April 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The State of Sovereignty (J. Dana Stuster, April 30, 2017, Lawfare)

[S]ince the collapse of the Soviet Union, the logic of the ideas put forward in the 1940s is creating new international norms that undermine the very concept of sovereignty.

Haass reserves particular concern for the development of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, calling it a "major turn" in the way states relate to one another, though he notes that it has not been adopted as an international norm in practice. The growing emphasis on states' domestic affairs--governance and human rights concerns, in particular--has hindered effective foreign policy, while multilateral institutions designed to regulate international affairs have failed in their promise to manage responses to crises. The United Nations struggles to address too many issues and wrangle too many countries in pursuit of an illusory goal of global consensus, he argues; smaller or more issue-specific coalitions might allow some limited progress, but this can be stymied by bandwagoning. Haass discusses the G-8 with nostalgia, in contrast to the unwieldy process of coordinating policy among the G-20. "[The] trend toward disorder has been a function of structural changes in the international system--above all, the diffusion of capacity into more hands than ever before--exacerbated at critical times by the action (and inaction) of the United States and other powers," he writes. "The result is a world not just of more capacity in more hands but also of more decision makers and independent actors. Consequently, a host of global and regional challenges have emerged that are proving to be far more than the major powers can contend with."

Brooks is more charitable toward post-World War II international institutions. "While the U.N. Charter's collective security system certainly did not end all wars," she writes, "it did succeed in greatly reducing the number of conflicts between states, and overall, deaths due to armed conflict have declined." But like Haass, Brooks pinpoints the establishment of the post-World War II order--particularly the "notion that individual humans were entitled to be treated by their states with respect and concern" and "that they held 'rights' not at the pleasure of their governments but simply by virtue of their humanity"--as the point when sovereignty started to unravel. Brooks also notes that this accelerated after the end of the Cold War and with the development of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. She writes that the United States was ambivalent about intervening in Kosovo for fear of establishing a precedent for humanitarian intervention, but proceeded anyway, laying the groundwork for the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty's November 2001 report establishing the concept of Responsibility to Protect.

In its report, ICISS did something novel and in many ways extraordinarily appealing: it sought to circumvent the tension between the moral pull of human rights and the moral pull of sovereignty by simply redefining the terms of the discussion. In particular, ICISS sought to redefine sovereignty itself, arguing that sovereignty is not something that states possess simply by virtue of being states, but rather a matter of responsibilities as much as rights--and the most fundamental responsibility of a sovereign state is the protection of its own people.

With this revision, Responsibility to Protect gained credence, though not unreserved acceptance, in Washington and at the United Nations, and facilitated the justifications for the 2011 U.N.-backed interventions in Libya and Cote d'Ivoire.

Brooks argues that, like Responsibility to Protect, the modification of principles on states' use of force abroad since 2001 has also eroded the concept of sovereignty. While self-defense has always been a legitimate cause for war, this was premised on the actions of states, not terrorist organizations. "The events of 9/11 showed that a state's failure to control its 'internal' affairs' could lead to the 'export' of harm to the population of other states," Brooks writes. "Inevitably, the blurring of the lines between internal and external and between crime and war undermined the logic of sovereign nonintervention principles." In 2003, the United States justified its invasion of Iraq on the basis of preemptive self-defense. But what could have more far-reaching consequences is the U.S. policy of conducting targeted strikes outside of active battlefields in countries with which the United States is not at war regardless of the consent of the country's government. Brooks explicitly ties this reasoning to Responsibility to Protect:

[T]he underlying logic used appears structurally identical to that underlying the 'responsibility to protect' concept: sovereignty implies responsibilities as well as rights; states must refrain from internal acts that threaten the citizens or basic security of other states, and must prevent nonstate entities from engaging in such acts inside their borders. If a state fails to fulfill this responsibility...other states are entitled to use force within its borders if doing so is necessary to protect themselves or uphold global security.

Except that these new ideas are over 200 years old--the US is founded on the faith that sovereignty carries with it responsibilities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Pelosi Prays for George W. Bush to Be President Again Instead of Trump (Sam Dorman, April 30, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Pelosi appeared to start making a comment about Trump and how his priorities were different than the country's, but accidentally said "President Bush."

"I'm so sorry President Bush. I never thought I'd pray for the day that you were president again," Pelosi said, in an apparent dig at Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


South Korea says U.S. reaffirms it will pay THAAD costs; joint drills wrap up (Ju-min Park and James Pearso, 4/30/17, Reuters)

South Korea said the United States had reaffirmed it would shoulder the cost of deploying the THAAD anti-missile system, days after President Donald Trump said Seoul should pay for the $1-billion battery designed to defend against North Korea.

In a telephone call on Sunday, Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, reassured his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, that the U.S. alliance with South Korea was its top priority in the Asia-Pacific region, the South's presidential office said.

April 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Military plane crashes in Cuba killing all eight on board (Reuters, 4/29/17)

The aircraft, a twin-engined turboprop Antonov AN-26, had taken off at 6:38 a.m. (0638 ET) from Playa Baracoa, just outside Havana, and crashed into the Loma de la Pimienta mountain some 80 km (50 miles) westwards.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Does Iran's Khamenei really have a preferred candidate? (Reza Marashi, April 27, 2017, Al Monitor)

Rather than Khamenei or the political establishment selecting a favorite among the 2013 contenders, it was Jalili who used Western media to portray himself as the supreme leader's preferred candidate. Indeed, Jalili announced his candidacy during a CNN interview in Istanbul. Moreover, on the same day that he was approved to run, Jalili gave an interview to the Christian Science Monitor in which he was declared the frontrunner. Western media and pundits ran with Jalili's self-serving depiction as Khamenei's man, which was reported back into Iran via hard-line media as fact -- citing Western news coverage as evidence.

But seeking to avoid a repeat of Iran's 2009 presidential election and the ensuing instability, Khamenei seemingly stayed above the fray in 2013. Perhaps pushing back against Jalili's efforts to appropriate his image and sell it to voters, Khamenei bluntly stated in a speech, "I do not favor anybody. From this moment onward, foreign media will say with ulterior motives that I favor a particular candidate. This is a lie. I do not favor anybody."

Contrary to Jalili's depiction, Khamenei emphasized the correlation between voter turnout and legitimacy of the political establishment by saying, "My first and foremost recommendation is participation through the ballot box. This is more important than everything else. It is possible that some people do not want to support the Islamic Republic for any reason, but in any way they would like to support their country. Therefore, these people should go to ballot boxes as well." In the end, Jalili lost -- receiving only 11.8% of the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


Islamic State kills senior Afghan Taliban official in Pakistan: militants (Reuters, 4/29/17)

Islamic State killed a senior Afghan Taliban official in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, the Afghan militants said on Saturday, in a rare clash between the rival Islamist groups inside Pakistan. [...]

The Islamic State, which at one point controlled huge chunks of territory across Syria and Iraq, has made some inroads into Afghanistan but the group has met tough resistance from the Taliban as well as U.S. and Afghan special forces.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


France Against Itself (Tim Judah, 4/29/17, NY Review of Books)

A visit to the Côte d'Azur gives some sense of how this situation came about. First was the abysmal performance of the current administration. By last year Hollande's ratings had dropped so low that he decided not to run for a second term. His promises of reform and economic rejuvenation were largely unfulfilled. France has first-rate infrastructure and heath care, but taxes are high. The country's growth has been lingering in the doldrums since the financial crash of 2008. Its unemployment rate is almost 10 percent, or about 2.8 million people. Its youth unemployment rate is close to 25 percent. (Britain's unemployment rate is 4.7 percent and Germany's is 3.9 percent.) Writing in Le Figaro on April 19, a group of economists noted that in 1980 France's per capita GDP was 20 percent higher than that of Britain but that by 2015 Britain had overtaken it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


No, 'The Handmaid's Tale' Is Not 'Unexpectedly Timely' (Megan McArdle, 4/25/17, Bloomberg View)

Fictional dystopia is sort of the photonegative of the movies produced by actual totalitarian regimes. Masses of people wearing identical creepy clothes, forming into precise lines, chanting the same things. Yes, in regimes like North Korea and Hitler's Germany, those mass rallies occurred. The men marched and the girls danced in eerily infinite lines. But afterward, most of them went home to the banal, the ordinary, and the familiar -- altered by political fear and economic shortages, but not wholly transformed into something unrecognizably inhuman.

In interviews since its publication, Atwood has emphasized that all the details in the book were based on things that really happened in the world (or at least, are recounted in tales; the "handmaids" of the book, concubines given to elite men of Gilead's theocracy in order to bear them the children their barren wives could not, is based on the story of Rachel and Jacob in the Book of Genesis). One sees the historical referents when reading, and yet the entire effect is completely unrealistic, because she's drawn details from too many oppressive regimes and collaged them all together. Thus a regime that is clearly supposed to be some sort of fundamentalist Protestant theocracy is enthusiastically adopting extramarital sex, infanticide and Tibetan prayer wheels. This makes for some dramatic imagery, but not for what Mary McCarthy, in her review of the book, called "the essential element of a cautionary tale": "...recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock." Dystopian regimes in real life have common features, yes, but they are not actually interchangeable; indeed, they are surprisingly specific.

Reading accounts of those actual regimes, I'm always surprised at how culturally embedded they remained, even as they proclaimed that they were enacting a new world order in which everything would be different.

People still got married and settled into family domesticity under communist regimes that were supposed to be sweeping away all the vestiges of private lives in favor of creating "new Soviet man" or his many cousins; people in theocratic states still had considerable variance in the level of religious observance; theoretically internationalist ideologies fell back on nationalist sentiment to motivate the masses. All of which is to say: The Taliban certainly existed, but it could not exist in America, because it would have no popular base from which to launch its attacks, no historic practice of burqa-wearing to ratify bringing them back.

Nor could such a movement gain power here along the lines that Atwood outlines. I've seen her praised for actually thinking through the mechanism by which her fictional state might emerge, and kudos for the effort, but we must also acknowledge that, as written, it doesn't really make all that much sense. The inciting event is a lightly fictionalized version of the Reichstag fire, but a careful student of history would note that a decade after the Reichstag fire, most of German society still looked pretty much like it had in 1925. No, I'm not excusing Nazi atrocities in any way shape or form, nor discounting the sweeping changes that Hitler did make. But they didn't gut-renovate the economy, wipe out all religions that competed with the state, and completely reorganize society in the space of a few years; they left much of the economy and the culture alone. For structural reasons -- she needs her handmaid to remember the world before as an adult, and yet still be young enough to be fertile -- Atwood needs changes that are both unrealistically sweeping and ludicrously fast. 

To the contrary, it's hard to see how its anti-life/anti-religious politics could be any more timely: 

How Democrats Got Mired In A Nasty Internal Battle Over Abortion : The party's unity tour reopened wounds from the primary. (Daniel Marans, 4/29/17, The Federalist)

National reproductive rights groups counted it as a major victory last week when the Democratic National Committee doubled down on its commitment to abortion rights amid anger at its support for Heath Mello, an anti-abortion candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

But the groups' pointed criticism of DNC chair Tom Perez, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for embracing Mello sparked a bitter public debate about the Democratic Party's values ― one that continues to simmer, overshadowing the large crowds the party drew on its cross-country tour and muddying efforts to present a united front against President Donald Trump.

Now even the DNC is clarifying that it never meant to suggest it would not back Mello or other anti-abortion Democrats.

Bill Nye, the Scientism Guy (KYLE SMITH, April 27, 2017, National Review)

An even more horrifying moment occurred in episode 13, which is devoted to the supposed problem of overpopulation. Nye featured Travis Rieder, of Johns Hopkins University, as a guest panelist ethicist. Rieder said that because people in poor countries (being poor) don't consume much energy (even though overpopulation is a driver of climate change), we should direct our population-control efforts at the rich world, where the population isn't growing, instead of at the poor world, where it is. This would, he reasoned, be the best way of reducing global energy demands.

Even though in Niger the average woman has seven children, Rieder said, "our two kids are way more problematic!" Congratulations, Travis Rieder's children, your dad thinks your very existence regrettable. Next time you're standing on a ledge, don't let Dad sneak up behind you.

"So should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?" Nye asks. "I do think that we should at least consider it," Rieder replies blandly. "'At least consider it' is, like, 'Do it!'" Nye responds, a demonic glint in his eye. Another panelist, Dr. Nerys Benfield, director of family planning at Montefiore Medical Center, spots a whiff of eugenics here: "We've gone down that road before and who winds up being penalized? It's poor women, minorities, disabled women. . . . So we really have not come at it from a place of justice necessarily in the past."

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Who Had the Better First 100 Days? (Ben Mathis-Lilley, 4/26/17, Slate)

On the 31st day of his presidency, William Henry Harrison died. This presented a major hindrance to his efforts to pass signature legislation and has generally been considered the worst "first 100 days" a president can have. Given how poorly Donald Trump's first 100 days have gone, however, it seems possible that being dead might have been a better strategy than whatever it is Trump's doing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Gorka's Departure From White House Said To Be 'Imminent' (Larry Cohler-Esses, April 28, 2017, The Forward)

According to a story posted late Friday afternoon by The Daily Beast, the administration is now "actively exploring options" to remove Gorka from the White House and place him at another federal agency. In the story, sourced to two unnamed administration officials, Gorka's departure is described by one of those sources as "imminent."

A third source told Daily Beast staff writer Lachlan Markay that Gorka has been excluded from day-to-day policy making at the National Security Council due to his lack of a security clearance. The security clearance issue prevents him from sitting in on national security meetings, a former Obama administration official in touch with staff still working there, told Markay. This "leaves him without much to do all day," he said.

Nevertheless, "the president really likes him and appreciates him as a good spokesperson for the administration," a senior administration official said of Gorka. And this may yet save his job. No decision has yet been finalized. "But he isn't part of the NSC policy making process," this official said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Ick, Ticks! (Becky Munsterer Sabky, 4/28/17,  Valley News)

It's that time of year again. While most people get excited about the first warm days of spring, I'm less thrilled. Sure, warmer spring weather means shorts and soft-serve maple creemees. But it also means the onslaught of bugs. (Remember the old saying "Black flies are worst from Mother's Day to Father's Day?") And while I welcome grasshoppers, centipedes and honeybees, I'm less enthused by some of their cousins. The scariest, of course, is the deer tick.

Spring in the Upper Valley is rife with ticks. This time of year, my backyard is covered in ticks. My dog is covered in ticks. My friends are covered in ticks. Even, my soft-serve ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles has one black "sprinkle" that actually moves. (BLECH.)

I have no compassion. As far as I'm concerned, ticks are the most no-good, terrible, horrible, worst creatures on Earth. (They are also technically arachnids rather than insects, which make them doubly horrific, in my mind.) Lyme disease has affected friends and family and I'm desperate to keep these disgusting little bloodsuckers at bay. And Lyme is only one of many tick-borne diseases they carry. While I know that some organic oils promise to minimize them, we live in a place where they can't seem to be completely controlled. (I'd love to fill my yard with guinea hens to feast on the bugs, but unfortunately, we're not meant to be a fowl family.)

And so, I do my best to keep the ticks away. I wear high white socks and long khaki pants on walks with my dog. I keep my lawn as short as possible. I try to avoid grassy areas where deer roam. But no matter what, they creep in.

I literally found two on me just while posting this morning.  Perhaps the only downside of NH.
Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Afghan Warlord Hekmatyar Calls For Peace In Public Speech (Radio Liberty, April 29, 2017 )

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, has called on the Taliban to stop fighting government troops and begin peace talks.

"I invite you to join the peace caravan and stop the pointless, meaningless and unholy war," Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, told a gathering of Afghan politicians and his supporters in Laghman Province on April 29.

"I want a free, proud, independent, and Islamic Afghanistan," Hekmatyar added, in his first public appearance in nearly two decades.

Hekmatyar, the founder and current leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party, signed a peace deal with the Afghan government in September

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM



The Cleveland Browns' analytically minded front office has asked a lot of the team's fans and ownership. After a trying 2016 and an anxiety-filled draft offseason, that patience appears to have paid off in the form of a celebrated free-agent haul and talented draft class that could become the nucleus of a future title contender. Yes, you read that right.

The "trust the process" mantra proffered by rebuilding teams can frustrate fans, especially the long-suffering supporters of the Browns. The franchise has rebooted its staff more frequently than other in recent years, employing six different general managers and head coaches since 2008. Accordingly, Cleveland's decision to reorganize its front office around Sashi Brown and former baseball executive Paul DePodesta last offseason tested an already broken trust.

In the time since those changes, the Browns produced little on the field. They looked destined for much of last season to become just the second team ever to finish with an 0-16 record. When they did win late in the season, it all but eliminated their shot at the No. 1 overall pick. The San Francisco 49ers bailed out Cleveland with an inexplicable December victory of their own, but it did little to dispel the fans' concerns.

However, in the past few days, the Browns have gone a long way toward changing their narrative.

...almost any baseball guy was going to be the smartest.

April 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


DeMint set to be ousted from Heritage Foundation (NANCY COOK , KENNETH P. VOGEL and ELIANA JOHNSON 04/28/17, Politico)

The controversial president of The Heritage Foundation, former Sen. Jim DeMint, may soon be out of a job, following a dispute with board members about the direction of conservative think tank, according to three people with knowledge of the situation. [...]

In recent months, DeMint has raised the profile of the think tank by closely aligning it with President Donald Trump. Last July, DeMint met with Trump transition officials for several hours and made it clear that if Trump won, he wanted to have a close working relationship with the administration.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Bill Nye's View of Humanity Is Repulsive (David Harsanyi, April 28, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

"Here's a provocative thought," Rieder says. "Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them." This is provocative in the way a stoner wondering why airplanes don't run on hemp is provocative. That's because the entire case for capping the number of children rests on assumptions entirely devoid of scientific or historical basis.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote that "the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." At that point, there were maybe a billion humans on Earth, so we might forgive him for worrying. In 1800, the life expectancy of the average British citizen -- Britain then being the leading light of the world -- was 39 years. Most humans lived in pitiless poverty that is increasingly rare in most parts of the contemporary world.

Now, had Nye been around in the early 19th century, he'd almost surely have been smearing anyone skeptical of the miasma theory of disease. The problem is he lacks imagination; he's unable to understand that science is here to help humanity adapt and overcome, not constrict it. Anyway, 7-plus billion people later, extreme poverty was projected to fall below 10 percent for the first time ever in 2015. Most of those gains have been made in the midst of the world's largest population explosion.

Additionally, it is reported that because of the spread of trade, technological advances and plentiful fossil fuels, fewer people are hungry than ever; fewer die in conflicts over resources; and deaths due to extreme weather have been dramatically declining for a century. Over the past 40 years, our water and air have become cleaner, despite a huge spike in population growth. Some of the Earth's richest people live in some of its densest cities.

It's worth remembering that not only was early progressivism steeped in eugenics but early '70s abortion politics was played out in the shadow of Paul Ehrlich's population bomb theory. Former Vice President Al Gore has already broached the idea of "fertility management." Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg mentioned a few years ago, "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."

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


State Department Wants to Clear Nikki Haley's Remarks Before She Speaks (SOMINI SENGUPTA and GARDINER HARRIS, APRIL 27, 2017, NY Times)

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia and how to approach human rights.

Much of that has come as a surprise to the State Department, and the Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, has often been far from the limelight.

Now, in an apparent attempt to foster greater coherence in American foreign policy, State Department officials are urging her aides to ensure her public remarks are cleared by Washington first.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump's populist revolution is already over ... for now (Doyle McManus, 4/16/17, Los Angeles Times)

Two weeks of head-spinning policy reversals have put Trump squarely inside the chalk lines of conventional Republican conservatism on both economics and foreign affairs.

His impulsive management style and his fact-challenged rhetoric are still intact. But most of his policy positions are now remarkably similar to those espoused by the GOP's last establishment nominee, Mitt Romney, in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Exclusive: Trump says he thought being president would be easier than his old life (Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, 4/28/17, Reuters)

He misses driving, feels as if he is in a cocoon, and is surprised how hard his new job is.

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Some Reflections on Chaim Potok's 'The Chosen' : The novel, published 50 years ago today, shaped the American Jewish encounter with Hasidism and Orthodoxy, while giving a pretty good play-by-play account of a baseball game (Aaron R. Katz, April 28, 2017, The Tablet)

It is only fitting that a book that is so "Jewish" opens with a description of arguably the most Jewish of all sports in the most Jewish of all American communities: baseball in Brooklyn. Ever since Lipman Pike was a star Jewish baseball player in the 1870s, Jews have always had a connection to the game. Central to the novel is a highly detailed description of a softball game between Reuven Malter's Modern Orthodox school and Danny Saunders' Hasidic school. As Potok sets out for the reader, the game itself is a product of America's entry into World War II, as a number of teachers in the Jewish school system wanted to show the gentile world that yeshiva students were just as physically fit as public school students. The description of the game is riveting, especially when we are introduced to Malter and Saunders who meet for the first time during the heated game. Ultimately, Saunders smacks the ball right toward Malter on the pitcher's mound, knocking off his glasses and sending him to the hospital where the two begin to cultivate their friendship in earnest.

Potok, clearly versed in the sport of baseball, wears the hat of a professional sports commentator throughout this opening chapter, to the extent that one can literally prepare a detailed box score of the fictional game. (Personal disclosure: I've done it. Although, for the record, in the top of the fifth inning, the inning in which Malter gets knocked out, the No. 2 batter is skipped in the batting order, and instead the No. 3 batter leads off the inning.) His biases toward Hasidim are also apparent from the opening pages. Time and time again the aggressiveness and sense of superiority of the Hasidim are asserted. In perhaps one of the tensest scenes in the opening chapter, when Saunders and Malter meet, Saunders says, "I told my team we're going to kill you apikorsim this afternoon." In Rabbinic Hebrew and in Yiddish, apikores refers to a heretic. Potok has transformed the baseball game into a religious war, with a clear delineation from the perspective of Malter, from whose perspective the book is written in first person. [...]

One of the people whom Potok thanks on the opening page of The Promise is professor David (Weiss) Halivni, a Holocaust survivor and longtime Talmud professor at JTS and Columbia University who is universally acclaimed as one of the pioneers of the academic Talmudic approach. Havlin actually finds one of the cases that Malter cites in Halivni's 1969 work, Mekorot u-Masorot on Seder Nashim.

Halivni lives in the Shaarei Chessed neighborhood in Jerusalem, and I recently saw him one Shabbos morning at the Kahal Chassidim synagogue. While it may seem strange to run into one of the foremost academic Talmudists davening at an Ultra-Orthodox shul in Jerusalem, where the congregants would not generally support his scholarly approach, in praying there, Halivni is true to the sentiments he expressed in his 1983 resignation letter to JTS: "It is my personal tragedy that the people I daven with, I cannot talk to, and the people I talk to, I cannot daven with. However, when the chips are down, I will always side with the people I daven with; for I can live without talking. I cannot live without davening." After davening that Shabbos morning, I went up to Halivni to ask him about his relationship with Potok. After exchanging warm greetings and expressing his joy in being recognized, Halivni discussed the many ways the fictional Malter and the Talmudic methodology he uses in The Chosen were modeled after him and his own personal work. With a warm smile and a wink, Halivni told me: "I am Reuven Malter."

Which is all well and good, except that Rabbi Saunders is the hero of the novel.
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The Pond-Skater Presidency (David Brooks, APRIL 28, 2017, NY Times)

The problem is that Trump has now changed and many of his critics refuse to recognize the change. He's not gotten brighter or humbler, but he's gotten smaller and more conventional. Many of his critics still react to him every single day at Outrage Level 11, but the Trump threat is at Level 3 or 4.

These days a lot of the criticism seems over the top and credibility destroying. The "resistance movement" still reacts as if atavistic fascism were just at the door, when the real danger is everyday ineptitude. These critics hyperventilate at every whiff of scandal in a way that only arouses skepticism.

If you are losing a gravitas battle to Donald Trump, you are really in trouble. [...]

Don't get me wrong. I wish we had a president who had actual convictions and knowledge, and who was interested in delivering real good to real Americans. But it's hard to maintain outrage at a man who is a political pond skater -- one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Seoul rejects Trump demand it pays for missile system (Al Jazeera, 4/28/17)

South Korea's government has brushed aside US President Donald Trump's suggestion that it should pay for a $1bn missile defence system the two allies are installing in South Korea to guard against threats from North Korea. [...]

The two countries have been in a security alliance since the 1950-53 Korean war, and more than 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

Seoul retorted that under the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the US military presence in the country, South Korea would provide the THAAD site and infrastructure while the US would pay to deploy and operate it.

"There is no change to this basic position," South Korea's defence ministry said in a statement.

April 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Russian Navy Ship Sinks In Black Sea After Collision With Freighter (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 4/27/17)

Almost 80 Russian Navy sailors were rescued off the coast of Turkey Thursday when a military intelligence ship collided with a freighter carrying livestock.

At least wild boars are scary; Putin can't beat cows.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


France's new National Front leader doubted Nazis gassed Jews (JTA, 4/27/17)

The interim successor to Marine Le Pen at the helm of France's far-right National Front party reportedly claimed in 2000 that the poison used by Nazis to kill Jews in the Holocaust could not have been applied in reality.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Why President Trump is getting killed in court, in 1 astonishingly ignorant comment (Scott Lemieux, April 27, 2017, The Week)

On Tuesday, a federal district court judge blocked an executive order intending to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. The president of the United States wasted little time in reacting, tweeting "[f]irst the 9th Circuit rules against the ban and now it hits again on sanctuary cities -- both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!" and criticizing the winners of the suit for "judge shopping." In a subsequent interview, he expressed agreement with "the many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit."

Both the order itself and Trump's reaction to the court's ruling indicated why he's had a rough ride in the courts so far: He has no idea what he's doing.

The most obvious problem is that while U.S. District Judge William Orrick lives in the geographic area covered by the 9th Circuit -- he is based in San Francisco -- he does not in fact serve on that court. He's a trial judge, not an appellate one. The fact that the same president issuing executive orders apparently doesn't understand basic facts about the structure of the American judicial system is rather sobering. [...]

In a 1987 case which upheld the use of federal highway funds to establish a de facto national drinking age, the Supreme Court gave Congress a broad (although not unlimited) ability to use its spending power to persuade states to advance federal objectives. One of the limits that the Court placed, however, was that if Congress wants to put conditions on federal funding it "must do so unambiguously" so that states "exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation." In addition, any conditions placed on spending must be "relevant to federal interest in the project and to the over-all objectives thereof." Congress could withhold highway spending to compel states to raise their drinking ages because it was related to the federal interest in highway safety, but it could not accomplish the same goal by threatening to withhold Social Security spending.

These restrictions made it nearly inevitable that the courts would find Trump's order unconstitutional. Judge Orrick's holding that Trump's order is not sufficiently related to the federal grants in question is debatable, although the case is strong. But it's obvious that Congress did not "unambiguously" make clear that the grants in question were conditioned on local officials enforcing federal immigration law. The Supreme Court can revise its own precedents, but lower courts cannot -- hence, Orrick had no real choice but to find that the order was unconstitutional.

...ape his Court-packing fiasco!
Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Donald Trump's Massive Corporate Tax Cut Literally Cannot Pass Congress (Jordan Weissmann, 4/26/17, Slate)

[U]nfortunately for Trump, his plan to slash corporate tax bills has a fatal flaw: It's probably forbidden under the Senate's rules, and thus entirely incapable of passing Congress.

At least, so suggest some recent comments by George Callas, who serves as senior tax counsel to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Speaking at a panel event in Washington last week, which was previously reported on by the New Republic's Brian Beutler, Callas dismissed the idea of passing a corporate tax cut without paying for it in pretty much the harshest terms a tax wonk can muster, calling it a "magic unicorn" at one point. Feisty!

"A plan of business tax cuts that has no offsets, to use some very esoteric language, is not a thing," Callas said. "It's not a real thing. And people can come up with whatever plans they want. Not only can that not pass Congress, it cannot even begin to move through Congress day one. And there are political reasons for that. No. 1, members wouldn't vote for it. But there are also procedural, statutory procedural, legal reasons why that can't happen." [...]

 During his appearance, a very exasperated Callas explained that, in order to satisfy the Byrd rule, corporate tax cuts would probably have to sunset after just two years, making them utterly pointless. Here's how he put it:

    Here is a data point for folks. A corporate rate cut that is sunset after three years will increase the deficit in the second decade. We know this. Not 10 years. Three years. You could not do a straight-up, unoffset, three-year corporate rate cut in reconciliation. The rules prohibit it. You might be able to do two years. A two-year corporate rate cut--I'll defer to the economists on the panel--would have virtually no economic effect. It would not alter business decisions. It would not cause anyone to build a factory. It would not stop any inversions or acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign companies. It would just be dropping cash out of helicopters onto corporate headquarters.
Tell us how you really feel, George.

...to take anything he says seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Ivanka Trump Parts Ways With Her Father on Syrian Refugees (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, APRIL 26, 2017, NY Times)

Ms. Trump's comments, which seemed to question the basis for President Trump's two executive orders that tried to bar migrants from Syria and other predominantly Muslim nations, set off a minor scramble in the West Wing. Advisers grappled with a political problem unique to Mr. Trump's family-business White House: how to manage an officially empowered daughter who is prone to challenging elements of the president's conservative agenda.

"I think there is a global humanitarian crisis that's happening, and we have to come together and we have to solve it," Ms. Trump told NBC when asked about the refugee crisis in Syria, which has created a nativist backlash in European countries.

Asked whether that would include admitting Syrian refugees to the United States, she replied: "That has to be part of the discussion. But that's not going to be enough in and of itself."

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Russia condemns alleged Israeli missile strike in Syria (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 27, 2017)

The Kremlin on Thursday called for restraint after Syria accused Israel of firing several missiles at a military position near Damascus airport.

Pitting anti-democratic allies against each other--just another benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


Getting to a 15 Percent Corporate Tax Rate Will Require Hard Choices (Alan D. Viard, April 26, 2017, The Hill)

The distortions caused by the corporate income tax in today's globalized economy are legion.  [...]

A more sweeping approach would seek bigger economic gains by moving toward consumption taxation. Consumption taxes are more growth-friendly than income taxes because they do not penalize saving and investment.

Most consumption tax plans involve some form of value-added tax (VAT) -- a consumption tax used in 160 countries that involves taxing the value added at each stage of production. The tax blueprint that House Republicans presented last year would replace the conventional corporate income tax with a business cash flow tax, a modified VAT that allows firms to deduct their wage costs.

The Republican blueprint has encountered roadblocks because the cash-flow tax is not well understood and because it would not fit well with the rest of the federal tax system nor with international trade rules.

A more straightforward approach would adopt a full-fledged VAT. By itself, using a VAT to pay for corporate rate reduction would shift the tax burden toward middle-income and lower-income households. To address that problem, the change should be part of a bigger reform that includes individual income tax cuts and rebates or tax credits for low-income households. Several proposals along these lines have been put forward.

Of course, moving to a VAT would raise many design and transition issues. For example, the VAT should be prominently listed on customer receipts to keep it from becoming a stealth tax that politicians could repeatedly raise without public scrutiny.

Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent in a fiscally responsible manner would provide a powerful boost to the American economy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Trump's new immigrant hotline trolled by callers reporting UFOs (Laurie Chen , 27 APRIL 2017, The Telegraph)

Pranksters have been mass-calling President Trump's new immigrant crime hotline to report UFOs and alien sightings on its first day. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Suspected U.S. drone strike targets Pakistani Taliban militants: sources (Saud Mehsud, 4/27/17, Reuters)

Abdullah Wazirstani, spokesman for North Waziristan Taliban, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, said the strike killed three civilian "laborers" and seven militants from the Pakistani Taliban, which is also known as TTP.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


A survey of Dartmouth's political landscape (Alexander Agadjanian and Amanda Zhou, 4/26/17, The Dartmouth)

When students at the College were asked how comfortable they would be having a roommate with opposing political views to their own, 49 percent said they would be very or somewhat comfortable, whereas 34 percent said they were very or somewhat uncomfortable.

This sentiment of openness to politically divergent roommates was not equally distributed across students of different political stripes. While 61 percent of independents and 69 percent of Republicans said they would be comfortable with a roommate of opposing political views, only 39 percent of Democrats said so. Few independents (16 percent) and Republicans (12 percent) said they would be uncomfortable, while statistically Democrats were as likely to say they would be comfortable as they would be uncomfortable.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


THE DEATH OF THE OLD DIVIDES : Labour and the Tories are relics of another era. (Tom Slater, 27 APRIL 2017, spiked)

This is not so much a realignment in British politics as the corrosion of the old alignments, the scrubbing out of the old dividing lines. May is making hay out of Labour's demise, and her decision to champion Brexit - to attach herself, albeit opportunistically, to the democratic cry of the 17.4million - has boosted her stock. But the technocratic May is still living on borrowed time, time that is being extended by a weak and conflicted opposition that lacks the courage to neither thwart nor champion Brexit. A Tory landslide in June will mark both an extension of the public's determination for Brexit, and a recognition of Labour's disarray - not a rejuvenation of Toryism.

For most of modern British political history these two totemic parties have defined themselves against one another, even when the rush for the technocratic centre made this feel increasingly meaningless and pantomimic. For this reason, the collapse of Corbyn's Labour poses a less immediate but nevertheless existential threat to the Tories. For as long as May can pose as the custodian of the Brexit spirit, and as long as there is no real electoral challenge, the party will continue to pick up support. But it can't last. Beyond Brexit, and beyond Labour, what the Tory Party will stand for, will give expression to, is far from clear.

In this election, in Wales and the north of England, Brexit will be the wheel upon which Labour will be broken. But the Brexit vote has sped up the unravelling not just of Corbyn's Labour, but of the old politics itself. It's not a question of if but when. The class divide, and the parties that once embodied it, has ceased to mean anything. The referendum, that glorious exercise in mass democracy, revealed not a split between rich and poor, but a split between the technocracy-loving elite and the freedom-thirsting demos. We need a new politics to harness that, to give life to the new divide and bring an end to the lifeless parties of old.

All Anglospheric politics just swings between parties that have more aggressively and willingly adopted technocratic means (neo-liberalism) to deliver economic freedom (wealth) to the citizenry than their opponents.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Muffin frittatas a perfect brunch : Muffin frittatas are quick and easy to prepare and can be filled with any of your favorite cheese, vegetable and/or meat combos. ( ELIZABETH KARMEL, 4/25/17, Associated Press)

Baked Muffin Frittatas 

10 eggs

¼ cup cream

½ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch of nutmeg

Butter or olive oil to coat pans

1 cup asparagus, chopped

1 heaping cup thinly sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup thinly sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped pimentos

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ pound brie cheese, cut into 12 pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Crack eggs into a liquid measuring cup. Whisk the eggs, cream, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saute pan and add asparagus and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes or until beginning to soften but the asparagus is still bright green.

Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with olive oil. Divide asparagus, mushrooms, green onion, and cheese between each muffin cup, then carefully pour egg mixture over tops until muffin tins are almost full (leave ¼-inch space).

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


The education of Donald Trump : The White House remains on a collision course between the president's fixed habits and the demands of his new job. (JOSH DAWSEY , SHANE GOLDMACHER and ALEX ISENSTADT, 04/27/17, Politico)

"I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here," one White House official said of these early months. "But this s[***] is hard."

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Why did Jefferson change "property" to the "pursuit of happiness"? (Carol V. Hamilton, 1/27/08, History News Network)

Just [as] the ideas that inspired our intellectual Founders were primarily European imports, so that defining American phrase, "the pursuit of happiness," is not native to our shores. Furthermore, as the quotation from Locke demonstrates, "the pursuit of happiness" is a complicated concept. It is not merely sensual or hedonistic, but engages the intellect, requiring the careful discrimination of imaginary happiness from "true and solid" happiness.  It is the "foundation of liberty" because it frees us from enslavement to particular desires.

The Greek word for "happiness" is eudaimonia.  In the passage above, Locke is invoking Greek and Roman ethics in which eudaimonia is linked to aretê, the Greek word for "virtue" or "excellence." In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote, "the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action."  Happiness is not, he argued, equivalent to wealth, honor, or pleasure. It is an end in itself, not the means to an end. The philosophical lineage of happiness can be traced from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle through the Stoics, Skeptics, and Epicureans.

Jefferson admired Epicurus and owned eight copies of De rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius, a Roman disciple of Epicurus. In a letter Jefferson wrote to William Short on October 13, 1819, he declared, "I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us."  At the end of the letter, Jefferson made a summary of the key points of Epicurean doctrine, including:

Moral.--Happiness the aim of life.
Virtue the foundation of happiness.
Utility the test of virtue.

Properly understood, therefore, when John Locke, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson wrote of "the pursuit of happiness," they were invoking the Greek and Roman philosophical tradition in which happiness is bound up with the civic virtues of courage, moderation, and justice. Because they are civic virtues, not just personal attributes, they implicate the social aspect of eudaimonia. The pursuit of happiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of achieving individual pleasure. That is why Alexander Hamilton and other founders referred to "social happiness."

On the happy life : Lucius Annaeus Seneca (With a new introduction and commentary by Massimo Pigliucci, 4/27/17, Aeon)https://aeon.co/classics/massimo-pigliucci-on-senecas-stoic-philosophy-of-happiness

Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a towering and controversial figure of antiquity. He lived from 4 BCE to 65 CE, was a Roman senator and political adviser to the emperor Nero, and experienced exile but came back to Rome to become one of the wealthiest citizens of the Empire. He tried to steer Nero toward good governance, but in the process became his indirect accomplice in murderous deeds. In the end, he was 'invited' to commit suicide by the emperor, and did so with dignity, in the presence of his friends. 

Seneca wrote a number of tragedies that directly inspired William Shakespeare, but was also one of the main exponents of the Stoic school of philosophy, which has made a surprising comeback in recent years. Stoicism teaches us that the highest good in life is the pursuit of the four cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, temperance, justice and courage - because they are the only things that always do us good and can never be used for ill. It also tells us that the key to a serene life is the realisation that some things are under our control and others are not: under our control are our values, our judgments, and the actions we choose to perform. Everything else lies outside of our control, and we should focus our attention and efforts only on the first category.

Seneca wrote a series of philosophical letters to his friend Lucilius when he was nearing the end of his life. The letters were clearly meant for publication, and represent a sort of philosophical testament for posterity. I chose letter 92, 'On the Happy Life', because it encapsulates both the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy and some really good advice that is still valid today.

The first thing to understand about this letter is the title itself: 'happy' here does not have the vague modern connotation of feeling good, but is the equivalent of the Greek word eudaimonia, recently adopted also by positive psychologists, and which is best understood as a life worth living. For Seneca and the Stoics, the only life worth living is one of moral rectitude, the sort of existence we look back to at the end and can honestly say we are not ashamed of.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


A placebo really can mend a broken heart : The power of belief compels you (Sara Chodosh, 4/27/17, Popular Science)

 In this particular study, which came out in The Journal of Neuroscience, a group of psychologists and neuroscientists took 40 people who had experienced a breakup in the last six months and were shown pictures of their ex. They were prompted to recall the emotions associated with the breakup, and then had a hot stimulus applied to their arm. After this lovely experience, the participants were given a nasal spray that in reality contained basic saline solution, which has no medicinal effect on its own. The psychologists told half of the group that the spray just helped the MRI, but told the other half that the spray contained a medication that would alleviate both physical and emotional pain. Then they repeated the task of looking at pictures of their ex and recalling the unpleasant feelings they had surrounding the breakup, all while having a sharp pain applied to their arms.

The people who had the "medication" felt better about the breakup and felt less pain from the hot stimulus. And really, that shouldn't be surprising. Placebos can alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, boost dopamine production in Parkinson's patients, improve breathing in asthmatics, and even relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Believing that something will make you feel better actually does. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


As ISIS loses ground, more and more foreign fighters are surrendering (Catherine Garcia, April 26, 2017, The Week)

The United States estimates that up to 30,000 foreign fighters have likely crossed into Syria to fight with ISIS, and as many as 25,000 have been killed. Turkish and European officials have said their embassies are being contacted by ISIS fighters who have joined in recent years and are asking to return home, The Guardian reports. 

It wasn't much of a war, but it was all he had and he won it comprehensively.  Just getting the enemy to congregate in sufficient numbers so that we could kill 25k was a major accomplishment.  Hopefully we can lure them into Afghanistan next.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Trump's tax plan that wasn't (James Pethokoukis, April 27, 2017, The Week)

What Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Gary Cohn presented Wednesday was really more of a synopsis of a summary of a sketch of some old campaign ideas, with a few (far too few) numbers thrown in.

All in all, the "2017 Tax Reform for Economic Growth and American Jobs Act" might have been an okay campaign document in the summer of 2015, but falls far short of a serious proposal now that Trump is sitting in the Oval Office. 

Policy is hard work.
Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Case Summary: Federal District Court Issues Nationwide Injunction Against Trump's Sanctuary City Executive Order (Russell Spivak, April 26, 2017, Lawfare)

For the Counties to obtain the injunction, they not only have to demonstrate standing before; they have to "show that they are likely to face immediate and irreparable harm absent an injunction, that they are likely to succeed on the merits, and that the balance of harms and public interest weighs in their favor." This is undoubtedly a tall order, but the Counties clear it, in Judge Orrick's view. 

The Counties challenge the order on four separate charges: (1) that it violates separation of powers principles by exceeding Congress's spending authority; (2) that violates the Tenth Amendment; (3) that it is void for vagueness under the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause; and (4) that its immediacy violates the procedural due process for states.

In interpreting the Counties' causes of actions as five claims, the court found that the Counties were likely to succeed on the merits in all five.

Separation of Powers

As alluded to above, the court sides with the Counties, ruling "that the Executive Order is unconstitutional because it seeks to wield powers that belong exclusively to Congress, the spending powers." Judge Orrick rests primarily on South Dakota v. Dole and Clinton v. City of New York. Though Dole stands for the proposition that, "to further broad policy objectives . . . [Congress may] condition receipt of federal moneys upon compliance by the recipient with federal statutory and administrative directives," Clinton holds that the President cannot "repeal[] or amend[] parts of duly enacted statutes" to create conditional funding. More, Congress has purposefully barred the President from withholding or impounding appropriated funds to fashion such a condition. By granting authority to the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to determine jurisdictions' eligibility for grants, the Order, the court rules, "runs afoul of these basic and fundamental constitutional structures." Thus, the Counties are likely to succeed on the merits on this claim.

Spending Clause Violations

The Counties argue that even if the President has the power to condition spending, the Order violates the Tenth Amendment. Recognizing that the Supreme Court has permitted Congress to place conditions on state funding, provided that certain requirements are met, the court finds the Order "likely violates at least three of these restrictions: (1) conditions must be unambiguous and cannot be imposed after funds have already been accepted; (2) there must be a nexus between the federal funds at issue and the federal program's purpose; and (3) the financial inducement cannot be coercive."

On the first prong, Judge Orrick concludes that, because states did not know of this requirement, let alone voluntarily accept it, when Congress appropriated the funds, the Order cannot impose the conditions retroactively. Moreover, the uncertainty regarding which funds are at issue only muddies the already opaque understanding of what was at stake.

On the second prong, the court returns to Dole: "Congress may condition grants under the spending power only in ways reasonable related to the purpose of the federal program." But the court concludes, "there is no nexus between Section 1373 and most categories of federal funding, including without limitation funding related to Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, child welfare services, immunization and vaccination programs, and emergency preparedness." In fact, the only grants immune to the Attorney General's and Homeland Security Secretary's discretion are grants expressly for immigration and law enforcement, "invert[ing] the nexus requirement." Thus, the court finds this requirement unmet.

On the final prong, the court rests on NFIB v. Sebelius to conclude that the severe funding at risk is unduly strong-arming the municipalities. In NFIB, when 10 percent of a state's Medicaid funds were at risk, the court found the condition "unconstitutionally coercive and represent[ing] a 'gun to the head.'" The court here states that the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake is similarly "unconstitutionally coercive," again suggesting the Counties' are likely to win on the merits.

Tenth Amendment Violations

In the Counties' third cause, the court finds the Counties likely to succeed on the merits because the Order violates Supreme Court precedent from New York: "The Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program." As shown in the standing analysis, Judge Orrick writes,

The Counties have shown that losing all of their federal grant funding would have significant effects on their ability to provide services to their residents and that they may have no legitimate choice regarding whether to accept the government's conditions in exchange for those funds. To the extent the Executive Order seeks to condition all federal grants on honoring civil detainer requests, it is likely unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment because it seeks to compel the states and local jurisdictions to enforce a federal regulatory program through coercion.

Attorney General Sessions' comments "equating failure to honor civil detainer requests with policies that 'frustrate th[e] enforcement of immigration laws,'" the court found, added additional pressure by threatening further "enforcement actions"--undefined as they are--against jurisdictions who violate § 1373.

Fifth Amendment Void for Vagueness

Looking to Grayned v. City of Rockford, the court puts forward two conditions upon which a law is unconstitutionally void for vagueness under the Fifth Amendment: "if it fails to make clear what conduct it prohibits and if it fails to lay out clear standards for enforcement." The current Order, Judge Orrick finds, does not describe "what conduct might subject a state or local jurisdiction to defunding or enforcement action, making it impossible for jurisdictions to determine how to modify their conduct, if at all, to avoid the Order's penalties." Without such guidance, let alone guidance as to what constitutes a "sanctuary jurisdiction," municipalities "have no hope of deciphering what conduct might result in an unfavorable 'sanctuary jurisdiction' designation." Adding fuel to the fire, the court takes issue with the potential for arbitrary and discriminatory application of the Order's "expansive, standardless language." In sum, the court found that the uncertainty surrounding how the Counties could proceed to avoid this distinction made them likely to succeed on the merits.

Fifth Amendment Procedural Due Process Violations

Lastly, the court looks to the Counties' procedural due process claims. For such a claim, the Supreme Court has said, a person must have a "legitimate claim of entitlement" to a property interest. This plainly includes money. Though simply expecting funding like a spoiled child on Christmas morning would fall short of the legitimate entitlement bar, the fact that the money had already been appropriated by Congress and accepted by the Counties satisfies the standard, the court rules. Because the Executive Order would jeopardize the Counties' eligibility to receive the money they are rightly entitled to without any administrative or judicial procedure, the court concluded that the Counties were likely to succeed on the merits in demonstrating that the Order violates the Due Process requirements.

Plan to Restrict Federal Grants to "Sanctuary Jurisdictions" Raises Legal Questions (CRS, 02/14/2017)


Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


The White House's all-hands briefing on North Korea sounded like it was a disorganized mess (Natasha Bertrand , 4/27/17, Business Insider)

"What was discussed, I already knew," Corker said, according to BuzzFeed. "I'm not certain I would have had the briefing today, but I do appreciate -- you know, they've got a great team that they put together."

"It's not like we learned some earth-shaking thing that's going to happen tomorrow," Corker added, according to NBC's Frank Thorp.

Another Republican Senator told The Washington Post's congressional reporter Ed O'Keefe that the White House did not offer "even straight answers on what the policy is regarding North Korea and its testing of ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles]." [...]

A Democratic Senator told The New York Times' Jonathan Martin, meanwhile, that President Trump briefly appeared at the briefing, and did his "ridiculous adjective bit."

"There were about 80 sets of invisible eyes rolling," the Senator said. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Ten Iranian Guards At Border With Pakistan Reported Killed By Sunni Militants (Radio Liberty, April 27, 2017)

Ten Iranian border guards were killed by Sunni militants in a cross-border attack on the frontier with Pakistan on April 26, Iranian media reported.

The militant group called Jaish al Adl, or the Army of Justice, has claimed responsibility for the attack in Sistan-Baluchestan province, reports said.

Iranian police said the guards were killed by long-range guns and "the Pakistani government bears the ultimate responsibility for the attack."

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Trump Says U.S. Will Not Withdraw From NAFTA (Jill Colvin, 4/27/17, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, just hours after administration officials said he was considering a draft executive order to do just that.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


The Hungarian Rise And Fall Of Sebastian Gorka : Before Sebastian Gorka was an adviser to President Donald Trump, he was a man with a dream to rise to the top of Hungarian politics. It didn't quite work out. (Mitch Prothero, 4/26/17, BuzzFeed News)

Sebastian Gorka -- national security aide and all-round Donald Trump attack dog -- failed his way upwards to the White House, having been denied security clearance to work in the Hungarian parliament, defeated in a local mayoral race in the 2000s, and widely dismissed as an opportunist.

Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president who focuses on counterterrorism, was denied security clearance in 2002 to serve on a committee investigating the then-Hungarian prime minister's past as a communist secret police official during Soviet times. That denial, local security officials and politicians told BuzzFeed News, effectively ended his career as a national security expert in Hungary.

Washington's standards may be lower than Budapest's.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Justices Alarmed by Government's Hard-Line Stance in Citizenship Case (ADAM LIPTAKAPRIL 26, 2017, NY Times)

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. tried to test the limits of the government's position at a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday by confessing to a criminal offense.

"Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone," the chief justice said, adding that he had not been caught.

The form that people seeking American citizenship must complete, he added, asks whether the applicant had ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest.

"If I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, 'Guess what, you're not an American citizen after all'?" Chief Justice Roberts asked.

Robert A. Parker, a Justice Department lawyer, said the offense had to be disclosed. Chief Justice Roberts seemed shocked. "Oh, come on," he said.

The chief justice asked again whether someone's citizenship could turn on such an omission.

Mr. Parker did not back down. "If we can prove that you deliberately lied in answering that question, then yes," he said.

The exchange was among several moments of indignation and incredulity during the argument in Maslenjak v. United States, No. 16-309. Several justices seemed taken aback by Mr. Parker's unyielding position that the government may revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had heard enough.

"Your argument is demeaning the priceless value of citizenship," he told Mr. Parker. 

April 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Easing Shutdown Worries, Trump Relents On Another Major Hurdle (Geoff Bennett, 4/26/17, NPR)

With just two days left to stop a partial shutdown of the federal government, the Trump administration on Wednesday removed another major sticking point in the spending bill negotiations.

The White House told lawmakers it will not cut off federal subsidies that help low-income Americans pay for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, at least for now, an administration official and congressional sources confirm to NPR.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


At the White House, national security advisers brief senators on North Korea (Catherine Garcia, 4/26/17, The Week)

Several senators told The Washington Post that during the briefing, they did not learn much about how the U.S. will deal with North Korea and its provocations. "There was very little, if anything, new," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. "I remain mystified about why the entire Senate had to be taken over to the White House rather than conducting it here."

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


ESPN Firing Over A Hundred Employees Today (Clay Travis, Apr 26, 2017, Outkick the Coverage)

The people being fired at ESPN today aren't being fired because they are bad at their jobs, they're being fired because ESPN's business is collapsing. That collapse has been aided by ESPN's absurd decision to turn into MSESPN, a left wing sports network, but that's more a symptom of the collapse than it is a cause of the collapse. ESPN's business is collapsing and the network is desperately trying to find a way to stay above water. You know how a drowning person flails in the water before slipping under? ESPN's left wing shift is that flailing. They think going left wing will save them. The reality is the opposite, ESPN going left wing was like giving a drowning person a big rock to hold and thinking it would keep them from drowning. Instead, it just made them sink even faster.

That's why ratings are down 16% this year compared to last year and viewers are abandoning the network in droves.

Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don't want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam is the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football. 

Trying to force feed political correctness on straight white males just doesn't seem like a winning proposition.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Why Trump's executive order on sanctuary cities is unconstitutional (Ilya Somin, January 26 , 2017, Washington Post)

The order indicates that sanctuary cities "that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law." More specifically, it mandates that "the Attorney General and the [Homeland Security] Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary."

Section 1373 mandates that "a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual."

There are two serious constitutional problems with conditioning federal grants to sanctuary cities on compliance with Section 1373. First, longstanding Supreme Court precedent mandates that the federal government may not impose conditions on grants to states and localities unless the conditions are "unambiguously" stated in the text of the law "so that the States can knowingly decide whether or not to accept those funds." Few if any federal grants to sanctuary cities are explicitly conditioned on compliance with Section 1373. Any such condition must be passed by Congress, and may only apply to new grants, not ones that have already been appropriated. The executive cannot simply make up new conditions on its own and impose them on state and local governments. Doing so undermines both the separation of powers and federalism.

Even aside from Trump's dubious effort to tie it to federal grants, Section 1373 is itself unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the federal government may not "commandeer" state and local officials by compelling them to enforce federal law. Such policies violate the Tenth Amendment.

Section 1373 attempts to circumvent this prohibition by forbidding higher-level state and local officials from mandating that lower-level ones refuse to help in enforcing federal policy. But the same principle that forbids direct commandeering also counts against Section 1373. As the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia explained in Printz v. United States, the purpose of the anti-commandeering doctrine is the "[p]reservation of the States as independent and autonomous political entities." That independence and autonomy is massively undermined if the federal government can take away the states' power to decide what state and local officials may do while on the job. As Scalia put it in the same opinion, federal law violates the Tenth Amendment if it "requires [state employees] to provide information that belongs to the State and is available to them only in their official capacity." The same is true if, as in the case of Section 1373, the federal government tries to prevent states from controlling their employees' use of information that "is available to them only in their official capacity."

Might have wanted to hire a competent Attorney General, since he has no understanding of the Constitution, the Court or the laws.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Republicans in Congress Don't Want to Give Up Their Obamacare Benefits (Eric Pianin, April 26, 2017, Fiscal Times)

[O]ne thing is certain: Members of Congress are working behind the scenes to protect their own interests and those of their families and many of their staffers in the event Obamacare replacement legislation ultimately emerges from the House.

House Republicans quietly inserted a provision in the latest version of their health care overhaul plan that exempts members and their staffs from the GOP effort to repeal or shred most of the Obamacare regulations and protections, including those guaranteeing Americans a broad array of medical services and restrictions on premium hikes for older and sicker people.

As first reported by Sarah Kliff of Vox, the provision added by McArthur at the behest of the leadership specifically would guarantee that members of Congress and personal staff members could keep all coverage benefits and protections under Obamacare, even if the states in which they live choose to seek waivers to eliminate many of them.

Taking benefits is something you do to the rubes, not for the elites.
Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Bill Nye Suggests Government Should Punish Parents Who Have Too Many Children (Alex Griswold, April 26, 2017, Free Beacon)

"Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?" Nye asked.

"I do think we should at least consider it," Rieder said.

Nye pushed him even further.

"Well, 'at least consider it' is like, 'do it,'" he opined.

The other two guests pushed back, however, pointing out that what Nye and Rieder were proposing came dangerously close to the eugenics policies of America's past, which ending up disproportionately targeting poor women and minorities.

Sciencism is always and everywhere anti-human.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Saudi minister, after Russia talks, says Syria's Assad still has to go (Reuters, 4/26/17)

Despite well known differences between Moscow and Riyadh over the role of Assad -- Moscow has rejected calls for him to quit and says his future should be decided in elections -- Lavrov said there were no insurmountable differences between the two when it came to finding a solution to the Syria crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


British PM May's Conservatives up 6 percent points on 49 percent (Reuters, 4/26/17)

The telephone poll of 1,004 adults conducted April 21-25 put May's party up 6 percentage points on 49 percent, Labour down 4 percentage points on 26, the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 13 percent and the United Kingdom Independence Party down 2 percentage points on 4 percent.

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos MORI, said May's lead matched the biggest lead ever recorded for the Conservatives in an election campaign back in 1983. In that election, Thatcher won a majority of 144 seats.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Bluster Followed By Surrender: Is This Another Trump Pattern? (Nancy LeTourneau, April 26, 2017, Washington Monthly)

It looks like the White House has conceded on their demand that the must-pass spending bill include a down-payment on Trump's border wall, leading Josh Marshall to call it "abject surrender." He goes on to point out that this has happened before.

This does fit the pattern with the earlier Obamacare repeal debacle - aggressive stance, bluster, confidence followed by abject surrender.

We've seen this in other situations as well. After railing against Mexico on the campaign trail, Trump's visit with the president of that country was described as "subdued." We saw the same thing with China. No country other than Mexico was the subject of such harsh rhetoric up until Trump met with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago. All of the sudden they developed a "warm rapport."

The only president whose surrenders have better served America was Jefferson Davis.

Trump, Act 1: All Drama, No Action (Mark Salter, 4/26/17, RCP)

Obamacare is still with us. The North American Free Trade Agreement still governs our trade relations with Mexico and Canada. No ground has been broken on a Trump-branded infrastructure project. Trump's steep budget cuts are mostly non-starters in Congress. Not a dollar has been appropriated for his border wall, which is going to be a fence if it's ever built at all, will still cost tens of billions, won't cover the entire border, will be tied up in lawsuits from landowners, and won't be paid for by Mexico now or ever.

Overseas, China is no longer a currency manipulator, and President Xi Jinping--America's archenemy according to Candidate Trump--is now President Trump's best friend forever. NATO is no longer obsolete. The European Union muddles along. The Kremlin is still suffering economic sanctions imposed by the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, thankfully, de facto leader of the free world.

Ethno-nationalism, Trumpism, Breitbartism, whatever you want to call it, may have crested with Trump's election. It was defeated at the polls in the Netherlands and now probably in France, where centrist Emmanuel Macron should handily defeat the national socialist, Putin vassal and Trump enthusiast, Marine Le Pen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM



Three militants loyal to the Islamic State group (ISIS) have been killed by wild boars as they planned to ambush Iraqi tribesmen opposed to the group, according to a local anti-ISIS leader.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Physics of throwing analysed by scientists (Helen Briggs, 4/26/17, BBC News)

Accurate throwing is uniquely human - a skill relied upon by our ancient ancestors for hunting with spears or stone tools.

The researchers say monkeys also throw things, but they are really bad at it.

Like Europeans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


'Al-Qaeda-Related' Group Claims Responsibility For Russian Subway Bombing (Radio Liberty, April 26, 2017)

A group called the Imam Shamil Battalion has claimed responsibility for a deadly subway bombing in the Russian city of St. Petersburg and said the attacker was acting on orders from Al-Qaeda, a U.S.-based organization that monitors extremists says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


Think Public Pensions Can't Be Cut? Think Again. : It's happened several times in just the last few years. With so many systems severely underfunded, it's likely that more government employees will to be blindsided. (CHUCK REED, APRIL 26, 2017, Governing)
As John M. Richardson, a pioneer in the study of system dynamics, once put it, "When it comes to the future, there are three types of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened."

That's as good a way as any to describe what has befallen so many of our state and local government pensions systems, now facing a collective funding shortfall of $5 trillion: legislative bodies that let it happen by creating unsustainable pensions, policymakers who perpetuated the problem by not fully funding their plans, and retirees who have been blindsided, wondering what happened, when their pensions have been slashed.

Consider, for example, the nearly 200 retirees of California's now-defunct East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium, an employment and job-training agency known as LA Works, who just had their pensions cut by as much as 63 percent. Who's to blame? Policy leaders who set up the risky pension structure; city governments that didn't keep up with pension payments; and the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), which oversees the plan and never alerted workers that their employers had fallen behind on payments. It's hardly surprising that the affected employees are questioning how, after paying into the pension fund for 25-plus years, this could have come to pass.

What's happening with LA Works' retirees isn't a unique situation. CalPERS, whose pension debt stands at $170 billion, just last year drastically cut pension benefits for retirees who worked for the city of Loyalton. Many other cities, and several states, are struggling to keep their heads above water in the face of runaway pension costs.

Think it can't happen to your city? Think again. Detroit, Mich., and Cedar Falls, R.I., are polar opposites in many ways, but they have one thing in common: Both slashed their retirees' pensions when the cities filed for bankruptcy.

Governments aren't going anywhere; the benefits are.

April 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Trump's order on sanctuary city funding cuts blocked (Al Jazeera, 4/25/17)

US District Judge William Orrick issued the preliminary injunction in two lawsuits on Tuesday - one brought by the city of San Francisco, the other by Santa Clara County - against an executive order targeting communities that protect immigrants from deportation.

The injunction will stay in place while the lawsuits work their way through court.

The judge said that President Donald Trump cannot set new conditions for the federal grants at stake. And even if he could, the conditions would have to be clearly related to the funds at issue and not coercive, Orrick said.

"Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves," the judge said. [...]

In his ruling, Orrick sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara, saying the order "by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing".

"And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," the judge said.

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Are Americans saving enough for their retirement years? (AEI, 4/25/17)

An economist and expert on retirement issues, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Andrew Biggs...explains why Americans are "doing just fine," when it comes to saving for their retirement. In particular, he points out that: [...]

• From 1981 to 2016, per the Federal Reserve, the total balances of 401(k)s, traditional pensions, IRAs, and other retirement plans, rose to 153% of GDP. In 1981, savings were one-third the current level. [...]

• From 1984 to 2007, the real incomes of retirees rose by 58% thanks to benefits from private retirement plans. And new research shows that the income of retirees with a median age of 66 to 72 was equal to 96% of their after-tax income just before retirement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Fact-checking President Trump's Pinocchio-laden Associated Press interview (Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Glenn Kessler, April 25, 2017, Washington Post)

In a wide-ranging interview with Julie Pace of the Associated Press on April 21, President Trump yet again made many false or misleading statements. Here's a round-up of 14 claims. As is our practice, we don't award Pinocchios in round-ups.

Except there are strings attached...

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:47 AM


Happy 100th, Ella!

I don't think it's a stretch to say that, other than Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald was the world's most popular and beloved jazz singer. She was so famous that in the 1970's she did a series of commercials for Memorex, touting the fidelity of their cassette tapes, that regularly ran on primetime network television:

As noted in a previous post, Ella didn't sing with the operatic range and drama of Sarah Vaughn (who was 6 years her junior) or the world-weary, bluesy pathos of Billie Holiday (3 years her senior)...instead from the start of her career until the end, her voice maintained a girlish quality - clear, bell-like, full of joy and always swinging. 

The story of how this shy, gangly teenager got her big break is the stuff of legend: She had been invited to compete in one of the famous Amateur Nights at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and planned to perform as a dancer. But after a pair of dancing sisters on the bill before her wowed the audience, Ella decided at the last minute to sing instead. Benny Carter was in the house that night and began recommending her to his band leader friends. Before long Ella was the "girl singer" for Chick Webb's popular band. 

To celebrate her 100th birthday, here is a sampling of my favorite recordings from over the course of her long career: 

From her time with Chick Webb: Undecided

Although she rose to fame in the Swing Era, Ella had started so young that she was chronologically a member of the bop generation. Her crisp diction made her a natural to merge Armstrong's scat singing with the rhythms, harmonies and sensibilities of bebop. Here she is with Dizzy Gillespie's great bebop big band: Almost Like Being in Love

 While Ella had the power to front a big band, she also had the subtlety and taste for more intimate setting, such as a 1950 session of Gershwin tunes accompanied by pianist Ellis Larkins: But Not for Me

 By the mid-1950's, Ella was a mainstream star, and one of the few African Americans who was a regular guest on TV variety shows. At the time, it wasn't common for a black woman and a white man to perform together, let alone sing a ballad, but here are Ella and Frank Sinatra (who was a big fan) singing Moonlight in Vermont

Perhaps even rarer on TV back then was a black man and black woman, both impeccably dressed, singing a sophisticated Cole Porter tune: It's All Right with Me

In the early 1960's, when Ella was an international star and playing large concert halls around the world, she did a 2-week gig at the Crescendo Club in Los Angeles. Norman Granz, her longtime producer and manager, recorded much of the run, but the tapes were never released until 2009. The collection, Twelve Nights in Hollywood, captures Ella at the absolute top of her form: Nice Work if You Can Get It

The first time I ever heard Ella perform live, it was on a bill with guitarist Joe Pass and pianist Oscar Peterson. Ella and Joe made a number of albums together and were a perfect match: Slow Boat to China

By her late 60's, heart ailments and diabetes began to take their toll, but Ella maintained a formidable touring schedule and was still a remarkable singer: Mack the Knife

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


World stocks set fresh record high for second straight session (The Telegraph, 4/25/17)

MSCI All-Country World Index, a gauge of global stocks, has set a fresh all-time high for a second consecutive trading session. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Russia-linked hackers have targeted Macron (Shannon Vavra, 4/25/17, Axios)

A pro-Kremlin hacking group, known as APT28 or Pawn Storm, appears to be behind repeated hacking attempts on French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron's campaign, per the WSJ. There were at least 4,000 attempted hacks as of February, with the campaign saying the efforts were growing every day.

Why it matters: APT28 is the same group that hacked the DNC last year. Like Hillary Clinton, Macron takes a harder line toward the Kremlin than his opponent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The 3-D Printer That Could Finally Change Manufacturing : Desktop Metal thinks its machines will give designers and manufacturers a practical and affordable way to print metal parts. (David Rotman  April 25, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

The shortcomings of 3-D printing mean the vision that has long excited its advocates remains elusive. They would like to create a digital design, print out prototypes that they could test and refine, and then use the digital file of the optimized version to create a commercial product or part out of the same material whenever they hit "make" on a 3-D printer. Having an affordable and fast way to print metal parts would be an important step in making this vision a reality.

It would give designers more freedom, allowing them to create and test parts and devices with complex shapes that can't be made easily with any other production method--say, an intricate aluminum lattice or a metal object with internal cavities. It could eventually enable engineers and materials scientists to create parts with new functions and properties by depositing various combinations of materials--for example, printing out a magnetic metal next to a nonmagnetic one. Beyond that, it would redefine the economics of mass production, because the cost of printing something would be the same regardless of how many items were produced. That would change how manufacturers think about the size of factories, the need for backup inventory (why keep many parts in stock if you can simply and quickly print one out?), and the process of tailoring manufacturing to specialized products.

This is why there has been a race to turn 3-D printing into a new way to produce parts. Longtime suppliers of 3-D printers, including Stratasys and 3D Systems, are introducing increasingly advanced machines that are fast enough for manufacturers to use. Last year, HP introduced a line of 3-D printers that the company says will allow manufacturers to prototype and make products with nylon, a widely used thermoplastic. And last fall, GE spent over a billion dollars on a pair of European companies specializing in 3-D-printing of metal parts.

But the real competition for Desktop Metal is probably not from the growing number of companies in 3-D printing. For one thing, the 3-D printers from HP, Stratasys (an investor in Desktop Metal), and 3D Systems mainly use various types of plastics, not the range of metals Fulop's company wants to use in its printers. And GE's high-end machines overlap little with Desktop Metal's market ambitions. Instead, the real competitors for Desktop Metal are more likely to be established metal-processing technologies. Those include automated machining techniques--such as the method used to make the ultra-thin aluminum back casing of iPhones--and a rapidly growing practice called metal injection molding, a common way to mass-produce metal products.

In other words, rather than merely trying to outdo other 3-D printers, Desktop Metal will have the tough task of converting manufacturers away from production methods that are at the heart of their businesses. But the very existence of this large, established market is what makes the prospect so intriguing. Making metal parts, says Fulop, "is a trillion-dollar industry." And even if 3-D printing wins only a small portion of it, he adds, it could still represent a multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM

NOT SO VALIANT (profanity alert):

Trump aide Gorka walks out after grilling on ties to anti-Semitic group (TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 25, 2017)

A security adviser to US President Donald Trump accused of having ties with anti-Semitic Hungarian nationalist groups walked out of a panel at a Washington, DC, university on Monday after being questioned by students over his alleged ties with the organizations.

The Stain Of Anti-Semitism At The White House Isn't Going Away (Stosh Cotler and Simon Greer, 4/24/17, Alternet)

These ties have played a key role in normalizing anti-Semitic bigotry and advancing political alliances with those who promote or are sympathetic to anti-Semitism. This is dangerous for the Jewish community but it is also perilous for immigrant communities, communities of color, and all religious minorities whose safety is jeopardized by white nationalism.

Look no further than Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a close ally of the president and the first senator to endorse him. Sessions has longstanding and deep connections to groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which tout anti-Semitic figures and leaders. FAIR was founded by John Tanton, who still sits on the group's national advisory board. Tanton practically worshipped the architect of the Immigration Act of 1924, John B. Trevor Sr., a rabid anti-Semite whose pro-Nazi group was later indicted for sedition. He also recommended the work of a radical anti-Semite - Kevin MacDonald - to a major donor and suggested that FAIR's board discuss MacDonald's anti-Semitic theories regarding Jews and immigration.

Sessions has also worked closely with two other anti-immigrant groups affiliated with Tanton, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The president of NumbersUSA has appeared on the radio show of notorious anti-Semite Jeff Rense, who hosts neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and promotes conspiracy theories about "Jewish control of the world." Meanwhile CIS staff have circulated articles by anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers and appeared on anti-Semitic programs and in anti-Semitic publications. One former CIS Analyst, Jon Feere, provided quotes to an anti-Semitic publication, the American Free Press, in 2012. Notably, Feere was hired by the Trump administration as an advisor to the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Like Sessions, Mike Flynn, who briefly served as Trump's National Security Advisor, helped mainstream extremists during his time as a campaign advisor, transition team member and administration official. Flynn's frequent Twitter interactions with white nationalists and anti-Semites have been thoroughly covered, including the infamous "not anymore, Jews" retweet. He also called former Breitbart News technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos "one of the most brave people I know." Yiannopoulos, who has credited Steve Bannon for making him a star, has an anti-Semitic repertoire that includes encouraging people to post swastikas, referring to a reporter as a "Thick-As-Pig S[***] Media Jew" and saying that "Jews run everything."

Flynn is no longer part of Trump's National Security Council, but another figure with disturbing links to anti-Semitism remains in a national security role: Sebastian Gorka, a Deputy Assistant to the President on national security matters. Gorka recently jumped to the defense of the president over the Holocaust Remembrance Day controversy, dismissing the criticism of Jewish groups as "asinine."

To say the least, Gorka may not be the most credible messenger on the issue. During his time in his parents' native Hungary, he was intensely involved with Hungary's far right, which is rife with anti-Semitism. Beginning in 2006, he wrote a series of articles for Magyar Demokrata, a newspaper known for publishing anti-Semitic writers. In 2007, he founded the short-lived UDK Party with two former members of the far-right Jobbik Party, which has been widely condemned for its virulent anti-Semitism. As a leader of the UDK, Gorka appeared on Hungarian television to voice support for the Hungarian Guard, a far-right, anti-Semitic paramilitary group. He also defended right-wing protesters' use of the Arpad flag, which harks back to the World War II-era pro-Nazi movement in the country. The president of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Hungary described the flag as "a symbol of murder and mass murder."

Gorka's fondness for symbols of Hungary's far right has been noted in the media - most recently his decision to wear the medal of the Order of Vitéz to an Inaugural Ball. His father received the medal from the reconstituted order in exile during the communist era, but it has deeply anti-Semitic connotations. The order was founded in 1920 by the anti-Semitic Horthy regime, which played a key role in the Holocaust in Hungary. During World War II, Jewish real estate was confiscated by the state for distribution to members of the order. Notably, Gorka signed his doctoral dissertation - in which he discusses the role of "the international Jewish elite" in founding Israel - as "Sebestyén L. v. Gorka," with the "v." referencing the order. When testifying in front of the House Armed Services Committee in June 2011, his official testimony listed his name as "Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka," thus referencing the order under congressional oath. Contemporary leaders of the order say that Gorka is a formal member and has pledged lifelong loyalty to the group.

Back in the U.S., Gorka became entwined with the far right as national security editor for Breitbart News, which Bannon once described as "the platform for the alt-right" - a movement that has been described by former Breitbart staffer Ben Shapiro as "a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism." Like Flynn, Gorka has defended his former colleague Yiannopoulos and promoted his work, including an article that credits the writings of pro-Nazi thinker Julius Evola for helping originate the alt-right. For his part, former Breitbart chief Bannon has cited Evola and has also expressed admiration for Charles Maurras, a notorious French anti-Semitic philosopher who collaborated with the Nazis.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Trump backs away from demand for border wall money (Erica Werner and Andrew Taylor, 4/24/17, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump stepped back Monday from demanding a down payment for his border wall in must-past spending legislation, potentially removing a major obstacle to a bipartisan deal just days ahead of a government shutdown deadline.

April 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Focusing on Flat Incomes Obscures Fundamental Economic Changes (JAMES R. ROGERS, 4/24/17, Library of Law & Liberty)

In General Sherman's memoirs, he reports that in 1850 the U.S. Army reassigned him from San Francisco to the east coast of the United States. He mentions that the passage from San Francisco back to the east coast of the U.S. cost him $600. I priced a ticket from SFO to NYC for a flight next month. It came in from between $200 and $550 on AA.com. So today, we can get from one end of the country to the other end for about the same nominal cost, and for stratospherically less time -- several hours instead of several months.

The qualitative improvements considered by themselves are astounding. But we shouldn't compare nominal cost of transportation. Annual income in the U.S. in 1850 (in 2005 dollars) was around $2,500. So it took about a quarter of a year's oncome (around 88 days at average wages) to pay for the travel from San Francisco to the east coast of the U.S. Today average income in the U.S. is around $45,000 (in 2005 dollars). It takes the average worker about three days of wages to pay for a ticket to cross the U.S. in a matter of hours.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Taxing Times in Jordan (David Schenker, 4/24/17, American Interest)

In the Kingdom of Jordan--arguably Washington's best Arab ally in the war against the terrorist Islamic State organization--historically only about 3 percent of the locals pay taxes.

But this year is different. Facing a burgeoning budget deficit, months ago in an effort to raise revenues the Government levied a 16 percent Value Added Tax or "VAT" on the population. Irrespective of income, citizens of the Kingdom now have to pay tariffs on a broad range of goods and services.

For a plurality of the kingdom's families currently under the poverty line of 500 dinars--or $705--a month, this regressive tax is a having a serious impact. Although the VAT doesn't cover medicines and many food staples like rice, sugar, wheat, bread, chicken, fish, and meat, the new tax is proving a bitter pill to swallow because the costs of gas, oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, and electricity have all increased. Annual vehicle registration fees are up, too. On some cars, fees have spiked from $120 to $268 per year.

Adding insult to injury, the price of Jordan's favorite desert, knafeh--a sweet confection of sugar, cheese, pistachio nuts, and rose water--has swelled from $6.50 to $9 per kilo.

Other vices have also been targeted. For the nearly 45 percent (conservative estimate) of Jordanian men who smoke, the cost of cigarettes has increased about 10 percent. The price of alcohol has also surged. A single domestic tall boy purchased from a store now costs $5.

Regimes in the Middle East have managed to avoid democracy in the past by not depending on revenue from their population.  There is no representation without taxation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Scottish Tories back in contention 20 years on from New Labour rout (Severin Carrell, 24 April 2017, The Guardian)

For the first time in decades, Scotland's Tories have a confident gleam in their eyes. Almost exactly 20 years after being wiped from Scotland's electoral map by New Labour in 1997, losing all their MPs, the party is on the brink of a Westminster revival.

The first Scottish opinion polls published since Theresa May announced the snap election suggest the Scottish Tories could win up to a dozen Westminster seats, nearly all of them at the expense of Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish National party.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


U.S.-Supported Government in Yemen Has Ties to Al-Qaeda (Kate Brannen, April 24, 2017, JustSecurity)

In their fight against Yemen's Houthi rebels, the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and its Saudi backers, have worked with local actors with suspected ties to al-Qaeda. Sometimes this means the targets being tracked by the US are actually cutting deals and getting their hands on weapons thanks to connections they have with the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition, to which the US provides support. Laying bare these thorny battlefield alliances in Yemen is crucial as the Trump administration considers stepping up US military involvement in the country.

It's just another conflict where the Shi'a are our allies against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM



In The Fall of Language in the Age of English, Minae Mizumura offers a harsh judgment on the state of Japanese literature. "Representative works of today's Japanese literature," she writes, "often read like rehashes of American literature--ignoring not only the Japanese literary heritage but, more critically, the glaring fact that Japanese society and American society differ. One hundred years from now, readers of those works will have no idea what it was like to live in the current Heisei period (starting in 1989) of Japan." Like many other critics, Mizumura sees Americanization as a synonym for deracination, commodification, and dumbing-down: "Works of contemporary fiction tend to resemble global cultural goods, which, like Hollywood blockbuster films, do not require language--or translation--in the truest sense of the word."

The point being that it is safe to ignore such heritages.  A culture becomes significant only once it becomes Western.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


EXCLUSIVE: Sebastian Gorka's Ties To Nazi-Allied Group Stretch Back Decades (Larry Cohler-Esses, April 24, 2017, The Forward)

[N]ew research by the Forward has revealed that Gorka's use of a special lower-case "v." insignia in his signature, which the Vitézi Rend allows only sworn members to use, goes back much further than previously known.

In articles he published in 1998, when he was 28 years old, and then in 1999, Gorka signed his name "Sebestyén L. v. Gorka," using the Hungarian honorific abbreviation for "Vitez," that is reserved exclusively for sworn members of the Vitézi Rend order.

The articles predated the death of Gorka's father by several years, making his assertion that he simply inherited the title from his father, as he has claimed, seemingly impossible. [...]

The question is not academic; Gorka would have been required to reveal his membership in the far-right group both when he applied to enter the United States in 2008 and when he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2012. He has declined to respond to questions about whether he did so.

He has also not responded to questions about his 2007 endorsement, while leading a political party in Hungary, of an extreme right-wing paramilitary militia led by anti-Semites. The militia was later banned by court orders for seeking to promote an "essentially racist" legal order. An investigation by the Forward also found that Gorka wrote regularly for a well-known anti-Semitic paper while active in Hungary and co-founded his political party with prominent former members of Jobbik, a party with a long record of anti-Semitism and racism against Hungary's Roma minority.

Why would you use it at all?

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


A trade economist wins the John Bates Clark medal : The law of comparative advantage at 200: still winning prizes (The Economist, Apr 20th 2017)

IN 1853 the government of India, then directed by Britain's East India Company, began construction of a vast rail network, continued by the British Raj, established in 1858. At the time, most inland transport in India was hauled by draught animals: with carts where roads existed and were passable; packed on animals' backs when they were not, which was often. Moving goods across the great expanse of the subcontinent was costly and painfully slow. That changed with the arrival of the railway. Between 1853 and 1930 more than 67,000km (42,000 miles) of rail was laid across India, providing transport that was fast, cheap and reliable. A bullock could carry a pack 30km a day; an engine could haul freight 600km over the rails in the same time.

Working out the impact of this took Dave Donaldson (a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics when he started trying) nearly a decade. He dug through mountains of yellowed colonial-era records that had never before been collated and digitised. He found that eight different kinds of salt were sold across India, each sourced from just one region: this quirk allowed him to use local differences in the price of salt to calculate transport costs. He painstakingly plotted water, road and rail routes to work out how to ship from any place in India to any other most cheaply. He found that the introduction of the railway dramatically reduced costs and increased trade. Connecting to it led to significant increases in real local annual incomes: of about 16%. That compares with an increase in real income across India as a whole of just 22% between 1870 and 1930. The railway was a big deal. [...]

An isolated community has to do everything for itself. It must grow whatever cotton it wants, however poorly suited the local land and climate. But, as it comes into contact with other places, it can stop doing the things it is especially bad at relative to people elsewhere.

Nevermind people--the reality of the current technological revolution is that Man is especially bad at everything relative to machines and the reduction in costs that comes with accepting this will make us all wealthier.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Labour printed thousands of leaflets urging people to vote on the wrong day (Joe Murphy, 4/24/17,  Evening Standard)

Thousands of Labour election leaflets were allegedly pulped after being printed with the wrong date.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


The French Difference, First Round (DOMINIC GREEN, April 23, 2017, National Review)

The policy differences between Sunday's two winners are doubled by Sunday's two losers: François Fillon, of the conservative Républicains (20 percent); and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.5 percent), of the broadly left-wing La France Insoumise. Like Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon defected from the Socialists -- in his case leftwards -- and set up his own party in 2016. Its title, "La France Insoumise," translates like a Le Pen campaign slogan: France Unbowed, France Undefeated, France Rebellious. His hostility to the EU and his dirigiste promises to defend the welfare state and the jobs of French workers closely resemble Le Pen's positions. Les extrêmes se touchent, as the French say: The extremes meet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


In Spring, Birders Watch Abundant and Rare Creatures in the Wild (Sybil Smith, 4/23/17, The Valley News)

Spring is here, and the birders are back. It is easy to recognize them; they are dressed in layers this time of year and often carry elaborate tripods to go with their viewing scopes. Some just have binoculars around their necks.

People used to make fun of birders as fusty, elderly types with scribbled lists, but no more. Birding is more popular than gardening in Canada, and Jonathan Franzen, a well-known, well-reviewed novelist, made birding one of the main themes in his book Freedom.

There are several reasons for its increasing number of devotees. It's a hobby that's easy to get into, requiring little equipment. It provides exercise, relaxation, socialization and can take place in just about any setting.

They're out in droves here at the confluence of the Connecticut and Ompompanoosuc rivers, where I live. This is a excellent place for viewing as the joining of the rivers results in wetlands favored by many ducks and migrating birds, despite the invasion of thatch (Phragmites australis), which waves its high brown plumes above the cattails and sedge native to the area.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Jack Ma: In 30 years, the best CEO could be a robot (Sherisse Pham, April 24, 2017, CNN)

"In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time Magazine as the best CEO," Ma said in a speech over the weekend at an entrepreneurship conference in central China. And he warned of dark times ahead for people who are unprepared for the upheaval technology is set to bring.

One would be best now, but it may take a couple decades before one gets an opportunity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Are We All in Favor of National Healthcare Now? (Bruce Frohnen, 4/24/17, Imaginative Conservative)

It is worth noting, then, that the logical conclusion of Obamacare, Ryancare, or even Trumpcare, so long as it retains the assumption of federal guarantees, is nationalization. The logic of a national guarantee is risk-sharing. And risk-sharing always means redistributing from those with more to those with less. With income guarantees this means redistributing wealth directly. With health care guarantees it means taking from those who do not need the care to those who need it. So far, this may sound charitable and decent--after all, we already tax the young and healthy to pay for the old and sick through Social Security. The problem is that, with health care in particular, we are not dealing with merely a problem of health--that is, of the absence of specific, catastrophic illnesses or injuries--but also with demand for preventive care and the like. That is, we are dealing with regular, routine services that cost money. Moreover, most people tend to want more healthcare services than they actually need; we go to the doctor when we are not actually sick, seek procedures that make us look or feel better but are not necessary for survival, and so forth. In other words, it is extremely difficult to control costs for health care without resorting to some form of rationing. This is why so much money is wasted in insurance schemes that emphasize savings through oversight and various limitations on patient (and even doctor) choice. Indeed, once the "right" to healthcare or any other positive right is established, nationalization actually appears more efficient than the Rube Goldberg machinations common within the American administrative state. Both in the end result in draconian rules, distorted incentives, and ultimate systemic failure.

What social democrats, in whatever party, fail to recognize is that various "positive rights" to things like welfare, healthcare, and education, merely grant power to the government, to the extent it wishes, to take over portions of society, substituting its will for the decisions of various persons and associations throughout society. Americans, having a deep-seated aversion to federal power, have allowed national aggrandizement only incrementally and under the guise of various regulations and guarantees. The result retains the appearance of freedom and the reality of chaos. It also retains a consistent tendency toward further federal power, and toward further erosion of freedom. After all, one can provide a good everyone wants for free (or highly reduced cost) only by rationing its distribution, substituting force for voluntary transactions.

None of this is to say that people do not, as persons possessed of human dignity, have a kind of right to health care. It is up to all of us to support charitable causes and institutions that provide health care, as well as food, clothing, shelter, and education, to those who cannot afford them. 

There is much here that is correct, but the pieces do not fit together coherently.

It is entirely accurate that the citizenry of every developed democracy demand that their government provides risk sharing where health care is concerned. But it is not the case that they/er are making a demand for services when needed.  What people want is the assurance that permanent insurance coverage provides that those services will be accessible and affordable when needed. It is the guarantee of the thing, not the thing itself.

Thus, a viable system of charitable causes and institutions would have to provide health insurance to everyone who can not afford it, not services to those who seek them in a physical/fiscal emergency.   

The freedom Mr. Frohnen speaks of--wherein I am to be free of health insurance, you are to be free from helping pay for it and providers are free to not provide me services if I can not pay or I do not meet their charitable norms, is a freedom that societies have universally decided against enjoying.  

Instead, we want liberty in this field of our lives, as in so many others. The requirements of republican liberty are significantly different than freedom, often antithetical to it:

Classical republican writers maintained that to be free means to not be dominated--that is, not to be dependent on the arbitrary will of other individuals. The source of this interpretation of political liberty was the principle of Roman law that defines the status of a free person as not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person--in contrast to a slave, who is dependent on another person's will. As the individual is free when he or she has legal and political rights, so a people or a city is free insofar as it lives under its own laws. 

A system that left health care piecemeal and much of it subject to the good will of charities would be--has been--entirely arbitrary.  National Health is one way of ameliorating this arbitrariness, but so would be any universal health care coverage scheme.

We here prefer a system of universal catastrophic coverage combined with HSAs.  This affords coverage for those extraordinary occasions when people require it, while building up savings throughout their otherwise healthy lives--which wealth can then be used to pay for genuinely needed care as they age and die and potentially leave enough at the end of life to be added to their successors' savings.  

Note that this system vindicates the goal of freedom too, perhaps more effectively.  For one of the truths that we conservatives have always avoided is that the rich man and the poor man are not equally free, because the absence of any government bar on an activity does not, in practice, afford them equal access to it.  Wealth ultimately decides whether that access is actually available.  Without it, freedom is illusory.  And a political party/philosophy, that tries to force illusory freedom on the citizens instead of offering a system consistent with republican liberty is unlikely to prevail in the long run, nor does it deserve to. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


The Desert One Debacle : In April 1980, President Jimmy Carter sent the Army's Delta Force to bring back fifty-three American citizens held hostage in Iran. Everything went wrong. The fireball in the Iranian desert took the Carter presidency with it. (MARK BOWDEN,  MAY 2006, The Atlantic)

Inside the Haboob, April 24, Midnight

Already, the Sea Stallions were down to six.

The original formation of eight had crossed into Iran flying at 200 feet and then moved down to 100 feet. Two of the choppers were having difficulty with their navigation equipment, but flying that close to the ground they could steer by using landmarks and by staying with the formation. They were not allowed to communicate over their non-secure radios, lest they be overheard by Iranian defenses, but they had practiced flashing lights as signals. They flew in a staggered line of four pairs. Not far inside Iran, the helicopter crews spotted part of the trailing formation of C-130s, which confirmed that the Sea Stallions were going the right way. Lieutenant Colonel Ed Seiffert, the flight leader and pilot of the first chopper, felt relaxed enough to take a break and have something to eat.

But the formation got only 140 miles into Iran before one of the choppers had trouble. In the cockpit of the sixth one in formation a warning light indicated that one of its blades had been hit by something or had cracked--a potentially fatal problem. That chopper immediately landed, followed by the one just behind it, and after determining that a rotor blade was in fact badly cracked, the pilots abandoned the damaged aircraft, removing all the classified documents inside, and climbed into chopper No. 8. It lifted off, gave chase, and eventually caught up with the others.

As they burned off fuel, the choppers picked up speed. They were closing in on Desert One. About 200 miles into Iran they saw before them what looked like a wall of whiteness: the first haboob. They flew right into it. Seiffert realized that it was suspended dust only when he tasted it and felt it in his teeth. If it was penetrating his cockpit, it was penetrating his engines. The temperature inside rose to 100 degrees. But then they were out of the cloud as suddenly as they had entered it. They had flown right through it.

Looming ahead was the second, much larger haboob, but Seiffert didn't know that. No warning from the lead C-130 had been relayed; the need to maintain radio silence, and to communicate in code if it was broken, had ultimately led Kyle to decide against making a report.

So the chopper formation passed into the second cloud assuming that it was no bigger than the first. But the haboob grew thicker and thicker, until Seiffert could no longer see the other choppers or the ground. The helicopters had turned on their outside safety lights, and off in the haze indistinct halos of red were strung out at varying distances. When the fuzzy beacons also vanished, Seiffert and his wingman made a U-turn, flew back out of the cloud, and landed. None of the other five choppers had seen them land. Seiffert had hoped they would all follow him to the ground, where they could confer and decide on a strategy. Now he and his wingman had no choice but to take off and fly back into the soup, trying to catch up.

Major Jim Schaefer was now flying lead. One moment Seiffert's aircraft had been in front of him, and the next it was gone. One by one the indistinct red blobs in the milky haze had grown dimmer and dimmer, and then they, too, were gone. How could I lose them? Schaefer thought. He could see nothing, and he heard nothing but the sounds of his own engines. All around him was a smothering cloak of whiteness. He executed a "lost plane" maneuver, turning fifteen degrees off course for a few minutes, and then turning back on course, hoping to pick up the formation again. Even from as low as 200 feet, he could not see the ground.

He climbed to 1,000 feet and was still in the cloud. Inside the chopper it was hot and getting hotter. He descended, this time below 200 feet. Schaefer could see the ground only intermittently. For three hours they flew like this, on nerves and instruments. The cockpit was overheated, and the men in it were increasingly tense.

"Is there anything in front of us?" Schaefer asked his co-pilot, Les Petty.

"Well, there's a six-thousand-foot mountain in front of us," Petty replied.

"How soon?" Schaefer asked.

"I don't trust the machine," Petty said, "and I don't trust my map. I ain't seen the ground in three hours. I'd say right now."

So they started to climb. They climbed to 6,000 feet, and abruptly the dust cloud broke. Inside the chopper it was suddenly very cold. Off to one side Schaefer saw the peak of a mountain.

"Good job, Les," he said. "I love you."

Desert One was still about an hour away, so they plunged back into the haboob. This time Schaefer leveled off at 600 feet. He didn't know it, but the remaining six choppers were doing the same. The lack of visibility had made all the crews woozy. It was especially hard on the pilots, whose night-vision goggles distorted depth perception and intensified feelings of vertigo. The men were becoming thirsty in the extreme heat. They knew that more tall peaks lay between them and Desert One, and they could only hope that visibility improved in time for them to steer around or over them.

It was a struggle for all of them, and finally one pilot gave up. Lieutenant Commander Rodney Davis had watched the control lights in his cockpit indicate a number of equipment failures. His compass was not working, and his other navigation devices were being affected by the heat. His co-pilot was feeling sick. When he lost sight of the nearest chopper, Davis was alone in the haboob. He tried spiraling downward, a maneuver for relocating his wingman, but he couldn't see the other chopper and couldn't get a clear fix on anything below that would give him his exact position. Davis took his aircraft up to 9,000 feet and was still in the cloud. He was at a critical point in the flight. To press on meant he'd have no chance of making it back to the carrier, for lack of fuel. Because he couldn't see ahead or down, he might steer off course or collide with a mountain on the way to Desert One. He conferred with Colonel Chuck Pitman, the ranking officer of the entire formation, who was riding in back. They assumed that with the other seven choppers still en route (they did not know that one had already been lost), they would not fatally compromise the mission by turning back.

So they turned around.

Desert One, April 25, 1:00 A.M.

At the landing strip, Delta Force waited anxiously as precious minutes of darkness continued to slip away. It was an enormous relief when the men heard the distinctive whoop-whoop-whoop of the first two helicopters.

Schaefer, in the lead chopper, saw a giant pillar of flame, and his first thought was that one of the C-130s had crashed and exploded. He flew over Desert One and counted four planes on the ground, exactly what he expected to find. Thank you, Lord, he said to himself.

He turned to land on a second pass, and as he came down he clipped a rut so hard that he knew he had damaged his aircraft. The tires on his landing gear were blown and knocked off the rims. He had been in the air for five hours. He was tired and relieved and had to piss. Like the planes, the choppers kept their engines running to lower the risk of a mechanical failure; most problems showed up after stopping and restarting. Schaefer and most of his crew got out and walked around behind their chopper to urinate, and there Schaefer was confronted by the eager Beckwith, trailed by Burruss, Kyle, and the other commanders.

"What the hell's going on?" the colonel asked. "How did you get so goddamn late?"

"First of all, we're only twenty-five minutes late," Schaefer said. "Second of all, I don't know where anyone else is, because we went into a big dust cloud."

"There's no goddamn dust cloud out here," Beckwith said, gesturing at the open sky. He had not been told about the haboobs on the way in.

"Well, there is one," Schaefer said. He told Beckwith that the conditions coming in had been the worst he had ever flown through. His men were badly shaken. His chopper still flew but had been damaged. He wasn't sure they could go on.

This was not what Beckwith wanted to hear.

"I'm going to report this thing," he said angrily. He thought the pilot looked shattered, as if the pressure had completely broken him down. He slapped Schaefer on the back and told him that he and the others were going to have to suck it up.

Two more choppers arrived, and one of them was having a problem. Captain B. J. McGuire's helicopter had been flying with a warning light on in the cockpit that indicated trouble with one of the hydraulic systems. Fitch was the first person to reach McGuire on landing.

"I'm so happy you are here!" Fitch said, shouting to be heard. "Where are the rest of the guys?"

"I don't know," McGuire said. "We don't have any communication."

McGuire told Fitch about the problem with his helicopter. He said he thought the working hydraulic system was sufficiently trustworthy for him to continue.

When the last two choppers finally landed, it was cause for quiet celebration. It was now 1:30 in the morning, which gave the men just enough time to get everything done and hidden before full daylight. They had the required six helicopters. Some members of the assault force exchanged high fives. Seiffert soon had his pilots maneuvering their empty choppers into position behind the four tankers to refuel. Their wheels made deep tracks in the fine sand, and the turning rotors whipped up violent dust storms. The rotors and propellers were deafening, and all around the aircraft were fierce little sand squalls. The truck fire was still burning brightly.

Beckwith, impatient to get his men aboard the choppers and be off, climbed into the last one to land and tried to get the attention of Seiffert, who was coordinating these maneuvers from his cockpit.

"Request permission to load, Skipper," Beckwith said. "We need to get with it."

Seiffert either didn't hear him or ignored him. "Hey, remember me?" Beckwith asked. He then slapped the pilot's helmet. Seiffert took off his helmet and confronted Beckwith angrily.

"I can't guarantee we'll get you to the next site before first light."

"I don't care," Beckwith said.

Seiffert told him to go ahead and load his men.

Beckwith was moving from chopper to chopper, urging things forward, when another of the helicopter pilots stepped out and said, "The skipper told me to tell you we only have five flyable helicopters. That's what the skipper told me to tell you."

Looking around, the colonel could see that the rotor on one of the Sea Stallions had stopped turning. Someone had shut it down.

It was precisely what he had feared: these pilots were determined to scuttle his mission. It had not been lost on the other commanders, most of whom outranked Beckwith, that the pugnacious colonel regarded them all as inferiors, as supporting players. The pilots, the navigators, the air crews, the fuel-equipment operators, the Rangers, the combat controllers, the spies in Tehran, even the generals back at Wadi Kena--they were all ordinary mortals, squires, spear carriers, water boys. Their job was to serve Delta, to get the colonel and his magnificent men into place for their rendezvous with destiny. All along, Beckwith had been impatient with and suspicious of the other services and units involved; in his eyes, they all lacked experience, nerve, and skill. So now, when things began to go sour, Beckwith felt not just disappointment and anger but contempt.

When he found Kyle, he bellowed, "That goddamn number-two helo has been shut down! We only have five good choppers. You've got to talk to Seiffert and see what he says. You talk their language--I don't." Beckwith didn't see mechanical problems with the helicopters; he saw faltering courage in the men who flew them. He said as much to Kyle, grumbling that the pilots were looking for excuses not to go.

The comment burned the Air Force officer, who had been contending with Beckwith for months. He knew better than to argue with him. The chopper captains had the same kind of responsibilities that Beckwith had, and they were responsible for getting their own crews in and out safely. No one knew their machines better than they did, because they literally bet their lives on them every time they flew.

Seiffert had made his decision. One of the hydraulic pumps on McGuire's chopper was shot, and they had no way to fix it. Kyle asked if it would be possible to fly using just the remaining pump, and Seiffert told him emphatically, "No! It's unsafe! If the controls lock up, it becomes uncontrollable. It's grounded!"

When Fitch returned from rounding up the rest of his men, he was surprised to find that his second-in-command, Captain E. K. Smith, was still waiting with his squadron in the dust. He told Smith to get the men on the choppers.

"The mission is an abort," Smith said.

"What do you mean, it's an abort?"

"Colonel Beckwith said it's an abort," Smith said. He explained that McGuire's chopper couldn't fly. This contradicted what Fitch had heard from McGuire--that the chopper was damaged but flyable. Fitch knew his commander was such a hothead that it was entirely possible Beckwith had said something like that knowing only half the story.

"E.K., I'm not doubting your word, but I'm going to see Beckwith about this," he said.

The abort scenario, which they had rehearsed, called for Fitch and his men to board not the helicopters but one of the tankers. The choppers would fly back to the carrier, and the planes would return to Masirah. Fitch told Smith to prepare the men to board the plane, but said they should wait until he returned.

Finding Colonel Beckwith in the noise and swirling dust wasn't easy; one of the things the plan lacked was a clearly defined rallying point, or command center. So it took some wandering, but Fitch eventually found Beckwith, Burruss, Kyle, and the other mission commanders huddled outside one of the C-130s with a secure satellite radio.

"What's going on?" he shouted over the din.

"Well, Seiffert said that helicopter can't fly--that it's not mission capable--and we're down to five," Beckwith said, disgusted.

Kyle and the chopper crews said they were ready to proceed with five helicopters, but that would require trimming the assault force by twenty men. Beckwith refused. "We all go or nobody goes," he said. The question was passed up the chain to Washington, where Secretary of Defense Harold Brown relayed the situation to Brzezinski in the White House. The national-security adviser, who only minutes earlier had been told that all six choppers were refueling and that the mission was proceeding as planned, was stunned. He quickly assessed what he knew, and engaged in a little wishful thinking. He imagined Beckwith, who had been so gung-ho in his visit to the White House, fuming in the desert, eager to proceed but stymied by more-cautious generals in the rear. So he directed Brown to tell the commanders on the ground that if they were prepared to go ahead with only five choppers, they had White House approval. He then left to find Carter.

In the din of Desert One the mission commanders received Brzezinski's message and reconsidered. It angered Beckwith to even be asked; he felt his judgment and commitment were being questioned. Nevertheless, he said, "Can we make it with fewer aircraft?"

"Sir, we have been through this in rehearsals," Fitch said. "Who are we going to leave behind?"

Some felt that they could trim the package and proceed. Shortly before lifting off on the mission, they had received new and reliable intelligence about the location of the hostages in the embassy compound, which would eliminate the need for some of the searching they had planned to do. Perhaps they could do it with fewer men.

But Beckwith was more cautious. Which men would they leave behind? If they left the interpreters, who would talk them past the roadblocks in the city? If they got five choppers to the hide sites, how likely was it that all five would restart the next day? If one or two failed to start, and another got hit--likely scenarios that had been built into the plan--how were they going to airlift out all the hostages and Beckwith's men? The plan was finely wrought, with such a delicate balance between risk and opportunity that asking Beckwith to omit any piece was too much. It meant shifting the odds too greatly against his men and his beautiful creation, which he was not prepared to do. That was the conclusion the mission planners had reached in advance, after calm, careful deliberation. These automatic-abort scenarios had been predetermined precisely to avoid life-and-death decisions at the last minute. This was clearly an abort situation. On the mission schedule, just after the line "less than six helos," was the word "ABORT," and it was the only word on the page in capital letters.

"I need every man I've got and every piece of gear," Beckwith said finally. "There's no fat I can cut out."

The decision was relayed to Wadi Kena and to Washington, where Brzezinski broke the news of the setback to Carter. Standing in a corridor between the Oval Office and the president's study, Carter muttered, "Damn. Damn."

He and Brzezinski were soon joined by a larger group of advisers, including Walter Mondale, Hamilton Jordan, Warren Christopher, and Jody Powell. Standing behind his desk, his sleeves rolled up and hands on his hips, the president told them, "I've got some bad news ... I had to abort the rescue mission ... Two of our helicopters never reached Desert One. That left us six. The Delta team was boarding the six helicopters when they found out that one of them had a mechanical problem and couldn't go on."

"What did Beckwith think?" Jordan asked.

Carter explained that they had consulted with Beckwith, and that the decision had been unanimous.

"At least there were no American casualties and no innocent Iranians hurt," Carter said.

When you read the mission plan it's hard to imagine why any commander would have given it the okay. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Abortions in Mass. Down 11 Percent Since 2010 (Steve LeBlanc, 4/24/17, Associated Press)

Abortions in the state have dropped by nearly 11 percent -- from 20,802 in 2010 to 18,570 in 2015 -- according to an Associated Press review of the most recent Massachusetts Department of Public Health statistics.

The decline mirrors nationwide trends.

A report released in November by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the abortion rate for 2013 was 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 -- down 5 percent from 2012 and half the number of abortions reported in 1980.

A more recent survey by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, found the annual number of abortions in the U.S dropped to well under 1 million in 2014, the lowest since 1974.

April 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Macron Wants to Change France. But Will Voters Elect an Unknown? (ALISSA J. RUBIN, APRIL 19, 2017, NY Times)

With no political party to speak of, and never having held elected office, Mr. Macron, 39, a onetime investment banker and former economy minister, is leading an improbable quest to become modern France's youngest president. His profile is that of an insider, but his policies are those of an outsider. If the ever-precocious Mr. Macron is to succeed, his first challenge is to sell a product still largely unfamiliar to almost everyone: himself. [...]

Mr. Macron has begun a new political movement, En Marche!, which means "Forward" or Onward," that draws from both sides of the political spectrum. He is gambling that his postpartisan philosophy matches the national mood. [...]

In a runoff -- presuming both he and Ms. Le Pen get through to the final round -- she would be the political placeholder, the vote to preserve or restore a nostalgic (critics say outmoded) vision of France and one that revives nationalism and fans anti-Muslim sentiments. She has expanded her movement by assailing globalization -- the European Union, the loss of French jobs and an influx of migrants.

Mr. Macron is the establishment's anti-establishment candidate. He tilts at sacred cows -- retirement benefits, employee protections -- with an eye toward making France more business-friendly, while professing he will preserve its social safety net. Many question whether he will really be able to do both at the same time.

...is that France doesn't even have a neo-liberal party.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


GAO Weighs In On "Countering Violent Extremism" (PATRICK G. EDDINGTON, 4/23/17, Cato)

The ongoing controversy and litigation over the Trump administration's "Muslim ban" has reignited a debate that has raged since the 9/11 attacks: Who commits more domestic terrorism-violent Salafists or traditional "right wing" extremists? According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, it's the latter and by a very wide margin. From p. 4 of GAO's report:

Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent). 

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Here's How Gas Prices Could Drop by 50% Very Soon (Brad Tuttle, Apr 21, 2017, Money)

Consumer gas prices are correlated to the price of wholesale crude oil. For months, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has agreed to cut production of oil, thereby keeping the supply artificially low and prices genuinely high. Yet as MarketWatch reported on Friday, global crude supplies still remain above the five-year average, partially due to increased output in the U.S. As a result, oil prices--and therefore gas prices--are lower than OPEC might hope.

Now many are speculating that OPEC will soon drop its production caps, which would allow its member to sell more oil yet likely depress prices globally. Right now, oil is selling for over $50 a barrel on global markets. But "if the cartel ends its production cap, prices could quickly collapse, potentially retesting the 2016 low of $26.05" per barrel, CBS News noted. An OPEC meeting is scheduled for the end of May, when the group could make a decision regarding production levels.

Which will make the Fed's recent rate hikes look particularly counter-economic.

But it does give the GOP an easy way to offset tax cuts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Al Qaeda chief urges jihadists to use guerrilla tactics in Syria (Reuters, 4/23/17)

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has called on Syrian Sunni jihadists to wage guerrilla war against enemies ranging from Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his Iranian-backed allies to Western powers.

In an audio recording posted online on Sunday, Zawahri called for the rebels to be patient, saying they should be prepared for a long battle with the Western-led coalition in Iraq and Syria and Iranian-backed Shi'ites fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government.

All they have to do is repudiate even the pretense of a caliphate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Emmanuel Macron : The meteoric rise of France's youngest presidential candidate (Lucy Williamson, 4/23/17, BBC)

Macron's long-awaited manifesto was launched one spring morning, in a glitzy meeting hall off the Champs-Elysees. Inside, with sunlight dancing through the French windows, smartly-dressed waiters served orange juice and coffee to queues of waiting journalists.

The launch was days after the Hollywood film La La Land won several Oscars, sparking a snide new nickname for Emmanuel Macron - "Bla-Bla-Land". All talk, no policies.

But instead, his manifesto seemed to offer policies for everyone - help for farmers, for industry, for employers, for workers, for entrepreneurs. Tax cuts alongside support for those on low incomes. Spending cuts nestling next to €50bn of public investment.

He bounded onto the stage and spoke at length about his proposals. "People will ask if it's a programme of the left or the right," he said. "I want it to be a programme that brings France into the 21st Century."

A smiling Macron had promised to answer every single question from the hundreds of journalists packed into the hall. Three hours in, a French journalist brought up Macron's past as an investment banker, questioning whether he was capable of attracting working-class votes.

It prompted a vehement tirade from the En Marche leader against the idea that he was part of a privileged elite. "I was born in a provincial town, in a family that had nothing to do with the world of journalists, politicians or bankers," he expostulated, clearly annoyed.

Macron can be sensitive about his background. The story he tells about himself is of a boy from outside the establishment, who rose to prominence through merit and hard work. "My grandparents were a teacher, railway worker, social worker, and bridges and roadways engineer, all came from modest backgrounds."

Alternative views on his roots and his rise can sometimes appear unwelcome.

"The fact that you worked for a bank and earned money is not such a bad thing in the UK," explains his friend Mathieu Laine. "In France, it's different. He always has to explain that it's not bad to have worked in the private sector. It's always the same question. [...]

Liberal economic reform, of the kind Macron advocates, is a divisive issue in France.

Left-wing stalwarts, including many of the unions, fiercely oppose making it easier for companies to hire and fire staff, set salaries, or extend working hours.

Macron has not done well with blue-collar workers, while his far-right rival Marine Le Pen is estimated to have cornered almost half that section of the vote.

Reacting to her former colleague's proposals, a senior member of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, exploded: "Up until now, Emmanuel Macron thought that being launched as a new product with a sparkling smile would be enough to be elected president. And I always say... when things are vague, there's a wolf.

His economic programme, said Aubry, "takes up the liberal agenda of the Anglo-Saxons in the 1980s. It's about reducing public services, reducing deficits, and for workers to work more and be paid less."

There are plenty of centre-left Socialists who agree with the need for economic reform, and Macron has described himself as "a man of the left", but mentor Alain Minc says there is something different about what he's offering.

"He's a leftist liberal, and that is new in French politics," he says. "There has been a social democrat wing in the Socialist Party but he believes much more in the strengths of the market."

"He's a Blairist," he concludes. "He's Tony Blair's son."

Some would argue that he has gone further than the former British prime minister, in the later stages of his campaign, in an attempt to win over right-wing voters. But cross-party appeal has never been easy.

In order to try and pass his economic reforms, during his time as minister, Emmanuel Macron turned to right-wing MPs for help.

"It was a nightmare for him," says his friend Mathieu Laine. "A lot of these [right wing] MPs said, 'Oh, the Loi Macron is a very good bill, but as it comes from the left, we won't vote for it'. It was the beginning of the idea, among our very small group, that we should break this way of doing politics."

For Macron, politics in France is no longer a battle between right and left ideology, but one between protectionism and globalisation. His staunchest adversary is not the Socialist Party he deserted, nor the Republican Party of Francois Fillon, but the closed-border, anti-liberal policies of Marine Le Pen.

Tony Blair only had to get Labour to accept Adam Smith.  Mr. Macron has to force feed it to an entire country.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Durbin: Only People Who Support Roe v. Wade Can Be Part of Democratic Party (David Rutz, April 23, 2017, Free Beacon)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said Sunday on CNN that all Democrats have to back the Roe v. Wade abortion decision as a matter of policy in order to be part of the party, regardless of their personal beliefs.

When killing babies is your core value, you're in dire straits.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Iran to air live presidential debates after about-face (AFP, April 23, 2017)

"After demands by the Iranian nation and the candidates for a review (of the decision), the presidential elections campaign commission decided... that debates may be broadcast live," the ministry said in a statement on official news agency IRNA.

The U-turn came days after the commission, which sets campaigning rules ahead of the May 19 poll, said the debates would not be broadcast live as in previous elections, sparking outrage on social media.

Moderate President Hassan Rouhani and his conservative rivals Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf all rejected the ban.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


'The handwriting is on the wall' for Trump's presidency (Ron Insana, 21 Apr 2017, CNBC.com)

A review of Donald Trump's business career would lead one to say that he has always over-promised and under-delivered. Whether his long list of bankruptcies in the ever-profitable casino business, the failures of his "university,' steak, vodka or clothing lines, there has been a history of putting himself first, while ignoring the needs of his constituents.

We may be seeing that play out in his approach to government, as well. As in business, Trump has a constituency of one ... himself ... just ask his stock and bond investors, his suppliers, contractors, laborers, or even his customers. Unlike Trump, they rarely, if ever, participated in the "upside" of Trump-branded products.

So, too, is this happening in the early days of the Trump presidency. His executive orders notwithstanding, the folks who voted for President Trump, thus far, have nothing to show for it. Indeed, it is quite early to make a claim that Trump has failed his constituents entirely, but the handwriting may be on the wall.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Survey: Outdated Office Technology Costs Businesses Time and Money (Chris Stokel-Walker, 4/23/17, Bloomberg News)

Slow, outdated computers and intermittent internet connections demoralize workers, a survey of 6,000 European workers said. Half of U.K. employees said creaking computers were "restrictive and limiting," and 38 percent said modern technology would make them more motivated, according to the survey, commissioned by electronics company Sharp.

Scott's PC runs the relatively up-to-date Windows 8 operating system, but his computer sometimes struggles to handle large spreadsheets and multiple documents open simultaneously, slowing him down.

Others are in a worse spot. One in every eight business laptops and desktops worldwide still run Windows XP, which was introduced in 2001 and abandoned by Microsoft in 2014, according to data collected by Spiceworks, an IT network monitoring firm.

Half of all businesses have at least one PC running the 16-year-old operating system. And in the U.K., thousands of computers used by hospitals are still using XP, according to tech website Motherboard.

"Employers don't realize they are spending thousands of pounds on salaries but-by refusing to update office IT-are wasting money," said Mohammad Ali Khan, managing director of Pacific Infotech, a London-based IT consultancy. "The stuff employees can probably do in half an hour, they're sitting for an hour or more because their equipment is too slow."

Homo economicus is dead.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Trump's 'Hire American, Buy American' Is Redistribution by Another Name (BEN SHAPIRO, April 20, 2017, National Review)

First, the notion that American companies should be forced to hire American labor is a conceit of the Left. It is based on the same failures of economic understanding that lead to advocating higher minimum wages: the notion that cramming through an increase in labor cost does not cost jobs to a company, does not raise costs to the consumer, and does not degrade the quality of future products.

Yet Trump and other protectionists such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Ann Coulter have long seen H-1B visas -- supposedly high-tech visas allowing workers to enter the United States to fill jobs for domestically based companies -- as a great bugaboo. There are certainly significant problems with the current administration of H-1B visas: Michelle Malkin has rightly pointed out that there are those who falsely sponsor immigrants to the United States without any intention of employing them. And she is also right to criticize the H-1B lie that workers from abroad never replace American workers, and the inflated claim that there is a serious shortage of Americans qualified to fill jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM jobs). Other valid critiques of H-1B visas are that they tie visa-holders to jobs and give employers total leverage over them.

But there is a broader ideological critique that is simply false: the notion that America benefits as a country by heavily restricting its labor base rather than by expanding the pool of qualified applicants.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Trump's First 100 Days: An 'Entry-Level' Presidency (Domenico Montanaro, 4/23/17, NPR)

With any new president, there's a learning curve. But for President Trump, it's been steeper than others.

"Mount Everest" is how Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, described it ahead of Trump's 100th day in office, which is coming up Saturday, April 29. "It's as steep as they come and ice-covered, and he didn't bring very many knowledgeable Sherpas with him." [...]

"Is this an entry-level president? I think that's too generous," Perry argued. "Unless he would be an intern, he would not have a position in the White House -- with no educational experience, no military experience, no government, no political experience, most of it was running for president." [...]

"The problem with people who say we need a businessman is that the government isn't a business," said historian Richard Norton Smith, who has written several political biographies, including on another businessman president, Herbert Hoover. Smith has also run several presidential museums, libraries and foundations dedicated to Lincoln, Reagan, Eisenhower, Ford and Hoover.

Hoover, a wealthy mine engineer and consultant before becoming president, had significant business experience around the globe. But he's looked upon by many today as a president who didn't meet the greatest challenge of his time, the Great Depression.

And Hoover had far more political experience than Trump, having served as Commerce secretary under two presidents, and run massive relief efforts in Europe during World War I.

"Profit-loss statements don't take into account the irrationality of Kim Jong Un," Smith said of the North Korean leader. "Corporate budgets don't have to allow for military defense. All these kinds of perfectly rational expectations that apply in a corporate world are rarely applicable in the less-than-rational world of politics. ... If you've not been tempered, yourself, in the fires of politics, you're operating at a real disadvantage."

It's not his fault he's a disaster.  It's the fault of people who voted for him expecting anything better.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Israel kills three in Syria strike on pro-Assad militia (Deutsche-Welle, 4/23/17)

An attack by Israeli military on pro-government forces in southern Syria has killed three fighters, the militia and a monitoring group said. Israel rarely publicly acknowledges its occasional strikes in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


What matters most to Iranians in presidential vote? : As campaigning gets under way, Al Jazeera speaks with six Iranian voters about their views on the upcoming election. (Megan O'Toole, 4/23/17, Al Jazeera)

As the contenders officially begin their campaigns, Al Jazeera spoke with a variety of Iranian voters about their views on the upcoming election and what issues the next president should prioritise.

Saman Jamshidi   Educational supervisor and financial adviser, 36

The country is not in a very stable situation politically, and the election of a conservative extremist could damage the present situation even more. That's my biggest worry right now, although I don't think that's a very likely thing to happen.

I don't think it would be good to change the president right now. In politics, things take a long time to show the results. It's been two years since the nuclear agreement, and as a person who is educated, I think it takes at least half a decade for the sanctions - which were in place for more than a decade - to reverse. [...]

Sheida Heidarian   PhD biotechnology student, 26

The priority for the next president should be the future and employment of young people. This will determine whether students can get a good position and contribute to society under the next government. [...]

Fatimeh Sharifi   Student, 19

Right now, the economic situation is the most important issue to consider in the election.

With the current situation, particularly in my field of study - exploring techniques for helping people with hearing problems - getting a job after school ends is a difficult prospect.

Iran's international relationships with other countries should also be further developed and improved. The better foreign relations it has, the more investment we may get in various fields of study, and this would give students a better chance of finding a job.

Mike Pence should visit after the election.
Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


News turns to comedy in the Trump era (Rebecca Zisser, 4/23/17, Axios)

At a time of political uncertainty and confusion, news outlets are using new types of comedic relief to relate to their readers. [...]


The Boston Globe's Editor Brian McGrory put out a 3,000+ word memo Monday about creating a blueprint for their coverage in the future. Humor was a point of focus:

We're going to be more humorous, god dammit, and absolutely more humane.

The Washington Post announced in January that it's hiring video journalists to produce what looks to be a Daily Show-style scripted humor series.

The New York Times created a new "best of late night" feature, where the paper posts a recap of the best moments, usually news-related, from late-night shows. [...]

South Park creators have too said that they will be backing off of Trump-focused humor. "It's really tricky now as satire has become reality," co-creator Trey Parker said in February. "They're already going out and doing the comedy. It's not something you can make fun of."

It's a clown show; just report it straight. We'll all laugh.

April 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


The High-End Tax Break That Needs to Go (American Interest, 4/22/17)

[P]utting aside the national politics and budgetary considerations, reducing the federal write-off for state and local taxes could help improve state governance as well. One reason states like California and New York are in such dire fiscal shape, and so beset by special interests obstructing reform, is that their talented high-earners don't have much of a stake in improving their quality of governance. Albany and Sacramento can degenerate into kludgeocracies that demand bigger and bigger revenue streams to pump into failing schools or top off public sector worker pensions and the business elite in Hollywood or on Wall Street don't need to worry--thanks to SALT, they won't see as much as 40 percent of tax hikes handed down from statehouses and city halls. Capping this deduction would give a new urgency to the blue state government reform project among people with the power to actually make a difference.

In other words, putting SALT on the chopping block is a win win win, as far as the GOP is concerned--it raises revenue in a way that is relatively inoffensive to Republican voters, it helps pay for the tax cuts Trump has promised, and it will lean on blue states and cities to reform in a way that improves the quality of governance overall. It would be negligent of the White House--as a matter of politics and policy--to put forward a tax reform package that keeps SALT intact.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


The 'Buy American' Order: Cynical or Ignorant? (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, April 19, 2017, National Review)

Donald J. Trump is nothing if not a consummate entertainer, and the character he plays on television -- "Donald J. Trump" -- has appeared in all manner of entertainment: the game show he hosted for many years, pornographic films, the 2016 presidential campaign. Now he is taking on a strange new role: that of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. 

Trump, who is surrounded by people who fancy themselves "nationalists" (in the cause of what nation, it is not entirely clear), is wading deep into an ancient puddle of stupidity most recently explored by Barack Obama (remember his "nationalist" moment, which lasted for about a month in 2011?) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the woman who (accidentally) did more than anyone other than Kellyanne Conway and Hillary Rodham Clinton to put Trump in the White House. To call it "economic nationalism" would be too grand: It is merely a very narrow form of special-interest politics consisting of backdoor handouts to favored corporate interests.

But no one questions his ignorance, Angela Merkel reportedly had to explain the 'fundamentals' of EU trade to Trump 11 times (Business Insider, 4/22/17)

President Trump did not understand that the US cannot negotiate a trade deal with Germany alone and must deal with the European Union as a bloc, a senior German official told The Times of London. 

"Ten times Trump asked [German chancellor Angela Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, 'You can't do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU,'" the official said. 

They continued: "On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, 'Oh, we'll do a deal with Europe then.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Russian chief rabbi: France's Jews should leave if Le Pen wins (JTA, April 23, 2017)

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar called on French Jews to leave their country if the far right politician Marine Le Pen is elected president next month.

Lazar, a Chabad rabbi who was born in Italy and has lived in Russia for 25 years, made the remark on Friday while attending a conference on Jewish learning near Moscow organized by the Limmud FSU association.

Steve Bannon loves France : White House strategist has borrowed heavily from Le Pen and other touchstones of the French far right. (EMMA-KATE SYMONS, 3/22/17, Politico)

White House senior adviser Steve Bannon's political credo is "America First" -- but it has a distinctly French flavor.

Bannon admires the anti-immigrant policies and economic nationalism of National Front leader Marine Le Pen and his far-right Francophilia goes even deeper. Donald Trump's chief strategist has said he is also a fan of a violently anti-Jewish propagandist and Nazi collaborator as well as other cultural touchstones for the French far right -- offering clues to where the Trump administration may take America.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


May's Conservatives on course for sweeping British election victor (Kate Holton, 4/22/17, Reuters)

Britain's Theresa May appeared on course to win a crushing election victory in June after opinion polls put support for her ruling Conservative party at around 50 percent, double that of the opposition Labour party.

May's decision to call a June 8 election stunned her political rivals this week and a string of polls released late on Saturday suggested the gamble had paid off, with one from ComRes showing the party of Margaret Thatcher enjoying levels of support not seen since 1991.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Report: Obama Rejected Comey Op-Ed on Russia's Election Meddling (Chas Danner, 4/22/17, New York)

The New York Times, following an extensive investigation into the conduct of FBI director James Comey over the course of the last year's U.S. presidential election, reports that President Obama rejected Comey's proposal to publish a late-summer op-ed announcing that Russia was trying to undermine the vote. According to the report, after it became clear to the FBI that Russia was attempting to intervene, Comey wanted to "inoculate" American voters from that possible influence by alerting them in an op-ed that the Russian meddling was happening -- though he did not plan to announce that members of the Trump campaign were also under investigation with regards to the issue.

President Obama, according to the Times' sources, thought that acknowledging Russia's attempted interference would not counteract their influence, but magnify it, causing American voters to doubt the election's legitimacy. Then candidate Donald Trump was already loudly and frequently claiming, without evidence, that the election was rigged, and the White House did not want to be seen as stepping in on behalf of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

...but it does seem unfair to Hillary that Comey publicly announced re-clearing her of any wrong-doing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


On Eve Of French Election, Trump (And Putin) Still Pushing 'Nationalism' (Joe Conason, April 21, 2017, National Memo)

In backing the leader of France's neo-fascist party, Trump also resumed his role as the Western political stalking horse for Vladimir Putin. Having received LePen in Moscow, where she denounced sanctions and sucked up to Putin, Russia's authoritarian president has mobilized his entire propaganda apparatus to influence the French election. Indeed, Putin has been preparing this moment for a long time. Three years ago, LePen's party received a $10 million loan from a Moscow-affiliated bank.

Kremlin support for the French ultra-rightist is only one instance of a far broader Russian outreach toward fascistic elements across Europe, extending from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece and the Northern League in Italy to the anti-Semitic nationalist Jobbik Party in Hungary and neo-Nazi gangs in Norway. Sometimes blatant, sometimes secretive, and sometimes outsourced to local groups, these provocations may or may not reflect Putin's own ideology. But their purpose is obvious enough -- to disrupt and disorganize the democratic West, which still dares to criticize Russian human rights abuses and imperial ambitions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


US will honor 'dumb' Australia refugee deal (Deutsche-welle, 4/22/17)

US Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday the United States would honor a refugee deal with Australia, even though the Trump administration doesn't "admire" it.

Under the deal that President Donald Trump described as "dumb," the United States would take up to 1,250 asylum seekers in detention camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. In exchange, Australia would take asylum seekers in the United States from El Salvador Guatemala and Honduras.

"We will honor this agreement out of respect to this enormously important alliance," Pence told a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney.

April 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Border Lawmakers Balk at Donald Trump's Wall Request (Laura Meckler and  Kristina Peterson, April 21, 2017, WSJ)

Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump's request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall, according to a Wall Street Journal survey, testing the administration's ability to reach a deal on government funding next week.

Most lawmakers representing the region--both Democrats and Republicans--said they are opposed and many said they have unanswered questions. A few were noncommittal, but not a single member of the House or Senate representing the region expressed support for the funding request. That includes nine members of the House and eight senators across four states: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

He has to be the least powerful first term president besides Andrew Johnson and Gerald Ford.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


There Is Nothing Left of Trump's Supposed Economic Populism (David Atkins, April 22, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Entire oceans of ink have been spilled over the question of how much of Trump's support came from prejudice versus economic anxiety (hint: it's both and they're interconnected.) But no matter the answer, what's clear by now is that Trump's economic populist agenda on behalf of the white working class no longer exists if it ever did. His betrayals of Main Street on behalf of Wall Street have been gradual and numerous, but two executive orders yesterday seal the deal:

President Trump signed a set of executive actions Friday ordering a review of significant 2016 tax regulations along with two separate reviews aimed at rolling back Dodd-Frank financial regulations. [...]

Trump has trussed up giveaways to Wall Street in worker-friendly language, but the intent is clear: to give the finance industry free rein to predate at will-though as Matt Yglesias notes, even the executive orders themselves are empty legislative husks designed to give Trump the illusion of accomplishments before the 100-day mark. Still, even an empty gift to Wall Street remains a gift.

There is now nothing left of Trump's promises to workers. Better healthcare and lower premiums than the Affordable Care Act? Nope. Pressure against Chinese currency manipulation and offshoring of jobs? Not anymore. Keeping advisers who listen to Trump's base instead of Goldman Sachs? Suckers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Le Pen goes back to her roots on immigration as poll countdown begins (Le Monde, 2017-04-19)

Facing a slight slump in opinion polls just one week before the first-round of France's presidential election, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has returned to her party's core issues: immigration and security.

With only five days left before the first round on April 23 (the top two in the first round go through to the decisive second round on May 7), and with opinion polls forecasting a tight race that is barely possible to predict, Le Pen on Monday re-focused her campaign on immigration.

It is familiar territory for the leader of the National Front (FN), a party which has campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform for over 40 years.

For months Le Pen has been among the frontrunners, and her campaign seemed to be already planning ahead to the critical second round. But amid fresh concerns she could be squeezed out in the first round, her team is now attempting a mini re-launch appealing directly to the FN's traditional voter base. [...]

The new and drastic proposal appears to be aimed at focusing the public debate around the FN's signature issue in the final stretch, and it is a strategy the party has exploited in the past.

A month before France's 2015 regional election, Le Pen called on all asylum seekers to be kicked out at the height of Europe's migrant crisis. During the last presidential election, in 2012, she sparked a heated debate about the ritual slaughter of livestock by certain religions only weeks before the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Why I Take Fake Pills : Surprising new research shows that placebos still work even when you know they're not real (Robert Anthony Siegel, May 2017, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

Ted Kaptchuk, Kelley's boss and the founder and director of PiPS, has traveled an eccentric path. The child of a Holocaust survivor, he became embroiled in radical politics in the 1960s and later studied Chinese medicine in Macao. ("I needed to find something to do that was more creative than milking goats and not so destructive as parts of the antiwar movement.") After returning to the U.S., he practiced acupuncture in Cambridge and ran a pain clinic before being hired at Harvard Medical School. But he's not a doctor and his degree from Macao isn't even recognized as a PhD in the state of Massachusetts.

Kaptchuk's outsider status has given him an unusual amount of intellectual freedom. In the intensely specialized world of academic medicine, he routinely crosses the lines between clinical research, medical history, anthropology and bioethics. "They originally hired me at Harvard to do research in Chinese medicine, not placebo," he told me, as we drank tea in his home office. His interests shifted when he tried to reconcile his own successes as an acupuncturist with his colleagues' complaints about the lack of hard scientific evidence. "At some point in my research I asked myself, 'If the medical community assumes that Chinese medicine is "just" a placebo, why don't we examine this phenomenon more deeply?'"

Some studies have found that when acupuncture is performed with retractable needles or lasers, or when the pricks are made in the wrong spots, the treatment still works. By conventional standards, this would make acupuncture a sham. If a drug doesn't outperform a placebo, it's considered ineffective. But in the acupuncture studies, Kaptchuk was struck by the fact that patients in both groups were actually getting better. He points out that the same is true of many pharmaceuticals. In experiments with postoperative patients, for example, prescription pain medications lost half their effectiveness when the patient did not know that he or she had just been given a painkiller. A study of the migraine drug rizatriptan found no statistical difference between a placebo labeled rizatriptan and actual rizatriptan labeled placebo.

What Kaptchuk found was something akin to a blank spot on the map. "In medical research, everyone is always asking, 'Does it work better than a placebo?' So I asked the obvious question that nobody was asking: 'What is a placebo?' And I realized that nobody ever talked about that."

To answer that question, he looked back through history. Benjamin Franklin's encounter with the charismatic healer Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer became a sort of paradigm. Mesmer treated patients in 18th-century Paris with an invisible force he called "animal magnetism." Franklin used an early version of the placebo trial to prove that animal magnetism wasn't a real biological force. Franklin's one mistake, Kaptchuk believed, was to stop at discrediting Mesmer, rather than going on to understand his methods. His next question should have been: "How does an imaginary force make sick people well?"

Kaptchuk sees himself as picking up where Franklin left off. Working with Kelley and other colleagues, he's found that the placebo effect is not a single phenomenon but rather a group of inter-related mechanisms. It's triggered not just by fake pharmaceuticals but by the symbols and rituals of health care itself--everything from the prick of an injection to the sight of a person in a lab coat.

And the effects are not just imaginary, as was once assumed. Functional MRI and other new technologies are showing that placebos, like real pharmaceuticals, actually trigger neurochemicals such as endorphins and dopamine, and activate areas of the brain associated with analgesia and other forms of symptomatic relief. As a result of these discoveries, placebo is beginning to lose its louche reputation.

"Nobody would believe my research without the neuroscience," Kaptchuk told me. "People ask, 'How does placebo work?' I want to say by rituals and symbols, but they say, 'No, how does it really work?' and I say, 'Oh, you know, dopamine'--and then they feel better." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Trump condos worth $250 million pose potential conflict (Nick Penzenstadler , Steve Reilly and John Kelly , 4/20/17, USA TODAY)

President Trump's companies own more than 400 condo units and home lots whose sale could steer millions of dollars to Trump, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

USA TODAY spent four months cataloging every property Trump's companies own across the country. Reporters found that Trump's companies are sitting on at least $250 million of individual properties in the USA alone. Property records show Trump's trust and his companies own at least 422 luxury condos and penthouses from New York City to Las Vegas, 12 mansion lots on bluffs overlooking his golf course on the Pacific Ocean and dozens more smaller pieces of real estate. The properties range in value from about $200,000 to $35 million each.

Unlike developments where Trump licenses his name to a separate developer for a flat fee, profits from selling individual properties directly owned by his companies ultimately enrich him personally.

Trump has never disclosed a complete, unit-by-unit inventory of his companies' real estate holdings or sales, nor is he required to do so by federal law. Trump says he's separated himself from his businesses, but the trust set up in January is run by his sons. Trump is the only beneficiary and can withdraw funds at any time.

The volume of real estate creates an extraordinary and unprecedented potential for people, corporations or foreign interests to try to influence a president. Anyone who wanted to court favor with the president could snap up multiple properties or purposefully overpay. They could buy in the name of a shell company, making it impossible for the public to know who was behind the sales.

The potential for conflicts is exacerbated by Trump's refusal to release his tax returns or fully separate himself from his businesses, breaking with precedent set by presidents going back four decades. Since Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1978, all six presidents from Carter to Obama established blind trusts or limited investments to assets like mutual funds. Trump has not.

The president is exempt from most conflict-of-interest laws that apply to others working in the federal government. He is not required to disclose when units sell or who bought them.

He is barred by the Constitution from receiving gifts from foreign governments or officials. Trump's assessment that the ban doesn't apply to market-rate transactions is debated in lawsuits and among ethics experts.

Regardless, it may be impossible for the public to even know who is behind purchase because the rules governing real estate transactions allow for shell companies to make purchases without disclosing who actually paid the money.

"Anyone seeking to influence the president could set up an anonymous company and purchase his property," said Heather Lowe, director of government affairs at Global Financial Integrity, a D.C.-based group aimed at curbing illicit financial transactions. "It's a big black box, and the system is failing as a check for conflicts of interest."

Since Election Day, records show Trump companies have sold at least 14 luxury condos and home-building lots for about $23 million. Half were sold to limited liability companies. No names were listed in deeds, obscuring buyers' identities.

Since launching his White House bid, Trump's companies have sold at least 58 units nationwide for about $90 million. Almost half of those sold to LLCs. [...]

A couple of weeks before the Republican National Convention, a Las Vegas financial firm filed paperwork to found Milan Investment Limited in Nevada.

Days later, the newly minted company went on a buying spree. Milan spent $3.1 million over four months to buy 11 luxury condos in a shimmering golden tower near the Strip that Trump owns with friend and casino mogul Phil Ruffin. Trump Ruffin LLC collected the last of the money weeks before Trump was elected.

Milan Investment tracks back to what appears to be an incorrect address, the strip mall office of a financial services firm.

The owner, Thomas Sullivan, said he never heard of Milan Investment but said a federal "regulatory" agency visited his office in person asking similar questions. He declined to identify the agency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Yelp for Health: Using the Wisdom of Crowds to Find High-Quality Hospitals (Paul Howard & Yevgeniy Feyman, April 12, 2017, Manhattan Institute)

Online tools like ZocDoc, HealthGrades, and Yelp have become popular among people who search for information about physicians and hospitals. Yelp, one of the most widely used platforms, allows patients to rate health-care providers through a five-star rating system that can include narrative text reviews. In 2015, Yelp partnered with ProPublica to publish average wait times, readmission rates, and the quality of communication scores for more than 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis clinics. According to some research, Yelp reviews correlate with Medicare surveys such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). We don't know, however, how accurate these reviews are for identifying quality doctors and hospitals.

This paper examines whether there is a correlation between Yelp reviews of New York State hospitals and objective measures of hospital quality. We find that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals and that they provide a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different facilities as measured by potentially preventable readmission rates (PPR), a widely accepted metric.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Britain set for first coal-free day since the industrial revolution (Georgia Brown, 21 April 2017, The Guardian)

The UK is set to have its first ever working day without coal power generation since the industrial revolution on Friday, according to the National Grid.

The control room tweeted the predicted milestone, adding that it is also set to be the first 24-hour coal-free period in Britain.

The UK has had shorter coal-free periods in 2016, as gas and renewables such as wind and solar play an increasing role in providing the country with power. The longest continuous period until now was 19 hours - first achieved on a weekend last May, and matched on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Trump legal tab: $4 million and rising : A trail of legal cases stemming from his unconventional campaign still dogs the president months after the election. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 04/20/17, Politico)

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to pay the legal bills of supporters who beat up protesters at his rallies, but a POLITICO analysis found that Trump's campaign hasn't always paid its own legal bills in a timely or transparent fashion.

The analysis of court and campaign filings found that Trump's campaign committee is still spending heavily to defend against ongoing civil lawsuits alleging assault, incitement, threats and other illegal behavior by the president, his supporters and staff. But in at least four ongoing cases, Trump's campaign had yet to make a publicly disclosed payment to the law firms representing it, paid months late or paid in tiny amounts that don't appear commensurate with the amount of work performed by the firms.

...the main narrative about 2016 is that Donald capitalized on poor whites who think the wealthy Establishment is taking them for a ride, so it's fun to see them pay his legal bills, or at least the ones he does pay....
Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Maine's Immigrants Boost Workforce Of Whitest, Oldest State In U.S. (Hansi Lo Wang, 4/20/17, All Things Considered)

A demographic crisis looms over Maine, the oldest and whitest state in the U.S. with one of the country's lowest birth rates.

Employers are already feeling the effects on Maine's workforce as they struggle to fill positions with "old Mainers" -- long-time residents in a state where many take pride in their deep family roots, especially along the shores of Washington County.[...]

Large communities of mainly Somali and Sudanese refugees have formed in Maine's largest cities, Portland and Lewiston. Rudelitch says Washington County also needs more immigrants and other newcomers to help sustain the local economy.

"We're making the argument that over time, there will be a much bigger economy for all of us to have a share of if we welcome people who choose to move here," he says.

Newcomers have been moving to the county, specifically to the small town of Milbridge, with a population of just over 1,300, according to the 2010 Census.

While Latinos make up just over 1 percent of Maine's residents, about 6 percent of Milbridge's residents are Latino, many of them families drawn by jobs in lobster processing, blueberry picking and wreath making.

Maria Paniagua Albor works in the office of a lobster processing plant, where she says most of the workers are Hispanic, either from Puerto Rico or Mexico. The white workers, she says, she can count on one hand.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


7 Easy-to-Make Endurance Fuels That Are Cheaper and Tastier Than Energy Bars : And more effective (Michael Easter Apr 20, 2017, Outside)

A year ago, I solved an energy crisis. I had signed up for a 24-hour, unsupported, military-style team endurance event that would involve carrying hundreds of pounds of gear over 50 miles, a bit of swimming, and a thousand or so burpees tossed in for good measure. All things considered, I would burn just north of 15,000 calories during the event.

As I stood scanning the energy bar aisle at my local outdoor store, I realized that carrying even half my calorie requirements in my favorite bars, at $3.50 a pop, would run me $73.50--half the cost of feeding a family of four for an entire week.

I decided to improvise and pointed my truck toward a nearby discount grocery store. There, I considered my needs: a huge amount of calories in a small package and, preferably, something tasty. I grabbed peanut butter, jelly, and a seedy wheat bread--and some thin-sliced mozzarella, because why not. The resultant sandwich, while admittedly strange, packed in more than 30 grams of protein--the magic number for refueling working muscle, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association--and nearly 700 calories. Yet it took up no more room in my pack, cost just 80 cents each, and was truly delicious. The math: per calorie, the bars would have been ten times more expensive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


No other artist mixed religion and sex like Prince (Kimberly Winston, April 20, 2017, Religion News Service)

Now, amid the anniversary appreciations and concerts, Prince's faith is gaining recognition as a driving force behind his music. In January, Yale University held a three-day conference on the music of Prince and David Bowie -- who also died in 2016 -- that included a panel on religion and spirituality in their work.

A handful of scholars and critics are also producing books that, in part, explore the influence of faith on the music of Prince.

One of those is Ben Greenman, whose "Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince" was released this month. He says that in a career that spanned almost four decades, Prince's music was always concerned with religion -- but what kind of religion depends on where in his career the record needle touches down.

"Early on, he came on as an iconoclast, charging hard against conventional conceptions of morality, sexuality, and spirituality, though he always straightforwardly credited God in his liner notes," Greenman said in an email. "Between (the 1984 and 1985 albums) 'Purple Rain' and 'Around the World in a Day,' he seemed to grapple with his carnal urges and to appeal to God for self-control and a better understanding of love versus lust."

Prince's early music reflects his upbringing by devout Seventh-day Adventist parents in Minneapolis. His father -- also a musician -- was strict. "He was so hard on me," Prince told Tavis Smiley in 2009. "I was never good enough." His parents divorced, and as a teenager Prince went to live with a neighbor.

Seventh-day Adventists are millennialists -- believers in an imminent end times -- and multiple Prince songs, including the hit "1999," include doomsday scenarios:

I was dreamin' when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin', could've sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' to run from the destruction, you know I didn't even care

At the end, Prince sings, "Can't run from revelation, no."

Prince's version of the end times is not full of fear or grief. Instead, it is full of hope, joy and anticipation.

"You get to be in paradise," said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania who spoke at the Yale conference. "Yes, there might be destruction, but it is also going to be a great thing. This is not a fearful thing. It is heaven or paradise."

But there was a darker, B side, too. "Sign O' the Times," released in 1987, included his most overtly Christian song to date, "The Cross," a soulful brooding on the Crucifixion:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry for he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There'll be bread for all, y'all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

Karl Jacobson, an assistant professor at Augsburg College in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis, said this song helped him better understand his own Lutheran faith. In an appreciation he wrote for the blog BibPopCult, he likened the song to Martin Luther's "theology of the cross" -- the idea that the cross is all a Christian needs to know who God is.

"It tells the truth about a troubled world," Jacobson writes. " ... If we can just bear the cross -- bear the truth it shows us about our world and about ourselves and about this God, and bear it with us as we live our lives, then this whole world will be kept and fed in the cross of Christ."

To Toure, who describes Prince as a preacher in some of his songs, the message is even simpler:

"For him there was no need to separate the things we do on Saturday night from the things we do on Sunday morning."

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Cautious Optimism About The New In-House Wine Brand From Sam's Club (Brian Freedman, 4/21/17, Forbes)

The recent announcement that Sam's Club will be selling wine from their in-house Member's Mark brand has set off a bomb of speculation about what this means for their competition with Costco, whose own Kirkland brand of wine has not just gained a fair amount of respectability but also accounts for substantial profits for the mega-store.

April 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


The Danger of Underestimating Russia's Influence in France : Fears of Russian meddling in a French vote reflect an overt and covert influence campaign. (Sebastian Rotella, 4/20/17, Pacific Standard)

Last month, the combative populist Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front flew to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin. It was a display of longtime mutual admiration. The frontrunner in a field of 11 candidates, Le Pen shrugs off allegations of corruption and human rights abuses against Putin, calling him a tough and effective leader. Her hard-line views on immigration, Islam, and the European Union win praise from Putin and enthusiastic coverage from Russian media outlets. Her campaign has been propelled by a loan of more than $9 million from a Russian bank in 2014, according to Western officials and media reports.

Meanwhile, aides to Emmanuel Macron, the center-left former economy minister who is Le Pen's top rival, have accused Russia of hitting his campaign with cyberattacks and fake news reports about his personal life. Although French officials say the computer disruptions were minor and there is no conclusive proof of links to the Russian state, President François Hollande and other leaders have warned about the risk of interference comparable to hacking operations that targeted the U.S. elections. The French government, aided by briefings from U.S. agencies about their experience last year, has beefed up its cyber defenses.

American politics was jolted when 17 intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia had covertly intervened in the 2016 presidential campaign with the aim of electing Donald Trump. Such activity is nothing new in Europe, where Russia has launched a series of clandestine and open efforts to sway governments and exert influence, according to European and United States national security officials, diplomats, academics and other experts interviewed by ProPublica in recent weeks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Jeff Sessions dismisses Hawaii as 'an island in the Pacific' (The Week, 4/20/17)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is apparently flabbergasted a federal judge from "an island in the Pacific" -- also known as Hawaii -- had the right to block President Trump's executive orders temporarily banning immigration from several Muslim majority nations. "I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power," Sessions said during an interview Wednesday night on The Mark Levin Show.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Immigrants flooded California construction. Worker pay sank. Here's why (NATALIE KITROEFF, APRIL 20, 2017, LA Times)

In the span of a few decades, Los Angeles area construction went from an industry that was two-thirds white, and largely unionized, to one that is overwhelmingly Latino, mostly nonunion and heavily reliant on immigrants, according to a Los Angeles Times review of federal data.

At the same time, the job got less lucrative. American construction workers today make $5 an hour less than they did in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.

It's impossible to overstate deflationary pressure.
Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Trump Adviser's Visit to Moscow Got the F.B.I.'s Attention (SCOTT SHANE, MARK MAZZETTI and ADAM GOLDMAN, APRIL 19, 2017, NY Times)

Ever since F.B.I. investigators discovered in 2013 that a Russian spy was trying to recruit an American businessman named Carter Page, the bureau maintained an occasional interest in Mr. Page. So when he became a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign last year and gave a Russia-friendly speech at a prestigious Moscow institute, it soon caught the bureau's attention.

That trip last July was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump's campaign, according to current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials.

It is unclear exactly what about Mr. Page's visit drew the F.B.I.'s interest: meetings he had during his three days in Moscow, intercepted communications of Russian officials speaking about him, or something else.

After Mr. Page, 45 -- a Navy veteran and businessman who had lived in Moscow for three years -- stepped down from the Trump campaign in September, the F.B.I. obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing the authorities to monitor his communications on the suspicion that he was a Russian agent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


When it comes to NFL draft time, Patriots have knack for finding right undrafted players (Evan Lazar, April 20, 2017, Boston Herald)

During draft season the focus of the NFL world is primarily on the top prospects that are selected in the first round. But many of the players that make up NFL rosters have to wait until after the draft to find their new homes.

In fact, at the start of last season there were more undrafted free agents on rosters (481) than first- and second-round picks (480), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

April 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election - documents (Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott, 4/19/17, Reuters)

 A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin's office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said. [...]

Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump's quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Trump's inaugural committee took $1 million from a Russian-American whose money the GOP rejected (Max de Haldevang, 4/19/17, Quartz)

In 2000, Alexander Shustorovich, a Russian-American millionaire, tried to give $250,000 to the Republican party in support of then-Texas governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign. The check bounced due to a clerical error, and once party officials looked into Shustorovich, they realized this was someone whose name they didn't want (paywall) attached to them. They told him to keep his money.

Not long before, a potential uranium deal between Russia and the US had fallen through, after the Clinton administration sounded warning notes (paywall) over Shustorovich's connections to the Russian government. (His company, Pleiades Group, would have been a middleman in the deal.) However, in 2017, the Trump Inaugural Committee decided to take $1 million from Shustorovich, according to a Federal Election Commission filing (pdf).

In 2012, Shustorovich, who was born in Moscow and moved to the US as a child, implied in an interview with Wired that he had good relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin and prime minister Dmitri Medvedev. He had earlier been engaged to Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of Putin's earliest political benefactor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Ossoff Only Earned 1.3 Percent More Than Clinton In Georgia's 6th (PHILLIP STUCKY, 04/19/2017, Daily Caller)
Democrats invested over $8.3 million and thousands of volunteer hours in the Georgia special election but only received a 1.3 percent gain over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 46.8 percent in November 2016. [...]

Trump earned the lowest percentage of votes compared to any other Republican presidential candidate in recent history with 48.3 percent. Former candidates Mitt Romney earned 61 percent and John McCain earned 59 percent in the district.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


In French Election, the Far Left and Right Target EU as Common Enemy (Josh Siegel, April 19, 2017, Daily Signal)

"Sometimes, the extremes meet, and in this case, the extreme left and right are meeting with an anti-EU agenda," Michael Leigh, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States who focuses on the European Union, said in an interview with The Daily Signal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter teaming up in pursuit of Miami Marlins (DOUGLAS HANKS, 4/19/17, miamiherald.com)

Jeb Bush and Derek Jeter have joined forces in their bid to buy the Miami Marlins, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The former Florida governor and retired New York Yankees star once were rivals for the Major League Baseball franchise but now have teamed up to try and buy the team, the sources said. They are competing against a New York financier named Wayne Rothbaum, manager of Quogue Capital, a source close to the situation said. It is not known if other would-be suitors of the Marlins remain in the hunt.

The alliance pairs one of Miami's most prominent political leaders -- Bush lives in Coral Gables -- with one of the most famous names in baseball. Jeter retired from the Yankees in 2014 and has a house in Tampa.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Trump administration says Iran complying with nuclear deal (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 19, 2017)

The Trump administration notified Congress on Tuesday that Iran was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and that it has extended the sanctions relief given to the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Democrats begin to wonder: When do we win? : For all the roiling anger and energy at the grassroots, the party still fell short in Georgia and Kansas. And Democratic prospects in upcoming elections aren't promising. (GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI 04/19/17, Politico)

For all the anger, energy, and money swirling at the grassroots level, Democrats didn't manage to pick off the first two Republican-held congressional seats they contended for in the Trump era, and the prospects aren't markedly better in the next few House races coming up: the Montana race at the end of May, and the South Carolina contest on June 20.

Their best shot at knocking Donald Trump down a peg appears to be Ossoff's runoff against Republican Karen Handel, also scheduled for June 20. But the Democrat will be an underdog in that contest, when there won't be a crowded field of Republicans to splinter the vote.

After that, it'll be another five months before the New Jersey and Virginia elections for governor, leaving some strategists and lawmakers wondering how to keep the furious rank-and-file voters engaged in fueling and funding the party's comeback -- especially given the sky-high expectations that surrounded Ossoff's ultimately unsuccessful run at the 50-percent threshold that was necessary to win the seat outright.

Trying to maintain fury at your own party establishment and the American voter is how you end up the British Labour party.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


THE CONSERVATIVE AGENDA FOR GORSUCH'S FIRST WEEK (Jeffrey Toobin,  April 18, 2017, The New Yorker)

Neil Gorsuch takes his seat on the Supreme Court this week and will immediately have a chance to make his mark with a case that involves one of the top priorities for the conservative movement: lowering the barriers between church and state. The issue has long been a priority for conservatives, on the Court and elsewhere. But the complexion of the controversy has changed in recent years, as those on the right have become more aggressive in pressing constitutional arguments. At one point, the issues in this area were fairly straightforward, if largely symbolic. Could a Christmas crèche be displayed on municipal property? (Yes, as long as there are, say, plastic reindeer as well as the baby Jesus.) Can a student deliver a prayer before a high-school football game? (Yes, in the stands, but not over the public-address system.)

The current cases before the Supreme Court are more consequential because they concern government policy and, more often, government money. In some of the cases, religious individuals seek to be excused from obligations that the law imposes on the rest of society; in other cases, including Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the one to be argued this week, religious institutions seek government money, notwithstanding the Constitution's prohibition on the establishment of a state religion.

The facts of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer are simple. A Missouri law provides grants for nonprofit organizations to purchase rubber playground surfaces. Trinity Lutheran Church, which operates a preschool on church property, applied for a grant through the program but was rejected under a provision in the state constitution that prohibits state money from going "directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion." The church sued, claiming that the law violates the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

The problem for the Left on Church-State questions is that they are trying to defend an extra-textyual standard--Separation--when the Constitutional one is only no Establishment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM



It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice's normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice's unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided "no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal."

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. "There's absolutely nothing there," one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

Consider that the Donald/Nunes position was that : one would only ask to see which Americans the Russians were corrupting because  one would have to assume they were Trumpies.  It's essentially a confession.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump : Sneering hosts have alienated conservatives and made liberals smug. (CAITLIN FLANAGAN  MAY 2017, The Atlantic)

In March, Samantha Bee's show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having "Nazi hair." As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer--which a moment's research on the producers' part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as "an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives." He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy--who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult--was described as "Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form." Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.

Yes, yes, I know: She is a comedian, he is the president of the United States; there is no scale by which their words and actions can be reasonably compared. Yet while for Bee, as for so many in her field, Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high" may have been a ravishing meme, Trump's mockery of a war hero, grieving parents, and a disabled man showed how you get the job done. When John Oliver told viewers that if they opposed abortion they had to change the channel until the last minute of the program, when they would be shown "an adorable bucket of sloths," he perfectly encapsulated the tone of these shows: one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right. Two days before the election, every talking head on television was assuring us that Trump didn't have a chance, because he lacked a "ground game." After his victory, one had to wonder whether some part of his ground game had been conducted night after night after night on television, under flattering studio lights and with excellent production values and comedy writing.

Though aimed at blue-state sophisticates, these shows are an unintended but powerful form of propaganda for conservatives. When Republicans see these harsh jokes--which echo down through the morning news shows and the chattering day's worth of viral clips, along with those of Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers--they don't just see a handful of comics mocking them. They see HBO, Comedy Central, TBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC. In other words, they see exactly what Donald Trump has taught them: that the entire media landscape loathes them, their values, their family, and their religion. It is hardly a reach for them to further imagine that the legitimate news shows on these channels are run by similarly partisan players--nor is it at all illogical. No wonder so many of Trump's followers are inclined to believe only the things that he or his spokespeople tell them directly--everyone else on the tube thinks they're a bunch of trailer-park, Oxy-snorting half-wits who divide their time between retweeting Alex Jones fantasies and ironing their Klan hoods.

Are they even supposed to be comic?

April 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Accused Fresno Mass Shooter Railed Against 'White Devils' (M.L. NESTEL & KATIE ZAVADSKI, 04.18.17, Daily Beast)

The man Fresno, California police say killed three people in a shooting spree Tuesday railed against "white devils" online and talked about "destroying the white man's world."

Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was arrested by police outside Catholic Charities in central Fresno. Muhammad's alleged victims were white men, including a fourth person who shot but is expected to survive. Last week, police say Muhammad was responsible for killing a security guard at a local motel. [...]

Muhammad does not appear to be Muslim, according to his Facebook page, but rather an adherent of a fringe religious movement called the Moorish Science Temple. (Baton Rogue cop-killer Gavin Long was also an adherent.)

'SOVEREIGNS' IN BLACK : Members of 'Moorish' groups and other black Americans are taking up the ideas of the radical 'sovereign citizens' movement   (SPLC, August 24, 2011)

["Sheik" Jabbar] Gaines-El, who politely declined the Report's request for comment, is a 38-year-old Indiana native whose real name is Jabbar C. Gaines. He's one of a growing number of black Americans who, as members of outlandishly named "nations" or as individuals, subscribe to an antigovernment philosophy so extreme that some of its techniques, though nonviolent, have earned the moniker "paper terrorism." Communicating through social media and learning from an ever-expanding network of websites and online forums, they perplex and often harass law enforcement officials, courts, and local governments across the country.

What may be even stranger about Gaines and his black Fort Wayne cohorts is that the "sovereign citizens" ideology to which they adhere -- a conspiratorial belief system that argues that most Americans are not subject to most tax and criminal laws promulgated by the government -- was originally thoroughly anti-black. But its racist roots have been virtually forgotten by increasing numbers of black Americans who have melded it with selective interpretations of the teachings of pioneer black nationalist Noble Drew Ali, who founded the exclusively black Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) almost 100 years ago.

The core ideas of the sovereign citizens movement originated in the racist and anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus group, which roiled the Midwest in the 1970s and 1980s and believed that the county sheriff is the highest legitimate law enforcement authority. Posse ideologues argued, in effect, that God gave America to the white man and therefore the government cannot abridge most rights of whites unless they submit to a "contract" with that government. But black people were only made citizens by the 14th Amendment, they argued, meaning that they have permanently contracted with the government and therefore must obey all its dictates.

The movement of sovereign citizens -- most of whom are clearly unaware of the ideology's racist roots -- has grown extremely rapidly in the last two or three years. And, while black Americans remain a relatively small fraction of the estimated 300,000 sovereign citizens nationwide, it seems clear that their numbers are growing. In the last year, more and more black sovereigns, including several arrested in Georgia and elsewhere for using bogus documents to try to steal houses, have been implementing the movement's basic ideas and techniques, which have spread into a number of radical black nationalist groups.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


FBI used dossier allegations to bolster Trump-Russia investigation (Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Manu Raju, April 18, 2017, CNN)

This includes approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor the communications of Carter Page, two of the officials said. Last year, Page was identified by the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security.

Officials familiar with the process say even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier, it would only be after the FBI had corroborated the information through its own investigation. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Is Tehran's mayor lobbying to be only conservative candidate? (Rohollah Faghihi, April 18, 2017, Al Monitor)

The two main conservative candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Hassan Rouhani in the May 19 presidential vote are Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Despite their claims of unity ahead of the elections, a closer look indicates that the conservatives are deeply divided.

Ghalibaf, the Tehran mayor who has now registered to run in three presidential elections, looks determined to stay in the race to the very end, mindful that a third-time defeat or withdrawal would lead to a further decline in his reputation. On the other hand, now that Raisi, the custodian of the holy shrine of the eighth Shiite imam, has risked his future political career and reputation by stepping into the fray, he is also not likely to pull out in favor of a starkly different figure such as Ghalibaf. [...]

Abbas Abdi, a prominent Reformist analyst, said April 18 that neither Ghalibaf nor Raisi will leave the competition in favor of one another, adding that supporters of the two candidates will rather clash during the presidential race.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Weirdly Sexual Bernie Sanders Coloring Books Are Now for Sale (Joe Simonson, April 18, 2017, Heat Street)
If you're a sad, perverted socialist, Los Angeles-based illustrator and writer Nicole Daddonna has just the fix for you: Bernie Sanders coloring books.

Buff Bernie: A Coloring Book for Berniacs features the Soviet-loving Vermont senator with a "buff bod" in various suggestive poses for your coloring pleasure. Finally, someone combined two of the worst things about millennials: A love of coloring books and socialism.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


The Mystery of the Missing Lawsuits (Edward Whelan, 4/18/17, National Review)

Something remarkable has happened over the past year: nothing.

Exactly one year ago today, the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart rejected a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003. Confronting "documented medical disagreement whether the Act's prohibition [on partial-birth abortion] would ever impose significant health risks on women," the five-justice majority ruled that such disagreement about health risks in particular circumstances did not warrant invalidating the act in its entirety. Instead, the Court virtually invited practitioners of partial-birth abortion and their allies to bring so-called as-applied challenges that would carve out from the Act's scope any circumstances in which partial-birth abortion might be shown to be necessary to preserve the mother's health. (See my essay "The Face-Off Over Partial-Birth Abortion" for a fuller discussion of the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges.)

In dissent, Justice Ginsburg predicted that these as-applied challenges would "be mounted swiftly, to ward off serious, sometimes irremediable harm, to women whose health would be endangered by the [Act's] prohibition." According to Ginsburg, "the record already includes hundreds and hundreds of pages of testimony identifying 'discrete and well-defined instances' in which recourse to an intact D&E [i.e., partial-birth abortion] would better protect the health of women with particular conditions."

So how many as-applied challenges have been filed over the past year? Zero. [...]

Let me offer my own best guess why the abortion industry has brought no as-applied challenges over the past year: It realizes that it has no prospect of winning because its vaunted medical evidence is, and always has been, very feeble.

That was clearly the assessment of the judge who most carefully examined the evidence, federal district judge (and Clinton appointee) Richard Conway Casey. In his lengthy 2004 ruling in National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft, Judge Casey concluded that the government's expert witnesses "reasonably and effectively refuted Plaintiffs' proffered bases for the opinion that [partial-birth abortion] has safety advantages over other second-trimester abortion procedures." Casey stated that the government's experts had demonstrated that some of the proffered reasons were "incoherent" and not "credible" and that others were "merely theoretical." Providing examples of several meritless claims, Casey categorically stated: "In no case involving these or other maternal health conditions could Plaintiffs point to a specific patient or actual circumstance in which [partial-birth abortion] w
as necessary to protect a woman's health."

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Jenna Bush Hager Says Her 'Feminist' Father Inspired Her to Raise Strong Daughters (CATHERINE KAST,  APRIL 18, 2017, People)

"I think the thing that my parents did so well and might surprise people, although I don't know why, is that they really wanted us to be curious, independent thinkers," the Today correspondent tells PEOPLE. "They wanted to raise us to have our own views and to be able to articulate them."

She says that as kids, she and her twin sister Barbara Pierce Bush "always felt sorry for the boys in her class because our dad led us to believe that we were the smartest, most capable kids out there," she says.

"People laugh at this, but I think my dad was a feminist. He showed us that we could be whatever we wanted to be. I want my girls to feel that way. I want them to feel strong and capable and feel like they can conquer the world."

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


IMF upgrades UK growth again as Theresa May hails economic strength (Szu Ping Chan, 18 APRIL 2017, The Telegraph)

In a further backtrack on its pre-referendum warnings of a possible recession and stock market collapse, the IMF raised its forecast for UK growth this year to 2pc, from a prediction of 1.5pc in January.

This represents the biggest upgrade of any major economy and means the UK is expected to grow faster than France, Germany and all other G7 economies this year apart from the US.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Benghazi-obsessed Trump MIA on key security post : After criticizing Hillary Clinton relentlessly, the president has yet to nominate a State Department official charged with keeping diplomats safe. (AUSTIN WRIGHT, 04/18/17, Politico)

"The State Department has security professionals who are up to the job, but we do need all hands on deck given the many evolving threats we face," said Rep. Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I hope a nominee for assistant secretary will be put forward soon."

Royce's Democratic counterpart on the Foreign Affairs panel, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, said Trump's failure to nominate an assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security shows the Republican focus on Benghazi was "a bunch of political cheap talk" designed to tarnish Clinton's reputation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Why Mass Migration Is Good for Long-Term Economic Growth (Vincenzo Bove and Leandro Elia, APRIL 18, 2017, Harvard Business Review)

 In a recent study we asked the following question: Is the diversity created by mass migration a good thing for economic growth? To find out, we mobilized a large-scale data set on international migration from 1960 to 2010, using information on the nationality of the immigrants to construct indexes of birthplace diversity.

For each country at every census round, we measured its fractionalization level, the likelihood that two individuals randomly selected from the population were born in different countries. Higher degrees of fractionalization indicate more diversity. We also computed a "polarization index," or the extent to which a country's population was made up of two groups of equal size. To give some context, among the most fractionalized countries in 2010 were Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, whereas the least fractionalized were China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Somalia. In the same year, the most polarized economies were Luxembourg, Singapore, and most of the nations in the Arabian Peninsula, such as Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. The least polarized were China, Indonesia, Lesotho, and Somalia.

Because countries with higher economic growth attract higher numbers of immigrants, as well as immigrants from many different cultures, we faced a challenge in figuring out whether immigrants and diversity were causing economic growth, or were a consequence of it. Our model did not account for important issues that are difficult to observe or quantify, such as specific immigration policies; open-door policies toward immigrants are likely to correlate with both good economic performances and high levels of diversity. Excluding factors like these could lead to the wrong inference.

To circumvent some of these issues, we constructed predicted indexes of diversity using variables such as the geographic distance, colonial history, or existence of a common language between origin and destination countries. This method allowed us to create indexes of diversity based on exogenous characteristics that are uncorrelated with economic growth, as well as with other unobservable country-specific characteristics, such as the existence of particular immigration policies. In doing this, we isolated the portion of the correlation between diversity and economic growth that was due to the causal effect of diversity and removed the portion of the variability of diversity correlated with other relevant variables omitted from the model.

Our empirical findings suggest that cultural heterogeneity, measured by either fractionalization or polarization, has a discernible positive impact on the growth rate of GDP over long time periods. For, example, from 1960 to 2010, when the growth rate of fractionalization increased by 10 percentage points, the growth rate of per capita GDP increased by about 2.1 percentage points. (This is the average effect across all countries in the world.)

But we suspected that diversity might play a different role at different stages of development. Richer countries are closer to the technological frontier than poorer countries, so the adoption of new technologies should be faster in developing economies, and the labor force's skills and knowledge should increase at a faster rate. In other words, the more developed the destination country is, the less economic impact we are likely to see from migration.

To test this expectation, we split countries into subgroups of developing and developed economies, and then replicated our previous models. We found that developing economies are indeed more likely to experience a sharper increase in GDP growth rate after their populations become more diverse. Our estimates suggest that, from 1960 to 2010, a 10-percentage-point increase in the growth rate of fractionalization (or polarization) boosts per capita output by about 2.8 percentage points in developing countries. (That is 0.7 percentage points higher than the global average described above.) The same models suggest that the effect of diversity in the developed economies is much weaker. This all implies that developing economies benefit the most from diversity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Heavy lifting getting Mount Washington Auto Road ready for season (JOHN KOZIOL, 4/17/17, UNION LEADER)

On Monday, Ferreira drove a van full of reporters on an occasionally white-knuckle ride that was punctuated by some significant ruts and an occasional fish tail on the greasy-gravel portions of the road.

Ferreira stopped the van on the maintenance front lines, within the shadow of the notorious Cragway Drift, whose 20-foot tall snow bank on the southern side of the Auto Road has been laboriously cut, in multiple passes, by a snowcat.

The Bombardier snowcat was operated by Nate Reid and its road-clearing work was augmented by colleagues who used a road grader and a backhoe. Separately, but just as importantly, a two-person team "drilled" holes in frozen culverts with a pressurized hot-water sprayer.

The culverts need to be cleared, Ferreira explained, because if not directed down the side of the mountain, melting water could run across the Auto Road, creating tough going and erosion.

Clearing operations this year began on April 3 and they reached the Cragway Drift on April 14. The effort on Monday was helped by two days of warm weather that at lower elevations saw temperatures in the 80s.

In the days before snowcats and other heavy equipment, much of the Auto Road was cleared by teams with shovels and if the Auto Road opened by the Fourth of July, it was considered a success.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Ivanka's biz prospers as politics mixes with business (ERIKA KINETZ and ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, 4/18/17, AP)

On April 6, Ivanka Trump's company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world's second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

The scenario underscores how difficult it is for Trump, who has tried to distance herself from the brand that bears her name, to separate business from politics in her new position at the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


May to seek snap election for 8 June (BBC, 4/18/17)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to call a snap general election on 8 June.

She said Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership following the EU referendum.

Explaining the decision, Mrs May said: "The country is coming together but Westminster is not."

April 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


How Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again : It wasn't so long ago that the Turkish leader was seen as a model democrat in the Islamic world. What happened? (STEVEN A. COOK  JUL 21, 2016, The Atlantic)

Turkey's leaders for their part were frustrated with what they perceived to be European double standards when dealing with a Muslim society.

In 1996, there was a breakthrough when a Customs Union agreement provided an important link between Turkey's economy and that of Europe; and, in 2001, the two sides agreed to the Accession Partnership for Turkey, which laid out a cooperative framework for Turkey's eventual EU membership. The following year, the Turkish parliament passed three "harmonization" packages that made important changes to the penal code, the codes of criminal procedure, and the anti-terror law. The legislation also abolished the death penalty in peacetime--Erdogan's supporters are now demanding its reinstatement--strengthened freedom of expression, and permitted broadcasts in Kurdish. (Kurds had previously been banned from speaking their own language because the Turkish state did not recognize them as an ethnic group. For years, Turkish officials referred to Kurds as "mountain Turks.")

The liberalizing trend looked set to continue when Erdogan's party first came to government in 2003. The AKP-dominated parliament passed an additional five reform packages--concerning, among other things, minority rights and the judiciary--in its first year and a half. This was a significant shift from past Islamist parties that regarded Turkish efforts to integrate with predominantly Christian Europe as a form of cultural abnegation. The reformists who founded the AKP, Erdogan among them, rejected this idea and, at the time of their election, claimed that membership in Europe was consistent with their own values. The practical effect of all these reform packages was substantial. The European Commission recommended that Ankara begin membership negotiations, though its endorsement was hedged. By Europe's own metrics Turkey had taken important steps toward fulfilling the EU requirements for negotiations, but had not fulfilled them in their totality. Rather, the commission argued that the negotiation process itself would spur further reforms. Negotiations began in March 2005, but slowed down almost immediately as some European countries balked at the prospect that Turkey might actually become a member of the EU.

Ankara's reforms began to slow down after that, but Turkey's transition really began to go downhill in the spring of 2007 when the Turkish military's General Staff made it clear, via a statement on its website, that the military did not want the AKP's favored candidate for president, then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, to assume the office because he was an Islamist. This was a critical moment in Turkish politics and one in which previous Turkish leaders would have folded almost immediately. Erdogan, sensing his party's popularity and how much Turkish society had changed in the nearly five years since the AKP had come to power, refused to be intimidated. He called for new elections, which the party won with a broad coalition of pious and average Turks, Kurds, liberals, and big business that gave the AKP 47 percent of the vote. With his party's renewed popular mandate, Erdogan nominated Gul to be Turkey's 11th president.

In the midst of this showdown, the Istanbul police uncovered an alleged plot to overthrow the government. This was what came to be known as the Ergenekon case, which captivated Turkey from 2007 until verdicts were rendered in 2013. Initially, the investigation promised to root out Turkey's "deep state"--an alleged network of military, intelligence, and civilian officials along with policemen, journalists, academics, business people, and mafia figures. Working in the shadows and beyond the law, the group's goal was, Turks believed, to subvert the government and any centers of power that would challenge "the system" and this coalition's interests in it. A few years after the Ergenekon case began, prosecutors pursued what was called the Sledgehammer investigation, which ensnared large numbers of senior military commanders in a suspected effort to bring down the government.

Given Turkey's history of coups, the alleged schemes seemed entirely plausible. In time, however, it came to light that significant portions of the evidence in both Ergenekon and Sledgehammer were flimsy or fabricated, allegedly at the hands of prosecutors who were followers of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. (Until 2013, the Gulenist movement--which Erdogan blames for last Friday's attempted coup--and the AKP were partners.)

After that, Turkey's democratic reversal expanded and accelerated. Erdogan was emboldened by the decapitation of the military and imprisonment of other opponents, at the same time that he was unrestrained by the now-dim prospect of EU membership. He moved to consolidate his personal power and in the process transform Turkish society. In addition to the trials, during which large numbers of officers were detained and civilian prosecutors armed with search warrants entered military bases searching for incriminating evidence, the government arrested journalists, often on specious charges of supporting terrorism; sued critics of Erdogan; imposed massive fines on businesses whose owners failed to support the AKP; and intimidated social-media companies like Twitter and Facebook to share data on their users. Through the pressure the AKP brought to bear on companies wanting to do business with the government, firms were encouraged to purchase media properties that could be counted on to faithfully report what the prime ministry wanted. The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Turkey's national public broadcaster, and the Anadolu Agency, the state-run wire service, also became part of the AKP's political operation. The result was a virtual ministry of information in the service of Erdogan and his party.

Then there were the courts. Less than a year after the military's failed effort to prevent a Gul presidency, Turkey's chief prosecutor brought a case to the country's Constitutional Court in March 2008, alleging that the AKP had become a center of anti-secular activity and thus should be closed. When it rendered its verdict, the high court found evidence supporting the charge, but fell just one vote short of the seven (out of 11) needed to close the party. Instead, it was forced to pay a fine of $20 million. This was too close a call for Erdogan. The AKP's genealogy included four parties that had been closed as a result of either a coup or a court order, and Erdogan was determined never to allow his party to meet the same fate.

The result was a constitutional amendment that Erdogan brought before the Turkish people in a September 2010 referendum that gave the AKP greater ability to pack the courts with sympathetic judges. The amendment, which was combined with other constitutional changes including protection of children's rights, freedom of residence, and the right to appeal, passed by a wide margin. A little more than a month before last Friday's failed coup d'état, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim sent legislation to the parliament that would give the government a freer hand in placing AKP supporters on the bench, further compromising the independence of the judiciary.

This authoritarian turn has made it relatively easy for critics to charge that the AKP was never and could never be a genuine force for democratic change. In hindsight, that is likely true. Erdogan is, after all, the man who declared when he was mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s that democracy was "a vehicle, not a goal," implying that one could disembark whenever it suited one's purposes. At the same time, it would be disingenuous to overlook the AKP's first term from 2002 to 2007, when pragmatism and consensus marked Turkish politics. There were controversies, of course, but the five constitutional reform packages that Erdogan oversaw seemed to augur a more open, and even democratic, Turkey.

In time, however, confronted with challenges real and perceived from the military, the judiciary, and Gulenists, Erdogan and the AKP pursued a political strategy based on polarization. 

Palestine and Egypt are, likewise, reminders that democrats in the Middle East can't trust militaries or the West.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Susan Rice Did Nothing Wrong, Say Both Dems and Republicans (KEN DILANIAN, 4/17/17, NBC News)

A review of the surveillance material flagged by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes shows no inappropriate action by Susan Rice or any other Obama administration official, Republican and Democratic Congressional aides who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News. [...]

Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties have traveled to NSA headquarters to review the relevant intelligence reports.

"I saw no evidence of any wrongdoing," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents, who would not agree to be identified further. "It was all completely normal."

His assessment was shared by a senior Republican aide who had been briefed on the matter but declined to speak on the record.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


For Profit, Anti-Poverty : No institution or agency has done more to help the poor than Walmart. (John Tierney, April 16, 2017, City Journal)

If budget-cutters in Washington decided to eliminate food-stamp benefits to New Yorkers, the city's politicians would be denouncing the cruelty of the "Republican war on the poor." Yet Mayor Bill De Blasio and the city council are already inflicting the same sort of pain on low-income New Yorkers by denying them access to one of the nation's most effective anti-poverty programs: Walmart.

When he was mayor, Michael Bloomberg supported Walmart's efforts to open a store in New York, but the company faced unremitting resistance from unions and elected officials, and it gave up the fight once de Blasio moved into Gracie Mansion. "I have been adamant that I don't think Walmart--the company, the stores--belong in New York City," de Blasio said.

Walmart's benefits are obvious to shoppers and to economists like Jason Furman, who served in the Clinton administration and was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. In a paper, "Walmart: A Progressive Success Story," Furman cited estimates that Walmart, by driving down prices, saved the typical American family more than $2,300 annually. That was about the same amount that a family on food stamps then received from the federal government.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Hiring Anti-Trump Conservative Is Part Of New York Times' Effort To Expand Opinion (Michael Calderone ,  Nick Baumann, 4/14/17, Huffington Post)

The New York Times' decision to hire Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist, is part of a larger effort to "further widen" the range of views the paper presents to readers, James Bennet, the paper's editorial page editor, told The Huffington Post Friday.

Long a conventional conservative columnist, Stephens emerged during the 2016 campaign as liberals' favorite writer on the right. As other conservatives lined up behind Donald Trump, Stephens wrote blistering columns in the opinion pages of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal lambasting the Republican presidential nominee. He feuded with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Twitter. And unlike some NeverTrumpers, he still hasn't come around to the president. That won him praise to his left -- including from Bennet, who said Stephens "demonstrated his guts," as some other conservative writers were dropping "their principles to accommodate the radically unorthodox politics of Donald Trump."

But liberal Times readers who enthusiastically tweeted Stephens' anti-Trump broadsides may find his other views less palatable. Stephens has dismissed climate change an "imaginary enemy." He's referred to the "disease of the Arab mind," a characterization he defended as a "figure of speech not biology." And he's called former President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran worse than appeasing Hitler.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


More young Americans want moms to stay home. What's behind that? (Schuyler Velasco, APRIL 17, 2017 , CS Monitor)

Ms. Hoffman, now a senior at Syracuse University in New York, thinks her family's arrangement, with one parent working and one wrangling childcare and household duties, is ideal. "I don't think it matters which parent stays home, but it was better to have someone there," she says. And her views on the matter are increasingly common among people her age.

In fact, among young adults, support for this type of traditional family structure has been on the rise for the past 20 years, while a preference for two working parents is falling out of favor, according to a batch of reports released in March by the Council on Contemporary Families.

In one survey, which has tracked the attitudes of a cross-section of the country's high school seniors for the past four decades, only 42 percent of respondents in 1994 thought a family in which the father worked and the mother stayed at home was the "best" possible arrangement. By 2014, that was the majority view, with 58 percent support.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


How the alt-right brought #SyriaHoax to America : Tracing the "false flag" claim back to a pro-Assad website (AtlanticCouncil's Digital Forensic Research Lab, 4/07/17)

The most influential pickup came on April 5, when US-based conspiracy site Infowars ran its version of the story. Infowars is a highly influential site among the "alt-right" movement in the US; its leading light, Alex Jones, has over 600,000 Twitter followers.

Infowars was one of the main outlets to publicize the fake "Pizzagate" story which claimed that figures close to Hillary Clinton were running a pedophile ring from a pizzeria in Washington, DC, a falsehood for which Jones was eventually forced to apologize. Throughout the US presidential election campaign of 2016, Infowars supported Trump.

On April 5, however, Infowars ran a long article claiming that the White Helmets -- which it presented as funded by billionaire George Soros -- were in fact behind the attack and saying that the attack had "all the hallmarks of a false flag".

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Melania Trump Appears to Remind President to Place His Hand Over His Heart During National Anthem (Nick Bolger , April 17, 2017, Daily Beacon)

First Lady Melania Trump appeared to remind President Trump to place his hand over his heart during the National Anthem at the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday.

The first lady and Barron, the youngest Trump son, both placed their hands over their heart as the Marine Corps Band began playing, while President Trump stood next to them.

After a quick glance, Melania bumped the president's arm, seemingly reminding him to raise his hand, which he then did.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


A Tale of Two Nations and Economic Freedom (JOHN O. MCGINNIS, 4/17/17, Library of Law & Liberty)

The New York Times ran two stories within two days about two very different nations.  One story noted that France was an unhappy place in danger of electing an extremist, Marie Le Pen, as President.  But the author found the plight of the country puzzling, noting that France has wonderful infrastructure compared to the United States and continued to have a culture second to none. He puts its misery down to the French fixation on the losses of past glories.

Another story focuses on the very different mood in New Zealand. People are happy there and many foreigners want to immigrate. The prime reasons given are its isolation from the rest of the troubled world and its social tolerance, as demonstrated by its legalization of  same-sex marriage and acceptance of refugees. The photo accompanying the story shows Sikh men in colorful turbans against some pleasant New Zealand scenery.

The two stories show the weaknesses of the analytic powers of our elite media and its indifference to economic freedom.  The best explanation of France's stagnant misery and New Zealand dynamic happiness can be found in the The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom. New Zealand ranks No. 3 and France No. 72 of the 160 nations surveyed in the economic liberty they permits citizens.  Given that most nations ranked below France are developing nations, New Zealand and France inhabit pretty different economic universes among developed nations.

France is not backwards because it is less free; it is less free because it is French.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel's Prisons (MARWAN BARGHOUTI, APRIL 16, 2017, NY Times)

Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel's illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners' Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel's inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Iran Boosts Production From Massive South Pars Gas Field (Radio Liberty, 4/17/17)

Iranian President Hassan Rohani says production has doubled at a massive underwater gas field over the past four years.

Rohani, who is running for reelection in next month's presidential election, said daily Iranian production at the South Pars Gas Field has reached 540 million cubic meters, up from just 240 million when he was elected in 2013.

He said growing production illustrated the success of the "resistance economy," which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has emphasized is needed for the country to become self-sufficient and confront threats.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Hank Azaria opens up about speaking Ladino and his latest TV role : Now in a popular cable series, the man of many voices says he feels 'most at home with Jewish characters' (CURT SCHLEIER April 17, 2017, Times of Israel)

"One of my favorite [of the voices in my head] was the generic baseball announcer voice I heard in the '70s growing up," he said. "It wasn't distinctive like Phil Rizzuto. It was this generic announcer voice you associate more with hacks or how they sold Ginsu knives or Ronco products."

"I found that voice fascinating. I wondered if that guy talks like that all the time, and that was the comic basis for the character." [...]

The show begins with a flashback. Ten years earlier, Jim Brockmire handled play-by-play duties for the Kansas City Royals. He was the youngest announcer ever in Major League Baseball and had the admiration of his peers.

Then he returned home unexpectedly and found his wife in, well, a very delicate situation with several neighbors. What made it worse -- as Brockmire describes in a drunken, obscenity-laden and very funny on-air meltdown -- the group included his next-door-neighbor, Bob Greenwald, and "I was just at his son's bar mitzvah."

Unable to find work in the States post-freakout, Brockmire has spent the past decade roaming the globe, finding announcing assignments where he can, notably calling cockfights in Manila. He's been lured back to the US by Jules (Amanda Peet), who owns the failing Morristown (Pennsylvania) Frackers, a minor league team named for the energy extraction method that gives the town its pungent aroma.

Jules feels if she can save the team, she can save the town. Meanwhile, computer illiterate Brockmire is unaware that his meltdown went viral -- that "keeping it Brockmire" had become a synonym for "keeping it real."

Azaria inhabits Brockmire like a second skin. While the character might not be Jewish, he does get some Jewish-themed quips: After a long home run, for example, he notes, "That ball can't be buried at a Jewish cemetery because it just got tattooed."

'That ball can't be buried at a Jewish cemetery because it just got tattooed'
While the show is frequently raunchy, it resonates emotionally and intellectually. The fracking company that lent Jules money to buy the club wants her to fail so it can use the stadium as a wastewater pit. And when Jules discovers she's pregnant, the topic of abortion also is addressed. For sports fans, there's also the surprise pleasure of cameos by play-by-play announcers like Joe Buck and ESPN commentators.

At its core, though, Brockmire is a story about relationships: There is Brockmire's growing bond with the team's young African-American social media intern Charlie (Tyrel Jackson Williams), who knows nothing about baseball or life, as well as Brockmire's inevitable romance with Jules -- two people who have made relationship mistakes in life, but may be on the verge of getting something right.

Amid the laughs, it's hard not to get vested in the three characters -- and apparently IFC agrees.

April 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Trump's Latest Really Low Poll Numbers And What They Mean (Jonathan D. Salant, April 16, 2017, National Memo)

Fewer than 4 in 10 U.S. voters approve of President Donald Trump's performance in office, according to a Marist College poll released after the bombing attack in Syria.

They also expressed dissatisfaction with the way Trump was handling foreign policy, said the county's international role was diminished under his administration, and said they had little or no trust in the president to make the right decision in an international crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Wall Street banker Cohn moving Trump toward moderate policies (James Oliphant and Svea Herbst-Bayliss, 4/16/17, Reuters)

In a White House marked by infighting, top economic aide Gary Cohn, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs banker, is muscling aside some of President Donald Trump's hard-right advisers to push more moderate, business-friendly economic policies.

Cohn, 56, did not work on Republican Trump's campaign and only got to know him after the November election, but he has emerged as one of the administration's most powerful players in an ascent that rankles conservatives.

Trump refers to his director of the National Economic Council (NEC), as "one of my geniuses," according to one source close to Cohn.

More than half a dozen sources on Wall Street and in the White House said Cohn has gained the upper hand over Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former head of the right-wing website Breitbart News and a champion of protectionist trade opposed by moderate Republicans and many big companies.

...you can tell the Democrats from the Right because the former are pro-business, the latter anti-.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


At US competition, Iranian law students 'surprised' by reception (Barbara Slavin, April 16, 2017, Al Monitor)

Even though their team didn't make it into the finals, the Iranians -- five who made arguments, a coach and one former participant who served as a judge -- told Al-Monitor they were thrilled just to have gotten visas.

Twice, US courts have stayed efforts by the Donald Trump administration to restrict entrance by nationals of first seven, then six primarily Muslim nations, including Iran. However, the US State Department has continued to process some visas for Iranian athletes and others seeking to travel here for academic and cultural exchanges.

The Iranian law students told Al-Monitor they are gratified by the warm reception they have received.

"What makes me enthusiastic about the whole process is that I'm meeting everyone from all over the world," Bahar Babapour, 18, told Al-Monitor. "The Americans are really showing that what they think of Iranians is different from what their lovely president thinks of us. They know there are bad people and good people in all countries and that if we are here for this competition, we cannot be one of the bad ones."

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Trump demands a carriage ride with the Queen during his U.K. visit (Laura Italiano, Apr 15, 2017, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump wants to ride in the Queen Elizabeth II's gold-plated royal carriage when he visits London in autumn -- an insistence that has thrown British security forces into a tizzy.

The carriage "would not be able to put up much resistance in the face of a rocket propelled grenade or high-powered ammunition," one security source told the Times of London, noting that tens of thousands of people are expected to protest Trump's visit [...]

President Obama spared his hosts the trouble in 2011, instead speeding to the palace in a bullet and bomb-proof car.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


INVISIBLE MAN : Sometimes, myths become reality, like in the case of Luke Easter (Joe Posnanski, 4/15/17, NBC Sports)

There's a Luke Easter story that goes like this: A smitten young man walked up to Easter one day, late in the big man's career, and nervously asked for an autograph. In Easter's too-short life, he never turned down an autograph request or just about any other request for that matter. He smiled his big smile, chomped on a big cigar, and scribbled is signature while the boy looked up at him in awe.

"Mr. Easter," the boy said nervously. "I saw your longest home run."

Easter looked down at the boy with interest. He had mischief in his eyes when he asked: "Did you see it land?"

"Yes sir. I saw it land way over the fence and ... "

And with this Easter smiled again and turned back to his autograph. "Bub," he said softly. "If you saw it land, you didn't see my longest home run." [...]

There have been so many mythical sluggers in that time before Jackie Robinson crashed through. Josh Gibson was the most famous, of course. He was likely the greatest home run hitter who ever lived. But he, too, was invisible, and so his feats of strength are not recorded in clear and widely known statistics the way Babe Ruth's and Henry Aaron's are. They are locked in mythical stories, my favorite being that one day in Pittsburgh he hit a ball that did not come down. The umpire stared at the sky and waited and waited and finally declared it a home run. The next day, in Philadelphia, Gibson's Homestead Grays were playing a game and suddenly, in the middle of the game, a ball fell out of the clouds like a pellet of hail and dropped into an outfielder's glove. "Gibson," the umpire said as he pointed at Josh. "You're out. Yesterday. In Pittsburgh."

Turkey Stearnes carried his bats in violin cases and talked to them on nights before he games, and he hit so many home runs that after being asked for a number so many times he finally told a curious reporter, "I don't count them. I just hit them." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Give Medicaid Dollars Directly to Patients : Each beneficiary could get $7,000 a year in a health savings account. (Justin Haskins and  Michael Hamilton, April 12, 2017, WSJ)

As Republicans take another crack at devising a plan to replace ObamaCare, here's an idea they should consider: Give each Medicaid patient a health savings account--and put $7,000 in it every year.

Under ObamaCare, Medicaid has become the only option for millions of Americans. But that doesn't mean much if the doctors in their communities don't accept new patients through the program--and 30% of physicians don't.

The GOP's recently benched health-care bill would have substantially reformed Medicaid by giving the states block grants, along with more flexibility on how to spend the money. But there's a better model. Republicans should empower Medicaid patients by providing funds to them directly, which would allow them to build a personal safety net that could last a lifetime.

Washington and state governments spent $545 billion in 2015 on 73 million Americans covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Instead lawmakers could take $511 billion of that total, divide it equally among enrollees, and give each one a health savings account with $7,000 a year. This would be real money for the poor, stored in real private accounts.

Recipients could use the deposit to buy health insurance and cover the cost of prescriptions, copays, deductibles and other related expenses. Unspent money would carry over to the following year. Enrollees could share that $7,000 with a sick spouse, sibling, parent or child.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


Why The Jews Did or Did Not Reject Jesus (Richard John Neuhaus, February 2005, First Things)

In his new book, [Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History], [David] Klinghoffer is admiring of Christianity's civilizational achievements, although not of its theology. He rebuts the claim that it is anti-Semitic to say that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, citing Maimonides and other Jewish authorities who say the Jews were right to eliminate a false messiah. He debunks the notion that Nazism and the Holocaust were a product of Christianity, and he underscores Nazi hatred of Christianity and the Judaism from which it came. He treats sympathetically Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, and is witheringly critical of the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations that thrive by exploiting irrational fears of anti-Semitism in America. In sum, Klinghoffer is in many respects Christian-friendly.

Except for the fact that Christianity itself is premised upon the fatal falsehood that Jesus is the Messiah. Much of the book is given to a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. These arguments will be of interest mainly to those who describe themselves as Hebrew Christians or Messianic Christians, and who believe they are fulfilled as Jews by becoming disciples of Jesus. The arch- villain in Klinghoffer's story is the apostle Paul who, he says, radically rejected Judaism and invented a new religion dressed up in "biblical trappings." Although Klinghoffer excoriates the liberal theological reductionisms of the nineteenth century, both Jewish and Christian, at this point his argument is oddly similar to a long liberal tradition of blaming Paul for distorting the more attractive religion of Jesus. Along with many Christians, he fails to appreciate the implications of the fact that Paul's epistles were written well before the gospel accounts of Jesus. In part because of their prior placement in the New Testament, it is a common error to think that the seemingly more straightforward gospel accounts were later and complicatedly "theologized" by Paul, whereas, in fact, Paul's writings reflect what was generally believed about Jesus in the community that later produced the gospel accounts.

This tendency to get things backwards is at the crux of Klinghoffer's argument. He writes, "We arrive here at the very heart of the difference between Judaism and the religion that Paul originated. The difference is still observable in the faith of Christians, as compared with that of Jews, down to our own time. Followers of Paul read and understand the Hebrew Bible through a certain philosophical lens--they bring to it the premise that Jesus is the savior, that salvation is from him. They read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. They prioritize the New over the Old."

Well, yes, of course. Only some Messianic Christians and Jews such as Klinghoffer think that the truth of Christianity stands or falls on whether, without knowing about Jesus in advance, one can begin with Genesis 1 and read through all the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture and then match them up with Jesus to determine whether he is or is not the Messiah. As with Saul on the road to Damascus, Christians begin, and Christianity begins, with the encounter with Christ. As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the first Christians, who were Jews, experienced in that encounter the opening of the Hebrew Scriptures, revealing, retrospectively, how they testify to Jesus as the Christ. Klinghoffer writes, "The resurrection works as a proof that Jesus was 'the Christ' only if you have already accepted his authority to render interpretations of Scripture contrary to the obvious meaning of the words. That is, it works only if you are already a Christian." The more one takes seriously Old Testament prophecy, writes Klinghoffer, "the more convinced he becomes that it is awfully hard to make Christian doctrine sit naturally on its presumed foundation, the Hebrew Bible. Yet even the arguments based on prophecies obviously aren't perfectly invulnerable to refutation. Otherwise there would be no Christians, or at least no thoughtful Christians. They would all be Jews."

This is, I'm afraid, gravely muddled. The argument, in effect, is that Jews reject Jesus because they are already Jews, and the mark of being a Jew is that one rejects Jesus. This is quite unconvincing in its circularity. Christian thinkers, including Paul, viewed Christ and the Church as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel not because they were engaged in tit-for-tat exegetical disputes with Jews over what Klinghoffer recognizes are often ambiguous and enigmatic Old Testament prophecies. Christians early on, and very importantly in engagement with Greek philosophy, developed a christology that entailed an understanding that all of reality, including the history of Israel, finds its center in Christ who is the Word of God (the Logos), the image of the invisible God in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1), and, finally, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. These philosophical and theological developments, almost totally ignored by Klinghoffer, form the matrix within which the Church--mainly Jewish in its beginnings--understood Israel and its Scriptures. For the early Christians, as for Christians today, the person of Jesus Christ was revelatory also of the history and sacred writings of Israel, of which he is the fulfillment.

You have to figure Paul takes the brunt of these criticisms because folks are afraid to attack Christ and Christianity directly.

[Originally posted: February 19, 2005]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


The Truth about Everything: Death on a Friday Afternoon (Charles Colson, March 24, 2005, BreakPoint)

As [Father Richard John Neuhaus] writes [in Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus], "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything." That "everything" starts with telling the truth about the human condition. How? By paradoxically punishing the offended party, instead of the guilty.

As Neuhaus tells us, we are all aware that "something has gone terribly wrong with the world, and with us in the world." It is not just history's best-known list of horribles. It's also "the habits of compromise . . . loves betrayed . . . lies excused . . . "

Yet, instead of acknowledging our complicity in the world's evil, we minimize our own faults and regard our sins as "small." Good Friday puts the lie to that claim. If the Son of God had to suffer such a horrible death, then our sins cannot have been "small."

The Cross reminds us that "our lives are measured," not by us or by our peers, but "by whom we are created and called to be, and the measuring is done by the One who creates and calls." Instead of glossing over our sin with an understanding nod, the Cross renders "the verdict on the gravity of our sin."

Our unwillingness to see our sins as they really are, as God sees them, leads us to embrace another falsehood: that is, that we can make things right. Even though our culture is, in many respects, post-Christian, it still clings to the idea of redemption. However, just as with our ideas about sin and guilt, our ideas about redemption are pitiful and impoverished.

On Good Friday, God made it clear "that we are incapable of setting things right." He made it clear by taking our place. On the Cross, "the Judge of the guilty is Himself judged guilty." This is, of course, the great scandal, one that paradoxically points to the great truth at the heart of Good Friday: We are powerless to set things right, and only God, the offended party, could undo the mess we created.

The Cross--God's way of bearing witness to the truth about our condition--is as offensive today as it was two thousand years ago. Now, as then, we insist on misinterpreting the events of that Friday afternoon, but to no avail. Our sin has been judged, and God Himself bore the punishment. And that is the truth about everything.

One need not believe directly in this truth to understand that it is the only basis for a decent state.

What's the matter with liberalism? (William Rusher, March 24, 2005, World Net Daily)

The truth is that liberalism's last two really big ideas - that government should micro-manage the economy to uplift the poor, and that fascism was unrelievedly evil but that communism should be appeased because its aims were noble - both lost resoundingly, in world competition, to the conservative propositions that a free market is the greatest engine of prosperity for everyone and that communism must be opposed and destroyed. The present happy condition of conservatism is simply more support for the old adage that nothing succeeds like success.

What, then, should liberals do? [...]

To be blunt, they must come to terms with reality. That means accepting the principles of the free market wholeheartedly - not simply with "mouth honor," as Macbeth put it. And it also means coming to terms with the world as it really is. Peretz warns that liberals have invested far too many hopes in the United Nations. He is absolutely right.

At a deeper level, liberals must give up the conviction, born of the Enlightenment, that humanity, by the use of reason alone, can design a happy future for itself and the planet. That will entail abandoning their long romance with atheism and accepting a more modest place and role for mankind in God's plan for His universe.

[originally posted: 3/24/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


Original Sin, the 'madness' of the Cross and the 'foolishness' of God's love (Fr Dennis Byrnes, April 2008, AD 200)

To help us gain some insight into sin we need to think about our faith which is based very much on what St Paul calls the 'madness' of the Cross. The saints through the ages describe it as the 'foolishness' of God's love.

To refer once more to the Compendium, 78: 'After the first sin the world was inundated with sin but God did not abandon man to the power of death. Rather he foretold in a mysterious way in the 'Protoevangelium' (Genesis, 3:15) that evil would be conquered and that man would be lifted from the fall. This was the first proclamation of the Messiah and Redeemer. Therefore, the fall would be called in the future a 'happy fault' because it 'gained for us so great a Redeemer' (Liturgy of Easter Vigil).'

The pictures we have presented certainly confront us with two extremes. It is difficult to understand God's love. We can only begin to understand it when we follow him in the way of the Cross, in his journey in the desert. As the Compendium, 85, informs us: 'The Son of God became man for us men and for our salvation. He did so to reconcile us sinners with God, to have us to learn of God's infinite love, to be our model of holiness and make us 'partakers in divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4).' It is only when we follow Christ in this 'foolishness' of his love that we can learn something of the madness of sin.

We are born with a fallen nature; in a state of separation from God. It is not a question of personal sin on our part at birth. The baby who is born cannot be guilty of any personal sin for it is not yet mature enough to make a personal choice which is necessary for sin. But it is born human, in a fallen state, with a nature that calls out for God, yet is incapable of reaching him by its own powers. It is in Christ we have hope.

When we realise in faith the depths of man's fallen state we in turn realise that we rise in hope to the glory of Christ's risen life. If we have failed to appreciate the extreme of God's love it is because we have not recognised the extreme of man's sin.

[originally posted: 1/11/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


Believing Is Seeing (Romano Guardini, Bruderhof.com)

Thomas declared, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." -John 20:25
Thomas appears to have been a realist - reserved, cool, perhaps a little obstinate.

The days went by, and the disciples went on living under this considerable tension.

Another week, and they were together again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. The same thing repeated itself. Jesus passed through closed doors, stepped into their midst, and spoke: "Peace be upon you!" Then he called the man who was struggling against faith: "Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe!" At this point Thomas was overwhelmed. The truth of it all came home to him: this man standing before him, so moving, arousing such deep feelings within him, this man so full of mystery, so different from all other men - He is the very same One they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered: "Thou art my Lord and my God!" Thomas believed.

Then we come upon the strange words: "And Jesus said to him, 'Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!'"

Such words as these are really extraordinary! Thomas believed because he saw. But our Lord did not call him blessed. He had been allowed to "see," to see the hands and the side, and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed!

Perhaps Thomas had a narrow escape from a great danger. He wanted proofs, wanted to see and touch; but then, too, it might have been rebellion deep within him, the vainglory of an intelligence that would not surrender, a sluggishness and coldness of heart. He got what he asked for: a look and a touch. But it must have been a concession he deplored having received, when he thought on it afterwards. He could have believed and been saved, not because he got what he demanded; he could have believed because God's mercy had touched his heart and given him the grace of interior vision, the gift of the opening of the heart, and of its surrender.

[originally posted: 3/27/05]

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April 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 PM


Trump says he can't be sued for violence at his rallies because he won the election (Avi Selk, April 15, 2017, Washington Post)

[W]hile the lawsuit grinds on, with more accusations added last week, he claims he won immunity along with the election.

"Mr. Trump is immune from suit because he is President of the United States," his lawyers wrote Friday, rebutting a complaint filed by three protesters who claimed Trump incited a riot against them at a Louisville event in March 2016. [...]

And in another new filing in the same case, a Trump supporter accused of assaulting protesters agreed with the plaintiffs that Trump wanted a riot -- while denying he actually harmed anyone.

Alvin Bamberger, who was seen in a video pushing a protester through a jeering crowd at the Louisville convention center, "would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump Campaign's specific urging and inspiration," Bamberger's lawyer wrote.

...but where does he find the lawyers?

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 PM


US said preparing strike to 'utterly destroy' N. Korean nuclear program (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AFP, April 16, 2017)

On Sunday, the UK's Sunday Times reported that top military advisers to US President Donald Trump have told their British counterparts that Washington was considering a preemptive strike against North Korea's nuclear program, and believed it had the firepower to neutralize it.

Citing "senior sources" in the British government, the paper said the US believed it was able to "utterly destroy" the key installations required to remove the threat the program posed to North Korea's neighbors and the US.

According to the paper, US Defense Secretary James Mattis discussed a US strike on North Korea with his British counterpart Michael Fallon some two weeks ago, and similar conversations have been held between British officials and Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

The VP should remain there until it's over.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


North Korea just tried to launch a missile, but failed (Zachary M. Seward, 4/15/17, Quartz)

North Korea attempted to launch a missile from its east coast, but it failed, according to the South Korean and US militaries.

"US Pacific Command detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 11:21am Hawaiian time April 15," read a statement by the US military. "The missile blew up almost immediately."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and 'No Transparency' (ERIC LIPTON, BEN PROTESS and ANDREW W. LEHREN, APRIL 15, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration's own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Incubators of Islamic Supremacism  (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, March 26, 2016, National Review)

Reacting to the latest jihadist atrocity in Brussels, in which 31 were killed and 230 wounded, Senator Cruz argued that to protect our national security against radical Islamic terror networks, it is imperative for law enforcement to conduct surveillance in Muslim communities. 

Cruz was not calling for a dragnet targeting all Muslims. In his presidential campaign (to which I am an adviser), he has stressed the importance of identifying the enemy as radical Islam. That is not campaign rhetoric; it is how we figure out who warrants surveillance -- and far from being anything new, it is how counterterrorism was done before President Obama came to power.  [...]

Following the 9/11 attacks, counterterrorism policy shifted away from the Clinton approach of treating radical Islamic terrorism as a law-enforcement challenge, which essentially meant prosecutions only after Americans had been killed. The new strategy regarded jihadism as a national-security challenge and aimed to prevent attacks from happening. Such a strategy must be intelligence-driven. It must be based on an understanding of the nature of the threat and surveillance of the places where the threat thrives.

If the Government Cannot Be Trusted, Can It Protect the Nation? (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, April 15, 2017, National Review)

[B]ecause intelligence involves secrets and sources and life and death, we've accepted that the government cannot tell us its reasons for investigating. We trust that when the government tells us it is protecting national security, it is not actually scheming to spy on the incumbent administration's political opponents . . . and on us. But can we trust the government?

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/446767/fisa-reauthorization-federal-intelligence-surveillance-act-trump-administration-spying-scandal-national-security

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Hamas leader hints prisoner exchange deal in the works (TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 15, 2017)

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal indicated Saturday that members of the terror organization imprisoned in Israel will soon be released as a result of behind the scenes efforts by the group to secure their release.

"The release of all the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons [will take place] soon," Hebrew media reports quoted him as saying at a conference on the issue. [...]

"We have set for ourselves a goal of cleaning all the Israeli prisons of Palestinians," he added, according to the Haaretz daily.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Peter Navarro: Trump's Nutty Economics Professor Peter Navarro (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, April 14, 2017, National Review)

In the collected works of Peter Navarro, there is a peculiar paradox: Some of the dullest prose imaginable challenges the sharp edge of Hanlon's razor, the aphorism that advises us: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Professor Navarro of the University of California at Irvine has hanging on the wall of an office or a den somewhere a doctorate in economics from Harvard; barring some Forrest Gump-level chain of coincidence, it does not seem likely that anything as innocent as stupidity explains his literary output, which consists of a few how-to-make-money-in-the-stock-market books (an actual title: "If It's Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks") from earlier in his career and a half dozen or so low-minded books about China with such talk-radio-ready names as "Death by China" and "The Coming China Wars," two books that contain 80 exclamation points between them, as well as several pamphlets summarizing the main points of his books. 

He is President Donald Trump's house China intellectual, the only one of his close advisers who is a credentialed academic economist, albeit one whose area of specialty is utility companies, not international trade. (Our most famous scholar of trade economics, Paul Krugman, apparently was not available for service in the Trump administration. Pity.) Navarro has been named head of the newly created National Trade Council, a position in which he is well positioned to do a great deal of damage to the Trump administration, to the United States and its economic interests, and, possibly, to the world. That's quite a step up for a man who was teaching undergraduate econ to business students until a few months ago. 

It will not escape your notice that his career bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Elizabeth Warren.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


The Miracle of Kershaw (Joe Posnanski, 4/15/17, The Medium)

You probably know that, by the best available data, Jackie Robinson hit .097 his one year of playing baseball at UCLA. It seems impossible to believe, but it has been repeated by so many sources and connects to so many other stories (including one college newspaper story which referred to something as "colder than Jackie Robinson's batting average") that it's probably true.

Jackie Robinson was a brilliant football player at UCLA, averaging 11 yards per carry in one of his seasons. If times had been different, he would unquestionably have been a high NFL draft pick and a potential star.

Jackie Robinson was an extraordinary track star. He was a real threat in the long jump for the 1940 Olympics, but those were canceled. He did not want to long jump in college, but he did anyway and won the NCAA title. If times had been different, he would unquestionably have been an Olympic star.

Jackie Robinson was a fantastic basketball player. He wasn't a particularly tall man -- 5-foot-11 was his listed height -- but he was a great shooter and twice led the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring. Local writers moaned that the Eastern elite did not appreciate that Robinson was the best player in the country. If times had been different, he might have had a shot to play in the NBA (this was before there even WAS an NBA).

Jackie Robinson reached the semifinal of what was then called the "National Negro Tennis Tournament," and he did so even though he rarely played tennis. Jackie Robinson won the Pacific Coast Conference golf tournament, even though he rarely played golf. He won various swimming championships while still in high school and could have followed that route too in a time different from his own.

And he hit .097 in college. Think about that for a moment.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


The Secret Life of Pitchers : What happens on the mound has more to do with the mind than the arm. (WILL LEITCH,  MAY 2017, The Atlantic)

A pitcher throwing to a batter is the most elemental event in baseball: Nothing can happen until the pitcher releases the ball. All the fielders, all the base runners--they're just bystanders like the rest of us. The drama out there on the field can't compare with the drama going on between those two men, one poised to pitch and the other to hit, each trying to outsmart the other. Mess with that delicate balance, and I'm not sure the sport will be baseball anymore.

Talk about pressure: A multibillion-dollar industry--one that has been a centerpiece of American popular culture for more than a century--rests on a figure standing alone in the grass with millions of eyes staring at him. Such a pivotal role can exact a high price, as Rick Ankiel discovered one day back in October 2000. The Cardinals phenom, who made his Major League debut at 20, was described as the next Sandy Koufax, blessed with a 95-mph fastball and a backbreaking curveball that Mark McGwire called "The Snapdragon." As a lifelong Cardinals fan, I felt that the whole world changed when Ankiel arrived in 1999. We had a new Bob Gibson, heck, a new Bobby Fischer or Mozart: a kid who could do the most difficult job in the world without even thinking about it, just because he had lightning-bolt talent straight from the gods.

On October 3, 2000, though, the magic vanished. Ankiel was making his first postseason start, against the future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. The Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, himself a future Hall of Famer, was so concerned about the pressure that he lied to the press and told them someone other than Ankiel was starting. In his new autobiography, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch That Changed My Life, written with Tim Brown, Ankiel reports that he wasn't sure what the big deal was: It was just another game, right? Then, without warning and without reason, it wasn't.

Ankiel notes the exact moment that everything fell apart: "Forty-fourth pitch of the game. Third inning. One out. A one-strike count to Andruw Jones. Greg Maddux at first base. Cardinals 6, Braves 0. Throw strikes, keep the ball in the big part of the park, nothing crazy, we win. I win. The future wins." He winds up.

Everything was fine. I wasn't tired. Not too hot, not too cold ... Head was clear. No thoughts of anything other than a curveball, so natural there'd be no need to consider the mechanics of it.
He released the pitch a little late. Just a little late, but it went awry, a wild pitch, far away from the catcher, Carlos Hernández. "I stood near the front of the mound and watched all of it happen, sort of curious."

Suddenly, Ankiel could no longer pitch. He threw four more wild pitches in the inning, along with four walks. He left the field with, as he puts it, "one psyche forever hobbled." A friend of mine who was at Busch Stadium that day said the crowd's reaction was akin to 50,000 people reacting as one to the sight of their child being punched in the stomach, five times, by a bully. In subsequent seasons, Ankiel attempted comeback after comeback. But he couldn't recover the old command.

How could this happen? In Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, & the Art of Deception, the reporter Terry McDermott quotes Hank Aaron saying, "The pitcher has got only a ball. I've got a bat. So the percentage of weapons is in my favor and I let the fellow with the ball do the fretting."

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Alt-Right Ringleader Mike Cernovich Threatens to Drop 'Motherlode' If Steve Bannon Is Ousted  (Ben Collins, 04.14.17, Daily Beast)

A week after President Donald Trump began to publicly distance himself from White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, alt-right ringleader Mike Cernovich threatened to release a "motherlode" of stories that could "destroy marriages" if Bannon is formally let go from the administration.

Cernovich made the claims that he'd release a series of "scoops" if Bannon is officially pushed out of the White House on an eleven-minute, self-recorded Periscope Thursday night.

"If they get rid of Bannon, you know what's gonna happen? The motherlode. If Bannon is removed, there are gonna be divorces, because I know about the mistresses, the sugar babies, the drugs, the pill popping, the orgies. I know everything," said Cernovich.

"If they go after Bannon, the mother of all stories is gonna drop, and we're just gonna destroy marriages, relationships--it's gonna get personal."

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


THE INSIDE STORY OF THE KUSHNER-BANNON CIVIL WAR : West Wing sources come clean about the backstabbing, the bullying, the distrust, and the buzzing flies. (SARAH ELLISON, MAY 2017, Vanity Fair)

Unlike previous presidents, Trump has also neglected to appoint a professional staff with a high-level governing or White House background. This is due in part to ignorance. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, in his first meeting with Barack Obama, Trump seemed surprised by the scope of the president's duties, and his aides seemed unaware that there wasn't a permanent West Wing staff that he would simply inherit.

To get a sense of the current West Wing senior staff, I spoke with members of the administration, including some of those closest to the president, as well as with friends and former classmates of the senior team. Nearly all of them asked for anonymity in order to be able to speak freely. The West Wing right now is a place where the ground is always shifting. With the exception of two family members--Trump's daughter Ivanka, an unpaid assistant to the president, and her husband, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president--no one on Trump's topmost White House staff has been with the new president for very long. That presents a sharp contrast with the teams around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Trump's staff is as unbridled as the president himself. His advisers came together almost by accident and by default. They exhibit loyalty to their boss in front of the camera, only to whisper about him (and about their rivals, often in vicious terms) when the camera is gone.

Before they joined the campaign, many of the current staffers had shown no allegiance to Trump. Steve Bannon, at the moment still the chief strategist, and the self-styled intellectual leader of Trump's base of "deplorables," as Hillary Clinton called them, had tried on several other politicians--Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz--before settling on Trump, whom Bannon referred to last year in Vanity Fair as a "blunt instrument" for his own cause. Reince Priebus, Trump's current chief of staff, is hardly a longtime loyalist. According to two senior administration officials, shortly before the election Priebus, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, was heard telling aides that Trump was likely going to lose, and that if he did it should not be seen as the fault of the R.N.C. At the same moment, Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, who had previously worked on the Cruz campaign, was heard telling reporters that if Trump lost it would be the fault of the R.N.C. (This despite her clarification on Twitter on Election Day that she wasn't blaming the R.N.C. or Priebus.) The Priebus-Conway story circulates inside the Ivanka camp as a way of reminding everyone who Trump's real allies are. But even Ivanka has told friends, almost by way of apology, "I didn't ask for this." Senior administration officials told me that both Bannon and Priebus partisans have spent hours on the phone with reporters, planting stories about each other and their colleagues.

All West Wing staffs come to reflect the presidents they serve. Trump's West Wing is beginning to resemble the family real-estate business Trump grew up in, which has always had more in common with The Godfather than with The Organization Man. Trump has pulled family close. Kushner now occupies the office that is physically closest to the Oval Office. Ivanka Trump has taken on an official role despite her initial intention to simply be "a daughter." The appointees who have been championed by Ivanka and Jared seem at the moment to be on the rise--no surprise to some. "There is an asymmetry here. You can't compare family members to other staffers," the West Wing veteran told me. "You aren't going to fire your son-in-law or your daughter." A close associate of Trump's narrowed that safe zone even further: "Everyone is dispensable, except one person: Ivanka." But, this person warned, speaking of Jared and Ivanka, "at some point you get them out of this," because otherwise they are going to get destroyed. The best rule of thumb for survival may come from Thomas Barrack Jr., a longtime friend and ally of the president's: "Anyone who works for him and becomes victim to unfounded hubris will quickly be taken down to size." [...]

As everyone knows, the president himself is inordinately engaged with cable news, and his roots as an entertainer lie in reality television. And it may be that reality TV has lessons to offer. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, a co-creator of the Lifetime series UnReal, told me that she found Trump to be eerily similar to her UnReal antihero, Quinn King, the female producer of a Bachelor-type reality show, Everlasting. Like King, Trump has a knack for expressing shocking sentiments that others may recoil from, Shapiro told me. And, like all great reality-TV personalities, Trump and many of his staff are "sound-bite machines" who share certain qualities: megalomania, a delusion of grandeur, a willingness to say anything, and little regard for what anyone else thinks: "They are this functionally dysfunctional ramshackle group of people who have come together through their own extremes." Shapiro is currently preparing the third season of her show, and I asked her the secret to maintaining interest season after season. She said, "A rotating cast of characters always helps." [...]

This White House team, for all its early policy failures and the administration's historically low approval ratings, is more visible to the public than perhaps any other presidential staff in history--testimony to the amount of time staff members spend talking about one another to the media they despise. Hate-watching is a key element of reality television: viewers get a surge of superiority and catharsis when watching characters they do not respect but in some strange way are drawn to. "It's incredibly satisfying to hate-watch [Trump]," Shapiro said--and the same goes for watching members of his staff. Senior West Wing aides, like the president himself, exhibit a trait that is essential for a successful reality-TV show: they are largely unself-aware, not fully realizing "how they are perceived, because they will keep stumbling into the same mess over and over again, and they are really easy to place in a cast of characters," said UnReal's Shapiro. They are, in part, reliable caricatures of themselves.

Seen in these terms, this particular White House reality show is a success. Although many of Trump's signature campaign promises--the repeal of Obamacare, the Muslim ban, the building of a wall along the Mexican border--have so far failed, the Trump presidency has propelled TV-news viewership to record numbers. Cable-TV news ratings in the first quarter of 2017 were even higher than those in the last quarter of 2016, which had the suspense of the actual election going for them.

Gauged against a different yardstick, though, the state of affairs in the West Wing is something we have never witnessed before. In every White House, there are competing loyalties and rivalries. That dynamic is normal. What is unusual about this presidency is that Trump himself is not a stable center of gravity and may be incapable of becoming one. He knows little, believes in little, and shows signs of regretting what has happened to him. Governing requires saying no to one's strongest supporters and yes to one's fiercest opponents. To have that presence of mind requires a clear and unified vision from the president. "Without an ideology or a worldview, all you have is a scramble for self-preservation and self-aggrandizement," a former West Wing aide told me.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Wireless price wars are cutting your phone bills (Jeffry Bartash, Apr 14, 2017, Business Insider)

Americans love their cell phones, but they also love unlimited plans that cost less. And that's putting more pressure on carriers to cut prices.

The government on Friday reported that wireless phone prices sank a record 7% in March, marking the ninth month in a row in which mobile costs declined. The last time that happened was in 1999-2000.

Over the past year, the cost of wireless phone service has tumbled 11.4%.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Only 45% of Labour voters think Corbyn would be best PM: poll (Damien Gayle, 15 April 2017, The Guardian)

Fewer than half of Labour voters think Jeremy Corbyn would be the best prime minister, according to a new poll for the Observer that finds the Conservatives remain the most trusted party on all key issues except the NHS.

Research by Opinium suggests that, given a two-way choice between Corbyn and Theresa May, 14% of voters think the Labour leader would make the best leader of the country, compared with 47% for the prime minister. Among Labour voters asked the question, only 45% said they would like to see Corbyn in No 10.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Pence's Medicaid experiment confounds expectations on the left and right : The program, which requires enrollees to contribute to their care, has emerged as a national model thanks to Pence's growing influence. (RACHANA PRADHAN 04/15/17, Politico)

When former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence embraced Obamacare's Medicaid expansion with conservative twists -- such as requiring enrollees to contribute to their care -- critics lamented poor people would be locked out while backers cheered the program's focus on personal responsibility.

Neither side's expectations were quite borne out. Two years later, as the program emerges as a national model thanks to Pence's role in the Trump administration, the reality on the ground shows what happens when political philosophy collides with the practical challenges of providing health care to tens of thousands of people, many of them in crisis.

Advocates for the poor in Indiana argue that liberal fears of depressed enrollment were overblown. More than 400,000 Hoosiers are enrolled, despite state requirements that low-income residents make nominal monthly contributions to their care or face stiff penalties.

Likewise, Republicans' contention that the system would promote personal responsibility and prod beneficiaries to ration their care and make better decisions about what treatments to seek also turned out to be overly optimistic.

By all accounts, the expansion -- known as the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 -- has made a difference. Health officials in Scott County, Ind., a poverty-stricken community about 30 miles from Louisville, Ky., paint a picture of a program that's bolstered a patchy social safety net -- especially during a major HIV outbreak triggered by the opioid epidemic -- without bankrupting the Hoosier State or punishing enrollees. [...]

If the liberal specter of a punitive system pushing out enrollees hasn't quite materialized, neither has conservatives' vision of a market-like system where patients with "skin in the game" make hard choices about their own health spending. That's because family members, health workers and nonprofits are helping cover their out-of-pocket costs.

"With some people, I think [personal responsibility] might be a little bit lost," Sanders said in her office at the Scott County Partnership, a nonprofit. "We try and do what we can in the little bit of time we have with them. But you can only give them so many pamphlets."

Try giving them money.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Hitler Was Not a Christian (Mark Judge, 2017 04 14, Splice)

"Pantheism is the idea that all of nature is God," Weikart, a history professor at California State University, explained to me in a recent interview. "Because Hitler thought that nature was God, he thought that following the laws of nature was doing the divine will."

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, nature is a creation of God, not God himself. According to Weikart, Hitler believed that God was found in the power of nature, particularly the violent Darwinian struggle for survival. "Hitler thought that destroying people he thought as weak or inferior was in perfect accordance with what nature does," Weikart says. "After all, in nature, animals get killed, and certain species go extinct. Hitler thought the same thing should go on in human society because he thought certain races were inferior to others, so he thought destroying them was a good thing." This kind of ruthless theology can be found on both extremes of modern politics, from the laissez-faire survival-of-the fittest rants of free market conservatives to the abortion on demand evil of the left (there's also alt-right maestro Richard Spencer's sickening pro-abortion musings).

Which is why he also wasn't a fascist.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


How big a problem is crime committed by immigrants? (Julia Dahl, 1/27/17, CBS News)

Florida State University Professor of Criminology Daniel Mears says that "good data" focused on immigrant criminality - specifically undocumented immigrant criminality - is scarce. Determining definitively whether someone who has been arrested is in the country legally can take significant effort, and the result might not be noted in all law enforcement records. In addition, researchers often have to rely on arrest and conviction numbers, which may be misleading because they can reflect law enforcement priorities more than criminal behavior. A jurisdiction might see a spike one year, for example, if a police chief or prosecutor decides to prioritize enforcement against immigrants. 

Despite this, Mears and others who study this subject seem to agree that most research indicates immigrants actually commit crime at lower rates than native-born citizens.

According to analysis of the 2010 census and the American Communities Survey done by the non-profit  American Immigration Council, immigrants to the United States are significantly less likely than native-born citizens to be incarcerated. The authors found that 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.

The divide was even sharper when the authors examined the incarceration rate among immigrant men the authors believe likely to be undocumented -- specifically less-educated men from El Salvador and Guatemala between age 18-29. According to AIC senior researcher Walter Ewing, there are very few ways for men in this demographic to emigrate legally. According to the analysis, these likely undocumented immigrants had an incarceration rate of 1.7 percent, compared with 10.7 percent for native-born men without a high school diploma.

One study published in the journal Criminology and Public Policy in 2008 looked at recidivism among inmates at the Los Angeles County Jail in 2002 and the authors wrote that their results "lend no support to the ubiquitous assertion that deportable aliens are a unique threat to public safety." 

This conclusion is no surprise to Christopher Salas-Wright, an assistant professor at Boston University who has studied antisocial behavior like drug use, gambling and fighting in immigrant and non-immigrant populations.

"The evidence is really compelling that immigrants are involved in these behaviors at a far lower rate than native-born Americans," Salas-Wright says.

A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2007 found that immigrants had incarceration rates about one-fifth that of native-born Americans, and that the difference actually increased between 1980 and 2000.

The reasons for this so-called "immigrant paradox" aren't fully understood, said Salas-Wright, but "one theory is people who choose to pick up their lives and move to a foreign country and set up a new life tend to be healthier people. And they tend to be interested in making this new life work."

In other words, he said, after undertaking the economic and social sacrifice necessary to emigrate, it doesn't make sense to imperil that new life by committing crime or engaging in risky behavior.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Unleashing Arrogance, Complacency, and Mediocrity (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 4/13/17, Library of Law & Liberty)

The reason that these philosopher-kings didn't object beforehand was that they were confident that the vision of the anointed (to use Thomas Sowell's pithy phrase) would triumph. So wedded to that vision is the author that he does not feel it even necessary to explain why Britain should have voted to remain in the EU. Beyond saying that serious economists, chief executives of large companies, the Governor of the Bank of England and the director of the International Monetary Fund were in favor of Britain remaining (which is, in essence, the argument from authority) he provided no arguments for his opinion--though, in fact, such arguments existed, the most convincing, at least to me, being Lord Falkland's famous principle that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. Of course, when and whether change is necessary is always a matter of judgment, for no condition is perfect; but you don't wreck a room just because there is dust on the mantelpiece.

However, the main reason the author provides no arguments for his views is that he believes that there are simply no arguments against them, and that therefore everything goes by default. Apparently, anyone who is capable of reading a book must, almost by definition, agree with Mr. Oliver. Over and over again he says that the push to exit the EU was based purely on xenophobia and propaganda lies. One does not refute xenophobia or propaganda.

Unfortunately, to say that there were no arguments on the other side is itself a lie. It would be vain to deny, of course, that lies and xenophobia played no part in the campaign to leave, just as it would be vain to assert that Britain's manifold problems are principally caused by its membership of the European Union rather than by, say, the abysmally low cultural level of its population, including of the most highly educated class (as this book amply demonstrates). Culture is as much a matter of character as of education, and it is precisely character that our leaders lack.

But the most eloquent man on either side of the debate was Daniel Hannan, a man who speaks Spanish and French better than Oliver writes English, and who argued that leaving the European Union would make Britain more open to the rest of the world, not less; that far from being isolationist little Englanders, as alleged by their opponents, those in favor of the Brexit were not little Europeaners who had failed to notice that Europe was no longer the center of the world.

Part of the weakness of the book is that its author, though allegedly open to the outside world, shows no particular knowledge of it--not even of France, a mere 20 miles from our coast. If he had read its press during the campaign, he would have realized that the criticisms lodged by French commentators and even former French government ministers was just as scathing as that of Hannan and other articulate Brexiteers--namely that the EU is corrupt, bureaucratic, cumbersome, archaic, inhibitory of enterprise, economically dysfunctional, and undemocratic, and that its two most recent major innovations, the single currency and free movement across borders, had been disasters for many of its members. The only difference between the French critics and the British was that the former thought the EU was reformable, and the latter did not.

Though the author was Mr. Cameron's director of politics, whatever that might be (certainly not an elected position), he shows no interest in, or even awareness of, the political dimension of the question of Britain's EU membership. He writes as if the referendum was only about economics and immigration, ignoring that it was also a sounding of the public's view of the EU's self-proclaimed goal of ever-closer union. He therefore does not ask what the purpose is of that ever-closer union, what problem or problems it is supposed to solve, or where pursuit of this goal is likely to lead sooner or later.

This blithe unawareness of the political dimension is evident in the admiration Mr. Oliver expresses for a man called Bill Knapp, an American consultant (in what, exactly?) who came over "to sharpen lines for the PM's Question Time appearances and the wider TV debates"--a tacit admission that David Cameron is a dullard, left to his own devices a terminal bore. Knapp's "easy charm belies a razor sharp brain," he writes. "His thoughts are interesting. Almost fact free--appealing to common sense or emotion." And here is one of Mr. Knapp's  interesting thoughts: The purpose of the EU is the single market.

This establishes pretty conclusively that the consultant is either an unscrupulous liar or an ignoramus. The purpose of the EU has never been, and is certainly not now, the single market. Only someone completely lacking in political insight could take what such a man says seriously.

The notion that free people would willing choose a transnational institution ignores the universalization of self-government, capitalism and protestantism. The thought that this would happen at the heart of the Anglosphere was just delusional.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


CHINA'S NORTH KOREA PROBLEM (Hannah Beech, February 23, 2017, The New Yorker)

China and North Korea were once so close that Mao, whose elder son died on Korean soil during the Korean War, likened the relationship to an anatomical embrace between "lips and teeth." Kim Jong-il, the current Supreme Leader's father, travelled to China seven times between 2000 and 2011, even when he was ailing and near death. By contrast, the younger Kim has not met China's President Xi Jinping since taking power. "Xi Jinping does not trust Kim Jong-un at all," Wu Qiang, a political scientist at Tsinghua University, in Beijing, told me. The aversion appears to be mutual, with Kim sharing his grandfather's suspicion of the giant neighbor that long relegated Korea to tributary-state status. "This is about Kim establishing his power and legitimacy," John Delury, an expert on North Korea at Yonsei University, in Seoul, said. "Kim is a young leader of a nationalist regime, and the onus is on him to avoid kissing Xi's ring, so he can prove that he's not a pawn of Beijing."

China does have significant leverage over North Korea, as it remains the D.P.R.K.'s economic lifeline, piping in the oil needed to keep the workers' paradise operational. Shutting off that spigot could be catastrophic, even for a regime that has proven more than willing to sacrifice millions of its citizens to continue the Kim dynastic rule. For China, the prospect of economic collapse in the North, and with it the fall of the Kim family, brings a potential security nightmare to its border: a unified Korea led by the South, which currently hosts tens of thousands of American soldiers.

"The Chinese are deeply frustrated and want to do something, but they get stuck when they look at the options," said Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, in Beijing, and a former White House representative at the stalled six-party talks, which were aimed at curtailing North Korea's nuclear program. "If they put economic pressure on the North and it implodes, they lose the buffer zone and refugees flood in. If they apply political pressure, then China could become the enemy," at least in Kim Jong-un's eyes, "and then the missiles that were directed at the U.S. and its allies are suddenly pointed at them."

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Officials: No need for Trump's approval to use massive bomb (ROBERT BURNS April 15, 2017,  AP)

The US commander in Afghanistan who ordered use of the "mother of all bombs" to attack an Islamic State stronghold near the Pakistani border didn't need and didn't request President Donald Trump's approval, Pentagon officials said Friday.

The officials said that even before Trump took office in January, Gen. John Nicholson had standing authority to use the bomb, which is officially called the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped in combat. The bomb, dropped by a special operations MC-130 aircraft, had been in Afghanistan since January.

The hard part of the WoT is getting as many of the Salafi to congregate in one place as possible, which requires a patience that we aren't great at.  Killing them is easy.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Observing Turkeys, and Nature's Rhythms (Jon Stableford, 4/15/17, Valley News)

It is mating season for wild turkeys, and lately a tom has been showing up to watch three hens feed beneath our apple trees. They come for the sunflower seeds that greedy blue jays have spilled from the feeders and for the chaff smaller birds have left behind. These hens appeared six weeks ago after a snowstorm, lean and hungry as they emerged from the deep woods. By the time the tom appeared, they had fattened up with what they managed to scratch from the snow.

The male keeps his distance as if he's waiting for a sign. Although he is nearly twice their size, I have never seen him eat. Each day he approaches a little closer, calling to them, and spreads his feathers into a pulsing fan. His head and neck flush a lurid red that suggests there's unruly passion beneath his stately calm. I have witnessed this behavior in other years, but this spring is different with three hens so closely bonded, a single tom, and the daily foreplay so close to the house.

There is order to this annual ritual of mating and renewal. The hens are drawn to our yard because it's safe and there is food, and the tom comes because there are hens. Beyond the apple trees there are predators in the woods. At night we hear the yip and howl of coyotes and occasionally the scream of a fisher cat, and after a snow we see their footprints criss-cross the yard. Yesterday a pair of red foxes trotted by in full daylight. In the woods we see a piles of feathers and scattered bones, so these hens are wary. They take flight whenever we open a door. Lately, since the tom arrived, they have been a little slower to scare.

How do they know what they know of the rhythm of seasons and the ritual of mating? Day after day the tom appears in the afternoon light and begins his dance with no encouragement from the indifferent hens who keep their heads to the ground. And yet, they all seem to know how this will end. When the mating is done, the tom will disappear and the hens will lay their eggs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Q&A: Dipoto discusses philosophy for Mariners (Mark Feinsand, 4/15/17, MLB.com)

MLB.com: Do you think Statcast™ is making fans look at the game differently?

Dipoto: If it hasn't, it will. I didn't think we've even really scratched the surface of what Statcast™ is capable of. Statcast™, even in the last two years, has changed the way that I or we look at building a Major League roster. I don't think that's going to go away. I think Statcast™ is going to enhance the way we watch the game on TV, just as a viewing pleasure much like an NFL game on Sunday or like we've seen in the postseason.

We see pitch tracker, not just that shows you velocity, but pitch tracker that's showing you horizontal and vertical break on a pitch. Pitch tracker that's showing you six pitches in a sequence leave a pitcher's hand and go in different directions. I find that wildly interesting. The visuals that they're able to create on TV with the ground coverage in the outfield, now you watch MLB Network coverage at the end of the game and they'll show you three different routes or angles that an outfielder took to a ball and how significant it was that the player was able to get there or not get there.

It's magical stuff, and I think we've only scratched the surface. We have now hired multiple people whose job is to sift through all the Statcast™ data, because it is mountains of information that we're still trying to fully understand.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


The Myth of the Alou Brothers (Phil Coffin, Jan. 16th, 1970, NY Times)

Baseball is full of legends, and one is that the Alou brothers -- Felipe, Jesus and Matty, who died Thursday -- started in the same outfield one day in 1963.

Some baseball legends, however, are myths.

The brothers did play together in eight games in 1963, when Felipe, then 28, was a regular outfielder for the San Francisco Giants; Matty, 24, was a defensive replacement (he started only six games) and pinch hitter; and Jesus, 21, was a September call-up. And they did play in the same outfield for a few innings in three games that September.

But they never started a game together.

Jesus made his debut on Sept. 10, and it was legendary in its own right: Manager Al Dark had the Alou brothers bat consecutively in the eighth inning, Jesus and Matty as pinch hitters before Felipe came up. The Alous went 0 for 3 against the Mets' Carlton Willey.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


"I Speak to God in Public": A Message from Chance to the Church (Devon Jerome Crawford, 02/24/2017, Huffington Post)

To be sure, the idea of God is as old as thought itself. The idea of an ultimate being upon which all other beings are grounded guides the way many in the Judeo-Christian tradition relate to one another and the "wholly other." However, Chance's unashamed and unapologetic invocation of God bears particular significance for the millennial generation. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the number of religious "nones" is surely growing. Approximately 23% of Americans identify as "atheists, agnostics, or nothing in particular." Nearly eight-in-ten millennials with "low levels of religious commitment" describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or nones. Compared to older adults, millennials are more likely to identify as nones. The generational divide is increasingly apparent as the Baby Boomer generation declines and the millennial generation garner a growing share of the population.

So, given the data, why is Chance able to do what he does? Why are his crowds equally as hyped for "How Great" and "Blessings" as they are for "No Problem" and "Smoke Break?" I submit that Chance, by using his platform as a Hip-Hop artist to communicate the import of his theological commitments, has revealed that it is not so much the idea of God that millennials reject, but the method by which that idea has been passed down and the institutions that have held the idea of God hostage from young creatives. God is not dead, but some of the institutions that represent God are on life support. The idea of a God that remains distant, dictatorial, and confined to the cathedrals of our world will no longer satisfy the religious imaginations of our generation. The God Chance speaks of, and reacquaints us with, is intimate, empowering, a "mutual fan," and, above all, the consummate expression of a love supreme.

Chance represents the need to update the way we talk and think about God. Martin Luther, a 16th century German reformer, theologian and hymn writer, suggests, "Music is the handmaiden of theology." Through his music, Chance positions himself as a public theologian who is helping us discover how we must equip our theological toolkits for this moment in history. The personal piety and institutional estrangement practiced by many Christian Churches is unfit to engage this prophetic moment in American religious life. There has always been a need - from Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Kirk Franklin, BJ the Chicago Kid, and now Chance the Rapper - to update the presentation of the Gospel for each generation. We have a generation that yearns for God, but rejects the traditional ambassadors and institutions that supposedly represent God. Millennials are more likely to be found giving glory to God in Chance's concerts than in your local church sanctuary. The people - particularly millennials - are ready for their Blessing. The question is whether the Church will repent and strip itself of oppressive ideologies and practices - its sexism, ageism, patriarchy, classism, homophobia, and silence - in order to be a conduit for that Blessing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Let's look less hard for cancer (H. Gilbert Welch, November 2015, Dallas Morning News)

Wouldn't it be better to simply not find these cancers in the first place? We need another new strategy: Look less hard for cancer. Call it low-impact screening.

Consider the search for prostate cancer. PSA screening has been discouraged because it causes many men to be diagnosed with prostate cancers that are not destined to ever bother them. It has become the poster child for cancer overdiagnosis. But the problem is less about the assay itself and more about how we chose to use it.

Screening is not one thing; it's a process. A colleague once compared it to a machine with a lot of dials to adjust. There is a dial for what age to start testing, a dial for what age to stop, a dial for how often to test and a dial for what constitutes an abnormal test, which controls how aggressively doctors look for cancer during each test.

If we want to find fewer prostate cancers, the dial for what constitutes abnormality is the one we most need to readjust. At first, the dial was set at a PSA of 4. Below 4 was "normal"; 4 or above was "abnormal." A little more than a decade ago, some urologists argued that the dial should be turned down to a PSA of 2.5. That was the wrong direction. It led to more overdiagnosis.

Turn the dial the other direction. A higher abnormal PSA threshold would mean fewer men would be told they need a biopsy, reducing false alarms and overdiagnosis.

Urologists can better hone the group who should be biopsied with further adjustments: age-specific PSA thresholds, adjusting the threshold for prostate size and, most important, making use of the diagnostic value of time, measuring how fast PSA is rising. Such adjustments should be guided by data, so that the number of men told they require intervention more closely approximates the number expected to develop serious cancer.

Because the PSA test produces a single number, it's easy to see where the abnormal test dial is set. It's harder for thyroid and breast cancer tests because they use images to search for cancer.

But the dial is clearly being turned the wrong way in breast cancer. Everyone seems to be trying to find more, with 3-D mammography, molecular breast imaging and MRI imaging. And yet we know statistically that many, if not most, of these additionally discovered cancers will not develop into serious health problems in the next decade.

The way to find a more appropriate amount of breast and thyroid cancer is to forget about the small stuff, the tiny abnormalities. Turn the dial to focus on the larger abnormalities, perhaps a centimeter or larger. As the data come in, adjust the target size so that, again, the number of patients told they will need intervention more closely approximates the number that can be expected to develop serious cancer.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:00 AM


Jackie Robinson Day


Major League Baseball's Opening Day now falls about 2 weeks earlier than it did in the days of the 154-game schedule and when a "western swing" meant a trip to St. Louis and Chicago. For me it means that baseball now has 2 Opening Days - one on the first day of the regular season and a second on April 15, the anniversary of Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jackie Robinson Day is wonderfully commemorated each year throughout MLB by having every player and umpire wear Jackie's number 42. What's the tie-in with this column? Robinson's skill and daring as a ballplayer are celebrated in Buddy Johnson's 1949 novelty "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" Here are two versions, the first by Count Basie and his Orchestra, with the vocal by the great blues shouter, Jimmy Rushing. The second features Natalie Cole with a big band led by John Clayton.

April 14, 2017

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Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


The Broken Grace of Leonard Cohen (Paul DeCamp, April 13, 2017, mARTIN mARTY cENTER)

 Editor's Note: The deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Chuck Berry; the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan; the public feud between then-President-elect Trump and the cast and creators of Hamilton; and other recent events have all served to underscore the significance of music in our public life. Today's issue is the first installment in a new series from Sightings, featuring contributions from a mix of scholars and performing artists, on the manifold ways in which popular music and religion intersect. [...]

Cohen's iconic song "Hallelujah" was recently identified as a "secular hymn" in a Journal of Media and Religion article coauthored by three communications scholars at Brigham Young University: professors Steven R. Thomsen and Quint Randle and master's student Matthew Lewis. "While nonreligious in nature or intent," they write, "the secular hymn is a pop song that allows the listener to experience the numinous by creating an affective state that parallels a spiritual or religious state of mind." [...]

Literature and music can often be interpreted as having religious modes, as well as themes and issues considered "theological," but Cohen regularly tapped the well of religion with a seriousness of purpose that few popular artists before him or after could match. He engaged the divine throughout his career, at a time when the power of faith had arguably been diminished by the despair of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam. Cohen was raised in Judaism by parents who told him he was a direct descendent of the high priest Aaron. He was also an ordained Zen monk, an appreciator of Christianity and Gnosticism, and a reader of Hindu philosophy. Among his peers, Cohen's religiosity made him somewhat of an anomaly. He exhibited a rare spiritual seeking that could not be reduced to mundane curiosity or fashionable affect, and he undertook this journey with the severity of a scholar, but went beyond pure theology.

Among his greatest feats was the constant placement of irony and cynicism (defining features of his cultural moment) in tension with a deep and abiding sense of awe. His poetic sense was profoundly Jewish, and therefore biblical. His work feels very old, but always, at the same time, very new. It is steeped in the lyricism of the Psalms as well as the folk revival of the 1960s, drawing as much from the Hebrew prophets as from Bob Dylan; in the process, he closed the distance between the two: a holy irreverence tempered by measured faith.

Another tension, that between the sensuous and the ascetic, was also a hallmark of Cohen's career. His narrators often found themselves faced with women who were repositories of wisdom and mercy. Sex was spiritual incarnation, and there was salvation to be had in the flesh. But while a sensualist, Cohen was also wont to seek mortification as a Zen disciple. For six years he lived atop Mount Baldy with his roshi just outside Los Angeles, where he was said to keep a menorah in his cabin near the zendo. Once asked by an interviewer whether he was religious, Cohen simply replied: "I am religious in that I know the difference between grace and guilt."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


The cooling of Donald Trump's Islamo-scepticism (Erasmus, Apr 14th 2017, tHE eCONOMIST)

[P]erhaps the most tangible symptom of a mood change is the administration's decision, after intense internal debate, not to designate the global Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation: a move that would have complicated America's diplomatic relations with several countries and would have threatened the existence of some advocacy groups within the United States.

Senator Ted Cruz, the devout Baptist and Republican presidential candidate, was among the strongest advocates of this designation; it would also be warmly welcomed by the government of Egypt which wrested power from a Brotherhood-influenced administration in 2013. But the Trump team clearly listened to advice from other quarters, including American diplomats and intelligence officers who know the Middle East, and the governments of Morocco, Tunisia and above all Jordan.

What all these informants told the administration is that the Brotherhood isn't a monolith. It can evolve in a more liberal-democratic direction, as did the Ennahda party in Tunisia, and even within one country, it can morph into several different phenomena, as happened in Jordan. A catchall demonisation might actually arrest this possibility, according to most pundits on Islam.

"All the professional advice was against the Brotherhood's designation [as terrorist]," says Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution think-tank. Mr Hamid reports that many in Washington, DC have become less hostile to his way of thinking, which holds that Islam is more prone to theocratic tendencies than other faiths, but argues that the West should accept this and work for gradual change rather than slamming the door in Islam's face.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


For Trump, a Steep Learning Curve Leads to Policy Reversals (PETER BAKER, APRIL 13, 2017, NY Times)

For President Trump, the road to changing his mind on China included a discussion with corporate executives in the State Dining Room of the White House in February. When the conversation turned to China's currency, the executives had a simple message for the president: You're wrong.

Mr. Trump had long insisted that China was devaluing its currency and should be punished, but the executives pushed back and told him Beijing had actually stopped. And while Mr. Trump at first resisted -- as late as this month calling the Chinese "world champions" of currency manipulation -- after many talks like the one in February he reversed himself, declaring this week that "they're not currency manipulators" after all.

For any new occupant of the White House, the early months are like a graduate seminar in policy crammed into every half-hour meeting. What made sense on the campaign trail may have little bearing on reality in the Oval Office, and the education of a president can be rocky even for former governors or senators. For Mr. Trump, the first president in American history never to have served in government or the military, the learning curve is especially steep. [...]

So much of this is new to Mr. Trump that only after he publicly accused Mr. Obama of having wiretapped his telephones last year did he ask aides how the system of obtaining eavesdropping warrants from a special foreign intelligence court worked.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


The Case for Placebo Politics (JASON WILLICK, 4/14/17, American Interest)

Last month in these pages, Tyler Cowen coined the term "placebo President" to describe the possibility that Donald Trump would largely fail to achieve the radically populist policy objectives he campaigned on but maintain the support of his white working class base by symbolically affirming their dignity and cultural status--offering his supporters "a public voice and the illusion of more control without the control itself." [...]

Educated people often imagine that politics is, or should be, a coolly rational exercise in distributing resources and regulating institutions to create the best possible outcomes for the greatest number of people. But it is not, and has never been. Contests over status and claims to representation are always lurking below the surface. As Walter Russell Mead observed during the primary, Trump's appeal flows from his pattern of behavior as much as his policy priorities. "By flouting PC norms, reducing opponents and journalists to sputtering outrage as he trashes the conventions of political discourse, and dismissing his critics with airy put-downs, he is living the life that--at least some of the time--a lot of people wish they had either the courage or the resources to live." This is at the core of Cowen's idea of a placebo presidency: telegraphing cultural solidarity with a constituency that feels belittled and disrespected, in part merely by infuriating their ostensible social adversaries.

The degree of adoration a certain kind of liberal heaped on President Obama also reflected, in part, a similar kind of placebo effect.

There are so few differences between major parties at the End of History that only the theatrics really matter in terms of pure politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM



Cohen-Watnick reportedly retrieved the documents from a classified CIA terminal in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House and gave them to Nunes, a California Republican who had been a member of Trump's transition team. They were intended to prove that former President Barack Obama was "wire tapping" Trump during the 2016 campaign. The documents did no such thing, other members of the panel concluded after studying them. What they actually showed is that U.S. intelligence agencies did have Trump's associates on their radar--but only because they were tracking Russian agents.

The incident triggered a House Ethics Committee probe into Nunes and forced him to recuse himself from his own panel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. But it also prompted questions from longtime intelligence officials about how Cohen-Watnick, a 30-year-old with apparently only a single, allegedly trouble-filled, junior-level tour of duty with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Afghanistan on his résumé, managed to secure one of the most consequential jobs in the White House: coordinating all of the U.S. intelligence community's operations with the Oval Office and Congress. In less than a year, Cohen-Watnick had been raised from the equivalent rank of an army captain to a three-star general.

"He makes sure they carry out the president's agenda," says a former White House National Security Council official, who, like every intelligence source consulted by Newsweek, declined to be identified discussing such sensitive issues. And that agenda, the president and his men have made clear, is to whittle down the power of the CIA.

How this young man amassed such influence mystifies longtime intelligence officials. How he hung on to his job after Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, successor to fired White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, reportedly tried to oust him following the Nunes affair is another part of the puzzle. [...]

In 2014, Obama fired Flynn, and since then administration officials have dumped on him in the press. But the surprise election of Trump in November 2016 gave Flynn a chance for redemption--and revenge. With his rising prominence in the Trump campaign, Flynn's adversaries recycled stories about his DIA ouster, but now there were also questions about Kremlin-financed trips to Moscow and ties to Turkish lobbyists. And Flynn was swimming in ever deeper conspiracy waters, now with activists who alleged that the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter did not act alone, and that Hillary Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta was involved in a pedophile ring run beneath a Washington, D.C., family restaurant. Cohen-Watnick joined him in the so-called "Pizzagate" fray, tweeting about "Podesta's obsession with the occult." In another tweet, he referenced "the disgusting and potentially criminal behavior of the Clinton crime syndicate."

In January, Cohen-Watnick swept into office with Flynn and other associates from Gaffney's circle, including Bannon, Conway and Sebastian Gorka, another anti-Muslim hard-liner with ties to a Hungarian Nazi party. Meanwhile, Cohen-Watnick was getting married to a woman who, like Flynn and several other Trump aides, had ties to Russia. Rebecca Miller, four years younger than Cohen-Watnick, had worked on the Russian account in the D.C. office of Ketchum, the global powerhouse lobbying and public relations firm, according to her mother, Victoria Fraser, head of Washington University's Department of Medicine in St. Louis. During a 2014 event at the State Historical Society of Missouri, Fraser said her daughter's "big challenges right now are, Ketchum is responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better, which is particularly difficult when they're invading other countries and when Putin is somewhat out of control." Ketchum took a public relations blow when ProPublica reported that it had "placed pro-Russia op-eds in American publications by businesspeople and others without disclosing the role of the Russian government." The following year, it drew flak for placing an op-ed purporting to be written by Russian President Vladimir Putin in The New York Times arguing that Syrian rebels, not President Bashar al-Assad, were responsible for chemical attacks on civilians. According to a Ketchum spokesperson, Miller's work on the Russia account ended in September 2012. The company severed its ties with the Russian Federation in March 2015.

Cohen-Watnick and his wife have been reluctant to acknowledge anything about their professional lives or their history together. On November 11, 2016, the Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a conservative synagogue in Chevy Chase, held a kiddush, or small social ceremony, in honor of their "upcoming marriage." But despite prominent parents on both sides of the aisle, there is no account of their marriage in either The Washington Post or St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Miller's hometown newspaper. Nor do multiple search engines reveal a marriage license for the couple, who married in November 2016. In addition, records searches do not show them living together in Chevy Chase or another residence Cohen-Watnick claims in Miami. (According to Florida voting records, Cohen-Watnick is registered in Miami as a Republican "Hispanic male.") The White House has refused to release even a thumbnail biography of its senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council.

He's a ghost. And he seems to like it that way. "Ezra is really a big fan of covert-y action stuff," an official who worked with him at the NSC told The Washington Post, after "several current American officials" fingered Cohen-Watnick as one of two Trump aides who accessed those top-secret surveillance files for Nunes.

Long before that incident, though, veteran national security officials were astounded by the appointment of such a junior man as senior NSC adviser for intelligence issues. Among his predecessors were people who had deep familiarity with clandestine operations, such as future CIA Directors Robert Gates and George Tenet (who had previously been chief of staff on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence). In that job, says a former high-ranking intelligence official, you "need experience, not family connections."

"No one at his level could have possibly had the experience to be made senior director for intelligence programs--no way, no how," says Daniel Benjamin, an NSC staffer in the Bill Clinton administration who later became the State Department's top counterterrorism official. "So the fact that he got that job and that CIA, which usually controls that billet, was so eager to move him out, tells you a lot about the oddity of the situation," Benjamin tells Newsweek.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


What may save Cuba from hunger? GMOs (REV. BEN JOHNSON • April 14, 2017, Acton)

Cuban officials have announced the island is turning to genetically modified organisms (GMO) to help feed its increasingly hungry population. Hunger is spreading in Cuba, something officials ascribe to higher levels of tourism. Tourists can afford to pay more for food, so they outbid the native population. The New York Times wrote that food insecurity is "upsetting the very promise of Fidel Castro's Cuba" (though, in their defense, his reign owed much to their coverage).

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Kremlin furious at Eurovision dropping Russia over Ukraine spat (AFP April 14, 2017)

A decision by the organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest to drop Russia from this year's contest following a spat with Ukraine was roundly denounced by Moscow on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Trump's Jewish 'Globalist' Battles Bannon for White House Influence (Josh Nathan-Kazis, April 14, 2017, The Forward)

"Gary Cohn would be too liberal for the Obama administration," former Trump advisor Sam Nunberg told Yahoo News. "I don't know what he's doing in a Republican White House," Nunberg said, voicing the sentiment, widely held in pro-Trump circles, that Cohn is an odd match for the expectations set by the Trump regime.

Axios reported earlier this week that Bannon's supporters call Cohn "Globalist Gary" behind his back, and when texting, refer to him with a globe emoji.

Hired to run the National Economic Council, Cohn's brief appears to have expanded rapidly. He appeared in a photo released by the White House of Trump watching last week's Syria strike from Mar-a-Lago alongside his top advisors. And a string of policy switcheroos that Trump announced in mid-April, in which the president appeared to backtrack on a series of long-held positions, have been taken as another sign of the growing influence of Cohn and his allies.

Cohn's White House clique of wealthy Jewish New Yorkers, alternatively referred to in press accounts as the "Wall Street wing" of the administration or, more simply, as "the Democrats", includes Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump.

Another ally, Dina Powell, is a fellow Goldman Sachs alumna who now serves on the National Security Council.

Their opponent is Bannon, the nationalist ideologue and former CEO of Breitbart News. Though he, too, once worked at Goldman Sachs, Bannon now defines himself in opposition to the elite internationalism that the firm has come to represent.

...between his father and his daughter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Why Trump is beating a hasty retreat from populism (Noah Millman, April 14, 2017, The Week)

Instead of scrapping NAFTA, they are merely looking for minor adjustments. Instead of showing China who's boss, they have retreated on Taiwan, and are promising a far more favorable stance on trade in exchange for whatever help China might offer on North Korea -- while telegraphing that they know help is bound to be limited. Most dramatically, Trump reversed the overwhelming thrust of his campaign with respect to foreign policy, ordering an attack on Syria and welcoming Montenegro into NATO, saying that the Atlantic alliance is "no longer obsolete." Even if advisor Steve Bannon doesn't lose his job, evidence of his influence is at this point distinctly thin.

But why is Trump beating this retreat? It's not because his new course is more popular. The effort to repeal ObamaCare failed spectacularly in large part because the proposed replacement was obviously inferior, and was wildly unpopular with virtually the entire public. But there is no popular movement clamoring for intervention in Syria, or for the defense of Montenegro. And while the politics of trade are exceedingly complex, with big losers inevitable even if there are also big winners, a committed administration could surely build a case and a constituency for a new trade paradigm. Instead, Trump is rapidly bargaining away his entire agenda. [...]

America's military supremacy is arguably unprecedented in world history. The U.S. dollar remains the world's reserve currency. For all the hand-wringing about the decline of American manufacturing, we remain fully capable of producing the vast majority of our strategic materials, and we are more energy independent than we have been in over a generation. 

Because, as the final para begins to say, his entire agenda was wrong--whether due to dishonesty or ignorance matters little now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Trump's Flip-Flops On Economics Move Policies Toward The Status Quo (John Ydstie, 4/14/17, NPR)

From Chinese currency manipulation to his choice to head the Federal Reserve, Trump contradicted statements he'd made during the presidential campaign.

In doing so, Trump is departing from some of the radical changes he promised, and moving toward the positions of his predecessors.

The only things distinctive about him are corruption, incompetence and racism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Filing Taxes in Japan Is a Breeze. Why Not Here? (T.R. REID, APRIL 14, 2017, NY Times)

When I told my friend Togo Shigehiko in Tokyo that Americans spend hours or days each spring gathering records and filling out tax forms, he was incredulous. "Why would anybody want to do that?" he asked.

What's going on in these countries -- and in many other developed democracies -- is that government computers handle the tedious chore of filling out your tax return. The system is called "pre-filled forms," or "pre-populated returns." The taxpayer just has to check the numbers. If the agency got something wrong, there's a mechanism for appeal.

Our own Internal Revenue Service could do the same for tens of millions of taxpayers. For most families, the I.R.S. already knows all the numbers -- wages, dividends and interest received, capital gains, mortgage interest paid, taxes withheld -- that we are required to enter on Form 1040.

The I.R.S. sends out a letter called a CP2000 Notice by the millions every year. This is the form that says: You entered $4,311 on Line 9b, but the reports we have on file say the figure should have been $4,756. I get these letters now and then -- the revenue service is always right -- and it makes me mad. If the government already has all this stuff, why did I have to spend hours digging through receipts and statements and 1099 forms to report what the I.R.S. already knows?

Questions like that have prompted some members of Congress -- including Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon; Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts; and Dan Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana -- to champion pre-filled forms. But their bills never went anywhere because the tax-preparation industry lobbies strenuously against them. The "Tax Complexity Lobby," as it has been called, includes big national preparers like H & R Block and tax-prep software companies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


French farmer transforms wheat field into gigantic 'HELP' plea to candidates (AFP, 14 April 2017)

A French farmer has mown the word "HELP" in giant letters into his wheat field, hoping to push presidential candidates to address the crisis in France's agricultural sector.

"Political leaders do not listen to us," the 63-year-old farmer, Jacques Fortin, 63, told AFP on Thursday. "They're deaf to our anger. I hope they're not blind and will read this message of despair." [...]
He said his message was a "collective SOS, expressed on behalf of all farmers".

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM



"The Moab is just a shock wave," says [Mark Cancian, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies]. A shock wave so big that it would cover 150 meters.

Generating a wave that big requires a bomb that's proportionally massive. It weighs over 11 tons, and has to be hauled by a cargo plane, and dropped directly above its target, though it has GPS guidance like a Jdam. It drops from the cargo plane using a parachute, and explodes just before impact. Odd-looking fins ring its tail, which help it hit its target and also slow the bomb down as it falls. This is to buy people in the plane enough time to get away.

"If it blows up too quickly, it'll take the aircraft down with it," says Cancian.

The Moab has been a known part of the US arsenal--and was even at one point suggested as a solution to the Gulf oil spill--but its nearly two-decade dormancy to this point has a surprisingly straightforward explanation.

"It's a particular type of bomb best for a particular type of target. So you need that match," says military expert and author Peter Singer. From what the government has revealed about today's mission, Singer says that match fit.

Jdams won't work to get into deep tunnels, because the fragmentary material they shoot out stops at the first twist the tunnel takes. To avoid them, combatants just need to go deeper into the tunnel. Bombs designed specifically to penetrate underground pose similar problems. Though effective when targeting individual below-ground targets, they struggle with crippling long, winding networks. That's where a massive concussive bomb has the advantage: Its blast can turn corners, and push all the way to the furthest reaches of a cave.

"We made Moab for this kind of target," says Cancian. "My guess is that we just didn't know where these tunnels were before."

Deploying the Moab in nearly any other situation also presents some insurmountable drawbacks. Its sheer size means only certain aircraft can deploy it. Plus its large blast range makes it inefficient for targeted mission. But by far the biggest impediment to using it more often is the risk to civilian life.

"These caves I'm assuming are out in the mountains, in a very uninhabited spot, so you're not as worried about civilians. But to drop something like this in Mosul, you'd level half the city," says Cancian. That kind of fallout likely explains why the Moab sat out the heaviest fighting of the Iraq war.

April 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


WikiLeaks trolls CIA director (JOE UCHILL, 04/13/17, The Hill)

WikiLeaks hit back at CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Thursday after he criticized the website.

Pompeo called WikiLeaks a "non-state hostile intelligence service" that had done "great harm to our nation's national security."

The site hit back by posting one of Pompeo's now-deleted tweets from 2016 citing the group's work publishing leaked documents from the Democratic National Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed (ERIC LICHTBLAU, APRIL 6, 2017, NY Times)

The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump's victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia's intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the C.I.A. and counterparts at the F.B.I., where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia's cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America's political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews.

...whether President Obama, Susan Rice and company were too scrupulous in not revealing what they knew.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Trump's Syria Strike Was Constitutional (JOHN YOO, April 13, 2017, National Review)

This time, President Trump has the Constitution about right. His exercise of war powers rests firmly in the tradition of American foreign policy. Throughout our history, neither presidents nor Congresses have acted under the belief that the Constitution requires a declaration of war before the U.S. can conduct military hostilities abroad. We have used force abroad more than 100 times but declared war in only five cases: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars, and World Wars I and II. 

Without any congressional approval, presidents have sent forces to battle Indians, Barbary pirates, and Russian revolutionaries; to fight North Korean and Chinese Communists in Korea; to engineer regime changes in South and Central America; and to prevent human-rights disasters in the Balkans. Other conflicts, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 Iraq War, received legislative "authorization" but not declarations of war. The practice of presidential initiative, followed by congressional acquiescence, has spanned both Democratic and Republican administrations and reaches back from President Trump to Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. [...]

Those in the pro-Congress camp call upon the anti-monarchical origins of the American Revolution for support. If the Framers rebelled against King George III's dictatorial powers, surely they would not give the president much authority. It is true that the revolutionaries rejected the royal prerogative, and they created weak executives at the state level. Americans have long turned a skeptical eye toward the growth of federal powers. But this may mislead some to resist the fundamental difference in the Constitution's treatment of domestic and foreign affairs. For when the Framers wrote the Constitution in 1787, they rejected these failed experiments and restored an independent, unified chief executive with its own powers in national security and foreign affairs. 

The most important of the president's powers are those of commander in chief and chief executive. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 74: 

The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength, and the power of directing and employing the common strength forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority. 

Presidents should conduct war, he wrote, because they could act with "decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch." In perhaps his most famous words, Hamilton wrote: "Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. . . . It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."

Sadly for England, the Executive is more monarchical than the King.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


British spies were first to spot Trump team's links with Russia (Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins,  13 April 2017, The Guardian)

Britain's spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious "interactions" between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump's inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence - known as sigint - included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the "Five Eyes" spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

Wow, Susan Rice controls all our allies?

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Undercooled meat. Dangerous fish. Health inspectors zing Trump's Mar-a-Lago kitchen (JOSE LAMBIET, 4/13/17, Miami Herald)

Just days before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's Palm Beach private club, Florida restaurant inspectors found potentially dangerous raw fish and cited the club for storing food in two broken down coolers.

Inspectors found 13 violations at the fancy club's kitchen, according to recently published reports -- a record for an institution that charges $200,000 in initiation fees.

Three of the violations were deemed "high priority," meaning that they could allow the presence of illness-causing bacteria on plates served in the dining room.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Susan Rice Is Cleared. It's Time to Shine the Spotlight Back Where It Belongs. (Nancy LeTourneau,  April 13, 2017, Washington Monthly)

[I]t's time to once again shine the spotlight on what Rep. Nunes and his buddy in the White House Ezra Cohen-Watnick were up to.

As a reminder, we now know that Cohen-Watnick was the one who summoned Nunes to a clandestine meeting at the White House to review the "evidence" he had uncovered that some of Trump's associates had their communication with foreign targets collected incidentally. Cohen-Watnick had been tasked (probably by his boss Michael Flynn) to review the "unmasking" procedures used during the Obama administration. It is very likely that this was an attempt to uncover what the intelligence community knew about Flynn's contacts with Russians.

When Cohen-Watnick initially took his findings to the White House counsel's office, he was told to cease and desist these activities because it was likely illegal given the investigation that is currently underway into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with the Russia.

At that point, Cohen-Watnick decided to do an end-around that cease and desist order and shared the information with Nunes, who went on to talk about it with the press and share it with Trump, but not with his colleagues on the Intelligence Committee.

We learned much of that from an AP report that was published on April 4th, and on April 6th (after having met with Speaker Paul Ryan the previous night), Rep. Nunes stepped down. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Is dark energy an illusion? (Adrian Cho, Apr. 3, 2017 , Science)

Strictly speaking, however, the FLRW equation applies to a smooth and homogeneous universe. So to calculate the scale factor at each step, cosmologists typically assume the universe is smooth and use its average density--determined from the simulation--as the FLRW metric's input. That's a bit dicey, because general relativity says that mass and energy warp spacetime. As a result, space should expand faster in emptier regions and slower in crowded ones, where the galaxies' gravity pulls against the expansion. Thus, in principle, inhomogeneities in the universe can feed back through the dynamics and affect the universe's expansion.

Gábor Rácz and László Dobos, astrophysicists at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and their colleagues set out to capture that "backreaction." They simulated a cube of space measuring 480 million light-years along each side. Instead of using the FLRW metric to calculate at each time step a single scale factor for the entire cube, they broke the cube into 1 million miniuniverses and then used the equation to calculate the scale factor in each of them. "We assume that every region of the universe determines its expansion rate itself," Dobos says. The researchers then calculated the average of the many scale factors, which can differ from the scale factor calculated from the average density.

The team's virtual universe evolved much as the real one has, with its expansion accelerating over the past few billion years. That happened even without adding space-stretching dark energy to the simulation, the researchers report in a paper in press at the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The results suggest that it may be possible to explain away dark energy as an illusion, Dobos says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Ex-British spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove suggests Donald Trump may have borrowed money from Russia (Jack Maidment, 13 APRIL 2017, The Telegraph)

Former British spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove said in an interview with Prospect magazine that potential deals to keep Mr Trump's property empire afloat may still "linger". [...]

[S]ir Richard, who was Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, between 1999 and 2004, told Prospect: "What lingers for Trump may be what deals - on what terms - he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the west apparently would not lend to him."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Donald Trump's Long March problem (BYRON YORK, 4/12/17, Washington Examiner)

A new president needs to staff his administration with people who will be loyal to him. Donald Trump's problem is that he does not have enough loyalists to staff the White House, much less the entire executive branch.

Previous presidents have come to Washington after enough time in politics to develop concentric circles of loyalists who can take jobs at all levels of government. Just look at the people who stood ready to help the Bush family or the Clintons over the years.

Trump, who never held public office before winning the presidency, didn't have that. In addition, he campaigned with an abrasive style that alienated a significant portion of the Republican Party's political talent. Beyond that, Trump's way of running his business, even though it made him a billionaire, was small in scale -- in his Trump Tower office, he relied heavily on a tight circle of people who were either related to him or had been with him for a very long time. [...]

On the question of the federal bureaucracy, many Trump supporters are dismayed by the slowness with which he is hiring for the various government departments and agencies. According to a database compiled by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post, out of 553 important positions that require Senate confirmation -- and that is by no means all the political appointments Trump has to make-- only 22 Trump nominees have been confirmed, while another 53 have either been formally nominated or are awaiting formal announcement of their nominations. That leaves 478 jobs with no nominee at all.

GAO says it's investigating Trump transition team (KELSEY SUTTON, 04/12/17, Politico)

The Government Accountability Office will investigate whether members of President Donald Trump's transition team followed federal guidelines and ethics rules during the presidential transition, following complaints lodged by Democratic lawmakers in November.

In a letter dated April 5 to Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the GAO confirmed that it would examine the transition team, including reviewing its use of federal funds and looking into the team's communications with foreign governments. The letter was posted to Warren's website this week and reported by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Russian Stocks Erase Trump Euphoria as Relations Reach New Low (Ksenia Galouchko, April 13, 2017, Bloomberg)

While Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were talking through their disagreements in negotiations in Moscow late on Wednesday, the Micex Index closed at its lowest level since before the U.S. election on Nov. 8. By 12:55 p.m. in Moscow on Thursday it had slid another 0.6 percent.

A spat this month between Russia and the U.S. over Syria has erased any last remnants of optimism among investors that Trump will make good on campaign promises to improve strained relations between the two countries. While in November the Micex rallied on bets Donald Trump's election victory would result in a lifting of sanctions that have damped growth since 2014, now traders are starting to price in the prospect of new penalties against the Kremlin.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Oil demand growth slows for second year (BBC, 4/13/17)

Demand for oil is expected to slow for the second year in a row, the International Energy Agency has said. [...]

But the organisation predicted supply would grow in coming months, with US oil-producing firms driving the increase.

The IEA said it expected non-Opec production, of which the US and Russia account for the biggest chunk, to rise by 485,000 barrels a day in 2017 to a total of 58.1 million barrels a day.

US production had already climbed to 9 million barrels a day in March, up from a September low of 8.6 million barrels per day.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


How to ensure everyone a guaranteed basic income   (Steven Pearlstein March 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Guaranteed-income schemes can take various forms, but in its simplest the government sends every citizen an annual check in an amount sufficient to keep the wolf from the door when misfortune strikes but not large enough to satisfy anyone's idea of a good life. Paying for it would require raising taxes in some fashion that would have the effect of clawing some or all of the money back from most households while hitting up the wealthy for even more. [...]

With the growing affluence generated by the Industrial Revolution, however, came the gradual rise of the welfare state, a safety net woven from myriad programs offering cash and services to anyone who was poor, disabled or involuntarily unemployed. Enforcing such conditionality not only required a large and expensive bureaucracy, but created a perverse incentive for beneficiaries to remain poor and unemployed so as not to lose their benefits. It was the desire to free the poor from this "welfare trap" and eliminate the bureaucratic middlemen that revived interest in a universal guaranteed income in the 1960s and attracted support from across the ideological spectrum.

As free-market champion Friedrich Hayek saw it, guaranteeing everyone a subsistence income was the moral precondition for opposing broader socialist schemes to equalize incomes. For Milton Friedman, it was an opportunity to eliminate expensive layers of government bureaucracy. [...]

Although their goal is utopian, Van Parijs and Vanderborght aim to infuse it with economic and political realism.

They are strongest when framing the guaranteed income as an economic dividend to which all citizens are entitled. In any country, they argue, only a small portion of the income earned in any year is a result of individual work effort, ingenuity and risk-taking. The rest is explained by the natural resources with which that country is endowed, the physical infrastructure, the collective know-how of fellow citizens, the quality of public and private institutions, and the degree of trust that greases the wheels of commerce, politics and everyday life. This "social capital," as the economist Herbert Simon once called it, was developed by many people over many generations and provides a collective inheritance that is now unequally and unfairly apportioned by markets in setting wages and salaries.

"What a basic income does is ensure that everyone receives a fair share of what none of us today did anything for," Van Parijs and Vanderborght write.

Giving some a fairer share, of course, means taking a share away from others, and these Belgian academics certainly don't shy away from the redistributionist nature of their project. In their ideal setup, every adult would get the equivalent of an annual unconditional allowance from the government equal to one-quarter of the country's average personal income (in the United States, that would be about $12,000). Exactly who would win and lose, and by how much, would be depend on the structure of the tax regime used to finance it.

While this give-with-one-hand, take-away-with-the-other quality strikes some as inefficient, it is that structure that allows guaranteed-income plans to avoid the "welfare trap" caused by today's "conditional" welfare programs. But it also makes them a tough sell politically. The sums involved would be enormous. And the ripple effects -- on wages, labor participation and the fate of other social benefits -- make it difficult for many people to imagine how it would all turn out.

The claw back comes in the form of consumption taxes.
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


India's ID system is reshaping ties between state and citizens (The Economist, Apr 12th 2017)

Linking ration cards to an Aadhaar number, and thus to the biometric data tied to it, means a single person cannot have more than one and ghosts can have none. The original pitch to politicians--the scheme was adopted by the previous government, but has been embraced by Narendra Modi, the prime minister--was that Aadhaar would help make welfare more efficient. The potential gains are huge. One official estimate suggests that "leakage" in subsidy payments meant that only 27% of the money ended up in the right hands: not so much a leaky bucket as a sieve.

Over 400,000 ghost children were struck off school rolls in just three states after schools were required to match their pupils to Aadhaar numbers to keep receiving state funds. By weeding out false claims, authorities say they have saved $8bn in two-and-a-half years; the annual central-government budget for subsidies is about $40bn. That may be an exaggeration, and critics say there are other ways to improve the administration of subsidies. But the savings clearly outstrip the roughly $1bn cost of deploying Aadhaar.

Changing the mechanics of how a benefit is received is often just as important as the benefit itself. Development experts like the fact that, at least in theory, a villager can gain access to a subsidy in a distant city. This removes a big barrier to internal migration. A project to purge electoral lists found 800,000 fictitious voters in Punjab, a state of 30m. The authorities suspect that 30% of driving licences are fake, many of them duplicates to help drivers evade bans--a ruse that would be impossible if all licences were linked to Aadhaar.

Indeed, the improvements in accuracy and efficiency are so enormous that the government now wants to use Aadhaar more broadly than originally advertised. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Jackie did it his way ... with courage (Richard Justice, 4/14/12, MLB.com)

Please, let's not sanitize Robinson's story. He indeed was a man of grace and dignity, but the truth is, he was treated like an animal, actually worse than an animal. He was a member of the Dodgers only on the field.

Some of his teammates treated him well, but he was never really one of them. While they stayed in fine hotels and ate great food, Jackie was forced to stay in hotels so hot and filthy that he'd sometimes soak the bed sheets in ice water to cool the room. He ate his meals in the backs of kitchens, often alone, at least until Branch Rickey added Roy Campanella in his second season and Don Newcombe in his third.

To get back to a part of town that accepted him wasn't easy, and Robinson sometimes waited an hour on street corners for a cabbie who would stop for a black man. He was proud and stubborn, and he knew people were counting on him. The editor of a black New York weekly wrote that Robinson "would be haunted by the expectations of his race. ... White America will judge the Negro race by everything he does. And Lord help him with his fellow Negroes if he should fail them."

Robinson loved baseball more than baseball loved him, and he wanted to show the world that a black man could succeed in a white man's league. Nothing has been the same for baseball -- or America -- since April 15, 1947.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Inside Bannon's struggle: From 'shadow president' to Trump's marked man (Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Robert Costa April 12, 2017, Washington Post)

[O]ne Bannon friend, reflecting on them Wednesday, likened Bannon to a terminally ill family member who had been moved into hospice care.

The man not long ago dubbed the "shadow president" -- with singular influence over Trump's agenda and the workings of the federal government -- is struggling to keep his job with his portfolio reduced and his profile damaged, according to interviews Wednesday with 21 of Trump's aides, confidants and allies. [...]

Trump also is increasingly embracing more mainstream policy positions championed by daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and their allies, including ascendant National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, instead of Bannon's brand of combative nationalism. [...]

Trump's three oldest children -- Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric -- and Kushner have been frustrated by the impression of chaos inside the White House and feel that their father has not always been served well by his senior staff, according to people with knowledge of their sentiments. The Trump heirs are interested in any changes that might help resuscitate the presidency and preserve the family's name at a time when they are trying to expand the Trump Organization's portfolio of hotels.

...and replace them with these photos of the Bering Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


How artificial intelligence is revolutionizing healthcare (BEN DICKSON, 4/12/17, Next Web)

One of the most basic yet efficient use cases of artificial intelligence is to optimize the clinical process. Traditionally, when patients feel ill, they go to the doctor, who checks their vital signs, asks questions, and gives a prescription. Now, AI assistants can cover a large part of clinical and outpatient services, freeing up doctors' time to attend to more critical cases.

Your.MD is an AI-powered mobile app that provides basic healthcare. The chatbot asks users about their symptoms and provides easy-to-understand information about their medical conditions. The platform has a vast network of information that links symptoms to causes.

The assistant uses natural language processing and generation to provide a rich and fluid experience, and machine learning algorithms to create a complex map of the user's condition and provide a personalized experience.

Your.MD suggests steps and measures to remedy the illness, including warning users when they need to see a doctor.

UK's National Health Service (NHS) has approved the information Your.MD provides. This means as opposed to self-diagnosis, users don't have to worry about the authenticity and reliability of the guidance they get.

Other health assistants such as Ada integrate their technology with Amazon Alexa to improve the user experience. Ada becomes smarter as it gets familiar with the user's medical history. Aside from generating a detailed symptom assessment report, Ada also provides the option to contact a real doctor.

Babylon Health, another intelligent health companion, complements its assistance by following up with users on past symptoms, and in case the need arises, setting up live video consultation with a general practitioner.

Health assistants save patients a trip to the doctor for more trivial diseases. Also, in areas where doctors and clinics are in short supply, it can save patients hours of waiting in line.

April 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Since 9/11, Far-Right Hate Groups Killed Almost as Many Americans as Radical Islamists (Eric Pianin, April 12, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Since 9/11, almost as many Americans have died at the hands of far-right-wing extremists as have been killed by radical Islamists - 106 and 119, respectively - a new report by the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office shows.

The GAO also said that despite more than $50 million being spent by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2016 to counter the growth of violent extremism in the U.S., there is no mechanism in place to measure whether efforts apart from surveillance and law enforcement have been effective.

Of the 85 violent extremist attacks since Sept. 12, 2001, which resulted in 225 deaths, 62 - or 73 percent - were by far-right groups or individuals, the GAO report says.

While more of the 225 deaths were attributed to radical Islamists, the GAO said that 41 percent of those killings happened in a single incident, the 2016 attack on a club in Orlando. The shootings at the Pulse nightclub left 49 dead and 53 wounded.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


STEVE BANNON IS LOSING TO THE GLOBALISTS (John Cassidy, April 6, 2017, The New Yorker)

The Times story goes on:

Mr. Bannon has also been at odds with Gary Cohn, the president's national-economics adviser. Mr. Cohn is close with Mr. Kushner, who has said privately that he fears that Mr. Bannon plays to the president's worst impulses, according to people with direct knowledge of such discussions.

Moreover, Mr. Bannon's Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing's only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda--and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the "President Bannon" puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.

For students of White House infighting, dynastic regimes, and Trump's mental makeup, there is enough material in those two paragraphs to support several interpretations of what's happening. One is that the Crown Prince, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has had enough of Bannon's right-wing-revolutionary shtick; while Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, never had much sympathy for it to begin with. And Papa Don has never have gotten over the February 13th cover of Time magazine, which featured a close-up shot of Bannon and the headline "The Great Manipulator."

Other readings could be offered, of course, and some of them may be more accurate. But the real import of Bannon's departure from the N.S.C. goes beyond personalities and palace intrigue. It confirms a trend we've seen developing for weeks now: the Trump Administration's globalists, such as Kushner and Cohn, are growing in influence, while the nationalists--led by Bannon--are on the defensive.

...but for Jews to be doing the crushing--playing into every conspiracy theory these guys believe in--is especially satisfying.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Trump won't rule out second Yellen term, signaling drift to the mainstream (Howard Schneider, 4/12/17, Reuters)

President Donald Trump signaled on Wednesday he could be moving closer to the mainstream on monetary policy, saying he had not ruled out reappointment of Janet Yellen to a new four-year term as Fed chair as he considers his choices for the central bank.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Ahmadinejad to run in Iran presidential election, defying Ayatollah's orders (Deutsche-Welle, 4/12/17)

Election officials in Tehran appeared stunned on Wednesday as Iran's former firebrand president submitted the necessary paperwork to run as a candidate in next month's presidential election.

Anything that splits the Right further is good for our ally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Tillerson: 'The Reign of the Assad Family Is Coming to an End' (Charles Fain Lehman, April 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear on Wednesday that the United States will not support the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Tillerson's comments came after meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Tillerson and Lavrov said in a joint press conference that Syria was a major subject in their discussions.

"Clearly, our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," Tillerson said. "And they have again brought this on themselves with their conduct of the war these past few years."

In fairness, he was pushing on an open door in Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


It Ain't Easy Getting a FISA Warrant: I Was an FBI Agent and Should Know (Asha Rangappa, March 6, 2017, Justsecurity)

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.

What does this look like in practice?  Well, say, hypothetically, that a group of U.S. persons seem to have not infrequent contact with diplomats known to be Russian spies, whom the FBI are already monitoring.  (Pro-tip: While it's possible that such contacts could be accidental - I mean, hypothetically, the Trump inner circle could be a riot to hang out with socially - spies, particularly Russian ones, are pretty good at what they do and don't spend time with people unless there's a good reason.) The FBI might determine that, if the U.S. persons have access to classified information or could otherwise be "developed" for intelligence purposes by a foreign spy service, a significant enough threat exists to open an investigation - this would require at least one layer of approval within the FBI, and possibly more if the investigation concerns high-profile individuals.

The case still wouldn't be FISA bound. FISA warrant investigations can't be opened "solely on the basis of First Amendment activities," so mere fraternization, even with sketchy people, wouldn't be enough.  The FBI would have to gather evidence to support a the claim that the U.S. target was knowingly working on behalf of a foreign entity. This could include information gathered from other methods like human sources, physical surveillance, bank transactions or even documents found in the target's trash.  This takes some time, and, when enough evidence had been accumulated, would be outlined in an affidavit and application stating the grounds for the FISA warrant. The completed FISA application would go up for approval through the FBI chain of command, including a Supervisor, the Chief Division Counsel (the highest lawyer within that FBI field office), and finally, the Special Agent in Charge of the field office, before making its way to FBI Headquarters to get approval by (at least) the Unit-level Supervisor there. If you're exhausted already, hang on: There's more.

The FISA application then travels to the Justice Department where attorneys from the National Security Division comb through the application to verify all the assertions made in it. Known as "Woods procedures" after Michael J. Woods, the FBI Special Agent attorney who developed this layer of approval, DOJ verifies the accuracy of every fact stated in the application. If anything looks unsubstantiated, the application is sent back to the FBI to provide additional evidentiary support - this game of bureaucratic chutes and ladders continues until DOJ is satisfied that the facts in the FISA application can both be corroborated and meet the legal standards for the court.  After getting sign-off from a senior DOJ official (finally!), a lawyer from DOJ takes the FISA application before the FISC, comprised of eleven federal district judges who sit on the court on a rotating basis. The FISC reviews the application in secret, and decides whether to approve the warrant.

Now, it's true that since its inception in 1978, the FISC has approved the vast majority of the over 25,000 FISA applications it has reviewed - some estimates put the number at over 99 percent. But that's not surprising given the extensive process described above. In fact, if some reports are true that the initial FISA applications submitted to the FISC were rejected, prompting the FBI and DOJ to change its targets to the Russian banks doing business with Trump associates rather than the associates themselves (which would only require showing probable cause that the banks are a "foreign power," which by definition they are), then a FISA application for Trump Tower, if one exists, would have been subject to even more scrutiny than would normally be the case.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Wal-Mart to Discount One Million Online Items Picked Up in Stores (Matthew Boyle, April 12, 2017, Bloomberg)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will offer discounts on more than a million online-only items that customers then pick up at stores, part of an effort by the world's largest retailer to challenge Amazon.com Inc.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


New Front In White House Civil War as Kushner Asserts Authority at NSC (Adam Kredo, April 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner is leading an unprecedented effort to meddle in the White House's National Security Council, causing mayhem for senior staff who say the president's son-in-law is interfering in key foreign policy debates, according to Trump administration officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

Kushner has taken aggressive action to micro-manage the NSC, overshadowing even recently installed National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, according to sources both inside and outside the White House who described Kushner's behavior as highly unusual and damaging to the country's national security infrastructure.

Never before has a White House permitted such a figure to intervene in the NSC...

At least not since last week.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Kellyanne Conway is upset about people going on TV and saying things 'that just aren't true' (Becca Stanek, 4/12/17, The week)
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway unintentionally had the crowd cracking up during her interview Wednesday with journalist Michael Wolff at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Conway, who defended demonstrably false claims about President Trump's inauguration crowd size as "alternative facts" during a television interview, aired her grievances Wednesday about the dishonesty she claimed runs rampant in the media. "You can turn on the TV -- more than you can read in the paper because I assume editors are still doing their jobs in most places -- and people literally say things that just aren't true," Conway said. When the audience laughed out loud, Conway responded with a smile and a nod.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Trump's budget director on what's on, and off, the table for cuts (John Harwood, 4/12/17, CNBC.com)

HARWOOD: He over and over went to West Virginia, went to rural parts of Kentucky and Ohio, said, "I'm going to take care of you guys." He didn't say, "I'm going to get rid of the Appalachian Regional Commission."

MULVANEY: Yeah, and my guess is he probably didn't know what the Appalachian Regional Commission did.  [...]

HARWOOD: And what about the goal of eliminating the debt, which President Trump at one point said he would do at the end of his second term?

MULVANEY: It's fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Donald Trump's Unexamined Life (Steven Nadler, APR 12, 2017, Project Syndicate)

[A]  central lesson from the Euthyphro is that there are two types of ignorance: ignorance of whether an action is right or wrong; and ignorance of what one does and does not know about right and wrong.

This latter form of unawareness - ignorance of one's own ignorance - is Trump's most troubling characteristic. Many of Trump's specific policy proposals are worrisome enough in themselves; but they are even more worrisome in light of what he has said (viva voce and via Twitter) about a host of domestic and international issues.

Trump has revealed a profound lack of understanding of complex policy matters: national security, foreign affairs, immigration, taxation, economic inequality, health care, education, the environment, trade, abortion, religious rights, free expression, and much else. Not surprisingly, his administration's approach to most of these issues so far has been just plain wrong - even impious.

Like Euthyphro, Trump does not just think that he knows what he knows, and that what he knows is sufficient for sound decision-making; he is absolutely sure of it. This self-assuredness suggests that he has rarely, if ever, stopped to consider what he does not know. He seems to be incapable of engaging in the kind of introspective reflection that would reveal gaps in his own understanding - the first step toward expanding one's knowledge of an issue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The Syrian Airstrike & Sovereign Responsiblity (Marc LiVecche, April 12, 2017, Providence)

On the question of the strike's legality, I admit to an initial, immediate, and rather spontaneous response--a bit like a gag reflex--at Christian carping over whether punishing someone for gassing children is on the legal up-and-up. My native, knee-jerk response is, frankly, I don't care. This is an admittedly insufficient. Laws ought to be followed. But, of course, this begs the question. History is full of examples when what is lawful ought not, in fact, to be followed--the racial laws of Nazis Germany and apartheid South Africa spring to mind. This is to stress that when the moral and the legal conflict, one sticks with the moral.  [...]

But on the point of this being the first attack against Bashar al-Assad, we need to linger. There are those who focus their ire on the bare fact of US government intervention into the affairs of another sovereign state. This objection emerges from a very particular, and to the Christian mind inadequate, view of sovereignty. As James Turner Johnson notes in his Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives, following the Peace of Westphalia of 1648--that set of international agreements that brought the Thirty Years' War to an end and upon which is built the notion of the modern state--the idea of sovereignty has been firmly linked to the state and the international system based on states. While an oversimplification, two essential characteristics of such an understanding of sovereignty include, first, the possession of an independent territory over which one rules, and for which, second, the ruler therefore enjoys the right of defense. Territorial integrity, then, is the primary concern.  For the Christian this won't do--nor, really, has it ever done.

Sovereignty involves something more than simply running a country--and regardless of whether the ruler is running it well or into the ground. What's missing is the classic just war tradition's emphasis on sovereignty as responsibility for the common good--for the care of the political community over which there is no one greater charged with the cultivation and defense of basic civic peace characterized by justice and order. Sovereignty is not a cover under which individuals or regimes can brutalize their own people with impunity. The Christian tradition provides the means by which we can judge good government from bad and to encourage the former and critique--and resist--the latter. judge It is a perverse view of sovereignty that grants legitimacy to one such as Bashar al-Assad.

It's a couple centuries too late to quibble over Westphalian legality.  The reality is that, for the English-Speaking world in particular, every claim of sovereignty requires that the government be consensual and even that may be insufficient if we determine that the elected government does not vindicate its citizens' God-given rights.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page (Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous April 11, 2017, Washington Post)

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page's communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. 

Whitewater! Rose Law Firm! Susan Rice! Tea Pot Dome!

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Tillerson Asks Why U.S. Taxpayers Should Care About Ukraine (Nick Wadhams  and John Follain, April 11, 2017, Bloomberg)

With one offhand remark, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left European diplomats befuddled at a gathering in Italy.

"Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?" Tillerson asked foreign ministers discussing Russia's intervention there at a Group of Seven gathering Tuesday in Lucca, Italy.

One is not American because one pays taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


For Putin, Syria has gone from being an asset to a dangerous liability (Owen Matthews, 15 April 2017, The Spectator)

Assad was not the only one to be surprised (or rather, not entirely surprised -- the US gave the Russians 90 minutes warning under an early-warning protocol established four years ago, and the Russian general staff apparently alerted the Syrians immediately). The Kremlin was shocked too. Russia's political elite had convinced itself that Trump's election would bring in a golden new era of non-intervention. 'An America that minds its own business is an America that suits us,' State Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told me after Trump's inauguration. Some Russian politicians fantasised that Trump and Putin would strike some kind of grand bargain that would leave Moscow a free hand in Ukraine and its near abroad in exchange for Putin's support in Syria and Iran.

But with Trump's bombing of a regime airbase this week, Syria suddenly went from being an asset to Russia to being a dangerous liability. Instead of being a diplomatic multipurpose tool, the fallout from Trump's Syria raid now threatens a series of Russian vital interests. First, America and Britain are talking about renewed and broader sanctions as punishment for Moscow's support for Assad -- just as the Kremlin was hoping to fracture Europe's unanimity on renewing its set of Crimea-related sanctions. Second, the raid signalled a breakdown in a new relationship with Trump on which Putin had -- and perhaps still has -- put high hopes.

And most devastatingly of all for Russia, the cruise missiles that streaked into the sky last week served as a kind of salute to a quiet palace coup inside the White House. The isolationist Steve Bannon -- an admirer of Putin's style of muscular conservatism and -follower of the Kremlin-favoured Eurasian philo-sopher Alexander Dugin -- was ousted from the National Security Council, while many of Trump's new intelligence chiefs and generals are notably hawkish on Russia. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who ran the Russia portfolio at the US oil giant Exxon before becoming its chief executive and has a close personal relationship with Putin's ally Igor Sechin, was vocal in his criticism of Moscow's support for Assad at the G7 meeting. In short, Trump's team has turned out to be anything but pro-Kremlin -- and with allegations of Russian electoral interference swirling, Russia has become politically toxic in Washington.

Putin doesn't really care about Assad; Russia has no vital interests there. The so-called 'Russian naval base' at Tartus is in reality a 300-yard-long strip of shallow quayside with a fuelling station and a garrison of 30. Rather, Syria is important to the Kremlin as a symbol, the place where Putin drew his own red line and where he finally stood up to the world.

It would have been bad enough for Russia had our luring them in just gotten them nothing; much worse, they fought the Salafi for us and made themselves the target going forward.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Iraq's Shiite clerics show no love for Assad (Ali Mamouri, April 11, 2017, Al Monitor)

In fact, Sadr's stance on the Syrian regime is not new, as other clerics have criticized the Syrian regime for its atrocities against its own people. They have also criticized Shiite militias for backing Assad in the fight against the Syrian opposition.

After the popular uprising against Assad when it broke out in March 2011, Sadr expressed his support in a November statement. Despite accusations that the Sadrist Movement, which is highly influential among Iraqi Shiites, was taking part in the Syrian conflict, he has denied any involvement by members of his party. He has also voiced his disapproval of other Shiite militias going to Syria to fight for Assad.

Sadr has expelled a number of fighters from his armed factions for having fought in Syria. Most recently, Sa'ad Swar, a former leader in Jaish al-Mahdi, announced his defection and formed Jaish al-Mou'mal in 2016 to fight in Syria and Iraq. Iran has used the defections as leverage to persuade more members to leave the Sadrist Movement in an attempt to weaken the party, especially after Sadr had voiced opposition to Iran's regional policy. Many factions have split from the Sadrist Movement, including Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the former Hezbollah al-Nujaba.

Many prominent Najaf clerics have never supported the Syrian regime, with some even forbidding their followers to fight in Syria. Four prominent Najaf clergymen -- Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Sheikh Ishaq al-Fayyad, Seyed Mohammad Sa'id al-Hakim and Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi -- were quoted by Asharq Alawsat as adopting a unified stance in 2013: "Individuals who go to Syria for jihad are disobeying the commands of religious authorities." In Qom, no prominent clerics have issued fatwas in support of sending Shiite fighters to Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Iranian conservative coalition at risk of collapse (Rohollah Faghihi, April 11, 2017, Al Monitor)

Many figures among conservative and hard-liners are in favor of Raisi and are urging other candidates to stand aside in support of him. Prior to his appointment as custodian of the Imam Reza shrine, Raisi held a series of senior positions in the judiciary over the past three decades. However, it seems that some of his fellow conservative candidates aren't eager to leave the competition. For instance, Mostafa Mirsalim, a former minister of culture during the 1989-1997 presidency of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a member of the Islamic Coalition Party, registered to run in the elections on April 11 and announced that he is not in agreement with JAMNA and will stay in the game. And on April 9, Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a senior member of the Islamic Coalition Party, said that if no consensus is achieved within JAMNA, Mirsalim will not stand aside.

Of note, the conservatives are worried about a repeat of the 2013 presidential elections, which saw Rouhani elected with the backing of the Reformists, and where the conservative camp was hit by disagreements that saw multiple conservative contenders being fielded rather than a single consensus nominee.

At present, the conservatives have started efforts to portray Raisi as the one who has the greatest chance of winning the election. Meanwhile, reports of the appointment of members of the hard-line Endurance Front to key positions in Raisi's campaign have led to speculations that his chances of winning are decreasing.

The Endurance Front, with Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi as its spiritual head, is known for its hard-line views. The faction does not enjoy broad popular support among supporters, as Mesbah Yazdi does not see many conservatives as genuinely conservative and revolutionary. The representative of Mesbah Yazdi in the 2013 elections was Saeed Jalili, the former head of Iran's nuclear negotiation team, who only obtained 4 million votes against Rouhani, who got 19 million. In keeping with the Endurance Front strategy, Raisi also declared that he has entered the race as an independent. Local media, meanwhile, have quoted Mesbah Yazdi as telling Raisi not to join JAMNA.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Trump just made some very strange comments about Stephen K. Bannon (Aaron Blake April 11, 2017, Washington Post)

In a brief exchange with the New York Post's Michael Goodwin on Tuesday, Trump seemed to deliberately place Bannon at arm's length, suggesting that his role as an adviser has been oversold and even appearing to threaten Bannon's job.

Goodwin says he asked Trump if he still has confidence in Bannon, who is reportedly feuding with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. And Trump didn't exactly disabuse Goodwin of the idea that Bannon is embattled. In fact, he did quite the opposite.

"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist, and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary."

Ouch. Bannon joined the campaign in August for the lion's share of the general election, taking on the role of campaign CEO. He and Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager, were the titular heads of the campaign. Trump then kept Bannon on as his chief political adviser in the White House, serving alongside chief of staff Reince Priebus.

In his comments to Goodwin, Trump also nodded to the tensions that exist in the White House and appeared to place the onus on Bannon to make things right -- or else.

"Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will," Trump said.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


CNN Exclusive: Classified docs contradict Nunes surveillance claims, GOP and Dem sources say (Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Eric Bradner, 4/11/17, CNN)

After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN.

And all it cost was his credibility.

April 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


How Russia Became the Jihadists' No. 1 Target (Colin P. Clarke, 4/11/17, Rand)

It's still too soon to say who is responsible for the bombing of the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia--but it wouldn't be surprising if international terrorists were responsible. Russia is fast replacing the United States as the No. 1 enemy of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups motivated by violent and puritanical Salafist ideology.

This shift is rooted in recent Russian actions in the Middle East--including its escalating intervention in Syria and its moves toward intervention in Libya with the recent deployment of special forces to an air base in Egypt--that have drawn the ire of militant Sunnis worldwide and elevated Russia as the jihadists' top target. And if the Islamic State's "caliphate" in Syria collapses and foreign fighters, an estimated 2,400 of whom are from Russia, attempt to return home and fix their sights on the Kremlin, the situation could dramatically worsen for Moscow.

Terrorist groups have made their changing priorities clear. In an ISIS video titled "Soon Very Soon Blood Will Spill Like an Ocean," an ISIS fighter threatens Russian leader Vladimir Putin directly, citing the country's intervention in Syria and its growing alliance with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Iran and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah as proof that Moscow is the chief proponent of a growing Shiite axis throughout the Middle East. Forty other Syrian rebel groups have concurred, pointedly saying that "any occupation force to our beloved country is a legitimate target."

Russia has been the primary force propping up the Assad regime, which has waged a bloody six-year war against anti-government insurgents, most of whom are Sunnis. The political and military alliance between Russia and Iran is also deepening as the countries work together to help Assad reclaim pockets of territory from rebels. Russian Special Forces and warplanes have served as a force multiplier for Hezbollah fighters who have bloodied Sunni militants in battle, most recently in Palmyra.

Whether he meant it all to go exactly the way it did or not, President Obama had a very good WoT.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Why Assad used chemical weapons (Mohamad Bazzi, 4/11/17, Reuters)

The answer lies in Assad's refusal to compromise or offer any significant concessions since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, and later morphed into a civil war. Assad overplayed his hand this time, after being emboldened by recent statements from White House officials that it was time for Western powers to accept the "political reality" of Assad's continued dominance. Assad likely decided to test those boundaries, not expecting Trump to respond militarily because the U.S. president has made it clear that he sees fighting Islamic State as his highest priority in Syria and Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Actually, Sean Spicer, Nazis Were the Masters of Poison Gas (Joe Simonson, April 11, 2017, Heat Street)

White House Press Secretary and noted buffoon Sean Spicer really fell into a swimming pool of pig shit this afternoon when remarking on Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons.

"Someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't sink to the level of using chemical weapons [in World War II]." Spicer vomited out.

But don't worry, he tried clarifying his comments by saying Hitler "was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing" and that Hitler instead brought Jews to  "the Holocaust center." According to Spicer, Hitler didn't use chemical weapons "in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought -- so the use of it."

Here's a quick history lesson: German scientists at the Nazi-linked chemical and pharmaceutical company IG Farben actually developed the notorious chemical weapon Sarin -- the same weapon Assad likely used in his recent attack on innocent civilians.  In fact, the highly lethal nerve agent is named after the last names of the scientists who discovered it: Schrader, Ambros, Ritter, and von der Linde.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Carbon Taxes and U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness Concerns (Stefan Koester and Gilbert E. Metcalf,·April 11, 2017, Econofact)

The Facts:

Economists widely agree that carbon pricing is the most efficient and least costly way to reduce U.S. emissions. Based on a 2016 U.S. Department of Treasury analysis, if the U.S. were to implement an economy-wide carbon tax starting at $49 a ton in 2019, we could reduce carbon emission by 21 percent by 2028 and raise over $2.2 trillion in revenue over the next ten years.

The macroeconomic trade effects of a unilateral carbon tax on employment, investment, and competitiveness for large, diverse economies like the U.S. would be small (see for instance these studies: 1,2,3). However, certain sectors would likely suffer, and in order to gain broad, bipartisan support, any carbon tax proposal would likely need to include a carbon border tax.

Border carbon adjustments (BCAs) are taxes on energy intensive imports and rebates on the carbon tax paid on energy intensive exports. These carbon adjustments mean that carbon emissions are taxed based on where the goods are consumed rather than where they are produced. Border tax adjustments level the playing field between U.S. firms in energy-intensive, trade-exposed sectors and competitors from countries that don't have a carbon price in place.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Republican voters have flip-flopped on airstrikes in Syria (Shane Savitsky, 4/11/17, Axios)

A new Washington Post-ABC poll on President Trump's missile strike in Syria has an interesting partisan breakdown when compared to hypothetical support for strikes by President Obama in 2013:

Democratic support: 38% support in 2013, 37% support in 2017

Republican support: 22% support in 2013, 86% support in 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Poll: Top Ten Most Popular Governors Are All Republican (Joe Simonson, April 11, 2017, Heat Street)

According to a Morning Consult poll of more than 85,000 registered voters across the United States, Republican governors get the most thumbs up by their residents -- and it's not even close.

Toping off the list is Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who boasts a 75 percent approval rating, with only 17 percent disapproving of his job performance. Closely behind Baker is Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.  Of the top five most popular governors, three are Republicans in solid blue states.

With Jeb or Kasich at the top of the ticket the GOP would have saved a number of seats.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Ruth Bader Ginsburg Calls Lindsey Graham One of the 'Women of the Senate' (Cameron Cawthorne, April 11, 2017, Free Beacon)

"Let's hope members of Congress, the members that Allegheny College has already honored-Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. John McCain, [and] the women of the Senate, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham-let's hope that they, and others of good will, will lead in restoring harmonious work ways," Ginsburg said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


The White House had to be reminded on Twitter to order eggs for the Easter Egg Roll (Becca Stanek, 4/11/17, The Week)

 While the event is still on for Monday, The New York Times reported Tuesday that it will be far smaller and less extravagant than it's been in years past.

The White House was so late on announcing the roll that it nearly missed the manufacturing deadline for the commemorative eggs, prompting the company that supplies the eggs to send a reminder to Trump and the first lady via Twitter...

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Russia Says Two Of Its Soldiers Killed By Mortar Fire In Syria (Radio Liberty, 4/11/17)

Russia's Defense Ministry said on April 11 that two of its soldiers had been killed in a mortar attack in Syria while a third was seriously wounded, Russian news agencies reported.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


OF POLITICAL CULTURE IN THE WEST (Pierre Manent, May 2017, First Things)

Brutus is not inclined to tyranny. He is in fact a good republican and would never become another Caesar. And yet, what is to be done with his superiority, which brings him Caesar's esteem as well as the trust of the republican conspirators? He does not lay down his superiority, since he exercises his influence over Cassius without the least reticence, but wraps it in an exclusive concern for "the common," in which every person's position, beginning with his own, becomes invisible. He is the most virtuous of Romans, but also the least self-knowing, or the one who knows least what he is doing. He does not manage to discern or produce action or conduct to match his capacities and deserts under the conditions determined by Caesar's exorbitant power. He can neither ally himself with Caesar, nor prepare himself to succeed him, nor kill him in a useful way.

This political and moral analysis runs counter to the mimetic interpretation of the tragedy proposed by René Girard. The core of Girard's thesis, and for me the stumbling block, is the characterization of Cassius as the "mediator of hate." I find the expression abstract, that is, apolitical. It neglects or rather dismisses the concrete reality of the action. Cassius is first of all the one who begins. He takes the initiative, pushed by no one, but he pushes all the others. Girard discerns well that Cassius is the "true father" of the conspiracy, the arch-actor who must persuade the other potential actors to join him. That he is particularly envious of Caesar is a secondary factor in comparison to the fact that Cassius initiates the action. This matters politically. The term "hate," employed by Girard, is otherwise perfectly adequate. There is no doubt that Cassius hates Caesar. But the word "hate" is so imprecise!

Unless we think that all hatreds are alike, that all hate is the same sin--and this may indeed be Girard's view--we will be led to distinguish between hatreds, and the qualities that hatred can take on. I will go so far as to say that there are noble and base hatreds. A very honorable political and moral tradition, one, I must emphasize, that is Christian as well as pagan, holds that hatred for the tyrant is a noble hatred, and that it belongs to the virtue of the good citizen. We might make all we can of the role of personal resentment in Cassius's hatred (which in any case he does not let us ignore). We can say that Caesar's tyrannical character is a matter of debate. But we cannot entirely pass over the meaning the actors give to their action or overlook the fact that the person who is the object of hatred is considered to be a tyrant by some of the most competent and honorable citizens. If we neglect this fact, we will be obliged to say, or at least to think, that hatred has settled on Caesar by chance.

It is a mistake to confuse the crystallization of the conspiracy with the contagion of hatred. Hatred is not contagious like an infectious disease. Cassius, moreover, does not awaken the hatred of the conspirators, who, with the exception of Brutus, already hate Caesar; he convinces them to act according to their hatred, which is something different, and which requires something besides hatred. In any case, Brutus, who will take the lead in the conspiracy, does not hate and will never hate Caesar. It is impossible to say why Brutus decides to participate in the action. One thing alone is clear: As tormented as he is before the decision, he is no less implacably resolute once it is taken. As I have emphasized, it is Brutus who knows himself the least. He is perfectly aware that the reason he cannot sleep is that Cassius "did whet" him "against Caesar." But he was troubled long before Cassius's devices. Again, Cassius does not awaken Brutus's hatred for Caesar, but sets off the desire to participate in the plot. How?

According to Cassius (an excellent observer of men and their actions by Caesar's own testimony), what is important for Brutus is the high opinion of him in Rome, the greatness of his name. Cassius holds a mirror up to Brutus: He must see himself as Rome sees him. His name fills Rome as much as Caesar's does. His name fills Rome, and Rome fills his soul. Caesar no longer really exists. So Brutus, like a logician who cannot be stopped, will soon distinguish the real Caesar that he continues to love from the possible Caesar that he is resolved to kill. One clarifies nothing by making Caesar, in Girard's words, "an insurmountable obstacle, the skandalon of mimetic rivalry." This leaves out the third term, which is Rome, the common or shared thing, the res publica. Rome comes between Brutus and his friends. Brutus loves Cassius but despises him because he is too human. He loves Caesar still more, but he kills him because he might become inhuman. He wants to have no moral relation except with what he calls the "general." The mechanism singled out by the mimetic theory is not at work here. The opposite is the case. Membership in the republic implies an enlargement that links the individual to the "common," and in republican form there is an unequal enlargement of souls that nourishes in some a legitimate and dangerous pride. The great citizen is not only greater or smaller than another great citizen. He is also greater than himself, for he has another body and another soul, that of Rome. This enlargement is bearable or controllable only when everyone acts under the view of the shared, of the republic, and with respect for its laws and institutions, as difficult as this may be, as the example of Coriolanus attests.

Caesar's disproportionate ascent, so well diagnosed by Cassius, has rendered this mediation of greatness by the common impossible. Since the real and effective shared has withered, Brutus allows himself to be carried away by an imagined universal in whose name he sacrifices a Caesar he himself has declared to be imaginary. His hand does not tremble, because, rather than carrying out a terrible action, he is presiding over a rite of his own invention.

The republic is the regime that allows and encourages the most action. This can be seen in Rome, and we see it in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a "republic disguised under the form of monarchy," as Montesquieu put it. We see it in America's founding, an extraordinary founding, and we see it in France in the great movement of '89, especially if this movement is understood to include, as it ought, the adventure of the empire.

Today we expect from a republic the opposite of a republic. We demand from it the least possible action, or what we call "freedom." For us, freedom is a world without commandment or obedience. 

A republic does not exist to vindicate freedom but to thwart it in favor of liberty, which is why Left and Right both oppose it. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


The link between English and economics (Christopher McCormick, 11 Apr 2017, World Economic Forum)

Research shows a direct correlation between the English skills of a population and the economic performance of the country. Indicators like gross national income (GNI) and GDP go up. In our latest edition of the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), the largest ranking of English skills by country, we found that in almost every one of the 60 countries and territories surveyed, a rise in English proficiency was connected with a rise in per capita income. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Why the Trump administration has so many vacancies (NANCY COOK, JOSH DAWSEY and ANDREW RESTUCCIA,  04/10/17, Politico)

The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the president and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists.

Trump personally oversees the hiring process for agency staff by insisting on combing through a binder full of names each week and likes to sign off on each one, according to two people with knowledge of the administration's hiring process. Also weighing in on the names -- and not always agreeing on final picks -- are leaders of sometimes warring factions, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon, Cabinet secretaries and, sometimes, the White House's top lawyer, Don McGahn.

"It's like a medieval court," said one person advising potential nominees through the confirmation process. "The White House meets once a week to go over personnel in some attempt to create uniformity, but in this White House, you just have to smile at that. ... It's hard to impose uniformity among the White House's different coalitions."

The only uniformity is that potential hires must show fealty to the president. One person close to the White House said a sense of "paranoia" has taken over amid fears that disloyal hires might undercut Trump's agenda or leak to the press.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Boeing to save up to $3 million per plane by 3D-printing parts for 787 Dreamliner (REUTERS, APRIL 11, 2017)

Boeing Co hired Norsk Titanium AS to print the first structural titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner, a shift that the Norwegian 3-D printing company said would eventually shave $2 million to $3 million off the cost of each plane.

The contract announced on Monday is a major step in Boeing's effort to boost the profitability of the 787 and a sign of growing industrial acceptance of the durability of 3-D printed metal parts, allowing them to replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing in demanding aerospace applications.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


5 Ways Capitalist Chile is Much Better Than Socialist Venezuela (Marian L. Tupy, 5/24/16, Human Progress)

The story of Chile's success starts in the mid-1970s, when Chile's military government abandoned socialism and started to implement economic reforms. In 2013, Chile was the world's 10th freest economy. Venezuela, in the meantime, declined from being the world's 10th freest economy in 1975 to being the world's least free economy in 2013 (Human Progress does not have data for the notoriously unfree North Korea).

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Sorry America, Your Taxes Aren't High (Ben Steverman, April 11, 2017, Bloomberg)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development analyzed how 35 countries tax wage-earners, making it possible to compare tax burdens across the world's biggest economies. Each year, the OECD measures what it calls the "tax wedge," the gap between what a worker gets paid and what they actually spend or save. Included are income taxes, payroll taxes, and any tax credits or rebates that supplement worker income. Excluded are the countless other ways that governments levy taxes, such as sales and value-added taxes, property taxes, and taxes on investment income and gains.

Guess who came out at the top of the list? No. Not the U.S. At the top are Belgium and France, while workers in Chile and New Zealand are taxed the least. America is in the bottom third.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Saudi Arabia Opens Books for 5-Year, 10-Year Debut Islamic Bonds (Archana Narayanan, April 11, 2017, Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia opened books for its first dollar-denominated Islamic bond, people familiar with the matter said, as the country seeks to plug a budget deficit caused by a collapse in oil prices.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Three reasons for optimism in Somalia (Eleanor Zeff, 4/10/17, The Conversation)

There are four major and many minor Somali clans, each with its own traditions and territories. Clan divisions have had a significant impact on Somalia's status as a fragile state.

By 2012, and with help from the U.N., the clans agreed to a power sharing formula to allocate parliamentary seats. The agreement helped the clan elders come together and led to the first formal parliament in 20 years.

Elections followed, but cautiously. The 2016 parliamentary elections and the 2017 presidential elections built on the formula created in 2012, but with more delegates participating to elect the parliament. To avoid violence from the clans or Al Shabab contingents, the vote for president was limited to members of the upper and lower houses of parliament, the members of which were chosen by the clans. They cast ballots at a heavily guarded air force base in Mogadishu.

Citizen response to the election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was enthusiastic. He took office on Feb. 8, 2017, in a smooth transition from the former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. He declared an era of unity. Farmajo's experience of living in the United States - he holds dual citizenship and graduated from SUNY, Buffalo - and remittances from the Somali diaspora may help the economy grow and democratic values take hold.

The new president is representative of the almost two million Somalis who left the country, many between 1990 and 2015, and the significant number who have returned from abroad. Somalia is home again to many former refugees to the U.S., Canada and Europe who have dual citizenship and good educations. Many of these returnees have shown an interest in politics.

Indeed, one-third of the elected candidates in the 2016 parliamentary election hold foreign passports. Out of the 275 members of the Somali parliament, 22 are Somali-Americans and 29 are British Somalis. The 48-year-old prime minister, a former senior official in the Soma Oil and Gas exploration company, is a dual Somali-Norwegian citizen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Trump a no-show at White House Seder (Eric Cortellessa, 4/11/17, Times of Israel)

The White House hosted a Passover Seder Monday night -- continuing a tradition started in 2009 by then-president Barack Obama -- but US President Donald Trump did not attend.

In unusual omission, no Trump-Pope meeting planned during Italy G7 (Philip Pullella, 4/11/17, Reuters)


U.S. President Donald Trump has not asked to meet Pope Francis during his visit to Italy next month for the Group of Seven summit, sources said on Tuesday, in what would be a highly unusual omission.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Grains piled on runways, parking lots, fields amid global glut (P.J. Huffstutter and Karl Plume, 4/11/17, Reuters)

World stockpiles of corn and wheat are at record highs. From Iowa to China, years of bumper crops and low prices have overwhelmed storage capacity for basic foodstuffs.

Global stocks of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans combined will hit a record 671.1 million tonnes going into the next harvest - the third straight year of historically high surplus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That's enough to cover demand from China for about a year.

In the United States, farmers facing a fourth straight year of declining incomes and rising debts are hanging on to grain in the hope of higher prices later. They may be waiting a long time: Market fundamentals appear to be weakening as the world's top grain producers ponder what to do with so much food.

It's impossible to overstate deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


4 surprisingly good tax reforms that Trump is considering (Jeff Spross, April 11, 2017, The Week)

Here are four of the best ones that the Trump administration is reportedly considering:

1. Eliminate the payroll tax. This is the tax that's ostensibly dedicated to Social Security. Every employee in the country pays a 6.2 percent tax rate directly, and then their employer pays an additional 6.2 percent rate on what they pay the employee. [...]

2. A border adjustment tax. This is an idea that's been pushed by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.): Introduce a new deduction into the corporate tax code that allows U.S. companies to deduct the costs of the goods they export, while they still have to pay a tax on the goods they import. It's estimated to raise $1 trillion in revenue over a decade. And it would grant a tax advantage to all economic activity that shrinks the U.S. trade deficit rather than widens it. [...]

3. A carbon tax. This would be a tax penalty levied on all energy sources that produce CO2, in an effort to discourage carbon emissions and encourage clean energy use. The Trump administration is infamous for scoffing at climate concerns, so this might seem like the last thing they'd pursue. And indeed, after reports surfaced that they were looking into a carbon tax, a White House spokesperson denied it was "under consideration."

But a carbon tax would make a certain amount of sense. Among business-friendly types who admit climate change is a problem, the carbon tax is seen as a vastly more market friendly solution than the regulations the Obama administration was pursuing. Gary Cohn, head of Trump's National Economic Council and a former president of Goldman Sachs, is a fan of the idea. It's Stephen Bannon, the reactionary nationalist on Trump's team, who opposes it -- and Bannon's star is reportedly waning.

So a carbon tax could be a politically useful way to find some revenue, possibly bring Democrats on board, and make Trump's approach to climate change look less appalling.

We should be taxed for consuming, not for earning or saving/investing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Professor teaches Twitter course on St Augustine's 'City of God'  (Kelly Seegers, 10 Apr 2017, Catholic Herald)
Students in professor Chad Pecknold's newest class come from Canada, Uruguay, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and all across the United States, but two things unite them all - a printed copy of St Augustine's "City of God" and their Twitter accounts.

Pecknold teaches a doctoral seminar on what is one of the saint's greatest theological works at The Catholic University of America in Washington. On a whim, he decided at the beginning of this semester to post the seminar reading schedule on his personal Twitter account, and invite people to read along and have an occasional discussion.

Expecting about a dozen people to respond, Pecknold was shocked to find thousands of people showed interest in doing this online study of Augustine.

About 120,000 people viewed his invitation shortly after he posted it; more than 2,000 committed to buying the book and reading along. Pecknold had to quickly figure out how to accommodate such a large volume of people, and decided to dedicate a two-hour period on Thursday evenings to the study of "City of God."

During his first class on January 12, Pecknold sat down with several different translations of the book, which had all of his handwritten marginal notes from about a decade of teaching the text. He tweeted out his commentary on book one through the Twitter app on his iPhone, and since Book 1 is 33 chapters, he wrote about 150 tweets in two hours. [...]

Following the surprising number of responses that he received for the course, Pecknold said he started to wonder, "Why this? Why now? Why the response?"

"My sense is it benefits from coming off of a bruising election in which people feel the political order is shaky, however you think that shakiness manifests itself," Pecknold said. "And when people feel that the structures are shaky, they intuitively want to go down to the foundations to see what is there."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Luther's Children : review of Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World by Alec Ryrie  (Hamilton Cain, April 10, 2017, Barnes & Noble Review)

The baptism of the spirit, the sacrament of Communion, the strife between modernity and orthodoxy -- these bones of contention have hammered together a broader Protestant identity even as it's splintered into numerous denominations, in the wake of Martin Luther's famous Ninety-five Theses, nailed onto a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The Reformation allowed believers to shake off the strictures of Catholicism, opening the door to personal relationships with God.

An ordained Anglican minister as well as an academic, Ryrie celebrates this pluralism; as his subtitle suggests, his book emphasizes Protestantism as a catalyst for Enlightenment thought, scientific discovery, and the birth of representative democracy. Catholicism, in his view, was always defined by hierarchy and corruption, from the pope on down. The first page announces his critical insight: "Protestantism is a religion of fighters and lovers. Fighters because it was born in conflict, and its story can be told as one long argument . . . But it is also a religion of lovers. From the beginning, a love affair with God has been as its heart. Like all long love affairs, it has gone through many phases, from early passion through companionable marriage and sometimes strained coexistence, to rekindled ardor."

Ardor clings like perfume to Ryrie's vivid, graceful account; and one can almost forgive him for elevating the love affair over the bloody conflicts waged by Protestants over the centuries. He writes with passion and persuasion, drawing fine distinctions as the Reformation unfolded in myriad forms throughout Europe, and charting the complicated (at times contradictory) influences of Calvinism. He's adept, too, at laying out the early religious history of Colonial America, how pluralism begot pluralism in the New World, the Puritans staking their ground but then ceding it to other groups, such as the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Anglicans in Virginia, and a mélange of Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists in the South.

The important factor is that Protestantism is democratic/equalitarian, not authoritarian/hierarchical.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Guess Who's for a Carbon Tax Now (Tina Rosenberg, APRIL 11, 2017, NY Times)

"If Trump does not go down the path of a carbon tax, we should not lose our resolve. We should stick to our values as Canadians to do something to protect the environment." -- Michael Crothers, Canada, November, 2016

"Climate change is happening. We think a broad-based carbon price is the right answer." -- Steve Williams, Canada, May, 2015

"Carbon pricing systems encourage the quickest and most efficient ways of reducing emissions widely." -- Ben van Beurden, the Netherlands, October, 2015

"A global carbon price would help to unleash market forces and provide the right incentives for everyone to play their part. History has shown the power of market forces in making economies less energy intensive as people have found more efficient ways to use energy." -- Bob Dudley, Britain, February, 2015

"One option being discussed by policy makers is a national revenue-neutral carbon tax. This would promote greater energy efficiency and the use of today's lower-carbon options, avoid further burdening the economy, and also provide incentives for markets to develop additional low-carbon energy solutions for the future." -- Darren Woods, United States, February 2017

So, what's the big deal? Support for putting a price on carbon emissions is hardly newsworthy. Virtually every environmentalist thinks it's crucial; many believe it's the single most important thing we could do.

But Michael Crothers doesn't work for an environmental organization. He's the president of Shell Canada. Steve Williams is head of Suncor, Canada's largest oil company. Ben van Beurden is chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell. Bob Dudley is chief executive of BP.

Darren Woods? That statement was part of his first blog post in his new job: chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil, replacing Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state -- who also endorsed a carbon tax.

All of these energy companies favor a tax on every ton of carbon emissions, which is one of two ways to price emissions. The other way is called "cap and trade" -- creating a market in emissions by imposing a maximum. Companies who want to exceed the level can buy the right from others who pollute less.

U.S. carbon footprint shrinks --again (Ben Geman, 4/11/17, Axios)

U.S. carbon emissions from energy dropped another 1.7 percent in 2016, largely because natural gas and renewables are displacing coal in power production, data from the federal Energy Information Administration shows.

April 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Iranian officials give 'muted' response to US missile strike in Syria (Arash Karami, April 10, 2017, Al Monitor)

In his comments April 9 to the country's military commanders, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saved his harshest words for European leaders rather than the United States. Recounting the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, he said, "The hypocritical European governments who claim there was chemical weapons use in Syria, during the [Iran-Iraq] war, gave tons of chemical weapons to [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] for him to attack the war front and our regions in Sardasht and Halabja." (Halabja, a Kurdish town in Iraq, had been taken by Iran shortly before the chemical attack in 1988.) In contrast, in response to the United States' launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat air base, Khamenei said, "What the Americans did, it was wrong and a strategic mistake."

Iran long ago pronounced Assad expendable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM

2020 VISION:

Is Nikki Haley Improvising Her Way to Great Power? (Ed Kilgore, 4/10/17, New York)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley just had a remarkably good week: She went public with an attack on the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, at a time when the Trump administration seemed at sea on the subject. Then the president shocked the world by firing cruise missiles at Syria, seeming to vindicate not only Haley's words about Assad, but also her past harsh criticism of Russia. Coincidentally or not, in the middle of all this turmoil she was named (along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry) a member of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, at the same time that Stephen Bannon lost his seat.

And then, just as the entire political world begged for some sort of broader strategy surrounding the missile strike, Haley told CNN that "regime change" in Syria is "inevitable," which the many politicians and pundits who favor direct intervention to topple Assad gleefully treated as administration policy. Even if it's not, the fact that Haley could take that position and not be called on the carpet by her ostensible bosses (including the secretary of State) tells you a lot.

Nikki Haley benefits from chaos in Trump White House, emerges as the darling of the hawks (James Hohmann April 10, 2017, Washington Post)

Her comments on the Sunday shows also make clear that Haley doesn't think she takes marching orders from Foggy Bottom.

-- Articulating support for a policy of regime change in Syria is not the first time that Haley has gone farther out on a limb than her counterparts in the administration.

At her confirmation hearing, she telegraphed that she'd be an independent voice by touting the value of the NATO alliance and expressing hope that Trump would come around.

In her first address to the U.N. Security Council, she laced into Russia. Even as Donald Trump signaled openness to working with Vladimir Putin, she declared that Crimea does not belong to Moscow and that sanctions won't be lifted anytime soon. "We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia," Haley said unequivocally during an interview on the "Today" show.

She reiterated U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when Trump appeared to edge away from it.

She has also spoken of the need for America to show moral leadership in the world, again putting her at odds with the worldview espoused by her boss.

Last week, before it was clear Trump would order a strike on Syria, the ambassador brought poster-board-sized pictures of the victims of the chemical weapons attack to a speech at the United Nations. In a powerful eight-minute speech, as she spoke of children foaming at the mouth and being carried in the arms of desperate parents, the mother of two was the first U.S. official to publicly threaten unilateral action. "We cannot close our eyes to those pictures," she said. "We cannot close our minds to the responsibility to act."

-- All the chaos inside the Trump administration over the past 80 days has allowed Haley to get away with the kind of freelancing that would ordinarily cause someone in her position to be rebuked. In fact, she's been left alone. As she said on ABC the weekend before last, "The president has not once called me and said, 'Don't beat up on Russia.' He has not once called me and told me what to say."

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


General Ivanka? First Daughter Said to Have Pushed Her Father to Bomb Syria (Emily Zanotti, April 10, 2017, Heat Street)

After seeing pictures of Syrian children, dead from Bashar Al-Assad's Sarin gas attacks, Ivanka Trump put the screws to her father to do something dramatic, according to diplomatic cables sent between the US and UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

The UK's Sunday Times reported that Ivanka saw the photos on television and was "genuinely shaken." She tweeted out a response, and as her father, the President was working to control his infighting Oval Office, quietly influencing him to take immediate action.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Important New Bipartisan Bill To Advance Accountability for International Crimes in Syria (Beth Van Schaack, April 10, 2017, Just Security)

Following on the heels of last week's chemical weapon attack in Syria, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Corker (R-TN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Todd Young (R-IN) have introduced the Syria War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017, which authorizes the United States to provide technical and other forms of assistance to investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal.  (C-Span video is here). In his press release, Sen. Rubio--chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on human rights said:

We must bring to justice those responsible for the Syrian regime's barbaric attacks and repeated use of chemical weapons.

Senator Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated:

The United States must lead the international community in holding Assad accountable for his war crimes and his brutal victimization of the Syrian people over the last six years.

In drafting this proposed legislation, lawmakers interfaced with a range of organizations engaged in documentation and litigation, including the Commission for International Justice & Accountability (CIJA) in Lisbon, which is devoted to documenting crimes in Syria & Iraq, and the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco, a human rights law firm.

Assad was never going to withstand the defeat of ISIS, but he's no longer useful.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Breitbart editors tell staffers to stop writing stories critical of Jared Kushner, sources say (Oliver Darcy , 4/10/17, Business Insider)

Employees at Breitbart News have been asked by senior editors to refrain from writing stories critical of Jared Kushner, two people familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Crouching Donald, Paper Tiger (Barry Eichengreen, APR 10, 2017, Project Syndicate)

Donald Trump's comments about China during the US presidential campaign didn't exactly bolster high hopes for Sino-American relations once he was elected. Trump denounced China for "taking our jobs," and "[stealing] hundreds of billions of dollars in our intellectual property." He repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency. The low point came last May, when Trump warned his followers that, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country. That's what they're doing. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world."

Given such inflammatory rhetoric, many people understandably felt considerable trepidation in the run-up to Trump's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. It wasn't hard to imagine a refused handshake or the presentation of a bill for payment, like the one Trump reportedly gave visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a report denied by the White House).

Instead, Trump treated Xi with considerable deference. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Russia Walks Back Threats of Retaliation If US Strikes Syria Again (Rob Garver, April 10, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Kremlin officials on Monday publicly distanced themselves from a what appeared to be a threat by commanders on the ground in Syria to attack US interests if the Trump administration orders any more strikes against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Only the Right takes Russia's military seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Top Dems Attack Gabbard After She Fails to Blame Assad for Gas Attack (Charles Fain Lehman, April 10, 2017, Free Beacon)

Top Democrats are calling for the replacement of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) after she refused on Friday to blame Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for the chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed at least 100 Syrian civilians last week.

Gabbard said during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday that she was "skeptical" Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Syrian citizens, CNN reported.  Gabbard said the U.S. should not be "sending American tax payer dollars on these failed regime change wars."

Syria nerve agent attack: why it made sense to Assad (Emma Graham-Harrison, 7 April 2017, The Guardian)

Fighting still raged across the battered country but his army and the collection of militias and foreign militaries backing his government had the upper hand, and the White House appeared to have taken any push for regime change off the table. [...]

[A]ssad's military gains since 2015 have been slow and costly. His army is battle-weary and although they have won decisive battles, the war is far from over.

Joshua Landis, a long-time Syria observer and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said chemical weapons could be attractive to a leader running low on military alternatives.

"I think Assad and his generals want to win and have a depleted and exhausted army," Joshua Landis said, when asked on Twitter if he thought the Syrian leader would have used chemical weapons. [...]

Since the 2013 sarin attack on a Damascus suburb, there have been government attacks using chlorine gas which have brought almost no repercussions. Sarin is much deadlier, and its use easier to prove through testing, making it a more powerful but riskier form of chemical weapon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Israel's conservatives face tough lesson: Trump's policies may not be so different from Obama's approach (Joshua Mitnick, 4/10/17, LA Times)
When Donald Trump was elected president in November, euphoric Israeli right-wing politicians saw it as a green light to annex parts of the West Bank and declare an end to the idea of a Palestinian state.

But since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed recently to rein in expansion of settlements in the West Bank at the request of the U.S., many of the same politicians are wondering if the Trump administration may turn out to be disturbingly similar, in their eyes at least, to the Obama administration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


White House on edge as 100-day judgment nears : 'We've got essentially two-and-a-half weeks to turn everything around,' says one Trump staffer. (SHANE GOLDMACHER 04/10/17, Politico)

More than 30 Trump staffers piled into a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjoining the White House, according to a half-dozen attendees who described the Tuesday meeting.

Mike Dubke, Trump's communications director, and his deputy, Jessica Ditto, kicked off the discussion of how to package Trump's tumultuous first 100 days by pitching the need for a "rebranding" to get Trump back on track.

"I think the president's head would explode if he heard that," one of the White House officials present said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


An alleged Russian hacker has been arrested in Spain -- and it may be connected to the US election (Aritz Parra and Raphael Satter, 4/10/17, Associated Press)

An alleged Russian hacker has been detained in Spain at the request of American authorities, an arrest that set cybersecurity circles abuzz after a Russian broadcaster raised the possibility it was linked to the U.S. presidential election. [...]

RT quoted Maria Levashova as saying that armed police stormed into their apartment in Barcelona overnight, keeping her and her friend locked in a room for two hours while they quizzed Levashov. She said that when she spoke to her husband on the phone from the police station, he told her he was told that he had created a computer virus that was "linked to Trump's election win."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Legendary Climate Scientist Likes a GOP Proposal on Global Warming : James Hansen, the "father of climate change awareness," wants the same carbon fee-and-dividend strategy proposed by Republicans (Annie Sneed on April 10, 2017, Scientific American)

Pres. Donald Trump issued a major executive order last week that, if successful, could undercut the nation's fight against global warming. In particular, the order kicks off an attempt to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from the power sector. While Trump's move represents a big blow to U.S. climate efforts, the renowned scientist James Hansen sees a different--and, he argues, better--way forward on global warming. "The problem is the Clean Power Plan is really not that effective," says Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute, who brought climate change to the U.S. public's attention in his famed 1988 congressional testimony. "It's a tragedy that [the Obama administration] continued to pursue a regulatory approach."

The solution Hansen believes will work best is one recently advocated by a group of Republican statesmen: a "carbon fee and dividend." Although it is not a tax, the approach would put a price on carbon--a step Hansen thinks is absolutely essential for cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen, who has been called the father of climate change awareness, recently spoke about the issue along with Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, a leading expert on economic development, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Scientific American followed up with Hansen, also director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia, to discuss this strategy and how he thinks it will help the U.S. turn the tide on global warming.

When you can cloak good economic policy in a green mantle you've got an easy win.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Democracy Has Stood Up to Trump (Yascha Mounk, 4/10/17, Slate)

[C]hecks and balances are, for now, holding up reasonably well. The judiciary has done a great job at reining Trump in. Though they have repeatedly drawn the president's ire, the country's judges show no sign of being cowed by him. Federal courts have halted two executive orders on immigration and seem likely to take an active role in curtailing executive overreach in the coming years.

The executive branch, whose functioning could most easily be sabotaged by decrees from the White House, has so far preserved its independence as well: The intelligence community has resisted pressures to alter its findings to protect the president from allegations of collusion with Russia. The FBI is investigating Trump. For now, the neutrality of key state institutions remains on full display.

Finally, though Republicans control both houses of Congress, even the legislature has frustrated Trump at multiple turns. Democrats in the House stood united against the GOP health care plan. Democrats in the Senate stood united against confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. While those parts of the far left who seem to hate moderate Democrats more than they hate extremist Republicans like to accuse Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer of being cynical corporate shills who never find the courage to stand up for anything, their determination has, over the last months, been clear to anybody who cared to take a look.

The story is, unsurprisingly, a lot more bleak when you look at congressional Republicans. Some, like Devin Nunes, have demonstrated that they are willing to stoop to any low, and to break any democratic norm, to support their president. Many, like Paul Ryan, have made occasional noises of displeasure before falling into lockstep whenever it comes down to an actual vote. Only a few, like John McCain and Ben Sasse, have criticized Trump in clear terms, and indicated that they might--at some as yet unknown point in the ever-receding future--be willing to walk their talk. But while courage mostly continues to be missing in action among GOP officeholders, the incongruence of their ideological coalition has so far been just as effective in frustrating Trump's most ambitious plans.

Republicans control Washington and he's not one.
Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Maximizers vs. minimizers: The personality trait that may guide your medical decisions - and costs (Laura Scherer and Brian Zikmund-Fisher, 4/09/17, The Conversation)

[I]magine two 50-year-old men who both experience chronic heartburn.

One is a maximizer who goes to the doctor and receives a prescription medication for his heartburn. At the same visit, he also gets a blood test that suggests that he should be taking a statin for his cholesterol, as well as a blood test to screen for prostate cancer that triggers multiple follow-up tests.

By contrast, the other 50-year-old man is a minimizer who does not go to the doctor when he feels heartburn symptoms. Instead, he adjusts his diet to address the problem. He does not end up taking any medications or getting any medical tests.

In our research, maximizers report that they receive more medical care than people with more minimizing tendencies. For example, maximizers take more prescription medications, visit the doctor more frequently, are more likely to get vaccines and blood draws, and have even had more overnight hospital stays in the past 10 years, as compared to minimizers. These associations exist even though maximizers do not tend to be sicker than minimizers and are just as likely to report having health insurance.

When there is a choice to be made between doing more versus doing less, maximizers will probably push for more, whereas minimizers will be satisfied to do less. Maximizers often opt for more active treatment interventions. For example, maximizers are more likely to say they would prefer surgery over physical therapy for treatment of back pain, or chemotherapy over palliative care for end-stage cancer.

Is it better to be a maximizer or a minimizer?

It might seem like people who receive more medical care will be healthier, because they take care of health issues before they become big problems. However, there is increasing evidence that a lot of medical care that people receive provides minimal benefit and can even cause harm.

Let's return to our two 50-year-old men. The maximizer might be better off because his heartburn symptoms and cholesterol levels are being actively treated. However, the minimizer might have improved his heartburn symptoms or even his cholesterol-related risks without chancing any side effects from medications. Moreover, research indicates that screening for prostate cancer often does more harm by leading to overdiagnosis - that is, diagnosis and treatment of cancers that will never grow or spread. Thus, the maximizer might experience a variety of physical and emotional problems related to his prostate cancer screening test that the minimizer simply avoided.

Both HSAs and National Health save money by tilting us towards minimization.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Drugs That Work In Mice Often Fail When Tried In People (Richard Harris, 4/10/17, NPR)

"Imagine you were doing a human drug trial and you said to the FDA, 'OK, I'm going to do this trial in 43-year-old white males in one small town in California,'" Garner says -- a town where everyone lives in identical ranch homes, with the same monotonous diets and the same thermostat set to the same temperature.

"Which is too cold, and they can't change it," he goes on. "And oh, they all have the same grandfather!"

The FDA would laugh that off as an insane setup, Garner says.

"But that's exactly what we do in animals. We try to control everything we can possibly think of, and as a result we learn absolutely nothing."

Garner argues that research based on mice would be more reliable if it were set up more like experiments in humans -- recognizing that variation is inevitable, and designing to embrace it rather than ignore it. He and his colleagues have recently published a manifesto, urging colleagues in the field to look at animals in this new light.

"Maybe we need to stop thinking of animals as these little furry test tubes that can be or even should be controlled," he says. "And maybe instead we should think of them as patients."

That could solve some of the problems with animal research, but by no means all.

Scientists make far too many assumptions about the underlying biology of disease when creating animal models of those illnesses, says Gregory Petsko, who studies Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders at the Weill Cornell Medical School.

"It's probably only when you get to try your treatments in people that you're really going to have any idea how right those assumptions were," Petsko says.

In his field, the assumptions are often poor, or downright misleading. And Petsko says this mindset has been counterproductive. Scientists in his field have "been led astray for many years by relying so heavily on animal models," he says.

Requiring that new drugs pass human tests before going to market would save a ton of money.

April 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Trump administration gives mixed messages about its goals in Syria (Laura King, 4/09/17, LA Times)

The Trump administration gave mixed messages about its goals in Syria on Sunday, with top officials stressing different priorities in the wake of a U.S. airstrike that marked a deepening involvement in the country's bitter conflict.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad is a U.S. priority, just as it was under the Obama administration, and that peace in Syria was probably impossible while he remained in power.

Providing Republican continuity.
Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


North Korea Freaks Out After The Wall Street Journal Calls For 'Regime Change' (RYAN PICKRELL, 04/04/2017, Daily Caller)

"It is time to make regime change in North Korea the explicit aim of U.S. policy, both on strategic and humanitarian grounds," Bret Stephens wrote in a March 27 op-ed for WSJ. Stephens suggested that Kim Jong-un could be brought down in a coup, ending his reign of terror with either exile or execution. Regime change could involve the selection of new North Korean leadership or the end of North Korea. Neither option is particularly desirable for Kim Jong-un.

"The March 27 issue of the paper let out such flurry of nonsense that the U.S. should set a regime change in the DPRK as a clear-cut policy target," KCNA wrote in response, "For the DPRK this sounds as nothing but a scream made by those frightened by the invincible might of the DPRK."

"The Wall Street Journal would be well advised to halt its foolish propaganda to hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and think about when or how the U.S. may disappear from the surface of the earth," KCNA warned.

North Korea got upset at Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain recently for calling Kim Jong-un a "crazy fat kid."

KCNA responded by stating that McCain's comment was "a grave provocation little short of a declaration of war against" North Korea.

...is that there is no possibility of collateral damage in Pyongyang--it's all loyalists.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Le Pen says France not responsible for WWII round up of Jews (AFP, April 9, 2017)

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen denied Sunday that the French state was responsible for the wartime round-up of Jews at a Paris cycling track who were then sent to Nazi death camps.

Former President Jacques Chirac and current leader Francois Hollande have both apologised for the role French police played in the round-up of more than 13,000 Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track which was ordered by Nazi officers in 1942.

But Le Pen told the LCI television channel on Sunday: "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv."

Steve Bannon loves France : White House strategist has borrowed heavily from Le Pen and other touchstones of the French far right. (EMMA-KATE SYMONS, 3/22/17, Politico)

Bannon admires the anti-immigrant policies and economic nationalism of National Front leader Marine Le Pen and his far-right Francophilia goes even deeper. Donald Trump's chief strategist has said he is also a fan of a violently anti-Jewish propagandist and Nazi collaborator as well as other cultural touchstones for the French far right -- offering clues to where the Trump administration may take America.

Trump's inauguration in January was widely seen as emboldening Europe's far right movements. His "America First" vision, outlined in a speech written with close help from Bannon, seemed to give a lead to nationalist movements across the Continent.

But the flow of inspiration may actually be in the other direction.

For political scientist Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, French presidential contender Le Pen can plausibly lay claim to the roots of Bannon-Trumpism: "The politics put in place by Donald Trump and his collaborator Steve Bannon are profoundly inspired by the extreme right in Europe, but most notably by the program of Marine Le Pen."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Camille Paglia and the Battle of the Sexes (Suzanne Venker, 4/06/17, Quillette)

This movement, she writes, began its descent the moment it turned on men. The feminists of the 1920s and 30s "showed with class and style what it was to be a modern woman, free of the shackles of the past." But, she adds, they "accepted the achievements of the men of the past . . . There was not the kind of wholesale male-bashing or derisive denigration of men that would later become so entrenched a feature of the second wave of feminism that continues at present."

Paglia herself was raised in the 1950s, an environment she personally found "unbearable" but which she would later concede made sense for the times, as parents were reeling from the Depression and World War II and merely wanted "something better for their children."

Still, the social repression of that era didn't cater to Paglia's needs. So it isn't surprising she became enamored with women such as Amelia Earhart, Katharine Hepburn and Germaine Greer--all of whom represented "the new 20th century woman." Like Paglia, these women were nonconformists who symbolized for Paglia what it meant to be a modern, free-thinking woman.

But in the next sentence Paglia separates herself from the "smug and entitled" feminists of our day who have zero understanding of human nature. All three of these 20th century non-conformist women, writes Paglia, were childless. Translation: they were different from most women. Most women, says Paglia, are biologically wired to procreate--and, foolishly, feminists pretend otherwise. "Feminist ideology has never dealt honestly with the role of the mother in human life."

In many ways, motherhood is the constant in women's lives that brings them together in a primal way. Yet women are routinely pulled away from this natural state, this human desire, as though wanting a child or, God forbid, taking care of one, makes a woman a lesser being. I remember my mother telling me, on more than one occasion, that when she attended her graduate school reunion at Radcliffe (in the 1970s), one of the female professors gave a lecture about work and family and said women would need to deal with children as an "intrusion" into their lives.

But the motherhood dilemma isn't new to feminism. What is new is its glaring animosity toward men. "[Feminist ideology's] portrayal of history as male oppression and female victimage is a gross distortion of the facts," writes Paglia. "There was a rational division of labor from the hunter and gatherer period that had its roots not in the male desire to subjugate and imprison but in the procreative burden which has fallen on woman from nature."

She adds, "Feminism cannot continue with this poisonous rhetoric--it is disastrous for young women to be indoctrinated to think in that negative way about men."

The animosities of revolutions seldom make any sense, nor are they sustainable, precisely because those revolting just want those they revolt against to live up to their own rhetoric.  .

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


McFarland to Exit White House as McMaster Consolidates Power (Jennifer Jacobs, April 9, 2017, Bloomberg)

K. T. McFarland has been asked to step down as deputy National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump after less than three months and is expected to be nominated as ambassador to Singapore, according to a person familiar with White House personnel moves.

If presidential administrations are defined by their first 100 days, this one has been notable for the fencing in of the president with investigations, the Judiciary and Legislative branches over-ruling his policy prescriptions and the removal of his loyalists from the Executive Branch, replaced by professionals.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM



It's a curious fact of Buchanan's political history that his crusades are remembered as other men's defeats--George H. W. Bush's in 1992 and Bob Dole's in 1996. Both secured the Republican nomination, but only after Buchanan beat them up and exposed them as out-of-touch frontmen for the GOP elite. In '92, amid a slumping economy, Buchanan railed against Japan's "predatory trade policies" and an agreement with Mexico later called NAFTA. The United States, he suggested, should think about quitting the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These heresies got him 37.5 percent of the vote in New Hampshire against the glass-jawed incumbent Bush. Four years later, declaring himself the tribune of "a conservativism that gives voice to the voiceless," Buchanan won the state outright, beating Dole by a percentage point. Dole recovered in later primaries, but, like Bush, he staggered on rubbery legs to the finish line, where Bill Clinton was waiting.

Trump also belongs to the company of the Buchanan-scarred. The confrontation happened in 2000, when Buchanan, having become a pariah within the GOP, made a quixotic last stand on the Reform party ticket. Trump, even more quixotically, sought the Reform nomination, too, swaggering in with a book to promote and hot-air talk of the $100 million he would spend to get on the ticket and then to win "the whole megillah." Before Buchanan smacked him down, Trump got in some preemptive sore-loser licks. "Look, he's a Hitler lover," he said. "I guess he's an anti-Semite. He doesn't like the blacks, he doesn't like the gays." For once affecting a statesman's high detachment, Buchanan said only that the Reform party and the presidency weren't for sale.

He remembers it all today, as he remembers much else in his half-century of national politics, as a quasi-joke. "Somebody said, 'Pat, he called you a Nazi, a Hitlerite.' I said, 'With Trump, you have to realize, these are terms of endearment.' "

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Insurance is Driving Physicians Mad; Nearly Half Now Say They'd Prefer Single-Payer (Beth Kutscher, 3/30/17, LinkedIn)

The reasons that patients delay care until they can't wait any longer are complex. But a barrier doctors said they consistently see is a fragmented system: People either don't have health insurance or can't find a doctor who accepts their coverage.

The physician sentiment comes as Congress is locked in a debate about what to do about the Affordable Care Act. Republicans in the House last week pulled a bill that would have significantly altered the insurance landscape.

But for many physicians, the issue comes down to efficiency. In their responses, they cited the administrative hassle of working with multiple insurance companies, each with its own rules and billing procedures. And they pointed to some of the less visible costs, like patients who bounce from one healthcare provider to another as their health plans change.

A total of 48% of physicians said they would be in favor of single-payer healthcare, while 32% were opposed and 21% said they didn't know.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


UN's Haley: After chemical attack, Assad has to go (AFP, 4/09/17)

In the interview with CNN, Haley said peace in Syria was impossible with Assad in power.

"There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime," she told the "State of the Union" program.

Pretty amusing how easily she seized the reins and reversed the Administration position.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Automated Trucking Startup Peloton Drafts $60 Million in Funding (Kirsten Korosec, Apr 06, 2017, Fortune)

Peloton Technology has developed a driver assistance system for commercial trucks using a combination of sensors, radar, and technology that allows the vehicles to communication with each other and surrounding infrastructure. The system is designed to let trucks safely platoon, an industry term that mean the vehicles can closely follow a lead truck to reduce wind resistance, which boosts fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. Despite the benefits of platooning, the practice is considered dangerous because human drivers can't react quickly enough to sudden braking.

An automated system should remove that risk. Peloton Technology says independent testing shows the trucks following the leader see a 10% bump in fuel savings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


How Playing Tetris Tames The Trauma Of A Car Crash (Nicole Xu, 4/09/17, NPR)

Last week a group of researchers from the U.K. and Sweden published a study reporting that playing just 20 minutes of Tetris -- in research parlance, a "Tetris-based intervention" -- following an automobile accident can help prevent the formation of the painful, intrusive memories that can follow trauma.

The new research looked at 71 patients who had presented to the John Radcliffe Hospital emergency room in Oxford, England, within six hours of being in a car accident. While waiting to be seen, patients were first asked to recall their trauma and recount the worst moments that sprang to mind. (If it helps, they were paid.) They were then randomized to either play Tetris for 20 minutes on a handheld Nintendo DS XL system or to instead fill out an activity log of what they had experienced since arriving at the hospital. The latter group served as the control.

The gamers were found to have 62 percent fewer intrusive memories in the first week after their accident than the control group. What's more, their bad memories diminished more quickly than in controls.

You mean if you don't dwell on bad stuff it doesn't bother you as much?  Who's going to apologize to General Patton?

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Small investors' move to 'passive' stock funds becomes a stampede (Tom Petruno, 4/09/17, LA Times)

Whenever small investors have been pitched a financial product that promised to enrich them with little effort or expense, historically the smart response has been to turn and run.

There has been one shining exception over the last four decades: low-cost mutual funds that aim to do nothing more, or less, than generate the average return of the entire stock market, or a specific market sector.

These "passively managed" or "index" funds have delivered as they said they would -- and have shamed many "actively managed" U.S. stock funds, the majority of which over the long run have failed to exceed or match the average market return after deducting their fees.

Passive funds were relatively slow to catch on with individual investors in the 1980s and '90s. But over the last few years, Americans have poured record sums into the funds, including those that replicate the Standard & Poor's index of 500 big-name U.S. stocks. In that same period, investors have yanked record amounts from actively managed funds.

April 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Trump's Options for North Korea Include Placing Nukes in South Korea (WILLIAM M. ARKIN, CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, KEVIN MONAHAN and ROBERT WINDREM, 4/08/17, NBC News)

Another option is to target and kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other senior leaders in charge of the country's missiles and nuclear weapons and decision-making. Adopting such an objective has huge downsides, said Lippert, who also served as an assistant defense secretary under President Barack Obama.

"Discussions of regime change and decapitation...tend to cause the Chinese great pause of concern and tends to have them move in the opposite direction we would like them to move in terms of pressure," he said.

Basically, if we regime change Syria, North Korea and the PRC our work is nearly all done.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Iraq's Shiite cleric Sadr urges Assad to step down (AFP April 8, 2017)

The young Najaf-based Shiite cleric condemned the killing of 87 people, including 31 children, in a suspected chemical attack last week in a rebel-held Syrian town that has been widely blamed on Damascus.

"I would consider it fair for President Bashar Assad to resign and leave power, allowing the dear people of Syria to avoid the scourge of war and terrorist oppression," he said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


DUKE ELLINGTON'S FAITH (Ted Gioia, April 2017, First Things)

Yet there was another side of Duke Ellington, pious and even prim. "I'd be afraid to sit in a house with people who don't believe," he once remarked. "Afraid the house would fall down." Ellington's biographer Terry Teachout tells us that the bandleader engaged in "daily Bible study and private prayer in hotel and dressing rooms." Ellington's son, Mercer, has noted that his father was "so religious . . . anything that downed religion had to be wrong." The musician's sister, Ruth, went so far as to claim that the whole Ellington mystique was based on the "philosophy of life in which he profoundly believed, namely Christianity."

Ellington's religious sensibilities took on greater prominence in his music during his later years. At age fifty-eight, he invited gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to record with his band, and Ellington was so delighted with the resulting version of his hymn "Come Sunday," performed mostly unaccompanied, that he brought Jackson back to the studio the next day to sing it again--not for the record, but just for him. For this follow-up rendition, never released, Duke had the lights turned off in the studio, and required his band to sit quietly in attendance like parishioners in a darkened church.

Jackson herself later noted that no rehearsal was held for this collaboration with the famous bandleader, and when she requested more guidance on one track, he simply advised her: "Just open the Bible and sing." In his autobiography, Ellington admitted that "this encounter with Mahalia Jackson had a strong influence on me and my sacred music." Irving Townsend, Ellington's producer at the session, said, "Duke treated this first performance like a kind of divine revelation."

This new phase in Ellington's music reached its peak seven years later when he gave his first "Sacred Concert" at the newly completed Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It's hard to exaggerate how much importance Ellington assigned to this event. A surviving film, available on YouTube, captures some of the music and behind-the-scenes activity of the concert. Ellington can be heard declaring that this is "the most important statement I've ever made."

Ellington would go on to present follow-up Sacred Concerts with new music at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York (1968) and at Westminster Abbey (1973). Ellington would die exactly five months after this last performance. He already knew he had cancer in both lungs when he mounted this final testimony to his faith, which was built around the theme of love.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


'How dare you work on whites': Professors under fire for research on white mortality (Jeff Guo, April 6, 2017, Washington Post)

Guo: I think the controversy may have less to do with your papers, and more to do with how the media seized these facts and amplified them -- in a way that I've not seen done with science research in a long time.

Case: It's not as much news if people's mortality rates are falling the way you would hope they are falling. What seems like news is when mortality has stopped falling, and no one has noticed that it has stopped.

White Americans had just flatlined where the European countries continued to make progress, and where other groups in this country -- African Americans and Hispanics -- continued to make progress. So what the heck is going on here? We weren't making progress anymore. That, to us seemed like the bigger story.

Deaton: Anne presented the first paper once and was told, in no uncertain terms: How dare you work on whites.

Case: I was really beaten up.

Deaton: And these were really senior people.

Case: Very senior people.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to Trump's Strike in Syria (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MICHAEL R. GORDON, 4/08/17, NY Times)

Aides say Mr. Trump was determined to display some form of strength...

Obviously the need to try and appear strong is the opposite of being strong, but, even more revealing, when President Carter launched Desert Storm we were at least accidentally communicating over open channels (which the Israelis jammed for us), by warning Russia the Administration effectively warned Assad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


In South Korea, Democracy's Thumping Triumph : The arrest of South Korean President Park Geun-hye reflects a new unity among a majority of Koreans. (Diana Won, 4/07/17, Pacific Standard)

In important ways, Park's presidency, which began in 2012 when she secured a victory with a slim majority of just north of 50 percent of the vote, was a continuation of Koreans' long-held trust in a human rights-economic development trade-off. Initially, citizens wanted a leader who could guide them through the lingering global financial crisis of 2008, and they thought that Park, like her authoritarian father before her, could do exactly that. But over the course of her presidency, there grew a change of political heart among the citizenry, who, for the past several years now, have sought an out from Korea's decades-long rule by military dictatorship.

As a result, the recent candlelight protests mark a historic moment for Koreans, who not only succeeded in influencing National Assembly members to vote for impeachment on December 16th, but who also saw the Constitutional Court, in turn, unanimously uphold their decision on March 10th. For one of the first times in Korea's relatively young and wobbly democracy, protests had been wielded as a peaceful tool to shift public policy. As conservative and far-right populist movements gain traction throughout the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, many have questioned whether liberal democracy is dead. In South Korea, however, after 10 years of corrupt conservative rule, Moon Jae-in, the leader of the liberal Democratic party, won party nomination this week and is favored to win the upcoming election.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Lessons of an Awkward Seder : Last year, I invited Iraqi immigrants to a Passover meal at my home in Augusta, Maine. The experience showed me the true meaning of the holiday. (Erica Asch, April 7, 2017, Tablet)

At the very beginning of the Seder we read, "Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share the Pesach meal." That line has always chided me because I can't recall ever inviting a stranger or someone who was truly hungry or in need to my Passover Seder. Every year, my table fills up with a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish friends and family, a comfortable group of well educated, mainly white, native-born Americans who relive the Passover experience as a theoretical journey, not a remembered past.

Last year, my husband and I decided to change this by inviting Zamat, the leader of Augusta's Iraqi community, to come to our family's Seder with five members of his community. Although Maine is among the least diverse states in the nation, the capital Augusta has attracted an increasing number of Muslim immigrants in recent years many of whom are from Iraq, and some from Syria and Afghanistan. As the rabbi of the city's only synagogue, Temple Beth El, I have worked with my fellow clergy to welcome these newcomers and help them adjust to life in central Maine, especially in the face of prejudice.

Instead of enjoying a familiar tradition with people we knew, we struggled through an awkward evening. Although we had previously met Zamat and his two children, the other two guests were complete strangers, and neither of them spoke any English. We modified the Hagaddah to include simpler English, but we ended up abandoning the written text in favor of on-the-spot explanations of what we were doing and why. Cell phone conversations interrupted our evening several times. The food, with the exception of matzo and citrus fruits, was not well received.

The experience was a surprising reminder of how difficult it is to live out the words and values of our tradition of welcoming. But there also were many highlights. The chorus of "Dayenu" was a big hit--our guests reminded us that dai means enough in Arabic.One participant shared his experiences visiting Egypt. Others asked thoughtful questions: Why is matzo flat? Do you have a meal like this for many other nights? Do you usually sit on the floor? The experience left me pondering: What is the true purpose of the Seder?

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Failed Health Bill Fuels New Momentum for Expanding Medicaid : In the days since Republicans killed their health-care plan, support for one of Obamacare's central policies has grown in states where the GOP has stunted it for years. (MATTIE QUINN | MARCH 29, 2017, Governing)

Medicaid historically had been reserved for only the poorest and sickest, but the ACA opened it up to the lower middle class. States that expanded the program have experienced many benefits. For example, uninsured rates dropped -- dramatically in some states -- as did uncompensated care.

"Medicaid is such a fabric on the health system. Now, there are very few -- if any -- policy reasons not to expand," says Adam Searing, associate professor at Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families.

Medicaid expansion has been a highly partisan issue. But the debate at the federal level has revealed that there's more bipartisan support -- among voters and policymakers -- for expanding Medicaid than previously thought. Republican governors arguably scored the biggest win with the demise of Paul Ryan's plan because now they will likely take less political heat for expanding Medicaid and can claim credit for insuring more of their residents.

With the ACA here to stay for the foreseeable future, Searing notes four states worth keeping an eye on: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. Once one of those states expand Medicaid, "then the dam breaks," he says.

April 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


Trump to nominate pro-immigration free-trading globalist as CEA chair (Cardiff Garcia, 4/07/17, Financial Times)


America Needs more workers
... With lackluster GDP growth threatening to become our new normal, allowing more immigrants to enter for the sake of employment is one of the few policies that might restore our old normal. If the U.S. doubled its total immigration and prioritized bringing in new workers, it could add more than half a percentage point a year to expected GDP growth.


Understanding the role of the United States in the global economy
Liberalized trade -- in broadly multilateral, regional, or bilateral agreements -- is a key ingredient in the recipe for prosperity. ... An absolute prerequisite for long-term economic growth is full participation in the global economy and trading system.

Maybe one more shot, it's Friday:

Analysis of the economic effects of immigration reform
... This paper explores the economic consequences of expanded immigration on the U.S. economy. It begins by reviewing the immigration practices of our OECD trading partners, and documenting that immigration, as a share of the work force, is well below international norms. The literature identifying the economic impact of immigration is reviewed, suggesting that economic growth could expand significantly if immigration in the U.S. were expanded.

These passages are by Kevin Hassett, the economist who will be nominated by Donald Trump to be the next chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


THE RUSSIA CONNECTION : Of Course there's Evidence Trump Colluded with Russian Intelligence (Jordan Brunner, Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes, April 7, 2017, Lawfare)

When people say there is no evidence of collusion, they mean, we suppose, that there is no evidence of covert or illegal collaboration with the criminal activity undertaken in the course of this foreign intelligence operation against the United States.

But that is rather a different matter than acquitting Trump and his campaign of collaborating with the Russians. It ignores, after all, the overt and perfectly legal collaboration they plainly engaged in with what they knew to be an ongoing foreign intelligence operation against their country. We don't need an investigation to show that this overt activity took place, for the Trumpists were caught in flagrante delicto throughout the entire campaign; indeed, caught is even the wrong word here. The cooperation was an open and public feature of the campaign.

It included open encouragement of the Russians to hack Democratic targets; denial that they had done so; encouragement of Wikileaks, which was publicly known to be effectively a publishing arm of the Russian operation, in publishing the fruits of the hacks; and publicly trumpeting the contents of stolen emails.

Most notoriously, on July 27, Trump stated during a news conference: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." He later doubled down on the statement, tweeting:

 Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton's 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!
12:16 PM - 27 Jul 2016
  24,076 24,076 Retweets   62,076 62,076 likes

In other words, after the Russian government had already been publicly associated with the hack, Trump urged it to conduct further hacking. One of the present authors wrote as much at the time, arguing that Trump had just "call[ed] on a foreign intelligence service to engage in operations against the United States."

On at least one occasion, Trump also publicly celebrated a pending Wikileaks release of further hacked information, that is, the release of stolen material by an organization whose connections to Russian intelligence were hardly a secret. Giving a speech in Miami on November 2, he declared: "So today, I guess WikiLeaks, it sounds like, is going to be dropping some more, and if we met tomorrow, I'll tell you about it tomorrow, but one beauty that's been caught was, and this was just recently, newly released, where they say having a dump. We're having a dump of all of those e-mails. . . ."

He also declared multiple times that he "love[d] Wikileaks" or "love[d] reading those Wikileaks"--that is, knowing that a foreign intelligence operation had taken place against his opponent and the Wikileaks was publishing the fruits, he publicly celebrated the publisher. Three days before the election, he riffed at a campaign rally: "You know, as I was getting off the plane, they were just announcing new Wikileaks! And I wanted to stay there but I didn't want to keep you waiting. I didn't want to keep you waiting. Let me run back onto the plane and find out!"

Included below in the Appendix to this article is a rough and incomplete timeline of both Trump's statements obscuring Russia's intervention and his appeals to Wikileaks material--that is, material stolen by the Russians and published by an organization publicly identified as fronting for them--throughout the campaign.

All of which is what Clint Watts was talking about last week when he told the Senate Intelligence Committee that: "part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures, at times, against his opponents."

Kushner Omitted Meeting With Russians on Security Clearance Forms (JO BECKER and MATTHEW ROSENBERGAPRIL 6, 2017, NY Times)


When Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, sought the top-secret security clearance that would give him access to some of the nation's most closely guarded secrets, he was required to disclose all encounters with foreign government officials over the last seven years.

But Mr. Kushner did not mention dozens of contacts with foreign leaders or officials in recent months. They include a December meeting with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, and one with the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank, arranged at Mr. Kislyak's behest.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Trump's Syria Strike Is Latest Sign of Steve Bannon's Waning Influence (Gabriel Sherman, 4/07/17, New York)

Donald Trump's surprise decision to launch missile strikes against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces in response to Tuesday's horrific chemical attack represented a reversal from Trump's noninterventionist campaign message. It's also the most recent sign of the declining power of his chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Two sources close to Bannon told me the former Breitbart executive chairman argued against the strike -- not because of its questionable constitutionality, but on the grounds that it doesn't advance Trump's America First doctrine. "Steve doesn't think we belong there," one Bannon ally told me. Bannon's position lost out to those inside the White House, including Jared Kushner, who argued Trump needed to punish the Assad regime.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Some of Trump's biggest supporters are furious about his strikes in Syria (Jeff Stein,  Apr 6, 2017, Vox)

Almost immediately following reports of the Syrian airstrikes, prominent right-wing news outlets and media personalities most closely associated with the self-described alt-right and Trumpism more generally attacked the president's foreign intervention -- which appears to fly against so much of the rhetoric from his campaign.

Among them were Paul Joseph Watson, who contributes to the far-right conspiracy site Infowars; Mike Cernovich, the professed self-improvement guru who's drawn a massive social media following in part by praising Trump; radio host Laura Ingraham, formerly of Fox News; and Ann Coulter, the author and provocateur. All four quickly denounced the attacks as a reversal of Trump's campaign promises...

You can sort of get all these Trumpies being pro-Putin--he's at least paying them.  But pro-Assad?

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


West Wing at war (with itself) (Axios, 4/07/17)

President Trump is considering a broad shakeup of his White House that could include the replacement of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the departure of chief strategist Steve Bannon, aides and advisers tell us.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Don Rickles, Comedy's Equal Opportunity Offender, Dies at 90 (PETER KEEPNEWS and RICHARD SEVERO, APRIL 6, 2017, NY Times)

Focusing less on prepared material and more on interaction with his audience, he had found his voice. He was not the first insult comedian -- and in fact an earlier master of the comic insult, Jack E. Leonard, was known to complain that Mr. Rickles's act was too similar to his -- but he soon became far and away the most successful.

Bookings in the late 1950s at the Slate Brothers nightclub in Hollywood and the lounge of the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas spread the word. During his Slate Brothers engagement, Carl Reiner recalled in "Mr. Warmth," the biggest names in show business felt that "if they hadn't been insulted by Rickles, they weren't with it."

His appearances insulting celebrities on the Dean Martin roasts and his sparring matches with Carson cemented Mr. Rickles's reputation, but his unscripted brand of humor proved an uneasy fit for weekly television. A variety show in 1968 and a situation comedy in 1972, both called "The Don Rickles Show," were short-lived, as was "Daddy Dearest," a 1993 sitcom in which he and the comedian Richard Lewis played father and son. The closest thing to a hit show he had was "CPO Sharkey," a Navy comedy, which aired from 1976 to 1978.

Critics were often not sure what to make of Mr. Rickles. John J. O'Connor of The Times wrote in 1972 that for some his humor "will always remain tasteless," while for others "it has its delicious moments of madness." Tom Shales of The Washington Post, 26 years later, was more enthusiastic, praising him as "mythic, timeless, fearless -- endowed by the gods with some absurd miraculous gift."

No critic, however thoughtful, could quite explain Mr. Rickles's durability in show business, given that until the end of his career he was peppering his act with slurs and stereotypes long out of favor. And yet he not only got away with it, but he also flourished.

That, right there, is precious.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Outraged Clowns Say 'IT' Trailer Stoking Anti-Clown Prejudice, Similar to Racism (Jonathan McAloon, April 7, 2017, Heat Street)
Professional clowns have complained that the viral trailer for the new film version of Stephen King's IT is stoking anti-clown prejudice comparable to racism.

No more white-face privilege?

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


To Defend Bannon, Breitbart Has Opened Fire On The President's Son-In-Law (Matt Gertz, April 7, 2017, National Memo)

Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump propaganda outlet previously run by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is now being deployed against President Donald Trump's son-in-law and top White House staffer Jared Kushner as part of an internal power struggle.

Over the past week -- as Kushner and Bannon have reportedly feuded -- the website has published articles highlighting Kushner's meetings with the Russian ambassador, questioning the ethics of his business dealings, criticizing his "thin resume in diplomacy," and speculating about whether he is leaking negative stories about Bannon.

Those attacks represent a U-turn in the website's coverage of the president's family. Following Trump's election and in the early days of his administration, Breitbart provided Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, with soft-focus celebrity coverage. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Nikki Haley Says U.S. May 'Take Our Own Action' on Syrian Chemical Attack (SOMINI SENGUPTA and RICK GLADSTONE, APRIL 5, 2017, NY Times)

"Time and time again, Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their allies in Damascus," Ms. Haley said. "How many more children have to die before Russia cares?"

She closed her remarks with an ominous warning. "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," she said.

Just bring in W to deliver the same message he did before replacing the other Ba'athist regime  (George W. Bush, 12 September 2002, United Nations):

The United Nations was born in the hope that survived a world war, the hope of a world moving toward justice, escaping old patterns of conflict and fear.

The founding members resolved that the peace of the world must never again be destroyed by the will and wickedness of any man.

We created a United Nations security council so that, unlike the League of Nations, our deliberations would be more than talk, our resolutions would be more than wishes.

After generations of deceitful dictators and broken treaties and squandered lives, we've dedicated ourselves to standards of human dignity shared by all and to a system of security defended by all.

Today, these standards and this security are challenged. [...]

Above all, our principles and our security are challenged today by outlaw groups and regimes that accept no law of morality and have no limit to their violent ambitions. [...]

Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective and respectful and successful.

We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the [Syrian] regime. [...]

My nation will work with the UN security council to meet our common challenge. If [Syria]'s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account.

We will work with the UN security council for the necessary resolutions.

But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted.

The security council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met or action will be unavoidable and a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways. If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of [Syria] will continue to live in brutal submission.

The regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbours, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear.

The regime will remain unstable - the region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom and isolated from the progress of our times. [....]

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of [Syria] can shake off their captivity.

They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world.

These nations can show by their example that honest government and respect for women and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

Neither of these outcomes is certain. Both have been set before us. We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather.

We must stand up for our security and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind.

By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.

Thank you very much.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Reality check: U.S. manufacturing jobs at 1941 levels (Heather Long, April 7, 2017, CNN Money)

[I]t's worth remembering that employment in manufacturing is currently at 1941 levels.

The glory days of manufacturing were the 1970s. Back then, over 19.5 million Americans earned their paycheck from factory work. It's been a fairly steady decline ever since. Today only 12.4 million workers remain in the industry.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Can "Digital Therapeutics" Be as Good as Drugs? (Christina Farr  April 7, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

What if an app could replace a pill? That's the big question behind an emerging trend known as "digital therapeutics." The idea: software that can improve a person's health as much as a drug can, but without the same cost and side-effects.

Digital therapeutics, or "digiceuticals," as some call them, have become a Holy Grail in some quarters of Silicon Valley, where investors see the chance to deliver medicine through your smartphone. Andreessen Horowitz, the venture firm, even predicts digital drugs will become "the third phase" of medicine, meaning the successor to the chemical and protein drugs we have now, but without the billion-dollar cost of bringing one to market.  

"It's going to seem backwards and even barbaric that our solution to everything was just giving out pills," partner Vijay Pande wrote on the investment company's blog.

They're basically ethical placebos.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Hank Azaria delivers a play-by-play comedy with 'Brockmire' (Lorraine Ali, 4/07/17, LA Times)

Far from forgotten, his 2007 meltdown went viral while he was overseas; the worst day in Brockmire's life has reached a new generation of fans, many of whom use his wife's name as shorthand when describing a particular sex act. The newfound fame, however, is not the kind of notoriety Brockmire needs to reestablish his career.

But it's the only reason his young assistant-intern Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) knows Brockmire's name. The nerdy recluse, who has no interest in radio or baseball, grew up watching Brockmire's humiliating meltdown on YouTube, so feels he knows at least something about the man he's now working for.

The series pokes fun at just about every baseball cliché there is - the deep-voiced announcer in the loud sports jacket, rituals that must be performed before each game in order for the team to win (in this case, it's imperative for Jules and Jim to have sex), the Japanese pitcher and famed Latino hitter whose stars have faded.

Azaria and Peet are great, together and separately. Both bring a humor and sympathy to characters that might otherwise prove difficult to tolerate, let alone like.

He's jaded, despondent and broken. She's less broken and harbors too much hope to be jaded. Jules has taken out a second mortgage on her bar to buy the team. She believes the team, the town and Brockmire can be redeemed.

In case this sounds saccharine, Jules also thinks offering free cold medicine (an ingredient often used in making methamphetamine) at the gate is a great promotional idea. "Because we don't judge you like those snooty pharmacists," announces Brockmire to the sparsely populated stadium.

You won't want to watch it on a plane, with kids in the room nor maybe even your spouse, but it's very amusing.  One of the networks should really make Azaria their lead play-by-play guy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Le Pen shocked by Trump's decision to bomb Syria (The Local, 7 April 2017)

Far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said she was shocked by Donald Trump's decision to launch missile strikes in Syria.

National Front leader Le Pen appeared to distance herself from US President Donald Trump on Friday morning following the US strike on a Syria air base, which was carried out in response to a suspected chemical attack.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Michael Caine on Brexit: 'I'd rather be a poor master' (Reuters, 4/06/17)

British actor Michael Caine, who voted for a British exit from the European Union in the June 23 referendum, said he would rather be a poor master than a rich servant and that post-Brexit Britain would endure.

"I'd rather be a poor master than a rich servant," Caine was quoted as saying by Sky News.

"I voted for Brexit," Caine said. "It wasn't about the racism, immigrants or anything, it was about freedom."

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


For Trump, an overnight evolution on Syria (JULIE PACE April 7, 2017, Times of Israel)

Trump is hardly the first president to reconsider his views after assuming the responsibility of controlling the world's most powerful military. But with a major shift coming just 77 days into his presidency, his may be one of the fastest transformations in recent memory.

After spending years warning US leaders that Syria was a dangerous quagmire, Trump is said to have been moved by the gripping images of young Syrian children's listless bodies that were beamed across the world following the chemical attack. He mourned the "beautiful babies" were among the dozens killed by the deadly gases and accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of having "choked" his own citizens.

He's too severely constrained by events to do other than what we want.

April 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM

NEIGHBOR LOVE (profanity alert):

"Can You Say...Hero?" : Fred Rogers has been doing the same small good thing for a very long time... (TOM JUNOD, November 1998 , Esquire)

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a boy who didn't like himself very much. It was not his fault. He was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is something that happens to the brain. It means that you can think but sometimes can't walk, or even talk. This boy had a very bad case of cerebral palsy, and when he was still a little boy, some of the people entrusted to take care of him took advantage of him instead and did things to him that made him think that he was a very bad little boy, because only a bad little boy would have to live with the things he had to live with. In fact, when the little boy grew up to be a teenager, he would get so mad at himself that he would hit himself, hard, with his own fists and tell his mother, on the computer he used for a mouth, that he didn't want to live anymore, for he was sure that God didn't like what was inside him any more than he did. He had always loved Mister Rogers, though, and now, even when he was fourteen years old, he watched the Neighborhood whenever it was on, and the boy's mother sometimes thought that Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive. She and the boy lived together in a city in California, and although she wanted very much for her son to meet Mister Rogers, she knew that he was far too disabled to travel all the way to Pittsburgh, so she figured he would never meet his hero, until one day she learned through a special foundation designed to help children like her son that Mister Rogers was coming to California and that after he visited the gorilla named Koko, he was coming to meet her son.

At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him. Mister Rogers didn't leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, "I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?" On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, "I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?" And now the boy didn't know how to respond. He was thunderstruck. Thunderstruck means that you can't talk, because something has happened that's as sudden and as miraculous and maybe as scary as a bolt of lightning, and all you can do is listen to the rumble. The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn't know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he'd try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn't talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.

As for Mister Rogers himself...well, he doesn't look at the story in the same way that the boy did or that I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart--for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself--and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. "Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn't ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM



Secretary of Defense James Mattis will present the proposals to Donald Trump later today at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

One of the proposals drawn up is a "saturation strike" using dozens of cruise missiles designed to hit Syrian military targets --including military air fields -- in an effort to limit future Syrian Air Force attacks on rebel positions, according to the two U.S. military officials. [...]

The proposed strike would involve launching Tomahawk cruise missiles to overwhelm Russian air defense systems used by the Syrian military. The Russian government currently helps maintain the air defense sites and advises the Syrian military.

According to both U.S. military officials, the current proposal would likely result in Russian military deaths and mark a drastic escalation of U.S. force in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Republicans Use 'Nuclear Option' to Clear the Way for Gorsuch Confirmation (LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, 4/06/17, NBC)

Senate Republicans used the "nuclear option" Thursday to change the chamber's rules and clear the way for the confirmation of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

The rules change will enable Gorsuch to easily pass through the Senate with a simple majority instead of the now-defunct 60-vote threshold. A final confirmation vote is expected Friday.

Confirmation is barely a story.  Forcing the GOP to use the nuclear option to obtain the confirmation makes them appear competent again and appeals to the entire base. It also means that Democrats have lost one of the tools with which they could have opposed an unqualified nominee.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM

NO ONE HATES JUST MEXICANS (profanity alert):

Steve Bannon Calls Jared Kushner a 'Cuck' and 'Globalist' Behind His Back  (Asawin Suebsaeng, 04.06.17, The Daily Beast)

Donald Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon has called the president's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner a "cuck" and a "globalist" during a time of high tension between the two top aides, several Trump administration officials told The Daily Beast.

The fighting between Kushner and Bannon has been "nonstop" in recent weeks, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. It's been an "open secret" that Bannon and Kushner often clash "face-to-face," according to senior officials.

Tough to have both Jews and racists/anti-Semites on senior staff.  

Fortunately, Little Finger is easily played:

The Times also reported that "Bannon's Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing's only leading man," and that "several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda--and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the 'President Bannon' puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter."

A Republican source close to Trump told The Daily Beast confirmed this level of insecurity over Bannon's reputation coming from the president, and mentioned that the president was "irked" after catching a glimpse of a recent cold-open on Saturday Night Live.

Bannon was depicted as a Grim Reaper character who manipulates Alec Baldwin's President Trump into sowing global chaos and diplomatic breakdown. At the end of the scene, "Bannon" tells Trump to give him his Oval Office desk back. Baldwin's Trump calls the Reaper "Mr. President," and then proceeds to go sit at his own much smaller, shorter desk, where the president plays with a kid's toy instead of governing. 

"Did you see this crap?" Trump asked the confidante, referring to the SNL sketch.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


From Breitbart to Sputnik : A former Breitbart reporter will host a radio show for the Russian government outlet. (ROSIE GRAY  APR 5, 2017, The Atlantic)

"I'm on the Russian payroll now, when you work at Sputnik you're being paid by the Russians," former Breitbart investigative reporter Lee Stranahan told me. "That's what it is. I don't have any qualms about it. Nothing about it really affects my position on stuff that I've had for years now."

Stranahan's new position is the latest twist in the increasingly atomized world of niche right-wing media, which has seen an increase in prominence and influence during the Trump era. It also reflects a realignment on the right towards Russia as the administration, led by an unusually Russia-receptive president, becomes increasingly entangled in a drip-drip of stories about Russian influence.

Is anyone on the Right not employed by Russia?

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Devin Nunes Steps Aside; Ethics Committee Investigating for Spilling Secrets (Tim Mak, 4/06/17, Daily Beast)

Rep. Devin Nunes said Thursday he is stepping aside from the Russia investigation by the House intelligence committee because he is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly disclosing intelligence without proper authorization.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Russia bans picture of Vladimir Putin in drag (Elena Cresci, 6 April 2017, The Guardian)

The picture is cited on the Russian justice ministry's list of banned "extremist" materials - a list that is 4,074 entries long. No 4,071 states that the poster, depicting Putin with painted eyes and lips, implies "the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation".

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Civil war rages throughout Trump administration (ALEX ISENSTADT and ANDREW RESTUCCIA, 04/06/17, Politico)

A civil war between Donald Trump loyalists and establishment-minded Republicans is escalating throughout the federal government -- and increasingly the president's allies are losing.

From the State Department to the Environmental Protection Agency, a sharp dividing line has formed: Cabinet secretaries and their handpicked teams of GOP veterans are rushing to take power as Trump campaign staffers -- "originals," as they call themselves -- gripe that they're being pushed aside.

In over a dozen interviews, the originals, many of whom volunteered to work for candidate Trump when few others were willing to do so, complained that they'd been shut out of meetings and targeted with career-destroying leaks. In recent weeks, a number of longtime Trump supporters have abruptly quit, saying they felt the administration had been overtaken by the same establishment they worked to defeat.

It's the Republican Party, not Donald's.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Trump tells newspaper Obama aide might have broken the law (AP, 5/05/17)

The unmasking review was led by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the NSC's senior director of intelligence. Cohen-Watnick has clashed with the CIA and was on the verge of being moved out of his job until Trump political advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner stepped in to keep him in the role.

Cohen-Watnick raised his findings about Rice with the White House counsel's office, according to the official. The counsel's office ordered him to stand down because the lawyers did not want the White House to be running an independent investigation into the prior administration.

The Administration's only interest in the corruption investigation is the politics.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Kurds 're-energize' independence referendum plan for post-jihadist Iraq (Maher Chmaytelli, 4/06/17, Reuters)

Iraq's Kurds plan to hold a referendum on independence this year to press their case for "the best deal" on self-determination once Islamic State is defeated, a senior Kurdish official said.

The Kurds already run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq and the official, Hoshiyar Zebari, indicated the expected 'yes' outcome in a vote wouldn't mean automatically declaring independence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Cohn Backs Wall Street Split of Lending, Investment Banks (Elizabeth Dexheimer, April 5, 2017, Bloomberg)

In a private meeting with lawmakers, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said he supports a policy that could radically reshape Wall Street's biggest firms by separating their consumer-lending businesses from their investment banks, said people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Cohn, the ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive who is now advising President Donald Trump, said he generally favors banking going back to how it was when firms like Goldman focused on trading and underwriting securities, and companies such as Citigroup Inc. primarily issued loans, according to the people, who heard his comments.

The remarks surprised some senators and congressional aides who attended the Wednesday meeting, as they didn't expect a former top Wall Street executive to speak favorably of proposals that would force banks to dramatically rethink how they do business.

Yet Cohn's comments echo what Trump and Republican lawmakers have previously said about wanting to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that kept bricks-and-mortar lending separate from investment banking for more than six decades.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


DEATH OF A DYSTOPIAN : Alt-right conspiracy theorists think that the government killed the aspiring Libertarian filmmaker David Crowley. The truth is far stranger. (Alec Wilkinson, 4/10/17, The New Yorker)

David Crowley began keeping a journal in April of 2014. He was twenty-eight years old, and he lived in Apple Valley, Minnesota, with his wife, Komel, and their four-year-old daughter, Raniya. The journal was "a life report, since I suspect my feelings right now in nostalgia or reflection might be of value," Crowley wrote. By the time he stopped making entries, seven months later, he had inadvertently created a psychological document of which very few examples are known.

Crowley had been a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afterward, he had gone to film school, and in 2010 he began writing a script that he called "Gray State," in which a totalitarian foreign regime conquers the U.S. government and a band of patriots form a resistance. On LinkedIn, Crowley described "Gray State" as "a film about a near future collapse of society under martial law."

Crowley's engagement with "Gray State" was consuming. "Every little part of this project is me," he recorded himself saying. In addition to writing six very different drafts of the script, he made three trailers, for which he auditioned, rehearsed, and directed the actors; drew storyboards; designed costumes; found locations and got permits; acted as the director of photography, overseeing as many as four cameras at once; and composed music and special effects. As if inhabiting the world he was creating, he periodically cut his hair in a Mohawk and wore combat fatigues and body armor. An actor named Danny Mason, who helped write the first draft, told me that Crowley would take him on hikes through the woods at three in the morning. "We'd come to a clearing and he'd say, 'See that field?' " Mason said. " 'Imagine there being a convoy there and fires in the distance.' "

Crowley posted a trailer for "Gray State" on YouTube in 2012. It has been watched more than two and a half million times, and the film has more than fifty-seven thousand followers on Facebook. Its supporters included "conspiracy theorists, survival groups," Crowley wrote, "libertarians, veterans," and "the military," many of whom believe that the government has plans to impose martial law, confiscate guns, and hold dissidents prisoner in camps built by fema.

Crowley had a patchwork system of beliefs. He regarded himself as a Libertarian, but he identified with the left-leaning wing of the Party, not the militant one--being a soldier had made him a pacifist. After uploading the trailer, Crowley spoke at a Ron Paul event in Tampa, hoping to raise money. "Gray State," he said, would explore such trends as "the slow yielding of our quiet American towns and streets to a choking array of federal surveillance grids, illegal police checkpoints."

Through a crowdsourcing campaign, Crowley collected more than sixty thousand dollars, much of it after the conservative radio commentator Alex Jones had Crowley and Danny Mason on his radio show "Infowars," in 2012, to discuss "the impressive film you're working on." The world depicted in "Gray State" was already "happening here," Jones said. "The people who have hijacked our country, they're admitting it. They're admitting that we're an occupied nation by foreign banks, they're admitting they're getting rid of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution."

"We have people who are living in the Alex Jones world who know what's going on, and the people who simply don't," Crowley replied. "Gray State," he added, was factual and "could be described as a documentary." (Jones declined my request for an interview.)

In January of 2015, Crowley and his wife and daughter were found shot dead at their home. Reports of their deaths appeared in the United States and abroad. The Huffington Post called Crowley a military man, and USA Today called him a filmmaker. The police determined that Crowley had shot his wife and child and then shot himself, but commentators on the Internet soon began saying that Crowley's death seemed "suspicious" and "mysterious," and that he had likely been murdered by government agents intent on preventing the movie from being made.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Poland Eyes Buying Gas From U.S. To Cut Dependence On Russia (RFE/RL, 4/06/17)

In a visit to the United States this week, Mateusz Morawiecki, who is also Poland's minister of economic development, met with U.S. Energy Secretary RIck Perry to discuss purchasing U.S. gas and got a "very positive response," he told reporters.

Morawiecki told Reuters on April 5 that he reached an "understanding" with Perry to work toward a deal.

Poland, a NATO member, currently gets about two-thirds of its gas from Russia, and has been striving to find alternative sources for national security reasons.

The purchase of gas from the United States would diversify Poland's energy supplies and increase its energy security, Morawiecki said.

Number Of Russians In Poverty Hits Decade-High (Radio Liberty, April 06, 2017)

The number of Russians living in poverty reached 19.8 million last year, the highest in a decade, as the economy struggled through a recession following a sharp oil-price drop and the imposition of Western sanctions over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post (PETER BAKER, MAGGIE HABERMAN and GLENN THRUSH, APRIL 5, 2017, NY Times)

[B]ehind the scenes, White House officials said, the ideologist who enjoyed the president's confidence became increasingly embattled as other advisers, including Mr. Trump's daughter and son-in-law, complained about setbacks on health care and immigration. Lately, Mr. Bannon has been conspicuously absent from some meetings. And now he has lost his seat at the national security table.

In a move that was widely seen as a sign of changing fortunes, Mr. Trump removed Mr. Bannon, his chief strategist, from the National Security Council's cabinet-level "principals committee" on Wednesday. The shift was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump's national security adviser, who insisted on purging a political adviser from the Situation Room where decisions about war and peace are made.

Mr. Bannon resisted the move, even threatening at one point to quit if it went forward, according to a White House official who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. 

April 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


The Bogus Susan Rice Story Shows How Desperate the White House Is Getting : Susan Rice's alleged "unmasking" wasn't illegal, or even unusual. (Fred Kaplan, 4/04/17, Slate)

I asked retired Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, whether it's unlawful or even unusual for someone in Rice's position to ask the NSA to unmask the names of Americans caught up in intercepts. He replied, in an email, "Absolutely lawful. Even somewhat routine."

He added, "The request to unmask would not be automatically granted. NSA would adjudicate that, although I'm certain a request from the national security adviser would carry great weight."

Hayden also said, "There are very plausible, legitimate reasons why she would request such information." Though he didn't elaborate on what those reasons might have been, the pertinent regulations specify that unmasking might be requested, and allowed, if the names in question are pertinent to foreign intelligence. When Rice made her request, there were ongoing investigations of Russia's involvement in the election, of the role Trump advisers might have played in this involvement, and of efforts by some of these advisers to undermine U.S. foreign policy, specifically on sanctions toward Russia.

"To summarize, on its face, not even close to a smoking gun."

It's worth noting that we don't know--or at least no news story about the incident has reported--whether the NSA granted Rice's request and gave her the unmasked names. Even if she did, Hayden emphasized in his email, "the identities would be unmasked only for her"--and not for any other official who received the transcript.

"To summarize," Hayden wrote in his email, "on its face, not even close to a smoking gun."

It's hardly out of the ordinary for a White House official like Rice, with high security clearances, to request unmasking. In Tuesday's Washington Post, Glenn Kessler quotes Michael Doran, a former NSC aide under President George W. Bush, as saying, "I did it a couple of times."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


A Robot with Its Head in the Cloud Tackles Warehouse Picking : A dexterous new robotic gripper can manipulate unfamiliar objects, and it shares what it learns with a hive mind in the cloud. (Will Knight  April 5, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

Hidden inside a busy industrial building in Somerville, Massachusetts, a robot arm spends its day picking up seemingly random objects--bottles of shampoo, onions, cans of shaving foam--from a conveyor belt that goes in a circle about 10 meters in diameter.

The odd-looking setup is a test bed for a system that could take on many of the mundane picking tasks currently done by hand in warehouses and fulfillment centers. And it shows how advances in robotic hardware, computer vision, and teleoperation, along with the ability for machines to learn collaboratively via the cloud, may transform warehouse fulfillment in coming years.

The new robotic picking platform, which uses a combination of a hybrid gripper and machine learning, and which was developed by a startup called RightHand Robotics, can handle a wide variety of objects faster and more reliably than existing systems.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


With prison strike, Barghouti hopes to prove Palestinian street still his (AVI ISSACHAROFF, April 5, 2017, Times of Israel)

Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti wants all of the 2,890 Fatah party prisoners in Israeli jails, as well as those from other movements, to go on an indefinite hunger strike on April 17, Palestinian Prisoners' Day.

On the surface the move by Barghouti -- who is serving five life sentences for masterminding a series of deadly attacks at the start of the Second Intifada -- is aimed at Israel, but the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah would do well to notice as well, as the popular Palestinian leader is likely attempting to flex his political muscles, despite an attempt by Ramallah to isolate him. [...]

Next year, the man who has become a Palestinian symbol will celebrate his 60th birthday. During his time in prison, he has become a grandfather.

In the Fatah Central Committee's leadership elections (the party's most senior institution), he won first place. His wife, Fadwa, took the top place in the movement's Revolutionary Council elections (the party's second most senior institution). He is ostensibly the movement's undisputed leader, despite being behind bars.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


The likely culprits behind the St. Petersburg bombing (Peter Bergen and David Sterman, 4/04/17, CNN)

The large number of "foreign fighters" from Russia and the Central Asian states who have joined ISIS compounds the ISIS threat to Russia.

Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin estimated the number of fighters who had left for Syria and Iraq from Russia and the former Soviet republics at 5,000 to 7,000.

The Soufan Group, a New York-based intelligence consulting firm that tracks foreign fighters who have joined ISIS, placed the number of fighters from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, another post-Soviet central Asian state, at 500 each.

ISIS has also relied upon its Central Asian recruits to carry out attacks in the past. ISIS recruits from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia killed more than 40 people at Istanbul airport in June 2016.

If the attack on St. Petersburg was carried out by ISIS relying upon at least one Central Asian recruit, it would provide further evidence of the expansive and multi-layered threat ISIS poses to Russia.

ISIS despises the Russian government for its support of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and so it's no surprise that ISIS began targeting Russia in 2015, around the same time that Russia first intervened in the Syrian civil war.

On October 31, 2015, ISIS bombed a Russian airliner carrying vacationing passengers from Sinai, Egypt to St. Petersburg, killing 224 people. ISIS celebrated the attack both in its English language magazine Dabiq as well as in its Russian language magazine Istok. The attack carried out by ISIS' Sinai affiliate illustrates how wide-ranging the threat to Russia is.

As ISIS loses on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, contingents of Russian ISIS fighters who survive may try and make their way home to foment additional terrorism on Russian soil.

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


In reversal, Bannon removed from National Security Council role (Dan Merica and Jeremy Diamond, 4/05/17, CNN)

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's chief strategist, has been removed from his permanent seat at the National Security Council, multiple sources tell CNN, moving the council into a more traditional format.

Next is removing him from the Administration.

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


Capitol Hill's Love-Hate Relationship with FISA (Caroline Lynch, April 5, 2017, Lawfare)

Little credit--and little attention--is given to FISA tools when they succeed in preventing a terror plot, even a plot carried out by an American. For instance, despite the recent obsession with  privacy concerns surrounding incidental collection, the use of such collection to investigate Mohamed Osman Mohamud's 2010 plot to bomb Portland's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony has gone largely unnoticed by Congress.

But when terror attacks are successfully carried out on U.S. soil, such as those in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando, Congress is quick to question why they weren't prevented, what intelligence was lacking, and what additional intelligence tools are needed to make sure it doesn't happen again. Congress wants the FBI and other intelligence agencies to identify and disrupt all terror plots and espionage, including those carried out by Americans, but it struggles with whether and to what extent our intelligence tools should be used against its own constituents.

In the month since President Trump's now infamous tweet accusing President Obama of personally wiretapping him, an odd phenomenon has been occurring on Capitol Hill. Democratic members, typically more vocal opponents of FISA's perceived intrusion on American's privacy, including incidental collection, have been noticeably mum about the alleged incidental collection of Trump campaign and transition staff communications. Republicans, on the other hand, are suddenly queasy about FISA's treatment of U.S. person communications, even those lawfully collected and properly masked.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM



As [Michael Rogers, the director of the N.S.A., ] explained in his March 20th testimony, the first step is to determine whether the intercepted communication has "intelligence value." He said, "We'll ask ourselves, is there criminal activity involved, is there a threat, potential threat or harm to U.S. individuals being discussed in a conversation." If the N.S.A. determines that the information doesn't have value, it purges the data. If it determines that it does, it masks the identity of the Americans before circulating the intelligence. If a policymaker wants to unmask the identity of a redacted name that she comes across in a report, so she can better understand the intelligence, she can make that request to the N.S.A. [...]

Rogers said that the N.S.A. uses a two-part test to evaluate unmasking requests: "Is there a valid need to know in the course of the execution of their official duties?" and "Is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate?"

The answer to these questions is often yes. "Masking and unmasking happens every single day, dozens of times, or hundreds of times. I don't even know the numbers," Jim Himes, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me. "There needs to be a process followed. It's a fairly rigorous process, involving lots of review by counsels and that sort of thing."

As if it weren't inept enough when Donald revealed that the feds had been forced to surveil Trump Towers, he's now driven home the point that the surveillance was capturing significant intelligence about the illicit activities his team was up to with foreign agents.

Never Mind The Russians, Meet The Bot King Who Helps Trump Win Twitter (Joseph Bernstein, 4/05/17, BuzzFeed News)

At 7:23 on Sunday evening, the conservative internet personality Mike Cernovich tweeted that former national security adviser Susan Rice had requested the "unmasking" of Americans connected to the Trump campaign who were incidentally mentioned in surveillance readouts. At 7:30, the owner of the Twitter account MicroMagicJingleTM noticed, and began blasting out dozens of tweets and retweets about the story.

"Would be nice to get 'Susan Rice' trending," he tweeted at 8:16. And then he made exactly that happen.

MicroMagicJingleTM is the latest incarnation of MicroChip, a notorious pro-Trump Twitter ringleader once described by a Republican strategist as the "Trumpbot overlord." He has been suspended from the service so frequently, he can't recall the exact number of times. A voluminous tweeter, his specialty is making hashtags trend. Over the next 24 hours, following his own call to arms, MicroChip tweeted or retweeted more than 300 times about Rice, including everything from a photoshopped image of Donald Trump eating her head out of a taco bowl to demands that she die in jail, and almost always accompanied by the tag #SusanRice. Meanwhile, in massive threaded tweets and DM groups, he implored others to do likewise.

By 9 a.m. Monday, the tag was being tweeted nearly 20,000 times an hour, and was trending on Twitter; by 11 a.m., 34,000 an hour.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Affordable Care Act Gains Majority Approval for First Time (Jim Norman, 4/04/17, Gallup)

Fifty-five percent of Americans now support the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a major turnaround from five months ago when 42% approved and 53% disapproved. This is the first time a majority of Americans have approved of the healthcare law, also known as Obamacare, since Gallup first asked about it in this format in November 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Sorry, But Susan Rice Is Not Your 'Smoking Gun' (Brian Barrett, 4/04/17, Wired)

First: A US citizen's name appearing in an intelligence report does not mean that person was the target of a surveillance operation. They're more likely to have been on the other end of a phone call or email with a foreign national, one that the intelligence community believes to have some sort of value, and received clearance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to surveil. People like, say, the sort of diplomats and foreign officials with whom the Trump transition team would have communicated extensively. It's known as "incidental collection," and it's both totally legal and completely unsurprising.

In cases of incidental collection under FISA, the agency who garnered the material automatically "masks" the names of any US citizens. Masking provides an important Fourth Amendment safeguard--but it's also not an inalienable right.

"The most commonly used standard by which a national security official can ask for a US person named to be unmasked is: Is the identity necessary to understand the foreign intelligence value of the information?" says Carrie Cordero, a national security lawyer who has worked directly on FISA process issues.

Frequently, it is. According to a the intelligence community's 2016 transparency report, in 2015 the NSA issued 4,290 reports that included identifying information about US citizens under FISA's Section 702, which allows for surveillance of non-US individuals. In 1,122 of those cases, the agency ultimately unmasked the information.

"This is a standard practice," says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program.

There's nothing inherently suspicious about incidental collection, and unmasking happens with decent regularity. The only potential scandal that could erupt from some such practices would relate to who requested the unmasking, and why? Which brings us to Susan Rice.

Masked Marauders
It's easy enough to see how a senior Obama administration official requesting the unmasking of Trump associates could cause a tempest. But less so when you consider the specific associate.

"The national security advisor, every day, as part of the National Security Council, gets a compilation of intelligence reports every morning," says Goitein. "To the extent that the reports include US person information that has been masked, per standard procedure, you would certainly expect the people who received those reports to be among the people who are requesting the unmasking."

That aligns with a brief interview Rice gave to NBC's Andrea Mitchell. "There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a US person was referred to, name not provided," Rice said. "Sometimes in that context in order to understand the importance of that report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that US official was."

All of which, again, isn't just legal. It's routine, especially for someone in Rice's position at the time.

"There's certainly nothing illegal about it," says Cordero. "The decision to request an unmask is a judgment call based on an individual's national security responsibilities, and their need to understand the context."

April 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


CAN TRUMP MATCH XI JINPING'S GAME? (Evan Osnos, 4/04/17, The New Yorker)

[T]rump's posturing as a candidate on China was always a case of theatre over substance, and his advisers occasionally admitted as much. Sure enough, once he was in office, Trump began acting like a pliable counterpart. He has not put tariffs on imports or branded China as a currency manipulator, as he threatened. When Trump briefly showered attention on Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province, Xi stonewalled him--and Trump's resolve liquefied, just as foreign-policy hands in China had predicted it would. When Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, visited Beijing last month, Tillerson even recited Beijing's chosen phrases about "mutual respect" and "win-win solutions." Why does that matter? It's roughly the geostrategic equivalent of trying to haggle over the price of a car in a foreign language that you haven't mastered.

Beijing did not forget the lesson. In anticipation of the summit, Evan Medeiros, an Asia expert at the Eurasia Group, observed that "many in China believe Trump is a 'paper tiger' whose focus on short-term gains can be manipulated." Having concluded that Trump cannot back up his rhetoric, Xi has little reason to accede to Trump's demands, which include getting China to put more pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear program. The visitors from Beijing also know that, at some point, Trump will attempt a splashy display of confrontation. But Beijing is not overly concerned. Let Trump tweet; Xi is playing a longer game.

Having sent Tillerson home from Beijing spouting Communist Party mantras, Xi's envoys have turned their attention to the representative they really care about: Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. From a Chinese perspective, Kushner's role in the White House is a clannish arrangement that they know well. Many of Trump's current courtiers may be gone in a year of two, but the members of his family will remain. For a while, China appeared to be preparing to endear itself to Kushner in a way that only it can: Anbang, a financial conglomerate with close ties to the Party leadership, was nearing a deal that would have unlocked billions of dollars to help Kushner save a troubled investment in a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue. Last week, the Kushner family announced that talks had broken off, for reasons that were not clear.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Islamic State says U.S. 'being run by an idiot' (REuters, 4/04/17)

In the first official remarks by the group referring to President Donald Trump since he took office, spokesman Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer said:

"America you have drowned and there is no savior, and you have become prey for the soldiers of the caliphate in every part of the earth, you are bankrupt and the signs of your demise are evident to every eye."

"... There is no more evidence than the fact that you are being run by an idiot who does not know what Syria or Iraq or Islam is," he said in a recording released on Tuesday on messaging network Telegram.

Of course, the difference is that we soon won't be while they always will be.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


The White House Is Reportedly Considering a Carbon Tax (Eric Levitz, 4/04/17, New York)

Initially, the House GOP's silver bullet was a border-adjustment tax (BAT) -- effectively, a measure that would decrease the tax liability of American exporters while increasing that of importers. This would both provide Trump a (relatively) non-disruptive means of making America more protectionist and raise about $1 trillion in revenue, since America imports a lot more stuff than it exports.

But major retailers don't like the BAT. And neither do many consumer groups, who view the tax as regressive. And a bevy of Republican senators has already vowed to kill the provision. So, now, the more moderate wing of the White House is, apparently, considering two other new taxes that will (almost certainly) never, ever pass. As the Washington Post reports:

President Trump's administration is exploring the creation of two controversial new taxes -- a value-added tax and a carbon tax -- as part of a broad overhaul of the tax code, according to an administration official and one other person briefed on the process. 

The value-added tax, which is popular in many other countries, would serve as a kind of national sales tax, one that consumers would pay when they make purchases and that businesses would pay for supplies, services and raw materials. A carbon tax would target the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases in the burning of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Have Worker Wages Really Gone Nowhere for 40 Years? (James Pethokoukis, April 3, 2017, Ricochet)

[Dartmouth economist Bruce] Sacerdote in "Fifty Years Of Growth In American Consumption, Income, And Wages": "These estimates suggest that consumption is up 1.7 percent per year or 164 percent over the whole time period. These estimates of growth strike me as consistent with the significant increases in quality and quantity of goods enjoyed by Americans over the last half century."

Sacerdote doesn't believe those headlines, either, skeptically mentioning them in his paper.

But what about that above chart, the one showing stagnating wages? It looks a lot different depending on the inflation measure you choose. And there seems to be a broad consensus that the traditional consumer price index measure overstates inflation, meaning real wage and income growth are higher than we think. Sacerdote instead focuses on the price consumption expenditure index, which covers a broader range of spending and adjusts for changing consumer behavior. Sacerdote (bold is mine):

PCE adjusted wages appear to have grown at .5% per year during 1975-2015 while the de-biased CPI adjusted wages grew at 1% per year over the same time period. ... This adjustment reverses the finding of wage stagnation. Using the PCE to deflate nominal wages suggests real wage growth of 24 percent from 1975-2015 or about .54% growth in real wages per year. Importantly that growth is significantly less than the 1.18% annual growth in real wages (using PCE inflation) seen in the earlier decade 1964-1975 and is significantly less than GDP per capita growth of 1.8 percent over the 1975-2015 period. But 24 percent growth over the 1975-2015 is substantially better than zero growth and the PCE inflation could itself still contain upward bias. Adjusting for the Hamilton (1998) and Costa (2001) estimates of CPI bias implies real wage growth of 1 percent per year during 1975-2015 and GDP per capita growth of 2.7 percent per year.

And as he sums it up: "Estimates of slow and steady growth seem more plausible than media headlines which suggest that median American households face declining living standards."

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Why So Many Americans Are Saying Goodbye to Cities : What's happening to New York City is a microcosm of what's happening around the country--the hollowing out of the U.S. city. (DEREK THOMPSON, 4/04/17, The Atlantic)

Net domestic migration to New York City metro area (which includes the five boroughs plus slivers of New Jersey and Pennsylvania) is down by a whopping 900,000 people since 2010. That means that, since 2010, almost a million more people have left New York for somewhere else in America than have moved to New York from another U.S. metro--more than any other metro in the country. This is the "fleeing" that the Post finds so "alarming." But the New York metro has also netted about 850,000 international migrants since 2010. That number is also tops among all metros--more than Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, combined.

So, that's the story of New York City, today. It is an extremely popular first-stop for immigrants. It is also a popular destination for young, upwardly mobile Millennials who have graduated from top colleges and don't yet have families with children. But since it's expensive, chaotic, and mostly lawn-free, it's not a great place for middle class families who dream of an affordable house, car, and yard.

In this regard, New York is a microcosm of the American city. Population growth in big cities has now shrunk for five consecutive years, according to Jed Kolko, an economist and writer. While well-educated Millennials without children have concentrated in a handful of expensive liberal cities, the rest of the country is slowly fanning out to the sunny suburbs.

The proper model for the city is Disneyworld--a place you visit during the day for entertainment that closes at night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


FBI plans to create special unit to co-ordinate Russia probe (David J Lynch, 4/02/17, Financial Times)

The FBI is planning to create a special section based at its Washington headquarters to co-ordinate its investigation of Russian activities designed to influence the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the plan. 

The move, a sign of how seriously the bureau is taking allegations of Russian meddling in American politics, is also aimed at giving FBI director James Comey greater visibility into the investigation's granular details. "It's meant to surge resources," said one FBI agent. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Susan Rice Denies Obama Admin Used Intelligence to Hurt Trump Team (Charles Fain Lehman, April 4, 2017, Free Beacon)

She explained that, as national security adviser, she would sometimes request more information about unspecified "U.S. persons" whose names appeared in intelligence briefings.

No one expected Donald and his team to be anything but inept, but here again we have a defense from them that adds up to : the fact that intelligence on Russian criminality kept serving up our staff proves there was something fishy going on!

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Race to replace Price: Leading in polls, Ossoff doesn't live in district (Tim Darnell, 2/28/17, WXIA)

The surprising early leader in the special election to replace Tom Price in Congress doesn't live in the district.

Democrat Jon Ossoff lives about 10 minutes south of the district, according to a campaign spokesman. Ossoff grew up in the district and has been registered to vote in it for many years. Ossoff's parents also live in the district, and Ossoff moved out of the 6th and into an Emory-area neighborhood to be close to his girlfriend of 13 years, who started medical school.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


The cowardly spectacle of the anti-anti-Trump movement (Damon Linker, April 4, 2017, The Week)

The classic case is the anti-anti-communism espoused by some liberals during and after the McCarthy era. Yes, the Soviet Union was a menace, these liberals maintained, but even worse, perhaps, were Americans who were too zealous in their anti-communism. Hence the need to focus on the danger these anti-communists posed to liberal democratic government.

It's not that all or even many anti-anti-communists were intentionally pro-communist. But the effect of their consistent emphasis on the dangers of anti-communism was to downplay the seriousness of the threat posed by the Soviet Union.

One of the strangest developments in this very strange moment in American politics is the rebirth of politics by negation, this time on the right -- in the form of anti-anti-Trumpism, which effectively argues that the president's liberal opponents are somehow worse than this phenomenally bad president.

The obvious point is that both the Left and the Right--but I repeat myself--are fundamentally reactionary.  But it has been hilarious to watch the putatively anti-Trumpers become so ragingly pro-Trump since he won.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Fewer than half of white men and rural Americans approve of Trump in brutal new poll (Peter Weber, 4/04/17, The Week)
When President Trump's approval rating dropped to 35 percent in Gallup's tracking poll last week, it appeared to be something of an outlier -- in other polls, Trump's approval was at 38 percent to 45 percent. But while Trump has risen back up to 38 percent in Gallup, a new poll from Investor's Business Daily and TIPP released Monday pegged his approval at 34 percent, an 11-point drop from the IBD/TIPP poll last month; 56 percent disapprove of Trump's performance. Only 49 percent of white men and 41 percent of rural Americans approve of the president. And that's just the tip of the bad-news spear in the poll, conducted March 24-30.

If he can't even keep us crackers on board then what is his base?

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Black Lives Matter Bans White People From Attending 'Open Meeting' Event (Lukas Mikelionis, April 4, 2017, Heat Street)
A Black Lives Matter chapter in Philadelphia has banned white people from attending an event, claiming it's a "black only space."

According to the "April Open Meeting" event page on Facebook, the gathering, scheduled for April 15, is aimed at discussing future initiatives and projects of the movement in which only black people are allowed to participate. "Please note that BLM Philly is a Black only space," claims the event description.

Funny...the BLM protests here are always only old white Vermonters. 
Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


The Pentagon Now Knows That To Get To Trump, You Go Through Jared Kushner (Nancy A. Youssef, 4/03/17, BuzzFeed News)

Given the Trump White House's thwarting the conventional chains of command, the Pentagon has decided to go along, in the hopes that the face time -- coupled with the experience of traveling to the front lines of the war against ISIS -- will become leverage in the discussions about the way ahead.

"You have to understand where the levers are. You don't have to like it, but that is where they are," a defense official told BuzzFeed News. "It's in our interest." [...]

The pair were scheduled to depart after only four hours on the ground, ensuring Kushner is back in time to manage Xi Jinping's visit later this week. A visit that brief is not enough to understand the complex situation in Iraq, but for a fleeting moment for first-time visitors, it can feel like it. Dunford said in a statement released Sunday night that he invited Kushner to see events on the ground, "first-hand and unfiltered."

Dunford stood to gain something as well. For him, it was hours of direct access to arguably the most influential White House adviser -- 16 hours sealed inside a plane to be exact.

"That is a looong time to have someone's ear," a second defense official explained to BuzzFeed News.

Defense officials said while according to the official story, Dunford invited Kushner, they are not sure if the idea was that simple. Rather it was "DoD initiated," the first defense official said. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis already had extended a similar invitation to Kushner and Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Syrian people do not want Assad in power, US envoy tells UN (AFP, April 4, 2017)

The United States believes the Syrian people do not want President Bashar Assad to remain in power and does not accept that he could stand in elections, Ambassador Nikki Haley said Monday.

Haley told a news conference that Assad is a "war criminal," "a hindrance to peace for a long time" and that his treatment of Syrians was "disgusting."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Mao enemy Chiang Kai-shek gets new life in China's mainstream culture : Former 'enemy of the people' revived as an anti-Japan hero (LOUISE WATT, 8/18/14, AP)

There has been a grudging acceptance of Chiang's historical role in fighting against Japan following its invasion in the lead-up to World War II. Chiang later lost to Mao Zedong's Communists in the Chinese civil war and fled in 1949 to Taiwan, where he ruled until his death in 1975. [...]

Chiang came to power as head of the Chinese Nationalist government in 1928 and much of his rule was spent fighting the Japanese and Mao's Communists. For more than two decades after the Communists took over, many in the West still considered Chiang the face of China.

His shift on the mainland has been noticeable, if unstated. Over the past decade, Chiang's Nationalist soldiers, known as Kuomintang or KMT, have gone from being portrayed in TV dramas as little more than corrupt and greedy characters to evincing patriotism and even courage as they fight the Japanese.

The fight against Mao, to make the nation Western, was more important and it is the tragedy of China that he lost, giving Taiwan a GDP per capita of $47.8k but the PRC only $15.4k.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


It's O.K., California. Breaking Up Isn't Hard to Do. (STEVEN GREENHUT, APRIL 4, 2017, NY Times)

"We should explore creating more states so we have a democracy that's closer to the people," said Scott Baugh, a former Republican assemblyman who met with Mr. Banks and Nigel Farage when they were in Orange County to receive an award. California has nearly 40 million people and is growing. At what point is the population too large for a single state? he wondered in a recent interview. That's a question Californians have been asking since the early days of the state's existence.

When a motley crew of American settlers, native-born "Californios" and European immigrants assembled in Monterey in 1849 for a constitutional convention, there was wide disagreement about where to put the eastern boundary for the proposed state of California. Some wanted an enormous state that would have encompassed a lot of modern-day Utah.

Since California achieved statehood in 1850, residents have floated dozens of plans to break it up. A proposed 2016 measure to carve it into six states, which did not make it onto the ballot, was initiated by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Tim Draper, who also is behind the effort that Mr. Banks and Mr. Farage recommended. News reports suggest his latest plan is to largely split the state east to west, but Mr. Draper told me his idea has no specific boundaries yet.

"We are doing deep research on everything from infrastructure to higher education to safety to water to the electric grid to politics to income levels to health care," Mr. Draper said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Iran signs contract for 60 Boeing 737 Max aircraft: IRNA (REuters, 4/04/17)

Iran's Aseman airline signed a contract with Boeing (BA.N) on Tuesday to buy 60 737 Max aircraft, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Elizabeth Warren's Female Staffers Made 71% of Male Staffers' Salaries in 2016 (Brent Scher, April 4, 2017, Daily Beacon)

The gender pay gap in Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D., Mass.) is nearly 10 percent wider than the national average, meaning women in the Massachusetts Democrat's office will have to wait longer than most women across the country to recognize Equal Pay Day.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


At Kushners' Flagship Building, Mounting Debt and a Foundered Deal  (CHARLES V. BAGLI, APRIL 3, 2017, NY Times)

The Kushner Companies bought the building in January 2007, closing the deal on Jared Kushner's birthday and paying the highest price ever for a New York office building. "This is a great acquisition for our company," Jared Kushner said at the time.

According to the Kushners, they put $500 million into the purchase. They then took out a mortgage and hundreds of millions in additional loans to cover the purchase price and ancillary costs.

The building represented a new beginning for a New Jersey real estate family that had specialized in suburban garden apartments. The Kushner Companies moved its headquarters to the 15th floor on Fifth Avenue, from Florham Park, N.J.

While the total paid for the building was not that much higher than the previous record -- $1.72 billion for the MetLife Building -- the price for MetLife worked out to about $600 a square foot, while the Kushners paid $1,200 a square foot for 666 Fifth Avenue.

Even at the time, income from the building, which was almost completely rented, covered only about two-thirds of the annual debt payments, according to records.

Then, as the 2008 financial crisis set in, rents, instead of going up, went down. To pay off some of their debt, the Kushners began selling parts of the building, including its most valuable asset, the retail space on Fifth Avenue, to the Carlyle Group and Crown Acquisitions for $525 million, a remarkable price. The proceeds were used to pay off secondary loans on the building, not the main mortgage.

But the bleeding continued. Two years later, with the tower's reserve funds nearly exhausted and the owner losing as much as $30 million, the mortgage holder appointed a "special servicer" to oversee 666 Fifth Avenue. Such a company manages a property loan when the borrower is in danger of falling into default.

The Kushner Companies renegotiated the terms of the loan in 2011.

At the same time, Vornado, a publicly traded real estate company and one of the city's largest landlords, bought 49.5 percent of the building's office space for $80 million and other financial pledges as part of refinancing the property. In 2013, it bought the retail condominium from Crown and Carlyle for $707 million, except for a portion that had been sold to Zara, the Spanish clothing chain.

Vornado's chairman, Steven Roth, declined to comment on the building. His firm has veto power over any deal, according to its loan agreements with the Kushner Companies.

The $1.2 billion mortgage on 666 Fifth Avenue has swelled to $1.4 billion with accrued interest, according to financial records filed by Vornado. Revenue, which continues to decline, covers only 66 percent of the building's debt obligations, according to the latest report by Trepp.

At this point, the value of the office space is less than the mortgage, said Jed Reagan, a commercial real estate analyst at Green Street Advisors, a real estate research firm based in California. "There is no equity value" on the office portion of the building, he said.

April 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Report: Blackwater founder secretly met with Putin associate to establish Trump-Moscow back channel (Catherine Garcia, 4/03/17, The Week)

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi helped arrange a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater and a major Donald Trump supporter, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin, nine days before Trump's inauguration in an apparent attempt to establish a back channel between Putin and Trump, several U.S., European, and Arab officials told The Washington Post. [...]

Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, regularly appeared on a radio program hosted by Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, and gave $250,000 to Trump's campaign. 

EXCLUSIVE: Controversial Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka Backed Violent Anti-Semitic Militia (Lili BayerApril 3, 2017, tHE fORWARD)

In a video obtained by the Forward of an August 2007 television appearance by Gorka, the future White House senior aide explicitly affirms his party's and his support for the black-vested Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) -- a group later condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for attempting to promote an "essentially racist" legal order.

Asked directly on the TV interview program if he supports the move by Jobbik, a far-right anti-Semitic party, to establish the militia, Gorka, appearing as a leader of his own newly formed party, replies immediately, "That is so." The Guard, Gorka explains, is a response to "a big societal need."

A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy : Carter Page told BuzzFeed News that he had been in contact with at least one Russian spy working undercover out of Moscow's UN office in 2013. (Ali Watkins, 4/03/17, BuzzFeed)

The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.

A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as "Male-1." BuzzFeed News has confirmed that "Male-1" is Page.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


U.S. increasingly sees Iran's hand in the arming of Bahraini militants (Souad Mekhennet and Joby Warrick April 1, 20127, Washington Post)
Bahraini authorities on Sept. 30, 2015, uncovered a bombmaking facility at a warehouse in Nuwaidrat, Bahrain, that contained military-grade explosives as well as chemical precursors. (Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Bahrain)
The men who built the secret bomb factory had been clever -- suspiciously so, Bahraini investigators thought, for a gang known mostly for lobbing molotov cocktails at police. The underground complex had been hewed, foot by foot, beneath the floor of a suburban villa, with no visible traces at street level and only a single entrance, hidden behind a kitchen cabinet.

But the real surprises lay inside. In one room, police found $20,000 lathes and hydraulic presses for making armor-piercing projectiles capable of slicing through a tank. Another held box upon box of the military explosive C-4, all of foreign origin, in quantities that could sink a battleship.

"Most of these items have never been seen in Bahrain," the country's investigators said in a confidential technical assessment provided to U.S. and European officials this past fall that offered new detail on the arsenals seized in the villa and in similar raids that have occurred sporadically over nearly three years. In sheer firepower, the report said, the caches were both a "game-changer" and -- matched against lightly armed police -- "overkill."

The report, a copy of which was shown to The Washington Post, partly explains the growing unease among some Western intelligence officials over tiny Bahrain, a stalwart U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and home to the Navy's Fifth Fleet. Six years after the start of a peaceful Shiite protest movement against the country's Sunni-led government, U.S. and European analysts now see an increasingly grave threat emerging on the margins of the uprising: heavily armed militant cells supplied and funded, officials say, by Iran.

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Trump Russia dossier key claim 'verified' (Paul Wood, 3/30/17, BBC News)

The BBC has learned that US officials "verified" a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump's election - that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy. [...]

But sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.

It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele's report on the "diplomat", as early as May 2016.

But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier.

A retired member of a US intelligence agency told me that Kalugin was being kept under surveillance before he left the US.

In addition, State Department staff who dealt with Russia did not come across Kalugin, as would have been expected with a simple diplomat.

"Nobody had met him," one former official said. "It's classic. Just classic [of Russian intelligence]."

Last month, the McClatchy news website said he was under "scrutiny" by the FBI as he left the US. They did not report, as my sources say, that he was a member of one of Russia's spying organisations, the SVR or GRU.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Top Obama Adviser Sought Names of Trump Associates in Intel (Eli Lake, 4/03/17, Bloomberg View)

[R]ice's multiple requests to learn the identities of Trump officials discussed in intelligence reports during the transition period does highlight a longstanding concern for civil liberties advocates about U.S. surveillance programs. The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice's unmasking requests were likely within the law.

...that by surveilling the espionage activities of the Russians you were guaranteed to gather up the Trumpies in the net.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Fifty Years Of Growth In American Consumption, Income, And Wages (Bruce Sacerdote, March 2017, NBER Working Paper No. 23292)

Despite the large increase in U.S. income inequality, consumption for families at the 25th and 50th percentiles of income has grown steadily over the time period 1960-2015. The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980 and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size. The finding of zero growth in American real wages since the 1970s is driven in part by the choice of the CPI-U as the price deflator; small biases in any price deflator compound over long periods of time. Using a different deflator such as the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (PCE) yields modest growth in real wages and in median household incomes throughout the time period. Accounting for the Hamilton (1998) and Costa (2001) estimates of CPI bias yields estimated wage growth of 1 percent per year during 1975-2015. Meaningful growth in consumption for below median income families has occurred even in a prolonged period of increasing income inequality, increasing consumption inequality and a decreasing share of national income accruing to labor.

Even more significantly, you need to work ever fewer hours to afford such.
Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


St Petersburg attacks: Isis celebrates explosions that killed 10 people (Andrew Griffin, 4/03/17, Independent)

Isis supporters are cheering what they claim is a terror attack, and sharing images of people caught up in and killed by the blasts.

The attacks come after waves of Isis propaganda that encouraged its supporters to launch strikes on Moscow. Isis propaganda shows bullet holes through Mr Putin's head as well as a poster circulated just days before the attack that showed a falling Kremlin and included the message "We Will Burn Russia".

Brothers in arms: Iraqi armed groups grow as Islamic State shrinks (John Davison, APRIL 3, 2017, Reuters)

For Iraqi police officer Jassem and his brothers, the battle against Islamic State is personal. The militants captured and beheaded their father, a Shi'ite militiaman, in 2014; before that, the family lost another son fighting the jihadists.

"We were able to identify my dad's body by the tattoo on his arm. The head wasn't found. They had also drilled holes in his hands and cut fingers off," 31-year-old Jassem told Reuters on the front line in Mosul as Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State in the city.

After the murder, Jassem's youngest brother signed up with the army and another joined a Shi'ite paramilitary group. With a further brother already with the Counter-Terrorism Service, that meant their mother had all four of her surviving sons at war.

"Mum wasn't happy," said Jassem, not giving his full name because he works in intelligence. But his brothers still answered the call to arms. "They said Iraq was falling apart, and they wanted to protect it," he said.

The family from southern Iraq - far from Mosul which lies near the country's northern border - is just one of many where entire sets of brothers have taken up arms against Islamic State out of revenge, duty or just to earn money.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are now set to drive the group from its stronghold of Mosul, taken in 2014 when the jihadists seized large areas of Iraq and Syria, proclaiming a caliphate.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


GM's super-quiet, super-cool military 4X4 (Peter Valdes-Dapena, April 3, 2017, CNN)

The big ZH2 is very quiet, but it's not completely silent. When it starts up there is a whoosh of air being sucked in. When it's moving, as it did recently through an off-road course at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, there is some noise from the tires, suspension, electric motors and splashing mud. But, compared to a rumbling diesel truck, it's nearly silent. In military parlance, there is minimal "accoustic signature."

Since the truck isn't burning any fuel, it doesn't give off much heat that could be picked up by heat-sensing night vision cameras. In other words, there's not much of a "thermal signature" either.

Added bonus: Soldiers can drink the exhaust.

"We're not doing it in this vehicle, but it is possible for us to take the exhaust gas from the engine, or the fuel cell, and actually create potable water," said Brian Butrico, with the U.S. Army's Research and Development and Engineering Command. "The soldiers can actually create their own drinking water as they're operating the vehicle."

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


How to Lose a Majority (Amy Walter, 4/01/17, Cook Political Report)

[I]f you look back at the last four midterm elections where the party in the White House lost control of one or both houses of Congress, you see that they share the following traits in common: the president has approval ratings among his own partisans under 85 percent and approval ratings among independents in the 30's or low 40s.  

For example, in November 2006, President George W. Bush's job approval ratings among his own party were 81 percent. Just 31 percent of independents gave him a positive job rating. His party lost 30 House seats - and control of the House. Four years earlier, in the 2002 midterms, Bush's job approval ratings among Republicans were a robust 91 percent and among independents they were at 63 percent. His party picked up eight seats in the House that year. We are less than 75 days into the Trump Administration and the president is flirting very close to the danger zone territory. The most recent Gallup survey put his approval ratings with Republicans at 85 percent, but he's sitting at just 33 percent with independents. If he drops a few points among GOPers, Trump's ratings today would look exactly like those of President Bush right before his party was routed in 2006. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


EU foreign ministers: Assad has no role in Syria's future (Deutsche-Welle, 4/03/17)

European Union foreign ministers said ahead of a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday that they see no future for President Bashar al-Assad in post-conflict Syria. The statements come after the United States suggested its approach to reaching peace in the region will change. [...]

[E]U foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said she believed it "would be impossible" to return to the status quo in Syria after peace is restored in the country.

"It seems completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria will be exactly the same as it used to be in the past," she said as she arrived for the EU foreign ministers' meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM



[A] two-month WhoWhatWhy investigation has revealed an important reason the Bureau may be facing undisclosed obstacles to revealing what it knows to the public or to lawmakers.

Our investigation also may explain why the FBI, which was very public about its probe of Hillary Clinton's emails, never disclosed its investigation of the Trump campaign prior to the election, even though we now know that it commenced last July.

Such publicity could have exposed a high-value, long-running FBI operation against an organized crime network headquartered in the former Soviet Union. That operation depended on a convicted criminal who for years was closely connected with Trump, working with him in Trump Tower -- while constantly informing for the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and being legally protected by them.

Some federal officials were so involved in protecting this source -- despite his massive fraud and deep connections to organized crime -- that they became his defense counsel after they left the government.

In secret court proceedings that were later unsealed, both current and former government attorneys argued for extreme leniency toward the man when he was finally sentenced. An FBI agent who expressed his support for the informant later joined Trump's private security force.

In this way, the FBI's dilemma about revealing valuable sources, assets and equities in its ongoing investigation of links between the Trump administration and Russian criminal elements harkens back to the embarrassing, now infamous Whitey Bulger episode. In that case, the Feds protected Bulger, a dangerous Boston-based mobster serving as their highly valued informant, even as the serial criminal continued to participate in heinous crimes. The FBI now apparently finds itself confronted with similar issues: Is its investigation of the mob so crucial to national security that it outweighs the public's right to know about their president?

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Opening Day is comparable to Christmas morning (Brevan Pritchett, 4/03/17, iSportsWeb)

Do you remember as a little kid being giddy with excitement on December 24, Christmas Eve, as you knew the next day when you wake up there would be presents neatly wrapped under the tree? You couldn't sleep that night as you hoped to stay up late enough to hear Santa on the rooftop as he brought you toys and goodies. You even woke up at 4am to sneak downstairs, carefully maneuvering your way down the steps to not make them creak and wake your parents, to take an early peek at your loot. Now that your reminiscing on your childhood and that feeling, you will understand why that giddiness is boiling up inside you right now. That is because tomorrow is Opening Day for baseball and that feeling is just like Christmas morning.

The Dbacks announcers were doing a ticket promo yesterday and Greg Schulte (I think) mentioned that after the Opener you only had 80 more chances to come to a game....

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Donald Hall, The Art of Poetry No. 43 (Interviewed by Peter A. Stitt ISSUE 120, FALL 1991, Paris Review)

In 1975, after the death of his grandmother, Hall gave up his tenured professorship at Michigan and moved with his wife Jane Kenyon to the old family farm in New Hampshire. Since then he has supported himself through freelance writing. Sixteen years later, he continues to feel that he never made a better decision. It was at Eagle Pond Farm that the first two sittings of this interview were conducted in the summers of 1983 and 1988. A third session was held on the stage of the YM-YWHA in New York. [...]

HALL I remember the first time I saw Robert Frost. It was opening night and Theodore Morrison, the director, was giving an introductory talk. I felt excited and exalted. Nobody was anywhere near me in age; the next youngest contributor was probably in her mid-twenties. As I was sitting there, I looked out the big French windows and saw Frost approaching. He was coming up a hill and as he walked toward the windows first his head appeared and then his shoulders as if he were rising out of the ground. Later, I talked with him a couple of times and I heard him read. He ran the poetry workshop in the afternoon on a couple of occasions, though not when my poems were read, thank God; he could be nasty. I sat with him one time on the porch as he talked with two women and me. He delivered his characteristic monologue--witty, sharp, acerb on the subject of his friends. He wasn't hideously unkind, the way he looks in Thomson's biography, but also he was not Mortimer Snerd; he was not the farmer miraculously gifted with rhyme, the way he seemed if you read about him in Time or Life. He was a sophisticated fellow, you might say.

We played softball. This was in 1945, and Frost was born in 1874, so he was seventy-one years old. He played a vigorous game of softball but he was also something of a spoiled brat. His team had to win and it was well known that the pitcher should serve Frost a fat pitch. I remember him hitting a double. He fought hard for his team to win and he was willing to change the rules. He had to win at everything. Including poetry.

INTERVIEWER What was the last occasion on which you saw him?

HALL The last time I saw him was in Vermont, within seven or eight months of his death. He visited Ann Arbor that spring and invited me to call on him in the summer. We talked about writing, about literature--though of course mostly he monologued. He was deaf, but even when he was younger he tended to make long speeches. Anyway, after we had been talking for hours, my daughter Philippa, who was three years old, asked him if he had a TV. He looked down at her and smiled and said, You've seen me on TV?

Also we talked about a man--another poet I knew--who was writing a book about Frost. Frost hadn't read his poetry and he asked me, Is he any good? I told him what I thought. Then, as we were driving away, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw the old man, eighty-eight, running after the car--literally running. I stopped and he came up to the window and asked me please, when I saw my friend again, not to mention that Frost had asked me if his poetry was any good, because he didn't want my friend to know that he had not read his poetry. Frost was a political animal in the literary world. So are many of the best poets I run into and it doesn't seem to hurt their poetry.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade (Paul Krugman APRIL 3, 2017, NY Times)

[T]he executive orders in question were, to use the technical term, nothingburgers. One called for a report on the causes of the trade deficit; wait, they're just starting to study the issue? The other addressed some minor issues of tariff collection, and its content apparently duplicated an act President Obama already signed last year.

Not surprisingly, reporters at the event questioned the president, not about trade, but about Michael Flynn and the Russia connection. Mr. Trump then walked out of the room -- without signing the orders. (Vice President Mike Pence gathered them up, and the White House claims that they were signed later.)

The fiasco perfectly encapsulated what's looking more and more like a failed agenda.

Business seems to have decided that Mr. Trump is a paper tiger on trade: The flow of corporate relocations to Mexico, which slowed briefly while C.E.O.s tried to curry favor with the new president, has resumed. Trade policy by tweet, it appears, has run its course.

Investors seem to have reached the same conclusion: The Mexican peso plunged 16 percent after the election, but since Inauguration Day it has recovered almost all the lost ground.

Oh, and last week a draft proposal for revising the North American Free Trade Agreement circulated around Congress; instead of sweeping changes in what candidate Trump called the "worst trade deal" ever signed, the administration appears to be seeking only modest tweaks.

Even Paul Krugman gets to do victory laps on this clown.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


U.S. Inaction in Yemen Has Emboldened Iranian-Backed Houthi Rebels (Natalie Johnson, April 3, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Iranian strategy in Yemen is aimed at deterring Saudi influence in the region as part of an ongoing battle for regional dominance. Iran is carrying out a similar campaign in Syria, where it supports the Bashar al Assad regime to counter the Saudi-backed opposition and rebel groups.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, said U.S. inaction has bolstered the Houthis and their Iranian backers. He said this effect was on display when Houthi rebels captured Yemen's capital of Sanaa in 2015.

"After a decade of receiving reward after defiance, Tehran calculates it faces no risk of retaliation for its aggression," Rubin told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Revolutionary Guard has defined the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden as its strategic boundaries and it remains determined to follow up its rhetoric with action."

The entire WoT has been about self-determination, which means empowering the Shi'a at the expense of the Salafi and secular dictators.

April 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


Kushner's privileged status stokes resentment in White House (JOSH DAWSEY, KENNETH P. VOGEL and ALEX ISENSTADT, 04/01/17, Politico)

[K]ushner's status as the big-issue guru has stoked resentment among his colleagues, who question whether Kushner is capable of following through on his various commitments. And some colleagues complain that his dabbling in myriad issues and his tendency to walk in and out of meetings have complicated efforts to instill more order and organization into the chaotic administration. These people also say Kushner can be a shrewd self promoter, knowing how to take credit -- and shirk blame -- whenever it suits him.

"He's saving the government and the Middle East at the same time," one senior administration official quipped. [...]

The creation of the office added to a perception around the White House that Kushner's portfolio is almost impossibly ambitious, and that he prefers big-picture discussions to the sometimes mundane and detail-oriented work involved in carrying out policy changes.

On Wednesday, White House staffers and outside allies passed around a story from the parody website The Onion indicating that Kushner had "quietly moved the task 'solve Middle East crisis' to his to-do list for next week" because "there was simply too much on his plate right now to bring stability to the fractious region by end of day Friday."

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


White House social media director misused official position by going after GOP lawmaker, ethics experts say (Matea Gold April 2, 2017,  Washington Post)

A tweet by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. urging supporters of President Trump to challenge a GOP lawmaker may have violated a federal law that prohibits officials from using their positions for political activity, ethics experts said.

On Saturday, Scavino went after Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, calling him "a big liability" in a tweet from his personal account. "#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary," he added. [...]

"You can't just load up your personal Twitter page with a lot of official stuff," Painter said. "This is way over the top. It's not a personal page. It's chock full of official stuff."

Painter said he thinks Scavino's tweet violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of one's office for political purposes.

"We would have fired him" in the Bush White House, he said. "This is use of official position for a partisan election."

...but, more importantly, it's moronic:

Amash beats Ellis, demands apology (KENDALL BREITMAN, 08/06/14, Politico)

Rep. Justin Amash may have won the Republican primary for Michigan's 3rd Congressional District but the fight is not over, as he took his victory speech as an opportunity to call one fellow Republican a "disgrace" and to demand an apology from another.

"To Brian Ellis, you owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign," Amash said on Tuesday after winning the GOP primary. "You had the audacity to try to call me today, after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country."

Amash claimed a victory on Tuesday night against Ellis, taking 57.4 percent of the votes, compared to Ellis' 42.6 percent. The results came after campaign ads, such as one that called Amash "Al Qaeda's best friend in Congress," drew national attention.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


A judge rules Trump may have incited violence ... and Trump again has his own mouth to blame (Aaron Blake, April 2, 2017, Washington Post)

The courts keep taking Donald Trump both seriously and literally. And the president's word choices are proving to be a real headache.

A federal judge in Kentucky is the latest to take Trump at his word when he says something controversial. Judge David J. Hale ruled against efforts by Trump's attorneys to throw out a lawsuit accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville.

At the rally, Trump repeatedly said "get 'em out" and "get 'em the hell out of here" before, according to the protesters, they were shoved and punched by his supporters. Trump's attorneys sought to have the case dismissed on free speech grounds, arguing that he didn't intend for his supporters to use force. But Hale noted that speech inciting violence is not protected by the First Amendment and ruled that there is plenty of evidence that the protesters' injuries were a "direct and proximate result" of Trump's words.

"It is plausible that Trump's direction to 'get 'em out of here' advocated the use of force," Hale wrote. "It was an order, an instruction, a command."

It's merely the latest example of Trump's team arguing that his controversial words shouldn't be taken literally. 

...that he should never be taken seriously.
Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Out of the Park Baseball 18, an Official Licensee of MLB.com, MLBPA, and MiLB.com,

Now Available Worldwide

Follow-up to Metacritic's 2016 PC Game of the Year features a new Challenge Mode, Online Profiles and Leaderboards, real 2017 major and minor league rosters, historic Negro League teams, improved 3D mode, new tournaments, and much more

Out of the Park Developments, an official licensee of MLB.com, the MLBPA, and MiLB.com, today announced that Out of the Park Baseball 18 is now available worldwide. The follow-up to the acclaimed Metacritic 2016 PC Game of the Year includes several exciting new features and a treasure trove of deep improvements to its award-winning gameplay.

Out of the Park Baseball 18 sells for $39.99 and is available on Steam and through the company's website at these links:



For the first time, Out of the Park Baseball 18 introduces an all-new Challenge Mode. This allows series newcomers to enjoy a powerful way to learn the intricacies of this deep strategy title, while driving community engagement for all users via the creation of online profiles to share accomplishments on new leaderboards. The Challenge Mode is just the beginning of an all-new, long-term expansion of OOTP's online platform -- more will be unveiled during the course of the 2017 baseball season.

Out of the Park Baseball 18 also includes:

  • 2017 roster sets with all Opening Day MLB rosters, as well as the complete minor league system from Triple-A down to rookie leagues and the Arizona Fall League. All major league (and over a thousand minor league) player ratings are based on the popular ZiPS player projection system. The 8 international leagues, as well as independent minor leagues in the US, also return this year with accurate rosters.

  • Historical Negro League clubs, thanks to a partnership with OOTP's acclaimed historical database experts and Seamheads.com. This feature allows baseball fans to explore the rich history of a bygone era, create compelling what-if scenarios, pit major league clubs against their Negro League counterparts, and much more.

  • Improvements to 3D mode, including: Even more ballpark detail; better on-field player models and enhanced on-field decisions; and the ability to save all 3D highlights and watch a highlight reel, whether the game was played out or simulated.

  • Custom and real world tournaments for all the teams included in the game. National and international tournaments are a breeze to create, as is the ability to import historical teams.

  • Extensive AI improvements, including roster management, trades, and in-game decision-making.

  • A redesigned injury system that features detailed injury histories for all players, little nagging long-term injuries, and more.

  • Many more improvements, including:

    • A beautiful new interface

    • Improved game recaps

    • An upgraded player morale/team chemistry system

    • Enhanced play-by-play text and league news

    • A sophisticated system for team relegation and promotion between leagues

    • The ability to retain player salaries in trades

    • The incorporation of many 2017 CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) rule changes

    • Faster import speeds of historical minor league seasons

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

"Fans have been overwhelmingly positive about Out of the Park Baseball 18 since it was announced in January," said lead developer, lifelong baseball fan, and Out of the Park Developments CEO Markus Heinsohn. "We're thrilled to deliver a game that will allow us to dramatically expand our online community and delight a new generation of fans."

"Out of the Park Baseball has been setting the bar high for sports management games over the past 18 years, and this year's edition is no different," said Out of the Park Developments CMO Richard Grisham. "Every time I think they can't top last year's version, they do it again. I tip my cap to the hardest-working development team in video games."

About Out of the Park Developments

Out of the Park Developments is the developer of the award-winning OOTP and MLB Manager series of baseball management simulations, Franchise Hockey Manager, and Beyond the Sideline Football. German-based OOTP Developments was founded by Markus Heinsohn and Andreas Raht in 1999. OOTP Developments has consistently produced games that have met with critical acclaim, including winning Metacritic's coveted "PC Game of the Year" for the 2016 version of OOTP and "Game of the Year" for the 2007 edition of OOTP, which remains the second highest-rated PC game on Metacritic of all time. Further information on the company and its games is available from the OOTP Developments website, http://www.ootpdevelopments.com



OOTP 18 Media Assets: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/19p1wujyyjz5sxp/AADnuXXYlCyq62_PDB8ArRola?dl=0

OOTP 18 Trailer: https://youtu.be/AkCiK1EGcVE

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


White House pulled out of meet and greet with 'conservatives' favorite Russian' over suspected mob ties (Michael Isikoff, 4/02/17, Yahoo News)

The White House abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting in February between President Trump and a high-level Russian central banker after a national security aide discovered the official had been named by Spanish police as a suspected "godfather" of an organized crime and money-laundering ring, according to an administration official and four other sources familiar with the event.

The event had been planned as a meet and greet with President Trump and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, in a waiting room at the Washington Hilton before the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2. Torshin, a top official in his country's central bank, headed a Russian delegation to the annual event and was among a small number of guests who had been invited by Prayer Breakfast leaders to meet with Trump before it began.

But while reviewing the list of guests, a White House national security aide responsible for European affairs noticed Torshin's name and flagged him as a figure who had "baggage," a reference to his suspected ties to organized crime, an administration official told Yahoo News. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Haley Says Russia Was 'Certainly' Involved in U.S. Election (Ros Krasny, April 2, 2017, Bloomberg)

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations says she's maintaining a hard line against Russia, even as her boss -- President Donald Trump -- continues to dismiss reported Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election as fake news.

"Certainly I think Russia was involved in the election. There's no question about that," Nikki Haley said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" broadcast on Sunday, according to a transcript provided by the network.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Opening Day always comes at perfect time : Statcast adding new dimension as 2017 season begins (Joe Posnanski, 4/02/17, MLB.com)

But baseball's Opening Day comes at the perfect time, as the days stretch out, as coats and scarves get buried in the backs of closets, as the dreams of graduations and summer vacations and days at the swimming pool begin to feel real. Only a handful of people walk through the Baseball Hall of Fame in the winter. Now, more and more, they begin to come.

"Are you ready for Opening Day?" the greeter asks each of them. Of course they are.

They come for many things, of course: to see the plaques of the all-time greats, to get goosebumps watching the video of George Brett charging the umpire after the pine-tar home run, to see Wonderboy, the bat Roy Hobbs used in "The Natural," or the hear Abbott and Costello do their "Who's on First?" routine one more time.

People come to Cooperstown to be immersed in the language of baseball again, after a long winter without the game. We barely realize that so many of the things that we say in baseball make no literal sense now. We say that ballplayers dress in a clubhouse, not a locker room. Why? Because baseball began with actual clubs, amateur players who got together in a clubhouse, smoked cigars, talked about business or the weather or their feelings about Ulysses S. Grant, and then went out and played baseball.

We talk about a ball getting hit "through the box." There is no box on the pitcher's mound ... but there used to be, long ago, back when the rules demanded that pitchers throw underhand.

And for that matter, that's why they're still called "pitchers." They used to pitch the ball, the way we still pitch horseshoes. The idea was to let the hitter hit, like in slow-pitch softball. A few mid-19th-century pitchers, like Jim Creighton and Asa Brainard (some believe the term for a pitching "ace" comes from Asa), bent the rule, started trying to mix in a few spins, some extra speed in order make it harder for the hitter. Pitchers kept bending the rule, then breaking it, adding pitch types, curveballs, spitballs, and the game developed into something else. The pitcher title remained.

At the same time, the language of baseball changes constantly. Relief pitchers become firemen become closers. Newer advanced statistics like FIP and WAR and OPS and BABIP begin to capture the imagination. This Opening Day is particularly exciting, because this year we baseball fans will start hearing more and more about barrels and five-star catches and pop time.
These words are part of the language of Statcast™, a whole new way to measure and look at the game. The technology of Statcast™ -- which uses cameras and radar technology to track everything that moves on a baseball field -- is pretty baffling. But the insights are incredible. There are now ways to see the game and to tell stories about the game that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


In Trump Country, Shock at Trump Budget Cuts, but Still Loyalty (Nicholas Kristof, 4/01/17, NY Times)

Moreno was sitting at a table with his boss, Rocky Payton, the factory's general manager, and Amy Saum, the human resources manager. All said they had voted for Trump, and all were bewildered that he wanted to cut funds that channel people into good manufacturing jobs.

"There's a lot of wasteful spending, so cut other places," Moreno said.

Payton suggested that if the government wants to cut budgets, it should target "Obama phones" provided to low-income Americans. (In fact, the program predates President Barack Obama and is financed by telecom companies rather than by taxpayers.)


Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Co-op Members Discuss 2016's Loss, Look Ahead (Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, 4/02/17, Valley News)

Hanover Co-op leaders celebrated the ethical achievements of their business model during an annual meeting Saturday, and also fielded questions about the finances of the entity, which posted its first loss in several years in 2016. [...]

The organization remains financially healthy, said Paul Guidone, director of finance, but the loss puts pressure on its ability to make progress on other goals, such as a push to increase the minimum wage of the Co-op workforce from what Roisin describes as about $13.

The event also marked the beginning of a 30-day voting period for the store's 25,000 members on amendments to the bylaws and new members for the organization's board.

Board member Elizabeth Blum, one of five candidates running for five open seats on the board, said upping the minimum wage is important to her.

"I also have been committed to a livable wage for a number of years and I would like to get the Co-op to a minimum wage of $15," she said.

In response to a question from the audience, Guidone said the change would bump the organization's overall labor costs by 15 to 20 percent, a difference of between $2 million and $2.5 million. "To be able to pay for that all at once, we'd need another seven million in sales," he said. "To do it all at once is almost impossible. But we have a desire to do it, a strong desire."

Automate the work.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Marvel Exec Claims Forced 'Diversity,' Female-Led Comics Responsible for Slump (Emily Zanotti, April 2, 2017, Heat Street)

David Gabriel, Marvel's Senior Vice President of sales and marketing told icv2.com that Marvel has been struggling to sell comics because, while feminists and progressive activists pushed for more diversity in comics, minority and female heroes, Marvel's core fan base just weren't interested.

"What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity...that's what we saw in sales," Gabriel said. "We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against."

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


"Field of Dreams": Baseball, the Prodigal, and Paradise (Stephen Turley, 4/01/17, Imaginative Conservative)

As I reflect on this film, I am struck by how beautifully it portrays in a contemporary idiom the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but even more so, the grand cosmic drama to which that Parable points: that of Paradise lost and Paradise regained. The baseball park is a paragon of geometrical perfection, carpeted with grass glowing as parrot green, cool as mint, soft as a cashmere blanket, framed by the breezy movement of cornstalks, backgrounded by the eternity of the stretched-out canopy of a fathomless blue sky; a garden of aesthetic delights that awaken the senses and cultivate the imagination. Shoeless Joe in fact says as much; he tells Ray when they first meet that after he was banned from baseball, he would wake up at night with the smell of the ballpark in his nose and the cool of the grass on his feet. "Oh man, I did love this game," he says longingly; "the game, the sounds, the smells."

But for Ray and Shoeless Joe, the baseball field involved an additional dimension: it was a place where they both knew life before innocence was lost. For Ray in particular, the baseball field was a place where he could commune with his father, who appeared larger than life through childlike eyes, but whose stature faded as those eyes began to change. The baseball field was perceived progressively as a prison, and freedom was found away from home.

And yet, while Ray may have fallen away from his childhood paradise, the ballpark never seems to leave him. Indeed, we see this 'hound of heaven' motif with all the characters throughout the film, uniting them in a symphony of redemption that is able to transcend time. One commentator writes: "Baseball is rhythm without time, the lack of clock rendering the events immortal instead of static. There's no running out the clock... A baseball game lasts exactly as long as it needs to, like a life time.... Baseball is the way our hearts wish time worked."

Terence Mann draws from this "time outside of time" when he informs Ray that he will not have to sell his farm or the baseball field that he built, because it will be a field of dreams for more people than he could ever imagine. In an eloquent soliloquy, Terence proclaims:

People will come, Ray.... And they'll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children... And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces... This field, this game... reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. [...]

It's the beginning of springtime as I write; that time of year my two young boys take to the diamond-shaped field of the Little League gateway into the dawn of summer. I often sit on decaying wooden slabs across rickety stands, watching these once toddlers turn into young men. Sitting there, gazing over that field illuminated by the late afternoon sun, my boys are transfigured into what, in many respects, we were always meant to be: delighted dwellers in a timeless garden, that place where our humanity flourishes. And it is there, when my sons look for and catch my fatherly eye surveying their immersion in this field of dreams, that I am truly reminded of all that once was good, and that could be again.

We smile at one another. Paradise regained.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


WHERE DID THE "BILLY GRAHAM RULE" COME FROM? (Justin Taylor, March 30, 2017, Gospel Coalition)

[W]e made a series of resolutions or commitment among ourselves that would guide us in our future evangelistic work. In reality, it was more of an informal understanding among ourselves--a shared commitment to do all we could do to uphold the Bible's standard of absolute integrity and purity for evangelists.

[1. Money]

The first point on our combined list was money. Nearly all evangelists at that time--including us--were supported by love offerings taken at the meetings. The temptation to wring as much money as possible out of an audience, often with strong emotional appeals, was too great for some evangelists. In addition, there was little or no accountability for finances. It was a system that was easy to abuse--and led to the charge that evangelists were in it only for the money.

I had been drawing a salary from YFC (Youth for Christ) and turning all offerings from YFC meetings over to YFC committees, but my new independent efforts in citywide campaigns required separate finances. In Modesto we determined to do all we could to avoid financial abuses and to downplay the offering and depend as much as possible on money raised by the local committee in advance.

[2. Sexual Immorality]

The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul's mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: "Flee . . . youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).

[3. Attitude Against the Local Church]

Our third concern was the tendency of many evangelists to carry on their work apart from the local church, even to criticize local pastors and churches openly and scathingly. We were convinced, however, that this was not only counterproductive but also wrong from the Bible's standpoint. We determined to cooperate with all who would cooperate with us in the public proclamation of the Gospel, and to avoid an antichurch or anticlergy attitude.

[4. Publicity]

The fourth and final issue was publicity. The tendency among some evangelists was to exaggerate their successes or to claim higher attendance numbers than they really had. This likewise discredited evangelism and brought the whole enterprise under suspicion. It often made the press so suspicious of evangelists that they refused to take notice of their work. In Modesto we committed ourselves to integrity in our publicity and our reporting.

April 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


China's Once and Future Democracy : Despite Xi Jinping's crackdown and Donald Trump's silence on human rights, China has a vibrant democratic legacy that may yet reassert itself (ORVILLE SCHELL, March 31, 2017, WSJ)

On the eve of Mr. Xi's first meeting with Mr. Trump, who has shown little interest in the cause of democracy in China (or elsewhere), it is fair to ask whether it is not time, finally, to stop expecting that China will liberalize any time soon.

There are certainly plenty of reasons for pessimism. Beijing has placed ever tighter restrictions on the press, packed its jails with human-rights activists and suppressed even Hong Kong's limited experiment with "one country, two systems." In contrast to previous eras of reaction, recently won social and cultural freedoms remain intact for ordinary Chinese, but a far-reaching turn to democracy has become increasingly hard to imagine.

Still, some historical perspective is in order--not because Mr. Xi shows any signs of relenting in his oppressive agenda but because it would be a mistake to confuse the present reality with permanence. Democratic ideals have deep roots in modern Chinese history and have surfaced again and again over the past century. This legacy should serve to remind us that not all Chinese, even in the worst of times, have been resigned to a politics of one-party rule.

The idea that China would develop into a constitutional republic was first and most forcefully proposed at the beginning of the previous century by Sun Yat-sen, the so-called father of modern China. Sun had studied in Hawaii, converted to Christianity and become a medical doctor before starting his campaign against dynastic rule. When his republican government replaced the collapsed Qing Dynasty in 1912, he called for "three phases of national reconstruction," starting with a period of martial law, followed by an interlude of "political tutelage" and culminating in constitutionalism. "Without such a process," he insisted, "disorder will be unavoidable."

Sun's concerns about the difficulty of even starting to implant liberal democracy in China were quickly confirmed. His presidency lasted just 41 days as the country slid into the control of regional warlords. But Sun persisted, going on to establish the Nationalist Party, whose role in promoting democratic ideals in China proved to be long and tortuous.

But even amid the strife of the warlord era, the dream remained of a very different China. During the May Fourth Movement of 1919, thousands of students, intellectuals and workers took to the streets to protest Japan's grab of German concessions in China at the conclusion of World War I and to rally for "science and democracy." Hu Shih, a prominent intellectual of the movement who later became Chinese ambassador in Washington, wryly summed up the spirit of the era: "The only way to have democracy is to have democracy. Government is an art, and as such, it needs practice." His generation intended to overturn China's conservative and absolutist traditional culture so that, in the words of another activist, the Chinese people could rid themselves of the "4,000-year-old garbage can on our backs."

Throughout his own trying decades as president of the new Republic of China in the 1930s and '40s, Chiang Kai-shek, who succeeded Sun Yat-sen as the leader of the Nationalist Party, was no model of democratic practice, often suppressing opposition and basic civil liberties. In theory, however, he never wavered in his devotion to Sun's road map to constitutionalism, insisting that, after the necessary period of "tutelage," the Nationalist Party would "carry out its original purpose and return sovereign power to the people."

Such hopes were dashed in 1949, when Chiang and the Nationalists were driven to Taiwan by Mao after the Communist Party's triumph in the Chinese civil war. But Taiwan has been a vindication of the Nationalists' hopes. A process of liberalization began there in earnest in the mid-1980s with the lifting of martial law and a new tolerance for protests and opposition parties. Today, in the face of a newly autocratic and aggressive China, Taiwan remains a sturdy democracy.

I've been listening to Ian Morris's Why the West Rules -- For Now on the dog walk and one is struck by a threshold problem with his thesis.  He contends that the "development" of East and West has gone back and forth over the course of history, but can only arrive at that conclusion by defining development in a peculiar way : http://longnow.org/seminars/02011/apr/13/why-west-rules-now/

Morris has devised a quantitative "social development index" based on evaluating a civilization's energy capture, organization (size of largest cities), information management, and war-making capability.

Essentially, he's looking at nations, rather than people, and viewing them through an exclusively Darwinian lens.  But to consider only biology is nearly the opposite of considering civilization.

And, because of the Darwinism, he makes the mistake of thinking as the geographical/biological East as still Eastern.  

If, on the other hand, we use a civilizational, rather than biological, measure of development (like the Social Progress Indexhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Social_Progress_Index), we find that -- even if we pretend that the PRC remains "Eastern", despite its adoption of quintessentially Western capitalism -- it is radically undeveloped, most revealingly in comparison to the even more westernized nations of the geographical East : Japan; S. Korea; Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines; etc. (even ignoring the fact that New Zealand and Australia are geographically Eastern).

Even more amusing, if you consider only GDP per capita, China is behind Iraq.

The reality is that China remains backwards to exactly the extent it has not fully Westernized -- adding democracy and protestantism to capitalism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


1 in 3 voters give President Trump a grade F (ANITA KUMAR, 3/31/17, McClatchy)

After more than two months in office, America's new president, Republican Donald Trump, got a grade of F from 1 in 3 voters, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

By contrast, the same number graded predecessor Democrat Barack Obama's performance a B as he approached his 100th day in office.

"Every time he speaks . . . it is so negative," said Whitni Milton, 31, a professional singer from Atlanta who participated in the poll.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Still no sign of leader for White House faith partnership office (Adelle M. Banks, 3/31/17, Religion News Service)

No one has been named to direct the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which since 2001 has linked government with a broad range of religious groups.

A link to the office's webpage reads "Thank you for your interest in this subject. Stay tuned as we continue to update WhiteHouse.gov."

"I don't know what the Trump administration's plans are in this area," said Melissa Rogers, who directed the office under the Obama administration from 2013 until Inauguration Day 2017.

The office has enjoyed the support not only of conservatives, but also many religious progressives like Rogers who believe faith-based charities are well-positioned to help the needy, and some get government contracts to do so with taxpayer funds.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Here's what we know so far about Team Trump's ties to Russian interests (Bonnie Berkowitz and Denise Lu, March 31, 2017, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


President's Growing Trade Gap: A Gulf Between Talk and Action (Benyamin Applebaum, 3/31/17, NY Times)

Mr. Trump blasted the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a "potential disaster" and made a great show of removing the United States from the ratification process. On Friday, one of Mr. Trump's top advisers on trade said the Trump administration planned to use the scorned agreement as a "starting point" for its own deals.

Mr. Trump described the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada as history's worst trade deal, and vowed to overhaul or replace it. The White House is now planning to seek relatively modest changes in the agreement, according to a draft document provided to key members of Congress.

Mr. Trump also chided China on Twitter ahead of President Xi Jinping's visit to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next week, declaring that the United States "can no longer have massive trade deficits." But the Trump administration has not articulated specific plans to shrink that deficit; the Treasury Department has not moved to keep Mr. Trump's promise of declaring China a currency manipulator.

The gap reflects the difficulty of keeping some of Mr. Trump's specific promises. There is, for example, no evidence that China is manipulating its currency. The Trump administration also is under considerable pressure from congressional Republicans and industry groups to avoid costly economic disruptions.

But the gap also exposes a basic divide on trade policy within the Trump administration.

One group, largely campaign veterans like the economist Peter Navarro, still favors the kind of dramatic measures Mr. Trump promised on the campaign trail. This view resonates deeply with the president, who noted on Friday that tough talk about trade is "probably one of the main reasons I'm here."

Another group, which includes many of the economic advisers Mr. Trump has added since the election, like Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, are convinced that measured actions on trade will produce better results.

And so far, that second group appears to be winning most of the internal skirmishes.

Hating colored people isn't a workable economic theory.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Iraq: Airstrikes kill dozens of IS fighters near Syria border (AP April 1, 2017)

Iraqi fighter jets have carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group outside Mosul, killing more than 100 jihadists, a government statement said Saturday.

Strikes by our Shi'a allies have a multiplier effect because of the Salafi ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Republicans still have work to do to fix Obamacare (Michael R. Strain March 28, 2017, Washington Post)

Instead of accepting the ACA status quo, the GOP should dust itself off from last week's debacle and begin a renewed effort on ACA repeal-and-replace by stating clearly and unambiguously that its goal is universal health insurance coverage. Former president Barack Obama's lasting legacy is winning the argument over whether universal coverage is the appropriate social goal. In a very practical sense, that question is settled, and the GOP needs to get on board. Beyond practicality, it is the morally correct goal, as well.

It is the job of conservatives to offer a path to that goal that is compatible with our principles and dispositions. Clearly, market discipline is what is most needed in the U.S. health-care system -- again, to lower costs, expand choice and increase productivity over the long term. But more than market discipline is needed. All the broader problems I mentioned above need to be addressed, and more. Fortunately, there are many ideas and plans put forward by conservatives to replace the ACA, and to move health policy in a conservative direction.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Throw Away the New Playbook (Jonah Goldberg, 4/01/17, National Review)

If you don't think politics matters, keep in mind that the incentives for GOP congressmen to cooperate with Trump drops in tandem with his approval ratings. Similarly, the people who dismiss the "mainstream media" as illegitimate tend to miss the point that lots of voters don't share their view. By all means argue that those people are wrong. But at least acknowledge that those people vote too. And that matters. Everyone who cheers Sean Hannity's limitless defenses of everything Trump does seem not to care that they are not a majority. 

The people who think that the way to help conservatism is to support everything Trump says and does simply have it wrong. If he tweets "2+2=5," you don't help him (or the cause or the country) by saying "He's right!" or "This is a brilliant ploy to deconstruct the 'alt-left' mathematical establishment!" The best thing you can do is say "Trump is wrong and he should spend his time doing what he was elected to do." 

Trump might not listen -- no really, it's possible -- but criticism (reasonable criticism, of the sort we do at National Review) at least holds out the possibility that he'll stop tweeting indefensible things and focus on what he needs to do to have a successful presidency. But if pundits race to a TV studio to say "Trump is right! He's always right!" (particularly when they don't actually believe it, which is often the case), he will be encouraged to keep doing what he's doing -- because, like Obama, he tends to listen most closely to his biggest cheerleaders. Trump's one truly great success so far was the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Why was that a success? Because he outsourced the task to Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell -- two guys who relied on a tried-and-true playbook.

The other problem with the defenses of Donald is that they concede the case against but argue with some marginal piece of the whole.  Thus, while Donald concedes that the feds were surveilling Trump Tower and his aides show the lead investigator why the surveillance was necessary, the Right attacks a former Obama staffer who told her former colleagues to preserve the evidence so the suspects couldn't destroy it. where do those defenses actually get you? Other than giving talking points to your parrots?

And if you are only willing to propose anti-factual policies then what alternatives do you have but to pick at trivia?  Your main points are, after all, indefensible.