran. He ran to the NFL and back. And then, when the world felt like it was collapsing around him, he ran some more. (FLINDER BOYD, JANUARY 19, 2017, Bleacher Report)

Joe wakes up for the last time, on December 1, 2016. He puts on a blue polo shirt emblazoned with his company's logo and heads to work. Three weeks earlier, he had returned to New Orleans from a second stint in the Canadian Football League and taken a job as an assistant at a mental health care facility. On this day, work is light, so around noon, he fires up the grill and lays out burgers and pork links in meticulous rows. "I like my food pretty," he tells his colleagues.

When lunch is over, his boss and mentor Michael Tucker asks him to pick up an employee at a branch office five miles away on the West Bank. Normally, Joe would drive a company Kia, but this day Tucker is feeling generous. He tosses the keys of his Audi Q5 in a soft arc from one side of the hall to the other. Joe sticks out his hand to snatch them--but a moment too late.

"You gotta work on those fumbles," Tucker jokes. "You been fumbling your whole life."

"Don't do that to me," Joe says. As he walks out the front door, he turns and smiles. "I'll see you in a minute."

Joe starts the ignition and turns onto Canal Street. It's 62 degrees. He drives past the Superdome and the trolley cars. He drives toward the Mississippi River.

He plugs in his iPhone and plays Common's "The Light." There are times when you need someone/I will be by your side. He texts his girlfriend.

Just after 2:30 p.m., he merges onto the Crescent City Connection bridge.

From here, only two people know exactly what happened.

The only thing most people in Louisiana knew about Joe McKnight was that he could run. He ran so well, he was named the Times-Picayune's high school athlete of the last decade.  After the New York Jets drafted him in 2010, he ran his way to an All-Pro selection the next season as a return specialist, and then, when the world felt like it was collapsing around him, he ran some more.

There's poetic irony in his last days; for the first time in his life, he had stopped running. He was back home in New Orleans to make peace with a complicated past. To forgive and to repent.

McKnight's trip to the West Bank that day was supposed to take less than an hour. He was scheduled to help Tucker shop for a boat in the afternoon. Instead, at some point on the Crescent City Connection, he encounters a two-door blue Infiniti.

Ronald Gasser, a 54-year-old telecommunications contractor, is returning home to Gretna, a New Orleans suburb, from a work site in Mississippi. By Gasser's own admission, McKnight cuts him off, and Gasser becomes "angry and chased McKnight," he later tells detectives.

When they cross over the Mississippi River into Algiers, they exit General De Gaulle Drive. The details of the next 2.5 miles are cloudy, until they come to a stop at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard, in the unincorporated area of Terrytown. McKnight is in the right-hand turn lane but still facing south; Gasser is alongside him in the middle lane, just a few feet away, with his passenger window down.

Gasser told police he was "boxed in," but two witnesses contradict this and tell B/R Mag that, at least when the fatal bullets were fired, no one was in front of Gasser's car at the stoplight.

McKnight exits his vehicle, unarmed, and as ballistics indicate, it appears he's bent over, looking down into Gasser's car from the passenger side. What's said, if anything, is unclear, but according to the Jefferson Parish coroner, Gasser fires a .40-caliber pistol, striking McKnight three times--below the right nipple, in the right shoulder and in the left hand. Three shell casings, according to police, are found in Gasser's car.

McKnight is now splayed out on the asphalt, facing the sky, still breathing. Gasser gets out of his car and stands over him, or at least near him, as onlookers surround the scene. Soon, a witness says, Wendell Sam, a Naval officer parked at the nearby Shell gas station, sprints around McKnight's Audi and comes face to face with Gasser, who turns and points his gun at Sam's head, then body.

Sam is calm. "You don't want to kill a military officer," he says, according to police. Gasser then lowers his gun and steps away.

Neal Thompson's Hurricane Season is an excellent account of his Katrina-impacted high school career.

A Testament To Faith (Wright Thompson, 12/06/05, ESPN The Magazine

Sitting in an idling bus parked behind John Curtis Christian School, the assistant coach flipped through the worn Bible until he found Psalm 127. The book has gotten a lot of use this year, what with so many unexplainable things to explain. This passage in particular seemed especially poignant, so he handed the Bible to one of the Curtis brothers and pointed to the page.

"I was reading this and thought of your daddy," the coach said.

J.T. and Leon Curtis' father, who founded the school that bears his name, passed away just three months before Katrina. His presence dominates the football powerhouse, where nine of the family members are coaches. At all team functions, they keep an empty chair reserved for him, in case his spirit gets tired.

Leon took the book and read the scripture, just five small verses. He nodded at the story of a city needing the Lord's protection, and about sons being a man's greatest legacy. The words hit home. J.T. and Leon, the team's head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, believed their father was looking down on them, helping a little, but mostly smiling at the work of his children. In a chaotic time, they made the John Curtis football team a beacon for the city of New Orleans, a sign that things can be as they once were.

So the buses pulled out from the school on Dec. 8, leaving River Ridge, La., bound for Shreveport and the team's last game. The police escort's sirens wailed. The lights flashed. Another state title awaited, No. 20, though this season has been nothing like the others.

1Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

John T. Curtis Sr. built the school 43 years ago. He did it all, from securing a loan for the lumber to planting the crepe myrtle tree by the elementary building. That tree came to symbolize their journey -- a small dream that grew deep roots.

When he died in late May, everyone wondered if his dream could live after him. His oldest son, J.T., who had coached the football team to all 19 state titles, was a lot like his dad. Sure, he would never let the old man buy those gaudy red pants, the ones with stars down the side. But on the big stuff, they saw eye to eye.

Now J.T. held the school's future in his hands, during the greatest challenge in its history. In August, Hurricane Katrina chased most everyone out of New Orleans. His team vanished with them. Some players lost their homes. All of them lost anything resembling a normal life.

The mighty John Curtis Patriots were no more.

Word was, it would take six months for the town to even dry out. Sitting in four rented apartments in Baton Rouge, J.T. Curtis and his family wondered what to do. They didn't know if the school even survived the storm, but through it all, the same question kept popping up: What would Daddy do?

There wasn't any doubt, really. They'd seen him in action. The day after a fire broke out in the school back in 1977, the family and the insurance adjusters toured the still smoldering building. It was pitch black, smelling of smoke and still wet from the firemen's hose. The insurance man told them it would take three to six months just to clean. While he was talking, they heard the scraping sound of a shovel.

"It was the old man," J.T. said, smiling. "He wasn't waiting on the insurance company. He was cleaning that place up then, that morning."

They couldn't let the school close. That would be like losing their father all over again. So J.T. went back to New Orleans to see if there was anything left to save. As he neared the school on Jefferson Highway, he prayed. "Lord," he said, "whatever's there, I'm gonna accept it."

He found the high school building untouched. He laughed and cried at the same time. When he got to the elementary school building, though, the news was worse: a giant tree had fallen on it. A closer inspection brought the Curtis boys to their knees. The tree was barely held off the roof by the crepe myrtle their dad had planted all those years ago. They felt sure that he was watching over them.

"It was the first time I realized, 'We can do this,'" J.T. said.

2In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat-
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

They sent out text messages. They put up practice information on the Web site. Told everyone the team would play in 2005, no matter what. They weren't sure who was reading, but crossed their fingers and prayed.

Slowly, players made contact. Their star, Joe McKnight, who'd actually played a game for Evangel Christian in Shreveport, came home. Moving in with J.T., McKnight said, was the first time in his life it felt like he had a sanctuary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


'I'm no threat' - will Obama pardon one of the world's longest-serving political prisoners? (Ed Pilkington, 16 October 2016, The guardian)

López Rivera was born in 1943 in San Sebastián in the north-west of Puerto Rico. His childhood was spent living in the constitutional limbo that has defined the island since it was ceded to the US by Spain in 1898. Neither a sovereign country, nor the 51st state of the union, Puerto Rico is caught betwixt and between. Its people are US citizens, hold US passports, and can be drafted into the US military as López Rivera would soon discover. Yet when it comes to voting for the US president or a representative in the US Congress, a Puerto Rican is persona non grata. Quite rich, you might think, coming from a nation such as the US, which was founded upon the anti-colonial principle of no taxation without representation.

"The only thing we are good for is to be cannon fodder," López Rivera says in a rare display of chagrin.

Not that he had a clue about any of that when he was growing up in San Sebastián and Chicago, where his family moved when he was 14. He was just an ordinary kid for whom the concepts of self-determination or shrugging off the Yankee yoke were as alien as nuclear physics. "Before I got drafted I was a happy-go-lucky Puerto Rican. I enjoyed life. I wasn't paying attention to anything other than me."

Then along came Vietnam. "I arrived thinking we were bringing freedom to Vietnamese people but as soon as I hit the ground I realised that wasn't happening. We did sweeping operations lasting 30 days, getting villagers out of their homes, moving them off the rice paddies, body-searching them."

By the time he returned to Chicago a year later, sporting a Bronze Star for meritorious achievement, he says he had undergone a transformation. "I felt an obligation to change, to look at life from a totally different perspective. Now I could see what colonialism did to people."

He threw himself into community work among the Puerto Ricans of Chicago. That brought him into contact with the families of imprisoned nationalists and, without ever suspecting that he would one day join their ranks, he was sucked into the movement and eventually became a member of the clandestine Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional.

As the name suggested, the FALN believed armed force was justified as a means to an end. Between its foundation in 1974 and its effective demise in 1983 as a result of mass arrests, the FALN was said by prosecutors to have carried out about 140 bombings on military bases, government offices and financial buildings across the US, especially in Chicago and New York. Targets were chosen for being symbols of "Yankee imperialism", such as oil companies with offshore rigs in Puerto Rican waters.

López Rivera insists that the focus was always on bricks and mortar, not people. "For me human life is sacred. We called it 'armed propaganda' - using targets to draw attention to our struggle."

That may have been the case, but the results were, to put it politely, inconsistent. In 1975 the group claimed responsibility for a bombing at the historic Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan, the scene of George Washington's farewell to troops after the American revolution. The attack killed four people and injured more than 50. Two years later an employee at the Mobil building in New York was killed by another FALN device.

López Rivera has denied involvement with these fatal attacks. But when I asked him if he ever committed acts of armed force such as planting a bomb, he replied: "I cannot comment on that." Interestingly, he still claims justification for violence under international law, using the present tense: "I believe we were adhering to international law that says that colonialism is a crime against humanity and that colonial people have a right to achieve self-determination by any means, including force. "

But he is also adamant that the decision to renounce force was real and permanent. By 1990, the movement was already changing with the times. "We realised other tactics to armed force could be more effective, mobilising people through peaceful campaigning. Morally, also, we came to see that we had to lead by example, that if we are advocating for a better world then there are things you cannot do. You cannot get a better world by being unjust yourself."

When I ask him if he would pose a threat to the public were Obama to set him free, he replies: "I don't think I could be a threat. We have transcended violence - it's crucial for people to understand, we're not advocating anything that would be a threat to anyone."

He was picked up in 1981 at a traffic stop in Chicago and charged with seditious conspiracy - a very rare count of plotting against the US state that was first used after the civil war against southern refuseniks and then applied to anarchists and socialists before being turned against Puerto Rican independistas like himself.

At trial, prosecutors presented no evidence that tied him to any deaths or injuries, or even specific attacks. For his part, he and his comrades refused to recognise the judicial process, calling himself a prisoner of war, offering no defence and declining even to attend the trial. He still describes seditious conspiracy as an "impossible crime". He told me: "How can a Puerto Rican be seditious towards the US state when we never had any part in electing a US government?"

He was sentenced to 55 years. By contrast, as his lawyer Jan Susler has pointed out, the average federal sentence for murder in 1981 was 10.3 years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Rick Perry Regrets Call to Close Energy Department (CORAL DAVENPORT, JAN. 19, 2017, NY Times)

He addressed his awkward history on the issue up front, telling the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that after "being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy," he no longer believed, as he said while running for president in 2011, that it should be eliminated.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Far fewer men being treated for prostate cancer (Ronnie Cohen, 1/19/17, Reuters Health)

The number of older Americans treated for prostate cancer plummeted 42 percent since health officials began questioning the benefits of screening tests, a new study shows.

The finding points to the success of efforts to curtail the use of controversial prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, screening tests, said lead author Dr. Tudor Borza.

At the same time, his team found, doctors still face challenges trying to convince men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer to watch and wait before undergoing surgery or other invasive treatment, Borza said. [...]

"Diagnosis has a way of begetting treatment, whether or not it warrants treatment," said Dr. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He was not involved with the new study.

"Patients think once cancer is there, you've got to act," Welch said in a phone interview. "The question is whether you want to be looking for early forms of cancer."

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Ryan offers picture of public-private spending in Trump's infrastructure plan (MELANIE ZANONA, 01/19/17, The Hill)

President-elect Donald Trump's massive infrastructure package should have $40 of private-sector spending for every $1 of public spending, according to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

"A great agency ... has public-private partnerships. For every one dollar of federal dollars, there's $40 of private sector spending," Ryan said on the Charlie Rose Show. "We want to leverage as much private-sector dollars as possible to maximize the fixing of our infrastructure." [...]

Ryan emphasized that although the price tag of Trump's proposal is "eye popping," that figure is only the overall investment level, not the cost of the legislation.

"That's not a trillion dollars coming from federal taxpayers into the transportation system," Ryan said. "That is the total amount we're shooting for."

But tax credits would still need to be fully paid for, Ryan said. Trump claims his plan would be revenue neutral thanks to taxes from new jobs and contractor profits, but economists have cast doubt on those assertions. 

And any direct spending in the plan, which would be around $3.5 billion under Ryan's vision, would definitely need an offset to pass the Republican-led Congress. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Trump keeping 50 Obama administration officials (JORDAN FABIAN AND BEN KAMISAR - 01/19/17, The Hill)
Another top Obama administration official staying on is Adam Szubin, who oversees international sanctions at the Treasury Department. 
President Obama nominated Szubin as undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in 2015, but he was never confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate. 
Szubin, who has served under Obama and Bush, has been serving in his role in an acting capacity. 
A Treasury Department spokesperson said Szubin would "serve as acting secretary of the Treasury until a new secretary is confirmed and in place."
"At that point, Mr. Szubin will leave government service to pursue other endeavors," the spokesperson said.

The Chosen One : Meet Adam Szubin, Obama's point man to sell the Iran deal to Israel. (DAVID FRANCIS, AUGUST 28, 2015, Foreign Policy)

Three days after the United States struck a long-fought nuclear deal with Iran, Treasury staffers who worked to help clinch the historic accord gathered to celebrate. They met in the Cash Room, an ornate space inside the Treasury Department that once served as an internal bank, to regale a key tenet of the Obama administration's assumed foreign-policy legacy. The euphoria soon faded, however, and would be followed by weeks of skepticism from U.S. lawmakers and outright hostility from Israel, America's top ally in the Mideast.

The July 17 celebration was organized by Adam Szubin, acting Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, according to two officials who attended the event. Szubin helped set up the Obama administration's crushing Iran sanctions. Now he's trying to sell the White House's case for lifting them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Tesla's crash rate dropped 40 percent after Autopilot was installed, Feds say (Andrew J . Hawkins,  Jan 19, 2017, The Verge)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just released its report on the May 2016 fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S. Within the document, the government reports that the number of crashes dropped dramatically after Tesla introduced Autopilot in 2015, a fact that would seem to bolster the company's claims about the safety of semi-autonomous features in its vehicles.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


U.S. air strike killed an al Qaeda leader in Syria: Pentagon (Reuters, 1/19/17)

Mohammad Habib Boussadoun al-Tunisi, a Tunisian who was involved in "external operations and has been connected to terrorist plots to attack Western targets," was killed in the strike near Idlib in Syria, the statement said.

U.S. Military Bombs ISIS Camps in Libya (Morgan Chalfant, January 19, 2017, Washington Free Beacon)

The Pentagon announced the precision airstrikes in a statement Thursday morning, which destroyed the two desert camps 45 kilometers, or 28 miles, southwest of Sirte. The U.S. military is still evaluating the results of the strike, but CNN reported that early estimates put the death toll above 80. The airstrikes were carried out by U.S. B-2 bombers.

"In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Wednesday night destroying two ISIL camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


My fellow Americans,

It's a long-standing tradition for the sitting president of the United States to leave a parting letter in the Oval Office for the American elected to take his or her place. It's a letter meant to share what we know, what we've learned, and what small wisdom may help our successor bear the great responsibility that comes with the highest office in our land, and the leadership of the free world.

But before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th. Because all that I've learned in my time in office, I've learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.

Throughout these eight years, you have been the source of goodness, resilience, and hope from which I've pulled strength. I've seen neighbors and communities take care of each other during the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers -- and found grace in a Charleston church.

I've taken heart from the hope of young graduates and our newest military officers. I've seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch, and wounded warriors once given up for dead walk again. I've seen Americans whose lives have been saved because they finally have access to medical care, and families whose lives have been changed because their marriages are recognized as equal to our own. I've seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other.

I've seen you, the American people, in all your decency, determination, good humor, and kindness. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I've seen our future unfolding.

All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into that work -- the joyous work of citizenship. Not just when there's an election, not just when our own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.

I'll be right there with you every step of the way.

And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word 'We.' 'We the People.' 'We shall overcome.'

Yes, we can.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Steve Mnuchin Failed to Disclose $100M in Assets -- Blames 'Oversight' (Daniel J. Solomon, January 19, 2017, Forward)

Steve Mnuchin, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Treasury Department, drew fierce rebukes from Senate Democrats after it was revealed that he failed to disclose more than $100 million in assets before his Thursday confirmation hearing.

"I think as you all can appreciate, filling out these government forms is quite complicated," Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs alumnus and Trump campaign finance chief, told senators. 

Mnuchin admits Trump's 'rather modest campaign staff' might not have done a great job with his tax plan (Jeva Lange, 1/19/17, The Week)
President-elect Donald Trump's tax plan has been criticized by some analysts for possibly adding "trillions" to the national debt and significantly benefiting high-income households. [...]

"I think, as you know, we had a rather modest campaign staff relative to the other people out there," Mnuchin said. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


How statistics lost their power - and why we should fear what comes next :  (William Davies, Jan. 19th, 2017, The Guardian)

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone - no matter what their politics - can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government "is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here".

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various "experts" that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people's sense of political decency.

Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics - especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britain's economy - elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

All of this presents a serious challenge for liberal democracy. Put bluntly, the British government - its officials, experts, advisers and many of its politicians - does believe that immigration is on balance good for the economy. The British government did believe that Brexit was the wrong choice. The problem is that the government is now engaged in self-censorship, for fear of provoking people further.

This is an unwelcome dilemma. Either the state continues to make claims that it believes to be valid and is accused by sceptics of propaganda, or else, politicians and officials are confined to saying what feels plausible and intuitively true, but may ultimately be inaccurate. Either way, politics becomes mired in accusations of lies and cover-ups.

The declining authority of statistics - and the experts who analyse them - is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as "post-truth" politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people's emotional investments in their community and nation. It is just one more way that privileged people in London, Washington DC or Brussels seek to impose their worldview on everybody else. From the opposite perspective, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own "truth" of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?

The problem is precisely that statistics settle arguments and do so in ways that delegitimize our emotions. For instance, both Left and Right know in their hearts that the UR was a radically Progressive pacifist, so if the numbers show that presided over a record decline in abortion rates and the annihilation of ISIS, it can have no impact on how they feel.

Everyone can disprove your facts.  No one can disprove your emotion.


Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Buy. Squeeze. Repeat. (Geoff Colvin, 1/18/17, Fortune)

In Madison, they still struggle to ­accept that it's really happening. On a not-yet-specified day before the end of March, a Kraft Heinz ­employee will turn off the lights in the sprawling Oscar Mayer plant, and for the first time in 98 years, no one will be coming back to work.

The facility was once the city's largest employer, with over 4,000 workers transforming hogs, 900 an hour, into Oscar Mayer hot dogs, bacon, sliced ham, and more. Employment was down to about 1,000 when Kraft Heinz announced in 2015 that it would close the plant, and recently the workers had dwindled to about 400; the products still being made include an item called liver cheese, which few consumers under age 80 are clamoring for.  [...]

The 3G management model that Buffett so admires is worth a close look because it's on track to eat the food industry. At its heart is meritocracy, broadly defined. Every employee must justify his existence every day. That's great news for the very best performers; they are promoted with speed that's unheard-of in lumbering old food companies. Kraft Heinz CEO Ber­nardo Hees, for example, first became a CEO in 2005 at a company called All America Latina Logistica, owned by a 3G predecessor. He was then made CEO of Burger King, a 3G holding since 2010. He moved up to be CEO of Heinz in 2013 and now of Kraft Heinz. He's only 46.

Underperformers get fired with the same alacrity. Budgeted costs also are evaluated unsparingly every year, or more often, and are eliminated if they're no longer judged worth incurring. After all, Hees (pronounced "Hess") and other top executives are 3G partners. Their own money is tied up in each venture, and they can't afford to be sentimental about it.

Which brings us back to the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison. The truth is, that plant should have been closed long ago, and everybody knew it. "The Madison plant was a terrible plant," says John Ruff, a retired Kraft executive who spent much of his career in food-processing plants worldwide. "It had good people, but it was an old plant that had been added to over the years. It was never meant to be run as it was being run. Closing it was probably the right thing to do." So why hadn't Kraft closed it long before 3G came along? The reason is a classic problem for big, old businesses: People loved that plant. It was a treasured part of the company's history. But not to 3G. "[Kraft] had trouble making tough choices," says Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow. "3G has forced them to make tough choices, like closing the Oscar Mayer facility. It was very emotional." Ruff agrees: "3G got rid of a lot of remaining emotional ties."

Now project that philosophy across a $26 billion company. Step 1 in the 3G management model is a wholesale replacement of the top team and a blitzkrieg of cost cutting. At Heinz, 3G cashiered 11 of the top 12 executives in one day (as this publication chronicled in a 2013 story headlined "Squeezing Heinz"). When Heinz bought Kraft, 10 top executives were quickly dismissed. Of Kraft Heinz's top 10 leaders today, eight are Brazilians from 3G who know the playbook. "If you don't speak Portuguese, you're at a bit of a disadvantage," says a former Heinz director.

As with every 3G takeover, cost-cutting measures were imposed immediately after the takeover of Kraft. Office refrigerators long stocked with free Kraft products (cheese, Jell-O) were wheeled out within days of the merger's closing. Corporate aircraft were ditched, and everyone from the CEO down was made to fly coach. And today employees on the road are sometimes required to double up in hotel rooms. More important than the actual savings is the message. "We think and act like owners of our business, treating every dollar as if it were our own," the company tells prospective employees.

The real savings take longer to implement. Kraft Heinz's new leaders wasted little time announcing they would close seven plants in North America and consolidate production in other locations, eliminating some 2,600 jobs. (One of the seven, a plant in Fullerton, Calif., was recently given a reprieve due to strong demand for Lunchables.) Additional savings come from a second-order effect: States, cities, and labor unions, desperate not to lose their local facility, start offering incentives to the company to keep it open. In December, for example, Boone County, Mo., granted Kraft Heinz large tax abatements to keep operating its hot dog plant, with 40% fewer workers, even though it had not been scheduled to close. The company is closing a 71-year-old plant in Davenport, Iowa, but building a new one nearby--and getting $4.75 million in incentives in a deal that requires the new plant to employ only one-third as many workers as the old one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Putin's Dirty Diplomacy Fails to Breach Sanctions Wall (Pavel K. Baev, Jan. 17th, 2017, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

Russia is frequently in the news these days, but its diplomatic successes at the start of the new year have been rather limited. Denials of Moscow's various misbehaviors aside, the most significant step over the just-concluded extended holiday season was President Vladimir Putin's visit to Japan in mid-December (RT, December 15, 2016). That visit generated high expectations and rampant speculation, particularly considering the scarcity of his foreign trips of late. Preparations continued for many months under tight secrecy. And at that time, many observers interpreted the series of statements from Moscow regarding Russia's absolute inflexibility on the territorial non-issue of the disputed Kurile Islands as preparations for a surprise (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 5, 2016).

Several Russian experts argued that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe had invested significant personal political capital into resolving the long-deadlocked bilateral dispute over the South Kurile Islands; it was unclear, however, whether Putin had any intention of reciprocating (Kommersant-Vlast, November 11, 2016; see EDM, December 13, 2016). The master plan in Moscow was to give Tokyo only the vaguest of promises--and to extract in return tangible concessions that would amount to a de facto abolition of the sanctions regime. Tokyo, however, had its own master plan long on promises. As a result, both leaders can now claim success--but neither has achieved anything close to the desired triumph. [...]

But in this wave of optimism on US readiness to normalize relations with Moscow, Russian commentators conveniently omit the impact of the unfolding investigation into Russia's interference in the US election campaign combined with the scandal about a supposed Russian "dossier" on Trump (Moscow Echo, January 14). Trump is still desperately trying to play all this down, but as the evidence mounts, the President-elect is being increasingly politically incentivized to deliver a punishing response to this unprecedented act of "hybrid" aggression against the US in order to erase the smudge on his legitimacy. As for sanctions, the plain reality is that the European Union has again extended them for another half year. And while preparing its package of "gifts" to Russia, Japan was careful not to deviate from this regime (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 16, 2016).

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The tiniest surgical robots are revolutionizing eye surgery (Simon Parkin, 1/18/17, MIT Technology Review)

In the past decade the use of robots in surgery has become commonplace. Da Vinci, an American-made surgical robot that is used to repair heart valves, among other things, has operated on more than three million patients around the world. Robotic surgery provides numerous benefits, offering surgeons a greater degree of control while simultaneously reducing a patient's trauma and risk of infection. The market for medical robotic systems will exceed $17 billion by 2020, according to some estimates. But until now surgical robots have been too bulky to be used in certain procedures at small scale (da Vinci, for example, is around the size of an elephant, its bulk necessary to push against the forces of the body wall). 

R2D2, which was developed by Preceyes BV, a Dutch medical robotics firm established by the University of Eindhoven, is not the only robot targeting the human eye. Chris Wagner, head of advanced surgical systems at Cambridge Consultants, has led a team in the development of Axsis--one of the smallest known robots for surgical use, its external body is the size of a can of soda.

"Building a surgical robot that can work on the size scale of the lens of an eye, which is less than 10 millimeters across, is difficult," says Wagner, whose team began work on Axsis last April. For example, the cables that enable the robot to navigate are each 110 microns across, a little over the diameter of a human hair.

Both R2D2, which, according to MacLaren's estimates, will cost around $1 million, and Axsis are prototype robots currently unavailable on the market. Cambridge Consultants hopes that future versions of its Axsis robot will prove affordable for smaller hospitals, thereby lowering the barrier to entry for less experienced robotic surgeons.

"With this system, we're trying to expand the range of procedures that should be considered candidates for robotic technology, in terms of the size of the manipulations and the size of the access," says Wagner. He hopes that Axsis could, for example, be used to operate on cataracts, the most commonly performed surgery in developed countries. Oxford's MacLaren, however, is skeptical of the need for robotic support in this kind of routine eye operation. To meet the demand, "thousands of machines" would have to be manufactured, he says.

And thousands fewer surgeons produced. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


'Learning Curve' as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood (Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger, Jan. 18th, 2017, NY Times)

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing -- that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States' nuclear arsenal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


At Woodstock Arena, Zero Is a Net Gain (Jared Pendak , 1/18/17, Valley News)

Putting forth an ambitious plan to make the Woodstock facility into North America's first net-zero public skating rink, according to UA board chairman Harold Mayhew, management at the nonprofit community center has raised about a third of the project's $1.4 million goal and completed phase one in November. [...]

The arena currently pays about $140,000 per year for its electric and fuel costs, about a third of its annual budget. If the net-zero campaign is successful, about $90,000 of those expenses would be offset through efficiency improvements to the arena's existing refrigeration, heating and cooling systems. The other $50,000 would be generated from the use of solar panels to be installed during phase three of the project.

Union Arena general manager EJay Bishop hopes the savings will eventually help reduce ice-time rental fees at the rink -- at $225 per hour, they're in the middle among public skating rinks in Vermont, he said -- while at the same time significantly lowering its greenhouse gas emissions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Tribal Warfare in Economics Is a Thing of the Past  (Noah Smith, Jan. 11th, 2017, Bloomberg View)

[E]con is a remarkably united field. Most theory is done in a single style -- mathematical thought experiments about people and companies in the economy trying to achieve some objectives. And most empirical work is done by regression analysis of one sort or another on data. Most of the field is subsumed under the banners of the American Economic Association and the National Bureau of Economic Research, whose mammoth yearly conferences allow ideas to flow freely across the divides of politics and geography.

So I feel like we should put this misconception to rest. The idea of different schools makes the public think that the econ discipline is more divided, and more politicized, than it really is.

Our politics is so partisan precisely because our policy differences are so negligible.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


The Music of Meaning : Review: Ted Gioia, 'How to Listen to Jazz' (Brock Dahl, January 15, 2017, Washington Free Beacon)

Amid the cacophony of the past year, one paean to improvised order emerged from the pen of music critic Ted Gioia. That book, How to Listen to Jazz, deserves your undivided engagement. Ultimately, Gioia tells you not only how to listen to jazz, but why.

In the mind, jazz may connote intellectuals in berets and irrelevant conversations. Yet in his succinct masterpiece, Gioia shows the genre to be something much more gritty and consequential. By the end of the sojourn through what Gioia terms the "soundtrack to American life," one learns to appreciate the art form on its own terms. More importantly, one is inclined to do the exact thing the author urges throughout his work--to listen.

The Godfather of Jazz in America, Gioia is best known for his prior epics on the genre, The History of Jazz and The Jazz Standards. For connoisseurs, those works remain foundational to a deeper understanding of the form. Yet in this much shorter work, the author teaches casual listeners how to experience jazz, and in doing so broadens their horizons.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


The bizarre and inspiring story of Iowa's fish farmers (Maddie Oatman, 1/19/17, Mother Jones)

Their neighbors raise hogs and cattle, sow soybeans, and tend pumpkin patches and orchards now sagging with apples. But five years ago, the Nelsons--a third-­generation Iowa farming family--turned to raising fish. Hundreds of thousands of silvery barramundi, to be precise. Part of a hearty species that's roughly the size of coho salmon and has flesh the flavor of red snapper, the Nelsons' barramundi start their lives in their native Australia. Seventeen days after spawning, they are flown in plastic bags of water to central Iowa, where they spend their adolescence swimming against a current pulsing through rectangular tanks on the Nelsons' farm. Barramundi easily tolerate many environments and have a flexible diet, attributes that led Time in 2011 to call them "just about perfect" as a farmed species. Once the fish reach nearly two pounds, they'll be shipped live to seafood markets and restaurants across the country, or filleted, flash-frozen, and sent to food distributors like Sysco.

The Nelsons' operation is so intriguing that in 2014, a pair of Canadian investors named Keith Driver and Leslie Wulf acquired it, changing the name to VeroBlue Farms. (Vero means "true" in Latin.) With the Nelsons still in charge of the day-to-day operations, VeroBlue aims to become North America's biggest land-based fish farm and the largest domestic producer of barramundi, raising as much as 10 million pounds every year--more than twice as much as anyone else.

Some scientists and ocean advocates believe we need more fish farms like this one: A 2015 World Wildlife Fund report revealed that half of all marine vertebrates have been wiped out since 1970 because of pollution, climate change, and industrial fishing. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, about 30 percent of the world's wild stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels, and research by acclaimed French marine biologist Daniel Pauly suggests the real figure could be more like 45 percent.

That's prompted experts at the US Nation­al Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Health and Human Services' Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to embrace farmed varieties. "If responsibly developed and practiced, aquaculture can generate lasting benefits for global food security and economic growth," the director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization declared in 2014. "Here in Iowa, they know how to grow protein," Driver, the president of VeroBlue, recently told a group of investors. "That's all we're doing--growing protein." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Lebanon gets a new government, now it needs a new economy (Lisa Barrington, 1/19/17, Reuters)

Long-term, Lebanon is searching for new sources of growth, which fell from 8-9 percent to below 2 percent when Syria's civil war began in 2011. Beirut is working to start oil and gas exploration, offering support to technology start-ups and urging its vast diaspora to bring their brains and bank accounts home.

But before these dreams can be realized, the government, which started work in the new year after the country spent 2-1/2-years without a president, has an urgent to-do list.

The country's infrastructure has been awaiting repair since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990: roads are clogged with cars, beaches are littered with waste, internet links are slow or patchy and cuts to power and water supplies are frequent.

Reams of legislation, such as a hydrocarbon industry tax law and the privatization of the stock market, await completion.

Top of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's list is a budget, which the country has not had since 2005, and a better environment for business, his economic adviser Mazen Hanna told Reuters.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The Economy's Expanding. So Why Aren't Tax Revenues? (DAN WHITE, JANUARY 19, 2017, Governing)

By all definitions, we have been in expansion for nearly eight years, the third-longest period of expansion in modern American history. Gross Domestic Product growth is tracking at more than 2 percent, the unemployment rate is under 5 percent, and wage gains have finally begun to accelerate. But if you work for a state or a local government, you may not have noticed. [...]

How can state taxes be in recession when the rest of the economy is in expansion? This has been the biggest puzzle for policymakers this year, and the leading cause of subnational budget weakness throughout the country. The growing disconnect is twofold and attributable to both structural and one-time factors.

The first source of frustration for revenue estimators and policymakers is temporary and has to do with prices. This is particularly relevant to sales taxes, which have been the largest underperformer for most states over the past year and a half. Price levels impact sales taxes because sales taxes are levied as a percentage of overall taxable value. Thus, even though consumers may have more money in their pockets and are buying a greater number of goods, the value of those goods may not be growing in line with expectations. In fact, the taxable value may be declining.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


40% Price Drop On Chinese EV Batteries Spells Trouble For Tesla (Bertel Schmitt, Jan. 19th, 2017, Forbes)

 An analyst note by Morgan Stanley says that Chinese battery suppliers may cut vendor prices by 35-40% in 2017, while still making a profit. On Thursday, shares of electric vehicle battery maker Samsung SDI dropped 4% on the news, while competitor LG Chem was down 1.8%.

January 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Trump reportedly interviewed this SCOTUS shortlister over the weekend; how has he ruled? (Debra Cassens Weiss, Jan. 17th, 2017, ABA Journal)

When he was Alabama's attorney general, Pryor had supported the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore because the judge ignored a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state supreme court building.

Pryor had previously said he believed the Ten Commandments display was constitutional, but he said after Moore's removal that court orders must be obeyed, according to this CNN story.

Also during his term as attorney general, Pryor wrote a brief defending the Texas law banning sodomy that was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

SCOTUSblog's analysis of Pryor's judicial record says he is "no friend of criminal defendants" and he has "almost never ruled in favor of a capital defendant."

In civil rights cases, SCOTUSblog writes, Pryor "has been a strong proponent of religious freedom, has been perhaps surprisingly receptive to claims of discrimination by LGBTQ plaintiffs, and has voted to reject voting rights challenges in the small number of such cases he has confronted." [...]

On free speech issues, SCOTUSblog says, "Pryor has steered a middle course." He has stressed the importance of First Amendment rights, yet is inclined to uphold government restrictions on speech in some contexts.

Pryor has upheld congressional power in the few federalism cases he has considered. He has rejected commerce clause challenges to several criminal laws, and he ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had the power to regulate cats at a Hemingway museum because they affect interstate commerce.

Potential nominee profile: William Pryor  (
Kevin Russell and Charles Davis, January 10th, 2017, ScotusBlog)

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda (Anahad O'Connor, Jan. 13th, 2017, NY Times)

A government report shows that sugary soda is the most popular item in the shopping carts of families that receive federal food stamps. Karsten Moran for The New York Times
What do households on food stamps buy at the grocery store?

The answer was largely a mystery until now. The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the $74 billion food stamp program called SNAP, has published a detailed report that provides a glimpse into the shopping cart of the typical household that receives food stamps.

The findings show that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which accounted for 5 percent of the dollars they spent on food. The category of 'sweetened beverages,' which includes soft drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10 percent of the dollars they spent on food. "In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "It's pretty shocking."

For years, dozens of cities, states and medical groups have urged changes to SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to help improve nutrition among the 43 million poorest Americans who receive food stamps. Specifically, they have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.

But the food and beverage industries have spent millions opposing such measures, and the U.S.D.A. has denied every request, saying that selectively banning certain foods would be unfair to food stamp users and create too much red tape.

As if sugar subsidies aren't already disgraceful...

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Federal death row inmate is among those winning sentence commutations (DEBRA CASSENS WEISS, 1/18/17, ABA Journal)

Obama commuted the death sentence of Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Politico and this list published by the Washington Post. Ortiz and two others had been convicted of killing a drug dealer in 1998. The other men did not receive death sentences.

Arboleda Ortiz is intellectually disabled, but his trial lawyer didn't investigate that disability and didn't tell jurors about his client's disadvantaged life, according to a statement by the inmate's new lawyer, Amy Gershenfeld Donnella. His sentence was harsher than that of his co-defendants, though he wasn't even on the same floor where the murder occurred, she said.

"Mr. Arboleda Ortiz's case epitomizes the broken federal death penalty system," Donnella said. "He is an intellectually disabled person of color with an IQ of 54 who was never able to learn to read, write, or do simple arithmetic, and could not even tie his shoes until he was 10 years old, as noted by the government's own expert. ...

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


FBI, 5 other agencies probe possible covert Kremlin aid to Trump (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, 1/18/17, McClatchy)

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said. [...]

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump's campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

U.S. intelligence agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats' computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win. [...]

For months, Trump has voiced positive sentiments toward Putin. In early January, he tweeted that "only 'stupid' people, or fools" would think it's bad to have good relations with Russia.

"When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!" he tweeted last week.

During the campaign in July, he displayed ignorance that Russian-backed separatists had invaded Crimea in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and he called on Russia to hack away to uncover thousands of emails that Clinton had never made public after using a private server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, Trump's campaign associates successfully changed the Republican Party's platform to weaken a provision advocating more military support for the Ukrainian government in its fight to defend itself against the Russian-backed incursion in Crimea.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Reality bites: Trump's wake-up call (Mike Allen & Jim VandeHei, 1/18/17, Axios)

[W]e found the incoming president unusually subdued: lowering expectations, acknowledging some of the messy realities of governing, and walking back some of the more provocative statements he had made only days before. A top adviser told us the sober tone reflects a bumpy few days inside Trump Tower -- and the realization that he's days away from truly running the nation.

It's almost possible to feel sorry for him as he realizes how far in over his head he is.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Donald Trump's transition has hurt his popularity, not helped (Cathleen Decker, Jan. 18th, 2017, LA Times)

Donald Trump's transition to the presidency has seen his popularity decline, not expand, and he will enter the White House on Friday far weaker in that regard than any president in decades.

Trump is unique among the last seven presidents-elect: He is the only one whose popularity dropped between election day and his swearing-in, according to several new polls. 

In surveys released Tuesday, Trump's popularity was half that of President Obama's as he was sworn in in 2009, and far below even that of George W. Bush, who took office in 2001 after a Supreme Court battle that ended with a partisan split on the high court just weeks before Inauguration Day.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM

WITH THE BARK ON (profanity alert):

The Tale of Tom Brady and Johnny Foxborough (Jenny Vrentas, Jan. 18th, 2017, MMQB)

Imagine being a new player in the Patriots' organization and going to your first meeting. Much to your surprise, the head coach has scoured the film and found the worst pass that his four-time Super Bowl champion threw last season--and he's showing it to the team, letting it be known to all that he needs better play from the quarterback position. The coach suggests he could find a replacement down the road at Foxborough High, but Brady doesn't blink.

If you think that's the norm in the NFL, it's not, except for within the walls of Gillette Stadium. Tight end Martellus Bennett, a veteran of three other NFL clubs, chuckles and shakes his head side to side when asked if he's ever seen a dynamic like this one.

"Nooo," adds former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who has coached in five NFL organizations, including two as the head coach. "There is almost this stigma to being coached." The head coach of another AFC club tried a similar tactic with his team this season, showing the entire team clips of mistakes by a handful of his best players. One recently paid veteran responded by standing up in front of the room and screaming at the coach.

In Foxborough, the measure of a great quarterback is not Brady's 12 Pro Bowls, four Super Bowl rings, two league MVP awards or owning, at age 39 this season, the best TD: INT ratio in NFL history (28:2). Rather, it is a catalog of moments when the best player on his team--perhaps the best player ever at his position--approaches his job as if he's the worst.

The precipitous decline in the quality of football and basketball is directly tied to the lack of coaching.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Iraq's Marsh Arabs test the waters as wetlands ruined by Saddam are reborn (Peter Schwartzstein, Jan. 18th, 2017, The Guardian)

[I]n March this year, almost 25 years since she and her siblings were pushed off their land and into the slums of a nearby city, Hanaa and some of her former neighbours will be making a triumphant homecoming.

Authorities in Baghdad are rebuilding these lost communities. They are keen to resettle properly at least some of the roughly 250,000 Marsh Arabs who have trickled back to the area since it was partially re-flooded more than 10 years ago. At a time when some 3 million other Iraqis have been displaced by Isis-fuelled violence, officials see this as a crucial step in righting the wrongs of a previous conflict.

"These are our marshes, they're a key part of our heritage, and we're doing everything we can to get the water to them to preserve them," said Hassan Janabi, the minister of water resources. In July, Iraq's marshes were listed as a Unesco world heritage site.

Last summer, the ministry sent in an excavator to dredge up tonnes of wetland mud and mould it into 43 islands. The soon-to-be-residents, all of whom lived here before it was drained, are building their own houses. Most turned to the old tribal sheikh for mediation in divvying up the properties.

Life in these picture-postcard villages could be tough and unforgiving. Few had schools, even fewer had a health clinic, and none had electricity. It's the memory of these less than idyllic conditions that appears to have persuaded many of the returnees to rebuild along the roads that Saddam's army created through the marshes - where the amenities are superior - rather than chancing their luck out on the open water.

The new Ghubbah will be better laid out and equipped than its previous incarnation, local proponents of the plan say. With an entire island dedicated to "infrastructure", notably a classroom and a water filtration system, it will boast facilities of which its former residents can be proud.

Many of them, particularly those who spent a decade in exile in neighbouring Iran, will just be pleased to return home. "Everything we do - from buffalo breeding to fishing - is connected to the water, so it's good to live in the middle of the water," said Haidar Hammeed, whose family have gone from one temporary lodging to another over the past few years. "It's more practical."

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Party Down: The Democrats' curious decline and uncertain future (Alex Seitz-Wald, 1/18/17, NBC News)

Jowie Chen, a professor at the University of Michigan, has run hundreds of computer simulations to compare real election results to hypothetical ones in non-gerrymandered districts. The results show Democrats' unintentional self-gerrymandering is arguably a bigger handicap than the GOP's intentional gerrymandering.

In 2014, for instance, Republicans won 247 House seats with the help of Republican-leaning districts gerrymandered after the 2010 census. According to Chen's simulations, however, the GOP still would have won 245 seat if the election were run again in non-gerrymandered districts.

Gerrymandering can have a big impact on individual states, like in politically divided North Carolina, where snaking districts help Republicans control 10 of the state's 13 congressional seats. But Democrats also play this game in states they control, offsetting Republican gerrymandering, according to Chen.

Of course Democrats don't want non-gerrymandered districts -- they want district maps doctored for their advantage. So the potential upside from retaking state legislatures is significant. But in the aggregate, their gerrymanders will never be quite as effective as their more rural opponents.

Cities aren't the only problem. Far-flung Democratic clusters along old industrial canals or small towns where universities happen to have been built a century ago also lead to wasted votes.

In conservative North Florida, for example, Democrats have pockets of support in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, and in the state capital, Tallahassee. Clinton won Alachua and Leon Counties, home to both of those cities, respectively, by a 25-point margin. But geographically isolated Democratic redoubts like these often get subsumed by their conservative surroundings in congressional or state Senate elections with broad geographic districts.

Fluky as it may be, the inefficient distribution of Democratic voters makes it harder for Democrats to win no matter how congressional districts, state legislative districts, and even state boundaries are drawn. The mere existence of political boundaries at all is the problem.

"Because of the urbanization of the Democratic Party, any sort of geographic line-drawing is inherently going to value the rural party, and that's the Republicans," said Chen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Against Tom Brady, Pittsburgh Has the Tin Foil Curtain (MICHAEL SALFINO, Jan. 17, 2017, WSJ)

In 11 games against the Steelers, Brady has tossed 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He's won nine games, including both playoff contests. Based on passer rating, only Jacksonville has been tormented more by Brady since he arrived in the NFL. Historic data like this is often irrelevant given the ever-changing nature of the NFL. But there is no more stable organization in football than the Steelers, who have run the same defensive system since 2003.

Unlike the Jaguars in most years, the Steelers aren't exactly an easy mark for opposing quarterbacks. This year's unit allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a slightly above average 87.3 rating against them. But note that Brady historically beats the rating Pittsburgh allows to everyone by 36.3 rating points. That projects to a 123.6 rating for Brady on Sunday. In Week 7, his rating was virtually identical:124.2.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Trump and Obama: foreign-policy bedfellows (SUMANTRA MAITRA, 1/17/17, spiked)

As he rose to power, Obama promised two simple things. Firstly, that he would extricate the US from costly Middle Eastern interventions, and second that he would reshape, or at least raise questions about, American 'grand strategy' in the post-Cold War era. He also, of course, promised to close down Gitmo. He either completely failed in these projects or, at best, only partially achieved them.

He was deeply sceptical about the Libyan intervention, but was badgered into it by David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, and by the moral crusader Samantha Power. He was also the president under whom Europe was given a pretty severe telling-off. It came from Bob Gates, Obama's first defence secretary, who warned Europe that if it ignored America's advice on political and foreign-policy matters then there would be populist problems on the continent. Some in Obama's administration understood that Middle America felt exasperated at their nation still paying for European security, when so much public money in Europe is spent on the welfare state, migration problems, research funding for strange post-modern pursuits, and so on.

In his questioning of America's 'grand strategy', Obama became increasingly reluctant to get embroiled in foreign conflicts. The implosion of North Africa during the Arab Spring and the unravelling of Syria left him anxious and indecisive. This is not to say there wasn't American intervention -- there was, politically and militarily, not least through drone strikes and air attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. But it was a strategy, if strategy is the right word, of what we might call buckpassing and bloodletting. In Obama's mind, the best grand strategy was to let, and sometimes encourage, regional actors to duke it out in a cordoned-off Middle East. Under Obama, America came to play the curiously contradictory role of both intervener in and confused spectator of foreign affairs, especially in volatile regions like the Middle East and North Africa.

And Trump? He isn't that different.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


New Trump Adviser Being Sued for Hiring White Men to Attack African Americans : Reed Cordish allegedly called African Americans 'urbans' and hired thugs to scare them away from his restaurants and clubs. Now he's got a job in the White House. (KELLY WEILL & M.L. NESTEL, 01.17.17, Daily Beast)

On Wednesday, Trump tapped Reed Cordish as assistant to the president for Intergovernmental and Technology Initiatives. Cordish is an executive of the Cordish Companies, his family's Baltimore, Maryland-based real-estate business, and the president of Entertainment Concepts Investors, a subsidiary that owns and manages bars, restaurants, and clubs throughout the country.

ECI's largest holdings are in Kansas City, Missouri, where Cordish partnered with Trump's son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner on a building in the city's "Power and Light District."

But the Power and Light District, a half-million square-foot shopping and entertainment center downtown, has a dark reputation among the city's black community. Two separate lawsuits against the Cordish Companies say the area is commonly called the "Power and White District" for its owner's alleged record of racial discrimination.

In 2014, Dante Combs and Adam Williams sued as the lead plaintiffs in a $5 million class-action racial discrimination case. Cordish's business won an initial ruling in a federal district court, but Combs and Williams are currently appealing the decision.

The two plaintiffs say they were unfairly beat and harassed by white men employed by the Cordish company to "lighten up" its clubs as part of a long-running campaign to keep away black people.

Here's Another Time a Trump Company Was Sued for Discriminating Against Black People : After signing a consent order with the feds, Trump's family real estate firm was again accused of racial bias. (DAVID CORNOCT. 25, 2016, Mother Jones)

At the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton brought up a notable and much-covered chapter in Donald Trump's business career: when the Justice Department in 1973 sued the Trump family real estate business founded by his father Fred for discriminating against African Americans seeking to rent apartments in its buildings in New York City and Norfolk, Virginia. Donald Trump, who was president of the firm at the time of the lawsuit, tried to downplay the matter, noting, "We along with many, many other companies throughout the country, it was a federal lawsuit, were sued. We settled the suit with zero--with no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do." Trump didn't acknowledge that federal investigators had gathered compelling evidence of bias (Trump employees had coded applications from minorities with a "C" for colored) and that his company had fiercely battled the suit for two years before signing a consent decree--hailed by equal housing advocates--that would guarantee the desegregation of Trump properties. In 1978, though, the Justice Department accused the Trumps of violating the agreement and charged they were still discriminating against African Americans, but that case fizzled out by 1982.

Trump addressed none of these troubling details at the debate. Nor did he mention another relevant fact, which has not received prominent coverage during the current presidential campaign: just as the Trumps' standoff with the Justice Department was winding down, their real estate business was hit by a group of similar lawsuits for again allegedly discriminating against black New Yorkers looking for apartments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Why is the Women's March excluding pro-life women? (Damon Linker, Jan. 18th, 2017, The Week)

For the second time in as many weeks, a controversy has broken out over who should be included in the Women's March on Washington, the protest scheduled for Saturday, the day after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration. Last week The New York Times reported that some white women were being made to feel unwelcome at the march by demands that they "check their privilege" and "listen more and talk less" when non-white women speak about the unique burdens they face as members of not just one but of two or more oppressed groups.

And now an article by The Atlantic's Emma Green about the participation of pro-life women in the march has provoked such a fury among leading liberal feminists that organizers have removed a pro-life group (New Wave Feminists) from the march's list of hundreds of "partners." The reason? March organizers say their "platform is pro-choice" so an "error" was made in inviting the pro-life group to be a partner.

Others expanded on the explanation. Writer Amanda Marcotte tweeted that "you cannot be anti-choice and feminist" and that opposing abortion is a "misogynist act." Author Jessica Valenti was likewise "horrified" to hear about the involvement of a pro-life group in the march because "feminism is a movement for justice -- [and] abortion access is central."

Abortion is the war on women.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


As caliphate crumbles, Islamic State lashes out in Iraq (John Davison, 1/18/17, Reuters)

It will likely switch from ruling territory to pursuing insurgency tactics, seeking to reignite the sectarian tensions that fueled its rise, diplomats and security analysts say.

In addition to operations in and around Baghdad, IS has carried out attacks in the region and Europe as it has come under pressure in Syria and Iraq.

In Iraq, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are driving IS out of Mosul, its largest urban center in the vast territories it seized 2-1/2 years ago there and in neighboring Syria.

It's not just that their theologically necessary caliphate has been exposed as an impossibility but that sectarianism is now every sect against theirs.
Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


What Trump really cares about (Paul Waldman, January 18, 2017, The Week)

As always, one's first reaction on seeing Trump lash out at someone is, "What the hell is he thinking?" The answer is: He's not thinking, he's feeling. Trump isn't a planner, he's a reactor, and nothing gets more of a reaction from him than criticism. But not all criticism -- only certain kinds. And when you look at what gets a rise out of him, you can see what he really cares about.

Right now, what Donald Trump really cares about is looking like a winner. It's why he has spent the last two months since the election insisting that his election was such an enormous landslide (after all, how many presidents can say they won despite getting almost three million fewer votes than their opponent?). The true threat of the Russian dossier isn't the idea that he's Vladimir Putin's puppet; as he said in one of his debates with Hillary Clinton, "No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet." I'll bet he isn't even bothered by the most salacious allegations in the Trump dossier. What really rankles him is the idea that without Putin's help, he couldn't have won. That's also why he lashed out at Lewis, who said that he doesn't consider Trump a "legitimate president."

Another politician, understanding what a revered figure Lewis is, would have brushed it off. But Trump simply could not allow that accusation to hang out there without a harsh response, which is exactly what he delivered.

Trump is also irked to no end by data showing him to be the most unpopular incoming president since polling began. In The Washington Post's polling, Barack Obama's approval just before he was inaugurated was 79 percent, George W. Bush was at 62 percent, Bill Clinton was at 68 percent, and George H.W.Bush was at 65 percent. Trump is at 40 percent. As soon as he saw that, he tweeted, "The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before." Ah, the return of the "rigged" polls, when they show something other than stunning support for Trump (actually, the election polls were pretty accurate -- they showed Clinton winning the popular vote by about 3 points, and she won by 2).

This is something that bears watching: You can call Trump a sexist or a vulgarian and it won't bother him all that much. But call him a loser? That his fragile ego cannot tolerate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Business euphoria over Trump gives way to caution, confusion (Patrick Rucker and Sarah N. Lynch, 1/18/17, Reuters)

Early optimism among business lobbyists and executives that Donald Trump's election heralded better days has slowly given way to uncertainty as the president-elect fires off mixed and sometimes confusing messages on healthcare, taxes and trade.

Comic gold.

Trump's trade threats have CEOs running scared (Ivana Kottasova, January 16, 2017, Money)

Nearly six in 10 global CEOs are worried about protectionism and rising trade barriers, according to a new survey by PwC. That's up from 40% in 2012.

Fears are even more pronounced in the U.S. and Mexico, where 64% of business leaders are concerned.

The increase has a lot to do with Donald Trump. The president-elect of the U.S. has threatened to scrap free trade deals and impose tariffs on many of the country's top trading partners.

January 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Obama's Unnecessary Wars and 'Humanitarian' Interventionism (DANIEL LARISON, January 17, 2017, American Conservative)

The U.S. intervened in Libya in 2011 in the name of the "responsibility to protect." No one even tried to pretend that U.S. interests were at stake in the Libyan war, and yet Obama committed the U.S. to an avoidable war anyway. The U.S. started ISIS bombing targets in Iraq and then in Syria. ISIS didn't pose a threat to the U.S. then and still doesn't, but Obama ordered a bombing campaign against them all the same. The U.S. wasn't threatened by the Houthis in Yemen, but Obama has backed the Saudi-led war on Yemen in order to "reassure" Riyadh even though it is making the region more unstable and it is making America more enemies than we had before. The direct costs to the U.S. of all these bad decisions have so far been limited, but they are all costs that the U.S. didn't need to pay for wars that we shouldn't have been fighting. This is why I have difficulty crediting Obama as a "reluctant" hawk when someone genuinely reluctant to resort to force would not have involved the U.S. in any of these conflicts.

It's like W served 4 terms...

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM

PODCAST : Higher Education and the American Soul: A Conversation with Peter Lawler (Liberty & Law)


This edition of Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Peter Lawler about his new position as editor of Modern Age and his just released book, American Heresies and Higher Education

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Obama Commutes Bulk of Chelsea Manning's Sentence (CHARLIE SAVAGE, JAN. 17, 2017, NY Times)

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men's military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

...but the guy is, by definition, insane.  Now how about commuting the sentences of some of the incompetents on death row.

Bradley Manning's Army of One : How a lonely, five-foot-two, gender-questioning soldier became a WikiLeaks hero, a traitor to the U.S., and one of the most unusual revolutionaries in American history (Steve Fishman, Jul 3, 2011, New York)

On the night of February 21, 2009, a year before Army private Bradley E. Manning allegedly leaked the largest cache of classified information in American history, he sat at a computer in his barracks at Fort Drum in upstate New York. It was a Saturday in midwinter, and the barracks were nearly empty. He pulled a chair up to the computer in his cinder-block room, briefly debated between a pizza and a sandwich from Domino's, went with the sandwich, and passed over into his "digital existence," as he thought of it. He logged on to AOL's instant-messenger service under the handle Bradass87, and off he went to transform himself. On the web, he could be whomever he chose.

It was 8:27 p.m. at Fort Drum when he popped up on the computer screen of ZJ Antolak.

"hi," he began.

"hi," ZJ responded.

"You don't know me, i apologize, i got this [address] from your youtube channel."

"No problem, there's a reason I put it on there :P," wrote ZJ, adding an emoticon to indicate her playful tone--or his, depending on your frame of reference. ZJ was Zachary Antolak, a 19-year-old gay activist and web designer. On YouTube, he went by the name Zinnia Jones. On the Internet, he was a she who called herself Queen of the Atheists, wearing her auburn hair below her shoulders and painting her lips a bold red.

Manning was an atheist himself--"I'm godless," he told an acquaintance. But even more, he identified with ZJ's self-­invented life. "I saw your more personal stuff and figured you were on the same page ... as me," Manning wrote. "You ­remind me of ... well ... me."

Among fellow soldiers, Manning had to conceal the basic facts of his sexual orientation. On the web, he was proudly out and joined a "Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell" group. He'd even begun to explore switching his gender, chatting with a counselor about the steps a person takes to transition from male to female.

On the web, being one thing didn't mean you couldn't be another. And for all of his boundary-crossing and self-­exploration online, he was, at first, a committed soldier. In fact, he was gung ho, eager to put his technical expertise to use for the cause--he had the skills of a ­hacker, though at that point, he didn't yet have the ideology. The Army had trained him at Fort Huachuca as an intelligence analyst. "With my current position," he wrote to ZJ with a new graduate's earnestness, "i can apply what i learn to provide more information to my officers and commanders, and hopefully save lives ... i feel a great responsibility and duty to people."

Not that Manning's conception of patriotic duty would have met with the approval of his superiors. His methods were hardly standard operating procedure. "In public eye, US intel services are mysterious; in the real world, intelligence is a goofy, clunky, and annoying process," he wrote to ZJ. "drives me NUTS ... luckily i use my DC contacts from Starbucks and get the word out to those higher up in the chain."

ZJ played along with Manning's espionage narrative. "I can imagine two guys in sunglasses meeting at a starbucks to quickly hand over an envelope ... just to get some minor bug repaired," she wrote, according to logs provided to New York Magazine.

Manning, though, had followed a different script. "Lol ... glamorous, but no ... it's more like i knew this lt colonel from the DIA"--Defense Intelligence Agency--"at starbucks before i was in the military ... slept with him once or twice, then i get in the military, i notice the problems, call him and say, hey, find someone who can fix this."

In the gravityless world of the web, Manning could be all he wanted to be--gay, patriotic, and powerful, too. "I have long arms and a wide footprint," he wrote from his deserted barracks.

When the computer was turned off and his Army comrades returned, his superpowers disappeared. The members of his platoon didn't consider Manning a warrior, not like them. He's five foot two and 105 pounds, as "tiny as a child," one former soldier said. Military policy dictated that he hide his sexual orientation, but it probably wasn't a secret to his platoon. "It took them a while, but they started figuring me out, making fun of me, mocking me, harassing me," he wrote to ZJ, "heating up with one or two physical attacks." Though, he assured ZJ, "I fended [it] off just fine."

Over time, the pressures took a toll. At Fort Drum, Manning was losing control, lashing out at his tormentors. He had trouble with roommates, screamed at superior officers, his fists in balls. His master sergeant wasn't sure he was mentally fit to deploy to Iraq, fearing he could do harm to himself or others. By August 2009, the month of Manning's last chats with ZJ, he'd been referred to an Army mental-health counselor. Even online, his bravado slipped away. On August 7, 2009, almost six months after he first reached out to ZJ, he popped up on her screen. It was 11:30 p.m., a Friday night at Fort Drum. "i don't mean to sound over­dramatic, but im quite lonely," he told her.

Why Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence (Peter Weber, January 18, 2017, The Week)

Obama will give his own explanation for what CNN calls "one of the most controversial moments of his tenure" at his final presidential press conference on Wednesday. But, whatever reasons he gives, it would be a mistake to take the Manning commutation as an isolated event. And it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see this as part of Obama's last-minute push to "baby-proof America before Trump takes over," in The Daily Show's arch phraseology.

Remember, Obama also commuted the sentences of 208 other people on Tuesday and granted full pardons to another 64. Obama has been stingy with his pardons -- his total, 212, is historically low -- though his 1,385 commutations have set a presidential record, beating Woodrow Wilson's 1,366. The commutations have mostly gone to nonviolent drug offenders and the pardons run the gamut, but Tuesday's most high-profile pardon was given to former Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright.

Cartwright, who was vice-chairman of Obama's Joint Chiefs of Staff until retiring in 2011, pleaded guilty in October to misleading the FBI about conversations with a journalist on a U.S.-Israeli cyber-warfare operation targeting Iran's nuclear reactors. He had been scheduled to be sentenced later this month. David Sanger, the New York Times reporter with whom Cartwright spoke about the Iran cyberattack, said that he'd had "many sources" on his story, and Cartwright had "showed concern that information damaging to U.S. interests not be made public." As a general rule, Sanger asserted, "leak investigations have the effect of making people less willing to talk, and the result is often a loss for our democracy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


CNN panelist says on air that fellow panelist is a 'mediocre Negro' for supporting Trump (Sara Gonzales, 1/17/17, The Blaze)

Levell asked Hill: "Pastor Darryl Scott, Mike Cohen, they are in the process of bringing all types of people from all over the country, from all different backgrounds. Remember the diversity coalition where we reached out to all different types of people?"

"Yeah, it was a bunch of mediocre Negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo-op for Donald Trump's exploitative campaign against black people. And you are a prime example of that," Hill retorted.

As the panelists all began raising their voices at one another Symone Sanders, former press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign came to Hill's defense. Levell criticized Hill for hurling insults, to which Hill responded, "I'm not name calling."

"mediocre" is a wild overestimation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


In This 2009 Trump Interview, He Said There Was Just One Phrase Of The Declaration Of Independence He Didn't Understand (AARON BANDLER JANUARY 17, 2017, Daily Wire)

"They say all men are created equal," Trump said. "It doesn't get any more famous but, is it really true?"

Trump then said it wasn't true that all men are created equal.

"Some people are born very smart, some people are born not so smart," Trump said. "Some people are born very beautiful and some people are not so you can't say they're all created equal."

The Founders wept.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


The Transition from Obama to Trump Brings a Nosedive in Public Approval for the President (SAM WANG, JANUARY 17, 2017, American Prospect)

We won't have a job approval number for Trump yet until he is sworn in. But we do have a closely related survey number, his personal approval. Trump has the lowest approval rating of any incoming president in decades. In the past, presidents started out with majority approval--that even includes Richard Nixon, who is remembered for his ignominious ending in the Watergate scandal. Now, for the first time, fewer than half of Americans--43 percent--approve of the president-elect. Nixon ended up with lower approval--but Trump is not president yet, so he still has time to break that record.

The change from Obama to Trump, a drop of 14 percentage points, is a rare instance of a decrease in approval, and it is the largest decline on record.

Gotta love all the Donald fanboys who think he's winning these exchanges with the press, intelligence agencies, civil rights leaders, actresses, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Study: Number of Abortions in US Hits 40-Year Low (ANDREW FOLLETT,  January 17, 2017, The Stream)

The number of abortions in the U.S. is at a 40-year low, according to a new study published Tuesday by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.

The report counted 926,200 abortions in 2014, down by 12.5 percent from Guttmacher's previous survey in 2011, which tallied 1.06 million abortions across the country. Only 14.6 abortions occurred per 1,000 American women between the ages of 15 and 44, which is the lowest rate since abortion was legalized nationally in 1973 by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM

TRINITARIAN (profanity alert):

All the Small Things (Kevin Clark, Jan. 17th, 2017, The Ringer)

Belichick's diverse background may be rare among head coaches, but it's common among his assistants. He gravitates toward staff members who possess similar flexibility, whether it comes from working with the offense and defense alike or from working in different parts of the organization. Current defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, for instance, was the team's assistant offensive line coach in 2005 before becoming the linebackers coach a year later. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio was the team's wide receivers coach. Linebackers coach Brian Flores used to be a Patriots scout. League-wide, it's uncommon for coaches and scouts to switch career paths like that once they're at the NFL level, but in Belichick's house, it's routine.

Possessing expertise across the organization doesn't just make coaches and execs smarter; it helps earn players' trust. "He's done everything, so when he's talking about anything you have to listen," New England pass rusher Rob Ninkovich says of Belichick. "Offensive coach, defensive coordinator, special teams, it's unbelievable. He can know anything."

The Patriots have finished in the top seven in special teams DVOA in every season since 2011, and that's no coincidence: They're obsessed with that phase of the game. Belichick talks breathlessly about its intricacies, and that passion has translated into field position: This season, their opponents' average drive began on the 26, best in the league, while their own average drive started at the 31, third-best in the league.

Committing to special teams excellence is a conscious choice: The Patriots paid Matthew Slater, the special teams ace tasked with flying down the field to make the tackle on punts and kickoffs, more than $2 million this season, an extremely uncommon expenditure in a league in which teams are loathe to spend more than the minimum on special teams players. They spent a fourth-round pick on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who's been with the team since 2006, and a fifth-round pick on long snapper Joe Cardona despite only four exclusive long snappers ever being drafted. They didn't draft punter Ryan Allen, but that won't stop Belichick, who believes the spin Allen generates makes the ball harder to catch, from gushing about the left-footer.

Every team knows that there are three phases to the game, but few care more about the third one than the Patriots.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


For Trump, Three Decades of Chasing Deals in Russia (Megan Twohey and Steve Eder, Jan. 16th, 2017, NY Times)

As the Russian market opened up in the post-Soviet era, Mr. Trump and his partners pursued Russians who were newly flush with cash to buy apartments in Trump Towers in New York and Florida, sales that he boasted about in a 2014 interview. "I know the Russians better than anybody," Mr. Trump told Michael D'Antonio, a Trump biographer who shared unpublished interview transcripts with The New York Times.

Seeking deals in Russia became part of a broader strategy to expand the Trump brand worldwide. By the mid-2000s, Mr. Trump was transitioning to mostly licensing his name to hotel, condominium and commercial towers rather than building or investing in real estate himself. He discovered that his name was especially attractive in developing countries where the rising rich aspired to the type of ritzy glamour he personified.

While he nailed down ventures in the Philippines, India and elsewhere, closing deals in Russia proved challenging. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. praised the opportunities in Russia, but also called it a "scary place" to do business because of corruption and legal complications.

Mr. Sater said that American hotel chains that had moved into Russia did so with straightforward agreements to manage hotels that other partners owned. Mr. Trump, by contrast, was pursuing developments that included residential or commercial offerings in which he would take a cut of sales, terms that Russians were reluctant to embrace.

Even so, Mr. Trump said his efforts put him in contact with powerful people there. "I called it my weekend in Moscow," Mr. Trump said of his 2013 trip to Moscow during a September 2015 interview on "The Hugh Hewitt Show." He added: "I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can't go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary."

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The Alt-Right Comes to Washington (Ben Schreckinger, Jan. 17th, 2017, Politico)

Of course, coming in from the cold can also bring financial rewards, and some in the movement have a more old-fashioned ambition: that their coziness with the new administration will result in government contracts, and friendly regulators who won't interfere with planned business ventures like a social media platform for people with high IQs.

For a movement that feeds on outsider energy, its members already enjoy surprising access to the inside of the incoming White House. Yiannopoulos' official title is technology editor of Breitbart, the website formerly run by top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, with whom both Yiannopoulos and internet troll Charles Johnson say they keep in touch. Yiannopoulos and Johnson also both say they know Trump's most influential megadonor, Rebekah Mercer. While I was spending time with another movement figure in California, he took a phone call from the son of Trump's incoming national security adviser. (A shared spokeswoman for Bannon and Mercer did not respond to requests for comment about their relationships with Johnson and Yiannopoulos.)

But the new young nationalists also have a problem: They need to re-brand, urgently. In the first theatrical arrival of the alt-right in Washington, days after Trump's election, Richard Spencer, the originator of the term "alt-right" and an open white nationalist, held a conference at the Ronald Reagan building, a couple of blocks from the White House. After dinner, once most of the national media had departed, Spencer rose to deliver a speech that crescendoed with him raising his glass in a kind of toast. As he held his arm up, he proclaimed, triumphantly, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" In response, several attendees erupted in Nazi salutes, indelibly associating the alt-right with jackbooted white supremacy and provoking an instant schism in the movement. In a video produced from the conference, the Atlantic blurred out attendees' faces, as if the footage had been smuggled out of a criminal enterprise. Soon, the Associated Press and the New York Times issued memos that officially defined alt-righters as white nationalists.

Now, as its members move on Washington, an already fragmented movement is further split between those who embrace Spencer's racial politics and those who, for reasons of pragmatism or principle, reject the "alt-right" label for its associations. Said Paul Ray Ramsey, a blogger who flirts with white nationalism but found the Nazi associations a bridge too far, even for him: "You don't want to tie your brand to something that's ultimate evil."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Blockchain could save investment banks up to $12 billion a year: Accenture (Anna Irrera and Jemima Kelly, 1/17/17, Reuters)

Blockchain technology could help the world's largest investment banks cut their infrastructure costs by between $8 to $12 billion a year by 2025, according to a report by Accenture.

The report, published on Tuesday jointly with benchmarking firm McLagan - part of consultancy Aon Hewitt - is based on an analysis of cost data from eight of the world's ten largest investment banks, and provides a rare concrete estimate of blockchain's potential savings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


North Korea's Kim Jong Un Facing A Rebellion? (Seerat Chabba, Jan. 17th, 2017, IBT)

A senior North Korean diplomat in London who defected to South Korea last year said Tuesday that a much larger number of Pyongyang's civil servant defections have taken place recently than have been made public, South Korean media reported.

"A significant number of diplomats came to South Korea," Thae Yong-ho said at a conference hosted by the conservative Bareun Party, Yonhap News Agency reported. "Even now, there are a number of (North Koreans) waiting to head to the South."

"There will be an increase in the number of elite-class defectors seeking a better life," Thae added. "I am the only high-ranking official whose identity has been revealed to the public. South Korean media do not know but North Korean diplomats are all aware of it."

More than economic reasons, the political situation in Pyongyang has been the main factor for North Koreans fleeing the country, the Wall Street Journal quoted South Korea's Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo as saying in an interview Monday.

Vietnam Seen Moving Closer to Emerging Upgrade With Bank Opening (Giang Nguyen, Jan. 16th, 2017, Bloomberg)

The opening up of Vietnam's banks to more foreign investment is expected to speed the country's ascent to emerging-market status and boost a stock index that's already near a nine-year high.

The country's lenders surged on Tuesday after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said offshore ownership caps would be raised from the current level of 30 percent as early as this year. The government may exit completely from some troubled banks, Phuc said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Hanoi on Friday, without saying what the new limit would be.

Meet Chiran (The Economist, 1/17/17)

The automotive industry is the 18th-largest in the world. The country has more than 50 pharmaceutical producers, many of which are listed on Tehran's stock exchange. Tourism has the potential to flourish thanks to 21 ­UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The food and carpet industries are already internationally competitive. Throw in an expansion of trade ties with friends old (in Europe) and new (in Asia), and rapid economic modernisation is not hard to imagine.

China also grew on the back of a huge demographic dividend. Iran is in a similarly favourable position: 60% of its population is under the age of 30. This wealth of labour will keep wage growth contained during the upcoming economic recovery, especially if it is accompanied by a rise in women's participation in work. Reversing Iran's brain drain--around one in four Iranians with college degrees currently lives abroad--would also help productivity.

The rapid rise of China's silicon dragon has allowed domestic firms like Alibaba to dominate the home market. Tehran's young, urbanised and tech-savvy population is already supporting a growing number of startups. Digikala, the local equivalent of Amazon, is a prime example. Launched in 2007, it focused at first on electronics but has since diversified into selling an array of consumer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


The Iran nuclear deal is a success - and the whole world is safer for it (Federica Mogherini, 
Jan. 17th, 2017, The Guardian)

The deal, one year after its implementation, is delivering on its main purpose: ensuring the purely peaceful, civilian nature of Iran's nuclear programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency - the United Nations' nuclear watchdog - has issued four reports on the matter and has regularly verified that Iran is complying with its nuclear-related obligations. This means that the Iranian nuclear programme has been significantly reformatted and downsized and is now subject to intense monitoring by the IAEA. The joint commission - which I coordinate - oversees constantly the implementation of the agreement, meeting regularly, which allows us to detect even minor possible deviations and to take necessary corrective measures if the need arises.

The deal is also working for Iran. Major companies are investing in the country: the oil sector, the automotive industry, commercial aircraft, just to give a few examples, are areas where significant contracts have been concluded. The International Monetary Fund has forecast real GDP growth in Iran to rebound to 6.6% in 2016-17.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


DeVos will deliver on school reform (Jeb Bush, Jan. 17th, 2017, USA Today)

While the vast majority of K-12 spending is done by state and local governments, the bulging layers of bureaucracy that administer education policy are the direct result of federal overreach into our education system. As a result, too many education dollars are wasted on bureaucrats and administrators instead of being driven down into the classroom where they could make a bigger impact on learning.

Instead of defending and increasing Washington's power, Betsy will cut federal red tape and be a passionate advocate for state and local control of schools. More importantly, she will empower parents with greater choices and a stronger voice over their children's education. In the two decades that I have been actively involved in education reform, I have worked side-by-side with Betsy to promote school choice and put the interests of students first. I know her commitment to children, especially at-risk kids, is genuine and deep.

Given her longstanding support for school choice, it is not surprising that Betsy's nomination has drawn strong opposition from teachers' unions. While America is blessed with many great teachers who are motivated by doing the right thing for students, the unfortunate reality is that their union leadership is out of touch with reality and reflexively opposed to reforms that empower parents. Betsy has the courage to take on the entrenched special interests and stand strong for the president-elect's proposal to dedicate a significant stream of federal funding to promote school choice in the states.

To the teachers' unions and liberal naysayers who continue to reject the benefits of school choice and are trying to derail the DeVos nomination, I point to the example we established in Florida. During my first term as governor, we passed bold education reforms that held public schools accountable, set high standards and expanded parental choice, including establishing the first statewide voucher program in America.  These reforms provided parents in failing schools, low-income parents and parents with children with learning disabilities with the right to use scholarships to attend high-performing public or private schools. We also tripled the number of charter schools during my eight years in office, making Florida the national leader in school choice. The unions fought us every step of the way, just as they will attempt now, but we fought back and succeeded in advancing our reforms. As a result, Florida has seen dramatic across-the-board gains in student achievement and our high school graduation rate has increased by 50%. Florida is one of the few states that is closing the achievement gap.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How machine learning is ushering in a new age of customer service (Graham Cooke, Jan. 17th, 2017, Next Web)

While machine learning itself is nothing new, the speed at which data can now be processed, analyzed and actioned has completely changed the machine-learning game. Readily affordable computing power, the quantity of data available, and algorithms we never thought we could use are now possible.

Though the fundamental concept remains the same, machine-learning is now far more sophisticated, efficient and easily deployable - and the potential it offers to revolutionize customer experience is truly exciting.

Harnessing machine learning allows businesses to revolutionize the way we all engage with their store or use their service. Forget product recommendations as we know them today, this takes us far beyond that, into the realms of much more hyper-personal and sophisticated experiences.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Trump Health Plan Is So Top Secret HHS Pick Reportedly Doesn't Know What's In It (Margaret Hartmann, 1/17/17, New York)

A senior transition official tells CNN that Price is being kept out of discussions about Trump's strategy to ensure Americans are "beautifully covered." They don't want senators to question Price about the plan during his hearing before the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, and he can't reveal what he doesn't know.

Price actually released his own detailed health care reform plan two years ago, but he doesn't want to talk about that during his confirmation hearing either. The Georgia congressman reportedly wants to avoid the appearance that he's encouraging lawmakers to get behind his proposal.

Also, his plan likely bears no resemblance to the president-elect's - though it's hard to say, since Trump has only revealed a few vague, impossible aspects of the plan. For instance, as Politico notes, Price's plan does not attempt to provide universal coverage, though that appears to be a feature of Trump's proposal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


To Obama, from a conservative: Thank you for being a great role model (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Jan. 17th, 2017, The Week)

Michelle and Barack Obama clearly and obviously love each other and are tender towards each other. They find ways to humorously poke fun at each other. They visibly work as partners leading the difficult endeavor that was Obama's political career, presidential campaigns, and mandate as president.

Meanwhile, the Obamas have also been assiduous at protecting their daughters from the public eye and have refrained from using them as props. Famously, President Obama has drawn a red line around family dinner time and respects it. This is a red line he's actually kept, and it rightly puts all of us dads to shame. If the freakin' president of the United States is not too busy to spend dinner with his family, neither are you.

In an era where scripts for fulfilling gender roles get ever more twisted in knots, there are much worse scripts for a heterosexual male to follow than that of Obama, who is faithful, loves books as much as sports, and isn't afraid to shed a tear in public.

Even Obama's much-derided aloof, professorial demeanor is not a bad pointer. While it probably didn't serve him well in politics and (especially) foreign affairs, an anecdotal survey of those around me suggests a lot of families could do with less drama.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Obama's Africa legacy: more trade than democracy (Deutsche-Welle, 1/17/17)

He also continued US drone strikes against alledged Islamic militants in Somalia, begun by his predecessor George W Bush.

He was also the host of the first US-Africa summit in August 2014 that brought some 50 African leaders to Washington. At the summit, Obama lauded Africa as a continent of opportunities and announced a $33 billion (31 billion euros) investment package for Africa.

"Underpinning it was a shift of US policy moving away from being particularly focused on humanitarianism and counterterrorism to emphasizing that Africa was a continent of the future and it was also about trade and growth," said Alex Vines of Chatham House.

For Vines, its clear what parts of President Obama's Africa policy will be remembered. "It will be trade rather than aid or security. That is President Obama's key Africa legacy in my opinion, " he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Trump Labor Pick Andy Puzder May Be 'Bailing' on Nomination: Report (Margaret Hartmann, 1/17/17, New York)

It's been a rough day for Donald Trump's appointees. Earlier on Monday, Monica Crowley said she will not take a communications job at the National Security Council amid a plagiarism scandal. Then a CNN report claimed Georgia Congressman Tom Price invested in a medical-device company shortly before introducing legislation that would benefit it. 

Now another CNN report says that Andy Puzder, CEO of the company that owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr., is having second thoughts about becoming labor secretary. "He may be bailing," said a Republican source close to the Trump transition team. "He is not into the pounding he is taking, and the paperwork."

January 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Adidas's high-tech factory brings production back to Germany : Making trainers with robots and 3D printers (The Economist, Jan 14th 2017)

BEHIND closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany, which has maintained its manufacturing base through innovative engineering. What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers and other sports shoes--an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.

The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas, a giant German sports-goods firm, and is being built with Oechsler Motion, a local firm that makes manufacturing equipment. Production is due to begin in mid-2017, slowly at first and then ramping up to 500,000 pairs of trainers a year. Adidas is constructing a second Speedfactory near Atlanta for the American market. If all goes well, they will spring up elsewhere, too.

The numbers are tiny for a company that makes some 300m pairs of sports shoes each year. Yet Adidas is convinced the Speedfactory will help it to transform the way trainers are created. The techniques it picks up from the project can then be rolled out to other new factories as well as to existing ones, including in Asia--where demand for sports and casual wear is rising along with consumer wealth.

Currently, trainers are made mostly by hand in giant factories, often in Asian countries, with people assembling components or shaping, bonding and sewing materials. Rising prosperity in the region means the cost of manual work outsourced to the region is rising. Labour shortages loom. Certain jobs require craft skills which are becoming rarer; many people now have the wherewithal to avoid tasks that can be dirty or monotonous.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


People Are Bailing on Chris Christie's New Jersey. How Is Your State Holding Up? (Peter Coy, January 5, 2017, Bloomberg)

United Van Lines announced this week that New Jersey had the nation's widest gap last year between people moving out and people moving in, according to a study based on household moves United handled within the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. Sixty-three percent of moves were outbound, meaning two people moved out of the Garden State for every person who moved in, roughly speaking. United has been conducting the study for four decades, and New Jersey has led the nation in this metric each year since 2012.

If it's any consolation to Christie, Illinois and New York were a hair's breadth behind New Jersey in last year's results, with outbound moves rounding off to 63 percent. Behind them came Connecticut and Kansas.  [...]

And the winners? South Dakota had the biggest share of inbound moves, followed by Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, and South Carolina. California was right around the middle, with an even split between the inbound and the outbound.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Understanding the Republicans' corporate tax reform (William Gale, Jan. 10th, 2017, Brookings)

Here are 11 things to know:

1. The truly radical part is the proposal to effectively abolish the corporate income tax.  The United States would become the only advanced country without a corporate income tax, making it a very attractive location for international investors.

2. The DBCFT is essentially a value-added tax (VAT), but with a deduction for wages.  Every advanced country except the U.S. has a VAT alongside a corporate income tax.  The U.S. would in effect be replacing the corporate income tax with a modified VAT.  A VAT taxes consumption, not income - it has the same effects as a national retail sales tax, but works better administratively.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The (Almost) True Legend of a Lost, Cursed Honduran City : When Douglas Preston joined an expedition searching for the ancient Ciudad Blanca, he realized there may have been some truth to the warning not to enter the place (Eric Killelea  Jan 16, 2017, Outside)

In 2015, writer Douglas Preston was on assignment for National Geographic in Honduras, navigating the deep jungle of La Mosquitia with a team using lidar, a laser-based mapping technology. They were searching for the legendary Ciudad Blanca, or White City, where indigenous Hondurans were said to have fled from Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. Preston's new book, The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story ($28; Grand Central Publishing), recounts the expedition, which included a team of scientists, researchers, filmmakers, and soldiers. After traveling through a lawless region filled with risks like jaguars and parasitic diseases, they found no evidence of the White City. Instead, what they found were the remains of what was likely a much larger, unique civilization near the edge of the Mayan empire. [...]

In the months after you returned home to Santa Fe, New Mexico, you fell ill from bug bites and were eventually diagnosed with leishmaniasis, one of the deadliest known parasitic diseases in the world. How is your health today?

It took a couple months for the disease to develop. The parasite is flesh eating. It's truly disgusting. I wouldn't recommend you Google images of this. The expedition team and I have received the best medical treatment in the world at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. We're part of a research project there. The treatment is very difficult and very physically demanding.

Unfortunately, it appears the disease is coming back in me and a couple of others. It's incurable. It creates a horrible, open ulcer on your skin. That healed up--there's a big scar on me now--but there are these red nodules again, showing that the parasite is multiplying again. I am going back to the NIH, but I'm essentially in total denial. I feel fine. I feel absolutely physically fit.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


These NATO countries are not spending their fair share on defense (Ivana Kottasova, July 8, 2016, Money)

According to NATO statistics, the U.S. spent an estimated $650 billion on defense last year. That's more than double the amount all the other 27 NATO countries spent between them, even though their combined GDP tops that of the U.S.

...why are any of them spending anything?

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Ex-MI6 agent so worried by his Donald Trump discoveries he started working without pay (Kim Sengupta, Jan. 13th, 2017, The Independent)

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump's alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries. [...]

It is believed that a colleague of Mr Steele in Washington, Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way and, at the end also continued with the Trump case without being paid. [...]

[M]r Steele produced a memo, which went to the  FBI, stating that Mr Trump's campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow's intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow's annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party's election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country. 

Mr Steele claimed that the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. No evidence of this has been made public, but the same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. 

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton's email transgressions. 

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The Faith of Barack Obama (The Economist, 1/16/17)

He appeared comfortable not merely with the theist generalities required by the country's civil religion but with some of the tough specifics of Christian theology. As is pointed out in a forthcoming book of essays* about world leaders and faith, George W. Bush did not mention the words "Jesus", "Christ" or "Saviour" once during the eight National Prayer Breakfasts at which he presided. Compare that with the credal language of President Obama at the Easter Prayer Breakfast of 2013, when he described Jesus of Nazareth as "our Saviour, who suffered and died [and] was resurrected, both fully God and also a man." [...]

All that can be said with certainty is that there are politicians who speak about the things of God with a vulnerability and integrity that compels respect, and there are politicians who lack that gift. President Obama assuredly fell into the former category, just as certainly as his successor falls into the latter one. And as far as anyone can tell, it was not with any human audience in mind that Mr Obama penned a prayer that he left in the stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall:

Lord -- Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

These words would have remained between Mr Obama and his maker if they had not been recuperated and published in an Israeli newspaper.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


In feud with John Lewis, Donald Trump attacked 'one of the most respected people in America' (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., January 15, 2016, Washington Post)

The Lewis-Trump fracas started Saturday, when Lewis told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he didn't see Trump as a legitimate president and wouldn't be attending the inauguration for the first time in 30 years.

...the estimable Mr. Lewis and the Constitution, first of all?  

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Obama's Unsung Bipartisan Legacy (Bill Scher, Jan. 16th, 2017, RCP)

The Recovery Act - the economic stimulus law that blunted the recession - only passed after Obama accepted the demand from three Senate Republicans to reduce the size of the package by about $100 billion, mostly by paring back spending proposals. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill also squeaked through the Senate with three Republican votes. Obama sealed the deal after making a key concession to newly elected Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, scrapping an outright ban on commercial banks investing in high-risk funds in favor of allowing limited investments.

In his second term, Obama withstood the civil libertarian outcry that followed the Edward Snowden leaks and shaped a bipartisan surveillance reform law - supported by more than three out of every four House Republicans -- that made some small concessions to privacy advocates without hindering the National Security Agency's core counter-terrorism work. [...]

Finally, there are two particularly consequential acts of bipartisanship that are poorly understood. One is the 2010 tax cut deal.

Obama was accused of capitulation when, after the 2010 midterms in which Republicans claimed the House, he agreed to extend George W. Bush's signature tax cut law, which was due to expire, for two more years. In exchange, Republicans accepted a temporary extension for long-term unemployment insurance and a one-year payroll tax cut. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman claimed it was a recipe to make the Bush tax cuts permanent: "if Democrats give in to the blackmailers now, they'll just face more demands in the future." Bernie Sanders famously seized the Senate floor for eight hours in a desperate attempt to derail the compromise. Then in his own presidential bid, he criticized Obama for trying to be "reasonable" with Republicans.

But Obama wisely played the long game. He didn't have the votes to repeal the tax cuts in 2010, before or after the midterms (vulnerable Democrats on the ballot in 2010 were nervous about forcing the issue before Election Day). So he punted until the end of 2012 when, if he won re-election, he would regain the whip hand.

And the agreement was critical to winning that re-election. The extension of tax cuts and unemployment benefits amounted to about $300 billion of additional economic stimulus. In 2012, GDP growth in the first and second quarters, the quarters that election modelers believe have the greatest impact on the presidential outcome, were a middling 2.0 and 1.3 percent, respectively. Without extra stimulus, the economy could have stalled out or tipped back into recession just before the election, destroying Obama's chances.

Instead, Obama became first Democrat to win consecutive popular vote majorities since FDR. And his first order of business was to finish what he started two years prior.

He dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to hash out an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's desire to hold out for more). The final deal, largely repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, created a tax code that the New York Times said could be "by some measures ... the most progressive in a generation." And nearly every Senate Republican, and one-third of House Republicans, voted for it.

The other underappreciated bipartisan success is one that neither party likes to talk about: the across-the-board budget cuts known as "the sequester."

The sequester happened as an outgrowth of a 2011 budget deal signed after House Republicans threatened to force an economically dangerous default on the national debt unless spending was deeply cut. Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner tried to work out a "grand bargain" - involving changes to entitlement programs and the tax code -- to resolve the impasse, but failed. The finger-pointing on both sides remains to this day.

What was agreed upon was the "super-committee" - a bipartisan task force designed to come up with a deficit reduction plan worth $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Otherwise, the sequester would chop domestic and military spending equally to achieve a similar result. In other words, the deficit would be shrunk, either the easy way or the hard way.

They did it the hard way. The super-committee was gridlocked. The sequester came down. And the budget was cut. While a subsequent 2013 budget deal somewhat loosened the sequester caps, the trajectory of the annual budget deficit is sharply down from the days of the stimulus: from 9.8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009 to 3.2 percent in 2016. That's the exact number (after rounding down) Obama set in 2010 as his ultimate goal.

Obama will take credit for the statistic, but he, like everyone else in Washington, ran as far from the sequester as possible. No one wanted to admit that both parties came together to design the mechanism for ham-fisted cuts that made so many constituencies squeal.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any real interest in acknowledging how Republican the Obama presidency was.
Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


NASA spots 'coronal hole' creeping over the centre of the sun (Rob Waugh, January 13, 2017, Yahoo)

A huge black hole which looks alarmingly like it's splitting the sun in half was captured by a NASA sun-watching satellite this week. [...]

NASA says, 'Coronal holes are low-density regions of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona. Because they contain little solar material, they have lower temperatures and thus appear much darker than their surroundings.

Maybe burgeoning solar power is using up the sun too fast!

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Trump's Big Health Care Promise: "Insurance For Everybody" (Reuters, Jan. 16th, 2017)

"It's very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven't put it in quite yet but we're going to be doing it soon," Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include "lower numbers, much lower deductibles," without elaborating.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

The strokes will mostly be among those who expected Obamacare to be repealed instead of massively expanded....

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Mogherini says EU will stand by Iran nuclear accord (Reuters, 1/16/17)

EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini on Monday insisted the bloc will stand by the Iran nuclear accord, bluntly condemned by US President-elect Donald Trump, because it serves Europe's security needs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Dozens reported dead as Syrian army fights Islamic State (Reuters, 1/16/17)

Fighting between Islamic State and the Syrian army has killed dozens since Saturday in Deir al-Zor, where the militant group has launched an assault to capture a government enclave in the city, a monitoring group reported.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Swan Song from a "Reluctant" Hawk (Gene Healy, Jan. 10th, 2017, Cato)

[2]008's "peace candidate" will leave office as the first two-term president in American history to have been at war every day of his presidency, having dropped over 25,000 bombs on seven countries in 2016 alone.

Given that record, it seems unlikely that Obama will use his Farewell Address to warn against excessive foreign entanglements or the dangers of the military-industrial complex. But you never know: our 44th president has never lacked chutzpah. In a speech to US troops last month, he denounced the "false promise" that "we can eliminate terrorism by dropping more bombs," and piously proclaimed that "democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war."

An audacious statement--given that it is Obama himself who's made perpetual warfare the new normal, and the president the ultimate "decider" in matters of war and peace. Where George W. Bush secured congressional authorization for the two major wars he fought, Obama has launched two undeclared wars (in Libya and against ISIS), ordered 10 times as many drone strikes as his predecessor, and this summer bombed six different countries just over Labor Day weekend. And it is Obama who is largely responsible for warping the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force--passed three days after 9/11 to target Al Qaeda and the Taliban--into an enabling act for endless war, anywhere in the world.

Through it all, Obama has maintained the pose of a "reluctant warrior," repeatedly lecturing the country about the dangers of an imperial presidency while forging new frontiers in the expansion of executive power. "Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions," he chided in May 2013, "we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers." In the same speech, Obama even had the gall to quote James Madison's admonition that "no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Two weeks after Obama invoked Madison's warning, the public got new evidence of its continued relevance. June 2013 brought the first of a series of revelations about secret dragnet data-collection programs that targeted Americans in the name of protecting them from terrorism. 

American presidents don't choose their wars; wars choose them.
Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


How the Dallas Cowboys blew it (Chris Chase, Jan. 15th, 2017, Fox)

Late in the game, with Dallas trailing by three, Dak Prescott hit Jason Witten for an 11-yard gain to set up first-and-10 at the Green Bay 40 with 49 seconds left and the Cowboys holding one timeout. They had enough time and downs to do what they wanted. But when Prescott took the first-down snap, he spiked the ball to stop the clock. The ripple effect was subtle but undeniable.

You kill the clock when there's no other option. You don't kill the clock when you have plenty of time to run plays and downs are your most precious commodity. Yet the Cowboys -- down three and in field-goal range -- wasted one of their three offensive downs because they didn't want to take a few more seconds to call a play. They killed a clock that wasn't close to killing them. It had a multi-pronged effect:

1. Dallas would only have two plays to make a first down because, barring a sack, it would have to attempt the game-tying field goal on fourth down. When you have first down why do you intentionally make it second?

2. The spike cut down the chances of an Ezekiel Elliott run on the next two plays. A handoff to Zeke should have been called on first down, and if his 5.7-yards per carry were any indication that could have put Dallas in a position to run any number of plays on second or third. Instead, Elliott didn't get the ball again and Dallas had to kick. Elliott getting only 22 carries against a Packers defense unable to stop him was practically criminal. If he'd had 30, that defense might have collapsed unto itself. Instead, the Cowboys passed eight more times than they ran, a situation brought on by the deficit but exacerbated by a lack of guts and imagination. Prescott was great, Dez Bryant played one of his best games, and the Packers corners couldn't hang. But Zeke was the force behind all of it. Once the ball was taken out of his hands, Green Bay's defense stiffened.

3. And then there was the ultimately crippling effect. When a team's down in a game it's easy to say it should do this or that with the clock. Don't score too early! Let some time run off! (Don't spike it!) But that's hindsight stuff. In the moment, you have to worry about getting your points. Since the Cowboys' worry was in stopping the clock with 49 seconds left, when the second- and third-down plays both stopped the clock there was still 35 seconds left after Dan Bailey kicked his game-tying field goal.

Of course, they should have been trying to win the game outright, instead of playing for a tie, anyway.

January 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Former defense leaders take aim at Bennett's annexation plan (JUDAH ARI GROSS January 15, 2017, Times of Israel)

Former high-ranking security officials called out Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday for championing the annexation of portions of the West Bank, a move they said would put Israel on a course to lose its Jewish and democratic character.

The officers were members of a group known as Commanders for Israel's Security, which is made up of approximately 200 former top officials from the country's security services and is dedicated to advancing the two-state solution.

That cause is now under attack as "Bennett and his friends are leading us to the annexation [of the West Bank]," fomer Israel Police chief Asaf Hefetz told reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening.

Hefetz was joined by the group's chairman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef, a respected former commander of the IDF Armored Corps; former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit; former head of IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni; former deputy head of the National Security Council Yisraela Oron; and former head of the NSC Dani Arditi.

Bennett, leader of the religious Jewish Home party, has called for an annexation of large swaths of the West Bank, particularly Area C, where Israel maintains full control. He plans to put forward a law to extend sovereignty over the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma'ale Adumim later this month.

"We shouldn't annex the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians. We must preserve Israel as a democracy and a state for the Jewish people," Reshef said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Why Europe became a baby (John Lloyd, 1/15/17, Reuters)

For most of the post-war period, the states of Europe, both the majority within the European Union and the few which have remained outside, have been covered by a security umbrella held over our heads by the United States. Earlier this week, a U.S. armoured brigade disembarked in the northern German port of Bremerhaven: it will base itself in Poland, and spread out eastwards next month to the Baltics, Romania and Bulgaria. The tiny Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - border Russia; the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria are on the Black Sea, which Russia controls.

"Let me be clear," said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Tim Ray, deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, as the tanks clanked on to Bremerhaven's streets. "This is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure the territorial integrity of our allies and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous, and at peace". For decades, Europe's instinct has been to send for the U.S. cavalry, once threatened. And the U.S. instinct has been to send them: it has, said General Ray, a "rock solid commitment to Europe".

The United States, at first reluctantly, has since the 1940s taken on the responsibilities of a hegemonic power with increasing enthusiasm: nowhere has that posture been more "'rock solid"' than in Europe. The Europeans have done their part - most (not all) are members of NATO, and contribute to its force levels. But most - including the major states of France, Germany and Italy - pay less than the agreed 2 percent of GDP on defense: the United States put in $650 billion in 2015, 3.61 percent of GDP. The Europeans are not free riders, but they are easy riders. The ride has suddenly become rougher.

Europe, with Britain (2.21 percent of GDP spent on defense in 2015) as a partial exception, developed a worldview in keeping with its modest defense spending.

It wasn't just taking over their national security from but also funding their social security, but they aren't infants; they're elderly and infirm.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


From Rationalism to Ressentiment : a review of Age of Anger: A History of the Present By Pankaj Mishra (John Gray, LITERARY REVIEW)

The Economist welcomed a new era in history in 1992, when, one year after the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, it assured its readers that there was 'no serious alternative to free-market capitalism as the way to organise economic life'. Whether history was unfolding via enlightened despotism, proletarian revolution or the inexorable spread of market forces, there could be no doubt that it was propelled by an inner logic.

Mishra's richly learned and usefully subversive book presents a different and more accurate view. Growing up in semi-rural India in a family that in some ways belonged in 'a pre-modern world of myth, religion and custom', his earliest readings were in Hindu classical literature and Buddhist philosophy. His way of thinking, he tells us, has been shaped by Western influences - though not those of Anglo-American liberalism. Describing himself as 'a step-child of the West', he is fascinated by countries and writers riven by struggles about what it means to be modern: 'I find myself drawn most to German, Italian, Eastern European and Russian writers and thinkers.'

In a wide-ranging and absorbing survey, he uncovers some unexpected and intriguing crossovers between 'western' and 'eastern' thinking:

Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of 'pure' Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the 'New Jew', and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a 'New Life' in China, as well as D'Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the nineteenth-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker - who, after reading Darwin, coined the term 'survival of the fittest'. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally, 'the father of the Turks') as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or 'Americanism'; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini's 'corporatism'.

As Mishra notes, it was Nietzsche, more than any other thinker, who inspired these exercises in cultural appropriation. Age of Anger reinterprets modern intellectual history 'from the age of Rousseau to our own age of anger' using the German philosopher's idea of ressentiment. Nietzsche deployed the term to capture the mood of envy and hatred that he believed fuelled the 'slave revolt in morality', in which the 'master-morality' of classical European antiquity was overturned by Judaeo-Christian values. An essential part of ressentiment is that those who are possessed by it define themselves in relation to others they cannot help feeling are superior. Mishra finds this same ambivalence in the traumatic encounter of non-Western cultures with the power of the West.

Driven by 'an amalgam of self-admiration and self-contempt', intellectual and political leaders in Russia, China, India, Africa and the Islamic world responded to the incursions of imperialism by attempting to transform their societies along Western lines. Rejecting traditional elites and values, they imbibed Western ideologies, such as Marxism and Social Darwinism. By emulating the West, they hoped to defeat it. Instead, they have succumbed to the West's pathologies and disorder. Summarising his central thesis midway through the book, Mishra writes, 'The key to man's behaviour lies not in any clash of opposed civilizations, but, on the contrary, in irresistible mimetic desire: the logic of fascination, emulation and righteous self-assertion that binds the rivals inseparably. It lies in ressentiment, the tormented mirror games in which the West as well as its ostensible enemies and indeed all inhabitants of the modern world are trapped.'

This is not the first time Nietzsche's idea of ressentiment has been used to illuminate the differences between Eastern and Western cultures. Max Weber used it in his writings on the sociology of religion, arguing that Christianity was a world-changing faith whereas Hinduism and Buddhism tended towards fatalistic acceptance and withdrawal from history. Mishra's originality lies in using the idea to interpret the clash between East and West. The conflict has been dialectical, he suggests - for non-Western societies, a process of mimicry based on self-division. Anti-colonial writers and movements internalised Western values and ways of thinking, even as they despised and rebelled against them. Aiming to resist or destroy the West, they ended up parodying it.

...is that there were two Wests to choose from : the Anglosphere, with its skepticism and capitalist protestant democracy; and, the Continental, with its Rationalism and resulting Darwinism, Marxism, etc.  The bifurcation between those who chose the former and those who chose the latter was drastic. 1992 marked the point where the Long War was won and  it stopped being possible to pretend both were viable options for arranging human affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Cutting Cash Would Be a Boon for the World's Poor, Rogoff Says (Peter Levring, January 15, 2017, Bloomberg)

The world's poor stand to be among the "biggest beneficiaries" of the changes that would follow should cash become almost obsolete, according to Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economy professor and the author of "The Curse of Cash." Benefits include less crime and a reduction in the kind of off-the-books labor that hurts society's weakest members.

But weaning societies off cash requires the right infrastructure, and here there's inspiration to be found in Scandinavia, a region that Rogoff says is at "the cutting edge" of the cashless experiment. The Nordic nations all rank among the least corrupt and most transparent in the world. Cash accounts for less than 5 percent of the money in circulation, making them the least cash-reliant group of countries on the planet.

"If you do financial inclusion the way you've done it in Denmark for example, where you give everyone free debit cards, it would help a lot of problems," Rogoff said in an interview in Copenhagen on Thursday, after speaking at a Skagen Funds conference. "I think the poor would be among the biggest beneficiaries."

Rogoff, who has also worked as an adviser to the Swedish central bank, says he's picked up "a lot of nuances and ideas" on how near cashlessness works from visiting the Nordic countries. The region, which pioneered negative interest rates and boasts the world's highest income equality levels, provided some of the inspiration for Rogoff's ideas on how societies might function with hardly any paper money, he said.

Dodging the tax man is virtually impossible in the Nordic region, and digitization is fairly ubiquitous. Some places, such as Sweden's Abba museum, have stopped accepting cash altogether.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


How Can Government Help Boost Productivity? (Oren Cass, 1/30/17, National Review Online)

Are unemployed workers a good thing? The math of productivity says yes: Every time a worker with below-average output per hour exits the work force, economy-wide output per hour increases. Ban low-wage work entirely and "productivity" would skyrocket. So would prices. Total output and standards of living, especially for lower-income households, would fall.

Perhaps that seems a reductio ad absurdum, undermining a sound principle by taking it to a logical extreme -- except that, in his case for a national productivity strategy, Rob Atkinson embraces it: "The former CEO of McDonald's reported that, in response to the possibility that the minimum wage will be raised to $15 an hour, McDonald's began accelerating its deployment of self-serve kiosks and other automation technologies," he writes. "Wonderful! Fewer low-wage jobs."

Is that "wonderful"? McDonald's can now serve the same number of customers with fewer hours of human labor. Perhaps the restaurant will replace four or five cashiers with a single IT technician and some expensive equipment. In the standard economic formulation, we have achieved "productivity growth."

Well W and the UR deserve credit for preventing a Depression, they did keep the recession from biting deeply enough to clear out bloated payrolls. It was like putting out a forest ire before it had a chance to clear out all the deadwood and trigger a full regeneration.
Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


People Really, REALLY Hate Philadelphia's New Soda Tax (Brad Tuttle, 1/09/17, Money)

A Philadelphia Inquirer infographic showed exactly how the tax is impacting the price of a wide range of beverages. A 16-ounce Monster Energy drink listed at $2 goes up to $2.24 due to the sugared-beverage tax. A 64-ounce jug of V8 Splash Carrot Orange Juice listed at $2.39 goes up to $3.35. A 20-ounce bottle of Coke Zero--which contains no sugar, but gets affected anyway because diet sodas are also hit with the tax--that used to cost $1.99 is now $2.29.

Because the tax is applied on a per-ounce basis, the price increase on larger items is particularly steep. A 32-ounce Gatorade formerly priced at $1 rises to $1.48 after the new tax is applied. A 128-ounce iced tea listed at $2.50 shoots up to $4.42. And all of that doesn't include normal sales tax of 8%, which also pumps up the final bill.

The list of what is and isn't taxed can be confusing. Basically, all sodas and energy drinks (including diet and sugar-free) are hit with the new tax, as are fruit juices that are less than 50% juice, plus any sports drink, tea, or coffee drink that contains sugar or artificial sweeteners. Plain old bottled water and fruit juices that are more than 50% pure juice are exempt--but products such as Vitamin Water and almond milk, which have sweeteners, are taxed just like Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.

The Tax Foundation noted that as a result of the new tax, beer can now be cheaper than soda or energy drinks in Philadelphia. The sugared-beverage tax is 24 times higher than the tax applied to beer sales--and after all taxes are added in, a 12-pack of Propel energy drink costs more than a 12-pack of Icehouse beer. "Before sales taxes, 12 Propels is $5.99 plus $3.04 in soda taxes for a total of $9.03 (and that's when it's on sale for $1 less than the $6.99 standard). The 12 Icehouses are $7.99, beer tax included," the Tax Foundation explained. [...]

Many others have said that they'd cut back on soda purchases altogether--which, after all, is partly what motivated the law in the first place. The new tax was sold as an easy way to raise $91 million annually for city schools and public spaces. But Philadelphia also became the first major city to pass such a tax because proponents hoped to improve the health of citizens. Studies show that nearly 70% of kids are overweight or obese in North Philly, and the city as a whole has the second-highest rate of obesity among the country's biggest metropolitan areas.

Raise alcohol taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


A Big Test for Big Batteries (Diane Cardwell and Clifford Krauss, Jan. 14th, 2017, NY Times)

Utilities have been studying batteries nationwide. But none have moved ahead with the gusto of those in Southern California.

This idea has far-reaching potential. But the challenge of storing electricity has vexed engineers, researchers, policy makers and entrepreneurs for centuries. Even as countless technologies have raced ahead, batteries haven't yet fulfilled their promise.

And the most powerful new designs come with their own risks, such as fire or explosion if poorly made or maintained. It's the same problem that forced Samsung to recall 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones in September because of fire risk.

After racing for months, engineers here in California have brought three energy-storage sites close to completion to begin serving the Southern California electric grid within the next month. They are made up of thousands of oversize versions of the lithium-ion batteries now widely used in smartphones, laptop computers and other digital devices.

One of the installations, at a San Diego Gas & Electric operations center surrounded by industrial parks in Escondido, Calif., 30 miles north of San Diego, will be the largest of its kind in the world, developers say. It represents the most crucial test yet of an energy-storage technology that many experts see as fundamental to a clean-energy future.

Here, about 130 miles southeast of Aliso Canyon, the site of the immense gas leak in 2015 -- the global-warming equivalent of operating about 1.7 million cars over the course of a year -- 19,000 battery modules the size of a kitchen drawer are being wired together in racks. They will operate out of two dozen beige, 640-square-foot trailers.

Made by Samsung, the batteries are meant to store enough energy to serve as a backup in cases of fuel shortages. They are also designed to absorb low-cost energy, particularly solar power, during the day and feed it back to the grid after dusk. They in effect can fill in for the decades-old gas-fired plants that might lack the fuel to fully operate because of the disastrous leak.

"California is giving batteries the opportunity to show what they can do," said Andrés Gluski, chief executive of AES, which is installing the storage systems.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Labour in chaos : Emily Thornberry says party will not 'die in a ditch' over freedom of movement  (Laura Hughes, 15 JANUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

Labour's freedom of movement position was in chaos again on Sunday as the shadow foreign secretary said the party will not "die in a ditch" over the policy. 

Emily Thornberry made the comments just minutes after Jeremy Corbyn refused to accept that levels of EU migration to Britain were too high.

The party's position was in disarray last week after Mr Corbyn indicated on Monday that he was prepared to address the concerns of voters by announcing that his party favoured "reasonably managed migration".

They need to look at the exit polls, not the Electoral College.
Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Mind the closing doors: echoes of Thatcher in UK railway battle (Michael Holden, 1/15/17, Reuters)

For a labor dispute on a railway with just 4,000 employees, the costs have been colossal. Hundreds of thousands of people are regularly affected. A university study last month estimated the dispute had so far cost the economy 300 million pounds.

Officially, the argument is over a seemingly small issue: who should open and close train doors. That task now sometimes falls to conductors who ride in train carriages; Southern says train drivers can do it themselves.

The unions say that would be dangerous. Management says it is the practice on other lines and deemed safe by regulators. It would mean trains could sometimes run without a guard on board, although the company says it has no plans to reduce staff and will keep "supervisors" on trains to help passengers.

Despite the narrow issue, both sides accuse their opponents of having far bigger aims, turning it into the most consequential industrial action in Britain for decades.

Members of the ruling Conservative party say militant unions are deliberately fomenting commuter chaos for political reasons. Unions and the opposition Labour Party say the government is prolonging the feud to break the back of the labor movement.

And it could get worse. Unions are threatening more strikes against other railways. Conservative politicians are calling for changes to laws to make such strikes more difficult, or even ban them, a step which would be seen as a broad attack on labor.

Already the worst industrial dispute on Britain's railways since privatization, it lends Prime Minister Theresa May's new tenure an echo of the era of her hero Margaret Thatcher, who transformed and polarized Britain by crushing its coal miners.

Since Thatcher left office in 1990, Britain has experienced nearly three decades of labor peace, with only a fraction of the thousands of days per year lost to strikes that were typical from the 1950s through the 1980s. tmsnrt.rs/2iA784k

The left bemoans the loss of union power. The right considers it a triumph, now under threat from union militants.

They won't have drivers or conductors in short order.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Crickets Make Leap in Demand as a Protein (Lisa Rathke, 1/15/17, Associated Press)

Williston, Vt. -- At Tomorrow's Harvest farm, you won't find acres of land on which animals graze, or rows of corn, or bales of hay. Just stacks of boxes in a basement and the summery song of thousands of chirping crickets.

It's one of a growing number of operations raising crickets for human consumption that these farmers say is more ecologically sound than meat but acknowledge is sure to bug some people out.

Once consumers get beyond the ick factor, they say, there are a lot of benefits to consuming bugs.

"We don't need everybody to eat insects," said Robert Nathan Allen, founder and director of Little Herds, an educational nonprofit in Austin, Texas, that promotes the use of insects for human food and animal feed. "The point we really like to highlight with the education is that if only a small percent of people add this to their diet, there's a huge environmental impact."

Cricket fans say if only 1 percent of the U.S. population substituted even just 1 percent of their meat consumption with insects, millions of gallons of water in drinking and irrigation would be saved, along with thousands of metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions from machinery and animals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


SPECIAL REPORT: The Military Loves the Obama Doctrine. Can It Survive Trump?  (KEVIN BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, DEFENSE ONE)

[T]oday's war in Iraq is a far cry from the mammoth effort of a decade ago. Gone are the hundreds of thousands of American troops and contractors occupying hundreds of sprawling bases and outposts across the country. Gone is the Bush administration's total war and total occupation of a country. In its place is the Obama Doctrine.

What's that? In his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama pledged to keep American troops out of unnecessary fighting while helping local populations defend and govern themselves. In short, it was his reaction to the Iraq War and over-extending America in the Middle East, explained Jeff Goldberg in his blockbuster article in Defense One's sister publication, The Atlantic, after spending hours with the commander in chief. "Obama generally does not believe a president should place American soldiers at great risk in order to prevent humanitarian disasters, unless those disasters pose a direct security threat to the United States," he said.

But ISIS' rise in Iraq and Syria has confronted this vision with shocking reality. The unmitigated slaughter of Syrian civilians has provoked heavy, if not quite universal, condemnation of Obama's and other Western governments. It angered an American electorate tired of wars in the Middle East but increasingly fearful of Islamic extremist terrorism reaching Europe and America. And it fueled perceptions that Obama was keeping the mighty American military on the sidelines, instead of just taking out what looked like nothing more than a savage band of pickup-driving psychopathic murderers. (One 2016 frustrated presidential candidate made the ridiculous suggestion of "carpet-bombing" Iraq.) Obama and U.S. generals have vowed to "destroy ISIS" -- but he will this week be replaced in office by a candidate who said he could do it more quickly.

But what does the military want? In dozens of interviews with U.S. officials and coalition military commanders -- from the White House to America's war room in Tampa, the command in Baghdad, forward control centers and training grounds in Kurdistan, defense minister meetings in Paris, and NATO headquarters in Brussels -- one thing was clear and consistent. On the whole, America's military leaders do not want to be here any longer than they must. It also is clear that they wanted to "accelerate" the campaign against ISIS, as Obama has been doing already for more than a year with success, but they do not want America to own this fight. They do want Iraqis to fight and a functioning Iraqi government to take control when the Islamic State is gone. They don't want to defeat ISIS only to become an occupying force of sitting ducks.

What they want is what Obama wants: patience. It's a word I hear over and over, talking with special operators tasked to train local forces to fight terrorism and with the faraway policy makers they support. Like the outgoing president, they believe an enduring effort and a long view are key to winning the conflicts in the Middle East and halting the spread of global terrorism. But will Trump have the same patience as Obama? Will Trump have the same patience as his generals?

Not only have we won the war on the Salafi on the cheap but all the locals have been forced to take ownership as every contradiction has been forced.
Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Donald Trump to hold summit with Vladimir Putin 'within weeks' - reports (Alexandra Topping, Jan. 15th, 2017, The Guardian)

Donald Trump's first foreign trip is to be a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Iceland, according to reports.

[T]he news is unlikely to be welcomed by senior figures in the British government, who fear a deepening relationship between the US and Russia under Trump risks leaving Britain out in the cold. It is understood Downing Street expects Theresa May to visit Trump at the White House in the second half of February.

Britain has called for sanctions against Moscow over Putin's aggression in Ukraine and Syria. It is understood that British intelligence has sought reassurance from the CIA that British agents in Russia will be protected when intelligence is shared, the Times reported.

A British intelligence source with extensive transatlantic experience said US spies had labelled Trump and his advisers' links to the Kremlin "problematic". "Until we have established whe­ther Trump and senior mem­­bers of his team can be trusted, we're going to hold back," the source told the Times. "Putting­ it bluntly, we can't risk betraying sources and methods to the Russians."

So he won't listen to his own security departments and neither the Israelis nor Brits think he can be trusted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


U.S. insurers get inside cars, mouths, grocery carts in profit search (Suzanne Barlyn, 1/15/17, reuters)

Twice a day, Scott Ozawa's Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush tells his dental insurer if he brushed for a full two minutes. In return, the 41-year-old software engineer gets free brush heads and the employer which bought his insurance gets premium discounts.

The scheme, devised by Beam Technologies Inc, is just one of the latest uses of technology by insurers hungry for more real-time information on their customers that they say lets them assess risk more accurately and set rates accordingly.

In theory, everybody wins, as policyholders adopt better habits and insurance companies save money on claims.

January 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 PM


Economists Who Advised Presidents From Both Parties Find Common Ground (Josh Zumbrun, 1/14/17, WSJ)

The economists broadly agreed that a simpler tax code could boost the economy. Mr. Trump has indicated, in general terms, a desire to simplify the tax code and to address the plight of workers with less education.

The economists also cited a number of potential pitfalls. One is that specific policies have been described only in broad brush strokes by the incoming Trump administration. By contrast, Mr. Hubbard recalled that when George W. Bush took office, "every jitter and jot of what President Bush wanted to do, proposals and budgets, had been worked out." For now, many are just guessing about what Mr. Trump might do. "Obviously, policy is more than a tweet, and you can't make policy by calling out individual companies," Mr. Hubbard said.

The panel was also unified in fretting about a reversal in the U.S.'s role in global trade.

"In the last 15 years, a billion people came out of poverty by World Bank measures," Mr. Taylor said. "We don't want to forget the great benefits of moving toward markets, trade; it's generally been very beneficial and we shouldn't forget that."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


An Uncertain Trumpet (THOMAS DONNELLY and GARY SCHMITT, 1/02/17, Weekly Standard)

[T]he choice of South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney to run the Office of Management and Budget sours the apparently rosy scenario. Mulvaney has been among the most dedicated budget-cutters of the 2010 "Freedom Caucus" class of Republicans, willing to make common cause with far-left Democrats such as Barney Frank in offering anti-defense-spending amendments. His particular bêtes noires are the supplemental appropriations, known as "overseas contingency operations" (OCO) funds, that pay for the annual costs of fighting multiple wars. Yet as defense needs have become desperate, even the Obama administration has embraced this backdoor way of financing national security. To Mulvaney, this OCO approach is nothing but a "slush fund," one that "it's past time to do away with."

Trump, too, seems to believe the Pentagon is polluted by waste, fraud, and abuse, at least if his tweets about the costs of the F-35 or the program to replace Air Force One mean anything. Also, the Trump transition team is said to be a-twitter over a recent Washington Post story alleging a "cover-up" of a report recommending management reforms for the Defense Department.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Opposition MK slams Netanyahu: 'First mafia PM of Israel' (TAMAR PILEGGI AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF January 14, 2017)

Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir took to social media on Saturday to declare Netanyahu "the first mafia prime minister of Israel."

"Netanyahu is grasping to stay in power out of a desire for power and the luxuries that it brings, and not out of a desire to do good for the country," Shaffir wrote in a Facebook post.

Later, speaking on Israel Radio, she called for the attorney general to release the tapes. "We deserve to hear the full recordings, so we know how the prime minister runs the country."

At a Saturday cultural event in Rishon Lezion, Yesh Atid MK Yael German also took Netanyahu to task over the second investigation, which involves allegations the prime minister and his wife accepted lucrative gifts from a number of businessmen, most notably Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan.

She rejected Netanyahu's explanation to police that the pricey cigars and champagne from Milchan were inconsequential because the two families were "best friends."

"The prime minister and communications minister can't accept tens of thousands of shekels from a Channel 10 shareholder, and then just roll his eyes and say 'it was from a friend,'" German said. "I have friends too, and some of them are rich, but they aren't gifting me with a constant supply of champagne."

She also lamented the implications for a free press in Israel if the allegations in the first case were proved true, particularly the alleged quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes.

"A newspaper that's willing to sell its integrity and skew coverage in favor of the prime minister is simply unbelievable," she said. "If the allegations prove to be true, it will be a [black day] for journalism."

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


How fintech firms are helping to revolutionise supply-chain finance (The Economist, Jan 12th 2017)

The details vary but their basic approach is to take advantage of buyers' low credit risk to pay suppliers' invoices promptly. The buyer--a large supermarket chain, say--approves a supplier's invoice and transmits it to the fintech lender. (The lender can raise money in different ways: Greensill raises funds in the capital markets.) The lender pays the supplier on the agreed date or, if requested, earlier, less a small discount. With interest rates at present low, the period of finance short and the credit risk that of the supermarket chain rather than the supplier itself, the discount may be so low as to be almost unnoticeable. The lender later collects the full value of the invoice from the buyer. This improves the cashflow for suppliers without shortening payment terms for buyers, freeing up working capital for both parties and creating a healthier, more secure supply chain.

In America and Britain, government initiatives have encouraged supply-chain financing as a means for corporations to support small businesses and meet social-responsibility goals. The more integrated approach also means buyer and supplier are not pitted against each other, squabbling over when the cash will be forthcoming. According to Mr Greensill, his clients have enjoyed improved relationships with their suppliers.

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Reuters/Ipsos Poll: More Americans Consider Russia A Threat Post-Election (Chris Kahn, 1/14/17, Reuters) 

Americans are more concerned than they were before the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign began about the potential threat Russia poses to the country, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Friday.

The Jan. 9-12 survey found that 82 percent of American adults, including 84 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans, described Russia as a general "threat" to the United States. That's up from 76 percent in March 2015 when the same questions were asked.

Senate intelligence committee to question Trump team on Russia links (Lauren Gambino and Julian Borger in Washington, and Spencer Ackerman in New York,  13 January 2017, The Guardian)

The Senate intelligence committee plans to interview senior figures in the incoming Trump administration as part of its inquiry into alleged Russian hacking during the US election, its chairman said on Friday.

The announcement, one week before Donald Trump assumes the presidency, comes amid a bitter row between him and the US intelligence agencies he will soon lead.

Only yesterday the committee chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, had told reporters that connections between the president-elect and Moscow would be outside the remit of his committee's ongoing investigation into Russia's alleged attempts to influence the election through hacking and other cyberattacks.

But Burr - in a statement issued jointly with the panel's top Democrat, Mark Warner - said the committee would use "subpoenas if necessary" to force Trump's team, as well as officials from the Obama administration, to testify.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Truly Higher Education (PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER, sPRING 2015,  National Affairs)

There is a great deal of justifiable outrage about crushing college loans that aren't worth the cost. These cases usually involve under-qualified and ill-informed students borrowing massive amounts of money to go to bad private colleges. Sometimes they drop out; other times, their college of choice doesn't give them what they need for their desired career. The real problem is almost always that they didn't have the advice they needed. Students who don't qualify for lots of financial aid should choose non-residential public institutions, and our country is full of decent ones. It is an abuse of the marketplace when the admissions representatives of expensive private colleges convince them otherwise. Those representatives are driven, of course, by the imperatives of the marketplace, and they are doing what's required to keep their schools in business. The student is a scarce resource, and there are more private residential colleges than we can really use.

It is a disservice to students to allow those schools to prop themselves up indefinitely on loans guaranteed by the government; the education they offer is not worth the burden of a five- or six-figure student loan. If the marketplace weren't distorted in such a seductive way, young people would typically make safer and better choices. Colleges are failing young people by offering them choices they're not really competent to make.

Many of the criticisms of higher education in America today are related to a national crisis in competence or, more precisely, a competence gap. Some Americans -- members of our cognitive elite -- seem in some ways more competent than ever. The best secondary schools are better than ever, and their graduates are often so well prepared that they could go to Ivy-League colleges and slouch through with minimal effort in grade-inflated, politically correct humanities courses and still be perfectly ready for the more cognitive parts of the workforce. And employers know that the SAT scores and fabulous résumés of teenage accomplishment that got them into their elite colleges are typically evidence enough that they have the brains and skills to learn on the job. Still, few question whether the Ivies and the other elite schools are worth the money, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, their huge endowments allow them to offer most students steep discounts. For another, there is little doubt (less, actually, than there should be) that their degrees -- as well as the contacts students make on their campuses -- are a reliable ticket to lucrative employment.

Elite schools aren't completely immune to competition. They don't have to worry about filling their desks with warm bodies, but their "brand" depends on getting the students with the best measurable credentials. One way the Ivies and other elite schools secure their students' highly marketable brand of excellence is through shameless grade inflation. The typical grade is some form of an A.

A few years ago, Princeton attempted to buck this trend and develop a reputation for rigor by enacting grading reform that reduced the number of As to around 35%. It seemed to be a brilliant move: Princeton could boast that it was a little bit more demanding, and its students would have the benefit of having the reputation of surviving the "tough" Ivy. But the reform backfired: The admissions folks at the other Ivies started to warn the best and the brightest that they might be tarred with the stigma of Bs if they went to Princeton, and Princeton started to struggle in the competitive marketplace. So Princeton rather quickly caved, and has since gone the other direction. The administration recently announced that it may well do away with or radically deemphasize grades, at least for freshmen, as a way to reduce student stress.

Grade inflation is a sensitive subject among Ivy-League students. They argue that they are exceptionally good students and so deserve exceptionally high grades. Few of the highly competent people at such schools want to be rigorously compared with one another; the result might be an unfair reputation for mediocrity. In the end, despite or because of the well-known grade inflation, graduates can still enter the global competitive marketplace quite successfully with the impression of excellence maintained.

Mr. Lawler's American Heresies and Higher Education is just as good as expected.  Indeed, we've posted many of the essays therein in the past.  But that section above is an especially nice example of the clarity and concision of his thought and writing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Health Care's Bipartisan Problem: The Sick Are Expensive and Someone Has to Pay (ANNA WILDE MATHEWS and  LOUISE RADNOFSKY, Jan. 12, 2017, WSJ)

The 2010 health law, also known as Obamacare, forced insurers to sell coverage to anyone, at the same price, regardless of their risk of incurring big claims. That provision was popular. Not so were rules requiring nearly everyone to have insurance, and higher premiums for healthy people to subsidize the costs of the sick.

If policyholders don't pick up the tab, who will? Letting insurers refuse to sell to individuals with what the industry calls a "pre-existing condition"--in essence, forcing some of the sick to pay for themselves--is something both parties appear to have ruled out. Insurers could charge those patients more or taxpayers could pick up the extra costs, two ideas that are politically fraught.

The problem hits people who don't have access to coverage through an employer or government program such as Medicare. For Congress, addressing the cost of covering sick people who buy their own plans "is the absolute key challenge they have to deal with," says health-care economist Gerard Anderson, who says he generally supports the health act. Whether it is the government or healthy insurance-buyers that pay that tab, "somebody has to subsidize their cost for them to afford health insurance."

A small number of high-cost patients have long generated a large proportion of health spending. The 10% of people with the highest costs accounted for about two-thirds of health spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care research nonprofit, when it quantified the phenomenon in 2013.

Not only would it drive down the cost of coverage for the rest of us, the single payer could dictate prices for the outrageous costs on rare conditions and at end of life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Why Does Donald Trump Continue to Defend Russia and Attack U.S. Intelligence? (William Saletan, 1/14/17, Slate)

I don't believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee. I don't think anyone working on Trump's behalf met with anyone working for Vladimir Putin. That allegation--which appeared in clearly erroneous form in the sketchy "dossier" published by BuzzFeed on Tuesday--could turn out to be true. But nothing I've seen so far, dossier included, has convinced me.

But that leaves all of us with a problem: How do we explain the overtly pro-Russian behavior of Trump and his surrogates? If they're not Russian puppets, why do they work so hard to defend Putin and Russia against American investigators and reporters? Why do they divert blame to other countries and victims of the hack? Why, instead of targeting the Russian intelligence agencies that infiltrated us, do they attack the American intelligence agencies that exposed the Russians?

This behavior has been going on for months. In June, Trump openly invited Putin to hack more Democratic emails. Trump's allies excused this as a joke, but Trump kept going. In July, he defended Russia's invasion of Crimea. Even after the election, and after U.S. intelligence agencies had reported that senior Russian officials directed the hack "to interfere with the US election process," Trump ridiculed the intelligence agencies and scoffed: "They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody."

Last week's intelligence briefing on the hack was supposed to bring Trump around. "If, after the briefing, he is still unsure," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, "that will shake me to my core about his judgment." But the briefing has changed almost nothing. Trump continues to belittle the intelligence, question Russia's guilt, divert scrutiny, and attack the intelligence community.

If a man is objectively in favor of something maybe you have to take him at his word and deed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Job Outlook Not Improving In Russia Despite Return Of Economic Growth (Radio Liberty, 1/13/17)

It said joblessness will actually rise in Russia, but will not appear to do so because many Russians will leave the country to seek work elsewhere, shrinking the size of the labor force.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM



The latest attempt to explain away dark matter is a much-discussed proposal by Erik Verlinde, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam who is known for bold and prescient, if sometimes imperfect, ideas. In a dense 51-page paper posted online on Nov. 7, Verlinde casts gravity as a byproduct of quantum interactions and suggests that the extra gravity attributed to dark matter is an effect of "dark energy"--the background energy woven into the space-time fabric of the universe.

Instead of hordes of invisible particles, "dark matter is an interplay between ordinary matter and dark energy," Verlinde said.

To make his case, Verlinde has adopted a radical perspective on the origin of gravity that is currently in vogue among leading theoretical physicists. Einstein defined gravity as the effect of curves in space-time created by the presence of matter. According to the new approach, gravity is an emergent phenomenon. Space-time and the matter within it are treated as a hologram that arises from an underlying network of quantum bits (called "qubits"), much as the three-dimensional environment of a computer game is encoded in classical bits on a silicon chip. Working within this framework, Verlinde traces dark energy to a property of these underlying qubits that supposedly encode the universe. On large scales in the hologram, he argues, dark energy interacts with matter in just the right way to create the illusion of dark matter.

In his calculations, Verlinde rediscovered the equations of "modified Newtonian dynamics," or MOND. This 30-year-old theory makes an ad hoc tweak to the famous "inverse-square" law of gravity in Newton's and Einstein's theories in order to explain some of the phenomena attributed to dark matter. That this ugly fix works at all has long puzzled physicists. "I have a way of understanding the MOND success from a more fundamental perspective," Verlinde said.

Many experts have called Verlinde's paper compelling but hard to follow. While it remains to be seen whether his arguments will hold up to scrutiny, the timing is fortuitous. In a new analysis of galaxies published on Nov. 9 in Physical Review Letters, three astrophysicists led by Stacy McGaugh of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, have strengthened MOND's case against dark matter.

No matter how you slice it, it comes up flat.
Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Should We Trash Cash? (John Lanchester, Jan. 10th, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

As it turns out, there are good reasons for having doubts about the way cash works in the contemporary economy. In a brilliant and lucid new book, "The Curse of Cash," the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff gives a fascinating and thorough account of the argument against cash. There are two main pillars to it. The first and more wonkish concerns something called the "zero lower bound." Because official interest rates can't be set below zero -- if they were, people would just hold cash instead -- the tool kit of monetary policy has a built-in limit. This might sound like a small point, but as Rogoff explains, "the zero bound has essentially crippled monetary policy across the advanced world for much of the past eight years." Governments want to get money moving in the economy, but in a world awash in paper currency, monetary policy can do nothing further to help. If central banks could go below the zero bound, as a cashless economy would allow, they could in effect force people to spend their money and thereby kick-start the economy.

The zero bound, however, is not the issue in India. There, the main focus is the second big argument against cash: that far too much of it is involved in crime. Think for a moment about how much actual physical cash you have. I'm willing to bet you're a long way below the per-capita amount of dollars in circulation in the United States: $4,200 for every man, woman and child in the country. Eighty percent of that is in the form of $100 bills, which many Americans hardly ever see. Where is all this money? The short and very disconcerting answer is that, in Rogoff's words, "treasuries and central banks simply do not know" where this money is.

If there is no cash, there is nowhere for the private citizen to hide any assets at all, not just for criminal reasons but simply for financial security.

Among students of the subject, the assumption is that this cash is overwhelmingly used for activities that evade tax but are otherwise legal (for instance, paying workers, from builders to babysitters, off the books) but also for outright crime. The "underreporting of business income by individuals who conduct a significant share of their transactions in cash" is, Rogoff reports, the single biggest contributor to the "tax gap," the approximately $500 billion annual difference between federal tax voluntarily paid and tax due. The numbers for untaxed criminal transactions are huge, too. One example: Business in the United States for the four main drugs -- heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine -- is worth $100 billion a year, almost all of it carried out in cash.

A million dollars in $100 bills weighs 22 pounds and can fit in a shopping bag. Imagine that a proposal to phase out high-denomination notes was implemented in the United States. If the highest-​denomination note were $10, that million bucks would weigh 10 times more, take up 10 times as much space and be a lot harder to hide -- and how many legal activities would be disadvantaged as a result? This is why Modi went after cash: The idea was to crack down on what he calls "black money," a term encompassing tax evasion and all forms of crime up to and including the use of counterfeit currency to fund terrorism. By the end of 2016, Indians with serious "black money" (including counterfeit versions of the old bills) had no choice except to either trash it or take it to a bank and explain how they earned it.

The real obstacles are purely psychological--which does not mean they should be discounted.
Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Ivanka Trump's Personal Agenda Is Already Getting Pushed on Capitol Hill (Emily Jane Fox, Jan. 13th, 2017, Vanity Fair)

[E]ight days before the changing of the guard in Washington, it was Ivanka's agenda that was being sold to House leaders by a top administration official. Politico reported that Miller proposed including in the G.O.P.'s re-write of the tax code a provision that would let parents write off childcare costs. A requirement that companies provide at least six weeks of maternity leave will likely be put in motion outside of a tax reform bill, Miller and lawmakers agreed. A source told Politico that these policies have been "pushed up to a front-burner status, as is evident by the fact that they're already getting this granular this early."

The quick movement to advance her political agenda is the latest in a series of maneuvers by the future First Daughter to take on a role more like that of a First Lady.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Wholesale power prices in 2016 fell, reflecting lower natural gas prices (EIA, 1/11/17)

Average wholesale electricity prices at major trading hubs across the United States during the first quarter of 2016 were significantly lower than during the same period in 2015, ranging from 24% lower in California to 64% lower in New England. Monthly wholesale prices for the rest of 2016 were slightly below 2015 prices and generally averaged between $20 and $45 per megawatthour (MWh). The primary driver of the low wholesale electricity prices was the sustained low cost of natural gas, which is the fuel that often determines the marginal generation cost in most power markets. The low cost of natural gas also encouraged increased use of the fuel for U.S. power generation in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Betsy DeVos, the (Relatively Mainstream) Reformer: A long record refutes the radical image of the education secretary designee (Michael Q. McShane, Jan. 8th, 2017, Education Next)

According to a 2013 interview by DeVos with Philanthropy Roundtable, a visit to The Potter's House, a private school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids and describes its approach as Christ-centered, sparked her interest. She described the school as a safe, loving environment that was "electric with curiosity." It was the sort of place that any parent would want for their child, and she was struck by how difficult it was for many families to send their children there.

"We knew we had the resources to send our kids to whatever school was best for them," she said in the interview. "For these parents, however, paying tuition was a real sacrifice. We started supporting individual students at the school, and that grew into a larger commitment"--a scholarship-granting organization that provides low-income students with private education.

But while she and her husband were able to support some students to attend private school, what about all of the other children? Granting some scholarships did not address the fundamental problem: a lack of opportunity for all. As she told Philanthropy Roundtable, "traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let's be clear, in many cases, they are failing."

For decades, DeVos has worked with nonprofit organizations and political action committees to expand educational opportunity, particularly (though not exclusively) for low-income students. While her primary focus--and the focus of many media reports about her--has been on vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts, organizations she has led or helped found have also advanced other reform initiatives, such as accountability for student learning and more-rigorous academic standards.

In the 1990s, she served on the boards of Children First America and the Education Reform Council, two early organizations devoted to promoting school choice. In the early 2000s, she started a political action committee to influence education policy in Michigan, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which she and her extended family continue to support. She also has served on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education-reform advocacy organization founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

"She is smart, tough, and passionate about empowering parents, particularly low-income parents," Bush said. "She is not flashy, but is a person of real substance." Others who have served on boards with her describe her as a good listener, a consensus builder, gracious, and compassionate--in sharp contrast to the divisive image that emerged shortly after her nomination, which has caused considerable consternation in the education world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


US intel sources warn Israel against sharing secrets with Trump administration (Ronen Bergman,   12.01.17 , Ynet)

Donald Trump's upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus oprandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia - and from there to Iran.
The cause of concern are the suspicions of unreported ties between the president-elect or his associates and the Kremlin, whose agents are also associated with intelligence officials in Tehran.

January 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Trump, Pence moving quickly on Supreme Court pick (Ariane de Vogue, Phil Mattingly and Tom LoBianco, 1/12/17, CNN)

The list is made up of mostly federal appellate court judges including Judge William Pryor, Diane Sykes, Steven Colloton, Neil Gorsuch, Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman.

Manchin said he and Pence did not talk about a specific potential nominee, but was told it would be from the list of 20.

"If you're a Democrat, you can assume it's going to be somebody conservative. That's a given," Manchin said.

"There's been some of the people on that list who have already gone gone through the process here as far as approving. I guess they would look at someone who has gone through, somebody who's made it through here before would have a chance."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Giuliani web site is so basic, it 'barely even qualifies as security,' says expert (Harriet Taylor, 1/13/17, CNBC.com)

The website of America's new cyberczar -- former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani-- is running on outdated, unprotected software that even the most basic attacker could breach, said security researchers.

The person or people who set up Giulianisecurity.com -- which as of Friday afternoon is offline -- made no effort to fortify the site from hackers and had not updated the software since it was downloaded in 2012, said Dan Tentler founder of security company Phobos Group. (This problem was first reported by Gizmodo.)

While on a plane from his mobile device, Tentler was able to pull up a browser and quickly see "read me" files that even the most basic web administrator would remove from view to make it harder for an attacker to compromise a website, he said.

"This is really, really, really basic -- it barely even qualifies as security," he said. "Those files give you all the information you need to do nefarious things."

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Republican senator aims to curtail Trump's tariff power (Patrick Gillespie, 1/13/17, CNNMoney)

President-elect Donald Trump could soon face resistance within his own party over his tariff threats.

A staffer for Republican Senator Mike Lee told trade experts at a lunch in Washington this week that he is looking into ways to curtail the president's wide-ranging powers to impose tariffs, according to one of Lee's aides.

The aide said a bill could be introduced as early as next week, and it may require Trump to go through Congress to use tariffs.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Can Mad Dog Mattis Save America from Trump? (John Cassidy|Jan. 12th, 2017, The New Yorker)

[Warren] got Mattis to confirm some remarks he made in May, 2015, when he said that Russia was trying to create a sphere of unstable states along its periphery. Warren asked Mattis if he would advocate forcefully to the President--here again she didn't use Trump's name--about the need to take seriously the threat that Russia poses. Mattis said that he would.

"Thank you very much," Warren said. "I hope that is right, because if you end up in this job, our national security may well depend, in part, on your willingness to voice your opinions even when others disagree, even when you are under pressure to remain silent. We are counting on you."

Other Democrats on the committee weren't as explicit as Warren, but the thrust of the views they expressed was very similar to hers. Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal started out by saying that he was "extremely concerned" about violating the principle that the armed forces should be under civilian leadership. (The last time the Senate granted a waiver to an ex-military commander was in September, 1950, when Harry Truman nominated George Marshall, who had served as the Army's Chief of Staff during the Second World War, as Defense Secretary.) But, Blumenthal went on to say, "if there were ever a case for the waiver of that principle, it is now, at this moment in our history."

Virginia's Tim Kaine, fresh from his failed Vice-Presidential bid, said he agreed with Blumenthal that "this was an opportune moment to make an exception." Michigan's Gary Peters was even more effusive. "Thank you, from a grateful nation," he said to Mattis.

It shouldn't be forgotten that Mattis will be only one of Trump's many advisers, and one with less access to him than Flynn, whose job will require him to see the President on a daily basis. The faith being placed in Mad Dog could well turn out to be excessive. But, for one day at least, he provided Democrats and other Trumpophobes with reason to hope that all may not be lost.

Although Mattis didn't directly contradict any of Trump's statements during his testimony, he came close when he talked critically about Vladimir Putin's ambitions, noting that he had "very modest expectations about areas of coöperation" with the Russian leader.

More broadly, Mattis defended the traditional American strategic posture of constructive alliance-building backed by overwhelming military power. While a revanchist Russia represents a principal threat, he said, the United States needed to remain engaged all over the world. Several times he defended NATO, which Trump has criticized, calling it perhaps the most successful military alliance the world has known. "If we did not have NATO today, we would have to build it," he said. He expressed skepticism about the nuclear agreement with Iran, but also said that, because it had been signed, the United States had an obligation to respect it. "If you give your word on something, you live up to it," he said.

Although the Republicans on the Committee weren't quite as gushing toward him as the Democrats were, they, too, struck a respectful note. (The exception was South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who snapped his questions at the nominee and tried, unsuccessfully, to goad him into saying that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


14 Fake News Stories Created Or Publicized By Donald Trump (Kali Holloway, January 13, 2017, aLTERnET)

Trump has put thousands of fake news stories out there, some enormous and others so small you wonder why he bothers. Here are 14 fake news stories from the recent and distant past that Trump has created or promoted.

1. Obama is a Kenyan Muslim who never attended Columbia University.

Trump began courting his base in 2011, when he assumed a position as a lead voice among the birthers, a group of racists and Islamophobes desperate for any reason to delegitimize the first black president. For half a decade, Trump relentlessly peddled birtherism and other overtly racialized lies. He suggested that President Obama fabricated his time at Columbia University, a favorite contention among a right-wing that reserves a particularly visceral hatred for educated "elites" of the uppity black variety. Trump also demanded--demanded, with all the gall and entitlement of a mediocre "self-made" white trust fund kid--that Obama prove he was good enough and American enough to hold the office. To ensure this demand was as demeaning as possible, Trump offered Obama $5 million (he would later lie and say it was $50 million) to show his passport and longform birth certificate, as if Obama would shuck and jump at the money. When Trump finally dropped all the birther stuff earlier this year, he tried to slither out of it via more fake news, and invented a story pinning the whole thing on Hillary Clinton.

2. Hillary Clinton was too ill to serve as president. [...]

3. Ted Cruz's father was involved in a plot to kill President Kennedy. [...]

4. The Central Park 5 are guilty and deserve the death penalty (1989). [...]

6. 'Thousands and thousands of [Muslims] were cheering' on 9/11. [...]

7. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM



You hold shares of SCHG Schwab US Large-Cap Growth ETF™ in your TRADITIONAL IRA account. FeeX wants you to know that this ETF has decreased its annual fee from 0.06% to 0.04% of your assets invested.

This means that instead of paying an estimated $47 in fees next year, you'll be paying $32.

Compounded over 12 years, this annual change will result in a total gain of $344 in your account.

Good for you!

See the impact on your savings

FeeX does not aim to assess your investment style and allocation choices. FeeX uses its best judgment in recommending similar alternatives with lower fees, but cannot guarantee the performance of any recommended investment product or account. Investing in mutual funds, exchange traded funds, and other securities carries risk of all or part of the amount invested. Market data is provided by Morningstar. Past performance information is not indicative of future returns. The returns and fees information above are estimated numbers, based on the data FeeX had at the day of publication, but may not be accurate due to incomplete or erroneous data. The information provided should not be construed as a distribution, or an offer to sell securities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Just feet from U.S. border, Cubans ponder the end of their dream (30-year-old Cuban roofer leaned over the railing and called his older sister in Miami.

Dennis Pupo Cruz told her he was stuck on the Mexican-side of the bridge above the Rio Grande River. He was inches from the U.S. border, but Border Patrol agents had stopped him or any of the other Cubans with him from entering into the United States.

15 Cubans' plans to make it to the United States ended in disappointment Thursday when they were turned away at the U.S. border after President Barack Obama suddenly ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy. The policy had allowed Cubans without visas to remain in the United States. A Cuban who'd hoped to enter the United States pondered his future after he was turned away at the U.S. border in Laredo after President Barack Obama abruptly ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy. 15 Cubans' plans to make it to the United States ended in disappointment Thursday when they were turned away at the U.S. border after President Barack Obama suddenly ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy. The policy had allowed Cubans without visas to remain in the United States. A Cuban who'd hoped to enter the United States pondered his future after he was turned away at the U.S. border in Laredo after President Barack Obama abruptly ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy.

"We're two hours late," said Pupo, his eyes beginning to water.

Pupo was one of 15 Cubans stranded in the middle of the bridge that links Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, with Laredo, Texas, on Thursday night after President Barack Obama suddenly ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy that for more than 20 years had allowed Cubans who reached the United States to remain there.

They'd arrived at the U.S. border, often after spending thousands of dollars, with plans to travel to Miami, Houston and Las Vegas where they would meet family and start new lives. Now everything is in doubt.

"My uncle. My aunts," said Carlos Alberto Gonzalez Ricabal, a bartender from Las Tunas, Cuba, who arrived at the border at 6 p.m. "They told me to hurry up and come. Two hours. Two hours."

Hundreds of Cubans had been rushing to make it to the United States before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, expecting that the new president might change U.S. policy toward Cuba and eliminate the special benefits Cubans have long received in the United States. None imagined that President Barack Obama, who visited Havana less than a year ago, would make the change just a week before he leaves office.


Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Do Markets Work in Health Care? (David Brooks JAN. 13, 2017, NY Times)

The Republicans are going to try to replace Obamacare. They're probably going to agree to cover everybody Obama covered, thus essentially granting the Democratic point that health care is a right. But they are going to try to do it using more market-friendly mechanisms. [...]

This would still be nothing like a free-market system -- it would still be a highly regulated, largely public benefit -- but it would rely more on consumer incentives.

The crucial question is: Do market incentives work in health care? [...]

Proponents of market-based health care rely less on theory and more on data. The most fair-minded review of the evidence I've read comes from a McKinsey report written by Penelope Dash and David Meredith. They noted that sometimes market forces lead to worse outcomes, but "we have been most struck by health systems in which provider competition, managed effectively, has improved outcomes and patient choice significantly, while at the same time reducing system costs."

There's much research to suggest that people are able to behave like intelligent health care consumers. Work by Amitabh Chandra of Harvard and others found higher-performing hospitals do gain greater market share over time. People know quality and flock to it.

Furthermore, health care providers work hard to keep up with the competitors. When one provider becomes more productive, the neighboring ones tend to as well.

There are plenty of examples where market competition has improved health care delivery. The Medicare Part D program, passed under President George W. Bush, created competition around drug benefits. The program has provided coverage for millions while coming in at 57 percent under the cost of what the Congressional Budget Office initially projected. A study of Indiana's health savings accounts found the state's expenses were reduced by 11 percent.

January 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Blasts hit key military airport in Damascus: Syrian state TV (Reuters, 1/12/17)

Several major explosions hit Mezzah military airport compound near the Syrian capital Damascus, and ambulances were rushed to the area, Syrian state television said on Friday.

The airport southwest of the capital is a major strategic air base used mainly by Syrian elite Republican Guards and had been a base used to fire rockets at former rebel-held areas in the suburbs of Damascus. State television did not give any further details.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Former MI6 officer lies low after unmasking as dossier's author (Tom Burgis, 1/12/17, Financial Times)

He is a British former intelligence officer who operated in Moscow in the early 1990s, later served as MI6's chief expert on Russia in London, and resigned in 2009 to set up his own company, Orbis Business Intelligence.

In his early fifties and quietly spoken, Mr Steele has a reputation among colleagues for integrity, discretion and for selecting his clients with care. Always keen to keep a low profile, he left his Belgravia office and Surrey home after his dossier on Mr Trump was published and he was unmasked as the author. His present whereabouts are not known and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Orbis is part of London's lucrative business intelligence industry -- a shadowy sector that stretches from dry political-risk analysis and due diligence research to digging dirt on competitors and, in its murkiest corners, a few operators who go as far as hacking, bugging and intimidating a client's rivals. There is no suggestion that Orbis used any illegal methods to conduct its research.

The former MI6 agent and Cambridge graduate was hired in June to investigate the ties between Mr Trump and the Russian regime by Fusion GPS, a Washington DC research firm he had worked with previously, according to a person who knows Mr Steele.

To conduct his research, Mr Steele drew on a longstanding network of contacts in Russia. As the work developed, the person who knows him said, Mr Steele became increasingly alarmed. He even believed that what he was being told could be potentially bigger than Watergate, the scandal which brought down President Richard Nixon. This was especially so against a backdrop of what was believed to be extensive Russian hacking -- not just in the Democratic National Committee but across Washington.

By early August, Mr Steele had handed some of his report to a senior FBI official with whom he had worked previously, including on an investigation into bribery at Fifa, football's governing body.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM

Greek Zucchini Fritters (MARTHA ROSE SHULMAN, 1/12/17, NY Times)

2 pounds large zucchini, trimmed and grated on the wide holes of a grater or food processor
2 eggs
½ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as fennel, dill, mint, parsley (I like to use mostly dill)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 cup fresh or dry breadcrumbs, more as necessary
 Freshly ground pepper
1 cup crumbled feta
 All-purpose flour as needed and for dredging
 Olive oil for frying

Salt the zucchini generously and leave to drain in a colander for one hour, tossing and squeezing the zucchini from time to time. Take up handfuls of zucchini, and squeeze out all of the moisture. Alternately, wrap in a clean dish towel, and squeeze out the water by twisting at both ends.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the shredded zucchini, herbs, cumin, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste and feta. Mix together well. Take up a small handful of the mixture; if it presses neatly into a patty, it is the right consistency. If it seems wet, add more breadcrumbs or a few tablespoons of all-purpose flour. When the mixture has the right consistency, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or longer.

Heat 1 inch of olive oil in a large frying pan until rippling, or at about 275 degrees. Meanwhile, take up heaped tablespoons of the zucchini mixture, and form balls or patties. Lightly dredge in flour.

When the oil is very hot, add the patties in batches to the pan. Fry until golden brown, turning once with a spider or slotted spoon. Remove from the oil, and drain briefly on a rack. Serve with plain Greek style yogurt if desired.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Trump Manhandles the Media (McKay Coppins, Jan. 12th, 2017, The Atlantic)

Donald Trump's first press conference as president-elect was still hours away, but the scene at Trump Tower was already turning hostile.

Hundreds of journalists had crammed into the too-small atrium Wednesday morning, and many were grumpily jockeying for position and power-outlet access. Coiffed TV correspondents elbowed notebook-toting scribblers out of their live shots; producers grumbled about CNN unjustly colonizing a swath of prime seating up front; camera operators barked at each other on the risers. The atmosphere at Trump's press events often has a zoo-like quality. At this one it felt like the animals had been starved, hunted, and turned against each other.

Indeed, the press corps Trump faced Wednesday seemed more divided and less sure of itself than the one that grilled him six months ago, when he last held a formal press conference. With his surprise victory last November, Trump didn't just beat and embarrass his foes in the political press--he burned down their villages, defiled their temples, and danced on the graves of their dead. In the months that followed, news outlets entered into prolonged periods of soul-searching and self-flagellation while Trump took victory laps. Some of the same reporters and pundits who once laughed off his chances at victory were reduced to aggregating his tweets, pleading for access, and posing for chummy group photos at Mar-a-Lago.

At the dawn of the Trump presidency, America's political press corps is feeling anxious, territorial, threatened--and the president-elect showed Wednesday that he's ready to take advantage.

The Founders would be embarrassed we gave them special rights.

Republicans will have to do their job, Marco Rubio Doesn't Let Rex Tillerson Off Easy (Sheelah Kolhatkar, Jan. 11th, 2017, The New Yorker)

[M]ore than an hour in, Rubio leaned into his microphone.

There had been some discussion beforehand, aired in the Washington Post, about what sort of approach Rubio, the scorned Presidential candidate, would take when confronting Tillerson. "The Florida Republican is likely to reveal what kind of future he wants in President-elect Donald Trump's Washington," the Post's Paul Kane wrote. Would Rubio indicate that he wanted to join those Republican colleagues who have adopted a new level of flexibility in their thinking, and possibly abandon ideas that he had been advocating for years in order to become a Trump facilitator? Or would he play the role of the aggressive skeptic, probing Tillerson's financial ties and Russian sympathies, and staking out his independence?

After stating that he had not yet received his security clearances, and therefore had not yet seen any classified information, Tillerson responded to Rubio's question by saying that he had read the report about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee that was released publicly on January 6th. "That report clearly is troubling," Tillerson said. "And clearly indicates that all of the actions you describe were undertaken."

Rubio asked, based on Tillerson's vast reserve of knowledge about Russia and Russian politics, accrued during his career doing deals in that country as head of Exxon, whether it was possible that a cyberattack of this scale on the United States election could have happened without Putin's knowledge.

Tillerson looked pained, and placed his hand on his heart, in a sort of God's-honest-truth pose. "I'm not in a position to make that determination," he said. He needed more information.

Rubio interrupted him and said, "Mr. Tillerson, you've engaged in significant business activities in Russia, so I'm sure you're aware very few things of a major proportion happen in that country without Vladimir Putin's permission."

"I think that's a fair assumption," Tillerson finally said.

There was urgency to Rubio's interrogation, as, in another city, inside a shiny tower on Fifth Avenue, throngs of reporters were waiting for President-elect Donald Trump to begin his first press conference since the election. The topic there was expected to be Russia as well, and as soon as it started all eyes were likely to shift away from Washington.

Rubio quickly moved on to sanctions that the Obama Administration imposed on Russia late last month, in retaliation for the hacking. He wanted to know whether Tillerson would support a possible law to penalize any country that tried to influence a U.S. election through cyberattacks. Here, Tillerson was even less clear, but his basic point seemed to be that he would want to take into consideration trading relationships and other dealings between the United States and the offending country before imposing any penalties; he said that he opposed the blanket, automatic imposition of sanctions. Tillerson, after all, has spent his career as a corporate chieftain--one who knows the value of pushing economic interests to the top of every calculation.

He and Rubio went back and forth, with the senator expressing incredulity that Tillerson was basically admitting that he might decline to penalize a foreign government if it would harm the U.S.'s economic interests. He then asked whether Tillerson would support the sanctions already imposed by the United States on Russia over the election-related attacks.

Rather than addressing the specific question, Tillerson spoke about the need for a "comprehensive cybersecurity plan" and for a "comprehensive assessment of our cyber threat." It was a familiar strategy of subject-changing and obfuscation, a stab at a verbal filibuster. Rubio kept asking, and Tillerson kept saying that he didn't have enough information to answer.

"Okay," Rubio finally said. "Let me ask you this: Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?"

"I would not use that term," Tillerson said, scowling.

"Well," Rubio said, "let me describe the situation in Aleppo."

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Trump 'compromising' claims: How and why did we get here?  (Paul Wood, 1/11/16,  BBC News)

[T]he former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file - they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" - in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg - and that the material was "of a sexual nature".

The claims of Russian kompromat on Mr Trump were "credible", the CIA believed. That is why - according to the New York Times and Washington Post - these claims ended up on President Barack Obama's desk last week, a briefing document also given to Congressional leaders and to Mr Trump himself.

Mr Trump did visit Moscow in November 2013, the date the main tape is supposed to have been made. There is TV footage of him at the Miss Universe contest. Any visitor to a grand hotel in Moscow would be wise to assume that their room comes equipped with hidden cameras and microphones as well as a mini-bar. [...]

Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.

It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.

The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.

Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.

Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.

Neither Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities - in this case the Russian banks. But ultimately, the investigation is looking for transfers of money from Russia to the United States, each one, if proved, a felony offence.

A lawyer- outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case - told me that three of Mr Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry. "But it's clear this is about Trump," he said.

How Blackmail Works in Russia (Julia Ioffe, Jan. 11th, 2017, The Atlantic)

The FSB also doesn't hesitate to use kompromat against foreigners, both in Russia and abroad. Take, for example, the case of the American diplomat Kyle Hatcher. In August 2009, videos purporting to be of Hatcher, who worked in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, appeared online. It showed him making calls, allegedly to prostitutes, then him in a hotel room, checking for bugs--at one point even staring into one of them, blinking at it without recognition--before beginning a romp with a woman of ill repute. After its release, allegedly by the FSB, the State Department protested vociferously that it was a doctored, unproven tape, but it nevertheless transferred Hatcher quietly to a posting in the Caribbean, and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which had wanted to be a beacon of democracy and morality on the dark banks of Putin's Russia, had dulled its light.

And it revealed a key FSB tactic: Those purported shots of Hatcher and the prostitutes had been gathered before he began work at the Embassy. The Skuratov tape seems to have been made nearly a year before it was shown to him, and months before he launched the corruption investigation that got him in trouble with Yeltsin and Putin. Moreover, according to the investigation conducted by Skuratov's deputy, it seems the prostitutes were gifts, but from whom? In other words, the FSB kompromat operation is akin to a trawler, gathering anything and everything in its path, just in case anything good is down there. Or it puts chum in the water, and gathers the baited fish, too. It then stores it away for when the Kremlin needs just a slightly more forceful argument. I have no doubt that most every journalist and diplomat who has worked in Russia has such a file in his or her name, just waiting to be put to good use.

Aside from the substance of the allegations in the document Buzzfeed released, it would not be surprising or uncharacteristic for the FSB not to have at least tried something similar with a foreign man so rich, so vulnerable, and so shameless. It is in Trump's DNA to go big, and in the FSB's to record any and all proceedings, just in case.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Health Care Industry: Markets Work Better than Government (BEN SHAPIRO, January 11, 2017, National Review)

[M]edical care is a commodity, and treating it otherwise is foolhardy. To make a commodity cheaper and better, two elements are necessary: profit incentive and freedom of labor. The government destroys both of these elements in the health-care industry. It decides medical reimbursement rates for millions of Americans, particularly poor Americans; this, in turn, creates an incentive for doctors not to take government-sponsored health insurance. It regulates how doctors deal with patients, the sorts of training doctors must undergo, and the sorts of insurance they must maintain; all of this convinces fewer Americans to become doctors. Undersupply of doctors generally and of doctors who will accept insurance specifically, along with overdemand stimulated by government-driven health-insurance coverage, leads to mass shortages. The result is an overreliance on emergency care, costs for which are distributed among government, hospitals, and insurance payers.

So, what's the solution for poor people? Not to declare medical care a "right," and certainly not to dismiss reliance on the market as perverse cruelty. Markets are the solution in medical care, just as they are in virtually every other area.

Treating medical care as a commodity means temporary shortages, and it means that some people will not get everything we would wish them to have.

The notion that lower commodity prices depend on freedom of labor is at best a non-sequitor.  But that we can obtain said freedom of labor by preserving a system where 60% of Americans get their health coverage through their employer is truly peculiar.  

Globalization has commodified everything, not just health care, and prices have fallen, in almost all areas, because market pressures have been brought to bear. But the health insurance industry as currently constructed thwarts those market pressures.  Since we consumers of health care have no pecuniary interest in saving on costs we pay no attention to them.  It is precisely the current private health care system that drives prices higher (though W's HSA law has already begun to change this too).

Treating medical care as a commodity means letting consumers decide what they want to short themselves.  It means we won't get everything we wish because we'd rather have the money we would waste on unnecessary health care to use for something else.

As for whether health care is a "right"?  Every citizenry in every developed nation believes that one of the core purposes of government is to guarantee health care.  Six in ten Americans would just as soon it be provided by universal Medicare--a National Health system.  The argument is over, irrespective of whether we call health care a right or a privilege. It is a commodity that--like food and housing--we feel everyone is entitled to.  Fighting against that is an exercise in futility.

The real fight is over how we decide to drive down the cost of the commodity, with a single payer who has an interest in lower prices (which is how other countries do it), or by giving every actual consumer such an interest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Russia's Sexual Blackmail Didn't Die With the Soviets (Andrew Higgins and Andrew E. Kramer, Jan. 11th, 2017, NY Times)

Whatever did or did not happen in Mr. Trump's hotel suite in 2013, when he visited Moscow to attend a Miss Universe contest, Russia has a long and well-documented record of using kompromat to discredit the Kremlin's foes and to lean on its potential friends.

For decades, hotels across the former Soviet Union visited by foreigners were equipped with bugging devices and cameras by the K.G.B. A remnant can still be seen in Tallinn, the capital of the former Soviet republic Estonia, where the new Finnish owners of the former Intourist hotel have set up a museum to display the surveillance and other techniques used to spy on and blackmail foreign guests.

Peep Ehasalu, who helped set up the museum, said that 60 of the hotel's 423 rooms were bugged and reserved for "interesting persons" like foreign businessmen. Guests who were judged vulnerable to blackmail were put in a handful of rooms with holes in the walls through which special cameras would film dalliances with prostitutes. All the prostitutes, Mr. Ehasalu said, worked for the K.G.B., which chased away freelance sex workers who had not been officially approved.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Republican Health-Care Plan: Rand Paul Makes a Good Start (Michael Tanner, 1/11/17, National Review)

Paul's proposal draws liberally from the best ideas in other Republican plans, while avoiding many of the pitfalls that make some of those plans unworkable. He would, for example, dramatically expand health savings accounts (HSAs). HSAs shift control of health-care spending from employers to employees. Paul's expansion would allow much larger tax-free contributions to these accounts, and would allow them to be used for a wider variety of health-related expenses, including insurance premiums. That would mean that you -- not your boss -- would be able to choose your insurance plan. Expanded HSAs would also mean increased portability for health insurance. Because you could use your HSA to pay your premium, you wouldn't be as likely to lose your insurance if you changed or lost your job.

This would replace many of the subsidies in Obamacare without the dangers of government-designated insurance inherent in some of the tax-credit proposals that some Republicans have backed. (If the government offers a credit for insurance, it has to define what insurance qualifies for the credit.) [...]

Paul would eliminate the pre-existing-condition regulations altogether (after a transition period), while his other reforms would significantly reduce the number of people who genuinely cannot buy health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. For those who still need help, Paul envisions responsibility for covering them being shifted to the states, possibly in conjunction with proposals to block-grant Medicaid.

This would give states the freedom to experiment with ways to cover people who are unable to buy their own insurance for whatever reason, whether pre-existing conditions or low income. Importantly, it prevents a small number of high-cost cases from distorting the rest of the insurance pool. It wouldn't try to insure the uninsurable, but would provide their health care more directly. After all, it is health care that counts, not health insurance.

Once you make the HSAs universal and fund them you've got the future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


The CEO of a $3.9 trillion fund giant has a message for money managers everywhere (Tina Wadhwa, Jan. 12th, 2017, Business Insider)

Money has been pouring out of active management and into index funds.

More than $1 trillion dollars has flowed into index funds over the past three years, according to the Investment Company Institute.

That spells trouble for active managers, which make a living trying to beat the index. 

Some are asking whether active management is "dead," according to  Bill McNabb, CEO of $3.9 trillion fund giant Vanguard. His firm  has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the shift towards index funds.

In a blog post on January 10, McNabb said that  "active management can survive--and even succeed--but only if it's offered at much lower expense."  In other words, money managers need to drop their fees. 

Replacing the managers with AI will help keep fees down.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


China's anti-Teslas: cheap models drive electric car boom (Jake Spring, 1/11/17, Reuters)

China has spent billions of dollars on subsidies to help companies including Warren Buffett-backed BYD (002594.SZ) (1211.HK) and BAIC Motor (1958.HK) achieve large-scale production of plug-in vehicles, which are gaining traction among urban drivers as well as taxi fleets and government agencies.

Sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrids increased 60 percent in January-November, to 402,000 vehicles. By 2020, China wants 5 million plug-in cars on its roads.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


U.S. health care admin costs are double the average (Alanna Petroff, January 11, 2017, CNN Money)

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows admin costs in U.S. health care are the highest in the developed world. They account for over 8% of spending in the sector.

Globally, health care systems spend about 3% on average on administration.

"Private insurance generates a relatively high share of total administrative expenditure," the report's authors explained, noting that admin costs are generally lower when governments manage health care coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


Theresa May is the most left-wing Tory Prime Minister for 40 years (James Forsyth, Jan. 14th, 2017, Spectator)

May's team can see how far off to the left Labour has moved under Jeremy Corbyn, taking positions that have distanced it from many of its traditional supporters. They are keen to take advantage of this.

But while Thatcher saw a Labour lurch to the left as an opportunity to pursue otherwise politically impossible policies, May views it as a chance to win over sections of the Labour vote. She is pitching herself at those who earn just more than the amount that qualifies you for benefits. She is also clear that she wants to reduce the wealth gap between London and the rest of the country. There are signs that this approach might be working; unusually for a Tory leader, May is more popular in the north than the south.

But the PM's own politics shouldn't obscure the fact that Brexit will move British politics structurally to the right. First, it will fully return immigration to the political centre stage. Parties will need to have a view on the appropriate level of EU migration and low-skilled migration. This, as Jeremy Corbyn's contortions over the issue show, will not be easy for Labour. The party's London base is far more relaxed about immigration than its northern heartlands, where concern about free movement drove support for leaving the EU.

Left-wingers might hope that the return of trade to the domestic political agenda will give them an opening. Those of a more populist bent dream of channelling the anti-globalisation anger that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump tapped into during the US election. But that will be more difficult here. The UK's smaller but more technically advanced manufacturing sector is less vulnerable to competition from low-wage economies. And a recent poll suggests that only 8 per cent of voters want looser trade ties with China, compared with 43 per cent who want closer ones. Perhaps the British consumer's traditional desire for cheaper goods will drive public attitudes to future trade deals more than anything else.

But the big way in which Brexit will shift politics to the right is that Britain now needs to be globally competitive. Before the EU referendum we still had the (admittedly ignoble) option of managed decline inside the EU's walled garden. One former Cameron aide recalls how proposals to cut regulation or create tax incentives were often knocked back by officials with the line that Britain was already the best in the EU in this area. That kind of argument will no longer fly; we now have to be one of the most competitive countries in the world. This will exert a constant downward pressure on corporate taxes, especially with Trump determined to cut them in the United States. There will also be pressure not to raise personal taxes any higher than the other major financial centres.

This need to compete will be particularly acute if Britain does not sign a new EU trade deal. In these circumstances we would trade on World Trade Organisation terms. To compensate for the tariff barriers that would then exist between us and the rest of Europe we would have to become more competitive.

January 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Talo on the range : Finland's reindeer herders get a lot more than meat from their work (The Economist, Dec 24th 2016)

A herder can have no more than 500 reindeer. How many any particular herder has, though, is hard to say. Asking is considered rude, says Ms Korpela--like asking a city-dweller how much he earns. Faced with such affrontery, a herder will be resolutely non-quantitative: "I have reindeer on both sides of the tree," is the most you are likely to get.

The reindeer industry comprises less than 1% of all Finnish meat production. But swish Helsinki restaurants have embraced the lean meat. Michelin-starred Chef & Sommelier has offered dehydrated reindeer heart atop a Jerusalem artichoke. Ari Ruoho, head chef at Nokka, says that his reindeer tartare tastes like tuna sashimi and goes well with a fruity Italian red. He adds that meat butchered in autumn carries the flavour of mushrooms, on which reindeer graze to build up fat for the winter.

But overall meat production is falling. Across Finland, 71,580 reindeer were slaughtered in 2013-14, versus 127,999 in 1994-95. Herders say this is because they are not the only ones after the reindeer. Their biggest worry is wolverines, which since 1995 have been protected by Finnish hunting regulations; almost as if they know this, more and more have come over the border from Russia. A family group of wolverines can get through 90-odd reindeer a year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Law firm helping Trump won 'Russia Law Firm of the Year' award in 2016 (GABBY MORRONGIELLO,  1/11/17, Washington Examiner)

Sheri Dillon, a well-respected tax controversy attorney, was given significant airtime during Trump's press conference on Wednesday to discuss how the real estate tycoon will avoid business conflicts while serving in the Oval Office. Dillon works at the Washington, DC office of Morgan Lewis, which was named "Russia Law Firm of the Year" last spring by the law profession directory Chambers & Partners.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Dutch trains become 100% powered by wind energy (Agence France-Presse, 10 January 2017)

All Dutch trains have become 100% powered by electricity generated by wind energy, the national railway company NS has said .

"Since 1 January, 100% of our trains are running on wind energy," said NS spokesman, Ton Boon.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


The Big Apple's big drop in crime (Harry Bruinius, Jan. 5th, 2017, CS Monitor)

Police Commissioner James O'Neill accounts for this success by simply saying New York is becoming better at "deeper problem-solving." The city has indeed tried many criminal-justice reforms in recent decades. And better economic conditions have also helped cut crime. But what is sure is that police are now more engaged with their communities, explaining their work, listening to feedback, and winning allies. Clergy, for example, are enlisted to calm gang behavior. In Brooklyn, anti-violence groups often hold vigils in rough neighborhoods.

This community-focused approach allows police to more easily pinpoint the most habitual lawbreakers and then confront them with a choice: Either be arrested or seek help for their problems, such as job training, counseling, or mentoring.

The key is choice. If police view gang leaders, for example, as capable of a life without crime, then the gang leaders might not see themselves as criminals. Police, in other words, separate the crime from "the criminal."

The buzzword for this approach is "focused deterrence." It relies on a view of individuals as potentially open to reform and as separate from their past acts of crime. Police offer dignity and respect to a targeted person, and then hope to see those qualities reflected back.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Trump leak raises new questions about Telegram security (Russell Brandom,  Jan 11, 2017, The Verge)

[A]s explosive as the Trump allegations were, there was one passage that was particularly interesting for cryptography buffs, concerning the popular Telegram chat app.

According to one of the report's unidentified sources, the app may not be as secure as it seems:

An FSB [Russian secret service] cyber operative flagged up the 'Telegram' enciphered commercial system as having been of especial concern and therefore heavily targeted by the FSB, not least because it was used frequently by Russian internal political activists and oppositionists. His/her understanding was that the FSB now successfully had cracked this communications software and therefore it was no longer secure to use.

The report raised an alarming thought for Telegram users. Could Russia have an inside line to one of the most popular encrypted chat programs?

BBC claims a second source backs up Trump dossier (The Week, 1/11/17)

BBC correspondent Paul Wood came forward Wednesday to reveal that there are multiple intelligence sources alleging Russia is in possession of potentially embarrassing or compromising material regarding President-elect Donald Trump. Formerly, only a single source was known to have been aware of the alleged material.

"I saw the report, compiled by the former British intelligence officer, back in October," Wood said. "He is not, and this is the crucial thing, the only source for this." The Wall Street Journal alleges the British source is Christopher Steele, a director of the London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd.

A member of the U.S. intelligence community also told Wood that "at least one East European intelligence service was aware 'that the Russians had kompromat or compromising material on Mr. Trump,'" Raw Story reports. Wood said that he "got a message back" from the U.S. intelligence community member and that there is reportedly "more than one tape, not just video, but audio as well, on more than one date, in more than one place, in both Moscow and St. Petersburg."

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Trump doubles down on 'Nazi' tweet at news conference (JTA, 1/11/17)

President-elect Donald Trump defended a tweet he posted comparing the leak of a dossier containing allegations about him to the actions of Nazi Germany.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


An ObamaCare compromise that Republicans and Democrats can both love (James Pethokoukis, Jan. 11th, 2017, The Week)

What if Republicans had compromised with President Obama in 2009? What would America's health-care system look like today? [...]

Republicans should go even farther than reforming ObamaCare. They should expand it.

Imagine an America where ObamaCare was so robust, where the exchanges were such a crackling hotbed of free-market activity and competition, that everyone purchased insurance this way, and no longer counted on their employers (or the government) for health coverage.

Many health policy analysts would love to "transcend ObamaCare" by, in effect, creating an ObamaCare-for-all (or TrumpCare-for-all) system that eventually moves everyone to individual health insurance policies sold through reformed ObamaCare exchanges. The result would be a more coherent, unified system where all Americans would get their health care through the private sector, with poorer Americans receiving refundable tax credits to purchase plans. It could make American health care more market- and consumer-driven overall -- pleasing freedom-loving Republicans -- while building upon President Obama's great achievement -- pleasing Obama-loving Democrats.

It also seems like a more logical next step for the American health-care system, rather than to whipsaw it by undoing a nearly decade-old systemic reform with another systemic reform that repeals and replaces the first one.

And when you think about it, something like this really should have been first step all the way back in 2009. Maybe it's not too late to see what that compromise would have looked like, after all.

The citizenries of developed democracies consider health care a right, so we'll either have National Health or a universal HSA/catastrophic system.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


The catastrophic fall of the Democratic Party (Ed Morrissey, Jan. 11th, 2017, The Week)

Obama, still a relatively young man, will have ample opportunities to earn millions from his memoirs and leverage his popularity in service of any agenda he chooses to pursue. However, he leaves behind a much different political legacy for his party than some of his recent predecessors did. When Reagan left office, the Republican Party won the White House -- the first time since Martin Van Buren that a sitting vice president won the White House through an election without the death or resignation of the president. Democrats lost control of the House after a 40-year run during Clinton's first term, but Democrats managed to win back control of the Senate as his term ran out -- helped in part by Hillary Clinton's successful Senate run in New York.

For Democrats at the end of the Obama era, the situation looks much more bleak. In fact, it's so bad that Washington Post analyst Philip Bump referred to the precipitous decline in Democratic fortunes as the "Thelma and Louiseing" of the party. Democrats have lost 10 percent of their Senate seats from the 111th Congress, 19 percent of their House seats, and 20 percent of their seats in state legislatures during Obama's time in office. On top of that, the party has lost more than a third of its gubernatorial seats. The Democratic Party finds itself in its worst shape since before the Great Depression -- just a few short years after its ascendancy to dominance during the Great Recession.

Jeremy Corbyn has overseen the same sort of decline but doesn't even get the consolation of the presidency....

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Understanding the Republicans' corporate tax reform (William G. Gale, 1/11/17, Brookings)

The DBCFT has a lot to offer and it deserves a serious look.  But right now, the overall proposal is very poorly understood.  Here are 11 things to know:

The truly radical part is the proposal to effectively abolish the corporate income tax.  The United States would become the only advanced country without a corporate income tax, making it a very attractive location for international investors.
The DBCFT is essentially a value-added tax (VAT), but with a deduction for wages.  Every advanced country except the U.S. has a VAT alongside a corporate income tax.  The U.S. would in effect be replacing the corporate income tax with a modified VAT.  A VAT taxes consumption, not income - it has the same effects as a national retail sales tax, but works better administratively.
Unlike the corporate income tax, the DBCFT would not distort investment or financing choices.  Instead, it would eliminate taxes on the returns to investment and would treat debt and equity equally.  It would also eliminate all transfer-pricing issues and incentives to shift profits and profitable activities offshore.

One of the good things about mindless partisanship is that all the same folks who swore we must never have a VAT now support it because it's the GOP plan.

And W just keeps looking more and more visionary....

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Barack Obama's Enduring Faith in America (David A. Graham, Jan. 10th, 2017, The Atlantic)

In his final speech to the nation as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama offered a strong defense of American democracy and pluralism, telling the nation that its form of government relies on goodwill and tolerance. [...]

The president argued that the start of the 21st century, from 9/11 attacks to the Great Recession, and implicitly in Trump's election, had threatened to "rupture [the] solidarity" on which the country rests. The threat came from three corners, he said: unequal economic opportunity; racism and discrimination; and the retreat into bubbles of likeminded individuals.

He warned that indulging fear would endanger a society ordered by Enlightenment ideals of reason, tolerance, and justice. "That order is now being challenged--first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power," Obama said. "The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile." He asked the nation to come together in the work of rebuilding American democracy.

"That's what we mean when we say America is exceptional, not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change."
But it is not just external threats such as these that pose a danger, he said--so does the temptation to shut out those with different outlooks. "For too many of us, it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions," Obama said, connecting it to the advent of a media that is not only partisan but riddled with misstatements of fact--and a surfeit of maliciously false news. "We become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that's out there." [...]

[O]bama was not ready to let his own backers off the hook to slip into disconsolation. He called on them to engage with their fellow citizens, saying that while their faith would sometimes be disappointed, it would overall be affirmed. Early in his speech, he hailed the impending peaceful transfer of power to Trump, and scolded members of the crowd who booed or groaned.

...is that they love America, while the fiercest partisans and opponents despise it. In Donald, that America-hatred finally has its avatar.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Bill on tallying up regulation costs wins U.S. financial industry backing (Reuters, 1/11/17)

Financial lobbyists on Tuesday applauded a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to review the costs of rules before putting them into force, which is part of a broader push from Republicans to reform regulation.

The legislation, introduced by Missouri Republican Ann Wagner, the newly minted chair of the financial services oversight subcommittee, is expected to go to the floor of the House on Thursday for a vote. [...]

The group added the bill would also require the SEC to periodically review its existing rules and analyze the effectiveness of its regulation.

...to require that all laws and regulations sunset after a period of years 

[Two years--forcing every Congress to re-approve them all--would be fun.].

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


The Trouble With Publishing the Trump Dossier (DAVID A. GRAHAM, 1/11/17, Slate)

The story left many questions unanswered--most importantly, whether the claims were accurate, but also just what the claims were; CNN said it was withholding the contents of the memo because it could not independently verify the allegations.

The second question was answered in short order, when BuzzFeed posted a PDF of the 35-page dossier a little after 6 p.m. Even in their posting, BuzzFeed acknowledged some misgivings about the document, admitting that it was full of unverified claims. "It is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors," the story noted. Verified or not, the claims were highly explosive, and in some cases quite graphic. Because they are not verified, I will not summarize them here, though they can be read at BuzzFeed or in any other number of places.

Other reporting, including from my colleague Rosie Gray, has already begun to poke holes in the assertions contained in the dossier. Trump denied the report on Twitter, writing, "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" Now that the documents are in the public domain, the work underway within some news organizations to suss out what is true in the report will likely accelerate.

Sensing that the decision to publish would be controversial, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote a memo to staff explaining the thinking, and then posted it on Twitter.

"Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media," Smith wrote. "Publishing this document was not an easy or simple, and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing the dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017."

Smith alluded to the document's wide circulation, a nod to the fact that many outlets have either acquired or been offered the chance to view it--a group that includes CNN, Politico (whose Ken Vogel said he'd chased the story), and Lawfare. David Corn of Mother Jones also published a story based on information collected by the British intelligence operative in October.

Smith's reasoning is sincere and considered, but the conclusion is highly dubious. Even more perturbing was the reasoning in the published story. "Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government," the story stated.

If our employees are handing it around there's no reason we shouldn't see it too. Americans don't need to be protected by our betters.


About that Explosive Trump Story: Take a Deep Breath (Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic  Tuesday, January 10, 2017, Brookings : Lawfare

Second, while unproven, the allegations are being taken quite seriously. The President and President-elect do not get briefed on material that the intelligence community does not believe to be at least of some credibility. The individual who generated them is apparently a person whose work intelligence professionals take seriously. And at a personal level, we can attest that we have had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people about the material in this document. While nobody has confirmed any of the allegations, both inside government and in the press, it is clear to us that they are the subject of serious attention.

Third, precisely because it is being taken seriously, it is--despite being unproven and, in public anyway, undiscussed--pervasively affecting the broader discussion of Russian hacking of the election. CNN reported that Senator John McCain personally delivered a copy of the document to FBI Director James Comey on December 9th. Consider McCain's comments about the gravity of the Russian hacking episode at last week's Armed Services Committee hearing in light of that fact. Likewise, consider Senator Ron Wyden's questioning of Comey at today's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, in which Wyden pushed the FBI Director to release a declassified assessment before January 20th regarding contact between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. (Comey refused to comment on an ongoing investigation.)

So while people are being delicate about discussing wholly unproven allegations, the document is at the front of everyone's minds as they ponder the question: Why is Trump so insistent about vindicating Russia from the hacking charges that everyone else seems to accept?

Fourth, it is significant that the document contains highly specific allegations, many of which are the kind of facts it should be possible to prove or disprove. 

Alleged Russian Liaison to Trump Campaign Was In News Yesterday Hyping Trump and Talking Trash (Martin Longman, January 11, 2017, Washington Monthly)

There's so much to digest in the leaked intelligence report on Donald Trump's connections to Vladimir Putin and Russia that I feel like I'm drinking from a firehouse. I want to just throw one quick thing at you. I noticed the following excerpt about an alleged meeting in Prague between Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian operatives that was supposed to have occurred in late August or possibly the first week in September.

I was intrigued at the idea that Putin might utilize a member of the Duma to provide plausible deniability about official communications with the Trump campaign, so I looked to see what I could find about Konstantin Kosachev and whether he was active in talking up Trump and talking down Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Amazingly, I found a TASS article published just yesterday where Kosachev was quite vocally trashing Obama and crowing about the demise of the United States as a global leader and "winner" of the Cold War.

January 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


U.S. Voters Approve Of Obama, Disapprove Of Trump, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Trump Should Stop Tweeting, Voters Say 2-1 (Quinnipiac University. 1/10/17)

American voters approve 55 - 39 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, his best approval rating in seven years, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. These same voters disapprove 51 - 37 percent of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president-elect. 

Donald Trump will be a worse president than Barack Obama, 45 percent of voters say, while 34 percent say he will be a better president and 15 percent say he will be about the same, American voters tell the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll. 

Americans are optimistic 52 - 43 percent about the next four years with Trump as president and say 47 - 31 percent that he will help rather than hurt the nation's economy. 

Trump will be a "great" president, 12 percent of voters say; 30 percent say he will be a "good" president; 20 percent say he will be "not so good" and 32 percent say he will be "bad." 

The measures of Trump's personal qualities all are more negative than they were in a November 22 Quinnipiac University poll:

53 - 39 percent that he is not honest, compared to 52 - 42 percent November 22;
49 - 44 percent that he has good leadership skills, compared to 56 - 38 percent;
52 - 44 percent that he does not care about average Americans, compared to 51 - 45 percent who said he did care;
62 - 33 percent that he is not level-headed, compared to 57 - 38 percent;
71 - 25 percent that he is a strong person, compared to 74 - 23 percent;
68 - 27 percent that he is intelligent, compared to 74 - 21 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Pulling U.S. Public Pensions Back from the Brink (Frances Denmark, 1/04/17, Institutional Investor)

"We're seeing more and more communities take steps to protect public pensions, and it's a trend that has largely fallen under the radar," says Bailey Childers, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition. Most public pension funds have increased employee and employer contributions to help counteract the hit of U.S. equity markets' 40 percent drawdown during the crisis.

Among those steps: establishing dedicated funding sources, such as revenues from gambling or so-called sin taxes (on cigarettes and alcohol, for example). The Kansas legislature kicked things off in 2012, when it approved legislation allowing gaming revenues from state-owned casinos to be directed to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, along with proceeds from any sale of state surplus real estate. The following year, Montana legislators approved a bill dedicating a portion of the coal extraction tax to the state's unfunded pension liabilities.

In 2013 the state of Oklahoma created the Oklahoma Pension Stabilization Fund, to be used when any of the state pension systems' funding ratios fall below 90 percent. A dedicated portion of sin taxes and lottery proceeds will fund this asset pool. And in April, to pay for cost-of-living adjustments and shore up overall funding status, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (a vice chair of president-elect Donald Trump's transition team) signed legislation to protect contributions beyond one-fiscal-year horizons.

In Louisiana, voters have approved the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund, which will be funded by recurring mineral and tax revenues. Hawaiian taxpayers approved a constitutional amendment to include unfunded pension liabilities in the existing list of possible recipients of general fund surplus money.

"We've seen a lot of improvement in the past few years," says Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, pointing to the $150 billion increase in total public pension assets from September 2015 to September 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Lawsuits over Trump business threaten to tie up presidency (CHAD DAY and BERNARD CONDON, 1/10/17, Associated Press)

Only a handful of presidents have undergone legal depositions during their terms, and even fewer have become embroiled in private lawsuits. Trump is poised to join that small club.

Just last week, the president-elect sat for a deposition in a lawsuit involving his Washington hotel , and he is still tied up in legal disputes that are to proceed after Inauguration Day. Trump is also under investigation by the New York attorney general over whether he used his charity for personal benefit.

Those are only some of the pending matters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Britain in 'front seat' for U.S. trade deal, top Republican says (Reuters, 1/10/17)

Britain will be in the "front seat" to negotiate a new trade deal with the incoming administration of Donald Trump, a top Republican in the United States Senate said, the BBC reported.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said after meeting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that a trade deal between the two countries would be a priority as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Vibe of Choice for Trump's Inauguration? Planners Say They're Aiming for 'Soft Sensuality' (Emily Zanotti, January 10, 2017, hEAT sTREET)
According to officials with Donald Trump's Inauguration committee, next week's festivities will be a clear departure from previous "circus-like" inaugurations, where parades, performances and high-profile events were the order of the day.

Instead, they say, Trump's Inauguration will have a "soft sensuality" and a "poetic cadence" instead of A-list celebrities and big-name acts.

It's not immediately clear precisely what that means--whether, say, the committee plans on incorporating a hologram of Barry White into their festivities, is calling on that Melania Trump look-alike stripper to headline a concert on the Mall, or will have the ad company behind the C****s bathtub spots dressing the swearing-in stage. But Inauguration chair Tom Barrack said that he's convinced the affair will be "more refined" than in previous years.

No one will be surprised when he requests that his presidential portrait be done on black velvet...and apparently done by Andres Serrano....

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Icelandic parties form centre-right coalition government (Richard Milne, N1/10/16, Financial Times)

The new government, which holds a parliamentary majority of just one seat, continues a long tradition of centre-right coalitions leading the country. There has been only one centre-left-led administration since the second world war.

It brings together the traditional party of power, Mr Benediktsson's Independence party, which won 21 seats, and two newer groups: Revival, a splinter party from Independence, and the liberal Bright Future.

Despite hopes that this government might be more positive about Iceland joining the EU, the coalition agreement said only that parliament could decide to have a vote on whether to hold a referendum on the matter towards the end of its four-year term. That makes any reopening of EU talks, stopped by the previous government in 2013, unlikely, according to Icelandic observers.

The new government has several big tasks, including ensuring that a dramatic boom in tourism does not turn into a bust and putting an end to capital controls that have been in place since the 2008 financial crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Donald Trump and RFK Jr. Are Vaccine-Skeptical Soulmates (Susan Matthews, 1/10/17, Slate)

President-elect Donald Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Tuesday morning, a sit-down that might at first seem odd: One, after all, is a Democratic scion and environmental lawyer, while the other is about to be the world's only climate change-denying head of state. As recently as August 2016, RFK Jr. referred to Trump as "dangerous" and "a demagogue," but now they're conspiring over common ground: They both refuse to accept the science on vaccination.

Apparently it went swimmingly. Soon after the meeting, Reuters correspondent Ginger Gibson tweeted that RFK Jr. said Trump "asked him to chair a commission on vaccine safety and he agreed."

You can't say those two don't deserve each other.
Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Paul Berman Remembers Nat Hentoff (Paul Berman, 1/10/17, The Tablet)

The Village Voice was founded in 1955 and flourished quietly for ten years or so before everyone discovered that various attitudes and styles from the Voice had taken root on a national scale, and people were reading the Voice in more than a few places around the country, and in some of those places were founding new "alternative" weeklies of their own, on the model of the Voice. That was a marvelous development, and yet, under the pressure of success, something in the presiding spirit at the Voice itself and at some of the other weeklies began to grow a little coarser, without anyone taking note. The coarsening was a product of the transition from the bohemian and downtown non-communist left of the 1950s and early '60s to the vast and national New Left that followed, which was a mass movement. And it was a product of the transition from the downtown avant-garde to the counterculture of the late '60s and '70s and later, which became a popular culture. The older audiences were coteries, the newer ones were publics. The older spirit was anti-conformist, the newer spirit lent itself sometimes to groupthink. Nat remained a man of the older spirit. He expressed it in his unrelenting hardline campaign for free speech. And he expressed it in his memoir Boston Boy, about growing up in knockabout Jewish Boston, persecuted by Irish anti-Semites and admiring the jazz world; and his books on jazz; and his pioneering biography of A.J. Muste, the leftist and pacifist--maybe the biography, especially.

Muste was his hero--Muste, the original great churchman of the 20th-century American left, a Congregationalist minister who somehow ended up a labor leader; then a labor educator; then a Trotskyist; then an appalled ex-Trotskyist; then the leader of a tiny circle of pacifists and leftists who exercised a huge influence on the Civil Rights revolution, in its early stages; and ultimately the principal leader of the mass anti-Vietnam War movement in the mid-'60s. He was, in short, a man of power, capable of shaping the political imagination and actions of masses of Americans--who, ever faithful to his own conscience, never thought of himself as a man of power. He was Edmund Wilson's leftwing hero, which was fitting, given the cantankerous quality of Wilson's individualism. And Nat's admiration of Muste was likewise fitting. It is true that, as the decades wore on, the downtown and intellectual left that revered people like Muste gradually faded, which left Nat feeling a little stranded, I think. But that was to his honor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him (Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein, 1/10/17, CNN)

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. 

Apparently his hair isn't dyed Cheeto color; it's body substance...

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


The future of electronics is coming, and it all starts with light (Arnab Hazari, 1/10/17, World Economic Forum)

In the technology world, one of the biggest questions of the 21st century is: How small can we make transistors? If there is a limit to how tiny they can get, we might reach a point at which we can no longer continue to make smaller, more powerful, more efficient devices. It's an industry with more than US$200 billion in annual revenue in the U.S. alone. Might it stop growing?

At the present, companies like Intel are mass-producing transistors 14 nanometers across - just 14 times wider than DNA molecules. They're made of silicon, the second-most abundant material on our planet. Silicon's atomic size is about 0.2 nanometers.

Today's transistors are about 70 silicon atoms wide, so the possibility of making them even smaller is itself shrinking. We're getting very close to the limit of how small we can make a transistor.

At present, transistors use electrical signals - electrons moving from one place to another - to communicate. But if we could use light, made up of photons, instead of electricity, we could make transistors even faster.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Importers are Exporters: Tariffs Would Hurt Our Most Competitive Firms (J. Bradford Jensen, December 7, 2016, PIIE)

Of the top 1 percent of exporters (around 2,000 firms):

90 percent import goods
36 percent are also among the top 1 percent of importer firms
account for 66 percent of US goods imports
employed almost 14 million people in 2007 (about the same as the entire manufacturing sector employed in the same year)

Of the top 1 percent of importers (around 1,300 firms):

96 percent export
53 percent are in the top 1 percent of exporters
account for 60 percent of US goods exports
employed almost 13 million people in 2007

Bernard, Jensen, Redding, and Schott (2016) (link is external) provide an explanation for the tight relationship between importing and exporting. First, it is costly for firms to start importing and exporting--effort and investments are required to start doing each. This implies that only the most productive firms will engage in importing or exporting.

Once a firm starts importing, it reduces the firm's costs and thus makes it possible to export. Similarly, exporting increases a firm's revenue and this makes it possible for the firm to import. These two aspects of firm behavior are intertwined and both would be damaged by higher tariff costs. 

In a world with these types of interdependent firm decisions, small decreases in trade costs (such as reductions in tariffs) can have magnified effects on trade flows, as they induce firms to serve more markets, export more products to each market, export more of each product, source intermediate inputs from more countries, and import more of each intermediate input from each source country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Kremlin Hits Out At Sanctions, Deplores 'Degradation' Of U.S.-Russia Relations (Radio Liberty, 1/10/17)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists in Moscow on January 10 that there was an "unprecedented degradation" of U.S.-Russia ties during U.S. President Barack Obama's second term.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Fear among federal workers flourishes as they face a hostile Trump presidency (Petula Dvorak, Jan. 9th, 2017, Washington Post)

Remember, that middle class everyone was talking about during the campaign?

Federal workforce jobs are relatively stable in a disrupted economy. And although the most highly educated could earn more in the private sector, the average pay is about $86,000 a year, with benefits, a pension and federal holidays.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Thanks to AI, Computers Can Now See Your Health Problems (Megan Molteni, Jan. 9th, 2017, Wired)

Patient Number Two was born to first-time parents, late 20s, white. The pregnancy was normal and the birth uncomplicated. But after a few months, it became clear something was wrong. The child had ear infection after ear infection and trouble breathing at night. He was small for his age, and by his fifth birthday, still hadn't spoken. He started having seizures. Brain MRIs, molecular analyses, basic genetic testing, scores of doctors; nothing turned up answers. With no further options, in 2015 his family decided to sequence their exomes--the portion of the genome that codes for proteins--to see if he had inherited a genetic disorder from his parents. A single variant showed up: ARID1B.

The mutation suggested he had a disease called Coffin-Siris syndrome. But Patient Number Two didn't have that disease's typical symptoms, like sparse scalp hair and incomplete pinky fingers. So, doctors, including Karen Gripp, who met with Two's family to discuss the exome results, hadn't really considered it. Gripp was doubly surprised when she uploaded a photo of Two's face to Face2Gene. The app, developed by the same programmers who taught Facebook to find your face in your friend's photos, conducted millions of tiny calculations in rapid succession--how much slant in the eye? How narrow is that eyelid fissure? How low are the ears? Quantified, computed, and ranked to suggest the most probable syndromes associated with the facial phenotype. There's even a heat map overlay on the photo that shows which the features are the most indicative match.

"In hindsight it was all clear to me," says Gripp, who is chief of the Division of Medical Genetics at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, and had been seeing the patient for years. "But it hadn't been clear to anyone before." What had taken Patient Number Two's doctors 16 years to find took Face2Gene just a few minutes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Tu-154 crash: Causes of the tragedy established and then quickly refuted (Pravda, 10.01.2017)

According to experts of the Defense Ministry, the Tu-154 crashed because the plane was overloaded. In addition, co-pilot Alexander Rovensky misused the levers of chassis and flaps control. When the crew noticed the mistake, it was too late: the heavy Tu-154 simply had not gained enough altitude for a rescue maneuver and hit the water with the tail section of the fuselage.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Women's March on Washington Opens Contentious Dialogues About Race (Farah Stockman, Jan. 9th, 2017, NY Times)

Many thousands of women are expected to converge on the nation's capital for the Women's March on Washington the day after Donald J. Trump's inauguration. Jennifer Willis no longer plans to be one of them.

Ms. Willis, a 50-year-old wedding minister from South Carolina, had looked forward to taking her daughters to the march. Then she read a post on the Facebook page for the march that made her feel unwelcome because she is white.

The post, written by a black activist from Brooklyn who is a march volunteer, advised "white allies" to listen more and talk less. It also chided those who, it said, were only now waking up to racism because of the election.

"You don't just get to join because now you're scared, too," read the post. "I was born scared."

Stung by the tone, Ms. Willis canceled her trip.

"This is a women's march," she said. "We're supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption. Why is it now about, 'White women don't understand black women'?"

If all goes as planned, the Jan. 21 march will be a momentous display of unity in protest of a president whose treatment of women came to dominate the campaign's final weeks. But long before the first buses roll to Washington and sister demonstrations take place in other cities, contentious conversations about race have erupted nearly every day among marchers, exhilarating some and alienating others.

Given that it's all about identity politics, they should welcome Donald and his alt-right cronies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


On Palestinian Statehood (BRET STEPHENS, Jan. 9, 2017 , WSJ)

What about the interests of Palestinians? Aren't they entitled to a state?

Maybe. But are they more entitled to one than the Assamese, Basques, Baloch, Corsicans, Druze, Flemish, Kashmiris, Kurds, Moros, Native Hawaiians, Northern Cypriots, Rohingya, Tibetans, Uyghurs or West Papuans--all of whom have distinct national identities, legitimate historical grievances and plausible claims to statehood?

They certainly aren't less entitled.  And where is the American who will argue that China should be allowed to continue treating Tibet like Israel does Palestine?

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The case for a border adjustable tax system (Stephen Moore, 1/07/16, Washington Times)

To create a level playing field, the U.S. has to reconstitute our tax system. This can be accomplished by lowering the tax rate and then turning the tax on its head so we are taxing our imports, but not our exports. In other words, we should tax activities based on where they are consumed, not where they are produced.

This is called a border adjustable tax system, and here are the reasons we need to do it:

1) A border adjustable tax will end all talk of tariffs and trade wars. At various times Donald Trump has suggested tariffs of anywhere between 5 and 35 percent on foreign goods imported into the United States. But tariffs violate our trade agreements and often lead to retaliatory measures by other countries. The free traders will rightly object loudly to these trade barriers.

A better solution is to impose the Trump 15 percent corporate income tax on goods when they are brought into the U.S. and exempt from tax goods produced in the U.S. but sold outside the U.S. In other words, our corporate tax would be based on where goods are consumed, not on where they are produced. This tax does not violate trade laws and only mirrors the valued added tax systems foreigners use to gain advantage.

2) A border adjustable tax has a broader tax base, and thus the rate can be lower.

The best tax system has a broad tax base and a low tax rate. To get the Trump tax rate down to 15 percent and still raise enough money to fund the government, we need the broadest tax base possible. Since America imports about $750 billion more per year than we export to other countries, the border adjustable tax collects about $100 billion more revenue every year. So the rate can be about 5 percentage points lower.

3) A border adjustable system taxes consumption not production.

Most economists agree that a good tax system taxes what people take out of the economy -- their consumption, not what they put into the economy, their work, investment and risk taking. Many Keyensian economists have long argued that consumption is what drives the economy, but American consumers can't consume if they aren't producing something.

4) A border adjustable tax will help rejuvenate American manufacturing -- especially in the Midwest. If Donald Trump wants to deliver on economic development in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the border adjustable tax will bring factories back to this region of the country. Overnight it will make American steel, cars, tractors, oil, and manufactured items 15 percent cheaper, while raising the cost of imported products by an equal amount. This means millions of jobs for the Midwest.

In exchange for a border adjustable tax, the U.S. should eliminate all existing tariffs and duties which can now range from 2 percent on shoes to 25 percent on toys. This eliminates all special interest favoritism, which is the worst feature of trade protectionism.

Tax what you don't want (consumption) not what you do (profits).

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Kentucky's Attack on Unions Provides a Glimpse into the GOP's Impending War on Workers (Justin Miller, Jan. 7, 2017, American Prospect)

When Tea Party darling Matt Bevin, who ran as the "right-to-work" candidate, rode the national GOP wave and succeeded Democratic Governor Steve Beshear in 2014, the Kentucky House became the sole bulwark blocking the implementation of his anti-union agenda. Naturally, heading into the 2016 elections, the right wing turned all its firepower against the Democrats' six-seat house majority. It worked--and it wasn't even close. Republicans won an astounding 13 seats to gain a commanding 64-36 majority, making Kentucky one of 25 states with GOP trifecta-control.

It didn't take long for Republican legislators to introduce their stable of anti-union measures: a right-to-work bill that bans unions from requiring mandatory dues for all workers covered by their contracts; a repeal of the state's prevailing wage law, meaning that public construction projects would no longer be required to pay their workers based on a community survey (usually meaning a union pay-scale); and banning public-employee unions from striking and from using member dues for political contributions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM


Obamacare Repeal Might Have Just Died Tonight (Jonathan Chait, 1/09/17, New York)

If Republicans lose three Senate votes, that drops them to 49, and repeal-and-delay cannot pass. At least three Republican senators (in addition to all the Democrats) now oppose repeal and delay. Rand Paul, of all people, has demanded that Congress repeal Obamacare at the same time it passes a plan to replace it. Paul has announced that he spoke with Trump and secured his agreement on this. Trump has not said so himself, confining his comments to date to a vague assurance "That's all gonna work out."

Trump, of course, tends to change his mind frequently and agree with whomever he spoke with last. But other Republicans senators are taking the initiative. Fellow Republican Lamar Alexander says the same thing as Paul: "We have to take each part of it and consider what it would take to create a new and better alternative and then begin to create that alternative and once it's available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare." Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said on MSNBC, "It would not be the right path for us to repeal Obamacare without laying out a path forward." And Senator Bob Corker is walking right up to the edge of the same position, asking Trump to tweet out confirmation of what Paul claims he promised. "If it is his view, it would be really good if he would consider tweeting it out very clearly. There's more and more concerns about not doing it simultaneously," Corker says.

Even more ominously for the Republican leadership, four other Republicans have joined Corker to sponsor a bill delaying the bill that would repeal Obamacare for a month...

January 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


ExxonMobil and Iran did business under secretary of State nominee Tillerson (Oren Dorell, 1/09/17, USA TODAY)

ExxonMobil did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan through a European subsidiary while President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of State was a top executive of the oil giant and those countries were under U.S. sanctions as state sponsors of terrorism, Securities and Exchange Commission filings show. [...]

The SEC letter questioned ExxonMobil's failure to disclose to shareholders that it had transactions with three state sponsors of terrorism. Decisions to make such disclosures should be based on "the potential impact of corporate activities upon a company`s reputation and share value," and not simply the monetary value of the transactions, the SEC said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Study Casts More Doubt on Value of Mammograms (Dennis Thompson, 1/09/17, HealthDay News) 

Mammograms frequently detect small breast tumors that might never become life-threatening, causing women to receive treatment they likely don't need, a new Danish study finds.

About one in every three women between the ages of 50 and 69 who was diagnosed with breast cancer wound up having a tumor that posed no immediate threat to her health, the researchers reported.

At the same time, mammography did not reduce the number of advanced breast cancers found in women in the study.

"This means that breast screening is unlikely to improve breast cancer survival or reduce the use of invasive surgery," said study author Dr. Karsten Juhl Jorgensen, deputy director of research for the Nordic Cochrane Center at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


De Blasio 'pleased' with Kushner appointment (LAURA NAHMIAS, 01/09/17, Politico)

"He's certainly someone I've been talking to over these last weeks. He's someone I intend to stay in touch with on behalf of the people of New York City. He's someone who really cares about New York City and is someone that would be very helpful to us. So I'm certainly pleased he'll be in that role," de Blasio said.

"And I can say clearly compared to many other people who've been named to other positions, I find him to be a lot more reasonable and a lot more moderate."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Democrats Who Will Scrutinize Trump's Education Pick Attended Private Schools (Richard Pollock, January 09, 2017, daily Signal)

Six of the 10 Senate Democrats on the committee that will consider confirming Betsy DeVos -- President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education -- attended private or parochial schools, or have children and grandchildren attending, according to information obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


We're doomed! (James Heatfield, 1/09/17, Spiked)

Was the world really going to reach its tipping point at the end of 2016? The world will come to an end some time: in a little more than five billion years when the sun expands to become a red giant. Predictions of a more immediate demise of human civilisation due to climate change seem a little more urgent.

Volcanologist Bill McGuire, of the UK government's Natural Hazard Working Group, gave us seven years to save the planet, and that was back in 2008, so we have until... well, now. In October 2006, Gaby Hinsliff in the Observer, reporting on Sir Nicholas Stern's 2006 report on climate change, said 'we have 10 years to save the planet' -- that 10 years is up. In the Guardian in 2008, George Monbiot said these claims that we have until 2016 to save the planet were too optimistic: 'Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late.'

If these doom-laden conclusions were true, was the Guardian not sitting on the story of the century, or of the millennia? They had the story that human civilisation is basically over and didn't thoroughly report it? That seems strange. On the other hand, what about the story that the world has not come to an end? That 2016 did not see the end of life as we know it? Is there not a responsibility to report that? The Guardian ran with the 100 months countdown -- surely it is obliged to say something now that those 100 months are up?

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


The Threat Donald Trump Doesn't Talk About (Chris Bryant Elaine He, Jan. 8th, 2017, Bloomberg)

Put aside for a moment how moving jobs back to a country with high costs gives companies an incentive to automate. There's a bigger problem: After displacing U.S. manufacturing workers, robots are poised to do the same in developing economies, too. It will be hard to re-shore jobs that no longer exist. 

It took 50 years for the world to install the first million industrial robots. The next million will take only eight, according to Macquarie. Importantly, much of the recent growth happened outside the U.S., in particular in China, which has an aging population and where wages have risen. [...]

German robot maker Kuka AG, acquired last year by China's Midea Group Co., estimates a typical industrial robot costs about 5 euros ($5.28) an hour. Manufacturers spend 50 euros an hour to employ someone in Germany and about 10 euros an hour in China. That's brought forward the point at which companies can recoup their outlay on automation equipment: the payback period for an automotive welding robot in China has fallen to less than two years, according to Macquarie. 

Rather than seek out an even cheaper source of labor elsewhere -- in another emerging Asian economy, say -- Chinese manufacturers are choosing to install more robots, especially for more complex tasks. As Bernstein analysts recently put it, China isn't getting rid of the work, just the workers. 

...gone, gone...nothin' gonna bring 'em back....
Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Trump to give Cabinet secretaries a long leash (JOSH DAWSEY and ANDREW RESTUCCIA, Jan. 9th, 2017, Politico)

Trump, they say, doesn't usually like getting into day-to-day minutiae or taking lengthy briefings on issues. He doesn't have particularly strong feelings on the intricacies of some government issues and agencies, these people say, and would rather focus on high-profile issues, publicity and his brand.

And he's expected to grant his Cabinet lots of autonomy -- at least until he sees something as a problem or an issue involves significant publicity or money.

The approach comes with both upsides and downsides. On the one hand, Trump's top leaders will likely be given plenty of latitude to act quickly and decisively without being constantly micromanaged by the big boss. But on the other, Trump's top leaders will always carry with them the risk of being blindsided when the incoming president decides on a whim to weigh in on some topic in their portfolio.

"He's running it much like he'd run a Fortune 500 company. He's finding the best people he can and he's going to turn the reins over to them to see what they can do. He wants them to perform," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who recently met with incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon at Trump Tower to discuss a role in the Agriculture Department.

Not that anyone would hire him to run a company, given his business track record.


Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


How to Age Disgracefully in Hollywood (Camille Paglia, 1/06/17, Hollywood Reporter)

In December, at the Billboard Women in Music Awards in New York City, Madonna was given the trophy for Woman of the Year. In a rambling, tearful acceptance speech that ran more than 16 minutes, she claimed to be a victim of "blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse."

It was a startling appropriation of stereotypical feminist rhetoric by a superstar whose major achievement in cultural history was to overthrow the puritanical old guard of second-wave feminism and to liberate the long-silenced pro-sex, pro-beauty wing of feminism, which (thanks to her) swept to victory in the 1990s. [...]

But I want to focus here on the charge of ageism that Madonna, now 58, leveled against the entertainment industry and that received heavy, sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media. Her grievances about the treatment of women performers climaxed with this: "And finally, do not age, because to age is a sin. You will be criticized, you will be vilified and you will definitely not be played on the radio."

First of all, lack of radio airplay may indeed hamper new or indie groups, but in this digital age, when songs go viral in a flash, rich and famous performers of Madonna's level fail to get airplay not because of their age, but because their current music no longer is attracting a broad audience. When was the last time Madonna released hit songs of the brilliant quality of her golden era of the 1980s and '90s? Lavish, lucrative touring rather than sustained creative work in the studio has been her priority for decades.

Her last decent tunes were on Like a Prayer in 1989.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange If You Knew What They Really Thought? (Sean Wilentz, Jan. 19th, 2014, New Republic)

What's astonishing about their ascent to heroism is the breadth of their support. The embrace of the antiwar left and the libertarian right was to be expected. But effusions of praise for the leakers can also be found throughout the liberal establishment. The New York Times, which has come to rely on the leakers as prize sources, is now crusading on Snowden's behalf. Its editorial page has celebrated him for having "done his country a great service" and supports clemency for the crimes he has committed. A stellar array of liberal intellectuals and pundits, from David Bromwich and Robert Kuttner to Richard Cohen and Ezra Klein, have hailed Snowden, as have elected officials, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Ron Wyden. To criticize the leakers, as the legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin and a few other writers have done, is to invite moral condemnation. Even mild objections to their methods are dismissed as damning proof of either corruption--"principle-free, hackish, and opportunistic," in Greenwald's words--or outright complicity with Big Brother.

So far, the adulatory treatment the leakers have received closely mirrors their own self-presentation. But important caches of evidence have gone largely unexamined by the media. Documents are, of course, the leakers' stock-in-trade--and they have produced quite a few documents of their own. The Internet houses a variety of their writings for message boards, blogs, and magazines. Much of this writing was produced before the leakers entertained the possibility of a global audience. They are documents in which one can glimpse their deepest beliefs and true motives. What they reveal is at odds with the flattering coverage the leakers have received, and goes beyond personal eccentricities or dubious activities in the service of noble goals. They reveal an agenda that even the leakers' most dedicated admirers should question.

Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange hardly subscribe to identical beliefs, and differ in their levels of sophistication. They have held, at one time or another, a crazy-quilt assortment of views, some of them blatantly contradictory. But from an incoherent swirl of ideas, a common outlook emerges. The outlook is neither a clear-cut doctrine nor a philosophy, but something closer to a political impulse that might be described, to borrow from the historian Richard Hofstadter, as paranoid libertarianism. Where liberals, let alone right-wingers, have portrayed the leakers as truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors, that's hardly their goal. In fact, the leakers despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.

...to believe that liberal democracy is so fragile that exposure of even every secret would have any impact at all, nevermind pose a mortal threat.  Every document of our government should just be open-sourced and subjected to market forces.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Advice for Young Muslims (Omar Saif Ghobash, Dec. 14th, 2016, Foreign Affairs)

Dear Saif,

How should you and I take responsibility for our lives as Muslims? Surely, the most important thing is to be a good person. And if we are good people, then what connection could there be between us and those who commit acts of terrorism, claiming to act in the name of Islam?

Many Muslims protest against and publicly condemn such crimes. Others say that the violent extremists who belong to groups such as the Islamic State (or ISIS) are not true Muslims. "Those people have nothing to do with Islam," is their refrain. To my ears, this statement does not sound right. It seems like an easy way of not thinking through some difficult questions.

Although I loathe what the terrorists do, I realize that according to the minimal entry requirements for Islam, they are Muslims. Islam demands only that a believer affirm that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger. Violent jihadists certainly believe this. That is why major religious institutions in the Islamic world have rightly refused to label them as non-Muslims, even while condemning their actions. It is too easy to say that jihadist extremists have nothing to do with us. Even if their readings of Islamic Scripture seem warped and out of date, they have gained traction. What worries me is that as the extremists' ideas have spread, the circle of Muslims clinging to other conceptions of Islam has begun to shrink. And as it has shrunk, it has become quieter and quieter, until only the extremists seem to speak and act in the name of Islam.

We need to speak out, but it is not enough to declare in public that Islam is not violent or radical or angry, that Islam is a religion of peace. We need to take responsibility for the Islam of peace. We need to demonstrate how it is expressed in our lives and the lives of those in our community.

I am not saying that Muslims such as you and I should accept blame for what terrorists do. I am saying that we can take responsibility by demanding a different understanding of Islam. We can make clear, to Muslims and non-Muslims, that another reading of Islam is possible and necessary. And we need to act in ways that make clear how we understand Islam and its operation in our lives. I believe we owe that to all the innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who have suffered at the hands of our coreligionists in their misguided extremism.

The lack of any coherent theology is also why Islam will be so easy to Reform.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


What We Can Learn From 'Washington's Farewell' (NPR: All Things Considered, Jan. 8th, 2017)

On Tuesday, President Obama will give his farewell address to the nation. It's a custom that goes all the way back to George Washington; these speeches, author John Avlon says, "serve as a bookend to a presidency."

For about 150 years, Washington's farewell speech was the most famous in American history, Avlon tells NPR's Michel Martin: "It was more widely reprinted than the Declaration of Independence. And yet today, it's almost entirely forgotten."

Avlon hopes to bring the speech back into the spotlight in his new book, Washington's Farewell: The Founding Father's Warning to Future Generations. [...]

On Washington's warnings

Washington wanted to leave his friends and fellow citizens ... a series of lessons culled from his life and his understanding of history; really warnings about the forces he feared could destroy our democratic republic.

He came up with a series of warnings that are remarkably prescient, prophetic to us today: hyper-partisanship, excessive debt, foreign wars, particularly -- and this is almost eerie with the debate we're having over Russian hacking today -- the danger of foreign influence in our politics as a way of subverting sovereignty.

These were some of the forces he felt could destroy our democratic republic and he wanted to warn future Americans ... that these were the really important things to remember. ... To that extent, it's a talismanic document. It connects the past, Washington's present and the future.

On why Washington's speech isn't as famous today as it once was

It was the most famous speech in American history. It was taught in public schools. Students memorized it the way people do the Gettysburg Address today. But it's sort of the Old Testament to the Gettysburg Address' New Testament.

It's sort of these stern rules from a distant god of how to live and not this sort of hopeful, you know, poetic premonition on rebirth. So it was sort of eclipsed in the national memory. When Lin-Manuel [Miranda] brought it back for [the Broadway musical] Hamilton, it was really the first time in a long time it had gotten that kind of attention.

Thanks, LMM!

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


What New Orleans Can Teach Betsy DeVos About Charter Schools (Andrew Vanacore, 
Jan. 9th, 2017, Politico)

These ideas--choice, charter schools, vouchers--have all gained a foothold to one degree or another in struggling urban districts across the country, including in DeVos' own home turf of Detroit, where more than half of public school students now attend charter schools. But nowhere has the revolution achieved the kind of complete victory it has in the Crescent City in the years since Hurricane Katrina. The neighborhood attendance zones that define school options for families around the country have been abolished here. Soon, New Orleans may become the only big city in the country without a single traditional public school run by a central office; nearly all have been turned into charter schools--there are now more than 80 in all--and the five remaining holdouts may be converted in the next few months. A few thousand families take advantage of the state's voucher program, enrolling in local Catholic schools. And overall, test scores here have improved markedly.

But if the idea is to blow up traditional school systems around the country this way, there may be as much cautionary tale in New Orleans as success story. Just because one charter school system works, doesn't mean every charter school system works. Through more than a decade of policy changes and course corrections, New Orleans has discovered a lot of the ways that a system based on giving parents choice can go wrong. The solution, it has discovered, is not simply to retreat and allow market forces a free hand in delivering education. In contrast to some other states with big charter sectors--notably Michigan, where DeVos just helped kill a proposed state law that would have made it easier to close failing charter schools--Louisiana has been relatively aggressive in shaping the available options, repeatedly closing charters that underperform.

If there is a Betsy DeVos of New Orleans, it is Leslie Jacobs, a former insurance executive and school board member who has been one of the most tenacious advocates for the city's charters. She described the city's school system to me recently this way: In the ideological struggle over choice and charter schools "we're actually in the middle. Yeah, there are charters and there's autonomy, but charters don't get to pick their own enrollment and you're going to be held to a very high standards. There's nowhere else in the country that has this."

...publicly funded, open access and strictly regulated.
Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


NYPD archival photos reveal changes to NYC streets over 30 years (ROCCO PARASCANDOLA, 1/08/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The pictures, culled from NYPD archives, depict a true tale of two cities: The safest big city in America today, contrasted with the '80s and early '90s, when it was unsafe to walk through many neighborhoods during the day.

There's a 1984 view of the Port Authority Bus Terminal through a window pocked by a bullet hole, side by side with a more recent -- and ballistics-free -- photo.

There's the 1986 picture of a police officer along the side of a graffiti-tagged subway car -- and a 2016 shot of another officer next to a shiny new train.

Two other now-and-then images show an Alphabet City street corner in 1991 that resembles a war zone -- with a rubble-strewn lot, an abandoned truck and a boarded-up corner.

The today shot looks like a page from a real estate brochure, with a new apartment building occupying the same space.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Democrats are about to do a 180 on foreign policy. Just you wait. (Michael Brendan Dougherty, Jan. 9th, 2017, The Week)

Wars launched under Democrats are often lauded by many liberals as great patriotic exercises, vindicating our nation's commitment to human rights. When those same wars are prosecuted by Republicans, they ipso facto lack congressional oversight and authorization, and the connecting lines between U.S. action and the suffering of poor non-white innocents around the globe suddenly reveal themselves to the bleeding hearted.

In less than two weeks, Trump will assume the office of the presidency. He will inherit from Obama a U.S. military engaged in conflicts across the Islamic world. Will Democrats who either cheered or ignored these patriotic exercises of American power suddenly find it in themselves to oppose these wars as racist, imperialist actions of an arrogant unilateral superpower gone rogue?

...so long as the war remains confined to ISIS/Al Qaeda they can't afford to oppose it, particularly given the facts that every other country is now on board and that domestic terrorism is aimed at the cities in coastal states that they govern.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


U.S. Service-Sector Activity Expanded at Solid Pace in December, ISM Says (Ben Leubsdorf, 1/05/17, WSJ)

Growth in economic activity across the sprawling U.S. service sector was steady and solid in December, a sign of momentum for the broader economy headed into the new year. [...]

"With three of the most recent four readings from this index at a very solid level, including the last two, the message is one consistent with about a 3% pace of" growth in overall economic output, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., in a note to clients.

The services-providing side of the U.S. economy has continued to post solid growth in recent years despite choppiness in the manufacturing sector, which had been pressured by a strong dollar and the energy sector's slump. The headline ISM services index has remained above 50 continuously for nearly seven years; the last contractionary reading was in January 2010.

Private service-providing industries accounted for more than two-thirds of total U.S. economic output in 2015, according to the Commerce Department, and growth in those sectors appeared to remain solid last year. Total revenue at service-providing firms rose 5.3% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier, according to the latest government data, the strongest annual revenue growth since late 2014.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Ford's Bow to Trump Benefits Robots, Not Workers (Mark Gilbert, Jan. 5th, 2017, Bloomberg View)

Employing a human welder in a factory in the U.S. costs about $25 per hour including benefits, according to a 2015 study by the Boston Consulting Group; that drops to just $8 per hour for a robot, including installation, operating costs and maintenance. By 2030, "the operating cost per hour for a robot doing similar welding tasks could plunge to as little as $2 when improvements in performance are factored in," BCG said.

The rise of automation has had tangible financial benefits for the auto industry. Ford's annual revenue per employee, for example, has climbed 27 percent in a decade, although it's slipped a bit from its 2011 peak:

But it's not just factory workers who should be nervous about robots, software and automation. More than half a century after the world's first industrial robot, the Unimate #001, made its debut in a General Motors factory, Martin Ford's "The Rise of the Robots" won the 2015 Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award.

Ford, a software engineer with more than a quarter-century of experience in computer design, argued that technology threatens to revolutionize all kinds of workplaces, with machines becoming replacements for workers rather than tools for their use:

While lower-skill occupations will no doubt continue to be affected, a great many college-educated, white-collar workers are going to discover that their jobs, too, are squarely in the sights as software automation and predictive algorithms advance rapidly in capability. Employment for many skilled professionals -- including lawyers, journalists, scientists, and pharmacists -- is already being significantly eroded by advancing information technology. They are not alone: most jobs are, on some level, fundamentally routine and predictable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


What the G.O.P. Really Thinks of Trump (T.A. Frank, Jan. 9th, 2017, Vanity Fair)

The Senate is a beast of its own, and some of Trump's fiercest enemies there are fellow Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. So let's focus in this column on Republicans in the House. Very roughly speaking, what awaits Trump there are three groups. The first, a small one, loves his populist vision and intends to hold him to it on all fronts. The second, slightly larger, is made up of Republicans who are anywhere from half to three-quarters on board--they like Trump's line on trade, or immigration, or nationalism more broadly, while dissenting on Trumpian policies on spending, or taxes, or tariffs, or Russia. A third faction doesn't buy into populism at all and seems to view Trump like an uncontrolled bull, one they hope to rig up to a generator and harness for G.O.P. energy. I'll call them the Trumpists, the Freedomists, and the Ryanists.

Start with the Trumpists. Prior to the ascension of Trump, and before it had a name, Trumpism--a Pat Buchanan-esque philosophy of economic and military self-containment--was just one school of thought among Republican outliers in the House and Senate. Those who easily fit the category were few in number--fewer than five, would be my guess, and arguably as few as zero, if you define it narrowly enough. Jeff Sessions, who in 2013 advised Republicans to choose a "humble and honest populism" over Gang of Eight-style immigration bills, is one of them. Tennessee congressman Jimmy Duncan, a trade skeptic and reliable foe of illegal immigration--plus one of few Republicans to vote against authorizing George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq--is arguably another. There are a few more. But, again, it's a small group.

This makes the Trumpists important mainly as keepers of the flame. Whatever Trump does, he wants to keep this group on board. One line that I encountered when speaking to people in this orbit was that deficit spending on infrastructure would be necessary as a bandage during hard times. That is to say: putting the brakes on globalization--with tariffs, revised trade deals, and stricter immigration control--could play near-term havoc with the economy, even if it causes longer-term benefits. The way to ease the transition is to create lots of jobs--in the construction and repair of roads, bridges, tunnels, rail lines, and airports. While that is going on--in this hopeful scenario--the private sector will complete most of its adaptations and emerge in a couple of years ready to hire, with shiny new roads and bridges at its disposal to boot. This would require tolerating considerable deficit spending, which could mean losing Republican support but gaining some among Democrats, especially those who represent working-class districts.

It's all very simple, in theory, but such plans run with a thud into group two, which I'll call the "Freedomists." (No one in Congress, to my knowledge, goes by such a label, but I'm using it as a catchall for Republicans who dissent from the establishment.) These include the Tea Party caucus, although it exists more in name than in action, and the House Freedom Caucus, which was founded two years ago and has about 30 members. The Freedomists generally espouse limited government, and they have rebelled against Republican leadership on various issues, leading the charge to oust John Boehner as House Speaker in 2015. But the strongest glue bonding them has been fiscal hawkishness. (South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, who is among their number, will be Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget.)

Many of the Freedomists are sympathetic to Trump. They know what it's like to battle the establishment, and most see themselves as advocates for the little guy. Virginia congressman Dave Brat, famous as the underdog who defeated donor-class favorite Eric Cantor during a primary in 2014, is among them. Brat and his supporters view illegal immigration as a gift to the cheap-labor lobby, which, as Brat reminded me in conversation, gets all the benefits of low-paid employees while palming off the large attendant costs--an average of $10,000 a year to send each child of these workers to school--on middle-class taxpayers. Brat is also generally excited by the populism of the Trump movement and told me that he fears mainly that the kludgeocracy of Washington will impede efforts to create real change. But if Trump is hoping to levy trade tariffs or raise the debt ceiling, Brat is unlikely to join him. "When it comes to sticking points, the debt ceiling is going to be it," he says. "There would have to be some credible commitment to a pro-growth corporate-rate bill that has a trillion in repatriation or something like that to get my buy-in. Otherwise, it's a no."

As Brat and many other Freedomists see it, doing away with regulations that hamstring U.S. industry will make it competitive and equip it to fight off competition from China. In this view, no tariffs will be required, nor will we need any infrastructure stimulus, at least not one that involves increasing deficits. Simply cutting red tape and regulations will unleash an economic boom in itself and revive labor markets at home. If there are tough times for a year or two, we ride them out. Proposals to increase deficit spending will therefore cause a lot of Freedomists to jump ship, and some of them, like Walter Jones, have a record of doing so even when George W. Bush was in power. Since they are over 30 in number, the Freedomists can stand in the way of party-line legislation. Quite possibly, then, Trump will find that the Freedom Caucus are supporters in spirit but obstacles in practice.

This leaves the establishment G.O.P., now called the Ryanists. In theory, the Ryanist G.O.P. is Trump's biggest headache, since it's as in thrall to Bushism today as it was 15 years ago, happy to continue down the current path on trade, war, and immigration, with a repeal of Obamacare and cuts to Social Security and (by using vouchers) Medicare to boot.

And then you get to the Senate...

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Gallipoli was not Churchill's great folly (Ross Cameron, 4/11/11, Sydney Morning Herald)

The great and worthy goal of the campaign has been obscured by its retelling in a myth of courage and futility that is only half true. Gallipoli was all about Russia. [...]

The tsar pleaded with London and Paris for grain and guns. Others in the war cabinet saw Russia as a distraction from the German armies in nearby France but Churchill, first lord of the Admiralty, recognised the gravity of the tsar's position. He knew that if Russia fell, the entire German war machine would be hurled at the West and an ally would be cast into the abyss.

Russia offered no easy supply lines. The North Sea was too close to Germany and too often frozen and the Far East too distant.

Churchill forcefully argued for the least worst option: bust through the Dardanelles - the narrow sea passage from the Mediterranean leading towards the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, and the Black Sea.

Churchill's proposal bitterly divided the war cabinet and the military - Gallipoli has been political from the start. After seven weeks of rancorous debate he prevailed over his detractors but planning and execution of the campaign suffered.

Three naval-only attempts failed to secure the Dardanelles so troops (principally Aussies and Kiwis at first) landed on Ottoman soil on April 25, 1915. This attack on the heart of a great empire produced intense resistance from the "sick man of Europe". The very same day a far more bloody episode of history began: the systematic slaughter of the Armenian Christian minority in Ottoman lands, spawning the word ''genocide''.

Churchill would later write: ''The clearance of the Christians from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be.''

The first land attack stalled and reports quickly reached London and Sydney of unprecedented carnage. Gallipoli would fall to become the seventh bloodiest campaign of the war but at the time it had no peer in casualties. Outraged critics, the public, the press and his own prime minister turned on Churchill and within a month of the first troops hitting the beaches he was sacked from the war cabinet.

Churchill was relentless, publicly calling for 95,000 more troops to be sent to Gallipoli but securing only 25,000. Fresh boots made few gains and opposition to the campaign intensified. In October 1915 the British commander, General Ian Hamilton, was instructed to consider withdrawal but refused and was dismissed.

Hamilton's replacement, General Charles Monro, arrived at Gallipoli and was sufficiently appalled to order immediate evacuation. Churchill said of Monro: ''He came, he saw, he capitulated.''

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Stop Saying Trump's Win Had Nothing To Do With Economics (Ben Casselman, Jan. 9th, 2017, 538)

Economic hardship doesn't explain Trump's support. In fact, quite the opposite: Clinton easily won most low-income areas. But anxiety is a different story. Trump, as FiveThirtyEight contributor Jed Kolko noted immediately after the election, won most counties -- and improved on Romney's performance -- where a large share of jobs are vulnerable to outsourcing or automation. And while there is no standard measure of economic anxiety, a wide range of other plausible proxies shows the same pattern. According to my own analysis of voting data, for example, the slower a county's job growth has been since 2007, the more it shifted toward Trump.1 (The same is true looking back to 2000.) And of course Trump performed especially strongly among voters without a college degree -- an important indicator of social status but also of economic prospects, given the shrinking share of jobs (and especially well-paying jobs) available to workers without a bachelor's degree.

The role of economic anxiety becomes even clearer in the data once you control for race. Black and Hispanic Americans tend both to be poorer and to face worse economic prospects than non-Hispanic whites, but they also had strong non-economic reasons to vote against Trump, who had a history of making racist comments. Factoring in the strong opposition to Trump among most racial and ethnic minorities, Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties where residents had lower credit scores and in counties where more men have stopped working.2

The list goes on: More subprime loans? More Trump support. More residents receiving disability payments? More Trump support. Lower earnings among full-time workers? More Trump support. "Trump Country," as my colleague Andrew Flowers described it shortly after the election, isn't the part of America where people are in the worst financial shape; it's the part of America where their economic prospects are on the steepest decline.3

Teasing out cause and effect, of course, can be tricky, especially given that issues of race, economic status, education and social standing are so tightly linked in American society. But the economic anxiety explanation is consistent with what Trump supporters have been saying all along. More than a year ago, I visited Scott County, Iowa, where the unemployment rate was then 4.3 percent (it was an even lower 4.1 percent on Election Day). Nearly all the people I spoke to there were satisfied with their immediate economic situation. But when the conversation turned to the future, they were far more pessimistic.

"This is a county that 40 years ago, you could go to college and you'd be set for life, or you could come out of high school and get a job at Deere or Case or wherever and also be set for life with a solid, middle-class lifestyle," Jason Gordon, a local alderman, told me at the time. "That doesn't exist here anymore, and I don't think it exists anywhere anymore."

Scott County ended up voting for Clinton, but barely -- she won by less than 2 percentage points. Obama won it by nearly 14 points four years earlier.

None of this is to say that economic issues are the only, or even the primary, explanation for Trump's success. A recent paper from researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that racism and sexism predicted support for Trump better than economic dissatisfaction. But even that paper found that economic dissatisfaction was an important factor. In other words, the "economics or culture" argument is a false dichotomy. There's no reason that both forces couldn't matter; in fact, both did.

January 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Cruz, Texas governor meet with Taiwanese president in Houston (Reuters, 1/08/17)

Cruz, who represents Texas, said some members of Congress had received a letter from the Chinese consulate asking them not to meet with Tsai during her stopovers.

"The People's Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves," Cruz said in a statement. "This is not about the PRC. This is about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, an ally we are legally bound to defend."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


He Helped Topple a Dictator. In New York, He's Another Face in the Crowd. (Dionne Searcey|Jan. 6th, 2017M ny tIMES)

His name is Souleymane Guengueng, and he brought down a murderous African dictator.

In the 1980s, Mr. Guengueng was one of numerous people imprisoned and tortured during the brutal reign of President Hissène Habré in Chad, a landlocked country in central Africa. When he was released from prison after two and a half years, Mr. Guengueng began a quest for justice, meticulously recording the testimonies of survivors and the relatives of those who had been killed at the direction of Mr. Habré. He wound up with records detailing the abuse and murder of more than 700 people.

Human rights advocates collected his accounts and used them as critical pieces of evidence to pursue criminal action against Mr. Habré. The legal case was not an easy one. Finding a court to prosecute a head of state proved difficult. For more than 16 years, the case bounced between nations and continents, with Mr. Guengueng offering his personal plea for justice to anyone who would listen.

In May, in Dakar, Senegal, where Mr. Habré had lived in exile, the dictator was finally convicted. Next week, a court there will hear his appeal.

On the day of the guilty verdict, a defiant Mr. Habré, wearing dark glasses and with his head wrapped in white scarves as though he were bracing for a desert storm, raised his fists and yelled to supporters in the courtroom.

Mr. Guengueng was in the courtroom, too, his trademark hat on the seat beside him, flanked by human rights advocates who had pursued justice against other dictators. He had been a key witness in the trial. Tears spilled from his eyes, a mix of pride and revenge and sadness and relief.

"It was like an out-of-body experience for me," Mr. Guengueng, 67, said. "Habré is in prison now. Habré must be saying, 'Look at me now, he's in this place and I'm in prison.' "

For Mr. Guengueng, "this place" is a tidy, three-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, one of 160 apartments in a towering public housing complex on a busy, nondescript New York City street.

In the human rights world, Mr. Guengueng is a celebrity, sometimes even stopped on the street by people who recognize him when he travels across the globe. In New York, he is another face in the crowd. [...]

Despite the hardships in New York, Mr. Guengueng calls his time in America a success. His family has health care. His children have an education. He and most of his family have become American citizens. And Mr. Guengueng is thrilled with his new apartment.

"We're in paradise now," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Border Adjustability Is Already Fueling Tax Reform Controversy (Howard Gleckman, 12/08/16, Forbes)

Consider border adjustability--one way the tax code could treat imports and exports. Today's code taxes US firms on their worldwide income so that, at least in theory, profits earned overseas are taxed at the same 35 percent rate as domestic earnings. However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a firm either reinvests those profits in the US or distributes them to shareholders.

But the tax blueprint released by House Republicans last June goes a different route. It adopts a tax system that would be based on where a firm's products are consumed, rather than where they are produced or where the company is headquartered.

And the House plan does three other things: It would reduce U.S. corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent, below the average for developed countries. It would change the corporate income tax to a form of cash flow consumption tax. And would be border adjustable so that exports would be exempt from U.S. tax while imports would be taxed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Aide: Trump Accepts U.S. Intelligence On Russia Cyberattacks (Radio Liberty, 1/08/17)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump accepts the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, his incoming chief of staff says.

Reince Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman, said on January 8 that Trump "accepts the fact that Russia and other entities engaged in cyberattacks" against the country.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed claims that Moscow meddled in the election on his behalf, saying that those charges are the product of his political opponents trying to undermine his election victory.

Nevermind Congress, it will be fun to watch the Cabinet and their bureaucracy tool on him.
Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Remembering Vermont's Rich History as Maple Syrup Makers (Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, Jan. 7th, 2017, Valley News)

The shift from tin closes the door on a container that was critical in allowing the maple sugar industry to flourish 150 years ago.

"It wasn't until the Civil War that the maple syrup industry was born, with the introduction of the tin cans and the invention of metal spouts and evaporator pans," according to a history of maple sugar making by the University of Vermont's Agriculture Network Information Center. "Most early producers were dairy farmers who made maple syrup and sugar during the off-season of the farm for their own use and for extra income."

That transformation of maple sugaring into a salable commodity gave rise to the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association itself, which was founded in 1893.

The 1908 catalog for products from Dominion and Grimm advertised tin containers at 25 cents per case. Some people still remember what sugar making was like in the old days.

Harris Lyman, 81 and uncle to Dale Lyman, said his father, one of the first presidents of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, hauled his sap by horse to the family sugarhouse in Hartford's Jericho neighborhood.

After boiling, the sap was poured through filters into large milk cans, after which it was ladled, by hand and by funnel, from the milk cans into the individual tin containers.

Back then, they were just plain silver-colored tins, without any image at all on them, produced by, as Lyman remembers it, Crane Can Co. out of Boston.

Working in the August heat, plagued by flies, Lyman's father would use a dowel to tap a metal seal into place on each tin, and then screw the container shut. He found a niche in supplying gifts that corporations gave to their workers and customers.

"Pabst Blue Ribbon would take 6,000 half pints, and Westinghouse would take a few thousand half pints," Lyman said.

Lyman said that, when he was 6 years old, which would have been around 1941, he remembers watching as his father sat with a group of other sugar makers around the dining room table in their farmhouse discussing one of the earliest efforts to brand Vermont maple syrup as a distinct, and superior, product.

"The lithograph around the cans, I remember them picking what it would look like," Lyman said.

Just a few decades after the now-iconic lithograph was chosen, there were early signs that the tin can's days might be limited.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


The One Book Music Lovers Have to Read (Matthew Walther , January 8, 2017, Washington Free Beacon)

As a teenager, David Hajdu owned a large collection of "nearly unplayable" 45s that his mother acquired for him from the jukebox at the diner where she was a waitress. One of his favorites was Tommy James and the Shonells' "Hanky Panky," which he "treasured as the filthiest thing I had ever encountered." Working as a music journalist three decades later, he had the chance to interview Romano Mussolini, the jazz pianist and son of Benito, who, he said, "had a standing order for Blackshirt troops to confiscate any 78 rpm records that they found in enemy encampments." Il Duce "didn't care for" the American swing music his troops were pilfering on his son's behalf, but he was happy to pass the records along because "he knew they would give me happiness."

On every page of this book there is something--a memory, an observation, a wry description--that will make music fans smile. I say "fans" because it is hard to imagine that anyone who doesn't have opinions about Robert Crumb's cover art for the second Big Brother and the Holding Company LP--an eyesore--or the relative merits of Judy Collins's mid-'60s concept albums--they're brilliant--will get very far. Part-history, part-criticism, part-memoir, Love for Sale is too familiarly written and discursively organized to be an overview of what, Hajdu, the music critic for the Nation and a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, reluctantly calls "popular music." It is to a more conventionally authoritative all-purpose pop history what Odds & Sods is to Who's Better, Who's Best: digressive, self-indulgent, and vastly more amusing. [...]

This is a book full of unassailable verdicts and memorable quips. Paul Whiteman's surname, Hajdu says, "was a comic descriptor worthy of Dickens." Donovan's "Epistle to Dipsy" is "a spacey jamble of pseudo-poetic images" that a teenaged Hajdu "studied in hopes of learning what it was like to take those drugs we were being warned against in health class." "Yesterday" is overplayed; he would rather hear "Tell Me What You Say" because it is what he was playing on his tape deck in the car the first time he kissed a girl named Mary Jane. Punk "was narrowly defined, a formal art in a sphere where the standards were as rigid as those of, say, the early-music movement. At CBGB, three-chord, two-minute guitar-band songs became the new madrigals." Guided By Voices lyrics are "great-sounding gibberish," and the words to most Beatles tunes "mean nothing." Listening to music with Spotify and iTunes "inhibits perseverance and impedes challenge."

...is like their music before them.
Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


When Marriage Can Be Anything, Marriage Can Be Anything (William M Briggs,  January 8, 2017, The Stream)

It is only irrational animus, bigotry, and hatred that causes some to deny that human beings and fairground rides cannot marry. Love is love, and sometimes love extends to the soaring tracks, twisting hairpin curves, and thrilling loop-de-loops of roller coasters.

Yes. Two women have married, not each other, which would not be unusual these days, but each has married a roller coaster. Not the same roller coaster, of course; that would be absurd; different roller coasters.

One lady, a Miss Wolfe, 33, church organist, fell in love with the roller coaster in Knoebels Amusement Park, Pennsylvania. According to one report, "Although she faces discrimination from employers, most of her family and friends have been supportive. 'I'm not hurting anyone and I can't help it,' she said. 'It's a part of who I am.'"

Don't scoff. No one chooses to be an objectum-sexual; it is something which is forced upon one. What's that? What's an objectum-sexual? As defined by the second wedded lady, Linda, 56, who tied her knot to the backside of a roller coaster, an objectum-sexual is a person who "has romantic feelings for inanimate objects."

Psychology Today reports many are objectum-sexuals, folks who view their objects of love as "equal" partners. Who isn't for Equality? Reports are coming in from the across the globe of objectum-sexuals marrying smart phones, steam engines, video game characters, rocks, trees, dolls, electronic devices, radios, pillows, cars, and, yes, the Eiffel Tower.

Animus, bigotry, and hatred not only motivates people to deny the rights of objectum-sexuals, but also to disparage the needs and desires of self-sexuals. Self-sexuals are people who love best themselves, making it natural that the objects of their matrimonial instincts are, well, themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Columnist Nat Hentoff, a secular rabbi excommunicated for his activism, dies at 91 (Times of Israel, 1/08/17)

He was a bearded, scholarly figure, a kind of secular rabbi, as likely to write a column about fiddler Bob Wills as a dissection of the Patriot Act, to have his name appear in the liberal Village Voice as the far-right WorldNetDaily.com, where his column last appeared in August 2016.

Ellington, Charlie Parker, Malcolm X and I.F. Stone were among his friends and acquaintances. He wrote liner notes for records by Aretha Franklin, Max Roach and Ray Charles and was the first non-musician named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts. He also received honors from the American Bar Association, the National Press Foundation, and, because of his opposition to abortion, the Human Life Foundation. [...]

As a columnist, Hentoff focused tirelessly on the Constitution and what he saw as a bipartisan mission to undermine it. He tallied the crimes of Richard Nixon and labeled President Clinton's anti-terrorism legislation "an all-out assault on the Bill of Rights." He even parted from other First Amendment advocates, quitting the American Civil Liberties Union because of the ACLU's support for speech codes in schools and workplaces.

Left-wing enough to merit an FBI file, an activist from age 15 when he organized a union at a Boston candy chain, Hentoff was deeply opposed to abortion, angering many of his colleagues at the Village Voice and elsewhere. In 2008, he turned against the campaign of Barack Obama over what he regarded as the candidate's extreme views, including rejection of legislation that would have banned partial birth abortions.

Hentoff was born in 1925, the son of a Russian-Jewish haberdasher. Thrown out of Hebrew school, he flaunted his unbelief, even eating a salami sandwich in front of his house on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of fasting and atonement. In 1982, his opposition to Israel's invasion of Lebanon led to a trio of rabbis declaring he had been excommunicated.

"I only wished the three rabbis really had the authority to hold that court," Hentoff later wrote. "I would have told them about my life as a heretic, a tradition I keep precisely because I am a Jew."

He was educated as a boy at Boston's Latin School, alma mater to Ralph Waldo Emerson among others. But his best lessons were received at a local jazz joint, where Ben Webster and Rex Stewart were among those who took a liking to the teenage fan and became, Hentoff recalled, "my itinerant foster fathers." Back in the classroom, Hentoff would hide jazz magazines inside his textbooks.

In college, Northeastern University, Hentoff found a home at the Savoy Cafe and befriended Ellington, drummer Jo Jones and others. Ellington not only lectured him on music, but enlightened young Hentoff (who eventually married three times) on the loopholes in monogamy. "Nobody likes to be owned," Ellington told him.

After graduating, Hentoff worked as a disc jockey and moved to New York to edit DownBeat, from which he was fired in 1957, because, he alleged, he had attempted to employ an African-American writer. A year later, he joined the Village Voice and remained until he was laid off in December 2008.

"I came here in 1958 because I wanted a place where I could write freely on anything I cared about," Hentoff wrote in his final Voice column, published in January 2009. "Over the years, my advice to new and aspiring reporters is to remember what Tom Wicker, a first-class professional spelunker, then at The New York Times, said in a tribute to Izzy Stone: 'He never lost his sense of rage.' Neither have I."

The Pleasures and Contradictions of Being Nat Hentoff (Erik Tarloff, Jan. 7th, 2017, The Forward)

The title of David Lewis's documentary "The Pleasures of Being Out of Step/Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff" begs a central question: Has Hentoff, 89, famed social commentator, critic, jazz writer and activist, really spent his life being out of step? Or is that largely a romanticizing conceit?

If one considers the prevailing conformity of Eisenhower-era culture out of which his career first flowered, the answer, of course, is yes; a bearded, left-leaning, jazz-loving, African-American-befriending agnostic Jew was about as out of step as a person could get. But situated more narrowly within his own milieu, among his own kind, this East Coast child of the Great Depression who lived in the heart of Greenwich Village, frequenting its lively night scene while helping to forge the distinctive tone of its own local newspaper, has spent most of his life not only in step, but also frequently choreographing those steps for his confreres.

Nevertheless, Hentoff was, in his way, in the vanguard. He developed a love for jazz early in life, and unlike many fans of his generation, took it seriously as art music rather than as glorified dance music. He brought to his listening a quality of focused, sustained attention that has always been rare. In Lewis's film, Hentoff relates a story that seems as extraordinary as it is characteristic of the man: Unable to appreciate Charlie Parker's genius -- the ideas were too dense, he says, and came too quickly for him to grasp -- he followed a friend's advice and listened to Parker's records at half-speed, closely and repeatedly. Slowed down, the music gradually became comprehensible, its intricacies less opaque, its beauties less veiled, and he began to understand the scope of the talent on display. It is no accident that Hentoff was the first non-musician to be named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Musicians themselves sensed in him a kindred spirit, and many became his personal friends. Charles Mingus wrote in his memoirs that Hentoff was one of the few white men with whom he found it possible to form a deep, abiding friendship. The writer's admiration for his favorite artists was unfeigned, wholehearted and free of any consciousness of a racial divide. Interracial friendships were not so very rare in left-wing circles during the 1950s; nevertheless, there seems to have been a special quality of warmth and receptivity that Hentoff brought to these relationships.

Besides jazz, Hentoff's other passion was the First Amendment. He was as consistent -- and as fanatical -- about civil liberties and freedom of speech as he was about music. When American Nazis wanted to march through Skokie, Illinois, a town with many Holocaust survivors among its denizens, it caused a schism in liberal circles. Did hateful expression as ugly and provocative as that of the march qualify as protected speech? Many said no, but Hentoff was unwavering, publicly and vociferously supporting the ACLU in its defense of the Nazis. No doubt this position remains controversial to many. But as Margot Hentoff said of her husband, he tended to feel it necessary "to take things to an absolute position." [...]

With one exception. Mr. Lewis -- or perhaps it's Mr. Hentoff -- has a surprise for us up his sleeve, and that surprise is saved for the final ten minutes or so of the film. In the last decade, Hentoff turned violently against abortion. He became as vociferously pro-life as the most zealous evangelical Christian. In the film, he presents this change of heart as a logical extension of his belief in individual freedom -- a line of thought implicitly granting personhood to a developing fetus -- along with his longstanding opposition to capital punishment.


January 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Scott Parazynski Flew With John Glenn. He Is Also The Only Man To Climb Everest And Fly In Space. (Jim Clash, Jan. 7th, 2017, Forbes)

JC: How about Glenn's reactions aboard the flight itself?

SP: When John flew Mercury Friendship 7 in 1962, he was basically wearing his spacecraft. He had no room to get up and float. We called him a "rookie" on our Shuttle flight [laughs]. He had this great sense of wonder experiencing first-time weightlessness in three dimensions, and in seeing the full planet, not just through a tiny porthole but through large Shuttle windows on several orbits. It was a profound life experience for him. He also worked hard on the many experiments he took part in. We did flips and silly astronaut tricks, and he did them right alongside us! He was as happy as anyone I've ever seen in space.

JC: Compare your ascent of Mt. Everest with your first trip to space.

SP: People might imagine that I have a dramatic preference of one over the other. But, frankly, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison, and I would never trade either. The opportunity to fly in space is a profound life changer -- it's a Shirley MacLaine out-of-body experience to see your home planet from those altitudes, flying at such enormous speeds. You're kind of looking back on your former existence.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


In Statehouses Won By Republicans, the First Move Is to Consolidate Power By Weakening Unions  (Lee Fang, January 7 2017, The Intercept)

In Kentucky, Missouri, and New Hampshire, three states that flipped to unified Republican control, legislators have prioritized passing Right to Work, a law that quickly diminishes union power by allowing workers in unionized workplaces to withhold fees used to organize and advocate on their behalf.

If the GOP has stood for any one thing over the past century it is opposing the inflationary pressure of unionization.

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


US drops more bombs in Obama's final year of office than in 2015 (TERESA WELSH, 1/07/17, mcclatchy.com)

The U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs last year, 3,027 more than 2015.

According to an analysis of Defense Department data from the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan think tank, the majority of the bombs were dropped in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. leads an international coalition fighting the Islamic State group in both countries and has carried out air operations in attempt to reduce the area controlled by the terrorist organization.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Marital Histories and Economic Well-Being (Julie Zissimopoulos, Benjamin R. Karney, Amy Rauer, Rand Corporation)

Using panel data from the Health and Retirement Study the authors analyze the impact of a lifetime of marriage events on wealth levels near retirement. They find that unmarried widowed and divorced men and remarried men with more than one past marital disruption have lower housing wealth than continuously married men and women. Both financial and housing wealth are lower for the same marital categories of women. Each year spent married increases wealth by 4 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Why do Patriots keep winning? Hall of Fame coaches explain Bill Belichick's success (Tom Pelissero, Sep. 29th, 2016, USA Today)

Two of the seven living coaches enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame got to know Belichick from opposite perspectives, yet their initial response is almost identical when asked about the Patriots starting 3-0 this season with two young quarterbacks in place of suspended star Tom Brady.

"It certainly doesn't surprise me," Parcells told USA TODAY Sports. "I think one of Bill's great strengths is to take what he has momentarily, figure out who he's playing against, and then devise something that gives his team the best chance to be successful against the opponent -- that week, in that moment."

Said Dungy: "They do a great job of getting the players to adapt and understand that they can do different things. Those kind of situations, they don't bother them. He's the best adjustment coach in football, in adjusting to the strength of his players and masking the weaknesses of their team. It didn't surprise me at all." [...]

No matter who's at quarterback -- even Matt Cassel, with whom the Patriots finished 11-5 in 2008 after Brady blew out a knee in Week 1 -- certain traits carry over with Belichick teams.

-- They'll try to take away what you do best: "If you're a blitzing team, he's going to come up with things to take away the blitz," said Dungy, who's now an analyst for NBC's Football Night in America. "If we're playing them, he's not going to let Marvin Harrison have a 200-yard day. You know that -- but you don't know how."

-- They'll surprise you schematically: "We always told our team, the big thing is survive in the first quarter," Dungy said. "You don't know what you're going to get. You can't practice for what you may get. You have to just be able to adapt. But you could count on not having things be exactly the same as last time you played them, even if they had success with it."

-- They'll play whatever type of game Belichick thinks can win: "His system is flexible," Parcells said. "It can be complementary if it needs to be, as you saw last week. And you're not talking about someone who doesn't have a lot of experience in these endeavors. So there's a good chance, as he approaches these things, he has points of reference of games gone past."

--They'll make you beat them: "That's what I admire about the Patriots more than anything else," Dungy said. "I see seven or eight teams beat themselves every week. And then you watch (the Patriots), and they'll lose a couple games, but it's never because they self-destruct or they don't know what they're doing or they don't play situations right."

...is the recognition that football coaches are so inept that they won't be able to make counter-adjustments--Dungy being exhibit A. The only meaningful loss Belichick ever had to him was with the distinctively unbelichickian 2006-7 Pats (average age of team 27.4 years*), where loyalty to Super Bowl winning players left his squad exhausted in the 2nd half, especially the LBs his defense relies on--Bruschi (33); Vrabel (31); Seau (37); Colvin (29).

Of course, being Bill he learned the lesson, as the average age the last 5 seasons shows:

Patriots26.07 (15)25.95 (13)25.76 (11)25.88 (11)25.81 (9)

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Russia used hacks, propaganda, and RT to help elect Trump--intel report (SEAN GALLAGHER (US), 7/1/2017, Ars Technica UK)

In an appendix to the report, the agencies laid out a detailed, publicly-sourced analysis of RT's alleged propaganda operations, including television programming that promoted the Occupy Wall Street movement and focused on information countering US government domestic and foreign policy. RT, in the agency's assessment, used coverage of the Occupy Movement to promote the notion that change wasn't possible within the US democratic system and that only "revolutionary action" could affect real change.

Many of the ideas promoted by RT, such as coverage critical of "fracking" for natural gas in the United States, aligned both with domestic opposition to the US government and with Russia's own interest in curtailing US development of natural gas and reducing the price of the oil and gas upon which Russia's economy is highly dependent.

Occupy and the anti-fracking movement were just as unsuccessful as Wikileaks.  Thankfully it's only Russia we're fighting, not a serious enemy.  
Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


The enemy of my enemy: Egypt thaws toward Hamas (AVI ISSACHAROFF January 7, 2017, Times of Israel)

But in the new Middle East, everything is possible. It seems that the current Egyptian leadership, the bitter enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood (which it ousted, and of which Hamas is a subsidiary), has decided to change its behavior toward Hamas. This decision stems not from any sudden affection on Egypt's part for Hamas, but rather from Egypt's hatred of the Islamic State terror group.

This change in direction, which is already visible on the ground, has Israel concerned. Suddenly the Egyptians are opening the Rafah Border Crossing, including for the entry of merchandise. This week, high-ranking Hamas operatives said that former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, the incoming chief of its political wing, was planning a visit to Cairo in the near future -- a dramatically symbolic step.

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Echoes of Tel Aviv 1972 in Florida shooting that kills five (DAVID KOENIG January 7, 2017, Times of Israel)

The suspect in a deadly shooting Friday at a Florida airport used a gun that he had stored in his checked luggage, echoing a terror attack in 1972 at Israel's main airport, and raising questions about airport security and whether safety officials need to change the current rules.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


"Less Medicine More Health"  (Kathy Hare, The New Falcon Herald)

Today, we face a tidal wave of medical advice: Get an annual checkup, mammogram, colonoscopy, have your cholesterol and glucose levels checked; and be sure to monitor your blood pressure throughout the year. Should anything be amiss -- fear not! There is a drug or medical procedure for you.
But one man has been on a crusade for years. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch believes this routine testing is filled with pitfalls that may actually do more harm than good. In addition, he warns, while the latest and greatest drugs produce a resounding ka-ching for pharmaceutical companies, the side effects you may experience from these new inventions can be devastating.
In "Less Medicine More Health," Welch fights an uphill battle against a "First World" medical dilemma wherein "too much medical care has too little value." Needless to say, he is not the darling of the medical community. As a physician and professor at Dartmouth Medical School, much of his work revolves around "the effects of medical testing." A few years ago, he received notoriety when he questioned the wisdom of annual mammograms. In this book, he explains seven assumptions the medical profession and general public believe to be true. Unfortunately, some of these suppositions are downright false, while others are just wishful thinking.
Below, you'll find a quick overview of those assumptions.

January 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Republican Skepticism Grows Over Strategy on Health-Law Repeal (KRISTINA PETERSON AND STEPHANIE ARMOUR, Jan. 6, 2017, WSJ)

Republicans in both the House and Senate are expressing growing skepticism of their party's approach to repealing the Affordable Care Act, signaling potential peril ahead for a strategy that relies on nearly complete GOP unity.

In the House, some conservatives are balking at a budget document meant to serve as the vehicle to repeal the 2010 health law. Meanwhile, in the Senate, a growing number of Republicans are questioning the wisdom of repealing the law without knowing how they will replace it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Exclusive: Iran capitalizes on OPEC oil cut to sell millions of barrels - sources (Jonathan Saul, 1/06/17, Reuters)

Iran has sold more than 13 million barrels of oil that it had long held on tankers at sea, capitalizing on an OPEC output cut deal from which it is exempted to regain market share and court new buyers, according to industry sources and data.

In the past three months, Tehran has sold almost half the oil it had held in floating storage, which had tied up many of its tankers as it struggled to offload stocks in an oversupplied global market.

The amount of Iranian oil held at sea has dropped to 16.4 million barrels, from 29.6 million barrels at the beginning of October, according to Thomson Reuters Oil Flows data. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM