May 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


GE signs $5.58 billion in power, aviation deals in Vietnam (Reuters, 5/31/17)

General Electric (GE.N) said on Wednesday it had signed deals in Vietnam worth about $5.58 billion for power generation, aircraft engines and services, its largest single combined sale with the country in GE's history.

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Here's why the feds are looking at Jared Kushner (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, 5/31/17, McClatchy)

Investigators are now trying to sort out a series of questions about Kushner's role, among them why he failed to disclose meetings with Russians on an application for a security clearance and his work with ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose Russia dealings are at the center of multiple probes involving the Trump team's ties to Moscow.

Kushner is the only active White House official known to be a focus of the broad investigation into whether Trump's campaign collaborated in Russia's unprecedented cyber and espionage offensive aimed at harming Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign and aiding Trump's. NBC News and the Washington Post were the first to report that Kushner is drawing scrutiny, a development that two people familiar with the matter confirmed to McClatchy.

During the campaign, Kushner helped oversee digital operations that unleashed social media barrages targeted at the local level in an attempt to shift the opinions of voters in key states, former Trump aides say. Russia similarly directed anti-Clinton or pro-Trump social media blitzes.

After the election, he aroused suspicions when he met in New York with Sergei Gorkov, a former Russian intelligence official who is the powerful president of a Russian state-backed bank closely tied to Vladimir Putin - a meeting that one of the sources said "set people's hair on fire." The bank has been under U.S. sanctions since Russian-backed separatists invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014.

This month, Kushner was a force behind Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, who had refused Trump's entreaties to pledge loyalty to the president as he led the investigation and publicly confirmed that Trump associates were under scrutiny. It remains to be seen whether Kushner's role could draw him into a debate about whether the firing and Trump's related actions amounted to obstruction of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


'Overpopulation' Fears Are a Hoax. Here's Why Higher Populations Are Actually a Good Thing. (Walter E. Williams, 5/31/17, Daily Signal)

The overpopulation hoax has led to horrible population control programs. The United Nations Population Fund has helped governments deny women the right to choose the number and spacing of their children.

Overpopulation concerns led China to enact a brutal one-child policy. Forced sterilization is a method of population control in some countries. Nearly a quarter-million Peruvian women were sterilized.

Our government, through the U.N. Population Fund, is involved in "population moderation" programs around the world, including in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Colombia.

The entire premise behind population control is based on the faulty logic that humans are not valuable resources.

The fact of business is that humans are what the late Julian L. Simon called the ultimate resource.

That fact becomes apparent by pondering this question: Why is it that Gen. George Washington did not have cellphones to communicate with his troops and rocket launchers to sink British ships anchored in New York Harbor?

Surely, all of the physical resources--such as aluminum alloys, copper, iron ore, and chemical propellants--necessary to build cellphones and rocket launchers were around during Washington's time. In fact, they were around at the time of the caveman.

There is only one answer for why cellphones, rocket launchers, and millions of other things are around today but were not around yesteryear.

The growth in human knowledge, human ingenuity, job specialization, and trade led to industrialization, which, coupled with personal liberty and private property rights, made it possible.

Human beings are valuable resources, and the more we have of them the better.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Oil falls on potential undermining of OPEC-led deal (Karolin Schaps, 5/31/17, Reuters)

Oil prices fell by 1 percent on Wednesday as rising Libyan production fueled concerns that OPEC-led output cuts are being undermined by several countries that are excluded from the deal. [...]

Certain OPEC members, such as Libya and Nigeria, and shale oil producer the United States are not part of the agreement, leaving room for further production growth from these exporters.

Libya's oil production is expected to rise to 800,000 bpd this week, state-run National Oil Corporation said on Monday, which is likely to boost the country's exports.

Shipping data on Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that, excluding pipeline exports, Libya has sent out an average of 500,000 bpd of crude oil so far this year, compared with only 300,000 bpd shipped on average in 2016.

Libya's rising production and exports add to soaring U.S. output, which is largely because of a more than 10 percent jump in shale oil drilling since the middle of last year to more than 9.3 million bpd C-OUT-T-EIA, close to top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Fusionism Once and Future (Samuel Goldman, Spring 2017, Modern Age)

What was fusionism?

Fusionism was once among the most familiar concepts in the conservative lexicon. Although its character as a political theory has been almost forgotten, it is still widely recognized as a reference to Meyer's efforts to find common ground in the struggles between libertarians and traditionalists that characterized conservative thought in the 1950s. Libertarians argued that individual freedom was the supreme value. Traditionalists, on the other hand, argued for deference to inherited norms and institutions.

Meyer answered that both sides were partly right. Freedom was "an essential aspect of man's being" and therefore the condition of all truly human ends. But this did not mean all ends were equally good: man's choices were subject to distinctions between good and evil, just and unjust. It was not always easy, however, for the individual person to identify the difference. Therefore, the guidance of tradition was essential. As Meyer put it, "A good society is possible only . . . when social and political order guarantees a state of affairs in which men can freely choose and when the intellectual and moral leaders, the 'creative minority,' have the understanding and imagination to maintain the prestige of tradition and reason, and thus to sustain the intellectual and moral order through society."[2]

This vision of a good society implied a sharp distinction between politics and morality. The legitimate purposes of government, Meyer argued, were securing physical safety from enemies foreign and domestic, and providing for the peaceful resolution of disputes. In his topical writings, Meyer criticized most forms of social provision. In later years this uncompromising attitude led Murray Rothbard to characterize Meyer as a libertarian manqué.[3]

But a commitment to limited government did not mean abandoning traditional conceptions of virtue. Rather, it was only under conditions of freedom that the choice of virtue was morally significant. Indeed, Meyer's argument for limited government implied an enhanced role for philosophical educators and pedagogical institutions. In this respect, fusionism stood in tension with populism.

On one level, then, fusionism was a way of articulating the relationship between two different kinds of action: political action subject to coercion and moral action subject to choice. In another sense, however, it was an epistemology. Beyond the dispute about the purposes of government, libertarians and traditionalist arguments were characterized by appeals to different authorities. Libertarians appealed to reason, often arguing deductively from first principles. Traditionalists justified their claims by reference to precedent and the lessons of experience.

Again, Meyer argued that both sides were possessed of part of the truth. Libertarians were right to assert that only reason could ultimately justify claims about the right way to live. In making this assertion, they were following the examples of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

But libertarians were mistaken to think--or argue as if they thought--that reasoning about human affairs could be conducted a priori, without reference to historical or personal experience. That way led to the kind of "arid and distorting ideology" that justified the French Revolution and its successors.[4] It was not only simple folk who needed the guidance of tradition. Because of their inclination toward abstraction, intellectuals had even greater need of restraint.

On the other hand, habit and precedent were insufficient guides to human conduct. While a useful check on dangerous experiments, resistance to change could also lead to unreflective acceptance of whatever exists. "Natural conservatism" had to be supplemented with rational criticism, Meyer insisted, because so many recent changes had been destructive of inherited wisdom and prudential norms. In order to respond to those errors, "Today's conservatism cannot simply affirm. It must select and adjudge. It is conservative because in its selection and in its judgment it bases itself upon the accumulated wisdom of mankind over millennia, because it accepts the limits upon the irresponsible play of untrammeled reason which the unchanging values exhibited by that wisdom dictate."[5]

Because "conscious conservatism" required distinctions between desirable and undesirable changes, the opposition between reason and tradition was a false dichotomy. Instead of rivals, the two sources of knowledge were intertwined in a productive tension that Meyer characterized as "reason operating within tradition: neither ideological hubris creating Utopian blueprints, ignoring the accumulated wisdom of mankind, nor blind dependence on that wisdom to answer automatically the questions posed to our generation and demanding our own expenditure of mind and spirit."[6]

Meyer's conviction that his theory echoed the "underlying ethos of the West" was the reason he disliked the term fusionism. Instead of forging an eclectic synthesis of disparate elements, Meyer sought to uncover a coherent and "truly Western philosophy of freedom."[7] As philosophy, fusionism was founded on argument and rational critique rather than derived from unreflective habit or an act of faith. As Western, it was already latent in our practices, judgments, and institutions, no matter how threatened these might be. [...]

Despite his frequent tributes to the genius of the American Founding, Meyer contended that the greatest achievement of Western civilization was not a particular regime but the vision of the unique person poised between a transcendent God and impersonal nature. In a little-read 1968 essay, "Western Civilization: The Problem of Freedom," Meyer wrote:

The simultaneous understanding that there exists transcendent perfection and that human beings are free and responsible to move towards perfection, although incapable of perfection, no longer puts men in an intolerable dilemma: the dilemma either, on the one hand, of denying their freedom and their personhood and sinking back in cosmological annihilation within a pantheistic All, or, on the other hand, of trying by sheer force of will to rival God and, as Utopians, to impose a limited human design of perfection upon a world by its nature imperfect. The Incarnation, understood as "the flash of eternity into time," the existential unity of the perfect and the imperfect, has enabled men of the West to live both in the world of nature and in the transcendent world without confusing them. It has made it possible to live, albeit in a state of tension, accepting both transcendence and the human condition with its freedom and imperfection.[10]

In its essentials, Meyer's view was theological. As the reference to the Incarnation indicates, he understood the human condition as a kind of unity in division. Kirk had charged that individualism was an attack on Christianity. Meyer answered that "the freedom of the person" to rise above nature while remaining subject to transcendent standards was Christianity's most distinctive product.[11]

So fusionism was more traditionalist than it appeared.

Fusionism serves some worthwhile purposes provided we maintain a healthy hostility to the claim that Reason can justify anything, starting with itself.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Why the Suburbs Are Where Innovation Will Happen : They have unrecognized strengths for adapting to a disrupting economy. (SCOTT FADNESS, MAY 31, 2017, Governing)
It was back in 1997 when Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen coined the phrase "disruptive innovation" to describe a process that transforms an industry in which expensive and complicated processes have been the norm. Disruptive innovations introduce simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability. Today we face another period of disruption as technologies like the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence spread. [...]

According to the Urban Land Institute, suburbs account for 79 percent of the population of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas. Employment opportunities in the suburbs are rising: Between 2010 and 2014, the number of suburban jobs increased by 9 percent, compared to 6 percent in urban areas. Employment growth produces more tax revenue, providing suburban governments with greater flexibility to adapt to disruptive innovation.

Suburbs have other advantages as well. Less bureaucracy allows for more nimble adaptation of policies and regulations, and suburban communities typically have far less internal red tape to navigate than larger cities, so suburban governments can pivot more quickly as technology changes.

We want to work from home and homes aren't urban.

May 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Labour support just 13 per cent among UK Jews (Marcus Dysch, 5/30/17, Jewish Chronicle)

Just 13 per cent of British Jews plan to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party next week, an exclusive JC poll has revealed.

Theresa May's Conservatives have the support of 77 per cent of Jewish voters.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Sources: Russians discussed potentially 'derogatory' information about Trump and associates during campaign (Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto and Dana Bash, 5/30/17, CNN)

Russian government officials discussed having potentially "derogatory" information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election, according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


A Turning Point for Iran? (Christopher R. Hill, 5/30/17, Project Syndicate)

In Rouhani and Raisi, Iranian voters faced a stark choice. Raisi has a well-deserved reputation as a hardline cleric and former prosecutor with anti-Western views. Had he been elected, the future of the Iranian nuclear deal with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany) might have been called into question.

The high voter turnout in the election - more than 75% - suggests that Iranians do not want to turn away from the deal. While most households have not benefited from the slow lifting of international sanctions, and unemployment remains high, they remain willing to trust Rouhani to deliver on his promise to improve ordinary Iranians' livelihoods.
But it will be up to Iranians themselves to push for the reforms they need. It is clear that neither the Sunni Arab world nor the current US government is betting on - or even rooting for - Rouhani's success.

In recent history, the US-Iran relationship has been particularly fraught. In 1979, after an uprising against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his dreaded SAVAK secret police, Iranian mobs seized the American embassy. They accused American diplomats of espionage, and held them for 444 days. After a long, delicate negotiating process, the hostages were finally set free, on the day of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration. Since then, Iran has never apologized for the hostage episode; and the United States has never forgiven Iran.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, many observers, especially in the Arab world, believed that the removal of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-minority regime would enhance Iran's position in the region. In the aftermath of the invasion, Shia Iraqi militias, which Iran had financed and armed with sophisticated explosive devices, regularly attacked US troops. These militias were aided by the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guard's special forces unit, which took its direction from Iran's religious leadership.

Iran never acknowledged its complicity in the attacks on US forces in Iraq. Not surprisingly, many senior US military leaders' views toward Iran have been influenced by that brutal period. That is certainly true of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Does living in a city make you psychotic? (SHARON BEGLEY, MAY 30, 2017, STAT)

For a study published last week, researchers interviewed 2,063 British twins (some identical, some not) at age 18 about "psychotic experiences" they'd had since age 12 -- such as feeling paranoid, hearing voices, worrying their food might be poisoned, and having "unusual or frightening" thoughts. Among those who lived in the most densely populated large cities, 34 percent reported such experiences; 24 percent of adolescents in rural areas did.

The twins are part of a long-running study that has followed them from birth in 1994-95, so the researchers-- led by Helen Fisher of King's College London and Candice Odgers of Duke University -- also knew the teens' family income, parents' education, where they lived, and more. Conclusion: 18-year-olds raised in big cities were 67 percent more likely to have had psychotic experiences, the researchers reported in Schizophrenia Bulletin.

They then used standard statistics tools to account for possible psychosis-related factors other than cities per se. Cities have more people who are poor and uneducated, which are risk factors for schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis, so they controlled for socioeconomic status. Family psychiatric history raises the risk of an individual's developing psychosis, and since there is some evidence that people with mental illness move to cities, which have more treatment facilities, the researchers controlled for this, too. They also controlled for drug use, some forms of which are more common in urban than rural areas. These calculations brought the extra risk of psychosis among urban teens down to 43 percent.

This study is far from the first to link city living to psychosis. In 2005, psychiatrists wrote that a higher prevalence of psychosis in cities "is one of the most consistent findings in schizophrenia research." A Swedish study and a Danish one even found that the longer someone lives in a city, the greater the risk of schizophrenia -- the sort of "dose response" that makes causality more likely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


In Scranton, Pa., Fiscal Progress Comes With Political Costs : The city is on the brink of making a speedy turnaround. The tough financial decisions it took to get there could alter its political landscape. (LIZ FARMER, MAY 30, 2017, Governing)

Facing a new state law in 2014 that would have placed the city in receivership if it didn't make progress, Scranton conquered several key financial demons in recent years.

For starters, the city reached a settlement with police and fire unions over a multimillion-dollar back pay lawsuit first filed more than a decade ago. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with the unions in 2011, but the city couldn't afford to pay the initial $24 million settlement and instead let the award collect interest.

Last year, Courtright announced the city had agreed to pay the unions most of what it owed -- now $30 million -- in exchange for reforms to the city's troubled public safety pension. The biggest concessions were that workers would increase their pension contributions over time and that the pension funds would be managed by a third-party professional administrator. The administrative transfer also included more stringent guidelines for determining whether an employee is eligible for a disability pension.

In the name of budgetary stability, the city has unloaded a couple of albatross assets as well.

Officials negotiated a long-term lease of its parking authority, which had gone into receivership after the default in 2012 because of political infighting between the council and previous mayoral administration. Last year, the city entered into a lease concession agreement that turns over the system's day-to-day operations and long-term maintenance to the nonprofit National Development Council and ABM, a parking operator. After they pay off the parking authority's outstanding debt, ownership of the system will be returned to the city.

The final deal has perhaps been the most controversial and may even be responsible for upending the political harmony the city has achieved. Late last year, elected officials approved the sale of the city's sewer authority to the private company Pennsylvania American Water for $195 million. The city expected to net $95 million from the sale, but various costs, such as easement acquisition, reduced the net to $83 million.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Investigators are reportedly looking into why Kushner met with a Putin-linked Russian banker (Alex Lockie , 5/30/17, Business Insider)

Federal and congressional investigators are examining why Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser and husband to his daughter, Ivanka, met with Sergey N. Gorkov, a Russian banker who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to The New York Times.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


The Coat of Arms Said 'Integrity.' Now It Says 'Trump.' (DANNY HAKIM, MAY 28, 2017, NY Times)

The British are known to take matters of heraldry seriously, and Mr. Trump's American coat of arms belongs to another family. It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort that is now Mr. Trump's cherished getaway.

In the United States, the Trump Organization took Mr. Davies's coat of arms for its own, making one small adjustment -- replacing the word "Integritas," Latin for integrity, with "Trump."

...realizing Integrity would be inappropriate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Japan's jobs-to-applicants ratio highest in 43 years (KENTARO IWAMOTO, 5/30/17, Nikkei)

The active job openings-to-applicants ratio in Japan for April was 1.48 (seasonally-adjusted), hitting its highest level since February 1974, according to data released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Tuesday. March's figure was 1.45.

The latest data underscores the country's labor shortage amid the ageing of society and the declining population. April's ratio exceeds figures in the early 1990s, when Japan was experiencing the bubble economy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


To keep crops from rotting in the field, farmers say they need Trump to let in more temporary workers (GEOFFREY MOHAN, MAY 25, 2017, LA Times)

Consumer tastes for fresh strawberries and leaf lettuce -- two of the state's most stubbornly labor-intensive crops -- have driven the boom along a coastal corridor from the Salinas Valley in Monterey County through the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, according to the Times analysis. In the Santa Maria Valley alone, the number of agricultural guest workers catapulted from six sheepherders in 2012 to more than 2,000 laborers last year.

If growers have their way, they will get even more under the visa program known as H-2A and face fewer barriers, delays and regulations.

To do so, they will have to ask President Trump to put an asterisk on his "America first" economic agenda, which promises to crack down on immigration as a way of opening up jobs for Americans.

"I think he has the same philosophy that we've had for years, and that is: If you let them in the front door, they won't have to sneak around and go through the back door," said Tom Nassif, president and chief executive of the Western Growers Assn. and a member of Trump's agricultural advisory committee.

Nassif believes that the president is ready to swing open the "big beautiful door" he promised in his border wall, even before he builds it, and even as he threatens to crack down on visas for high-tech jobs.

"It's the only option out there," said Steve Scaroni, owner of Fresh Harvest Inc., the state's biggest contractor of guest workers. "There is no other option."

That's because non-immigrant Americans are not eager to pick crops, despite wages that are rising faster than the state average, according to a Times analysis.

Meanwhile, the largely immigrant farmworkers already here -- half of whom are believed to have crossed the border illegally -- are getting older and moving to other jobs, or lying low in fear of deportation.

And they're not being replenished with fresh immigrants. The border has become too difficult to cross, Mexico's birth rate has plummeted and new economic opportunities have opened for the rural population that used to leave for the United States, immigration experts say.

Growers say foreign guest laborers have largely kept their crops from rotting in the field -- though several growers have lost millions of dollars over the last few years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The Toughest Coach There Ever Was (Frank Deford, APRIL 30, 1984, Spoorts Illustrated)

Robert Victor Sullivan, whom you've surely never heard of, was the toughest coach of them all. He was so tough he had to have two tough nicknames, Bull and Cyclone, and his name was usually recorded this way: coach Bob "Bull" "Cyclone" Sullivan or coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan. Also, at times he was known as Big Bob or Shotgun. He was the most unique of men, andyet he remains utterly representative of a time that has vanished, from the gridiron and from these United States.

Coach Bob "Bull" (Cyclone) Sullivan was a legend in his place. That place was Scooba, Miss, in Kemper County, hard by the Alabama line, hard to the rear of everywhere else. He was the football coach there, for East Mississippi Junior College, ruling this, his dominion, for most of the '50s and '60s with a passing attack that was a quarter century ahead of its time and a kind of discipline that was on its last legs. He was the very paradigm of that singular American figure, the coach--corch as they say in backwater Dixie--who loved his boys as he dominated them, drove off the weak and molded the survivors, making the game of football an equivalency test for life.

Bull Cyclone had spent his own years struggling through a hungry country childhood, getting wounded and killing in close combat as a Marine and then coming home to raise a family and till a tiny plot of American soil he had fought for. Once that would have meant working 40 acres with a mule and a plow. What Bull Cyclone turned was a parcel of earth 100 yards long and about half as wide, scratching out boys as his crop. "There are two reasons people play football," Bull Cyclone was heard to declare. "One is love of the game. The other is out of fear. I like the second reason a helluva lot better."

Randall Bradberry, who is now the football coach at East Mississippi--most people just call it Scooba--was a quarterback there in 1967. One day a Buckeye jet trainer from the nearby Meridian Naval Auxiliary Air Station went out of control. The pilot bailed out, and the empty plane winged in dead over the campus, missing the boys' dorm by 40 feet before plowing into the ground, miraculously doing no damage to edifice or person, except for muddying N.J. Smith, an agriculture teacher, whose outdoor laboratory--"Mr. Smith's pasture"--abutted the football practice field. But what a God-awful noise! Bradberry heard the jet skim over and then explode. "The only thing that crossed through my mind was that the Russians were attacking us," he recalls, "and that they had decided they had to go after Corch Sullivan first. I mean that."

Except possibly for the story about how he made his team scrimmage in a pond full of man-eating alligators, none of the tales about Sullivan have been exaggerated. "I mean, everything you hear is true," says Joe Bradshaw, who played guard for him in the early '50s. Bull Cyclone did sometimes run scrimmages in the pond, except the only gator certified to have been in it was an itty-bitty one the coach's family had brought back from Florida as a souvenir. And maybe it did grow up.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Sanders revolution hits a rough patch (DAVID SIDERS, 05/29/2017, Politico)

[N]early a year after Sanders' presidential run fell short, one thing is missing in the afterglow -- a reliable string of victories at the ballot box.

The losses are piling up. Earlier this month, Democrat Heath Mello, whom Sanders campaigned with, failed to unseat a Republican in Omaha's race for mayor. Kimberly Ellis, the candidate endorsed by Our Revolution, the successor group to Sanders' presidential campaign, lost a fiercely contested race for California Democratic Party chair. And on Thursday night, Republican Greg Gianforte bested Rob Quist, another Democrat for whom Sanders campaigned, in a nationally watched House race in Montana.

Speaking at a victory party, Gianforte called the election proof "Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi can't call the shots here in Montana."

Following Quist's loss, progressive Democrats took solace in their candidate's unexpectedly close showing, with Quist heralding the "energy" of party activists in his state. On the West Coast, Ellis' supporters clung to the promise of increased representation at the party's lower rungs.

But that's not the same as actual control of the levers of power, and the optimism belied the difficulty Sanders' supporters have had turning their enthusiasm into electoral success.

If the "revolution" meant anything shouldn't they have at least knocked off the worst major party nominee since McGovern (who led the last "revolution")?

May 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Hillary Clinton's Team Is Worried the Resistance Doesn't Want Her (Emily Zanotti, May 28, 2017, Heat Street)

Hillary Clinton's inner circle is concerned that the "resistance" that cropped up in the wake of President Donald Trump's electoral win isn't embracing the failed Democratic Presidential candidate as their de facto leader.

As of late, Hillary has taken to marketing herself as the leader of the anti-Trump resistance, Tweeting about her defeat, haranguing Trump in public appearances and "persisting" despite her loss. It's clear from Clinton's Twitter feed, paid speeches, and comments that she wants to lead the mostly female opposition to Trump's policy agenda.

But according to sources close to Clinton's inner circle, she's yet again failing in her quest to win over motivated Democrats. POLITICO reports that her top aides are getting frustrated that they simply can't force progressives to adopt Clinton as their leader.

Her inability to get elected on November 8th seems pretty dispositive.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


U.S. companies no longer know rules of game under Trump, Hasbro director says (Axel Bugge, 5/29/17, Reuters)

Confusion surrounding the trade policies of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration means U.S. companies no longer know the rules of the game, a board member and former CEO of toymaker Hasbro (HAS.O) told an international conference on Monday.

Alan G. Hassenfeld, whose family founded America's second largest toymaker in the 1920s, said: "We thought, you know, if you run a business today you would like to know what the rules of the game are," Hassenfeld at told the Horasis conference, attended by business leaders, politicians and academics to discuss globalization and other challenges for corporations.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


One of the world's happiest economic stories comes from South Asia, but not India (Dan Kopf, May 28, 2017 Quartz)

According to the Asian Development Bank, Bangladesh's economy grew by 7.1% in 2016, the fastest expansion in 30 years. It was also the sixth year in a row that GDP growth was greater than 6%. Most analysts expect this run to continue. Ratings firm Moody's, for example, says the country's growth is likely to remain "robust."

Bangladesh's rapid growth wouldn't be so exciting if it didn't reach the poor. A recent World Bank report (pdf) found that between 2005 and 2010, average incomes for the poorest 40% of households grew 0.5% faster than for the country as a whole. By comparison, in India the poorest 40% of households did worse than the national average over a similar period.
As a result of this inclusive growth, poverty rates have plummeted. In 1991, well over 40% of the population lived in extreme poverty. Today, the World Bank says that less than 14% still does. That is, about 50 million fewer Bangladeshis are in extreme poverty as a result of the improving economy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Trump Finally Understands Something (William Saletan, 5/29/17, Slate)

As a presidential candidate, Trump claimed that when President Obama and Hillary Clinton avoided language about Islamic violence, they weren't just being cowardly or dishonest. He suggested that they didn't use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" because they didn't understand the connection between terrorism and its religious context. Clinton "has no clue what radical Islam is," Trump asserted after last year's terror attack in Orlando. "She is in total denial ... When it comes to radical Islamic terrorism, ignorance is not bliss--it's deadly." Several of Trump's Republican presidential rivals--Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum--agreed that Obama and Clinton didn't get it.

Other Republicans disagreed. Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Lindsey Graham shared Trump's distaste for Obama's and Clinton's policies. But these Republicans said it was wise to distinguish Islam from terror. "Presidents can't just say anything they want. It has consequences, here and around the world," Rubio explained during a primary debate. "We're going to have to work with the Jordanian kingdom. We're going to have to work with the Saudis. We're going to have to work with the Gulf kingdoms. We're going to have to work with the Egyptians ... We are going to have to work with people of the Muslim faith, even as Islam itself faces a serious crisis within it of radicalization."

That's exactly how Obama and Clinton explained their thinking. They saw how much murder was being committed in Islam's name. They refused to echo that language, precisely because they understood that the goal of Muslim terrorists was to persuade other Muslims that Islam sanctioned terrorism. But this line of thinking by Obama and Clinton was lost on--or ignored by--conservative pundits and politicians. During the campaign, friends of mine seriously asked whether Obama understood the relationship between Islam and terrorism.

Thanks to Trump's Middle Eastern trip, I no longer have to defend Obama's judgment. I can point instead to Trump. He has come around, in effect, to Obama's position.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Oil slips as more U.S. drilling outweighs OPEC-led cuts (Libby George, 5/29/17, Reuters)

Oil prices slipped on Monday as further increases in U.S. drilling activity undercut an OPEC-led push to tighten supply. [...]

OPEC's success in drawing down inventories may hinge on output in the United States, which is not participating in the cuts. U.S. production has soared 10 percent since mid-2016 to more than 9.3 million bpd, close to top producer levels Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Trump's obsession over Russia probe deepens (MATTHEW NUSSBAUM , JOSH DAWSEY and ELIANA JOHNSON,  05/28/2017, Politico)

President Donald Trump has been aggressively working the phones since returning this weekend from his foreign trip, talking to friends and outside lawyers as he obsesses over the deepening investigations into his aides and Russia.

Two White House officials said Trump and some aides including Steve Bannon are becoming increasingly convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy against Trump's presidency, as evidenced by the number of leaks flowing out of government -- that the crusade by the so-called "deep state" is a legitimate threat, not just fodder for right wing defenders.

...the conspiracy to remove him is being carried out publicly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Trump's mystery tweet: "add more dollars" to health care (David Nather, 5/29/17, Axios)

President Trump is back on Twitter, and tonight he tweeted about an intriguing idea that's disconnected from pretty much all of the current Republican health care plans: he wants to "add more dollars" to health care.

In the absence of any alternative plan, the GOP is just going to shovel money at Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Merkel Says EU Can No Longer Count on U.S. (Michael Birnbaum and Rick Noack, 5/29/17, The Washington Post)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands." [...]

It was an unusually stark declaration from the normally cautious head of Europe's most powerful economy, and a grim take on the transatlantic ties that have underpinned Western security in the generations since World War II. Although relations between Washington and Europe have been strained at times since 1945, before Trump there has rarely been such a strong feeling from European leaders that they must turn away from Washington and prepare to face the world alone.

The German leader received a minute-long ovation for her comments, which came as she seeks to whip up voter support ahead of September elections. Although her message was partly aimed at her own electorate , it was a measure of how badly relations have deteriorated with Trump's United States that hitting Washington now wins votes while working with it could be perilous.

The remarks were a clear repudiation of Trump's troubled few days with European leaders, even as Merkel held back from mentioning the U.S. president by name. On Thursday, Trump had harsh words for German trade behind closed doors. Hours later, he blasted European leaders at NATO for failing to spend enough on defense, while holding back from offering an unconditional guarantee for European security. Then, at the Group of Seven summit of leaders of major world economies on Friday and Saturday, he refused to endorse the Paris agreement on combating climate change, punting a decision until this week.

Merkel's comments were similar to some she made shortly before Trump's inauguration in January. But they carry extra heft now that Trump is actually in office -- and after Trump had a days-long opportunity to reset relations. Instead, by most European accounts he strained them even more.

"The belief in shared values has been shattered by the Trump administration," said Stephan Bierling, an expert on transatlantic relations at Germany's University of Regensburg. "After the inauguration, everyone in Europe was hopeful that Trump would become more moderate and take into account the positions of the G-7 and of NATO. But the opposite has happened. It's as if he is still trying to win a campaign."

Perhaps the only thing less serious than Donald's posturing--imagine how fast he'd fold to public pressure if one of our European allies faced any threat at all--is Ms Merkel's delusion that the EU will do anything to enable itself to stand alone--imagine going to those electorates and telling them that they have to forgo some social benefits to pay for a Euro military.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


All These Cancer Screenings Probably Won't Save Your Life : Millions are suffering through needless and destructive treatments that follow early-detection testing results--and all for cancers that likely wouldn't kill you anyway. (Paul A. Offit, 05.29.17 , Daily Beast)

Some cancers are easy to prevent. For example, sun block can prevent skin cancer; the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent liver cancer; the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can prevent cervical cancer as well as head, neck, anal, and genital cancers; and cessation of cigarette smoking can prevent lung cancer.

Other cancers are harder to prevent, like those of the prostate, thyroid, and breast. The reason, as explained by Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth, is best explained using a barnyard analogy. Imagine, writes Welch, that three animals in a barn are trying to escape: a bird, a turtle, and a rabbit. When you open the door, they escape at different rates.

• The bird, which will fly out before you can close the door, is analogous to a cancer that is so aggressive that it will kill you no matter what you do. Even if detected early, it doesn't matter--this cancer is invariably fatal.

• The turtle, which is so plodding that it will never escape, is analogous to a cancer that is so slow growing, so non-virulent that it is never fatal. People die with this cancer, not from it.

• The rabbit, which can be caught if the door is closed quickly enough, is analogous to a cancer worth detecting. If not detected early, this cancer is fatal. If it is detected early, then the screening test will save lives.

Screening tests are valuable only if they are detecting mostly rabbits, like Pap smears to detect cervical cancer or colonoscopies to detect colon cancer. For thyroid, prostate, and breast cancers, however, the value of early screening tests isn't so clear. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and prolific author, sums it up best: "We now have a vast and costly health-care industry devoted to finding and responding to turtles."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


TRUMP'S FOOLISH FOREIGN POLICY :  You can't combat extremist ideology while backing the Saudis. (TARA MCCORMACK, 29 MAY 2017, SPIKED)

Trump rightly said in his Saudi speech that the vast majority of the victims of Islamist terror are Muslims in the Middle East. And the vast majority of these are victims of ISIS and al-Qaeda. It is these groups that have set up slave markets, beheaded women and children, thrown gays off buildings. What's more, most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. Saudi Arabia is the main funder of jihadi groups in the Middle East. It has for years been sponsoring Wahhabism in Muslim countries.

And Western states know this. Hillary Clinton was well aware of Saudi Arabia's activities, as emails leaked by Wikileaks made clear. Trump knows, too, as shown in some of his pre-presidential tweets criticising the Saudis.

May 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


India Cancels Mega Plans To Build Coal Power Stations Due To Falling Solar Energy Prices (SHREYA KALRA MAY 27, 2017, India Times)

The huge plummet in prices of solar energy in India has helped leaders to walk away from its plans of building nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations. Analyst Tim Buckley said this shift will have "profound" ramifications for global energy markets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Trump's Navy Is Already Sunk (David Axe, 05.28.17, Daily Beast)

Now half a year later, the Trump administration has proposed its first full budget, for the 2018 fiscal year. The budget proposal includes $603 billion for the Defense Department--an $18-billion increase over what President Barack Obama's administration had projected for 2018.

But there's no trace of candidate Trump's plan to expand the fleet. Instead, Trump is asking for just eight new ships, locking the Navy--at least for the next couple of years with this build rate--into a much more modest expansion to no more than 308 vessels. An expansion begun by Obama nearly a decade ago.

That's right. Unless something dramatic happens soon, Trump's navy will end looking a lot like Obama's navy. 

That's still about 300 ships too many.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Failed to Disclose Their Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection (Christian Erin-Madsen & Jeremy Olds & Renata Mosci & Sam Bloch, May 25, 2017, ArtNet)

Since their wedding in 2009, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have amassed a formidable collection of contemporary art. The walls of the couple's $4 million Park Avenue condo are filled with works by both blue-chip and emerging artists, including Alex Israel, Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Alex Da Corte, and David Ostrowski. Ivanka Trump has regularly showcased the collection on Instagram, posing in front of the artwork in posts tied to her business.

Yet in required financial disclosures, Kushner, a senior advisor and son-in-law to President Trump, failed to report the couple's art collection. (Trump, who also holds an unpaid title in her father's administration, is considered covered by Kushner's disclosures because they are married.)

The omission stands in contrast to disclosures from other senior members of the Trump administration. In recent months, Trump's top cabinet picks have revealed considerable art holdings as part of required financial disclosures. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross disclosed an art collection worth at least $50 million. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin revealed his stake in a $14.7 million Willem de Kooning painting, plus other artworks.

Responding to an inquiry about the collection's exclusion from Kushner's financial disclosures, a lawyer advising Kushner told artnet News that the art holdings would be added to a new version of his disclosure form.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Descendants of Saudi Wahhabism founder distance themselves from Qatar (Reuters, 5/28/17)

The demands come after Qatari state media last week published purported remarks by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, criticizing Gulf rhetoric against Iran and U.S. foreign policy. [...]

"We, therefore, demand that the name of the mosque be changed for it does not carry its true Salafi path," the statement said, according to the Arabic-language Okaz. [...]

The rift has also prompted authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to block the main website of Qatar-based al Jazeera television, which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as critical of their governments. The station says it is an independent news service.

Ties between Qatar and some other Gulf Arab states suffered an eight-month breakdown in 2014 over Qatar's alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the political ideology of which challenges the principle of dynastic rule.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Twitter Under Fire for 'Misgendering' Millions of Users to Advertisers (Jillian Kay Melchior | 7:34 am, May 28, 2017, Heat Street)

It's no secret that companies scrutinize their customers' online habits, drawing inferences for targeted advertising. Last week, Twitter announced a new transparency tool seeking to demystify the process--and promptly found itself under fire for "cissexism" and "egregious rhetorical violence" against transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid and gender-nonconforming users.

The algorithms aren't pc.
Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Selective tax from June 10 (Abdul Rahman Al-Misbahi, 5/28/17, Saudi Gazette)

Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that the selective tax will be implemented from June 10 and the value-added tax (VAT) from January 1.

The announcement was made by the General Authority of Zakat and Tax based on a decision taken by the General Secretariat of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on May 23.

The selective taxes that will be implemented by all Gulf countries target several items, including tobacco products and power drink by 100 percent and fizzy drinks by 50 percent.

They know not what they do--there is no representation without taxation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Analysis: ESPN Lost Republican Viewers Across the Country in 2016 (David Seawright, 5/24/17, Outkick the Coverage)

Two weeks ago, Deep Root Analytics published an analysis of the changing partisanship of ESPN's audience from 2015 to 2016 with the following key point:

In our analysis, a clear trend emerges: fewer Republican viewers tuned into ESPN in 2016. [...]

All told, the ESPN audience across the network's channels was already liberal in 2015 - but it became more liberal in 2016 as Republicans stopped watching:

The ESPN audience became 5% less Republican in 2016 than 2015 across all 43 markets analyzed.

ESPN2's audience became 10% less Republican during the same time period.

The biggest partisan shift happened on ESPN News, whose audience became 36% less Republican and more Democratic.

ESPNU's audience became 12% more Democratic in 2016 compared to 2015.

ESPN Deportes - whose audience already skewed very liberal - became 27% more Democratic.

Hostility to your core consumers seems an odd business strategy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


U.S. Quietly Lifts Limit on Number of Refugees Allowed In (GARDINER HARRIS, MAY 26, 2017, NY Times)

Despite repeated efforts by President Trump to curtail refugee resettlements, the State Department this week quietly lifted the department's restriction on the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States.

The result could be a near doubling of refugees entering the country, from about 830 people a week in the first three weeks of this month to well over 1,500 people per week by next month, according to refugee advocates. Tens of thousands of refugees are waiting to come to the United States.

The State Department's decision was conveyed in an email on Thursday to the private agencies in countries around the world that help refugees manage the nearly two-year application process needed to enter the United States.

In her email, Jennifer L. Smith, a department official, wrote that the refugee groups could begin bringing people to the United States "unconstrained by the weekly quotas that were in place."

We're a better people than he wishes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


The Magna Carta was good for humans - but even better for fish (JOHN BURNSIDE, 5/28/17, New Statesman)

It may look like a minor clause in one of the greatest historical documents of all time, but the insertion into Magna Carta of this single clause - "All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast" - had as benevolent an effect as any of its better-known demands.

Up until then, the king's weirs, while they maximised his own catch, had prevented far too many fish from returning to their spawning grounds upriver, and so had a disastrous impact, especially on salmon populations. Within a few years of Magna Carta the rivers were teeming with life. So much salmon was available that at the height of the season monks at some abbeys begged their abbots for greater variety in the kitchen. Yet increased salmon stocks benefited many abbeys and the fish became an important part of the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The Fed's lowflation dilemma (Gavyn Davies, 5/28/17, Financial Times)

The last two monthly releases for consumer price inflation have been much weaker than anyone expected. Although the FOMC was fairly dismissive of the first of these announcements - saying in the minutes of its May meeting that it was probably caused by temporary or idiosynchratic factors - it is not yet known whether they have continued to ignore the second set of weak CPI data in April. The two months together have left core CPI inflation 0.4 percentage points lower than expected.

When the PCE deflator is released next Tuesday, it will probably show the 12-month core inflation rate at 1.5 per cent in April, the lowest figure since the end of 2015. The FOMC's reaction to this incoming news will depend on their reading of the underlying causes of low inflation, which are highly uncertain. But the markets have already decided that they will take the evidence seriously enough to abort their programme of rate rises after the planned June increase.

It may seem surprising that such a small amount of new evidence could cause a rethink of a monetary normalisation strategy that has been so long in the making. But the Fed's decisions are supposed to be data dependent, and the latest inflation readings have not supported their prior set of beliefs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


VIDEO: Hanover's Bears Get Shoutout From Sununu (Patrick O'Grady, 5/28/17, Valley News)

The happy graduates of Kimball Union Academy took center stage Saturday but, with Gov. Chris Sununu as the commencement speaker, the "Hanover bears" received honorable mention.

"Some days you work on a $12 billion budget, the next day you save bears," Sununu said during his remarks to a smattering of applause. "Go ahead, cheer for the bears," he said. "If anyone see any bears, let us know."

Sununu was referring to his intervention on Thursday in a brewing controversy in Hanover over a decision earlier in the week by the state Fish and Game Department's bear biologist to capture a sow and her three yearlings and destroy them because they had become too accustomed to humans -- in one instance a week ago even entering a house on Thompson Terrace.

The governor's involvement means the bears instead will be captured and relocated up north.

Had the governor been behind Wheelock Terrace at the end of Buck Road on Saturday, he would have seen them.

Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley found two of the yearlings gorging themselves on garbage inside an open dumpster. As he approaches, the bears are eating from torn open plastic trash bags.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Sugar Low: Prices Drop As Health Fears Hit Demand (Agnieszka de Sousa And Isis Almeida, 5/28/17, Bloomberg News)

It's not this year's price crash that haunts the $150 billion sugar industry. It's the fear of worse to come.

Raw sugar's 16 percent drop ranks it bottom of the 22 raw materials on the Bloomberg Commodity Index. Shocks to demand in top consumer India and prospects of more European supply are helping shift the market to a surplus, hurting prices. Yet beyond such market dampeners, hang darker clouds.

After decades of stable demand growth, almost doubling per person since 1960, the world is heading for a tipping point as shoppers turn against the cola and candy blamed for an obesity epidemic in the rich world. At the same time, sugar has to compete with cheap syrups increasingly used in processed food.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


How chatbots can settle an insurance claim in 3 seconds (ALEX SUN, MITCHELL INTERNATIONAL, MAY 27, 2017, Venture Beat)

What problems can AI solve for insurers? Many are investing in chatbots, powered by natural language processing, to improve customer experience. Chatbots are fast and efficient, and customers can interact with them in the way they are most comfortable communicating -- via whatever mobile device they have in their pocket. And unlike humans, they can help more than one customer at a time and are available around the clock. Chatbots are not strictly a utility play. When they are designed to have personalities that align with the brand powering them, they move from simply transactional to transformative customer experience.

In a recent Accenture study of the insurance industry, 68 percent of respondents said their companies use some sort of AI-powered virtual assistant in at least one segment of their business. Geico's virtual assistant, Kate, for example, answers basic policy and billing questions within an app. Digital insurer Lemonade takes things a step further. Their chatbot, Maya, sells inexpensive homeowners' and renters' insurance, and their claims bot, AI Jim, makes Amazon Prime's same-day delivery look slow -- it recently settled a simple claim in three seconds.

As chatbots become more commonplace, they are making their way into behind-the-scenes claims processes as well. Tableau's prototype chat software, Eviza, has a voice interface, so users can drill into its signature data visualizations simply by asking questions out loud. Clara Analytics offers askClara, a chatbot they bill as a "24/7 personal assistant to the claims handler". Like customer-facing chatbots, it can answer routine questions about a given set of claims.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Leaders of the Free World : Book Excerpt: Paul Kengor, 'A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century' (Paul Kengor, May 28, 2017, Free Beacon)

John Paul II and Ronald Reagan shared some important core convictions, principles that stemmed from their religious faiths. Weigel wrote that John Paul II understood human wickedness and the enduring power of evil in history, and how these could be overcome by the power of truth and by a shrewd sense of how the "children of light" could work to bend events in a more humane direction. Bill Clark said much the same about Ronald Reagan. The president and the pope, Clark observed, saw atheistic communism as an evil. Both men came to understand this evil very early, when others did not--John Paul II when he was a student, and Reagan during his acting days. Weigel adds that both men were "positive anticommunists" (his emphasis) who sought to counter communism with a positive alternative of human rights and freedom. Their fierce anticommunism did not prevent them from being nuclear abolitionists. (Only now do scholars recognize this aspect of Reagan's perspective; at the time, few appreciated that Reagan abhorred nuclear weapons.)

In part because of their unconventional paths to leadership, "both men were initially underestimated," said Clark. "Observers did not at first perceive their strength of intellect, courage, and vision." And yet, he added, both persevered in translating their personal vision into an underlying policy and strategy to defeat Soviet oppression and aggression. Weigel suggests that they were successful because they were creative and dynamic in their approach, not locked in to the standard "conceptual categories" of realpolitik or, for that matter, Ostpolitik and détente. Weigel adds that "both were unafraid" to challenge the conventional wisdom of their diplomats and bureaucracies.

Reagan and John Paul II believed in God's will and had a faith-based optimism about the future. The pope, in his own words, held a self-professed "conviction that the destiny of all nations lies in the hands of a merciful Providence." Reagan had the same conviction. Moreover, said Clark, they shared a view that each had been given a "spiritual mission-- a special role in the divine plan of life."

This shared conviction would become abundantly clear during their first meeting, in June 1982.

Frank Shakespeare, whom Reagan would appoint ambassador to the Vatican, and who briefed both the president and the pope, observed the two leaders keenly and points out that "both men were mystics." That is something perhaps more expected of a Catholic, but those who knew Reagan and who observed his faith side would quickly agree that that he had a mystical sense. Reagan wasn't shy about commenting on things like ghosts at the White House or the sudden appearances of rainbows or hearing his late father's voice at his funeral.

Beyond their faith-based understanding of the evils of communism and their belief in a merciful Providence, John Paul II and Reagan embraced other principles in common. For example, they insisted on the reinforcing relationship between faith and freedom; they unapologetically supported the sanctity and dignity of human life; they championed the singular importance of the individual over the state; and they both adhered to what in Catholic social thought is called subsidiarity, which holds that small or local organizations, rather than large, centralized authorities, should handle public functions that they can perform effectively. This last principle animated Reagan's passionate belief in limited government.

To understand the philosophical kinship that Reagan and John Paul II must have felt well beyond their anticommunism, consider just two of those categories. The first is faith and freedom. Ronald Reagan's understanding of freedom was not a libertarian one. One of the many leading philosophical spokesmen for conservatism whom Reagan knew and read was Russell Kirk. It was in his 1974 classic, The Roots of American Order, that Kirk wrote of the need for "ordered liberty," for ordering ourselves internally so as to secure the nation's external order. George Washington made the point in his First Inaugural Address, when he said that the "the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality." In other words, self-government requires just that: self-government.

To Reagan--and to John Paul II--genuine freedom was not mere license. Freedom carried responsibilities rooted in faith. This is the Christian conception of freedom. In the New Testament, Galatians 5:13-14 states: "For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use your freedom as opportunities for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " Without the rock and rudder of faith, John Paul II said, freedom can become confused, perverse, and can even lead to the destruction of freedom for others.40 John Paul II's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, said that the West suffers from a "confused ideology of freedom," one that has unleashed a modern "dictatorship of relativism."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Libya's Ansar al-Sharia announces dissolution (Al Jazeera, 5/28/17)

Libya's Ansar al-Sharia armed group announced its own dissolution on Saturday, saying it has been "weakened" by fighting in Benghazi.

The group had been clashing in the eastern city with forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

"We officially announce to everyone, especially Libyans, the dissolution of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya," the group said in a statement published online.

The decision came on the back of heavy losses that wiped out its leaders and decimated its fighters, Ansar al-Sharia said, calling on other armed groups in Benghazi to form a united front and continue fighting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM



From anger he went on to creativity. Antonio Battaglia, a Guanajuato lawyer, will sell the toilet paper 'Trump' by the end of the year, while leaving a portion of the proceeds to support migrants and their deported compatriots.

30% of sales of Trump toilet paper will go to organizations that support migrants.  In the image, a prototype of the product.

May 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


At Odds With Trump, Nikki Haley Charts Her Own Foreign-Policy Path : Trump's U.N. envoy travels to Middle East to highlight needs of Syrian refugees while White House presses budget cuts that could harm them. (COLUM LYNCH, MAY 23, 2017, Foreign Policy)

While President Donald Trump basked in the pomp of state visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, his U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, chose a decidedly less glamorous itinerary for her own maiden Middle East trip: Visiting Syrian children in refugee camps in Jordan.

The dueling images of America's president being decorated with a golden necklace by an Arab king and Haley high-fiving displaced Syrian schoolchildren couldn't have drawn a sharper contrast. And for Haley, that may be the point.

Four months into her tenure as the envoy of a president she once denounced as reckless, Haley has carved out a distinct foreign-policy path, one that sees Russia unambiguously as an enemy, touts America's role as a human rights champion, and advocates for continued U.S. leadership on the humanitarian front.

While it may be too early to discern a Haley foreign-policy doctrine, the former South Carolina governor has been building a strikingly independent political brand that distinguishes her from a White House that has veered from one crisis to the next while showing little regard for human rights or the plight of the poor.

In many important ways, her foreign-policy views hew more toward those of Republican Party stalwarts -- like Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and international organization -- than to the president's.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM



Is H.R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser, on the way out? By some signs, he is: President Donald Trump not only excluded him from a key meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his national security adviser Monday night in Jerusalem, he was kept "outside the King David [Hotel] room during the course of the entire meeting," according to an eye-catching Israeli account.

Taken alone, the perceived shaming wouldn't amount to much: Trump has a habit of slighting his aides in public. But the incident came only days after a report in The New York Times that McMaster had fallen out of favor with the president. Trump had "complained that General McMaster talks too much in meetings," and "the president has referred to him as 'a pain,'" The Times said in a report that was not challenged by the White House. By the time Trump left Israel for his meeting in Rome with the Pope, right-wing news sites closely allied with the so-called "nationalist" wing of the White House were serving up full throated criticism of McMaster, a distinguished Army general.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Market Body Slams OPEC (ROBBIE GRAMER, MAY 25, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Industry analysts say the latest price drop may be in part because everyone expected the announcement. The world's two top oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia previewed Monday's OPEC announcement when they agreed last week in advance to joint oil production cuts.

"A nine-month extension of the output cuts is already baked into prices," Olivier Jakob of Swiss consultancy Petromatrix told CNBC. "This shows there's not much more OPEC can do."

Industry analysts say investors may also be wary of rising output in Nigeria and Libya -- both are exempt from OPEC cuts as they grapple with their own internal conflicts. Iran, too, is exempted from sharing OPEC's pain as it struggles to regain market share after years of sanctions on oil exports.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


It's Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump : Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse. (A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Klaus Brinkbäumer, May 19, 2017)

Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn't read. He doesn't bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media's tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


'Final act of bravery': Men who were fatally stabbed trying to stop anti-Muslim rants identified  (Amy B Wang, May 27, 2017, Washington Post)

"This suspect was on the train and he was yelling and ranting and raving a lot of different things, including what we characterized at hate speech or biased language," Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said at a news conference Friday evening.

At least two men tried to calm the ranting passenger down, but "they were attacked viciously by the suspect" when they did, Simpson said.

"It appears preliminarily that the victims -- at least a couple of them -- were trying to intervene in his behavior, deescalate him and protect some other people on the train when [the suspect] viciously attacked them," Simpson said.

About 4:30 p.m. Friday, police responded to calls of a disturbance at the Hollywood Transit Station in east Portland. There, they found three stabbing victims, all adult men. Despite attempted lifesaving measures, Best, a resident of Happy Valley, Ore., was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Namkai Meche, of southeast Portland, died at a local hospital; Fletcher, of southeast Portland, is expected to survive, police said Saturday.

The attacks occurred just as Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, was set to commence at sunset Friday. Simpson said that Portland police had already reached out to Muslim organizations, mosques and imams in the community to talk about extra patrols during Ramadan -- and that those extra patrols would continue.

"Our thoughts are with the Muslim community," Simpson said Friday. "As something like this happens, this only instills fear in that community."

On Saturday, people mourned the stabbing victims and praised them as heroes for their actions. Namkai Meche's sister, Vajra Alaya-Maitreya, emailed a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of their family, saying her brother lived "a joyous and full life" with an enthusiasm that was infectious.

"We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common. He was resolute in his conduct (and) respect of all people," she wrote. "In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward. He will live in our hearts forever as the just, brave, loving, hilarious and beautiful soul he was. We ask that in honor of his memory, we use this tragedy as an opportunity for reflection and change. We choose love."

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


This Republican Senator Is Trump's Public Critic And Private Adviser (Tarini Parti, 5/26/17, BuzzFeed News)'

[T]o hear Corker tell it, when he speaks out, his comments don't come as a surprise to the president or White House staff.

Days earlier, Corker had spoken to Trump over the phone about the firing of FBI director James Comey -- an incident the Tennessee Republican publicly said would "raise questions." And in a previous late-April private dinner, Corker said he made it clear to Trump that the turmoil in the White House was making it harder for Republicans to move forward with anything in Congress.

"I actually shared many of the same concerns, OK? Respectfully, of course," he said in a wide-ranging interview with BuzzFeed News Wednesday afternoon.

"We've got close relations and talked frankly with people (at the White House) often," he continued, repeating two words for emphasis: "Frankly. Often."

"If you look at what I said, the entire statement -- not just the 'downward spiral' portion -- all of it, I don't know, would 90% of the Senate agree with it? I think so."

But his Republican colleagues weren't as blunt, or as public as Corker was.

"Yeah, and Micah maybe didn't want me to publicly say it," he said looking in direction of his press secretary with a laugh. "But it's just kind of who I am. I wasn't saying something publicly that I hadn't already said privately. And I didn't say it actually to be destructive. I said it to be constructive. And I think there were probably people over at the White House who were cheering."

Corker immediately rephrased: "I don't think that. I know that."

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Trump Returns to Crisis Over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It (MAGGIE HABERMAN, GLENN THRUSH and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISMAY 27, 2017, NY Times)

As reports emerged about investigators' focus on Mr. Kushner, he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, discussed the possibility of having Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, issue a statement denying that Mr. McGahn had been contacted by federal officials about Mr. Kushner. Mr. McGahn, who has been increasingly uneasy in his role since Mr. Trump ignored his advice to delay Mr. Comey's dismissal, said he was not the person to write such a statement, suggesting that doing so would create a precedent requiring a response to each new report. Mr. Kushner's private lawyer issued a statement instead.

Move over Ishmael....

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Out of step: G7 leaders take a stroll, Trump takes a golf cart (Tom Kington, May 26 2017, The Times)

The distance between Donald Trump and his G7 partners was spelled out dramatically today when Theresa May and the leaders of Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Canada strolled the streets of Taormina, Sicily -- while he followed in a golf cart.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


ISIL: Target Russia : Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin. (Al Jazeera, 27 May 2017)

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have always considered "the West" - and the United States in particular - the ultimate enemy.

But following President Vladimir Putin's policy of military involvement in Syria, Russia may have taken its place as ISIL's main target.

At the moment ISIL's rage is directed at Bashar al-Assad and Putin.They are the main enemies of ISIL because Russia has smashed ISIL in Syria and the same in Iraq. They will do anything to get their revenge on Russia.

Ahmad Saeedi, Dawat University, Kabul

Thousands of ISIL fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are regrouping in the virtually impregnable mountains of Afghanistan, plotting revenge against the Kremlin.

ISIL's high command have given orders to target Russian cities, with thousands of trained fighters ready to act at any time.

Most recently, a lone terrorist on the metro in St Petersburg demonstrated the vulnerability of any modern city. On a moving train, in the middle of the day, a young Uzbek man with Russian citizenship detonated a bomb made with TNT and packed with shrapnel. Dozens were hurt and 15 killed. The bomber was later reported in the Russian media to have been in Syria with ISIL in 2014. 

If it had been intentional, luring Putin into Syria would go down as one of the more brilliant masterstrokes in strategic history.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Senate Intelligence Committee requests Trump campaign documents (Robert Costa May 26, 2017, The Washington Post)

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, has asked President Trump's political organization to gather and produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to his campaign's launch in June 2015, according to two people briefed on the request.

The letter from the Senate arrived at Trump's campaign committee last week and was addressed to the group's treasurer. Since then, some former staffers have been notified and asked to cooperate, the people said. They were not authorized to speak publicly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Wind energy's watershed moment (Ann Harder, 5/25/17, Axios)

Ben Fowke, the CEO of Xcel Energy, now says he's fine with wind power on the electric grid.

"I don't think 5 or 10 years ago I'd be comfortable telling you we could not sacrifice reliability when we're going to have 35% of our energy come from wind," Fowke said on stage at the American Wind Energy Association's annual conference in Anaheim. "I'm telling you, I'm very comfortable with that today."

More a shed coal moment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


How Finland broke every rule -- and created a top school system : It's not just a "Nordic thing" (WILLIAM DOYLE February 18, 2016, Hechinger Report)

Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is. Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the "metrics" that matter most for children in school - executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.

The homework load for children in Finland varies by teacher, but is lighter overall than most other developed countries. This insight is supported by research, which has found little academic benefit in childhood for any more than brief sessions of homework until around high school.

There are some who argue that since Finland has less socio-economic diversity than, for example, the United States, there's little to learn here. But Finland's success is not a "Nordic thing," since Finland significantly out-achieves its "cultural control group" countries like Norway and Sweden on international benchmarks. And Finland's size, immigration and income levels are roughly similar to those of a number of American states, where the bulk of education policy is implemented.

There are also those who would argue that this kind of approach wouldn't work in America's inner city schools, which instead need "no excuses," boot-camp drilling-and-discipline, relentless standardized test prep, Stakhanovian workloads and stress-and-fear-based "rigor."

But what if the opposite is true?

What if many of Finland's educational practices are not cultural quirks or non-replicable national idiosyncrasies -- but are instead bare-minimum global best practices that all our children urgently need, especially those children in high-poverty schools?

Finland has, like any other nation, a unique culture. But it has identified, often by studying historical educational research and practices that originated in the United States, many fundamental childhood education insights that can inspire, and be tested and adapted by, any other nation.

As Pasi Sahlberg has pointed out, "If you come to Finland, you'll see how great American schools could be."

The key insight about American education is that almost no one has any interest in what or whether kids learn.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Top Trump aide: Coal doesn't make 'much sense anymore' (Matt Egan, May 26, 2017, CNN Money)

"Coal doesn't even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock," Gary Cohn said, aboard Air Force One on Thursday, referring to raw materials that get converted into a fuel.

Cohn, who serves as director of the White House National Economic Council, instead praised natural gas as "such a cleaner fuel" -- and one that America has become an "abundant producer of."

While Trump rarely talks up the potential of renewable energy, Cohn sounds like a fan.

"If you think about how solar and how much wind power we've created in the United States, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly," Cohn said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


How America's immigrant workforce is changing (Octavio Blanco, 5/26/17, CNNMoney)

Baby Boomers are retiring and U.S. birth rates are falling. With fewer native born workers coming into the job market, the country is becoming more reliant on immigrants than ever before to keep its labor force growing, according to the Pew Research Center.

Today, immigrants make up about 17% of the U.S. labor force -- and nearly one-quarter of those immigrants are undocumented.

Without the current rate of both legal and undocumented immigration, Pew found that the total U.S. workforce would shrink dramatically over the next 20 years.

May 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Exclusive: Trump son-in-law had undisclosed contacts with Russian envoy - sources (Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay, 5/26/17, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.

Those contacts included two phone calls between April and November last year, two of the sources said. By early this year, Kushner had become a focus of the FBI investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, said two other sources - one current and one former law enforcement official.

Before the election, Kislyak's undisclosed discussions with Kushner and Flynn focused on fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Russian economic relations, six of the sources said. Former President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia after it seized Crimea and started supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

After the Nov. 8 election, Kushner and Flynn also discussed with Kislyak the idea of creating a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could have bypassed diplomats and intelligence agencies, two of the sources said. [...]

FBI scrutiny of Kushner began when intelligence reports of Flynn's contacts with Russians included mentions of U.S. citizens, whose names were redacted because of U.S. privacy laws. This prompted investigators to ask U.S. intelligence agencies to reveal the names of the Americans, the current U.S. law enforcement official said.

Kushner's was one of the names that was revealed, the official said, prompting a closer look at the president's son-in-law's dealings with Kislyak and other Russians.

FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Ancient Slingshot Was as Deadly as a .44 Magnum : An excavation in Scotland shows that Roman soldiers used lead ammo with lethal accuracy. (Heather Pringle, MAY 24, 2017, National Geographic)

On a fortified hill in Scotland some 1,900 years ago, a Roman army attacked local warriors by hurling lead bullets from slings that had nearly the stopping power of a modern .44 magnum handgun, according to recent experiments.

The assault seems to have been deadly effective, for the local warriors were armed only with swords and other simple weapons, says John Reid, a researcher at the Trimontium Trust and one of the co-directors of the archaeological fieldwork at Burnswark, south of Edinburgh. "We're fairly sure that the natives on top of the hill weren't allowed to survive." [...]

To clarify the picture, Reid and Nicholson decided to scour Burnswark for traces of ancient Roman ammunition. American archaeologists had used metal detectors successfully at the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn to locate buried bullets and shells and map the combatants' movements across the battlefield. So Reid and Nicholson decided to try something similar at Burnswark. As a first step, the researchers learned to calibrate a metal detector so that it could distinguish the lead in an ancient Roman sling bullet from other metal artifacts buried at the site.

Trained metal detectorists then combed Burnswark's hillsides and summit, producing more than 2,700 hits that Nicholson carefully recorded and mapped. Then the team ground-truthed the findings by digging five small trenches. The excavations revealed more than 400 Roman sling bullets right where the metal detectors indicated, as well as two spherical sandstone missiles known as ballista balls. The results suggested that 94 percent of the metal detector hits were in fact Roman bullets.

Impressed, the team began analysing the locations of the metal detector hits to better understand what had happened. They discovered a concentration of lead bullets across the entire 500-yard-long southern rampart of the Scottish hill fort, directly above one of the Roman camps. "This is just what we would expect from a besieging assault," notes Reid. A second, smaller concentration lay to the north, along what may have been the defenders' failed escape route.

The Roman slingers would have exacted a heavy toll. Recent experiments conducted in Germany showed that a 50-gram Roman bullet hurled by a trained slinger has only slightly less stopping power than a .44 magnum cartridge fired from a handgun. Other tests revealed that a trained slinger could hit a target smaller than a human being from 130 yards away. "That's exactly the distance from the front rampart of the south [Roman] camp to the front rampart of the hill fort," Reid noted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


2017-22-05_Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam : World's Largest Muslim Youth Organization Publishes Road Map to Address "Rapidly Metastasizing Crisis in the Islamic World" (Bayt Ar Ramah)

The two-day event concluded with the proclamation of Gerakan Pemuda Ansor's Declaration on
Humanitarian Islam, an 8,000 word analysis of the rapidly escalating crisis within the Islamic world,
including the role of orthodox Islamic teachings--"weaponized" by state and non-state actors--in
precipitating this crisis, and a detailed road map that calls for "a serious, long-term socio-cultural,
political, religious and educational campaign to transform Muslims' understanding of their religious
obligations, and the very nature of Islamic orthodoxy."

In the words of Ansor Chairman H. Yaqut Qoumas, which also appear in the Declaration: "No progress
can be made towards neutralizing a threat, unless it is understood and identified. It is false and
counterproductive to claim that the actions of al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other such groups have
nothing to do with Islam, or merely represent a perversion of Islamic teachings. They are, in fact,
outgrowths of Wahhabism and other fundamentalist streams of Sunni Islam..." The Declaration goes on
to state, "For more than fifty years, Saudi Arabia has systematically propagated a supremacist,
ultraconservative interpretation of Islam among Sunni Muslim populations worldwide... [Legitimate]
Saudi opposition to Iran[ian], ISIS and al-Qaeda [supremacism] does not and should not absolve it from
responsibility for promoting the very ideology that underlies and animates Sunni extremism and terror...

"Muslims face a choice between starkly different visions of the future. Will they strive to recreate the
long-lost ideal of religious, political and territorial unity beneath the banner of a Caliphate--and thus
seek to restore Islamic supremacy--as reflected in their communal memory and still firmly entrenched
within the prevailing corpus, and worldview, of orthodox, authoritative Islam? Or will they strive to
develop a new religious sensibility that reflects the actual circumstances of our modern civilization, and
contributes to the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the
equal dignity and rights of every human being?"

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


U.S. home prices to rise at a strong pace on tight supply: Reuters poll (Hari Kishan and Rahul Karunakar, 5/26/17, Reuters)

U.S. home prices look poised to rise at a robust pace over the next few years, mainly because of a chronic shortage of houses and steady demand, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

We're going to need a lot more immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


U.S. inflation path since 2012 is worrisome, policymaker says (Ann Saphir and Minami Funakoshi, 5/26/17, Reuters)

The current level of U.S. prices is noticeably lower than what it would be if the Federal Reserve had delivered on its 2-percent inflation target, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said, calling the trend "worrisome."

In slides prepared for delivery in Tokyo on Friday, the U.S. central banker said U.S. prices are now 4.6 percent below the price level path established from 1995 to 2012, when inflation was growing near the Fed's target of 2 percent each year.

The only worrisome thing is that the Fed appears intent on raising real interest rates to historically high levels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Handheld 3D-printing pen for custom cartilage implants succeeds in sheep trial (Andrew Masterson, 5/25/17, Cosmos)

A handheld pen that produces a bio-ink containing a patient's own cells could one day be used to repair knees damaged by osteoarthritis.

In a pilot study written up in The Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, a team led by Gordon Wallace from Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science reports the 3D-printing pen produced "exceptional" results when tested on sheep.

The Biopen is effectively a new tool available to surgeons.

In the study, cells drawn from each sheep were mixed with a specially formulated bio-ink. During surgery, the device was then used to create a precise, bespoke implant that replaces cartilage lost through osteoarthritis.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


The triumph of Iran's liberals (The Economist, May 25th 2017)

WHILE the leader of the free world bopped with sword-waving Arab princes and denounced the ancient Persian enemy, Iranian voters on the other side of the Gulf danced for detente. Men and women packed the streets countrywide, revelling most of the night. They were celebrating the re-election of President Hassan Rouhani. They cheered his vision of opening Iran to the West and his success in trouncing Iran's isolationists and hardliners, championed by Ebrahim Raisi, who mustered only 38% of the vote on May 19th against Mr Rouhani's 57%. In local elections on the same day, the hardliners were beaten in all Tehran's 21 seats.

Defeat is growing familiar to the hardliners. The last time they won was in the parliamentary election of 2012, and that they owed to a mass boycott by reformists. This time the hardliners campaigned particularly hard because they sensed they were not only picking a president, but also, perhaps, the next supreme leader (a more powerful post). The incumbent, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is 77. This presidential election may be his last. Formally, the Assembly of Experts selects a successor from among its 88 Muslim scholars. But the last time it did so, in 1989, it picked the then president. "The vote isn't just about four years of presidency," says a confidant of Mr Khamenei. "It's about Iran's future for 40 years."  [...]

Within hours of his victory, reformists whom the authorities had detained in the run-up to the election were released. His advisers also predict that he will appoint his first female minister, and perhaps even the Islamic Republic's first-ever Sunni one. More radical change as well, they say, could be coming.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Japan's big insurers expand their appetites for U.S. Treasuries (Tomo Uetake and Takahiko Wada, 5/26/17, Reuters)

Big Japanese life insurers, who are major bond investors globally, are primarily focusing on U.S. bonds while staying cautious on European bonds, earning reports and comments from industry executives show.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Tesla's Solar Roof Is Cheaper Than Expected (Tom Randall, 5/26/17, Bloomberg)

Tesla Inc. has begun taking $1,000 deposits for its remarkable solar roof tiles--to be delivered this summer at a price point that could expand the U.S. solar market. 

Tesla will begin with production of two of the four styles it unveiled in October: a smooth glass and a textured glass tile. The French slate and sculpted Tuscan versions of the tile will be available in 6 to 9 months.  Roofing a 2,000 square-foot home in New York state--with 40 percent coverage of active solar tiles and battery backup for night-time use--would cost about $50,000 after federal tax credits and generate $64,000 in energy over 30 years, according to Tesla's website calculator. 

That's more expensive upfront than a typical roof, but less expensive than a typical roof with traditional solar and back-up batteries. The warranty is for the lifetime of your home. 

"The pricing is better than I expected, better than everyone expected," said Hugh Bromley, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance who had been skeptical about the potential market impact of the new product. Tesla's cost for active solar tiles is about $42 per square foot, "significantly below" BNEF's prior estimate of $68 per square foot, Bromley said. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


The solution to America's health-care problem is obvious: Medicare. For. All. (Ryan Cooper, May 26, 2017, The Week)

[T]he important thing to remember regarding the state budget is that California already spends about $200 billion on Medicaid and Medicare -- it's just that those programs are administered at the federal level. Per the state analysis, employers also already spend an additional $100 billion to $150 billion, so the state would "only" have to find $50 billion to $100 billion in fresh revenue.

Still, that is a tremendous amount of money. But California is a big, rich state, with GDP of nearly $2.5 trillion. A price of $400 billion represents about 15 percent of their total economic output -- far higher than the developed nation average, but actually 3 percentage points of GDP less than America as a whole.

So, nevermind that we'd save 3% of GDP right off the bat, the ratchet downwards--even if it only gets us as low as Sweden and France--saves another 3%.  Get it down to Canada/Australia levels and it's another 2%.  That's 8% of GDP we can invest in the productive economy instead of wasting on unnecessary medical costs.  Clawing back 2% of the similarly wasted military spending gets us to a 10% infusion of capital into economic investments.  

We'd prefer universal catastrophic/HSAs, so that cash is going directly into personal investment accounts and helping end Social Security too, but universal Medicare is, obviously, an effective alternative to the current mess.  And it becomes ever more likely as the GOP opposes increased coverage while offering no alternative.

May 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


He Built Better Than He Knew (RICHARD REINSCH|. 5/25/17, Law & Liberty)

The truth about America, Lawler argued, was that our Founders had deployed a Lockean liberalism to justify and explain their act of creating a new political order.  However, this Lockean freedom had never been understood in an unrelenting ideological fashion that made America the inevitable republic of liberated individualism. That outcome could happen, and was in fact a potentiality in our Founding, but other resources were certainly present. Moreover, the freedom of the Americans had always been understood, beginning with the Puritans and by numerous other oncoming religious groups--the Baptists, Jews, Catholics, and Mormons--to be at the service of our relational personhood. A nation conceived to protect natural rights had become a home for the homeless, and this included religious wanderers. And while persecutions did exist for dissident faiths, in time, these same communions found unparalleled opportunities to practice their faiths and build their communities.

So we were free to be citizens, but we were both more and less than citizens, Peter taught in his magnificent introduction essay for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's edition of Orestes Brownson's The American Republic (1865). Our freedom was really meant to be put in the service of our relational duties as parents, spouses, members of religious communions, workers, and, of course, citizens of America; or as Peter had taken lately to saying, we needed to employ "libertarian means in the service of nonlibertarian ends."

This meant that our Founders, in the words of Brownson and John Courtney Murray that Peter never tired of repeating, "built better than they knew." The act of constitutional founding, Peter relayed, had been done amidst the background of the natural law and the full scope of the Western legal, constitutional, philosophical, and religious inheritance. Our providential constitution was where you needed to start to understand our country.

In later writings, Peter made clear the ways in which the individualist strand in American political thought had increasingly come to dominate more and more of our social, cultural, and religious existence. What had begun as a noble liberal attempt to free humans from tyrannical government by employing a constructed government in the service of natural rights had outstripped its political bounds. And many Americans, following elite discourse, increasingly viewed the family, religion, and even thick notions of republican citizenship as collectivist attempts to rob them of their freedoms.

As Peter so eloquently put it:

The modern individual is liberated from the philosopher's duty to know the truth about nature, from the citizen's selfless devotion to this country, from the creature's love and fear of God, and even from the loving responsibilities that are inseparable from family life.

The ultimate and undying source of resistance to this Progressive logic was human nature, which, as Peter noted, always carried a mighty pitchfork. Lawler pointed out America's problems as a loyal friend. Friends tell the truth, but do not exaggerate faults. Peter, like Tocqueville, did the former without succumbing to the latter. We could actually, he insisted, see from a position beyond modernity and its limitations. He called it postmodern conservatism which affirmed "as good what we can really know about our natural possibilities and limitations," thus challenging "liberated postmodernism... and the modern premises it radicalizes." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Jared Kushner Now Under FBI Scrutiny in Russia Probe, Say Officials (KEN DILANIAN, PETER ALEXANDER and COURTNEY KUBE, 5/25/17, NBC News)

Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry, officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Ivanka's own goal: first daughter mistakes Lazio star Chinaglia for a saint (Stephanie Kirchgaessner, 25 May 2017, The Guardian)

Ivanka Trump, the former model and presidential adviser, mistook a picture of a revered Italian footballer for a saint during a recent night out in Rome.

The first daughter was dining with her husband, Jared Kushner, at Le Cave di Sant'Ignazio on Tuesday night when she spotted a picture of former Lazio star Giorgio Chinaglia - standing on a pitch, his arms stretched out to the heavens - and asked: "Which saint is that?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


'Putin will be thrilled': Former NATO ambassadors say Trump just dealt 'a major blow' to the alliance (Natasha Bertrand, 5/25/17, Business Insider) 

"Putin will be thrilled at Trump's refusal to endorse Article 5," said Tom Wright, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe and a fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution. "Unimaginable under any other president."

After Trump called NATO "obsolete" in a January interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Moscow "shares Trump's opinion that NATO is a remnant of the past." 

Trump hands Putin a win at first NATO meeting (Robbie Gramer, May 25, 2017, SF Gate)

"Trumps behavior at this NATO meeting in Brussels is a definitive win for Putin," said Jorge Benitez, a NATO expert at the Atlantic Council who was at the NATO confab. "It just increases a lot of the doubts and fears and concerns our allies have had," he told Foreign Policy.

"Every US President since Truman has pledged support for Article 5-that US will defend Europe. Not so Trump today at #NATO. Major mistake," former U.S. ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns wrote on Twitter.
Trump said he was "very direct" with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and other leaders about ponying up more on defense spending.

His refusal to explicitly endorse the principle may rattle U.S. allies who were already nervous that Washington won't come to their defense in the event of an attack. Baltic countries, in particular, are worried about massing Russian military forces that could overwhelm them, and were hoping for the typical, ironclad U.S. commitment, but left disappointed.

Optics-wise, things didn't fare much better, with passive aggressiveness out in full force. French President Emmanuel Macron went out of his way to leave Trump hanging for a handshake as he greeted the phalanx of NATO member leaders.

In another cringe-worthy moment, Trump shoved Montenegrin leader Dusko Markovic out of his way to clamber to the front of the pack to preen for a photo-op.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Florida GOP consultant admits he worked with Guccifer 2.0, analyzing hacked data (SEAN GALLAGHER - 5/25/2017, Ars Technica)

A Florida GOP campaign consultant who runs a blog under a pseudonym directly contacted the hackers behind the breach of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and he solicited material from them. The Wall Street Journal reports that Aaron Nevins set up a Dropbox account specifically for "Guccifer 2.0" to drop files into, and he received 2.5 GB of data from the Democratic Party breaches--including "get out the vote" strategy for congressional candidates in Florida.

Nevins analyzed the data and posted his analysis on his blog, Guccifer 2.0 sent a link to the blog to Trump backer Roger Stone, who was also in communication with the hackers, according to Stone.

Roger Stone helped Donald Trump get elected president - now he's helping himself (Manuel Roig-Franzia, April 19, 2017, Washington Post)

Stone worked briefly for the Trump campaign in its early days and was either fired (Trump's version) or quit (Stone's version), but stayed in contact as an informal adviser and energetic promoter, including connecting Trump with the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of When he left, Stone says, the campaign tried unsuccessfully to get him to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented him from talking to reporters.

"I would have had to agree to not breathe any air," he says.

Trump confidant Roger Stone gets the president he's wanted since 1988 (Rick Jervis, 5/21/17, USA TODAY)

In 1987, Stone began urging Trump to run for president. In the film, Trump praises Stone repeatedly, calling him "tough" and a "quality guy." In one sequence, the film shows how Stone helped sabotage the Reform Party's chances in the 2000 presidential election by urging Pat Buchanan to run as a Reform candidate, then backing Trump to run against Buchanan. In part because of Trump's brash attacks on his rival ("He's a Hitler lover," Trump repeatedly says about Buchanan), the Reform Party imploded, paving the way for Bush's contentious win that year.

Stone's fingerprints, according to the film, were again all over Trump's victory last year: the "Make America Great Again" slogan (borrowed from a Reagan campaign Stone worked on); questioning President Obama's birth certificate; spreading unfounded allegations that Bill Clinton is a serial rapist. Stone's name has also been mentioned in connection to the widening FBI inquiry into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

"Roger's relationship with Trump has been so interconnected that it's hard to define what's Roger and what's Donald," Paul Manafort, Stone's ex-partner and Trump's former campaign manager, says in the film.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


"The Germans are evil, very evil" (Peter Müller, 25.05.2017, Der Spiegel)

US President Donald Trump complained bitterly about the German trade surplus on his meeting with the EU top in Brussels. "The Germans are evil, very evil," said Trump. This was learned by the SPIEGEL from participants in the meeting.

Trump said, "Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we'll stop that."

At the meeting, EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker took the side of the Germans and disagreed with Trumps Schelte. Free trade is a good thing for all, said the Commissioner. Juncker had tried a friendly tone, but was hard on the matter, says the participants.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Trump's speech to Israeli parliament scrapped amid concerns (AP, 5/25/17)

Israel's parliament speaker says a proposal that Donald Trump would speak before the Knesset during his visit to Israel was scrapped over fears that the American president would be interrupted and heckled by some lawmakers. [...]

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush addressed the Knesset during visits; Barack Obama opted to speak at a university. Trump delivered a speech across the street from parliament at Jerusalem's Israel Museum.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Appeals court rules against Trump's revised travel ban: It 'stands to cause irreparable harm' (Jessica Gresko, 5/25/17, Associated Press)

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit is the first appeals court to rule on the revised travel ban, which Trump's administration had hoped would avoid the legal problems that the first version encountered.

In all, ten of the thirteen judges who heard the case voted against the Trump administration. [...]

The government's "asserted national security interest ... appears to be a post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country," wrote the chief judge of the circuit, Roger L. Gregory.

"Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute," Gregory wrote. "It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation."

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Researchers Claim to Have Found a Cheaper Way to Make Hydrogen (STEPHEN EDELSTEIN, MAY 25, 2017, The Drive)

Hydrogen fuel-cell cars have several advantages over battery-powered electric vehicles. They tend to have longer ranges, and can be refueled quickly, like gasoline cars. But all those advantages are academic without large quantities of easily-accessible hydrogen.

Physicists at the University of Houston may be able to help in that area, however. A team of researchers claims to have discovered a new way to produce hydrogen that's both cheaper and more efficient than current processes. If it pans out, this development could be a boon to fuel-cell cars.

The new process uses a nickel catalyst, which is much less expensive than the precious-metal catalysts currently used. 

Electric Cars Could Be Cheaper Than Internal Combustion by 2030 : Tesla gets the headlines, but big battery factories are being built all over the world, driving down prices. (Michael Reilly  May 23, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global battery production is forecast to more than double between now and 2021. The expansion is in turn driving prices down, good news both for the budding electric-car industry and for energy companies looking to build out grid-scale storage to back up renewable forms of energy.

While Tesla gets tons of attention for its "gigafactories"--one in Nevada that will produce batteries, and another in New York that will produce solar panels--the fact is, the company has a lot of battery-building competition.

Exhibit A is a new battery plant in Kamenz, Germany, run by Accumotive. The half-billion-euro facility broke ground on Monday with a visit from German chancellor Angela Merkel and will supply batteries to its parent company, Daimler, which is betting heavily on the burgeoning electric-vehicle market.

But the lion's share of growth is expected to be in Asia. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


CBO on Health Care Bill: Sick People Could Face Higher Premiums and Even Be Priced Out of the Market (HALEY BYRD, 5/25/17, IJR)

When reporters pointed out the portion of the CBO report saying individuals with preexisting conditions in waiver states would be charged higher premiums and could even be priced out of the insurance market -- destabilizing markets in those states -- under AHCA, Meadows seemed surprised. [...]

After reading the paragraph, Meadows told reporters he would go through the CBO analysis more thoroughly and run the numbers, adding he would work to make sure the high-risk pools are properly funded.

Meadows, suddenly emotional, choked back tears and said, "Listen, I lost my sister to breast cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer. If anybody is sensitive to preexisting conditions, it's me. I'm not going to make a political decision today that affects somebody's sister or father because I wouldn't do it to myself."

He continued:

"In the end, we've got to make sure there's enough funding there to handle preexisting conditions and drive down premiums. And if we can't do those three things, then we will have failed."

Meadows indicated he would support less-conservative changes to provide more funding for high-risk pools in the Senate, if needed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Jobless claims edge up; goods trade deficit widens (Lucia Mutikani, 5/25/17, rEUTERS)

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose less than expected last week and the four-week moving average of claims fell to a 44-year low, suggesting further tightening in the labor market. [...]

It was the 116th straight week that claims were below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market.

That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 10-year low of 4.4 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Trump abroad: World leaders told to praise electoral college win and use lots of pictures in documents (Emily Shugerman, Alexandra Wilts, 5/19/17, iNDEPENDENT)

Delegates to the Nato summit have been cautioned by their Washington consultants to "keep it short" and use plenty of visual aids in talks with the President. Also important is stroking the President's ego; complimenting him on his electoral college win and contrasting him favourably with former President Obama.

Trump and Macron's awkward meeting (aXIOS, 5/25/17)

The two presidents, each wearing dark suits and blue ties (Trump's was thick and royal blue; Macron's was skinny and navy) sat in antique cream-upholstered arm chairs, with two American and French flags behind them. They shook hands for an extended period of time. Each president gripped the other's hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Needless medical tests cost $200 billion -- and they can harm patients (Chad Terhune, 5/24/17, LA Times)

Some experts estimate that at least $200 billion is wasted annually on excessive testing and treatment. This overly aggressive care also can harm patients, generating mistakes and injuries believed to cause 30,000 deaths each year.

"The changes that need to be made don't appear unrealistic, yet they seem to take an awful lot of time," said Dr. Jeff Rideout, chief executive of the Integrated Healthcare Assn., an Oakland nonprofit group that promotes quality improvement.

In California, that sense of frustration has led three of the state's biggest healthcare purchasers to band together to promote care that's safer and more cost-effective. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the Covered California insurance exchange and the state's Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal -- which collectively serve more than 15 million patients -- are leading the initiative.

Progress may be slow, but there have been some encouraging signs. In San Diego, for instance, the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group said it cut unnecessary lab tests more than 10% by educating both doctors and patients about overuse.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Reince Priebus Sweating Secret Comey Memos, White House Sources Say : White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is nervous about what could be in store for him if the former FBI director reveals more details of his secret memos. (BETSY WOODRUFF, LACHLAN MARKAY,ASAWIN  SUEBSAENG, 05.24.17, Daily Beast)

In late February--long before Trump fired Comey over the "this Russia thing"--Priebus had reportedly already acted on the president's behalf in trying to use the FBI to quash the Trump-Russia news.

According to CNN, Priebus asked Comey and his then-top deputy, Andrew McCabe, on Feb. 15 to refute news reports about conversations between Trump campaign staff and Russian government officials. Comey and McCabe reportedly refused. The White House denied the story at the time.

That conversation happened the day after President Trump reportedly asked Comey to dial back the bureau's investigation of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's ousted, and preferred, national security adviser. As first reported by The New York Times, the former FBI director subsequently documented that conversation in a memo that leaked last week.
This week, The Washington Post reported Trump had been unsuccessful in persuading two of the most senior U.S. intelligence officials to publicly deny the existence of evidence linking his 2016 campaign to Russian efforts to undermine the American political process. Trump's request was made after Comey informed the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating.

Senior Trump aides recounted to The Daily Beast the shockwaves and "sustained panic," as one official described it, that news of the initial Comey memo sent through the administration and Trump's political inner circle. Along with the chaos and continued frustrations that came with attempting to manage the fallout, there was an immediate unease expressed by senior staffers, including Priebus, that more damning memos could be revealed in the coming weeks, if not days.

These officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Allan Bloom's University and Mine: From Racial Intimidation to Trigger Warnings (Paul A. Rahe, May 25th, 2017, Public Discourse)

In the first section of the first chapter in the part of his book devoted to the university, Bloom turns to Tocqueville's Democracy in America--from which he gleans the premise of his argument: that there is a profound tension between liberal democracy and the life of the mind. If, he intimates, there is a closing of the American mind, it is, as Tocqueville indicated, because in democratic ages equality is the norm. When no individuals or groups really stand out, the only authority is popular opinion, and, without pausing to reflect on what they are doing, human beings tend to follow its lead.

Tocqueville's tyranny of the majority is gentle. It does not require violence, for its reign is psychological. Those who do not surrender to the temper of the times tend to be shunned. Those who do not go along tend not to get along.

In Bloom's view, the only thing that stands in the way of this species of tyranny is liberal education. At the best universities, young people--at an age when the most intelligent are filled with an erotic longing for the beautiful and the good--are exposed to what Matthew Arnold called "lost causes and forsaken beliefs." When, at the age of fifteen, Bloom journeyed from Indianapolis to the University of Chicago, he found this oasis of learning profoundly liberating. He was exposed to Plato, Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and other great authors in an environment where their greatness was taken for granted and one was expected to pore over them, comparing their arguments with one another and considering whether and to what degree what each had to say was true. This opened up new horizons and enabled him to confront the larger world with a puzzled and critical eye.

In Bloom's opinion, liberal education--an education that liberates students from an enslavement to reigning public opinion by awakening them from dogmatic slumber--is a boon for liberal democracy. It promotes an open-mindedness and a detached perspective on present political struggles that is essential to the proper exercise of citizenship. As he puts it, "the successful university is proof that a society can be devoted to the well-being of all, without stunting human potential or imprisoning the mind to the goals of the regime." It is "an unpopular institution in our midst that sets clarity above well-being or compassion, that resists our powerful urges and temptations, that is free of all snobbism but has standards."

Although it is frequently interpreted as a political polemic, Bloom's book is actually a call for a return to Socratic rationalism. For it is only on the premise that reason might be able to provide us with guidance regarding the good life that liberal education is defensible.

...a liberal education is cultural appropriation.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Dating conflict at 50 years old, Trump appears to quietly adopt Arab stance (RAPHAEL AHREN, May 25, 2017, Times of Israel)

In his address Tuesday at the Israel Museum, the US president showered the Jewish state with effusive praise and vowed to "always stand with Israel." He did not endorse Palestinian statehood. But he asserted that "the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace" and, in a little-noticed phrase, appeared to suggest that the conflict could end as soon as Israel withdraws from the West Bank.

"We know, for instance, that both Israelis and Palestinians seek lives of hope for their children," Trump said. "And we know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis, which has dragged on for nearly half a century or more."

The last phrase -- a clear reference to the 1967 Six Day War, the 50th anniversary of which will be marked next month -- could be interpreted as implying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started with Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Why every smart liberal should read conservative philosopher Peter Lawler (Damon Linker, May 25, 2017, The Week)

Lawler was a great champion of biblical (and specifically Christian) anthropology, with its portrait of human beings as pilgrims wandering in the world, continually, restlessly longing for a sense of completion, home, and belonging that can never be entirely fulfilled in this life. To grasp human beings in all their complexity, politics needs to be given its due as a crucially important mode in which people seek this fulfillment. But politics also needs to be placed in perspective, its limits continually revealed and examined. The philosophical pursuit of wisdom limits politics in this way, and so does the contemplation and worship of God -- both of which grow out of the elemental human experience of wonderment at the world and its grounds. That's why Lawler was fond of saying that the fundamental truth about the human soul is that we are fated to "wonder as we wander, and wander as we wonder."

The alternative is to lose ourselves in ersatz forms of satisfaction -- to delude ourselves into thinking that perfect fulfillment and completion are possible in the world. One example is the idea of moral progress that permeates so much of modern liberal and left-wing thinking. The promise of continual moral improvement eventually culminating in the achievement of perfect justice and reconciliation animates progressivism in all of its forms -- just as some forms of conservatism bleed over into a counter-narrative of moral decline. Lawler never tired of reminding his readers and students of the deeper truth that history is always becoming at once better and worse (in different respects), and that the effort to make us fully at home in the world has the paradoxical effect of making us feel more homeless than ever.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


DOJ: Sessions did not disclose meetings with Russian officials on security clearance form (Catherine Garcia, May 24, 2017, The Week)

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions applied for his security clearance, he neglected to share meetings he'd had in 2016 with Russian officials, the Justice Department told CNN on Wednesday.

The SF-86 form requires that a person list "any contact" they or their family had with a "foreign government" or its "representatives" over the last seven years, officials told CNN, and Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times in 2016, did not mention these encounters. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Spicer left out of Vatican visit (ANNIE KARNI 05/24/2017, Politico)

President Donald Trump's entourage at the Vatican on Wednesday included his wife, his daughter, and an array of staffers--but not White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a devout Catholic who told reporters earlier this year that he gave up alcohol for Lent. [...]

[Dan] Scavino was included, despite tweeting during the election last year, "amazing comments from the Pope -- considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls" after Pope Francis criticized Trump's plan for a border wall.

Other members of the traveling Trump team who are not practicing Catholics said they gave up their spots to accommodate Catholic White House aides. But Spicer - a regular churchgoer who was mocked last year for appearing on CNN with ashes on his forehead in honor of Ash Wednesday - was notably absent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


The US intelligence leaks on the Manchester attack are part of a disturbing pattern (STEPHEN BUSH, 5/25/17, New Statesman)

In what must be a diplomatic first, Britain isn't even the first of the United States' allies to review its intelligence sharing protocols this week. The Israeli government have also "reviewed" their approach to intelligence sharing with Washington after Donald Trump first blabbed information about Isis to the Russian ambassador from a "close ally" of the United States and then told reporters, unprompted, that he had "never mentioned Israel" in the conversation. [...]

It's all part of a clear and disturbing pattern, that even the United States' strongest allies in Tel Aviv and London cannot rely on this president or his administration to keep their secrets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Muslim Imam Consoles Jewish Woman -- And Melts Heart Of Mourning Manchester (Daniel J. Solomon, May 25, 2017, The Forward)

A Muslim cleric and an elderly Jewish woman melted the heart of a grieving nation with their poignant embrace at the scene of the Manchester terror attack.

Rachel Black, 93, and Sadiq Patel, an imam, came together in grief and worship on Wednesday at a memorial for the 22 people killed and scores wounded in the suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert.

"We're all the same people. We bleed just like everybody else," Black told Britain's Channel 5 News. [...]

In pictures from the scene, Black pushed herself up from a folding chair to lean on her walker and pray. Overcome with emotion, she was taken in hand by Patel. He helped her walk from the site and carried her chair.

"Renee's 93. Jewish lady. I'm a Muslim man," Patel said. "But at this moment in time faith doesn't mean anything. We don't know what to say, no words can actually express what we're going through.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Jewish Reporter 'Body Slammed' By Raging Republican As Montana Votes For Congress (Justin Mitchell, May 25, 2017, The Forward)

Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with assault on Wednesday after he "body slammed" a Jewish reporter on the eve of a special election to fill the state's lone seat in the House of Representatives. [...]

According to the tape, the confrontation began as Jacobs tried to ask Gianforte if he supported a Republican healthcare overhaul bill after the Congressional Budget Office found the measure would cost 23 million Americans their medical insurance coverage by 2026.

It's not as if you can defend Trumpcare intellectually. Wait'll they have to try and defend the budget....

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


God Is Dead but the Shadow Is Long: Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant (Eric Marcy, May 24, 2017, Bright Lights Film Journal)

Narratively and thematically Covenant both follows and intersects with the events of Prometheus, and viewing the original Alien comes only recommended, not required. Those looking primarily for xenomorph-slasher-action, disappointed with Scott's journeying away from the universe's pure horror roots into space odyssey with Prometheus, will find more to sate their bloodlust, but thankfully the director's interest in the aliens themselves remains eclipsed by deeper questions of creator/creature relationships. Covenant is fundamentally the story of a colonizing mission, the titular vessel Covenant and its crew converging with the marooned android David (well played once again by Michael Fassbender, below). It is the collision of New World idealism with the infamous Lucifer of Milton's Paradise Lost that forms the backbone of Covenant, with David playing the created being in a struggle to assume the role of creator-god himself, with predictably horrifying results. Fassbender also plays Walter, a later-model android attached to the colonists, whose interactions with David provide some of the film's best manipulations of not only intra-angel conflict in Paradise Lost but broader biblical stories and ethical questioning, from Cain murdering Abel and Noah's Ark to the degree of a creator's sovereignty.

Profoundly connected to the Miltonic narrative is Scott's visual aesthetic. If David acts as the Byronic hero (Lord Byron himself is referenced in a manner oh-so-full of implications), the Lucifer-archetype so lauded by the Romantics, then the dark and jagged beauty of the mountainous planet on which the colonists land is the manifested definition of the Sublime: "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling" (Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful 86). As ion hurricanes crackle overhead, the colonists are dwarfed by splintered and shattered trees, sheer rock faces that proclaim reverent awe in the same breath as the prospect of death. These natural phenomena are framed in the widest shots possible, suggesting magnitude that forces the audience to wallow in their own insignificance. Almost the entire film is drenched in darkness, prompting visual probing and wondering, the camera supplying images that suggest far more terrible yet wondrous things just beyond the presence of shadow and the limits of human perception.

The Romantics may have been obsessed with the Sublime as an aesthetic principle, but in Covenant the Sublime dismembers not merely human emotion but humans themselves. The Romantic Sublime, with the idolized Lucifer hidden in the garden, becomes the film's most horrifying threat. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Forget velocity, the curveball's resurgence is changing modern pitching : Modern pitching is defined by velocity, right? Not so fast. An ancient, mysterious pitch--the curveball--is an increasingly lethal weapon in the pitcher vs. hitter battle. (Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated)

No pitch has ended more aspiring careers than the curve. As former Kentucky congressman Ben Chandler once said on behalf of the great diaspora who know the feeling too well, "I was planning to be a baseball player until I ran into something called a curveball."

No pitch causes major league hitters to freeze more often. No pitch has inspired more legends, myths, fear, grips, nicknames, and ooohs and aaahs. It is a wonder of physics, geometry and art, a beautiful, looping arc through space made possible by the interplay between gravity and the Magnus force--a result of the flow of air around the spinning sphere--that often leaves us, and the hitter, paralyzed in wonderment.

This season marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of the first curveball (and its first controversy). So it's fitting that McCullers and the red-hot Houston Astros are at the forefront of a revolution in pitching. Spin is in. Thanks partly to technology and the ubiquity of high velocity, the curveball is enjoying a very happy 150th birthday.

The 30: Nationals lead latest NL power rankings, but some unlikely teams enter the top 10
The Astros soared to the best start in franchise history (29-15) by throwing 14.1% curveballs, a regimen exceeded only by the White Sox (16.6) and the Red Sox (14.6) and Indians (14.2%). Houston ranks next to last in percentage of fastballs thrown (47.3). "I joke with the guys that the four-seam fastball is a dying pitch," McCullers says.

He's only half-joking. Even though velocity keeps increasing (the average fastball velocity, now at 92.7 mph, is up for a seventh straight year), the number of fastballs keeps declining. Since 2002, when Pitch F/X technology began capturing pitch data, the percentage of fastballs has declined from 64.4% to 55.4%. Houston is one of four clubs to turn conventional pitching wisdom on its ear by throwing fastballs with a minority of its pitches.

The Astros, who led the majors in curveball usage last year, have built a rotation around ace Dallas Keuchel, whose 79-mph slider acts like a short curveball, and curveball specialists McCullers, Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers and the injured Collin McHugh. Their success follows on the heels of a 2016 season in which major league pitchers threw about 9,000 more curveballs than in '15, and the pennant-winning Indians relied heavily on curves in their postseason run.

"It's easier these days to find guys with good fastballs, because there are a lot of guys who throw in the mid-90s and high 90s," says Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow. "But finding a guy who can actually spin a ball, it's a skill teams are looking for more now because it's a differentiating factor. If you can find a guy that can throw hard and spin a ball, that usually bodes well."

Said one NL general manager, "Three teams have become big, big believers in the combination of high fastballs and curveballs: the Astros, Dodgers and Rays. Those teams are heavy into analytics. The game is changing away from the sinker/cutter/slider guys." [...]

The legend of the first curveball starts like this: In the summer of 1863 a 14-year-old boy named William Arthur Cummings experienced a eureka moment one day while tossing clamshells along a Brooklyn beach with some buddies. "All of a sudden it came to me that it would be a good joke on the boys if I could make a baseball curve the same way," Cummings later wrote.

Four years of practice later, Cummings, then pitching for an amateur Brooklyn team as a 5' 9", 120-pound righthander, broke out his new pitch in a game against Harvard University on Oct. 7, 1867. Harvard won 18-6, but Cummings rejoiced in the success of his curveball, later writing, "I could scarcely keep from dancing with pure joy."

By then Cummings had earned the nickname "Candy," a Civil War-era honorific that denoted the best at his craft. Cummings pitched 10 years before a sore arm sent him off to a career in painting and wallpapering.

Other pitchers of that era, including Fred Goldsmith, also claimed to have thrown curveballs, but Cummings defended his legend as its inventor so often and so well that in 1939, 15 years after dying, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with a plaque that reads, "Invented curve as an amateur ace of Brooklyn Stars in 1867." His enshrinement came five weeks after Goldsmith went to his grave clutching an 1870 newspaper clipping that he insisted proved he was the original curveball artist.

From Candy to Sandy (Koufax) to the Dominican Dandy (Juan Marichal), the curveball gained mythic status, partly because it relied on folklore, not empirical evidence as with fastballs and their easily understood miles per hour.

Of course, the pitcher with the highest spin rate on his curve is Seth Lugo, so the pitch may not be determinative....

May 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


London 'furious' at US for Manchester bomb probe leaks (AFP May 25, 2017)

"Furious" British officials scolded their US counterparts on Wednesday following repeated leaks of shared material about the investigation into the deadly Manchester terror attack.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd roasted the US Department of Homeland Security and other intelligence branches after the bomber's identity and details of the probe leaked out to US media before British officials felt ready to disclose them.

But shortly after the interior minister complained, The New York Times newspaper again scooped British authorities and other media by publishing photographs from the scene of remnants of the bomb.

The pictures were apparently taken by police investigators and, according to British government ministry sources, leaked by US counterparts they had been shared with.

"We are furious. This is completely unacceptable," a government ministry source said.

...referred to radical extremists instead of our allies?

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Cotswold shin-kicking event cancelled due to 'dwindling numbers' (BBC, 8 April 2017)

An annual shin-kicking contest in the Cotswolds has been cancelled due to "dwindling numbers of attendees" and a lack of finance, it has been announced.

The sport has been practiced on Dover's Hill, near Chipping Campden, since 1612, and was due to be held on 2 June.

However, the organising committee said it had to cancel the event due to a struggle to recruit enough volunteers and insufficient funding.

Graham Greenall, chairman of the games, hopes it will take place again in 2018.

The 'Olimpick Games' were first held in Chipping Campden 400 years ago, with unusual sports including sack racing and tug of war.

Shin-kicking - which is the highlight of the spring bank holiday event - involves competitors kicking each other after stuffing their trouser legs with straw.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


The Exquisitely English (and Amazingly Lucrative) World of London Clerks (Simon Akam, 5/24/17, Bloomberg Businessweek)'

At Fountain Court Chambers in central London, the senior clerk is called Alex Taylor. A trim, bald 54-year-old who favors Italian suiting, Taylor isn't actually named Alex. Traditionally in English law, should a newly hired clerk have the same Christian name as an existing member of the staff, he's given a new one, allegedly to avoid confusion on the telephone. During his career, Taylor has been through no fewer than three names. His birth certificate reads "Mark." When he first got to Fountain Court in 1979, the presence of another Mark saw him renamed John. Taylor remained a John through moves to two other chambers. Upon returning to Fountain Court, in 2008, he became Alex. At home his wife still calls him Mark.

Alex/John/Mark Taylor belongs to one of the last surviving professions of Dickensian London. Clerks have co-existed with chimney sweeps and gene splicers. It's a trade that one can enter as a teenager, with no formal qualifications, and that's astonishingly well-paid. A senior clerk can earn a half-million pounds per year, or more than $650,000, and some who are especially entrenched make far more.

Clerks--pronounced "clarks"--have no equivalent in the U.S. legal system, and have nothing in common with the Ivy League-trained Supreme Court aides of the same spelling. They exist because in England and Wales, to simplify a bit, the role of lawyer is divided in two: There are solicitors, who provide legal advice from their offices, and there are barristers, who argue in court. Barristers get the majority of their business via solicitors, and clerks act as the crucial middlemen between the tribes--they work for and sell the services of their barristers, steering inquiring solicitors to the right man or woman.

Clerks are by their own cheerful admission "wheeler-dealers," what Americans might call hustlers. They take a certain pride in managing the careers of their bosses, the barristers--a breed that often combines academic brilliance with emotional fragility. Many barristers regard clerks as their pimps. Some, particularly at the junior end of the profession, live in terror of clerks. The power dynamic is baroque and deeply English, with a naked class divide seen in few other places on the planet. Barristers employ clerks, but a bad relationship can strangle their supply of cases. In his 1861 novel Orley Farm, Anthony Trollope described a barrister's clerk as a man who "looked down from a considerable altitude on some men who from their professional rank might have been considered as his superiors." [...]

Before the U.K. decimalized its currency in 1971, clerks received "shillings on the guinea" for each case fee. Under the new money system, the senior clerks' take was standardized at 10 percent of their chambers' gross revenue. Sometimes, but not always, they paid their junior staff and expenses out of this tithe. Chambers at the time were typically small, four to six barristers strong, but in the 1980s, they grew. As they added barristers and collected more money, each chambers maintained just one chief clerk, whose income soared. The system was opaque: The self-employed barristers didn't know what their peers within their own chambers were paid, and in a precomputer age, with all transactions recorded in a byzantine paper system, barristers sometimes didn't know what their clerks earned, either. Jason Housden, a longtime clerk who now works at Matrix Chambers, told me that, when he started out in the 1980s at another office, his senior clerk routinely earned as much as the top barristers and on occasion was the best-paid man in the building.

One anecdote from around the same time, possibly apocryphal, is widely shared. At a chambers that had expanded and was bringing in more money, three silks decided their chief clerk's compensation, at 10 percent, had gotten out of hand. They summoned him for a meeting and told him so. In a tactical response that highlights all the class baggage of the clerk-barrister relationship, as well as the acute British phobia of discussing money, the clerk surprised the barristers by agreeing with them. "I'm not going to take a penny more from you," he concluded. The barristers, gobsmacked and paralyzed by manners, never raised the pay issue again, and the clerk remained on at 10 percent until retirement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Fiscal conservative eviscerates Trump's budget (Jeanne Sahadi, 5/24/17, CNNMoney)

Piece by piece [fiscal conservative Mark Sanford of South Carolina] dismantled the stated and unstated assumptions underlying the Trump budget.

He noted that the average economic expansion is 58 months, and the U.S. economy currently is in its 94th month. The budget, he said, presumes it will continue for another 214 months.

"What you presume ... is not only that we won't have a recession, but [the expansion is] going to keep going for another 214 months. It's not only unprecedented. I would think that to be unreasonable."

Sanford continued. "Can you guess the last time we had an unemployment rate at 4.8%, growth at 3% and inflation held at 2%? It's never happened."

Ditto when it comes to 3% sustained growth with the 10-year bond yield consistently below 5%, as the Trump budget assumes.

Key ingredients driving growth also would have to way outperform to meet Trump's 3% growth goal.

Capital formation would have to meet levels not seen since the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Sanford, who then noted that capital formation tends to go down as people retire because they begin to withdraw their savings. And there's a swell of retirees coming down the pike as Baby Boomers retire.

How about labor growth? It would have to meet levels not seen since the 1970s, when women started entering the workforce en masse, he said. To get there would require a radical change in immigration policy or a radical change in demographics.

Productivity growth, Sanford noted, would have to match that not seen since the late 1950s and 1960s, when there was a mass adoption of labor-saving appliances like dishwashers and completion of the national highway system.

"The bible says you can't build a house on a sandy foundation. It perpetuates a myth that we can balance the budget without touching entitlements," Sanford said. "It's not only a myth. It's frankly a lie."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI's handling of the Clinton probe  (Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett, May 24, 2017, Washington Post)

In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received a purported Russian intelligence document describing a tacit understanding between the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server.

The Russian document mentioned a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter -- a conversation that if made public would cast doubt on the inquiry's integrity.

Current and former officials have said that document played a significant role in the July decision by then-FBI Director James B. Comey to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement -- in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence -- set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

But according to the FBI's own assessment, the document was bad intelligence -- and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Trump Budget Could Revive Congestion Pricing in Cities (TED MANN, May 24, 2017, WSJ)

In an overview of the president's goals for a major infrastructure reform package, the Trump administration proposes incentives for creative solutions to limit traffic -- including so-called congestion pricing, which former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to pass as a solution for traffic issues in Manhattan. His plan called for an $8 toll for cars to drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street.

The Trump approach to infrastructure would also allow far greater leeway for states to add tolls to interstate highways. Permitting new tolls would mean streams of revenue from the use of existing highways. It's those streams of revenue that the administration and its advisers on infrastructure say will be needed to get private investors to fund highway renewal and rebuilding projects.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


In Fond Memory Of Peter Augustine Lawler Upon His Sudden Death : The scope of the loss is a little hard to fathom because the reach of Peter Lawler's influence was far greater than a casual observer of his work could have seen. (Yuval Levin, MAY 24, 2017, The Federalist)

Ultimately, what tied all this together was the simple but profound fact that Peter was a Christian--an American Catholic of a very particular sort. He identified that sort above all with Orestes Brownson, the nineteenth-century thinker whose renown he sought to revive. But Peter articulated it in twenty-first-century terms in a way quite distinct to himself. He had a teaching all his own. It was inseparable from his personality and persona, but it was also rooted in a particular theoretical insight, and it provided him with a unique and vital voice on the contemporary right.

The Restless Mind may be the place to start in seeking out that teaching. On its face, that book argues persuasively that the worldview of Alexis de Tocqueville was shaped less by Rousseau's political philosophy (as most Tocqueville scholars suggest) than by Pascal's psychology. Peter wrote or edited 18 books in the course of his productive career, but that 1993 masterpiece still strikes me as the most Lawlerian of them all. It is about much more than Tocqueville, though it has had great influence on how Tocqueville is understood. It offers a piercing assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of modern life, concluding that we who live in modern free societies are destined to be a little crazy, and that this might be a good thing.

Modern life, he suggested, is characterized by an effort to invent a highly individualistic form of the human person. This kind of person should be capable of unprecedented freedom, and therefore perhaps unprecedented happiness too. But it isn't really possible for actual human beings to be so thoroughly individualistic. So actual human beings can never really be quite happy while playing the role that modern free societies assign them. That means they will be restless, and eager for a different role. That restlessness is a source of endless anxiety, but also of hope--because it sends us searching for a way of life better suited to who we really are. It means modernity will always be producing its own critics and always live in a kind of creative tension with itself.

That insight, already evident in some of Peter's earliest work, is the thread that runs through his most important arguments. In bioethics, a focus of his work in the 1990s and 2000s, it led him to a social conservatism clearly critical of the excesses of techno-utopians of various sorts but not actually all that alarmed by them. The post-humanists were more ridiculous than worrisome, he thought, and ultimately the more successful they were the more resistance they would meet and strength they would lend to their traditionalist adversaries.

As he wrote, "Contrary to the hopes of our new eugenic utopians--and to the fears of some conservative Nietzscheans--we do not have the capability to make for ourselves a 'posthuman' future." In fact, he argued, "we can reasonably anticipate, therefore, that the limited but still quite real successes of the biotechnological project in fending off death and disease will be the cause of a religious revival."

The same attitude is evident in a great deal of Peter's more recent work. It is what led him to describe himself as a "postmodern conservative"--the name he gave to the group blog he led at the First Things website and then at National Review Online. He knew, of course, that the term "postmodern conservative" would be provocative, and easily misunderstood. But he had a very particular definition in mind. "Conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism, but it is, obviously, not postmodernism as it is usually understood," he argued.

What people usually call postmodern is actually hyper-modern, in that it extends the modern project of deconstructing nature through reason to its absurd conclusion of deconstructing reason itself. Conservatives, by recognizing the limits of the entire project from the outset, can see more clearly where it was right and where it was wrong. In fact, he wrote,

Conservatives can be (perhaps the only) genuinely postmodern thinkers. The reason we can see beyond the modern world is that its intention to transform human nature has failed. Its project of transforming the human person into the autonomous individual was and remains unrealistic; we can now see the limits of being an individual because we remain more than individuals. The world created by modern individuals to make themselves fully at home turns out to have made human beings less at home than ever.

The solution to this problem is not to abandon modern life and its fruits (as some conservatives might want to do) but to recognize its limits and address their consequences by finding ways, within modern societies, to treat people as more fully relational beings. "So to be postmodern and conservative," Lawler argued:

is to take our stand somewhere between the traditionalists and the libertarians. The traditionalists' focus is on who each of us is as a relational being with duties and loyalties to particular persons and places. The libertarians -- or, to be more clear, the individualists -- focus on who each of us is as an irreducibly free person with inalienable rights, a person who can't be reduced to a part of some whole greater than himself or herself. A postmodern conservative is about showing how a free person with rights is also a relational person with duties. The truth is that each of us is a unique and irreplaceable free and relational person.

The implications of this view run far and wide and deep, and can help us to think about the state of our society, culture, economy, religious communities, technology, and much more. Peter's attempts to articulate this view across a broad range of subjects over decades makes for a sprawling achievement, if one difficult to summarize. I think the closest he came to simply laying it out in one place was in this 2013 essay, which I highly recommend.

Conservatives are post-modern inasmuch as we never made the mistake of being modern.  We--the Anglosphere generally--rejected the project of Reason from the outset, understanding that it was inescapably dependent on Faith in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Donald Trump's Base Is Shrinking (Nate Silver, 5/24/17, 538)

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump's sizable and enthusiastic base -- perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country -- won't abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don't necessarily care about some of the controversies that the "mainstream media" treats as game-changing developments.

It's an entirely reasonable theory. We live in a highly partisan epoch, and voters are usually loyal to politicians from their party. Trump endured a lot of turbulence in the general election but stuck it out to win the Electoral College. The media doesn't always guess right about which stories will resonate with voters.

But the theory isn't supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump's base seems to be eroding. There's been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump's strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an "enthusiasm gap" that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP's initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.

Donald is president now for a series of mostly fleeting reasons:

(1) He isn't Hillary--but neither is she anymore.  Her career is over.

(2) He's a thumb in the eye to all the PC panjandrums we all despise--but the fun of jabbing has worn out.

(3) We wanted to get pro-life judicial nominees--but holding the Senate guarantees that.

(4) And some small percentage of the electorate shares his hatred of/disdain for Latinos, Jews, Asians, Muslims, etc.

It is possible that last group totals around 20%, but that seems unlikely in America. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


The data are in: Young people are increasingly less racist than old people (Charles Kenny, 5/24/17, Quartz)

In the 1960s, almost half of white respondents in the US suggested they would move if a black family moved in next door. But the proportion of Americans reporting to the World Values Survey that they were uncomfortable living next to someone of a different race fell from 8% in the 1980s to 6% today. Again, in 1958, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage according to Gallup polling. Support only crossed the 50% threshold in 1997. It has now reached 87%. Although people can lie to surveyors about their beliefs, the polling matches up with behavioral change: in 1980, less than 7% of marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity in the United States. That climbed to 15% by 2010. There were 6,336 racially or ethnically motivated hate crimes reported by the FBI in 1994--that dropped to 3,310 in 2015.

And it isn't just the US: the World Values Survey has data on the question about being uncomfortable living next to neighbors of a different race for 29 countries--home to 60% of the planet's population, covering two waves of the survey--1999 to 2004 and 2010 to 2014. Progress is far from universal: sixteen countries have seen a decline in racism on this measure; in one country, attitudes remained unchanged; and in twelve (seven of them in Europe), attitudes have become worse. But the data suggests that about 23% of the world would have reported discomfort living next to someone of a different race in the early 2000s compared to 17% in the early 2010s. In India, for example, 42% of respondents reported they wouldn't want to live next door to someone of a different race fifteen years ago, that has dropped to 26% more recently. In Argentina, fewer than 1% display racism on this measure.

Improving attitudes worldwide are reflected in a changed legal environment: the political scientists Victor Asal and Amy Pate studied laws affecting ethnic minorities in 124 countries between 1950 and 2003. Over that time, the proportion of countries with policies discriminating against ethnic minorities fell from 44% to 19%, while the proportion with policies favoring minorities increased from 7% to 25%.

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Peter Augustine Lawler, a personal remembrance (JAMES STONER, 5/24/17, Law & Liberty)

Peter wrote a great deal in recent decades.  Once I was on his email list and regularly got updates with links to his latest postings and articles, and I often felt that he wrote more quickly than I could read.  He was not afraid to spar with the likes of George Will, nor to take seriously a television series or two or three and see in them a key to understanding contemporary America.   I never quite grasped his fascination with popular culture--the first sentence of this remembrance is the sum total of my writing on the subject, done in tribute; and I confess not to have been able to stomach more than the first episode of "Girls"--but I think it was the teacher in him determined to understand what moved his students, like Allan Bloom, about whom he wrote his valedictory essay, published in Public Discourse yesterday morning as he died.

I said that Peter was Southern, but I don't think he cared less about Robert E. Lee and all that.  Instead, he loved the South for its devotion to family, for its faith, for its acceptance of life with all its imperfections--and therefore its humane tolerance for people, no matter how crippled or distraught.  He wrote about anxiety and restlessness, "inquietude" in the French of his beloved Pascal and Tocqueville, and he agreed with Tocqueville that this characterized the American and the modern condition, or I should say postmodern, as he did.  He wrote about this mood as though he knew it, but not as though it could be overcome, only endured.  He taught me that Stoicism was fundamental to the South, at least as tempered by Christianity.

His was a manly piety, more comfortable in the back pews than on the altar, and more interested--at least in my limited observation--in the intellectual concerns of the Church than in its liturgy.  He did real scholarly service to Catholic intellectuals by introducing and making readily available Orestes Brownson's American Republic (ISI Books, 2003), a noble effort, written at the denouement of the Civil War, to interpret American government and its "new birth of freedom" as congruent with the Catholic and Aristotelian tradition.  In contrast to Brownson, perhaps, Peter wrote as though the metaphysical certainties of the Church could be rather glimpsed than known, but that seems to have been sufficient comfort in the face of anxious doubt.  Or maybe it was the perpetual teacher in him that aimed to unsettle certitude and to calm fright.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


At this rate, it won't matter if Trump colluded with Russia (Byron York, May 22, 2017, Washington Examiner)

The Trump-Russia case could become the ultimate illustration of the old Washington saying that it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. In this case, there might be no underlying crime at all.

The latest story in the cover-up timeline broke Monday night in the Washington Post. Citing current and former officials, the paper reported that Trump asked the Director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to help "push back" against the FBI investigation and to "publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election."

Before that came a spate of reports and developments, all arising out of Trump's May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey.

First, the White House portrayed the firing as 1) not Trump's doing, and 2) not related to the Russia investigation.

Then Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that he had in fact decided to fire Comey because "this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story."

Then, with accusations of obstruction in the air, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate the Russia affair. Rosenstein specifically gave that prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, authority to pursue any "federal crimes arising from the investigation" and specifically referenced 28 CFR 600.4(a), which is the part of the Code of Federal Regulations dealing with special counsels and obstruction: "The jurisdiction of a Special Counsel shall also include the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel's investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses; and to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted."

Then the New York Times reported that Comey wrote contemporaneous memos of his interactions with the president and that during one of those interactions Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Then the Times reported that Trump, in an Oval Office meeting, bragged to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador that firing Comey relieved Trump of "great pressure" in the Russia investigation.

As each revelation came, there was more talk of obstruction. (A Google search of "Trump" and "obstruction of justice" Monday night drew 597,000 hits.) Democrat after Democrat suggested Trump might have engaged in obstruction, while the list of Democrats calling for impeachment grew long enough for party leaders to worry about the situation escalating too soon. The newest stories will do nothing to slow things down, even with the president on a foreign trip. that both the collusion and the obstruction have been done in public.  Donald is essentially saying that : "Yes, I did tell the Russians to interfere with Hillary, did offer to lift sanctions, did offer an alliance and did hire guys I knew they were paying, then tried to get Justice to stop investigating.  But I don't think you should care."

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME (profanity alert):

Tupac, Glocks and In-N-Out: A Football Team's Run-in with the Rapper, Revealed (JEFF PEARLMAN, MAY 23, 2017, B/R Mag)

There were two yellow school buses, both battered and worn. Both overflowing with the testosterone and heartbreak of teenagers experiencing the aftermath of unexpected defeat.

In any other circumstance, a stop at In-N-Out for hamburgers and fries would be cause for celebration. A good number of the Long Beach Poly varsity football team's players were relatively unaccustomed to the baseline delicacy of a grilled meat patty and bun prepared outside the home. These were poor kids; teenage boys often lured from the athletic fields to the streets and to Long Beach's notorious mid-1990s gang activity. So, yeah, a Double-Double and a strawberry shake--those were items to cherish.

Yet here, off the Lenwood Road exit along Interstate 15 in Barstow, California, the 50 or so players, coaches and trainers were in anything but a celebratory mood. Seventeen hours earlier, on the night of September 6, 1996, the Jackrabbits opened their season with a performance as ugly as it was listless, falling to Las Vegas' Green Valley High, 16-10, in a game Long Beach Poly coach Jerry Jaso had presumed to be an easy triumph.

Though young and inexperienced, his roster was overflowing with talent. More than a dozen players would ultimately receive Division I scholarships, and five of them-- Marques Anderson, Larry Croom, Samie Parker, Ken-Yon Rambo and Darrell Rideaux--landed on NFL rosters.

"The school we played was severely overmatched," says Tim Richmond, Long Beach Poly's then-assistant coach. "We were far superior in all areas, and we knew it. So to kick things off with that sort of junk...well, no one on those buses was in a celebratory mood."

The drive from Las Vegas to Long Beach is, under ideal conditions, an excruciatingly dull 283-mile slog that offers non-breathtaking views of dirt, sand, rock, dust and roadkill. Located 157 miles to the west of the strip, Barstow serves as an oasis to wearied travelers. So Jaso made the decision to stop here; to give his players a rest and to fork over $8 a head in the name of salvaging something from an otherwise miserable endeavor.

After the two buses pulled into the allotted parking spaces along the northern side of the In-N-Out, players wearily rose from the green vinyl seats, when Robert Hollie, the Jackrabbits' backup quarterback, gazed out a window and said, softly at first, "Yo, it's Pac!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


As Trump Unravels, So Do Fox's Ratings (Eric Boehlert, May 24, 2017, MediaMatters)

In a development that has sparked murmurs throughout the cable news business, Fox News in recent weeks has regularly finished in last place among advertising-friendly viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, or "demo" viewers, as they're known in the industry. (In terms of total viewers, Fox News does better, thanks to its large stable of viewers over the age of 54.)

"For first time this century, they aren't in first place," noted MSNBC's Joe Scarborough last week. "In fact, for the first time this century, they are in third place." Added CNN's Brian Stelter, "This is an extraordinary moment in the cable news race."

And yes, a lot of this is President Donald Trump's fault.

Ever since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, which seemed to then unleash an unendingstream of breaking-news bombshells that rattled White House windows day after day, Fox News has seen its mighty ratings prowess threatened by MSNBC and CNN.

By trying to ignore Donald's train wreck, Fox is ceding the gory coverage to their rivals.  Hard to see how that makes sense in the tabloid realm.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Could Morning Oatmeal Transform Farming? (Tamar Haspel, 5/23/17, The Washington Post)

Seems to me that, to be a superfood, a food's got to deliver more than nutrients. It has to be cheap, versatile, good-tasting, not too onerous to prepare and not so perishable that you end up tossing it.

It also has to perform on the environmental front. It has to be able to play in the kind of responsible, productive agricultural system we're going to need if we expect to feed almost 10 billion people by 2050.

That's a long list and a tall order. And it is met by one of the most prosaic of foods: oats.

I'd go so far as to say we should all be eating oatmeal for breakfast, pretty much every day. Buy the big canister of rolled oats, which makes 30 servings and is often on sale at my local market for about $3 -- which means oatmeal is 10 cents a bowl. You can get the steel-cut kind if you prefer; they're nutritionally similar, but they cost more and take longer to cook.

On the other hand, if you do the steel cut oats in a slow cooker they're ready when you wake up and then you can just microwave them for a couple more days:

Steel cut oats - 2 cups
Water - 6 cups
Milk/Nut milk - 2 cups
Butter - 2 Tbsp
Brown sugar - ¼ cup
Kosher salt - 2 tsp
Cinnamon - 1 Tbsp

Cook on low for 8 hours

I swap out a tbsp of Truvia for the brown sugar and then stir peanut butter and blueberries into each serving in the morning.  [The kids can't countenance anything cooked into the oatmeal.] But have also added banana or berries to the initial recipe.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Loopy Feminist Website Says It's About To Shut Down, Admits No One Cares (Eric Owens, 05/13/2017, Daily Caller)

The five-year-old website, Everyday Feminism, has created an "Emergency May Booster Fund" to fend off "scary financial trouble that's threatening to put a halt to our work -- maybe even as soon as the end of May."

America "shouldn't have to live in a world without independent feminist media" or "an [sic] unique, educational, inside-out approach to fighting everyday oppression," the plea for funds urges.

"It's quite a challenge, to say the least, to create independent, intersectional feminist media in a financially sustainable way, especially in a world that doesn't value what we do," the cash solicitation also says.

If a tree falls in a forest...who won the Red Sox game?

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Bear Mother and Cubs Living in Hanover Will Be Caught, Euthanized (Patrick O'Grady, 5/23/17, Valley News)

The New Hampshire state bear biologist said on Tuesday he sees no other option but to capture and euthanize four bears -- a sow and three yearlings -- that have been roaming neighborhoods in the south of town in search of food. In the most recent incident, two of the bears got inside a home. [...]

Last Saturday evening, Terrence Welch said, he was walking along a trail in Mink Brook Nature Preserve and as he approached his home on Thompson Terrace he saw two of the yearlings come out of a sliding screen door onto the deck.

"They didn't scatter," Welch said, adding they were not in the house long and did not doing any damage. "In fact, one walked toward me. They are not really scared of anyone."

Welch said his wife, Marnie, their four children ages 3 to 9, a friend and two other children had seen the sow out front and retreated inside for safety.

About the same time he spotted the yearlings, Welch said, he called his wife to tell her of bears in house. He believes the noise of everyone coming inside at the other end of the house is what made the yearlings leave.

But apparently they weren't done. Once the family was in the house and closed the doors, Welch said, one of the yearlings tried to push the door open again.

Eventually, the bears reunited in front of the house, and slowly meandered toward Brook Road.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


For 2nd time, Melania appears to avoid Trump's hand (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 24, 2017)

Trump waves to the crowd and is seen reaching for his wife's left hand as they disembark, but she quickly raises it to her head to brush her hair aside.

Trump, hand outstreched, appeared to wait a beat before then putting his hand on her waist or backside in an attempt to guide her down the steps.

The way she carries the arm nearest Donald she looks like John McCain, perhaps for similar reasons. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Trump Budget Gambles on Having This Equation Right : The macro view is sound, even if the details are often incoherent. (Tyler Cowen, May 23, 2017, Bloomberg)

U.S. President Donald Trump's newly proposed budget provides an occasion to consider some basic macroeconomics of budgeting -- namely whether "g," the growth rate of the economy, is likely to exceed "r," in this case, the government's borrowing rate. Viewed through this lens, it turns out the budget released Tuesday has a potential upside, but is best thought of as a huge unsound gamble.

For background, if we expect "g" to remain over "r," a government need not worry much about budget deficits. If the economy is growing at 2 percent and the government's borrowing rate is 1 percent, the economy can grow out of additional debt. If the government's borrowing rate is higher than growth, the debt will pile up and eventually either cause a fiscal crisis or require serious retrenchment.

Where does the U.S. stand today? Core underlying rates of real economic growth seem to be running in the range of 2 percent. In contrast, the one-year Treasury yield is slightly above 1 percent in nominal terms, and somewhat negative in real terms, depending on what you think is the proper measure of inflation. Ten-year yields are slightly above 2 percent nominal and, after adjusting for inflation, a bit above zero in real terms. In other words, right now the growth rate of the economy exceeds borrowing rates, or "g" is greater than "r."

It's the easiest time ever to be president.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Is Preventive Care Worth the Cost? Evidence from Mandatory Checkups in Japan (Toshiaki Iizuka, Katsuhiko Nishiyama, Brian Chen, Karen Eggleston, May 2017, NBER Working Paper No. 23413)

[W]e find no evidence that additional care is cost effective. For the "borderline type" ("pre-diabetes") threshold for diabetes, medical care utilization increases but neither physical measures nor predicted risks of mortality or serious complications improve. For efficient use of medical resources, cost effectiveness of preventive care must be carefully examined.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Liberman seems to confirm Trump leaked Israeli intel (JUDAH ARI GROSS May 24, 2017, Times of Israel)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that Israel made changes to its intelligence-sharing apparatus with the US after President Donald Trump gave Russian officials classified information.

One suspects the meetings went something like this.

Trump tells Duterte of two U.S. nuclear subs in Korean waters: NYT (Reuters, 5/24/17)

U.S. President Donald Trump told his Philippine counterpart that Washington has sent two nuclear submarines to waters off the Korean peninsula, the New York Times said, comments likely to raise questions about his handling of sensitive information.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Moody's downgrades China, warns of fading financial strength as debt mounts (John Ruwitch and Yawen Chen, 5/24/17, Reuters)

Moody's Investors Service downgraded China's credit ratings on Wednesday for the first time in nearly 30 years, saying it expects the financial strength of the economy will erode in coming years as growth slows and debt continues to rise.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Syrian state TV: Islamic State 'war minister' killed east of Aleppo (Reuters, 5/24/17)

Senior Islamic State militants including the group's "minister of war" have been killed in Syrian army operations to the east of Aleppo, Syrian state media cited a military source as saying on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


The Price of Assimilation (Thomas Chatterton Williams, MAY 24, 2017, American Scholar)
A smart Jewish friend recently raised the question of a connection between the ongoing struggle over black identity in the United States and the story of Jewish assimilation. "Jews," he said, "have paid in lost identity in order to gain assimilation, and the price has been steep. For many, there's barely anything left to cling onto," beyond bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, and "the love of a few Jewish foods." In short, Jews "lost some self" in order to gain entrée to the American mainstream. My friend wanted to know, could blacks now be facing a similar bargain?

We have to hope so.  Making blacks Jews would be a tremendous victory for the equalizing force of the culture. Our complete conformity as a society is a small price to pay, given the ideals we conform to.

May 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Peter Lawler, Rest in Peace (Bradley J. Birzer, 5/23/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Editor's Note: Imaginative Conservative Senior Contributor Peter Augustine Lawler (1951-2017) passed away last night, at the age of sixty-five. Our co-founder, Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, pays tribute to Dr. Lawler below. [...]

Sometime last evening, Professor Peter Lawler passed away. He was sixty-five year old, and he had just started feeling ill on Friday. This news, I will freely admit, hit me hard. Very hard. Only four hours later (as I write this), it's still hitting me hard. Peter had too much to give to the world to be taken so soon. Being a rash and poor Christian, I want to shake my fist at God and ask, "Why?" (For what it's worth, I think God can take a little anger every now and then. He is, after all, pure wisdom and pure mercy.)

I can't state that Peter and I ever became close on a personal level, but I can state with certainty that I had the privilege of being one of his closest allies in this whirligig of a world. I saw Peter frequently over the past two decades, and, each time, we enjoyed each other's company, each other's ideas, and an intellectually solid friendship. He never failed to criticize me when and where I needed criticizing, and he never failed to encourage me when I needed and deserved encouragement. I'm sure that to the end of his days, he thought me a goofy confusion of traditionalism and libertarianism, but he also--rather beautifully in this polarized and corrupt world--took me for what I was and am.

Rather gruff and rumpled-looking throughout his adult life, Peter was absolutely and always his own man. Not from an elite or Ivy League background, Peter nevertheless could have, and often did, run complete circles around his intellectual opponents, many of whom thought themselves superior. An American original and anti-individualist individual, he was the very personification of a healthy academic wit.

A scholar, he was also a vital man of letters. He could write on anything, and he always did so with brilliance. Whether the issue be political, legal, constitutional, diplomatic, scientific, psychological, or pure pop culture, Peter handled every issue with deftness.

As we Imaginative Conservatives very well know, Peter--thank the Good Lord--was one of us. Once, a few years ago, when an unfriendly voice accused our beloved journal of being monolithic in thought, Peter justly, humorously, and publicly tore the objector down. The Imaginative Conservative, he argued, might well be the most ecumenical and diverse online journal for those who refuse to bow to the Left or to mammon.

I only knew Peter as an academic ally and drinking companion over the past two decades, and, I'm devastated by his departure. I would guess that those who knew him as a close friend and colleague are simply beside themselves today. Peter left behind a great deal, however. We have his many books, his many essays, and his great and magnanimous friendship and mentorship.

He was thrilled to have been named editor of Modern Age last fall, and, though I'm biased, I think the one issue he edited that saw print was the best one produced since Russell Kirk edited issue 1 of volume 1, back in the 1950s.

One of the great privileges of our review site and blog over the past two decades has been getting to know--even in that superficial internet way--a number of authors/writers we respect.  Mr. Lawler noticed when we posted a few of his essays and started having his publishers' send us copies of his new works, then added me to an email list where he'd notify some of us when he published new essays on-line.  I owe him a review of his last book and he passes owing me a rebuttal to a quibble. (I look forward to hearing it one day.)

He was always a gracious and thoughtful correspondent, as anyone familiar with his writing would expect.  I don't know if he'd even agree with the characterization, but he always struck me as one of the chief theocon thinkers in America. That is to say that he represented the sort of conservatism that Russell Kirk had championed and it was altogether fitting that he take over Modern Age.  What a sad thought that we'll only have that one issue from him.  But what a joy to read the body of writings he leaves behind and to recall the thoroughly decent man, a quiet conservative voice in a time when thoughtless loudmouths get more attention.  

Godspeed, Friend.  


ARCHIVES: Peter Lawler (Big Think)

ARCHIVES: Peter Lawler (First Things)

PROFILE: Lawler still waxes political after 37 years (Michelle Wilson, 12/05/16, RN-T)

On any given evening when the weather is decent, Rome's Peter Lawler can be found sitting outside one of Broad Street's restaurants dining and quietly watching people walk by. But it's just as likely that he is speaking about political philosophy at an Ivy League school, working on an article for an esteemed political science journal or writing a chapter in his latest book.

Lawler, Dana Professor of Government at Berry College, has been teaching politics and political philosophy for nearly four decades.

Lawler said he's been teaching so long that he doesn't really remember the reasons why he embarked on teaching.

"I don't know. Do I enjoy it?" he said, with a grin. "You enjoy telling the people the same things time and again and it's new to them."

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Chinese student abused for praising 'fresh air of free speech' in US (Tom Phillips, 23 May 2017, The Guardian)

A Chinese student has faced abuse from nationalists in China after she used her graduation address at a US university to celebrate "the fresh air of free speech".

Yang Shuping, a psychology and theatre graduate from Yunnan province, came to study at the University of Maryland five years ago, as a dramatic clampdown on civil society and academia began back home under Xi Jinping.

During the speech at her graduation ceremony on Sunday, Yang recalled her delight at the US's cleaner skies, saying "every breath was a delight", and having the freedom to speak out.

"I have learned [that] the right to freely express oneself is sacred in America ... I could even rate my professors online," she said. "My voice matters. Your voice matters. Our voices matter." [...]

Others accused Yang of denigrating China in online posts. "She has demonised China with the nonsense she has talked," one person wrote.

Let a million flowers emigrate.
Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Major Blue Cross Blue Shield insurer reverses ACA losses (Bob Herman, 5/23/17, Axios)

Health Care Service Corp. -- the parent company of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliates in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas -- recorded an $869 million profit in the first quarter of 2017, according to the company's latest financial documents. That was a $1.3 billion turnaround after HCSC lost $442 million in the first quarter of 2016.

How to interpret this: The Affordable Care Act exchanges in some areas are hurting, but overall are not imploding. Many insurance companies continue to do well (like Florida Blue) or are turning things around (like HCSC). And HCSC carries a lot of weight, since it covers nearly 1.1 million people in ACA plans and is the largest Blue Cross and Blue Shield company after Anthem.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


'Peace Is A Choice,' Trump Says During Appearance With Palestinian Leader (MERRIT KENNEDY, 5/23/17, NPR)

"Peace is a choice we must make each day," President Trump said during a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where he reiterated his resolve to help mediate a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians and sounded upbeat about its prospects.

"The United States is here to help make that dream possible for young Jewish, Christian and Muslim children across the region," Trump said Tuesday as he stood alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump also expressed an even loftier hope than an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement: "I also firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East, and that would be an amazing accomplishment."

The idea of Israeli-Palestinian peace leading to regional peace is the "exact opposite" of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing, says NPR's Daniel Estrin:

"He's looking for a kind of outside-in approach, first peace between Israel and Sunni Arab states, who have a common enemy in Iran, and that regional peace leading to Israeli-Palestinian peace. So Trump is, in those remarks, kind of putting Israeli-Palestinian peace kind of in the center of the agenda."

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


'Like A God,' Google A.I. Beats Human Champ Of Notoriously Complex 'Go' Game (COLIN DWYER, 5/23/17, NPR)

Last year, after Google's AlphaGo dispatched a human grandmaster in the notoriously complex board game for the first time, 19-year-old Ke Jie expressed confidence he wouldn't share the same fate, according to The New York Times. After all, Ke had defeated Lee Sedol several times before himself.

By the match's end Tuesday, Ke felt markedly different about his inhuman competitor.

"Last year, it was still quite humanlike when it played," Ke said. "But this year, it became like a god of Go."

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change? (SHARON BEGLEY, MAY 23, 2017, STAT)

It was the kind of utterance that makes professional transcribers question their career choice:

" ... there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself -- and the Russians, zero."

When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the latest example of his tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and apparent trouble formulating complete sentences, let alone a coherent paragraph, in unscripted speech.

He was not always so linguistically challenged.

STAT reviewed decades of Trump's on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable.

Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump's speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump's brain. our desire to find him ill instead of exactly who he appears to be.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Trump Budget Based on $2 Trillion Math Error (Jonathan Chait, 5/23/17, New York)

One of the ways Donald Trump's budget claims to balance the budget over a decade, without cutting defense or retirement spending, is to assume a $2 trillion increase in revenue through economic growth. This is the magic of the still-to-be-designed Trump tax cuts. But wait -- if you recall, the magic of the Trump tax cuts is also supposed to pay for the Trump tax cuts. So the $2 trillion is a double-counting error.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


In Trump's house of betrayal, leaks are business as usual. That's a big problem. (Michael Gerson, May 22, 2017, Washington Post)

"I faced great pressure because of Russia," Trump went on. "That's taken off." So the president is delusional as well as dishonorable.

And yet. How in God's name did the reporter gain access to a discussion in the Oval Office? According to the article, the "memcon" -- the memorandum of conversation -- was "read to The New York Times by an American official."

Let that sink in. This is a document of very limited distribution. According to sources I consulted, it typically would not have even been given to the director of the CIA. This was a leak of an extremely sensitive and highly classified document by a very senior person.

There are a number of explanations for why leakers leak. They may be trying to kneecap a rival. Sometimes leakers are embittered or just want to look and feel important. The "nut job" leak suggests something different: a real attack on the president from within his inner circle. It was designed to reveal Trump as a foolish figure and expose him to charges of obstruction. Whoever read this material over the telephone to a reporter was playing for the highest stakes.

There's no reason Americans shouldn't know what their representatives are saying and doing. If it can't withstand exposure it oughtn't be said

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


FEC member urges escalated Trump-Russia inquiry : The agency, already investigating a Trump complaint, is called on to consider reports that Russian agents bought Facebook ads. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 05/23/2017, Politico)

The commissioners in October unanimously agreed to prioritize investigations into complaints about foreign spending. And in some ways, the FEC's inquiry into Trump and Russia could offer greater transparency, accountability and focus than the congressional or law enforcement investigations.

FBI and congressional investigators are looking into a wide array of potential legal violations, most of which have little to do with the 2016 presidential election -- from omissions on foreign lobbying and personal income filings to money laundering and hacking. And there's little evidence that they're narrowing their focus.

The FEC, on the other hand, is charged exclusively with monitoring and enforcing the Federal Election Campaign Act. It bars foreign nationals, companies or governments from donating to U.S. campaign committees or from making expenditures "for the purpose of influencing" an election, and it also prohibits campaigns from coordinating with outside entities, including foreign ones.

If four commissioners vote to find reason to believe a violation may have occurred, the agency can begin issuing subpoenas and moving towards negotiating civil penalties, or possibly making criminal referrals to the Justice Department. (It's also possible that the FBI could ask the FEC to stand down if the agencies' investigations start overlapping). Yet, even if the five current members of the FEC (there's one vacancy) can't muster the four votes -- a scenario that has become increasingly common -- the staff's investigative report still becomes public, which could fuel additional scrutiny from congress and the media.

And, if the complainants are unhappy with the results of the investigation or believe it's taking too long, they're able to sue the agency in court -- a frequently used recourse that is not available in congressional and law enforcement investigations.

"The FEC has broad investigative powers to subpoena witnesses and documents, and compel testimony under oath," said Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech for People, one of the watchdog groups that filed the complaint that the FEC is investigating against Trump and Russia. "I don't want to suggest that the FEC is a model of rapid enforcement, but this is possibly the single most important campaign finance investigation in the agency's entire history and this is its opportunity to rise to the challenge."

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Alone on the Open Road: Truckers Feel Like 'Throwaway People' (TRIP GABRIEL, MAY 22, 2017, NY Times)

EFFINGHAM, Ill. -- The vast Petro truck stop here is a neon-lit, blacktop oasis at the crossroads of America. It beckons big-rig drivers with showers, laundry machines, a barber shop, even a knife store. "Professional drivers only," reads the sign above the tables of the Iron Skillet restaurant, where truckers sit mostly alone, carrying the solitude of their jobs into an otherwise social setting.

Driving a long-haul tractor-trailer is as commonplace as the items that drivers carry, from blue jeans to blueberries, from toilet paper for Walmart to farm machinery bound for export. There are 1.7 million men and women working as long-haul drivers in the country. Yet truckers -- high up in their cabs -- are literally out of view for most Americans.

At a moment when President Trump has ignited a national discussion of blue-collar labor and even climbed into a truck during a White House event, trucking, which was once among the best-paying such jobs, has become low-wage, grinding, unhealthy work. Turnover at large for-hire fleets hauling freight by the truckload -- the backbone of the industry -- runs an astonishing 80 percent a year, according to a trade group. Looming over the horizon is a future in which self-driving trucks threaten to eliminate many drivers' livelihoods.

Still, trucking continues to draw plenty of newcomers, reflecting the lack of good alternatives for workers without a higher education (one survey found that 17 percent of truckers had less than a high school diploma). Some have lost better-paying manufacturing jobs in the continuing deindustrialization of America. Others have spent years knocking on the door of the middle class in minimum-wage jobs in fast food or retail. To them, trucking is a step up.

Over two days recently, The New York Times spoke to truckers at the Petro stop, which sits at the intersection of Interstate 57, between Chicago and Memphis, and Interstate 70, between Indianapolis and St. Louis. These interviews were edited and condensed. The maps show drivers' routes in picking up and delivering their loads. [...]

Ron Carrabis, 70, Las Vegas. Driving 30 years for the same company.
My kids all grew up with me driving a truck. A lot of missed football games, a lot of missed school plays, birthdays, anniversaries. It's very hard on your home life if you don't have an understanding woman. My wife and I have been married 44 years. But there's other drivers out here that have been married two, three and four times. [...]

Would you recommend trucking to a young person?

Any one of my grandkids do it, I'll kill 'em.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


2017 Smart Electric Drive Starts at $24,550 : The Daimler company kicks off its all-electric initiative.  (CALEB JACOBS, MAY 22, 2017, Drive)

Smart is well known for its quirky ForTwo coupe, a car that defined the small city commuter segment and brought a lot of attention to the Daimler brand. After recent years of shrinking sales, the automaker decided to reinvent itself by transitioning to an all-electric lineup that supports cheap and sustainable transport. Although of all of those words may be popular with the crowd, one thing that was uncertain was the car's price; however, Smart just announced that the electric two-seat coupe will start at just $24,550.

This, the entry point for Smart's lineup, remains relatively low and clocks in at $1,200 cheaper than the outgoing model. That's a 4.7 percent drop, giving consumers a better value that Smart hopes will attract more buyers to the niche brand. In addition to that, the car will also be treated to a list of upgrades that include a longer range, more power, and improved interior space. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


U.S. delivers patrol boats to Vietnam to deepen security ties (My Pham, 5/23/17, Reuters)

The United States has transferred six patrol boats to the Vietnam coast guard, to help build security cooperation between the two countries, U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in a statement on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his hope for a stronger relationship with Vietnam, after the Obama administration put ties on a stronger footing amid Vietnam's territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


U.S. plan to sell oil reserves undermines OPEC supply management efforts (Henning Gloystein, 5/22/17, Reuters)

The White House requested in its budget released late on Monday gradually selling off the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) starting in October 2018 to raise $16.5 billion. The U.S. SPR SPR-STK-T-EIA holds 688 million barrels, making it the world's largest reserve, and a release of half over 10 years averages about 95,000 barrels per day (bpd), or 1 percent of current U.S. output.

The plan came out just a day after Trump left Saudi Arabia, the de-facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as part of his first overseas trip.

The U.S. has more leeway to release the SPR crude as its own production C-OUT-T-EIA has surged 49 percent over the past five years. But the move undermines OPEC's efforts to tighten global oil markets by cutting their output this year and likely into 2018.

May 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


How Cuba's growing internet is fuelling new businesses (Natalie Sherman, 5/22/17, BBC)

Internet access among Cuba's 11.2 million people is growing.

Between 2013 and 2015, the share of the Cuban population using the internet jumped from about a quarter to more than 35%, according to estimates from the International Telecommunications Union.

The growing market has helped draw the attention of internet giants, such as Airbnb, Netflix and Google, which installed servers on the island and started hosting data there last month.

The rise is also fuelling activity among local entrepreneurs, who are launching domestic versions of sites such as the crowd-review business directory Yelp.

But there's a long way to go.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Trump asked intelligence chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence (Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima, May 22, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president. [...]

Current and former senior intelligence officials viewed Trump's requests as an attempt by the president to tarnish the credibility of the agency leading the Russia investigation.

A senior intelligence official said that Trump's goal was to "muddy the waters" about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats were ramping up their calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, a step announced last week.

Senior intelligence officials also saw the March requests as a threat to the independence of U.S. spy agencies, which are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues.

"The problem wasn't so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation," a former senior intelligence official said of the request to Coats.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Planned Parenthood Set to Close Six Clinics in Three States (Bill McMorris, May 22, 2017, Free Beacon)

One of the largest regional chapters of Planned Parenthood in the nation plans to close several clinics due to financial shortfalls.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) announced that it would close five clinics in Colorado and New Mexico, as well as the only Planned Parenthood clinic in Wyoming. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Justice Department Narrows Scope Of 'Sanctuary Cities' Executive Order (Carrie Johnson, 5/22/17, NPR)

In the new memo, the attorney general defines the cities narrowly -- as places that "willfully refuse to comply" with federal law. Sessions also made clear the threats apply only to a modest pool of grants administered by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, not the entire stream of U.S. funding for states and localities.

He has to have gotten that law degree ion a cereal box.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Sorry For Saying Confederate Statue Removers 'Should Be Lynched': State Lawmaker (KATHY GOLDGEIER, 5/22/17, NPR)

A Mississippi lawmaker apologized Monday for saying the Louisiana leaders who supported the recent removal of four Confederate monuments "should be LYNCHED!" Karl Oliver, a GOP state representative, had made the comment in a Facebook post this weekend.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


'People Here Think Trump Is a Laughingstock' (SUSAN B. GLASSER May 19, 2017, Politico)

"People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid," a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. "Now they see the clownish nature." Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, "People here think Trump is a laughingstock."

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Trump Accidentally Confirms That He Leaked Israeli Intel to the Russians (Eric Levitz, 5/22/17, New York)

[W]hen Trump arrived in Jerusalem Monday, no one in the U.S. or Israeli government had publicly confirmed that he had spilled Israel's beans. Best to retain official ambiguity, the two governments ostensibly reasoned, even if extensive reporting made Trump's unauthorized disclosure difficult to deny.

But then some Israeli journalists shouted questions about the matter at the end of a Trump-Netanyahu photo-op -- and the president decided to defend himself by accidentally, implicitly confirming that he'd let Russia in on the Jewish state's secrets.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


The Rouhani Factor (Abbas Milani, MAY 22, 2017, Project Syndicate)

The reformist paradigm, by contrast, advocates a more open society; a government managed by competent technocrats; an end to crony capitalism; a vigorous effort to attract foreign direct investment; less censorship; a more conciliatory relationship with Iran's vast and powerful diaspora; and greater equality for women and marginalized religious and ethnic minorities. They also dismiss the idea of increasing cash subsidies as economically foolhardy and fiscally unaffordable.

Some 40 million of Iran's 55 million eligible voters - nearly 73% - went to the polls, often braving long lines. Twenty-five million of those 40 million (62.5%) voted for the reformist paradigm, delivering a landslide victory to Rouhani.
At the same time, reformist candidates for city councils scored major victories throughout the country. In Tehran, for example, the reformist slate won every seat, ensuring that the current mayor - himself a conservative presidential candidate - will soon be out of a job. Even in Meshed, Raisi's hometown and a bastion of conservative clerical power, a reformist woman candidate won more votes than any male.

And yet, if the past is any indication, Rouhani's decisive victory does not mean the end of conservative power. Khamenei, relying on the Revolutionary Guards, has a disproportionate share of power. In any case, Iran's future trajectory will be determined not only by Rouhani and the conservative camp, but also by regional developments and the policy adopted by US President Donald Trump's administration.

In the 1980s, the US did not formulate its policy toward the Soviet bloc without careful consideration of political developments there. It would be folly for the US to formulate policy on Iran and the Middle East without giving domestic developments there the attention they deserve.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


How Trump Got Comfortable With Saudi Religious Extremism (Ed Kilgore, 5/22/17, New York)

[A]s it turns out his hosts were probably delighted by his words (much as they might snicker at its presumptuousness), since Trump's whole take was to identify with the Saudi regime's belief that it perfectly represents "true" Islam, as opposed to, well, the entire Shia tradition, and those unruly Sunni insurgencies that threaten the stability Riyadh most values. [...]

By any reasonable standard, from its founding Saudi Arabia has always been and remains the chief exporter and financier of "radical Islam," in the sense of subsidizing massive missionary activity aimed at promoting the rigid, quasi-totalitarian Wahhabi sect. As a New York Times report on Saudi influence last year put it:

There is a broad consensus that the Saudi ideological juggernaut has disrupted local Islamic traditions in dozens of countries -- the result of lavish spending on religious outreach for half a century, estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The result has been amplified by guest workers, many from South Asia, who spend years in Saudi Arabia and bring Saudi ways home with them. In many countries, Wahhabist preaching has encouraged a harshly judgmental religion, contributing to majority support in some polls in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries for stoning for adultery and execution for anyone trying to leave Islam.

But it's also clear that the Saudi regime wants to combat all sorts of politically inconvenient fallout from the rapid spread of the very brand of exclusivist Sunni Islam it and its associated charities and foundations try to replicate around the world. So in practice what you have is an effort to distinguish "radical Islam" from "terrorism." The ultimate product is the Orwellian idea of a Riyadh-based "Global Center For Combating Extremist Ideology," which Trump helped open over the weekend. With all due respect to the Saudi regime's authentic (if sometimes ambivalent or even double-dealing) hostility towards terrorist activity, this is a bit like opening a democracy think-tank in Moscow--which for all we know could be a Trump project down the road.

For Donald it is enough that the Salafi hate most Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Saudis Deny Visas For Israeli Reporters Covering Trump Visit (Nathan Guttman, 5/17/17, The Forward)

Several Israeli journalists planning to cover President Trump's visit to the Middle East were denied visas to Saudi Arabia and will not be able to board the press plane.

Orly Azoulay, a reporter for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, and Gil Tamary of Channel 10 were scheduled to cover Trump's first overseas visit as Commander-in-Chief, and were approved by the White House to join the press charter plane accompanying the president. But on Wednesday, both were notified that the Saudi embassy had refused to grant them visas to the kingdom, which will be Trump's first stop. The reason given was their affiliation with Israeli media outlets. Both reporters are U.S. citizens. [...]

"I see it as an act of humiliation aimed at President Trump," said Azoulay about the Saudi rejection. In 2007, Azoulay joined president George W. Bush on his trip to Saudi Arabia and was granted a visa.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Melania's Swat Proves She Hates Donald Just As Much As America Does (Erin Gloria Ryan, 05.22.17, Daily Beast)

This afternoon in Tel Aviv, President Donald Trump reached for his wife's hand. Rather than indulge him with human touch, the sort of human touch regular married people who like each other might engage in, the reluctant First Lady swatted his hand away. This wasn't done backstage before an event, or in the privacy of a place where it was safe to assume there weren't any cameras. No, Melania has grown bolder in her push to telegraph her disdain for Donald. She did it as she and her husband joined Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife in a photo op. She did it in front of a veritable United Nations of news cameras. She did it so the whole world could see. She doesn't care if he's embarrassed, and it completely rules.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Skip the Avocado Toast to Save for Retirement (Noah Smith, May 22, 2017, Bloomberg)

If millennials really want to save a lot of money, they shouldn't be buying McMansions with big green lawns and nice picket fences. They should be living in modest accommodations with roommates or with their parents, scrimping each month and putting their savings into things like bank accounts, stocks and real estate investment trusts.

In fact, millennials are doing this. More of them are living at home. But most aren't doing this because they're parasites, burnouts or lazy video game addicts. A recent Census Bureau report found that 74 percent of young people living in their parents' homes were either working or in school.

Meanwhile, millennial savings rates are looking healthier than their Generation X forebears. A 2016 survey by Fidelity Investments found that Americans aged 29 through 34 saved 7.5 percent of their earnings in that year, up from 5.7 percent in 2013. Another 2016 survey, this one by, found Americans aged 18-29 saving more of their money than those aged 30-49. Meanwhile, Generation X is still saddled with enormous debts from the great borrowing binge of the 1990s and early 2000s.

The thriftiness of millennials is hardly surprising. Our early economic experiences shape us profoundly, and today's young adults came of age during the devastation of the Great Recession. Like the generation that went through the Depression 80 years ago, millennials emerged with pessimistic views about asset markets and a cautious approach to work and personal finance.

According to classic economic theory, millennials might even be saving too much. According to the life-cycle theory of saving, consumption and investment, people should try to maintain a constant living standard throughout their lifetimes. When they're young and earn less, the theory says, people should borrow in order to boost their consumption, buying things like houses and avocado toast. Only when they reach middle age and their incomes rise should they start saving large amounts. Millennials, by saving as early as age 18, are defying this conventional wisdom.

Has classical theory ever heard of compound interest?

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Family of girl snatched by sea lion lambasted for 'reckless behavior' (Lewis Kamb, 5/22/17, Seattle Times)

Robert Kiesman, chair of the Steveston Harbour Authority, lambasted the girl's family for reckless behavior, telling the CBC News that signs posted at the popular tourist destination warn people not to feed the sea mammals that frequent the area.

"You wouldn't go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn't be handing a thousand-pound wild mammal in the water slices of bread," Kiesman said.

"And you certainly shouldn't be letting your little girl sit on the edge of the dock with her dress hanging down after the sea lion has already snapped at her once. Just totally reckless behavior."

Danielle Hyson, a senior marine-mammal trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, explained to The Vancouver Sun that the animal forewarned of his aggressive behavior.

"You saw him kind of initially lunge out of the water and give a little huff. That's what we would call an aggressive precursor," she told The Sun. "So he's letting the people know that he's starting to get frustrated. And in that situation, the people should have backed off right away."

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM



The Hoax

The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

That's how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a "paper" consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct," our paper "argues" that "The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct." As if to prove philosopher David Hume's claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. (In case the PDF is removed, we've archived it.)

Assuming the pen names "Jamie Lindsay" and "Peter Boyle," and writing for the fictitious "Southeast Independent Social Research Group," we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn't be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what "post-structuralist discursive gender theory" actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal. [...]

After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn't say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Haley: We 'absolutely' need Russia investigation (REBECCA SAVRANSKY, 05/22/17, The Hill)  

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in an interview broadcast Monday that the investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is necessary.

"I think we absolutely need the investigation," Haley said during an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


Electric Car Price Parity Expected Next Year-Report (Neil Winton,   5/22/17, Forbes)

Electric cars will be cheaper much sooner than expected, with prices in Europe comparable with traditionally powered vehicles next year, according to a report from investment bank UBS.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Trump's Commerce Secretary Impressed by Lack of Protests in Despotic Petro Kingdom (Jonathan Chait, 5/22/17, New York)

Ross explains that the most impressive aspect of the visit is that "[t]here was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard." After being gently reminded that Saudi Arabia does not permit protest or dissent, which makes its absence meaningless as a measure of public sentiment, Ross simply continues as if that fact does not matter, and the display he witnessed must be an authentic representation of public opinion in the country: "In theory, that could be true, but boy there was certainly no sign of it. There was not a single effort at an incursion, there wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood."

It's worth noting that protest is not merely a mildly discouraged activity in Saudi Arabia. It's a capital crime. One recent protester has been sentenced to death by crucifixion and beheading. That kind of tough-on-crime policy might help explain the "genuinely good mood" Ross enjoyed.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Can Cory Booker Win Over Progressives? : The rising star seemed destined to be a 2020 contender. But the populist wave and Trump resistance threaten to stall his ascent. (GRAHAM VYSE, May 22, 2017, New Republic)

A neoliberal who's cozy with the monied elites of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, he's distrusted by many on the left. "He's a non-starter right now," Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential liberal website Daily Kos, told me. "He hasn't proven his ability to distance himself from the Wall Street and Big Pharma interests that have basically been the bedrock of his support." [...]

There's also the problem of Brooker's brand, which is perhaps best described as positivity politics: He embraces bipartisanship, and refuses to vilify his political opponents. His warm and generous spirit would be welcome under normal political circumstances, but his style has lost currency under a unified Republican government, as the Democratic base demands outright obstruction. 

He should be running for governor.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict : How the former FBI director's interest in Reinhold Niebuhr shaped his approach to political power. (STEVEN WEITZMAN, MAY 19, 2017, Christianity Today)

Submitted in 1982, Comey's thesis compares Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell. At the time, the televangelist had emerged as a central figure in American politics following the election of Ronald Reagan. Comey's study was an effort to understand how each man would answer the question: "Why should the Christian be involved in politics?"

Niebuhr and Falwell came from opposite sides of the political spectrum. One, a former socialist and--despite his support for the Cold War--an early opponent of the Vietnam War, believing it an obligation to be critical of American actions that were unjust. The other, a staunch opponent to socialism and a supporter of the Vietnam War.

As the co-founder of the Moral Majority, Falwell espoused the kind of America-first patriotism that Niebuhr condemned.

Opposition to the Vietnam War--acceptance of communist regimes--is the politics of America First.

Jerry Falwell's opposition to all communist regimes was quintessentially globalist.  Indeed, with its mix of capitalism, democracy and proterstantism, Falwell's was the theology of the End of History : How the Ghost of Jerry Falwell Conquered the Republican Party (MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS, March 5, 2012, New Republic)

Even before the 1980s, evangelicals had long supported free market economics and a strong foreign policy. Their commitment to both capitalism and a strong military was rooted in their pronounced anti-communism. Earlier evangelical preachers such as Carl McIntire in the 1950s had voiced their enthusiasm for Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts. But for Falwell, the links between capitalism, foreign policy, and religion ran especially deep.

Falwell's laissez-faire economic views stemmed from a particular theological perspective: his hostility to the Social Gospel movement. During the first decades of the twentieth century, liberal Protestant pastors, such as Walter Rauschenbusch, had encouraged Christians to move beyond traditional charitable concern for the poor and to support the social welfare state as an ethical matter. Falwell strongly opposed this position. In 1965, he delivered a sermon entitled "Ministers and Marches," in which (ironically) he criticized Martin Luther King and other preachers for being too politically engaged. The sermon was printed in leaflet form to assure its widespread distribution. In that sermon, Falwell condemned the Social Gospel movement as unbiblical. "Education, medicine, social reform, and all the other external ministries cannot meet the needs of the human soul and spirit," he told his congregation. For Falwell and other fundamentalists, efforts to improve this world detracted from the effort to attain the next.

Still, Falwell ended up backing into an exception to his lack of concern with worldly matters: anti-communism. Two years after his "Ministers and Marches" sermon, he placed advertisements in a local newspaper for two Sunday evening sermons on "godless Communism" at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Virginia. Several years later, in 1975, Falwell's commitment to American exceptionalism, in contradistinction to communism and European-style socialism, manifested itself in a series of "I Love America" rallies. He would fly the choir from his school, then called Lynchburg Baptist College, around the country, invite local pastors and their congregations, erect a flag-bedecked stage on the steps of the state capitol building, and give an address filled with the kind of encomiums to American exceptionalism that Sarah Palin would later make a staple of her stump speech. Reagan, too, expounded a version of American exceptionalism, but it was Falwell who gave it the distinctly religious character it enjoys today, which sees the American founding as a quasi-salvific event and treats the constitution as a semi-sacred text. "The United States Constitution has as its cornerstone the Ten Commandments," Falwell told his television audience in March 1976. "I was reading the Constitution this week. It is a masterpiece. I don't believe it was written under divine inspiration like the Bible, but I indeed believe it was inspired. ... There's no question about it, this nation was intended to be a Christian nation by our founding fathers."

When Falwell finally decided to jump into the political fray by forming the Moral Majority in 1979, the group's political platform had four over-arching themes. It would be pro-life, pro-family, pro-moral, and pro-American. This last theme entailed support for a tough U.S. foreign policy. An early piece of Moral Majority literature warned against an "unprecedented lack of leadership" with the "danger of capitulation to the Soviet Union a very possible result." In the South, where Franklin Roosevelt had often located new military bases as a way to secure the support of conservative southern senators for other parts of his political agenda, the military was becoming a central part of the culture--more so than in other regions of the country. The South was also, of course, the evangelicals' geographic base. All of this made it the perfect environment for Falwell's marriage of conservative theology and hawkish foreign policy.

Many commentators voiced alarm when President Reagan, in a press conference on his ninth day in office, denounced détente with the Soviet Union. In fact, he was using words that could have been lifted from any of a number of Falwell's sermons or from the preacher's 1980 book Listen, America, which included a chapter on fighting communism. Here was Reagan: "I know of no leaders of the Soviet Union since the revolution, and including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various Communist congresses they hold their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution and a one-world Socialist or Communist state, whichever word you want to use." And here was Falwell on the same subject: "The Soviets have always had one goal, and that is to destroy capitalistic society. They are a nation committed to communism and to destroying the American way of life." What's more, the fear of a one-world state--which Reagan alluded to--had important implications in the universe of fundamentalist thought. A 1980 mailing from Falwell's "Old-Time Gospel Hour" warned that the time of Tribulation foretold in the Bible would witness a "Russian invasion of Israel" (although Russia is not mentioned in the Bible), and warned that "A powerful ruler, led by Satan and referred to as the Anti-christ, will rise to power. After leading the nations to form an alliance to help preserve the world system, he will break the treaty and be responsible for persecuting the nation of Israel and leading the last great battle against the forces of God in the battle of Armageddon."

In the spring of 1981, the newly installed Reaganites made the decision to lead with their economic agenda, not with the divisive social issues like abortion and gay rights that were understood to be the principal concern of Christian conservatives. Some interviewers were surprised when Falwell told them he endorsed this decision. "I don't think the president is sidestepping the moral and the social issues," he explained on "Face the Nation." "I think he wants to give [his economic agenda] the full shot." But Falwell did more than support Reagan's decision to emphasize economic issues. He also lent him cover for his proposed cutbacks in social programs. "We must be sensitive to the fact that we cannot ignore the presence and the needs of the poor among us," Falwell said in that same interview, "and I think that is where the churches must quickly move in, particularly conservative churches of which I am a part, and fill the vacuum that no doubt the country can no longer fill."

For Falwell, then, being a social conservative was not simply a matter of denouncing abortion and gay rights. It also meant fealty to laissez-faire economics and to an aggressive foreign policy. But even as he was helping to make evangelicals into hard-right fiscal conservatives and foreign policy hawks, Falwell was also doing something else: giving them permission to form alliances with other religious groups. Before Falwell, fundamentalists were warned against being "yoked" with non-believers, and a "non-believer" was anyone who did not share the core beliefs of evangelical Protestantism. Mormons, Catholics, and most liberal Protestants did not make the cut. But, after reading Francis Schaeffer's teachings on "co-belligerency"--the idea that believers and non-believers could cooperate--Falwell came to see the necessity of working with non-fundamentalist but conservative believers of other creeds. This newfound awareness of ecumenical possibilities came to Falwell in the late 1970s, just as he was being encouraged to get politically involved by GOP operatives. If Simon the Cyrene could help Jesus carry his cross, Mormons and conservative Catholics and fundamentalist Baptists could join forces to defeat liberalism. In the early years of the Moral Majority, Falwell would brag that a third of the group's members were Roman Catholic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Trump's groveling speech in Saudi Arabia was a national embarrassment (David Faris, May 22, 2017, The Week)

The obsequious praise offered by President Trump to the Saudis was also embarrassing, and completely unnecessary. "I have always heard about the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens, but words do not do justice to the grandeur of this remarkable place," the president said to an audience of dictators, layabouts, and thieves who operate one of the most unforgiving, corrupt, and brutal dictatorships in the history of the world. While he is hardly the first president to sacrifice himself on the altar of America's strange alliance with the Saudis, he certainly outdid himself in the extent to which he was determined to fluff the fragile egos of his royal benefactors. Saudi elites who are still bitter that former President Obama didn't dance eagerly to their every demand surely went to bed satisfied last night. Trump has never met a ruthless potentate that he didn't like, and he certainly didn't break any new ground yesterday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


VP Mike Pence Was Never Informed About Flynn: Source (VAUGHN HILLYARD, 5/19/17, NBC News)

The source close to the administration, who requested anonymity as the White House denies the story, is now saying that Pence and his team were not made aware of any investigation relating to Flynn's work as a foreign agent for Turkey.

"It's also a fact that if he told McGahn that during the transition, it's also a fact that not only was Pence not made aware of that, no one around Pence was as well," the source said. "And that's an egregious error -- and it has to be intentional. It's either malpractice or intentional, and either are unacceptable."

Man, he has no intention of going down with Donald, huh?

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Washington Post, Breaking News, Is Also Breaking New Ground (JAMES B. STEWART, MAY 19, 2017, NY Times)

As a private company since 2013, when the deep-pocketed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought it for $250 million, The Post doesn't disclose much financial data. But by all visible measures, including the vital but hard-to-measure buzz factor, the resurrection of The Post, both editorially and financially, in less than four years has been little short of astonishing.

The Post has said that it was profitable last year -- and not through cost-cutting. On the contrary, under the newsroom leadership of Martin Baron, the former editor of The Boston Globe memorably portrayed in the film "Spotlight," The Post has gone on a hiring spree. It has hired hundreds of reporters and editors and has more than tripled its technology staff.

Last month, according to figures from comScore, The Post had 78.7 million unique users and 811 million digital page views, trailing only CNN and The New York Times among news organizations.

"The published numbers speculating about our subscription and ad revenue have so underestimated the reality that it's comical," The Post's chief revenue officer, Jed Hartman, told me this week. "Our digital ad revenue is in the solid nine figures," that is, in excess of $100 million. This year, he added, "we'll have our third straight year of double-digit revenue growth."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Trump's bizarre and un-American visit to Saudi Arabia (Anne Applebaum, May 21, 2017, Washington Post)

It was a very strange choice for a first trip abroad. The past four American presidents, two Republicans and two Democrats, made their first trips to either Mexico and Canada, countries that are close trading partners, close allies, compatible democracies and of course neighbors. Trump chose, instead, to make his first presidential visit to an oligarchic kleptocracy which forces women to hide their faces and forbids them to travel without a male guardian's permission.

It was a very strange place to speak out against Islamist extremism. Although Saudi Arabia is afraid of some forms of Islamist extremism, it supports others. Saudi Arabia sponsors extremist Wahabi mosques and imams all over the world; Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen, as were 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

The sword dance. Every American president has met with his Saudi counterparts, and of course the stability of Saudi Arabia, as well as its oil, is an important U.S. security concern. But until now American presidents made it clear that, while we have to deal with Saudi leaders, we don't endorse their culture. Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others in the delegation did exactly that, by participating in this sinister all-male dance.

Part of hating Islam is cheer-leading for the dictators who hold down their populations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Elected for a second term, Rouhani says the vote shows Iranians chose 'interaction with the world' over extremism. (Al Jazeera, 5/22/17)

"Our nation's message in the election was clear. Iran's nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism," the 68-year-old reformist said in a televised speech on Saturday.  The election was seen by many as a verdict on Rouhani's policy of opening up Iran to the outside world. [...]

"I'm happy and a bit relieved after a month of stress," said 27-year-old Afshin as he joined a large crowd gathered in Vali Asr Square of central Tehran.  "In the same way we campaigned for him, we will demand he keeps his promises." Many supporters were determined to ensure Rouhani now kept his vows to improve civil liberties and reform the economy.

Videos on social media showed huge crowds out on the streets across Iran.

Many wore purple ribbons in support of Rouhani as well as green of the the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani had promised to seek their release if re-elected.

In his victory speech, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former president Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


How the GOP is slowly going green (Rebecca Zisser, 5/22/17, Axios)

"Tectonic plates beneath the Republican party are not stable," said Jerry Taylor, who in 2014 founded the Niskanen Center, a conservative group that supports a carbon tax to address climate change. "That's not obvious to anyone who is not engaging with Republicans on climate, but it's fairly obvious to us."

Here's some evidence:

A group of conservative leaders from previous GOP administrations helped create the Climate Leadership Council in February to build the case for a carbon tax. They have a planned $10 million budget, according to its founder Ted Halstead. The group is set to announce additional political leaders and a group of Fortune 100 companies backing their effort next month, have just opened a London office and last week hired two former GOP administration officials: Jill Sigal, a former top Energy Department official in the George W. Bush administration, and Taiya Smith, who worked under Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the same Bush administration.

Last year the Niskanen Center received a $70,000 grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the first that foundation has given to the group. This foundation's support is notable because it was created by the Rockefeller family made rich and famous for its oil business. The foundation is now divesting from fossil fuels and has funded activist group

Of the 19 Republican members of a bipartisan climate caucus in the House created last year, 12 joined this year, including Rep. Darrell Issa of California. Jay Butera, who on behalf of advocacy group Citizens Climate Lobby helped create the caucus, said it took three years to find the first Republican, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida.

The Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a conservative climate group founded by former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis in 2012, just received its first multi-year grant, which isn't public yet so its details weren't available, Inglis told Axios. Membership of its grassroots group, republicEn, has doubled since the election.

The Environmental Defense Fund and Nature Conservancy, two centrist environmental groups known for working with businesses, each received $10 million grants for two years from the MacArthur Foundation in 2015. Multiple people familiar with that funding say the money is targeted to help attract conservative support for climate policy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


End of the affair: Montenegro jilts Russia by joining NATO (Ivana Sekularac, 5/22/17, Reuters)

Tiny Montenegro will take a huge step towards integrating with the West when it becomes the 29th member of NATO this week, but it risks paying a heavy price for spurning Russia.

For nearly a decade after Montenegro split from Serbia in 2006, Moscow cultivated close ties with the former Yugoslav republic, and money poured in from Russian investors and tourists.

May 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Commodity Traders Are Stuck in a World Where Everybody Knows Everything (Serene Cheong , Dan Murtaugh , and Sharon Cho
May 21, 2017,Bloomberg )

For commodity traders operating in the Information Age, just good old trading doesn't cut it anymore.

Unlike the stock market in which transactions are typically based on information that's public, firms that buy and sell raw materials thrived for decades in an opaque world where their metier relied on knowledge privy only to a few. Now, technological development, expanding sources of data, more sophisticated producers and consumers as well as transparency surrounding deals are eroding their advantage.

"Everything is transparent, everybody knows everything and has access to information," Daniel Jaeggi, the president of Mercuria Energy Group Ltd., said on Thursday at the Global Trader Summit organized by IE Singapore, a government agency that promotes international trade.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Hail HYDRA: Photo of Donald Trump with King Salman and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reignites Marvel meme (Chiara Palazzo, 21 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

In the Marvel realm, HYDRA was founded by a cult of individuals worshiping of a parasitic hell-beast, who is bent on world domination, and familiar with authoritarian, terrorist and criminal activities.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Becoming a sanctuary state could help California protect its economy, too (Octavio Blanco, 5/18/17, CNNMoney)

Lawmakers are not only seeking to protect the state's estimated two to three million undocumented immigrants, but also to defend a valuable economic engine. [...]

Agricultural workers in particular have become a major backbone of the state's economy. In 2015, California's 76,000 farms and ranches sold $47 billion worth of agricultural products, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"We would not be the sixth largest economy in the world if not for our immigrant labor force," said California State Controller, Betty Yee. "Our state's economic health relies on the contributions of all Californians."
california farm workers

Not only do California's undocumented workers fill jobs, but they pay taxes too.

In 2014, almost $3.2 billion of California's state and local taxes came from undocumented immigrants, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington D.C.-based research group.
Related: Why undocumented immigrants pay taxes

Laura Hill, senior fellow at California's Public Policy Institute, said a statewide sanctuary policy would help keep California's economy stable because it would help keep undocumented residents from retreating back into the shadows for fear of being deported.

The Public Policy institute has surveyed Californians four times since 2016 on whether there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally if certain requirements are met. Each time, 82% or more of residents have supported this idea, Hill said.

Given the accelerating demand for immigrants--driven by demographics--they'll start asking for better deals.  Housing will be an easy get most places.

China's Demographic Time Bomb Continues to Tick (Bloomberg News, 5/17/17)

Even after the government cleared the way for couples to have a second child, working women are reluctant to expand their family--or have any children at all.

That's according to a new survey by, one of the nation's biggest online recruitment websites, which found  about 40 percent of working women without children don't want to have any and roughly two thirds of those with a child don't want a second.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Was Vietnam Winnable? (MARK MOYAR, MAY 19, 2017, NY Times)

 By delving into the conflict's deep crevices, I came upon a wealth of untapped information pointing me in a different direction. (I owed many of those discoveries to Merle Pribbenow, a retired linguist who found and translated a wealth of documents and histories from the opposing side.) These North Vietnamese sources shed extraordinary light on longstanding debates. They showed that North Vietnam controlled the South Vietnamese "resistance" from the beginning, even while Hanoi's propagandists convinced gullible Westerners that it was a purely local movement. They also refuted the widely held view that the South Vietnamese government was reeling militarily at the time of Ngo Dinh Diem's assassination in November 1963.

Other discoveries resulted from investigation into hitherto neglected aspects of the war. No previous historian had looked in detail at what was taking place in the neighboring "dominoes" when Lyndon Johnson made his fateful decision in 1965 to insert American ground troops into the war. In fact, in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, anti-Communist leaders were warning that South Vietnam's fall would cause all the Southeast Asian dominoes to fall, and were offering to commit troops to the anti-Communist cause. Suddenly, the domino theory looked far more plausible.

As the huge size of the unexplored territory became apparent to me, a projected single-volume history of the war turned into a trilogy. The first volume, covering 1954 to 1965, took seven years to complete. Titled "Triumph Forsaken," it was promptly termed "revisionist," since it fundamentally challenged the reigning orthodoxy, joining a small number of other books in that category such as Lewis Sorley's "A Better War" and H. R. McMaster's "Dereliction of Duty."

The book showed that Ho Chi Minh was a doctrinaire Communist who, like his Soviet and Chinese allies, adhered to the Marxist-Leninist view that Communists of all nations should collaborate in spreading the world revolution. By the time of Johnson's decision to deploy ground troops into South Vietnam, Ho and his allies were nearing their objective of turning all of Southeast Asia Communist, and they most likely would have succeeded had the United States bailed out. American intervention made possible an anti-Communist coup in Indonesia and the self-devastation of China's Cultural Revolution, and it bought time for other Asian dominoes to shore up their defenses.

Not only was the war necessary, I argued, but it was winnable with better strategic decisions. The most momentous blunder was the decision of the American ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, to foment the coup that overthrew Ngo Dinh Diem, which wrecked the South Vietnamese security apparatus and led North Vietnam to initiate a huge invasion of the South. Another mistake was Johnson's decision to not insert American ground forces into Laos to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a move that would have transformed the war and reduced the need for American forces.

In the absence of presidential cheerleading, American public support for the war declined over the course of 1967. As administration officials had feared, the apparent weakening of American resolve hardened the determination of the North Vietnamese to persist. Hanoi rebuffed every American overture for peace negotiations, anticipating that the coming Tet offensive would destroy what remained of America's will.

In other words, the public's turn against the war was not inevitable; it was, rather, the result of a failure by policy makers to explain and persuade Americans to support it. Today, with the country engaged in two distinct, long-running conflicts and the possibility that others could flare up at any moment, it's a lesson that our current leaders should take to heart.

It was barely loseable.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Iran reformists sweep Tehran council elections (AFP, May 21, 2017)

Voters in Tehran had to choose 21 councilors for the city of nine million, and stuck resolutely to the names put forward by the relatively moderate reformist camp.

At the top of the list was Mohsen Hashemi, son of one of the Islamic revolution's founding fathers, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died in January.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Global Economy Is in Sync (Theophilos Argitis and Blaise Robinson, 5/20/17, Bloomberg)

With the first-quarter earnings season coming to a close, the verdict is in on the synchronized global expansion: It's alive and well.

A picture of strong earnings growth and positive surprises has emerged across both industries and geography, adding to evidence the world's major economies are increasingly running in lockstep.

It's a reassuring development that should bolster confidence in the resiliency of the expansion at a time when economic data have painted a mixed picture. "Hard" data such as gross domestic product have been less convincing than the largely rosier consumer and business sentiment surveys worldwide. A more broad-based recovery should also ease worries about a maturing U.S. business cycle that may no longer be able to do as much of the heavy lifting for the world economy.

"The global backdrop is going to be constructive and this phase of the cycle has longer to run," said Jean Boivin, head of economic and markets research at BlackRock. "We see these earnings being consistent with this backdrop story."

It was yet another sign of Special Providence that saw Ben Bernanke at the Fed to correct his own mistakes in 2008.  Although, it would obviously have been better to directly pay down consumer debts than to transfer money to the banks themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Everything You Thought You Knew About Baseball Might Be Wrong : Confused by revolutionary new baseball stats such as WAR, wOBA, WPA, and FIP? With the book 'Smart Baseball,' Keith Law explains, in way that fans can finally understand, the new numbers redefining the game. (Kyle Sammin, MAY 19, 2017, The Federalist)

The save is among the newest of the old stats, invented in 1960 by a Chicago sportswriter and codified in baseball's rules in 1969. The intent was valid: an effort to demonstrate the value of relief pitchers, who were by then beginning to play a larger role in the game. But the narrowness of the stat, in only rewarding the last pitcher in a game and doing so largely independent of their actual performance, replicates many of the problems of the pitcher-win metric. Instead of measuring how well the pitcher performed against the batters he faced, the rules of the save assign a mystical importance to the final inning and reward all pitchers who finish the job equally, whether they dominate their appearance or just barely squeak by.

What's worse is the way the save has changed the way the game is played. Any measurement that changes the thing it is measuring diminishes its own value as a metric, and there is none worse in that respect than the save. As Law explains, the elevation of the closer over middle relievers has created the appearance a stratification that the data do not bear out. Managers routinely save their best pitcher for the ninth inning when their lead is between one and three runs--the conditions that the rules define as a save opportunity--rather than for the highest pressure situations, where his services might be more needed.

Facing the heart of the opposing lineup in the eighth inning might be a more important situation than facing the bottom hitters in the ninth. Pitching in the ninth when the score is tied might be more important than pitching in extra innings with a lead. But the conventional wisdom that has grown up around late-game bullpen management is that the best relief pitcher is your closer and closers must get saves. Managing to a stat is like teaching to a test. The more you do it, the less valuable the metric is, and the less value is being imparted to the ultimate product: winning games.

Just watch the way Terry Francona deploys Andrew Miller.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Area Employers Worry About Impact of Immigration Crackdown (Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, 5/20/17, Valley News)

Upper Valley employers aren't sure how President Donald Trump's actions to tighten federal visa programs might affect them, but businesses throughout the region say they need continued access to foreign labor pools to survive.

"Frankly, I'm scared to death right now about what their prospects are," said Steve Wood, owner of Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, speaking about the handful of seasonal workers who have come north from Jamaica every year since 1992 to help him manage his apple crops.

"They rely on me to take care of their families, and I rely on them," said Wood.

The workers come to the country under the H-2A visa program, which allows American agricultural businesses to hire overseas labor. Businesses in other sectors, including the hospitality industry, rely on a foreign labor force hired through other programs, such as the J-1 student visa and the H-2B program.

For fiscal year 2015, the most recent year on record, Vermont employers requested 515 workers through the H-2A program, while New Hampshire employers requested 167, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.

"They are the main picking force up here," Wood said. "After years of trying to hire Americans to pick, and putting them in our bunkhouse, we're having some success."

At Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, owner Pooh Sprague said four workers from Jamaica anchor his workforce during the busy pruning and harvesting season. He said the workers are more reliable, more skilled, and have a better work ethic than the average American who is willing to work in his orchards and fields.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Crushing on Crushers : Why do intellectuals fall in love with dictators and totalitarians? : a review of From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez: Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship, by Paul Hollander  (Theodore Dalrymple, May 19, 2017, City Journal)

The fact that the most educated part of a modern society supports such-and-such a policy is no evidence that it is right. It would be a logical error, however, to conclude from this that the uneducated are always right. The contrary of error need not be truth: it is often merely a different error. Likewise, ad hoc dictators--those whose main purpose is to maintain themselves and their cronies in power, such as Basher al-Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq--may have their apologists, but seldom their enthusiasts. To excite intellectuals, dictators must embody, or claim to embody, some utopian ideal.

The special ability to see beyond appearances that intellectuals like to congratulate themselves for possessing is, indeed, their raison d'être: for if they cannot perceive what others cannot perceive, what is their role? Whereas the simple-minded see in a massacre of priests only a massacre of priests, for example, intellectuals discern in it the operation of the dialectic of history, the imagined future denouement of which is more real to them than the actual deaths themselves, merely eggshells on the way to the omelette.

Though Hollander does not claim that there is a single explanation for intellectuals' attraction to dictatorships such as those of Stalin, Mao, and Castro (or Khomeini, in the case of Foucault), let alone to have found it, he nevertheless believes, in my view plausibly, that the longing for quasi-religious belief in an age when actual religion has largely been rejected is a significant part of the explanation. The totalitarian dictators were not the typical politicians of democratic systems who, whatever their rhetoric, seem mainly to tinker at the edges of human existence, are ready or forced to make grubby compromises with their opponents, reveal themselves to be morally and financially corrupt, are more impressive in opposition than in office, have no overarching ideas for the redemption of humanity, and make no claims to be panjandrums of all human knowledge and wisdom. Rather, those dictators were religious leaders who claimed the power to answer all human questions at once and to lead humanity into a land of perpetual milk, honey, and peace. They were omniscient, omnicompetent, loving, and kind, infinitely concerned for the welfare of their people; yet at the same time they were modest, humble, and supposedly embarrassed by the adulation they received. The intellectuals, then, sought in them not men but messiahs.

Evidence of the quasi-religious nature of Sartre's serial dictator-worship is in the title he gave to the newspaper he relaunched in the 1970s and which still publishes today: Libération. Liberation from what, exactly? France at the time was hardly a tyranny. It is difficult not to conclude that what was meant was a mystical or other-worldly liberation from the existential conditions under which mankind is constrained to labor forever. Unfortunately, few things are less attractive than a religion that dares not speak its name as religion.

This needs to be extended slightly, for the religion of the Intellectuals is always the same, irrespective of the Messiah of the moment : it is Reason.  It is necessary for them, having rejected faith, to believe that human reason can create a perfect political system by operation of the mind alone.  

It is the historic Anglospheric rejection of Reason that has largely insulated us from this plague. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment (MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN and JOHN TIERNEYMAY 19, 2017, NY Times)

We are misnamed. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the "wise man," but that's more of a boast than a description. What makes us wise? What sets us apart from other animals? Various answers have been proposed -- language, tools, cooperation, culture, tasting bad to predators -- but none is unique to humans.

What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it's also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we're evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to "commencement" speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives.

A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered -- rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we're prisoners of the past and the present.

Behaviorists thought of animal learning as the ingraining of habit by repetition. Psychoanalysts believed that treating patients was a matter of unearthing and confronting the past. Even when cognitive psychology emerged, it focused on the past and present -- on memory and perception.

But it is increasingly clear that the mind is mainly drawn to the future, not driven by the past. Behavior, memory and perception can't be understood without appreciating the central role of prospection. We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected.

Our emotions are less reactions to the present than guides to future behavior. Therapists are exploring new ways to treat depression now that they see it as primarily not because of past traumas and present stresses but because of skewed visions of what lies ahead.

Prospection enables us to become wise not just from our own experiences but also by learning from others. We are social animals like no others, living and working in very large groups of strangers, because we have jointly constructed the future. Human culture -- our language, our division of labor, our knowledge, our laws and technology -- is possible only because we can anticipate what fellow humans will do in the distant future. [...]

If Homo prospectus takes the really long view, does he become morbid? That was a longstanding assumption in psychologists' "terror management theory," which held that humans avoid thinking about the future because they fear death. The theory was explored in hundreds of experiments assigning people to think about their own deaths. One common response was to become more assertive about one's cultural values, like becoming more patriotic.

But there's precious little evidence that people actually spend much time outside the lab thinking about their deaths or managing their terror of mortality. It's certainly not what psychologists found in the study tracking Chicagoans' daily thoughts. Less than 1 percent of their thoughts involved death, and even those were typically about other people's deaths.

Homo prospectus is too pragmatic to obsess on death for the same reason that he doesn't dwell on the past: There's nothing he can do about it. He became Homo sapiens by learning to see and shape his future, and he is wise enough to keep looking straight ahead.

Effectively refuting an awful lot of the silliest books ever written.

May 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Victorious Rouhani: Iran has chosen 'path of engagement' with the world (Times of Israel, May 20, 2017)

"The message of our people has been very clearly expressed. The Iranian people have chosen the path of engagement with the world, far from extremism," he said on state television.

Rouhani won 57 percent of the vote, scoring a convincing victory over hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi on 38.3%.

His first comment on the win came on Twitter, which is banned by government censors but followed widely by Iranians able to get around the curbs...

Perfect symbolism....

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


NPR/Ipsos Poll: Americans Aren't So Hot On 'America First' (Scott Horsley, 5/20/17, NPR)

As President Trump begins his first overseas trip, Americans have widely differing views of his approach to foreign policy. But a majority of both Republicans and Democrats want the U.S. to continue its robust engagement with the rest of the world.

More than half the people surveyed in a new NPR/Ipsos poll said America's foreign policy should focus on maintaining the current global order -- with the U.S. at the center. Less than a quarter said the country's foreign policy should look out for Americans, even if it harms people in other countries.

It's unAmerican and unChristian, but I repeat myself...

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Humans Accidentally Made an Artificial Barrier Around Earth, NASA Says (WILL SABEL COURTNEY, MAY 19, 2017, The Drive)

Talk about unexpected benefits. Without even realizing it, humankind has created an artificial shield around the planet Earth, NASA says--one that could help protect mankind from future catastrophe. 

The unexpected barrier, which was detected by NASA's Van Allen probes, was created by the interaction between man-made very low frequency (VLF) radio waves and charged particles in space. NASA says this interplay can, when conditions are right, actually create a de facto barrier that can block high energy particle radiation from hitting the Earth. Or, to put it another way, humanity has raised deflector shields around the entire goddamn planet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Volvo's Autonomous Garbage Truck Reports for Duty : It's designed to be safer and more economical. (CALEB JACOBSMAY 18, 2017, The Drive)

Volvo's expertise with fleet and long-haul vehicles has introduced them to the world of big rigs, and now, they've worked autonomous tech into one of their heavy-duty autos. With plans for more efficiency and improved safety, the transportation giant has debuted a driverless trash truck prototype that actually works--in every sense of the word. 

Volvo worked in collaboration with Swedish waste service company Renova to develop this high-tech truck. It's got a pre-programmed trash route set in the computer, allowing it to drive from site to site without human aid. This simplifies the collection service, enabling the onboard crew to work solely on picking up trash without having to get in and out of the truck. Volvo further supports this idea by saying autonomy will cut down on workplace injuries, both short- and long-term, preserving workers' joints and doing away with human error while driving.

Another angle is the environmental factor. As each vehicle is programmed to run its route cleanly and efficiently, emissions could potentially be reduced; this not only saves waste companies money, but also reduces pollution from the large diesel engines.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


How Israel is targeting Palestinian institutions : Recent raid of Arab Studies Society's Jerusalem office highlights a long-standing problem, rights groups say. (Ylenia Gostoli, 5/20/17, Al Jazeera)

The bizarre incident is not an isolated one. According to the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, more than 30 Palestinian institutions and organisations have been shut down in the city since the 2001 closure of Orient House. Six-month closure orders have been continuously renewed ever since, in defiance of recommendations made in the 2003 Road Map drawn up by the Middle East Quartet as part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"Targeting NGOs is targeting the presence of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. NGOs are the main body providing services, because according to Oslo [the interim accords signed by Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 and 1995], the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to be in Jerusalem," Zakaria Odeh, executive director of the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera. "All policies, including house demolitions and residency revocations, have the goal to alter the demographic structure of Jerusalem as a whole."

The closure of Palestinian institutions in the city has been condemned by the European Union for creating a dangerous leadership vacuum, and by Palestinian rights groups as a violation of international law and an attempt to stifle Palestinian political, cultural and social life in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel does not allow the PA to carry out any political activities in the city, and a number of organisations and events have been shut down on this basis. The Palestinian National Theatre, Hakawati, has often seen its events disrupted.

In 2009, when Jerusalem was nominated as the Arab Capital of Culture, Israeli police shut down events organised for an international literature festival on the grounds that they constituted PA political activities. More recently, last December, the theatre was prevented from holding a singing event on the basis that its organisers were affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a left-wing Palestinian political party that Israel deems a "terrorist" group.

Since the closure of Orient House, Palestinians have lost access to 14,000 books, periodicals, documents, personal archives and maps collected by the Arab Studies Society. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Voters who backed Brexit changed something. The problem for Labour is they like the feeling (JOHN DENHAM, 5/20/17, New Statesman)

"If voting changed anything they'd make it illegal," said the American anarchist Emma Goldman. Ms Goldman might find canvassing in this UK election rather disconcerting. For large numbers of voters - mainly Leavers but some Remainers too - voting has changed something. They like the feeling. With Brexit "we" made a choice; "we" made something happen. (And "we" did something that most of "them" didn't want us to do). That is more important to many than whether the decision was necessarily a good one; after all no one can really tell.

That mood on the doorstep provides some explanation for the growing number of "Re-Leavers" who want to finish the job. Focus groups have heard that voting Tory is the "democratic" thing to do. We are not seeing much support for the "let's have another Brexit vote" party. For newly empowered voters, too many Remainers still manage to sound aghast that voting did actually change something. (I'm embarrassed by my fellow Remainers who make snide remarks about ill-educated voters; perhaps we'd be happier with a more restricted franchise?)

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Wins Re-Election, State TV Says (JAMES DOUBEK, 5/20/17, NPR)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has won re-election by a large margin, Iran's government-run television network said Saturday.

Rouhani led early vote counts with more than 22 million votes against his main challenger Ebrahim Raisi's 15.5 million, Reuters reports. Rouhani has been seen as a reformer in Iran's largely conservative society, and embraced modest efforts to reach out to the rest of the world in his first term.

Rohani appeared to have benefited from a large turnout that forced polls to stay open until midnight, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports. More than 40 million out of 56 million eligible voters cast their ballots, Iran's interior ministry said, as reported by The Guardian.

The sob's refuse to be who the Right insists they are...

Meanwhile, the choice between neo-liberalism and Nationalism was so stark the Ayatollah actually got the sort of turnout he usually has to pretend they had. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Trump Officials: 'He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron' : In the wake of yet another Russia-related bombshell, Trump aides despaired because they know President Trump only has himself to blame. (LACHLAN MARKAY, ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, NOAH SHACHTMAN, 05.19.17, Daily Beast)

"I'm glad I'm not on the plane so I could be here to answer your Russia questions," a senior Trump administration official said, sarcastically, before abruptly hanging up. [...]

"If Donald Trump gets impeached, he will have one person to blame: Donald Trump," one of those administration officials said.

The official noted a pattern among leaks that have dominated headlines this week: In virtually every case--the president's request that Comey pledge fealty to him, a subsequent ask that Comey ease an investigation into his former top national security aide, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and revelations that he hopes to rehire Flynn when the FBI wraps up its probe--leaked Trump statements have revealed flippance or hostility toward a federal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in 2016's presidential election. [...]

Those complaints echo weeks of griping from administration and White House officials who say that Trump, through unscripted tweets and statements to the press, has undermined a White House communications operation that is trying to dig him out of a very deep public relations hole--not to mention the legal bind the president may find himself in.

Trump's repeated media missteps have frustrated even longtime supporters. "Every day he looks more and more like a complete moron," said one senior administration official who also worked on Trump's campaign. "I can't see Trump resigning or even being impeached, but at this point I wish he'd grow a brain and be the man that he sold himself as on the campaign." [...]

Asked whether those comments could be construed as intent to interfere in the FBI's investigation, a Justice Department official told The Daily Beast, "absolutely."

"Individual acts/comments may not constitute obstruction [of justice], but the whole pattern--starting with the requested loyalty oath, ending with the firing--does look like obstruction," the official said in an email. "And then the question is, is he obstructing because he knows he is guilty himself, or is he obstructing because he doesn't know the full extent of [former Trump campaign chief Paul] Manafort, Flynn, and others' shenanigans, and is terrified of finding out. Both are plausible; we know where I would place my bet."

David C. Gomez, a former FBI assistant special agent in charge, said Trump's comments demonstrated a profound inability to grasp the potential consequences of his words.

"In terms of potential criminal activity, it's amateur night at the White House," Gomez told The Daily Beast. "These guys--and Trump especially--don't know how to not implicate themselves.

"On a big case like this, the ideal thing would be a wiretap on your number one subject," Gomez added. "But in this case, you don't need a wiretap. He just comes right out and says it."

...instead of in the meadow is it not bestiality?  That is the novel legal theory Donald is testing.

Russian officials 'boasted of their ability to influence Trump through Flynn (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AP May 20, 2017)

Russian conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign indicated that Moscow saw Donald Trump associate Michael Flynn as an ally who could help influence the Republican nominee, CNN reported Saturday.

Sources told the news network that Russian officials were heard boasting of the close relationship they had developed with Flynn, who would eventually be chosen by Trump to serve as his national security adviser -- but who was fired from the post only weeks into the new administration's term.

An Obama administration official told CNN "This was a five-alarm fire from early on, the way the Russians were talking about him."

It was recently reported that Barack Obama personally warned Trump against naming Flynn as national security adviser, just two days after the November 8 election.

On May 8 former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the White House was warned in January that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

May 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


The Islamic Republic Is Heading for an Identity Crisis : As Iranians go to the polls, the divide between the country's octogenarian ayatollahs and its young population is wider than ever. (ARTHUR MACMILLAN, MAY 19, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Raisi, a 56-year-old cleric whose graying beard and dour demeanor make him look much older, would likely herald another era of isolation. His clerical credentials appeal to the pious -- he was taught at seminary college by the now-supreme leader. Raisi, however, is a political novice; he appeared wooden in the televised debates. Like Rouhani, he has a history of high-ranking official positions -- but this includes posts where he approved death sentences, including thousands of political prisoners killed in the 1980s. Iranians do not forget such a past, and Rouhani was not afraid to point it out. "The people of Iran shall once again announce that they don't approve of those who only called for executions and jail throughout the last 38 years," he said on May 8. [...]

Raisi's economic strategy also appears to be drawn from Ahmadinejad's disastrous playbook.Raisi's economic strategy also appears to be drawn from Ahmadinejad's disastrous playbook. His campaign promise to triple state handouts to the nation's poorest is a direct copy of the former president. During Ahmadinejad's administration, such payments proved ill-directed, took inflation above 40 percent, and set Iran on a path toward bankruptcy.

But the hard-line camp appears deaf to the economic and political lessons from this episode. The popular backlash to Ahmadinejad's policies, which were seen as impoverishing regular Iranians while enriching a small elite, were severe. The hard-line camp lost the presidency to Rouhani in 2013, and its candidates were again routed in last year's parliamentary elections following the nuclear deal.

A pro-Raisi rally in a Tehran prayer hall on May 16 underlined that there has not been any recognition, let alone a reckoning, among hard-liners on the causes for their electoral defeats. A video at the event showed women in black robes firing rocket-propelled grenades -- propaganda that is a far cry from the peaceful engagement that Rouhani espouses. The president may say that Iran is not a danger to any country, but missiles that carry slogans pledging to wipe Israel off the map suggest otherwise.

The talk at the Raisi rally was of problems caused by outsiders. There was no acceptance among the crowd that the nuclear agreement was necessary only because the covert elements of Iran's atomic and missile programs led to sanctions in the first place. Such displays of revolutionary dogma play well among the converted, but it is the votes of the unconvinced that Raisi needs on polling day.

More basic differences between the moderate reformists and hard-line camps illustrate Iran's fundamental divides. While pro-Rouhani events have seen smiling mothers and daughters in colorful headscarves working side by side with men, Raisi's gatherings have seen strict gender segregation and near uniformity among women, mainly older, of the head-to-toe black chador. While loud music is often played at reformist rallies to keep the crowd happy, an austere atmosphere akin to a sermon prevails when conservatives meet. One campaign has spoken of future hopes, the other complains about the past.

Such constraints are becoming untenable. Just as the internet can no longer be banned -- the hard-liners' campaigns embraced Telegram and other mobile channels this year -- basic changes in Iran's population cannot be ignored. While the ruling elite emphasizes the "Islamic" in the Islamic Republic, fewer people than ever are going to the mosque. Most of the young population -- two-thirds of Iranians are under 30 -- want an iPhone more than a Quran. Yet they are ultimately ruled by old men, the most powerful of which are almost all octogenarian ayatollahs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Between Trump and his national security adviser lie 'ferocious' internal politics (Jake Tapper, May 19, 2017, CNN)

"It can be difficult to advise the President effectively given his seemingly short attention span and propensity to be easily distracted," a source knowledgeable about McMaster's day-to-day challenges told CNN.

The source added that McMaster's task -- being an honest broker of various national security options for the President -- is further complicated by fears on the National Security Council that Trump can be reckless with sensitive information.

"You can't say what not to say," the source said of Trump, "because that will then be one of the first things he'll say."

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Trump-Russia probe now includes possible cover-up, Congress is told (MATTHEW SCHOFIELD AND LESLEY CLARK, 5/19/17, McClatchy)

Investigators into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential elections are now also probing whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up, according to members of Congress who were briefed Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

That avenue of investigation was added in recent weeks after assertions by former FBI Director James Comey that President Donald Trump had tried to dissuade him from pressing an investigation into the actions of Trump's first national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, members of Congress said, though it was not clear whom that part of the probe might target.

Even as members of Congress were mulling over the expansion of the case into possible cover-up, and its reclassification from counterintelligence to criminal, the scandal appeared to grow. The Washington Post reported Friday afternoon that federal investigators were looking at a senior White House official as a "significant person of interest." The article did not identify the official, though it noted that the person was "someone close to the president."

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


What Does it Mean to Be a Species? ( Ben Panko, 5/19/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

For Charles Darwin, "species" was an undefinable term, "one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other." That hasn't stopped scientists in the 150 years since then from trying, however. When scientists today sit down to study a new form of life, they apply any number of more than 70 definitions of what constitutes a species--and each helps get at a different aspect of what makes organisms distinct.

In a way, this plethora of definitions helps prove Darwin's point: The idea of a species is ultimately a human construct. [...]

Perhaps the most classic definition is a group of organisms that can breed with each other to produce fertile offspring, an idea originally set forth in 1942 by evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. While elegant in its simplicity, this concept has since come under fire by biologists, who argue that it didn't apply to many organisms, such as single-celled ones that reproduce asexually, or those that have been shown to breed with other distinct organisms to create hybrids.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Trump Told Russians That Firing 'Nut Job' Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation (MATT APUZZO, MAGGIE HABERMAN and MATTHEW ROSENBERGMAY 19, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved "great pressure" on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

"I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job," Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

Can he ever just shut up?

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Yemen's Houthis say fired ballistic missile toward Saudi capital (Reuters, 5/19/17)

Yemen's armed Houthi movement said on Friday it had fired a ballistic missile toward the Saudi capital Riyadh, just ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, but the claim could not immediately be confirmed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Huge turnout as Iranians deliver verdict on Rouhani (ERIC RANDOLPH AND ALI NOORANI,  May 19, 2017, AFP)

There was a festive atmosphere in Tehran where Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, was mobbed by cheering supporters as he cast his ballot in a mosque in the city center.

"The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security," he said, as polling stations reported morning queues were far bigger than usual.

Rouhani, who has framed the vote as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism", faces stiff competition from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


What James Comey Told Me About Donald Trump (Benjamin Wittes  Thursday, May 18, 2017, LawFare)

The principal source for the rest of this story is, well, me--specifically a long interview I gave to reporter Michael Schmidt on Friday about my conversations with FBI Director James Comey over the last few months, and particularly about one such conversation that took place on March 27 over lunch in Comey's FBI office.

This story breaks hard on the heels of this week's revelation--also by the Times--that Trump had asked Comey to bury the investigation of Gen. Michael Flynn. A few words of elaboration are in order.

I called Schmidt Friday morning after reading his earlier story, which ran the previous evening, about Comey's dinner with President Trump and the President's demands at that dinner for a vow of loyalty. Schmidt had reported that Trump requested that Comey commit to personal loyalty to the President, and that Comey declined, telling the President that he would always have Comey's "honesty." When I read Schmidt's account, I immediately understood certain things Comey had said to me over the previous few months in a different, and frankly more menacing, light. While I am not in the habit of discussing with reporters my confidential communications with friends, I decided that the things Comey had told me needed to be made public.

As I told Schmidt, I did not act in any sense at Comey's request. The information I provided, however, dovetails neatly with the Times's subsequent discovery of the personal confrontation described above between Comey and the President over investigative inquiries and inquiries directly to the Bureau from the White House. 

I did this interview on the record because the President that morning was already issuing threatening tweets suggesting that Comey was leaking things, and I didn't want any room for misunderstanding that any kind of leak had taken place with respect to the information I was providing. There was no leak from Comey, no leak from anyone else at the FBI, and no leak from anyone outside of the bureau either--just conversations between friends, the contents of which one friend is now disclosing. For the same reason, I insisted that Schmidt record the conversation and give me a copy of the recording, so that we had a good record of what was said: both what was said by Comey as reported by me, and what was said by me about the conversation. Schmidt and I have had a few clarifying phone calls since then that were not recorded. 

May 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Taboo-breaking election tests how much dissent Iran can handle (Scott Peterson, MAY 18, 2017, CS Monitor)

Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani accuses his hard-line opponent, cleric Ebrahim Raisi, of knowing only "death and imprisonment" - an oblique reference to Mr. Raisi's role in ordering the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, an event usually taboo to talk about in Iran - and charges that victory for Raisi will stymie budding freedoms and return Iran to a dark period of isolation.

Raisi, in turn, accuses Mr. Rouhani - who championed the 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers as providing a path to prosperity - of "deceiving" Iranians with unfulfilled promises, "starving people" by neglecting the poor, and betraying Iran's revolutionary credentials by selling out to the West. Raisi's supporters chant, "Death to the liar!" at campaign rallies.

The blunt violation of taboos dramatizes the knife-edge balance demanded of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as he seeks to simultaneously allow and contain dissent, ensuring enough democratic expression to validate the regime with a majority-accepted choice for president, while stopping short of undermining it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM



Washington is a lawyer's town, built on protocols and rules. If this tends to make happy-hour conversation in the city a little more pedantic than the American norm, then it also has its advantages, among them a fanaticism for records. James Comey, the fired F.B.I. director, began his career as an associate at the powerhouse law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Later, during his years of government service, he routinely documented conversations with his superiors as a method of self-preservation. During the Bush Administration, he documented his resistance to the use of torture, which helped extend his career from a conservative epoch to a liberal one. "A showboat," President Trump called Comey, last week, in defending his decision to fire the man. Perhaps, but one with the daily routines of a clerk.

The conversation between Trump and Comey in the Oval Office in February--whose details the F.B.I. director circulated in a memo at the time, and which became public this week after a source close to Comey read it to Michael S. Schmidt, of the Times--was an extraordinary one. The two men were discussing Michael Flynn, who had briefly been Trump's national-security adviser before being forced to resign over his failure to disclose pre-Inauguration contact with the Russian government, and was now a focus of F.B.I. investigators. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump told Comey. This declaration, in which the President seemed to lean on the F.B.I. director to cut short an investigation into an associate, was the part that, by Tuesday night, had Senator John McCain comparing the current situation to Watergate "in size and scale." But the rest of the exchange was interesting, too, in the clues it offered about how the President saw his own relationship to Comey. Trump said of Flynn, "He's a good guy."

Consider the scene. The President has already asked his own Attorney General and chief of staff to leave the room, so that, instead of a formal meeting, Comey and Trump were now in the kind of informal, one-on-one negotiation in which Trump's supporters believe he thrives. Perhaps he sensed in Comey--towering, earnest, self-regarding--a familiar type, and so the President sounded a bit like the son of a Queens developer talking to the grandson of a Yonkers cop, which both was and wasn't the situation. Surely the President misunderstood Comey, who took the opportunity to agree that Flynn was "a good guy" and then rushed off to write a memorandum about the episode. But Trump may also have misunderstood the kind of city he was in.

One way to understand the events of the past ten days is to see them as the revenge of the capital's professional classes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


House May Be Forced to Vote Again on GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill (Billy House, May 18, 2017, Bloomberg)

According to several aides and other procedural experts, if Republicans send the bill to the Senate now and the CBO later concludes it doesn't save at least $2 billion, it would doom the bill and Republicans would have to start their repeal effort all over with a new budget resolution. Congressional rules would likely prevent Republicans from fixing the bill after it's in the Senate, the aides said.

If Republican leaders hold onto the bill until the CBO report is released, then Ryan and his team could still redo it if necessary. That would require at least one more House vote of some sort.

That vote could be cloaked in some kind of arcane procedural move, but it would still be depicted as a proxy for yet another vote on the same bill -- and reluctant Republicans will once again be forced to decide whether to back it. Only this time, they would also be saddled with the CBO's latest findings about the bill's costs and impacts.

...making them face the costs!

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Revealed: Dutch King Has Been a KLM Pilot for 21 Years (AP, May 18, 2017)

King Willem-Alexander told national newspaper De Telegraaf in an interview published Wednesday that he has ended his role as a regular "guest pilot" after 21 years on KLM's fleet of Fokker 70 planes and before that on Dutch carrier Martinair. He will now retrain to fly Boeing 737s as the Fokkers are being phased out of service. [...]

Willem-Alexander said he is rarely recognized by passengers, especially since security was tightened on board planes in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

"Before Sept. 11, the cockpit door was open. People regularly came to have a look and thought it was nice or surprising that I was sitting there," he said, adding that very few people recognize him as he walks through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in KLM uniform and cap.

And even when he makes announcements to passengers, Willem-Alexander says that as a co-pilot he doesn't have to give his name. So while some people recognize his voice, it is far from all passengers.

"But most people don't listen anyway," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Consuming Journalism 101 (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, May 17, 2017, National Review)

For conservatives, hating the media is a reflex, and sometimes a funny one: Speaking on his "Morning Minute," Sean Hannity once read breathlessly from an Associated Press report on a federal surveillance program, ending with the instinctual harrumph: "The mainstream media won't tell you about that!" There is no media more mainstream than the Associated Press, which is a nonprofit cooperative owned by its member newspapers, television networks, and radio stations. Its reports appear in practically every daily newspaper in the United States, and big scoops like the one that caught Hannity's eye routinely lead front pages from sea to shining sea. The Associated Press has bias problems and some notable competency problems, and, like any organization that does any substantive reporting, it makes errors. But it does not, for the most part, traffic in fiction. [...]

Which is to say, a critical eye is warranted. Newspapers, like all the works of men, are imperfect things, and the nation's newspaper editors and television-news producers are very much at fault for the low general level of trust in the media. But they do not traffic wholesale in fiction. All of the cries of "fake news!" in the world are not going to change that.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


McCaskill: Rosenstein Admitted He Knew Comey Would Be Fired Before Writing His Memo (David Rutz, May 18, 2017, Free Beacon)

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) said Thursday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein admitted to senators that he knew FBI Director James Comey was going to be fired by President Trump before he wrote his recommendation for Comey's dismissal. [...]

Trump later admitted himself that he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


U.S. strikes Syria militia threatening U.S.-backed forces: officials (Phil Stewart and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, 5/18/17, rEUTERS)

The U.S. military carried out an air strike on Thursday against militia supported by the Syrian government that posed a threat to U.S.-backed fighters in the country's south, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.

One of the U.S. officials said the strikes near the town of At Tanf destroyed at least one tank and a bulldozer, and another said it followed warning shots by U.S. aircraft meant to dissuade the fighters from advancing further.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Inside Russia's Social Media War on America (Massimo Calabresi, 5/17/17, Time)

Like many a good spy tale, the story of how the U.S. learned its democracy could be hacked started with loose lips. In May 2016, a Russian military intelligence officer bragged to a colleague that his organization, known as the GRU, was getting ready to pay Clinton back for what President Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she had run against him five years earlier as Secretary of State. The GRU, he said, was going to cause chaos in the upcoming U.S. election.

What the officer didn't know, senior intelligence officials tell TIME, was that U.S. spies were listening. They wrote up the conversation and sent it back to analysts at headquarters, who turned it from raw intelligence into an official report and circulated it. But if the officer's boast seems like a red flag now, at the time U.S. officials didn't know what to make of it. "We didn't really understand the context of it until much later," says the senior intelligence official. Investigators now realize that the officer's boast was the first indication U.S. spies had from their sources that Russia wasn't just hacking email accounts to collect intelligence but was also considering interfering in the vote. Like much of America, many in the U.S. government hadn't imagined the kind of influence operation that Russia was preparing to unleash on the 2016 election. Fewer still realized it had been five years in the making.

In 2011, protests in more than 70 cities across Russia had threatened Putin's control of the Kremlin. The uprising was organized on social media by a popular blogger named Alexei Navalny, who used his blog as well as Twitter and Facebook to get crowds in the streets. Putin's forces broke out their own social media technique to strike back. When bloggers tried to organize nationwide protests on Twitter using #Triumfalnaya, pro-Kremlin botnets bombarded the hashtag with anti-protester messages and nonsense tweets, making it impossible for Putin's opponents to coalesce.

Putin publicly accused then Secretary of State Clinton of running a massive influence operation against his country, saying she had sent "a signal" to protesters and that the State Department had actively worked to fuel the protests. The State Department said it had just funded pro-democracy organizations. Former officials say any such operations-in Russia or elsewhere-would require a special intelligence finding by the President and that Barack Obama was not likely to have issued one.

After his re-election the following year, Putin dispatched his newly installed head of military intelligence, Igor Sergun, to begin repurposing cyberweapons previously used for psychological operations in war zones for use in electioneering. Russian intelligence agencies funded "troll farms," botnet spamming operations and fake news outlets as part of an expanding focus on psychological operations in cyberspace.

He wanted an easily manipulated stooge instead.
Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


As investigators circled Flynn, he got a message from Trump: Stay strong (Michael Isikoff, 5/18/17, Yahoo News) 
Late last month, fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn -- under investigation by federal prosecutors, with his lawyer seeking immunity for him to testify to Congress -- met with a small group of loyalists at a restaurant in the northern Virginia suburbs.

Saddled with steep legal bills, Flynn wanted to reconnect with old friends and talk about potential future business opportunities. But one overriding question among those present were his views on the president who had fired him from his national security advisor post.

Flynn left little doubt about the answer.  Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. "I just got a message from the president to stay strong," Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.

The comment came at the end of an especially difficult day for Flynn, during which his legal woes appeared to grow: Two congressmen -- House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings, D-Md. -- after reviewing classified Pentagon documents, had just accused Flynn of failing to disclose foreign income from Russia and Turkey when he sought to renew his security clearance.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Trump bemoans 'witch hunt' after counsel appointed to probe Russian links (Mamta Badkar, 5/18/17, Financial Times)

US president Donald Trump says the probe into his campaign's ties to Russia is "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

A rare moment of insight from Little Finger--witch hunts are how society enforces norms against deviants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


US sticking by Iran nuclear deal is good news for Rouhani (ERIC RANDOLPH May 18, 2017, AFP) 

The US decision to stick by the nuclear deal with Iran, despite new sanctions on its missile program, provided welcome news for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, a day before his bid for re-election.

The administration of US President Donald Trump chose to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions on Wednesday despite its criticism of the agreement.

That was a relief to Rouhani, who made the 2015 nuclear deal the centrepiece of his efforts to end Iran's isolation and rebuild its economy with foreign investment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


White House PR strategy in chaos: Conway interview offered to Fox, then canceled (Brian Stelter, May 18, 2017, CNN)

Kellyanne Conway's Wednesday night interview on Fox News was going to be a big deal.
Fox promoted it ahead of time as the administration's first on-camera reaction to the news about former FBI Director Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel overseeing the federal government's Russia investigation.

But the White House abruptly canceled Conway's appearance, causing Fox host Tucker Carlson to fill the air time by discussing the cancellation. [...]

The change was notable because no members of President Trump's inner circle appeared on TV Wednesday. Conway was going to be the first.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


What will the Pence presidency be like? (Paul Waldman, May 18, 2017, The Week)

[P]ence would immediately change the focus of the administration. While Trump doesn't have much of a personal ideological agenda, Pence would work intently on enacting hard-right social conservatism in every way possible. Don't get me wrong: Pence loves tax cuts and deregulation like any Republican. But his career has been marked above all by the culture war, his efforts to fight the acceptance of gay Americans, roll back reproductive rights, and create special privileges for Christians.

How much of that he'd be able to pass into law is hard to say. But on legislation, he'd certainly be more likely to get things done than Trump -- having served in Congress for 12 years he knows how it works, and he wouldn't be the kind of erratic, disruptive force Trump has been to GOP legislative efforts. That wouldn't necessarily make the ambitious items on the Republican agenda, like repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting tax reform, much easier. But it would likely produce progress on smaller bills.

And while nobody ever accused Mike Pence of being a genius, it's safe to say that his White House wouldn't be the kind of Thunderdome of infighting, backstabbing, and press leaks that Trump's is. He'd probably replace many of Trump's cadre of revolutionaries and nincompoops with standard-issue operatives and policy wonks, the kind you'd find in any Republican administration (many of whom have refused to work for Trump). Which means the entire government would start working better -- but whether you think that's a good thing depends on your political perspective.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


The Genius of Literature : Bernard-Henri Lévy draws from the well of late-18th-century French philosopher Chateaubriand for a broad defense of the aesthetics and morals of liberalism (Paul Berman, May 16, 2017, Tablet)

Does society require a solid spiritual foundation of some sort to stave off social decay and political collapse? Is this is our problem right now, a shakiness in what is supposed to be firm, which has led to political crises in one country after another? I have been reading Bernard-Henri Lévy's book from a couple of months ago, The Genius of Judaism, which circles around this question, and I notice that his discussion and even his title invoke a very old book called The Genius of Christianity, by Chateaubriand. This is clever of BHL. It is fitting. It invites a comment. Chateaubriand is one of those writers whom everyone has heard of and hardly anyone has read; and yet, reading him is a grand and delightful experience. The tenor of his voice alone makes him a master of world literature--a gorgeous tone, supple, composed, and indefatigable. And, on the question of spiritual foundations and social collapse, Chateaubriand does have something to say. He says it with an easy air of fresh observation, too, as if he were the first person ever to have seen the problem, which surely he was not. But he did see it from a dramatic angle.

This was the unhappy perspective of a liberal aristocrat in the French Revolution--a disciple of Rousseau and a man of the Enlightenment and, all in all, a believer in human progress, even if he felt no particular urgency about progress. He believed in the Revolution, too, in its early, tepid, and reformist moments. But the early moments were brief. He happened to be in Paris on July 14, 1789, and he stood at the window of his sister's apartment and watched in horror as a revolutionary mob paraded down the street carrying severed heads on pikes. Within a few years, his brother was guillotined, together with the brother's wife and her grandfather and other people in her family. His mother and sister were jailed, and they died of their sufferings after their release. Chateaubriand himself, having lost his revolutionary sympathies, enlisted in the royalist and counterrevolutionary army, which led to battlefield wounds and illnesses and a shadow over his own life. He recovered. And, having been to hell and back, he set out, as a proper philosopher in the 18th-century mode, to sort out his intellectual confusions and to discover the roots and causes of social collapse, not just in the case of aristocratic France but universally and throughout history, beginning with the Greeks and the Romans, with lessons to apply to the future.

His first volume on this topic, which truly no one reads (but why not?), was a treatise in 1797 capaciously titled Historical, Political, and Moral Essay on Revolutions Ancient and Modern, Considered in Their Relations to the French Revolution of Our Time, or, less wordily, Essay on Revolutions. This is a delicious book. It is an inquiry into his own identity--"Who am I?" (his first sentence)--and into world history at the same time. He dwells on the Athenians and the Spartans and the Syracusans. Then again, he recounts an exploratory expedition that he undertook into the far-away forests of the United States of America, where, in the course of his wanderings, he nearly fell into the cataracts at Niagara and was rescued by wild Indians!--which yields to a still more vivid chapter, "Night Among the Savages of America," about the spiritual superiority of the Indians and his good fortune in having spent a night lost in ecstatic contemplation of the Niagara moonlight.

But mostly he contemplates the causes of social collapse. These, in his analysis, boil down to a single recurrent and contemptible cause. It is frivolous intellectuals and their cynical mockeries. In ancient Athens the frivolous intellectuals were the sophists, who mocked the reigning Greek polytheism, and in 18th-century France the frivolous intellectuals were the philosophes, who mocked Catholicism; and, in both cases, mockery dealt a blow to the social and cultural mores, which led to disaster. The French deterioration was especially severe because the priests in the countryside were superstitious bigots, and the priests in the cities were hopelessly corrupt, and nobody in the Catholic Church was capable of resisting the fanatical anti-Catholics, who were in the grip of their own bigotries and corruption.

...lies in our mockery of Intellectualism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM



Harvard University researchers examined health-related trends over time in three states: Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid under the ACA: Arkansas, which used the federal marketplace established by the law to provide more low-income adults private insurance; and Texas, which did neither.

They report the rate of uninsured residents dropped dramatically between 2013 and 2016 in the two states that expanded coverage. At the end of last year, it stood at 7.4 percent in Kentucky, and 11.7 percent in Arkansas, while remaining at a stubbornly high rate of 28.2 percent in Texas.

And for the people who enrolled, having insurance really mattered.

"For uninsured people gaining coverage," the researchers write in the journal Health Affairs, "this change was associated with a 41 percentage point increase in having a usual source of care; a $337 reduction in annual out-of-pocket spending; significant increases in preventive health visits and glucose testing; and a 23 percentage point increase in 'excellent' self-reported health."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Historian Tom Holland's film goes to the Islamic roots of ISIS (Jennifer Taylor, May 17, 2017, Providence)

On Wednesday night, historian Tom Holland--leading writer on the ancient world and author of no less than five award-winning civilizational epics--sticks his neck on the line.

He has made a film for Channel 4 TV in Britain--sadly not available yet in the US--about the Islamic State called Isis: The Origins of Violence that even he admits was "brave".

In it he goes back to Sinjar in northern Iraq, the scene of genocide against the Yazidi people, escorted by a former SAS security advisor, and gets to within one mile of where ISIS fighters are based.

Fearful of abduction and standing by a mass grave of women considered too old to enslave, he evacuates the contents of his stomach. You don't see that bit. Too gross.

But later he retches again in the stinking rubble, and the camera deliberately lingers on his misery.

Tormented by the unreality of a genocide sanctioned by a holy text but ignored by the West's liberal intelligentsia, he believes only a changed sensibility will result in a desperately needed and more effective foreign policy.

And he believes that message is so urgent, only a graphic film can do justice to it. [...]

Holland travels to Jordan to speak to a leading Salafi who directly cites, to camera, the Qur'anic justification for the actions of ISIS.

"It had never crossed my mind that I would witness in the lands occupied by the Assyrians and the Romans, a campaign in which men were being crucified and women enslaved", says Holland.

Yet the sanction for such behavior is in the Qur'an and being actualized as we live.

Ideology and terror combined to make other empires great, says the author of Persian Fire and Rubicon. And it also made the Islamic State great.

To defeat the group, you must defeat the ideology--as the new religion of Christianity eventually defeated the brute imperialism of Rome. [...]

Holland insists the West must be more robust "at every level" in its interrogation of what's really at stake, in the same way people in Europe were obliged to interrogate nationalism and Darwinism after Nazism, and in the way that Christianity interrogated how the Gospels had fostered anti-Semitism.

"What's needed is acknowledging the problem, at every level. I am just astonished there's not more of an interrogation of that by Muslims predominantly. It's their faith that is spattered with blood."

Holland's articulacy has won him a huge following and many awards, and in 2015 he was included among the Sunday Times' 100 Most Influential People. Does he not fear he will be branded in some way for so negative a portrayal of Islam?

"Well it's not illiberal to object to ideological genocide," he says.

He received death threats after his first film Islam: The Untold Story, also screened by Channel 4. Is he worried about that?

"ISIS is Islamic which doesn't mean they embody Islam. Islam is just a name we give to the vast agglomeration of perspectives that go by that name.

"You are morally obliged to ask, well, what's within that tradition that has encouraged this rather than just burying your head in the sand and saying it has nothing to do with it whatsoever."

It is something Europeans should be peculiarly sensitive to. European civilization after all gave us Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Locke, as well as imperialism and the Holocaust.

"It's part of the continuum, but a measure of self-criticism is incumbent on a people whose culture has resulted in such crimes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Flynn blocked military move Turkey opposed - report (AP, May 18, 2017)

Days before US President Donald Trump took office, incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn blocked a military plan against the Islamic State group that was opposed by Turkey, a country he had been paid more than $500,000 to advocate for, the McClatchy news service reported.

According to the report, Flynn declined a request from the Obama administration to approve an operation in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, effectively delaying the military operation. 

Trump team knew Flynn was being investigated, report says (Melanie Eversley, 5/17/17, USA TODAY)

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was under investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the White House campaign and the Trump team knew, two sources tell The New York Times.

Trump asked FBI's Comey to drop Flynn inquiry - reports (BBC,17 May 2017)

President Donald Trump asked FBI chief James Comey to drop an inquiry into links between his ex-national security adviser and Russia, US media report.

"I hope you can let this go," Mr Trump reportedly told Mr Comey after a White House meeting in February, according to a memo written by the ex-FBI director.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Special counsel named to head Russia investigation; White House caught by surprise (Joseph Tanfani, Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett, 5/17/17, LA Times)

Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation because Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions recused himself, did not inform either the White House or Sessions about the decision until after he had signed the order appointing Mueller, according to a Justice Department spokesperson who spoke on condition of anonymity.

About half an hour before the order was made public, a Justice Department official informed White House Counsel Don McGahn. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer abruptly left a scheduled meeting with reporters as White House aides huddled to draft a response.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Exclusive: Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians - sources (Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, 5/17/17, Reuters)

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump's campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia.

  Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


'The Flight 93 Election' Crashes Again (Bret Stephens MAY 17, 2017, NY Times)

In case you've had the pleasure of forgetting, "The Flight 93 Election" was the title of a portentous essay, published last September under a Roman pseudonym in The Claremont Review of Books, that declared the stakes for the United States in 2016 thus: "Charge the cockpit or you die."

In the lurid imagination of the author -- it turned out to be Michael Anton, who now holds a senior job in the White House -- the American republic was Flight 93, a plane deliberately set on a course for destruction by liberals and their accomplices in the Republican establishment and the globalist "Davoisie." As for Donald Trump, Anton implied that he was the political equivalent of Todd Beamer, the heroic passenger who cried "Let's Roll" in a desperate bid for salvation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Mr. Balagan and mismanagement : Between Comey, leaked intel and American ineptitude in planning for Trump's visit, Israeli papers see (or deftly ignore) swirling chaos of Sharknado proportions (JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH May 18, 2017, Times of Israel)

According to Yedioth's top story, though, there are no plans, but just a "balagan," or total mess, and the only thing set so far is that singer Shiri Maimon will perform for Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a state dinner.

"Trump lands in four days and all the details are far from being finalized; Jerusalem is waiting for answers from Washington and Washington is changing the schedule all the time," the paper reports, noting that the sides haven't been able to come together on whether there will be speeches at the airport or just handshakes, and that's just the start.

Columnist Nadav Eyal christens Trump "Mr. Balagan" and has a laundry list of questions for the way the visit is being handled.

"If the president is already coming, who announced that his important visit to Yad Vashem will be only 15 minutes? What's up with that? And who announced a speech at Masada, a dramatic issue for Israelis, only to cancel it casually? It's true that this is nonsense in the face of more troubling behavior, say exposing of secret Israeli efforts to get intelligence on the Islamic State to the Russians, but there's one word that ties it all together: balagan," he writes. "The Americans have always demonstrated the abilities of a superpower on such visits. Having the fundamentals ready weeks beforehand, well-studied, the Americans looked derisively at Israel's improvisation. Now, it's the other way around: The Israelis are shocked at the Americans' management."

May 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: 'I think Putin pays' Trump  (Adam Entous May 17, 2017, Washington Post)

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress -- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy's assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Robert Mueller appointed special counsel to oversee probe into Russia's interference in 2016 election (MIKE LEVINE ADAM KELSEY  May 17, 2017, ABC)

"Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result," said Rosenstein in the statement.

Justice Department officials were in touch with Mueller within days of the firing of FBI Director James Comey last week. Comey confirmed in March that the bureau was actively investigating Russian influence and collusion with the Trump campaign.

As special counsel, Mueller can be expected to have the full powers and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney. These powers include the ability to take matters before a grand jury, issue subpoenas and assign federal agents to the case.

The White House was informed of the decision an hour before it was publicly announced Wednesday. Administration officials have previously said that they see no need for a special counsel. On Monday, White House Press secretary Sean Spicer said the investigations led by committees in the House and Senate, plus the FBI, were sufficient.

"I don't know why you need additional resources when you already have three entities," said Spicer.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Ajit Pai accidentally supports utility rules and open-access networks : Pai praises Clinton, whose FCC enforced open networks and boosted competition. (JON BRODKIN - 5/17/2017, Ars Technica)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is a big fan of former President Bill Clinton's approach to regulating Internet service. Pai has repeatedly said that the FCC should return to Clinton-era regulatory policy, and he claims that tomorrow's preliminary vote to reverse the classification of ISPs as "Title II" common carriers will achieve that goal.

Pai mentioned Clinton's regulatory policies five times in the speech in which he outlined his plan to deregulate broadband providers and eliminate the current net neutrality rules. Today's FCC should "embrace the light-touch approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress in [the Telecommunications Act of] 1996," he said. The policy set in place under Clinton "enabled the Internet to grow and evolve beyond almost anyone's expectations," Pai said.

But returning to 1990s-era Internet regulation would require more of the Title II utility-style regulation that Pai abhors, not less. If we had 1990s and early 2000s regulatory policy, Internet providers would be forced to open their networks to companies that want to resell Internet access, potentially unleashing a wave of competition in a market where today's consumers often have no choice of high-speed broadband providers.

"Without government oversight, phone companies could have prevented dial-up Internet service providers from even connecting to customers," technology reporter Rob Pegoraro wrote in The Washington Post last week in an article titled, "The Trump administration gets the history of Internet regulations all wrong." "In the 1990s, in fact, FCC regulations more intrusive than the Obama administration's net neutrality rules led to far more competition among early broadband providers than we have today.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Inside the US effort to keep laptop bomb intel secret (Evan Perez, May 16, 2017, CNN)

The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions. [...]

The concern, US officials told CNN in late March, was that publishing certain information, including a city where some of the intelligence was collected, could tip off adversaries about the sources and methods used to gather the intelligence.

Over several days, US intelligence officials spent hours on conference calls making specific requests to CNN to withhold certain details of the intelligence information.

Those details included information that Trump reportedly shared in his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Umami says its new veggie burger tastes like meat -- and bleeds like meat (David Pierson, 5/17/17, LA Times)

The cutting-edge patties are supplied by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley startup which has raised $182 million in venture funding and counts Bill Gates as one of its earliest investors. The company's so-called Impossible Burger is made entirely from plants and is supposed to pack the sizzle and mouth feel of real meat, thanks to a special ingredient that makes the veggie burger seemingly bleed.

"Umami Burger is known for two things: innovation and taste," said Gregg Frazer, chief operating officer for Umami Burger. "Adding a superior product like the Impossible Burger only adds to our arsenal of delicious menu items and continues to put Umami Burger at the forefront of the gourmet burger industry."

For Impossible Foods, the goal isn't to satisfy vegans and vegetarians with a tasty new option. Rather, the company wants meat eaters to embrace the ersatz hamburger in the hopes it can lead to a reduction in the pollution and natural resources required of raising animals for meat -- and at the same time, reach a far bigger market than the 27 million Americans who say they largely shun meat in their diet.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago : We tested internet security at four Trump properties. It's not good. (Jeff Larson, ProPublica, Surya Mattu, Gizmodo, and Julia Angwin, ProPublica, May 17, 2017, ProPublica & Gizmodo)

Two weeks ago, on a sparkling spring morning, we went trawling along Florida's coastal waterway. But not for fish.

We parked a 17-foot motor boat in a lagoon about 800 feet from the back lawn of The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and pointed a 2-foot wireless antenna that resembled a potato gun toward the club. Within a minute, we spotted three weakly encrypted Wi-Fi networks. We could have hacked them in less than five minutes, but we refrained.

A few days later, we drove through the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with the same antenna and aimed it at the clubhouse. We identified two open Wi-Fi networks that anyone could join without a password. We resisted the temptation.

We have also visited two of President Donald Trump's other family-run retreats, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Sterling, Virginia. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information.

The risks posed by the lax security, experts say, go well beyond simple digital snooping. Sophisticated attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi networks to take over devices like computers or smart phones and use them to record conversations involving anyone on the premises.

"Those networks all have to be crawling with foreign intruders, not just ProPublica," said Dave Aitel, chief executive officer of Immunity, Inc., a digital security company, when we told him what we found.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM



With Smart Reply, Google is assuming users want to offload the burdensome task of communicating with one another to our more efficient counterparts. It's not wrong. The company says the machine-generated replies already account for 12 percent of emails sent; expect that number to boom once everyone with the Gmail app can send one-tap responses. In the short term, that might mean more stilted conversations in your inbox. In the long term, the growing number of people who use these canned responses is only going to benefit Google, whose AI grows smarter with every email sent.

Google's neural networks are already astoundingly capable of analyzing the context, word count, and sentence structure of an email. The technology can distinguish between simple categorical things like a note sent by a bot versus one sent by a dear friend. It handles yes, no questions with the ease of a human. But increasingly, Google's neural networks are getting better at the more nuanced side of language, too, determining if you're the type of person who regularly uses "thanks" or "thanks!" or if the context of a message is positive or negative.

These emotional subtleties are easy for a human to interpret, but it's more complicated for a machine, as Google research scientist Brian Strope and engineering director Ray Kurzweil, note in a blog post. A sentence like, "That interesting person at the cafe we like gave me a glance," is filled with linguistic landmines. For example, was the glance menacing? Or was it positive? With practice--ie: processing millions of emails daily-- the networks can eventually read these nuanced clues. "Given enough examples of language, a machine learning approach can discover many of these subtle distinctions," they write.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


As controversy swirls around Trump, Russia watches helplessly (Fred Weir, MAY 17, 2017, CS Monitor)

Kremlin watchers say they feel like helpless observers amid the firestorm of the Russia-related scandals engulfing the Trump administration. While the Kremlin tries to advance what Russian observers say are sincere efforts to establish normal dialogue with a new US president, it is taken in Washington to be further evidence of political collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia.

And instead of realizing the rapprochement it once hoped for with a Trump-led United States, the Kremlin now worries that Trump could set back US-Russian relations for decades.

The only guy who understands america less well than Vlad is Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Trump's presidency is beginning to unravel (David Ignatius, May 16, 2017, Washington Post)

Observing this White House in action is sometimes like watching a horror movie. The "good guys" (and yes, there are a few) keep falling through trap doors. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, whose credibility is precious, struggled Tuesday to defend Trump's actions in disclosing terrorism information as "wholly appropriate." He said the president hadn't even been aware of what country had provided the terrorism information. Israel, reportedly the source country, issued a statement endorsing its "intelligence-sharing relationship" with Trump.

If there's no problem here, why did Tom Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security, call the directors of the CIA and NSA to warn them about what the president had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak? [...]

Trump is a daily reminder of why presidents need protocols and talking points. When someone as inexperienced and impulsive as Trump tries to wing it, the result is chaos or worse. The Lawfare blog, one of the most fair-minded chroniclers of national security issues, reviewed the string of Trump's recent actions involving intelligence and asked whether he was violating his oath to "faithfully execute the Office of President." That's a polite way of asking whether he should be impeached.

The threat to Trump's presidency is deepening. His credibility is unraveling, with prominent Republicans now voicing concern about his erratic, impulsive decisions. Each new revelation builds the narrative of a man who has been trying to bully or cajole intelligence and law enforcement officials since his election. As one GOP veteran told me: "There are no guardrails for this president." was never ravelled.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


'No One in the White House Likes Or Respects Trump' (Daniel Halper, May 16, 2017, Free Beacon)

"No one in the White House likes or respects Trump."

Those are the words of a source with very close ties to a number of officials in the White House explaining the views of key personnel advising the president.

It's also the most helpful explanation of the dysfunction currently facing President Trump. [...]

Take Kellyanne Conway, Trump's final campaign manager. The co-host of Morning Joe said yesterday that, after defending her boss on live TV, Conway told Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough and company, "Blech. I need to take a shower." Conway, the hosts said, explained she was only doing the job for the money. She is now White House counselor--and works in an office once occupied by Valerie Jarrett.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Embroiled in controversies, Trump seeks boost on foreign trip (Steve Holland and Jeff Mason, 5/17/17, Reuters)

Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Former Israeli spymasters rip into Trump, say Israel must reassess intel sharing (Judah Ari Gross, 5/17/17,  The Times of Israel)

Shabtai Shavit, who led the Mossad in the 1990s, said that were he in charge of the intelligence organization today, he would not be inclined to share more information with his American counterparts.

"If tomorrow I were asked to pass information to the CIA, I would do everything I could to not pass it to them. Or I would first protect myself and only then give it, and what I'd give would be totally neutered," Shavit told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.

"If some smart guy decides that he's allowed to leak information, then your partners in cooperation will be fewer or just won't be at all," he warned. [...]

Another former head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, said Israel should penalize the US over Trump's leak because his acts could endanger Israeli sources.

"We need to punish the Americans, it's possible, so that we don't put Trump in a position where he is again tempted, we need to abstain from transferring information to him, or to only give him partial information so that he can't endanger any source," said Yatom, who headed the spy agency between 1999 and 2001.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


The Comey Memo: The Allegation Is Serious, and There Is No Good Outcome (DAVID FRENCH, May 16, 2017, National Review)

The analysis here is pretty simple. If the memo exists, then there is compelling evidence that the president committed a potentially impeachable offense. Here is the alleged chain of events: First, Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of a close former associate and a former senior official in his administration. Second, Comey refused. Third, weeks later Trump fired Comey. Fourth, Trump then misled the American people regarding the reason for the dismissal. Each prong is important, but it's worth noting that the fourth prong -- Trump's deception regarding the reason for Comey's termination -- is particularly problematic in context. Deception is classic evidence of malign intent. 

Donald Trump's Russia blunder is horrifying (Max Boot, May 16, 2017, USA Today)

In truth there was never much doubt that The Washington Post éxposé was accurate, given its depth of detail. If The Post got it wrong, why would security officials ask reporters to withhold details about the intelligence in question? But the White House felt compelled to send out national security adviser H.R. McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell, to issue a non-denial denial, labeling the story false but disputing only assertions that ThePost didn't make -- for example insisting that Trump hadn't blown any ongoing military operations. Intelligence operations, well that's different. Only Fox News was convinced.

Then on Tuesday, having put his aides out on a limb, Trump sawed it off. In a series of tweets, he admitted that yes he had shared the information with the Russians but claimed it was proper to do so.

In a legal sense he's right: The president can declassify anything he wants. But in a larger moral and strategic sense, Trump committed a horrifying blunder that puts at risk at least one vital U.S. intelligence-sharing relationship (and likely more than one), threatens the life of a human asset, and ultimately endangers U.S. security by potentially cutting off valuable streams of intelligence about terrorist planning by the Islamic State of Iraq an Syria terrorist group.

Now the question is, why did he do it? I think there are three answers: Trump is boastful, ignorant, and inclined to see the Russians as friends rather than enemies. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Exhausted Republicans Are Getting Fed Up With The Chaos Coming From The White House : There's been widespread frustration with the lack of information coming from the White House, and several Republicans are making the political calculation that defending the president before they have all the facts may not be the best idea. (Tarini Parti, Alexis Levinson, Adrian Carrasquillo, 5/16/17, BuzzFeed)

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a swing district in the Washington, DC, suburbs and is considered among the most vulnerable House Republicans in 2018, went as far as anybody in a statement, following the Washington Post report about Trump discussing classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office.

"Once again we are faced with inexplicable stories coming from the White House that are highly troubling," she said. "We need to have immediate classified briefings on what occurred at this meeting so that Congress can at least know as much as Russian leaders and know the impact on our national security, our allies, and our men and women protecting our country." [...]

"Sharing classified info to one of our enemies is a threat to our national security, troops on the ground & relationships w/ trusted allies," tweeted Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

And Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher, a former intelligence officer, in tweets called for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to get a transcript of the meeting. "While POTUS possesses the authority to disclose classified, even top secret, information, there's a separate question of whether he should," he said.

As members were still reeling from the potential classified disclosures, another crisis was already brewing. On Tuesday evening the New York Times reported that fired FBI director James Comey had created a detailed memo of his interactions with Trump and said the president asked him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Several Republicans declined to comment on the matter, saying they had not had enough time to fully acquaint themselves with the facts of a story that had been published just an hour before.

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz tweeted that his committee "is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."

He has no constituency on the Hill.

GOP fears Trump will take the Republican Party down with him (Al Weaver, David M. Drucker, May 17, 2017, Daily Caller)

Republicans have grown accustomed to Trump's tumult, tending to downplay it because the president has weathered past challenges that might have sunk conventional politicians. But this is different, lawmakers and GOP strategists conceded Tuesday, in interviews with the Washington Examiner.

"You have this White House that is lurching from crisis to crisis, the image is of disarray - they can't get their hands around the basic day-to-day agenda, and define the progress they have made" Republican pollster David Winston said. "One of the things that the president has is the bully pulpit; the bully pulpit lets you drive the agenda and these crises haven't let the White House effectively get there."

"This is concerning and alarming," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said flatly. "We're going to have to confront these issues as a Congress."

Republicans see red flags because foreign policy and national security are at the center of the crises that have engulfed Trump over the past seven days.

Concerns about Trump's fitness to serve as commander-in-chief has been a weak spot with independents and GOP voters outside of his loyal base. These voters form the backbone of the coalition that elected the president and Republican majorities in the House and Senate in November.

They had long ago resigned themselves to the constant tweeting and other uncomfortable aspects of Trump's unusual style.

But a belief that he is not competent to conduct foreign policy as fallout especially from his sharing classified intelligence with the Russians, could sunder the party's electoral coalition heading into 2018. [...]

"The last couple weeks have left a mark," a GOP consultant said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. "The risks of going down the present path include diminished enthusiasm in the base, low fundraising and candidate recruitment problems in down ballot races."

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Inside the Oval Office with Trump and the Russians: Broad smiles and loose lips  (Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung, May 16, 2017, Washington Post)

On May 2, eight days before Lavrov showed up at the White House, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin was on the phone with Trump and made a request. ­Putin had "new ideas" about stopping the civil war carnage in Syria, according to a senior U.S. official, and noted that his top diplomat, Lavrov, would soon be visiting the United States for a previously scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

"Will you see him?" Putin asked Trump, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

"Yes," Trump replied.

Lavrov's itinerary had him going nowhere near Washington -- 4,100 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he and Tillerson would be attending a meeting of the Arctic Council, the group of countries that have territory in the Arctic region. Putin glossed over that detail with Trump, however, and once he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, the Russian minister changed his plans to jet first to Washington.

For the Kremlin, a private audience with the president was a major opportunity to show the world that U.S.-Russia relations were normalizing.

Since the crisis in Ukraine, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent troops into breakaway eastern Ukraine, the United States has sought to show that it is not conducting "business as usual with Russian figures," said Andrew Weiss, a Russia specialist who is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But Putin and his deputies, Weiss said, have "sought whenever they could to lessen that international isolation and demonstrate, 'See, we're back in the family of nations, and we're all going to get back to business again.' "

Happily the favor blew up in both their faces.
Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


FREE IRAN'S MANDELA, AYATOLLAH BOROUJERDI : The prominent cleric spent 11 years in prison for preaching religious tolerance, equality, and non-violence inside the repressive theocracy (Majid Rafizadeh, May 16, 2017, Tablet)

What sets Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi apart from other ruling clerics of Iran are the views and values he deeply adheres to. His beliefs have made him a target of continuous and excruciating methods of torture. He has been sentenced to be executed. So, what are these views and values?

Unlike Iran's other ruling clerics, Ayatollah Boroujerdi, 58, strongly believes in the separation of religion from the state. This bucks a traditional Shia view regarding the intersection of politics and religion. He also rejects the notion of velayat-e faqih, a clerical rule in politics that indicates an ayatollah or imam should preside over a nation. This alone creates a complete and violent rift between himself and the government.

To further strain matters between himself and a government focused on controlling the minds and beliefs of its captive population, Ayatollah Boroujerdi robustly supports religious freedom, opposes anti-Semitism, and established a movement in which people from different religions, including Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, Sunni, and Shia, could gather together and celebrate peacefully. He has founded charities to help the poor regardless of their religious or political beliefs, and advocates for human rights, democratic values, peace, women's rights, social justice, freedom, and equality. His core philosophy is centered on opposing any form of violence. He has called for total acceptance and application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and he vehemently rejects terrorism and radical Islam.

Although Ayatollah Boroujerdi was not politically active, the government and dominant clergy establishment perceived him as a threat for his views and increasing popularity. The more support he gained, the larger the target on his back became. He was brought to Iran's Special Clerical Court, which according to Amnesty International is "a highly secretive body which reports directly to the supreme leader and is independent of the judiciary." He was denied access to a lawyer. He was harassed repeatedly and finally, in 2006, according to Amnesty International, he was sentenced to death after being found guilty on 30 ambiguous charges including "waging war against God" (moharebeh); acts against national security; publicly calling political leadership by the clergy (velayat-e faqih) unlawful.

Due to his popularity and pressure from the international community, the Iranian government reduced his death sentence to 11 years in prison. However, the threat of his execution still hangs over his head, as his sentence could change at any moment according to the whim of the clerical regime.

....dissent will be less threatening to the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


To Resolve the Syrian Crisis, Partition Is Necessary (Carol E B Choksy and Jamsheed K Choksy, 5/09/17,  YaleGlobal Online)

Syria already has been de facto partitioned by the opposing forces of the civil war. No political leadership represents the many domestic factions, and none could control the territory militarily and politically, or run a national administration. Moreover, there is no currently-envisaged governing coalition that would be acceptable to the major international players. Consequently for Syria the solution must be multilateral negotiations leading to separation into geographically-discreet, self-governing regions based on communal affiliations. Indeed partition was first attempted under the League of Nations French Mandate of 1923-1946.

The Sunni Arab majority should hold the central and northern provinces or governorates of Homs (Hims), Hama, Idlib, Aleppo (Halab), Raqqa and Deir ez Zor (Dayr az-Zawr). Kurds could control the northeastern province of Hasaka. Alawites and Shiites could retain the Mediterranean coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. Christians, Druze and the few remaining Jews can regain safety and security by sharing the southwestern and southern governorates of Rif Dimashq which surrounds Damascus, Quneitra (Qunaitra), Daraa (Dar'a) and Suwayda along the borders with Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Yezidis could gain a small enclave in Hasaka along the Syria-Iraq border. Each community could then rebuild its society and economy.

Population transfers are necessary, such as Kurds from Aleppo to Hasaka and Alawites from Damascus to Tartus, for separation to be achieved. But a bloodbath similar to what accompanied the partition of British India can be prevented if President Vladimir Putin's proposal that Russian, Iranian and Turkish forces act as enforcers is rejected - because they already have shown themselves to be brutally partisan. Russia's scheme would even bar the US-led international coalition from safeguarding anti-Assad forces and civilians or Israel from protecting itself within Syria. Coalition aircraft and troops are not permitted into the de-escalation zones, even though Russian forces already there as monitors have not stopped the fighting. Worse, Assad and the Islamists have reached a deal under which those terrorists are being relocated from the regime's areas like Damascus to provinces held by moderate rebels.The US and EU should push for a more viable plan rather than permit Moscow, Tehran and Ankara to stage a covert takeover of Syria which would certainly result in the decimation of Sunni opponents of Assad, Christians, Druz, Jews, Yezidis and Kurds.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Merkel's conservatives extend lead over Social Democrats: poll (Reuters, 5/17/17)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have extended their lead over the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) to 12 percentage points, a poll showed on Wednesday, almost four months before a federal election. [...]

The conservatives upset the governing SPD in an election on Sunday in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state and a longtime SPD stronghold that is seen as an indicator of the national electoral mood.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


The Comey Memorandum and the Take Care Clause (Andy Wright, May 17, 2017, Just Security)

From my old vantage point of White House Counsel's office, I want to focus on two particular issues: Trump's White House contacts policy and the Take Care Clause.

First, these reports would confirm the President personally interfered with Department of Justice investigation function in a particular matter directly related to the President and his associates. That would be a gross violation of the longstanding, bipartisan White House policy prohibiting such political meddling. The Trump White House contacts policy articulates the purpose "to ensure that DOJ exercises its investigatory and prosecutorial functions free from the fact or appearance of improper political influence." The policy does specifically contemplate the President's rare need to contact Department of Justice officials about pending matters, but only in rare circumstances that would likely involve the president's need for intelligence about national security threats. That is not the case here. Moreover, as a matter of basic prudence and good political sense, White House lawyers would categorically counsel against putting the President in any position vulnerable to an accusation he violated the White House agency contacts policy.  

Second, by interfering with a pending investigation of his campaign officials, business associates, and government appointees, the President would violate the Constitution.  Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires that the President "Take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." The President's obligations under the clause refer to a "law" to be "executed" "faithfully." As such, the President's Take Care obligations must meet the "law" at issue.  Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials derive law enforcement role from the President's constitutional Take Care Clause obligation. However, Congress created the Department, created the FBI, and established their investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities by means of legislation. Therefore, the President's constitutional obligations flow from the integrity of those functions as provided for by law, rather than the Department's position below the President on an organizational chart within the Executive Branch.

The opening paragraph of the first Article of Impeachment passed out of committee against President Richard M. Nixon stated that, "in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice."  Included in that Article was the allegation that Nixon had "interfered...with the conduct of investigations by...the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  Article II alleged Nixon had "failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed by failing to act when he knew or had reason to know that close subordinates endeavored to impede and frustrate lawful inquiries by duly constituted...executive entities." The House's Articles of Impeachment against President Bill Clinton also accused him of violation of his Take Care Clause obligations, although without allegations of FBI meddling.

Impeachment is a political determination that is defined by a debate about the law. It is also a grave remedy in that it overturns an election result. There is no practical political will in Congress for impeachment at present. But Trump lit a fire of debate about the law that could ultimately inform impeachment deliberations.

If Mike Pence had been Nixon's vp he would have been removed much quicker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


A Defense of Beauty and Excellence from the Classical Tradition (PAUL KRAUSE, 5/17/17, Crisis)

Even before Plotinus, Philo of Alexandria maintained the only true moral good was moral beauty. The understanding and draw to beauty was always a moral endeavor for Philo. The reverse of this was that the only moral evil was the privation of beauty, since the privation of beauty--by definition--would be a privation of goodness since goodness and beauty are intertwined as a whole body. The whole body suffers from the degradation and eventual privation of beauty, denying the body that certain light--a semi-beatific vision--which would otherwise draw all together in desire for the truth that emanates from beauty. [...]

The insistence that beauty draws people together rested upon the classical insight that humans are inherently social animals rather than solitary, weak, and individualistic as Thomas Hobbes or John Locke maintained. Since humans are social animals, made in love and for love--imago Dei--beauty has an essential role in the social relationship. (And love is, by definition, a social phenomenon that involves more than the self.) Beauty is the gateway to truth, since truth is beautiful. Beauty and truth are, by definition, good. As Plotinus ended, "The Good, which lies beyond, is the Fountain at once and Principle of Beauty: the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty's seat is there."

Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arête. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.

The revolutionary outlook of modernity rested in its separation of aesthetics and morality, and in doing so, made both beauty and morality necessarily relative and solipsistic. In its relativism, as Allan Bloom noted in The Closing of the American Mind, a degradation of rational cultivation that had been central to classical philosophy through Catholic philosophy occurred. Rational introspection to arrive at truth is only possible through the fully cultivated intellect, but the spirit of relativism and postmodernism have rendered such notions as impossible to ever attain. Relativism is the great embodiment of anti-intellectualism as Leo Strauss explained in Natural Right and History. And the slip into solipsism and atomizing individualism runs counter to the social and communitarian impulse of human nature and Catholic philosophy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Vt.'s Sanders Misses Filing Deadline (Jasper Craven, 5/17/17, VtDigger)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., missed the May 15 deadline to submit documents detailing his finances during 2016, the latest move from a politician who has shown an aversion to sharing personal financial information.

Meanwhile, Vermont's other senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy, filed his report on time.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Handling of secret info raised questions during Trump transition - officials (JULIE PACE May 17, 2017, Times of Israel)

In the weeks before Trump took office, Obama administration officials were so concerned by the Trump transition team's handling of classified documents that they moved swiftly to exert more control over the sensitive materials, according to two former US officials.

The officials said transition officials removed classified materials from secure rooms and carried them between buildings in Washington without permission. Worried about keeping tabs on the highly sensitive material, the Obama administration officials set new limits on some classified information and explicitly barred Trump aides from viewing that material in their transition offices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Iranian Opposition Leader Musavi Announces Will Vote For Rohani (Radio Liberty, May 17, 2017)

Musavi is a popular reformist who was put under house arrest for his role in the months-long Green Movement street demonstrations after the contested 2009 presidential election.

His endorsement of Rohani comes two days after two other top reformists -- opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi and reformist former President Mohammad Khatami -- endorsed Rohani.

Though they have been banned from political activity and have not been seen in public for years, the three reformists remain popular with crowds at Rohani campaign events, which have loudly chanted their names.

Over the weekend, an immense roar came from the crowd when their images appeared on the screen at a rally.

May 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


No one at the White House was willing to put their name on the denial of the Comey memo (tHE wEEK, 5/16/17)

 In a statement, the White House denied the description of the conversation between Trump and Comey as relayed in Comey's memo via the Times report -- but no one in the administration was willing to put their name on the statement. The entire denial was issued anonymously:

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Trump's disclosure endangered spy placed inside ISIS by Israel, officials say (BRIAN ROSS JAMES GORDON MEEK RANDY KREIDER, May 16, 2017, ABC)

The life of a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS is at risk tonight, according to current and former U.S. officials, after President Donald Trump reportedly disclosed classified information in a meeting with Russian officials last week.

The spy provided intelligence involving an active ISIS plot to bring down a passenger jet en route to the United States, with a bomb hidden in a laptop that U.S. officials believe can get through airport screening machines undetected. The information was reliable enough that the U.S. is considering a ban on laptops on all flights from Europe to the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MAY 16, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

"I hope you can let this go," the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump's request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump's associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president's improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent's contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Foreign Leaders Have Realized Trump Is a Pushover (DAVID A. GRAHAM, 5/16/17, THE ATLANTIC)

According to The Washington Post's Josh Rogin, NPR, and other reports, Chinese leaders began lobbying for a face-to-face meeting with Trump as soon as possible in his presidency. Ahead of the April visit by President Xi Jinping to the United States, Trump warned that their meeting would be "a very difficult one." That was a reasonable prediction. Trump had spent much of the campaign assailing China, complaining that the country was a currency manipulator (which had not been true since 2014) and that he would take a much harder line than the Obama administration  had.

As it happened, the meeting with Xi was something of a love-fest. Trump and his spokesman have boasted since about the very good relationship they created with China's leader, and hailed their friendship. If Trump was pleased with the outcome, Xi must have been ecstatic. The Chinese president emerged from the meeting with warm praise from Trump; a concession from the U.S. president that China was not manipulating its currency; and conciliatory statements about China's ability to twist the arm of North Korea, its wild-eyed, nuclear-armed neighbor.

Trump explained the last of these flip-flops in an interview with The Wall Street Journal:

He then went into the history of China and Korea. Not North Korea, Korea. And you know, you're talking about thousands of years ... and many wars. And Korea actually used to be a part of China. And after listening for 10 minutes I realized that not--it's not so easy. You know I felt pretty strongly that they have--that they had a tremendous power over China. I actually do think they do have an economic power, and they have certainly a border power to an extent, but they also--a lot of goods come in. But it's not what you would think.

The explanation was remarkable not only for Trump's frank admission that he knew little about the background of the Korean Peninsula, but for his equally frank admission that the leader of a foreign country--and not just any foreign country, but a major American rival that Trump had repeatedly savaged rhetorically--could reverse his understanding of a key issue with just 10 minutes of persuasion.

It is no wonder that the Russians were eager to get in a room with Trump, but Russia and China were not the only foreign countries to recognize how easily swayed Trump could be.

Which explains this:

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


At a Besieged White House, Tempers Flare and Confusion Swirls (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMANMAY 16, 2017, NY Times)

A dozen of Mr. Trump's aides and associates, while echoing Mr. Trump's defiance, privately agreed with Mr. Corker's view. They spoke candidly, in a way they were unwilling to do just weeks ago, about the damage that was being done to the administration's standing and the fatigue that was setting in after months of having to defend the president's missteps, Twitter posts and unpredictable actions. [...]

There is a growing sense that Mr. Trump seems unwilling or unable to do the things necessary to keep himself out of trouble, and that the presidency has done little to tame a shoot-from-the-hip-into-his-own-foot style that characterized his campaign.

There is a fear among some of Mr. Trump's senior advisers about leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn. General McMaster, in particular, has tried to insert caveats or gentle corrections into conversations when he believes the president is straying off topic or onto boggy diplomatic ground. [...]

In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling -- and honest -- defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton exists.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Circus Zambia Empowers Children in Lusaka Slum To Gain Skills, Avoid Drugs (Prudence Phiri, April 27, 2017, Global Press Journal)

"This is what Chibolya is known for, drugs and alcohol," says Patrick Chikoloma, 18, who once abused drugs.

He now is a member of Circus Zambia, an organization that aims to show children in one of Lusaka's poorest areas that they can aspire to bigger things.

"Drugs are easily accessible here, but we want to change that. We want good things to come out of this compound," Chikoloma says.

Having been exposed to drugs and alcohol at a young age, four Chibolya youths in 2014 formed Circus Zambia as a way to keep young people off drugs by empowering them with both acrobatic and academic skills.

Circus Zambia founders -- Gift Chansa, Benard Kaumba, Bright Kalutwa and Amos Malokwa -- found themselves at Barefeet Theatre as they sought to escape the atmosphere of substance abuse in Chibolya. Barefeet is a nongovernmental organization founded in 2006 that uses play, creativity and art to empower vulnerable children and let them know they are loved and can seek a stable life.

There Chansa, Kaumba and Malokwa were chosen to learn circus in China for a year. Upon returning from China in 2014, the trio's stardom in Chibolya led them along with Kalutwa to start Circus Zambia, Chansa says.

"We were stars in Chibolya when word went 'round that we had travelled to China to learn circus. Every child wanted to be associated with us," he says.

"We grabbed the opportunity to change our community and we formed Circus Zambia, because then it was easy to convince the children that they too could be stars, that they too could fly overseas," Chansa says.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Are We Ready for Robot Judges? (Christopher Markou, May 16, 2017, Discover)

When American Chief Justice John Roberts recently attended an event, he was asked whether he could forsee a day "when smart machines, driven with artificial intelligences, will assist with courtroom fact finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision making". He responded: "It's a day that's here and it's putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things".

Roberts might have been referring to the recent case of Eric Loomis, who was sentenced to six years in prison at least in part by the recommendation of a private company's secret proprietary software.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians (ADAM GOLDMAN, MATTHEW ROSENBERG, MATT APUZZO and ERIC SCHMITT, MAY 16, 2017, NY Times)

The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information. The revelation adds a potential diplomatic complication to the episode.

Israel is one of the United States' most important allies and a major intelligence collector in the Middle East. The revelation that Mr. Trump boasted about some of Israel's most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the two countries. It also raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia's close ally and Israel's main threat in the Middle East.

After all, those Trump voters wanted him to help Russia and Iran at the expense of Israel, no?

Israeli Official: Trump Sharing Intelligence With Russia Is "Worst Fears Confirmed" (Sheera Frenkel, 5/16/17, BuzzFeed News)

"We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country," said the officer, who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity as he was not granted permission to speak to the press.

"There is a special understanding of security cooperation between our countries," they said. "To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed." [...]

A second intelligence officer, who spoke to BuzzFeed News via encrypted app and also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Israel had shared specific intelligence with the US regarding an active threat to US-bound planes. Speaking to BuzzFeed News via a military base in northern Israel, he said Israeli intelligence officers were "boiling mad and demanding answers" as to whether Israel's military would continue its current intelligence-sharing agreement with the US.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Trump Refusal to 'Bail Out' Insurers Might End Up Making Policies Cheaper (Alison Kodjak, 5/16/17, npr)

President Trump has been saying in recent weeks that the Affordable Care act, or Obamacare, is "dead."

So he's threatened to cut off crucial payments to health insurance companies that help low-income customers pay day to day health care expenses.

That plan, however, may just end up bringing more people into the Affordable Care Act insurance markets.

An analysis by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman shows that if the government stops paying for the subsidies that the lowest-income customers get on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, the government would instead have to provide larger tax credits to more people.

The result? Many more people could end up finding they can get insurance policies at little to no cost at all. And that "might also encourage some subsidy-eligible people who have not previously purchased plans to enroll," the report concludes.


Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


'Highly Worrying': International Intelligence Officials Warn Trump Poses Security Risk (Associated Press, 5/16/17) 

A senior European intelligence official tells The Associated Press that his country might stop sharing information with the United States if it confirms President Donald Trump shared classified details with Russian officials.

The official said Tuesday that doing so "could be a risk for our sources."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM



Recently, a trio of mainstream physicists accused hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other mainstream physicists of Not Doing Science in a very public forum. Their article, published in February's Scientific American2, targets the inflationary universe theory, which, during the past 35 years, has come to be what most physicists use to explain the origin (and present state) of the cosmos. By publishing in SciAm, these authors aren't just asking the vicariously scientific public--you and I--to accept their theory as correct. They are asking us to decide what it means to Do Science.

This whole ordeal goes back to the Big Bang. As in, theory of. It's not terribly controversial, but it has a few problems. In the early 1980s, physicists were trying to make sense of a particularly vexing one: The Big Bang does not explain why the universe is so flat. Flat, in this sense, doesn't mean squashed or thin. It just means that most of the universe is basically an empty, featureless vacuum; galaxies, stars, planets, and whatever you prefer to call Pluto, all are statistical blips. Experiments measuring the breadth of the cosmos had shown there was no way the Big Bang was energetic enough to fling the universe so wide. It ought to be collapsing back in on itself. Instead, the universe is still expanding.

Three physicists--Alan Guth of MIT, Andrei Linde of Stanford, and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton--started working on inflation as a potential solution. Either right before or right after the Big Bang (depends on which inflationary model you accept), there existed a bubble of rapidly expanding inflationary energy. This turbo-charged the Big Bang. The universe opened up wide and flat. It's essentially a vast, uniform nothingness, except some regions of vacuum are ever so slightly more dense than others. These attract atoms, which form molecules, which form dust particles, which form rocks, which attract gases that get so dense they combust, wheedle, spin, orbit ... you know the rest.

Point is, without inflation (or something) the universe would have expanded too slowly, and the gravity from all that matter would have caused it to collapse back in on itself.

Inflation explained that process so well that it came to dominate mainstream physics. It isn't a theory, per se--not like the theory of relativity is a theory. It's more like
a thematically connected group of competing hypotheses, what Guth calls an "umbrella." They share some crucial traits, namely, ripples in the cosmic microwave background radiation. And the hypotheses predict that these traits will conform to certain numerical measurements. Some of these criteria have been met; for instance, in 1998 physicists found proof of dark matter, which accounted for 70 percent of the missing matter that inflation had predicted. Confirming other criteria has been more elusive.

For years, scientists have been looking for precise measurements of a type of gravitational radiation left over from the Big Bang. One recent experiment looking for this so-called B-Mode polarization used a European Space Agency satellite called Planck. And in 2013, scientists interpreting results from Planck said they fit right into one of the inflationary hypotheses.

Eureka? Not according to three other physicists who attended the ESA press conference where the Planck results were announced. They were Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard University's astronomy department; Anna Ijjas, then a grad student and now a post-doc at Princeton's Center for Theoretical Science; and Steinhard, one of the original inflation architects. They felt that the ESA had fit the Planck data to the most convenient inflationary hypothesis. But, crucially, not the simplest. Physics should favor simplicity, and the Planck data actually caused simpler inflationary models to make less sense.

They published a critique of inflation in the journal Physics Letters B--which eventually became the SciAm article--calling out what they saw as errors fitting the Planck data to inflation. They went even further. They pointed out that inflationary energy had never been directly observed, and was therefore hypothetical. Even more vexing to them was the fact that some inflationary models predict the existence of the multiverse, which by definition exists outside this universe's rules and thus cannot be tested using this universe's iteration of science.

But inflation's biggest crime was its flexibility: The authors argue that inflation contains so many hypotheses that you can essentially fit at least one of them around any new data that comes out. In short, inflation can never be disproved. People studying it, therefore, are Not Doing Science.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Independence and Brexit have realigned Scots behind the Tories : The twin referendums have shaken up the electorate. The Conservatives are making the most of it (The Economist, 5/11/17)

Margaret Thatcher lost the party more votes, as most Scots felt they had not consented to her economic policies. Support for devolution grew, paving the way for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, which in turn expedited the rise of the SNP.

Conservative decline changed the electoral geography. Forerunners of the Liberal Democrats picked up seats in the Highlands and islands. In the north-east voters swapped the Tories for the SNP. But Labour was the main beneficiary of Conservative woes, winning the most Scottish votes in every general election from 1964 to 2010.

The independence referendum of 2014 changed all that. In the general election of 2015 Labour was reduced from 41 seats to only one, as supporters of independence coalesced around the SNP.

Now opponents of independence are coming together, in a few places to the benefit of the Lib Dems, but mostly around the Tories. Most of the party's gains in polls have come from unionists fleeing Labour, which also opposes independence but with less conviction. In this month's local elections the Tories won 25% of first-preference votes, up from 13% in 2012; Labour dropped from 31% to 21%. In Stonehaven Roy Skene, an oil engineer, explains that he "doesn't see what good independence would do", adding that he can no longer trust Labour to resist the SNP.

Scotish independence is the same as Brexit.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Man Who Wants to be UK's Next Prime Minister Appoints Communist Aide (Harry Phibbs, May 16, 2017, Heat Street)

The Labour Party leader and would-be British prime minister Jeremy Corbyn has just recruited a man called Andrew Murray to help run Labour's general election campaign. Nobody with any interest in mainstream politics has heard of him but Corbyn has praised Murray's "special skills".

Special is one way of putting it.

Of course, Corbyn's own extremist credentials are well established, but even they pale in comparison with Murray's.

Until recently Murray was a senior figure in of the Communist Party of Britain. He expressed"solidarity" with North Korea.

In 1998, to mark the 120th anniversary of Stalin's birth, Murray wrote for the communist-supporting Morning Star newspaper in praise of his hero. He acknowledged the Soviet leader, pictured, was responsible for "harsh measures" but lamented that "hack propagandists abominate the name of Stalin beyond all others".

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Lessons On Race And Vouchers From Milwaukee (Claudio Sanchez, 5/16/17, NPR)

"My argument with Howard Fuller is that Catholic and Christian schools used this opening to, in essence, save their schools," says Harris. "If you set up a Christian academy and your main interest is to get a few hundred children to improve your [school finances] and you use Christianity as the draw, these schools have exploited persons' beliefs for their own private gain," Harris argues.

"In our community," adds Harris, "a lot of people believe that if they can get their kids into a safe place so they can pray every day, they may be able to save their child's life. Education is secondary."

Education is obviously less important than safety and faith, no?

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Diamond-Shaped Intersections Prevent Crashes by Cutting Out Left Turns (MICHELE DEBCZAK,  JUNE 6, 2016, Mental Floss)

The "diverging diamond interchange" (or DDI) replaces the traditional layout of an intersection with a clever design that's more efficient and less likely to lead to accidents. It works like this: At the intersection, two roadways carrying opposing traffic temporarily swap sides, creating a diamond shape. At the points where the roads intersect, traffic lights regulate who crosses when. (For a better idea of how they function in real life, you can check out the video below from the Florida Department of Transportation.)

The biggest difference with the design is that drivers turning left no longer have to pull out in front of oncoming traffic to do so. They can easily turn onto the diverging left lane when driving on the opposite side of the road.

The concept gained popularity in the U.S. after a grad student named Gilbert Chlewicki wrote a term paper detailing it. Even after discovering that the French had been using his idea since the 1970s, he continued to promote it here in the States. Today there are 62 DDIs in 22 states, and their effectiveness indicates that they're here to stay.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


PA lawmaker photographed throwing rocks at Israeli troops (ALEXANDER FULBRIGHT, May 16, 2017, Times of Israel)

A Palestinian Authority lawmaker recently took part in violent clashes against Israeli security forces in the West Bank, images of which were published on Monday.

In the photos, Fatah party member Jamal Hawil can be seen using a slingshot to hurl rocks at Israeli troops during a riot at the Beit El junction amid large plumes of smoke, as well as taking cover behind makeshift barricades alongside other protesters.

The last two centuries plus teach us that brute force never stops self-determination in the long run, particularly when the party trying to prevent democracy is Western.  They are eventually defeated by their own ideals

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


On the Reformation's 500th anniversary, remembering Martin Luther's contribution to literacy (Richard Gunderman, 5/15/17, The Conversation)

Gutenberg's earlier introduction of the printing press in 1439 made possible the rapid dissemination of Luther's works throughout much of Europe, and their impact was staggering.

Luther's collected works run to 55 volumes. It is estimated that between 1520 and 1526, some 1,700 editions of Luther's works were printed. Of the six to seven million pamphlets printed during this time, more than a quarter were Luther's works, many of which played a vital role in propelling the reformation forward.

Thanks to Luther's translation of the Bible, it became possible for German-speaking people to stop relying on church authorities and instead read the Bible for themselves.

Luther argued that ordinary people were not only capable of interpreting the scriptures for themselves, but that in doing so they stood the best chance of hearing God's word. He wrote,

"Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture."

Luther's Bible helped form a common German dialect. Prior to Luther, people from different regions of present-day Germany often experienced great difficulty understanding one another. Luther's Bible translation promoted a single German vernacular, helping to bring people together around a common tongue.

This view, combined with the wide availability of scripture, shifted responsibility for scriptural interpretation from clerics to the laity. Luther wanted ordinary people to assume more responsibility for reading the Bible.

In promoting his point of view, Luther helped to provide one of the most effective arguments for universal literacy in the history of Western civilization.

At a time when most people worked in farming, reading was not necessary to maintain a livelihood. But Luther wanted to remove the language barrier so that everyone could read the Bible "without hindrance." His rationale for wanting people both to learn to read and to read regularly was, from his point of view, among the most powerful imaginable - that reading it for themselves would bring them closer to God.

The End of History is just the marketization of politics, economics and religion.
Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


No Exit on Health Care (Richard A. Epstein, May 15, 2017, Hoover)

During his campaign, then-candidate Trump wrote that he "does not believe health insurance carriers should be able to refuse coverage to individuals due to pre-existing conditions." That leaves open the question of how much more, if anything, high-risk patients can be charged relative to others. The key provision of the AHCA fudges this particular question, by saying that its legislation does not allow health care insurers "to limit access to health care coverage for persons with preexisting provisions." But that provision would not prevent them from increasing the cost of coverage so as to reduce or eliminate the amount of the implicit subsidy. In addition, there is also fierce resistance to those provisions in the AHCA that would allow the states to raise the community rating differential so that insurers could increase from three-fold to five-fold the rate differential between their youngest and oldest customers, in order to reduce that cross-subsidy.

Such intense opposition to these key AHCA provisions is indicative of the huge difficulties that it takes to manage cross-subsidies. If these are kept too large, as they are under the current Affordable Care Act, then insurance in the individual market will implode because young people will flee from plans that offer them a raw financial deal. But if the level of the subsidy is reduced, then the cost of existing coverage for older insureds will necessarily skyrocket, so that they will be forced to leave their plans. One possible way to control this problem is for the federal government to cover the costs of the needed subsidies from general revenues, which would make their cost explicit, by putting it on the budget, allowing for a political debate about the size of the subsidy. But elected officials are reluctant to raise taxes, and even when they do, there is a real question of whether the funds set aside are sufficient to cover any shortfall that might exist.

The simplest way to attack the size of the subsidy is to reduce the set of benefits that are included in the health plan. On this score, the rich set of essential medical benefits under the ACA are far more extensive than those provided in any voluntary market, which is a good sign that they should be pared back in ways that make coverage more affordable. Private insurance companies in an unregulated market can alter their product mix in response to changes in cost and demand. But government programs face huge rigidities in this regard, because every type of current service supplier will lobby furiously to make sure that its benefits survive the financial axe. The new bill does not attack this problem directly, but allows for states to gain waivers from the essential benefits, inviting a massive political battle as to which particular benefits will be cut and why.

At the same time, it is hard to see what progress can be made in dealing with preexisting conditions. Thus under the House version of the AHCA, states may seek waivers that allow insurers to charge more for preexisting conditions, but only if they set aside sufficient funds to help those hurt by the rise in market rates. The AHCA contains $138 billion to deal with the issue, to be divvied up among 50 states to help them reach their goal. But, as with essential minimum benefits, this provision raises at least as many questions as it answers. It is never clear whether these funds are sufficient to cover the shortfall, and, if so, how they are to be allocated across the states. Nor is it clear just how much funds any state must commit to the program in order to make the waiver good. The AHCA does not set up a competitive market in which each firm makes its own pricing system. What it does is propose an alternative system with a different set of coverage formulas and cross-subsides that no one can figure out how to price in advance, which accounts for some of the intense opposition to the legislation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


White House grapples with newest crisis amid report Trump gave secret info to Russians (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 16, 2017)

[O]fficials refused to answer specific questions, including what precisely the report had gotten wrong, ensuring it would dominate a week that White House officials hoped would be quiet in advance of the president's first foreign trip, which includes stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, as well as Brussels and Sicily for NATO and G7 summits.

Reporters started gathering in the hallway outside Press Secretary Sean Spicer's office right after the Post story broke. As the group grew to more than 20 people, press aides walked silently by as journalists asked for more information. Soon, three of the four TV channels being played in the press area were reporting the Post story.

At one point National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who would later deliver the televised denial, stumbled into the crowd of journalists as he walked through the West Wing.

"This is the last place in the world I wanted to be," he said, nervously, as he was pushed for information. "I'm leaving. I'm leaving."

May 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Did Rouhani sell 'grand bargain' with US to Iranian voters? (Arash Karami, May 15, 2017, Al Monitor)

"With a wall of sanctions, they created distance between 'half of the world' and the world," Rouhani said at a May 14 campaign rally in the historic city of Esfahan, once the capital of the Safavid Empire and in a proverb referred to as "half of the world." Rouhani added that tourism in 2013, before the deal lifted some sanctions, was less than that recorded in April this year.

Referring to the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its Persian acronym, BARJAM, Rouhani said, "We established a bridge between Iran and the world with BARJAM. If the Iranian people allow it, if the supreme leader supports and guides it, with Dr. Zarif the rest of the sanctions can be removed."

Rouhani's statement was not a fluke. During the third and final presidential debate on May 12, Rouhani made similar comments on being prepared in his second term to remove the remaining sanctions against Iran. For someone who served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, Rouhani was well aware of what he was saying: Any negotiations concerning the broad list of US sanctions on Iran, whether in regard to Iran's missiles program or human rights, will need Khamenei's permission to proceed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador (Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, May 15, 2017, Washington Post)

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said that Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information Trump relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said that Trump's decision to do so risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump's meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and National Security Agency. one can even pretend he understood what he was doing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Shouting Match Erupts After Trump Official Says Western Wall Is 'Not Your Territory' (Aiden Pink, May 15, 2017, Forward)

Planning for President Trump's upcoming trip to Israel descended into chaos Monday when a U.S. official reportedly told Israeli counterparts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not accompany the president on his visit to the Western Wall.

The American official suggested that the holy site is "not your territory. It's part of the West Bank," Israel's Channel 2 reported Monday.

The controversy erupted as Israel's right-wing government becomes increasingly nervous about Trump's inexperience and unique personality, his new peace push and his backing away from a campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

"It's a Trump show. The rest are extras, including Prime Minister Netanyahu," Israelis involved in the discussions told Channel 2.

Bibi is getting shafted worse than Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


How Culture Shapes Human Evolution (Kevin Laland, 5/15/17, Project Syndicate)

Developmental psychologists have established that when it comes to dealing with the physical world (for example, spatial memory and tool use), human toddlers' cognitive skills are already comparable to those of adult chimpanzees and orangutans. In terms of social cognition (such as imitating others or understanding intentions), toddlers' minds are far more sophisticated.

The same gap is observed in both communication and cooperation. Vaunted claims that apes produce language do not stand up to scrutiny: animals can learn the meanings of signs and string together simple word combinations, but they cannot master syntax. And experiments show that apes cooperate far less readily than humans.

Thanks to advances in comparative cognition, scientists are now confident that other animals do not possess hidden reasoning powers and cognitive complexity, and that the gap between human and animal intelligence is genuine. So how could something as extraordinary and unique as the human mind evolve?

A major interdisciplinary effort has recently solved this longstanding evolutionary puzzle. The answer is surprising. It turns out that our species' most extraordinary characteristics - our intelligence, language, cooperation, and technology - did not evolve as adaptive responses to external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making, with minds that were built not just for culture, but by culture. In other words, culture transformed the evolutionary process.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Career Leaders & Records for Total Zone Runs (Baseball Reference)

Statistic Description: Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. This number combines the Rtz, Rdp, Rof, Rcatch numbers into a total defensive contribution. See the glossary section for a more complete explanation. Provided by

Note that seasons prior to 1876 are not included in single-season marks, but are included in career marks.

Minimum of 1000 IP, 3000 PA, 500 games (fielding, 500 IP for Ps), 200 stolen base attempts (catchers) or 80 stolen base attempts (baserunners only since 1951) or 100 decisions for career and active leaderboards for rate statistics.

This statistic is computed from play-by-play data which is only complete from 1974 to the present. From 1930-1973, the data is incomplete, though for most seasons only less than 20 games per season total are missing. Please see our page on data coverage for a full view of the data used to create these lists.

The all-time list is pretty much who you'd expect, with Brooks Robinson (293), Andruw Jones (242), Mark Belanger (241), Ozzie Smith (239) & Roberto Clemente (205) the top 5, the only ones over 200 runs for a career.

Here's the great thing though, Derek Jeter is -182 for his career.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Why Russia's cyber defenses are so weak (Ivana Kottasová, May 15, 2017, Money)

Russia's reputation as a cyber-savvy nation that churns out computing experts has been undermined by this weekend's WannaCry ransomware attack.

The country had the largest number of computers infected in the massive cyberattack that has swept across the globe since Friday, according to security firm Kaspersky Lab. Avast, an antivirus company, said more than half of the 200,000 attacks it tracked targeted Russian users.

Experts said that Russia is particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack because of its aging computing infrastructure and lax approach to cybersecurity. There is also a huge amount of pirated software in circulation.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Ann Coulter Is Worried The 'Trump-Haters Were Right' (Alex Pfeiffer, 05/14/2017, Daily Caller)

So there's no wall, and Obama's amnesties look like they are here to stay. Do you still trust Trump? 

Uhhhh. I'm not very happy with what has happened so far. I guess we have to try to push him to keep his promises. But this isn't North Korea, and if he doesn't keep his promises I'm out. This is why we voted for him. I think everyone who voted for him knew his personality was grotesque, it was the issues.

I hate to say it, but I agree with every line in my friend Frank Bruni's op-ed in The New York Times today. Where is the great negotiation? Where is the bull in the china shop we wanted? That budget the Republicans pushed through was like a practical joke... Did we win anything? And this is the great negotiator?

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said refugees ravaged an Idaho town with disease and crime. The town says folks get along just fine (DAVID MONTERO, MAY 6, 2017, LA Times)

The refugees have been coming here for decades, settling in this Idaho town on the edge of a deep canyon carved out by the Snake River.

There were Cambodians. Then Bosnians arrived after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Rwandans fleeing genocide found haven here. Recently, it's been Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.

They've opened stores and restaurants in Twin Falls, a community of 47,000 that loves its high school rodeos and takes great pride in its biggest natural attraction: the Shoshone Falls, dubbed "the Niagara of the West." Dairy farms, cornstalks and potato fields sprawl out on both sides of Interstate 40. The open sky is uninterrupted for miles.

Eshef Jasarevic, who had fled Bosnia, liked it all right away. He opened Emma's Cafe three years ago ("Sixty-four Yelp reviews -- all five stars," he boasts with a broad smile). Across town, Sokry Heng's family started an Asian market 15 years ago. Business was good enough that they expanded to a larger location three years ago, also opening an Indian-Asian restaurant and a U-Haul franchise. She employs eight people now.

Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar sees them as a continuation of the story of his city. It reminds him of his heritage -- Dutch and Bohemian ancestors who came to Idaho five generations ago to start a new life.

But now he sees the city's image under siege -- caught in the crossfire between far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and one of the area's largest economic drivers, the yogurt company Chobani, and the debate over refugees spurred by President Trump's proposed travel bans.

Barigar believes Jones went too far by saying the city is being infiltrated by Muslim terrorists spreading disease and committing violent crimes.

"When people who have never been here -- who don't understand the fabric of the community -- try to tell a story about it without facts, that's detrimental to all of us," Barigar said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Stocks just did something they haven't done since 1995 (Joe Ciolli , 5/15/17, Business Insider)

Friday marked the 13th straight day that the S&P 500 failed to move more than 0.5% in either direction on a closing basis, the longest such streak since 1995. [...]

It's possible investor concerns about the durability of the eight-year bull market has been assuaged by impressive S&P 500 earnings growth. Companies in the index are on pace to see 14% profit expansion for the period, the most since the third quarter of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Donald essentially inherited an even healthier economy than the one GHWB left Clinton which the latter juiced by approving free trade agreements and cashing in the Peace Dividend.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


1 fun thing: live from the Vatican, Newt Gingrich! (Jonathan Swan, 5/15/17, Axios)

Now that CNN is reporting that Trump will likely appoint Callista Gingrich the next ambassador to the Vatican, I have an excuse to serve you a delicious anecdote I've been hoarding for weeks.

About six weeks ago, the President was kibitzing about the Vatican ambassador role. Trump told our source he was reluctant to send Callista to the Vatican because he likes seeing her husband Newt defending him on TV. Our source told the President they were sure satellite hook-ups could be arranged for Newt at the Holy See.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Trump Just Did Something Good on Trade (The Editors, May 15, 2017, Bloomberg)

The mini-deal on U.S. trade with China announced by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week deserves a cautious welcome. It's narrow in scope, and the reasoning behind it, as related by Ross, is questionable at best, but it gets the main thing right: It expands rather than contracts the opportunities for mutually beneficial commerce. One can only hope that the rest of President Donald Trump's trade initiatives work out the same way.

The deal is described as the first installment of a wider effort to reform U.S.-China trade relations. If fully implemented, these initial measures will give U.S. producers better access to China's markets for natural gas, financial services and beef. In return, Chinese producers of cooked poultry will be allowed to export to the U.S. market, Chinese banks will get the same treatment from U.S. regulators as other foreign banks, and the U.S. won't discriminate against direct investment by Chinese entrepreneurs.

That's right, it's trade liberalization -- admittedly on a small scale, but any kind of opening is better than the tightening the Trump administration had led people to expect.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM



Fortunately, there is solution at hand, one with an impeccable conservative pedigree. That solution is universal catastrophic coverage (UCC), which would protect newborns with heart defects, adults with cancer, and everyone else with catastrophic medical bills, while preserving the advantages of market-based solutions for routine health care expenses.

Universal catastrophic coverage was proposed as long ago as 1971 by Martin Feldstein, the Harvard economist who would go on to serve as Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser. In 2004, Milton Friedman endorsed UCC in a piece that he wrote as a Fellow at the Hoover Institution. An up-to-date version, specifically designed to address the problems of the ACA, is outlined by Kip Hagopian and Dana Goldman in National Affairs.

Under the Hagopian-Goldman version of UCC, all people not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare would receive a uniform high-deductible health insurance policy from a private company, subject to federal guidelines. The level of the deductible would vary according to the "surplus income" of each household, defined as the difference between actual income in the preceding year (or averaged over a few years) and the threshold income for Medicaid in the state of residence. The deductible would be set at 10 percent of surplus income for each individual, with a maximum of 20 percent for the combined costs of all members of the household.

Suppose, for example, that the Medicaid threshold for a family of three in a certain state is $30,000. If their household income is $35,000, they would be responsible for the first $500 of each family member's health care costs, or $1,000, at most, for the family. If household income was $85,000, the deductible would be $5,000 per individual. If Household income were $1 million, the deductible would be $96,500.

Nothing would prevent families from purchasing supplemental insurance for expenses not covered by their UCC policies, just as many people on Medicare now buy supplemental insurance. The premiums, however, would be radically lower than those for policies now sold on ACA exchanges, because UCC would cap maximum claims. Supplemental policies that themselves had small deductibles or co-pays would be even more affordable. Supplemental premiums would, of course, vary with the level of a family's UCC deductible, so they would be higher for higher-income families.

Presumably, many middle-class families with moderate UCC deductibles would choose not to buy supplemental insurance. After all, as Hagopian and Goldman point out, people do not buy insurance to cover oil changes or the cost of painting their houses. Health savings accounts would make it easier for families without supplemental insurance to manage routine medical expenses.

Together, income-related UCC deductibles, supplemental insurance (if purchased), and health savings accounts would ensure that people had enough "skin in the game" to make them wise shoppers for healthcare services, while protecting them against financial ruin in the event of serious illness.

People don't want health care so much as they want the security of knowing they are covered for health care costs.  We can either provide universal coverage or national health.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM



The application of a foreign substance to a baseball causes disturbances in the airflow around the ball when it is thrown; the disturbance alters the spin of the ball, often in erratic ways. The ball might break sideways, or down, or even sail above its expected trajectory. Usually, though, the action of a spitball is very much like the action of a modern-day split-fingered fastball--coming straight to the plate with little movement, then diving at the very end.

Pitchers had discovered this in the first years of the game, and in the early decades of the 20th century doctored baseballs were an integral part of the game. There is no generally accepted evidence on who first came up with the pitch.

Faber regained his winning form at Pueblo with, a local sportswriter claimed, "an assortment of curves and shoots that can't be excelled." He continued to work on his spitter, and by the end of that summer had regained much of his strength. Late in the season, he threw both ends of a doubleheader and closed the year with a four-hitter. Though he regained his fastball, he realized that he should throw the spitter, with less than maximum effort, for the best result.

"A spitter has to be thrown moderately fast and the ball slips away from under the two front fingers of the pitching hand and sails up to the batter rotating very slowly," he said.

Then it breaks down and to one side. What is there unnatural about that or hard on the arm? I have been using a spit ball for some years and I have never been able to discover. They say it is unsanitary. Well I won't argue about that.

I never wet the ball but merely the ends of the first two fingers on my right hand. The whole theory of the spit ball is to let the ball slide away from a smooth surface. Wetting the fingers gives this smooth surface. By the time the ball has traveled through the air, met the bat and been driven to some infielder it is perfectly dry. No infielder needs to make an error on such a ball. Of course, I can't say that some spitball pitchers haven't misused the privilege. But they didn't need to and that disposes of the myth that the spitter causes a lot of errors by infielders. It may have done so, but it didn't need to, properly handled. A spit ball pitcher always chews something. It's an odd thing, but I have had to experiment with things to chew. Some spit ball pitchers use slippery elm. Slippery elm doesn't work with me. It's too slippery and I can't control the ball. I have tried chewing gum. But that wasn't quite slippery enough. So I have had to fall back on the good old custom, now much abused, of chewing tobacco. Tobacco juice fills the bill. And I don't chew it because I like it either. In fact, I never chew except when I am pitching. But it seems to be an indispensable part of my business like a mason's trowel or a carpenter's hammer.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Senate Republicans are planning to replace ObamaCare with ... ObamaCare (Jeff Spross, May 15, 2017, The Week)

In their effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare, Senate Republicans appear to have finally landed on a market-based solution that will keep everyone insured: ObamaCare.

Wait, what?

Well, when the House GOP passed its health-care reform bill earlier this month, even most Republican senators considered it too draconian. Among other things, many are reportedly concerned that the bill's flat tax credit to help people afford premiums would leave millions of Americans without coverage. So instead of taking up the House bill at all, Republican senators are starting from scratch and reportedly coalescing around a refundable tax credit that adjusts up and down in response to household income.

This is precisely what ObamaCare already does.

Obamacare was conservative health care reform.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Germany's Ideas-Deficit Opposition (JUDY DEMPSEY, May 15, 2017, Strategic Europe)

The Social Democrats and the Greens have so far been unable to persuade Germans to change course. These two parties support Merkel's refugee policy. They support Germany's switch from nuclear energy to renewables. They support the EU. They support Europe having strong security and defense policies. And, despite some misgiving from sections of the Social Democrats, they support Merkel's policies toward Russia and the EU's sanctions that were imposed in 2014 after Russia's annexation of Crimea.

But as left-wing parties--a term that is increasingly losing its meaning--the Social Democrats and Greens have been unable to enunciate policies about how to deal with the social, political, and economic consequences of globalization.

The populist approach articulated by Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, which is in effect the country's main opposition party, played on the politics of fear and hopelessness. She did not offer a coherent economic and social agenda to meet the challenges of globalization and France's low growth and high unemployment.

Germany's Left party has tried to home in on these issues, but the party failed to get reelected to North Rhine-Westphalia's regional legislature. In short, the established center-left parties have, as yet, no platform to challenge Merkel's Christian Democrats. Unless they explain what they really stand for between now and Germany's federal election in September, they could go the way of other left-wing parties in Europe.

Tory plans for workers' rights deliver golden headlines at knockdown prices (Chaminda Jayanetti, 5/15/17,

"Workers offered new deal by Tories", proclaims the i. "Workers get leave to care for elderly", declares the Telegraph. "May gives all workers new rights to time off", shouts the Times. The Mail bills it "a revolution in the workplace", presumably having been assured it's not a Marxist one.

The Tories couldn't have secured better front page coverage had they bought wraparound ads. No longer are the Conservatives the bosses' party, the narrative goes. They will now defend the rights of hard-working people rather than just banging on about them. [...]

Labour's draft manifesto was a heaving raft of workers' rights, designed to bolster their bargaining power when dealing with employers. The Conservatives have adopted a fundamentally different strategy - legal rights above collective might. One of the Tories' better measures - statutory time off for training - sums up this difference in approach between individual and collective advancement.

There is a lesson here for Labour, however. Limited though the plan for carers' leave is, it constitutes something largely absent from Jeremy Corbyn's wide-ranging manifesto - a policy for people who feel they don't need the state. A policy aimed at the 'private individual'.

Just as the number of people who claim benefits is larger than the number who think they do, the number of people who feel they are wholly self-reliant will be larger than the number who actually are. Labour's policy levers always involve providing benefits and services. That's fine - those work. But if it is ever to return to power, it will need to win the votes of those who don't feel they need benefits or means tested public services. Universalising these services is expensive and not necessarily a voter priority - so then what? Labour currently has no system of thinking that addresses this blind spot in its agenda.

As for the Conservatives, this is a dream scenario. A policy that costs the government little and mostly helps natural Conservative voters - middle class families with two earners and savings - is sold as a revolutionary new pro-worker agenda. New rights that need money to enforce sound like rights for those without the money to enforce them. The Tories are now the workers' party - as long as those workers don't get ideas above their station.

The greatest danger to any party is letting its opponent steal the Third Way mantle.
Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


 How Trump gets his fake news : The president rarely surfs the web on his own, but his staff have made a habit of slipping news stories on to his desk--including the occasional internet hoax. (SHANE GOLDMACHER, 05/15/17, Politico)

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a stern warning at a recent senior staff meeting: Quit trying to secretly slip stuff to President Trump.

Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter.

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media's hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an Internet hoax that's circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

The episode illustrates the impossible mission of managing a White House led by an impetuous president who has resisted structure and strictures his entire adult life.

The real takeaway here is the low regard in which even his own staff holds him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Marvel Cancels Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Lives Matter Comic Due to Poor Sales (Ian Miles Cheong, May 14, 2017, Heat Street)

No one is buying Marvel's lineup of social justice-themed comics. It's no surprise, given that few readers want politics to be forced down their throats. Thus liberal darling Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey's Black Panther & The Crew is getting the axe after poor sales, just two issues after its launch. Its cancellation comes just weeks after a Marvel VP revealed that comics with forced messages of "diversity" were responsible for the publisher's sales slump.

May 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM

80-20 NATION:

New poll: Americans oppose House health care bill 2-1 (David Nather, 5/14/17)

Here's what the public thinks of the Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement bill, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll:

Good idea: 23 percent
Bad idea: 48 percent
No opinion: 28 percent

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


WE COULD HAVE BEEN CANADA : Was the American Revolution such a good idea? (Adam Gopnik, 5/15/17, The New Yorker)

Justin du Rivage's "Revolution Against Empire" (Yale) re-situates the Revolution not as a colonial rebellion against the mother country but as one episode in a much larger political quarrel that swept the British Empire in the second half of the eighteenth century. Basically, du Rivage thinks that the American Revolution wasn't American. The quarrels that took place in New York and Philadelphia went on with equal ferocity, and on much the same terms, in India and England, and though they got settled by force of arms and minds differently in each place, it was the same struggle everywhere. "Radicalism flourished in Boston, Bristol, and Bengal, while fears of disorder and licentiousness provoked rural elites in both the Hudson Valley and the English shires," du Rivage writes. "As radical Whigs gained strength in North America, the political culture of the British Empire became increasingly Janus-faced."

On one side were what he calls "authoritarian reformers"; on the other, those radical Whigs. (Both were seeking to sway or supplant the "establishment Whigs.") This isn't the familiarly rendered divide between Tories and Whigs; the authoritarian reformers were less fusty country squires attached to old English institutions than an élite executive class of intellectuals and aristocrats committed to the Empire and to the reform of institutions that were seen as preventing the Empire from being maximally efficient. It was a group of men who, in spirit and psychology, were not entirely unlike the "reformers" in Communist China, open to change for the purpose of reinforcing their own power in an intact hierarchy. The authoritarian reformers were "not a political party per se," du Rivage writes. "They were, rather, an ideological vanguard, a loosely organized group of politicians, publicists, and theorists." (Significantly, no famous names cling to the group; career politicians and businessmen like William Murray, Matthew Decker, and Viscount Bolingbroke were their mostly interchangeable leaders.) They wanted a strong monarch surrounded by a circle of aristocratic advisers; very limited democracy; reform in the Army and Navy; and a tax-heavy system of mercantile trade--all of it intended to make the Empire as profitable as it needed to be.

Extended taxation within the Empire was central to their agenda. They sincerely believed in "taxation without representation," because they saw citizenship not in terms of sovereignty and equality but in terms of tribute received and protection offered. Pay up, and the British Navy will keep the Frenchmen, pirates, and aboriginals away. Samuel Johnson, who was hired by the authoritarian reformers to write the 1775 pamphlet "Taxation No Tyranny," captured the argument best: the men who settled America had chosen to leave a place where they had the vote but little property in order to live in a place where they had no vote but much property. With lucid authoritarian logic, Johnson explained that even though the American citizen might not have a vote on how he was taxed, "he still is governed by his own consent; because he has consented to throw his atom of interest into the general mass of the community."

The radical Whigs, though they, too, were implanted within establishment circles--grouped around William Pitt and the pro-American Marquess of Rockingham, with the devilish John Wilkes representing their most radical popular presence--were sympathetic to Enlightenment ideas, out of both principle and self-protection, as analgesics to mollify "the mob." They represented, albeit episodically, the first stirrings of a party of the merchant class. They thought that colonists should be seen as potential consumers. Alexander Hamilton, back in New York, was a model radical Whig--trusting in bank credit and national debt as a prod toward prosperity, while the authoritarian reformers were convinced, as their successors are to this day, that debt was toxic (in part because they feared that it created chaos; in part because easy credit undermined hierarchy).

The radical Whigs were for democratization, the authoritarian reformers firmly against it. The radical Whigs were for responsible authority, the authoritarian reformers for firm authority. And so on. This quarrel, du Rivage argues, swept across the Empire and, as much as it divided colony from home country, it united proponents of either view transnationally. Those we think of as "loyalists" in the American context were simply authoritarian reformers who lost their war; those we think of as "patriots" were simply radical Whigs who won.

Some of the force of du Rivage's account of the Revolution lies in his dogged insistence that the great political quarrel of the time really was a quarrel of principles. His book, he tells us in the introduction, is ultimately about "how ideas and politics shape social and economic experience." This is a more radically Whiggish proposition than it sounds. For a long time, under the influence of the formidable Lewis Namier, the historian of Britain's eighteenth-century Parliament, the pervasive ideas in the political life of the period were held to depend on clans and clan relations, not systems of thought. Even Edmund Burke, we were told, was no more drawn to Rockingham by ideology than Tom Hagen was drawn to the Corleone family because he shared Vito's views on urban governance.

Though there is obviously truth in this approach, then and now, du Rivage deprecates it as much as it has ever been deprecated. (His evidence for the power and specificity of this battle of ideas includes a number of political cartoons, drawn by the participants: it is astonishing how often the political figures of the time, from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Revere, communicated in comic images.) Throughout, he makes a convincing case for the view that people quarrelled not about clans but about concepts. In fact, participants in the quarrels could cross clan lines: the radical Pitt's brother-in-law, George Grenville, himself a Prime Minister, was the leader of the authoritarian reformers in Parliament.

This account cuts against the American specificity of the Revolution--the sense that it was a rebellion against a king and a distant country. No one at the time, du Rivage suggests, saw what was happening as pitting a distinct "American" nation against an alien British one. Participants largely saw the conflict in terms of two parties fighting for dominance in the English-speaking world. The scandalous high-water mark of du Rivage's iconography occurs in January of 1775, when Pitt (now ennobled as the Earl of Chatham) brought Franklin, then living in London, into the House of Lords to witness his speech on behalf of the American radicals, in effect sealing the unity of the single party across the ocean. This scene--though nowhere captured in the familiar imagery of Franklin flying his kite and inventing bifocals--was, in its day, as significant as that of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The transnational nature of the Revolution, du Rivage shows, has been blanked out. The promise of transatlantic unity in a move toward modernity was very real. Had the radical Whigs secured their power in Britain, our Revolution might well have taken on a look and feel far more like those of the later Canadian and Australian dissolutions from the Brits: a political break toward "home rule" but without any of the elaborate paraphernalia of patriotism attached to it. We would probably still have had some piece of the British flag upon our own, and Betsy Ross would have sewn in vain. [....]

Holger Hoock, in his new book, "Scars of Independence" (Crown), has a somewhat simpler point to make. The Revolution, he shows, was far more brutal than our usual memory of it allows. (Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War movie, "The Patriot," made this point, as his "The Passion of the Christ" did of Roman crucifixion; say what you will about his politics, Gibson is good at reminding us of the core violence in our favorite myths. Crosses and muskets really are lethal weapons.) Page after page, the reader blanches while reading of massacres and counter-massacres, of floggings and rapes, of socket bayonets plunged into pitiful patriots and of competitive hangings and murders. The effect is made all the more hallucinatory by the fact that these horrors took place not in Poland or Algeria but in what are now, in effect, rest stops along I-95, in Connecticut and New Jersey, in a time we still think of as all three-cornered hats and the clip-clop of Hollywood equipages on cobblestoned streets.

Not only would it have been possible to end American slavery non-violently, but it would have been less likely that continental powers would have sought global wars against an England that included America from Jump Street.
Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Scoop: Trump, irked at cabinet and staff, mulls sweeping shake-up (Mike Allen, 5/14/17, Axios)

The sources say Trump feels ill-served by not just his staff but also by several of his Cabinet officials. Trump has two complaints about Cabinet members: Either they're tooting their own horns too much, or they're insufficiently effusive in praising him as a brilliant diplomat, etc. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Personnel and Policy (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, May 14, 2017, National Review)

Trump, as a businessman with independent and populist instincts, taps into a very old and deep tradition in American political life: The desire to "run the government like a business." One of the problems with running the government like a business is that the government is not a business. It is a different kind of undertaking, and it makes no more sense to try to run it like a business than it would to try to run your church like a business, or a Girl Scout troop. (Okay, maybe Girl Scout troops are a business, the running dogs of cookie capitalism.) Businesses, nonprofit corporations, and religious congregations are all worthwhile forms of social organization, but they are not interchangeable. There is something poetic about the fact that our contemporary populist conservatives, avowed foes of progressives and progressivism, are in thrall to one of the most ancient and enduring of all progressive errors: the belief that the government (and society) can be run the way a business is run, as though a nation were only "one big factory," as the socialists used to put it.

Donald Trump has in fact never successfully run a large organization, and his few attempts to do so -- notably with the Trump Taj Mahal and the Plaza Hotel bankruptcies -- ended badly. For all his boasting about his employees and sprawling business empire (on the campaign trail, he lied about owning a hotel in Honolulu), what he has mostly done is run a small family business he inherited from his father, employing his wives and children, and leverage his tabloid celebrity into a series of very lucrative licensing and media deals. There is nothing wrong with a career that consists of a series of licensing deals and the like, but it is a very different kind of career from, say, running Microsoft or Ford. Donald Trump is not the executive he played on television.

Some of us are old enough to remember Billy Beer, which was not even a substance.  Local brewers bought the cans and put their own brew in it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM



Modesto's two plants pump out nearly 15 million treated gallons a day. The initial processing at Sutter strips out solids. Then the city pumps the water to Jennings, where further treatment breaks down organic matter and any remaining solids with digesting protozoa "bugs." Last, the water is zapped with UV lights to disinfect it.

Jennings is a vast complex that stretches over 5,000 acres, 1,000 of which are oxidation ponds extending nearly as far as the eye can see. The ponds look more like a nature preserve than a sewage treatment facility, attracting birds and birders.

Anhalt tours us around a number of structures at Jennings--sometimes testing doors to see if they're unlocked, because she forgot her keys. She easily rattles off descriptions of the complicated processes at work. For her, this is second nature. She's been working in wastewater for 23 years.

At an aromatic tank of "mixed liquor," which contains raw wastewater and microorganisms that break down its contents, she seems pleased to be the overseer of such an enormous, complicated system. "Good stuff. It looks pretty," Anhalt says, nodding at the brown liquid rippling with bubbles. "Not too foamy."

Later we visit what she frames as the pièce de résistance: "You just have to see the blowers." As we wend our way through another building, a muted buzzing sound slowly builds to a deep whooshing. These machines aerate the membrane tanks to encourage processing.

"I'm so excited," she smiles. "I love the blowers."

After treatment is done, Modesto uses the water to irrigate city-owned land and sends any left over into the San Joaquin River to flow to users downstream.

By the end of the year, that should change. A refurbished pump station at Jennings will send most of the wastewater into a new $100 million, six-mile pipeline. That will feed into the Delta-Mendota irrigation canal, which ferries water to farmers as part of the Central Valley Project, a federal system that manages and doles out water in the area.
The Delta-Mendota Canal. (Dave Parker)

Ultimately, Modesto's wastewater will reach farms about 20 miles away in the northwestern San Joaquin Valley, where growers on 45,000 acres of farmland in the Del Puerto Water District have struggled to water their crops since the drought began. By 2045, when all phases of the project are complete, these farmers should be receiving nearly 60,000 acre-feet per year from the North Valley project--enough to fill roughly 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Anthea Hansen, head of the Del Puerto Water District, is the one who pulled the entire project together. She's been working nonstop for the past seven years to bring more water to farmers there.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


'Brutalism' Buildings Going Down (Matt O'Brien, 5/13/17, Associated Press)

When an exposed concrete subway vault near the U.S. Capitol was painted white this spring, riders rejoiced at the brightened Washington Metro station. But some preservationists were unhappy, complaining that a "cardinal rule" of the Brutalist style was broken.

Brutalism, which got its name from a French word for raw concrete, has been sparking public battles ever since the architectural style flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, spawning buildings from Boston to Belgrade.

Now, the era's aging structures are being declared eyesores and slated for demolition in cities around the world. Or, as in Washington's Union Station, their austere features have been softened.

The public's eagerness to get rid of Brutalist buildings has made their life expectancy short, compared with some older architectural styles.

May 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem burn effigy of Israeli soldier (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 14, 2017)

Ultra-Orthodox revelers set fire to an effigy of an Israeli soldier Saturday night in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She'arim, to cheers and claps from the audience. [...]

The incident is the latest incident in which ultra-Orthodox Jews have attacked members of the community who join the Israeli military. The ultra-Orthodox have also held dozens of demonstrations to protest mandatory enlistment of religious Jews, following years in which they were allowed to avoid conscription.

A religious IDF soldier was attacked last month by a mob of ultra-Orthodox Jews during a rally in support of two draft dodgers from their community who, at the end of a short furlough, were driven back to military prison in a white stretch limousine.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Donald Trump Does Not Surprise (Ross Douthat MAY 13, 2017, NY Times)

Far too many observers, left and right, persist in being surprised at Trump when nothing about his conduct is surprising, persist in looking for rationality where none is to be found, and persist in believing that some institutional force -- party elders or convention delegates, the deep state or an impeachment process -- is likely to push him off the stage.

Start with the president's Republican defenders. Not the cynics and liars, but the well-meaning conservatives who look at something like the Comey firing and assume that there must be a normal method at work, who listen to whatever narrative White House aides spin out and try to take it seriously.

In this case this meant saying, well, there was always a reasonable case for firing Comey over his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, the president was just following his deputy attorney general's advice, and anyway it would be simply nuts to fire someone out of pique while they were investigating your campaign's ties to a foreign power, because that would just bring more attention to the investigation, so surely not even Trump would be that crazy, right?

Wrong. First the White House sprung more leaks than a cracked dike in a North Sea flood, most of which suggested that the president had acted out of personal frustration with Comey's perceived disloyalty to Trump himself, and annoyance at what he saw of the F.B.I. director on TV. And then the president went on national TV himself to explain that he would have fired Comey regardless of what his attorney general's office recommended, and by the way he had indeed been thinking about the Russia investigation and how it detracted from his glorious electoral victory when he made the decision to get rid of the man supervising it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


White House 'systems failed' with Comey firing, but Trump pushed the buttons (Philip Rucker, May 13, 2017, Washington Post)

Across Washington, Trump's allies have been buzzing about the staff's competence as well as the president's state of mind. One GOP figure close to the White House mused privately about whether Trump was "in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion."

Trump has been stewing all week, aggrieved by sharp media scrutiny of his decision to fire Comey and of his and his aides' ever-shifting explanations, and has been quick to blame his staff, according to several people who have spoken with him.

Privately, Trump has lashed out at the communications office -- led by press secretary Sean Spicer and communications director Michael Dubke -- and has spoken candidly with some advisers about a broad shake-up that could include demotions or dismissals. The president personally has conducted post-mortem interviews with some aides about the Comey saga, investigating the unending stream of headlines he considers unfairly negative, according to several White House officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because Trump is cracking down on unauthorized leaks.

...he's not as bad as Frank Underwood!

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The future of conservatism in an age of alienation: A long-read Q&A with Yuval Levin (Yuval Levin, James Pethokoukis, May 10, 2017, AEIdeas)

As I was reading the essay, I also thought of the famous, infamous Life of Julia cartoon. Back during the Obama administration, there was a cartoon and it showed a daughter of a single mother. Did we ever see the mother in this?

I don't think we ever saw any other human.

No, right. 

There was a child at some point. It's not exactly clear how that happened.

It showed this woman's progression of her life and government intervening and helping her along. There was a lot of mockery on the right for that -- that this is progressivism and the Obama administration's view of society. And there were conservative versions, "Life of Somebody Else," showing more of a self-starter, entrepreneurial person. But perhaps, the right, Trump voters, have accepted the Life of Julia cartoon. Instead of a single mom, is it a coal miner? A working class person, asking somewhat different things, but again, nothing between them and government. And of course, the president summed it up during the campaign when he said--and again, I'm paraphrasing--"Only I know how to fix this. I can fix this."

 Is this what people on the so-called right really want, the Life of Julia cartoon, but just a little different?

Well, I think a lot of the political debate we've had in recent years, to me, has seemed like evidence of the need for--what I at least think of as--conservatism. The debate over the Life of Julia stuff in 2012 was evidence for that too because the Republican response to that was "We don't need help. We did build that"--that whole argument.

That happens all the time.

It was really an argument between two kinds of radical individualism, one of which suggested that all you need is government to address material problems and then you're free. The other suggested that you don't need anything. I think conservatism emphasizes what happens in the space between the individual and the state. What happens in the space that's filled by families, communities, and society. Because of a certain understanding of the human person, there's an understanding that sees the human person as dependent on other human beings. The conservative argument against dependency has always seem to me as very misguided. Everyone is dependent, that's just a human reality. The question is: Can we address that dependency in a way that also encourages responsibility? And I think you do that by addressing it in that space in between the individual and the state rather than addressing it by a faceless provision of resources to people. And the argument for that is an argument from conservatism. It's an argument that starts by seeing the human person as fallen--let's say--as imperfect, as prone to vice and always in need for moral formation and correction. It's an argument that begins from looking at an imperfect society and being impressed by the institutions that function, by the institutions that help us become better rather than only being impressed by what's failing and standing in our way. That, in turn, leads to a kind of politics of gratitude, rather than a politics of outrage. And I think that's a genuine conservative politics. It says that moral progress really only happens in the lives of individuals, and that means that enduring progress has to consist in sustaining institutions that help us become better people.

I think that's conservatism. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


The Syrian War : Adam Shatz talks to Joshua Landis (London Review of Books, 4/21/17)

In this episode of the LRB podcast, Adam Shatz talks to Joshua Landis about Syria. Joshua Landis is the Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and his blog, Syria Comment, has long been an indispensable guide to a country that has never been easy to see, both because of the nature of the Assad regime and because of the fog of war since the uprising began there in 2011. [...]

AS: It's rather striking, Josh, that in Syria a minority sect, the Alawites, rather like the Sunni minority in Iraq, created a state, or dominated a state, based on a superficially universalist ideology - the ideology of pan-Arabism. Syria, of course, was known as the beating heart of pan-Arabism during the Cold War. And I think what you're suggesting is that in Syria as in Iraq or, for that matter, a country like Yugoslavia, where Yugoslav identity was most passionately embraced by a minority, the Serbs, that this universal ideology essentially became a fig-leaf for what were a network of familial and clan interests.

JL: Absolutely. And we see that right across the Middle East, where Arab Nationalism was the presiding ideology, from the successful struggle against colonialism that ends at the end of World War II, when both Britain and France retreat from the Middle East. Now, that's partly ... not because of the success of Arab nationalism - it's largely because Europe was in its own civil war, the thirty years' war between World War I and II, and it weakened itself so severely that it had to withdraw from the Middle East. But Arab Nationalism became the prevailing ideology right up until ... it's been ... the Iranian Revolution, where Islamism successfully challenged it there, but then continued to build Islamist parties around the Middle East. And today Arab Nationalism is really a very weak reed - you know, Arafat gone in Palestine; Boumédiène; Ben Ali; Saddam Hussein. In many ways, Assad is the last of these.

AS: So was Arab Nationalism particularly attractive to minority groups, such as the Alawites or the Sunnis in Iraq, because it was a way for them to transcend their minority status, submerge themselves in something larger, and also, in a sense, conceal themselves within a kind of larger community of interests?

JL: Absolutely. It was a way to safety for minorities. They embraced Arab Nationalism more heartily than Sunni Arabs. Now, of course, there was an elite of Sunni Arabs who also embraced it - it was very important that there were these sort of cross-cutting alliances between minorities and a Sunni elite, all of whom saw Arab Nationalism as the way to bind together these very fragmented societies, and to build the foundations for a new state - I mean, people bought nationalism after World War I, it was the growing ideology. But because the nationalist governments turned out to be, in fact, hijacked by minorities ... it's important to understand that minorities were able to come to power, and to grab authority in the state, in every one of the Levantine countries after World War II, and this is largely because of the colonial occupation. The colonial powers, Britain and France, used minorities to divide and conquer and to keep their power in all these countries, and this meant that minorities were able to grab the state once colonial powers left - this is true for the Maronites of Lebanon, the Catholic Christians of Lebanon; the Alawites of Syria, who are about 12 per cent of the population; the Sunnis of Iraq, 20 per cent of the population; and also the Jews of Palestine, who were a third of the population by the time the British withdrew in 1948 and they got independence.

AS: To some extent that was also true of the Kabyles of Algeria, who were, at one and the same time, disproportionately influential and intermittently persecuted and forced to repress their ethnic identity.

JL: Well, and it's true of the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan as well, which in some ways was a foreign implant in Jordan - not that foreign, because it's only from Arabia, the Hejaz, and it has Islamic legitimacy; but in all of them, they've been challenged - these minoritarian states. Now, the Jews were able to become a majority - they're the only minority that were able to become a majority in numerical population, because ... through war, and because two-thirds of the Palestinians either fled or were driven out of Palestine. And, of course, the process is not an easy one - the Palestinians are still trying to get a hunk of the state; but their fortunes seem to diminish with every year.

AS: In a sense, you're almost arguing that what we're seeing now in Iraq and Syria are latter-day Nakbas?

JL: Yes, we are. Because the majority population is trying to get rid of minoritarian rule. And that begins in 1975 in Lebanon, with the Lebanese civil war, which was driven, at the most simplistic level, by the Muslim population, which had grown to be 60-65 per cent - 60 per cent perhaps, 66 per cent - it was a majority of the Lebanese population; and it looked up at the Maronites and Christians that were presiding ... had a lion's share of power, and said, Why should you rule? One man, one vote. And it used democracy, and the call for democracy, to challenge the supremacy of the Christians. The Christians, of course, were terrified. They thought, If we lose power, we're going to be driven out, in the same way that Armenians had been driven out of Turkey and so forth. So they clung on to power, they fought bitterly ...

AS: Of course, in all the cases that you're describing - Lebanon, Iraq, and now Syria - not a single one of these conflicts has been a pure internal struggle; in each of these cases the borders of the state have been porous and permeable, and powerful outside actors have profoundly shaped and made more violent the dynamics of the conflict. In Lebanon, for example, the Israel-Palestine conflict exerted a very significant influence, since you had a large Palestinian refugee community and the PLO was based there, etc. And now, with both Iraq and Syria, we see no less intense dynamics of external meddling both by regional powers and by international powers.

JL: Absolutely. All these wars turned into regional wars. And not just regional wars, but also ... international powers, because they pulled in the Cold War Russia and America, which were competing. Today, of course, the dynamic is Iran versus Saudi Arabia, Shi'ites versus Sunnis. Those are the fault lines in the Middle East; but Russia, of course, has sided with the Shi'ites, and America has sided with the Sunnis, by and large. And so, those divisions go right up onto an international level - they're very geostrategic; they're not just about religion, they're being driven by geostrategic struggle for balance of power.

AS: That actually brings me to another question that I wanted to ask you about Iran's proxy force in the Syrian conflict - Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia political and military organisation led by its General Secretary, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has played a critical role in protecting the Assad regime, and it's made two claims about its support - one made early by Nasrallah in the conflict is that Hezbollah is fighting against taqfiris - against extreme jihadists. The other claim is that it is fighting to defend Shia shrines in Syria. Hezbollah hasn't spoken much about its major reason for entering the conflict, or what some believe to be its major reason - protecting its supply line, so that Iran can continue to provide it with weapons. Josh, can you assess Hezbollah's relationship to the Assad regime and its long-term project in Syria. I'm also wondering, if Hezbollah is successful in protecting the regime, how might this affect Israeli-Syrian relations, as Hezbollah potentially acquires power inside of Syria - is there a greater chance that Israel might be tempted to get drawn into the war?

JL: Yes. We do have to see this as a regional war, which is what you're outlining. In a sense, there is a super-struggle going on between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Sunnis and Shi'ites, for authority, influence and dominance in the Middle East. And what we're seeing happen in the northern Middle East - that's Iraq, Syria and Lebanon - is that ... Shi'ite minorities in Lebanon - Hezbollah; Syria - the Assad regime, the Alawites; and of course a Shi'ite majority in Iraq - which has been brought to power by the United States and really ... un-clinched this regional war, and allowed for a reshuffling of the balance of power, and allowed for Iran to see a way to dominate the entire northern Arab world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


How the unions wrote Corbyn's manifesto  (Ben Riley-Smith, 13 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

Labour's draft manifesto includes more than 100 policies demanded by trade unions that are bankrolling its election campaign, The Telegraph can reveal. 

A secret list of policies requested by unions obtained by this newspaper reveals huge areas of overlap with party's plan for government. 

Whole chunks of Labour's leaked manifesto appear to have been almost copied and pasted from proposals put forward by unions. 

The question is why anyone else should vote for them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


On the Limits of Loyalty (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, May 13, 2017, National Review)

What Comey owed Trump is honesty, nothing more or less. 

'Jumped the shark" is an overused expression straight out of 1970s situation comedy. It is the most charitable interpretation of the moment President Donald Trump pressed "Tweet" on Friday morning. After nearly four months of the once jaw-dropping novelty of presidential tweeting (the equivalent, in dog years and media exhaustion, of five sit-com seasons), the routine has grown stale, the former reality-TV star apparently out of "don't touch that dial" ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


How Trump May Save the Republic (Bret Stephens, 5/12/17, NY Times)

The question in the title of Timothy Egan's latest column for The Times is "Who Will Save the Republic?" My answer is Donald Trump, of course.

I mean this in the Anna Sebastian sense -- Madame Sebastian being the shrewd, sinister and very Teutonic mother played by Leopoldine Konstantin in Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 classic, "Notorious."

Anna's adult son, Alexander (Claude Rains), is part of a group of well-heeled Nazis living and scheming revenge in Brazil when he marries Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful young woman he deems trustworthy because her father was a convicted German spy.

Too late, Alexander realizes that Alicia is really an American agent, and that exposure of the fact will mean certain death for him at the hands of his fellow Nazis. When he confesses the problem to mother, she responds with the most reproachful reassurance in movie history:

"We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity -- for a time."

Just so with our 45th president. His views are often malevolent, and his conduct might ultimately prove criminal. But we, too, are protected, for a time, by the enormity of his stupidity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Trump Attempts To Blackmail Comey. Really (ROD DREHER, May 12, 2017, American Conservative)

Think about it: the President of the United States is threatening to blackmail the former chief of the nation's top domestic law enforcement agency in an attempt to shut him up.

Maybe Trump is bluffing, which would be outrageous enough. But what if he's telling the truth? We have no way of knowing. Now, every single man or woman who goes into the White House to converse with him now has to worry that the president is secretly recording their conversation, and has no scruples against using what is said to blackmail them. What say you, Sen. Mitch McConnell? What say you, CIA director Mike Pompeo?

This is banana republic stuff. This man is out of control. How can we have a functioning government if the President feels entitled to threaten blackmail, and every single official who meets with him in the White House has to worry that they're being bugged, and that words they say in confidence could be used against them?

Note well that Trump manufactured this crisis out of his own ineptitude and corruption.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Donald Trump thinks exercise will kill you (Julia Belluz,  May 9, 2017, Vox)

The Trump "human body as non-rechargeable battery" theory was first detailed by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher in their 2016 book, Trump Revealed:

After college, after Trump mostly gave up his personal athletic interests, he came to view time spent playing sports as time wasted. Trump believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted. So he didn't work out. When he learned that John O'Donnell, one of his top ca**no executives, was training for an Ironman triathlon, he admonished him, "You are going to die young because of this."

On the campaign trail, we learned that Trump didn't dedicate any extra time to breaking a sweat because he believes exercise is actually harmful, according to this 2015 New York Times profile:

Trump said he was not following any special diet or exercise regimen for the campaign. ''All my friends who work out all the time, they're going for knee replacements, hip replacements -- they're a disaster,'' he said. He exerts himself fully by standing in front of an audience for an hour, as he just did. ''That's exercise.'"

Let's pause to consider how remarkably backward this is.

There was a time when doctors would have concurred with Trump on this. That was the Victorian era.

He brain must be fully charged too.
Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


How Donald Trump, darling of the Israeli right, reinvigorated Mahmoud Abbas : Netanyahu has to be careful now. He doesn't want to get one of those letters from DC telling him, 'You're fired' (AVI ISSACHAROFF May 13, 2017, Times of Israel)

[T]rump, the darling of the Israeli government and the Settlers (Yesha) Council, has out-Obama'ed president Barack Obama by reinstating Abbas at the center of the diplomatic stage. The American administration has made it crystal clear that far from ignoring Abbas and the Palestinians, as some Israeli officials had hoped Trump would do, it will treat them with kid gloves.

Trump invited Abbas to visit, listened to the Palestinian delegation's (fairly lengthy) diplomatic survey, was amazed at the extent of the IDF-PA security coordination, and apparently concluded that the Palestinians may not have been the only ones to blame for the failure of peace talks. He listened approvingly as Abbas, at their joint press conference, asserted that the PA is "raising our youth... on a culture of peace." He praised Abbas for speaking out against terrorist groups. He hailed ongoing US partnerships with the Palestinians on regional security.

He deployed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to meet with the Palestinian team. He had already sent Jason Greenblatt, a religiously observant Jew who studied at a yeshiva in Gush Etzion, to visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. And now Trump is planning a visit to Bethlehem -- and will meet Abbas again, for the second time in a month.

How ironic that it is Trump, not Barack (Hussein) Obama, who is revitalizing Abbas diplomatically. Now Trump wants to revive the negotiations and perhaps even hold a three-way summit. So Abbas has immediately been catapulted to the position of a significant political figure in Middle East -- one who meets every other week with leaders of Arab countries in order to coordinate positions with them. Talk of a regional agreement has been forgotten; so, too, have pipe dreams about annexing parts or all of the territories.

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


The Barghouti backfire (Avi Issacharoff, 5/13/17,,The Times of Israel)

The move, which included broadcasting pictures of Barghouti huddled in his toilet, eating the wafer that had been planted in his cell, barely made a dent in the inmates' hunger strike; it did not prompt a Palestinian outcry and the collapse of the strike over Barghouti's ostensible perfidious snacking, as Erdan presumably expected.

The number of prisoners participating in the strike actually went up this week, and on Thursday Fatah's Central Committee called upon all Fatah inmates to join in. Previously, the leaders of the Central Committee had not supported Barghouti's strike and, some say, even tried to sabotage it.

The victory cries coming from Erdan's office were premature. The press conference he convened in order to embarrass and humiliate Barghouti backfired: the snack sting increased support among the Palestinians for Barghouti and the hunger strikers.

Some say that Israel Prison Service officials were not enthusiastic over the instructions coming from the internal security minister's bureau. But at this point it is futile to argue who birthed this bad idea; the damage has been done.

The hunger strike is far from winding down. There have been more and more demonstrations, strikes of businesses and schools, stone-throwing incidents, and clashes, despite the intensive efforts of the Palestinian Authority's security services.

One tends to be skeptical of such stunts, but at the point where a guy wolfs down a salt packet like it's a Big Mac you have to believe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Black voter turnout fell in 2016, even as a record number of Americans cast ballots (JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD AND MARK HUGO LOPEZ, 5/12/17, Pew Research)

A record 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall voter turnout - defined as the share of adult U.S. citizens who cast ballots - was 61.4% in 2016, a share similar to 2012 but below the 63.6% who say they voted in 2008.

A number of long-standing trends in presidential elections either reversed or stalled in 2016, as black voter turnout decreased, white turnout increased and the nonwhite share of the U.S. electorate remained flat since the 2012 election. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


'Looking Like a Liar or a Fool': What It Means to Work for Trump (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MAY 12, 2017, NY Times)

After the "Access Hollywood" scandal, Mr. Trump raged at Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, for going on TV to defend him, arguing that he wanted to attack Hillary Clinton, not play defense. Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump's 2016 campaign manager until he fired him, repeatedly groused to friends that he was forced to absorb all of the criticism for the campaign's practice of confining reporters at rallies in small pens. Mr. Trump, he told two people close to him, had ordered him to do it -- but placed the blame on Mr. Lewandowski when reporters complained about it.

The firestorm touched off by the Comey firing has only reinforced the lesson Mr. Trump has usually taken away from past crises, that only one person was truly capable of defending him: the man in the mirror. It would be a "good idea" to end the daily news briefing, he told a Fox News host on Friday, suggesting that he was considering hosting his own news conferences every two weeks or so.

"Trump is putting a lot on the backs of his spokespeople, while simultaneously cutting their legs out from underneath them," said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and a former adviser to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. "There is nothing more discouraging or embarrassing for a spokesman than to have your boss contradict you. In political communications, you're only as good as your credibility."

The view that the communications dysfunction begins at the top of the White House organizational chart is bipartisan.

"The most hazardous duty in Washington these days is that of Trump surrogate because the president constantly undercuts the statements of his own people," said David Axelrod, a communications and messaging adviser to President Barack Obama.

"You wind up looking like a liar or a fool, neither of which is particularly attractive."

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Tom Watson: Labour determined to stop 'Thatcher-style' Tory landslide (Anushka Asthana, 12 May 2017, The Guardian)

Tom Watson has urged voters to back their local Labour MP in order to avoid a "Margaret Thatcher-style" landslide that would make it difficult to hold the Conservatives to account.

Labour's deputy leader said the party had a "mountain to climb" over the four weeks until the general election and was lagging behind in the polls with all income groups, including working-class voters.

New Labour was only able to defeat the Tories by getting to their right, just like Bill Clinton with GHWB.  Corbyn ain't no Blair.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Is there a crown in Charles's future? 'King Charles III' looks into the crystal ball. (Peter Marks,  February 16, 2017, Washington Post)

It just so happens that, to further tantalize a Shakespeare Theatre Company audience, the crisis enveloping the Crown and its subjects is a constitutional one, provoked by the idiosyncratic man who's about to wear it. Bartlett's premise is that Charles, awaiting investiture after the death of Elizabeth II, startles the Labour government by asserting the king's prerogative to oppose a new law that restricts freedom of the press (occasioned by the actual phone-tapping scandal that convulsed the nation a few years ago). A separate, and more personal, dilemma envelops Prince Harry, played expertly by ginger-haired Harry Smith, as he tries to come to terms with his own pointless position in the pecking order.

A classical theater in the nation's capital proves to be the optimal location for Bartlett's handiwork, because the play is a seriocomedy revolving around process and legality. The confrontation between Parliament and Buckingham Palace plays out as an entertaining study of the challenge of maintaining a constitutional monarchy in the modern world. A figure like Charles, whom we all imagine to have been champing at the bit all these years as he waited for mum to depart the scene, seems the right sort of personality to upend a government's expectations for royal docility. When Charles takes his principled stand and makes an enemy of the prime minister (a superb Ian Merrill Peakes), the playwright has the opportunity to explore the question of what relevance there is today for a ruler who is not a ruler, who must make his mark not by command, but by intellectual stealth and the fine print in official texts.

...and why the Founders made the Executive more powerful than the King.

There's a strange sort of tension inherent in the British lack of a constitution.  On the one hand, the King could presumably step in and stop any government action that violated the "constitutional" order.  On the other, he may retain that power only by not ever having exercised it.  We'll see....

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Alexander Hamilton: An Unorthodox Conservative Mind (Mark DeForrest, 5/11/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Hamilton despised ideologues, condemned the "rage for innovation," and declared himself more willing to "incur the negative inconveniences of delay than the positive mischiefs of injudicious expedients." Always on his guard against the preachers of an "ideal perfection," certain that he would never see "a perfect work form imperfect man," he was prepared to leave much to chanced, and thus presumably to the works of prescription, in the social process. He was never so eloquent as when he declaimed on the favorite conservative theme of the mixed character of all man's blessings.  "The truth is," he wrote to Robert Morris in 1781, "in human affairs, there is no good, pure and unmixed." "'T'is the lot of every thing human," he lectured Rufus King in 1791, "to mingle a portion of evil with the good."

Unlike Jefferson, who was captivated by the French Revolution, Hamilton understood immediately that the French Revolution was nothing but a blood-drenched attack on the very idea of civilized order. As Rossiter notes, "[h]e reads exactly like Burke or Adams in his attacks on 'The Great MONSTER' for its impiety, cruelty, and licentiousness, for its spawning of an anarchy that lead straight to despotism, for its zeal for change and assaults on property for its imposition of 'the tyranny of Jacobism, which confounds and levels every thing.'"

While there is little doubt that Hamilton would be uncomfortable with portions of the ideological rhetoric employed on the modern Right, conservatism (to rely on an observation by Russell Kirk) is not at its core an ideological commitment. It is a commitment to tradition, prescription, custom and prudence, along with an abiding conviction in the principles of religion and natural justice. Compare Hamilton's views, as explained by Rossiter above, with Kirk's own enunciation of the fundamental conservative approach to questions of political and legal order. There is little, if any daylight, between Hamilton and Kirk. Kirk's own appreciation of Hamilton's contribution to conservatism is on display in his Portable Conservative Reader, containing as it does excerpts from Hamilton's writings (and interestingly enough, no excepts from Jefferson's works).

Again, this is not to say that Hamilton would be entirely at home with the modern Republican Party--Rossiter points out in his study of Hamilton (printed in 1964 during the rise of the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the GOP) that "Hamilton was not a model for the average conservative to imitate." Hamilton believed strongly in an active government, constrained by constitutional limits but free to aid in the development of the country through internal improvements and the support of American industry, as Rossiter points out.  On a host of issues--his refusal to defer to the privileged place in the young republic held by the Southern planter-slaveholder aristocracy, and his commitment to the industrialization of the American economy, to name two--Hamilton could embrace a radical position as well. Like Burke or Lincoln, Hamilton is difficult to place in terms of our ideological categories--to quote Rossiter here, Hamilton has the "ability to defy classification." But like Burke and Lincoln, Hamilton's fundamental political principles, his instincts, were conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


This is peacemaking? (Dexter Van Zile, 5/13/17, Times of Israel)

The Palestinian Authority owes a hospital in Israel $41 million. The hospital in question is Augusta Victoria Hospital. Augusta Victoria, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, is operated by the Lutheran World Federation, an umbrella organization of Lutheran churches located across the globe.

The hospital is hugely important to the welfare of Palestinian children in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These children are able to obtain all sorts of medical care such as cancer treatment and kidney dialysis from the hospital. The Palestinian Authority is supposed to pay for the treatment.

The PA, however, does not pay its bills and as a result, Augusta Victoria is in dire straits financially. Relaying information obtained from a press release published in Arabic, blogger Elder of Ziyon reports, "The Palestinian Authority owes the hospital NIS 150 million ($41 million) and the debt has been accumulating at the rate of $4 million every month." [...]

In 2016, USAID gave the hospital $11 million to cover approximately 30 percent of the PA's outstanding debts to the hospital. This left the hospital more than $25 million in the hole. In August, 2016, ELCA issued an update on the hospital's cash flow crisis. In the update, ELCA thanked its members "who have been engaged in advocacy for Augusta Victoria Hospital this year and last year!" The update continues:

Amazingly enough, the American Jewish Committee helped ELCA lobby Congress. Writing for the Jewish News Service, Rafael Medoff reported in late March that "for the past several years, senior officials of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) have undertaken the task of pressing U.S. officials, including members of Congress, to pay millions in unpaid bills the PA has racked up at the Lutheran-sponsored Augusta Victoria hospital in eastern Jerusalem."

Rabbi David Rosen, who represents the AJC in Jerusalem, told Medoff that in addition to lobbying Congress, he spoke with American diplomats in support of the effort to get American taxpayers to pay the Palestinian Authority's unpaid debt to the hospital. After the story came to light, the AJC stopped its lobbying efforts.

On one hand, giving money to a hospital seems like the right thing to do. Augusta Victoria needs the money and the Palestinian children need the medical care provided by the hospital.

The problem, however, is that by covering the PA's unpaid debts, the United States government is subsidizing terrorism against Israelis. This is undeniable. It is a fact -- an indisputable fact.

We happily fund worse.

May 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


My Dinner With Comey: Clapper, Others Dispute Trump Account of Meeting With FBI Director (KEN DILANIAN and PETE WILLIAMS, 5/12/17, NBC)

Trump gave Holt an entirely different account of the dinner, saying that Comey requested it to seek job security, and told the president he was not under investigation.

None of that is true, Comey's associates insist.

A former senior FBI official said Comey would never have told the president he was not under investigation -- contradicting what Trump said.

"He tried to stay away from it [the Russian-ties investigation]," said the former official, who worked closely with Comey and keeps in touch with him. "He would say, 'Look sir, I really can't get into it, and you don't want me to.'"

A current FBI official and others close to Comey confirmed that the director did not request the one-on-one dinner, which happened at the White House a few days after Trump was sworn in.

In his interview with Holt Thursday, Trump said twice that he believed Comey requested the dinner. Trump said Comey asked that Trump keep him on as FBI director, and told the president on three occasions that he was not under investigation as part of the FBI's inquiry into Russian election interference.

"The president is not correct," the former official said. "The White House called [Comey] out of the blue. Comey didn't want to do it. He didn't even want the rank and file at the FBI to know about it."

But in the end, "He's still the commander-in-chief. He's your boss. How do you say no?"


Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Democrats demand Trump release the alleged Comey tapes -- or admit he made them up (Jeva Lange, 5/12/17, The Week)
Nobody has any idea what President Trump meant when he tweeted that former FBI Director James Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press," but if such tapes do actually exist, the Democrats want to see them.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the president "should immediately provide any such recordings to Congress or admit, once again, to have made a deliberately misleading -- and in this case threatening -- statement."

...poor Richard Nixon deserves better than comparison to Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


White House Social Media Director Says Trump Will Travel To 'Palestine' (Aiden Pink, 5/12/17, Forward)

President Trump's upcoming foreign tour later this month, his first trip abroad since his inauguration, will take him to many locations, including Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican. Also on his agenda, according to the White House's director of social media: "Palestine."

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


The Problems With The FBI's Email Investigation Went Well Beyond Comey (Pro Publica, May 12, 2017)

[B]y the time Comey elected, on Oct. 28, to speak, rather than conceal, he and his senior aides had actually known for more than three weeks that agents sifting through files on a laptop belonging to the former congressman Anthony Weiner, as part of a sex-crimes investigation, had stumbled across emails sent by Clinton when she was secretary of state. The agents had been unable, legally, to open the emails, because they fell outside the bounds of their investigation of Weiner.

FBI officials kept the discovery to themselves. Without consulting or even informing the Justice Department lawyers who had worked on the email inquiry, FBI officials concluded that they lacked the evidence to seek a search warrant to examine the emails right away. Several legal experts and Justice Department officials I spoke to now say that this conclusion was unnecessarily cautious. FBI officials also ruled out asking Weiner or his wife, Huma Abedin, one of Clinton's closest aides, to allow access to the laptop -- permission their lawyers told me they would have granted.

Instead, New York agents working the Weiner investigation, which centered on allegations of an explicit online relationship with a 15-year-old girl, were told to continue their search of his laptop as before but to take note of any additional Clinton emails they came across.

In the days that followed, investigators slowly sorted through the laptop's contents, following standard protocols in a case that was anything but standard, and moving with surprisingly little dispatch to assess the significance of the emails.

After weeks of work, the agents concluded that the laptop contained thousands of Clinton messages, a fact they waited at least three more days to share with Comey. Finally, as Comey recounted before Congress last week, the FBI director convened his top aides in his conference room at Bureau headquarters to weigh the political and institutional consequences of what to do next.

At this point, Comey and his deputies were venturing far beyond their typical purview as criminal investigators. Under normal circumstances, department policies discouraged public discussion of developments in ongoing cases of any kind; with the election fast approaching, there was the added sensitivity of avoiding even the perception of interference with the political process. But FBI officials worried that agents in New York who disliked Clinton would leak news of the emails' existence. Like nearly everyone in Washington, senior FBI officials assumed that Clinton would win the election and were evaluating their options with that in mind. The prospect of oversight hearings, led by restive Republicans investigating an FBI "cover-up," made everyone uneasy.

One more misjudgment informed Comey's decision. FBI officials estimated that it would take months to review the emails. Agents wound up completing their work in just a few days. (Most of the emails turned out to be duplicates of messages collected in the previous phase of the Clinton investigation.) Had FBI officials known that the review could be completed before the election, Comey likely wouldn't have said anything before examining the emails. Instead, he announced that nothing had changed in the Clinton case -- on Nov. 6, just two days before the election, and after many millions had already cast their ballots in early voting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


An Algorithm Summarizes Lengthy Text Surprisingly Well : Training software to accurately sum up information in documents could have great impact in many fields, such as medicine, law, and scientific research. (Will Knight  May 12, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

An algorithm developed by researchers at Salesforce shows how computers may eventually take on the job of summarizing documents. It uses several machine-learning tricks to produce surprisingly coherent and accurate snippets of text from longer pieces. And while it isn't yet as good as a person, it hints at how condensing text could eventually become automated.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Health care costs are bankrupting us (H. Gilbert Welch and Elliott Fisher, May 11, 2017, CNN)

High and rising prices are the most obvious problem. Americans pay much higher prices for specific services than those in other countries. Obscene price increases for selected drugs are familiar: think $600EpiPens and the Turing Pharmaceutical decision to raise Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a tablet.

But the problem is more general: Among 54 prescription drugs commonly used by older Americans, Medicare pays nearly twice as much per dose as do the government systems in Canada, England and Norway. That's why the President wants to bring our drug prices "way down."

And the price problem extends well beyond drugs: Open heart surgery is 70% more than the next highest country; an appendectomy over two times more. And the price for a day in the hospital is about five times more in the US than other developed countries.

Why are prices so high? An important part is administrative costs: our complicated insurance system requires an army of billing clerks -- employed by hospitals and physicians on one side and private insurance companies on the other. Another is that we use more technology (tests, devices) and labor (nurses) to deliver a "visit" or provide a hospital stay. Plus, some providers simply charge more for a service because they can get away with it.

If lower prices were all that was needed, increased competition might be a plausible solution. But market forces cause medical care to expand: both to provide more services to patients and to produce more patients to serve. While some of this increased volume may be beneficial, much of it produces more mixed effects -- and some is outright harmful.
Excess volume is most relevant at the extremes of medical care: care for the dying and care for those who are well.

There is excessive medical care at the end of life. Most Americans want to die peacefully at home. But most die with a costly hospitalization at the end of life -- one that often involves painful procedures and interventions.

Most Americans want to preserve resources to pass on to their children. But many will die after an extended stay in a long-term care facility -- one that can involve shuttling back and forth from the hospital. Pneumonia used to be considered a friend of the elderly, now it's just another problem to fix. Maybe such efforts lengthen life, but whether they improve quality of life is much more debatable. They certainly work to impoverish our children.

There is also excess at the other extreme: medical care for the well. In the past, people sought medical care because they were sick. Now we encourage people to be evaluated to make sure nothing is wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Comey reportedly refused to pledge loyalty to Trump (JULIE PACE, EILEEN SULLIVAN AND JAKE PEARSON May 12, 2017, AP) 

In a private dinner just a week after the election, James Comey refused to pledge his loyalty to US President Donald Trump, close confidants of the former FBI director told The New York Times in a Thursday report.

Comey instead promised Trump "honesty." Trump repeated the request, and Comey repeated his answer. When Trump then pressed for "honest loyalty," Comey told the president, "you will have that," said the associates, who told the newspaper they agreed to keep the story confidential while Comey was FBI director.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Trump's attempt to fix the Comey crisis made it worse : The president's interview contradicting the explanation his aides have given for the FBI director's firing raised more questions than it answered. (JOSH DAWSEY , ANNIE KARNI , ELIANA JOHNSON and TARA PALMERI 05/11/17, Politico)

Speaking to NBC's Lester Holt, Trump said he'd planned to fire James Comey "regardless" of whether the Department of Justice recommended it, undermining the claims made by his spokesman, vice president and every other senior aide to the contrary. [...]

Inside the White House, the mood was dour. Several White House officials said aides who didn't need to see the president stayed away from the Oval Office -- and kept their doors closed. [...]

"They're hostages," said longtime political consultant Mark Corallo, who served as Attorney General John Ashcroft's spokesman under President George W. Bush.

In the span of a dizzying few hours, the president contradicted the vice president and his press secretary, who had maintained for two days that Trump fired Comey because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested it. Trump instead said the department was in "turmoil" even though he'd previously offered praise for Comey, even blowing him a kiss.

The president, whose campaign and transition officials remain under the scrutiny of a congressional probe into potential collusion in Russian government's interference in the 2016 election, also added that he had determined that the controversy over Russian election interference was simply a "made-up story."

Earlier in the day, the acting FBI director contradicted the president and his spokespeople, testifying in the Senate that the investigation into Russian contacts with Trump's campaign is "highly significant" -- though Trump has called for the probe to end immediately and labeled it a taxpayer-funded "charade."

He is why there's a 5th Amendment.
Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Trump follows Obama's lead on natural gas exports (Amy Harder, 5/11/17, Axios)

With the China move, Trump is mostly doubling down on what President Obama got started. The Obama administration approved roughly two dozen natural-gas export applications to countries the U.S. doesn't have free-trade agreements with, according to Energy Department data. The Obama administration also rejiggered the federal review process in 2014 to make it go faster for most companies waiting for approval.

May 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


'Digital. What's digital?' (Chris Graham, 12 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

Donald Trump has told the US Navy to go back to "goddamned steam" to launch jets from its carriers, declaring the new digital system "no good".  [...]

"It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it's very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out," Mr Trump said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Labour MPs reject Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto (Kate McCann, 12 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

Labour MPs last night turned their back on Jeremy Corbyn's left-wing manifesto and vowed to oust him after the election in an attempt to save their seats.

Mr Corbyn faced an open revolt after his socialist plan for Britain was leaked to the Daily Telegraph and his own MPs claimed he did not speak for them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Q&A : Transcript: Interview with Donald Trump : The Economist talks to the President of the United States about economic policy (The Economist, 5/11/17)

What is Trumponomics and how does it differ from standard Republican economics?

Well it's an interesting question. I don't think it's ever been asked quite that way. But it really has to do with self-respect as a nation. It has to do with trade deals that have to be fair, and somewhat reciprocal, if not fully reciprocal. And I think that's a word that you're going to see a lot of, because we need reciprocality in terms of our trade deals. We have nations where...they'll get as much as 100% of a tax or a tariff for a certain product and for the same product we get nothing, OK? It's very unfair. And the very interesting thing about that is that, if I said I'm going to put a tax on of 10%, the free-traders, somewhat foolishly, they'll say "Oh, he's not a free-trader", which I am, I'm absolutely a free-trader. I'm for open trade, free trade, but I also want smart trade and fair trade. But they'll say, "He's not a free-trader," at 10%. But if I say we're putting a reciprocal tax on, it may be 62% or it may be 47%, I mean massive numbers, and nobody can complain about it. It's really sort of an amazing thing. [...]

It sounds like you're imagining a pretty big renegotiation of NAFTA. What would a fair NAFTA look like?

Big isn't a good enough word. Massive.


It's got to be. It's got to be.

What would it look like? What would a fair NAFTA look like?

No, it's gotta be. Otherwise we're terminating NAFTA.

What would a fair NAFTA look like?

I was all set to terminate, you know? And this wasn't like...this wasn't a game I was playing. I'm not know, I wasn't playing chess or poker or anything else. This was, I was, I'd never even thought's always the best when you really feel this way. But I was...I had no thought of anything else, and these two guys will tell you, I had no thought of anything else but termination. But because of my relationship with both of them, I said, I would like to give that a try too, that's fine. I mean, out of respect for them. It would've been very disrespectful to Mexico and Canada had I said, "I will not."

But Mr President, what has to change for you not to withdraw?

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Merrick Garland for FBI Director? : Welcome to the most amazing Republican troll job yet. (Dahlia Lithwick, 5/11/17, Slate)

In the event you weren't quite convinced that the White House could turn the governance of America into the world's most elaborate game of Clue, some Republicans are now floating the name of Merrick Garland to replace ousted FBI Director James Comey.


Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Acting FBI chief contradicts White House on Comey firing, Russia probe (EILEEN SULLIVAN, JULIE PACE AND DEB RIECHMANN May 11, 2017, AP) 

Piece by piece, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe undermined recent White House explanations about the firing of FBI Director James Comey during testimony before a Senate committee Thursday.

Since President Donald Trump's surprise ouster of Comey on Tuesday, the White House has justified his decision, in part, by saying that the director had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI as well as the public in general.

"That is not accurate," McCabe said in a response to a senator's question about the White House assertions. "I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day." [...]

McCabe called the investigation "highly significant" -- another contradiction of the White House portrayal -- and assured senators Comey's firing will not hinder it. He promised senators he would tolerate no interference from the White House and would not provide the administration with updates on its progress.

"You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing," he declared.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Inside Trump's anger and impatience -- and his sudden decision to fire Comey  (Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz and Robert Costa, May 10, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump kept a close hold on the process. White House press secretary Sean Spicer and communications director Michael Dubke were brought into the Oval Office and informed of the Comey decision just an hour before the news was announced. Other staffers in the West Wing found out about the FBI director's firing when their cellphones buzzed with news alerts beginning around 5:40 p.m.

The media explosion was immediate and the political backlash was swift, with criticism pouring in not only from Democrats, but also from some Republicans. Trump and some of his advisers did not fully anticipate the ferocious reaction -- in fact, some wrongly assumed many Democrats would support the move because they had been critical of Comey in the past -- and were unprepared to contain the fallout.

When asked Tuesday night for an update on the unfolding situation, one top White House aide simply texted a reporter two fireworks emoji.

"I think the surprise of a great many in the White House was that as soon as this became a Trump decision, all of the Democrats who had long been calling for Comey's ouster decided that this was now an awful decision," Dubke said. "So there was a surprise at the politicization of Democrats on this so immediately and so universally."

Trump's team did not have a full-fledged communications strategy for how to announce and then explain the decision. As Trump, who had retired to the residence to eat dinner, sat in front of a television watching cable news coverage of Comey's firing, he noticed another flaw: Nobody was defending him.

The president was irate, according to White House officials. Trump pinned much of the blame on Spicer and Dubke's communications operation, wondering how there could be so many press staffers yet such negative coverage on cable news -- although he, Priebus and others had afforded them almost no time to prepare.

"This is probably the most egregious example of press and communications incompetence since we've been here," one West Wing official said. "It was an absolute disaster. And the president watched it unfold firsthand. He could see it."

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said Trump bears some responsibility for the turmoil because he kept the decision secret from some key aides.

"You can't be the quarterback of the team if the rest of the team is not in the huddle," Gingrich said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


To Raise Gas Tax, South Carolina Lawmakers Override Governor (Cassie Cope, 5/11/17, Governing)

A proposal to raise the S.C. gas tax will become law after the Legislature Wednesday overrode Gov. Henry McMaster's veto.

The proposal, which takes effect July 1, will raise the state's gas tax by two cents a year for six years, a total of 12 cents. The bill also will hike other driving fees to raise money to repair the state's crumbling roads.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


'Enough Was Enough': How Festering Anger at Comey Ended in His Firing (MAGGIE HABERMAN, GLENN THRUSH, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and PETER BAKER, MAY 10, 2017, NY Times)

After President Trump accused his predecessor in March of wiretapping him, James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was flabbergasted. The president, Mr. Comey told associates, was "outside the realm of normal," even "crazy." [...]

[I]n private, aides said, Mr. Trump has been nursing a collection of festering grievances, including Mr. Comey's handling of the Russia investigation, his seeming lack of interest in pursuing anti-Trump leaks and the perceived disloyalty over the wiretapping claim. [...]

Mr. Comey's fate was sealed by his latest testimony about the bureau's investigation into Russia's efforts to sway the 2016 election and the Clinton email inquiry. Mr. Trump burned as he watched, convinced that Mr. Comey was grandstanding. He was particularly irked when Mr. Comey said he was "mildly nauseous" to think that his handling of the email case had influenced the election, which Mr. Trump took to demean his own role in history. [...]

Despite Mr. Trump's apparent endorsement, Mr. Comey remained skeptical about his future. He believed his unwillingness to put loyalty to Mr. Trump over his role as F.B.I. director could ultimately lead to his ouster.

"With a president who seems to prize personal loyalty above all else and a director with absolute commitment to the Constitution and pursuing investigations wherever the evidence led, a collision was bound to happen," Daniel C. Richman, a close Comey adviser and former federal prosecutor, said on Wednesday. [...]

Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser to Mr. Trump who has been under F.B.I. scrutiny as part of the Russia inquiry, was among those who urged the president to fire Mr. Comey, people briefed on the discussions said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Obama-Era Regulation Survives Vote (Chelsea Harvey And Juliet Eilperin, 5/10/17, The Washington Post)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., unexpectedly voted no against a motion to proceed with consideration of the resolution, along with GOP Sens. Susan Collins, Maine, and Lindsey Graham, S.C. Two Democrats who had considered backing the rule's elimination -- Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota and Joe Manchin, of West Virginia -- voted against the motion as well.

McCain, Sasse to oppose Trump's trade nominee over NAFTA (Damian Paletta, May 10, 2017, Washington Post)

Two Senate Republicans on Wednesday said they would vote against President Trump's nominee for U.S. trade representative, questioning the White House's adversarial negotiating tactics with Canada and Mexico.

You'd not have thought the least powerful first year Executive this side of Johnson and Ford could get any weaker, but he's managed it.
Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Pew: Here's How Badly Soviet Atheism Failed in Europe : In 18 nations across Central and Eastern Europe, religion is now essential to national identity. (JEREMY WEBER, 5/10/2017, Christianity Today)

This is how the Pew Research Center summarizes the surge of Christianity in Europe around the fallen Iron Curtain roughly 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"The comeback of religion in a region once dominated by atheist regimes is striking," states Pew in its latest report. Today, only 14 percent of the region's population identify as atheists, agnostics, or "nones." By comparison, 57 percent identify as Orthodox, and another 18 percent as Catholics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Jeremy Corbyn's left-wing Labour manifesto leaked (Kate McCann, 11 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

Jeremy Corbyn will take Britain back to the 1970s by nationalising industries, forcing wage caps on businesses and giving huge power to the unions if he gets into power, a leaked copy of Labour's draft manifesto reveals.

The 43-page document, obtained by the Daily Telegraph, shows that Mr Corbyn plans to nationalise energy, rail and mail and will introduce a 20:1 pay cap for businesses. 

It's not a manifesto; it's a suicide note.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


After Trump fired Comey, White House staff scrambled to explain why (Jenna Johnson May 10, 2017, Washington Post)

After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the darkness and among the bushes near these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.

"Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off," he ordered. "We'll take care of this. ... Can you just turn that light off?"

Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him.

We radically underestimated when we said Donald would be the greatest source of comedy in WH history.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Trump adviser had five calls with Russian envoy on day of sanctions: sources (Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed, 1/23/17, Reuters)

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia's ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow's interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The calls occurred between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals, said the sources. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing internal U.S. government deliberations about the issue.

There's nothing more hilarious in this whole kerfuffle than the argument that Donald did nothing wrong because there are no secret deals.  Donald publicly promised to lift sanctions on and form an alliance with Putin while Putin hacked his opponents.  It's not as if there can be worse hidden. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Pence Expresses 'Unwavering' U.S. Support For Ukraine's Sovereignty (Radio Liberty, May 11, 2017)

Vice President Mike Pence expressed the Trump administration's "unwavering support" for Ukraine's sovereignty in a meeting with the country's foreign minister on May 10.

The VP & Ms Haley have to try to escape the dumpster-fire untainted so they can square off in 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Comey's Firing Came as Investigators Stepped Up Russia Probe : FBI director had been providing updates to top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee (Shane Harris and  Carol E. Lee, May 10, 2017, WSJ)

In the weeks before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, a federal investigation into potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government was heating up, as Mr. Comey became increasingly occupied with the probe.

Mr. Comey started receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation, beginning at least three weeks ago, according to people with knowledge of the matter and the progress of the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. Mr. Comey was concerned by information showing potential evidence of collusion, according to these people. [....]

There currently are 11 congressional staff working on the Senate probe, a number that some lawmakers have said publicly isn't enough to handle the voluminous intelligence reporting and leads that have been generated by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


The largest health care subsidy: employer coverage (Bob Herman, 5/11/17, Axios)

Sen. Orrin Hatch controversially said this week that repealing the Affordable Care Act subsidies and Medicaid expansion is difficult because once you get people "on the dole, they'll take every dime they can."

Reality check: Nearly every American benefits from subsidized health insurance, not just those who gained coverage under the ACA. The largest health care subsidy is the same one that Hatch and millions of others take advantage of: the tax break for employer-based coverage.

May 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Sources: Comey sought to expand Trump-Russia probe to former campaign officials (TIM JOHNSON, PETER STONE AND DAVID GOLDSTEIN, 5/10/17, McClatchy)

The former official stressed that whatever differences existed within the FBI about Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation, "bureau agents are united in their contempt for how he was fired."

Comey learned of his removal, three years into a 10-year term, from a television newscast while speaking to agents on a trip to Hollywood, California.

"People at the FBI are outraged and angry" over Comey's firing, said Jeff Ringel, a 21-year FBI veteran who is now with the Soufan Group, a strategic security firm in New York City. "It was unprofessional, crass and cowardly the way that Comey was blindsided." [...]

Few professionals in the Justice Department believe that Comey's firing was tied to anything other than the displeasure of the White House at the Russia probe.

"Everybody reads this as the White House wanting to send a warning shot across the bow of the Russia investigation and to slow it down," said Schroeder, who now teaches at Duke University's law school.

Some career investigators may not take kindly to the political pressure, said Alex Whiting, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at Harvard Law School.

"If they feel like this was designed to push them back, they will be emboldened," Whiting said, and may confront Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who has taken the reins of the Russia probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew from involvement in the inquiry after it was disclosed that he met twice with Russia's ambassador last year.

Whiting said he believes Rosenstein "is very weakened" as a result of his role in Comey's "orchestrated firing," and will soon feel pressure from senior Justice Department officials to name a special counsel to take over the Russia influence investigation.

"It's very possible that in the next few days, the political pressure will be so intense that he'll have little choice," Whiting said.

He said many career Justice Department officials care deeply about its image and the perception that it remains free of political meddling.

"Any time that there's a perception that the independence of the Justice Department may have been compromised by a political decision, that's very damaging to the institution," Whiting said. "And it's a lasting damage."

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Days Before He Was Fired, Comey Asked for Money for Russia Investigation (MATTHEW ROSENBERG and MATT APUZZO, MAY 10, 2017, NY Times)

Days before he was fired, James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau's investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election, according to three officials with knowledge of his request.

...that corruption is less objectionable if you conduct it in the open.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Lavrov Makes Joke About Comey Termination  (David Rutz, May 10, 2017, Free Beacon)

After Tillerson welcomed Lavrov to Washington to continue their dialogue on the issues dividing Russia and the United States, NBC's Andrea Mitchell and other reporters yelled out questions about Comey's firing.

"Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks?" Mitchell asked.

"Was he fired?" Lavrov asked in an innocent tone. "You're kidding! You're kidding!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


WHITE MISCHIEF (Joseph Epstein,  April 25, 2017 , Claremont Review of Books)

When the final reviews--that is, the obituaries--came in, Evelyn Waugh's were mixed. His literary accomplishments were noted, so too his Catholic apologetics, but heavy emphasis was put upon his reactionary views and his snobbery. Waugh's son Auberon, responding to these notices, countered that they were wrong about his father's snobbery (he scarcely cared about pedigree) and his politics ("politics bored him"), and missed the main point about him: "[i]t is simply that he was the funniest man of his generation."

Quite so, though it needs to be added that in the case of Evelyn Waugh funny was not always the same as amusing. Amusing suggests light, whimsical, charming. P.G. Wodehouse is amusing. Waugh's humor tended to the dark, and, given his often gratuitous pugnacity, usually had a victim, or at least an edge. When the favorite of his seven children, his daughter Margaret, wished to live on her own, he told her "you are no more ready for independence than the Congo." After Randolph Churchill had what turned out to be a benign tumor removed through surgery, Waugh remarked that it was the only thing about Randolph that wasn't malignant and they removed it. When someone called his attention to a typographical error in one of his books, he replied that one cannot get any decent proofreading now "that they no longer defrock priests for sodomy." Waugh's humor was also strong in the line of mischief. While serving in the British army in Yugoslavia during World War II, he spread the rumor that Marshal Tito was a woman--and a lesbian into the bargain. Of his teaching at a boys school in Wales he claimed to take "a certain perverse pleasure in making all I teach as dreary to the boys as it is to myself." When his friend and fellow convert Ronald Knox asked him if he, Knox, seemed to nod off while giving a lecture, Waugh replied that indeed he did, but only for "twenty minutes." He described travel to Mexico as "like sitting in a cinema, seeing the travel film of a country one has no intention of visiting." Of the reception in America of his novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), he wrote: "My book has been a great success in the United States which is upsetting because I thought it in good taste before and now I know it can't be."

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Before James Comey's Dismissal, a Growing Frustration at White House -- "Comey was too eager to step in front of TV cameras." -- "He's become more famous than me." (Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael C. Bender and Del Quentin Wilber, 5/09/17, The Wall Street Journal)

The more James Comey showed up on television discussing the FBI's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, the more the White House bristled, according to aides to President Donald Trump.

Frustration was growing among top associates of the president that Mr. Comey, in a series of appearances before a Senate panel, wouldn't publicly tamp down questions about possible collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race. A person with knowledge of recent conversations said they wanted Mr. Comey to "say those three little words: 'There's no ties.'"

In the months before his decision to dismiss Mr. Comey as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Trump grew unhappy that the media spotlight kept shining on the director.

May 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Bernie the tortoise returns home after 9½ months (Kyle Stucker, 5/09/17,

At first blush, Kristine Spencer's ordeal seems filled with a number of hot-button political elements ripped right from last year's presidential election -- a Bernie, a shocking loss, a link to Russia, a swamp, and a wall.

But her story isn't a political thriller at all -- it's a tale about a Gonic woman, a Rochester city councilor, a psychic and a missing tortoise.

Spencer's beloved 6-year-old Russian tortoise Bernie recently returned home on his own, roughly 9½ months after escaping a pen in Spencer's Railroad Avenue back yard in July -- coincidentally, just one day before the tortoise's namesake, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, formally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

Spencer is overjoyed because she and her friends spent countless hours posting signs and searching the dense woods and swamp behind her home. They believed Bernie may have made it to the swamp, as Spencer found a hole under her fence and flattened grass, about the width of Bernie, pointing toward the swamp after Bernie went missing July 11.

They even called New York psychic Kristin Thompson, who is experienced at communicating with lost pets. Thompson claimed she could see through Bernie's eyes and was able to feel he was within a mile of the house. While Thompson was confident Bernie would return, things didn't look good for the missing reptile when winter came.

"Winter was so long and so cold," said Spencer, who named Bernie after Sanders because she adopted him from a home in Vermont. "I looked everywhere for him. I didn't think he'd have the wits to survive."

Then, on the evening of April 29, as Spencer's husband, Rochester City Councilor Tom Abbott, was returning home, he spotted a man helping a tortoise cross Railroad Avenue, just a few houses up the street from Spencer and Abbott's home.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Condoleezza Rice: I feel bad for 'lonely' President Trump (Sarah Taylor, 5/09/17, The Blaze)

 Rice expressed some sadness for the president:

He had never been in government before. And when you haven't been in government before, sometimes it looks kind of easy in there, until you get in there. And when he said, you know, "This job's a lot harder than I thought," I actually kind of felt bad for him, because it is a really hard job, and it's a lonely job, and you want people around you who you trust.

Pretty sure pity wasn't the reaction he expected his presidency to provoke.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Sinking of the Liman Undermines Russia's Sea Power Credentials (Ridvan Bari Urcosta, May 4, 2017, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

While operating in Black Sea waters near the mouth of the Bosporus, on April 27, the Russian naval reconnaissance vessel Liman sank after colliding with the Youzarsif, a Togo-flagged livestock freighter. The incident did tremendous damage to Russia's self-promoted image as a global sea power, particularly when looked at in the context of two other important events that occurred only a week before.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Are methane seeps in the Arctic slowing global warming? (Randall Hyman, May. 8, 2017, Science)

Good news about climate change is especially rare in the Arctic. But now comes news that increases in one greenhouse gas--methane--lead to the dramatic decline of another. Research off the coast of Norway's Svalbard archipelago suggests that where methane gas bubbles up from seafloor seeps, surface waters directly above absorb twice as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as surrounding waters. The findings suggest that methane seeps in isolated spots in the Arctic could lessen the impact of climate change.

"This is ... totally unexpected," says Brett Thornton, a geochemist at Stockholm University who was not involved in the research. These new findings challenge the popular assumption that methane seeps inevitably increase the global greenhouse gas burden.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Trump Taj Mahal c*sino sold for 4 cents on the dollar (Associated Press, 5/09/17)

The Trump Taj Mahal, the Atlantic City, N.J., c*sino that the real estate mogul built for $1.2 billion in 1990, went for 4 cents on the dollar when it was sold in March.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM



Among the new "charging practices" that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this month--ostensibly to help establish lawfulness in our immigration system--is the prosecution of individuals aiding or assisting criminal aliens entering the United States. Despite what the administration wants Americans to believe, the law is not new, although prioritized enforcement of the policy is.

In fact, there is no reason these laws need prioritization, since they are well-known and regularly used. Publicizing enforcement of the laws serves mainly to chill the behavior of Americans, and to isolate their undocumented neighbors, family members, and fellow community members.

One of the illegals on our geoseismic crew was a 17-year old kid who drove a red Dodge Charger with horse head decals on the doors.  Suffice it to say, he had no license and no insurance.  We convinced him he needed to at least be a little more subtle and we made him room with us.  When the crew changed locations--distances up to 8 hours--one of us would drive the car.  We once did the math and figured out that 40% of the vehicles in our convoy were being driven by either an illegal or a native with a suspended license for DUI.

Our buddies on a crew closer to the border would sneak the illegals on their crew over the border when they had days off and visited the whorehouses in Nuevo Laredo.  

And every time we got paid they'd show us the federal withholding on their checks....

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Rohani Chides 'Executioners And Jailers' In 'Risky' Campaign Gambit (Golnaz Esfandiari, 5/09/17, Radio Liberty)

In a campaign speech in the western city of Hamedan, Rohani said on May 8 that voters did not want someone who in the four decades since Iran's revolution has only known how to "execute and jail."

That appeared to be a reference to hard-line candidate and cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is said to have condemned many political opponents and opposition activists to death during a spate of thousands of summary trials in the 1980s.

Raisi spent years in senior regional and national posts in Iran's powerful judiciary, which plays a key role in enforcing state repression and silencing critics.

Iranian political analyst Taghi Rahmani called Rohani's tactic potentially "risky," because it could anger powerful hard-line interests, including within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a branch of the military, and the judiciary.

There is no risk.  Iranians agree.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Richard Simmons sues over tabloids' sex change stories (DEBRA CASSENS WEISS, 5/09/17, ABA Journal)

Richard Simmons says he supports transgender rights, but he is entitled to truthful reporting on his personal life.

The fitness guru on Monday sued the National Enquirer and Radar Online for reporting that he had undergone "shocking sex surgery" and was "now living as a gal named Fiona," report the Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Don't Screen For Thyroid Cancer, Task Force Says (Richard Harris, 5/09/17, NPR)

If you hear rock star Rod Stewart's husky voice in a radio spot imploring you to get your thyroid checked for cancer, don't be seduced.

An industry-backed foundation has been putting out that message, with Stewart as a celebrity spokesman, but it's not based on sound science. No major medical organization recommends mass screening for thyroid cancer.

Now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has added its forceful voice to the mix. The federal oversight group puts thyroid cancer screening in its don't-do-it category, in recommendations published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday.

"The harms outweigh the benefits," task force member Dr. Seth Landefeld says.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


8 out of 14 Trump administration officials clicked a link in a fake phishing email sent to them by Gizmodo (The Week, 5/09/17)

When sent a fake phishing email by the technology website Gizmodo, more than half of 14 targeted Trump administration officials fell for clicking on the potentially dangerous link. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


US has 5.7 million job openings, near record high (Patrick Gillespie, 5/09/17, CNNMoney)

Looking for a job? America has 5.7 million openings.

That's close to the record number of job openings reported by the Labor Department since it started tracking them in 2000. The US had an all-time high of 5.9 million openings last July.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


Students Leave a Pineapple In a Museum, Everyone Mistakes It for Art (Nahema Marchal, May 9, 2017, Heat Street)

A pineapple that was left in the middle of an art exhibition by two students at a Scottish university has now been "adopted" as a work of art.

Ruairi Gray, 22, and his friend Lloyd Jack, left the exotic fruit they had bought in a supermarket for £1 on a stand at the Look Again exhibition at Robert Gordon University (RGU) as a "joke."

To their surprise, when the two friends later returned to the exhibition four days later, the pineapple had been covered by a glass case and put on show at the center of the display.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Testosterone is the enemy of smart investing decisions, study finds (Mitch Tuchman, May 9, 2017, Marketwatch)

A new study from Caltech, Wharton, Western University and ZRT Laboratory found that men are quicker to make judgments and less likely to examine facts that might prove them wrong. [...]

"What we found was the testosterone group was quicker to make snap judgments on brain teasers where your initial guess is usually wrong," says Caltech Professor Colin Camerer.

"The testosterone is either inhibiting the process of mentally checking your work or increasing the intuitive feeling that 'I'm definitely right.'"

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Appeals Court Focuses on Trump's Travel Ban Comments : Trump used phrases 'Muslim ban' and 'we all know what that means' (Todd Ruger, 5/09/17, Roll Call)

 A federal appeals court appeared ready Monday to deliver another legal setback to the administration's revised travel ban based on whether it should use President Donald Trump's own comments against him.

Trump's statements on the campaign trail and as president were front and center as the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard more than two hours of arguments about whether the government should be able to implement key parts of an executive order that advocacy groups say unconstitutionally targets Muslims.

The case appears to come down to whether comments from Trump -- such as calling it a "Muslim ban" and saying "we all know what that means" when signing the first version of the executive order -- can be used to determine the purpose behind the ban. 

"That's the most important issue in the whole case," Judge Robert B. King said during arguments.

It appeared Monday that a majority of the 4th Circuit seemed ready to consider those statements as part of the case, likely leading to a ruling that would uphold a lower court order that has temporarily blocked the order's implementation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Putin Shoots Himself In The Foot (Brian Whitmore, 5/09/17. Radio Liberty)

The hacking didn't work.

The leaks didn't work.

The fake news didn't work.

And the smear campaign didn't work.

So now the Kremlin is saying: can't we all just get along?

In his congratulatory message to Emmanuel Macron yesterday, Vladimir Putin called on the French president-elect to overcome the "mutual mistrust" between Paris and Moscow.

That's pretty rich when you consider who created the mutual mistrust.

It's pretty rich given that for months the Kremlin-backed media and Kremlin-backed social-media trolls have been relentlessly smearing Macron with lies, rumors, and innuendo.

It's pretty rich when in the midst of the French election campaign, Putin hosted Macron's rival, the nationalist Marine Le Pen, in the Kremlin.

And it's pretty rich considering that a cyberattack on Macron's campaign and a data dump on the eve of the election looked suspiciously like the Kremlin's handiwork.

It can't work out worse than backing Donald did.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


IS Video Purportedly Shows Beheading Of Russian Officer In Syria (Radio Liberty, May 09, 2017)

The extremist group Islamic State has issued a video showing the beheading of a man it described as a Russian intelligence officer captured in Syria, according to a U.S.-based monitoring organization.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Amazon lowers free shipping minimum ... again (Kathryn Vasel, May 8, 2017, Money)

The company has lowered the minimum for non-Prime members to $25 of eligible items, according to a shipping page on its website.

Shoppers used to have to spend $35 or more to qualify for free shipping. The new minimum represents a drop of nearly 29%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Science proves Stradivarius violins just aren't that great (Cosmos, 5/09/17)

Stradivarius violins - made in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Stradivari family in Italy - are regarded by many as sounding better than any others, especially instruments made in modern times.

But research published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) might have finally consigned that pre-eminence to the realm of myth.

Testing led by Claudia Fritz from the Pierre & Marie Curie University in Paris concludes robustly that concert-goers far prefer the volume and tone of new violins. [...]

The finding harmonises with the research published by Fritz and colleagues in 2014. In a blind listening experiment, professional violinists asked to distinguish between Stradivari and modern instruments were unable to do so at a rate better than chance.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Comey's Testimony on Huma Abedin Forwarding Emails Was Inaccurate : The FBI hasn't decided how to correct the director's false claim that she forwarded thousands of Clinton emails to the laptop computer of her husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. (Peter Elkind, 5/08/17, ProPublica)

The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

ProPublica is reporting a story on the FBI's handling of the Clinton emails and raised questions with government officials last week about possible inaccuracies in Comey's statements about Abedin.

It could not be learned how the mistake occurred. The FBI and Abedin declined ProPublica's requests for comment on the director's misstatements.

According to two sources familiar with the matter -- including one in law enforcement -- Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing -- not the "hundreds and thousands" cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made "a regular practice" of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.

It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 "classified" emails Comey said had been found on Weiner's laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.

May 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Raising the Gas Tax Is No Longer Taboo In Many States : Nearly half the states have increased fuel taxes in the past five years, suggesting it's perhaps not the political risk it was once thought to be.  (DANIEL C. VOCK, MAY 8, 2017, Governing)

While raising the gas tax is still a politically treacherous idea in Washington, lawmakers in state capitals are increasingly coming around to it. Already this year, governors in California, Indiana and Tennessee signed laws to raise fuel taxes, meaning a total of 22 states have passed laws imposing higher gas taxes in the past five years. Chances are also good that the list will grow even longer this year.

"It is such an unusual thing to see nearly two dozen states boosting taxes in such a short amount of time," says Carl Davis, the research director for the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). But the reason so many states have gone ahead with fuel tax increases is because of support from business groups. "They're viewing [gas tax hikes] as economic development initiatives," he says.

Ratings agency analysts agree with the assessment. "These states' actions address investment needs that are critical to preserving and expanding their economies," wrote researchers at Moody's Investors Service last week. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


White House advisors called Ottawa to urge Trudeau to help talk Trump down from scrapping NAFTA (John Ivison, May 8, 2017, National Post)

White House staff called the Prime Minister's Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade President Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources.

The unconventional diplomatic manoeuvre -- approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss -- proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Washington Loves General McMaster, But Trump Doesn't (Eli Lake, May 8, 2017, Bloomberg)

[I]nside the White House, the McMaster pick has not gone over well with the one man who matters most. White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with McMaster in front of his staff.

On policy, the faction of the White House loyal to senior strategist Steve Bannon is convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. [...]

Trump was livid, according to three White House officials, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president's threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share.

The point of the generals is that they won't listen to Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


This GOP senator tried to shame Sally Yates for opposing Trump's travel ban. She demolished him. (Becca Stanek, 5/08/17, The Week)

When Cornyn questioned Yates' "authority to overrule the Office of Legal Counsel," she had a snappy response ready to fire. "Well," Yates said, "I was the attorney general of the United States."

Watch a portion of the exchange. 

Probably not a great line of questioning when Donald already had to withdraw the order that the Judiciary found unconstitutional.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


How Do You Make a Fox Your Friend? Fast-Forward Evolution : a review of HOW TO TAME A FOX (AND BUILD A DOG) Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution By Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut  (MARLENE ZUKMAY 5, 2017, NY Times)

"How to Tame a Fox" sets out to answer a simple-seeming question: What makes a dog a dog? Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to gaze adoringly at a member of another species? In the late 1950s, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Belyaev decided to address this puzzle by taking the unheard-of tack of replicating the domestication process in real time. He and his colleagues took silver foxes, widely bred in vast Siberian farms for their luxurious pelts, and made them into friendly house pets. It was a deceptively simple process: Take the puppies from only the friendliest foxes, breed them and repeat. Lyudmila Trut, the current lead researcher of the silver fox experiment, who began work as Belyaev's intern, along with Lee Alan Dugatkin, an American scientist and writer at the University of Louisville, documents their monumental effort in this sparkling new book.

Belyaev died in 1985, but the experiment is still ongoing, with 56 generations of foxes bred to date -- a far cry from the snarling creatures that used to snap at the hands of their caretakers when the research began. The new foxes run toward people, jump on the bed and nuzzle one another as well as their human caretakers. Such a behavioral transformation was to some degree expected, since they were bred from the tamest members of their groups. Perhaps more intriguing, they also look more doglike, with floppy ears, wagging tails and piebald fur. Recent work uses modern genomics to understand the genetics behind the foxes' changes in personality and appearance. The results are not nearly as widely known among scientists, not to mention the public, as they deserve to be.

There are no animals that can not be domesticated.  There are animals we have not domesticated.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The End of the Left/Right Divide? (Ian Buruma, 5/08/17, Project Syndicate)

There is little doubt that something shifted in the last decades of the twentieth century. Left-wing parties began to lose - in some countries more quickly than others - their base in the industrial working class. Redistribution of wealth became gradually less important than the social emancipation of ethnic and sexual minorities. The old alliance between intellectual idealists and trade unions gave way to rainbow coalitions of intellectuals, non-whites, feminists, and gays.

Meanwhile, right-wing parties, like the Republicans in the United States, paid lip service to the social conservatism, and sometimes outright bigotry, of less privileged voters in rural and provincial areas, while doing what was best for big business once they were in power.
What was good for big business - international cooperation, pan-national institutions, and openness to immigration - was not always against the interests of the evolving left-of-center parties. Big business benefited from cheap labor, and the left favored multiculturalism.

It made some sense, then, that European social democrats frequently ended up in coalition governments with moderate pro-business conservatives or Christian Democrats. This trend was boosted by the collapse of the Soviet empire, because Western liberal democracies no longer had the same pressing need to counter the Communist model with egalitarian arrangements of their own. The electoral successes of Bill Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in the United Kingdom had much to do with their deliberate tilts towards the pragmatic, neoliberal, business-friendly center.

In this respect, distinctions between left and right have indeed collapsed. The old idea of a left representing the downtrodden proletariat against the interests of big business and the bourgeoisie is gone. One reason why the British Labour Party is in such disarray is that it is led by a man, Jeremy Corbyn, whose politics haven't changed since the 1970s.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Why did Trump win? More whites -- and fewer blacks -- actually voted. (Bernard L. Fraga, Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner May 8, 2017, Washington Post)

Using data from the voter file vendor Catalist and information from the U.S. Census Bureau, we examine the change in turnout rates for different racial/ethnic groups between 2012 and 2016. Black turnout declined dramatically; white turnout increased noticeably; and Latino and Asian American turnout went up even more. In the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, those shifts were especially strong. How strong? Without those shifts in turnout from various racial and ethnic groups, these pivotal states might have gone not to Trump but to Clinton -- giving Clinton an electoral college victory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


BORN TOWARD DYING (Richard John Neuhaus, February 2000, First Things)

My first clear memory is of the next morning, I don't know what time. I am surrounded by doctors and technicians talking in a worried tone about why I am not coming to. I heard everything that was said and desperately wanted to respond, but I was locked into absolute immobility, incapable of moving an eyelash or twitching a toe. The sensation was that of being encased in marble; pink marble, I thought, such as is used for gravestones. The surgeon repeatedly urged me to move my thumb, but it was impossible. Then I heard, "The Cardinal is here." It was my bishop, John Cardinal O'Connor. He spoke directly into my right ear, repeatedly calling my name. Then, "Richard, wriggle your nose." It was a plea and a command, and I wanted to do it more urgently than anything I have ever wanted to do in my life. The trying, the sheer exercise of will to wriggle my nose, seemed to go on and on, and then I felt a twinge, no more than a fraction of a millimeter, and the Cardinal said, "He did it! He did it!" "I didn't see anything," said the surgeon. So I tried again, and I did it again, and everybody saw it, and the Cardinal and the doctors and the technicians all began to exclaim what a wonderful thing it was, as though one had risen from the dead.

The days in the intensive care unit was an experience familiar to anyone who has ever been there. I had never been there before, except to visit others, and that is nothing like being there. I was struck by my disposition of utter passivity. There was absolutely nothing I could do or wanted to do, except to lie there and let them do whatever they do in such a place. Indifferent to time, I neither knew nor cared whether it was night or day. I recall counting sixteen different tubes and other things plugged into my body before I stopped counting. From time to time, it seemed several times an hour but surely could not have been, a strange young woman with a brown wool hat and heavy gold necklace would come by and whisper, "I want blood." She stuck in a needle and took blood, smiling mysteriously all the time. She could have said she wanted to cut off my right leg and I would probably have raised no objection. So busy was I with just being there, with one thought that was my one and every thought: "I almost died."

Astonishment and passivity were strangely mixed. I confess to having thought of myself as a person very much in charge. Friends, meaning, I trust, no unkindness, had sometimes described me as a control freak. Now there was nothing to be done, nothing that I could do, except be there. Here comes a most curious part of the story, and readers may make of it what they will. Much has been written on "near death" experiences. I had always been skeptical of such tales. I am much less so now. I am inclined to think of it as a "near life" experience, and it happened this way.

It was a couple of days after leaving intensive care, and it was night. I could hear patients in adjoining rooms moaning and mumbling and occasionally calling out; the surrounding medical machines were pumping and sucking and bleeping as usual. Then, all of a sudden, I was jerked into an utterly lucid state of awareness. I was sitting up in the bed staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat. What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two "presences." I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that. But they were there, and I knew that I was not tied to the bed. I was able and prepared to get up and go somewhere. And then the presences--one or both of them, I do not know--spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: "Everything is ready now."

That was it. They waited for a while, maybe for a minute. Whether they were waiting for a response or just waiting to see whether I had received the message, I don't know. "Everything is ready now." It was not in the form of a command, nor was it an invitation to do anything. They were just letting me know. Then they were gone, and I was again flat on my back with my mind racing wildly. I had an iron resolve to determine right then and there what had happened. Had I been dreaming? In no way. I was then and was now as lucid and wide awake as I had ever been in my life.

Tell me that I was dreaming and you might as well tell me that I was dreaming that I wrote the sentence before this one. Testing my awareness, I pinched myself hard, and ran through the multiplication tables, and recalled the birth dates of my seven brothers and sisters, and my wits were vibrantly about me. The whole thing had lasted three or four minutes, maybe less. I resolved at that moment that I would never, never let anything dissuade me from the reality of what had happened. Knowing myself, I expected I would later be inclined to doubt it. It was an experience as real, as powerfully confirmed by the senses, as anything I have ever known. That was some seven years ago. Since then I have not had a moment in which I was seriously tempted to think it did not happen. It happened--as surely, as simply, as undeniably as it happened that I tied my shoelaces this morning. I could as well deny the one as deny the other, and were I to deny either I would surely be mad.

"Everything is ready now." I would be thinking about that incessantly during the months of convalescence. My theological mind would immediately go to work on it. They were angels, of course. Angelos simply means "messenger." There were no white robes or wings or anything of that sort. As I said, I did not see them in any ordinary sense. But there was a message; therefore there were messengers. Clearly, the message was that I could go somewhere with them. Not that I must go or should go, but simply that they were ready if I was. Go where? To God, or so it seemed. I understood that they were ready to get me ready to see God. It was obvious enough to me that I was not prepared, in my present physical and spiritual condition, for the beatific vision, for seeing God face to face. They were ready to get me ready. This comports with the doctrine of purgatory, that there is a process of purging and preparation to get us ready to meet God. I should say that their presence was entirely friendly. There was nothing sweet or cloying, and there was no urgency about it. It was as though they just wanted to let me know. The decision was mine as to when or whether I would take them up on the offer.

There is this about being really sick, you get an enormous amount of attention. I cannot say that I did not enjoy it. In the pain and the nausea and the boredom without end, there were times when I was content to lie back and enjoy the attention. It was a kind of compensation. Over these days there were hundreds of cards and letters and phone calls and, later, brief visits--the last by people who sometimes betrayed the hope of having a final word with what they took to be their dying friend. Some of those who checked in I had not seen in years. Nor have I seen them since, so busy are we with our several busynesses. Sickness is an enforced pause for the counting up of our friends, and being grateful.

In all the cards and letters assuring me of prayer, and almost all did offer such assurance, there were notable differences. Catholics say they are "storming the gates of heaven" on your behalf, and have arranged to have Masses said. Evangelical Protestants are "lifting you up before the throne." Mainline Protestants, Jews, and the unaffiliated let it go with a simple "I am praying for you," or "You are in my prayers." One gets the impression that Catholics and evangelicals are more aggressive on the prayer front.

Then there were longer letters laying out the case for my getting better. A friend who is a constitutional scholar at an Ivy League university wrote a virtual lawyer's brief summing up the reasons for dying and the reasons for living, and came down strongly on the side of my living. It was very odd, because after that there were a number of similar letters, all arguing that I should stay around for a while and assuming that I was undecided about that. I was undecided. This struck me as strange: at the time of crisis and in the months of recovery following, I was never once afraid. I don't claim it as a virtue; it was simply the fact. It had less to do with courage than with indifference. Maybe this is "holy indifference," what the spiritual manuals describe as "a quality in a person's love for God above all that excludes preferences for any person, object, or condition of life." Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, and Ignatius Loyola all write at length about such holy indifference. All I know is that I was surprisingly indifferent to whether I would live or die. It probably had less to do with holiness than with my knowing that there was nothing I could do about it one way or the other.

On the other hand, there was the message: "Everything is ready now." As though the decision were mine, to stay or to go. A friend who had written with his son the story of his son's several years of waging a heroic battle against a horrific series of cancers sent me their book, inscribed with the admonition "to fight relentlessly for life." It was very kind, but I was not at all disposed to fight. More to the point were those letters calmly laying out the reasons why it would be better for others, if not for me, were I to live rather than to die. Over the slow weeks and slower months of recovery, I gradually came to agree. But still very tentatively.

When I was recuperating at home and could take phone calls, those calls became a staple of everyday existence. There were dozens of calls daily; closer friends called every day. Somebody was always on call-waiting. I enjoyed it shamelessly. Although I was often too tired to talk, when I had the energy I related in detail, over and over again, every minuscule change in my condition. With a credible display of intense interest, people listened to the problems with colostomy bags and the latest wrinkle in controlling the nausea that came with chemotherapy. And always in my talking, I was on the edge of tears. I, who had seldom cried in my adult life, was regularly, and without embarrassment, blubbering. Not in sadness. Not at all. But in a kind of amazement that this had happened to me, and maybe I was going to die and maybe I was going to live, and it was all quite out of my control. That was it, I think: I was not in charge, and it was both strange and very good not to be in charge.

Tentatively, I say, I began to think that I might live. It was not a particularly joyful prospect. Everything was shrouded by the thought of death, that I had almost died, that I may still die, that everyone and everything is dying. As much as I was grateful for all the calls and letters, I harbored a secret resentment. These friends who said they were thinking about me and praying for me all the time, I knew they also went shopping and visited their children and tended to their businesses, and there were long times when they were not thinking about me at all. More important, they were forgetting the primordial, overwhelming, indomitable fact: we are dying! Why weren't they as crushingly impressed by that fact as I was?

After a month or so, I could, with assistance, walk around the block. Shuffle is the more accurate term, irrationally fearing with every step that my stomach would rip open again. I have lived in New York almost forty years and have always been a fierce chauvinist about the place. When you're tired of London, you're tired of life, said Dr. Johnson. I had always thought that about New York, where there is more terror and tenderness per square foot than any place in the world. I embraced all the clichés about the place, the palpable vitality of its streets, the electricity in the air, and so forth and so on. Shuffling around the block and then, later, around several blocks, I was tired of it. Death was everywhere. The children at the playground at 19th Street and Second Avenue I saw as corpses covered with putrefying skin. The bright young model prancing up Park Avenue with her portfolio under her arm and dreaming of the success she is to be, doesn't she know she's going to die, that she's already dying? I wanted to cry out to everybody and everything, "Don't you know what's happening?" But I didn't. Let them be in their innocence and ignorance. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

Surprising to me, and to others, I did what had to be done with my work. I read manuscripts, wrote my columns, made editorial decisions, but all listlessly. It didn't really matter. After some time, I could shuffle the few blocks to the church and say Mass. At the altar, I cried a lot, and hoped the people didn't notice. To think that I'm really here after all, I thought, at the altar, at the axis mundi, the center of life. And of death. I would be helped back to the house, and days beyond numbering I would simply lie on the sofa looking out at the back yard. That birch tree, which every winter looked as dead as dead could be, was budding again. Would I be here to see it in full leaf, to see its leaves fall in the autumn? Never mind. It doesn't matter.

When I was a young man a parishioner told me, "Do all your praying before you get really sick. When you're sick you can't really pray." She was right, at least in largest part. Being really sick--vomiting, and worrying about what will show up on the next blood test, and trying to ignore the pain at three o'clock in the morning--is a full-time job. At best, you want to recede into relatively painless passivity, and listen to your older sister reading Willa Cather, as my sister read to me. During those long nights, My Antonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Shadows on the Rock, and at those times I could have wished it to go on and on. Not that it mattered, but it was ever so pleasant being ever so pampered.

People are different around the very sick, especially when they think they may be dying. In the hospital, bishops came to visit and knelt by my bedside, asking for a blessing. A Jewish doctor, professing himself an atheist, asked for my prayers with embarrassed urgency. His wife had cancer, he explained, "And you know about that now." Call it primitive instinct or spiritual insight, but there is an aura about the sick and dying. They have crossed a line into a precinct others do not know. It is the aura of redemptive suffering, of suffering "offered up" on behalf of others, because there is nothing else to be done with it and you have to do something with it. The point is obvious but it impressed me nonetheless: when you are really sick it is impossible to imagine what it is like to be really well; and when you are well it is almost impossible to remember what it was like to be really sick. They are different precincts.

I had lost nearly fifty pounds and was greatly weakened. There was still another major surgery to come, to reverse the colostomy. You don't want to know the details. It was not the most dangerous surgery, but it was the third Mack truck, and for a long time afterward I barely had strength to lift my hand. Then, step by almost imperceptible step, I was recovering and dared to hope that I would be well again, that I would stride down the street again, that I would take on new projects again. Very little things stand out like luminous signposts. The first time I was able to take a shower by myself. It was dying and rising again in baptismal flood. When one day I was sent home from the hospital after another round of tests, I was told that, if I did not urinate by five o'clock, I should come back to the emergency room and someone would put the catheter back in. My heart sank. It was quite irrational, but going back to the emergency room would have been like recapitulating the entire ordeal of these last several months. I could not endure the thought. When at four o'clock I peed a strong triumphant pee, my heart was lifted on high, and with tears of gratitude I began to sing with feeble voice a Te Deum. I thought, "I am going to get better." And I allowed myself, ever so tentatively, to be glad.

That was seven years ago. I feel very well now. They tell me I might be around for another twenty years or so. Medical science, perhaps arbitrarily, says five years is the point of complete recovery when you are reassigned to your age slot on the actuarial chart. But just to be safe, the tests continue on a regular basis. Next Monday we get the latest report on the CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen), the blood indicator of cancerous activity, although the doctor says the test is really not necessary. But I think I am well now. It took a long time after the surgeries, almost two years, before the day came when I suddenly realized that the controlling thought that day had not been the thought of death. And now, in writing this little essay, it all comes back. I remember where I have been, and where I will be again, and where we will all be.

There is nothing that remarkable in my story, except that we are all unique in our living and dying. Early on in my illness a friend gave me John Donne's wondrous Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. The Devotions were written a year after Donne had almost died, and then lingered for months by death's door. He writes, "Though I may have seniors, others may be elder than I, yet I have proceeded apace in a good university, and gone a great way in a little time, by the furtherance of a vehement fever." So I too have been to a good university, and what I have learned, what I have learned most importantly, is that, in living and in dying, everything is ready now.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Trump Isn't Accomplishing Anything But His Voters Don't Care (Bill Scher, May 08, 2017, RCP)

On Thursday, President Trump held a Rose Garden party for a bill that has not become a law. Earlier in the day, he signed an executive order ostensibly to give churches the ability to directly participate in electoral politics, but the order was so toothless the American Civil Liberties Union said it wasn't worth the effort to sue. The following day, Trump signed into law a spending bill that including no money for his signature policy proposal: building a southern border wall.

As Trump compiles a record of failures, feints and half-finished work, his determined opponents anxiously await the moment when his voters will wake up and realize they have been conned.

It's a moment that never comes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


The Stubborn Persistence of Confederate Monuments (DAVID A. GRAHAM  APR 26, 2016, The Atlantic)

[S]chools are perhaps some of the most egregious examples--unlike monuments to the local war dead, for example, they go out of their way to celebrate the rebellion in a venue otherwise unconnected to the war. Lee, the great beneficiary of the late-20th century "Lost Cause" myth, is the most common honoree, with 52 schools named for him. Other common namesakes include Jackson (15 schools), Jefferson Davis (13), and P.G.T. Beauregard and Nathan Bedford Forrest (seven each). Forrest is a particularly appalling choice. A cavalry general and probable war criminal, Forrest was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Several years ago, a school board in Jacksonville, Florida, removed his name from a high school--which hadn't been integrated until 1971, and then only after a federal court order. SPLC notes that 27 of these 109 schools named for prominent Confederates are majority black. [...]

Many of the treasured monuments that seem to offer a connection to the post-bellum South are actually much later, anachronistic constructions, and they tend to correlate closely with periods of fraught racial relations, as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum has noted. South Carolina didn't hoist the battle flag in Columbia until 1961--the anniversary of the war's start, but also the middle of the civil-rights push, and a time when many white Southerners were on the defensive about issues like segregation and voting rights.

A timeline of the genesis of the Confederate sites shows two notable spikes. One comes around the turn of the 20th century, just after Plessy v. Ferguson, and just as many Southern states were establishing repressive race laws. The second runs from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s--the peak of the civil-rights movement. In other words, the erection of Confederate monuments has been a way to perform cultural resistance to black equality.

Where's Sherman when we need him...

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Richard Florida, Famous for His Optimism About Cities, Is Now an Urban Pessimist : review of The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class--and What We Can Do About It.  (Justin Davidson, 5/08/17, New York)

Florida lards his book with plenty of data-driven analysis to show that cities are suffering from what he calls "winner take all urbanism," the idea that superstar cities, like superstar athletes, gorge themselves on money, starving their would-be peers. At the same time, a pampered corps of city dwellers prospers by chasing out others and impoverishing the rest, poverty and crime leach into the suburbs, and the slum-filled megacities of the developing world point to an ever more apocalyptic future. This is a book of lamentations -- the last, half-hearted clause in the subtitle stands in for a last, half-hearted chapter full of solutions.

The key is to move the rest out too, instead of leaving them trapped in cities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Scarlet Tanagers Show Up  In Spring, Then Vanish (Carolyn Lorié, May 07, 2017, Valley News)

This time of year, the male scarlet tanager has a ruby-red body, flanked by jet-black wings and an equally black tail. He's like a precious stone with wings. The female is olive yellow, with brighter yellow on her throat and face. [...]

These neo-tropical birds winter in South America and migrate across the Gulf of Mexico every spring to breed in the eastern half of the United States and parts of Canada. Males arrive first, and announce their presence with raspy song, similar to the courtship song of American robins. But unlike robins, they're unlikely to linger in your yard.

Once breeding season is in full swing, scarlet tanagers tend to spend most of their time high in the treetops. The females choose nesting sites that can be more than 50 feet from the ground. When searching for insects to eat, the birds tend to stick to tree branches and trunks at or near the top of the canopy.

Not only do scarlet tanagers tend to stay high up in the trees, they prefer to raise their young in large tracts of uninterrupted forest. A nest built on the forest edge is more likely to be parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds and is also more vulnerable to predators.

Large tracts of forest, however, aren't the birds' only requirement. They also prefer a diversity of trees. This is one of the reasons -- in addition to the male's appealing looks -- that a scarlet tanager appears on the syrup label for Audubon Vermont's Bird-Friendly Maple Project. Sugarbushes that contain only maple trees aren't as appealing to many songbird species, including scarlet tanagers, as more diverse woodlands. According to Steve Hagenbuch, a conservation biologist at Audubon Vermont, research suggests that insect foraging is not as good in maple monocultures. The presence of other tree species, especially red oak and hemlock, can increase feeding opportunities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


The GOP's brilliant new plan to copy Canada's immigration system (Shikha Dalmia, May 8, 2017, The Week)

[T]wo members of his party -- Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado -- have come up with a vastly more elegant solution to help the country meet its future labor needs. (Sen. John McCain has signed on as a cosponsor, too.) There are no walls involved -- just a plan to let states set up their own guest worker programs.

Besides being inherently sound, the great upside of this approach is that it would sidestep the messy politics in Washington that have long made sensible immigration reform well nigh impossible. And we know that it works: It already does in Canada.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Syria says up to 5,000 Chinese Uighurs fighting in militant groups (Ben Blanchard, 5/08/17, Reuters)

Up to 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from China's violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang are fighting in various militant groups in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China said on Monday, adding that Beijing should be extremely concerned about it. [...]

Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years, most in unrest between Uighurs and ethnic majority Han Chinese. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants who want a separate state called East Turkestan.

Syria's ambassador in Beijing, Imad Moustapha, told Reuters on the sidelines of a business forum that while some of the Uighurs were fighting with Islamic State, most were fighting "under their own banner" to promote their separatist cause.

Every contradiction forced all in one place.
Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


When You're Not Quite Sure If Your Teacher Is Human (TASNIM SHAMMA, 5/08/17, NPR

A couple of years ago, Ashok Goel was overwhelmed by the number of questions his students were asking in his course on artificial intelligence.

Goel teaches computer science at Georgia Tech, sometimes to large classes, where students can ask thousands of questions online in a discussion forum.

With a limited number of teaching assistants, or TAs, many of those questions weren't getting answered in time. So, Goel came up with a plan: make an artificial intelligence "teaching assistant" that could help them out by answering students' frequently asked questions.

In 2015 he built Jill Watson, his AI TA -- named after one of the IBM founders, Thomas J. Watson.

Jill performed well that first year, alleviating the amount of work on Goel and his teaching assistants.

And, something else happened. Goel says using AI, in a course about AI, caught students by surprise, "They had been interacting with the TA all of this time, and you sort of assume that it's a human."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


The American and French Revolutions Compared (Sean Busick, 5/08/17, Imaginative Conservative)

One of the many differences between the American and French Revolutions is that, unlike the French, Americans did not fight for an abstraction. Americans initially took up arms against the British to defend and preserve the traditional rights of Englishmen. The slogan "no taxation without representation" aptly summed up one of their chief complaints. The right to not be taxed without the consent of your elected representatives was one of the most prized rights of Englishmen. When this became impossible to achieve within the British Empire, Americans declared their independence and then won it on the battlefield. That is, Americans fought for tangible goals; they fought to preserve their traditional rights rather than to overturn an established social order. Ours was a revolution more about home rule than about who should rule at home.

However, the French Revolution was about who should rule at home. They fought for "liberty, equality, and fraternity." Neither equality nor fraternity can be achieved through force by the state. Perfect equality is elusive and, even if it could be achieved, would be inconsistent with liberty. Whereas Americans struggled for tangible goals, the French took on the Sisyphean task of striving for abstractions.

America fought to be more faithful to English principles than the English were being.  France has always imagined it could succeed by opposing itself to such Anglospheric principles.  That attempt to avoid the End of History has been disastrous.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


CHELSEA CLINTON'S DREAM DINNER PARTY (Josh Lieb, May 7, 2017, The New Yorker)

You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

James Baldwin, Shakespeare, Franz Kafka. If I could have three more, at this moment in time, I would choose Albert Camus, Jane Jacobs and Jane Austen. With our group of five or eight (I'd invite my husband too), we would talk about the questions each author grappled with--the balance between social responsibility and individual freedom, and how people and communities can evolve to be more inclusive, more kind, have a greater and broader sense of solidarity, while still respecting individual liberties; what provokes or blocks those changes; and what stories might resonate today to encourage us toward kindness, respect and mutual dignity. And, I'd be tempted to ask Frederick Douglass and Jesus Christ to tea to ask similar questions. --New York Times Book Review

chelsea clinton: Is everyone comfy? Got something to nosh on? Jane, would you like to try a quinoa empanada? They're sustainably sourced.

jane austen: I do not know what any of those words mean. [...]
james baldwin: Well, this is embarrassing.

clinton: What is?

baldwin: For a devout atheist to be given such visceral proof that Hell is real.

clinton: You're not in Hell, silly! This is my dining room. That's my china. Those are my chef's heirloom-zucchini "meat" balls.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Physician-Assisted Suicide Tells People Like Me That Our Lives Are No Longer Worth Living :  The legalization of physician-assisted suicide sends the message that it is better to be dead than disabled. Do I lack dignity because I lack physical independence? (Zachary D. Schmoll, May 8th, 2017, Public Discourse)
As a man with a physical disability, I need a lot of help to perform many basic daily activities. I still consider myself to be an independent thinker, but my physical independence is substantially limited by my severely reduced muscle strength. I need help to drive my van, get dressed, prepare my meals, and complete other daily tasks. For me, this is life. For many others, this level of dependence is motivation to consider bringing life to an end.

In a 2005 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, out of thirty-five individual cases of people who were seriously considering physician-assisted suicide, twenty-three of the patients were motivated to pursue a hastened death because of a loss of bodily function. Twenty-two of these patients were motivated by a loss of sense of self, while twenty-one of them expressed fears about future quality of life and dying. To put this number in context, only fourteen of them were motivated to end their lives because of pain or the side effects of pain medications. Instead, each of the most highly cited reasons for pursuing physician-assisted suicide are related to issues of dependence and independence. Our society tells us that autonomy is what makes life worth living. Once these patients began to lose bodily function, they were told that they were also losing their identity and quality of life.

Personally, as an individual with a disability, I believe that I have a very high quality of life. I have a job I enjoy, I have friends I like to see, I have a sport I like to play, and I am pursuing a doctoral degree. I have a full life, and I enjoy what I am doing. Consequently, it is not surprising at all that I have a high quality of life even though I do have less independence than most other people. I am doing what I enjoy, and I am thankful for that.

Plenty of other people in my situation, however, would not enjoy their lives. Even if they could, for instance, play power wheelchair soccer, as I do, they might not enjoy it. Instead of being thankful for the ability to play a sport, they might only be able to see what they cannot do, focusing on how it is different from the soccer they could play as an able-bodied person. Obviously, quality of life is going to be impacted by one's perception of his or her own situation. Because I have a desire to enjoy my life, I would not consider physician-assisted suicide. Yet many, like those in the study above, are susceptible to this fatal choice because they feel that life is no longer worth living. These people naturally believe that their life is of a lower quality because they have lost their independence.

Which perspective should our society try to reinforce?

May 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Chief Of Islamic State In Afghanistan Confirmed Dead After Raid (rADIO lIBERTY, May 07, 2017)

The leader of Islamic State in Afghanistan was killed in a joint Afghan-U.S. operation last month in the eastern province of Nangarhar, officials from the two countries said on May 7.

Abdul Hasib, who was appointed last year following the death of his predecessor Hafiz Saeed in a U.S drone strike, was killed in a raid by 50 U.S. Special Forces and 40 Afghan commandos, according to a joint statement by U.S. and Afghan armed forces.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


By standards of a century ago, we're better off than John D. Rockefeller (GEORGE F. WILL, 5/07/17, Raleigh News & Observer)

As a 1916 billionaire, you would be materially worse off than a 2017 middle- class American; an unhealthy 1916 billionaire would be much worse off than an unhealthy 2017 American of any means. Intellectually, your 1916 range of cultural choices would be paltry compared with today's. And your moral tranquility might be disturbed by the contrast between your billionaire's life and that of the normal American.

In 2015, a Bureau of Labor Statistics paper described the life of workers in 1915. More than half (52.4 percent) of the 100 million Americans were younger than 25, life expectancy at birth was 54.5 years (today, 78.8) and fewer than 5 percent of Americans were 65 or older. One in 10 babies died in the first year of life (today, one in 168). A large majority of births were not in hospitals (today, fewer than 1 percent).

In 1915, only about 14 percent of people ages 14-17 were in high school, an estimated 18 percent ages 25 and older had completed high school, and nearly 75 percent of women working in factories had left school before eighth grade. There were four renters for every homeowner, partly because mortgages (usually for just five to seven years) required down payments of 40 to 50 percent of the purchase price.

Fewer than one-third of homes had electric lights. Small electric motors - the first Hoover vacuum cleaner appeared in 1915 - were not yet lightening housework. Iceboxes, which were the norm until after World War II, were all that 1915 had: General Motors' Frigidaire debuted in 1918.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressives (Will Hutton,  6 May 2017, The Guardian)

Britain is a country of the European Enlightenment, or so I have thought. For decades, we have muddled through without a written constitution. But the impact of a referendum that went against majority opinion in parliament, along with a desperately weak parliamentary opposition, a weaponised rightwing media and lack of mass support for the rule of law, has shown how vulnerable our civilisation is to know-nothing populism and a profoundly dysfunctional democracy.

Enlightenment values - tolerance, respect for the importance of fair debate, checked and balanced government, objectivity and impartiality, recognition of international interdependencies - are being trashed. Matters could get very ugly, very fast. It is not just Europe we are leaving, but an idea of Britain.

Over the last week, the scale of the impending disasters started to crystallise. It is becoming obvious that there is no compromise settlement between Britain and the EU that can satisfy both. There cannot be a win-win deal because the EU must show all its members that staying in confers greater benefits than life outside the club. It is a tragedy, thinks the EU leadership, that Britain wants to sever its links completely, aiming for some privileged trade relationship like that of Canada or Ukraine, which the EU is not sure it wants to negotiate and certainly not before Britain's bills are settled. Britain is thus certain to go over a cliff; the only question is how great the fall.

This pessimism is not just the view of Jean-Claude Juncker and Brussels "bureaucrats", as Theresa May characterises them. It is widespread, particularly in Germany. Last week, one of the most distinguished figures in German politics, the president of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, told an audience in Oxford that, while every effort had to be made to find a deal, unless May radically changed her position the gulf was too wide. The British did not seem even to understand the need for the European parliament's assent.

It's no wonder Progressives are so shocked, they don't even comprehend their own country and the past several centuries of its history.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Iranian supreme leader critical of 'Western-influenced' Rouhani education plan (Reuters, 5/07/17)

Iran's supreme leader on Sunday criticized the government of President Hassan Rouhani for promoting a "Western-influenced" United Nations education plan which his hardline allies have said contradicts Islamic principles. [...]

Khamenei did not give details of his opposition to the UNESCO plan, but hardline commentators in Iran have said its promotion of gender equality in education contravened Islam.

"How can a so-called international body which is under the influence of the great powers allow itself to assign duties for countries with different histories, cultures and civilizations?" said Khamenei, who often warns of a "soft war" mounted by the West to topple Iran's Islamic government.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


What Theresa May has learnt from Margaret Thatcher (Philip Stephens, 5/07/17, Financial Times)

The most powerful word in politics, one of Margaret Thatcher's campaign advisers once told me, is "moderate". How was it then that she kept on winning elections? The Lady bore many descriptions but moderate was not usually among them. Easy. These things are relative. Under Michael Foot's leadership the Labour party had rushed off to the distant fringes of the far left. Thatcher could redraw the boundaries of politics' centre ground. [...]

To imagine Mr Corbyn in 10 Downing Street is to bestow on Mrs May the mantle of common sense. On balance, British voters do not judge Fidel Castro's Cuba to be a success story Britain should emulate. They prefer the Union Flag to the hammer and sickle waved by Mr Corbyn's supporters. Labour has some popular policies and there are parts of the country where Tories still draw considerable hostility. But in fabled Middle Britain Labour has claimed the extremist tag.

Mr Corbyn has allowed Mrs May to reunite the forces of the right. That is what happened in last week's local elections, when voters who had formerly backed the United Kingdom Independence party returned in droves to the Tory fold. Ukip now looks spent as a political force except in so far as it also offers a home to working class voters disenfranchised by the Mr Corbyn's metropolitan socialism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Trump Focuses on Islamist Extremism -- Guts Programs Countering White Supremacy (Nathan Guttman, May 7, 2017, Forward)

Experts in the field believe that withholding the funds is part of a broader policy of the Trump administration to redefine violent extremism and reshape government policy for dealing with the problem, focusing exclusively on violent Islamic extremism while eliminating programs aimed at violent white nationalists.

"Their people talk about terrorism only in the context of Islamic extremism," said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It seems pretty clear that Trump doesn't care about other types of extremism."

But existing data on violent extremism in the U.S. does not support the Trump administration's narrow approach to the problem.

An analysis prepared by START, a national consortium for the study of terrorism, supported by the Department of Homeland Security and based at the University of Maryland, looked at Islamist and far-right homicides in the U.S. in the past 15 years. The study excluded two outliers - the 9/11 terror attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing, and found that far-right extremists have killed more than double the people than Islamist extremists - 272 compared to 130. "To focus solely on Islamist extremism is to ignore the murders perpetrated by the extreme far right and their place in a constantly changing threat environment," concluded a February 2017 research paper compiled by scholars affiliated with START.

"It's probably short-sighted to only focus on Islamist extremists," said Peter Weinberger who heads the counter violent extremism program at START. He noted that not only do the numbers show the danger of far-right extremism, but also that dealing with extremists from the right could provide tools and information to help counter Islamist extremism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM

TO WIT...:

Trump 101: His advisers talk about him like he's a child  (Lazaro Gamio, 5/07/17,  Axios)

Simplifying: When it comes to making a policy or strategy decision, aides told Politico that it's best not to give Trump too many different options, but instead, thoroughly explain one, favored option and how the press would cover it. "You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Why Wall Street Has Stopped Listening to Donald Trump (Reuters, May 02, 2017)

"I don't take Trump seriously," said a senior executive at one of the country's six largest banks. "I'm listening less and less."

Like most who wanted to share their more candid views privately, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the president, his employer or business associates. But his comments were echoed by at least a dozen institutional investors and bank executives who spoke to Reuters.

While they remain hopeful Trump will be able to get reforms through Congress, the lack of progress combined with conflicting messages coming out of the administration make it hard to put faith in anything, they said.

Several cited comments on Monday from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who joked on a panel that bank investors should thank him for boosting share prices. Hours later, Bloomberg News published an interview with Trump, in which said he was considering breaking up the country's biggest banks - an idea that is an anathema to shareholders of lenders like JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp or Citigroup Inc.

However, few people at the event in the Beverly Hilton Hotel appeared to take the comment seriously.

"Until it's signed into law, you can't bank on it," said Aaron Cutler, a regulatory lawyer at Hogan Lovells who lobbies Congress on behalf of banks and hedge funds and was milling about on a sunny terrace. He said his clients are not yet acting on anything the administration says.

A report last week by PwC's financial services regulatory practice echoed that view. Despite Trump's talk of quick action, PwC predicts his executive orders will "yield few results," that plans to repeal a package of financial regulations called Dodd-Frank will not happen, and that any change in Washington will be slow due to a lack of consensus, a slothy appointments process and upcoming midterm elections.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


In a Beijing ballroom, Kushner family pushes $500,000 'investor visa' to wealthy Chinese (Emily Rauhala and William Wan, May 6, 2017, Washington Post)

The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big -- and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you.

That was the message delivered Saturday by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner's sister Nicole Kushner Meyer to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing.

Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what's known as an investor visa.

The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. "Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules," one speaker said.

The tagline on a brochure for the event: "Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Trump Does Not Know What It Is to Know ; He lacks a sense of American history and its presence with us today. (GEORGE WILL, May 3, 2017, National Review)

It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about Donald Trump's inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence. [...]

What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation's history. As this column has said before, the problem isn't that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.

Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know--or cannot acknowledge, even to himself--that he does not know anything.

An ignorant man can be a fine president.  Indeed, they may make better presidents.Some level of ignorance allows you to approach problems afresh, without the clutter of preconceived notions and accreted positions that make up the conventional wisdom. There are very rarely crises that are so urgent that they require immediate decisions and you have ample time to read and be briefed about issues.  And if you are comfortable in your ignorance you will approach such areas with some eagerness to alleviate your lack of knowledge and understanding.

On the other hand, if you are ignorant but refuse to believe/accept that you are, you will make ill-informed judgments proceeding from that ignorance or may fall prey to expertise, deferring the judgment to another.  We see the former most often with Donald, who can hardly answer most questions without revealing complete ignorance or, at best, cursory knowledge.  We see the latter when he just mouths the idiocies that his guru, Steve Bannon, has revealed to him, like the Civil War nonsense.  Both expose him as a man unfit for the office he holds.  

May 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Sanders defends Trump's praise of Australian healthcare system (Reuters, 5/06/17)

 U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said on Saturday that President Donald Trump was right to call Australia's universal healthcare system better than the U.S. system.Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, also said the Senate should use the Australian system as a model while crafting an alternative to Republican healthcare legislation that Trump endorses.

"President Trump is right. The Australian healthcare system provides healthcare to all of its people at a fraction of the cost than we do," Sanders commented on Twitter.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


What Has Failed in France (Bret Stephens, MAY 5, 2017, NY Times)

A more honest account of France's travails starts -- and pretty much ends -- with what the French often call their "social model." France ranks first in the O.E.C.D.'s tables for government spending (57 percent of gross domestic product, tied with Finland) and welfare spending (31.5 percent). As of 2014, the total tax take was second only to Denmark's.

This isn't just a tax-and-spend model of government. More like: tax-spend-cosset-strangle. At least until the outgoing government of President François Hollande managed to ram through some modest labor-market reforms last year, the French labor code ran to over 3,000 pages.

The code is designed to make firing a full-time employee as difficult as possible -- which makes hiring them that much more unlikely. As The Times's Adam Nossiter reported last year, "90 percent of jobs created in France" in 2015 were "unstable, poorly paid and short term."

None of this is a mystery to a majority of the French, though it often eludes credulous foreigners who extol the benefits of the French model without counting or being subject to its costs. The French twice elected conservative presidents -- Jacques Chirac in 1995 and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 -- on the strength of promises to pare the state. Twice disappointed, they turned to the Socialist Hollande in 2012, but his flirtation with soak-the-rich policies was short-lived.

(Recent polls have been cruel to the president, but like Germany's Gerhard Schroder, he will be remembered as one of the more courageous economic reformer in recent history, if perhaps only because he had so little politically to lose.)

Assuming Macron wins, his challenge won't simply be political. It will also be pedagogical. Le Pen has offered him a relatively easy ideological foil, given how thoroughly tainted her party is by xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

Yet it's one thing to make the abstract case for openness, competitiveness and globalization in the face of a bigot. The harder climb will be to press for changes that inevitably take things away from people.

The paradox of France is that it is desperate for reform -- and desperate not to be reformed. It wants the benefits of a job-producing competitive economy but fears relinquishing a job-protecting uncompetitive one. A Macron presidency will have to devote its intellectual and rhetorical energies to explaining that it can be one or the other, but not both.

Of course, Macron will not be able to reform anything either, not just because his "party" will not exist in the legislature but because the Anglospheric neoliberalism (openness, competitiveness and globalization) he espouses is premised on making all jobs "unstable, poorly paid and short term."  

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Star Trek: Five Decades Later (Bradley J. Birzer, 5/03/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Though last year officially marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, such dating is more for PR and marketing than for history and reality. As it turns out, Star Trek is several years older than the first appearance of the first episode, "The Man Trap," on September 8, 1966. The creator, Gene Roddenberry, had produced a sixty-four-minute Star Trek movie/pilot entitled "The Cage" in 1964. The studio, however, owned by Lucille Ball, thought the show excellent but too intellectual for the public. That movie, which revolved around an exhausted Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter of The Searchers fame), involved an exploration of a planet controlled by Oz-like characters, with immense and mildly abusive telepathic powers. While 'The Cage" is certainly Star Trek, the only major character to carry over from the 1964 version to the 1966 version was Leonard Nimoy's diabolic-appearing Vulcan, Mr. Spock (according to naval tradition, "Mister" is a common title). One might, I suppose, also include the carryover of the actual starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701, as well. Still, while the Enterprise was the same on the outside, the inside was more mechanical and less stylized than the 1966 version, and Mr. Spock smiled and got excited in his earliest incarnation.

In a nearly unprecedented move, the studio not only paid for that original movie (not aired as originally produced in 1964 until 1988) but paid Roddenberry to write a second one, a pilot for a T.V. series. Ball, as it turned out, loved science fiction and prophetically believed that it would prove the future of television and film. Sadly, she herself became so involved in her own divorce and failed married life that she had to sell her Desilu Studio to Paramount before ever making any money on her investment. Star Trek, of course, would go on to become one of Paramount's greatest money-makers, though it had been Ball who had initially supported Roddenberry and his then rather wacky concept of a western set in space, Wagon Train to the Stars (the original name for the Star Trek series).

From the beginning, Roddenberry wanted the show to be allegorical, dealing with real-world problems and the struggles of civilization. In the original series, he very consciously wanted Kirk to represent John F. Kennedy and his "New Frontier"; Spock to be the good Roman Stoic and republican; and Leonard "Bones" McCoy to be a (no joke!) H.L. Mencken. In the first five-year mission of the Enterprise, the ship would explore the farthest reaches of known space, barely scratching the surface of the immense complexities of the galaxy. The stories worked best when Kirk stood for willful impulse; Spock for aristocratic reason; and Bones for democratic passions. From the beginning, Roddenberry attracted some of the best writing talent available, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


What Happens When You Mix Thermodynamics and the Quantum World? A Revolution (NATALIE WOLCHOVER, 05.06.17, Wired)

[O]ne of the strangest things about the theory is that these rules seem subjective. A gas made of particles that in aggregate all appear to be the same temperature--and therefore unable to do work--might, upon closer inspection, have microscopic temperature differences that could be exploited after all. As the 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell put it, "The idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge." [...]

In an 1867 letter to his fellow Scotsman Peter Tait, Maxwell described his now-famous paradox hinting at the connection between thermodynamics and information. The paradox concerned the second law of thermodynamics--the rule that entropy always increases-- which Sir Arthur Eddington would later say "holds the supreme position among the laws of nature." According to the second law, energy becomes ever more disordered and less useful as it spreads to colder bodies from hotter ones and differences in temperature diminish. (Recall Carnot's discovery that you need a hot body and a cold body to do work.) Fires die out, cups of coffee cool and the universe rushes toward a state of uniform temperature known as "heat death," after which no more work can be done.

The great Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann showed that energy disperses, and entropy increases, as a simple matter of statistics: There are many more ways for energy to be spread among the particles in a system than concentrated in a few, so as particles move around and interact, they naturally tend toward states in which their energy is increasingly shared.

But Maxwell's letter described a thought experiment in which an enlightened being--later called Maxwell's demon--uses its knowledge to lower entropy and violate the second law. The demon knows the positions and velocities of every molecule in a container of gas. By partitioning the container and opening and closing a small door between the two chambers, the demon lets only fast-moving molecules enter one side, while allowing only slow molecules to go the other way. The demon's actions divide the gas into hot and cold, concentrating its energy and lowering its overall entropy. The once useless gas can now be put to work.

Maxwell and others wondered how a law of nature could depend on one's knowledge--or ignorance--of the positions and velocities of molecules. If the second law of thermodynamics depends subjectively on one's information, in what sense is it true?

A century later, the American physicist Charles Bennett, building on work by Leo Szilard and Rolf Landauer, resolved the paradox by formally linking thermodynamics to the young science of information. Bennett argued that the demon's knowledge is stored in its memory, and memory has to be cleaned, which takes work. (In 1961, Landauer calculated that at room temperature, it takes at least 2.9 zeptojoules of energy for a computer to erase one bit of stored information.) In other words, as the demon organizes the gas into hot and cold and lowers the gas's entropy, its brain burns energy and generates more than enough entropy to compensate. The overall entropy of the gas-demon system increases, satisfying the second law of thermodynamics.

The findings revealed that, as Landauer put it, "Information is physical." The more information you have, the more work you can extract. Maxwell's demon can wring work out of a single-temperature gas because it has far more information than the average user.

But it took another half century and the rise of quantum information theory, a field born in pursuit of the quantum computer, for physicists to fully explore the startling implications.

Over the past decade, Popescu and his Bristol colleagues, along with other groups, have argued that energy spreads to cold objects from hot ones because of the way information spreads between particles. According to quantum theory, the physical properties of particles are probabilistic; instead of being representable as 1 or 0, they can have some probability of being 1 and some probability of being 0 at the same time. When particles interact, they can also become entangled, joining together the probability distributions that describe both of their states. A central pillar of quantum theory is that the information--the probabilistic 1s and 0s representing particles' states--is never lost. (The present state of the universe preserves all information about the past.)

Over time, however, as particles interact and become increasingly entangled, information about their individual states spreads and becomes shuffled and shared among more and more particles. Popescu and his colleagues believe that the arrow of increasing quantum entanglement underlies the expected rise in entropy--the thermodynamic arrow of time. A cup of coffee cools to room temperature, they explain, because as coffee molecules collide with air molecules, the information that encodes their energy leaks out and is shared by the surrounding air.

Understanding entropy as a subjective measure allows the universe as a whole to evolve without ever losing information. Even as parts of the universe, such as coffee, engines and people, experience rising entropy as their quantum information dilutes, the global entropy of the universe stays forever zero.

Renato Renner, a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, described this as a radical shift in perspective. Fifteen years ago, "we thought of entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system," he said. "Now in information theory, we wouldn't say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system."

The system being a property of the observer.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Were the Framers Democrats? : Review of The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution, by Michael J. Klarman (CASS SUNSTEIN, New Rambler)

[W]hile Klarman greatly admires the framers, his second goal is to show that they were elitists, in a sense even aristocrats, skeptical about the very idea of popular sovereignty.

James Madison, the father of the Constitution, thought that "the people could not be trusted to intelligently rule themselves" (p. 4). Klarman urges that committed to this belief, the framers undertook a kind of coup, and it was anything but a democratic one. The framers believed in "the natural aristocracy of virtue, talent, and education - men like themselves" (p. 600). They were affirmatively hostile to democracy (p. 606). Their invocation of popular sovereignty was strategic, not sincere. More particularly, "the Constitution was designed in part to block legislation for tax and debt relief," and therefore "represented a victory for one party in a debate that genuinely had two sides" (p. 5). Modern Americans are entitled to hold the framers in the highest regard, but they should not revere them, or refrain from asking about the inconsistency of their handiwork "with our basic (democratic) political commitments."

The Framers' Coup might well be the best book ever written on the founders and their handiwork. [...]

Klarman offers detailed, unfailingly even-handed accounts of the central issues, including the perceived need to expand the powers of the national government, the fights between the small and large states, the architecture of checks and balances, and the ugly but perhaps also essential compromises on slavery. ("To have expected the Constitution to be less protective of slavery than it was probably have been unrealistic.  Because all the delegates to the Constitutional Convention wished to preserve the union, southerners enjoyed considerable bargaining power." P. 303.) If you are generally interested in the Constitution - and tend to side with today's self-proclaimed constitutionalists, who make grand claims about what the document was really about, and which current political disputes it resolves in their favor - Klarman will be your best guide, the kind of teacher you never thought you'd find.

An especially important point here is that the framers wanted to increase the authority of the national government, not to weaken or disable it; they were centralizers. Also important is that they sought a "powerful unitary executive" (p. 226). Even if you are a constitutional specialist and think you know all about the founding generation, you'll learn an extraordinary amount from him. It is true that the various strands of the argument are available elsewhere - including, of course, the debates between large and small states, the compromises on slavery, and the desire to strengthen the central government - and that on particular points, Klarman does not break a lot of fresh ground. But with the sheer accumulation of fascinating details, and the careful, comprehensive elaboration of the precise steps that led from the failure in Annapolis to the Bill of Rights, Klarman has produced something genuinely new.

The Founding Fathers' Power Grab : Was the Constitution designed to make the United States less democratic? (MATTHEW C. SIMPSON, September 29, 2016, New Republic)

The proposed government was less democratic than either the Articles of Confederation or the individual state constitutions. For example, the president would be chosen by an Electoral College rather than by citizens themselves; senators would be appointed by state legislatures; the smallest state would have as many senators as the largest; there were no term limits for any office and no means to recall federal officials; the House of Representatives was small (only 65 members originally), meaning that electoral districts would be geographically vast; and the so-called Supremacy Clause seemed to dissolve the sovereignty of the states altogether. Anti-Federalists (those who opposed the Constitution) had good reason to argue that its true purpose was, as one of them put it, the "transfer of power from the many to the few." The democratic impulses of the Revolutionary Era now came to bear in opposition to the Constitution, both in the press and at the ratifying conventions.

In his impressive new book, The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution, Bancroft Prize-winning legal historian Michael J. Klarman seeks to understand why the Framers produced such an undemocratic plan in the first place, and how they managed to get it approved over strong opposition in the state conventions. At the risk of oversimplifying--the book comes in at more than 800 pages--Klarman argues that the Constitution is undemocratic because it was designed to protect wealthy merchants and landowners from the redistributive tendencies of popular government. "The Constitution was," he writes, "a conservative counterrevolution against what leading American statesmen regarded as the irresponsible economic measures enacted by a majority of state legislatures in the mid-1780s."  [...]

There is no question that many of the men who attended the Constitutional Convention had become disillusioned with democracy in the post-revolutionary period. Even aside from their concerns about debt relief and taxation, the political developments of the 1780s seemed to them catastrophic. "Our credit as a nation is sinking," said Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman. "The resources of the country could not be drawn out to defend us against a foreign invasion, nor the forces of the Union to prevent a civil war." If things continue on their present course, said Edmund Randolph of Virginia, "The union will be dissolved, the dogs of war will break loose, and anarchy and discord will complete the ruin of this country." In the summer preceding the Constitutional Convention, Rufus King of Massachusetts said plainly, "It is not possible that the public affairs can be in a much worse situation."

While some of the blame could be put on the Articles of Confederation, which gave the central government insufficient power to organize national affairs, many observers thought the deeper problem was democracy itself. The American people did not seem to be up to the task of broadly based self-government. "We have," George Washington wrote, "probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation." Pennsylvania physician Benjamin Rush was less diplomatic. "What is the present moral character of the citizens of the United States?" he asked during the ratification controversy. "I need not describe it.... Nothing but a vigorous and efficient government can prevent their degenerating into savages." "Democracy," he insisted, "is the devil's own government." By the late-1780s it had become conventional wisdom among political elites that, as Elbridge Gerry put it, "the evils we experience flow from an excess of democracy." The Constitution was designed to reverse the democratic trajectory of American politics.

The delicious irony of the Revolution is that it produced a monarchy more powerful than the British, though elective.
Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


French candidate Macron claims 'massive' hack as emails leak (REUTERS,MAY 5, 2017) 

Former economy minister Macron's campaign has previously complained about attempts to hack its emails, blaming Russian interests in part for the cyber attacks.

On April 26, the team said it had been the target of a attempts to steal email credentials dating back to January, but that the perpetrators had failed to compromise any campaign data.

The Kremlin has denied it was behind any such attacks, even though Macron's camp renewed complaints against Russian media and a hackers' group operating in Ukraine.

Vitali Kremez, director of research with New York-based cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint, told Reuters his review indicates that APT 28, a group tied to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence directorate, was behind the leak. He cited similarities with U.S. election hacks that have been previously attributed to that group.

APT28 last month registered decoy internet addresses to mimic the name of En Marche, which it likely used send tainted emails to hack into the campaign's computers, Kremez said. Those domains include and

"If indeed driven by Moscow, this leak appears to be a significant escalation over the previous Russian operations aimed at the U.S. presidential election, expanding the approach and scope of effort from simple espionage efforts towards more direct attempts to sway the outcome," Kremez said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Trump transition raised flags about Flynn Russia contacts (Julie Pace, 5/06/17, AP)

In late November, a member of Donald Trump's transition team approached national security officials in the Obama White House with a curious request: Could the incoming team get a copy of the classified CIA profile on Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States?

Marshall Billingslea, a former Pentagon and NATO official, wanted the information for his boss, Michael Flynn, who had been tapped by Trump to serve as White House national security adviser. Billingslea knew Flynn would be speaking to Kislyak, according to two former Obama administration officials, and seemed concerned Flynn did not fully understand he was dealing with a man rumored to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.

To the Obama White House, Billingslea's concerns were startling: a member of Trump's own team suggesting the incoming Trump administration might be in over its head in dealing with an adversary.

The request now stands out as a warning signal for Obama officials who would soon see Flynn's contacts with the Russian spiral into a controversy that would cost him his job and lead to a series of shocking accusations hurled by Trump against his predecessor's administration.

In the following weeks, the Obama White House would grow deeply distrustful of Trump's dealing with the Kremlin and anxious about his team's ties. The concern -- compounded by surge of new intelligence, including evidence of multiple calls, texts and at least one in-person meeting between Flynn and Kislyak -- would eventually grow so great Obama advisers delayed telling Trump's team about plans to punish Russia for its election meddling. Obama officials worried the incoming administration might tip off Moscow, according to one Obama adviser.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Venezuela Is Starving : Once Latin America's richest country, Venezuela can no longer feed its people, hobbled by the nationalization of farms as well as price and currency controls (Juan Forero, 5/06/17, WSJ)

Venezuela has the world's highest inflation--estimated by the International Monetary Fund to reach 720% this year--making it nearly impossible for families to make ends meet. Since 2013, the economy has shrunk 27%, according to local investment bank Torino Capital; imports of food have plunged 70%.

Hordes of people, many with children in tow, rummage through garbage, an uncommon sight a year ago. People in the countryside pick farms clean at night, stealing everything from fruits hanging on trees to pumpkins on the ground, adding to the misery of farmers hurt by shortages of seed and fertilizer. Looters target food stores. Families padlock their refrigerators.

Three in four Venezuelans said they had lost weight last year, an average of 19 pounds, according to the National Poll of Living Conditions, an annual study by social scientists. People here, in a mix of rage and humor, call it the Maduro diet after President Nicolás Maduro.

Whereas, capitalism works so well the "poor" get fat and we burn excess food for aesthetic reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


THE CLIMATE DEBATE IS SETTLED...EXCEPT FOR THE PART THAT ISN'T : Even Climate Science Has Some Known Unknowns (JEFF SCHECHTMAN, 5/06/17, Who.What.Why.)

While man-made climate change is settled science, the full consequences are still unknown and will probably always remain so. But that is no argument for inaction. In fact, citing uncertainty as a reason for doing nothing is a recipe for global disaster.

So says former New York Times journalist and climate expert Andrew Revkin, who was quoted in Bret Stephens' inaugural Times column on climate change and wrote his own oped in response to it.

Revkin tells WhoWhatWhy's Jeff Schechtman that the debate should focus on how we as a society can make the world less vulnerable to more frequent droughts, fires and floods that are expected as the planet's temperature rises.

He argues that the advocates of policies to address climate change should take care to emphasize the difference between the scientifically undisputed fact of global warming and the honest disagreements over the best ways to cope with its effects.

Revkin said both sides need to disarm from absolutism and accept an honest assessment of uncertainty and of the "known unknowns" in the area of policy. Clearly, what's needed is more conversation. Perhaps this was behind the decision by the New York Times to hire Stephens.  [...]

Andrew Revkin: [...] The one thing that gets missed in the climate debate is that the facts include a lot of things we don't know. In other words, it's clearly established that greenhouse gases function, that more of them warm the world, and that they're warming the world ... There's no other thing that explains warming since 1950, unless you include a dominant role for the build-up of greenhouse gases from people.

Those are basic things, the long-lived nature of CO2. You release, you burn a chunk of coal that's been in the ground for tens of millions of years and that's been out of circulation and you're adding more CO2 to the air, the CO2 lasts centuries if not longer in circulation, and then that builds like unpaid credit card debt. Just stopping your spending doesn't even necessarily reduce the amount of the air, just like it doesn't take away your debt if you slow down your rate of spending.

So those are all facts. But then here the hard thing is that one of ... And I've kind of said this a few times in pieces, there is 100% certainty that the most important aspects of the global warming problem are still durably unclear. And those are how warm is it going to get and that means from just some given build-up of CO2, you know there's greenhouse gases like doubling the amount that was there for a very long time before the industrial revolution, doubling the concentration in the atmosphere. Literally, since 1979 there's been more and more and more science and supercomputers and data thrown at this and we've had all those decades of accumulated climate patterns to look at. And the range of possibility is still basically from manageable to catastrophe, you know. From a couple of degrees to seven or more degrees centigrade.

That's kind of, it's the same. It's been the same. And actually the range widened between the last two reports from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. So it's almost approaching what I call, what you could call a known unknowable. There's no evidence that some magical new study a couple of years from now is going to suddenly say, oh, no, no, now we know for sure that it's going to be three or four degrees, a real danger to everything.

So that's a problem, because that means when you have that little of uncertainty, then that allows anyone, with a ... Well, if you have an agenda that means you can find your agenda in that uncertainty, whatever it is. And it means that the policy responses are tougher and it's always harder for us to ... It's different than if an asteroid was identified that's going to hit the world in 2035. And I've written a lot about that very scenario, where there'll be a day when an astronomer will spot an asteroid, and with precision he'll say ... You know, you can actually calculate cause the mathematics in astronomy are wonderful. Okay, it's going to hit the world on August 25, 2035, and we'd still have some thoughts about what to do. So, that's different than global warming.

And that's just one of the durable uncertainties as I wrote in my piece. I wrote a piece that responded to, that reflected on Bret's piece, for ProPublica, that included more granular issues that are also durably uncertain like, is Sub-Saharan Africa going to get wetter or dryer? Science doesn't know and still doesn't know after decades of science. So that means uncertainty ... And that's one of the things. He was pointing out the uncertainty. There's tons of it and it's real. And the science has never hidden that or the debates have hidden that sometimes, but not the science.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


How three million Germans died after VE Day : a review of After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift by Giles MacDonogh (Nigel Jones, 4/19/17, The Telegraph)

Giles MacDonogh is a bon viveur and a historian of wine and gastronomy, but in this book, pursuing his other consuming interest - German history - he serves a dish to turn the strongest of stomachs. It makes particularly uncomfortable reading for those who compare the disastrous occupation of Iraq unfavourably to the post-war settlement of Germany and Austria.

MacDonogh argues that the months that followed May 1945 brought no peace to the shattered skeleton of Hitler's Reich, but suffering even worse than the destruction wrought by the war. After the atrocities that the Nazis had visited on Europe, some degree of justified vengeance by their victims was inevitable, but the appalling bestialities that MacDonogh documents so soberly went far beyond that. The first 200 pages of his brave book are an almost unbearable chronicle of human suffering.

His best estimate is that some three million Germans died unnecessarily after the official end of hostilities. A million soldiers vanished before they could creep back to the holes that had been their homes. The majority of them died in Soviet captivity (of the 90,000 who surrendered at Stalingrad, only 5,000 eventually came home) but, shamingly, many thousands perished as prisoners of the Anglo-Americans. Herded into cages along the Rhine, with no shelter and very little food, they dropped like flies. Others, more fortunate, toiled as slave labour in a score of Allied countries, often for years. [...]

Given that what amounted to a lesser Holocaust was unfolding under their noses, it may be asked why the western Allies did not stop this venting of long-dammed-up rage on the (mainly) innocent. MacDonogh's answer is that it could all have been even worse. The US Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, favoured turning Germany into a gigantic farm, and there were genocidal Nazi-like schemes afoot to starve, sterilise or deport the population of what was left of the bombed-out cities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Is A Jewish Group Funding Killers, While U.S. Slams Palestinians For The Same? (Naomi Zeveloff, May 6, 2017, Forward)

Last week, Israeli Channel 10 reported that Honenu, an Israeli legal aid group, has been paying thousands of dollars to Jewish killers, including Yosef Ben David, who was convicted of burning alive Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

The Central Fund of Israel, a U.S. tax-exempt organization that funds 300 different charities around Israel, supports Honenu. Following the Channel 10 report, U.S. rabbinic human rights group T'ruah asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Central Fund of Israel.

"As Americans, we should not allow donations subsidized by our tax dollars to support convicted terrorists," said Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T'ruah. "As Jews, we must reject any attempt to justify terrorist violence carried out in our name or in the name of the state of Israel."

May 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Leaked Document Indicates Big Proposed Cuts To Drug Czar's Office (Tamara Keith, 5/05/17, NPR)

In an all-staff email to employees in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, acting Director Richard Baum shared some news he described as "very discouraging for our Nation's effort to address drug abuse." A draft document from the White House budget office, obtained by NPR, proposes nearly zeroing out funding for the ONDCP and fully eliminating several programs involved in fighting the opioid crisis. Leaked documents indicate about a 94 percent overall cut.

"These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking," wrote Baum, whose position is also referred to as "drug czar." His email explained that the document was "pre-decisional" and could change. He asked that the information not be shared outside of the agency. But it quickly leaked out, causing alarm in the tightknit addiction help community and among lawmakers.

"We have a heroin and prescription drug crisis in this country, and we should be supporting efforts to reverse this tide, not proposing drastic cuts to those who serve on the front lines of this epidemic," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement. [...]

President Trump made combating the epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths a central theme of his campaign, delivering a speech in mid-October 2016 outlining a detailed policy prescription.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


UK Election Countdown: blue Britain (Sebastian Payne, 5/05/17, Financial Times)

The results of the local and mayoral elections are extraordinary. A Conservative tide is sweeping across the UK, delivering some surprising results in traditionally Labour areas. The Tories have bagged the Tees Valley mayoralty in the north east of England -- one of the six new "metro mayors". Their candidate had such low expectations of winning that he even pledged to nationalise the local airport (good luck with that). In Glasgow, the Scottish Tories have returned councillors in areas they have never won before. And in the tight West Midlands mayoral race, the Conservatives' Andy Street has triumphed.

Projecting local results on to a general election is tricky but there are some clear trends. The UK Independence party looks to be finished. Since last year's EU referendum, it has struggled to find a purpose and Friday's results suggest that its voters have abandoned it. Theresa May's strategy as Conservative leader has been to build her electoral coalition from the centre ground rightward. Instead of trying to win over centre-left switchers (the approach of her predecessor David Cameron), the prime minister has been focused on winning back Ukippers and reuniting the British right after 20 years of division over Europe. It has worked this week and will probably work again in the general election on June 8. 

Electoral doom lies ahead for Labour. There is no plausible positive spin on its performance in the local elections. Sustaining a loss of more than 300 seats while in opposition bodes very badly for the general election. Those who suspect Jeremy Corbyn is driving the party off a cliff have concrete proof that his leadership is one of the worst things to have befallen the party.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Trump says 'everybody', not just Australia, has better healthcare than US (David Smith, 5 May 2017, The Guardian)

The president triggered astonishment and glee by drawing the comparison in Australia's favour during a meeting with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, hours after the House narrowly passed a bill to repeal parts of Obamacare.

On Friday, Trump stuck to his guns - with a clarification. "Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do - everybody does," he wrote on Twitter. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


4 reasons Rouhani is winning Iran's foreign policy debate (Hassan Ahmadian, 5/05/17, Al Monitor)

[T]here are four reasons to believe that Rouhani has the upper hand in the foreign policy debate.

First, he has a clear foreign policy vision and agenda. While this can make a clear shot out of him for his critics, it affords him a robust attitude and rhetoric during the campaigning, including the important presidential debates.

Second, a good part of the foreign policy shortcomings under Rouhani go beyond his administration's wishes. Trump's election and Saudi Arabia's aggressive posture would arguably have troubled any Iranian government's policy in the same way, and Rouhani has shown repeatedly that he can use this point effectively.

Third, criticism of the JCPOA and Rouhani's regional policy has reached exhausting levels over the past two years, and at this point, it is far-fetched to believe that his critics will be able to come up with new and appealing arguments that the administration has not already answered.

Fourth, Rouhani's personality and rhetorical capabilities impact voters. His key sentences, such as "foreign policy should serve the economy" and that "the JCPOA has freed us," have been very effective in terms of impacting voter sentiment. This capability will come to his aid during campaigning, and especially the debates.

Iranians like America.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


The U.S. Job Market Is On A Historic Growth Streak (Ben Casselman, 5/05/17, 538)

April marked the 79th straight month of job growth, by far the longest such streak on record. The U.S. has added 15 million jobs over that period, nearly 200,000 per month. When the streak began in October 2010, the unemployment rate stood at 9.4 percent, and it would have been higher if government economists counted the millions of Americans who had stopped looking for work; today, the unemployment rate has fallen so far that many economists question how much lower it can go.

Perhaps more remarkable than the recovery's length has been its resilience. Time and again, one or two weak months of hiring have sparked fears that the recovery was nearing its end; time and again, job growth rebounded. The past two months are a good example: Hiring slowed sharply in March, when employers added just 79,000 jobs, but quickly rebounded in April.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Robot & Us: Self-Driving Trucks Are Coming to Save Lives and Kill Jobs (Jack Stewart, 5/05/17, Wired)

WHEN IT COMES to self-driving technology, some of the biggest and earliest gains could come in the biggest vehicles. More than a few companies are working to deliver 18-wheelers that eliminate the human behind the wheel, drastically reduce their workload, or relocate them to a driving simulator in a cubicle.

That's great for trucking companies eager to cut costs, and for safety as well: Crashes involving trucks kill about 4,000 people on US roads every year. Artificial intelligence systems excel at the kind of monotonous concentration where humans so often fail. They don't get bored, complain about roadside food options, or demand pay raises. They see farther and react faster, so it makes sense to bake computer control into big-rigs, to make them safer and more efficient.

The tech is not so great, however, the people who work one of the most common jobs in the country, one that provides a steady middle class income. "It's a hard life," says Allie Knight, who drives a big rig and vlogs about life on the road. "You have to maintain a large vehicle on the road for three to four weeks at a time. It's not just a job, it's a lifestyle."

Caught on Film: The Dark World of Truck Stop Sex Workers (JEREMY LYBARGER, JUL. 13, 2013, Mother Jones)

"The truth is, making the movie was a really traumatic experience. I suspect I may have developed some mild PTSD." This is how filmmaker Alexander Perlman describes shooting Lot Lizard, his hypnotic new documentary about truck stop prostitution. While his claim might sound hyperbolic--or like a canny bit of marketing--it rings true: He logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours to make the film, braving roach motels, crack highs, and homicidal pimps. Indeed, what Perlman captures in Lot Lizard is visceral and harrowing.

The film's three protagonists--Betty, Monica, and Jennifer--work on the fringes of the trucking industry. America's Independent Truckers' Association estimates there are nearly 5,000 truck stops across the country, and although many offer nondescript places to sleep, eat, or shower, many others host a bustling shadow economy of sex and drugs. Lurk on truckers' online message boards long enough and you'll likely come across what amounts to a guide to interstate sex, replete with lurid tall tales (see here, here, and here).

Life on the road, they say, is lonely. To quote one trucker in Lot Lizard: "These walls close in on you. Being in this truck can actually make you crazy." As Perlman discovered, however, the women--and, occasionally, men--who cater to this loneliness don't fare much better. Betty and Monica are addicted to crack, Monica is homeless when she's not crashing with friends or sympathetic drivers, and both are entangled in dysfunctional relationships. "I can feel money," Betty says, a kind of human divining rod, and yet she spends most of the film desperately searching for just that.

Jennifer, an ex-addict and single mother who recently quit prostitution, struggles to maintain her sobriety. She buys a house but can't find a job. With time and money running out, she weighs the economics of earning minimum wage at a McJob versus hustling on the lot again. (Guess which pays more?) It's a particularly wrenching moment in a film loaded with them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM



American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero issued the following statement:

"Today's executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome. After careful review of the order's text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process. The order portends but does not yet do harm to the provision of reproductive health services.

"President Trump's prior assertion that he wished to 'totally destroy' the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of 'fake news.'

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


U.S. economy stays hot, but wages aren't keeping up (aXIOS, 5/05/17)

Steady as she goes: The labor market has been remarkably consistent, averaging 200,000 new jobs per month for the past five years. That's more than enough job growth to consistently lower the unemployment rate, which has fallen from 8.2% in April of 2012 to 4.4% today.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Islamic State magazine steers followers to U.S. gun shows for 'easy' access to weapons (Derek Hawkins May 5, 2017, Washington Post)
In August, a former Islamic State recruit caused a stir when he described how the terrorist organization sought to exploit America's lax gun laws.

"They say the Americans are dumb -- they have open gun policies" the recruit told the New York Times from a German prison. "They say we can radicalize them easily, and if they have no prior record, they can buy guns, so we don't need to have a contact man who has to provide guns for them." [...]

In the most recent issue of Rumiyah, its glossy multilingual propaganda magazine, the Islamic State encouraged recruits in the United States to take advantage of laws that allow people to buy firearms without having to present identification or submit to background checks.

Recruits should seek out gun shows and online sales in particular, said the write-up in the magazine, which was released Thursday.

"The acquisition of firearms can be very simple depending on one's geographical location," the piece read. "In most U.S. states, anything from a single-shot shotgun all the way up to a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle can be purchased at showrooms or through online sales -- by way of private dealers -- with no background checks, and without requiring either an ID or a gun license."

"With approximately 5,000 gun shows taking place annually within the United States," it added, "the acquisition of firearms becomes a very easy matter."

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


SHOCK POLL: Nearly Two-Thirds Of Arizona Voters Think Trump's Border Wall Is Unnecessary (Eric Owens, 05/05/2017, Daily Caller)
A poll released Thursday suggests that registered voters in Arizona largely reject President Donald Trump's plan to construct a large wall along the border separating the United States and Mexico.

According to the poll, 62 percent of Arizona's voters do not believe a border wall is necessary. Only 37 percent say a wall is needed. [...]

"The numbers were frankly shocking," OH Predictive Insights chief pollster Mike Noble said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller. "When you have one-third of Republicans, 70 percent of independents and almost all Democrats thinking a wall is not necessary, that should raise a red flag."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


In House Health Vote, Reince Priebus Sees a Much-Needed Reprieve (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MAY 5, 2017, NY Times)

"Priebus has made rookie mistake after rookie mistake, and he started by making the biggest one of all: not insisting he be the first among equals," Mr. Whipple said. "Fatal mistake. I'm not sure anybody could make that demand, but he didn't even really try."

"At some point, the president is either going to embrace failure or pick a grown-up, like a C.E.O. or maybe Mattis, as his chief," he added, referring to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The signature image of Mr. Trump's first 100 days in office, people close to the president said, is that of Mr. Priebus standing just inside the open door of the Oval Office, agitated and rolling his eyes, as Mr. Trump beckons another seemingly random gaggle of aides, friends, family, visitors, reporters -- even the White House decorator -- in for an unstructured chat or, worst of all, policy discussions.

Mr. Priebus, who has said he has self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, tried at first to restrict these interactions, often by keeping the president busy with ceremonial events like executive order signings and meetings with business leaders.

Over time, Mr. Trump bridled and demanded the unstructured time he had so valued as an executive at Trump Tower. Mr. Priebus, who initially outsourced the details of Oval Office scheduling and paper flow to a deputy, has now taken over those tasks himself. He has reduced the pace of public events and, like a Montessori teacher, modulates structured work time with the slack periods Mr. Trump craves.

In recent days, Mr. Priebus cut back on his stalking-butler tendency to hover over the president, realizing his antsy boss had grown resentful of his constant companionship. "What are you doing in here? Don't you have health care to take care of?" Mr. Trump asked Mr. Priebus at one recent meeting around his desk, according to a senior White House official.

Mr. Priebus is increasingly focused on big-picture issues like improving the "interagency" process linking the West Wing to the federal bureaucracy. He has also tried to reduce what he calls inputs -- the number of people talking to the president each day -- to 20 or so from about 50, and to keep Mr. Trump to a tighter schedule through short, agenda-driven meetings: a suggestion made by many outside advisers he consulted, including John H. Sununu, the chief of staff to President George Bush.

That entails trying to cut the number of Oval Office meeting attendees from 15 to eight or fewer, according to an aide.

One small but significant recent victory: excluding Omarosa Manigault, the former "Apprentice" contestant and Trump favorite, from as many meetings as possible.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Why your 'organic' milk may not be organic (Peter Whoriskey May 1, 2017, Washington Post)

[A] closer look at Aurora and other large operations highlights critical weaknesses in the unorthodox inspection system that the Agriculture Department uses to ensure that "organic" food is really organic.

The U.S. organic market now counts more than $40 billion in annual sales and includes products imported from about 100 countries. To enforce the organic rules across this vast industry, the USDA allows farmers to hire and pay their own inspectors to certify them as "USDA Organic." Industry defenders say enforcement is robust.

But the problems at an entity such as Aurora suggest that even large, prominent players can fall short of standards without detection.

With milk, the critical issue is grazing. Organic dairies are required to allow the cows to graze daily throughout the growing season -- that is, the cows are supposed to be grass-fed, not confined to barns and feedlots. This method is considered more natural and alters the constituents of the cows' milk in ways consumers deem beneficial.

But during visits by The Washington Post to Aurora's High Plains complex across eight days last year, signs of grazing were sparse, at best. Aurora said its animals were out on pasture day and night, but during most Post visits the number of cows seen on pasture numbered only in the hundreds. At no point was any more than 10 percent of the herd out. A high-resolution satellite photo taken in mid-July by DigitalGlobe, a space imagery vendor, shows a typical situation -- only a few hundred on pasture. 

The one thing you can be certain of is that no consumer tasted any difference.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


The Shi'a Revival (MOHANAD HAGE ALI, May 04, 2017, Carnegie-Diwan)

Four years after Lebanon's Hezbollah first appeared in Syria, and following the military victory in Aleppo last December, there is great change in Syria's Shi'a Twelver community. The community makes up no more than 1-2 percent of the total Syrian population, a few hundred thousand people at most, but has been largely militarized since 2012. It is now demanding a greater share of power, alongside the Alawi community to whom the Assad family belongs.

Iraqi Shi'a militias, under the banner of Liwa Abul al-Fadl al-Abbas, first emerged in the predominantly Shi'a suburb of Sayyida Zeinab in Damascus. There, thousands of Shi'a pilgrims and refugees, most of them from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, had settled starting in the early 1980s, some receiving Syrian nationality.

As Iraq's battle against the Islamic State raged after 2014, many Iraqi fighters returned home, while others joined Iraqi militias fighting in Syria, such as Harakat al-Nujaba. This gave Syria's Shi'a an opportunity to expand their independence under the umbrella of Iran-led armed groups. As a sign of their emerging self-empowerment, the Syrian Shi'a militias established last year a unit named the 313 Special Operations battalion.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Climate-Change Activists Are the Real Science Deniers (Oren Cass,  May 1, 2017, National Review)

This shift in focus from the basic science of climate change to its public-policy implications has been a disaster for climate activists, exposing the flabbiness at the core of their position. Softened by years of punching down at their opponents' worst arguments, they became addicted to asserting that "science says so," and they are now lost when it doesn't.

When Sanders, back in the Senate, questioned Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt during the latter's confirmation hearing to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, it was the interrogator who couldn't keep his facts straight. Pruitt asserted that "the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner," explaining that he had inserted the caveat ("in some manner") because "the ability to measure, with precision, the degree of human activity's impact on the climate is subject to more debate." Pressed by Sanders, he stated again: "The climate is changing, and human activity impacts that."

Pruitt wanted to discuss "the job of the [EPA] administrator," which he noted was "to carry out the statutes passed by [Congress]." He also agreed that the "EPA has a very important role at regulating the emission of CO2." But Sanders was determined to show that Pruitt rejected the scientific consensus, even if this meant falsifying the contents of that consensus.

Sanders claimed that "97 percent of the scientists who wrote articles in peer-reviewed journals believe that human activity is the fundamental reason we are seeing climate change." That is wrong. A survey-of-surveys published last year in Environmental Research Letters reported that prior surveys had found 78 percent of scientists agreeing that "the cause of global warming over the past 150 years was mostly human," 82 percent agreeing that "human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures," and 85 percent agreeing that "anthropogenic greenhouse gases are the dominant driver of recent global warming." Of course, even among those expressing agreement about the "significant" or "dominant" human role, debate would presumably have emerged about whether natural factors accounted for 0, 10, 25, or 50 percent. [...]

[I]n fact, scientists and economists hold widely varying views on the costs that climate change has caused and will cause. Surveys of scientists rarely address social consequences or policy implications. When President Obama tweeted that "Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous," even Salon had to acknowledge he was wrong to say "dangerous." Only half of the economists surveyed by NYU's Institute for Policy Integrity in 2015 believed "immediate and drastic action is necessary" on climate change; only 56 percent said that "if nothing is done to limit climate change in the future" it would be a "very serious" problem for the United States; only 41 percent believed "climate change is already having a negative effect on the global economy." [...]

At least one might assume that reasonable minds could be allowed to differ on the ultimate question of how well society is likely to cope with the effects of climate change -- a political, social, and economic question several degrees removed from anything resembling a scientific consensus. Not so. I addressed these issues in a recent Foreign Affairs essay, in which I called the IPCC "the gold-standard summary," cited it repeatedly, and adopted its estimate that temperatures could rise by 3 to 4°C this century. My essay further embraced the Obama administration's "Social Cost of Carbon" analysis and adopted its high-case model for economic cost. But the essay argued that the likely impact of all this was "manageable" rather than "catastrophic." Mann decried it as "#Koch climate denial propaganda." Eric Holthaus, meteorologist and host of the podcast Our Warm Regards, called it "a master class in modern climate denial."

The most important thing is that the Left's warming hysteria gives conservatives an easy opportunity to enact good economic policy, taxing consumption, forcing innovation and defunding undemocratic petro-states.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Octopuses can defy their genetic instructions - and it's slowed down their evolution (Luke Dunning, 5/05/17, The Conversation )

Are octopuses so clever because they ignore their genetic programming? Research has shown that octopuses and other cephalopods edit the messages sent from their DNA instead of following them almost exactly like most living things usually do.  The Conversation

Previously, scientists thought this process of molecular Chinese whispers was largely insignificant in animal evolution. But a new study published in the journal Cell shows this is certainly not true for these tentacled ocean dwellers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Trump Praises Australia's Universal Health Care, Says It's Better Than U.S. System (Margaret Hartmann, 5/05/17, New York)

President Trump has praised universal health care on many occasions, even dating back to his 2000 book The America We Deserve, but when questioned about this during the campaign, he said he doesn't think single-payer health care would work in the United States. Trump stirred more confusion in January when he said he was working on a plan that provided "insurance for everybody."

The issue of where Trump really stands on health care appeared to be resolved on Thursday when he gathered House Republicans to celebrate the passage of a bill that will cost 24 million Americans their coverage by 2026, or maybe even more.

But it wasn't settled at all. Hours later, during his delayed meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday night, President Trump declared that Australian has better health care system than the United States.

On Fox News, Charles Krauthammer predicts America will have single-payer health care within 7 years (The Week, 5/05/17)

"I saw a piece this week entitled 'The Conservative Case for Single-Payer,'" Carlson said. "I'm not sure most conservatives are there yet, but do you think that's where it's going?" Krauthammer said yes. "Whether it will end up single-payer, like in the Canadian system, or not, I'm not sure, but I will guarantee you this," he said: "Within a few years there won't even be an argument about whether or not government has an obligation to ensure that everybody gets health coverage."

A conservative case for single-payer health care (Matthew Walther, May 3, 2017, The Week)

Nearly everyone agrees that our semi-private insurance-driven system is mad. It makes all the logistical sense of having the clerk at the Shell station file a claim with Geico every time you put gas in your car. The Affordable Care Act exacerbated everything wrong with the present arrangement by creating a permanent carve-out for insurance companies. Millions of Americans were left feeling the way villagers would have if the Magnificent Seven had shown up at the last minute and thrown in their lot with the bandits.

Meanwhile, conservatives insist on getting rid of the only good part of the legislation: the expansion of Medicaid. This is not because it hasn't worked but because it conflicts with Republicans' increasingly ethereal principles. Put aside for a moment the question of whether it would be desirable to return to those halcyon days when simple country doctors gave big bills to the rich, smaller ones to ordinary people, and treated the poor gratis. Is it even possible, much less feasible? No one, not even Tea Party members during the movement's heyday, has been clamoring at the door to get rid of Medicare. Even if their wildest dreams came true and they managed to get government out of health care altogether, what would happen to people in the meantime while their hypothetical army of altruist medicos mustered its forces?

The solution should be obvious. Single payer is the only way forward. The U.S. government should provide health insurance for every one of its citizens.

Already I hear the chorus of well-rehearsed objections from the right. Who's going to pay for it? Please. Every other wealthy country in the world ensures universal health-care coverage, and we are spending far more than any of them to let people above the bottom and well into what remains of the middle fall through the cracks. What about innovation? they say, as if Costa Rica, with a GDP smaller than New Hampshire's, were not a leader in the treatment of diseases such as pancreatic cancer and a destination for innovation-seeking medical tourists from around the world. (It is curious how this objection never seems to spring up in the case of the military. Should we privatize that too, lest we fall behind the denizens of the SeaOrbiter in the quest for better fighter jets?)

Single payer just isn't "conservative." Of course it is, at least if the word still means anything. Conservatism is about stability and solidarity across class boundaries, not a fideistic attachment to classical liberal dogma. When Winston Churchill's Conservative Party returned to power in the U.K. in 1951, they did not attempt to dismantle the National Health Service established six years earlier by the post-war Labour government. They tried to do a better job of running it. Conservatives in this country should get used to the idea of being prudent stewards of the welfare state, not its would-be destroyers.

Then there is the old concern about "rationing," with which I must admit to very little patience, probably because, like the claret-soaked Tories of old, I am not myself terribly interested in health. I have no doubt that if America were to adopt a single-payer system, those with sprained ankles or runny noses would indeed face longer lines. This is a good thing. Health is not the be-all end-all of human existence, and half the reason care costs what it does is that providers across the country know that they can charge BlueCross whatever they want when wealthy suburban mothers bring Dylan in after soccer practice for X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and goodness knows what other radiological marvels, when what he really needs is a $1 ice pack.

Putting the government in charge of health care would restore it to its proper place in our lives. If conservatives' worst fears turn out to be justified, then visiting the doctor will become a very occasional half-day-long exercise in mandatory tedium, like going to the DMV or having your passport renewed. I do not visit the clinic down the street for aches or minor ailments, much less stop in to see my non-existent family physician to engage in morbid speculations concerning the potential diseases to which I might one day succumb -- and neither should you.

May 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


No, an Above-Average P/E Ratio Does Not Show Stocks Are Overpriced (ALAN REYNOLDS, 5/02/17, Cato)

[T]here is no reason to expect the p/e ratio to revert to its long-term average unless bonds yields revert to their long-term average.

The graph illustrates this connection by inverting the trailing S&P 500 price/earnings ratio and expressing it as an earnings/price ratio. This became known as "The Fed Model," though I prefer to call it "The Reynolds Model," because I first used it in March 1991 (to suggest bonds, rather than stocks, were overpriced). From 1970 to 2016, the average e/p ratio was 6.52 (equivalent to a p/e ratio of 15.2) while the average yield on 10-year bond yield was almost identical at 6.57%. That connection between stocks and bonds has been quite close over the long haul (though not before August 1971 when the dollar was convertible into gold).

An oversimplified thumb rule from Investopia says, "If the earnings yield is less than the rate of the 10-year Treasury yield, stocks as a whole may be considered overvalued." In 2016, the earnings yield of 4.17 was about twice as high as the 10-year Treasury yield of 1.84, which suggests the earnings/price ratio was then too high and therefore the price/earnings ratio (or bond yield) was too low. 

On May 1, 2017, the p/e ratio was 25.26, which is equivalent to an e/p ratio of 3.96 (=1/25.26). Since an earnings yield of 3.96 is obviously much higher than recent bond yields of 2.3%, the market is still "undervalued"-not "fragile."

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM



In 2007, one of the oddest and most delicious channels on YouTube launched with a short, lo-fi video on how to make Japanese hot-pot-style soup. "Today, I will show you how to cook sukiyaki," a male voice narrates, in accented English, over a shot of lightly simmering beef broth. Then the camera pans, abruptly, to a closeup of a poodle. "Hello, I am the host of this show, 'Cooking with Dog,' " the male voice--we realize now it is the dog's--continues, as the camera surveys his poofy hairdo and frilly purple collar. "O.K., let's get started." When the camera zooms out, the dog is perched beside a stove, and a middle-aged woman in a pink shirt begins following his cooking instructions.

This video, one of hundreds of episodes of the YouTube show "Cooking with Dog," has been viewed more than 1.4 million times. Over the years since the series launched, the dog (whose name is Francis) and the woman (known only as Chef) have released a new episode every Friday, unravelling the intricacies of Japanese dishes like octopus tempura, mochi, and pork soba noodles; Western favorites like pumpkin muffins, Valentine's Day chocolates, and spaghetti carbonara; and hybrids like matcha-flavored Swiss-roll cake and adzuki-bean popsicles. Francis delivers his instructions with the air of a patient and straightforward teacher, though the Japanese techniques and ingredients he describes may be unfamiliar to Western disciples. ("This time, you substitute komatsuna for shungiku.") He stands obediently by Chef's side throughout each lesson, seemingly untempted by the delicacies just inches away from his nose. "Good luck in the kitchen!" he encourages after each brewed dashi stock and noodle dish is complete. In a couple of episodes, Chef is nowhere to be found; instead, Francis is stationed at the stove pouring and scooping using a pair of strategically placed human hands.

"Cooking with Dog" is one of those gifts of the Internet that raises many compelling questions. (First and foremost: What is a poodle doing hosting a cooking show?) But it is delightful precisely because it refuses to answer, pursuing its unlikely premise for years with a resolutely straight face. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Has Coffee Gotten Too Fancy? (OLIVER STRAND, APRIL 10, 2017, NY Times)

The $1 cup of coffee is divisive, as drinks go.

For some, it's a staple of the American morning: a comforting routine, a good deal. Anything that costs more than $1 is needlessly expensive, a waste of money -- the coffee from a deli, diner or doughnut cart is all you need to start the day. For others, the $1 cup is suspiciously cheap. Maybe it tastes bad, or its production does harm to the land and is unfair to laborers. If you have to pay more, then that is probably a reflection of a drink's true cost.

Can the two viewpoints be reconciled? Is it possible for high-quality coffee to be inexpensive? At Locol, the self-described "revolutionary fast food" chain opened last year by the chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, the answer is yes.

Locol's stated mission is to bring wholesome, affordable food to underserved neighborhoods. The coffee delivers. Obtained and roasted according to the same lofty standards found at Intelligentsia Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters or any of the small, innovative companies that have transformed the high end of the industry in the past decade, Locol's coffee is clean and flavorful.

But unlike those shops, where a cup can cost $3 or more, Locol charges just $1 for a 12-ounce coffee, or $1.50 if you want milk and sugar. Rather than offer free condiments and pass on the cost to all customers, those who want milky, sweet coffee pay for their pleasures, while drinkers of black coffee get a break. As for getting it chilled, that's on the house: Iced coffee costs the same as hot.

McDonald's coffee has been a buck for quite awhile and Cumby's is even cheaper.  But if you're not making your cup from a can at home you're already wasting money...

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Is Syracuse Necessary? : Some want to save the fiscally challenged city in New York by effectively abolishing it. (ALAN EHRENHALT, MAY 2017, Governing)
What would happen to the state of New York if Syracuse ceased to exist? Maybe not a lot. Life would go on pretty much as before. Unless, of course, you were a resident of Syracuse. In that case, you might have cause to wonder what would justify folding up the state's fifth-largest city after a productive life of 192 years.

All right, I'm exaggerating. Syracuse isn't going to be literally wiped off the map. The struggling city will continue to exist as a geographic entity, 26.6 square miles of territory with fixed boundaries and roughly 150,000 people inside them. But if the plans of a blue ribbon commission become law, Syracuse wouldn't be much more than that.

After three years of work and testimony from hundreds of residents, the 19-member Commission on Local Government Modernization, created by a coalition of civic leaders and financed in part by the state legislature, issued its final report early this year. It made a series of recommendations that weren't entirely surprising but still managed to be rather startling in their language, scope and aura of solemnity.

Under the plan, the city would be absorbed by surrounding Onondaga County. Syracuse would have no mayor, no police force and no economic development agency. Its city council would be merged into a 33-member county legislature, only five of whose districts would lie entirely within the city, which currently holds about a third of the county's population.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Donald Trump and the Rise of Hate Comedy (Christian Toto, 5/04/17, Acculturated)

Did you hear the one about the President of the United States having oral sex with Russian leader Vladimir Putin?

It's a knee slapper. And there's much more like it heading our way. The only question remaining, perhaps, is a simple one: How low can modern comedians go when it comes to our current Commander in Chief?

Hollywood's hatred for all things Donald Trump is epic, and yet we've only just passed the marker for the President's first 100 days in office. It started more than a year ago, a time when Donald Trump was one of several Republican candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination. Louis CK called Trump Hitler. So did Sarah Silverman.

It was over the top. Outrageous. Yet, at the time, comedians were talking about a candidate. He wasn't president yet. Even those who despise a particular president understand the office itself deserves some respect.

Like the respect we showed the gay Muslim Kenya-born socialist?  

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Oil prices have plunged 15% in 3 weeks (Matt Egan, May 4, 2017, Money)

Renewed fears about the oil supply glut have sent crude prices plunging 15% from their peak in mid-April to $45.52 a barrel on Thursday.

It's the weakest level for oil since November 29, the day before OPEC finalized a deal to slash production in a bid to end the epic oil glut.

The landmark OPEC agreement, the cartel's first cut since 2008, initially sent oil bulls into a frenzy. Crude prices spiked and many predicted a speedy return to $60-plus prices as excess supply would finally be drained.

Flash forward five months and the epic supply glut continues to cast a shadow. A combination of resilient US shale output and surprisingly sluggish demand for gasoline from American drivers has led US stockpiles of oil to remain at historically-high levels.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Is a placebo better than nothing to treat insomnia? (Lisa Rapaport, 5/03/17, Reuters Health)

Compared to participants who didn't receive any treatment, those who got placebos they believed were real treatments reported more improvements in their ability to fall asleep, total amount of rest and sleep quality, the analysis found.

"The comparison with no treatment means that we can be sure that the improvement we observed was due to a genuine placebo effect, rather than being an artifact of simply taking part in a trial," Colagiuri said by email. "The study provides new evidence that genuine placebo effects exist for insomnia treatments."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Tradition, Innovation, and "Modern Age" (Peter Augustine Lawler, Spring 2017, Modern Age)

Because our high-tech world is full of preferential options for the young and their proudly disruptive innovations, it's easy to forget what conservatives know: it's impossible to think clearly or act confidently without reliance on established personal authority, the authority embedded in tradition. Tradition provides us the guidance--the interpersonal world--with which we can know and love together, and our tradition provides us multiple points of access to unfashionable sources of wisdom about, for example, love and death. It gives us help we couldn't possibly provide for ourselves in knowing ourselves. The Bible, Plato's Republic, and Shakespeare's plays all make claims to "know man," and what Shakespeare knows, a literate person discovers, he wouldn't have known without careful attention to the Bible and Plato.

Now, as Kirk described in detail, American tradition is a large and somewhat amorphous array of heritages. He borrowed from the remarkable Orestes Brownson the thought that our written Constitution is less fundamental than our providential constitution, than what we've been provided by Greek politics and philosophy, Roman law, Christian revelation, Anglo-American common law, the Enlightenment, and so forth. The moral and intellectual diversity of our tradition is deployed by conservatives both in thought and in the art of living to fend off the one-dimensional despotism of progressivism.

Although conservative thought and faith aspire to universal truth, conservatives don't think that practical life--a particular community--is best guided by an overarching theory or even a wholly binding tradition. It's conservative to privilege sustainable relational life over any and all intellectual or individualistic pretensions. Kirk called himself a "bohemian Tory," a Stoic, a Catholic, and much more. He was much more concerned with how to live well as a privileged and responsible person in a particular time and place than with the coherence of any particular doctrine or mixture of doctrines. The mixture of bohemian and Tory, we can say, is deeply conservative; significant personal freedom and even ironic enjoyment depend on a settled life or sense of place. And the bohemian Stoic tells the more somber and beleaguered Stoics--even Marcus Aurelius himself--to lighten up and be happy with the unbought gift that is life. The future of being or even the environment is not in our hands.

Conservatives are always quick to discern that a worthy and sustainable moral and political world depends on claims for intellectual liberation and heroic greatness being chastened by the complexities of "real life." Conservatives often note that our Declaration of Independence was much better than the Enlightenment theory of Mr. Jefferson, precisely because his original draft was amended by the more Christian members of the Continental Congress. Legislative deliberation and compromise secured a place for the providential and judgmental God of the Bible in our understanding of who we are by nature as beings with inalienable natural rights. Our Founders built better than they knew, because they built as statesmen, not theorists, taking into account all the real possibilities presented by our providential constitution. Conservatives tend, in general, to be "fusionists," to put together what's true about various doctrines and practices to capture all that's true about persons sharing a life in a particular part of our world.

The classic form of conservative fusionism mixes libertarianism with traditionalism. In one way, that mixture is singularly American, insofar as the traditional impulse to revere our wise and virtuous Founders produces a narrative of American decline from their "classical liberalism" down the road to nanny-state serfdom. Hayek--like the "originalist" constitutional theorists today--preaches that a real or classical liberal is the true American traditionalist. And the greatest living conservative thinker, the English writer Roger Scruton, observes that the conservative curbs the liberationist and reductionist pretensions of liberalism without rejecting the Enlightenment achievements of the separation of church and state, representative government, and the free economy. For a true conservative, libertarianism and traditionalism both suffer from the extremism of all "isms." Libertarianism presents an unrealistic view of the free individual as absolutely sovereign or unencumbered by relational duties. Traditionalism slights the obvious fact that those who inhabit a vital tradition don't associate their way of life with some generic "ism." The truth is that free persons depend for their personal significance on a stable and enduring "lifeworld."

So we can say that conservatives oppose progressivism with the intention of mending, not ending, the real achievements of liberalism. And in the tradition of Kirk, Scruton, and many others, we conservatives distinguish between conservative liberals, with whom we often agree and certainly admire, and liberal conservatives, who we are. A liberal conservative makes the realistic observation that liberal political and economic life depends on "conservative sociology," and so they think of the family, religion, citizenship, and so forth as indispensably functional. Conservative institutions--often called mediating structures--must be cultivated for the benefit of the maximum possible individual liberty. Conservative liberals often push civic education, because a country that secures individual liberty has no future without literate and loyal citizens. A conservative liberal deploys conservative means for liberal ends.

Liberal conservatives, by contrast, think of liberal means as serving conservative ends, serving not "the pursuit of happiness" in some abstract way but the real happiness found by persons in dignified relational life. That means we ask about, say, religion not whether it's functional but whether it's true. The attempt to dispense with the question of truth actually makes faith and "organized religion"--not to mention higher education--much less functional. And the true limit on government is the truth about who we are as more than merely economic or political beings, as unique and irreplaceable persons with particular relational destinies. We conservatives don't say that citizenship is just another form of rent-seeking but rather a real privilege all Americans enjoy that has corresponding responsibilities. We're for civic education and "civic engagement" too. But it's also true that each of us is more than a citizen, and in that sense liberal education is for everyone. It's in that liberal conservative spirit that we are open to the truth and beauty of the best that has been thought and done in our long, diverse, and profound tradition. It's in that sense that we say that one point of personal freedom is culture or civilization in full.

One quibble with Friend Lawler : individual liberty is an oxymoron, at least in republican terms:

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. [...] 

Classical republican theorists also stressed that the constraint that fair laws impose on an individual's choices is not a restriction of liberty but an essential element of political liberty itself. They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there is even one citizen whom the magistrates fear and who has the power to break the law, then the entire city cannot be said to be free. It can be said to be free only when its laws and constitutional orders effectively restrain the arrogance of nobles and the licentiousness of the people.

Republican liberty is the recognition that individual freedom must be curtailed coupled with the requirement that such restraints must be universal and arrived at democratically:

Republicanism in its classical version, which I identify with Niccolo Machiavelli, is not a theory of participatory democracy, as some theorists claim, having in mind more recent sources. It is, rather, a theory of political liberty that considers citizens' participation in sovereign deliberation necessary to the defense of liberty only when it remains within well-defined boundaries. Maintaining that sovereign deliberations--deliberations that concern the whole body of citizens--must be entrusted to the citizens themselves, republican theorists derived their principle of self-government from the Roman law that "what affects all must be decided by all." The idea was that self-interest would recommend to citizens that they deliberate for the common good, since those who participated were all equally affected.

And just as liberty is not really about maximal individual freedom, neither is the "pursuit of happiness" about individual happiness :  Free to Be Happy : The declaration of independence enshrined the pursuit as everyone's right. but the founders had something much bigger than bliss in mind (Jon Meacham, June 27, 2013, TIME)

To our eyes and ears, human equality and the liberty to build a happy life are inextricably linked in the cadences of the Declaration, and thus in America's idea of itself. We are not talking about happiness in only the sense of good cheer or delight, though good cheer and delight are surely elements of happiness. Jefferson and his colleagues were contemplating something more comprehensive -- more revolutionary, if you will. Garry Wills' classic 1978 book on the Declaration, Inventing America, puts it well: "When Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness," wrote Wills, "he had nothing vague or private in mind. He meant public happiness which is measurable; which is, indeed, the test and justification of any government."

The idea of the pursuit of happiness was ancient, yet until Philadelphia it had never been granted such pride of place in a new scheme of human government -- a pride of place that put the governed, not the governors, at the center of the enterprise. Reflecting on the sources of the thinking embodied in the Declaration, Jefferson credited "the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c."

As with so many things, then, to understand the Declaration we have to start with Aristotle. "Happiness, then," he wrote, "is ... the end of action" -- the whole point of life. Scholars have long noted that for Aristotle and the Greeks, as well as for Jefferson and the Americans, happiness was not about yellow smiley faces, self-esteem or even feelings. According to historians of happiness and of Aristotle, it was an ultimate good, worth seeking for its own sake. Given the Aristotelian insight that man is a social creature whose life finds meaning in his relation to other human beings, Jeffersonian eudaimonia -- the Greek word for happiness -- evokes virtue, good conduct and generous citizenship.

Perhaps we might say that what separates conservatives (liberal conservatives) from libertarians and conservative liberals is a recognition of the normative components inherent in liberty and "happiness," the idea that these concepts carry with them obligations, not just rights, that a republic with perfect liberty and happiness would not be perfectly free, nor happy, but would, rather, contain a perfectly virtuous citizenry?    

Might we even go so far as to say that the difference is between viewing people as individuals vs as "relational beings"?  This would certainly explain the differences over institutions.  After all, institutions--"family, religion, citizenship, and so forth"--govern how we relate to one another, but by the very fact of their structuring relationships must be vexatious to those prioritizing individual freedom*.

At any rate, much as we enjoy his blog, it's very exciting to have Mr. Lawler editing a major conservative publication and writing longer essays.

(*) As to the last, it is one of the things that makes "gay marriage" so American.  Sodomy is intended to be transgressive but is being hammered into a conservative institutionalized form.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


This is why American tourists don't want to travel to Cuba (Kari Paul, May 3, 2017, MarketWatch)

[T]he initial excitement about the formerly closed off country gave way to moral dilemmas over food shortages and other problems caused by tourism, as well as disappointment over limited working internet, lower hotel standards, and lack of running water there. The Allianz study found lack of travel infrastructure was a major cause of anxiety about traveling to Cuba for 13% of Americans.

They have to become more like us for us to want to go there.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


How to Make the Heritage Foundation Great Again : Jim DeMint's ouster could be just what conservatism needs. (TEVI TROY May 03, 2017, Politico)

[D]eMint had signaled a directional shift from the moment he was hired. As a Senator, DeMint had clashed constantly with his own party's leadership, challenging them for not being conservative enough. His most famous uttering was his line about preferring a Senate with 30 hardcore conservatives than 60 moderates. His approach, abhorred by Senate GOP leaders, seemed in line with the new Heritage Action political model of challenging Senators from the right if they failed to pass conservative muster. The message of his hiring wasn't lost on Republican politicians. Before DeMint, GOP elected officials and staffers once looked to Heritage to see what the standard conservative position was, and to find a creditable defense for that position. Now they're more likely to look to what Heritage Action is saying to avoid getting "primaried" on their right flanks.

The move to a more politicized Heritage affected the foundation's scholars as well, as a number of well-known and longstanding thinkers, including Stuart Butler, Matt Spalding, and Bill Beach, left in recent years. These developments, which began with the creation of Heritage Action and accelerated under DeMint's leadership, have altered Heritage's reputation. As Daniel Drezner writes in his new book The Ideas Industry, "liberal intellectuals had derided Heritage's intellectual quality in the past. What changed under DeMint was that conservatives began doing so as well."

Heritage is now undergoing a search process to identify a new leader. It is unclear exactly what the board will be looking for to fill this important post, but DeMint's departure gives Heritage a chance to reclaim its original mandate, and start charting conservative ideas for a new generation. At a time when conservatism is in the midst of an identity crisis - and sorely needs a powerful convening institution - a Heritage that seeks once again to be a unifying rather than dividing force on the right could be a powerful entity. This period in which Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress provides a big opportunity for a resurgent Heritage to help shape the policy agenda in Washington.

The search for a new leader also gives Heritage a chance to correct some of the deviations Heritage has made from its original model, and re-establish itself as the idea factory that the conservative movement needs. To succeed in such an effort, Heritage needs a leader with a scholarly background. DeMint's predecessor Ed Feulner - who is retaking the reins in an acting capacity while the search for a replacement takes place - has a Ph.D. Such a credential is helpful but not necessary. What is required is a background as an author of serious work and an interest in taking ideas seriously. Politicians can sometimes fit this bill--the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had impeccable academic credentials, and so does sitting Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse--but being an elected official in and of itself does not serve as a qualification.

Another essential trait is the ability to bring conservatives together. For decades, Heritage's great strength was the fact that people in politics and in the media looked to it for the consensus conservative view. Heritage was a litmus test of conservatism, in a good way. It served as an indicator of where mainstream conservatism was going on a particular issue. In these days of conservative divisions, Heritage might have the chance to play this role again, seeking out and even establishing areas of conservative agreement. This may seem hard given the many divisions within conservatism today, but it is important work, and it is incumbent on conservatism's intellectual infrastructure, its policy journals and think tanks alike, to engage in that effort.

Finally, the new leader faces a crucial challenge of building a wall between Heritage the think tank and Heritage Action the political organization. The scholars and their research should set the agenda. If there must be a political arm, it should aim to implement the think tank's ideas, not have the think tank scramble to justify the political arm's goals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Which century saw the most change? (Ian Mortimer, November 2014, BBC History Magazine)

12th century: The ecclesiastical superhighway

Hundreds of new monasteries - established by men seeking a greater understanding of God - triggered an explosion in the dissemination of knowledge

You might think that monks, having withdrawn from the world, could not have much impact on what went on outside their cloisters. However, so many monasteries were founded in this century that they made an enormous impression. In England and Wales the number of religious houses more than quintupled, from fewer than 140 to over 700. Across the continent, monastic orders became Europe's first pan-European organisations.

Why was this? One of the reasons was the greater stability afforded by castles; another was a slight change in the climate - the Medieval Warm Period - which allowed more crops to be produced, more surpluses to be created and more wealth to be accrued by the lords who held the land.

But there was also a dynamism within the church itself, driven by a widespread desire to understand God. The success of the first organised monastic order, the Cluniacs, inspired men to found other orders of ever greater asceticism, such as the Cistercians and the Carthusians.

Through the universal establishment of a parish system the influence of the church at grass-roots level massively increased. And the powerful idea of Purgatory spread across Christendom. By the 1170s people widely believed that they weren't necessarily bound to go straight to heaven or hell but that most of them would temporarily find themselves in limbo. The monasteries they founded, the Masses sung for their souls, and the pilgrimages they undertook could help their souls ascend the ladder to heaven. Or at least improve their chances of avoiding hell -  in some lords' cases, that was the best they could hope for.

The links between all these monks and cathedral canons can be compared with the networking power of the internet in our own day. Monasteries and cathedral schools had libraries in which they stored information. They taught men to read and facilitated the composition of new texts and the copying of old ones, thereby both creating and preserving knowledge. Monks travelled between monasteries, especially other houses of the same order, spreading news and sharing the latest theological, scientific and historical works.

As a result, when scholars started translating the wisdom of ancient Greek and Roman writers from the Arabic copies in southern Spain and Sicily, there was a network through which to disseminate this knowledge. The rediscovery of the works of writers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy forced scholars - many of whom were clerics - to rethink the principles of knowledge.

13th century: Money flexes its muscles

As new markets sprang up across Europe, hard cash began to rival land ownership as the principal source of power

You might take the coins in your pocket for granted but there was a time when people scarcely used money. Barter played an important role in transactions in the early Middle Ages, and feudal obligations an even more important one. As the population grew larger, however, and markets were established to supply people's needs, money became almost the only form of doing business.

About 1,400 new markets were founded in England over the course of the 13th century, in addition to the 300 that already existed. Most of these new foundations failed. But 345 of them were still going strong in 1600 - over half of all England's extant markets in that year. It was a similar story on the continent.

A market made an enormous difference to people's standard of living. Whereas previously they had to make many items at home, now they could buy them. In city markets and fairs, they could obtain the more exotic items for the first time. By 1300, sugar and spices such as pepper, cinnamon and cloves were beginning to appear in France and England, along with silk and previously unimagined dyes.

To facilitate the growth of trade, coins of larger denominations were minted. The Italians pioneered banking, with branches in most European capitals.
Over the course of the century, the feudal structure of society - in which tenure of land was the all-important factor - came to be rivalled by the power of money. [...]

16th century: The word of God in plain English

Literacy soared and murder rates plummeted as William Tyndale's ground-breaking Bible rolled off the printing press

Johannes Gutenberg - who produced the first printed Bible in 1455 - is frequently credited with changing the world with his printing press. Yet in the 15th century, books were largely printed in Latin and were expensive. People who could not already read had no interest in them. It was the publication of the Bible in the vernacular that changed the world - Mentelin's German Bible in 1466, Malermi's Italian version in 1471, the French Bible Historiale in 1487, and Miles Coverdale's revision of William Tyndale's English Bible in 1539.
A book that people not only wanted to understand, but could also teach them to read, shifted European society towards the written word. It allowed individuals to consider the word of God personally, without the need for the intervention of a priest. It permitted sceptics to question the authority of the Catholic church.

It also had a major impact on secular society. In England male literacy increased from about 10 per cent to 25 per cent - while female literacy rose from 1 per cent to about 10 per cent. For the first time, women could address other women and attack the extreme sexism in society.

Writing also extended the influence of the state to local and personal affairs. Due to the improved administration of law and order, for example, the murder rate across much of Europe halved. [...]

18th century: A human rights revolution

Europe's leading thinkers clustered to the flame of the Enlightenment and challenged the state's right to repress its people

It goes without saying that the Bill of Rights that emerged from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (when William III and II accepted the throne vacated by James II and VII) had the most enormous impact in England. But it also had a major impact on the thinkers who clustered like moths around the flame of the Enlightenment. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau and others were inspired. Rousseau in particular argued in The Social Contract (1762) that a state is unjust if it unduly represses the freedom of the individual. The French Revolution formulated its objectives largely around his ideas. And that event heralded the rethinking of the social contract - the relationship between the individual and the state - across Europe.

It was not just the political outlook that changed. Society was affected at a humanitarian level too. The execution rate dropped and, following the publication of Cesare Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishment (1764), the death penalty was abolished altogether in some countries. Flogging, burning and maiming also declined and religious intolerance weakened in the latter part of the century. Economic attitudes became more liberal too, as rigid mercantilist policies gave way to free trade.

Taken together these developments meant that the Anglosphere achieved the End of History by 1776.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Why Conservatives Should Be Environmentalists (Nathan J. Beacom, May 4th, 2017, Public Discourse)

Environmentalism, properly understood, has the power to appeal to something more fundamental than partisan divides, nurturing the primary community loyalty necessary for healthy politics. It can remind us that our relationship as neighbors is more basic than our political identities and that most people, whether liberal or conservative, can agree on the moral principles that form its foundations. Among these are the ideas that nature has a given order that is not of our making, that we live best when we live in harmony with this order, and that things have value above and beyond their economic utility. In a way, these might be said to be eminently conservative principles; they might also be called eminently human ones.

Conservatives should not be shy of environmentalism because of its association with leftist political programs. Rather, they should be attentive to the conservation of our environment as, in the words of philosopher Roger Scruton, a "pre-political" concern. By caring for our mutual home--the land that binds us together and sustains us--we can dedicate ourselves to our neighbors, recognizing our place within an organic order that we did not create yet have a responsibility to conserve. In doing this, liberals and conservatives can take a step together toward a more healthy civic life.

The philosopher-farmer mentioned above, Roger Scruton, lays out the natural connection between conservativism and environmentalism in his excellent book, How to Think Seriously About the Planet. We might often associate environmentalism with a certain cultural clique, a kind of irrational radicalism, and a whole raft of accompanying ideological commitments. Yet concern for the natural world's conservation is not limited to this superficial stereotype; the umbrella of "environmentalism" covers a diverse cultural and political array. Although our idiosyncratic sociocultural situation has severed many conservatives from ecological morality, there are a good number of conservative environmentalists walking among us today, even if they would not themselves claim the title. They are not handing out fliers for Greenpeace or tying themselves to trees, but they are supporting local measures to protect the lakes where they fish and the woods where they hunt. They are members of the local Izaak Walton League, gardeners, recyclers, and chicken-coop keepers. Liberal environmentalists and conservatives might be surprised to find out that they have a great deal in common, if only they communicated with one another.

In its origin, environmentalism might almost have been called a conservative movement, and the defenders of the environment in the early decades of industrialization tended to lean politically conservative. This makes some sense, because at the heart of conservatism is the idea that we have a responsibility to those who went before and those who come after us. We must preserve and augment what we have inherited, putting what is lasting ahead of the fashions of the present hour. The English theologian Richard Hooker described this conservative disposition well when he said that we were alive in our forebears, and they too live within us and our children. We are born into a sort of covenant between generations and across time.

This attitude also recognizes that there is a kind of social entropy present in human societies. Put simply, it is easy to destroy what we have inherited and very difficult to preserve it. 

The Right's love of carbon and other pollutions is essentially nihilistic and justified by their desire to destroy that which their political opponents champion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Pentagon Pulls Security Clearance of Trump White House Aide (Bill Gertz, May 4, 2017, Free Beacon)

Adam S. Lovinger, a 12-year strategic affairs analyst with the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA), has been on loan to the NSC since January when he was picked for the position by then-National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn.

Lovinger was notified in a letter from the Pentagon on Monday that his Top-Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS-SCI) clearance had been suspended and that he had to return to the Pentagon.

The letter cited unspecified outside activities by Lovinger. The notice said the suspension was approved by Kevin Sweeney, chief of staff for Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


The end of autocracy in Venezuela? : After living in an electoral autocracy for 18 years, Venezuela is now ready to revolt for democracy. (Maryhen Jimenez Morales, 5/04/17, Al Jazeera)

It is impossible to summarise the catastrophic downturn that Venezuelans have suffered over the past decades. Today, the country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world has 82 percent of its citizens living in poverty, suffering from chronic shortages of food, medicines and basic supplies. In fact, 80 percent of the population says they do not always have the money to buy food, and three out of four Venezuelans are dissatisfied with the healthcare system.

Almost the entire country believes that the economy is getting worse, while the IMF is predicting Venezuela's inflation to top the 2,000 percent mark next year. On top of that, Caracas is classified as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In 2015, it was declared the city with the highest homicide rates outside a declared warzone, with over 28,000 murders a year.

Some argue that it is hard to understand how Venezuela got to this point. Yet, the answer is quite simple. It is a regime question. A Churchillian view of politics reminds us that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others". Democracy is not a necessary condition for economic prosperity or even for political stability. Evidence from contemporary China, Singapore, Malaysia or some countries in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, shows that non-democratic regimes can be quite efficient in delivering public goods, economic progress or political stability. True though that may be, it is also true that these positive developments almost always come at the expense of check and balances, accountability, separation of powers, respect for human rights or opposition forces. Thus, was Churchill right? This is no easy question, but the Venezuelan case certainly demonstrates the risk of disregarding democratic processes. The transition from a democracy, to an electoral autocracy, to a regime that suspends all elections as of today, represents the origin of the country's current political, economic and social crisis.

Put that on the owner's desk.

May 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Pelosi Blames Clinton's Loss on Party's Hardline Abortion Stance (JOHN MCCORMACK, 5/03/17, National Review)

"You know what? That's why Donald Trump is president of the United States--the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That's how he got to be president," Pelosi told the Washington Post. "Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively by that."

Indeed, the Democrats' declining performance solely among evangelicals between 2012 and 2016 was enough to cost Hillary Clinton the election, as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote at National Review in December.

In her Washington Post interview, Pelosi urged Democrats to welcome pro-life voters and some candidates. "I grew up Nancy D'Alesandro, in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic; proud of our town and heritage, and staunchly Democratic," Pelosi said. "Most of those people--my family, extended family--are not pro-choice. You think I'm kicking them out of the Democratic Party?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Is The GOP Health Bill Morphing Into Yet Another Big Federal Program? (Alison Kodjak, 5/03/17, NPR)

First there was Medicare, then Medicaid, and then Obamacare. Now we move to Trumpcare, or whatever it eventually is labeled, which seems to be turning into another big federal program to pay the bills for people with expensive illnesses.

House Republicans, trying to gather enough support to get their health care bill passed, keep adding pots of money to the proposal to pay the costs of people with high medical costs. The cash would likely go to "high-risk pools," which pay the expenses of the very sick so that insurance companies don't have to.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Gluten-free diet should not be eaten by people who are not coeliac, say scientists (Sarah Knapton, 2 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

Researchers at Harvard University looked at data from nearly 120,000 people over 26 years and found that going gluten-free did not cut the risk of heart disease.

And they warned that restricting dietary gluten may result in a low intake of whole grains, which are known to be beneficial for the heart.

"The popularity of a low gluten or gluten-free diet in the general population has markedly increased in recent years," said Dr Andrew Chan, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in the BMJ.

"However these findings underscore the potential that people who severely restrict gluten intake may also significantly limit their intake of whole grains, which may actually be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes

"The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without coeliac disease should not be encouraged."

We've only been eating the stuff for 12,000 years.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Netflix Edits 'Bill Nye' Episode to Remove Segment Saying Chromosomes Determine Gender (Alex Griswold, May 3, 2017, Free Beacon)

When uploaded to Netflix, an episode of the educational children's show "Bill Nye the Science Guy" cut out a segment saying that chromosomes determine one's gender.

In the original episode, titled "Probability," a young woman told viewers, "I'm a girl. Could have just as easily been a boy, though, because the probability of becoming a girl is always 1 in 2."

"See, inside each of our cells are these things called chromosomes, and they control whether we become a boy or a girl, " the young woman continued. "See, there are only two possibilities: XX, a girl, or XY, a boy."

But in the version of the episode uploaded to Netflix, the segment has been cut entirely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Dems Need a Celebrity Apprentice (Josh Kraushaar, May 2, 2017, National Journal)

Thanks to Pres­id­ent Trump's un­pop­ular­ity, Demo­crat­ic en­ergy is sky-high and the party's path to a polit­ic­al comeback looks clear. But at a time when celebrity has be­come an es­sen­tial as­set in polit­ics, the party's most elect­able crop of fu­ture lead­ers is vir­tu­ally an­onym­ous. Pro­spect­ive Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates like Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota, and Cory Book­er of New Jer­sey, as well as New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, barely re­gister in polls. With buzz now the coin of the realm, not be­ing able to gen­er­ate non­stop news cov­er­age has be­come a ser­i­ous li­ab­il­ity. Dur­ing a re­cent pan­el about the Demo­crat­ic Party's fu­ture, a top Demo­crat­ic strategist only half-jok­ingly com­men­ted that she'd work to draft act­ress Kerry Wash­ing­ton in­to the pres­id­en­tial race. This is the im­pact of Trump's 2016 cam­paign on our body polit­ic.

In­deed, the Demo­crat­ic Party's most re­cog­niz­able can­did­ates are either past their primes, out of the polit­ic­al main­stream, or both. Up­com­ing vis­its to early-vot­ing states by War­ren, Sanders, and Biden are the equi­val­ent of a base­ball team re­ly­ing on a bunch of aging vet­er­ans whose best days are long be­hind them. "Bernie Sanders is now the lead­er of the Demo­crat­ic Party," lamen­ted one party of­fi­cial, at­trib­ut­ing Sanders's stand­ing to his su­per­i­or name iden­ti­fic­a­tion and deep con­nec­tion to his so­cial­ist-minded sup­port­ers.

If the party was run like a busi­ness, it would be look­ing to mar­ket pro­spect­ive can­did­ates to its core con­sumers--a young and di­verse con­stitu­ency that has grown in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned with polit­ics. The Demo­crats' lead­ing can­did­ates, however, are a demo­graph­ic mis­match: Biden will be 77 years old in 2020, and the memory of his ser­vice to Pres­id­ent Obama will have faded. Sanders will be push­ing 80 by the next pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, and he sounds more in­ter­ested in chan­ging the dir­ec­tion of the party than be­com­ing pres­id­ent. War­ren is the young­est of the bunch, but if elec­ted, would be the old­est pres­id­ent in Amer­ic­an his­tory. All would be run­ning on a plat­form of eco­nom­ic pro­gressiv­ism at a time when the en­ergy on the Left is fueled by iden­tity polit­ics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


With More Dems Than GOPs, House Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill (Amber Athey, 05/03/2017, Daily Caller)

The final vote tally was 309-118 and 103 Republicans voted against the bill, meaning more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Canada's Largest Grocer Is Planning for Prolonged Food Deflation (Sandrine Rastello, May 3, 2017, Bloomberg)

Loblaw Cos. is fighting a price war with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Metro Inc. and other rivals, offering discounts to lure more customers and keep revenue growing. That means there may be little prospect of a pick up in prices that have been dropping since the end of last year, with competition becoming a full-on deflation factor.

"While we expect deflation to moderate in the coming quarters, we see no signs of the competitive intensity easing," Loblaw Chief Executive Officer Galen Weston told analysts on an earnings call Wednesday. "As a result, we do not expect inflation to turn positive in 2017."

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Spiritual leader of Iranian Reformists backs Rouhani (Rohollah Faghihi, May 3, 2017, Al Monitor)

On May 2, Khatami stated on his website that First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri "and the wise figures of the country believe the interests of the people and the country is in the continuance of [a Rouhani presidency]."

"Today, Mr. Rouhani not being elected would mean the increased likelihood of the return of [Iran's] isolation and sanctions," wrote the Reformist heavyweight.

Khatami, a widely popular figure in Iran who played a significant role in Rouhani's 2013 victory, continued, "All of us, along with Mr. Jahangiri, will support Mr. Rouhani." [...]

Meanwhile, in a May 2 interview with the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif strongly defended Rouhani's legacy.

"The reality is that this is a choice that will determine in which direction the country will move in the next four years," Zarif said, underscoring that it will take time to remedy the effects of economic sanctions levied on Iran during the eight-year presidency of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Rouhani defeated in 2013.

Referring to Iran's nuclear deal, the foreign minister added, "The time for the efforts related to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to bear fruit will gradually arrive. ... For the continuance of Iran's power, the policies of the past four years should be continued."

Referring to the expansion of Iran's economic relationships with other countries following the signing of the nuclear deal, Zarif said, "Today, foreign policy has come to help people's livelihoods. ... Protecting the JCPOA" should be the next government's top priority.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Moqtada al-Sadr: In Iraq, a fiery cleric redefines himself as nationalist patriot (Jane Arraf, MAY 3, 2017, CS Monitor)

[T]he still relatively young cleric, the son and the son-in-law of two Shiite clerics revered for their concern for the poor, has increasingly made an effort to portray himself as an Iraqi patriot. Now, he is poised to consolidate his position not only as an influential political kingmaker but as someone who can mobilize potentially millions of followers from Baghdad to the southern coastal city of Basra.  

In April, he even broke with other Iraqi Shiite leaders in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Iran, to step down to save the country from more bloodshed. 

"He really is someone who has provided a social and political outlet for the impoverished, particularly for those southerners who have never had a chance to have their say in middle-class and upper-class politics, which defines much of what goes on in Baghdad," says Ahab Bdaiwi, a specialist in Islamic history at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton The Election  (Nate Silver, May 3, 2017, 538)

The letter isn't the only reason that Clinton lost. It does not excuse every decision the Clinton campaign made. Other factors may have played a larger role in her defeat, and it's up to Democrats to examine those as they choose their strategy for 2018 and 2020.

But the effect of those factors -- say, Clinton's decision to give paid speeches to investment banks, or her messaging on pocket-book issues, or the role that her gender played in the campaign -- is hard to measure. The impact of Comey's letter is comparatively easy to quantify, by contrast. At a maximum, it might have shifted the race by 3 or 4 percentage points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to him, perhaps along with North Carolina and Arizona. At a minimum, its impact might have been only a percentage point or so. Still, because Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 1 point, the letter was probably enough to change the outcome of the Electoral College.

And yet, from almost the moment that Trump won the White House, many mainstream journalists have been in denial about the impact of Comey's letter. The article that led The New York Times's website the morning after the election did not mention Comey or "FBI" even once -- a bizarre development considering the dramatic headlines that the Times had given to the letter while the campaign was underway. Books on the campaign have treated Comey's letter as an incidental factor, meanwhile. And even though Clinton herself has repeatedly brought up the letter -- including in comments she made at an event in New York on Tuesday -- many pundits have preferred to change the conversation when the letter comes up, waving it away instead of debating the merits of the case.

The motivation for this seems fairly clear: If Comey's letter altered the outcome of the election, the media may have some responsibility for the result.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Creationism By Another Name (Ferran Suay, 5/02/17, Quillette)

[H]ow can a species rid itself of the laws that govern the rest of life on the planet?

Only a few minutes of thought reveals all this to be extraordinarily unscientific. Are we to believe that evolutionary pressures, which have configured the anatomy of the body and the brain, cannot also be used to explain and understand the whys and wherefores of human behaviour? Everyone agrees that we have opposable thumbs because those of our ancestors born with this mutation possessed certain reproductive advantages and left more living descendants on Earth. As this trait continued to provide benefits to subsequent generations, it became so dominant it is now the norm for the vast majority of humans. The same can be applied to the standing position, and to the size and the particular anatomical configuration of the human brain. This is all uncontroversial.

Why should the same logic not apply to human behaviour? Let's take physical aggression, for example--the tendency to impose on others through coercion. Didn't aggressive individuals enjoy (some) reproductive advantages? Didn't the most aggressive males climb the hierarchy of social groups thereby enhancing their ability to attract resources and mates? Didn't that privilege the transmission of aggressive genes to the next generation? The statistics on violent crime reveal a very clear over-representation of the male sex. Without needing to study the numbers, anyone with eyes in their head can conclude that human males are generally considerably more physically aggressive than females.

However, unlike the shape of our hands, the standing position, or the anatomy of the brain, this trait is not a universally accepted product of evolution. Instead, it is a response to social conditioning, such as patriarchal education, the nefarious influence of the media, or the excessive availability of violent video games. In this scenario, miraculously, evolutionary pressures have no part to play, and the socio-environmental, psychosocial, or psycho-socio-environmental variables (we can keep on juxtaposing terms until we find a sufficiently abstruse formulation) are the sole determinants of behaviour.

Because the people defending these statements don't or won't explicitly deny the theory of evolution, we must understand that they accept it, but only up to a point; a point at which a deity arbitrarily decided that, from this moment onwards, humans would be exempt from this process. Henceforth, the method that led us to understand what shaped the brain cannot be applied to explain how it produces behaviour.


More comical than curious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Donald Trump's Very Good Idea: Raise the Gas Tax (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, MAY 3, 2017, NY Times)

The federal fuel tax -- 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel - was supposed to pay to fix and expand the country's roads and transit systems, but Congress has refused to increase it since 1993. Between inflation and the higher fuel economy of cars, the tax is hardly up to the job. Highway-related tax revenue was only $37.4 billion in the 2015 fiscal year.

Use it to offset taxes on income and savings.  Use tolls to pay for infrastructure.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


The most clueless man in Washington (Damon Linker, May 3, 2017, The Week)

What if it's foolish to treat anything Trump says or does as more or less substantive or important or revealing or significant than any other? What if all of it is a distraction, all the way down?

A distraction from what? From everything: From what the government (Congress, the courts, the rest of the executive branch) is really doing. From who's really in charge, formulating foreign policy, and acting as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. From what's happening in the wider world -- both in the U.S. and abroad.

The takeaway from Trump's first 100 days in office isn't a list of accomplishments or failures but rather a nugget of hard-won knowledge about the president himself: He is so comprehensively ignorant of policy and history, so thoroughly lacking in a core of settled beliefs or convictions, that the Oval Office might as well be unoccupied.

If only....
Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


An Anonymous White House Official (Who Is Totally Steve Bannon) : How to tell who's leaking what in the Trump administration. (Katy Waldman, 5/02/17, Slate)

Good news, beginners: A Bannon quote is pretty easy to spot. When he's on the record, Trump's bellicose chief strategist speaks in jargon befitting a student of ancient martial historians and fascist philosophers. He has vowed to fight for "the deconstruction of the administrative state." He has invoked "Judeo-Christian values" as the answer to a "metastasizing" "Islamic fascist" movement.

When Trump removed Bannon from the National Security Council in early April, Rosie Gray at the Atlantic reported that "a senior White House official cast the move as not a demotion for Bannon," but as a strategic rearrangement of key pieces on the administration's chess board. Bannon's role on the committee, this source continued, was to "de-operationalize" the changes wrought by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. "Job done," the source told Gray.

Sussing out that this "senior White House official" was Bannon himself would have been easy even if the Washington Post hadn't lifted the veil of anonymity hours later. One tell was that the quote advanced a narrative favorable to Bannon, a guy who is not, shall we say, well-liked. The bigger signal was the source's use of a conspiratorial, faux-intellectual, mostly nonsensical word. Reince Priebus has never de-operationalized anything in his life.

Likewise, consider the line "You'll see the setting of the predicate," uttered anonymously to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza before the House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing on Russian intervention in the election. The statement is confusing and arcane as a piece of rhetoric. It also presumes there's some kind of deep tactical framework for what should be a straightforward procedure. That sounds a lot like Bannon.

My colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley also pegs the chief strategist, a former investment banker with ties to the city of stars, as a font of "corny Hollywood pitch language." Mathis-Lilley pointed me to the below quote from a New Yorker article on a brewing showdown between Congress and the White House:

"Next week is going to have quite high drama," a top White House official, who sounded excited by the coming clash, told me. "It's going to be action-packed. This one is not getting as much attention, but, trust me, it's going to be the battle of the titans. And the great irony here is that the call for the government shutdown will come on--guess what?--the hundredth day. If you pitched this in a studio, they would say, 'Get out of here, it's too ridiculous.' This is going to be a big one."

The gleeful pugnacity, the instinct for theater, the tendency to see the world in terms of grand contests, the references to film studios, the fact that this would make for a very bad movie--this is pure Bannon. The alternate theory, that the quote sprang from Trump himself, is undermined by its general coherence, its quasi-erudite titan metaphor, and the deployment of the word irony, which may not exist in Trump's vocabulary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Reinhold Niebuhr & Executive Order 9066 (Marc LiVecche, May 3, 2017, Providence)

Niebuhr made some simple points that shouldn't be heavy lifts. The first was a demand for basic discrimination: that it was incumbent upon the U.S. to distinguish between those Japanese Americans who had given every indication that they were loyal and those who gave reason to be wary. He admitted to having no doubt that there were, or could be, disloyal members within the Japanese American community. He simply argued that, until one faced a situation of last resort, that there was time for less drastic methods to deal with the potential peril.

Niebuhr is well known both for believing the war against Nazism and Japanese militarism needed to fought and that the gloves should come off to fight for the win. Still, his call for discrimination extended, he urged, to distinguishing between essential liberties, upon which democratic governments rest, and more peripheral liberties, which might be curtailed in emergencies. "The mass evacuation of Americans," he suggested, "without due process of law must certainly be regarded as the abrogation of an essential right."

Because it was, Niebuhr understood that in striving for American security, America had hobbled itself in other, equally essential, dimensions. To get at this, he recorded a letter from a Japanese American pastor. The pastor describes the "uncertainty, fear, and heartbreaking disappointment" of those in his congregation. His flock did not, in the days of war, expect to live lives of calm but it was nevertheless "a blow to America-loving, peaceful, permanent residents who have lived in America for 30-50 years to be suddenly classified as 'enemy aliens' and receive treatment as such." He points to the extraordinary service many Japanese Americans were already doing in the American armed forces as a model of the general patriotic fervor of the Japanese American community. Indeed, over 5,000 Japanese were already in service and many more would follow when the draft would be extended to include Japanese Americans in confinement. That so many Japanese answered this call despite their treatment points to an extraordinary capacity for virtue that all Americans ought to be proud to claim as deeply American. Meanwhile, this pastor insisted, he and his people were, through their confinement, "Willing to go a second mile in serving and suffering for our nation." We ought to relish calling such as these our neighbors and fellow countrymen.

The record shows that America has learned from its errors in WWII. 

May 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


McConnell shoots down Trump's call to end the filibuster (JORDAIN CARNEY, 05/02/17, The Hill)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is shooting down President Trump's push for Republicans to change the Senate's rules for blocking legislation.

Asked if Republicans would nix the 60-vote filibuster to allow legislation to pass by a simple majority, McConnell told reporters, "That will not happen."

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Hammond eBike Technologies announce Hammond electric bike collection for Indiegogo campaign also The Ride 4 Breast Cancer Campaign
First ever fully loaded, folding, electric smart bike in a custom bag is now LIVE on Indiegogo

We are finally happy to announce Hammond e-Bike Technology campaign is now live on Indiegogo. Today, Hammond eBike Technology announce their Hammond electric bike collection, loaded with Hi-Tech gadgets. The electric folding bike collection is available in 3 unique designs including The Hammond 500 (500-watt motor), The Hammond 1000 (1000 watt motor) and The Hammond unlimited (1000-watt motor. Each bike also comes in a coordinated custom-made bike bag, and a newly designed GPS, touchscreen bike computer called The Hammond X5. Hammond collection is the first ever fully loaded folding, electric smart bike in a custom bag. To join in this revolution, visit our campaign page and support this project (Hammond ebike).

The Ride 4 Breast Cancer Campaign is a campaign within this campaign. We all know someone in our life that has dealt with the effects of Cancer in some form or another. We At Hammond e-Bike Technology know first hand about this disease having lost loved one after loved one over the years. We honor their memory by helping others cope. We can't do anything about the disease. But we can help someone take their mind off the battle. We can help someone feel special and have meaning. We want to give 30 pink Hammond 500 to Breast Cancer survivors or patients during Octobers Breast Cancer Awareness month. Every bike perk purchase helps us provide a free bike to a Breast Cancer Survivor or patient plus you will be receiving an awesome product in the process.

"The Hammond collection was built out of the necessity to satisfy a community of bikers that appreciate diversity, technology, and functionality. The bikes will eliminate a lot of problems bikers face and help them enjoy their hobby like never before. We implore everyone to join in and take part in this great assignment, by supporting our Indiegogo campaign and spreading the word on social media," said Thomas Hammond, CEO.

The Hammond bike collection is available in different colors and comes in a custom bag for proper packaging, easy mobility, and protection from weather elements. The bike has matching interphone bike speakers with bluetooth, compatible with any smartphone up to 20 feet away. It also has wireless rear signal lights and front head light. Hammond ebike technology took bike security to another level by adding a hidden GPS tracker device. The GPS provides double real-time tracking to absolute street address by SMS or online web tracking. Geo-fence capability sends you an SMS if your bike is disturbed or someone is trying to steal it. The GPS tracker and bike computer has a number of cool features, to many to mention.

The prototypes are complete. See them in action on our campaign page in the video section. The company is offering everyone to own this fantastic product at a discount during the campaign. You instantly become part of The Hammond e-Bike Technology family when you support our campaign. Our supporters will receive perks for life. We are the first to ever offer backers life time discounts in the amount of 5% - 35% from our online store once we reach our stretched goal.

We look forward to hearing from you during this campaign.


It's a good cause, but is that enough to get The Wife to let me buy one?
Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Stephen Colbert's Shocking Attack On Trump Concludes With A Homophobic Slur (Mark Graham, May 2, 2017, Decider)

Once the clock struck midnight on Donald Trump's 100 days in office, Stephen Colbert's claws came out. He delivered his most vicious attack on the President to date during the monologue of Monday night's The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, using language many were shocked to hear come out of the late night host's mouth -- including a derogatory slur many consider to be homophobic.

No matter how PC you try to be, you end up questioning a guy's sexuality when you want to pick on him.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


'Trump Slump': President's rhetoric and travel ban repel millions of tourists to USA (Gaurav Sharma, May 2, 2017, IB Times)

Projections by Pennsylvania, US-based Tourism Economics (TE), an affiliate of UK research and analysis outfit Oxford Economics, suggest the US could see 4.3m fewer international tourists equating to a revenue loss of $7.4bn (£5.73bn).

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Joe Scarborough frets about Trump's mental state (Jeva Lange, 5/02/17, The Week)

In Trump's interview with CBS's John Dickerson, for example, Scarborough noted that Trump "was mumbling, he was rambling around, incoherent, and then just sort of quit talking. Walked off."

Scarborough also zeroed in on Trump's curiosity about why the Civil War began. "My mother's had dementia for 10 years," Scarborough told historian Jon Meacham. "That sounds like the sort of thing my mother would say today ... That's something that a 5-year-old might ask, but that is not anything that any grown-up that I have ever been around in my entire life would ever let pass from their lips."

...than our resistance to the notion that he means anything he says.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Liberalism's self-defeating howl (Damon Linker, May 2, 2017, The Week)

As I've argued on previous occasions, declaring opponents unacceptable, illegitimate, and out of bounds is a perennial temptation. That's because politics always takes place on two distinct levels. On one level is the back and forth of partisan conflict, involving persuasion, argument, electoral battles, triumphs, and defeats. On this level, pretty much anything goes as long as it abides by the rules of the political game. But there's also a second, more fundamental level of politics that involves a competition over who gets to set those rules, the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable -- and precisely where those boundaries will be positioned.

Far more than conservatives, liberals love to rule certain positions out of bounds in this second-order sense. [...]

For a vivid recent example of what can happen to political thinking and debate when one side becomes wedded to upholding rigid and exceedingly narrow strictures on permissible opinion, take a look at the blistering (and bizarrely disproportionate) reaction of liberals to Bret Stephens' debut column in The New York Times. Now, I was no fan of Stephens' writing in The Wall Street Journal, where he recently resigned, especially when it came to foreign policy. Neither did I appreciate his stance on environmental issues, which struck me as overly dismissive of evidence for climate change.

But in his first Times column, Stephens came right out and described global warming, along with evidence of "human influence on that warming," as "indisputable." That sounded unobjectionable to me -- as did his overarching point, which was that those who favor policies to combat climate change would convince more people to go along if they sounded somewhat less absolutely, positively, unwaveringly, indisputably certain in their predictions about what is always, after all, an all-too-uncertain future.

Stephens himself predicted in the column that his humble case for humility would cause heads to explode, and sure enough they did. Liberals on Twitter sputtered in indignation, as did several center-left news sites. The Times had hired an apologist for climate change "denialism," proclaimed Slate. According to Vox, he was a "climate change bullsh--ter." (The Week, too, was not immune.) No wonder climate scientists and many others l