July 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 PM


THE CONSEQUENCES OF TRUMP'S UNSTABLE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY : Internal talking points from Donald Trump's spy chief reveal tensions between the president and the intelligence community. (MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ, 7/31/17, Pacific Standard)

ProPublica has obtained internal talking points, apparently written by one of Coats' aides, anticipating questions that Holt was likely to ask. They offer a window into the euphemisms and evasions necessary to handle a pressing issue for Coats: how to lead the intelligence community at a time when the president has insulted it on Twitter and denigrated its work while questions about Russian influence consume ever more time and attention in Washington. Sixteen of the 26 questions addressed by the talking points concerned internal White House politics, the Russia investigation, or the president himself. One question put the challenges facing Coats this way: "How can you work as DNI for a president that undermines your work?" [...]

There's no doubt that Coats, the statutory leader of the 16-agency intelligence community, is operating in an unusual environment. Normally, American intelligence agencies do their work quietly, avoid public political disputes, and settle whatever differences they have with the White House privately.

But President Donald Trump's willingness to openly criticize the intelligence community has altered that equation. Days before taking office, he compared America's spies to Adolf Hitler's Gestapo. "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public," Trump tweeted, referring to allegations contained in the Steele dossier, the controversial, unverified research that purportedly raised the possibility that Trump could be susceptible to Russian blackmail. "Are we living in Nazi Germany?"

The differences between the White House and the leadership of the intelligence community are severe, in the view of former Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden. "This is a bit of a true-believer administration," he said in an interview with ProPublica at the Aspen conference. "Faith-based, faith with a small 'f.' They think they know all the answers. And then you've got people living in this fact-based, empirical, inductive world. They're talking to people who, as an article of faith, know what the answers are. That creates great tension at the very top."

A "tension" reflected in the fact of the leak.
Posted by orrinj at 11:25 PM


Trump dictated misleading statement on son's meeting with Russian: Washington Post  (Reuters, 7/31/17)

The Washington Post said Trump advisers discussed the new disclosure and agreed that Trump Jr. should issue a truthful account of the episode so that it "couldn't be repudiated later if the full details emerged."

The president, who was flying home from Germany on July 8, changed the plan and "personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said he and the Russian lawyer had 'primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children,'" the Post said, citing unnamed people with knowledge of the deliberations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump : We created him, and now we're rationalizing him. When will it stop? (JEFF FLAKE, July 31, 2017, Politico)

With hindsight, it is clear that we all but ensured the rise of Donald Trump.

I will let the liberals answer for their own sins in this regard. (There are many.) But we conservatives mocked Barack Obama's failure to deliver on his pledge to change the tone in Washington even as we worked to assist with that failure. It was we conservatives who, upon Obama's election, stated that our No. 1 priority was not advancing a conservative policy agenda but making Obama a one-term president--the corollary to this binary thinking being that his failure would be our success and the fortunes of the citizenry would presumably be sorted out in the meantime. It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama's legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us. It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued. To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial.

I've been sympathetic to this impulse to denial, as one doesn't ever want to believe that the government of the United States has been made dysfunctional at the highest levels, especially by the actions of one's own party. Michael Gerson, a con­servative columnist and former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, wrote, four months into the new presidency, "The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased," and conservative institutions "with the blessings of a president ... have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion."

For a conservative, that's an awfully bitter pill to swallow. So as I layered in my defense mechanisms, I even found myself saying things like, "If I took the time to respond to every presiden­tial tweet, there would be little time for anything else." Given the volume and velocity of tweets from both the Trump campaign and then the White House, this was certainly true. But it was also a monumental dodge. It would be like Noah saying, "If I spent all my time obsessing about the coming flood, there would be little time for anything else." At a certain point, if one is being honest, the flood becomes the thing that is most worthy of attention. At a certain point, it might be time to build an ark.

It is incumbent on the grownup party to act it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Obamacare crisis nearly fixed in Ohio (Tami Luhby, July 31, 2017, CNN Money)

Insurers in the Buckeye State have agreed to sell Obamacare policies in 19 of the 20 counties that had no options for 2018, the state Department of Insurance said Monday.

Roughly 11,000 Ohio residents in these counties currently purchase coverage on the exchange, but were at risk of being left stranded after Anthem and Paramount Health Care said they would not return next year.

Buckeye Health Plan, CareSource, Medical Mutual of Ohio, Molina Health Care of Ohio and Paramount Health Care have each agreed to enter several of the counties so consumers there will have at least one choice next year. State regulators are working to bring coverage to Paulding County as well, the department said.

"The exchange markets are proving to be more resilient than many would have expected," said Cynthia Cox, an associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Premium subsidies protect consumers from paying higher prices and may also make it possible for insurers to stay in counties that are otherwise unattractive."

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Best and worst public schools by state (Stef W. Knight, 7/31/17, Axios)

Massachusetts has the best public schools in the country, per Wallet Hub which looked at the overall quality and safety of public schools in each state according to 21 different factors.

Top 5: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Vermont

Worst 5: Louisiana, New Mexico, West Virginia, D.C., Mississippi 

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Lawsuits could force feds to pay Obamacare insurers : The companies claim the federal government owes them billions from a program meant to stabilize Obamacare marketplaces. (PAUL DEMKO 07/30/2017, Politico)

A pending court decision could force the Trump administration to pump billions of dollars into Obamacare insurers, even as the president threatens to let the health care law "implode."

Health insurers have filed nearly two dozen lawsuits claiming the government owes them payments from a program meant to blunt their losses in the Obamacare marketplaces. That raises the prospect that the Trump administration will have to bankroll a program the GOP has pilloried as an insurer bailout.

Insurers are owed more than $8 billion in payments, and the tab is likely to grow. Insurers say spending restrictions Republicans forced on the "risk corridors" program during the Obama administration, aside from being illegal, are partly to blame for severe turbulence in some Obamacare marketplaces. [...]

The fiscal hit to the feds could be huge if the insurers win. And it would be one more embarrassing setback for Republicans, who likely saw their best shot at dismantling Obamacare slip away in the Senate's failed repeal vote early Friday morning. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


We need to start viewing type 2 diabetes as a lifestyle issue (PHIL WHITAKER, 7/31/17, New Statesman)

Diabetes causes serious complications: blindness, kidney failure and heart disease, to name but three. Traditionally, doctors have doled out pills and injections to help prevent its sequelae. We perform regular blood tests to monitor things, and are forever adding new treatments to tighten sugar control.

We may mention lifestyle factors such as weight, diet and exercise, but our every action conveys to patients that this is not what we're really interested in. Patients learn that they "have" a disease called diabetes, and become passive recipients of ongoing medical care. They even become eligible for free prescriptions, such is the importance we attach to drug therapy. But many of our treatments (and our flawed dietary advice) actually cause further weight gain. Once someone gets sucked on to the medical merry-go-round, there's virtually no way off.

The burgeoning rates of diabetes reflect the current epidemic of obesity. We're surrounded by cheap, delicious, energy-dense foodstuffs. For too many people, "exercise" equates to the walk from the car to the supermarket door. It's gradually dawning on the medical profession that we have to stop treating type 2 diabetes as a disease; we can't keep turning millions of people into long-term patients.

The alternative is a cultural shift to viewing type 2 diabetes as a lifestyle issue. Around the country, the NHS is beginning to offer newly diagnosed type 2 diabetics referral on prescription for exercise, weight loss, dietary advice and cooking skills. This approach needs to be far bolder. Currently these "lifestyle prescriptions" last for up to 12 weeks, after which patients are left to get on with it. Offering free prescriptions for, say, a maximum of six months, but unlimited free access to gyms and weight-loss classes, would start to send the right signal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


The Train That Saved Denver : The car-choked city overcame regional distrust to build a major transit system that is remaking the urban core and the suburbs, too. (COLIN WOODARD May 19, 2016, Politico)

A decade ago, travelers arriving at Denver's sprawling new airport would look out over a vast expanse of flat, prairie dog-infested grassland and wonder if their plane had somehow fallen short of its destination. The $4.9 billion airport--at 53 square miles, larger than Manhattan--was derided as being "halfway to Kansas," and given the emptiness of the 23-mile drive to the city, it felt that way.

Last month, arriving visitors boarded the first trains headed for downtown, a journey that zips past a new Japanese-style "smart city" emerging from the prairie before depositing passengers 37 minutes later in a bustling urban hive of restaurants, shops and residential towers that only six years ago was a gravelly no man's land--an entire $2 billion downtown neighborhood that's mushroomed up around the hub of Denver's rapidly expanding light rail system.

The 22.8-mile spur from the airport to downtown is the latest addition to a regional rail system that has transformed Denver and its suburbs. Using an unprecedented public-private partnership that combines private funding, local tax dollars and federal grants, Denver has done something no other major metro area has accomplished in the past decade, though a number of cities have tried. At a moment when aging mass transit systems in several major cities are capturing headlines for mismanagement, chronic delays and even deaths, Denver is unveiling a shiny new and widely praised network: 68 stations along 10 different spurs, covering 98 miles, with another 15 miles still to come. Even before the new lines opened, 77,000 people were riding light rail each day, making it the eighth-largest system in the country even though Denver is not in the top 20 cities for population. The effects on the region's quality of life have been measurable and also surprising, even to the project's most committed advocates. Originally intended to unclog congested highways and defeat a stubborn brown smog that was as unhealthy as it was ugly, the new rail system has proven that its greatest value is the remarkable changes in land use its stations have prompted, from revitalizing moribund neighborhoods, like the area around Union Station, to creating new communities where once there was only sprawl or buffalo grass.

I took Denver's rail system from the airport to downtown (Jordan Pascale, 7/30/17, Virginia Pilot)

I have been to Denver, and I have seen the light.

The light rail.

It easily and seamlessly whisked me from the airport terminal to downtown's Union Station in about 37 minutes.

I'm convinced, now more than ever, that if Norfolk's proposed light-rail extension doesn't go to Norfolk International Airport, then we've made a huge mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Does Turkey face day of reckoning with al-Qaeda in Idlib? (Fehim Tastekin, 7/30/17, Al Monitor)

Mat Nashed writes, "While the cease-fire holds for now, activists and analysts say that armed groups are undermining the role of civil society. ... Rather than fully sabotaging relief services, HTS has tried to win support by establishing its own civil department to oversee provisions. Ahrar al-Sham, a rival ultraconservative militia that wields considerable power in Idlib, has adopted the same strategy."

Tastekin adds, "The CIA's withdrawal might also affect Ankara's operational plans regarding Idlib. Ankara was relying on Ahrar al-Sham to end the HTS domination there, but Turkey's hopes were misplaced." 

The Gulf-Qatar crisis is also affecting the balance of forces in Idlib. Qatar, like Turkey, has been a major backer of Ahrar al-Sham, and it is unclear as yet whether that support will continue. "Saudi Arabia," Tastekin writes, "upset with Turkey for its support of Qatar, is not expected to cooperate more with Turkey in northern Syria. We have to remember that the conquests of Aleppo and Idlib in 2015 were made possible mostly by generous support from the Saudis. ... Those criticizing Trump's decision say that, in the absence of the CIA, Turkey and the Gulf countries might begin supplying the radical groups with advanced anti-aircraft weapons, especially MANPADS (shoulder-fired missiles)."

This column has argued for years that the al-Qaeda-linked groups and Ahrar al-Sham are brothers in arms and ideology, committed, if under different banners, to Sharia rule and ending the Syrian people's tradition of secularism and tolerance toward minorities and other religions. It was not so long ago that Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (as it was known then) rallied together under the Jaish al-Fatah "Army of Conquest" banner. Although the groups were thankfully run out of Aleppo, many of their surviving members managed to escape to Idlib, where they terrorize the local population.

With regard to Turkey, there is perhaps a bit of what goes around, comes around. Amberin Zaman wrote earlier this month about a Turkish Interior Ministry report that details the government's battle against the Islamic State. "To be sure," Zaman explains, "Turkey is the country that has suffered most from IS, the report notes. The group has conducted 14 attacks against Turkey, including 10 suicide bomb attacks and three shooting attacks. Some 304 people have lost their lives and 1,338 as a result of IS actions."

Zaman continues, "Some experts say Turkey largely has itself to blame for this outcome. Turkey has long been accused of leniency if not outright collusion with IS, which grew stronger as a direct result of its lax border policies that let armed rebels of all stripes to go in and out of neighboring Syria in the hope that they would overthrow the country's President Bashar al-Assad."

Zaman adds, "The jihadis have targeted the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). ... The deadliest IS operations inside the country targeted pro-PKK Kurds, and the official reaction was a deafening silence. The lack of response fed accusations that Turkey was egging IS on against the Kurds, most notably when the group laid siege to the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani in 2014."

Al-Monitor columnists have for years covered and lamented the two-way "jihadist highway" and the porous border between Turkey and Syria, which fueled the transit of foreign fighters and supplies to both IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate, as well as Ahrar al-Sham and other Salafi groups.

Turkey's quagmire in Idlib is complicated by the United States mostly staying out of the action there, and ceding ground, until now, to Russia and Turkey. Moscow understands the threat of Idlib as a rat's nest of jihadi and Salafi hold outs, but is wary of an escalation, at least for now, especially given the uncertainty over Turkey's intentions and capabilities.

Bruce Riedel explains that al-Qaeda has also begun to increase the ideological challenge to Saudi Arabia. "Al-Qaeda will no doubt test the new security team in Riyadh," Riedel writes. "Cells of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remain active, and as-Sahab will go after the legitimacy of the new crown prince, painting him as unqualified for the throne. The kingdom is facing a complex and interrelated series of challenges with deadly enemies."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Without Priebus, Trump Is a Man Without a Party : By ousting Reince Priebus, the president is severing one of his few remaining ties to the GOP. (TIM ALBERTA July 30, 2017, Politico)

By firing him, Trump has severed a critical connection to his own party--not simply to major donors and GOP congressional leaders, but to the unruly, broader constellation of conservative-affiliated organizations and individuals that Priebus had spent five years corralling. He was effortlessly tagged as an "establishment" figure--inevitably, given his title atop the party--but Priebus was a specialist at coalition-building. He convened regular meetings as RNC chairman with influential players in the conservative movement, picking their brains and taking their temperatures on various issues. That continued as chief of staff: Priebus spoke by phone with prominent activists, such as the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, at least once a week. There is a meeting scheduled at the White House this Wednesday of the Conservative Action Project--an umbrella group that brings together leaders from across the right--and Priebus was planning to attend. It was this kind of systematic outreach that made Priebus, whatever his flaws as a West Wing manager, an essential lieutenant for Trump.

There is no question, however, that Priebus' absence will echo loudest on Capitol Hill--particularly in the speaker's office. Ryan's team had heard whispers for months of Priebus' possible departure, but the news was nonetheless a dagger, especially on the heels of a health care defeat and at the dawn of tax-reform season. Ryan and Priebus, both Green Bay Packers fans and local beer loyalists, have been friends for decades; Ryan's former chief of staff, Andy Speth, was Priebus' college roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Priebus was the first call Ryan made when things got hairy this year, and vice versa. Working with a West Wing that contains few other true allies--and with a volatile president who has viewed him suspiciously ever since the speaker accused him of making "the textbook definition of a racist comment" about a Hispanic-American judge--Ryan saw Priebus as his staunchest ally and bunker mate. And now he's gone. [...]

Looking around Trump's inner circle, there is communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a political novice who in the past donated to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton; chief strategist Steve Bannon, who used Breitbart to try and burn the Republican Party to the ground; National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a lifelong Democrat; director of strategic communication Hope Hicks, who has zero history with GOP politics; and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, a pair of self-professed Manhattan progressives. Of Trump's closest advisers, only Mike Pence has any association with the Republican Party.

This no longer seems accidental. Trump has, since taking office, consistently referred to Republicans as though he is not one himself--it's invariably "they" or "them." Unlike past presidents of his party, Trump entered the White House with few personal relationships with prominent Republicans: donors, lobbyists, party activists, politicians. This liberated him to say whatever he pleased as a candidate, and, by firing Priebus, Trump might feel similarly liberated. The fear now, among Republicans in his administration and on Capitol Hill, is that Trump will turn against the party, waging rhetorical warfare against a straw-man GOP whom he blames for the legislative failures and swamp-stained inertia that has bedeviled his young presidency. 

The best thing that could happen to the Party is open warfare.

Trump Goes Rogue (MATTHEW CONTINETTI, JULY 31, 2017, NY Times)

In Donald Trump's White House, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were more than chief of staff and press secretary. They were the president's connection to the Washington establishment: the donors, flacks and apparatchiks of both parties whose influence over politics and the economy many Trump supporters wish to upend.

By firing Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer and hiring John Kelly and Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump has sent a message: After six months of trying to behave like a conventional Republican president, he's done. His opponents now include not only the Democrats, but the elites of both political parties.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Centrist lawmakers plot bipartisan health care stabilization bill (HEATHER CAYGLE and PAUL DEMKO 07/30/2017, Politico)

Their plan focuses on immediately stabilizing the insurance market and then pushing for Obamacare changes that have received bipartisan backing in the past.

The most significant proposal is funding for Obamacare's cost-sharing subsidies. Insurers rely on these payments - estimated to be $7 billion this year -- to reduce out-of-pocket costs for their poorest Obamacare customers. [...]

The bipartisan working group also wants to change Obamacare's employer mandate so that it applies only to companies with more than 500 workers. Currently companies with at least 50 workers can be hit with a tax penalty if they don't provide coverage to their workers.

The group also wants to create a federal stability fund - dollar amount unspecified -- that states can tap to reduce premiums and other costs for people with extremely expensive medical needs. Both the Senate and House repeal packages contained similar pots of money.

The bipartisan proposal also calls for scrapping Obamacare's medical-device tax, an idea that has received bipartisan support in the past.

Finally, the working group is seeking greater flexibility for state innovation. Obamacare already allows state to seek waivers from coverage rules, but the lawmakers want additional guidance on how states can take advantage of them.

July 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


The Emerging Democratic Minority? : If Democrats can't take advantage of Trump's troubles in next year's midterms, they could be out of power in Congress for a long time. (Josh Kraushaar, July 30, 2017, National Journal)

Democrats deserve credit in uniting their party to block GOP attempts at rolling back Obamacare. They managed to outline a vague list of economic priorities in hopes of convincing voters they're not just obsessed with President Trump. But even after six months of shambolic Republican governance, Democrats are still viewed as an unacceptable alternative to many persuadable voters in middle America.

Those were the sobering findings of a Democratic survey commissioned by the party-backed House Majority PAC, which Politico and McClatchy first reported. The poll surveyed working-class white voters in pivotal districts that Democrats are targeting in the midterms. Despite the Trump turmoil in Washington, Republicans held a 10-point lead on the generic ballot (43-33 percent) among these blue-collar voters. Democrats hold a whopping 61 percent disapproval rating among these voters, with only 32 percent approving. Even Trump's job-approval rating is a respectable 52 percent with the demographic in these swing districts.

Democrats maintain that with robust economic messaging, they can move those numbers in their favor. But the results show how difficult that task will be. By a stunning 35-point margin, blue-collar white voters believe that Republicans will be better at improving the economy and creating jobs than Democrats. Under Trump, the economy has been growing--even in the disadvantaged parts of the country. Between promising job creation and Trump's own paeans to blue-collar work, it's hard to see the GOP numbers changing significantly.

The more uncomfortable reality is that these blue-collar voters' resistance to the Democrats is on cultural grounds, not economic ones--a finding that studies of Obama-Trump voters have repeatedly shown. Democrats are facing a double-whammy: They're still experiencing resistance among moderate voters in suburban swing districts over tax-and-spend economic policies. Meanwhile, small-town voters are having a tough time voting for their candidates because of a growing cultural disconnect.

Opposing Donald's entire agenda is not just good policy but good politics for the GOP.  It makes him sui generis and they can avoid the taint.  They already showed they can win despite him in November.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


With Islamic State gone, barbers are busy in Mosul (Omar Sattar, July 27, 2017, Al Monitor)

Barbershops are sprouting once again -- albeit carefully because of the possible threat of remaining IS cells. Returning to a somewhat normal life in Mosul, which was liberated July 10 from the clutches of IS, is a difficult process. Thousands of displaced people are returning to their homes amid large-scale devastation and the stifling fear and culture of prohibition that IS left behind. 

Today, the young people of Mosul seek to rid themselves of long beards, get proper haircuts and shake the weight of IS off their shoulders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Death of a F***ing Salesman (Kevin D. Williamson, July 30, 2017, National Review)

These guys don't want to see Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. What they want is to be Blake. They want to swagger, to curse, to insult, and to exercise power over men, exercising power over men being the classical means to the end of exercising power over women, which is of course what this, and nine-tenths of everything else in human affairs, is about. Blake is a specimen of that famous creature, the "alpha male," and establishing and advertising one's alpha creds is an obsession for some sexually unhappy contemporary men. There is a whole weird little ecosystem of websites (some of them very amusing) and pickup-artist manuals offering men tips on how to be more alpha, more dominant, more commanding, a literature that performs roughly the same function in the lives of these men that Cosmopolitan sex tips play in the lives of insecure women. Of course this advice ends up producing cartoonish, ridiculous behavior. If you're wondering where Anthony Scaramucci learned to talk and behave like such a Scaramuccia, ask him how many times he's seen Glengarry Glen Ross.

What's notable about the advice offered to young men aspiring to be "alpha males" is that it is consistent with the classic salesmanship advice offered by the real-world versions of Blake in a hundred thousand business-inspiration books (Og Mandino's The Greatest Salesman in the World is the classic of the genre) and self-help tomes, summarized in an old Alcoholics Anonymous slogan: "Fake it 'til you make it." For the pick-up artists, the idea is that simply acting in social situations as though one were confident, successful, and naturally masterful is a pretty good substitute for being those things. Never mind the advice of Cicero (esse quam videri, be rather than seem) or Rush -- just go around acting like Blake and people will treat you like Blake.

If that sounds preposterous, remind yourself who the president of the United States of America is.

Trump is the political version of a pickup artist, and Republicans -- and America -- went to bed with him convinced that he was something other than what he is. Trump inherited his fortune but describes himself as though he were a self-made man. 

He has had a middling career in real estate and a poor one as a hotelier and casino operator but convinced people he is a titan of industry. He has never managed a large, complex corporate enterprise, but he did play an executive on a reality show. He presents himself as a confident ladies' man but is so insecure that he invented an imaginary friend to lie to the New York press about his love life and is now married to a woman who is open and blasé about the fact that she married him for his money. He fixates on certain words ("negotiator") and certain classes of words (mainly adjectives and adverbs, "bigly," "major," "world-class," "top," and superlatives), but he isn't much of a negotiator, manager, or leader. He cannot negotiate a health-care deal among members of a party desperate for one, can't manage his own factionalized and leak-ridden White House, and cannot lead a political movement that aspires to anything greater than the service of his own pathetic vanity.

He wants to be John Wayne, but what he is is "Woody Allen without the humor." Peggy Noonan, to whom we owe that observation, has his number: He is soft, weak, whimpering, and petulant. He isn't smart enough to do the job and isn't man enough to own up to the fact. For all his gold-plated toilets, he is at heart that middling junior salesman watching Glengarry Glen Ross and thinking to himself: "That's the man I want to be." How many times do you imagine he has stood in front of a mirror trying to project like Alec Baldwin? Unfortunately for the president, it's Baldwin who does the good imitation of Trump, not the other way around.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


The Americans are coming for British English - but we're like, whatever (Peter Preston,  30 July 2017 08, The Guardian)

A teenage granddaughter arrived for a summer stay. How was she? "I'm good," she said. "What about you guys?" She didn't go on to wish me an awesome day, but the message was still unmistakable. A child of the Disney channel and Nickelodeon, a social media devotee, she now belongs to the coming generation who, quite naturally and unthinkingly, speak American English.

Does that matter? Matthew Engel, one of journalism's great exponents of English English, clearly thinks so. "As we approach 2020, the American words the British invited into their homes are in danger of taking over", he writes in his new book, That's the Way It Crumbles. "It has become possible to imagine a time - 2120 would seem a plausible and arithmetically neat guesstimate - when American English absorbs the British version completely. The child will have eaten its mother, but only because the mother insisted."

Globalization is Americanization.  

If you watch much British/Australian/Canadian/European television you quickly notice that everyplace seems exactly like America and whenever two characters--usually cops--from different countries have to communicate they speak English.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Goodbye, iPhone: My new $180 Android is good enough (Rick Broida, July 30, 2017, C/Net)

Ultimately I chose the new Nokia 6, which Amazon sells for $180 (with lockscreen ads and offers). It features a 5.5-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel screen, 32GB of expandable storage, the latest version of Android (7.1) and a fingerprint sensor. It also sports a metal frame, making this "cheap" phone feel like, well, my iPhone.

It has all the same core capabilities as well. It may not be as fast or have the same advanced cameras, but as long as I could make calls, send text messages, update Facebook, read ebooks, listen to music, get driving directions, check the weather and so on, I wasn't too concerned. [...]

Day 7: The verdict

So. Can a $180 phone take the place of an $849 phone? Absolutely. Can it do so without compromise? Honestly, it gets pretty damn close.

Because I tested just one phone for this experiment, it's hard to make a blanket statement about this. For $50 more, would I have been better off with Motorola's Moto G5 Plus, which CNET dubbed "simply the best budget phone"? For $80 less, could I have managed just as well with the aforementioned Alcatel A50? I can't say.

I definitely found myself missing the responsiveness of my iPhone 6S Plus, to say nothing of its better cameras. But here's the question: Are those things worth the extra $670?

Of course not. Absolutely not. And there's no question that if I spend a bit more money on an Android phone, I can get a faster processor and better camera. Much as I've loved the iPhone over the years, it's no longer possible to justify such a hefty premium. (The same goes for Samsung's similarly overpriced Galaxy phones, by the way.) Android may lack some of the polish of iOS, but when it comes to hardware, a budget phone can definitely get the job done. Maybe I'll have a change of heart once the iPhone 8 (or even 9) rolls around, assuming it has a seriously killer feature, but for now I'm pretty confident my next phone will be a very affordable Android model.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


The Observer view on Donald Trump's unfitness for office (Observer editorial,  29 July 2017)

The sense of things falling apart in Washington is palpable - and a matter of growing, serious international concern. Donald Trump's latest asinine act of gesture politics, the forced resignation of his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has shone a spotlight on the extraordinary chaos inside the White House. Even normally sober, experienced Washington observers now refer to the West Wing as a viper's nest of seething rivalry, bitter feuds, gross incompetence and an unparalleled leadership vacuum.

Like some kind of Shakespearean villain-clown, Trump plays not to the gallery but to the pit. He is a Falstaff without the humour or the self-awareness, a cowardly, bullying Richard III without a clue. Late-night US satirists find in this an unending source of high comedy. If they did not laugh, they would cry. The world is witnessing the dramatic unfolding of a tragedy whose main victims are a seemingly helpless American audience, America's system of balanced governance and its global reputation as a leading democratic light.

As his partisan, demeaning and self-admiring speech to the Boy Scouts of America illustrated, Trump endlessly reruns last year's presidential election campaign, rails against the "fake news" media and appeals to the lowest common denominator in public debate. Not a word about duty, service, shared purpose or high ideals was to be found in his gutter-level discourse before a youthful gathering of 30,000 in West Virginia. Instead, he served up a sad cocktail of paranoia and narcissism. It was all about him and what he has supposedly achieved against the odds.

Which, for the record, is almost precisely nothing. After more than six months in office, and despite full Republican control of Congress, Trump cannot point to a single substantial legislative achievement. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


US VP Mike Pence embarks on European reassurance mission (Deutsche Welle, 7/30/17)

This is where Pence, who already tried to assuage European anxiety during the Munich Security Conference shortly after Trump's inauguration, comes in.   

"I think there is no question that Vice President Pence is meant to be the grown-up in the White House when it comes to European security and NATO policy," said Norman Naimark, professor of East European Studies, History and German Studies at Stanford University via email. "I think it is a very good move on the part of the White House, maybe encouraged by the State Department, to send Pence to these countries," he told DW.

The aim of the vice president's trip, said Mariya Omelicheva, a scholar of Eurasian security at the University of Kansas, is to "reiterate the US' continued commitment to Euro-Atlantic security, NATO, and the latter's collective defense principle. As a candidate and, now, the President, Trump made the East and Central European states, the former members of the Warsaw pact and republics of the Soviet Union, very nervous."

Pence, argued Naimark, due to his political background and his low-key style, is well positioned for what amounts to the vice president's second reassurance mission to Europe.
Drown out the Washington noise

"As a conservative Republican, he will also try to convince these nervous allies, who really do look to us for protection, that the incessant 'noise' in Washington about the Trump administration playing footsies with the Russians does not mean that the US will sacrifice their interests to a Moscow-Washington agreement," said Naimark, who also serves as fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Police Chiefs Blast Trump (Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Mark Berman, 7/30/17, The Washington Post)

Police leaders across the country moved quickly to distance themselves from -- or to outright condemn -- President Trump's statements about "roughing up" people who've been arrested.

The swift public denunciations came as departments are under intense pressure to stamp out brutality and excessive force that can erode the relationship between officers and the people they police -- and cost police chiefs their jobs.

Some police leaders worried that three sentences uttered by the president during a Long Island, N.Y., speech could upend nearly three decades of fence-mending since the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department beating of Rodney King ushered in an era of distrust of police.

"It's the wrong message," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Washington radio station WTOP while speaking of the trust-building work that departments have undertaken since King's beating. "The last thing we need is a green light from the president of the United States for officers to use unnecessary force."

As his administration craters, Donald has nothing left to fall back on but the racial animosity of his core.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Palestinians see Temple Mount showdown as rare grassroots victory (JOE DYKE July 30, 2017, AFP)

A huge Palestinian flag was carried by young men onto one of the Old City's walls -- an extremely rare act in a city that Israel considers its undivided capital.

"We feel joyous. I live quite far away but I walked here for Al-Aqsa," said Nisreen, a young woman in the crowd. [...]

Israel responded to the terror attack by installing new security measures, particularly metal detectors and cameras at approach points and entrances to the holy site.

Officials noted such measures were standard at major religious sites but Palestinians saw it as Israel trying to take further control of the compound, a charge that Israel adamantly denied.

The Waqf, a Jordan-based Islamic endowments authority that runs the compound under a delicate status-quo agreement following the 1967 war, refused to enter until the measures were removed and instructed Muslims to stay away. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah political party as well as the Hamas terror group called for "Days of Rage" against the measures.

Days of street protests followed, with thousands praying outside the compound as part of a boycott. On the first Friday with the new measures in place, protests hit a boiling point, with deadly violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and a terror attack in which a Palestinian sneaked into a West Bank home and stabbed three people to death.

Early on Tuesday, the metal detectors were removed but railings and other new structures remained in place. The boycott continued.

Two days later, police returned around 1 a.m. to remove the rest, sparking the joyous scenes. The Waqf instructed that the boycott continue until it had reviewed the situation on the ground and later declared the compound fit for worship as did the PA.

But while the Palestinian protest movement was called to the streets by the Waqf, Palestinians have celebrated the Israeli move as a rare grassroots victory.

"This cut across all lines -- religious, not so religious, Muslim, Christian, rich or poor," Diana Buttu, a former Palestinian official turned analyst, said.

According to Buttu and others, the Palestinian political leadership of all factions, including the internationally recognized leadership of the Palestinian Authority, had been mostly irrelevant, with the movement led largely by protesters.

Thus has Israel created Palestine.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Who could be next on Trump's chopping block (Stef W. Knight, 7/30/17, Axios)

Jeff Sessions: Trump has expressed his frustration with Sessions to aides and even the New York Times over the past couple weeks. Axios reported that Trump floated Rudy Giuliani as a possible replacement and has had calls with advisors asking what would happen if he fired Sessions.

Rex Tillerson: He's considering leaving the job of Secretary of State by the end of the year, two sources told CNN. And on Tuesday, Tillerson's spokeswoman announced that Tillerson was "taking a little time off."

H. R. McMaster: National Security Advisor McMaster's plans for Afghanistan have faced repeated opposition from the President as well as Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, according to Politico and Bloomberg. Because of this, Trump has reportedly begun losing faith in McMaster.

Robert Mueller: There's been speculation that if Trump replaces Sessions he'll go after Special Counsel Robert Muller next. Last week, Mike Allen reported Trump was advised not to fire Sessions from the Justice Department to "save the bullet" for Mueller.

Steve Bannon: Back in April, Mike Allen reported that Bannon might be on his way out. He was removed from the National Security council, and Politico reported that Bannon had to be convinced not to quit the administration. However, this seems to have blown over. 

McMaster would be worth getting rid of the rest of the staff and Mueller would trigger impeachment. Let's get it on.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


World's Biggest Muslim Country Puts More Women Into Senior Roles (Rieka Rahadiana, Molly Dai, and Karl Lester M Yap,  7/24/17, Bloomberg)

In the late 1980s, Pakistani clerics beseeched Indonesia to pray for them after Benazir Bhutto became prime minister and the first woman to govern a Muslim majority nation.

Khofifah Indar Parawansa, now a cabinet minister in Indonesia, recalls the incident with some irony. The clerics told Abdurrahman Wahid, who would later become Indonesia's president, that Pakistan would be "unlucky for being ruled by a woman," she said.  

Parawansa, 52, is one of nine female ministers in the world's most populous Muslim nation, exemplifying the country's success in breaking gender and religious stereotypes.

At 26 percent, Indonesia has the largest ratio of female ministers among the 10 biggest countries based on population size, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union or IPU, a global organization of parliaments based in Geneva.

Women have made grounds in Indonesia from politics to central banking. High profile officials include Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi -- a first in the country's history -- and Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti. Rosmaya Hadi became Bank Indonesia's only female deputy governor this year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


The Conservative Media's Role in Trumpcare's Flameout (Steven Waldman, July 29, 2017, Washinton Monthly)

For years now, the base of the GOP has been told over and over again that:

A) Obamacare was destroying America and must therefore be completely repealed

B) That the GOP replacement plan would lower premiums and deductibles

C) This could all be done without having tradeoffs such as tyrannical mandates or taxes

D) The Democrats were so incompetent that it would be easy to come up with something better

E) Democrats were so evil that working with them on a solution would be cause for excommunication, and

F) the most important goal was being able to say that Obamacare was repealed. [...]

Finally, they believed their own propaganda about Obamacare imploding.

Meanwhile, the reality has remained unchanged for all these years: the GOP will reform it, not repeal it, and the reforms will reduce choice and make coverage more universal.

July 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


How Donald Trump's "All Vinegar, No Honey" Approach To Health Care Reform Ended Up Backfiring (LACHLAN MARKAY. ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, SAM STEIN, 07.29.17, Daily Beast)

The president's treatment of Murkowski was a microcosm of a blunt, ultimately doomed legislative strategy on health care. Trump, congressional aides and administration officials say, was quick to threaten Republicans who defected or looked like potential defections, while offering little to flip no votes or boost those who stayed in line.

The White House was "all vinegar and no honey, and that only works if you're feared," a senior administration official conceded to The Daily Beast. "Obviously [Senate GOP defectors] fear their voters more than Trump."

And their voters aren't Trump supporters.


Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM



Telemedicine may have reached a new peak with the latest development from the U.K. Meet MedicSpot, the self-proclaimed "most affordable, easiest and, quickest way to see a private general practitioner." The catch? Your doctor will live in a kiosk. These little clinics are located in pharmacies throughout the U.K. and are meant to virtually connect you to a real live doctor.

What's more, all the kiosks come complete with the medical equipment you'd need for an examination, including a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, pulse oximeter, thermometer, and a camera (which lets your doctors "see" into your throat and ears").

Don't worry -- if you need to use these devices, MedicSpot promises that "a pharmacy staff member is always available to give you a helping hand if needed." You can even get a prescription from your healthcare provider by way of the kiosk.

You don't need to make an appointment in order to see one of MedicSpot's kiosk-based doctors. Simply visit your nearest MedicSpot pharmacy (you can see the full list of locations on the MedicSpot website) and get a walk-in consultation with a U.K. registered general practitioner "within a matter of minutes," the company notes.

MedicSpot claims that it's prepared to "deal with about 95 percent of things you would normally see your [doctor] for."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Russia's Villages, and Their Way of Life, Are 'Melting Away' (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, JULY 29, 2017, NY Times)

President Vladimir V. Putin frequently cites hardy population growth as a pillar of restoring Russia's place atop the global order. "Demography is a vital issue that will influence our country's development for decades to come," he said at a recent economic conference, also calling it an important gauge of social and economic well-being.

There is a pronounced gap, however, between the positive terms in which Mr. Putin and his advisers habitually discuss demographic trends and the reality of the numbers.

Basically, Russians are dying faster than they are being born, demographers said. Given the general hostility toward immigration, the question is to what degree the population of 146 million, including annexed Crimea, might shrink.

The number of deaths exceeded the number of births in 2016 by a few thousand, and the prognosis for the years ahead is poor. From 2013 to 2015, extremely modest natural growth peaked in 2015 with just 32,038 more births than deaths. By comparison, Mexico, with a population approximately 10 percent smaller, recorded some 1.7 million more births than deaths in 2015.

"The statistics and the propaganda are very different things," said Natalya V. Zubarevich, an expert in social and political geography at Moscow State University.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


The US Navy 3D printed a concept submersible in four weeks (Andrew Liptak,  Jul 29, 2017, The Verge)
Militaries around the world have eyed 3D printing as a cost and time-effective resource for future missions, whether it's printing up replacement parts for warplanes, grenade launchers, or meals for soldiers. Recently, the US Navy has partnered with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a proof-of-concept submersible that was printed in under four weeks.

The idea of printing up weapons or vehicles is something out of science fiction, but this is something that the military could begin using in the next couple of years, if everything goes well. The 3D printed submersible was developed by a team from the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) and Carderock Division's Disruptive Technology Laboratory (DTL), and comes with the cumbersome name Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator, which is based on is based on a submersible currently used by Navy SEALs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Target ends 16 years of NASCAR sponsorship (Bob Pockrass, 7/29/17, ESPN)

"As we looked to evolve our sports marketing program, soccer provided Target with a unique opportunity to reach our guests in new places, and at all levels of the sport," Target said in a statement. "Through partnerships with Major League Soccer, Minnesota United FC, US Youth Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Target has been able to create meaningful connections with players, fans and families, no matter how they participate in the sport."

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Are American Jews Giving Up on Israel? : As the ultra-Orthodox pass new measures governing prayer at the Western Wall and religious conversion, a rift is growing between Israel and American Jews. (DEBRA KAMIN, JULY 28, 2017, Foreign Policy)

"The rift is real," says Seth Farber, a modern Orthodox rabbi who leads ITIM, an organization that offers assistance to Israelis in navigating the country's religious bureaucracy. "[Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox] are not just shifting uncomfortably. They are saying: This is not the Israel that we know."

The issues, all revolving around the ever-thorny questions of who is a Jew and what claim non-Israelis can stake to matters of Israeli life, have been simmering for years. But last month, when the Israeli government issued a swift one-two punch to non-Orthodox Jewish observance by nixing egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and approving a bill that would block all but the most religious rabbis from performing Jewish conversions, the pot boiled over.

Despite its status as a parliamentary democracy, Israel grants a coalition of ultra-Orthodox rabbis legal authority over major life issues, including marriage, divorce, and burial. Only about 11 percent of Jews in Israel define themselves as Haredi, or ultra-religious, but their significantly higher birth rate -- 6.9 children per woman, compared with 3.1 among secular Israelis -- means their numbers are projected to dramatically increase over the next 10 years.

The sector also wields immense power in the nation's multiparty system, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu currently holds a razor-thin 61-seat coalition; dissent from a single party could throw the majority, forcing new elections and bringing a challenge to the premiership. Netanyahu knows that in order to hold on to power, he needs the cooperation of ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah JudaismNetanyahu knows that in order to hold on to power, he needs the cooperation of ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and nowhere has this reality played out more dramatically than at the Western Wall.

One of the most important sites for Jewish prayer in the world, the Western Wall is under the control of Israel's Chief Rabbinate, which means that the rules there are the same as within an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. Male and female worshippers are segregated, and there is a total ban, on the women's side, on traditionally "male" accoutrements of prayer such as Torah scrolls, tefillin (phylacteries), and kippot (skullcaps).

In Israel, even the most secular Jews are used to the idea that prayer at synagogues and religious monuments usually requires adjustments like modest dress and gender segregation. But in the United States, the picture of Jewish observance is much more complex. More than half of American Jews identify with either the Reform or Conservative Jewish movement, where women are welcomed to don prayer shawls and read from the Torah, husbands and wives sing Hebrew liturgies together, and ancient Jewish laws over issues such as kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and keeping the Sabbath have a looser, modern interpretation. Whereas most Jews in Israel identify as either religious or secular, outside of Israel's borders it's entirely possible to practice a form of secular Judaism that looks, to the average ultra-Orthodox observer, not like Judaism at all.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Trump is something the nation did not know it needed (George F. Will, July 28, 2017, Washington Post)

Sessions serves at the pleasure of the president, who does not seem pleased. Still, sympathy for Sessions is in order: What is he to do? If dignity concerned him, he would resign; but if it did, he would not occupy a Trump-bestowed office from which to resign. Such are the conundrums of current politics. Concerning which, there is excessive gloom.

"To see what is in front of one's nose," George Orwell wrote, "needs a constant struggle." An unnoticed reason for cheerfulness is that in one, if only one, particular, Trump is something the nation did not know it needed: a feeble president whose manner can cure the nation's excessive fixation with the presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Vulnerable GOP Senators May Pay A Price For Obamacare Vote (Jack Brewster, Jul 28, 2017, TIME)

Some Republican senators who voted for Obamacare repeal legislation could regret it down the road.

Early Friday morning, the Senate voted down a last-ditch effort by Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare, delivering a blow to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of a party that promised for seven years to repeal the legislation. But the members who may pay the highest price are Republican senators in battleground states who supported the bill and are up for re-election next year.

Take Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, one of 49 Republicans to vote in favor of the so-called "skinny repeal" proposal on Friday. Heller is the lone GOP senator up for re-election in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016. He's now on the record voting for an extremely unpopular bill that could have resulted in millions of Americans losing their insurance.

Except that it didn't.  And if the three Republicans who stopped it hadn't, three others would have.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Bikes May Have To Talk To Self-Driving Cars For Safety's Sake (MARGARET J. KRAUSS, 7/24/17, NPR Morning Edition)

One of the Waymo's primary challenges was biking, now the fastest growing commuting choice in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 1,000 cyclists were killed in car crashes in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available; 45,000 were injured.

Waymo's cars are programmed to pass bikes in accordance to state laws, usually with three feet of clearance. And if they can't do it, they'll just wait.

"Cyclists, like pedestrians, are some of the most vulnerable road users," Fairfield says. "And so we do want to treat them with extra caution and care."

That kind of patience hasn't been lost on cyclists in Pittsburgh, one of three places where Uber is testing its fleet of self-driving cars. Bike Pittsburgh, a local cycling and pedestrian nonprofit, surveyed people about how they felt sharing the streets with the company's gleaming gray Volvos.

"Honestly, I was predicting that people would be a bit more reluctant to ride around them or would be a little more critical of them," says Eric Boerer, Bike Pittsburgh's advocacy director. "People did feel much more comfortable riding next to autonomous vehicles than they did next to human vehicles. I mean, autonomous vehicles, they don't get angry, they don't have road rage."

The technology that helps make self-driving cars unemotional and conservative is showing up in today's cars: Forward collision warning or automatic braking systems help cars talk to one another and avoid collisions. But Anthony Rowe says cars could use a little help when it comes to detecting cyclists.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


What the proposed 20% cut in farm subsidies mean for your grocery bill (Vincent H. Smith, July 28, 2017, Forbes)

Farm groups and Farm Belt politicians have vigorously complained about the effects of the Trump administration's proposed $4.8 billion in annual cuts to the $23 billion in subsidies currently given to farmers. They argue the cuts will hurt agricultural production, raise food prices and make ordinary households worse off.

The reality, perhaps surprisingly, is that there would be little impact. Only 2% of all farm households fall below the federal poverty line, according to the Agriculture Department, and none of these small farms would be affected by the cuts.

End them all.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Donald Trump's presidency is destined for failure (GABRIEL SCHOENFELD, 7/28/17,  THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Even if Kelly could take away, to take one important case, Steve Bannon's open access to the Oval Office, can he do the same for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump?

Trump has already entrusted his son-in-law with an absurdly broad portfolio of responsibilities. Nepotism has a high cost. No matter how tough Kelly is, he will not be tough enough to cut Trump's blood ties. In any event, controlling the flow of information to a President who seems to believe anything aired by FOX News, no matter how outlandish, is a fool's errand.

Secondly, Kelly needs to either remove or gain control over Trump's Twitter account. Trump himself is convinced that his tweets are essential to communicating directly with voters. On that, he may well be right. But the medium also allows Trump's infantile and impulsive qualities to come to the fore in ways that hugely interfere with governance.

Even if both of these improbable measures were implemented, it would still be almost impossible for Kelly to cure this presidency of what ails it. In his CNN interview, Scaramucci employed the expression, the fish stinks from the head down. Attacking his rivals in the White House, Scaramucci continued, "but I can tell you two fish that don't stink, and that's me and the President."

That is exactly backward. Scaramucci has already revealed that he will be worse than worthless, a blabbermouth and an attention-seeking wrecker in a White House that, like every previous White House, needs a measure of cohesion.

Trump, too, over the past two years has revealed his colors. No matter who is serving as chief of staff, the weak, ignorant, sadistic, shallow, morally empty man who occupies the most powerful position in the world will not succeed as President.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Shell CEO Says His Next Car Will Be Electric (Jess Shankleman, Manus Cranny, and Rakteem Katakey, 7/27/17, Bloomberg)

Royal Dutch Shell Plc responded to the worst oil-price crash in a generation with its $54 billion takeover of BG Group Ltd., betting that demand for natural gas will rise as the world shifts to cleaner-burning fuels. Now Chief Executive Officer Ben Van Beurden says the next thing he'll buy is a car that doesn't depend on either oil or gas to run.

Van Beurden will switch from a diesel car to a plug-in Mercedes-Benz S500e in September, a company spokesman said. Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl already drives a BMW i3 electric car.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM

THE rIGHT IS THE lEFT (profanity alert):

The 'No Guardrails' Presidency (Bret Stephens, 7/28/17, NY Times)

In its account of the conversation, The New York Times opted to quote Scaramucci in full. Why not? We're long past pretending that this is not the way the leadership of the country speaks. Every vote cast for Donald Trump was a vote for vulgarity. His supporters got exactly what they paid for.

A more interesting question is how the conservative movement came to embrace it.

Did it happen in the 1990s with the movement's embrace of titillated outrage against Bill Clinton?

Did it come with the defeat of John McCain in the 2008 presidential election and the conclusion by rank-and-file conservatives that concepts of honor, service, integrity, independence, compromise and statesmanship -- the virtues that just saved the G.O.P. from a political disaster of its own devising in Friday's health care vote -- were for suckers?

Or was it Trump himself who shook free the old restraints, like some kind of reverse Jonathan Edwards preaching a doctrine of sinners in the hands of a bored God who wants to be amused?

Why would people with no decency watch their language?
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


It's time to recognise the truth - a trade deal with India means concessions on immigration (MANOJ LADWA, 7/29/17, New Statesman)

India is rightly one of the UK's top targets for bilateral trade; it is one of the largest markets in the world with over 1.25 billion citizens. Bilateral trade and investment is strong, and more than 800 Indian companies in the UK add an estimated £26 billion to our economy and support over 110,000 jobs, according to a Grant Thornton report.

There is a great relationship between the oldest democracy in the world and the largest democracy in the world. Brexit will not drive a wedge between them.

But bilateral relationships consist of more than equity and trading volume. They are about allowing trade to transform the two countries so that they can tackle different challenges together.

Deepening this relationship takes dedication, huge investments of time and several factors in common - including defence and security, science and research objectives, digital skills, and other shared endeavours.

India and the UK have great scope for much of this. The UK has highly enviable research bases, a shared interest in India's fast-growth technology centres and a large number of joint defence operations with the Indian Army. 

It goes without saying that there would have to be concessions made on the freedom of movement if the UK and India are going to negotiate constructively.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Trump's Modest Proposal for a Nafta Revamp: The administration's stated goals in renegotiating the three-nation trade pact are surprisingly tame. (Peter Coy, Andrew Mayeda, Josh Wingrove, and Eric Martin, 7/29/17, Bloomberg Businessweekk)

Donald Trump has gone squishy by stages on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he once called "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere." In April, aides persuaded him not to abrogate the 23-year-old trade pact with Canada and Mexico. On July 17, moderates scored another victory: The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released objectives for renegotiating Nafta that aim to tune it up, not gut it. "Overall this looks like a Nafta modernization. It's not like the whole of Nafta is up for grabs," says Antonio Ortiz-Mena, a senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington ­diplomacy advisory firm, who ­previously headed the economic affairs section of the Mexican Embassy.

Even after Trump relented last spring on killing the three-way pact, some analysts expected he would direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to take a hard, nationalistic line in talks on updating it. After all, in January the president had threatened a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods to pay for the border wall. There are no such threats in the trade rep's letter to Congress spelling out the administration's objectives. The administration is OK with maintaining tariff-free, quota-free trade among the three countries.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Trump, Russia Relations Weaken (Anne Gearan and Andrew Roth, 7/28/17, The Washington Post)

The Russian government announced on Friday that it would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and kick out a large number of U.S. diplomats, effectively ending hopes for the fresh start with Moscow that President Donald Trump came into office promising to seek.

The action, in response to a sanctions bill passed by Congress, signaled a loss of patience by Russian President Vladimir Putin with the Trump administration's ability to change the bilateral relationship, as the legislation handcuffs Trump's power to lift the punitive measures taken by the United States in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.

July 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Too soon to say whether Keystone XL will be built, TransCanada exec says (BEN LEFEBVRE 07/28/2017, Politico)]

The company behind the Keystone XL pipeline has not yet determined whether there is enough demand for the project to justify actually building it, a top executive said today.

It was the strongest acknowledgment from TransCanada to date that the nearly decade-long Keystone saga may end in failure -- despite President Donald Trump's overwhelming support for the project, which he green-lit as one of his first acts in office.

There was never any chance of it coming online.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Marxist group disbands because members were too rich, white (Matthew Stein, Jul 26, 2017, Campus Reform)

"From my understanding SACC disbanded because they realized the makeup and tactics of their group was at odds with their espoused principles," Swarthmore Conservative Society President Gilbert Guerra told Campus Reform. "Their main support base was middle-upper class white kids who enjoy jogging."

The farewell letter corroborates Guerra's understanding, asserting that "SACC's fundamental failure" was that "at its formation, it was made up of entirely white, with the exception of one person of color*, students," and to make matters worse, "not one of [the founding members] are from low-income and/or working class backgrounds."

Arguing that "low-income people of color should never be an afterthought in a group whose politics supposedly focus on their liberation," the author then went on to accuse SACC of having a "history of abuse, racism, and even classism that was never adequately addressed or recognized despite constantly being brought up as an issue."

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Trump's hardball tactics backfire as 'skinny repeal' goes down (James Hohmann, July 28, 2017, Washington Post)

Later that day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Murkowski and the state's other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to threaten that the Trump administration may change its position on several issues that affect the state to punish Murkowski, including blocking energy exploration and plans to allow the construction of new roads. "The message was pretty clear," Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Nevertheless, Murkowski persisted. In fact, she took it one step farther and demonstrated that she has more leverage over Zinke than he has over her. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski indefinitely postponed a nominations markup that the Interior Department badly wants.

This demonstrated the degree to which Zinke's ham-handed phone call was political malpractice. The secretary, or whoever at the White House ordered him to make the calls, clearly doesn't understand the awesome power that comes with being the chairman of a Senate committee. Only an amateur would threaten the person who has oversight over his agency! If she wants, Murkowski can make Zinke's life so unbelievably miserable. He has no idea. 

If nothing else, Donald is driving a stake through the heart of the notion that we should be governed by non-politicians.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Trump Has Not Yet Begun to Lose (Martin Longman, July 28, 2017, Washington Monthly)

People close to Secretary of Defense James Mattis say he is "appalled" by the president's decision to make a shift on transgender policy via Twitter. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on the verge of resigning, mainly out of frustration with the president and his staff. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is in charge of our nuclear weapons and was duped into spending a half hour with a Russian phone prankster who he thought was Ukraine's prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman. Trump wants to fire his beleaguered attorney general who is pissed at him. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke just alienated the senator with the most influence over his department by threatening her state with petty retribution for her vote against Trumpcare. Trump's first press secretary quit in disgust, which came shortly after his second communications director quit in disgust. Trump's new communications director just said that his chief of staff is a "paranoid schizophrenic," that his top advisor "s[.................]k," and that he wants "to kill" the rest of Trump's staff for leaking. Trump's "paranoiac" chief of staff is preparing to exit.

Trump's former campaign chairman is quite possibly going to jail and is likely in plea negotiations to avoid that fate. Trump had to fire his first national security advisor who is quite possibly going to jail and is likely in plea negotiations to avoid that fate. Trump's son was nailed dead to rights for talking to Russian spies about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, turned in essentially by Trump's son-in-law who also met with Russian spies. They both have lawyers, as does Trump's daughter. Trump has a growing army of lawyers, none of whom he listens to at all.

And this (and much more) was happening before Trump's push to repeal Obamacare died in the Senate last night, and before Special Counsel Robert Mueller announces a single indictment of anyone in Trump's inner or outer circles.

Mind you, they're this big a catastrophe at the easiest time to govern in our history.  Imagine if we faced any challenges?

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Face it, AI is better at data-analysis than humans (Tristan Greene, 7/28/17, Next Web)

It's time we stopped pretending that we're computers and let the machines do their jobs. Anodot, a real-time analytics company, is using advanced machine-learning algorithms to overcome the limitations that humans bring to data analysis.

AI can chew up all your data and spit out more answers than you've got questions for, and the e-commerce businesses that don't integrate machine-learning into data analysis will lose money. [...]

Data analysis isn't a popular water-cooler topic anywhere, presumably even at companies that specialize in it. Rebecca Herson, Vice President of Marketing for Anodot, explains the need for AI in the field:

There's just so much data being generated, there's no way for a human to go through it all. Sometimes, when we run proof-of-concept for businesses we're introducing Anodot to, they discern things they never knew where happening. Obviously businesses know if servers go down, but if you have a funnel leaking in a few different places it can be difficult to find all the problems.

The concern isn't just lost sales; there's also product-supply disruption and customer satisfaction to worry about. In numerous case studies Anodot found an estimated 80 percent of the anomalies its machine-learning software uncovered were negative factors, as opposed to positive opportunities. These companies were losing money because they weren't aware of specific problems.

We've seen data-analysis software before, but Anodot's use of machine-learning is an entirely different application. Anodot is using unsupervised AI, which accesses deep-learning, to autonomously find new ways to categorize and understand data.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Scientists Just Discovered A Material That Cools Roofs & Homes With Zero Energy Required (Trevor Nace , 7/2/17, Forbes)

The ultimate energy saver, cool your roof and home during those hot summer days without having to touch your air conditioning. As more people move to city environments and urban heat islands continue to be exacerbated, scientists were in search for a zero-energy way to cool infrastructure.

Research published in the journal Science now points to a material that can do exactly that. The metamaterial film can both reflect nearly all incoming solar energy back into the atmosphere and shed heat through infrared thermal radiation. In other words, it both reflects energy and wicks heat away from a house or building.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Economic growth rebounded to 2.6% annual rate in second quarter (Jim Puzzanghera, 7/28/17, LA Times)
The U.S. economy rebounded this spring after a weak winter, expanding at a solid 2.6% annual rate as consumers picked up their spending pace, the Commerce Department said Friday.

Total economic output, also known as gross domestic product, for the April-through-June period was in line with analyst expectations for a bounce-back based in part on pent-up demand.

Sometimes nothin' is a real cool hand...

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


A Right-Left Fusion Agenda on Zoning & Occupational Licensing (JAMES R. ROGERS, 7/27/17, Law & Liberty)

Both political right and political left increasingly share a common cause critical of occupational licensing and residential zoning. Signs portend the possibility of a left-right coalition to reform these state- and local-level policies. But bitter national-level polarization would need to be put aside to coordinate a common front at state and local levels.

Free market conservatives have long criticized zoning and occupational licensing, even if they took little concrete action to rein in the policies. Recently, however, the American left has publically voiced cognizance and criticism of the unintended consequences of these types of pervasive state and local regulations.

Richard V. Reeves, of the center-left Brookings Institution summarizes the theme of his much-publicized book, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why that Is a Problem, and What to Do about It, this way:

[B]ecause the separation and perpetuation of the upper middle class corrode prospects for more progressive approaches to policy. Various forms of "opportunity hoarding" among the upper middle class make it harder for others to rise up to the top rung. Examples include zoning laws and schooling, occupational licensing, college application procedures, and the allocation of internships.

To be sure, there is more to Reeves' argument than zoning and occupational licensing, but that doesn't mean common cause can't be had on these discrete areas of policy. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Canaanites weren't annihilated, they just 'moved' to Lebanon (Amanda Borschel-Dan, 7/28/17,  The Times of Israel)

The results, published July 27 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, show that 93 percent of the ancestry of modern Lebanese ancestry comes from the Canaanites.

Had they been destroyed by the Israelites, who were commanded by God to annihilate them, it would have been a form of patricide. According to the study, the Canaanites were the common ancestor for several ancient peoples who inhabited the Levant during the Bronze Age, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, and Israelites.

"Each achieved their own cultural identities but all shared a common genetic and ethnic root with Canaanites," according to the authors of the new study.

Particularly problematic for apartheid politics.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


American Muslims growing more liberal, survey shows (Daniel Burke, July 26, 2017, CNN)

American Muslims are growing more religiously and socially liberal, with the number who say society should accept homosexuality nearly doubling during the past decade, according to a major new survey.

American Muslims are also more likely to identify as political liberals and believe there are multiple ways to interpret the teachings of Islam, the survey found.

Conducted by the Pew Research Center, the survey of 1,001 American Muslims depicts a community in tumult, with the vast majority disapproving of President Donald Trump and worrying about the direction of the country. Even so, many remain hopeful about their future in the United States, the survey found, despite persistent anxiety about Islamic extremism and religious discrimination.

The wide-ranging survey, which was released on Wednesday, solicited opinions on everything from religious practices and politics to terrorism and social values. In addition, Pew found that the American Muslim population has been rising steadily for a decade, adding about 100,000 people per year. An estimated 3.35 million Muslims now live in the United States, just 1% of the overall population.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


What If? The Moral Imagination of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (Bradley J. Birzer, 7/28/17, Imaginative Conservative)

As I watched the new live version of Beauty and the Beast, I found myself utterly taken with the movie--emotionally as well as intellectually--and I slowly realized why. The story is the oldest story in the Christian world. It's the story about love, sacrifice, and redemption. The beast is a beast because of his poor choices. When he encounters real love and sacrifice, he understands his own folly and, most importantly, learns to sacrifice himself for others. He is, symbolically and literally, reborn. The Redeemer removes his skin and baptizes him in the blood of the Lamb. The enchantress might be a bit pagan, but she's equally a bit archangel and the Virgin Mary. Belle, beautiful and bookish, is the personification of Grace itself.

As the movie was ending, I thought, I might very well be reading too much into this, wanting to find Christianity in the story simply because I fell in love with the story. Then, my patience and thought was more than rewarded. As the spell was lifted from the castle of the Beast, the last thing to transform was the very top of the castle, a rather eerie gargoyle overlooking the cursed realm. When it changes, it doesn't just become less creepy, it becomes truly holy. The gargoyle transforms into St. Michael slaying the devil. Truly, literally. Right there on a Hollywood movie screen--seen by millions of movie goers--is the symbol of the entire movie, a statue of St. Michael in victory against the devil. How amazing is that?

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Jeff Flake Plants a Flag (David Brooks JULY 28, 2017, NY Times)

Some senators are passing the test of conscience -- Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Mike Lee and John McCain. And to that list we can certainly add Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. In a few days he comes out with a book called "Conscience of a Conservative," which is a thoughtful defense of traditional conservatism and a thorough assault on the way Donald Trump is betraying it. [...]

In 2016 the Republican Party, Flake argues in the book, lost its manners. "It seems it is not enough to be conservative anymore. You have to be vicious." And it lost its philosophy. "We become so estranged from our principles that we no longer recognize what principle is."

Flake told me he doesn't want his book to be seen simply as a broadside against Trump. The rot set in long before, but Trump takes the decay to a new level.

On the day in 2015 when Trump endorsed a Muslim ban, Flake tweeted "Just when you think @realDonaldTrump can stoop no lower, he does." Flake attended prayers at an Arizona mosque that afternoon. At the core of this book is a bill of indictment listing the ways Trump has betrayed the Goldwater Creed:

"Is it conservative to praise dictators as 'strong leaders,' to speak fondly of countries that crush dissent and murder political opponents ...? Is it conservative to demonize and vilify and mischaracterize religious and ethnic minorities ...? Is it conservative to be an ethno-nationalist? Is it conservative to embrace as fact things that are demonstrably untrue?"

It would be sad enough to listen to friends and allies defend Donald's Nativist policies but they're also defending his behavior.
Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Congress does not trust the president (The Economist, Jul 27th 2017)

The implications are momentous. Mr Trump had hoped to lift the existing package of sanctions on Russia at some point. Now he has been stripped of his presidential authority to do so. Since the vote was almost unanimous, he may have no option but to accept it with as much good grace as he can muster. He could veto it, but presidential vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, which in this instance could be achieved.

The bill both locks in and extends previous sanctions aimed at Russia's energy firms and banks. It also now targets any entity that does business with Russia's defence or intelligence sectors--a measure that could threaten buyers of Russian weapons with secondary sanctions. This is a blow to Mr Trump, who made it clear during his campaign that he wanted improved ties with Moscow. It now appears that many of the undeclared meetings that have subsequently come to light between Mr Trump's inner circle of advisers--Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump junior--and an assortment of Russians with links of various directness to the Kremlin, most notably Sergey Kislyak, the ubiquitous and gregarious former Washington ambassador, were aimed at thawing relations.

Vladimir Putin--who, beyond the reasonable doubt of America's intelligence agencies (if not its president), authorised the election-hacking operation--may have had reason to believe that Mr Trump, once in the White House, would find a way to relax sanctions. American and European Union sanctions have dragged down Russia's economy, which, already reeling from low energy prices, contracted sharply in 2015 and has stagnated since.

By overreaching, Mr Trump and Mr Putin have made the relaxation of sanctions politically toxic. That is bad enough for Mr Trump, but his humiliation does not end there. The Republican majority in Congress has, in essence, declared that it does not trust a president from its own party to serve the national interest when it comes to dealing with Russia.

Not that we can rule out the possibility he likes having his little hands tied....
Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


McCain's 'no' vote kills "skinny repeal" in early morning drama on Capitol Hill (ASSOCIATED PRESS, JULY 28, 2017)

A key vote to defeat the measure was cast by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who returned to the Senate this week after receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer. In an impassioned speech the day he returned, McCain had called for bipartisanship on major issues of national concern, and a return to the "regular order" of legislating by committee.

At last, someone to vindicate the call to return to regular order!

July 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Moving Past Obamacare May Include Embracing Some of Its Conservative Roots (Stephanie Akin, 7/25/17, Roll Call)

Some political theorists and economists -- including conservatives -- suggest that one of the biggest mistakes may be the reluctance by Republicans to acknowledge that significant parts of President Barack Obama's signature law were based on conservative principles.

And that reluctance, they say, kept GOP lawmakers from participating in a process that could have improved the bill and incorporated more of their ideas. It has now left Republicans without a foundation for a viable alternative. [...]

Ornstein said former Sen. Max Baucus of Montana and other Senate Democrats who were tasked in 2009 with coming up with the outlines for what would become the 2010 health care law wanted to avoid the backlash that had met first lady Hillary Clinton when she tried -- and failed -- to tackle health care almost two decades before. So they made a point of starting with a GOP template, working initially with high-powered Senate Republicans Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

The group turned to a plan Republicans had devised as a response to Clinton, according to an account Ornstein wrote in a 2015 article for The Atlantic. 

The plan was built around an individual mandate and exchanges with private insurers. It was derived, in part, from ideas espoused by the conservative Heritage Foundation -- though other scholars had been writing about the concepts for decades.

The individual mandate is a provision of the law that imposes a penalty on people who do not sign up for insurance. Getting healthier Americans, often younger people, to sign up reduced their financial risk if they suffered a catastrophic illness or injury. But at the same time, their participation helped to cover the costs of their unhealthy and older counterparts.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the mandate in 2012.

Paul E. Starr, a Princeton sociologist who has written extensively about health care policy, pointed out that more than 20 Republican senators sponsored a health insurance bill with an individual mandate in 1993. Democrats initially opposed the idea and did not include it in the Clinton health care plan that year.

But they were convinced to reconsider, based on the success of Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's 2006 health care overhaul in the Massachusetts, which was the first to introduce an insurance exchange buttressed by an individual mandate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


How to End Civil Forfeiture (Carimah Townes, 7/27/17, Slate)

In 2015, New Mexico became the first state to ban civil forfeiture. Law enforcement was previously entitled to 100 percent of forfeiture profits under state law, and agencies in the state also received an average of $2.4 million per year from the federal equitable sharing program. That changed when a coalition of civil rights and advocacy organizations, including the ACLU of New Mexico, the Rio Grande Foundation, and Drug Policy Alliance teamed up with Brad Cates, who oversaw federal asset forfeiture under President Ronald Reagan, to convince legislators that the practice was an abuse of power. Their argument was bolstered by a leaked recording of a prosecutor encouraging police to seize expensive cars and homes--a clear sign of policing for profit, says Emily Kaltenbach, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico branch.

In New Mexico, money and property can now only be seized in criminal cases, not in civil ones. And items can only be taken after a criminal conviction, if they're associated with the crime and if law enforcement successfully fights for them during a separate trial in criminal court. Proceeds must go a general state fund, not directly to law enforcement. Moreover, the law banned the practice of turning over assets to the feds, unless they are worth at least $50,000. New Mexico's sweeping reform was achieved in large part because the law enforcement community was caught off guard by the speed at which the legislation received unanimous support, Kaltenbach says. As a result, there was no organized opposition.

Nebraska passed a similar law abolishing civil forfeiture last year, after the state's ACLU chapter released a damning report on the practice in 2015. Under the old law, law enforcement agencies collected $3 million between 2011 and the report's release. Agencies also received $16 million from the equitable sharing program between 2010 and 2014. The ACLU leveraged public outrage over the report in conversations with legislators, says Spike Eickholt, a lobbyist for the organization. Cops, sheriffs, and state patrolmen also put forth a tone-deaf opposition that focused on the law's effect on agencies' bottom lines. "It had gotten to a point ... that no one could defend civil forfeiture on its merits," Eickholt says. Despite their concerted pushback, members of law enforcement were unable to convince legislators that civil forfeiture was necessary to stop crime.   

Some states that haven't ended civil forfeiture altogether have implemented procedural reforms. In California--where more than 20 county sheriffs and police departments collected millions over a five-year period--and seven other states, property can be seized but not forfeited until after a criminal conviction. Just this month, Connecticut's governor signed a law that bans seizure unless an arrest is made and requires a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited. What differentiates these state laws from the ones implemented in New Mexico and Nebraska is that agencies can still pursue forfeiture in civil court once there's been a conviction. In cases where people are acquitted, they get their money and valuables back. Other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida, have shifted the burden of proof to law enforcement to demonstrate that an asset should be seized and forfeited or have raised the standard of proof for showing that an asset was related to a crime. Florida now prohibits seizing someone's property unless he or she has been arrested and charged.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM

SEND FOR THE PLUMBERS! (profanity alert):

Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon : He started by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. It escalated from there. (Ryan Lizza, 7/27/17, The New Yorker)

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn't happy. Earlier in the night, I'd tweeted, citing a "senior White House official," that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question--for me.

"Who leaked that to you?" he asked. I said I couldn't give him that information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. "What I'm going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we'll start over," he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he's inherited in his new job. "I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can't help themselves," he said. "You're an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I'm asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it."

Apparently the Mooch doesn't get how to go on background...

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


State health care waivers violate Senate budget rules (David Nather, 7/27/17, Axios)

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that another big piece of the GOP health care bill violates Senate budget rules, Senate Budget Committee Democrats announced this afternoon. Republicans want to expand the Affordable Care Act's "Section 1332 waivers" to allow states to opt out of more ACA rules, including the "essential health benefit" requirements. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Boy Scouts of America apologizes for Trump's 'political rhetoric' (Jonathan Allen, 7/27/17, Reuters) 

"I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree," Michael Surbaugh wrote in an open letter published on the Scouts' website. "That was never our intent."

He said that every U.S. president, who serves as the Scouts' honorary president, has been invited to speak at the national jamborees held every four years since 1937, but that the Scouts were nonetheless "steadfastly" non-partisan.

"We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program," Surbaugh wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


Chairman of Joint Chiefs Wants Direct Orders, Not Tweets, Before Starting Transgender Ban (Adam K. Raymond, 7/27/17, New York)

"There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance," General Joseph Dunford wrote in a memo to the chiefs of the military's services. Then, in what sounds like a repudiation of the new policy, he wrote, "In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Derek Harvey Out at NSC (STEPHEN F. HAYES and MICHAEL WARREN, 7/27/17, Weekly Standard)

 Two sources tell TWS that Harvey's departure is not a direct result of the internecine staff fighting, but he was viewed by some top Trump aides as too close to Steve Bannon.

Harvey holds hawkish views on the threat from Iran and global jihadism, but he does not share Bannon's non-interventionist views. Harvey was a strong, behind-the-scenes advocate of Trump's decision to strike Syria in response to Bashar al Assad's use of chemical weapons and he was driving a more aggressive approach to Iran than that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Sources tell TWS that Mattis, in particular, had disagreements with Harvey and that he raised the issue with National Security Adviser HR McMaster. McMaster met with Harvey this morning to deliver the news.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Al-Jazeera rejects Netanyahu's call for closure of Jerusalem office (TIMES OF ISRAEL, July 27, 2017)

Netanyahu had said he would look for ways to shutter Al Jazeera in Israel, accusing the network of inciting violence.

"I have appealed to law enforcement agencies several times to close the Al Jazeera office in Jerusalem," Netanyahu wrote on Facebook on Wednesday night. "If this is not possible because of legal interpretation, I am going to seek to have the necessary legislation adopted to expel Al Jazeera from Israel."

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The Real Story Behind Mooch's War on Reince : Anthony Scaramucci just accused Reince Priebus of a felony. For no reason. (STEPHEN F. HAYES, 7/27/17, Weekly Standard)

Philip Rucker, who covers the White House for the Washington Post, tweeted: "Tensions between Scaramucci and Priebus are raw as ever, I'm told tonight. There's a reason Mooch tagged Reince on FBI leak tweet." A short time later he added: "Some in White House are trying to build a case that Priebus is a leaker--'a diagram' charting leaks, per senior official--to show Trump."

Scaramucci, it seemed, was trying to shoot the king--or at least publicly frame him. And he wasn't shy about telling others at the White House that he believed Priebus had leaked the documents, though he couldn't provide evidence to support his claims. Still, Scaramucci vowed to make Priebus pay.

The plan, however, had several flaws. The most significant: Scaramucci didn't just lack evidence that Priebus was behind the leak--he lacked evidence that there had even been a leak in the first place.

As Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos reported late Wednesday night in the New York Times:

Mr. Scaramucci filed the disclosure form in connection with his previous, short-lived job with the Trump administration at the Export-Import Bank. Under federal law, anyone can request such a report on a government website 30 days after its receipt.

Mr. Scaramucci's report says it was filed on June 23, which means it could be publicly released by the bank on July 23, or last Sunday. Politico did not indicate whether it obtained the report through such a regular request.

Asked why he thought the report had been leaked illegally, Mr. Scaramucci responded by text: "They aren't in process yet." But when told his form could be released on July 23, he did not respond further.

There was a reason Scaramucci didn't respond further: There had been no leak. The Politico reporter, Lorraine Woellert, obtained Scaramucci's disclosures by making a routine request to the Ex-Im bank for the form 278e that Scaramucci completed before working there. Woellert tweeted: "Mr @Scaramucci's Form 278e is publicly available from ExIm. Just ask."

...doesn't mean you're not violating ethical standards...
Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


US sanctions have taken a big bite out of Russia's economy (John W. Schoen, 25 Jul 2017, CNBC.com)

Those 2014 U.S. sanctions were paired with related measures imposed by the European Union, which placed restrictions on business with Russia's financial, defense and energy sectors.

Today, Russia's economy is still feeling the harsh impact of those measures, which coincided with a crash in global oil prices that cut deeply into revenues from the country's main export.

The loss of oil revenues - a drop of as much as 60 percent, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report -- helped spark a collapse in Russia's currency, the ruble, sending the prices of Russian consumer goods soaring.

The Russian economy has also been hurt by a wave of capital flight out of the country, as individual Russians sought to move money offshore and convert their shrinking rubles to dollars and euros to protect their wealth. That money flow slowed in 2014 as U.S. and European sanctions took hold.

Though U.S. sanctions have put pressure on the Russian economy, the impact on American business has been limited because Russia makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. exports.

In case anyone still wonders why Vlad was so frantic to elect a friend.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Time, not material goods, 'raises happiness' (Helen Briggs, 7/25/17, BBC News)

In an experiment, individuals reported greater happiness if they used £30 ($40) to save time - such as by paying for chores to be done - rather than spending the money on material goods.

Psychologists say stress over lack of time causes lower well-being and contributes to anxiety and insomnia. [...]

Rising incomes in many countries has led to a new phenomenon. From Germany to the US, people report "time famine", where they get stressed over the daily demands on their time.

Psychologists in the US, Canada and the Netherlands set out to test whether money can increase happiness levels by freeing up time.

And the biggest "problem" we face is that the ability to create ever greater wealth with ever less work is going to grant us ever more free time.  Essentially, we fear happiness. Only natural for a Puritan Nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Hydro, wind and solar make inroads in California's electric grid (Rob Nikolewski, 7/25/17, LA Times)

Natural gas still accounted for the largest single share of in-state power generation but the amount deployed dropped 10 percent last year.

The difference was largely replaced by electricity produced by large hydro facilities -- home to reservoirs that started to fill up at the end of 2016 as one of the wettest winters on record began -- and production from wind and solar, which each posted double-digit growth.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Will Health Savings Accounts Be the New 401(k)? (Mark Miller, July 22, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Will health savings accounts be the new 401(k)?

Boosters of health savings accounts (HSAs) in the financial services industry and in the U.S. Congress think so. They argue that the tax advantages of health savings accounts (HSAs) make them a superior option for saving - especially to cover the rising cost of healthcare in retirement. And expansion of access to HSAs and contribution limits have been a centerpiece of most Republican health reform plans ricocheting around Washington this year.

Congress would use its time better by tweaking and figuring out how to fund HSAs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Robotic Exoskeleton "Evolves" While It's Worn : The decades-old pursuit of bulky, much-hyped Iron Man-like "exosuits" could give way to minimalist technologies more in sync with the human body (Jesse Dunietz on July 27, 2017, Scientific American)

The Carnegie Mellon team is pursuing a new approach that improves endurance by lowering the wearer's energy exertion--a long-standing challenge for the field. Rather than attempting to build a conventional full-body or even a lower-body augmentation suit, they created a software-controlled ankle brace with the straightforward goal of reducing the effort needed to walk, making the motion less exhausting for people with physical impairments. Such simple devices--targeted, low-profile, even soft--could finally sidestep previous pitfalls to deliver practical and affordable exoskeletons, the researchers reported in a study last month in Science.

The algorithm that controls any exoskeleton's movements must be tuned to provide precisely the timing and power the wearer needs. In this case, Steve Collins, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and principal investigator on the study, wanted the exoskeleton to automatically figure out how to minimize the wearer's energy consumption while walking.

To test different assistance strategies, the team strapped each study participant into a spindly apparatus that applied exoskeleton-like torque to the ankle Participants were also hooked up to a breath monitor to measure their oxygen consumption--and by proxy their energy use. Using an "evolutionary algorithm" that repeatedly tries several combinations of torque and timing and then selects the best for further tinkering, the researchers cut energy use by about 14 percent compared with walking without the brace.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Anthony Scaramucci sends cryptic tweet about leaking being a felony to Reince Priebus (The Week, 7/27/17)
After Politico published a piece Wednesday night about new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci still being able to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm, Scaramucci tweeted that he will contact the FBI about the "leak" of his financial disclosure -- and he tagged Reince Priebus, President Trump's chief of staff, in his message.

We radically underestimated how much fun watching this clown show was going to be.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Toyota claims a leap that would vastly increase electric-car range (Christopher Matthews  Steve LeVine, 7/27/17, Axios)

In an unusual statement, Toyota says it is nearing a breakthrough in a type of lithium-ion battery system that has vexed researchers for decades, and that it will unveil a family of electric cars with a jump in currently available range in the early 2020s.

Why it matters: Given the high stakes and risk of embarrassment if something goes wrong, Japanese companies virtually never flag a big tech breakthrough before it is actually produced and delivered to the market. Hence, Toyota's comparatively specific announcement suggests it is reasonably confident that it really has mastered a new battery technology, said Venkat Viswanathan, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

July 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Senate defies Trump on call to investigate Hillary Clinton (LESLEY CLARK AND MATTHEW SCHOFIELD, 7/27/17, mcclatchydc)

[S]enate Republicans say Trump is wrong in prodding his attorney general via Twitter to revive an inquiry into the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee who lost the election to Trump.

"It harkens back to the notion of a banana republic," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of what he called Trump's "inappropriate" calls for investigations into Clinton. "It's what dictators do, they look to punish their enemies."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Senate Intelligence Committee member, noted that Clinton's missing emails as secretary of state were investigated by the FBI. As a result, he said, there appears to be no need to reopen the case.

"As for me, I prefer to look to the future, not the past," Rubio said of Trump's tweets agitating for Clinton investigations. "It's time to move on."

...that Donald fired James Comey for besmirching Hillary.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


First Support for a Physics Theory of Life (Natalie Wolchover, July 26, 2017, Quanta)

The biophysicist Jeremy England made waves in 2013 with a new theory that cast the origin of life as an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. His equations suggested that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of "entropy" or disorder in the universe. England said this restructuring effect, which he calls dissipation-driven adaptation, fosters the growth of complex structures, including living things. The existence of life is no mystery or lucky break, he told Quanta in 2014, but rather follows from general physical principles and "should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill."

Since then, England, a 35-year-old associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been testing aspects of his idea in computer simulations. The two most significant of these studies were published this month -- the more striking result in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and the other in Physical Review Letters (PRL). The outcomes of both computer experiments appear to back England's general thesis about dissipation-driven adaptation, though the implications for real life remain speculative.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Donald Trump's Dominatrix (Frank Bruni, JULY 26, 2017, NY Times)

At this point I think it's fair to say that Donald Trump has gone beyond taunting and demonizing Hillary Clinton to a realm of outright obsession.

He's stalking her.

He can't stop tweeting about her. Can't stop muttering about her. On Monday he addressed tens of thousands of boy scouts at their Jamboree, and who should pop up in his disjointed thoughts and disheveled words? Clinton. He dinged her, yet again, for having ignored voters in Michigan, which he won.

The Jamboree, mind you, was in West Virginia.

And it brought together dewy-eyed adolescents, not dyspeptic acolytes of the Heritage Foundation. Most cared more about -- I don't know -- camping gear, crafts projects and merit badges than whether the Democratic nominee should have made an additional stop in Grand Rapids and maybe scarfed down a funnel cake in Kalamazoo while she was at it.

But Trump doesn't meet his audiences on their terms. He uses each as a sounding board for his vanities, insecurities, delusions and fixations. Clinton factors mightily into all of these. She's his psychological dominatrix.

If you were him or his supporters you wouldn't want to talk about his presidency either.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Former Debbie Wasserman Schultz Aide Arrested for Bank Fraud (Adam K. Raymond, 7/26/17, New York)

A longtime IT staffer for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former leader of the Democratic National Committee, was arrested Monday while allegedly trying to flee the country and charged with bank fraud, the latest development in an increasingly odd story.

On Tuesday, Imran Awan, who was trying to fly to Pakistan when the FBI nabbed him, was charged with defrauding the Congressional Federal Credit Union for lying on an application for a $165,000 loan. According to court documents, Awan and his wife lied about an Alexandria property being their primary residence, instead of a rental. They then wired the $165,000 to Pakistan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


7 Senate Republicans Help Kill GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill (Ed Kilgore, 7/26/17, New York)

As expected, the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, a.k.a. the "repeal without replacement" legislation that Congress enacted in 2015 knowing Barack Obama would veto it, was defeated on the Senate floor today. The margin of defeat was a bit wider than expected: 45 yeas and 55 nays, with seven Republicans voting against it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Why Expensive Oil Is A Waste Of Money (David Tracy, 7/26/17, Jalopnik)

Blackstone Labs analyzes the contents of used motor oil to check how well engines wear over time. Earlier this month, the lab used its vast database of used oil analyses to study whether certain oil brands tend to contain more metal wear particles; the results might make you think twice before throwing down cash on performance racing oil.

Blackstone receives oil samples from thousands of people around the country interested in learning how well their engines are wearing over time--in part, to predict and avoid catastrophic damage. For example, I sent in an oil sample in, and learned that engine coolant was getting into my engine. If unaddressed, this could have ruined my bearings.

Upon receiving samples, Blackstone sends the oil through a spectrometer to learn how much of that oil--in parts per million--is made up of wear elements like aluminum (which may come from pistons or the engine case), chromium (from piston rings), iron (from cylinders, camshafts, or other parts of the valvetrain), copper (from bushings, bearings, oil coolers), lead (from bearings) and tin (also from bearings).

What this means is that Blackstone has thousands of reports showing wear particle concentrations of certain engines using certain oil types for certain oil drain intervals. In its July newsletter, the lab decided to use this data to compare different brands, and the findings suggest that buying expensive oil may not provide much of a benefit to engine longevity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


There's a Hole in the Middle of Doughnut Economics (Steven Horwitz, July 26, 2017, FEE)

The last 30 years have seen the demise of the Soviet Union and its administrative-command economy as well as a revolution in technology and trade that has reduced the transaction costs of using markets.

Many governments around the world have recognized the reality of the power of markets, liberalizing international trade and de-nationalizing production to benefit from the power of domestic competition. The Scandinavian countries have understood that even supporting a generous welfare state requires domestic economic growth, which has led them to cut business regulation and taxation in ways that have given them freer markets than in the US.

The success of that basic economic insight has generated immense cognitive dissonance among many progressives.

The result of all of these events has been an unprecedented reduction in human poverty. The number of people living on less than $1.90 per day (the current standard for extreme poverty) fell from 1.9 billion people, or about 37 percent of the world's population, to about 700 million (9.6 percent) between 1990 and 2015.

In other words, severe poverty fell almost 75 percent in a mere 25 years, thanks to the freeing of global markets, especially in China and India. No government policy in human history has even come close to what markets have done over that period.

The success of that basic economic insight, that markets improve human well-being, has generated immense cognitive dissonance among many progressives.

Instead of recognizing the ways in which markets have addressed one of the left's major concerns (severe poverty around the world), progressives, most of whom are not formally trained in economics, continue to attack both economics as a discipline and economists' belief in the power of markets to address the condition of the least well-off.

Not coincidentally, it was 35 years ago that liberals made their peace with capitalism, A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto (Charles Peters, September 5, 1982, Wahington Post)

If neo-conservatives are liberals who took a critical look at liberalism and decided to become conservatives, we are liberals who took the same look and decided to retain our goals but to abandon some of our prejudices. We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have come to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.

We have found these responses not only weren't helping but were often hampering us in confronting the problems that were beginning to cripple the nation in the 1970s: declining productivity; the closed factories and potholed roads that betrayed decaying plant and infrastructure; inefficient and unaccountable public agencies that were eroding confidence in government; a military with too many weapons that didn't work and too few people from the upper classes in its ranks; and a politics of selfishness symbolized by an explosion of political action committees devoted to the interests of single groups.

Our primary concerns are community, democracy, and prosperity. Of them, economic growth is most important now, because it is essential to almost everything else we want to achieve. Our hero is the risk-taking entrepreneur who creates new jobs and better products. "Americans," says Bradley, "have to begin to treat risk more as an opportunity and not as a threat."

We want to encourage the entrepreneur not with Reaganite policies that simply make the rich richer, but with laws designed to help attract investors and customers. For example, Hart is proposing a "new capacity" stock, a class of stock issued "for the explicit purpose of investment in new plants and equipment." The stock would be exempt from capital gains tax on its first resale. This would give investors the incentive they now lack to target their investment on new plants and equipment instead of simply trading old issues, which is what almost all the activity on Wall Street is about today.

We also favor freeing the entrepreneur from the kind of economic regulation that discourages healthy competition.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Lebanon Is Another Name for Hezbollah (Tony Badran, July 26, 2017, Tablet)

During his joint press conference with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday, President Trump gave expression to the inherent paradox in America's Lebanon policy. On the one hand, the president voiced appreciation and support for Lebanon and its Armed Forces (LAF) for their supposed "impressive" role in the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. On the other hand, he had strong words for Hezbollah, calling it a menace to the Lebanese state and the entire region and noting its role in fueling the catastrophe in Syria. Specifically, the president added, the group threatens to start a conflict with Israel, as it continues to increase its arsenal in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

At the same time Hariri is visiting Washington, however, the LAF is taking part in a joint military operation with Hezbollah in northeastern Lebanon, targeting a pocket of Syrian armed groups--including the group formerly known as the Nusra Front--on the Syrian border. Hezbollah, of course, controls the Lebanese government and dictates the operations of its armed forces. Indeed, it was Hezbollah that laid out the battle plans for the current operation in northeastern Lebanon, including what role the LAF would play in it. And it was Hezbollah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, who announced the impending start of the joint operation with the LAF during a televised appearance a couple of weeks ago.

The Christian/Shi'a alliance rolls on....

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


HHS Secretary Price to Senate: Do whatever gets 50 votes (David Nather, 7/26/17, Axios)

Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price suggested this morning that the Trump administration wants any Affordable Care Act repeal bill that can pass the Senate. 

No one cares if the bill does anything.  They just want to pretend to have opposed Obamacare.  So why not vote to rename it Reagancare?

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Farmers turn to artificial intelligence to grow better crops (Matt McFarland, July 26, 2017, CNN)

NatureSweet, which grows tomatoes on six farms in the United States and Mexico, is using artificial intelligence to better control pests and diseases in its greenhouses.

The technology, developed by the Israeli digital farming company Prospera, has already improved harvests and reduced labor costs. NatureSweet began testing the technology almost a year ago at one of its farms in Arizona. It plans to roll the tech out to all of its locations soon.

Adrian Almeida, chief innovation officer at NatureSweet, believes artificial intelligence will eventually improve his greenhouses tomato yields by 20%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Losing Jeff Sessions Means Losing Immigration Reform with Him : Firing the attorney general would be a death blow to the restrictionist cause. (Michael Brendan Dougherty, July 25, 2017, National Review)

On the long-overdue issue of immigration reform, Sessions was primed to provide leadership from within the executive branch. Any restrictionist bill was already going to be a tough legislative battle, given opposition from Republican elites, corporate America, and the media. Firing Sessions or forcing him to resign would tip the balance of power in the White House even farther away from conservatives towards the New York moderates, very likely killing any chance of immigration reform. And that, in turn, would deprive Trump's earliest and most vocal supporters of their rationale for supporting his presidency. The entire premise of the Trump campaign was that he was, in Steve Bannon's words, a "blunt instrument" who could be used to push through restrictionist immigration reform and other needed change. The support of Sessions was the social proof of this thesis.

Instead, Trump is proving another theory correct: namely, that he is an incompetent and politically unreliable buffoon. He is not loyal to people who risk their reputations for him, and his promises are worthless. The wall isn't going to be built, and Mexico isn't going to pay for it.

A nice acknowledgment that core support for Donald is just driven by race and that was the only reason Beauregard was appointed.

In Trump's World, 'Very Weak' Sessions Twists in Wind (PETER BAKER, JEREMY W. PETERS and REBECCA R. RUIZ, JULY 25, 2017, NY Times)

"If an early supporter like this is thrown under the bus, then who is safe?" asked Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a supporter of stricter immigration policies like those promoted by Mr. Sessions. "You can imagine what the other cabinet secretaries are thinking." [...]

The loyalty Mr. Trump was looking for, aides said, was about protecting him now that he is in office. "The president wants his cabinet secretaries to have his back," said Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director.

Mr. Sessions, however, is more than just another employee who has fallen out of favor with a volatile boss. No cabinet member is more closely associated with the conservative nationalism that helped propel Mr. Trump to the White House. For conservatives skeptical of Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions has been an insurance policy in an administration stacked with suspect New Yorkers, relatives and Wall Street bankers.

Breitbart News, the conservative nationalist outlet once led by Mr. Bannon, reflected anger on the right. "Trump vs. Trump: Potus Endangers Immigration Agenda," its lead headline read on Tuesday. One article said the attack on the attorney general "only serves to highlight Trump's own hypocrisy" while another said Mr. Sessions's ouster "would be a devastating blow" to the nationalist-populist movement.

The division was clear, too, on the Drudge Report, the conservative-leaning website whose double-barreled headline on Tuesday was "Sessions in Dog House; Republicans on Brink of Civil War."

Frustration among conservatives has been building for some time. Weeks ago, Mr. Bannon brought Ann Coulter, the firebrand pundit, to see Mr. Trump, according to two people briefed on the visit. Ms. Coulter railed at the president that he needed to focus more on his core supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


London, Washington Push for Promising Trade Deal (Asharq Al-Awsat, 7/26/17)

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his British counterpart Liam Fox are currently leading the US-UK Trade and Investment Working Group in Washington.

The British minister delivered a speech on Monday on trade relations between the two countries under Brexit.

"I look forward to building on our already strong economic relationship and furthering our mutual goal of achieving free and fair trade and investment to create good-paying jobs on both sides of the Atlantic," he stated.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


INSIDE CUBA'S D.I.Y. INTERNET REVOLUTION (Antonio García Martínez, 07.26.17, Wired)

In Cuba, where Wi-Fi is both slow and terrible, you will be an emissary from the future, a hint of the degeneracy to come. You're a full-on mainlining internet junkie with the world's uproar piped into your head 24/7, your emotional landscape terraformed and buffeted by whatever some narcissist just posted on Instagram or some windbag on Twitter. But like the "not even once" warnings around drugs like meth, you know that after the internet is in Cubans' pockets, it's over. Even backward, bitter-ender communist Cuba will become part of the vast data Borg, tied via arterial fiber-­optic cables and Wi-Fi to the same pandemonium that gave us cat videos, live­streamed murders, and President Donald J. Trump. The real irony is that if the internet does topple the government and bring democracy to this democracy-starved island, it'll happen just as democracy itself is being undone by Facebook and every other filter-bubble-­creating, political-polarization-amplifying, algorithm-optimized feed. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, and also oversimplifying, because the Cubans--the very resourceful Cubans--haven't exactly been sitting around sipping mojitos as the digital revolución passed them by. They have workarounds. Oh, do they have workarounds.

BEFORE MY VISIT earlier this year, I'd never been to Cuba, though Cuba had certainly been to me. The Miami of my '80s childhood was a suburban reboot of prerevo­lutionary Cuba, filled with people who still toasted El año próximo en La Habana ("next year in Havana") at important occasions. Everything from family letters to fresh-off-the-raft waiters kept us apprised of the increasingly desperate conditions. In Miami, even the dogcatcher had to have a foreign policy toward the island, and Cuba was all anyone ever really talked about.

In Silicon Valley, where I worked at companies like Facebook and Twitter for the earlier part of this decade, Cuba was generally regarded, when it was regarded at all, as a technological curiosity. This socialist worker's paradise was a time capsule where techno­capitalism's "Make the world more open and connected" idealism hadn't yet delivered its liberal-democratic fruit. The underlying assumption held that, whether it was Facebook pages for Cuban businesses or Airbnb tourists from Texas, the internet's arrival would lead to a near-instantaneous transformation of Cuban society from Soviet-era holdout to just another part of the globe requiring a dedicated user support team.

It seemed like only a matter of time. Yet other than a few rumored experiments beginning in the '90s, the Cuban government had a highly restrictive internet policy until 2015, when ETECSA's first Wi-Fi hot spots started popping up throughout the capital. Walk down a street in Old Havana and you'll note a flock of smartphone-­clutching loiterers either standing or squatting in a park as they try to get on ETECSA Wi-Fi. This is Cuban internet, where access to non-state-sanctioned websites is blocked, the government snoops on anything unencrypted, and the service is grindingly slow, when it exists at all. (I'm told that fast internet access is the exclusive domain of state institutions like universities and very large, mostly foreign corporations like hotels. Short of a few government professionals, nobody can check their email or surf the web, legally, at home without permission from the government.) There are even some startups capitalizing on the rarity, shoddiness, and expense of Cuban internet: Knales, a mobile messaging platform cofounded by Diana Elianne Benitez Perera, packages online weather reports, horoscopes, sports scores, foreign exchange rates, and other basic news into text messages that Cubans can read on their phones.

Given the rickety and expensive nature of Cuban connectivity, nobody wastes time or bandwidth trying to stream an episode of Game of Thrones or a YouTube instructional video. ETECSA Wi-Fi, when you can get it, is purely social and communicative: chatting with the uncle in Miami who sends you $200 every month via a remittance company, the nephew who moved to Spain, the cousin outside the capital--that's what the ETECSA hot spot is for.

Which brings us to the first workaround. Every week, more than a terabyte of data is packaged into external hard drives known as el paquete semanal ("the weekly package"). It is the internet distilled down to its purest, most consumable, and least interactive form: its content. This collection of video, song, photo, and text files from the outside world is cobbled together by various media smugglers known as paqueteros, and it travels around the island from person to person, percolating quickly from Havana to the furthest reaches in less than a day and constituting what would be known in techie lingo as a sneaker­net: a network that transmits data via shoe rubber, bus, horseback, or anything else.

Oddly, it works. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Trump's Boy Scouts Speech Irks Organization (Sandhya Somashekhar and David A. Fahrenthold, 7/26/17, The Washington Post)

"It pivoted to essentially a typical Trump rally. And it was not a campaign-rally audience. It was an audience of young boys and young men, who've come from around the country to celebrate Scouting," said Robert Birkby, a former Eagle Scout who authored three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook. "He did not share in the event. He shared of himself."

By Tuesday, Trump's speech had prompted a backlash from many current and former Scouts and their families, who say it was not only inappropriate but also undermines efforts to diversify and modernize the century-old organization.

On social media and in interviews, many said they thought national leaders should have cut short or condemned the speech, which included strong language -- "Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" -- and a reference to cocktail parties attended by "the hottest people in New York." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Britain bans gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2040 (Charles Riley, 7/26/17, CNN)

Britain will ban sales of new gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2040 as part of a bid to clean up the country's air.

The decision to phase out the internal combustion engine heralds a new era of low-emission technologies with major implications for the auto industry, society and the environment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Saudi Arabia Must Realize It Can't Win the Feud with Qatar (Patrick N. Theros, 7/25/17, TIME)

The confrontation between Qatar and its three immediate neighbors has hit a wall. Efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ably supported by Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker has partly offset the President's early ardent support of Saudi Arabia and its friends. The likelihood of President Trump overruling his Secretaries of Defense and State seems increasingly remote.

Absent a Washington surprise, the current measures against Qatar will not force Doha to cave. Closing air, sea and land access to Qatar caused only temporary pain. More than 90 percent of what Qatar imported from its neighbours were goods in transit from other suppliers. Qatar surprised observers -- and perhaps even its own people -- at the apparently seamless manner by which it found alternative routes and sources for everything it imports. It may cost more, but it works. Even if the crisis is soon resolved, most Qatari entities will prefer to make the new flows permanent rather than again become dependent on their neighbors. Similarly, Qatar's Central Bank found workarounds to counteract attempts by the UAE financial sector to disrupt Qatari riyal transactions. In short, all else remaining equal, Qatar should be able to sustain the new state of affairs indefinitely into the future.

What next? The signing of an agreement between Qatar and the United States to fight terrorism financing put that particular ball into the neighbours' court. Qatar can reasonably insist the others sign the same agreements with the United States. Saudi Arabia will find that an impossible condition, if past performance is any indication. 

July 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


Republican senator recorded criticizing Trump (Amanda Becker, 7/25/17, Reuters) 

[U.S. Senator Susan] Collins discussed Republican President Donald Trump and the federal budget with Democratic Senator Jack Reed at the end of a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing, according to a tape obtained by the Washington Post. [...]

"No thinking about it, no metrics, no nothing. It's just incredibly irresponsible," Collins said, according to a Post report and accompanying audio.

"I think -- I think he's crazy," Reed replied in an apparent reference to Trump.

"I don't think he knows there is a BCA (Budget Control Act) or anything," Collins later said, apparently referring to the president and a 2011 budget law.

Nothing so becomes Americans as our desire to excuse Donald as mentally ill.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Boehner predicts Republicans will 'never' repeal and replace Obamacare (Robert Costa July 25, 2017, Washington Post)

Former House speaker John A. Boehner, who has mostly avoided public commentary since leaving Congress two years ago, told a business gathering last week that Republicans are "not going to repeal and replace Obamacare" because "the American people have gotten accustomed to it."

"Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they've not passed this bill. Now, they're never -- they're not going to repeal and replace Obamacare," Boehner told a private crowd in Las Vegas, according to video footage obtained by The Washington Post. "It's been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work."

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Pro-Trump media furious over Trump's treatment of Sessions (Oliver Darcy, 7/25/17, CNNMoney)

Breitbart is incensed. Rush Limbaugh hates to see it. And Fox News host Tucker Carlson thinks President Donald Trump is engaged in a "self-destructive act."

Trump's recent attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions has touched off a firestorm of outrage inside the pro-Trump media universe where the Alabama Republican is revered as a conservative icon.

After all, Beauregard hates all the right people...

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Tory Porn : The Hobbesian anti-art of Christopher Nolan (Jonathon Sturgeon,  July 25, 2017, The Baffler)

For Nolan, perhaps the last Tory propagandist in cinema, "society" and "the people" do not exist except as a mass to be manipulated, a paying audience. "I have a faith," he told the New York Times, "that any audience can tell the difference between something that's consistent to rules versus something that's totally made up and anarchic." Here the kiss warms over the slap: the audience is smart if it follows Nolan's rules, lest it lapse into anarchy. Order, by way of control, is opposed to chance. In this respect, Nolan's every film, from Following (1998) to Dunkirk (2017), reverses the anti-tradition of Roberto Rossellini, whom Jean-Luc Godard, in Godard on Godard, celebrates as a great artist because he trusts chance. "To trust chance is to hear voices," Godard wrote, by which he meant the voices of other people. If Christopher Nolan hears any voice, it's Margaret Thatcher's from 1987.

There is no notion, in the films of Nolan, that people may surprise you, perhaps with their intelligence or solidarity, and so no hope for chance. It's not a matter of ideology: Nolan insistently casts his work against art, chance, and therefore any idea of "the people." This renders each of his films a manifesto, an ars technica, because he wants nothing more than to choke out art and control his audience. In Following, his debut, this intention is literalized when a young novelist (an artist) is rused by a criminal manipulator named Cobb, a Nolan stand-in who reappears, by name, in Inception (2010). In The Prestige (2006), a film about dueling materialist wizards, Nolan presents the director-magician: the survivor who tricks his audience best and last--voila, Christian Bale is doubled. The Nolans are proliferating.

A team of manipulative nerds is called upon to rescue the human race, but they can't be just any nerds.
In Nolan's One Percent Quartet, "the people" are revealed to themselves, in evolutionary order, as criminals (Batman Begins), anarchists (The Dark Knight), self-immolating revolutionaries (The Dark Knight Rises). In the third of these, Nolan scratches his Burkean itch: the mob-audience applauds a show trial, an anglicized scene from the French Revolution reminiscent of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. For its part, the quartet's conclusion offers the final insult: "the people" aren't even real; they're weaponized figments of Nolan's imagination. ("Who are the people?" Ariadne asks, in Inception. "They're projections of my subconscious," Cobb-Nolan replies.) No longer beholden to audience reception, Nolan is now a master of Inception--he manipulates the audience as an object.

By this point Nolan is rich, the rightful heir of New Hollywood, the most fastidious, self-possessed director in town. With this in mind, the quartet--which begins as a story about a billionaire anti-hero and concludes with a corporate-espionage gothic about squeezing money out of the ultra-rich--reveals itself as autobiography. Nolan will never again lack for investors, which is why he next pursues outer space, the dream of any businessman flush with capital.

In Interstellar (2014), the people have sunk low; they can no longer feed themselves, and they burn each other's corn. A team of manipulative nerds is called upon to rescue the human race, but they can't be just any nerds. Pitched against the nefarious Dr. Mann, a belligerent survivalist who carries the Hobbesian virus (hence his name) into distant galaxies, we get Cooper and Murph, a romantic father-daughter couple, a reunited family. "There is no such thing as society," said Thatcher. "There are individual men and women"--explorers, scientists, useless farmers--"and there are families."

The truths behind Christopher Nolan's lauded World War II epic 'Dunkirk' (DAN GUNDERMAN, July 25, 2017, NY Daily News)

Christopher Nolan's visceral World War II film "Dunkirk" won last weekend's box office and remains one of the best-reviewed war films in history. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


What Happens When Doctors Only Take Cash (Haley Sweetland Edwards, Jan 26, 2017, TIME)

The catch is that the whole facility is cash-based. It doesn't take insurance of any kind. Not Aetna. Not Cigna. Not Medicare or Medicaid. Patients or their employers pay whatever price is listed online, period. There are no negotiated rates, no third-party reimbursements and almost no paperwork. "We say, 'Here's the price. Here's what you're getting. Here's your bill,'" says Keith Smith, who co-founded the Surgery Center in 1997 with fellow anesthesiologist Steven Lantier. "It's as simple as that."

To Villa, the model seemed refreshingly subversive. The Surgery Center would charge $19,000 for his whole-knee replacement, a discount of nearly 50% on what Villa expected to be charged at his local hospital. And that price would include everything from airfare to the organization's only facility, in Oklahoma City, to medications and physical therapy. If unforeseen complications arose during or after the procedure, the Surgery Center would cover those costs. Villa wouldn't see another bill.

Sometimes called direct pay, and closely related to concierge care, this sort of business model was once seen as the perquisite of rich folks and medical tourists from foreign lands. But nowadays many of the people seeking cash-based care are middle-class Americans with high-deductible insurance plans. For a patient with an $11,000 family deductible, for example, it might make more sense to seek out a cash-based center like the Premier Medical Imaging facility in Minneapolis, which offers a basic MRI for $499, than to cough up the several thousand dollars that the same procedure generally costs at a traditional hospital. Cash payments don't count toward a patient's deductible, but for some it's worth the gamble.

Self-insured companies, like the trucking and storage firm where Villa is the chief administrative officer, are also fueling the trend. Because such companies pay their employees' medical bills out of their operating budget, it's in their interest to steer everybody to the cheapest option. Villa, for example, says his decision to go to the Surgery Center saved his company money, since his $19,000 bill is less than it would have been charged, even with a negotiated discount, by a traditional hospital. The Oklahoma state public employees' insurance fund, which covers 183,000 people, recently did similar math. In 2015 it announced a new rule: If patients go to a traditional hospital, they pay their deductible and co-payment. If they go to a cash-based provider that meets the fund's criteria, including the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, they pay nothing at all.

While no organization keeps track of how many cash-based medical centers have cropped up nationwide in recent years, Smith and Lantier say they've witnessed an explosion. In Oklahoma City alone there are roughly three dozen centers that are all or partly cash based, specializing in everything from radiology to oncology. Texas has two dozen such facilities, and in Torrance, Calif., the Ocean Surgery Center posts many of its prices online. Thousands of cash-based primary-care practices have also sprung up across the country. [...]

[E]ven without a new Republican system, cash-based care has been growing under Obamacare, which required insurers to provide more-comprehensive coverage and to offer plans to anyone who wanted one. Insurers made up for having to cover a more expensive patient population by getting customers to contribute more out of pocket with higher deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. While Obamacare imposed limits on how high deductibles could be--$7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family--the out-of-pocket contributions rose for many Americans, turning more patients into price hounds. If you're paying cash for that mole removal anyway, why not find the cheapest dermatologist in town? The Surgery Center of Oklahoma, among the first in the country to post its prices online in 2008, saw an uptick in business after Obamacare. "I guess it's ironic that Obamacare created this market for us," Smith says, with a laugh.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Scaramucci Attacks Media for Reporting on News That He Leaked (Alex Griswold, July 25, 2017, Free Beacon)

"This is the problem with the leaking," Scaramucci said. "This is actually a terrible thing."

"Let's say I'm firing Michael Short today," he continued. "The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic."

But Scaramucci's complaint was an odd one. The news of Short's firing was first reported by Politico, which cited Scaramucci himself as its source.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Jobs lift U.S. consumer confidence to near 16-year high (Lucia Mutikani, 7/25/17, Reuters) 

U.S consumer confidence jumped to a near 16-year high in July amid optimism over the labor market while house prices maintained their upward trend in May, which could boost consumer spending after recent sluggishness.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index surged to 121.1 this month, the second highest reading since 2000, from 117.3 in June. The rise in confidence came despite the healthcare impasse in Washington.

Fundamentals trump all.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Anthony Scaramucci surprises White House staffer Michael Short with news of his own impending firing (The Week, 7/25/17)

Freshly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Tuesday told Politico that he intends to fire Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short. Scaramucci's announcement, it seemed, was the first that Short had heard of his own impending firing. "No one has told me anything and the entire premise is false," Short said, shortly after Scaramucci spoke to Politico.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Fears Obamacare Would Be a Job Killer Were Wrong, Study Finds (Michael S. Derby, 7/25/17, WSJ)

Projections that the Obama administration's signature health-care legislation would drive workers out of the labor force have proved wrong, according to a new paper by researchers at Stanford University. [...]

[S]everal years into the ACA's implementation, the CBO's expectations have not been borne out, the researchers found.

While the paper noted a "substantial" increase in those who gained health insurance, "our findings indicate that the average labor supply effects of the [Affordable Care Act] were close to zero."

The paper's findings "weakens one of the arguments against the ACA," that it was a job killer, Mr. Duggan said in an interview. Based on the evidence, the law "doesn't look like it hurts the economy." [...]

Among critics' arguments against the ACA was that government-subsidized access to health insurance and expanded access to the government-provided Medicaid health-coverage program would cause some workers to leave the labor force, because they would no longer have to rely on employer-provided plans. Supporters of the legislation said it could create jobs because entrepreneurs would be able to start their own firms without worrying about going without coverage.

Any ACA-driven reduction in labor force participation would have come on top of a long-running decline driven largely by the retirement of baby boomers, and would be an unwanted, additional headwind to economic growth.

Drilling down, the paper found the law drove people to make different choices about work. "Middle-income individuals reduced their labor supply due to the additional tax on earnings while lower income individuals worked more in order to qualify for private insurance," the authors wrote. "In the aggregate, these countervailing effects approximately balance" in terms of their impact on overall participation rates.

While the paper finds the CBO projections were wrong, Mr. Duggan stressed that he has no issue with the agency's work. "Their estimates are quite reasonable" and many of the CBO's Obamacare forecasts were right on the money, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Many conservatives enraged over Obama school speech (Alan Silverleib, 9/05/09, CNN)

The White House found itself on the defensive Friday over what would ordinarily be considered the most uncontroversial of events: a back-to-school speech to the nation's children.

The White House said the address, set for Tuesday, and accompanying suggested lesson plans are simply meant to encourage students to study hard and stay in school.

Many conservative parents aren't buying it. They're convinced the president is going to use the opportunity to press a partisan political agenda on impressionable young minds.

"Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now." 

July 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM


U.S. Agency Promoting Trade With Iran Despite Trump Opposition (Adam Kredo, July 24, 2017, Free Beacon)

A July report released by USDA praises the Obama administration's efforts to open trade with Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement that dropped major sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The report contradicts White House policy on Iran, which has taken an increasingly hardline against increased relations with Iran under President Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM



In the first six months of 2017, Scotland set a new wind power record, solidifying the country's role as a leader in renewable energy. In June alone, the nation's wind turbines generated over one million megawatt hours of electricity--enough to power 118 percent of Scottish households. 

Over the last six months, wind energy has supplied 57 percent of the country's total energy needs, including electricity consumption from homes, businesses, and industry. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


The US produces 40% more factory output today vs. 20 years ago with 5M fewer workers. (Mark J. Perry, 7/24/17, AEI Ideas)

 The chart above shows that over the last 20 years, the real value of US manufacturing output has increased by 40% (and by $544 billion in 2009 dollars). During the same period, factory employment in the US decreased by 29% (and by 5.1 million jobs). US manufacturing output was near a record high last year at $1.91 trillion, just slightly below the 2007 level of $1.92 trillion, and will likely reach a new record high later this year.

So that's the real story of US manufacturing and the loss of jobs: We'll likely produce a record level of manufacturing output this year, with fewer than 12.5 million factory workers - the same manufacturing employment as in the early 1940s. The US will produce about four times more factory output this year than in the 1940s with about the same number of factory workers! And it's that phenomenal increase in factory worker productivity, thanks to innovation and advances in technology, that explains most of the manufacturing job losses over time. 

Less work.  More wealth.  That's what passes for a crisis at the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


In 47 states, a smaller part of the population now approves of Trump than voted for him (Philip Bump July 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Donald Trump eked his way into the White House last fall on the strength of 78,000 votes in three states. He lost the popular vote by about two percentage points, earning the support of just under 46 percent of voters who cast a ballot.

Since Nov. 8, polling has consistently shown that an even smaller percentage of the country thinks the president is doing a good job. The most recent weekly approval rating average from Gallup, for example, has Trump at 39 percent approval -- seven percentage points lower than the support he got at the ballot box.

On Monday, Gallup offered a more detailed set of data. Using interviews conducted over Trump's first six months in office -- during which his approval slipped slightly nationally -- Gallup determined the average approval in each of the 50 states.

In 17 states Trump's approval rating was at or above 50 percent. In 31 states, more people disapproved of his job performance than approved. [...]

If Trump were to win only states where he had at least 50 percent approval in the first six months of this year, he'd end up with 99 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the presidency. (As we've seen so often before, not many people live in the big states Trump won in 2016.)

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Mass. Supreme Court Rules State Officers Can't Hold People on ICE Detainers (Madeleine Weast, July 24, 2017, Free Beacon)

The Massachusetts Supreme Court on Monday ruled that state law does not allow local officials to detain illegal immigrants and others at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Federal immigration detention orders are not enough for state officers to hold individuals, according to the court ruling.

"Nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances," the ruling stated. [...]

"Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigrations detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody," the court ruled.

The court left it up to the legislature to change the law if state lawmakers see fit, writing that it is not the court's place to create or define a new authority for officers to arrest and detain people under federal immigration law.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


White House Floats Rudy Giuliani As Attorney General (Benjamin Hart, 7/24/17, New York)

After President Trump trashed Jeff Sessions on Twitter Monday morning, the White House appeared to twist the knife into the "beleaugured" attorney general even harder by leaking the name of a possible replacement: Rudy Giuliani.

Axios's Mike Allen reports that "President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants."

Now he's just testing how little self-respect the AG actually has.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Jonathan Gruber disputes idea that mortgage interest deduction boosts homeownership (Joseph Lawler, Jul 24, 2017, Washington Examiner)

The tax deduction for mortgage interest does not increase homeownership, according to a new study based on an experiment in Denmark.

That finding, which is highly relevant for the tax reform that Republicans are currently mulling that could curb the deduction over the housing lobby's objections, comes from a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research Monday. The paper, which has not gone through peer review, is co-authored by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, often referred to as the architect of Obamacare.

The mortgage interest deduction "has a precisely estimated zero effect on homeownership, even in the very long run," concludes the study, written by Gruber and economists from Princeton and the University of Copenhagen.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows takes a seat at the top table (Al Weaver | Jul 24, 2017, Washington Examiner)

After the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape was leaked to the press, setting off scandalized and electorally dangerous discussion about Trump's treatment of women, Republicans of many stripes, especially those facing tough re-election battles, abandoned Trump. But Meadows and his wife stayed on board, literally and figuratively. Debbie Meadows boarded a "Women for Trump" bus with 10 other wives of congressmen, and defended the candidate. Trump and the White House have not forgotten this, and are unlikely ever to do so.

"We will always remember how tenacious and loyal Mark and Debbie Meadows were, especially after Oct. 7. They're definitely members of what we call the 'Oct. 8th coalition,'" said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, in an interview.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Forget Russia. I'd fire Jeff Sessions over civil forfeiture. (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, July 24, 2017, USA Today)

Under "civil forfeiture," law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. ("Legal fiction" sounds better than "lie," but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It's also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, "We don't have to prove that the person is guilty. ... It's that the money is presumed to be guilty."

"Presumed to be guilty." Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.

As the party platform said : "[W]e will reform the civil asset forfeiture system to protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to 'police for a profit.'"

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Putin told Trump that Russian hackers were too good to get caught: report (ROBIN EBERHARDT,  07/24/17, The Hill)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Trump that Russian hackers wouldn't have gotten caught if they did hack Democratic groups because they're too skilled at spying, the New York Times reported Monday.

Trump has since repeated the claim, according to White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Dude, no one flies Aeroflot.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


U.S. Inflation Remains Low, and That's a Problem (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, JULY 24, 2017, NY Times)

The Federal Reserve thinks modest inflation has important economic benefits, and it has aimed since 2012 to keep prices rising at an annual pace of 2 percent. The problem is that the Fed is on track to fail for the sixth straight year. Inflation has been stubbornly sluggish.

A little inflation can brighten the economic mood, causing wages and corporate profits to rise more quickly. Economists like to point out that this is an illusion. If everyone is making more money, then no one can buy more stuff. Prices just go up. But the evidence suggests people enjoy the illusion and, importantly, they respond to the illusion by behaving in ways that increase actual economic growth, for example by working harder.

When our biggest problem is that technology and trade are creating too much wealth too cheaply for prices to go up, it's no wonder our partisan differences are so trivial.

After 40 years of this though, it would be helpful if the Fed admitted they won the war on inflation and prepared people for neoliberal/neoconomic reality.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


EXCLUSIVE: FBI Seized Smashed Hard Drives From Wasserman Schultz IT Aide's Home (Luke Rosiak, 07/23/2017, Daily Caller)

FBI agents seized smashed computer hard drives from the home of Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's information technology (IT) administrator, according to an individual who was interviewed by Bureau investigators in the case and a high level congressional source.

Pakistani-born Imran Awan, long-time right-hand IT aide to the former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman, has since desperately tried to get the hard drives back, the individual told The Daily Caller News Foundation's Investigative Group.

The congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, confirmed that the FBI has joined what Politico previously described as a Capitol Police criminal probe into "serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network" by Imran and three of his relatives, who had access to the emails and files of the more than two dozen House Democrats who employed them on a part-time basis.

Thankfully, they're government drives so they're only 80mb.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump's First 6 Months Were Terrible, But He Got 3 Things Right (DEREK CHOLLET, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Three areas stand out. Let's start with the easy one: the leadership of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the performance of the U.S. military. Mattis has become the go-to talking point for Republicans trying to defend Trump, and is the life-preserver for observers and allies worried about the direction of the United States. Heaping praise on him has become a cliché. Is he the second coming of General George Marshall? No. But we're lucky he's there.

Mattis gets credit mainly because his first six months at the Pentagon have been the most "normal" part of the Trump national security effort. [...]

In his revealing recent interview with the Islander, a high school newspaper in Washington state, Mattis was asked about the differences between the Obama and Trump approaches to the Middle East. "I think the two administrations are more variations on a theme than they are dramatically different approaches," he said. In the same interview, Mattis expressed admiration for Hillary Clinton's accomplishments as Secretary of State, such as her diplomacy that led to crippling sanctions against Iran, which brought it to the negotiating table. It is worth asking what would be different in defense policy today if Clinton were sitting in the Oval Office. I think that so far, the answer is not a lot.

The most notable shift in military policy under Trump has been the ceding of virtually all decision-making authorities to the Pentagon. This inclination to delegate doesn't stem from an informed consideration of the proper civilian-military balance on decisions about the use of force. It is simpler. Congenitally uninterested in details and allergic to accountability, Trump is ceding authority on military decisions not necessarily to help things go right, but to give himself an out if things go wrong. Military leaders understand this risk -- and cringe watching the president go after his own law enforcement leaders (many of whom were and are their close colleagues around the Situation Room table), knowing they could be next. If he'll throw Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus, then no one is safe.

A second policy area that's still good is counterterrorism cooperation with key partners. It is easy to lose sight of this amid the pileup of talk about how bad things are going with allies, especially in Europe. But counterterrorism officials on both sides of the Atlantic say that relationships remain unchanged, and that they are still sharing information, coordinating activities, and disrupting plots. [...]

A third part of Trump's foreign policy that at least one can say the Trump administration is giving it a try, although it is too soon to conclude that it's going well, is diplomacy. This may seem preposterous. As I have argued before, despite high hopes for success, Rex Tillerson is off to the worst start of any modern secretary of state, suffering from a self-generated quintuple whammy of problems with a gutted budget, lack of personnel, no apparent influence over big White House decisions (despite a lot of time invested in building a relationship with Trump), little juice with allies or Capitol Hill, and anemic leadership. For the most part, Tillerson treats career diplomats like they are Siri -- there to provide information when asked. Despite all this, there are signs that on certain issues, the Trump team is ready to give diplomacy a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


The future of hydrogen fuel (Alan Finkel, 7/23/17, Cosmos)

When the hydrogen is used for stoves, or space heating, the only combustion product is water vapour! So what's standing in the way of this utopian fuel? Problem one is that producing hydrogen from electricity is only 70% efficient, so you need a very cheap electricity supply. It could be coming.

As our electricity is increasingly sourced from wind and solar, the amount available will often exceed the electrical load. Owners of the generators will seek an economically worthwhile purpose for this excess, such as charging batteries, desalinating water, or making hydrogen.

Problem two is that the current large-scale electrolysis units are so expensive that the cost of producing hydrogen is several times more than natural gas. But one thing we know for sure is that as manufacturing volumes increase, costs come down. We've seen it already in related industries. Wind turbine prices have halved in the past five years and solar prices have dropped even faster. Similar cost reductions are likely for electrolysis units.

Problem three is that steel pipes - a major part of the current gas delivery infrastructure - aren't suited to transporting hydrogen. They become brittle because the hydrogen molecules work their way into the spaces between the iron atoms and eventually cause cracks to form.

Fortunately, modern piping used for gas distribution is mostly made from polypropylene and does not suffer from this problem. Hydrogen can be mixed at up to 10% with the methane in the existing gas distribution network without any risk of corrosion nor need to change the nozzles on stoves or space heaters. Above 10% hydrogen concentration it's easier to commit and convert all gas appliances to run on pure hydrogen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The unspeakable evil of the Tennessee eugenics program (Matthew Walther, July 24, 2017, The Week)

[T]here is actually nothing amusing about Judge Sam Benningfield's standing order signed on May 15 awarding inmates 30 days worth of credit toward their jail sentences if they agree to undergo a sterility-inducing procedure -- a vasectomy for male offenders, a Nexplananon implant for females. Both procedures are available free of charge courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Health.

This is not some kind of innovative crime-reduction plan. It is eugenics.

How exactly it is possible for a judge in a general sessions court with juvenile jurisdiction to impose this order and arrange the gratis performance of these operations with state funds is a question best left to legal experts. The ACLU has released a statement denouncing the program as "unconstitutional." The local district attorney has called it "concerning," citing the difficulties of reversing a procedure undergone by impressionable young offenders looking for a speedy way out of their difficulties. But I am not interested in the constitutionality of the program.

It is evil. [...]

The closest we ever come to having it out about birth control is when the question of eugenics is raised. But the two questions cannot be separated from one another given the history of what used to be the contraceptive movement in this country. I will never understand why reputable mainstream politicians eagerly receive awards from Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by a woman who explicitly recommended the enforced sterilization of those she considered "unfit" or "feeble-minded" or "idiots." It would take an act of willful obtuseness to pretend that the practice of hawking free contraception and abortion today can be neatly separated from the ideology out of which the practice arose. Contraception and sterilization are eugenics.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, would certainly agree with Judge Benningfield about our moral duty to prevent those convicted of crimes from having children. "I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically," she once told an interviewer. "Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they're born. That to me is the greatest sin that people can commit."

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


The Trump-Russia problem no one's talking about (Edward Burmila, July 24, 2017, The Week)

In 2004, President Trump paid $41.35 million for a Palm Beach, Florida, mansion formerly owned by Abe Gosman, a health-care executive. Dubbed "Maison de L'Amitie," the property at 515 N. County Road was classic Trump -- huge, flashy, and resplendent in the "late Baroque brothel" style he favors. It is unclear how much time Trump or his family spent living in the property, being only one of many under his control at the time.

Barely four years later and without having made improvements, Trump sold the property to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. The sale to Rybolovlev, who made billions in an unglamorous industry by cornering the Asian market in potash (a fertilizer) with his company Uralkali, raised eyebrows for two reasons. First, the purchase price of $95 million was not only by far the most ever paid for a home in swanky Palm Beach, but also more than twice what Trump paid four years earlier. More curiously, Rybolovlev has never seen or visited the property -- not before he agreed to pay that staggering price, nor since the sale was completed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Trump rebukes Republicans who do 'very little to protect their President' (The Week, July 23, 2017)
President Trump ended his weekend lamenting in the third person the lack of support he has from his fellow members of the GOP.

His biggest problem--other than what he is--was always going to be that he ran behind the party everywhere, making him indebted to them, not vice versa.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


This Isn't the First U.S. Opiate-Addiction Crisis (Stephen Mihm, 7/23/17,  Bloomberg)

The first great U.S. opiate-addiction epidemic began much the same way, with medications handed out by well-meaning doctors who embraced a wondrous new class of drugs as the answer to a wide range of aches and pains.

The pharmacologist Nathaniel Chapman, writing in 1817, held up opium as the most useful drug in the physician's arsenal, arguing that there was "scarcely one morbid affection or disordered condition" that would fail to respond to its wonder-working powers. That same year, chemists devised a process for isolating a key alkaloid compound from raw opium: morphine.

Though there's some evidence that opiate dependency had become a problem as early as the 1840s, it wasn't until the 1860s and 1870s that addiction became a widespread phenomenon. The key, according to historian David Courtwright, was the widespread adoption of the hypodermic needle in the 1870s.

Before this innovation, physicians administered opiates orally. During the Civil War, for example, doctors on the Union side administered 10 million opium pills and nearly 3 million ounces of opium powders and tinctures. Though some soldiers undoubtedly became junkies in the process, oral administration had all manner of unpleasant gastric side effects, limiting the appeal to potential addicts.

Hypodermic needles, by contrast, delivered morphine directly into a patient's veins with no side effects, yielding immediate results. As Courtwright notes: "For the first time in the entire history of medicine near-instantaneous, symptomatic relief for a wide range of diseases was possible. A syringe of morphine was, in a very real sense, a magic wand."

An enthusiastic medical profession began injecting morphine on a vast scale for all manner of aches and pains, much the way that a more recent generation of doctors began prescribing Oxycontin and other legal drugs in a reaction against widespread undertreatment of pain.

Wounded veterans became addicts, but so, too, did people suffering from arthritis. Women also became addicts en masse, thanks to the practice of treating menstrual cramps -- or for that matter, any female complaint of pain -- with injections of morphine.

Skeptics in the medical profession warned about the dangers of administering too much morphine. Yet these warnings generally fell on deaf ears. Some of the problem lay with the doctors themselves.

One well-regarded doctor put it this way: "Opium is often the lazy physician's remedy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Obama Faulted the Bush Administration for Failing Nuclear Workers in 2008 (Susan Crabtree , July 24, 2017, Daily Beacon)

A whistleblower is making some of the same complaints against the Obama administration over its record of providing congressionally mandated payouts to nuclear workers as Barack Obama did about the George W. Bush administration's.

Obama, when he was a senator in the middle of his White House bid, admonished the Bush Labor Department over complaints of bureaucratic bungling and intentional efforts to deny or drag out payouts to workers who lost their health building the nation's Cold War nuclear arsenal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Why Ukrainian forces gave up Crimea without a fight - and NATO is alert (Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev, 7/24/17, Reuters)

Russia's actions were not the only factor in the Crimean events. Ukraine's military had suffered years of neglect, there was a power vacuum in Kiev after the government was overthrown, and many Crimean residents felt more affinity with Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Hezbollah says seizes strategic valley from militants at Syria-Lebanon border (Reuters, 7/24/17)

The Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah said it had advanced from several directions in the Wadi al-Kheil valley in Juroud Arsal, a barren mountainous border zone that has served as a base for militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The advance gave Hezbollah control over what had been "the most important base for Nusra Front" in the area, Hezbollah's military media unit said in a statement.

The offensive, launched on Friday by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, has so far focused on militants from al Qaeda's former Syria branch, previously called the Nusra Front.

Hezbollah has reported rapid advances against Nusra fighters. The next target will be territory held by Islamic State militants, local media have reported.

July 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Scaramucci quotes anonymous source on Russian hacking, then admits Trump was the source (Sonam Sheth , 7/23/17, Business Insider)

"You know, somebody said to me yesterday -- I won't tell you who -- that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those e-mails, you would have never seen it," Scaramucci told "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper.

"You would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they're super confident in their deception skills and hacking," Scaramucci continued. "My point is, all of the information isn't on the table yet. But here's what I know about the president --"

"Well, wait, wait, wait," Tapper interjected.

"Let me finish. Let me finish," Scaramucci said, before letting Tapper cut in.

"Well, you're making a lot of assertions here," Tapper said. "I don't know who this anonymous person is that said, if the Russians had actually done it, we wouldn't have been able to detect it, but it is the unanimous --"

"How about it was -- how about it was the president, Jake?" Scaramucci said. "I talked to him yesterday. He called me from Air Force One. And he basically said to me, 'Hey, you know, this is --maybe they did it. Maybe they didn't do it'."

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


No-show inflation poses conundrum for US Fed (AFP, 7/23/17)

In the normal course of events, as an economy recovers and hiring increases, that brings with it rising wages and inflation, which in turn prompts the central bank to hike lending rates to keep prices in check while still allowing economic growth to continue.

But despite nearly seven years of uninterrupted job creation and a very low unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, inflationary pressures and wage gains show little sign of life.

The central bank is running out of explanations. [...]

Inflation is not simply weak -- it is deserting the battlefield altogether.

The "core" measure of the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index -- the Fed's favorite inflation indicator -- has been below the central bank's two percent target for five years.

Last month, the headline PCE price index contracted for the second time in 2017.

The Consumer Price Index also came in flat in June after contracting in May, dragging the 12-month measure down more than a full percentage point in the last four months.

[Economist Diane Swonk] said another explanation is price competition among online retailers, which also has been persistent in other advanced economies like Japan and Germany.

Every megatrend mitigates against prices going up--technology, trade, immigration, demographics, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


The Magnitsky Affair and Russia's Original Sin : Sergei Magnitsky's death at the hand of the state exposed the rot at the heart of Moscow. Its ripple effects have shaped Russian foreign and domestic policy ever since. (ANNA ARUTUNYAN, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Americans may have been shocked that, by his own account, the son of a U.S. presidential candidate found himself being hectored by a group of shady Russians about an 8-year-old case he had likely never heard of. Donald Trump Jr. had come to the meeting last June, after all, baited by promises of something much better: compromising material about Hillary Clinton. Yet the fact that a Russian lawyer reportedly spent what face time she had with Donald Trump's campaign lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act should not surprise anyone who has spent the past decade observing her country. What Trump Jr. found himself unexpectedly ensnared by last year was, in a way, the original sin of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Before there was Syria, before Ukraine, before election meddling, there was the case of the murdered lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Compared with the other, more recent ugly episodes in U.S.-Russia relations, the ripple effects of the Magnitsky affair have been less discussed, at least in the West. But the story of the $230 million stolen from Russian taxpayers, the lawyer who died in prison for uncovering the scam, and the sanctions and countersanctions that ensued is a case study in the dynamics of modern Russia: how the tangled web of greed, opportunism, corruption, and fatal negligence that sits at the heart of the Russian government not only shapes policy but sometimes drives it outright. The episode derailed the country's foreign and domestic policy for years, poisoned relations between Russia and the United States, and created a moral vacuum that, in the years since, has corroded Putin's regime from within. As the latest revelations from the Trump scandal show, it continues to exert a gravitational pull on Russian politics and Moscow's relations with Washington today. [...]

Having little faith the case would be brought to justice in Russia, Browder sought justice in America, lobbying hard for Congress to punish those involved. "I've spent every day thinking what I could have done that could have saved [Magnitsky's] life," Browder told me in 2011. In December 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act barring U.S. entry and prohibiting the use of American banks for those alleged to be involved -- the number currently stands at 44 -- along with other Russians seen as violators of human rights. A victory? Not quite. Given Russia's track record at the time -- and, in particular, the high-placed protection those involved in the Magnitsky affair enjoyed -- there was a slim chance that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. But the Magnitsky Act dashed any hopes outright.

The move infuriated Putin, who earlier that year had returned for a third presidential term despite a mass protest wave questioning his legitimacy. And it was easy to see why. The ban was a direct blow to Putin's power base: The kleptocratic elite was used to enjoying Western real estate, vacations, medical service, and even its legal system -- while plundering public coffers back home.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Donald Trump has been asked to make a 'dummy' State visit to Britain this year (SIMON WALTERS, 7/22/17,  THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Donald Trump has been asked to make a 'dummy' State visit to Britain this year to show he can avoid embarrassing the Queen.

He has been invited to come for brief talks with Theresa May - but with none of the Royal pomp and circumstance he wanted.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Trump had 'The Art of the Deal.' Now Democrats say their economic agenda is 'A Better Deal.' (Ed O'Keefe and David Weigel, July 22, 2017, Washington Post)

The rollout comes as Democrats continue to struggle to sell a coherent message to voters. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 37 percent of Americans said that the party "currently stands for something," while 52 percent said it "just stands against Trump." The same poll found that Trump's overall approval rating has deteriorated to 36 percent -- making him the most unpopular president of the modern era at this point in his presidency. 

Those findings resonate with party leaders who are still stunned by Trump's come-from-behind victory last year.

"When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don't blame other things -- Comey, Russia -- you blame yourself," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. "So what did we do wrong? People didn't know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that."

...she managed to be more unpopular than the second most unpopular major party nominee ever.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Why are Republicans trouncing Democrats in fundraising? (Byron York, Jul 22, 2017, Daily Examiner)

The Republican president has a job approval rating around 40 percent. The GOP has an unfavorability rating around 56 percent. And Republicans trail Democrats by nine points in an average of "generic ballot" polls.

All of which makes it notable that the Republican National Committee is trouncing the Democratic National Committee when it comes to raising money, especially from small donors.

The numbers are striking. In June, the RNC raised $13.5 million to the DNC's $5.5 million.

For 2017 so far, the RNC has raised $75.4 million to the DNC's $38.2 million.

This is exactly the same as Republicans down ballot running so far ahead of him in November. By virtue of basically ignoring everything he espouses they've managed to distance the party even further from him.  He's sui generis.

That's why he's so easily impeachable as well.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Inside the 24 hours that broke Sean Spicer : Trump's beleaguered press secretary had been in better spirits recently. Then Scaramucci had an Oval Office meeting. (JOSH DAWSEY 07/21/2017, Politico)

After he found out about Scaramucci's appointment, Bannon had a very "aggressive" confrontation with Trump that some in the West Wing viewed as remarkable, people with direct knowledge of the encounter said. Another person familiar with the encounter said Bannon's behavior was "embarrassing."

"There were a lot of people in the White House that didn't want this," one senior White House official said. "It happened because the family wanted it and because Trump wanted it."

Spicer agonized Thursday night and thought Scaramucci might still be kept out. Putting Scaramucci over Spicer would diminish his standing in the West Wing and prove another humiliation.

He went into the White House on Friday morning, saying he needed to see the president -- who was also talking to Scaramucci. Spicer was weighing his options and wanted to see what job Scaramucci would get before deciding whether to resign. After Scaramucci's position as communications director was announced in a larger senior staff meeting, Spicer returned to the Oval Office separately, told the president he disagreed with the pick and quickly resigned, people briefed on the encounter said.

Trump was taken aback and told Spicer to stay on board. Scaramucci and Spicer could work together, Trump said. "It would all work out, we'll all be on the same team," said a person who was told of Trump's comments. But Scaramucci was going to be in charge and report directly to the president.

Spicer saw it as a personal affront to work for Scaramucci and told the president that it couldn't work. Spicer had expected to evolve into more of a full-time communications director role because he was essentially no longer the public-facing press secretary, having turned over the podium.

Spicer returned angrily to the press office, but put on a happy face for a brief resignation meeting, convened by Priebus. He even gave Scaramucci a half-hug.

Spicer had suffered other indignities: He was left out of a papal visit, and criticized by his boss for being played by a woman on TV and for his suits, and he was mocked for huddling with his team near some bushes as reporters demanded answers about FBI Director James Comey's firing. But even some of Spicer's sharpest critics said he would land on his feet because he had good instincts as a strategist and was well connected in Washington, after serving years as a top official at the Republican National Committee.

Aides sympathetic to Spicer said he had an impossible job. It was difficult to respond to Trump's misstatements without contradicting him. No communications plan could stay on track because of the president's Twitter finger. And the warring factions of the White House made it impossible to ever know exactly what was going on.

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These are the tweets Donald Trump's new communications director doesn't want you to see
(Greg Evans, 7/22/17, Independent)

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Solar Plants Aim to Keep Lights on at Night (Anna Hirtenstein and Mathew Carr, 7/23/17, Bloomberg)

Solar plants that supply electricity at competitive prices after the sun goes down are about to become a reality in the Middle East, according to one of the region's biggest developers of power plants.

ACWA Power International Chief Executive Officer Paddy Padmanathan confirmed his company is the low bidder on a $1 billion project that will feed electricity to the grid for the Dubai Water & Electricity Authority between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. More such plants are likely to follow because Chinese companies will start driving down the cost of equipment, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Smart robots could soon steal your job (Ivana Kottasova, January 15, 2016, CNN Money)

Think you are too smart to be replaced by a robot in your job? Think again.

Experts are warning that skilled jobs will soon start disappearing because of the rise of artificial intelligence. [...]

The prices of robots and computers are falling, making them even more attractive to employers. Costs have declined by 27% over the past decade and are expected to drop by another 22% in the next decade, the Bank of America report stated.

And as robots become easier to use, with features like machine learning, and voice and facial recognition, they're becoming a more viable alternative in jobs where people deal with customers.

Countries that can adopt new technology early will get a big boost from lower labor costs and higher productivity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Americans Say They Want Products 'Made in America.' but Price Comes First. (Heather Long, 7/23/17, The Washington Post)

Walmart executives understand price is king for most American consumers, and they've used that knowledge to build one of the world's most valuable companies: "Our customers tell us that where products are made is most important second only to price," a Walmart spokesman said when asked whether Americans care if something is made in the United States, China or elsewhere.

Trump keeps talking up "Buy American, hire American." It's part of his plan to create the most jobs of any U.S. president yet. He brought a firetruck to the White House lawn all the way from Wisconsin last week to try to promote U.S. products. He jumped in the driver's seat, grinning and giving the media a big thumbs up.

Many have pointed out that Trump's words don't match his actions.

He promotes American-made at the same time that he and his daughter Ivanka Trump manufacture their own products overseas, in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, as a Washington Post investigation detailed. Just last week, Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club applied to hire 70 foreign workers.

The problem is a lot of Americans do what the Trumps do: They say they want to buy stuff made in the U.S.A., but when asked if they would be willing to pay more for it, they reconsider.

An Associated Press-GFK poll last year found nearly 75 percent of Americans prefer to purchase American-made goods, but only 30 percent were willing to pay more for them.

The Boston Consulting Group has studied these trends for years and concluded that companies can only charge about 5 percent more for products made in the United States.

The Reuters-Ipsos poll out last week found that Republicans are the most likely to say they would be willing to pay more, although they also balk at paying more than a 5 to 10 percent premium.

July 22, 2017

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As Trump's Feud with Mueller Escalates, the GOP May Face a Defining Choice : Will the Party of Lincoln be cowed into becoming an instrument of Trump's personal brand? (David French, July 21, 2017, National Review)

Yes, the president may very well try to fire the special counsel. He may try to force out the attorney general. He may grant mass pardons to family members and close aides. While I think it's unlikely, he may even try to pardon himself.

If he does any one of these things -- much less several in combination -- the GOP will have to decide, once and for all, if it is an American political party or a craven, fearful instrument of Donald Trump's personal brand.

There are very few true-believer Trump allies on Capitol Hill. Sure, there are many folks who are genuinely impressed with the man's electoral victory and admire his intense connection with his base, but even most of them would admit that he was their last choice in the primaries, that they voted for him because they considered the alternative to be worse, and that the main attraction of his presidency is the chance to pass conservative policies and confirm conservative nominees. They don't trust him and they don't like him. But -- and this is important -- at some level many of them fear him, or at least fear what he could do to their careers.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Here we are, six months into his first term, and aside from the Judge Gorsuch nomination, meaningful conservative victories have been few and far between. Scandals and self-inflicted wounds abound. Planned Parenthood is still funded, Obamacare is still alive, and tax reform is still mainly a pipe dream. Trump has proven that he can and will blow up any and all news cycles at will. He's proven that he sees loyalty as a one-way street: "You're for me, and I'm for me." No matter your record of previous support or friendship, you must do what he wants or face his public wrath. Yet still the GOP wall holds.

Already Republicans have proven their capacity to defend conduct they'd howl about if the president were a Democrat. Trump has lost a campaign chair, national-security adviser, and foreign-policy adviser as a result of deceptions or problematic ties to Russia and its allies. His campaign chair, son, and son-in law took a meeting with Kremlin-linked Russian officials in furtherance of a professed Russian-government plan to help him win. He impulsively shared classified information with the Russian ambassador to Washington. He fired FBI director James Comey, unquestionably misled America about his reason for doing so, and trashed Comey's reputation in front of our Russian foes. He and his team have made so many false statements about Russia that an entire cottage industry of YouTube videos exists to chronicle them.

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Jeff Sessions had a totally terrible week (Chris Cillizza, 7/22/17, CNN)

As if being called out by your boss, who also happens to be the President of the United States, isn't bad enough for a week, Sessions took another gut punch on Friday night.

The Washington Post reported that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak told Russian officials that he and Sessions discussed matters related not only to the 2016 presidential campaign but also US policy toward Russia in their meetings last year.

Sessions initially didn't disclose those meetings at all during his confirmation hearings to be attorney general and then, once he did disclose them, said the conversations had nothing to do with the Trump campaign.

"Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me," a Justice Department spokeswoman told the Post.

As a sort of rancid cherry on the top of Sessions' week came this tweet on Saturday morning from Trump himself: "So many people are asking why isn't the A.G. or Special Council looking at the many Hillary Clinton or Comey crimes. 33,000 e-mails deleted?"

The "A.G.", of course, is Sessions. (Sidebar: It's spelled "Special Counsel.")

The real cherry is that Little Finger may have leaked the Kislyak collusion bit in order to get Sessions to quit.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Review: 'The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road' by Finn Murphy (Joseph Bottum, July 22, 2017, Free Beacon)

Since the completion of the interstate highway system, we have paid for transportation--and paid a lot: 40,200 deaths last year, up 6 percent from the 37,757 automotive fatalities of the year before. By a huge margin, car wrecks are the leading accidental cause of death in America. Year after year, we hurtle down the road in multi-ton machines and smear our blood across the asphalt. [...]

All that will change over the next 20 or 30 years, as driverless, computerized transportation settles into a mature technology. From the initial stages of allowing driverless vehicles on our roads, we will eventually begin passing laws that only driverless vehicles should be allowed on the road. The fatality rate will fall, and our cars will take us from place to place in joyless safety--carefully recording everywhere we've gone for the databases of the businesses that want to sell us stuff and the governments that may want to investigate us. The system of driverless cars will be safer and duller, a more controlled, constrained, and constricted world.

Along the way, it will also be a world that will have lost a few million of the blue-collar, immigrant, and entry-level jobs we currently have. Once the technology reaches a sufficient level, the driverless taxi, the driverless delivery van, and the driverless semi-trailer truck will overtake the old chauffeured system of transportation, putting enormous pressure on state governments to outlaw human-driven professional vehicles.

And then, all too soon, the culture of driving will fade from the experience of all but a few anachronistic hobbyists. As alien as the whaling in Moby-Dick now seems--as alien as the sailing ships in Two Years Before the Mast--so will seem the central narrative feature of On the Road. 

Indeed, all literature before the 1920s.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


U.S. investigators seek to turn Manafort in Russia probe: sources (Julia Edwards Ainsley and John Walcott, 7/22/17, Reuters)

Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three New York properties, including one in Trump Tower in Manhattan. He paid for them in full and later took out mortgages against them. A former senior U.S. law enforcement official said that tactic is often used as a means to hide the origin of funds gained illegally. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


The man who drives Trump's Russia connection (Andrew Roth July 22, 2017, Washington Post)

Long before Trump brought the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013, Agalarov was adept at charming foreign clients. 

Gijrath came to Moscow in 2005 to pitch a Millionaire Fair, which Agalarov hosted at his then brand-new Crocus City complex, a luxury shopping center playground for Moscow's rich and famous.

Gijrath gave an example of Agalarov's hospitality: the fair was ground zero for Russia's flourishing culture of conspicuous consumption, with diamond-encrusted cellphones, yachts, Turkmen stallions and entire islands for sale.

But even for a blowout dedicated to luxury, Gijrath found he had booked too much space. Over vodka shots at a posh Italian restaurant, Agalarov forgave him a more than $1 million obligation from the contract and offered to kick in on electricity costs.

The fair went forward, at an expo center Agalarov had built at Crocus City. In 2009, he opened a concert hall and the country's only privately owned metro station nearby. 

The huge complex is located just outside Moscow's city limits, close to the offices of the Moscow regional government, where Agalarov forged a close alliance with Boris Gromov, the powerful regional governor until 2012.

"The mere possibility of a huge construction project in the Moscow region; construction of a private metro station -- no one else has a private metro station -- this all shows the level of his connections," said Ilya Shumanov, the deputy director of Transparency International's Russian office.

Now the region, which encompasses the towns and cities surrounding Moscow proper, is the seat of power of Gov. Andrei Vorobyov, who previously served as an aide to Sergei Shoigu, his predecessor as governor and currently Russia's defense minister. Along with Yuri Chaika, Russia's prosecutor general since 2006, the officials are seen as an important interest group within Russian politics, Shumanov said.

They regularly cross paths with Agalarov. Vorobyov cut the ribbon at the opening of Agalarov's Vegas concert hall in the city of Krasnogorsk last year, and Agalarov wrote a sharply worded defense of Chaika in the newspaper Kommersant after a 2015 corruption allegation by the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

"A lie told a thousand times becomes truth," Agalarov wrote acidly, noting that he was quoting Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. "I don't want to draw any parallels. But let's think about that."

Despite having strong regional connections, Agalarov was still seen as a minor player in the Kremlin compared with the heavyweights who dominate Putin's inner circle. "We're talking about someone several steps lower than them," Shumanov said.

A breakthrough came in 2009, when the Kremlin had a particularly thorny problem to solve: construction of a sprawling, 70-building university campus on the all-but-abandoned Russky Island on Russia's Pacific Coast, where Putin was to hold a summit for 21 countries at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. 

Igor Shuvalov, then first deputy to Putin as prime minister, summoned Agalarov to discuss the project.

"It wasn't like I said no and then they forced me to do it, but it was a very difficult decision," Agalarov said in a 2013 radio interview on Ekho Moskvy. "If I take this project on and don't deliver, I would have let down first of all myself, but also the country, the president, the prime minister, and so forth."

The Kremlin expects the country's wealthiest business executives to take on, when asked, large-scale infrastructure projects, sometimes at a loss, to supplement the budget and promote Russia's national interests. The fortunes of Russia's rich can rise and fall precipitously based on the outcome of these prestige projects. 

Agalarov's work in the Far East earned him an Order of Honor at a Kremlin ceremony, bestowed by Putin himself in 2012. That year, Shuvalov and Vladi­mir Kozhin, a senior Kremlin official, attended a 10th anniversary party held at Crocus City. 

Soon there were more requests. In 2014, Agalarov signed on to save two troubled football stadiums, in Kaliningrad and the southern Russian city of Rostov, for the 2018 World Cup, as well as a 30-mile stretch of a new Moscow beltway.

"At the very top level, these kinds of relationships can be give and take," said a Moscow investment manager involved in the real estate market who asked not to be identified to protect his professional relationships. "But even with the added risk and possible losses, you can make up for it in influence and connections."

One example of the give was a "strategic cooperation agreement" announced in 2013 with the state-run Sberbank to finance a $3 billion Crocus Group development, possibly including a Trump Tower.

Agalarov also sought to bring Trump and Putin together. In last year's interview, Agalarov told The Post that he secured a preliminary agreement to organize a Kremlin meeting with Trump when he visited in 2013. When Putin canceled at the last minute, Agalarov took his case to the head of the Kremlin protocol department.

"You know what? I'm in a very complicated situation. Could you tell him that yourself?" Agalarov asked the bureaucrat, he recounted in his 2016 interview. His efforts produced a handwritten note from Putin and a traditional lacquered box, gifts that Trump happily accepted.

Those contacts put Agalarov in a privileged position after Trump's unexpected, and apparently Russian-backed, rise to the presidency of the United States.

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Beginning With Silence (Glenn Arbery, 7/21/17, Imaginative Conservative)

In the heart is the desert, and as Cardinal Sarah says,

"The desert teaches us to fight against evil and all our evil inclinations so as to regain our dignity as children of God. It is impossible to enter into the mystery of God without entering into the solitude and silence of our interior desert... The desert leads to silence, and silence draws a person into the most profound intimacy with God."

A new Catholic culture begins in this silence--at first, perhaps, with hope alone, as in the corrupt society of the late Roman Empire. "The remaking of an old culture by the birth of a new hope was not the conscious aim of the Christians themselves," writes Christopher Dawson. "They tended, like St. Cyprian, to believe that the world was growing old, that the empire was irremediably pagan and that some world catastrophe was imminent. Nevertheless they lived in a spiritual atmosphere of hope, and this atmosphere gradually spread until the climate of the world was changed."

What we do at Wyoming Catholic College begins in the silence of the wilderness and grows in the atmosphere of hope. The more silence can become a way of life in this noisy age, the more a new culture will radiate from its blessings.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Trump Jr. meeting relevant to Russia probe: US special counsel Mueller (Deutsche-Welle, 7/22/17)

US special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday sent a document preservation request to the White House, saying that a meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was relevant to an investigation into possible links between his father's campaign team and Russia.  [...]

Russian court documents seen by the Reuters and AP news agencies show that Veselnitskaya successfully represented Russia's FSB security service over a property ownership dispute in Moscow between 2005 and 2013. [...]

If proven, Veselnitskaya's contacts with the FSB - the successor to the Soviet-era KGB - could add to concerns the Trump 2016 campaign team may have colluded with the Kremlin in its apparent bid to help tip last year's US presidential election in Trump's favor.

A US-based employee of a Russian real estate company - Ike Kaveladze - was named last week as the eighth participant in the June 2016 meeting. He reportedly attended as a representative of Aras and Emin Agalarov, Russian developers who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

In another development on Friday, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did discuss campaign-related and policy matters with Russia's ambassador in Washington. If confirmed, this would be contrary to his prior testimony.

July 21, 2017

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Exclusive: Moscow lawyer who met Trump Jr. had Russian spy agency as client (Maria Tsvetkova and Jack Stubbs, 7/21/17, Reuters) 

The Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. after his father won the Republican nomination for the 2016 U.S. presidential election counted Russia's FSB security service among her clients for years, Russian court documents seen by Reuters show.

The documents show that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, successfully represented the FSB's interests in a legal wrangle over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow between 2005 and 2013.

The FSB, successor to the Soviet-era KGB service, was headed by Vladimir Putin before he became Russian president.

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Some parts of GOP health bill violate Senate rules (Caitlin Owens, 7/21/17, Axios)

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Friday that some parts of the Senate health care bill do not comply with budget rules, meaning that if they're included in the bill, they'll need 60 votes to pass. 

The leadership guaranteeing that it can't pass.

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Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show (Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller July 21, 2017, Washington Post)

Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's accounts of two conversations with Sessions -- then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump -- were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions -- who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter -- has provided "misleading" statements that are "contradicted by other evidence."

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Could it be Kasowitz is actually a voice of restraint for Trump? (Alison Frankel, 7/21/17, Reuters)

It may be hard to think of Kasowitz, who relishes his tough-guy reputation, as a force of moderation. But if you look at the record of the client relationship between Trump and Kasowitz, there's a notable streak of restraint. Trump and Kasowitz, for instance, never followed through with libel suits against the Times - or against any other news organization in the last 30 years. (Kasowitz did represent Trump in his unsuccessful libel suit against Trump biographer Timothy O'Brien and O'Brien's book publisher.)

Nor did Kasowitz file the threatened DOJ complaint against Comey. According to Bloomberg, the Trump team decided the wiser course was to stop attacking the integrity of the Russia investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In fact, the New York Times has been reporting that the president is chafing under Kasowitz's advice to keep quiet on Twitter and elsewhere about the Russia case - advice almost every defense lawyer would endorse.

The best example of Kasowitz's relatively measured approach to litigation for Trump may be an enormous case Kasowitz handled early in his relationship with the president. In a prolonged battle against Hong Kong real estate partners whom Trump accused of underpricing West Side real estate, Trump replaced Kasowitz after he lost a key motion. Once Kasowitz was out, Trump pursued tactics so aggressive that they nearly cost him and Kasowitz's replacement a sanction finding.

Perhaps Donald thinks the point of the legal system is to bluster and lose?
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Initial investigation blames USS Fitzgerald crew for fatal collision (Barbara Starr, 7/21/17, CNN) 

Preliminary findings in the investigation into the collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine cargo ship off the coast of Japan in June suggest the accident was caused by multiple errors by the Fitzgerald's crew and a failure to take action in the minutes leading to the collision, according to two defense officials.

"They did nothing until the last second," one official said. "A slew of things went wrong." A second official said the crash "will wind up being our (the US Navy's) fault."

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Trump Aide Talks Investment With Sanctioned Kremlin Fund (Ilya Arkhipov and Patrick Donahue, 1/17/17, Bloomberg)

Anthony Scaramucci, aide to President-elect Donald Trump and founder of SkyBridge Capital, discussed possible joint investments in a meeting in Davos with the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund that the U.S. sanctioned in 2015, the fund's press service said.

The meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a $10 billion state-run investment vehicle, is the first public contact between the incoming administration and Kremlin-backed business. Trump has suggested he could ease the sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin cooperates on his policy priorities. Scaramucci confirmed the Davos meeting. 

In an interview with the Russian state news agency TASS Tuesday, he also criticized the sanctions as ineffective. 

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These Americans Hated the Health Law. Until the Idea of Repeal Sank In. (KATE ZERNIKE and ABBY GOODNOUGHJULY 20, 2017, NY Times)

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -- Five years ago, the Affordable Care Act had yet to begin its expansion of health insurance to millions of Americans, but Jeff Brahin was already stewing about it.

"It's going to cost a fortune," he said in an interview at the time.

This week, as Republican efforts to repeal the law known as Obamacare appeared all but dead, Mr. Brahin, a 58-year-old lawyer and self-described fiscal hawk, said his feelings had evolved.

"As much as I was against it," he said, "at this point I'm against the repeal."

"Now that you've insured an additional 20 million people, you can't just take the insurance away from these people," he added. "It's just not the right thing to do."

As Mr. Brahin goes, so goes the nation. [...]

The change in public opinion may not denote newfound love of the Affordable Care Act so much as dread of what might replace it. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that both the House and Senate proposals to replace the law would result in over 20 million more uninsured Americans. The shift in mood also reflects a strong increase in support for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor that the law expanded to cover far more people, and which faces the deepest cuts in its 52-year history under the Republican plans.

Most profound, though, is this: After years of Tea Party demands for smaller government, Republicans are now pushing up against a growing consensus that the government should guarantee health insurance. A Pew survey in January found that 60 percent of Americans believe the federal government should be responsible for ensuring that all Americans have health coverage. That was up from 51 percent last year, and the highest in nearly a decade.

The belief held even among many Republicans: 52 percent of those making below $30,000 a year said the federal government has a responsibility to ensure health coverage, a huge jump from 31 percent last year. And 34 percent of Republicans who make between $30,000 and about $75,000 endorsed that view, up from 14 percent last year.

"The idea that you shouldn't take coverage away really captured a large share of people who weren't even helped by this bill," said Robert Blendon, a health policy expert at Harvard who has closely followed public opinion of the Affordable Care Act.

It only took 7 years for everyone to accept the inevitable. Republicans will make the Heritage plan more universal and reduce choice.

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The Myth of ISIS's Strategic Brilliance (AYMENN AL-TAMIM, 7/21/17, THE ATLANTIC)

 It is certainly true that ISIS messaging over the past year or so has tried to address the group's contracting control of territory. Notable examples include the now-deceased spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani's speech released in May 2016, which mocked the idea that the loss of Mosul, Raqqa, and the Libyan city of Sirte would mean the end of the caliphate. Instead, Adnani argued, the only real defeat would come with the end of the will to keep fighting. An editorial in the ISIS newsletter al-Naba' in June 2016 reflected similar ideas to Adnani's speech.

In reality, though, this shift in messaging reflects damage control and a response to the overall tide turning against ISIS, not a stroke of genius in which ISIS strategists foresaw all of this, even at the height of the group's power. It is by no means evident that ISIS could have foreseen these losses back in 2014. While memories may fade quickly, I remember widespread predictions in 2014 that many if not most of the Sunni areas controlled by ISIS in Iraq would never return to Iraqi government control. Some of these arguments were based on the supposed unwillingness of Shiite fighters to take the fight to areas that were not their hometowns. This particular claim even had considerable resonance in late 2015, as the French professor Olivier Roy declared in The New York Times in November 2015 that "the Shiites of Iraq, no matter what pressure they face from America, do not seem ready to die to reclaim Fallujah," only for that city to be retaken through the extensive participation of Shiite fighters several months later.

Others said that Iran had an interest in keeping Iraq as a rump state with ISIS advances stalled to exert maximum influence, and thus retaking places like Mosul would not be a concern. Proclamations of the "end of Iraq" were frequent. The tendency to rush to judgment based on developments of the day persisted after 2014, as ISIS gained control of Ramadi and Palmyra despite the coalition campaign against it. Proclamations that the Islamic State was winning and on the march quickly took hold.

The belief in the necessity of a "Sunni force" to retake Mosul has long been popular, as though the grueling, destructive fight to take parts of the city, street by street, would have been vastly different simply on the basis of sect affiliation of the forces fighting ISIS. For a time, I myself partly bought into the "Sunni force" idea in suggesting in 2014 that one would have to co-opt elements of Iraq's other Sunni insurgent groups to take on ISIS. In fact, as quickly became evident, those groups have long been weak and ineffectual, often deluded with notions of "revolution" against the government in Baghdad.

If the claims that Mosul and other Sunni towns that fell to ISIS would be unlikely to return to Iraqi government control gained such widespread currency, what makes one believe that ISIS, which based its main selling point on its ability to control territory and run the ideal governance project, did not actually think it had a serious chance of at least enduring in a state form, even if it could not indefinitely expand and take over the world?

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Sean Hannity will no longer receive Buckley Award after controversy (Jake Tapper, 7/21/17, CNNMoney)

A source familiar with the situation tells CNN that Christopher Buckley "expressed great dismay" at the announcement that the award would go to Hannity, who has spent a great deal of time insulting conservative intellectuals on Twitter, particularly since he became a strong supporter of Donald Trump. [...]

Sources tell CNN that the MRC leadership discussed ways to allow Hannity to save face by acting as if a scheduling conflict would prevent him from accepting the award.

"It's my understanding there was a scheduling conflict," Ryan Moy, a spokesman for the MRC, told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Steve Bannon's disappearing act : Once dubbed 'The Great Manipulator,' Trump's senior adviser steps back in bid to save his job. (ELIANA JOHNSON and ANNIE KARNI 07/21/2017, Politico)

Steve Bannon has largely disappeared from the White House's most sensitive policy debates -- a dramatic about-face for an operative once characterized as the most powerful man in Washington.

Bannon, chastened by internal rivalries and by President Donald Trump's growing suspicion that he is looking out for his own interests, is in a self-imposed exile, having chosen to step back from Trump's inner circle for the sake of self-preservation, according to several White House advisers who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering a colleague.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Bipartisan immigration bill pushes back on Trump's stance (Shannon Vavra, 7/20/17, Axios)

Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Dick Durbin are introducing the DREAM Act -- a new bipartisan push to reform immigration legislation about rights and protections for undocumented people whose parents immigrated to the U.S. illegally.

The bill is butting up against Trump's intention to allow DREAMers to be deported, and just yesterday Marc Short said the administration would likely oppose the bill. Trump has until Sept. 5 to decide whether to rescind the program or face court challenges.

Big picture: Graham told reporters Thursday that when history is written about how the U.S. treated so-called DREAMers, he's "going to be with these kids" and that they're "trying to do a good thing," adding that both Trump and the Republican Party are going to have to make a decision about where they fall.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller's Russia investigation (Carol D. Leonnig, Ashley Parker, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, July 20, 2017, Washington Post)

Some of President Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump's lawyers have been discussing the president's pardoning powers among themselves.

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When A Somali-American Woman Was Attacked, Support Came From An Unlikely Source (WYNNE DAVIS, JUD ESTY-KENDALL, EMILY MARTINEZ, 7/21/17, Morning Edition)

Asma Jama was out to dinner with her family at an Applebee's in Coon Rapids, Minn., in October 2015, when a woman seated nearby starting getting angry. Why? Jama, who is Somali-American and Muslim, was speaking Swahili and wearing a hijab.

The woman, Jodie Bruchard-Risch, demanded that Jama speak English -- and then smashed Jama in the face with a glass beer mug.

"I could see it from the doctor's face that it was really bad," says Jama, who is 39. "I had lacerations across my chest, all over my hands, and 17 total stitches."

Bruchard-Risch pleaded guilty to felony assault charges, admitted she acted out of bias, and served time in jail for the assault crime.

After the trial ended, Jama found support from an unlikely source -- her attacker's sister.

Dawn Sahr, 50, contacted Jama online to see how Jama had been doing in the year since the incident occurred. The two met in person for the first time when they came to StoryCorps to talk about the attack.

"I wanted to reach out to you so much," Sahr says. "I just wanted to know that you were OK. That was my biggest concern."

July 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


Judge refuses to remove block on Trump sanctuary city order (Dan Levine, July 20, 2017, Reuters) 

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in San Francisco ruled that a recent memo from the Justice Department that appeared to narrow the scope of Trump's executive order on sanctuary cities did not remove the need for a court-ordered injunction.

Orrick wrote that the memo is not binding and the attorney general can revoke it at any time. [...]

In a ruling in April, Orrick said Trump's order targeted broad categories of federal funding for sanctuary governments and that plaintiffs challenging the order were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Trump's Private Clubs In Florida Are Seeking Visas For Foreign Workers (Greg Allen, 7/20/17, NPR)

The Trump Organization is asking the federal government for special visas to hire scores of foreign workers for two of President Trump's private clubs in Florida -- the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach and the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.

The requests for H-2B visas, posted on the Department of Labor website, are for 26 cooks, nearly 50 waiters and waitresses, plus housekeepers, a hostess and a bartender. The jobs range in pay from just under $12 to less than $14 an hour. Mar-a-Lago and the Jupiter club have relied on foreign workers in past years for staffing during their peak seasons, which run October through May.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


France's Top General Resigns in Dispute Over Military Spending (ALISSA J. RUBIN, JULY 19, 2017, NY Times)

In an unusual move, the military chief, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, offered his resignation after Mr. Macron said publicly that he would be the one to determine military policy and implicitly criticized General de Villiers for questioning the government's proposed budget cuts. [...]

The dispute with General de Villiers was raised in Mr. Macron's annual speech to the armed forces on July 13, the day before France's imposing Bastille Day military parade.

In that speech, the president referred to concerns the general had raised in a closed parliamentary hearing about the cuts. The general's remarks were later leaked to the news media.

"I do not consider it honorable to put certain debates on public display," Mr. Macron had said.

"I am your chief. The commitments that I have made to our citizens, to the army, I stick to them," he said, adding that he did not need any "pressure" or "commentary."

Cut deeper.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


The Immigration Effect : There's a Way for President Trump to Boost the Economy by Four Percent, But He Probably Won't Like It. (Lena Groeger, July 19, 2017, ProPublica)

In an analysis for ProPublica, Adam Ozimek and Mark Zandi at Moody's Analytics, an independent economics firm, estimated that for every 1 percent increase in U.S. population made of immigrants, GDP rises 1.15 percent. So a simple way to get to Trump's 4 percent GDP bump? Take in about 8 million net immigrants per year. To show you what that really looks like, we've charted the effect below. You can see for yourself what might happen to the economy if we increased immigration to the highest rates in history or dropped it to zero - and everything in between.

"Immigration is a great economic policy opportunity and it's important to document the impact of that," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist who served on the President's Council of Economic Advisers in both Bush administrations. He agreed with the basic conclusions of Moody's analysis, and said that 1.15 percent was a reasonable estimate of the effect of immigration on GDP.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Trump says he sat with Putin at dinner because the wife of Japan's leader doesn't speak English. But she does. (Laura King, 7/20/17, LA Times)

President Trump said Wednesday that a lack of English conversational skills on the part of Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prompted him to leave his spot next to her at dinner at an international summit and talk with Vladimir Putin instead.

Mrs. Abe "doesn't speak English ... like, not 'Hello,'" Trump told the New York Times in an interview.

Not so.

Akie Abe, the daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, attended a private Roman Catholic international school in Tokyo before going on to college. The elementary-through-high-school academy, the Sacred Heart School, includes rigorous English-language instruction as part of its curriculum.

And social media swiftly found clips of the 55-year-old Abe making speeches in somewhat accented but perfectly serviceable English.

Rude to an ally; subservient to an enemy--his presidency in a sentence.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Three Ways Trump's NYT Interview Worsens Team Trump's Legal Troubles (Ryan Goodman and Andy Wright, July 20, 2017, Just Security)

1. Obstruction of Justice Evidence: The Sessions' Recusal Litmus Test

The biggest headline coming out the interview was Trump's insistence that it was inappropriate for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, notwithstanding Sessions' failure to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearings to become Attorney General and Sessions' involvement in the Trump campaign itself. Sessions decision to recuse himself -- according to the Justice Department, Sessions' testimony and Comey's testimony -- was essentially a foregone conclusion due in part to regulations dealing with conflicts of interest that relate to his participation in the presidential campaign, and it was a decision taken on the advice of senior Department officials. Even more alarming, Trump said he would not have appointed Sessions had he known Sessions would recuse. A recusal litmus test for the Attorney General signals to prosecutors that Trump expects to be able to interfere in pending criminal investigations, even when those criminal matters touch on his interests. More specifically, it strengthens evidence that Trump intended to impede the Russia investigation through the management controls of the Presidency. Sessions himself theoretically may be implicated in the possible obstruction of justice, depending on how the decision to fire Comey was orchestrated. And Trump's statements to the Times suggest he may have had an expectation, if not an understanding, that Sessions would help quash the Russia investigation, and feels betrayed that Sessions backed away.

2. Quid Pro Quo Evidence: The Donald Trump, Jr. Meeting & Russian Adoptions

This week Ian Bremmer broke news of a second, previously undisclosed, meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said that the news was wrong and that the two  leaders only engaged in "pleasantries and small talk." During Wednesday's interview, Trump dropped a bit of a bombshell. He said, "we talked about adoption." As Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State has noted, Russian "adoptions" is shorthand for "sanctions" because Putin halted American adoptions in retaliation for the passage of the Magnitsky Act.

Of particular import, Trump then tied his conversation with Putin about adoptions to Donald Trump Jr.'s June 9, 2016 meeting in which the lure had been Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton. 

...he's thinks he behave in his usual manner in this case as he does in civil suits. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions (Greg Farrell and Christian Berthelsen, 7/20/17, Bloomberg)

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year's election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump's businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

The president told the New York Times on Wednesday that any digging into matters beyond Russia would be out of bounds. Trump's businesses have involved Russians for years, making the boundaries fuzzy so Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be taking a wide-angle approach to his two-month-old probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump's involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump's sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

Other than that, how did the threats work out, Donald?

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Inspiring Little Fear in Senators, Trump Struggles to Sell Health Bill (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULY 20, 2017, NY Times)

As the brash Mr. Johnson reminded one associate recently, while Mr. Trump may have stunned the political world in 2016 by winning Wisconsin in the election, Mr. Johnson got 76,000 more votes in the state.

Fear is perhaps the most powerful motivating force in politics, and fear of a powerful president is the surest lever to move a lawmaker from a "no" to a "yes" on a presidential priority. But over the past month, Mr. Trump scared no one into supporting the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He has proved simply too unpopular nationally -- polling at 36 to 40 percent approval this week -- too weak in many senators' home states, too erratic and too disengaged from the details of governing to harness his party, as other new presidents have.

Mr. Johnson, still angry at the Republican establishment for abandoning his long-shot re-election bid, may come around when Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, holds a make-or-break procedural vote next week in a bid to revive the health care effort.

But the votes of other senators have become more elusive. They have come to believe that their constituents, even the most conservative ones, are more loyal to them than to Mr. Trump.

The starkest demonstration of Mr. Trump's weakness came on Monday when Mr. McConnell and his stunned team learned that Jerry Moran, a typically reliable and evenhanded conservative from Kansas, felt safe stiff-arming Mr. Trump on his top legislative priority, announcing that he opposed the bill.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


The President vs. Federal Law Enforcement: Trump Attacks Everyone (Benjamin Wittes, July 20, 2017, LawFare)

President Trump yesterday issued a stunning vote of no-confidence in basically everyone currently in a leadership position in the Justice Department, the FBI, or the special counsel's office--in other words, not just some federal law enforcement, but all of it. The President's rebuke comes in a lengthy interview with the New York Times yesterday, and it reaches everyone from the attorney general to staff attorneys hired by Robert Mueller--whose investigation he pointedly did not promise not to terminate. His complaint? They're all, in different ways, not serving him. And serving him, he makes clear, is their real job.

It's a chilling interview--chilling because of the portrait it paints of presidential paranoia, chilling for its monomaniacal view of the relationship between the president and law enforcement, and chilling for what it says about Trump's potential readiness to interfere with the Mueller investigation.

If Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not resign this morning, it will reflect nothing more or less than a lack of self respect on his part...

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


'Cars 3' Isn't Woke--It's Conservative (Margot Cleveland, JULY 20, 2017, The Federalist)

From hood ornament to taillight, "Cars 3" was conservative! No politics of grievance. No poor victim Cruz held back by a glass ceiling erected by men. Cruz didn't fail because she was female or because she looked different. She didn't fail because of discrimination. She failed because she didn't try--unlike her predecessors, Barnstormer Nash and River Scott, who had real grievances and had to break down color and gender barriers just to race.

Cruz also didn't try because her family weighed her down with the heavy burden of low expectations. Cruz also didn't need some woman to lean in to help her succeed. Having a male mentor proved completely kosher. And Cruz won because, male or female, she was the best racer.

Now, this is a "feminist" theme I can get behind! But it isn't the "smash the patriarchy" kind sold by the Left. Rather, Disney's Pixar took a traditional approach to feminism, presenting Cruz as a product of her choices, not a victim of her circumstances. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


U.S. jobless claims fall to near five-month low (Reuters, 7/20/17) 

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, touching its lowest level in nearly five months, suggesting another month of strong job growth. [...]

It was the 124th straight week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a robust 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 4.4 percent.

Sometimes nothin' is a real cool hand.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Surgery Is One Hell Of A Placebo (Christie Aschwanden, 7/19/17, 538)

The guy's desperate. The pain in his knee has made it impossible to play basketball or walk down stairs. In search of a cure, he makes a journey to a healing place, where he'll undergo a fasting rite, don ceremonial garb, ingest mind-altering substances and be anointed with liquids before a masked healer takes him through a physical ritual intended to vanquish his pain.

Seen through different eyes, the process of modern surgery may look more more spiritual than scientific, said orthopedic surgeon Stuart Green, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. Our hypothetical patient is undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, and the rituals he'll participate in -- fasting, wearing a hospital gown, undergoing anesthesia, having his surgical site prepared with an iodine solution, and giving himself over to a masked surgeon -- foster an expectation that the procedure will provide relief, Green said.

These expectations matter, and we know they matter because of a bizarre research technique called sham surgery. In these fake operations, patients are led to believe that they are having a real surgical procedure -- they're taken through all the regular pre- and post- surgical rituals, from fasting to anesthesia to incisions made in their skin to look like the genuine operation occurred -- but the doctor does not actually perform the surgery. If the patient is awake during the "procedure," the doctor mimics the sounds and sensations of the true surgery, and the patient may be shown a video of someone else's procedure as if it were his own.

Sham surgeries may sound unethical, but they're done with participants' consent and in pursuit of an important question: Does the surgical procedure under consideration really work? In a surprising number of cases, the answer is no.

A 2014 review of 53 trials that compared elective surgical procedures to placebos found that sham surgeries provided some benefit in 74 percent of the trials and worked as well as the real deal in about half. [...]

Weirdly enough, surgery's invasiveness may explain some of its potency. Studies have shown that invasive procedures produce a stronger placebo effect than non-invasive ones, said researcher Jonas Bloch Thorlund of the University of Southern Denmark. A pill can provoke a placebo effect, but an injection produces an even stronger one. Cutting into someone appears to be more powerful still.

And orthopedic stuff actually involves some real carpentery.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Trump's embrace of Russia has top advisers fretting (AP, 7/20/17) 

US President Donald Trump's persistent overtures toward Russia are placing him increasingly at odds with his national security and foreign policy advisers, who have long urged a more cautious approach to dealing with the foreign adversary. [...]

McMaster expressed his disapproval of Trump's course to foreign officials during the lead-up to his trip to Germany. The general specifically said he'd disagreed with Trump's decision to hold an Oval Office meeting in May with top Russian diplomats and with the president's general reluctance to speak out against Russian aggression in Europe, according to the three foreign officials.

McMaster and other national security aides also advised the president against holding an official bilateral meeting with Putin.

In a highly unusual move, McMaster did not attend the bilateral meeting with Putin. Only Trump, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a translator made up the US side.

Meetings with such critical national security implications typically include a broader team, including the national security adviser and a regional specialist from the National Security Council -- in this case, the head of the Russia directorate, a position recently filled by Russia expert Fiona Hill.

Foreign and US officials said the Russians recommended that a note taker be present in the bare-bones official bilateral meeting. But Trump, who has repeatedly expressed concern over leaks, refused, instead relying on Tillerson to document the meeting. The session was scheduled for 30 minutes but stretched to more than two hours.

The only justification for taking these jobs was to subvert Donald's bromance with Vlad.
Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Why robots may soon steal all manufacturing jobs - but it's not all bad news (JEFF MORGAN, 7/20/17, The Next Web)

What's coming next is known as "deep learning". Similar to big data analysis, it involves processing large quantities of data in real time to make decisions about what is the best action to take. The difference is that the machine learns from the data so it can improve its decision making. A perfect example of deep learning was demonstrated by Google's AlphaGo software, which taught itself to beat the world's greatest Go players.

The turning point in applying artificial intelligence to manufacturing could come with the application of special microchips called graphical processing units (GPUs). These enable deep learning to be applied to extremely large data sets at extremely fast speeds. But there is still some way to go and big industrial companies are recruiting vast numbers of scientists to further develop the technology.

As Industry 4.0 technology becomes smarter and more widely available, manufacturers of any size will be able to deploy cost-effective, multipurpose and collaborative machines as standard. This will lead to industrial growth and market competitiveness, with a greater understanding of production processes leading to new high-quality products and digital services.

Exactly what impact a smarter robotic workforce with the potential to operate on its own will have on the manufacturing industry, is still widely disputed. Artificial intelligence as we know it from science fiction is still in its infancy. It could well be the 22nd century before robots really have the potential to make human labour obsolete by developing not just deep learning but true artificial understanding that mimics human thinking.

Ideally, Industry 4.0 will enable human workers to achieve more in their jobs by removing repetitive tasks and giving them better robotic tools. In theory, this would allow us humans to focus more on business development, creativity and science, which it would be much harder for any robot to do. Technology that has made humans redundant in the past has forced us to adapt, generally with more education.

But because Industry 4.0 robots will be able to operate largely on their own, we might see much greater human redundancy from manufacturing jobs without other sectors being able to create enough new work.

July 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 PM

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 PM


Senate 'repeal only' bill would leave 32 million more uninsured, CBO says (ADAM CANCRYN, 07/19/2017, Politico)

A revived bill that would dismantle large parts of Obamacare without an immediate replacement would leave 32 million more people uninsured and double premiums over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report Wednesday. [...]

The nonpartisan scorekeeper's report projects that 17 million people would lose insurance in the first year after a partial repeal that includes ending Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and repealing most of the taxes tied to the law. Premiums would jump 25 percent over that same period as insurers grapple with the effective elimination of Obamacare's requirement that everyone purchase coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


Planned Parenthood's Century of Brutality : It is functioning today as its eugenics-obsessed founders intended. (Kevin D. Williamson, June 19, 2017, National Review)

Clarence C. Little was a cultivated man. He was a Harvard graduate who served as president of the University of Maine and the University of Michigan. He was one of the nation's leading genetics researchers, with a particular interest in cancer. He was managing director of the American Society for the Control of Cancer, later known (in the interest of verbal economy) as the American Cancer Society; the president of the American Eugenics Society, later known (in the interest of not talking about eugenics) as the Society for Biodemography and Social Biology; and a founding board member of the American Birth Control League, today known (in the interest of euphemism) as Planned Parenthood. His record as a scientist is not exactly unblemished -- he will long be remembered as the man who insisted that "there is no demonstrated causal relationship between smoking or [sic] any disease" -- but he was the very picture of the socially conscious man of science, without whom the National Cancer Institute, among other important bodies, probably would not exist.

He was a humane man with horrifying opinions.

Little is one of the early figures in Planned Parenthood whose public pronouncements, along with those of its charismatic foundress, Margaret Sanger, often are pointed to as evidence of the organization's racist origins. (Students at the University of Michigan are, at the time of this writing, petitioning to have his name stripped from a campus building.) Little believed that birth-control policy should be constructed in such a way as to protect "Yankee stock" -- referred to in Sanger's own work as "unmixed native white parentage," if Little's term is not clear enough -- from being overwhelmed by what was at the time perceived as the dysgenic fecundity of African Americans, Catholic immigrants, and other undesirables. ("The feebleminded are notoriously prolific in reproduction," Sanger reported in Woman and the New Race.) The question of racial differences was an obsession of Little's that went well beyond his interest in eugenics and followed him to the end of his life; one of his later scientific works was "The Possible Relation of Genetics to Differences in Negro-White Mortality Rates from Cancer," published in the 1960s.

The birth-control movement of the Progressive era is where crude racism met its genteel intellectual cousin: Birth Control Review, the in-house journal of Planned Parenthood's predecessor organization, published a review, by the socialist intellectual Havelock Ellis, of Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color against White World Supremacy. Ellis was an important figure in Sanger's intellectual development and wrote the introduction to her Woman and the New Race; Stoddard was a popular birth-control advocate whose intellectual contributions included lending to the Nazi racial theorists the term "untermensch" as well as developing a great deal of their theoretical framework: He fretted about "imperfectly Nordicized Alpines" and such. Like the other eugenics-minded progressives of his time, he saw birth control and immigration as inescapably linked issues.

Pro-Life Advocates Take Justice Ginsburg to Task for Racist Abortion Comments (Steven Ertelt, July 14, 2009, Life News)

"Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious," she says.

Reporter Emily Bazelon then asks Ginsburg a question about what she means and Ginsburg responds that the 1980 Harris v. McRae ruling upholding the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal taxpayer funding of abortions, surprised her.

"Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn't really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong," Ginsburg said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Manafort Was in Debt to Pro-Russia Interests, Cyprus Records Show (MIKE McINTIREJULY 19, 2017, NY Times)

Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump's presidential campaign in March 2016.

The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort's business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn't Have Hired Sessions (PETER BAKER, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULY 19, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.

Asked if Mr. Mueller's investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family's finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, "I would say yes." He would not say what he would do about it. "I think that's a violation. Look, this is about Russia."

Speed the day.
Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Trump says he should not have picked Sessions as attorney general: NY Times (Reuters, 7/19/17) 

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions as attorney general if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation, according to a New York Times interview.

Getting rid of Beauregard is the big one for the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Inside Trump Family's Turmoil Amid Russia Scandal: Don Jr. Is 'Miserable' and Wants 'These Four Years to Be Over' (SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL AND TIERNEY MCAFEE, JULY 18, 2017, PeoplE)

Legal experts tell PEOPLE that campaign finance laws prohibit the acceptance of anything of value from a foreign government or a foreign individual, or coordinating to work with a foreign government.

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, considers the actions "treason." "It is betraying your own country in the hands of a foreign adversary," Painter tells PEOPLE. He notes that under the Bush administration, Don Jr. would have been in custody and brought in for questioning. "I think there are grounds here on campaign finance violations alone that it is illegal," he says.

Whatever his personal and legal predicament, Don Jr. will remain loyal to his father, say his friends.

"The loyalty within this family is insane," says a family friend especially close to Don Jr. and Eric. "They would never speak against their dad."

Adds the source in the brothers' circle, "You can't bite the hand that feeds you, but he [Don Jr.] can't wait for these four years to be over."

More like two years.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Trump urges Senate Republicans to keep trying on healthcare bill (Amanda Becker and Susan Cornwell, 7/19/17, Reuters)

Democrats, clearly delighted with the turn of events, have welcomed the Republicans' failure to replace Obamacare as an opportunity to work together. Republicans conceded their other options may be exhausted.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn, told reporters it was "unfortunate" that he expected bipartisan talks to begin.

"Democrats are strongly committed to Obamacare and are unwilling to admit structural problems, which create the problems we are having in the individual market today," Cornyn said. "But we'll do the best we can with the hand we've been dealt."

If senators try to shore up Obamacare, an initial hurdle in coming weeks will be boosting faltering state insurance markets by ensuring that insurers keep receiving subsidies that help lower the cost of insurance for low-income individuals.

The Trump administration will continue making the subsidy payments through August while a related Republican lawsuit is pending. The uncertainty beyond that has rattled insurers.

Republican senators have acknowledged the need to address the unstable markets but resisted Democratic calls to fund the subsidies without accompanying reforms, calling it a "bailout" for insurance companies.

Funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, a part of the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, known as CHIP, expires on Sept. 30 and will require reauthorization.

Bills to address the subsidy payments and CHIP would likely require 60 votes for passage, acting as a barometer of how inclined Republicans and Democrats are to work together, industry lobbyists and experts said.

Trump suggested on Tuesday that Republicans should allow the insurance markets to fail before working with Democrats. But Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, the head of the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions, said he would begin holding hearings on the issue in the next few weeks.

The inevitability of reforming it, not repealing it, was always obvious outside the bubble.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Public support for 'single payer' health coverage grows, driven by Democrats (JOCELYN KILEY, 6/23/17, Pew Research)

Currently, 60% say the federal government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, while 39% say this is not the government's responsibility. These views are unchanged from January, but the share saying health coverage is a government responsibility remains at its highest level in nearly a decade.

Among those who see a government responsibility to provide health coverage for all, more now say it should be provided through a single health insurance system run by the government, rather than through a mix of private companies and government programs. Overall, 33% of the public now favors such a "single payer" approach to health insurance, up 5 percentage points since January and 12 points since 2014. [...]
Even among those who say the federal government is not responsible for ensuring Americans have health care coverage, there is little public appetite for government withdrawing entirely from involvement in health care coverage. Among the public, 33% say that health care coverage is not the government's responsibility, but that programs like Medicare and Medicaid should be continued; just 5% of Americans say the government should not be involved at all in providing health insurance.

When the electorate of every developed democracy in the world says something is a right/responsibility, it is.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Browder: Putin Determined To Have Magnitsky Act Repealed (Radio Liberty, July 19, 2017)

In an interview with Current Time America, Browder, who was Magnitsky's client, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to see the Magnitsky Act repealed, as is Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 election campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


The Living and the Dead : In October, Iraqi forces set out to retake Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities and ISIS's biggest stronghold in the country. It would take them nine months and cost thousands of lives.
 (JAMES VERINI JULY 19, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

The battle of Mosul began officially on Oct. 17, 2016. Sonically, it didn't come into its own until some weeks later. In the opening skirmishes, as Iraqi troops encountered Islamic State fighters on farmland and in villages outside the city, rounds whistled unobstructed through the air and thudded in the sod, a vague overture. When the troops breached the easternmost districts of the city proper -- in early November -- then you could begin to really listen to the conflict.

On an evening later that month, I was embedded with a company of Iraqi Special Operations Forces in a neighborhood near Mosul's eastern edge from which they had expelled the jihadists. The troops had set up a temporary command post and barracks in a group of commandeered homes surrounding a plaza that included a mosque and a park, or what had been a park -- now it was a mud patch where Humvees, armored bulldozers and a fuel tanker were parked. Most of the modest rowhouses in this neighborhood -- Zahra, a middle-­class enclave of shopkeepers and pharmacists and taxi drivers -- had made it out of the fighting intact; others were crumpled but salvageable; others were mere rubble. The sunset was threaded through with black smoke from the car fires ISIS had lit to try to obscure its positions from aerial surveillance. The futility of this tactic could be heard and felt every few minutes, as a jet dove in to drop a bomb, or a heavy artillery shell found its target, with an atmosphere-­consuming shriek and a thunderous, belly-­seizing impact. And yet ISIS set the cars ablaze every day.

After dark, a polyphony of firefights broke out around our position. The reliable chatter of rifles, the more insistent clangor of machine guns, the congested peals of rocket-­propelled grenades went back and forth. The airstrikes and artillery continued. At midnight, I climbed to a roof, ducked below the parapet -- ISIS snipers had night-­vision equipment, it was believed, though they were good enough not to need it -- and peered over. Mosul is situated in a riverine basin, so that a high enough spot can give you a view over the city's ancient marble walls, the domes and minarets of its medieval mosques, the balconies of its cinder block apartment houses. The car fires had created around the city a necklace of Boschian throbbing orange-­red.

A sinister chorale crept into the gunfire -- ISIS fighters baying from mosque loudspeakers. "Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" Others shouted the phrase in the streets. From more loudspeakers came an ISIS anthem. I asked a soldier how the same song could come from different places in unison. He pulled from his fatigues a pocket radio and tuned it to 92.5 FM.

"ISIS's radio station," he said.

At the time, Zahra and a few areas around it represented a minute but expanding peninsula of military occupation jutting into the city, whose 251 neighborhoods were otherwise entirely controlled by ISIS. The plan was to push the jihadists west toward the Tigris River, which bisects Mosul, then encircle them on the west side. No one knew how many fighters were waiting. Some soldiers estimated a thousand, some five times that. Some believed that the battle would take two months, others a year. However many fighters there were, ISIS knew they were not enough to face off in the streets with the Iraqi forces pouring into Mosul: roughly 10,000 troops, with an additional 90,000 militiamen, police officers and Kurdish soldiers massed on the city's perimeter. Flying above Mosul were the jets, bombers, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles of an American-­led international coalition, and around it was a constellation of heavy artillery firebases.

So ISIS, in its efforts to hold Mosul -- or, really, to kill as many people and destroy as much of the city as it could while losing it, as the jihadists knew they inevitably must -- relied on tactics known in Western military parlance as "harassing fire." It was a phrase that amused Iraqi soldiers whose English was sufficient to understand its insufficiency and who had to actually endure this harassment. ISIS's harassers included world-class snipers, crack mortar teams, the suicidal drivers of vehicle-­borne improvised explosive devices, or V.B.I.E.D.s -- mobile car bombs -- and, to direct these efforts, something new to warfare, a fleet of commercial-­market drones. ISIS managed to smuggle untold numbers of the small, cheap machines, the kind of thing you can buy on Amazon, into Mosul.

On his phone, a sergeant major showed me a video taken by one of the enemy drones, which the jihadists used to target strikes as well as record them. When a strike was successful, they would quickly edit the video and put it online, part of the steady diet of near-real-time footage that each side supplied the internet. The troops watched ISIS's videos as avidly as everyone else -- another of this battle's weird techno-­wrinkles. This particular clip, uploaded a few days earlier, showed a car bomber speeding up a street not far from where we were now, toward a group of parked Humvees. "Those are ours," said the sergeant major, Karim. The car bomber slammed into a Humvee. A ghostly gray expanded in the middle of the screen. "I was injured," Karim said, lifting up his shirt to reveal a scar. "No, wait. This is from something else."

It was hard to keep track. The Iraqi special forces had been fighting ISIS for more than two years. They had fought them near Baghdad, in Ramadi, then Falluja, Tikrit and Baiji, pushing the jihadists north nearly 250 miles to Mosul, the caliphate's greatest urban stronghold. Many of Karim's comrades had fought Al Qaeda and ISIS's other precursors before that. The tip of the spear into Mosul, the special forces had been going without a break for weeks now, taking heavy casualties. Karim had been wounded five times since Ramadi. In Falluja, a rocket skivered a Humvee in which he was the gunner. It was the scar from that attack that he wanted to show me, a discolored sunken patch below his rib cage. Looking down at it, he said, "It was a big hole before."

It would have been better never to have occupied Iraq in the first place, but we did at least figure out that it needed to be their fight quicker this time.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


America's Real Enemy: The Salafi-Jihadi Movement (AEI, 7/19/17)

While the recent victory in Mosul has been hailed as a crucial milestone in the fight against ISIS, AEI Research Fellow and al Qaeda expert Katherine Zimmerman explains in a new report how US policymakers are pursuing the wrong strategy by focusing on military victories against specific groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

Among her key points:

1.The United States is losing the war on terror because it has misdefined the enemy. The Trump administration is continuing and accelerating the flawed strategy of the Obama administration, which defined the enemy too narrowly. An effective strategy should not focus on retaking Mosul and Raqqa and killing ISIS and al Qaeda leaders plotting attacks against the United States.

2.The Salafi-jihadi movement is the real enemy of the United States. While this movement is inherently global and includes both ISIS and al Qaeda, it does not encompass all Muslims or Islam. Its goal is to destroy current Muslim societies as they are today and replace them with an Islamic caliphate through force. It also aims to attack and either subjugate or destroy the US and the West.

The Sa'uds and other anti-democrats are the enemy.
Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Is the President Fit? : Donald Trump is the least athletic president in generations. Here's why it matters. (BEN STRAUSS July 18, 2017, Politico)

Few props have been more indispensable to Donald Trump's presidency than the golf cart. He drives them on his frequent weekend trips to the links (invariably at Trump-owned clubs, where he rolls onto the greens, too--normally a no-no). During his visit to Saudi Arabia in May, rather than walk, the president hopped a ride in a cart as he toured the National Museum in Riyadh. And a few days later, while six other world leaders at a G-7 summit in Sicily walked 700 yards up a slight hill to a photo-op, Trump followed behind for at least part of the way in, yes, another golf cart.

The images of Trump in his carts--at the wheel, wearing a "MAGA" hat on the golf course, or suited and solemn in Saudi Arabia--resonate strongly with Jack O'Donnell, an executive who worked for Trump in Atlantic City. It was 28 years ago--right after a helicopter crash killed three of Trump's executives--that Trump told O'Donnell, who often trained for triathlons, that exercise was going to ruin his body. "He told me you've got to stop that," O'Donnell told me. "He really believed we only have so much energy, that it was important not to waste it."

When O'Donnell, who in 1991 published a tell-all book about working with Trump, watches Trump putter along in his vehicle of choice, he doesn't see a man conserving energy but a man who is unfit for office. As in, literally, physically unfit. "It says to me that he is in horrible shape and he knows it," O'Donnell said. "He'd walk if he could, but he knows he can't keep up with the group, so he rides the cart instead." [...]

By any measure, America's president is overweight, and medical experts say it could be affecting his health and his job. In Saudi Arabia, after Trump deviated from the prepared text of a speech, an aide explained that the president was "exhausted." 

The lower his energy the better for all concerned.
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Republicans may not be punished if they can't pass repeal (Drew Altman, 7/18/17, Kaiser Family Foundation)

[H]ealth care was not the top concern for Trump voters and Republican voters in the 2016 presidential election. It ranked far behind their general concerns about the direction the country is headed in, jobs and the economy, and their feelings about Hillary Clinton. Just 7% of Trump voters and a paltry 5% of Republican voters picked health care as the biggest factor in their vote.

Focus groups with Trump voters reinforce this picture; they are focused much more on making ends meet and, when health comes up, getting help with paying their premiums and deductibles. They hoped candidate Trump would find a way to help them pay their health care bills. Just like Democratic voters, and all voters, they care more about their health care costs than the partisan Washington debate about the ACA.

Republicans also don't show high levels of intensity on the issue. For example, in July, just 25% of Republicans said they had a "very favorable" view of the Republican ACA replacement plans, while 52% of Democrats said that about the ACA.

About half (52%) of Republicans have supported the idea of repealing the ACA now and replacing it later, but that is hardly an overwhelming mandate. (Just 26% of the public overall supported the idea.) Still, most Republicans do want to keep trying. In July, 80% said they don't want to give up on efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.

The most conservative Republicans who advocate repeal come from safe districts. They have little to worry about, whether the ACA is repealed or not.

The political calculus was always obvious : the GOP could not damage Obamacare because it's popular and it works.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Trump's own words put his trade policy in jeopardy (Shane Savitsky & Jonathan Swan, 7/18/17, Axios)

International trade experts, including NYU Law professor Robert Howse, told Axios that Trump made a big mistake by identifying "dumping" as his basis for imposing retaliatory tariffs on national security grounds. There are already laws on the books to remedy dumping, and if Trump invokes the national security provision to impose new tariffs, other nations will immediately challenge him because they're operating under a World Trade Organization agreement that has no national security exceptions.

If this self-sabotaging scenario sounds familiar that's because lawyers fighting Trump's travel ban used his bombastic tweets and public statements as evidence he was motivated by a desire to ban Muslims from America rather than his stated mission of keeping out terrorists.

July 18, 2017

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Trump, Putin had second, undisclosed talk at G-20 (MAX GREENWOOD AND JORDAN FABIAN - 07/18/17, The Hill)

According to Tuesday reports, in their second conversation, Trump spoke with the Russian leader for roughly an hour, joined only by Putin's translator. The meeting had previously gone without mention by the administration. [...]

That Trump was not joined in the conversation by his own translator is a breach of national security protocol, according to Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, though one that the president likely would not know about.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Eighth person at Trump Jr meeting was accused of money laundering (Jon Swaine, 18 July 2017, The Guardian)

A Russian American businessman once accused of laundering more than $1.4bn into the US from eastern Europe attended the meeting where Donald Trump's son expected to receive secret information from Moscow.

Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze was the eighth participant in the notorious get-together at Trump Tower in Manhattan on 9 June 2016, his attorney Scott Balber confirmed to the Guardian on Tuesday. Kaveladze's attendance was first reported by CNN.

Kaveladze, 52, is an executive at a Moscow-based property firm owned by Aras Agalarov, a business associate of Trump who is also enmeshed in the controversy over the meeting during last year's presidential election campaign.

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These 48 Republican Senators Voted For A Clean Obamacare Repeal In 2015 (Alex Pfeiffer, 07/18/2017, Daily Caller)
Two Republicans senators who voted to repeal Obamacare in 2015 now say they will not support a similar bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The original vote was a function of its own meaninglessness.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Stop Talking about Hillary Clinton and Start Thinking about Jimmy Carter : If the present trajectory doesn't change, Republicans will learn what Democrats learned after their 1980 landslide defeat. (David French, July 18, 2017, National Review)

After Carter's narrow victory, Republicans won three consecutive landslides. Democrats, stung by defeat after defeat, kept tacking right in national politics -- culminating in a Clinton presidency that in many respects was to the right of both national parties today. Can anyone imagine a crime bill such as the Clinton-era crime bill passing today? Is anyone even trying to balance the budget, much less create a surplus? With the collapse of Obamacare repeal, is there any reform on the horizon comparable to Clinton's welfare reform? Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and implemented the now-hated "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military. As for immigration, is there a national Democrat alive who'd make comments like this, from Clinton's 1995 State of the Union address?

In true-believing leftist circles, Clinton's presidency (aside from judicial appointments) was still part of the long, dark night of national political conservativism, and his "moderate" Democratic coalition, embodied by the Democratic Leadership Council, is anathema to the modern Left. Even today, you can find think-pieces spitting venom at the DLC's efforts to move the Democratic party to the right. Part of the leftist ecstasy at Barack Obama's victory in 2008 (and his reelection in 2012) was the realization that the Democratic party had elected its first "genuine" progressive of the modern era.

In other words, after Jimmy Carter's failure, there were twelve straight years of Republican rule (featuring no less than 568 federal judicial appointments, including five justices of the Supreme Court), and arguably 28 years of moderate to center-right rule before the Left reclaimed the political throne.

What's the lesson here? Yes, nations change and political coalitions can shift and fracture, but also that failed presidencies have serious consequences. That's why "better than Hillary" simply isn't an argument. Trump has to be good. Trump has to be effective. Hillary won't be on the ballot in 2020, and she's not the alternative today. She is no longer the measuring stick, and any callback to her failures signals that the person making the argument is bereft of a meaningful Trump defense.

...and the Deep State is preventing even Donald from deviating.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Hurricane Center Calls Tropical Storm Don "Small" and "Not Particularly Well Organized" (Associated Press, 7/17/17)

The newest potentially dangerous swirl of hot air is a tropical storm in the Atlantic named Don. [...]

The hurricane center's forecast discussion calls the storm "small," ″not particularly well organized" and likely to dissipate in 72 hours. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Laura Ingraham is done 'pretending that the GOP will pass major legislation on its own' (The Week, 7/18/17)

Conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham conceded Tuesday that there's "no point pretending that the GOP will pass major legislation on its own." "Must either work [with] Dems or do nothing," Ingraham tweeted.

Given the health of economic, social and geopolitical conditions, nothing is a perfectly acceptable alternative.  But working on reform with Democrats would be sensible--it worked for Reagan and W.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM

LAUGHINGSTOCK (perversion alert):

Trump's Buddy Aras Agalarov in the Steele Dossier (Nancy LeTourneau, July 18, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Obviously the Trump's and the Agalarov's know each other and Goldstone is comfortable referring to them by their first names. That's because Aras, the father, was responsible for talking the Trump's into bringing the Miss Universe Pageant to Russia in 2013. Agalarov is one of those oligarchs Russia has become known for in recent years and has been referred to as "the Russian Trump." His son, Emin, is a would-be pop star.

What we see from this email is that Aras and Emin have been involved in the Russian government's support for Trump's candidacy. It was a meeting between the top Russian prosecutor and Aras that led to the meeting with the members of Trump's campaign team in order to provide them with documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton.

Now, take a look at what is stated in the Steele dossier.

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Trade advocates relieved at Trump's moderate turn on NAFTA (Jonathan Swan, 7/17/17, Axios)

Trade advocates in Washington who Donald Trump would've mocked as "globalists" on the campaign trail are breathing sighs of relief at his far more conventional turn on NAFTA. [...]

This document is a far cry from a couple of months ago when Trump was on the verge of withdrawing from NAFTA. (He had to be talked off a cliff by moderates in his administration, with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue famously convincing Trump by showing him a map of the "Trump country" states that would be hit hardest by the decision.)

McConnell Abandons Obamacare Repeal and Replace Effort (Joe Williams, July 18, 2017, Roll Call)

"Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," the Kentucky Republican said.

The success of his presidency--though the failure of his administration--is dependent on such abandonment of everything he ran on.
Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The key to the Trump-Russia scandal? Follow the data (Will Bunch, JULY 13, 2017, Philly News)

If there was a Deep Throat in the Trump-Russia scandal, this is what he'd be telling today's Woodwards and Bernsteins:

Follow the data.

With all the drama over this week's bombshell disclosures of Donald Trump Jr.'s emails and a previously unknown Trump Tower meeting between top campaign officials and a woman who'd been pitched to them as "a Russian government lawyer," there was another investigative report that arguably could have equal or greater significance in the ongoing probes of wrongdoing in the 2016 campaign. It said probers are now taking a much closer look at possible cooperation between Russia -- which had an operation to churn out "fake news" about Hillary Clinton during the fall campaign  -- and the Trump campaign's data operation.

The campaign's data effort was overseen by President Trump's son-in-law and arguably his closest adviser, Jared Kushner. Here's what the McClatchy News Service reported Wednesday:

Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign's digital operation - overseen by Jared Kushner - helped guide Russia's sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump's campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states - areas where Trump's digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.

The Washington Post also took a deep dive into the important of the "fake news" blitz in helping bring out Trump's surprise victory in November.

In October of last year, Bloomberg News reported that the campaign's digital arm, run by Brad Parscale, would target possible Hillary Clinton voters for an inverse pitch. The Trump campaign would not show them ads making the case for voting for Trump; instead, they showed videos that they hoped would dampen enthusiasm for Clinton -- and get the voters to stay home.

[A] young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he'd created of Clinton delivering the "super predator" line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: "Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators." The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook "dark posts" -- nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, "only the people we want to see it, see it."

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia back in May questioned how the Russian fake-news-spreaders knew which voters to contact. He said: "When you see some of the explanation and some of the fact that it appears that, for example, women and African Americans were targeted in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, where the Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play ... It was interesting that those states seem to be targeted where the bots -- where they could could create a lot of these fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, could in fact overwhelm the targeted search engines that would end up saying on your news feed, you suddenly got stuff that "Hillary Clinton's sick" or "Hillary Clinton's stealing money from the State Department."

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Trump Recertifies Iran Nuclear Deal, but Only Reluctantly (PETER BAKERJULY 17, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump agreed on Monday to certify again that Iran is complying with an international nuclear agreement that he has strongly criticized, but only after hours of arguing with his top national security advisers, briefly upending a planned announcement as a legal deadline loomed.

Reality is a tough task mistress.

July 17, 2017

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How to Deal With North Korea (MARK BOWDEN,  JULY/AUGUST 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]he U.S. has four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program.

1. Prevention: A crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang's arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military. It would end North Korea's standoff with the United States and South Korea, as well as the Kim dynasty, once and for all.

2. Turning the screws: A limited conventional military attack--or more likely a continuing series of such attacks--using aerial and naval assets, and possibly including narrowly targeted Special Forces operations. These would have to be punishing enough to significantly damage North Korea's capability--but small enough to avoid being perceived as the beginning of a preventive strike. The goal would be to leave Kim Jong Un in power, but force him to abandon his pursuit of nuclear ICBMs.

3. Decapitation: Removing Kim and his inner circle, most likely by assassination, and replacing the leadership with a more moderate regime willing to open North Korea to the rest of the world.

4. Acceptance: The hardest pill to swallow--acquiescing to Kim's developing the weapons he wants, while continuing efforts to contain his ambition.

Let's consider each option. All of them are bad.

1 | Prevention

An all-out attack on North Korea would succeed. The U.S. and South Korea are fully capable of defeating its military forces and toppling the Kim dynasty.

For sheer boldness and clarity, this is the option that would play best to President Trump's base. (Some campaign posters for Trump boasted, finally someone with balls.) But to work, a preventive strike would require the most massive U.S. military attack since the first Korean War--a commitment of troops and resources far greater than any seen by most Americans and Koreans alive today.

A nuclear strike on Pyongyang would not require any troops and rather limited resources.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Paralegal robot reviews patent documents (STEPHEN RYNKIEWICZ, 7/17/17, ABA Journal)

New software helps patent lawyers draft applications that are more likely to pass muster with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, as well as respond to official letters from examiners.

TurboPatent Corp. on June 28 launched artificial-intelligence products that compare patent claims with past applications to make predictions about patent eligibility.

White collar jobs are easily machined out.  The trades are hard.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


New U.S. Citizens Mistakenly Receive Congratulatory Letter From Obama (Conor Beck, July 17, 2017, Free Beacon)

Newly minted U.S. citizens customarily receive a letter from the current president of the United States welcoming them as Americans, but some new citizens recently received a letter from someone no longer in the White House: Barack Obama.

Donald does not welcome them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Don Jr.'s Russia Meeting Reveals the Power of the Global Magnitsky Act (Rob Berschinski and Adam Nagy, July 17, 2017, Just Security)

When Donald Trump Jr. sat down with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June, he hoped to receive information from the Russian government that would, in the words of an intermediary, "incriminate" his father's political opponent Hillary Clinton, according to his recently released emails.

We don't know exactly what was discussed, as details about the meeting are still emerging, and Don Jr. and the Trump administration have been less than forthcoming. We do know that in addition to Veselnitskaya, the president's son (plus his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort) met with Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer. For his part, Akhmetshin has told the Associated Press, "Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats."

But Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin had something else on their agendas too: A sales pitch for why Donald Trump, if elected, should gut a previously little-known 2012 law, called the "Magnitsky Act," which holds human rights violators accountable for their actions.

As investigators are no doubt examining, it's possible that the Russians raised lifting Magnitsky Act sanctions in a quid pro quo related to helping Trump win the election. We don't know yet. But putting the lurid details and explosive ramifications of the Don Jr. meeting aside, the episode points to the power the United States wields in standing up for human rights and the rule of law, and the lengths to which repressive governments will go to evade accountability. Given that Congress recently expanded the Magnitsky Act to apply globally, the import behind the law that brought the Kremlin to Trump Tower is one worth detailing. 

There's a reason Vlad worked so hard to elect Little Finger.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


A New Theory on Why We Haven't Found Aliens Yet (Robert Hart, 7/17/17, Slate)

Now, three researchers think they think they may have another potential answer to Fermi's question: Aliens do exist; they're just all asleep.

According to a new research paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, extraterrestrials are sleeping while they wait. In the paper, authors from Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute and the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Cirkovic argue that the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. The solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down, a process known as aestivating (like hibernation but sleeping until it's colder).

Understanding the new hypothesis first requires wrapping your head around the idea that the universe's most sophisticated life may elect to leave biology behind and live digitally. Having essentially uploaded their minds onto powerful computers, the civilizations choosing to do this could enhance their intellectual capacities or inhabit some of the harshest environments in the universe with ease.

The idea that life might transition toward a post-biological form of existence is gaining ground among experts. "It's not something that is necessarily unavoidable, but it is highly likely," Cirkovic told me in an interview.

So they're advanced enough to convert themselves into nothing more than bits of information, but unlike us primitives they don't communicate said?  Priceless.

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On 'Whataboutism' And Its Moral Hazards (BEN SHAPIRO, July 12, 2017, Daily Wire)

Moral Relativism. This is the dangerous form of "whataboutism," and also the most common. This is the actual message underlying Trump's tweet: Hillary got away with it, so why shouldn't I be able to get away with it? This ignores two facts: first, Hillary most certainly did not get away with it in the minds of the American public, which is why she's not in the White House; second, wrong is wrong. The Right now engages in a fantasy whereby the Left's dishonesty somehow justifies conservative dishonesty -- hey, if Hillary's corrupt, what's the big problem with the Trump campaign soliciting information from the Russian government?

In this case, whataboutism is itself dishonesty -- it's pretending to care about the sins of the Left in order to justify the sins of the Right. It actually throws into sharp relief the hypocrisy of the Right: we complained endlessly and justifiably about Loretta Lynch meeting secretly with Bill Clinton, but we're fine with Donald Trump Jr. meeting secretly with Natalia Veselnitskaya; we ripped President Obama's "flexibility" hot mic moment, but we're fine with President Trump saying that America has killed people just like Putin; we correctly targeted Clinton over Chinagate, but now we're happy to use Chinagate as an excuse to avoid talking about Russiagate. This isn't conservative. It's not even moral. Kindergarteners learn that "but he did it, too" isn't an excuse for bad behavior.

The Right often embraces this form of "whataboutism" because many people believe that fighting the Left requires tossing out morality of means in favor of morality of ends. Fight fire with fire! Since that was the animating principle behind much of the conservative support for the Trump campaign, this form of "whataboutism" has also become the most common form.

They're only defending Donald because they share his nativism in the first place.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Beauty and the Imagination : The imagination is a gift from God, given in His own image, to conceive of a Glorious Reality that does exist, that we cannot yet fully see... (Aaron Ames, 7/17/17, Imaginative Conservative)

The capacity to create and experience beauty is dependent upon this interaction between imagination and wonder. For, in seeing a beautiful sunset, the imagination allows the mind to transcend the individual physical realities of the sun, the landscape, the colors, etc., and to see it all as one interdependent whole, and so to wonder and delight in such beauty.

Or, consider listening to Beethoven's 5th, in which the imagination perceives the many instruments, all playing independent parts, as one complete whole, as if it were only one instrument, and so one sound. Yet, in truth, it is many instruments, and many sounds. And, so it was that surely Beethoven must have conceived the beauty of his symphony in the imagination before it was ever put to paper or played. And surely the harmonious beauty of the created world was in the Mind of the Grand Composer before it was composed:

Beauty... can be appreciated only by the mind. This would be impossible, if this 'idea' of beauty were not found in the Mind in a more perfect form.... This consideration has readily persuaded men of ability and learning... that the original "idea" is not to be found in this sphere (Augustine, City of God).

Open the door to the imagination, and you will open the door to Eternal Beauty.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), a Swiss theologian and priest, who upon completing his seven volume work entitled The Glory of the Lord, concluded that "beauty is the word that shall be our first." Indeed, in the opening story of Genesis, God creates harmony out of chaos, and the lush Garden of Eden can only be described as beautiful. Likewise, Revelation returns to the Garden, only it is even more beautiful than before. What is the connection, then, between the beauty we see in the world around us and the Transcendent Beauty of God?

What is it in a serene and picturesque landscape that seems to overwhelm us? What is it in a carefully composed melody that brings us a deep sense of joy? Skeptic Anthony O' Hear attempts to answer this question:

In experiencing beauty we feel ourselves to be in contact with a deeper reality than the everyday.... Art can seem revelatory, just as it does seem to answer to objective standards. It can seem to take us to the essence of reality, as if certain sensitivities in us... beat in tune with reality. It is as if our... appreciation of things external to us... are reflecting a deep and pre- conscious harmony between us and the world from which we spring (Anthony O'Hear, Beyond Evolution).

Many of us could hardly disagree with such an interpretation of the experience of the beautiful. Yet, while O'Hear is happy to admit the transcendence of such experience, he strangely concludes:

If this feeling is not simply an illusion... it may say something about the nature of reality itself, as responsive to human desires.... But how could we think of an aesthetic justification of experience... unless our aesthetic experience was sustained by a divine will revealed in the universe, and particularly in our experience of it as beautiful? It is precisely at this point that many or even most will draw back. Aesthetic experience seems to produce the harmony between us and the world that would have to point to a religious resolution were it not to be an illusion (Beyond Evolution).

In a similar way, Karl Barth relays the story of Baron Friedrich Grimm, a skeptic and agnostic, who after attending a young Mozart concerto exclaimed:

I have now for the first time in my life seen a miracle.... I truly fear that this child will turn my head if I hear him again; he has shown me how difficult it is to preserve one's sanity in the face of a miracle (Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Barth noted this peculiar quote from a skeptic because he himself assumed the experience of Mozart to usher him into an eternal, transcendent, beautiful world: "Whenever I listen to [Mozart], I am transported to the threshold of a world which in sunlight and storm, by day and by night, is a good and ordered world" (Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


U.S. Secret Service rejects suggestion it vetted Trump son's meeting (Arshad Mohammed and Howard Schneider, 7/16/17, Reuters) 

In an emailed response to questions about Sekulow's comments, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump's son and two senior campaign officials.

"Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time," the statement said.

According to emails released by Trump Jr. last week, he eagerly agreed to meet Veselnitskaya, who he was told was a Russian government lawyer. Veselnitskaya has said she is a private lawyer and denies having Kremlin ties.

On Friday, NBC News reported that a lobbyist who was once a Soviet counter-intelligence officer participated in the meeting, which was also attended by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The meeting appears to be the most tangible evidence of a connection between Trump's election campaign and Russia, a subject that has prompted investigations by congressional committees and a federal special counsel.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Saudi Arabia Pushes for Wind Energy Project (Shuja Al-Baqmi, 7/17/17, Asharq Al-Awasat)

Energy and industry ministry offices released a statement on receiving bids for the "Dumat al-Jandal" energy project in Al-Jawf province, expected to let out an average of 400 megawatts (MW) of electricity produced by wind turbines.

Requests to qualify for the 400 MW wind project in the north of the kingdom will close on Aug. 10, and proposals will be received from Aug. 29. Bidding closes in January next year, the ministry's Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) said.

Saudi Arabia plans to develop 30 solar and wind projects over the next 10 years as part of a $50 billion program to boost power generation and cut its oil consumption. The country will produce 10 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2023, Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said in April.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Understanding Iranian threat perceptions : Rather than perpetuating mantras about Iranian expansionism, the United States and its regional allies should take a closer look at the origins of Iranian threat perceptions.
(Seyed Hossein Mousavian, July 14, 2017, Al Monitor)

Broadly speaking, six factors have shaped Iran's threat perceptions since 1979.

First are the challenges of the 1980s, namely the Iran-Iraq War and separatist rebellions in Iran's Kurdistan and Khuzestan provinces, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. The United States and allied Persian Gulf littoral states played a decisive role in exacerbating these crises, including by buttressing separatists and providing Saddam Hussein with every means of support, including ballistic missiles and chemical weapons, which were used to deadly effect. Toward the end of the war, the United States also directly attacked Iranian oil platforms and even shot down an Iranian civilian airliner.

Second, Iran has faced a military buildup on its borders since the Islamic Revolution. Iran is not only ringed by US military bases, but US-made weapons regularly flow into the region -- especially the Persian Gulf. Under Barack Obama, the United States sold Saudi Arabia roughly $115 billion worth of weapons, which is more than any previous administration. Donald Trump is poised to outdo his predecessor. Yet Iran spends one-fifth of what Saudi Arabia spends on defense -- despite having twice the population. Even the United Arab Emirates, with a native population of 1.4 million, has double the military spending of Iran.

The third factor is the unparalleled sanctions Iran has been subject to since 1979. Even as Iran is carefully abiding by the historic July 2015 nuclear deal, Congress is pushing through a set of sanctions. Such sanctions have long been promoted by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who wish to cripple Iran's economy.

Fourth comes covert warfare in the form of cyberattacks, assassinations and the propping up of terrorist organizations like the notorious Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Such tactics are set to be stepped up with the recent creation of a special CIA unit focused on Iran under the leadership of the ultra-aggressive Michael D'Andrea. Indeed, every US administration has since 1979 pursued an "all options on the table" policy against Iran.

The fifth factor involves Saudi Arabia's confrontational stance toward the Islamic Republic while apparently establishing a strategic relationship with Israel. 

July 16, 2017

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Shells hit Russian embassy compound in Syria (Al Jazeera, 7/16/17)

Syrian state media say shells have hit the Russian embassy in Damascus causing material damage.

State news agency SANA said two shells were fired at the Russian embassy on Sunday, one hitting the compound while the other fell nearby.

Syrian rebels in the suburbs of the capital have previously struck the Russian embassy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


Donald's Pravda: Trump and his apologists spookily echo Vladimir Putin (GARRY KASPAROV  JUL 16, 2017, NY Daily News)

For autocrats, angry denial is the first phase of responding to accurate charges against them. "No! Never! A complete fabrication!"

As evidence accumulates, this shifts to feigning ignorance and claiming misunderstanding, along with attempts to distract by slandering the accusers, blaming others for similar sins and discrediting the concept of knowable truth. "I didn't know it was wrong! The media is out to get me! Others have done worse! Who knows what really happened?"

When even this proves insufficient, it's time for the final step, confession. Not the kind that is said to be good for the soul, but the aggressive, defiant boasting of someone who is sure that they won't be punished in this life or the next for the crime they denied for so long. "I did it, but so what? There's nothing wrong with it! What are you going to do about it?"

After many months of denials, lies and distractions in an effort to dismiss the mounting evidence that the Trump campaign knowingly worked with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election, the Trump train is approaching the final station. What else is left after it was revealed last week that Donald Trump Jr. eagerly took a meeting on June 9, 2016, to receive supposedly damaging material about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government?

Last week, as the New York Times prepared to publish an exposé on the meeting, Trump Jr. released excerpts of an email chain in a bizarre effort to claim transparency. It was as if a robber was caught red-handed in the jewelry store, surrounded by police, and then asked for leniency for turning himself in.

Among other things, the emails showed that top Trump aides Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner also participated in the meeting and knew about its scurrilous content in advance. Instead of refusing the meeting or contacting the FBI, they went ahead with it. It's almost as if such an arrangement did not come as a surprise.

As usual, when news from the Trump-Russia front looks bad, it soon turns out to be even worse. [...]

The pundits of Fox News either defend Trump's latest outrages or, since many are indefensible, simply ignore them in favor of running more attacks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- neither of whom, it should be pointed out, is the President of the United States.

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ASSUME SUPPORT (self-reference alert):

A nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown (Jeff Jacoby, 7/16/17, The Boston Globe)

"I should tell you up front that I'm not a Greenpeace fan," I said. "I'll be very happy to listen, but just to be honest with you -- you're not going to make a sale at this address."

She gave it her best shot.

"I know not everybody agrees with how Greenpeace works," she said [I'm paraphrasing from memory], "but it's more important than ever to protect the environment and the oceans and the forests, right? Especially now that Trump is president! By pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord, and what he's trying to do on immigration, and giving more power to corporations -- I'm sure you would agree that with Trump in power, things are moving in the wrong direction, wouldn't you?"

She was speaking a little too quickly. I had the sense that she was trying to hit all her talking points before I turned her down. [...]

Suddenly, to my astonishment, she was in tears.

"I'm so sorry," she said, half-sobbing, half-panting. "I'm so sorry. I don't know why I'm crying. It's just really hard, and everything is so concerning, and -- "

"Hey, shhh, that's OK," I said, coaxing her into the living room. "Sit down for a few minutes. Take a deep breath; clear your head." The tears kept coming. I hurried to the kitchen for a box of tissues. When I returned to the living room, she was still weeping.

"I don't know why I can't stop," she said. "This is so unprofessional. I think I must be dehydrated."

I brought her some cold water. My wife came to sit with us. We asked the young woman her name and introduced ourselves. As she wiped her eyes and sipped her water, she told us that she had only arrived in Boston a few days earlier and was staying at an Airbnb, having been flown in by Greenpeace from her home on the West Coast. She believes in what she is doing, but to keep her job, she has to meet a quota -- so-and-so many donations per month. Door-to-door canvassing is easier with a partner, but she is alone, and so many people are unpleasant.

"I can't believe I'm having a breakdown in your living room," she said. "But I'm really upset about what's happening. I worry about what's going to happen to people I care about." It gnaws at her to see how angry so many people are these days. She wasn't raised to hate people whose politics were different from hers, she told us. At the same time, she's frightened for the future -- her future, and her friends', and the planet's.

As a former canvasser, the folks like Mr. Jacoby were always way better to deal with than those with the PC signs on the lawn.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


The Next Chapter in Uzbekistan's Opening (Catherine Putz, July 06, 2017, The Diplomat)

A dozen years later, the BBC appears closer than ever to returning to Uzbekistan. BBC Uzbek, the BBC's Uzbek-language service, has opened advertisements for a multimedia journalist to be based in Tashkent. "The BBC is on the verge of restarting its operations in Uzbekistan after a pause," an announcement read.

"While partial readmission of the BBC marks tentative progress, Uzbekistan still has a long way to go and many other journalists continue to be denied permission to work there," EurasiaNet wrote, noting that one of its correspondents had been denied temporary accreditation earlier in 2017 "without any explicit explanation."

A related development -- the apparent willingness on Tashkent's part to accept a Human Rights Watch delegation -- also marks tentative progress. [...]delegation be allowed to visit. Komilov said the request would be granted. He did, however, also reportedly say that the delegation would need to "respect our customs and traditions" and pushed back against the idea of "universal values."

In a statement to Voice of America, Steve Swerdlow, a longtime researcher on Central Asia for HRW, said, "Human Rights Watch values the government's readiness to take steps to engage with our organization."

Following the death of Uzbekistan's first, and long-serving, President Islam Karimov last fall, new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has made definitive efforts to reengage with the region and the world. As we've covered, this started with a good neighbor initiative and continued by courting international organizations, like the EBRD, which had been pushed away by Karimov. In May, Tashkent welcomed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. What I wrote in May remains true: "The opening continues. While many will remain cautious in their optimism, optimism is not something many regional observers would have used in the same sentence as Uzbekistan a year ago."

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Trump approval hits new record low (Axios, 7/16/17)

An ABC News/Washington Post poll gives Trump the lowest six-month approval rating of any president in polls dating back 70 years. He has 36% approval, down 6 points from his 100-day mark, itself a low. The previous six-month low was Gerald Ford, at 39% in February 1975.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


TRUMP COWER : Donald Trump begs Theresa May to fix a 'warm welcome' for his state visit - and says he won't set a date for it until he knows he's going to get 'a better reception' (David Wooding, 15th July 2017, The Sun)

A transcript of the chat, seen by senior diplomats, reveals his touchiness. Mr Trump says: "I haven't had great coverage out there lately, Theresa."

She replies awkwardly: "Well, you know what the British press are like."

He replies: "I still want to come, but I'm in no rush.

"So, if you can fix it for me, it would make things a lot easier.

"When I know I'm going to get a better reception, I'll come and not before."

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'Dirt Is Good': Why Kids Need Exposure To Germs (Lulu Garcia-Navarro, 7/16/17, NPR Weekend Edition)

As a new parent, Jack Gilbert got a lot of different advice on how to properly look after his child: when to give him antibiotics or how often he should sterilize his pacifier, for example.

After the birth of his second child, Gilbert, a scientist who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago, decided to find out what's actually known about the risks involved when modern-day children come in contact with germs.

"It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial," Gilbert says. "So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor -- if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy's mouth, it's actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system's going to become stronger because of it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Incoherent Low-Income Aid Programs Are Fueling Overpayments and Fraud (Eric Pianin,   July 16, 2017, Fiscal Times)

[A] new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Friday blames part of the problem on the unduly complicated and confusing rules of these six programs that have baffled applicants and added enormously to the administrative burden of federal and state agencies.

The scathing report points to a hodge-podge of eligibility rules, definitions, allowable deductions and conflicting federal and state jurisdictions that render the network of cash and non-cash assistance programs a nightmare to manage.

"The numerous financial and nonfinancial eligibility rules for federal low-income programs can confuse applicants and increase program administration challenges," according to the GAO report, which was commissioned by Senate Budget Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY).

"For applicants, these rules have sometimes made it difficult and burdensome to navigate the application process for some programs," the report said. "For program staff, separate rules for each program mean that staff has to keep track of and apply different rules when determining eligibility."

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


How We Read the Bible Rightly and Get It Wrong : Let's show mercy to those who 'misinterpret' Jeremiah 29:11 and other favorite verses. (JONATHAN T. PENNINGTON| JULY 12, 2017, Christianity Today)

On the refrigerator, holding up her unrealistic diet plan, is a magnet with a nice flowing script of Jeremiah 29:11--"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." It is obvious that this verse and this diet plan are organically related in her mind. She is taking this verse to heart every day as a promise from God for her success in shedding a few pounds.

How will you respond? Your exegetically and theologically trained mind immediately populates a list of problems with her use of this verse: this is a horrible translation of the Bible; this verse is taken out of context; this is a word spoken to the nation of Israel in the Old Covenant and therefore can't apply to her; God doesn't care about her diet, and on and on. Thankfully, you have enough sense and wisdom not to attack or mock her and her refrigerator magnet, but in your quiet moments later you face a couple of crucial questions. These questions are ours as well when we read Scripture and when we read and hear interpretations of Scripture. First, what is wrong with her interpretation/reading/application of this verse? And second, should you say anything to her about it?

What is wrong with this use of Jeremiah 29:11? In the first instance, we are right to emphasize that what a text or verse means is best approached in its own literary and theological context. Her ignorance of the overall story of the Bible and the fact that this verse is from a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the elders and priests of Jerusalem who were then in exile in Babylon is a regrettable oversight. This knowledge would deepen and contextualize the significance of these lines. We may also register some concern that not every word to the nation of Israel necessarily has a direct application to the individual Christian. Other examples come to mind including details of the Mosaic law concerning diet and clothing or promises of physical blessing for obedience to Torah.

However, we must also ask what might be good about her reading. And herein lies much that we might initially overlook. Even though her reading and application of this verse may not be very sophisticated or theologically astute, I would suggest that ultimately what it possesses is greater than this deficiency. At one level her reading is in fact more theologically perceptive than our systematized view might be. That is, in a very real sense a promise like Jeremiah 29:11 does apply to the individual who is in Christ (in whom "all the promises of God are Yes and Amen"; 2 Cor. 1:20). Jeremiah's words are God's words; they reveal God's heart and disposition toward his people, who are now defined no longer ethnically but based on faith response in Jesus--that is, all Christians. To read Jeremiah Christianly is to receive this as God's promise to us, albeit in light of the full picture of Scripture in which the church is now in a time of sojourning exile awaiting the return of the Son.

Moreover, what is good--even glorious--about her reading of Jeremiah 29:11 as applied to her diet is that she has the right posture toward God and Holy Scripture as she reads. That is, she is going to the Bible looking for God to speak and guide and direct her life very personally. She expects the living God to speak to her, and she is willing to listen. She has chosen the better part. Certainly we might want her to grow in her theological knowledge and interpretive skills, but not at the expense of this simple God-ward faith and posture.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


In 'Spider-Man: Homecoming,' Greatness Starts with Becoming a Servant : Peter Parker has finally entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe--but he can't join the Avengers until he practices the heroic discipline of humility. (JULY 14, 2017, Christianity Today)

Spider-Man made his debut in 2016's hero-packed Captain America: Civil War, in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) recruited Peter to join Team Iron Man for a battle against Captain America and a giant-sized Ant-Man. It's easy to imagine that in Peter's eyes, this was like the best and most "spiritual"-feeling summer camp ever. But as Homecoming begins, Tony drops Peter back into his old "unspiritual" life with only a new suit to help with part-time heroics. It's nothing compared to becoming a full-time hero with the Avengers: Spider-Man is stuck in the dull web of home and school, with friends and a pretty girl, but also tests and bullies.

Director Jon Watts's team has fun with Peter's frustration but never laughs at him. Nor does the story cast Iron Man and his amazing friends as villains--even when Tony won't answer Peter's calls. And when Peter jailbreaks his own suit's tech, takes a battle into his hands, and causes a crisis, Tony arrives and steps into a new armored form: Iron Patriarch Mark I.

"I need you to be better," Tony lectures. "I'm taking back the suit."

"I'm nothing without the suit!" Peter pleads.

Tony counters: "If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it."

A lesser movie would have taken Peter's side when he demands to be taken seriously and not treated like a kid. But Tony, despite his own immaturity and other flaws, knows this world better. He rightfully lectures and even punishes the well-meaning upstart hero.

In a way, so does the film's villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), leader of a band of alien tech scavengers. His arrogant response to a similar authority's correction gives the story its negative example. Toomes also personally challenges Peter's existence--and not just because he can hook into a hovercraft/jetpack and soar high like a vulture, while Peter needs buildings he can stick to. Toomes is aggressive, world-wise, and blue-collar philosophical. In one of my favorite Marvel villain scenes, he challenges Peter: Why can't Peter see that Toomes is only doing what's right to protect his people? After all, those rich heroes like Tony don't know how the real world works. They only care for themselves.

Peter's humble, intentional response, both to Tony's well-meant lessons and Toomes's villainous challenges, elevate the film even while it draws us to Peter's side. He's not a Christ-like hero; instead, he's more like us--a Christian-like hero. Like many young Christians, he is given great gifts, cast into a world of established heroes and villains, and burdened to change this world--the same world that keeps interrupting him with jerk schoolmates, barking dogs, Aunt May's probing questions, and school detention.

By the end, Peter finds that he doesn't need to reach a higher numerical score, attain special knowledge, or hit physical training goals to join the Avengers; he simply needs to mature. Through repeated discipline and self-sacrifice, he needs to become a better person. And by defining the goal so vaguely, Tony--and the story itself--incidentally point Peter and his fans in the same direction as biblical servanthood.

Note that the photo accompanying the text depicts the obligatory crucifix scene....

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


It's Official: Fewer Persecuted Christians Find Refuge in America Under Trump (SARAH EEKHOFF ZYLSTRA JULY 12, 2017, Christianity Today)

Today, resettlement agencies hit Trump's new ceiling of 50,000 refugees, three months before the end of the federal government's fiscal year on September 30. And as CT predicted, persecuted Christians fell far short of last year's intake.

"At this point, World Relief expects that the only additional arriving cases after today will be individuals who have a close family member already in the US," Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for the National Association of Evangelicals' humanitarian arm, told CT. ("Close family" means a parent, parent-in-law, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son- or daughter-in-law, or sibling, according to State Department guidelines.)

A total of 22,637 Christians have been resettled in the US in fiscal 2017, compared to 36,822 in fiscal 2016, according to State Department data. [...]

The refugees were front-loaded this year, since agencies were operating for the first three months on President Barack Obama's previous target of 110,000 resettlements.

As a result, more than 30,000 were already admitted before Trump's January 27 executive order lowering the limit and temporarily banning refugees and travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


The "God of the Gaps" is Growing (Jonathan Witt, 7/15/17, Imaginative Conservative)

 "Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real," said Nobel Laureate Charles Townes. "This is a very special universe: it's remarkable that it came out just this way."

And this from astrophysicist and Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias: "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say 'supernatural') plan." [...]

Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin frankly admits [...]. "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, ... in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism," he writes. He continues:

"It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."
The most basic of those unsubstantiated stories is the myth of an ever-shrinking god of the gaps. The myth ignores major developments in origin-of-life studies, physics, and astronomy. It ignores the reality that in significant areas, the evidence for intelligent design is not shrinking, but growing.

The renowned NASA astronomer and agnostic Robert Jastrow understood as much. He wrote that for the scientist like himself, "the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

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The Southern Slave Economy Was Anti-Capitalistic (Luis Pablo de la Horra, July 15, 2017, FEE)

In a nutshell, Fogel and Engerman (F&E) [Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Slavery] concluded that:

i) slavery was economically profitable;

ii) slave labor was more efficient than free labor;

iii) planters behaved as modern entrepreneurs in a capitalist economy; and

iv) the South was not as underdeveloped as it had been suggested in comparison with the North.

In short, F&E suggested that the Southern economy was mostly capitalistic despite being largely based on slave labor. To what extent are these conclusions accurate? [...]

Time on the Cross depicts slaveholders as modern-day entrepreneurs whose investments in the business of slavery were strictly motivated by market considerations. According to this view, southerners chose to allocate their capital in the slavery business after consciously analyzing the market in search of profit opportunities. Investing in slaves was not just a tradition or a way to continue with the family business but a rational business choice made by talented businessmen. Planters did not take advantage of investment opportunities due to their narrow, reactionary mentality.

It should be conceded that slaveowners were forced to manage their plantations as efficiently as possible due to competition in international agricultural markets. Yet the idealized view of slaveholders as modern entrepreneurs conveyed by F&E is deeply misleading, if not fictitious.

Planters did not take advantage of many valuable investment opportunities due to their narrow, reactionary mentality. As pointed out by economic historians Fred Bateman and Thomas Weiss, slaveholders failed to invest capital in industry even though "profits from southern manufacturing were high enough to have made investment in industry a rational choice by planters".

What prevented planters from allocating part of their profits in industrial activities? Essentially, two reasons: first, their commitment to an intensively conservative ideology based on values like hierarchy, tradition, and honor; second, their deep hatred towards the values represented by liberal democracy and capitalism, which were thought to jeopardize the traditional Southern way of life.

The Luddites and the First Contest of Man Versus Machine : Rapid technological change in 18th- and 19th-century England led to violent resistance...by Methodists. (DAVID PARRISH, Christian History)

As mechanisation increased, groups of young men began to attack factories at night and destroy the machines. They used the name of a fictional local hero, Ned Ludd, and became known as "The Luddites."

In 1812 these attacks took a more dangerous turn. William Cartwright, owner of Rawfolds Mill in Yorkshire, introduced new machinery that would weave and finish the wool cloth more cheaply than using the skills of the manual workforce.

One of his workmen, George Mellor, had served in the military, was better educated than many workers, and had natural gifts of leadership. Using his contacts with the local men at work and in the chapel, he began gathering a group of men and taking them into the hills to train and drill in what are now called insurgency tactics. The chapel meetings on Sunday and the Methodist Society mid-week meeting provided a cover for their clandestine gatherings.

William Cartwright heard of what was going on and wrote to Spencer Perceval, the prime minister, and Richard Ryder, the home secretary, and asked for help from the military. Perceval, an Anglican from the evangelical tradition, was sympathetic to reform but was a member of the aristocratic ruling elite and fearful of any kind of revolutionary movement.

On Perceval's instruction, Ryder appointed General Peregrine Maitland, an experienced army commander, to hunt down the Luddites. Some weeks later, Mellor and his men attacked the Rawfolds Mill with muskets, under the cover of darkness. As they crossed Hartshead Moor, Anglican curate Patrick Brontë spotted the raiding party, but though he knew who they were, he took no action. Perhaps his own working class origins made him sympathetic to the men. His daughter, novelist Charlotte Brontë, later recounted how their father often told them the story.

Upon reaching the mill, Mellor and his men found Cartwright had been tipped off and the mill was heavily defended. Even under heavy gunfire, some of the Luddites reached the mill door but could not break in. Mellor and the remaining men fled, leaving two of their men dying on the open ground. These casualties were taken inside and interrogated by the militia, but neither of them gave anything away.

George Mellor went into hiding, deciding to attack and kill another mill owner, William Horsfall, as a warning to other owners not to install machinery. Horsfall hated the Luddites and was quoted as saying he would ride up to his saddle in Luddite blood. One night Mellor and his accomplices laid in wait in a wood alongside the road, armed with long barrel muskets. As Horsfall rode by, they shot and fatally wounded him. Unfortunately for Mellor, Horsfall's neighbor William Parr was on the road just yards behind and saw the men. He helped Horsfall to the safety of a nearby inn, but Horsfall was too badly injured to be saved. Parr was later able to identify Mellor as one of those who attacked Horsfall.

General Maitland began the hunt for Mellor using small groups of troops to check every house and inn. They questioned the Methodist preachers, but the ministers gave nothing away about the actions of the Luddites, even though some were in their congregations. Maitland offered bribes and rewards, and Mellor was eventually betrayed, leading to the arrest of Mellor and the three men who had helped in the killing of Horsfall and 14 others accused of the attack on Rawfolds Mill.

Maitland made sure the trial in York was rigged against them. He arranged for the trial judge to be one who was known for harsh sentences given to working people for offenses like stealing and armed attack. The jury was similarly biased with over half of them drawn from the gentry and business owners.

To make matters worse, the lawyer the men had chosen to represent them was incompetent and failed to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses. The men were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On a cold day in January 1813, the men were hanged in groups. The gallows were built high off the ground so that the public could see the men's last breaths. [...]

What made devout Christians turn to violence so uncharacteristic of their faith? General Maitland himself was plagued by this question and set out to conduct a survey of the living conditions of the poor. He found that wars with America and France were causing shortages which doubled the price of some foodstuffs. For the poor, where food was around 40 percent of their living costs, these shortages hit much harder than on the landed rich. Mechanization was rapidly destroying skilled jobs and those working in the new factories were paid starvation wages. Often whole families, including children as young as 10, had to find work in order to survive. However, the brutality of the Luddites' executions discouraged further wrecking of machines. It also provoked liberally minded politicians to seek to legislate to improve the conditions of the workers.

Within two years, the wars with America and France came to an end, trade in cotton and wool goods boomed, and wages rose. This created more jobs in the factories, and living standards improved. 

July 15, 2017

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Jared Kushner Finds Himself In Crosshairs As Russia Scandal Widens -- And He Pushes Hard Line (Josh Nathan-KazisJuly 15, 2017, The Forward)

"Jared Kusher was mostly a private citizen before going into government," [Aaron Keyak, a Democratic Jewish consultant and managing director at Bluelight Strategies] said. "We knew less about him."

Today, we know plenty.

We know, for instance, that he has been forced to re-file his federal application for security clearance three times, according to CBS, adding more than 100 names of foreign contacts.

We also know that, according to McClatchy, investigators are looking at the Trump campaign digital operation that Kushner ran, and whether it offered assistance to Russian operatives.

Kushner also attended the mysterious Trump Tower meeting last summer attended by Donald Trump Jr., former campaign chair Paul Manafort, a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, and a Russian-American lobbyist who is a former Russian counterintelligence officer.

Aside from being targeted by the flurry of revelations, Kushner has adopted an increasingly aggressive stance against President Trump's perceived enemies. That puts more of a bullseye on him, analysts say.

According to Politico, he is pushing for a "a more robust effort from the [White House] communications team" in defense of the Trump Tower meeting. That follows on his succesful advocacy for the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Meanwhile, according to the Wall Street Journal, a tiny startup funded by Kushner's brother was invited to a White House roundtable with some of the biggest tech companies in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Trump Campaign Paid Don Jr.'s Lawyer $50,000 Two Weeks Before Email Scandal (LACHLAN MARKAY, 07.15.17, Daily Beast)

About two weeks before the release of emails showing Donald Trump Jr. seeking opposition research from attorneys representing the Russian government, his father's reelection campaign began paying the law firm now representing Trump Jr. in the ensuing political and legal fallout.

A new filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that President Trump's reelection campaign paid $50,000 to the law offices of Alan Futerfas on June 26. That was around the time, Yahoo News reports, that the president's legal team learned of a June 2016 email exchange in which Trump Jr., through an associate, solicited damaging information about 2016 election rival Hillary Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


How They Justify Collusion : The excuses for the Don Jr. meeting are even more damning than the meeting itself. (William Saletan, 7/15/17, Slate)

[T]rump, his aides, and their allies in the right-wing media have presented a flurry of excuses. The excuses are even more damning than the emails. They expose the nihilism of the Trump family and its allies. Here's the list.

1. Nothing happened. This is Trump Sr.'s primary defense. "Nothing came of the meeting," he says. Don Jr., White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow make the same case. [...]

2. Russia wasn't a big story at the time. Trump says the meeting "was before Russia fever." Don Jr. and other surrogates float the same excuse. But a conscientious American citizen doesn't need headlines or polls to warn him that it's wrong to meet with a "Russian government attorney" bringing "sensitive information [as] part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." When Trump and his allies say Russian interference wasn't a big story back then, what they're really conveying is that they lack an internal sense of fidelity to the United States. They saw Hillary Clinton, not Vladimir Putin, as their adversary.

3. Trump's aides didn't notice what was written or said. Goldstone's emails explicitly described Veselnitskaya's links to the Russian government. They were forwarded to Kushner and Manafort with the header: "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential." But according to Laura Ingraham, who regularly appears on Fox News to audition as Trump's next press secretary, Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort probably didn't read the emails, even though they showed up at the meeting time specified therein. "These guys are getting thousands of emails," Ingraham argues. "I don't know how much they read."

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting a Democratic plot? Pro-Trump media wants you to think so (Oliver Darcy, 7/14/17, CNNMoney)

"All that right-wing media needs to do is just throw out some things that appear to be substantive that have some stray facts that the cult will hang on to, and the cult will do everything else themselves," John Ziegler, a conservative media columnist and former talk radio host, told CNN. "They don't need a full theory. No one ever provides a narrative that explains all this. It's just poking holes and pretending the whole story is fake news. It's a classic trick really. It's a shame that's what the right-wing media has been reduced to."

This week's theory was given its first sparks of life on Monday, when Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump's outside counsel, pointed to Veselnitskaya's loose ties to the firm that produced the infamous Russia dossier -- that firm had worked for a law firm which represented a company for which Veslnitskaya worked -- and suggested they were relevant to discussions of Trump Jr.'s meeting with her.

Soon after, Trump supporters discovered and began to circulate a photo on Twitter of Vesenlitskaya with Michael McFaul, who was US Ambassador to Russia under President Obama. The image was picked up by the Gateway Pundit, a far-right website, which characterized the picture as evidence of Veselnitskaya "hanging out with Obama officials just days after her meeting with Donald Trump Jr." Hours later, far-right Internet personality Mike Cernovich posted a video on Twitter in which he used the photo, in part, to ask whether Veselnitskaya was a "Democratic plant" who was sent to "wire tap Trump Tower." That video had been retweeted more than 15,000 times as of Friday afternoon.

But the story really grew legs when it landed on the Drudge Report, which often acts as the de-facto assignment editor for right-leaning media. The website linked to the Gateway Pundit's post, giving it the headline, "PICTURED WITH OBAMA AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA."

On Wednesday, conservative talk radio king Rush Limbaugh told his national audience that he believed Veselnitskaya was part of a "setup" targeting Trump. Fox News host Sean Hannity also questioned on his radio show why Veselnitskaya was seen pictured with McFaul, telling his audience there was a picture of the two "in existence," as if it was damning evidence.

But the truth, which those discussing the photo typically either played down or ignored altogether, was more innocent. The photo of McFaul and Veselnitskaya did not show the two "hanging out" with each other -- it's of a Congressional hearing, open to the public, at which McFaul testified. Veselnitskaya was sitting in the audience, in the row behind McFaul. McFaul told CNN this week that he had no control over who attended or where they were seated, that he had never met with Veselnitskaya and that he only learned her name this week.

"It's ridiculous," McFaul said. "It's silly. And I think it shows the desperation in a world where facts don't matter. That's the part that bothers me as an academic and American. Basic facts don't seem to matter in these debates."

The photo of the hearing was not the only image cited as supposed evidence as the theory grew in popularity. Trump supporters online also pointed to a photo Veselnitskaya posted to Facebook, of Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican who's been critical of Trump, with a Russian opposition lawyer, claiming it was proof she'd been inside McCain's office.

That was not the case. In a press release warning of "fake news," McCain said the assertion was false and that Veselnitskaya "did not attend that meeting." She had only for whatever reason posted the image of him and the lawyer to her Facebook page, McCain said.

But the theory got its biggest boost Wednesday night, with a story published by The Hill. The Hill reported that Veselnitskaya got into the U.S. only because the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch let her in after she'd been previously denied a travel visa. The report, which was co-written by John Solomon -- a journalist fresh off stints in conservative-leaning media, who has recently written a number of articles favorable to the narratives of Trump supporters -- said in its second paragraph that "it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa." It was only in its 16th paragraph that the article explained why she had been let in: to help a company owned by a client defend itself in federal court.

The funniest part is since all this nonsense gets endlessly churned in their bubble they think it's real.
Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Self-debunking Keystone Cops Scenario (Mike Allen, 7/15/17, Axios)

A seasoned Republican operative told me that when you're working on a campaign and you get an email that says something like "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," the response is obvious

"I'd stop reading right there," the operative said. "I'd print it out and walk it over to the counsel's office."

*That's why so many Republicans downtown and on Capitol Hill have tried to avert their gaze from "the Russia stuff" by relying on the Keystone Cops Scenario -- that this was all incompetence and inexperience: These guys just didn't know what they were doing, and were acting the way they do in business.

*But the Keystone Cops Scenario fell apart yesterday. Don Jr. had told Fox's Sean Hannity on Tuesday, regarding the Russia meeting at Trump Tower: "This is everything. This is everything."

*But it wasn't. As AP and others reported yesterday: "A prominent Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer said he was at [the] meeting between a Russian lawyer and ... Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman last year."

Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist, "said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort ... He said there were others in the room but he didn't know them."

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Q&A It's hard to believe but a condo could be lost to squatters (Donie Vanitzian, 7/15/17, LA Times)

Question: About 17 years ago I inherited my father's mortgage-free town house in Southern California. I made the five-hour round-trip drive from my home to the townhouse to pick up mail and pay the leftover bills. As the mail and bills eventually stopped there was no need for me to continue making the long drive. For over 13 years I intentionally kept the unit vacant mainly because I didn't want to deal with tenants. I never received any invoices from the homeowner association saying I owed anything.

Then last week I visited my unit but the locks were changed, and when I peeked through a window it looked occupied! The homeowner association's manager said she thought the occupants were the new owners because they had been living there, paying the homeowner association fees, attending board meetings and voting. I asked if the association foreclosed on my unit and was told "No" but that the manager received a title change a few years ago.

My neighbors didn't even bother to tell me or keep me apprised that squatters had taken over my property. I've since hired an attorney but shouldn't someone have told me this?

Answer: Squatting is a significant issue in California, where the law is relatively generous to people who live in homes they do not legally own. There were numerous reports of squatters taking over unoccupied, single-family homes in subdivisions hit hard by last decade's housing bust. There also have been reports of squatting in upscale coastal communities, so it's not entirely surprising that a condo unit you left vacant for years was taken over by squatters.

Though it may seem odd that squatters have any rights to property you bought or inherited, the practice dates back hundreds of years in England, where unused or abandoned property was taken over by people willing to work it.

As an owner, the onus is on you, not your neighbors, to maintain and take care of your property.

If you treat property like you own it you do. If you treat it like you don't you don't.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Circus Smirkus Coming to Hanover (David Corriveau, 7/15/17, Valley News)

Watching the young acrobats and jugglers of Circus Smirkus perform last summer, Patrick Chikoloma dared to dream about someday returning to the United States to join the troupe.

At the same time, the then-17-year-old from a slum in the Zambian capital of Lusaka couldn't help questioning his qualifications to do so.

"It was a great show, a wonderful show," Chikoloma remembered on Tuesday night, during a telephone conversation after the company's second show of the day in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Last summer's tour was on the theme of "The Invention of Flight" and Chikoloma was struck by the talent on display. "There was one little girl in the aerial act who was just amazing. It really inspired me.

"But I thought I wasn't good enough to be in Circus Smirkus."

As it turned out, he was alone in that view. Upper Valley residents who hosted Chikoloma and his fellow members of the Lusaka-based Circus Zambia last summer (see www.vnews.com/Circus-Zambia-Tours-Valley-3528881), encouraged him to audition for Circus Smirkus. He is now the first resident of Africa in the circus' cast, both performing and working behind the scenes on its 30th Big Top Tour, which arrives in Hanover on Thursday and Friday to perform on the theme of "Midnight at the Museum."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM

3 Ingredient No Bake Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Demeter, 4/10/17, Beaming Baker


1 cup natural, unsalted creamy peanut butter

½ cup pure maple syrup

2 cups gluten free rolled oats


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. Set aside.

In a medium, microwave-safe bowl (large enough to add oats later), add peanut butter and maple syrup. Whisk together until well mixed.

Heat in 20-second increments in the microwave until warm and fragrant, and the mixture begins to dry out (about 4-7 rounds). Whisk in between heating increments. *Stovetop instructions in Notes.

Add oats to the peanut butter mixture. Stir and fold until thoroughly combined.

Using a 2-tablespoon cookie scoop**, scoop and drop balls of cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheet, evenly spaced apart. Using a fork, flatten cookies to desired thickness.

Chill in the freezer for 15-25 mins, until firm and completely cooled. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


The Savvy Rube : Does Ring Lardner's shtick stand the test of time? (ANDREW FERGUSON, 7/24/17, Weekly Standard)

Writing up baseball games, he was of course surrounded by professional ballplayers, most of them country boys fresh off the farm. He began using their voice in his own columns. One of these efforts was a series of semiliterate letters from a fictitious hurler named Jack Keefe, sent to his friend Al back home in southern Indiana. Editors at the Tribune rejected it for reasons long ago lost to the ages, and unimaginable now. Lardner mailed the piece to the country's most popular magazine, the Saturday Evening Post. It was immediately accepted, and it made a sensation. The editor asked for more. Lardner, now married with children, was eager to provide. Outside the "Wake of the News," the letters were his first stab at writing fiction for publication. Two years later they appeared as You Know Me Al.

He started writing for the magazines regularly and lucratively, and in 1919, he quit the Trib to become a freelance in New York. Jonathan Yardley, in his classic biography Ring (1976), quotes a letter in which Lardner explains his motive for heading east -- the same one that has goosed every freelance writer who ever lived. "It's dough and the prospect of it that would tempt me to tackle the New York game," Lardner wrote a friend. "I think a gent in this business would be foolish not to go to New York if he had a good chance. From all I can learn, that's where the real money is."

The Lardners moved to an estate in Great Neck, on Long Island, just in time for the descent of Prohibition and the rise of the Roaring Twenties. He traveled in heady company. Among his neighbors were show business stars (Groucho Marx, Bert Lahr, and George S. Kaufman), journalists (Herbert Bayard Swope, Franklin P. Adams, and Grantland Rice), and book writers (Joseph Conrad, P. G. Wodehouse, and Fitzgerald, who used his own sojourn on Long Island to gather material for what became The Great Gatsby). Lardner was a devoted father and husband, but also an insomniac and a binge drinker. Long and productive periods on the wagon alternated with superhuman benders during which he would disappear for days at a time. He drank to cure his insomnia, and insomnia usually followed the binges. With a bender coming he escaped to the city, away from his wife and kids. Yardley tells the story of Lardner appearing at the Friars Club one evening for a drink and then another, and then one more, until he had remained in the lobby, quietly drinking, for 60 hours straight.

When he was sober and hard at work earning money, it turned out that Lardner's most pressing professional ambition wasn't to write short stories or journalism but to write Broadway musicals, and he spent a great deal of energy grinding them out with one collaborator after another. Sometimes they made it to the stage. He had a single hit, a comedy written with Kaufman called June Moon, and a long trail of flops.

It takes a lot of money to support a Broadway habit, and Lardner was indiscriminate in accepting the many freelance offers dangled in front of him. He even wrote a daily comic strip. By now his fame was such that magazine editors were paying him the highest compliment a humorist can receive: They asked him to cover events usually reserved for the Big Boys of the news desk -- international conferences, political conventions, presidential inaugurals. Those reported pieces make up a good chunk of this new collection. Here he is at Warren Harding's inaugural:

If they have a inaugural ball I will loom up in a shirt of Chinese white over white B.V.D's, a 15½ collar of the same hue, flowered white silk brassiere, and soup and fish of Sam Langford black with shoes and sox of some dark tint. I won't wear no ornaments except a place on my knee that somebody mistook for a ash tray New Yrs. eve and . . . the old nose will carry a shower bouquet of violet talcum powder. 

In 1921, a newspaper syndicate sent him to a disarmament conference in Washington. The conference was the first step in a diplomatic grind that eight years later produced the notorious Kellogg-Briand Pact -- the treaty that declared war illegal. It was signed by most of the civilized nations of the world but -- no need for spoiler alerts-- it didn't work. Lardner suspected as much: "The object of this meeting is to get all the different nations to quit building warships and making ammunitions, etc., and it looks now like they would all agree to the proposition provided they's an understanding that it don't include they themselfs."

The voice of Lardner's rube-journalist wears better than you might expect, because the rube is sharper and wittier than you might expect, as rubes often are. I worry, though, that as 21st-century readers leaf through The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner -- it's a book for dipping in and out of, not for reading straight through -- they will sooner or later arrive at the point of diminishing returns, when the humor no longer compensates for the strangeness and artificiality of the bumpkin dialect. Lardner's mastery of all the modes of American speech is essential to his fictional sketches of Broadway main-chancers, lovestruck teens, gabby Babbitts, and certified hicks like Jack Keefe. But in journalism, in accounts of real people and real events, readers like to know the stuff isn't made up. The dialect looks like a dodge.

It's not clear how comfortable Lardner was in letting the mask slip. The critic Edmund Wilson, who like most of his contemporaries revered Lardner's short stories, once wrote about an evening he spent with him at the Fitzgeralds' house on Long Island. Everyone was drunk, no surprise, but Lardner was happy to sit with Wilson before a roaring fire and talk about his work. Lardner said that his chief trouble as a writer was that he, Lardner, couldn't write "straight English." When Wilson asked him what he meant, Lardner said, "I can't write a sentence like 'We were sitting in the Fitzgeralds' house, and the fire was burning brightly.' "

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


White House releases sensitive personal information of voters worried about their sensitive personal information (Christopher Ingraham, July 14, 2017, Washington Post)

Unfortunately for these voters and others who wrote in, the Trump administration did not redact any of their personal information from the emails before releasing them to the public. In some cases, the emails contain not only names, but email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and places of employment of people worried about such information being made available to the public.

The Washington Post is not publishing any of this information because in most cases it does not appear that the individuals were aware their comments would be shared by the White House. The emails were sent to the Election Integrity Commissions' email address that the administration asked U.S. secretaries of state to send data files to.

"This request is very concerning," wrote one. "The federal government is attempting to get the name, address, birth date, political party, and social security number of every voter in the country." That email, published by the White House, contained the sender's name and home address.

"DO NOT RELEASE ANY OF MY VOTER DATA PERIOD," wrote one voter whose name and email address was published by the White House.

"Beefed up the security on this email address yet?" asked another voter whose name and email address were also published by the White House.

"The request for private voter information is offensive," wrote one voter whose name, home address and email address were published by the White House.

"I removed my name from voter rolls. And I'm a Republican!" wrote one voter whose name was published by the White House.

It's a curious notion, that the information you send to the government, unsolicited, would be private.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Gatsby as noir: The genesis of Ross Macdonald's Black Money. : Spoiler alert: Nolan's essay reveals several critical details of the book's plot. So if you haven't already read Black Money, we recommend you do so right away and then come back and enjoy Nolan's illuminating commentary on one of Macdonald's most multilayered narratives. (Tom Nolan, 7/14/17, Library of America)

Another key element in the composition of Black Money was the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald work The Great Gatsby, which serves as a sort of phantom template for this and a few other Macdonald novels, especially The Galton Case.

"Yes, Gatsby hangs over my work," Macdonald acknowledged to literary scholar Peter Wolfe, "its blessing and its curse, particularly over Black Money. But [that book is] saved for originality by embracing the Latin cultures, the U[niversity] culture, etc."

Much of Black Money takes place among the residents of a college community--a mere two books after Macdonald's masterly The Chill (1964), another novel with an academic setting. As informed a view of university life as that work had given, Macdonald's English-poet friend Donald Davie had faulted The Chill for what he perceived as its somewhat dated feel: he thought the book drew on Millar's recollections of his alma mater the University of Michigan in the 1940s and '50s rather than detective Lew Archer's present-day perceptions of a 1960s Southern California school.

Macdonald took such comments to heart. When his critic-friend Hugh Kenner suggested in the '50s that first-person narrator Lew Archer was a bit too good a character to be true-to-life, the disgruntled author in time presented Kenner with the manuscript of a Macdonald novel which included a visit to a private detective (not Archer) much less forthright and compelling than his series hero: this, Macdonald claimed, was Archer seen from the outside. It's possible Black Money's contemporary campus setting was in part a response to Davie's critique. Macdonald took pains this time to portray an up-to-date institution: he did research at another poet-friend Henri Coulette's place of employment, L.A. State College.

His campus characters became crucial to the novel's plot and mood. "[F]or the first time," Macdonald told journalist Paul Nelson, "I was able to get a peculiar semi-tragic atmosphere about a kind of contemporary love affair which was fated--not really tragic; I mean the love affair between the professor and the girl. I was the witness of a love affair which resembled it in some ways, had been privy to what went on, and while I'm not writing about actual people, I tried to get the feeling of a fated and ultimately tragic contemporary love affair into my book. . . .

"[Black Money] seems to me to be the broadest expression of whatever sensibility I have, that I've written in a single book. . . . Sensibility is something I value, and I'm not always good at conveying it. But I felt the book came off, in a kind of original way, and had quite an original plot, in spite of its broad comparability to Gatsby."

The private eye novel--along with the Western--is the great American form and MacDonald's Lew Archer books were its pinnacle.
Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Lebanon's Elections on the Rhythms of 'Consensual Democracy' (Nazeer Rida, 7/15/17, Asharq Al-Awasat)

Despite the ambiguity of the outcome of this new law, it is definitely "the fruit of consensus following a long period of discussions and deliberations" and proves that Lebanon cannot neglect the balances of democratic consensus that govern the course of its political process.

While the new electoral law has been widely welcomed and described as "the best possible", critics stressed that the voting system "reinforces current political powers" and does not allow for any fundamental changes.

Hezbollah's opponents, for their part, fear that a similar law would allow the group's allies to increase their share in parliament, which might lead, in future stages, to giving legitimacy to Hezbollah's military wing, alongside the Lebanese army.

The fundamental instability in the Lebanon is a function of the over-representation of Christians and under-representation of Muslims, especially the Shi'a.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Trump crafting plan to slash legal immigration : Senior aide Stephen Miller has been working with conservative senators to make good on Trump's campaign promise. (ELIANA JOHNSON and JOSH DAWSEY, 07/12/2017, Politico)

Donald Trump and his aides are quietly working with two conservative senators to dramatically scale back legal immigration -- a move that would mark a fulfillment of one of the president's biggest campaign promises.

Trump plans to get behind a bill being introduced later this summer by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that, if signed into law, would, by 2027, slash in half the number of legal immigrants entering the country each year, according to four people familiar with the conversations. Currently, about 1 million legal immigrants enter the country annually; that number would fall to 500,000 over the next decade.

The senators have been working closely with Stephen Miller, a senior White House official known for his hawkish stance on immigration. The issue is also a central priority for Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, who has several promises to limit immigration scribbled on the walls of his office.

They always pretend it is the illegality that bothers them, but it is only ever about the the racial mixing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Wild lion caught on camera nursing leopard cub (Deutsche-Welle, 7/15/17)

A lion has been photographed nursing a leopard cub in the first-ever known case of cross-species suckling among wild cats. The two species are normally mortal enemies.

July 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Russian Lawyer Reportedly Offered Dirt On DNC Just Days Before Document Dump (Chuck Ross,  07/14/2017, dAILY cALLER)
A former Soviet military intelligence officer told the Associated Press on Friday that a Russian lawyer he accompanied to a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower offered to provide information about illicit financial activity carried out by the Democratic National Committee.

Nine days later, on June 18, Guccifer 2.0, the hacker believed to be a front for Russian spy agencies, dropped a bombshell. [...]

Rinat Akhmethsin, the former Soviet agent and a lobbyist operating in Washington, D.C., told the Associated Press that he attended the meeting along with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer.

The pair were associated with the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, a small non-profit that aims to roll back a law that imposes sanctions on Russian criminals.

Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. have said that the Trump Tower meeting centered on the Magnitsky Act.

But Akhmetshin said that Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder full of printed-out documents to the meeting. Veselnitskaya's documents "detailed her claims about the contributions to the Democratic National Committee," AP reported.

Akhmetshin said he did not know if the documents came from the Russian government but that he believes that Veselnitskaya left the information with the Trump team members.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Pentagon says leader of Afghan Islamic State branch killed in US raid (AFP,  July 14, 2017)

US forces killed the leader of the Islamic State group's Afghanistan branch in a raid earlier this week in the northeastern province of Kunar, the Pentagon said Friday.

"US forces killed Abu Sayed, the emir of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) -- in a strike on the group's headquarters in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, July 11," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Bungled Collusion Is Still Collusion (CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, July 13, 2017, National Review)

My view was: Collusion? I just don't see it. But I'm open to empirical evidence. Show me. 

The evidence is now shown. This is not hearsay, not fake news, not unsourced leaks. This is an e-mail chain released by Donald Trump Jr. himself. A British go-between writes that there's a Russian government effort to help Trump Sr. win the election, and as part of that effort he proposes a meeting with a "Russian government attorney" possessing damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Moreover, the Kremlin is willing to share troves of incriminating documents from the Crown Prosecutor. (Error: Britain has a Crown Prosecutor. Russia has a State Prosecutor.) 

Donald Jr. e-mails back. "I love it." Fatal words.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


What happens when automation comes for highly paid doctors (Matt McFarland, July 14, 2017, CNN)

Radiologists, who receive years of training and are some of the highest paid doctors, are among the first physicians who will have to adapt as artificial intelligence expands into health care.

Radiologists use medical images, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and PET scans, to diagnose and treat patients. The field has greatly improved patient care, but has also driven up health care costs.

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but most estimates place radiology as an $8 billion industry in the U.S. Globally, the market is expected to grow from $28 billion to $36 billion by 2021, according to research firm Marketsandmarkets.

The tech and radiology communities expect artificial intelligence to transform medical imaging, providing better services at lower costs. For example, if you're getting an MRI, an AI program can improve the analysis, leading to better treatment.

"This is going to be transformational," said Keith Dreyer, vice chairman of radiology computing and information sciences at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Every month there's going to be a new algorithm that we're going to use and integrate into our solutions. When you look back we'll say, 'How did I ever live without this?'"

It required massive self-absorption to believe that thinking machines would take over manual labor before mere thought processes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Israel's Secret Arab Allies (NERI ZILBER, JULY 14, 2017, NY Times)

Israel has peace and diplomatic agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, so military ties with them may not come as a complete surprise. Less well known, however, is the increasingly close relationship with the Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Such ties are often referenced only obliquely by Israeli government ministers as "shared interests" in the security and intelligence realms against the common Iranian threat. Yet in recent years, reports have surfaced about clandestine meetings between Israeli intelligence chiefs and their Gulf counterparts. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, allegedly traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2010 for secret talks about Iran's nuclear program. Public encounters with retired Saudi Arabian officials are now commonplace, whether in Washington, Munich or even Jerusalem. Business ties are growing, too, including the sale of Israeli agriculture but also cyber, intelligence and homeland security technology to the Gulf (usually through third parties).

Taken as a whole, Israeli activities in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and the Gulf can no longer be viewed in isolation from one another. 

There is a natural alliance of the Israelis and the autocrats against Arab self-determination.
Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Why health savings accounts are a bust for the poor but a boost for the privileged (Simon Haeder, 7/13/17, The Conversation)

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) were established by the same legislation that created the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit in 2003. HSAs allow individuals to make tax-deductible contributions, withdraw money tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses and avoid taxes on the money invested in the account.

Enrollment in HSAs has skyrocketed to nearly 20 million people, but there's a catch. Very few, if any, of those 20 million people are poor. The HSAs allow individuals to use tax-protected funds for medical purposes for years to come. Some have even called them the "new 401(k)'s."

While these savings accounts can be good for people of a certain income level, I have concerns that they will overlook the needs of the poor, who not only stand to gain very little from the tax advantages but who also are unlikely to have thousands of dollars to contribute to such plans.

After Trumpcare fails, the easy bipartisan reform is to universal HSAs, fully fund them and then means test all social programs for the elderly.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Details in Donald Trump Jr.'s emails align with parts of the explosive Trump-Russia dossier (JIM EDWARDS, Jul 12th 2017, Business Insider)

The astonishing emails posted on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday display parallels with the controversial unverified leaked document from a former British spy that BuzzFeed published back in January.

Steele's document also says that the Russian government has collated a file of information on Hillary Clinton:

And Steele's document then goes on to say that the Kremlin had been feeding documents about Clinton to Trump's camp:


Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Individual Insurance Market Performance in Early 2017 (Cynthia Cox and Larry Levitt, 7/10/17, Kaiser)

Concerns about the stability of the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been raised in the past year following exits of several insurers from the exchange markets, and again with renewed intensity in recent months as debate over repeal of the health law has picked up. Our earlier analysis of premium and claims data from 2011 - 2016 found that insurer financial performance indeed worsened in 2014 and 2015 with the opening of the exchange markets, but showed signs of improving in 2016. A similar analysis by S&P looking at a subset of Blue Cross Blue Shield plans found a comparable pattern.

In this brief, we look at recently-released first quarter financial data from 2017 to examine whether recent premium increases were sufficient to bring insurer performance back to pre-ACA levels. These new data offer more evidence that the individual market has been stabilizing and insurers are regaining profitability.

We use financial data reported by insurance companies to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and compiled by Mark Farrah Associates to look at the average premiums, claims, medical loss ratios, gross margins, and enrollee utilization from first quarter 2011 through first quarter 2017 in the individual insurance market.1 These figures include coverage purchased through the ACA's exchange marketplaces and ACA-compliant plans purchased directly from insurers outside the marketplaces (which are part of the same risk pool), as well as individual plans originally purchased before the ACA went into effect.

As we found in our previous analysis, insurer financial performance as measured by loss ratios (the share of health premiums paid out as claims) worsened in the earliest years of the Affordable Care Act, but began in improve more recently. This is to be expected, as the market had just undergone significant regulatory changes in 2014 and insurers had very little information to work with in setting their premiums, even going into the second year of the exchange markets.

Loss ratios began to decline in 2016, suggesting improved financial performance. In 2017, following relatively large premium increases, individual market insurers saw significant improvement in loss ratios, averaging 75% in the first quarter. First quarter loss ratios tend to follow the same pattern as annual loss ratios, but in recent years have been 10 to 15 percentage points lower than annual loss ratios.2 Though 2017 annual loss ratios are therefore likely to end up higher than 75%, this is nevertheless a sign that individual market insurers on average are on a path toward regaining profitability in 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Considering the Legal Defenses of the Trump Jr. Meeting (Bob Bauer, July 14, 2017, JustSecurity)

[I]t is worth reviewing some of the key points made against the "rush to judgment" and note the more contestable contentions.

1. The campaign finance laws are not criminally enforceable and were never intended to apply in the circumstances.

Remarkably, one of the President's lawyers made this argument, and it is easy to dispose of, because it is simply wrong. Congress crafted the campaign finance laws with both civil and criminal enforcement.  52 U.S.§ 30109. Moreover, in 2002 Congress amended the statute to direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to provide for enhancements when campaign finance violations  involve "a contribution, donation, or expenditure from a foreign source."  In day-to-day enforcement of the federal law, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) 'may seek a civil fine from a candidate for accepting illegal contributions or for other violations, but if the candidate appears to have had criminal intent,, the agency may refer the matter for prosecution to the Department of Justice.  The DOJ does not have to wait for the FEC's referrals.  Nothing in the foreign national prohibition from enforcement removes it from the statutory scheme for criminal enforcement.

Moreover, to say that the campaign finance law has never been applied in similar circumstances, is to say nothing meaningful. It has not been applied, because there has been only one case similar to this, and the exception occurred well before the enactment of the Federal Election Campaign Act. President Nixon and his campaign in 1968 evidently conspired with the South Vietnamese government to scuttle peace talks with North Vietnam. Nixon used intermediaries to send a message that the South Vietnamese should hold out for a Republican victory and a peace deal on more favorable terms that his Administration would deliver.

Since then, no presidential campaign has done anything like that - - until now. It makes no sense to argue the law should not be applied, by its plain terms, to activities within its clear scope, because up to this point no campaign has attempted what it is alleged that the Trump campaign has done here.

2. The information that the Trump campaign was seeking was only opposition research - information - and is not a "thing of value" within the election laws.

This, too, is not sustainable on any reading of the applicable precedent. "Anything of value" means what it says - - anything of value. That is to say, it refers to whatever goods or services that a campaign acquires to advance its electoral objectives. Moreover, that's precisely how the Federal Election Commission has read the term. Rick Hasen has come up with examples of the breadth of the Commission's interpretation of the term "anything of value." And that interpretation clearly covers information-opposition research.

A related argument advanced by Orin Kerr rests on the belief that only items that could be acquired in the marketplace, and for which there is a commercial equivalent, could constitute a "thing of value." It is not clear what the argument is based on. Any thing of value seems to mean just that, and whether it was acquired legally, or could be purchased somewhere, doesn't seem to have much bearing on whether it was beneficial to the campaign. [...]

4. An interpretation of the foreign national prohibition to apply to a communication about opposition research imperils free speech

Hasen has also done a nice job of exposing the limitations of this constitutional defense. The Supreme Court has been clear that free-speech considerations will be read narrowly in evaluating the constitutional limits on the regulation of foreign national electioneering activity.

Here the emphasis on electioneering: the Court affirmed a decision that allows for a foreign national to join wholesale in the public policy debate in the United States.  Russia could, for example, express its opinion on a range of issues, through written, televised, or digital communications on health care, tax policy and purely domestic issues. It cannot, however, seek to influence an election-not independently, or in coordination with a campaign, and not through the use of any medium of communication. 

The legal stuff is all interesting, but at it's core the question is whether Congress is obligated to remove the perp-in-chief from office.

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


US judge expands list of relatives exempted from travel ban (JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER July 14, 2017, AP) 

In another setback for US President Donald Trump, a federal judge in Hawaii has further weakened his already diluted travel ban by vastly expanding the list of family relationships with US citizens that visa applicants can use to get into the country. [...]

US District Judge Derrick Watson on Thursday ordered the government not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.

"Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents," Watson said in his ruling. "Indeed grandparents are the epitome of close family members."

Not only did the Court ruling make the ban unenforceable--as Justice Thomas articulated--but it required that it be ended altogether by the time it could ever be reheard.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


U.S. consumer prices unchanged; retail sales fall again (Lucia Mutikani, 7/14/17, Reuters) 

U.S. consumer prices were unchanged in June and retail sales fell for a second straight month, pointing to tame inflation that could diminish prospects of a third interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve this year. [...]

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, edged up 0.1 percent in June, rising by the same margin for three straight months. The core CPI increased 1.7 percent year-on-year after a similar gain in May.

The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks a measure which is currently at 1.4 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Forecast of weak economic growth raises big questions about Trump's populist agenda (Damian Paletta, Ana Swanson and Max Ehrenfreund, July 13, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump's combination of setbacks and delays on key policy initiatives highlight how the president is struggling to advance a populist vision of governing in a Republican Party that historically has not been receptive to such an approach.

With his budget and health care, Trump is falling in line with some of his party's most conservative voices, even if the policies threaten to harm many of the working-class voters who elected him.

On trade -- an issue where he could act unilaterally -- Trump is facing opposition from companies, foreign allies and numerous White House advisers who say restricting imports could hurt U.S. industry broadly far more than it helps steel companies.

The delay on steel imports follows a decision not to label China a currency manipulator as he advocated during the campaign, and a last-minute decision not to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he had often maligned.

"He certainly, as a president, has not been able to articulate a coherent agenda that responded to the concerns of the country, or the concerns of the people who elected him. A lot of them were low-income blue-collar whites, and his agenda is not addressing those concerns or those problems," said Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for Republican president George W. Bush. "House and Senate Republicans weren't in tune with what he was running on either, so that was always going to be a problem."

The success of his agenda required a Democrat Congress.  when Republicans down ticket carried him in with them it rendered him a nullity, if a bumptious one.
Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Who is Rinat Akhmetshin, the Fifth Person in the Don Jr. Meeting? (Aidan McLaughlin, July 14th, 2017, Mediate)

Speculation is rampant over the mysterious fifth person who attended the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June, 2016 -- and AP have now confirmed that it was Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counter intelligence officer.

The now infamous meeting between the president's son, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner was disclosed after a series of New York Times reports prompted Don. Jr to confess to having attended the gathering with the goal of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

Per the Daily Beast, Veselnitskaya represents HRAGI, which has lobbied to end the ban on American adoption of Russian children -- a policy put in place in response to the Magnitsky Act.

Even Chuck Grassley claims Akhmetshin is a Russian operative.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Inside the link between the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump dossier (Josh Rogin, July 11 , 2017, Washington Post)

Veselnitskaya has been a major detractor of the Magnitsky Act, a law that penalizes Russian officials accused of participating in the detention and subsequent death of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky, who died in detention after being severely beaten, was Browder's lawyer and had uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme perpetrated by Russian authorities.

"Repealing the Magnitsky Act was the single biggest priority of Vladimir Putin and she was acting as the single most active proxy of the Russian government to achieve that objective in Washington," Browder said. "I'm sure that this was an attempt by the Russian government to repeal sanctions that annoyed them by going to the possible next president of the United States."

Fusion GPS has said that it was working for the law firm BakerHostetler, which was representing Prevezon, a Russian holding company based in Cyprus, in its defense against Justice Department allegations that Prevezon laundered money stolen in the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. Veselnitskaya was Prevezon's lawyer. Fusion GPS started working on the case in 2013 and the case settled in May with no admission of guilt by Prevezon.

Fusion GPS told me its work on the Prevezon case had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election and they were not involved in the outreach to the Trump campaign.

"Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it," the company told me in a statement. "Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false."

As a subcontractor for BakerHostetler, Fusion GPS would not have been required to register under FARA. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Billion-Barrel Mexico Find Could Spur Rush on Next Oil Auctions (Adam Williams, Amy Stillman, and Giacomo Tognini, 7/13/17, Bloomberg)

A billion-barrel crude discovery in Mexico could be just the lure the country needs to boost investment from oil majors as it lacks the wherewithal to reverse years of sagging output.

At a time when global oil prices were cratering, and drillers were nervously cutting exploration funds, Mexico's earliest auctions drew spotty interest. Since then, however, European drillers led by Italy's Eni SpA have increasingly become involved. The find in Mexico's shallow waters could drive added interest -- and higher bids -- in future auctions as the government seeks to boost production that's fallen by a third in the past decade.

On Wednesday, Premier Oil Plc, Sierra Oil & Gas and Talos Energy LLC announced the first Mexican discovery by explorers other than state-owned Pemex in 80 years, a reservoir with an estimated 1.4 billion to 2 billion barrels. With new auctions set for the end of the year, the find promises to rev up interest in Mexico's energy riches moving forward, said Pablo Medina, an analyst at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

"Future bids will likely be more aggressive," Medina said in a telephone interview. "This obviously increases the attention people will pay. The area contiguous to this block is going to go up in value, no question." [...]

The find has "de-risked a little bit some of these shallow-water opportunities" in Mexico as it confirms that other explorers have the potential to find assets that Pemex either overlooked or couldn't develop, said Jeremy Martin, vice president of energy and sustainability at the Institute of the Americas, speaking over the phone from La Jolla, California.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Trump's legal team faces tensions -- and a client who often takes his own counsel (Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Devlin Barrett July 13, 2017, Washington Post)

He won't follow instructions. After one meeting in which they urged Trump to steer clear of a certain topic, he sent a tweet about that very theme before they arrived back at their office. 

He won't compartmentalize. With aides, advisers and friends breezing in and out of the Oval Office, it is not uncommon for the president to suddenly turn the conversation to Russia -- a subject that perpetually gnaws at him -- in a meeting about something else entirely. 

And he won't discipline himself. Trump's legal team, led by Marc E. Kasowitz of New York, is laboring to underscore the potential risk to the president if he engages without a lawyer in discussions with other people under scrutiny in widening Russia inquiries, including Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. 

Nearly two months after Trump retained outside counsel to represent him in the investigations of alleged Russian meddling in last year's election, his and Kushner's attorneys are struggling to enforce traditional legal boundaries to protect their clients, according to half a dozen people with knowledge of the internal dynamics and ongoing interactions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly.

 Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Trump, listens during session with cybersecurity experts at the White House in January. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Compounding the challenges have been tensions between Trump's and Kushner's legal teams in a frenzied, siege-like environment. Senior White House officials are increasingly reluctant to discuss the issue internally or publicly and worry about overhearing sensitive conversations, for fear of legal exposure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Fiery Heaven, Bastard Earth: The Cosmology of "Game of Thrones" (Jedediah Purdy, JULY 13, 2017, LA Review of Books)

Up to the beginning of this season, viewers have met three elemental forces, two of them named in the Song of Ice and Fire. The forces of Ice, the armies of the blue-eyed ice-demon known only as the Night King, stand for an end to human (and perhaps all warm-blooded) life. Although commentators have hoped that these chittering escapees from a gross anatomy lecture were an inessential narrative folly, Martin's own series title and his placement of a White Walker (the ravening zombie slaves of the Night King) in the first scene of Book I suggest they play a central role. His challenge is to make them count as more than undifferentiated super-villains.

Fire comes in the form of the dragons that are bound to Daenerys Targaryen ("Mother of Dragons" to her followers), who were once the source of political authority in Westeros, after enabling earlier Targaryens to conquer the island and unite its kingdoms. There are clues that dragons' flame will destroy White Walkers, and that it is the only thing likely to do so on a scale that will save humans from the army of the dead approaching from the North. This power is linked to a more general metaphysical fire principle. "Dragon glass," something like volcanic obsidian, destroys Walkers when it is formed into a weapon. So do swords of Valyrian steel, which have become precious tokens of ancient and high-status houses, but also hint at the forces that destroyed the high civilization of Valyria that forged them, now collapsed and remembered mainly in legend. There are hints in the books that Valyria fell to, or into, something resembling nuclear apocalypse. Ice kills, yes; but fire, while it sustains and renews life, also consumes it in flame, and tends to rage out of control.

If there is promise of a balance or integration of elemental forces, it is in the earth-based powers that the aboriginal Westerosi, the Children of the Forest, knew intimately. These powers are concentrated in the red-and-white Weir Trees, which the First Men, the early colonist ancestors of some modern Westerosi, adopted into their remnant regional religion, focused on the Old Gods. (Roughly speaking, it may help to imagine most Westerosi as Anglo-Saxons, the First Men as the already-present Celts, and the Children of the Forest as the Fairy Folk of Celtic story, here presented as having preceded the First Men.)

These earth-energies have moved from the margins of the story to loom increasingly large. Brandon Stark, who seems to have the strongest link to such forces in his generation of siblings, concluded the final episode of the sixth season by entering a mystical chthonic reverie beneath a vast weir tree in the far north, attended by the last of the Children of the Forest. Whatever he is gathering there is the last living link between the ancient world of the Children and the all-but-disenchanted world where the story began, and has been foreshadowed as an important resource in the impending war between life and death, the Night King's armies and humanity. If fire is the life-force so proudly strong it can consume life itself, then earth seems to be its counterpoint, humble and rooted in a more than metaphorical sense, alive with consciousness that links humans, their animal alter egos, and the trees that serve as spiritual cellular towers for devotees of the Old Gods. (The logic of the scheme suggests a place for water, but so far the sea is just the home of the Ironborn, temperate-zone Vikings with a reincarnation sideline of their own.)

What it means to bring these forces together will say a lot about how Game of Thrones imagines order in general. The implication so far is that death lies in division, hope in ever higher-order commonality. The contest for the throne of Westeros remains the engine of many of the most engaging plots, but in the larger scheme of the story it is a mistake, a bloody, sapping distraction from "the real war" to preserve life against the Night King. The deeply felt animus between the Southrons of the civilized kingdoms and the tribal, semi-anarchic Wildlings is a kind of confused substitute for the misremembered struggle against White Walkers: the degenerated, depopulated Night's Watch, guardians of the Wall separating North from South, imagine that the Wall was built to keep out Wildlings, and no longer quite believe in Walkers -- until they meet them.

Don't mistake your element for the world: frequently, the tragedy in Game of Thrones pivots on characters who wholeheartedly believe in principles that are noble but parochial and incomplete, and fail when they enter wider fields. Ned Stark, father of the siblings at the story's center, is loyal and lawful. By unflinchingly and punctiliously executing a Night's Watch deserter at the beginning of the first book -- an act intended, incidentally, as a lesson to his children on the burdens of upholding the law -- he fails to learn that the Walkers are on the move. He dies, honorably but futilely, in a palace struggle, high-mindedly oblivious to the larger landscape on which the story's stakes are emerging. Alliser Thorne, a knighted [***]hole but a loyal soldier in the Night's Watch, assassinates Jon Snow because Jon has allied himself with the Wildlings. Jon's pan-human diplomacy is the right move in the expansive moral vision of Game of Thrones, but a betrayal of the keystone principle of the Night's Watch, to protect the South against the North. But parochialism is beginning to yield. When the young Starks retake Winterfell in the penultimate HBO episode to date, they do so not just to assert their family claim -- a "game of thrones" move par -- but also to fortify the North against the White Walkers, a move in the war of Ice and Fire. The defense of a dynasty has become something else, the vanguard of the human -- even the terrestrial -- struggle for life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Why Andrew Wyeth's Art - Once Derided - Has Outlived His Critics (Nic Rowan, 7/13/17, Acculturated)

When the Museum of Modern Art purchased Andrew Wyeth's painting, "Christina's World" in 1948, art critics were furious. The painting--which features a woman crippled by polio crawling up a hill toward an old farmhouse--was a crowd pleaser, hyper-realistic, and contrary to the current abstract trends. Wyeth quickly became (and has remained) one of the most popular and divisive American artists: beloved by hoi polloi but loathed by cognoscenti.

Yesterday would have been Wyeth's 100th birthday, and the critics are finally starting to appreciate his genius. This summer, the Brandywine River Museum of Art near Wyeth's home in Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania, is celebrating the artist with a comprehensive retrospective show. In addition, Yale University Press has released Andrew Wyeth, in Retrospect a book of critical essays commemorating his career. This is the second major Wyeth show since the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art organized a 2014 exhibit focusing solely on his fascination with windows.

It's a touch ironic that Wyeth should be receiving all this attention while his contemporaries--Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Elaine de Kooning--over whom the art world once swooned, have been sequestered to quiet showrooms in urban haute bourgeois galleries. But it makes sense. Unlike the abstract expressionists, Wyeth's work endures because he portrayed his subjects naturally, interlocked in a dance between chaos and order, always on the brink of both, in an upward struggle toward clarity.

Beauty is objective.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Trump Plans to Certify that Iran Is in Compliance With Nuclear Deal (STEPHEN F. HAYES, MICHAEL WARREN, 7/13/17, Weekly Standard)

President Donald Trump plans to recertify Iranian compliance with the Iran nuclear deal before the congressionally mandated deadline to do so on Monday, according to four sources with knowledge of his thinking on the issue. The decision, which continues to provide Iran sanctions relief for their alleged fulfillment of the terms of the deal, comes after an intense internal debate about the pros and cons of recertification and just days after leading hawks on Capitol Hill urged the president to refuse certification.

As a candidate, Trump vowed repeatedly to "tear up" the Iran nuclear deal. In a speech before AIPAC in March 2016, Trump said: "My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." Aides describe his support for recertification as grudging and caution that he could change his mind before the deadline next week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been the leading advocate for recertifying the deal, as the Trump administration already did once back in April. Tillerson believes that because the deal was front loaded with benefits for Iran, leaving it now would reduce the ability of the international community to seek compliance at a time when Iran is already reaping rewards for simply signing the deal. Secretary of Defense James Mattis backs Tillerson on recertification, while Steve Bannon has argued for abandoning the agreement. 

July 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 PM


Opposition Research Is No Dark Art (Tracy Sefl, 7/13/17,  The Washington Post)

No matter how Trump Jr. thinks political researchers spend their days, opposition research is not a dark art. (I'm not sure I'd even consider it any kind of art.) Done well, it's a thoughtful, directed process of compiling known facts and figures about relevant life and career elements of an opponent to bolster an argument.

But even when done badly, opposition research still has nothing to do with what Trump Jr. did. There are lines that trained and talented political operatives wouldn't cross. The emails Trump Jr. released Tuesday show he has no idea where they are.

When I joined the Democratic National Committee for the 2004 presidential election, I thought I could approach opposition research through the lens of the scientific method, as I'd studied in the field of sociology. I was there to answer the question, "Why should George W. Bush be defeated?" From there, I would formulate hypotheses and seek evidence from the litany of things he had said and done.

That litany came mostly from mundane sources such as Nexis or C-Span. Diligently, the research team would compile and cite every piece of data. Then data could be packaged in any number of ways: by year, by topic, by state, for an ad, for a fundraiser, for a speech, and yes, even to assist the media in their reporting.

I confess I quickly learned that the day-to-day reality of opposition research wasn't always quite that tidy. Here's why: When people are invested in your candidate, they want to participate. They have ideas, suggestions, "hot tips."

Phone calls to the main line of the campaign get routed . . . to research. Generically addressed letters and emails get routed . . . to research. Friends of friends of your second cousin's neighbor's mail carrier somehow get your mobile number. (I never saw a serial killer-style missive written with letters cut from a magazine, but some came close.)

However strange the source, everything was read, every voice mail listened to. Occasionally, a staffer might fall prey to a blocked number and be trapped listening to a long, fantastical story, offering only benign "mmhmm"s while colleagues offered sympathetic looks. You might even say researchers, however maligned, are unfailingly polite.

But in a normal campaign, that's where it stops.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Trump Needs to Come Clean. Democrats Need to Be Careful. (Eli Lake, 7/13/17, Bloomberg View)

As someone who has written columns pointing out that many claims against Trump and his advisers have been speculative and unsubstantiated, I see this supposed nothing burger as a tipping point. From now on, it strains credulity to give the president and his aides any benefit of the doubt when it comes to Russia. After all, a little more than a month after his June 9, 2016, meeting with Kremlin insider Natalia Veselnitskaya, the president's son was on CNN saying the entire Russia allegation was fake news. That line is no longer operative.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM

ROY COHN LITE (profanity alert):

Trump Lawyer Marc Kasowitz Threatens Stranger in Emails: 'Watch Your Back , Bitch' (Justin Elliott, July 13, 2017, ProPublica)

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Peter W. Smith, GOP operative who sought Clinton's emails from Russian hackers, committed suicide, records show (Katherine Skiba, David Heinzmann and Todd Lighty, 7/13/17, Chicago Tribune)
A Republican donor and operative from Chicago's North Shore who said he had tried to obtain Hillary Clinton's missing emails from Russian hackers killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room days after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his efforts, public records show.

In a room at a Rochester hotel used almost exclusively by Mayo Clinic patients and relatives, Peter W. Smith, 81, left a carefully prepared file of documents, which includes a statement police called a suicide note in which he said he was in ill health and a life insurance policy was expiring.

Days earlier, the financier from suburban Lake Forest gave an interview to the Journal about his quest, and it published stories about his efforts beginning in late June. The Journal also reported it had seen emails written by Smith showing his team considered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then a top adviser to Republican Donald Trump's campaign, as an ally. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Saudi Arabia boosting extremism in Europe, says former ambassador (Patrick Wintour, 13 July 201, The Guardian)

Saudi Arabia has been funding mosques throughout Europe that have become hotbeds of extremism, the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir William Patey has said.

His remarks come a day after the government published a brief summary of a Home Office-commissioned report into the funding of extremism in the UK. The full report is not being published for security reasons.

Patey said he did not believe Saudi Arabia was directly funding terrorist groups, but rather an ideology that leads to extremism, and suggested that its leaders might not be aware of the consequences. "It is unhealthy and we need to do something about it," he said.

The magic orb says they know.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM

BEDLAM (self-reference alert):

Federal Report Criticizes Harsh Treatment Of Lewisburg Prisoners (Joseph Shapiro, 7/13/17, NPR)

A new federal report harshly criticizes the way the Bureau of Prisons treats inmates with mental illness, singling out treatment at the prison at Lewisburg, Pa.

The report by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General says BOP violates its own policies by keeping prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement for too long and with too little treatment.

At Lewisburg, the report finds many of the harsh practices that were outlined in an investigation last year by NPR and, The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on criminal justice.

The Grandfather Judd was intolerant of poor prison conditions on the bench.  At one point he sentenced a guy to Lewisburg but was concerned because he didn't know personally what conditions were like.  So on his next break he took the Grandmother and went to visit.  At one point she and the warden realized the judge wasn't with them on their tour anymore and when they found him he was quizzing the guy he'd incarcerated about how he liked it....

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


The Magnitsky Act - Russian lawyer in Trump Jr. meeting lobbied against it; why does Putin hate it so much? (Norman Naimark, July 13, 2017, Fox News)

Vladimir Putin greeted the Magnitsky Act with outrage, indignation, and derision. After all, he stated in an interview, people die in prisons all the time. What was the big deal about Magnitsky? He was already upset that American officials had allegedly interfered in the Russian election process by encouraging anti-Putin demonstrations, thus calling the legitimacy of his election to the Presidency in March 2012 into question. And now he was insulted that loyal members of his administration were criminalized by the Magnitsky Act and limited in their dealings with the West. (The European Parliament adopted a version of the Magnitsky Act in April 2014).

The only way Moscow could think of retaliating was to ban the widespread adoption of Russian children by American couples in December 2012, pointing to the death of an adopted Russian child, Dimitrii Yakovlev, who had been abused by his American parents and died while being left alone in an overheated automobile in 2012. In April 2013, the Russian government also placed 18 Americans on a list of alleged human rights violators who were banned from Russia.

The Magnitsky Law and the Russian outraged reaction to it were nails in the coffin of Obama's "reset." Despite some very modest accomplishments at the outset of the Obama administration, Russian-American relations have been at a relatively low point ever since. Sanctions that were added to the Magnitsky restrictions as a consequence of Putin's annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 and the poorly disguised Russian intervention in Donetsk and Luhansk (in eastern Ukraine) in the months and years thereafter have created the impression in some parts of international society that Russia is an "outlaw" state and Putin a criminal ruler. This runs directly counter to Putin's image of himself and of the country whose interests he claims to defend.

It is no wonder that the issues of the Magnitsky Act and the ban on American adoptions were brought up in conversations between the highly placed Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the Trump campaign. These insults to Putin's sense of national honor remain a very tender spot in the seemingly impervious exterior of the Russian dictator.

Trump May Lift Sanctions on Russia to 'Give Collaboration' a 'Chance' (Eric Levitz, 7/13/17, New York)

Virtually every member of Congress believes that the Kremlin's attempt to compromise our election merits retaliatory sanctions. But the Trump White House apparently thinks that the best way to prevent Russia from meddling in our elections again is to make sure that Moscow suffers no lasting punishment for its previous interference. Last December, the Obama administration seized two Russian diplomatic compounds in retaliation for those efforts. Trump has, reportedly, been trying to find a way to give those back since his very first days in office.

On Thursday, Jake Tapper asked the White House's senior cable news surrogate Sebastian Gorka  to explain the administration's reasoning.

"We want to give collaboration and cooperation a chance," Gorka explained. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Trump's Russian Laundromat : How to use Trump Tower and other luxury high-rises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House. (CRAIG UNGER, July 13, 2017, New Republic)

In 1984, a Russian émigré named David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City. The 38-year-old had arrived in America seven years before, with just $3 in his pocket. But for a former pilot in the Soviet Army--his specialty had been shooting down Americans over North Vietnam--he had clearly done quite well for himself. Bogatin wasn't hunting for a place in Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn enclave known as "Little Odessa" for its large population of immigrants from the Soviet Union. Instead, he was fixated on the glitziest apartment building on Fifth Avenue, a gaudy, 58-story edifice with gold-plated fixtures and a pink-marble atrium: Trump Tower.

A monument to celebrity and conspicuous consumption, the tower was home to the likes of Johnny Carson, Steven Spielberg, and Sophia Loren. Its brash, 38-year-old developer was something of a tabloid celebrity himself. Donald Trump was just coming into his own as a serious player in Manhattan real estate, and Trump Tower was the crown jewel of his growing empire. From the day it opened, the building was a hit--all but a few dozen of its 263 units had sold in the first few months. But Bogatin wasn't deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.

If the transaction seemed suspicious--multiple apartments for a single buyer who appeared to have no legitimate way to put his hands on that much money--there may have been a reason. At the time, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end real estate, which offered an ideal vehicle to launder money from their criminal enterprises. "During the '80s and '90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money," says Jonathan Winer, a deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement in the Clinton administration. "It didn't matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them." When Trump Tower was built, as David Cay Johnston reports in The Making of Donald Trump, it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers.

In 1987, just three years after he attended the closing with Trump, Bogatin pleaded guilty to taking part in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. After he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to "launder money, to shelter and hide assets." A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the "boss of bosses" of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich--feared even by his fellow gangsters as "the most powerful mobster in the world"--was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America. [...]

[E]ven without an investigation by Congress or a special prosecutor, there is much we already know about the president's debt to Russia. A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower--in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. "They saved his bacon," says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump's developments in the 1980s.

It's entirely possible that Trump was never more than a convenient patsy for Russian oligarchs and mobsters, with his casinos and condos providing easy pass-throughs for their illicit riches. At the very least, with his constant need for new infusions of cash and his well-documented troubles with creditors, Trump made an easy "mark" for anyone looking to launder money. But whatever his knowledge about the source of his wealth, the public record makes clear that Trump built his business empire in no small part with a lot of dirty money from a lot of dirty Russians--including the dirtiest and most feared of them all.

All of the defenses of Donald essentially boil down to the assertion that he's too dumb, incompetent or ignorant to have understood what he was involved in his whole life--or all three.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM



As the chart below shows, just 1 percent of the population accounts for 20 percent of all personal health care spending, and the top 5 percent of population for half of all spending. Many people in that range suffer from one or more chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney failure, or AIDS that require expensive treatment year after year. Their medical needs are literally uninsurable by traditional standards. They are not just at high risk of needing care; they are certain to need it. And even if an insurer could be persuaded to cover them, an actuarially fair premium would exceed the annual income of all but the very wealthiest among the chronically ill.

Preserving coverage for people with preexisting conditions is popular among both liberal and conservative voters. A recent poll from Politico showed that only 42 percent of Republicans favored allowing states to opt out of a requirement to cover people with such conditions.

Conservatives policy experts have made some very reasonable proposals for dealing with those at the top of the cost curve. One of the most attractive is universal catastrophic coverage, or UCC for short. UCC would cover the top-of-the-curve health care needs of all Americans, subject to a deductible that limited out-of-pocket expenses to a substantial, but not impossibly high, percentage of their income.

Universal catastrophic coverage has an impeccable conservative pedigree. It was proposed back in the 1970s by Martin Feldstein, who would go on to serve as Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser. In 2004, Milton Friedman, then a fellow at the Hoover Institution, endorsed the concept. 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.

The exact parameters of the program would be subject to negotiation, of course, but let's sketch some possibilities, for the sake of discussion. Suppose the deductible is set at 10 percent of the amount by which a household's income exceeds the Medicaid eligibility level, now about $40,000 for a family of four. Under that formula, a middle-class family earning $85,000 a year would face a deductible of $4,500 per family member, with a cap of twice that amount for households of more than two people. By the same formula, the deductible for a household with $1 million of income would be $96,000.

The high-deductible policy might be provided directly by the government, as an extension of Medicare. Alternatively, following the Swiss example, people could choose among private insurers offering policies meeting the program's standards. In that case, UCC would resemble an expanded version of Medicare Advantage -- originally a Republican idea but one that now enjoys bipartisan support. [...]

Fiscal conservatives might, quite properly, ask how UCC could be financed. A large chunk of it could be paid for with another proposal favored by many on the political right -- abolishing the tax deductibility of employer-sponsored insurance (ESI), which currently costs the federal budget an estimated $235 billion per year. That oddity of the US health care system is a holdover from World War II, when employers lavished in-kind benefits on scarce workers to evade wartime wage controls. Both its liberal and conservative critics say it is long overdue for repeal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Are Diets Just Placebos? : The idea is at least worth considering--and it would explain a lot of strange things about how dieting works.  (Erik Vance, 7/13/17, Slate)

If no diet has turned out to be a silver bullet for weight loss, then what could explain why some of them at least seem to work, at least for some time? In looking at our rampant dieting culture, I realized that there are a lot of elements that remind me of the placebo effects we see in other parts of our lives. And this got me thinking: Perhaps it's not the contents of the diet that matters. Perhaps it's simply the act of dieting. Is it possible that, rather than the specifics of the food regime you undertake, it's the mere act of starting a diet--any diet--that makes you thinner? Could it be that the inherent placebo effect that comes with any diet is what's causing you to lose weight?

Self-discipline is its own reward.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


What theologians and environmentalists can learn from Sufjan Stevens (Christine E. McCarthy, June 28, 2017, America)

[T]he independent record label 4AD released "Planetarium," a collaboration between singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, composer Nico Muhly, The National guitarist Bryce Dessner and percussionist James McAlister. While the conceit of the 17 tracks is a meditation on the major celestial bodies of the solar system, the album is very much about humanity. The cosmos is treated not so much as a natural wonder as a source for myths that serve the drama of the human search for meaning. From the title of the album (Planetarium, a human-made structure) to the sweeping interplay of classical instrumentation and mechanized sound, the listener encounters the majesty of space through human filters. The texture and variety of the album's soundscape creates liminal spaces between the sacred and the profane, the mundane and the cosmic, prompting us to consider how we finite creatures want to live in the face of the infinite.

As a theologian, whatever transcendent decentering the music accomplishes, I am most interested in Stevens's poetic lyrics, which fans have long admired for their rich layering of Christian, Greek and Roman mythic imagery over the writer's narrative storytelling and autobiography. In the final three-song sequence, the story of humanity is refracted through the light of our Anthropocene era. The instrumental "In the Beginning" leads into "Earth," the penultimate, 15-minute track at the heart of album's narrative arc. For all the meaning we cast onto the heavens, for all our "hallelujahs," Earth is where "living things refuse to offer/ Explanations of their worth/ We in turn avenge the Author/ With paranoia and prediction/ Exploration, competition/ Ceremony, inner anguish/ Lord, I pray for us." Humankind launches head first into labor and industry only to see too late the beauty of the Earth.

In the end, with "Mercury," the final track, people are as quicksilver as the Roman god. There is no set answer, no known future for the many crises of our own design. But we are reminded that each person is a "Carrier, friend" of our divine and earthly histories, so "Where do you run?"

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


AP Exclusive: Senator profits from outsourcing he slams (BRIAN SLODYSKO, 7/13/17, http://m.startribune.com/ap-exclusive-senator-profits-from-outsourcing-he-slams/434204763/?section=politicsASSOCIATED PRESS) 

An Indiana senator railed against Carrier Corp. for moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico last year, even as he profited from a family business that relies on Mexican labor to produce dye for ink pads, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Joe Donnelly, considered one of the nation's most vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election next year, has long blasted free-trade policies for killing American jobs. He accused Carrier, an air conditioner and furnace maker, of exploiting $3-an-hour workers when it announced plans to wind down operations in Indiana and move to Mexico.

However, an arts and crafts business Donnelly's family has owned for generations is capitalizing on some of the very trade policies -- and low-paid foreign labor -- the senator has denounced.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


House rejects Trump's Middle East aid cuts (Bryant Harris, July 12, 2017, Al Monitor)

Congress rejected the Donald Trump administration's proposed cuts to Middle East aid today, in some cases even voting to increase assistance over the current year's budget.

While the State Department request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 sought deep cuts across the board, members of the House foreign aid spending panel made clear they wouldn't be touching aid to key US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. In addition, the House state and foreign operations bill released today makes clear that the administration's proposal to turn some foreign military financing grants into loans is also a nonstarter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


The Smoking Gun for Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Campaign Committee (Paul Seamus Ryan, July 13, 2017, Just Security)

In our complaint filed Monday, Common Cause named both Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign committee (Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.) as alleged violators of federal campaign finance law. To the extent any campaign finance laws were broken, Donald Trump Jr. is directly liable. He received and accepted the invitation for the meeting; he helped coordinate the meeting; he hosted and attended the meeting.

Why did we name the campaign committee? We named the Trump campaign committee because Donald Trump Jr. was an "agent" of the campaign committee under federal campaign finance law. FEC regulations define agent to include "any person who has actual authority, either express or implied, to ... solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds in connection with any election." Donald Trump Jr. played a leadership role in his father's presidential campaign and was authorized to solicit contributions--he headlined many fundraising events.

Why didn't we name Manafort or Kushner in our complaint? Although Manafort and Kushner attended the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. told the New York Times that he had not told Manafort and Kushner what the meeting was about. While I found it hard to believe that two incredibly busy individuals would agree to attend a meeting they knew nothing about, we opted to take Donald Trump Jr. at his word for the purposes of filing a complaint. And if Manafort and Kushner were actually in the dark heading into the meeting, it's possible they did not commit the campaign finance law violation alleged in our complaint.

Federal law prohibits a foreign national from directly or indirectly making a "contribution or donation of money or other thing of value" in connection with a U.S. election, and prohibits a person from soliciting, accepting or receiving such a contribution or donation from a foreign national. Federal law defines "contribution" to include "any gift ... of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office." And the FEC by regulation defines "solicit" to mean "to ask, request, or recommend, explicitly or implicitly, that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value."

Donald Trump Jr. was offered opposition research on Hillary Clinton from a Russian. Opposition research is a thing of immense value to candidates--they regularly pay opposition research firms (like this one or this one) handsomely to produce opposition research. Donald Trump Jr. requested a telephonic meeting, which evolved into a face-to-face meeting, with a Russian in order to obtain this opposition research. Donald Trump Jr. then attended a meeting with the Russian lawyer, admittedly with the expectation of receiving this in-kind contribution of opposition research. (In his interview with Sean Hannity, and subsequent to our filing, Donald Trump Jr. also admits to "pressing" the Russian lawyer for the information that he was told to believe she had.)

The New York Times' revelation of these facts made clear to Common Cause that Donald Trump Jr. and, by extension, the Trump campaign, had violated the federal law ban on soliciting contributions from foreign nationals.

MORE (profanity alert):
Watch Donald Trump's Weird Cameo in Video By Russian Pop Star at Center of Scandal (Matthew Oshinsky  |  July 10, 2017, Paste)

Here's the skinny: Emin Agalarov is a Russian pop star with minimal talent and, if his song "In Another Life" is any indication, an inadequate budget for paying songwriters to help his career along. If that were all there was to say about him...it would be good news for Donald Trump. Alas, Agalarov has a much more interesting backstory. His father, Aras Agalarov, is a Moscow real-estate tycoon with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to the New York Times. The elder Agalarov also has ties to President Trump, having partnered with the Big Orange to stage the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. And to complete the circle, Agalarov Sr. and Trump Jr. also "worked together to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow," though those plans fell through.

It gets weirder. It was the younger Agalarov, the Times reports, who hatched the June 2016 meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr.--a meeting that also included Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort--at Trump Tower in New York. Are the Agalarovs so enamored with Trump that they'd weasel their way into his most pressing affairs? Apparently, yes. They were only returning the favor. (That's Trump pictured above with Emin Agalarov at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant.)

That, amazingly enough, brings us to the criminally stupid video for Agalarov's 2014 banger, "In Another Life," in which the scion doses off during a boring board meeting (as if anyone could sleep with that bargain-basement EDM going on) and awakens in a dream where he is surrounded and chased around by several frisky beauty-pageant contestants. He also sits down to play a piano when there is clearly no piano being played in the song. So far, so good. But just as Agalarov is starting to enjoy his house full of pageant beauties (which is probably how his waking life normally goes), he is jolted awake by the sound of the entire world's nightmare.

"Wake him up right now!" blares Trump, who has suddenly appeared at the head of the boardroom table in what, until yesterday, would have been a confusing cameo. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Putin's 'sock puppets': How Russia 'uses' anti-GMO activists to undermine crop biotech and science (Henry Miller, June 28, 2017 | Genetic Literacy Project)

In a report from the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, RT was implicated in Russian hacking during last year's presidential election. The report found the network uses the internet and social media to conduct "strategic messaging for the Russian government" and that its programming is "aimed at undermining viewers' trust of US democratic procedures."

In addition, there is what a New York Times news article called "a particularly murky aspect of Russia's influence strategy: freelance activists who promote its agenda abroad, but get their backing from Russian tycoons and others close to the Kremlin, not the Russian state itself."

Genetic engineering in agriculture is a sector that holds intense interest for the Russians. Harkening back to the Lysenkoism catastrophe for Soviet agriculture in the Soviet Union, their expertise and R&D in that area are virtually nil, and there is a ban on genetically engineered organisms from abroad entering the country, so they've adopted a strategy of trying to stymie its development elsewhere.

As Berezow pointed out:

RT has never been fond of GMOs [genetically modified organisms], which are largely the result of American innovation. In a 2015 article, RT reported on Russia's decision to ban GMO food production in Russia. Tellingly, one of the protesters shown in the report is holding a sign that reads, "Goodbye America!" The anti-GMO stance is not based on science or health concerns; instead, it's based entirely on hurting U.S. agricultural companies.

And that brings us to the U.S. home-grown anti-genetic engineering movement, which is well-coordinated and well-financed. It's unclear how or if it is directly supported by Russia; it may simply be that, as one of my colleagues, a prominent Russia expert, speculated, "Whatever stirs up trouble in the U.S., Russia is ready to help make it worse."

Neither wing has a monopoly on useful idiots.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


US economy grows moderately but wage growth disappoints (Deutsche-welle, 7/12/17)

Fed members have been divided over the threat of inflation and the amount of slack in labor markets, even though unemployment currently sits at only 4.4 percent. Federal Reserve banks in San Francisco and St. Louis said the scarcity of workers had put upward pressures on wages. [...]

But those reports contrast with official figures, which showed a monthly increase in average hourly earnings of less than 0.2 percent in June, below analyst expectations. In the US, wages are considered a litmus test for whether economic growth actually trickles down to its citizens.

Disappointing wage growth in recent years has coincided with the slow pace of inflation, which currently sits at 1.4 percent, with little indication it will rise above the Fed's two percent target.

Labor has no value.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


This Is How Robots Will Pick Off Apple Pickers (Jon Markman ,   6/28/17, Forbes)

It looks like a giant vacuum cleaner and it's set to disrupt the fruit-harvesting business.

Like most startups, Abundant Robotics saw a problem it thought could be solved with technology.

So the Hayward, Calif., company built a prototype, got funding from the likes of Alphabet, and started work.

The goal was to build a robot capable of picking apples as effectively as humans do. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


"Baseball Is Our Game" (Walt Whitman, Imaginative Conservatism)

"I like your interest in sports ball, chiefest of all base-ball particularly: base-ball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character. Sports take people out of doors, get them filled with oxygen generate some of the brutal customs (so-called brutal customs) which, after all, tend to habituate people to a necessary physical stoicism. We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set: anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race. We want to go out and howl, swear, run, jump, wrestle, even fight, if only by so doing we may improve the guts of the people: the guts, vile as guts are, divine as guts are!" --from With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. 2

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Shooting, Running Over Bald Eagle (Kathryn Covert, July 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

A Virginia man on Tuesday pleaded guilty to killing a bald eagle, first shooting and wounding it before running over the bird with his all-terrain vehicle.

Allen H. Thacker, 62, of Smithfield, Va. shot the bald eagle because he was upset it was taking fish from a pond located on his property, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Bald Eagle Bounces Back After Decades of Persecution (Robert Winkler, 6/20/02,  National Geographic News)

While shooting, trapping, and poisoning took their toll, human population growth and land-clearing along navigable rivers and estuaries destroyed prime eagle habitat. Before European settlement, 250,000 to 500,000 bald eagles ranged across North America, and as late as the mid-1800s, wintering eagles reportedly fished the waters off New York's Manhattan Island by the hundreds, sometimes devouring their catch in Central Park.

"The relationship between human development and the absence of bald eagles has been documented in various places across the country," said David A. Buehler, author of the bald eagle monograph in the recently published Birds of North America: Life Histories for the 21st Century.

"In general," Buehler added, "eagles avoid developed areas, where their risk of mortality rises. Shooting, trapping, poisoning, collisions with man-made structures, scarcity of prey, and poor nesting and roosting habitat are among the dangers. I think it was the human persecution, however, that ultimately 'taught' eagles in an adaptive sense to avoid people."

With the westward expansion of human settlements, persecution and habitat destruction whittled away at eagle numbers. By 1940, the bird's rarity compelled Congress to pass the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which outlawed the killing and disturbing of eagles, as well as the possession of eagle parts, including feathers, eggs, and nests.

After studies showed that salmon populations were not harmed by eagle predation, this law ended a bounty system in Alaska that claimed 128,000 eagles between 1917 and 1952. The actual number of slaughtered eagles probably exceeded 150,000, since many bounties were never collected.

For a long time, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, designed also to protect the beleaguered golden eagle, was not strictly enforced. At one Wyoming ranch, for example, eagles were systematically shot for their perceived threat to livestock. According to a 1970 report, more than 770 bald eagles were shot at this ranch, and hunters were paid $25 for each carcass. Responding to a public outcry over such flagrant violations, the government began to crack down.

Just when it was finally benefiting from legal protections, the bald eagle took a heavy blow from DDT, a pesticide that enters the food chain and causes reproductive failure. Widely used after World War II to control mosquitoes and other insects, DDT was wreaking havoc among many bird species. Raptors were particularly vulnerable--over time, animals higher in the food chain accumulate more DDT.

New research on the effects of DDT challenges the long-held belief that eggshell thinning was the primary cause of reproductive failure in birds. "The thinning did occur," said Buehler, "but it was probably not actually responsible for the reproductive failure."

July 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


U.S. intelligence intercepted Russian officials talking about meetings with Trump associates before the campaign started (The Week, 7/12/17)

U.S. intelligence overheard Russian government officials discussing President Trump even before he'd declared he was running for office, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Such conversations were intercepted in spring 2015 and apparently referred to "meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers." Trump has sold properties in Russia and produced the Miss Universe pageant there in 2013. The Journal noted it's unclear whether the conversations were at all tied to Trump's plans to run for president.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


'Jared Kosher' is Fox's accidental name for Kushner (JTA July 13, 2017)

On Fox News' morning show "Fox & Friends" Wednesday, a typo on the ticker referred to Jared Kushner -- President Trump's senior adviser and Jewish son-in-law -- as "Jared Kosher."

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Rouhani leads Iran's return to wheat exports (Maysam Bizaer, July 12, 2017, Al Monitor)

In 2004, under the presidency of Reformist Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Iran marked self-sufficiency in wheat production for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Khatami administration also formulated a 10-year plan that outlined initial steps to reduce imports, and envisioned strategies aimed at sustaining production in times of drought. The plan, however, was put aside under the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) and the country once again became reliant on imports to meet domestic needs, buying over 25.7 million tons of wheat during his two terms in power. 

But things began to change when President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013. His government has been taking a series of measures over the past four years to not only reduce imports significantly, but also to boost production to a level that has enabled Iran to achieve self-sufficiency once again. With a record high output of 14 million tons last year, Iran has become an exporter of the strategic product; in June, the country sold wheat abroad for the first time in years.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


The gap between white and black unemployment in America is at a record low (Akin Oyedele, Jul. 7, 2017,Business Insider )

The gap between the black and white unemployment rates in the US shrunk to a record low in June. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of jobless African Americans in the labor force fell to 7.1%, the lowest level since April 2000. It was 1.5 percentage points down from a year ago, and it helped create the smallest gap between white and black employment on record.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Natalia Veselnitskaya, Lawyer Who Met Trump Jr., Seen as Fearsome Moscow Insider (NEIL MacFARQUHAR and ANDREW E. KRAMER, JULY 11, 2017, NY Times)

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. last year to discuss possible compromising material on the Democrats, has been widely depicted as a one-issue activist consumed with getting Congress to repeal sanctions against Russian businessmen. [...]

The [Katsyv] family's trust in Ms. Veselnitskaya was rewarded in May, when she helped Denis P. Katsyv, Pyotr's son, fight the money laundering claims in New York brought by the Manhattan federal prosecutor at the time, Preet Bharara. Mr. Bharara tangled with Ms. Veselnitskaya several times and protested at one point that she had been charging the government for a $995-a-night room at the Plaza Hotel.

The case was settled two months after Mr. Bharara was dismissed by President Trump. [...]

It was Ms. Veselnitskaya's desire to get the United States to reverse the Magnitsky Act that prompted her to seek a meeting with the Trump campaign, she said Saturday in written responses to questions from The New York Times. On Tuesday, her office withdrew the promise of an interview. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


State Department spent more than $15,000 for rooms at new Trump hotel in Vancouver (Amy Brittain July 12, 2017, Washington Post)

The State Department spent more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at the new Trump hotel in Vancouver when members of President Trump's family headlined the grand opening of the tower in late February. [...]

Last week, the outgoing head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., told CBS News that he believes there is "an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency."

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Trump Jr. just defined 'disgraceful' (John Podhoretz, July 11, 2017, NY Post)

Yes, upon being informed in June 2016 he might soon be in receipt of information from the Russian government damaging to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. responded with the words, "I love it."

He didn't call the FBI to say he had evidence the Russian government was seeking to interfere with the presidential election of 2016. No, he said, "I love it" -- and set up a meeting with the shady Russian lawyer who, he was told, might share dirt with him.

He didn't steer the Trump campaign away to shield it from the stain of a potentially scandalous encounter with an operative working for Vladimir Putin. No, Trump Jr. brought the campaign's chairman, Paul Manafort, and his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, into the meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Russian Oligarch Who Plotted to Aid Trump Was Named in Private Intelligence Dossier (Robert Mackey, July 11 2017, The Intercept)

While Donald Jr. and Veselnitskaya now maintain that she provided no useful intelligence on Hillary Clinton at the meeting, the Agalarovs seem to have secured a place in American political history by brokering the meeting.

But that family name, and the contours of the plot described in the email, were already well-known to Christopher Steele, the former British spy who spent much of last year compiling a private intelligence dossier on what sources in Russia described to him as a Kremlin operation to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. [...]

Steele reported that at least two sources said that information of some kind on Clinton had been provided to the Trump campaign by Russia. One of those sources, described as "a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow" reported in June 2016, "that this Russian intelligence had been 'very helpful.'"

One of Steele's sources also claimed that the theft of emails from Democratic officials, later provided to WikiLeaks, "had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team."

Stolen emails were not mentioned in the plot to help Trump described to Donald Jr. by Goldstone, but it was just three days after the June 9 meeting with Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower that Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, first revealed that he had obtained what turned out to be emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.

Later in his report, Steele said that two sources in another Russian city, St. Petersburg, claimed that Trump had illicit sexual encounters there during another trip. Both of those sources claimed that a business associate of Trump, Aras Agalarov, "will know the details."

Among those entirely unsurprised by the revelation that Agalarov was named at the center of a plot to help the Russian government help Trump was Alexey Navalny, the opposition activist who hopes to run against Putin in the 2018 Russian presidential election.

Writing on his blog, Navalny called the idea of a Putin-Chaika-Agalarov-Trump pipeline "very plausible."

As Navalny noted, Agalarov seems to be close to Chaika and spoke out loudly in his defense in 2015, when Navalny's anti-corruption foundation produced a damning investigative report accusing the prosecutor of having abused his position to make his children rich.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Trump Talk Aside, Auto Manufacturing and Automation Are Booming in Mexico (Amy Guthrie  July 12, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

When Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in November with a promise to lure back manufacturing jobs, Sean Patton trimmed his sales projections for 2017. Patton is head of business development for Genesis-ICESA Systems, a family-run automation integrator based in Mexico's Bajío region. His company largely caters to the country's burgeoning automotive industry, a big exporter to the United States.

Midway through 2017, however, it looks as if Mexico's automotive engine can't be stalled: the industry is anticipating its eighth consecutive year of record-high production and exports. And in a bid to stay competitive, the Mexican car industry is embracing ever more automation. Genesis-ICESA, which has installed more than 500 robots since its founding in 1974, has seen its bookings double in the first half of 2017 over the number for the first half of 2016, putting the company on track for its best year ever. "It's going to be a very good year for robotics," says Patton.

Just as U.S. manufacturers are increasingly turning to robots take on work once done by humans, so too is Mexico heading toward a future of increasingly automated factories. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


'Crude' history made as India poised to buy its first ever cargo of US oil (Gaurav Sharma, July 12, 2017, IB Times)

A remarkable development is in the pipeline, as India - the world's third largest consumer of crude oil - is poised to buy its first ever cargo from the United States, Indian officials confirmed to IBTimes UK on Wednesday (12 July). [...]

In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed legislation that ended a crude oil export ban dating back to 1975. 

Trade, the WoT and the Heritage health plan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


White House aides feeling 'helpless' as Trump Jr. scandal blossoms : As West Wing staff grapples with the latest Russia controversy, the president is fuming about the negative coverage. (TARA PALMERI and JOSH DAWSEY 07/11/2017, Politico)

White House aides feel blindsided by the bombshell revelations around Donald Trump Jr.'s campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer, while the president is using his relatively light schedule to watch TV and fume about the latest scandal, according to interviews with half a dozen White House officials and advisers.

Unlike prior Russia-related controversies, the White House is not minimizing the political ramifications of Trump's eldest son's decision to meet with the Kremlin-linked lawyer after being offered information that he was told would "incriminate" Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

But top West Wing aides are exasperated by their limited ability to steer the damage control and the risk that more damaging news has yet to emerge.

One Trump adviser said the White House was "essentially helpless" because the conduct happened during an "anything goes" campaign that had few rules. [...]

There's also tension inside the White House as Vice President Mike Pence's communications team issued its own statement, appearing to distance Pence from the president. Some West Wing aides felt particularly bruised by the line that he's "not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket," seeing it as an admission of guilt on the part of the campaign, according to a White House official.

These guys are just awesomely bad at this.  First Kushner leaks that the emails exist, to try and get at Junior, after his legal team discovers them, apparently not realizing he's implicated himself.  Then Donald releases them all, apparently either mistaking them for exculpatory or just to bring Kushner down with him.  Wait'll the feds start offering deals....

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Election Law Expert Robert Bauer on What Don Jr.'s Emails Mean for the President (Lily Carollo, 7/11/17, New York)

Campaigns seek out damaging information about their opponents all the time. What makes this Donald Trump Jr. situation unique? 

The law specifically prohibits soliciting or accepting anything of value from a foreign national. When we talk about information, which is a very general term - we could be talking about research reports, polling data, a cache of emails -- they have value. The election laws pick up, for this particular prohibition, and in other provisions as well, contributions that consist of something in kind. Something that is not acquired with cash, something that is received in the form that somebody else procured and paid for it.

The word collusion has been thrown around a lot to describe the Trump campaign's possible relationship to Russia. Legally, what does that mean?

Collusion, I think, is a shorthand. It means some sort of conspiracy, conniving, collaboration. In election law there's a term called coordination and that essentially captures circumstances in which a campaign has found somebody to spend money on its behalf. The campaign is a beneficiary of an arrangement by which somebody might, for example, advertise on behalf of the campaign, or purchase goods and services to be delivered to the campaign. If a candidate is a party to that understanding, then in effect it's really no different than the campaign getting money directly from the donor. It's benefiting with its understanding, its consent, and its request. It's benefiting from the expenditure of the fund. And so it's treated as a contribution like any other because the spending was coordinated. And that's where the term coordination comes from. [...]

There are two categories of laws that may apply not just to Trump Jr., but to the Trump campaign and Russia's relationship as a whole: federal election laws and criminal conspiracy laws. Is that correct? 

Yeah, and the conspiracy laws connect to the election laws. Because you would have a conspiracy, presumably, should the evidence ultimately support it, to violate the campaign-finance laws. So, the conspiracy would not be free-floating and independent, it would tie directly into the violation of the campaign laws.

With conspiracy laws, the crime is the agreement itself to commit a crime. It doesn't matter whether that effort succeeds or is ever carried out.

That's correct.

July 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 PM


Rancor at White House as Russia Story Refuses to Let the Page Turn (PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULY 11, 201, NY Times)

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump's advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated about how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last. It culminated on Tuesday with a release of emails making clear that Mr. Trump's son believed the Russian lawyer was seeking to meet with him to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." [...]

The emails, which the younger Mr. Trump released after learning that The Times had obtained copies and was about to publish them, undercut the president's line of defense in the Russia inquiry. For months, Mr. Trump has dismissed suspicions of collusion between Russia and his team as "fake news" and a "total hoax." His eldest son, likewise, had previously asserted that talk of collusion was "disgusting" and "so phony." Donald Trump Jr. said in a Fox News interview that he would have done things differently in retrospect, but he maintained he had done nothing improper.

At a minimum, however, the emails show that the younger Mr. Trump was not only willing, but also eager, to accept help advertised as coming from the Russian government. "I love it," he wrote.

New details emerge on Moscow real estate deal that led to the Trump-Kremlin alliance (Michael Isikoff, 7/11/17, Yahoo News)

While in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in November 2013, Donald Trump entered into a formal business deal with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, to construct a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. He later assigned his son, Donald Trump Jr., to oversee the project, according to Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who arranged the controversial 2016 meeting between the younger Trump and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

Trump has dismissed the idea he had any business deals in Russia, saying at one point last October, "I have nothing to do with Russia."

But Goldstone's account, provided in an extensive interview in March in New York, offers new details of the proposed Trump project that appears to have been further along than most previous reports have suggested, and even included a trip by Ivanka Trump to Moscow to identify potential sites.

According to the publicist, the project -- structured as a licensing deal in which Agalarov would build the tower with Trump's name on it -- was only abandoned after the Russian economy floundered. The economic downturn resulted in part from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union following Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

Goldstone's version of events implies a possible explanation for Trump's interest in lifting sanctions on Russia -- a policy move his administration quietly pursued in its first few weeks until it ran into strong opposition from members of Congress and officials within the State Department.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Goldman Sachs: Oil prices could plunge below $40 (Matt Egan, July 11, 2017, CNN Money)

The oil market could be in trouble if OPEC doesn't come to the rescue with deeper production cuts soon.

Goldman Sachs warned on Tuesday that crude oil could plunge below $40 a barrel "soon" if the massive U.S. oil glut persists and OPEC fails to take further action.

"The market is now out of patience," Damien Courvalin, head of energy research at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a research report.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Five key facts about Donald Trump Jr.'s just-released explosive email exchange (Greg Sargent July 11, 2017, Washington Post)

At a minimum, we now know the Trump campaign was willing to collude with the Russia government. Top campaign lawyer Bob Bauer put it this way yesterday, well before these emails became public:

"It does not help their case that you have a very specific operational instance where the campaign decided it was prepared to welcome assistance from a Russian source," said Bauer, who has previously argued in a series of posts that the law prohibits cooperation with foreign nationals to influence a U.S. election. "You are not permitted to solicit or accept anything of value from a foreign national to influence an election. You cannot enter into a conspiracy with a foreign national to influence an election."

Today's news shows that it may be substantially worse than this. It isn't just that the Trump campaign was "prepared to welcome assistance from a Russian source." It was prepared to welcome assistance from the Russian government, after having been told that it was actively trying to swing the election to Trump. Remember, at the meeting were Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump's campaign chair at the moment, Paul Manafort.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Amid Defeats, ISIS Shifts Narrative From Invincibility to Victimization (Natalie Johnson, July 11, 2017, Free Beacon)

ISIS shifted rapidly from a narrative of resilience to victimization as it was squeezed out of Mosul, once its de facto capital in Iraq. Where the group previously touted battlefield victories, it began criticizing U.S.-led forces for killing civilians and destroying infrastructure.

On Friday, the ISIS-run Amaq news agency released a statement blaming coalition airstrikes for killing more than 100 civilians while wounding 220 others over a two-day span, according to SITE Intelligence Group.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


The 'end' of work (JORDAN J. BALLOR • July 11, 2017, Acton)

We each have a particular role to play, something unique to contribute to the common good. Leo avers that "social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition." Or as Kuyper puts it in relation to the cultural mandate: "Our human nature is placed in the nature that surrounds us, not in order to leave nature as it is, but to work on nature instinctively and irrepressibly, by means of art, to improve and perfect it."

All of this is why I find much of the discussion about the "end" (as in termination) of work overblown. That's not to say there aren't huge challenges, at both the macro and micro levels. But if we see the "end" (as in the goal) of work to be the productive service of human beings, then there never will be an end of good work to do, whether individually in our lives or collectively in our societies.

So part of rightly identifying what the challenges we face today really are and really require is in part definitional. If "work" is what you do for a paycheck, then there are already many people who do not work. But if work is what you do to serve others, as I think Lester DeKoster rightly identifies it, then what we are charged with, amidst transition and turmoil, is finding ever-new creative and productive ways to serve others and thereby make ourselves useful to God in this world. And that, in turn, places a great deal of emphasis on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial dynamism in the new, global economy.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Russian Dirt on Clinton? 'I Love It,' Donald Trump Jr. Said (JO BECKER, ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZOJULY 11, 2017, NY Times)

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father's former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

If the future president's elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material -- or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father's campaign -- he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a "Russian government attorney."

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along "Paul Manafort (campaign boss)" and "my brother-in-law," Jared Kushner, now one of the president's closest White House advisers.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Mike Pence scrambles to distance himself from the Donald Trump Jr. revelations (The Week, 7/11/17)
Vice President Mike Pence reacted to news that Donald Trump Jr. met knowingly with a Kremlin source for information about Hillary Clinton by distancing himself as much as possible. "The vice president is working every day to advance the president's agenda," the statement from the vice president's press secretary began. "He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign -- especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."

Another good day for Nikki 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Rebels say they downed Syrian warplane near ceasefire zone (AFP, July 11, 2017)

Rebel groups shot down a Syrian government warplane on Tuesday near a ceasefire zone in the country's south, the factions and a monitoring group said. [...]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor confirmed that the rebel groups had hit the plane near a village on the administrative border between the provinces of Rural Damascus and Sweida.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi killed, Syrian group confirms (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, July 11, 2017)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the brutal Islamic State terror group, has been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday afternoon, confirming reports earlier in the day in Iraqi media, and possibly bringing to a close a hunt for one of the most wanted men on the planet.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


The Wall Begins to Crumble: Notes on Collusion (Benjamin Wittes, Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic, July 11, 2017, LawFare)

Ever since the first revelations of L'Affaire Russe, President Trump and his defenders have insisted that there's no evidence of "collusion" between Russian operatives and either the Trump campaign or the candidate himself.

This defense was always a highly qualified one that conceded a great deal, despite being often presented in bombastic terms--as when Trump himself repeatedly insisted he had "nothing to do" with Russia. It conceded, though inconsistently and sometimes quite grudgingly, that yes, the Russians had conducted an active measures campaign within the election designed to aid Trump. It also conceded a point on which the public record simply brooks no argument: that Trump took obsequiously out-of-the-mainstream positions during the campaign towards Russia and its strongman, Vladimir Putin, covered for their involvement in the hacking with a web of denials, and even at times openly encouraged the hacking. The "no collusion" defense, in other words, was always a modest one that did not really deny that the Trump campaign gleefully accepted Russian aid during the campaign and promised a different relationship with Russia in a hundred public statements; it denied only that the campaign did these things in secret collaboration with Russian state actors. The defense conceded that Trump benefited from Russia's actions, denying only that he or his people were parties to them in a covert fashion that went beyond the very visible encouragement Trump gave.

The problem with dwelling too much on the covert forms of collaboration, which we have come to call "collusion," is that doing so risks letting Trump at least a little bit off the hook for what is not meaningfully disputed: that the president publicly, knowingly, and repeatedly (if only tacitly) collaborated with a foreign power's intelligence effort to interfere in the presidential election of the country he now leads. Focusing on covert collusion risks putting the lines of propriety, acceptable candidate behavior, and even (let's be frank) patriotism in such a place where openly encouraging foreign dictators to hack your domestic opponent's emails falls on the tolerable side. It risks accepting that all is okay with the Trump-Russia relationship unless some secret or illegal additional element actually involves illicit contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives. Yet it's hard to imagine how any scandal of illegality could eclipse the scandal of legality which requires no investigation and has lain bare before our eyes for months.

But it is this very distinction, in which Trump's own defenders are so heavily invested, that now appears poised to crumble.

As Collusion Evidence Emerges, Obstruction Allegations Begin To Look More Damaging (Alex Whiting, July 11, 2017, JustSecurity)

The criminal investigations of the Trump administration seem largely to have followed two separate paths: on the one hand, whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interference with the election, and on the other hand whether President Trump obstructed justice. Commentary has alternated between these inquiries, but has not always connected the two. In part that is because of the piecemeal way the evidence has emerged. In part it is because the two inquiries have distinct legal elements and can, in fact, exist separately. However, at a moment when our attention is focused on the question of possible collusion, it is worth remembering this obvious point: the two investigations are, in fact, very much connected. As evidence mounts of one set of crimes (collusion), it also supports the other (obstruction). [...]

Regarding Trump, if it seemed that Trump was acting only to block the investigation and prosecution of Michael Flynn's individual acts of alleged wrongdoing, some of which themselves might raise questions about whether they warrant criminal charges, a prosecutor might hesitate (not to mention Congress, when considering the question of impeachment). Could the prosecutor persuade the jury that when Trump asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, Trump wasn't just trying, in his bumbling Trump sort of a way, to put in a good word for Flynn? Could the prosecutor persuade the jury that in firing Comey, Trump had not simply concluded that Comey was badly mishandling the Russia investigation and had to be replaced by a more effective Director?

Many might think that the evidence is already sufficient to overcome such defenses, but the point is that absent some indication of a larger, self-interested, cover-up, the ultimate factfinders - whether they be on a jury or in Congress - might be more likely to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, grabbing onto these explanations as a way to excuse Trump's conduct. And that is why the emerging collusion evidence could end up mattering so much to the obstruction inquiry. It has the potential to change everything. Suddenly, Trump's actions to stop the FBI's investigations, not to mention his incessant tweets and public statements about the Russia inquiries, feel much more sinister.

Now it appears that Trump may have in fact had something much larger to hide.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Russian lawyer says she was summoned to Trump Jr. meeting (Alayna Treene, 7/11/17, Axios)

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort last June said today that someone approached her about the meeting at Trump Tower, not the other way around.

In an exclusive interview with NBC's Keir Simmons, Natalia Veselnitskaya said she received a phone call and was asked whether she had information on the Clinton campaign's finances.

No cash, no cover.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


High Minimum Wage Has Losers and Winners : Seattle's experiment is evidence that forcing pay upward can reduce inequality but hurt the poor. (Michael R. Strain, 7/11/17, Bloomberg View)

Recall the 2014 analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of the effects of increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25, where it has been since 2009. The CBO found that the boost would increase the earnings of millions of workers by a total of $31 billion. It also found that the increase would reduce employment by hundreds of thousands of jobs, and that less than one dollar in every five of that $31 billion would go to households living in poverty.

In short, there are trade-offs. And so when thinking about whether minimum wage increases are good or bad, you have to think clearly about the social goal you are trying to achieve. If your goal is to help reduce income inequality and to increase the earnings of some middle-class households, then the minimum wage is not a crazy policy.

But if your goal is to help the least skilled, least experienced, most vulnerable members of society to get their feet on the first rung of the employment ladder and to start climbing, then the minimum wage is counterproductive. Its costs are concentrated among those vulnerable workers. It is an obstacle in their paths. It is bad policy.

Do you want an economy that produces more wealth or one that produces more equality?  

The fundamental thesis of the Third Way/compassionate conservatism/neoliberalism/etc. is that if you allow the economy to maximize wealth creation you can use the political system to distribute it more equitably after it is created.

A challenge to Piketty's theory about the future of work (Christopher Matthews, 7/11/17, Axios)

[Devesh Raval, an economist with the Federal Trade Commission,]  argues that the data don't corroborate Piketty's thesis. Automation, he argues, hasn't increased the interchangeability of humans with machines. Instead, what we have watched is the one-time effects of radical post-war globalization.

Radical globalization: Chinese investors can now bid up real estate prices, Raval notes, and American businessmen can easily source their wares from low-wage Vietnam, both changes that have hurt workers. The upside, he argues, is that many of these shifts are one-offs that won't continue to suppress workers' share of income.

Looking ahead: Although Raval says automation isn't causing labor's share of income to decline, he concedes that new technologies could drive down pay. Raval writes, "If Piketty's feared scenario comes to pass," in which machines can increasingly replace labor, and population growth continues to slow, standard economic models say the world "would experience unbounded growth," he said. In other words, the economy could grow while people contribute no new innovations.

The great "threat" of neoliberalism is indeed unbounded wealth creation without any labor input.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Trump supporters know Trump lies. They just don't care. (Brian Resnick,  Jul 10, 2017, Vox)

During the campaign -- and into his presidency -- Donald Trump repeatedly exaggerated and distorted crime statistics. "Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed," he asserted in his dark speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. But the data here is unambiguous: FBI statistics show crime has been going down for decades.

CNN's Jake Tapper confronted Trump's then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, right before the speech. "How can the Republicans make the argument that somehow it's more dangerous today, when the facts don't back that up?" Tapper asked.

"People don't feel safe in their neighborhoods," Manafort responded, and then dismissed the FBI as a credible source of data.

This type of exchange -- where a journalist fact-checks a powerful figure -- is an essential task of the news media. And for a long time, political scientists and psychologists have wondered: Do these fact checks matter in the minds of viewers, particularly those whose candidate is distorting the truth? Simple question. Not-so-simple answer.

In the past, the research has found that not only do facts fail to sway minds, but they can sometimes produce what's known as a "backfire effect," leaving people even more stubborn and sure of their preexisting belief.

But there's new evidence on this question that's a bit more hopeful. It finds backfiring is rarer than originally thought -- and that fact-checks can make an impression on even the most ardent of Trump supporters.

But there's still a big problem: Trump supporters know their candidate lies, but that doesn't change how they feel about him.

It's about feelings. They feel scared of Latinos and Muslims, and that suffices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Solidarity as Liberty in the Declaration of Independence (JAMES R. ROGERS, 7/10/17, Law & Liberty)

A significant part of the Declaration's argument against the government in London was that it undermined governance of and in the American colonies. Modern American readers often experience something of a jolt, expecting as they do complaints of government abuse against individuals, when they get to the first specific complaint advanced by the colonists against the King, "He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

As a matter of first importance, the colonists didn't complain about the King's actions, they complain about the King's inaction. To wit, the colonists wanted laws for themselves that the King wouldn't approve. The King, as it were, was not giving the colonists too much government, they complained, rather he was giving them too little government; he was giving them too little law. Hence, the "bite" of the statement in the perambulatory section that governments are established so "secure" inalienable rights. Too little government can threaten inalienable rights just as easily as too much government.  [...]

[P]erhaps the best known complaint, "for imposing taxes upon us without our consent," the complaint is not about taxes being too high, it's simply about the nonconsensual nature of the taxes. Even low taxes without consent would be objectionable; high taxes, as long as consented to by legislative representatives, would not be objectionable.

Today "liberty" is conceived almost exclusively along the dimension of the individual versus the state. And that dimension certainly existed at the time of the American founding as well. But that was not the sole dimension of liberty at the time of the Declaration. "Liberty" also included the idea of participating in a collective process by which the community rules and governs itself. Freedom meant freedom from the chaos of too little government as well as freedom from the tyranny of too much government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign (MATT APUZZO, JO BECKER, ADAM GOLDMAN and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULY 10, 2017, NY Times)

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The Radical Origins of Christianity : Emmanuel Carrère's "The Kingdom" explores how a tiny sect became a global religion. (James Wood, 7/10/17, The New Yorker)

Kierkegaard relates a chilling parable in "The Sickness Unto Death." An emperor summons a poor day laborer. The man never dreamed that the emperor even knew of his existence. The emperor tells him that he wants to have him as his son-in-law, a bizarre announcement that must strike the man as something he would never dare tell the world, for fear of being mocked; it seems as if the emperor wanted only to make a fool of his subject. Now, Kierkegaard says, suppose that this event was never made a public fact; no evidence exists that the emperor ever summoned the laborer, so that his only recourse would be blind faith. How many would have the courage to believe? Christ's kingdom is like that, Kierkegaard says.

The French writer Emmanuel Carrère doesn't mention Kierkegaard in his latest book, "The Kingdom" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), but the Danish philosopher--the Danish Christian lunatic, one might say--hovers over the book as God's face is said to have hovered over the waters during the creation of the world. The Kierkegaard whose work is scarred by the great "offense" of Christianity, by its shocking challenge to reason and empirical evidence; who claimed that modern philosophy amounts to the premise "I think therefore I am," while Christianity equals the premise "I believe therefore I am"; who writes that the best proof that God exists is the circular proof one was offered as a child ("It is absolutely true, because my father told me so")--that brilliant, mutilated Christian is the unnamed patron of "The Kingdom." An amazingly various book, it narrates the author's crises of religious faith in the nineteen-nineties; combines conventional history and speculative reconstruction to describe the rise of early Christianity; deftly animates the first-century lives and journeys of Paul, Luke, and John; and attempts to explain how an unlikely cult, formed around the death and resurrection of an ascetic lyrical revolutionary, grew into the established Church we know today. "Can one believe that such things are still believed?" Nietzsche asked, scornfully. "And yet they are still believed," Carrère replies. [...]

Jesus was an event within Judaism; it was not especially scandalous that a young Jewish radical went about proclaiming himself the Messiah, ambiguously calling himself "the son of Man," and quarrelling with the rabbis about aspects of the law. But it was another thing entirely to claim--as Paul did--that Jesus came to earth to wash away an original sin contracted by humans in Eden; that this Jesus was crucified by the Romans, was buried, and rose from the dead; and that he would soon come again, in a rescue mission that would usher in a new eternal kingdom. In place of the intimate, familial struggle of the Jews and their God, Paul invokes a strict theology of sin and salvation. Kierkegaard, at his most Protestant-masochistic, says that Christianity's singularity lies in its understanding of sin; if that's true, it was Paul's singularity rather than Jesus'. The new theology transfers Judaism's healthy involvement in this life onto a palpitating anticipation of the next; the present becomes eternity's duller portal.

Paul was born Saul, in Tarsus (now in Turkey), perhaps a few years after the birth of Jesus, whom he never met. He was a devout student of Judaism, and was sent to Jerusalem for schooling with one of the most eminent rabbis of the age. Filled with piety, Saul became an eager persecutor of the early Christians, who were known at this time as "those who follow the Way." As Luke relates in Acts, Saul was on his way to Damascus, to arrest those blasphemers he could find and bring them back to stand trial in Jerusalem, when a light blinded him, and he fell to the ground. Jesus' voice asked him, "Why are you persecuting me?," and then told him to go into the city and await his orders. Paul's conversion was momentous. During the next twenty years, this incandescent missionary visited Christian churches and communities from Corinth to Antioch; and when he could not reach them he wrote to them, setting down the epistles that form (with the Gospels) the core of the New Testament. These letters are, as Carrère explains, the oldest Christian texts (they predate the Gospels by twenty or thirty years), and perhaps the most modern Biblical texts, "the only ones whose author is clearly identified and speaks in his own name."

I can feel my eyes glazing over--alas, I am back in school again--but suddenly the reader wakes up, because Monsieur Carrère, at the blackboard with his maps and dates, is shaking things up. Paul's letters, he says, are like those which Lenin wrote "to various factions of the Second International from Paris, Geneva, and Zurich before 1917." More interesting still, Monsieur Carrère has got hold of a detail in the Letter to the Galatians, in which Paul warns the congregants not to believe rival teachings by impostors: "Even if I came to preach something other than what I have preached, you shouldn't believe me." 
And suddenly the classroom is awake, because Monsieur Carrère is making early Christianity sound like . . . science fiction. In a sparkling, unexpected digression--there are many such in this book--he mentions Dick's fascination with the Stalinist show trials, in which the victims were forced to deny what they had believed their whole lives, and to denounce their earlier selves as unrecognizable monsters. And then he wheels back to Paul. This terror--of the split self, the self who has turned from one pole to its opposite--was largely unknown in the ancient world, Carrère maintains, until Paul's conversion. But because violent, sudden conversion had happened to Paul, "he must have dreaded, more or less consciously, that it could happen to him again." This, Carrère thinks, is the hidden fear behind Paul's admonition to the Galatians:

The person he once was had become a monster to him, and he had become a monster to the person he once was. If the two could have met, the person he once was would have cursed him. He would have prayed to God to let him die, the way the heroes of vampire movies make their friends swear they'll drive a stake through their hearts if they're ever bitten. But that's what they say before it happens. Once contaminated, their only thought is to bite others in turn, in particular those who come at them with a stake to make good the promise they made to the person who no longer exists. I think that Paul's nights must have been haunted by a nightmare of this kind.

Rampant speculation, outrageous psychologizing, insouciantly unscholarly behavior--but diabolically plausible. Carrère is not afraid of Paul's reconverting from Christianity to Judaism (what might be considered the orthodox anxiety) so much as fearful of conversion generally. We are hardly surprised when he adds what we have all been thinking: that he is really talking about himself. He quotes a friend, who tells him, "When you were a Christian, what you feared the most was becoming the skeptic that you're only too happy to be now. But who says you won't change again?" Once a convert, always convertible.

What makes "The Kingdom" so engrossing is this element of personal struggle, our sense that the agnostic author is looking over his shoulder at the armies of faith, as they pursue him to the wall of rationality. That struggle plays out here over the two scandals--the two great "offenses," to use Kierkegaard's favorite word--at the heart of the Christian message. The first is epistemological, and has to do with the claim that Jesus is God made flesh, and that he died and rose again from the dead. The notion of a fully human god, who shares human weaknesses and frailties without any diminution of divinity, is so outrageous that Christians anxiously police Christ's full humanity. Yes, he got angry, and he could be intolerant, enigmatic, even faltering in strength; he died, humanly, on the Cross. But don't for a moment suggest that he slept with Mary Magdalene, or that he spent his teen-age years--well, doing what other teen-age boys are known to do a great deal of. [...]

But, to the extent that Jesus' humanity is outrageous, then so is his divinity. For if Jesus is the Son of God, then God changed--you could say that God converted. The distant, unnameable, vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible becomes the approachable "Father" who washes away all our sins. As both Jack Miles and Harold Bloom have suggested, the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible cannot also be the father of Jesus Christ; either Christ represents an almost incomprehensible break with that world or Yahweh committed suicide on the Cross. And this Man-God, this impossible incarnation of Yahweh, died and was resurrected! Paul puts this amazing fact at the center of his teaching, and insists that if Christ was not raised from the dead "then empty, too, your faith. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Here's the big problem with the Trump camp's latest spin about Donald Trump Jr. (Greg Sargent July 10, 2017, Washington Post)

"It does not help their case that you have a very specific operational instance where the campaign decided it was prepared to welcome assistance from a Russian source," said Bauer, who has previously argued in a series of posts that the law prohibits cooperation with foreign nationals to influence a U.S. election. "You are not permitted to solicit or accept anything of value from a foreign national to influence an election. 

July 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM


How (Not) to Kill Kim Jong Un : The history of failed attempts on the lives of Pyongyang's leaders shows if you come for the Kims, you better not miss. (ADAM RAWNSLEY, JULY 6, 2017, Foreign Policy)

The Kim family's first brush with death came in the 1930s, when Kim Il Sung joined the Chinese 1st Route Army as an insurgent in the resistance against Japanese colonial rule in Manchuria and Korea. Once Kim had made a name for himself in the resistance against Japanese occupation, Japanese police set up a designated "special activities unit" to hunt him down, employing dozens of former guerrillas whom the Japanese lured from Kim's unit by promising amnesty. Together with a network of police informants, the men stalked their former comrade and leader -- a lesson in betrayal that Kim would remember for the rest of his life.

Kim was protected during his guerrilla days by a band of bodyguards, which reportedly included his first wife, Kim Jong Suk, the mother of Kim Jong Il. North Korean histories of the period recount a battle in which Kim Jong Suk saved the future North Korean leader's life in northeastern China, shielding Kim Il Sung from enemy soldiers taking aim at him from a nearby field of reeds and dropping the would-be assassins with her Mauser rifle. The tale has long been a propaganda parable about the need for absolute devotion to the Kims' security, though there's little independent evidence to back it up.

The first confirmed attempt on Kim Il Sung's life in the postwar era -- though not the last -- came during a ceremony at the Pyongyang railway station commemorating the Korean independence movement on March 1, 1946. Assassins reportedly sent by the South Korean government threw a homemade grenade at the podium as Kim spoke, and Yakov Novichenko, a Soviet Army lieutenant guarding the assembled dignitaries, sprang into action and grabbed the grenade, which exploded in his hand, blowing off his arm. The incident spawned a lifelong friendship between Kim and Novichenko, as well as a cheesy Soviet-North Korean biopic in the mid-1980s. (Leonid Vasin, an assistant section chief in the Soviet Army's special propaganda section who worked closely with Pyongyang later, would in time write a more skeptical account of the incident. Vasin claimed that the homemade grenade landed about 100 feet from Kim and to the right of the podium, posing little threat.)

The coterie of guards surrounding Kim in the mid-1940s would eventually evolve into one of the world's most repressive and pervasive police states, run for the personal benefit of the Kim family. Within that architecture of repression grew an elaborate praetorian guard for the North's supreme leaders, protecting them with multiple, overlapping rings of security.

At the innermost ring are five to six elite, handpicked bodyguards from the brigade-sized Office of Adjutants, also known as Office No. 6, who directly protect the Kims. (It's the loose equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service -- except with 20 times as many people, in a country a fraction of the size of America.) The Kims' personal guards are senior officers who have proved their reliability and loyalty through years of service in North Korea's Guard Command, a 100,000-member unit devoted to the security of the Kim family and the upper levels of North Korean officialdom. Other Guard Command soldiers, picked from families with no known ties to Pyongyang's communist elite, provide the next layers of protection around Kim Jong Un, surrounding him at events, official visits, and on personal travel, as well as protecting his various residences.

The capital itself is protected by the Pyongyang Defense Command and Pyongyang Air Defense Command, which would fight within the city and defend its airspace in the event of a major war or coup attempt. Outside of Pyongyang, the 3rd Corps of the Korean People's Army (KPA) comprises the final, most heavily armed ring, guarding the western approaches to Pyongyang from the port of Nampo north to the Chongchon River.

A handful of agencies also conduct surveillance within the North to act as an early tripwire for signs of disloyalty and coup plots in the making. The State Security Department runs an expansive network of eavesdropping and informants to spy on North Korean civilians while the more sensitive work of surveilling senior Workers' Party officials is carried out by the Organization and Guidance Department. Within the KPA, the Military Security Command acts as a kind of parallel secret police to keep tabs on those in uniform.

Together, the domestic intelligence and security agencies are aided by the cultivation of a Kim personality cult, which emphasizes the worship of the Kim family as essentially supernatural beings. Attempting to kill a Kim, for many North Koreans, would be more than treason -- it would be blasphemy. Like Chinese emperors, the North Korean state, too, promises suffering not only to "traitors" but to their families, further deterring any attempt.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Lawmakers Cite Evidence Russia 'Colluded' With US Green Groups to Block Fracking (Kevin Mooney, July 10, 2017, Daily Signal)

The Daily Signal obtained a copy of the June 29 letter to Mnuchin from Reps. Lamar Smith and Randy Weber, both Texas Republicans.

Smith and Weber quote sources saying the Russian government has been colluding with environmental groups to circulate "disinformation" and "propaganda" aimed at undermining hydraulic fracturing. Commonly called fracking, the process makes it possible to access natural gas deposits.

The sources include a former secretary-general of NATO, who is quoted by the GOP congressmen as saying:

Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations--environmental organizations working against shale gas--to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas.

This anti-fracking campaign seizes upon environmental issues and health concerns that could be used to constrain U.S. drilling and fracking exercises, the letter explains.

Gazprom, a large Russian oil company, stands to benefit if Russian-funded environmental activism results in reduced levels of fracking and natural gas production in the United States, Smith and Weber tell Mnuchin. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Donald Jr.'s New Lawyer Represented Notorious Russian Hacker (Kevin Daley, 07/10/2017, Daily Caller)

Futerfas previously represented a Russian national named Nikita Kuzmin, who created a malware program called the Gozi virus, which infected nearly 40,000 U.S. computers, including computers at NASA. Over one million computers were compromised worldwide.

Ousted U.S. Prosecutor Bharara A Thorn In Russia's Side For Years (Carl Schreck, 4/05/17, Radio Liberty)

Preet Bharara's supporters may be criticizing his firing as a federal prosecutor, which the Trump White House characterizes as a routine renewal of ranks among U.S. attorneys under a new president. But it is unlikely that any tears are being shed in Moscow.

The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, appointed in 2009, led numerous high-profile prosecutions that rippled through the corridors of power in the Russian capital -- and eventually he found himself blacklisted by Moscow. [...]

[B]harara was included in a 2013 Russian sanctions list issued in response to the U.S. Magnitsky Act blacklisting alleged Russian rights abusers. In its announcement of the blacklist, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Bharara of violating "the rights and freedoms off Russian citizens abroad."

Bharara's office prosecuted numerous cases against Russian hackers and other cybercriminals during his tenure, including several that outraged Moscow. The cases targeted Russians accused of large-scale theft involving compromised credit cards and bank accounts. One of these suspects successfully prosecuted by Bharara's office was Nikita Kuzmin, the son of Russian rock star Vladimir Kuzmin, whose website boasts that American Adult Contemporary icon Michael Bolton once praised him as a "super-talented musician."

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM

Bacon Explosion : Bacon, sausage, and barbecue sauce combine for a one-of-a-kind dish (Gerden & Gun, May 5, 2015)


24 slices thick-cut bacon

2 lb. spicy pork sausage, chilled

8 oz. cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, grated

1/3 cup barbecue sauce, plus more for serving

6 jalepeños, charred, peeled, sliced lengthwise, stems and seeds removed


Lay a 12 by 18-inch piece of aluminum foil on your work surface, with the 12-inch side toward you. Using 16 strips uncooked bacon, make an 8-inch square lattice weave in the center of the foil (think apple pie lattice).

Using scissors, cut the remaining 8 slices bacon into ¼-inch pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until crispy, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and allow to drain.

In a bowl, combine the sausage with one-quarter of the grated cheese and 3 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce. Pat the sausage mixture onto the center of the lattice, leaving a 1-inch border around all sides. Fold the jalapeños out flat and spread across the center of the sausage, then sprinkle the diced bacon and the remaining grated cheese over the jalapeños.

Lift the edge of the foil closest to you up and over, folding the lattice-backed sausage up and over the jalapeños, bacon, and cheese, almost to the edge. Using your hands and working quickly, tuck the edges up and under the bottom and around the ends, nice and tidy, so that the loaf is fully encased in bacon. Wrap tightly in the foil and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours, until firm.

Heat a smoker to 225°F. Unwrap the chilled loaf and hot-smoke at 225°F to an internal temperature of 160°F, about 1½ hours.

Adjust the oven rack to the second highest setting and preheat the broiler to high.

Place the loaf on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and brush with the remaining barbecue sauce and broil until the bacon starts to brown and curl, about 4 minutes. Slice and serve as you would a meat loaf, with additional sauce on the side.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM

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Behar Uses Homosexual Innuendo to Mock Trump-Putin Handshake on 'The View' (Paul Crookston, July 10, 2017, Free Beacon)

ABC's "The View" co-host Joy Behar described President Donald Trump's handshake with Russian President Vladimir Putin with a homosexual innuendo on Monday.

Behar said that Trump's position made him "a bottom" because Putin's hand was over his. That term is used to describe the submissive role among gay men, which Behar and the audience appeared to enjoy.

PC is such a thin veneer.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Comey friend: No memos given to me were marked classified (Jake Tapper,  July 10, 2017, cnn)

"No memo was given to me that was marked 'classified,'" Daniel Richman told CNN. "No memo was passed on to the Times."

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


PR specialist says set up meeting between Trump's son, Russian lawyer at a client's request (Reuters, 7/10/17)

The public relations specialist who arranged a meeting last year between President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian attorney said on Monday he did so at the request of singer-songwriter-businessman Emin Agalarov, a Moscow-based client of his.

Inside Trump's financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin (Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum June 17, 2016, Washington Post)

From left, Donald Trump, Aras Agalarov and Emin Agalarov walk the red carpet at the Miss Universe pageant competition in Moscow in November 2013. (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Donald Trump was in his element, mingling with beauty pageant contestants and business tycoons as he brought his Miss Universe pageant to Russia for a much-anticipated Moscow debut. Nonetheless, Trump was especially eager for the presence of another honored guest: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump tweeted Putin a personal invitation to attend the pageant, and a one-on-one meeting between the New York businessman and the Russian leader was scheduled for the day before the show.

Putin canceled at the last minute, but he sent a decorative lacquered box, a traditional Russian gift, and a warm note, according to Aras Agalarov, a Moscow billionaire who served as a liaison between Trump and the Russian leader.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Blast from the past: 1960 'Home Run Derby' show set precedent for modern event (Arthur Weinstein, 7/10/17, Sporting News)

Filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (the original home of the Angels, not to be confused with the Cubs' Wrigley), the syndicated series pitted two of the top sluggers from the era each week in head-to-head competition. Nine of the 19 participants would go on to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Mantle, Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson,  Al Kaline, Eddie Mathews and Duke Snider. 

As for that Mays-Mantle matchup ... well, we won't spoil the ending for you. That episode and others from this vintage series can be found on YouTube.

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


Attack, Attack, Attack (Joshua Green, July 9, 2017, New York)

On his office wall hung an oil painting of Bannon dressed as Napoleon in his study at the Tuileries, done in the style of Jacques-Louis David's famous neoclassical painting -- a gift from Nigel Farage.

Appropriate to an enemy of the Anglosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Anti-Semitism Is Creeping Into Progressivism (Jonathan A. Greenblatt, Jun 30, 2017, TIME)

For an organization like the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded both to combat anti-Semitism and protect the Jewish people but also to secure justice and fair treatment to all Americans, these manifestations are upsetting. Frustration with particular Israeli policies does not excuse an irrational hatred of Jewish people who support its existence. But this occurs all too frequently, which provides an opportunity to make clear certain moral and practical distinctions.

For starters, the agenda of the civil rights community is the agenda of ADL. We are committed to this work because it is core to our mission.

For example, we do not agree with every tenet in the Black Lives Matter platform. We were outraged by the baseless accusations made against Israel in the M4BL platform released last summer. However, we find common cause with many in the BLM movement around the quest to achieve educational equity, end the school-to-prison pipeline and stop the use of excessive force and the killing of unarmed African Americans by some in law enforcement.
In the case of the Muslim community, we work to combat discriminatory laws such as the Muslim Ban, to call out Islamophobia whenever it happens, such as the recent use of scare tactics to stoke fear that Sharia law is taking over this country and to promote greater understanding of their faith through intergroup work.

And regarding the LGBTQ community, we were proud to stand against discrimination of HIV/AIDS patients decades ago and, more recently, to champion marriage equality. We continue to fight housing and workplace discrimination targeting people based on who they love or how they self-identify their gender. And while great progress has been made in recent years, we continue to resist efforts to turn back the clock under the guise of religious freedom.

On the other hand, when hatred comes from individuals in those very communities or organizations for whom we advocate, we are duty bound to raise our voice. In recent times, anger over specific policies of the Israeli government has been used by some activists to excuse broad anti-Semitism directed at members of the Jewish community. In some cases, we have seen painful rhetoric unfold on college campuses or outright exclusion of self-identified Jews from progressive circles simply because of their faith. All of it is inexcusable.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Iran Plans First Oil-And-Gas Tenders After Sanctions Easing (Radio Liberty, July 10, 2017)

The Iranian government is planning to announce tenders for the exploration of 14 oil-and-gas blocks over the next three months, a top executive at Iran's NIOC state oil company has said.

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Liberals Shouldn't Tolerate the Loony Left (Albert R. Hunt, 7/09/17, Bloomberg View)

The Trumpist right, with its conspiracy theories, racist demagoguery and blatant lies, should embarrass honest conservatives and responsible Republicans. There also is a loony left, which though less pervasive and powerful, needs to be condemned by liberals.

Its theories excuse efforts to suppress speech by conservatives, especially on college campuses. Its attacks on Trump go well beyond acceptable criticism -- think of comedian Kathy Griffin's video with a severed Trump head. Its activists, who include some elected officials, call for impeachment of the president before taking the trouble to build a constitutionally persuasive case.

Consider Tim Canova, a law professor at Nova University in Florida, who is waging a Democratic Party primary battle against Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He has suggested that a young Democratic staffer may have been murdered last year because the staffer, not Russian hackers, leaked the damaging information from the party's national committee that sabotaged Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. He's downplayed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the presidential election, and questions whether he is being hacked by political opponents.

Canova was embraced last year by Senator Bernie Sanders out of resentment against Wasserman Schultz who, as Democratic chair in 2016, sought to tilt the party machinery in favor of Clinton. Canova ran a strong race, raising tons of money, but lost. Sanders seems to be staying away from the current challenge.

In the Atlantic last week, McKay Coppins reported on leftist conspiracy theorists like the Palmer Report, a blog that focuses on Russia. It reported in April that Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah was resigning because of Russian blackmail. The whole story was nonsense.

Sites like this, Coppins wrote, embrace a world "where it is acceptable to allege that hundreds of American politicians, journalists and government official are actually secret Russian agents."

The two extremes believe in conspiracies for exactly the same reason : reality refuses to conform to ideology, so someone must have the fix in!

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Comey's private memos on Trump conversations contained classified material (JOHN SOLOMON - 07/09/17, The Hill)

More than half of the memos former FBI chief James Comey wrote as personal recollections of his conversations with President Trump about the Russia investigation have been determined to contain classified information, according to interviews with officials familiar with the documents.

This revelation raises the possibility that Comey broke his own agency's rules and ignored the same security protocol that he publicly criticized Hillary Clinton for in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election.


Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Data reveal: how automation is suppressing wages (Christopher Matthews, 7/09/17, Axios)

[A]s we saw in the latest jobs figures on Friday, average U.S. hourly earnings have barely exceeded inflation for three years running.

What's going on? The answer may lie in the Wage Growth Tracker (below), an alternative gauge produced by the Federal Reserve's Atlanta bank. It substantiates what a lot of people have suspected: that older, higher-paid workers are leaving the workforce and being replaced with cheaper, younger workers who hold little bargaining strength when they can be quickly replaced by automation.

It's a deflationary epoch.

July 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 PM


When Will Electric Cars Go Mainstream? It May Be Sooner Than You Think (BRAD PLUMERJULY 8, 2017, NY TIMES)

 A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research group, suggests that the price of plug-in cars is falling much faster than expected, spurred by cheaper batteries and aggressive policies promoting zero-emission vehicles in China and Europe.

Between 2025 and 2030, the group predicts, plug-in vehicles will become cost competitive with traditional petroleum-powered cars, even without subsidies and even before taking fuel savings into account. Once that happens, mass adoption should quickly follow.

"Our forecast doesn't hinge on countries adopting stringent new fuel standards or climate policies," said Colin McKerracher, the head of advanced transport analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "It's an economic analysis, looking at what happens when the upfront cost of electric vehicles reaches parity. That's when the real shift occurs."

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 PM


California Leads U.S. Economy, Away From Trump : Whatever the president says, this state does the opposite. It's working. (matthew Winkler, May 10, 2017, bLOOMBERG vIEW)

California is the chief reason America is the only developed economy to achieve record GDP growth since the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing global recession, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Much of the U.S. growth can be traced to California laws promoting clean energy, government accountability and protections for undocumented people. Governor Jerry Brown, now in his fourth term, considers immigrants a major reason for the state's success: "39 percent of us are Latino and the majority are from Mexico," he said in a March 2 interview in his Sacramento office.

In the stock and bond markets, where investors show no allegiance to political parties, California has outperformed the rest of the U.S. the past five years, especially since the Nov. 9 election, when Trump became the fifth person to win the Electoral College and lose the popular vote. California's creditworthiness keeps getting better, measured by the declining premium global investors must pay to ensure against depreciation of the state's debt obligations. That premium has diminished more than for any other state since 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. California, whose voters favored Hillary Clinton two to one, outperformed Treasury bonds since the November election. Texas, which is the second-largest state in population and which supported Trump, became cheaper compared to Treasuries and California in the market for state and local debt since the November election. Investors see security in the state with more protections for immigrants and more regulations.

California's borrowing cost is 0.15 percentage points lower than the average for states and municipalities and has declined to just 0.24 percentage points more than the U.S. pays on its debt, down from 1.97 percentage points in 2013.

At the same time, bonds sold by California's municipalities produced a total return of 2.3 percent since November,  outperforming the benchmark for the U.S., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The growing popularity of bonds sold by California issuers is a consequence of the state's more rigorous regulation of the market, specifically legislation signed by Brown last year, creating greater transparency and accountability for issuers of California debt.

No state or country has created as many laws discouraging fossil fuels and carbon while promoting clean energy. That convergence of policy and voter preference is paying off in the stock market.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 PM


Trump backtracks on U.S.-Russia cyber unit, says it cannot happen (rEUTERS, 7/09/17)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday backtracked on his push for a cyber security unit with Russia, tweeting that he did not think it could happen, only hours after promoting it following his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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The Racial and Religious Paranoia of Trump's Warsaw Speech (PETER BEINART,  JUL 6, 2017, The Atlantic)

In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to "the West" and five times to "our civilization." His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It's important that other Americans do, too.

The West is not a geographic term. Poland is further east than Morocco. France is further east than Haiti. Australia is further east than Egypt. Yet Poland, France, and Australia are all considered part of "The West." Morocco, Haiti, and Egypt are not.

The West is not an ideological or economic term either. India is the world's largest democracy. Japan is among its most economically advanced nations. No one considers them part of the West.

The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white. Where there is ambiguity about a country's "Westernness," it's because there is ambiguity about, or tension between, these two characteristics. Is Latin America Western? Maybe. Most of its people are Christian, but by U.S. standards, they're not clearly white. Are Albania and Bosnia Western? Maybe. By American standards, their people are white. But they are also mostly Muslim.  

Steve Bannon, who along with Stephen Miller has shaped much of Trump's civilizational thinking, has been explicit about this. In a 2014 speech, he celebrated "the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam" and "our forefathers" who "bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West."

During the Cold War, when the contest between Soviet and American power divided Europe along geographic lines, American presidents sometimes contrasted the democratic "West" with the communist "East." But when the Cold War ended, they largely stopped associating America with "the West." Every president from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama emphasized the portability of America's political and economic principles. The whole point was that democracy and capitalism were not uniquely "Western." They were not the property of any particular religion or race but the universal aspiration of humankind.

To grasp how different that rhetoric was from Trump's, look at how the last Republican President, George W. Bush, spoke when he visited Poland. In his first presidential visit, in 2001, Bush never referred to "the West." He did tell Poles that "We share a civilization." But in the next sentence he insisted that "Its values are universal." Because they are, he declared, "our trans-Atlantic community must have priorities beyond the consolidation of European peace. We must bring peace and health to Africa. ... We must work toward a world that trades in freedom ... a world of cooperation to enhance prosperity, protect the environment, and lift the quality of life for all."

In 2003, Bush returned, and in his main speech didn't use the terms "West" or "civilization" at all. After celebrating Poland's achievements, he said America and Europe "must help men and women around the world to build lives of purpose and dignity" so they don't turn to terrorism. He boasted that America was increasing its funding to fight global poverty and AIDS because "we add to our security by helping to spread freedom and alleviate suffering." And he said "America and Europe must work closely to develop and apply new technologies that will improve our air and water quality, and protect the health of the world's people."

Bush's vision echoed Francis Fukuyama's. America and Europe may have been further along the road to prosperity, liberty, capitalism, and peace than other parts of the world, but all countries could follow their path. And the more each did, the more America and Europe would benefit. In deeply Catholic Poland, Bush sprinkled his speeches with religious references, but they were about Christianity as a universal creed, a moral imperative that knew no civilizational bounds. By contrast, when Trump warned Poles about forces "from the south or the east, that threaten ... to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition," he was talking not about Christianity but about Christendom: a particular religious civilization that must protect itself from outsiders.

Perhaps Mr. Beinart should have been more precise here.  While it is true that Donald and Bannon and company define the West racially, there is no need for the rest of us to cede the definition to such people.  

As the Long War--the Cold War included--demonstrated much of the West did not always share the values of the Anglosphere.  While we reached the End of History--with its requirements of democracy, protestantism and market capitalism-- by 1776, much of continental Europe took another two centuries to accept the inevitable.  But the End is not just accessible to--indeed the destiny of--Europe but of people everywhere.  Prime examples like India and Japan are, of course, Western, having both had the advantage of being Anglo-American colonies.  Indeed, the point Fukuyama and W were making is that everyone can become Western and that there are, in truth, no viable alternatives.  

To the extent that Mr. Beinart accepts Donald's definition of the West he is making a threshold error. To the extent he meant to implicate that definition, demonstrate that it is Donald's and that it is racist, he is correct.

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Trump's son met Russian lawyer after promise of information on Clinton: NY Times (Reuters, 7/09/17)

President Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. agreed to meet with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing three advisers to the White House.

...as not to seek a quid pro quo for reversing America's sanctions policy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Saudi Arabia exports extremism to many countries - including Germany, study says : A British study has found that Saudi Arabia plays a key role in the radicalization of Muslims. The Wahhabi influence, fueled by oil money, can be seen in Germany as well, says researcher Susanne Schröter. (Deutsche-welle, 7/09/17)

DW: After the bloody terror attacks in Great Britain, there are an increasing number of studies being conducted on the cause of radicalization. Britain's Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, has published a report on foreign funding for extremist branches of Islam in Great Britain. Saudi Arabia has been clearly named as one of the greatest supporters. In the past 50 years, Riyadh has invested at least 76 billion euros ($86 billion) in Wahhabi extremism, the ideological basis of extremist and jihadist movements throughout the world. Are you surprised about these findings?

Susanne Schröter: The findings do not surprise me at all. It has long been known that Saudi Arabia has been exporting Wahhabist ideology - largely similar to the ideology of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). Propaganda material and organizational expertise are being sent along with money. People are being hired to build mosques, educational institutions, cultural centers and similar organizations, so that Wahhabist theology can reach the public - with great success.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


GOP and Dems Alike Stunned by Trump's Plan to Act with Putin on 'Cyber' (Rob Garver, July 9, 2017, Fiscal Times)

In a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Sunday, Republicans and Democrats came together in mutual astonishment after President Trump, in part of an early-morning storm of tweets, said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed joining forces to battle "election hacking & many other negative things."

From normalizing Bill Clinton to normalizing Donald Trump (Jeff Jacoby, 7/09/17, The Boston Globe)

Fifteen months later, is anyone still waiting for the 45th president of the United States to stop acting like a rowdy shock jock? Trump couldn't metamorphose into a thoughtful and levelheaded statesman even if he wanted to. His words are so often obnoxious and juvenile because that is his nature: He is vulgar, boastful, combative, and mean-spirited. He thrives on picking fights, he shows little respect for truth or Constitutional norms, and he relishes the pandemonium his invective triggers.

After Trump's crude Twitter attacks on MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether such insults aren't beneath the dignity of the presidency. Her response: Trump is a "fighter" and cannot be expected to be "attacked day after day, minute by minute, and sit back." Translation: Acting presidential is for losers.

Like all presidents, of course, Trump will be judged in part by his policy achievements, some of which may be first-rate. But his coarseness has already dragged the presidency to a sickening new low -- and we aren't even one-eighth of the way through the four-year term he was elected to.

For months, many of Trump's opponents have warned against allowing the president's thuggishness to be "normalized." Alas, that isn't an option. Americans "normalized" Trump by sending him to the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Here is the Chief Rabbinate's 'blacklist' of American rabbis (BEN SALES, July 9, 2017, JTA)

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has a list of some 160 rabbis it does not trust to confirm the Jewish identities of immigrants.

To get married in Israel, immigrants must prove they are Jewish to the Chief Rabbinate, often via a letter by a congregational rabbi attesting to the immigrant's Jewish identity. This list comprises rabbis whose letters were rejected during 2016. Rabbis from 24 different countries appear on the list, which includes several prominent American Orthodox leaders.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


It's starting to look ugly for the Republican healthcare bill (Bob Bryan , 7/09/17, Business Insider)

The most apparent troubles for the Republican conference came in the form of public reaction to their healthcare bill, which a survey this week showed had 17% support from US voters.

In a variety of public events and forums over the week-long recess, GOP lawmakers got an earful from constituents among the 83%. Even members who opposed the initial version of the healthcare legislation faced pressure.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine received from praise from constituents for her strong stance against the BCRA, but some implored her to remain steadfast in her opposition during a July 4 parade in Eastport, Maine.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas also faced pressure to maintain his stance against the legislation during a town hall on Thursday. Typically a safe bet to stick behind the GOP leadership, Moran repeatedly expressed his misgivings over the BCRA.

"The Affordable Care Act creates significant difficulties that still need major attention," Moran told reporters after the town hall. "But I think at this point, it's time to figure out how ... to get rid of the bad things and improve on the things that need to be improved."

Moran was one of only a handful of Republicans to hold events open to the public, including BCRA skeptics Bill Cassidy (who favors a more moderate approach) and Ted Cruz (who wants a stronger repeal). Cruz is pushing for an amendment to be added to the bill favored by conservatives, which would make it easier for states to opt out of certain Obamacare regulations.

Cruz also faced fervent pushback at various meetings around Texas.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Despite Deep Policy Divides, Europe Trip Seen by Buoyant Trump as High Point (GLENN THRUSH, JULY 8, 2017, NY Times)

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the only high-level American official allowed in the room with the president, had urged his boss to hit Mr. Putin hard on the issue -- but told an associate he was still stunned that Mr. Trump would begin the meeting, unceremoniously, by saying to the Russian leader, "I'm going to get this out of the way: Did you do this?"

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Should Tyler Cowen Believe in God? (Ross Douthat,  JULY 6, 2017, NY Times)

A little while ago the prolific and intellectually-promiscuous Tyler Cowen solicited the strongest arguments for the existence of God, and then with some prodding followed up with a post outlining some of his reasons for not being a believer. I can't match Cowen's distinctive mix of depth and pith, but I thought I'd take the liberty of responding to some of his reasons in a dialogic style, with my responses edited in between some of his thoughts. Nothing in here should be construed as an attempt to make the Best Argument for God, and the results are rather long and probably extremely self-indulgent, so consider yourself forewarned. But here goes.

Cowen: Not long ago I outlined what I considered to be the best argument for God, and how origin accounts inevitably seem strange to us; I also argued against some of the presumptive force behind scientific atheism. Yet still I do not believe, so why not?

I have a few reasons: We can distinguish between "strange and remain truly strange" possibilities for origins, and "strange and then somewhat anthropomorphized" origin stories. Most religions fall into the latter category, all the more so for Western religions. I see plenty of evidence that human beings anthropomorphize to an excessive degree, and also place too much weight on social information (just look at how worked up they get over social media), so I stick with the "strange and remain truly strange" options.  I don't see those as ruling out theism, but at the end of the day it is more descriptively apt to say I do not believe, rather than asserting belief ...

... The true nature of reality is so strange, I'm not sure "God" or "theism" is well-defined, at least as can be discussed by human beings.  That fact should not lead you to militant atheism (I also can't define subatomic particles), but still it pushes me toward an "I don't believe" attitude more than belief.  I find it hard to say I believe in something that I feel in principle I cannot define, nor can anyone else.

Me: Perhaps, but since you raise the strangeness of subatomic particles you might consider a third possibility for thinking about origins: Alongside "strange and remain truly strange" and "strange and then somewhat anthropomorphized," there might be a category that you could call "anthropomorphic/accessible on the surface and then somewhat stranger the deeper down you go."

This often seems to be the nature of physical reality as we experience and explore it. When we work on the surface of things, the everyday mechanics of physical cause and effect, we find a lot of clear-seeming laws and comprehensible principles of order. When we go down a level, to where the physical ladders (seem to) start, or up a level, to our own hard-to-fathom experiences of consciousness, we seem to brush up against paradox and mystery. So up to a point the universe yields to our fleshbound consciousness, our evolved-from-apes reasoning abilities, in genuinely extraordinary ways, enabling us to understand, predict, invent and master and explore. But then there are also depths and heights where our scientific efforts seem to trail off, fall short, or end up describing things that seem to us contradictory or impossible.

And by way of analogy it might be that there is a similar pattern in religion and theology. The anthropomorphizing tendency that makes you suspicious, the ascription of human attributes to God and the tendency of the divine to manifest itself in humanoid (if ambiguously so) forms, the role of angels and demons and djinn and demi-gods and saints and so forth in many religious traditions - all of this might just reflect a too-pat, too-anthopomorphic, and therefore made-up view of Who or What brought the world into being, Who or What sustains it. But alternatively -- and plausibly, I think -- it might represent the ways in which supernatural realities are made accessible to human perception, even as their ultimate nature remains beyond our capacities to fully grasp.

Which is, in fact, something that many religious traditions take for granted (the Catholic Church, for instance, does not teach that angels are really splendid androgynes with wings), something that's part of the architecture of ordinary belief (most people who habitually visualize God as an old man with a white beard would not so define him if pressed), and a big part of what the adepts of religion, mystics and theologians, tend to stress in their attempts to describe and define the nature of God.

Note, too, that this stress on surface accessibility and deep mystery is not something invented by clever moderns trying to save the phenomenon of religion from its critics. It is present from ancient times in every major religious tradition, providing a substantial ground of overlap between them -- David Bentley Hart is good on this, in a book that offers a partial answer to the definitional issue you raise -- and in Western monotheism it shows up in such not-exactly-obscure places as the Ten Commandments (no graven images for a reason) and the doctrine of the Trinity. (You will not find something that better fits the bill of "strange and remains truly strange" than what the Fathers of the Church came up with to define the Godhead.) Or, for that matter, in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, who in the gospel narratives is quite literally an anthropomorphic God, and then after his resurrection becomes, not a simple superman but something stranger -- sometimes recognizable and sometimes not, physical but transcending the physical, ghostly and yet flesh -- whose attributes the gospel writers report on in a somewhat amazed style without attempting to circumscribe or technically define.

Again, anthropomorphism is the initial layer, the first mechanism of revelation.

The peculiar genius of philosophy in the Anglosphere is that it goes further than Mr. Cowen there and says that his "I don't believe" posture is just as ungrounded as an "I believe" one at least as far as Reason and "reality" are concerned. It is precisely because reality as we perceive it rationally is so strange that one can hold no belief about it that is justified by reason.

But where does that leave us?  

The insight of the Anglosphere is that this Rationalist dilemma just isn't terribly important, because Reason itself is only a function of faith.  By disproving its own assertion, that reality must yield its secrets to reason, Reason refutes itself.  Instead of being a dispassionate system for the analysis of the world around us, it is a tool that we afford ourselves by accepting its usefulness as a matter of faith.  Thereby, it paradoxically proves the supremacy of faith.

Thereby we arrive at the genuinely interesting question : if we ultimately can only arrange our view of Reality by reference to faith, then what faith should we choose.  The answer, it would seem obvious, is the one that we find most beautiful and compelling.  Without putting too fine a point on it, to choose the Materialist faith is a monstrous embrace of anti-human ugliness.  The idea that each of us is only physical matter, wholly dispensable and wholly unimportant has unsurprisingly led to all of the murderous isms that plagued continental Europe: atheism, communism, Nazism, etc.

The Anglosphere avoided all this because we maintained our insistence that Reason/Materialism was not compelling.  Thus, David Hume:

But what have I here said, that reflections very refin'd and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Instead of Materialism then, we have always chosen the One Story: that Man was Created by God and given free will; that though we have continually used that freedom in ways that contravene His hopes for us, He has forgiven us and accepted that the ultimate blame lies with Him not us (as He proved prone to the same temptation on the Cross); that, therefore, each of us is a precious part of His Creation and that our endowments come from Him and can not be justifiably denied by fellow men; that we are commanded by Him to love one another.  

The beauty of this faith is sufficient unto itself.


Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM

MILEAGE MAY VARY (self-reference alert):

To Test Your Fake News Judgment, Play This Game (TENNESSEE WATSON, 7/03/17, Wyoming Public Radio)

Fake news has been on Maggie Farley's mind further back than 2016 when President Trump brought the term into the vernacular.

Farley, a veteran journalist, says we've had fake news forever and that "people have always been trying to manipulate information for their own ends," but she calls what we're seeing now "Fake news with a capital F." In other words, extreme in its ambition for financial gain or political power.

"Before, the biggest concern was, 'Are people being confused by opinion; are people being tricked by spin?' " Now, Farley says, the stakes are much higher.

So one day she says an idea came to her: build a game to test users' ability to detect fake news from real.

Voilà, Factitious. Give it a shot. (And take it from us, it's not as easy as you might think!)

We don't bother much with the fake news sites (like Breitbart), so it took a round to get the tenor of the genre.  But once you do your score should improve pretty quickly in successive rounds.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


What Is Human Dignity? :We display our dignity by imposing our will on nature to create a world where we can live as dignified beings--or not as miserably self-conscious and utterly precarious accidents... (Peter Augustine Lawler, Imaginative Conservative)

As we remember our friend Peter Augustine Lawler (1951-2017), we are proud to publish this selection from his insightful book Modern and American Dignity (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010). [...]

It was with such Greek reflections in mind that the Roman word dignitas took on a basically aristocratic connotation. Dignity is a worthiness or virtue that must be earned, and the dignified man is someone exceptional who attains distinction by his inner strength of character. Dignitas is a self-contained serenity, a kind of solid immobility that cannot be affected by worldly fortunes. For the Stoics, and especially for Cicero, dignity is democratic in the sense that it does not depend on social status; it is within reach of everyone from the slave (Epictetus) to the emperor (Marcus Aurelius). Dignity refers to the rational life possible for us all, but it is really characteristic only of the rare human being who is genuinely devoted to living according to reason.

Dignity, the contemporary Stoic novelist Tom Wolfe shows in A Man in Full, can shine through even in the life of a maximum-security prisoner who seems to have been deprived of every human good. Mr. Wolfe's novel shows both that the Stoic way of thinking is almost completely alien to American life today and that it still has powerful explanatory power. He shows us that our sociobiologists and neuroscientists have something to learn from what we might call Stoic science. The Council's book would have been more comprehensive had a genuine Stoic contributed a chapter, but no critic has yet registered that complaint. The early modern philosophers--following, in a certain way, St. Augustine's Christian critique of Stoic vanity--denied that human beings could ever achieve a rational, inward insulation from the effects of fortune. They contended instead that it is undignified to allow oneself be a plaything of fortune--of forces and people beyond your control.

There is nothing genuinely dignified in Stoic self-deception about our real bodily dependence. Human beings are stuck with being concerned, most of all, with keeping their fragile bodies alive. So there is something dignified in facing up to that truth and doing something about it--acting with freedom and intelligence to make yourself more secure. In Hobbes's view, your own life is infinitely valuable and irreplaceable to you, but it cannot seem that way to anyone else. Therefore, Hobbes reasons, your dignity is nothing more than your "public worth." And that is nothing more than the price your powers can bring: Your dignity is your productivity.

Others recognize your worth only insofar as they can use--and are willing to pay for--what you can do. We have every right to work to become as dignified as we can be, but we do not have an equal right to dignity. Hobbes is for equal rights, but equal dignity is impossible.

There is a lot to be said for ranking people--determining their excellence or importance--according to their productivity. Vain illusions which generate the idleness that comes with inward serenity are dispelled. There is, we learn, no invisible realm of freedom, no impregnable Stoic fortress, into which we can securely retreat. It is undeniable progress to stop ranking people according to their social class, gender, race, religion, and so forth. Productivity is the most visible and surest foundation for a meritocracy--which is why Americans today are having more trouble than ever finding a higher standard than productivity to determine their dignity. Even with the economic downturn, Americans are wealthier and freer than ever, but their dignity seems to depend more than ever on being useful and pleasing to others. They increasingly lack the inward self-confidence that comes with having a personal standard higher than "success." We might want to say that Americans are both more and less free than ever--and in a way that would earn a Stoic's cold contempt.

This is the source of the fear of technology and the end of labor.  For millennia we have tried to convince people that dignity is intrinsic in work.  The inanity of the idea is obvious when we pause for a moment to consider slaves, serfs and the like.  Or, for the Abrahamist, if we just consider that labor was a punishment from God.

Of course, as technology began displacing jobs, we of the white collar world tried consoling ourselves that creative classes would be exempted, because uniquely irreplaceable, that only the "average" would be affected.  Our brain work must, surely, have a value and dignity that mere manual labor does not.  But now the machines are coming for us too and that boast turns out to be hollow.

We are thrust back upon the most terrifying of all thoughts for mortal man : our worth lies not in any economic transaction but in what type of people we are, in how we behave, particularly towards others.  

Meanwhile, it is hardly coincidental that the dignity of labor mummery was so well-suited to an individualistic capitalist economy while relocating dignity to our moral being is better-suited to a Third Way economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Anti-Semitism Around Donald Trump (Jonah Shepp, 7/09/17, New York)

[H]e was unable to squeeze in a stop at the monument to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, sending his daughter Ivanka to lay flowers there instead.

With that decision, Trump became the first U.S. president in nearly 30 years not pay his respects at the monument on his first state visit to Poland. Leaders of the Jewish community there expressed disappointment in his decision to skip it. [...]

In his Warsaw speech, Trump referred frequently to "the West" and to "our civilization," going so far as to state grandiosely: "The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive." This claim, Peiter Beinart observes at the Atlantic, "only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia":

The "south" and "east" only threaten the West's "survival" if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West's "survival" if by "West" you mean white, Christian hegemony. ... So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America's identity, he's in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He's not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He's speaking as the head of a tribe.

What makes this language particularly notable in this context is that the crowd Poland's government bussed in to cheer Trump on may have an even more circumscribed view of who does and does not belong in the West. While the Law and Justice party is not overtly anti-Semitic, the same cannot be said for all of its supporters, and its perspective on history betrays a certain resentment of the prominence given to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust. Bolstered by the government's right-wing populism and xenophobia, anti-Semitism has come into vogue again in the home of Auschwitz and Sobibor in recent years, just as it has in other European countries.

Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, for instance, may insist that his latest campaign of posters depicting George Soros as a sinister caricature of the laughing Jew is just about Soros, the individual -- but it's not convincing. Not incidentally, the Orban and Trump administrations are disturbingly friendly. Orban welcomed Trump's inauguration as "the end of multilateralism" and has praised his heavy-handed approach to controlling immigration, and Trump's Islamophobic counterterrorism advisor Sebastian Gorka was once an advisor to Orban.

Trump may be drawn to European nationalists like Orban by nothing more than their shared suspicion of Islam, but he is apparently blind to the anti-Semitism that tends to coexist with that variety of Islamophobia.

"Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day."

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


U.S. Faults Russia in Energy Firm Hackings (Ellen Nakashima, 7/08/17, The Washington Post)

Russian government hackers were behind recent cyber-intrusions into the business systems of U.S. nuclear power and other energy companies in what appears to be an effort to assess their networks, according to U.S. government officials.

Yeah, but Vlad told Donald it wasn't him.
Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Corpses of Foreign ISIS Extremists Pile up in Mosul (Asharq Al-Awsat, 7/09/17)

Miles away from their homelands, the bodies of foreign ISIS terrorists have been piling up on the ruins of the Old City of Mosul.

These extremists, including dozens of Frenchmen, have displayed the fiercest resistance in their defense of their stronghold in the second largest Iraqi city, reported AFP.

More than three quarters of the remaining terrorists in Mosul are foreigners, according to Iraqi commanders who have reported a spike in suicide attacks as anti-ISIS forces close in on the Old City.

"They never surrender," said General Abdel Ghani al-Assadi, a commander in Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service.

"Old Mosul will be their graveyard." 

16 years late, but not too late.
Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM

CUSTODIAL CREW (profanity alert):

Why the All Blacks are so great : What makes New Zealand's national rugby team the most dominant side in the history of sport? (XAN RICE, 7/07/17, New Statesman)

For New Zealanders, the magic is more in the hands than the feet, as demonstrated by flyhalf Beauden Barrett in the first Test against the Lions, when he scooped the ball up off the ground one-handed while being chased towards his own tryline.

And it is not only All Black backline players who are expected to have those skills. "When it comes to handling, backs everywhere [in all Test-playing nations] can do it well," Oliver said. "But with our forwards - that's where you see the big difference. You can never play with width unless all your players can catch and look up and pass."

They also need to be able to deal with pressure. The New Zealand public believes the All Blacks should win every game, which is why they seldom field a second-string team, even at the season's end in the autumn internationals in Europe. But at times, especially in World Cups, the weight of expectation has become too much.

"You either walk towards the pressure or fight it and play the victim, saying it's an impossible task to win all the time. Since 2004, we have walked towards that pressure, and used it as a positive thing," Oliver said.

That was the year Graham Henry took over as coach, and the start of a new era of dominance. Henry understood that he needed to step back and empower the players - an approach that his assistant Steve Hansen stuck with after taking over at the end of 2011. "It was all about removing the fear of a mistake: express yourself, trust your instincts and make a decision," Oliver said. "If you think it's on - go!" It's why Barrett attempted his audacious pick-up instead of diving on the ball, a safer option. He knew that if he messed up there would be no recrimination.

There was also a subtle change in the culture of the team. "What the All Blacks managed to do, especially since 2004, was to create a legacy, passing on the intergenerational lore. We talk about being 'custodians of the jersey'. You want to leave the jersey in a better place than where you found it," Oliver said.

Character matters. "There are two questions we ask when someone comes into the All Blacks squad. What are you prepared to sacrifice? And what are you going to give to the team?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Iowa woman who tried to vote for Trump twice pleads guilty to election misconduct (CBS News, 7/09/17)

A woman from Des Moines, Iowa, pleaded guilty to election misconduct for attempting to cast two separate ballots in the 2016 presidential election for then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

According to the Associated Press, Terri Lynn Rote, 57, entered her plea for the felony charge on June 27. Court documents state that lawyers affiliated with the case are recommending Rote face up to two years of probation with community service on the side. 

Rote told police why she tried to vote more than once. She was convinced her first vote for Mr. Trump would be manipulated and changed to a vote for then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. According to her statement to the police, Rote believed Mr. Trump's claims about widespread election rigging. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM



As the transportation sector represents 37% of California's emissions and 45% of Vermont's, advancing the uptake of zero-emissions vehicles - coupled with increased renewable energy deployment - is crucial to achieve the states' ambitious climate goals.

Other benefits of a cleaner transportation system include improved air quality and cost savings linked to reduced fuel imports, both of which are crucial for the two states: California tends to have a worse air quality than the national average, while 60% of Vermont's energy consumption is based on petroleum imports, mostly used for transportation. More specifically, Drive the Dream was designed to fill a policy gap in California and Vermont: the incentivization of workplace charging.

On a global scale, the 2 degrees Celsius scenario provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 140 million electric vehicles will be needed on the roads by 2030 to keep global warming below the 2 degrees threshold.

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), electric cars could save 125 million tons of CO2 per year by 2030 and up to 1.5 billion tons per year by 2050.

A total of 777,497 EVs were sold globally last year (a 41% increase on 2015), pushing the number of EVs on the roads past the symbolic threshold of two million. The surge has been attributed to falling costs - the price of lithium-ion batteries, which account for about 40% of an EVs cost, has fallen by approximately two thirds since 2010 - and an increasing number of supporting policies have also played a key role.

July 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


G.O.P. Support of Senate Health Repeal Erodes During Break (JENNIFER STEINHAUER and ROBERT PEAR, JULY 7, 2017, NY Times)

Well short of the 50 votes needed to pass his bill, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, repeated his fears this week that his party may be stuck tweaking the Affordable Care Act with Democrats. He raised the prospects of a bipartisan fallback last week on the driveway of the White House, and again on Thursday in Glasgow, Ky.

If Republicans cannot pass a bill on their own, they may need to work with Democrats on short-term measures to stabilize insurance markets that, by their account, are on the verge of collapse in many states.

The original Republican opposition to the repeal bill was led mainly by senators from states that have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, providing coverage to millions of people who had been uninsured. Now senators from largely rural states, where hospitals stand to lose millions of dollars under the bill, are expressing concerns.

On Thursday, Mr. Moran faced constituents upset at the prospect that the health law might be repealed, and he reiterated his opposition to the bill as it stands now.

Earlier this week, Mr. Hoeven, after a round table with health care executives in North Dakota, said he did "not support the Senate health care bill in its current form."

Republican leaders may have worried most about Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid and feared the loss of federal funds, but objections have also come from other places. Twenty Republican senators are from states that have expanded Medicaid; 32 are from states that have not.

McConnell says GOP must shore up ACA insurance markets if Senate bill dies (Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein July 6, 2017, Washington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that if his party fails to muster 50 votes for its plan to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, it will have no choice but to draft a more modest bill with Democrats to support the law's existing insurance markets.

This has only been obvious since 2009.
Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump Team Met With Lawyer Linked to Kremlin During Campaign (JO BECKER, MATT APUZZO and ADAM GOLDMAN, JULY 8, 2017, NY Times)

Two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.

The previously undisclosed meeting was also attended by Mr. Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to interviews and the documents, which were outlined by people familiar with them.

While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump's inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald J. Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.

Representatives of Donald J. Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner confirmed the meeting after The Times approached them with information about it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Why Does Donald Trump Keep Dissing Jews? (Frank Bruni JULY 8, 2017, NY Times)

[F]irst, the record: He'd been in office just a week when International Holocaust Remembrance Day rolled round and his administration issued a statement that bizarrely omitted any specific mention of Jews. Administration officials made no apology, saying that millions of people who weren't Jewish died in the Holocaust and that by not singling out any one group of victims, the White House had taken a more "inclusive" approach.

Then there was an initial, strange silence from Trump and his aides about a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism and bomb threats around the country in January and February.

In May, in Israel, Trump insisted on a much shorter stop at Yad Vashem, an important Holocaust memorial and museum, than either Barack Obama or George W. Bush had made, and he stuck to that plan even as many Israelis and American Jews cried foul. The tone-deaf breeziness of his approach was accentuated by the message he left in the visitors' book: "It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends -- so amazing & will never forget!" As Yair Rosenberg of the Jewish magazine Tablet tweeted, it was "basically just what teenagers write in each other's high school yearbooks."

Ivanka Trump went to the Warsaw memorial in her father's stead, though Trump softened that blow somewhat by mentioning, in his big Warsaw speech, that "the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland's Jewish citizens."

Ivanka converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner, and the couple's key roles in the White House mean that Trump has observant Jews at the very core of his presidency -- and of his life.

But that didn't stop him from making remarks to Jewish Republican donors in December 2015 that seemed to play into an anti-Semitic stereotype. "I'm a negotiator -- like you folks," he said, later adding: "Is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room? Perhaps more than any room I've ever spoken to."

During his presidential campaign, he embraced the favor of groups and people who trafficked in white supremacy. He re-tweeted material from proudly anti-Semitic Twitter feeds, and prompted a furor by promoting an image that placed Hillary Clinton's face atop a pile of cash and beside a six-pointed star on which "most corrupt candidate ever" was written.

The website PolitiFact concluded that it was "unlikely that the Trump campaign intended to put out a Star of David image. In fact, the campaign moved to replace the star with a circle when the image gained attention." Even so, PolitiFact noted, Trump had an unusual habit of "using social media to broadcast material that comes from sources with a history of spreading racism, anti-Semitism or white supremacy."

I'm not convinced that Trump is much of an anti-Semite, any more than I'm convinced that he's much of a homophobe. (Racism and sexism are another matter.) But I think he's so thirsty for, and intoxicated by, whatever love comes his way that he's loath to rebuff the sources of it.

A prominent Jewish Republican put it well. "I think Trump is such a pathological narcissist that the act of telling people who love you that you reject them -- he can't get around that," he told me, interpreting Trump's reasoning this way: "What can be wrong with them? They're for me!"

Trump is disinclined to denounce any constituency or tactics that elevate him to the throne, where he's sure that he belongs. 

Jews voted against him; bigots for.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Trump Aides on Podesta Tweet: 'No Idea What He Is Talking About' (LACHLAN MARKAY & ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, 07.07.17, Daily Beast)

The tweet baffled White House aides on the trip. "I have no idea what he's talking about," one messaged The Daily Beast. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the bizarre tweet.

According to those present, the only world leader at the summit who was actively bringing up Podesta and "the DNC server" was the U.S. president.

"Trump himself brought it up" randomly in person while talking to staff, a senior official on the trip told The Daily Beast. Puzzled advisers nodded politely or ignored him...

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Putin says Trump was 'satisfied' with his election meddling denials (Denis Dyomkin, 7/08/17, Reuters)

President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he thought his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump had been satisfied with his assertions that Russia had not meddled in the U.S. presidential election.

Speaking at the end of a G20 summit in Germany where the two leaders met face-to-face for the first time, Putin said he believed he had been able to establish a personal relationship with Trump, and that the initial groundwork had been laid for an improvement in U.S.-Russian ties.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


Far Right Unites In 'Meme War' Against CNN (Media matters, 7/08/17)

Members of online forum boards dedicated to President Donald Trump and far-right ideologies have called for the "next meme war," this time against CNN. The call to arms is retaliation for allegations that the cable network blackmailed a Reddit user into publicly apologizing for creating a pro-Trump GIF that depicted Trump tackling a man who had a CNN logo superimposed on his face, and removing his hateful posts on these message boards. [...]

A post on 4chan explained what the latest meme war, titled "Operation: Autism Storm," would entail. The operation's primary focus, according to the post, would be to produce "as many anti-CNN memes as possible and spreading it" to high traffic websites beyond the fringe. The call to arms also urged participants to "discredit every journalist at CNN," and to target CNN's advertisers to stop them from advertising on the network.

In the days after the article was published and 4chan and Reddit users called for meme warfare, "#CNNBlackmail" was a top trending topic on Twitter. The contingent of pro-Trump internet wizards also overran numerous boards on Reddit and 4chan with images attacking CNN's credibility. Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson suggested that CNN may have reunited "the alt-right & the new right in a common cause" after a prior rift among the "alt-right" factions.

This potent group of like-minded internet campaigners repeatedly proved their ability to organize and operate extremely effective smear campaigns during the 2016 election. According to an entry on Encyclopedia Dramatica, one of the most notable moments in "The Great Meme War" was the group's viral portrayal of former presidential candidate Jeb Bush as a weak and sad "stinking turtle-lover with a guacamole fetish." This characterization of "low energy" Bush cast him as a man unable to withstand what meme creators referred to as "high-energy" Trump. The Encyclopedia Dramatica entry also credited the same organized effort to push "a stream of new and fearsome dank memes," featuring "Pepe the Frog" after the Anti-Defamation League classified the character as a hate symbol.

Fringe far-right media figures have also noticed the potency of these groups, and have used their platforms to encourage their followers to participate in the effort to spread the anti-CNN memes to larger audiences. Infowars' Alex Jones has even launched an anti-CNN meme contest, promising a $20,000 reward for the "best meme" he receives. Alternative right-wing media figures such as online personality KimDotcom, Infowars contributor and internet troll Mike Cernovich, and even the president's son Donald Trump Jr. have used their platforms to spread anti-CNN rhetoric and images alongside those leading the online meme brigades.

there's a reason all trolls sound the same.

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Trump Handed Putin a Stunning Victory : From his speech in Poland to his two-hour summit in Hamburg, the president seemed determined to promote Russia's dark and illiberal view of the world. (MOLLY K. MCKEW July 07, 2017, Politico)

President Donald Trump needed to accomplish two things this week during his visits to Poland and the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. First, he needed to reassure America's allies that he was committed to collective defense and the core set of values and principles that bind us together. Second, he needed to demonstrate that he understands that the greatest threat to that alliance, those values, and our security is the Kremlin.

Trump delivered neither of these. In very concrete terms, through speech and action, the president signaled a willingness to align the United States with Vladimir Putin's worldview, and took steps to advance this realignment. He endorsed, nearly in its totality, the narrative the Russian leader has worked so meticulously to construct.

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Ivanka Trump sits in for the president at G20 (AFP, July 8, 2017)

For a moment at the G20 summit on Saturday the United States was represented by another Trump, when the president's daughter Ivanka took a seat at the table of world leaders.

The 35-year-old former fashion model sat around the table with Xi Jinping, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Angela Merkel and Theresa May, diplomats and the White House confirmed.

On the one hand, no one thinks he has the stamina for this job and Mike Pence has put as much distance between him and Donald as humanly possible*, but, on the other, isn't it the Sabbath?

*He was probably at NASA to see if he could go on a three year mission.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Why Single-Payer Health Care Saves Money (ROBERT H. FRANK, JULY 7, 2017, NY Times)

Total costs are lower under single-payer systems for several reasons. One is that administrative costs average only about 2 percent of total expenses under a single-payer program like Medicare, less than one-sixth the corresponding percentage for many private insurers. Single-payer systems also spend virtually nothing on competitive advertising, which can account for more than 15 percent of total expenses for private insurers.

The most important source of cost savings under single-payer is that large government entities are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with service providers. In 2012, for example, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery was more than $73,000 in the United States but less than $23,000 in France.

While both while save considerable money--measuring total health care costs as a percentage of GDP--the advantage of universal HSAs over single payer is that it affords less freedom.  Obviously by cutting health care costs in half you free up considerable money for productive investment, but single payer trusts that will happen spontaneously while HSAs force the investment upon individuals.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Trump promises May a post-Brexit free trade deal with UK 'very, very quickly' (Adam Bienkov, 7/08/17, Business Insider)

Donald Trump has promised a post-Brexit free trade deal with Britain "very, very quickly" following his meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May at the G20 summit.

Trump said the US and UK would work closely together to produce a new free trade deal.

"No country could possibly be closer than our countries," he said.

The success of his presidency is completely dependent on doing the opposite of what he "believes."

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Resigning ethics director says Trump businesses appear to profit from presidency (JOSH DELK - 07/06/17, The Hill)

Walter Shaub, the leader of the federal government's ethics office who announced his resignation on Thursday, suggested that Trump-brand businesses are benefiting from Donald Trump's presidency.

When asked during a CBS News interview on Thursday whether Trump's businesses were benefiting from his time in office, Shaub said he "can't be sure."

"I can't know what their intention is. I know that the effect is that there is an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency. And appearance matters as much as reality," Shaub said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


What the stock market's rise under Trump should teach Democrats (Mike Konczal,  Jul 7, 2017, Vox)

Democrats have come to view themselves as neutral caretakers of the existing economic system

Stewardship conveys ideas of looking after and keeping order. Democrats now see their role as serving as a fair broker among the competing parts of the economy. They insist they can come up with an arrangement in which capital and labor are simultaneously better off, and that they are the ones who will make the hard decisions, in contrast with the feckless Republicans.

Think of the number of times Democrats have emphasized that they balance the budget while Republicans run giant deficits. Think of the balancing acts required to promote reform without naming business as an enemy -- as we saw in both the financial and health care arenas. Think of how President Obama tried to achieve a Grand Bargain with Republicans in 2011 that would have cut Social Security under the mantra of responsibility, only to be stopped by the fact that conservatives wouldn't budge an inch in raising taxes. [...]

One key question for Democrats is the old labor one: "Which side are you on?" The Democratic Party used to give the answer, as Harry Truman did in 1948, that it "is pledged to work for labor." In recent decades they've given an answer that was essentially "all sides, for the common good." After 2016, Democrats should pick a side again.

The answer, of course, is the same for both parties : they need to be on the side of shareholders and on the side of universalizing and extending shareholding.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans' hard line on immigration (Dana Varinsky , 7/07/17, Business Insiders)

The congressman who has represented northwest Iowa for 15 years once suggested that Mexican immigrants had "calves the size of cantaloupes" from smuggling drugs across the border. He has been seen with a Confederate flag on his desk (though Iowa supported the Union Army), and he tweeted in March that the US "can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

He even built a model of a border wall on the floor of Congress in 2006 -- nearly a decade before Donald Trump adopted the cause.

But on the farms that fill Steve King's district, his constituents have more nuanced, complicated politics than the Republican congressman's rhetoric might suggest.

Thousands of immigrants have moved to northwest Iowa in recent decades, attracted by farms and meat producers in need of workers willing to raise pigs, milk cows, or butcher animals. Between 2000 and 2015, the Latino population in Sioux Center, one of the larger cities in the district, more than tripled. According to the census, King's district is now home to nearly 50,000 people who consider themselves Hispanic or Latino -- about 6% of the area's population. 

That means that even some of King's supporters -- he took 61% of the vote in November -- are being forced to reconcile their conservative politics with a business reality that has taken on a moral weight. They rely on immigrants, and some will go to extraordinary lengths to support them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Donald Trump's speech could have been written by Poland's populists : In Warsaw, America's president barely mentions democracy (The Economist, Jul 7th 2017)

[W]ith its echoes of Samuel Huntington's clash of civilisations, it was a dramatic departure. Earlier American administrations defined "the West" with reference to values such as democracy, liberty and respect for human rights. Mr Trump and many of his advisers, including the speech's authors, Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, apparently see it as rooted in ethnicity, culture and religion. When George W. Bush visited Poland for his first presidential visit, in 2001, he referred to democracy 13 times. When Barack Obama spoke in Warsaw in 2014, he mentioned democracy nine times. For Mr Trump, once sufficed.

The speech included some of the usual Trumpian improvisations. ("That's trouble. That's tough," Mr Trump said of the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east.) But for the most part, it was a disciplined repetition of familiar themes: the"dire threats" of Islamic extremism and immigration, "the steady creep of government bureaucracy", the dark forces conspiring "to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are." Mr Trump invoked the "blood of patriots", and the ties of family and God. The rhetoric sounded strikingly similar to that used by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party that governs Poland, and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The spectators, mainly conservative Catholics bused in from around the country and promised a free picnic at the defence ministry afterwards, lapped it up, chanting "Donald Trump! Donald Trump!" One 60-year-old restaurant worker from Warsaw, who joined PiS last year, applauded Mr Trump's appreciation of Polish heroism and Christian values. Islam, he says, "teaches people to kill". Beata Drozdz, who runs a far-right weekly in Piotrkow Trybunalski, a town in central Poland, said she had tears in her eyes during the speech: "It was unforgettable." The crowd hurled insults at opposition politicians, booing when Lech Walesa, the anti-communist hero and a critic of the current government, left the square.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


A new trade deal between the EU and Japan : Besides slashing tariffs on cheese and cars, it sends a message to Donald Trump (The Economist, Jul 8th 2017)

Average tariffs between the two sides are already low, but prizes are still there to be grasped. Exporters from the EU pay €1bn ($1.1bn) in export duties to Japan each year, and on agricultural products face average tariffs of 21%. JEEPA will slash Japanese tariffs on beef, pork and wine, eliminating 85% of the tariffs on agricultural food products going into Japan. European producers of Roquefort cheese or prosecco can cheer: their products become two of 205 protected "geographical indications". Similarly, only feta from Greece will be sold under that name.

Tariffs on European exports of textiles and clothing will also be cut. When the deal enters into force, Japanese tariffs on shoes will drop from 30% to 21%, and then to zero after ten years. The Japanese have won concessions, too. Tariffs on Japanese cars going into the EU are currently 10%, but will be lowered over seven years. An assessment of the impact of the deal (before the final details were agreed on) suggested that almost half of the benefit to Japan would be from these lower tariffs. It found the deal could raise the EU's exports to Japan by 34%, and Japan's to the EU by 29%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


At G-20, world aligns against Trump policies ranging from free trade to climate change (Michael Birnbaum and Damian Paletta, July 7, 2017, Washington Post)

The growing international isolation of the United States under President Trump was starkly apparent Friday as the leaders of major world economies mounted a nearly united opposition front against Washington on issues ranging from climate to free trade.

At a gathering of the Group of 20 world economic powers -- normally a venue for drab displays of international comity -- there were tough clashes with the United States and even talk of a possible transatlantic trade war.

The tensions were a measure of Trump's sharp break with previous U.S. policies. They were also a warning signal of Washington's diminished clout, as the leaders of the other nations who gathered in Hamburg mulled whether to fix their signatures to statements that would exclude Trump or to find some sort of compromise. Two European officials said they were leaning toward a united front against Washington.

He's never been good at anything, but he's spectacularly bad at this whole presidency thing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


On North Korea, Trump's on the Right Track (Bret Stephens JULY 7, 2017, NY Times)

The right answer is that we want the Kim regime out of North Korea. It isn't the nukes that ought mainly to worry us. It's the hands that hold them.

Critics of a regime-change strategy note that the only way it could be brought about -- short of war, coup or uprising -- is with China's acquiescence. Beijing could end the flow of diesel and gas to Pyongyang, invite Kim for a parley, and permanently ensconce him in the guesthouse that once housed Cambodia's deposed Prince Sihanouk. Instead, Beijing prefers to maintain the North as a buffer state, a diplomatic bargaining chip and a tool for indirectly threatening the United States.

Until recently, Beijing paid no price for this behavior. It went along with ineffectual United Nations sanctions but enforced them lackadaisically, if at all. That started to change only last year, when the Obama administration charged four Chinese individuals and a Chinese company with laundering funds for the North.

The good news is that the Trump administration has picked up the theme with a new round of sanctions on Chinese entities. It shouldn't stop there. As Anthony Ruggiero of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies notes, the goal should be to push Chinese banks and businesses to make a fundamental choice between trading with Pyongyang and having access to dollars. The market will reach its own verdict. Last month's billion-dollar United States arms sale to Taiwan, along with United States Navy challenges to Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, should also send the message that the administration will exact a price on Beijing for ignoring American security interests.

In other words -- gasp! -- the administration's on the right track. 

Actually, war is the right track, not least because it will destabilize the PRC too.  Happily, the regime is so paranoid that it has minimized the potential for collateral damage in Pyongyang itself. Only loyalists are allowed.
Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Why Progressivism and Religion Don't Go Together : Leftists want government to do the work of God -- transform human beings into perfect creatures .(ALEXANDRA DESANCTIS, July 7, 2017, National Review)

While the problems afflicting the party must stem from some combination of these factors, Democrats' scorn for religion should be their biggest concern. That scorn is compounded by the party's sudden and dramatic swerve to the Left on key social issues -- abortion, contraception, religious liberty, and marriage, to name a few -- in a quest for votes from far-Left, progressive Americans. [...]

Progressivism has always been premised on the notion that man has a changeable nature and thus is able to achieve perfection during his time on earth. As a result, progressives consistently maintain that government is responsible for transforming men and women into perfect creatures. They develop programs and reforms suited not for man as he is, but for man as he ought to be (and, progressives would argue, for man as he could become, with the right societal structures).

Against that idea, most religious believers contend that man is flawed by his very nature and incapable of perfecting himself without the help of God, and that perfection is in fact unattainable during earthly life. While sects and denominations differ vastly, religion itself -- and indeed any dependence on a Creator -- is a direct contradiction to the progressive conception of man as changeable and perfectible.

In short, progressivism and religion -- understood as a fundamental reliance on God rather than on oneself or on other men -- are inherently incompatible. Where progressivism asserts that properly ordered government can and should transform man into a perfect being who lives in a man-made utopia, religion insists that God, not government, is responsible for changing men's hearts.

Orestes Brownson's Republican Remedies (Scott Yenor, June 28, 2017, Claremont Review of Books)

No one cringed at the younger Brownson's naive idealism--what Tocqueville called a faith in the "indefinite perfectibility of man"--more than the older Brownson, who converted to Catholicism in 1844. Though his zeal for social reform never wavered, Brownson changed his mind about the modern regime's ends.

Brownson developed a more nuanced understanding of the nature and conditions for religious freedom, and its relation to modern democracy. The mature Brownson equated religious freedom with "civil tolerance." Though error, he argued, has no rights before God, the erring and unerring stand as equals before the civil authority. Brownson's position opposed both traditional Catholic teaching, which insisted error had no rights before either God or the civil authority, and modern humanitarians, who doubted man could ever err before God. Within this civil space, thought Brownson, man must be left free to situate himself before God. Liberty of conscience must therefore extend to individuals and churches.

Brownson believed certain elements of the modern regime were inimical to human flourishing. Protestantism's embrace of individualism, modern democracy's assertion of indefinite human power over the moral and physical world, and consensual government's continual remaking of the civil order all combined to uproot the citizen, leaving him at the mercy of his own fallen nature.

Checking modernity's destructive tendencies required: reverence for restraints of the sort found in America's Constitution; informal and social checks on government's power; adherence to the inviolable liberty of the human person with respect to belief and property; and an understanding of the ends individual liberty serves. But ultimately, a widespread conversion to traditional Christianity, i.e., Catholicism, was necessary to counter the modernizing revolution.

The checks on modernity are unjustified absent the doctrines of traditional Christianity. Each check points to man's sinfulness or his thirst for community. The mature Brownson--in what seems a direct rebuke to his earlier self--held that "the mad effort to separate progress from religion...has rendered modern Liberalism everywhere destructive, and everywhere a failure." Though he retained his understanding of progress and civilization, he became convinced that they were inseparable from religious authority.

Such have been the terms of the struggle for centuries now, as the Anglosphere advanced from victory to victory.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


In Times Like These, Be Grateful We Have a "Deep State" (David Atkins July 8, 2017, New York)

I'll be the first to admit that I've not generally been a fan of what is colloquially known as the "deep state." The ponderous bureaucracy of economic, intelligence and military professionals in the nation's capital tends to be averse to change and deeply committed to Washington Consensus policy, which essentially means enforcing a loose Pax Americana along market-oriented lines, often via coercive military and economic aggression on behalf of corporate interests. 

Also known as Americanism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


AUDIO : How Do You Make Bread? (JANE LINDHOLM & MELODY BODETTE, 7/07/17, VPR: But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids

How is bread made? Who made the first cake? Why shouldn't you touch raw eggs? On this episode of But Why, we're talking about baking. We get a lesson in bread making on a field trip to King Arthur Flour.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


A diabetes medication that costs 6 cents a pill could be a key to living longer (Lydia Ramsey , 7/07/17, Business Insider)

Metformin has been around in one form or another for centuries -- Wired reports that it's actually a modified version of a compound found in the flower Galega officinalis, which you may know as French lilac. It was approved by the FDA for diabetes treatment of type 2 diabetes in 1994 (not type 1, which is the result of an autoimmune disorder) though it was available in other countries before then.

Today, metformin one of the most popular prescriptions in the US, according to GoodRx. The drug can cost as little as $4, or 6 cents a pill. 

Since metformin was approved for diabetes, it has started to be used off-label to treat conditions like pre-diabetes, gestational diabetes, and polycystic ovarian disease. Some retrospective studies and preclinical work have indicated that it might also lower a person's risk of cancer, though at least one clinical trial wasn't able to show that it had any protective effect on esophageal cancer.  

Some futurists like Ray Kurzweil are already taking metformin for their health. 

Using the drug as an anti-aging treatment makes sense, since it helps the body be more sensitive to insulin, which in turn lowers the amount of blood sugar in the body and helps things run more smoothly. That may mean the drug could simply help people feel healthier for longer than they might have otherwise -- a phenomenon known as increasing the "healthspan."

A number of studies have linked metformin to an extended, healthier life in non-human settings. Experiments in nematodes and male mice have found that the drug can increase the lifespans (and in some cases healthspans) of the organisms. 

A 2014 retrospective analysis of an earlier study involving roughly 180,000 people also found that those with type 2 diabetes who took metformin lived longer than those in the non-diabetic control group.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Trump Caves to Putin (STEPHEN F. HAYES, 7/07/17, Weekly Standard)

The Trump administration has touted its approach to the world as "principled realism." But what are the principles that lead to a naive embrace of an adversary? And what kind of realism requires a willful ignorance of reality?

Tillerson summarized the Trump-Putin meeting this way: "The two leaders, I would say, connected very quickly. There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two."

Yes. And that's the problem.

July 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


IS claims attack in Egypt's Sinai that killed 26 soldiers (ASHRAF SWELIAM AND MAGGIE MICHAEL July 8, 2017, AP) 

Islamic militants attacked a remote Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula with a suicide car bomb and heavy machine gun fire on Friday, killing at least 26 soldiers in the deadliest attack in the turbulent region in two years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Trump Says It Is 'an Honor' to Meet With Vladmir Putin (Eric Levitz, 7/07/17)

President Trump's first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin has begun. Ahead of their extended sitdown at the G20 summit, the two leaders briefly addressed the press. The president said that it was "an honor" to meet with the man who recently launched a multi-pronged attack on our nation's democratic process...

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Want to Secede? First, Take This Test : How libertarians can separate some independence movements from others. (Tyler Cowen, 7/07/17, Bloomberg View)

One approach to secession is the libertarian notion of self-governance. In this view, secession is a check against potential tyranny. If the rule of a centralized authority becomes too oppressive, part of the larger unit can break away and move toward freer and more democratic policies. 

A good example of a relatively libertarian secession was when Estonia left the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Today, governance in Estonia is much better than in Russia, and the separation, while perhaps still precarious, has been fully peaceful.

When an empire is crumbling, and the rulers are very bad, the libertarian approach to secession makes good sense. That said, it's not a fully general principle. 

Sometimes a region wants to leave a country because of differences of ethnicity, religion, language or background culture, as is the case with the Scottish independence movement and the Catalonian secessionists. In those instances, it's not obvious whether a unified or a newly independent government would result in greater liberty and prosperity. And for all the strong feelings you will find, I am not sure there is an objectively correct moral answer as to whether there should be one nation or two. [...]

Another problem with the libertarian approach to secession is that it doesn't offer a limiting principle. Say the city of Portland, Oregon, by a margin of 70 percent wanted to leave the Trump-led United States. Few people would regard this as a good reason to allow the separation, and it could lead to the messy fracturing of many larger political units. A successful Southern secession during the 1860s would have meant a continuation of slavery in that new country.

The conservative (small c) approach to secession tends to oppose the idea, unless there is a clear and overwhelming benefit from a political split, or unless both parties are in calm agreement, as with the separation of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. That would mean thumbs down for the secessionist movements in Scotland and Catalonia. [...]

What then was the case for American secession, putting aside the biases of American patriotism? Had America stayed part of the British Empire, taxes would have been fairly low, and perhaps slavery would have been abolished more quickly. Still, it doesn't seem that British rule could have been stable for much longer from such a distance. The question is then whether 1776 was a relatively propitious time for a separation, and given the quality of American political thought and leadership at the time, one can rationally believe the answer is yes.

The discussion of the libertarian case there presents a false dichotomy.  It is precisely because "part of the larger unit" identifies itself as distinctive in cultural (religious, linguistic, ethnic) terms that it may find central governance tyrannical even when it is actually quite liberal.  It is also a not infrequent occurrence that a distinctive geographical or cultural part will come to think of itself as a nation because its interests are not treated fairly by the central government.

Look again to the American Revolution.  It obviously would have been better for the species had America stayed a part of Britain.  Besides ending slavery, with the consequent avoidance of the Civil War, a unified Anglosphere would have acted as a stronger brake on the globalist ambitions of Napoleon, the continental Empires, Hitler, Stalin, etc. than a fairly isolated England ever could.  

And colonists did not initially seek independence, only our rights as Englishmen--chiefly representation.  Only the opposition of King and Parliament to extending these natural rights was able to create a sense of nationhood. And once England had dug in its heels, there was only one moral answer :

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

We see something similar in the old Palestinian Mandate, where folk often argue that the Palestinians had never previously considered themselves a nation.  And? Now, largely because they are denied self-representation, they do. That cat too is out of the bag.

Meanwhile, in places Estonia, Scotland and Catalonia you have the added factor of historic nationhood and only reluctant (forcibly imposed) central unity.  Each people believe themselves a nation, so they are.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Qatar Employs 'Electronic Army' to Spark 'Revolt' in Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat, 7/07/17)

"We found over 23,000 Twitter accounts driven by Qatar, some of them linked to accounts calling for 'revolution' in Saudi Arabia," Information Minister Awwad Saleh al-Awwad told AFP during a visit to Paris.

"This is a matter of national security," he added, while saying that Qatar's al-Jazeera satellite television is spreading messages of hate.

"Al-Jazeera is a platform for terrorism, starting from bin Laden to al-Qaradawi. It is only normal that it be shut down. The channel and those working for it should be held accountable," demanded the minister. [...]

The accounts sought to create spite between the official authorities and the citizens, spark doubts and encourage a rebellion against the general system, he said.

If we had effective Intelligence agencies they'd act like Qatar.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Rouhani and Trump: Together against Iran's Men with Guns? (Amir Taheri, 7/05/17, Asharq Al-Awsat)

These days something strange is happening with regard to Iran. You might say: so what? Strange things have been happening with regard to Iran ever since the mullahs seized power in 1979.

Alright, but what is happening now may merit closer attention because it represents an unprecedented convergence between the thinking of the Trump administration in Washington, on the one hand, and that of one of the factions involved in the power struggle in Tehran, on the other.

Last month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the Trump administration is putting final touches to a new policy on Iran with the ultimate aim of regime change. While details of this new policy remain a mystery, one thing maybe clear: one of its aims would be the dismantling of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which US experts identify as the mainstay of the Khomeinist regime.

National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster has more than hinted at this, while a number of Republican policymakers, among them Senator Tom Cotton, have evoked the designation of the IRGC as a "terrorist organization."

Parallel to those developments, the Islamic Republic's own President Hassan Rouhani has launched a campaign of vilification against the IRGC.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


There's No Crying in Professional Wiffle Ball (C. Brian Smith, 7/06/17,  Mel Magazine)

Golden Stick's slogan?

A backyard game taken way too far.

"We wanted to truly take it way too far," Levesque tells me, recounting the early days of the league. A few of the bucket-list items included: Playing for six-figure prizes; fully-sponsored teams; a reality show; collecting enough money to provide a disposable income to players and hiring a fleet of 20-somethings to be lemonade girls to "pour lemonade and trickle towels on the neck of players between innings," Levesque explains. "We were outrageous in what we thought. We wanted guys to find Golden Stick and feel that at 38 and chubby, with a pretty miserable life at home, they could walk on our field and scratch the surface of being the pro they always wanted to be."

Part of the charm of Wiffle ball is the fluidity in the rules depending on the backyard. Golden Stick, however, sought to bring nationwide consistency to the game by following a strict rule book, the basics of which included: four innings, three outs, two strikes to strike out, four balls to walk, 3-man* teams in the field and no one running the bases -- only "ghost runners" determined by how far the ball travels. (*There was one female Golden Stick player in 2007. She won the championship.)

The strike zone -- a 2-foot-by-3-foot square behind the batter -- determines balls and strikes. An 8-foot-by-8-foot backstop keeps balls from escaping and plays an important role on defense, which we'll get to in a minute. A "barrel line" in front of home plate (aka "the shit line," since anything that fails to pass this line epitomizes a shitty hit) marks the point past which the ball must travel to be considered fair. A second line ("the headline") is behind the pitcher's mound. If a player fields the ball in front of the headline and hits the backstop behind home plate in the air (which acts as a first baseman), the batter is out. Once the ball gets beyond that line, it can no longer be fielded for an out. "So as a hitter, you're trying to get the ball to touch the grass behind that line," Levesque explains. "And as a fielder you're trying to defend that ball from touching the grass and crossing that line."

Once it does, it's a single. Any ball that rolls to the outfield wall is a double, so a play's not dead when a ground ball comes through the infield. Instead, outfielders act as goalies at the home run fence to block the ball from making contact with the wall to avoid a double. Hitting the wall on the fly earns a triple, and a home run is a home run.

As such, the difference between Golden Stick Wiffle® and the backyard game you grew up playing, Leahy explains, is night and day. "There might be one or two kids that are above average. They can hit harder and throw strikes. Once you step on the Golden Stick field, though, it's like, 'Holy s[***], these guys are no joke.' It's like coming from T-ball and getting thrusted into Major League Baseball. A lot of people get humbled quickly, put their tails between their legs and go home."

The Spaldeen Is Back (Even if the Dodgers Aren't) (BRENDAN I. KOERNERMARCH 13, 2005, NY Times)

AGING Brooklynites tend to don rose-colored glasses when recalling the quality of equipment used in stickball. They romanticize the game's pink rubber balls, known as Spaldeens, as paragons of durability and bounciness. So, on the rare occasions when a modern Spaldeen develops a crack, the complaint line lights up at Spalding, the balls' manufacturer.

"People really give us some grief," said Dan Touhey, Spalding's vice president for marketing and development. "They say, 'Hey, it's not as good as the one we used to play with.' But the irony is that the product that was being used in the 50's was a really downgraded product. It would break a lot more often."

The original Spaldeens, first sold in 1949, were just tennis balls that had been rejected for slight defects -- before the addition of the fuzzy coating. Rather than toss them in the trash, Spalding, based in Springfield, Mass., stamped the words "Spalding High-Bounce Ball" on the pink or gray rubber rejects and sold them cheaply to wholesalers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


The Trump Administration's Own Data Says Obamacare Isn't Imploding (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Michelle Cheng and Maggie Koerth-Baker, 7/06/17, 538)

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, last week released a report about a wonky aspect of the Affordable Care Act related to insurance payments. Tucked away in the report, however, was evidence that the health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016. Contrary to the "death-spiral" narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

Explaining what CMS found requires a dip in the sea of the actuarial terminology, so take a deep breath, we'll be back up for air shortly. The report looked, in part, at so-called risk-adjustment payments, which are part of the ACA's system for encouraging insurers to enroll high-cost patients. This system is meant to prevent insurers from cherry-picking the healthiest people on the market by collecting money from plans with healthier enrollees to distribute to plans that have people with higher health care costs. (Another type of payment discussed in the report, known as reinsurance, serves a similar purpose through a different mechanism: The government effectively covers part of the cost of patients with very expensive health needs.)

To determine the mix of healthy and sick enrollees for risk-adjustment payments, the federal government assigns risk scores to people based on their age, sex and health diagnosis and then averages the scores for a plan. What CMS found was that those averages were relatively stable in 2016. That's a good sign for the marketplaces, because stabilizing the mix of healthy and sick people buying on the marketplaces goes a long way toward stabilizing prices. Despite expectations that in the face of rising premiums, healthier enrollees would be less inclined to enroll last year, that doesn't appear to have been the case.

That doesn't mean the marketplaces are working for everyone. There are millions of people who don't qualify for subsidies, face high prices in the private market and likely haven't enrolled in insurance as a result. That's a problem that needs solving, but it's a different problem than the marketplaces being in a death spiral.

Republicans will expand it to more of those people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Van Jones' Excellent Metaphors About the Dangers of Ideological Safety (Jonathan Haidt, Mar 2, 2017, Heterodox Academy)

Last week Van Jones offered the most perfect combination of strong reasons and intuitively compelling metaphors I have ever seen to explain why current campus trends regarding political diversity are bad for students and bad for the American left more generally.

Jones was a guest at David Axelrod's Institute of Politics, at the University of Chicago. During their 80 minute discussion, with S. E. Cupp,  Axelrod mentioned that he had hosted Corey Lewandowski (Trump's former campaign manager) the previous week, which had led many students to protest the event, arguing that merely to have him on the Chicago campus would "normalize" the Trump administration. Axelrod noted that he disagrees with that thinking, and then asked Jones for his own thoughts on the question: what is the proper response when someone associated with Trump or supportive of Trump is brought onto a college campus and given an opportunity to speak publicly? What should college students do?
You have to watch Jones' response to get the full power and passion of his remarks. But afterward you might want to see them written out, in order to quote them or tweet them or just meditate on their brilliance. I was not able to find a full and neat transcript online, so I had the staff at Heterodox Academy transcribe the clip and I post it below the video, with a closing comment.


David Axelrod: We had Corey Lewandowski here last week. That engendered a protest outside the meeting--also part of our democracy. There's a lot of anger and a lot of rage about what this administration is doing and the sense that [you should not have] anybody associated with him because then you're normalizing the [Trump] administration. I have a different view but I am interested in yours.

Van Jones: I don't like bigots and bullies. I just want to point that out... But I got tough talk for my liberal colleagues on these campuses. They don't tend to like it but I think they like me so I get away with it. I want to push this.

There are two ideas about safe spaces: One is a very good idea and one is a terrible idea. The idea of being physically safe on a campus--not being subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse, or being targeted specifically, personally, for some kind of hate speech--"you are an n-word," or whatever--I am perfectly fine with that.

But there's another view that is now I think ascendant, which I think is just a horrible view, which is that "I need to be safe ideologically. I need to be safe emotionally I just need to feel good all the time, and if someone says something that I don't like, that's a problem for everybody else including the administration."

I think that is a terrible idea for the following reason: I don't want you to be safe, ideologically. I don't want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That's different.

I'm not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I'm not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that's the whole point of the gym. This is the gym. You can't live on a campus where people say stuff you don't like?! And these people can't fire you, they can't arrest you, they can't beat you up, they can just say stuff you don't like- and you get to say stuff back- and this you cannot bear?! [audience applause]

This is ridiculous BS liberals! My parents, and Monica Elizabeth Peak's parents [points to someone in the audience and greets her] were marched, they dealt with fire hoses! They dealt with dogs! They dealt with beatings! You can't deal with a mean tweet?! You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless, but obnoxious and dangerous. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset, and then to learn how to speak back. Because that is what we need from you in these communities. [applause]

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


U.S. Spends More on Health Care Than Other High-Income Nations But Has Lower Life Expectancy, Worse Health (Commonwealth Fund, October 8, 2015)

Commonwealth Fund researchers found the U.S. to be a substantial outlier when it comes to health spending. Health care consumed 17.1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, about 50 percent more than any other country. Despite being the only country in the study without universal health care coverage, government spending on health care in the U.S.--mainly for Medicare and Medicaid--was high as well, at $4,197 per person in 2013.

By comparison, the U.K., where all residents are covered by the National Health Service, spent $2,802 per person.

July 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Trump's Warsaw speech pits western world against barbarians at the gates (David Smith,  6 July 2017, The Guardian)

"Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty," said Trump, wearing his customary red tie. "We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the south or the east, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.

"If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies."

It was not hard to detect the voice of the White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the nationalist-nihilist who once promised that the Trump era would be "as exciting as the 1930s" and is a student of The Fourth Turning, a book that argues history moves in cycles and America is on the brink of its latest violent cataclysm.

Nor was it hard to see the hand of Trump's speechwriter Stephen Miller, principal author of Trump's inaugural address in January, in which the word "America" appeared even more frequently than "civilisation" did this time, most notoriously as "American carnage".

We so wanted 9-11 to signal a great clash of civilizations, but it turned out only one was involved.  Then we thought maybe the Credit Crunch would give us that economic struggle our grandparents always harkened back to, but W, Ben Bernanke and the UR fixed it with little effort.  And party partisans long to discover in the opposition either communists/socialists, on the one hand, or Social Darwinists, on the other, but instead parties in the Anglosphere are all neoliberal/Third Way.

Folks tend to dismiss the End of History as a boast, without reading the rest of Fukuyama, as he warns that we will be lost with no great challenges left to define ourselves against.

We are the sad generations whose only enemy is so small in number and controls so little territory that they're hard to find so we can kill them from afar; whose society must wrestle with declines in nearly every social pathology; and whose greatest economic challenge is the increasing ability to create ever greater wealth with ever less labor.

It's little wonder fake tough guys are so unbalanced.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Senate Republicans May Have Found Their Health-Care Compromise (Eric Levitz, 7/06/17, New York)

[T]he reemergence of the strategy of repealing Obamacare in one bill, and replacing it in another, might just lay the foundation for the Senate GOP's grand bargain over health care. Observe how Rand Paul described his vision for "clean repeal" on Fox News Sunday:

Let's do clean repeal like we promised, and, I think, you can get 52 Republicans for clean repeal. You can have a simultaneous bill -- or a concurrent bill -- that they can call replace, and that I think, perhaps, if it's big spending, they could probably get Democrats to go along with big spending. I'm not for that, but I'm saying, I want repeal to work, and the way you do it is you separate into two bills and you do it concurrently.
In other words, Paul is asking leadership to give conservatives one more chance to register their symbolic opposition to Obamacare, for old time's sake -- and then, immediately pass a "big spending" bipartisan bill that props up the existing law, with moderate Republican and Democratic votes.

All comedy is conservative and libertarians are just hilarious.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


As E.U. and Japan Strengthen Trade Ties, U.S. Risks Losing Its Voice (PETER S. GOODMAN, JULY 6, 2017, NY Times)

In the master plan advanced by President Trump, an unabashedly aggressive United States is supposed to reclaim its rightful perch as the center of the commercial universe, wielding its economic dominance to dictate the rules of global trade.

As it turns out, the rest of the planet has its own ideas.

Major economies show no inclination to accept American designs on trade -- an attitude on display on Thursday as the European Union and Japan agreed to the broad outlines of a free trade deal before a summit meeting of world leaders. If completed, the deal would further the exchange of goods and services between their two markets while, in relative terms, diminishing opportunities for American companies.

These two trading powers, both bedrock American allies, are effectively proceeding with plans to bolster globalization just as the United States is turning to protectionism. Large areas of the global economy are now on divergent paths, creating more uncertainty for multinational companies.

Last fall, Canada and the European Union struck a mammoth trade deal, establishing the rules for a significant chunk of commerce across the Atlantic. The bloc's latest deal tethers its fortunes closer to Asia and to Japan, which has the world's third-largest economy.

By contrast, the United States debates the merits of erecting a wall along its southern border, argues about the legality of barring immigrants from several predominantly Muslim nations, and contemplates imposing tariffs on steel imports.

Well, the Steele Dossier says he likes being treated that way....

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Oregon Just Took the Lead in Getting Americans to Save More for Retirement (Eric Pianin, July 6, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Bucking resistance from a Republican Congress and the Trump Administration, Oregon has become the first state to launch a program requiring private employers to either offer their own 401 (k) savings accounts or automatically sign up workers for state-run individual retirement accounts. [...]

The so-called OregonSaves program began over the weekend with a modest pilot project and will gradually be extended to all businesses by mid-2020. Employees are automatically enrolled in the savings program unless they choose to opt out, and their contributions of up to 10 percent of their pre-taxed income are made through automatic payroll deductions.

The Roth IRAs that workers invest in are "portable" and stay with them throughout their careers, regardless of where they work. Employers are not responsible for contributing to the retirement accounts, and their primary responsibility is passing along information about the program and handling payroll deductions.

Do the same with HSAs.
Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM

MODERNITY IS SO CONFUSING (self-reference alert):


Over the last three months, several female journalists have reported being barred from the Speaker's Lobby at the House of Representatives for wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses, though no written rule exists prohibiting bare shoulders.

Went for a longer walk than usual on the 4th, much of it along roads with no sidewalk or shoulder, so I put on a day-glo orange tank top and the family objected that I was too hairy to wear such.  I asked if the same folks who tell me I have to be accepting of everyone and everything were really body-shaming their father/husband?

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Global Britain inching towards an 'emerging Anglosphere' post- Brexit (Andrew Mycock & Ben Wellings, May 18, 2017, Business Standard)

[T]he Anglosphere is the other side of the Brexit coin. But what is this novel ideology, which rose to prominence during the Brexit referendum? Where did it come from, and how will it affect Australia?

The origins of the Anglosphere concept were first presented in the late 19th century.

Imperial federation was proposed as an alternative to growing instability within the British Empire and growing competition from external rivals (not least the US).

However, although having some influential friends such as one of Australia's founding fathers, Alfred Deakin, the proposition lacked sufficient precision in terms of its form and purpose. The dream faded.

Nevertheless, the concept of the "English-speaking peoples" was not totally dead. Brief periods of political support manifested but quickly passed, particularly in pivotal moments of change.

During the second world war, and as the UK prepared to "abandon" its empire and join the European Economic Community, support for the English-speaking peoples as a political community was strengthened.

More recently, the Anglosphere has been advanced by an influential international alliance of predominantly conservative politicians, commentators and public intellectuals. This loose grouping shares an insurgent ideological and geopolitical agenda that informs ambitions for an alternative world order, including Britain's withdrawal from the EU and the EU's eventual collapse.

During the Brexit referendum, senior politicians in the "Leave" campaign - such as Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Daniel Hannan, and David Davis - also made explicit reference to the potential of the Anglosphere.

India, Israel elevate their ties to strategic partnership (Indrani Bagchi, Jul 6, 2017, Times of India)

 India and Israel elevated their ties to a strategic partnership+ as India identified Israel as a major development and technological partner after Prime Minister Narendra Modi+ finished official discussions with his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu here yesterday.

A joint statement+ issued at the end of the talks said, "This historic first-ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel solidified the enduring friendship between their peoples and raised the bilateral relationship to that of a strategic partnership." But the discussions, according to sources went much beyond the official. Both men obviously found a personal connect -- Modi invited Netanyahu and his family to India. Abandoning diplomatic niceties, Netanyahu jumped in with "I accept."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM



Marc Lotter, spokesman for Pence, told ProPublica the state voter information will be run "through a number of different databases, looking for the possibility for areas where voter rolls could be strengthened."

While Lotter would not say specifically which databases the rolls would be run against, The Washington Times reported last week the commission may seek to check the names against the federal government's database of non-citizens. A 2012 attempt by Florida to do that resulted in many legitimate voters being falsely flagged because they had the same names as people in the federal database. Gov. Rick Scott scrapped the effort and eventually apologized.

Comparing names nationwide could result in far more false positives.

"How many Manuel Rodríguezes born in 1945 who are citizens are going to be on an immigration list? There are likely to be several," said Charles Stewart, a professor at MIT and expert in election administration. "How will you know if he's the immigrant, or he is one of the several people with that name who are citizens and legally registered?"

Kobach runs a matching program that appears to have its own high rate of errors. A recent study by political scientists at Stanford University found that Kobach's Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program had 200 false positives for every actual double registration.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


GOP senators criticize health bill in town halls (Sam Baker, 7/06/17, Axios)

Rank-and-file Republicans are continuing to distance themselves from their party's unpopular health-care bill as the July 4 recess nears its end.

Sen. John Hoeven told constituents he ""doesn't support the bill as it stands," but believes the Senate will get to something better, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Sen. Jerry Moran, facing a crowd with a lot of health-care questions, also reiterated his opposition to the most recent Senate bill, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Moran said he wants a more bipartisan process and to preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

One reason the GOP health bill is a mess: No one thought Trump would win (Paul Kane July 6, 2017, Washington Post)

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey offered a simple, remarkable explanation this week for why Republicans have struggled so mightily to find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"Look, I didn't expect Donald Trump to win, I think most of my colleagues didn't, so we didn't expect to be in this situation," the Pennsylvania Republican said Wednesday night during a meeting with voters hosted by four ABC affiliates across his state.

Repealing Obamacare was just red meat for the rubes.

A GOP stunt backfires, and accidentally reveals a truth Republicans want hidden (Greg Sargent, July 5, 2017, Washington Post)

The Indiana Republican Party posed a question to Facebook on Monday: "What's your Obamacare horror story? Let us know."

The responses were unexpected.

"My sister finally has access to affordable quality care and treatment for her diabetes."

"My father's small business was able to insure its employees for the first time ever. #thanksObama"

"Love Obamacare!"

"The only horror in the story is that Republicans might take it away."...

By 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Indiana GOP's post collected more than 1,500 comments, the vast majority in support of Obamacare.

As David Nather points out, this reveals that the energy in this battle right now is on the side of those who want to save the Affordable Care Act. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Immigrants Cost Taxpayers, Then Pay More Than Most : New research shows immigrants ultimately make state and local governments more money on average than native-born Americans. (LIZ FARMER | JULY 6, 2017, Governing)
While the national debate rages over immigration, new research shows how much new immigrants cost state and local governments in the short-term -- and how much they pay off in the long-term.

Two studies, one by the Urban Institute and a larger one by the National Academies of Science (NAS), find that first-generation immigrants are costlier to state and local governments than native-born adults, but over time, those effects reverse. While first-generation immigrants cost an average of nearly $3,000 more per adult, the adult children of these immigrants eventually catch up and contribute the most on average to federal, state and local coffers.

Kim Reuben, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, says the initial higher costs of new immigrants is in large part because of their children. "Education is expensive -- if you have more kids in general as a group compared to other groups, you're going to have higher costs," says Reuben, who co-authored the study and contributed to the NAS report. "But the answer isn't to not educate those kids because we also find that the people who contribute the most to society, even when you control for demographics, are these immigrant [kids]."

Demographic data show that immigrants tend to have more children than their native-born counterparts -- 0.52 dependent children versus 0.36 dependent children per adult -- who depend upon state and local education resources.

The NAS data also show impressive upward mobility between first- and third-generation immigrants, primarily due to higher educational attainment. In California, for example, the average annual income for first-generation immigrants is nearly $29,000. By the third generation, average income is more than $42,000. State and local governments begin reaping the rewards of their investments with second-generation immigrants. The NAS report concludes that this generation contributes more in taxes on a per capita basis during their working years than their parents or other native-born Americans do.

Then factor in the human capital value of the children....
Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


The Inflation Target Trap (Daniel Gros, 7/06/17, Project Syndicate)

Central banks have a problem: growth in much of the world is accelerating, but inflation has failed to take off. Of course, for most people, growth without inflation is the ideal combination. But central banks have set the goal of achieving an inflation rate of "below, but close to 2%," as the European Central Bank puts it. And, at this point, it is hard to see how that can be achieved.

0% is too high.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Report: Trump Couldn't Find a Hotel Room in Hamburg (Adam K. Raymond, 7/06/17, New York)

When President Trump lays his head to rest tonight in Hamburg, Germany, he will reportedly be doing so in a government-owned guesthouse. That wasn't his first choice, but after the White House was unable to find a ritzy Hamburg hotel to host him, it was Trump's best option.

It's unclear if Trump encountered so many "no vacancy" signs because his team is disorganized or because he's reviled. BuzzFeed blames staffers who got a late start booking Trump's travel plans. By the time they began searching for hotels in Hamburg, all the rooms were booked.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Most Republicans in the U.S. like Medicaid. Who knew? (Tami Luhby, July 6, 2017, CNN Money)

republicans favorable view medicaid

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


The Patriotism We Need: Principled and Spirited : a review of Steven F. Hayward's Patriotism Is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments that Redefined American Conservatism  (Carson Holloway, July 5th, 2017, Public Discourse)

All of the questions that Hayward explores are of perennial interest to students of American politics. Once again, however, none is of more immediate importance than the question of patriotism and its proper basis, which is a key theme of the book, as its title indicates. What does Hayward mean by asserting that "patriotism is not enough"? He seeks to remind us that, at least for a political community like the United States, a healthy politics requires more than just a sentimental attachment to the country and its interests. As he says, "American patriotism is based on ideas." Unlike most countries, America was founded at a particular moment in time and, more importantly, on the basis of certain moral and philosophical principles to which its founders dedicated it. American patriotism, therefore, needs to be an enlightened patriotism, in the sense of being informed by knowledge of the founding principles and reflection on how to preserve them and apply them anew in each generation.

Put another way, America has a political identity much more distinct, and much more central to its being, than other nations, many of which have existed for a long time and maintained some kind of stable identity under a variety of regimes. At least until recently, a perfectly good Frenchman might be a republican, a monarchist, a socialist, or a communist. A good American, however, must be committed to a particular political creed: the natural rights doctrine of the Declaration of Independence and the republican self-government under law established by the Constitution. Accordingly, American patriotism, and American conservatism, is concerned with understanding and preserving this creed, the way of life to which it gives rise, and the institutions and mores that sustain it. This is the kind of patriotism and conservatism taught by both Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns, whatever disagreements they had on other questions.

Hayward's book is so timely precisely because the kind of patriotism he discusses provides a useful corrective for Trump-style nationalism. The patriotism to which Trump appeals is almost entirely affective and hardly at all intellectual. As has been observed many times, he almost never refers to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the founding more generally. Instead of meditating on the country's highest ideals, Trump usually expresses patriotic solicitude for its most elementary needs. He wants America and its citizens to be safe and prosperous.

One can see this, for example, in the way Trump talks about how immigration should be regulated. A conservative in the mold of Jaffa, Berns, and Hayward would remind us that the immigrants we admit should understand, believe in, and have the habits necessary to preserve the doctrine of natural rights and constitutional self-government. Trump has never said anything like this, but has instead simply held that we need to make sure that the immigrants we let in "love our country and love our people."

As Hayward's book rightly reminds us, Trump's emotive patriotism is "not enough." As a candidate for the presidency, Trump was once asked in what sense he is a conservative. He replied that he wants to "conserve the country." There is no reason to doubt his sincerity in this. Trump seems to be animated by a genuine protectiveness for America and its citizens. Nevertheless, one has to admit that the country cannot be conserved or preserved without going beyond sentimental patriotism and adding an intellectual appreciation for the founding principles and disciplined thought about how to carry them forward. An America that is safe and prosperous, but not committed to constitutional self-government and natural rights, would no longer be the same country.

...you can't be a patriot and hate the America that actually exists, as the Left/Right does.
Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Wrestling with the complex Gospel according to Bob Dylan, once again (Terry Mattingly, 7/03/17, On Religion)

[D]ylan told People magazine in 1975: "I didn't consciously pursue the Bob Dylan myth. It was given to me - by God. ... I don't care what people expect of me. It doesn't concern me. I'm doing God's work. That's all I know."

What does that mean? Marshall collected material from stacks of published interviews and has concluded that two words perfectly describe Dylan's approach to answering these questions - "inscrutability" and "irascibility." Plus, it's hard to know when Dylan is being "serious, cranky or playful."

Nevertheless, faith language always plays a central role. Marshall cites waves of examples, including a time when Dylan was asked if his raucous "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" - with its "Everybody must get stoned" chant - was code for getting high. Dylan wryly noted that many critics "aren't familiar with the Book of Acts."

In his Nobel lecture, Dylan also stressed the role great literature has played in his life, dating back to grammar school days. Once again, there were religious themes.

"Moby-Dick," for example, combined all "the myths: the Judeo-Christian Bible, Hindu myths, British legends, Saint George, Perseus, Hercules - they're all whalers." "All Quiet on the Western Front" mixed politics, nihilism and horror, and Dylan noted that he has never read another war novel. In that book, "You're on the real iron cross, and a Roman soldier's putting a sponge of vinegar to your lips."

With "The Odyssey," he said readers have to live the tale, wrestling with gods and goddesses. "Some of these same things have happened to you. You too have had drugs dropped into your wine. You too have shared a bed with the wrong woman. You too have been spellbound by magical voices, sweet voices with strange melodies."

In the end, a song's impact on each person is what matters. "I don't have to know what a song means. I've written all kinds of things into my songs. And I'm not going to worry about it - what it all means," said Dylan.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


On world affairs, most G20 countries more confident in Merkel than Trump (JACOB POUSHTER, 7/06/17, pEW rESEARCH)

In the United States, more people have confidence in Merkel than in their own leader (56% to 46%).

President, not leader.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


US: Ready to use force in North Korea 'if we must' (Al Jazeera, 7/06/17)

In a hard-hitting speech at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council after Pyongyang's successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday said that "the world has become a more dangerous place" and China has a key role in promoting peace.

China is responsible for 90 percent of trade with North Korea and Haley warned that Beijing risks its massive trade with the US if its business dealings with Pyongyang violate UN sanctions.

She said the US does nott seek conflict - "in fact, we seek to avoid it."

But she said the launch of an ICBM "is a clear and sharp military escalation" and the US is prepared to use its "considerable military forces" to defend itself and its allies "if we must".

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Trump Organization renews rights to TrumpTowerMoscow.com (MADELINE CONWAY and TYLER FISHER, 07/05/2017, Politico)

The Trump Organization has renewed its claim on more than 1,000 of the web domains registered by its general counsel, including some politically sensitive websites such as TrumpRussia.com and TrumpTowerMoscow.com.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Qatar Stands Up to the Neighborhood Bullies (FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYA, JULY 6, 2017, NY Times)

Among the conditions the bloc is attempting to impose on Qatar is that we close down a number of Qatari news organizations, including the award-winning satellite channel Al Jazeera, as well as other London-based outlets. Qatar's stand is clear: We support the freedom of the press -- these outlets have been free to publish content critical of Qatar itself, including about this blockade -- and the bloc's demand that these outlets be closed is unacceptable.

Al Jazeera has achieved international recognition for its reporting in the Middle East, where most other media groups are either slavishly pro-regime or heavily censored. During the Arab Spring, media outlets in the bloc countries typically showed serene and peaceful scenes in cities where, in reality, demonstrators were being mowed down by security forces. These countries operated a virtual news blackout against their pro-democracy movements; now they cannot forgive us because their citizens could tune in to Al Jazeera and know the truth.

Today, the talk shows and social media platforms of the state-supported media in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates do their masters' bidding and call for regime change in Qatar. Some talk-show hosts and their guests have even called for terrorists attacks on Qatari soil. Senior Qatari officials have been subjected to character assassinations and insults. In Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, dissent has been criminalized, and anyone speaking up online for Qatar faces prosecution and up to 15 years in prison.

This campaign has been orchestrated from the top. A Saudi state minister and media adviser to the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said on Twitter that he hoped the Qataris "don't accept" the demands, and "we've only just begun." Deliberately escalating the tension into an implied threat against our very sovereignty, the Dubai deputy chief of police and general security tweeted, "Qatar has always been a part of the U.A.E. that cannot be taken from it."

Let's be clear: Qatar is being punished because conservative actors in the bloc, emboldened by changes in the geopolitical balance in the region, see an opportunity to show people in the Arab world that if you dare to dream of change, the autocratic regimes will mow you down. But Qatar will not back down from this unprovoked attack.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


To Win Afghanistan, Get Tough on Pakistan (HUSAIN HAQQANI, JULY 6, 2017, NY Times)

Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, recently asked India to train Afghan military officers and repair military aircraft after frustration with Pakistan, which failed to fulfill promises of restraining the Taliban and forcing them to the negotiating table.

Pakistan's leaders question Afghanistan's acceptance of economic assistance from India even though Pakistan does not have the capacity to provide such aid itself.

It seems that Pakistan wants to keep alive imaginary fears, possibly to maintain military ascendancy in a country that has been ruled by generals for almost half of its existence. For years Pakistani officials falsely asserted that India had set up 24 consulates in Afghanistan, some close to the Pakistani border. In fact, India has only four consulates, the same number Pakistan has, in Afghanistan.

Lying about easily verifiable facts is usually the tactic of governments fabricating a threat rather than ones genuinely facing one. As ambassador, I attended trilateral meetings where my colleagues rejected serious suggestions from Afghans and Americans to mitigate apprehensions about Indian influence in Afghanistan.

While evidence of an Indian threat to Pakistan through Afghanistan remains scant, proof of the presence of Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan continues to mount. Mullah Omar, the Taliban's leader, reportedly died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013 and his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in an American drone strike in Baluchistan Province in Pakistan last year.

The United States should not let Pakistan link its longstanding support for hard-line Pashtun Islamists in Afghanistan to its disputes with India.

In conjunction with the attack on North Korea, the US and India should take away Pakistan's nukes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Forty-four states and DC have refused to give certain voter information to Trump commission (Liz Stark and Grace Hauck,  July 5, 2017, CNN)

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration's election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states. [...]

[T]he commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to misunderstand voter privacy laws nationwide. Every state that responded to the commission's letter said it could not provide Social Security numbers, for example. Others said they consider information such as birth dates and party affiliations to be private.

What's more, Kobach asked states to supply the information through an online portal. Many states have rejected this specific request, noting that the commission should file a voter information request through established state websites, as any other party would.

As of Tuesday afternoon, two states -- Florida and Nebraska -- are still reviewing the commission's request. Another two states -- Hawaii and New Jersey -- have not returned CNN's request for comment. And while six states are still awaiting a letter from the commission, four of them -- New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia -- have already pledged not to provide voters' private information. The other two of those six states, Arkansas and Illinois, have not released statements ahead of receiving the letter.

Just three states -- Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee -- commended Kobach's attempt to investigate voter fraud in their respective statements.

Vlad needs the info.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


New York Times Falls for Parody North Korea Twitter Account (Alex Griswold, July 5, 2017, Free Beacon)

The piece has since been updated with a correction. "Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article attributed incorrectly a Twitter statement to the North Korean government," it read.

"The North Korean government did not belittle a joint American-South Korean military exercise as 'demonstrating near total ignorance of ballistic science,' that statement was from the DPRK News Service, a parody Twitter account," the Times admitted.

How does a parody differ from North Korea?  It's like parodying Donald.

July 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


THANKS, OBAMA : U.S. Commandos Running Out of ISIS Targets (Kimberly Dozier, 07.05.17, Daily Beast)

U.S. special operations forces have removed roughly 50 top ISIS leaders off the battlefield since President Donald Trump took office, down from 80 killed in the last six months of the Obama administration, according to figures obtained by The Daily Beast.

"The pace and the way they have gone about going after these HVT's [High-value targets] hasn't changed," said coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon of the U.S. special operations' campaign to take ISIS commanders off the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields.

Those closest to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have been hit hardest. "Most of them were killed in the last year of the Obama administration," he said. "If there was a block chart of Baghdadi and all of his bubbas, we are hitting the fifth- and sixth-string leaders of the organization." [...]

The White House has asked defense officials to come up with new ideas to help brand the Trump campaign as different from its predecessor, according to two U.S. officials and one senior administration official. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive debates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Fed-Up Reform Leaders Are Thinking Twice About Their Donations To Israel (Ben Sales, July 5, 2017, JTA)

Like many liberal Jewish leaders, Messinger is angry about the recent Israeli Cabinet votes to suspend the expansion of a non-Orthodox prayer area at the Western Wall and to give Israel's Chief Rabbinate sole authority over official Jewish conversions performed in the country.

The votes have outraged American Jewry's organizational elite, which sees them as a betrayal of Jewish pluralism and of Israel's symbolic obligations to non-Orthodox Jews around the world. With limited leverage, Jewish leaders and pundits are now suggesting that they use the power of the purse to get their point across. Pundits have dared American Jews to stop giving money to Israeli causes -- from tourist attractions to hospitals -- and its national carrier. And Reform officials have called on their members to redirect their money to groups that advance their ideals.

American Jews may not vote in Israel, but they do give money there. According to a 2014 analysis by the Forward, American Jewish groups give nearly $1.8 billion to Israel each year.

"My original gut reaction when I read about what happened was to say, 'The heck with this,'" said Henry Levy IV, treasurer of the Union for Reform Judaism, or URJ. "Why should I give my money to Israel if they don't want to recognize me as a Jew, much less believe in egalitarian prayer? My only vote is with my pocketbook. I don't have a vote as an Israeli."

Levy will not be suspending his giving to Israel, but he and Messinger are two of several active Reform Jewish donors who will be reapportioning their Israel philanthropy. A handful of members of URJ's Oversight Committee -- a 35-member body mostly elected from among the organization's 253-member board -- told JTA that they would be giving more to nonprofits that champion pluralism rather than large, general-interest Jewish fundraising bodies.

Michael Price, a retired musical theater producer from Connecticut, gave frequently over the past six decades to his local Jewish federation, an umbrella for expansive Jewish giving. No more, he says. He's going to donate more to Reform institutions in the U.S. and around the world, as well as to liberal Zionist organizations like the New Israel Fund and J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


CNN Warns It May Expose an Anonymous Critic if He Ever Again Publishes Bad Content (Glenn Greenwald, July 5 2017, The Intercept)

Several of the objections made to CNN's conduct here appear to be false. That includes the claim by the president's son, Donald Trump, Jr., that the user threatened by CNN is 15 years old (the CNN reporter, Andrew Kaczynski, said the Reddit user is an adult). The claim that CNN "blackmailed" the user into apologizing -- expressed by a Twitter hashtag, #CNNBlackmail, that still sits at the top of trending topics on the site -- seems dubious at best, since there is no evidence the user spoke to CNN before posting his apology (though CNN itself says it contacted the user the day before he posted his apology, which presumably means he knew CNN had found out his name when he posted it).

But the invalidity of those particular accusations does not exonerate CNN. There is something self-evidently creepy, bullying, and heavy-handed about a large news organization publicly announcing that it will expose someone's identity if he ever again publishes content on the internet that the network deems inappropriate or objectionable. Whether it was CNN's intent or not, its article makes it appear as if CNN will be monitoring this citizen's online writing, and will punish him with exposure if he writes something they dislike.

There is also something untoward about the fact that CNN -- the subject of the original video -- was the news outlet that uncovered his identity. That fact creates the appearance of vengeance: If you, even as a random and anonymous internet user, post content critical of CNN, then it will use its vast corporate resources to investigate you, uncover your identity, and threaten to expose you if you ever do so again.

While the guy did post publicly, it certainly seems reasonable to want to protect someone so apologetic and obviously disordered from the storm that would follow exposure. The question is whether the press ought to be so considerate or not.  

One is reminded of poor Billy Sipple. Maybe sometimes we just don't need to know everything the press discovers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' sets viewership mark after tweets  (AP, 7/05/17) 

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski reached their biggest audience ever when they talked Friday about President Donald Trump's tweets about their show.

The Nielsen company said Wednesday that 1.66 million people watched the MSNBC morning show the day after the tweets. That narrowly beat the show's previous record, which came the day after Trump was elected last year.

...is killing him in.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


NPR Tweeted The Declaration Of Independence And Some Trump Supporters Were Offended : "Literally no one is going to read 5,000 tweets about this trash." (Julia Reinstein, 7/05/17, BuzzFeed)


Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


It's Not Just Mike Pence. Americans Are Wary of Being Alone With the Opposite Sex. (Claire Cain Miller, JULY 1, 2017, NY Times)

Many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations, the poll found. Around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it's unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

Why would you ever except for illicit purposes?
Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Pro-Trump Group Stumbles in Health Plan Push (Rebecca Berg, July 05, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

A nonprofit group formed to boost President Trump's agenda has emerged badly bruised from its first major political battle, raising questions about the organization's effectiveness moving forward. [...]

Since it was established earlier this year, America First Policies has sought to fill a void as the administration's external muscle, aggressively promoting the president's agenda and pressuring lawmakers to back it. But the group, like the administration it is designed to promote, has taken some time to find its footing.  

You can either be pro-Donald or pro-Republican, not both.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


ISIS Hits Iran : Terror Comes to the Islamic Republic (Ariane M. Tabatabai, 7/04/17, Foreign Affairs)

For Iran, ISIS was an entirely different beast from previous Sunni groups because it controlled territory and resources, created real chaos in Iran's neighborhood, harbored a strong anti-Shia stance, put Iran on its target list, tried to create an offshoot in Iran, and displayed barbarism rare even for terrorist groups.

As the group gained strength, Iran quickly deployed the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force to Iraq and then to Syria, where those troops were later joined by the country's military. The regime was initially reluctant to publicize its presence in Iraq and Syria. But with the Iranian public more anxious about the group's presence in Iran's neighborhood and the international community increasingly involved, Iran began to do so--effectively. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani became an icon when his photos with various Iraqi and Syrian forces were made public on Instagram and other platforms. Today, Soleimani is widely popular. He has managed to make the Guards, which have typically been viewed fairly negatively, more popular too.

Tehran also made use of its connections with various groups on the ground, including the Shia militias and the Kurds, as well as Baghdad and Damascus. Through its own version of the U.S. "Train Advise Assist" program, Tehran helped support and equip the anti-ISIS forces. And it beefed up its defenses and its counter-messaging efforts at home by emphasizing development in predominantly Sunni border areas (which had previously been ignored by Tehran), working with local Sunni clerics and leaders to undermine ISIS' message, and appointing a minister to oversee religious minority affairs.

These efforts were fairly successful. Approximately one year before the twin attacks in Tehran last month, Iran's ministry of intelligence and security had uncovered and foiled an ISIS plan to hit 50 different targets in the capital. Details of the plot were released later: It involved 600,000 euros, 100 kg of explosives, and a number of operatives. Later, Iranian officials stated that they had dismantled a network of over 1,000 operatives in the country. ISIS had even reportedly tried to create an offshoot in Iran to increase its effectiveness in the country. 

Given that, for three years, ISIS had reportedly placed Iran among its top three targets, it is impressive that there have been no major incidents until now--especially given some shortcomings in Iran's counterterrorism efforts. [...]

The Tehran attacks only make it clearer that ISIS is not containable. The Iranian public already saw ISIS as a major threat. Now it has proof. In some ways, this will allow the government to justify its activities in Iraq, Syria, and potentially Afghanistan--where the ISIS offshoot the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP) has been gaining ground, which the Iranians saw as a threat when NATO didn't. The increasingly unpopular Iranian intervention in Syria may gain momentum as a result of the attacks too. And the Guards can enjoy unprecedented popularity.

Against this backdrop, Iran is boosting its counterterrorism operations at home and abroad. Since the twin attacks in Tehran, the government has already killed the assailants, arrested a number of other suspected operatives, and quietly beefed up its counterterrorism efforts in Sunni-majority areas, such as Sistan-Balochistan, where the Guards killed the leader of Ansar al-Furqan, a Sunni terrorist group, last week. The Guards also launched missile strikes targeting what they described as ISIS headquarters in the ISIS-controlled Syrian town of Deir ez-Zour. The missile launches are the most visible action Iran has taken against ISIS yet in a campaign that has become increasingly public. And the missile strikes serve a dual purpose: They allow Tehran to deter ISIS as well as the country's Gulf Arab neighbors, whom Iranian leaders believe can only be held back by Iran's missile program.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Here's something Americans can actually agree on (Sam Ori, July 5, 2017, MarketWatch)

Whether you are looking at oil, natural gas or the electricity grid, an energy system whose costs and benefits were once concentrated in just a few regions of the country has transformed into one whose presence is much more widely distributed. This democratization of energy production has already had important impacts.

First, America's new energy landscape has been a big benefit for local economies. A recent paper co-authored by my colleague Michael Greenstone, for example, found that communities in the regions where shale-oil and gas drilling takes place profit to the tune of $1,900 per household, annually. Those benefits include a 6% increase in average income driven by wage growth and royalty payments, a 6% increase in housing prices, and a 10% increase in employment.

This finding aligns with a number of analyses that have explored the local impact of renewable energy investment. While the build-out of wind generation has been geographically diverse, more than 70% of wind farms are located in low-income, rural areas throughout the West and Midwest. The $100 billion that has poured into wind generation over the past decade has injected new funding into public finances in these communities and provided a much-needed source of additional income to farmers at a time of low commodity prices.

Yet, as important as the economic impacts have been, the biggest implication of these changes to the U.S. energy system could be their effect on our politics. For much of the past 50 years, U.S. energy politics have been driven by regional interests -- from the oil patch and coal country in particular. But there are signs this is beginning to change as energy production becomes less concentrated and more distributed.

In 2015, for example, a bill that secured historic five-year extensions of tax credits for wind and solar power while also opening global markets to shale-oil drillers received strong support from both parties. This kind of compromise on energy policy would likely not have been possible if Republicans felt unsafe supporting strong renewable subsidies or if Democrats were unable to support a policy that led to more shale drilling. More recently, after a draft White House budget showed it would gut the Energy Department's renewables office by 70%, six Republican senators from across the country called on President Trump to maintain funding for the agency.

Given the expected growth in renewable energy investment and shale drilling in the coming years, this could be the beginning of a much broader alignment on energy policy. As communities in states across the country find that they have a common set of economic interests and policy objectives, they will become an increasingly potent force with skin in the game on big issues. And while policies focused more specifically on climate change are likely to remain more divisive, it should not be lost on anyone that many of the fuels at the forefront of this revolution--wind, solar and natural gas--offer important environmental and climate benefits.

The incentives for cooperation are aligning across states as geographically and politically diverse as, for example, Texas and California around renewables and Pennsylvania and North Dakota around natural gas. At least on energy policy, we may be about to become a country that's much more united than divided.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Savers left in the red after a decade of low interest rates (Phillip Inman, 5 July 2017 , The Guardian)

It has been a difficult decade for savers. For 10 years they have suffered falling or ultra-low interest rates, leaving them in the red on their deposit accounts when they might reasonably have expected a modest gain.

The last time the Bank of England put up interest rates was on 5 July 2007. But the financial crash put paid to further rises. In the next 20 months it tumbled to 0.5% and then further in the wake of last year's Brexit vote to 0.25%. [...]

Today almost £180bn of cash savings sits in non-interest-bearing accounts and the few people who shop around earn just 0.4% on money in instant access accounts and 0.9% on notice accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Trump Wants a Do-Over in Europe : But the president's upcoming trip offers ample opportunity for fresh trouble. (THOMAS WRIGHT, July 04, 2017, Politico)

President Donald Trump is hoping Europe will give him a second chance.

This week, he heads to Poland at the invitation of its president and to participate in a regional infrastructure summit and to Hamburg, Germany, for the G-20 summit. The trip offers the chance for redemption after a catastrophic visit to Brussels in June that left the NATO alliance hanging by a thread because of his refusal to endorse Article 5, NATO's mutual defense clause.

The reality is that Donald was handed such a strong economy that he can save his presidency pretty easily by just reversing everything he ran on and governing as a Republican, as his 6 immediate predecessors did.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Former Number 10 aide calls for closer ties as executives meet at Chevening (George Parker and Jim Pickard, 7/05/17, Financial Times)

Theresa May has been urged by her former policy chief to step up her links with business leaders, amid an acceptance in Number 10 that the prime minister was cut off from corporate advice on Brexit before last month's election.

John Godfrey, Mrs May's recently departed policy director and a former executive at Legal and General, the insurer, has proposed that a rotating cast of senior executives be assembled to meet the prime minister on a quarterly basis. This would be backed by standing committees conducting detailed work on issues facing industry.

Mr Godfrey's comments reflect a view in Mrs May's inner team that, before the election, the prime minister was a remote figure to the business community; she held several private dinners for corporate leaders and their spouses but little more.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Volvo: Gas cars are history after 2019 (Sherisse Pham, July 5, 2017, CNN Money)

The Swedish automaker is slamming on the brakes on vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines, announcing that every car it makes from 2019 onward will have an electric motor.

The move makes Chinese-owned Volvo the first traditional carmaker to fully embrace electric and hybrid production.

"This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car," Volvo's president Håkan Samuelsson said in a statement Wednesday.

July 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Months of Russia controversy leaves Trump 'boxed in' ahead of Putin meeting  (Abby Phillip and Carol Morello, July 4, 2017, Washington Post)

Now nearly six months into his presidency, Trump is set to finally meet Putin at a summit this week in Hamburg after a stop here in Warsaw -- severely constrained and facing few good options that would leave him politically unscathed.
If Trump attempts to loosen sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine or its interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Congress could defy him by pursuing even stronger penalties. And if he offers platitudes for Putin without addressing Russia's election meddling, it will renew questions about whether Trump accepts the findings of his own intelligence officials that Russia intended to disrupt the democratic process on his behalf. 

"The president is boxed in," said Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush. "Why would you give Putin any kind of concession at the first meeting? What has he done to deserve that?" 

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


Qatar flaunts gas strength with plans to boost output (Zahraa Alkhalisi, 7/04/17, CNNMoney)

Qatar Petroleum said Tuesday it was planning to increase production from the world's biggest gas field by 20%.

That would boost the country's exports of liquified natural gas by 30%.

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


The Revolutionary War was conservative (Washington Examiner, Jul 4, 2017)

The war for independence is aptly called the Revolutionary War, but it was revolutionary only in the sense that we revolted against the "establishment of tyranny." It was not a revolution of rapidly changing ideals in our country, as other revolutions have been.

Take, for example, the French Revolution that occurred shortly after ours. It was marked by deep, widespread and wrenching social and political upheaval. Even the calendar wasn't immune. Weeks became 10 days long, and each month consisted of three 10-day weeks. Every day became 10 hours long, with each hour lasting 100 minutes, and each minute was 100 seconds (seconds were slightly shorter than our conventional seconds). This pointless non-improvement of the calendar and passage of time was an expression of a violent passion to uproot and destroy all that had gone before (finding an echo in later revolutions when, for example, Pol Pot decided that Cambodia must return to year zero).

Similarly, the French Revolution produced its "terror," which had no parallel in America. Tens of thousands were executed, price controls were imposed that caused food shortages, Christianity was deprecated and priests lynched. And, of course, France proceeded swiftly into imperial wars of conquest against European neighbors.

In contrast, American independence and the revolution that put it in place were necessary not because the revolutionaries and their leaders wanted everything to change. The revolution here was about upholding timeless ideals. America itself was a new idea, but the unalienable rights we fought for of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are those with which we have been endowed by our Creator since the dawn of time.

Just ask Jefferson himself.

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence," he wrote in a letter to Henry Lee in May 1825. "Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take."

The Anglosphere can't quarrel with the demand for self-determination.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


The Case for a Fourth of July Seder (Alan Burdick and Eliza Byard, July 2, 2017, The new Yorker)

 In the nineteen-thirties, Maxwell House developed and began distributing a Haggadah for free with every can of coffee sold, in part to persuade Jews that the coffee bean is kosher for Passover. A genius stroke of branded content, it is the most popular Haggadah in the world--the U.S. military still uses it--and thelongest-running sales promotion in advertising history.

The Exodus story has been entwined in American history since the very beginning of the Republic. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress tasked Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams with designing the first great seal of the United States. Franklin wanted an image of Moses parting the Red Sea, a doomed pharaoh in hot pursuit; Jefferson wanted an image of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. (Adams hoped that Hercules would appear on the seal, but Congress ultimately went with a coat of arms on one side and a pyramid on the other.) For many early Americans, including Douglass, the Exodus was a common reference point in discussions of slavery, and it remained a pillar narrative for African-Americans through the civil-rights movement and into the present. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his final sermon, said that he, like Moses, had "been to the mountaintop"; like Moses, he never reached the Promised Land.

What would a good Fourth of July Seder look like? We'll let gastronomes work out the menu. But one core ritual, easily carried out in ten minutes, should be to read the Declaration of Independence out loud. Sure, you could read it online or in print--many newspapers devote a full-page ad to it each year. Or you could have it read to you, a service NPR provides annually, or watch the YouTube video in which Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Benicio Del Toro and other celebrities take turns reading lines from it. But, if any document was meant to be enacted at a back-yard barbecue, the Declaration of Independence is it. It's a declaration; let's declare it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Airport Train Project Steams Ahead (ANNE ELISE RIORDAN, June 30, 2017, Icelandic Review)

Reykjavík City Council yesterday approved a cooperative agreement on the construction of a train line between Reykjavík and Keflavík Airport, reports RÚV. Authorities in the neighboring municipality of Garðabær agreed to such a deal earlier in the week, while municipalities in the southern peninsula of Suðurnes had already agreed to the plan last autumn. The project will next be discussed by town authorities in Hafnarfjörður and Kópavogur in the capital region.

"This is all under review, and the train project continues full steam ahead," stated Runólfur Ágústsson, managing director of express train special development association Fluglestin.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


We Need To All See The American Declaration As Abraham Lincoln Did (Joshua Claybourn, 7/04/17, The Federalist)

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously once said, "Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy." Nearly all European nations trace their beginning to a common ethnic kinship or a cultural characteristic, but America was created by exiles united in voluntary assent to shared political beliefs.

That's why British writer G. K. Chesterton visited the United States for the first time and remarked that America was "a nation with the soul of a church," not because of its religiosity, but because of a common creed enshrined in "sacred texts" of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. [...]

Abraham Lincoln believed that the Declaration of Independence did not necessarily proclaim people equal in all respects. Instead, it meant that all people were created with certain equal, inalienable rights, among which are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A free society should always strive to achieve these equal rights, even if, as in the case of the Founders, it fell short of that goal in the past.

The Declaration's concept of equality is an aspiration, Lincoln said, "constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere."

That is the genius of Lincoln's argument: that the Constitution is concrete (at least until amended), but the Declaration of Independence is aspirational, and the American project is a constant move toward the aspiration.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


How to Be an American (Richard Nilsen, 7/04/17, Imaginative Conservative)

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn," Ernest Hemingway wrote.

In that book, nearly every theme that identifies our art as American is established and explored: migration, race, individualism, anti-intellectualism, optimism, religion, social-climbing, money-grubbing, and the comfortable informality that marks us as a people.

It's as if Huck Finn were the instruction manual for how to be American. In that, Twain is just as clearly American as Debussy is French or Basho is Japanese. We often look to our art for clues to national identity. But although Twain gives us Americanness in concentrated form, most of the arts made on this continent, from Captain John Smith's General History of Virginia (1624) and Anne Bradstreet's poetry, all the way up to this week's latest rap song, partake in certain common traits.

What are they? First, we need to eliminate some of the things we like to think are particularly American, such as patriotism or respect for the family. Every culture feels these qualities are particularly their own, but in fact, they are universal. Even such negatives as bigotry and racism have their American coloration, but they are evils found in every culture.

It needs to be noted, too, that what we admire in ourselves is not necessarily admired elsewhere. Americans are direct, which others often see as rude. We are informal, which others translate as slobbishness. We are optimistic, which can be taken as arrogance. We believe in individualism, which others see as selfishness. But there are six things that we can see as particularly American: migration, individualism, optimism, religiosity, informality, and expansiveness.

The one thing all Americans share is that we are immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Why Not Taxation and Representation? A Note on the American Revolution (Sebastian Galiani & Gustavo Torrens, Date Written: June 2017, SSRN)

Why did the most prosperous colonies in the British Empire mount a rebellion? Even more puzzling, why didn't the British agree to have American representation in Parliament and quickly settle the dispute peacefully? At First glance, it would appear that a deal could have been reached to share the costs of the global public goods provided by the Empire in exchange for political power and representation for the colonies. (At least, this was the view of men of the time such as Lord Chapman, Thomas Pownall and Adam Smith). We argue, however, that the incumbent government in Great Britain, controlled by the landed gentry, feared that allowing Americans to be represented in Parliament would undermine the position of the dominant coalition, strengthen the incipient democratic movement, and intensify social pressures for the reform of a political system based on land ownership.

...why did the King prosecute the war?  Why not just cut a deal giving us our own Parliament, or representation in Parliament,  and him as head of state?

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


America's shockingly violent birth (George F. Will, June 30, 2017, Washington Post)

Some American history museums belabor visitors with this message: You shall know the truth and it shall make you feel ashamed of, but oh-so-superior to, your wretched ancestors. The new Museum of the American Revolution is better than that. Located near Independence Hall, it celebrates the luminous ideas affirmed there 241 Julys ago, but it does not flinch from this fact: The war that began at Lexington and Concord 14 months before the Declaration of Independence was America's first civil war. And it had all the messiness and nastiness that always accompany protracted fratricide. [...]

 The war caused "proportionately more" deaths -- from battle, captivity and disease -- than any war other than that of 1861-1865. The perhaps 37,000 deaths were about five times more per capita than America lost in World War II. Sixty thousand loyalists became refugees. "The dislocated proportion of the American population exceeded that of the French in their revolution," Alan Taylor tells us in "American Revolutions: A Continental History." The economic decline "lasted for 15 years in a crisis unmatched until the Great Depression."

After the second civil war, William Tecumseh Sherman declared that "war is hell." Hoock demonstrates that this was true even when battle casualties (only 23 patriots died at Yorktown) were small by modern standards. He is, however, mistaken in suggesting that he is uniquely sensitive to our founding mayhem. Consider two recent books that examine the anarchic violence on both sides.

Nathaniel Philbrick's "Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution" (2013) recounts a patriot mob's long torture, in January 1774, of loyalist John Malcom, a Boston customs officer, who was tarred and feathered: The crowd dislocated his arm while tearing off his clothes, then daubed his skin with steaming tar that parboiled his flesh. Paraded for many hours through Boston's two feet of snow, he was beaten, whipped and finally dumped "like a log" at his home, where "his tarred flesh started to peel off in 'steaks.' "

Taylor's "American Revolutions " (2016) hammers home the war's human costs. A Connecticut critic of the Continental Congress was tarred, carried to a sty and covered with hog's dung, some of which was forced down his throat. Connecticut loyalists were imprisoned in a copper mine, in darkness 120 feet underground. Georgia patriots knocked a loyalist unconscious, "tied him to a tree, tarred his legs, and set them on fire" and then partially scalped him. Some courts ordered loyalists "branded on the face or cut off their ears" to make them recognizable.

It's pretty hilarious when folks whinge that the establishment of democracies in the Middle East seems too difficult or too bloody. If the End of History was easy there would have been no world wars after 1776.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


The Great Immigrant Threat (THOMAS A. FIREY, 7/04/17, Cato)

The situation is grim. Dangerous foreigners are streaming into the United States, killing and abducting innocent Americans. They depress the wages of American workers and hurt American businesses. Something must be done about these invaders!

Is this another warning from Donald Trump? Another column by Sean Hannity? The conclusion of another paper from the Center for Immigration Studies?

Nope, it's a paraphrase of warnings from politicians, unions, and major newspapers from a century ago, about the dangers of Chinese immigrants and other "Asiatics," as well as the businesses they opened, especially "chop suey houses." These warnings would be comical if they weren't so abhorrent.

Only the haters and the hated ever change.
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Juncker tells near-empty EU parliament: 'You are ridiculous' (Reuters, 7/04/17)

Juncker, himself from the small Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, was visibly annoyed as he watched the proceedings in the near empty parliamentary chamber in Strasbourg.

"You are ridiculous," he told the gathering called to listen to a speech by Malta's Joseph Muscat.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


America The Beautiful : Steyn's Song for the Season by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A Ward (Mark Steyn, July 4, 2017, SteynOnline)

In 1893, a Massachusetts professor called Katharine Lee Bates was giving a series of summer lectures on English literature at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. "One day," she recalled, "some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there."

Professor Bates had not previously traveled in the Rockies or seen much of her country at all beyond New England, and the unbounded beauty of the land awed her - and inspired her. It was "the most glorious scenery I ever beheld, and I had seen the Alps and the Pyrenees," she said. "My memory of that supreme day of our Colorado sojourn is fairly distinct even across the stretch of 35 crowded years," Miss Bates wrote a year before her death in 1929. "We stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit, hallowed by the worship of perished races, and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse."

Though she insisted "the sublimity of the Rockies smote my pencil with despair", she was not "wordless" for long. "It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind":

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

She put them down on paper that evening in her room at the Antlers Hotel. Today you'd be hard put to find a quatrain known to more Americans. Whether it's Gary Larson's "Far Side" cartoon of Columbus approaching land and saying, "Look! Purple mountains! Spacious skies! ...Is someone writing this down?" or Rush Limbaugh at noon eastern welcoming listeners "across the fruited plain" to his daily radio show, every anchorman, cartoonist, comedian or advertising copywriter who evokes those words is assured that they're as instantly familiar to his audience as any lines ever written in American English.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Natalie Portman Just Moved Back to the U.S. from Paris - and She Can't Believe How Nice Everyone Is (Jodi Gugliemi, 8/26/16,  People)

"Everyone smiles a lot here. It's so nice," the 35-year-old actress said of the difference between the two iconic cities. "They're very cool in France."

Portman, who is married to French dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, said it took her a little while to adjust to Americans' sunny disposition after living in a city that was a bit more reserved.

"I didn't realize that I got used to it until I got here and I was so surprised when I would get in an elevator and someone would start a conversation," joked Portman, who has a 5-year-old son with Millepied. "Or someone would smile at my child. I'd be like, 'What a good person.' "

July 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


An ultra-Orthodox rabbi explains why his community opposes the Western Wall deal (ANDREW TOBIN, July 4, 2017, JTA)

According to Nachum Eisenstein, the chief rabbi of eastern Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Ma'alot Dafna neighborhood, Reform and Conservative Judaism threaten to undermine the survival of the Jewish people.

"The reason why Judaism is the only religion that survived throughout thousands of years and all the massacres and all the attempts to destroy it is that the ours is the only religion that has always been the same, the way it was given to us on Mount Sinai," Eisenstein said in an interview. "Who gave you, the Conservative and the Reform, the authority to make up a new religion?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


The man who went on a hike - and never stopped walking (Robert Moor, 3 July 2017, The Guardian)

In his 61st year on this earth, the man who calls himself Nimblewill Nomad left home and walked a very long way through the mountains - about 10 million steps, he estimates, or 4,400 miles. Then, he took another, even longer walk. And then another one. And then another. Soon, he had given away almost all of his money and taken to walking almost year-round, roaming the post-industrial wilderness of North America in what he called "a desperate search for peace".

His fellow long-distance hikers speak of him in mythical terms. They told me that, in order to avoid foot infections, he had chosen to have all 10 of his toenails surgically removed. He was said to never carry more than 10lbs on his back, and to have invented a tiny stove that ran on twigs and grass, so he wouldn't have to carry fuel.

Over 15 years, he had hiked 34,000 miles. First he completed the so-called Triple Crown of long-distance trails: the Appalachian trail (2,200 miles), the Pacific Crest trail (2,650 miles), and the Continental Divide trail (3,100 miles). Then he went on to complete all 11 national scenic trails in 2013. Triumphant, fulfilled, and nearing his 75th birthday, he vowed to hang up his hiking boots.

Then, the next spring, he was back. He announced he would complete a grueling road-walk from New Mexico to Florida, in order to complete a route he had named the Great American Loop, which connected the four farthest corners of the continental US. This, he claimed, would be his last long hike.  [...]

In west Texas, the highway stretched in a straight line to a vanishing point on the horizon. Space and time started to play tricks on him. He walked for hours each day and never seemed to progress, the distant mountains retreating faster than he could catch them. The highway was lined with mileage markers, and he checked each one to convince himself that the numbers were changing.

His plan was to walk from gas station to gas station, but buildings of any kind were sometimes dozens of miles apart. If people hadn't stopped to give him water, he may well have died. When he emerged from the desert, vultures were circling ominously over his head.

Other than the vultures, almost all of the wildlife he had seen was dead (most of it roadkill), including a crushed coral snake, two mule deer, a raccoon, an armadillo, numerous birds, and a group of dead coyotes wired, inexplicably, to a fence. [...]

He retired in 1993 and began spending more time living alone on a plot of land he was developing beside Nimblewill creek in Georgia. He and his wife started to drift apart. There followed a dark period of about five years, about which he said he didn't remember much. When I later called up his sons - neither of whom had spoken with him in years - they recalled him as a caring father and a dutiful provider, but also someone who was easily frustrated, prone to bouts of drunken brooding, and, occasionally, loud (but never violent) outbursts of rage.

His new house sat near the base of Springer Mountain, which he would regularly climb. His hikes gradually grew longer; he began systematically hiking the Appalachian trail section by section, eventually reaching as far as Pennsylvania. Then, in 1998, at the age of 60, he decided to set out on his first "odyssey", a 4,400 walk from Florida to Cap Gaspé in Quebec, along a sketchy agglomeration of trails, roads, and a few pathless wilderness areas.

Not long before, he had been diagnosed with a heart block, but he declined the doctor's admonitions to have a pacemaker installed. His sons assumed he would not make it home alive.

On the trail, Eberhart renamed himself after his adopted home, Nimblewill creek. He began in the swamps of Florida and hiked north on flooded trails, where the dark, reptilian waters sometimes reached to his waist. When he emerged from the swamps, all 10 of his toenails fell off. By the time he reached Quebec, it was already late October.

Over the past nine months, he had experienced a slow religious awakening, but his faith was shaken as he passed through those grim, freezing mountains. "Dear Lord, why have you forsaken me?" he asked, upon seeing the weather darken one day at the base of Mont Jacques Cartier. However, a lucky break in the storm allowed him to reach the snowy mountaintop, where he sat in the sun, feeling "the warm presence of a forgiving God". After reaching the trail's end, he returned to the south (on the back of a friend's motorcycle) and, in a blissful denouement, walked another 178 miles from a town near Miami down to the Florida Keys, where he settled into "a mood of total and absolute, perfect contentment, most near nirvana".

He returned home a different man. He stopped showering. He kept his hair long. He began ruthlessly shedding his possessions; over the course of three days, he burned most of the books he had collected over his lifetime, one by one, in a barrel in his front yard.

In 2003, he and his wife divorced. He ceded the house and most of his assets to his ex-wife, and signed over his other real estate holdings, including the land at Nimblewill creek, to his two sons in an irrevocable trust. Since then, he has lived solely off his social security checks. If those funds ran out by the end of the month, he went hungry. But what he had gained was the freedom to walk full time, which felt to him like freedom itself. "As if with each step," he wrote, "these burdens were slowly but surely being drained from my body, down to the treadway beneath my feet and onto the path behind me."

Three days I walked with Eberhart, through swampland and farmland and urban wasteland. To pass the hours, we talked; sometimes we argued. I discovered he held a fierce belief in an almighty God, and could not bring himself to believe in the science of Darwinian evolution or anthropogenic climate change. He also held a dogged belief in personal freedom, including the freedom to pollute the atmosphere with fossil fuels. "If I want to buy an airplane and fill it full of a thousand gallons of fifty-dollar-a-gallon fuel, and I got the money to do it, goddamn it, leave me alone!" he exclaimed at one point, in exasperation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Teenagers Have Stopped Getting Summer Jobs--Why? (DEREK THOMPSON  JUN 9, 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]eenagers aren't spending more time on the couch, but rather spending more time in the classroom. Education is to blame, rather than indolence. Teens are remaining in high school longer, going to college more often, and taking more summer classes. The percent of recent high-school graduates enrolled in college--both two-year and four-year--has grown by 25 percentage points. That is almost exactly the decline in the teenage labor-force participation rate.

With tougher high-school requirements and greater pressure to go to college, summer classes are the new summer job. The percent of 16-to-19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled in the last 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rise may be directly related to the fact that parents and high schools are encouraging students to take on more classwork, according to Ben Steverman, a Bloomberg reporter who covers teen employment. He finds that the percentage of high-school grads completing at least four years of English, three years of science, math, and social science, and two years of foreign language has sextupled since the early 1980s.

No tradition is more American than our certitude that Education is failing, even as it keeps improving.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


New political alliance unites Iraqi religious and secular parties (Hassan al-Shanoun, July 2, 2017, Al Monitor)

The Sadrists traditionally have been led by activist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, while Al-Wataniya has generally been seen as a secular party.

The Sadrist Political Committee issued a statement, saying, "The two parties have agreed on forming a parliamentary front that includes members from the movement and coalition. The members are to reach understandings that are in line with the post-Mosul liberation phase [from the Islamic State (IS)] and expedite the rectification of the electoral process by changing the members of the electoral commission and choosing independent figures who live up to people's expectations. The Sadrist-Allawi alliance also is to approve a new electoral law that guarantees voter opinion and contributes to a political process that respects Iraqis' will."

Al-Wataniya coalition member of parliament Jamila al-Obeidi said that the Sadrist movement is the group closest to having a unified national identity, making it easier to reach a political agreement with the Sadrists to serve the country.

Sadr becomes first Iraqi Shi'ite leader to urge Assad to step down (Reuters, 4/09/17)

Iraq's influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "take a historic heroic decision" and step down, to spare his country further bloodshed.

Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, is the first Iraqi Shi'ite political leader to urge Assad to step down.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Iraq's triumph and trials in fight against Islamic State (BEN KESLING, 7/03/17, The Wall Street Journal)

Three years ago, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the existence of an Islamic State caliphate and proceeded to sweep his forces through northern Iraq and towards Baghdad, threatening the viability of the fragile country.

Today, the leader declaring an end to the caliphate is someone few would have imagined in the position, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. A man seen as the favourite of none but acceptable to all, the 65-year-old former electrical engineer has managed to turn that tepid sentiment into a defining strength.

Over nearly three years in office, Abadi has narrowed gaps between Iraq's warring Shia and Sunni politicians. He balanced competing interests among geopolitical rivals Iran and the US, and spearheaded an overhaul of Iraqi security forces, which had fled advancing Islamic State fighters. Iraq is close to retaking Mosul, Islamic State's psychologically important stronghold.

"Abadi has magnificently shifted between leading and balancing," says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "If he led too much then there'd be too many alienated people, and if he balanced too much there would be no forward progress."

Today, Iraq's security forces are on the verge of defeating Islamic State, the key requirement if the nation wants to enjoy a stable and cohesive future, despite daunting challenges that remain. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Saudi-led Qatar blockade brings Iran, Turkey together (Saeid Jafari, July 3, 2017, Al Monitor)

Turkey's decision to stand by Qatar has divided the region in two. On the one side are Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies who are against Doha, and on the other side are Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Russia, who supports Doha.

Turkey, and especially President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has continually enjoyed close ties with Qatar's leaders. Their joint support for the Muslim Brotherhood is strong commonality between the two nations. After the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Erdogan expressed full backing for the Brotherhood and Egypt's president at the time, Mohammed Morsi. This is while Qatar has also had close ties with the Brotherhood and enjoys warm relations with the Palestinian Hamas movement. These two groups have always been at the center of Saudi hostility, which is why it was not surprising that on June 7 Turkey's parliament ratified military agreements that allowed its troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar.

The Sa'uds are demanding that the Qataris abandon democratic movements and the free press.  It's obvious which is the American side.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


American Reds, Soviet Stooges (Harvey Klehr, JULY 3, 2017, NY Times)

It was not until 1956, when Khrushchev told Soviet Communists that Stalin had been a mass murderer, that American Communists were willing to believe what had been widely known for years. The persecutions of McCarthyism and the Cold War seriously depleted the ranks of the C.P.U.S.A., but it took the word of a Soviet Communist leader to destroy the faith in Communism that had sustained many Americans. By 1959, the C.P.U.S.A., which had once numbered nearly 100,000 members, was reduced to fewer than 3,000.

The C.P.U.S.A.'s vulnerability had a great deal to do with its dependence on Moscow. For much of its existence, the party could not have functioned without Moscow gold. One of its first leaders, the journalist John Reed, was given more than a million rubles' worth of czarist jewels and diamonds to smuggle into America to support the fledgling American movement. In the 1920s, Armand Hammer, the future head of Occidental Petroleum, used money derived from Soviet concessions to underwrite The Daily Worker and fund communist operations in Europe. Without Soviet money, the C.P.U.S.A. would not have been able to hire the hundreds of full-time organizers and support an array of front groups and publications that enabled it to outspend and out-organize its left-wing rivals.

Beginning in the late '50s and continuing into the late '80s, the K.G.B. delivered millions of dollars to the C.P.U.S.A. through two brothers, Jack and Morris Childs, both of whom were actually working for the F.B.I. as double agents. These subsidies, carefully monitored by the F.B.I., kept the C.P.U.S.A. alive as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union. In return, the longtime party leader, Gus Hall, faithfully supported every Soviet foreign policy initiative, ranging from the U.S.S.R.'s conduct during the Cuban missile crisis to the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the party's subsequent denunciations of Eurocommunism.

Several hundred American Communists carried their devotion to the Soviet Union even further, working, mostly without recompense, for Soviet intelligence agencies. Virtually all of the approximately 500 Americans who served as Soviet spies between the '30s and early '50s, including senior government officials like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and Laurence Duggan, were either Communists or Communist sympathizers. The C.P.U.S.A. had a clandestine apparatus that cooperated with the K.G.B. and the Soviet intelligence directorate, vetting potential recruits and occasionally suggesting useful sources. Three successive party leaders -- Lovestone, Browder and Eugene Dennis -- knew and approved of this relationship.

That the leaders of an American political party always under attack for its Soviet connections would take the incredibly risky step of actually working with Soviet intelligence speaks volumes about the ultimate loyalties of the American Communist Party. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


'I Have Passed the Point of Reacting': How the Watergate News Cycle Reads Today (JON MEACHAM, JULY 2, 2017, NY Times Book Review)

Afterward, she couldn't recall who had the idea first. It was Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1973, and Elizabeth Drew, a newly hired Washington writer for The New Yorker, came in to see the magazine's editor, William Shawn, after Labor Day weekend. "I told him that I had an intuition that within a year this country would change vice president and president," Ms. Drew recalled in an introduction to a 40th-anniversary edition of her 1974 book, "Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall." Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, a popular figure with the growing conservative base of the Republican Party, was facing suspicions of accepting bribes for services rendered during his years as governor of Maryland. More important, President Richard M. Nixon seemed incapable of putting Watergate -- a catchall term for the White House's involvement in political espionage, break-ins and subsequent cover-ups -- behind him. The result of the conversation: Ms. Drew would begin to write a journal of life in Washington for the magazine. [...]

The power of the Drew volume comes from the slow but steady accretion of detail. When it is reported that the Nixons had paid $792.81 in income taxes in 1970 and $878.03 in 1971, a White House spokesman says only this: "We consider that the President's tax returns are private, just like any other citizen's, and we're not going to comment further." The pace of events was dizzying. Agnew resigns and pleads no contest in court. Nixon's men authorize a break-in at the office of the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Breathtaking White House tapes dribble out. "The city seems to be reeling around amidst the events and the breaking stories," Ms. Drew writes. "In the restaurants, the noise level is higher. At the end of the day, someone says, 'It's like being drunk.'"

There was no respite. "One gets a picture of the president and several of his formerly most trusted aides circling each other, each of them in a position to put the knife to the others," Ms. Drew writes. "It is the court of the Borgias. It is the government of the United States." The labor leader George Meany speculates openly about Nixon's "dangerous emotional instability," and Nixon pounds the press, advising Americans to beware "frantic, hysterical reporting." When Carl Albert, the speaker of the House, is asked his view of the disappearance of key conversations from the White House tapes, he says simply, "I have passed the point of reacting." Nixon's assistant John Ehrlichman, musing about the nature of the Republic, says: "The president is the government." The whole political life of the nation beggared belief. "It is harder than ever to know where reality stops and fantasy begins," Ms. Drew wrote. "When, time after time, the incredible proves to be fact, it's quite an achievement for something to remain incredible."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM



The modern navy has many ladders. Its officers can earn their stripes at sea or in the air. They can prosper by navigating the shoals of technocracy. But the one sure path to glory is the same as in Roman times: victory at sea. Sailing in harm's way is a matter of vocation.

Capt. Will Rogers III, USN, spent his career preparing for combat. Winning his commission in December 1965 at the age of 27, Rogers came late to the navy, but he made up for lost time with a gung-ho attitude and-after a spell on the staff of the chief of naval operations --friends in high places. In 1987, Rogers won command of the navy's most prized high-tech hip, an Aegis cruiser. The billion-dollar Vincennes seemed a sure ticket to flag rank. But Rogers, who, like many peacetime naval officers had never been under fire, longed to see action.

On July 3, 1988, Captain Rogers got his wish. He sought out and engaged the enemy in a sea battle in the Persian Gulf. From the captain's chair of a warship's combat information center, he made life-and-death decisions in the heat of conflict. It was the moment he had yearned and trained for, and it should have been the apex of his life in the service.

Only it wasn't much of a battle. Rogers had blundered into a murky, half-secret confrontation between the United States and Iran that the politicians did not want to declare and the top brass was not eager to wage. The enemy was not a disciplined naval force but ragtag irregulars in lightly armed speedboats. Fighting them with an Aegis cruiser was like shooting at rabbits with a radar-guided missile. And when it was over, the only confirmed casualties were innocent civilians: 290 passengers and crew in an Iranian Airbus that Captain Rogers's men mistook for an enemy warplane.

The destruction of Iran Air Flight 655 was an appalling human tragedy. It damaged America's world standing. It almost surely caused Iran to delay the release of the American hostages in Lebanon. It may also have given the mullahs a motive for revenge-and provoked Teheran into playing a role in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103. For the navy, it was a professional disgrace. The navy's most expensive surface warship, designed to track and shoot down as many as 200 incoming missiles at once, had blown apart an innocent civilian airliner in its first time in combat. What's more, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters at the time of the shoot-down--in clear violation of international law. The top Pentagon brass understood from the beginning that if the whole truth about the Vincennes came out, it would mean months of humiliating headlines. So the U.S. Navy did what all navies do after terrible blunders at sea: it told lies and handed out medals.

This is the story of a naval fiasco, of an overeager captain, panicked crewmen, and the cover-up that followed. 

Ironically, while it was accidental, it conformed with the image of the Great Satan that the leaders of the Revolution had come to believe.  So it appeared we were willing to even shoot down passenger jets and that was an asymmetrical war too far for them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Unexpected Impact of Travel Ban (Nick Wadhams, Kartikay Mehrotra, Bob Van Voris And Erik Larson, 7/02/17, Bloomberg News)

The refugee ban will actually add more refugees.

Trump used his power to reduce refugee entries for the current fiscal year to 50,000 from the target of 110,000 set by President Barack Obama. But the number of refugees who enter the U.S. is likely to end up higher. Under the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling, refugees who have "bona fide" ties to the country may be admitted, and they don't count as part of the cap.

Immigration advocates say more than half the refugees admitted each year have such ties. So even though the U.S is just days away from hitting the 50,000 figure, many more refugees may enter the country while the 120-day ban is in effect.

"In all likelihood, I would expect we would end up with more than 50,000 this year," said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. "Once we get to 50,000 there will inevitably be some number of refugees that meet the 'bona fide' test and if the administration monkeys around with that by trying to slow down approvals, then they'll be in violation of the court decision."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Anti-Semitic, racist Reddit user behind Trump anti-CNN tweet (SUE SURKES AND AP, July 3, 2017)

A user of an alt-right forum on the social news site Reddit who has posted anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist items has claimed credit for a video tweeted by US President Donald Trump Sunday to attack the media.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Egypt 'worse off on every indicator' since 2013 coup : After a revolution and a military coup, Egypt faces abuses to a degree unseen in the Mubarak years, analysts say. (Zena al-Tahhan, 7/03/17, Al Jazeera)

[S]isi's rise in June 2014 was supposed to herald a new era of stability. He introduced rapid economic reforms, such as slashing fuel subsidies and raising taxes in an effort to ease unemployment and generate long-term revenues. He also initiated several new infrastructure projects, including the expansion of the Suez Canal and the country's farmland area, which he said would make Egypt more self-sufficient and generate jobs. As violence dwindled, tourism revenues increased.

Yet experts say the temporary stability, which has begun to erode, came at the cost of public freedoms.

"Some Egyptians have accepted the return of some of the 'old guard' because they believe that, for all its faults, the Mubarak regime brought them more stability than the Morsi regime," Sarah Yerkes, a fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Al Jazeera. "In the long run, this type of thinking is irrational - Mubarak was only able to control Egypt for so long - but in the short run, some people are willing to put up with more repression [and] less freedom in exchange for what they perceive to be greater stability."

Shortly after Morsi's removal, the military-backed interim government embarked on a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, many of whom who continued to stage counterprotests and express their support for Morsi.

In August 2013, the army and security forces attacked a demonstration in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, killing some 1,000 Morsi supporters. Human Rights Watch described it as "one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history".

And in a widely criticised mass trial, Egypt sentenced hundreds of alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death - "the biggest mass sentence given in modern Egyptian history", according to Amnesty International. The movement, which is Egypt's oldest, most influential Islamist group, was also banned and had its assets seized before being declared a "terrorist organisation" by the government.

"The violent repression of Morsi's supporters sent a stark message to all Egyptians that under the resurgent authoritarian rule of the Sisi regime: Dissent will not be tolerated. Along with the mass imprisonment of over 50,000 people, this has ensured that opposition to the regime has remained limited in the years since," Abdullah al-Arian, a professor of history at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

No one thought the coup- would improve things for Egyptians; it was supposed to shut them up.

July 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


Justice Department's Corporate Crime Watchdog Resigns, Saying Trump Makes It Impossible To Do Job (DAVID SIROTA, 07/02/17, IB Times)
One of the Justice Department's top corporate crime watchdogs has resigned, declaring that she cannot enforce ethics laws against companies while, she asserts, her own bosses in the Trump administration have been engaging in conduct that she said she would never tolerate in corporations.

Hui Chen -- a former Pfizer and Microsoft lawyer who also was a federal prosecutor -- had been the department's compliance counsel. She left the department in June and broke her silence about her move in a recent LinkedIn post that sounded an alarm about the Trump administration's behavior.

"Trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome," Chen wrote. "To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts. Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Low-income families spend 40% of their money on luxuries (Leslie Albrecht, June 30, 2017, Market Watch)

It turns out that all Americans, regardless of income, spend a large percentage of their income on luxuries.

People who make the most money spend the biggest chunk of their incomes on luxury goods, but even the poorest households spend a significant amount for luxuries, according to an analysis released this week by Deutsche Bank Research.

The wealthiest families (the top fifth of earners) spend around 65% of their incomes on luxury goods and 35% on necessities, according to the study, which looked at spending habits between 1984 and 2014. Middle-income households weren't far behind: They spend 50% on luxuries and 50% on necessities.

Even the lowest income families (the bottom fifth of earners) spend 40% on luxuries and 60% on necessities, according to the study's author, Torsten Slok, chief international economist for Deutsche Bank Securities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Jewish Philanthropist Ends Aid To Israel Over Kotel, Conversion Controversies (Aiden Pink, 7/02/17, The Forward)

In the past week, the government suspended plans to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, and froze for six months a proposal to pass a law denying citizenship to non-Israelis who convert to Judaism outside the auspices of the state rabbinate, which is controlled by ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

"It isn't a matter of Reform or Conservative," Fisher told the paper. "This is a serious act of contempt for the rabbis and leaders of our communities. They say 'you don't matter. They say to our women 'your Judaism isn't Judaism.' It is intolerable and we have an obligation to put an end to it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


St. Anthony's Unanswered Prayer : Over 45 years, Bob Hurley turned his Jersey City basketball program into an unlikely national power. Now, after 28 state titles and decades of staving off closure, St. Anthony is shutting its doors, and the Friars family is trying to cope with running out of miracles. (sam Fortier, 6/30/17, the Ringer)

A few minutes before 7 on a warm May night in Jersey City, New Jersey, the first of 200 or so guests arrive for what one event organizer calls "the final celebration of life" for the fabled St. Anthony High School basketball team. They climb up the brownstone steps to White Eagle Hall, the old gym about a mile from the school itself, where head coach Bob Hurley's Friars, who never had a home gym of their own, practiced for the better part of three decades until 2003. As the attendees pull open the mahogany doors and walk into the main hall, they mostly gasp. They remember White Eagle as a dingy, cramped gym, but a $6 million renovation that began in 2012 and concluded this spring has produced an ornate concert venue. During the renovation, a crew wiping away grime on the ceiling discovered two handcrafted, stained-glass murals, and they ripped up the basketball court and refashioned it as bar counters and balcony flooring. Now, the onstage guitarist, sensitive to the occasion, plays only slow, acoustic jazz and blues.
"Well," a woman says to her friends as they enter the hall, "they turned the temple of basketball into a whorehouse." [...]

Onstage, Hurley takes the microphone in his Merrells, blue jeans, and trademark sweater-vest. During his 45-year, one-school career, he never had a home gym, yet he won 1,184 games and 28 state titles -- a national record for a high school hoops program. Hurley loved the White Eagle days because he thought beating everyone after practicing in a converted bingo hall that lacked heat in the winter symbolized his squad. He says as much onstage, and the crowd thunders with applause as Hurley remarks on fan-favorite players and coaches, the eight Friars teams that went undefeated, and the four that won a national championship.

Hurley thanks everyone for coming to the dinner. He asks for a standing ovation for the St. Anthony teachers in attendance and ambles offstage. He doesn't go two steps before a line forms in front of him, each person waiting his or her turn to talk with the man who turned their hometown team into a national fixture.

"We did everything we could."

"This was bigger than ball for a lot of us."

"I guess we finally found a game we couldn't win."

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Iran Says It Will Sign $4.8 Billion Gas Deal With France's Total (RFE/RL, 7/02/17)

French energy giant Total will sign a multibillion-dollar agreement to develop an Iranian offshore gas field on July 3, Iran's Oil Ministry said, in the biggest foreign deal since sanctions were eased last year.

The more oil the Shi'a and Christians pump the more we undermine the Salafi and Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Study: Israel Losing Support Among Democrats, Minorities, Millennials (Ben Sales, July 2, 2017, JTA) 

[W]hat do you think of when you think of Israel? If you're like most Americans, you picture walls of concrete enclosing an austere and strict country. The men wear black hats, the women long skirts. Everyone looks pretty serious.

That's what Brand Israel Group, a group of former advertising professionals who set out to sell Israel to Americans, found in a series of focus groups beginning in 2005. The group has since commissioned two surveys of the American public -- in 2010 and 2016 -- and didn't like what it found.

According to the surveys, Israel has pretty broad backing among American citizens, but is losing support among a range of growing demographics. As pro-Israel advocates tout "shared values" between the United States and Israel, fewer and fewer