March 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


This Presidency Is Failing -- and Stunningly (Michael Gerson, March 31, 2017, Washington Post)

Heading into the 2016 election, Republicans knew that this problem -- the tea party predicament, the Freedom Caucus conundrum, the Boehner bog -- had to be dealt with. The GOP needed a large and capable leader who could either unite the whole party (at least temporarily) with a bold, unifying conservative vision, or peel off some centrist Democratic support with innovative policy. They needed an above-average president.

What they got is unimaginably distant from any of these goals. They got a leader who is empty -- devoid of even moderately detailed preferences and incapable of using policy details in the course of political persuasion.

Republicans got a leader who is impatient and easily distracted -- by cable news on the Russian scandal or by Arnold Schwarzenegger's TV ratings. The content and consequences of his tweets are bad enough; worse is the disordered personality traits they reveal -- vindictiveness, shallowness and lack of discipline. Trump spent a total of 18 days on his health care bill before demanding a vote. And he made no speech to the nation to advance his ideas -- as every other recent president would have done.

Republicans got an administration that is incompetent. The White House policy process has been erratic and disorganized. It has failed to provide expert analysis and assistance to Congress and did little to effectively advocate the president's policy in ways that unite the party.

Republicans got an administration that is morally small. Trump's proposed budget would require massive cuts in disease research, global development and agricultural programs -- just as a famine gathers a hideous strength. The proposed budget practices random acts of gratuitous cruelty.

This is a pretty bad combination: empty, easily distracted, vindictive, shallow, impatient, incompetent and morally small. This is not the profile of a governing party.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


US energy production dropped in 2016 for the first time in 6 years : No surprise here: Coal energy production fell 18 percent. (MEGAN GEUSS - 3/31/2017, Ars Technica)

[T]he EIA found recently that energy intensity, which is defined as units of energy per unit of GDP, has fallen by a third in the last 25 years. That means economic output needs less energy than it did before.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


White House, Fox News are now blaming an ex-Obama Pentagon Russia expert for the Trump leaks (Peter Weber, 3/31/17, The Week)
Republicans and the Trump White House have been turning to the same winning strategy, trying to focus on the leakers instead of the material about Russia being leaked, and their latest target is Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia until September 2015. [...]

CNN contributor and vocal Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord reached out to Farkas, a fellow alumnus of Franklin and Marshall College, offering to let her tell her side of the story. She did, writing in The American Spectator that the edited video was "a wild misinterpretation of comments I made on the air." She is, she noted, "out of government, I didn't have any classified information, or any knowledge of 'tapping' or leaking or the NYT article before it came out. But I knew well from my time in government how the Russians operated and... I wanted to make sure that the standard procedure of White House briefing the Congress was taking place so that Congress knew everything the White House knew about what the Russians had done." 

He would have served the Republic better had President Obama just declassified and released all the data on what Russia was doing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The Trump presidency is in a hole (The Economist, 3/30/17)

As owner and CEO of his business, Mr Trump had absolute control. The constitution sets out to block would-be autocrats. Where Mr Trump has acted appropriately--as with his nomination of a principled, conservative jurist to fill a Supreme Court vacancy--he deserves to prevail. But when the courts question the legality of his travel order they are only doing their job. Likewise, the Republican failure to muster a majority over health-care reflects not just divisions between the party's moderates and hardliners, but also the defects of a bill that, by the end, would have led to worse protection, or none, for tens of millions of Americans without saving taxpayers much money.

Far from taking Washington by storm, America's CEO is out of his depth. The art of political compromise is new to him. He blurs his own interests and the interests of the nation. The scrutiny of office grates. He chafes under the limitations of being the most powerful man in the world. You have only to follow his incontinent stream of tweets to grasp Mr Trump's paranoia and vanity: the press lies about him; the election result fraudulently omitted millions of votes for him; the intelligence services are disloyal; his predecessor tapped his phones. It's neither pretty nor presidential.

That the main victim of these slurs has so far been the tweeter-in-chief himself is testament to the strength of American democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Today's Russia hearings actually revealed something new and important (Sarah Posner March 30, 2017, Washington Post)

Here's what happened. In a remarkable moment, one key witness, Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, bluntly informed Sen. Marco Rubio, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, that as one of Trump's presidential primary opponents, Rubio "suffered from" Russian disinformation efforts. (Although Watts wasn't specific about those efforts, later in the day Rubio charged that Russian hackers have conducted unsuccessful cyber attacks on his former presidential campaign staffers.) 

According to Watts (who was backed up by other witnesses who testified), the Russians have been using "active measures," which are built on propaganda tactics that date back to Soviet times, to spread disinformation, fear, confusion, and chaos in multiple democratic countries, including the United States.

These efforts include the use of visible Kremlin propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, to publish false news stories and conspiracy theories. Russian actors then deploy social media bots to spread these false stories far and wide. In the U.S., Watts said, the goal has been to provoke the Trump into repeating them or retweeting them to his millions of followers.

In a moment that stunned the hearing room, Watts flatly stated that the president himself has become a cog in such Russian measures. When asked by Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, who appeared visibly dismayed, why, if Russians have long used these methods, they finally worked in this election cycle, Watts' answer was extraordinary.

"I think this answer is very simple and is one no one is really saying in this room," he said. Part of the reason, he went on, "is the commander in chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents."

To buttress the claim that Trump (unwittingly or not) aided Russian disinformation efforts, Watts cited several instances. Among them: Trump's citation of an apparently false Sputnik story at an October 2016 campaign appearance; his ongoing denial before and after the campaign of U.S. intelligence of Russian interference in the election; his claims of voter fraud and election rigging, which Watts said was pushed by RT and Sputnik; and Trump's questioning of the citizenship of former President Barack Obama and even his primary rival Ted Cruz.

Watts added that one of the reasons such tactics are working is that Trump and/or his surrogates have repeated some of the claims, further spreading them through social media accounts that are owned both by real people and bots. Thus, the disinformation is kept alive and gradually becomes more real and plausible. "Part of the reason active measures work is because they parrot the same lines," Watts said.

Republicans on the committee today seemed to be grappling with the enormity of what this could mean -- and, crucially, that this threat should not be seen through a partisan prism. Rubio questioned Watts about a series of such false news stories and hoaxes, including claims that a thousand Muslims had burned down the oldest church in Germany while shouting "Allahu Akbar," that migrants had raped a German girl, and that the European Union planned to ban snowmen as racist. (If you've ever spent time on alt-right social media, there's a familiar ring to these stories: they are exactly the sort of thing that gets spread and recycled, and reverberate as supposed evidence of the nefariousness of say, Muslims, or the overreach of "political correctness.")

Rubio seemed to suggest that he sees these tactics as intended to divide Americans from one another. "Aren't we in the midst of a blitzkrieg, for lack of a better term, of informational warfare conducted by Russian trolls, under the command of Vladimir Putin," Rubio asked, that is designed to divide Americans "politically, socioeconomically, demographically, and the like?" Watts confirmed that one of the aims of Russian active measures is to "play on ethnic divisions."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Harry Potter Haggadah casts spell (LARRY YUDELSON March 30, 2017, Jewish Standard)

[N]ot every Haggadah matches the seder's four sons and four cups to the four houses of Hogwarts, the magical academy that was the setting for the Harry Potter books and films.

"The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah" came out two weeks ago and already has sold 5,000 copies. Written by Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, who lives in Queens and teaches at the SAR Academy in Riverdale, it includes the full text of the Haggadah in Hebrew and English.

"Children will find catalysts for their thinking about slavery and freedom as they explain the parallels between Harry's tribulations and triumphs and our experiences in Egypt and the Exodus," explained Dr. Blau, reviewing the book this week in the email list of Bar Ilan University's Lookstein Institute for Jewish Education. She added that her grandchildren found the book "awesome."

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM



[B]aseball teaches a simpler and more profound lesson. The game is its own kind of Sabbath, a bracketing of time's pressure. We enter the stadium, a park within a city or town, and so suspend the tyranny of chronos. All games are such suspensions, or have the capacity to be so, but only baseball refuses to allow the clock inside the logic of its performance. The contest begins at a fixed point, true, but from that moment on all measuring is done with actions, not seconds or minutes.

We all need time out of time, especially as the tyranny of the clock grows more insistent. Rare is the person today who does not literally carry time around all day every day, in the form of a wristwatch or a smartphone. Clocks wake us and order our days in waking moments. We stand in danger of losing that sense of genuine leisure which, as Aristotle argued two and a half millennia ago, allows us to contemplate the divine. [...]

When Opening Day arrives, we enter the gorgeous, sustaining period of the 162-game season, and begin our annual communion with the gamboling and hard-striving boys of summer. We all know it will end, and that this renewal is poignant. I don't know if T.S. Eliot was a baseball fan, but his claim that April is the cruelest month, "mixing memory and desire," is something any baseball fan can appreciate.

I recall, as I do every year, cold Opening Day games in Toronto, some with snow still on the ground, or listening to a faraway contest on the front stoop, with grilled hot dogs and beer to create our own little park in the city. Time collapses at such moments, all games become one game, and the eternally renewed hope of sports is mixed, inevitably, with feelings of sadness and longing and nostalgia, all the things that make baseball what it is, the most poetic game we know.

"The game doesn't change the way you sleep or wash your face or chew your food," the narrator notes in Don DeLillo's novella Pafko at the Wall. "It changes nothing but your life." Yes. And it all begins with time...

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Robots Are Going To Kill Jobs Because They Already Have (BEN SCHILLER03.31.1, Co.exist)

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says automation isn't something he loses sleep over: "It's not even on our radar screen . . . [it's] 50 to 100 more years" away, as he told an event organized by Axios. "I'm not worried at all," he added. "In fact I'm optimistic."

Mnuchin's statements contrast with warnings issued by the last administration, which produced reports looking at the economic impact of automation. It said, for instance, that 1.3 million to 1.7 million truck drivers could lose their jobs as a result of self-driving technology. "We are going to have to have a societal conversation about how we manage [robots and automation]," Obama told Wired.

New research shows Obama perhaps had a better sense of reality than Mnuchin does. Looking at the effect of industrial robots across the U.S., it shows how automation is already leading to job losses and wage decreases at a significant scale and that new jobs are not being created at a fast enough rate to take their place. The paper adds weight to those who say we should be addressing the social impact of artificially intelligent machines, perhaps with radical polices like a universal basic income.

March 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


Devin Nunes and the Tragedy of the Russia Inquiry (Eli Lake, 3/30/17, Bloomberg View)

Last week, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Devin Nunes, announced dozens of intelligence reports that inappropriately included details on President Donald Trump's transition. This week, he told me that his source for that information was an intelligence official, not a White House staffer.

It turns out, he misled me. The New York Times reported Thursday that Nunes had two sources, and both worked for the White House. This distinction is important because it raises questions about the independence of the congressional investigation Nunes is leading, which may lead to officials at the White House. [...]

The chairman told me Thursday that elements of the Times story were inaccurate. But he acknowledged: "I did use the White House to help to confirm what I already knew from other sources." This is a body blow for Nunes, who presented his findings last week as if they were surprising to the White House. He briefed Trump, after holding a press conference on Capitol Hill. And as he was leaving the White House, he made sure to address the press again.

But this was a show. The sources named by the Times work for the president. They are political appointees. It strains credulity to think that Trump would need Nunes to tell him about intelligence reports discovered by people who work in the White House.

Another U.S. official familiar with the affair told me that one of the sources named in the article, former Defense Intelligence officer Ezra Cohen-Watnick, did not play a role in getting information to Nunes. This official said Cohen-Watnick had come upon the reports while working on a review of recent Justice Department rules that made it easier for intelligence officials to share the identities of U.S. persons swept up in surveillance. He turned them over to White House lawyers.

Mr. Nunes's ineptitude is an entertaining sideshow, but at the end of the day all that matters is what the WH has confirmed : despite being forced by the FISA court to draft a warrant that only allowed surveillance of the Russians, the feds were able to sweep up info on team Trump because of their extensive contacts with those suspects. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 PM


Trump declares war on party rebels (Anthony Zurcher, 3/30/17, BBC)

On Sunday the president tweeted that the Freedom Caucus, along with several grass-roots conservative groups, had "saved" Obamacare and the women's health group Planned Parenthood, whose clinics provide abortion services.

The next day he wrote the Freedom Caucus "was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory".

Now it appears the president is preparing for all-out war against the intransigent congressmen - and it's a fight they seem willing to join. Shortly after Mr Trump fired his Thursday morning broadside, Justin Amash, a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus, offered his reply.

"It didn't take long for the swamp to drain Donald Trump," he tweeted. "No shame, Mr President. Almost everyone succumbs to the DC Establishment."

Mr. Amash won his district 59.4% to 37.5%. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Out of the Park 18: Review : The Baseball management sim's newest edition has been released. We dive into it (Charlie Gebow, Mar 28, 2017, AZ Snakepit)

For fun, I simulated the 2017 season, and let's see how the Diamondbacks did

Over .500 and only a few games out of the Wild Card is better than I could imagine. It would certainly be a good building block to the future, but I'm not sure I want to live in the world where the Dodgers win over 100 games.

Old fans of the OOTP series won't find too much new and groundbreaking here, but new features are fun to play with. Anybody new to the series might find it overwhelming, but it's a lot of fun, and can be educational as to the nuts and bolts of how MLB team roster construction happens. It may prevent you from posting a comment on this website to the effect of "WHY DON'T THEY BRING UP (person not on 40-man roster) AND SEND DOWN (person on majors contract with no options and it actually doing okay)!"

You know who you are.

Embrace it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Don Quixote and Imaginative Places (Eva Brann|Mar. 29th, 2017, iMAGINATTIVE cONSERVATIVE)

The one incident in Cervantes's huge novel that has become American folklore is Don Quixote's adventure with the windmills. As it happens, it contains, almost incidentally, the Don's own statement of the crux of his life, the credo that makes his world one of high adventure. He is moved by his knight errant's sense of duty to attack a band of thirty windmills which he sees as just so many monstrous giants. Thrusting his lance through one of the sails, he is dragged off his nag Rocinante and badly bruised. Sancho Panza trots up on his ass ready with his "I told you so"; it was always plain to him that these were nothing but windmills. But Don Quixote's world is not to be so easily disenchanted. Not so, he explains: An old enemy, a sorcerer wise in the black arts, wishing to cheat the Don of his glory, has turned the giants into windmills. It is Sancho Panza's prose, not Don Quixote's poetry, that is deluded. The point, implicit but crucial, is that it is our mundane soulless world of flour-grinding windmills that is under a spell, a reverse or disenchanting spell cast by the enemies of glory.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Trump's NAFTA changes aren't much different from Obama's (ADAM BEHSUDI, 03/30/17, Politico)

Critics are pointing out that the White House blueprint for changing NAFTA sounds a lot like the defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by the Obama administration because it includes calls for U.S. trading partners to adhere to strict labor and environmental standards. At the same time, it doesn't address issues that Trump touted on the campaign trail, such as currency manipulation.

"For those who trusted Trump's pledge to make NAFTA 'much better' for working people, it's a punch in the face because the proposal describes TPP or any other same-old, same-old trade deal," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and a leading critic of current trade policy.

To trust him is to beg for the punches.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


THE ARCHITECT : How Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi became one of the most coveted minds in baseball (ANDY MCCULLOUGH (MARCH 30, 2016, LA Times)

He would shake loose from slumber around 3 a.m., unsettled by memories of the Dodgers' playoff defeat to the Chicago Cubs: A misplaced slider by Joe Blanton, an umpire's debatable call on Adrian Gonzalez. He fixated on the tiniest moments of a squandered chance to end his team's championship drought.

To Zaidi, the season mirrored the plight of Sisyphus. In those sleepless hours, he imagined himself staring at the boulder as it rolled down a hill.

Outsiders often view Zaidi as a clinical, camera-shy cog in the Dodgers' executive cadre. His colleagues see him as a wisecracking, idea-spewing agent of innovation. Alone in the dark, he considers himself a 40-year-old man exhausted by the cruelty of his profession. His office resides in the shadow of Hollywood, but each year his sport provides misery for every team but one.

"You get one 'Friday Night Lights' ending, and you get 29 'Sopranos' endings," Zaidi said. "The lights just go out, and you don't know what happened."

The pain reminds him why he is here, how his pursuit of happiness became intertwined with the pursuit of a championship. He forsook a lucrative career in business and risked disappointing his family to gamble on an entry-level job in sports. During a decade in Oakland's front office, he matured from a book-taught quant into a well-rounded executive. He developed a loyalty so fierce he nearly turned down the offer from Los Angeles.

With the Dodgers, as the chief lieutenant of Andrew Friedman's baseball operations department, he serves as a font of creativity. He piloted the negotiations for the acquisition of Rich Hill last summer. He helped foster the team's ethos of flexibility, which is part of the reason the club is favored to win a fifth consecutive National League West title in 2017.

"There are a lot of instances of him bringing something up that in the moment I think is crazy," Friedman said. "And as it resonates more, I oftentimes will come around to the crazy thought."

Zaidi's background defies convention. He never played beyond high school. He graduated from MIT and earned a doctorate in behavioral economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Born in Canada, raised in the Philippines, he descends from Pakistani stock.

In the monochromatic field of baseball executives, Zaidi is the lone Muslim general manager. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Mike Pence and the 'Billy Graham Rule' : Their method of protecting their marriage may be misguided, but it shows the Pences have an admirable awareness of their own human weaknesses. (ANDREW EXUM, 3/30/17, The Atlantic)

What an age to be alive! The internet has broken out into a feverish and wildly entertaining debate over, of all things, the fallen nature of man. What prompted all of this was a profile of the vice president's wife, Karen Pence, in The Washington Post, that included this detail about the vice president:

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won't attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.

How sexist! screamed half of the internet. This is akin to Salafism, argued others. Conservative Christians who attempted to stand up for Pence were quickly shouted down.

I have to confess: As a present Calvinist and as a former management consultant, I find this all exhilarating.

First off, as my colleague Emma Green has written, the vice president's rule is a variation of what is known in evangelical circles as the "Billy Graham Rule." Billy Graham famously refused to meet, travel, or dine with a woman alone. The presumed reasoning behind this rule was that Graham did not want to create the conditions that might lead to any extramarital dalliances or, given Graham's ministry, the mere appearance of any impropriety that would harm his ability to win souls to Christ. Many, many evangelical pastors and laymen still follow some version of this rule.

...why would a straight man spend any time at all with women (outside the workplace) unless his wife made him?

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Spaghetti Doughnuts Are Here -- and You Can Get Your Own Starting This Weekend (Rebekah Lowin, March 30, 2017, Food & Wine)

Invented by Pop Pasta, this actually isn't the first time pasta's joined forces with a classic baked good, and truth be told, the new version isn't all that different from its predecessors. Actually, it's...exactly the same. The spaghetti doughnut is basically just a new version of the ever-popular, Pinterest-approved "spaghetti pie": pasta combined with eggs and and cheese, then baked. The only difference is that it's portable and shaped like a doughnut.

That's precisely why it's so provocative, though. It's shaped like a doughnut. But it's also spaghetti. CANNOT COMPUTE.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


GOP Rep. 'Misspoke' When He Said Nunes 'Works For The President' (MATT SHUHAM, MARCH 30, 2017, TPM)

"Are you concerned at all that he was viewing what he said was classified information at the White House, and then reported it back to the White House?" MSNBC's Craig Melvin asked Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) Thursday morning, referring to Nunes.

"You've got to keep in mind who he works for. He works for the President, he answers to the President," Yoho replied.

The Founders wept.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


"Irrational," "Reckless," "Irresponsible": The EPA Just Accidentally Told the Truth About Trump's Climate Plan (REBECCA LEBER, MAR. 30, 2017, Mother Jones)

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump visited the Environmental Protection Agency, where he signed an executive order dismantling key Obama-era policies aimed at fighting climate change. On Thursday morning, the EPA sent out a press release highlighting some wonderful praise that Trump's order has received from groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, and--of course--Republican politicians. But the top quote in the EPA's email, attributed to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), had an unexpected message:

With this Executive Order, President Trump has chosen to recklessly bury his head in the sand. Walking away from the Clean Power Plan and other climate initiatives, including critical resiliency projects is not just irresponsible-- it's irrational. Today's executive order calls into question America's credibility and our commitment to tackling the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetime. With the world watching, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have chosen to shirk our responsibility, disregard clear science and undo the significant progress our country has made to ensure we leave a better, more sustainable planet for generations to come.

Greatest. Presidency. Ever.


It can reasonably be said that our dear leader is now the most ridiculed man on the planet. In fact, he may well be the most ridiculed man in history. For a preening narcissist who takes himself terribly seriously, being the butt of the joke heard round the world has got to hurt. The handpicked assortment of craven nitwits and supplicants that he has surrounded himself with have valiantly tried to insulate him from the derision. But they're only human. Your heart has to go out to the ones doing the heavy lifting: banty Sean Spicer, the M. C. Escher of the English language, and Kellyanne Conway, the president's temperament fluffer. (Look away from CNN, Mr. President. There's something shiny and bright over there!) Engaging as it is to watch these overworked mouthpieces, I fear their days must be numbered. Comments about microwaves that turn into spy cameras and what should be understood when the president puts words in quotation marks are having minimal effect in reducing the scorn heaped upon their boss. Hats off to them for their tenacity, but no amount of spin is going to change the fact that the Trump White House, like the company its inhabitant has run for the past four decades, continues to be a shambolic mess.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Senior White House aide Katie Walsh moving to pro-Trump political group (SHANE GOLDMACHER, MATTHEW NUSSBAUM, TARA PALMERI and ALEX ISENSTADT, 03/30/17, Politico)

President Donald Trump on Thursday launched his first West Wing shake-up less than three months into his term, sending deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh to bolster the flagging outside group that was meant to support his agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Making Sense of Trump's Order on Climate Change (Cass R. Sunstein, 3/29/17, Bloomberg View)

Since the Ronald Reagan administration, federal agencies have been required to calculate the costs and benefits of their regulations, and to show that the benefits justify the costs. The analysis of benefits and costs tells agencies how stringent their regulations should be -- and whether to regulate at all.

But what are the benefits of a regulation that cuts greenhouse-gas emissions? The answer comes from the social cost of carbon -- the dollar figure that is designed to monetize the harm from a ton of carbon emissions.

Until 2009, different agencies gave wildly different numbers. To eliminate the inconsistency, the Obama administration created a technical working group, consisting of representatives from numerous offices and departments within the federal government. (Disclosure: As administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, I helped to convene the working group.)

The group's meetings were numerous, lengthy, often boring, painstaking, and dominated by discussions of abstruse issues in science and economics. After many months and extensive public comments, the group produced its technical analysis, which has been periodically updated over the years, ultimately yielding a monetary figure of $36 per ton. [...]

Which brings us to Tuesday's executive order. Disbanding the working group and withdrawing every one of its public documents, Trump offered no number of his own. Instead he said that in monetizing the benefits of greenhouse-gas reductions, individual agencies should follow OMB Circular A-4 (an excellent document issued in 2003, during the George W. Bush administration, that still binds agencies within the executive branch), and especially its guidance on "domestic versus international impacts" and "appropriate discount rates."

That's both technical and vague, but it appears to mean three things. First, individual agencies are now on their own; it's up to them to come up with a social cost of carbon. Second, they should emphasize the domestic rather than global damage (because OMB's 2003 circular favors that approach). Third, they should use discount rates of 7 and 3 percent (as also directed by OMB's circular).

The upshot is that the social cost of carbon could be cut way down, possibly below $5 -- which would mean that on cost-benefit grounds, restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions would be much harder to justify.

If this reading is correct, then Trump's approach doesn't make a lot of sense. Any administration needs to have coherent policies and hence a uniform number. It would be ridiculous to have disparate ones from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM



Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) today reintroduced the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings Act of 2017 (COINS Act), legislation that would modernize our currency by moving to a $1 dollar coin, reduce the cost of nickel production and suspend the minting of the penny, which currently costs more than one cent to produce. These money-saving reforms, which have been studied and supported by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, could generate up to $16 billion in taxpayer savings.

"With our country facing $20 trillion in debt, Congress must act to protect the American taxpayer," said Senator McCain. "By reforming and modernizing America's outdated currency system, this commonsense bill would bring about billions in savings without raising taxes."

Why maintain cash at all?

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


'We Must Fight Them': Trump Goes After Conservatives of Freedom Caucus (GLENN THRUSH, MARCH 30, 2017, NY Times)

"We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" Mr. Trump wrote, apparently making good on suggestions that he would support Republican challengers to lawmakers in his own party who oppose him, a stance advocated by his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

Comic gold!  The Left and Right wings can be lunatic because their seats aren't vulnerable.  If they could possibly lose an election they'd be sensible (see under Darrell Issa)

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Why I Support a Border-Adjustment Tax (WILLIAM J. JONES, MARCH 30, 2017, NY Times)

From my perspective, as the chief executive of an American manufacturer of currency processing and authentication equipment, a border-adjustment tax makes complete sense as part of an overall tax package.

In general, it's a good idea to shift the United States tax system toward consumption as opposed to production, which a border-adjustment tax would do. More than 150 of America's trading partners currently impose consumption taxes, or "value added" taxes, of up to 25 percent on American exports. This means that American-made exported goods are burdened with the costs of American taxes as well as those of foreign taxes. Our foreign competitors face no such consumption tax when entering the American market, but they enjoy value-added rebates from their home countries, which help lower their prices in our market.

My company needs corporate tax relief, but I don't want the country to incur huge budget deficits as a result. Nor do I want to see a big hike in individual income taxes. Additional revenue has to be found, though, and a consumption tax that raises revenues while leveling the international playing field would serve two valuable purposes at once.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Trump administration seeks mainly modest changes to NAFTA: WSJ (Reuters, 3/30/17)

Under the changes, proposed after President Donald Trump called the pact a "disaster" during the election campaign, Washington would keep some of NAFTA's most controversial provisions, including arbitration panels that let investors in the three nations circumvent local courts to resolve civil claims, the Journal said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


ESPN Has Seen the Future of TV and They're Not Really Into It (Ira Boudway  and Max Chafkin, March 30, 2017, Bloomberg/Businessweek)

Five years later the network's profits are shrinking, and the 10,000-square-foot SportsCenter studio has already begun to look like a relic. The show's formula, in which well-fed men in suits present highlights from the day's games with Middle-American charm, is less of a draw now that the same highlights are readily available on social media. Viewership for the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter, a bellwether for the franchise, fell almost 12 percent from 2015 to last year, according to Nielsen. Keith Olbermann, the SportsCenter-host-turned-political-commentator, put it bluntly on a podcast last year: "There's just no future in it."

SportsCenter is only part of the problem. ESPN has lost more than 12 million subscribers since 2011, according to Nielsen, and the viewership erosion seems to be accelerating. Last fall, ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in a single month, the most in the company's history. The losses have helped depress Disney's stock price--down 7 percent since August 2015, despite a big jump in the company's film revenue thanks to a string of hits, including the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One. John Malone, the cable entrepreneur and chairman of Liberty Media Corp., has publicly suggested that Disney would be better off selling ESPN.

As subscribers leave the network, and often cable altogether, ESPN is stuck with rising costs for the rights to broadcast games. Programming costs will top $8 billion in 2017, according to media researcher Kagan. Most of that money goes to rights fees through deals that extend into the next decade. Last year profits from Disney's cable networks, of which ESPN is the largest, fell for the first time in 14 years. The dip was small, about half a percent, but nonetheless alarming. Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG Research, says ESPN has been "over-earning," with cable customers paying for the channel as part of their subscription bundle, whether they watch it or not. "It's pretty clear that the years of over-earning are going to end," says Greenfield, who's made a name for himself as an ESPN naysayer. "The question is does it end slowly or fast." [...]

Short of criminal enterprise, few business models in the world have been as lucrative. A typical cable (or satellite) bundle costs about $100 per household. In simplified form, when a customer sends in a monthly payment, the cable company sends a cut to each channel included in this bundle. Some channels get paid more than others, and ESPN gets the most. Carriers pay an average of $7.21 per month for every customer who gets ESPN as part of a bundle, according to Kagan. Fox News, by comparison, gets $1.41; Bravo, 30¢.

With almost 90 million homes still getting ESPN, that adds up to $7.8 billion per year. Sister channel ESPN2 chips in an additional billion, and that's all before ad revenue (roughly $2.6 billion a year, according to Kagan) and revenue from the print magazine and website, which is the most trafficked in sports. Last year, Disney's cable networks brought in $16.6 billion in revenue and $6.7 billion in operating profit--43 percent of Disney's total and more than its theme parks and movie studios combined.

In some respects, the challenges facing ESPN are the same that confront every other media company: Young people simply aren't consuming cable TV, newspapers, or magazines in the numbers they once did, and digital outlets still aren't lucrative enough to make up the deficit.

But while most of ESPN's TV peers have courted cord cutters--CBS and Turner Broadcasting, for instance, are allowing anyone to watch some of their March Madness games online for free--ESPN's view cuts against the conventional wisdom in new media. "Everything we do supports the pay television business," says John Kosner, the network's head of digital and print media. The strategy, simply put: Defend the cable-TV bundle at all costs.

Information wants to be free.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Democrats Go to War Over Neil Gorsuch (RUSSELL BERMAN, 3/30/17, The Atlantic)

There's an easy way and a hard way for the Senate to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and it appears Democrats are going to make Republicans do it the hard way. [...]

Will Republicans go nuclear? There's little doubt that they will.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a man known inside the Capitol for choosing his words as carefully as anyone in politics, has not explicitly outlined how Republicans would respond to a Democratic filibuster. But his statements on the nomination have been so declarative, so free of hedging that they've left no question about his plans.  When McConnell said on Tuesday, "Judge Gorsuch is going to get confirmed," it was less a prediction than a guarantee.

If Democrats simply supported the judge as a qualified nominee the appointment would not make a ripple.  By turning into a phony war they hand Republicans a "huge victory" to assuage some of the Obamacare pain.  It's bad politics and bad policy, just like Trumpcare was.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Police union warns Trump 'sanctuary city' cuts could risk safety (Julia Edwards Ainsley, 3/30/17, Reuters)

In a move that concerned the Fraternal Order of Police, one of Trump's biggest supporters in the 2016 election campaign, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Justice Department would restrict grants to jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. [...]

The Justice Department plans to restrict sanctuary cities from using grants from the department's Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing Services, both of which send grant money to local and state police departments.

Pasco said the union does not support the policies of sanctuary cities, but its executives are concerned that cuts in funding could hurt police departments in those areas.

Those cities can drive crime rates down even further by admitting more illegals.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


I tried out for the New York Cosmos. Would I make the grade? : When Pele's old club announced they were holding open tryouts, I, a 31-year-old journalist with no professional football experience, dared to dream (Adam Gabbatt, 30 March 2017, The Guardian)

Things haven't gone well for the Cosmos since those glory years of the late 1970s. The NASL - at the time the top soccer league in America - folded in 1984, and the Cosmos were dissolved in a year later.

The team was revived in 2010, but now it plays in the second tier of US football. The Cosmos have actually managed to attract a couple of big names in recent years - Raul, who played 741 times for Real Madrid, briefly played there in 2015 - but as recently as December the club was laying off players amid rumors of financial uncertainty.

This might have had something to do with the location of the tryout: an isolated football field near the Rockaway peninsula on the southern tip of Long Island. On the day of the tryout there was a biting wind sweeping in from the Atlantic, and according to my phone, the temperature felt like 14F.

This presented a problem. I'd only brought a football shirt and shorts. Most of the other players were wearing tracksuit tops or long-sleeved jerseys.

I had to improvise. When I eventually trotted onto the pitch, past New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese - capped 30 times for Venezuela - I was wearing a grey fisherman's knit sweater. I'm sure it didn't help my cause. I've never seen Cristiano Ronaldo play in a cardigan.

Still, I took up my position at centre-back, and as the whistle blew I noticed Savarese eating a bag of potato chips while talking on the phone on the touchline.

We'd been told to line up as a 4-3-3, but in a unique take on the formation we ended up playing with a false-left back, after one of our defenders announced: "I only play left wing."

It left us stretched, but our team took the lead almost immediately. I didn't see the goal because I was at the other end of the pitch, doubled over, trying to catch my breath - instant karma for rooting against the lummox - but it was pleasing all the same.

It was mostly downhill from there. The other team shuffled the ball about in midfield, and all of a sudden one of their better players was bearing down on our goal. I ran forward - I'd call it a charge, but it was too slow for that - and tried to stop him. I missed. He ran past me, and I gave chase, but my sweater had become something of a wind-trap and was acting like a parachute. He duly scored.

The same player was put through a few minutes later, and this time I succeeded in fouling him. But as I stood over my opponent, congratulating myself that I'd at least been able to kick him this time, and he jumped up, ran off, and scored.

Thankfully, my defensive partner Melvin turned out to be really good at football. He did a lot of running and kept the scoreline respectable. When we were eventually summoned off the pitch we'd only conceded three goals, which gave me a possibly misplaced sense of pride.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Ten Conservative Books Revisited (GERALD J. RUSSELLO, University Bookman)

1. Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March. In his list, Kirk abjured fiction, although in passing he recommended some authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Radetzky March covers the period leading up to the dissolution of the old European Order before, and as a result of, World War I. Like Giuseppe Lampedusa's The Leopard, Roth is clear-eyed about the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its many flaws, but equally clear-eyed about what he calls the "bestial" promise of an order that had ripped aside its traditions.

2. Patrick Leigh-Fermor, A Time for Gifts. Leigh-Fermor, who died recently, was in some sense the highest product of the tradition whose destruction Roth lamented. A polymath, courageous soldier (he led a British commando unit in occupied Crete during World War II), and elegant writer, Leigh-Fermor as a young man walked through Europe to Constantinople, just as Nazism was rising on the Continent. This book, the first volume of two covering the journey, describes a pre-Internet, pre-EU Europe of deeply local customs and perspectives, a collage of nations that is almost impossible for us to imagine; almost, because Leigh-Fermor's prose makes such imagination possible.

And if you enjoy these remembrances of pre-war Middle Europe, continue on to:

'The Transylvanian Trilogy,' by Miklós Bánffy (reviewed by Dennis Drabelle December 10, 2013, Washington Post)


The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (reviewed by Roger Cohen SEPT. 3, 2011, NY Times)

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM



FBI Director James Comey attempted to go public as early as the summer of 2016 with information on Russia's campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election, but Obama administration officials blocked him from doing so, two sources with knowledge of the matter tell Newsweek.

...had they had a similar opportunity to stop him from reclearing Hillary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Pro-Trump radio host: George Soros is head of 'Jewish mafia' (JTA, March 30, 2017)

Radio host and Donald Trump supporter Alex Jones ranted about "the Jewish mafia," which he said was run by Jewish billionaire George Soros.

DONALD TRUMP AND THE "AMAZING" ALEX JONES (William Finnegan, June 23, 2016, The New Yorker)

On December 2nd, while the awful news from San Bernardino was erupting, bit by unconfirmed bit, I was surprised by the crisp self-assurance of a couple of bloggers whose names were new to me. They were on it--number of victims, names of shooters, police-radio intercepts. Soon, though, the bloggers veered off from the story that other news sources were slowly, frantically putting together. The information being released by the authorities did not match the information the bloggers were unearthing, and the latter quickly deduced that, like other "mass shootings" staged by the government, in Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere, this was a "false flag" operation. The official account was fiction. One Web site that carried the work of these "reporters" was called Infowars. I made do with other sources for news. But I kept an eye on Infowars and its proprietor, Alex Jones, who is a conspiracy theorist and radio talk-show host in Austin, Texas. Jones's guest on his show the morning of the shooting had been, as chance would have it, Donald Trump. Jones had praised Trump, claiming that ninety per cent of his listeners were Trump supporters, and Trump had returned the favor, saying, "Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down."

Jones's amazing reputation arises mainly from his high-volume insistence that national tragedies such as the September 11th terror attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all inside jobs, "false flag" ops secretly perpetrated by the government to increase its tyrannical power (and, in some cases, seize guns). Jones believes that no one was actually hurt at Sandy Hook--those were actors--and that the Apollo 11 moon-landing footage was faked. Etcetera. Trump also trades heavily in imaginary events and conspiracy theories. He gained national traction on the American right by promoting the canard that President Obama was born outside the United States--a race-baiting lie that the candidate still toys with on Twitter. But birtherism is only the best-known among Trump's large collection of creepy political fairy tales. You've probably heard the one about vaccines and autism. He even pushed that during a Presidential primary debate, on national television. Do you really believe that Obama won the 2012 election fairly? Wrong. Fraud. (At the same time, it's Mitt Romney, total loser, who let everyone down.) Bill Ayers, not Obama, wrote "Dreams from My Father." There is no drought in California, and the Chinese, outwitting us per usual, invented the concept of global warming to undermine American manufacturing. And so on.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Falcons coaches own different thoughts on losing Super Bowl to Patriots (Ron Borges, March 30, 2017, Boston Herald)

A California documentarian once did a lengthy radio piece on survivors of suicide leaps off the Golden Gate Bridge. He didn't have to do a lot of interviewing.

The few people he spoke with all expressed one emotion: somewhere between making the jump and hitting the water they had second thoughts.

Not so Kyle Shanahan.

"Nothing in that game I'd do differently," the former Falcons offensive coordinator and new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers said yesterday...

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


What George W. Bush Really Thought of Donald Trump's Inauguration (Yashar Ali, 3/29/17, New York)

Bush's endearing struggle with his poncho at the event quickly became a meme, prompting many Democrats on social media to admit that they already pined for the relative normalcy of his administration. Following Trump's short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony.

But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump's inaugural after leaving the dais: "That was some weird [****]."

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Coal Mining Jobs Trump Would Bring Back No Longer Exist (HIROKO TABUCHI, MARCH 29, 2017, NY Times)

In Decatur, Ill., far from the coal mines of Appalachia, Caterpillar engineers are working on the future of mining: mammoth haul trucks that drive themselves.

The trucks have no drivers, not even remote operators. Instead, the 850,000-pound vehicles rely on self-driving technology, the latest in an increasingly autonomous line of trucks and drills that are removing some of the human element from digging for coal.

When President Trump moved on Tuesday to dismantle the Obama administration's climate change efforts, he promised it would bring coal-mining jobs back to America. But the jobs he alluded to -- hardy miners in mazelike tunnels with picks and shovels -- have steadily become vestiges of the past.

Pressured by cheap and abundant natural gas, coal is in a precipitous decline, now making up just a third of electricity generation in the United States. Renewables are fast becoming competitive with coal on price. Electricity sales are trending downward, and coal exports are falling.

All the while, the coal industry has been replacing workers with machines and explosives. give us our first president--since the Jeffersonians--with no comprehension of economics.

Why states are pushing ahead with clean energy despite Trump's embrace of coal  (Bill Ritter, Jr., 3/30/17, The Conversation)

The fact is that the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan's 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump's order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void - while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

March 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


The Weekly Standard's Arsenal to Fight Falsehoods: 'Facts, Logic and Reason' (Jim Rutenberg, MARCH 26, 2017, NY Times)

When I caught up with Mr. Hayes last week he was in the process of staffing up. He had poached The Wall Street Journal's books editor, Robert Messenger, to be an executive editor alongside Mr. Barnes. He had hired Rachael Larimore, a former managing editor of the left-leaning Slate (though her politics lean to the right), and recruited a former deputy business editor of The Charlotte Observer, Tony Mecia.

He said he was on the verge of hiring five additional journalists, having gotten the go-ahead from The Weekly Standard's billionaire owner, Philip Anschutz, to grow his team by a third.

Mr. Hayes said he made a simple case to Mr. Anschutz, who bought The Weekly Standard from Mr. Murdoch in 2009: "Let's add more resources and make sure that we're basing our arguments on facts, logic and reason."

Mr. Hayes shares the viewpoint of another prominent Wisconsin conservative, Charlie Sykes, the #NeverTrump talk radio host who declared last year that he and his fellow conservative media stalwarts had been too successful in delegitimizing the mainstream news media.

"We destroyed our own immunity to fake news while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right," Mr. Sykes wrote in The Times last year.

Mr. Hayes said he put more of the onus for that on the mainstream news media than Mr. Sykes does (though Mr. Sykes certainly puts some there). It has undercut itself with conservative-leaning readers, he said, through "the questions that aren't asked and aren't covered" in a way that seems to favor liberal viewpoints.

Yet the effect remained: There are right-leaning voters who "don't believe what they're getting from the networks and the left-leaning cable outlets" and therefore may be open to false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information, he said.

In some parts of the conservative news media sphere, winning the intellectual argument has been replaced with winning the war, by any means necessary.

It's worth remembering that one of the services WFB performed was reading Birchers out of the movement, as must be done now with the Bannonites and the alt-right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Ex-Writer: Breitbart Broke the Law : A Breitbart News writer complained to the DOJ that the media site was allegedly cutting shady deals with its landlord, a wealthy Egyptian politician. (LACHLAN MARKAY, TIM MAK, ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, 03.29.17, Daily Beast)

A former Breitbart News writer alleged the site was acting as an illegal influence operation for its Washington, D.C. landlord, an obscure Egyptian politician cited this week by a Capitol Hill media association that denied Breitbart press credentials.

Two sources with direct knowledge, including one former Breitbart writer, say a reporter for the pro-Trump news organization was behind a complaint to the Department of Justice implicating then-chairman Steve Bannon and Moustafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former legislator and the owner of Breitbart's Washington office.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Donald Trump Claims U.S. Constitution Bars 'Apprentice' Star's Defamation Suit While in Office (Eriq Gardner, 3/29/17, Hollywood Reporter)

[T]rump is looking to bifurcate the litigation so that "the threshold issue of whether the United States Constitution bars this Court from adjudicating this action against President Trump during his Presidency" can be briefed and resolved first.

Kasowitz writes that Trump intends to file a motion to dismiss arguing that the Supremacy Clause immunizes the President from being sued in state court while in office. The attorney adds the "crucial threshold issue was raised, but not decided, by the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones."

That refers to a lawsuit that Paula Jones filed against Bill Clinton in 1994, while he was serving his first term in the White House. Jones alleged that Clinton sexually harassed her while serving as Governor of Arkansas. Clinton's attorneys argued that in all but the most exceptional cases, any litigation against the president should be deferred until he left office.

In 1997, the high court came back with its answer that a president can't escape private litigation.

"Indeed, if the Framers of the Constitution had thought it necessary to protect the President from the burdens of private litigation, we think it far more likely that they would have adopted a categorical rule than a rule that required the President to litigate the question whether a specific case belonged in the 'exceptional case' subcategory," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens at the time. "In all events, the question whether a specific case should receive exceptional treatment is more appropriately the subject of the exercise of judicial discretion than an interpretation of the Constitution."

But Trump's lawyer seizes on another aspect of the decision. 

Stevens also wrote that "immunity questions should be decided at the earliest possible stage of the litigation" in recognition of the "singular importance of the President's duties."

What judge doesn't think Donald should be in the dock?
Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Civilization & Discontents: Modern Life Has Its Pitfalls (Kevin D. Williamson, 3/28/17, National Review)

We spend our days surrounded by great miracles and minor irritations. My friend Jay Nordlinger recently recounted how Joseph Stalin allowed the film The Grapes of Wrath to be shown in the Soviet Union, believing that to see an indictment of capitalism from within the beast itself would be salutary for the proletariat. The proletariat took another lesson from the film: The Joads, apparently the poorest people in America, had a Ford, a luxury no working man in the workers' paradise could dream of. A similar story is told about the television series Dallas: The Soviets thought their subjects would recoil from the mischief of J. R. Ewing and his Texas oil cronies, but all the poor Russians could see was that American servants lived better than Soviet doctors and professors. If we could share our daily tales of woe with our great-grandparents -- e.g., my complaints about the Wi-Fi on airplanes -- they would not take from that the conclusion we intended.

Now imagine explaining to all of them that the greatest problem we face is that we are headed towards a point where no longer require labor to produce that wealth...

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Amid White House Tumult, Pence Offers Trump a Steady Hand (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 28, 2017, NY Times)

When some of President Trump's aides were reassuring him over the past few weeks that he had enough votes to pass a health care bill, Vice President Mike Pence was skeptical.

Mr. Pence, a Hill-wise former Indiana congressman who is typically a palliative presence in an administration of piranhas, had been keeping tabs on conservatives, counseling the president not to take anything for granted, and he urged Mr. Trump to take a hard line against his ideological allies who were pushing for a far more radical rewrite of the Affordable Care Act.

During the course of the last two trying weeks, as less-experienced advisers floundered -- and others skipped town -- Mr. Pence emerged as an effective, if not ultimately successful, wingman for a president short on competent help.

The health care debacle was nothing if not a CT scan of a troubled and inexperienced West Wing -- from the president's sketchy grasp on policy, to the heavy-handed tactics of his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who issued a final ultimatum to a balky Freedom Caucus.

Mr. Pence was simply filling a vacuum.

Well, we know who the sources were for this story.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Offender of the Free World (Roger Cohen, MARCH 28, 2017, NY Times)

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money -- piles of it -- for Germany's defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year's Paris climate accord and kept "frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union."

This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump's preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, "You are terrific" but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.

Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president's daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful. (Invited by Merkel, Ivanka will attend a summit on women's empowerment in Berlin next month.)

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump's behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.

People should just stop meeting with him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Wheat wars : Kansas wheat farmers look to Cuba to solve U.S. agriculture crisis (Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on Mar 28, 2017, VICE News)

A surplus of wheat and a strong U.S. dollar have created the worst economic downturn in American agriculture in decades. The market slump is clearly affecting the farming community of Claflin, Kansas, where stores are going out of business and banks have slowed on lending.

The Kansas Wheat Institute is looking for a way out of the crisis, and researchers there think the solution to the surplus lies on an island 1800 miles away.

"Wheat farmers would love to resume trade with Cuba" Aaron Harries, Vice President of Research and Operations at Kansas Wheat told VICE News.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Trump's business network reached alleged Russian mobsters (Oren Dorell, 3/28/17, USA TODAY)

To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics -- several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor. [...]

[I]n 2013, after Trump addressed potential investors in Moscow, he bragged to Real Estate Weekly about his access to Russia's rich and powerful. "I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room," Trump said, referring to Russians who made fortunes when former Soviet state enterprises were sold to private investors.

Five years earlier, Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. told Russian media while in Moscow  that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets" in places like Dubai and Trump SoHo and elsewhere in New York.

New York City real estate broker Dolly Lenz told USA TODAY she sold about 65 condos in Trump World at 845 U.N. Plaza in Manhattan to Russian investors, many of whom sought personal meetings with Trump for his business expertise. [...]

Dealings with Russian oligarchs concern law enforcement because many of those super-wealthy people are generally suspected of corrupt practices as a result of interconnected relationships among Russia's business elite, government security services and criminal gangs, according to former U.S. prosecutor Ken McCallion, as well as Steven Hall, a former CIA chief of Russian operations.

"Anybody who is an oligarch or is in any position of power in Russia got it because (President) Vladimir Putin or somebody in power saw some reason to give that person that job," Hall said in an interview. "All the organized crime figures I've ever heard of (in Russia) all have deep connections and are tied in with people in government." [...]

[T]he deals, and the large number of Russians who have bought condos in Trump buildings, raise questions about the secrecy he has maintained around his real estate empire. Trump is the first president in 40 years to refuse to turn over his tax returns, which could shed light on his business dealings. [...]

Among Trump's partners in the SoHo project was Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant who spent a year in prison for the 1991 stabbing. He later cooperated with the FBI and the CIA for a reduced sentence after he was convicted in a $40 million stock manipulation and money-laundering scheme in New York state.

Sater was a major player in the Bayrock Group, which developed the Trump SoHo. A former Bayrock finance director and partner, Jody Kriss, referred to him as a controlling partner, but Bayrock says he was an executive, not a partner.

Sater's criminal past was not well-known until publicly divulged in 2007. As he sought investment opportunities in Russia, he carried business cards identifying him as a senior adviser to the Trump Organization that included the company's email and phone number.

In February, Sater introduced a Ukrainian politician pushing a pro-Russian peace proposal to Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and former chief counsel at the Trump Organization, Cohen told NBC News.

Sater, 51, did not respond to multiple emails sent to his company or to calls seeking comment. He wrote on his company website that he made some bad decisions in the past but that he had paid his debt to society and helped the government with "numerous issues of national security, including thwarting terrorist attacks against our country." His website was dark last week, displaying the message, "Maintenance mode is on."

One source of financing recruited by Bayrock for the SoHo project was Alexander Mashkevich, according to a deposition by former Bayrock partner Kriss in a federal lawsuit. A Bayrock investment pamphlet lists Mashkevich as a source of financing for the Bayrock Group.  Mashkevich, a Kazakhstan mining billionaire, was accused in Belgium in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme. Mashkevich and two partners paid a fine and admitted no wrongdoing.

Federal indictments in New York, California and Illinois allege that people who bought Trump condos include felons and others accused of laundering money for Russian, Ukrainian or central Asian criminal organizations.

One indictment describes Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall, who own condos in Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and Vadim Trincher, who owns a unit in Trump Tower in Manhattan, as members of a Russian-American organized crime group that ran an illegal gambling and money-laundering operation.

Money laundering was an issue for Trump's Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, which was fined $10 million in 2015 for failing to report suspicious transactions. Federal rules are designed to protect the U.S. financial system from being used as a safe haven for dirty money and transnational crimes, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, then-director of the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen), said at the time. It was the largest penalty the agency ever levied against a casino since reporting requirements began in 2003, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"The Trump Organization admitted that it failed to implement and maintain an effective (anti-money laundering) program; failed to report suspicious transactions; failed to properly file required currency transaction reports; and failed to keep appropriate records as required by (the Bank Secrecy Act)," FinCen said in a statement.

The statement said warnings over repeated violations went back to 2003, but it did not mention Russians.

In Los Angeles, the federal lawsuit filed in 2014 by lawyers for the Kazakh city of Almaty accuses former mayor Viktor Khrapunov of owning three Trump SoHo units through shell companies used to hide hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly looted by selling state-owned assets. Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic.

The Trump SoHo project "was largely financed by illegally obtained cash from Russia and Eastern European sources, including money provided by known international financial criminals and organized crime racketeers," former prosecutor McCallion wrote on his blog in October. McCallion was an assistant U.S. attorney in New York from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s under presidents Carter and Reagan. [...]

In an interview with USA TODAY, McCallion said he spent years looking into the Trump Organization, the businesses and individuals that dealt with it, and the possibility that Trump's real estate empire may depend on hundreds of millions of dollars from Russians.

"The FBI is always concerned if public officials can be blackmailed," McCallion said. "It's Russian-laundered money from people who operate under the good graces of President Putin. If these people pull the plug on the Trump Organization, it would go down pretty quickly."

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


The 10 best states for retirees (Katie Lobosco, March 29, 2017, Money)

1.  New Hampshire 1 of 10 

Instead of heading to Florida, think of moving north in retirement.

New Hampshire was named the best state for retirees this year in a new report from Bankrate. The report looked at eight factors: the cost of living, quality of accessible health care, crime rates, arts and culture, weather, taxes, senior citizens' well-being, and the prevalence of other seniors in the area.

No, New Hampshire didn't score high because of its weather. But it outperformed most other states in other categories. Its crime rate is the third-lowest in the country and it offers great quality health care, according to Bankrate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Farmworker union underpaid its own organizers, judge rules (Los Angeles Times, 3/28/17)

The union founded on the principle of protecting farmworkers from wage abuses will have to shell out more than $800,000 in back pay to its own organizers, a Monterey County judge ruled this week.

The United Farm Workers America failed to pay two dozen of its organizers for some of the hours they worked, including overtime and meal periods, for more than four years, Monterey Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills ruled Monday.

March 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


The Republican-Dominated Kansas Legislature Just Approved a Major Obamacare Provision (Sy Mukherjee, 3/28/17, Fortune)

Republicans control more than 70% of the Kansas state legislature. And they just voted to take part in one of Obamacare's most critical programs.

In a 25-14 vote, Kansas state senators voted for the state to take part in the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, which provides coverage for millions of low-income Americans throughout the country. That follows the Kansas state House of Representatives' similar green light for the program last week. [...]

The fact that so many moderate Republicans joined with a unified Democratic caucus to pass the measure underscores the new reality of health care reform following the American Health Care Act's (AHCA) collapse in the House of Representatives last week.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Trump declined invitation to throw out ceremonial first pitch for Nationals on opening day (AP, 3/28/17)

The Washington Nationals say President Donald Trump has declined an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before their game on opening day.

...unless Augusta has started admitting Latinos....

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


This company replaced 90% of its workforce with machines. Here's what happened (Kristin Houser & June Javelosa, 16 February 2017, WEF)

It's hard to argue against automation when statistics are clearly illustrating its potential. The latest evidence comes out of a Chinese factory in Dongguan City. The factory recently replaced 90 percent of its human workforce with machines, and it led to a staggering 250 percent increase in productivity and a significant 80 percent drop in defects.

Changying Precision Technology Company's factory used to need 650 human workers to produce mobile phones. Now, the factory is run by 60 robot arms that work around the clock across 10 production lines. Only 60 people are still employed by the company -- three are assigned to check and monitor the production line, and the others are tasked with monitoring computer control systems. Any remaining work not handled by humans is left in the capable hands of machines.

According to Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the factory, the number of people employed could drop to just 20, and given the level of efficiency achieved by automation, it won't be long before other factories follow in their footsteps.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Congress may stiff Trump on wall funding (BURGESS EVERETT and RACHAEL BADE, 03/28/17, Politico)

Congressional Republicans might deliver some more bad news for President Donald Trump, fresh off their embarrassing failure to scrap Obamacare: No new money is coming to build his wall.

Even the rubes who thought he'd repeal Obamacare had to know this was a non-starter.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 PM


Source: WalletHub

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


The Russia Scandal Has Reached the Trump Family : And only a special counsel can find out how deep the rot goes. (MAX BOOT, MARCH 27, 2017, Foreign Policy)

When, in the past, has an FBI director ever announced that his agents were investigating allegations that the president and his closest associates -- including his senior advisor-cum-son-in-law -- were guilty of collusion with a hostile foreign power? Never. Yet that's just what James Comey did on March 20 when he told the House Intelligence Committee that the G-men were looking into "the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."

To make the event even more surreal, Comey and his fellow witness, Adm. Michael Rogers of the National Security Agency, all but called their boss, the commander in chief, a liar by publicly dismissing his allegations that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped him. "I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said. As for Donald Trump's desperate claim that Obama had asked Britain's GCHQ spy agency to wiretap him, Rogers said, "I've seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity."

It is impossible to conceive of J. Edgar Hoover publicly calling out any of the presidents that he served in such a fashion -- and yet Comey had good cause to do so, because Trump has shown that he is prepared to smear the reputation of the intelligence community in order to save his own. And while Hoover was always paranoid about "subversives" worming their way into the government, not even he went so far as to hint at a possible conspiracy between the American president and the ruler in Moscow.

Yet the jaw-dropping revelations were just beginning. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Mnuchin: Losing human jobs to AI "not even on our radar screen" (Shanon Vavra, 3/24/17, Axios)

On AI supplanting human jobs: "it's not even on our radar screen.... 50-100 more years" away. "I'm not worried at all" about robots displacing humans in the near future, he said...

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM

RACIST FROM THE START (profanity alert):

Steve Bannon's Mentor, 91-year-old French Author Jean Raspail : A visit with the former Boy Scout and writer of 'The Camp of the Saints'--and other fantasies of White domination of Western Civilization, which inspire Donald Trump's adviser (Marc Weitzmann, March 27, 2017 , The Tablet)

Bannon's first mention of Raspail's book occurred almost in passing in October 2015 in an analysis by the then-editor-in-chief of on the refugee crisis: "It's been almost a Camp of the Saint-type invasion into Central and then Western and Northern Europe." Bannon repeated his cryptic reference a few months later in January 2016--"it's not a migration. It's an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints"--and again in April of the same year--"I mean, this is Camp of the Saints, isn't it?" It seemed that, for Bannon, "The Camp of the Saints" was as obvious a cultural reference as Macbeth, Ulysses, or Kafka's Metamorphosis.

It took a moment even for the French to make the connection to Jean Raspail's 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, which draws its title from the Apocalypse According to Saint-John. The novel tells the story of a group of French Partisans who commit to the defense of the country after millions of dark-skinned "miséreux" (destitute) invade from India with the help of young hippie "collaborators." On the boats that drive them to France, the dark-skinned invaders spend their time in giant orgies; their leader eats his own s[**]t. French authorities collapse in the face of the "invasion" and planetary chaos ensues (among other plagues and horrors, the queen of England is forced to marry her son to a Pakistani woman and the mayor of New York must shelter an Afro-American family). Meanwhile, the French résistants take up arms. As he's about to kill a perverse radical hippie, Raspail's alter ego, Calgues, reminds himself of the KKK and of the glorious era of the Crusades.

For years a cult favorite on the far right, the book never reached a wider audience and was soon forgotten. Yet, it says something about the general atmosphere in France these days that when Raspail's publisher reprinted the book at the author's insistence, it sold 20,000 copies in two months, which made it the No. 1 novel on Amazon's best-seller list in France--preparing the way, one could argue, for Michel Houellebecq's Submission. By 2016, The Camp of the Saints had sold 110,000 copies. In the United States, according to the Huffington Post, the 1975 Scribner's translation was reissued back in 1983 thanks to the American heiress Cordelia Scaife May and the former ophthalmologist John Tanton, who's been accused of neo-Nazi views and who defends himself by saying his concern over immigration first came after he read The Camp of the Saints, republished the book again in 2001. [...]

At 91, Raspail is tall and in obviously good shape. He's elegantly dressed in the timeless fashion of the French bourgeoisie and wears a small white mustache. His blue eyes shine with a mix of an almost childish candor, and his manners are affable and almost laid-back. Nothing in this charming old man calls to mind the narcissistic grandiosity that afflicts so many French intellectuals and writers--or suggests that he wrote the racist anti-immigrant bible of the extreme right. "The prophet" as Résistance Républicaine--a website with close ties to the National Front--recently called him, lives in a nice apartment in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. In the living room are reminders of his vocation as an "explorer," 20 to 30 ships in bottles, which decorate an entire wall. His desk sits in a small room whose walls are covered with pictures of his many trips, posters of his books. The shelves crammed with books and items of all kinds, a U.S. poster indicating the entrance to an Indian reservation, a reproduction of the canot in which he traveled the in 1949 from the Saint Lawrence River to St. Louis and, needless to say, a flag from Patagonia, which he still serves, he's proud to say, as vice consul. On a door, a poster shows the naïve drawing of a French soldier of the Foreign Legion on a horse and carrying a French flag--an illustration for a children's comic adaptation of one of his novels. "This room," he said leading me in, "is my real home." In a distant room, his wife's voice soon recedes and vanishes. Silence. He sits down behind his desk. I first think this is not the desk of a Céline at all; this is the desk of a child--a French Catholic child of the 1930s.

Of The Camp of the Saints, he tells me what he tells everyone--how the book came to him in a rush, or like an illumination after he'd reread the Bible, how he wrote it without a plan or note, and how even then, the process had seemed to him both "strange" and "so simple." But isn't this what revelations are like? Is The Camp of the Saints France? I asked him.

"No, it is the Western world," he answered. "The Judeo-Christian civilization. And this Western world is Europe from Portugal to the Urals, and it also includes the United States, whatever they want to say. And, I am sorry to say, it is white. There is no other Western World for me than white. That's how it is."

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


A trade war is brewing inside the White House between rival camps (Don Lee, 3/28/17, LA Times)
Soon after President Trump took office, an executive order was quietly drafted to suspend talks with China on an obscure but potentially far-reaching treaty about bilateral investment.

After eight years and two dozen rounds of negotiations, the treaty terms were almost in final form. Pulling out after so much time and effort would send a clear message that the Trump administration meant to take a new and tougher approach to China.

But the executive order never even got to the president's desk. It was quietly shelved, according to sources inside and outside the White House, at the behest of former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, now Trump's top economic advisor.

Getting a major trade deal would make up to Wall Street for the Trumpcare fiasco.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner has ties to Putin (Thomas Frank and Marshall Cohen, March 28, 2017, CNN)

The Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner in December has ties to the Russian government and was appointed to his job by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The meeting between Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, and the chairman of a state-run Russian bank will likely be scrutinized by congressional investigators probing links between Trump associates and the Russian government.

Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the chairman VneshEconomBank, or VEB, in December 2016. The meeting raises additional questions because VEB has been under US sanctions for three years, and because Kushner has been trying to attract financing for a building project of his in Manhattan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Amid Calls For His Resignation, Nunes Admits Meeting Intel 'Source' At White House (David S. Cloud, 3/27/17, Chicago Tribune)

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., conceded Monday that the source for a dramatic statement he made last week about possible intelligence surveillance of members of President Donald Trump's transition team was someone he had met with at the White House.

The disclosure, showing coordination between the White House and Nunes, added to questions about whether the congressman could lead the intelligence panel in an impartial investigation of Russian involvement in the presidential election and possible links to Trump's advisers. could make yourself even less credible than the Benghazi panel.
Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Republicans for Single-Payer Health Care (David Leonhardt,  MARCH 28, 2017, NY Times)

[W]hen big social legislation does pass, and improves lives, it becomes even harder to undo than it was to create. Americans are generally not willing to go backward on matters of basic economic decency. Child labor isn't coming back, and the minimum wage, Social Security and Medicare aren't going away. Add Obamacare to the list. "Americans now think government should help guarantee coverage for just about everyone," as Jennifer Rubin, a conservative, wrote.

Trump seemed to understand this during the campaign and came out in favor of universal coverage. Once elected, though, he reversed himself. He turned over health care to Price, a surgeon and Georgia congressman with an amazing record, and not in a good way.

Price had spent years proposing bills to take away people's insurance. He also had a habit of buying the stocks of drug companies that benefited from policies he was pushing. Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor, was investigating Price when Trump fired Bharara this month, ProPublica reported.

Price and Ryan were the main architects of the Republican health bill. They tried to persuade the country to return to a more laissez-faire system in which if you didn't have insurance, it was your problem. They failed, spectacularly. Again, Americans weren't willing to abandon basic economic decency.

But Price may not be finished. This weekend, Trump tweeted that "ObamaCare will explode," and Price, now Trump's secretary of health and human services, has the authority to undermine parts of the law. Here's where the irony begins: He can more easily hurt the conservative parts than the liberal parts.

Obamacare increased coverage in two main ways. The more liberal way expanded a government program, Medicaid, to cover the near-poor. The more conservative way created private insurance markets where middle-class and affluent people could buy subsidized coverage.

The Medicaid expansion isn't completely protected from Price. He can give states some flexibility to deny coverage. But Medicaid is mostly protected. On Friday, after the Republican bill failed, Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicaid and Medicare for Obama, was talking on the phone to a former colleague. "Virtually the only words either of us could say," Slavitt relayed, "were 'Medicaid is safe.' "

The private markets are less safe. They have already had more problems than the Medicaid expansion. Price could try to fix those problems, and I hope he does. Or he could set out to aggravate the problems, which he has taken initial steps to do. Above all, he could make changes that discourage healthy people from signing up, causing prices to rise and insurers to flee.

Now, think about the political message this would send to Democrats: It's not worth expanding health coverage in a conservative-friendly way, because Republican leaders won't support it anyway.

Politics aside, private markets in many areas of the economy have substantive advantages over a government program. They create competition, which leads to innovation and lower prices. But private markets in medical care tend to be more complicated and less successful.

And government health care programs turn out to be very popular, among both Democratic and Republican voters. Medicare is a huge success. Medicaid also works well, and some Republicans have defended it in recent weeks.

So if voters like government-provided health care and Republicans are going to undermine private markets, what should Democrats do? When they are next in charge, they should expand government health care.

HSAs/catastrophic or National Health?

March 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Trump's Reality Distortion Field is Shattering (David Atkins March 27, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Donald Trump has always carefully crafted the image of a tough guy negotiator, through ghostwritten books and reality TV show characters. But it's not wholly clear that Trump has ever had more than a few tricks up his sleeve: bully people with money and influence, play hardball, pretend to refuse offers, and when all else fails swamp the opposition with attorneys. It's not exactly a creative arsenal, and Trump wouldn't have had it available to him in his business career without a lot of inherited wealth and strings pulled on his behalf.

But when he attempted to play those games with the Republican Congress, they simply laughed in his face. When he attempted similar gambits against the federal judiciary over his travel bans, the judges simply used his own words against him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


The Islamic State releases video threatening Iran for tolerating Jews (AFP March 27, 2017)

A masked man directs his message to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Oh, Khamenei, you cursed person who controls the so-called Islamic Iranian regime, rest assured that soon we will destroy your house like this," he says, pointing to ruins behind him.

The video also chastises Iran for its tolerance towards Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Health-Care Debacle Further Depresses Trump's Already-Low Approval Ratings (Ed Kilgore, 3/27/17, New York)

The two public pollsters with approval-rating numbers for last week both show downward movement. Rasmussen had Trump at 50/50 on March 21. Today he's at 45/54, which is actually a small improvement over Friday's 44/56. Meanwhile Gallup's three-day rolling average of job-approval numbers has Trump dipping to 36/57, down from 41/54 last Thursday. The 36 percent job approval is the president's lowest rating since his inauguration.

It is probably safe to say that anything less than 40 percent presidential job approval once midterms roll around is going to be a big problem for the president's party; the three times it has happened (Truman '46 and '50 and Bush '06) the White House party lost an average of 38 House seats (along with control of the House).

Unlike W, no one owes their seat to Donald. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Trump vs. Congress: Now What? (ROBERT DRAPER, MARCH 26, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

Bannon's interest in this agenda predated his association with Trump. One evening in January 2013, two guests showed up for dinner at the Capitol Hill townhouse that Bannon liked to call the Breitbart Embassy. One was the man Bannon would later describe to me as his "mentor": Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. The other was Sessions's top aide and protégé, a jittery 27-year-old named Stephen Miller.

Two months earlier, Obama decisively defeated Mitt Romney in the presidential election, prompting Priebus, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to commission an analysis of the state of the party and its future, known colloquially in Washington as the "autopsy," which would be delivered that spring. The only certainty was that the report would urge Republicans to court the growing Latino electorate -- which had voted for Obama by a 44-point margin that November -- by championing comprehensive immigration reform. The three men at the dinner table that night were among the few Republicans in town who thoroughly rejected that conclusion.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Bahrain alleges Iran-backed group planned assassinations (AP, March 27, 2017)

Bahrain is alleging a 14-member group backed by Iran planned assassinations in the island kingdom.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying 11 members of the group "are suspected of receiving overseas military training under the supervision of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah in Iraq."

Bahrain too is entitled to consensual government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


For A Trump Nominee, Neil Gorsuch's Record Is Surprisingly Moderate On Immigration : And employment discrimination. (Kevin Cope and Joshua Fischman, 3/27/17, 538)

So what do we really know about Gorsuch's judicial philosophy? Many smart people have looked at his writings and concluded that he's conservative. But how conservative? Instead of arguing over cherry-picked cases and anecdotes, we took a closer look at his record. Gorsuch has participated in more than 2,700 cases since he joined the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006. Because cases in the circuit courts are randomly assigned to three-judge panels, each judge in the circuit hears a roughly comparable mix of cases. By analyzing their votes, we can compare Gorsuch's judicial ideology with those of his colleagues on the Tenth Circuit.

We reviewed more than 900 Tenth Circuit cases decided during Gorsuch's tenure, including 119 in which he participated.1 We focused on two areas: immigration and employment discrimination law. Why those areas in particular? First, both are frequently litigated in the circuit courts, so they generate large sets of cases to analyze. Moreover, many academic studies have found that liberal and conservative circuit judges vote differently in both of these areas,2 making them useful in examining Gorsuch's ideology. Finally, given concerns about the Trump administration's approach to civil rights and the recent litigation over his immigration orders, these areas are especially relevant now.

Our results were surprising. In our analysis of those two topics, Gorsuch's record puts him near the ideological center of the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit may be a touch more conservative than the Supreme Court,3 but Gorsuch still looks relatively centrist in these areas, according to our analysis. To break it down, Gorsuch sided with plaintiffs in discrimination cases 18 percent of the time, a bit higher than the circuit average of 13 percent. Most other judges in that period sided with plaintiffs from 5 percent to 20 percent of the time. In the immigration cases, Gorsuch sided with immigrants 10 percent of the time, slightly higher than the circuit average of 9 percent. Most Tenth Circuit judges sided with immigrants anywhere from 1 percent to 20 percent of the time.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Clean Energy May Have Turned a Corner (David G. Victor, 3/26/17 The Washington Post)

A growing array of evidence suggests that twists and turns at the federal level won't automatically change how U.S. firms behave. The Trump administration may roll back U.S. regulations on clean power and on methane leaks from oil and gas operations, for example, but many states already have their rules in place, and the courts will likely halt some of Trump's most ambitious rollbacks.

Indeed, the states such as California and New York that account for most of the nation's economic growth -- and thus most of the innovation and technology and policy -- are the bluest politically and poised to do even more to cut emissions.

Here's the good news: New analysis in a World Economic Forum (WEF) report argues that global efforts to promote clean energy have turned a corner. And the energy needed to produce a unit of economic output continues to drop.

Some of these patterns have been underway for decades -- in particular, the decoupling between economic growth and the growth in raw energy consumption. But the Forum report details an important shift: This decoupling has occurred not just during periods of high prices for fossil fuels but also during lower periods.

For the Right, continuing to pollute as much as possible is an ideological statement; but energy is a business.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Trump Angry That Top Advisers Ivanka and Jared Hit the Slopes During Healthcare Battle
 (Emily Zanotti, March 26, 2017, Heat Street)

According to reports, Trump, who had just cleared out room for Ivanka in the West Wing a week earlier, was livid that his children and their spouses had taken time off during one of the most important moments in his early Presidency.

"[Trump] is upset that his son-in-law and senior adviser was not around during this crucial week," a source close to the White House told CNN.

The job of pressuring Congressional Republicans into shape, then, fell to Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, whose tactics weren't as kind and gentle as Ivanka's. Kushner was supposed to be guiding the president on the finer points of healthcare.

Bannon reportedly lost his temper at a Republican Freedom Caucus meeting, and now wants to use the Obamacare fight to create a White House "enemies list." 

Might want to be livid at the staffers who were claiming Trumpcare was a realistic possibility.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Review: In 'The Good Place,' Kristen Bell Is Dead and Crabby (JAMES PONIEWOZIK, SEPT. 18, 2016, NY Times)

So in "The Good Place," an ingenious metaphysical sitcom, [Michael] Schur (the co-creator of "Parks and Recreation" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine") has a couple of challenges. First, how to invent a Great Beyond that amuses viewers of many faiths (or none). Second, how to introduce conflict -- the engine of narrative and laughs -- into a perfect world.

The second first: It turns out this heaven has a few bugs in it. The biggest is Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a self-centered heel who awakens after a fatal accident in what looks like a college admissions office. She's greeted by Michael (Ted Danson), the bow-tied "architect" who designed the bespoke subdivision in which she will spend eternity.

The Good Place, as Michael calls this higher plane, is like heaven if it were run by Whole Foods. It's a pristine, nonsectarian afterlife where arrivals are greeted by a sign reassuring them, "Everything is fine!" in the cheerful green letters of an organic cereal box.

There's no mention of any supreme beings, though, Michael says, "Every religion guessed about 5 percent" right. The residents are mostly young and attractive, by the demographic standards of the dead, and there is a ton of frozen yogurt.

Entrance into this hyperselective moral Harvard is determined by a complex algorithm in which one's every act on earth is added or subtracted from a point score. Plus: "Plant baobab tree in Madagascar," "Hug sad friend." Minus: "Disturb coral reef with flipper," "Tell a woman to 'smile.'"

Only a few souls make the cut. Everyone else goes to the Bad Place, including Christopher Columbus, every dead president except Lincoln and every deceased member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Mr. Schur, like Dante, realizes the most fun part of creating hell is getting to put people in it.

So how in the Bad Place did Eleanor get here? Mistaken identity: The management believes she's a do-gooder who spent her life helping the unfortunate. But after she gets the grand tour and is assigned an eternal soul mate -- Chidi (William Jackson Harper), an earnest philosophy professor from Senegal -- she decides to fake it. This throws off the community's cosmic balance, with disastrous and surreally C.G.I.-enhanced results. [...]

More important, Mr. Schur seems to have found a deeper idea behind the show's premise: Is acting good the same as being good? Through Chidi's tutorials, he even manages to work in a tidy primer of ethical philosophy (John Stuart Mill alert!).

Worth watching just for the final episode, but also for the themes throughout the show.  Bell's character is asked why she was so horrible in life and flashes back to her broken family and horrid up-bringing, but then says she just used that as an excuse her whole life.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Trump aides cause friction at EPA, other agencies (Robin Bravender, 3/20/17, E&E News reporter)

White House political appointees are clashing with U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Staffers installed on the Trump administration's "beachhead team" at EPA have been at odds with the agency's new chief since Pruitt and his aides arrived at headquarters last month.

The internal conflicts at EPA have already resulted in one high-profile departure, and the White House's liaison to the agency has been shut out of meetings by Pruitt, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

One source who's in touch with political employees at EPA said "things are a mess" at that agency, citing infighting among top political officials.

EPA isn't the only agency facing internal strife. The Post reported that senior White House aides in agencies across government have been tasked with "monitoring the secretaries' loyalty." Those aides report to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn, a former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and a former Energy Department official during the George W. Bush administration. [...]

Last week, former Trump political appointee David Schnare resigned from his job on EPA's beachhead team. Schnare told E&E News last week that he stepped down as a result of the "misuse of federal funds, failure to honor oaths of office, and a lack of loyalty to the President".

Loyalty?  Good one!

March 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


White House blame game intensifies as Trump agenda stalls : With the president closing in on the 100-day mark, frustration is mounting throughout the administration. (ALEX ISENSTADT 03/26/17Politico)

With President Donald Trump's sweeping agenda hitting the rocks as he edges toward the 100-day mark, top aides, political allies and donors are embroiled in a furious round of finger-pointing over who is at fault.

The recriminations extend far beyond the implosion of the GOP's Obamacare repeal on Friday. Senior aides are lashing each other over their inability to stem a never-ending tide of negative stories about the president. There is second-guessing of the Republican National Committee's efforts to mobilize Trump's electoral coalition on behalf of his legislative priorities. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a top official quit recently amid accusations the department is failing to advance the president's campaign promises. And one of Trump's most generous benefactors, Rebekah Mercer, has expressed frustration over the direction of the administration.

This account of White House infighting is based on interviews with more than two dozen Trump aides, confidants and others close to his administration, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. They described a distracting and toxic atmosphere, with warring power centers blaming one another for an ever-growing list of setbacks. The dysfunction has further paralyzed an administration struggling to deliver on its blunt promises of wholesale change.

Try pointing a single finger at just one competent person in the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Russia's Putin Picks Le Pen to Rule France  : French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen--anti-American, anti-NATO, pro-Trump--was received in Moscow Friday as if she already were a head of state. (CHRISTOPHER DICKEY and ANNA NEMTSOVA, 03.24.17, Daily Beast)

[I]n Friday, Putin endorsed his candidate: far-right-wing, anti-European-Union, anti-NATO, anti-immigrant, anti-American, pro-Trump candidate Marine Le Pen.

Of course, Putin said, "We don't want to influence in any way the events going on [in France]," but his government received Le Pen as if she already were settled in as the head of state in Paris.

Olga Bychkova, deputy chief editor of the independent radio station Echo of Moscow, said that the reception accorded Le Pen in Russia was impressive. "She first had meetings with the leaders of the Duma [Russia's parliament], then she was taken to an exhibit devoted to France at the Kremlin, then she met with Putin. That is a kind of program Moscow organizes for state leaders," Bychkova said.

The French news magazine L'Express was quick to note the anomaly as well, calling it "altogether exceptional" that Putin would receive a presidential candidate so close to an election.

In 2014, when Le Pen's National Front Party could not secure any loans from French banks, she turned to Russia and received millions of dollars from a now defunct institution there. Putin, at the same time, received endorsement from her party for his takeover of Crimea.

Donald Trump's Crimean Gambit : The Republican presidential nominee appeared to suggest he'd recognize Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian territory in 2014. (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR  JUL 27, 2016, The Atlantic)

Donald Trump's call on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails Wednesday resulted in widespread criticism. But his comments on Crimea, coupled with ones he made last week on NATO, are likely to have greater significance if he is elected president in November.

The question came from Mareike Aden, a German reporter, who asked him whether a President Trump would recognize Crimea as Russian and lift sanctions on Moscow imposed after its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory. The candidate's reply: "Yes. We would be looking at that."

That response is likely to spread much cheer through Russia--already buoyant about the prospect of a Trump victory in November.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


White House will court moderate Democrats on tax plan: Priebus (Reuters, 3/26/17)

Reince Priebus said on Sunday that President Donald Trump's tax plan would include both a border tax and middle class tax cuts that the administration will aim to sell to moderate Democrats as well as Republicans.

Replacing income taxes with consumption taxes is just good economics.
Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


National Review in the Wilderness : The magazine was famously "Against Trump." Now it's anti-anti-Trump--and increasingly pro-Trump. What does it stand for now? Its editors explain. (GRAHAM VYSE, March 20, 2017, New Republic)

Before Trump, elite conservatives generally weren't populist. They didn't support trade protectionism or erecting border walls or dispatching deportation forces. For all their talk of security and law enforcement, Republicans retained a commitment to relatively liberal immigration policies. They even talked periodically about comprehensive immigration reform, including citizenship or "earned legal status" for undocumented people. The organizing principle of conservatism was, ostensibly, limited government.

Now that Donald Trump is president, though, he and his team are attempting to win over traditional conservatives--like those in the Mandarin Oriental audience last week. Miller was speaking at the annual Ideas Summit hosted by National Review, the pioneering conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley to "stand athwart history, yelling Stop." In that tradition, National Review published an entire issue early last year, titled "Against Trump," about why he was "a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot," in the words of the magazine's editors.

But after Trump won the Republican nomination, National Review dedicated itself more to criticizing Hillary Clinton than stopping her opponent. And after Trump won the election and took office, it became a leader of the "anti-anti-Trump" movement, attacking Trump's critics even while disagreeing with the substance or execution of his actions. The magazine also began to focus on the many areas where it agreed with him.

...there is no objective difference between pro- and anti-anti..   The attempt to defend Donald by attacking Hillary or Obama is no different than defending American Communists by attacking anti-communists.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Boris Epshteyn, Trump TV Surrogate, Is Leaving White House Job (MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 25, 2017, NY Times)

White House official terrorizes network green rooms : Boris Epshteyn, who pushes Trump's message out on the airwaves, has offended network bookers and contributors across Washington. (ANNIE KARNI 03/07/17, Politico)

White House official Boris Epshteyn, a combative Trump loyalist tasked with plugging the president's message on television, threatened earlier this year to pull all West Wing officials from appearing on Fox News after a tense appearance on anchor Bill Hemmer's show.

Epshteyn, according to multiple sources familiar with the exchange, got in a yelling match with a Fox News booker after Hemmer pressed him for details of President Donald Trump's controversial executive order cracking down on immigration from Muslim-majority countries -- a topic he was not expecting to be grilled on.

"Am I someone you want to make angry?" Epshteyn told the booker, the sources said. When he threatened to pull White House officials from the network, the fed-up booker had had enough.

"Go right ahead," the booker fired back, the sources said, aware that Epshteyn had no power to follow through on a threat that would have upended the administration's relationship with a sympathetic news network.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


US says Afghanistan airstrike killed senior al-Qaeda leader (AFP, March 26, 2017)

A US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan on March 19 killed senior Al-Qaeda military commander Qari Yasin, who has been linked to numerous attacks in his native Pakistan, the US military confirmed on Saturday.

"The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement.

...and get the Taliban to try and re-establish a state, also known as a free-fire zone.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder (KRISTIN TATE, 03/23/17, The Hill)

No one will admit it in the aftermath of the sweeping victories that year, but the Democratic bench was thin in 2008. So thin, in fact, that it chose a backbencher with no resume for its nomination. It's even worse now.

It's so much worse that even former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can't tell you who the leader of the party is. It was clear last year that Hillary Clinton didn't seal the deal with the progressive and corporatist wings of the Democratic Party. In her own inauthentic way, she tried to win them both over -- and got neither.

In particular, supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will not abide any centrist steps for the party. Running as an openly avowed Socialist, Sanders changed the paradigm. His supporters have been out for blood since they learned that the DNC unfairly "rigged" the primaries in Clinton's favor, and waged a costly fratricide over the choice of the new DNC Chair. Vox, the mouthpiece of the Beltway bubble, said the fight happened when "Democrats need it least." Some even left the party for the Democratic Socialist Party; its membership recently tripled.

The GOP has its divisions, to be sure. However, they are relatively unified on the larger points. Democrats have been forced to call up the reserves, leaving has-beens such as Nancy Pelosi and not-quite-ready for primetime Chuck Schumer as the party faces. There's no credible leader to bridge the gap between the progressives and the left-leaning centrists.

Making it worse is that the Democrats so mishandled and neglected elections outside of California that they have no farm team. The national Democrats are out of prospects. It's obvious. With few exceptions (Cory Booker and Julian Castro are the only two who come to mind), the leading Democrats have several things in common: they are white and old. How old? In the House, they are an average of 64 years old, over a decade more than Republicans.

The Republicans put up 17 presidential candidates last year, including two Latinos, a female CEO, and a famous black neurosurgeon. The Democrats? That might be better left unsaid.

Their only interests are to enable as many abortions and preserve as much of the Second Way (defined benefit) welfare state as they can.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


IBM's Watson Tackles Your Taxes (Ben Steverman, February 27, 2017, Bloomberg)

H&R Block is out to wrest back market share from its online tax-prep rivals with such aggressive measures as free services and interest-free advances on refunds--oh, and plunking a supercomputing Jeopardy star down on the desks of its 70,000 tax preparers.

For this tax season, H&R Block has put an additional computer screen on each preparer's desk, facing the customer, and hired IBM's famous Watson computer to control what's on it. Watson's goal is to solve a problem that plagues all tax preparers, both in person and online: human error.

The calculations done by tax-prep software are flawless, but its users make mistakes--forgetting to mention a source of income, say, or misunderstanding what the Internal Revenue Service is asking. What's a capital loss carryover, anyway? Does a political donation count as a charitable contribution? Mess up the answer, and the IRS may notice. In 2015, it sent taxpayers 1.7 million notices about mathematical and clerical errors on returns.

A skilled tax preparer, or well-designed software, can minimize these errors by asking taxpayers the right questions and explaining the process.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Inside the Trumpcare meltdown (Axios, 3/25/17)

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon's opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.

*Bannon's point was: This is the Republican platform. You're the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.

*One of the members replied: "You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either."

It requires a complete political neophyte to believe the platform matters more than a vote to harm your constituents.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Germany slams 'intimidating' £300bn White House bill (Bojan Pancevski, March 26 2017, The Sunday Times)

Donald Trump handed the German chancellor Angela Merkel a bill -- thought to be for more than £300bn -- for money her country "owed" Nato for defending it when they met last weekend, German government sources have revealed.

The bill -- handed over during private talks in Washington -- was described as "outrageous" by one German minister.

"The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations," the minister said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Need to reach Trump? Call Rhona. : The president's acquired a White House staff, but his old friends still prefer to go through his longtime Trump Tower assistant. (TARA PALMERI, 03/26/17, Politico)

"If I really wanted to whisper something in his ear, I would probably go to Rhona," said New York grocery billionaire John Catsimitidis, who's dabbled in New York Republican politics and has known Trump for decades.

Some of the calls are just a matter of habit for people who have dealt with Graff for decades--but some see her as a way to get around White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and others surrounding Trump in Washington.

Roger Stone, a Republican strategist and long-time confidant of Trump, described Graff as a favored point of contact for "anyone who thinks the system in Washington will block their access."

"I go through Rhona," said Stone. "She's a woman of excellent judgment who reflects her boss' views. She has to field requests from a lot of people."

Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort also stays in touch with the president through Graff, though a person close to Manafort said "it's so infrequent, it's not worth the mention."

"If I wanted to get something to Trump without calling his cell phone, I'd send it to Rhona," said another confidant who goes through Graff to get to Trump. "Rhona is always going to be around." [...]

Trump associates nevertheless say they'd rather go through Graff than through official White House channels, because they can be assured that messages will actually get to the President. Trump has even directed some people to go directly to Graff rather than the White House, according to two associates who have received this advice.

The president has been resisting the isolation of the White House by spending his weeknights making phone calls to old friends - a kitchen cabinet he relies on, to the irritation of some staff, including Priebus. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Big Oil Replaces Rigs With Wind Turbines (Jess Shankleman, March 22, 2017, Bloomberg)

Even as oil production declined in the North Sea over the last 15 years, economic activity has been buoyed by offshore windmills. The notorious winds that menaced generations of roughnecks working on oil platforms have become a boon for a new era of workers asked to install and maintain turbines anchored deep into the seabed. About $99 billion will be invested in North Sea wind projects from 2000 to 2017, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A decade ago, the industry had projects only a fraction of that size.

While crude still supplies almost a third of the world's energy, oil executives are starting to adjust to demands for cleaner fuels. Even so, emerging fossil-fuel alternatives including wind and solar power are starting to limit growth in oil demand.

Those technologies and electric cars may displace as much as 13 million barrels of oil a day from global demand by 2040, more than is currently being produced by Saudi Arabia, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 

Shell, whose CEO Ben van Beurden has said oil demand may peak in the second half of the next decade, has set up a business unit to identify the clean technologies where it could be most profitable. The company began more than 180 years ago importing shells from Asia and needs to adapt to ensure it's still around in another century, according to Sinead Lynch, the company's chair for U.K. businesses.

Wind farms are especially interesting to Shell because they can power electrolysis reactions that make hydrogen, which the company says may be a major fuel for cars in the coming decades, said Lynch in an interview. [...]

Oil majors are also changing the offshore wind industry by driving down costs, Statoil Senior Vice President Stephen Bull wrote in an email.

The Norwegian oil major's Dudgeon wind farm off England's east coast will be 40 percent cheaper than a neighboring plant built six years ago, Bull said. It's also creating floating offshore wind foundations that eliminate the costly step of anchoring windmill masts into the seabed. In addition to the U.K., the company is developing projects in Germany and Norway and won a December auction to build an offshore wind farm in New York. 

Cost cuts for offshore wind are helping the technology start to compete with traditional forms of energy, especially nuclear, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


U.S.-backed Syrian militia makes gains against Islamic State (Reuters, 3/26/17)

A Kurdish and Arab Syrian militia backed by the United States has captured the town of Karama as it prepares for an assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa that it expects to take place in early April, it said on Sunday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has trapped Raqqa in a shrinking pocket of territory on the northern bank of the Euphrates and has advanced toward it in a multi-pronged offensive over several months.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM

Slow Cooker Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches (Sabrine, 2/22/17, Dinner then Dessert)


    • 4-5 pounds chuck roast
    • 2 tablespoons canola oil
    • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
    • 1 cup beef broth
    • 1 can can condensed French onion soup 10.5 ounces
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/2 cup beer we like Strand Brewing Company, any dark beer will work though
    • 1 inch yellow onion sliced into 1/4" slices
    • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms sliced
    • 1 inch green bell pepper sliced into 1/4" slices
    • 6 hoagie rolls
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • Cheez Whiz or Provolone Cheese


Season the chuck roast with the Kosher salt and pepper (if you are sensitive to sodium, adjust to your taste or you can even leave the salt out altogether since you're adding broth and soup).

Heat your pan (or if you can brown in your slow cooker, do it in that insert to medium high.

Add the canola oil and when it ripples and is hot add in the roast and brown, deeply, for 4-5 minutes on each side.

In your slow cooker add the beef, the beef broth, the french onion soup, Worcestershire sauce, and the beer. [...]

Cook on low for 8 hours.

Add in the onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper in the last hour of cooking.

To serve, toast your hoagie rolls with a bit of butter spread onto the cut sides.

With a very sharp knife cut your beef against the grain.

Add your cheese of choice, some of the meat and top with the cooked veggies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Why Obamacare Defeated Trumpcare (Jonathan Chait, 3/25/17, New York)

Reforming the health-care system is an inherently daunting project. What makes health care so resistant to change is that, the worse the system gets, the harder it is to change. More waste means more profit centers with an interest in protecting their income. And more uninsured people means more anxiety for those who do have insurance about losing it, and hence more resistance to change. The political miracle of Obamacare was its ability to design a way to cover the uninsured and to pay for the coverage in a politically viable fashion. The law found a way to solve a political problem that had frustrated would-be reformers for decades.

And they accomplished it against the ruthless opposition of a united party that has used every demagogic method to undermine it -- in Washington, in the states, and in the courts. If Republicans had not launched a legal battle to allow states to deny Medicaid coverage to their citizens, and then cruelly taken up the opportunity to do so; sabotaged small but crucial risk-corridor payments to encourage insurer participation; and denied funds for outreach to exchange customers, it would be functioning better than it is. Still, it is functioning. As the Congressional Budget Office found last week, the exchanges are not in a death spiral. Insurers have found a stable price point.

Republicans have spent eight years fooling themselves about Obamacare. They have built a news bubble that relentlessly circulates exaggerated or made-up news of the law's shortcomings and systematically ignores its successes. The smartest members of the conservative-wonk set played a more clever game to retain their influence. No serious conservative analyst could argue that Obamacare had actually made the health-care system worse. How could they, when the federal government is now spending less money on health care than it was projected to spend before Obamacare passed, medical inflation is at the lowest level since the government began recording it 50 years ago, and 20 million more Americans have insurance? But admitting Obamacare constituted an improvement in the health-care system, even an imperfect one, would be tantamount to expulsion from the conservative movement, and with it any hope of influencing Republican policy. The closest they might come is pleading that repealing Obamacare was "not enough," that they must also replace it with something better.

And everybody, especially Paul Ryan, knows how to make it better--cover everyone but with a form of coverage that reduces consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The USMNT's demolition of Honduras showed just how bad Jurgen Klinsmann was at his job (Kevin McCauley,  Mar 25, 2017, SB Nation)

... playing for a bad tactician for five years is exhausting. The players figured out he didn't know what he was doing in 2013, then had to keep playing for him for three more years. At some point, you can't talk yourself into giving your all for an incompetent manager anymore, especially when his incompetence is making your job harder. It's deflating. The American players should not be criticized for quitting on Klinsmann, but instead praised for continuing to play their hardest for him even after figuring out that he was a snake oil salesman.

It's also hard to play for a manager who says one thing then does the other. For instance, Klinsmann regularly talked about the lack of technically sound players in the American player pool and insinuated that he didn't have the talent to play a pretty passing style. (Trashing your own players is another bad motivational tactic.) But there were guys who could pass hidden in plain sight, and Klinsmann ignored them.

Klinsmann refused to give Darlington Nagbe a sustained run of games, and he wouldn't give Jorge Villafaña a chance at all. Here's what the team's left flank looked like in the first half of the Honduras match under boring, long ball, classic 4-4-2 Coach Arena:

Starting Nagbe and Villafaña was not a stroke of genius from Arena. It's something that fans and media -- laypeople without top level managerial experience -- have been begging Klinsmann to try for two years.

Ultimately, Arena kept it pretty simple on Friday night. His team selection was smart, but not anything outrageous. He just selected in-form players then put them in positions they have experience playing in, in a shape that gave the team balance in all areas of the pitch.

An underrated aspect of management is making sure your players don't think you're an incompetent jerk. If your players feel like you don't think they're good enough and that your tactics don't make any sense either, you've lost a lot before they've even stepped on the pitch. It didn't matter how good Klinsmann's motivational speeches were in the locker room if players knew he was going to put them in a position to fail tactically and then tell the media they're crap when the game is over.

Nagbe was actually pretty disappointing and Arena still had Geoff Cameron out of position, which meant Bradley was periodically lost, as usual.   

But he and his successor are almost inevitably going to be considered geniuses just because they get to play Pulisic, who's not only the best American player ever but is going to be the first to be in the conversation for best player in the world.  (Pulisic, Altidore, Dempsey and Lletget going forward looked like a legit World Cup contending attack.)

The key though was that Pulisic and John Brooks were the only players that don't play domestically, rather than the teams Jurgen used to trot out which seemed an attempt to justify his stooping to the USA job by pretending that players from foreign leagues were superior and like he was in charge of a European/South American squad.

March 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


The Fake Freedom of American Health Care (ANU PARTANEN, MARCH 18, 2017, NY Times)

Republicans are fond of criticizing this sort of European-style health care. President Trump has called Canada's national health care system "catastrophic." On CNN recently, Senator Ted Cruz gave multiple examples of how patients in countries with universal, government-managed health care get less care than Americans.

In Europe, he said, elderly people facing life-threatening diseases are often placed in palliative care and essentially told it's their time to go. According to the Republican orthodoxy, government always takes away not only people's freedom to choose their doctor, but also their doctor's ability to choose the correct care for patients. People are at the mercy of bureaucrats. Waiting times are long. Quality of care is dismal.

But are Republicans right about this? Practically every wealthy capitalist democracy in the world has decided that some form of government-managed universal health care is the most sensible and effective option. According to the latest report of the O.E.C.D. -- an organization of mostly wealthy nations -- the United States as a whole does not actually outshine other countries in the quality of care.

In fact, the United States has shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality and fewer doctors per capita than most other developed countries. When it comes to outcomes in some illnesses, including cancer, the United States does have some of the best survival rates in the world -- but that's barely ahead of, or even slightly behind, the equivalent survival rates in other developed countries. In breast cancer survival, for example, the United States comes in second, after Sweden. Third-best is Norway, then Finland. All three countries have universal, government-run health care systems.

For colorectal cancer, the five-year survival rate after diagnosis in the United States brings it to a not very impressive ninth place in the O.E.C.D. statistics. Ahead of the United States are South Korea, Israel, Australia, Sweden and Finland, all with some form of government-managed universal health care. And when it comes to cervical cancer, American women are at a significant disadvantage: The United States comes in only 22nd. Meanwhile, life expectancy at age 65 is higher in 24 other developed nations, including Canada, Britain and most European nations.

Americans might still assume that long waits for care are inevitable in a health care system run by the government. But that's not necessarily the case either. A report in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation specializing in health care research, ranked the United States third in the world in access to specialists. That's a great achievement. But the Netherlands and Switzerland did better. When it comes to nonemergency and elective surgery, patients in several countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, all of which have universal, government-guided health care systems, have faster access than the United States.

It's not just American patients who endure endless bureaucratic hassles. American doctors were also significantly more likely to report as major problems the amount of time they spent on dealing with administrative burdens related to insurance and claims, as well as on getting patients medications or treatment because of restrictions imposed by insurance companies, compared with doctors in most of the other 10 countries studied -- including Sweden and Britain.

Overall, Americans spend far more of their hard-earned money on health care than citizens of any other country, by a very wide margin. This means that it is in fact Americans who are getting a raw deal. Americans pay much more than people in other countries but do not get significantly better results.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Michael Flynn, Turkish officials secretly discussed removing exiled Muslim cleric from U.S. (DENIS SLATTERY, 3/24/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

President Trump's former national security advisor met with top Turkish officials during the campaign to discuss removing an exiled Muslim cleric from the U.S., according to reports Friday.

Retired Gen. Mike Flynn and Turkish government ministers talked about sneaking Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed coup last summer, out of the U.S. without going through the legal extradition process, former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal. [...]

The former Army general was reportedly receiving classified national security briefings last summer alongside Trump while also running his private consulting firm.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Wonder and Wickedness: The Anatomy of Good and Evil (Joseph Pearce, 3/25/17, Imaginative Conservative)

In Tolkien's magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, Saruman the White renounces his title and office, declaring himself to be "of many colours." He is no longer content to see reality as being a battle between good and evil, between the light and the darkness. Too "wise" to be bound to such a black-and-white understanding of the cosmos, he spurns the white, the unity of all light, fragmenting it into a pluralistic spectrum, beyond good and evil.

Scholars of philosophy can hardly help but see parallels with the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose late work, Beyond Good and Evil, sought to demolish all traditional notions of morality.

Gandalf tells Saruman, as he would no doubt have told Nietzsche, that he had "left the path of wisdom." Later, after Gandalf has assumed the title of Gandalf the White, he tells Saruman that he has "no colour now," casting him from the order and from the Council. In rejecting the unity of all colours in the One Light of Goodness, choosing instead the fragmentation of light into a host of relativistic hues, Saruman, in his peacock Pride, does not become resplendent with all the colours of the rainbow but fades into fifty shades of grey until, eventually, he has "no colour" at all. Refusing to be one who reflects the light he has become dark, a black hole of malice, shrivelling into a pathetic shadow of his former self, much as Nietzsche, shortly after the publication of Beyond Good and Evil, descended into the black hole of madness, declaring that he, Nietzsche, had created the world and signing himself "Dionysus," the god of drunkenness and ritualized insanity.

What do the cautionary examples of Saruman and Nietzsche, one fictional and the other historical, tell us about the anatomy of good and evil?

The answer is to be found in the black-and-white understanding of the cosmos that they spurned. It is to be found, in fact, in the light of wisdom and wonder shining forth from the mind of Thomas Aquinas, a light that is to the darkness of Nietzsche what the light of Gandalf is to the darkness of Saruman. It is a light that vanquishes the darkness of relativism as well as the will to power that relativism serves.

According to Aquinas, virtue, specifically the virtue of humility, is the prerequisite to all understanding of the cosmos.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


In Major Defeat for Trump, Push to Repeal Health Law Fails (ROBERT PEAR, THOMAS KAPLAN and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 24, 2017, NY Times)

[I]t was the biggest defeat of Mr. Trump's young presidency, which has suffered many. His travel ban has been blocked by the courts. Allegations of questionable ties to the Russian government forced out his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Tensions with key allies such as Germany, Britain and Australia are high, and Mr. Trump's approval ratings are at historic lows.

Republican leaders were willing to tolerate Mr. Trump's foibles with the promise that he would sign into law their conservative agenda. The collective defeat of the health care effort could strain that tolerance.

The American people, like the citizenry of every developed democracy, considers health care a right--considers providing access to health care to be one of the core functions of the federal government.  Indeed, one of the ways Donald made himself tolerable to voters was to promise that Trumpcare would expand Obamacare so that every American would have health coverage. 

Paul Ryan then proceeded to craft a bill that was designed to get the support of Republicans who oppose the provision of health care to anyone but not to get a single vote from Democrats, who universally support the goal.

There are plenty of Third Way improvements the GOP could make to our health care system that would drive down its cost and drive up personal savings, but none of them are possible until they party accepts the reality that it will get them by trading universailty.

On the other hand, the party can continue to undermine Obamacare and we'll end up with a National Health system like all our peers.  That would cut the cost of health care roughly in half, which would be worthwhile, but it would be a blown opportunity to expand personal wealth. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM



ST: After The Dangerous Animals Club came out, Simon & Schuster called and said, "Could you write another book?" They had noticed this theme of spirituality in Dangerous Animals, so the specific request was "Could you write a book on faith?" Of course I said yes before I had any idea what I would write. And then after thinking about it, I realized that my life and the life of just about everybody I've met follows the template of the Old Testament.

DM: Interesting.

ST: For example, all of us have a Genesis story about where we came from--our families, where we originated. The first questions on a first date over a first glass of chardonnay are usually our Genesis. Who was your first teacher? How did you grow up? Then we all go into slavery, like in Exodus, except instead of building pyramids, we go into slavery with first love and first heartbreaks, with menial jobs that don't fit our dreams. And then, like in the book of Exodus, we eventually become free, only to find that we're still wandering in the wilderness. Then we all have this Leviticus moment in the middle of our life where we say, "Wait a minute. This is what I am." For me, that's when I met Ann. That's when I had children. That's when I said, "This is what my life is going to be." And that's when I found my way back to the synagogue. Then, like in the book of Numbers, we're shaped by mortality. People we love pass away, and the visions of our own mortality begin to shape us. Finally, as in the book of Deuteronomy, we tell our stories like Moses told the children of Israel their stories, because they forgot what they were doing because they were wandering for decades in the wilderness. And we tell our stories to our children to try to make sense of our own journey.

DM: From listening to your podcast, it doesn't seem like faith was very present early on in your life. What changed? 

ST: In the middle of my life, when I came back to the synagogue, I found there was a comfort in the validation of tradition. I had one moment in the synagogue that completely turned me around. When I first started coming back, I went to a service one Saturday morning. I was the only person in the synagogue. No one had shown up but the old rabbi. And the rabbi said, "What, do you think it's something I said?" And then he said, "Come on, come on up here with me. Are you afraid to pray with an old man?" I said, "Oh, I'm very afraid." "You should be," he said. "Listen, we're going to take this opportunity to feel these prayers, to understand these prayers; the psalms are beautiful, you should understand the beauty of the psalms and enjoy them. Let's just start this together, you and me." And that is when I realized that the religious moment is a solitary moment, it's not a group moment. If you look back through the Bible, every real experience someone has with God, they're alone. You have Moses and the burning bush, you have Jesus at Gethsemane, you have Abraham looking out at the stars of the sky with "the stranger," who might be the personage of God. And that's when I realized, wait a minute, what we're talking about when we talk about faith is an element of our life that changes through our life, just like my waistline. I found this comfort in tradition, and I felt like I was able to be a student again and study the Torah and the Talmud and the Mishnah.

But then later in my life I started having catastrophes--I broke my neck, I had open-heart surgery. And in those moments my faith became something other than scholastic, and I began to feel the real power of the invisible and of faith, and the possibility of a miracle. A lot of times people like to think of miracles as something akin to a magic trick, but the way I see a miracle is when your mind suddenly changes and you see something that you never saw before.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Tillerson Didn't Want His Job, and So Far He's Bad at It (Daniel W. Drezner, 3/25/17,  The Washington Post)

[E]rin McPike, the one reporter permitted on Tillerson's plane for his latest trip, filed a 3,300-word story last Tuesday night. Reading it, I have come to one unmistakable conclusion: I was wrong about encouraging Tillerson to speak with the press. Tillerson should shut the heck up until he demonstrates that he knows what he's talking about.

This interview is terrifying, but not for the reason that Twitter focused on Tuesday night. McPike wrote that Tillerson, asked why he wanted the job, replied, "I didn't want this job. I didn't seek this job." Asked why he said yes, he said, "My wife told me I'm supposed to do this."

Tillerson said he'd never met Donald Trump before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to speak with Tillerson "about the world," to get Tillerson's views on the global issues he'd handled as ExxonMobil CEO, McPike wrote. " 'When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned.'

March 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Why Trumpcare Failed : There is more to passing major legislation than possessing a mathematical majority in Congress. (BRIAN BEUTLER, March 24, 2017, New Republic)

As one of the leading figures in American conservatism, Ryan spent so much time fantasizing about aligning procedural stars that he lost sight of all the other elements that went into creating the welfare state he hoped to roll back. The failure of Trumpcare--which would have kicked millions of people off health insurance, while delivering a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans--underscores the shortsightedness of the idea that major social change can be created with the will to power alone.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never been so naive. In 2012, he acknowledged the centrality of public sentiment to the rise of liberalism, and that Republicans bore the obligation to win public trust before they set about dismantling what it took Democrats decades to build.

"[T]he American people have never given us the kind of hammerlock on Congress that Democrats had during the New Deal, that they had during the Great Society, and that they had in 2009 and 2010," he told Kentucky radio ahead of former President Barack Obama's reelection in 2012. "Why haven't you been able to get better results?...The answer to that is, we haven't had enough votes. We have elections in this country and the winners get to make policy and the losers go home. And the Democrats have had Congress, sometimes with whopping majorities, most of the time since the New Deal. And that's a great disappointment...because we've not been able to secure the support of enough of the American people to have the kind of big majorities you need to kind of roll things back. Maybe some day we'll have that. I hope so."

After Donald Trump's surprising Electoral College victory, McConnell was alone among Republican leaders in flashing yellow lights. It wasn't lost on him that his 52-vote majority in the Senate wouldn't have the capacity to pass significant, ideologically one-sided legislation, and that Trump had lost the popular vote by millions of ballots. Republicans won the presidency in 2016, but they lost seats in both the House and Senate, which is not the signal voters send when they are asking one party to impose its will.

Under those circumstances, enacting a vast, regressive, polarizing agenda wouldn't be a masterstroke--the product of the hard work of persuasion and consensus-building. It would be a mugging.

The most important takeaway is that Trumpcare did not die today, it was stillborn.  The bill could never have made it past the Senate so the whole thing was an exercise in ideological futility.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


We Redacted Everything That's Not a Verifiably True Statement From Trump's Time Interview About Truth (Ellie Shechet, 3/24/17, The Slot)

President Trump recently participated in an interview with Time Magazine's Michael Scherer for a cover story about his relationship with the truth. Predictably, this conversation really tested the limits of irony.

In the full transcript of the interview published by Time, Trump lies a lot, says a number of half-true things, does not admit he was incorrect to link Ted Cruz's father with Lee Harvey Oswald, foists responsibility for his inaccuracies onto media reports that he misrepresents, says the word "Brexit" 11 times, and forms sentences like "Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels." But, listen, some of it was fine! In the transcript below, we have redacted everything that is not verifiably true. What remains is everything the president said that is definitely true.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


House Republicans pull health care bill (Stephen Collinson, Dana Bash, Phil Mattingly, Deirdre Walsh, Lauren Fox and MJ Lee, 3/24/17, CNN)

House Speaker Paul Ryan sensationally canceled a vote on his Obamacare repeal bill for a second time, repudiating President Donald Trump who has threatened to walk away from health care reform if the measure does not pass on Friday.

New poll shows GOP support plummets with Trumpcare backing (Shane Savitsky, 3/24/17, Axios)

The number that should terrify Republicans: voters generally said they'd reelect their member of Congress 44-38, but after being told about their member's support for the health care bill, that shifted to 45-38 in favor of a Democratic challenger.

Now put W and the UR in charge of making some proposals that get us to universal coverage with market-based plans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM



It started when Nunes asked, "Do Russians historically prefer Republicans to win over Democrats?" Nunes ticked through some recent elections and inquired whether the Russians supported John McCain over Obama, in 2008, or Mitt Romney over Obama, in 2012. Comey said that he didn't know the answer.

"I'm just asking a general question," Nunes said. "Wouldn't it be a little preposterous to say that, historically, going back to Ronald Reagan and all that we know about maybe who the Russians would prefer, that somehow the Russians prefer Republicans over Democrats?"

Watching the hearing, this seemed like a curious line of questioning. Because members of the House Intelligence Committee often know a great deal more than they can say publicly, they sometimes use their questioning to hint at what they have learned in classified settings. Nunes's questions seemed to suggest some broader debate, as Comey confirmed when he shut down the exchange.

"I'm not going to discuss in an unclassified forum," he said. "In the classified segment of the reporting version that we did, there is some analysis that discusses this because, remember, this did come up in our assessment on the Russian piece."

Nunes thanked him and turned to Representative Peter King, of New York. King was less circumspect than Nunes had been. "I would just say on that because, again, we're not going into the classified sections, that indicating that historically Russians have supported Republicans, and I know that language is there, to me puts somewhat of a cloud over the entire report," King said.

I didn't notice it at the time, though I was in the room, and the C-SPAN video of the hearing doesn't capture it, but Democrats told me that there was, at this point, a minor commotion on the dais. King had just revealed that the classified version of the report had concluded "that historically Russians have supported Republicans."

Two Democrats, confirming what King said, told me that there was a significant fight over this judgment during a recent classified briefing. "I was really taken aback that it came up in the hearing," one Democratic congressman on the committee told me. "I might just observe to you, if there was such a conclusion, you can bet that the Republicans would have pushed back very, very hard about such a conclusion. And I don't want to say more than that."

Sometimes it's difficult for someone privy to classified information to keep straight what is classified and what is not, especially when a classified judgment seems relatively innocuous. I asked King about the exchange, and his answer suggested that he was confused about the classification.

Do we really need to keep who they prefer secret from the Russians?  Aren't they likely to know?

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


White Supremacist Who Traveled to New York to Murder Black Men Followed Extremist Racist On-Line Groups Who Support Trump (Ben Norton, March 24, 2017, National Memo)

James Harris Jackson stabbed a black man with a sword on the street in Manhattan on Wednesday, March 22, in what he admitted to police was an intentional hate crime. Jackson, who is from Maryland, told police he is a member of a white supremacist hate group.

Jackson had traveled to New York with plans to kill black men in relationships with white women, but wound up targeting a homeless man in an act of terrorism. Jackson says he carried out the attack to "send a message" and claims he's written a racist manifesto.

On what appears to be Jackson's personal YouTube account, he subscribed to a variety of fascist YouTube channels, many of which support President Donald Trump and other far-right leaders and circulate anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. His subscription list is a who's who of alt-right figures, including Alex Jones, Stefan Molyneux, Paul Ray Ramsey and many more. 

Jackson subscribed to the channel for the National Policy Institute and Radix. The former is the white supremacist organization founded by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer (who led a "Hail Trump" chant at a white supremacist conference last year), and the latter is the fascist journal Spencer publishes.

Salafi is Arabic for alt-right.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Kids on winning robotics team told, 'Go back to Mexico' (Suzette Hackney, 3/24/17, The Indianapolis Star)

The day should have been one of glory and celebration for five fourth-graders.

The Pleasant Run Elementary students had just won a robotics challenge at Plainfield High School, and the students -- new to bot competition this year -- were one step closer to the Vex IQ State Championship.

The team is made up of 9- and 10-year-olds. Two are African American and three are Latino.

As the group, called the Pleasant Run PantherBots, and their parents left the challenge last month in Plainfield, Ind., competing students from other Indianapolis-area schools and their parents were waiting for them in the parking lot.

"Go back to Mexico!" two or three kids screamed at their brown-skin peers and their parents, according to some who were there.

This verbal attack had spilled over from the gymnasium. While the children were competing, one or two parents disparaged the Pleasant Run kids with racist comments -- and loud enough for the Pleasant Run families to hear.

"They were pointing at us and saying that 'Oh my God, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican, and they are ruining our country,' " said Diocelina Herrera, the mother of PantherBot Angel Herrera-Sanchez.

These are minority students from the east side of the city, poor kids from a Title I school.

The white kids only need to know enough science to cook up meth anyway....
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Trump the Dealmaker Projects Bravado, but Behind the Scenes, Faces Rare Self-Doubt (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 23, 2017, NY Times)

[T]hursday's reality check came with a Trumpian dose of the surreal.

Mr. Trump appeared almost oblivious to the dire situation unfolding in the hours after he hosted a meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus at the White House, where he made the case Mr. Winston pointed to -- that not passing the health bill risks the rest of the Republican agenda.

In the midafternoon, a beaming Mr. Trump climbed into the rig of a black tractor-trailer, which had been driven to the White House for an event with trucking industry executives, honking the horn and posing for a series of tough-guy photos -- one with his fists held aloft, another staring straight ahead, hands gripping the large wheel, his face compressed into an excited scream.

At a meeting inside shortly afterward, Mr. Trump announced that he was pressed for time and needed to go make calls for more votes.

A reporter informed him that the vote had already been called off.

That's Andrew Ferguson-worthy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM



Le Pen has expressed pro-Russian views and favors closer integration between France and Russia. The far-right politician has publicly stated that she sees the disputed region of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and wants the European Union to remove sanctions on Moscow.

"I see no reasons that would justify the current hostile attitude of the French authorities toward Russia," said Le Pen on Friday, according to TASS. "We have always believed that Russia and France need to maintain and develop the ties that have bound us for a long time."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Why Lying Is So Easy for Trump (BEN ADLER, March 24, 2017, New Republic)

[S]uch dramatic theories miss the simplest explanation for Trump's lying: He's a real estate developer from New York City. Lying isn't a personal failure. It's a business model.

New York real estate, where Trump first learned the art of the con, is a line of work that's built on chicanery. Under state law, real estate developers have a de facto legal license to lie, and they use it with abandon. The marketing materials for a luxury condo might advertise top-flight amenities--on-site SoulCycle, say, or valet stroller parking--but buyers have no legal recourse after they move in and discover they have to haul their strollers up six flights like a tenement-dweller; as a matter of New York law, only the final sales contract is binding. And with land values so high and profit margins so slim, developers have every incentive to hype the sales pitch. "Real estate investors sell their product--and in the process, they promise it will have benefits that may not ever be realized," says Thomas Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College and author of New York For Sale. Or as one real estate broker and property manager in New York puts it: "Everybody in this business is a f[****]g liar."   [...]

Trump is well versed in the dark arts of the New York mega-developer. In 1979, he got the city to approve 20 extra stories for Trump Tower by creating a fourth-floor "public garden" that is almost never open. He also replaced the lone bench in the public lobby with kiosks selling paraphernalia from his presidential campaign and The Apprentice. (Last summer, after losing a series of administrative decisions by the city, Trump returned the bench.) His now-infamous habit of stiffing contractors is common among developers. Trump has also lied to preservationists, promising to preserve the Art Deco friezes from the façade of the Bonwit Teller department store building that he demolished to make way for Trump Tower. When he realized it would take two weeks to remove them undamaged, he instead jackhammered them to pieces.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


US pilot describes challenges of bombing Islamic State (JON GAMBRELL March 24, 2017, AP)

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (AP) -- The crowded skies over Islamic State-held territory have complicated US-led airstrikes targeting the extremists, though military planners are working to keep fliers safe, an American pilot involved in the bombing campaign has told The Associated Press.

Lt. Cmdr. William Vuillet also described the efforts American forces use to try to minimize civilian casualties from strikes on major cities like Mosul, where allied forces are trying to sweep the remaining militants out of the western half of Iraq's second-largest city.

Vuillet said he believes coalition forces will "eradicate" the extremist group responsible for mass killings, beheadings and other atrocities targeting civilians across the Middle East and around the world.

It "is really above and beyond what we saw in the past from al-Qaeda," he said. "It is really a fight of good and evil."

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Trump Has No Good Options On Health Care : And it's his own fault. (Nate Silver, 3/23/17, 538)

Trump, and Republicans, have likewise made a lot of mistakes on health care. They didn't lock down key constituencies before they rolled the bill out, leading to it being attacked from every angle -- from the right wing of the GOP, from moderates and from conservative policy experts -- upon its debut earlier this month. Instead of taking a populist approach, they adopted a bill with many provisions that were likely to be unpopular and no clear strategy for selling it to the public. They ignored the lessons that Obama and Clinton had learned from their struggles to pass a health care bill. They've tried to rush the bill through at a time when the White House faces a lot of competing priorities and distractions. They adopted a bill that predictably got a miserable score from the Congressional Budget Office. And for years, they've made all sorts of promises to voters on health care that they knew they couldn't keep.

...just ask yourself if you really spent the last 8 years believing Obamacare would be repealed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Reports Say Six Russian Troops, Six Militants Killed In Chechnya Fighting (Radio Liberty, 3/24/17)

Russian news agencies say six Russian national guard troops and six assailants have been killed in an attack on a military unit in Chechnya.

The reports said a group of militants attempted to gain access to the unit in a thick fog at 2:30 a.m. local time on March 24.

Six servicemen were killed in the ensuing battle, and there are wounded," the state-run TASS agency quoted an unnamed representative of the national guard forces as saying.

March 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Colin Dexter: the writer who brought novel ideas to television (Mark Lawson, 23 March 2017, The Guardian)

Dexter's 13 books about the operatic, alcoholic, argumentative Oxford detective Endeavour Morse, have resulted in 93 peak-time dramas on ITV: 33 episodes of Inspector Morse, 42 of the sidekick spin-off Lewis, and 17 so far of a prequel, Endeavour. Dexter lived to 86, and it would be a fitting tribute if the TV afterlife of his characters reaches at least 100.

But beyond those numbers, the Morse franchise, which began on television 30 years ago, was largely responsible for making detective fiction the centrepiece of mainstream British schedules. When producer Kenny McBain and dramatist Anthony Minghella premiered their first adaptation of a Morse novel, The Dead of Jericho in January 1987, it was considered revolutionary (and by some in broadcasting, reckless) to hand over two hours of airtime to a police procedural - a length previously reserved for bought-in movies, or perhaps a Christmas or Easter special.

It soon became clear, though, that the extra time allowed a luxurious visual slowness - and an intensely deliberative performance from John Thaw in the title role - that took the genre into new areas of writing, direction, acting, and, with its shots of historic Oxford, location filming. The lessons it taught about place and pace have never been forgotten. In the leisurely, immersive experience it offered, Inspector Morse was box-set television long before the concept existed.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Macro or micro? Fight looms over evolution's essence : Is evolution driven by genes, individuals or entire species? A new paper promises to ignite ferocious debate (Stephen Fleischfresser, 3/23/17, Cosmos)

In a paper, yet to be peer-reviewed, on the biological pre-print repository bioRxiv, Simpson has outlined a renewed case for species selection, using recent research and new insights, both scientific and philosophical. And this might be too much for the biological community to swallow.

The debate over levels of selection dates to Charles Darwin himself and concerns the question of what the 'unit of selection' is in evolutionary biology.

The default assumption is that the individual organism is the unit of selection. If individuals of a particular species possess a trait that gives them reproductive advantage over others, then these individuals will have more offspring.

If this trait is heritable, the offspring too will reproduce at a higher rate than other members of the species. With time, this leads to the advantageous trait becoming species-typical.

Here, selection is operating on individuals, and this percolates up to cause species-level characteristics.

While Darwin favoured this model, he recognised that certain biological phenomena, such as the sterility of workers in eusocial insects such as bees and ants, could best be explained if selection operated at a group level.

Since Darwin, scientists have posited different units of selection: genes, organelles, cells, colonies, groups and species among them.

Simpson's argument hinges on the kind of macroevolutionary phenomena common in palaeontology: speciation and extinction over deep-time. Species selection is real, he says, and is defined as, "a macroevolutionary analogue of natural selection, with species playing an analogous part akin to that played by organisms in microevolution".

Simpson takes issue with the argument that microevolutionary processes such as individual selection percolate up to cause macroevolutionary phenomena.

He presents evidence contradicting the idea, and concludes that the "macroevolutionary patterns we actually observe are not simply the accumulation of microevolutionary change... macroevolution occurs by changes within a population of species." that they have no idea how--or whether--it works, just pet theories.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Read President Trump's Interview With TIME on Truth and Falsehoods (Michael Scherer, March 22, 2017, TIME)

One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election...

Well I think I will be proved right about that too.

The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9-11 in New Jersey...

Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.

But my idea is that whatever the reality of what you are describing, the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV.

Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I'm forming a committee on it.

But there's no evidence that 3 million people voted with...

We'll see after the committee. I have people say it was more than that. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Eyeing Trump's Budget Plan, Republican Governors Say 'No, Thanks' (ALEXANDER BURNS, MARCH 22, 2017, NY Times)

As Mr. Trump and his advisers press for bone-deep cuts to the federal budget, Republican governors have rapidly emerged as an influential bloc of opposition. They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them.

Of acute concern to Republicans are a handful of low-profile programs aimed at job training and economic revitalization, including regional development agencies like the Appalachian commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which serves eight Southern and Midwestern states, seven of them with Republican governors. They are also protective of grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $3.4 billion job training program funded through the Labor Department.

Mr. Trump's budget office has proposed to eliminate or deeply slash funding for all of those programs, along with dozens of others.

Kim S. Rueben, a budget expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, said the retrenchment in Mr. Trump's spending plan appeared to be significantly out of step with his campaign promises to use the federal government as a machine for creating jobs, especially in distressed Midwestern and rural areas.

"It just seems like you're going after places that are so pivotal to what you are arguing you wanted to do for your base," Ms. Rueben said of Mr. Trump's budget. "They're cutting all sorts of infrastructure projects and economic development projects at the same time that the president is still talking about how much of an investment he's going to put into infrastructure."

The White House's proposed cuts would be felt in matters well beyond economic development: A budget briefing circulated last week by the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan group, identified a long list of Trump-backed cuts to programs that support states. They include the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a $3 billion project in the Department of Health and Human Services that helps people pay for heating and air-conditioning, and the Community Development Block Grant program, a $3 billion initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that funds local projects from affordable housing to Meals on Wheels.

A budget briefing circulated last week by the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan group, identified a long list of Trump-backed cuts to programs that support states.

Those cuts could come on top of a potentially huge restructuring of the federal Medicaid program under a Republican-backed health care law. A number of Republican governors, including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, have publicly criticized the bill under consideration in the House of Representatives because they say it would impose an impossible fiscal burden on states.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


The Problem With Climate Catastrophizing (Oren Cass, 3/21/17, Foreign Affairs)

Climate change may or may not bear responsibility for the flood on last night's news, but without question it has created a flood of despair. Climate researchers and activists, according to a 2015 Esquire feature, "When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job," suffer from depression and PTSD-like symptoms. In a poll on his Twitter feed, meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus found that nearly half of 416 respondents felt "emotionally overwhelmed, at least occasionally, because of news about climate change." 

For just such feelings, a Salt Lake City support group provides "a safe space for confronting" what it calls "climate grief."

Panicked thoughts often turn to the next generation. "Does Climate Change Make It Immoral to Have Kids?" pondered columnist Dave Bry in The Guardian in 2016. "[I] think about my son," he wrote, "growing up in a gray, dying world--walking towards Kansas on potholed highways." Over the summer, National Public Radio tackled the same topic in "Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?" an interview with Travis Rieder, a philosopher at Johns Hopkins University, who offers "a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them." And Holthaus himself once responded to a worrying scientific report by announcing that he would never fly again and might also get a vasectomy. 

It always begins with hating humans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


They Smashed Banks for Pol Pot. Now They're Founding Them. (JULIA WALLACEMARCH 22, 2017, NY Times)

MALAI, Cambodia -- For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s.

Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot's death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker.

"I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker's ideas and made the countries prosperous," he said.

The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.

Mr. Tep Khunnal helped lead the way, as a founder of an agricultural export company and a small microfinance bank for farmers before rising to become the district governor. From that position, he encouraged his constituents to follow suit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Dames, detectives and dope: why we still love hardboiled crime (David Barnett , 23 March 2017, The Guardian)

Back in 1920, Henry Louis Mencken and George Jean Nathan ran a magazine for the well-heeled women and their sugar daddies up on Long Island: the Smart Set, they called it.

The Smart Set wasn't doing so well - but Mencken had an idea. He had noticed that a periodical called Detective Story Magazine, was flying off newsstands, so he started his own crime pulp: Black Mask, the first issue of which landed in October 1920, complete with a woman being menaced with a burning branding iron on the cover.

Mencken had no illusions about Black Mask, writing to a friend that it was "a lousy magazine" but "it has kept us alive during a very bad year". After just eight issues, Mencken and Nathan sold it on to a Madison Avenue publishing company - but there it pioneered a brand new genre: the hardboiled detective story.

Hardboiled is all about cynical, complex detectives; think of Humphrey Bogart's turns as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett's private eye, Sam Spade. What's now considered the first hardboiled story was published by Black Mask in 1922: The False Burton Combs, written by Carroll John Daly ("I ain't a crook; just a gentleman adventurer and make my living working against the law breakers. Not that work I with the police - no, not me. I'm no knight errant either." The archetype was born: men out for justice and/or revenge, pounding perpetually rainy streets in a dark American city. [...]

Amid an explosion of pulp crime magazines - Dime Detective, Detective Tales, Strange Detective, Ace G-Man Stories - in the 20s and 30s, Black Mask would publish some of the greats: Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, early stories by Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


'New' wave-like cloud finally wins official recognition (Matt McGrath, 3/23/17, BBC)

Last revised in 1987, its new fully-digital edition includes the asperitas after campaigns by citizen scientists. [...]

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) publishes the atlas, and also has the final say on the contents, including the addition of "new" clouds and cloud features.

This time around 12 new terms have been added. The best known of these is asperitas, meaning rough-like in Latin, as the clouds can look like the tossing of the waves at sea when viewed from below.

These clouds were first recorded over Iowa in the US in 2006, but soon a torrent of similar images from around the world began to pour in to the Cloud Appreciation Society, a citizen science body.

They began to lobby the WMO for official recognition of the cloud type. But the fact that it has now been officially included came as something of a surprise.

"Back in 2008, I thought the chances of this becoming official were really minimal," said Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the society.

"At first the WMO were saying they had no plans to do a new edition, but over time I think they began to realise there is an interest among the public in clouds and there is a need for that interest to be an informed one, there's a need for this authoritative work."

Asperitas becomes the first addition of a new recognisable term since 1953.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Americans' Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year (Jed Kolko, 3/23/17, 538)

The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016,1 according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them.

The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely.

The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas.

March 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


US Officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians (Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz,  March 22, 2017, CNN)

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source.

New Poll Shows Trump's Base Eroding, Approval Rating Sliding, as 60 Percent Find Him Dishonest (Elliot Hannon, 3/22/17, sLATE)

If it feels, to you, like Donald Trump is doing a terrible job as president--you're not alone. Recent polls have shown the president's support cratering to historic lows, and a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday confirmed Trump's unpopularity. Trump's job approval rating stands at 37 percent with a whopping 56 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Trump's doing. By comparison, nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of Barack Obama at a similar stage, and George W. Bush had an approval rating nearing 60 percent, while roughly 1-in-4 Americans disapproved of the former presidents two months into their first terms.

Inside the numbers, Trump's support is eroding among Republicans--dropping 10 points--and his support among white voters and men--two demographics whose support was crucial to his election win--has also dipped. Trump's personal characteristics are also proving to be deeply unpopular. According to Quinnipiac's nationwide survey conducted March 16-21, some 60 percent of Americans think the president is not honest and does not share their values; 66 percent believe he is not level-headed; and 57 percent say President Trump does not share their values.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM

EVEN BETTER THAN THE RANT (profanity alert)...:

A classic Dallas Green tirade (Ray Didinger, August 11, 1980, Philadelphia Daily News)

The Phillies had just lost the opener, 7-1, in the style that has become their trademark, slipping into defeat as if it were a lounge chair. The loss was their third straight to the Pirates, their ninth straight on the road and it splashed kerosene on the fire that was already burning in the manager's belly. 

DALLAS GREEN STALKED into the clubhouse and opened up on his players, spraying them with a machine-gun burst of anger. The news media were locked outside but that hardly mattered, what with Green 's voice echoing through the Allegheny Mountains. 

"This bleeping game isn't easy," Green bellowed. "It's tough, especially when you have injuries. But you guys (have) got your bleeping heads down.

"You've gotta stop being so bleeping cool. Get that through your bleeping heads. If you don't, you'll get so bleeping buried, it ain't gonna be funny. 

"Get the bleep off your asses," Green said, "and just be the way you can be because you're a good bleeping baseball team. But you're not now and you can't look in the bleeping mirror and tell me you are. 

"You tell me you can do it but you bleeping give up. If you don't want to bleeping play, get the bleep in that (manager's) office and bleeping tell me because I don't want to bleeping play you."

That was Dallas Green 's best shot, his longest and surely his loudest thrust at what remains of this team's conscience. The Phillies reflected on Green's words, then went out and lost the nightcap, 4-1, swinging the bats as grudgingly as lifers working on a Leavenworth rockpile.  [...]

THE PHILLIES HAVE about as much chance of winning the National League East as Ted Kennedy has of stealing the Democratic nomination away from Jimmy Carter. But, like a crusty old campaign manager, Dallas Green is not about to concede until the last delegate is counted. to check out the roster of players it was hurled at.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


In a Rare Survey, Cubans Express a Hunger for Economic Growth (AZAM AHMED, MARCH 21, 2017, NY Times)

For the Cuban state, led by Raúl Castro, allowing entrepreneurs to open small businesses, normalizing relations with the United States and expanding tourism have been central to the country's hunt for economic growth.

These three policies were among the most highly supported by the Cubans interviewed in the survey, done by the independent research group NORC at the University of Chicago. Eight of 10 Cubans interviewed felt tourism to the country should be increased, and 95 percent said having a high level of economic growth was an extremely or very important goal.

And yet Cubans seemed to have little faith in their government's capacity to deliver on those goals. Only three in 10 felt the economy would improve in the next three years. And just 13 percent said the current economy was good or excellent. Three-quarters of Cubans believed they must be careful in saying what they think, at least sometimes.

Over half of those Cubans interviewed said they would like to leave the country if given a chance, and 70 percent of those individuals said they would move to the United States if they could.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Why the Intelligence Community Was Focused on Michael Flynn (Martin Longman, March 20, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Back in November, when President-elect Trump announced his intention to make Michael Flynn his national security adviser, I called it a catastrophic pick and, citing a May/June article by Michael Crowley in Politico Magazine, I noted that a senior Obama administration had said about Flynn that "It's not usually to America's benefit when our intelligence officers--current or former--seek refuge in Moscow." In the same article, Crowley referred to Flynn's attendance at the December 10, 2015 10-year anniversary gala for RT, the Russians' state-propaganda news network (and his subsequent employment at RT), as "perhaps the most intriguing example of how the Russians have gone about recruiting disaffected members of that establishment..."

The idea that Michael Flynn, who had recently served as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, may have been "recruited" by the Russians was certainly of keen interest to the intelligence community. This was clear from anonymous quotes that came out at the time: "He was that close to a despot, an enemy to the U.S., at an event for the Russian government's propaganda arm," a senior U.S. intelligence official said at the time about Flynn's attendance at the RT celebration." Even what Michael Flynn was doing in the open was considered a potential crime, due to Flynn's security clearances and his responsibilities as a retired officer of the U.S. military.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


To Promise Free Things Is to Lie (Ben Shapiro, 3/22/17, National Review)

President Trump represents the notion, ascendant in Republican circles, that the only way to win elections is to fib to the American people. Power is its own justification, and there is no better way to demonstrate power than by promulgating a big lie. That fits with Trump's view of the world, in which success is its own virtue.

With the Journal and NR admitting that Donald is a congenital liar the bubble risks being breached.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Iran Steps Up Supplies to Houthis, Including 'Kamikaze' Drones (Jamie Dettmer, 3/22/17, Voice of America)

They are nicknamed "kamikaze" drones. Houthi forces and those aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen are using them to target the missile-defense systems of Saudi-led coalition forces, weapons analysts say. [...]

Government forces dominate in the south and east of the impoverished country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, but Houthis, who are an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, control the larger towns in the northwest, including the capital, Sana'a.

CAR researchers report that Houthi- and Saleh-aligned forces employ many of the drones to target the Saudi coalition's Patriot surface-to-air missile systems.

"They do so by crashing the UAVs into the systems' radar sets (specifically the circular main phased arrays) -- directing the UAVs by programming their systems with open-source GPS coordinates of the Patriots' positions," researchers said.

"While the coalition deploys Patriot systems to counter missile threats, the destruction of the Patriots' radar systems enables Houthi- and Saleh-aligned forces to target coalition assets with volleys of missile fire unhindered," they added.

The use of these drones illustrates the Houthi- and Saleh-aligned forces' ability to employ low-cost technology against the coalition's sophisticated military assets, researchers said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


One key stumbling block is causing Wall Street to question Trump's whole economic agenda (Pedro Nicolaci da Costa , 3/22/17, Business Insider)

Now that healthcare has turned into such a debacle that even the country's ruling party and its president cannot agree on even its basic framework, those second and third parts of Trump's legislative agenda are likely to be weakened, delayed and in some cases, foregone.

Goldman Sachs Economist Alec Phillips said in a recent podcast he's telling clients to tamp down their enthusiasm.

"If you look at the chronology of this, right after the election, there was a discussion about this was going to be a 2017 tax cut," Phillips said. "Now it's clearly a 2018 tax cut. Who knows, it could be a 2018-2019 story ultimately."

As for infrastructure, "what everyone was expecting, we might get a little bit of that but that's not what's going to be driving things."

Trump has in fact publicly admitted he would have preferred to start his reform agenda with tax cuts now that he realizes what a behemoth healthcare can be.  As CNBC's Carl Quintanilla aptly put it, Trump has made the issue of healthcare sound like "the vegetables you need to eat before you get to the good stuff."

Donald Trump's presidency is the 'most failed first 100 days ever', says US historian (Charlotte England, 3/22/17, The Independent)

"To be as low as he is in the polls, in the 30s, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don't know how it can get much worse," Douglas Brinkley, a best-selling biographer of presidents Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt, told The Washington Post. 

He added: "This is the most failed first 100 days of any president."

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


White House Health Care Full-Court Press Changes Few Minds (John T. Bennett, 3/22/17, Roll Call)

The president warned House Republicans they could face tough primary challenges and the party could lose both chambers if the health care bill dies. Trump also warned them that killing the measure would virtually derail his plans to pursue a tax overhaul package -- with massive cuts popular with Republican members and voters alike -- later this year.

However, hours later, as Republican House members scurried about during a vote series and senators left a lunch meeting with Pence, they spoke not of the power of the presidential pressure campaign, but about their lingering concerns about a list of policy provisions still in the bill. 

He ran behind all of them in their districts.  He owes them, not vice versa.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


AP Exclusive: Manafort had plan to benefit Putin government (JEFF HORWITZ and CHAD DAY, 3/22/17, AP) 

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


A President's Credibility : Trump's falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad. (WSJ, March 21, 2017)

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We're not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. [...]

[T]he President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims. 

A drunk would have been preferable to a pathological liar. But did he ever have any credibility?

Trump Winery in Virginia seeks more foreign workers (AP, Mar. 20, 2017)

Trump Vineyard Estates, better known as Trump Winery, asked to bring in 29 workers this season through the federal H-2A visa program, The Daily Progress reported ( ). The program enables agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to do agricultural jobs or perform other temporary or seasonal services.

Trump Vineyard Estates, owned by Eric Trump, initially applied for six foreign workers in December. Two months later, the company applied for 23 more. Both job orders for Trump Vineyard Estates say the primary tasks include planting and cultivating vines, adding grow tubes and pruning grape vines.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


A freight train sings me an iron lullaby : The screech of the rails, the blast of the horn say all is well. (Robert Klose, MARCH 22, 2017, CS Monitor)

Winter nights in rural Maine are marked by a dense silence, reinforced by the snow-laden landscape. As someone who grew up in a city, I am acutely aware of this and sometimes find myself straining, as I lie in bed, for evidence of civilization beyond the walls of my house. Every so often I receive it - the passing rumble of the freight train.

The railroad tracks lie not 500 feet from my front door. I drive or walk over them every day, and when I do, I often take time to glance down their length, to where the shining rails coalesce and disappear into the woods in the distance. I may even get to see the train itself. I watch as it approaches, slowly and inexorably, its boxcars swaying on straining sleepers. As I sit in my idling car before the blinking warning lights, I have a front-row seat to one of industrial America's great shows as the behemoth clanks and squeals past me, its engineer ensconced high up in the black diesel locomotive like a pasha. 

Seeing the train by day is always a treat, but hearing it in the dead of night is comforting. 

Nothing beats the sound of the trains running along the Connecticut River.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Syrian army sends reinforcements as rebels press Hama attack (Reuters, 3/22/17)

The areas of Hama province targeted in the latest assault form part of the western region of Syria where Assad has shored up his rule during the six-year-long conflict against an array of insurgents seeking to topple him.

The military source said insurgent groups had mobilized large numbers for the assault that was targeting towns including Soran, some 20 km (12 miles) north of Hama city, and Khattab, about 10 km northwest of it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Sebastian Gorka, Uphold Your Oath To The America People (Jane Eisner, March 21, 2017, The Forward)

Remember, in the end, Gorka doesn't work for Trump, or for his patron, chief strategist Steven Bannon. He works for me. And for you. [...]

On March 21, the Forward again asked the White House whether Gorka has high level security clearance and whether that clearance is necessary for his position on the new Strategic Initiatives Group, which Daily Beast National Security reporter Kimberly Dozier describes as "an internal White House think tank" created by Bannon and Trump adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The administration's answer to our question spoke volumes: "No comment."

The public, and the press, have a right to receive a definitive answer as to whether Gorka joined Vitézi Rend; three separate leaders told the Forward on the record that Gorka swore allegiance to the group. He also signs his name with Vitézi Rend special "v," and he wore the group's medal to one of Trump's inaugural balls. [...]

We also have a right to question Gorka's credentials. He presents himself as an expert on radical jihadist ideology, but does not speak Arabic, has spent no time in the Middle East, has never published in peer-reviewed journals, and holds views about Islam that are outside the mainstream of both Democratic and Republican thought.

And that is why the refusal of Klein and others on the Jewish right to insist on answers to these important questions is so disturbing. Gorka's belief that the West is engaged in a war with global jihadists, and that a virulent ideology sweeping through the Islamic world must be forcefully repulsed, so neatly dovetails with their worldview that they are willing to dismiss all these other reasonable concerns. Concerns that ought to worry us as Jews. Concerns that ought to worry us as Americans.

Some organizations, including the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, have called for Gorka's resignation from the administration. Others like the Anti-Defamation League have called on him to disavow his past ties.

We have a simple request that we repeat again: Answer the questions we have a right to ask.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Ricardo's brilliant insight (DONALD J. BOUDREAUX, March 21, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Until Ricardo published his "Principles," the belief was that a country that can produce a greater quantity of every good and service than any other country has nothing to gain -- and will only lose -- by trading internationally. Intuitively, this seems correct. If Portugal can produce more cloth and more wine than Great Britain can, the Portuguese appear to be better at producing both. How could the Portuguese possibly benefit by importing one of these goods from Britain?

Ricardo showed how. He explained that a country's ability to produce more of some good than can be produced elsewhere does not mean that country necessarily is that good's most efficient producer. Efficiency in producing some good -- say, cloth -- is reflected not in how much cloth can be produced but, instead, in how many other goods must be sacrificed to produce cloth.

Assume (as Ricardo did) that the Portuguese can produce more wine and more cloth than the British can. Yet also recognize, along with Ricardo, that in each country, producing more wine means producing less cloth, and producing more cloth means producing less wine. What matters, said Ricardo, is the amount of wine Portugal gives up to produce more cloth compared to the amount of wine Britain gives up to produce more cloth.

Suppose producing an additional bolt of cloth causes Portuguese wine production to fall by four gallons, but causes British wine production to fall by only two gallons. Under these circumstances, the British produce cloth at a lower cost than the Portuguese do, even though Portugal is capable of producing absolutely more cloth than Britain is.

So if the British sell the Portuguese a bolt of cloth for, say, three gallons of wine, both gain. Producing the bolt of cloth cost the British only two gallons of wine, while they sell it for three gallons. The Portuguese get a bolt of cloth by sacrificing only three gallons of wine rather than sacrificing four gallons to produce the cloth themselves.

Now extend the insight past nations to the relationship between men and machines.  We can have machines produce nearly all goods and services more efficiently and cost-effectively than we do and in exchange we have to sacrifice nothing except the very idea of labor.  Now that's comparative advantage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


The Republican Health-Care Unraveling (PAUL STARR, MARCH 22, 2017, American Prospect)

Imagine if Donald Trump had been a genuine populist and followed through on his repeated promises to provide health insurance to everybody and take on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Populists in other countries have done similar things, and Trump might have consolidated support by emulating them.

Of course, Trump's promises about health care weren't any more genuine than his promises about Trump University. But even if he had been in earnest, he would have still faced a problem. Unlike right-wing populists elsewhere, Trump did not come to power with a party of his own or well-developed policies. He came tethered to the congressional Republicans, entirely dependent on them to formulate and pass legislation. That dependence will likely complicate Trump's ambitions in such areas as trade policy. But nothing so far has made more of a mockery of Trump's populism than the health-care legislation introduced in early March by Paul Ryan and the House Republican leadership and fully backed by Trump.

The Ryan bill is abhorrent for many reasons. It calls for a massive tax cut for people with high incomes, while costing millions of other Americans--24 million by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office--their health coverage. It would turn Medicaid from a right of beneficiaries into a limited grant of funds to the states, and it pays for the tax cuts for the rich with cuts in health care for the poor. The bill's reduced tax credits for insurance make no adjustment for low income, while some credits would go to people with incomes over $200,000.

But what is most amazing about the bill is how badly it treats constituencies and states that voted for Trump and the GOP.

The quicker Trumpcare dies the sooner Ryan can move to the Third Way program he actually supports.

Mitch McConnell's Trumpcare Plan Is to Lose Fast (Jonathan Chait, 3/22/17, New York)

Trumpcare may or may not grind out enough votes to pass the House. In the Senate, it's hopelessly short of the 50 votes it needs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid out a wildly aggressive time frame, under which his chamber would essentially xerox the House bill and pass it into law within a few days -- no hearings, no negotiations. A few weeks ago, I suggested the possibility that McConnell's plan was not wildly aggressive but actually designed to fail. His latest comments make this scenario seem far more likely.

"We're not slowing down," McConnell told reporters Tuesday. "We will reach a conclusion on health care next week." And while he is brimming with certainty about the speed of the process, he is hardly confident of its outcome: "We'll either pass something that will achieve a goal that we've been working on," he said. "Or not."

Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan's Bipartisan Plan for Health Care and Medicare Reform (Avik Roy ,  12/15/11,  Forbes)

The heart of the Wyden-Ryan plan is to use competitive bidding to allow private insurers to compete with traditional, 1965-vintage fee-for-service Medicare. If you want to learn more about competitive bidding, see this piece I wrote about Mitt Romney's proposal for Medicare reform. If that doesn't quench your thirst, you can read the definitive book on competitive bidding: Bring Market Prices to Medicare, by Robert Coulam, Roger Feldman, and Bryan Dowd.

The basic idea behind competitive bidding is that, say, on a county-by-county basis, you let private plans and traditional Medicare offer plans with the same actuarial value compete, to see who can offer the same package of benefits the most efficiently. Each plan in a given county will name a price for which they are willing to offer these services, and seniors are free to pick whichever plan they want. However, the government will only subsidize an amount equal to the bid proposed by the second-cheapest plan. If you want a more expensive plan, you have to pay the difference yourself.

As I mentioned in the Romney post linked to above, competitive bidding has some left-of-center fans; indeed, a form of competitive bidding was part of the Senate version of Obamacare. It also has fans on the Right, most notably Yuval Levin, dean of the conservative entitlement-reform wonk set. A key concern I mentioned in the Romney post is that competitive bidding, if not structured correctly, puts private insurers at a disadvantage to the government plan. It would be important to ensure that there is a level playing field between the public and private options under such a system.

The plan would only go into effect for people aged 55 or younger today. These future seniors would buy insurance on a "Medicare Exchange," which would require plans to guarantee coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, and require plans to charge similar premiums to those who are healthier or sicker.

The Art of the Trump: Call It Corum's Law (Jimmy Breslin, 6/07/90, Newsday)

Trump survives by Corum's Law. This is a famous, well-tested theory and is named after Bill Corum, who once wrote sports for the Hearst papers when they were in New York. He had a great gravel voice and did radio and television announcing for the World Series and heavyweight championship fights. He was a round little guy who was the youngest Army major in World War I, and when he came back he announced, "I just want to smell the roses." He read Balzac at the bar, often wrote exciting English, drank a ton of whiskey and lost as much money as he could find at the racetrack. He was a tough guy who understood weakness. 

Corum was asked to become the head of the Kentucky Derby by Louisville businessmen who said they had a grave problem. Newspapers all over the world claimed Louisville was a place where Derby visitors were robbed. Prices were tripled, touts were everywhere and women who were supposed to be available and uncommonly glamorous turned out to be nothing more than common thieves.

Corum glanced at the clips and threw them in the air. "This is great. There is nothing better for a championship event than a treacherous woman. If a guy from North Dakota goes home from here after the race and has to be met because he doesn't even have cab fare left, that guy is going to say to himself, 'Wow. I must have had a hell of a time. I can't wait for next year.' But if that same guy goes home and he still has half his money, he is going to say 'I guess I didn't have such a great time at the Kentucky Derby after all.'

"Because, gentlemen, this is the rule. A sucker has to get screwed." Corum ran the Kentucky Derby on this premise for years, and the game was good for all of Louisville. No sucker ever wept.

Today, Corum's Law runs all of Donald Trump's situation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why Letting Go, for Trump, Is No Small or Simple Task (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 21, 2017, NY Times)

The two most influential role models in Mr. Trump's youth were men who preached the twin philosophies of relentless self-promotion and the waging of total war against anyone perceived as a threat.

Mr. Trump, according to one longtime adviser, is perpetually playing a soundtrack in his head consisting of advice from his father, Fred, a hard-driving real estate developer who laid the weight of the family's success on his son's shoulders. Mr. Trump's other mentor was the caustic and conniving McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn, who counseled Mr. Trump never to give in or concede error.

Mr. Trump's fixation on Mr. Obama and an F.B.I. investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election echo his actions in New York decades ago, when he engaged in bitter personal battles with the mayor, Edward I. Koch, and the city fathers of Atlantic City. The battles were often to the detriment of Mr. Trump's real estate and gambling businesses, according to Tim O'Brien, author of "TrumpNation," a 2005 biography that documented his early years.

"I don't think there's anything new here in his behavior,'' said Mr. O'Brien, now the executive editor of Bloomberg View. "He's been doing this kind of thing for the last 45 years.''

"He's deeply, deeply insecure about how he's perceived in the world, about whether or not he's competent and deserves what he's gotten," he added. "There's an unquenchable thirst for validation and love. That's why he can never stay quiet, even when it would be wise strategically or emotionally to hold back."

With those two as his role models there was never a chance he'd develop into a decent human being.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Russia underplayed losses in recapture of Syria's Palmyra (Maria Tsvetkova, 3/22/17, Reuters)

Russia's force in Syria has suffered losses since late January more than three times higher than the official toll, according to evidence gathered by Reuters, a tally that shows the fight in Syria is tougher and more costly than the Kremlin has disclosed.

Eighteen Russian citizens fighting alongside Moscow's allies, the Syrian government forces, have been killed since Jan. 29 -- a period that coincided with intense fighting to recapture the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

The Russian defense ministry has publicly reported only five servicemen's deaths in Syria over the same period, and its officials' statements have not mentioned any large-scale Russian ground operations in the fight for Palmyra.

March 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM

10 OUT OF 10:

Colin Dexter obituary : Crime writer who created the deep-thinking Oxford detective Inspector Morse (Dennis Barker, 21 March 2017, tHE gUARDIAN)

Intellectually rather like Morse, Dexter was a master of the literary high wire. Morse's first name was kept under wraps for years, always presenting audiences with a riddle to be solved - a riddle almost as interesting as the one about why Morse, though presented as constantly falling in love with women, never married one.

Only gradually was it leaked out that his first name began with an E. But the secret about his first name - in real life it would have appeared on documents easily accessible at the police station - was not dispelled until 1996, when there was a landslide of useful publicity about the disclosure that the name was not Edward, nor Ernest, or even Enoch, as some pundits had speculated, but Endeavour - because Morse's parents had been Quakers who greatly admired Captain Cook, whose ship bore that name. [...]

The first of the Inspector Morse novels, Last Bus To Woodstock (1975), was written because, with his wife, Dorothy, and two sons, Dexter was on holiday in north Wales at a time when the rain never seemed to stop. Thoroughly miserable and bored, he read both the detective novels in their holiday accommodation, decided that they were not much good and thought he could do better. With the benefit of medieval and suburban Oxford as the setting (Dexter reckoned that he would never have become a writer had he moved to Rotherham), Last Bus to Woodstock proved the point.

The names for the characters were chosen with the same liking for intellectual riddles as the plots. He chose the name for Morse, and for all the others in the novel, except for the murderer, from a crossword, at a time when he entered regularly for the Observer Ximenes puzzle, which was won more often by Sir Jeremy Morse and a Mrs B Lewis.

Once it was obvious that he had found a winning character and setting, Dexter seriously set about writing detective novels. There were 12 more in the Morse series, including Service of All the Dead (1979), for which he won the Silver Dagger award of the Crime Writers' Association, The Dead of Jericho (1981), another Silver Dagger-winner, The Wench is Dead (1989), for which he won the Gold Dagger, The Way Through the Woods (1992), another Gold Dagger-winner, and the last, The Remorseful Day (1999), which killed off Morse, as well as a short-story collection, Morse's Greatest Mystery (1993).

The first of 33 episodes of the Inspector Morse television series was presented in 1987, with John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, and Dexter himself appearing in various cameos. When the novels ran out, Dexter wrote additional scripts for Morse before turning over the series to other writers. The last episode, in 2000, featured Morse's death, and after Thaw's death in 2002, Dexter stipulated that no other actor should reprise the role. However, the story continued in a spin-off series, Lewis (2006-15), and a prequel series, Endeavour, with Shaun Evans as the young Morse, which began in 2012.

Dexter was often asked whether he wrote for a readership or for himself. His answer was that he wrote for his old English teacher Mr Sharp. He would write a page and then ask himself, "Would Mr Sharp like that?" His aim was to feel that Mr Sharp would give it at least eight out of 10.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Exclusive: Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen's war - sources (Jonathan Saul, Parisa Hafezi and Michael Georgy, 3/21/17, rEUTERS)

 Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen's rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shi'ite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.

Iran's enemy Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in the impoverished state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula - part of the same regional power struggle that is fuelling the war in Syria.

Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, say that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support. This mirrors the strategy it has used to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Lack of 2 state solution is existential threat to Israel -- ex-Mossad chief (Tamar Pileggi, 3/21/17, The Times of Israel)

The only existential threat facing Israel is its defiant refusal to pursue a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians, ex-Mossad director Tamir Pardo warned on Tuesday.

"Israel has decided not to choose, and is hoping the conflict will one day resolve itself, or that the Arabs will disappear in some kind of cosmic miracle," he said at a Netanya conference in memory of his late predecessor, Meir Dagan.

Pardo said that unless Israel acts to separate itself from Palestinians, Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would eventually outnumber Jews, who could one day find themselves a dwindling minority in a Jewish state.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Inside the identity crisis at the Independent Journal Review, the outlet that has become a powerhouse in the Trump era (Oliver Darcy, 3/21/17, Business Insider)

The opportunity to shadow Tillerson did little to change that perception. IJR reporter Erin McPike, who was trailing Tillerson, was not filing stories from the road during the week. Nor was she sending out real-time updates to colleagues covering the secretary's movements. McPike blamed her superiors in a tweet, saying they had told her to solely focus on a profile piece -- a decision that was ultimately reversed later under mounting pressure and allowed her to break some news about his trip and views toward the media.

Back at home, another firestorm erupted when IJR's viral editor, Kyle Becker, published a conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama to the website. Without evidence, Becker suggested that perhaps there was a connection between Obama's Hawaii visit and a state judge's ruling which blocked Trump's second travel ban.

Reporters took notice and ridiculed the baseless report. IJR's congressional reporter, Joe Perticone, tendered his resignation. And IJR was forced to issue a full retraction.

In an email obtained by Business Insider, Becker apologized to his colleagues for "showing a lack of judgement." However, while Becker took the fall, he was not the only person to blame, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

IJR's chief content officer, Benny Johnson, had been warned earlier in Slack that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but assigned it to Becker anyway, the source said. [...]

In conversations with more than a dozen current and former employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, several individuals said the incidents were emblematic of larger problems at IJR. Current and former staffers said the website, chasing clicks, has veered sharply to the right in recent months to feed its conservative base the red meat it desired. [...]

The pressure to package stories in a way more palatable to tastes of the website's conservative audience was even felt by some members of the news team who were beholden, in the early days, to click quotas of upwards of 500,000 a week, according to two sources. The attitude is a familiar one for many sites focused on the ever-increasing hyper-partisan nature of political news, as they hold their writers to traffic goals and struggle to find a balance between telling the news and satisfying their audiences.

"I felt ashamed of a lot of the stuff that I had to publish there," said one former staffer. "There's stuff that I had to write at IJR that I wouldn't want my professors to read. Not because it was authored in a bad way, but the way we were covering stories and issues was an embarrassment to political reporting."

The Right's attempt to consume only edgy media and avoid the mainstream just leaves them misinformed. 
Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


The Little Death Spiral That Couldn't (Stan Veuger & Benedic Ippolito, March 21, 2017, Real Clear Health)

For better or for worse, it is nearly impossible for the ACA's insurance exchanges to implode to the extent that its detractors have long predicted. To understand why, it is important to understand how the subsidies and regulations in the ACA work. The ACA employs "price-linked subsidies." That is, the premium subsidy consumers receive is based on the actual prices for insurance on the exchanges. In addition, the ACA's regulatory framework caps the out-of-pocket expenses faced by consumers.

This works as follows. For those who purchase insurance on the exchange and have incomes below 400 percent of the poverty level (nearly $100,000 for a family of four), the ACA limits how much of your income you can spend on premiums. This amount ranges from 2 percent to 9.5 percent of income depending on the level of said income, under the assumption that you are purchasing the second-cheapest silver plan. Once you contribute this portion of your income towards premiums, the federal government picks up the rest of the tab. That means that even if premiums rise, once you have hit the contribution cap, you do not have to contribute more. Critically, a full 83 percent of exchange enrollees receive these subsidies. All of those enrollees are effectively shielded from future premium increases.

A true death spiral - one that leaves a market bereft of sellers and buyers - relies on increasing prices driving more and more consumers from a market. But what if consumers don't actually pay those higher prices?

Consider what happened last year when average premiums for the benchmark plan increased by 22 percent. Despite the headline-grabbing increase, the Obama administration correctly predicted that most consumers wouldn't be affected. Unsurprisingly, this year's enrollment numbers held relatively steady, even with efforts by the current administration to curb enrollment (sign-ups in the final two weeks of this year's open enrollment were over 300,000 lower than the last week of 2016 alone).

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Fox pulls Napolitano from air after Trump report (DAVID BAUDER, 3/20/17, AP) 

Fox News Channel has pulled legal analyst Andrew Napolitano from the air after disavowing his on-air claim that British intelligence officials had helped former President Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump.

A person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a personnel matter said Napolitano has been benched and won't be appearing on the air in the near future.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Chasing the Phantom : INSIDE THE HUNT FOR RUSSIA'S MOST NOTORIOUS HACKER (Garrett M. Graff, 3.21.17, Wired)

ON THE MORNING of December 30, the day after Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 US election, Tillmann Werner was sitting down to breakfast in Bonn, Germany. He spread some jam on a slice of rye bread, poured himself a cup of coffee, and settled in to check Twitter at his dining room table.

The news about the sanctions had broken overnight, so Werner, a researcher with the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, was still catching up on details. Following a link to an official statement, Werner saw that the White House had targeted a short parade's worth of Russian names and institutions--two intelligence agencies, four senior intelligence officials, 35 diplomats, three tech companies, two hackers. Most of the details were a blur. Then Werner stopped scrolling. His eyes locked on one name buried among the targets: Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev. 

Werner, as it happened, knew quite a bit about Evgeniy Bogachev. He knew in precise, technical detail how Bogachev had managed to loot and terrorize the world's financial systems with impunity for years. He knew what it was like to do battle with him.

But Werner had no idea what role Bogachev might have played in the US election hack. Bogachev wasn't like the other targets--he was a bank robber. Maybe the most prolific bank robber in the world. "What on earth is he doing on this list?" Werner wondered.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Saudi Arabia's oil supremacy falters (Sarah McFarlane, Benoit Faucon, and Summer Said, Mar 21, 2017, WSJ)

Saudi Arabia is losing its grip on big oil markets it once dominated amid a deep production cut that has reshaped global petroleum trade routes and benefited rivals like Iran, Russia and the U.S.

To stomach a steep production cut aimed at putting a floor under oil prices CLJ7, +0.64%  , the world's biggest crude exporter is conceding ground to American shale producers and hastening a retreat from the U.S., people familiar with current Saudi policy said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Former British Prime Minister Cameron urges recommitment to old values (G. Wayne Miller , 3/20/17, Providence Journal)

Cameron began his 94th Stephen A. Ogden Jr. '60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs at a full Pizzitola Sports Center with humor, which drew laughter and applause - first, but hardly last of the afternoon, hosted by Brown president Christina Paxson.

Head of the British government from 2010 until last year, when the U.K. cast its Brexit vote, Cameron quipped that one of the advantages of leaving office is "I don't have to listen any more to the wiretaps of Donald Trump's conversations."

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


The American presidency is shrinking before the world's eyes (Michael Gerson, March 20, 2017, Washington Post)

Mere incompetence would be bad enough. But foreigners trying to understand the United States must now study (of all things) the intellectual influences of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon. His vision of a Western alliance of ethno-nationalist, right-wing populists against globalists, multiculturalists, Islamists and (fill in the blank with your preferred minority) is the administration's most vivid and rhetorically ascendant foreign policy viewpoint. How does this affect the alliances of the previous dispensation? That is the background against which Trump's peevishness is being viewed.

Foreigners see a president who has blamed his predecessor, in banana-republic style, of a serious crime, for which FBI Director James B. Comey testified Monday there is no evidence. They see an administration whose campaign activities are being actively investigated by the executive branch and Congress. If close Trump associates are directly connected to Russian hacking, foreigners will see the president engulfed in an impeachment crisis -- the only constitutional mechanism that would remove the taint of larceny from the 2016 election. [...]

The sum total? Foreigners see a Darwinian, nationalist framework for American foreign policy; a diminished commitment to global engagement; a brewing scandal that could distract and cripple the administration; and a president who often conducts his affairs with peevish ignorance. 

Many have noted that Donald ran on nostalgia, but he's somehow making us long for the mere incompetence of Jimmy Carter.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Roger Stone, the 'Trickster' on Trump's Side, Is Under F.B.I. Scrutiny (MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 21, 2017, NY Times)

In President Trump's oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants -- a loyalist and self-proclaimed "dirty trickster" who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years.

But two months into the Trump presidency, Mr. Stone, known for his pinstripe suits, the Nixon tattoo spanning his shoulder blades, and decades of outlandish statements, is under investigation for what would be his dirtiest trick -- colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.

At a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, Democrats pressed James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I., for information on Mr. Stone. Asked by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, a Democrat, if he was familiar with Mr. Stone, Mr. Comey replied tersely, "Generally, yes," before saying he could not discuss any specific person.

Mr. Stone, 64, is the best known of the Trump associates under scrutiny as part of an F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference in the election. John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks, accused him in October of having advance warning of the hacks, which the intelligence community has concluded were orchestrated by Russia.

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All the President's Lies (David Leonhardt MARCH 20, 2017, NY Times)

I've previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn't lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn't lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).

But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about -- among many other things -- Obama's birthplace, John F. Kennedy's assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.

He tells so many untruths that it's time to leave behind the textual parsing over which are unwitting and which are deliberate -- as well as the condescending notion that most of Trump's supporters enjoy his lies.

Trump sets out to deceive people. As he has put it, "I play to people's fantasies."

Caveat emptor: When Donald Trump says something happened, it should not change anyone's estimation of whether the event actually happened. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. His claim doesn't change the odds.

Which brings us to Russia.

And the otherwise decent people who feel compelled to defend his every falsehood are doing irreparable damage to themselves as well.  Let him twist in the wind; he's not one of us.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Trump's Weary Defenders Face Fresh Worries (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 20, 2017, NY Times)

By the afternoon the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, had systematically demolished his arguments in a remarkable public takedown of a sitting president. Even a close ally of Mr. Trump, Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, conceded that "a gray cloud" of suspicion now hung over the White House by the end of the day's hearings. [...]

But it's the obsessiveness and ferocity of Mr. Trump's pushback against the Russian allegations, often untethered from fact or tact, that is making an uncertain situation worse. [...]

Over the past several weeks, Republicans in Congress and members of their staffs have privately complained that Mr. Trump's Twitter comment on March 4 -- the one where he called Barack Obama "sick" and suggested that the former president had ordered a "tapp" on his phone -- had done more to undermine anything he's done as president because it called into question his seriousness about governing.

The problem, from the perspective of Mr. Trump's beleaguered political fire brigade, is that the president insists on dealing with crises by creating new ones -- so surrogates, repeating talking points the president himself ignores, say they often feel like human shields.

Within the White House, a number of Mr. Trump's advisers -- including the press secretary, Sean Spicer, who has himself repeated unsubstantiated claims of British spying on Mr. Trump -- have told allies that Mr. Trump's Twitter habits are making their jobs harder, said administration officials interviewed over the past week.  [....]

People close to the president say Mr. Trump's Twitter torrent had less to do with fact, strategy or tactic than a sense of persecution bordering on faith: He simply believes that he was bugged in some way, by someone, and that evidence will soon appear to back him up.

Fun listening to guys like Peter King and Sean Spicer attack the leakers, confirming the veracity of the leaks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


The Unifying American Story (David Brooks MARCH 21, 2017, NY Times)

The Puritans could survive hardship because they knew what kind of cosmic drama they were involved in. Being a chosen people with a sacred mission didn't make them arrogant, it gave their task dignity and consequence. It made them self-critical. When John Winthrop used the phrase "shining city on a hill" he didn't mean it as self-congratulation. He meant that the whole world was watching and by their selfishness and failings the colonists were screwing it up. [...]

The successive immigrant groups saw themselves performing an exodus to a promised land. The waves of mobility -- from east to west, from south to north -- were also seen as Exodus journeys. These people could endure every hardship because they were serving in a spiritual drama and not just a financial one.

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders drew on Exodus more than any other source. Our 20th-century presidents made the story global. America would lead a global exodus toward democracy -- God was a God of all peoples. Reinhold Niebuhr applied Puritan thinking to America's mission and warned of the taint of national pride.

The Exodus story has many virtues as an organizing national myth. It welcomes in each new group and gives it a template for how it fits into the common move from oppression to dignity. The book of Exodus is full of social justice -- care for the vulnerable, the equality of all souls. It emphasizes that the moral and material journeys are intertwined and that for a nation to succeed materially, there has to be an invisible moral constitution and a fervent effort toward character education.

It suggests that history is in the shape of an upward spiral. People who see their lives defined by Exodus move, innovate and organize their lives around a common eschatological destiny. As Langston Hughes famously put it, "America never was America to me / And yet I swear this oath -- / America will be!"

What could be a better example to the world than the way the American people and our system and institutions are thwarting the anti-Christian impulses of Donald and his cronies?

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Five centuries on, Martin Luther should be feted as hero of liberty and free speech : The story of the German reformer who challenged the Catholic church has resonance today (Peter Stanford, 18 March 2017, The Guardian)

[T]he consequences of Luther's rebellion were not confined to a particular period, to Germany, or even to organised religion. His essential message was that, at the end of his or her life, each believer stood naked before God, awaiting eternal judgment, with only the Bible and their faith to protect them. The "good works" that Catholicism encouraged - earning brownie points by going to mass, making pilgrimages, praying to relics and contributing to the church coffers - were irrelevant in salvation.

He was thus challenging the entire late medieval way of doing things and the result was strikingly modern. For Luther championed conscience, informed by reading the scriptures, over the dictates of church rules and regulations. Read scripture and make your own mind up. This, in its turn, opened the door in the 17th and 18th centuries to Enlightenment notions of human liberty, free speech and even human rights, all of which today shape Europe. Our ability to read the word of God and reject it out of hand comes from Luther - an outcome he could not have foreseen and which would surely horrify him.

But if that sounds too abstract, there is one final aspect of Martin Luther that gives him a relevance and a three-dimensional appeal. For sheer, selfless courage, he is impossible to outdo. He may now be recalled, if at all, as a jowly friar from history, but for a thousand years before Luther came along, the Catholic church had been one of the great powers on earth, so powerful it even fixed the calendar the world still uses, taking as its pivot the birth of Jesus Christ. Until Martin Luther.

He had the courage to take on a monolithic church, in the full expectation that it would cost him his life, but he did it nonetheless, confronting the might of the first truly universal religion, in person and often alone, with an extraordinary passion, intensity and energy. And, most remarkable of all, not only did Luther survive, he triumphed, and we are all better off because of him.

What's not to celebrate?

A god worshiped simply because He is God is not worthy of worship.

March 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 PM


Exclusive: Tillerson plans to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia in April - sources (Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott, 3/20/17, rEUTERS)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip an April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers for a U.S. visit by the Chinese president and will travel to Russia later in the month, U.S. officials said on Monday, a step allies may see as putting Moscow's concerns ahead of theirs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


WAS NAZI GERMANY MADE IN AMERICA? : A new history argues convincingly that institutionalized racism and common-law pragmatism in the United States inspired Hitler's policies : a review of James Q. Whitman's dedicates his new book Hitler's American Model (David Mikics, March 20, 2017, The Tablet)

Scholars have long known that the American eugenics movement inspired the Nazis; now Whitman adds the influence of America's immigration policy and its laws about race. Today, Whitman's idea that Nazism looked to America for inspiration is liable to throw us into a moral panic. But there's another side to the story, and in the Trump era, especially, we can benefit from taking a hard look at it. Our president was elected in part because he capitalized on an America-first nationalism that hunts ruthlessly for external and internal enemies. In this view, rootless cosmopolitans, immigrants, and the lawless inner cities constantly threaten the real America.

Historians have downplayed the connection between Nazi race law and America because America was mainly interested in denying full citizenship rights to blacks rather than Jews. But Whitman's adroit scholarly detective work has proved that in the mid-'30s Nazi jurists and politicians turned again and again to the way the United States had deprived African-Americans of the right to vote and to marry whites. They were fascinated by the way the United States had turned millions of people into second-class citizens.

Strange as it may seem to us, the Nazis saw America as a beacon for the white race, a Nordic racial empire that had conquered a vast amount of Lebensraum. One German scholar, Wahrhold Drascher, in his book The Supremacy of the White Race (1936), saw the founding of America as a "fateful turning point" in the rise of the Aryans. Without America, Drascher wrote, "a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged." Rasse and Raum--race and living space--were for Nazis the keywords behind America's triumph in the world, according to historian Detlef Junker. Hitler admired the American commitment to racial purity, praising the anti-Indian campaigns that had "gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand."

In the 1930s the American South and Nazi Germany were the world's most straightforwardly racist regimes, proud of the way they had deprived blacks and Jews, respectively, of their civil rights.
Hitler was not wrong to look to America for innovations in racism. "Early 20th-century America was the global leader in race law," Whitman writes, more so even than South Africa. Spain's New World Empire had pioneered laws tying citizenship to blood, but the United States developed racial legislation far more advanced than that of the Spaniards. For nearly a century African-American slavery was a monumental stain on Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and its claim that "all men are created equal." The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that "any alien, being a free white person" could become an American--the Nazis noted with approval that this was an unusual case of racial restriction on citizenship. California barred Chinese immigration in the 1870s; the whole country followed suit in 1882.

World War I gave an added impetus to the focus of racialist doctrines on immigration and immigrants. The Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 banned Asian immigrants along with homosexuals, anarchists, and "idiots." And the Quota Law of 1921 favored Northern European immigrants over Italians and Jews, who were mostly barred from immigrating. Hitler praised American immigration restrictions in Mein Kampf: The future German dictator lamented the fact that being born in a country made one a citizen, so that "a Negro who previously lived in the German protectorates and now resides in Germany can thus beget a 'German citizen.' " Hitler added that "there is currently one state in which one can observe at least weak beginnings of a better conception ... the American Union," which "simply excludes the immigration of certain races." America, Hitler concluded, because of its race-based laws, had a more truly völkisch idea of the state than Germany did.

In the area of racial restrictions on marriage, America stood alone as a pioneer. The American idea that racially mixed marriage is a crime had a strong impact on the Nuremberg Laws. In the 1930s nearly 30 American states had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, in some cases barring Asians as well as African-Americans from marrying whites. The Nazis eagerly copied American laws against miscegenation. The Nuremberg Laws, following the American model, outlawed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

In one respect American race law proved too harsh for the Nazis. In America, the "one drop" rule reigned: Often, you were counted as black if you had as little as one-sixteenth Negro blood. But the Nazi hardliners' proposal to define Germans with one Jewish grandparent as Jews did not get approved at Nuremberg. Instead, quarter- and even half-Jews were treated with relative leniency. Mischlinge, half Jews, could be counted as Aryans, unless they were religiously observant or married to a Jew.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


FBI confirms investigation into possible Russian ties to Trump campaign (Russell Brandom,  Mar 20, 2017, The Verge)

"I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," Comey told the committee, "and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts." According to the director, the investigation has been ongoing since July of last year.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


How the establishment throttled President Trump (Michael Brendan Dougherty, Mar. 20th, 2017, The Week)

The establishment that Trump defeated in the election is still able to strike back. Part of this is just American federalism coming back to life. It was notable that America's states were able to successfully challenge the executive order travel ban. These checking institutions and powers may have been largely quiet over the last two administrations, as presidents have expanded the use of executive orders, but that wasn't a sign that they were dead.

And it turns out the establishment can still wage a defensive battle within the bureaucracy of the federal government. Even though Trump's two predecessors tried to create better relations with Moscow, intelligence agencies and media outlets seem to act in concert to make any possible improvement of U.S.-Russian relations impossible. They filled the air with Trump and Russia stories -- some true, some merely speculative, or even trashy. The true stories seem to have been the undoing of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. But ones that are merely suggestive, or half-true, have plagued the administration since its inception and will act as leverage against Trump trying to lean against the Beltway's foreign policy class on this issue.

And even Trump's appointed officials, like Nikki Haley as ambassador to the U.N., have tended to emphasize the continuity of America's foreign policy, rather than carry out some grand Trumpian revolution in it.s are still more likely to involve just incremental changes in policy, not enormous paradigm shifts, whatever candidates promise. Trump will be here for four to eight years, but the establishment might be eternal.

Congress, conservatives, the courts, the states, the media, etc. or Little Finger, the Nativist fringe and its media bubble?

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The fight to recapture Mosul is grinding closer to the mosque where ISIS declared its 'caliphate' (Tony Gamal-Gabriel and Edouard Guihaire in Baghdad, AFP) 

Elite Iraqi forces said they were battling house by house in the Old City of Mosul on Saturday, inching towards the mosque where the Islamic State group proclaimed its "caliphate" in 2014.

Iraq began an operation on February 19 to retake west Mosul, which is the last major Islamic State group urban bastion in the country and includes the Old City.

It would have been bad enough losing to the Crusaders, but ISIS couldn't even withstand the apostates.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


The US may be restarting an asylum agreement with Australia that Trump blasted as a 'dumb deal' (Colin Packham and Aaron Bunch, 3/20/17, Reuters) 

U.S. officials began taking fingerprints of asylum seekers in an Australian-run camp on the Pacific island of Nauru on Monday, signaling that vetting of applicants for resettlement in what U.S. President Donald Trump called a "dumb deal" has restarted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Oil drops on rising U.S. drilling, steady OPEC supply (Henning Gloystein, 3/20/17, Reuters)

Traders said that prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) despite its pledge to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) together with some other producers like Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Stanford's Big Health Care Idea : How an unconventional team of doctors figured out how to provide high-need university employees with better health care, for less money. (Heather Boerner, April/May 2017, American Prospect)

When Arnold Milstein arrived at Stanford University in 2010 to create the Clinical Excellence Research Center, he already had several careers' worth of experience in medical innovation. He had been in private practice as a psychiatrist; founded a health care consulting company; examined the organizational structure of hospitals and private practices, poring over the data on the quality of health care; and applied what he learned to improve care for Boeing employees in Seattle and hotel workers in Atlantic City. The biggest lesson he took from all those experiences was that American health care was ill-serving the very people who needed it the most. He had come to Stanford to study ways to make health care work better.

Tall and slim, with a kind face and short hair cropped straight across his forehead, the sixty-seven-year-old Milstein explains the problem succinctly: "It's a 5/50, 10/70 world." That is, 5 percent of patients account for 50 percent of health care spending, and 10 percent account for 70 percent, whether they're insured privately or by the government. These high spenders are the sickest and frailest, patients Milstein calls the "medically fragile."

At Stanford, in sunny, health-conscious California, Milstein saw the same thing. As a member of Stanford's employee benefits committee, which oversees the university's self-funded health insurance plan, he knew that medically fragile Stanford employees were sucking up the vast majority of health care spending and straining Stanford's system, without many signs of improved health. He had a theory for why this was happening. The patients weren't the problem; the problem was that the health care system was treating them the way it treats everybody else.

Milstein also had a theory for how to solve the problem. What if you took the concept of an intensive care unit--a single location that pulls together all the personnel and technology needed to care for the sickest patients in a hospital--and applied it to patients who were well enough not to be in the hospital but a lot sicker than the average patient in a primary care doctor's practice? Some of these people are old and frail, but many are young, hold down jobs at Stanford, raise families, and coach Little League, even though they have one or more chronic illness, like diabetes, depression, or cancer. They are among the most expensive to care for not just because they are sick, but also because the health care system is inefficient and disorganized when it comes to taking care of their multiple conditions. Why not organize the care around them the way a hospital organizes all the nurses, doctors, and technology needed for patients in the ICU?

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Trump's approval rating among US Jews is 31%, poll finds (JTA March 20, 2017)

President Donald Trump's approval rating among Jews in the United States is 31 percent.

The figure is more than 10 percent lower than the president's overall approval rating of 42 percent, according to a Gallup poll taken from Jan. 20, the day Trump was sworn in, to March 15.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Two quantum physicists walk in and out of a bar ...: Can humour be reduced to a pure equation? And what do dead cats have to do with it? Cathal O'Connell, 3/2017, Cosmos)

In the new work, published in Frontiers in Physics, Australian physicist Kirsty Kitto and Canadian psychologist Liane Gabora have applied the mathematics of quantum theory to puns. [...]

Consider: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Here, during the set-up, we interpret the situation one way, and once the punch line comes, there is a shift in our understanding (oh, the insect likes bananas). That gets the laugh.

But scientists trying to express this cognitive processing in the form of an equation haven't got very far. Instead, the authors of the new work argue that it is not the shift of meaning, but rather our ability to perceive both meanings simultaneously, that makes a pun funny. That's where quantum theory comes in.

One of the central phenomena in quantum theory is superposition -- where a particle can be in two states at once. That's what led the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger to come up with a scenario where a cat could be understood to be alive and dead at the same time.

Schrödinger and his colleagues developed the maths to deal with these conundrums a century ago. Now, Kitto and Gabora have done the same for the pun.

"Funniness is not a pre-existing 'element of reality' that can be measured," says Gabora. "It emerges from an interaction between the underlying nature of the joke, the cognitive state of the listener, and other social and environmental factors. This makes the quantum formalism an excellent candidate for modelling humour."'s no coincidence that Creation is a comedy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Trump budget cuts immigration aid and local police are stunned (Alan Gomez, 3/16/17, USA TODAY)

Throughout his campaign, Trump said he would help local communities enforce immigration laws and vowed to punish those that didn't -- generally referred to as "sanctuary cities" -- by withholding federal funds. Yet his budget would eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which would deny aid to localities that help enforce his ramped-up deportation program. The move would save the federal government $210 million this year.

That proposal came as a shock to officials in Miami-Dade County, which became the first jurisdiction in the country to shed its "sanctuary city" status by fully complying with Trump's immigration authorities. Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered his jail to honor all requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to detain undocumented immigrants, a controversial move that was approved by the county commission but led to sweeping protests in a county where a majority of residents are foreign-born.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Pentagon leaders have reportedly given their White House political overseer a Soviet-era nickname (Peter Weber, 3/20/17, Washington Post)

At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton -- a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state -- offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."

March 19, 2017

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Chuck Berry (RIP) Reviews Punk Songs by The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads & More (1980) (Open Culture, March 18th, 2017)

When the punk wave broke in the UK and the States in the mid-1970s, it threatened to leave behind the established rock bands that once seemed so rebellious. Pete Townshend, the guitar-smashing songwriter of The Who, said: "I kind of welcomed [the arrival of punk], challenged it, and wanted it to happen, and then I realized that the person they wanted to shoot was me." And indeed Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, would say, "I don't have any heroes. They're all useless to me."

And yet despite the posturing, punk remained rooted in the rock tradition, paying tribute, whether they knew it or not, to their musical fathers (The Beatles, The Who, The Stones) and even the grandfathers (Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly). In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (a book I completely recommend) editor Legs McNeil writes:

Then the Ramones came back, and counted off again, and played their best eighteen minutes of rock n roll that I had ever heard. You could hear the Chuck Berry in it, which was all I listened to, that and the Beatles second album with all the Chuck Berry covers on it.

It all goes back to Chuck Berry, and Berry knew it. In a 1980 interview with the zine Jet Lag, Berry shared his thoughts on the punk anthems of the day and spotted his influence in many of them.

People tend not to get that punk rock was nostalgic and just a way to purge rock of the pernicious pretensions of the Beatles.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Inside Trump's White House, New York moderates spark infighting and suspicion (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, March 18, 2017, Washington Post)

Inside the White House, they are dismissed by their rivals as "the Democrats."

Outspoken, worldly and polished, this coterie of ascendant Manhattan business figures-turned-presidential advisers is scrambling the still-evolving power centers swirling around President Trump.

Led by Gary Cohn and Dina Powell -- two former Goldman Sachs executives often aligned with Trump's eldest daughter and his son-in-law -- the group and its broad network of allies are the targets of suspicion, loathing and jealousy from their more ideological West Wing colleagues.

On the other side are the Republican populists driving much of Trump's nationalist agenda and confrontations, led by chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has grown closer to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in part to counter the New Yorkers.

As Trump's administration enters its third month, the constant jockeying and backbiting among senior staff is further inflaming tensions at a time when the White House is struggling on numerous fronts -- from the endangered health-care bill to the controversial budget to the hundreds of top jobs still vacant throughout the government.

The emerging turf war has led to fights over White House protocol and access to the president, backstabbing and leaks to reporters, and a heated Oval Office showdown over trade refereed by the president himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Israel threatens to 'destroy' Syrian air defence systems  (AFP, 3/19/17) 

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes.

"The next time the Syrians use their air defence systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation," Lieberman said on Israeli public radio.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Key U.S. Senate committee leaders say Russia sanctions must remain (Patricia Zengerle, 3/19/17, Reuters)

Senator Mike Crapo, the panel's Republican chairman, said reducing sanctions could encourage Moscow to continue aggressive actions, three years after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.

Senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democrat, said the panel should look at increasing sanctions.

"Russia remains a hostile, recalcitrant power, deploying its military, cyber-enabled information espionage activities and economic tactics to harm the United States and drive a wedge between it and its allies," Crapo said. [...]

Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced from that position last month after revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Moscow's ambassador to the United States before Trump took office.

Brown noted a report by U.S. intelligence agencies concluding that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election on Trump's behalf. He said the committee should focus on how it can strengthen its response to Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Debate over Southern Baptist leader exposes racial rift (ADELLE M. BANKS, 3/18/17, Religion News Service)

A total of 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. But the nation's largest evangelical denomination is also striving to improve its race relations -- especially given its Civil War-era history of defending slavery -- and Moore has been one of the SBC's most vocal champions of that effort.

Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist minister who authored a book on racism and Southern evangelicals, said the declarations by black Southern Baptists "were very strong and I do believe were key in moving this in a healthy direction."

"Seeing the SBC led by African-American pastors in calling for reconciliation in this divide is significant," he said.

Two of three recent statements featuring black leaders' support of Moore compare him to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader whose messages about justice were rejected by some of his generation, including some Southern Baptists. [...]

[Former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter]s was the first name on a letter posted on the New Orleans Baptist Association website responding to a request received by the Louisiana Baptist Convention to study recent actions by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"Dr. Moore speaks with a prophetic voice to this generation," said Luther and other signatories, including black, white and Hispanic Baptists. "We may not like everything that he says, but we fear what our faith community may become if we lose his voice."

Moore has told RNS that he is confident he will remain in his post. Ken Barbic, who chairs the ERLC board, has described Moore as "a Gospel-centered and faithful voice for Southern Baptists."

A third endorsement came from Arlington, Texas, pastor Dwight McKissic, who suggested that predominantly minority churches may want to determine their future contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention based on the final decision on Moore's status in the denomination.

"The implications of the Executive Committee's investigative report is staggering and could be tantamount to an earthquake in the Convention," McKissic predicted.

"If Moore is marginalized or fired, 80-90 percent of Southern Baptist Black Churches who share Moore's views on President Trump would also simultaneously feel as if their political convictions regarding the current President of the United States would also be officially reprimanded, rejected and rebuked by the Southern Baptist Convention."

McKissic proposed the original language for the resolution adopted at last year's SBC annual meeting that called for repudiating the Confederate flag, a step Moore called for the previous year, saying "Let's take down that flag."

When that statement was adopted, Moore said Southern Baptists "made history in the right way."

"This denomination was founded by people who wrongly defended the sin of human slavery," he said. "Today, the nation's largest Protestant denomination voted to repudiate the Confederate battle flag, and it's time and well past time."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Let's give workers a retirement savings plan at work (Gary Burtless, March 7, 2017, Brookings)

Automatic payroll withholding to help workers save for retirement should be a no-brainer. Both conservatives and liberals worry that Social Security will lack funds to pay for promised benefits after 2030. At the same time, about one-third of workers are "not too confident" or "not at all confident" they will have enough money to live comfortably when they retire. Under these circumstances it seems sensible to make it as easy as possible for workers to save for retirement in the workplace. Twelve years ago George W. Bush proposed giving workers the option of placing up to 4% of their wages or $1,000 in private retirement accounts. (The funds would have come from workers' Social Security contributions.) Oddly, however, most conservative lawmakers are opposed to practical steps to put retirement savings plans in every workplace. This position seems puzzling in view of conservatives' opposition to raising taxes to pay for future Social Security pensions. If Social Security benefits must be trimmed to keep the system solvent, it makes sense to offer all workers, including those without a company pension plan, a simple way to accumulate private retirement savings. [...]

When enrollment in a retirement plan is simple and when savings are automatically subtracted from wages in each pay period, the great majority of prime-age workers will accumulate retirement savings. Even if many end up saving too little, all will have the opportunity of saving something. Most will accumulate more than would be the case if they were forced to save outside of a workplace plan.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Islamic State's wane sets the stage for regional superpower Iran  (Avi Issacharoff, 3/19/17, The Times of Israel)

Not much is left of the Syria of six years ago. Nearly half a million people have been killed and unknown millions have been wounded. Five million people have left their homes, either displaced or as refugees (a fifth of a population of approximately 22 million). Syria's economy is crushed, its infrastructures is in ruins, and its population suffers from constant shortages of power, water, and proper medical treatment.

What the Astana talks have made abundantly clear is that Syria is no longer in Syrian hands. An unholy mixture of superpower and other foreign interests is reshaping the map of what used to be Syria. Its coastal strip and several of its large cities are still controlled by Bashar Assad, the nominal president. That area, once known as "Alawistan" for the politically dominant Alawite branch of Islam, is now known by Israeli officials as "Assadistan" (because Sunni residents are the majority in those areas by close to 70 percent), while the rest of the territory is divided among moderate rebel groups, extremists such as Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Kurds and Turkey.

But the picture is even more complicated. The influence of foreign players such as Russia, the United States, and, of course, Iran, is visible in those areas as well. Islamic State's weakness in the region and its loss of the territory that it used to control -- due to massive American aerial attacks, among other things -- has resulted, simultaneously, in the entrenchment of significant Iranian influence throughout Syria, mainly in the areas controlled by Assad.

Thus Iran, as it takes advantage of the civil war in Syria and Islamic State's takeover in Iraq, is looking more and more like the big winner of the Arab Spring in the region stretching from Tehran to Latakia and southward to Beirut. The Shiite crescent, which King Abdullah of Jordan warned about more than a decade ago, is amassing unprecedented power in the region even without possessing an atomic bomb and with its nuclear program frozen. If the saying "Islam is the solution" was common in the past, particularly among the Sunnis (in reference to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas), perhaps the saying from now on should be that Shiite Islam is the solution.

March 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


US says 'strategic patience' on NK is over (Shin Hyon-hee, 2017-03-17, Korea Herald)

A joint news conference aside, Tillerson spent almost 2 1/2 hours with Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida including a dinner, and another hour with Prime Minister Abe. But his meetings with Yun and Hwang were each confined to about an hour, without a lunch or dinner gathering. Seoul officials said the US side opted not to have a meal together, citing the secretary's "fatigue." 

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


America's Shale Gas Selling at Record Prices to Overseas Buyers (Jonathan Crawford  and Naureen Malik, March 17, 2017, Bloomberg)

A year after Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Louisiana terminal shipped the first exports of U.S. natural gas from shale, cargoes from the facility are fetching higher prices than ever.

The export price of liquefied gas from Sabine Pass rose as high as $7.52 per million British thermal units in January, topping last year's high of $6.21, according to an Energy Department report Friday. Fifteen tankers sailed from the terminal that month and in February, the most since commissioning began at the facility last year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


GOP Rep. Tom Cole: Trump owes Obama an apology for wiretapping claim (MADELINE CONWAY, 03/17/17, Politico)

Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said Friday that President Donald Trump should apologize to former President Barack Obama for accusing him of ordering an illegal wiretap of his phone lines, given that there is no public evidence to support it.

"I see no indication that that's true," Cole told reporters. "And so it's not a charge I would have ever made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think the president, you know, President Obama is owed an apology in that regard."

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Trump is pushing 'Buy American.' But customers (mostly) don't care (Heather Long, March 13, 2017, CNN)

Cathy Paraggio always checks the labels on stuff she buys: Is it made in China? Vietnam? Bangladesh? Mexico? Or America?

She was a big believer in the "Made in the USA" movement long before President Trump started telling the nation to "Buy American and hire American."

In 2012, Paraggio launched a male swimsuit brand called NoNetz. It makes swimsuits that prevent chafing and rashes. Paraggio vowed to make the suits in the U.S. She found a textile factory in Brooklyn, MCM Enterprise, that could do the work.

There was just one problem: The suit cost $23 to make in Brooklyn. Making it in China and shipping it to Paraggio's office cost a mere $10.

Manufacturing in America "makes me look like a bad business person," Paraggio told CNNMoney. She went with the Brooklyn option anyway. Surely, she thought, customers would prefer to see the "Made in the USA" label.
That's not what happened.

"No one cares about Made in the USA," says Paraggio, who recently ordered some suits from China for the first time after Daymond John of Shark Tank gave her frank advice to get real about the bottom line. So she placed the order. And cried.

Trump preaches "Buy American" often. He mentioned it in his Inaugural Address. He brought it up in his first prime-time speech to Congress (watched by over 47 million people). He made it a campaign issue.

But the largest obstacle to Trump's vision may be the American shopper, who is constantly on the lookout for a good deal.

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Make America Singapore (Ross Douthat MARCH 18, 2017, NY Times)

Singaporeans pay for much of their own care out of their own pockets, and their major insurance program is designed to cover long-term illnesses and prolonged hospitalizations, not routine care. The combination has produced genuinely extraordinary results: The island state has excellent health outcomes while spending, as of 2014, just 5 percent of G.D.P. on health care. (By comparison, a typical Western European country that year spent around 10 percent; the United States spent 17 percent.)

However, there has never been a major Republican policy proposal that just imitates what Singapore actually does. That's because the Singaporean vision is built around personal responsibility and private spending, but also a degree of statism and paternalism that present-day American conservatism instinctively rejects.

First, Singaporeans do not spend money voluntarily saved in health-savings accounts. Under their Medisave program, they spend money saved in mandatory health-savings accounts, to which employers contribute as well. Second, their catastrophic insurance doesn't come from a bevy of competing health insurance companies, but from a government-run single-payer system, MediShield. And then the government maintains a further safety net, Medifund, for patients who can't cover their bills, while topping off Medisave accounts for poorer, older Singaporeans, and maintaining other supplemental programs as well.

So the Singaporean structure does not necessarily minimize state involvement or redistribution. It minimizes direct public spending and third-party payments, while maximizing people's exposure to what treatments actually cost. And the results are, again, extremely impressive: By forcing its citizens to save and manage their own spending, the Singaporean system seems to free up an awful lot of money to spend on goods besides health care over the longer haul of life.

Republicans will give us greater coverage and less choice.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Sources: DOJ report does not confirm Trump's wiretap claim (Manu Raju and Tom LoBianco, 3/17/17, CNN)

Two government officials told CNN Friday evening that the classified report the Justice Department delivered to House and Senate investigators does not confirm President Donald Trump's allegations that President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Outsmarted : On the liberal cult of the cognitive elite (Rick Perlstein, 3/17/17, The Baffler)

Way back in 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald figured out something very shrewd about right-wingers. He discovered, and described, an emerging social type: the reactionary pedant.

It comes in Chapter One of The Great Gatsby, where Fitzgerald introduces his dramatis personae. Our narrator, Nick Carraway, is chatting away aimlessly with his sophisticated cousin Daisy Buchanan and her equally sophisticated friend, Jordan Baker. Embarked upon his second glass of a "corky but rather impressive claret," Nick remarks that the conversation has grown a bit too recherché for his taste: "You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy. Can't you talk about crops or something?" He "meant nothing in particular by this remark but it was taken up in an unexpected way"--by Daisy's husband, Tom Buchanan, whom Nick had known when both attended Yale.

"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently. "I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read 'The Rise of the Colored Empires' by this man Goddard?"

"Why, no," I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be--will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved."

"Tom's getting very profound," said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. "He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we--"

"Well, these books are all scientific," insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently.

"This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things."

"We've got to beat them down," whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

"You ought to live in California--" began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

"This idea is that we're Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and--" After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. "--And we've produced all the things that go to make civilization--oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?"

There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.

In a novel that precisely deploys status markers, every detail here matters. Nick, blithe, ironic, and self-possessed, is perfectly comfortable making light of his preference for intellectually uncluttered chitchat. Tom Buchanan, not so self-possessed, has to rush in to demonstrate that he is smart too--though 1925 readers would immediately understand he is actually stupid, because he's biffed the names of two real-life thinkers: Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920), and the eugenicist Madison Grant, inventor of "Nordic theory" and author of the equally alarmist The Passing of the Great Race (1916).

However, contemporary readers don't have to boast familiarity with the contents of 1920s bookstores to grasp that this guy is a clown--or to recognize the type. Think Spiro Agnew, braying about the downfall of America at the hands of "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals," in speeches scripted for him by William Safire. (Safire dropped out of college to take a job with a gossip columnist. He later got a job as the resident conservative op-ed sage at the New York Times, and also published an "On Language" column in the Times magazine. In both capacities, he never let the world forget he knew a lot of six-syllable words.) Or William F. Buckley, whose rebarbative vocabulary conned a generation of liberals into believing conservatism was a "movement of ideas."

Liberals want to make you feel stupid, but--na na na!--it's actually liberals who are stupid: this trope is a commonplace of conservative rhetoric. If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans: that's the title of a 2007 book by Ann Coulter. Rush Limbaugh boasts that he performs his program "flawlessly with zero mistakes" with "half my brain tied behind my back." "We outnumber the stupid people" was one of the slogans of Herman Cain, the pizza magnate who ran for the Republican presidential nomination on a "9-9-9 plan" that sought to replace all federal taxes with a 9 percent personal income tax, 9 percent corporate income tax, and 9 percent national sales tax. Then there is Donald J. Trump, whose favorite word, besides "sad," is "smart," and who explains he doesn't need to attend to intelligence briefings because, "You know, I'm, like, a smart person."

"Smart" is an identity. "Smart" has a politics. "Smart" can be a road to authenticity, or "smart" can be a con.

Reactionary pedants love what they call "science." Recall, for example, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994), the pseudoscientific racist tract in which Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein updated Stoddard and Grant's thesis for the Clinton era with chart after chart of regression analyses, which more responsible social scientists pointed out were skewed to support their biases. More recently there is Richard Spencer, the white supremacist and Trump enthusiast, who, in his online journal Radix ("In mathematical numeral systems," Wikipedia informs me, "the radix or base is the number of unique digits, including zero, used to represent numbers in a positional numeral system"), writes passages (with a coauthor, F. Roger Devlin) like this:

Organisms may be arranged along an r-K scale according to their fertility and level of parental investment. . . . Humans are the most extreme K strategizers in all of nature: they seldom have more than one child per year and several over a lifetime, but typically devote much time and effort to raising them. Not all human groups, however, are equal as K strategizers. Compared to White and Asian populations, Black Africans are more fertile and tend to devote less time and effort to their offspring. . . .

This relatively r reproductive strategy of Black Africans is a natural response to an environment in which diseases that seem to strike randomly are a leading cause of death. By having a lot of children, Africans increase the likelihood that some will live long enough to have children of their own.

And if we don't look out, the entire white race will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff. It's been proved.

Reactionary pedants obsessively flaunt academic credentials. ("You know someone's a libertarian on a message board," a friend once told me, "if they refer to 'Dr. Paul.'") They flaunt, too, their courage in daring to voice difficult truths as others content themselves with easy lies. Spencer's manifesto quoted above evokes the movie The Matrix, in which Keanu Reeves must make a life-altering decision. Either he ingests a blue pill and remains behind in the shallow, comfortable world of conformity and ignorance, or swallows a red pill, which allows him heroically to apprehend the world beyond Plato's cave. He makes the latter choice, of course--as does Spencer, whose racialist diatribe appeared in a Radix blog labeled "The Red Pill."

Reactionary pedants also grow antsy when others do not recognize that they are smart ("Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair")--because their greatest fear is that others will see them as dumb. And this, in turn, is why they revere their chosen clerisy--the Agnews, Buckleys, and Spencers--for providing them with easily mustered proofs of their sophistication.

Friend Perlstein has here stumbled into precisely why the Right--and libertarians and neoconservatives, for that matter--are not Conservative.    Consider that the favorite political philosopher of the reactionary pedants who pepper this essay is Charles Darwin (author of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"). But when the question was asked of the archetypal Conservative, George W. Bush answered: Jesus Christ. It really is as simple as that.  

Conservatism is fundamentally a political philosophy rooted in revealed Christianity, which places many questions beyond the necessity for scientific theorizing.  Most importantly for the American experiment:

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.

The Republic proceeds not from theories or ideas but from self-evident truth.  We are quite accurately called Stupid because we, in turn, accept this on faith and do not question it.  

Not surprisingly, the American people has then been uniquely hostile to Intellectualism, generally, and Darwinism, specifically.

The Brights, on the other hand, having rejected revelation, question everything and rely only on science to provide the justification for whatever views they choose to hold. The reactionary pedants are, thus, more similar to the Left than to conservatives. It's well worth reading the portion of this essay where friend Perlstein realizes the monstrousness of the great Progressive, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and his opinion in Buck v. Bell.  We would point out that the current crop of Progressives are bound by the same monstrous Darwinism, as revealed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion

Abortion as a tool for ridding us of the undesirable races?  You haven't come very far, baby.

But perhaps the best part of the whole essay comes when friend Perlstein pays homage to one particular quote from one of the most notoriously Stupid figures in American history:

"I fear the plutocracy of wealth, I respect the aristocracy of learning, but I thank God for the democracy of the heart that makes it possible for every human being to do something to make life worth living while he lives and the world better for his existence in it."

Thus William Jennings Bryan, who fought to stop even the teaching of Darwinism in America, nevermind its adoption as a political program.

March 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Sharp drop in US emissions keeps global levels flat (Pilita Clark, 3/17/17, Financial Times)

A striking drop in carbon pollution in the US, where emissions fell back to what they were in 1992, helped to keep global CO2 levels in 2016 virtually unchanged from the two previous years, the International Energy Agency said.

"This is a very welcome development," said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director. "It appears we now have the first signs of an established trend of flat emissions as a result of natural gas replacing coal in major markets and renewables becoming more and more affordable."

Mr Birol said it was especially significant that emissions stayed flat during a period of sustained global economic growth, currently about 3 per cent per annum.

Carbon pollution from burning coal, gas and oil has typically levelled out only during economic downturns and then ticked up again as recoveries take hold. The ability to cut emissions without putting economic growth at risk has been the holy grail for governments and climate change campaigners alike, especially in emerging markets.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price (Robert Faturechi, 3/17/17, ProPublica)

The investigation of Price's trades by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn't been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara's dismissal, said the person.

Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara's firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.

When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara's resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. 

Donald is going to have to fire a lot more guys from Justice.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


In awkward exchange, Trump seems to ignore Merkel's handshake request (MADELINE CONWAY, 03/17/17, Politico)

In an exchange caught on video, photographers gathered around Trump and Merkel in the Oval Office early Friday afternoon and suggested that the two leaders shake hands for the camera.

Merkel, a U.S. ally regarded highly by former President Barack Obama, turned toward Trump and asked, "Do you want to have a handshake?"

Trump, who seemed to be grimacing as he sat alongside Merkel, did not respond. He continued looking forward as the cameras rolled.

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


White nationalist gets his money from cotton fields - and the government (Lance Williams / March 17, 2017, Mother Jones)

Spencer, along with his mother and sister, are absentee landlords of 5,200 acres of cotton and corn fields in an impoverished, largely African American region of Louisiana, according to records examined by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The farms, controlled by multiple family-owned businesses, are worth millions: A 1,600-acre parcel sold for $4.3 million in 2012.

The Spencer family's farms also are subsidized heavily by the federal government. From 2008 through 2015, the Spencers received $2 million in U.S. farm subsidy payments, according to federal data.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Why Trump's Travel and Refugee Ban is Doomed (Daphne Eviatar, Mar. 17th, 2017, Just Law)

[N]o matter how much Trump rails against the courts, the executive order's fundamental flaws will keep tripping him up. And although the Maryland court appears to have ruled more narrowly, the logic of that ruling is exactly the same, and seems likely to eventually support a complete injunction on the second executive order.

The district court in Hawaii painstakingly laid out the facts and the law. After reviewing voluminous evidence of Trump and his advisors' intent to institute a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Judge Derrick K. Watson explained in his 43-page order that the record "includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related predecessor" and a "dearth of evidence indicating a national security purpose." 

"Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, 'secondary to a religious objective' of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims," he wrote, citing the 2005 Supreme Court case of McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky.

Despite the changes made to the second order, which removed explicit references to religion, for example, "the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be 'genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions,' " he said, again citing McCreary.

The Hawaii court accordingly halted sections 2 and 6 of the order, which suspend for 90 days entry of nationals of six specified Muslim-majority countries, and suspend for 120 days the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program, and reduce by more than half the total number of refugees admissible in fiscal year 2017- from 110,000 to 50,000.

Shortly thereafter, at a rally in Tennessee, Trump reinforced the court's central point: that the second ban had the same intent as the first one. He did this by publicly criticizing the Hawaii ruling and insisting he'd wanted to stick with his initial order all along. "My lawyers told me this is a watered-down version of the first one...I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place."

There is no constitutional way to do that which is unconstitutional.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


CNN/ORC poll: Americans break with Trump on immigration policy (Tal Kopan and Jennifer Agiesta, 3/17/17, CNN)

[A] CNN/ORC poll released Friday finds that the public is actually moving in the opposite direction since Trump has won election.

Americans are more likely to say that the nation's top immigration priority should be to allow those in the US illegally to gain legal status -- and six in 10 say they are more concerned that deportation efforts will be overzealous than they are that dangerous criminals will be overlooked.

All told, 60% say the government's top priority in dealing with illegal immigration should be developing a plan to allow those in the US illegally who have jobs to become legal residents.

In contrast, 26% say developing a plan to stop illegal border crossings should be the top priority and 13% say deportation of those in the US illegally should be the first priority. [...]

Offering citizenship to those immigrants who are living in the US illegally but hold a job, speak English and are willing to pay back taxes is immensely popular, with 90% behind such a plan. That's consistent across party lines, with 96% of Democrats, 89% of independents and 87% of Republicans behind it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


TrumpBeat: Return Of The Facts (Ben Casselman, Harry Enten, Kathryn Casteel and Maggie Koerth-Baker, 3/17/17, 538)

This week, however, facts struck back. The CBO on Monday released its report on the Republican health care plan. As expected, the report predicted that the plan would cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. Less expected was what happened next: People listened. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said she would oppose the bill because it would leave too many of her constituents uninsured. Her New Jersey colleague Leonard Lance said the CBO report had "modified the dynamics" and that he wouldn't support a bill that was likely doomed in the Senate in any case. By the middle of the week, the consensus in Washington was that the CBO had seriously weakened the bill's chances of passage.

Then on Wednesday evening, a federal judge in Hawaii issued an order temporarily blocking Trump's revised ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. Judge Derrick Watson's blistering ruling ("The illogic of the government's contentions is palpable," read one line) argued that, essentially, Trump couldn't tell the courts that the ban had nothing to do with religion while his advisers were going around saying the opposite on television. Or, even more succinctly: Facts matter.

Watson's ruling (and a similar one from a judge in Maryland on Thursday) will no doubt be appealed, and the GOP health care plan is likewise far from dead. But this week suggested that if Trump wants to enact his agenda, he will need facts as well as rhetoric on his side.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Britain's GCHQ dismisses as ridiculous claims it helped spy on Trump (Reuters, 3/17/17)

Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency dismissed claims made on a U.S. television station that it helped former President Barack Obama eavesdrop on Donald Trump after last year's U.S. presidential election.

In a rare public statement, Britain's eavesdropping agency said the charge - made on Tuesday by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano - was "utterly ridiculous".

Such asinine allegations and their repetitions do at least have the advantage of separating the serious people from the lick-spittles.

US makes formal apology to Britain after White House accuses GCHQ of wiretapping Trump Tower (Steven Swinford, 17 MARCH 2017, The Telegraph)

Intelligence sources told The Telegraph that both Mr Spicer and General McMaster, the US National Security Adviser, have apologised over the claims. "The apology came direct from them," a source said. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Net US Immigration Rate Well within Historical Norm (Daniel Griswold, 3/17/17, Mercatus Center)

The chart shows the net annual immigration rate to the United States per 1,000 population by decade since the federal government began keeping official records in 1820. Expressed as a share of the population, the current rate of immigration to the United States is actually well within the norm of our historical experience.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Founders Might Well Have Approved of the 'Deep State' (David Spence, 3/16/17 The Washington Post)

The crucial point is this: In our democracy, public preferences get translated into policy through lawmaking, not simply through elections. The election of any president does not necessarily signify a public desire to change an agency's mission or repeal any particular law.

Meanwhile, executive-branch agencies remain obliged to implement the securities laws, food and drug laws, environmental laws and the various other statutes that define the modern administrative state. This is part of what we mean by "the rule of law," and it is entirely consistent with the Framers' desire for government to produce policy decisions that resist the kind of temporary passions that loom so large in today's polarized politics, and instead reflect the "permanent and aggregate interests of the community," as James Madison framed it in Federalist No. 10.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Artificial intelligence will delete nationalism (Nabil Al-Khowaiter, 3/17/17, Al Jazeera)

This barely acknowledged revolution, which is likely to change the entire course of human history in a few short decades, is the rise of Artificial Intelligence-enabled, fully fluent live audio translation of conversations between humans of all ethnicities.

We are not just talking about the literal translation of English or French into Russian or Chinese, but the translation of the subtle meanings wrapped in cultural allegories that even fluent but non-native speakers of a language often miss.

This means that armed with nothing more than an Artificial Intelligence, or AI, audio translation app on a mobile phone, an American tourist could enter a farmer's market in Turkey or Germany and, not only haggle over prices, but laugh and joke with a local fruit seller as if he was Turkish or German. Wait another decade and he will be able to do the same thing in China. 

Suddenly, everything we consider today a barrier to mutual understanding between peoples will fall away as millennia of linguistically based cultural and religious isolation in discrete societal units between billions of human beings to dissolve within a few decades.

What will this mean for the modern bureaucratic nation state, which evolved over the last 300 years in an environment that allowed for the voluntary and/or enforced organisation of millions of individuals into separate political units on the basis of linguistic and cultural differences?

What will it mean for ethnic and religious identities when a complete foreigner's deepest worries, anxieties and hopes become intelligible? 

Will it still be possible to create a national state bureaucracy by training and imbuing a group of individuals with a sense of duty and commitment to a single language or cultural group? More urgently, what will it mean for human migrations around the world?

Governments around the world need to begin preparing for the wrenching changes to identity politics when the incentive for people to cooperate more with people who speak their own language is no longer an overriding factor in the political empowerment of individuals.
If an Albanian is able to understand the most obscure German phrase and reply to it in perfect German, what power on earth will stop him from leaving a job paying an average wage of less than $3,200 a year, when he can travel to Germany and potentially qualify for a job with an average wage of $32,000 a year?

Furthermore, will Africans, Asians and South Americans, whose standard of living is a fraction of that in industrialised countries choose to remain in relative poverty because they will feel like aliens outside their country's borders, or will they pick up and leave to find work on another continent with no language barriers to deal with?

It stands to reason that the elimination of language and cultural barriers around the world by AI will lead to massive migrations of people seeking a better standard of living across and between continents. 

Just turn on the Travel Channel with the sound off and try to figure out what city they're in.  They are all the same after globalization.
Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Syrian army says it shot down Israeli jet (Reuters, 3/17/17)

Syria's army high command said in a statement on Friday Israeli jets breached Syrian air space early in the morning and attacked a military target near Palmyra in what it described as an act of aggression that aided Islamic State.

March 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Ryan, Senate Intel committee see no evidence of Trump wiretap (Manu Raju, Tom LoBianco and Theodore Schleifer, Thu March 16, 2017, CNN)

The speaker of the House, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and the ranking Democrat on the committee said Thursday that they've seen no evidence of President Donald Trump's accusation that he was wiretapped last year by his predecessor.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr and ranking member Mark Warner issued a statement Thursday, saying "based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016."

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, paid more than $33,750 by Russian TV in 2015: top House Dem (CNN, MARCH 16, 201)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national security adviser, was paid more than $33,750 by Russia's state-run broadcaster RT TV-Russia for a speech in Moscow in December 2015, a top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee has learned.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


There was Never a National Security Need for the Travel Ban (Robert Loeb, March 16, 2017, Lawfare)

If, as the President and his aides state, the chaos in the specified six countries prevents reliable decisions, then consular officers, properly instructed, will more often deny visas; and if the information is always unreliable, then visas will be regularly denied. But this could have been done on a case-by-case basis, looking at the actual records of the applicant under uniform standards--and without any religious or nationality discrimination. Under this regime, there would be no Muslim or six-country ban, but all of the EO's stated objectives would be met, without any potential court challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Steve Bannon Failed His Father, Not AT&T (Froma Harrop, March 16, 2017, National Memo)

Marty Bannon did all the right things, mostly. He raised five children, lived modestly, worked hard and bought as much stock in his employer, AT&T, as he could. When AT&T's stock price plunged in the 2008 economic meltdown, Bannon sold at a loss of more than $100,000, he said.

The stock was then selling for about $29 a share. It's now around $42. A big mistake bailing out, Bannon admits.

But where was Steve Bannon -- his big shot son, a former Goldman Sachs banker and now political adviser to Donald Trump -- when he unloaded his life savings at the bottom of the market? Apparently not calling home and saying, "Dad, don't sell your stock now." Or the younger Bannon could have sent him the popular essay written in October 2008 by investment guru Warren Buffett. It was titled "Buy American. I Am."

These white nationalists are too invested in the twilight of civilization to be sensible about economic investments. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


My bracket pool, Brothers Judd, is back for another year on Join now before the tournament starts so we can compete all of March Madness!

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


With Trump's new travel order blocked and his health bill flailing, his agenda's in tatters (Andrew Prokopandrew, Mar 16, 2017, Vox)

We're not even two months into Donald Trump's presidency, and his agenda is in deep trouble.

What was to be his most significant executive action -- his immigration and travel "ban" aimed at refugees and people from several predominantly Muslim countries -- was dealt another blow Wednesday night, when a federal judge blocked a revised version of it just hours before it was set to go into effect. [...]

So Trump's top executive action remains on ice -- and it's becoming clear that his top legislative priority is in very serious trouble too. As I wrote yesterday, the things that need to happen for the American Health Care Act to reach Trump's desk aren't yet happening.

Instead, swing Republicans are turning against the GOP bill after this week's dismal CBO report, while conservatives continue to criticize it from the right. Speaker Paul Ryan now admits that the bill can't even pass the House as is, let alone the Senate.

Ryan is weighing a major revision of the bill before taking it to the House floor. But it's difficult to see how he can please both the Freedom Caucus (which wants deeper cuts) and the Coverage Caucus (which is concerned about millions of people losing coverage). The upshot is that Trump lacks a significant legislative accomplishment and doesn't seem to be close to getting one.

And let's not lose track of the funniest fail--his budget asks for money to build the Wall; which he promised Mexico would fund....

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


How the GOP healthcare plan would worsen the opioid crisis (Doyle McManus, 3/15/17, LA Times)

A drug epidemic is ravaging the United States, and it's getting worse, not better. More than 52,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, more than died from automobile accidents or firearms. That's far more than died from overdoses in any year during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

Most of those deaths were from opioids - prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic drug. In Maryland, where I live, opioid deaths jumped 62% in the first three quarters of 2016; Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, declared a state of emergency and asked the federal government for help.

But you wouldn't know that from the American Health Care Act of 2017, the House Republican proposal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a smaller, cheaper health insurance program.

Not only does the bill offer no solutions for the drug crisis; it would make the problem worse by making dramatic cuts in Medicaid, the healthcare program that covers low-income people.

Make consumers pay for their own meds and they'll stop taking them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


A Leftist and a Conservative Join Forces to Defend Free Speech (Conor Friedersdorf, Mar. 16th, 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]here is a new effort, undertaken largely by people who are alarmed by illiberalism on the political right, to turn some of their attention to illiberalism on campus, as if heeding Hayek's advice to revitalize old truths for a new generation.

An incident at Middlebury College appears to have been particularly galvanizing.

Days after protesters shouted down social scientist Charles Murray, insisting that the man who wrote The Bell Curve, a book that posited a genetic explanation for measured gaps in IQ differences between racial groups, should not be permitted to speak on campus--then mobbed him as he tried to leave Middlebury, injuring a professor walking alongside him--two of America's most prominent public intellectuals, leftist philosopher Cornel West and conservative legal scholar Robert P. George, are allying to tout the value of an unencumbered public discourse.

Best to begin with their most important sentence.

"All of us should be willing--even eager--to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments," the men declared in a public statement.

That standard neatly sidesteps the tricky troll problem.

Beyond trolls, the men give little wiggle room, insisting that neither matters of great import nor the fraught subject of identity is exempt.  "The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage," they insist, "especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held--even our most cherished and identity-forming--beliefs."

Counseling respective engagement even with those "perspectives that we find shocking or scandalous," and invoking "the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth," they lament "all-too-common efforts" by people "to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities." And while they nod toward the right to peaceful protest, rightfully calling it "sacrosanct," they urge that "before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it not better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?"

That ethos "protects us against dogmatism and groupthink," they note, "both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies."

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The Kremlin's so-called "partners" (ALEXANDER MOROZOV 16 March 2017, OpenDemocracy)

[B]eginning with the US presidential elections, important changes are taking place -- and it's hard to know what to call them or how to describe them. Externally, we see that people who were supposed to communicate with "the Russians" are losing their positions. And this is accompanied by public scandals. It's not the case that these people cooperated with some questionable goals in mind, but they'd come into contact with a taboo -- zashkvar in Russian criminal slang.

No one doubted the loyalty of US national security adviser Michael Flynn, but he resigned because of his "contacts" with the Russians. A few days ago, the vice-speaker of Lithuania's parliament resigned. Mindaugas Bastys left because the Lithuanian security services refused him access to secret data. But the list of Russian citizens whom Bastys had contact with over the years doesn't contain anything particularly shocking -- representatives of Russian state corporations in Lithuania, the usual suspicious Russian businessmen and so on.

The recent hack of the email account of hitherto unknown Alexander Usovsky, who was working for the Kremlin in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Balkans, shows that Konstantin Malofeev, an Orthodox Russian businessman known for financing separatists in the Donbas, discussed or in fact conducted operations against elections in Bosnia and Poland.

Malofeev's activities are an extreme example of Russia's openly subversive actions in other states. But when you look at Usovsky's emails, and you're aware of the state Russian affairs in Europe, you realise that Malofeev's strategy and tactics are no different from the actions of dozens and hundreds of similar actors beyond Russia's borders. Before Crimea, for those who cooperated with the "Russians", these activities looked like "supporting Russia's interests". Now these people are beginning to figure out what this really meant.

"What have we got ourselves involved in?" they asked themselves -- people who'd performed one-off services or participated in "Petersburg Dialogue" (a German-Russian public form), the Valdai Club, the "Dialogue of Civilisations" (another public forum) and the dozens of other programmes where Russian money was involved. the fact that their investment in Donald has backfired so badly.
Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Feminists stage bloody fake abortion on woman dressed as Virgin Mary (Claire Chretien, March 13, 2017, LifeSiteNews) 

Feminists in pink masks pretended to commit an abortion on a woman dressed as the Virgin Mary outside a northern Argentina cathedral as part of an International Women's Day protest last week.

A photo of the protest shows what looks like blood and body parts gushing from between the Virgin Mary's legs, facilitated by the pink mask-wearing feminists. The woman dressed as the Virgin Mary holds a fist in the air. She appears to be smiling and wearing a rosary around her neck. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Futures up on Fed's dovish rate-hike outlook (Yashaswini Swamynathan, 3/16/17, Reuters)

U.S. stock index futures rose on Thursday after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time this year, but indicated it was in no hurry to increase the pace of tightening.

In other words, they're just raising rates to prove her hawkish bona fides, even though economic conditions suggest lowering them is more appropriate.  We've seen this play with Greenspan and Bernanke and it's always ends badly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


There's never a dull moment in a Biagini bullpen: Jays reliever can be scared and silly and stuck in the bathroom sometimes. (ROSIE DIMANNO, March 15, 2017, Toronto Star)

We asked big Joe Biagini about the secrets of the bullpen.

"We have a rule where we can't talk. So it's kind of tough to learn about each other. It was my rule. That was when they locked me in the bathroom so I don't really get to talk much."

This, of course, is Biagini being Biagini, characteristically droll. You never know where his skewed humor will land.

"On a serious note? I hate serious notes. We talk about anything. A lot of it is other than baseball. If you're locked into every single possible awareness of what's happening in the game, you kind of get burned out a bit. Every conversation is odd. I would say it's odd if it's not odd because there's a lot of strange stuff going on."

Quite Zen-ish, that.

"The personalities of people who make up the bullpen takes it in different directions," he says.

In the Blue Jays' bullpen, veteran Jason Grilli has been the alpha male, setting the tone, and that's not likely to change when the team makes the final decisions on its relief cadre composition for 2017. Grilli is also the primary story-teller, "off-the-record" content, says Biagini. "But pretty much everybody has a story about somebody. It's fun to tap into that knowledge."

Sometimes they play word games. Sometimes they discuss their favourite Bible verses. "We spend so much time sitting there together. You're going to go crazy if you don't come up with something. I describe it as, there's so much going on and so little going on at the same time. With so little happening, there's so much happening.''

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Justin Trudeau Brings Ivanka Trump to Broadway Show on Welcoming Outsiders (MICHAEL PAULSON, MARCH 15, 2017, NY Times)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, whose emphasis on welcoming refugees has been at odds with the harsher stance of the Trump administration, on Wednesday night brought Ivanka Trump to a Broadway show that celebrates generosity toward foreigners in need.

The surprise pairing at the new musical "Come From Away" was rich with symbolism, as Mr. Trudeau tries to maintain his country's close relationship with the United States despite substantial differences in public policy. Ms. Trump, the president's daughter and a close adviser, sat in Row F between Mr. Trudeau and Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, and directly behind a former Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Donald Trump Sees Himself in Andrew Jackson : The president deserves the Jackson legacy, but not for the reasons he'd like. (Jamelle Bouie, 3/16/17, Slate)

Trump, who hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office, sees himself in the seventh president of the United States. [...]

That's one view of Jackson. There is another. That perspective sees Jackson in a different tradition. Not of democracy, but of white supremacy. This Jackson was a planter who built his wealth and influence with the stolen labor of more than 200 enslaved Africans. He forced Native Americans off their land in a campaign of removal that claimed thousands of lives in service of white expansion and white hegemony.

Jacksonian democracy, in other words, was a racial democracy built on a foundation of ethnic cleansing, committed to race hierarchy and enslavement. And while Jackson rejected the nullification theories of his vice president, John C. Calhoun, he all but embraced the South Carolinian's view that slavery--and racial caste more broadly--was "the best guarantee to equality among the whites." Along with that racial ideology, he brought ceaseless condemnation of elite corruption and a profoundly anti-government philosophy that contributed to the panic of 1837, a crushing depression that lasted more than a half-decade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Clean Energy Could Spark a Trade War Between the US and China (NICK STOCKTON. 03.16.17, Wired)

According to a recent report by Advanced Energy Economy, clean energy is worth $1.4 trillion worldwide. Coins indeed.

The US has historically been a huge innovator in clean energy. An American invented solar panels, Vermont had the first megawatt wind turbine, and naturalized citizen Elon Musk (ever heard of him?) has built the first industrial-scale battery company and arguably deserves the credit for mainstreaming electric vehicles. And the US still has a lot of momentum; renewable energy sources are starting to drop in price such that they actually undercut fossil fueled power without government subsidies.

A lot of those US innovations started off with government help. The Department of Energy's $32 billion loan program helped many clean energy companies get their start. (And despite high-profile failures like Solyndra, the overall failure rate of companies enrolled in the program is only 2.7 percent.) The DOE also funds a lot of early-stage research--through programs like ARPA-E, and tech transfer programs at many of its national labs--nurturing technology until it's ready for private companies to commercialize. "The vast majority of new technologies that scale up and become big biz success stories have many years of life symbiotically linked with government," says Ion Yadigaroglu, partner and managing principal at Capricorn Investment Group. "There are no private subsidies for the kind of early-stage R&D work that flows from the government, and if you shut that down, then X years after the fact you see a lot less innovation flowing to the private market."

These are exactly the kinds of programs that President Trump and congressional Republicans have threatened to axe. Also worrying are the administration's stances on immigration and trade policies. "We rely on being magnet for talented people in order to keep innovating in this sector," says Yadigaroglu. Elon Musk, who Yadigaroglu calls a "one man show in saving the world" was an immigrant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Painter in Chief: George W. Bush Publishes Portraits (Philip Kennicott, 3/15/17, The Washington Post)

They are the work of an amateur painter who is focused on his craft. In the introduction, Bush writes: "I'm not sure how the art in this volume will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I'm a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with a lot of care and respect."

He also cites some major 20th-century figures as personal exemplars: Lucian Freud, Wayne Thiebaud, Jamie Wyeth, Ray Turner, Fairfield Porter and Joaquín Sorolla. In the use of heavy impasto, the reduction of the face to a rough topography of color, and the particular love of sharp and sometime jarring contrasts, the work of Turner is perhaps the closest fit for comparison. But you can see what he has taken from Freud, Thiebaud and (the sadly neglected) Porter as well. The presence of Sorolla (a Spanish artist who died in 1923) suggests that underneath Bush's modernist expressionism is an unrealized hankering after old-fashioned Impressionist nuance.

Bush's opening essay and the capsule biographies he writes about each subject are charming. He lightly ribs his mother in this account of his first experience with the paint brush: "For the first time in my sixty-six years, I picked up a paintbrush that wasn't meant for drywall. I selected a tube of white paint and another labeled Burnt Umber. While I wasn't aware at the time that it was a color, I liked the name, which reminded me of Mother's cooking."

In his descriptions of the men and women he paints, he cites their struggles with grievous war wounds, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and the myriad difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life. Although there is increasing concern in the medical community about whether we are over-diagnosing PTSD and including too many disparate psychological issues under its label, there is genuine empathy in Bush's embrace of the stories told by these soldiers.

Those who bristled at the former president's displays of machismo while in office (his infamous landing on an aircraft carrier and premature declaration of victory in Iraq, or his 2003 invitation to Iraqi militants to "bring 'em on") may be surprised by the fluency of his embrace of the importance of therapy, talking things through, turning to others for help, confronting pain and finding meaning. Describing Cpl. David Smith's recovery from a suicide attempt, Bush writes: "Dave sought professional counseling and got prescription medication for his anxiety, depression, and nightmares. Having confronted his trauma and learned to understand and accept it, he began building a new life."

About the PTSD of Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Goehner, Bush writes: "Little by little, Chris started to recover. He got down from twelve medications to zero. He realized alcohol didn't numb the memories but exacerbated them. He started to participate in marathons and triathlons as therapy." A recurring narrative of hitting bottom, reaching out, then rebirth and the embrace of things like sport, travel or helping others echoes Bush's Christian understanding of redemption.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


It's Bill Belichick's NFL now. Everyone else is just along for the ride (Karen Guregian, March 16, 2017, Boston Herald)

The Patriots coach and chief decision-maker had the Dont'a Hightower free agency situation pegged from the outset. No franchise or transition tag was necessary. He let his defensive captain take a stroll on the open market and find his worth, knowing no crazy money would be offered. At least, not by any desirable teams. The Hoodie was right, of course.

Of all the in-house free agents on the Pats' list, Belichick needed Hightower to remain. He was the top priority for the defending Super Bowl champions. There was no option in sight at linebacker who could provide all Hightower brings to the table.

Belichick figured no team would place as much value on Hightower, who's able to rush off the edge, blitz from the inside, stuff the run and cover running backs and tight ends in the Patriots system. No one values that kind of versatility as much as the coach who has five Super Bowl rings since 2001.

On the one hand, if you owned a team you'd want another coach who valued versatility, particularly since it's so underpriced.  On the other hand, there aren't any.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Trump's allies melting away on wiretapping claims (JULIE PACE, March 16, 2017, AP)

President Donald Trump's explosive allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the presidential campaign has left him increasingly isolated, with allies on Capitol Hill and within his own administration offering no evidence to back him up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Trump Responds to Travel Ban Setback by Undermining His Case Even Further (Margaret Hartmann, 3/15/17, New York)

Watson agreed that it's wrong to undertake a "judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter's heart of hearts," but he said he didn't have to. "There is nothing 'veiled' about this press release: 'Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,'" the judge wrote. He continued:

Nor is there anything "secret" about the Executive's motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order: Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: "When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, 'Muslim ban.' He called me up. He said, 'Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.'"

On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President's Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, "Fundamentally, [despite "technical" revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit's concerns in Washington,] you're still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first]."

These plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order's stated secular purpose. Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, "secondary to a religious objective" of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims.

Basically, the Trump administration can't publicly declare again and again that they intend to find a way to legally discriminate against Muslims, then turn around and claim that the ban does no such thing.

So, how did the president respond to this latest setback? By complaining that the current order is just a "watered-down version" of the original, more discriminatory order, and bringing up "radical Islamic terrorists."

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Dutch PM Rutte sees off anti-Islam Wilders challenge (Al Jazeera, 3/16/17)

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has easily defeated his far-right rival Geert Wilders, partial vote counts show, in elections seen as a measure of populist support in Europe.

With more than 93 percent of votes counted, Rutte's liberal VVD party was set to win 33 seats, making it the largest in the new 150-seat parliament, with Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) beaten into second place with 20 seats, the Dutch national broadcaster NOS said on Thursday. [...]

Wilders had pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques, ban sales of the Quran and leave the EU if he won the polls.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


EXCLUSIVE: Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member (Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses, March 16, 2017, The Forward)

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump's top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been "under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany" during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward.

The elite order, known as the Vitézi Rend, was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary as a staunch nationalist from 1920 to October 1944. A self-confessed anti-Semite, Horthy imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands.

Gorka's membership in the organization -- if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant -- could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend "are presumed to be inadmissible" to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


I am, therefore I think: Daniel Dennett's hard problem : Words turned our brains into minds, and got us hung up on the ghost in the machine. But a new book isn't going to banish that spectre (Julian Baggini,  April 2017, Prospect Magazine)

[W]e need a way of understanding consciousness that preserves our humanity, while being fully compatible with our best science. The philosopher Daniel Dennett--a prominent New Atheist whose best-known book is Breaking the Spell--has for decades been trying to deliver on both counts.

But his critics claim he has failed. His major work Consciousness Explained (1991) was mockingly referred to as "Consciousness Ignored" or "Consciousness Explained Away." Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Galen Strawson famously said that Dennett should be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act.

Dennett's latest book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, is unlikely to win over his critics. Their outrage is due to Dennett's failure to address what is known as the "Hard Problem" of consciousness: "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?" as David Chalmers puts it. Dennett says his "refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate." He realises that--as in politics--if you debate on your opponents' terms, you have already lost. To win, you must set the agenda. His bet is that if you understand consciousness in the right way, the Hard Problem will be exposed as an artefact of an outmoded way of thinking--a pseudo-problem comparable to the fruitless quest in the early 20th century for the élan vital that animates matter.

This approach, however, leaves Dennett almost completely silent on the very thing that characterises consciousness: subjective feeling. This is partly why Dennett is often accused of effectively denying that consciousness exists, of claiming that we are no more aware than zombies.

...Mr. Dennett would be the first repeat laureate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Low carbon drive 'cuts household bills' (Roger Harrabin, 3/16/17, BBC)

Britain's low carbon energy revolution is actually saving money for households, a report says.

Households make a net saving of £11 a month, according to analysis from the Committee on Climate Change.

It calculates that subsidies to wind and solar are adding £9 a month to the average bill, but that rules promoting energy efficiency save £20 a month.

Cut the subsidies; hike the carbon taxes.

March 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Birth-Mark" (Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), Library of America)

Nathaniel Hawthorne's fantastical story "The Birth-Mark" seems today to have been remarkably ahead of its time, with its portrait of what one recent critic calls a "modern-day plastic surgeon." To quote The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Hawthorne's surgeon is one of "a long line of doctors, chemists, botanists, mesmerists, physicists and inventors, who parade their creative and destructive skills through his fiction."

Yet when the story first appeared, it caused some bewilderment among reviewers, such as the critic in Blackwood's Magazine who couldn't imagine a perfectly normal and loving husband (and, ultimately, his wife) worrying over a beauty flaw: "If the novelist wished to describe this egregious connoisseurship in female charms, he should have put the folly into the head of some insane mortal." What aggravated some nineteenth-century readers of Hawthorne's stories is that his "mad scientists" weren't, well, mad.

Hawthorne's story birthed this blog, fifteen years ago. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


Lindsey Graham threatens subpoena to get answers on Trump's spying allegation (KYLE FELDSCHER, 3/15/17, Washinton Examiner)

"We'll issue a subpoena to get the information, we'll hold up the deputy attorney general's nomination until Congress is provided with information to finally clear the air as to whether there was ever a warrant issued against the Trump campaign," Graham said on NBC.

Graham wrote to FBI Director James Comey this month asking for proof of a FISA warrant that would be necessary to tap the phones at Trump Tower and spy on the Trump campaign. If there is such a warrant, Graham wants to see what the basis of that warrant was and if there's an ongoing criminal investigation of the Trump campaign related to its alleged ties to Russia.

He said he's getting more suspicious of the administration as time goes on and his request is not answered.

Tim Scott and every GOP House member ran well ahead of Donald in SC.  

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Andrew Jackson at 250: President's legacy isn't pretty, but neither is history (H.W. Brands, 3/13/17, USA TODAY)

[J]ackson started falling out of favor a couple generations ago. He was a tough sell amid the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, when his unrepentant ownership of slaves marked him as one to be censured rather than praised. Jackson owned fewer slaves than such other icons as Thomas Jefferson, but Jefferson had the good grace to feel guilty about benefiting from the bondage of others, and so was easier on liberal sensibilities. Jackson, who never admitted feeling guilty about anything, seemed to be asking for dismissal from the pantheon.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Charter schools' 'thorny' problem: Few students go on to earn college degrees (Greg Toppo, 3/14/17,  USATODAY)

Like many charter school networks, the Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools boast eye-popping statistics: 95% of their low-income students graduate from high school and go on to college. Virtually all qualify to attend California state universities.

Its name notwithstanding, the network's own statistics suggest that few Alliance alumni are actually ready for the realities -- academic, social and financial -- of college. The vast majority drop out. In all, more than three-fourths of Alliance alumni don't earn a four-year college degree in the six years after they finish high school.

Publicly funded, but in most cases privately operated, charter schools like Alliance are poised to become a much bigger part of the USA's K-12 public education system. Yet even as their popularity rises, charters face a harsh reality: Most of the schools boast promising, often jaw-dropping high school graduation rates, but much like Alliance, their college success rates, on average, leave three of four students without a degree.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Opec faces quandary as cuts fail to hold up oil prices (Anjli Raval, 3/15/17, Financial Times)

Production cuts agreed between some of the world's biggest producers inside and outside the cartel alone have failed to hold up oil prices. Global storage tanks are brimming and the US shale industry is in resurgence.

Opec delegates, facing a familiar conundrum, question how painful a return to its old playbook of supporting the oil market will be. Having spent two years prioritising export volumes over price, it is now losing out on both.

A near 10 per cent drop in the Brent benchmark in the past week has erased all the gains since Opec and producers such as Russia agreed a supply cut deal late last year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


The February Revolution and Kerensky's Missed Opportunity (John Quiggin, Mar. 6th, 2017, NY Times)

The zenith of Kerensky's authority came with the July Days, a mass demonstration undertaken by the Bolsheviks but defeated by forces loyal to the government. With the failure of the July Days protest, Kerensky consolidated his position by becoming prime minister, replacing Lvov.

At almost exactly the same time, far away in Berlin, the socialist and social-democratic parties repented of their decision to endorse the war. Germans were almost as war-weary as Russians, with terrible casualties and widespread shortages caused by the Allies' blockade. A resolution in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, passed by a large majority, called for a peace "without annexations or indemnities" -- a return to the situation that had prevailed before war broke out.

By this time, however, Germany was effectively a military dictatorship. Power lay with the High Command, run by the generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg, both of whom were later to play prominent roles in bringing Hitler to power. Unsurprisingly, Ludendorff and Hindenburg ignored the Reichstag motion.

What is surprising, to anyone who has absorbed the standard victor's view -- according to which the Allies were fighting a defensive war to liberate small states -- is that Britain was disingenuous about its war aims, while France declined to state them at all. The reason is that those aims were too discreditable to avow openly. In a series of secret treaties, they agreed in the event of victory to carve up the empires of their defeated enemies.

From the Russian viewpoint, the big prize was the Turkish capital, Constantinople, now called Istanbul; this was promised to Russia in a secret agreement in 1915. The subsequent publication of this and other secret treaties by the Bolsheviks did much to discredit the Allied cause.

Kerensky could have repudiated the deals made by the czarist empire and announced his willingness to accept the Reichstag formula of peace without annexations or indemnities. Perhaps the German High Command would have ignored the offer and continued fighting (as it did when the Bolsheviks offered the same terms after the October Revolution at the end of 1917). But the circumstances were far more favorable in July than they were at the end of 1917. As the Kerensky offensive demonstrated, the Russian Army, while demoralized, was still an effective fighting force, and the front line was far closer to the territory of the Central Powers. Moreover, Kerensky commanded credibility with the Western Allies that he could have used to good effect.

Kerensky's determination to continue the war was a disaster. Within a few months, the armed forces were in open revolt. Lenin, who was transported across Germany in a sealed train with the High Command's acquiescence in the hope that he would help to knock Russia out of the war, seized the opportunity. The provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. This Bolshevik Revolution consigned the February Revolution to historical oblivion.

After accepting a humiliating treaty imposed by the Germans, Russia was soon embroiled in a civil war more bloody and brutal than even World War I. By its end, the Bolshevik government, launched as a workers' democracy, was effectively a dictatorship, enabling the ascendancy of a previously obscure Bolshevik, Joseph Stalin, who would become one of the great tyrants of history. On the other side, the German High Command's rejection of peace similarly led to defeat, national humiliation and the emergence of the 20th century's other great tyrant, Adolf Hitler.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


The Ides of March (R.A.G. Carson,  March 1957, History Today)

The assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15th, 44 BC forms a dramatic and unexpected climax in the series of events that brought the Roman Republic to an end. It provided the spark for the Civil Wars which lasted for thirteen years, until the defeat of Mark Antony by Augustus, who was to establish the Empire which endured for some five centuries.

The Roman system of government, in effect by the small senatorial class, had been adequate while the state was simply a city, and even during the years of expansion from Rome over Italy and the more adjacent lands. But it proved incapable of dealing with a number of problems that became acute in the course of the last century BC. At home the movements associated with the name of the Gracchi aimed at diminishing the political and economic privileges of the senatorial class, while overseas the command of great armies conferred a dangerous power upon individual generals. No longer was the annual office of consul sought for its own sake, since the wielding of power in Rome was now of little importance. The consulate was sought because of the offices to which it could lead - the great proconsular commands in the provinces; for it was in the provinces, where active campaigns were being waged, that reputations could be won and authority acquired which could make itself felt in the capital.

Tom Holland's great book, Rubicon, makes it clear just how personal the politics of Rome was and how nearly devoid of any interest in ideas, to its ruin.

Happily, our Founders went to school on their example:

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy--not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits--despotic in his ordinary demeanour--known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty--when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity--to join in the cry of danger to liberty--to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion--to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day--It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may "ride the storm and direct the whirlwind."'

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Donald Trump's failing presidency (James Pethokoukis, March 15, 2017, The Week)

What would a failed Trump administration look like?

It certainly doesn't need to involve President Trump's impeachment and removal from office. Rather, imagine this: As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Trump's only accomplishment is starting construction on the southern border mega-wall. No ObamaCare replacement. No big tax cut. No big infrastructure plan. And millions of American voters are starting to consider that handing total power in Washington to a party led by a short-attention-span novice was a cosmically bad idea.

If he can go two years without screwing up the economy he inherited his presidency will be succeeding.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM



Quantum computers are so powerful exactly because of their data density. A classical computer reads, stores, and manipulates bits: 1's and 0's. A quantum computer uses qubits: tiny quantum objects that can be in two states--both 1 and 0--at the same time, as long as you're not looking at it. And if you control a quantum particle in a superposition of two states, you can perform tasks in parallel, which speeds up certain computational tasks exponentially. That speed won't improve your Netflix experience or make Microsoft Excel more bearable, but it will be much faster at running search algorithms or simulating complicated systems like organic materials or the human brain.

But the weirdness of quantum mechanics has its drawbacks. Its laws permit superposition, but they also forbid anyone from copying a quantum particle. "It's called the 'no-cloning theorem,'" says physicist Stephanie Simmons of Simon Fraser University in Canada. Say that a quantum computer programs an atom to be in a specific quantum state that represents a set of numbers. It is physically impossible for the computer to program another atom to be in the exact same quantum state.

So Simmons proposes a roundabout way of storing quantum data: First, you'll need to convert it into binary data--translating the numbers that describe quantum superposition into simple 1's and 0's. Then, you store that converted data in a classical storage format. In other words: hard drives. Super compact ones, because the size of each quantum data file from a 49-qubit computer will be on the scale of 40,000 videos.

To store that much data, quantum computer developers need new data storage technologies, Simmons says. Commercial drives aren't compact enough right now. A single quantum file would occupy a stamp-sized area on a solid-state hard drive.

So one alternative storage contender is DNA. Published earlier this month in Science, scientists demonstrated a method that could store 215 petabytes, or 215 million gigabytes, in a single gram of DNA. At that density, all of humanity's data could fit in a couple pickup trucks. Unlike conventional hard drives, which only store data on a two-dimensional surface, DNA is a three-dimensional molecule. That extra vertical dimension lets DNA store much more data per unit area.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Kremlin's Hopes for a 'Post-West' World Order Recede (Pavel Felgenhauer, March 9, 2017, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

Just a couple of months ago, things looked to be going thoroughly President Vladimir Putin's way. The 2016 elections in the United States gave the presidency to Donald Trump--a flamboyant real estate mogul and reality TV star, a nationalist and an isolationist. Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to strike a deal with Putin, repeatedly called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) "obsolete," and appeared ready to weaken long-term US strategic alliances that have constrained Russia since the late 1940s. And last December, in the run up to his inauguration, top members of Trump's team evidently contacted the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak. The two sides seem to have discussed improving relations and possible sanctions relief. A possible grand deal appeared within reach, which would grant Moscow dominance over Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space and provide Russia a reprieve from economically damaging sanctions. A new world order looked to be emerging, described by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as "post-West" at the recent Munich Security Conference (February 17-19).  [...]

The Trump administration is now seen in Moscow as a disappointment: Team Trump succeeded in spreading early havoc internally and internationally, but failed to move decisively to dismantle sanctions or broker a grand deal with the Kremlin. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that the country should brace itself for continued sanctions into "the foreseeable future" (Interfax, February 28). The Moscow press has not fully written off Trump as a possible friend of Putin's Russia. But it has been telling the population, "Trump is the victim of a relentless counterattack by the Democratic establishment and the mainstream media, which are whipping up anti-Russian hysteria." Trump has been forced into retreat by his foes, and if he continues to demonstrate weakness, his presidency is doomed (Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 7).

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


'People are scared': Paranoia seizes Trump's White House : Staffers are leaving their phones at home, using secret apps and monitoring each other's social media. (ALEX ISENSTADT and KENNETH P. VOGEL 03/15/17, Politico)

A culture of paranoia is consuming the Trump administration, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies--inside their own government.

In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a "deep state" of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them.

Aides are going to great lengths to protect themselves. They're turning off work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers when they arrive home from work out of fear that they could be used to eavesdrop. They're staying mum in meetings out of concern that their comments could be leaked to the press by foes.

Many are using encrypted apps that automatically delete messages once they've been read, or are leaving their personal cell phones at home in case their bosses initiate phone checks of the sort that press secretary Sean Spicer deployed last month to identify leakers on his team.

It's an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal, and Trump's ambitious agenda has been eclipsed by headlines surrounding his unproven claim that former President Barack Obama tapped his phone lines.

One senior administration aide, who like most others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the degree of suspicion had created a toxicity that was unsustainable.

The war must be maintained until Bannon & company are driven out.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


The Rise and Fall of the Newburgh Conspiracy : How General Washington and his Spectacles Saved the Republic (George L. Marshall, Jr., Archiving Early America)

[S]everal prominent politicians who were later to become leaders in the Federalist faction (those who wanted a strong central government) in Congress, among them Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris (his assistant), Richard Peters (active head of the Board of War), James Wilson (Robert Morris' friend and a congressman) and Alexander Hamilton ( Washington's former aide and a congressman) sought out McDougall and advised him and his committee to begin a strenuous lobbying effort on individual members of Congress, to point out to them the shameful conditions in the army and the ire of its officers. By doing so, Hamilton and the others hoped to weaken the power of the states' rights advocates in the Congress and force them to support the need for Congress to develop a plan for central taxation and taxation authority as a result of pressure from a discontented army, as well as to secure ratification of such authority by the states through pressure from organized public creditors.

Accordingly, congressional delegates were told that the emotions of the officers were overcoming reason, causing them to look favorably on the performance of "extreme actions" to secure their demands. The nation could expect "at least a mutiny" if the officers' petition was ignored. The small group of Federalists also encouraged McDougall to alert all the officers at Newburgh to begin preparing for action beyond petitioning. Thus, "the terror of a mutinying army" was used to attempt to influence important members of Congress. [...]

The devious Federalist faction in Philadelphia was fanning the fire of rebellion with one hand and trying to douse it with water with the other. What they wanted was an unsuccessful uprising of the army, enough to secure their will in Congress but stopping well short of complete anarchy or military dictatorship. They were playing a dangerous chess game in which Gates, Washington, Congress and the army were to be the pawns.

Conscious of Washington's pivotal role in the scheme of things, Hamilton wrote his former superior a carefully worded letter in which he discussed the severe crisis then existing in congressional finances and alluded to the general state of affairs within the army and the desirability of continued pressure for the redress of grievances. Hamilton went on to suggest that Washington, as commander in chief, would likely need to use his great prestige to "keep a complaining and suffering army within the bounds of moderation" if the seething unrest turned into open rebellion. He further noted that forces were at work within the army to diminish the general's degree of influence. [...]

Washington, upon receiving and reading copies of these circulating communications smacking of mutiny, trembled with anger and shock. Shaking off his momentary astonishment, he immediately began the task of defusing the planned rebellion. To gain time, he canceled the illicit March 10 meeting and rescheduled it with one for March 15. He secured the support of influential subordinates, including Henry Knox, to back him in the upcoming confrontation and to keep him abreast of developments in camp. He sent messages to Congress to apprise them of the situation. All the while, he was carefully preparing a set of remarks to be presented to the meeting, ostensibly not by himself but by a high-ranking subordinate. By giving the impression that he would not attend, he hoped that the conspirators would relax their guard and become bolder, openly showing themselves and thereby becoming more vulnerable.

By late morning of March 15, a rectangular building 40 feet wide by 70 feet long with a small dais at one end, known as the Public Building or New Building , was jammed with officers. Gen. Gates, acting as chairman in Washington's absence, opened the meeting. Suddenly, a small door off the stage swung open and in strode Gen. Washington. He asked to speak to the assembled officers, and the stunned Gates had no recourse but to comply with the request. As Washington surveyed the sea of faces before him, he no longer saw respect or deference as in times past, but suspicion, irritation, and even unconcealed anger. To such a hostile crowd, Washington was about to present the most crucial speech of his career.

Following his address Washington studied the faces of his audience. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay? Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter to their unlistening ears, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, " There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye."

Finishing, Washington carefully and deliberately folded the letter, took off his glasses, and exited briskly from the hall. Immediately, Knox and others faithful to Washington offered resolutions affirming their appreciation for their commander in chief, and pledging their patriotism and loyalty to the Congress, deploring and regretting those threats and actions which had been uttered and suggested. What support Gates and his group may have enjoyed at the outset of the meeting now completely disintegrated, and the Newburgh conspiracy collapsed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


The Benedict Option (David Brooks, MARCH 14, 2017, NY Times)

Rod shares the fears that are now common in Orthodox Christian circles, that because of their views on L.G.B.T. issues, Orthodox Christians and Jews will soon be banned from many professions and corporations. "Blacklisting will be real," he says. We are entering a new Dark Age. "There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization."

Rod says it's futile to keep fighting the culture war, because it's over. Instead believers should follow the model of the sixth-century monk St. Benedict, who set up separate religious communities as the Roman empire collapsed around them.

The heroes of Rod's book are almost all monks. Christians should withdraw inward to deepen, purify and preserve their faith, he says. They should secede from mainstream culture, pull their children from public school, put down roots in separate communities.

Maybe if I shared Rod's views on L.G.B.T. issues, I would see the level of threat and darkness he does. But I don't see it. Over the course of history, American culture has tolerated slavery, sexual brutalism and the genocide of the Native Americans, and now we're supposed to see 2017 as the year the Dark Ages descended?

Rod is pre-emptively surrendering when in fact some practical accommodation is entirely possible. Most Americans are not hellbent on destroying religious institutions. If anything they are spiritually hungry and open to religious conversation. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren't trying to impose their views on others, merely preserve a space for their witness to a transcendent reality.

My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism. By retreating to neat homogeneous monocultures, most separatists will end up doing what all self-segregationists do, fostering narrowness, prejudice and moral arrogance. They will close off the dynamic creativity of a living faith.

Setting aside the question of how withdrawing the light of Christianity would make the age any less dark; there is a certain hilarity to the idea of hiding from buggery in monasticism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Yes, Trump Is Being Held Accountable (JACK GOLDSMITH, MARCH 15, 2017, NY Times)

The most important checks on the Trump presidency come from inside it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly conducting at least three investigations related to Russia, the election and the administration. Whatever one thinks about his pre-election maneuvers, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey (a former colleague of mine at the Justice Department), has proved to be an independent actor, and he has every interest in pursuing the cases wherever they lead.

Mr. Trump could fire Mr. Comey on a whim, but that would not kill the F.B.I. investigation. Rather, just as President Richard Nixon hastened his impeachment with the Watergate-related firings known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," canning Mr. Comey would only heighten the public's and Congress's suspicions about Mr. Trump's guilt and increase pressure on the F.B.I. and others to get to the bottom of the Russia matter.

Many worry that even if the F.B.I. were to conduct an investigation that warranted criminal proceedings, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a close ally of the president, would squelch them. But after examining the department's rules and consulting its ethics experts, Mr. Sessions has recused himself "from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States." Those investigations will now be supervised by Rod J. Rosenstein, soon to be the deputy attorney general, who is a career prosecutor of undoubted independence and an expert on national security and public corruption.

Another reason to think the existing process is working to keep the president in check are the plentiful leaks from the executive branch that have revealed a great deal about the Russian imbroglio. Leaks of this sort are a predicable response to a perception of illegitimacy or overreach inside the executive branch. It is hard to know at this point which leaks are justified and which are illegitimate. But overall they function as a significant constraint on this presidency.

The leaks have also shown the strength of the press, belying worries that journalists would be chilled by President Barack Obama's crackdown on leaks and Mr. Trump's unusual attacks on the news media. The Fourth Estate is covering the Trump presidency with unusual critical vigor, reporting concrete and damning details as if it had a seat inside the Oval Office.

Finally, there are the investigations by Congress. Prominent Republicans such as Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have questioned the president's honesty on the Russia matter. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting an "independent review" and has already been briefed by Mr. Comey. The House Intelligence Committee will begin hearings next week. A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is also investigating the matter and has pledged "to ensure that the F.B.I.'s work is free of all political influence."

March 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


The GOP Is America's Party of White Nationalism : The Republican party's racists were once pushed to the fringes. In the Trump era, they're in charge. (MAX BOOT, MARCH 14, 2017, Foreign Policy)

The list of King's asinine, bigoted, and offensive words and acts is too long to recount. But here's the thing. It's not really possible anymore to dismiss him "as a fringe player in legitimate policy debates," as the New York Times notes that many Republicans would like to do. That may have been true at one time, in the days when the Republican Party was defined by Reagan. But those days are long past. Today it's Donald Trump's party, and there is not much breathing room between King and Trump when it comes to white nationalism.Today it's Donald Trump's party, and there is not much breathing room between King and Trump when it comes to white nationalism. Indeed, after initially supporting Ted Cruz in last year's primaries, King has become an avid Trump supporter.

The echoes between the two men -- the Iowa contractor-turned-congressman and the New York real estate magnate-turned-president -- are uncanny and disturbing. As Amber Phillips of the Washington Post pointed out last year:

In 2013, King said most immigrants were "drug mules." In his presidential campaign launch, Trump made his infamous claim that Mexican immigrants were "bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists."

King said in 2010 that racial profiling is an important law enforcement tool. Trump endorsed broad racial profiling after the Orlando, Florida, attack, calling it "common sense."

In 2008, King questioned how a president with the middle name Hussein would play in the war on terror. After Orlando, Trump questioned the president's commitment to fighting terrorists by seemingly suggesting his loyalties could be compromised.

The ideological links between King and Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, are even closer. In a 2015 Breitbart radio interview, Bannon lauded King as "a great mentor to all of us and a great friend of the site, and a true warrior." [...]

The Bannons and Kings appear intent, with Trump's help, on undoing much of that progress toward a more inclusive society. They are pursuing a vision they share with foreign far-right leaders such as Wilders and Marine Le Pen. They want to turn the Republican Party into a "blood and soil" nationalist party and the United States into a white-supremacist stronghold.

Sadly, their worldview has become so mainstream that, while a few Republicans are willing to decorously disagree with King ("I'd like to think he misspoke and it wasn't really meant the way it sounds," House Speaker Paul Ryan said), none is willing to champion a motion to censure him or even expel him from the House Republican caucus. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Thune proposal would means-test tax credits in House bill (Caitlin Owens, 3/14/17, Axios)

Sen. John Thune, the third-highest ranking member of the Senate, is working on a proposal to partially means test the tax credits in the House Obamacare repeal and replacement bill.

In a sit-down with Axios, Thune said he wants to avoid "creating a new middle class entitlement," which the current House bill could do by spreading the federal assistance too far up the income scale. Instead, his proposal would give more assistance to low-income people and cap the assistance at a lower income level than it currently is. "It would be a more progressive-type benefit," he said.

Give everyone an HSA at birth, fully funded to at least 18. Means test all public benefits, including tax breaks.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Where Do ISIS Fighters Go When the Caliphate Falls? (Colin P. Clarke and Amarnath Amarasingam, 3/14/17, Rand)

The Islamic State is reeling. With its finances cut in half over the past six months, its media and information operations in tatters, and the offensive in western Mosul eating through its territory, the end of its so-called caliphate across the Middle East seems near. While a clear-cut victory is far from inevitable, at the current rate, it is conceivable that U.S. forces and their allies will defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria by killing and capturing its fighters, driving the group from key cities and villages in what formerly constituted its vaunted caliphate, and ultimately taking Raqqa, its stronghold.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Evolution Runs Faster on Short Timescales (Carrie Arnold, March 14, 2017, Quanta)

In the 1950s, the Finnish biologist Björn Kurtén noticed something unusual in the fossilized horses he was studying. When he compared the shapes of the bones of species separated by only a few generations, he could detect lots of small but significant changes. Horse species separated by millions of years, however, showed far fewer differences in their morphology. Subsequent studies over the next half century found similar effects -- organisms appeared to evolve more quickly when biologists tracked them over shorter timescales.

Then, in the mid-2000s, Simon Ho, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney, encountered a similar phenomenon in the genomes he was analyzing. When he calculated how quickly DNA mutations accumulated in birds and primates over just a few thousand years, Ho found the genomes chock-full of small mutations. This indicated a briskly ticking evolutionary clock. But when he zoomed out and compared DNA sequences separated by millions of years, he found something very different. The evolutionary clock had slowed to a crawl.


Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


This one chart shows how far behind the US lags in healthcare (World Economic Forum, 14 March 2017)

The chart, courtesy of Oxford economist Max Roser, plots per-capita health-care spending against life expectancy for the world's wealthiest countries over the past 40-plus years:

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


How Algorithms Can Help Beat Islamic State : Hany Farid 'changed the world' by combating child porn. Now his software could suppress terrorists online.. (JOSEPH RAGO, March 11, 2017, WSJ)

[Dartmouth College. Prof. Hany Farid, chairman of the department, is] a founder of the computer-science field known as digital forensics. In the late 1990s as a postdoctoral researcher, he was among the first to recognize that mathematical and computational techniques to authenticate digital images and other media would be useful to society. [...]

In 2008 this research pulled Mr. Farid into another underworld--child pornography. In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on "virtual" child porn--computer-generated images that "appear to depict minors but were produced without using any real children." Mr. Farid is sometimes brought in as an outside expert when a defendant claims the material at issue is virtual.

The child-porn industry was nearly defunct by the 1990s, because negatives and videotapes can be confiscated and destroyed. "Then the internet came," Mr. Farid says, "and all hell broke loose."

Supply can create its own demand. Much like jihadists, deviants formed a global community, finding each other online and sharing what are really crime-scene photos. Like ISIS agitprop, material is continuously copied, cut, spliced, resized, recompressed and otherwise changed, in part to evade detection as it is retransmitted again and again.

Mr. Farid worked with Microsoft to solve both problems--detection and replication. He coded a tool called Photo DNA that uses "robust hashing" to sweep for child porn. "The hashing part is that you reach into a digital image and extract a unique signature. The robust part is if that image undergoes simple changes, the fingerprint shouldn't change. When you change your clothes, cut your hair, as you age, your DNA stays constant," he says. "That's what you want from this distinct fingerprint."

The algorithm matches against a registry of known illegal signatures, or hashes, to find and delete photographs, audio and video. Photo DNA is engineered to work at "internet scale," says Mr. Farid, meaning it can process billions of uploads a day in microseconds with a low false-positive rate and little human intervention.

Monitoring by Photo DNA, which is licensed by Microsoft at no cost and now used in most networks, revealed that the nature of the problem was "not what we thought it was," says Ernie Allen, the retired head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Child pornography was far more widely circulated than law enforcement believed. "Hany Farid changed the world," Mr. Allen adds. "His innovation rescued or touched the lives of thousand of kids, and uncovered perpetrators, and prevented terrible revictimization as content was constantly redistributed."

Mr. Farid linked up with the Counter Extremism Project to apply the same robust-hashing method to extremist propaganda. But this effort has encountered resistance. "The pushback from the tech companies has been pretty strong," the project's Mr. Ibsen says dryly.

U.S. law immunizes internet companies from criminal and civil liability for content that travels over their transoms. Their terms of service forbid abusive content, but they rely on users instead of algorithms to police violations. "It's a very slow and tedious process: You wait for it to get reported, somebody has to review it, they make mistakes," Mr. Farid says. "They take down the Vietnam napalm girl on Facebook."

Liability aside, what about their moral obligations to help prevent death, injury and destruction? "In my mind, we're not asking them even to do something that they haven't said they want to do already. We're saying, hey, would you please do the thing that you promised you would do?" he explains. "I am simply saying, look, for free, you can automate this and make it really efficient and really fast and save you money on the side."

It's just a different deviance.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


THERE IS NO DEEP STATE : The problem in Washington is not a conspiracy against the President; it's the President himself.  (David Remnick, 3/20/17, The New Yorker)

"Deep State" comes from the Turkish derin devlet, a clandestine network, including military and intelligence officers, along with civilian allies, whose mission was to protect the secular order established, in 1923, by the father figure of post-Ottoman Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was behind at least four coups, and it surveilled and murdered reporters, dissidents, Communists, Kurds, and Islamists. [...]

One day earlier this month in Palm Beach, just after 6 a.m., the President went on a vengeful Twitter binge. Trump reads little but has declared himself "the Ernest Hemingway of a hundred and forty characters," and that morning he levelled what the Times rightly called "one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history." With no evidence, save the ravings of the talk-radio host Mark Levin and an account, in Breitbart News, of Levin's charges of a "silent coup," Trump accused President Obama of tapping his "wires" at Trump Tower. He compared the unsubstantiated offense to "McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate."

By now, Trump's tactics are familiar. Schooled by Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy's protégé, in the dark arts of rage, deflection, insult, and conspiracy-mongering, Trump ignited his political career with "birtherism," and he has kept close by his side Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart, who traffics in tinfoil-hat theories of race, immigration, and foreign affairs. Together, they have artfully hijacked the notion of "fake news," turning it around as a weapon of insult, diversion, division, and attack.

One does not have to be ignorant of the C.I.A.'s abuses--or of history, in general--to reject the idea of an American Deep State. Previous Presidents have felt resistance, or worse, from elements in the federal bureaucracies: Eisenhower warned of the "military-industrial complex"; L.B.J. felt pressure from the Pentagon; Obama's Syria policy was rebuked by the State Department through its "dissent channel." But to use the term as it is used in Turkey, Pakistan, or Egypt is to assume that all these institutions constitute part of a subterranean web of common and nefarious purpose. The reason that Trump is so eager to take a conspiratorial view of everything from the C.I.A. to CNN is that an astonishing array of individuals have spoken out or acted against him. Above all, he is infuriated that intelligence and investigative services have been looking into possible Russian connections to him, his advisers, his campaign, and his financial interests.

The American deep state is, likewise, just a matter of our institutions defending the Novus Ordo Seclorum.  But, being a Republic, those institutions are much wider and more deeply established than anywhere else and serve the citizenry openly, rather than special interests clandestinely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Checks and balances : Trump says he'll let the media decide where he donates his salary (Gabrielle Bluestone on Mar 13, 2017, VICE)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday confirmed reports that President Donald Trump has not been donating his salary to charity as he promised he would during the campaign. Instead, Spicer said, Trump is waiting until the end of the year to donate a lump sum in part so that the media can weigh in on the beneficiary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


It won't be easy to bring back millions of manufacturing jobs (Brookings Institution, Nov. 18th, 2016)

[T]he total inflation-adjusted output of the U.S. manufacturing sector is now higher than it has ever been. That's true even as the sector's employment is growing only slowly, and remains near the lowest it's been. These diverging lines--which reflect the sector's improved productivity--highlight a huge problem with Trump's promises to help workers by reshoring millions of manufacturing jobs. America is already producing a lot. And in any event, the return of more manufacturing won't bring back many jobs because the labor is increasingly being done by robots.

Boston Consulting Group reports that it costs barely $8 an hour to use a robot for spot welding in the auto industry, compared to $25 for a worker--and the gap is only going to widen. More generally, the "job intensity" of America's manufacturing industries--and especially its best-paying advanced ones--is only going to decline. In 1980 it took 25 jobs to generate $1 million in manufacturing output in the U.S. Today it takes five jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


How Hamas is winning hearts and minds in Europe : Via conferences and hierarchies of Muslim Brotherhood, Gaza-based Islamist terror group building global infrastructure to challenge PLO's standing as Palestinians' sole legitimate representative (Avi Issacharoff, 3/14/17,  The Times of Israel)

At the end of February, in Istanbul, the Palestinians Abroad Conference convened with the purported goal of promoting global support for the Palestinians. Its actual purpose was to bolster the status of Hamas in the international arena.

Many of the organizers of the conference, which was attended by thousands of Arabs and Palestinians from all over the world, are of Palestinian origin. But to those who closely followed what happened in Istanbul, it became clear that many of the organizers and attendees had something else in common: they are known to have been members -- for decades -- of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated networks all over Europe.

This was not the first conference of its kind. Many like it have taken place in recent years. Many of the same faces are present -- including current and past members of the Muslim Brotherhood, at a more or less official level, and current and past members of Hamas.

Their shared goal is to promote international legitimacy for Hamas -- in Europe, Africa, the Middle East (of course) and even in Latin America -- in a bid to challenge the PLO's international standing as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas, in this way, is slowly but surely establishing a global infrastructure of supporters who are providing not only encouragement and legitimacy, but also quite a bit of financial assistance.

Tracing the outlines of this infrastructure lends some surprising insights. For example, Britain turns out to be hosting more of this semi-official activity by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood than any other country in Europe.

No one knows better than the Brits that the End of History requires decolonization.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


White House analysis of Obamacare repeal sees even deeper insurance losses than CBO (PAUL DEMKO, 03/13/17, Politico)

A White House analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare shows even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimates.

March 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Self-Driving Cars Can't Cure Traffic, but Economics Can (Conor Dougherty, MARCH 8, 2017, NY Times)

[L]ondon, Singapore and Stockholm have all put in such systems effectively.

In the United States, the most common objection is that road pricing is regressive: Rich people get to drive alone while the masses huddle on a bus. Also, people just don't like paying for things that they are used to having free.

Economists are hoping that may change. Several states, including California, Texas and Minnesota, have added high-occupancy toll lanes with different pricing during rush hours.

"This idea of congestion pricing is not completely dismissed the way it once was," said Clifford Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Winston said the eventual introduction of self-driving cars would probably lessen consumer opposition to paying more to use roads during peak periods. Ride-hailing apps have taught consumers to accept surge pricing, and people are generally less resistant to paying for something new. The result would be something like variably priced lanes dedicated to fleets of robot vehicles.

If that happens, one of the hidden benefits of this revolutionary new technology will be that it got people to accept an idea that economists started talking about at least a century ago. And you get home a half-hour earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Spicer: Trump didn't mean wiretapping when he tweeted about wiretapping (Jeremy Diamond, 3/13/17, CNN)

The White House on Monday walked back a key point of President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

Namely, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump wasn't referring to wiretapping when he tweeted about wiretapping. [...]

Spicer also said that Trump was referring to the Obama administration broadly -- and not accusing Obama of personal involvement -- when he tweeted that "Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower" and accused Obama of being a "bad" or "sick guy."

To defend him is to make yourself seem a cretin.

Microwaves aren't spying on Trump (Jacob Kastrenakes  Mar 13, 2017, Wired)

Appliances that can be hacked to spy on you usually include a microphone or a camera, if not some other method for receiving data. But microwave ovens don't typically include either of those.

That means it would be up to the microwaves themselves -- the actual waves, that is -- to somehow create and transmit images. So is that possible?

"We image things with microwaves all the time, but not in the way that it sounds like she was implying," Robert McNees, a theoretical physicist at Loyola University Chicago, writes in an email to The Verge. "For instance, we make maps of the relic microwave radiation left over from the early universe. And I think I've heard of medical application of microwave imaging, too[.]"

But those applications are pretty far from what's happening inside a typical microwave. "With a regular, consumer microwave oven?" McNees asks. "That sounds far-fetched to me."

Wired asked a researcher who works on microwave imaging and got a similar response. "I can't conceive of an effective way to do any of it from your microwave oven," University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher Stephen Frasier told the publication.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Republican health plan to make millions more uninsured (David Lawder, 3/13/17, Reuters)

Fourteen million Americans would lose medical insurance by next year under a Republican plan to dismantle Obamacare, the nonpartisan U.S. Congressional Budget Office said on Monday in a report that dealt a potential setback to President Donald Trump's first major legislative initiative.

The eagerly awaited CBO report also forecast that 24 million more people would be uninsured in 2026 if the plan being considered in the House of Representatives were adopted. Obamacare enabled about 20 million previously uninsured Americans to obtain medical insurance.

The CBO projected that 52 million people would be uninsured by 2026 if the bill became law, compared to 28 million who would not have coverage that year if former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law remained unchanged.

Under the GOP plan, rural voters could be charged more for health insurance than they make in a year (Jeva Lange, 3/13/17, The Week)

An analysis of the Republican health-care proposal by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman has found that the overhaul would hit rural areas intensely, and in some cases consumers could even owe more for a plan than they make in a year. "In Nebraska's Chase County, a 62-year-old currently earning about $18,000 a year could pay nearly $20,000 annually to get health-insurance coverage under the House GOP plan," writes The Wall Street Journal. Under the Affordable Care Act, that same person would owe $760 a year toward premiums, the Journal notes.

"It is disproportionately affecting the rural," explained Dianna Welch, an actuary at Oliver Wyman. 

Sheep, meet shears.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


What Happens When Tech Takes Control of Evolution? (Raya Bidshahri, Dec 20, 2016, Singularity Hub)

Over the span of a few billion years, diversity of life has flourished on Earth through the process of natural selection. Then, not long ago (relatively), human intelligence evolved.

For the first time one species, Homo sapiens, could consciously control its destiny on this planet. Humans have been shaping ourselves, the environment and other species for thousands of years. Soon, we'll be able to fully control our own biology too, transcending our natural limitations.

According to roboticist and author Daniel Wilson, "You can graph human evolution, which is mostly a straight line, but we do get better and change over time, and you can graph technological evolution, which is a line that's going straight up. They are going to intersect each other at some point, and that's happening now."

Genetic engineering and neurotechnology are examples of fields shaping human evolution. Taking control of evolution means what was once a slow, random process will now be exponentially faster. Soon, we'll imagine what kind of a species we want to be and then become what we envision.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Oil prices drop as hedge funds head for the exit (John Kemp, 3/13/17, Reuters)

Hedge funds and other money managers had barely started liquidating their record bullish position in crude oil futures and options before prices tumbled on March 8.

The critical question is how much more of the position will need to be liquidated before the market stabilizes again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


The Left Might Have A Hard Time Replicating The Tea Party's Success (Clare Malone, 3/13/17, 538)

[T]he left doesn't necessarily have all the elements that the tea party did, elements that translated into electoral success in 2010. While the Trump resistance movement undoubtedly has enthusiasm, a number of structural differences from the conservative grassroots movement could lead to challenges down the road.

And the left has indeed been looking to the tea party template for inspiration. The authors of the now-popular "Indivisible" guide for the grassroots left to organize against Trump, specifically cite the success of the group in their call to action: "The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the tea party. ... We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs [members of Congress] to reject President Obama's agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel and tinged with racism -- and they won."

But what made the tea party successful, according to Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor whose field studies of the tea party movement became a 2011 book, was a particular climate on the political right. "We thought of the tea party as a set of several intersecting forces that were leveraging each other and helping to build each other's clout to change and use the Republican Party," she said. Self-organizing grass-roots groups, top-down professional advocacy and money groups, such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, along with right-wing media, swirled together to make the movement a success, according to Skocpol. It remains to be seen if the climate on the left will prove to be hospitable for the growth of a similarly effective movement.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Anti-immigrant party gets knocked back in Australia, in crushing blow to government (Rachel Pannett and Mike Cherney, Mar 13, 2017, WSJ)

The global rise of nationalist politics suffered a setback in the heart of Australia's mining belt, as an anti-immigrant party won fewer votes than expected in state elections, contributing to a crushing loss for the government.

The Western Australia state branch of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's ruling Liberal Party joined with a controversial, right-wing firebrand in hopes her high profile would help avert an expected election defeat. The gamble backfired, with the conservatives losing office and Pauline Hanson's One Nation party securing less than 5% of the vote. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Why President Trump is falling into a standard political trap (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, March 13, 2017, The Week)

[I] would suggest that Trump's biggest problem is actually one that most politicians face, which is not caring about the actual policy impact of their decisions. [...]

Take Obama's stimulus plan. The goal of the plan was to revive the economy in the depth of a recession by pouring lots of money in. The problem is that for so-called Keynesian stimulus to work, you have to spend all of the money at once -- think of it like an electroshock. But to please labor and environmentalist constituencies, Obama made sure his stimulus bill would mostly be spent on public works and pork projects like high-speed rail. What mattered was the idea of the stimulus -- being able to pass a big bill with a big price tag and being able to say that he had passed a big bill with a big price tag. The bill actually accomplishing its objectives was secondary. Obama was re-elected, but it was a close-run thing against a formidably weak opponent.

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy was a master of this. The agenda he ran on was very good; the problem was that he just didn't implement it. He lost re-election by a hair, in the context of an economic slump. If he had faced down protests early in his term to implement the kinds of labor market reforms he'd promised and that nearly all economists agree would have helped France, he almost certainly would have been re-elected. His cowardice wasn't just immoral. It was his undoing.

And so now, take the American Health Care Act, the House GOP's ObamaCare replacement bill that Trump is forcefully backing. Trump's goal is political: He wants to be able to take credit for passing a bill that "repeals and replaces" ObamaCare. But he got elected on a very different promise on health care: He said he would build a "great system" that would "cover everyone." The AHCA can't do that because it is designed with parliamentary-political kabuki in mind: It doesn't spend enough money to cover everyone to appease hard-right Republicans; at the same time, it doesn't go deep enough in terms of free-market reforms to actually change the system in a positive way, so as to not to turn off too many moderates.

There is an implicit contempt for voters at work here. The bill assumes that voters are just too dumb to notice its impact and need to be razzled-dazzled by PR. But it also assumes that policy doesn't actually change much. Both those assumptions are mistaken.

Which is why good presidents have been governors previously.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Trump Lets Key Offices Gather Dust Amid 'Slowest Transition in Decades' (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and SHARON LaFRANIERE, MARCH 12, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump has insisted that the barren ranks of his government are not a shortcoming but the vanguard of a plan to cut the size of the federal bureaucracy. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint, because they're unnecessary to have," Mr. Trump told Fox News last month. "I say, 'What do all these people do?' You don't need all those jobs."

But the president has not proposed any plan for trimming crucial senior positions, and a White House spokeswoman, Lindsay E. Walters, said he eventually planned to fill them.

Mr. Trump's personnel problems are rooted in a dysfunctional transition effort that left him without a pool of nominees-in-waiting who had been screened for security and financial problems and were ready to be named on Day 1. In the weeks since, the problem has been compounded by roadblocks of his own making: a loyalty test that in some cases has eliminated qualified candidates, a five-year lobbying ban that has discouraged some of the most sought-after potential appointees, and a general sense of upheaval at the White House that has repelled many others.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


EU To Extend Sanctions Over Crimea Annexation (Rikard Jozwiak, 3/13/17, Radio Liberty)

 The European Union is expected to extend sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Republican Congressman Steve King Tweets Approvingly About White Nationalism (Caroline Bankoff, 3/13/17, New York)

"Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny," King wrote. "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

March 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Immigrants in US Increasingly Educated, Enterprising, from India, China (Associated Press, 10/12/16)

For all of Donald Trump's talk of building a border wall and deporting 11 million unauthorized immigrants who are mainly Hispanic -- and for all of the enduring contention over illegal immigration -- immigrants to the U.S. are now more likely to come from Asia than from Mexico or Latin America.

And compared with Americans overall, immigrants today are disproportionately well-educated and entrepreneurial. They are transforming the nation in ways largely ignored by the political jousting over how immigration is affecting America's culture, economy and national security.

As of three years ago, Census figures show, India and China eclipsed Mexico as the top sources of U.S. immigrants, whether authorized or not. In 2013, 147,000 Chinese immigrants and 129,000 Indians came to the U.S., compared with 125,000 Mexicans. Most of the Asian immigrants arrived in the United States legally, through work, student or family visas.

Immigrants are also more likely now to be U.S. citizens. Nearly half of immigrants older than 25 -- 18 million people -- are naturalized citizens, compared with 30 percent back in 2000, according to Census figures.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Russia is getting impatient about resetting US-Russia relations (AFP, 3/12/17)

[Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov] decried the "hysteria" of the US political debate, and said it is hampering efforts to establish warmer relations.

"We consider it a real danger for the future of our bilateral relationship and we sincerely want to see this hysteria coming to its logic end," the Kremlin spokesman said.

Trump's national security advisor Michael Flynn was forced to step down when it was revealed that he misled colleagues about his meetings with the Russian ambassador.

More recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from election-related investigations when it emerged that he too had met the Russian ambassador on two occasions, despite having told lawmakers at his Senate confirmation hearing otherwise.

Speaking on a different CNN program Sunday, Republican Senator John McCain, a top Trump critic, called for greater "scrutiny" in dealing with Russia.

"There's a lot of aspects with this whole relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin that requires further scrutiny, and so far I don't think the American people have gotten all the answers," McCain said.

"In fact, I think there's a lot of shoes to drop from this centipede." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Would Donald Trump be less likable as a woman? Researchers wanted to find out (Neha Thirani Bagri, March 10, 2017, Quartz)

Guadalupe began with the assumption that Trump's aggressive behavior would seem even more unpalatable coming from a female candidate and Clinton's informed responses would seem more authoritative coming from a man. But when the performance was staged in the Provincetown Playhouse in New York in January, the audience reacted in unexpected ways. [...]

"In the real debates I thought Hillary won hands down, [but] this has totally made me question my judgment."

"Tonight was a bit frightening as I experienced myself what I always thought is true of "others:" the speed and ease with which I can be manipulated by form. Sobering experience."

"I was a Trump voter and went into this expecting to love Brenda King and hate Jonathan Gordon. I came out mixed. I definitely liked parts of Brenda King's performance, and could've seen myself voting for her, but moments when I cheered for Trump also came off as overdone or grating or too consumed with style over substance."

"I went into this experience disliking both Trump and Clinton and that remains unchanged, but this certainly makes me wonder if we put candidates into boxes too easily. Are we perhaps too harsh with some and too lenient on others purely because of the way they come across?"

"I found it so fascinating both in terms of questioning my views on gender and how it affects how I see people and the exercise itself. I was expecting to be more hostile to the woman but actually found myself "supporting" her and even viewing her as a likeable person despite the fact it was all Trump's words. Shows how perceptions can manipulate your views."

"I finally understand the "bubble" that some people keep referring to--I feel like I can comprehend how and why the populist message of Donald Trump resonated with so many people. I can also see how frustrating and off-putting Hillary Clinton was for many people--especially people who had a negative opinion of her."

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


House Panel Wants Any Evidence Trump's Phones Were Tapped (DEB RIECHMANN, 3/12/17, Associated Press)

The House intelligence committee asked the executive branch to provide by Monday any evidence to support President Donald Trump's claim that his phones were tapped at Trump Tower during the election, a senior congressional aide said Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Republicans Clueless on Obamacare Repeal Because Obamacare Was Their Own Plan (David Atkins, March 11, 2017, Washington Times)

The problem is that the only way to provide better, less expensive care for everyone that improves on the ACA is the universal, government-backed insurance offered by nearly every other developed country in the world. Allowing insurers to sell across state lines would create a regulatory race-to-the-bottom and do almost nothing to lower costs. Most Americans have so little in savings they can't retire or put their kids through college, much less cover $500,000 of cancer treatments through an HSA. And covering people with pre-existing conditions through market processes requires a mandate to make it work.

Republicans know all of this. They know it because the ACA is actually the conservative, market-based alternative to single-payer. It was essentially was the Heritage Foundation's alternative to Hillary Clinton's 1993 healthcare plan. It became the basis of Romneycare, the plan backed and enacted by the 2012 Republican nominee for president. It's the Republican alternative to single-payer.

Universal HSA/catastrophic would work too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Roger Stone, Trump confidant, acknowledges 'innocuous' Twitter conversation with DNC hackers (Andrew Blake, 3/10/17, washington Times)

Mr. Stone wrote an article for Breitbart News on Aug. 5 attributing the DNC breach to Guccifer 2.0, not Russia, and swapped a handful of direct messages with the persona in the weeks that followed, according to copies of the conversations provided to the Times.

In one of the messages dated Aug. 14, Mr. Stone said he was "delighted" that Twitter had reinstated Guccifer 2.0's account following a brief suspension. Two days later, Mr. Stone again privately messaged the Twitter account and asked for it to retweet a column he had written about the prospects of the 2016 presidential election being "rigged."

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Price: Success for Trumpcare would be more people covered at lower costs (Axios, 3/12/17)

When asked by moderator Chuck Todd how he'd define success, Price declined to set an exact coverage goal -- but he said success "means more people covered than are covered right now, and at an average cost that is less. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Comey Letter Swung Election For Trump, Consumer Survey Suggests : Emotion and peer influence play much bigger roles in influencing behavior than previously understood. (Brad Fay, 3/11/17, Engagement Labs)

My firm has been tracking face-to-face consumer conversations about brands for more than a decade. Our methodology is to conduct a daily online survey among consumers to ask them about the product categories and brands they have been talking about in the last 24 hours. Thus we are using a survey to measure behavior rather than opinion data. Third party statistical modelers have validated this methodology by showing that when combined with social media data it can predict between 5% and 25% of a brand's sales, depending on the category.

Although it is not our main line of business, every four years since 2008, we have added a few special questions to pick up the daily conversation about presidential candidates during the General Election campaign. Only after Election Day last year did we go back to see what the data showed, and it was startling.

The first thing to know is that people were talking very negatively about both Trump and Clinton, in contrast to the mostly positive conversations we see for products and brands. Between Labor Day and Election Day, 53% of all the Trump conversations were negative about him, and 20% were "mixed" positive and negative, while only 26% were purely positive. If you subtract the negative and mixed from the positive, you get a "net sentiment" of -47. For Clinton, it was 43% negative and 21% "mixed" compared to 33% positive, producing a "net sentiment" of -30. That both candidates were so deeply into negative territory tells us something about politics generally, and also about these two candidates, who performed worse than Obama, Romney, and McCain in the last two elections.

More important than the absolute results for each candidate were their relative performances, as well as the trends over time. While both candidates were always firmly in negative territory, Clinton nevertheless enjoyed a persistent lead over Trump that opened up after the first debate. Both candidates experienced significant drops in the immediate aftermath of the infamous audio recording of Billy Bush and Donald Trump, although Clinton still had the advantage.

Most decisively, there was a sudden change in the net sentiment results that followed immediately after FBI Director James Comey released his Oct. 28 letter to Congress about a renewed investigation of Clinton emails. Immediately afterwards, there was a 17-point drop in net sentiment for Clinton, and an 11-point rise for Trump, enough for the two candidates to switch places in the rankings, with Clinton in more negative territory than Trump. At a time when opinion polling showed perhaps a 2-point decline in the margin for Clinton, this conversation data suggests a 28-point change in the word of mouth "standings." The change in word of mouth favorability metric was stunning, and much greater than the traditional opinion polling revealed.

March 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Rugby's More Perfect Union (Martin Pengelly,  MARCH 10, 2017, NY Times)

Rugby, or something like it, was first played in the United States in the mid-1800s. It gave birth to football: The first college game, Rutgers against Princeton in November 1869, was played under "rugby-like" rules. Rugby also is a brutal game, often violent, but as football faces increasing questions over safety, the number of rugby players is growing. Coaches say it's because their contact sport is safer: The absence of helmets and significant padding results in safer tackling, while strict rules reduce blows to head and neck.

Maybe. But I think rugby is rising in America because it is extreme. It is rising here because it has not yet, like football, been commodified. It is played by men and women in colleges and clubs. There is still something pure and unspoiled about the sport.

To adapt a question asked by the great Caribbean historian C. L. R. James, who was writing about cricket, what do they know of rugby who only rugby know? Most important, American rugby is participatory. Most of its fans play it, or did before their knees gave out. And it is not, for the most part, an occupation that pays. It is something you live for, training on a wet Wednesday for a game on the weekend. And a drink afterward. On field and off, American rugby is built on team spirit.

In the scrum (never "scrimmage," which is not a rugby word) each player binds on to another and all work together to achieve their goal: to push the opposing pack off the ball, to subdue them -- and to not get hurt.

Rugby is gloriously counterintuitive. Players know it is not remotely a sensible thing to do. And despite this, they love it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Daylight Saving Time  May Be Dangerous, Costly (Ben Steverman, 3/11/17, Bloomberg News)

Daylight saving time isn't just a benign relic of the 1970s energy crisis. The latest research suggests the time change can be harmful to our health and cost us money.

The effects are most disruptive in the spring and fall, right after the time changes occur. Clocks in the U.S. will spring forward this year on Sunday. Most of Europe moves to daylight saving time two weeks later.

The suffering of the spring time change begins with the loss of an hour of sleep. That might not seem like a big deal, but researchers have found it can be dangerous to mess with sleep schedules. Car accidents, strokes, and heart attacks spike in the days after the March time change. It turns out that judges, sleep deprived by daylight saving, impose harsher sentences.

"Even mild changes to sleep patterns can affect human capital in significant ways," two Cornell University researchers, Lawrence Jin and Nicolas Ziebarth, wrote last year.

Some of the last defenders of daylight saving time have been a cluster of business groups who assume the change helps stimulate consumer spending. That's not true either, according to recent analysis of 380 million bank and credit-card transactions by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

The study compared Los Angeles with Phoenix in the 30 days after the March and November time changes. Arizona is a natural test case since it's one of the two states, along with Hawaii, that doesn't do daylight saving. In the spring, according to the consumer transaction data, the additional hour of evening daylight in Los Angeles managed to slightly boost card spending per person, compared with that in Phoenix, although by less than 1 percent. That spending uptick is swamped by the negative impact of the November time change, which sees the darkened population of Los Angeles spend 3.5 percent less at local retailers.

After the autumn time change, shoppers made far fewer trips to the store, especially during the week. Grocery stores, discount stores, and other retailers bore the brunt, while restaurants and service businesses were mostly unaffected.

In other words, daylight turns out to be a surprisingly large factor in how often workers stop at stores on their way home from their jobs in the evening. "At the end of the day, it's either dark or light, and (people are) going to make an impulse decision at that point," Diana Farrell, president and chief executive of the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


LAUGHING INTO MODERNITY (Peter J. Leithart, 3 . 10 . 17, First Things)

Christians have long worried over laughter. Church fathers pointed out that Jesus wept but never laughed, and even mild endorsements of laughter were qualified with warnings that laughter must be moderate, never excessive.

The fact that laughter, like sexual passion, is untamable is evidence of original sin. Commenting on Ecclesiastes, Gregory of Nyssa described laughter as a grotesque form of madness, involving "an unseemly bodily loosening, agitated breathing, a shaking of the whole body, dilation of the cheeks, baring of teeth, gums and palate, stretching of the neck, and an abnormal breaking up of the voice as it is cut into by the fragmentation of the breath."

The medieval Church wisely provided safety valves--Carnival, the Feast of Fools, the risus paschali or "Easter laughter." By the high Middle Ages, stern patristic suspicions of laughter were softening. After the twelfth century, artists depicted human beings with smiles and laughs; prior to that time, only painted demons laughed. Following Aristotle, Thomas was indulgent toward humor as a social lubricant.

But it wasn't until the age of Erasmus, More, and Rabelais that Christian laughter came into its own. The Jesuit Joannes Lorinus (1559-1634) argued that Ecclesiastes condemns boisterous, jeering laughter, but not laughter "arising from good things in the mind." Even Calvin got into the act, penning a preface to defend the use of humor in Pierre Viret's Disputations chrestiennes.

Renaissance satire rested on the conviction that derisive laughter was an effective form of social control because it exposed and shamed folly. Montaigne characterized Democritus as a philosopher who found the "human condition ridiculous and vain," and so "never appeared abroad but with a jeering and laughing countenance." Montaigne admitted he was Democritian "not because it is more pleasant to laugh than to weep, but because it expresses more contempt and condemnation than the other, and I think we can never be despised according to our full desert."

Many appealed to Aristotle's teaching that laughter is of the essence of man, and that its primary mode is ridicule. In fact, Aristotle believed neither. In Laughter in Ancient Rome, Mary Beard notes that Aristotle's famous claim that only human beings laugh comes from a discussion of the diaphragm. Aristotle did not propose a theory of laughter, nor define "man as 'the animal that laughs.'" Aristotle knew that laughter need not be derisive. In Poetics he explicitly discussed laughter that doesn't cause pain, and in Rhetoric categorized "laughter and the laughable into the class of 'pleasant things.'"

Erasmus interpreted Psalm 2:4 as a revelation of scornful inter-Trinitarian laughter. The first line--"he who sits in the heavens laughs"--refers to the Father, while the second line--"the Lord scoffs at them"--names the Son. According to Erasmus, "The Father therefore laughs to scorn: the Son derides; but the laugher-to-scorn is the same: the derision is the same." And we might add an Augustinian gloss: The Spirit is the laughter shared between them.

Erasmus didn't think derisive laughter was confined to the Old Testament. He heard mockery in Jesus's parable of the rich man: "In the Gospel too that rich man is mocked, who, having filled his barns, decided to live for himself at ease. What did he hear, if not derision from God? 'Thou fool! This night thy soul shall be required of thee. And then whose shall those things be that thou hast gathered together?'" Reading the Gospels in the light of ancient prophecy, we should notice "how often, and in how many ways, the Lord in the heavens laughed at the impious counsels of men and had them in derision."

Christ comes among us to teach us the error of our ways, but teaches God the final lesson : Forgive them, they know not what they do. The last laugh is on God.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Sikhs in the US: America is our home and we are here to stay (Sapreet Kaur, March 9, 2017, CNN)

Sikh Americans have faced threats and deadly attacks for more than 100 years -- often because of our articles of faith, including turbans and unshorn hair -- but we are an integral part of the American fabric, and our faith tradition offers guidance for confronting the hate that Americans grapple with today.

The Sikh religion was founded in the Punjab region of South Asia over 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, the founder of our faith, preached the oneness of God and humanity, emphasizing that all human beings are equal in dignity and divinity, regardless of their race, caste, religion, and gender.

One of his legacies is the practice of providing free meals (langar) to anyone who visits a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship), without regard for their background or social status. Every day, Sikhs throughout the world -- including America -- feed thousands of people and provide shelter to those in need. Just last month, Sikhs in California opened their doors to help their fellow Americans during the Oroville dam evacuation.

Equality and community service are core Sikh teachings, and these values foreshadowed the highest ideals of America. Sikhs feel at home in the United States, and that is why it is disappointing when bigots make it feel inhospitable and political leaders do nothing to intervene.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


White House civil war breaks out over trade : 'Fiery meeting' in Oval Office between economic nationalists and pro-trade moderates (Shawn Donnan and Demetri Sevastopulo, 3/10/17, Financial Times)

A civil war has broken out within the White House over trade, leading to what one official called "a fiery meeting" in the Oval Office pitting economic nationalists close to Donald Trump against pro-trade moderates from Wall Street. 

According to more than a half-dozen people inside the White House or dealing with it, the bitter fight has set a hardline group including senior adviser Steve Bannon and Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro against a faction led by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who leads Mr Trump's National Economic Council.  [...]

According to people familiar with White House discussions, Mr Cohn and others have seized on Mr Navarro's public comments -- and widespread criticism by economists of his stand on trade deficits and other matters -- to try and sideline him. That has led to discussions over moving Mr Navarro and the new National Trade Council he leads out of the White House and to the Commerce Department, headed by another Wall Street veteran, Wilbur Ross. 

Mr Cohn has also been featuring more prominently in discussions over the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, one of Mr Trump's top trade priorities.

After a meeting with Mr Cohn and other White House officials on Thursday, Mexico's foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, said the goal was to wrap up talks quickly and by the end of this year. That contradicted Mr Ross, who has called for deeper and potentially longer talks that could drag well into next year. 

Mr Navarro's case has not been helped by his interactions with Republicans in Congress. He was criticised for being ill-prepared and vague at a closed-door briefing he held with Senators last month to discuss Mr Trump's trade agenda and angered some Republicans as a result. 

People familiar with the White House battle over trade said Mr Navarro, who did not respond to a request for comment, was cutting an increasingly isolated figure in the administration. He has been operating with a very small staff out of an office in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House while Mr Cohn, who has been adding staff to his NEC base inside the president's residence itself.

Among Mr Cohn's recent appointments has been Andrew Quinn, a respected former diplomat and trade official who served as a senior negotiator during the Obama administration's push for a Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other countries. Mr Trump has pulled the US out of the TPP but the White House last month announced Mr Quinn would serve on the NEC as a "special assistant to the president" for international trade.

The appointment of Mr Quinn drew a howl of protest from Breitbart, the rightwing web site Mr Bannon used to lead. It labelled the career official an "enemy within" the Trump administration earlier this month. 

Free trade and immigration are the fights we have to win.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Modernist architecture is inherently totalitarian. (Theodore Dalrymple, 2/22/27, Salisbury Review)

Modernist architecture is inherently totalitarian: it brooks no other, and indeed delights to overwhelm and humiliate what went before it by size and prepotency, or by garishness and the preposterousness which it takes for originality, and which turns every townscape into the architectural equivalent of a Mickey Finn.  

In the Guardian newspaper last week, its architectural correspondent wrote an admiring article about Paulo Mendes da Rocha, whose work is so bad that he has been awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal. No greater insult could well be imagined for an architect than that; and a small photograph accompanied the article, of a raw concrete sports club blackening horribly with age, as it always does, demonstrates that he well merited it.

The article begins by quoting the 88 year-old Brazilian: 'All space is public. The only private space that you can imagine is in the human mind.'

And, as Tom Wolfe says, modern art is about ideas, not about beauty, nor, in the case of architecture, function either.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


The Staggering Cost of Medical Waste in America (Marshall Allen, 3/10/17, ProPublica)

The vexing riddle of how to make health care more affordable has seldom been more front and center on the national stage. President Trump and Republican lawmakers are wrestling with the future of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of people obtain health insurance. But most Americans would rather their legislators focus on bringing down health care costs, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Two-thirds of those surveyed said reducing such costs should be the "top" health care priority for Trump and the Republican-led Congress.

Talk to experts and many agree that waste would be a good place to start. In 2012 the National Academy of Medicine estimated the U.S. health care system squandered $765 billion a year, more than the entire budget of the Defense Department. Dr. Mark Smith, who chaired the committee that authored the report, said the waste is "crowding out" spending on critical infrastructure needs, like better roads and public transportation. The annual waste, the report estimated, could have paid for the insurance coverage of 150 million American workers -- both the employer and employee contributions.

"It's unconscionable that we're not only wasting money in health care but in doing so are sacrificing other important social needs," Smith said.

Smith's committee blames the obvious villains -- overtreatment, excess administrative costs and high prices -- for most of the fat in the system. Left untallied, however, are the discards that arrive in waves into McLellan's warehouses, most of which would otherwise end up in landfills. McLellan estimates the goods her group has right now are worth $20 million. Sure, that's a rounding error in the overall waste tab, but it starts being real money if you add up the discards of all the nation's medical facilities.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, for instance, recently estimated that in a single year the hospital wasted $2.9 million in neurosurgery supplies alone. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Trump Faces Challenge of Visa Overstays, the Largest Source of Illegal Immigration (Josh Siegel, March 10, 2017, Daily Signal)

As President Donald Trump focuses on border security in his initial actions to counter illegal immigration, a new report shows the unauthorized population increasingly is made up of those who first entered the U.S. legally.

In each year from 2007 to 2014, the report from the Center for Migration Studies finds, more people joined the illegal immigrant population by remaining in the U.S. after their temporary visitor permits expired than by sneaking across the Mexican border.

In 2014, about 4.5 million U.S. residents, or 42 percent of the population of roughly 11 million illegal immigrants, had overstayed their visas, the report says.

Overstays accounted for about two-thirds--66 percent--of those who ended up joining the illegal immigrant population in 2014.

"What's happened is that popular conception has made it seem that illegal immigration means people coming from the southern border," Robert Warren, a co-author of the report, said in an interview with The Daily Signal. "One of the reasons we put the report out is that illegal immigration is much more varied and we need to look at different policy options."

Visa overstays--legal entrants to the U.S. who stay past their allotted time here--long have been the underreported component of illegal immigration.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security found that as of Jan. 4, 2016, a total of 416,500 of the 527,127 overstays in 2015 remained in the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World : "The Camp of the Saints" tells a grotesque tale about a migrant invasion to destroy Western civilization. (Paul Blumenthal , JM Rieger, 3/04/17, Huffington Post)

Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump's chief strategist and the driving force behind the administration's controversial ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, has a favorite metaphor he uses to describe the largest refugee crisis in human history.

"It's been almost a Camp of the Saints-type invasion into Central and then Western and Northern Europe," he said in October 2015.

"The whole thing in Europe is all about immigration," he said in January 2016. "It's a global issue today -- this kind of global Camp of the Saints."

"It's not a migration," he said later that January. "It's really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints."

"When we first started talking about this a year ago," he said in April 2016, "we called it the Camp of the Saints. ... I mean, this is Camp of the Saints, isn't it?"

Bannon has agitated for a host of anti-immigrant measures. In his previous role as executive chairman of the right-wing news site Breitbart -- which he called a "platform for the alt-right," the online movement of white nationalists -- he made anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim news a focus.

But the top Trump aide's repeated references to The Camp of the Saints, an obscure 1973 novel by French author Jean Raspail, reveal even more about how he understands the world. The book is a cult favorite on the far right, yet it's never found a wider audience. There's a good reason for that: It's breathtakingly racist.

March 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


What is a species? Ornithologists consider ways to define it. (Eva Botkin-Kowacki, MARCH 9, 2017, CS Monitor)

Determining that, say dogs and cats, are different species isn't difficult. The two species of carnivorans don't just look and act very different, they also can't produce viable hybrid offspring. 

Most biologists use exactly that criteria to draw the line between species, whether or not the two groups can reproduce and yield fertile hybrids. 

The biological species concept, as it's called, seems simple enough. But it's not perfect.

To resolve such questions of speciation, biologists have dug into the genomes of organisms to see how readily two groups interbreed. But there's even ambiguity there. For example, ornithologists agree that the blue winged warbler and the golden winged warbler are distinct species. But their nuclear ge  nomes show remarkable similarities.

So now we're left to just make up pretend criteria.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Al Qaeda appeals for help to repel Houthis in central Yemen (Reuters, 3/09/17)

Yemen's local al Qaeda wing appealed for help on Thursday to fend off an offensive by the armed Houthi movement in central Yemen, and accused the United States of coordinating attacks with the Iran-aligned group, according to an online statement.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Trump ally Farage visits embassy where Julian Assange lives (MAX GREENWOOD, 03/09/17. The Hill)

A British politician who has emerged as a close ally of President Trump on Thursday visited the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is living, BuzzFeed News reported.

Nigel Farage, the former United Kingdom Independence Party leader and a top advocate for Britain's exit from the European Union, reportedly spent about 40 minutes at the embassy.

He told BuzzFeed News as he was leaving that he could not remember what he was doing there and refused to answer questions on whether he had met with Assange.

WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman last year during the presidential race, a series of leaks that damaged Clinton's candidacy.
Assange never explicitly endorsed Trump, but WikiLeaks's Twitter account has at times sought to defend him and attack his enemies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


U.S. household net worth rose to $92.8 trillion in fourth-quarter: Fed (Reuters, 3/09/17) 

A continued rise in U.S. equities pushed the net worth of U.S. households to $92.8 trillion in the fourth quarter of last year, a report by the Federal Reserve showed on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Trump Likes Tweet Claiming Attorney General Sessions Committed Perjury (Lukas Mikelionis, March 9, 2017, Heat Street)

Last night, Trump "liked" a tweet from Fox Nation with a headline reading "Franken Says He Thinks Sessions Committed Perjury". The "liked" story is about Senator Al Franken, a liberal Democrat, accusing Attorney General Sessions of perjuring himself during his confirmation hearing when he claimed he had no meetings with Russian officials.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Oil prices dive 5 percent as U.S. crude inventories balloon (Devika Krishna Kumar, 3/08/17, Reuters)

Oil prices plunged 5 percent to their lowest levels this year on Wednesday as U.S. crude inventories surged much more than expected to a record high, stoking concerns a global glut could persist even as OPEC tries to prop up prices with output curbs. [...]

The big daily price slide could signal a steep downward move if speculators are beginning to unwind long positions in crude oil, which were close to a record, traders and analysts said.

The Fed is about to make a big mistake...again....

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Authorities looked into Manafort protégé (KENNETH P. VOGEL and DAVID STERN, 03/08/17, Politico)

The operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, came under scrutiny from officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department partly because of at least two trips he took to the U.S. during the presidential campaign, according to three international political operatives familiar with the agencies' interest in Kilimnik.

Kilimnik, a joint Russian-Ukrainian citizen who trained in the Russian army as a linguist, told operatives in Kiev and Washington that he met with Manafort during an April trip to the United States. And, after a late summer trip to the U.S., Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance towards Russia, according to a Kiev operative.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


The Only Sovereignty that Truly Matters in Matters of Trade (DON BOUDREAUX, MARCH 8, 2017, Cafe Hayek)

By far the best and surest solution to this problem is for the U.S. to adopt, unconditionally, a policy of unilateral free trade.  Because such a policy would render U.S. membership in the WTO (and, indeed, in all trade agreements) pointless, our government could withdraw from that organization.  American consumers would be free to buy from whichever suppliers offer them the best deals, while American producers would be free to sell to whichever buyers make them the best offers.  With our market open on equal terms to any and all merchants, foreign and domestic, other governments would have no cause to complain that their producers are "unfairly" excluded from the American market.  And our policy - being unconditional and unilateral - would leave foreign merchants completely free to compete for the business of our consumers regardless of the number or types of restraints that those merchants' governments inflict on their citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


The Crumbling of ISIS (James Wimberley, March 8, 2017, Washington Monthly)

The self-proclaimed caliphate will be gone in a few months. It may survive as a non-territorial conspiracy, a low-budget and even more extreme rival to al-Qaeda. But they don't have the latter's funding, organization, or experience. The attraction of ISIS to alienated young radical Muslim men across the world depended crucially on the caliphate claim, not just to statehood but empire. This absolutely required control of territory. I would not put it past them to pull a Jonestown rather than submit to shameful surrender. Not many of their enemies will be ready to leave them alive.

The end of the fake caliphate will be a victory for Obama's proxy strategy, though Trump will surely claim it. In retrospect, it was bound to fail. A claim to universal dominion exercised by forced conversion, enslavement, and massacre of everybody in its reach cannot possibly work. 

Critics of the war failed to understand that the ideology of ISIS made it impossible for them to succeed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Immigration projected to drive growth in U.S. working-age population through at least 2035 (JEFFREY S. PASSEL AND D'VERA COHN, 3/08/17, Pew Research)

The number of adults in the prime working ages of 25 to 64 - 173.2 million in 2015 - will rise to 183.2 million in 2035, according to Pew Research Center projections. That total growth of 10 million over two decades will be lower than the total in any single decade since the Baby Boomers began pouring into the workforce in the 1960s. The growth rate of working-age adults will also be markedly reduced.

The largest segment of working-age adults - those born in the U.S. whose parents also were born in the U.S. - is projected to decline from 2015 to 2035, both in numbers and as a share of the working-age population. The Center's projections show a reduction of 8.2 million of these adults, from 128.3 million in 2015 to 120.1 million in 2035.

That numerical loss will be partially offset by an increase in the number of working-age U.S.-born adults with immigrant parents, who are projected to number 24.6 million in 2035, up from 11.1 million in 2015.

But perhaps the most important component of the growth in the working-age population over the next two decades will be the arrival of future immigrants. The number of working-age immigrants is projected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million by 2035, with new immigrant arrivals accounting for all of that gain. (The number of current immigrants of working age is projected to decline as some will turn 65, while others are projected to leave the country or die.) Without these new arrivals, the number of immigrants of working age would decline by 17.6 million by 2035, as would the total projected U.S. working-age population, which would fall to 165.6 million.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Chinese media confuse Trump satire with news (Sherisse Pham, March 9, 2017, CNN)

An explosive headline about President Donald Trump rippled through Chinese media this week.

But the outlets reporting it overlooked one important point -- the story wasn't real.

Its source was a well regarded U.S. publication: The New Yorker. Chinese news websites slipped up by taking as fact a satirical article by author and comedian Andy Borowitz.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


British FM: Alternative to two-state solution is apartheid (AFP, March 9, 2017)

"What we are saying is that you have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system," Johnson said in an interview published in the English-language daily The Jerusalem Post.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Christian Hip-Hop Still Isn't Quite Sure What to Make of Chance the Rapper (IMADE NIBOKUN, 3/07/17, LA Weekly)

"What Chance did," says Propaganda, a veteran emcee and spoken-word artist from West Covina, "is causing us to answer a greater question, which is: What is Christian music? And what makes an artist Christian? At the end of the day, we have yet to actually answer that."

Christian music, Propaganda explains, is unique in that "it's the only musical genre that is defined by its content. Every other genre is defined by its sound. So, if it's defined by its content, how can you not say that Chance or Kendrick [Lamar] put out a Christian album?" [...]

This unfruitful quest to please the gatekeepers of Christian hip-hop may be why some CHH artists feel disgruntled by Chance the Rapper's success. "Some of it is jealousy," DJ Wade-O, a longtime DJ and Christian hip-hop tastemaker, admits via email. "You have a guy who didn't really come up in CHH per se, reaching the highest level of success in the music industry and saying he is a Christian rapper, yet he curses in his music and has a lot of content that is not really Christian. A lot of us have been grinding for years, and so I totally understand how someone being successful but not really being totally 'sold out' to the Lord would ruffle feathers."

Canon, a rapid-fire lyricist in the Christian hip-hop scene, is dismissive of some of his peers' criticisms of his fellow Chicagoan, Chance. "There's always going to be an artist [that says] I've been putting out content, I've been rapping about Jesus, I've been rapping [from] a faith-based perspective my entire career [but] I don't get any kind of awards," he says. "First and foremost, you have to look into why we do what we do. We don't ... rap about what we rap about for awards or for a pat on a back."

Sketch the Journalist, a writer who documents Christian hip-hop, thinks many Christian rappers feel more conflicted than jealous regarding Chance's success. "Some people see Chance as a 'baby Christian' just trying to find his way and are thus open to showing him grace as he works things out on a public stage," he writes via email. "Others view him as a more lukewarm Christian and potentially dangerous from a 'follow-his-lead' perspective."

Chance's authenticity -- his willingness to mix the sacred and profane, to explore doubt as much as faith -- has, in some ways, exposed what's inauthentic about Christian music. "Just because you're making music that you deem acceptable doesn't mean you're living a Christian life," Propaganda says. "I know for a fact that a number of Christian artists, the people who are writing these songs, are not believers. They're just writing songs because they know [their audience will] like them."

Lyrical content aside, Chance's music has the potential to change Christian hip-hop in other ways. His use of gospel choirs might free up African-American Christian rappers to dig deeper into their cultural roots. Christian hip-hop is often funded out of the pockets of white evangelicals to appeal to predominantly white Christian youth groups, which can put black emcees in an uncomfortable place.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


For Trump, it's not business, it's personnel (Jonathan Swan, 3/08/17,  Axios)

The Trump administration has a personnel problem. Multiple government agencies are in a state of staffing gridlock, with cabinet secretaries having their chosen employees routinely returned by the White House's Office of Personnel Management. Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, Rex Tillerson at State, General Mattis at Defense, it's a problem across the Cabinet.

Why this matters: The failure to fill lower-level staff directly impacts the ability of government to function. Career people are working away, but senior political appointees lack their own staff. They're less effective -- and operating in a climate of distrust -- until they've got their team around them.

One example: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was only confirmed a week ago, has already taken his complaints directly to the President. According to a source briefed on the incident, Zinke went to Trump and demanded his staff be approved. Trump replied that Zinke will get his people "as long as they're our people," the source said. the quality of the loyalists.

March 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration : The anti-American group has become the preferred intelligence service for a conspiracy-addled White House. (MAX BOOT, MARCH 8, 2017f, Foreign Policy)

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump declared, "I love WikiLeaks!" And he had good reason to display affection to this website run by accused rapist Julian Assange.  [...]

Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks dumped a massive database pertaining to CIA hacking and wiretapping just three days after Trump made wiretapping a major political issue? Perhaps so. But there is cause for suspicion.

In the first place, WikiLeaks has often timed its leaks for maximum political impact. It released 20,000 stolen DNC emails just three days before the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016. As expected, WikiLeaks generated headlines about DNC staffers disparaging Sen. Bernie Sanders, buttressing a Trump campaign effort to prevent Clinton from consolidating Sanders supporters. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as a result, and the Clinton campaign suffered significant public relations damage.

In the second place, WikiLeaks, which has often leaked American but never Russian secrets, has been identified by the U.S. intelligence community as a front for Russian intelligence. In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified estimate that found "with high confidence that Russian military intelligence ... relayed material to WikiLeaks." This was done with a definite purpose: "Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him."

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Former Trump aide Flynn says lobbying may have helped Turkey (STEPHEN BRAUN and CHAD DAY, Mar. 8, 2017, AP)

A lawyer for the former U.S. Army lieutenant general and intelligence chief said in paperwork filed Tuesday with the Justice Department's Foreign Agent Registration Unit that Flynn was voluntarily registering for lobbying that "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey." we're just haggling over the price....

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Booming again: U.S. poised for record oil output in 2018 (Matt Egan, March 8, 2017, CNN Money)

Following a painful war with OPEC, U.S. oil output is poised to rebound this year, thanks to healthier prices and a strengthened business model.

That could set the stage for America to set a record-breaking 2018, taking out the all-time oil production high set in 1970, according to new forecasts published this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The U.S. oil comeback is being led by the Permian Basin, a hotbed of shale drilling in Texas and New Mexico. The Permian is so rich in shale oil that frackers can profitably drill even in today's modest prices in the low $50-a-barrel range.

"Shale has proven to be remarkably resilient. The key is that any dollar invested today is double as efficient as it was two years ago," said Tamar Essner, energy director of Nasdaq Advisory Services.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Pete Carril Saw the Future of Basketball (BEN COHEN, March 7, 2017, WSJ)

Carril, the 86-year-old basketball sage known as "Yoda," was the architect of an eccentric offense designed to give his Ivy League school a chance against more talented teams, which was almost every team it played. But his work was always seen as part brilliance, part gimmick--even when Carril retired in 1996. Only since then has something unexpected happened.

It has become clear in recent years, as basketball has evolved, that Carril was ahead of his time.

The Golden State Warriors aren't running backdoor cuts, and the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't running down the entire shot clock. But in many ways, the game has caught up to Carril. The trends of today's NBA are the same as his ideas from decades ago.

Carril was bullish on 3-pointers. "I love the 3-point shot," he once wrote. "You know why? Because it means they're giving us three points for the same shot we used to get two for."

He valued big men who could play small ball. "All five guys could step outside and make a 3-point shot," said Bob Scrabis, who played for him in the 1980s. "If you couldn't shoot, you couldn't play."

He also hated mid-range shots. "If you charted our shooting and looked at how many shots were layups or 3-point shots," said Princeton alumnus Matt Lapin, "it had to have been 90%. And maybe even higher."

NBA teams play the way Carril always believed the game should be played because they have data that proves it works. But that information wasn't available when Carril was coaching. And others were curious about Princeton's unusual style. Carill still recalls one clinic when former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson cornered him to ask why Princeton only seemed to shoot high-percentage, highly efficient shots: 3-pointers and layups.

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


Russian diplomat under U.S. scrutiny in election meddling speaks (KEVIN G. HALL, PETER STONE, GREG GORDON AND DAVID GOLDSTEIN, 2/15/17, McClatchy)

A Russian diplomat who worked in the Washington embassy left the country last August while federal investigators examined whether he played a key covert role in the alleged Kremlin-directed plot to influence last fall's U.S. elections.

Two people with knowledge of a multi-agency investigation into the Kremlin's meddling have told McClatchy that Mikhail Kalugin was under scrutiny when he departed. He has been an important figure in the inquiry into how Russia bankrolled the email hacking of top Democrats and took other measures to defeat Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump capture the White House, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. [...]

Kalugin was "withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation . . . would be exposed in the media," the former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele reported. "" [...]

McClatchy reported in January that several law enforcement and intelligence agencies, led by the FBI, are collaborating in the investigation of Russia's influence on the election. Five congressional panels, including the House of Representatives and Senate Intelligence committees, are conducting their own inquiries.

Several members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, said Monday's resignation of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as Trump's national security adviser reaffirmed the need for investigations into Russia's meddling. In resigning Monday, Flynn acknowledged that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia's ambassador before Trump's inauguration and had misled others about the nature of the conversation.

Flynn was mentioned in Steele's reports as one of several U.S. citizens Russia cultivated. In December 2015, Flynn was paid an undisclosed sum to speak at a Moscow gala, where he sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Although Steele began sharing what he'd learned with the FBI last July, it is not clear whether he alerted U.S. investigators to Kalugin or they already were scrutinizing his activities.

Steele, who built a strong reputation in the intelligence world, spent much of his career spying on Moscow and tapped a longtime network of Russian sources. He spent months gathering research about Trump for a Washington consulting firm. Last fall, Mother Jones magazine quoted him, before he was publicly identified, as saying he was so alarmed by what he found that he began sharing information with the FBI. [...]

A Steele report, dated Sept. 14, 2016, said Kalugin was involved in moving "tens of thousands of dollars" to cyber hackers and other operatives through a system that distributes pension benefits to Russian military veterans living in the United States.

One of the sources familiar with the federal investigation gave credence to parts of that statement, saying: "The Russian embassy was known to funnel payments and make contacts with current Russian citizens, former Russian citizens who are now American citizens, and American citizens."

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


How GOP bumbling just made single-payer health care more likely (James Pethokoukis, 
March 8, 2017, The Week)

A smart, comprehensive, center-right plan would have tried to significantly expand the role of markets and consumer choice in the American health-care system. Many conservatives, for instance, wanted a plan that would give Americans more control over their health-care spending and allow them to take their plan from job to job. But the AHCA won't offer its new tax credits for those currently offered workplace insurance. Nor does it put U.S. health care on such a path.

Others on the right envisioned a dramatically deregulated ObamaCare that eventually would have swallowed up Medicare and Medicaid. Yet the House GOP plan mostly keeps the "essential health benefits" regulations of ObamaCare that dictate what benefit plans purchased on the exchanges must offer.

Nearly seven years after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, House Republicans have failed in their big attempt to offer FreeMarketCare. And this may well have been their final chance to do so. Health care isn't the only item on the GOP agenda, after all. Congressional Republicans are also desperate to cut business taxes, while the Trump White House keeps promising a major infrastructure plan. And don't forget Ivanka Trump's pricey paid leave and child care ideas.

Meanwhile, the ACA remains desperately in need of reform as too few of the young and healthy sign up. "ObamaCare is so poorly constructed it is literally an anti-selection machine," health-care analyst Bob Laszewski writes at his popular blog, adding,"The Republican proposal is worse."

Well, Sanders had an answer for that -- he called his version "Medicare for All" -- and it's an answer that many Democrats wanted all along. Indeed, one way Obama sold Democrats on health reform that kept for-profit, private insurance central was by suggesting it was merely a way station to single payer. That idea is probably looking better and better to Democrats right about now, especially as the party continues to drift left. And maybe to the Republican president, too.

...universal catastrophic/HSAs or National Health. The former is preferable because it builds individual wealth. The party has wasted an awful lot of energy on a fight they were never going to win.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM



THE NATION IS in serious danger. The creeping spread of Islam is pushing out Christianity. The country's borders are swarming with drug-slinging criminals, and its veterans are dying in droves. Heartless, power-hungry liberals snatch guns away from poor, defenseless citizens while openly mocking Gold Star widows. Meanwhile, Democratic operatives are planning a coup from a bunker not far from the White House and wiretapping Trump administration officials, not to mention Trump Tower itself--a looming scandal of Watergate proportions.

The worst part? The propagandistic left-wing media (that subhuman species) won't report a word of it.

At least, that's what I learned spending a few weeks on a self-imposed binge of President Trump's media diet--a virtual smorgasbord of Breitbart, Fox News, front-page newspaper headlines, presidential Twitter, and a smattering of Infowars for flavor. 

The national security investigation into the Trumpies is the perfect lens for seeing how willfully detached from reality the Right is.

Trump Aides Address His Wiretap Claims: 'That's Above My Pay Grade' (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 7, 2017, NY Times)

"No, that's above my pay grade," said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary and a feisty Trump loyalist, when asked on Tuesday at an on-camera briefing if he had seen any evidence to back up Mr. Trump's accusation. The reporters kept at him, but Mr. Spicer pointedly and repeatedly refused to offer personal assurances that the president's statements were true.

"No comment," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier in the day. Last week, Mr. Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia.

"I don't know anything about it," John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said on CNN on Monday. Mr. Kelly shrugged and added that "if the president of the United States said that, he's got his reasons to say it."

Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, have said they will add Mr. Trump's request to pre-existing inquiries into intelligence community leaks.

But Mr. Nunes and Mr. Burr said they had not seen specific evidence backing up Mr. Trump's claim.

Other Hill Republicans have responded with similar verbal shrugs. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that he "didn't know what the basis" of Mr. Trump's statement was.

Mr. Trump's Twitter posts, viewed with amazement outside the West Wing bubble, often create crises on the inside.

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Survey: Private employers added robust 298K jobs last month, the most in three years (LA Times, 3/08/17)
U.S. private businesses added the most jobs in three years last month, a private survey found, a sign that hiring is picking up seven years after the recession ended.

Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that businesses added 298,000 jobs in February, up from 261,000 in January. The gains were led by a huge 66,000 increase in construction, the most in 11 years, and 32,000 manufacturing jobs.

W and the UR left us in such good shape even Donald will have trouble screwing it up, especially if the Deep State stops him on immigration and trade.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


White House official terrorizes network green rooms (ANNIE KARNI, 03/07/17, Politico)

White House official Boris Epshteyn, a combative Trump loyalist tasked with plugging the president's message on television, threatened earlier this year to pull all West Wing officials from appearing on Fox News after a tense appearance on anchor Bill Hemmer's show.

Epshteyn, according to multiple sources familiar with the exchange, got in a yelling match with a Fox News booker after Hemmer pressed him for details of President Donald Trump's controversial executive order cracking down on immigration from Muslim-majority countries -- a topic he was not expecting to be grilled on.

"Am I someone you want to make angry?" Epshteyn told the booker, the sources said. When he threatened to pull White House officials from the network, the fed-up booker had had enough.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


How a Slave Spiritual Became English Rugby's Anthem (ANDREW KEH, MARCH 7, 2017, NY Times)

It is a famous refrain and melody. For many in the United States, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" enjoys a hallowed status as one of the cherished of 19th-century African-American spirituals, its forlorn lyrics invoking the darkness of slavery and the sustained oppression of a race.

But here, across the Atlantic, the song has developed a parallel existence, unchanged in form but utterly different in function, as a boisterous drinking song turned sports anthem.

"They start singing it when the game starts because they want everyone to get hyped up," said Helen Weston, 53, an England fan at the France game on Feb. 4. "There's nothing like hearing 80,000 people singing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.'" [...]

English fans first sang the song on a large scale at Twickenham Stadium on March 19, 1988, as England recorded a memorable comeback victory over Ireland. Multiple people and groups since then have claimed responsibility for starting the chant.

The motivation is a matter of some intrigue. Over the years, English newspaper articles mentioning the chant's genesis that day matter-of-factly tied its emergence to the race of Chris Oti, who was the first black player to represent England's rugby team in almost a century, and who played a starring role in that game.

Dudley Wood, the former secretary of the Rugby Football Union, was quoted in The Independent in 1991 as saying that Oti "was totally mobbed on the way to the dressing room. It's a delicate situation in a way, in that it's a Negro spiritual. But we poor English don't really have the songs to sing."

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Assad's Control Erodes as Warlords Gain Upper Hand : Bashar Assad's power over the areas of Syria under government control is slipping. Armed militias are growing stronger and the country's dictator can do nothing to stop them. (Fritz Schaap, March 08, 2017, Der Spiegel)

For months, Assad's army has been on the advance across Syria. But its military success has only been possible due to the significant assistance the dictators' troops have received from Iran and Russia -- and from local Syrian militias. Now, these fighters are taking over control in many areas, committing murder, looting and harassing civilians. And nobody can stop them, not even Assad himself. Indeed, the militias are now more powerful than even the country's dictator and have become the real holders of power in Syria.

Even long before the Syrian revolt of 2011, Assad depended primarily on the loyalty of his fellow Alawites in the top ranks of the armed forces and intelligence services. But the religious group only makes up between 12 and 15 percent of the Syrian population. In 2012, Assad's position became even more tenuous as the army began shrinking rapidly: Tens of thousands of soldiers deserted, conscripts failed to show up for duty and many of those who did fight ended up dead. In September 2015, when the Russians joined the war, the Syrian army only had 6,000 soldiers who were fit for active duty, according to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute in Washington. He bases his estimate on confidential testimony of Russian officials.

To preserve its regular troops, the regime was forced to make a Faustian bargain, allowing armed loyalists to form their own militias. In many cases, the leaders of smuggling rings or criminal gangs became local kingpins, who were then able to expand their business empires unimpeded in exchange for loyalty to Assad. The two largest militias, the Desert Hawks, headquartered in the northern port city of Latakia, and the Tiger Forces from Hama, each have between 3,000 and 6,000 armed fighters. Additionally, there are hundreds of smaller pro-regime militias.

Bread, gasoline, medication -- there are shortages across the entire country. And those who control the distribution of these goods can profit handsomely, enabling them to purchase more weapons and hire more fighters. As a result, the warlords have replaced the state security apparatus in cities and in entire regions.

While the Syrian army, in its desperation, has been forced to combs jails for recruits, fighters join the militias of their own free will. Some of them, after all, pay up to three times the salary earned by regular soldiers and they have a lot more freedom. They can, for example, extort duties at checkpoints, sell drugs of their own accord, smuggle gasoline and loot conquered towns and villages.

Assad is nevertheless dependent on them. When his troops, supported by Russian units, took eastern Aleppo in December 2016, the Syrian soldiers featured prominantly in front of the television cameras. But the actual fighting was conducted by Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese mercenaries under Iranian senior leadership -- and by the pro-regime militias, who also secured the conquered territory once the fighting had ceased. And they plundered it.

Regime-held territory today is similar to areas under rebel control -- splintered and characterized by shifting alliances. Hundreds of groups with competing loyalties have taken control, earning money from the war and controlling their territory through fear.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Is Trumpcare Already Dead? : The Republican replacement for Obamacare is such a mess that it has united people from across the political spectrum. (ALEX SHEPHARD, March 8, 2017, New Republic)

The rollout of the GOP's long-awaited Obamacare replacement, the American Health Care Act, was a disaster. Instead of unveiling the bill with fanfare, it was leaked to the media on Monday night, which meant that there was precious little spin to help conservatives digest it. The following morning, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah went on TV to play pitchman, and ended up dominating headlines by telling poor people they have to choose between a smartphone and health insurance. President Donald Trump embraced the bill, but also left a lot of daylight, creating an opening for congressional Republicans and conservative activists to criticize it. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price tried to patch things up by appearing at Press Secretary Sean Spicer's midday lie jamboree, but came across as squirrelly and unprepared--his main argument for the bill was that it was short, as he stood next to a very tall stack of papers meant to represent Obamacare/big government. By evening, prominent Republicans were proclaiming that the AHCA was DOA and conservatives in the House were in revolt. "I don't think it's ever going to arrive in the Senate," Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told CNN. "I think it's dead on arrival in the House." 

The AHCA has achieved one thing in its short and worthless life, however: It sucks so much that people have come together from across the political spectrum to proclaim just how much it sucks.

The GOP will ultimately make health care more universal with less choice (catastrophic/HSAs).

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


New Israel Law Bars Foreign Critics From Entering the Country (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, MARCH 7, 2017, NY Times)

The measure, passed on Monday night, received little notice in Israel, but by Tuesday it set off alarms in the United States, where Israel's critics and some of its most loyal Jewish supporters alike warned that it would further isolate the country.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in North America, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem: "It's going to be a giant sign up by the door of the Jewish state: 'Don't come unless you agree with everything we're doing here.' I don't know what kind of democracy makes that statement."

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged C.I.A. Hacking Documents (SCOTT SHANE, MATTHEW ROSENBERG and ANDREW W. LEHRENMARCH 7, 2017, NY Times)

In what appears to be the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history, WikiLeaks released on Tuesday thousands of pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions.

The documents amount to a detailed, highly technical catalog of tools. They include instructions for compromising a wide range of common computer tools for use in spying: the online calling service Skype; Wi-Fi networks; documents in PDF format; and even commercial antivirus programs of the kind used by millions of people to protect their computers. [...]

Unlike the National Security Agency documents Edward J. Snowden gave to journalists in 2013, they do not include examples of how the tools have been used against actual foreign targets. That could limit the damage of the leak to national security. But the breach was highly embarrassing for an agency that depends on secrecy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


How will Trump's new travel ban order hold up in court? (TERRY CARTER, 3/07/17, ABA Journal)

Bob Ferguson, Attorney General for Washington State,0 also noted that, "By rescinding his earlier executive order, President Trump makes one thing perfectly clear: His original travel ban was indefensible--legally, constitutionally and morally," reported.

In that report, Harrison "Buzz" Frahn of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, who has followed the cases, said the first order "was rushed and I've heard it described as a sitting duck," while the new one "maybe takes some more careful aiming," reports.

The new order, as part of its justification for national security reasons, notes two incidents in which foreign refugees later were convicted of terrorism-related crimes: two Iraqis received lengthy prison sentences in 2013, and a Somali was sentenced to 30 years in prison over a bombing plot at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.

Those refugees became radicalized while in the U.S., Frahn points out. "They've had six weeks since the original order came out to collect and collate data and all the alleged instances that could justify this, and this is the best they could come up with." [...]

Opponents say they still have a strong argument that the order targets members of a specific religion because they have Muslim majorities: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. (Iraq was dropped.)

"That evidence is baked in; you can't change the past," Stephen Logomsky told Reuters. He was chief counsel at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama Administration and noted that Trump said early on that he wanted a ban on Muslims entering the country. But still, Logomsky said of coming legal challenges to the order, "It's not a slam dunk."

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asserted Monday that he would joining those who bring the fight.

Schneiderman said that "while the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn't just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump's draconian policies--it's diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe."

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Right revolts on ObamaCare bill (PETER SULLIVAN - 03/07/17, The Hill)

Conservatives in the House openly rebelled Tuesday against legislation backed by their leadership to repeal and replace ­ObamaCare, sowing doubts about whether the legislation can pass.

The rollout for the long-awaited healthcare plan, released Monday evening, was rocky. It was panned on the right as a retreat from full repeal, pilloried on the left as a tax giveaway to the rich, and criticized from the center as potentially stripping insurance from millions of people. [...]

After a meeting later Tuesday evening, Freedom Caucus members said leadership doesn't have enough support. 

"Right now the Speaker of the House does not have the votes to pass this bill unless he's got substantial Democratic support," Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said. 
The conservatives vowed to reintroduce the same ­ObamaCare legislation that passed Congress in 2015 but was vetoed by then-President Obama. That bill would repeal all of ­ObamaCare's taxes and mandates and eliminate its Medicaid expansion.

The leadership-backed legislation also took heavy fire from outside conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire GOP mega-donors Charles and David Koch. They saddled the plan with names like "RyanCare" and "­ObamaCare lite" and attacked centrist Republicans who fear the measure already goes too far.

...who believe health care is a right in a democracy and took Donald and Hillary at their word when they promised to deliver it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


What if Trump took his wiretap story seriously? (Ramesh Ponnuru, March 7, 2017, Bloomberg View)

Some people greeted Trump's claim credulously. The president's cheering section believed him, of course. So did some of his most bitter foes. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean took it as a given that Trump was right about being wiretapped, but said that it proved that a judge had "found probable cause that Trump was engaging in criminal activity."

But just because people with varying views have reasons to believe Trump doesn't mean he's right.

There was just enough in the news to buttress the story for the believers. Reports for Heat Street, the Guardian and the BBC over several months had suggested, with thin sourcing, that the FBI had sought to monitor transactions involving Trump aides. Of course, even if those reports are true, they do not establish what Trump alleged: that Obama had personally ordered the surveillance. They don't even establish that Trump himself was being surveilled, or that the surveillance took the form of wiretapping. [...]

Nothing Trump's own administration has said or done so far indicates that it takes his accusations seriously. And that starts at the top with the president himself. Trump explicitly accused his predecessor of misconduct on the level of "Watergate," and then moved on to tweeting about his feud with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At the point where the Right is dancing to Assange's string-pulling it's hard to believe this administration is any more than a parody.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


The Road to Value in Health Care : For Medicaid and other programs, state policymakers can learn a lot from new payment models that are evolving. (MARC BERG, MARCH 8, 2017, Governing)

Two evolving approaches in particular are moving to the forefront as policymakers look for alternatives to the traditional and much-maligned fee-for-service system: "capitation," in which a health-care provider receives a fixed, per-person payment covering the broad needs of its patient population, and bundled payments, in which providers are paid for all of the care needed for an individual patient's particular medical condition.

One key lesson for leaders seeking a value-based payment (VBP) model is the importance of communicating a vision for a future operating framework. This should not be a mere top-down vision: Stakeholders will need to be engaged in multiple initiatives across services lines. Looking for synergy rather than yet more fragmentation is key. This begins with early conversations with stakeholders, gathering information concerning best practices, and anticipating challenges, while also engaging community-based organizations and Medicaid member advocacy groups.

New York State provides a prime example of how these conversations can unfold and have impact. During 2015, more than 500 stakeholders participated in 16 subcommittees and clinical advisory groups focused on the move to VPB. Throughout the implementation process, a core group of stakeholders, including managed-care organizations (MCOs), other providers, community-based organizations and patient advocates, met regularly to monitor progress, suggest improvements and new ideas, and ensure that objectives were being met.

A second important lesson is understanding the importance of flexibility when developing a payment framework. States need to decide where to require uniformity and where flexibility and freedom can better realize the long-term vision. Flexibility in the type of arrangements -- capitation versus bundled payments, for example -- can allow providers to focus on areas where they're best suited to provide care and manage risk.

Texas' Medicaid-CHIP program, for example, utilizes various payment methodologies across the 19 MCOs involved in value-based contracts. Generally, the payment structures in these contracts are represented by one of three methods: fee-for service with bonus payments, partial capitation, and shared savings, in which lowering the total cost of care results in reimbursement to providers that achieve that goal. By allowing for various payment structures, Texas has ensured that a greater number of Medicaid providers are able to participate in value-based contracts.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Trump era's vicious partisanship born of small differences (Jonah Goldberg, March 7, 2017 | USA Today)

Consider Trump. His position on trade, his signature issue, represents not a sharp break from the left, but a closing of the gap with it. Protectionism and "fair trade" have been staples of the Democratic Party's base for a very long time, which is why both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Likewise on infrastructure spending and entitlement reform, Trump hasn't staked out some extreme libertarian stance, he's stolen the issues from Democrats. Just look at health care. The GOP just unveiled their plan to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. It's likely no Democrat in the House will vote for it, not because of its radicalism, but because it is an insult to Barack Obama's legacy. I can understand their frustration, but their anger isn't proof of a major ideological disagreement.

And this points to the source of the confusion. There is a natural human tendency to believe that those we hate must believe the opposite of what we believe. This is part of what psychologists call "the narcissism of small differences."

George W. Bush campaigned on "compassionate conservatism," triangulating against the libertarian rhetoric of (the old) Newt Gingrich and the dour pessimism of social conservatives. His first legislative priority was bipartisan education reform, supported by Ted Kennedy. Bush's prescription drug benefit constituted the largest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society (at least until Obamacare). He rejected the conservatism of William F. Buckley, arguing that, "When somebody hurts, government has to move."

And for these sins, Democrats instantly and continuously insisted he was some kind of radical.

Before Bush, Republicans denounced Bill Clinton as a left-wing extremist, even though he was a free trader, supported the death penalty and campaigned on -- and signed -- welfare reform.

March 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Trumpcare Is the Culmination of All the GOP's Health-Care Lies (Jonathan Chait, 3/07/17, New York)

The best indication of the quality of the plan is that it has drawn almost universal scorn from the health-care-policy community. It's predictable that experts on the left would dislike Trumpcare. But the right seems barely any more favorable. Conservatives like Peter Suderman, Philip Klein, Bob Laszewski, and Avik Roy, who have spent years savaging Obamacare, are united in their disdain for its replacement.

The artificial role of the House GOP's self-created deadline played a crucial role in the development of Trumpcare. After the surprising election handed them full control of government, Republicans quickly decided to capitalize on power with a pair of lightning-strike budget assaults. First, they would repeal Obamacare while delaying any consideration of its alternative, perhaps for several years. Having eliminated Obama's health-care law -- and, especially, the taxes on the affluent that helped finance it -- the baseline of expected revenue would be lower. This would enable Republicans to then pass another huge tax cut later in the summer, which they could construct in a way to appear not to lose any revenue (and thus, because of arcane but important budgetary rules, be permanent). After passing their tax cut, they could leisurely set out to design a new plan to replace Obamacare.

When Republicans quickly discovered repealing Obamacare without a replacement was wildly unpopular -- polling under 20 percent -- they had to change strategies. The new approach would force them to pass a repeal-and-replace all at once, so Republicans in Congress could reassure voters they had something in place after taking away Obamacare. But now they had a vastly more complicated task. They had to do something very hard on a schedule that was designed to do something relatively easy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Tucker Carlson: 'Cannot Overstate' How Much 'Republicans in D.C. Hate Donald Trump' (Chandler Gill, March 7, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson told the 2017 International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference on Monday that Republicans in Washington, D.C. hate President Donald Trump more than Democrats do.

"All of them," Carlson said, referring to Republicans in the nation's capital. "You cannot overstate the degree to which Republicans in D.C. hate Donald Trump. I mean, they really hate him."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


White House aides struggle to defend Trump wiretap claims (Ashley Parker and Jenna Johnson March 6, 2017, Washington Post)

Speaking to reporters from the White House briefing room without cameras present, White House press secretary Sean Spicer referred reporters to his weekend statement calling on the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate the wiretapping charges as part of their broader probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He refused to add clarity or context to Trump's Twitter missives, saying neither the president nor the White House would comment further until the congressional investigations are completed.

"I'm just going to let the tweet speak for itself," Spicer said.

The lack of seriousness in the defenses is priceless.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Trump vs. Free Trade (Richard A. Epstein, March 6, 2017, Defining Ideas)

The great mystery of Trump's mindset is that he does not carry over the market-driven principles of his sensible domestic policies into the realm of international trade. The introduction of national borders does not mean that the gains from competition, certainty, and administrative simplicity no longer apply. The key principle of comparative advantage applies in both contexts. A good analogy is trade between states in the United States: Open trade among our states has produced growth and lowered costs for goods and services--and it could do the same at the level of nations.

It's just racial hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Rumblings of a 'Deep State' Undermining Trump? It Was Once a Foreign Concept (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, MARCH 6, 2017, NY Times)

The concept of a "deep state" -- a shadowy network of agency or military officials who secretly conspire to influence government policy -- is more often used to describe countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where authoritarian elements band together to undercut democratically elected leaders. But inside the West Wing, Mr. Trump and his inner circle, particularly his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, see the influence of such forces at work within the United States, essentially arguing that their own government is being undermined from within.

Fascism, as opposed to Nazism, communism, etc., generally allies with traditional institutions--church, business, judiciary, military, etc.--to protect the state from destruction.  That's why places like Spain, Portugal, Chile, the Philippines, etc. were able to avoid the disaster of communist regimes.  

In a democracy, all of us are the deep state. They are our institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


The Promise of Blockchain Is a World Without Middlemen (Vinay Gupta, MARCH 06, 2017, Harvard Business Review)

The blockchain is a revolution that builds on another technical revolution so old that only the more experienced among us remember it: the invention of the database. First created at IBM in 1970, the importance of these relational databases to our everyday lives today cannot be overstated. Literally every aspect of our civilization is now dependent on this abstraction for storing and retrieving data. And now the blockchain is about to revolutionize databases, which will in turn revolutionize literally every aspect of our civilization.

IBM's database model stood unchanged until about 10 years ago, when the blockchain came into this conservative space with a radical new proposition: What if your database worked like a network -- a network that's shared with everybody in the world, where anyone and anything can connect to it?

Blockchain experts call this "decentralization." Decentralization offers the promise of nearly friction-free cooperation between members of complex networks that can add value to each other by enabling collaboration without central authorities and middle men.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Islamists accused of plotting attack on Saudi king in Malaysia ( Jeevan Vasagar, 3/07/17, Financial Times)

Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the men arrested in February, who were suspected of links to militant groups including Isis, had plotted to attack King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud while he was visiting Kuala Lumpur last week. 

Wahabbi v. Wahabbi!

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low (Akshat Rathi, 3/07/17, Quartz)

The last time the UK emitted less carbon dioxide than it did in 2016, most Brits were still traveling by horse and carriage. [...]

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK's carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him : The president's recent tweets aren't just conspiratorial gibberish - they're the erratic ravings of a guilty conscience. (MAX BOOT, MARCH 6, 2017, Foreign Policy)

One would be tempted to say that the president's reliance on "alternative facts" to smear his predecessor is the real scandal here were it not for the fact that an actual, honest-to-goodness scandal -- one that may conceivably rival Watergate -- is at the bottom of this ruckus. Why, after all, did Trump have a midweek meltdown that dashed pundits' hopes that he would act in more sober fashion? The answer is as obvious as it is significant: On the evening of March 1, the day after his lauded speech, major new revelations emerged about the mysterious links between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.

The New York Times was first out of the gate that evening with a story reporting: "American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials -- and others close to Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin -- and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates."

The Times story would have been big news were it not almost immediately overshadowed by a Washington Post article with an even more alarming finding: "Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump's campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions's confirmation hearing to become attorney general."

Smaller but still significant revelations followed the next day. The Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump Jr. "was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria." (What could Trump Jr. say that would possibly be worth $50,000?) J.D. Gordon, Trump's national security advisor during the campaign, admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had directly intervened at Trump's instigation to remove the language in the 2016 Republican platform which had called on the United States to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. And campaign advisor Carter Page admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had met with the Russian ambassador at the Republican National Convention. It is hard to imagine why so many people would lie if they didn't have something pretty significant to cover up.

Out of all of these revelations it was the news about Sessions -- which may open him to perjury charges -- that was the most significant. In response to the Post report, the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Kremlingate inquiry, much to the fury of President Trump, who was not consulted about this decision. This is what led to Trump's wild-eyed rants on Twitter, designed to distract from the real scandal and to convince his more credulous followers that he is the victim of a plot by his predecessor.

But why would Sessions' recusal make Trump so unhinged? The president must have felt relatively confident that the "Kremlingate" probe would go nowhere as long as it was in the hands of Trump partisans such as Sessions, Rep. Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But with Sessions out of the picture, the way is now clear for the deputy attorney general -- either the current placeholder, career Justice Department attorney Dana Boente, or Trump's nominee to replace him, Rod Rosenstein, another career government lawyer -- to appoint a special counsel because of the "extraordinary circumstances" surrounding this case.

Senior U.S. Justice nominee to face Senate grilling over Russia probe (Joel Schectman, 3/07/17, Reuters)

Rod Rosenstein, nominated by President Donald Trump to be deputy attorney general, would handle the Russian investigation if he is confirmed by the Senate because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the matter. [...]

Sessions said the deputy attorney general would be responsible for the Russia-related investigations.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump's favor. The Kremlin has denied the allegations. [...]

The 26-year Justice Department veteran is seen by many current and former department officials as a politically neutral pick. Named as Maryland's top prosecutor by President George W. Bush, Rosenstein stayed in office through the Obama administration.

"Doing an investigation into ties to Russia or the president, Rod is just going to find the facts and apply the law whether it's an indictment or closing the case," said Bonnie Greenberg, a federal prosecutor in Maryland, who worked with Rosenstein for 11 years. "That's the essence of Rod."

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Donald Trump's revised travel ban may not satisfy the courts (Democracy in America, Mar 6th 2017, The Economist)

Another potential constitutional roadblock is likely to plague Mr Trump's new release, however: the claim of religious discrimination. The First Amendment prohibits the government from favouring one religion over another, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment bars it from discriminating on religious grounds. In its February ruling, the Ninth Circuit noted that "numerous statements by the president about his intent to implement a 'Muslim ban'" and evidence that the first order "was intended to be that ban" constituted a plausible case against the travel rules. "[E]vidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law" is fair game, the Ninth Circuit noted.

In a clear signal that Mr Trump's lawyers understand this embarrassing pedigree as a stumbling block, they struck a key line from the January 27th order: a sentence permitting refugee applications from minorities (that is, Christians) who have been subject to "religious-based persecution". The new executive order contains language insisting that this conspicuous deletion should not be misinterpreted. The original line "did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion", the order reads, and "was not motivated by animus toward any religion". This has the flavour of protesting too much. The thumbprint of Mr Trump's campaign promise to ban Muslims from America (a call that remains on his website) will continue to mar his most-refined-to-date plan and is certain to give rise to new lawsuits. When courts ask whether the second go at a travel ban amounts to unconstitutional religious discrimination, Mr Trump's press releases, speech transcripts and tweets will all be entered into the record as evidence of the ban's true purpose.

The original travel ban had a related problem the new order does not quite correct: the lack of a lucid explanation of why the restrictions serve the cause of national security. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Hyperloop One shows off its first super fast test track in the Nevada desert (Rich McCormick,  Mar 7, 2017, The Verge)
Hyperloop still feels a little more like science fiction than an actual project, but as new pictures from superfast transportation company Hyperloop One show, the technology is slowly making its way into the real world. The new images give an insight into how construction is progressing on Hyperloop One's very own hyperloop in the Nevada desert, showing suspended track that could one day carry (possibly screaming) passengers at ridiculous speeds across the United States.

The test track -- known as DevLoop -- is 500 meters long and 3.3 meters in diameter, giving enough space for Hyperloop One to conduct public trials of its technology in the first half of this year. The track itself can be found some 30 minutes from Las Vegas, out in the kind of desert that hyperloop pods could one day traverse in minutes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


2,100 Iran fighters said killed in Iraq, Syria (AFP, March 7, 2017)

More than 2,000 fighters sent from Iran have been killed in Iraq and Syria, the head of Iran's veterans' affairs office said Tuesday.

"Some 2,100 martyrs have been martyred so far in Iraq or other places defending the holy mausoleums," Mohammad Ali Shahidi told the state-run IRNA news agency.

Their boots; our air power--an ideal division of responsibilities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Conservatives pan House Obamacare repeal bill (RACHAEL BADE 03/06/17, Politico)

A handful of House conservatives on Monday evening criticized GOP leaderships' newly released Obamacare replacement bill, foreshadowing trouble for the repeal effort even after leaders tried to assuage the far-right.

Some House Freedom Caucus members dismissed the bill as creating a new "entitlement program" by offering health care tax credits to low-income Americans. A Republican Study Committee memo sent to chiefs of staff, obtained by POLITICO, echoed those comments and blasted the bill's continuation of the Medicaid expansion for three years.

"This is Obamacare by a different form," former Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told POLITICO. "They're still keeping the taxes in place and Medicaid expansion, and they're starting a new entitlement."

It even keeps the Heritage mandate, as any reform bill has to.

March 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Former CIA Director Michael Hayden slams pro-Trump media for peddling 'illegitimate' and 'non-fact based world view' (Oliver Darcy, Mar. 6th, 2017, Business Insider)

Hayden's comments came after it was reported a conservative radio host's comments aggregated by Breitbart inspired Trump to accuse former President Barack Obama of bugging phones at Trump Tower, a claim reportedly rejected as false by the FBI.

"You have a Breitbart news story essentially launching the Starfleet of the federal government about one of the most horrible political scandals in American history, if true," Hayden said, adding that it was "very troubling" the president seeming to value Breitbart reports over data compiled by intelligence agencies. [...]

The former four-star Air Force general said too that "there's an amazing consistency" on a number of subjects between the information disseminated by Russian outlets and conservative sources like the Drudge Report, radio and television host Sean Hannity, and Breitbart.

"There are powerful parallels between the Russian narrative and things being said," Hayden said, adding that the president also uses similar talking points.

The amazing part is, if you give Donald and company the benefit of the doubt, they are pro-Putin even without a quid pro quo.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


CNN/ORC poll: Most back special prosecutor for Russia investigation (Jennifer Agiesta, 3/06/17, CNN)

About two-thirds of Americans say a special prosecutor should investigate contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, and 55% say they are at least somewhat concerned by reports that some connected to the Trump campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives.

The investigation should be public though.  A special prosecutor will take too long.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Why Trump's 'False Flag' Comment About Jews And Anti-Semitism Is So Dangerous (Sam Kestenbaum, March 6, 2017, The Tablet)

[I]n far-right, conspiracy-fixated circles, many believe the these anti-Semitic threats are in fact "false flags," nefariously carried out by Jews in order to tear down Trump.

Analysts call this Jewish "false flag" allegation one of the oldest -- and most effective -- anti-Semitic "dog whistles" out there: silent to most, but loud and clear to others.

"Most Americans don't acknowledge the meaning on a conscious level," said Chip Berlet, author of the 2000 book "Right-Wing Populism In America: Too Close For Comfort." "But a handful will hear Trump's words as an encouragement to act out against the people who they believe are behind the 'false flag subversions.'"

What exactly is a false flag?

It is a naval term originally -- describing when a ship would fly a flag other than its own to deceive an enemy. In more contemporary parlance, the term has taken off in conspiracist circles of all political persuasions.

Jews regularly find themselves accused of secretly carrying out attacks or orchestrating disasters -- 9/11, Sandy Hook, Charlie Hebdo, even the Holocaust -- to further their own goals.

Such views were once relegated to the fringe. But with Trump's rise -- and his coziness with such figures as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- these beliefs are in the mainstream.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


It Ain't Easy Getting a FISA Warrant: I Was an FBI Agent and Should Know (Asha Rangappa, March 6, 2017, Just Security)

There are two ways to obtain a wiretap - also known as electronic surveillance - on U.S. persons (citizens and permanent residents), and both include the courts. For criminal investigations, the FBI can seek a warrant under Title III of the U.S. criminal code by showing a federal court that there is probable cause to believe the target has engaged, or is engaging in, criminal activity. This is a fairly high standard because of a strong presumption in favor of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and requires a showing that less intrusive means of obtaining the same information aren't feasible.

The standard for electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes, though, is a little lower. This is because when it comes to national security, as opposed to criminal prosecutions, our Fourth Amendment rights are balanced against the government's interest in protecting the country. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the FBI to get a warrant from a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to conduct electronic surveillance on U.S. persons if they can show probable cause that the target is an "agent of a foreign power" who is "knowingly engag[ing] clandestine intelligence activities." In other words, the government has to show that the target might be spying for a foreign government or organization.

But even under this standard, it's not like the FBI can just decide to stop by a FISC to get a FISA warrant after going through the McDonald's drive-thru for lunch. To even begin the process leading to a FISA, the FBI has to follow several steps outlined in the Attorney General Guidelines, which govern FBI investigations. First, the FBI has to conduct a "threat assessment" in order to establish grounds for even opening an investigation on potential FISA subjects. If a threat exists, the FBI must then formally open an investigation into possible foreign intelligence activity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


This Father 3D Printed A Bionic Arm For His Infant Son, And Now Other Kids Can Have One  (Adele Peters 03.06.17, Co.Exist)

When Ben Ryan's son Sol was born, an injury during delivery led to a blood clot in his arm--and at the age of 10 days, the arm had to be amputated. After Sol left the hospital, the new parents learned that he couldn't get a prosthetic until he was a year old, and he probably couldn't get one that would let him grab or hold anything until he was three. [...]

At his kitchen table, Ryan--who is not an engineer, but likes building things--began mocking up a design for a device that would be light, attractive, customizable, and possible to introduce at a very young age, without parts that could cause a choking hazard.

Inspired by the way spiders' legs move through hydraulics, Ryan created a design for an arm filled with fluid that could open and close a gripping mechanism as the arm moves. At an innovation lab at a university near his home in the U.K., he 3D printed an early prototype. After watching videos online, he taught himself how to use Autodesk's free Fusion 360 software, and he refined the design.

The result is a prosthetic that can eventually be custom-designed for children and 3D printed within three days, versus the 10 weeks that it can take to get a custom prosthetic in the British health system currently. It will also be much cheaper. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Scarborough: Trump Presidency Is Sinking, The White House Is Going Down (Tim Hains, March 6, 2017, MSNBC)

'Morning Joe' host Scarborough warns President Trump that his administration is "sinking" and Mika Brzezinski says not to laugh, because it is not funny.

"The ship is going down," Scarborough said about the Trump administration. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Did Trump Just Declare War on the FBI? (Rob Garver, March 6, 2017, Fiscal Times)

[A]fter news of Comey's pushback surfaced, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Good Morning America if Trump accepted the FBI director's word on the subject.

"You know, I don't think he does, George," she replied. "I think he firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets. The wiretapping has been discussed in The New York Times, BBC, Fox News and we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee."

The stories she cited, as Stephanopoulos pointed out immediately, do not actually back up Trump's claim that there was a presidential directive to place Trump Tower under surveillance. [...]

As one of the nation's top law enforcement officials, Comey is in what seems to be an untenable position. Being questioned by the president, however unfairly, will open up Comey and the agents who work for him to claims that other cases are being brought under dubious circumstances. For that reason, his resignation has become a real possibility.

If he doesn't resign, it's hard to see how he doesn't get fired. Given the extraordinary power of the FBI director, it would be difficult for the White House to fail to demand Comey's resignation. If the president really believes that Comey isn't speaking truthfully to the public, the only responsible step would be to immediately replace him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Searching for George W. Bush in his portraits of the soldiers he sent to war (Jonathan Malesic, March 03, 2017, America)

The exhibition turns one of the oldest conventions of portraiture on its head. For centuries, rulers commissioned portraits from the lowly. The sitter is the one with power, while the portraitist aims to convey the patron's invisible qualities: authority, wisdom, magnanimity. In this exhibition, however, the artist--once the most powerful man in the world--is trying to 

Bush accomplishes this by building a terrain of extremely thick layers of oil paint on the canvas or board. Doing so can lend either reality or surreality to the portraits, as scars are made palpable; facial folds are deepened; and the normally invisible injuries of guilt, depression and post-traumatic stress are inscribed on surfaces.

Lt. Col. David Haines appears as a fleshy, disembodied face that nearly fills the frame and merges with the turquoise background. Haines's eye sockets are deep--because Bush has dug them out and piled lighter shades around them. Thick waves and globs of paint cover his forehead, perhaps signaling an inner struggle.

One of the most affecting pieces, though, is one of the least textured. Petty Officer Chris Goehner, who worked with a medical trauma unit in Iraq, is painted entirely in red. Different tones and values rather than heaps of paint indicate the furrows in his brow and the terrified vulnerability of a man who suffered nightmares for years.

First Sergeant Robert Ferrara, who served a 23-year career in the Army, said in a recent interview in the exhibition gallery that Bush "captured everything about the way I was back then," before Ferrara began to heal from depression and survivor's guilt. Ferrara looks emotionally shattered in his portrait, which is incorporated into a triptych featuring dozens of service members in uniform. He stares into the far distance but seems to shrink from something nearby.

Ferrara never sat for a portrait--Bush works largely from photographs. He got to know the president through veterans' events at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex. Ferrara credits those programs with helping him to heal. At the exhibition, his wife Melissa compared him to the painting and said, "Look how far you've come."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The Case for a Border-Adjusted Tax (ALAN AUERBACH and MICHAEL DEVEREUX, MARCH 6, 2017, NY Times)

In place of the old system, Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed adopting a tax -- the destination-based cash-flow tax -- that would be levied on the domestic cash flows of all businesses operating or selling here. (Your domestic cash flow is your revenues in the United States minus the wages, salaries and purchases you pay for in the United States.) This would mean introducing "border adjustments" to the current system -- exempting exports from tax, but taxing imports.

This reform should appeal broadly, to Democrats and Republicans alike. The border adjustments would strongly discourage the shifting of profits and activities offshore and eliminate incentives for corporate inversions. (The proposal would also eliminate incentives for companies to borrow excessively and strengthen the tax benefits for investing in plants and equipment.) But there remains much misplaced criticism of the reform and its potential, and much misunderstanding about who the winners and losers will be if it is adopted. [...]

Free-market critics of the tax have suggested that border adjustments are tariffs and would thus erect trade barriers. This is also untrue. The border adjustments would merely shift taxation from where products are made to where they are sold. This, again, would encourage companies to locate their productive activities and profits in the United States. (Countries around the world use such border adjustments every day as components of value-added taxes that are collected at the location of purchases rather than production.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Inside Trump's fury: The president rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations ( Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, Mar. 5th, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump, meanwhile, has been feeling besieged, believing that his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures -- not to mention the media, which he has called "the enemy of the American people."

That angst over what many in the White House call the "deep state" is fomenting daily, fueled by rumors and tidbits picked up by Trump allies within the intelligence community and by unconfirmed allegations that have been made by right-wing commentators. The "deep state" is a phrase popular on the right for describing entrenched networks hostile to Trump.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), an advocate of improved relations between the United States and Russia, said he has told friends in the administration that Trump is being punished for clashing with the hawkish approach toward Russia that is shared by most Democrats and Republicans.

"Remember what Dwight Eisenhower told us: There is a military-industrial complex. That complex still exists and has a lot of power," he said. "It's everywhere, and it doesn't like how Trump is handling Russia. Over and over again, in article after article, it rears its head."

The president has been seething as he watches round-the-clock cable news coverage. Trump recently vented to an associate that Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign adviser, keeps appearing on television even though he and Trump have no significant relationship.

Stories from Breitbart News, the incendiary conservative website, have been circulated at the White House's highest levels in recent days, including one story where talk-radio host Mark Levin accused the Obama administration of mounting a "silent coup," according to several officials.

Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist who once ran Breitbart, has spoken with Trump at length about his view that the "deep state" is a direct threat to his presidency.

Advisers pointed to Bannon's frequent closed-door guidance on the topic and Trump's agreement as a fundamental way of understanding the president's behavior and his willingness to confront the intelligence community -- and said that when Bannon spoke recently about the "deconstruction of the administrative state," he was also alluding to his aim of rupturing the intelligence community and its influence on the U.S. national security and ­foreign policy consensus. [...]

The merriment came to a sudden end on Wednesday night, when The Washington Post first reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador despite having said under oath at his Senate confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the Russians.

Inside the West Wing, Trump's top aides were furious with the defenses of Sessions offered by the Justice Department's public affairs division and felt blindsided that Sessions's aides had not consulted the White House earlier in the process, according to one senior White House official.

The next morning, Trump exploded, according to White House officials. He headed to Newport News, Va., on Thursday for a splashy commander-in-chief moment. The president would trumpet his plan to grow military spending aboard the Navy's sophisticated new aircraft carrier. But as Trump, sporting a bomber jacket and Navy cap, rallied sailors and shipbuilders, his message was overshadowed by Sessions.

He is besieged and we're winning.

March 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


How robotic delivery will disrupt the grocery industry (CHRISTIAN FRITZ, MARCH 5, 2017, Venture Beat)

Currently, if you are an average consumer, you go to the supermarket around 1.6 times per week and each time you spend on average around $32, or $51.20 per week. If each trip takes 30 minutes, you incur an opportunity cost of 0.8 times your hourly wage per week (the median hourly wage for people with a Bachelor's degree or more is currently approximately $24 in the U.S.), which means you essentially pay a 37.5 percent markup on the groceries you buy for going shopping yourself. [...]

But what if you could get groceries in less than two minutes without even leaving your apartment? Another beer? This time try an amber rather than the lager you just had? Think guacamole would go extremely well with those Doritos you just opened? Missing an egg for Sunday morning pancakes? In other words, what if you could get groceries quickly delivered to your door with the click of a button or by saying, "Alexa, get me a beer"?

This and a lot more will be possible in the next five years as robots become more reliable, inexpensive, and efficient. In-door delivery robots could remove items from refrigerated shelves in the basement and ferry them upstairs to apartment dwellers. The automated "bot-marts" could be operated by grocery retailers or residential property management companies. Together with RFID-based payment systems, loading and unloading mechanisms to and from the fridge, and AI algorithms to optimize inventory and restocking management, delivery bots could autonomously supply a building's residents with groceries. (Full disclosure: I work for a robot-delivery company. While we have an offering for apartment buildings, we don't handle groceries, and we don't offer automated refrigeration or restocking.)

Because software could track the demand for specific items, these mini-marts could automatically order supplies as needed, eliminating waste. Since most consumers actually don't change their grocery purchasing habits all that much each week, such a system could rather quickly learn what its residents like to eat and drink and make sure to always stock those items. This means you could have a never-empty fridge without ever having to go to the grocery store again.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Comey Asks Justice Dept. to Reject Trump's Wiretapping Claim (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, MARCH 5, 2017, NY Times)

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump's assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump's phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said. [...]

Mr. Comey's request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation's top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump's truthfulness. The confrontation underscores the high stakes of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump's young administration. his own reputation.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Trump Can't Save Coal (Adam Millsap, 3/05/17, Mercatus Center)

[C]oal must also be able to compete with alternative sources of energy, and lately natural gas has provided more value for consumers. The figure below shows that the real price of natural gas is at its lowest level since 1997.

Another analysis from Bloomberg shows that the price of producing power from natural gas relative to coal fell dramatically after 2009 and has remained low since. Additionally, this relative price decline is largely due to the price of natural gas falling, not the price of coal rising. This price decline also matches up with the decline in coal mining employment shown earlier--evidence that competition from natural gas is at least partly responsible.

The increased use of natural gas doesn't appear to be waning, either. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity generation from natural gas (33%) caught up to electricity generation from coal (33%) in 2015. As recently as 2000 natural gas was responsible for only about 15% of the nation's energy while coal was responsible for approximately 50%.  The current parity between the two is the result of a trend that began in the late 1990s, before the most recent regulations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


I Am a Member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Not a Terrorist (GEHAD EL-HADDAD, FEBRUARY 22, 2017, NY Times)

I write this from the darkness of solitary confinement in Egypt's most notorious prison, where I have been held for more than three years. I am forced to write these words because an inquiry is underway in the United States regarding charges that the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization to which I have devoted years of my life, is a terrorist group.

We are not terrorists. The Muslim Brotherhood's philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasizes the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law. Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has lived in two modes: surviving in hostile political environments or uplifting society's most marginalized. As such, we have been written about, spoken of, but rarely heard from. It is in that spirit that I hope these words find light.

We are a morally conservative, socially aware grass-roots movement that has dedicated its resources to public service for the past nine decades. Our idea is very simple: We believe that faith must translate into action. That the test of faith is the good you want to do in the lives of others, and that people working together is the only way to develop a nation, meet the aspirations of its youth and engage the world constructively. We believe that our faith is inherently pluralistic and comprehensive and that no one has a divine mandate or the right to impose a single vision on society.

Since our inception, we have been engaged politically in the institutions of our country as well as socially to address the direct needs of people. Despite being the most persecuted group under former President Hosni Mubarak's rule in Egypt, our involvement in the Parliament, either in coalitions with other political groups or as independents, is a testament to our commitment to legal change and reform. We spoke truth to power in an environment full of rubber-stamp parties. We worked with independent pro-democracy organizations against plans to hand the presidency to Mr. Mubarak's son. We also worked closely with an array of professional syndicates and labor unions.

During the one year of Egypt's nascent democracy, we were dedicated to reforming state institutions to harbor further democratic rule. We were unaware of the amount of pushback we would receive from hard-liners in these institutions. We were ill-equipped to handle the level of corruption within the state. We pursued reforms through government, ignoring public protest in the streets. We were wrong. By now I am sure many books have been written about what we got wrong, but any fair analysis of the facts will show that we are fundamentally opposed to the use of force. Our flaws are many, but violence is not one.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Yavlinsky Says 1917 'Detour' Led Russia Into 100-Year 'Dead End' (Robert Coalson, 3/05/17, Radio Liberty)

In a contribution for RFE/RL's Russian Service titled Back To February, [ liberal politician and Yabloko party candidate for the 2018 presidential election Grigory Yavlinsky] Yavlinsky argues that, between the abdication of Russian Tsar Nicholas II in February 1917 and the Bolshevik seizure of power in October, Russia took a "detour" into a 100-year "dead end."

Russia's historical path, Yavlinsky says, was disrupted by the October coup and the January 1918 dispersal of the Constituent Assembly that had been elected to determine the form of the country's future government.

"Since that time, Russia has not had a legitimate government," Yavlinsky writes.

The February Revolution came about, Yavlinsky argues, because the monarchy had rejected political modernization and because whole swaths of a dynamically changing society -- former serfs, the emerging bourgeoisie, the growing working class -- had no opportunities to influence political processes.

"The main reasons for the fall of the autocracy are well known -- the slow pace of reforms, the inability of the authorities to cope with change, the transformation of autocratic power into an obstacle to the modernization of the country and the government. Autocracy rejected political modernization and was hopelessly left behind by historical developments.... And with that, it lost its legitimacy. Does this sound familiar?"

Despite these crises and the pressure World War I, however, the country's leaders in the summer of 1917 found a potential way out. Nicholas II abdicated in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael Aleksandrovich. Michael, however, refused to take the throne without the consent of an elected Constituent Assembly.

Like most of the political elite at that time, Michael anticipated that the assembly would write a new constitution that would create either a constitutional monarchy or a republican form of government. Most importantly, Yavlinsky argues, the Constitutional Assembly would ensure the perpetuation of the government's legitimacy.

"The Constituent Assembly is the main signpost on the historical highway the country should have taken in February 1917," Yavlinsky writes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Russia is the slow burn of the Trump administration, and it's not going away (Dan Balz, March 4, 2017, Washington Post)

There are several elements to the Russia investigation. The overarching issue is the attempt by a foreign government to disrupt an American election and thereby undermine confidence in the world's leading democratic government. Just as important is answering the question of whether there was any collusion or cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russians in attempting to undermine Clinton's campaign.

Ambassadors routinely meet with elected U.S. officials. They are especially keen to learn as much as they can about someone who could become president and about the people around the candidate. Sessions's meeting with Kislyak last September easily falls into that category. Similarly, the more recent meetings between Kislyak and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner could be seen in that way as well, or as an effort during the transition to develop necessary contacts.

But Flynn was never forthcoming about his conversations until revelations by The Post, and he was forced to resign after misleading Vice President Pence.

Just as Sessions was unwilling to volunteer his contacts with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearings, the administration has rarely volunteered who met with whom and what was discussed. That's fed suspicions that have intensified calls for more investigation.

The president could begin by ordering an internal investigation, led by someone not now in the administration, of all those contacts. This could force every member of his team to come clean. The administration's credibility on all this, however, has been weakened because, as one Republican put it, "They keep fanning those flames by denying it so vociferously." That means any such public report would be viewed with some skepticism, but at a minimum it would provide an inventory that doesn't exist and the appearance of cooperation.

One vulnerability for the president is his own role in stirring up questions. His posture during the campaign of embracing policies that were in Russia's interests and his positive comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin put him at odds with Republican orthodoxy and raised questions about his motivations and possible business links with Russia. He has denied having any.

Another vulnerability comes from the nature of the Trump campaign, which for much of the election cycle was loosely structured. A variety of people claimed access or influence. The full extent to which Trump advisers, associates or even campaign hangers-on were in contact with Russians remains a mystery. All are legitimate questions aimed at trying to understand whether there was cooperation or collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign writ large.

As much as Trump would like to wish all this away, he can't. The reality is that the investigations are at an early stage. Congress hasn't even begun to call witnesses. The prospect of a special prosecutor looms. This, with health care and tax policy and other initiatives, is now part of Trump's first-year agenda. The president needs a new strategy, one that treats the Russia issue as the serious problem that it is. that the idea of coddling Russia is so antithetical to Republican politics, so you have to argue that Donald and his gang are objectively pro-Putin and none of the money and contacts made any difference.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


The Real American Pie  : Mince pie was once inextricable from our national identity. Blamed for bad health, murderous dreams, the downfall of Prohibition, and the decline of the white race, it nonetheless persisted as an American staple through the 1940s. So what happened? (Cliff Doerksen, December 17, 2009, Chicago Reader)

As an icon of the American way, apple pie is a johnny-come-lately, a usurper, a pale pretender to its pastry throne. The phrase as American as apple pie is of 20th-century origin and didn't attain wide currency until the 1940s. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 40s are also when mince pie went into eclipse as our defining national dish.

But to its 19th- and early-20th-century admirers, mince pie was "unquestionably the monarch of pies," "the great American viand," "an American institution" and "as American as the Red Indians." It was the food expatriates longed for while sojourning abroad. Acquiring an appreciation for it was proof that an immigrant was becoming assimilated. It was the indispensable comfort dish dispatched to American expeditionary forces in World War I to reinforce their morale with the taste of home. "Mince pie is mince pie," as an editorialist for the Washington Post put it in 1907. "There is no other pie to take its place. Custard pie is good and so is apple pie, but neither has the uplifting power and the soothing, gratifying flavor possessed by mince pie when served hot, with a crisp brown crust."

Moreover, unlike apple pie or anything else on the American menu before or since, mince pie dominated in multiple categories. It was beloved as an entree, as dessert, and, in parts of New England, as breakfast. And although more popular in winter than summer, and absolutely mandatory at Thanksgiving and Christmas, mince pie was eaten year round, unconfined to the holiday ghetto it now shares with iffy ritual foods like eggnog, green bean casserole, and marshmallow candied yams.

Most remarkably, mince pie achieved and maintained its hegemony despite the fact that everyone--including those who loved it--agreed that it reliably caused indigestion, provoked nightmares, and commonly afflicted the overindulgent with disordered thinking, hallucinations, and sometimes death.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Tapping Trump? (Julian Sanchez, March 4, 2017, JustLaw)

[T]he allegation made by various news sources is that, in connection with a multi-agency intelligence investigation of Russian interference with the presidential election, the FBI sought an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing them to monitor transactions between two Russian banks and four persons connected with the Trump campaign.  The Guardian's report alleges that initial applications submitted over the summer, naming "four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials," were rejected by the FISC. But according to the BBC, a narrower order naming only the Russian banks as direct targets was ultimately approved by the FISC in October.  While the BBC report suggests that the surveillance was meant to ferret out "transfers of money," the Mensch article asserts that a "warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons."

Taking all these claims with the appropriate sodium chloride seasoning, what can we infer?  First, contrary to what many on social media--and even a few reporters for reputable outlets--have asserted, the issuance of a FISA order does not imply that the FBI established probable cause to believe that any Trump associate was acting as an "agent of a foreign power" or engaged in criminal wrongdoing.  That would be necessary only if the court had authorized direct electronic surveillance of a United States person, which (if we credit the BBC report) the FISC apparently declined to do.  Assuming the initial applications were indeed for full-blown electronic surveillance orders, then the fact that the FBI supposedly did name the Trump associates at first would suggest they may have thought they had such evidence, but one would expect the FISC to apply particularly exacting scrutiny to an application naming persons associated with an ongoing presidential campaign.  An application targeting only foreign corporate entities--especially entities openly controlled or directed by the Russian government--would require no such showing, even if the FBI's ultimate interest were in communications concerning those U.S. persons.

It's worth noting here that, contra Trump's claim on Twitter, none of the articles in question claim that phones were tapped.  Indeed, it's not even entirely clear that the order the FISC finally issued in October was a full-blown electronic surveillance warrant requiring a probable cause showing.  If the FBI was primarily interested in obtaining financial transaction records, corporate documents, and (depending on both the facts and the FISC's interpretation of the FISA statute) perhaps even some stored e-mail communications, that information might well have been obtainable pursuant to a §215 "business records" order, which imposes only the much weaker requirement that the records sought be "relevant to an authorized investigation."  The BBC's use of the word "intercept" to describe the investigators' aim, as well as Mensch's characterization of the order as a "warrant," both suggest full-blown electronic surveillance, but reporters aren't always particularly meticulous about their use of legal terms of art, and similarly, sources with indirect knowledge of an investigation may not be scrupulously exact about the distinction between an "order" and a "warrant."

In either event, there's nothing here to suggest either the direct involvement of President Obama nor any clear indication of a violation of the law.  If, however, the primary purpose of the investigation was to build a criminal case against U.S. persons in the Trump camp, then the use of FISA authorities to gather information by naming foreign entities sounds like "reverse targeting"--tasking collection on a foreign target when your real interest is a U.S. person with whom they're communicating.  That would be, to use the technical term, highly shady even if not unlawful. Thanks to the Patriot Act, however, FISA authorities may be used in investigations that have a "significant" foreign intelligence purpose, even if the "primary" purpose is criminal prosecution--a change from the prior standard imposed by the courts, which had required that foreign intelligence be the "primary" purpose of surveillance under the aegis of FISA, precisely to prevent authorities from evading the stricter requirements imposed by Title III, the statute that covers wiretapping for domestic criminal investigations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Prudence vs. Fanaticism: On the American & French Revolutions (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

A little book forgotten for a century and a half, Friedrich Gentz's Origin and Principles of the American Revolution, compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution, has recently been reprinted in the United States. For the revolutions of our own century have given it renewed meaning. In the first year of the nineteenth century John Quincy Adams, only thirty-three years old, was Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States to Prussia. Adams educated himself the whole of his life; and, perfecting his German during his residence at Berlin, he translated from the Berlin Historisches Journal (April and May, 1800) a long article on the French and American Revolutions by Friedrich Gentz, a rising Prussian man of letters, three years older than the precocious Adams. Gentz was the founder, editor, and sole contributor to this remarkable magazine of ideas. These were men of mark: Adams would become President of the United States, and Gentz, with Metternich, the architect of European conservatism. "It cannot but afford a gratification to every American attached to his country," Adams wrote to Gentz, "to see its revolution so ably vindicated from the imputation of having originated, or been conducted upon the same principles, as that of France."

Gentz had studied under Kant, but Burke's Reflections had converted the young man to conservative principles, and, abhorring the theories and consequences of the French Revolution, he had translated the Reflections into German, thus exerting his first influence upon European politics and making his reputation. Like Gentz, the younger Adams had been profoundly influenced by Burke; and though he tried to act the role of arbiter between Burke and Paine, Adams really was persuaded by all Burke's principal arguments. His Letters of Publicola, published in 1791, had demolished Paine's Rights of Man and had cudgeled the French revolutionaries, enraging Jefferson. The Americans, young Adams had written, had not fallen into the pit of radical abstract doctrine: "Happy, thrice happy the people of America, whose gentleness of manners and habits of virtue are still sufficient to reconcile the enjoyment of their natural rights with the peace and tranquillity of their country; whose principles of religious liberty did not result from an indiscriminate contempt of all religion whatever, and whose equal representation in their legislative councils was founded upon an equality really existing among them, and not upon the metaphysical speculations of fanciful politicians, vainly contending against the unalterable course of events and the established order of nature."

Thus Adams was of one mind with Gentz, and saw in Gentz's essay the most succinct and forceful contrast between the moderate polity of the American colonies, founded upon a respect for prescriptive rights and custom, and the leveling theories of French radicalism. Only the word "Republic" was common to the two new dominations, Adams perceived; and the French Republic already had ceased to contain any element of true representative government. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Trump, Offering No Evidence, Says Obama Tapped His Phones (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MARCH 4, 2017, NY Times)

But a senior White House official said that Donald F. McGahn II, the president's chief counsel, was working to secure access to what Mr. McGahn believed to be an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing some form of surveillance related to Mr. Trump and his associates.

The official offered no evidence to support the notion that such an order exists. It would be a highly unusual breach of the Justice Department's traditional independence on law enforcement matters for the White House to order it to turn over such an investigative document.

Any request for information from a top White House official about a continuing investigation would be a stunning departure from protocols intended to insulate the F.B.I. from political pressure. It would be even more surprising for the White House to seek information about a case directly involving the president or his advisers, as does the case involving the Russia contacts.

After the White House received heavy criticism for the suggestion that Mr. McGahn would breach Justice Department independence, a different administration official said that the earlier statements about his efforts had been overstated. The official said the counsel's office was looking at whether there was any legal possibility of gleaning information without impeding or interfering with an investigation. The counsel's office does not know whether an investigation exists, the official said.

...and we'll take the protestations seriously.
Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Gaza's healthcare crumbling under Israeli siege (Imran Khan, 3/05/17, Al Jazeera)

Israel's continued siege of Gaza is having an effect on medical services leaving many residents struggling.

With procedures costing around $30,000, residents of Gaza have had to turn to charities and international aid to pay for their operations.

"Around 4,000 Palestinians need to leave Gaza for urgent medical treatment but they can't because of the siege," Dr Ashraf Al Qidra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told Al Jazeera.

"Cancer patients are particularly affected as their condition is deteriorating. Our whole medical system is crumbling. We can't get equipment in and we cannot train our doctors."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


The Potential for Blockchain to Transform Electronic Health Records (John D. Halamka, MD, Andrew Lippman, Ariel Ekblaw, MARCH 03, 2017, Harvard Business Review)

Here's the idea:

Blockchain was originally conceived of as a ledger for financial transactions. Every financial institution creates a cryptographically secured list of all deposits and withdrawals. Blockchain uses public key cryptographic techniques to create an append-only, immutable, time-stamped chain of content. Copies of the blockchain are distributed on each participating node in the network.

Today humans manually attempt to reconcile medical data among clinics, hospitals, labs, pharmacies, and insurance companies. It does not work well because there is no single list of all the places data can be found or the order in which it was entered. We may know every medication ever prescribed, but it can be unclear which medications the patient is actually taking now. Further, although data standards are better than ever, each electronic health record (EHR) stores data using different workflows, so it is not obvious who recorded what, and when.

Imagine that every EHR sent updates about medications, problems, and allergy lists to an open-source, community-wide trusted ledger, so additions and subtractions to the medical record were well understood and auditable across organizations. Instead of just displaying data from a single database, the EHR could display data from every database referenced in the ledger. The end result would be perfectly reconciled community-wide information about you, with guaranteed integrity from the point of data generation to the point of use, without manual human intervention.

My colleagues at the MIT Media Lab and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center tested this concept with medications, proving the viability of such an approach. In our white paper, "A Case Study for Blockchain in Healthcare," we proposed a novel, decentralized record management system to handle EHRs using blockchain technology, which we called MedRec.

MedRec doesn't store health records or require a change in practice. It stores a signature of the record on a blockchain and notifies the patient, who is ultimately in control of where that record can travel. The signature assures that an unaltered copy of the record is obtained. It also shifts the locus of control from the institution to the patient, and in return both burdens and enables the patient to take charge of management. For those patients who do not want to manage their data, I imagine that service organizations will evolve to serve as patient delegates for this task. One challenge of the project and the idea is building an interface that can make this responsibility palatable for patients. Most of the individual patient portals that people use today have cumbersome designs, create more work, and have different user interfaces at every institution. A deployed MedRec system would feature a user interface to simplify patient interaction with health care records that bridge multiple institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Even Cheaper Groceries Are Coming to Walmart and Target (Brad Tuttle, Feb 28, 2017, Money)

Walmart and Target try to win customer loyalty based on an "everyday low price" business model. And now it looks like the prices from both retailers are going even lower.

Walmart sells more groceries than any other supermarket in America, and the company is pushing a broad price-cutting initiative to ensure it stays on top of the competition. Reuters reported this week that Walmart has been slashing prices on staples like eggs and milk in stores throughout the Southeast and Midwest in order to compete better with low-price upstarts such as Aldi.

Aldi, which is owned by the same company as Trader Joe's, routinely gets top marks for low prices in consumer surveys. But price checks conducted by Reuters show that Walmart has undercut Aldi in many markets around the country. A basket of 15 common grocery store purchases (milk, bananas, peanut butter, chicken breasts, paper towels, etc.) cost 5% to 10% less in Walmart stores where price cuts have gone into effect, according to Reuters.

March 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM


Jeff Sessions greets guests at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club (Kristina Webb  3/04/17, Palm Beach Post)

Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions took a few moments from high-level meetings at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club to greet guests at the estate tonight.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


Trump angry and frustrated at staff over Sessions fallout (Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta, Jeff Zeleny, Sara Murray, John King and Gloria Borger,  March 4, 2017, CNN)

President Donald Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress, sources tell CNN.

"Nobody has seen him that upset," one source said, adding the feeling was the communications team allowed the Sessions news, which the administration deemed a nonstory, to overtake the narrative.

On Thursday, Sessions recused himself from any current or future investigations into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign after it was reported he had met with the Russian ambassador to the US, something he had previously failed to disclose.

In particular, the renewed focus on Russia is seen as a major letdown after Tuesday when top officials were riding high, congratulating one another on Trump's speech to Congress. [...]

The President is showing increasing flashes of anger over the performance of his senior staff and daily developments about Russia overshadowing his message, multiple people inside the White House and outside the administration told CNN.

Trump voiced his frustration to his inner circle in the Oval Office Friday, sources said. He feels attacked by the media, former Obama administration officials and others, and frustrated that things are not going more smoothly. The President expressed his anger at non-stop leaks undermining his administration, the sources said.

One source familiar with the Friday meeting said Trump was angry at senior staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, about the state of affairs at the White House this week.

...he can't have a staff that both thinks he should be leading the country and is competent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 PM


More Americans say government should ensure health care coverage (KRISTEN BIALIK, 1/13/17, Pew Research)

As the debate continues over repeal of the Affordable Care Act and what might replace it, a growing share of Americans believe that the federal government has a responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Currently, 60% of Americans say the government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38% who say this should not be the government's responsibility. The share saying it is the government's responsibility has increased from 51% last year and now stands at its highest point in nearly a decade.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 PM


Is Russia Preparing to Cut Losses on Trump? : The heat has been turned up by Congressional Democrats on the Trump administration's ties to Russia. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has already begun to look elsewhere for friendlier ties, leading to speculation that it may be getting realistic about what it will get from the Trump administration. (John Batchelor, 03.04.17, daily Beast)

The chatter today is that hawks in the Kremlin understand the sensational allegations against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions as Kremlin dupes to be part of a potent Congressional blocking of President Donald Trump's steps toward détente with President Vladimir Putin.

To underline the case, gossip about Kremlin voices points to 1969-74, when President Richard Nixon's complex steps toward détente with then Soviet Union Premier Leonid Brezhnev were derailed by the grinding Watergate scandal that saw Congress drive Nixon from office. [...]

The fact that Trump did not mention Russia in his address to Congress on February 28 has raised still more questions about whether the president is either too unskilled or too vulnerable to manage détente. 

The Kremlin is not waiting for better days. Moscow is moving to deepen its ties to the Eurasian superpower, Beijing, and may leave Congress to its blame-shifting self-regard as Russian leaders brace for the international crises and brinksmanship that may be part of the failure of this round of détente, just as they were during and following Watergate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Trump's Wiretap Rant Betrays Ignorance of the Law : The president's conspiratorial Saturday-morning tweetstorm betrayed a shocking lack of understanding of how the American legal system works. (BRADLEY P. MOSS, March 04, 2017, Politico)

In either context, the president's remarks alleging his phones were "tapped" are simply preposterous and reflect his complete ignorance of how the various surveillance authorities retained by the government over which he now presides actually work. The president cannot, on his own, authorize surveillance of a U.S. citizen. Whether for domestic criminal purposes or foreign intelligence purposes, a court order is required, either through a standard Article III court or the FISC. There is no indication in any of the reporting that a FISA warrant was issued targeting Trump specifically. Even if collected records encompassed by the FISA warrant - whether the broad Heat Street claim or the more limited BBC/McClatchy claim - included phones calls, emails and/or financial records identifying Trump by name, the minimization procedures imposed by the FISC would have required - absent specific exceptions - that his name be deleted or "masked." The investigators and analysts would not be aware of the fact that it was the president's calls, emails or financial records they were reviewing, at least not without external information independent of the records themselves.

Trump is a political and government novice, and this is not the first time he has put his complete ignorance of governmental laws on show for the world to see via Twitter. It would be in his best interests - and in the best interests of the country - for him to start educating himself on the laws and procedures that apply to the government he now runs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Trump, Offering No Evidence, Says Obama Tapped His Phones (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MARCH 4, 2017, NY Times)

[A] senior White House official said that Donald F. McGahn II, the president's chief counsel, was working on Saturday to secure access to what Mr. McGahn believed was an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing some form of surveillance related to Mr. Trump and his associates. that the FBI was able to argue plausibly that one or more of them are agents of a foreign power.
Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


White House pushing back against Mattis appointment (ELIANA JOHNSON, 03/02/17, Politico)

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wants to tap the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, as his undersecretary of defense for policy, but the Pentagon chief is running into resistance from White House officials, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

If nominated and confirmed, Patterson would hold the fourth most powerful position at the Pentagon - and would effectively be the top civilian in the Defense Department, since both Mattis and his deputy, Robert Work, were military officers.

As ambassador to Egypt between 2011 and 2013, Patterson worked closely with former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist government. She came under fire for cultivating too close a relationship with the regime and for discouraging protests against it--and White House officials are voicing concerns about those decisions now.

The skirmish surrounding Patterson's nomination is the latest in a series of personnel battles that have played out between Mattis and the White House, with each side rejecting the names offered up by the other while the Pentagon remains empty. The White House has yet to nominate a single undersecretary or deputy secretary to the Defense Department, while Work, Mattis's deputy, is an Obama administration holdover who only agreed to stay on until the secretary taps a deputy of his own.

A similar tug of war has played out between the White House and other agency chiefs, most notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president denied his top choice for deputy secretary of state last month.

But it is Mattis who's dug in most stubbornly, insisting on staffing his own department. "Mattis is a guy who cares very much about personnel," said a Mattis friend. "He doesn't want people off the tracks that he has laid down and that he's running his train on."

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


In Twitter Tirade, Trump Appears to Confirm Exclusive Heat Street Report on FBI / Russia Surveillance Warrant (Heat Street, March 4, 2017)

In October, Heat Street's Louise Mensch was the first to report the existence of a secret "FISA warrant", approved by a court, which allowed FBI agents to do electronic surveillance of Trump's campaign and associates. According to Heat Street (and now President Trump), the FBI was first turned down by a court but was later successful.

The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia's Alfa Bank.

Heat Street's reporting contradicted earlier reporting by The New York Times which, citing FBI sources, said that the agency did not believe the private server in Trump Tower had any nefarious purpose. The Times' cautious reporting was later criticized by its own ombudswoman who argued that the "Paper of Record" should have been more aggressive. She was then directly rebuked in a rare breach of protocol by the Times' executive editor, Dean Baquet, who called her criticisms "fairly ridiculous."

In the months that have followed the election, new revelations about Trump advisors' contacts with and ties to the Russians have poured forth almost daily, and the Russia controversy has become a major distraction during the Trump Administration's crucial "first 100 days". In addition to the ongoing FBI investigation, which has been ramped up, there are now also burgeoning Congressional investigations and calls for a special prosecutor to be appointed.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Former Trump Adviser Carter Page Flip-Flops on Russia Meetings (Daily Beast, 3/03/17)

Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to President Trump, stumbled through an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Friday night, admitting to having met with a Russian official after previously denying it. As Trump's team faces increasing scrutiny over ties to Russia, Page admitted to meeting with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak but downplayed the significance of it, at one point questioning the meaning of the word "meeting." "Anderson, a great analogy is you and I were members of the same health club here in New York previously. And I remember walking by you even though we didn't know each other and I said, 'Hi, Anderson,' and you said hello and we, you know, a nice little exchange for half a second. Now, does that to you constitute a meeting?"

The Mystery of Trump's Man in Moscow : Reports of deep Russian ties swirl around Trump adviser Carter Page. Oddly, nobody in Russia seems to have heard of him. (JULIA IOFFE September 23, 2016, Politico)

One source suggested to me that Richard Burt, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, START treaty negotiator, and longtime lobbyist for Alfa Bank, was the nexus. It was Burt who helped draft Trump's foreign policy speech in April, and had been advising the Trump campaign, via Senator Jeff Sessions, on foreign policy. But when I met Burt at his office at the McLarty Associates lobbying shop, he looked at me and said he had never even met him. "The only person I talked to about Carter Page is this guy at the Washington Post," Burt told me. "And I told him I'd never met the guy. Let me put it this way: if I have met him, I've forgotten. He's the former Merrill Lynch guy, right?"

Someone else told me that the Page connection was Rick Dearborn, Sessions' chief of staff, who hired Page because Dearborn knew nothing about foreign policy but needed to put together a foreign policy staff for Trump's Alexandria, Virginia, policy shop and he happened to know Page. But Dearborn wouldn't return my calls, and someone who once worked for that policy shop told me it was neither Dearborn nor Burt, but campaign co-chair Sam Clovis who recruited Page. "If he was part of that original group of people, I can say with 70 percent confidence it was Sam Clovis," this person told me.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping His Office During Election (Radio Liberty, 3/03/17)

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping his New York office during the election campaign, but has not provided evidence of the charge.

"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the [election] victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" Trump wrote on Twitter on March 4.

Well, I guess we now know why the Democrats say Comey has transcripts of the Russian contacts. That the courts approved such wire-tapping and the FBI asked for it can't be hystericalled away.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Money for nothing: the case for a basic income : a review of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There, by Rutger Bregman and Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght (Akash Kapur, 3/02/17, Financial Times)

The notion of a guaranteed income for all may appear counter-intuitive, even heretical in an era marked by anxiety over rising deficits and creaking welfare states. Opponents of the idea also worry that no-strings-attached free money could reduce incentives to work. Bregman is relatively sanguine about costs, suggesting, alternatively, that a universal income would be cheaper than existing welfare programmes, or that it could easily be paid for by new taxes on "assets, waste, raw materials, and consumption". Concerns about incentives are similarly unfounded, he argues, relics of old, patronising thinking about poverty and welfare.

The book includes a variety of empirical evidence to suggest that cash handouts do not, in fact, make people less likely to work. In many cases, they actually increase labour activity, for example by providing recipients with the financial security to quit unfulfilling jobs and launch entrepreneurial ventures. Bregman is at pains to dismiss stereotypes of the poor as lazy or unmotivated. As the economist Joseph Hanlon (whom Bregman quotes) phrases it: "Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It's not about stupidity . . . You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots".

Bregman is a champion of the randomised control trial (or RCT) in social sciences research; this increasingly popular approach to evaluating policy interventions borrows its method from the field of medicine. He cites a number of small-scale trials and experiments that indicate the many possible benefits of cash handouts. In countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil, Kenya, Namibia and Mexico, universal income schemes have been linked to reductions in malnutrition, crime and child mortality, along with improvements in indicators of education, equality and economic growth. Advocates also make several ethical arguments, pointing to the social and moral imperatives of providing citizens with an income floor at a time of rising concern over automation, structural unemployment and growing inequality. "This wealth belongs to all of us," writes Bregman. "And a basic income allows all of us to share it."

Bregman may be a particularly enthusiastic evangelist, but he is hardly the first to promote a universal income; the idea has a long, and in many ways somewhat surprising, pedigree. Thomas More, the godfather of utopia, envisioned something like a guaranteed income for the residents of his idealised world. Versions of the concept have also found favour among thinkers as varied as John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith. In the late 1960s, no less a conservative stalwart than Richard Nixon presented a basic income bill, labelling it "the most significant piece of social legislation in our nation's history". It passed the US House of Representatives before dying in the Senate.

The idea subsequently fell out of vogue, obscured by Reaganite-Thatcherite pieties about meritocracy, hard work and individual responsibility. But it has recently returned from the fringes to the centre-stages of policymaking, once again a respectable option backed by influential figures on both the left (who like its egalitarian impulses) and the right (who find it less paternalistic than the welfare state). Several European countries -- including Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland -- have seriously considered some version of a guaranteed income scheme. This year, India hinted at plans for its own programme. In many ways, the idea seems particularly well-suited to our fluid political times, cutting across existing ideologies and affiliations. Precisely because the benefit is universal, it appears to have widespread political acceptability. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Sessions to provide amended testimony on Russia ties (Times of Israel, March 4, 2017)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans on Monday to provide amended testimony regarding his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the US during the presidential election. [...]

Sessions has recused himself from any probe that examines communications between President Donald Trump's aides and Moscow. His decision came after revelations that Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so despite questioning from Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Amid firestorm, Trump appears to waver on Russia deal (AP, 3/03/17)

 Facing a new wave of questions about his ties to Russia, US President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve -- at least temporarily -- his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats.

It's obviously early yet, and he can do some damage as we go along, but thus far the deep state appears to be saving us from the worst impulses of Donald/Bannon.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Records show EPA's Pruitt used private email, despite denial (MICHAEL BIESECKER and SEAN MURPHY, 2/27/17, Associated Press)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt occasionally used private email to communicate with staff while serving as Oklahoma's attorney general, despite telling Congress that he had always used a state email account for government business.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Where millennials want to live might surprise you  (Phillip Molnar, 3/03/17, SD Union-Tribune)

A pair of studies released this week suggests that the majority of millennials want to live in the suburbs, have already started buying outside urban areas, and base their homebuying decisions mainly on affordability.

Reports by Zillow and Harvard break with stereotypes of America's largest generation, namely that they prefer to rent because they favor experiences over building equity and want to live in urban environments.

Such preferences could have an impact in San Diego, which has the one of the biggest concentration of millennials in the nation yet has moved away from building single-family homes to apartments and condos.

Millennials only make up roughly 10 percent of the nation's homeowners (the oldest millennials are about 35 years old). The majority who have made the leap decided to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents.

Nearly 50 percent of millennial U.S. homeowners were in the suburbs in 2016, 33 percent in an urban area and 20 percent in rural places, said Zillow's Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends. The report used Census data and a Zillow survey of more than 13,000 homebuyers, sellers, owners and renters.

Which is why demographics don't help the Democrats.

March 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Forget Obamacare -- AI is driving the real health care transformation (ALEX TURKELTAUB, ROAM ANALYTICS, MARCH 3, 2017, Venture Beat)

Three key trends have converged to make AI-driven health care a necessity. First, the Affordable Care Act has fueled the industry's focus on value over volume. We simply cannot afford to treat patients under the old model of "provide as much care as possible, regardless of the costs." We need to get the right intervention to the right patient at the right time, while avoiding as much as possible doing things that add no value and cost a lot of money.

Second, the advent of electronic health records and the associated explosion in data has made it ever more important to learn what the data is telling us, and respond with new models of care.

And finally, the realization that treating "the whole patient" -- not just isolated conditions, but attempting to improve the overall welfare of patients who often suffer from multiple health challenges -- is the new definition of success, which means predictive insights are paramount.

In the emerging reimbursement environment, pharmaceutical and medical device companies will have to offer solutions instead of widgets -- they will be paid based on the value their products deliver, value that is tied to a complete solution for a particular patient's condition that improves outcomes and promotes both health and wellness. Providers, whether large hospital systems or individual doctors, will need to optimize patient pathways and drive to best outcomes; otherwise they will not get paid. And payers will make coverage decisions based on outcomes rather than clinician and patient requests.

As Republicans are finally realizing, the question of whether America will have universal health coverage has already been decided.  It's the shape of the system that remains to be determined and where conservative principles--decreasing consumption and increasing personal savings--can still prevail.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


How Rank-and-File Republicans Overruled Trump on Sessions Recusal (John T. Bennett, 3/03/17, The Hill)

What made Sessions' recusal remarkable was that Trump, whom a top aide once said "will not be questioned," was overruled by mostly rank-and-file Republicans.

The White House was set to weather the storm created when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that it would be "easier" if Sessions recused himself. But, in what became a pattern among GOP leaders, he told "Fox & Friends" he was "not calling on him to recuse himself."

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., gave Sessions cover when he told reporters that if the attorney general was not the subject of an ongoing probe, "I don't see any purpose or reason to doing this."

But other members stirred.  At 8:14 a.m. Thursday, Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, tweeted that Sessions "should clarify his testimony and recuse himself." [...]

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, said in a statement that Sessions "is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe."

He wasn't out on a limb.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, told reporters that if the Justice Department is looking into Trump campaign contacts with Russia -- which it has not confirmed -- his former Senate colleague should not be involved.

"You've got an attorney general who is my dear friend, who was closely involved with the presidential campaign," Graham said. "If there's credibility to the allegations of inappropriate contacts between a foreign government and the campaign, in my view, for the good of the integrity of the system, somebody should pursue that. Not Jeff Sessions. "You don't want somebody involved in the campaign deciding whether or not there's a crime in the campaign," the former Air Force lawyer said.

Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast ramped up the pressure when he became one of the few GOP members to use the other "r-word."

"Jeff Sessions needs to immediately clarify his Senate testimony and recuse himself from any investigation into Russian ties," Mast said. "If he cannot commit to ensuring this process is completed with full transparency and integrity, he should resign."

Then there was the nudge from Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

"When we spoke earlier this afternoon, between votes on the Senate floor, I suggested, as I did with Attorney General Lynch after she met with President [Bill] Clinton on her airplane, that his recusal may be the best course of action," Grassley said in a Thursday afternoon statement. "He indicated that he had been consulting with the professionals at the department, and that he agreed."

...we'd rather be governed by the Congress than by Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


California jobless rate drops to 5.1%, as the state continues to outpace national growth (Natalie Kitroeff, 3/03/17, LA Times)

The California economy started 2017 on a strong note, with employers in January adding 9,700 jobs and the jobless rate dropping to 5.1%, according to data released by the Employment Development Department.

January was a banner month for the country -- which gained a net 227,000 new jobs. But California continued its years-long trend of outpacing the national economy in job growth, piling on jobs at a year-over-year rate of 2%, faster than the national rate of 1.6%.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


White House: Keystone exempt from 'Buy American' requirements (BEN LEFEBVRE, 03/02/17, Politico)

The Keystone XL Pipeline will not be subject to President Donald Trump's executive order requiring infrastructure projects to be built with American steel, a White House spokeswoman said today.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


This company 3D-printed an adorable house in 24 hours (Rachel Kaser, 3/03/17, Next Web)

A 3D-printing company managed to build a star-shaped house on-site in just one day.

The cheery yellow dwelling is tiny -- just 400 square feet -- and circular in layout. The company -- San Francisco-based Apis Cor --  built the house from a concrete mixture which it says lasts around 175 years. [...]

Complete costs for the house's construction? $10,134.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


Sen. Jeff Sessions backs Donald Trump on Russia policy (Mary Troyan, 8/15/16, USA Today)

"I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the U.S. and Russia to be at this loggerheads," Sessions said. "Somehow, someway, we ought to be able to break that logjam."

Other GOP leaders - and President Obama's administration -- say there are plenty of valid reasons for the loggerheads.

In addition to annexing Crimea in Ukraine, Russia sent military aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war; provided asylum to Edward Snowden, who is wanted on espionage charges; is widely believed to be responsible for the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers; and has sharply restricted freedoms for independent journalists. And the head of NATO has accused Russia and Assad of "weaponizing migration" in an effort to destabilize Europe.

Yet Trump - and Sessions - insist  a Trump presidency can and should de-escalate tensions between the two world powers.

It is a contrast from Sessions' 19-year Senate record of calling Russia an untrustworthy adversary to be dealt with via massive military strength, not negotiation.

In a Montgomery speech in March 2014, for example, he called for international scorn toward Russia for its aggressive actions in Ukraine and, before then, Georgia.

"I believe a systematic effort should be undertaken so that Russia feels pain for this," Sessions said then. "Because if you don't act now to make some sanctions against Russia then why will they believe in the future that we're going to impose sanctions or do anything aggressive if they move forward to take all of Ukraine, all of Georgia?"

Trump Takes on The Blob (SUSAN B. GLASSER March/April 2017, Politico)

Up in New York at the United Nations, new Ambassador Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, had asked a bunch of the career officials to stay on, and they had started giving her briefings on how to talk tough to the Russians about their takeover of Ukrainian territory and other matters, I was told. Then the minders from the Trump "beachhead team" at Foggy Bottom found out about it; no way, they said, overruling Haley: They're out.

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


California Nonprofit May Have Violated Tax Law By Donating to Anti-Muslim, Far-Right Dutch Candidate (Lee Fang, March 3 2017, The Intercept)
THE DAVID HOROWITZ FREEDOM CENTER, a controversial California-based nonprofit that sponsors virulently anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant campaigns in the U.S., has quietly played a prominent role in financing Dutch far-right nationalist Geert Wilders's People's Party for Freedom (PVV). The PVV's platform calls for an end to Muslim immigration and the closing down of mosques and Islamic schools in the Netherlands -- and polls suggest it may win the largest number of seats in the Netherland's parliamentary elections this month.

By providing grants to the PVV, the Freedom Center, which operates as aa 501(c)3 nonprofit, may have violated IRS tax rules that prohibit tax-exempt charitable groups from funding overt political campaign activity.

Former IRS tax officials who spoke to The Intercept also note that the Freedom Center failed to disclose the grants to Wilders's political party in its annual tax return, another potential violation of the law. Nonprofit groups' tax returns are public documents.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


To make better computers, researchers look to microbiology (Eva Botkin-Kowacki, MARCH 2, 2017, CS Monitor)

Computer engineers have created some amazingly small devices, capable of storing entire libraries of music and movies in the palm of your hand. But geneticists say Mother Nature can do even better.

DNA, where all of biology's information is stored, is incredibly dense. The whole genome of an organism fits into a cell that is invisible to the naked eye.

That's why computer scientists are turning to microbiology to design the next best way to store humanity's ever-increasing collection of digital data.

With every new app, selfie, blog post, or cat video, the hardware to store the world's vast archive of digital information is filling up. But, theoretically, DNA could store up to 455 exabytes per gram. In other words, you could have 44 billion copies of the extended versions of all three of The Lord of the Rings movies on the tip of your finger. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


When the Fed screws up, recessions follow (Christopher Matthews, 3/03/17, Axios))

Early 80s: These two recessions were triggered by Fed Chair Paul Volcker's extreme interest-rate increases aimed at taming one of the worst bouts of inflation in modern American history.

Early 90s: Fed funds rates were also rising in the months leading up to the recession; but one can also argue the culprit was the runup in oil prices that resulted from the Gulf War, sapping spending power and consumer confidence.

Early aughts: The Federal Reserve began raising rates as the dot com bubble expanded during the late nineties, and raised rates steadily from the winter of 1999 through the fall of 2000 in an attempt to cool an overheating economy. By March 2001, the economy was in recession.

The Great Recession: The housing bubble was certainly a culprit of the 2008-2009 recession, but many blame the Federal Reserve as well. Bush Administration monetary economist Scott Sumner thinks the Fed should have moved much more quickly to lower interest rates in the months leading up to the recession, and could have possibly avoided the recession altogether if they had.

Once Volcker, Thatcher and Reagan broke inflation in the early '80's, the subsequent hikes have been into the teeth of deflation, which is always disastrous.  Of course, the economy is so strong and the rate hikes so nakedly political, rather than ideological, that the Fed has been able to bail immediately and only the 2008 recession may be measured as one eventually. And even that would have been avoided had the House GOP not rebelled against the Bush bailout.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Iowa Pol's Bio Changed After 'Sizzler U' Discrepancy Emerges (CORKY SIEMASZKO, 3/02/17, NBC)
An Iowa lawmaker who is pushing a controversial bill that caps the number of Democrats that state universities can hire as professors claimed on a government website that he got a "business degree" from the "Forbco Management school."

But State Sen. Mark Chelgren's alleged alma mater is actually a company that operated a Sizzler steak house franchise in southern California and he doesn't have a "degree," Ed Failor, a spokesman for the Iowa State Republicans, told NBC News.

Running a restaurant is probably as good a preparation as getting an MBA.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


George W. Bush Isn't Mad at Will Ferrell, His TV Counterpart (GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO, MARCH 3, 2017, NY Times)

George W. Bush carefully avoided taking any shots at President Trump on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Thursday. But the 43rd president did set himself apart from the 45th in one conspicuous way: He laughed at himself.

While Alec Baldwin's impersonation of Mr. Trump on "Saturday Night Live" seems to have gotten under Mr. Trump's skin, Mr. Bush fondly remembered Will Ferrell's take on him.

"I had dinner with Lorne Michaels, the head of 'Saturday Night Live,' and he said, 'I put a great speechwriter on you, and he came up with "strategery."' And I said, 'Wait a minute, I said "strategery."' And he said, 'No, you didn't say "strategery."' I said, 'I damn sure said "strategery."' He said, 'We invented it.' I said, 'Well, let me ask you this: Did he come up with 'misunderestimate?'"

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


How much longer can Republicans defend Trump over Russia? (Paul Waldman, Mar. 3rd, 2017, The Week)

We should say that it's possible that Sessions' conversations with the ambassador were perfectly innocent, even if one has to wonder why he would deny that they had occurred if that were the case. And it's possible that there was nothing wrong with Michael Flynn's contacts with the ambassador, or the money he got from Russian state television. And there may be a reasonable explanation for why Trump campaign officials suddenly softened the Republican platform's language about Russia during the GOP convention. And there may be nothing wrong with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's work for a pro-Russian strongman in Ukraine, or with Trump associate Roger Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks about hacked DNC emails, or with the Russian ties of Trump Cabinet members like Rex Tillerson and Wilbur Ross. And maybe Trump's people had absolutely nothing to do with all the Russian hacking that was meant to help him get elected. And perhaps no Republicans were involved in the Russian hacking of Democratic congressional candidates, even though Republicans, including a PAC with ties to none other than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, then used the information from the hacks to attack their opponents (bet you forgot about that one).

Might it even be possible that there's nothing more to be learned about Trump and Russia, that there are no secrets lying within this web of denial and obfuscation, that it's all above board and ethical? Sure -- anything's possible. But given everything that we do know, that seems rather unlikely.

So imagine you're a Republican member of Congress. You already had to make a whole bunch of moral compromises to get behind this president. But you decided it was worth it, both because there are so many conservative initiatives you'd like to see a Republican president sign, and because you despised Hillary Clinton so deeply.

But now every day, you have to decide anew: How far am I willing to go to protect this president and this administration? The answer for any politician is: only as far as it remains to my advantage, both in terms of the policies I want and my own political survival.

But the pressure is growing. 

...where the average congressman considers what's in it for him if, having run ahead of Donald in his district, he defends the president over stuff he disagrees with personally, when a weakened Executive will just transfer more power to the Republican majority on the Hill? It is cold political calculus that is fatal to Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


5G, which promises blistering download speeds, is coming soon (Edward Baig, 3/03/17, USA TODAY)

What pretty much everyone agrees on is that this next generation of wireless, when it finally does arrive, will have a broad impact  beyond fast phones -- from self-driving cars to remote surgery.

"5G is the enabler of what I would call the connected society that today's current technology wasn't engineered to handle," John Stankey, CEO of the AT&T Entertainment Group.

Laxdal of Ericsson places 5G into three broad categories. The first is what he calls "critical" machine tech communications, where you're remotely controlling something that needs to be precisely and securely managed over the air. This could be remote control surgery, remote control mining, self-driving vehicles.

A second category is for practically every other connected machine or thing: wind turbines, jet engines, connected water, connected vineyards.

And the third is mobile broadband. Indeed, all the experts expect apps to emerge that will exploit the increased broadband on your phone, for business use and for play. Think augmented reality, virtual reality, game and entertainment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


At some point, Patriots need to pay up (Karen Guregian, March 03, 2017, Boston Herald)

The Patriots are going to have to overpay if they want to keep their best free agents.

Why would anyone ever have to overpay for completely fungible goods?

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Jeff Sessions was a leading Russia hawk. Then he signed on with Donald Trump. (Sarah Wildman  Mar 2, 2017, Vox)
[W]hat makes the apparently friendly meetings so remarkable isn't simply that they are now at the center of another Trump-Russia scandal. It's that Sessions, for nearly 20 years, was considered among the most reliably hard-line of Russia hawks in the Senate.

That position began to change as the Alabama senator moved closer to candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election cycle. By the time he was fully a member of the Trump team, Sessions had changed his messaging on Russia so notably that it became a point of reportorial interest, with USA Today noting that his "tough talk about the threat Russia poses to the U.S. and its allies in Europe" had "undergone some revisions."

The news of Sessions's meetings with the Russian ambassador raises serious ethical and legal question because it directly contradicted his own testimony in January during his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for attorney general.

But it also raises a set of broader and more explosive questions: What changed for Jeff Sessions when he entered Trump's orbit that turned him from a Russia hawk into someone eager to do business with the Kremlin? And what does all this coziness between Trump administration surrogates and Moscow mean for US policy, the election, and the country?

There's a lot of that going around : folks on the right who suddenly approve of Putin and/or cuddling with him after years of denouncing him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Chance the Rapper, Christianity, and Blackness (Ernest Ezeugo, 3/02/17, New America)

Sitting on a barstool in front of Jamila Woods, Donnie Trumpet, the Social Experiment, and an all-black church choir, Chance gave a performance of "Sunday Candy" that was slower and more deliberate than the mixtape version. He told us of his grandmother and her love, of Christmas dinners, and of Sundays at church, all wrapped in the harmonies of Jamila Woods and the church choir's refrain. The link between Chance's grandmother and religion--the clear theme of the performance--carried the rapper to the end of the song, where he stood up began freestyling to the musical collective's now spirited improvisation. It was at this point during the performance that he name-dropped Jason Van Dyke, an officer charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald, before finishing an impressive flow and bringing an end to the performance.

You don't have to read between the lines to get the point: Chance wasn't afraid to go onto a stage as wildly popular as SNL's and be his authentic self--and this included rapping about his Christianity.

The performance did more than signal the trajectory of Chance's musical evolution: It gave us insight into his unique brand of Christianity. It isn't the stuff of coffee shop devotionals and megachurches. It's not practiced in weekday young adult services. It isn't hipster holiness, either; it doesn't aspire to be cool or convenient, but vital. It looks like a grandmother, descended from slaves, at a black church in her Sunday best. And it's precious and resilient in the same way an heirloom is. Chance's religion is inextricably linked to blackness through family and community, and to an enduring hope through the uniquely black suffering that necessitates it.

In Chance's music, the themes of Christianity, blackness, and hope/joy take many forms. Sometimes they are bound together brilliantly in a single line like in "How Great" ("Good God, the gift of freedom/Hosanna Santa invoked and woke up slaves from Southampton to Chatham Manor"). Other times one of the themes stands out above the others, like in the joyful anthem "No Problem." But seldom are they ever separated.

That last part is important. Like a number of other rap artists who have brought Christianity to the forefront of their art, Chance finds his songs co-opted by mainstream Christian thought, particularly by young Christians who appreciate that he is unafraid to praise God in front of large audiences. But this praise is often absent of depth, crumbling when it is confronted with nuance. For example, the idea of rejecting rap as art but loving what Chance does is flawed--if you don't like rap and its complexities, his message isn't made for you. If you find yourself reflexively saying "actually, all lives matter" any time someone says that black lives matter, or asking "well, what about black-on-black crime" whenever someone talks about police brutality, but then cheer on Chance because he mentioned God at the Grammys, you're deluding yourself. Of course, just because it is not made for everyone does not mean that everyone can't acknowledge it. But giving Chance's Christianity nuance is important for whom it reaches.

Mainstream Christian writers and magazines tend to celebrate Chance's gospel as a phenomenon of evangelism that has seeped its way into spaces where it has not traditionally been welcome. The truth, however, is that Chance's gospel is just as powerful for an increasing number of Christian millennials finding it harder and harder not to join their religiously unaffiliated peers. The complexity of Chance's Christianity puts it at odds with the shifting--and arguably deteriorating--landscape of mainstream Christian thought. For disenchanted Christian millennials--specifically those of color--Chance's profound faith is a reminder that there is a place where we belong, because it was made for us, labored over for us, bled over for us, no matter what the rest of it looks like.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Report: Pence used a private email account as governor (Al Jazeera, 3/03/17)

Vice President Mike Pence used a private email account to conduct public business as Indiana's governor, according to public records obtained by the Indianapolis Star.

The newspaper reported on Thursday that emails provided through a public records request show that Pence communicated with advisers through his personal AOL account on homeland security matters and security at his residence during his four years as governor.

The governor also faced email security issues.

Pence's AOL account was subjected to a phishing scheme last spring, before he was chosen by Donald Trump to join the GOP presidential ticket. 

March 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Devices Seized in Yemen Raid Offer Some Clues to Qaeda Tactics (ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER, MARCH 1, 2017, NY Times)

The raid is a delicate issue in the Trump administration because the president authorized it five days into office, over dinner at the White House with Mr. Mattis and several other senior officials. But in an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday, Mr. Trump seemed to distance himself from the operation, saying that responsibility for the decision to go forward rested with his generals. "This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do," he said.

The information contained in the cellphones, laptop computers and other materials scooped up in the raid is still being analyzed, but it has not yet revealed any specific plots, and it has not led to any strikes against Qaeda militants in Yemen or elsewhere, officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Think You Can Do Better? The Obamacare Standard (David Kendall,  March 1, 2017, Third Way)

The question now is: will Republicans make these metrics better--or worse?

9 out of 10 working adults have health insurance.1

3 out of 4 working-age adults have no gaps in coverage over the course of a year.2

19 out of 20 children have health insurance.3

No Americans are denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy or cancer.4

No American is dying or going bankrupt because they exhausted their health care coverage.5

Employer-sponsored coverage has held steady.6 [...]

Access to primary care through community health centers has increased steadily for the past five years, for a total increase of 25%.13

The number of primary care providers has grown steadily for the past five years, for a total increase of 18%.14

Hospitals have seen a steady decline in unpaid medical bills starting in 2012.15 [...]

Health care inflation over the last six years has averaged one-half of 1%.18

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Is the GOP's Tea Party Over? : Arizona was the poster child for Tea Party politics. Now the state's Republican leaders are focusing instead on core establishment issues. The shift there could signal what's to come across the country. (ALAN GREENBLATT, FEBRUARY 23, 2017, Governing)

In Arizona, as in other Republican-dominated states, there have been prolonged battles in recent years that pitted establishment-oriented Republicans -- those aligned with the chamber of commerce and large corporations -- against GOP legislators backed by the Tea Party and championing hard-line social issues. In Arizona, that battle is over for now. The establishment has won. "The legislature has been more careful about the bills being introduced," says Glenn Hamer, president of the state Chamber of Commerce. "I'm not aware of any mainstream legislators in the state who are eager to move off the road of economic development and education."

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Donald Trump Fiscal Irresponsibility: Lower Taxes, More Spending (Kevin D. Williamson, 3/02/17,  National Review)

Populism does not mean putting the American people first. Populism means telling the American people whatever it is they want to hear, even if it is bull and everybody knows it.

The courtiers and scribes spent the evening after President Donald Trump's big speech to Congress engaged in increasingly absurd metaphysical speculation over the nature of what it means to be "presidential" and the degree to which Trump has achieved this. Never has so much gibberish been uttered by so many over a reflexive adjective.

And there were exclamations of surprise: "He came out against . . . bigotry!" Well, raise my rent. What did you expect him to do, endorse the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries? End Black History Month by saying, "Hey, you know what, Joe Biden was right: We do want to put you back in chains!"

Preposterous nonsense. But that is what we must expect from our increasingly ceremonial presidency. Who applauded? Who didn't? Who was the first to stop clapping? What does it mean? It is difficult to imagine a self-respecting people's consenting to be governed by these people, and to be condescended to by their sycophants.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Trump's World Increasingly Shaped by Fox News, and Fox by Trump (Shannon Pettypiece  and Gerry Smith, March 2, 2017, Bloomberg)

Donald Trump's TV viewing habits have changed since he became president -- networks he views as hostile have fallen out of favor, Fox News is in heavy rotation -- creating an unusually close relationship between a president and a news outlet.

Long a voracious consumer of cable news, Trump has cut back how much he watches CNN and MSNBC in recent weeks, having sworn off the latter network's "Morning Joe" after criticism from its hosts, according to a senior White House aide privy to the president's viewing habits.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Donald Trump's First Congressional Address Was The Speech People Needed To Hear (Ben Domenech, MARCH 1, 2017, The Federalist)

The first month of Donald Trump's presidency has been marked by this repeated unending observation among media observers: "This is not normal. This is not normal. This is not normal." So it's possible that much of the ebullient praise for last night's address to a joint session of Congress is borne out of it being, well, normal - normal in tone and in manner. Boring, if you will, in a safe and responsible way. One could imagine John Kasich giving much of that speech, especially the parts about family leave; one could imagine Tom Cotton giving much of that speech, especially the parts about the evils of the sequester; one could imagine Mike Pence giving much of that speech, especially the parts about America. The point is that this was in large part a generic big-spending tax-cutting cop-and-military-defending Republican speech. Which is safe, and recognizable, and, well, normal.

You only had bunches of things to hate if you believe in free trade, fiscal responsibility, entitlement reform, and balanced budgets - things the Republican Party once stood for but it turns out were never part of its animating mission. So, essentially, Paul Ryan was put through 90 minutes of on-air waterboarding for him and his Reaganesque/Jack Kemp mission for the party. But he swallowed hard, and stood, and yes, he clapped. As someone who believes in all these things from the comfort of not being a member of Congress, I didn't have to - I just gripped hard on my copy of The Fountainhead, and wished him well.

Fortunately, Congress is in control and can just ignore him.
Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Trump Taps Putin Critic for Senior White House Position : The selection of Brookings scholar Fiona Hill comes as the Trump administration draws fire for contacts with Russian officials. (JOHN HUDSON, MARCH 2,  2017, Foreign Policy)

The Trump administration has offered a well-respected scholar and sober critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin the position of White House senior director for Europe and Russia, a White House official told Foreign Policy. [...]

Since President Donald Trump's election in November, she has dismissed the possibility of a dramatic rapprochement with Russia given the inherent differences between Washington and Moscow. "The Russians will get all giddy with expectations, and then they'll be dashed, like, five minutes into the relationship because the U.S. and Russia just have a very hard time ... being on the same page," she told The Atlantic in November.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Are We Living in the Matrix? (Joe Heschmeyer, 3/02/17, Strange Notions)

On Monday, the New Yorker suggested that "the bizarre finale to Sunday night's Oscar ceremony brought to mind the theory--far from a joke--that humanity is living in a computer simulation gone haywire." Lest you think that such a self-evidently absurd theory is a mere cry for attention from a dying publication, the idea that we're all in the Matrix was actually seriously debated at the American Museum of Natural History's 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate. 

The list of those partial to this theory include some of the most prominent scientific voices in our culture, and the debate was moderated by one of the most famous:

Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum's Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else's hard drive. "I think the likelihood may be very high," he said.

So how do people this smart end up advocating a theory this absurd? Simply put, because they're atheistic materialists smart enough to see the implications of their own religious and philosophical views. 

...resides in no small part in our rejection of Materialism and Europe's embrace of it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Top Republicans call on Sessions to recuse himself from Russia investigation (Karoun Demirjian, March 2, 2017, Washington Post)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during an appearance on MSNBC that Sessions should bow out to maintain "the trust of the American people."

Minutes later, House Oversight and Government Reform committee chairman Jason Chaffetz joined McCarthy's call, tweeting that "AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Women Have 'Chick Flicks.' What About Men? (GLORIA STEINEM, MARCH 2, 2017, NY Times)

I was on a flight from New York to Seattle recently when a long delay on the tarmac prompted the airline to offer us a free movie. As the flight attendant read the choices aloud, a young man across the aisle said, "I don't watch chick flicks!"

I knew what he meant, and so did the woman sitting next to me. A "chick flick" is one that has more dialogue than car chases, more relationships than special effects, and whose suspense comes more from how people live than from how they get killed.

I wasn't challenging his preference, but I did question the logic of his term. [...]

Still, this was not the problem of the guy on the plane. He was just trying to find a movie he wanted to watch. His "chick flick" label might help him avoid certain movies, but shouldn't he have a label to guide him toward movies he actually liked?

The key difference, of course, lies in the type of relationship depicted.  If the guy ends up with the woman it's a chick flick.  If he ends alone (or dead, preferably in the obligatory crucifix scene, or with other men, which is the same thing) it's a guy flick:



The Maltese Falcon

The Magnificent Seven

The Searchers

The Great Escape

The Godfather


The Sand Pebbles

Bridge on the River Kwai

Double Indemnity

Sunset Boulevard

Lawrence of Arabia

Citizen Kane

Gone With the Wind

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Cool Hand Luke

On the Waterfront



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Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Pakistan's cabinet green-lights tribal region reform (Al Jazeera, 3/02/17)

Authorities began the reform process in the northwestern region after fighters with al-Qaeda and the Taliban established sanctuaries there. The army regained control of the last of the territories in an offensive launched in mid-2014 that lasted until the end of 2016.

"We want to bring tribesmen in the national mainstream so that their deprivations could end," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the cabinet. [...]

The set of constitutional, political, and administrative reforms are aimed at bringing the areas at par with the rest of the country, a spokesman for Sharif said.

A 10-year development programme will be introduced for all of FATA and the merger will be carried out over a period of five years. 

Amad Khan, from Bajaur Agency in FATA, told Al Jazeera the reforms will put a proper education system in place. 

"We have sacrificed a lot for Pakistan and for years we haven't been given our basic rights," he said.

"This reform will bring schools, colleges and a proper health system in our areas accessible to us. Even though it took years to be acknowledged by our country, we are thankful that it finally happened."

More than 1.8 million people from FATA  have been displaced by insurgency, counter-insurgency and other related violence in Pakistan. Most of them live in IDP camps in Peshawar and urban centres such as Karachi.

"People look at us as terrorists since we come from that area... No, that is not true. I myself have lost my uncle in a terrorist attack, we have suffered a lot, so this little change brings hope," said Khan.

Establishing sovereigns in the Tribal Areas, rural Afghanistan, Palestine, Western Iraq and Eastern Syria will allow us to hold them responsible for terrorists in their territory.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Behind scenes, Ivanka encouraged Trump's change of tone: sources (Reuters, 3/02/17)

Behind the scenes at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka was a key advocate for the more measured, less combative tone he struck in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, officials said. [...]

A senior White House official said Ivanka Trump made recommendations for the speech during a brainstorming session in the Oval Office on Sunday, helping her father decide on a new approach aimed at easing concerns over whether he had the right temperament to govern effectively.

Interesting how Bannon and Preibus fight over blame, but no one gets credit besides Ivanka and Jared.  And, of course, Donald himself is a prop.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


The truth about Obama's economic legacy and Trump's inheritance (Christian Weller, 3/01/17, National Memo)

The current economic expansion just became the third-longest on record. The economy has been adding jobs every month for more than six years, the longest winning streak since World War II. And the federal budget deficit has sharply declined from a high of 9.8 percent of GDP in the middle of the Great Recession to a manageable 3.2 percent last year.

...and it's the easiest time to become president ever.

Jobless claims sink 19,000 to 223,000 in new postrecession low (Jeffry Bartash, Mar 2, 2017, Marketwatch)

New claims, a measure of layoffs, have now been below the key 300,000 threshold for 104 straight weeks, according to government data.

The less volatile four-week average of initial claims dropped by 6,250 to 234,250. That's the lowest level since April 1973.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Muslim veterans offer to guard Jewish sites across US (GABE FRIEDMAN, March 2, 2017, Times of Israel)

Following the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of two Jewish cemeteries, some Muslims on Twitter are offering to help guard Jewish sites. [...]

This latest show of solidarity comes after an online fundraising campaign started by two Muslims -- and touted by "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling -- raised more than $150,000 to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis last week. Some 170 gravestones were toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, Missouri.

One of the founders of the campaign, Linda Sarsour, is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and a harsh critic of Israel. [...]

On Monday, a Muslim man who started an online fundraising campaign for a Florida mosque damaged in an arson attempt said that many of the donors to the campaign, which raised $60,000, were Jewish.

"I couldn't understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Gold-stein, Rubin, Fisher.... Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called 'Chai'. It wishes the recipient a long life," Adeel Karim, a member of the Islamic Society of New Tampa wrote Monday in a Facebook post. "The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I'm floored."

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Donald Trump's Inaugural Pastor Creates 'Safe Haven' for Immigrants (Elisabeth Dias, 3/01/17, TIME)

The Sacramento church of an evangelical pastor who led a prayer at Donald Trump's inauguration is offering beds for congregants who need a safe haven from immigration raids or domestic violence.

Pastors at New Season Christian Worship Center set up thirty cots in two large rooms just days after the President issued his January executive order that expanded federal deportation policy. Congregants spread the word that they were available for anyone who was afraid of the immigration policies' potential effect. Half a dozen families showed up in the past month. Most stayed just a couple of days. About half came with fears over immigration and half with fears of domestic abuse, according to church officials. [...]

Theologically conservative churches face different challenges from their liberal counterparts. Many evangelical churches have members who are strong Trump supporters as well as immigrants who are both legal and undocumented. NHCLC is a largely conservative network of evangelical Hispanic churches, and Latino evangelical congregations have been growing quickly in the U.S. Nearly a quarter of Assemblies of God churches, for example, are Latino, and much of the new growth has come from Hispanic communities. "This is a community that is not completely hostile to him," Rodriguez says. "It was the conservative evangelical community that played a dominant role in the election of our president."

Predominantly white evangelical congregations face a similar challenge. Rod Loy leads First Assembly North Little Rock in Arkansas, a theologically conservative church, and he estimates that 10% of his 5,000-congregant church is Latino. This week, Loy met with the Latino leadership of his church to talk about the "overwhelming" fear that families are feeling from Trump's policies. The church also gave a college student about $1500 to pay for her family's citizenship papers. Whenever a church member becomes a citizen, Loy says, the church celebrates during the Sunday service, giving them a standing ovation and a "basket of Americana," including a can of Coke, an American flag, apple piece and a baseball.

Loy hopes to start a church-based immigration program, and is sending a team to an upcoming immigration law training in Minneapolis with the Evangelical Free Church of America. He expects to soon have volunteers to represent congregants in immigration court. "We are all very concerned," Loy says. "We have to respect our president, we have to respect our leaders, but if you live in fear, there is no freedom."

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Trump administration has found only $20 million in existing funds for wall (Julia Edwards Ainsley, 3/02/17, Reuters)

The rapid start of construction, promised throughout Trump's campaign and in an executive order issued in January on border security, was to be financed, according to the White House, with "existing funds and resources" of the Department of Homeland Security.

But so far, the DHS has identified only $20 million that can be re-directed to the multi-billion-dollar project, according to a document prepared by the agency and distributed to congressional budget staff last week. [...]

An internal report, previously reported by Reuters, estimated that fully walling off or fencing the entire southern border would cost $21.6 billion - $9.3 million per mile of fence and $17.8 million per mile of wall.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Justice Dept: Sessions spoke with Russian ambassador in 2016 (Eric Tucker, 3/02/17, Associated Press)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign season last year, contact that immediately fueled calls for him to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the election.

Sessions, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate, did not disclose those communications at his confirmation hearing in January when asked what he would do if "anyone affiliated" with the campaign had been in contact with the Russian government.

Sessions answered that he had not had communication with the Russians.

He's the one the Senate should not have confirmed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


The Mythical Link Between Immigrants and High Crime Rates (Mike Maciag, 3/02/17, Governing)

A large body of research, however, finds no link between immigration and high crime rates, with some studies suggesting places with more immigrants actually enjoy slightly lower crime rates. Still, critics often contend that illegal immigration leads to more crime as research has generally failed to distinguish such individuals from the vast majority of legal immigrants who've been vetted by authorities.

To shed light on this contention, Governing conducted an original analysis using recently released metro area population estimates from the Pew Research Center for "unauthorized immigrants" -- people who crossed the border illegally or overstayed visas. The analysis not only found no link with violent crime, but indicated concentrations of unauthorized immigrants were associated with marginally lower violent crime rates. A statistically significant negative correlation was also shown for property crimes. For every 1 percentage-point increase in the unauthorized immigrant share of a metro area's population, average property crime rates dropped by 94 incidents per 100,000 residents.

Estimates of undocumented immigrants and average annual crime rates over a three-year period for 154 metro areas were analyzed in a regression model, controlling for a dozen socioeconomic variables. Pew's unauthorized immigrant population estimates are the first set of regional-level figures the center has published. Nationally, they suggest this demographic accounts for a quarter of foreign-born residents, or about 3.5 percent of the total U.S. population.

Our analysis of the Pew data, while limited to a narrow time period, mirrors findings of broader academic research dismissing a relationship between foreign-born residents, regardless of legal status, and higher crime rates.

"The literature is pretty clear," says Robert Adelman, an associate professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. "Results are strong and stable across time and place."

A recent study Adelman co-authored in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice found increases in total foreign-born populations over time were associated with reductions in robberies, murder rates and all types of property crimes across metro areas. Some individual studies have reported contrary evidence, but they are in the minority. A forthcoming paper in The Annual Review of Criminology reviews more than 50 studies, finding that 2.5 times as many studies indicate a negative correlation between immigration and crime as those suggesting the opposite effect. Incarceration rates depict similar patterns, with an analysis by the advocacy group American Immigration Council reporting immigrant males ages 18 to 39 are incarcerated at roughly half the rate of native-born residents.

Despite decades of research casting doubt on any connection, emphasis on public safety risks that immigrants could pose remains a frequent talking point in the push to bolster immigration enforcement. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Falcons can only hope to avoid same fate as recent Patriots postseason victims (Jeff Howe, March 02, 2017, Boston Herald)

One by one, Patriots adversaries lined up yesterday at the scouting combine to unveil reasons why the future will reveal a different path.

But the fact of the matter is, over the past couple years, the Pats haven't just ended their opponents' seasons, they've crippled some foes, leaving them reeling for months and, in certain cases, years to come.

It is often held against the Pats that the AFC has been fairly weak in the Belichick era, but that fails to reckon with how their dominance forces teams into idiotic short term decision making.  The Falcons--who just blew up a coaching staff that had a Super Bowl won--are a perfect example of that.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Ohio's voucher students fare worse than public-school peers, study finds ( Catherine Candisky, 7/07/16, The Columbus Dispatch)

Ohio's EdChoice program provides 20,000 students in low-performing public schools with tax-funded vouchers for private school tuition.

But parents would be wrong to assume their children are getting a better education, according to new study that found many students who used vouchers to attend private schools fared worse on state reading and math tests compared with their peers in public schools.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which commissioned the report and supports vouchers, called the results "disappointing," but he cautioned that researchers looked at a limited number of students and raised questions that warrant further exploration.

March 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Bloody Islamic State video puts China in cross-hairs (AFP, 2/28/17)

Islamic State terrorists from China's Uighur ethnic minority have vowed to return home and "shed blood like rivers," according to a jihadist-tracking firm, in what experts said marked the first IS threat against Chinese targets.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


India frets that American welcome is over after Kansas bar killing : Shooting of two Indian engineers shakes New Delhi's view of Trump administration (Amy Kazmin, 2/27/17, Financial Times)

[T]he link does not seem at all absurd in India, which sends several hundred thousand of its citizens to the US every year to study and work, as well as 1m tourists. In an emotional press conference at Garmin's headquarters, Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Kuchibhotla, spoke for an anguished nation, when she declared, "I need an answer from the government. I need an answer for everyone out there: what is it that they are going to do to stop this hate crime?"

The Indian media has echoed her call. "President Donald Trump and his political allies, who fanned the red-hot coals of white nationalist tendencies through the course of their election campaign, must answer questions raised by this murder," the Indian Express newspaper wrote in an editorial on Monday.

An editorial in the The Hindu newspaper noted Mr Trump, a compulsive tweeter, has been silent on Kuchibhotla's killing, though few doubt he would be so restrained if an immigrant had killed a white American. "The selective social media outrage of Mr Trump on violent acts across America is disturbing," it said. "This intensifying trend of racist xenophobia may make the US a far more dangerous emigration destination than it has been so far."

Underlying the furore is a deeper angst over the India-US relationship, which could be headed for a rough patch -- despite the bonhomie of Mr Trump's initial phone calls with Narendra Modi, India's prime minister.

Over the past 15 years or so, Washington's approach to New Delhi was driven by the belief that facilitating India's economic rise -- and military modernisation -- would yield long-term benefits to the US, even without immediate pay-offs.

But Mr Trump has made clear he wants America to get "better deals" in its relations with allies and other friendly countries, and bring American jobs back from overseas, which could hit the strategic ties with India.

For many Indians, especially young engineers, the most emotive question is whether they will still be welcomed, wanted and safe in the US.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Can refugees save a town? : Refugees have infused a new sense of energy into Akron, Ohio, as it battles population decline. President Trump's temporary refugee ban is a concern.  (Simon Montlake, FEBRUARY 28, 2017, CS Monitor)

[N]aresh Subba is the new face of immigration in Akron. He opened his grocery store in 2011, catering to refugees from his native Bhutan and elsewhere whose recent influx has restocked a fading neighborhood. The store has expanded, adding a snack counter and more space for pulses, rice snacks, and the flower garlands that brighten Bhutanese festivities.

"We like this place. It's very, very welcoming," says Mr. Subba.

Since 2007, Akron has welcomed about 3,500 refugees, mostly from Bhutan, along with thousands of other foreign-born migrants. That's a modest slice of total United States immigration, which exceeds 1 million a year. But the resettlement of working-age refugees has become a lifeline for cities like Akron that are struggling to hang onto their workforce and revive urban districts. That pits them against President Trump's controversial effort to cap refugee flows and suspend all resettlement from Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


President Trump quoted as an anonymous source just days after demanding a ban on anonymous sources (Jeva Lange, February 28, 2017, The Week)
President Trump was quoted anonymously in a CNN story published Tuesday, BuzzFeed News reports. He was apparently referred to in the article simply as "a senior White House official."

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Beshear Responds to a Speech Trump Chose Not to Give (Ed Kilgore, 2/28/17, NY Mag)

[T]he effectiveness of Beshear's response was undermined by a Trump speech that was not dark and divisive, and did not address in any kind of detail the issues the Kentuckian raised, including Obamacare. The president stayed at 30,000 feet on most policy issues, and provided no more than a few minutes on health care, and even less on two other topics Beshear discussed: the intelligence community and financial regulation.

The Democratic Party as an institution is bereft of ideas, so what was he supposed to talk about?

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Postman Caught Having 'Spontaneous' Sexual Relations With Mailbox (Heat Street, 3/01/17)
An Irish postman has expressed his "enormous shame and regret" after he was discovered performing sex acts using a mailbox.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


FBI Talked With Author Of Dossier (Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, 3/01/17, The Washington Post)

The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump's political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.

The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts. [...]

Steele was familiar to the FBI, in part because the bureau had previously hired him to help a U.S. inquiry into alleged corruption in the world soccer organization FIFA. The FBI sometimes pays informants, sources and outside investigators to assist in its work. Steele was known for the quality of his past work and for the knowledge he had developed over nearly 20 years working on Russia-related issues for British intelligence.