February 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is getting some very bad news about her favorite thing, school vouchers (Michael Hiltzik, 2/28/17, LA Times)

[T]he latest findings, which emerge from studies of statewide programs in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana, have left education experts stunned. In a nutshell, they find huge declines of academic achievement among students in voucher programs in those three states.

"These results are without precedent in the educational literature," says Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at the think tank New America. "Among the past results, none were as positive as these are negative."

A study released last February by a team of researchers led by Jonathan Mills of Tulane University found that students in Louisiana's expanded program lost ground in their first two years in the program. Those performing at average levels in math and reading -- that is, at about the 50th percentile -- fell 24 percentile points in math and eight points in reading after their first year in the program. In the second year, they improved slightly in math, though they still scored well below non-voucher students, and barely improved at all in reading.

Those results resembled December 2015 findings by Christopher Walters of UC Berkeley, Atila Abdulkadiroglu of Duke and Parag Pathak of MIT covering the Louisiana program's first year, which found that participation in the program "substantially reduces academic achievement."

The findings dismayed advocates of "school choice" such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an Ohio charter school advocacy group, which acknowledged, "This is all very bad news," though it noted that the 2015 study covered only a single year and therefore "ought to be taken with a grain of salt."

But things didn't look any better in Ohio in July, when the Fordham Institute released its own survey of the voucher program in that state. Voucher students, the study found, "have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.... Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school."

The third data point comes from Indiana, where a voucher program was sedulously promoted by former Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president. There, two researchers from Notre Dame have found that "voucher students who transfer to private schools experience significant losses in mathematics achievement" and no improvement in English compared to their records at their former public schools. A student who entered the Indiana program at the 50th percentile in math fell to the 44% percentile a year later, according to the study, which is still in progress.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


New England States Win Big in Best States Ranking (Tim Jones, 2/28/17, NECN)

Massachusetts and New Hampshire have been named as the first and second best states in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

More than 60 metrics were factored into the overall results, including health care, education and infrastructure.

The results place Massachusetts with the best education and second best health care.

New Hampshire reportedly has the best opportunity and third best education.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving Slowly: The Republicans' Wonk Gap (Neil Irwin, FEB. 28, 2017, NY Times)

[T]here's another element in the sluggish or nonexistent progress on major elements of the Republican agenda. Large portions of the Republican caucus embrace a kind of policy nihilism. They criticize any piece of legislation that doesn't completely accomplish conservative goals, but don't build coalitions to devise complex legislation themselves.

The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills.

The years of lock-step Republican opposition to President Obama's agenda is well known and rooted in ideology. But the aversion to doing the messy work of making policy really goes back further than that. Consider what happened in domestic policy after George W. Bush won re-election in 2004.

First, Mr. Bush sought to partly privatize Social Security, a plan that went nowhere in a Republican-led Congress. He pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, and conservatives scuttled that. Later, after Democrats won Congress in 2006, a majority of Republican House members voted against the financial rescue bill known as TARP in 2008, even as a president of their own party said it was needed to avert an economic calamity.

The last time congressional Republicans have done the major lifting of making domestic policy was Mr. Bush's first term, a productive time that included an expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs, the No Child Left Behind education law, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that reshaped securities law and tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

But that's now a decade and a half ago. Only 51 of the 238 current House Republicans were in Congress then -- meaning a significant majority of Republican House members have never been in Congress at a time when their party was making major domestic policy.

"The vast bulk of the Republican conference were elected on howls of protests against Obama's agenda, but governing is a very different skill," said Michael Steel, who was a top aide to former Speaker of the House John Boehner, and is now a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies. "It requires a different kind of muscle, and that muscle has atrophied."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The arrow of history points upward : There is a big gulf in many Americans' understanding of global events: wonderful things are happening, just not here.  (Gregg Easterbrook, 2/28/17, Bloomberg)

A generation ago, 50 percent of humanity was malnourished, with calamitous famines widely predicted. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, that malnutrition has declined to the lowest level in human history. Today only 12 percent of the world's population goes hungry. Of course 12 percent is too high, but the number means there are more than 6 billion people who eat sufficient meals. That's four times the total number of people alive when Theodore Roosevelt was the United States president.

Per-capita production of grain, beef, poultry, and dairy is rising faster than population almost everywhere in the world, in no small part owing to efforts supported by the U.S. [...]

The American media pays considerable attention to violence and air pollution in the developing world, as well it should. What about progress? Most Americans don't know that global poverty is in dramatic decline, again with a U.S. connection. A 2013 survey of the U.S. and United Kingdom by Novus, a social-change organization in Sweden, found that two-thirds of Americans and Britons believe destitution in the developing world has doubled in recent years. Actually, extreme poverty is less than half of what it was not so long ago.

The World Bank reports that the number of people mired in extreme poverty--defined as living on less than $1.90 per day--dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to less than 10 percent, the lowest fraction in history, in 2015, again latest year for which statistics are available. That's a drop from 2 billion people in 1990 to less than 700 million today.

Taking into account population growth, from 1990 to 2015, the share of humanity that does not live in deep poverty rose from 3.4 billion to 6.5 billion. In the current generation 3 billion people--most of them in developing nations--have joined the ranks of those who are not impoverished.

Pity the poor Malthusians....

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


JPMorgan Software Does in Seconds What Took Lawyers 360,000 Hours (Hugh Son, February 27, 2017, Bloomberg)

At JPMorgan Chase & Co., a learning machine is parsing financial deals that once kept legal teams busy for thousands of hours.

The program, called COIN, for Contract Intelligence, does the mind-numbing job of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June, consumed 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Trump reportedly said JCC threats may be trying to 'make others look bad' (JTA AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 28, 2017)

US President Donald Trump reportedly said that a wave of threats against Jewish communal institutions may be a false flag.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish and a Democrat, described a meeting of state attorney generals and Trump on Tuesday to a BuzzFeed reporter.

Trump called the wave of bomb threats in recent weeks forcing the evacuation of nearly 100 Jewish community centers and other institutions countrywide as "reprehensible," Shapiro said. But the US president also added: "Sometimes it's the reverse, to make people - or to make others - look bad," according to Shapiro's account.

Only the fact that he's such a nitwit prevents thinking he's purely malevolent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Painting veterans George W. Bush's way to give back: 'I was just so honored to be their commander-in-chief' (Julie Fancher, 2/28/17, Dallas Morning News)

 A few years after former President George W. Bush took up painting, he began working with Fort Worth-based art teacher Sedrick Huckaby. The teacher, who had seen a series of paintings Bush had done of world leaders, suggested Bush now paint the portraits of people nobody knows.

"It just dawned on me, why not honor these vets?" Bush, 70, said in a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News at the George W. Bush Center. "And not only honor them, but draw attention to what we are doing at the Bush Center, which is how do we get them the best help we can get them?"

Sixty-six portraits and a four panel-mural of 98 service members and veterans will be featured in Bush's new book, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors, which will be released Tuesday.  [...]

Bush said he used his painting to try to "capture a sense" of what the veterans are dealing with as they recover from their injuries.

Retired Army Capt. Jae Barclay was seriously injured in 2006 when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device while deployed in Afghanistan.

Barclay, who lives near Houston, was one of only two survivors. Three others died. He suffered burns on nearly half of his body and spent the next 2 1/2 years at the hospital and is a two-time purple heart recipient.

After medically retiring in 2008 he now works as an associate broker for an insurance company.

"I don't want to be known as the guy who got wounded in Afghanistan," he said. "I started off early being angry and depressed ...but for me it was talking about it, talking it through. I didn't want to let some degenerate with a garage door opener decide what my life was going to be. That was the biggest thing for me, I decide what my life is going to be, not someone else."

He said after playing in the Bush Center's Warrior Open golf tournament he has gotten to know both George W. and Laura Bush.

"The first time I met him was in the hospital ... he walked up and he goes, 'It looks like your modeling career is over,' and everyone started laughing," Barclay said. "Fast forward to those golf tournaments, and it's cool he knows me on a personal level. We can talk and tell jokes, and it shows he really cares about the guys that stood on the wall and protected the country."

He said he was honored to be featured in the book and painted by his former commander-in-chief.

"It's awesome, it really does look a lot like me and I'm blown away" Barclay said. "It's something my family and I will cherish forever."  

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Why Are More Young Americans Getting Colon Cancer? (Richard Harris, 2/28/17, NPR)

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, says what look like additional cancers in people under 50 may simply be cases that are being diagnosed earlier than they would have been. Some people are getting colonoscopies for reasons other than cancer screening these days, and doctors are surely coming upon early cases of colon cancer they might not have turned up so soon.

There's some evidence to back that claim: While the rate of new cases of colorectal cancer has been climbing in under-50 Americans since the mid-1990s, the death rate among that group has remained remarkably flat. And death rates may be the more telling statistic.

Something similar happened with breast cancer in the 1980s -- there was a temporary spike in the number of breast cancers diagnosed, as large numbers of women went in for mammography screening for the first time. But death rates didn't rise, and incidence rates of breast cancers fell again after that uptick.

Posted by orrinj at 11:56 AM


It's a golden age for affordable flying. No, really (Jon Ostrower, February 28, 2017, CNN Money)

Shortly after Pan American Airways started flying from New York to London in 1959, a round trip ticket cost what would be $3,800 today -- in economy class.

More than a half-century later, Pan Am is long gone and newcomer Norwegian Air Shuttle ran a special promotion with $65 one-way tickets on 10 new routes from the northeast U.S. to Ireland and Scotland.

Those fares sold out in less than a day. They're also a signal that, with new low-cost carriers spreading their wings across the U.S., the Atlantic and Pacific, we're heading into a new golden age of affordable air travel.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Trump's Cabinet secretaries wait for White House to fill jobs (Sarah Westwood, 2/27/17, Washington Examiner)

As President Trump's Cabinet secretaries settle into their new offices across Washington, they could find their earliest efforts hampered by vacancies stretching several layers down the chain of command at each agency.

Of the 1,212 administration jobs that require Senate confirmation, just 14 were successfully filled during the first month of Trump's presidency. [...]

Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University, said the quality of political appointees below the Cabinet level can have a dramatic effect on how administration policies are ultimately executed.

"Do they affect the operation of government? The short answer is very much," Reeher said. "These are the folks who actually attempt to implement the policy changes that the administration is trying to push down from above."

Reeher said the relationships between politically appointed officials in top positions and the career bureaucrats who make up the rest of the federal government are "critical" for ensuring policies get put in place smoothly.

"If these lower appointments are not being thoroughly vetted for subject expertise and management savvy, if the appointments become bottle-necked for a long period of time, if the filling of the positions becomes rushed -- any of these conditions could create some real problems for successful change, agency morale and ultimately effective government," Reeher said.

No one wants him to be effective anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Most Trump Supporters Want A Path To Citizenship For Undocumented Immigrants  (Sean Cockerham, 2/28/17, McClatchy)

As President Donald Trump prepares to address Congress on Tuesday for the first time, a new McClatchy-Marist poll finds that even 72 percent of Trump's own supporters want a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


U.S. oil exports are blowing past expecations (Alayna Treene, 2/28/17, Axios)

U.S. crude oil exports have exceeded 1.2 million barrels a day, per the Financial Times. That follows the lifting of a 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports in 2015, and far exceeds baseline projections.

The tradingest presidency ever.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Soda companies, supermarkets report 30-50 pct. sales drop from soda tax (Julia Terruso, 2/21/17, Philly News)

Two months into the city's sweetened-beverage tax, supermarkets and distributors are reporting a 30 percent to 50 percent drop in beverage sales and are planning for layoffs.

One of the city's largest distributors says it will cut 20 percent of its workforce in March, and an owner of six ShopRite stores in Philadelphia says he expects to shed 300 workers this spring.

"People are seeing sales decline larger than anything they've seen up to this point in the city," said Alex Baloga, vice president of external relations at the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Trump accuses Obama of orchestrating a campaign of leaks and protests (David Gilbert on Feb 28, 2017, Vice)

In an interview with Fox News' Fox and Friends show, which aired Tuesday morning, Trump accused Obama and his "people" of organizing the waves of protest which have come to symbolize the first month of his administration. He also claimed they were behind the unprecedented leaking of classified information to the media, which the president has strongly criticized in recent weeks.

For a guy who calls everyone else losers, he has a strange propensity for claiming others are treating him like a prison wife.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Rep. Marsha Blackburn's false claim that two key Obamacare elements are 'Republican provisions' (Glenn Kessler,  February 28, 2017, Washington Post)

Among the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010 with zero votes from Republican lawmakers, are provisions that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on a preexisting condition and requiring that adult children up to the age of 26 can be carried on their parents' health plan. As Republicans craft a replacement for Obamacare, many have suggested that these ideas will be carried forward.

Yet we were surprised when we saw that, in response to a question about whether these provisions would be in the replacement, Rep. Marsha Blackburn told people in her district that these were actually "two Republican provisions which made it into the [Obamacare] bill."

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Trump's First Month: An Evaluation (Molly Ball, Feb. 28th, 2017, The Atlantic)

Just over a month ago, Donald Trump thundered into the White House with a bold declaration. "We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it," he said. Instead, he contended, "Now arrives the hour of action."

Trump promised to steamroll the Washington status quo, disrupting both Republicans and Democrats. He would replace the elite consensus of both parties with a new, populist-nationalist philosophy, and bully Congress into submission.

One month in, Trump has certainly succeeded in kicking up a frenzy of news and controversy. It surrounds him at all times, like the cloud of dust around Pig-Pen in Peanuts. But when it comes to taming Washington, the results are decidedly mixed. Instead, it is the Republican Party--in the form of Congress and conservative institutions--that seems mostly to be in charge, and Trump who is being tamed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


A divided White House still offers little guidance on replacing Obamacare (Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein, Feb. 26th, 2017, Washington Post)

[L]awmakers, state leaders and policy experts who have discussed the matter with either Trump or his top aides say the administration is largely delegating the development of an ACA substitute to Capitol Hill. The president, who attended part of a lengthy health-care policy session his aides held at Mar-a-Lago a week ago, appears more interested in brokering specific questions, such as how to negotiate drug prices, than in steering the plan's drafting.

"The legislative branch, the House first and foremost, is providing the policy," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who noted that the White House lacks "a big policy shop" and that Price and some key principals just recently got in place.  [...]

In the current process, the White House becomes "the political sounding board" in altering Obamacare, as the 2010 law is known, "and the final voice of reason is what the Senate can accept," Cole said. [...]

Other White House advisers, according to multiple individuals who asked for anonymity to describe private discussions, have emphasized the potential political costs to moving aggressively. That group includes Kushner, NEC Director Gary Cohn, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


In Arizona, the mandated use of E-Verify has had mixed results (Octavio Blanco|Feb. 28th, 2017, CNN Money)

Arizona, long considered ground zero in the fight against undocumented immigration, was the first state to mandate that all employers use E-Verify beginning in 2008. Several other states have started requiring the use of the verification system in some manner since then, including Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Like Trump, Arizona's lawmakers hoped that E-Verify would reduce the number of undocumented workers and open up job opportunities for residents legally authorized to work in the state. But, according to one study from researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California, that wasn't exactly the case.

While the number of undocumented workers fell dramatically in the years following the mandate, the number of opportunities that were made available for legal residents didn't materialize at nearly the same rate, said researchers Magnus Lofstrom and Sarah Bohn, who conducted the study for the San Francisco-based think tank.

Lofstrum and Bohn examined E-Verify's impact on Arizona's workforce between 2007 and 2009 and found that the state's undocumented population declined by about 92,000 people, or about 17%, as workers left the state to look for jobs.

Many of the workers who remained, however, were pushed into so-called "informal employment," working as day laborers or independent contractors in fields like construction, lawn care and janitorial work. The self-employment rate for unauthorized, less-skilled men doubled from 8% to 16% between 2007 and 2009, the researchers found.

For employers, it was easier to hire these workers because Arizona does not mandate the use of E-Verify for independent contractors and in many cases they were paid under the table, Lofstrom said. For the workers, however, it likely meant "fewer benefits, lower wages, and potential for worsened working conditions," the researchers wrote.

Lofstrum and Bohn also found that the mandatory use of E-Verify did very little to improve employment opportunities for the workers who were authorized to work in the state. In fact, the employment rate for low-skilled working-age men authorized to work in Arizona was estimated to have fallen from about 70% to 66% between 2007 and 2009, according to the researchers' analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey.

"There just weren't enough legal workers ready, willing and able to take the jobs that unauthorized workers are leaving," Lofstrom told CNNMoney.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


This CEO's Small Insurance Firm Mostly Turned A Profit Under Obamacare. Here's How (APRIL DEMBOSKY, 2/28/17, KQED Public Media)

[T]he administrators of a smaller, California-based insurer -- Molina Healthcare -- managed to turn a modest profit in the early years of the health law. How did they do it?

"We understood the demographics of the people that we're serving a little better," says Dr. J. Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare, "because we've been doing it for so long." [...]

In 1994, David Molina started his health insurance company, focusing on getting care to patients on Medicaid -- government health insurance for the poor and disabled.

That is what positioned Molina Healthcare to move into the Obamacare marketplaces so smoothly, Mario Molina says -- most people who signed up for Obamacare plans are low-income.

"It's a different population most insurance companies haven't been interested in," he says.

For example, transportation is an issue for his company's customers. They often take the bus to medical appointments, he says, so would rather see a doctor close to home, than at an academic hospital 30 miles away.

"We don't contract with every hospital and every doctor," he admits. "It's not everyone, but it's enough so that you can find a doctor and the hospital and the services you need." His company now operates in 12 states and Puerto Rico. [...]

Some larger insurers are accustomed to creating health plans for big companies, who often want more doctors and more benefits included, in hopes of attracting and retaining top employees. But plans like that cost more.

"They're looking at things sort of from the top down, and we're looking at things from the bottom up," Molina says.

He's used to running a low-cost, low-margin business, while big guys like Humana, Aetna and UnitedHealth aren't. Industry analysts say that's why some of the big players lost money with Obamacare.

"It's easier to work up from a low-cost position than it is to work down from a higher-cost position," says Josh Weisbrod, a health care consultant with Bain & Company. "For an insurer that is used to selling employer plans with rich benefit designs and broad networks, it is difficult for them to transition that to a narrow network of lower cost providers."

The bigger insurers will have to learn to run their business better as we get rid of wasteful employer plans.
Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Don't Tell Trump, but a Major Global Trade Deal Just Came into Force -- and the U.S. Is a Part of It (Alejandro Reyes, Feb 27, 2017, TIME)

Proponents of free trade will lament the stalling and possible demise of the TPP, but will take comfort in reports that some signatories including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore are determined to find a way to keep it alive. Yet there's greater consolation on the horizon. On Feb. 22 Chad, Jordan, Oman and Rwanda ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), bringing the total number of World Trade Organization (WTO) members that have adopted the accord to 112, two more than necessary for it to come into force. 

The TFA is the biggest global trade deal in over two decades and arguably the most significant multilateral agreement few people have heard about. A scant 30 pages (TPP ran to nearly 5,600), the TFA is about the nitty gritty of trade, with measures to speed up the movement, release and clearance of goods, both at their destination and in transit. It calls for closer collaboration among customs and other national authorities, and it provides technical help for countries that need it to implement their commitments. Technical stuff, but a valuable lubricant for the wheels of trade, which have been grinding of late due to the global recession and the years of impasse in the Doha Round of global trade talks.

The TFA would shorten the average time to import goods by over a day and a half, a 47% improvement. Export time would be cut by nearly two days -- a 91% advantage. Global merchandise exports are set to jump by up to $1 trillion, greater than the benefits from eliminating all existing tariffs. Developing countries could increase the number of products they export by 20%, while least-developed economies would do so by up to 35%.
More important is the TFA's effect on the domestic policies of signatories, including the U.S. It will spark structural reforms and lead to revisions in laws and the promotion of smarter regulation. The TFA also introduces a new model for global agreements. Countries are able to set their own timetable for compliance at a pace allowed by the capacity of each economy. Also included in the pact is a fund to help developing and least-developed countries implement the deal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Faith, Radicalism, and Islam without Extremes (Featuring Mustafa Akyol and Caleb O. Brown, FEBRUARY 22, 2017, Cato Daily Podcast)

How do Islam and classical liberalism diverge? Can there be a reconciliation? Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam without Extremes, comments.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


'He's a Performance Artist Pretending to be a Great Manager' (Michael Kruse, Feb. 28th, 2017, Politico)

Mere months into Trump's time as the owner of an airline--the purchase was finalized that June--Nobles already had concerns. Trump had overpaid with more than $400 million of borrowed money, he seemed most interested in cosmetic touches like the size of the "T" on the tails of the planes, and the debt service quickly became crippling. Once, Trump suggested cutting costs by flying with two pilots, not three, and Nobles had to tell him that would be illegal.

Trump's appetite was greater than his ability to manage what he had acquired. Last week on the phone, as Trump passed the one-month mark in the White House and prepared for tonight's speech before a joint session of Congress, Nobles told me that what he sees now is what he saw then. "His behavior to date," he said, "is consistent with the behavior I saw 30 years ago." [...]

"I don't think there's anything of scale that he's had his hands on that he hasn't made a hash of," biographer Tim O'Brien said in an interview last week.

"Ramping up," fellow biographer Gwenda Blair added, her tone dry, "is something he's maybe not so good at."

"When we worked together," Nobles said, "he had three c[*****]s in Atlantic City and he had the shuttle, and all four companies had their own operating systems, and I went to him and said, 'Why don't we combine these things?' And he said, 'No. I want those guys competing against each other. I think it will make all of them stronger.' Any normal businessman I know would have said, 'Let's take advantage of the economies of scale here.' He didn't think like that."

And as the '80s flipped to the '90s, the consequences of Trump's unorthodox decisions were clear. "All those businesses are gone, of course," Nobles said, "because they weren't as successful as they could have been--and should have been." [...]

"He's not a great manager," O'Brien said. "He's a performance artist pretending to be a great manager."

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Fidelity slashes online trading fees (Kathryn Vasel, February 28, 2017, CNN Money)

Online trading just got a lot cheaper for Fidelity customers.

The brokerage firm has reduced its online retail prices for trading U.S. stocks and ETFs to $4.95 from $7.95.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


A scientist's new theory: Religion was key to humans' social evolution (Julie Zauzmer,  February 27, 2017, Washington Post)

In humans' mysterious journey to become intelligent, socializing creatures like no other in the animal world, one innovation played an essential role: religion.

That's the theory that a preeminent evolutionary scientist is setting out to prove.

"You need something quite literally to stop everybody from killing everybody else out of just crossness," said Robin Dunbar. "Somehow it's clear that religions, all these doctrinal religions, create the sense that we're all one family."

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Yemen SEAL Raid Has Yielded No Significant Intelligence: Officials (CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, WILLIAM M. ARKIN and KEN DILANIAN, 2/28/17, NBC news)

Last month's deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced "actionable intelligence," senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


The Fight for Obamacare Has Turned (David Leonhardt, Feb. 28th, 2017, NY Times)

Why are Republicans suddenly having such a hard time agreeing about their No. 1 priority? They've run into two obstacles: reality and public opinion.

Let's start with reality. Republican leaders are now paying the price for their dishonest approach to fighting Obamacare. [...]

They blamed Obamacare (sometimes fairly, mostly not) for almost every health care problem. They've promoted the same fallacy for which conservatives often mock liberals: the free-lunch fallacy.

There is no free lunch on health care. Your health "costs" pay for my health "benefits," and vice versa. If Trump promises a less expensive system, he is also promising to eliminate some care. He could cut wasteful care -- and should -- but Republicans caricatured the Obama administration's attempts as "death panels" without offering their own steps.

Now that they're running the government, free-lunchism has consequences. Their promise to scrap taxes on the wealthy, for example, leaves them without money to cover people. That's why the independent Congressional Budget Office keeps concluding that the various Obamacare replacement plans would deprive millions of people of insurance. [...]

Most Americans still have complaints about Obamacare. So do I. (Some subsidies are too small, as are the penalties for not signing up.) But they increasingly realize that no serious alternative exists -- still. Getting rid of Obamacare means taking away health insurance, and medical care, from millions of people.

No wonder the polls have flipped, and more than half the country now supports the law.

One group to watch is Republican governors. They met in Washington this weekend and tried to come up with an approach that would help their colleagues in Congress. But they couldn't. Too many Republican governors understand that a repeal would create major trouble. 

February 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


Remembering Trump's Anti-Elitist Brand (PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER, February 26, 2017, National Review)

 Now, I didn't vote for Trump, and I'm still spooked by much of his administration on the fronts of both competence and ideology. On the competence level, I certainly appreciate the willingness of Generals McMaster and Mattis to serve, and I hope they can win the confidence of our commander-in-chief. There's a lot to worry about if those relationships don't develop. Still, we can also see that "America first" begins as a national-security message. Trump is right to emphasize the need for our country to achieve energy self-sufficiency, to restore morale to our armed forces, and to arm up by technologically upgrading weapons systems and cybersecurity to make our nation less vulnerable. As Walter Russell Mead points out, those can hardly be construed as policies favorable to Russia or China -- our leading rival nations. 

On the ideological front, I would urge Republicans to remember that Trump was an opponent of the elitists of both parties -- as well as of the bipartisan interlocking directorate of elites in undisclosed locations symbolized by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. 

It's easy to see the hostility between Trumpism and the Democrats' "politically correct" and progressive experts. But there's also the hostility between Trumpism and the Republicans' oligarchic libertarians. Thinking along those lines even allows us to remember that just as Sanders ran to the left of Clinton and her identity politics, Trump ran to the left of the Republicans who think of American citizens as nothing but productive individuals.

...the simple fact is that, however voters viewed his politics, they gave more votes to both Hillary and the establishment Republicans on their ballots.  Donald was carried into office, barely, by the party.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


He yelled 'Get out of my country,' witnesses say, and then shot 2 men from India, killing one (Mark Berman and Samantha Schmidt February 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Authorities in Kansas filed first-degree murder charges against a man accused of opening fire in a bar there, killing one Indian man, injuring two other people and causing fears about bigotry to reverberate across the globe.

According to witness accounts, the gunman reportedly told two of the people who were shot -- both Indian men who work for Garmin, the technology firm -- to "get out of my country" before opening fire and had also used racial slurs during the Wednesday evening shooting.

Multiple law enforcement agents launched an investigation into the deadly shooting inside Austin's Bar and Grill in Olathe, a city about 20 miles southwest of Kansas City. Even as authorities said they had not yet identified a motive for the attack, relatives of the Indian men said they feared the shooting was connected to a climate of fear and xenophobia in America.

The father of one of the people injured pointed to the election of President Trump, who has routinely described a threat posed to Americans from people outside the country's borders, and pleaded with parents in India "not to send their children to the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Suspected German Islamist 'used to be neo-Nazi' (Deutsche Welle, 2/27/16)

The suspected Islamist terrorist, arrested in the central German town of Northeim last week, previously expressed neo-Nazi sympathies, a press report has revealed.

Citing anonymous insider information, news magazine "Der Spiegel" said that investigators had tracked down a YouTube channel and a Facebook profile belonging to Sascha L. that showed he had previously railed against Muslims and anti-fascists in the country.

In 2013, the now 26-year-old posted videos in which he spoke of a "creeping death of the people," because of Muslims trying to impose sharia law in Germany. "Even a dog knows where it belongs. And where do you belong? Don't be stupider than a dog and save the German population from this planned extinction!" he was quoted in "Der Spiegel" as saying.

The "death of the people" rhetoric, as well as a specific white mask he wore in some of the videos, suggested that Sascha L. then identified with the neo-Nazi campaign known as the "The Immortals," which carried out a series of flash mobs in Germany around 2012. There was another video dated May 2013, entitled "Tips for fighting cockroaches," which called for attacks on immigrants in Germany.

But it appears that Sascha L. converted to Islam some time in 2014, when he faced a court charged with spreading "Islamic State" messages online.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Conservatives Made Their Bed With Milo, Now They Have to Lie In It : Disinviting him from CPAC won't wash their sins. (Shikha Dalmia, February 26, 2017, Reason)

That it took these pedophilia comments for conservatives to finally turn on Yiannopoulos speaks volumes about how low their movement has fallen. Yiannopoulos was a hate-peddling provocateur long before this. By inviting him to speak at universities around the country, many college Republicans apparently thought they were taking a brave stance against the forces of political correctness, and scoring one for free speech. In fact, they were discrediting their own movement by allying themselves with a vicious troll -- demonstrating that they hate their enemies more than they love their alleged principles.

But if Republicans have a right to invite Yiannaopoulos, others have the right to judge them for the company they keep. And Yiannopoulos is very, very bad company.

For starters, he writes - or wrote -- for Breitbart, a go-to site for the alt-right movement, a loose conglomeration of long-standing nativist outfits such as VDare and FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), and white supremacists. They all hate the left's political correctness and multiculturalism not because it offends America's commitment to individual rights and universalistic notions of justice, but because it comes in the way of their ethno-nationalistic project -- which the site aids by peddling a constant stream of the vilest xenophobia (as I wrote here).http://theweek.com/articles/611274/dystopian-antiimmigration-book-camp-saints-really-racist-why-are-bunch-smart-conservatives-praising

You can't expect to find ordered minds on the disordered wings.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Iowa lawmakers pass bill to curb public sector unions (Reuters, 2/27/17)

Republican lawmakers in Iowa approved legislation on Thursday to limit the powers of public sector unions to negotiate for state and local employees, restrictions similar to those previously enacted in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Both the House of Representatives and the state Senate voted in favor of the measure, which was opposed by Democrats and unions who have said that it will gut collective bargaining rights.

Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad supports the legislation, which paves the way for Iowa to join Wisconsin and Michigan in imposing restrictions on public sector unions. Branstad said it was needed to save money for the state.

"These reforms are intended to rebalance the collective bargaining system which has not been updated in more than 40 years," Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said in a statement Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Tom Perez is elected leader of a party in crisis (The Economist, Feb 27th 2017)

Mr Perez hails from a family of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mr Ellison is a black Muslim and Ms Brazile is a black Catholic. The ethnic background of the top brass of the DNC reflect what could become the party's biggest source of strength: their popularity in Latino, black and other minority communities. "We need a chair who can not only take the fight to Donald Trump, but make sure that we talk about our positive message of inclusion and opportunity and talk to that big tent of the Democratic Party," said Mr Perez in a speech to the more than 400 members of the DNC. He presented himself as the leader who can help the party overcome its "crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance".

So all they, like President Bannon, have to offer is racial politics, no actual policies to appeal to American voters as a citizenry?  They are what they decry.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


President Trump: 'Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated' (Becca Stanek, 2/27/17, The Week)

"It's an unbelievably complex subject," Trump said, while outlining the plans his administration has come up with to repeal and replace ObamaCare. "Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Ex-President Bush backs 'welcoming' U.S. immigration policy, free media (Reuters, 2/27/17)

Asked whether he supported Trump's travel ban on people from seven majority Muslim countries, Bush said, "I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and that upholds the law."

Bush, whose presidency was shaped by the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on America, also called for religious tolerance.

"One of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all," he said.

After the attacks, Bush had made a point of supporting Muslims and praising Islam's teachings as peaceful.

Trump has branded some news outlets as "the enemy of the people" but Bush said: "I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account," he said.

"It's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power."

He said that during his presidency he tried to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept the concept of an independent news media. "It's kind of hard to tell others to have an independent, free press and we're not willing to have one ourselves," Bush told NBC.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM

NO ONE HATES JUST MEXICANS (self-reference alert)

Miami Beach residents find swastikas etched on their cars (DAVID J. NEAL AND CARLI TEPROFF, 2/27/17, Miami Herald)

Miami Beach detectives are investigating after several people came outside Sunday to find that their cars at swastikas etched on them. [...]

Doug Eaton said his wife was leaving for the gym when she discovered that there was a swastika drawn on the hood of their Range Rover.

"Obviously, it was to offend our neighbors," said Eaton, who isn't Jewish. "They didn't know we weren't Jewish, but a majority of the neighborhood is Jewish and it was designed to offend them. It's a very offensive sign." [...]

The vandalism comes at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise. In the last two months, more than 50 Jewish Community Centers in 26 states and one Canadian province received a total of 68 bomb threats over the phone, according to the JCC Association of North America.

Happen to have been there for a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday and it was sad to see armed security in front of the temple, but obviously necessary.  

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Leaked DHS Report Contradicts White House Claims on Travel Ban (Nora Ellingsen, February 27, 2017, Lawfare)

[W]hen the Department produced its draft report, later leaked to the Associated Press, the White House wasn't pleased with the results--and for good reason. The assessment does not support the administration's position that individuals from the affected countries disproportionately threaten the United States. The Wall Street Journal quotes at least one White House official as expressing dissatisfaction: "The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for."

Relying on unclassified and publicly available information, the three-page assessment concluded that citizens of the seven affected countries are rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism plots. Indeed, the conclusions are similar to ones I drew earlier this month when I wrote about the conclusions we can draw from FBI international terrorism arrests. Like the DHS analysts, I also relied on the publically available Justice Department press releases, and this data only support one broad conclusion: foreign-born individuals from the affected countries are not a particular terrorism threat to the United States.

But in the next two pages, the DHS assessment takes the analysis several steps further than I went. First, the report found that country of citizenship, more generally, is not a reliable indicator of terrorist activity. [...]

In addition, the assessment challenges the administration's claim that the affected countries have a history of "exporting terrorism" to the United States. In fact, these countries aren't actually exporting very many people at all. [...]

Finally, the assessment draws an important distinction between the countries on the list that face a significant terrorism threat that is reasonably contained within their borders and those who struggle with terrorist groups that also target the United States. Of those seven countries, the assessment indicates that most aren't harboring terrorist groups actively targeting the United States. 

Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Public pensions are in better shape than you think (Ryan Cooper, February 27, 2017, The Week)

[A] fascinating new paper from Tom Sgouros at UC Berkeley's Haas Institute makes a compelling argument that the crisis in public pensions is to a large degree the result of terrible accounting practices. (Stay with me, this is actually interesting.) He argues that the typical debate around public pensions revolves around accounting rules which were designed for the private sector -- and their specific mechanics both overstate some dangers faced by public pensions and understate others.

To understand Sgouros' argument, it's perhaps best to start with what "fully-funded" means. This originally comes from the private sector, and it means that a pension plan has piled up enough assets to pay 100 percent of its existing obligations if the underlying business vanishes tomorrow. Thus if existing pensioners are estimated to collect $100 million in benefits before they die, but the fund only has $75 million, it has an "unfunded liability" of $25 million.

This approach makes reasonably good sense for a private company, because it really might go out of business and be liquidated at any moment, necessitating the pension fund to be spun off into a separate entity to make payouts to the former employees. But the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), a private group that sets standards for pension accounting, has applied this same logic to public pension funds as well, decreeing that they all should be 100 percent funded.

This makes far less sense for governments, because they are virtually never liquidated. Governments can and do suffer fiscal problems or even bankruptcy on occasion. But they are not businesses -- you simply can't dissolve, say, Arkansas and sell its remaining assets to creditors because it's in financial difficulties. That gives governments a permanence and therefore a stability that private companies cannot possibly have. [...]

A future pension liability is determined by calculating the "present value" of all future benefit payments, with a discount rate to account for inflation and interest rates. But this single number makes no distinction between liabilities that are due tomorrow, and those that are due gradually over, say, decades.

Fundamentally, a public pension is a method by which retirees are supported by current workers and financial returns, and one of its great strengths is its long time horizon and large pool of mutual supporters. It gives great leeway to muddle through problems that only crop up very slowly over time. If huge problems really will pile up, but only over 70 years, there is no reason to lose our minds now -- small changes, regularly adjusted, will do the trick.

Finally, a 100-percent funding level -- the supposed best possible state for a responsible pension manager -- can actually be dangerous. It means that current contributions are not very necessary to pay benefits, sorely tempting politicians to cut back contributions or increase benefits. And because asset values tend to fluctuate a lot, this can leave pension funds seriously overextended if there is a market boom -- creating the appearance of full funding -- followed by a collapse. Numerous state and local public pensions were devastated by just this process during the dot-com and housing bubbles.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Why the GOP's latest split over ObamaCare was entirely predictable (Joel Dodge, February 27, 2017, The Week)

Republican leaders, of course, are dead set on repealing ObamaCare, but feel political pressure to avoid throwing people off of their insurance. That will require continuing to subsidize people who cannot afford insurance on their own. To that end, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently released an outline of a plan that would provide refundable tax credits to help people afford coverage.

This is actually very similar to how ObamaCare works. A key part of the Affordable Care Act is that it provides tax credit subsidies, called "advance refundable tax credits," to help individuals afford health insurance. These subsidies can be substantial depending on your income -- for some people, the subsidies cover the entire cost of their health insurance premiums. The biggest difference between ObamaCare and Ryan's subsidies is who will receive the bulk of the credits -- ObamaCare's gives more to the poor; Ryan's to the elderly, irrespective of income -- but the mechanism is largely the same.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


5 Really Cheap Blended Whiskies That Are Surprisingly Tasty (Felipe Schrieberg,  2/27/17, Forbes)

[I] ask you to believe me when I say that the five whiskies I've selected here are worth trying, neat.

All  can be found for under £25 pounds in the U.K. (and under $30 in the U.S.) - most, in fact, under £20 ($25).

Even though they won't knock your socks off - let's be reasonable - they're definitely enjoyable and worth their prices.

I stand by these choices. For added pleasure, serve them to whisky-snob friends. Don't tell them what they're drinking. Then sit back and enjoy their surprise at something they may have previously sneered at. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


A German Clash over Trump's NATO Demands (Konstantin von Hammerstein, 2/24/17, Der Spiegel)

The country is the clear economic leader in Europe, but Berlin only spends 1.2 percent of its GDP on the military, less even in absolute terms than the United Kingdom, France and a host of other European countries.

That's the historical norm for the US too and we're going to get back there; Europe is not going to resume wasting money on defense.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


France's National Front scandal has exposed the dirty little secret of Europe's far right (Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, Feb. 23rd, 2017, Washington Post)

Right-wing populists like the National Front typically hate the European Union. They advocate radical changes to the European Union -- or outright withdrawal from it. Yet without the support of the European Union, they almost certainly would have a far weaker voice in national politics. Many far-right parties rely on Europe both for elected positions and for money.

The first key resource that Europe offers to far-right parties is the chance to get elected. Far-right parties often have a tough time getting launched into politics. They are not part of the political mainstream, which means that they may face a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. People are unlikely to vote for these parties, even if they agree with some of the parties' positions, because they don't know much about them, and likely think the parties don't have any real chance of success.

European Parliament elections have boosted far-right parties like the National Front and the UK Independence Party. European voters don't take European Parliament elections very seriously, treating them as what political scientists call "second-order elections." This means that voters are more willing to use their European Parliament votes to protest the government and the political mainstream, making it more likely that they will vote for fringe parties, giving these parties greater credibility. When the National Front won a third of France's seats in the European Parliament elections in 2014, it sent shock waves through France and Europe.

The second key resource that Europe offers to fringe parties is money. Parties elected to the European Parliament or categorized as "Europarties" can receive European funding. This again can be very valuable -- especially to parties that do not have parliamentary funds or wealthy backers in their home countries. In theory, this money is supposed to go to Europe-level activities -- such as hiring assistants who help members of the European Parliament research legislation and do their jobs. In practice, there is not as much supervision over spending as there ought to be.

This is what has gotten the National Front into trouble. Le Pen is accused of having paid her chief political counselor and her bodyguard on the pretense that they were parliamentary assistants, when they were nothing of the sort. Other members of the National Front are accused of similar abuses.

...it fears coloreds will get the government largesse that we ofays deserve.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


US drone strike in Syria kills top al-Qaida leader, jihadis say (Martin Chulov in Beirut and Tom McCarthy in New York, 27 February 2017, The Guardian)

One of al-Qaida's most senior leaders has been killed by a US drone strike in north-west Syria, jihadi leaders have said.

Abu al-Khayr al-Masri - who has been part of the global jihadi organisation for three decades and was a son-in-law of its founder, Osama bin Laden - was killed on Sunday when a missile fired from a drone hit the small car in which he was travelling. Masri had also been a close aide to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a fellow Egyptian.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


The Largest Coal Plant In The Western U.S. Is Closing Decades Ahead Of Schedule (ADELE PETERS 02.27.17, Co.Exist)

Three years ago, the EPA struck a deal with the owners of the largest coal plant in the Western U.S. to close the plant by 2044. Now--because of economics, not regulation--the owners plan to shut the plant down by 2019 instead.

The Navajo Generating Station, 12 miles from the Grand Canyon near Page, Arizona, is the seventh largest individual source of climate pollution in the country, pumping out more than 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year. It's also a major source of air pollution for people living nearby; by some estimates, shutting it down will also save more than $127 million a year in health costs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Sean Spicer targets own staff in leak crackdown : The push includes random phone checks overseen by White House lawyers. (ANNIE KARNI and ALEX ISENSTADT 02/26/17, Politico)

Last week, after Spicer became aware that information had leaked out of a planning meeting with about a dozen of his communications staffers, he reconvened the group in his office to express his frustration over the number of private conversations and meetings that were showing up in unflattering news stories, according to sources in the room.

Upon entering Spicer's office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as "an emergency meeting," staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a "phone check," to prove they had nothing to hide.

...when you really are all out to get each other.  The administration is essentially a ratking.
Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


How Life (and Death) Spring From Disorder : Life was long thought to obey its own set of rules. But as simple systems show signs of lifelike behavior, scientists are arguing about whether this apparent complexity is all a consequence of thermodynamics. (Philip Ball, 1/26/17, Quanta)

According to thermodynamics, the capacity to extract useful work from the energy resources of the universe is always diminishing. Pockets of energy are declining, concentrations of heat are being smoothed away. In every physical process, some energy is inevitably dissipated as useless heat, lost among the random motions of molecules. This randomness is equated with the thermodynamic quantity called entropy -- a measurement of disorder -- which is always increasing. That is the second law of thermodynamics. Eventually all the universe will be reduced to a uniform, boring jumble: a state of equilibrium, wherein entropy is maximized and nothing meaningful will ever happen again.

Are we really doomed to that dreary fate? Maxwell was reluctant to believe it, and in 1867 he set out to, as he put it, "pick a hole" in the second law. His aim was to start with a disordered box of randomly jiggling molecules, then separate the fast molecules from the slow ones, reducing entropy in the process.

Imagine some little creature -- the physicist William Thomson later called it, rather to Maxwell's dismay, a demon -- that can see each individual molecule in the box. The demon separates the box into two compartments, with a sliding door in the wall between them. Every time he sees a particularly energetic molecule approaching the door from the right-hand compartment, he opens it to let it through. And every time a slow, "cold" molecule approaches from the left, he lets that through, too. Eventually, he has a compartment of cold gas on the right and hot gas on the left: a heat reservoir that can be tapped to do work.

This is only possible for two reasons. First, the demon has more information than we do: It can see all of the molecules individually, rather than just statistical averages. And second, it has intention: a plan to separate the hot from the cold. By exploiting its knowledge with intent, it can defy the laws of thermodynamics.

At least, so it seemed. It took a hundred years to understand why Maxwell's demon can't in fact defeat the second law and avert the inexorable slide toward deathly, universal equilibrium. And the reason shows that there is a deep connection between thermodynamics and the processing of information -- or in other words, computation. The German-American physicist Rolf Landauer showed that even if the demon can gather information and move the (frictionless) door at no energy cost, a penalty must eventually be paid. Because it can't have unlimited memory of every molecular motion, it must occasionally wipe its memory clean -- forget what it has seen and start again -- before it can continue harvesting energy. This act of information erasure has an unavoidable price: It dissipates energy, and therefore increases entropy. All the gains against the second law made by the demon's nifty handiwork are canceled by "Landauer's limit": the finite cost of information erasure (or more generally, of converting information from one form to another).

Living organisms seem rather like Maxwell's demon. Whereas a beaker full of reacting chemicals will eventually expend its energy and fall into boring stasis and equilibrium, living systems have collectively been avoiding the lifeless equilibrium state since the origin of life about three and a half billion years ago. They harvest energy from their surroundings to sustain this nonequilibrium state, and they do it with "intention." Even simple bacteria move with "purpose" toward sources of heat and nutrition. In his 1944 book What is Life?, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger expressed this by saying that living organisms feed on "negative entropy."

They achieve it, Schrödinger said, by capturing and storing information. Some of that information is encoded in their genes and passed on from one generation to the next: a set of instructions for reaping negative entropy. Schrödinger didn't know where the information is kept or how it is encoded, but his intuition that it is written into what he called an "aperiodic crystal" inspired Francis Crick, himself trained as a physicist, and James Watson when in 1953 they figured out how genetic information can be encoded in the molecular structure of the DNA molecule.

A genome, then, is at least in part a record of the useful knowledge that has enabled an organism's ancestors -- right back to the distant past -- to survive on our planet. According to David Wolpert, a mathematician and physicist at the Santa Fe Institute who convened the recent workshop, and his colleague Artemy Kolchinsky, the key point is that well-adapted organisms are correlated with that environment. If a bacterium swims dependably toward the left or the right when there is a food source in that direction, it is better adapted, and will flourish more, than one  that swims in random directions and so only finds the food by chance. A correlation between the state of the organism and that of its environment implies that they share information in common. Wolpert and Kolchinsky say that it's this information that helps the organism stay out of equilibrium -- because, like Maxwell's demon, it can then tailor its behavior to extract work from fluctuations in its surroundings. If it did not acquire this information, the organism would gradually revert to equilibrium: It would die.

Looked at this way, life can be considered as a computation that aims to optimize the storage and use of meaningful information. And life turns out to be extremely good at it. Landauer's resolution of the conundrum of Maxwell's demon set an absolute lower limit on the amount of energy a finite-memory computation requires: namely, the energetic cost of forgetting. The best computers today are far, far more wasteful of energy than that, typically consuming and dissipating more than a million times more. But according to Wolpert, "a very conservative estimate of the thermodynamic efficiency of the total computation done by a cell is that it is only 10 or so times more than the Landauer limit."

The implication, he said, is that "natural selection has been hugely concerned with minimizing the thermodynamic cost of computation. It will do all it can to reduce the total amount of computation a cell must perform." In other words, biology (possibly excepting ourselves) seems to take great care not to overthink the problem of survival. This issue of the costs and benefits of computing one's way through life, he said, has been largely overlooked in biology so far.

So living organisms can be regarded as entities that attune to their environment by using information to harvest energy and evade equilibrium. Sure, it's a bit of a mouthful. But notice that it said nothing about genes and evolution, on which Mayr, like many biologists, assumed that biological intention and purpose depend.

How far can this picture then take us? Genes honed by natural selection are undoubtedly central to biology. But could it be that evolution by natural selection is itself just a particular case of a more general imperative toward function and apparent purpose that exists in the purely physical universe? It is starting to look that way.

Adaptation has long been seen as the hallmark of Darwinian evolution. But Jeremy England at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has argued that adaptation to the environment can happen even in complex nonliving systems.

Adaptation here has a more specific meaning than the usual Darwinian picture of an organism well-equipped for survival. One difficulty with the Darwinian view is that there's no way of defining a well-adapted organism except in retrospect. The "fittest" are those that turned out to be better at survival and replication, but you can't predict what fitness entails. Whales and plankton are well-adapted to marine life, but in ways that bear little obvious relation to one another.

England's definition of "adaptation" is closer to Schrödinger's, and indeed to Maxwell's: A well-adapted entity can absorb energy efficiently from an unpredictable, fluctuating environment. It is like the person who keeps his footing on a pitching ship while others fall over because she's better at adjusting to the fluctuations of the deck. Using the concepts and methods of statistical mechanics in a nonequilibrium setting, England and his colleagues argue that these well-adapted systems are the ones that absorb and dissipate the energy of the environment, generating entropy in the process.

Complex systems tend to settle into these well-adapted states with surprising ease, said England: "Thermally fluctuating matter often gets spontaneously beaten into shapes that are good at absorbing work from the time-varying environment".

There is nothing in this process that involves the gradual accommodation to the surroundings through the Darwinian mechanisms of replication, mutation and inheritance of traits. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


5 Strategies for Evidence-Based Policymaking : There's plenty of bipartisan support for the idea. Implementing it requires some concrete steps. (QUENTIN PALFREY | FEBRUARY 27, 2017, Governing)

Despite the hyperpartisan climate of American politics today, the notion that policy decisions should be informed by solid evidence continues to garner bipartisan support at the local, state and national levels. Last year, for example, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and President Obama came together to enact legislation creating a federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking. Governments across the country are experimenting with new methods for developing and using data and evidence in their decision-making.

Compare, for example, the evolution of modern medicine with the typical approach taken in government. In the 20th century, randomized controlled trials revolutionized medicine, replacing guesswork with a rigorous, scientific method to determine what works and what does not. But in government and philanthropy, all too often decisions about how to allocate scarce resources have continued to be been informed by hunch and anecdote. Replacing hunches with facts has dramatic consequences for the efficacy of government programs, particularly those that deliver services to assist the poorest in our society.

But how do you go about building a system of evidence-based policymaking? In an era of tight budgets and hard choices, here are five concrete steps that state and local policymakers can take to ensure that taxpayer money is being used in the most effective ways possible...

Ideology can seldom withstand the evidence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


In the quantum world, identity is a hazy concept : Physicists have discovered that making one atom look like another is all a trick of the light. (Cathal O'Connell, 2/27/17, Cosmos)

For 200 years scientists have identified chemicals by the light they emit. You can recognise a sodium lamp from its orange glow. It's the same orange you get by holding salt to a flame, a standard trick of chemistry. Astronomers can deduce the components of stars or dust clouds from their particular light fingerprint.

Now, the Princeton team show that, in theory at least, these fingerprints can be forged.

As the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and others worked out in the early 20th century, atoms and molecules emit light when the electrons around them shuffle about between different levels of energy. An electron falling from a high energy level to a lower one gives out the colour of light that exactly matches the energy difference.

It's a bit like a dog's squeaky toy tumbling down the stairs, making a different sound depending on the height of the steps.

What Campos's team realised was that they could use lasers to excite an atom into a state of any energy, at least temporarily, by hitting it with a specially designed light pulse. When the electron fell back down, it would then emit whatever light colour the physicists chose.

Reality is a function of choice, not randomness.
Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Improved Technology Saves Maple Syrup Producers Time, Energy (Lisa Rathke, 2/26/17, Associated Press)

Maple syrup doesn't get that rich flavor and color in an instant. It's a long process from tree to bottle.

But an improved technology could keep maple sugarers from working late into the night boiling sap into syrup.

The new machine can remove more water from sap, leaving a higher sugar content in half the time and energy it takes to heat into syrup.

"For commercial maple producers, time is money and energy is money. It all comes down to how efficient you can be to make syrup, and this is just the next big step to save time," said Timothy Perkins, director of the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Trump's Pick for Navy Secretary Withdraws (Ken Thomas, 2/26/17, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump's choice to be secretary of the Navy, businessman Philip Bilden, said Sunday he was withdrawing from consideration for the post, citing concerns about privacy and separating himself from his business interests.

Bilden's withdrawal raises similar issues to that of Vincent Viola, Trump's nominee for Army secretary who stepped aside earlier this month. Just last week, the Pentagon sought to tamp down reports that Bilden might pull out.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Support For Health Law Grows, Leaving Republicans In A Bind (Julie Rovner, February 24, 2017, Kaiser Health News)

The monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds overall support for the health law ticked up to 48 percent in February, the highest point since shortly after it passed in 2010. That was a 5-point increase since the last poll in December. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent project of the foundation.)

In addition, 6 in 10 people said they did not favor current GOP proposals for turning control of Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income residents, over to the states or changing the federal funding method. More than half said Medicaid is important to them or family members.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Exclusive: Trump says Republican border tax could boost U.S. jobs (Steve Holland, 2/24/17, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday spoke positively about a border adjustment tax being pushed by Republicans in Congress as a way to boost exports, but he did not specifically endorse the proposal.

Trump, who has lashed out at U.S. companies for moving operations and jobs to countries such as Mexico, had previously sent mixed signals on the proposal at the heart of a sweeping Republican plan to overhaul the tax code.

"It could lead to a lot more jobs in the United States," Trump told Reuters in an interview, using his most approving language to date on the proposal.

...is that it allows Donald the delusion that he's punishing foreigners, but it's legal precisely because it doesn't do what he thinks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Largest grid-tied lithium ion battery system deployed today in San Diego (MEGAN GEUSS - 2/24/2017, Ars Technica)

On Friday, Southern California utility San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) held a small press conference in Escondido to show off its brand new energy storage facility, a 30MW battery system capable of storing 120MWh of energy, which can serve 20,000 customers for four hours. SDG&E also introduced a 7.5MW battery system built in El Cajon, CA.

The two projects were built after state energy officials ordered power companies to add lithium-ion battery storage to their grids this past summer following a massive methane leak at Aliso Canyon in California that put the region in jeopardy for natural gas shortages. AES Energy Storage, a Virginia-based company that has been building utility-grade batteries since 2008, built the system for SDG&E.

The installation is currently the largest grid-tied lithium-ion battery system in the US. Tesla announced a similar 20MW, 80MWh system at the end of January in conjunction with Southern California Edison. That installation is based in Ontario, CA. [...]

Speaking at the event, California Public Utilities Commissioner Michael Picker said, "I didn't expect to see these kinds of prices in batteries until 2022, 2024 ...we are far in advance of where we expected to be." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Robots aren't automating the jobs we want them to (IVY NGUYEN, FEBRUARY 12, 2017, Venture Beat)

Tasks surprisingly easy to automate

Art. Since the early 2000s, the University of London's The Painting Fool program has created artwork, much of which has been featured in prominent galleries alongside human-created art. Neural networks such as DeepStyle or Prisma use convolutional neural networks to stylize photos after the work of a specific artist. Logo generation systems like Withoomph, Tailor Brands, and Logojoy, use partially- or fully-automated systems to generate logos based on keywords.

Researchers have also applied these processes to music: Melomics is a system that composes and plays music to match your lifestyle and activities, and IBM has partnered with artists to help compose music with Watson by combining massive musical datasets and their lyrics with sentiment analysis. It appears that natural human creativity is not, in fact, necessary to create beauty.

Science/research. A core basis of science is reproducibility. Companies such as OpenTrons are working to save scientists both time and money by helping them automate pipetting, a monotonous and labor intensive task used in many laboratories. Startups Arcturus and BioRealize enable scientists to remotely run many genetic engineering experiments in parallel, greatly reducing mistakes and lab time. Other startups, such as Emerald Therapeutics and Transcriptic, are hoping to move research to the cloud, using remote robotic systems to perform the experiment itself.

Beyond automating manual lab work, machines are now automating scientific discovery and understanding. Nutonian is a Cornell spinout that creates models on data without being given any prior assumptions. Researchers at Cambridge, Aberystwyth, and Manchester have created a similar autonomous science algorithm that they claim was the first machine to independently discover new scientific knowledge. As the pace of scientific research increases, scientists may increasingly rely on automated systems.

Legal. The practice of law requires many years of studying and understanding laws, cases, and other legal precedence. Recent advances in AI have made the automation of those tasks possible; to date, case law, contract law, and advocacy law have seen the most automation. Startup DoNotPay helps users appeal traffic tickets. ROSS Intelligence augments legal research by using AI to surface relevant legal passages and cases to increase the efficiency and quality of legal research. eBrevia uses AI to extract data from contracts to accelerate diligence, contract analysis, and other related applications.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


US nearly deports French Holocaust historian (AFP, 27 February 2017)

An Egyptian-born French Jewish scholar was held for hours and nearly deported from the United States after he landed in Houston to attend a conference at a Texas university.

"I have been detained 10 hours at Houston International Airport about to be deported. The officer who arrested me was 'inexperienced'," Henry Rousso, a historian who specialises on the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of France, wrote Saturday on Twitter.

Silly security guys, that was last immigration hysteria that we kept Jews out.

Did U.S. Anti-Immigrant Hysteria Doom the Passengers on the 'St. Louis'? It's Complicated. (Barry Trachtenberg, February 27, 2017, Tablet)

[I]n mid-May 1939, the St. Louis, part of the Hamburg-American line (known as Hapag), departed Hamburg, Germany. After a stop in Cherbourg, France, the ship headed for Havana, Cuba, with 937 passengers. Most travelers were German Jewish émigrés who held landing permits issued by the Cuban government. Seven-hundred-forty-three of them were on a waiting list to receive visas to enter the United States and had arranged to stay in Cuba until their documents would arrive. For some time, Cuba had served as a temporary refuge for German Jews awaiting their entry into the United States via an immigration-quota system that had been in place since 1924. According to the law, the number of persons arriving from any particular country was fixed and--reflecting the racist intentions of the 1924 law--varied according to the perceived "whiteness" of the country's inhabitants, with Western European countries allotted higher quotas than Eastern or Southern European ones. Under the quota for Germany, which President Roosevelt had unilaterally combined with Austria's following its 1938 annexation by Germany, the number of available immigration was visas was 27,370. By the time of the St. Louis' departure, the wait for visas under the German quota was many years long and included more than 300,000 names. For Jews desperate to get out of Germany, Cuba served as a convenient place to reside until they were permitted to enter the United States via the quota system.

However, in the days just prior to the ship's departure, tensions in Cuba over the growing number of European Jews escalated, and internal feuds within the Cuban government prompted President Federico Laredo Brú to tighten the rules for new arrivals, requiring them to procure additional approvals to land in Cuba. Although Hapag officials were notified of the change, the St. Louis left Hamburg on the optimistic assumption that the new rules did not apply to its passengers, because they had already received permission to enter Cuba. Upon landing in Havana two weeks later on May 27, however, the passengers discovered that most of them would not be permitted to enter on account of the new regulations. Twenty-eight had papers that allowed them to disembark, and the rest were confined to the ship.

Even as the ship was en route to Cuba, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (a relief organization popularly known as "the Joint"), working closely with officials from the State Department in Washington, began to advocate on behalf of the passengers. Its representatives in the United States had warned the Hapag line that its passengers might not be granted entry to Cuba. Its agent in Havana entered into negotiations with the Cuban government, but they were unable to reach a settlement. The story of the refugees' increasingly desperate plight was picked up in the press, and reporters were sympathetic to the passengers. On June 2, the New York Times reported that the anxiety of the refugees was palpable:

Late this afternoon the St. Louis was surrounded by boats filled with relatives and friends of those on board. Police patrolled the liner's docks and forbade any except government officials to approach too closely or to step on the floating dock alongside the ship. Huge spotlights attached to the vessel's sides lighted the surrounding waters tonight.

The St. Louis's passengers, many sobbing despairingly, lined the rail and talked with those in the surrounding boats, some of whom remained several hours.

One passenger was quoted as saying, " 'If we are returned to Germany,' he lamented, 'it will mean the concentration camp for most of us.' " Another, a Breslau attorney named Max Loewe, cut his wrists and jumped overboard out of desperation for his wife and children, who were also aboard the ship.

In spite of thousands of telegrams in support of the refugees sent to President Brú by concerned Americans, the ship left the port of Havana on June 2. While the ship sailed in the waters of the Caribbean, advocates for the passengers sought a wide range of alternatives to returning the ship and its passengers to Germany. Plans to post a $500 bond for each passenger (approximately $450,000, or nearly $7.86 million in today's dollars) or to allow the passengers to disembark into Santo Domingo came to no avail. Others suggested allowing the refugees to enter the United States either outside of or ahead of their place on the waiting list, but this was deemed untenable both by State Department officials who were opposed to any relaxing of immigration laws (and had no authority to change them even if they wanted to) and the president's own advisers, who did not want to threaten his good-neighbor policy of nonintervention in Latin American countries' internal affairs. Popular sentiment in the country was decidedly opposed to any relaxation of immigration laws. Furthermore, permitting such a move would have forced those who had waited for their quota number to come up to wait even longer for their turn to enter the country. Among the more callous proposals was one to encourage the United States to request that the German government not permit refugees to leave unless they had certainty of the passengers' destinations. 

February 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Warren Buffett rails against fee-hungry Wall Street managers (Trevor Hunnicutt and Jonathan Stempe, 2/26/17, Reuters)

Billionaire Warren Buffett, whose stock picks over several decades have enriched generations of Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) shareholders, delivered a black eye to the investment industry on Saturday, urging ordinary investors to buy plain-vanilla index funds.

"When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients," Buffett said in his annual letter to shareholders.

"Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds," he added. [..]

[B]uffett said most stock investors are better off with low-cost index funds than paying higher fees to managers who often underperform.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Economists Say 'Economic Nationalism' Is Economic Nonsense (Stuart Anderson, 2/26/17, Forbes)

Virtually no economists believe that it makes sense for the U.S. government to attempt to balance imports and exports with each country. "It's an important, and usually overlooked point, that countries don't trade, only people and businesses trade," explains Mark J. Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's Flint campus and creator of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. "And every international transaction by definition has a satisfied buyer and a satisfied seller, and those engaged in those mutually beneficial trades aren't countries, but individuals and corporations. As we explain in the first week of an economics class, trade is always win-win."

Economists have understood for centuries that trade deficits are not a good indicator of a country's economic well-being. For example, the U.S. trade deficit has been lower in times of recession. Moreover, the U.S. "trade deficit" is "exactly offset" by America's "investment surplus" that reflects our ability to attract foreign investment, notes Daniel Griswold, a Mercatus Center senior research fellow and co-director of the Program on the American Economy and Globalization. "If politicians try to 'fix' the trade deficit, they will only succeed in cutting off the net inflow of foreign investment."

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith said it best: "Nothing, however, can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade, upon which, not only these restraints, but almost all the other regulations of commerce are founded." You can trust Adam Smith on trade or you can trust Donald Trump. You can't trust both.

When it comes to manufacturing jobs, trade is being blamed instead of other factors. "According to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 85 per cent of these [manufacturing] jobs losses are actually attributable to technological change - largely automation - rather than international trade," reports the Financial Times.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Dream of Offshore U.S. Wind Power May Be Too Ugly for Trump (Joe Ryan  and Jennifer A Dlouhy, February 23, 2017, Bloomberg)

The push to win over the Trump administration comes as offshore wind is on the brink of success in North America after a decade of false starts. Costs are falling dramatically. Deepwater Wind LLC completed the first project in U.S. waters in August. And in September, the Obama administration outlined plans to ease regulatory constraints and take other steps to encourage private development of enough turbines to crank out 86,000 megawatts by 2050. That's about the equivalent of 86 nuclear reactors.

"We are an industry on the rise," Thomas Brostrom, Dong's general manager of North America, said in an interview. "We want very much to come in and explain to the new administration what we can do for job creation and energy independence." [...]

To be clear, installing turbines at sea requires years of planning, and Trump may be out of office by the time some developers need federal approvals. State governments, meanwhile, remain the biggest drivers of renewable energy development, because they can mandate that utilities get a certain amount of power from offshore wind or other sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Defense Secretary Mattis has been everything Trump skeptics hoped for (Benjamin Shull, February 24, 2017, The Week)

The defense chief has strongly defied his boss on torture, which Trump still maintains "absolutely" works. But despite the president's delusions about waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques, Mattis' resistance appears to be winning out; Trump said he would let the defense secretary "override" him on the issue.

Mattis has butted heads with Trump on staffing. The Wall Street Journal reports a "degree of consternation" with Mattis from the White House, in part due to his continuing efforts to install Trump critics in the Defense Department. During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's nomination, Mattis also reportedly was a strong advocate of the former CEO because Mattis viewed him as a potential partner against the more bellicose members of the Trump team, namely Flynn.

Mattis was also apparently annoyed about Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. After it was implemented, he apparently was instrumental in getting Iraqis who helped U.S. troops receive exemptions, a policy that will reportedly continue in the revised order, due to be released next week. "Right now, I am assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us, for example, to be allowed into the United States," Mattis told Iraqis Monday.

Mattis has also made it a point to reassure others allies around the world who are nervous about the president's antics.

The continual apology tour is going to get old quick.

February 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Why Sweden's six-hour work day trial worked (The Local, 7 February 2017)

At the Svartedalen home for the elderly in Gothenburg, staff worked six-hour days for two years at full pay. At the start of the trial we could already see a less stressed, happier staff. They explained that it allowed them to provide a better level of attention for the elderly, and more time for their family, and leisure time. The elderly residents were also positive about interacting with less stressed staff and a calmer atmosphere. Both management and the staff union confirmed that standards have increased since the trial started.

The positive effects have continued. The trial was followed by researchers, who noted good results when it comes to quality, health benefits, job creation and socio-economic effects. After two years we can see that the workplace environment and health of staff has improved. For example, there has been a 10 percent reduction of people calling in sick. That's a big step, considering sick days have increased significantly in both Gothenburg and Sweden for the same work group.

Better working conditions are important in order to attract the staff numbers needed for a future with more elderly people. On top of that, the improved situation for staff has meant that the elderly received a higher quality of treatment and care. For example, the number of activities offered to them increased by 80 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Will Trump Create Churchill's Dream Team of 'English Speaking Peoples'? (Chemi Shalev,  Jan 18, 2017, Ha'aretz)

Churchill's concept of a common bond and common purpose of the British Isles and its outposts in the Commonwealth and in the breakaway United States came to be known later as Anglosphere. It was rejected, in essence, in favor of Atlanticism, the alliance between the United States and Western Europe that gave birth to NATO and has been the bedrock of the security of the West for the past seven decades. Margaret Thatcher endorsed Anglosphere but did not pursue it, although her close relationship with fellow conservative Ronald Reagan was indeed special. In recent years, Anglosphere has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in British conservative circles that has now been turbocharged by the recent Brexit decision that potentially decouples Britain from the European continent. With Donald Trump as president, the stars may be aligning for Churchill's ideas and for Anglosphere.

Of course, the very mention of such a brilliant orator and towering intellect as Churchill in the same sentence as the clueless and barely comprehensible Trump may seem like sacrilege, but international circumstances and Trump's instinctive, gut-reaction foreign policy may be leading him in the British Bulldog's footsteps. Reading Trump's recent interview with the Sunday Times, one is struck by the president-elect's clear embrace of post-Brexit Britain and his concurrent disparagement of Germany's Angela Merkel, of the European Union and of NATO. Trump not only touted his Scottish roots and his mother's admiration for the Queen, he offered to conclude a quick trade deal between the two countries, as an alternative to Britain's trade relations with the EU that might be lost. His statement was echoed by British Prime Minister Theresa May this week as an important element of the U.K.'s post-Brexit efforts to engage with the wider world. [...]

Some infrastructure for Anglosphere already exists. The most prominent is the joint intelligence-gathering group known as "Five Eyes" which encompasses the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The five countries are also linked by technological treaties as well as the collaborative agreements such as ABCA Armies that seek to standardize their military equipment. Since World War II, however, Churchill's vision of a common front of English-speaking nations has never been the focus of policy for political leaders in either the United States or the United Kingdom. And while it may never blossom into the kind of EU-type union that Churchill had in mind, with Trump, ironically, it might no longer be just a pipe dream. The concept of Anglo-Saxon unity could be closer to realization more than ever before.

India too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM

ARE THERE REALLY PEOPLE WHO DON'T USE IT? (self-reference alert):

a further word of exhortation: RSS (Alan Jacobs, 2/21/17, New Atlantis)

May I suggest that you try an RSS service instead? RSS is the great neglected technology of the internet. [...]

Every now and then I come across an interesting site that doesn't have an RSS feed, but that's a rare experience. An RSS feed is just a URL, slightly different than the URL of a website, but all modern aggregators can find the RSS feed from the main site URL: you can just paste http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com into the aggregator's Add Site box to subscribe to this blog, for instance. Big sites -- the New York Times, CNN, ESPN, the Guardian, and the like -- will have many feeds, and most of them have a page where all those feeds are listed. (It might take a little googling to find it.) 

Over time you can build up a roster of sites that you keep regular track of, sites where you can find substantive news and ideas and a minimum of crap, and then you'll have a far better and more consistent source for what you want to know than social media can give you. Also, every aggregator and app I know of allows you to export that list as an OPML file, which you can then import into another service if you find one you like better than your original choice. 
Try RSS. You'll love it. 

Almost every story we post here just comes in over RSS feed.  [I use feedspot]

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Driving Mr. Albert : A trip across America with Einstein (Michael Paterniti, October 1997, Harper's)

Not long ago. In Maine on a bus. In Massachusetts on a train. In Connecticut behind the wheel of a shiny, teal-colored rental car. The engine purrs. I should know, I'm the driver. I'm on my way to pick up an eighty-four-year-old man named Thomas Harvey, who lives in a modest, low-slung 1950s ranch that belongs to his sixty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Cleora. To get there you caroom through New Jersey's exurbia, through swirls of dead leaves and unruly thickets of oak and pine that give way to well-ordered fields of roan, buttermilk, and black snorting atoms -- horses. Harvey greets me at the door, stooped and chuckling nervously, wearing a red-and-white plaid shirt and a solid-blue Pendleton tie that still bears a waterlogged $10 price tag from some earlier decade. He has peckled, blowsy skin runneled with lines, an eagle nose, stubbed yellow teeth, bitten nails, and a spray of white hair as fine as corn silk that shifts with the wind over the bald patches on his head. He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein -- literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Harvey has stoked a fire in the basement, which is dank and dark, and I sit among crocheted rugs and genie bottles of blown glass, Ethiopian cookbooks, and macramé. It has taken me more than a year to find Harvey, and during that time I've had a dim, inchoate feeling -- one that has increased in luminosity -- that if I could somehow reach him and Einstein's brain, I might unravel their strange relationship, one that arcs across this century and America itself. And now, before the future arrives and the supercomputers of the world fritz out and we move to lunar colonies -- before all that hullabaloo -- Harvey and I are finally sitting here together.

That day Harvey tells me the story he's told before -- to friends and family and pilgrims -- one that has made him an odd celebrity even in this age of odd celebrity. He tells it deliberately, assuming that I will be impressed by it as a testament to the rightness of his actions rather than as a cogent defense of them. "You see," he says, "I was just so fortunate to have been there. Just so lucky." [...]

The next morning, April 18, when the chief pathologist of the hospital -- our Harvey, then a strapping forty-two-year-old with Montgomery Clift good looks -- arrived for work, Einstein's body was laid out, naked and mottle-skinned, on a gurney. "Imagine my surprise," Harvey says to me now. "A fellow up in New York, my former teacher Dr. Zimmerman" -- and an acquaintance of Einstein's -- "was going to do the autopsy. But then he couldn't get away. He rang me up, and we agreed that I'd do it." Harvey says that he felt awe when he came face-to-face with the world-famous physicist, the voice of conscience in a century of madness, who had bewildered the world by suggesting that time should be understood as the fourth, and inseparable, dimension. Now he lay alone in the pale light, 180 pounds of mere matter.

Harvey took a scalpel in his hand and sliced Einstein open with a Y incision, scoring the belly, the skin giving like cellophane, then cut the rib cartilage and lifted the sternum. He found nearly three quarts of blood in Einstein's peritoneal cavity, a result of the burst aneurysm, and after investigating his heart and veins concluded that, with an operation, the physicist might have lived for several more years, though how long was hard to tell "because Einstein liked his fatty foods," in particular goose scratchings.

Working under the humming lights, his fingers inside Einstein's opened body, juggling the liver, palpating the heart, Harvey made a decision. Who's to say whether it was inspired by awe or by greed, beneficence or mere pettiness? Who's to say what comes over a mortal, what chemical reaction takes place deep in the thalamus, when faced with the blinding brightness of another's greatness and, with it, a knowledge that I/you/we shall never possess even a cheeseparing of that greatness?

Working quickly with a knife, Harvey tonsured the scalp, peeled the skin back, and, bearing down on a saw, cut through Einstein's head with a quick, hacking motion. He removed a cap of bone, peeled back the meninges, then clipped blood vessels and bundles of nerve and the spinal cord. He reached with his fingers deeper into the chalice of the man's cranium and simply removed the glistening brain. To keep for himself. Forever. In perpetuity. Amen.

What he didn't count on, however, was that with this one act his whole world would go haywire. Apparently, word got out through Zimmerman that Harvey had the brain, and when it was reported in the New York Times a day later, some people were aghast. Einstein's son, Hans Albert, reportedly felt betrayed. Harvey claimed that he was planning to conduct medical research on the brain, and, in an agreement eventually struck with Hans Albert over the phone, he assured that the brain would only be the subject of medical journals and not become a pop-cultural gewgaw, as the Einsteins most feared. Sometime after the autopsy, Harvey was fired from his job for refusing to give up the brain. Years passed, and there were no papers, no findings. And then Harvey fell off the radar screen. When he gave an occasional interview -- in articles from 1956 and 1979 and 1988 -- he always repeated that he was about "a year away from finishing study on the specimen."1

1According to newspaper accounts following Einstein's death, mystery immediately shrouded the brain. Dr. Zimmerman, on staff at New York City's Montefiore Medical Center, expected to receive Einstein's brain from Harvey, but never, in fact, did; Princeton Hospital decided not to relinquish the brain. Harvey, however, also decided not to relinquish the brain and at some point removed it from the hospital.
Forty years later -- after Harvey has gone through three wives, after he has sunk to lesser circumstances, after he has outlived most of his critics and accusers, including Hans Albert - we are sitting together before a hot fire on a cold winter day. And because I like him so much, because somewhere in his watery blue eyes, his genial stumble-footing, and that ineffable cloak of hunched integrity that falls over the old, I find myself feeling for him and cannot bring myself to ask the essential questions:

Is Harvey a grave-robbing thief or a hero? A sham artist or a high priest? Why not heist a finger or a toe? Or a simple earlobe? What about rumors that he plans to sell Einstein's brain to Michael Jackson for $2 million? Does he feel ashamed? Or justified? If the brain is the ultimate Fabergé egg, the Hope diamond, the Cantino map, the One-Penny Magenta stamp, "Guernica," what does it look like? Feel like? Smell like? Does he talk to it as one talks to one's poodle or ferns?

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 AM


The Democrats' Geography Problem : An overwhelming share of their voters live in metropolitan areas. Will their appeal ever expand beyond? (ALAN GREENBLATT, JANUARY 2017, Governing)
A couple of decades ago, half the Democrats in the Iowa Senate represented rural areas. By the time the last session got underway, there were only two Democrats left from the mostly sparsely populated counties west of Interstate 35. Now, there are none. The inability of Iowa Democrats to compete throughout an entire half of the state is a big reason why the GOP took over the state Senate in November.

All over the country, Democrats have a similar geography problem. With an overwhelming share of their voters living within a limited number of metropolitan districts, it's hard for them to compete in broad swaths of territory elsewhere. This handicap, which has made the U.S. House into something resembling a fortress for Republicans, is making it increasingly difficult for Democrats to win legislative chambers. "When you sit down and start counting the number of state legislative districts the Republicans have and the number of chambers they have, it's evident that the Democrats have a structural problem that they need to overcome," says Colorado State University political scientist Kyle Saunders.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn't listening : In Iceland, teenage smoking, drinking and drug use have been radically cut in the past 20 years. Emma Young finds out how they did it, and why other countries won't follow suit. (Emma Young, 17 January 2017, Mosaic)

"I was in the eye of the storm of the drug revolution," Milkman explains over tea in his apartment in Reykjavik. In the early 1970s, when he was doing an internship at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York City, "LSD was already in, and a lot of people were smoking marijuana. And there was a lot of interest in why people took certain drugs."

Milkman's doctoral dissertation concluded that people would choose either heroin or amphetamines depending on how they liked to deal with stress. Heroin users wanted to numb themselves; amphetamine users wanted to actively confront it. After this work was published, he was among a group of researchers drafted by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse to answer questions such as: why do people start using drugs? Why do they continue? When do they reach a threshold to abuse? When do they stop? And when do they relapse?

"Any college kid could say: why do they start? Well, there's availability, they're risk-takers, alienation, maybe some depression," he says. "But why do they continue? So I got to the question about the threshold for abuse and the lights went on - that's when I had my version of the 'aha' experience: they could be on the threshold for abuse before they even took the drug, because it was their style of coping that they were abusing."

At Metropolitan State College of Denver, Milkman was instrumental in developing the idea that people were getting addicted to changes in brain chemistry. Kids who were "active confronters" were after a rush - they'd get it by stealing hubcaps and radios and later cars, or through stimulant drugs. Alcohol also alters brain chemistry, of course. It's a sedative but it sedates the brain's control first, which can remove inhibitions and, in limited doses, reduce anxiety.

"People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine - whatever," says Milkman. "The idea of behavioural addiction became our trademark."

This idea spawned another: "Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry - because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness - without the deleterious effects of drugs?"

By 1992, his team in Denver had won a $1.2 million government grant to form Project Self-Discovery, which offered teenagers natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime. They got referrals from teachers, school nurses and counsellors, taking in kids from the age of 14 who didn't see themselves as needing treatment but who had problems with drugs or petty crime.

"We didn't say to them, you're coming in for treatment. We said, we'll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts." The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids' brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life: some might crave an experience that could help reduce anxiety, others may be after a rush.

At the same time, the recruits got life-skills training, which focused on improving their thoughts about themselves and their lives, and the way they interacted with other people. "The main principle was that drug education doesn't work because nobody pays attention to it. What is needed are the life skills to act on that information," Milkman says. Kids were told it was a three-month programme. Some stayed five years.

In 1991, Milkman was invited to Iceland to talk about this work, his findings and ideas. He became a consultant to the first residential drug treatment centre for adolescents in Iceland, in a town called Tindar. "It was designed around the idea of giving kids better things to do," he explains. It was here that he met Gudberg, who was then a psychology undergraduate and a volunteer at Tindar. They have been close friends ever since.

Milkman started coming regularly to Iceland and giving talks. These talks, and Tindar, attracted the attention of a young researcher at the University of Iceland, called Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir. She wondered: what if you could use healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol as part of a programme not to treat kids with problems, but to stop kids drinking or taking drugs in the first place? 

February 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


Republican governors on Obamacare repeal: Not so fast (Tami Luhby, February 24, 2017, CNN MOney)

 First, governors need to decide how to handle Medicaid expansion, which funneled an extra $99 billion to the states between January 2014 and September 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Some governors have been very vocal about keeping Medicaid expansion. Ohio Governor John Kasich says he won't "sit silent" and watch the program get "ripped out."

"That is a very, very bad idea, because we cannot turn our back on the most vulnerable," said Kasich, noting the program's importance in treating those with drug addiction and mental health issues.

And though he still supports repealing Obamacare, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNN's Jake Tapper that he doesn't want those who've gained coverage under Medicaid expansion to be left uninsured. [...]

Some Republican governors agree with their Democratic peers that block grants could reduce the effectiveness and reach of the safety net. And leaders of non-expansion states are concerned that funding might be frozen at current levels, which would leave them at a disadvantage since they did not broaden their programs. [...]

Governors also have to contend with their residents' support of Medicaid.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that some 84%of those polled say it is either "very" or "somewhat" important for any replacement plan to ensure that states that received federal funds to expand Medicaid continue to receive those funds. This includes majorities of Democrats (95%), independents (84%) and Republicans (69%).

Two-thirds of respondents say they don't support turning Medicaid into a grant program. They prefer the status quo, they said.

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


In A Driverless Car World, The Reduced Traffic Will Save Us Billions (Ben Schiller, 02.24.17, Co.Exist)

The paper, published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, estimates that if California had cut congestion by 50% in 2010--a big if--it would have created 350,000 jobs, added $35 billion to the economy, and improved wages by $14 billion. The way the state could've done this, the researchers said, was by switching largely to driverless cars. Extrapolated to the U.S. as a whole, researchers Clifford Winston and Quentin Karpilow write that reducing congestion in this way could add at least $214 billion in GDP, boost labor incomes by $90 billion, and create 2.4 million jobs, likely in autonomous vehicle maintenance and customer service. (For those who doubt that AVs will create jobs and will instead just leave drivers unemployed, the researchers offer the comparison of ATMs, which were expected to put bank tellers out of work. In fact, bank teller jobs have grown and more bank branches opened since the 1990s.)

Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


Out of the Park Baseball 18 announces the Perfect Team Digital Cover Contest

Out of the Park Baseball 18, an Official Licensee of MLB.com, MLBPA, and MiLB.com, will feature a Digital Cover for the first time, highlighting baseball's "Perfect Team" of 11 top players at each position and the top Manager in baseball - as voted by its passionate community

Follow-up to Metacritic's 2016 PC Game of the Year will live-stream the cover team announcement then pit the "Perfect Team" winners against the "Perfect Team" runners-up

Out of the Park Developments, an official licensee of MLB.com, the MLBPA, and MiLB.com, today announced Out of the Park Baseball 18 will have a "digital cover" for the first time in its illustrious history. Instead of choosing a single player, however, OOTP 18 will be represented by a "Perfect Team" of the 11 best players at each position - plus a manager - to celebrate the launch of the followup to the Metacritic 2016 PC Game of the Year.

"As a deep strategy game, we feel that nothing better represents what Out of the Park Baseball is about than putting the best possible team on our first-ever digital cover," said lead developer, lifelong baseball fan, and Out of the Park Developments CEO Markus Heinsohn. "Baseball is the ultimate team game, and our fans argue every day about what makes us the best possible lineup. What better way to represent what we are all about than having them vote on the best players and manager to put on the digital diamond?"

Out of the Park Baseball 18 will be officially released on March 24, 2017. The follow-up to the acclaimed Metacritic 2016 PC Game of the Year includes several exciting new features and a treasure trove of deep improvements to its award-winning gameplay. The "Perfect Team" voting contest opens February 23 and closes on March 9, 2017. Fans will be able to choose from two players at each position as well as a manager. Winners of the vote will be officially named the "Perfect Team" and will be forever enshrined on the digital cover of Out of the Park Baseball 18.

The players in the contest that will be voted on are:

C: Gary Sanchez (NYY) vs Buster Posey (SF)

1B: Freddie Freeman (ATL) vs. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)

2B: Jason Kipnis (CLE) vs. Robinson Cano (SEA)

SS: Trea Turner (WSH) vs. Carlos Correa (HOU)

3B: Nolan Arenado (COL) vs. Manny Machado (BAL)

OF: Yoenis Cespedes (NYM) vs. J.D. Martinez (DET)

OF: Starling Marte (PIT) vs. Christian Yelich (MIA)

OF: Jose Bautista (TOR) vs. Nomar Mazara (TEX)

SP1: Jake Arrieta (CHC) vs. Max Scherzer (WSH)

SP2: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) vs. Chris Sale (BOS)

CP: Zach Britton (BAL) vs. Seung-hwan Oh (STL)

M: Joe Maddon (CHC) vs. Bruce Bochy (SF)

The link to the voting contest is here: OOTP 18 Perfect Team Virtual Cover Contest

On March 15, Out of the Park Baseball Community Manager T.J. Lauerman will live stream the winning team announcement. On launch week, T.J. will live stream a game pitting the winners of the contest against the runners-up. All of these events will take place live on Out of the Park Developments Twitch channel, and will be archived to the Out of the Park Developments YouTube page for later viewing.

From today to March 23, customers may pre-order OOTP 18 for $35.99, a 10% discount off its full retail price. All pre-order purchases include early access to the Gold Master version on March 20, four days ahead of the official launch on March 24.

OOTP 18 can be pre-ordered through this link:


OOTP 18 runs on PC/Mac/Linux and, like last year, it features the American League and National League logos, the World Series trophy, official logos and jerseys for all 30 MLB teams, over 150 Minor League Baseball league and team logos, and historical MLB logos.

Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM


Exclusive: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary (Lili Bayer, February 24, 2017, Forward)

When video recently emerged showing Sebastian Gorka, President Donald Trump's high-profile deputy assistant, wearing a medal associated with the Nazi collaborationist regime that ruled Hungary during World War II, the controversial security strategist was unapologetic.

"I'm a proud American now and I wear that medal now and again," Gorka told Breitbart News. Gorka, 46, who was born in Britain to Hungarian parents and is now an American citizen, asked rhetorically, "Why? To remind myself of where I came from, what my parents suffered under both the Nazis and the Communists, and to help me in my work today."

But an investigation by the Forward into Gorka's activities from 2002 to 2007, while he was active in Hungarian politics and journalism, found that he had close ties then to Hungarian far-right circles, and has in the past chosen to work with openly racist and anti-Semitic groups and public figures.

Gorka's involvement with the far right includes co-founding a political party with former prominent members of Jobbik, a political party with a well-known history of anti-Semitism; repeatedly publishing articles in a newspaper known for its anti-Semitic and racist content; and attending events with some of Hungary's most notorious extreme-right figures.

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


A Renewed Republican Party (Joshua Mitchell, sPRING 2017, American aFFAIRS jOURNAL)

Globalism, as we know, has benefitted a narrow swath of America, as the electoral map of 2016 indicates. Counties that voted for Clinton are the jurisdictional overlayment of the cities and regional zones in which a preponderance of citizens are involved in the global "management" (the buzzword of the globalist epoch) of materials or, more importantly, information. These voters were generally inattentive to their fellow citizens who were not in on the globalist game plan. For them, political justice involved material growth made possible by global management and the identity debt-points that global elites dispensed to this or that oppressed "identity" group as a consequence of past infractions or of the irredeemable fault of others--typically (the imaginary category of) White People. These two together were the theoretical centerpieces of 2016 Clinton campaign.

That globalism and identity politics went together in the minds of so many Democrats is no mere quirk or accident. What binds globalism and identity politics together is the judgment that national sovereignty is not the final word on how to order collective life. This judgment against national sovereignty--let us state the matter boldly--was the animating principle of the post-1989 world order, an order that is now collapsing before our eyes. Citizens who came of age after 1989 scarcely know how daring this project has been and, thanks to the American university, can scarcely conceive of any alternative to it. The post-1989 world order, however, is not fixed and immutable. It is, moreover, a rather bold historical experiment. A brief digression into the history of Western political thought confirms that this is so. Republicans must understand the long-standing viable alternative that predates the post-1989 experiment; and they must understand it in their very bones. For unless they grasp the real reason for the recent collapse, they will be tempted to see the repudiation of the political classes of both parties as a mere populist uprising, which will, they hope, dissipate as citizens either accept their fate in a globalized world or cease to be irrational. The larger issue, now that the post-1989 world is collapsing, is not populism, but rather national sovereignty. Let us see why.

The Peace of Westphalia, which formally inaugurated the modern European system of nation-states, came into effect in 1648. Shortly thereafter, in 1651, Hobbes wrote one of the great works in the history of political philosophy, Leviathan. In a now-common reading of that work, and correct so far as it goes, Hobbes's Leviathan provides us with the individuated self, oriented by self-interest and the fear of death. These ideas are in Leviathan, but they only scratch the surface of that great work. Hobbes's deeper concern in Leviathan was the English Civil War, which in no small part was a religious war involving the claims of Roman Catholics and Presbyterians. The doctrinal difference between the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians need not concern us; what matters is where each of these Christian sects located sovereignty. Hobbes thought that Roman Catholics were guilty of what we might call "false universalism," because they vested sovereignty at the supra-state level, in Rome. Hobbes thought that the Presbyterians were guilty of what we might call "radical particularism," because they vested sovereignty at the sub-state level, in private conscience. The English Civil War occurred, on Hobbes's reading, because of these religious wagers that peace and justice were possible without national sovereignty. In his estimation, these supra- and sub-state alternatives are perennial temptations of the human heart. Their defenders may promise much, but neither "commodious living" nor justice are possible through them. Only by vesting sovereignty in the state can there be improvement for citizens and workable understandings of justice.

The post-1989 experiment with globalism and identity politics demonstrates that Hobbes was correct, so long ago, that supra- and sub-state sovereignty are perennial temptations of the human heart. The post-1989 version of that temptation saw global elites use the apparatus of the state to bolster so-called free trade, international law, global norms, and international accords about "climate change," the advances towards which purported to demonstrate the impotence of the state itself. In such a world managed from above, the only task left for the Little People was to feel good--or feel permanent shame--about their identities, and perhaps to get involved in a little "political activism" now and again, to show their commitment (on Facebook, of course) to "social justice." The Little People in such a world were not citizens, they were idle "folks," incapable of working together, because what really mattered was not rational deliberation with their neighbors, but what they owed, or were owed, by virtue of their identities. Determining the calculus of their debt, in turn, were Very White Progressives in the Democratic Party who cared not a jot about the real outstanding debt of $19 trillion owed by the U.S. treasury. These Very White Progressives sought to adjudicate justice from above, by legal carve-outs or, if necessary, by executive actions pertaining, for example, to transsexual bathrooms, so that all "identities" could have their due. Fortunately, 2016 was year the American electorate decided this ghastly fate was not to be theirs.

Our book proceeded from the tension between national sovereignty and transnationalism and from the fear, on the right, that the latter was an inexorable force that would consume the latter.  But, as I worked on it, it occurred to me that something much more interesting was happening than just a struggle between these two ideas.  America, mostly, but the Anglosphere generally, have redefined sovereignty over the past several centuries so that it is no longer a function of bordered nations but of consenting populations.  The entire American experiment can be seen as a repudiation of the idea that there exist sovereigns who are entitled to act as they choose within the confines of their nations.  We have replaced it with the idea of popular sovereignty, which can hardly be stated more directly and succinctly than as follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

One of the main results of our adoption of this Founding ideal is that we do not recognize as legitimate regimes that do not adhere to same, or, we may recognize them temporarily, for our convenience, but always hold in reserve our right to change them.  At the time of the book this had been demonstrated--though some had trouble seeing it--in our decision to change the Iraqi regime.  While many eventually focussed on the WMD question, it had never mattered to George W. Bush, nor to Americans generally, for whom the fact of Saddam's totalitarianism was sufficient reason for the war.  In the 9/12/02 UN General Assembly speech that outline the case for the war, W put it thus:

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime. 

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material. 

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions. 

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions. 

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions. 

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with the international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions. 

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people. 

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis -- a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections. 

Note, first, that WMD are not the rationale, only one element (and even there, it was Saddam's failure to comply with Resolutions he'd agreed to that was the causus, not the fact of WMD itself); second, that what is required is a fundamental change in the nature of how the Iraqis are governed.  

One might be tempted to see this and the concurrent democratization of the Arab world that W pursued as some kind of peculiarity of his, except that it was completely in keeping with Anglospheric history, from Magna Carta to the Balkans.  It is in fact part and parcel of what came to be known as the End of History, the recognition that there was essentially only one way of organizing nations/states for the maximum benefit of their people and that what was required was a politics organized along democratic lines; an economics that is capitalist; and a religion that is protestant (tolerant of multiple faiths).

Given this redefinition of sovereignty and the ever increasingly universal adoption of its components, it seemed odd to me then that folks--mainly my fellows on the right--were so paranoid about transnationalism, which we might call, for simplicity sake, the idea that the sovereignty of individual states should be subservient to an overarching sovereign whose rule would not be subject to consent.  

Sure, the UN exists, but it has, throughout its history, either danced to our tune or we have ignored it (as W did when they ultimately refused to enforce their own Resolutions in Iraq).  And the EU exists, but it was obvious even then that any attempt to make it any more than a free trade zone was going to act as a centrifugal force rather than a centripetal one.   And all one had to do was look at the "nations" of Europe to see that the main dynamic--in Yugoslavia; in Spain, in Great Britain; in Belgium; in Italy; etc.--was a drive towards dissolution of the artificial regimes that had been created by conquest and treaty and towards constituent historical states : Serbia; Scotland; Catalonia; etc. Far from being threatened by a rampant transnationalism; the political reality was, and is, that citizenries have so internalized the right to consensual governance that they require that state decision-making be made as close to home as possible and with maximum input from those who identify themselves as the nation to be governed. [In Europe, such nations are often closely tied up with race/ethnicity/religion; but in America's not dissimilar demands for dissolution they are more regional and multi-ethnic/multi-confessional; California for example.]

So, I concluded that the threat of transnationalism was terribly overblown and that it was far more likely the EU would dissolve than be endowed with dictatorial powers.  

I did though identify one area where the opposite was likely to occur and that was global trade.  This is the one area that requires some surrender of state sovereignty by populations that wish to enjoy the benefits of increased market forces.  The reason for this seems obvious enough: would you buy a car from a dealer who was not bound by the same rules (laws) as you are?  Suppose you agreed to finance the purchase at 4% interest but he was entitled to raise the rate to any level he desired once you'd agreed?  Under such circumstances, it goes without saying, that trade would be impossible because no market actually exists.  Paradoxically, free markets are a function of rules created by a sovereign power.  

Global trade then requires that each sovereign nation relinquish some exclusive power over itself to a wider governing body so that it and all of its trading partners will be bound by a uniform code.  Thus, we arrive at the delicious irony that the main transnational "threat" comes not from the left, which retains some residual hostility to capitalism, but from the right, which is generally pro-commerce.  [Of course both the Left and the Right hate capitalism, so they are unreconcilable to any institution which advances global trade.]

Mr. Mitchell does reach one issue of sovereignty that does explain why even those of us who hold Donald and his Bannionite cohorts in contempt derive some satisfaction from seeing how the Left has reacted to his victory.  That is the anti-democratic imposition of social policies that are not accepted by large swaths and even majorities of the American people, and/or, not accepted by entire regions of America.  When such things occur they become firestorms precisely because it is our own government avoiding the requirement of consent of the governed.  

A nice illustration is the attempt to foist transgender (really non-gendered) bathrooms on the American people, most of whom are opposed.  When Washington acts in such a manner--one hostile to the prevailing culture--it can not help but tend to delegitimize the regime generally.  And it can not hope to settle the matter just through the exercise of brute force, as witness the undying struggle over abortion.  Such issues are best left to the smallest feasible polity to determine for themselves--generally the individual states--where they may not be any less fraught with controversy but where the citizenry will feel that the resulting rules were arrived at locally.

Of course, let us not kid ourselves; while we of the right want these kinds of rules repealed at the national level; we have no qualms about imposing our own partisan views universally, no matter how divisive and extra-constitutional, as witness gun laws.  Such are the enduring temptations of sovereign power.

February 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories (Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, Manu Raju and Pamela Brown, February 23, 2017, CNN)

The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN.

White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said. The reports of the contacts were first published by The New York Times and CNN on February 14.

The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. Such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations. [...]

The Trump administration's efforts to press Comey run contrary to Justice Department procedure memos issued in 2007 and 2009 that limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI.

"Initial communications between the [Justice] Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President, or the Vice President from the side of the White House," reads the 2009 memo.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


There Were Two Major Victories Against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (Jen Kirby, 2/23/17, New York)

ISIS suffered dual blows on Thursday, losing strategic ground in both Iraq and Syria. Iraqi forces reclaimed almost all of Mosul's airport from the control of the terror group, a key victory in the government's months-long offensive to retake Iraq's second-largest city. And over in Syria, Turkish-backed rebels seized control of the city of al-Bab, expelling ISIS from one of its last big strongholds there after a bloody, protracted battle that began just before fall.

The gains in Mosul come after Iraqi troops began a renewed push into the western part of the city, which remains under ISIS control. (Iraqi troops liberated eastern Mosul in January.) A week ahead of the operation, the United States led air strikes against 33 targets, including some believed to be ISIS command centers, reports the New York Times. Iraqi police forces led the assault Thursday; ISIS fought back with IEDs, car bombs, and mines buried underground, eventually losing ground as Iraqi forces pushed onto the runway. The Joint Operations Command said "many" ISIS fighters had been killed.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


  Dismal Results From Vouchers Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins (Kevin Carey, Feb. 23rd, 2017, NY Times)

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state's governor. "In mathematics," they found, "voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement." They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana's voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It's rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana "as large as any I've seen in the literature" -- not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

There's always the chance that a single study, no matter how well designed, is an outlier. Studies of older voucher programs in Milwaukee and elsewhere have generally produced mixed results, sometimes finding modest improvements in test scores, but only for some subjects and student groups. Until about a year ago, however, few if any studies had shown vouchers causing test scores to decline drastically.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. "Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools," the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Three consecutive reports, each studying one of the largest new state voucher programs, found that vouchers hurt student learning. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Trump Deportation Threats to Constrict Already-Tight Job Market (Patricia Laya, February 22, 2017, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants will strain an already tight U.S. job market, with one study suggesting that removing all of them would cost the economy as much as $5 trillion over 10 years.

That represents the contribution of the millions of unauthorized workers to the world's largest economy, about 3 percent of private-sector gross domestic product, according to a recent paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. At an average of $500 billion in output a year, removing all such immigrants would be like lopping off the equivalent of Massachusetts from the U.S. economy, said study co-author Francesc Ortega.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Boehner: Republicans won't repeal and replace Obamacare (DARIUS TAHIR, 02/23/17, Politico)

Boehner, who resigned in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando health care conference that the idea that a repeal-and-replace plan would blitz through Congress is just "happy talk."

Instead, he said changes to former President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement would likely be relatively modest.

"[Congressional Republicans are] going to fix Obamacare - I shouldn't call it repeal-and-replace, because it's not going to happen," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Neanderthals' DNA makes its presence felt : A gene's ancestry changes the way it is regulated, affecting appearance and health. (Dyani Lewis, 2/23/17, Cosmos)

When scientists sequenced the Neanderthal genome in 2010, it became apparent that prehistoric dalliances had taken place between Neanderthals and our European and Asian ancestors.

A faint afterglow of these matings is still present in the genomes of modern humans. Around 2% of the genomes of non-Africans is of Neanderthal origin.

In some cases, carrying the Neanderthal version of a gene has been linked to changes in fat metabolism, depression and lupus risk.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Trump trade data proposal defies common sense, honest accounting (DANIEL GRISWOLD, 02/23/17, The Hill)

Reconfiguring U.S. trade numbers in such a fashion would be a bad idea motivated by an economically shaky assumption. The assumption is that exports are the positive side of the trade ledger and imports are the negative side. Therefore, a trade deficit is a net negative for the U.S. economy.
By reducing the official count of exports and enlarging the trade deficit, or so the thinking goes, policymakers may be more likely to take steps to "fix" the deficit by reducing imports. 

This mercantilist approach misses the core reality of trade -- Americans benefit from imports and exports, arguably even more so. Imported goods benefit the vast majority of Americans by spurring more competition to satisfy consumers with better products at lower prices. This raises the real wages of American workers, especially low-income workers who spend a larger share of their budgets on such tradable goods and food, clothing, and shoes.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


La La Land has the world's worst traffic congestion (Charisse Jones, 2/20/17 , USA TODAY)

Cheap gas and a surging economy are taxing the nation's roads and contributing to congestion that cost U.S. motorists almost $300 billion last year in wasted time and fuel, according to a new report.

Los Angeles had the worst traffic in the world among the 1,064 cities studied by transportation analytics firm INRIX. The average driver wasted 104 hours sitting in gridlock during the busiest commuting times last year, and lost $2,408 each in squandered fuel and productivity. [...]

New York motorists spent 89 hours on average in traffic during peak periods last year. The average San Francisco driver cooled their heels behind the wheel 83 hours on average in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Manafort faced blackmail attempt, hacks suggest : Stolen texts appear to show threats to expose relations between Russia-friendly forces, Trump and his former campaign chairman. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, DAVID STERN and JOSH MEYER 02/23/17, Politico)

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to "bulletproof" evidence related to Manafort's financial arrangement with Ukraine's former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

"Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise," reads the note. It is signed "Sergii" -- an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko's given name -- and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko.

In the text to Manafort's daughter to which the note was attached, the sender writes from a different address, "I need to get in touch with Paul i need to share some important information with him regarding ukraine investigation." The sender adds "as soon as he comes back to me i will pass you documents," but also warns: "if I don't get any reply from you iam gonaa pass it on to the fbi and ukrainian authorities inducing media."

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


The Future of Not Working (Annie Lowrey, Feb. 23rd, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

The villagers had seen Western aid groups come through before, sure, but nearly all of them brought stuff, not money. And because many of these organizations were religious, their gifts came with moral impositions; I was told that one declined to help a young mother whose child was born out of wedlock, for example. With little sense of who would get what and how and from whom and why, rumors blossomed. One villager heard that GiveDirectly would kidnap children. Some thought that the organization was aligned with the Illuminati, or that it would blight the village with giant snakes, or that it performed blood magic. Others heard that the money was coming from Obama himself.

But the confusion faded that unseasonably cool morning in October, when a GiveDirectly team returned to explain themselves during a town meeting. Nearly all of the village's 220 people crowded into a blue-and-white tent placed near the school building, watching nervously as 13 strangers, a few of them white, sat on plastic chairs opposite them. Lydia Tala, a Kenyan GiveDirectly staff member, got up to address the group in Dholuo. She spoke at a deliberate pace, awaiting a hum and a nod from the crowd before she moved on: These visitors are from GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a nongovernmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party. GiveDirectly is based in the United States. GiveDirectly works with mobile phones. Each person must have his or her own mobile phone, and they must keep their PIN secret. Nobody must involve themselves in criminal activity or terrorism. This went on for nearly two hours. The children were growing restless.

Finally, Tala passed the microphone to her colleague, Brian Ouma. "People of the village," he said, "are you happy?"

"We are!" they cried in unison.

Then he laid out the particulars. "Every registered person will receive 2,280 shillings" -- about $22 -- "each and every month. You hear me?" The audience gasped and burst into wild applause. "Every person we register here will receive the money, I said -- 2,280 shillings! Every month. This money, you will get for the next 12 years. How many years?"

"Twelve years!"

Just like that, with peals of ululation and children breaking into dance in front of the strangers, the whole village was lifted out of extreme poverty. (I have agreed to withhold its name out of concern for the villagers' safety.) The nonprofit is in the process of registering roughly 40 more villages with a total of 6,000 adult residents, giving those people a guaranteed, 12-year-long, poverty-ending income. An additional 80 villages, with 11,500 residents all together, will receive a two-year basic income. With this initiative, GiveDirectly -- with an office in New York and funded in no small part by Silicon Valley -- is starting the world's first true test of a universal basic income. The idea is perhaps most in vogue in chilly, left-leaning places, among them Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and Scotland. But many economists think it might have the most promise in places with poorer populations, like India and sub-Saharan Africa.

GiveDirectly wants to show the world that a basic income is a cheap, scalable way to aid the poorest people on the planet. "We have the resources to eliminate extreme poverty this year," Michael Faye, a founder of GiveDirectly, told me. But these resources are often misallocated or wasted. His nonprofit wants to upend incumbent charities, offering major donors a platform to push money to the world's neediest immediately and practically without cost.

What happens in this village has the potential to transform foreign-aid institutions, but its effects might also be felt closer to home. A growing crowd, including many of GiveDirectly's backers in Silicon Valley, are looking at this pilot project not just as a means of charity but also as the groundwork for an argument that a universal basic income might be right for you, me and everyone else around the world too.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


McMaster May Reorganize Trump's Foreign Policy Team Once Again (PETER BAKER, FEB. 22, 2017, NY Times)

While the decision to give Mr. Bannon a seat was a conscious one, Mr. Trump's team did not intend to reduce the role of the intelligence director or Joint Chiefs chairman, officials said. In crafting their organization order, the officials said, Mr. Trump's aides essentially cut and pasted language from Mr. Bush's organization chart, substituting the national intelligence director for the C.I.A. director, who back then was the head of the nation's spy agencies.

What Mr. Trump's team did not realize, officials said, was that Mr. Obama's organization chart made those two positions full members of the committee.

As a practical matter, Mr. Trump's aides may not have intended a substantive change...

Thank you, God, for only allowing this presidency during a time of peace and plenty...

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


The True Story of the Comey Letter Debacle (Bethany McLean, Feb. 21st, 2017, Vanity Fair)

Even more famous is Comey's dramatic hospital-room confrontation with members of the Bush administration, in early March of 2004, over the secret warrantless domestic-eavesdropping program, which caused a national furor when the press revealed its existence in late 2005. In what The Washington Post later called "the most riveting 20 minutes of Congressional testimony. Maybe ever," Comey told the story of how he, as acting attorney general, filled in for his boss, John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized. After refusing to re-authorize the program, which he believed was illegal, Comey discovered that other members of the administration were planning an end run to get an incapacitated Ashcroft to sign off on it in his hospital bed. Comey "ran, literally ran," up the stairs to prevent that, he testified. The next day he considered resigning.

"To know Jim Comey is also to know his fierce independence and his deep integrity," said President Obama when, nine years later, he nominated him to serve as F.B.I. director. "He was prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong."

Well, yes. But did Comey really believe that the program was "fundamentally wrong"?

President Bush quickly gave his support to making changes to the program--changes that have never been disclosed publicly--and Comey stayed on as D.A.G. until August 2005, as the wiretapping program continued. The London newspaper The Guardian obtained a classified report about the incident, which made Comey's objections seem to be less broadly substantive and more about legal technicalities involving just one part of the program.

Many would argue that legal technicalities are critically important, but some of Comey's former D.O.J. colleagues carped to The New York Times that his actions had not been as heroic as they were portrayed. One observer cites Comey's willingness to say, "I know what's right," even when doing so causes potentially avoidable drama. Another person who knows Comey well says, "There is stubbornness, ego, and some self-righteousness at work." [...]

On July 5, Comey held the press conference in which he announced that agents had found thousands of e-mails that contained government secrets, all of which had traveled unsecure, unclassified channels on Clinton's private e-mail network. Nonetheless, he said, "we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges," in large part because they did not find intent, which is a critical element of most criminal cases.

Comey certainly knew that the career prosecutors, who had been working hand-in-glove with the F.B.I. agents, would agree with the decision. But he made it clear he hadn't even informed the D.O.J., whose responsibility it is to decide whether to authorize an indictment, that he was holding a press conference. Lynch corroborated this, admitting that the D.O.J. had learned of the press conference only "right before." Indeed, some at the D.O.J. turned to CNN to find out what Comey was saying.

Plenty of Comey's longtime admirers were appalled that he had spoken at all, because by doing so he blew through several of the Justice Department's long-standing policies. "It was an unprecedented public announcement by a non-prosecutor that there would be no prosecution," says someone who once worked for Comey. The F.B.I. does not talk publicly about its investigations, and "it does not make prosecutorial decisions. Full stop."

"[Comey] has said he did not consult with anyone at the D.O.J. beforehand so he could say it was the F.B.I.'s recommendation," observes another former prosecutor. "But right there that is a massive act of insubordination."

Comey then, according to his critics, compounded his mistake by declaring Clinton's conduct and that of her aides "extremely careless." This was another breach of protocol. Neither prosecutors nor agents criticize people they don't charge. "We don't dirty you up," says Richard Frankel, who retired from the F.B.I. in early 2016 and now consults for ABC News. And Comey's choice of language opened another can of worms. Unlike other criminal statutes, which, as a rule, require intent, the Espionage Act does allow for prosecutions of those who display "gross negligence."

Those close to the case were also shocked by what Comey didn't say. For instance, he didn't point out that the "classified" e-mails had not been marked that way when they were sent or received, and didn't point out that all the e-mails were to people who work in government--not to outsiders who aren't supposed to receive such information. "He gave a very skewed picture," says one person involved in the case. "The goal has to be that people understand the decision, and it came out exactly the opposite."

How to explain Comey's omissions? "I don't think he was that well briefed," says another person involved in the case. "It's a function of being at the bureau and of Comey's personality. It is so easy to get insular there. And Comey is not someone who cross-examines his own people. . . . It came across like there was something specific, but there was nothing there."

Those who know Comey say that, while the decision for him not to recommend prosecution was an easy one, his unprecedented decision to speak about it publicly wasn't. Some believe he might have taken the public route even without the tarmac incident, in part because he worried that prosecutors at Main Justice, instead of bringing the investigation to a close, would dither.

There's also speculation that Comey's decision to criticize Clinton was influenced by his prior experience, from Whitewater to Marc Rich, with her and her husband. But sources close to Comey insist that isn't true, and that his decision to go into more detail was influenced by his desire to make people believe the process had been fair despite the appearance of impropriety. An F.B.I. source says that since the details of the investigation were going to come out, framed in hyperpartisan ways via congressional hearings and FOIA requests, Comey wanted to offer an apolitical framing of the facts first.

Critics, however, see in his decision a whisper of the Ashcroft hospital confrontation, with the dark side fully apparent. "This gets into speculation, but knowing Jim, he decides it is all totally f[*****]d up and that he has to save the department and he alone can do it," says someone who knows him well. "Megalomania kicked in."

Comey had put his years of public service and his sterling reputation on the line, but that did nothing to persuade Republicans about the fairness of his investigation, and they refused to let go of the matter. In a July 7 congressional hearing, an incredulous Representative Trey Gowdy (Republican, South Carolina) proceeded to grill him about Clinton's e-mail practices, statements under oath, and legal infractions, ultimately exclaiming, "Help the reasonable person . . . understand why she appears to be treated differently than the rest of us would be."

Congress asked Comey to testify again on September 12, but he reportedly declined. They asked again, on September 28. This time, he obliged, and confirmed that the F.B.I. would not reopen its investigation. No findings at that point "would come near" to prompting such a measure, he told the congressmen. Louie Gohmert (Republican, Texas) continued the Republican harangue: "[The F.B.I. has] never seen anything like this."

With the bureau's probity questioned by Gohmert and others, Comey sprang to the defense. "You can call us wrong," he said, "but don't call us weasels. We are not weasels. We are honest people and . . . whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you would want it to be done."

Agreeing to appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee about the investigation was yet another mistake, many believe, forcing Comey to answer questions he normally wouldn't have. Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas) asked him if he'd reopen the case if he found new information. "It's hard for me to answer in the abstract," said Comey, who was under oath. "We would certainly look at any new and substantial information."

Throughout the whole process it seemed like, for him, the investigation was primarily about his own reputation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


U.S. appeals court upholds Maryland's ban on assault rifles (Reuters, 2/23/17)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided 10-4 that the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a law in response to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, by a gunman with an assault rifle, does not violate the right to bear arms within the Second Amendment.

"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote, referring to the "military-style rifles" that were also used during mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida.

These are "places whose names have become synonymous with the slaughters that occurred there," he wrote, noting that the Supreme Court's decision in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case excluded coverage of assault weapons.

Actually, only weapons of war are protected by the 2nd Amendment, but those only for use by the states'  well-regulated militias.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Most scientists 'can't replicate studies by their peers' (Tom Feilden, 22 February 2017, BBC)

From his lab at the University of Virginia's Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

"The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results."

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The bar where you CAN'T pick up! (FREYA NOBLE, 2/22/17,  DAILY MAIL AUSTRALIA)

For women sick of men approaching them at bars, there is a new venue where cocktails with girlfriends can be enjoyed in peace. [...]

'We have a set of house rules, and the one that people have found most interesting is that gentlemen don't approach ladies,' owner Mike Kadinski told Daily Mail Australia.

'And the rule is, if a gentleman is lucky enough to be approached by a lady, he speaks to her as if he would speak to his mother,' he added. 

Homey has some serious Oedepal issues, no?

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Sorry, Coal. Solar Is Where the Jobs Are (Erika Fry, Feb 21, 2017, Forbes)

According to a recent report from the Energy Department, the coal electric generation sector employed just 86,035 people--57,325 of them miners--in 2016. That's far fewer than the number who now work in solar: 370,000, up 25% from 2015. The wind-energy workforce, meanwhile, ballooned 32%, to 101,738, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics pronounced "wind turbine service technician" the nation's fastest-growing occupation, projecting 108% growth between 2014 and 2024.

Compare that with the fate of coal miners, whose number dwindled by 24% last year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Upsurge In Violence Prompts Pakistan To Broaden Antiterror Campaign (Radio Liberty, February 23, 2017)

Pakistan has been on high alert since last week's wave of attacks, including an Islamic State suicide bombing at a famed Sufi shrine that killed at least 90.

The devastating assault on the shrine in Sindh came after a Taliban suicide bombing in Lahore on February 13, which killed 13 people, and a series of other attacks.

A resurgence of the Taliban and IS would be a major blow to Pakistan, where optimism about a recent decline in violence had been growing after a decade-long war on militancy.

Prior to last week's attacks, Pakistan's antiterrorist operations had focused mainly on the country's troubled northwestern tribal region and militants there linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Air Force Stumped by Trump's Claim of $1 Billion Savings on Jet (Anthony Capaccio, February 22, 2017, Bloomberg)

The Air Force can't account for $1 billion in savings that President Donald Trump said he's negotiated for the program to develop, purchase and operate two new Boeing Co. jets to serve as Air Force One.

"To my knowledge I have not been told that we have that information," Colonel Pat Ryder, an Air Force spokesman, told reporters Wednesday when asked how Trump had managed to reduce the price for the new presidential plane. "I refer you to the White House," Ryder said. A White House spokesman didn't respond to repeated inquiries about Trump's comments.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


America is afflicted with a deleterious disease: Loneliness (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 21, 2017, The Week)

Over time, I've grown to believe that the root cause of all these maladies lies in a simple word: loneliness.

For decades, loneliness has quietly been on the rise in America. Traditionally, America was known as a society of "joiners": not only churches, but lodges and fraternal organizations, civic society groups, PTAs, kids' baseball teams, Boy Scouts, fraternities and sororities, you name it. This was a uniquely American thing. There is a French word for "entrepreneur," but there is no French word that captures the quintessentially American concept of "community" -- as in "this is a great community" or "he's a leader in the community." Famously, this feature of American life is what most stunned Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited American shores in the 19th century.

Americans are more divorced than ever, and less churched than ever. The sociologist Robert Putnam chronicled the new American loneliness in his book Bowling Alone, which shows the declining trends of membership in all social organizations, from labor unions to PTAs to fraternal organizations to volunteering with the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross. Putnam mostly blames technology and its atomization forces -- and the book was written nearly two decades ago, a positive dark age compared to today's attention-sucking technologies.

A 2014 study by the National Science Foundation found that one in four Americans (one in four!) said they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs; the number doubles to more than half of Americans if immediate family is not counted. 

This is just one unfortunate side effect of how many hours Americans spend at work and in their cars.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


The link between your belief in free will, and your happiness (Conn Hastings, 10 February 2017, World Economic Forum)

In a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology, Jingguang Li, professor at Dali University, and his research team show the link between belief in free will and happiness exists in Chinese teenagers.

They found that 85% of the Chinese teenagers expressed a belief in free will, and that this was positively correlated with happiness.

Free will describes the ability to make independent choices, where the outcome of the choice is not influenced by past events. The existence of free will is the subject of debate among psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers.

The argument against free will is that each decision we make is completely influenced by our previous life experience, so that given a certain choice this experience will trigger us to respond in a certain way, which is not a free choice.

Different perspectives on free will can color our thinking of concepts such as personal responsibility, guilt, ambition and forward planning.

Interestingly, previous studies with Western participants have shown that people who believe in free will tend to be happier.

Oddly enough, those who deny free will are never okay with the idea of being punched in the face...

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


California Really Has What It Takes to Secede : But is America's largest state ready for the wars that would follow? (JAMES POULOS, FEBRUARY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

California secessionists also understand that there are fewer practical hurdles, compared with other parts of the country, to parting ways with the USA. A smaller or more parochial corner of America would never contemplate secession, if only because the achievement of such willful idiosyncrasy would come at the cost of isolation and obscurity. For California, however -- approximately the sixth-largest economy in the world -- independence wouldn't necessarily bring economic hardship. Perennial worries about entertainment and tech flight to states dangling incentives might spike in the early days of a new California Republic. But citizens won't blink at the inevitable higher subsidies lawmakers and a Democratic governor will be quick to offer those anchor industries. And the other pillars of California's economy -- tourism and agriculture -- can't be relocated by skittish investors.

...the simpler reality is that America already vastly exceeds the optimal size of a nation and is going to get much larger in coming decades thanks to immigration. Devolution is just a natural step to deal with that.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Sweden video that inspired Trump was edited 'unethically', photographer who shot it says
 (The Local, 23 February 2017)

Photographer Emil Marczak who filmed the interview has now backed the claims from the officers about being misrepresented. He says that Horowitz had a clear agenda and "repeatedly tried to get the police to agree with him".

"To double check that my recollection is correct I went through the raw footage, and it confirms how the police have portrayed events. They said repeatedly that they had no information which could substantiate this kind of statement," Marczak told DN.

The camera operator added that he would not have taken the job if he knew "how unethically and frivolously the material would have been cut together".

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Mnuchin says dollar strength reflects confidence in U.S. economy: WSJ (Reuters, 2/22/17)

Echoing comments he made last month during his Senate confirmation hearing, Mnuchin said the dollar's strength reflected the United States' stronger economic performance compared with the rest of the world and the greenback's status as a reserve currency.

He told the Journal that the dollar's value was "a reflection of the confidence that kind of people have in the U.S. economy."

President Donald Trump said before his inauguration in January that the dollar's strength against the Chinese yuan was "killing us" and making it hard for U.S. companies to compete, roiling global currency markets.

February 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


How Trump's campaign staffers tried to keep him off Twitter : The trick? Making sure his media diet included a healthy dose of praise. (TARA PALMERI 02/22/17, Politico0

President Donald Trump's former campaign staffers claim they cracked the code for tamping down his most inflammatory tweets, and they say the current West Wing staff would do well to take note.

The key to keeping Trump's Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up -- and make sure it made its way to Trump's desk.

"If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable," said former communications director Sam Nunberg. "The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall."

All the President's yes-men (Peter Jones, 25 February 2017, The Spectator)

Tacitus saw that absolutism lay at the heart of the imperial system. To maintain it, the emperor surrounded himself with men who owed loyalty to no one but himself, and over whom he could therefore exert total control. The result was a culture of acquiescence in whatever the emperor wanted, well exemplified by the Roman senator Sallustius Crispus, who fawned that 'the circumstances of imperial rule are such that the accounts will come right only if submitted to the approval of one person'. Everyone knew who that was.

There was another consequence. Tacitus reported that the emperor Vitellius was so ignorant of soldiering that 'he always had to ask someone else'. So disastrous were the results that experienced centurions decided to enlighten him. 'But Vitellius' close advisers kept them away, since the emperor had developed the habit of regarding good advice as disagreeable and listening only to what was pleasing -- and fatal.'

This desire for the pleasing brought in its train the refusal to face facts. When Rome, under Nero, suffered a disastrous defeat in Armenia, the victory trophies which had been prematurely put up were left standing. 'It was appearances that counted; the truth was despised,' said Tacitus. All this added up in his eyes to the corruption of public life on a massive scale.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Trump forgets his Obama criticisms : The new president, who attacked Obama for golfing and personal travel, spends his first month outdoing his predecessor. (JOSH DAWSEY 02/21/17, Politico)

The new president has taken three weekend getaways in the first month of office, spending millions of taxpayer dollars in Secret Service protection and about 25 percent of his time away from the White House. The Secret Service has also paid for security for expensive business trips for his sons' business ventures to foreign countries.

The actions seem to fly in the face of how he mocked Obama's travel. "President Barack Obama's vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars -- unbelievable!" he wrote in one of many tweets criticizing Obama for taking a trip.

Trump has headed to the golf course at least six times since he took office, another favorite criticism against Obama. Trump mocked Obama more than two dozen times for golfing amid problems in the White House.

"Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter," Trump said in 2014.

Trump said last August that if he became president, he wouldn't have time for golf. "I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf," he said at an event in Virginia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Robot studies shed fast light on insect evolution (Anthea Batsakis, 2/22/17, Cosmos)

By simulating and testing different gaits for six legs, the researchers found the speediest results with a "bipod gait"- a walking style requiring only two legs being in contact with the ground at a time. It's comparable to the gait used by horses or dogs.

Perhaps the more interesting aspect of the research, though, is that lead researchers Pavan Ramdya, from the University of Lausanne, and Robin Thandiackal, from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne, then"reverse-engineered" their findings with experiments on fruit flies.

Fruit flies might not be the Usain Bolts of the insect world but they do have the ability to walk upside down, thanks to the sticky pads on their legs.

When the researchers disabled that stickiness using drops of polymer, the flies took on the same quicker bipod gait modelled by their algorithm.

"It's really interesting that by doing these simulations, and thinking about robot theory, they figured out that there should be another way nature can work," says Roberts, who was not involved in the study. "Often scientists observe nature and try and work out why something happens, but this is kind of the reverse."

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Milo Yiannopoulos and the Church of Winning (BEN HOWE,  FEB 21, 2017, The Atlantic)

After a dozen women came forward to claim that they had all personally interacted with the version of Trump heard in that recording, Trump offered no indication he was not the man they accused him of being. He issued some threats about lawsuits, pointed to the behavior of Bill Clinton, and hid behind the evangelical support he enjoyed as proof that the criticisms were moot. The message: He could grab a woman by her--wherever--in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose their votes.

In spite of this, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and others continued to provide the spiritual security that their religious followers needed to feel okay with their vote. They went on TV, tweeted support, wrote articles, met with the president, and came out emphasizing that Hillary Clinton was worse.

Some went so far as to interpret biblical passages to accommodate their newly flexible worldview, a stark contrast to the principled stand many of them (or the fathers on whose credibility they trade) took in the 1990s when a Democrat was the president.

Evangelical leaders of this stripe seemed to indicate that such petty and insignificant things as "moral depravity" were irrelevant now that the questions were raised by a Republican.

White evangelicals voted for Trump by a wide margin; eighty percent supported him, according to exit polls. But the election didn't resolve the questions; a month into his presidency, Trump supporters are still defending the indefensible.

Yiannopoulos is simply an extension of the moral ambiguity that evangelical leadership has helped to solidify on the right. Instead of certitude or clarity, many of the national leaders who are responsible for helping to guide millions of Christians trying to navigate the muddy waters of life in American politics have opted for moral relativism. They gave Trump a pass. Will evangelicals now give Trump's surrogates and spokespersons a pass as well?

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


McConnell-linked group to hardliners: It's repeal AND replace (Jonathan Swan  David Nather, 2/21/17, Axios)

A political advocacy group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is sending a message to conservative hardliners: We're repealing and replacing Obamacare, so get used to it.[...]

The poll's main findings:

Only 17 percent of Americans surveyed -- the poll sampled 1,201 likely voters in 12 Senate battleground states -- think Obamacare should be repealed immediately, while 34 percent think it should be repealed only when a replacement is ready.

Even among Republicans, only 33 percent think the law should be repealed immediately, while 56 percent say it should be repealed when a replacement is ready.

The Right is trapped so deep in the bubble they think taking away health care is popular.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Trump's envoys head to Mexico as cracks emerge in border wall plan (Rory Carroll, 22 February 2017, The Guardian)

Mexico will host its first high-profile Donald Trump envoys this week with at least one consolation: the proposed border wall is itself walled in, for now, by Washington bureaucracy.

Federal agencies are reportedly resisting the idea and Congress is hesitant to fund it, leaving the president fighting a lonely battle to keep his campaign promise.

Instead of a 2,000-mile "big, beautiful wall", Trump may emerge from Washington's policy labyrinth with a fence covering a few hundred miles.

"He hasn't made any progress other than say we're going to do it," said Seth Stodder, a former senior homeland security official who focused on border security under the Obama and Bush administrations. "They're pretty far away. I don't think they've made much progress."

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


'Every person deserves to rest in peace': American Muslims raising money to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery (Colby Itkowitz, February 21, 2017, Washington Post)
An American flag still stands next to one of more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Mo., on Feb. 21. (Tom Gannam/Reuters)
After the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis over the long holiday weekend, an incident in which more than 150 headstones were toppled or damaged, two American Muslim activists started a fundraiser to help pay for needed repairs.

"Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America," the fundraising page on the site LaunchingGood reads. "We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event."

Within a few hours of going up Tuesday afternoon, the page had exceeded its goal of raising $20,000.

Tarek El-Messidi, who created the campaign with fellow activist Linda Sarsour said when he saw the news about the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City, he was reminded of a story about the prophet Muhammad, who had stood up when a Jewish funeral procession passed. When asked why, he said, "Is it not a human soul?"

February 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Fed's Williams Says Historically Low Interest Rates Will Persist (Rich Miller, February 21, 2017, Bloomberg)

Historically low interest rates are here to stay, making it much harder for central banks in wealthy countries to prevent and limit recessions in the future, according San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams.

Rates are at best in line with historical norms, but more likely historically high given deflationary pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


For better and for worse, Trump's presidency upsets many norms (Jonah Goldberg, 2/21/17, National Review)

[T]he dynamic that concerns me is how a climate of "mere anarchy" has been loosed upon Washington. Trump spent much of the campaign touting, celebrating, and promoting WikiLeaks as a "treasure trove." "I love WikiLeaks!" Trump told a crowd that was chanting "Lock her up!"

He's changed his tune of late, railing on Twitter against "the low-life leakers!" and insisting that stories based on leaks are outrageous and fraudulent: "FAKE NEWS media, which makes up stories and 'sources,' is far more effective than the discredited Democrats -- but they are fading fast!"

Now, there's certainly an important difference between government officials releasing top-secret information to settle political scores and a foreign government aiding in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. But in the environment we're in now, such distinctions seem more like niceties or talking points for professional spinners.

And that's because in a world where one side sees inconvenient rules as illegitimate, it's only natural that the other side will see rules that inconvenience them as illegitimate too.

This applies not just to laws or democratic norms, but to simple good manners. Trump and his biggest supporters saw nothing wrong with insinuating that Ted Cruz's father was an accomplice to JFK's murder. They shrugged at his insults of his political opponents and even their wives. He and they reject any suggestion that he should apologize for such statements. But the merest slight against Trump or his family is an outrage.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Iowa senator wants political balance among university professors (Brianne Pfannenstiel,  Feb. 20, 2017, Des Moines Register)

A bill in the Iowa Senate seeks to achieve greater political diversity among professors at the state's Board of Regents universities. Senate File 288 would institute a hiring freeze until the number of registered Republicans and Democrats on the university faculty fall within 10 percent of each other.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Islamic State linked group expands foothold in southern Syria near Israel (Suleiman Al-Khalid, 2/21/17, Reuters)

Islamic State-linked Syrian militant groups on Monday launched a surprise attack on moderate rebels in southwestern Syria near the Golan Heights near where the Jordanian and Israeli borders converge, seizing several villages and a large town, rebels and witnesses said. [...]

The Sunni hardline militants are members of the so-called Khalid Ibn Al Walid Army, a grouping set up last year from a merger of two main militant jihadist factions who are believed to have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and now control the strip of territory southeast of the Golan Heights.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The New Republic Speculates Trump May Have Syphilis (Jillian Kay Melchior, February 21, 2017, Heat Street)

The New Republic published a speculative piece suggesting that Donald Trump's "bizarre, volatile behavior" might be the result of an STD.

Dr. Steven Beutler, an expert in infectious disease, wrote that while "there's a great deal of information I don't have access to," he thinks it's plausible that Trump might have neurosyphilis.

There is nothing more American than our need to believe he'd have to be ill to follow President Bannon's lead.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Exclusive: White House delivered EU-skeptic message before Pence visit - sources (Noah Barkin, 2/21/17, Reuters)

In the week before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Brussels and pledged America's "steadfast and enduring" commitment to the European Union, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon met with a German diplomat and delivered a different message, according to people familiar with the talks.

Bannon, these people said, signalled to Germany's ambassador to Washington that he viewed the EU as a flawed construct and favoured conducting relations with Europe on a bilateral basis.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Building Trust Cuts Violence. Cash Also Helps. (Rikha Sharma Rani, Feb. 21st, 2017, NY Times)

DeVone Boggan could teach a class on the art of making a statement. In 2010, he invited a group of the most dangerous gun offenders in Richmond, a Bay Area city of about 100,000 residents, to a conference room at City Hall. At each seat was a name card starting with "Mr." and an information folder labeled "Operation Peacemaker." Wearing a suit and his signature fedora, Boggan began the meeting by apologizing on behalf of the city for not reaching out to the men sooner. Peace in Richmond, he told them, must come through them. When the meeting was over and everyone got up to leave, Boggan called them back. The men, already wary, assumed they would be arrested. Instead, Boggan handed each an envelope containing $1,000. "We wanted to send sound waves through the community," Boggan said. "Facebook blew up."

The previous year, Richmond police department officials had told Boggan, the director of the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety, that they thought 17 men were responsible for 70 percent of the city's gun crime. At the time, Richmond was among the most dangerous cities in the country. Its homicide rate had reached 46 per 100,000 residents -- triple Chicago's rate. At one point, the City Council had even considered declaring a state of emergency. Boggan asked each official to independently send him the names of the 17 men, an exercise that yielded 28 unduplicated names. In the three months it took to make contact with all of them, three died of gun related injuries. He invited the remaining 25 to City Hall, and 21 showed up.

Boggan is the architect of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship, a controversial program initiated in 2010 that shares features with Cure Violence and Ceasefire, two other programs that, over the last two decades, have become models for reducing gun violence. Like the others, Boggan's method uses data and intelligence to identify people highly likely to commit or become victims of gun violence; it then connects them with job training, mentorship and social services while deploying outreach teams to intervene in conflicts.

But it also does something else. After six months, its subjects -- most are African-American males between 14 and 27 years old -- are eligible for a monthly cash stipend of up to $1,000 for up to nine months (Boggan's meeting in 2010 with the first cohort was played out in a way designed to turn heads and attract more fellows into the program). The city's average homicide rate in the five years that preceded the arrival of Operation Peacemaker was 40 per 100,000 residents. In the next five years, it dropped by nearly 60 percent.

Modeled after Cure Violence, the Richmond program treats gun violence as an epidemic disease that spreads by exposure to it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


How McMaster Could Change the Way the US Goes to War (PATRICK TUCKER, FEBRUARY 20, 2017, Defense One)

McMaster, who had first gained fame as the tank commander in the Gulf War's Battle of 73 Easting, then solidified his credentials as a thinking soldier with the well-received Dereliction of Duty, said that the chaos in Afghanistan and the parts of Iraq and Syria then held by ISIS was the fault of multiple parties but stemmed from a single cause: a failure to consolidate gains. Read that to mean the deployment of a substantial number of troops, enough to manage the transition of an occupied territory into a reliable U.S. ally, or at least a stable country. [...]

A better solution to Iraq would have looked something like the U.S. military occupation of  in Korea. Indeed, the Army had recently released its  U.S. Army Operating and Training Concept, a set of guideposts explaining its approach to training soldiers for the world of 2020-40. The section on "gains consolidation," highlights the need for Army commanders to "understand cognitive, informational, social, cultural, political and physical influences affecting human behavior...emphasis on early and effective consolidation activities as a fundamental part of campaign design enables success and achieves lasting favorable outcomes in the shortest time span."

"Now who consolidates gains should not matter as long as you are getting to that sustainable political outcome," McMaster said at the New America Foundation event. "But what's necessary to consolidate gains? It always has been military support to indigenous security forces who take on increasing responsibility, the development of security forces that are capable but also legitimate, you know, trusted by the population. It's military support to governance and rule of law consistent with their traditions...so you can deny the enemy the ability to operate freely among those populations."

Hard to think of a more asinine comparison given that we did not occupy Korea, just South Korea, after losing to the North.  And, of course, the South's stabilization owes as much to the totalitarian regime in the North as to us.  Had North Korea pursued a North Vietnam strategy the occupation would have looked like Iraq, at best, Vietnam at worst.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


How San Diego Built a Bridge Over the Wall (Annie Karni, Feb. 16th, 2017, Politico)

Around lunchtime two days before Donald Trump's presidential inauguration last month, some 200 business and civic leaders from San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, gathered here in a hotel ballroom downtown for an event hosted by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. As the assembled professionals, decked out in business-casual attire and speaking a smattering of Spanish and English, munched on cold--not to say rubbery--chicken and green salad and sipped iced tea, the event's keynote speaker, a UCLA economist named Lee Ohanian, delivered a pessimistic message about the man who was on everybody's mind.

Trump's plan to tax imports from Mexico would amount to "shooting [us] in the foot," Ohanian declared, "with many, many unintended consequences." Given the aging of the baby boomers and declining U.S. birth rates, Trump's possible plan to reduce immigration levels would make it "extremely difficult" to achieve increased productivity or GDP growth, he warned. But Ohanian wound up his speech on a positive note: Trump seems like a "person who tends to change his mind," he said. The crowd laughed nervously.

For the people who do business in Tijuana and San Diego, talk of barriers--whether it's tariffs or even "big beautiful walls"-- is anathema. They know that the health of their "mega region," as San Diego's Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer calls it, depends on enhancing the economic integration of the two cities that collectively boast a population of 5 million. (Roughly half live on each side.) One of the most dramatic examples of their commitment to that entwined economy is a bridge that literally crosses above the border fence. In late 2015, a terminal connecting San Diego to the Tijuana airport opened. Funded privately by American and Mexican investors, the Cross Border Xpress has created the world's first truly binational airport. Each day, thousands of passengers from San Diego now walk easily across the border directly into the Tijuana airport. Conversely, people landing in Tijuana now walk into San Diego after their flights. The project is a striking physical manifestation of the increasing interconnectedness of the two cities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Ohio, Where Muslim and Christian Refugees Form 'Impossible' Friendships (Shamila N. Chaudhary|Feb. 19th, 2017, The Atlantic)

Stepping out of an apartment complex into a warm Ohio night, Nashwaan Saddoon got into an old minivan and drove through Toledo to a hookah joint called Rocket Lounge. Sitting beside him was his friend, Amjad Arafeh. The two men had met only five months earlier, but they lived in the same building and already they were very close, despite their different backgrounds. Saddoon, an Iraqi Christian refugee, had been kidnapped and held hostage by Islamic State militants a few years before. Arafeh, a Syrian Muslim refugee, had escaped shelling and bombing in Damascus.

When the minivan pulled up to Rocket Lounge, Saddoon and Arafeh joined the group of Arabs and Midwesterners assembled outside for their monthly Sawa gathering. Sawa, which means "together" in Arabic, is a community initiative designed to introduce refugees to Americans and to each other. [...]

The friendship is part of a new chapter for Saddoon, who has experienced a lifetime of persecution at the hands of Muslims. In the United States, the two men have come to rely on one another for advice as they navigate the challenges of resettlement. Saddoon now counts several Muslims among his closest confidantes.

"Muslims here are different than in the Middle East," Saddoon said. "I have so many Muslim friends in Toledo--from Syria, Sudan, Jordan. Relations among us are different here."   

For Saddoon and his friends, life in America is changing the way Arab Muslims and Christians treat one another. In the Middle East, faith is often a matter of life and death, as the violence of ISIS has proven across Syria and Iraq. In Toledo, faith remains a matter of survival for Christian and Muslim refugees--but in positive ways. Away from the pressures of civil war and strife, refugees in these two religious groups are building communities that support one another as they draw from their respective traditions.

February 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Michael Novak, Catholic Scholar Who Championed Capitalism, Dies at 83 (WILLIAM GRIMESFEB. 19, 2017, NY Times)

By the mid-1970s, like many of the former liberals who formed the core of the neoconservative movement, he had become disillusioned with campus politics. He was unhappy with the continuing changes generated by the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II. He was gripped, he said in a talk at the University of Notre Dame in 1998, by "a powerful intellectual conviction that the left was wrong about virtually every big issue of our time: the Soviet Union, the North Vietnamese regime, economics, welfare, race, and moral questions such as abortion, amnesty, acid and the sexual revolution."

In "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism" (1982) he mounted a defense of capitalism as a morally superior system based on liberty, individual worth and Judeo-Christian principles. It was, he insisted, the only economic system capable of lifting the poor from misery and of encouraging moral growth. Samuel McCracken, in Commentary magazine, called the book "a stunning achievement" and "perhaps the first serious attempt to construct a theology of capitalism."

Mr. Novak elaborated and extended this argument in several books, notably "The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" (1993). It argued that capitalism's most powerful underlying forces were not self-denial and discipline, as Max Weber had maintained in his classic 1905 work "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," but the "social dimensions of the free economy" and the free play of creativity -- both rooted, as Mr. Novak saw it, in Catholic ethics.

"Capitalism forms morally better people than socialism does," Mr. Novak said in a 2007 interview with Crisis, a magazine he and the scholar Ralph McInerny founded in 1982. "Capitalism teaches people to show initiative and imagination, to work cooperatively in teams, to love and to cherish the law; what is more, it forces persons not only to rely on themselves and their own moral qualities, but also to recognize those moral qualities in others and to cooperate with others freely."

His ideas found a receptive ear among free-market devotees and conservative politicians around the world, as well as Eastern European leaders emerging from the former Soviet empire, like Lech Walesa in Poland and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia.

Among his most fervent admirers was Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister. Mr. Novak, she wrote in "The Downing Street Years," "put into new and striking language what I had always believed about individuals and communities." His description of capitalism as a moral and social system as well as an economic one, she wrote, "provided the intellectual basis for my approach to those great questions brought together in political parlance as 'the quality of life.'"

Hard to lead a much more influential life than to have helped make the Republican Party theoconservative, Margaret Thatcher Third Way, PJPII capitalist and Poland and Czechoslovakia democratic.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


What Accounts for Trump's Trade Tales? (DON BOUDREAUX, FEBRUARY 20, 2017, Cafe Hayek)

Trump and his protectionist trade triumvirate are not only ignorant of the basic tenets of economics, they are ignorant also of the basic tenets of accounting.  Commerce-secretary designate Wilbur Ross, for example, routinely insists that "it's ECON 101" that trade deficits reduce GDP.  But he's deeply mistaken.

First, a U.S. trade deficit means that investments are flowing into the American economy; such investments generally fuel the future growth of the U.S. economy. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


In Trump's Volleys, Echoes of Alex Jones's Conspiracy Theories (Jim Rutenberg, FEB. 19, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Jones, in case you aren't aware, is the conspiracy-theorizing, flame-throwing nationalistic radio and internet star who's best known for suggesting that Sept. 11 was an inside job, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was "completely fake" and that the phony Clinton child-s** trafficking scandal known as Pizzagate warranted serious investigation (which one Facebook fan took upon himself to do, armed with an AR-15). [...]

His audience, Mr. Jones told me, is "the teeth of the Trump organization on the ground -- the information-warfare, organic internal resistance." [...]

Two weeks ago, Mr. Trump's quickly debunked allegation that the news media covered up terrorism by Islamic extremists echoed reports on Infowars, including one headline that blared: "Scandal: Mass Media Covers Up Terrorism to Protect Islam."

Before that, there was Mr. Trump's false claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, which Infowars had asserted in November and then repeated, giving "oxygen to the lies," as CNN put it then. Then again, others in the right-leaning internet ecosystem had forwarded the illegal voting report, too.

Mr. Jones's influence could be seen more directly last spring when Mr. Trump told a crowd in California that "there is no drought" -- oh, yes, there was -- and suggested that reports of one were part of a plot to protect a "three-inch fish." It was very similar to reports in Infowars suggesting the drought was manufactured and promoting the fish theory.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


An echo of Trump in the last of the Whigs : Millard Fillmore is largely forgotten, but his politics have a familiar ring (Jeff Jacoby, 2/19/17, The Boston Globe)

Fillmore presented himself as a loyal Whig, but his political career had begun with the Anti-Masons, a political movement tied to a bizarre hostility toward Freemasons. He was attracted, writes Paul Finkelman, a legal historian at Albany Law School, "to oddball political movements, conspiracy theories, and ethnic hatred." [...]

The Fugitive Slave Act, perhaps the cruelest measure ever enacted by Congress, was vigorously resisted in many Northern cities. But President Fillmore backed the law and prosecuted citizens who tried to interfere with the slave-catchers.

Rarely has there been a more repugnant law. For the first time in US history, the Fugitive Slave Act created a national system of law enforcement. Its purpose: hunting escaped slaves and returning them to bondage. Federal commissioners were appointed nationwide, and empowered not only to adjudicate fugitive slave claims, but to assemble local posses to capture slaves on the run. The law imposed harsh penalties on anyone caught aiding a fugitive slave. And even free blacks were at risk of being seized and charged as runaways, since the law, with grotesque disregard for due process, forbade accused fugitives from testifying in their own behalf.

Fillmore enforced the law with determination, and dispatched federal troops to prevent opponents from interfering. He denounced Northern communities that vowed to resist the law -- "sanctuary cities" aren't a 21st-century innovation -- and piously proclaimed that "without law there can be no real practical liberty." Scores of fugitives were captured and returned to the South during Fillmore's presidency.  [...]

He migrated to the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic "Know-Nothing" Party, running as its presidential nominee in 1856. His slogan was "Americans Must Rule America." 

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM



[S]ome myths are harder to correct than others. Indeed, members of the current White House appear to hold the same misconceptions, as revealed most recently in a draft executive order from January 2017 which claims "households headed by aliens are much more likely than those headed by citizens to use Federal means-tested public benefits." No citation is provided.

In a new report, my colleague Robert Orr and I demonstrate that low-income immigrants are less likely to access to public benefits than their native-born counterparts. This is even true when they are otherwise fully eligible. For example, under current rules for SNAP, noncitizens can bypass the five year ban if they have children under the age of 18, are blind or disabled, have a military connection, or have worked for 40 qualifying quarters. Nevertheless, only 35.1% of low-income noncitizen children are members of a low-income household receiving SNAP, compared to 46.8% for the native-born. Citizen children of noncitizen parents also tend to participate in SNAP at a lower rate.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


5 Pieces Of Advice For Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Peter Lawler, FEBRUARY 20, 2017, The Federalist)

2. The Neighborhood School Can Still Be Ideal

Still, how to use public funds to educate our young should also be a local decision, and freedom of choice shouldn't always mean equal access to government resources. Another American tradition, after all, is neighborhood schools. When Trumpians imagine when America was great, they think good schools within walking distance that were community centers.

More precisely, they might imagine, as I do, both a public and a parochial school within walking distance, but with the latter managing to offer a good (often a better) product without government assistance (and very minimal government regulation). When I write my polemical history of American education, I will devote several long chapters to the mistaken political judgments that undermined our tradition of neighborhood schools.

When they can, Americans still seem to choose neighborhood schools. But it's less and less a choice available to most of us. I notice young parents herding into Decatur, Georgia, where fine neighborhood schools are still available. But they have to be able to pay premium prices for homes and steep property taxes. It's not a choice available to most Atlanta-area residents.

Often there's no simple going back to when America was great, and our memories of greatness are pretty darn selective. Still: My parochial school was very socioeconomically diverse, typically had classes taught by a nun who didn't graduate from college and had 40 to 50 students, featured disciplinary methods that are now pretty illegal, and had no art, music, gym, phys ed, and basically no playground.

But it did get the educational job done for all at a very low-cost, civilized way: Literally everyone could diagram sentences, have decent penmanship (well, I got Ds in penmanship and neatness), do all basic math in their heads, read real books, became literate in patriotic American and pious church history, and recite the answer to every question in the catechism. We were even taught to excel on standardized tests.

That was a great triumph for egalitarian social justice, and it showed that democratic education isn't all that dependent on level of funding--even less, perhaps, on the imposition of the latest methods of efficiency and productivity, even less still on the latest trends promulgated by schools of education and bureaucrats, and least of all on technology in the classroom.

3. Take Care to Respect Subsidiarity and Solidarity

My only point here is the "reform conservative" principles of solidarity and subsidiarity limit imposing abstract principles in determining what's best for students. Those principles are articulated so well by Yuval Levin and shared, in some measure, in the rhetoric of President Trump. Solidarity means some concern for the unity of citizenship that brings Americans all together, despite vast disparities of wealth, power, and everything else. Subsidiarity means making as many decisions as possible at the most intimate level of human relationships, encouraging the kind of solidarity that comes from local knowing and loving through shared privileges and responsibilities.

Returning to the republican end of educating good citizens takes on added importance as it becomes impossible to prepare kids for jobs and unnecessary to use schools as day care for working parents.
Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


US household energy spending hits 50-year low (Stephen Edelstein, FEBRUARY 20, 2017, CS Monitor)

[A]s renewable-energy generating capacity has expanded significantly over the last decade, household energy costs have decreased.

That's the conclusion reached in an energy-industry factbook (pdf) published by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

It showed, among other things, that household spending on energy has dropped to its lowest level as a share of total consumption since records began, in 1960.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Robots Will Soon Do Your Taxes. Bye-Bye, Accounting Jobs (Vasant Dahr, Feb. 20th, 2017, Wired)

As my research shows, robots are best-suited to predictable tasks when the cost per error is low. As a task becomes less predictable and a robot makes more mistakes, the automation is worth it only if those mistakes don't carry significant costs. For example, driverless cars make few errors, but those mistakes can be expensive and deadly. In contrast, most tax return decisions, especially the simpler ones, aren't terribly risky, as they're based on massive amounts of historical data on which the machine learns to anchor its decisions.

Take the automobile analogy: Carmakers have gradually integrated more automation into sensing, braking, and acceleration decisions. Cars are taking over navigation with the expectation of that function becoming fully autonomous at some point. Similarly, humans are likely to get more and more comfortable with machines helping us with taxes. Eventually, many of us will probably trust them enough to compose the entire return for us to sign.

More than 2 million people were employed as accountants, bookkeepers, and auditors in 2015. Until now, these types of information-oriented professions have resisted automation because they require managing unstructured data emanating from the real world, making judgments, and dealing with actual people. What's different now, however, is that artificial intelligence's perceptive capabilities have improved. Machines can now handle images, sounds, and text in a way that enables them to ingest and analyze data at high volume, without making costly mistakes. Between accounting professionals and truck drivers alone, about 4.5 million human jobs could be ceded to robots over the next few years.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Swedish Fox News cops hit out at filmmaker: 'He is a madman' (The Local, 20 February 2017)

"I don't understand why we are part of the segment. The interview was about something completely different to what Fox News and Horowitz were talking about," one of the police officers, Anders Göranzon, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Monday. "It was supposed to be about crime in high risk areas. Areas with high crime rates. There wasn't any focus on migration or immigration."

He said neither he nor his colleague Jacob Ekström recognized the image painted of Sweden in the report, which has been criticized in Sweden for being riddled with inaccuracies and false claims.

"We don't stand behind it. It shocked us. He has edited the answers. We were answering completely different questions in the interview. This is bad journalism," Göranzon told Dagens Nyheter, which said it had attempted to contact Horowitz for a comment.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Speak Their Names (SHAKEIA TAYLOR, 2/20/17, Hardball Times)

"A person dies three times," Dr. Jeremy Krock says. "First when their body stops functioning, second when they are buried, and finally, the last time someone says their name. My goal is to keep the names of Negro Leagues ballplayers and others connected to it alive." Krock, an anesthesiologist in Peoria, Ill., grew up listening to relatives' stories of Jimmie Crutchfield, an outfielder who began his career with the Birmingham Black Barons, and fellow resident of Ardmore, Mo. His family spoke proudly of Crutchfield, a Negro Leagues player who "escaped the hard, dangerous life of the coal mines to play baseball."

During a trip to Chicago's The Field Museum, Krock picked up a book written by Larry Lester, Sammy J. Miller and Dick Clark titled, Black Baseball in Chicago and in it stumbled upon photographs of Crutchfield. Krock discovered that, after his retirement and before his death in 1993, Crutchfield had worked in a Chicago post office. It seemed natural to Krock to visit the man he had heard so much about.

The book had no details of Crutchfield's passing or where he was buried, so Krock contacted Clark, co-chair of the Negro Leagues Committee of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). Clark provided the name of the funeral home that handled Crutchfield's service, and with that information, Krock tracked down Crutchfield's final resting place. Later that year, Krock traveled to Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill., to pay his respects. There, Krock found that Crutchfield and his wife, Julia, had been buried in unmarked graves, a disappointing ending to the story. It was then that the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project was born.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Russia says 4 of its soldiers die in Syria roadside bombing (AP, 2/20/17)

The Defense Ministry says the explosion happened as a Syrian military convoy, including the vehicle with Russian military advisers, was driving to the city of Homs in central Syria last Thursday from the Tiyas air base, which is close to the ancient town of Palmyra held by the Islamic State group.

The ministry says the bomb was detonated by remote control. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Is the 'deep state' out to get Trump? We're not there yet (Doyle McManus, Feb. 19th, 2017, LA Times)

Trump's problem isn't the deep state; it's the broad state. He's facing pushback not only from intelligence agencies, but from civilian bureaucracies, too.

When his White House staff drafted an executive order to reopen CIA "black sites" and reintroduce torture, it leaked - and the decision was promptly put on ice.

When they drafted another order to repeal protections for LGBT federal employees, that leaked too - and the president's daughter and son-in-law blocked the idea.

When Trump banned travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the attorneys general of several states sued, and federal courts blocked the order's enforcement.

There have been less-dramatic forms of defiance, too. Bureaucrats in the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency have signed petitions protesting the new administration's policies.

In a different category, Trump's own Cabinet appears to harbor a modest dose of dissent: Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sound distinctly less enthusiastic than their boss about cooperating with Vladimir Putin.

Just about every segment of the federal government has struggled against White House actions it didn't like, and when you add up all those varieties of resistance, it begins to look almost like a Resistance. But -- and this is crucial -- there's no central power organizing or directing the fight.

Our system is designed to thwart a Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


US defense chief plays down Trump comments on seizing Iraq oil (Deutsche Welle, 2/20/17)

Trump brought up the issue during the campaign and told CIA staff in January: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance." Trump did not elaborate on what he meant by "another chance."

But Mattis, a retired Marine who had commanded troops during the invasion of Iraq, distanced himself from Trump's statement.

"All of us in America have generally paid for gas and oil all along, and I am sure that we will continue to do so in the future," Mattis told reporters. "We are not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he said.

Vice President Pence Reassures EU, NATO Allies On U.S. Commitments (Rikard Jozwiak, 2/20/17, Radio Liberty)

Pence arrived in Brussels late on February 19 after attending the Munich Security Conference, where he sought to reassure European leaders about Trump's support for NATO.

In Brussels, Pence was also reassuring EU and NATO leaders about the U.S. commitment to its European allies.

Pence on February 20 said: "Clearly we must stand strong in defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations in Europe."

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Trump Is a Lot Like the LBJ Whom Liberals Still Idolize (JOHN FUND, February 19, 2017, National Review)

As president, he cut a grandiose figure. He was a braggart and a frequent liar. He was suspicious of other countries, frequently saying, "Foreigners are not like the folks I am used to." He had a reckless disregard for limits. He belittled and browbeat others to intimidate them and give him what he wanted. Historian Robert Dallek said that he "viewed criticism of his policies as personal attacks" and opponents of his policies "as disloyal to him and the country."

Donald's defenders are as savage as his critics.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Field of Fright (Adam Garfinkle, Feb. 17th, 2017, American Interest)

It's from chapter 3, however, "The Enemy Alliance," that the "fright" of this review essay's title derives. Flynn's inability to think conceptually beyond a certain rudimentary level inclines him to become a champion conflationist. He tells the reader that salafi-jihadi groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are part of "a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua." (Congratulations, Bolivia, for finally being taken seriously by someone up here!)

He knows that there is a difference between Sunni and Shi'i Islam, he knows that most of the members of his enemy alliance are not Muslim countries, and he even knows that some members of the enemy alliance--Russia and China--have radical Muslim problems of their own inside their borders. But he nevertheless finds ways to explain away these differences in order to preserve his conflationary threat. One way he does this is to claim that all totalitarian regimes have an elemental anti-democratic ethos so strongly in common, aimed ineluctably against the United States, that this aspect of ideology overrides all else. So "it was only to be expected that their [ISIS'] Sharia-based Caliphate would resemble the Soviet bloc. Thus, religious fanatics and secular tyrants work quite well together."

Of course we've seen this sort of thing before, when an ideology-dominated mode of thought (a variety of the Enlightenment-abetted rationalist fallacy) drives all nuance, all consideration of social and political complexity, to and sometimes even beyond the margins. And sometimes this mode has affected not just sketchy characters like Flynn but nearly a whole-of-government approach: recall the monolithic Communism delusion of the early post-World War II era that gave us Joseph McCarthy, led James Forrestal to jump from a very high floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, and, more important, blinded us for years to Yugoslav autonomy and Sino-Soviet enmity and thereby helped get the United States stuck in the Big Muddy. The basic rule abides: The less one knows about a given situation, and the greater the emotional drive to preserve foundational convictions voids considerations of complexity and discrepant evidence, the greater the impulse to conflation; and the more one knows, and the more rational deliberation trumps emotional indulgence, the greater the impulse to seek out distinctions.2

Flynn's insistence in the monadic nature of the enemy alliance forces him into all sorts of analytical peculiarities. Some of it is interpretive in nature; some of it depends on the aforementioned Flynn Facts. So it's true that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi spent time plotting in Iran, and that senior al-Qaeda figures ended up there after 911, too. U.S. intelligence never dismissed the likelihood that Iran saw some tactical utility in pointing these fanatics against a common enemy: U.S. forces in the region. But U.S. intelligence concluded that the facts pointed to a limited liaison that amounted, in most cases, to house arrest. Flynn instead sees collusion and alliance at the highest level.

And yes, North Korea and Iran (and Syria) have cooperated over the years sub rosa on missile developments and even tunneling technology. The fact that such cooperation ran against U.S. interests may have competed with the raw commercial incentives involved in these transactions. But Flynn sees all this as evidence of what amounts to a tightly knit conspiracy to oppose and ultimately destroy American power.

The selectively of Flynn's "facts" shows in sins of both commission and omission. So, for example, he claims that in 1979, after the Iranian Revolution, "Iranian-supported 'pilgrims' on the Hajj in Mecca occupied the Grand Mosque." He adds that the incident was important because it marked "the first appearance of the name Bin Laden in conjunction with a terrorist attack." The latter statement is true, but of course the attack and temporary occupation of the Grand Mosque had nothing to do with Iranian pilgrims, and the attackers were not Shi'a.

Another example: Flynn writes that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards "were trained and organized in the early 1970s by Yasser Arafat's (Sunni) Fatah." How to even begin to parse this nonsense? There was no IRGC in the early 1970s. Some Iranians did train with PLO fighters in the mid-1970s amid the "terrorist international" training camps in Lebanon, including some people important in revolutionary circles. But that had nothing to do with the IRGC when it formed later, and there is no hint that those Iranians acquired serious military skills or even saw combat. Might Khomeini's personal guard have included some such people. Maybe: Early revolutionary days in Iran were deep into paranoia and anyone with PLO experience would have carried some prestige. But there is no evidence one way or another, and if Flynn has some he chose not to share it.

At one point, too, Flynn claims that not all Kurds are Muslims. This is true as spoken but wrong as intended. Before the advent of Islam, some Kurds were attracted by Christian doctrines as they understood them, and Yazidi syncretism seems to derive in part from that episode. And there has been some very recent Christian evangelism among the Kurds that has created a community of around 500 people. But at least 99 percent of Kurds are Muslims; so what Flynn thinks he is talking about has to remain a mystery.

Later he writes, "Jordan has long been the one Arab country to really make peace with Israel, and Egypt has joined their ranks." But the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty came in 1979, the Israeli-Jordanian treaty in 1984.

A sin of omission? It's about the size of the proverbial 600-pound gorilla in the living room. Sectarian bloodletting and intrigue abound in the region, rotating around an Iranian-Saudi axis of conflict, from Yemen to Bahrain by way of al-Hasa province, not to speak of Syria and Iraq. How does Flynn square these realities with his mega-conflation of enemy alliance at war against the United States? He doesn't; he never mentions it.

How many of Flynn's sins of commission and omission are there in chapter 3? I counted to forty before I gave up on the idea of mentioning them all. But one more deserves note.

Unfortunately, firing the General for sucking up to Putin and lying about it won't dent the Right's profounbd misunderstanding of the WoT.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Iranian Concepts of Warfare: Understanding Tehran's Evolving Military Doctrines (J. Matthew McInnis, February 16, 2017, American Enterprise Institute)

Understanding the writings of the informal thought oligarchy of military leaders and the most influential authors in the IRI's extensive system of think tanks and staff colleges is also crucial to comprehending modern Iranian doctrinal trends.

Historical experience, religious ideals, and ideological concerns shape the IRI's approach to war and military doctrine, but they do not determine it. Across many historical periods, from the Persian Empire, through the Islamic conquest, the Safavid dynasty, the 19th-century Qajar dynasty, the Pahlavi shahs in the 20th century, and the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian state struggled with its relationship to modernity and its religious and political nature. Many of these unresolved issues carried over into postrevolutionary era, even as new ideological concepts became dominant and Iran faced two external existential threats--Iraq and the United States. The IRI's split military structure, which is divided between the conventional Artesh and the ideologically driven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and its current military thinking centered on defensive and asymmetric warfare against the United States are arguably reactions to these overlapping factors.

Several broad conclusions can be made about the characteristics of modern IRI doctrine, based on these key historical influences and formal processes, as well as a review of available IRI doctrinal materials, relevant senior leader statements, and major Iranian military exercises over the past five years. IRI military doctrine does not descend from Islamic revolutionary thought per se. IRI doctrines instead appear to draw mostly on military lessons learned to find effective, pragmatic solutions for Tehran's security challenges in the framework of the state's ideological and geostrategic objectives. Most doctrines are ad hoc, despite the overall increasing formality and complexity of the IRI's system for strategy development. There is explicit incorporation of foreign military thinking and capabilities, especially US doctrines, although ex post facto ideological and Islamic moral justification from the supreme leader for any doctrine is still required. The Artesh and the IRGC's competing military structures will remain an inherent feature of Iranian doctrine and strategy, even as the IRI leadership engages in stronger efforts to improve interoperability.

As a revolutionary state constantly worried about potential instability and counterrevolution triggered by its adversaries during conflict, the IRI sees war in 360 degrees. Iranian doctrines reflect this porousness across the spectrum of offensive and defensive operations, when an external Artesh campaign may need to quickly transition into an internal one, or when IRGC actions may move from regime defense to deterrence to power projection then back to deterrence or attempt to achieve all three objectives simultaneously.

Together these concepts can be used to form a working model of the IRI's existing doctrines, showing how they align against Tehran's defensive and offensive objectives, indicating areas of particular doctrinal strengths and weakness, and pointing to potential future directions for the Iranian military. The IRI military is still dominated by defensive doctrines oriented around four primary objectives: regime security, territorial defense, demonstrative deterrence (or shows of force), and retaliatory deterrence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Putin may be watching his brilliant American plan go 'poof' (George Friedman, Feb 17, 2017, Market Watch)

If all of this is true, the president now may be hesitant to make any concessions to the Russians. All other Americans involved in the conspiracy will be identified and fired at the very least. The Russian intelligence apparatus in the U.S. and the Moscow directorate dealing with the U.S. will be identified and dismantled as forensics are carried out on the failed operation. A generation of Russian operatives will be suspected by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of having been compromised by the Americans. All of these people will be looking for exciting careers in the food service industry -- if they are lucky. When an operation of this scope fails, everyone is blamed except the big guy, and who knows what suspicions will fall on him. [...]

For the Russians, life returns to grim reality. The price of oil is still well below the minimum needed to maintain Russia's national budget. There are reports from areas outside Moscow and St. Petersburg that salaries are not being paid, banks are failing or being closed by the government in an attempt to create a sustainable system, and the first indicators of unrest are showing.

A newspaper in Vladivostok, for example, has reported small anti-government demonstrations gaining in popularity in a region where oil activities play a large role in the local economy. Last week, five cities in Primorsky region -- Ussuriysk, Artyom, Arsenyev, Nakhodka and Vladivostok -- saw people participating in "protest walks." These walks consist of participants circulating in public areas, discussing politics and calling for a cleansing of political ranks. The decline in oil prices is not going away and is playing out its painful hand.

In Syria, the city of Aleppo has been taken, and the Russian government is trying to figure out what comes next, as well as remember why it went there in the first place. Sanctions on Russia are in place, and Ukraine, the site of the last Russian intelligence calamity, remains beyond Russian control. Russia has made a gesture at being a major power. Having made the gesture, it must now figure out how to sustain it.

This is about the result you'd expect from a joint Donald/Vlad operation.

Will Republicans Break With Trump Over Russia? : So says Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, who predicts his GOP colleagues will come around to his way of thinking. (SUSAN B. GLASSER February 20, 2017, Politico)

President Donald Trump is "dangerously naïve."

He has a "pathological unwillingness to criticize anything the Kremlin does." He is discrediting U.S. intelligence agencies and "telling the world they can't be believed."

As for Trump's refusal to disavow Russian President Vladimir Putin and the murders and poisonings of Putin critics in recent years because, as Trump put it, America has "killers" too? "I don't think we've ever had a more harmful statement come out of the Oval Office than that one," says Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, in an extensive interview for our new podcast, The Global Politico. [...]

Throughout our conversation, Schiff described Russia under Putin in terms I've rarely heard over nearly two decades of covering U.S. relations with the Kremlin, and almost never from a Democrat in recent years, when it was largely Republicans who criticized Putin and what they saw as President Barack Obama's reluctance to confront Russian aggression. "Russia is a major threat to the country," Schiff says. "They are doing their best to dismantle democratic institutions in Europe, just as they did in Russia itself. And just as they tried to do in our own country, in the election.... There's a real confrontation with a real malignant power."

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


'JeSuisIkea': Donald Trump's comments confuse Swedes as supporters cry cover-up (Bonnie Malkin, 20 February 2017, The Guardian)

[T]here is little evidence that the nation is suffering under a migrant-led crime wave. In fact, the most pressing issue in Sweden at the moment is apparently who will become the nation's Eurovision entrant. [...]

Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, tweeted an extract of the country's foreign policy declaration for 2017 which talks about Oxford Dictionaries declaring the term "post-truth" its international word of the year.

The Swedes were not alone in their confusion and bemusement - Twitter spawned the hashtags #IStandWithSweden and #jesuisIKEA.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Trump tower promoter's criminal record was concealed by feds : Years before Felix Sater helped lead the development of a Fort Lauderdale condo-hotel, he pleaded guilty in a massive stock fraud, but his case was sealed by the court -- and investors. (Michael Sallah, 2/01/12, Miami Herald)

When Felix Sater and his partners launched a plan to put up a Trump tower in Fort Lauderdale -- luring scores of investors -- he had already been charged in an explosive securities scam with New York mob figures.

He had pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing in the $40 million swindle.

But investors in the Trump tower never knew. [...]

Born in the former Soviet Union and raised in New York, Sater began his rise in financial circles as a young stock broker in the 1990s.

Amid Russia scrutiny, Trump associates received informal Ukraine policy proposal (Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, 2/18/17, The Washington Post)


President Donald Trump's personal lawyer and a former business associate met privately in New York City last month with a member of the Ukrainian parliament to discuss a peace plan for that country that could give Russia long-term control over territory it seized in 2014 and lead to the lifting of sanctions against Moscow.

The meeting with Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician, involved Michael Cohen, a Trump Organization lawyer since 2007, and Felix Sater, a Russian émigré to the United States who worked on real estate projects with Trump's company.

The occurrence of the meeting, first reported Sunday by the New York Times, suggests that some in the region aligned with Russia have been seeking to use Trump business associates as an informal conduit to a new president who has signaled a desire to forge warmer relations with Russia. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Reality collides with Trump's promises : The president proclaims a successful first month despite falling short on major pledges. (ELI STOKOLS, 02/19/17, Politico)

Despite dizzying sound and fury, the president failed to halt immigration from Muslim countries, to label China a currency manipulator, to deliver a serious plan for funding his border wall or to repeal Obamacare--all among his many promises during last year's campaign. He even weakened ethics rules affecting lobbyists, in the guise of a promised ban.

The Muslim travel ban, Trump's most consequential and controversial executive order, one of 23 signed so far, lies dead in the courts. He has achieved no noticeable progress on tax reform. The White House is already facing multiple investigations by a Republican-controlled Congress while the intelligence community investigates possible collusion last year between Trump's campaign and Russia. Trump has appointed just three of the 15 required deputy secretary Cabinet positions; fewer than 40 of the 700 key administration jobs requiring Senate confirmation have been filled. [...]

"There's no precedent in the modern history of the presidency for what we've seen over the last month," said Republican operative Steve Schmidt. "If you combine the dishonesty, the sloppiness and incompetence, the result is deep concern and anxiety across allied capitals, glee in the capitals of foreign enemies, and an American public that regard him one month in with the lowest levels of support in the modern era. We've just never seen an American administration collapse from a credibility perspective as quickly as this one has."

According to Gallup, Trump's 40 percent approval rating after one month is 21 points below the historical average rating for new presidents in mid-February and 11 points below the lowest mid-February rating for any other new president.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Video Surfaces of Milo Yiannopoulos Praising 'Pederasty' Between Tween Boys and Older Men (William Hicks, February 19, 2017, hEAT sTREET)

Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos has made a career out of making controversial statements, but this newly resurfaced video is certainly something else.

In the five minute video tweeted out by The Reagan Battalion, Milo says sex between 13-year-olds and older men can be "life affirming" in the gay community.

Too many of these misguided supporters of Donald think they can bed down with degeneracy but still maintain their own dignity.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Netanyahu spurned secret peace offer: Ex-officials (Al Jazeera, 2/19/17)

The revelation, first reported by the Haaretz daily, was in apparent contradiction to Benjamin Netanyahu's stated goal of involving regional Arab powers in resolving Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. [...]

According to two former Obama administration officials, Kerry proposed regional recognition of Israel as a Jewish state - a key Netanyahu demand - alongside a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries.

Netanyahu rejected the offer, which would have required a significant pull-out from occupied land, saying he would not be able to garner enough support for it in his right-wing coalition government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Trump site hacked by attacker purportedly from Iraq (ABHIMANYU GHOSHAL, 2/20/17, Ars Technica)

You knew this was going to happen sooner or later: A server on President Trump's campaign site, donaldjtrump.com was hacked on Sunday and defaced with an image and message from an attacker claiming to hail from Iraq.

February 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Islamic State claims five members killed in Israeli drone strike (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 19, 2017)

The Islamic State's official media outlet claimed Sunday five of its members were killed in an Israeli military airstrike in Egypt's Sinai peninsula the day before.

According to Amaq news agency, an official media arm of the terror group, an Israeli drone strike struck a car with five Islamic State members in a village in the northern Sinai near the Egypt-Israel border on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Neo-Nazis Cheer Trump For Bullying Jewish Reporter -- Blacks And Mexicans Too (Allison Kaplan Sommer, February 19, 2017, The Forward)

There was horror and befuddlement in some quarters after Donald Trump slammed a young ultra-Orthodox reporter who first flattered the U.S. president by using the Yiddish name for grandfather and then pitched him a softball: a chance to speak out against incidents of anti-Semitism.

But neo-Nazis and white supremacists have enthusiastically applauded the exchange between Trump and Jake Turx of Ami Magazine.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


DONALD TRUMP AND THE ENEMIES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE (David Remnick, February 18, 2017, The New Yorker)

When the leaders of the Bolshevik movement--Lenin, Stalin, and the rest--used the term vrag naroda, an "enemy of the people," it was an ominous epithet that encompassed a range of "wreckers" and "socially dangerous elements." Enemies included clergy, intellectuals, monarchists, Trotskyists, "rootless cosmopolitans," and well-to-do farmers. To be branded an enemy of the people was to face nearly inevitable doom; such a fate was soon followed by a knock on the door in the middle of the night, a prison cell, the Gulag, an icy ditch--a variety of dismal ends. To be called an "enemy of the people" did not mean you had to hold oppositional thoughts or commit oppositional acts; it only meant that the dictator had included you in his grand scheme to insure the compliance of the population.

Robespierre, one of the architects of the Jacobin Reign of Terror, set out to "horrify" the opposition, and his instruments were the epithet, righteousness, and the blade. "The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation," he said. "It owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death."

In 1917, the same year as the Bolshevik seizure of power, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin published an essay in Pravda called "Enemies of the People," in which he lionized the Jacobin Terror as "instructive." His party, "the Jacobins of the twentieth century," he wrote, should follow suit, if not with the guillotine then with mass arrests of "the financial magnates and bigwigs." Once in power, Lenin was far more brutal than the revolutionary French. He built the first outposts of the gulag archipelago. Stalin, Lenin's energetic successor, expanded the system from western Russia to the Sea of Okhotsk, ten time zones to the east.

Now Donald Trump, the elected President of the oldest democracy on earth, a real-estate brander and reality-TV star, has taken not to Pravda but to his own preferred instrument of autocratic pronouncement--the tweet--to declare the media "the enemy of the American People."

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM

A WALK'S AS GOOD AS A HIT! (profanity alert)

Did Joe Maddon break Bryce Harper? (Eddie Matz, 2/15/17, ESPN)

THE THEORY GOES that everything that ailed Bryce Harper last season -- ground zero for his grounding -- can be traced back to the first weekend in May, when the Washington Nationals visited Wrigley Field for a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs. It was about as important as May baseball gets -- a potential National League Championship Series preview between the teams with the two best records in the majors, featuring Harper, the reigning player of the month. At least, that was the billing. Instead, the series featured Chicago skipper Joe Maddon totally neutralizing the slugger.

Over a span of four days against the Cubs, Harper stepped to the plate 19 times and received 13 free passes. Four of them were intentional, including three in the finale, when he tied a major league record by walking six times and became the first player ever to reach safely in all seven plate appearances of a game without recording a hit (he got plunked in his other PA). Of the 27 pitches Harper saw in the finale, he swung at exactly zero. Only two were even in the strike zone. Overall for the series, of the 83 pitches that came his way, only 18 were in the zone, for a rate of 22 percent. For comparison, that's about half as many strikes as Harper saw during his MVP year (41 percent zone rate), when he was pitched around more often than anyone not named Joey Votto. In other words, Maddon wasn't about to let Harper beat him or his team. And it worked. The Cubs swept the Nats right out of Chicago. In the process, they stole Harper's soul.

"Hitting is the funnest part of baseball," Thomas says. "That was probably the first time in Bryce's life where, for an entire series, he didn't get the opportunity to hit, where he didn't get the opportunity to compete. Some people look at it and say it was the greatest strategy of all time. Other people think it's crap because you're not competing. All I know is, when you take the bat out of somebody's hand -- especially somebody that's as competitive as Bryce is -- it's bound to have some kind of effect."

In Harper's case, it caused him to boil over immediately. Well, almost immediately. On the Sunday of the Cubs series, despite the fresh sting of emasculation still smoldering within, Harper somehow managed to rise above, giving a jar full of money to a homeless woman he spotted as the team bus was pulling out of Wrigley. But soon after that, he sank below.

On the very next day after the Chicago series -- after standing there all weekend long with the bat on his shoulder and watching helplessly while his team got the broom -- Harper blew a gasket and got ejected in the ninth inning of a tie game in Washington. But wait, there's more. When the Nats won in extras on a walk-off, Harper defied the rules by not only coming back onto the field, but also barking a few "choice words" (as he would later call them) at the umpire, all of which led to the first suspension of his career.

Over the next couple of weeks, with opposing teams seemingly copying Maddon's blueprint, Harper saw barely anything to hit. In the eight games following the Cubs series, he drew another 15 free passes, giving him an unreal total of 28 walks over a 12-game stretch. It got so bad that practically the only pitches Harper got to hit during the entire month weren't even real ones.

MAYBE YOU'VE SEEN the commercial. It's an UnderArmour spot called "Numbers," which Harper filmed the day after his suspension in May and which dropped right before the All-Star Game in July. In it, Harper stands in the batter's box of a nondescript stadium, all grimy and grunting, taking violent hack after violent hack while a series of digits flash across the screen. Atop the repeated sound of bat tearing into ball, a gritty voiceover talks about how baseball is a numbers game. The voice then proceeds to spew forth a bunch of stats -- some of which Harper has already compiled, some of which he's chasing -- then finishes by saying, "Kid, just remember: No number sounds as good as this." The punchline: One last thunderous crack of the bat.

Back in the real world, not long after his Wrigley Field walk-a-thon, Harper appeared to lose the otherworldly patience he'd demonstrated over the previous 13 months. Gone was the spit-on-it selectiveness that had been the bedrock of his MVP campaign and that had onlookers comparing him to Barry Bonds. In short, getting Maddonized wrecked him.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


How HoJo lost its mojo : The last Howard Johnson's restaurant is for sale (The Economist, Feb 16th 2017)

At its height in the 1970s, Howard Johnson's had more than 1,000 restaurants and was the biggest food chain in America. Only the army fed more people. Now, only one is left. The last one standing is in Lake George, a summer tourist spot in New York's Adirondacks.

Howard Deering Johnson, the chain's founder, started his food empire in 1925 with an ice-cream shop outside Boston. He was an early pioneer of franchising. At one point in the 1960s, a new restaurant opened every nine days. Growth coincided with the rise of the car, the highway system, the middle class and family holidays. Each franchise had to adhere to the "Howard Johnson's Bible", which dictated everything from decor to the amount of tartare sauce; and each had to use food prepared by central commissaries, which was delivered to the restaurants for final cooking. The large menu included 28 ice-cream flavours, tender sweet Ipswich fried clams and butter-grilled "frankforts".

Mr Johnson took food quality seriously, spending 48% of his gross revenue on food (Chipotle, a present-day food chain, which prides itself on using fresh products, spends only 35%). In 1960 he hired chefs from Le Pavillon, then the finest restaurant in New York City. One, Jacques Pépin, turned down an offer to be President Kennedy's White House chef. Food quality was part of the chain's appeal, as were affordability and reliability. Before Howard Johnson's, travellers found only greasy spoons and truck stops which were not family-friendly. A Howard Johnson's meal was affordable glamour for the growing middle-class. The waitresses wore uniforms designed by Dior.

But its reputation slipped in the 1970s. Food quality diminished.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM

BAKED EGGS IN MARINARA SAUCE (Danae, May 29, 2015, Recipe Runner)

1 cup marinara sauce, jarred or I use this recipe
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil or parsley (optional)
Serve with toasted baguette slices (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.

Pour 1/2 a cup of the marinara sauce into two 6 inch cast iron skillets or two 10 ounce ramekins.

Top the marinara sauce with 2 tablespoons each of parmesan cheese.

Gently crack 2 eggs into each skillet.

Top the eggs with salt and pepper then place them on the foil lined baking sheet.

Bake the eggs in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the whites of the eggs are set.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with parsley or basil if desired.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Trump, an Outsider Demanding Loyalty, Struggles to Fill Top Posts (Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Feb. 18th, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Abrams's experience has become a case study in the challenges Mr. Trump still faces in filling top positions a month into his presidency. Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials. For their part, many Republicans reacted to what happened to Mr. Abrams with dismay, leaving them increasingly leery about joining an administration that cannot get past the past.

As Mr. Trump brings candidates for national security adviser to meet with him in Florida this weekend, he presides over a government where the upper echelons remain sparsely populated. Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president's choices. Even some of the cabinet secretaries who are in place may feel they are home alone.

It is not just Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson who has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the heads of the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of 15 nominees have been named for deputy secretary positions. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama's administration.

That does not even begin to cover the rest of the more than 4,000 appointments that a president typically makes. In some cases, the Trump administration is even going in reverse. A senior political appointee at the housing department, who had already started the job, was fired this past week and marched out of the building when someone discovered his previous statements critical of Mr. Trump.

The president's top Latin America official at the National Security Council was likewise fired after just weeks on the job for complaining about internal dysfunction at an off-the-record discussion at a Washington research organization, according to officials, who confirmed a Politico report. The State Department has laid off six top career officials in recent days, apparently out of questions about their loyalty to Mr. Trump.

...given the virtual loyalty oath he requires?

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


So much for "the table never lies" - data unravels football's biggest lie of all : London side Brentford FC are using data to rethink the usual football club model. (XAN RICE, 2/19/17, New Statesman)

Brentford are an outlier in English football. Since the professional gambler Matthew Benham bought a majority share in 2012, they have relied on the scientific application of statistics - the "moneyball" technique pioneered in baseball - when assessing performance.

The early results were positive. In 2014, Brentford were promoted from League One to the Championship and the next season finished fifth. That same year, Benham's other team, FC Midtjylland, which is run on similar principles, won the Danish Superliga for the first time.

Yet in 2016 Brentford slipped to ninth. Despite the disappointing season so far, Ankersen insists the strategy is the right one for "a small club with a small budget".

Underpinning Brentford's approach is the understanding that luck often plays a big part in football. "It is a low-scoring sport, so random events can have a big impact," Ankersen says. "The ball can take a deflection, the referee can make a mistake. The best team wins less often than in other sports."

In a match, or even over a season, a team can score fewer or more than its performance merits. A famous example is Newcastle in 2012, says Ankersen, who besides his football job is an entrepreneur and author. In his recent book, Hunger in Paradise, he notes that after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, their manager, Alan Pardew, was rewarded with an eight-year extension of his contract.

If the club's owners had looked more closely at the data, they would have realised the team was not nearly as good as it seemed. Newcastle's goal difference - goals scored minus goals conceded - was only +5, compared to +25 and +19 for the teams immediately above and below them. Statistically, a club with Newcastle's goal difference should have earned ten points fewer than it did.

Moreover, its shot differential (how many shots on goal a team makes compared to its opponents) was negative and the sixth worst in the league. That its players converted such a high percentage of their shots into goals was remarkable - and unsustainable.

The next season, Newcastle finished 16th in the Premier League. The team was not worse: its performance had regressed to the mean. "Success can turn luck into genius," Ankersen says. "You have to treat success with the same degree of scepticism as failure."

While the Patriots are obviously the dominant sports franchise of the past fifteen years, this year's win featured the widest margin of victory in any of their seven Super Bowls.  A single play here or there could have changed the final result of each game and often did, many of them unrelated to skill or strategy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Trump cited a nonexistent incident in Sweden during his rally on Saturday (Harrison Jacobs, 2/19/17, Business Insider)

However, Fox News host Tucker Carlson ran an interview on Friday night's broadcast of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" with documentarian and media personality Ami Horowitz, who presented a clip from a new film documenting alleged violence committed by refugees in Sweden. The segment went on extensively about a supposed crime surge in Sweden and its links to immigrant populations. 

Crime rates in Sweden have stayed relatively stable, with some fluctuations, over the last decade, according to the 2016 Swedish Crime Survey.

This isn't the first time that there has been a correlation between Trump's statements and programming on cable news, of which he is a noted fan.

Where Does Fear of Refugees Come From? : What false stories say about true concerns in Europe (HEATHER HORN  APR 27, 2016, Atlantic)

[T]he pervasive fear of refugee-related crime on display both in German public-opinion polls and Hoaxmap rumors is out of sync with the data so far on the actual relationship between refugees and crime rates in Germany. Recent numbers from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) suggest that the influx of refugees into the country this fall had a low impact on crime numbers relative to the natural uptick that would happen with any population increase: Although the number of refugees in the country increased by 440 percent between 2014 and 2015, the number of crimes committed by refugees only increased by 79 percent. (The number of crimes against refugees increased as well.) Furthermore, according to Deutsche Welle's analysis of the report, the number of offenses increased in the first half of 2015 but "stagnated" in the second half, precisely when most of the refugees were arriving and the rumor mill switched into overdrive. And although sexual offenses account for over 25 percent of the rumors on the Hoaxmap, the BKA data showed that only 1 percent of refugee-related crimes fell into the sexual offense category.

Some of this imbalance between documented crime and crime rumors, sociologists and immigration experts I spoke to suggest, may reflect underlying rules about how rumors spread and the feelings people are primed to have about immigrants. Specifically, rumors are more likely to take off when a factual event similar to the rumor has already occurred, as well as when they tap into an underlying fear: Swan-poaching is never going to rival sexual assault in terms of rumor power.

Gary Alan Fine, a sociology professor at Northwestern University who co-authored a foundational book on the social psychology of rumors as well as a 2010 volume on rumors about terrorism and immigration, pointed to the Cologne assaults as a kind of "template for what people think is plausible." He noted: "Once you have a plausible story then the criteria for information you need in order to believe [a new story] is much lower, because you would say 'this is like what happened elsewhere.'" Indeed, almost half of the Hoaxmap's 76 reports concerning rape and sexual violence occurred in the two months following reports of the Cologne attacks.

Rumors are more likely to take off when a factual event similar to the rumor has already occurred.
And because of how people process information, some stories that appear to be coming out of different cities could even be variations on the same story. "One of the things that is easiest to forget and to change," said Fine, "is the location of the event." When a striking story pops up in the United States, for example, "people in Detroit will say 'oh, that happened in Detroit.' People in Phoenix will say it happened in Phoenix." Dates and locations--in this case perhaps even a date as memorable as New Year's Eve--slip out of focus, because they aren't central to the story's social meaning: "What people would remember is if the perpetrator in a story was a Middle Eastern refugee," Fine said. "Some things get leveled out because we don't see them as particularly crucial to the story: It happened on Thursday, Tuesday--it doesn't really matter. Chicago or Detroit, doesn't really matter. But it matters in terms of the meaning of the story whether it involves Syrian refugee, African American, or Hispanic person. Those kinds of issues become the basis of what makes for a widely spread story."

This unconscious information substitution, he cautioned, doesn't make the stories "hoaxes," as the name Hoaxmap suggests. "Hoax implies that someone is deliberately spreading false information in order to trick someone for some kind of personal benefit," he said, "and I don't think that's what's going on." It's more likely, he said, that the rumors have their basis in understandable fears. Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan of the Migration Policy Institute echoed the point. "Immigration," she said, can act as "a proxy for existing insecurities."

Trump's invention of a Swedish terrorist attack was funny. But it likely comes from a dark place. (Zack Beauchamp, Feb 19, 2017, Vox)


If you spend any time in the conservative media, particularly alt-right or anti-Islam sites, there's a clear narrative about Sweden: Muslim migrants are raping Swedish women at unprecedented numbers.

Look, for example, at Breitbart -- Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon's old publication. It's published an enormous number of pieces in recent years on the alleged migrant rape crisis in Sweden, focusing on cities like Malmö with large Muslim immigrant populations. Representative headlines include "Police warn of child rape epidemic in migrant-occupied Malmo" and "Migrants jailed after woman abducted at gun point, gang-raped in hookah bar basement."

Breitbart is hardly alone. Virginia Dare, an alt-right site focusing on immigration, published a piece on "Sweden's 'refugee' sexual assault disaster." Pamela Geller, a widely-read anti-Muslim blogger who once published a piece alleging that Barack Obama was the love child of Malcolm X, wrote a piece titled "Sweden Crumbling: Demands for military intervention as thugs turn Malmo into 'no-go zone.'"

These claims have even made it into more mainstream outlets like National Review and Fox News. Friday night, Fox's Tucker Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz, a journalist who said that "from the onset of the refugee crisis, there was a surge in [Swedish] gun violence and rape." Slate's Daniel Politi theorizes Trump watched the segment, and hence decided to say something about Sweden in his subsequent speech.

That's hard to say for sure. But the odds are, given the consistency of the narrative about Sweden in the right-wing mediasphere, that Trump heard one of these claims about a Swedish refugee rape epidemic somewhere -- and appropriated them to justify his travel ban.

The problem, though, is that this "rape epidemic" is as fake as the Bowling Green Massacre.

Canadian reporter Doug Saunders rigorously investigated the narrative, and concluded that it "falls apart as soon as you speak to anyone knowledgeable in Sweden."

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


Trump's strange relationship: What last week revealed about the President, Putin and Russia (GARRY KASPAROV, 2/19/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Considering the wealthy stature of most of Trump's cabinet appointees, it's not a surprise that several of them would have conflicts of interest. It does seem like quite a coincidence, however, that so many of these conflicts have to do with Putin's Russia. It would almost be reassuring to hear about a scandal involving one of Trump's nominees and, say, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela.

Instead, it's Russian hacking, Russian phone calls and Russian banking.

During the campaign, it was worrying when several of Donald Trump's top advisers turned out to have extensive Russian political and business connections. Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign director for a time, for years worked for Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Putin's puppet ruler there until he was literally chased out of town in 2014 and into exile in Russia.

Before joining Trump's team, Flynn appeared on Putin's propaganda network Russia Today and was even seated next to Putin at a Moscow party celebrating the channel.

Even more troubling, the candidate's own rhetoric about Putin was inexplicably flattering. Why on Earth would an American presidential candidate, a Republican one no less, repeatedly express his admiration for a KGB dictator whose track record includes destroying Russian democracy, killing journalists and dissidents, and carpet-bombing civilians in Chechnya and Aleppo? Trump admires strength, and could not care less about democracy in Russia or anywhere else, but this was well beyond that.

When the election got underway, I expected Hillary Clinton to be a Russia hawk in order to blunt criticism of the failed "Russian reset" policy she helped orchestrate when she was President Obama's secretary of state. Any normal Republican candidate would be expected to also condemn Putin's invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, as well as the genocide he was perpetrating with his friend Bashar Assad in Syria.

Instead, we got Trump, and Trump never backed down from his shocking praise of Putin. This admiration was apparently mutual, at least judging by the contents of the Russian media, which is always a reflection of Putin. The Kremlin-controlled media has been as enthusiastic about Trump as it was hateful toward Hillary Clinton.

But that has started to change over the past few days. The new narrative is that Trump might be losing control and allowing "traitorous elements" inside the intelligence services to undermine him.

Unsurprisingly, this is quite similar to the line of attack selected by Trump himself.

...is that none of them can survive Occam's Razor.  The most obvious explanation for every evil and incompetence of his campaign, transition and presidency is that such are their nature.

A Back-Channel Plan for Ukraine and Russia, Courtesy of Trump Associates (MEGAN TWOHEY and SCOTT SHANE, FEBRUARY 19, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump's former campaign manager Paul D. Manafort.

At a time when Mr. Trump's ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny -- with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress -- some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.

Mr. Trump has confounded Democrats and Republicans alike with his repeated praise for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and his desire to forge an American-Russian alliance. While there is nothing illegal about such unofficial efforts, a proposal that seems to tip toward Russian interests may set off alarms.

At some point you just have to accept that he's pro-Putin and anti-democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


The Paranoid Style in American Politics (Richard Hofstadter, November 1964, Harper's)

If, after our historically discontinuous examples of the paranoid style, we now take the long jump to the contemporary right wing, we find some rather important differences from the nineteenth-century movements. The spokesmen of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country--that they were fending off threats to a still established way of life. But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM

How to Make Overnight Oatmeal (Emma Christensen, 2/18/17, simply Recipes)

Overnight soaking gives the oats time to absorb their cooking liquid, whether that's water or milk. Since they're already fully saturated with liquid, all you really need to do is heat them up. (In fact, you don't even need to heat them up if you don't want to; after soaking, the raw grains are delightfully chewy and great as a cold breakfast on a hot day.) [...]

To settle on the very best method, I tested the oats with a variety of different oat-to-water ratios, with different liquids in place of the water, with both steel-cut and regular old-fashioned rolled oats, and after different soaking times.

In the end, I decided that the simplest method was also the best: oats and water, mixed at a ratio of 1/4 cup of oats to 1/2 cup of water, soaked overnight and microwaved for about a minute. This has become my new standard for a good bowl of oatmeal.

Dairy milk, almond milk, or any other milk will definitely work in place of water, but I felt that the oats remained chewier after soaking and were less delightfully creamy after cooking. Personally, I prefer to soak in water and then stir a splash of milk or a spoonful of yogurt into the oats after cooking.

You can also play around with the ratio of water to oats. I found that 1/2 cup of water was perfect for making a fairly thick, sturdy bowl of oats. Going up to 3/4 cup of water makes a looser, softer, more porridge-like bowl of oats. One cup of liquid felt like too much, though this might be nice if you'd like something you can easily sip one-handed on your way to work.

Also, both steel-cut oats and old fashioned rolled oats work just fine with this method (and with the same ratios of liquid to oats). Use whichever one you prefer.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


IS KYRIE FLAT OUT TROLLING US? (Michael Pina, 2/17/17, Sports of Earth)

Kyrie Irving appears to believe planet Earth is flat. As in, not the spherical body of mass that legitimate scientists -- along with people who've, like, sailed around the world -- concluded it to be several hundred years ago. When given the opportunity to backtrack and save face, Irving seemingly decided to double down and reiterate his initial sentiment.

Not just the Earth.  everything is, until you collapse the wave.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Swedes baffled by Trump's 'last night in Sweden' comment (Louise Nordström, 19 February 2017, The Local)

"When you look at what's happening last night in Sweden - Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden!," the American leader told a Florida rally

Only nothing had happened in Sweden.

While Sweden's former prime minister Carl Bildt wondered what Trump might have been smoking, others asked whether he might have referred to a massive meatball theft, someone having opened a tin of fermented herring, or the fact that it had snowed overnight.

The curator for Sweden's official Twitter account @sweden - an account that is handed over to a regular Swede every week in a show of democracy - was kept busy reassuring people that all was fine in Sweden. In just four hours, more than 800 people had mentioned the @sweden handle, she said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


The Two Worlds of a Soviet Spy : The astonishing life story of Joseph Katz (HARVEY KLEHR, JOHN EARL HAYNES, & DAVID GURVITZ / FEB. 15, 2017, Commentary)

Joseph had joined the CPUSA in 1932 while still in college. His route into the Party probably came through his girlfriend, Bessie Bogorad, also a young Communist activist who had grown up in Passaic. The couple got married in Los Angeles in 1936 and the following year Joseph was recruited by Soviet intelligence. Information about why he was in Los Angeles or what he did between 1932 and the late 1930s remains buried in American and Soviet intelligence files. (His FBI file has never been released.) One of his nephews, David--Meishke's son, now a professor at Tel Aviv University--heard Joseph tell stories of working among blacks in the American South for some of that period. He also told David that for years he was responsible for laundering money for Soviet intelligence, using the businesses they had set up for him. He had a knack for running things; his enterprises did well.

What is clear is that his abilities and skills led to his acquiring more and more responsibilities and being entrusted with more sensitive assignments over the years. By the time of Bentley's defection, Katz had become one of the KGB's most trusted and important agent-handlers in the United States. The chief of FBI counterintelligence later judged that "Joseph Katz's importance as a Soviet agent in the U.S. cannot be overestimated."

As a security measure, the KGB suspended contact with him in late 1945, after Bentley's defection, but it soon decided that it was too risky to leave him in the United States. Unlike most of Bentley's government contacts, who were well known and could not easily disappear, Katz was known only to the FBI as Bentley's Jack. If he was ever caught, dozens of Soviet spies would be in peril. Consequently, by June 1946 the KGB had relocated Katz to Paris, where he continued his espionage work.

Between 1946 and 1949 Joseph wrote letters to Menke from Paris, Rome, Milan, Belgium, the Swiss Alps, and the Pyrenees. Nothing in them carries a hint of what he was doing. But a document in KGB files from December 1948 indicates that he was in Italy at that time, "forming a company on our instructions to cover the illegal courier line between Europe and the USA."

Defectors from Communism have often spoken of a Kronstadt2 moment--the event that finally shatters illusions and precipitates a break with the cause to which they have devoted their lives. Stalinist paranoia had several times led to sweeping internal KGB purges. As Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign gathered strength in the late 1940s and early 1950s, KGB officers with a Jewish background were shunted aside, demoted, or discharged, and foreign Jewish agents like Katz came under suspicion. As we've seen, Katz had told his Israeli contact Aviva Flint that suspicion about him in 1950 had ended his nearly two decades of revolutionary commitment. His letters that year are guarded but deeply revealing to anyone aware of his history.

One letter from 1950 hints at a recent traumatic event--probably his interrogation by the KGB and his fear that he would be liquidated. "I shall never forget the last few days," he wrote. "The kind of things that happened would seem unreal in the worst pulp magazine story. I feel as though everything is unreal and out of focus." He told Menke that "a few nights ago I was up all night preparing what I thought may be my last letter to" his daughter, Paula.

In October, he lamented the choice he had made in a cautious but nonetheless clear reference to his work for Soviet intelligence: "I know now the exact time and the exact chance happening to me that set me on a road from which there is no return. I think now that I had a feeling, a foreboding even then that I was starting on the wrong path, but once begun there was no turning back. I was never sure of what I was doing, but the element of adventure, the desire to impress and feel important overcame the doubts I had." He had, finally, come to the realization that "my life up to now, all I believed and worked for, is a fraud and a lie."

He dropped hints that he feared for his life: "When you ask me again and again where I will be, I cannot tell you. I am not sure about anything. When you ask such questions of me, it is clear that you do not understand my situation, and it isn't possible for me to make it any clearer. You must forgive my nervousness. Things are not good." He reported seeing himself on a deserted street in a strange city "and [I] am a little afraid." Either to evade the KGB or, because he was spooked by the inquiries from French counterintelligence, he took a four-month vacation in the Basque country, writing that "how I came here is a long story," but adding that there was a legend that Jews escaping the Inquisition found refuge in the Pyrenees.

Hiding from both the KGB and the FBI, Joseph disappeared again in 1951 before turning up in Israel by early November. He wrote Menke: "Who was it that said, 'There is nothing sadder than a disillusioned revolutionary?'" He was filled with regret: "I am sure that in our dreams of creating a better world we did wrong things--and hurt those we loved--but not because we were bad--we hurt ourselves even more." He bitterly noted that "we tried to spread beauty and truth, but it remained manure, and the flower does not grow."

David Katz later learned from his uncle that Israeli authorities had been suspicious of his bona fides when he arrived; during his first year he was questioned extensively about his Communist allegiance. He never discussed exactly what he told those in intelligence about his espionage activities, but managed to convince them that he had irreparably broken with his past. Exactly how forthcoming he was remains a secret in the archives of Israeli intelligence.

He may have abandoned Communism, but Joseph remained a committed socialist. He established close ties with Menachem Bader, an important figure in Mapam, the pro-Soviet Zionist political party that tried to blend Marxism and Jewish nationalism. In 1953, Mapam faced an existential crisis when one of its leaders, Mordechai Oren, was arrested on a trip to Czechoslovakia and forced to testify against 14 leaders of the Czech Communist Party. Under torture, he falsely confessed to being a British and Zionist spy and implicated the defendants, most of whom were Jewish, as his agents. Eleven of them were hanged, including Party leader Rudolf Slansky. Joseph wrote his brother that he was convinced the trial was a frame-up: "In the end our dreams turned to nightmares." He became increasingly anti-Communist and more fervently Zionist. "Better a Jewish state without socialism than socialism without a Jewish state," he wrote to Menke. He also remarked that Israeli forces should have conquered Cairo in the 1956 war to force the Egyptians to make peace, and he denounced the "Russian fascists" who had destroyed the Hungarian Revolution.

He worked with Kibbutz Artzi, a federation of left-wing Mapam settlements, helping individual collective farms with engineering projects. He began to do part-time work for the Ministry of Development and travelled to Europe to inspect equipment being considered for purchase. He spent a year or two in Africa with Solel Boneh, a government-owned construction firm, helping to build the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. (In 1976, the Israeli raid to free Jewish hostages was facilitated by the company's possession of the original blueprints, which helped the military plan the operation precisely.)

Joseph also remarried. He and his first wife, Bessie, had had a daughter, Paula, born in 1941. By 1945 they were estranged and Katz was living with a woman named Eva Getzoff. In March, Moscow reluctantly agreed to allow Getzoff to be used as a courier for Katz but worried that since he lived with her, "there could be potential complications with his wife." Not long after this message, Katz signed up with the Merchant Marine; perhaps he was escaping a difficult love triangle.

When Joseph left for Europe in 1946, Eva Getzoff remained in the United States. Joseph must have had a reconciliation with Bessie, because in 1949 he informed Menke that Bessie and Paula had just departed from the home they shared with him in Paris for America. He and Bessie either divorced or he became a widower in the 1950s after she died of cancer, and Eva became his second wife. The shadow of their past never completely disappeared. In 1961, when the FBI arrested the spy Robert Soblen, it named Eva Getzoff as an unindicted co-conspirator. Neither Joseph nor Eva ever talked publicly about their pasts or cooperated with American intelligence.

In the 1960s, Joseph went to work for a film-equipment company and received patents in fiber optics, film lighting techniques, and the development and installation of double filament lighting and automated grid systems. His expertise in lighting and film techniques led to his employment by Berkey Photos, a British company, as its managing director. He moved to London in 1966. Berkey wanted to send him to the United States on company business, and Joseph, who had renounced his American citizenship shortly after arriving in Israel, feared he would be arrested. So he switched jobs--and, improbably, helped make films that glamorized and fantasized the world of espionage that he had abandoned.

H arry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli were the producers of the James Bond movies from 1962, starting with Dr. No, through 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun under the aegis of Eon Productions. Together they made a total of nine Bond films. Saltzman hired Katz as a technical adviser on lighting in 1967, and he remained in that capacity until 1975. Both Dovid and David, his nephews, recalled the thrill of visiting the set at Pinewood Studios in Norfolk while filming took place. Dovid got to travel to Dover to watch spectacular takes of cars hurtling off cliffs and exploding in midair. David met Roger Moore. As Saltzman's Israeli representative in 1972, Katz negotiated for his purchase of Berkey Pathe Humphries, a major film and photo-finishing laboratory in Tel Aviv. In 1985, Katz listed himself in a Who's Who as an associate and former consultant to Harry Saltzman Enterprises. In 1998, on the dust jacket of Letters to My Brother, he promoted himself to Chief Executive Officer of Saltzman Enterprises.

February 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Report: Carson 'speechless' after top aide fired from HUD over anti-Trump op-ed (NIKITA VLADIMIROV - 02/17/17, The Hill)

Ben Carson, President Trump's nominee for Housing and Urban Development secretary, was "baffled" by the firing of his close aide for his criticism of Trump during the 2016 campaign, BuzzFeed News reported on Friday.

A source close to Carson said that he was "speechless" after learning that Shermichael Singleton was fired from his position as a senior adviser at HUD for writing an op-ed critical of Trump for The Hill in October.

A source told the publication that Carson was informed of the incident by phone while having lunch in Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


A month of Trump, by the numbers (AP, February 19, 2017)

-- 1: Executive orders blocked. An order to ban travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations was blocked by federal judges. Trump is expected to issue a new order next week.

-- 4: Bills signed into law. They include a bill to halt regulation blocking coal mining debris from being dumped in nearby streams. [...]

-- 2: Failed personnel choices. Andrew Puzder withdrew as the nominee for labor secretary; Michael Flynn was ousted as national security adviser.

-- 14: Cabinet-level nominations approved, out of 24 total.

-- 39: Percent of respondents who approve of Trump's job performance in Pew Research Center poll conducted Feb. 7-12.

-- 3: Weekend trips to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

White House dismisses NSC aide after harsh criticism of Trump (ELIANA JOHNSON, 02/18/17, Politico)

The aide, Craig Deare, was serving as the NSC's senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Earlier in the week, at a private, off-the-record roundtable hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for a group of about two dozen scholars, Deare harshly criticized the president and his chief strategist Steve Bannon and railed against the dysfunction paralyzing the Trump White House, according to a source familiar with the situation.

He complained in particular that senior national security aides do not have access to the president -- and gave a detailed and embarrassing readout of Trump's call with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto.

State Dept. carries out layoffs under Rex Tillerson (MARGARET BRENNAN, KYLIE ATWOOD, 2/17/17,  CBS NEWS)

While Rex Tillerson is on his first overseas trip as Secretary of State, his aides laid off staff at the State Department on Thursday. 

Much of seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed. 

These staffers in particular are often the conduit between the secretary's office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered. Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy.

There are clear signals being sent that many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats. 

Not a single State Department official was included in the White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner - who has  no regional expertise or diplomatic experience -  had a greater role in the meeting than the Senate-confirmed secretary of State. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Don't Dismiss Trump's Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity (Bret Stephens delivered the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture this week at the University of California, Los Angeles. Read the full text of his remarks below, 2/18/17, TIME)

I'm profoundly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Danny Pearl, my colleague at The Wall Street Journal.

My topic this evening is intellectual integrity in the age of Donald Trump. I suspect this is a theme that would have resonated with Danny.

When you work at The Wall Street Journal, the coins of the realm are truth and trust -- the latter flowing exclusively from the former. When you read a story in the Journal, you do so with the assurance that immense reportorial and editorial effort has been expended to ensure that what you read is factual.

Not probably factual. Not partially factual. Not alternatively factual. I mean fundamentally, comprehensively and exclusively factual. And therefore trustworthy.

This is how we operate. This is how Danny operated. This is how he died, losing his life in an effort to nail down a story.

In the 15 years since Danny's death, the list of murdered journalists has grown long.

Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia.

Zahra Kazemi and Sattar Behesti in Iran.

Jim Foley and Steve Sotloff in Syria.

Five journalists in Turkey. Twenty-six in Mexico. More than 100 in Iraq.

When we honor Danny, we honor them, too.

We do more than that.

We honor the central idea of journalism -- the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, "that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder."

And we honor the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with.

So that's the business we're in: the business of journalism. Or, as the 45th president of the United States likes to call us, the "disgusting and corrupt media." [...]

[T]he question of what Mr. Trump might yet do by political methods against the media matters a great deal less than what he is attempting to do by ideological and philosophical methods.

Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes -- Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he's trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.

His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn't that there's a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He's perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt -- so long as it's on his side.

But again, that's not all the president is doing.

Consider this recent exchange he had with Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly asks:

Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can't back up factually, and as the President you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don't have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it's irresponsible for the President to say that.

To which the president replies:

Many people have come out and said I'm right.

Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. "Many people say" is what's known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it's important not to dismiss the president's reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it's darkly brilliant -- if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

He isn't telling O'Reilly that he's got his facts wrong. He's saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don't matter: That they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn't have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them -- or, in his case, both.

If some of you in this room are students of political philosophy, you know where this argument originates. This is a version of Thrasymachus's argument in Plato's Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that injustice "if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice."

Substitute the words "truth" and "falsehood" for "justice" and "injustice," and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM

KNOWING YOUR ALLIES (profanity alert):

MICHAEL FLYNN, GENERAL CHAOS : What the removal of Flynn as the national-security adviser reveals about Donald Trump's White House.  (Nicholas Schmidle, 2/18/17, The New Yorker)

Congress created the National Security Council in 1947, in the hope of establishing a more orderly process for coördinating foreign and defense policy. Six years later, Dwight Eisenhower decided that the council needed a chief and named the first national-security adviser--a former soldier and banker, Robert Cutler. The position evolved into one of enormous importance. McGeorge Bundy, who served under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, regarded himself as a "traffic cop"--controlling access to the President. Under Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger dramatically expanded the role, often meeting directly with the Soviet Ambassador, and bypassing the State Department.

The temptations of power nearly overwhelmed Ronald Reagan's Presidency, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair, when national-security staffers were discovered to be running covert actions involving Iran and Central America. The scandal prompted some to call for the national-security adviser to become a Senate-confirmed position. Heading off these demands, George H. W. Bush chose a retired general, Brent Scowcroft, who had held the job under Gerald Ford, to return to the role, confident that Scowcroft would respect the lines between intelligence work, military operations, and policymaking. "He will be an honest broker," Bush said.

Since then, according to Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush's second-term national-security adviser, the "honest broker" has become the model for Republican and Democratic Administrations alike. That meant overseeing a process that is "fair and transparent, where each member of the council can get his views to the President," Hadley said. In late November, Hadley met with Flynn, who was seeking advice, at Trump Tower. Hadley left the meeting optimistic that Flynn meant to act as a facilitator in the traditional way.

But Flynn's challenge--and now, potentially, his successor's--was unique, as Bannon had seemingly moved to set up a kind of "parallel, shadow" national-security staff for his own purposes, one council staffer told me. Bannon, who had no direct experience in policymaking, seized a central role on issues dear to Trump. For example, during the campaign Trump had railed against nato members for not paying their full freight, which unnerved diplomats and politicians throughout Europe. On February 5th, according to the staffer, Bannon sent questions to the N.S.C. staff, requesting a breakdown of contributions to nato from individual members since 1949. Many of the rank-and-file staffers were alarmed, not just because the questions seemed designed to impugn nato's legitimacy but because they represented a breach of protocol by tasking N.S.C. staffers with political duties. "Those were Flynn's people, not political operatives," the staffer said.

Flynn came into the White House wanting to streamline the bureaucracy of the N.S.C., which is staffed mostly by career civil servants from the State Department, the Pentagon, and intelligence agencies, believing that it moved too ponderously under Obama. But Flynn, in a contest for power with Bannon, soon seemed to realize that the traditional setup could help him build influence in the White House. "It was dawning on him that the process privileged him," the N.S.C. staffer said. [...]

Back in Washington, Flynn was assigned to the office of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Flynn's success in Iraq and Afghanistan made him popular in foreign-policy circles. In April, 2011, he attended a luncheon at the Army and Navy Club, a members-only hotel and restaurant two blocks from the White House. About two dozen guests sat in a private room, around a long table. Iran was a major focus of the conversation, according to one of the event's hosts, Mary Beth Long, a former C.I.A. case officer and a senior Pentagon official during the George W. Bush Administration.

The attendees included a neoconservative historian named Michael Ledeen, who was then a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. Ledeen had been obsessed with Iran for decades. In the mid-eighties, as a consultant to Reagan's National Security Council, he played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair--introducing Oliver North, Reagan's counterterrorism adviser, to Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer. Ledeen's hope had been to stir up dissent inside Iran through Ghorbanifar's network of influential contacts, according to the Presidential commission that investigated the affair. (Ledeen disputes this.) Instead, Ghorbanifar wound up as the middleman in the sale of weapons to Iran, in exchange for Tehran's assistance in freeing American hostages held by Iranian-backed Islamists in Lebanon. But Ledeen's zeal for regime change in Iran remained undiminished. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he called for American forces to press on, into Iran. "As Ronald Reagan once said, 'America is too great a country to settle for small dreams,' " he wrote, in 2002. Iraq was a distraction; Iran was "the real war."

Flynn, too, increasingly viewed Iran as a great menace. In Iraq, he had seen scores of young Americans killed by sophisticated armor-piercing explosives, supplied to Shiite militias by the Quds Force, an élite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Flynn and Ledeen became close friends; in their shared view of the world, Ledeen supplied an intellectual and historical perspective, Flynn a tactical one. "I've spent my professional life studying evil," Ledeen told me. Flynn said, in a recent speech, "I've sat down with really, really evil people"--he cited Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Russians, Chinese generals--"and all I want to do is punch the guy in the nose."

A month after the luncheon, a team of Navy seals raided a compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. Flynn was critical of the limitations placed on intelligence work after the raid. Analysts had spent several weeks going through the hard drives and phones seized in the raid looking for "targeting data"--clues on the whereabouts of other terrorists--and leads on imminent threats. But Flynn and others advocated going deeper, with the hope of learning more about Al Qaeda's finances and backers and organizational structure. A team returned to the materials and uncovered documents that seemed to point to a closer relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran than was previously understood. In one memorandum, a lieutenant asks bin Laden for permission to send an associate planning attacks in Europe into Iran for "around three months" to "train the brothers." Flynn saw such references as evidence of Iran's duplicity, in supporting Shiite and Sunni extremists alike. It seemed validation of Ledeen's views on Iran. (Others in the intelligence community, including Panetta, the C.I.A. director at the time of the raid, were dubious about a close relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran.)

James Mattis, the Marine general in charge of U.S. Central Command, whose responsibilities included the Middle East and Central Asia, had been pushing for more aggressive action against Iran. In the summer of 2011, Mattis, who is now the Secretary of Defense, wanted to launch a rocket assault on an Iranian power plant in retaliation for the killing of six American soldiers by Iranian rockets in Baghdad. But the Obama Administration was hoping to get out of the Middle East, not risk starting another war there. Flynn felt that the Administration was being naïve, and that no one seemed to care about what he insisted was the collusion between Al Qaeda and Iran. "He was incensed," an analyst who worked with Flynn at the time said. "He saw this as truth suppression."

In April, 2012, Obama nominated Flynn to be the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Within the intelligence community, the agency was considered a backwater. "It's the bastard child," Mary Beth Long, the former C.I.A. officer, said. The agency, whose headquarters are in southwest Washington, produced reports on topics like Middle Eastern weapons deals, changes of command in China, and troop movements on the Korean peninsula--essential work for assessing foreign military capabilities but hardly exciting.

To invigorate the D.I.A., Flynn wanted to break down the barriers between collectors and analysts; enhance the stable of clandestine case officers who operated overseas, like their C.I.A. counterparts; and reorganize the agency on the basis of geography. The goal was to transform the D.I.A. into a more agile organization.

Flynn's ideas were informed by his experience in helping to overhaul jsoc. But it was unclear whether they would work at the D.I.A., with seventeen thousand employees. "jsoc has a small, tight-knit group of folks making real-time tactical decisions that must be executed tonight," a senior military intelligence official told me. "A big organization like the D.I.A. just can't respond that quickly."

Peter Shelby, a retired marine and former D.I.A. official, told me he assumed that Flynn would be methodical in his approach: spend a few months at headquarters; learn how the organization worked; cultivate respected agency veterans; and then introduce changes. Instead, Shelby said, "Flynn came in and threw a bomb to explode the whole place, and then just let the dust settle."

Employees started to complain. Many sought reassignment with other agencies. "Morale was in the toilet," Shelby said. "To higher-level observers, Flynn looked like this bold leader, willing to make changes in the face of opposition. But, the further down you went, the more negative impact there was, because it was complete chaos."

Moreover, Flynn could be sloppy with numbers and details--misstatements that his staffers derided as "Flynn facts." His habit of chasing hunches also exasperated some staff members. In September, 2012, after the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate and annex in Benghazi, Flynn urged an investigation into an Iran connection; his insistence that Iran was involved "stunned" subordinates, according to the Times. (Flynn denies that he asked for a probe.) An intelligence analyst who worked with Flynn during this period told me that his iconoclasm sometimes went too far. "By nature, Flynn takes a contrarian approach to even the most simple analytic issues," the analyst said. "After Benghazi, I remember him using the phrase 'black swan' a lot. What's a 'black swan'? He was looking for the random event that nobody could predict. Look, you certainly have to keep your eye on the ball for that, but there's a reason why it's a black swan. You shouldn't dedicate a ton of time to that." [...]

Flynn began developing a public profile as a decorated former general with experience in fighting Islamic extremism. A month later, he made an appearance on "Charlie Rose." He spoke at length about the threat posed by the Islamic State, which had been executing hostages and rapidly acquiring territory in northern Iraq and Syria. But America faced bigger foes than isis, he said. "Iran has killed more Americans than Al Qaeda has through state sponsors, through its terrorist network, called Hezbollah."

This was a puzzling assertion. "Hezbollah has killed more Americans than Al Qaeda?" Rose asked.

Flynn began a count, starting with Hezbollah's 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed two hundred and eighty-three people. He cited other instances, but his math made little sense, and the numbers fell far short of the nearly three thousand killed by Al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11.

Rose moved on, but a friend who had accompanied Flynn to the studio pulled him aside after the taping and questioned his Iran claim. One of Rose's producers offered to fact-check the segment, but he waved off the suggestion. Another friend who'd come to the taping suggested contacting an expert from the intelligence community. That wouldn't be necessary, Flynn said--he would just call Michael Ledeen. [...]

In April, 2015, Flynn accepted an invitation to spend a week at Dartmouth. Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department counterterrorism chief who now directed the school's international-affairs center, had come to know Flynn in Afghanistan. He considered him friendly and engaging, and thought students and faculty would appreciate his insights and his unconventionality. He set up class visits, dinner discussions, and a talk, which Flynn titled "World Without Order."

Benjamin told me that he quickly realized during the visit that Flynn's "easygoing pragmatism" had given way to some "very hard-edged ideas," particularly on Iran. Flynn voiced contempt toward Iran's leaders ("They are liars") and said that they had "no right" to participate in negotiations with the United States over their nuclear program. (The Iran nuclear deal was signed in July, 2015.)

"I've encountered plenty of military officers who were deeply upset by the role that Iranian-backed militias played in Iraq, but Flynn's animosity was off the charts," Benjamin said. Flynn expressed similarly harsh views of Islam in general, describing the faith as a political ideology, and not a religion. Benjamin, who, in 2002, co-wrote a book, "The Age of Sacred Terror," about the ideological war that America faced against radical Islam, deemed Flynn's comments "pointlessly pejorative" and thought they would serve only to inflame extremists. He began discouraging Dartmouth's administrators and faculty from attending the events.

In effect, he fails to understand the entirety of the War on Terror, which is simply against Salafism/Wahhabism.
Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


White House In Turmoil Shows Why Trump's No CEO  (Bert Spector, Associate Professor, International Business and Strategy, Northeastern University, 2/18/17. The Conversation)

[W]hy the seeming contradiction between his businessman credentials and chaotic governing style?

Well for one thing, Trump wasn't a genuine CEO. That is, he didn't run a major public corporation with shareholders and a board of directors that could hold him to account. Instead, he was the head of a family-owned, private web of enterprises. Regardless of the title he gave himself, the position arguably ill-equipped him for the demands of the presidency.

Several years ago, I explored the distinction between public and private companies in detail when the American Bar Association invited me to write about what young corporate lawyers needed to understand about how business works. Based on that research, I want to point to an important set of distinctions between public corporations and private businesses, and what it all means for President Trump.

Public corporations are companies that offer their stock to pretty much anyone via organized exchanges or by some over-the-counter mechanism. In order to protect investors, the government created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which imposes an obligation of transparency on public corporations that does not apply to private businesses like the Trump Organization.

The SEC, for example, requires the CEO of public corporations to make full and public disclosures of their financial position. Annual 10-K reports, quarterly 10-Q's and occasional special 8-K's require disclosure of operating expenses, significant partnerships, liabilities, strategies, risks and plans.

Additionally, an independent firm overseen by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board conducts an audit of these financial statements to ensure thoroughness and accuracy.

Finally, the CEO, along with the chief financial officer, is criminally liable for falsification or manipulation of the company's reports. Remember the 2001 Enron scandal? CEO Jeffrey Skilling was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading and initially sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Then there is the matter of internal governance.

The CEO of a public company is subject to an array of constraints and a varying but always substantial degree of oversight. There are boards of directors, of course, that review all major strategic decisions, among other duties. And there are separate committees that assess CEO performance and determine compensation, composed entirely of independent or outside directors without any ongoing involvement in running the business.

Whole categories of CEO decisions, including mergers and acquisitions, changes in the corporation's charter and executive compensation packages, are subject to the opinion of shareholders and directors.

In addition, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act requires - for now - regular nonbinding shareholder votes on the compensation packages of top executives.

And then there's this critical fact: well-governed firms tend to outperform poorly governed ones, often dramatically. And that's because of factors like a strong board of directors, more transparency, a responsiveness to shareholders, thorough and independent audits and so forth.

None of the obligations listed above applied to Trump, who was owner, chairman and president of the Trump Organization, a family-owned limited liability company (LLC) that has owned and run hundreds of businesses involving real estate, hotels, golf courses, private jet rentals, beauty pageants and even bottled water.

Having never participated in, nevermind run, a democratic institution couldn't help but leave him unqualified.

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


The Coming Ice Age : A true scientific detective story (Betty Friedan, September 1958, Harper's)

THIS is the story of two scientists, who started five years ago -- with a single radiocarbon clue from the ocean bottom and a wild hunch -- to track down one of the earth's great unsolved mysteries: What caused the ancient ice ages? Their search led over many continents and seas, to drowned rivers and abandoned mountain caves, into far-removed branches of science. It took them down through recorded history, from the stone tablets of primitive man to contemporary newspaper headlines.

These two serious, careful scientists -- geophysicist Maurice Ewing, director of Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory, and geologist-meteorologist William Donn believe they have finally found the explanation for the giant glaciers, which four times during the past million years have advanced and retreated over the earth. If they are right, the world is now heading into another Ice Age. It will come not as sudden catastrophe, but as the inevitable culmination of a process that has already begun in northern oceans.

As Ewing and Donn read the evidence, an Ice Age will result from a slow warming and rising of the ocean that is now taking place. They believe that this ocean flood -- which may submerge large coastal areas of the eastern United States and western Europe -- is going to melt the ice sheet which has covered the Arctic Ocean through all recorded history. Calculations based on the independent observations of other scientists indicate this melting could begin, within roughly one hundred years.

It is this melting of Arctic ice which Ewing and Donn believe will set off another Ice Age on earth. They predict that it will cause great snows to fall in the north -- perennial unmelting snows which the world has not seen since the last Ice Age thousands of years ago. These snows will make the Arctic glaciers grow again, until their towering height forces them forward. The advance south will be slow, but if it follows the route of previous ice ages, it will encase in ice large parts of North America and Europe. It would, of course, take many centuries for that wall of ice to reach New York and Chicago, London and Paris. But its coming is an inevitable consequence of the cycle which Ewing and Donn believe is now taking place.

Yeah, but this time the climate hysterics are right!
Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Trump ignores 'the grown-ups' in his Cabinet : Foreign policy chiefs struggle to influence a wobbly White House. (ELI STOKOLS and JOSH DAWSEY 02/17/17, Politico)

For a president who declared on Thursday he had assembled "one of the great Cabinets in American history," sidelining Tillerson was an unorthodox way to utilize one of his top-tier picks. But it follows a pattern from Trump's first month in office, where the president is operating without seeking much input from his more experienced Cabinet secretaries -- including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Tillerson, as well as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and CIA Director Mike Pompeo -- a group one GOP source called "the grownups."

Trump's West Wing, a team of rivals marked by seemingly endless infighting, leaking and inexperience, has helped unify the partially formed Cabinet into an actual team, according to interviews with more than a dozen senior staffers inside the agencies and the White House who were not authorized to speak on the record.

In their first weeks on the job, the heads of these sometimes competitive departments and agencies are working together, fighting to staff the agencies they lead and to maximize their collective influence over an administration struggling to find stability. Their shared hope: that things will get better.

...what if this is as good as he gets? This is, after all, as well as he's ever run anything.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Leaked Trump tape: 'You are the special people' : Exclusive audio shows how Trump lets loose at his clubs -- inviting guests to join him on staff interviews (DARREN SAMUELSOHN and ANNIE KARNI 02/18/17, Politico)

Turning to a longtime club member that night, he said: "We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who we gonna accept -- boy, can you give me some recommendations?"

The supportive crowd ate it up as the relaxed Trump, in his element, gave them a close-up view of how he was setting up the government. "You are the special people," he told the crowd of about 100 members, who mingled around a sushi station served by a waiter wearing a camouflage "Make America Great Again" cap.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


The "Identity Politics" Debate Is Splintering the Left. Here's How We Can Move Past It. : We must redefine "identity politics," because the debate about it is mostly wrong. We can start by recognizing that Clintonian identity politics aren't intersectional--they're racist. (THEA N. RIOFRANCOS AND DANIEL DENVIR, 2/18/17, In These Times)

We might instead frame it like this: People from left to center are engaging in heated, rarely helpful and often confused conversations about "identity politics" that present false choices about how to move forward. In the wake of Trump's inauguration, the debate has become somewhat muted as left to liberal resistance has coalesced into persistent, multifaceted and enormous nationwide protest movements. Disputes, however, will no doubt reemerge and continue to fracture the left wing of this resistance. While internal debate is productive, a united front is crucial. At issue is not only the future of the Democratic Party but, more broadly, the strategies of political resistance and social mobilization under a Trump presidency and the future of an independent Left that has now set its sights on winning power.

Some liberal writers, like Rebecca Traister, are concerned that appealing to white workers will ultimately distance the Democratic Party from the "women and people of color" who make up its base. Meanwhile, other liberals, hostile to "identity politics" but by no means leftists--intellectual historian Mark Lilla, for example--argue that "American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity." On the socialist left, Shuja Haider and others skewer "identity politics" for dividing the collective "we" necessary for revolutionary politics.

The first argument assumes that a focus on class entails a narrow focus on the grievances of white workers and the abandonment of a diverse Democratic constituency; the second and third that narrow identitarian appeals undermine the more encompassing identity ("Americans as Americans" per Lilla; the "working class" for socialist critics) required for a successful liberal or left coalition. Ironically, despite their vehement disagreement over whether "identity politics" should be the mobilizing strategy, all three positions presume the same neoliberal framing of identity politics--positing a zero-sum game between individual groups with narrow and mutually opposed interests--that has guided the liberal establishment for decades.

If the Left is going to have the discussion, they need to at least start from reality.  It is Progressivism that proceeds from the notion of the economy as zero-sum and Donald has just latched on to it by arguing that any wealth that goes to a person of color is denied to a white person.

Neo-liberalism embraces the capitalist idea that we can continually build wealth and have ever more of it to distribute, irrespective of anyone's color, gender, creed, etc..  Indeed, every society can--and we believe will be--capitalist and enjoy the same sort of economic growth we of the Anglosphere specifically and the West generally have enjoyed the past few centuries.

Not coincidentally, since neo-liberalism has become the default politics of the developed world we have nearly eliminated extreme poverty globally, putting the lie to the entire zero-sum canard.  Revealingly, Lester Thurow went from the great popularizer of the zero-sum view to a neo-liberal himself.

To revive the left all that is needed is a return to the election-winning neo-liberalism of Tony Blair and Bill Cinton, but so long as the Left hates neo-liberalism that won't be easy. 

If you were trying to locate the moment at which we reached the End of History, you could worse than this :

A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto (Charles Peters; Charles Peters is the editor of The Washington Monthly. September 5, 1982, washington Post)

If neo-conservatives are liberals who took a critical look at liberalism and decided to become conservatives, we are liberals who took the same look and decided to retain our goals but to abandon some of our prejudices. We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have come to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.

We have found these responses not only weren't helping but were often hampering us in confronting the problems that were beginning to cripple the nation in the 1970s: declining productivity; the closed factories and potholed roads that betrayed decaying plant and infrastructure; inefficient and unaccountable public agencies that were eroding confidence in government; a military with too many weapons that didn't work and too few people from the upper classes in its ranks; and a politics of selfishness symbolized by an explosion of political action committees devoted to the interests of single groups.

Our primary concerns are community, democracy, and prosperity. Of them, economic growth is most important now, because it is essential to almost everything else we want to achieve. Our hero is the risk-taking entrepreneur who creates new jobs and better products. "Americans," says Bradley, "have to begin to treat risk more as an opportunity and not as a threat."

We want to encourage the entrepreneur not with Reaganite policies that simply make the rich richer, but with laws designed to help attract investors and customers. For example, Hart is proposing a "new capacity" stock, a class of stock issued "for the explicit purpose of investment in new plants and equipment." The stock would be exempt from capital gains tax on its first resale. This would give investors the incentive they now lack to target their investment on new plants and equipment instead of simply trading old issues, which is what almost all the activity on Wall Street is about today.

We also favor freeing the entrepreneur from the kind of economic regulation that discourages healthy competition. But on matters of health and safety, we know there must be vigorous regulation, because the same capitalism that can give us economic vitality can also sell us Pintos, maim employes, and pollute our skies and streams.

Our support for workers on health and safety issues does not mean support for unions that demand wage increases without regard to productivity increases. That such wage increases have been a substantial factor in this country's economic decline is beyond reasonable doubt. But -- and this is a thought much more likely to occur to neo-liberals like Lester Thurow than to neo-conservatives -- so have ridiculously high salaries for managements that show the same disregard for performance. The recently resigned president of International Harvester was being paid $1.4 million a year as he led his company to the brink of disaster.

We also oppose management compensation that encourages a focus on short-term profit instead of long-term growth. And we favor giving the worker a share in the ownership of his company.

In this connection, a perfect example of the neo-liberal approach was provided by Tsongas during the Senate debate over the Chrysler bailout. The United Auto Workers sought guaranteed wage increases for its members. Tsongas objected. Why should a company on the verge of bankruptcy pay wage increases? On the other hand, Tsongas realized that workers would feel exploited if their efforts produced profit for the company and it all went to the shareholders. The Tsongas solution was to give the workers stock instead of money, so that if their efforts helped save the company, they would not be suckers. They would share in the success.

Another way we depart from the traditional liberal's support for organized labor is in our criticism of white-collar unions for their resistance to performance standards in the evaluation of government employes. We aren't against government, period, as -- with the exception of the national security apparatus -- many conservatives appear to be. But we are against a fat, sloppy, and smug bureaucracy. We want a government that can fire people who can't or won't do the job. And that includes teachers. Far too many public school teachers are simply incompetent.

Our concern about the public school system illustrates a central element of neo-liberalism: It is at once pragmatic and idealistic.

Our practical concern is that public schools have to be made better, much better, if we are to compete economically with other technologically advanced countries, if we are to have more Route 128s and Silicon Valleys. Our idealistic concern is that we have to make these schools better if the American dream is to be realized. Right now there is not a fair chance for all because too many children are receiving a bad education. The public schools have in fact become the principal instrument of class oppression in America, keeping the lower orders in their place while the upper class sends its children to private schools.

Another way in which the practical and the idealistic merge in neo-liberal thinking is in our attitude toward income maintenance programs like Social Security, welfare, veterans' pensions, and unemployment compensation. We want to eliminate duplication and apply a means test to these programs. They would all become one insurance program against need.

Meanwhile, Conservatism has had to adjust too:

What Is Capitalism? (Joseph Pearce, 2/18/17, Imaginative Conservative)

It would be helpful, therefore, to understand what Belloc and Chesterton mean when they use the word. For both men, the word is used to denote an economic system whereby a small minority of the population owns the vast bulk of the capital, thereby forcing the dispossessed majority, or proletariat, to work for this small minority for a wage. In short, and paradoxically, the problem with capitalism is that it leads to there being too few capitalists! Or, to put the matter another way, the distributism which Belloc and Chesterton advocated affirms that the more capitalists there are in society, the healthier society will be. [...]

Let's begin with the basics, or the very foundations of economics, the four pillars on which all economic activity depends, i.e. the so-called "factors of production": land, capital, labour, and the entrepreneur. Although people differ with regard to which of these is more important or more necessary, and though socialists seek to subsume the entrepreneur within a generic understanding of labour, these factors serve as a good starting point from which we can move towards a mutually acceptable definition of capitalism.

If we begin with the assumption that an entrepreneur is a "capitalist," and we understand an entrepreneur as one who has the use of capital and/or land with which to produce wealth, we will see that distributists, such as Belloc and Chesterton, believe that a healthy society is one which is characterized by the greatest number of such "capitalists," i.e. those who own their own land and their own capital and are therefore economically free. If this is our understanding of "capitalism," we can see Belloc and Chesterton as "capitalists." 

Ironically, while Distributism was agrarian, if not outright Luddite, it is the super-mechanization of the modern world that makes possible the more equal distribution they dreamed of.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Before Trump Was a Racist Commander-in-Chief, He Was a Racist Real Estate Executive : Newly released files from the FBI's investigation into Trump's company document pervasive discrimination against people of color. (RACHEL JOHNSON, 2/18/17, In These Times)

This week the FBI released to the public nearly 400 pages of documents associated with the bureau's 1970s investigation of racial discrimination in the Trump family's real estate company, Trump Management, Incorporated. Donald Trump was at the time the president of the company, while his father Fred Trump was chairman. [...]

The Trump files are illuminating in their ability to reveal what Sugrue describes as the "furtive tactics" real estate agents used after the Fair Housing Act to maintain segregation. The FBI documents reveal systemic discrimination against potential black renters--including allegations of fabricating rental leases, lying about the cost of rent and rejecting financially qualified black applicants.

Trump employees, according to the files, were instructed to write codes, including the letter "C" for "colored," on the rental applications of blacks and Puerto Ricans. Trump's coding system recalls the real estate codes used by the federal government's Home Owners Loan Corporation during the New Deal. In "residential security maps" based on common practices in state and local ordinances as well as the real estate industry, the government color-coded areas with high populations of people of color as "red"--high-risk. This practice, known as redlining, denied mortgage capital to neighborhoods with high populations of non-whites--shutting out African Americans from homeownership and the accompanying wealth creation.

Many of the FBI documents reference "phony leases" that Trump employees allegedly showed to black applicants to convince them that an apartment had already been rented. In an interview with federal investigators, one employee stated that he believed phony leases were a "common practice" at the company and had heard about their use from at least two building superintendents. Another employee detailed how he was instructed by management to lie about the cost of rent to deter black applicants. A doorman who had worked at 2650 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn submitted a handwritten statement alleging that his supervisor instructed him to tell African Americans "the rent was twice as much as it really was." 

Subtler forms of discrimination mentioned in the files included requiring that applicants' income be more than four times the monthly rent, which made even cheap apartments out of reach for many low-income black renters.

Even if black applicants could afford the rent, they were routinely turned away. A former rental supervisor at Tysens Park apartments in Staten Island--a complex that was overwhelmingly white--told the FBI that he had been instructed by a superior not to rent to African Americans or people on welfare. After a financially qualified black couple submitted an application, the supervisor recounted that he was told, "they're black and that's that." Moreover, the man alleged that Fred Trump told him to "get rid" of the black residents in the complex by offering to pay their $500 down payment for cheap housing elsewhere.

Similarly, a former building superintendent at Lawrence Towers Apartments in Brooklyn says he "received instructions from the Trump Management Office concerning special handling of applications from Black families." This two-track system meant that financially qualified white applicants were automatically approved, while black applicants were sent directly to the Trump office.

While the files do not clarify what happened to black applicants once they arrived at the Trump office, evidence suggests they were directed to apartment complexes with majority nonwhite residents. This practice, known as steering, involves directing white renters and buyers to majority-white neighborhoods, and black buyers and renters to majority-black neighborhoods. It was common within the real estate industry after the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. The Washington Post reports allegations that Trump and his associates frequently steered minorities to one Brooklyn complex, Patio Gardens, that was 40 percent black. Other Trump-owned locations, including Ocean Terrace and Lincoln Shore apartments, had almost no black residents.

Ultimately, the DOJ suit resulted in a federal court order--called a "consent decree"--in which the Trumps and government officials came to an agreement on a proposed remedy. The Trumps were ordered to "thoroughly acquaint themselves" with the Fair Housing Act and place ads informing people of color that their properties were open for all.

Donald Trump, for his part, continues to deny any wrongdoing, consistent with his position at the time. He filed a $100 million countersuit for defamation against the government in 1973 (the countersuit was dismissed). The language of the consent decree itself states that the settlement was "in no way an admission" of guilt.

The Justice Department felt differently. As the Washington Post has reported, DOJ lawyers regarded the settlement as a victory for the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, "one of the most far reaching [settlements] ever negotiated."

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


McCain slams Trump in Munich speech without using his name (RICHARD LARDNER, Feb 17, 2017, AP)

McCain, who has openly quarreled with the president, said "more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent."

The senator lamented the "hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims." During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to stop Muslims from entering the U.S. and shortly after taking office issued an executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

McCain also said the alliance's founders would be "alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies." While bashing the news media for being dishonest, Trump has ignored facts and sought to blame others for his miscues. Trump tweeted Friday that the news media are "the enemy of the American people."

The senator said he's aware there is "profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership." But he said that's not the message they would hear from him or other American leaders "who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend." Mattis had already addressed the conference. Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly were are scheduled to give speeches.

Even separating out the question of how far out of the party mainstream the President is, these internal attacks are what you get when you have no power over your peers.  Maverick is one of the only Republicans who ran behind the top of the ticket--but he won't kowtow to anyone--and the plummeting ratings and open ridicule of the Administration leave Donald unable to influence anyone.
Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


 What Is the Deep State? : Even if we assume the concept is valid, surely it's not useful to think of the competing interests it represents as monolithic. (Greg Grandin, 2/18/17, The Nation)
"We see the government of God over the world is hidden," Francis Bacon wrote in 1605, describing the deepest of deep states: the lord's reign over us, which Bacon thought a good model for earthly rule. "Obscure and invisible" was how Bacon thought government worked best, and King James I agreed, instructing, in 1624, a too inquisitive subject that none shall "meddle with anything concerning our Government, or deep Matters of State." [...]

But what we call modernity didn't just create the public realm subject to public law. It created the private sphere, centered on the ideal of the property-owning individual and private corporation, and which during our modern times have enshrined Bacon's and King James I's ideal. "Good luck researching a private firm," writes the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. (Even the dogged Seymour Hersh didn't have much luck when he tried to investigate "the private sector," as opposed to his métier, the national security state: "The abuse of private power" proved "a much dicier subject for many editors even than the CIA." Hersh gave up, and wrote his book on Henry Kissinger instead.)
The problem with the phrase is that it's used to suggest dishonorable individuals are subverting the virtuous state. 

So at least as long as there has been private property, there has been private plotting, and talk of a "deep state" has been a vernacular way of describing what political scientists like to call "civil society," that is, any venue in which powerful individuals, either alone or collectively, might try to use the state to fulfill their private ambitions, to get richer and obtain more power.

...is that we elites have been able to co-opt everyone into the class of property-owners.  And further reforms--universal HSAs; personal social security accounts, basic income; etc.--just give the citizenry and ever more vested interest in the smooth functioning of state and business.  Turning social welfare into a force for social conservatism was the most diabolical achievement of the 20th century.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Constraints Threaten Trump's Promise of an Immigration Crackdown (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and RON NIXON, FEB. 17, 2017, NY Times)

[H]iring such a large number of agents in a short period of time would be nearly impossible, according to John F. Kelly, the former general whom Mr. Trump chose to be the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

"I don't believe we're going to get 10,000 and 5,000 on board within the next couple of years," Mr. Kelly told lawmakers on Capitol Hill this month, explaining that stringent hiring standards and training regimens slow down the process.

"I'd rather have fewer and make sure that they're high-quality people that are already serving in those organizations, already well trained, but I will not skimp on the training and the standards," Mr. Kelly said.

One of the problems that Mr. Kelly faces is a polygraph test that prospective agents, including those seeking to work for the Border Patrol, must take. According to a former senior homeland security official, nearly 60 percent of applicants fail it.

The test was first put in place after another surge in hiring during the George W. Bush administration. Thousands of people were hired without being properly vetted, which resulted in dozens of corruption cases involving Border Patrol and other agents, who were accused of taking bribes and providing information to Mexican drug cartels.

The former senior homeland security official, James Tomsheck, who was the assistant commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, office of internal affairs, said in several cases many of the new hires were members of the cartels.

"The corruption and excessive use of force that plague the agency is a direct result of a hiring mandate to hire too many people too rapidly without the proper vetting," said Mr. Tomsheck, who was removed from his position after, he said, he was accused of being too aggressive in pursuing excessive use-of-force cases.

It is unclear how Mr. Trump and Mr. Kelly plan to solve the manpower problem. [..]

More recently, in July 2014, Rick Perry, then the governor of Texas, ordered 1,000 National Guard troops to its border with Mexico in an effort to bolster his border-security credentials as he prepared to start his presidential campaign.

The deployment has been costly, controversial and continues to this day. The troops live in hotels along the border during their deployments, and the estimate of the costs in 2014 were $12 million a month.

Congress will neither pay for serious border measures nor, as they would have to, reinstitute the draft.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Remembering Michael Novak (GEORGE WEIGEL, February 17, 2017, National Review)

It must have been in the mid 1980s when I took Michael to old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore for an Orioles game on a glorious spring evening. There was one feature of that old brick-and-concrete horseshow that never failed to move me: As you came up one of the cement ramps to the upper deck, you caught a glimpse of the infield and a part of the outfield beneath the overhanging mezzanine section of the ballpark. That first sight of the greensward each season was always redolent of renewal, and as Michael and I shared that sense of vernal reawakening, the sharp crack of a batting-practice ball leaving an ash bat and heading for the bleachers rang through the stadium. "Greatest sound in sports," I said. "Except for 'swish,'" Michael immediately replied, thus revealing himself as a hoops man at heart. 

I've watched countless hours of games with a vast number of people over the past six decades, on site or on television: but I have never met anyone, anywhere, who got such intense pleasure out of sports as Michael Novak did. And not "intense" in the Bill Belichick sense of the clenched-jaw scowl, but "intense" as in sheer pleasure. Michael being Michael, that passion for our games overflowed into his writing, including the book he wanted to call "Balls" until an antsy editor talked him into something a little more, er, delicate: The Joy of Sports. But whatever the title, it was a book replete with insights that could come from only a passionate fan who had played the games and then thought seriously about them: baseball's freedom from clock time as a signal of transcendence and its unique combination of individual achievement and team play as the embodiment of the "communitarian individual"; football as "the liturgy of the bureaucratic state." The thought of never having the opportunity to watch another game with him, swapping stories and second-guessing managers and coaches, is not a happy one. But if heaven is the perfection of earthly goods, we'll pick up the conversation in a place without instant replay, because the umps and refs always get it right.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Kilt for Hire : a review of The Tartan Turban: In Search of Alexander Gardner By John Keay (BIJAN OMRANI, Literary Review)

He travelled at first disguised as an Arab, passing between caravans and bands of freebooters. On one occasion he was captured and nearly sold into slavery, though his wanderings near Merv, which he glosses over in his accounts, are likely themselves to have been slave-raiding expeditions, then endemic around northeast Persia. He learned how to kill on the road when it was a necessity. Yet he could also use his considerable charm and astuteness to preserve himself. On being arrested by the Khivan authorities, who suspected him of being a Russian spy, he won over the khan by revealing his American identity, assuring them he was no threat to Khiva's independence.

Around 1823, he reached Afghanistan. The country was then a patchwork of dominions ruled over by warring interrelated families. His charm won him employment under Habib-ulla Khan, a nephew of Dost Mohamed, the ruler of Kabul who was later deposed by the British in the First Afghan War. Habib-ulla himself had been ousted by Dost Mohamed from the Kabul throne, and he was now waging a guerrilla war against his uncle from a stronghold north of Kabul. Gardner was put in charge of 180 cavalry and ordered to plunder the caravans intended for the capital. Before long, he captured a convoy carrying one of Dost Mohamed's wives and other female members of the royal household. One of them was given to Gardner as a reward and bore him a son.

Gardner's domestic bliss was shattered a couple of years later when Dost Mohamed's soldiers raided his compound and murdered his young Afghan family. Gardner fled, passing through the Pamirs, Xinjiang and Kashmir. He was the first European to visit Kafiristan in eastern Afghanistan, the remote region of the Hindu Kush where the native peoples clung to ancient animist beliefs, still untouched by Muslim proselytisation. Eventually he found service with Ranjit Singh as an artillery officer. However, his remit ended up being wider than gunnery. The Sikh Empire collapsed into vicious internecine conflict after Ranjit's death in 1839. Gardner undertook the dirty work of various belligerents, parading severed heads on poles and, most notoriously, cutting off the ears, nose and fingers of a Brahmin magnate. Keay's handling of this difficult period of history is brilliantly lucid.

Unsurprisingly, Gardner's reputation has been controversial. During his retirement in Kashmir in the more peaceful 1860s he mesmerised visitors with tales of his travels, using a collection of native hats as props to illustrate different characters. He seemed to them a hoary monument from the heroic age of travel. He might even have inspired Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


5 Facts about Michael Novak (JOE CARTER, February 17, 2017, Acton)

3. In 1982, Novak published what many consider his most important and influential book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. As AEI president Arthur C. Brooks says, the book "advanced a bold and important thesis: America's system of democratic capitalism represents a fusion of our political, economic, and moral-cultural systems." The book was illegally distributed in Poland, where it was credited with influencing the Solidarity movement, and used by dissident study groups in Czechoslovakia. The book also influenced world leaders, such as Vaclav Havel, the first president of Czechoslovakia after communism, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

AEI mourns the loss of Michael Novak  (Arthur C. Brooks, February 17, 2017,  | AEIdeas)

The American Enterprise Institute mourns the loss of our colleague, Michael Novak, who passed away this morning at the age of 83. Michael was an AEI scholar for three decades until his retirement in 2010, and remained a close friend of the Institute.

This counselor of popes and politicians never ceased to inspire his colleagues here at AEI. His gentle and warm personality made him a beloved figure at the Institute.

Scholar Who Taught John Paul II To Appreciate Capitalism Worries About Pope Francis (Jerry Bowyer ,  6/13/14, Forbes)

Jerry: "Anything you want to say about John Paul II? He seems to be a rather significant portion of the book."

Michael: "Yeah, there's a good chapter at the end especially. He comes from the same part of the world as my family: my family's on the Slovak side of the Tatra Mountains and across that little river, Dunajec River, and on the other side is Poland, and his family is from down in that region too--maybe a hundred miles away. So I had a kind of identification with him from the moment he was named. He could have been a relative of mine, so to speak. People do react along the lines of kinship, as you can see with Francis in Argentina and all of Latin America such an immense identification. Well, in some sort of way I identified with John Paul that way right off the bat, and he knew my part of the world [and] I knew his. And I'd been working in the human rights field for, well, since the '80s, so I had a grasp on the importance of what he did on democracy and on human rights in Poland, and what a transformation role he was playing. And I just enjoyed cheering that on. I was on the board of radio for Europe/Radio Liberty and we were broadcasting into these countries and keeping up with events on them so I had many, many reasons to feel immense gratitude to him and immense admiration for him. He invited me to a dinner in Rome in October of 1991, thereabouts, and I was too tongue-tied to say very much but I did learn it was a good practice to bring along a joke with you. He loved jokes - these dinners were informal, not formal... He would invite in some of his friends, there was a Polish bishop who was a good friend, [and] likeminded people. He liked to laugh. I remember I said to him, very somberly, that I must thank him for helping [and] for the miracle he prodded, [for] helping to bring down the Soviet Union. And he looked at me with derision, as if I had no idea what I was talking about (which is true), and he said, "There was no miracle. They had built a Mickey Mouse system." I can't swear that he used the words 'mickey mouse' but he used a term... We were speaking in Italian at that point. [He said,] "It collapsed under its own weight." So that sort of put me in my place. But like Margaret Thatcher, you had to be careful talking to him because it's such a quick rapier mind. And he treated you like a graduate student, asking questions and expecting you to step up to the plate and hit it and do a good job at it. You'd felt when you left you'd been through an examination with both of them. But I was very touched, [of] anything in my life, by the fact that he frequently introduced himself as a friend, and I don't mean just to me: I mean three or four times it appeared in newspapers across the world, [when] asked if he had many friends, he would mention regularly four or five different persons and I was on the list and I just value that immensely."

Jerry: "Do you think that Pope Francis has any close friends who understand the virtues of the free market system?"

Michael: "John Paul II had a hard time coming to those because he did not have experience with them under the Nazis or under the communists for most of his life."

Jerry: "But he had a friend who helped him."

Michael: "He had a great love for America and admired many things and he was always open to new ideas, and it troubled him when he heard anti-market things, state-oriented things. And in that sense, he was ready. He applied himself diligently, step by step, to learning how this new system works. He asked in one of his letters, a letter called The Hundredth Year--"

Jerry: "Centesimus Annus, correct?"

Michael: "Correct. He asked in there, having described that the cause of wealth, of wealthy nations, is intellect, ideas, know-how. That's the primary cause of wealth, no longer the land. Lincoln got, a century earlier, the patent and copyright act making property and inventions and ideas--"

Jerry: "The fire of invention... "The fuel of self-interest and the fire of invention," right?"

Michael: "Yeah. He saw that that was the main cause of wealth, and therefore that it represented a break between thousands of years of an agrarian economy in which land was the most important value, [and] all of a sudden [it is] ideas. That meant the kind of equality that--you didn't have to be born a great landholder to be able to become very wealthy. You could have, however humble you were, [have] certain ideas that you could patent or copyright if they would be useful to the human race, and from these [comes] wealth [like] Bill Gates has from Microsoft. Almost every corporation among us, even Coca Cola, is built on a new idea, [but] they deliberately didn't patent it to keep it more secret."

Jerry: "And a different kind of man prospers from the two systems, right? To hold land you need soldiers, but to hold knowledge you need diligence and intelligence."

Michael: "And men and women who love what they're doing, who work for you more inventively so the product keeps improving. And then you want to pay them very well, too, you want to give them bonuses and a share in profits and they rise, too, with the rise of the firm, and that breeds a new kind of spirit in the firm. So, slowly, John Paul II came to understand the role in the market but even more than that the role of invention and discovery and of enterprise."

Jerry: "So there's a difference in his economic thought in Laborem Exercens and Centesimus Annus, correct?"

Michael: "And there was [another] one in between, Sollicitudo [Rei Socialis], you can watch the growth from one to the other. In one of them he speaks of, "Labor is always the superior of capital because persons are always the superior of things." He's thinking of capital as machinery, money... But laborers are persons. But then he comes to realize that ideas are a form of wealth, too, so there's a human capital - they're also persons."

February 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Trump calls media 'enemy of the American people' (AFP, February 18, 2017)

"The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" Trump wrote.

Trump had tweeted an earlier post which targeted the New York Times, CNN, NBC "and many more" media -- and ended with the exclamation "SICK!"

It's the Sabbath, so he's unsupervised, and that sure looks like a story will break this weekend.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


A small HSA fix could produce big results (James C. Capretta, February 17, 2017 | Real Clear Health)

As Congress and the Trump administration begin laying the foundation for their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), their starting point should be ensuring all Americans have a ready path for enrollment in health insurance that, at a minimum, provides protection against major medical expenses. They should also promote broadened enrollment in Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) as an important means for paying for care before insurance coverage kicks in.

The combination of high-deductible insurance with HSAs is central to a market-driven reform of U.S. health care. High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and HSAs have worked to lower costs in the employer setting by 7 to 22 percent below what would have occurred in more traditional insurance. The emerging GOP plan should include provisions encouraging employers to offer HSAs to their workers.  It should also ensure that consumers in the individual insurance market have ready access to them, and that HSAs are incorporated directly into the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

There is, however, a problem with existing HSA policy that must be fixed if HSAs are to reach their full potential in improving the efficiency of health care arrangements: As currently structured, HSAs are not built to provide easy access to care from well-organized systems of health care. Rather, HSA enrollees buy services on a fee-for-service basis, which is, in most cases, a much less efficient way of getting needed care. [...]

The rules governing HSAs should be modified to allow account holders to buy access to care from integrated care systems on a fixed-fee basis. For instance, it should be possible for an account holder to pay a fixed monthly fee to an integrated system for a pre-arranged package of services. In the typical case, these services would likely include access to the normal spectrum of physician-directed primary and preventative care, along with some coverage for prescription drugs and diagnostic tests. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Trump family's elaborate lifestyle is a 'logistical nightmare' -- at taxpayer expense (Drew Harwell, Amy Brittain and Jonathan O'Connell, Feb. 16th, 2017, Washington Post)

On Friday, President Trump and his entourage will jet for the third straight weekend to a working getaway at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.

On Saturday, Trump's sons Eric and Don Jr., with their Secret Service details in tow, will be nearly 8,000 miles away in the United Arab Emirates, attending the grand opening of a Trump-brand golf resort in the "Beverly Hills of Dubai."

Meanwhile, New York police will keep watch outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, the chosen home of first lady Melania Trump and son Barron. And the tiny township of Bedminster, N.J., is preparing for the daunting prospect that the local Trump golf course will serve as a sort of northern White House for as many as 10 weekends a year.

Barely a month into the Trump presidency, the unusually elaborate lifestyle of America's new first family is straining the Secret Service and security officials, stirring financial and logistical concerns in several local communities, and costing far beyond what has been typical for past presidents -- a price tag that, based on past assessments of presidential travel and security costs, could balloon into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a four-year term. [...]

Trump's frequent travel belies his repeated criticism of Obama as a "habitual vacationer" enjoying taxpayer-funded golf getaways. It also comes after his own promises: He told the Hill newspaper in 2015, "I would rarely leave the White House because there's so much work to be done." [...]

During that Presidents' Day weekend trip in 2013, Obama flew to Chicago to give an economic speech, then to Palm City, Fla., to golf with Tiger Woods and the owner of the Houston Astros baseball team.

That money went toward operating aircraft flown in from 10 states -- including Air Force One, which costs an estimated $200,000 an hour to fly -- as well as assorted watercraft, military working dogs, rental cars, hotel rooms and a Coast Guard rescue helicopter.

The trip drew the ire of many Republicans in Congress, including Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who requested that the GAO review Obama's costs. Asked whether Barrasso would file a similar request for Trump's trips, his spokeswoman said equating the two presidents' trips would be "misleading at best."

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Why Donald Trump Won't Denounce Anti-Semitism: 5 Possibilities (Josh Nathan-Kazis, February 17, 2017, The Forward)

The question was a softball, lobbed slow over the plate. President Trump whiffed. Hard.

"Forty-eight bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks," a reporter from an Orthodox magazine said. "There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts, or are threatening to --"

Trump interrupted. "Okay, sit down," he said before going on to call himself the "least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life."

What Trump did not do was condemn anti-Semitism. [...]

2. He Doesn't Want To Offend Actual Anti-Semites

On MSNBC, Chuck Todd suggested that Trump was afraid of offending the anti-Semites. Asking why Trump hadn't condemned anti-Semitism, Todd said: "Could it be because some of the president's supporters aren't as welcoming as he is, and the president doesn't want to insult or criticize them? ... Could it be that the president needs and welcomes [the] support of the 'alt-right'?"

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


A Racing Mind : Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns at Daytona after letting his brain heal from multiple concussions -- and after undergoing a different sort of rehabilitation for his psyche. (Tommy Tomlinson, 02/16/17, ESPN The Magazine)

Darlington Raceway on a Wednesday in December is vast and cold and empty. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew works alone in the garage, making last-minute tweaks to his race car. The car is stripped of paint and decals, down to bare primer -- gunmetal gray. There are no fans, just a NASCAR official and a Charlotte neurosurgeon. Today is not about money or trophies. It's about whether Dale Jr.'s brain has healed enough to do what his heart needs so bad.

A helicopter comes in low over the rim of the track and lands with a kiss in the infield. Dale Jr. climbs out. His soon-to-be-wife, Amy Reimann, was supposed to be with him, but there was a mix-up over the time, and he couldn't wait on her -- the chopper needed to leave the house in North Carolina while their four buffalo were across the pasture. The buffalo freak when the helicopter gets close. Dale Jr. leads a big life. There are occasional buffalo problems. [...]

He is at Darlington in December because of Michigan last June. On the 62nd lap of the FireKeepers Ca**** 400, he got bumped and slid high up the track. The right side of his car hit the wall -- back end first, then the front, a double tap. He had a history of concussions. He knows of at least four others in his career, but this didn't feel like that at first. He brushed it off as allergies, or maybe a sinus infection. He ran three more races, jostling his brain even more with the normal pounding of life in a race car. Then the symptoms caught up with him. Suddenly he couldn't walk two steps without stumbling. His eyes vibrated in their sockets. He fell into dark moods he couldn't shake. He ended up sitting out 18 races, the entire back half of the 2016 season. Some days he thought he might have to retire. Other days he thought he wanted to.

Over months of rehab, he found his way out of the fog. But to race in 2017 -- beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 -- he needs medical clearance from NASCAR. The last hurdle is this test at Darlington. NASCAR normally limits testing to a few scheduled sessions. But while Dale Jr. was out, NASCAR passed an exception allowing drivers who missed time for medical reasons to run one extra private test. It might as well have been called the Dale Jr. Rule. The NASCAR official is here to make sure the crew doesn't gather extra data on the car, which would be an unfair advantage. The neurosurgeon, Jerry Petty (no relation to legend Richard Petty), is here to check on Dale Jr. between runs. In his 18 years at NASCAR's highest level, Dale Jr. has run 169,682 laps in competition. These laps at this empty track might be the most important of his life.

Dale Jr. puts on his helmet and gets in the Chevy SS. Adam Jordan, the crew member responsible for the car's interior, leans through the window to make one last check. He swears he can see Dale Jr.'s heart pounding under his firesuit.

An interesting thing happened to Dale Jr. in those five months out of the race car: He demanded less and listened more. He has always been a living contradiction -- part people pleaser, part selfish and spoiled. In his time off, he focused on shedding the side he doesn't like. "The person I became in that little moment is the person that I always want to be," he says.

And here is his conflict: Can he hold on to his new self and still keep the edge it takes to survive on the track?

He is 42 now, and he knows that someday soon he will have to give it up. But now, in Darlington, he flicks the ignition switch and the engine explodes to life. He pulls out of the garage and rumbles past the ambulance with the EMTs waiting, just in case. He jerks the wheel left and pulls onto the track. Everyone else is behind him now. This is the part he has to do alone.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Trump's Thursday Press Conference, Annotated (NPR, February 16, 2017)

...every word he speaks is a lie including "and" and "the".

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Out of the loop: Rex Tillerson finds state department sidelined by White House (Julian Borger, Feb. 16th, 2017, tHE gUARDIAN)

Senior state department officials who would normally be called to the White House for their views on key policy issues, are not being asked their opinion. They have resorted to asking foreign diplomats, who now have better access to President Trump's immediate circle of advisers, what new decisions are imminent.

The public voice of the state department has fallen silent. There has not been a daily press briefing, the customary channel for voicing US views and policy on world events, since January.

When he flew to Germany, Tillerson took a small press pool with him but did not give it the opportunity to ask questions. At his first meeting on Thursday with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, journalists were hustled out of the room before Tillerson opened his mouth, according to the Bloomberg news agency, rather than be allowed to stay to record the routine exchange of introductory platitudes. When Tillerson emerged, he delivered a very short statement, but refused to take questions.

The new secretary of state's aversion to press scrutiny may be inherited from his past job at the head of an exceptionally secretive and hierarchical corporation. But it may also reflect the fact that Tillerson's department has been cut out of the loop when it comes to key decisions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


'Donetsk People's Republic' seeks sense of nationhood : The self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), a breakaway region of Ukraine founded three years ago, has started taking steps towards creating a sense of nationhood. (Al Jazeera News, 2/17/17)

Separatist leaders have drawn up a constitution for the DPR and the school curriculum was changed from Ukrainian to Russian last year.

Children are taught about citizenship and how they can contribute to and live in what leaders of the self-proclaimed republic hope will eventually be a widely recognised independent nation.

"I think that this course on citizenship in the context of our new political system is very interesting for children," schoolteacher, Liliya Agorua, told Al Jazeera. "It helps to form principles of citizenship, patriotism and self worth." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


How You Saw Trump's Press Conference Depends on How You Watched (EMMA GREY ELLIS, 02.16.17, Wired)

If you were following what someone might perhaps carelessly refer to as the mainstream media--CNN, NBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times--you probably saw a president who seemed unhinged, if not outright dangerous.

But if you were following the media that has coalesced around the president more supportively--Infowars, Breitbart, Fox--you saw a president at the peak of his justifiable pride and understandable disdain for the media. Well, the media in that last paragraph.

You really have to read what was said to get the full woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown flavor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Trump's Public Humiliation (Fred Kaplan, 2/17/17, Slate)

The rejection is stunning in several ways that go well beyond the scope of Trump's personal sensitivities. First, it is very unusual--almost unheard of--for a senior military officer, retired or otherwise, to turn down a request from the commander-in-chief.

Second, and largely for that reason, by rejecting the offer Harward has provided cover to other officers, and to civilian national-security analysts with a similar sense of patriotic duty, to turn down this president, too. Service, in this case, is not its own reward and by no stretch worth the sacrifice.

Third, the Financial Times, Washington Post, CNN, and other news outlets are reporting that Harward turned down the offer in part because Trump wouldn't let him fire several officials that Flynn had hired for his staff and install his own team instead. This suggests that Trump is adamant on keeping certain people loyal to him--including Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, a former Fox News commentator who Trump admired. The news reports don't mention whether Harward made demands about Steve Bannon, Trump's chief political strategist, who wrote the executive order that placed himself on the NSC Principals Committee and has created a parallel NSC structure called the Strategic Initiatives Group, comprised of a few extreme right-wing associates. But any serious person would insist on the dismantling of this weird group as another condition for taking the job.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Pence heads to Europe on reassurance tour (Roberta Rampton, 2/17/17, Reuters)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will seek on Saturday to soothe allies unnerved by his boss' unorthodox statements on Russia and NATO as he stresses America's commitment to Europe during the first major foreign address for the Trump administration. [...]

President Donald Trump alarmed allies during his campaign for office by breaking with traditional Republican views on the transatlantic relationship.

Trump has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin...

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


The Bizarro World of Mercantilism (DON BOUDREAUX, FEBRUARY 15, 2017, Cafe Hayek)

To the extent that currency manipulation is real and works as advertised, it makes the exports of countries that practice it artificially inexpensive for foreigners to buy.  That is, currency manipulation transfers wealth from the citizens of countries that practice it to the citizens of countries fortunate enough to buy the manipulators' subsidized exports.

And yet it is the governments whose citizens are on the receiving end of these transfers who fussily try to prevent these transfers, while the governments whose citizens are taxed to fund the transfers stubbornly carry on with them. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


General Sherman's Destructive Path Blazed a New Strategy : Sherman's devastating march led to the kind of warfare that culminated in World War II. (Jay Tolson, riter June 24, 2007, US News)

[S]herman knew his limitations and weaknesses. When he was offered commands above his friend Grant, he refused and insisted on serving under him. "Sherman looked at Grant and concluded that he was a better general, who had the whole package," says historian John Marszalak, a professor emeritus at Mississippi State University and author of several books on Sherman. "Grant only worried about what he saw in front of him, whereas Sherman worried about things over the next hill." After the first day of the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, Grant's reply to Sherman's evaluation of the nearly disastrous outcome was typical: "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."

The two men proceeded to give the Confederates a licking throughout much of what was known as the Western Theater, achieving great successes (notably in Chattanooga and Vicksburg) that largely eluded Union generals back in the East. Experiences in this theater had a decisive effect on Sherman's emerging vision of what was necessary to win the war. The primary lesson was the sheer carnage of combat, with 23,700 combatants left dead, wounded, or missing after the Battle of Shiloh alone (2,000 of whom were in Sherman's division). Appalled by the numbers, Sherman grew even angrier at what he considered the irregular warfare of the Confederates, including guerrilla attacks and the mistreatment and murder of Union prisoners. Sherman also felt that Southerners, many of whom he had befriended before the war, were personally and collectively responsible for the treasonous split. Why, he increasingly questioned, should the society that initiated the war not be made directly mindful of its cost? Foreshadowing his full-blown policy, Sherman tore down houses in one Kentucky village to rebuild a bridge that retreating Confederates had destroyed. When the villagers requested vouchers for repayment, Sherman told them to bill the Confederacy.

That view only hardened with time. When Abraham Lincoln summoned Grant to Washington to assume command of all Union armies, Grant put Sherman in charge of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Grant urged Sherman not to go after territory but to pursue the Confederate forces and destroy them. It was counsel that Sherman, his sights set on Atlanta, quietly ignored. Indeed, apart from one disastrous battle with Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston's army, Sherman conducted brilliant maneuvers around his foe, all the while protecting the railroad lines that conveyed some 1,300 tons of supplies a day to support his three moving armies. The fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2, 1864, was not just the conquest of a crucial urban transportation hub between the upper and lower South. It also saved Lincoln from certain electoral defeat and made Sherman a Union hero.

Not resting on his laurels, Sherman launched his most famous campaign: the March to the Sea. He decided to forsake supply lines behind him and instead plunder his way to Savannah, feeding his 60,000 troops with what his foraging "bummers" collected from farms and destroying anything that directly supported the war effort or the institution of slavery (including dogs, notoriously used for tracking escaped slaves). His goal, as he put it bluntly, was to "make Georgia howl." After taking Savannah, Sherman persuaded Grant to let him proceed through the Carolinas, expressly to punish the state (South Carolina) that had led secession. Grant, who had wanted Sherman to bring his army north by sea, relented.

As democrats we believe that people are responsible for their governments, except the most totalitarian.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


So, American Mass Shooters and Islamic Terrorists Do Have Something in Common (Alana Conner, 2/17/17, Defense One)

According to a publicly available dataset from the New America Foundation, in the years since 9/11, jihadists born in the US have killed 69 victims. Right-wing extremists born in the US have murdered 50 victims. Foreign-born jihadists are the least lethal of these groups, with a total of 25 victims.

These numbers offer evidence that an immigration ban will not stop the murder of Americans. But they also point to a larger flaw in the way we talk about domestic terrorism in the US. We treat right-wing extremists and radical Islamic killers as if they are two separate issues. But in fact, research suggests that the same underlying factors cause homegrown Americans to break bad--whether they join a radical Islamic terrorism group or the Ku Klux Klan. [...]

Research from our Stanford University lab, led by Lyons-Padilla, suggests that a similar psychological process may drive white Americans to join white supremacist and other militant right-wing groups. The slow death of manufacturing, the isolation of smaller American towns and rural areas, and stagnating working- and middle-class wages have left a broad swath of Americans feeling unmoored and insignificant. The widespread acceptance of redneck jokes, white-trash impressions, and comments about "basket of deplorables" rub salt into these wounds.

Like radical Islamic groups, white supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups offer people (especially men) who feel isolated and disempowered a chance to feel important and welcome. It's the same psychological phenomenon, different culture war. And thus the KKK gains new recruits along with ISIL.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


What happened at DC's restaurants when immigrant workers stayed home (ELIZABETH FLOCK AND KRISTEN DOERER  February 17, 2017, PBS Newshour)

It impacted markets, daycares, hotels and construction sites, but restaurants were particularly affected, as immigrants make up as much as 70 percent of the restaurant industry's workforce in some cities, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Many Americans support Trump's efforts to tighten immigration laws, and say a bigger focus on legal employment would help the economy. But a number of restaurant owners have argued there should be a better path to citizenship for their undocumented workers.

Thursday's action sent "a clear message that the immigrant community is ready to use its labor and consumer power to fight and begin a new chapter in the immigrant rights movement," Movimiento Cosecha, a national immigrant rights advocacy group, said in a statement.

In the nation's capital, at least 60 restaurants were closed Thursday, including five eateries owned by celebrity chef José Andrés, 18 locations of salad chain Sweetgreen and all six branches of Busboys and Poets, a popular regional coffeeshop, restaurant and community gathering space.

The entire kitchen staff at El Chucho, a Mexican restaurant in Northwest D.C., did not go to work, so only basic food like chips and salsa were served. The restaurant's chef, Saul Canesa, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2001, joined his staff in striking. He said he hoped the protest would send a message to President Trump.

"We don't come here just for what he says, like to bring crime," Canesa said, referring to the speech Trump made at the start of his presidential campaign, when he said Mexican immigrants "are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists."

"We don't come just to do whatever we want to do, or send money back home. We also come to work," Canesa said. "He says he's trying to make America great, but I don't think without our labor he will make it great."

February 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Vice Admiral Robert Harward turns down national security adviser job (CBS News, 2/16/17)

Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward  Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn's replacement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Why the French banlieues are ripe for repeat of 2005 riots (Ben McPartland, 14 February 2017, The Local)

Malek Boutih, an MP for the département of Essonne to the south of Paris and former head of SOS Racism, delivered a detailed report on the state of the suburbs, or banlieues as they are known in French, to the government earlier this summer.

"In 10 years, things have changed, in that the situation has worsened. It's more difficult now than in the past," Boutih told BFM TV. [...]

Boutih says government efforts to improve life in the suburbs have failed repeatedly because authorities haven't understood the real issue.

"The economic aspect is not the heart of the problem, it's a lot more vast," he said.

Most experts agree that although governments have thrown plenty of money at the banlieues they have failed to target the real problems.

Mohemmed Mechmache founded the charity ACLEFEU (Collective association for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Together United) in the aftermath of the 2005 uprising in the hope giving citizens a voice.

He believes France's failure to improve the lives of those who feel hopeless is why the banlieues are still not at peace.

"They still haven't fixed the problem of schooling, of access to health, culture and public services as well as to training and jobs.

"All of these problems remain," he told Le Figaro, adding that the issue of constant tensions between youths and police remains as well.

The French are a nation, to their detriment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Jewish groups, lawmakers berate Trump for blasting reporter who asked about anti-Semitism (Ron KampeasFebruary 16, 2017, JTA) 

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League decried President Donald Trump's brusque treatment of a reporter who asked about a spike in anti-Semitic incidents and challenged him to offer an explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism.

"It is honestly mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction," Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL's national director, said in a statement posted on Twitter. [...]

Jake Turx of Ami Magazine had asked Trump at a news conference Thursday about a recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, particularly a wave of bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers.

Trump interrupted Turx, called him a liar and treated the question as if Turx had asked Trump if he was an anti-Semite, although Turx had prefaced his question by emphatically saying he did not believe Trump was an anti-Semite.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Flynn in FBI interview denied discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador (Sari Horwitz and Adam Entous February 16, 2017, Washington Post)

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn denied to FBI agents in an interview last month that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country's ambassador to the United States before President Trump took office, contradicting the contents of intercepted communications collected by intelligence agencies, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump: Flynn Was 'Just Doing His Job' (T. Fawning, 2/16/17, Daily Beast)

During what some described as an "unhinged," "wild" Thursday presser, President Trump said former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was "just doing his job" when he reportedly spoke numerous times with Russia's ambassador about the sanctions levied on the country by the Obama administration, and then misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


US 'absolutely' favors 2-state solution, UN ambassador says (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, 2/16/17)

It would be an "error" to say the United States is abandoning its decades-old policy of backing a Palestinian state as part of a final settlement, she told reporters.

"We absolutely support a two-state solution, but we are thinking out-of-the-box as well," Haley said following a Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She repeated her statement of support to the two-state solution three times in response to questions from journalists outside the council chamber.

The United States wants to help bring the Israelis and Palestinians to "the table to have them talk through this in a fresh way, to say, 'Okay we're going back to the drawing board. What can we agree on?'" she said.

The Security Council earlier heard the UN envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, insist that the two-state solution remains "the only way" to meet the aspirations of the Palestinians and Israelis.

Britain, France and Sweden reaffirmed their support for Palestinian statehood as part of a final deal.

To be fair, Donald is so ignorant he may have thought the Palestinians were going to be given two states
Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Inside Donald Trump's White House Chaos (Phillip Elliot, 2/16/17, TIME)

Little takes place in the White House these days without a complication or contradiction. Take the dismissal of Flynn. As senior aides prepared to announce his departure as a resignation, counselor Kellyanne Conway, who often boasts of her direct access to Trump, went on television to declare that Flynn had "the full confidence of the President." Then as officials quickly tried to correct that statement, Priebus received notice on his phone that a release had misspelled the name of Colombia, a South American ally whom Trump had called earlier in the evening. At roughly the same time, others close to Trump were telling Breitbart News, the conservative website once run by Trump strategist Steve Bannon, that aides were drawing up a list of replacements for Priebus. (Bannon denounced the story. "This guy is doing an amazing job," he tells TIME of Priebus. "I'm proud to call him a partner.") The next day, Conway was on Twitter fending off reports of her own demise--"Uninformed chatter doesn't matter"--just hours before the Office of Government Ethics suggested that the White House discipline her for likely breaking government rules when she endorsed Ivanka Trump's fashion line on live television.

The result of all the melodrama is a sense of constant chaos for a watchful nation and a crippling anxiety for White House officials. Some aides now refuse to communicate by email, given that federal law requires such messages to be archived for historians and investigators. Many have taken to using encrypted apps to get around the investigations Trump has ordered to clamp down on leaks. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Kremlin Tells Media to Cut Back on Fawning Trump Coverage, Sources Say (Irina Reznik , Stepan Kravchenko , and Ilya Arkhipov, February 16, 2017, Bloomberg)

The order marks a stark turnaround from just a few weeks ago. Trump's unexpected triumph over Hillary Clinton in November has been widely hailed in Russia as the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the former Cold War foes. Trump's campaign was watched with rapture as news anchors gushed over the novelty of hearing an American presidential candidate praise Putin.

But the wall-to-wall coverage went too far for the Kremlin's liking. In January, Trump received more mentions in the media than Putin, relegating the Russian leader to the No. 2 spot for the first time since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after four years as premier, according to Interfax data.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Republican Lawmaker Pushes to Abolish Income Taxes (Julia Limitone, February 14, 2017, Fox News)

"We are getting rid of the income tax. We are doing something that hasn't been done in 100 years. We are moving towards a consumption system, to a cash flow system," Rep. Devin Nunes told the FOX Business Network's Stuart Varney.

This would work by subtracting income from expenses and paying a tax on whatever is left over, he said.

"It's a very simple system, yet it is a dramatic departure from the confusing tax code that we have now," Nunes said.

The system is also more business friendly and would put America ahead of other nations, in his opinion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Priebus struggles to control fractious White House (ALEX ISENSTADT and JOSH DAWSEY, Feb. 16th, 2017, Politico)

For Priebus -- a Washington Republican who has long been close to mainstream party figures like Haley Barbour and Karl Rove -- the Trump wilderness has at times been hard to navigate. He has been trying to closely manage staffing across Cabinet agencies. Yet he often feels a need to be at Trump's side throughout the day to make sure the easy-to-distract president stays on track. During meetings, when his boss veers into a tangent, Priebus is often the one trying to get him in line.

"Trump is nothing like Reince has ever dealt with," said one person who knows Priebus well. "Would you want the job of trying to control him and getting him to focus?"

The president can be nearly impossible to staff. His whims, moods and insatiable appetite for TV can throw off plans. Priebus, along with others, often brief him extensively before meetings, telling him about the audience's makeup and offering guidance for what he should say. Yet Trump has veered off on tangents, like repeating his unsubstantiated claim during meetings with senators that voter fraud was committed in the election. It has often fallen upon Priebus to change the subject--sometimes with success, sometimes not.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Why That Bizarre "Russian Dossier" Can't Be Ignored (Joe Conason, February 15, 2017, National Memo)

[A]s politicians of both parties recognize the imperative to investigate the Russia connection, the Steele dossier will provide a roadmap.

Just last week, CNN reported that U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed -- based on American communications intercepts -- that some conversations among Russian officials and others occurred exactly as described in the dossier. Those findings have  "given US intelligence and law enforcement 'greater confidence' in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier."

The Steele dossier also described an enormous proposed payoff by the Russians to Trump and his associates, who were to receive 19 percent of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian energy firm, in exchange for guaranteeing the end of US sanctions under a Trump presidency. Then at the end of last year, an unprecedented deal involving Rosneft shares actually occurred -- when Russia privatized 19.5 percent of Rosneft under mysterious circumstances.

The supposed buyers were Qatar's sovereign wealth fund and Glencore, a huge resources company (founded, ironically enough, Marc Rich, the late trader whose pardon by President Bill Clinton in 2001 provoked a furor). According to Reuters, the true buyers of the Rosneft shares remain unknown, hidden behind a series of shell companies in the Cayman Islands. Such a hidden selloff of public property is mind-boggling -- and deeply suspicious.

Nothing has been proved yet except that Flynn is a liar, and that Trump's crazed and chaotic White House failed to discipline him until there was no other choice.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


The Journalism Empire Strikes Back : Blockbuster reports from the Washington Post and New York Times are rocking the Trump White House. But will this administration ever come to acknowledge the power of the press? (Lloyd Grove, 02.15.17, Daily Beast)

"Donald Trump can't change the way gravity works--and the news media in our civil society, and accountability journalism, muscled up and demonstrated that he can't change gravity," said Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic magazine. "High-quality journalism matters enormously, and it mattered to him, even though he tried to ignore it."

Clemons added: "I wouldn't say that journalism is now 'boss' in this new world. But I would say that in this multi-match Sumo contest between journalists and the White House, in which the White House thought it was going to redefine the power dynamic, journalism has knocked Trump out of the ring. But it's only the beginning of the contest, and it's not the definitive case that journalism is prevailing."

Yet there has been a decided sea change in recent days. White House press secretary Sean Spicer--who trotted out the "fake news" attack at an infamous Jan. 11 news conference and officially launched his tenure, the day after the inauguration, with a mouth-foaming tirade about crowd sizes--pointedly acknowledged the primacy the old, pre-Trump protocols during Tuesday's afternoon face-off in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.
In contrast to his previous briefings, Spicer called on the major wire services, newspapers, and broadcast and cable-television organizations in the front rows and fielded tough, probing questions before recognizing often-sympathetic back-benchers such as Newsmax or right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham's Lifezette website. [...]

Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, said the Fourth Estate, the beneficiary of leaks in recent days from inside the federal bureaucracy and even apparently the White House itself, is stepping up to its informal role as a fourth branch of government.

"What we're witnessing is a version of checks and balances in a crazy way," Dalglish told The Daily Beast. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


America's spies anonymously took down Michael Flynn. That is deeply worrying. (Damon Linker, February 14, 2017, The Week)

Unelected intelligence analysts work for the president, not the other way around. Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press -- mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result. "Finally," they say, "someone took a stand to expose collusion between the Russians and a senior aide to the president!" It is indeed important that someone took such a stand. But it matters greatly who that someone is and how they take their stand. Members of the unelected, unaccountable intelligence community are not the right someone, especially when they target a senior aide to the president by leaking anonymously to newspapers the content of classified phone intercepts, where the unverified, unsubstantiated information can inflict politically fatal damage almost instantaneously.

Actually, they work for us, as does the president.  The notion that these unelected officials should be privy to any information that the public is not--nevermind evidence that other unelected officials are working with our enemies--is deeply bizarre.

If Donald's extensive contacts with Russia and repeatedly expressed adoration of Putin are unrelated and the latter just a matter of innocent idiocy, rather than corruption, then expose all the information and explain it, as Hillary did with her private emails.

This is the story that is truly worrisome from a democratic perspective, Report: Intelligence agencies are keeping sensitive info from Trump (Catherine Garcia, February 15, 2017, The Week)

Worried that the information might be compromised or leaked, U.S. intelligence officials have been keeping some sensitive items from President Trump, current and former officials told The Wall Street Journal Wednesday.

If he's a genuine threat to national security then our elected Congress can remove him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


The misery of Donald Trump (Marc Ambinder, February 16, 2017, The Week)

You could see it in the president's face as he listened to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explain the strong bonds that tie our two countries together.

You could see it at Mar-a-Lago, during an impromptu appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe.

You can see it, actually, every time Trump appears in public. He seems exhausted -- and miserable. [...]

His staff is also surely miserable. Many do not like him. More importantly, they don't trust him. They don't trust Stephen Bannon to translate his core hunches into policy, with only a few exceptions. They compete for Trump's affections by throwing each other under whatever buses might be rolling by. They leak to their favorite reporters.

The president borrows his temperament from A Confederacy of Dunces' Ignatius J. Reilly. He craves spontaneity and stimulation, lives in a world of his own imagining, and is also beset by anxiety and germophobia.

But being the president means that he is not, in fact, in a world he can create. 

...and ill-prepared for a job he doesn't want.
Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


American Noir for the Age of Trump (J. Hoberman, 2/16/17, Tablet)

It may be an exaggeration to credit a group of Jewish refugees with inventing the Hollywood tendency known as film noir--but not by much.

The key noir creators--directors Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Otto Preminger, John Brahm, Billy Wilder, director-cinematographer Rudolph Maté, producer Seymour Nebenzal, actor Peter Lorre--were all Central European Jews who sought refuge in America. (One minor figure, Alfred Zeisler, was the reverse, an American-born Jew who began his career in the German film industry, then, driven out by the Nazis, made his way back to Hollywood to direct a B-movie update of Crime and Punishment appropriately titled Fear.)

Fritz Lang, the leading German director of the silent period and the godfather of film noir, may have been the most psychologically complex of these exiles. Originally from Vienna, Lang was the son of a converted Jewish mother and, almost until the moment he left Hitler's Germany, wed to the Nazi Thea von Harbou, for whom he left his first Jewish wife. (Once in America, Lang was a prominent member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League--and consequently a person of interest for the FBI.)

Before noir, American movies were known for their optimism. The noir-ists infused American crime thrillers with a mixture of expressionist brio and existential dread. They knew, as their contemporary Hannah Arendt wrote in her article "We Refugees," published in The Menorah Journal in January 1943, "Hell is no longer a religious belief or a fantasy, but something as real as houses and stones and trees."

Whether suffering a degree of survivor guilt, knowing what had befallen their families and co-religionists trapped in Europe, transposing the terror they associated with Europe to the "innocent" American scene, or simply reflecting the terminal uncertainty of exile life, noir filmmakers made movies steeped in overt violence and hidden dangers, as well as the constant possibility of betrayal.

...was the film code, which made it so thought when the poor shlubs tried walking on the wild side it never worked out.  It makes the genre profoundly religious, as we know every protagonist is embracing his own doom.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Sikhs opened their temple doors to Oroville Dam evacuees -- and strangers came pouring in (Jaweed Kaleem, Feb. 14th, 2017, LA Times)

"This is their home," said Singh of this week's visitors. "Our faith teaches us to help everyone. The poor, the hungry, it doesn't matter who you are."

The danger of flooding has brought together hundreds of evacuees with a population that, although common in this part of the state, remains a mystery to many here and has sometimes borne the brunt of bigotry.

Sikhs in Sacramento, home to 10 temples and about 11,000 Sikh families, began putting out calls for supplies and volunteers on Sunday evening after 180,000 people living in communities downstream of Lake Oroville were given short notice for mandatory evacuations. 

The crowds didn't start arriving at Shri Guru Ravidass until the mayor of Sacramento posted a list late that night of temples that were set up as shelters. It was retweeted 2,500 times. 

It was around then that Juan Cervantes was driving from Olivehurst, an evacuated area across the river from Yuba City. He spotted the tweet and came with his wife, two brothers, their wives and seven kids among them.

They arrived Sunday at the 24-year-old Shri Guru Ravidass Temple, a yellow stucco building with green trim on the eaves located north of Sacramento in Rio Linda. In this rural area, it's not uncommon to see horses grazing in front of barnyards. 

Cervantes had encountered Sikhs before; Yuba City is home to one of the most concentrated communities in the country and hosts more than 100,000 at its annual Sikh parade. But he had never stepped foot in a temple.

It's been a learning process.

Cervantes almost forgot to take his shoes off when entering the prayer hall where the families slept. He dozed off each night with a blue baseball cap on his head, not just for warmth but to keep his hair covered while in sight of the Sikh holy book at the front of the room. He's had to remember to always point his soles away from the stage where the book is kept. And he's avoided eating meat on the grounds, trying to attune himself to the vegetarianism many Sikhs follow.

For the 38-year-old who picks fruit in the Central Valley's farms, it's also been a moment of humility -- and connection he didn't expect.

"These people are just like me," said Cervantes, who shares a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and three kids back home. "I'm Catholic, but we have the same God. We have the same heart. The same hands."

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


ART, DIVINE AND HUMAN (Peter J. Leithart, 2 . 15 . 17, First Things)

According to Jean-Louis Chretien (Hand to Hand), the notion of God as divine artist and of the world as art comes into its own in Augustine's Trinitarian notion of ars divina, developed in medieval theology and Baroque art theory. This tradition was not free of ambiguities.

Earlier Christian writers had described the world as a work of art, but the theme appears in Augustine not as "a fleeting or circumstantial analogy" but in the form of "a veritable doctrine of ars divina, the divine art." For Augustine, God's artistic creativity is immediately relevant to human artistry. It is not merely a matter of analogy. Rather, the same wisdom by which God creates animates the artist: "That supreme art of the omnipotent God through which all things have been made from nothing, which is also called his Wisdom, also works through artists to produce things of beauty and proportion, although they do not produce from nothing, but from a given material" (Augustine).

The artist is doubly dependent, most creaturely. He needs stuff to work with, stuff that he cannot produce. And, the very "norms and models of his art" come from God, the "divine wisdom, or the divine art." The proportions and harmonies of the work come to the mind from God before the artist "impresses [them] bodily onto a body."

It's why we were impervious to modern art.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Executive Orders, Nativism, and National Security (Joseph Loconte, Feb. 15th, 2017, Providence)

As Thomas Fleming notes in The New Dealers' War, the president sought even more aggressive action than his cabinet. After issuing the order, he told Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox that he wanted Hawaii's 140,000 Japanese evacuated as well, and was not worried about "the constitutional question." (Military leaders objected--they needed the skilled labor of the Japanese in Hawaii for the war effort--and prevailed over the White House.) [...]

FDR's order gave the military broad authority to remove "any and all persons" from a 50- to 60-mile-wide coastal area stretching from Washington state to California, and to forcibly transport them to internment camps in the interior of the country. At least 120,000 Japanese-Americans living in the region were swept up in the net. The order was also applied to U.S. citizens of German and Italian descent: about 11,000 German-American residents were arrested and more than 5,000 interned, while roughly 3,200 Italian-Americans were arrested, about 300 interned. [...]

A 1980 congressional commission report found that FDR's internment policy, stoked by racism and war hysteria, represented "a failure of political leadership." We are still learning about the human costs of that failure. In the fog of war, Roosevelt's executive order turned thousands of patriotic, law-abiding citizens into suspected saboteurs. It left them, in the words of the executive order, "subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Thousands of families were separated, traumatized, and persecuted. Livelihoods were ruined. Entire communities were uprooted. "Most of them, citizens and aliens alike, were fiercely patriotic," writes Richard Reeves in Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II. "Guarded by soldiers in machine-gun towers, none of them were charged with any crime against the United States."

February 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM


Senate Republicans demand answers on Flynn (ELANA SCHOR and KYLE CHENEY, 02/14/17, Politico)

"I know there's mounting frustration at the pace of" existing investigations into Russia's election-year meddling, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters. "I'm open to looking at a way to make sure all of us and the American people understand everything that's occurred relative to their nefarious activities."

Corker also left the door open to supporting an independent commission to review Russia's disruptive activity, calling for "a fulsome investigation into all angles" of the issue and acknowledging that Flynn's resignation Monday night sparked "a desire for this to happen at a quickened pace."

No less than four congressional committees have already begun to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with the Senate and House intelligence panels taking the lead roles. Revelations that Flynn had misled the public -- and even Vice President Mike Pence -- have shaken up the committees' timetable and added intense political pressure to delve more deeply into the extent of Russian contacts with President Donald Trump's advisers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Trump was asked directly about anti-Semitism. Here is his response. (Jeva Lange, 2/15/17, The Week)

"I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States and in Israel and maybe around the world, who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones," the reporter asked.

"Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had," Trump began in response. "Three hundred and six Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right?" Trump asked, turning to Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


The NCAA Is Modernizing The Way It Picks March Madness Teams : For 40 years, the selection process relied way too much on strength of schedule. Now the league is ready to rethink that system. (Neil Paine, 2/15/17, 538)

Late last month, NCAA officials met with some of basketball's most prominent analytics experts to remake the way they select teams for the men's NCAA tournament. Until now, they've used the ratings percentage index (RPI) to help guide their decisions, but that stat has become antiquated as far more advanced ranking systems have been developed. Efforts to replace the RPI, though, raise a lot of tricky questions.

According to multiple people I spoke to who were at the meeting, the NCAA is not interested in generating a completely new metric from scratch. Instead, officials favored using multiple ranking systems to create a composite index that would be a resource on selection Sunday. But as the many controversies around college football's Bowl Championship Series showed, developing a new rating, even one made up of accepted metrics, is full of twists and turns, roadblocks and landmines. Finding the right formula will require asking deep philosophical questions about what a ranking system should try to achieve -- and whether certain statistical compromises are even possible.

Like the World Cup, they should just have every team make the field.  Get rid of conference tournaments and play the first couple brackets that week.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Report: Melania Trump Is 'Miserable' as First Lady (Washington Free Beacon, 2/15/17)

Melania Trump is secretly miserable as the nation's first lady, according to a new report.

Trump is "struggling with the realities of her new role and the scrutiny that comes with it," US Weekly reported in its latest issue, citing family sources.

"Melania is unhappy with how her life ended up," a family source said. "She is miserable." [...]

President Trump's team recently insisted that she come to Washington and help give her husband a PR boost by attending the traditional first lady tours at the White House and pose for photos.

"She was told, 'All you need to do is show up on one day and take photos,'" a Trump family source said. Melania declined, however.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Flynn resignation shows leaks under Trump are working. Keep 'em coming. (Trevor Timm, 2/14/17, CJR)

Leaks are coming out of the White House at a seemingly record pace, many of which have painted a picture of a dangerously ignorant and ill-equipped president who is narcissistic to the extreme, unable to let go of even the smallest of slights. But some of these leaks have halted a Trump appointment and controversial policies in their tracks, and it's a lesson showing how whistleblowers and leaks to the press are vital for democracy.

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign late Monday--just three weeks into the job--following the revelation that he lied to both the Trump administration and the public when he said he did not discuss outgoing President Obama's sanctions on Russia with that country's US ambassador just after the election. Multiple outlets have reported over the past few days that intercepts of the phone calls showed that he in fact did, despite personally telling Vice President Mike Pence the opposite.

But here's the important part: It turns out it wasn't the lying that got him fired; it's that his lying leaked to the press. The Washington Post reported that the acting attorney general told the White House weeks ago that transcripts showed Flynn likely misled administration officials. It wasn't until the public found out he lied--based on a torrent of leaks from inside the administration in the past week--that Flynn was forced out.

The Flynn episode is just the latest and most high-profile case in which the Trump administration has been forced to reverse course because of leaks to journalists. 

Lesson Number One : If you are doing something you can't afford to have become public, don't.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Tennessee man who plotted New York mosque attack won't face terrorism charges  (CHRIS SOMMERFELDT, 2/14/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A Tennessee man won't face terrorism charges for plotting an attack against an upstate New York mosque -- and attorneys claim it's because federal terrorism statutes almost exclusively focus on foreign extremists.

Robert Doggart was arrested in April 2015 after authorities discovered that he had been trying to recruit people to burn down a mosque in "Islamberg," a self-named, predominantly Muslim community near Hancock, according to court records.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


White House staff in "survival mode ... scared to death" (Mike Allen, 2/15/17, Axios)

Here's a twist that has top GOP sources buzzing:

*On Jan. 26, Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, tells the White House that national security adviser Mike Flynn -- who has just been grilled by FBI agents -- had, in fact, discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition, despite denying it, and therefore is vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

*Four days later, on Jan. 30, Trump fires Yates, citing her unwillingness to enforce his border order.

*Two weeks after her heads-up to the White House, the Flynn secret explodes.

"They had to know she was radioactive, and that there would be consequences," said a West Wing confidant. "It was either reckless, or total incompetence. It leads back to the fact that nobody is in charge."

A top source described "borderline chaos" in the White House.

"Some staff is in survival mode ... scared to death," the source said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


CIA airing Trump ties to Russia to prevent blackmail - report (STUART WINER AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF, February 15, 2017, Times of Israel)

The CIA was working to prevent the possibility of the Kremlin blackmailing US President Donald Trump by deliberately making public everything regarding the president's ties with Russia, in that way defusing the threat.

According to the report, written by veteran Israeli diplomatic correspondent Oren Nahari, a senior member of the US intelligence community told an Israeli official the agency suspects that Russia has information on Trump that can be used to pressure the US leader. As a countermeasure, US intelligence operatives are quickly leaking everything they learn about ties between Russia and the Trump administration so that the information can't be used as leverage against the president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm : Thomas Hargrove is building software to identify trends in unsolved murders using data nobody's bothered with before. (Robert Kolker, February 8, 2017, Businessweek)

On Aug. 18, 2010, a police lieutenant in Gary, Ind., received an e-mail, the subject line of which would be right at home in the first few scenes of a David Fincher movie:

"Could there be a serial killer active in the Gary area?"

It isn't clear what the lieutenant did with that e-mail; it would be understandable if he waved it off as a prank. But the author could not have been more serious. He'd attached source material--spreadsheets created from FBI files showing that over several years the city of Gary had recorded 14 unsolved murders of women between the ages of 20 and 50. The cause of each death was the same: strangulation. Compared with statistics from around the country, he wrote, the number of similar killings in Gary was far greater than the norm. So many people dying the same way in the same city--wouldn't that suggest that at least a few of them, maybe more, might be connected? And that the killer might still be at large?

The police lieutenant never replied. Twelve days later, the police chief, Gary Carter, received a similar e-mail from the same person. This message added a few details. Several of the women were strangled in their homes. In at least two cases, a fire was set after the murder. In more recent cases, several women were found strangled in or around abandoned buildings. Wasn't all of this, the writer asked, at least worth a look?

The Gary police never responded to that e-mail, either, or to two follow-up letters sent via registered mail. No one from the department has commented publicly about what was sent to them--nor would anyone comment for this story. "It was the most frustrating experience of my professional life," says the author of those messages, a 61-year-old retired news reporter from Virginia named Thomas Hargrove.

Hargrove spent his career as a data guy. He analyzed his first set of polling data as a journalism major at the University of Missouri, where he became a student director of the university's polling organization. He joined an E.W. Scripps newspaper right out of college and expanded his repertoire from political polling data to practically any subject that required statistical analysis. "In the newsroom," he remembers, "they would say, 'Give that to Hargrove. That's a numbers problem.' "

In 2004, Hargrove's editors asked him to look into statistics surrounding prostitution. The only way to study that was to get a copy of the nation's most comprehensive repository of criminal statistics: the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, or UCR. When Hargrove called up a copy of the report from the database library at the University of Missouri, attached to it was something he didn't expect: the Supplementary Homicide Report. "I opened it up, and it was a record I'd never seen before," he says. "Line by line, every murder that was reported to the FBI."

This report, covering the year 2002, contained about 16,000 murders, broken down by the victims' age, race, and sex, as well as the method of killing, the police department that made the report, the circumstances known about the case, and information about the offender, if the offender was known. "I don't know where these thoughts come from," Hargrove says, "but the second I saw that thing, I asked myself, 'Do you suppose it's possible to teach a computer how to spot serial killers?' "

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Odds grow at U.K. bookies that Trump will leave before term ends (Sara Sjolin, Feb 15, 2017, Market Watch)

Immediately after his election win in November, the odds of Trump staying in the Oval Office for four years were 3/1, indicating a 25% chance he'd leave early. Now a little more than three weeks into his tenure, the odds have been slashed to 11/10, putting a 47% chance that he'll resign or be impeached.

"It's all about supply and demand and punters have been backing it and we've forced to cut the odds accordingly," Ladbrokes spokesperson Jessica Bridge said.

"As every day goes by, there's a new Donald Trump controversy and punters are putting two and two together and backing him to leave," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Flynn Resignation Stirs Larger Concerns on Capitol Hill (Rebecca Berg, 2/15/17, RCP)

Sen. John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, warned in a statement that Flynn's resignation "is a troubling indication of the dysfunction" in the current national security operation.

At the heart of the problem is a lack of clarity regarding who has been truly calling the shots, McCain elaborated later -- Flynn prior to his resignation? Or Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist who was granted a seat on the elite National Security Council Principals Committee? Perhaps Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser who was the face of the administration in a slew of news appearances Sunday? Or someone else?

"We don't know who's in charge. We don't know who's making the decisions," McCain said. "...Every administration I've dealt with, going back to [President] Reagan, they have a process with national security decision-making, and we know who's in charge. ... Right now we don't know who it is."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Iowa Poll: Trump's approval rating is underwater with Iowans (Jason Noble , Feb. 14, 2017, DES MOINES REGISTER)

Donald Trump is starting his presidency underwater with Iowans.

Forty-two percent of Iowans approve of the job the newly inaugurated Republican is doing as president, while 49 percent disapprove, according to the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. [...]

Independents are leaning against the new president: 50 percent disapprove of his handling of the presidency while 39 percent approve.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Watch Wagner's Ring Cycle: A Complete 15-Hour Performance Is Now Free Online Thanks to the BBC (Open Culture, February 15th, 2017)

Wagner's greatest achievement, Der Ring des Nibelungen--referred to as the Ring Cycle--inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and scored the "Ride of the Valkyries" scene in Apocalypse Now. Loony Tunes' "Kill the Wabbit" spoofed the Ring Cycle, and became an entire generation's "first, and often only exposure to opera," as Ayun Halliday noted here recently. The Ring Cycle's overwhelming demonstration of the Gesamtkunstwerk is a thing to behold, and you can see it here performed in full, all four parts, "15 hours of epic opera" courtesy of BBC Arts and The Space. The film here, by Opera North, comes from live performances in Leeds in 2016. At the top, see Das Rheingold, below it Die Walküre, just above Siegfried, and below Götterdämmerung ("Twilight of the Gods").

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Wind Power Has Crossed a Significant Milestone in America (Reuters, Feb 14, 2017)

Wind briefly powered more than 50 percent of electric demand on Sunday, the 14-state Southwest Power Pool (SPP) said, for the first time on any North American power grid.

SPP coordinates the flow of electricity on the high voltage power lines from Montana and North Dakota to New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


A top Putin critic on how to oppose Trump: "making him look like a loser is crucial" : A conversation with chess champion Garry Kasparov. (Alexander Bisley  Feb 11, 2017, Vox)

Garry Kasparov

Playing the calm voice of reason isn't my strong suit despite my chess background, but it's important to focus on what matters most so you don't lose track in all the noise and chaos that Trump creates so effortlessly. During the campaign, even during the GOP primary, I wrote extensively about the menacing and, to me, familiar nature of Trump's rhetoric. He used, and continues to use, the language of the strongman. Things are terrible and only he can solve the problems, we are surrounded by enemies and only he can protect you, etc. It's very similar to the framing that Putin and other dictators use to justify their power.

The US president shouldn't need to speak like a tyrant. But Trump's still obsessed with legitimacy; hence his constant falsehoods about overwhelming victory and crowd size. You have an entirely unqualified president with autocratic instincts and dangerous advisers, who is quite possibly compromised by a malign foreign interest. [...]

Alexander Bisley

How about Trump's "Muslim ban"?

Garry Kasparov

There are many levels with which to like or dislike Trump's executive order, and on most of them, I'm a critic. As an immigrant, if not quite a refugee, to the US myself, I'm generally very sympathetic to people forced to flee their homelands, as my family and I escaped ethnic pogroms against Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1990.

It should concern every American that Trump was so hasty to sacrifice security for a quick PR move with his base. Even the biggest fans of doing this should be alarmed by how incompetently it was handled.

Immigration has always been one of America's greatest strengths, both for its reputation in the world and in practical matters of economic and cultural wealth. Being the destination of choice for so many of the world's best and brightest has been a huge advantage, and anything that detracts from that "brain magnet" will hurt the US economically, including the workers who benefit from the startups and other jobs created by immigrants. Trump's executive order has a big symbolic effect of making the US less attractive as a destination. Many Trump supporters will see this as a feature, not a bug, but this is ignorance and xenophobia.

Living in the USSR, the image of the United States as a shining city on a hill and beacon of hope to the oppressed was very real to me. I understand that many Americans, especially on the left, may think this is corny mythology, but don't try to tell that to immigrants and refugees! Even if you are cynical, there is no denying this image is a big element of American soft power in the world, as a nation to be envied and imitated despite its flaws.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Solar-powered trains are closer to reality than we might think (Leo Murray, 15 February 2017, The Guardian)

Solar giant Lightsource, for example, recently signed a 25 year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Belfast airport that underwrote a neighbouring £5m solar farm, using a private wire to supply a quarter of the airport's electricity needs. [...]

The UK's electrified rail routes have all of the features needed to support this kind of PPA-based renewable development, and more. Network Rail is the UK's single largest electricity consumer, with internal decarbonisation targets and a strong incentive to reduce operational energy costs. Alongside Transport for London (London's largest electricity consumer), these companies spend around £500m every year on traction power for their trains.

There are already over 5,500km of electrified tracks in the UK, with a major electrification programme building or converting hundreds more over the coming decades.

Early indications suggest it should be possible to connect virtually anywhere on the approximately one-third of this network that uses the direct current (DC) traction power system, unlocking access to thousands of potential new sites that have previously been out of bounds to new renewables.

What's more, the universe apparently wants this to happen: the standard operating voltage of the third and fourth rail DC routes is 630v-750v, while the standard output voltage of a solar PV array tends to be between 600v and 800v.

This serendipity makes the engineering challenge of connecting the two look very manageable, and the likely cost of the power interface equipment competitive with typical grid connection costs.

Conversion of renewable DC to grid alternating current (AC) results in something like 3% of the electricity being wasted, so supplying DC power direct to trains saves that loss too. Some of these DC routes already suffer from "under-powering", meaning train operators cannot add more passenger capacity to these routes because the grid cannot supply the extra electricity needed to power the trains. At scale, our innovation could solve this problem as well.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Trump allegedly orders dossier on PM's scandals after remark on his personality (ALEXANDER FULBRIGHT, February 15, 2017, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump allegedly instructed White House staff to provide him with a report on the ongoing criminal investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the publication of comments the prime minister is purported to have said about Trump's personality, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday. [...]

According to Yedioth, which has long been harshly critical of Netanyahu and did not cite its source for the report, Trump's advisers felt Netanyahu's comments on the president's personality to have crossed a red line, as they reportedly consider any reference to the president's personality or questioning of his suitability for the office as a personal affront.

Where does he think he'll find someone who doesn't recognize his personality disorder?

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


'Le Pen to build a wall around France': Algerian newspaper falls for joke news (The Local, 15 February 2017)

A spoof French news story about Marine Le Pen planning to build a wall around France and make Algeria foot the bill was taken seriously by some.

...the Right here fell for Donald's similar joke.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Rep. Jason Chaffetz probes Trump's handling of sensitive info at Mar-a-Lago (Erin Kelly, 2/14/17, USA TODAY)

"Accounts and photographs from other diners seem to indicate these communications occurred in the presence of other guests," Chaffetz wrote. "Reportedly, documents were provided by what appeared to be White House staff for the President's review while the dinner proceeded."

"During this time, according to reports, the President made telephone calls to staff in Washington, D.C.," Chaffetz continued. "These reports and social media accounts have suggested White House staff used their own cell phones to provide illumination for reviewing documents. Separately, one Mar-a-Lago guest posted to his Facebook page a photograph with a man described to be the holder of the 'nuclear football.' "

GOP Senate Intel Member: Exhaustive investigation into Trump-Russia connections needed following Flynn resignation (Andrew Kaczynski, 2/14/17, CNN)

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Tuesday called for an exhaustive investigation into connections between President Donald Trump and Russia and said the Intelligence Committee should immediately speak with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. [...]

"I think everybody needs that investigation to happen," Blunt said on KTRS radio. "And the Senate Intelligence Committee, again that I serve on, has been given the principle responsibility to look into this, and I think that we should look into it exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned, and shouldn't reach conclusions before you have the information that you need to have to make those conclusions."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign (Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez, 2/14/17, CNN|)

High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.

President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

Both the frequency of the communications during early summer and the proximity to Trump of those involved "raised a red flag" with US intelligence and law enforcement, according to these officials. The communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection targeting Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to US intelligence.

We have people running the country who didn't realize the Intelligence services listen to the Russians?  Voting for Hillary looks more patriotic every day.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Andrew Puzder withdraws as a labor secretary nominee (Manu Raju, Dan Merica and Julia Horowitz, February 15, 2017, CNN)
Andrew Puzder has withdrawn as President Donald Trump's choice for labor secretary, a dramatic decision caused by a GOP revolt that claimed the first Cabinet nominee of the new administration. [...]

[R]epublicans too had grown weary of the range of liabilities facing Puzder, and senior GOP officials informed the White House Tuesday night and Wednesday that Puzder lacked a viable path for confirmation.

...but the blood hit the water a bit late.

February 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Pence did not learn that Flynn misled him on Russia until last week (Abby Phillip, Ellen Nakashima and Jenna Johnson, February 14, 2017, Washington Post)

Vice President Pence first learned that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled him about the nature of his contact with a Russian official on Feb. 9, a full two weeks after other White House officials were briefed on the matter, an aide to Pence said on Tuesday.

The timing indicates that Pence would have become aware of the controversy around the same time that a Washington Post report was published, detailing the degree to which Flynn had been in contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States on the issue of sanctions, Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said.

Can anyone remember the last time a VP hung a president out to dry?

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Breitbart puts Priebus on notice (JONATHAN EASLEY, 02/14/17, The Hill)

The Breitbart sources said Priebus was brought into the White House for his connections to Capitol Hill, and is therefore responsible for the slow pace of Cabinet confirmations and the early reluctance by GOP lawmakers to tackle Trump's big-ticket initiatives.

And they blamed Priebus for the damaging leaks coming out of the White House. One unnamed Breitbart source described the leakers as a network of "sleeper cells" and said that Priebus knows who the offenders are but has refused to do anything about them.

"All of this could derail Trump's presidency if he doesn't fix it soon, and quickly bring in someone new as Chief of Staff who can smooth out the rocky start and get things back on track sooner rather than later," Boyle wrote.

He has to retaliate for his boy Flynn.
Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


No tax reform without border adjustment tax, Rep. Nunes says (Michelle Fox, 2/14/17, CNBC.com)

There will be no tax reform package if a border adjustment tax is not included, Rep. Devin Nunes, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, told CNBC on Tuesday.

"I don't know any other way to do it. We've long looked at this. We've had exhaustive hearing after hearing after hearing for eight years," the California Republican said in an interview with "Power Lunch."

"The only way we can get our tax code into the 21st century and make America the most competitive place on the planet is to move to a full consumption-based system," added Nunes, who said he was speaking for himself and not his fellow Republicans.

We've all known where we're headed for quite a while; some have just been slower to accept W's vision.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Trump Was Informed 17 Days Ago That Flynn Had Not Been Truthful on Russia Contacts (Jonathan Weisman, Matt Flegenheimer and Eric Schmitt, Feb. 14th, 2017, NY Times)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Mr. Trump was informed 17 days ago by White House Counsel Donald McGahn that his national security adviser had not been truthful when he told Vice President Mike Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. [...]

General Tony Thomas, head of the military's Special Operations Command, told a military conference on Tuesday that the upheavals in Washington are rippling through the American military.

"Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil," he said. "I hope they sort it out soon because we're a nation at war."

General Thomas insisted Special Operations Forces are "staying focused" despite all the controversy in Washington.

Asked about his comments later, General Thomas said in a brief interview, "As a commander, I'm concerned our government be as stable as possible."

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Federal judge in Virginia issues strong rebuke of Trump travel ban (Rachel Weiner, February 13, 2017, Washington Post)

In her opinion, Brinkema wrote that the Commonwealth of Virginia "has produced unrebutted evidence" that the order "was not motivated by rational national security concerns" but "religious prejudice" toward Muslims. She cited Trump's statements before taking office, as well as an interview in which former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) said that the president wanted a "Muslim ban."

"The 'Muslim Ban' was a centerpiece of the president's campaign for months, and the press release calling for it was still available on his website as of the day this Memorandum Opinion is being entered," Brinkema wrote. [...]

At a Friday hearing, Brinkema said judges throughout the country were "begging" for evidence from the government to defend the ban. At the hearing, a lawyer for the Justice Department produced only a copy of the order as evidence, while arguing that Virginia has no standing to challenge the ban and federal courts have no power to weigh in on its rationale.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Pence molds the government in his own image : Pence and his team bring an entirely different ethos and set of values to the administration. (MAGGIE SEVERNS and MATTHEW NUSSBAUM 02/13/17, Politico)

Pence and his team bring an entirely different ethos and set of values to the administration. The vice president's emphasis on limited government and his conservative social views are distinct from the America First-style populism of Trump or top advisers like Steve Bannon, creating a divide that could influence policymaking on health care, education and social issues.

Members of Pence's tight-knit inner circle, such as longtime aide Josh Pitcock, now Pence's chief of staff, hold key positions both in Pence's office and across the Trump administration. Ex-Hill aide Marc Short is the White House's liaison to Congress, and Pence political advisers Nick Ayers and Marty Obst are helping to run Trump's new nonprofit political arm, which was created to boost the president's agenda, and brought on Pence's nephew, John Pence, as deputy executive director.

"Vice Present Pence surrounds himself with true conservatives," said a former staffer from his days leading the GOP House Conference. "He did when he was on the Hill, and again in Indiana. That some of them are now in the administration bolsters the case that conservative principles will significantly undergird the president's agenda to change Washington."

Former employees interviewed by POLITICO describe Pence as a manager who values humility, self-discipline and employees who follow marching orders. Pence's top aides tend to be deeply conservative and, like the vice president, evangelical Christians. Short and Ayers are devout church-goers. Pence also encourages staff to balance work with a focus on family, which stems from his deep faith.

For Pence's political foes, the influx of Hoosiers to the Trump administration is troubling for precisely that reason. His term as governor was marked by clashes spurred by his conservatism, said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody.

Getting rid of President Bannon and company will leave them with only the occasional Ivanka pet project to deal with. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn (Adam Kredo, February 14, 2017, Free beacon)

The abrupt resignation Monday evening of White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is the culmination of a secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, according to multiple sources in and out of the White House who described to the Washington Free Beacon a behind-the-scenes effort by these officials to plant a series of damaging stories about Flynn in the national media.

The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes--the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber--included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn's credibility, multiple sources revealed.

The operation primarily focused on discrediting Flynn, an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, in order to handicap the Trump administration's efforts to disclose secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration.

Way to make Donald look even weaker and more pathetic: outwitted by the metrosexual Machiavellis.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Donald Trump's handshakes are like the man himself: aggressive, confusing, and secretly inadequate (RUPERT MYERS, 14 FEBRUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

The handshake is the ultimate focus of anxiety for a certain sort of self-conscious man, and there are none more obviously fixated by these self-help books than Donald Trump. Just as Trump is a poor person's idea of what a rich person looks like, he is also does a laughable impersonation of an alpha male. From the over-long red tie and gold lift to the ridiculous photographs and the dyed comb-over, Trump has imbibed deeply from the well of bad self-help guidance to project success. The apogee of his performance is the handshake, the "Trump Pump"; for all the catastrophes of his Presidency, we shouldn't overlook how ridiculous the pump is, and how symbolic it is of his approach.

Pity Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan who had the smile of a kidnap victim and the eyes of someone with locked-in syndrome during his time with Trump. During his visit, Mr Abe was forced into indignities, all stemming from Donald Trump's complete lack of manners. From holding a meeting in the middle of a Florida restaurant to crashing a wedding, it peaked with the nineteen-second-long handshake, during which the poise of Japan's PM was shaken to breaking point. His arm flailing like that of a rag doll embarrassed for the sake of his people, Mr Abe must have been dying inside while Trump shook, and shook, and shook like someone trying to prove a point about how manly and assertive he is. In his overcompensation, the short-fingered President revealed his insecurity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Why A Carbon Tax Is A Truly Good Idea (From Harrop, February 14, 2017, National Memo)

President Obama pushed for a cap-and-trade system -- not the same as a carbon tax but another market-based means for reducing emissions. Environmentally minded conservatives have endorsed cap and trade also, but the Republican House voted no. Whether it objected to cap and trade on policy grounds or because Obama wanted it, we cannot be sure. [...]

A carbon tax would elegantly put strong financial incentives in place to discourage use of fuels that emit greenhouse gases. It also would provide a measure of predictability that companies need for making long-term capital investments -- something government-set renewable energy targets don't do well. Simply put, the targets are not bankable commitments against which green energy companies can get financing.

When companies have to pay for pollution, there's less need for micromanaging laws requiring such items as smokestack scrubbers. In sum, until you get to zero emissions, you are paying.

Less government involvement also means less politics. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


The 'Caddyshack' President (ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, FEB. 13, 2017, NY Times)

It apparently never occurred to Mr. Trump, Mr. Flynn or Steve Bannon, another member of the National Security Council, who also trained his cellphone on the paperwork, that holding a cellphone camera over these documents might allow foreign adversaries and hackers to get "some pretty good pictures," too. Cellphones aren't allowed even in secured areas of the White House. Yet there they all were, playing Situation Room in the open air, for a random crowd in Palm Beach, Fla.

"HOLY MOLY!!!" Richard DeAgazio, a club member, wrote on his Facebook page, where he posted three photos he took of the meeting. "Center of the action!" Mr. DeAgazio, shockingly, also posted two photos of himself with a man he identified as Rick. "Rick, he carries the football. The nuclear football," Mr. DeAgazio wrote in his post. His account has been deleted, but the photos were up for many hours, drawing hundreds of comments from people outraged at the breach of security protocol and afraid for the safety of "Rick." [...]

One would think leadership of the free world would have scratched Mr. Trump's itch for publicity. But this is the man who called reporters using a fake name to generate stories about himself; who introduced a member of one of his clubs to a Golf Digest reporter as "the richest guy in Germany," instead of by name; who looks pained when having to share the podium with anyone, from Sarah Palin to the prime minister of Canada. This is rule by Al Czervik, Rodney Dangerfield's character in "Caddyshack": a reckless, clownish boor surrounded by sycophants, determined to blow up all convention.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Yemen conflict: Seven Saudi soldiers killed on border (Al Jazeera, 2/14/17)

At least seven Saudi soldiers have been killed in the past week in clashes with Yemeni rebels, state media has said.

In an unusual series of official reports, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported late on Monday that Mohammed al-Manjahi was the latest soldier to be killed "defending" the kingdom's southern borders in the fight against Houthis rebels.

All against the Wahabi.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


A White House where no one is in charge (Michael Gerson, February 13, 2017, Washington Post)

In early January, House Speaker Paul Ryan met on the issue of tax reform with a delegation from the president-elect. Attending were future chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, future chief of staff Reince Priebus, future senior adviser Jared Kushner, future counselor Kellyanne Conway and future senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. As the meeting began, Ryan pointedly asked, "Who's in charge?"


Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


India is willing to privatize its loss-making national airline (Rishi Iyengar, February 14, 2017, CNN MOney)

"We want Air India to survive," Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said at the CNN Asia Business Forum in Bangalore on Monday. "We don't mind where it is, who runs it, as long as it serves the Indian people and our Indian skies."

The state-owned airline has been plagued by inefficiency and enormous losses for years. It received a $4.5 billion bailout from the government in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


New 'Locomotive' Powering Ukraine as Economy Retools After War (Volodymyr Verbyany, February 13, 2017, Bloomberg)

Exports of wheat, barley and sunflower oil are at or near all-time highs, part of an agricultural revival that began to take hold in 2013. The industry's rise coincides with declines in export mainstays such as steel and iron ore, which are produced largely in the nation's east and have suffered amid the conflict there with Russian-backed insurgents. Trade data due Tuesday are set to underline the shift.

Agriculture has become "a locomotive of the Ukrainian economy," central bank Deputy Governor Dmytro Sologub said in an interview. "The numbers are really stunning."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Trump national security aide Flynn resigns over Russian contacts (Steve Holland and John Walcott, 2/14/17, Reuters)

Flynn's resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took power on Jan. 20.

Flynn's departure was a sobering development in Trump's young presidency, a 24-day period during which his White House has been repeatedly distracted by miscues and internal dramas.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Upheaval is now standard operating procedure inside the White House (Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker, Feb. 13th, 2017, The Washington Post)

With President Trump in his fourth full week in office, the upheaval inside the administration that West Wing officials had optimistically dismissed as growing pains is now embedding itself as standard operating procedure.

Trump -- distracted by political brushfires, often of his own making -- has failed to fill such key posts as White House communications director, while sub-Cabinet positions across agencies and scores of ambassadorships around the globe still sit empty.

Upset about damaging leaks of his calls with world leaders and other national security information, Trump has ordered an internal investigation to find the leakers. Staffers, meanwhile, are so fearful of being accused of talking to the media that some have resorted to a secret chat app -- Confide -- that erases messages as soon as they're read. [...]

Some senior officials are worried about their own standing with the president, who through his casual conversations with friends and associates sometimes seems to hint that a shake-up could come at a moment's notice. Aides said they strive to avoid appearing "weak" or "low­ energy" -- two of Trump's least favorite attributes.

Staffers buzz privately about who is up and who is down, with many eagerly gossiping about which poor colleague gets an unflattering portrayal on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." For the past two weeks, it has been White House press secretary Sean Spicer. But aides said Trump was especially upset by a sketch that cast White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon as the Grim Reaper manipulating the president -- who was ultimately relegated to a miniature desk, playing dolefully with an expandable toy.

Claiming Flynn's scalp was fun, but getting President Bannon's is a necessity.

February 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Trump turns Mar-a-Lago Club terrace into open-air situation room (David A. Fahrenthold, February 13, 2017, Washington Post)

The scene of their discussion, Trump's club, has been called "The Winter White House" by the president's aides. But it is very different than the actual White House, where security is tight and people coming in are heavily screened. Trump's club, by contrast, has hundreds of paying members who come and go, and it can be rented out for huge galas and other events open to non-members. On the night of the North Korea launch, for instance, there was a wedding reception underway: CNN reported that Trump dropped by, with Abe in tow.

As a Mar-a-Lago member, DeAgazio already had remarkable access to a president that day. He had earlier snapped pictures of Trump and Abe golfing and of the president and White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon schmoozing guests.

Now, as a national-security crisis broke out in front of him, DeAgazio continued snapping pictures -- and posting them on Facebook.

"The President receiving the news about the Missile incident from North Korea on Japan with the Prime Minister sitting next to him," DeAgazio wrote as the caption for a photo he posted on Facebook at 9:07 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Later, he posted other photos of Trump and Abe's discussion, including some that seemed to have been taken from just a few feet away. Those photos have now been seen around the world, providing photographic proof of this unusual moment.

The denunciations from folks who pretended that Hillary had compromised national security will surely come fast and furious....

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


KKK Figure David Duke Endorses Democrat Keith Ellison For DNC Chair (Lukas Mikelionis, February 13, 201, Heat Street)
Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke has endorsed Minessota congressman and frontrunner Keith Ellison for the Democratic National Committee chair.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Time for Trump to Resign (Richard A. Epstein, February 13, 2017, Hoover Institution)

The nearly four weeks since President Donald Trump's inauguration have been the most divisive period of American politics since the end of the Second World War. The sharp lines that everyone is drawing in the sand pose a serious threat to the United States. On the one side stand many conservatives and populists who are rejoicing in the Trump victory as the salvation of a nation in decline. On other side sit the committed progressives who are still smarting from an election in which they were trounced in the electoral college, even as Hillary Clinton garnered a clear majority of the popular vote.

As a classical liberal who did not vote for either candidate, I stand in opposition to both groups. And after assessing Trump's performance during the first month of his presidency, I think it is clear that he ought to resign.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


Border Tax Adjustment Is Not Protectionist, Boosts Free Trade (ERNEST S. CHRISTIAN, February 8, 2017, National Review)

By gaining quick congressional enactment of the tax reforms in the Ryan-Brady GOP blueprint, "A Better Way for Tax Reform," President Trump can in months accomplish historic reforms that have for decades eluded other presidents and Congresses. Furthermore, the economic burden of the blueprint's roughly $1 trillion import-tax adjustment will for a combination of reasons fall partly on foreign companies that export into the U.S. market. If President Trump uses that $1 trillion of import-tax revenue to finance a big cut in U.S. income-tax rates, he can, in effect, require foreigners indirectly to help pay for the reduced income taxes on Americans. A good deal for America. [...]

By taxing imports excluded from value-added tax by the country of origin and by not taxing exports that are taxed by the country of destination, the GOP's proposed border tax adjustments would help level the international tax playing field. This would be a good thing for free trade and should be applauded as such.

Even though some portion of the import-tax adjustment will probably be borne by some U.S. companies, and some consumers might pay a little more for some imports that are now subsidized, almost everyone should be better off overall, by a wide margin, when we consider the Ryan-Brady proposal as a whole. It provides an enormous tax cut for businesses and individuals, about $2.4 trillion over ten years before taking into account feedback revenues from $14.4 trillion of reform-induced additional economic growth for the same period.

A big across-the-board tax cut and a surge in jobs, income growth, and consumer spending is hard to beat.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Iran: Internet Use Expands Exponentially (Michael Rubin, 2/13/17, AEI)

The accompanying passage from the Islamic Republic News Agency quotes Iran's Communication Minister as saying that, since 2013, internet usage has "increased from 3.5 million to nearly 40 million users," and that "internet penetration has increased to about 50 percent of our country." [...]

Iran's population is 70 percent urban. If only 50 percent of Iran's population use the internet, then in all likelihood, Iran's rural population still lags behind in connectivity. However, if internet penetration continues to grow, the Iranian government may face security challenges. During the 1999 student unrest, Iranian authorities shut down the cell phone system. A decade later, after the post-election unrest, Iranian authorities clamped down on the internet and SMS technology. Technology increasingly provides workarounds to enable freedom from government systems; so news from beyond government sources may soon penetrate further into society. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Trump's counter-jihad (Zack Beauchamp, Feb. 13th, 2017, Vox)

Last July, a sharply dressed man named Frank Gaffney walked onto the stage of a crowded convention center in downtown Denver and proceeded to calmly warn his audience that Muslims were working to conquer America from the inside.

Speaking without notes at a glass lectern, Gaffney -- who worked, decades ago, as a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration -- told the audience that political leaders from both parties had spent years covering up the true threat to the US. It didn't come from terrorists acting in the name of Islam. It came from Islam itself.

Gaffney said that sharia, the Arabic term for Islamic law, was a "brutally repressive, totalitarian, political, military, and legal program" for gradually subverting Western governments and replacing them with ones that adhere to harsh Islamic dictates. And in the US, those efforts were already well underway.

"This program of subversive, stealthy penetration and takedown is operating. It's, in fact, been at work for 50 years," he said. "Our government has been subverted."

Gaffney wasn't speaking metaphorically. He accused "agents of Hillary Clinton" of shredding files about Muslim radicals living both inside and outside the US and said that then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was surrounded by "a small echo chamber which is filled by Muslim Brotherhood operatives."

The notion of senior US officials intentionally weakening American national security or appointing advisers who were literal members of a Middle Eastern Islamist movement is preposterous. But it's important to take Gaffney seriously: He isn't some little-known crank pumping out Islamophobic literature on the internet, and the event wasn't a fringe gathering outside the political mainstream.

It was instead the 2016 Western Conservative Summit, a major meeting of thousands of Republican activists in Denver billed as "the largest gathering of conservatives outside of Washington, D.C." Other featured speakers included then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, major conservative media figures like Hugh Hewitt and Erick Erickson, and two sitting US senators.

Gaffney is an important cog in a vast and growing ecosystem that exists just out of sight of most Americans -- one that has spent years pushing the notion that there is a creeping, quiet plot to take over America from within. It is a plan that springs from Islamic scripture itself, and is supported by most mainstream Muslim organizations, most mosques, and, in all likelihood, your Muslim neighbor.

The only way to be safe from the threat, according to Gaffney and other self-proclaimed "counter-jihadists," is to slash Muslim immigration, arrest key leaders of the Muslim American community, and shut down huge numbers of mosques. They have not gone so far as to propose outright ethnic cleansing; Gaffney, in his speech, says he has Muslim friends. Their dream, instead, is to destroy the Muslim American community without kicking out Muslims.

The dire warnings are spread through an influential lobby, slick documentaries, and best-selling books with titles like The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion. And now that fearful vision of Islam has found a home in the Trump White House.

Senior strategist Steve Bannon is a devotee of Gaffney's ideas, as are National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump's political adviser, Kellyanne Conway, has done polling for Gaffney designed to illustrate the scale of the threat Muslims pose to America. And Trump himself has said things that sound like they could have been ripped from counter-jihadist literature.

...is that they hate the America we live in.
Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Texas man's obit blasts him as possessing 'no redeeming qualities' (Craig Hlavaty, 2/11/17, Houston Chronicle)

Charping died on Jan. 30, 2017 after a fight with cancer, aged 74. This was, according to the obit, "29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved." 

"He leaves behind 2 relieved children; a son Leslie Roy Charping and daughter, Shiela Smith along with six grandchildren and countless other victims including an ex-wife, relatives, friends, neighbors, doctors, nurses and random strangers," the obit continues.

 And it goes downhill from there: [...]

"Leslie's hobbies included being abusive to his family, expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets and fishing, which he was less skilled with than the previously mentioned," the obituary read. "Leslie's life served no other obvious purpose, he did not contribute to society or serve his community and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides quick whited [sic] sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days."

The closing line of the obit cuts rather deep:

"With Leslie's passing he will be missed only for what he never did; being a loving husband, father and good friend.  No services will be held, there will be no prayers for eternal peace and no apologizes to the family he tortured. Leslie's remains will be cremated and kept in the barn until "Ray", the family donkey's wood shavings run out. Leslie's passing proves that evil does in fact die and hopefully marks a time of healing and safety for all."

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Papal Audience & visiting the Vatican Dress Codes

Papal Audience Dress Code:
For the Papal Audienence casual but modest dress is accepted, again ladies should still have shoulders covered particularly if the meeting is held indoors.
As the Audience in Summer is usually held outside and Rome gets extremely hot, bring hats, sunscreen, water and cover up as much as possible to avoid burning. 
Men are permitted to wear hats throughout the Audience.

St.Peter's Basilica & Sistine Chapel / Vatican Museums Dress Code:

Men should wear long pants and short sleeves t-shirts or shirts are OK but no vest tops. 
Jeans are OK, official rules state no shorts. 
As summers can be very hot the Vatican do sometimes relax the rules and allow Men to wear shorts however it is worth noting that this may not always be the case and the official dress code does state no shorts. 
It is good perhaps to carry a pair of long pants with you in case or wear the cargo style pants that allow you to unzip the lower legs to create shorts when needed. 
Men should also be aware that hats need to be removed before entering any church or Chapel which includes St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

Women can wear trousers, capri pants and skirts and dresses are permitted however they cannot be shorter than knee length and shoulders must be covered. 
In very hot weather a shawl or large scarf/Pashmina can be draped around the shoulders for visiting the sites. 
Bare shoulders and short skirts are not permitted and again come prepared to cover up if wearing shorts.

- Long pants
- At least short sleeves

- The knees covered
- At least short sleeves
- Shorts
- T-shirts without sleeves
- Short skirts
- Baseball caps inside the churches

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


A United pilot ranted about Trump, Clinton and divorce. Her passengers fled. (Avi Selk,  February 12, 2017, Washington Post)

Dozens of passengers fled a plane and police removed their United Airlines pilot after she gave a long, bizarre speech before takeoff on Saturday. [...]

The pilot touched on recent politics.

"She's like 'I don't care if you voted for Trump or Clinton. They're both [expletive]," Reiss wrote.

When she changed the subject to the plane's imminent takeoff, Reiss began to shake, and another passenger began videotaping the drama.

"So I'll stop, and we'll fly the airplane," the pilot said in the video, which has since been removed from YouTube. "Don't worry. I'm going to let my co-pilot fly it. He's a man."

Reiss was the first to evacuate. He got out of his seat, collected his bag and asked the flight crew to let him off.

"Okay, if you don't feel safe, get off the airplane, but otherwise we can go," the pilot said, still sounding cheerful in the video as the first of her passengers began to revolt.

Unfortunately, we don't have the option of getting off the plane just because our pilot is unstable. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Netanyahu opposes Palestinian state, Israeli minister says ahead of U.S. visit (Jeffrey Heller, 2/13/17, Reuters)

Benjamin Netanyahu opposes a Palestinian state, a senior Israeli cabinet member said on Monday, but left it unclear whether the prime minister would say that publicly in talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington this week.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Trump's Francification of America (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 13, 2017, The Week)

But now, it seems that America's Francification is coming from the right, and in particular from President Trump. Instead of making America great again, he's turning America into France. Here are three striking ways.

1. Lepénisme

I'm certainly not the first to comment on the ideological cousinage between President Trump and France's Marine Le Pen. Both draw on populist anger at the self-dealing elite class and respond with an agenda that involves an embrace of (if we're being generous) patriotism shading into nationalism, immigration crackdowns, trade wars, economic nationalism, and robust government activism in the economy. [...]

2. Crony capitalism

As Americans were still digesting the stunning election result last November, the president-elect was already engineering an ad hoc deal with the company Carrier to keep industrial jobs in America. This move left much of the commentariat, left and right, baffled. But it is a familiar one to any observer of French politics, where they have become so common as to be boring. [...]

3. Anti-Semitism

Perhaps the most worrisome of all these developments is the return, after many decades, of anti-Semitism as a real thing in American politics. Although, mercifully, nobody thinks there is a real electoral constituency, even a small one, for anti-Semitism (as opposed to the one there might supposedly be for other forms of coded racial appeals), it remains the fact that since Trump's campaign and election, anti-Semitism in public discourse, even to wonder whether it is there, has become a topic in the American public conversation. Whether or not the Trump administration is animated by prejudice against Jews or plans to exploit prejudice against Jews, the fact that this is even something anyone has to think about is astonishing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


As Flynn falls under growing pressure over Russia contacts, Trump remains silent (Philip Rucker, Adam Entous and Ed O'Keefe, February 12, 2017, Washington Post)

As White House aides scramble to get their stories straight about the exact nature of those communications and as Democrats call for Flynn's security clearance to be suspended or revoked, neither Trump nor his advisers have publicly defended Flynn or stated unequivocally that he has the president's confidence.

Privately, some administration officials said that Flynn's position has weakened and support for him has eroded largely because of a belief that he was disingenuous about Russia and therefore could not be fully trusted going forward.

"The knives are out for Flynn," said one administration official who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly.

...because no one would let this crew handle sharp objects.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


"The Relentless Pace of Automation" : Artificial intelligence could dramatically improve the economy and aspects of everyday life, but we need to invent ways to make sure everyone benefits. (David Rotman  February 13, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

It is "glaringly obvious," says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, that political leaders are "totally unprepared" to deal with how automation is changing employment. Automation has been displacing workers from a variety of occupations, including ones in manufacturing. And now, he says, AI and the quickening deployment of robots in various industries, including auto manufacturing, metal products, pharmaceuticals, food service, and warehouses, could exacerbate the effects. "We haven't even begun the debate," he warns. "We've just been papering over the issues."

It is often argued that technological progress always leads to massive shifts in employment but that at the end of the day the economy grows as new jobs are created. However, that's a far too facile way of looking at the impact of AI and automation on jobs today. Joel Mokyr, a leading economic historian at Northwestern University, has spent his career studying how people and societies have experienced the radical transitions spurred by advances in technology, such as the Industrial Revolution that began in the late 18th century. The current disruptions are faster and "more intensive," Mokyr says. "It is nothing like what we have seen in the past, and the issue is whether the system can adapt as it did in the past."

Mokyr describes himself as "less pessimistic" than others about whether AI will create plenty of jobs and opportunities to make up for the ones that are lost. And even if it does not, the alternative--technological stagnation--is far worse. But that still leaves a troubling quandary: how to help the workers left behind. "There is no question that in the modern capitalist system your occupation is your identity," he says. And the pain and humiliation felt by those whose jobs have been replaced by automation is "clearly a major issue," he adds. "I don't see an easy way of solving it. It's an inevitable consequence of technological progress."

The dignity of work was a tool for social control.  It was effective but has outlived its usefulness.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Trump friend says Priebus is 'in way over his head' (Philip Rucker, February 12, 2017, Washington Post)

One of President Trump's longtime friends made a striking move on Sunday: After talking privately with the president over drinks late Friday, Christopher Ruddy publicly argued that Trump should replace his White House chief of staff.

"A lot of people have been saying, 'Look, Donald has some problems,' and I think he realizes that he's got to make some changes going forward," Ruddy said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Ruddy went on to detail his critique of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: "It's my view that Reince is the problem. I think on paper Reince looked good as the chief of staff -- and Donald trusted him -- but it's pretty clear the guy is in way over his head. He's not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration rollout."

The one thing you know for sure is that Donald isn't capable of the sort of self-examination that would reveal himself top be the problem, so staff shouldn't get too comfortable....

Trump reviews top White House staff after tumultuous start (JOSH DAWSEY and ALEX ISENSTADT, 2/12/17, Politico)

[T]rump's concern goes beyond his embattled national security adviser, according to conversations with more than a dozen people who have spoken to Trump or his top aides. He has mused aloud about press secretary Sean Spicer, asking specific questions to confidants about how they think he's doing behind the podium. During conversations with Spicer, the president has occasionally expressed unhappiness with how his press secretary is talking about some matters -- sometimes pointing out even small things he's doing that he doesn't like.

Others who've talked with the president have begun to wonder about the future of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Several Trump campaign aides have begun to draft lists of possible Priebus replacements, with senior White House aides Kellyanne Conway and Rick Dearborn and lobbyist David Urban among those mentioned. Gary Cohn, a Trump economic adviser who is close with senior adviser Jared Kushner, has also been the subject of chatter. [...]

If there is a single issue where the president feels his aides have let him down, it was the controversial executive order on immigration. The president has complained to at least one person about "how his people didn't give him good advice" on rolling out the travel ban and that he should have waited to sign it instead of "rushing it like they wanted me to." Trump has also wondered why he didn't have a legal team in place to defend it from challenges.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down (DAVID E. SANGER, ERIC SCHMITT and PETER BAKER, FEB. 12, 2017, NY Times)

These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president's dealings with an uncertain world.

Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump's Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump's top advisers are considering an "insider threat" program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.

The national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has hunkered down since investigators began looking into what, exactly, he told the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration, and whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. His survival in the job may hang in the balance.

February 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


State-sponsored hackers targeting prominent journalists, Google warns (DANIEL LIPPMAN 02/10/17, Politico)

Google has warned a number of prominent journalists that state-sponsored hackers are attempting to steal their passwords and break into their inboxes, the journalists tell POLITICO.

Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine said he received several messages from Google warning him about an attack from a government-backed hacker starting shortly after the election. He said the most recent warning came two to three weeks ago.

Julia Ioffe, who recently started at The Atlantic and has covered Russia for years, said she got warnings as recently as two weeks ago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


The stealth Republican force behind Obamacare repeal (BURGESS EVERETT and JENNIFER HABERKORN, Feb. 11th, 2017, Politico)

The folksy Tennessee senator is quietly prevailing upon Republican lawmakers to take a deep breath when it comes to rewriting the health care law that controls a sixth of the American economy. His goal, in a nutshell: to reassure millions of Americans that Republicans aren't trying to snatch away their health insurance. [...]

A former governor and two-time presidential candidate, Alexander stalks the halls of the Capitol with a small card filled with bullet points about the health care law, pressing it into the hands of Republicans to alert them to the scope of the problems with the nation's insurance coverage. Just as he ran for governor by walking across the state in his trademark black-and-red checked flannel shirt, Alexander's goal is to buttonhole enough GOP lawmakers until the whole party is on the same page.

It hasn't been easy. Daily Senate Republican lunches regularly erupt in disagreement over strategy; it's now mid-February without a clear path forward, after years of Republican show votes to repeal the law.

Which is fine by Alexander. Republicans came back to Washington in January ready to repeal Obamacare before Inauguration Day. The chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was one of the first lawmakers to call on Republicans not to scrap Obamacare until a replacement is ready to go.

That's now the GOP's mantra.

"What I'm trying to do is to make sure that we think carefully," Alexander said. "We're moving from a position -- repeal and replace -- to governing. It's a little more complicated."

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


No Man whatever having lent his Money to the Government on the Credit of a Parliamentary Fund has been Defrauded of his Property . . . The Goodness of the Publick Credit in England, is the reason why we shall never be out of Debt. . . . Let us be, say I, a free Nation deep in Debt, rather than a Nation of Slaves owing Nothing. 
    -Anonymous English pamphleteer (1719)

The snowball of debt


Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Judging the Patriots' Place in NFL History (Peter King, Feb. 9th, 2017, MMQB)

The MMQB looked at the best teams in league history over at least a 12-year period, and here were the interesting findings about where the Patriots of 2001 to 2016 rank with them:

• New England's regular-season winning percentage of .766 over these 16 seasons is the best of any team in league history in a span of at least 12 years.

• New England has won 14 division titles in those 16 seasons, the highest rate of division/conference titles won by a franchise over that span.

• Including playoff games, no team over a long term has averaged as many wins as New England, 13.8, in a season. That, of course, is helped by the fact that playoffs have expanded. But it's still an impressive number. The Patriots' 13.8 wins is a full win better, on average, than San Francisco's 12.7 wins from 1981 to 1998. [...]

It's harder to stay great today because of free agency and the salary cap. As our Robert Klemko reported before the Super Bowl, the Patriots do have the advantage over other contemporary teams in that players will sacrifice money to play for a perennial Super Bowl contender. "I would have played this year for $5," said defensive end Chris Long, who eschewed more years and money to sign a one-year, $2.3-million deal in New England. "I just wanted to be here."

That's a significant edge, but the greatest players aren't going to stay for cents on the dollar. Adam Vinatieri didn't. Deion Branch didn't. Darrelle Revis didn't. Lawyer Milloy didn't. More recently, New England feared it would not be able to sign either of its two best front-seven players from 2015, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, and so traded both in 2016. In a perfect world they'd have kept at least Jones long-term to buttress their pass-rush. When Joe Greene and Jack Lambert were drafted by the Steelers, the team had control of their services until the organization didn't want them anymore. So Pittsburgh hit the draft jackpot and won four Super Bowls and nine division titles in 13 years. That's what makes the Patriots' .766 regular-season winning percentage in their 16-year run so impressive in comparison--the Steelers, with much more control over their roster, were .690 over their 13-year run of greatness.

Bill Belichick's Super Bowl XXV Game Plan (Mark Mravic, 5/14/14, MMQB)

Super Bowl XXV, played between the Bills and the Giants on January 27, 1991, is best known for "wide right," Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood's missed 47-yard game-winner as the clock expired. Just as noteworthy, though, is the way the Giants defense, coached by coordinator Bill Belichick, stopped Jim Kelly and the Bills' K-Gun offense. Kelly was the best quarterback in the league during the 1990 season, piloting a high-powered no-huddle attack that led the league in scoring and hung  51 points on the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. Belichick had different plans for the Super Bowl: He deployed extra defensive backs to take away Kelly's deep options, and instructed his defenders to hit hard to limit the short passing game. Final score: Giants 20, Bills 19. 

Belichick's defensive plan for that Super Bowl is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and rightly so--it's tangible evidence of one of the most creative minds the game has seen.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Sweden seeks closer economic cooperation with Iran (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 12, 2017)

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on Sunday wrapped up a two-day visit to Iran with a pledge to bolster economic ties between the two countries.

Löfven said he discussed "economic relations and important regional problems, and we will try to implement the agreements." He said that along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the two leaders signed five deals in "technology, research, roads, communications and women affairs," according to Iran's semi-official Fars news agency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


This Is What Undiluted Trumpism Tastes Like (Rob Garver, February 12, 2017, The Fiscal Times)

Until now, Trump's defenders have been cutting the administration's policy demands with the slick avoidance techniques of presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, or Vice President Mike Pence's patented "more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger" rebuttals to awkward questions. But Sunday, the administration sent White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old former aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, to appear on four of the five major shows. (CNN is still in the doghouse, apparently.)

For those used to other Trump surrogates, Miller can't have gone down easily.

Miller's default setting appears to be barely suppressed rage coupled with a deep sense of indignation that public reaction to the Trump administration's policies is anything other than immediate and unquestioning acceptance. And in a week where a troubled White House is facing an unusually large number of scandals and embarrassments, he mounted a full-throated defense of virtually everything that came out of the West Wing over the past seven days.

What did he think of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's insistence that the decision by the Nordstrom department store chain to stop carrying the president's daughter's line of clothes and accessories was a "direct attack" on Trump himself?

"I do want to say that Sean Spicer, as always, is 100 percent correct and that what he said is true and important," Miller said. "And I agree with it."

How about Trump's completely unsubstantiated claim that he lost the state of New Hampshire in the presidential election because of massive and organized voter fraud that involved busing out-of-state voters into the Granite State?

On the question of Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud, he said, "I'm prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime, and repeat it and say the President of the United States is correct 100 percent." On New Hampshire in particular, Miller went even further, claiming that "the issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who's worked in New Hampshire politics. It's very real. It's very serious."

The claim left ABC host George Stephanopoulos practically agog in surprise, but he still managed to point out several times that Miller refused, when asked, to offer even a shred of hard evidence that the claim was true.

Miller seemed particularly angry about the decision by a panel of federal judges in California to uphold an order blocking enforcement of the president's executive order banning refugees and the citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the US. He accused the judges, much as Trump had a few days earlier, of usurping presidential power. (And, in the process, accused them of believing the US should have no border controls at all.)

"The president's powers here are beyond question," he insisted on Fox News.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


The timeline of Trump's ties with Russia lines up with allegations of conspiracy and misconduct (Natasha Bertrand, 2/12/17, Yahoo! Finance)

Michael Flynn: A trip to Moscow, a distraction from Ukraine, and secret phone calls

Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is now Trump's national security adviser. Flynn was paid by the Kremlin to speak at a gala in December 2015, and is believed to have regularly communicated with the Russian ambassador to the US before Trump was sworn in.

What the dossier says

According to the dossier, a Kremlin official involved in US relations said that Russia attempted to cultivate US political figures by "funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow."

These political figures, the dossier alleges, included "a delegation from Lyndon LaRouche, presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and former DIA director Michael Flynn." The dossier went on to say that the effort to cultivate these figures had been "successful in terms of perceived outcomes."

The dossier alleges that the Trump campaign pledged to "raise defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine." Recent reporting indicates that Flynn, now Trump's national security advisor, is poised to make good on that pledge.

What happened

In December 2015, Flynn, then recently retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency, traveled to Moscow to speak at a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of state-sponsored news agency Russia Today.

Flynn later told The Washington Post that he had been paid to speak at the gala, where he was photographed sitting next to Putin at dinner.

Top Democratic lawmakers are now calling on the Defense Department to investigate whether Flynn ran afoul of the US Constitution by accepting money from the Kremlin. 

Since the dinner in Moscow, Flynn has toed a Russia-friendly line that's out of line with his more hawkish former US defense colleagues. He has appeared on Russia Today (RT) several times as a commentator. He also suggested last year that he saw no difference between the state-run RT and other news networks like CNN, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera.

One of Flynn's appearances on RT in October 2015 ran under the headline: "Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise Of ISIS Was A 'Willful Decision' Of US Government."

Last Tuesday, Politico reported that Flynn will recommend that Trump support the ascension of Montenegro, a small Balkan nation, into NATO. Russia officially opposes such a move. But it aligns with the dossier's suggestion that the Trump White House would support raising commitments "in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine."

Last Thursday, moreover, both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that Flynn had spoken with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about the US economic sanctions on Russia before Trump was sworn in -- including at least one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed new penalties on Russia for its election-related meddling.

Both Flynn and Vice President Mike Pence initially denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed US sanctions during these calls. But counterintelligence officials told the Times that they have transcripts of the conversations and that the sanctions were discussed. Flynn has since backtracked on his denial, saying that he doesn't recall exactly what they spoke about.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Tehran Says Eight Sunni Militants Arrested For Planning Attacks During Past Week (Radio Liberty, 2/12/17)

Iran's Intelligence Minister Mahmud Alavi says security forces have arrested eight hard-line Sunni Islamists who were suspected of planning attacks to disrupt celebrations marking the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Can This Presidency Be Saved? (Ross Douthat, FEB. 11, 2017, NY Times)

As a result, right now his presidency is in danger of being very swiftly Carterized -- ending up so unpopular, ineffectual and fractious that even with Congress controlled by its own party, it can't get anything of substance done. The war with liberals and the media may keep his base loyal and his approval ratings from bottoming out. But it does nothing to drive any kind of agenda, or pressure Congress to enact one. 

Governance from the Hill is a fine option.  As was said post-election, the four most important Republicans in America are Roberts, Ryan, McConnell & Pence.

February 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 PM


At FDR's 'Little White House,' a portrait of Trump's starkly different worldview (Patrik Jonsson, 2/11/17, CS Monitor)

"There have only been a handful of true 'regime shifts' in American political history, and perhaps the biggest one was FDR," says Brandon Weichert, a geopolitical analyst and founder of the Weichert Report, in Alexandria, Va. "We are seeing one now with Trump. And it does come at a dark time. The elites don't understand this dark vision, because to them the world is great."

"It's important to remember that every president is a product of their times."

For FDR, that meant engagement.

He championed trade deals that lowered tariffs and helped liberalize global trade. He pushed for United States membership in the World Court. And he played a crucial role in founding the United Nations after World War II.

Roosevelt used his inauguration to proclaim "that the only thing we have to fear is ... fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

In a 1940 fireside chat, Roosevelt exhorted:

There are many among us who closed their eyes, from lack of interest or lack of knowledge; honestly and sincerely thinking that the many hundreds of miles of salt water made the American Hemisphere so remote that the people of North and Central and South America could go on living in the midst of their vast resources without reference to, or danger from, other continents of the world.

At his inauguration, Trump spoke of American "carnage." With his executive powers, Trump has sought to build up America's natural barriers, abandoning the Pacific trade deal, moving toward building a Mexico border wall, and trying to temporarily keep out citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.

We yield to no one in our contempt for Donald, but to contrast him with FDR on the issues that make him particularly appalling is completely dishonest and requires ignoring, as this article does:

*FDR's refusal to help pass anti-lynching laws

*The intentional Jim Crow elements of various New Deal programs, starting with excluding farm workers (65% of the black workforce) from Social Security

*The internment of Japanese-Americans

*The racism that led to Pearl Harbor

*Restrictions on Jewish refugees from Nazism and his advocacy of the Bowman plan to spread Jews out across the world as thinly as possible.

*His collaboration with Stalin and rescue of the regime

*The Morgenthau Plan

The problem with Donald is that he is too much like FDR, not that he is dissimilar.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Trump travel ban has already hurt industry, two studies say (Hugo Martin, 2/11/17, LA Times)

The study by the market research firm Hopper compared numbers from the final two weeks of the Obama administration with the first two weeks of the Trump administration. Flight searches dropped in 94 of 122 countries in the study, with the notable exception of Russia, where flight searches to the U.S. rose 88% in that period.

To see if other factors played a role in the drop, Hopper compared flight searches for the same four weeks last year and found searches declined only 1.8% between the two comparable two-week periods, said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper.

"It's hard to see any other short-term significant events that could be related" to the drop, he said. "It does seem a pretty strong association."

Business travel bookings in the U.S. dropped 3.4% in the week after the travel ban was enacted compared with the previous week, according to the Global Business Travel Assn., the trade group for the world's travel managers.

The group estimates that the drop amounted to a $185-million loss in business travel bookings. Like Hopper, GBTA studied the booking data for the same time last year and found no significant drop.

Michael W. McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer of the GBTA, attributed the decline to confusion and uncertainty among travelers. "The net effect was that business travel bookings were delayed or canceled," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM



There are striking parallels between Bannon's worldview and the perspective of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, which see the world divided in similarly binary terms -- hence their reported enthusiasm for the executive order that Bannon helped author.

A proponent of pseudoscientific theories of history like the "Fourth Turning," Bannon has predicted the coming of another major U.S. war in the Middle East and a military conflict with what he calls an "expansionist China." In interviews during the election campaign, Bannon openly described Trump as a "blunt instrument" for his ideological goals.

A 2014 speech that Bannon delivered to an audience at the Vatican provides a hint of what kind of program he might want to use Trump to achieve. In that address, delivered via teleconference, Bannon called for a revival of the tradition of the "church militant," describing a vague yet apocalyptic threat he claims that Western countries face from both "Islamic jihadist fascism" and their own loss of religious faith.

We're at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict ... to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that's starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we've been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

Now consider how Bannon's hysterical view of history was echoed that same year in a speech by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who issued a similarly vague, yet no less frenzied call to arms:

So let the world know that we are living today in a new era. Whoever was heedless must now be alert. Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. ... You will face tribulation and fierce battle. ... So prepare your arms, and supply yourselves with piety.

Nowhere are these types of ideas particularly popular. While the Islamic State is held up by anti-Muslim activists in the United States as the quintessential expression of Muslim beliefs, in reality the group is deeply loathed in Muslim-majority countries. In the United States, though Trump won the election, his voter base comprised a distinct minority of the electorate. Even among those who did vote for him, few appear to have done so in enthusiasm for the apocalyptic theories of history held by advisers like Bannon. 
How about we just have the two fight a trial by combat.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Falcons' coaching shakeup continues; Manuel to lead defense (Associated Press, February 11, 2017)

The Atlanta Falcons on Friday continued the dramatic remaking of their coaching staff following their Super Bowl loss by promoting Marquand Manuel to defensive coordinator.

The Falcons also hired Bryant Young as defensive line coach and two assistants received new titles. Raheem Morris was named wide receivers/passing game coordinator and assistant head coach, while Doug Mallory was promoted to defensive backs coach.

On Wednesday, the team said coach Dan Quinn has dismissed coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox.

With offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kyle Shanahan leaving to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, the team has two new coordinators. Steve Sarkisian was hired from Alabama to replace Shanahan.

Folks often complain about how the Pats have an easy schedule because they get to play in the AFC East, but they fail to reckon with Bill Belichick's role in keeping them down.  The Falcons were a play or two from winning the Super Bowl and proceeded to blow up their whole staff.  AFC East teams get beat twice a year by the Pats so they engage in this sort of idiocy almost yearly.

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Trump Foreign Policy Quickly Loses Its Sharp Edge (MARK LANDLER, FEB. 10, 2017, NY Times)

When President Trump took a phone call from the leader of Taiwan in December and asserted that the United States might no longer be bound by the "One China" policy, his defenders hailed it as a show of strength -- the latest delicate issue on which Mr. Trump was willing to challenge decades of diplomatic orthodoxy.

On Thursday evening, Mr. Trump fell back into line. In a call with President Xi Jinping of China, he pledged fealty to One China, a 44-year-old policy under which the United States recognized a single Chinese government in Beijing and severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Mr. Trump has also tacked to the center on Israel. After presenting himself as a stalwart defender of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who would buck the pressure campaign against Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Mr. Trump warned Israelis this week that he did not believe that "going ahead with these settlements is a good thing for peace."

And on Iran, where Mr. Trump threatened as a candidate to rip up the nuclear deal struck by President Barack Obama, advisers to the new president told the European Union's top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, that the United States would fully carry out the agreement.

When you boil away the noise the only distinctive feature of this presidency that remains outside the mainstream is his hatred of the other, which we haven't seen since Woodrow Wilson.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


CIA freezes out top Flynn aide (KENNETH P. VOGEL and JOSH DAWSEY 02/10/17, Politico)

A top deputy to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was rejected for a critical security clearance, effectively ending his tenure on the National Security Council and escalating tensions between Flynn and the intelligence community.

The move came as Flynn's already tense relationships with others in the Trump administration and the intelligence community were growing more fraught after reports that Flynn had breached diplomatic protocols in his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. [...]

One of the sources said that the rejection was approved by Trump's CIA director Mike Pompeo and that it infuriated Flynn and his allies.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM

WHERE'D YOU HIDE THE COOKIES? (profanity alert):

'I thought I was smarter than almost everybody': my double life as a KGB agent : Raised in East Germany, Jack Barsky abandoned his mother, brother, wife and son to spy for the KGB. In America, he started a second family. And then it all came crashing down... (Shaun Walker, 11 February 2017, The Guardian)

Dittrich was given his mission: to establish contacts with foreign policy think tanks, and in particular President Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was given little guidance as to how he should do this, or even how best to blend into US society. The people who trained him had little feeling for the real fabric of America, its visceral, unquantifiable essence. "It's as if they had spent time looking at fish swimming in an aquarium, and now they are training you to be a fish," Barsky says. "But they don't actually know what it's like to be a fish." [...]

Barsky made his last trip to Moscow in 1986. He was introduced to an industrial espionage officer who told him to start stealing. "He was quite open with me. He said the Soviets were hurting. 'We need hardware, software, whatever you can find.'" He gave them software his company used, via dead drop, but never knew if they used it.

In 1988, a year after Chelsea was born, Barsky got the message from the KGB to run. Although he had grown disillusioned with Soviet communism, he had never considered defecting, he says, and did not want to go to the FBI now. "I had withdrawn into a kind of agnosticism. I would probably have called myself a socialist, but I tried not to think about it."

He ignored the warning. More messages, increasingly insistent, came through on his shortwave radio. A couple of weeks later, he was approached by a stranger on a subway platform, who told him that if he did not come home, he was a dead man. It was the first time someone from the Soviet side had made contact with him inside the US.

But Barsky was determined to stay. He wrote to Moscow, telling the KGB he had contracted HIV from a woman he had dated and profiled, and that he needed treatment he could get only in the US; he had no plans to defect. Remarkably, this ruse seemed to work. The Soviets were terrified of HIV, the USSR was starting to fray at the seams and Mikhail Gorbachev's new policy of openness was putting pressure on the KGB. The higher-ups presumably had other things on their mind; chasing a rogue agent was not a priority.

And so Barsky settled into family life. He and Penelope had another child, a son called Jessie, but the marriage began to fall apart. He decided to tell his wife the truth, hoping it might save the marriage. "Do you know what I've risked for you? I could have been captured or killed," he told her. But she was angry rather than grateful: if he was here illegally, that meant Penelope was, too, and that her children could be taken from her.

That conversation, in 1997, proved fateful in more ways than one. Barsky had in fact been trailed for several years by the FBI. His name had been discovered in files copied from KGB archives by Vasili Mitrokin, an archivist who walked into the British embassy in Riga in 1991 to offer up his secrets. The FBI had kept an eye on Barsky's house, sometimes dressed as birdwatchers; they searched his car and had MI5 tail Penelope on a trip to London. They even bought the house next door and moved two agents in, who grew frustrated that there seemed so little out of the ordinary about his life. Perhaps he was a sleeper agent, waiting for a signal from Moscow.

Eventually, they bugged the family home; when Barsky confessed everything to Penelope, the FBI concluded he had left active service and made their move. Barsky was pulled over while driving, and told that, if he cooperated, he might not go to prison. "I agreed immediately. I told them everything I knew," he says. In 2009, he received a green card, and in August 2014 a genuine US passport, in the name of Jack Barsky, the identity stolen for him by the KGB.

After Barsky's marriage to Penelope came to an end, he cried himself to sleep every night, he says. "There was no reason for me to exist any more. I was in my 50s, my kids were out of the house, my marriage was on the rocks. What was the point?" It was more than a decade since he'd had any contact with his German wife Gerlinde and their son Matthias.

He moved between jobs, working for various companies, first as a programmer, then as a head of IT. He began a slow romance with his assistant, Shawna, and later married her. They now live an hour outside Atlanta with their six-year-old daughter, Trinity. Through Shawna, Barsky has found God, filling the hole left after the evaporation of his communist zeal. Joe Reilly, the FBI agent who worked Barsky's case and led his interrogations, has become a good friend and Trinity's godfather.

Shawna, who is Jamaican and moved to the US a little more than a decade ago, smiles when she tells me about her first date with Barsky. He decided to tell her everything about his past, making her one of the few people outside the FBI who knew his real story. But she simply laughed. "I used to be married to a man who lied a lot," she says, "so I didn't really want to hear it. I thought he was a quirky guy, and I thought, 'OK, if you want to live in this fantasy world, fine - but no need to talk about it.'" It was only years later, she says, that she realised his story about growing up in Germany might be true.

Barsky's new life is reassuringly suburban, that of the "natural-born American" he was sent out to be, but there are a few behavioural tics he has carried over from his KGB days. Occasionally, when out running, he sees a car parked in an unusual place and darts away from the road, zigzagging to lose any potential trails. Usually, it turns out to be birdwatchers (real ones) or amorous young couples. The habit of dead drops and secret hiding places has not completely left him, either, just morphed into a habit of hiding cookies. "I know I shouldn't have them, so I hide them. Various places - you can't make a pattern. Shawna says I don't need to hide them, but I can't help myself."

They'd have learned more about America by just believing what they read in the New York Times.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


There will be much less work in the future. We need to rethink our societies (Mark Dodgson & David Gann, 14 December 2016, world Economic Forum)

Applications being developed for the use of artificial intelligence, robotics, big data and the Internet of Everything are enormously consequential. Yet the disruptive effects of innovation are nothing new: the farm worker, transported to the industrial factory in the latter half of the 18th century, would have experienced levels of devastation to their lives and society that make the present changes seem minor in comparison. These changes, which continued for more than a century, sparked backlashes from the Luddites, revolutionary ferment from Karl Marx, and inspired Benjamin Disraeli's lament that Britain had become "two nations" almost irredeemably divided.

While society has made transitions in the past, contemporary reality is extremely troublesome. According to an Oxford University study, 47% of US jobs are threatened by computerisation. Casualisation or zero-hours contracts pose threats to many. Large proportions of those put out of work will be in their 40s and 50s, with decades to wait before they can claim pensions. A new poverty trap may be opening up. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warns of the "first lost decade" in wage growth "since the 1860s" when "Karl Marx was scribbling in the British Library."

As Joseph Schumpeter argued 75 years ago, innovation is a process of creative destruction. The social and political challenge is to accentuate the creative and mitigate the destructive.

We need to balance the debate that celebrates the virtues of rapid change, agility and entrepreneurship; with consideration of the ways societies, and their citizens, cope with and benefit from the considerable turbulence generated by technological change. The political backlash to this comparative lack of concern is seen in Trumpism and Brexit. Globalisation, productivity and innovation may be the mantra for their beneficiaries, but for many they mean job losses, working harder, and ever more uncertainty at work.

...is that the greatest "crisis" we face is the fact that we can create ever more wealth with an ever decreasing labor input. What we have a simple wealth distribution question.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Is ISIS Breaking Apart?  (Charlie Winter and Colin P. Clarke, 1/31/17, Rand)

With the Islamic State (or ISIS) facing setbacks in Iraq and Syria, most observers believe that the group is crumbling. Indeed, just last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared eastern Mosul "fully liberated" from the group. Evidently, the U.S.-led coalition tasked with countering ISIS, well into the third year of its ongoing military campaign, has made progress. As a result of efforts in Iraq and Syria in 2016 alone, several high-ranking leaders have been killed or captured, the group's finances have taken a serious hit, and it is hemorrhaging territory. Over the next few years, ISIS is sure to break apart further.

As it does, it will likely walk down one of two paths. In the first possibility, its disintegration could wind up giving more weight to the group's center of gravity, even as it becomes weaker overall. Alternatively, it could follow the example of al Qaeda in the 2000s and break down in a way that will diminish the influence of its core in Iraq and Syria while providing momentum to its provincial operations in such places as Afghanistan, Libya, the Sinai Peninsula, and Yemen.

Some analysts, such as Clint Watts, see ISIS' splintering as a potential win for counterterrorism, especially if it results in what he calls "destructive terrorist competition," a dynamic that implicitly subverts the group's ideology by pushing affiliates into provincialism and rotting the central core. [...]

In the self-proclaimed caliphate's heyday in 2014 and 2015, the group was much better at marketing itself as a supra-state insurgency. From West Africa to South Asia, its affiliates did not just adopt its terrorist project; they also incorporated its governance efforts. With varying degrees of complexity, the legal, juridical, educative, and propagandistic structures that had been developed in Syria and Iraq were transplanted abroad. Through its official media, ISIS stoked support around the world for its vivid unreality--the Salafi jihadist utopia--and presented a comprehensive and exactingly consistent picture of what life there was supposedly like. However, as its overseas output declined and would-be recruits were stopped from leaving, ISIS' international recruitment rate has collapsed.

Despite mainstream conceptions, propaganda was never merely fodder for international recruiters--ISIS also used it to coerce acquiescence over locals in the areas it claimed to govern. Indeed, no matter how weak its presence in a given territory was, it could always use propaganda to frame the diffuse insurgent cells as blossoming communities and inflate its ideological allure, thereby presenting itself as a far more resilient and successful organization than it ever actually was. When, for example, its siege of Kobane was broken in 2015, the group simply deflected its true believers away from Syria, directing their attention toward Libya to provide them with the momentum they so sorely needed. It mattered not that Libya, which is now all but lost to ISIS, was never the safe haven it was cracked up to be--through propaganda, ISIS supporters were duped into thinking it was an inviolable stronghold.

For all this to be successful, regular communication overseas was crucial. To harmonize the brand and keep the message uniform, there had to be constant daily exchanges between affiliates and the core. Propaganda cannot be spontaneous--the narrative must always hold, something that requires centralization. Through maintaining such constant communications in late 2014 and 2015, ISIS was able to bombard viewers with its staggeringly repetitive global narrative. Now, though, things are different. Indeed, currently, it is unusual to come across propaganda hailing from one of ISIS' affiliates in, say, Libya, Yemen, or South Asia. There are no two ways about it--the brand is localizing, and Syria and Iraq are now coming out on top.

The caliphate's apparent turn inward could have a great deal to do with the core's withering ability to curate the message. As any totalitarian organization would calculate, no propaganda at all is better than some propaganda that is off message. However, none of this means that ISIS is evaporating--rather, the threat is just changing. The overseas fans have not disappeared, nor have they given up Salafi jihadism. Rather, ISIS' core is simply focusing more on remaining and surviving than it is on expanding.

The defeat of ISIS was comparatively easy--all that was required was to deny them the establishment of the Caliphate in the required geographical location.  Now they revert to normal Salafi terror and what will be required is a return to W's goal of establishing functional protestant capitalist democracy in the Arab world, as the rest of the Muslim world already enjoys.
Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


President Trump is wasting your time (James Pethokoukis, February 8, 2017, The Week)

A more likely outcome to the Trump Show is probably something far more prosaic. Maybe we'll look back on his presidency not as a dystopian nightmare, but instead as a total and complete waste of our valuable time.

I don't just mean the way President Trump triggers outrage after emotion-draining outrage with his Twitter account. The larger time-waster is this: Trumpism is built around unworkable solutions in search of actual problems. And the opening weeks of his administration suggest President Trump has no better grip on the real-world challenges facing America than candidate Trump did.

His immigration ban is perhaps the most obvious example. Banning tourists, immigrants, and refugees from some Muslim countries from entering the United States addresses what pressing issue, exactly? Refugees already undergo extreme vetting. And you have a much greater chance of getting killed by lightning strike than refugee terror attacks. This overhyped policy is a total waste of time.

Then there's his core of Trumponomics: risking a global trade war to "bring back" manufacturing jobs long lost to automation, not offshoring. Waste of time.

Or how about building his expensive megawall -- even though the undocumented immigrant population has stabilized, and maybe 40 percent or so are visa overstays, not border-crossers? Waste of time.

A wonkier Trump policy distraction, one shared by many congressional Republicans, is to repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Opponents claim it is supposedly suffocating business lending and thus economic growth. After signing an executive order to review the law last week, Trump told reporters how "so many people, friends of mine, with nice businesses, they can't borrow money, because the banks just won't let them borrow because of the rules and regulations and Dodd-Frank."

Anecdotes aren't data, something Trump's economic council could tell him if he had one. Commercial lending has been expanding three times as fast as the economy since 2013. And during an analyst conference call last month, Bloomberg noted, a top JPMorgan executive described loan growth as "robust." Another waste of time.

Of course with these time wasters come massive opportunity costs.

The UR didn't do anything either--beyond the WoT, the Heritage mandate and trade--and the Republic is doing fine.  It's the best possible time for wheel-spinning.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Donald Trump Is Living Out All the Ridiculous Stereotypes of a Female President (Lauren Duca, Feb 10 2017, Vice)

The reasoning behind the institutionalized sexism that has kept women from the Oval Office isn't usually explained, but the idiotic stereotypes mostly have to do with emotion. Women are too emotional to be trusted with the highest office in the free world. They'll make "rash decisions," possibly while PMSing. They could be signing executive orders, and conducting foreign policy, and condemning private offices and individuals guided by no discernible metric beyond the flow of hormones! Look how emotional I'm getting right now! I'm a triggered snowflake, right? (By the way, the inversion version of this argument, published by TIME in 2015, is that Clinton would be a good president because she's already gone through menopause.)

Here's the ironic part: All of the nonsense behind the misogynistic fear of a female president has been coming to fruition in Donald Trump's first weeks in office. 

Conservatives think.  Liberals feel.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Poll Finds New Hampshire Residents Are Split on Trump's Performance (Valley News, February 11, 2017)

Opinion about President Donald Trump is sharply divided in New Hampshire, according to a new Granite State Poll released on Friday by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Some 48 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Trump's job performance thus far, but 43 percent said they approved of the Republican president's actions; 8 percent were neutral.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Why a Travel Restriction Won't Stop Terrorism at Home (Brian Michael Jenkins, 2/10/17, Rand)

The principal terrorist threat faced by the United States comes from residents who radicalize themselves and plot to carry out local attacks. Fortunately, their numbers have been relatively few. Despite constant exhortations from jihadist organizations abroad, their violent extremist ideology has gained little traction among America's Muslims. [...]

Since 9/11, terrorists inspired by jihadist ideology have carried out 16 attacks in the United States: Seven involved fatalities and eight of them injured people. In the remaining case -- the would-be Times Square bomber in 2010 -- the device failed to detonate.

This is a low number, especially when considering it encompasses a period of more than 15 years. In the 1970s, the U.S. experienced 50 to 60 terrorist bombings a year, although most of the attacks were not intended to kill but were meant to be symbolic violence.

Some analyses might add a few more attacks to this list. The differences reflect judgments about motives, which can be murky.

In addition to the attacks, there have been almost 80 jihadist terrorist plots over these same 15 years. Working together, FBI agents and local police have been able to uncover and disrupt more than 80 percent of these -- a remarkable record. In many cases, investigations began with tips from the Muslim community.

A total of 147 people in the United States participated in attacks or plotted others that were thwarted by the authorities. Again, this is a low number -- an average of fewer than nine people a year since 9/11.

Most of these plots and attacks -- 105 out of 147 -- were planned by U.S. citizens. Another 20 of the plotters were legal permanent residents, most of whom arrived in the United States as children. In other words, 85 percent of the terrorists lived in the U.S a long time before carrying out an attack -- they radicalized within the nation's borders.

A total of 89 people died in the jihadist attacks. Every one of these deaths was needless and tragic. However, the added risk to public safety in a country that averages 15,000 homicides a year was statistically minuscule.

The republic is not in peril.

What is at work here is terrorism -- acts of violence calculated to create fear and alarm. It is often effective. Terrorism can also act as a condenser of society's broader anxieties. Illegal immigration has caused widespread concern, which amplifies the perceived terrorist threat.

Had this temporary prohibition been in effect since 9/11, how many lives would have been saved? Not one. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Thoughts on a Strange Day--and a Very Strange Presidential Tweet (Benjamin Wittes, February 10, 2017, Lawfare)

Yet there it was--a tweet that was, in and of itself, utterly insignificant yet at the same time, the more I thought about it over the course of the day, reinforcing of a wide array of concerns this site has been covering about the way Donald Trump is mismanaging the Office of the President:

 Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
LAWFARE: "Remarkably, in the entire opinion, the panel did not bother even to cite this (the) statute." A disgraceful decision!
8:15 AM - 10 Feb 2017
  15,990 15,990 Retweets   76,323 76,323 likes

The reference was to my short article from last night about the 9th Circuit's denial of a stay of the district court's freezing of Trump's noxious executive order on visas and refugees. No, I had not said or implied that the decision was disgraceful (with or without an exclamation point). And while I had indeed noted the omission in the ruling that Trump was trumpeting and criticized some of the virtue signaling in the opinion, I had noted some other things as well. For example, I had written that "The Ninth Circuit is correct to leave the TRO in place, in my view." I had argued that the key question in the case was whether "the repeated and overt invocations of the most invidious motivations on the part of the President himself, his campaign, his adviser, and his Twitter feed will render an otherwise valid exercise of this power invalid." And I had concluded the post by describing "the incompetent malevolence with which this order was promulgated."

You read that correctly: The President of the United States was tweeting approvingly an article describing his motivations as "invidious" and describing his actions using the phrase "incompetent malevolence."

...that Donald agrees about his own incompetent malevolence, given the reports about turmoil and depression in the White House?

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Elections official asks Trump for evidence of voter fraud (Reuters, 2/11/17)

A member of the Federal Election Commission on Friday called on President Donald Trump to share any evidence he has to support a statement that voter fraud caused him and former Senator Kelly Ayotte to lose in New Hampshire in the 2016 U.S. election.

"The scheme the President of the United States alleges would constitute thousands of felony criminal offenses under New Hampshire law," FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said in a statement. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Wind Power Becomes Number-one Source of Renewable Energy (SARAH JASMINE MONTGOMERY, 2/10/17, Texas Monthly)

According to new information from the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Wind Energy Association, wind power production exceeded hydroelectric power for the first time in 2016. Wind energy is now the number-one source of renewable energy in the country, producing 82,183 megawatts of electricity.

As the cost of wind energy production continues to fall, companies are investing more in wind farms across the country, especially in Texas. Texas produces 20,321 megawatts of electricity from wind energy. That's one-quarter of the national total and triple the amount of any other state. There are 11,592 turbines across the state of Texas. That energy output is the equivalent of powering 5.7 million average homes. On average, Texans get about 13 percent of their power from wind energy.

On top of energy production, the growing wind energy market is creating a large number of jobs. The Department of Labor projected that "wind service technician" will be the nation's fastest-growing occupation. The wind industry currently employs almost 102,000 workers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Could Trump End Up Saving the Export-Important Bank? (YLAN Q. MUI, 2/11/17, CNBC)

Pushback is emerging among conservative Republicans over President Donald Trump's apparent support for the Export-Import Bank, an institution they have pilloried as a giveaway to big businesses.

The Ex-Im bank, as it's called, assists U.S. companies' overseas business by doing things such as guaranteeing loans for foreign buyers of U.S. products, or insuring transactions. The agency takes on credit risks that private companies, including banks, aren't willing to accept.

Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a vocal critic of the bank, is maintaining his opposition, a spokesperson said Friday. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who co-sponsored a bill with Amash to abolish the bank, also said Friday that it should be repealed. And the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action reiterated that it believes the bank should be dismantled. More than 90 lawmakers have previously opposed the bank, according to a list compiled by the group.

"The Export-Import Bank is little more than a corporate welfare agency," Heritage Action said in a statement Friday.

This is outstanding for opponents of Donald.  Wasting what little political capital he has on trivia like this just sets up a more antagonistic relationship with Republicans on stuff that matters. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


You Can Now Read The Whole Talmud Online - For Free (Lilly Maier, February 8, 2017, The Forward)

Given that it's is one if not the most essential Jewish texts, the Talmud can be surprisingly hard to come by. But not anymore: The Jewish start-up Sefaria just released a free digital version into the public domain.

The William Davidson Talmud is an edition of the Babylonian Talmud with parallel translations into English and Modern Hebrew.

The interactive online version of the text is also interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts.

And you can also use it beyond Sefaria's website. The Talmud was published with a Creative Commons non-commercial license, which means that it is part of the public domain and everyone can use and re-use it, as long as you don't make money from it.


February 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


'Now they live in the light': A Syrian refugee family finds only love and compassion in America (Colby Itkowitz February 10, 2017, Washington Post)

Maher Almahasneh returned home from his English language class to a small living room filled with guests. He calls them friends.

Harley Kooker, a 71-year-old dairy cattle veterinarian, was huddled in a kitchen corner assembling a new portable washing machine he'd persuaded a local appliance store to donate. His wife, Kate, was sitting on the couch letting the Almahasnehs' 7-year-old daughter measure her head and her waist with a tape measure. Their case manager from Church World Service was also there, as was an Arabic translator. Within the hour two more women from their Mennonite church welcome team would drop in to say a quick hello.

Here in Lancaster County, a politically conservative area well known for its Amish community, traditional Christian values run deep. Since the Church World Service opened a Lancaster office 30 years ago, it has been a favored destination for resettling refugees because churches here easily assemble welcome teams whose members see it as a godly duty to care for those in need.

In the last fiscal year, Lancaster County resettled more than 400 refugees from all over the world, with the largest numbers coming from the Congo and Syria. Trump's executive order to ban refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria, is hard for members of the Almahasnehs' welcome team to fathom, especially now that they have grown close to the family. The ban is in the name of national security, the Trump White House says, but they look at this family that has endured so much and wants so little and can't understand why anyone would fear them.

"When I see refugees now being shut off like that I think how on earth can we be so hardhearted," said Harley, who first worked with refugees in Vietnam as a conscientious objector to that war. "I was always taught that we love whoever regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, you know, that's who my Jesus is, that's what my Jesus taught."

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers (CAITLIN DICKERSON and JENNIFER MEDINAFEB. 9, 2017, NY Times)

Jeff Marchini and others in the Central Valley here bet their farms on the election of Donald J. Trump. His message of reducing regulations and taxes appealed to this Republican stronghold, one of Mr. Trump's strongest bases of support in the state.

As for his promises about cracking down on illegal immigrants, many assumed Mr. Trump's pledges were mostly just talk. But two weeks into his administration, Mr. Trump has signed executive orders that have upended the country's immigration laws. Now farmers here are deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them.

"Everything's coming so quickly," Mr. Marchini said. "We're not loading people into buses or deporting them, that's not happening yet." As he looked out over a crew of workers bent over as they rifled through muddy leaves to find purple heads of radicchio, he said that as a businessman, Mr. Trump would know that farmers had invested millions of dollars into produce that is growing right now, and that not being able to pick and sell those crops would represent huge losses for the state economy. "I'm confident that he can grasp the magnitude and the anxiety of what's happening now."

Dude, you're alone in thinking he grasps economics.
Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


US investigators corroborate some aspects of the Russia dossier (Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez, 2/10/17, CNN)

The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.

But the intercepts do confirm that some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier, according to the officials. CNN has not confirmed whether any content relates to then-candidate Trump.

The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement "greater confidence" in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Another Federal Judge Questions Trump's Travel Ban (ARUNA VISWANATHA and  BRENT KENDALL, Feb. 10, 2017, NY Times)

Judge Brinkema, weighing a legal challenge to the order by the state of Virginia, repeatedly asked why the Trump administration had provided no evidence to support the president's determination that the executive order was necessary. "Courts have been begging you," she said.

The judge said the White House essentially admitted that it overreached when the travel ban was initially applied to green-card holders, who are lawful permanent residents of the U.S. The White House issued a memorandum on Feb. 1 to say the immigration order didn't apply to those people.

Judge Brinkema also read extensively from a statement from former national-security officials who served in Democratic and Republican administrations who said the executive order makes the U.S. less safe and could cause long-term damage to U.S. interests. "I don't have a scintilla of evidence," that counters that statement, she said.

There are "all kinds of defects in the record at this point," the judge said.

Judge Brinkema also said there was "strong, colorable evidence" that the intent of Mr. Trump's order was discriminatory.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Trump dumped Abrams over his criticisms during the campaign, sources say (ELIANA JOHNSON, 02/10/17, Politico)

President Donald Trump intervened at the last moment to deny Rex Tillerson his pick to be deputy secretary of state--former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams.

The president overruled his secretary of state after meeting with Tillerson, Abrams, and son-in-law Jared Kushner after reading news reports about their meeting, which included references to Abrams' criticisms of Trump during last year's presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the decision. Though his staff was aware of Abrams's statements, the president was not -- until he read news reports about their meeting earlier this week.

If he only employs people who approve of him he'll have no one on staff worth employing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Best and Worst States for Retirement 2017 (Richard Barrington, 2/06/17, MoneyRates.com)

4. New Hampshire

Best States for Retirement 2017 - 4. New Hampshire

The New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are all clustered together around this stage of the rankings, and it is no surprise because these neighbors share some characteristics. Like Maine, New Hampshire is not going to win any prizes for its climate, but it does benefit from very low crime rates. While New Hampshire isn't quite as popular with older residents as Maine, the proportion of its population aged 60 or older does rank in the top 10 nationally.

Crime rates are, in part, a function of climate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


When the world gets you down, try a few Midsomer Murders (Emma Brockes, 9 February 2017, The guardian)

After binge-consuming bad news for two weeks I have given up, and now find myself bingeing instead on something designed to soothe the nerves but that, in its country of origin at least, has come to stand for something much gloomier: episode after episode of Midsomer Murders.

It is hard to explain to American friends, some of whom have watched and admired the show, quite the nature of the disregard in which it is held. It is as slickly made as Inspector Morse, with the same am-dram overtones. John Nettles, who appeared in the first 80 - 80! - episodes, is the standard curmudgeonly turn-of-the-millennium British TV detective. The premise is ludicrous - with a body count that, over the years, exceeds the population of the village - but no more so than Miss Marple.

And yet, uniquely among these titles, not only has Midsomer Murders become shorthand for a version of England considered narrow to the point of offensive, but also the idea of watching it is thought akin to slow death, like Songs of Praise but a thousand times worse.

Not now, however. If the aim of escapism is to travel as far from one's present condition as possible, then Midsomer Murders is the most outlandish journey I can make in one evening, back to a time of affable sexism and coded homophobia. A teacher sleeps with a pupil and the storyline lays the blame squarely on the latter. I had always imagined the broad appeal of the show to be that it took place in a "gentler time", before everyone spoke in italics, but that's not it at all. Watching Midsomer Murders is like finding an old copy of News of the World lying around in a Home Counties pub: all tarts and vicars and incest. It's amazing.

First rule of Midsomer, if Tom's wife wants to participate in your village group, run!

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


The US economy may be growing faster than we think -- and has been for a long time (James Pethokoukis, 2/09/17, AEIdeas)

And now there's a new research paper on the subject. See, it's widely known that measuring quality improvements in a product is tough. So perhaps traditional inflation measures like the consumer price index fail to fully capture the benefits of new or upgraded products. (This seems to be particularly true when it come to software.) In a San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank working paper, "Missing Growth from Creative Destruction," researchers add to that argument:

We argue that there exists a subtler, overlooked bias in the case of creative destruction. When the producer of the outgoing item does not produce the incoming item (i.e., when there is creative destruction), the standard procedure at statistical offices is to resort to some form of imputation. Imputation inserts the average price growth among a set of surviving products that were not creatively destroyed. We think this misses some growth because inflation is likely to be below-average for items subject to creative destruction. ... As some products disappear precisely because they are displaced by better products, inflation may be lower at these points than for surviving products. As a result, creative destruction may result in overstated inflation and understated growth.

The researchers used two different ways to try to measure the possibly missing growth: 0.5 percentage points per year on average one way, 1 percentage point per year on average the other. That's a lot of growth!

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Trump brings up vote fraud again, this time in meeting with senators (ELI STOKOLS, 02/10/1, pOLITICO)

As soon as the door closed and the reporters allowed to observe for a few minutes had been ushered out, Trump began to talk about the election, participants said, triggered by the presence of former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who lost her reelection bid in November and is now working for Trump as a Capitol Hill liaison, or "Sherpa," on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch.

The president claimed that he and Ayotte both would have been victorious in the Granite State if not for the "thousands" of people who were "brought in on buses" from neighboring Massachusetts to "illegally" vote in New Hampshire.

According to one participant who described the meeting, "an uncomfortable silence" momentarily overtook the room.

Hillary Clinton narrowly won New Hampshire's four electoral votes over Trump by nearly 3,000 votes. Ayotte's margin of defeat was even slimmer: 743 votes.

She, as was typical of the GOP down ticket, ran ahead of him, just not by enough against a very strong opponent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Endowment Sweepstakes: How Tiny Houghton College Beat Harvard (JAMES B. STEWART, 2/09/17, NY Times)

[T]he smallest endowments outperformed the billion-plus group, losing 1 percent, on average, compared with a 1.9 percent decline for the biggest endowments.

Results were even worse for endowments of $500 million to $1 billion, which lost on average 2.2 percent.

Falling behind by nearly a full percentage point has a huge impact on giant endowments like Harvard's, which stood at $35.7 billion at the end of the fiscal year. Harvard said its investments declined by 2 percent, and its endowment total dropped by $2 billion because of the investment losses and spending. Harvard is now shaking up its endowment management.

Yale did much better than many of its peers, gaining 3.4 percent. But that still lagged the 4 percent return over the same period for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index and wasn't enough to offset spending. Yale's total endowment dropped by $200 million, to $25.4 billion.

Compare the results with those of Houghton College, a liberal arts institution affiliated with the Wesleyan Church in the Genesee Valley in western New York. Houghton has just over a thousand students and an endowment of $46.4 million.

Houghton emerged in the top quartile of all endowments, according to Nacubo, with a return of 11.85 percent for the year ended Sept. 30. (Houghton uses a different fiscal year.) For the calendar year, the results were also impressive, at 7.54 percent. Houghton has been able to lower its spending rate -- the amount it withdraws each year to fund operations -- to an enviable 4.5 percent, and may be able to lower it further, to 4 percent.

How did tiny Houghton do it?

The answer is pretty simple: Houghton got out of hedge funds and all alternative investments a year and a half ago, and moved the entire portfolio to a mix of low-cost index funds and mutual funds at the fund giant Vanguard.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


A Gift for Donald Trump (David Brooks, Feb. 10th, 2017, NY Times)

Fraternity is the desire to make friends during both good and hostile occasions and to be faithful to those friends. The fraternal person is seeking harmony and fair play between individuals. He is trying to move the world from tension to harmony.

Donald Trump didn't have to have an administration that was at war with everyone but its base. He came to office with a populist mandate that cut across partisan categories. He could have created unorthodox coalitions and led unexpected alliances that would have broken the logjam of our politics.

He didn't have to have a vicious infighting administration in which everybody leaks against one another and in which backstairs life is a war of all against all.

He doesn't have to begin each day making enemies: Nordstrom, John McCain, judges. He could begin each day looking for friends, and he would actually get a lot more done.

On Inauguration Day, when Trump left his wife in the dust so he could greet the Obamas, I didn't realize how quickly having a discourteous leader would erode the conversation. But look at how many of any day's news stories are built around enmity. The war over who can speak in the Senate. Kellyanne Conway's cable TV battle du jour. Half my Facebook feed is someone linking to a video with the headline: Watch X demolish Y.

I doubt that Trump will develop a capacity for fraternity any time soon, but to be human is to hold out hope, and to believe that even a guy as old and self-destructive as Trump is still 0.001 percent open to a transformation of the heart.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Trump may have undermined the legal case for his immigration ban in 2 major ways (Natasha Bertrand, 2/10/17, Business Insider)

Legal challenges to presidential executive orders are almost always "an automatic win" for the government, especially when they invoke national-security concerns, said William Stock, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

But the lawsuits against Trump's immigration order -- which Trump has said he would appeal up to the Supreme Court -- seem to be an exception for two major reasons, Stock said: "The first is 12 months' worth of statements about a 'Muslim ban.' The second is the president's habitual misstatements of facts and statistics that I really think have caused the court to look upon his claims about the national-security imperative for this order with great skepticism."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Trump vexed by challenges, scale of government : The new president's allies say he has been surprised that government can't be run like his business. (ALEX ISENSTADT, KENNETH P. VOGEL and JOSH DAWSEY, 02/10/17, Politico)

Being president is harder than Donald Trump thought, according to aides and allies who say that he's growing increasingly frustrated with the challenges of running the massive federal bureaucracy.

In interviews, nearly two dozen people who've spent time with Trump in the three weeks since his inauguration said that his mood has careened between surprise and anger as he's faced the predictable realities of governing, from congressional delays over his cabinet nominations and legal fights holding up his aggressive initiatives to staff in-fighting and leaks.

The administration's rocky opening days have been a setback for a president who, as a billionaire businessman, sold himself to voters as being uniquely qualified to fix what ailed the nation. Yet it has become apparent, say those close to the president, most of whom requested anonymity to describe the inner workings of the White House, that the transition from overseeing a family business to running the country has been tough on him.

There's a reason most successful presidents have been governors; they're prepared.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


FACT CHECK: Trump's Yemen Raid -- 'Winning Mission' Or 'Failure'? It's Not So Simple (Domenico Montanaro, Tom Bowman, Danielle Kurtzleben, 2/09/17, NPR)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Feb. 2 that the raid was planned last November -- under the Obama administration -- and that the goal of the mission was to get information.

But neither is true, NPR's Tom Bowman reports.

Rather, the specific place of this eventual raid was identified in November as one to focus on. (Other potential places were also identified.)

"The goal of the raid was intelligence-gathering," Spicer said Tuesday, "and that's what we received, and that's what we got. That's why we can deem it a success."

But the U.S. would not send in SEAL Team Six, the premiere anti-terrorist commandos, to pick up some cellphones and computers, a U.S. official told Bowman.

Part of the effort was to get top al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, leaders. While more than a dozen militants were killed, a top target, Qassim al-Rimi, either slipped away or was not at the location.

Rimi is the leader of AQAP, seen as a top recruiter and the third-most-dangerous terrorist in the world. Bowman confirmed that Rimi was "one of the objectives," along with disrupting planning and plotting, in addition to collecting material.

What's more, a U.S. official expressed concern that Trump made the decision over dinner. This should have been decided with rigorous debate in the Situation Room, the official said.

Many remember the iconic photo released by the White House of former President Obama surrounded by advisers during the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. The concern with the Yemen raid is the impression that this decision was made too cavalierly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Taboo Italian Thinker Is Enigma to Many, but Not to Bannon (Jason Horowitz, Feb. 10th, 2017, NY Times)

Those trying to divine the roots of Stephen K. Bannon's dark and at times apocalyptic worldview have repeatedly combed over a speech that Mr. Bannon, President Trump's ideological guru, made in 2014 to a Vatican conference, where he expounded on Islam, populism and capitalism.

But for all the examination of those remarks, a passing reference by Mr. Bannon to an esoteric Italian philosopher has gone little noticed, except perhaps by scholars and followers of the deeply taboo, Nazi-affiliated thinker, Julius Evola. [...]

Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and Italy's post-Fascist terrorists of the 1960s and 1970s looked to him as a spiritual and intellectual godfather.

They called themselves Children of the Sun after Evola's vision of a bourgeoisie-smashing new order that he called the Solar Civilization. Today, the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn includes his works on its suggested reading list, and the leader of Jobbik, the Hungarian nationalist party, admires Evola and wrote an introduction to his works.

More important for the current American administration, Evola also caught on in the United States with leaders of the alt-right movement, which Mr. Bannon nurtured as the head of Breitbart News and then helped harness for Mr. Trump. [...]

A March article titled "An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right" in Breitbart, the website then run by Mr. Bannon, included Evola as one of the thinkers in whose writings the "origins of the alternative right" could be found.

The article was co-written by Milo Yiannopoulos, the right-wing provocateur who is wildly popular with conservatives on college campuses. Mr. Trump recently defended Mr. Yiannopoulos as a symbol of free speech after demonstrators violently protested his planned speech at the University of California, Berkeley. [...]

The reality, historians say, is that Evola sought to "infiltrate and influence" the Fascists, as Mr. Sedgwick put it, as a powerful vehicle to spread his ideas.

In his Vatican talk, Mr. Bannon suggested that although Mr. Putin represented a "kleptocracy," the Russian president understood the existential danger posed by "a potential new caliphate" and the importance of using nationalism to stand up for traditional institutions.

"We, the Judeo-Christian West," Mr. Bannon added, "really have to look at what he's talking about as far as Traditionalism goes -- particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism."

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


The Far-Reaching Consequences of Belarus's Conflict with Russia (Artyom  Shraibman, 2/08/17, Carnegie Moscow Center)

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko's scandalous press conference last week was all over Russian media. Over the course of a seven-and-a-half-hour address, Lukashenko slammed Russia over a variety of grievances that have accumulated recently: what may have seemed like a sudden burst of anger was, perhaps, the logical next step in spiraling Belarusian-Russian relations.

The dispute between Minsk and Moscow is multifaceted, and new tensions are drawn out each month--from oil and gas to borders and foodstuffs. The crisis nourishes itself: negative news stories and mutual frustration give rise to new, unnecessary scandals--the arrest of pro-Russian publicists, Lukashenko's refusal to attend the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) summits in St. Petersburg, and Minsk's decision to extradite Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin to Azerbaijan, for example. 

The most recent source of tension is the decision of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to establish border controls between Russia and Belarus. This step indicates the de facto introduction of passport controls between the two countries for the first time ever. Had the FSB not announced its decision a few days before Lukashenko's press conference, the Belarusian president's address might not have been so emotional, but it would have been every bit as withering. And indeed, Lukashenko's speech was more emotion than politics: it was a way for him to get out his frustration.

At the beginning of his record-length address, Lukashenko avoided using the word "Russia" in much the same way Vladimir Putin avoids using the last name of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. But when he received a direct question about relations with Moscow, Lukashenko spoke for nearly an hour and a half, beginning with "the situation has gotten to the point where I can't conceal things anymore." And Lukashenko returned to this theme later, even when responding to a question about a different topic. [...]

[V]ladimir Putin seems to have become caught up in global politics and forgotten to pay attention to the little things--like disputes with Minsk, which have been delegated to hard-liner imperialists and pragmatist technocrats.  [...]

Any attempt by Moscow to convert Russia's long-term investments in Belarus into expanded influence on Minsk will be met with opposition. Just as Belarus itself has become used to independence, its permanent president has become unable to share power with anyone. Attempts by Minsk to return to the previous model of support, which Belarusians called "gas for kisses," will also be fruitless; the Kremlin isn't interested in this kind of relationship anymore. 

Even if Minsk and Moscow are able to resolve their current dispute, the standoff will go down in history, at least in Belarus. After Belarus's declaration of independence and the creation of its state infrastructure--its bureaucracy, currency, and armed forces--this conflict will be one of the most important stages in the country's movement away from Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


French Jews will have to give up Israeli citizenship, says Le Pen (RICKY BEN-DAVID,  February 10, 2017, Times of Israel)

France's far-right leader and presidential contender Marine Le Pen said on Thursday that dual citizenship with non-European countries under her proposed immigration program would be banned and that French Jews with Israeli citizenship would be forced to renounce it. [...]

In her France 2 interview Thursday, Le Pen did make an exception in her immigration program for dual citizens from non-European Russia, which she said "has a place" in what she termed a "Europe of nations" that are "free and sovereign."

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Threats against judges in immigration ban cases leads to increased security (Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Ariane de Vogue, CNN)

Threats against more than one judge involved in legal challenges to President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration have prompted federal and local law enforcement agencies to temporarily increase security protection for some of them, according to law enforcement officials. [...]

The threats come as Trump continues his verbal criticisms of judges -- something that has drawn concern from former law enforcement officials and others who fear that public officials should not target a specific judge, and instead base their criticism more broadly on a court's ruling.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Patriots' time of possession advantage a sign they should have won Super Bowl LI (Evan Lazar, February 10, 2017, Boston Herald)

Since at least 1950, teams that possessed the ball for over 40 minutes in a playoff game were 15-2 prior to Sunday. Overall in regular and postseason play, when controlling the clock for more than 40 minutes, teams had a .869 win percentage.

The underrated and speedy Falcons defense was a major reason for the Patriots' struggles throughout the first three quarters on offense. Through the first three frames, Tom Brady was pressured on 43.8 percent of his dropbacks, a sizable increase from the his previous 14 games where he was pressured on just 30.5 percent of dropbacks. However, due to the hefty amount of snaps the Falcons pass rushers were forced to play, they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter and overtime, pressuring Brady just six times on his final 38 dropbacks, in stats provided by Pro Football Focus.

Due to the Patriots' gaudy number of offensive plays, the Falcons' top pass rushers were forced to play an extremely high number of snaps. Atlanta's Vic Beasley (71 snaps), Grady Jarrett (57 snaps), and Dwight Freeney (56 snaps) all stayed on the field for a season-high number of defensive plays, which eventually led to a tired pass rush during the Patriots' comeback.

As soon as Tom Brady was given enough time to find open receivers downfield, the quarterback went 21-27 for 246 yards, one touchdown, and a passer rating of 117.0 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Against the worn-out Falcons defense, Brady led the Patriots on five straight scoring drives and 31 unanswered points to cap off his fifth Super Bowl victory in historic fashion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Trump, In Reversal, Tells Chinese Leader He Will Honor 'One China' Policy (Radio Liberty, 2/09/17)

But Trump signaled a change of heart on February 8 when he sent Xi a New Year's greeting saying he sought "to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China."

The Chinese president, who had asked Trump during the lengthy phone call to honor the "One China" policy, afterwards expressed "appreciation" for Trump's affirmative response.

...he'd now be 0-for his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


National security adviser Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials, officials say (Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima February 9, 2017, Washington Post)

Flynn's contacts with the ambassador attracted attention within the Obama administration because of the timing. U.S. intelligence agencies were then concluding that Russia had waged a cyber campaign designed in part to help elect Trump; his senior adviser on national security matters was discussing the potential consequences for Moscow, officials said.

The talks were part of a series of contacts between Flynn and Kislyak that began before the Nov. 8 election and continued during the transition, officials said. In a recent interview, Kislyak confirmed that he had communicated with Flynn by text message, by phone and in person, but declined to say whether they had discussed sanctions.

The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect. They acknowledged only a handful of text messages and calls exchanged between Flynn and Kislyak late last year and denied that either ever raised the subject of sanctions.

"They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia," Pence said in an interview with CBS News last month, noting that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence also made a more sweeping assertion, saying there had been no contact between members of Trump's team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said, "is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy."

Neither of those assertions is consistent with the fuller account of Flynn's contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats. Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

All of those officials said ­Flynn's references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.

"Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time," said a former official.

A third official put it more bluntly, saying that either Flynn had misled Pence or that Pence misspoke. An administration official stressed that Pence made his comments based on his conversation with Flynn.

Given the very real possibility of him taking over at some point, the VP needs to not make himself toxic too.

February 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


When the Government Really Did Fear a Bowling Green Massacre -- Organized by a White Supremacist : Assault rifles, body armor, a possible kill list, but not much attention when feds arrested a white man they said was bent on "race war." (A.C. Thompson, 2/09/17, Pacific Standard)

The year was 2012. The place was Bowling Green, Ohio. A federal raid had uncovered what the authorities feared were the makings of a massacre. There were 18 firearms, among them two AR-15 assault rifles, an AR-10 assault rifle and a Remington Model 700 sniper rifle. There was body armor, too, and the authorities counted some 40,000 rounds of ammunition. An extremist had been arrested, and prosecutors suspected that he had been aiming to carry out a wide assortment of killings.

"This defendant, quite simply, was a well-funded, well-armed and focused one-man army of racial and religious hate," prosecutors said in a court filing.

The man arrested and charged was Richard Schmidt, a middle-aged owner of a sports-memorabilia business at a mall in town. Prosecutors would later call him a white supremacist. His planned targets, federal authorities said, had been African Americans and Jews. They'd found a list with the names and addresses of those to be assassinated, including the leaders of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapters in Michigan and Ohio.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The $100 trillion case for open borders (Nick Srnicek, 2/09/17, The Conversation)

There is, however, an overwhelming case for open borders that can be made even in the traditionally self-interested language of economics. In fact, our best estimates are that opening the world's borders could increase global GDP by US$100 trillion.

It sounds like a crazy idea, particularly when the media is dominated by stories about the need to control immigration and the right-wing tabloids trumpet "alternative facts" about how immigration hurts our economies. But every piece of evidence we have says that ending borders would be the single easiest way to improve the living standards of workers around the world - including those in wealthy countries.

The argument is simple enough and has been made by more than one economist. Workers in poorer economies make less than they should. If they were to have all of the benefits of rich countries - advanced education, the latest workplace technologies, and all the necessary infrastructure - these workers would produce and earn as much as their rich country counterparts. What keeps them in poverty is their surroundings. If they were able to pick up and move to more productive areas, they would see their incomes increase many times over.

This means that opening borders is, by a massive amount, the easiest and most effective way to tackle global poverty. Research shows that alternative approaches - for instance, microcredit, higher education standards, and anti-sweatshop activism - all produce lifetime economic gains that would be matched in weeks by open borders. Even small reductions in the barriers posed by borders would bring massive benefits for workers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Why We Should Stop Drugging Our Kids (Naomi Schaefer Riley, 2/07/16, Acculturated)

Maybe it's time to stop drugging our children. A new study from the Medical Journal of Australia has found that the youngest kids in any given class are twice as likely to be receiving medication for behavioral disorders as the older kids in the class. And the proportion of boys receiving such medication was three times as high as it was for girls.

The Australian researchers looked at data for more than 300,000 students, of whom almost 6,000 received at least one government-subsidized ADHD prescription in 2013. (The actual rate of use might have been higher given that some people presumably bought the medication without government assistance). As the study found:

"The proportion of boys receiving medication (2.9%) was much higher than that of girls (0.8%). Among children aged 6-10 years, those born in June (the last month of the recommended school-year intake) were about twice as likely (boys 1.93 times, girls 2.11 times) to have received ADHD medication as those born in the first intake month (the previous July). "

This is not the first finding of its kind. According to a 2010 article in the Journal of Health Economics, "8.4 percent of children born in the month prior to their state's cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility--who typically become the youngest and most developmentally immature children within a grade--are diagnosed with ADHD, compared to 5.1 percent of children born in the month immediately afterward."

What this means is that we are putting kids on drugs for behaving in age appropriate ways and in ways that are typical for their sex.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The Loneliness of the DCCC Recruiter (Rema Rahman, 2/09/17, Roll Call)

The head recruiter for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has four open seats he needs candidates for. But in an illustration of the challenges Democrats face in clawing their way back to the majority, all four vacancies are in heavily Republican districts.

At a panel here Thursday during the minority party's issues retreat, Rep. Denny Heck of Washington, who chairs the DCCC's Recruitment committee, said he would remain realistic, but optimistic, about the potential for Democrats to fill the positions long held by the opposing party. The four seats are the ones held by Republicans picked to serve in the administration of President Donald Trump.

"The starting point is that we have to all acknowledge that those seats are all held by Republicans and they've been held by Republicans for quite some time," Heck said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Federal Judges Refuse to Reinstate Trump's Immigration Ban (MATT FORD, 2/09/17, The Atlantic)

A three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court's order blocking the Trump administration from enforcing its immigration and refugee order, handing the president his highest-profile defeat yet over the controversial ban.

In an unsigned opinion, the panel decisively rejected the Justice Department's arguments against the restraining order. "We hold that the Government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury, and we therefore deny its emergency motion for a stay," the panel wrote in its 29-page decision.

The bastards took him at his word:

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Exclusive - Trump border 'wall' to cost $21.6 billion, take 3.5 years to build: internal report (2/09/17, Reuters)

 President Donald Trump's "wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Against Normalization: The Lesson of the "Munich Post" (Ron Rosenbaum, FEBRUARY 5, 2017, LA Review of Books)

What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It's what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. [...] 

At the very apex of the Beer Hall Putsch, a clash between his militia and Munich's chief opposition newspaper, the Munich Post, may have changed the course of history, giving evidence that Hitler had the potential for a far more ambitious course of evil than anyone in Germany believed. Only the reporters who had been following Hitler seemed able to imagine it.

On the night of November 8, 1923, amid a clamorous political meeting in the Bürgerbräukeller, a huge echoey beer hall where political meetings were often held, Hitler stood up, fired a pistol into the air, and announced his militia had captured the three top leaders of southern Germany's Bavarian province and handcuffed them in a back room in the beer hall. The next morning, he declared, his Stormtrooper militia would capture the capitol buildings and then head north to Berlin.

It didn't happen. That morning there was a firefight on the bridge to the city center that ended with Hitler's forces having failed to cross that bridge, Hitler flinging himself -- or being flung -- on the ground amid gunfire in ignominious defeat.

What caused his defeat? Some have suggested (myself among them) it was Hitler's fateful decision to detach his elite private militia, the forerunner of the SS -- the Stosstrupp Hitler -- and send them on a mission to trash and pillage the offices of the Munich Post, the newspaper he called "the poison kitchen" (for the slanders about him they were allegedly cooking up).

Trash and pillage they did. I saw a faded newsprint photograph of the after-action damage to the Munich Post -- desks and chairs smashed, papers strewn into a chaos of rubble, as if an explosion had gone off inside the building.

By the mid-'90s, when I first saw that picture, the memory of this chief anti-Hitler newspaper during his rise to power from Munich to Berlin had virtually disappeared from history. But while researching my book, I'd found a cache of back issues crumbling away in the basement archive of a Munich library, seemingly untouched for years.

Cumulatively, the stacks of issues told the story of a dozen-year-long struggle between Hitler and the paper, which began soon after the mysterious Austrian-born outsider appeared as a fiery orator and canny organizer on the Munich streets in 1921.

The Munich Post never stopped investigating who Hitler was and what he wanted, and Hitler never stopped hating them for it.

As Hitler sought to ingratiate himself with the city's rulers (though never giving up the threat of violence), the Post reporters dug into his shadowy background, mocking him mercilessly, exposing internal party splits, revealing the existence of a death squad ("cell G") that murdered political opponents and was at least as responsible for Hitler's success as his vaunted oratory.

And in their biggest, most shamefully ignored scoop, on December 9, 1931, the paper found and published a Nazi party document planning a "final solution" for Munich's Jews -- the first Hitlerite use of the word "endlösung" in such a context. Was it a euphemism for extermination? Hitler dissembled, so many could ignore the grim possibility.

The Munich Post lost and Germany came under Nazi rule -- but, in a sense, the paper had also won; they were the only ones who had figured out just how sinister Hitler and the Nazis were. I believe Hitler knew this. And so, back in 1923, when Hitler had thrown the opposition into disarray and division, he saw the chance to eliminate the Munich Post. And he took it and tried, though he failed at that, too.

After the 1923 fiasco, Hitler served nine months of a five-year sentence for rebellion and pledged to stay out of politics. But his parliamentary party didn't quit, and eventually Hitler had demonstrated enough neutral behavior (discounting the murders committed by the Nazi death squads not directly connected to him) that he was allowed to campaign again. Was it a mistake? Had he learned a lesson? As it turned out, Hitler used the tactics of bluff masterfully, at times giving the impression of being a feckless Chaplinesque clown, at other times a sleeping serpent, at others yet a trustworthy statesman. The Weimar establishment didn't know what to do, so they pretended this was normal. They "normalized" him.

And so they allowed him and his party back onto the electoral lists, the beginning of the end. Democracy destroying itself democratically. By November 1932, his party had become the largest faction in the Reichstag, though not a majority. After that election though, it looked as if he'd passed his peak: his total vote had gone down. It looked like the right-wing parties had been savvy in bringing him in and "normalizing" him, making him a figurehead for their own advancement.

Instead, it was truly the stupidest move made in world politics within the memory of mankind. It took only a few months for the hopes of normalization to be crushed. As Sir Richard Evans, the leading British historian of the period has proven at painstaking length, the Reichstag Fire was not a Hitler plan to excuse a takeover through martial law. It had indeed been the work of a Dutch man, Marinus van der Lubbe. But Hitler, ruthlessly and savagely, took advantage of it, instituting martial law and crushing electoral democracy. There would have been another excuse. Once in power Hitler was going to go on maximizing it until the "final solution."

And the Munich Post never stopped reporting on this ultimate aim and on Hitler's use of murder, decrying any attempts to "normalize" the tyrant. They kept fighting until two months after his January takeover. In March 1933, when the Nazis ruled the media and the Post was "legally" shut down. There had been a few other brave journalistic souls -- Konrad Heiden, Fritz Gerlich. But swiftly, oh so swiftly, the order of the day became "gleichschaltung" -- "realignment," or forced conformity, savage normalization. Goebbels and other Nazi propagandists made it their crusade to get the German body politic "adjusted" to the new reign of terror. "Gleichschaltung" meant normalize or else.

Hitler's method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late. At first, he pledged no territorial demands. Then he quietly rolled his tanks into the Rhineland. He had no designs on Czechoslovakia -- just the Sudetenland, because so many of its German-born citizens were begging him to help shelter them from persecution. But soon came the absorption of the rest of Czechoslovakia. After Czechoslovakia, he'd be satisfied. Europe could return to normal. Lie!

There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale. His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let's call it what it is: defining mendacity down.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Kellyanne Conway Torched for Ivanka Infomercial (Gideon Resnick, 02.09.17, Daily Beast)

This came just a day after ethics experts questioned whether it was appropriate for the President of the United States and his press secretary to be condemning the retailing giant Nordstrom for its decision to drop Ivanka's line of clothing.

Conway's actions were much more of a clear-cut problem, according to government ethics experts. Even those friendly to the administration, including Peter Schweizer, who has worked with senior White House adviser Steve Bannon, were worried about the incident.

"They've crossed a very, very important bright line, and it's not good," he told The Washington Post. "To encourage Americans to buy goods from companies owned by the first family is totally out of bounds and needs to stop."
Federal ethics rules dictate that an employee of the executive branch "shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity."

Conway made a clear endorsement, Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told The Daily Beast.

"It is a violation of federal ethics regulations prohibiting use of public office for private gain for any government employee in an official speech, an official capacity TV interview or any similar communication to promote the products or services of a particular private business belonging to the employee's own family, the President's family, a friend, a campaign contributor or anyone else," Painter said in an email. "That was strictly forbidden in the Bush administration because it is illegal." [...]

[T]he White House's hand may be forced soon.

Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in a statement on Thursday that Conway's promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line was "unacceptable" and "clearly over the line." An aide to Representative Elijah Cummings, a ranking member on the committee, then confirmed to The Daily Beast that Cummings and Chaffetz are drafting a letter to send to the White House and the Office of Government Ethics.

...it seems unlikely that there is anyone advising staff on what behavior is ethical and un and one condition for working there is lack of a moral compass.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Top Marine's 2017 to-do list: better PT, fixing aviation and cracking down on 'general jackassery' (Jeff Schogol, February 7, 2017, Marine Times)

Q: You also write that alcohol 'continues to be the most damaging behavior' that hurts readiness  and contributes to sexual assault and other destructive acts. What steps will the service take to address that?

If you believe that alcohol fuels a lot of this unacceptable, illegal, unauthorized behavior that causes people to not make good decisions, that's kind of why I'm focusing on alcohol. 

Alcohol - if it's not respected and managed - it takes Marines into a bad place, whether it's domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide, hazing, DUI, or just general jackassery. Normally the story starts ...'Well, we were drinking tequila, you know," and the story kind of goes downhill from there. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Melania Trump's "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to profit (The Economist, Feb 9th 2017)

The lawsuit, filed in a court in Manhattan, argues that some lurid and inaccurate allegations about the first lady, which were reported by the Daily Mail last August and later retracted, had cost her $150m in lost money-making opportunities.

Without referring explicitly to Mrs Trump's position as first lady, the lawsuit implied that that was the basis for the claim. It argued that Mrs Trump had "the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world".

Kellyanne Conway Promotes Ivanka Trump Brand, Raising Ethics Concerns (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and RACHEL ABRAMS, FEB. 9, 2017, NY Times)

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would say," Ms. Conway, whose title is counselor to the president, said in an interview with Fox News. "I'm going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today everybody, you can find it online."

Federal ethics rules state that an employee of the government's executive branch "shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity." Legal experts said Ms. Conway appeared to have violated those rules.

Pentagon Looking to Rent Space At Trump Tower (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, February 8, 2017)

The United States military is looking to rent space at Trump Tower for use when President Donald Trump returns to his longtime home in New York City.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Conservatives Urge Speedup Of Health Law Repeal, Dismiss Calls For Caution (Julie Rovner, February 8, 2017, Kaiser Health News)

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of the leading conservative voices in that chamber, said he will vigorously oppose efforts for Republicans to wait until they have a plan ready to replace the law before they repeal it. "There is a lot less agreement about what comes next," he said. "If we load down the repeal bill with what comes next, it's harder to get both of them passed."

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Corporate America employs new tactics to avoid Trump ire (James Fontanella-Khan and Shannon Bond, 1/27/17, Financial Times)

Lawyers and public relation experts are advising their S&P 500 clients to take a leaf from the US president's media playbook and find ways to deliver Mr Trump news he can claim as personal victories.

"People have understood that Donald likes to win and they need to play into that," said another lawyer, who worked for Mr Trump during a high-profile bankruptcy case in the 1990s. "The basic strategy is to look at whether you have made an announcement in the past that you can rehash" to align with the president's election promises.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Exclusive: In call with Putin, Trump denounced Obama-era nuclear arms treaty - sources (Jonathan Landay and David Rohde, 2/08/17, Reuters)

In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.

Trump Does Not Know What Civil Forfeiture Is, but He Likes It (Jacob Sullum, Feb. 9, 2017, Reason)

In a meeting with county sheriffs from around the country on Tuesday, President Trump jokingly (we hope!) threatened to "destroy [the] career" of a Texas legislator who proposed requiring the government to obtain a conviction before taking property allegedly tied to crime. As Nick Gillespie noted, Trump's knee-jerk support for civil asset forfeiture is troubling, especially in light of a growing bipartisan consensus that the practice should be reformed or abolished because it hurts innocent property owners and warps law enforcement priorities. Worse, the White House transcript of the president's remarks about forfeiture shows he literally does not know what he is talking about, which suggests this "law and order" president is happy to go along with whatever cops want, even if he has no idea what it is.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


STEVE BANNON AND REINCE PRIEBUS'S WAR FOR THE WHITE HOUSE (Ryan Lizza,   February 3, 2017, The New Yorker)

The Bannonites' executive order prompted widespread protests and multiple crises in the federal government. At the State Department, it triggered a revolt of career diplomats, some thousand of whom signed an official statement of dissent arguing that the policy would do more harm than good. At the Justice Department, the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, decided that the order was discriminatory and took the unprecedented step of ordering the department's lawyers not to defend it in court, causing Trump to fire her. Abroad, the ban set off a series of diplomatic crises. In Iraq, America's most important ally in fighting isis, the parliament reportedly responded by voting to ban Americans from the country. In Germany, America's most important European ally, Chancellor Angela Merkel, said, via a spokesperson, that defeating terrorism "does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion." In a phone call with Trump, she explained the details of the United Nations' 1951 Refugee Convention, an international treaty that requires states to protect those fleeing war and persecution.

The first significant policy of the Bannon wing of the Trump White House was executed in a way that insured maximum chaos and confusion. In contrast, Trump's successful rollout of his Supreme Court nominee was largely run by the White House counsel's office, an island in the White House that is relatively free from Bannon's control and has been shaped more by Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican Party and Trump's current chief of staff. A true populist aiming to shake up the establishment in Washington might have found someone outside of the legal monastery, perhaps someone who wasn't even a judge, to put on the Court. Instead, Trump chose a leading conservative appellate judge with Ivy League credentials. The most frequent Republican critics of Trump, such as Senators Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham, cheered the decision. Even Democrats have had to admit that Gorsuch is perfectly qualified.

It's too simple to describe these episodes as purely emblematic of the two warring camps. Priebus has been a steadfast defender of the immigration ban, and as White House chief of staff it's his responsibility to make sure there is a process set up to vet and smoothly implement an executive order. Meanwhile, there's no indication that Bannon had any qualms about Gorsuch.

But the general divide is unmistakable. In conversations I had with people close to Priebus and those close to Bannon, the two sides talk about each other as leaders of a zero-sum fight for control of the West Wing.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Somalis celebrate after election of former U.S. state worker as president (Abdi Sheikh, 2/08/17, Reuters)

Thousands of Somalis fired guns in the air, cheered atop military vehicles and slaughtered camels on Thursday to celebrate the election of anti-corruption campaigner Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as president. [...]

Western donors welcomed his election. The European Union urged him to tackle corruption, while the United States called the transition a "step forward" despite concerns about irregularities. Opponents had accused each other of vote buying.

In the central Somali towns of Dhusamareb and Guriel, a region where many are now facing a severe food crisis because of drought, the local authorities slaughtered camels and goats to hand out the meat to the poor.

Mohamed, a former prime minister better known in Somalia by his nickname "Farmajo" due to his love of cheese as a child, told lawmakers shortly after his election that his "core value is justice, to help the poor people".

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Soldier welcomes Afghan translator to US with bear hug (JULIE WATSON AND MARCIO SANCHEZ, 2/08/17, Associated Press)

Army Capt. Matthew Ball yelled "Qismat!" as he ran and then hugged Qismat Amin at San Francisco International Airport in a series of emotional embraces that marked the end of a yearslong battle to get the translator out of his war-torn country.

"I'm so happy," Ball told The Associated Press after welcoming Amin. "Yeah it feels great. I'm happy to see him. I'm sort of overwhelmed. He's here. It's been a long time."

The interpreter waited nearly four years for his special immigrant visa. He lived in hiding after receiving death threats from the Taliban for helping American troops.

His visa arrived two days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the nation's refugee program and temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Afghanistan was not among them, but U.S. officials said shortly after the order was signed that the list could be expanded to include other countries. The ban has since been placed on hold while it's being debated in the courts.

Ball bought Amin a $1,000 plane ticket to San Francisco to get him to the U.S. as soon as possible.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


A new dawn for the Anglosphere (Lawrence Solomon, January 30, 2017, National Post)

Given the potency of this new U.S.-U.K. free-trade zone, blessed not only by size but by a common respect for property rights and the rule of law, common customs and a common language, Canada and other members of the Anglosphere will doubtless want to join. The common culture of the Anglosphere would make such an expanded union feasible but neither necessary nor desirable.

Bilateral free-trade deals could be struck instead, probably much more quickly since they would avoid the time-consuming negotiations required when many parties must agree to compromises required by a few. The U.S. and U.K. aim to conclude their free-trade negotiations in as little as three months. In contrast, Canada's comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union took seven years and counting. Bilateral free-trade deals have another thing going for them -- they are a formal goal of the majority of the Anglosphere, as agreed to a decade ago by the countries of the British Commonwealth.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


The Good - but Mostly Bad - of Trump's Immigration Order (MARIA BIERY, JANUARY 31, 2017, The Statesman)

The fact that constant clarification is needed in order to execute this order shows just how sloppy the administration was in crafting the document.

The second problem, which feeds into the first, is that this action was taken too rapidly, and has resulted in a shoddy piece of policy. This type of reform should have been worked out properly in good time. A complex problem such as this requires a complex solution. As I said before, some of the suggestions in the order have the potential to improve the system, but if no one can figure out to whom the reforms apply and what they are in the first place, it is a failed policy.

This is Trump's fault because he reportedly did not consult the DOJ, the State Department, or DHS on what the order should contain. He briefly spoke with Customs and Border Patrol by phone on the day the order was signed, according to the New York Times. Overall, however, these reports suggest that Trump didn't even slightly consider the input of the agencies that deal directly with immigration and refugee issues on a day-to-day basis. This is the third problem with the order - even the parts that were theoretically beneficial may ultimately prove infeasible, since Trump didn't bother asking if the reforms were possible.

The final problem is a lack of consideration for the long-term security effects. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) came out yesterday saying the following:
"Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security."

The executive order, as Senators McCain and Graham allude to, adds gas to the fire for ISIS recruitment. Jihadists can say, "Here, look at the United States. We told you. They hate Muslims. Come fight with us so we can destroy them!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Trump's faux-pas diplomacy : The State Department is struggling to contain the fallout as Trump goes off topic in calls with foreign leaders. (TARA PALMERI, KENNETH P. VOGEL, JOSH DAWSEY and NAHAL TOOSI 02/08/17, Politico)

Trump also used the exchange to vent about his personal fixations, including his belief that the United States is being taken advantage of by China and international bodies like NATO, the official said.

At one point, Trump declared that the French can continue protecting NATO, but that the U.S. "wants our money back," the official said, adding that Trump seemed to be "obsessing over money."

"It was a difficult conversation, because he talks like he's speaking publicly," the official said. "It's not the usual way heads of state speak to each other. He speaks with slogans, and the conversation was not completely organized."

The revelations about the unconventional call are only the latest in a series of leaked accounts of Trump's calls with foreign leaders that are generating increasing doubts about the new president's style of diplomacy at a time of global uncertainty. Diplomats and politicians across the spectrum and around the world are worried that Trump's seemingly unstructured and personality-driven approach to dealing with foreign leaders risks alienating traditional allies and emboldening foes.

The madman strategy requires both that it be an act and that someone competent be waiting in the wings to achieve the objective. With Donald the ranting is gratuitous and purposeless and there's no one on staff who knows what he's doing.

Trump struggling to fill one of the worst jobs in Washington (ELIANA JOHNSON, 02/08/17, Politico)

The White House has gone without a full-time communications director since Trump was sworn in last month, and although chief of staff Reince Priebus is spearheading a robust effort to fill the position, his overtures to several Republican communications professionals have been met with disinterest, according to a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the situation. At least two candidates have turned down the job, a position normally coveted by Washington political operatives, according to another source familiar with the conversations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Family's long road out of Iran began 12 years agoFamily's long road out of Iran began 12 years ago (PAT GROSSMITH, 2/08/17, New Hampshire Union Leader)

An Iranian mom, dad and two daughters who waited years for visas to enter the United States have been reunited with family in New Hampshire -- but only after showing up at the airport in Tehran two days in a row and facing a heart-rending choice.

Even though a federal judge had temporarily blocked President Trump's travel ban, anesthesiologist Hamid Reza Jalili, 51, and his pediatrician wife, Bahareh Khamesi, 48, were told last Saturday by officials that only their 12-year-old, Haniya, could accompany them to America -- not 19-year-old Helia.  [...]

The family went through a 12-year vetting process, Jalili said. They all have their green cards, obtained after interviews by the FBI, Homeland Security and the State Department. They had face-to-face interviews twice at the American consulate in Ankara, Turkey, because there is no U.S. embassy in Tehran.

"We'd been vetted enough," Khamesi said.

The Jan. 27 executive order hurt people who followed the rules, the family said. But a small window opened last Friday when a federal judge temporarily blocked the order and the family tried to fly out of Tehran.

The family's elation quickly turned to devastation when they were prevented from boarding a plane.

They were turned away because their green cards were not stamped or "endorsed" by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. Professor Jalili got in touch with George Bruno, former ambassador to Belize and general counsel at USA Group International in Manchester, as well as U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. Shaheen assigned a staff person to their case.

On Saturday, the family returned to the airport -- buying another four tickets -- and were faced with leaving a daughter behind. 

Ironically, the family had wanted to come in January before President Trump's inauguration. 

Professor Jalili asked them to wait because he was having some renovations done on his home and wanted to be able to accommodate them. He assured them that the United States was a nation of laws and that there would be no problem.

"Boy, did I have egg on my face," he said.

Professor Jalili came alone to America 40 years ago when he was 18 years old. His father was in the Iranian military and was trained in the United States. His parents later came to live in Manchester, but his father since has died.

His brother was the last of his siblings in Iran. The others are in Sweden and England. Both he and his mother are American citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


One of the largest train companies in Europe now runs entirely on wind power (Akshat Rathi,  27 January 2017, World Economic Forum/Quartz)

The Netherlands has been harnessing wind power since the 11th century. It was appropriate then that Roger van Boxtel, CEO of Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, or NS), attached himself to a windmill while announcing that the company is now completely powered by wind energy.

NS runs most of the trains in the Netherlands. In 2015, the company teamed up with energy supplier Eneco to cut emissions from train journeys. Their goal was to achieve 100% renewable energy by October 2018. However, Eneco completed some of its wind-farm construction ahead of time. That's why, as of Jan. 1, 2017, all NS trains are now powered by the wind.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


'One day on my land is worth a lifetime' : A Palestinian landowner shares her story of loss and hope, as Israel legalises theft of private land by settlers. (Shatha Hammad & Zena Tahhan, 2/08/17, Al Jazeera)

With tearful eyes, Mariam recollected her memories of growing up on the land.

"I remember when I was a child, how I used to collect the stones and thorns from the ground and put them aside. My father would plough the field, while my mother planted the seeds," says Mariam. The land which her parents bought, she recalls, was non-arable at the time. "They worked the land day and night until it became 'one of the gardens of Silwad'".

As she grew up, Mariam grew more attached to the land. "I cannot forget the taste of the water from the well in the field. It was as sweet as honey. I remember it very well and I wish I could return to taste it again."

She recalls that her family used to follow one particular farming rule known as crop rotation - prohibiting the cultivation of the same crops for two consecutive seasons. "One year we would plant wheat, vetch, barley and lentils. The next year we would grow tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, okra, and sunflowers."

While her family owns a considerable amount of land in Silwad, the plot where Amona was built remained one of the most fertile, flourishing all year round, before it was taken over by settlers.

On a summer day in the mid-1990s, Mariam and her husband, Mohammad, left their eight children at home to embark on their daily mission to collect the wheat they harvested on their land.

"A group of settlers came while we were working on the field. They began stepping on the crops and spoiling them. My husband tried to expel the settlers from the area," recalls Mariam, explaining that the confrontation had intensified and the settlers had tried to assault them, chanting, "This land is ours - get out of here."

Mariam recalls that, as they feared for their lives, her husband collected his harvesting tools, loaded them onto his horse, and they walked away from the land.

"As soon as we turned our backs and walked a little, the settlers set fire to the land. I ran back and gathered as many wheat stems as I could. I had a feeling that they would not let me enter my land after that day."

That day marked Mariam's last visit to the land.

The next day, Mariam and her husband attempted to access the land, but they were stopped by settlers and Israeli soldiers at gunpoint, she recalled.

Soon after, Mariam headed to the municipal council, armed with title deeds and documents, to prove her ownership of the plot and demand justice, but to no avail.

In the following days when Mariam and her husband attempted to approach the area, a woman from Ein Yabrud, a nearby village, identified as Rutayba Abdul Kareem Jabra, was shot and killed as she walked towards Thahir al-Mazari', according to Mariam.

"She was carrying food on her head and was heading to the fields. As soon as she approached the area, the soldiers shot and killed her, before our eyes."

The head of the Ein Yabrud municipal council confirmed the incident to Al Jazeera.  

Under protection from the army, Israeli settlers remained on the land and built the outpost of Amona in 1997. They expanded and built 40 homes, infrastructure, and public facilities, while Mariam and the other landowners were forbidden from accessing their lands for decades.

Today, after a long and hard battle in the courts with the help of Israeli human rights organisations, Mariam watches the evacuation and demolition of the outpost, which was once the largest in the West Bank, housing approximately 250 settlers. 

Amona is one of about 100 Israeli "outposts" scattered across the occupied West Bank. Israel differentiates between outposts and settlements in that they were built without government authorisation. Both outposts and settlements, however, often involve seizing private Palestinian land and are illegal under international law.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


The Anglosphere: new enthusiasm for an old dream : Having cut Britain adrift of Europe, Brexiters are indulging in an old fantasy about a new national role in the world--as the hub of a far-flung Anglosphere (Duncan Bell, January 19, 2017, Prospect)

Theresa May's government is frantically trying to square all sorts of circles, but it cannot conceal the abject confusion about post-Brexit Britain's place in the world. Can it act alone on a crowded stage? How can it compete against giants like the European Union, the United States, or China? Should it even try?

Many of the leading Brexiteers have proposed a simple answer to these questions: the Anglosphere. Britain, they suggest, should reanimate its long-standing relationship with its "natural" allies--principally Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. In championing this far-flung union, the Brexiteers draw--sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously--on a strand of thought that stretches back to the Victorian age. Like so much else about the current moment--from the planned restoration of grammar schools to cries for relaunching the Royal Yacht Britannia--the past serves as inspiration and guide. We are invited to march back to the future.

On a chilly Tuesday in December 1999, Margaret Thatcher rose to deliver a speech in New York. Her hosts were the English-Speaking Union (ESU), founded in 1918 to promote co-operation between the "English-speaking peoples." The English-speaking world, she proclaimed, had a providential task to fulfil. "We take seriously the sanctity of the individual; we share a common tradition of religious toleration; we are committed to democracy and representative government; and we are resolved to uphold and spread the rule of law." Citing John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson, she recommended an alliance that would "redefine the political landscape" and transform "backward areas [by] creating the conditions for a genuine world community." A new civilising mission beckoned.

The ex-Prime Minister was not the only one airing such grandiose ideas as the new millennium approached. Indeed she was drawing on a proposal that the historian Robert Conquest had sketched in a speech to the ESU a few months earlier. At a time when the consensus was that Britain's settled future lay in the EU, Conquest boldly charged that existing international bodies had failed. An alternative was required. He suggested an "Anglo-Oceanic" political association "weaker than a federation, but stronger than an alliance." It would help bring peace to a violent planet. A few years later he argued that an "Anglosphere Association" would become "a centre of hope in the world... round which peace, co-operation and democracy can develop."

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, elites throughout the west scrambled to develop visions of a post-Cold War world. An expanded, integrated Europe seemed to many the most obvious answer. But, though few in number at first, proponents of the "Anglosphere" began to argue that elements of the British Empire should reconvene to help shape the new order. While some of them, such as the American businessman James Bennett, thought that India and the West Indies might be invited, Britain and its former settler colonies, the US included, were at the heart of the project. Proselytised by think tanks, public intellectuals and politicians from the late 1990s onwards, the idea was given impetus by Thatcher's endorsement. With 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, interest spread. George W Bush, Tony Blair, Stephen Harper and John Howard all affirmed--with varying degrees of conviction--its importance as a source of global stability and leadership.

Anchored by a shared language, culture, history and institutions, the Anglosphere's advocates describe it as a more natural union than Europe. They dismiss the European project as inherently flawed due to the political, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity of the continent. Thatcher even claimed a divine warrant for extricating Britain from Europe and (re)uniting the settler empire. "God separated Britain from mainland Europe, and it was for a purpose." Many Anglosphere devotees regard Britain's accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 as both a monumental mistake and an act of treachery--a mistake because it ignored the weakness of the European project; treachery, because it spurned our true "kith and kin."

Recent years have witnessed a resurgence of such views: Boris Johnson was mouthing a commonplace when in 2013 he criticised the British "betrayal" of Australia and New Zealand. Since the late 1990s a parade of conservative Eurosceptics have lionised the Anglosphere, including Bill Cash, David Davis, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Daniel Hannan, Michael Howard, Boris Johnson, Norman Lamont and John Redwood. Having drifted from the crankish fringe to the very heart of political debate, dreams of Anglosphere consummation haunt the Brexit moment. [...]

Bold claims have always been made about the unity and superiority of the Anglosphere. Roberts presents it as a single people endowed with world-historical purpose. "Just as we do not today differentiate between the Roman Republic and the imperial period of the Julio-Claudians when we think of the Roman Empire," he asserts, "so in the future no one will bother to make a distinction between the British Empire-led and the American Republic-led periods of English-speaking dominance."

...time to put a ring on it.

February 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Government Watchdog: Trump Border Protection May Have Broken Law (Betsy Woodruff, 02.08.17, Daily Beast)

A top government watchdog said today that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials may have violated a court order at Dulles Airport in the wake of President Donald Trump's travel ban.

The issue came up when Sen. Cory Booker asked John Roth, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, whether deliberately ignoring a court order would mean CBP officials had violated it.

"That's my understanding as a lawyer," Roth replied, in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee. "Obviously it would have to be intentional, that is, knowing that fact, that a court order existed, and choosing not to follow that court order, I think that's correct."

Admit the refugees; deport the natives.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Gorsuch: Trump's attack on judges 'demoralizing' (BROOKE SEIPEL, 02/08/17, The Hill)

Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, on Wednesday called the president's tweets attacking federal judges "disheartening" and "demoralizing." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Legal battle over travel ban pits Trump's powers against his own words (Mica Rosenberg, 2/08/17, Reuters)

One of the main concerns is allegations by the states, civil rights groups, some lawmakers and citizens that the order discriminates in violation of the constitution's First Amendment, which prohibits favoring one religion over another.

The judges will have to decide whether to look exclusively at the actual text of the president's order, which does not mention any particular religion, or consider outside comments by Trump and his team to discern their intent.

Washington state's attorney Noah Purcell told the hearing that even though the lawsuit is at an early stage, the amount of evidence that Trump intended to discriminate against Muslims is "remarkable." It cited Trump's campaign promises of a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

...if you're going to conspire to violate the Constitution don't include Blabbermouth in your planning.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


This Time, It's a 'No-Swastikas' Sign Found on the New York City Subway (Lilly Maier, 2/08/17, the Forward)

This weekend, many New Yorkers were shocked to find swastikas painted on subway windows and advertisements. They reacted swiftly and removed the hateful sharpie messages with hand sanitizer.

Two days later, the New York subway system yet again saw a swastika - but this time, it was crossed out, and surrounded by a red "No" sign in a clever imitation of official MTA signage prohibiting no-nos like smoking and eating.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


We Don't Talk About 'Radicalization' When an Attacker Isn't Muslim. We Should. (Jack Hitt, Dec. 6th, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

In current discourse, "radicalization" tends to limit unthinkable attacks to those carried out by anyone of Middle Eastern descent -- but why? Micah Johnson, an African-American man in Dallas, murdered five police officers in the wake of new YouTube videos showing black citizens being fatally shot by the police -- was he self-radicalized? Or Jerad and Amanda Miller, the white couple who joined the antigovernment protests at Cliven Bundy's ranch in 2014 before being asked to leave and then fatally gunned down a civilian and two police officers in Las Vegas -- were they radicalized?

Just what does it take to climb the staircase -- especially to get to that last floor -- when it suddenly makes sense to "sidestep inhibitory mechanisms" and start killing people? The fact is, mass murder might be too complex a subject for a whiteboard.

And always, in the end, there comes the disclaimer that these are just expressions, never intended to encourage anyone to violence.

Some of the more restrained analysis, though, reveals unexpected ways to think about contemporary terrorism. Mark S. Hamm and Ramón Spaaij break down terrorists into the ways they form. In their forthcoming book, "The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism," they look at the solo attacker, like Jared Loughner (Tucson, 2011) and Omar Mateen (Orlando, 2016). Other studies might examine, say, cells of three or more, or pairs like the Millers in Las Vegas and the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston.

Curiously, the trigger for lone wolves, Spaaij told me, was not only political but often personal. Not long before his cop-killing spree outside Des Moines, Greene had a fight with his mother, resulting in her getting a protective order against him -- a break eerily similar to that of Richard Poplawski, the Pennsylvania man whose mother called 911 on him in 2009, leading to the murder of three Pittsburgh police officers.

What often precedes these personal crises leading to violence, Spaaij said, is the "enabler" phase of radicalization, which can involve the killers' happening upon encouraging messages from faraway leaders. When Muslims are identified as the attackers, we often learn about their obsession with the droning sermons of online imams like Anwar al-Awlaki. In the radicalization of Poplawski, "research shows that our discourse provides the environment that can enable terrorism," Spaaij said. "He had embraced this conspiracy theory that Obama would take away his right to bear arms." Spaaij cited conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, who promotes the idea that FEMA camps are being built as concentration camps for dissidents and the federal government is hatching plans to seize people's guns, as spreading the kind of degraded public discourse that lays the groundwork for action. Then, when violence occurs, "they can distance themselves and say that you cannot connect that with us because we don't advocate violence."

In 2010, Sarah Palin posted a map to her Facebook page that laid the cross hairs of a gun sight over districts that threatened the Republican agenda, including Gabrielle Giffords's. Months later, when a gunman did fire a bullet point-blank through Giffords's head, some conservative activists were outraged that anyone drew a connection between Palin's playful clip art and an actual head shot. Donald Trump had, on at least one occasion, suggested vaguely that "Second Amendment people" knew what to do with his opponent. During the Republican National Convention, Trump's campaign issued a statement that it did not "agree" with the view of Al Baldasaro, his delegate and a New Hampshire state representative, that "Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason." This language is routinely defended as metaphorical when spoken by prominent people, and just salty heartland gibberish when uttered by anybody else. And always, in the end, there comes the disclaimer that these are just expressions, never intended to encourage anyone to violence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Tulsi Gabbard in New Trouble Over Her Syria Jaunt : The controversial Hawaii lawmaker appears to be running afoul of House ethics rules over her trip to Syria. As if a secret meeting with a bloodthirsty dictator wasn't bad enough. (Tim Mak, 02.07.17, Daily Beast)

In the face of criticism for taking the trip to Syria and meeting Assad, Gabbard said that she would be reimbursing AACCESS-Ohio for her trip to Syria last month. But the required forms would indicate if the original plan was to take funds from outside entities.

Her disclosures are also missing the required agenda that would show her schedule during the trip, which would list the various individuals she met while in Syria. Both of these documents were due in December, although Monday was the deadline for publicizing them.

Gabbard's signature is visible in a section of the forms attesting that all her required forms are filled out, but this is not the case.

During her trip to Syria, Gabbard brought along two men, Elie and Bassam Khawam, affiliated with an anti-Semitic political party that has a history rooted in fascism. The two are officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, which is currently actively engaged in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime. Until recently, Elie was listed on the SSNP's website as the "Chief of Cross-Border Affairs." The two also appear to be part of AACCESS-Ohio; The Guardian previously reported that Bassam Khawam was the executive director of the organization.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Sen. Shaheen Calls for Up-or-Down Vote on Trump's SCOTUS Nominee (Cameron Cawthorne, February 8, 2017, Free beacon)

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) broke away from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y) and other Democrats on Tuesday when she called for an up-or-down vote on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Belichick starts chanting 'No days off!' -- to many who had taken the day off (Jaclyn Reiss and Evan Allen,  FEBRUARY 07, 2017, Boston Globe)

It was such a Belichickian way to cut loose.

As the Patriots parade came to a close near Boston City Hall, coach Bill Belichick, who said this team had worked harder than any he'd coached, whipped the crowd into a frenzy with chants of "No days off! No days off! No days off!" [...]

It's not the first time after the Patriots' Super Bowl win the Belichick steadfastly focused on the future. On Monday, the celebrated coach said the team is already behind for next season.

"As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we're five weeks behind in the 2017 season,'' he said then.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


A Quiet Giant of Investing Weighs In on Trump (Andrew Ross Sorkin, FEB. 6, 2017, NY Times)

In his letter, Mr. Klarman sets forth a countervailing view to the euphoria that has buoyed the stock market since Mr. Trump took office, describing "perilously high valuations."

"Exuberant investors have focused on the potential benefits of stimulative tax cuts, while mostly ignoring the risks from America-first protectionism and the erection of new trade barriers," he wrote.

"President Trump may be able to temporarily hold off the sweep of automation and globalization by cajoling companies to keep jobs at home, but bolstering inefficient and uncompetitive enterprises is likely to only temporarily stave off market forces," he continued. "While they might be popular, the reason the U.S. long ago abandoned protectionist trade policies is because they not only don't work, they actually leave society worse off."

In particular, Mr. Klarman appears to believe that investors have become hypnotized by all the talk of pro-growth policies, without considering the full ramifications. He worries, for example, that Mr. Trump's stimulus efforts "could prove quite inflationary, which would likely shock investors."

And he appears deeply concerned about a swelling national debt that he suggests could undermine the economy's growth over the long term.

"The Trump tax cuts could drive government deficits considerably higher," Mr. Klarman wrote. "The large 2001 Bush tax cuts, for example, fueled income inequality while triggering huge federal budget deficits. Rising interest rates alone would balloon the federal deficit, because interest payments on the massive outstanding government debt would skyrocket from today's artificially low levels."

Much of Mr. Klarman's anxiety seems to emanate from Mr. Trump's leadership style. He described it this way: "The erratic tendencies and overconfidence in his own wisdom and judgment that Donald Trump has demonstrated to date are inconsistent with strong leadership and sound decision-making."

He also linked this point -- which is a fair one -- to what "Trump style" means for Mr. Klarman's constituency and others.

"The big picture for investors is this: Trump is high volatility, and investors generally abhor volatility and shun uncertainty," he wrote. "Not only is Trump shockingly unpredictable, he's apparently deliberately so; he says it's part of his plan."

While Mr. Klarman clearly is hoping for the best, he warned, "If things go wrong, we could find ourselves at the beginning of a lengthy decline in dollar hegemony, a rapid rise in interest rates and inflation, and global angst."

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Trump accuser follows Cosby playbook by pursuing defamation suit (Joseph Ax, 2/07/17, Reuters)

When former reality television contestant Summer Zervos accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct last fall, she pursued her claims solely in the court of public opinion, since the allegations dated too far back to allow a lawsuit.

But last month, she found a fresh approach to fight the former host of "The Apprentice," who has vehemently denied her allegations that he groped her in 2007. By professing his innocence, the man who is now president of the United States had effectively called her a liar, Servos alleges in a defamation lawsuit.

The suit copied a rare legal tactic employed most notably by several women who have accused the actor and comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault: using his denials as the basis for a defamation claim.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


The agony of Sean Spicer (Paul Waldman, February 8, 2017, The Week)

 In only his second day on the job, Spicer was instructed to walk in front of the television cameras and lie -- not only that, he knew that everyone knew he was lying. After his boss became incensed at reports that his inauguration had a significantly smaller crowd than some others, particularly Barack Obama's in 2009, something had to be done. "Over the objections of his aides and advisers -- who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency," The Washington Post reported, "the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary." So Spicer came before the White House press corps in his very first briefing, insisted that "this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe," berated the press for suggesting otherwise, and stormed off without taking any questions.

Most White House press secretaries take months or years to squander their credibility. Spicer did it in five minutes.

One way to look at that event is that it was a test. Spicer was not part of the Trump campaign, which means that he hadn't had the time to earn the new president's trust before becoming his mouthpiece. So right away, Trump made him prove his loyalty, through an act of abject humiliation. Once it was over, he was tied to Trump, and Trump's lies, for good.

But Trump's favor is fickle. He wasn't pleased with Spicer's performance; he didn't even like the grey pinstripe suit Spicer was wearing. When Kellyanne Conway (whom Trump had preferred for the press secretary job) defended Spicer by saying he was merely offering "alternative facts," it only led to a whole new round of mockery.

And then came the unkindest cut: a Saturday Night Live skit in which Spicer was played by Melissa McCarthy, shouting angrily, spouting absurdities, and pushing reporters around with her podium. Trump might have been sympathetic, having been parodied himself a time or two. But no:

More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer's portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president's eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer's longevity in the grueling, high-profile job in which he has struggled to strike the right balance between representing an administration that considers the media the "opposition party," and developing a functional relationship with the press.

"Trump doesn't like his people to look weak," added a top Trump donor. [Politico]

So in addition to everything else, Sean Spicer is now the victim of President Trump's bottomless sexual insecurity. Can't the guy catch a break?

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


HSAs: Big tax break or gimmick to benefit the wealthy? (Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News , 2/07/17,  @CNNMoney)

They are just three little words -- health savings accounts -- but they are generating a lot of buzz as Republicans contemplate plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Based on a long-held conservative view that consumers should be more responsible for their health care spending, expanding the use of HSAs is part of almost every GOP replacement plan under consideration on Capitol Hill.

Here's the theory behind HSAs: Making consumers bear a bigger upfront share of medical care -- while making it easier to save money tax-free for those costs -- will result in more judicious use of the health system that could ultimately slow rising costs.

While the details of the current proposals differ, they all generally seek to allow larger tax-free contributions to the accounts and greater flexibility on the types of medical services for which those funds can be used. Some include tax credit subsidies to help fund the accounts.

Supporters say premiums for the insurance linked to an HSA are lower, and they like HSAs' trifecta of tax savings -- no taxes on contributions, the growth of the funds in the account or on their withdrawal if spent on medical care. But skeptics note the tax break benefits wealthy people more than those with lower incomes.

Still, expect to hear a lot more about HSAs in the coming months. Here's what you need to know...

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM



IS has been weakened in recent months by battlefield defeats, the loss of territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and a decline in its finances and the size of its fighting forces. [...]

But Middle East experts and IS supporters say his election triumph could help revive the group's fortunes. They also believe his move late last month to temporarily ban refugees and bar nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries could work in the group's favor.

The executive order, on which IS has been silent, is in limbo after being overturned by a judge. But whether or not it is reinstated, it has angered Muslims across the world who, despite Trump's denials, see it as evidence that he and his administration are Islamophobic. [...]

"The ban on Muslim countries will undoubtedly undermine the global effort to discredit extremists," said Hassan Hassan, a writer on Islamist radicalism and co-author of the 2015 book "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror".

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which comprises 57 member states, said such "selective and discriminatory acts will only serve to embolden the radical narratives of extremists."

Jihadists are still celebrating Trump's election triumph in online forums, saying it vindicates their argument that his views show the United States' true face and that his policy will polarize communities, one of the militants' goals.

"It is a blessing from Allah to the Muslims who lost their loyalty and faithfulness and preferred to choose the worldly life with all its luxuries that exists in the apostate land over the land of belief," one jihadist wrote on the Islamist website al-Minbar.

IS has in recent months been significantly weakened on many fronts, with the caliphate it has created in parts of Iraq and Syria -- where it has also imposed its ultra-hardline rule on residents -- shrinking.

Islamophobia and Salafism are mutually dependent.
Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Leaks Suggest Trump's Own Team Is Alarmed By His Conduct : White House leaks are common, but leakers suggesting the president might be unfit for office are not. (S.V. Date , 2/07/17, The Huffington Post)

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that's good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call ― except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn's accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn't know, that it wasn't his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

Trump was not thrilled with that response ― but that may have been a function of the time of day. Trump had placed the call at 3 a.m., according to one of Flynn's retellings ― although neither the White House nor Flynn's office responded to requests for confirmation about that detail.

For Americans who based their impression of Trump on the competent and decisive tycoon he portrayed on his "Apprentice" TV reality shows, the portrait from these and many other tidbits emerging from his administration may seem a shock: an impulsive, sometimes petty chief executive more concerned with the adulation of the nation than the details of his own policies ― and quick to assign blame when things do not go his way.

There's a reason his businesses and marriages fail so often.
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Region Celebrates Fluff's 100th Birthday (Tracee M. Herbaugh, 2/07/17, Associated Press)

Every year, between 5 million and 7 million pounds of the gooey white cream invented in suburban Boston in 1917 is produced and sold worldwide, although half the supply is bought up by New Englanders and people in upstate New York.

It came of age in the 1960s, when generations of schoolchildren started clamoring for "Fluffernutter" sandwiches -- still made by slathering peanut butter and Fluff between two slices of white bread. [...]

In 1917, Montreal-born confectioner Archibald Query crafted the original recipe in his Somerville home.

Query is said to have whipped up the first batches in his own kitchen before selling it door to door. Following World War I there was a sugar shortage in the U.S., so Query sold the recipe for $500 to two war veterans, H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower.

The recipe has stayed with Durkee Mower Inc. ever since. It's the only product the family-owned company makes.

In 1920, Durkee and Mower began producing and selling Fluff, which they first named Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff. The company moved to a factory in East Lynn, Mass., in 1929.

The original recipe hasn't changed: corn syrup, sugar syrup, dried egg whites and vanillin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Keith Ellison is everything Republicans thought Obama was.  (Chris Visions, 2/07/17, Mother Jones)

[T]he story of Keith Ellison is the story conservatives wanted to believe about another cerebral African American community organizer from the Midwest--Barack Obama. Raised Catholic in Detroit, Ellison converted to Islam, dabbled in black nationalism, and marched with the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan--all before his first bid for Congress in 2006. His past dogged him in that run, and it has continued to be an issue in the DNC race: Billionaire Haim Saban, one of the Democrats' biggest donors, has trashed him as an "anti-Semite."

As a young activist in Minneapolis, Ellison learned to build coalitions outside the scope of party politics. He also learned the limits of what such activism could achieve without political power. For Ellison, it was a time of experimentation, education, and sometimes radical dalliances that ultimately imbued in his politics a hard-edged pragmatism. Many Democrats underestimated the extent to which Trump's religious intolerance and ravings about "inner cities" would appeal to broad, largely white swaths of the electorate. They banked on the arc of progress to knock him back. Ellison, who built his career battling racist institutions, knew better than to make that mistake.

Ellison was the third of five boys raised in a big brick house in a mixed-race enclave of Detroit known as Palmer Woods. His father, Leonard Ellison Sr., was a psychiatrist, an atheist, and a hard-ass who quizzed his sons on current events and drove them to Gettysburg to walk the battlefield every Easter. Leonard was a Republican, not an activist. While he once helped to integrate a sailboat race run by an all-white Detroit yacht club, he mostly believed in nudging a racist system through relentless achievement. The Ellison boys were expected to become either doctors or lawyers. They all did.

If his trajectory was ordained by his father, Ellison's worldview bore the imprint of his mother, Clida, a devout Catholic from a Louisiana Creole family. The congressman's maternal grandfather was a voting rights organizer in Natchitoches. Clida was sent to a boarding school for safety; the Ku Klux Klan once burned a cross outside their house. Clida's family tree--with roots in the Balkans, France, Spain, and West Africa--was a prism for understanding the absurdity of the South's racial caste system. Ellison's younger brother, Anthony, now a lawyer in Boston, recalled Ellison struggling with their mother's revelation that some of their Creole ancestors had owned slaves. During visits to a family cotton farm in Louisiana, Ellison brought notebooks and a tape recorder and spent hours interviewing relatives.

Ellison's political awakening, which he credits to reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X at age 13, came during a period of racial turmoil in Detroit. When riots started after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Ellison, then five, hid under his bed as National Guard personnel carriers cruised past his block. Over a two-and-a-half-year period in the early 1970s, one Detroit police unit that formed after the riots was accused of killing 21 African Americans. Ellison feared crime and the people tasked with stopping it. After graduating from high school in 1981, he majored in economics at nearby Wayne State University, moving out of his leafy neighborhood and into a one-bedroom apartment in the city's crack-ravaged Cass Corridor.

Ellison's first brush with controversy came a few months into his freshmen year. After joining the student newspaper, the South End, he persuaded the editor to publish a cartoon featuring five identical black men dribbling a basketball alongside a man in a Klan robe who was clutching a club. Above it was a question: "How many Honkies are in this picture?" It was meant to poke fun at racial caricatures, but students didn't see the humor. An African American classmate stormed into the newspaper's office to confront him--a scene Ellison breezily recounted in a follow-up column mocking the outcry. His critics were "still living in the Jim Crow era," Ellison wrote. The firestorm made the pages of the Detroit Free Press.

In the months to follow, friends noticed a change in Ellison. "He seemed to be a little more introspective, a little more circumspect," says Mary Chapman, a Detroit writer who worked on the South End. "Maybe he grew up."

Or maybe he found religion. Ellison had drifted from his mother's Catholic church, but it had left a void. In his 2014 memoir, My Country, 'Tis of Thee, Ellison writes that he began attending a mosque when he was 19--drawn by a billboard he passed on his commute. Clida Ellison described the reveal as more confusing than shocking. "He announced one day that he was going to mosque," she said, "and my next question was: 'What's mosque?'"

Increasingly, he devoted his energy to anti-apartheid activism, and his columns took on a new urgency. When Bernie Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder after shooting four black men on a New York City subway, Ellison warned, "[I]t won't be long before police officers, old ladies, weekend survival gamers, and everyone else considers it open season on the brothers."

He read a lot of Frantz Fanon, the Marxist anti-colonialist writer from Martinique, and in 1985 he attended a campus speech by Louis Farrakhan, the controversial Nation of Islam leader who blended calls for black empowerment with lengthy diatribes against Jews, gays, and other groups. "I remember talking to him and being surprised at how far left he had gone," says Chuck Fogel, an editor at the South End who lived next door to Ellison. But there was an air of experimentation to everything he did. In high school, Ellison had formed a short-lived ska and thrash-metal band called the Deviants. Now, Ellison would fiddle with his guitar incessantly, studying different variations of "Johnny B. Goode," Fogel recalls. Sometimes it was the Chuck Berry version. Sometimes it was Jimi Hendrix. "He was trying on things and searching."

Many democrats view Ellison as the kind of organizer the moment demands, capable of harnessing the resurgent movements of the left--racial justice and economic populism. But critics have flogged a consistent narrative about his past, one that has haunted him since his first run for Congress in 2006. The case against Ellison has its roots in his time at the University of Minnesota Law School, where he began making a name for himself as a fierce critic of police and a Farrakhan defender. It was a radical identity he outgrew, one that friends insist doesn't represent the Ellison of today, but one that fundamentally changed his idea of how politics worked.

Detroit had been a hub of black culture and political power. The Twin Cities were not. When Ellison arrived in the fall of 1987, the University of Minnesota had few tenured black professors. The state had just one black legislator. In an interview at the time, a young Ellison described the climate as "extremely isolating."

When the Africana Student Cultural Center sponsored speeches by Farrakhan and one of his associates, tensions erupted on campus between Jews and African Americans. Ellison, who had taken to calling himself "Keith Hakim," published a series of op-eds in the student paper, the Minnesota Daily, defending the Nation of Islam leader. The center also invited Kwame Ture, the black-power activist formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, to give a speech, during which he called Zionism a form of white supremacy. Ellison, then a member of the Black Law Student Association, introduced him.

In the hopes of mending fences, the university organized a series of conversations between black students and Jewish groups. Ellison could be deferential at these meetings. He thanked Jewish students for sticking up for black students' right to host controversial campus speakers--even if they had denounced those speakers--and suggested working together on common political causes. But he also insisted the charges that Ture was racist were unfounded. Michael Olenick, a Jewish student who clashed with Ellison and who was the opinions editor at the Daily, recalled Ellison maintaining that an oppressed group could not be racist toward Jews because Jews were themselves oppressors. "European white Jews are trying to oppress minorities all over the world," Olenick remembers Ellison arguing. "Keith would go on all the time about 'Jewish slave traders.'" Another Jewish student active in progressive politics recalled Ellison's incredulous response to the controversy over Zionism. "What are you afraid of?" Ellison asked. "Do you think black nationalists are gonna get power and hurt Jews?" (Ellison has rejected allegations of anti-Semitism. "I have always lived a politics defined by respecting differences, rejecting all forms of racism and anti-Semitism," he wrote recently. He declined to be interviewed for this story, and his office did not respond to detailed questions from Mother Jones.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Yemen Withdraws Permission for U.S. Antiterror Ground Missions (DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT, FEB. 7, 2017, NY Times)

Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials. [...]

It also calls into question whether the Pentagon will receive permission from the president for far more autonomy in selecting and executing its counterterrorism missions in Yemen, which it sought, unsuccessfully, from President Barack Obama in the last months of his term.

Mr. Obama deferred the decision to Mr. Trump, who appeared inclined to grant it: His approval of the Jan. 29 raid came over a dinner four nights earlier with his top national security aides, rather than in the kind of rigorous review in the Situation Room that became fairly routine under President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama.

The raid, in which just about everything went wrong, was an early test of Mr. Trump's national security decision-making -- and his willingness to rely on the assurances of his military advisers. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


How to be an American: Syrian refugees find a home in Trump country (Robert Samuels, Feb. 5th, 2017, Washington Post)

Here in deeply conservative Nebraska, President Trump's executive order banning refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim nations elicited complicated feelings about the state's relationship with refugees. Many Nebraskans had supported attempts to keep the country safe but still wanted to show their heart for people fleeing terrorism and war. Their state has taken in more refugees per capita than any other.

During the presidential campaign, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) became a prime critic of Trump in large part because of his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States. When Trump signed the executive order, Sasse criticized it as "too broad." On Sunday, Sasse criticized Trump again, this time for tweeting about the "so-called judge" who halted the order late Friday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who has supported a ban on Syrians from the moment Trump first pitched it, has also talked about welcoming refugees already here as a source of statewide pride.

Aljasem, who moved with her husband, Ahmad, 30, and their five children, said she felt grateful to arrive before Trump's ban. She felt guilt for those who hadn't.

"I tried to call my parents and I didn't hear from them," said Aljasem, whose wide eyes began to water when she spoke. "I don't know where they are. They could be dead."

She did get in contact with her sister, who was living in a refugee camp in Jordan. They shared dreams of reuniting, but now her sister wanted to know: Is the United States a good place to be?

Aljasem remembered pausing at the question. Then she told her sister about how the children have been making friends at school. She said she never saw anyone sneer at her headscarf or look at her in a "racist way." She had Jewish friends who helped drive her family to doctor's appointments and who were teaching her English. Her husband quickly found a job at a shampoo factory.

"The country is good," she recalled telling her. "It's really good. It's still good."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


US court grills Trump lawyer over 'terror' threats (Al Jazeera, 2/07/17)

A US federal appeals court has questioned whether a travel ban ordered by President Donald Trump unfairly targeted people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

During an oral argument lasting more than an hour, a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals pressed a government lawyer on Tuesday over whether the Trump administration's national security argument was backed by evidence that people from the seven nations posed a danger. [...]

Lawyer August Flentje represented the Trump administration in court on Tuesday.

When asked by the judges what evidence was used to connect the seven countries with attacks in the US, he said the "proceedings have been moving very fast" - without giving specific examples.

"I'm not sure I'm convincing the court," Flentje said at one point.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Syrian man leads Pledge of Allegiance at citizenship event (SOPHIA TAREEN, 2/07/17, Associated Press)

Rohi Atassi was among 117 immigrants to become the newest American citizens during a Chicago naturalization ceremony Tuesday, but the Syrian dentist stood out among his peers.

The 29-year-old was unexpectedly asked to lead immigrants from 37 countries in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Federal Judge Sara Ellis, who oversaw the ceremony, asked for a Syrian volunteer after delivering an impassioned speech about the difficulties immigrants face. [...]

During the ceremony, Ellis talked about her own experiences of becoming a U.S. citizen and judge. Her family is from Jamaica and she was born in Canada. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Trump says he's sleeping 4-5 hours a night (AP, 2/07/17)

President Donald Trump says he's working "long hours" and frequently only gets about four or five hours of sleep a night.

Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety (Healthy Sleep)

The demands and expectations of our modern society have placed increasing demands on our time, and more than ever people are making up for those demands by cutting back on sleep.

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that the cost of insufficient sleep is much higher than most people recognize.

Scientific research is revealing, for example, how sleep loss, and even poor-quality sleep, can lead to an increase in errors at the workplace, decreased productivity, and accidents that cost both lives and resources. Awareness can help you improve your sleep habits and in turn your safety.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


A Conservative Case for Climate Action (MARTIN S. FELDSTEIN, TED HALSTEAD and N. GREGORY MANKIW, FEB. 8, 2017, NY Times)

By contrast, an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working-class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change. We have laid out such a plan in a paper to be released Wednesday by the Climate Leadership Council.

Our co-authors include James A. Baker III, Treasury secretary for President Ronald Reagan and secretary of state for President George H. W. Bush; Henry M. Paulson Jr., Treasury secretary for President George W. Bush; George P. Shultz, Treasury secretary for President Richard Nixon and secretary of state for Mr. Reagan; Thomas Stephenson, a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture-capital firm; and Rob Walton, who recently completed 23 years as chairman of Walmart.

Our plan is built on four pillars.

First, the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints.

Second, the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments.

Third, American companies exporting to countries without comparable carbon pricing would receive rebates on the carbon taxes they've paid on those products, while imports from such countries would face fees on the carbon content of their products. This would protect American competitiveness and punish free-riding by other nations, encouraging them to adopt their own carbon pricing.

Finally, regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax would be eliminated, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

Our own analysis finds that a carbon dividends program starting at $40 per ton would achieve nearly twice the emissions reductions of all Obama-era climate regulations combined.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


The Comforts of the Betsy DeVos War (Ross Douthat, FEB. 7, 2017, NY Times)

Never mind that Trump's logorrheic nationalism barely has time for education. Never mind that local control of schools makes the Education Department a pretty weak player. Never mind that Republican views on education policy are much closer to the expert consensus than they are on, say, climate change. Never mind that the bulk of DeVos's school-choice work places her only somewhat to the right of the Obama administration's pro-charter-school positioning, close to centrist Democrats like Senator Cory Booker. None of that mattered: Against her and (so far) only her, Democrats went to the barricades, and even dragged a couple of wavering Republicans along with them.

DeVos did look unprepared and even foolish at times during her confirmation hearings, and she lacks the usual government experience. But officially the opposition claimed to be all about hardheaded policy empiricism. A limited and heavily regulated charter school program is one thing, the argument went, but DeVos's zeal for free markets would gut public education and turn kids over to the not-so-tender mercies of unqualified bottom-liners. Just look at what happened in her native Michigan, her critics charged, where the influence of her philanthropic dollars helped flood Detroit's school system with unsupervised charters run by incompetents and hacks.

But the empiricists' argument wasn't particularly empirical. There's no evidence that DeVos-backed charters actually visited disaster on Detroit's students. Instead, the very studies that get cited to critique her efforts actually show the city's charters modestly outperforming public schools.

That "modestly" is important, because it tracks with much of what we know about school choice in general -- that it offers real potential benefits without being a panacea. Decades of experiments suggest that choice can save money, improve outcomes for very poor kids whose public options are disastrous, and increase parental satisfaction. (The last is no small thing!) But the available evidence also suggests that choice alone won't revolutionize schools or turn slow learners into geniuses, that the clearest success stories are hard to replicate, and some experiments in privatization (like Louisiana's recent voucher push) can badly disappoint.

So in DeVos, we have an education secretary who perhaps errs a little too much on the side of choice-as-panacea, overseeing (with limited powers) an American education bureaucracy that pretty obviously errs the other way. And wherever you come down on striking the right balance, it's hard to see this situation as empirically deserving the level of political controversy that's attached to it.

So why did the Democrats fight so hard? Because in this particular case, the rules of normal pre-Trump politics still apply.

First, when interest groups talk, politicians listen -- and the teachers' unions are simply more powerful in Democratic circles, with more money and leverage and clout, than most of the groups leading the charge against other Trump policies or nominees. 

On school choice, wise words from the advocate you would never expect (Elizabeth English, Sean Kennedy, February 8, 2017, | AEIdeas)

Warren would be wise to re-read the words of a committed advocate for school reform and choice from back in 2003.

That thoughtful policy leader wrote:

An all-voucher or all-school choice system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shake out might be just what the system needs...But over time, the whole concept of "the Beverly Hills schools" or "Newton schools" would die out, replaced in the hierarchy by schools that offer a variety of programs that parents want for their children, regardless of the geographic boundaries. By selecting where to send their children (and where to spend their vouchers), parents would take control over schools' tax dollars, making them the de facto owners of those schools.

February 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


A Challenge to the 'Secular Stagnation' Theory (DAVID HARRISON, Jan 24, 2017, WSJ)

The paper, by Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, argues aging populations have not had a negative effect on the growth of per-capita gross domestic product. In fact, some aging countries have seen faster growth. The answer, they argue, might have to do with robots.

The economists find that countries where the population over age 50 is growing faster than the 20- to 49-year-old population have been more likely to acquire robots to do a worker's job. Those investments make it easier for firms to replace departing workers even when there are fewer younger workers to take the retirees' place.

Their finding counters the widely discussed "secular stagnation" theory put forward most forcefully by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who argues the slowing U.S. workforce growth rate brought about partly by baby-boomer retirements will hold down the country's potential growth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Why this Iranian conservative-turned-moderate will succeed Rafsanjani (Saheb Sadeghi, February 7, 2017, Al Monitor)

Larijani was appointed secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in 2005, but resigned in October 2007 after a dispute with then-President Ahmadinejad. Larijani was subsequently elected parliament speaker by the conservative camp in May 2008, and in turn, politically supported the latter.

In the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections, he, like Rafsanjani, kept his distance from the hard-liners. He asked police to be "kind to the people" and stressed people's right to vote and their freedom to express their opinions -- although he asked the protesters to draw a line between themselves and "the troublemakers." Under his leadership, parliament appointed a committee to probe the raids on Tehran University dorms in connection with the protests, sparking harsh criticism from conservatives. Indeed, the moderate position of Larijani drew such harsh criticism that he was called a silent seditionist, meaning that he did not share Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's position on the unrest.

In 2012, Larijani was re-elected to parliament and kept his speaker's post, while further distancing himself from Ahmadinejad and the hard-liners. Over time, he became a major critic of the Ahmadinejad government's policies and wrote critical letters about its "unlawful actions." In response, Ahmadinejad's supporters attacked Larijani as he was visiting the holy city of Qom in February 2012. Hard-liners threw shoes and rocks at him during a speech, which was particularly insulting since Qom is his home constituency.

Larijani's opposition to the hard-liners became even more evident with the arrival of Rouhani to power in 2013. With Rouhani as president, Larijani vastly improved the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. He more actively confronted the previous (2012-2016) conservative-dominated parliament, as evidenced by his fierce backing of the nuclear deal. Indeed, while the parliament's special commission for examining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action opposed it, it was Larijani who convinced a majority of legislators to approve the nuclear deal in 2015 -- much to the chagrin of the hard-liners.

In the February 2016 parliamentary elections, he declared himself an independent, largely in response to conservatives who no longer wanted him in their camp. Curiously, the Reformists seized on the latter by putting him on their ticket -- even though Larijani publicly announced that he had not requested it. After winning a seat, he became speaker once again -- notably with the support of Rouhani, and even though the head of the moderate-Reformist ticket, Mohammad Reza Aref, had sought the position.

In the past 10 years, Larijani has consistently tried to remain nonfactional and interact with all sections of the political spectrum. He has great influence within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC); the supreme leader trusts him; and he is popular among traditional clergymen. At the same time, he has maintained good relations with the Rouhani administration. Above all, he has transformed from a conservative to a moderate politician.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Trump Team Shuffles Lawyers in Hours Before Travel Ban Hearing (Greg Farrell  and Tom Schoenberg, February 7, 2017, Bloomberg)

Just hours before mounting the biggest defense of the young Trump administration, the Justice Department swapped lawyers.

The U.S. said the two top lawyers representing the U.S. would not take part in Tuesday's hearing, because of their past relationship with one of the world's biggest law firms, Jones Day. Instead, August Flentje, a longtime Justice Department lawyer, will argue the administration's case.

The lawyers who stepped aside worked until recently at Jones Day, which filed a brief on Monday opposing the administration's order to bar U.S. entry to people traveling from seven majority-Muslim countries. The executive branch doesn't have "unreviewable authority" to suspend the admission of a class of aliens, Jones Day argued in a brief on behalf of several constitutional scholars.

Based on the reporting, it didn't matter who presented Donald's execrable case.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM

NOT THE ONION? (profanity alert):

Do Your Job (STEPHEN SQUIBB, 2/07/17, n+1)

After the election, Belichick dissembled on the question of his Trump letter: I write letters to lots of people, some of my best friends are Democrats, et cetera. Brady has refused to speak on the topic of Trump, beyond saying that being friends with someone doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they do. Disgusted by this display, I did not watch the Patriots for the first time in almost two decades. Their first game post-election, they lost to the Seahawks and a friend texted, "Is it wrong to be happy?" We wanted desperately for Belichick and Brady to know how much they had hurt us and I still want that because I still hurt. Their cowardice will never be forgotten, nor should it. "How can I forgive them?" I whined, via text, to my friend from home who works for a Democratic congressman from California. "Church and State homey," he texted back, "don't sweat it." [...]

If I remain disappointed in Brady and Belichick, it is for the same reason that I remain disappointed in white American men everywhere. A union man and a class traitor, respectively (Belichick is the only coach not in the union), Brady and Bill serve at the behest of the local potentate, no more independent of mind or intelligence than one of Louis XIV's personal tailors. 

This can not not be satire.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


White House ramping up search for communications director after Spicer's rocky start (Jim Acosta, CNN)

A source familiar with internal communications said President Donald Trump is disappointed in Spicer's performance during the first two weeks of the administration. [...]

Over the weekend, Spicer was played by comedian Melissa McCarthy in a scathing skit on the daily White House press briefing on Saturday Night Live.

The President, sources say, was not amused by the performance.

...so we can be rid of him too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM

Omelette in a Mug (Simply Recipes, 2/07/17)

Cooking spray or olive oil
2 eggs
1 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp grated cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp finely chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives or green onion greens
Pinch salt
Pinch of black pepper


1 Spray the inside of a large, microwave-safe mug lightly with cooking oil spray, or coat the inside of the mug with olive oil.

2 Crack 2 eggs into the mug, add 1 tablespoon of milk, and beat with a fork.

3 Add grated cheese and other extras such as chopped red bell pepper or chives. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir with a fork until well mixed.

4 Microwave and stir in 20 to 30 second increments: Microwave for 30 second on high. Remove from microwave and stir with a fork.

Return to the microwave and cook for another 20 to 30 seconds. (Whether it's 20 or 30 depends on the power of your microwave, you may need to experiment to see what times work best for your situtation.)

You'll see patches of firm cooked egg mixture beginning to form. Remove and stir again.

Return to the microwave and cook for another 20 to 30 seconds or until the omelette has set.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Robots 'could replace 250,000 UK public sector workers' (Damien Gayle, 6 February 2017, The Guardian)

Almost 250,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs to robots over the next 15 years, according to a new report which claims machines would be more efficient and save billions of pounds.

Reform, a right-of-centre thinktank, says websites and artificial intelligence "chat bots" could replace up to 90% of Whitehall's administrators, as well as tens of thousands in the NHS and GPs' surgeries, by 2030 - saving as much as £4bn a year.

Even nurses and doctors could fall victim to the march of the machines, which the report says can outperform humans at some diagnoses and routine surgical procedures, and are more efficient at collecting information.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Trump's Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Plan Could Be DOA (Eric Pianin, February 7, 2017, Fiscal Times)

 "We're insisting it has to be direct spending," a Senate Democratic aide explained on Monday. "Real spending and not tax credits that go to the private industry. It has to be real direct spending that's going into these projects."

But this approach to stimulus spending immediately became a stumbling block for the GOP - not as much for Trump as for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) who are insisting that new infrastructure spending must be paid for.

McConnell, in particular, is opposed to any fiscal or budgetary program that even hints of the Obama administration's highly controversial 2009 stimulus package that cost the government an estimated $862 billion. Obama promised that the large package of construction projects would boost the economy and create thousands of permanent jobs, but the initiative fell well short of its goals.

He's so unpopular he has no leverage with anyone.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


It's Not Just Rhetoric Anymore. Government by White Nationalism Is Upon Us. ( Jamelle Bouie, 2/07/17, Slate)

Stephen Miller has a lower profile than either Sessions or Bannon, but he's made his mark as a staffer for the former. "You could not get where we are today with this movement if it didn't have a center of gravity that was intellectually coherent," said Bannon of Miller in an interview with Politico Magazine. "And I think a ton of that was done by Sen. Sessions' staff, and Stephen Miller was at the cutting edge of that." As a student at Duke University, the now-30-year-old Miller worked closely with Richard Spencer, then a graduate student who would leave the academy and become an intellectual leader for the "alt-right," an online movement of white nationalists. And as a columnist for the campus paper, Miller worried that "immigrants from non-European countries were not assimilating."

Last year, as a key member of Trump's presidential team, Miller had a strong hand in guiding the Republican nominee's rhetoric on Muslim immigration. My colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley notes that Miller likely wrote the Trump speech that "complained darkly that Muslim communities within the United States were sheltering terrorists." "[I]mmigration is probably the most, in Stephen's view, one of the most existential issues facing us right now," says a former colleague of Miller in an interview with the Atlantic. He is just as instrumental to the direction of the Trump White House as Sessions and Bannon, just as committed to an ideology of exclusion and white hegemony.

We can't know for certain how many Americans voted for these ideas and this approach. What we can say is that tens of millions experienced Donald Trump's campaign, heard his racist appeals, and set them aside to take a chance on an "outsider." Now we're faced with the extraordinary: A White House whose chief thinkers and architects are white nationalists, keepers of a dangerous tradition in our history, with an unprecedented opportunity to pull the United States back a century to an era of unvarnished nativism and prejudice. The past three weeks are likely just the beginning; we are sure to see even more action against immigrants and Muslims, even more tolerance for the worst forces in American life.

In this usage, white nationalist isn't a pejorative; it's the best term we have for the ideology of the Trump administration, one that gives coherence to its actions and approach. White nationalist helps us see how the expansive refugee ban is tied to the efforts to deny government benefits to legal residents and is tied to the promise by Trump to protect entitlements for those who receive them. It helps us see how his "populism" excludes tens of millions of Americans, and why he seems more interested in narrow enthusiasm versus broad popularity. And it gives a sense of what might follow in a Trump administration: not just demonization of disfavored minorities but possible attempts to expand the welfare state for the "deserving," defined by race--a kind of welfare chauvinism. As he did during the campaign, Trump may adopt slogans and ideas from the left and right, not because he's really a conservative or really a liberal, but because white nationalism exists outside the familiar divide. It confounds the left-right spectrum as we understand it in the United States. Trumpish policy won't fall neatly into our old categories of liberal and conservative. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Obamacare Repeal Is Failing Because It Was Based on a Lie (Jonathan Chait, Feb. 7th, 2017, New York)

Last week, Richard Hanna, a Republican from central New York who just retired from Congress, admitted something that almost no member of his party in elected office has been willing to concede in public. "At the end of the day, the Affordable Care Act will in some form survive, and the millions of people who are on it will have insurance," he said. "It's something this country needed and something people want. Politically, it's untenable to just wipe it away. So who really won? In my argument, the president, Obama, won. At the end of the day we will have some sort of national health care that's going to look very similar to what we have." The mania for destroying the law is faltering because the Republican crusade to kill Obamacare was always based on delusions that are no longer possible to conceal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Offshore Wind Moves Into Energy's Mainstream (Stanley Reed, Feb. 7th, 2017, NY Times)

Off this venerable British port city, a Danish company, Dong Energy, is installing 32 turbines that stretch 600 feet high. Each turbine produces more power than that first facility.

It is precisely the size, both of the projects and the profits they can bring, that has grabbed the attention of financial institutions, money managers and private equity funds, like the investment bank Goldman Sachs, as well as wealthy individuals like the owner of the Danish toymaker Lego. As the technology has improved and demand for renewable energy has risen, costs have fallen.

And offshore wind, once a fringe investment, with limited scope and reliant on government subsidies, is moving into the mainstream. [...]

Turbines today are bigger, produce much more electricity and are deployed on much larger sites than in the past. The result is more clean power and extra revenue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Exclusive: How Theresa May poked fun at the size of Donald Trump's hands (Ben Riley-Smith, 7 FEBRUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

Applauded as she stood to speak at a reception with Tory donors on Monday, Mrs May said:

Thank you very much for that wonderful reception.

I don't think I have received such a big hand since I walked down the colonnade at the White House.

The joke came at the Black and White Ball, the Tory annual fundraiser the sees a live auction of prizes to raise funds for the party. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Trump's Travel Ban, Aimed at Terrorists, Has Blocked Doctors (Donald G. McNeil Jr.|Feb. 6th, 2017, NY Times)

Foreign-born physicians have become crucial to the delivery of medical care in the United States. They work in small towns where there are no other doctors, in poor urban neighborhoods and in Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Forty-two percent of office visits in rural America are with foreign-born physicians, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Foreign-born physicians "are the doctors in small towns in Maine and Iowa," said Dr. Patricia F. Walker, the associate director of the University of Minnesota's Global Health Pathway, which helps refugee doctors practice in the United States.

"They go to the places where graduates of Harvard Medical School don't want to go," she said.

As long as it's only fly-over country that's harmed....

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


The Thomas Hobbes Presidency (Bret Stephens, 2/07/17, WSJ)

First, the obvious: Had it been Barack Obama, rather than Donald Trump, who suggested a moral equivalency between the United States and Vladimir Putin's Russia, Republican politicians would not now be rushing through their objections to the comparison in TV interviews while hoping to pivot to tax reform.

Had it been the president of three weeks ago who had answered Bill O'Reilly's comment that Mr. Putin "is a killer" by saying, "We've got a lot of killers," and "What do you think? Our country's so innocent?" conservative pundits wouldn't rest with calling the remark "inexplicable" or "troubling." They would call it moral treason and spend the next four years playing the same clip on repeat, right through the next election.

In 2009, Mr. Obama gave a series of speeches containing passing expressions of regret for vaguely specified blemishes from the American past. Examples: "The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in history." And "we've made some mistakes." This was the so-called Apology Tour, in which the word "apologize" was never uttered. Even so, conservatives still fume about it.

This time, Mr. Trump didn't apologize for America. He indicted it. He did so in language unprecedented for any sitting or former president. He did it in a manner guaranteed, and perhaps calculated, to vindicate every hard-left slander of "Amerika." If you are the sort who believes the CIA assassinated JFK, masterminded the crack-cocaine epidemic, and deliberately lied us into the war in Iraq--conspiracy theories on a moral par with the way the Putin regime behaves in actual fact--then this president is for you.

Only he's worse.

It's why nativists are always nostalgic; they hate the America they live in.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Trump (Chris Edelson, Feb. 6th, 2017, Baltimore Sun)

A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.

At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.

At Kennedy Airport, still other federal employees detained and handcuffed a 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The woman was held for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.

The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.

When we worry and wonder about authoritarian regimes that inflict cruelty on civilians, we often imagine tyrannical despots unilaterally advancing their sinister agendas. But no would-be autocrat can act alone. As a practical matter, he needs subordinates willing to carry out orders. Of course, neither Donald Trump nor Steve Bannon personally detained any of the more than 100 people held at airports over the weekend pursuant to the administration's executive order on immigration, visitation and travel to the United States. They relied on assistance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


What Steve Bannon Wants You to Read (ELIANA JOHNSON and ELI STOKOLS, February 07, 2017, Politico)

Bannon's readings tend to have one thing in common: the view that technocrats have put Western civilization on a downward trajectory, and that only a shock to the system can reverse its decline. And they tend to have a dark, apocalyptic tone that at times echoes Bannon's own public remarks over the years--a sense that humanity is at a hinge point in history. His ascendant presence in the West Wing is giving once-obscure intellectuals unexpected influence over the highest echelons of government.

Bannon's 2015 documentary, "Generation Zero," drew heavily on one of his favorite books, "The Fourth Turning" by William Strauss and Neil Howe, which explains a theory of history unfolding in 80-100 year cycles or "turnings," the fourth and final stage of which is marked by periods of cataclysmic change in which the old order is destroyed and replaced--a current period that, in Bannon's view, was sparked by the 2008 financial crisis and has now been manifested in part by the rise of Trump. [...]

Before he emerged on the political scene, an obscure Silicon Valley computer programmer with ties to Trump backer and PayPal co-found Peter Thiel was explaining his behavior. Curtis Yarvin, the self-proclaimed "neoreactionary" who blogs under the name "Mencius Moldbug," attracted a following in 2008 when he published a wordy treatise asserting, among other things, that "nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth." When he was frogmarched out of a computer software conference where he was scheduled to speak following an outcry over his blogging under his nom de web, Bannon took note: Breitbart News decried the act of censorship in an article about the programmer/blogger's dismissal.

Moldbug's dense, discursive musings on history--"What's so bad about the Nazis?" he asks in one 2008 treatise that condemns the Holocaust but questions the moral superiority of the Allies--include a belief in the utility of spreading misinformation that now looks like a template for Trump's approach to truth. "To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable [sic] demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army," he writes in a May 2008 post. [...]

Moldbug, who does not do interviews and could not be reached for this story, has opened up a line to the White House, communicating with Bannon and his aides through an intermediary, according to a source. During the transition, he made clear his deep skepticism that the Russians were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the source said - a message that Trump himself reiterated several times.

Of course, it was internationalist technocrats--W, the UR and Ben Bernanke--who prevented the 2008 credit crunch from being more than a bump.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


InfoWars is behind President Trump's idea that the media is covering up terrorist attacks (Aaron Blake, Feb. 6th, 2017, Washington Post)

The comments would seem to be a response to the hubbub over Kellyanne Conway having repeatedly cited a non-existent terror attack in Bowling Green, Ky., in recent days. But Trump doesn't appear to have totally invented this theory on the fly.

Instead, the kernel of the idea appears to have come from -- or at least been propagated by -- one of his favorite news sources: the conspiracy theory website InfoWars.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


This new study shows how important it is for kids to have married parents (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Feb. 7th, 2017, The Week)

A growing body of sociological findings strongly suggest that family instability has negative effects on children reaching well into adulthood, from perceived well-being to educational attainment to income.

To wit: The Institute for Family Studies and the Social Trends Institute just released their 2017 World Family Map, a fascinating look at family trends all across the developed world, drawing on data from more than 60 countries.

One of the report's key findings? A link between cohabitation -- when two unmarried people live together -- and family instability. [...]

This new research finds that children born to cohabiting couples in the United States and Europe are much more likely to see their parents break up before they turn 12 than are children born to married couples. Indeed, in 17 European countries and in the United States, highly educated cohabiting couples with children are typically more likely to break up than less-educated married couples with children. This suggests that educational status and economics aren't the whole ball game. In 68 countries across the globe, the rise in the share of children born to cohabiting couples is associated with increased family instability for children, the report says. The effect is present even for famously progressive countries like France. In the U.S., according to the report, among children whose mothers have high education levels, 49 percent of children in cohabiting families will experience a breakup in the family, compared to just 18 percent of children whose parents are married. And even highly educated cohabiting parents in the U.S. experience higher levels of breakups (49 percent) than do less-educated married parents (26 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


How Trump Chose His Supreme Court Nominee (Adam Liptak, Feb. 6th, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's lists -- the second one added 10 names, including that of Judge Gorsuch -- leaned on recommendations from two conservative groups, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. Both lists were compiled by Donald F. McGahn, Mr. Trump's longtime election lawyer and now the White House counsel. [...]

Mr. Pence, the official said, was particularly engaged in the selection process. [...]

Judge Gorsuch emerged from the interviews as a strong contender, partly because of his intellectual polish and partly because of support from other candidates.

"If not you, who?" they were asked, an official said. "Most of them said Gorsuch. Kethledge went on about him for three or four minutes." [...]

Mr. Trump's team is already looking down the road, weighing the choices should Justice Anthony M. Kennedy decide to step down. Judge Kethledge would be a leading candidate, an official said, and so would Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the Federal Appeals Court in Washington.

Both judges, like Judge Gorsuch, once served as law clerks to Justice Kennedy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Spicer: Trump doesn't own a bathrobe (Kevin Liptak, February 6, 2017, CNN)

Pushing back on a New York Times article detailing disorder in the West Wing, press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday the reporters got their facts wrong -- including the eye-catching detail that Trump watches TV in his bathrobe. [...]

Shortly after Spicer's comments, several Twitter users circulated images of a younger Trump clad in a bathrobe.

A spoof Twitter account, @POTUSBathrobe, even popped up, tweeting: "Oh, I exist."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Study: 92% of 'Anti-Fascist' Protesters in Europe Still Live With Their Mom (Kieran Corcoran, February 7, 2017, Heat Street)

The study was carried out with data from Germany, and published in the German tabloid BILD - so results may vary compared to other Western activists.

Nonetheless - the findings ring true:

84% are male
72% are aged 18-29
90% are single
34% are unemployed

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Trump's pick for labor secretary admits to employing illegal immigrant: media (Reuters, 2/07/17)

U.S. President Donald Trump's choice to lead the Labor Department has admitted to employing an undocumented immigrant as a house cleaner, according to multiple media reports on a revelation that has derailed previous Cabinet nominees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


The Patriots And Falcons Became Who We Thought They Were (Kyle Wagner, Feb. 6th, 2017, 538)

On the Patriots' side, Belichick and his apostles are up for beatification. Tom Brady led five consecutive scoring drives to stage the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, setting records for pass attempts, completions and yardage in the championship game. Julian Edelman made the cleat catch. And the Patriots defense clamped down to hold the Falcons scoreless in their final four drives. The turnaround was so dramatic that it practically unwound the ESPN win-probability model in real time. These are seemingly acts of a higher power.

Except Brady, of course, hadn't been perfect all game. Before the Patriots offense clicked into action late in the third, Brady missed Julian Edelman badly on a few throws and was making uncharacteristic errors. Partly this was due to the Falcons pass rush getting to him using just four rushers. In the second half, New England's massive time-of-possession advantage began to show as the Falcons' pass rush faded. ("I think for sure we ran out of gas some," said Falcons coach Dan Quinn. "I don't know what the time of possession was, I didn't look at that. But I can tell you how hard these guys battled for it.")

The thing that pressure does to Brady is not just make him inaccurate, but one-dimensional.  He starts only looking for only one receiver : Gronk when healthy; Edelman when not. Take away his throws to Edelman on Sunday night and his numbers are filthy. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Report: Cash-Flow Tax System Would Improve Simplicity, Income Inequality, Economic Growth (Ali Meyer, February 6, 2017, Free Beacon)

"Another way to think about the border adjustment is that the corporate tax would ignore revenues and costs associated with cross-border transactions," according to the Tax Foundation. "The tax would be solely focused on raising revenue from business transactions from sales of goods in the United States."

Two economists from the Treasury Department and the Congressional Budget Office evaluated how replacing the current corporate tax system with a destination-based cash flow tax system would impact the economy.

"There are reasons why a cash flow business tax paired with an individual income tax on wages and capital income might be sensible in the United States," the authors said. "For example, as reform options are considered in the current public discourse, there have been broad calls for reforms that would simultaneously spur growth and help address increasing income inequality."

"The combination of a business tax on cash flow and a progressive individual income tax on wages and capital income might prove to be a path forward," they said.

The authors noted that the cash flow system would simplify the tax system by focusing on the point of purchase or sale instead of the types of goods purchased or sold. The new system also would spur growth by removing a disincentive to investment. Finally, the cash flow system could reduce income inequality since the current corporate tax system adversely affects labor.

"Our findings, coupled with the potential advantages that a cash flow tax provides in terms [of] simplicity, incentives for growth, potential progressivity, and fewer distortions on firm location choices, lead us to conclude that this style of reform is promising," the report states.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


As Goldman Embraces Automation, Even the Masters of the Universe Are Threatened : Software that works on Wall Street is changing how business is done and who profits from it. (Nanette Byrnes  February 7, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

At its height back in 2000, the U.S. cash equities trading desk at Goldman Sachs's New York headquarters employed 600 traders, buying and selling stock on the orders of the investment bank's large clients. Today there are just two equity traders left.

Automated trading programs have taken over the rest of the work, supported by 200 computer engineers. Marty Chavez, the company's deputy chief financial officer and former chief information officer, explained all this to attendees at a symposium on computing's impact on economic activity held by Harvard's Institute for Applied Computational Science last month.

The experience of its New York traders is just one early example of a transformation of Goldman Sachs, and increasingly other Wall Street firms, that began with the rise in computerized trading, but has accelerated over the past five years, moving into more fields of finance that humans once dominated. Chavez, who will become chief financial officer in April, says areas of trading like currencies and even parts of business lines like investment banking are moving in the same automated direction that equities have already traveled.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


The Crown: A Celebration of Traditionalism (RACHEL LU, 2/07/17, Crisis)

Perhaps we are missing something. The Crown gives us the hard sell on that possibility.

Presumably the creators recognized that they would need to sell it a little, because a show about the superfluousness of modern monarchs wouldn't stay interesting for very long. That effort pushes The Crown into something rare and delightful: a contemporary drama that embraces a robust traditionalism.

The monarchy may not be politically powerful anymore, but the crown is still heavy, both literally and figuratively. Nearly every historical drama makes something of the struggle between tradition and changing times, but most cheer for progress, with the result being a triumphalist vindication of modern-day mores. The Crown can't easily follow that path because of, well, the crown. If society's primary goal is to throw off the benighted ways of our forbears, kings and queens will be the first thing to go. In discerning a meaningful role for the monarch, one must also find a meaningful role for tradition, and this is a major theme of the show. The young Queen Elizabeth must negotiate a blitz of conflicting demands that are placed on her, most of which are rooted in one way or another in the soil of tradition. As queen, she knows that she has particular obligations to tradition, so she is uniquely entrusted with sifting through the relevant questions.

In Episode 3, Windsor, we see Elizabeth struggling with her husband's demand that his name (Mountbatten) be passed on to their children. Initially, she agrees. She sympathizes with Phillip's desire, as paterfamilias, to bequeath his name to his family. The reality though is that her family is also England's royal family, which means that a national tradition would have to be sacrificed to meet his request. That seems unacceptable to many Brits, who view the House of Windsor as their royal line. As queen, Elizabeth knows she has obligations to Britain as well as to Philip.

What's remarkable about this episode is that it never even broaches the possibility that names don't really matter, or that Philip's demand is just evidence of his archaic patriarchal mindset. The bad kind of historical drama might end on a scene in which Elizabeth confesses to a friend that she doesn't see the point of these silly name disputes; aren't names in the end just something to put on the letterhead? That scene never occurs. Elizabeth is conflicted precisely because she recognizes the merits of both claims, and takes both seriously. Tradition is weighty, but someone has to try to carry that weight. Heavy is the head that bears the crown.

Conundrums of this sort recur repeatedly throughout the series. Should Elizabeth support a marriage between her sister and divorced (former) employee of the family? As a sister she wants to; as a queen she worries about the example this might set. Should she berate Winston Churchill and other elite statesmen for trying to hoodwink her with false information? This seems terrifying and even unfitting for a young and inexperienced woman, but as queen she believes it to be her duty. Must she bow to tradition by hiring the "next man in line" as her personal secretary, even though she prefers someone else?

To some, these conflicts might seem trivial and uninteresting. The show brilliantly illustrates why they are not. The struggle to mediate between past and future is vitally important, and a conscientious modern monarch, precisely because she doesn't have real administrative duties, can devote herself full time to safeguarding customs, mores, and the dignity that should properly attach to legitimate government. She assures the people that their ancient greatness is not forgotten. She exhorts faltering politicians to aim higher, and conducting themselves in a way that befits the leaders of a great nation. Watching this unfold, I am stirred with a gentle envy. I know that she's a busy lady and all, but might she spare a little time to reprimand our public officials like that?

If only Franklin had succeeded, we'd have a monarch to perfect the Republic.


Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


I'm Pro-Life, and Pro-Refugee (Scott Arbeiter, Feb. 7th, 2017, NY Times)

I am an evangelical Christian, and central to that is my belief in the sanctity of all life -- a belief that, like millions of other evangelicals, I have expressed through my opposition to abortion. Over the past 40 years my wife and I have joined silent prayer walks and have given to crisis pregnancy centers. We have written to our elected leaders, debated with friends and family who disagreed with us and sought to influence our culture to value life at every stage, especially those not yet born. [...]

[T]ake another issue, right now in the news and central to my work: our country's response to the global refugee crisis. I understand the concern that many of my neighbors have about security. But how can I demand absolute security for myself (which I do not expect or demand in any other part of my life) while 65 million people are fleeing the very terrorism, war and persecution that are the antithesis of life?

The fact is, no refugees can simply choose to come to the United States. They can enter the United States only if invited by the State Department. More than that, they must generally undergo 18 to 24 months of vetting by the Department of Homeland Security, F.B.I. and other agencies.

Since 1980, three million refugees have been resettled in the United States. In that time not one has taken the life of an American in an act of terrorism. The conservative Cato Institute estimates that the likelihood of an individual American being killed in an act of terrorism committed by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion a year. Somehow it does not feel truly and fully pro-life to be unwilling to give up one-3.64 billionth of my security to make room for someone bombed out of their city, someone who is homeless, cold and unwelcomed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Confessions of a Catholic convert to capitalism (Arthur C. Brooks, Jan. 31st, 2017, America)

Today, more than two-thirds of Americans think global poverty has worsened over the past three decades.

This assumption and the attendant beliefs about capitalism hit a snag when I studied economics for the first time. In reality, I learned, humanity has starvation-level poverty on the run. Since 1970, the fraction of the global population that survives on one dollar or less a day (adjusted for inflation) has shrunk by 80 percent. Since 1990, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has collapsed by more than 50 percent. Life expectancy and literacy rates have steadily climbed.

When faced with suffering, we often ask a conventional question: "Why are some people poor?" But grinding material poverty was the norm for the vast majority of people through the vast majority of human history. Our ancestors had no concept that mass poverty was an acute social problem that cried out for remedies. Deprivation was simply the background condition for everyone.

In just the last few hundred years, that all changed for a few billion people. So the right question today is: "Why did whole parts of the world cease to be poor for the first time in history?" And further: "What can we do to share this ahistorical prosperity with more people?" Economics taught me that two billion of my brothers and sisters had escaped poverty in my own lifetime. This was a modern-day miracle. I had to find its source.

My search for the "why" of this miracle required almost no detective work. Virtually all development economists, across the mainstream political spectrum, agreed on the core explanation. It was not the success of international organizations like the United Nations (as important as they are) nor benevolent foreign aid that pulled billions back from the brink of starvation. Rather, the responsibility lay with five interrelated forces that were in the midst of reshaping the worldwide economy: globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law and the culture of entrepreneurship. In short, it was the American free enterprise system, spreading around the world, that had effected this anti-poverty miracle.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


18 rabbis arrested during protest at Trump hotel (Ben Sales, February 6, 2017, Jewish Telegraph)

"Headed to 33rd precinct as one of 18 rabbis arrested tonight to send message that Jewish community stands with refugees & immigrants & refuses to let US close its borders again. #neveragain," Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T'ruah's executive director, posted on Facebook just before 9:30 p.m., about an hour after many of the protesters had left.

Protesters, many of them rabbis, came to the demonstration wearing prayer shawls, while others blew shofars to signal their opposition to last week's ban on refugees and nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was enacted on Jan. 27 and temporarily stayed by a federal judge one week later.

The crowd, barricaded by police, chanted "No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here." Protesters held signs reading "My people were refugees too" and "another rabbi standing for justice."

February 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Lessons From a Legendary Loss (Kevin Clark, Feb. 6th, 2017, The Ringer)

Other than the henchmen in Bond movies, who fall down at the most inopportune moments, no one makes more mistakes than teams playing New England in Super Bowls. The Seattle Seahawks threw from the 1-yard line against the Patriots with a championship on the line despite employing Marshawn Lynch at the time, and Malcolm Butler promptly picked the pass. The Philadelphia Eagles ran the slowest hurry-up offense in history against them in the Super Bowl, playing with no urgency and all but ensuring they'd never get close late. The Panthers kicked off out of bounds before the final possession of their Super Bowl, giving the Patriots amazing field position and setting up a game-winning field goal. The Rams famously wouldn't move away from Marshall Faulk even though the Patriots were roughing him up on every play and Rams players were begging head coach Mike Martz to change the game plan.

In essence, the Patriots turn every opponent into a Gus Bradley team. That isn't luck; it's strategy. As I wrote after New England sealed its 34-28 victory on Sunday, consistency is the key: Bill Belichick's team does the correct thing over and over until the opponent does the wrong thing.  [...]

From now on, when young coaches come up through the NFL ranks, the vets will show them the Falcons' fourth quarter as a prime example of how not to close out a game. Past Patriots wins have reinforced some basic football know-how -- seriously, people, don't ever throw the ball from the damn 1-yard line! -- and this game reminded us all that running the ball to drain clock is generally pretty wise.

Sure, NFL coaches have theoretically known this for 100 years, but that didn't affect offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who called just five run plays after Atlanta went up 28-3 in the second half. [...]

After the loss, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn admitted that his team ran "out of gas" in the fourth quarter. A few feet away from where Quinn was speaking, the Patriots were widely discussing their outstanding conditioning. Fitness was a talking point for both sides because it truly mattered late. The Patriots ran almost double the plays the Falcons ran, so it's no surprise the defense was tired, but that doesn't account for the Atlanta offense losing so much steam. Also, uh, the Patriots were on the field for all of those offensive plays as well, and they managed to maintain plenty of zip on offense.

Belichick spoke after the game about how important conditioning was in the contest, echoing something he's long preached. He noted specifically that superior conditioning is the main attribute that former lacrosse star Chris Hogan brought with him from his prior sport. Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who notably got significantly better in the fourth quarter and made a will-be-shown-in-every-New England-bar-forever catch on a pass everyone who lives in Atlanta bobbled, talked after the game about the New England hills that coaches make the players run. "We've got these stupid hills in Foxborough that we have to run, and we all bitch and complain about it, but we do it," Edelman said. 

And it certainly looked like the two teams could have played forever and the Pats would have scored on every drive while the Falcons never would have scored again.  It was like they got rope-a-doped.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Wall Street Remembers Why It Was Afraid of President Trump (Eric Levitz, 2/06/17, New York)

[W]hile Trump seems less than sincere in his economic populism, he appears to be quite genuine in his nativism. His first weeks in office have featured radical immigration restrictions enacted via executive order, vows to repatriate global supply chains, and noises about defunding the United Nations.

Now, Goldman Sachs is starting to remember why it was once "with her."

"Following the election, the positive shift in sentiment among investors, business, and consumers suggested that the probability of tax cuts and easier regulation was seen to be higher than the probability of meaningful restrictions to trade and immigration," a group of Goldman Sachs economists, led by Alec Phillips, wrote in a note late last week. "One month into the year, the balance of risks is somewhat less positive in our view." [...]

Finally, there are the "recent developments," themselves, which "serve as a reminder that the president is likely to follow through on campaign promises on trade and immigration, some of which could be disruptive for financial markets and the real economy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Paul Ryan hints that Trump may not be able to completely dismantle the Iran nuclear deal (PAMELA ENGEL, FEB 4, 2017, Business Insider)

"Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd asked Ryan whether he'd like to "see the beginnings of trying to get out of the nuclear deal," and Ryan replied that "a lot of that toothpaste is already out of the tube."

"I never supported the deal in the first place," Ryan said, according to an advance transcript. "I thought it was a huge mistake. But the multilateral sanctions are done."

Ryan said he doesn't think the government is "going to go back and reconstitute the multilateral sanctions that were in place."

"I think we should expend our effort where it can pay off the most," Ryan said. "And that's why I think what they're doing now does make a lot of sense. So I think the key is to rigorously enforce this deal."

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Trump's State Department in Cone of Silence Due to Lack of Staff (Nick Wadhams, February 6, 2017, Bloomberg)

For the third consecutive week since Trump took office, State Department press briefings normally held every workday haven't been scheduled, no chief of staff has been named and many of the most senior posts at the department remain vacant. By this time in the Obama administration, the State Department had given 11 daily briefings.

"The schedule has been slipping for years, but this may be the most extreme case ever," said Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs who served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union. "Al Haig had all his assistant secretaries picked by the second week of January 1981 -- Tillerson will be lucky to have them picked by April Fool's Day or in place by the 4th of July. For a secretary of state who's just learning the issues, this will be a real source of weakness."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


NY passengers band together, scrub swastikas off subway car (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 5, 2017)

Gregory Lochte boarded the train at a Manhattan station Saturday night to find swastikas graffitied across its windows and advertisements.

After a brief moment of uncomfortable silence during which passengers exchanged uneasy looks, according to Lochte's account, one man rose up from his seat and pointed out that "hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol."

In a Facebook post published later that evening, Lochte shared how touched he was by the number of passengers who immediately searched their bags for tissues and sanitizer.

After two minutes of work by Lochte and his fellow riders, the graffiti was removed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Has Dogma Derailed the Search for Dark Matter? (Pavel Kroupa, February 6, 2017, Discover)

According to mainstream researchers, the vast majority of the matter in the Universe is invisible: it consists of dark-matter particles that do not interact with radiation and cannot be seen through any telescope. The case for dark matter is regarded as so overwhelming that its existence is often reported as fact. Lately, though, cracks of doubt have started to appear. In July, the LUX experiment in South Dakota came up empty in its search for dark particles - the latest failure in a planet-wide, decades-long effort to find them. Some cosmic surveys also suggest that dark particles cannot be there, which is especially confounding since astronomical observations were the original impetus for the dark-matter hypothesis.

The issues at stake are huge. Acceptance of dark matter has influenced scientific thinking about the birth of the Universe, the evolution of galaxies and black holes, and the fundamental laws of physics. Yet even within academic circles, there is a lot of confusion about dark matter, with evidence and interpretation often conflated in misleading and unproductive ways. [...]

The first step is that we need to revisit the validity of Newton's universal law of gravitation. Starting in the 1980s, Mordehai Milgrom at the Weizmann Institute in Israel showed that a small generalisation of Newton's laws can yield the observed dynamics of matter in galaxies and in galaxy clusters without dark matter. This approach is broadly known as MOND (MOdified Newtonian Dynamics). Milgrom's correction allows gravitational attraction to fall off with distance more slowly than expected (rather than falling off with the square of distance as per Newton) when the local gravitational acceleration falls below an extremely low threshold. This threshold could be linked to other cosmological properties such as the 'dark energy' that accounts for the accelerating expansion of the Universe.

These links suggest a deeper fundamental theory of space, time and matter, which has not yet been formulated. Few researchers have pursued such an alternative hypothesis, partly because it seems to question the validity of general relativity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


In historic first, Israel legalizes West Bank outposts with sweeping new legislation (RAOUL WOOTLIFF February 6, 2017, Times of Israel)

Following months of coalition wrangling, damning criticism from internal and international opposition, and bleak warnings from legal experts, Israel on Monday legalized all West Bank outposts with sweeping legislation that aims to prevent future demolitions of settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Trump claims media are ignoring terrorism (David Jackson, Feb. 6th, 2017 USA Today)

"You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that."

Trump, who has attacked the media throughout his campaign and the beginning of his presidency, did not elaborate on his claim. [...]

Trump's comments drew scorn on social media. Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden, called the comment "ludicrous" and referred to Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway's mistaken claim of a Bowling Green "massacre" in the United States.

"Well, of course, the US media didn't report on the Bowling Green Massacre," Bildt said

These guys are eating his lunch.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Trump's Radical Anti-Americanism (Adam Gopnik, Feb. 5th, 2017, The New Yorker)

[W]hat perhaps no one could have entirely predicted was the special cocktail of oafish incompetence and radical anti-Americanism that President Trump's Administration has brought. This combination has produced a new note in our public life: chaotic cruelty. The immigration crisis may abate, but it has already shown the power of government to act arbitrarily overnight--sundering families, upending long-set expectations, until all those born as outsiders must imagine themselves here only on sufferance of a senior White House counsellor.

Some choose to find comfort in the belief that the incompetence will undermine the anti-Americanism. Don't bet on it. Autocratic regimes with a demagogic bent are nearly always inefficient, because they cannot create and extend the network of delegated trust that is essential to making any organization work smoothly. The chaos is characteristic. Whether by instinct or by intention, it benefits the regime, whose goal is to create an overwhelming feeling of shared helplessness in the population at large: we will detain you and take away your green card--or, no, now we won't take away your green card, but we will hold you here, and we may let you go, or we may not.

This is radical anti-Americanism--not simply illiberalism or anti-cosmopolitanism--because America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined. Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people--in establishing a "multiplicity of interests" to go along with a "multiplicity of sects." The idea doesn't reflect a "weak" desire for niceness. It is, instead, intended to counter the brutal logic of the playground. When there are many kinds of bullied kids, they can unite against the bully: "Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves."

Really?  We were under the impression that the precise criticism of a nativist failed businessman was that he'd be incompetent and radically anti-American.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Neil Gorsuch's Personality Could Shift Supreme Court's Dynamic (Brent Kendall, 2/06/17, The Wall Street Journal)

Justice Kennedy, by contrast, has been a mentor to Judge Gorsuch, who clerked for him during the Supreme Court's 1993-94 term. Judge Gorsuch would be the first former clerk to sit on the Supreme Court with his ex-boss, raising novel questions about which man would be more influential on the other, especially since the nominee's writings reflect a deeper conservatism than Justice Kennedy's.

Clerkships are a life-changing experience that can produce enduring bonds, said Adam Charnes, a lawyer at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP who clerked for Justice Kennedy the year before Judge Gorsuch did. "You feel a great deal of gratitude and respect," he said. "It has to be hard to put that aside when you're a peer."

Perhaps an even bigger question is whether Judge Gorsuch would become a regular ally of Chief Justice Roberts. Both have spoken of the importance of judicial restraint and expressed concern about the judiciary being viewed as a political body instead of a neutral arbiter, a view that can be countered when judges across the ideological spectrum find common ground.

The chief justice's stewardship could be especially important during the Trump administration if, as expected, a series of cases challenging the president's agenda make their way to the court. If the president overreaches, the legal records of Chief Justice Roberts and Judge Gorsuch suggest they could form bonds to limit executive encroachment upon the constitutional powers of the legislative and judicial branches.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


McConnell: No federal money should be spent on Trump's voter fraud investigation (Eric Bradner, 2/05/17, CNN)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday no federal money should be spent investigating voter fraud -- which President Donald Trump has falsely claimed cost him millions of votes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Who's in Charge in Trump's Washington? (Patricia Murphy, Feb. 6th, 2017, Roll Call)

Did you know that the organizational chart for the federal government is the only one you'll ever see that doesn't have a person or group of people in the top box? Instead, the three branches of government, including President Donald Trump's executive branch, sit equidistant from each other on a horizontal row below the top box. And inside the top box is the Constitution.

When a federal employee sent me the org chart during the 2016 campaign, I thought of it mostly as a piece of quirky trivia -- hey, look, nobody's in charge! But I've thought about that chart again and again in the last week as people in the federal government have either joined forces with the White House or acted out against it in ways we've never seen before. [...]

State governments often have their electorate at the top of the chart. Companies may have the CEO or the board of directors.

But the chart distributed to federal employees to illustrate their role in the sprawling organization reports to no person, no boss, no board of trustees or political party. Instead it ties up neatly at the top underneath the document that Americans agreed to more than 200 years ago as their means of self-government.

The president swears an oath to uphold the Constitution and so do members of Congress. And so does every federal employee -- a decision made by President Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s to make it abundantly clear where government workers' loyalties must lie -- not with a person, an idea, a movement, or even with him, the president.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Donald Trump needs to read this book (Glenn L. Carle, Feb. 4th, 2017, Salon)

None too soon, the eminent terrorism scholar Peter R. Neumann explains in a nuanced assessment the nature of Islamic terrorism, the novel strengths and weaknesses of the "Islamic State" in Syria, and the likely threat from Islamic-inspired terrorism in the years -- decades -- to come. [...]

[N]eumann makes broader, more subtle points that some of us in the counterterrorism community have held for years: The West, or more accurately the modern world, faces a long-term series of hard-to-counter attacks. This is a problem primarily for intelligence, law enforcement and special forces to address; but the West does not face an existential threat to our civilization that need continue to shape and define our counterterrorism policies in overwhelmingly military, operational and reactive terms.

Neumann clearly makes an important distinction about the nature of "radical Islam": "I would not argue that the new jihadists have nothing at all to do with Islam, but it would be just as false to present their extreme interpretation as the sole, true version of the faith." The terrorists are "among the Salafists -- not among the 'mainstream Muslims.'"

Neumann succinctly describes the background to the terrorist threats facing the West using, like most terrorism experts, the seminal "four waves" schema developed a generation ago by David Rapoport. We are now living in the fourth wave of terrorism: the religious wave.

Neumann breaks down the Islamic State and the future of jihadism. He describes the genesis of the Islamic State from the frustrations in the Sunni population of Iraq in the wake of the American invasion; the upending and destruction of all traditional and existing institutions and distributions of power among the various groups that formed Iraq; the lasting reflexive resentments about the artificial imperial and foreign-imposed state borders of the Sykes-Picot agreement; and the tragically successful efforts of local jihadists -- notably the sociopathic Jordanian killer Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- to foment a Sunni-Shia religious war.

Notably, despite the conventional view in the U.S., al-Qa'ida had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq or Saddam Hussein, was a late arrival to the insurgency, never had much presence, never controlled Zarqawi in the least, and never accomplished much of anything, except to beg Zarqawi for money, because U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida had almost completely neutered it by 2004-5. According to Neumann, Zarqawi's "plan was to unleash a civil war so chaotic and so barbarous that the Americans would leave Iraq and the Sunni parts of the country would break away from the rest."

Instead, he unleashed the war of all against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


How the Falcons Defense Fell Apart Over 93 Snaps (Andy Benoit, Feb. 6th, 2017, MMQB)

It's worth examining exactly how those 93 snaps exhausted the Falcons. For starters, 93 snaps equates to playing a game and a half. Then factor in the adrenaline of that game being on the Super Bowl stage, and what happens to a player's energy as that adrenaline wears off. Then add in the halftime, which is twice as long as usual. Yes, that gives your body more time to rest. But it also means your body must operate on an unfamiliar internal clock. Over your previous 18 games, your body had grown accustom to its halftime routine. Oh, and speaking of 18 games, that, too, is a lot. Its cumulative effect magnifies the toll of those 93 snaps.

More importantly, however, was the style of snaps the Falcons were playing. As expected, they defended the Patriots primarily with man coverage. When a defender plays man-to-man, he's chasing an offensive player all over the field. That's considerably more taxing than sitting back in zone. Furthermore, Falcons defenders often matched to specific receivers in man. With the Patriots' limitless supply of formations, those defenders were often crossing the field back and forth before the snap. Because chances were, if a defender's man aligned in, say, the left slot on one play, he very well could be aligned near the right sideline on the next. The 35- to 40-yard jogs that a defender takes to follow this add up. In fact, many NFL coaches who play man coverage will implement extra snaps of zone or limit their specific man-matchup calls in order to mitigate fatigue.

Mind you, this is all just with the secondary. There are also defensive linemen, who wear down faster than any position. They're constantly firing off the ball and wrestling with 300-pound blockers. That's why Dan Quinn, like the rest of the NFL, employs a deep rotation up front. But on 93 snaps, even rotating defensive linemen succumb to exhaustion.

That's what happened Sunday night. As the Falcons' back-seven defenders grew tired chasing receivers before and after the snap, their front four grew tired chasing Tom Brady. The declining pass rush became a problem, including when the Falcons did play some of their staple Cover-3 zone in the second half.

With the D-line tiring, the pressure that had been hounding Brady (he endured five sacks and about three times as many hits) dried up. Dwight Freeney stopped eating left tackle Nate Solder's lunch. Grady Jarrett, who was sensational, flashed less. Vic Beasley no longer made noise. And that's when the greatest quarterback of all time rediscovered the precision accuracy that had evaded him for the first three quarters. With Brady in a clean pocket and throwing in rhythm, the Patriots had no trouble moving the ball.

Patriots stun Falcons in greatest Super Bowl ever (Bruce Arthur, Feb. 5, 2017, Toronto Star)

"I mean, some of us had some doubts," said defensive lineman Chris Long. "It's natural to have some doubts. We're human. But (backup safety) Duron Harmon walked in and said, 'This can be the best comeback of all time.' And he completely believed it. And we had enough guys like that who were pulling guys like me along, that were down."

It wasn't just Brady. It was the adjustments on the offensive line that gave him more time, the adjustments on routes that opened up receivers, the defence, which suddenly got stops. The Patriots are the Patriots because Bill Belichick is a peerless coach, and the staff executes to his direction, and the players follow and trust. [...]

"They were under tremendous pressure," said offensive lineman Nate Solder. Not the Patriots. The other guys. [...]

 With a minute left James White pounded it in, 28-26. They got the two-point conversion, to Danny Amendola. Belichick said later he and offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels had been working on two-point conversions all week. 

Hilarious stat of the day, this was the widest winning margin of any of the Belichick/Brady  Super Bowls. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Bonfire of the subsidies : India debates the case for a universal basic income (The Economist, 2/03/17)

The Indian government this week floated the idea of replacing most of these schemes with a "universal basic income" (UBI), an unconditional cash payment that could be disbursed not just to the poor but to everyone (see article). In rich countries, the UBI is raised as a possible response to a world where artificial intelligence and automation put large numbers of people out of a job. But unless technology destroys jobs on an unprecedented scale and creates none in their place, the case for such a scheme is premature. Functional social-safety nets and instruments such as tax credits make it possible to direct money to the needy in these countries. In India, despite its practical difficulties, the idea has a different logic and deserves a more sympathetic hearing.

For one, a little money would go a long way for India's poor. Over a fifth of its population lives below the poverty line. The scheme outlined this week by the chief economic adviser to the Indian government, Arvind Subramanian, would cut that figure to less than 0.5% by transferring about $9 a month to all adult Indians. If doled out to everyone, that would cost around 6-7% of GDP; the 950 welfare schemes soak up 5% of GDP.

Giving people cash would be far better than today's system of handing out welfare in kind. The plethora of schemes in place for Indians to claim subsidised food, fuel, gas, electricity and so on are inefficient and corrupt.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


And now ... it's time for baseball, as Rays prep to open camp (Marc Topkin, February 6, 2017, Tampa Bay Times)

Now that that football game is over with, it's time to focus on baseball, as the Rays today pack their equipment truck for the 75-mile trek south to Port Charlotte, with the official opening of spring training camp on Feb. 12 and the first workout Feb. 14 at the Charlotte Sports Park.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Trump's Supreme Court Whisperer (Kyle Peterson, 2/03/17, WSJ)

By Wednesday afternoon, as Leonard Leo returns to his office from a post-announcement huddle at the White House, the mood is cautiously optimistic. "In the first 24 hours," says Mr. Leo, a lawyer advising Mr. Trump on the court, "it appears as though the nominee has been defined very, very well, and that the left has not done a particularly good job of sowing seeds of confusion and doubt. So there is that. But the fact of the matter is that the process can still turn in the other direction."

Mr. Leo is one to know. A decade ago, he helped usher George W. Bush's two Supreme Court appointees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, to confirmation. Now Mr. Leo is on leave from his day job, as executive vice president of the Federalist Society, to do the same for Judge Gorsuch.

No wonder it's the one thing he's gotten right.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The 'data-dependent' Fed has made a habit of using the same data to hike, not hike, and caution about future hikes (Komal Sri-Kumar, 2/06/17, Business Insider)

When the Fed hiked rates in December, it concluded that "near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced" in justifying a 1/4 point increase.  Last Wednesday, this statement was left unchanged, but the Fed decided to pass on a further rate hike.  Go figure!  Nothing surprising here as the "data-dependent" Fed has made a habit of using the same set of data to hike, not hike, or just caution investors about future hikes, as it pleases.  All the more reason for giving markets more clarity about policy with a rules-based approach such as adoption of the Taylor Rule.

Every rate hike since Greenspan's disastrous one in '87 has been driven by emotion, not data.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Michigan leads effort to shift workers away from pensions (DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press)

Struggling under the weight of pension and health care obligations, Michigan lawmakers appear ready to take another whack at public employee benefits -- a move that reflects renewed determination to shift workers to 401(k)-style retirement systems, even if it happens in baby steps.

Other states have made more modest changes, but the latest push shows that conservatives want to approve big reforms 20 years after Michigan became the first state to close pensions to future state workers. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is pressing to address $14 billion in unfunded liabilities, mostly from retiree medical costs, spread across more than 330 communities.

We are all Third Way now.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Heading to the Airport with the New York Times' ISIS Expert (Andrew Rice, Feb. 5th, 2017, New York)

Though she often travels into the field, Callimachi is best known for her investigations into the ways ISIS recruits fighters and spreads propaganda via online social networks. It used to be that would-be terrorists traveled to remote camps to be trained to carry out acts of violence, but today, a jihadist never has to leave his computer. That is why Callimachi, like many terrorism experts, thinks the travel ban is likely only to aid the extremist cause. Although ISIS has yet to release an official statement, the militants she monitors were celebrating on Twitter and in their Telegram channels. Some were happy that Trump appeared to be tearing down American democracy from within. "The other line of commentary," Callimachi says, "is that this just shows the great evil of America for what it really is. This is what they knew America always was, and now the mask has been taken off." To those who long for an apocalyptic war between Islam and the secular West, Trump's confrontational moves look like the fulfillment of a prophecy.

The Kia swings up a concrete ramp and stops in front of the terminal, and I help Callimachi wheel a pair of large suitcases to the counter for Royal Jordanian Airlines. Women in head scarves are clustered around the elastic entrance to the check-in line. Families are hugging, saying good-bye.

"When you look at President Trump's tweet where he says that we didn't tell anybody because otherwise the bad guys would come in," she says. "Who are these 'bad guys'?" The vast majority of people who have been arrested in America for ties to ISIS have been citizens or permanent residents; since 2001, there have been few cases of terrorist attacks mounted by foreign visitors. "Omar Mateen: born here. San Bernardino, half of the couple was born here, the other was from Pakistan -- a place that's not on the list," she says. "The point is to keep us safe, but the people who are doing this are overwhelmingly not from these countries. And at the same time we are aggravating our relationship with the very partners that we need." Callimachi is a reporter, but she knows that once she lands in the Middle East, she will be the one facing questions. "You know, when you're an American living overseas, your country's foreign policy is basically tattooed to your forehead," she says.

In December, shortly after Trump's election, Callimachi visited the city of Mosul, where the Iraqi army is engaged in a bloody street-by-street battle to drive out ISIS. "Iraqi troops are dying in large numbers," she says. And now the United States, their supposed ally, has labeled these allies personae non gratae. "I've been with Iraqi troops and with the Peshmerga and have seen how they are fighting for Mosul and the price that they're paying," she says. "It's got to be pretty insulting to have a place on this list."

Travelers arrive in US to hugs and tears after ban is lifted (DENISE LAVOIE and WILLIAM MATHIS, 2/07/17, Associated Press) 

Travelers from the seven predominantly Muslim countries targeted by President Donald Trump enjoyed tearful reunions with loved ones in the U.S. on Sunday after a federal judge swept the ban aside.

Airlines around the world allowed people to board flights as usual to the United States. One lawyer waiting at New York's Kennedy Airport said visa and green-card holders from Iraq and Iran were encountering no problems as they arrived.

"It's business as usual," said Camille Mackler, of the New York Immigration Coalition. [...]

Mahsa Azabadi, 29, an Iranian-American who lives in Denver, was forced to put her wedding plans on hold after her fiance, Sorena Behzadfar, was turned away when he tried to board a plane to travel from Iran to the U.S. on Jan. 28.

Over the weekend, though, Behzadfar was cleared for travel and was expected to arrive at Boston's Logan Airport on Sunday afternoon.

"It's been a really tough week to figure out what will happen to us," said Azabadi, who has lived in the U.S. for 11 years and is now a U.S. citizen.

The couple are hoping to keep their wedding date of May 12.

"Seeing the support from the lawyers and different people trying to help, it was really nice," she said. "We want to be the best and do the best for the people and for this country. We would love to have the opportunity."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


We've Never Seen Anything Like This Patriots Super Bowl Win (Rodger Sherman, Feb. 6th, 2017, The Ringer)

[T]he Patriots scored on their final five possessions (excepting the one-play, three-second "drive" at the end of the second half when they tried a fake QB kneel in an attempt at winning in regulation). And they converted each of their two two-point attempts, which are generally only successful about half of the time. And the Falcons, who had the best offense in football, the league MVP, and an offensive coordinator who earned "genius" and "mastermind" labels all season long, didn't score after the midway mark of the third quarter. They got into scoring range, down to the New England 22-yard line with 3:50 to go and up eight points. Kneeling three times and kicking a field goal would likely have won them the game; instead, the best offense in football lost 23 yards on a tackle for a loss, a sack, and a holding penalty, forcing them to punt.

We can yell at win-probability formulas all we want. But I'm going to stand up for the computer that spit out those ridiculous numbers. Teams up 25 in the third quarter tend to win, and no team had ever blown a lead of more than 10 points in the Super Bowl. The Patriots achieving sudden perfection when there was no margin for error just as the Falcons become completely inept does seem like something that happens roughly 0.3 percent of the time. We won't find out unless they play this Super Bowl another 300 times, but I'd be happy to see them do just that.

Not this Super Bowl, next year's.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


A Blackjack Superstar Explains the Odds of the Historic Patriots Win (Jeff Ma, Feb. 5th, 2017, Wired)

Up 28-10 with two minutes left, the Falcons had a 99 percent chance to win the game. That probability comes from readily-available calculators--which run Monte Carlo simulations, taking into account the four variables of possession, down, distance, and score. But then the Falcons made a series of errors in basic strategy.

The first mistake that quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons made was not letting the clock run down to fewer than 10 seconds on every play. Every second that they waste is a second that the Patriots don't have to advance. Simple.

But in play after play, the Falcons snapped the ball when they didn't need to. Sometimes with more than 20 seconds left to go. In blackjack, this is the same as standing a soft 17: an ace and six. Normally, a hand that adds up to 17 is a losing hand--but the beauty of the ace is you can play it as an 11 or a one. If you get dealt a 10, you can play the ace as a one and you still have 17. There is no risk to taking one more card. And there is no risk in letting the clock run down under 10 seconds.

The second basic strategy mistake the Falcons made was not rushing the football when they had a comfortable lead. Over the course of the game, the Falcons were gaining an above-average 5.8 yards per rush (the league average is around 4.3 yards per play). Very little good could come from a pass at this point in the game--an incomplete pass is bad, a sack is bad, and a holding penalty is bad--especially when you're already averaging 5.8 yards per rush. Again, this basic strategy would have carried little risk.

All night, the Falcons had played aggressively--and it worked. With 4:40 left, they had the ball at the Patriot's 22-yard line with an eight-point lead. Again, that's a stunning 99 percent chance to win based on the score, along with the fact that the Falcons had the ball with almost a sure field goal. Any simulation going forward would tell you the Falcons just needed to run. They could have taken a knee three times in a row and kicked a field goal. But instead they decided to pass. And pass. And pass.

How the Falcons Threw Away the Super Bowl (Danny Kelly, Feb. 6th, 2017, The Ringer)

While it took more than two plays to allow New England to erase its 25-point second-half deficit, a pair of play calls in the fourth quarter will replay in Shanahan's mind all offseason long -- and beyond.

The first: Following two Coleman runs to open a drive (the second of which sent him to the bench with an ankle injury), Atlanta faced a third-and-1 from its own 36-yard line with 8:31 left. At this point, the Falcons owned a 99.6 percent win probability. In other words: The Patriots didn't even have a full percentage-point chance of winning, based on models indexing every play from every game in the recent history of the NFL. But instead of playing it safe and just sending Freeman up the gut on a dive or pitching it outside to him to make a first-down in space, Shanahan dialed up a pass ... and Atlanta's perfect turnover record went up in smoke.

The Patriots recovered at the Falcons' 25-yard line. Five plays and a two-point conversion later, they cut the lead to eight. Yet Atlanta's win probability was 92.1 at this point. Some of the unthinkable had happened, but not close to all of it.

Now for the second play call that Shanahan will never forget: On the next Atlanta drive, two big plays -- a 39-yard gain on a quick dump-off to Freeman and a miraculous catch by Jones -- set the Falcons up at New England's 22-yard line with 4:40 remaining, pushing their win percentage to 98.1. Why? All they had to do here was run into the backs of their linemen two more times, run the clock (or force New England to use its timeouts), then ask Pro Bowler Matt Bryant to kick a field goal to push the lead back to 11.

Instead, Shanahan called up another pass and kept his foot on the pedal. And Ryan did exactly what he couldn't afford to do in that situation: He took a sack. It pushed Atlanta out of field goal range and set up a third-and-23. A holding call on the next play negated a 9-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu, and the pass on third-and-33 fell incomplete. Despite finding themselves with a first-and-10 from the Patriots 22-yard line, the Falcons came up empty-handed and, worse still, used up very little clock.

One of Belichick's greatest, largely unacknowledged, gifts is that his reputation makes other coaches stupid.  They alternately play in fear or try to look brilliant against him.  Predictably, one coach who has avoided this trap is Tom Coughlin, who worked with him under Bill Parcells and simply considers him another peer.
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The Week in Public Finance (LIZ FARMER | FEBRUARY 3, 2017, Governing)

Dealing With Amazon

This week, Amazon began remitting sales taxes on purchases made in five states: Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont. Come March, Wyoming is scheduled to start receiving Amazon tax revenue as well. In fact, more than three-quarters of states and the District of Columbia now have some kind of agreement in place with Amazon to collect sales taxes.

Current law says that Amazon only has to remit sales taxes in states where it has a presence. But since California renegotiated a deal with Amazon to collect them in 2012, states have followed suit.

The Takeaway: Amazon previously had a reputation for resisting sales tax efforts. But over the past year, Amazon has notably changed its tune and is approaching governments on its own. Finance officers in states and D.C. report that it was Amazon who made the first move in proposing new sales tax deals. The deals now in place in roughly 39 states amount to millions of dollars in more revenue. In its first year of implementation, for instance, California collected $260 million from Amazon sales alone.

The company's new push to make deals comes at a time when states are mounting legal challenges to the current sales tax law prohibiting them from collecting on all online purchases. Louisiana Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson recently said the U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear a challenge to a Colorado sales tax law is likely what spurred Amazon to collect in Louisiana. The law requires out-of-state companies selling products to Coloradans to tell them they are required to pay the state's 2.9 percent sales tax on their purchase. Robinson believes the ruling will prompt other remote retailers to do so as well.

February 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 PM


Brady leads biggest comeback, Patriots win 34-28 in OT (BARRY WILNER, Feb. 5, 2017, AP)

Tom Brady led one of the greatest comebacks in sports, let alone Super Bowl history, lifting New England from a 25-point hole to the Patriots' fifth NFL championship in the game's first overtime finish.

The Patriots scored 19 points in the final quarter, including a pair of 2-point conversions, then marched relentlessly to James White's 2-yard touchdown run in overtime beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 Sunday night.

Brady, the first quarterback with five Super Bowl rings, guided the Patriots (17-2) through a tiring Atlanta defense for fourth-quarter touchdowns on a 6-yard pass to Danny Amendola and a 1-yard run by White, which came with 57 seconds remaining in regulation. White ran for the first 2-pointer and Amendola did the deed with a reception on the second.

Brady finished 43 for 62, the most attempts in Super Bowl history, for 466 yards and two touchdowns.

...just another game.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, FEB. 5, 2017, NYH Times)

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters -- an important source of feedback and validation -- and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reaso