August 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Iran in compliance with 2015 nuclear deal: IAEA report (Al Jazeera, 8/31/17)

Iran remains in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal made with the world powers, according to a UN atomic watchdog report.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Thursday that Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium is used for peaceful purposes, and did not exceed the agreed limit of 300kg.

The report was the third since the January inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who has vowed to "dismantle" the "disastrous" accord between Iran and six major powers curtailing Tehran's atomic activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


It's time Charles Darwin was exposed for the fraud he was : Two of his theories about evolution are wrong -- and one resulting 'science' inspired the Nazis (A.N. WILSON,  4 August 2017, Evening Standard)

Darwinism is not science as Mendelian genetics are. It is a theory whose truth is NOT universally acknowledged. But when genetics got going there was also a revival, especially in Britain, of what came to be known as neo-Darwinism, a synthesis of old Darwinian ideas with the new genetics. Why look to Darwin, who made so many mistakes, rather than to Mendel? There was a simple answer to that. Neo-Darwinism was part scientific and in part a religion, or anti-religion. Its most famous exponent alive, Richard Dawkins, said that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist. You could say that the apparently impersonal processes of genetics did the same. But the neo-Darwinians could hardly, without absurdity, make Mendel their hero since he was a Roman Catholic monk. So Darwin became the figurehead for a system of thought that (childishly) thought there was one catch-all explanation for How Things Are in nature.

The great fact of evolution was an idea that had been current for at least 50 years before Darwin began his work. His own grandfather pioneered it in England, but on the continent, Goethe, Cuvier, Lamarck and many others realised that life forms evolve through myriad mutations. Darwin wanted to be the Man Who Invented Evolution, so he tried to airbrush all the predecessors out of the story. He even pretended that Erasmus Darwin, his grandfather, had had almost no influence on him. He then brought two new ideas to the evolutionary debate, both of which are false.

One is that evolution only proceeds little by little, that nature never makes leaps. The two most distinguished American palaeontologists of modern times, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, both demonstrated 30 years ago that this is not true. Palaeontology has come up with almost no missing links of the kind Darwinians believe in. The absence of such transitional forms is, Gould once said, the "trade secret of palaeontology". Instead, the study of fossils and bones shows a series of jumps and leaps.

Hard-core Darwinians try to dispute this, and there are in fact some "missing links" -- the Thrinaxodon, which is a mammal-like reptile, and the Panderichthys, a sort of fish-amphibian. But if the Darwinian theory of natural selection were true, fossils would by now have revealed hundreds of thousands of such examples. Species adapt themselves to their environment, but there are very few transmutations. 

Darwin's second big idea was that Nature is always ruthless: that the strong push out the weak, that compassion and compromise are for cissies whom Nature throws to the wall. Darwin borrowed the phrase "survival of the fittest" from the now forgotten and much discredited philosopher Herbert Spencer. He invented a consolation myth for the selfish class to which he belonged, to persuade them that their neglect of the poor, and the colossal gulf between them and the poor, was the way Nature intended things. He thought his class would outbreed the "savages" (ie the brown peoples of the globe) and the feckless, drunken Irish. Stubbornly, the unfittest survived. Brown, Jewish and Irish people had more babies than the Darwin class. The Darwinians then had to devise the hateful pseudo-science of eugenics, which was a scheme to prevent the poor from breeding.

We all know where that led, and the uses to which the National Socialists put Darwin's dangerous ideas. 

If Napoleon had conquered Britain and the English were a subject people, Darwin would not have even proposed his theories.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Trump touts tax reform, overlooks White House aide Cohn (James Oliphant, 8/31/17, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump made his first major tax reform speech on Wednesday, but in a long list of thank yous he did not mention Gary Cohn, the White House point man on taxes who traveled with Trump to the event.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Top advisers in more displays of disagreement with Trump (Jonathan Landay and Jeff Mason, 8/31/17, Reuters) 

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis openly differed with his commander in chief over North Korea on Wednesday, the latest example of a once-rare public display of disagreement by top U.S. aides that has become more frequent under President Donald Trump.

"We are never out of diplomatic solutions," Mattis told reporters, just hours after Trump said in a tweet that "talking is not the answer" to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

His public contradiction of Trump's position came a day after the Pentagon chief, a retired four-star Marine general, appeared to delay implementation of Trump's decision to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Robert Mueller Eliminates Trump's Trump Card (Jonathan Chait, 8/31/17, New York)

The presidential pardon only applies to federal crimes. As NBC reported last night, it is possible for state governments to press charges in some of the alleged crimes committed by Trump's cronies. "You would have to find that one of those [election] crimes occurred in New York," Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, told NBC. Of course, some of the alleged crimes almost certainly did take place in New York. And sure enough, Josh Dawsey reports, Mueller is teaming up with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller's and Schneiderman's teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering," he notes.

Trump can pardon anybody facing charges from Mueller, but not from Schneiderman. It is probably significant that Mueller is letting this fact be known to Trump's inner circle. Trump's biggest source of leverage over Mueller just disappeared.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


U.S. house prices to keep rising on supply constraints: Reuters poll (Hari Kishan, 8/31/17, Reuters) 

U.S. house prices are forecast to rise by a cumulative 10 percent over this year and next, driven by a scarcity of new homes, low interest rates and steadily-increasing demand, a Reuters poll of property market analysts showed.

We're gonna need a lot more immigrants to build the stock we need.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Georgia lawmaker: Talk of ditching Confederate statues could cause Democrat to 'go missing' (Greg Bluestein, August 30, 2017, AJC)

A Georgia Republican lawmaker warned a Democratic former colleague who criticized his support for Civil War monuments on Facebook that she won't be "met with torches but something a lot more definitive" if she continues to call for the removal of statues in south Georgia.

State Rep. Jason Spencer, a Woodbine Republican, also wrote former state Rep. LaDawn Jones that "people in South Georgia are people of action, not drama" and suggested some who don't understand that "will go missing in the Okefenokee."

"Too many necks they are red around here," he wrote. "Don't say I didn't warn you about 'em."

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Chances Of Trump Impeachment At High Point (Jefferson Morley, August 31, 2017, National Memo)

The question of how Trump sought to deal with Russia is at the heart of Mueller's investigation.

The proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow was just another manifestation of Trump's long-standing desire to build in Russia. In 2013, he signed a preliminary agreement to build a hotel in Russia in partnership with Aras Agalarov, a billionaire who had financed the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in 2013.

A representative of Agalarov's company attended a June 2016 meeting with top Trump aides and a Russian lawyer organized by Donald Trump Jr. The lawyer offered to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton collected by the Russian government. The meeting was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," according to an email made public by Don Jr.

Six days later, a person identifying himself as "Guccifer 2.0" released a Democratic National Committee file on Trump, stolen from the DNC computers. It was the first in a flood of leaks harmful to Clinton that would continue for the rest of the campaign.

According to an NBC News report Monday, Mueller's team of prosecutors are focusing on Trump's role in drafting a public statement claiming the subject of the meeting was the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans.

A source "familiar with Mueller's strategy" told NBC that whether or not Trump made a "knowingly false statement" is now of interest to prosecutors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


The ACA markets are a narrow problem. They should be treated that way. (Drew Altman, 8/31/17,  Kaiser Family Foundation)

[T]he non-group market is actually fairly small, covering about 18 million people, with about 10 million of them in the ACA marketplaces which have received so much attention. [...]

For context: In fact, the rest of the health system where most Americans get their coverage looks very different from the non-group market. As the chart shows:

Average premiums in the employer insurance market, where 151 million Americans get their health coverage, rose by an average of just 3% last year. And we're expecting continued moderation this year.

Likewise, per capita spending for Medicaid is projected to grow a modest 3% in 2017, with per capita Medicare spending growing by just 2 percent.

The back story: Insurers and regulators have been struggling with a unique set of issues in the non-group market, most especially a sicker than expected risk pool and the uncertainty surrounding Trump administration policies. The most important areas of uncertainty have been whether the administration will continue to pay out the $7 billion in cost sharing subsidies and enforce the individual mandate.

But even before the ACA, the non-group market was also the weak link of the insurance system, with sick people priced out or excluded from coverage altogether.

What to watch: Some think a deal on stabilizing the non-group market could be as narrow as an agreement to appropriate the $7 billion in federal cost sharing subsidies in exchange for greater flexibility for states under the ACA. 

August 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Joe Arpaio saga isn't over: Judge to decide if his conviction stands (Michael Kiefer and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, 8/30/17,The Republic)

[S]he ordered Arpaio and the U.S. Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, to file briefs on why she should or shouldn't grant Arpaio's request.

Arpaio's attorneys asked Bolton on Monday to vacate Arpaio's conviction in light of President Donald Trump's Friday pardon.

Bolton has scheduled oral arguments on the matter for Oct. 4, the day before Arpaio was supposed to be sentenced.

There is case law that says a pardon implies an admission of guilt, and that will have to be argued in open court.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


US-led air strikes block ISIL evacuation deal (Al Jazeera, 8/30/17)

A US-led coalition battling ISIL says its fighter jets have blocked a convoy of the group's fighters evacuated from Lebanon from reaching eastern Syria, and also struck a number of their comrades travelling from the other direction to meet them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Iranians and Their iPhones, and the Futility of Sanctions (Paul R. Pillar, August 26, 2017, National Interest)

Iran has been a favorite target of American politicians who use sanctions as a vehicle for expressing disapproval for a regime, with little apparent thought about the actual effects of the sanctions.  Since the entering into force of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which in the eyes of most governments successfully resolved the issue of a possible Iranian nuclear weapon, the United States has been alone among major powers in continuing to sanction Iran.  The sanctions that the United States has piled on Iran for years have become so extensive and complex, and the penalties for violation so severe, that many American companies have erred on the side of caution by forgoing business opportunities in Iran even more than is legally required.  The fear of God, or rather of the U.S. Treasury Department, has made them wary of inadvertently stepping across some unclear line.

The new development is that Apple is attempting to shut down apps developed by Iranians for use on iPhones inside Iran.  The sanctions prohibit Apple from selling its phones in Iran, but millions of the popular devices have been smuggled into the country from places such as Dubai and Hong Kong.  Hence the market for apps that Iranians find useful, such as an Uber-like ride-hailing service known as Snapp.  Apple is removing Iranian-developed apps, including Snapp, from its App Stores.  The company issued a message to Iranian developers in which it attributed the move to "U.S. sanctions regulations".

That Apple's move is the result of an abundance of fear and caution is indicated by Google taking a different tack.  Google has done nothing to remove Iranian-developed apps for Android phones from its Play store, and it permits Iranian developers to publish their apps in Iran provided that they do not involve purchases.  Maybe Google is on firm legal ground.  But with the American political impulse to keep imposing still more anti-Iran sanctions, and with a resulting system of sanctions that is so complicated it can be fully understood only by a few experts in Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, many companies will take Apple's more cautious approach.

Impeding the full use by Iranians of their iPhones does absolutely nothing to weaken the Iranian regime, to punish it for behavior we don't like, to deter it from future behavior we might not like, or to accomplish any other ostensible purpose of the sanctions that have led Apple to do what it is doing.  It only takes ordinary Iranians farther away from fully enjoying an American product with an American operating system, and it stimulates a turn to Iranian alternatives such as an internal Iranian online payment system.  As with many of the U.S. sanctions, the overall effect on the Iranian economy is to weaken portions of that economy that are outside the regime and to strengthen the regime's influence over other parts, including the economic activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Amazon Kills the Fed's Inflation Target (John Tamny  , 8/30/17, FEE)

With approval of the merger having been given, Amazon quickly announced that shoppers would soon see reduced prices at Whole Foods. Good news? Actually, news like this should be put in the wonderful category. Our work is all about the getting. Thanks to innovators like Amazon, we're able to get more and more in return for our work. 

All is well? Not really, if an impressively obtuse post from Bloomberg is to be believed.

Responding to Amazon's announcement of price cuts, a reporter at the news site attempted to pour a little bit of cold water on the approved merger, writing:

"Amazon's plans to cut prices at Whole Foods is great news for shoppers, but not so much for Federal Reserve officials wondering whether they'll ever hit their 2 percent inflation target."

Wow! While media understanding of economics has long been embarrassingly bad, this post surely raised the bar. 

Assuming the Fed could manage prices in the first place (it can't), it's surely not the job of businesses to compete less aggressively, and for consumers to attain less in return for their work, just so the Fed can achieve its witless targets. Only among Fed economists untouched by reality (enabled by economics journalists equally unfamiliar with reason) could rising prices for consumer goods amount to a desirable outcome.

Back in the real world, falling prices are the historical norm within advanced economies thanks to investors constantly rewarding businesses that commoditize existing luxuries. Whether it's a ball-point pen, car or computer, all that we value in life today was once very expensive and obscure. But thanks to aggressive entrepreneurs and businesses feverishly competing to serve our needs, what's expensive and desirable is eventually rendered affordable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, Valiant World War II Spy, Dies at 98 (WILLIAM GRIMES, AUG. 29, 2017, NY Times)

In 1943 Jeannie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen, representing their interests and helping them negotiate contracts with the German occupiers. She was young and attractive. She spoke flawless German. She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.

Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

"I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane," she told The Washington Post in 1998. "I kept saying, 'What you are telling me cannot be true!' I must have said that 100 times."

One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.

Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near-photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.

In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

In "1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall" (2003), the historian Rémy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a "masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering." When Mr. Jones asked who had sent the report, he was told that the source was known only by the code name Amniarix, and that "she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation."

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


The incredible shrinking president (Mike Allen, 8/30/17, Axios)

Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are going their own way on tax reform. Hill sources believe his original targets, including a 15% corporate rate, are dead.

SecDef Mattis didn't immediately embrace his full ban on transgender troops.

His Justice Department won't drop the Russia probe.

Courts won't allow his full Muslim ban.

Mexico won't pay for his wall.

Congress won't pay for his wall.

The Senate won't pass his promised health-care reform.

Gary Cohn and Sec State Tillerson won't tolerate his Charlottesville response.

North Korea won't heed his warnings.

China doesn't fear his trade threats.

CEOs won't sit on his councils.

Mexico and Canada won't bend to his will on NAFTA.

Why Trump's aides are so openly trashing him (Joel Mathis, August 30, 2017, The Week)

It was Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council -- and one of Trump's most prominent Jewish advisers -- who criticized the president to the Financial Times. And it was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who told Fox News that Trump "speaks for himself" on American values, leaving Chris Wallace slack-jawed.

In most administrations, it's practically taboo for White House officials to criticize their president so openly and on the record -- or even to suggest a sliver of difference with the president's views. "You should not air the dirty laundry with the president in public," Roger Stone, a Trump ally, sniffed to The Washington Post.

This, of course, isn't most administrations. Which suggests one reason Cohn and Tillerson might've said what they said: History is watching. And they know it.

Yes, history is always watching the White House. But given the disruption Trump caused by being elected, and his inability to let a week go by without distraction and controversy, it seems likely that this administration will get the treatment more than most -- that, like the Nixon administration, which practically created its own cottage industry in publishing, it will be dissected by historians, journalists, and writers for decades to come.

There will be heroes and villains in those stories. And surely, lots of people working for President Trump have already decided that they don't want to be seen as the villains. 

Why Trump's threat to withdraw from NAFTA is an empty one (Don Lee, 8/30/17, LA Times)

[M]any former trade negotiators and experts agree that the president's threat to cancel NAFTA is essentially an empty one, more likely intended as a bargaining ploy.

For one thing, Trump lacks the legal authority to unilaterally end all U.S. obligations under the 23-year-old agreement with Canada and Mexico. Some of that power rests with Congress.

And even if the president moved for a withdrawal, he would almost certainly face legal challenges and come under enormous pressure because of domestic economic and political considerations. His base in rural America, in particular, would be slammed by a U.S. pullout.

"I don't think it's a credible threat," said Warren Maruyama, a partner at the Washington law firm Hogan Lovells who worked on NAFTA and other trade issues in both Bush administrations. "Trump would do serious political damage and split the coalition that got him into the White House. While his win is often credited to anti-trade, blue-collar voters, he won just about every rural county, and Mexico is a huge market for America farm products."

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM



Just before dawn on the morning of March 8th, 2012, a team of a dozen FBI agents in bulletproof vests drove through the streets of Arcadia, California, 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Soon, they arrived at a white stucco house on Naomi Avenue, the home of Rudy Kurniawan.

Kurniawan was one of the world's preeminent wine collectors and dealers. In 2006, at just 30 years old, he'd consigned a cellar to the house of Acker, Merral & Condit that set a wine auction record with a sale of $24.7 million. The source of his wealth and his wine was a mystery. There were rumors of a family fortune in Indonesia, where he was born. His collection was said to derive from a cache once owned by the French merchant, Nicolas. Kurniawan regularly played host at exclusive cellars and well-stocked restaurants like Cru in New York and Osteria Mozza in LA, where he covered the bill for hedge fund managers, wine barons, and auctioneers. He was a tasting room savant and a full-fledged oeno-socialite. He was also, as it turns out, a fake, one of the most prolific forgers in the long and storied history of high-class American scammers, which is why the FBI took him into custody that morning in March, 2012 and shipped him to New York City to stand trial on charges of fraud.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Potential Carbon Capture Game Changer Nears Completion : If it works as expected, the Net Power natural gas demonstration plant will capture carbon at nearly no cost. (James Temple  August 30, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

If it works as expected, Net Power's $140 million, 50-megawatt natural gas plant will capture effectively all of the carbon dioxide it produces, without significantly higher costs, in part by relying on the greenhouse gas itself to crank the turbine that generates electricity. The technology could enable a new generation of plants that provide clean power, without the development risks of nuclear (see "Meltdown of Toshiba's Nuclear Business Dooms New Construction in the U.S."), the geographic restrictions of hydroelectric, or the intermittency issues of solar and wind. Crucially, future plants of this type could also rely on the nation's abundant supply of cheap natural gas.

"If it plays out as advertised, it could be an actual game changer," says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher at the MIT Energy Initiative.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


In Omaha, Three Faiths Share One Big Idea : The Tri-Faith Initiative brings together a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, with a promise to build bridges between them (Jonathan Zalman, 8/30/17, Tablet)

The story of the Tri-Faith Initiative essentially begins in December 2005 when Jewish and Muslim community leaders met to discuss a pressing religious matter: parking. But these pragmatic-minded talks quickly flourished and the group began to "dream outrageously," as Azriel put it.

At the time, Temple Israel's aging building was in need of constant repair, and there was a need for more space--the congregation, over the course of five decades, had more or less doubled in size, said Bob Freeman, a former president of Temple Israel and Tri-Faith co-founder who chaired its board until 2016. Additionally, Temple Israel's members were moving westward, a longtime trend for many of Omaha's Jewish families. As a result, there was real interest in relocating.

There were advantages to the current location, however, as a Methodist church and Omaha's Community Playhouse had previously been built next door, creating a "park-like environment around our temple building and free overflow parking on those few peak-use days that congregants appeared in great numbers," said Freeman, who used to live near the temple and was not initially enamored with the idea of moving to West Omaha. "My view was: If we're going to move, we ought to try to consciously replicate some of those characteristics that we had," including the ability to choose neighbors (rather than leave that up to developers who would likely have differing priorities). Said Freeman: "The logical starting point was other religious buildings in town--a church, a mosque; their peak-use days aren't going to coincide with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and you would have compatibility of use as a neighbor."

Freeman and Azriel had learned that some members of Omaha's growing Muslim community were also desiring change, and wanted to create a new mosque further west. They had coffee with a number of lay Muslim leaders--including Syed Mohiuddin, a renowned cardiologist who lectures at Creighton University, and Karim Khayati, a technology and business professional--who believed in what would soon coalesce as the pluralistic philosophy of Tri-Faith. As these talks were regularly taking place, Mohiuddin, Khayati, and a handful of Omaha's Muslims leaders decided the time was right to catalyze their brewing vision: to officially incorporate a progressive-minded Islamic organization, and establish an affiliated mosque.

At first, the new organization was named the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture. Today it's known as the American Muslim Institute, or AMI. Mohiuddin, who can trace his family roots to Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani Al Amoli, a 12th-century preacher who founded the Qadiri Sufi Order of Islam, now serves as the organization's president; Khayati is the vice president.

"When [Freeman and Azriel] said they were looking for a partner, we said, 'We are in," recalled Mohiuddin. "Without them there would be no Tri-Faith."

In order to complete the Abrahamic triad, a Christian partner, The Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, was brought on, and in November 2006 Tri-Faith's leadership penned a visionary, pluralistic Memorandum of Understanding, spelling out the overall vision: "...To build bridges of respect, trust and acceptance, to challenge stereotypes of each other, to learn from one another, and to counter the influence of extremists and agents of hate."

Now, Tri-Faith's organizers had to get their respective congregations to buy in--not only to Tri-faith's vision and philosophy, but also to relocation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Rouhani: Saudis 'should stop backing terrorists' (Al Jazeera, 8/30/17)

"Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen and their support of terrorists in Yemen and Syria are main hurdles to improve ties between Tehran and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia should stop backing terrorists," Rouhani told state TV on Tuesday.

And stop funding Wahabbism.

August 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Anti-Immigrant Group Endorses Planned Parenthood ( Bill McMorris, August 29, 2017, Daily Beacon)

An anti-immigrant environmentalist group is tossing its support behind Planned Parenthood, arguing that its taxpayer funding and overseas abortion aid are needed to curb future refugees and immigrants.

Environmentalist group Negative Population Growth published a report on Tuesday condemning Republican efforts to defund the nation's largest abortion organizer, as well as efforts to limit abortion coverage in federally subsidized Obamacare plans and the Trump administration's reinstatement of the Mexico City policy, which prevents foreign aid from going to groups that perform abortions. The group says that abortion and contraceptive services provided by Planned Parenthood are needed to limit population growth in the United States and elsewhere.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Judge dismisses Sarah Palin's lawsuit against New York Times (Tom Kludt, August 29, 2017, CNN)

A federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday dismissed Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit against the New York Times.

"Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States," Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in an opinion dismissing the case. "In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others."

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


A Presidency about Nothing Might be Good for Markets (John Tamny, 8/29/17, FEE)

Readers of this column are well aware of the opinions expressed about Trump throughout Election 2016. Most were negative owing to Trump's mistaken assertions about the bad of free trade and liberal immigration, and the good of a weak dollar.

Yet despite Trump's policy views that would seemingly be inimical to rising stock markets, they've continued to rally during his presidency. "Continued" is the operative word here in that this rally began years ago, March of 2009 to be exact. Under two presidents in Obama and Trump who believe in policies that don't normally square with economic freedom, markets have done well.

In the search for why, Fisher has answers. Writing last month, he observed a crucial finding about 2017: "we've learned Trump can't do as much as some had hoped and others feared." The previous point can't be minimized. And it requires discussion in light of the media's coverage of Trump the politician. Barack Obama's too.

It's hard not to turn on CNN each day without some headline announcing the irretrievable decline of Trump's presidency. While right-wing media regularly chronicled the no-growth, disastrous Obama presidency (mostly based on the worthless Keynesian measure that is GDP), CNN and other media outlets known to swing left are feeding their viewers a daily diet of the disaster unfolding under Trump. Yet investors plainly haven't been bothered by the alleged Trump implosion, much as they weren't fazed by Obama's economic illiteracy.

Considering Obama, though he signed into law a $787 billion "stimulus" program in 2009 that logically weakened the U.S. economy (when governments consume precious capital, there's less for private sector businesses to access) and the misnamed Affordable Care Act in 2010, the legislative portion of his presidency largely ended after that. Figure that Republicans took back control of Congress in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the ensuing gridlock largely reduced Obama to fundraiser-in-chief. Thank goodness.

Apparently investors were relieved too. Though Obama's understanding of economic growth is charitably weak (doubters need only read Confidence Men, an account of the economic portion of Obama's presidency meant to cast him in favorable light), the fact that he wasn't able to do much after 2010 rendered his economic ignorance less of a threat to investors.

A presidency about nothing might be the path to the popularity that Trump craves even more.
As for Trump, he expresses good ideas and bad economic ideas. His thoughts on tax cuts have been encouraging, plus under him the ratio of regulations repealed to those introduced has come in at 16 to 1! Still, his views about trade are scary, anti-economic growth on a grand scale, and would normally spook investors. Yet they're not scaring investors given the simple truth expressed by Fisher that whatever Trump believes, he can't get much done.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


U.S. consumer confidence hits five-month high; house prices rise (Lucia Mutikani, 8/29/17, Reuters) 

U.S consumer confidence surged to a five-month high in August as households grew increasingly upbeat about the labor market while house prices rose further in June, suggesting a recent acceleration in consumer spending was likely to be sustained.

The data on Tuesday also supported views that economic growth would accelerate in the second half of the year after a sluggish performance earlier.

As the UR taught us, when the tectonic plates are aligned, doing nothing works.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Iran rejects U.S. demand for U.N. inspector visit to military sites (Reuters, 8/29/17) 

Iran has dismissed a U.S. demand for U.N. nuclear inspectors to visit its military bases as "merely a dream" as Washington reviews a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and six world powers, including the United States. [...]

During its decade-long stand-off with world powers over its nuclear program, Iran repeatedly rejected visits by U.N. inspectors to its military sites, saying they had nothing to do with nuclear activity and so were beyond the IAEA's purview.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:42 AM


Happy Bird Day!

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Trump Cybersecurity Advisors Resign, Citing His 'Insufficient Attention' to Threats (David Z. Morris, Aug 26, 2017, Fortune)

A quarter of the members of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, whose purview includes national cybersecurity, have resigned. In a group resignation letter, they cited both specific shortfalls in the administration's approach to cybersecurity, and broader concerns that Trump and his administration have undermined the "moral infrastructure" of the U.S. [...]

[T]he resigning advisors also said the Administration was not "adequately attentive to the pressing national security matters within the NIAC's purview, or responsive to sound advice received from experts and advisors." The letter also zeroed in on "insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend," including election systems.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Investors Go Where Trump Won't: To Immigrant Entrepreneurs : A new crop of venture capitalists is specifically backing companies that have international founders. (Elizabeth Woyke  August 29, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

These are tense times for foreigners who want to live and work in the U.S., due to President Trump's aggressive remarks and stringent policies about immigration. But skilled immigrants who want to start companies in the U.S. are finding support in a group of venture capitalist investors who aim to ease their challenges.

Such assistance can be crucial to immigrant entrepreneurs because the U.S.--unlike Canada, France, Singapore, and the U.K.--lacks a so-called startup visa. In July, the Trump administration delayed an Obama-era rule that would have helped international founders stay in the U.S. for up to five years and has indicated it plans to rescind it. In its absence, several VC firms that explicitly invest in companies created by immigrants are filling some of the gaps.

Though these firms, which include Unshackled Ventures, One Way Ventures, and One VC, were not created in direct response to Trump's actions, their focus on aiding immigrants is particularly timely and vital now. "As immigration issues pop up, we're seeing VCs answer the call and offer immigration counsel [to their portfolio companies]," says Jeff Farrah, vice president of government affairs at the National Venture Capital Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Trump Punishes Longtime Aide After Angry Phoenix Speech, Sources Say (Jennifer Jacobs and Kevin Cirilli, 8/28/17, Bloomberg)

Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.

TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president. 

As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he'd never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


An Interview With the Journalist Who Intervened in the Berkeley Antifa Beating  (Osita Nwanevu, 8/28/17, Slate)

So walk me through how you ended up protecting this guy. Who was he?

No idea who he was. The longer story is that there was the rally--I think one thing that people should know is that it was mostly a peaceful rally. It wasn't like anarchy and fighting and brawling everywhere. It was mostly a peaceful thing. Most of the protesters there were not what I would call antifa. They were a mixture of people. The antifa were definitely there, but I would say that they were maybe 20 percent of the crowd? But they were there, and they showed up in force.

So [far-right activist] Joey Gibson was doing his "Patriot Prayer" thing--he came through with like two other guys, and he was antagonizing the black bloc, and it really escalated. So they started chasing Joey and this guy. They ran across the street--I'm literally right next to Joey while all this is happening, so I know this to be true--they ran into the police, and the police kind of protected them. But this other guy--I'm not sure if he was with Joey. It looked like he was, but I'm not sure. He was running in kind of a different place, and he stumbled--or someone tripped him--and then four or five people surrounded him and began to kick and hit him with like a flagpole. And I was just filming it, but at some point I looked behind him and I saw a whole mass of people coming, and I just thought that they were going to kill him. And, you know, I didn't want anybody to die. So I just dropped my stuff and dove in and got on top of him. Originally I wasn't planning on getting on top of him; I just wanted to shield him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Seattle dad seeks to pay off all student lunch debt in the state of Washington (Allison Slater Tate, 8/28/17, TODAY.COM)

Jeffrey Lew, who was born and raised in Seattle and works in a local government agency there, first learned about the issue with children across the country who can't pay for their school lunches when he read an article about it online. He discovered that when children don't have cash or funds to pay for their school lunches, schools begin to track their debt, and invoices are sent to their families. But many schools will also take lunches away from children who can't pay, or they trade out the hot lunch for an alternative cold lunch for those children. The practice has been dubbed "school lunch shaming."

Lew, who has two sons ages 9 and 4 and a 2-year-old daughter, was deeply affected by the article.

"It's devastating! It boggles my mind that a child can accrue a debt at school," he told TODAY Parents. "I was determined to do something about it."

Lew started by finding out the lunch debt at his own son's school: $97.10. He paid that off, but then he decided that wasn't enough. "I thought, why not help out the whole Seattle Public Schools district? It took off from there," said Lew.

In May, Lew created a Go Fund Me campaign to attempt to pay off all the school lunch debt in Seattle Public Schools, which was no small feat -- The lunch debt in Seattle Public Schools at that time was $20,531.79. But Lew met his fundraising goal of $50,000 and then some, so then he decided to do the same for the surrounding school districts in Tacoma, Spokane, Renton, and Clover Park. He has now paid off over $100,000 worth of debt in the five school districts.

"This issue is important to me because I really feel passionate about helping students just do their best in school and not have to worry about having food to eat," said Lew.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Feds Challenged On Travel Ban (Gene Johnson, 8/29/17, Associated Press)

A government lawyer faced tough questions on Monday from three federal appeals court judges over who should be allowed into the U.S. under President Donald Trump's travel ban. [...]

The judges grilled Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan. Judge Ronald Gould asked "from what universe" the government got the idea that grandparents don't constitute a close family relationship.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Charlie Parker and the Meaning of Freedom (ARTHUR C. BROOKSAUG. 29, 2017, NY Times)

Jazz, like all serious art, is slavish in its adherence to boundaries and rules. And therein it achieves the nature of true freedom, in both art and life.

Study the sheet music to any jazz song -- take, for example, Parker's classic "Anthropology" -- and two things are immediately clear. First, the player is bound to a written melody the first time through the chorus. In the case of Parker's songs, the melody is complex and requires incredible virtuosity -- which is to say, years and years of careful practice. Second, the chord structure is spelled out over the melody with zero ambiguity. When improvising after the melody, the jazz player must stay within these chords. This is devilishly hard, once again requiring years of work and study.

Fail on either of these dimensions, and you're a hack who is laughed off the stage. Indeed, there is a famous story of Parker himself at age 16 at a jam session in Kansas City, Mo., with older, well-known musicians. When Parker lost track of the chords during a solo, Jo Jones (drummer for Count Basie) threw a cymbal at him and kicked him out.

Parker learned and improved. Listen carefully to his work 10 years later and you don't hear a man missing chords or playing whatever he wants. Freedom in Parker's music was the freedom to work within the melody and chords to make beautiful, life-affirming music. That meant the self-mastery to dominate his craft through years of careful practice, and the humble discipline to live within the rules of the music itself.

Many artists have known this truth. Leonardo da Vinci said, "You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself." But the lesson goes far beyond art. Indeed, this is one of life's great lessons for all of us.

In 1897, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim undertook one of the first modern empirical studies of mental health in his masterwork "Suicide." Prefiguring the methods that modern social scientists take for granted, he surveyed European populations to see what social patterns predicted self-harm. His results were clear: Individuals are less likely to hurt themselves in communities with more clearly articulated moral boundaries.

This is consistent with more modern social science research. For example, the "paradox of choice" is a well-established phenomenon, in which consumers get less satisfaction beyond a certain number of product options because choosing itself requires energy and resources. Effectively, Durkheim found that there is a "paradox of moral choice" that is that much more virulent in its effects.

The lesson: To be truly free to enjoy the best things in life, set proper moral standards for yourself and live within them as undeviatingly as Charlie Parker did in his music. As Albert Einstein once put it, "Morality is of the highest importance -- but for us, not God."

Beauty is objective.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


White nationalists raise millions with tax-exempt charities (MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Dec. 22, 2016, AP) 

With benevolent-sounding names such as the National Policy Institute and New Century Foundation, the tax-exempt groups present themselves as educational organizations and use donors' money to pay for websites, books and conferences to further their ideology. The money also has personally compensated leaders of the four groups.

New Century Foundation head Jared Taylor said his group raises money for the benefit of the "white race," a mission taxpayers are indirectly supporting with the group's status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The IRS recognized it, the Charles Martel Society, the National Policy Institute and VDare Foundation as charities more than a decade ago.

Samuel Brunson, a tax law professor at Loyola University in Chicago, noted the nonprofit status gives these groups a veneer of legitimacy and respectability.

"It should make people uncomfortable that the government is subsidizing groups that espouse values that are incompatible with most Americans," he said.

The IRS has tried to weed out nonprofit applicants that merely spread propaganda. In 1978, the agency refused to grant tax-exempt status to the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group that published an anti-Semitic newsletter. And in 1994, a court upheld the denial of tax-exempt status for the Nationalist Movement, a Mississippi-based white nationalist group.

Some tax experts said the IRS is still feeling the sting from conservative critics over its 2013 concession that it unfairly gave extra scrutiny to tea party groups seeking tax exemptions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Whole Foods rivals may die, but shoppers love price cuts (Steve LeVine, 8/28/17, Axios)

The larger subtext is that Amazon -- like the other U.S. tech giants Google, Facebook and Apple -- is facing increased political scrutiny as it begins to resemble a retail monopoly, and brick-and-mortar stores face more and more closures. But any inclination to lay low at first was pushed aside by apparent confidence that, like the public's ardor for Amazon itself, shoppers were likely to be grateful for a good bargain.

If so, Amazon was right: At least for now, consumers seem a lot less concerned with Amazon's market power, and more with sale prices: a check of shopper sentiment around the country suggests general elation with the Whole Foods acquisition, as one might expect when the price of salmon filets is suddenly 33% lower than the day before, and Fuji apples by 43%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Why Trump's Wall Is Not Going To Happen (Steve Chapman, August 29, 2017, Creators Syndicate)

To get a bill with wall funds through the Senate would require 60 votes. Every Republican and eight Democrats would have to agree, and that is not going to happen. Both Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi have invited Trump to take a long walk off a short pier. They say they won't support the barrier under any circumstances.

This response no doubt makes many Republicans secretly grateful, because they regard the proposal as what the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan referred to as "boob bait for Bubba" -- a tough-sounding but dumb idea useful for appealing to a certain segment of the electorate that is not well-informed or discerning on matters of policy.

Plenty of GOP members would rather put Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore than underwrite this addled project. The Department of Homeland Security says it would cost $22 billion -- and a study by the Democratic staff of the Senate homeland security committee priced it at nearly $70 billion.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported, "Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump's request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall." That's one reason he's angry with Arizona's two Republican senators.

Doubt has seeped out of Trump's Cabinet room. As secretary of homeland security, before becoming White House chief of staff, John Kelly admitted, "It's unlikely that we will build a wall or physical barrier from sea to shining sea." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also been equivocal.

Trump faces some daunting obstacles in trying to get his way. One is that the wall is not very popular. A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that only 37 percent of likely voters support the idea. Another is that Trump is not very popular, with an approval rating matching that of the wall. Those numbers won't intimidate many members of Congress.

August 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Trump confronts unprecedented public rebuke by Gary Cohn after Charlottesville (Damian Paletta and Philip Rucker August 25, 2017, wASHINGTON Post)

Cohn lashed Trump's comments earlier this month blaming the violence in Charlottesville on "both sides," saying in an interview with the Financial Times that "citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK." The adviser, who is Jewish and has long given to Jewish causes, said that the administration "must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups."

The criticism was the first serious public condemnation of Trump's behavior by a member of his inner circle since the beginning of his presidency and raised the question of how a president who puts a heavy premium on loyalty would react.

Privately, a White House official said, Trump was furious about Cohn's public airing, though publicly, White House officials, while defending the president's response to the events in Charlottesville, acknowledged that the White House can always do more. [...]

On Wednesday evening, Cohn complained loudly about Trump while dining with friends at a Long Island restaurant called the Frisky Oyster.

Cohn explained to his companions -- in a loud voice overheard by others -- that he had to be careful not to give Trump too much lead time about some new ideas because the president could disclose the information prematurely and upend the planning process, according to a person familiar with the dinner.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Trump has lost more than a fifth of his support since inauguration (Philip Bump, August 28, 2017, Washington Post)

A lot of attention has been paid to the core, fervent base of support that Trump enjoyed from the primaries through the general election. But he won because more-moderate Republicans who were iffy about him ended up voting the party line. They, like a number of independents, didn't really like him, but they liked Hillary Clinton even less.

That's a problem because Trump has seen a big drop in support from precisely those groups. Republicans overall have shed 11 points of support for Trump -- but moderate Republicans have dropped 17 points since January.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Felix Sater, Trump Associate, Boasted That Moscow Business Deal 'Will Get Donald Elected' (MATT APUZZO and MAGGIE HABERMAN, AUG. 28, 2017, NY Times)

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would highlight Mr. Trump's savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.

"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Mr. Sater wrote in an email. "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


Trump leaning toward ending DACA program for undocumented immigrants brought to US as children: Sources (KATHERINE FAULDERS SERENA MARSHALL, Aug 25, 2017, ABC News)

President Donald Trump is leaning toward ending a U.S. immigration policy the Obama administration started for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, according to multiple sources.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Whole Foods just got a whole lot cheaper (Jordan Valinsky, 8/28/17, CNNMoney)

After completing its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods on Monday, Amazon slashed the prices of dozens of items at all 460 of its new grocery stores. From fresh fish to produce, prices were down across the board.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Trump's travel ban is firmly rooted in our history of racist immigration policies (Christopher Petrella, 1/30/17, The Bangor Daily News)

The history of U.S. immigration law is squarely based in the ideology of racialized nationalism. In 1920, Harry Laughlin, an eminent eugenicist with a doctorate in cytology -- the study of plant and animal cells -- from Princeton University, testified to the U.S. House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization that "the character of a nation is determined primarily by its racial qualities." Laughlin's sentiment captured the spirit of the time. During the 1920s, a number of immigration and legal reforms grew out of the scientific notion of intractable difference between races and an abiding belief that the purity of whiteness must be protected at all costs. The Immigration Act of 1924 was established for the express purpose of limiting the influx of "dangerous" and "dysgenic" Italians, Arabs, eastern European Jews, Asians and other not-fully-white "social inadequates."

The Immigration Act of 1924 -- a piece of legislation recently praised by Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee for U.S. attorney general -- dramatically limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origin quota system. Signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on May 26, 1924, the bill capped total annual immigration at about 165,000 -- less than 20 percent of the pre-World War I average -- by establishing ceilings on the maximum number of immigrants allowed from any given country: specifically, 2 percent per year of the number of immigrants from a given country as recorded in the 1890 census. The choice to peg immigration to that census was far from arbitrary. Since the 1890 census reflected a higher population percentage of "desirable" northern Europeans than any of the subsequent three censuses, people from those countries enjoyed artificially inflated immigration and naturalization opportunities under the new quotas. To be sure, this provision was no doubt meant to establish an advantage to Anglo-Saxon Protestants who represented the majority of the U.S. population in 1890.

In his 1916 bestseller, " The Passing of the Great Race," famed eugenicist Madison Grant argued that while northern European immigrants of the 19th century were "skilled, thrifty, and hardworking" just like native-born Americans, more recent immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were "unskilled, ignorant, predominantly Catholic or Jewish" and virtually unassimilable. Grant, among other eugenicists, was tapped as an expert to speak on the threat of "inferior stock" from eastern and southern Europe and played a critical role as Congress debated provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924.

At the urging of Grant and others, the act did not include any provision whatsoever for immigrants from Asian countries. The bill stipulated "the absolute exclusion of the aliens ineligible to citizenship," a code for Asians. This continued a longstanding policy in existing immigration laws dating from 1790, 1870, 1882 and 1917 that already had excluded most Asians from naturalizing. Exceptions to these blanket prohibitions included Japanese and Filipinos. But the Immigration Act of 1924 -- in conjunction with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1922 ruling in Ozawa v. United States, which found the Japanese "not white" and therefore ineligible for U.S. citizenship -- closed even these loopholes. These quotas and prohibitions would stand until the midcentury, when Congress in 1952 eliminated race as a basis for naturalization and in 1965 jettisoned the national origin quota system, finally invalidating the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Opposition to immigration is to the Right as support for abortion is to the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Fatigue and Training Gaps Spell Disaster at Sea, Sailors Warn (DAVE PHILIPPS and ERIC SCHMITT, AUG. 27, 2017, NY Times)
Seasoned officers and Navy studies have long warned of the perils of sleep deprivation, which sailors say is chronic.

"I spent 30 years in the Navy, which means most of my adult life, I was dead tired," said John Cordle, a retired Navy captain who commanded a destroyer and a cruiser. "Officers basically have a day job and a night job, plus drills."

Twice while commanding ships passing through narrow passages, he said, he fell asleep on his feet and his ship went off course. "Most of the officers I've talked to have a story like that," said Mr. Cordle, who left the Navy in 2013. "We just don't always share it."

He now works with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., to devise better sleep schedules for crews, but he said the Navy had been slow to adopt them.

Most ships use a traditional "five and dime" watch rotation, in which sailors serve five hours of watch, then have 10 hours off, he said. But during those 10 hours, sailors often have daytime duties.

The rotation can lead to a watch officer working a 20-hour day every three days, Mr. Cordle said, adding that even designated sleep time can be interrupted by drills or refueling operations that can keep sailors up for days at a time. A Government Accountability Office report from May said sailors were on duty up to 108 hours each week.

"I averaged 3 hours of sleep a night," someone described as a Japan-based Navy officer wrote on Reddit last week. "I have personally gone without sleep for so long that I have seen and heard things that weren't there. I've witnessed accidents that could have been avoided because the person was so tired they had no right to be operating heavy machinery."

Navy tests of sailors on the five-and-dime schedule found lack of sleep led to blunted decision-making and reflexes that were roughly the same as those of sailors who had downed several beers.

The Naval Postgraduate School has developed a shorter watch schedule to match circadian rhythms, which uses three hours of watch duty and nine hours off. Recognizing the benefits, the Navy ordered submarines to move to a similar schedule in 2015.

Mr. Cordle said adopting the schedule could result in greater safety. But the Navy has left scheduling up to individual captains, and three-quarters of ships still use the five and dime.

"The Navy, like any big organization, is resistant to change," he said. "They know sailors aren't getting enough sleep, but I think there is an expectation you can tough it out."

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Saudi suppression of Shiites threatens Canadian arms deal (Bruce Riedel August 15, 2017, Al Monitor)

In 2011, King Abdullah had deployed the National Guard, equipped with an earlier generation of Canadian armor, to prop up the Khalifas, Bahrain's minority Sunni royal family, which faced a majority Shiite population demanding profound political changes that would have made the island kingdom the first democratic government in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi intervention was the first instance of an Arab Spring rebellion being stymied and underscored the Saudi royal family's determination to lead the counterrevolution against reform in the Arab world. [...]

Trudeau's government has portrayed itself as more inclined to promote human rights than its predecessor. It also governs a Canadian public that, like those in most Western countries, is more skeptical about Saudi Arabia and is more inclined to question the wisdom of supporting an absolute monarchy that propagates Wahhabism, a uniquely intolerant brand of Sunni Islam. The war in Yemen only added to Canadian concerns about the wisdom of backing Saudi Arabia. After 2½ years, the Saudi campaign is a quagmire and has had and continues to have horrendous consequences for the Yemeni people.

Under King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia has become more sectarian than ever. Shiites in general and Iran in particular have been branded enemies of the state. A long-simmering conflict with the kingdom's minority Shiite community in the oil-rich Eastern Province has escalated under Salman. The epicenter of the conflict is the oasis of Qatif, especially Awamiya, an old city with a historic core from the Ottoman Empire that was built before the Saudis conquered it from the Turks early in the 20th century. It was the hometown of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, whom the government executed in January 2016 for allegedly supporting Iran and violence. His execution led to the rupturing of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran.

The old city has since been all but destroyed after fierce clashes between the Saudi Arabian National Guard and Shiite activists this year. Video shows widespread damage and destruction. Riyadh does not dispute the intensity of the clashes. The Saudis have promised to rebuild the area with a modern urban environment. The Shiites are understandably skeptical. Successive Saudi kings have failed to improve life for the Shiite population.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


A world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer (The Economist, Jul 13th 2017)

Michael Clemens, an economist at the Centre for Global Development, an anti-poverty think-tank in Washington, DC, argues that there are "trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk". One seemingly simple policy could make the world twice as rich as it is: open borders. [...]

The potential gains from open borders dwarf those of, say, completely free trade, let alone foreign aid. Yet the idea is everywhere treated as a fantasy. In most countries fewer than 10% of people favour it. In the era of Brexit and Donald Trump, it is a political non-starter. Nonetheless, it is worth asking what might happen if borders were, indeed, open.

To clarify, "open borders" means that people are free to move to find work. It does not mean "no borders" or "the abolition of the nation-state". On the contrary, the reason why migration is so attractive is that some countries are well-run and others, abysmally so. [...]

If borders were open, how many people would up sticks? Gallup, a pollster, estimated in 2013 that 630m people--about 13% of the world's population--would migrate permanently if they could, and even more would move temporarily. Some 138m would settle in the United States, 42m in Britain and 29m in Saudi Arabia.

Gallup's numbers could be an overestimate. People do not always do what they say they will. Leaving one's homeland requires courage and resilience. Migrants must wave goodbye to familiar people, familiar customs and grandma's cooking. Many people would rather not make that sacrifice, even for the prospect of large material rewards. [...]

If the worry is that immigrants will outvote the locals and impose an uncongenial government on them, one solution would be not to let immigrants vote--for five years, ten years or even a lifetime. This may seem harsh, but it is far kinder than not letting them in. If the worry is that future migrants might not pay their way, why not charge them more for visas, or make them pay extra taxes, or restrict their access to welfare benefits? Such levies could also be used to regulate the flow of migrants, thus avoiding big, sudden surges.

This sounds horribly discriminatory, and it is. But it is better for the migrants than the status quo, in which they are excluded from rich-world labour markets unless they pay tens of thousands of dollars to people-smugglers--and even then they must work in the shadows and are subject to sudden deportation. Today, millions of migrants work in the Gulf, where they have no political rights at all. Despite this, they keep coming. No one is forcing them to.

"Open borders would make foreigners trillions of dollars richer," observes Mr Caplan. A thoughtful voter, even if he does not care about the welfare of foreigners, "should not say...'So what?' Instead, he should say, 'Trillions of dollars of wealth are on the table. How can my countrymen get a hefty piece of the action?' Modern governments routinely use taxes and transfers to redistribute from young to old and rich to poor. Why not use the same policy tools to redistribute from foreign to native?" If a world of free movement would be $78trn richer, should not liberals be prepared to make big political compromises to bring it about?

Notably, the figures omit the gain in human capital.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Washington Alleviates Proposed Sanctions Against Hezbollah (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/28/17)

Proposals to strengthen US sanctions against Hezbollah have been revised enough to relieve fears of damage to the Lebanese economy, according to well-informed banking and political sources.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Tillerson switcheroo may happen sooner than expected (Mike Allen, 8/28/17, Axios)

As of last night, we were told that no replacement of SecState Rex Tillerson is imminent. But some switcheroo may happen sooner than expected, given the jaw-dropping reporting by Axios' Jonathan Swan last evening in his weekly Sneak Peek newsletter:

Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson and recently said: "Rex just doesn't get it, he's totally establishment in his thinking."

One possible scenario for replacing Tillerson: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley moves to Foggy Bottom. Then Deputy Secretary National Security Adviser Dina Powell could be promoted to Haley's job in New York, where Powell's family lives.

On "Fox News Sunday," Tillerson became the second top Trump official in three days (after economic adviser Gary Cohn) to distance himself on-record from Trump's Charlottesville response...

Cohn and Tillerson are both as good as gone.

August 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Hezbollah: Iran's Middle East Agent, Emissary and Hammer (BEN HUBBARD, AUG. 27, 2017, NY Times)

For three decades, Hezbollah maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon's southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel's army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across the Jewish state.

But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, Hezbollah has changed, too.

It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere.

Founded with Iranian guidance in the 1980s as a resistance force against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah became the prototype for the kind of militias Iran is now backing around the region. Hezbollah has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias.

Months of interviews with officials, fighters, commanders and analysts from nine countries, and with members of Hezbollah itself, bring to light an organization with new power and reach that has not been widely recognized. Increasingly, Iranian leaders rely on it to pursue their goals.

Iran and Hezbollah complement each other. Both are Shiite powers in a part of the world that is predominantly Sunni. For Iran, a Persian nation in a mostly Arab region, Hezbollah lends not just military prowess but also Arabic-speaking leaders and operatives who can work more easily in the Arab world. And for Hezbollah, the alliance means money for running an extensive social services network in Lebanon, with schools, hospitals and scout troops -- as well as for weapons, technology and salaries for its tens of thousands of fighters.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Exclusive: Trump vents in Oval Office, "I want tariffs. Bring me some tariffs!" (Jonathan Swan, 8/27/17, Axios)

The scene: The Oval Office, during Gen. Kelly's first week as Chief of Staff. Kelly convened a meeting to discuss the administration's plans to investigate China for stealing American intellectual property and technology. Kelly stood beside Trump, behind the Resolute desk. In front of the desk were U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, senior trade adviser Peter Navarro, top economic adviser Gary Cohn, and Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Trump, addressing Kelly, said, "John, you haven't been in a trade discussion before, so I want to share with you my views. For the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, 'Tariffs. I want tariffs.' And what do they do? They bring me IP. I can't put a tariff on IP." (Most in the room understood that the president can, in fact, use tariffs to combat Chinese IP theft.)

"China is laughing at us," Trump added. "Laughing."

Kelly responded: "Yes sir, I understand, you want tariffs."

Gary Cohn, who opposes tariffs and the protectionist trade measures pushed by the Bannonites, had his shoulders slumped and was clearly appalled by the situation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


The Post-Arab Spring Experience: Q&A with Shelly Culbertson (Rand, 8/27/17)

You argue in the book that it's too early to say whether the Arab Spring will turn out to be a success or not. What did you hear from the people on the street, in the region? Are they optimistic or pessimistic?

It very much depends on the country. Some are mired in very ugly and violent civil wars, and I think there are probably few people in those places--such as Syria, Libya, Yemen--who are optimists right now. But there are other countries that have made a number of changes along the lines of the goals of the revolutions. So, for example, in Tunisia, there is a new constitution, a new parliament. Islamist and secularist political parties have been collaborating together. Jordan also made moderate changes.

But it is too early to tell. The Arab Spring was about people in the region deciding what they did not want and rising up against it, but they hadn't worked out what they did want. The region was lacking in the education systems to prepare people to fully participate in democratic societies. I think the full impact won't be understood for another couple of decades, as people have time to step back after the initial upheaval and then work some of those ideals into institutions. will be the simple reality that Muslims are thriving in democratic, capitalist, protestant nations that makes that system seem natural for Muslim nations too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


America's Getting More Tolerant and Haters Hate It : The country's social fabric and social attitudes are getting healthier. Ignore the Charlottesville fringe. (Albert R. Hunt, 8/27/17, Bloomberg)

One way to measure social change is to look at the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a statistical overview of social indicators like crime, the family, youth behavior, popular culture and religion launched by the conservative commentator Bill Bennett in 1994.

After soaring for decades, many key indicators of social decay started to fall in the first years of the 21st century. Violent crime, abortion and divorce, for example, began trending downward. So did out-of-wedlock births

Credit for the latter should be given to educational efforts in the public sector and to private groups like the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies. Carol Hogue, a maternal and child-health specialist at Emory University, says women are engaging in "better use of contraceptives," adding: "If all couples used a combination of condoms with an IUD or combined oral contraceptive, there would be fewer maternal deaths, 80 percent fewer unintended pregnancies and about 150,000 fewer abortions."

Today, rates of crime and divorce have fallen to levels unseen since the 1970s. By 2014, the abortion rate had dropped to the lowest level since the Supreme Court made abortion a constitutional right in 1973.

There's still too much crime, too much illicit drug use, too many fractured families, and still too much bigotry. Blacks and whites see racial progress in depressingly different terms. A rising death rate among middle-aged white Americans, reflecting increases in alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide amid the decline of middle-class jobs, is also cause for profound concern.

But the country's social fabric is nevertheless healthier than it was a decade or two ago. So are its social attitudes. The hatemongers of Charlottesville are a despicable fringe. that, since everyone can achieve it, we white men aren't special anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


GOP's Beth Lindstrom to launch challenge to Elizabeth Warren in 2018 (Jim O'Sullivan,  AUGUST 20, 2017, Boston Globe)

Longtime Republican operative Beth Lindstrom will launch her US Senate campaign on Monday, promising not to hew to the party line and using the occasion to criticize President Trump for his comments in the wake of recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Lindstrom joins a growing field of Republicans intent on challenging Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren, and her break with Trump comes as increasing numbers of national Republicans are becoming more outspokenly critical of the GOP leader.

Lindstrom's approach appears to align her with the brand of Massachusetts Republicanism that, historically, has been markedly more moderate than the national party.

"As an independent-minded Republican, I will oppose President Trump when he's wrong," Lindstrom said in a press release. "His response to what happened in Charlottesville should have encouraged the people of this country with a message of zero tolerance for ethnic or racial prejudice. This is not an occasion for equivocation or evasion. Let me be clear: the hatred spewed by white supremacists and neo-Nazis is ugly and bigoted."

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Boomtown, Flood Town : Climate change will bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to cities like Houston. But unchecked development remains a priority in the famously un-zoned city, creating short-term economic gains for some while increasing flood risks for everyone. (Neena Satija for The Texas Tribune and Reveal; Kiah Collier for The Texas Tribune; and Al Shaw for ProPublica, December 7, 2016)

"More people die here than anywhere else from floods," said Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher who specializes in natural hazards mitigation. "More property per capita is lost here. And the problem's getting worse."


Scientists, other experts and federal officials say Houston's explosive growth is largely to blame. As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city's vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes -- including Virginia Hammond's.

On top of that, scientists say climate change is causing torrential rainfall to happen more often, meaning storms that used to be considered "once-in-a-lifetime" events are happening with greater frequency. Rare storms that have only a miniscule chance of occurring in any given year have repeatedly battered the city in the past 15 years. And a significant portion of buildings that flooded in the same time frame were not located in the "100-year" floodplain -- the area considered to have a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year -- catching residents who are not required to carry flood insurance off guard.

Scientists say the Harris County Flood Control District, which manages thousands of miles of floodwater-evacuating bayous and helps enforce development rules, should focus more on preserving green space and managing growth. The City of Houston, too. And they say everyone should plan for more torrential rainfall because of the changing climate. (A host of cities in the U.S. and around the world are doing so.)

But county and city officials responsible for addressing flooding largely reject these arguments. Houston's two top flood control officials say their biggest challenge is not managing rapid growth but retrofitting outdated infrastructure. Current standards that govern how and where developers and residents can build are mostly sufficient, they say. And all the recent monster storms are freak occurrences -- not harbingers of global warming or a sign of things to come.

The longtime head of the flood control district flat-out disagrees with scientific evidence that shows development is making flooding worse. Engineering projects can reverse the effects of land development and are doing so, Mike Talbott said in an interview with The Texas Tribune and ProPublica in late August before his retirement after 18 years heading the powerful agency. (His successor shares his views.)

The claim that "these magic sponges out in the prairie would have absorbed all that water is absurd," Talbott said.

He also said the flood control district has no plans to study climate change or its impacts on Harris County, the third-most-populous county in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


Far-right smear campaign against Antifa exposed by Bellingcat (BBC Trending, 24 August 2017)

Far-right activists are using fake Twitter accounts and images of battered women to smear anti-fascist groups in the US, an online investigation has revealed.

The online campaign is using fake Antifa (an umbrella term for anti-fascist protestors) Twitter accounts to claim anti-fascists promote physically abusing women who support US President Donald Trump or white supremacy.

Researcher Eliot Higgins of website Bellingcat found evidence that the campaign is being orchestrated on internet messageboard 4Chan by far-right sympathisers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Behold Our 'Child King' (Peter Wehner, AUG. 26, 2017, NY Times)

Much of this mess is of the Republican Party's own making. Let's not forget that Mr. Trump's political rise began with his promulgation of the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was not a natural-born American citizen. The Trump presidency is the result of years of destructive mental habits and moral decay. [...]

What's required now is a comprehensive, consistent case by Republican leaders at the state and national levels that signals their opposition to the moral ugliness and intellectual incoherence of Mr. Trump. Rather than standing by the president, they should consider themselves liberated and offer a constructive, humane and appealing alternative to him. They need to think in terms of a shadow government during the Trump era, with the elevation of alternative leaders on a range of matters.

This approach involves risk and may not work. It will certainly provoke an angry response from the Breitbart-alt-right-talk-radio part of the party. So be it. Republicans who don't share Mr. Trump's approach have to hope that his imploding presidency has created an opening to offer a profoundly different vision of America, one that is based on opportunity, openness, mobility and inclusion.

This requires a new intellectual infrastructure to address what may prove to be one of the largest economic disruptions in history. People in positions of influence need to make arguments on behalf of principles and ideas that have for too long gone undefended. They must appeal to moral idealism. And the party needs leaders who will fight with as much passionate intensity for their cause as Mr. Trump fights for his -- which is simply himself. There's no shortcut to forging a separate Republican identity during the Trump presidency. Half-measures and fainthearted opposition are certain to fail.

If Republicans need more encouragement to break with Mr. Trump, they might note that the president, who has no institutional or party loyalty, is positioning himself as a critic not just of Democrats but also of Republicans. During his rally in Arizona, he went out of his way to attack both of that state's Republican senators, including one battling brain cancer. He followed that up with tweets attacking the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other Republican lawmakers.

A confrontation is inevitable. The alternative is to continue to further tie the fate and the reputation of the Republican Party to a president who seems destined for epic failure and whose words stir the hearts of white supremacists.

Rather, the rise began when the GOP defeated W's immigration reform, turned against democratizing the Arabs because it was difficult and tried to prevent the bailout. These steps marked a transition towards the politics of emotion, from the politics of moral principle. The derangement over the gay Muslim Kenyan socialist was just symptomatic.

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Trump, once the law and order candidate, embraces lawless disorder with Arpaio pardon (Washington Examiner, Aug 26, 2017)

President Trump described himself as "the law and order candidate" on the campaign trail, but he has consistently shown he really meant "the candidate of busting heads."

Trump's pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- a man who responded to overly-lax immigration enforcement with a lawless and overly-harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants and suspected illegal immigrants -- showed once again Trump really means "busting heads" when he says "law and order."

There's plenty of overlap between toughness and law and order. Tough policing under the "broken windows" theory was central to the restoration of law and order in New York City in the 1990s. President Obama's softness on illegal immigration, especially late in his administration, amounted to disregard for immigration law. Trump's pledge to enforce immigration law with toughness has restored some order, with the number of illegal crossings apparently dropping in a few months.

But "law and order," if the words have any meaning, has to apply to government actors as well. Lawless sheriffs promote disorder, and that's what Arpaio did to get himself convicted.

His obsessions on racial/religious matters and his failures on every matter of public policy put him in a position where the only reason to continue supporting him is that you hate Latinos, Asians, Africans, Muslims, etc.  And, in America, hate is a tough sell.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Russia's propaganda machine amplifies alt-right (MORGAN CHALFANT, 8/27/17, )

Russia's army of media influencers, social media bots and trolls has increasingly amplified alt-right and far-right narratives in the United States since the 2016 presidential election.

Russia's efforts to push propaganda and disinformation, experts say, are nothing new and extend beyond the U.S. to nations in Europe. But they have seemed to evolve in recent months, increasingly infiltrating and engaging with alt-right and far-right Americans online.

Moscow's aim is widely viewed as exploiting divides and sowing distrust of democratic institutions, the latter a conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community in its initial investigation of Russia's interference in the presidential election, including overt efforts to push propaganda.

"Promoting content that is divisive - that is the ultimate goal here," said Lee Foster, manager of information operations analysis at FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence.

"It's the same in Europe, but the specific themes change," Foster said. "There, one of the most prominent themes is migration and the refugee crisis."

In some cases, it is pro-Russia personalities, trolls or automated accounts magnifying right-wing messages. [...]

In other cases, pro-Russian personalities and accounts will push narratives to their targeted audience, attempting to get American influencers to pick up a certain storyline.

Such was the case during 2016 presidential election campaign, noted Foster, when accounts tweeted content copied from the WikiLeaks dumps of Democratic officials' emails.

"Up through the election, it was heavily anti-Clinton and steadily increased in the promotion of pro-Trump material," Foster said. "It moved into this pro-Trump realm." He noted that while these accounts continue to push anti-Democratic messaging, the balance has shifted toward pro-right-wing messages.

It's why every comment from the Right is just an attack on Obama, Hillary, Susan Rice, John DePodesta, etc.. It serves the interest of Donald and Vlad to tear down America in order to provide themselves cover.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


2 Far-Right Rallies In Bay Area Fizzle While Counterprotesters Rejoice (CHRIS BENDEREV, 8/26/17, NPR)

It was all, in effect, over before it even began.

In the face of overwhelming popular and political opposition, a far-right activist canceled a press conference hastily scheduled for Saturday afternoon that some feared would provoke violent confrontations in the heart of San Francisco. The cancellation of the press conference came less than 18 hours after organizers also called off two highly publicized right-wing rallies planned for the Bay Area this weekend.

We've made "Never Again" meaningful.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


A Righteous Republic? : A conversation with Philip Gorski ; author of American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present  (Interviewed by GERALD J. RUSSELLO, University Bookman)

UB: What is a nation's civil religion, and how would you describe America's?

PG: A nation's civil religion--to paraphrase my mentor, Robert Bellah--consists of the stories and rituals, the symbols and "saints" that connects a people to some sense of higher purpose. On my reading of the founding documents, America's civil religious creed dedicates us to four cardinal values: (1) freedom based on "republican government"; (2) equality of a fundamental kind; (3) the common good or "common welfare"; and (4) social inclusion of a diverse citizenry ("e pluribus unum").

Balancing those commitments is not easy, of course. They are in considerable tension with each other. Economic freedom can lead to social inequality, for example. The goal of social inclusion can lead to attacks on free speech. Still, ordering and balancing these values in some reasonable way is what we are collectively committed to.

One of the distinctive features of the American version of civil religion is that it draws on both sacred and secular sources. As such, it can potentially speak to people of faith and of no faith, and possibly even bind them together.

UB: What do you see as the vulnerabilities of a common civil religion?

PG: One danger is that it devolves into a culture of national self-worship and collective self-congratulation that turns the nation into a god, and its denizens into heroes. A healthy civil religion recognizes the frailty of any institution that is constructed out of the crooked timber of humanity. Some argue that the Puritans' emphasis on original sin was a curse. I would argue that it was their greatest gift to posterity. It kept us humble, at least for a while.

Another danger is that it excludes too many. For much of our history, the civil religion had a Protestant and "Anglo-Saxon" cast that left Catholics and Jews in the shadows. That changed in the decades following World War II, when civil religion was recast in "Judeo-Christian" and broadly European terms. The challenge now is to expand the tradition further to accommodate an even more diverse citizenry. This will not be easy. But we have succeeded in broadening the tent in the past, so we have some grounds for hope.

In fact, the civil religion did not change; it worked.  We not only extended our cultural conformity to all those immigrant groups but then extended it globally to re-make the places they had come from and the religions they practiced in our image. That's all the End of History and globalization are.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Liberals, Shipwrecked : Democrat Mark Lilla seeks an alternative to identity politics, but it's a lonely quest. (William Voegeli, August 24, 2017, City Journal)

 He wants the Democratic Party to abandon identity politics for the sake of its electoral viability. Effecting beneficial changes requires wielding power, he argues, and in democracies, securing power requires winning elections. In America--vast, diverse, and unruly--such victories can be secured only through "the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from [oneself] to join a common effort." Lilla thus finds it necessary to instruct fellow Democrats that elections are neither prayer meetings nor therapy sessions nor seminars nor "teaching moments."

What is identity politics? As a chapter epigraph, Lilla cites a statement from the Combahee River Collective, a 1970s group whose raison d'etre--black lesbians' issues and perspectives were getting short shrift from existing civil rights, gay rights, and feminist organizations--sounds like a parody of the problem Lilla describes. "This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics," the statement said. "We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression."

This rejection of the very idea of an impartial dialogue is, Lilla believes, how the noble legacy of "large classes of people--African-Americans, women--seeking to redress major historical wrongs by mobilizing and then working through our political institutions" gave way, by the 1980s, to "a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition." Inherent in it is identitarians' "disdain" for the "ordinary democratic politics" of "engaging with and persuading people unlike themselves" in favor of "delivering sermons to the unwashed from a raised pulpit."

Rather than gratefully accept this enlightenment and path to redemption, however, the unwashed are likely to demand an identity politics of their own. "As soon as you cast an issue exclusively in terms of identity," Lilla warns, "you invite your adversary to do the same." Thus, Donald Trump's victory and Lilla's book, which grew out of a New York Times op-ed he wrote the week after the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Trump asked AG about dropping Arpaio charges - report (AFP, August 27, 2017)

Trump was advised that closing the criminal contempt case against Arpaio, who was convicted for ignoring a court order to stop detaining illegal migrants, would be inappropriate, said the Post, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the conversation.

The Republican leader decided to let the case go ahead, but said he would pardon Arpaio if necessary -- one source said Trump was "gung-ho" about the idea, the Post said.

The reported chat stands as evidence of the inability -- or unwillingness -- of the 71-year-old billionaire leader to maintain the traditional distance between the White House and the Justice Department on specific cases.

It also bears similarities to two situations that have dogged Trump for months.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


How to Pick the Best HSA for You (Gail MarksJarvis, 8/26/17, Chicago Tribune)

If you're on a high-deductible health insurance plan, you'll initially pay many of your health care costs out of pocket. The insurer won't start paying your doctor and hospital bills until after you've spent a lot -- at least $1,300 if you are single or $2,600 for a family. And even after reaching those sums, you can encounter big costs such as covering copayments.

If paying those types of sums out of pocket would be unmanageable, the high deductible insurance policy probably isn't for you.

To calculate whether a high deductible insurance plan or another option offered by your employer makes more sense financially, try a calculator such as

If the HSA/high deductible insurance combination sounds like it could work for you, there are some solid reasons to start using it as a savings vehicle.

Having an HSA can be an excellent way to enhance your retirement funds. Putting as much as possible into a 401(k) is important because it can go toward paying for all sorts of retirement needs, including food, housing and health expenses.

But since many people can't save enough in 401(k)s or IRAs to adequately cover their retirement, an HSA can be an extra help. It can help pay for your health care costs in retirement, which can total a hefty sum.

Fidelity has estimated a 65-year-old couple should expect to pay $260,000 for health care in retirement. HSA savings can be used tax-free to pay for Medicare premiums and long-term care insurance. After age 65, an HSA can also be used for other expenses, but if you spend on something other than health care the money will be taxed like income.

On the other hand, an advantage of HSAs is the tax treatment they are given; Uncle Sam gives you a break on taxes when you save in an HSA.

Money you put into the account isn't taxed, money that stays in the account isn't taxed and money you take out to pay for medical costs isn't taxed. That's a good deal. Because you aren't taxed, every penny you save will count a lot more than if it was sitting in a regular savings account.

August 26, 2017

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Mattis to US troops: 'Hold the line until our country gets back to respecting each other' (BRANDON CARTER, 08/26/17, The Hill)

Defense Secretary James Mattis gave a pep talk to U.S. troops stationed abroad during his trip to three countries last week.

In a video that has recently surfaced on social media, Mattis is seen speaking to U.S. troops in an unknown location. In his remarks to the troops, Mattis said the U.S. is facing "problems."

"Our country right now, it's got problems we don't have in the military," Mattis said. "You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it."

The contempt in which his generals hold Donald would be startling if the rest of us didn't share it. A real commander-in-chief would be forced to deal with such insubordination.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


AJC slams 'shameful' Trump pardon for ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AFP August 26, 2017)

The American Jewish Committee on Saturday slammed US President Donald Trump's decision to pardon controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio as "shameful." [...]

"President Trump's pardon of Sheriff Arpaio is shameful," said AJC chief David Harris. "It undermines our judicial system and, ignoring the rule of law, endorses the egregious maltreatment and racial profiling of individuals in our country. Public humiliation of detainees was an Arpaio specialty."

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Should California spend $3 billion to help people buy electric cars? (Russ Mitchell, 8/26/17, LA Times)

The California Legislature is pushing forward a bill that would double down on the rebate program. Sextuple down, in fact.

If $449 million can't do it, the thinking goes, maybe $3 billion will.

That's the essence of the plan that could lift state rebates from $2,500 to $10,000 or more for a compact electric car, making, for example, a Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car cost the same as a gasoline-driven Honda Civic.

Rather, tax gasoline and the operation of gasoline driven vehicles enough to balance the cost.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


A Phony Murder Plot Against Joe Arpaio Winds Up Costing Taxpayers $1.1 Million (John Dickerson, 10/28/08, Phoenix new Times)

In 2004, victim James Saville's family sued Arpaio for $10 million, after Saville was found not guilty of attempting to kill the sheriff. The county recently settled with Saville for an undisclosed amount. It only had to pay the above amount out of public coffers; its insurance policy covered the rest.

Before you wish that you could collect $1 million by getting framed for Arpaio's murder, consider that Saville spent four years in county jail, awaiting trial as a result of the made-up crime.

In 1999, Arpaio's staff rigged the entire fake assassination plot - just so he could get his mug on TV.

News cameras were already rolling when deputies arrested Saville. Gullible TV reporters gobbled up Arpaio's story about a local Unabomber who was plotting to kill America's "toughest" sheriff.

In 2004, a jury found Saville innocent of all charges. Not only that, but it ruled that Arpaio's minions helped buy the bomb parts themselves and "entrapped" Saville in a TV-ready murder plot.

Arpaio was re-elected just months after the jury verdict. (Journalists John Dougherty and Janna Bommersbach unraveled the tale in separate articles).

"Jurors listened in disbelief as testimony showed it was the sheriff's money that purchased the bomb parts, and an undercover officer who drove Saville around to buy the parts," Bommersbach wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE FRENCH LANGUAGE? (Gary Girod 08/25/2011, New Geography)

It's been indisputable for some time that English is becoming the 'universal language'. As the number of living languages has steadily decreased, the use of English has expanded on every continent. And though English has not -- despite predictions -- crushed all other languages (German, Russian, and Spanish, to cite the prime examples, all remain strong), one language does seem to be undergoing the predicted cataclysmic collapse. English may not yet have won the globe, but French has definitely lost it.

The reasons for the decline of French are many, including geography. Francophone regions are spread out: think of France, Vietnam, Quebec, and Guadeloupe, to start. Many of these regions are without direct connections to other French-speaking countries. The result is that many of the people choose to abandon French for more useful languages within the region.

August 25, 2017

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Breaking: Sebastian Gorka Resigns From Trump Administration (Mollie Hemingway, AUGUST 25, 2017, The Federalist)

Sebastian Gorka is resigning his post as Deputy Assistant to President Trump, multiple sources familiar with the situation have told The Federalist.

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Obamacare Is Officially Not Collapsing (Eric Levitz, 8/25/17, nEW yORK)

The source of Obamacare's resilience appears to be twofold:

(1) Even in red America, state-level officials did not want to see their health-care markets fail, and they worked to convince insurers to cover less desirable areas.

(2) Being the only insurer in a county's Obamacare marketplace is a sweet deal.

This last point was likely the most significant. As Vox's Dylan Scott explains:

[Obamacare] provides financial assistance for people making 100 percent of the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for an individual) up to 400 percent (about $48,000). It caps the premiums that people have to pay at a certain percentage of their income; the less money you make, the lower the premium you have to pay.

So in an empty county, where an insurer doesn't have to worry about a competitor undercutting them, companies can set premiums to cover their costs without worrying that they'll price their coverage too high for many of their customers. It's going to be the federal government, not a person with a subsidy, picking up much of the extra cost.
Anytime one insurer decides to leave a county fully abandoned, another will see an opportunity to establish a federally subsidized monopoly in its place. This is, of course, a less-than-ideal way to prop up an insurance market. While Uncle Sam ensures that low-income people can afford insurance in single-provider counties no matter the price, those right above the cutoff for subsidies ($55,000 for an individual) aren't so lucky. And enabling insurers to operate free from competition doesn't exactly help slow the growth of health-care costs (or that of the national debt).

But these defects are of little political use to Republicans, who boast no viable remedy for any of them. The GOP's best argument for replacing the ACA with Trumpcare was that the former was on the verge of death and had to be replaced with something. Trump tried to make this true. Nevertheless, the ACA persisted.

...the GOP was only going to make Obamacare more expensive, nor repeal it. Now it's time to offer genuine universality in exchange for mandatory HSAs/catastrophic and get something worthwhile for what we're spending.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


This T-Shirt Sewing Robot Could Radically Shift The Apparel Industry (ADELE PETERS, 8/24/17, Co.Exist)

When the Chinese clothing manufacturer Tianyuan Garments Company opens its newest factory in 2018, it will be in Arkansas, not China, and instead of workers hunched over sewing machines, the factory will be filled with fully autonomous robots and their human supervisors.

Once the system is fully operational, each of the 21 production lines in the factory will be capable of making 1.2 million T-shirts a year, at a total cost of production that can compete in terms of cost with apparel companies that manufacture and ship clothing from the lowest-wage countries in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


The Myth of the Skills Gap : The idea that American workers are being left in the dust because they lack technological savvy does not stand up to scrutiny. Our focus should be on coordination and communication between workers and employers. (Andrew Weaver  August 25, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

The problem is, when we look closely at the data, this story doesn't match the facts. What's more, this view of the nation's economic challenges distracts us from more productive ways of thinking about skills and economic growth while promoting unproductive hand-wringing and a blinkered focus on only the supply side of the labor market--that is, the workers.

Although much research touches on this topic, almost none of the existing studies directly measure skills, the key quantity of interest. I have conducted a series of nationally representative skill surveys covering a range of technical occupations: manufacturing production workers, IT help-desk technicians, and laboratory technologists. The surveys specifically target managers with knowledge of both hiring and operations at their businesses. The basic strategy is to ask: what skills do employers demand, and do the employers that demand high skill levels have trouble hiring workers?

The results yield a number of surprises. First, persistent hiring problems are less widespread than many pundits and industry representatives claim. A few years back, Paul Osterman of MIT's Sloan School of Management and I found that less than a quarter of manufacturing plants had one or more production-­worker vacancies that had lasted for three months or more. By contrast, industry claims at the time were that three-­quarters or more faced a persistent inability to hire skilled workers.

More recently, I have looked for signs of hiring trouble in IT and clinical laboratory occupations. Given a tighter labor market and higher educational requirements for these entry-level technical jobs, it would be reasonable to expect hiring to be more difficult. Not so. Only 15 percent of IT help desks report extended vacancies in technician positions. While the results do show higher levels of long-term lab-tech openings, it turns out that many of these are concentrated in the overnight shift and thus reflect inadequate compensation for difficult working conditions, not a structural skill deficiency. A little over a quarter of clinical diagnostic labs report at least one long-term vacancy.

The survey results do show some hiring challenges, but not for the reasons posited by the conventional skill-gap narrative. In fact, the data reveal that high-tech and cutting-edge establishments do not have greater hiring difficulties than other establishments. Furthermore, the data imply that we should be careful about calling for more technical skills without specifying which skills we are talking about. It is quite common to hear advocates--and even academics--assert that the answer to the nation's labor-market and economic-growth challenges is for workers to acquire more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills. However, my data show that employers looking for higher-level computer skills generally do not have a harder time filling job openings. Manufacturers requiring higher-level math do sometimes have more hiring challenges, but math requirements are not a problem for IT help desks or clinical labs.

We have an overemployment problem, not under.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


In the South, a new helping hand: Muslim disaster relief teams (Yonat Shimron, 8/24/17, RNS)

At a time when the far right often cites the inability -- or refusal -- of Muslims to assimilate, these young volunteers are ready, willing and able to do what other religious groups in this country have been doing for decades: providing emergency aid, labor and comfort to people suffering the effects of natural disasters.

"It's a great way to show other people that Muslims are friends and that we can work together," said Mimi Hassanain of Livingston, N.J., an employee with Islamic Relief who sanded drywall in a Princeville home Tuesday (Aug. 22).

Hurricane Floyd, which plowed through here in 1999, destroying much of the town, was supposed to be a 500-year flood. But it was followed 17 years later by another 500-year flood when Hurricane Matthew bore down, submerging Princeville after the Tar River levee failed.

Ten months later, the work of rebuilding the nation's oldest town incorporated by freed slaves continues. Many of its 2,080 residents -- nearly all of whom are African-American -- have taken shelter in FEMA trailers, hotels, rentals or relatives' bedrooms. Many can't afford flood insurance, which can be pricey in a flood plain, and are living off Social Security. They're grateful for any assistance they can get.

The town's only restaurant reopened recently, as have a few hair salons and a transmission shop. But many ranch-style homes are still empty.

In the neighboring community of Tarboro, the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church has set up an operational base in an old health department building, turning office cubicles into sleeping quarters and a former laboratory into a communal kitchen.

From here, an average of 50 volunteers -- Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Mennonites -- spend one week at a time gutting homes or installing new drywall. Among the most recent recruits: 18 Muslim volunteers with Islamic Relief USA. The nonprofit relief and development group based in Alexandria, Va., was founded in 1993 and is now the largest Muslim charity in America, with a budget this year of $113.5 million.

The organization first sent a team to Princeville shortly after the October hurricane. Now it's extending its collaboration with the Methodists.

"This partnership is awesome," said Jason DuVall, the Methodist site manager. "I'm super stoked."

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick's Obsession with George Soros is Weird and Kind of Dangerous : Texas politicians share their Soros obsession with some of the country's most cartoonish lunatics, like Alex Jones. (Christopher Hooks, 8/02/17, Texas Monthly)

Conservatives have long hated Soros. But lately there's been an absolute deluge. You may not be aware of this, because Texas Republicans have confined most of their whinging to the backchannels where they communicate with the most diehard members of their base. If you receive the emails that Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz send to their fans, your email inbox is now awash in his name.

Cruz tells his supporters that the son of the "notorious" Soros has given a few thousand dollars to his opponent, fearfully offering that "the partnership between Beto O'Rourke and the billionaire Soros family won't be easy to overcome," and adding in another email that the Soros family had gone "ALL IN" on knocking off Ted. Patrick feels he's the bigger target, emphasizing that he's been made "Public Enemy #1" by the Soros Machine, who is "putting a big spotlight on my race for re-election" and "will invest millions in Texas to try to defeat me." In February, the Harris County Republican Party took a page from tinpot dictators around the world and told its faithful that angry protesters at Republican town halls were being paid by Soros. [...]

All of this barely raises an eyebrow from political observers. Yet these serious politicians share their Soros obsession with some of the country's most cartoonish lunatics. Alex Jones recently told a jury at his child custody trial that Soros was behind a plot to make weed stronger as a population-control device. Alt-righter Augustus Sol Invictus (that's Latin for Majestic Unconquered Sun, mind you) led a rally in Austin with a chant of "Death to Soros." Meanwhile, one of the president's top allies, Roger Stone, is telling everyone he can that Soros is personally orchestrating a burgeoning deep-state coup to dethrone the president.

Abbott and friends don't actually fear Soros, of course. They're capitalizing on a pre-existing hatred of the man. Soros is certainly an influential figure on the world stage, and he donates money to many liberal causes. But his expenditures in Texas are insignificant compared to the ocean of money that's come from other billionaires and millionaires over the years -- the Wilks brothers, the late Bob Perry, Jeff Sandefer, Tim Dunn and others -- and they exercise a far greater influence over policy and politics.

No other liberal donors have achieved the same level of hatred, either. Tom Steyer spent $87 million during the presidential election and hardly anyone knows his name. Let's set aside any consideration of whether Soros' influence is bad or good. There's clearly something about the man that engenders an unusually deep level of hatred and fear, something that grants the symbol of Soros special power and has been burned into people's brains in a way that enables Abbott to build a fundraising strategy around it.

Let's speak plainly: A very substantial part of Soros' power as a scapegoat is that he's a Jew. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


The Russian-Saudi rapprochement and Iran : Would Russia draw closer to Saudi Arabia and risk losing Iran? (Leonid Issaev & Nikolay Kozhanov, 8/24/17, Al Jazeera)

A number of developments in recent months have signalled a possible rapprochement between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The two countries have made a joint effort to push for further cutting of oil production to help bring up prices. Since the beginning of this year, Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak and his Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih have been seeking to conclude an agreement on reducing output.

In late May, then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman went to Russia to discuss with President Vladimir Putin the oil market and the situation in Syria. The visit came just three weeks before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was removed and bin Salman took his position. While in Moscow, the latter said that "relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia are going through one of their best moments ever".

Two months later, Moscow and Riyadh signed a preliminary military cooperation agreement worth $3.5bn. The Saudis have requested transfer of technology to accompany the signing of the deal.

In recent months, the two countries have also made significant progress on Syria. Under the patronage of Riyadh, Egypt provided a platform for negotiations between Moscow and the Syrian opposition.

The importance of this step for the Kremlin is obvious. Russia is extremely interested in concluding an agreement on de-escalation zones, the implementation of which is not possible exclusively within the framework of the tripartite initiative of Russia, Iran and Turkey, without the involvement of other actors. From this perspective, the role Saudi Arabia played in the signing of the two Cairo agreements between Russia and the Syrian opposition on East Ghouta and Rastan is very important.

Closer Russian-Saudi relations were seen as a positive step in Tel Aviv, Russia's "silent partner" in the Middle East. In recent years, Israel itself has enjoyed closer ties with Riyadh and its ally Abu Dhabi.

Russia, Israel and the Sa'uds all oppose Muslim democracy, while the Anglosphere and Iran support it.  The battle lines are organic.

August 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 PM

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


GOP Leaders Don't Expect White House Tax-Plan Details (Sahil Kapur, 8/24/17, Bloomberg)

Republican congressional leaders don't expect to release a joint tax plan with the White House next month, and they'll rely instead on House and Senate tax-writing committees to solve the big tax questions that remain unanswered, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


US interior chief says he won't eliminate protected lands (MATTHEW BROWN and BRADY McCOMBS, 8/24/17, AP) 

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday he won't seek to eliminate any national monuments carved from the wilderness and oceans by past presidents.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Muslims 'integrate' well into Germany - but aren't accepted (Deutsche-Welle, 8/24/17)

Muslims are well integrated into German society , an international research project published on Thursday revealed. Most Muslims feel a connection to Germany, but also face Islamophobia, with nearly one in five Germans saying they would not want Muslim neighbors. [...]

"This study proves that the reality, when it comes to participation of Muslims in society, isn't as bleak as it is often presented in the media," said Ayse Demir, spokeswoman for the Berlin-based Turkish community organization TBB. "It shows that a lot of Muslims feel integrated, but there is a lack of acceptance - and that's also our perception. Participation isn't a one-way street: It needs to come from both sides."

Being German didn't help Jews either.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Interspecies Hybrids Play a Vital Role in Evolution (Jordana Cepelewicz, August 24, 2017, Quanta)

In 2006, a hunter shot what he thought was a polar bear in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Closer examination, however, revealed brown patches on its white fur, uncharacteristically long claws and a slightly hunched back. The creature was in fact a hybrid, its mother a polar bear, its father a grizzly. Although this cross was known to be possible -- the two species had mated in captivity before -- this was the first documented case found in the wild. Since then, it has become clear that this was not an isolated incident. Conservationists and others worry that if climate change continues to drive grizzly bears into polar bear territory, such interbreeding will become more common and will devastate the polar bear population. Some have even proposed killing the hybrids in an effort to conserve the species.

But grizzlies and polar bears, as it turns out, have been mating since the species diverged hundreds of thousands of years ago. Polar bear genomes have retained mitochondrial DNA from ancient grizzly bears, and grizzlies have inherited genes from hybridizing with polar bears. "People worry that if they interbreed, polar bears will lose their beautiful white coats," said Michael Arnold, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Georgia. "But the truth is these organisms have not been looking entirely like themselves for a long time now."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


How Donald Trump Created The Worst Of All Possible Health Care Worlds (Christopher Jacobs, AUGUST 24, 2017, The Federalist)

Following last week's developments in the ongoing saga over Obamacare's cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, two things seem clear. First, President Trump won't stop making these payments to insurers, designed to reimburse them for providing reduced deductibles and copayments to low-income individuals. If Trump's administration continued to pay CSRs to insurers mere weeks after the Obamacare "repeal-and-replace" effort collapsed on the Senate floor, it should be fairly obvious that this president won't cut off the payments.

Second, notwithstanding the above, Trump won't stop threatening to halt these payments any time soon. Seeing himself as a negotiator, Trump won't cede any leverage by committing to make future payments, trying to keep insurance companies and Democrats in suspense and extract concessions from each. He has received no concessions from Democrats, and he likely has no intentions of ever stopping the payments, but will continue the yo-yo approach for as long as he thinks it effective--in other words, until the policy community fully sees it as the empty threat that it is.

The combination of these occurrences has created the worst of all possible worlds for the president, his administration, and Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Pro-Russian Bots Take Up the Right-Wing Cause After Charlottesville (Isaac Arnsdorf, 8/23/17, ProPublica)

Angee Dixson joined Twitter on Aug. 8 and immediately began posting furiously -- about 90 times a day. A self-described American Christian conservative, Dixson defended President Donald Trump's response to the unrest in Charlottesville, criticized the removal of Confederate monuments and posted pictures purporting to show violence by left-wing counterprotesters.

"Dems and Media Continue to IGNORE BLM and Antifa Violence in Charlottesville," she wrote above a picture of masked demonstrators labeled "DEMOCRAT TERROR."

But Dixson appears to have been a fake, according to an analysis by Ben Nimmo, a fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council think tank. The account has been shut down. Dixson's profile picture was stolen from a young Instagram celebrity (a German model rumored to have dated Leonardo DiCaprio). Dixson used a URL shortener that is a tell for the sort of computer program that automatically churns out high volumes of social media posts whose authorship is frequently disguised. And one of her tweets attacked Sen. John McCain for his alleged support of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, echoing language in tweets from Russian outlets RT and Sputnik.

The same social media networks that spread Russian propaganda during the 2016 election have been busily amplifying right-wing extremism surrounding the recent violence in Charlottesville, according to researchers who monitor the activity. It's impossible to tell how much of the traffic originates from Russia or from mercenary sources. But there were hordes of automated bots generating Twitter posts and much more last week to help make right-wing conspiracy theories and rallying cries about Charlottesville go viral.

A sample of 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations have been promoting hashtags for Charlottesville such as "antifa," a term for activists on the far left; and "alt-left," a term Trump used, which was interpreted by many as suggesting an equivalence between liberal demonstrators and white nationalists in the so-called alt-right.

Comic gold.
Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Attorney: Glenn Simpson did not reveal clients for Trump 'dossier' to investigators (ALI DUKAKIS, MATTHEW MOSK, TRISH TURNER, Aug 22, 2017, ABC News)

Grassley's staff took pains to keep the location of Tuesday's session a secret, and the committee did not release a statement when it concluded. Levy left it to the committee to determine whether to publicize the details Simpson shared.

"The Committee has a transcript of the interview," Levy said. "We are not permitted to have a copy. The Committee has the right to disclose the transcript, if it wishes to do so."

The point of keeping the testimony secret is that it further indicts Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Exclusive: Top Trump aide's email draws new scrutiny in Russia inquiry (Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen, 8/24/17, CNN)

Congressional investigators have unearthed an email from a top Trump aide that referenced a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The aide, Rick Dearborn, who is now President Donald Trump's deputy chief of staff, sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin, the sources said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Qatar restores diplomatic ties to Iran amid regional crisis (JON GAMBRELL August 24, 2017, AP) 

Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran early Thursday, disregarding the demands of Arab nations now locked in a regional dispute with the energy-rich country that it lessen its ties to Tehran.

"Qatar has shown it is going to go in a different direction," said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University who lives in Seattle. "It could very well be calculated toward reinforcing the point that Qatar will not bow to this regional pressure placed upon it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


New Study: Leave Our National Monuments Alone : The people have spoken. In a study released Tuesday, over 99 percent of people said they support the 27 monuments up for review. President Donald Trump, are you listening (Christopher Solomon, Aug 23, 2017, Outside)

More than 99.2 percent of the people who commented on President Donald Trump's national-monuments review were in complete agreement: Leave the monuments alone.

That's the stunning result of a detailed new survey on the comments that the federal government solicited after Trump issued an executive order earlier this year to revisit the status of 27 national monuments.

The evidence of this tidal wave of support comes a day before Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is scheduled to make a recommendation to Trump on the fate of the monuments. Many expect Zinke to suggest that one, and possibly several, be greatly reduced in size or even removed.

Trump issued an executive order in April calling for a review of larger monuments that were created or expanded since 1996 under the 1906 Antiquities Act. One purpose of his order, he said, was to give the public more voice in the future of these lands--despite the fact that many of the monuments were already the result of years of discussion and collaboration. 

Now, that voice has spoken, loudly: more than 2.8 million people and groups commented in just two months. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Abe Foxman Fears 'Major Calamity' Could Send Unstable Trump Over The Edge (Larry Cohler-Esses, August 24, 2017, The Forward)

Foxman's concerns about Trump's stability have only grown since the president's bizarre remarks following the violent gathering of far right forces in Charlottesville, Virginia. [...]

The president's denunciation of the press Tuesday in Phoenix, for its coverage of Charlottesville has left Foxman even more disturbed.

"How terribly sad," he said. "A president unwilling or unable to face up to the truth."

It's an uncharacteristically stark take on America for the man whose 28-year tenure as leader of the ADL, until 2015, was marked by a bipartisan faith in the basic goodwill of American leaders, whatever his disagreements with any specific leader's policies.

August 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


EXCLUSIVE: Jewish Umbrella Group Kept Quiet On Bannon To Avoid Offending Donors (Josh Nathan-Kazis, August 23, 2017, The Forward)

Establishment Jewish advocacy groups did not call on President Donald Trump to fire far-right firebrand Steve Bannon because leaders worried that it would hurt fundraising efforts, according to an internal email discussion obtained by the Forward.

In emails sent a few days after a white nationalist rally turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, the head of an umbrella group for local Jewish community relations groups explained that his organization could not call for the firing of Bannon -- or controversial Trump advisers Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka -- because it could anger wealthy donors.

"I suspect that few of us could call for the dismissal of these presidential appointees without generating an unacceptable backlash that would make it harder for us to do other important work," wrote David Bernstein, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group for local Jewish community relations organizations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM

...AND SAFER...:

Cars with advanced safety systems yielding lower crash rates (Joan Lowy, 8/23/17, Associated Press)

The two institute studies found that lane-keeping systems, some of which even nudge the vehicle back into its lane for the driver, and blind-spot monitoring systems had lower crash rates than the same vehicles without the systems.

The lane-keeping study looked at police crash data from 25 states between 2009 and 2015 for vehicle models where the systems were sold as optional. Lane-keeping systems lowered rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes of all severities by 11 percent, and crashes of those types in which there were injuries, by 21 percent, the study found.

Because there were only 40 fatal crashes in the data, researchers used a simpler analysis that didn't control for differences in drivers' ages, genders, insurance risk and other factors for those crashes. They found the technology cut the fatal crash rate by 86 percent. [...]

If all passenger vehicles had been equipped with lane departure warning systems in 2015, an estimated 85,000 police-reported crashes would have been prevented, the study found.

A second institute study of blind-spot detection systems - usually warning lights in side mirrors - found the systems lower the rate of all lane-change crashes by 14 percent and the rate of such crashes with injuries by 23 percent. If all passenger vehicles were equipped with the systems about 50,000 police-reported crashes a year could be prevented, the study found.

Lane-keeping, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic braking systems, which can prevent rear-end crashes, are some of the building blocks of self-driving car technology.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Afghanistan and the Sunk Cost Fallacy (Brittany Hunter, August 23, 2017, FEE)

There are innumerable reasons to oppose any continuation or escalation of the American occupation of Afghanistan. But disregarding the most important deterrent, the loss of human life, and even more specifically, innocent civilian life, there is one economic principle that screams out from the text of Trump's speech on Afghanistan: The sunk cost fallacy.

If I were to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a dress only to decide later on that I despise it for one reason or another, it would be a fallacy for me to believe that I must continue wearing the dress in order to take full advantage of the value I already spent on it. Sure, I spent too much up front, but why would I then cause myself further anguish just because of the initial mistake of purchasing the dress? I would be doubling my losses.

If the dress example is lost on you, imagine instead a Las Vegas buffet. To justify spending the high cost of entering a buffet in Vegas, you deduce that you must therefore stuff your face until it becomes physically impossible to ingest anything else into your body. Sure, you may have technically gotten your money's worth, but now you are also so sick and you have lost the entire evening you had planned.

Examples of the sunk cost fallacy exist all around us. You paid for a subscription to a bad online service so now you might as well use it (no, do not compound your error). You work so hard to get this man to fall in love with you, so you might as well stick with him, even though he is super lame (no, you should dump him). You spent so much money on a concert of a band that turns out to be terrible but you therefore must stay until the end (no, you should leave). You bought this movie ticket so you should stay to the end even though you hate every minute (walk out!).

All of this is fallacy. It is this belief that we are already in too deep, so we might as well double-down and keep going. Unfortunately, this almost always leads to further loss.

Trump's plan for Afghanistan is no different.

...people who actually want self-representation will fight for it themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Poll: Trump hits new low after Charlottesville (STEVEN SHEPARD, 08/23/2017, Politico)

Much of the decline in Trump's approval rating appears to have come from self-identified Republican voters -- 73 percent, down from 81 percent the week earlier. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


US, citing human rights, cuts some Egypt aid (Nicole Gaouette, 8/23/17, CNN)

The US has decided to deny Egypt almost $100 million in aid and hold back another $195 million until it sees improvements in Cairo's track record on human rights and democracy. [...]

Washington has given Cairo nearly $80 billion in military and economic assistance over the past 30 years and will continue to support Egypt in defeating extremists, fighting terrorism and bolstering its economy, the official said.

They should obviously get nothing until they restore democracy and allow the new Brotherhood government to purge the military and judiciary.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


How Big Is The Bannon Wing Of The Republican Party? (Harry Enten, 8/23/17, 538)

Generally, we're talking about a more populist, nationalist and isolationist brand of Republicanism. More specifically, Trump voters who are pro-police, against free trade, against the U.S. playing an active role (militarily and diplomatically) in the international community, strongly against illegal immigration, and in favor of more infrastructure spending. There are obviously other parts of Bannon's agenda, but these are among the defining features that help separate it from other wings within the Republican Party.

To help us figure out how many Trump voters match this description, let's consult the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.1 The survey asks voters whether ...

They are for or against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Which we'll use as a proxy for free trade.)

The U.S. should send troops to help the United Nations uphold international law.2 (Involvement in the international community.)

The U.S. government should identify and deport immigrants in the country illegally. (Illegal immigration.)

Their local police should receive a grade of A (excellent), B (above average), C (average), D (below average) or F (poor).

Their state government should increase spending on infrastructure. (Infrastructure spending.)

Among Trump voters, approximately 15 percent supported all five positions, including a B or better for their local police. So let's call this 15 percent the "core Bannon" voter. This isn't a particularly large group. On its own, for example, it's not enough to win a Republican primary. But it's certainly big enough that Trump needs its continued support in order to survive a serious primary challenge in 2020 (if one arises). Remember Trump won only 45 percent of the national primary vote in 2016. To put this 15 percent in some additional perspective, the percentage of Hillary Clinton voters who were Hispanic in the general election, an important part of her coalition, was about 12 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Why Lee Should Go, and Washington Should Stay (JON MEACHAM, AUG. 21, 2017, NY Times)

To me, the answer to Mr. Trump's question begins with a straightforward test: Was the person to whom a monument is erected on public property devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government? Washington and Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were. Each owned slaves; each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race. Yet each also believed in the transcendent significance of the nation, and each was committed to the journey toward "a more perfect Union."

By definition, the Confederate hierarchy fails that test. Those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey. While we should judge each individual on the totality of their lives (defenders of Lee, for instance, point to his attempts to be a figure of reconciliation after the war), the forces of hate and of exclusion long ago made Confederate imagery their own. Monuments in public places of veneration to those who believed it their duty to fight the Union have no place in the Union of the 21st century -- a view with which Lee himself might have agreed. "I think it wiser," he wrote in 1866, "not to keep open the sores of war."

Of course, Lee lost that struggle, too, and my home state is dealing with just this issue at the moment. In 1973, the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised money to install a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Southern cavalry commander and early leader of the Klan, in the state capitol.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM



"Stephen Hawking opens his new book with a marvelous old anecdote. A famous astronomer, after a lecture, was told by an elderly lady, who was perhaps under the influence of Hinduism, that his cosmology was all wrong. The world, she said, rests on the back of a giant tortoise. When the astronomer asked what the tortoise stands on, she replied: 'You're very clever, young man, very clever. But it's turtles all the way down.'

Most people, Hawking writes, would find this cosmology ridiculous, but if we take the turtles as symbols of more and more fundamental laws, the tower is not so absurd. There are two ways to view it. Either a single turtle is at the bottom, standing on nothing, or it's turtles all the way down. Both views are held by leading physicists.

The problem being, of course, that there is no physical basis for a belief in either turtles or physicists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Pakistan says U.S. must not make it a 'scapegoat' for Afghan failures (Syed Raza Hassan, 8/23/17, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his policy for Afghanistan on Monday, committing to an open-ended conflict there and singling out Pakistan for harboring Afghan Taliban insurgents and other militants.

U.S. officials later warned that aid to Pakistan might be cut and Washington might downgrade nuclear-armed Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally to pressure it to do more to help bring about an end to America's longest-running war.

Turning up the heat on Egypt and Pakistan is Donald's best policy decision so far, but he really needs to reverse himself on the Sa'uds.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Winning Combination: The American Military May Have Found a Successful Strategy for Fighting in the Middle East (Daniel Strand, August 23, 2017, Providence)

The American strategy in fighting Islamic State (ISIS) in Northern Iraq and Syria seems to be working. President Obama deserves some credit for this success, along with the US military and President Trump. Like Bush before him, though lacking in his predecessor's contrition, Obama did privately repent of his mistakes, which allowed this new strategy to emerge. Much like Obama taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, Trump will reap the praise of Obama's strategic adjustments that brought about the retaking of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the crown jewel of ISIS's hoped-for Caliphate.

When Obama left office, the new strategy was well underway and succeeding. The American-led coalition, working in support of Iraqi ground forces, is now in the final battle for Raqqa, the declared capital of the Caliphate. In this campaign the US military may have found a winning formula for fighting and winning battles and wars in the Middle East. Unlike previous Iraq wars, where Americans did most of the heavy lifting, the new strategy puts the indigenous forces on the frontline with American Special Operations Forces (SOF) and airpower providing crucial support, guidance, and training. In the 2003 Iraq War, Americans pounded the Iraqi army into smithereens only to have those gains lost by incompetence and lack of planning, plus scandals that turned the population against them (remember Abu Ghraib?).

David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist at the Washington Post, summed up this new strategy in a recent column. What, precisely, is it? He cites the work of the Rand Corporation's Linda Robinson, who spent a couple weeks in Iraq analyzing the strategy. She describes it this way:

[T]he most notable feature of the expanded U.S. SOF role in the Middle East has been its work alongside indigenous forces in Iraq and Syria. Conventional and coalition forces provide additional numbers of troops. What makes this campaign so unusual is that U.S. forces are not providing the muscle of the frontline combat troops. Instead, the campaign is conducted "by, with, and through" others, a Special Forces phrase that the CENTCOM commander, General Joseph Votel, has adopted to call attention to this new way of warfighting. If the counter-ISIS campaign succeeds in dislodging ISIS from Iraq and Syria, this approach is more likely to be considered for other, similar conflicts.

The "by, with, and through" policy has become a mantra among SOF's on the ground. This new model of fighting has many distinct advantages. For the US military, the lighter footprint greatly reduces the hostility towards American forces and the war effort as a whole. American public support for this campaign is still relatively high, in part because the public is not paying attention. The costs to American forces have been miniscule, with only five casualties over the last three years. Iraqis have taken the lead in fighting ISIS, so there is a level of ownership and responsibility for securing the peace that was not there in the past. These gains are significant and are bringing together hard-won lessons into a coherent strategy for future conflicts. Military commanders seem to have found the sweet spot between over- and under-committing US forces.

The Iraqi and Syrian forces have been doing the bulk of frontline fighting and have suffered major causalities. Civilian populations have suffered devastating losses as well. But the progress of the Iraqi and Syrian forces has been significant. "The surprise has been how motivated and disciplined the Iraqi and Syrian forces have been," writes Ignatius. "They've fought bravely, taking significant casualties. And for the most part, they have cooperated across sectarian lines."

...that it took us so long to realize we had to Vietnamize, nevermind that the occupation was a mistake.

August 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency (ALEXANDER BURNS and JONATHAN MARTIN, AUGUST 22, 2017. NY Times)

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises. [...]

"When it comes to the Senate, there's an Article 5 understanding: An attack against one is an attack against all," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has found himself in Mr. Trump's sights many times, invoking the NATO alliance's mutual defense doctrine.  [...]

Mr. McConnell's Senate colleagues, however, have grown bolder. The combination of the president's frontal attacks on Senate Republicans and his claim that there were "fine people" marching with white supremacists in Charlottesville has emboldened lawmakers to criticize Mr. Trump in withering terms.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee rebuked Mr. Trump last week for failing to "demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence" required of presidents. On Monday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine said in a television interview that she was uncertain Mr. Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee in 2020.

There are few recent precedents for the rift. The last time a president turned on a legislative leader of his own party was in 2002, when allies of George W. Bush helped force Trent Lott to step down as Senate minority leader after racially charged remarks at a birthday party for Senator Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina.

For the moment, Mr. McConnell appears to be far more secure in his position, and perhaps immune to coercion from the White House. Republicans are unlikely to lose control of the Senate in 2018, and Mr. Trump has no allies in the Senate who have shown an appetite for combat with Mr. McConnell.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Nikki Haley's path to the presidency runs right past Trump : The UN ambassador's profile is rising as she runs her own show. (Zeeshan Aleem, Aug 22, 2017, Vox)

Browse through Nikki Haley's Twitter feed long enough and you'd be forgiven for forgetting she's a powerful and high-ranking official in the Trump administration, where the president pointedly refuses to do the first one of those and would consider the last two to be political suicide. [...]

A popular twice-elected governor of South Carolina, she's an experienced GOP politician in an administration packed with outsiders. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she stands out in an administration run chiefly by white men. Telegenic and poised, she has a knack for the limelight that stands in sharp contrast to the administration's tendencies toward the rumpled (former press secretary Sean Spicer) or reclusive (Tillerson).

But in her first seven months at the helm of the US mission to the UN, Haley's differences have gone far beyond optics. Trump campaigned on a foreign policy platform of "America first" -- the idea that the US should avoid getting involved in unnecessary conflicts overseas and focus narrowly on national security interests over promotion of democracy and human rights abroad.

But Haley has pursued the opposite course. From her stern criticism of Moscow to her championing of human rights to her calls for Syrian regime change, she's routinely diverged from, or outright contradicted, Trump's stance on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish Republican senators in Washington, told the New York Times recently, "She sounds more like me than Trump."

The more of Donald's stench the vp acquires the better she looks for 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Emails: Breitbart editor pledges to do 'dirty work' for Bannon, smears Ivanka (Oliver Darcy and Jake Tapper, 8/22/17, CNNMoney)

A self-described "email prankster" seemingly fooled top editors at Breitbart over the weekend into believing he was Steve Bannon, the fired White House chief strategist who returned to the right-wing website as executive chairman on Friday.
In the emails, Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow pledged that he and several other top editors would do Bannon's "dirty work" against White House aides. The emails were shared with CNN by the prankster.

In other emails, Marlow suggested he could have Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump ousted from the White House "by end of year" and shared a personal smear about their private lives, perhaps an indication of how low the website is willing to go to achieve its agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


SHOCK POLL: Just 21 Percent Of Arizona Residents Want Trump To Pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Eric Owens, 08/22/2017, Daily Caller)

According to the poll, just 21 percent of Arizona's residents want Trump to pardon Arpaio.

Just over half of Arizona's residents say they do not want Trump to pardon Arpaio, the poll found.

The rest of the state's residents, about 29 percent, say they aren't sure how they feel or don't know enough about the Arpaio's contempt of court case to make a decision.

Among Arizona residents who are 54 years old or younger, just 15 percent want Trump to pardon Arpaio.

In a just world, he'd go to a work camp and pick crops.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Iran in negotiations to unblock Twitter (Middle East Online, 8/22/17)

Iran's new communications minister said Tuesday that negotiations were underway with Twitter to unblock the service, which has been banned for years despite being used even by the country's supreme leader. [...]

"(Twitter) has announced that it is prepared to negotiate to resolve problems," Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi told the Iran daily newspaper.

"Considering the current situation there are grounds for such negotiation and interaction. Twitter is not an immoral environment needing to be blocked," he added.

[J]ahromi is also seen as a critic of online censorship in Iran, where platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter remain banned even if millions use them daily through easily available privacy software.

He said officials were also looking at ways to unblock YouTube while still censoring "immoral content" on the video-sharing service, and that a pilot project would allow universities to access the site.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Counties at Risk of Having No Insurer on the Marketplace (Exchange) in 2018 (Kaiser Foundation, Aug 18, 2017)

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Trump rebuffs coal industry; CEO claims promise broken (JEFF HORWITZ, MICHAEL BIESECKER and MATTHEW DALY, August 22, 2017, AP) 

The Trump administration has rejected a coal industry push to win a rarely used emergency order protecting coal-fired power plants, a decision one executive said breaks a personal promise from President Donald Trump to take the extraordinary step to benefit the industry.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Sanctioned Russian Diplomat Named as Newest Envoy to U.S. (Stepan Kravchenko And Andrey Biryukov, 8/21/17, Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a hard-line critic of the U.S. who's blacklisted by the European Union over the Ukraine crisis as his new ambassador to Washington.

Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Antonov will succeed Sergey Kislyak, the Russian envoy embroiled in controversy over contacts between the Kremlin and members of Donald Trump's campaign team in the 2016 presidential elections. Antonov also will be Russia's permanent observer at the Organization of American States, the Kremlin said in a statement on Monday.

Accepting him would be symptomatic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Donald Trump's True Allegiances : Who could have predicted the President's latest outrage? Barack Obama and anyone, really. (David Remnick, 8/21/17, The New Yorker)

Donald Trump's ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama's election as an inspiring chapter in the country's fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the "food-stamp President." In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a "liberal fascist," who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. "You just look at the body language, and there's something going on," Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama's first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President's person. [...]

Last week, the world witnessed Obama's successor in the White House, unbound and unhinged, acting more or less as Obama had predicted. In 2015, a week after Trump had declared his candidacy, he spoke in favor of removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina's capitol: "Put it in the museum and let it go." But, last week, abandoning the customary dog whistle of previous Republican culture warriors, President Trump made plain his indulgent sympathy for neo-Nazis, Klan members, and unaffiliated white supremacists, who marched with torches, assault rifles, clubs, and racist and anti-Semitic slogans through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. One participant even adopted an isis terror tactic, driving straight into a crowd of people peaceably demonstrating against the racists. Trump had declared an "America First" culture war in his Inaugural Address, and now--as his poll numbers dropped, as he lost again and again in the courts and in Congress, as the Mueller investigation delved into his miserable business history, as more and more aides leaked their dismay--he had cast his lot with the basest of his base. There were some "very fine people" among the white nationalists, he said, and their "culture" should not be threatened.

Who could have predicted it? Anyone, really. Two years ago, the Daily Stormer, the foremost neo-Nazi news site in the country, called on white men to "vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests." Trump never spurned this current of his support. He invited it, exploited it. With Stephen Bannon, white nationalism won prime real estate in the West Wing. Bannon wrote much of the inaugural speech, and was branded "The Great Manipulator" in a Time cover story that bruised the Presidential ego. But Bannon has been marginalized for months. Last Friday, in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump finally pushed him out. He is headed back to Breitbart News. But he was staff; his departure is hardly decisive. The culture of this White House was, and remains, Trump's.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Book review (fiction): 'The Last Show' by Michael Connelly (Moira Macdonald, 8/19/17,  The Seattle Times)

"The Late Show" brings the debut of a new one: LAPD Detective Renee Ballard, who works the night shift at Hollywood Station -- called "the late show" by those who work it.

The inspiration for Ballard, said Connelly, "just sort of fell into my lap." For his 30th book, written just after he turned 60, he wanted to do "something a little different, maybe challenge myself in some way."

As part of his Amazon series, "Bosch," he met several LAPD detectives as consultants. One of them, Mitzi Roberts, was a veteran of "the late show" and had stories to tell.

"I knew I wanted to write about somebody on the late show because it's so entertaining," Connelly said. "When you're a detective on the midnight shift, you don't have a specialty; you roll on any time they need a detective, whether it's big or small. That variety really appealed to me.

"The more I talked to (Roberts), got to know her, saw her in court a couple of times, in crime scenes, I was inspired by her personally, because she's a very determined and fierce detective. Those are the words I was hoping to get into the character of Renee Ballard."

Ballard shares many of Roberts' qualities -- including, said Connelly, the real-life detective's habit of paddleboarding at dawn after finishing her shift, with her dog watching over her belongings on the beach. But the character has her own backstory, one that Connelly says he's still developing.

"I'd been kind of gathering string, casting a net with her for a few years," he said, noting that he doesn't formally outline or write a character biography. "If you read the book, the biography's really incomplete. I like to seed the first story of a character with what a reader would need, but I want to leave stuff to explore in the future."

In "The Late Show," we learn just enough to tantalize us about the cool, tough Ballard.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM



TO ANYONE WHO believes environmental regulation is poison for profits, California must be infuriating. The state's pollution policies rarely wilt its perennially blooming economy. For the past nine years, a Golden State-centric think tank Next 10 has been releasing its California Green Innovation Index. The results this year show a continuing trend: For two and a half decades, California's GDP and population have continued to rise, while per capita carbon dioxide emissions have stayed flat.

But California isn't done yet. It has two major upcoming goals: reducing emission to to 1990 levels by 2020, and 40 percent below that a decade later. So while California has continued to grow during phase one of its environmental overhaul, it's still a question whether its long-term green ambitions will turn its economy as chilly as a San Francisco summer.

California has a long been on the leading edge of environmental policy. It all started because Los Angeles had such filthy air that, in 1947, after a lot of public outcry, the city formed its Air Pollution District--the first air quality agency in the US. (The US Clean Air Act didn't pass for another 15 years!) Over the next several decades, California rolled out green building codes, efficient appliance standards, and cap and trade policies--all aimed at curbing pollution. All the while, the state made it easier for entrepreneurs to do business. This included actions like decoupling electricity sales from revenues, which forced more efficiency into the system. California also has healthy net metering caps, which allow rooftop solar panel owners sell more of their overstock electricity back into the grid.

The result of all this legislative tinkering: "California is the most energy efficient economy in the world, and least carbon intensive," says Adam Fowler, a research manager at Beacon Economics, the firm that produced the Green Innovation Index at Next 10's behest. And it pays. Fowler says that every $10,000 spent in California results in 55 percent less carbon dioxide than it would in the rest of the US. "We have a very clear time series showing that the decoupling of fossil fuel use from GDP is possible," he says.

August 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


W.E.B. DuBois on Robert E. Lee (1928)

Each year on the 19th of January there is renewed effort to canonize Robert E. Lee, the greatest confederate general. His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing-one terrible fact-militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. Copperheads like the New York Times may magisterially declare: "of course, he never fought for slavery." Well, for what did he fight? State rights? Nonsense. The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

No. People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan. Lee hesitated and hung his head in shame because he was asked to lead armies against human progress and Christian decency and did not dare refuse. He surrendered not to Grant, but to Negro Emancipation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 PM


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Dem Strategist: Party 'Badly' Needs Obama Back (Charles Fain Lehman , August 21, 2017, Free Beacon)

Democrats lack a deep bench for the 2018 and 2020 elections and "badly need" former President Barack Obama to return to public life, according to several Democratic strategists.

Brand Bannon is one strategist who has argued Obama needs to take a more prominent role in the Democratic Party, the Hill reported Monday.

"Democrats badly need Barack Obama," Bannonn said. "He offers such a vivid contrast to Trump in behavior and temperament."

"He always sounded reasonable and acted responsibly even if you disagreed with him," he said. "None of the potential Democratic presidential candidates have the visibility or credibility to be effective."

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Lobbyist at Trump Campaign Meeting Has a Web of Russian Connections (SHARON LaFRANIERE, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and KENNETH P. VOGELAUG. 21, 2017, NY Times)

Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant who met last summer with senior Trump campaign officials, has often struck colleagues as a classic Washington mercenary -- loyal to his wife, his daughter and his bank account. He avoided work that would antagonize Moscow, they suggested, only because he profited from his reputation as a man with valuable connections there.

But interviews with his associates and documents reviewed by The New York Times indicate that Mr. Akhmetshin, who is under scrutiny by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, has much deeper ties to the Russian government and Kremlin-backed oligarchs than previously known.

He has an association with a former deputy head of a Russian spy service, the F.S.B., and a history of working for close allies of President Vladimir V. Putin. Twice, he has worked on legal battles for Russian tycoons whose opponents suffered sophisticated hacking attacks, arousing allegations of computer espionage. He helped federal prosecutors bring corruption charges against an American businessman in the former Soviet Union who turned out to be working for the C.I.A.

He also helped expose possible corruption in government contracting that complicated American efforts to keep troops at an air base in Kyrgyzstan -- an American presence that the Russians fiercely opposed.

In short, Mr. Akhmetshin's projects over two decades in Washington routinely advanced the Kremlin's interests, especially after he became an American citizen in 2009. American counterintelligence agents took notice of his activities, but drew no conclusions about where his allegiances lay, according to a former law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing government secrecy rules

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Shas leader: Modern Orthodox communities are 'borderline Reform' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, August 22, 2017)

"Anyone who knows how synagogues are run over there [in the modern Orthodox community], or the conduct of the prayers, I don't want to say too much, but these are very significant changes," Deri charged, clarifying he was referring to "knit kippa" wearers, a Hebrew term for adherents of modern Orthodoxy, as distinct from the black skullcaps favored by the ultra-Orthodox community.

"Even the 'knit kippot' today, as some know even in very large communities, mainly in the center of the country, they're already borderline Reform," he said in the footage obtained by Channel 2 news.

"It's true, there are more kippot" in these communities than in American Reform synagogues, Deri went on. "It looks different, it's more Israeli. But it's still borderline Reform," he repeated.

Deri's directed his comments at rabbis who belong to the Tzohar organization, most of them state-appointed city and council rabbis who nevertheless have sought to create a more welcoming and open state rabbinate.

The Tzohar rabbis, he noted, were at the forefront in the battle against the Shas-backed conversion law that seeks to further restrict access to state-recognized conversions in Israel to rabbinate-approved rabbinic courts.

"Together and in collaboration with the Reform, because they know their intention is to destroy [the rabbinate], they benefited from the baseness of others who were slandering the rabbinate and searching for faults in it," he told the rabbinic group.

Every good sneech has a star on his belly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Iran's Quds Force commander calls for national unity (Al-Monitor, August 21, 2017)

What made Soleimani's speech unique was his inclusive position and his rejection of titles and labels to divide Iranians, particularly along religious lines. "Why do we constantly use labels such as 'unveiled' or 'poorly veiled' or 'Reformist' or 'Principlist'?" Soleimani asked. "Who will then remain after that? All children are not the same, but it is the father who can gather them around each other. The Friday prayer leaders must be able to attract the veiled, poorly veiled and the unveiled."

Soleimani has always steered clear of partisan quarrels, so his comments criticizing political labels are not surprising. However, what is noteworthy is his implicit admission that some younger Iranians do not attend Friday prayers. Furthermore, he placed responsibility on the clerical establishment for not being able to attract a wider and more diverse audience due to their obsessive focus on the veil.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


(1) Everyone knows Armstrong and Aldrin, but who was the first cosmonaut to walk on the moon?

(2) It takes 24 hours for the Earth to rotate; how long does it take the moon?

(3) Features of the moon as we see it in the night sky have Latin names or names of famous scientists, but those on the dark side all had a common linguistic peculiarity--what was it?

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


U.S. workers have low hopes for higher pay -Fed survey (Reuters, 8/21/17) 

U.S. workers see little hope for higher paychecks, and while they are increasingly searching for new jobs, they expect fewer offers to fall into their laps, according to a Federal Reserve survey published on Monday.

Paul Volcker, Maraget Thatcher and Ronald Reagan ought to take a bow.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Israel's Quiet Reaction to US Neo-Nazis (Paul R. Pillar, 8/21/17, Middle East Online)

During this past week we saw an indication of the overriding priority Netanyahu gives to not endangering this automatic U.S. backing, even if this means ignoring other values or concerns that we might otherwise expect to guide him.

Controversial maps showing the shrinking territory available to the Palestinians. Hardline Israelis insist that there are no Palestinian people, that all the land belongs to Israel and that it therefore inaccurate to show any "Palestinian lands."

The ugly events in Charlottesville elicitedshock and outspoken dismayfrom much of the rest of the world and especially the West about this blatant display of neo-Nazism in America.A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the events as "sickening".

But the Prime Minister of Israel wasconspicuously silent.This is the same Prime Minister who has been quick to call out anti-Semitism, either real or imagined, in countless other circumstances, and who certainly has shown no hesitation about wading into the domestic politics of the United States.And yet he had nothing to say about an event featuring chants of "Jews will not replace us" and culminating in a neo-Nazi's lethal terrorist attack with a vehicle.

The principal and obvious explanation for this non-response is that Netanyahu did not want to take the slightest risk of jeopardizing support from a U.S. president who, in addition to asserting moral equivalence between the racist torch-bearers in Charlottesville and those who demonstrated against them, is notoriously thin-skinned and lashes out at anyone voicing anything that sounds like criticism of him.

Goodness only knows what Netanyahu thinks is in Donald Trump's heart and what prejudices may or may not lurk there.But Netanyahu perceives that his government has a good thing going politically with a president who, since midway through the presidential campaign, has pretty much toed the right-wing Israeli line, including backing away from previous administrations' endorsement of a Palestinian state.And Netanyahu could not ask for anything more from Trump regarding vituperative, automatic, unending hostility toward Iran and unwillingness to do any business with it or even to talk to its government.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Trump Settles on Afghan Strategy Expected to Raise Troop Levels (MICHAEL R. GORDON, ERIC SCHMITT and MAGGIE HABERMAN, AUG. 20, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops.

And so his over-reliance on military men subverts one of the few things he had right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Everyone's Suspicious of Atheists -- Even Other Atheists (Thomas MacMillan, 8/21/17, New York)

[A]ccording to a new study published last week in Nature, people all over the world connect immorality with atheism. In fact, the moral prejudice against atheists is so strong that it holds even in countries like the Netherlands, where most people aren't religious. Even atheists themselves, according to the study, are inclined to see nonbelievers as more wicked than the faithful.

"Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests that religion's powerful influence on moral judgements persists, even among non-believers in secular societies," the authors wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Some Liberty University Grads Are Returning Their Diplomas To Protest Trump (Sarah McCammon, 8/20/17, NPR Morning Edition)

A group of alumni from one of the country's most influential evangelical Christian universities is condemning their school's president for his continued alignment with President Trump.

A small but growing number of Liberty University graduates are preparing to return diplomas to their school. The graduates are protesting university President Jerry Falwell Jr.'s ongoing support for Trump. They began organizing after Trump's divisive remarks about the deadly white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va.

Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate, said it was a simple decision.

"I'm sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists," Gaumer said. "And in defending the president's comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit."

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Gilmer: We Should View The Permian Basin As A Permanent Resource (David Blackmon, 8/17/17, Forbes)

Allen Gilmer, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman at DrillingInfo, Inc., is not a man who minces words, an attribute that has served him well during a long career in the oil and gas industry.  When it comes to the Permian Basin and the amount of oil and gas resource contained in it, he becomes positively loquacious.

"We should view the Permian Basin as a permanent resource," he says, "The Permian is best viewed as a near infinite resource - we will never produce the last drop of economic oil from the Basin."

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


Russia destroys large column of IS fighters in Syria (Middle East Online, 8/20/17)

Russia's air force has destroyed a large column of Islamic State fighters on their way to the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, killing over 200 militants, Russian news agencies cited Russia's Defence Ministry as saying on Monday.

Islamic State is concentrating its forces around Deir al-Zor after being pushed out of the south of Raqqa Province and the west of Homs Province by Syrian land forces and the Russian air force, the ministry said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Vt., Other U.S. Border Crossings Seek Agents (Wilson Ring, 8/20/17, Associated Press)

Norton, Vt. -- It can be slow at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing between Norton, Vt., and Stanhope, Quebec, where agents have watched moose amble through while waiting for people and cargo.

But the port is still open 24/7 and needs to be staffed around the clock. However, the U.S. Government is having a hard time finding employees.

As part of a nationwide effort to increase staff at some of its most remote border crossings, Customs and Border Protection is now offering hiring bonuses and job security for people willing to make the move to remote spots in Vermont, Maine, North Dakota, Texas and other locations on both the northern and southern borders.

While the hours of operation of some remote crossings are being reduced in the post 9/11 era, security procedures require that crossings be staffed by at least two officers at all times.

"There are midnight shifts in many locations where the volume is minimal, yet the community still expects to have that level of service," said Customs and Border Protection Assistant Commissioner Todd Owen.

Mario Marquis, a Norton agent for 15 years, said he'd like to have more co-workers.

"The pool of people that you would pick from have probably left the area to look for work somewhere else," said Marquis, who greets border-crossers in both English and French.

New officers do come to work in Norton, but it's hard for many who feel isolated in the rural region where even a trip to Walmart is an all-day event.

"They come here and they soon realize it was a mistake," Marquis said of some outsiders who come to work the port.

Hire illegals.

August 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


STEVE BANNON READIES HIS REVENGE : The war on Jared Kushner is about to go nuclear. (GABRIEL SHERMAN, AUGUST 20, 2017, Vanity Fair)

Bannon's main targets are the West Wing's coterie of New York Democrat "globalists"--Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn--as well as the "hawks," comprised of National Security Adviser H.R McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell. [...]

 On Sunday, the website's lead story was based on a Daily Mail report that said Ivanka was behind Bannon's removal. "Trump's daughter Ivanka pushed out Bannon because of his 'far-right views' clashing with her Jewish faith," the article noted. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


Black Pastors Demand Smithsonian Remove Statue of Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger (STEVEN ERTELT, AUG 27, 2015, LifeNews)

A group of African American pastors is upper their demand for the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian to remove a statue of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. The museum has so far refused their request to remove the statue of the eugenics-supporting founder of the abortion business caught selling aborted babies and their body parts.

The museum has the Sanger bust in their "Struggle for Justice" exhibit, which is supposed to honor those of the past who were "champions of justice." A sign beneath the sculpture says that Sanger was "profoundly affected by the physical and mental toll exacted on women by frequent childbirth, miscarriage and self-induced abortion."

The pastors wrote the Smithsonian a letter explaining that Sanger was far from a champion for their race because of her strong ties to the eugenics movement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


The hypocrisy of umpires complaining about players is obvious in their empty wristband protest (Jeff Passan, 8/20/17, Yahoo Sports)

And to make the whole charade even more farcical, the umpires seemingly didn't realize white wristbands are often worn in support of people who suffer from blindness.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


That Chicken From Whole Foods Isn't So Special Anymore (Deena Shanker and Polly Mosendz, 8/20/17, Bloomberg)

Whole Foods Market Inc. doesn't just sell chickens. It sells shoppers on the idea of chickens raised and treated better than prevailing standards: no antibiotics, no hormones, no cages. Not the sort of chicken you can get anywhere.

But thanks in no small part to a food-quality revolution that Whole Foods helped cultivate over the past decade, standards for much of the poultry sold at American supermarkets are shifting. The gulf has narrowed--and sometimes has even closed--between what's sold at Whole Foods and what's produced by industrial food giants such as Perdue Farms Inc. and sold at lower-cost supermarkets.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Is the Saudi-led coalition failing in Yemen? (AL jAZEERA, 20 Aug 2017)

A new confidential UN report says that after nearly two-and-a-half years of military campaign in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition is "no closer" to achieving its objective. The report suggests the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is failing.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


West Wing lurches into unknown after Bannon's exit (JOSH DAWSEY and MATTHEW NUSSBAUM 08/19/2017, pOLITICO)

For Bannon, whose "War Room" promises became something of a caricature in the administration, the end came without fulfilling many of them. The white boards were in storage, an administration official said, as the West Wing underwent summer renovations.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Trump's Approval Rating Stands Below 40 Percent in Three Key Midwest States (MARK MURRAY, 8/20/17, Meet the Press)

President Donald Trump's job approval rating in three key states that helped propel him to the White House -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- stands below 40 percent, according to a trio of NBC News/Marist polls. [...]

In all three states, more than six in 10 voters say Trump's conduct as president has embarrassed them, compared to just a quarter who have said it's made them proud.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Why top White House officials won't quit Trump (Mike Allen, 8/20/17, Axios)

We talked to a half dozen senior administration officials, who range from dismayed but certain to stay, to disgusted and likely soon to leave. They all work closely with Trump and his senior team so, of course, wouldn't talk on the record. Instead, they agreed to let us distill their thinking/rationale:

"You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill": The most common response centers on the urgent importance of having smart, sane people around Trump to fight his worst impulses. If they weren't there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Why we fell for clean eating : The oh-so-Instagrammable food movement has been thoroughly debunked - but it shows no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it. (Bee Wilson, 11 August 2017, The Guardian)

In the spring of 2014, Jordan Younger noticed that her hair was falling out in clumps. "Not cool" was her reaction. At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets. She was a "gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, legume-free, plant-based raw vegan". As The Blonde Vegan, Younger was a "wellness" blogger in New York City, one of thousands on Instagram (where she had 70,000 followers) rallying under the hashtag #eatclean. Although she had no qualifications as a nutritionist, Younger had sold more than 40,000 copies of her own $25, five-day "cleanse" programme - a formula for an all-raw, plant-based diet majoring on green juice.

But the "clean" diet that Younger was selling as the route to health was making its creator sick. Far from being super-healthy, she was suffering from a serious eating disorder: orthorexia, an obsession with consuming only foods that are pure and perfect. Younger's raw vegan diet had caused her periods to stop and given her skin an orange tinge from all the sweet potato and carrots she consumed (the only carbohydrates she permitted herself). Eventually, she sought psychological help, and began to slowly widen the repertoire of foods she would allow herself to eat, starting with fish. She recognised that the problem was not her veganism, per se, but the particularly rigid and restrictive diet regime she had imposed on herself.

As Younger slowly recovered from her eating disorder, she faced a new dilemma. "What would people think", she agonised, "if they knew the Blonde Vegan was eating fish?" She levelled with her followers in a blogpost entitled Why I'm Transitioning Away from Veganism. Within hours of announcing her new diet, Younger was receiving irate messages from vegans demanding money back from the cleanse programmes and T-shirts they had bought from her site (featuring slogans such as "OH KALE YES").

She lost followers "by the thousands" and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffering from an eating disorder by accusing her of being a "fat piece of lard" who didn't have the discipline to be truly "clean".

Imagine explaining to your great-grandparents that we're so wealthy we can indulge such nonsense.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The Catcher Switched to Third. Then to Second. Then Back to Third. 22 Times. (JAMES WAGNER, AUG. 17, 2017, NY Times)

An hour and a half before the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night, catcher Travis d'Arnaud was told he was needed to switch positions because of an emergency. This surely came as a surprise to d'Arnaud; in his 11 years of professional baseball, he has been exclusively a catcher, save for a two-game cameo at first base five years ago in the minor leagues.

But with second baseman Jose Reyes and third baseman Wilmer Flores both scratched from Wednesday's lineup during batting practice because of sore ribs, the Mets needed d'Arnaud to handle something altogether different: He was told he would be starting at third, where he would be in the unfamiliar position of staring in at batters instead of crouching behind them.

"I was fired up," d'Arnaud said.

What he was not, understandably, was prepared. So d'Arnaud sent David Wright, the team's oft-injured third baseman, who has been rehabbing in Florida, a text message asking if he could use a glove Wright had left behind in the Mets' clubhouse. And -- oh by the way -- if he had any advice.

"Use it well," Wright wrote back. "Dive for everything. Stay low."

No one ever used players out of position better than Davey Johnson :

Mets Outlast Pirates in 18th on Error, 5-4 (MICHAEL KATZ, April 29, 1985, NY Times)

Instead, Gorman was credited with the victory after pitching seven scoreless innings in what matched the longest stint of his major league career. Lee Tunnell, the seventh Pirate pitcher, was the loser.

There was plenty to cheer, besides free chocolate sundaes, for the paying crowd of 36,423, who booed loudest for the announcement that the Yankees had named Billy Martin to replace Yogi Berra.

There were some strange sights during the intermittent rainstorms. Manager Chuck Tanner of the Pirates had all three outfielders playing just behind his four infielders when the Mets had the bases loaded and none out in the 12th.

Staub, who had not played the outfield since June 22, 1983, was shuttling between left field and right field, alternating with Hurdle, depending on the hitter, as Johnson attempted to hide the slow-footed fielder who entered the game in the 12th.

Staub saved a run in the top of the 18th. Rick Rhoden, a pitcher, pinch-hit for Doug Frobel, an outfielder, with two out and Tunnell on second base. Rhoden hit a fly ball that Staub ran down and caught below his knees near the right-field line.

''That was as fast as I could run,'' said the 41-year-old Staub.

Silver anniversary: Davey Johnson runs out of players (CHRIS JAFFE, 7/22/11, Hardball Times)

And then comes the bottom of the 10th, when all of Johnson's maneuvers seem to come crashing down on him.

When Pete Rose, appearing in one of the last games of his career, laces a pinch-hit single, young phenom Eric Davis pinch runs for him, stealing second and third. After he steals third, all hell breaks loose.

He bumps Mets third baseman Ray Knight. Unhappy, Knight decks Davis. The benches empty. When the smoke clears, Davis and Reds reliever Mario Soto are ejected for the home team, while the visiting Mets also have two men thumbed: Knight and Mitchell.

Problem: Both of them are position players still in the game. The Mets have only one position player on the bench: backup catcher Hearn. And the team has holes at third and right. Good thing Johnson didn't use Hearn as a pinch hitter a little bit ago.

Solution: Well, let's get creative. First, Carter has some experience at the infield, so put him at third. Sure, his experience is at first, but Hernandez wasn't the one ejected. (Carter did have a whole big one inning at third 11 years earlier, but that doesn't help much).

So Carter at third, and Hearn at the backstop. Who replaces Mitchell in the outfield?

Here's where Johnson gets really creative. He has a southpaw pitcher in the game right now in Orosco. And he's got a right-handed reliever he really trusts ready to go in Roger McDowell.

So let's platoon them. When Orosco is the better match-up, he'll take the mound against lefties, and McDowell will patrol the outfield. And then McDowell will face righties with Orosco in the outfield.

Johnson takes the platooning a step further. Since Orosco will face lefties, he'll put McDowell in left field where the ball is less likely to be hit. Following similar logic, Orosco will go in right field when McDowell is on the mound. Wilson will bounce around from corner to corner as need be.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


More Mar-a-Lago customers dump Trump (Jackie Wattles, Ahiza Garcia and Jill Disis, 8/19/17, CNNMoney)

The exodus comes amid backlash to Trump's widely criticized remarks in the wake of a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

Three major national organizations -- The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Susan G. Komen foundation -- and one local charity all said Friday they were canceling events at the Palm Beach resort.

That came after three charities and organizations made similar announcements on Thursday.

The cancellations follow the spectacular implosion of Trump's business councils this week over the president's insistence that counter-protesters shared the blame for violence at a white nationalist rally.

Now, Trump's words seem to have hurt his own business.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Anti-Defamation League 'glad' Bannon out of White House (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AFP August 20, 2017)

With Trump under fire for insisting anti-racism protesters were equally to blame for violence at a weekend rally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president faced renewed pressure to let Bannon go.

"Hate has no place in our nation: not in our town squares and not in our White House. We are glad Steve Bannon will no longer advise the president," said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt in a statement.

"In November of 2016, when Bannon was first appointed, we called on the president to disassociate himself from someone who boasted about creating a platform on Breitbart for the alt right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites. Just this week, Bannon unconscionably praised President Trump's response to the events in Charlottesville," he said.

"Now is the time for moral leadership. As we have said before, staffers with ties to white nationalists do not belong on the payroll of the American people. Just as the president has promised to investigate leakers on his staff, he should apply the same energy to identify and dismiss others on his staff with ties to extremists," added Grennblatt.

...expressing surprise as Breitbart goes full on after the Jews in the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


More Food Producers Using Sweetener Stevia (Innocent Anguyo, Agnieszka de Sousa And Corinne Gretler, 8/19/17, Bloomberg News)

Over the past decade, a little-known herb 200 times sweeter than sugar has become a $4 billion global industry, showing up in everything from Coca-Cola sodas to Heinz ketchup. Not a bad start for a product that many people still think has a bitter aftertaste.

The stevia plant, which can be processed into a zero-calorie sweetener, has taken off as a sugar alternative. Consumption tripled from 2011 through 2016, according to data from researcher Euromonitor International. While it's still a small part of sweetener sales, companies such as Cargill Inc. and ED&F Man Holdings Ltd. are investing more -- including to improve the taste.

"This is a market that has huge growth potential," said Jonathan Hugh, head of the agri-industrial division at London-based commodity trader ED&F Man, which has a stake in the stevia-based Unavoo Sweetener. "We see a lot of investment opportunities."

Finding a low-calorie sugar substitute that doesn't alter the taste of iconic brands has been a longtime quest in the food industry, especially with a global obesity epidemic and rising rates of diabetes. Over the years, that's led to artificial man-made sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and xylitol. But many consumers report unpleasant side effects from those products, or they worry about ingesting chemical additives.

Stevia, often marketed as a natural sweetener because it is derived from plant extracts, has almost no calories and a glycemic index of zero, which means it can be consumed by diabetics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


'Spectacular' Foliage Forecast for New England (William J. Kole, 8/20/17, Associated Press)

New England's fall foliage forecast is looking so fine it's enough to make a maple leaf blush.

For the first time in several years, little has conspired against a truly glorious autumn. There's no more drought, the summer has been mild and the leaves -- largely spared by marauding gypsy moth caterpillars -- look healthy.

Translation: A pretty great season for leaf peeping seems to be shaping up.

"It's the most optimistic forecast I've had in a couple of years," said Jim Salge, who tracks the region's annual autumn pageant for Yankee Magazine.

"The biggest thing that can go wrong with foliage is a really wet couple of weeks leading up," Salge cautioned. "We'll really need that typical fall weather in New England -- warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights -- to make it pop. But we've had a great setup."

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Rouhani: Iran's top priority to protect nuclear deal from US (AFP, August 20, 2017)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday the top foreign policy priority for his new government was to protect the nuclear deal from being torn up by the United States.

"The most important job of our foreign minister is first to stand behind the JCPOA, and not to allow the US and other enemies to succeed," Rouhani told parliament, using the technical name for the 2015 deal that eased sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear program.

[R]ouhani has insisted the deal remains the preferred way forward, not least to help rebuild Iran's struggling economy and create jobs.

"The second responsibility of the foreign ministry... is to get involved in economic activities. It should help attract foreign investment and technology," Rouhani said.

It's a trade deal.

August 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Boston crowd of anti-racists dwarfs 'free-speech' rally (aL jAZEERA, 8/19/17]

More than 10,000 demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans forced a small group of conservatives to cut short a "free-speech rally" in Boston, in a repudiation of racism a week after deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Trump's Favorite Tycoon : The Washington misadventures of Carl Icahn. (Patrick Radden KeefeAugust 18, 2017, The New Yorker)

The old conundrum about whether it is better to be loved or feared has never posed much of a dilemma for Icahn. In "King Icahn," a 1993 biography, the author, Mark Stevens, described his subject as a "germophobic, detached, relatively loveless man," and quoted one contemporary saying, "Carl's dream in life is to have the only fire truck in town. Then when your house is in flames, he can hold you up for every penny you have." When the biography was published, Icahn stocked his office with copies to give to visitors. These days, he bristles at the term "corporate raider," favoring the euphemism "activist investor," but the reality is that when Icahn targets a company the response from management is generally terror. He has a volatile temper and a vindictive streak. [...]

 Icahn and Trump have known each other for decades, and Icahn supported his friend's aspirations for the White House at a time when they still looked quixotic. Trump has long boasted about his association with more successful businesspeople, dropping references to potentates the way kids decorate their school binders with the names of their favorite pop stars. But, in reality, many New York financiers considered him a buffoon. In 2015, Lloyd Blankfein, the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs, greeted the suggestion that Trump might run for President by remarking that the notion of the former star of "The Apprentice" having his "finger on the button blows my mind." In this context, an endorsement from Icahn was a precious credential. On the campaign trail, Trump bragged about his "very dear friend Carl Icahn," the name functioning as a byword for boundless prosperity.

If Icahn was willing to be enlisted in this fashion, he was also prepared to drop Trump's name when it served his interest. Appearing on Bloomberg TV on August 16, 2016, he vowed that Trump would put an end to "these crazy regulations" on his first day in office. In fact, Icahn continued, he had spoken with Trump about the E.P.A. rule obliging his refiner to purchase renewable-fuel credits. If elected, Trump "will stop that," Icahn promised. "That's a hundred per cent."

Several weeks after Trump's victory, Icahn tweeted, "I've agreed to serve as a special advisor to the president on issues relating to regulatory reform." In a press release, Trump said, "Carl was with me from the beginning and with his being one of the world's great businessmen, that was something I truly appreciated. He is not only a brilliant negotiator, but also someone who is innately able to predict the future, especially having to do with finances and economies." He added that Icahn would help him address regulations that were "strangling" American business.

Icahn's role was novel. He would be an adviser with a formal title, but he would not receive a salary, and he would not be required to divest himself of any of his holdings, or to make any disclosures about potential conflicts of interest. "Carl Icahn will be advising the President in his individual capacity," Trump's transition team asserted.

In the months after the election, the stock price of CVR, Icahn's refiner, nearly doubled--a surge that is difficult to explain without acknowledging the appointment of the company's lead shareholder to a White House position. The rally meant a personal benefit for Icahn, at least on paper, of half a billion dollars. There was an expectation in the market--an expectation created, in part, by Icahn's own remarks--that, with Trump in the White House and Icahn playing consigliere, the rules were about to change, and not just at the E.P.A. Icahn's empire ranges across many economic sectors, from energy to pharmaceuticals to auto supplies to mining, and all of them are governed by the types of regulations about which he would now potentially be advising Trump.

Janet McCabe, who left the E.P.A. in January, and now works at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, told me, "I'm not naïve. People in business try to influence the government. But the job of the government is to serve the American people, not the specific business interests of the President's friends. To think that you have somebody with that kind of agenda bending the President's ear is troubling."

Conflicts of interest have been a defining trait of the Trump Administration. The President has not only refused to release his tax returns; he has declined to divest from his companies, instead putting them in a trust managed by his children. Questions have emerged about the ongoing business ties of his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who, since Trump took office, have reaped nearly two hundred million dollars from the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., and from other investments. Although Trump promised to "drain the swamp," he has assembled a Cabinet of ultra-rich Americans, including two billionaires: Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, and Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce.

But Icahn is worth more than the Trump family and all the members of the Cabinet combined--and, with no constraint on his license to counsel the President on regulations that might help his businesses, he was poised to become much richer. Robert Weissman, who runs the watchdog group Public Citizen, told me, "This kind of self-enrichment and influence over decision-making by an individual mogul who is simultaneously inside and outside the Administration is unprecedented. In terms of corruption, there's nothing like it. Maybe ever." In conversations with me, financiers who have worked with Icahn described his appointment as a kind of corporate raid on Washington. One said, "It's the cheapest takeover Carl's ever done."

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM



Electric cars and smartphones of the future could be powered by supervolcanoes like Yellowstone after scientists discovered that ancient deposits within them contain huge reservoirs of lithium--a chemical element used to make lithium-ore batteries, supplies of which are increasingly dwindling.

Lithium, a soft white metal first discovered in 1817 by Johan August Arfvedson, has become widely used in manufacturing, most importantly in the production of rechargeable batteries for phones, laptops, cameras and vehicles. It has also been used in psychiatric treatments and to produce nuclear weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM



In a series of tweets Wednesday, Tony Schwartz--who co-authored the 1987 book that helped define the real estate magnate's public image--said he thought the walls were closing in on Trump and he would soon leave office in an attempt to save face. 

Every tweet Schwartz sent Wednesday was about Trump. "Think of Trump as a toddler w/reactive attachment disorder, and therefore in a permanent virulent tantrum. His development ended at age 7," he posted. He later added, "Remember that every time Trump criticizes and demeans someone he is projecting his deep sense of inadequacy & self-hatred onto others."

Later, he wrote in a series of three tweets that Trump's end would come before the year was out. "The circle is closing at blinding speed. Trump is going to resign and declare victory before Mueller and congress leave him no choice," Schwartz tweeted. "Trump's presidency is effectively over. Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner."

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


ISIS claims knife attack that wounded 8 in Russia (The Week, 8/19/17)

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a stabbing attack Saturday morning that wounded eight people in the Siberian city of Surgut, Russia. The attacker reportedly ran down a main street in Surgut, stabbing at random until he was fatally shot by police. The ISIS statement was published several hours later.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Heather Heyer's mother just brutally unmasked Trump's racism and cruelty (Greg Sargent August 18, 2017, Washington Post)

[T]he idea that Trump has any kind of agenda of "economic nationalism" to speak of is laughable. There are no trade or infrastructure plans (something progressives would actually like to see) in sight. The only real policies Trump has embraced that fit under what Bannon describes as "economic nationalism" are stepped-up deportations, slashing legal immigration and the thinly disguised Muslim ban. Indeed, it's telling that Bannon defends Trump's Charlottesville response by pointing to the alleged power of his alleged "economic nationalism" -- it validates suspicions that this was always intended largely as a fig leaf for xenophobia and racism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Trump to skip Kennedy Center arts awards (AP, 8/19/17) 

The White House has announced that President Donald Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events honoring recipients of this year's Kennedy Center arts awards.

No parades, no point.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Amid Trump backlash, his U.N. envoy says stand up, isolate hate (Reuters, 8/19/17)

"Those who march spewing hate are few, but loud. We must denounce them at every turn, and make them feel like they are on an island and isolate them the same way they wish to isolate others," wrote Haley, a member of Trump's cabinet, in the email sent Thursday to staff at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

To her credit, Ms Haley has never even bothered pretending that Donald exists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


How a group of refugees saved a church on the brink of collapsing (Bob Smietana, August 18,. 2017, Washington Post)

Ye Win was 16 years old when government troops showed up at his family's home in an ethnic Karen village in eastern Myanmar.

They pointed a gun at his mother, recalls Win, and accused his family of supporting rebels in one of the world's longest-running civil wars.

The threat against his mom angered Win, who wanted to fight back.

"I knew that was not right," he said.

Win, who had just finished high school and hoped to become a missionary like his father, was long gone when the government troops returned to the village and burned it to the ground.

It would be 10 years before Win would hear his mother's voice again, and even longer before he would be reunited with his parents.

During those years, he saw many friends and fellow Karen suffer and die or end up as refugees. More than 100,000 Karen relocated to refugee camps in Thailand, which shares its northwest border with Myanmar. Others, like Win, would be resettled in the United States.

Through the arduous journey, says Win, God was close by.

"We are the people of God -- even if we are lost, away from our home, even if we are isolated, we are still close to God," he said. "God never left our people."

When Win and about 70 Karen refugees ended up in Smyrna, Tenn., a small Bible Belt city about a half-hour from Nashville, they found God waiting for them -- at a tiny Episcopal church that was on the brink of shutting down. Together, the refugees and a handful of older congregants brought the church back to life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


President Jabberwock and the Jewish Right (Bret Stephens,  AUG. 18, 2017, NY Times)

Here was the argument of many of Trump's Jewish supporters: He'd rip up the awful Iran deal. He wasn't afraid to call out the Islamofascists by name. He "got" Israel and wasn't going to abide the State Department's failed pieties about the peace process or the location of the United States Embassy. He'd rebuild the military and restore the respect America had lost under Barack Obama. He'd surround himself with good advisers. And his unpredictability was an asset in the face of our adversaries. [...]

 The Jewish conservative's case against Trump was far more simple: Breathe in deeply with your nose and ... smell.

You could smell it in the shyster methods by which Trump built his business: the unpaid bills; the endless lawsuits; the deceitful advertising; the shady business partners.

You could smell it in the sort of people drawn, like flies to sewage, to Trump's candidacy: David Duke, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Richard Spencer, Pat Buchanan and Stephen Bannon, lately of the White House.

You could smell it in the tweets: an approving citation of a Benito Mussolini quote; an image of Hillary Clinton alongside a six-pointed star and a pile of cash.

You could smell it in the denunciations of "globalism" and "international banks" and the "enemy of the American people" news media.

You could smell it in the Muslim ban and the border wall and the trade protectionism and the calls to revoke birthright citizenship and the resurrection of "America First" as an organizing political slogan -- a politics of exclusion that has never served Jews well even when we were suffered to be included.

Above all, you could smell it in Trump's indifference to truth. Hillary Clinton may have been a "congenital liar," as William Safire famously put it. But Trump is something else: a Jabberwock president, nonsensical, menacing and beyond reason.

All this smelliness explains why nothing that's happened in Trump's tenure, culminating in Tuesday's embrace of the "very fine people" who turned up for the neo-Nazi torchlight rally, comes as a surprise.

What if all they could smell was his Islamophobia?  It's easy to lose sight of the way that each immigrant group gets so Americanized that they come to think that hating immigrants only applies to the next wave. They end up playing footsie with people who hate them too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent of his nationalist agenda (Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Damian Paletta August 18, 2017, Washington Post)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a Friday afternoon statement to reporters: "White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best."

Pentagon's Mattis again seeks to reassure U.S. allies (Idrees Ali, 8/18/17, Reuters)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis travels to the Middle East and eastern Europe next week to play the increasingly familiar role of reassuring allies that the United States is committed to them despite mixed messages from President Donald Trump.

Mattis will visit Jordan, Turkey, and Ukraine to address concerns about the fight against Islamic State and give a message that Washington will not tolerate Russia's annexation of eastern Ukraine.

The informal portfolio of soothing traditional U.S. friends upset by Trump's often sharp comments and tweets on foreign policy is one that the retired Marine general is becoming used to.

Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


F.B.I. Agents Supported Comey, Surveys Show, Weakening Trump's Claim of Turmoil (MATT APUZZO, AUG. 16, 2017, NY Times)

The F.B.I. released the results of three years of internal questionnaires in response to a public records request by The New York Times. The surveys revealed that agents around the country gave the F.B.I. leadership high marks -- 4.01 on a scale of 5 -- in this year's survey. The F.B.I. considers scores over 3.81 an indication of success.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly cast Mr. Comey in a negative light.

"He's a showboat, he's a grandstander, the F.B.I. has been in turmoil," Mr. Trump said of Mr. Comey in an NBC interview in May. "You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the F.B.I. a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that."

The F.B.I. surveys show no support for that claim. They scored him above 4 as both an inspiring leader and someone more interested in leading than being liked. His direct subordinates rated him 4.48 on the question of whether they would work with him again.

While Mr. Comey's marks fell slightly in some categories over his three-year tenure, his scores were consistently high in each year and in nearly every area. Nationwide, agents gave higher marks to Mr. Comey's leadership team in 2017 than they gave to Mr. Mueller, who preceded him as director and whose tenure is widely respected.

Someone really needs to start a Donald Fact-Check site where they note anytime he actually speaks one.

August 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Richard Spencer Says He Just Wants 'White Zionism.' Here's Why That's Malicious Nonsense. (Yair Rosenberg, August 18, 2017, The Tablet)

On Wednesday, in an interview with Israel's Channel 2, alt-right luminary Richard Spencer declared himself to be a "white Zionist." Just as Jews want a state of their own, the Charlottesville far-right organizer argued, he merely seeks a state for white people.

"As an Israeli citizen," Spencer told his Israeli interviewer, "someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me who has analogous feelings about whites. I mean, you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that's for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel."

Bill to declare Israel a Jewish state back on national agenda (Jeffrey Heller, 5/07/17, Reuters) 

Israel's cabinet breathed new life on Sunday into efforts to anchor in law the country's status as a Jewish state, legislation Palestinians have described as an obstacle to peace.

Sticking Point in Peace Talks: Recognition of a Jewish State (JODI RUDOREN, JAN. 1, 2014, NY Times)

As Middle East peace talks churn on, Israel has catapulted to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

When your ideology looks ugly in the mirror, it's time to change it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Striking graphic reveals the construction of Confederate monuments peaked during the Jim Crow and civil rights eras (The Week, August 15, 2017)
A striking graphic from the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that the majority of Confederate monuments weren't erected until after 1900 -- decades after the Civil War ended in 1865. Notably, the construction of Confederate monuments peaked in the 1910s and 1920s, when states were enacting Jim Crow laws, and later in the 1950s and 1960s, amid the Civil Rights Movement:

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Trump wanted 'facts' before calling out racists. When I was on trial, he didn't care. (Yusef Salaam, August 18, 2017, Washington Post)

In President Trump's instantly infamous Tuesday news conference at Trump Tower, he blasted critics of his slow, equivocating response to Saturday's deadly events in Charlottesville by furiously insisting that one reason for the delay in issuing a statement about the tragedy was that "you don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me and it's an important statement. So I don't want to go quickly, and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement."

He's got a point: When someone is accused of a crime, or of inciting the kind of violence we saw last week in Charlottesville, we should gather the facts and carefully evaluate them before rushing to lay blame.

But here's the thing: I'm one of the Central Park Five. When we were falsely accused of sexual assault, Trump had no qualms about jumping to conclusions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM

IF THEY WALKED MORE THEY'D HAVE MORE (self-reference alert):

WALK THIS WAY : The more we embrace the romanticism of walking, the more we seem to look down on those who walk because they have to. (Simon R. Gardner, AUG--17--2017, The Outline)
The artist Maira Kalman summed up the current popular regard for walking when she said, "Go out and walk. That is the glory of life."

Philosophers and thinkers have long pushed the idea of walking as respite, as a creative fountain -- or as Nietzsche said: "Only thoughts that are reached by walking have value." But what if walking, far from being benign and noble, instead represents just another conflict of our ongoing culture wars, where the forces of progress have whitewashed the past to reach the present? This proxy battle celebrates the walker of leisure and ignores those who walk because they have no other choice.

In philosophical evocations, walking is routinely an experience described, and subscribed to, by those who don't need to walk. Walking is luxury, a high-minded ramble of the enlightened; its elitism hiding behind a ruse of apparent accessibility. 
Exactly what you think about when you think about walking is your own internal indicator of where you live, your status, your wealth, your class. Even walking at its seemingly most egalitarian can be anything but. When the father of America's National Parks, John Muir, declared that "going out was really going in," he was speaking to people with time, to people whose lives weren't monopolized by survival.

Walking is an activity through which the haves are separated from the have-nots. There are the walkers of leisure and the walkers of necessity, who walk to survive, because there is no other way for them to move.

All across the world people walk. They walk in cities not designed for those without means. They walk not as a hobby, or to keep fit, or to save the environment, or to think. They walk out of necessity. While walkers of leisure may strive to escape humanity, "indentured" walkers seek it out; for trade, for food, for communication, for life. The essayist Edward Abbey once described walking as "... the only form of transportation in which a man proceeds erect -- like a man -- on his own legs," forgetting that the walker of necessity is often slumped, tired, searching for satisfaction at the destination, rather than from the act of walking itself.

While I am unquestionably one of the haves, when The Boy got a job this Summer I started walking home the four miles from work so he could have a car.  It wasn't romantic, just sensible.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


Now you can see what Donald Trump sees every time he opens Twitter (Philip Bump August 17 , 2017, Washington Post)

Everyone follows a different group of people, and that colors the information they receive.

To that end, we've created @trumps_feed, an account that checks whom Trump follows every five minutes and then retweets any new tweets from them over that period. The net result is a replication of what Trump would see on those occasions that he switches over from the Mentions tab.

that's just genius.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 PM


Trump's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities put a secret message in their resignation letter (The Week, 8/18/17)

The first letter of each paragraph spells "RESIST," keen-eyed readers on Twitter discovered. Kal Penn, who sat on the committee, confirmed the Easter egg was intentional.

The entirety of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned Friday over Trump's handling of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. "We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisers have, without speaking out against your words and actions," the committee wrote. "Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


We Need Immigrants With Skills. But Working Hard Is a Skill. (JEFF FLAKE, AUG. 18, 2017, NY Times)

Someone recently said, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best."

The man who said that never met Manuel Chaidez.

Manuel was just 16 when he made it from Sonora, Mexico, to the F-Bar, my family's ranch outside the town of Snowflake, in Northern Arizona. I was just a kid, no more than 6 or so, and to me Manuel looked like a full-grown man. He wasn't much more than a kid himself, of course, but he worked as if his family depended on him. They probably did. He couldn't have worked harder if the ranch were his own.

In terms of material possessions, Manuel was an invisible man. His capacity for hard, backbreaking work was his sole credential in life. By no Washington bureaucrat's estimation would he have been judged a "high-value immigrant." He didn't speak much English. He didn't come from money. He hadn't finished high school. He had no technological innovation to his credit, nor had he started a business.

In other words, count Manuel among the 99 percent of immigrants who have ever come to this country, including many of our ancestors, the "wretched refuse" who got here as fast as they could and who made this country what it is once they arrived.

All Manuel had to recommend him was his strength and his belief that America was a place where, by the labor of your hands, you could create a life for yourself. That is all, and that is everything. My dad would occasionally hire some of my high school buddies. The work was so hard that they often washed out after a day or two. Not Manuel.

History doesn't much record the unglamorous and often excruciating work of moving sprinkler pipe, digging ditch, chopping hay or keeping a broken-down feed truck running for just one more year. Manuel did all of that, and so much more (including, one lonely summer, giving me relationship advice as we fixed a tractor on the edge of an alfalfa field). Without such work there is no ranch. Without ranches, my town and towns like it falter. And so in my estimation, Manuel is just about the highest-value immigrant possible, and if we forget that, then we forget something elemental about America.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Bannon: 'The Trump Presidency That We Fought For, and Won, Is Over.' (PETER J. BOYER, 8/18/17, Weekly Standard)
With the departure from the White House of strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who helped shape the so-called nationalist-populist program embraced by Donald Trump in his unlikely path to election, a new phase of the Trump presidency begins. Given Trump's nature, what comes next will hardly be conventional, but it may well be less willfully disruptive--which, to Bannon, had been the point of winning the White House.

"The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over," Bannon said Friday, shortly after confirming his departure.

Who knew it ever started?

Now for Beauregard and then Donald himself....

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Trump and the "Deep State" (Jon D. Michaels, 8/17/17, Foreign Affairs)

One of the strangest aspects of the current era is that the president of the United States seems to have little interest in running the country's government. A political novice with no fixed ideology or policy agenda, Donald Trump took office as if orchestrating a hostile corporate takeover. In his first six-plus months as president, he has followed his own counsel, displaying open contempt for much of the federal work force he now leads, slashing budgets, rescinding regulatory rules, and refusing to follow standard operating procedures. This has cost him allies in the executive branch, helped spur creative (and increasingly effective) bureaucratic opposition, and, thanks to that opposition, triggered multiple investigations that threaten to sap party and congressional support. 

Furious at what they consider treachery by internal saboteurs, the president and his surrogates have responded by borrowing a bit of political science jargon, claiming to be victims of the "deep state," a conspiracy of powerful, unelected bureaucrats secretly pursuing their own agenda. The concept of a deep state is valuable in its original context, the study of developing countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey, where shadowy elites in the military and government ministries have been known to countermand or simply defy democratic directives. Yet it has little relevance to the United States, where governmental power structures are almost entirely transparent, egalitarian, and rule-bound.

The White House is correct to perceive widespread resistance inside the government to many of its endeavors. But the same way the administration's media problems come not from "fake news" but simply from news, so its bureaucratic problems come not from an insidious, undemocratic "deep state" but simply from the state--the large, complex hive of people and procedures that constitute the U.S. federal government. 

...the state is the Deep State and the state is us.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


There Is No Such Thing As White Cultural Heritage. The West's Legacy Is Open To All : Their claims to Western culture--an essentially multi-racial, multi-ethnic legacy--are fake. The alt-right is attacking, not protecting, this culture. (Nathanael Blake, AUGUST 18, 2017, The Federalist)

Is there a common heritage that will cover El Greco and Hume and Dostoyevsky? Is there one that can include the Jacobites and the Jacobins? There is, but it is not racial, and white supremacists reject it because it rejects them. The unifying heritage of Europe is religious and philosophical. It is Jerusalem and Athens, in one famous formulation. Christian religion and Greek philosophy, filtered through Roman law and culture, are the foundation of European culture. The tensions, agreements, developments and settlements between these have shaped the Western world, and these roots of Western civilization are not congenial to white supremacy.

Christianity is universal in its message and Jewish in its origins. For centuries after its founding, Christianity's center was the Mediterranean world, including Asia Minor and North Africa. Christianity has never been defined by race, and locally-grown racist heresies are only sustainable among those ignorant of Christianity's teachings, origins and history.

Greek philosophy is likewise ill-suited to serve as a basis for white identity. It is either too universal (addressing the human condition in general) or too local--none of us live as citizens of an ancient Greek polis. Later philosophical developments in Europe, such as the philosophies of the Enlightenment, likewise tend to be too universal for white supremacists seeking a tribal identity. As for the scientific revolution that developed within Western culture (albeit with much borrowed from outside Europe), math doesn't care what color someone is.

The achievements of European culture in art, literature, philosophy, government, and so on are inseparable from the roots of that culture. Remove the religion and philosophy, and the tapestry of Western culture falls apart, a few disparate threads fluttering to the floor amidst the dust. There is no unified "white" culture or heritage except for that of Western civilization, which is not defined by race and which always reaches beyond race.

Some achievements and developments are only possible under certain cultural conditions, but culture isn't race. Western civilization is not reducible to skin color, and the racist self-declared defenders of European culture are pig-ignorant of it. Indeed, white supremacists hate most of the cultural heritage they ostensibly claim, precisely because it is not defined by, or confined to, any race.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


God or the divine is referenced in every state constitution (ALEKSANDRA SANDSTROM, 8/17/17, Pew)

The U.S. Constitution never explicitly mentions God or the divine, but the same cannot be said of the nation's state constitutions. In fact, God or the divine is mentioned at least once in each of the 50 state constitutions and nearly 200 times overall, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

And God is implicit in the Preamble : "Blessings of Liberty"

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Democrats Are Preparing To Run Against Mike Pence In 2020 (Tarini Parti, 8/17/17, BuzzFeed News)

Democrats are already preparing for a possible 2020 presidential bid by Vice President Mike Pence, with a major group dedicating staff -- including on the ground in Indiana -- to dig up dirt on him, amid rumblings that Pence is positioning himself for a run.

American Bridge 21st Century -- a Democratic opposition super PAC and nonprofit funded by liberal mega-donors -- is leading the effort, which started earlier this summer and kicked into high gear following a New York Times story reporting on Pence's "shadow campaign."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


How Donald Trump's plan to create a foreign policy revolution fell apart : The new administration has failed abjectly to forge any new Trump doctrine or foreign policy grand strategy, centered around his 'America first' vision (Andrew Hammond, 8/18/17, Independent)

Thus far the new administration has failed abjectly to forge any new Trump doctrine or foreign policy grand strategy, centered around his "America first" vision. Instead of clarity, there has been policy incoherence and U-turns on issues such as military action in Syria - a departure from Trump's isolationist campaign rhetoric; whether Nato is "obsolete" or "not obsolete"; and also confusion over his stance on the Paris deal.

These flip-flops reflect both the ad-hoc nature of the new President's style of governing and the divisions within his team on key foreign policy issues.

Take the Paris climate deal. Top Trump aides like son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wanted the US to remain part of the agreement. Trump, for his part, has combined longstanding criticism of the pact with apparent uncertainty about exactly where he stands on it.

In June, he finally gave notice he was pulling the United States out of the deal, yet when he met French President Emmanuel Macron last month Trump indicated he may yet reverse course, saying that "something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. Let's see what happens". This potential flip flop comes after intense criticism by world political and business leaders of Washington's abdication of leadership in tackling global warming. 

What the global backlash to Trump's Paris prevarication underlines is the dramatic shift in international opinion against his administration.

A Pew Global poll found last month that around three quarters of those surveyed had little or no confidence in his international leadership and policies. Remarkably, he already enjoys less support than did George W Bush at the height of his own foreign policy travails after the controversy of the Iraq invasion.

Other key strands of Trump's specific vision to make "America great again", that have - so far at least - failed to materialise include ending or renegotiating the Iranian nuclear agreement; and his pledges to re-define relations with Russia which have been set back by the new US sanctions legislation on Russia in which he was outmanoeuvred by Congress. In all these cases, Trump's plans have hit the reality of the complexity of international relations and/ or US checks and balances.  

Trump's political window of opportunity to put an enduring stamp on US foreign policy is narrowing. His ad hoc style of governing, which regularly exposes lack of experience and knowledge of international issues, risks even greater confusion and incoherence. 

Hating foreigners isn't actually a plan.

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Hyundai shifts to long-range premium electric cars (REUTERS, AUGUST 17, 2017)

Hyundai Motor Co said on Thursday it was placing electric vehicles at the center of its product strategy - one that includes plans for a premium long-distance electric car as it seeks to catch up to Tesla and other rivals.

Like Toyota Motor Corp, Hyundai had initially championed fuel cell technology as the future of eco-friendly vehicles but has found itself shifting electric as Tesla shot to prominence and battery-powered cars have gained government backing in China.

Toyota is now also working on longer distance, fast-charging electric vehicles, local media have reported.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Three fundraising giants cancel plans for galas at Mar-a-Lago (Drew Harwell, David A. Fahrenthold, August 17, 2017, Washington Post)

Three fundraising giants decided to pull events from President Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach on Thursday, signaling a direct blowback to his business empire from his comments on Charlottesville's racial unrest.

The American Cancer Society, a high-dollar client at the club since at least 2009, cited its "values and commitment to diversity" in a statement on its decision to move an upcoming fundraising gala. Another longtime Mar-a-Lago customer, the Cleveland Clinic, abruptly changed course on its winter event only days after saying it planned to continue doing business at Mar-a-Lago, a leading venue for charitable events in the posh resort town.

The American Friends of Magen David Adom, which raises money for Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross, also said it would not hold its 2018 gala at the club "after considerable deliberation," though it did not give a reason. The charity had one of Mar-a-Lago's biggest events last season, with about 600 people in attendance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Hezbollah says Barcelona attacker 'tarnishing jihad' (TIMES OF ISRAEL,  August 18, 2017)

"Targeting innocent civilians and killing them is part of a satanic plot being carried out by those terrorists, which aims at tarnishing the concept of jihad and sullying the image of Islam," Hezbollah said.

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Machines, not Americans, could replace immigrant workers (Patrick Gillespie, 8/18/17, CNNMoney)

Jim Bogart sees a growing trend in his patch of America: Farmers are turning more and more to machines because they can't find enough workers to harvest fruits and vegetables.

It's an issue costing California farmers millions of dollars and, they argue, it will eventually mean higher food prices at supermarkets.

"With the shortage of workers, we have to develop other means to help us grow, harvest and process our crops -- robotics, mechanization, automation," says Bogart, who is president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.

The farmers in Bogart's area aren't alone. Farmers across the state are investing more in robots and other automated technologies as they struggle to fill job openings, according to a Federal Reserve survey published in July.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Navy to discipline top officers over USS Fitzgerald crash (The Week, 8/18/17)

Adm. William F. Moran, vice chief of naval operations, told reporters Thursday that about a dozen sailors who were aboard the USS Fitzgerald when it collided with a container ship June 17 off the coast of Japan, killing seven crew members, will face disciplinary action, including the top two officers and top enlisted sailor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Arnold Schwarzenegger, who grew up around 'broken' and defeated Nazis, has some blunt advice for the alt-right (and Trump) (Catherine Garcia, August 17, 2017, The Week)

More interesting was his "blunt" message to "the neo-Nazis and to the white supremacists and to the neo-Confederates," which began: "Your heroes are losers. You are supporting a lost cause. Believe me, I knew the original Nazis." He explained that he was born in Austria in 1947, right after World War II, and growing up he "was surrounded by broken men, men who came home from the war filled with shrapnel and guilt, men who were misled into a losing ideology. And I can tell you that these ghosts that you idolize spent the rest of their lives living in shame. And right now, they're resting in hell." He said it isn't too late to change course, and he wasn't buying Trump's "fine people" excuse for the Charlottesville marchers.

"If you say 'Arnold, hey, I was just at the march, don't call me a Nazi, I have nothing to do with Nazis at all,'" Schwarzenegger said, "let me help you: Don't hang around people who carry Nazi flags, give Nazi salutes, or shout Nazi slogans. Go home. Or better yet, tell them they are wrong to celebrate an ideology that murdered millions of people. And then go home."

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Roger Taney statue removed from Maryland State House grounds overnight (Pamela Wood, 8/18/17, The Baltimore Sun)

Under the cover of night, a work crew removed the statue of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from the grounds of the State House, ending the monument's 145-year perch on the prominent spot in Annapolis. [...]

Taney was chief justice of the United States and author of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery and found that black Americans could not be citizens. [...]

About two-dozen onlookers gathered around the street as word spread that the statue might come down. About 1:20 a.m., sprinklers turned on, dousing onlookers and workers until the water was shut off about 15 minutes later.

Gwen Norman of Baltimore happened upon the crowd watching the removal of the statue after a night out in Annapolis with friends.

She was pleased that Baltimore had removed its Taney statue and three Confederate monuments, and felt fortunate to witness the Taney removal in Annapolis.

"It was a beautiful thing to wake up and see something so beautiful happened when I was asleep," said Norman, 27.

"It was nice to see Annapolis get prettier tonight," said her companion, 30-year-old Ian Wolfe of Frederick. [...]
Miller, who does not support removing the statue, sent a letter to Hogan Thursday evening saying the vote lacked transparency because it was held by email rather than in public. [...]

Miller said the installation of a statue of late Justice Thurgood Marshall -- the first African-American appointed to the high court -- on the opposite side of the State House was "a very public and purposeful compromise to give balance to the State House grounds recognizing our State and our Country have a flawed history." that it's okay to honor evil because you added one honoring good?

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Apple denounces neo-Nazis as Spotify bans 'white power' tracks (Samuel Gibbs, 17 August 2017, The Guardian)

Apple, LinkedIn, Spotify and Twitter have joined a growing chorus of technology companies to hit out at the far right and Donald Trump's attempt to put white supremacists and leftwing counter-demonstrators at Saturday's Charlottesville protest on the same moral plane.

Following the lead of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google, Go Daddy and others, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged $1m donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League and sent a strongly worded memo to staff, quoting Martin Luther King, about the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday.

"We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it," Cook wrote. "This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality.

"I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans."

Similarly, the OKC bombing allowed Janet Reno to crush the militia movement.
Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Russian Cosmonauts Release First Satellite Made Mostly By 3-D Printer (Radio Liberty, August 18, 2017)

Russian cosmonauts released a satellite made almost entirely with a 3-D printer on August 17 in a first for the space program.

Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergei Ryazansky sent into orbit five small satellites on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station, one of which had an exterior casing and battery packs made with a 3-D printer.

August 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 PM


The Republicans who want to legalize running over protesters (Catherine Rampell, August 17, 2017, wASHINGTON pOST)

This year, Republican lawmakers in at least six states have proposed bills designed to protect drivers who strike protesters. The first bill was introduced in North Dakota in January, and similar bills have since come under consideration in North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Rhode Island.

They were joined by other states trying to discourage protests -- typically relating to Black Lives Matter, the Dakota Access Pipeline or other left-leaning causes -- that sometimes obstruct traffic.

The North Dakota bill would shield drivers from civil and criminal liability. The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Keith Kempenich, perversely suggested that shielding drivers who kill protesters was a necessary anti-terrorism measure.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 PM


Let the people of Boston decide the fate of Yawkey Way (Dan Wetzel, 8/17/17, Yahoo Sports)

The Red Sox were the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate, in 1959, a full 12 seasons after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Brooklyn. Yawkey was so opposed to employing a black player, he chose, for a dozen seasons, to run his team at a decided competitive disadvantage. He demonstrably cared more about having an all-white team than winning.

He actually could have signed Robinson. In 1945, Boston politicians forced the Red Sox to have a tryout for African-American players under threat that they wouldn't allow games to be played on Sunday. Robinson was one of three players brought to a sham of a workout. Robinson impressed the assembled media and some scouts, but never stood a chance with Yawkey.

Instead, Robinson soon signed a minor-league deal with Brooklyn, joined the majors a season later and went on to an iconic, Hall of Fame career. Pair him with Williams in the middle of the late 1940s Red Sox lineup, and perhaps that Red Sox World Series drought ends six decades earlier.

John Henry is a great baseball owner. In 2002 he bought the Sox from the Yawkey Trust and has delivered three World Series titles, a modernized Fenway Park and a complete overhaul in the team's racial progressiveness.

Yet he can't get over that in 1977, the City of Boston honored the then-recently deceased Yawkey by renaming a tight sliver of a street that runs along the left field line outside Fenway after him. Yawkey Way has been its name ever since. These days, during the season, it is shut down and used as a pregame fan gathering, drinking and dining spot.

"Haunted," Henry said in an email to the Boston Herald, citing Yawkey's racism.

And he'd like to see the street name changed to something else. The Red Sox don't own the street. The city does, so it's not an organizational decision. Henry said city politicians have rebuffed him in the past because they didn't want to "open a can of worms."

After incidents and a terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, and "in light of the country's current leadership stance with regard to intolerance," Henry said he is going to try to open that can all by himself. Here's a billionaire businessman going after Donald Trump via Tom Yawkey Way.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Why Trump's NAFTA Strategy Is a Surefire Failure (Patrick Smith, August 18, 2017, Fiscal Times)

This is Trump's moment of truth on trade, one of his premier issues. But even before Lighthizer sat down at the table, it was almost certain "America First" and "Made in America" will remain empty promises when the NAFTA talks end in January.

One obvious reason: Mexico and Canada have a lot at stake, too, both politically and economically. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto faces an election next summer. Justin Trudeau has to bring something back to Canada for restive industrial lobbies, greens, and other interest groups. Everyone goes home a winner is the name of this game. And nobody can win much of consequence unless there is a loser on the other end.

The 1994 pact could use an update. Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau's foreign minister, is looking for a "modernized NAFTA" come January, and all sides are in for this. This means topics such as rules of origin, local content, e-commerce technology, and emerging products such as batteries that drive electric cars will be on the table this fall. The new NAFTA will have new sections, but it won't in any way be a radically new path forward.

Trump promised too much, and nobody in his administration -- not Lighthizer, not Wilbur Ross at Commerce -- has yanked him into reality. They all seem to be going at the trade question with bad strategy and very misguided tactics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Editor of Pro-Trump Journal Regrets Voting for Trump (Rich Lowry, August 17, 2017, National Review)

This is a little like David French going full MAGA. Julius Krein, who founded a journal devoted to defending Trumpism, is off the Trump train:

When Donald Trump first announced his presidential campaign, I, like most people, thought it would be a short-lived publicity stunt. A month later, though, I happened to catch one of his political rallies on C-Span. I was riveted.

I supported the Republican in dozens of articles, radio and TV appearances, even as conservative friends and colleagues said I had to be kidding. As early as September 2015, I wrote that Mr. Trump was "the most serious candidate in the race." Critics of the pro-Trump blog and then the nonprofit journal that I founded accused us of attempting to "understand Trump better than he understands himself." I hoped that was the case. I saw the decline in this country -- its weak economy and frayed social fabric -- and I thought Mr. Trump's willingness to move past partisan stalemates could begin a process of renewal.

It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can't stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president.

Far from making America great again, Mr. Trump has betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship. And his actions are jeopardizing any prospect of enacting an agenda that might restore the promise of American life.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM



For the second consecutive year, New Hampshire ranks as the No. 1 state for families to live richer lives, finds a new study by personal finance website GOBankingRates. [...]

 The rankings were determined by analyzing 12 key factors grouped into the following five categories:

Jobs and Income: Median household income and state unemployment rate.

Housing: Median home listing price and state property tax rate.

Lifestyle: State tax rate, annual child care costs, cost of groceries and school district grade.

Healthcare: Average family health insurance premium and percentage of employer contribution to employee health insurance.

Safety: Annual Violent crime rates and property crime rates.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Donald Trump has no grasp of what it means to be president (The Economist, Aug 19th 2017)

Far from being the saviour of the Republic, their president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.

Start with the ineptness. In last year's presidential election Mr Trump campaigned against the political class to devastating effect. Yet this week he has bungled the simplest of political tests: finding a way to condemn Nazis. Having equivocated at his first press conference on Saturday, Mr Trump said what was needed on Monday and then undid all his good work on Tuesday--briefly uniting Fox News and Mother Jones in their criticism, surely a first. As business leaders started to resign enmasse from his advisory panels, the White House disbanded them. Mr Trump did, however, earn the endorsement of David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. [...]

Mr Trump's inept politics stem from a moral failure. Some counter-demonstrators were indeed violent, and Mr Trump could have included harsh words against them somewhere in his remarks. But to equate the protest and the counter-protest reveals his shallowness. Video footage shows marchers carrying fascist banners, waving torches, brandishing sticks and shields, chanting "Jews will not replace us". Footage of the counter-demonstration mostly shows average citizens shouting down their opponents. And they were right to do so: white supremacists and neo-Nazis yearn for a society based on race, which America fought a world war to prevent. Mr Trump's seemingly heartfelt defence of those marching to defend Confederate statues spoke to the degree to which white grievance and angry, sour nostalgia is part of his world view.

At the root of it all is Mr Trump's temperament. In difficult times a president has a duty to unite the nation. Mr Trump tried in Monday's press conference, but could not sustain the effort for even 24 hours because he cannot get beyond himself. A president needs to rise above the point-scoring and to act in the national interest. Mr Trump cannot see beyond the latest slight. Instead of grasping that his job is to honour the office he inherited, Mr Trump is bothered only about honouring himself and taking credit for his supposed achievements.

Presidents have come in many forms and still commanded the office. Ronald Reagan had a moral compass and the self-knowledge to delegate political tactics. LBJ was a difficult man but had the skill to accomplish much that was good. Mr Trump has neither skill nor self-knowledge, and this week showed that he does not have the character to change.

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In One Tweet, Donald Trump Just Spread Fake History, Libeled a Hero, and Admired an Alleged War Crime (David French, August 17, 2017, National Review)

There are multiple problems with this story. First, it's false. There's no evidence Pershing did such a thing. In fact, he got the history exactly backwards. Pershing worked hard to avoid inflaming religious fanaticism and worked hard to avoid unnecessary loss of life. For example, read this excerpt from a letter Pershing wrote to the insurgents. The language comes from his own memoir:

I write you this letter because I am sorry to know that you and your people refuse to do what the government has ordered. You do not give up your arms. Soldiers were sent to Taglibi so that you could come into camp and turn in your guns. When the soldiers went to camp a Taglibi, your Moros fired into camp and tried to kill the soldiers. Then the soldiers had to shoot all Moros who fired upon them. When the soldiers marched through the country, the Moros again shot at them, so the soldiers had to kill several others. I am sorry the soldiers had to kill any Moros. All Moros are the same to me as my children and no father wants to kill his own children.

Those are not the words of a man who commits a religious war crime. A comprehensive report over at Snopes contains a number of other, similar reports in Pershing's own words. Simply put, Trump libeled an American hero, the man who led American troops through the crucible of the First World War. The president who relentlessly attacks "fake news" keeps advancing "fake history."

Trump isn't just spreading falsehoods, he's doing so in a context that puts a presidential stamp of approval on war crimes. Even worse, he's doing it in direct defiance of the warrior ethos of the American military. There is no possible way that any of Trump's generals would approve of this sentiment. I've never met an American officer who would carry out an order to commit an atrocity like this.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Paste Sessions: Watch Taj Mahal and Keb Mo Play a Century's Worth of Blues : The pair visited Paste this week to perform songs from their new album, Tajmo. (Matthew Oshinsky,  August 17, 2017, Paste)

Paste was thrilled to host two blues legends this week when Taj Mahal and Keb Mo brought their new collaborative project to our Midtown Manhattan studio for an intimate performance and a masterclass on the life of blues music.

The duo have a new album, the aptly titled Tajmo, out now, and it showcases everything that has made each of them a torchbearer for American music over the past few decades. Taj Mahal has been representing and redefining blues music since 1968, when he released his first album, Taj Mahal, an eclectic mix of traditional songs and modern revamps. With its authentic renditions of songs originally recorded by masters like Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell and Elmore James, Taj Mahal provided a vital bridge from the delta blues of the 1930s to the blues-indebted rock of psychedelic '60s, helping the music stretch its legs into the 1970s and become part of the permanent fabric of rock.

Twenty-five years later, Keb Mo emerged with the blues resurgence of the early '90s, reaching back to Robert Johnson and the deepest roots of the music just as another generation was coming around to the origin story of American songwriting. If their music is steeped in tradition, though, their personal touches are anything but derivative. Both men have spent many years and many albums infusing the blues format with sounds and styles taken from the far corners of the music world, from reggae to folk to calypso to rock 'n' roll, each with an immediately recognizable voice and guitar-picking style.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


GOP Senator: Trump Lacking 'Stability,' 'Competence' To Succeed (Arnie Seipel, 8/17/17, NPR)

A leading Republican senator told reporters on Thursday that President Trump "has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful."

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was at the Rotary Club of Chattanooga and spoke to local reporters there. In video posted by Chloe Morrison of, Corker added, "And we need for him to be successful. Our nation needs for him to be successful."

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


In Ukraine, a Malware Expert Who Could Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking (ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW HIGGINSAUG. 16, 2017, NY Times)

The hacker, known only by his online alias "Profexer," kept a low profile. He wrote computer code alone in an apartment and quietly sold his handiwork on the anonymous portion of the internet known as the dark web. Last winter, he suddenly went dark entirely.

Profexer's posts, already accessible only to a small band of fellow hackers and cybercriminals looking for software tips, blinked out in January -- just days after American intelligence agencies publicly identified a program he had written as one tool used in Russian hacking in the United States. American intelligence agencies have determined Russian hackers were behind the electronic break-in of the Democratic National Committee.

But while Profexer's online persona vanished, a flesh-and-blood person has emerged: a fearful man who the Ukrainian police said turned himself in early this year, and has now become a witness for the F.B.I.

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Trump publicly defends "beautiful" Confederate statues (Shane Savitsky, 8/17/17, Axios)

In a series of three tweets over 14 minutes this morning, President Trump doubled down on his controversial rhetoric from his Tuesday press conference, calling the removal of Confederate statues a contributing factor to "the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart."

Statues celebrating guys who literally ripped our country apart to try to preserve asociety based on chattel slavery....

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


A new survey says doctors are warming up to single-payer health care (RACHEL BLUTH, 8/17/17,  KAISER HEALTH NEWS)

Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm. In its 2008 survey, opinions ran the opposite way -- 58 percent opposed single-payer. What's changed?

Red tape, doctors tell Merritt Hawkins. Phillip Miller, the firm's vice president of communications, said that in the thousands of conversations its employees have with doctors each year, physicians often say they are tired of dealing with billing and paperwork, which takes time away from patients.

"Physicians long for the relative clarity and simplicity of single-payer. In their minds, it would create less distractions, taking care of patients -- not reimbursement," Miller said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Capitalist Reforms Are Boosting Prosperity in the Baltics (Daniel J. Mitchell, August 17, 2017, FEE)

The European Central Bank has released some very interesting analysis on the economic performance of these countries.

The Baltic States have been able to maintain an impressive rate of convergence towards the average EU per capita income over the past 20 years. ...these three countries have each pursued a strongly free-market and pro-business economic agenda... The three countries are different in many ways, but share a number of key features: very high levels of trade and financial openness and very high labour mobility; high economic flexibility with wage bargaining mainly at firm level; relatively good institutional framework conditions; and low levels of public debt.

And this has translated into strong growth, which has resulted in higher incomes.

The Baltic States are among the few euro area countries (along with Slovakia) in which real GDP per capita in purchasing power standard (PPS) terms has shown substantial convergence towards the EU average over the last 20 years. While in 1995 their average per capita income (in PPS) stood at only around 28% of the EU15 average, in 2015 it reached 66.5% (see Chart A).

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Joint Chiefs Denounce Racism After Trump's Comments (JAMES DOUBEK, 8/17/17, NPR)

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, high-ranking military officials who advise the president, appeared to distance themselves from President Trump by publicly condemning racism in the aftermath of Trump's comments about the attack in Charlottesville.

Five of the country's top uniformed leaders -- of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and National Guard -- have all sent tweets critical of "racism," "hatred" and "extremism," after a man who reportedly expressed admiration for Nazism allegedly drove a car into a crowd of people protesting against white supremacy Saturday. One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed, and 19 others were injured.

Under normal circumstances, it would be alarming the way generals barely acknowledge that the commander-in-chief exists. Under these extraordinary, ones it is heartening.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Trump's 7 months of self-destruction (Mike Allen  Jim VandeHei, 8/17/17, Axios)

Trump started with a pretty clean slate but has methodically alienated:

*The public: Gallup has his approval at 34%, down from 46% just after the inauguration.
*Republican congressional leaders -- Senate Majority Mitch McConnell in particular.
*Every Democrat who could help him do a deal.
*The media.
*World leaders.
*African Americans.
*Military leaders.
*The intelligence community.
*His own staff.

And who's happy?

*Steve Bannon.
*Saudi Arabia.
*David Duke.

At some point you just have to accept the simplest explanation: the former are his foes; the latter his constituents.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


End of the checkout line: the looming crisis for American cashiers (Julia Carrie Wong,  16 August 2017, The Guardian)

A recent analysis by Cornerstone Capital Group suggests that 7.5m retail jobs - the most common type of job in the country - are at "high risk of computerization", with the 3.5m cashiers likely to be particularly hard hit.

Another report, by McKinsey, suggests that a new generation of high tech grocery stores that automatically charge customers for the goods they take - no check-out required - and use robots for inventory and stocking could reduce the number of labor hours needed by nearly two-thirds. It all translates into millions of Americans' jobs under threat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Unlike His Predecessors, Trump Steps Back From a Moral Judgment (MARK LANDLER, AUG. 16, 2017, NY Times)

In fact, Mr. Trump's predecessors, going back to George Washington, have all tried, with varying degrees of success, to summon Americans to a higher moral purpose. [...]

If anything, the president's role as a moral arbiter has only deepened in recent decades, as American society has become more secular, more racially and ethnically diverse, and more atomized by the splintering of mass media and the rise of social media.

"Especially in modern times, with instant communications, many Americans are inclined to look to a president for guidance on what to think about crucial issues," the historian Michael Beschloss said. "A president must always speak with an intense degree of moral sensitivity."

When Jimmy Carter was asked in 1978 whether he planned to use the moral weight of his office to block American neo-Nazis from marching in Skokie, Ill., a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago, he replied that it was up to the courts. But he added, "I wish that this demonstration of an abhorrent political and social philosophy would not be present at all."

Ronald Reagan famously spoke of America as a moral lodestar -- a "shining city on a hill." In his farewell address in 1989, he said, "She's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home."

George W. Bush, addressing Congress days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, issued a call to arms against the Islamic extremists who brought down the World Trade Center. But he coupled it with an appeal to avoid a broader attack on Islam.

"We respect your faith," Mr. Bush said. "It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."

Mr. Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, appealed to the best in Americans through a heartbreaking succession of police shootings and racially motivated killings. He often invoked the notion of grace -- never more indelibly than in Charleston, S.C., after a white supremacist gunned down nine people, all African Americans, during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"We don't earn grace, but we choose how to receive it. We decide how to honor it," Mr. Obama said, before leading a memorial service in the hymn "Amazing Grace."

"Justice," he said, "grows out of recognition, of ourselves in others; that my liberty depends on my respect for yours; that history must not be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past."

None of Mr. Trump's predecessors lived up to the moral standards they set. Franklin Roosevelt interned 125,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mr. Bush's war in Iraq inflamed America's relations with the Islamic world. Mr. Obama, who spoke fervently about the need for the United States to intervene on humanitarian grounds in foreign conflicts -- "inaction tears at our conscience," he said in 2009 -- failed to do so in war-torn Syria.

In some cases -- Richard M. Nixon's abuse of power and Bill Clinton's personal transgressions -- the moral shortcomings were great.

But until now, no president has rejected the very concept of moral leadership. On Saturday, in his first response to Charlottesville, Mr. Trump condemned the violence "on many sides." Then he lapsed into the passive voice, expressing, as he has before, a sense of futility that the divisions between Americans would ever be healed.

"It's been going on for a long time in our country," he said. "Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time."

Donald is our first secular president and, as such, it is hardly surprising that he fails to comprehend morality.

August 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 PM


Trump in 1989 Central Park Five interview: "Maybe hate is what we need" (Andrew Kaczynski and Jon Sarlin, 10/10/16, CNN)

Donald Trump this week stood by his controversial role in pushing for the death penalty following New York City's infamous 1989 "Central Park Five" case, telling CNN's Miguel Marquez, "They admitted they were guilty."

In an interview with Larry King in 1989 unearthed from CNN's archives, Trump laid out his position, telling King, "maybe hate is what we need if we're gonna get something done."

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 PM


Angry White Boys : What do the white nationalists actually want? (Kevin D. Williamson, August 16, 2017. nATIONAL rEVIEW)

[A] great many of these young men have an interest in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology -- they like to think of themselves as "alpha males," as though they were living in a chimpanzee troop -- but it never occurs to them to consider their own status as rejects and failed men in that context. Online fantasy lives notwithstanding, random girls do not want to have sex with them. How do we know this? Because they are carrying tiki torches in a giant dork parade in Charlottesville. There's no prom queen waiting at home. If we credit their own sociobiological model, they are the superfluous males who would have been discarded, along with their genetic material, by the pitiless state of nature. The fantasy of proving that they are something else is why they dream of violence and confrontation. They are the products of the soft liberal-democratic society they hold in contempt -- and upon which they depend, utterly. James Alex Fields Jr. is angry at the world, and angry at his mother, probably for the same reason.

What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up -- to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians -- may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That's the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn't politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis. Their online personas -- knights, Vikings, reincarnations of Charles Martel -- will be familiar enough to anybody with a Dungeons and Dragons nerd in his life. But sometimes, role-playing around a card table isn't enough: Sometimes, you need a stage and an audience. In the theater, actors and audience both can forget ourselves for an hour or two. Under the soft glow of the tiki torches, these angry white boys can be something else -- for a night.

As Eric Hoffer put it : The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 PM


The Breitbart Presidency (RICH LOWRY, August 16, 2017, Politico)

It doesn't take political skill or crisis-management ability to show largeness of heart. It doesn't require knowledge to demonstrate basic moral discernment. It doesn't take a Demosthenes or a Churchill to say the appropriate things about a couple of hundred racist goons. Future historians will marvel that one of the most damaging events in the early Trump administration came in a botched response to a neo-Nazi rally. Even Jake and Elwood Blues could have gotten this right.

Over the past few days, Trump hasn't spoken as the leader of the country, or even leader of one party, but as a leader of an inflamed faction. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 PM


Trump Lawyer Forwards Email Echoing Secessionist Rhetoric (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MATT APUZZO, AUG. 16, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump's personal lawyer on Wednesday forwarded an email to conservative journalists, government officials and friends that echoed secessionist Civil War propaganda and declared that the group Black Lives Matter "has been totally infiltrated by terrorist groups."

The email forwarded by John Dowd, who is leading the president's legal team, painted the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in glowing terms and equated the South's rebellion to that of the American Revolution against England.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Trump's business advisory councils disband as CEOs abandon president over Charlottesville views (Damian Paletta and Jena McGregor August 16, 2017, wASHINGTON pOST)

[T]hose groups had already decided to dissolve on their own earlier in the day, a person familiar with the process said. JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, a member of the Strategy & Policy Forum, told employees in a note on Wednesday that his group decided to disband following Trump's news conference on Tuesday, in which he appeared to show sympathy for some of the people who marched alongside the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Steve Bannon, Unrepentant (ROBERT KUTTNER, AUGUST 16, 2017, The Prospect)

But what about his internal adversaries, at the departments of State and Defense, who think the United States can enlist Beijing's aid on the North Korean standoff, and at Treasury and the National Economic Council who don't want to mess with the trading system?

"Oh, they're wetting themselves," he said, explaining that the Section 301 complaint, which was put on hold when the war of threats with North Korea broke out, was shelved only temporarily, and will be revived in three weeks. As for other cabinet departments, Bannon has big plans to marginalize their influence.

"I'm changing out people at East Asian Defense; I'm getting hawks in. I'm getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State."

But can Bannon really win that fight internally?

"That's a fight I fight every day here," he said. "We're still fighting. There's Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying."

"We gotta do this. The president's default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don't get me wrong. It's like, every day."

Bannon explained that his strategy is to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right. Hence the phone call to me.

There are a couple of things that are startling about this premise. First, to the extent that most of the opponents of Bannon's China trade strategy are other Trump administration officials, it's not clear how reaching out to the left helps him. If anything, it gives his adversaries ammunition to characterize Bannon as unreliable or disloyal.

More puzzling is the fact that Bannon would phone a writer and editor of a progressive publication (the cover lines on whose first two issues after Trump's election were "Resisting Trump" and "Containing Trump") and assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism.

The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up. This is also puzzling, since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He's probably the most media-savvy person in America.

What Steve Bannon thinks about Charlottesville (Jonathan Swan, 8/16/17, Axios)

Today, Bannon reveled in the disbanding of the president's business council, seeing this as yet more evidence that the Trump administration is at odds with the "Davos crowd," as Bannon often calls these corporate elites, in a voice dripping with contempt.

Bannon saw Trump's now-infamous Tuesday afternoon press conference not as the lowest point in his presidency, but as a "defining moment," where Trump decided to fully abandon the "globalists" and side with "his people."

Per a source with knowledge: "Steve was proud of how [Trump] stood up to the braying mob of reporters" in the Tuesday press conference.

This account of Bannon's thinking has come from conversations with his friends and associates who've been in touch with him since the racist carnage in Charlottesville.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


HOW TO IMPROVE THE PRIMARY PROCESS? MAKE IT LESS DEMOCRATIC. : It sounds counterintuitive--and would be a hard sell--but making the way the two major political parties nominate candidates less traditionally democratic could also make it more open to compromise and negotiation. (SETH MASKETAUG 11, 2017, Pacific Standard)

[E]ven if Sanders had beaten Trump, the current primary process still gives too much power to the whims of the people. The Republican Party, in many ways, provided us with a real service last year by showing us what can happen when the party-democracy pendulum swings too far in one direction. The product of that is Trump, a man who not only rejects much of what his party believes in and actively undermines that party's leadership, but who is also proving to be a highly flawed and divisive president and is facing an unusually strong chance of impeachment or resignation.

Arguing for less-direct voter control of nominations--or of anything, really--is a tough sell in American politics. But quite a few people are or will be open to dramatic reforms in the way we nominate presidential candidates this year. So it's time to make the argument.

It might not be popular, but the lesson of 2016 was that parties should be allowed to be parties. They don't have to make decisions in secret, but they should still make decisions, rather than outsourcing those decisions to voters.

Georgetown University political scientist Hans Noel has proposed a series of fairly modest reforms that could change the way our parties nominate presidents by making the process more amenable to negotiation and compromise. His proposals are threefold:

*Make the primaries and caucuses proportional rather than winner-take-all. That means that, if a candidate wins 40 percent of Ohio's primary vote, she gets 40 percent of the delegates from that state, not all of them. This makes it less likely that a candidate will clinch the nomination prior to the convention, meaning a candidate's supporters would still need to negotiate with other campaigns to get the nomination.

*Shorten the time between the first and last primaries and caucuses so that candidates who aren't necessarily winning in fundraising might still make it to the end. This would mean more viable candidates still in play at the convention, forcing party insiders to negotiate on a nominee and review the candidates' various strengths and weaknesses.

*Make contests less about the candidates and more about the delegates. This could include unbinding delegates from the voters' choices.

Personally, I'd be in favor of just getting rid of any formal delegate pledges, functionally making every delegate super. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Blind Boys of Alabama: Almost Home Review (Santi Elijah Holley,  August 15, 2017, Paste)

The original Blind Boys of Alabama came up in the Jim Crow South, having first met at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. They released their first single in 1948, "I Can See Everybody's Mother but Mine," introducing a new style of "hard gospel" music. The group has persevered through as many changes in musical tastes as musical formats, but the new millennium has been their most commercially and critically successful period, racking up numerous awards and accolades, including five Grammys. Their first album in three years, Almost Home comes after a run of collaborative albums with Ben Harper, Taj Mahal, and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, which blended the religious with the secular to attract a different (read: younger) audience. This new album, however, isn't out to gain new converts; it is a parting gift to the faithful.

Drawing largely from extensive interviews with Fountain and Carter, the 12 songs on Almost Home were penned by multiple songwriters, including Ruthie Foster, Cris Jacobs, Valerie June and Phil Cook. Though written by other hands, the songs selected for this album sound distinctly, and often grievously, autobiographical. The title track, "Stay on the Gospel Side," written by Marc Cohn and John Leventhal, was based on Fountain's reminisces about suffering mistreatment as a youth at the school for the blind, before finding salvation through gospel music.

Once one of the world's greatest gospel shouters, Fountain--now lacking the strength to sing lead--has other longtime band member Ben Moore step in: "Well, my work is done, and I'm finally going home to see my maker / Nothing scares me in this world no more, not the devil or the undertaker," Moore sings. "I'll finally see my father's face / Hold my mother close, and feel her grace."

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


What Happened to Trump's Infrastructure Boom? Spending Is Actually Falling (Rob Garver, August 15, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Promises of huge increases in federal infrastructure spending were a regular feature of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and his inaugural address evoked images of gleaming new airports, modern energy delivery systems and improved highways and bridges. In the White House, he has repeatedly echoed those promises, even announcing an "Infrastructure Week" that, as it turned out, was overshadowed by testimony from former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey about his interactions with Trump.

Now, well past six months into his term, the construction industry would like to know where those infrastructure dollars are. While a slowly improving economy has been helping to improve the fortunes of contractors and associated businesses over the first half of this year, spending by federal, state and local governments has had almost nothing to do with it.

"Construction spending is still increasing overall but growth has become much more uneven across categories in recent months," said Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for the Associated General Contractors of America in a statement earlier this month. "There has been a steep decline in public investment in nearly all types of construction over the past year."

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


What Trump Gets Wrong About Antifa (PETER BEINART, 8/16/17, The Atlantic)

The movement traces its roots to the militant leftists who in the 1920s and 1930s brawled with fascists on the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. It revived in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, when anti-racist punks in Britain and Germany mobilized to defeat Neo-Nazi skinheads who were infiltrating the music scene. Via punk, groups calling themselves anti-racist action--and later, anti-fascist action or antifa--sprung up in the United States. They have seen explosive growth in the Trump era for an obvious reason: There's more open white supremacism to mobilize against.

As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifa activists generally combat white supremacism not by trying to change government policy but through direct action. They try to publicly identify white supremacists and get them fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments. And they disrupt white-supremacist rallies, including by force.

As I argued in my essay, some of their tactics are genuinely troubling. They're troubling tactically because conservatives use antifa's violence to justify--or at least distract from--the violence of white supremacists, as Trump did in his press conference. They're troubling strategically because they allow white supremacists to depict themselves as victims being denied the right to freely assemble. And they're troubling morally because antifa activists really do infringe upon that right. By using violence, they reject the moral legacy of the civil-rights movement's fight against white supremacy. And by seeking to deny racists the ability to assemble, they reject the moral legacy of the ACLU, which in 1977 went to the Supreme Court to defend the right of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois.

The Bill of Rights limits what government can do to prevent hate speech, not what the citizenry can do to the speakers.  That's up to a prosecutor and a jury.  One suspects there would be plenty of likely nullifiers in any pool.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Why Trump Blames "Both Sides" For Charlottesville (SARAH KENDZIOR, 8/16/17, Fast Company)

To the surprise of no one who has followed Donald Trump's career over the past 40 years-the 1973 lawsuit over anti-black discrimination, his persecution of the innocent Central Park 5, his birther crusade, the entire 2016 presidential campaign --the president backtracked on his bold "nazis are bad" stance from Monday to say, about the "Jews won't replace us"-chanting far-righters, that there were "a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest . . . you had people that were very fine people."

As for the counter-protesters, they were from "a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent," according to our dear leader. One of those anti-racist protesters, Heather Heyer, was murdered by a white supremacist during an act of domestic terrorism that closely resembled the tactics of ISIS supporters in Europe. After falsely insinuating that Heyer's mother had praised him, Trump castigated the activists who fought alongside her: "There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You've just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group . . . yes, I think there is blame on both sides."

Trump switched from blaming "many sides," as he did on Saturday, to blaming "both sides." He is right that there are two sides: the vestigial tail of the Confederacy and the United States of America, the white supremacists and their targets, the president and the patriots. It is also obvious he favors the side of the nazis. This has been evident since Trump launched his campaign. It became clearer when he hesitated to denounce David Duke in February 2016. It was blindingly obvious on Saturday in his initial reaction to Charlottesville.

That journalists and politicians spent two years grossly underestimating Trump's racism has allowed it to flourish. A dog whistle became the tune of a pied piper, inspiring Caucasian partisans to parade their prejudices, and it became a bullhorn once Trump was safely ensconced as president. Despite pundit predictions, Trump never planned to pivot: His goal was always instead to pivot Americans to his sick views, to pull the fringes to the center and make extremism mainstream. He has to some degree succeeded: In 2016, racist ideology reentered not only American political discourse but seemingly the White House itself, in the form of Steve Bannon, Seb Gorka, and Stephen Miller.

Since Saturday, the call for the resignation of these three advisors have intensified. More tepid is the call for the resignation of Confederacy buff Jeff Sessions, the attorney general who seeks to strip non-white citizens of their rights. Under Sessions, the DOJ has backed anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-Muslim, and anti-voter rights initiatives, proving that this administration's threat is not merely rhetorical. The white supremacist House runs the gamut from nascent nazis like Miller to respectability racists like Sessions, but they all should be taken down like the Confederate statues their side defends. There are many reasons for Trump to go down with them--emoluments violations, obstruction of justice, high crimes and misdemeanors--with his speech on Tuesday yet another indicator he is unfit to be president.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Trump's threat to withdraw from NAFTA may hit a hurdle: The US Constitution (Tim Meyer, 8/16/17, The Conversation)

Whether you agree with him or not, his threat to unilaterally back out of NAFTA and other trade deals on his hit list may be a hollow one for a simple reason: the U.S. Constitution.

Our country's founding document places limits on a president's ability to cease complying with the provisions of a U.S. trade agreement - absent congressional approval.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


Trump's Aides Tried to Conceal His Crazy, Racist Beliefs From the Country (Jonathan Chait, 8/16/17, New York)

Donald Trump's aides have been angry with him frequently -- indeed, usually -- since the beginning of his presidential campaign. But they have rarely registered their dismay as nakedly as they did Tuesday night, when he spontaneously altered a plan to deliver remarks on infrastructure without taking questions into a free-form defense of white supremacists. One official told NBC News that Trump had "gone rogue." Mike Allen reports that chief economic adviser Gary Cohn is "between appalled and furious," and that there is a danger one or more high-level officials could resign. Chief of Staff John Kelly's disgust was registered on his face: [...]

It is impossible to recall a presidential aide contemporaneously broadcasting his disgust with his own president.

But it is important to understand the precise nature of their distress. It is emphatically not because they are shocked to learn their boss is a racist, a fact that has been established through numerous episodes, such as Trump's insistence a Mexican-American judge was inherently biased against him, his call for a Muslim immigration ban, his slander of Ghazala Khan, and so on. They are angry that Trump revealed beliefs they wish to keep hidden. "Members of the president's staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private," reports the New York Times.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Down the Breitbart Hole (WIL S. HYLTONAUG. 16, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

Amid all the speculation about Breitbart, one of the more grounded analy­ses is a project at Harvard, where a law professor named Yochai Benkler has been studying the company's rise and influence. A few weeks ago, I met up with Benkler in his office, and we sat at a long table cluttered with books and papers to discuss his findings. Benkler was a muscular figure in his early 50s, with cropped gray hair and a trim gray beard, and he wanted to make clear from the outset that his work on Breitbart was A. the collaborative undertaking of more than a dozen interdisciplinary colleagues throughout Harvard and M.I.T., and B. a total mistake.

''We didn't set out to study Breitbart,'' he said. ''Breitbart came from the data, not the other way around.''

The project, Benkler said, began with a friendly argument about how the internet works -- whether it serves mainly as a distribution network for the articles on major media, or if small blogs and websites can funnel their own stories back into the mainstream press. ''I had taken the position that it created significant democratization and open pathways for diverse voices to speak,'' Benkler said. His friend and colleague at M.I.T. Ethan Zuckerman disagreed. ''Ethan thought you saw more amplification and circulation of stories from the mainstream.''

Normal sorts of people might settle this debate by shrugging that nobody can say for sure and ordering another round. Benkler and Zuckerman decided to build a colossal database called Media Cloud and spend the next decade hoovering up websites to see how information travels. Benkler brought in a programmer named Hal Roberts, and they began to examine the coverage of specific stories. In 2013, when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, Zuckerman and a team at M.I.T. examined how various media outlets influenced public opinion. The data showed that for all the attention given to local news and activism, the mainstream media continued to shape major turning points in the story. In the debate between Benkler and Zuckerman, this was: point, Zuckerman.

But last spring, as Donald Trump was hurtling toward the Republican nomination in defiance of every analyst everywhere, Benkler got a call from the Open Society Foundations. This being an article about right-wing media, let's insert the disclaimer that O.S.F. was created by George Soros, the billionaire activist who haunts the fevered imagination of the right in about the same way the Koch brothers terrify the left. At the time, nearly everyone assumed that Clinton would win the election, but people at O.S.F. were still intrigued by the rise of Trump. ''They said: 'Something different is happening,' '' Benkler recalled. '' 'We need to understand what.' ''

Benkler made some tweaks and pointed his machine at the election. The list of websites it scooped up each day was dizzying. ''We begin with several thousand sources,'' Benkler said, ''and then we look at links in all those stories, and we crawl out to grab them. If they fit the keywords that we're looking for -- any candidate name, anything around the election -- we put them in the data set. Then we go to the links in those stories, and draw in those, and go to their links. Usually by the time we've done this 15 times, there are no new stories.''

At the same time, Benkler's team developed a method to determine the political association of any website's audience. If an article was posted by people who retweeted Hillary Clinton, they characterized the publication as one with a liberal readership. If an article was posted by Trump retweeters, they assumed the publication's readership was conservative. I can hear you thinking, ''Retweets do not equal endorsements,'' but it turns out they mostly do. But when they encountered articles linked to by supporters of both candidates, they looked to see which side linked more often, then characterized the audience as center-left or center-right.

Benkler fiddled with a laptop to show me how this looked in practice. He pulled up an image of a messy blue and red scribble against a white background. On closer inspection, this turned out to consist of thousands of tiny dots. Each represented at least one article in their database and was shaded red or blue to indicate the political association of its readers. The more times a website's article was shared on Facebook, the bigger the dot grew. This meant you could determine at a glance whose articles were shared most often.

Looking at the blue parts of the image, nothing was surprising: The largest circles were CNN and The New York Times, each shaded pale blue to indicate a center-left association. But the other side of the image showed just one big red circle: Breitbart. It was three times the size of Fox News and maybe a dozen times larger than any other news source on the right. If you wanted to know who was driving the Republican agenda in 2016, you didn't need to look much farther than the massive crimson orb parked on Benkler's screen.

Benkler sighed. If the Trayvon Martin study challenged his theory about the democratizing power of the internet, the Breitbart study offered an unsettling confirmation. ''An important part of what happened in this election is that a marginalized community, with views that were generally excluded, forced their way into the mainstream,'' he said. ''Now, whether that's 'democratizing' or not depends on how much emphasis you put on people being able to contest an election versus how much you put on civil rights, protection of minorities, rule of law. You could say that if it translates into denigration of minorities, it's antidemocratic. But as long as you are focused on the question of 'Do you have an intensely engaged minority able to clarify its message so clearly that it can contest politically in a way that it couldn't before?' then it's a democratizing effect.''

One of the interesting internet phenomena is that, whereas most of us can read the news generally without becoming disordered, the Left and Right can really only stand to read their own outlets, so every commenter from the bubbles sounds exactly the same and by glancing at a couple of their sites you can see what their daily talking points will be.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


UK's May: no equivalence between fascists and those who oppose them  (Reuters, 8/16/17) 

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday she saw no equivalence between fascists and their opponents after U.S. President Donald Trump said protestors against a far-right rally were partially responsible for violence.

"I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views," May told reporters.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Study: Higher minimum wages bring automation and job losses (Christopher Matthews, 8/16/17, Axios)

In a new paper, economists Grace Lordan of the London School of Economics and David Neumark of UC Irvine parse 35 years of census data and come down on the worse-off side: For lower-skill jobs like bookkeepers and assembly-line workers, they say, higher minimum wages encourage employers to automate -- according to their calculations, a $1 increase can cost tens of thousands of jobs nationally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


One fateful pitch still in Mays' Hall path (T.R. Sullivan, 2/26/07,

It may be the most infamous pitch in Major League history. Mays threw the pitch in the fifth inning on Aug. 16, 1920, while with the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. He was pitching against the Cleveland Indians and the batter was shortstop Ray Chapman.

It was a high fastball and Chapman was known to crowd the plate. Mays, a submarine-style pitcher who released his pitches just off the ground, had a reputation for throwing inside but insisted afterward that Chapman leaned into the pitch. One theory suggested that the spikes on Chapman's front left shoe got caught in the dirt and kept him from getting out of the way.

For whatever reason, he did not. Instead the pitch hit him on the left side of the head. In those days, they did not wear batting helmets and wouldn't for several more decades.

The ball made a loud sickening sound as it hit Chapman and bounded back to Mays. The pitcher thought the ball had hit the bat and threw over to first base for the out.

Chapman crumpled to the ground. He eventually tried to get up and walk toward the clubhouse in deep center field but collapsed around second base. The ball hit him so hard that it not only lacerated the left side of his face at the point of impact but on the opposite side as well where the brain pushed against the skin. Blood came out of the right ear.

He was taken to the clubhouse, where he mumbled, "I'm all right, tell Mays not to worry." He eventually lapsed into a coma and was taken to a hospital, where he eventually died.

He is the only player to ever die from an injury on a Major League Baseball field and that continues to weigh heavily when one reviews Mays' Hall of Fame credentials.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Two-Thirds of Americans Admit They Are Sinners  (BOB SMIETANA, AUGUST 15, 2017, Christianity Today)

America is full of sinners--and most of them want to mend their ways.

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they are sinners, according to a new study from LifeWay Research. Most people aren't too happy about it--only 5 percent say they're fine with being sinners.

As America becomes more secular, the idea of sin still rings true, said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based group. "Almost nobody wants to be a sinner."

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Why the Charlottesville Marchers Were Obsessed With Jews : Anti-Semitic logic fueled the violence over the weekend, no matter what the president says. (EMMA GREEN  AUG 15, 2017, The Atlantic)

The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like "blood and soil," a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. "This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers," one demonstrator told Vice News' Elspeth Reeve during their march. As Jews prayed at a local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, men dressed in fatigues carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across the street, according to the temple's president. Nazi websites posted a call to burn their building. As a precautionary measure, congregants had removed their Torah scrolls and exited through the back of the building when they were done praying.

"This is an agenda about celebrating the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, and celebrating those that then fought to preserve that terrible machine of white supremacy and human enslavement," said Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL. "And yet, somehow, they're all wearing shirts that talk about Adolf Hitler." [...]

In the world sketched by white supremacists, Jews hover malevolently in the background, pulling strings, controlling events, acting as an all-powerful force backing and enabling the other targets of their hate. That's clear in statements made by people like Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who proudly marched with other white supremacists in Charlottesville. Jewish Zionists, he complained to a gathered crowd, control the media and American political system.

...then there must be a conspiracy against you.  It's why Donald and all his minions are so paranoid.

August 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Trump Says 'Two Sides' Share Blame for Charlottesville Rally Violence (ANDREW RAFFERTY, MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR and DANIEL ARKIN, 8/15/17, NBC News)

A senior White House official told NBC News Tuesday that President Trump wasn't supposed to answer any questions Monday. His team went into the event with the understanding that they would discuss infrastructure only and the president would take no questions.

But once in front of reporters, the president "went rogue," the official said, and members of the team were stunned by the president's actions.

How Trump aides watched the news conference (Elizabeth Landers, 8/15/17, CNN)

Nascent chief of staff John Kelly watched his new boss from high, blue curtains that were set up to the left of the President's podium. His face was stern as he watched the 15 or so minutes of back and forth with reporters, and crossed and uncrossed his arms as he listened; he occasionally peeked his head out to get a clear look at reporters who were peppering the President with questions about white supremacy and the recent Charlottesville unrest.

A senior White House official said Kelly and other top advisers hoped Trump would turn a corner and talk about infrastructure, but concedes they were entirely wrong.
"That was all him -- this wasn't our plan," the official said, speaking confidentially about internal deliberations.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Donald Trump Just Gave the Press Conference of the Alt-Right's Dreams (David French, August 15, 2017, National Review)

Let's be very clear about what just happened at Donald Trump's press conference. He gave the alt-right its greatest national media moment ever. He even called some of them "very fine people." Don't believe me? [...]

Here's the quote:

Trump: [Inaudible.] You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me, excuse me -- I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

To understand the significance of Trump's words, you have to understand a bit about the alt-right. While its members certainly march with Nazis and make common cause with neo-Confederates, it views itself as something different. They're the "intellectual" adherents to white identity politics. They believe their movement is substantially different and more serious than the Klansmen of days past. When Trump carves them away from the Nazis and distinguishes them from the neo-Confederates, he's doing exactly what they want. He's making them respectable. He's making them different.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Sebastian Gorka's Wife Led Cut To Group Fighting White Supremacy (Nathan Guttman, August 15, 2017, The Forward)

A group working to de-radicalize white supremacists had been set to receive funding from the Department of Homeland Security until Trump aide Katharine Gorka worked to eliminate its grant.

Gorka, a homeland security official and the wife of controversial White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka, was a member of President Trump's transition team before his inauguration. As the Forward reported in May, she met with Homeland Security officials in December and told them that Trump didn't agree with the Obama administration's approach to funding Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs.

Domestic terrorism perpetrated by white nationalist groups has been at the center of attention in recent days following the Charlottesville protests and the deadly car attack carried out by an activists in one of these groups. However, under the Trump administration, funding for efforts to counter these groups has been slashed, as one organization learned a couple of months ago.

Fox News shared a video of cars hitting protesters in January, advised viewers to "study the technique" (Fast Company, 8/15/17)

Fox News executives have some questions to answer about a video posted to the Fox Nation section of its website in January. The headline reads "Here's A Reel Of Cars Plowing Through Protesters Trying To Block The Road [VIDEO]," and beneath it, a caption tastelessly asks readers to "Study the technique; it may prove useful in the next four years." 

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


Campus Conservatives Gave the Alt-Right a Platform : They deserve their fair share of the blame for the entirely predictable consequences of that choice. (Elliot Kaufman -- August 15, 2017, National Review)

Campus conservative groups face three undying challenges: They are always broke, their leaders are always about to graduate, and nobody on campus ever cares about what they have to say. Consequently, conservatives from Louisiana State University, Boulder, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and dozens of other campuses turned to Yiannopoulos. He charges no speaking fees and, with minimal effort and planning from the students, guarantees them attention and controversy. He gives conservative student groups everything they could want.

But it comes at a cost: Every invitation extended to Yiannopoulos validates the idea that his alternately childish and hateful views are in some way "conservative."

Yiannopoulos was once a legitimate, if failed, British technology journalist. In fact, it was from his perch as a technology writer at Breitbart that he gained prominence for his early coverage of the "Gamergate" controversy, supporting the online harassment of feminist video-game programmers and tech bloggers. From there, he began to heap praise on Donald Trump, whom he calls "Daddy," and to become an aggressive online culture warrior.

He delights in offending or "triggering" leftists. He labels them "snowflakes," mocking their delicate sensibilities, while also calling them "fascists" for opposing free speech. In this, he can also delight the Right. Campus conservatives often defended him as "provocative" but ultimately useful for his defense of free speech. But that hides the truth.

In March 2016, Yiannopoulos co-authored "An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right" at Breitbart. In it, he denies that the alt-right is bigoted. Instead, he says, they just seek to "fluster their grandparents" with "outrageous caricatures," including anti-Semitic ones. Yiannopoulos takes great pains to differentiate the alt-right from skinheads. "The alternative right are a much smarter group of people," he writes, "which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They're dangerously bright."

He then explains just whom he finds so intelligent. "The media empire of the modern-day alternative right coalesced around Richard Spencer," writes Yiannopoulos. This is the same Richard Spencer who promoted the rally in Charlottesville and marched next to neo-Nazis and Klansmen. In fact, Spencer's speech headlined the rally. (Tim Gionet, better known as "Baked Alaska," served as Yiannopoulos's tour manager in 2016, scheduling his appearances with campus Republican groups. He, too, showed up to speak in Charlottesville, holding up a torch, chanting that Jews "will not replace us," and claiming, "I'm proud to be white," alongside a flurry of Nazi salutes.)

"The alt-right's intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race," Yiannopoulos openly admitted in his article. But he went on to defend them on these exact terms. "The bulk of their demands, after all, are not so audacious: they want their own communities, populated by their own people, and governed by their own values," he writes. According to Yiannopoulos, "they want what every people fighting for self-determination in history have ever wanted."

This was an outright apologia for racist white separatism. And yet, time after time in 2016, campus Republicans held Yiannopoulos up to the world as their champion against the Left. Even as he made statements like "The Jews run everything" and "I don't generally employ gays, I don't trust them," he continued to be invited.

To defend himself from charges of anti-Semitism, Milo occasionally calls himself Jewish. Actually, he is a Roman Catholic, and has even posted photos of himself wearing the Iron Cross so beloved by Nazis everywhere. To counter charges of homophobia and racism, he told the New York Times that he has sex only with black men, in essence using identity politics to defend his own bigotry. Jamie Kirchick has astutely characterized him as a "caricature of what resentful, misanthropic, frat bros believe a gay man to be: morally depraved, sexually licentious, and utterly self-aggrandizing."

All of this is to say that even before videos surfaced revealing his endorsement of pedophilia, Yiannopoulos's derangement was obvious. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


Trump shares meme of train running over CNN (Alayna Treene, 8/15/17, Axios)

President Trump retweeted a meme of a train crashing into a human embodiment of CNN Tuesday morning, with the words "FAKE NEWS CAN'T STOP THE TRUMP TRAIN" above it.

His only regret is that he wasn't driving that Dodge Challenger...

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


The Pentagon Fills Hezbollah's Shopping List (Tony Badran, August 15, 2017, The Tablet)

[E]ven in the fever-dreams of Hezbollah's bunker-bound leader, Hassan Nasrallah, it seems unlikely that anyone in the group imagined that the Pentagon would simply ship the advanced American gear they sought to obtain to Lebanon, gratis.

But On Monday, US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard revealed that the Pentagon has done exactly that - or near enough to make Hassan Nasrallah jump for joy inside his bunker. In remarks delivered at the Port of Beirut, Ambassador Richard reviewed the material contents of a $100 million contribution that the US is making to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which last month provided support to Hezbollah in a joint military operation in northeastern Lebanon. Hailing the first eight of a promised thirty-two M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles that the US will be delivering to the LAF, Richard reviewed the items the US has delivered to the LAF over the past 12 months. Along with heavier weapons, Richard revealed, the list includes "4,000 M4 rifles," "320 night vision devices and thermal sights," and "360 secure communication radios."

Why is this noteworthy? Well, as it happens, these precise items have been on Hezbollah's shopping list consistently for almost a decade.

After 16 years of our every action in the Middle East benefitting the Shi'a it might be time to stop pretending we're enemies, eh?

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Lightning is zapping fewer Americans, not more (SETH BORENSTEIN, 8/14/17, AP) 

Lightning -- once one of nature's biggest killers --is claiming far fewer lives in the United States, mostly because we've learned to get out of the way.

In the 1940s, when there were fewer people, lightning killed more than 300 people annually. So far this year, 13 people have died after being struck, on pace for a record low of 17 deaths. Taking the growing population into account, the lightning death rate has shrunk more than forty-fold since record-keeping began in 1940.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Deadly rally accelerates removal of Confederate statues (JESSE J. HOLLAND, 8/15/17, AP)

In Gainesville, Florida, workers hired by the Daughters of the Confederacy chipped away at a Confederate soldier's statue, loaded it quietly on a truck and drove away with little fanfare.

In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh said she's ready to tear down all of her city's Confederate statues, and the city council voted to have them destroyed. San Antonio lawmakers are looking ahead to removing a statue that many people wrongly assumed represented a famed Texas leader who died at the Alamo.

The deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is fueling another re-evaluation of Confederate statues in cities across the nation, accelerating their removal in much the same way that a 2015 mass shooting by a white supremacist renewed pressure to take down the Confederate flag from public property.

The protestors should really be throwing shoes at the statues.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Bowing to pressure, Trump denounces hate groups by name (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 8/15/17, AP)

Bowing to pressure from right and left, President Donald Trump condemned white supremacist groups by name on Monday, declaring "racism is evil" after two days of public equivocation and internal White House debate over the deadly race-fueled clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia. [...]

Several of Trump's senior advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly, had urged him to make a more specific condemnation, warning that the negative story would not go away and that the rising tide of criticism from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill could endanger his legislative agenda, according to two White House officials.

The outside advisers and officials demanded anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Aides were dispatched to Sunday talk shows but struggled to explain the president's position. A stronger statement was released -- but attributed only to an unnamed spokesperson.

Tougher condemnations began Sunday night with Vice President Mike Pence, traveling in South America, declaring that "these dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life."

On Monday, Trump had planned to interrupt his 17-day working vacation at his New Jersey golf club to travel to Washington for an announcement he hoped would showcase some tough talk on China's trade practices.

But by the time he arrived at midmorning, it was clear all other messages would be drowned out until he said more about Charlottesville.

One of the few redeeming features of this presidency is how utterly dysfunctional it is.  You'd never see a chief of staff taking credit for the right thing, and blaming the boss for the wrong, in a normal administration.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Trump retweets alt-right provocateur after condemning white supremacists (Kevin Rawlinson, 15 August 2017, The Guardian)

Donald Trump shared a tweet from an alt-right conspiracy theorist and provocateur in the hours after he bowed to overwhelming pressure and directly condemned the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists over Saturday's violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Bannon lays low amid high White House tensions (Kaitlan Collins, 8/14/17, CNN)

The isolated chief strategist has been in a dejected mood and has stayed in his office more than usual since he has fallen out of favor with the President again in recent weeks, the official said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Big Oil Follows Silicon Valley Into Backing Green Energy Firms (Anna Hirtenstein, 8/15/17, Bloomberg)

Major oil companies are joining Silicon Valley in backing energy-technology start-ups, a signal that that those with the deepest pockets in the industry are casting around for a new strategy.

From Royal Dutch Shell Plc to Total SA and Exxon Mobil Corp., the biggest investor-owned oil companies are dribbling money into ventures probing the edge of energy technologies. The investments go beyond wind and solar power into projects that improve electricity grids and brew new fuels from renewable resources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Democracy Promotion May no Longer be a US Objective Under Trump Administration : Tillerson proposed removing democracy as a US foreign policy objective because that reflects the Trump's "America first" agenda, argues Mark Habeeb, 8/14/17, Middle East Online)

On August 1, the Washington Post obtained an internal State Department e-mail that discussed a new "mission statement" for the department. The new wording was essentially identical to the department's existing mission statement except for one detail: In describing the objectives of US foreign policy and the State Department's work, it made no reference to the promotion of democracy.

Elliott Abrams, who served under former President George W. Bush as deputy national security adviser, told the Post: "We used to want a just and democratic world and now apparently we don't."

Tom Malinowski, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour during the Obama administration, said: "It's a worldview similar to that of Putin, who also thinks that great powers should focus exclusively on self-protection and enrichment, rather than promoting democracy."

Washington-based NGOs that support democracy promotion, such as the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), raised alarms about the reported change. POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney issued a statement saying: "Changing policy in that way would not only be antithetical to basic American ideals but would also benefit autocratic regimes and jeopardise US security... we urge [the State Department] to retain and reaffirm US commitments to justice and democracy."

The simplest explanation for why Tillerson would propose removing of democracy as an objective of US foreign policy is that it reflects the Trump administration's overall "America first" agenda and, more specifically, the agenda of the administration's ideological guru, White House adviser Stephen Bannon. He was the driving force behind Trump's proposed "travel ban" that targeted Muslims and Arabs and described French politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as "the new rising star."

Given that it is mainly Asian, Hispanic, Muslim and African states that are still catching up, is it any surprise that a racist administration wants them controlled by dictators?

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger his church? (Russell Moore, August 14, Washington Post)

"Blood and soil" ethnic nationalism is not just a deviant social movement. It is the same old idolatry of the flesh, the human being seeking to deify his own flesh and blood as God. The Scripture defines this attempt at human self-exaltation with a number: 666. White supremacy does not merely attack our society (though it does) and the ideals of our nation (though it does); white supremacy attacks the image of Jesus Christ himself. White supremacy exalts the creature over the Creator, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against it.

This sort of ethnic nationalism and racial superiority ought to matter to every Christian, regardless of national, ethnic or racial background. After all, we are not our own but are part of a church -- a church made up of all nations, all ethnicities, united not by blood and soil but by the shed blood and broken body of Jesus Christ.

The church should call white supremacy what it is: terrorism, but more than terrorism. White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God.

August 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM



But a company called Made in Space is indifferent to space's indifference. In a first, it's showed that it can 3-D print in a thermal vacuum chamber, which simulates the nastiness of space. It's a milestone in the outfit's ambitious Archinaut program, which hopes to launch a 3-D printer with robot arms into orbit. You know, to build things like satellites and telescopes and stuff.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Medicaid emerges stronger after failed healthcare repeal (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, 8/14/17, Associated Press)

Medicaid, a 1960s Great Society pillar long reviled by conservatives, seems to have emerged even stronger after the Republican failure to pass health overhaul legislation.

The federal-state health insurance program for low-income Americans hasn't achieved the status of Social Security and Medicare, considered practically untouchable by politicians, like an electrified "third rail." But it has grown to cover about 1 in 5 US residents, ranging from newborns to Alzheimer's patients in nursing homes, and even young adults trying to shake addiction. Middle-class working people are now more likely to personally know someone who's covered. 

Increased participation - and acceptance - means any new GOP attempt to address problems with the Affordable Care Act would be unlikely to achieve deep Medicaid cuts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Nikki Haley: Trump's velvet hammer at the UN (Monica Crowley, August 11, 2017, ny pOST)

In the months since President Trump sent Nikki Haley to the United Nations, she has taken on that scandal-plagued jamboree of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and tyrant devotion and proven a fearless champion of US interests and Western values. As Trump's velvet hammer, she has shown intrepid leadership, placing her in the diplomatic firmament along with such ambassadorial powerhouses as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and John Bolton. [...]

Posted in New York, Haley has been insulated from the daily drama that has engulfed many of her DC-based colleagues, allowing her important freedom of movement.

You can't let fundraisers think the vp will have a cakewalk to the nomination...

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Saudi Crown Prince MBS 'wants out' of Yemen war (aL jAZEERA, 8/14/17)

Saudi Arabia's crown prince has told two former American officials that he "wants out" of the two-year war he started in Yemen, and that he is not against US rapprochement with Iran, according to leaked emails published by Middle East Eye.

The revelation sheds light on the thinking of Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the 31-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, also known as MBS.

The leaks pertain to discussions he held on the Middle East with Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, and Steven Hadley, who served as US national security adviser during George W Bush's presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


 Trump "seriously considering" pardoning Joe Arpaio (Alayna Treene, 8/14/17, Axios)

President Trump told Fox News Sunday that he is "seriously considering a pardon" for Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona Sheriff who was recently charged with contempt of court for refusing to obey a state judge's order to stop traffic officers from racially profiling suspected undocumented immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Weimar Germany and Donald Trump : How traditional and radical conservatives come to speak a common political language--that ultimately benefits the extremists (Eric D. Weitz, July 18, 2016, The Tablet)

Americans often say that the German people elected Hitler to power, but that is not accurate. The highest vote the Nazis received in a free election came six months before the seizure of power. In July 1932, the Nazis won 37 percent of the electorate. That represented a significant proportion of German voters, to be sure, but it was far from a majority. In a parliamentary system, as Germany was, 37 percent doesn't get you to power. In the next election in November 1932, their tally declined to 33 percent. In autumn 1932, it would have been reasonable to think that the Nazi wave had crested and that Hitler and the Nazi Party were on the decline. In fact, Hitler and his supporters feared as much. In the end, the conservative elite saved the Nazis from the political wilderness.

There was nothing inevitable or predetermined about the Nazi assumption of power. It was the result of a conscious political decision by traditional conservatives made in a time of crisis when Germany wallowed in depression and the political system lay paralyzed.

The conservative elite had its roots in the churches, Protestant and Catholic, and in the old tradition of state service in a monarchy and an authoritarian, lord-of-the-manor practice that they then carried over, helped along by the new industrial bourgeoisie, to Germany's highly productive industrial economy. These traditionalists hated the very idea of democracy, but they understood that there had to be limits to state power, and they shied away from rampant, excessive violence. They also understood that human beings are imperfect and prone to error and that the essential Nazi hubris was the belief in the perfectibility of the race.

Yet the traditionalists struck a deal with the Nazis on Jan. 30, 1933, one they reconfirmed many times during the 12 years of the Third Reich. The accommodation between traditional and radical conservatives began to take shape even before the end of World War I, before the Nazi party even existed. It was a bargain shaped by a shared political language.

Already in September 1918, two months before the signing of the armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I, 10 months before the proclamation of the Weimar constitution and the formal founding of the Republic, the infamous stab-in-the-back legend was underway. Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, the two officers who led the Supreme Military Command and effectively ruled Germany dictatorially in the last two years of the war, shifted the blame for Germany's defeat away from the military (and themselves, of course). The army had remained upright and upstanding, the army had never been defeated in the field, so they claimed. Germany had been betrayed at home by socialists and the Jews; that was the only reason Germany had to sue for peace. [...]

Traditional conservatives were by and large genteel anti-Semites. In the Weimar period, they tended not to share the murderous tendencies of the Nazis (though that would change over the course of the Third Reich). But they didn't particularly like Jews, and they thought the Jewish presence in German public life overbearing and distasteful. Germany, in the common view of the Right, radical and conservative, faced an überfremdung, a flood of foreigners, Jews in particular, who exercised a degenerative influence on the German people and German society. The "Jewish spirit," the "Jewish threat to the national character," the "degenerative Jewish race," Jews as the embodiment of "finance capital" as opposed to productive German capital--all this marked the language that joined the traditional as well as the radical Right.

On the one side were Germans, supposedly rooted in place, exemplars of moral rectitude, intelligent and productive. Across the divide, beyond the pale, were Jews: lacking a state of their own, they were everywhere and nowhere, predators and exploiters who despoiled Aryans. The ultimate sin, which the Nazis propagated so effectively, was to associate Jews and communism, the rootless, cosmopolitan Jew with the place of the Soviet Union.

On all this the old conservative elite and the Nazis could easily agree, even though the Nazi solution to the problem would prove more far radical than anything the traditionalists had imagined.

Which brings us to the current right-wing populist surge all across Europe and the United States. Certainly, real grievances exist that have created support for the Right. As one report after another recounts, many communities have been hard hit by globalization. The factories rust away, the jobs available are low-level, low-paying service positions. Inequalities have risen everywhere, most obscenely in the United States. Even Germany has developed a two-tier labor market, one segment well-protected and well-paid, the other comprising temporary and part-time workers who have little access to the country's vaunted social welfare programs and high wages. In the United States, commentators have suddenly woken up to the fact that the elite in both parties is well-heeled, well-situated, and out of touch with the economic dislocation experienced by so many people.

And yet there exists the odd, uncomfortable fact that Western societies are notably well off, and many right-wing populists are by no means destitute. Even Denmark and Austria, each a paradise of comfort and well being, each harboring excellent school systems and extensive social welfare networks, have witnessed a right-wing surge. The much-touted report that the average Trump supporter earns $70,000 a year--not great, perhaps, but certainly not bad and significantly above the U.S. poverty level--marks further evidence that the discontent that feeds right-wing populism goes far beyond economics. In fact, economics is probably not the primary factor.

Instead, the right-wing sensibility in the Western world is largely cultural in nature. It is directed against those identified as foreigners, even when they are third-generation Germans, French, or Britons, whose families may have hailed from Turkey, Morocco, or Jamaica. Race is also a factor, but not exclusively so. Many of those deemed "foreign" are of darker hues than the native-born, but the Brexit vote was also directed against Poles, Lithuanians, and other Europeans who could travel and settle freely in Britain as citizens of other European Union countries. The surge in refugees coming to Europe in the past year and a half has certainly exacerbated the hostilities against foreigners, but the sentiment existed well beforehand.

Donald Trump and his European analogues express a deep contempt for foreigners, or those whom they deem to be foreigners. Sometimes the language is coded and comes across in polite terms. At other moments, it is virulent. The political language that they speak enables the creation of a broad-based right-wing populism. "Respectable" members of society in Poland, France, or the United States hear the coded language and nod their heads in approval, while those on the far right, prone to violence, respond affirmatively to the more virulent rhetoric.

Trump, like many other right-wing leaders, plays both sides of the rhetorical street (as Hitler did as well, and masterfully so). His comments about Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, judges with Hispanic roots as biased, and Muslims as inherently dangerous display his open racism. He implies that only white men are upstanding citizens; only they can be objective and be trusted to implement the law. "America First," he rails, a seemingly reasonable slogan with which many people could agree. Trump seems blithely unaware of the tainted history of the term, which goes back to the isolationists, Nazi sympathizers, and anti-Semites of the 1930s and '40s. "Make America Great Again" is also code that plays well. Trump conjures up the 1950s, a wonderful decade for some in America, but certainly not for African-Americans, who remained subject to Jim Crow legislation and violence of the worst sort in the South as well as the North, nor for Hispanics, who suffered all kinds of discrimination.

In Europe right-wing populists advance a similar language. "Flood of Foreigners Means Genocide," runs one hyperbolic placard from the nationalist far-right political group PEGIDA, meaning, of course, the genocide of Germans. The name of the group is itself overheated and expressive of  its bedrock hostility to immigrants: PEGIDA stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamicization of the West. Closely associated with the group is the Identity movement, somewhat innocuous-sounding but situated on the radical fringe and demanding a state that promotes "German identity."

France's National Front evinces the same mix of polite, general slogans that many French men and women could support along with more bald-faced remarks openly hostile to immigrants, or, more accurately, those deemed immigrants even though many are second-, third-, and even fourth-generation citizens. "A national defense to protect France and defend the liberty of the nation," "Security, the first liberty," "For an effective justice," "[For] ecology [and] animal protection" are slogans drawn from the National Front program, and they could be espoused by almost any French political party. But the program also descends into more openly hostile and aggressive phrases, such as "Stop immigration, reinforce French identity."

Republicans in the United States continue to dance around Trump, many unable to decide whether their party should back such an obviously incapable, self-aggrandizing, and racist candidate for the presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Merck CEO resigns from White House council to 'take a stand against intolerance and extremism' -- then Trump slams him (Jim Puzzanghera, 8/14/17, LA Times)

The chief executive of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. publicly resigned from a White House manufacturing council on Monday, declaring he felt "a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."

The move by Kenneth Frazier, one of corporate America's leading African American executives, came after President Trump was criticized for not explicitly condemning white supremacists after violent clashes with counter-protestors turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.

Trump quickly lashed out at Frazier on Twitter.

"Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!" Trump wrote less than an hour after Merck posted Frazier's statement on Twitter.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


How Trump Has Cultivated the White Supremacist Alt-Right for Years (Ben Mathis-Lilley, 8/13/17, Slate)

Birtherism. Trump began insisting in 2011 that Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States. He once said a "very credible source" had informed him that Obama's birth certificate was fraudulent and claimed to have sent investigators to Hawaii to research the matter. Trump has also suggested Obama may be a Muslim who is sympathetic to the goals of groups like ISIS. (Obama is an American-born Christian.)

Steve Bannon. The former chairman of Breitbart News helped run Trump's campaign and is a senior White House adviser. Bannon once proudly described Breitbart as "the platform for the alt-right," and under his leadership the site published an infamous article which celebrated the work of several white supremacists, including Richard Spencer, who was one of the leaders of the Charlottesville rally and who made headlines for using Nazi slogans and gestures at a Washington, D.C. celebration of Trump's inauguration. (Breitbart also famously posted some of its stories under the heading "Black Crime.") Bannon has repeatedly and publicly endorsed The Camp of the Saints, a novel popular in white-pride circles in which black Americans, "dirty Arabs," and feces-eating Hindu rapists (among others) destroy civilization. The book refers to black individuals as "n[******]s" and "rats." Bannon has also reportedly praised a far-right French writer named Charles Maurras who was sentenced to life in prison after World War II for collaboration with Nazi occupiers. And he's complained publicly that too many tech CEOs are Asian American. And he reportedly told his ex-wife that he didn't want their children attending schools with significant Jewish enrollment.

Milo Yiannopoulos. The Nazi-fetishizing former Breitbart staffer who co-wrote the white-supremacist article described above can thank Bannon, who has called his work "valuable," for launching his career. Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, called Yiannopoulos "brave" and said he was a "phenomenal individual" in November 2016. In February of this year, Trump himself tweeted a threat to revoke the University of California at Berkeley's federal funding because it canceled Yiannopoulos' appearance on campus. Yiannopoulos subsequently resigned from Breitbart during a furor over approving remarks he made in 2016 about pedophilia--but it appears that his career is still being funded by Robert Mercer, a right-wing billionaire whose daughter Rebekah served on Trump's transition team.

Alex Jones. Jones' site InfoWars advocates paranoid beliefs of all sorts, including but not limited to alt-right-adjacent theories about the "Jewish mafia" and "globalists," such as the Rothschilds, who manipulate world events to enrich themselves. Trump called Jones "amazing" during a 2015 interview, and the White House seemingly confirmed to the New York Times that Trump and Jones occasionally speak on the phone.

Sebastian Gorka. Ostensibly a counterterrorism adviser, Gorka's job appears to consist entirely of making grandiose and factually erroneous declarations during Fox News appearances, and he is reportedly a member of a far-right Hungarian group called Vitézi Rend that collaborated with the Nazis during WWII. (He denies it.)

Julie Kirchner. Previously the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Kirchner was appointed to work at the federal Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services by the Trump administration in May. The Federation for American Immigration Reform's founder and its current president are both interested in eugenics and crank race science; both have complained that immigration undermines whites' dominance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


White House Acts to Stem Fallout From Trump's First Charlottesville Remarks (GLENN THRUSH and REBECCA R. RUIZ, AUG. 13, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump consulted a broad range of advisers before speaking on Saturday, most of whom told him to sharply criticize the white nationalist protesters.

At the center of the discussion was Mr. Bossert, who laid out the situation on the ground, including a description of provocations by both protesters and counterprotesters, according to a White House official.

Two hard-edge economic populists -- Stephen K. Bannon, the president's chief strategist, and Stephen Miller, a senior adviser -- spoke with Mr. Trump repeatedly on Saturday, the person said, although it was not clear if Mr. Bannon had offered him advice on his comments.

Mr. Trump listened attentively, according to another person familiar with the discussions, but repeatedly steered the conversation to the breakdown of "law and order," and the responsibility of local officials to stem the violence.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Mike Pence, ambassador to a sceptical world (Democracy in America, Aug 14th 2017, The Economist)

IF Mike Pence had not become vice president, he would have made a successful political ambassador. When travelling overseas on behalf of President Donald Trump, Mr Pence conveys just the right blend of access, loyalty and inside knowledge--"as the President said to me earlier today" is one of his favourite phrases, wheeled out several times on Sunday as he began a four-country tour of Latin America. A former governor of Indiana, he brings a reassuring, silver-haired mien and midwestern folksiness to his work. "Central casting!" as Mr Trump likes to say of his camera-ready deputy.

But beyond those workaday diplomatic skills, the vice-president brings a talent that takes him into the realm of ambassadorial greatness.  When explaining something that his tempestuous boss has just said about foreign or domestic politics, Mr Pence has the ability to polish and reinterpret those presidential words with such grave, head-shaking conviction that it seems both rude and unreasonable to doubt his version.

After a couple more months he's bound to get tired of pretending Donald doesn't exist.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Trump or not, Americans Would Nuke an Iranian city : Trump is not the only American willing to rain "fire and fury" on a foreign land, explains (Rashmee Roshan Lall, 8/;13/17, Middle East Online)

Anyone who shakes their head over the insanity of US President Donald Trump's threatened "fire and fury" against nuclear-armed North Korea might want to take a look at a rather dry paper in the Massachusetts Institute Technology journal International Security.

The paper is titled "Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran." Academics Scott Sagan and Benjamin Valentino examine the United States' so-called nuclear taboo, which is supposed to have created an ethical norm for the use of nuclear weapons after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They address the strength of the taboo and the supposed rise of a humanitarian spirit that makes Americans squeamish about killing large numbers of non-combatant foreigners. They look at the proclivities of 21st-century Americans using a hypothetical scenario that revolves around a war started by non-nuclear-armed Iran.

The results of the survey experiments can only be described as chilling. When a representative sample of the US public was asked about a situation that approximately replicated 1945 and substituted Iran for Japan, "a clear majority of Americans (56%) would approve of using nuclear weapons first against the civilian population of a non-nuclear-armed adversary, killing 2 million Iranian civilians, if they believed that such use would save the lives of 20,000 US soldiers."

We've told this story before, but at the neighborhood's annual 4th of July BBQ a number of us were talking about nukes and two of the profs said that we'd never use them because the public wouldn't stand for it.  Another neighbor and I laughed and said that most Americans wouldn't even blink if a president nuked Iran, given the lingering animus over the hostage crisis.  That led to this paper.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Wichita Lineman : Steyn's Song of the Week #306 (Mark Steyn, August 13, 2017, SteynOnline)

[W]hen I think of Campbell at his best, I go back to a cluster of early hits, and one of them in particular. It was the centerpiece in a trilogy of "place" songs that began with "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" and ended with "Galveston". In between came:

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload...

On Wednesday, hosting "The Fox News Specialists" with Eboni K Williams and Kat Timpf, I picked a little bit of "Wichita Lineman" to close out the show, and I said I remember when I first heard it and realized the trick of it - that a love song didn't always have to be about moon and June and stars above; sometimes it could be about a guy who works for the electric company up a pole on a deserted country road, and yet still be a love song. And later that night, as I was strolling down Sixth Avenue, two New Yorkers stopped me and said they liked that bit, and that I should expand on the thesis in our "Song of the Week" department. So here we go, off to Wichita...

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


What people think of high deductibles -- and what the surveys don't tell you (David Nather, 8/14/17, Axios)

The Employee Benefit Research Institute has been conducting surveys of employees' attitudes toward high deductibles for about a decade. Those kinds of health plans are still less popular than traditional kinds of health plans, like PPOs and HMOs -- but the margin isn't as lopsided as it was a decade ago. [...]

Fronstin says the differences could be due to the "80-20" rule -- 20 percent of people account for 80 percent of health care spending. If they're in that group, they're spending the whole deductible, and are understandably upset. If not, the deductible may not matter as much because they're not using it.

August 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="">#Charlottesville</a> was far from the first time that <a href="">@realDonaldTrump</a> has failed to call out &#39;white terror&#39;. We crunched the numbers in June. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) <a href="">August 13, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

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The iPhone in Your Pocket Is Worth Millions (Bret Swanson, August 13, 2017, FEE)

[I]n a recent podcast, our old friend Richard Bennett of High Tech Forum brought up the $3 million iPhone 5 from 2014, so I decided to update the estimate. For the new analysis, I applied the same method to my own iPhone 7, purchased in the fall of 2016 - 25 years after the 1991 RadioShack ad.

My iPhone 7 has 128 gigabytes (GB) of flash memory, which would have cost around $5.76 million back in 1991. Its A10 processor, which includes a CPU and GPU, has 3.3 billion transistors, running at 2.34 gigahertz (GHz) and delivering roughly 120,000 million instructions per second (MIPS). This amount of computing power would have cost something like $3.6 million back in 1991.

That's just for the 3 components that are easiest to measure and compare across time.

The iPhone 7 also delivers astonishing communications speed via 4G LTE mobile networks. Peak and average mobile speeds vary, depending on geography, network load, and other factors, so I just decided to use the speed I normally get on my mobile LTE connection (not Wi-Fi) at my office. With just two of five dots' worth of signal strength, I enjoy a connection of 33 megabits per second (Mbps). That kind of wireless bandwidth might have cost something like $3.3 million back in 1991.

Adding it up, we get $5.76 + $3.6 + $3.3 = $12.66 million to produce today's iPhone back in 1991. And that's just for the three components that are easiest to measure and compare across time. This estimate doesn't include the camera, display, random access memory (RAM), MEMS gyroscope and accelerometer, or any of the other amazing parts and features packed into an impossibly compact package. Nor does this account for inflation, which means our comparison may understate the effect.

These are fairly rough estimates. Yet it's interesting that the new $12-million figure is four times the $3-million estimate from three years ago - which just happens to be the pace of Moore's law, a doubling every 18 months or so. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


White House Advisers Insist that Trump Opposes Nazis (Rob Garver, August 13, 2017, Fiscal Times)

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Scaramucci: Bannon's 'toleration' of white nationalism is 'inexcusable' (MEGHAN KENEALLY  Aug 13, 2017, ABC News)

Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci hit at Steve Bannon for his controversial views a day after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, descended into violence.

During ABC News' livestream interview after "This Week," Scaramucci was asked if he believes Bannon is a white supremacist or white nationalist. Scaramucci said that he didn't know and hasn't directly asked Bannon about his views.

"I've never sat down with Steve Bannon and said, 'Hey are you a white nationalist or a white supremacist?' But I think the toleration of it by Steve Bannon is inexcusable," Scaramucci said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Refugee rescue boat sent to help far-right anti-immigrant ship stranded in Mediterranean with mechanical failure (Lizzie Dearden, 8/11/17, Independent)

The far-right extremists aboard vessel aiming to 'defend' Europe from migrants and refugees were confident of resolving technical difficulties Defend Europe
Volunteers on a German refugee rescue ship have been deployed to help a vessel chartered by far-right activists that became stranded in the Central Mediterranean.

Sea-Eye said Italian officials told their crew that the C-Star, operated by an anti-immigration group calling itself Defend Europe, had suffered a mechanical failure and could not manoeuvre.

A spokesperson for Sea-Eye, which is among those Defend Europe has accused of "colluding" with Libyan people smugglers, said it was prepared to offer any aid needed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Trump Saw 'Many Sides' While Some Republicans Saw White Supremacy, Domestic  (VANESSA ROMO & MARTINA STEWART, 8/12/17, NPR)

But the president's initial response quickly appeared outdated when a Dodge Charger plowed into pedestrians, killing one woman, and injuring at least nine others.

Just over an hour later, during televised remarks about a bill signing that had already been on his daily schedule, Trump addressed the intensifying situation in Charlottesville, which had been steadily covered on cable news outlets throughout the day.

But he did not specifically address the vehicular attack. And he did not condemn the white nationalist and white supremacist groups that had arrived to protest the city's decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a hero of the Confederacy -- and the president did not call out any of those groups by name. Instead, the president alluded to shared blame between protesters and counter-protesters for failing to maintain peace in Charlottesville.

"We condemn in the strongest most possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides," Trump said.

As the afternoon progressed, some members of his own party began to call out the president for his generic remarks and to criticize him for not calling the vehicular attack a terrorist attack -- like those that have occurred in recent years in European cities.

"Mr. President - we must call evil by its name," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., tweeted, "These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism." Gardner's sentiments were echoed in tweets by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.; and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Politicians don't condemn their base.

Mother of Charlottesville suspect: 'I just knew he was going to a rally ... I thought it had something to do with Trump' (DAVID CAPLAN, Aug 13, 2017, ABC News)

The mother of the man who allegedly plowed into a group of people protesting a white nationalist rally Saturday in Virginia said she knew her son was attending a rally -- but she thought it was a rally for President Trump, not for white nationalists.

The latter is always the former, if not vice versa.

August 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Consumption Is indeed the End; Production Is Indeed Only a Means (DON BOUDREAUX, AUGUST 12, 2017, Cafe Hayek)

[O]ne must ask: What is the purpose of having an economy with a high productive capacity?  And, even more fundamentally: How to assess productive capacity to begin with?  The key to both answers lies in understanding that the purpose of all economic activity is ultimately to satisfy each person's desire to enjoy a high standard of living (including, let us not forget, opportunities to enjoy leisure).  [...]

Production is an essential means toward the end of consumption.  The more production there is, the more consumption there can be.  But we use the means to create the end.  We produce in order to consume; we do not consume in order to produce. 

The fact that the purpose of an economy is to create wealth is the great truth that has to be avoided in all discussions of the end of labor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM

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Mueller Is Said to Seek Interviews With West Wing in Russia Case (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MATT APUZZO and MAGGIE HABERMANAUG. 12, 2017, NY Times)

In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump's decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said.

That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.

...trying to distract people could lead Donald to destroy the North Korean regime, as we should have done seventy years ago, even as Mr. Mueller topples his own.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Is 'the only democracy in ME' becoming undemocratic? (Gideon Levy, 8/12/17,  Al Jazeera)

Minister Kara is perceived in Israel as a political joke. He was nominated to his office just when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuhad to give it up for legal reasons. Kara became Netanyahu's puppet in the communication ministry. All this does not make his decision to declare war on Al Jazeera less important, or less meaningful. On the contrary, Minister Kara tries to follow not only his master's political attitudes, but also the Israeli national sentiment that any critical voices in Israel and from abroad should be fought.

The declaration of the government's intent to close down Al Jazeera and blocking its broadcast in Israel, might have very little practical consequences. It is not clear if the Israeli government can close Al Jazeera's bureau; if Al Jazeera employees can be prevented from working as journalists; if the governmental press office can revoke their accreditations; and if the government can prevent Israelis from watching Al Jazeera. But those are minor questions. The main issue is the Israeli intention and the Israeli policy, which has a much broader context.

It is the democratic face of the state of Israel and the attempt to curb freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Israel - "the only democracy in the Middle East". This process might start with Al Jazeera but it will never stop there; it will continue with BBC and CNN and it might end with closing down Israeli media outlets the government doesn't favour. And therefore, the Al Jazeera case should worry many more Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike.

What we see are the growing cracks in the Israeli democracy, nothing less than this.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Scallion & Fresh Corn Spoon Bread (JED PORTMAN, August/September 2017, Gerden & Gun)


2 cups corn kernels (from about 4 cobs)

1 1/4 cups milk

1 cup water

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup fine white cornmeal

2 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the skillet

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. baking soda


Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or an 8-inch-by-8-inch casserole dish well with butter and set aside. Add kernels to a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Reserve.

Heat milk, water, and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until bubbles appear around the edges. Then whisk in cornmeal and cook until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in butter, then scallions, kernels, and nutmeg. Mix well. Let the mixture cool, then vigorously whisk in eggs. Sprinkle cream of tartar and baking soda over the mixture and stir to combine.

Pour batter into the skillet or casserole dish and place in the oven. Bake for 30-45 minutes, rotating once halfway through, until the center is set but still a little bit jiggly and the top is lightly browned.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


No one is destroying baseballs like Giancarlo Stanton (Eddie Matz, 8/11/17, ESPN)

The baseball had to be fake.

Earlier this week in Washington, Giancarlo Stanton pounced on a pitch from Nationals starter A.J. Cole, sending it way beyond the wall in left-center for his 38th home run, a career high. After the game, sitting in the top shelf of Stanton's locker was a scuffed-up ball that had the vitals written on it (date, opponent, pitcher) and was torn in two different places, such that there were gaping holes where the white leather meets the red seams. On the one hand, it seemed like an obvious clubhouse prank -- after all, the ball resembled something straight out of "The Natural." On the other hand, the way Stanton's been punishing pitches lately, it's entirely believable that he tore the cover off the ball.

If the first half of the 2017 season belonged to Aaron Judge, the second half belongs to Stanton. A 6-foot-6, 245-pound specimen who's so jacked that even his muscles have muscles, Stanton was Judge long before Judge was Judge: a supersized position player who looks as if he was genetically engineered in a petri dish for the sole purpose of being a tight end, but somehow got lost on his way to the gridiron. Instead of catching passes, Stanton catches pitches with the barrel of his bat, and obliterates them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Research Suggests Loneliness Is As Bad for You as Smoking Nearly a Pack of Cigarettes a Day (KATE HOROWITZ, AUGUST 10, 2017, Mental Floss)

Humans are social animals. That means that our friendships, family, and other social networks are not just pleasures; they're also essential to our survival. New research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association finds that loneliness and isolation may be bigger public health issues than previously realized.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need--crucial to both well-being and survival," psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University said in a statement.

"Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment."

A 2010 AARP study of adults aged 45 and up found that more than one-third of respondents felt lonely, and that loneliness and poor health went hand in hand.

To quantify the impact of loneliness and isolation, Holt-Lunstad conducted two separate meta-analyses of the scientific literature, reviewing a total of 218 studies. Her first analysis found that higher social connectedness is linked to as much as a 50 percent decrease in risk of early death.

The second, which included data from more than 3.4 million people in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, suggests that social isolation, loneliness, and living alone can be as bad for a person's health as other common risks. (The AARP study also concluded that prolonged isolation carries the same health risks as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.)

"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," Holt-Lunstad said.

Just listened to Marilynne Robinson's great novel, Gilead, which plumbs her theme of loneliness and the quest for domesticity.  She portrays separation from our fellow men as a sort of living hell and draws upon John Calvin's theology for separation from god as literal Hell, CHAPTER 16. HOW CHRIST PERFORMED THE OFFICE OF REDEEMER IN PROCURING OUR SALVATION. THE DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND ASCENSION OF CHRIST. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion):

8. Here we must not omit the descent to hell, which was of no little importance to the accomplishment of redemption. For although it is apparent from the writings of the ancient Fathers, that the clause which now stands in the Creed was not formerly so much used in the churches, still, in giving a summary of doctrine, a place must be assigned to it, as containing a matter of great importance which ought not by any means to be disregarded. Indeed, some of the ancient Fathers do not omit it,255 and hence we may conjecture, that having been inserted in the Creed after a considerable lapse of time, it came into use in the Church not immediately but by degrees.256 This much is uncontroverted, that it was in accordance with the general sentiment of all believers, since there is none of the Fathers who does not mention Christ's descent into hell, though they have various modes of explaining it. But it is of little consequence by whom and at what time it was introduced. The chief thing to be attended to in the Creed is, that it furnishes us with a full and every way complete summary of faith, containing nothing but what has been derived from the infallible word of God. But should any still scruple to give it admission into the Creed, it will shortly be made plain, that the place which it holds in a summary of our redemption is so important, that the omission of it greatly detracts from the benefit of Christ's death. There are some again who think that the article contains nothing new, but is merely a repetition in different words of what was previously said respecting burial, the word Hell (Infernis) being often used in Scripture for sepulchre. I admit the truth of what they allege with regard to the not infrequent use of the term infernos for sepulchre; but I cannot adopt their opinion, for two obvious reasons. First, What folly would it have been, after explaining a matter attended with no difficulty in clear and unambiguous terms, afterwards to involve rather than illustrate it by clothing it in obscure phraseology? When two expressions having the same meaning are placed together, the latter ought to be explanatory of the former. But what kind of explanation would it be to say, the expression, "Christ was buried", means, that "he descended into hell"? My second reason is the improbability that a superfluous tautology of this description should have crept into this compendium, in which the principal articles of faith are set down summarily in the fewest possible number of words. I have no doubt that all who weigh the matter with some degree of care will here agree with me.  [...]

10. But, apart from the Creed, we must seek for a surer exposition of Christ's descent to hell: and the word of God furnishes us with one not only pious and holy, but replete with excellent consolation. Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the "chastisement of our peace was laid upon him" that he "was bruised for our iniquities" that he "bore our infirmities;" expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price--that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man.

11. In this sense, Peter says that God raised up Christ, "having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible he should be holden of it," (Acts 2:24). He does not mention death simply, but says that the Son of God endured the pains produced by the curse and wrath of God, the source of death. How small a matter had it been to come forth securely, and as it were in sport to undergo death. Herein was a true proof of boundless mercy, that he shunned not the death he so greatly dreaded. And there can be no doubt that, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle means to teach the same thing, when he says that he "was heard in that he feared," (Heb. 5:7). Some instead of "feared," use a term meaning reverence or piety, but how inappropriately, is apparent both from the nature of the thing and the form of expression.259 Christ then praying in a loud voice, and with tears, is heard in that he feared, not so as to be exempted from death, but so as not to be swallowed up of it like a sinner, though standing as our representative. And certainly no abyss can be imagined more dreadful than to feel that you are abandoned and forsaken of God, and not heard when you invoke him, just as if he had conspired your destruction. To such a degree was Christ dejected, that in the depth of his agony he was forced to exclaim, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


California Crops Rot as Immigration Crackdown Creates Farmworker Shortage (Chris Morris, Aug 08, 2017, Fortune)

Vegetable prices may be going up soon, as a shortage of migrant workers is resulting in lost crops in California.

Farmers say they're having trouble hiring enough people to work during harvest season, causing some crops to rot before they can be picked. Already, the situation has triggered losses of more than $13 million in two California counties alone, according to NBC News.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


The Friendliest Lawsuit Ever Filed Against the Justice Department (Benjamin Wittes, August 12, 2017, LawFare)

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I filed a lawsuit. It may be the friendliest lawsuit ever filed against the Justice Department. 

I filed it because I believe President Trump lied before Congress about data kept by his Justice Department, and I want to find out whether I'm right. 

Back in February, speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, President Trump declared that: "according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country."

There's a lot of reason to believe this statement is a compound lie--both to believe that the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes did not come here from elsewhere and to believe that the men and women of the Department of Justice did not provide any data suggesting otherwise.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


March of white supremacists at University of Virginia ends in skirmishes (Joe Heim August 12, 2017, washington Post)

Chanting "White lives matter!" "You will not replace us!" and "Jews will not replace us!" several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus Friday night.

The fast-paced march was made up almost exclusively of men in their 20s and 30s, though there were some who looked to be in their mid-teens.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Somehow, Merriam Webster has become the funniest anti-Donald site on the web.
Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


ESPN's Surrender to Grim New Reality : With cable TV subscribers fleeing, the sports giant has to look for customers online. That's not where the money is. (Joe Nocera, 8/11/17, bLOOMBERG)

The core economic issue is this: Cable companies pay the Walt Disney Co. an average of $7.21 per subscriber for ESPN, according to the media-news service SNL Kagan, triple that of other popular cable channels. And because of the way the cable bundle works, the operators end up passing the cost along to many customers who don't watch sports and don't want ESPN. That's why so many people hate the cable bundle, and why cable bills are so high.

So it is hardly a surprise that as people began to have more options, including bundles without sports channels, they've been abandoning ESPN. Even many sports fans have concluded they can live without ESPN. "ESPN is in secular decline," says Rich Greenfield of the investment firm BTIG, who has had a "sell" on Disney's stock since 2015.

At the same time, ESPN is paying staggering sums for professional sports rights, more than $7 billion in total, again according to SNL Kagan. Fewer subscribers plus higher rights fees equals profit squeeze. Which is exactly ESPN's dilemma.

But a streaming service, while it might attract sports fans who have cut the cord, won't solve ESPN's profit problems. Instead it will exacerbate them. Why? Because ESPN will continue to lose the millions upon millions of cable subscribers who pay for it but never watch it. Losing $7.21 from each non-watcher is going to be a revenue killer. There is no possible way the universe of sports fans who want ESPN can make up that revenue, even if they're charged more for a streaming service.

To make matters worse, Disney appears to be planning a streaming service that even the most rabid sports fan will be reluctant to pay for. All the good stuff -- big-time college football, professional basketball, the Monday night National Football League game -- will remain exclusively on ESPN's cable channels. The streaming service will get, well, other things. It's pretty clear that Iger is still trying to protect Disney's legacy cable business, and that his move to the internet is not exactly a wholehearted embrace.

The reality is that the glory days are over for ESPN. Instead of making the $6.4 billion it earned in 2014, it'll soon be earning $2 billion or less. Iger, or his successor, will have to decide whether to invest in it or to let it hobble along in its diminished shape. Disney will have to decide whether to keep paying megabucks for professional sports rights -- thinking of them as loss leaders like the Olympics for NBC -- or whether to give up those rights to save money. If it does the former, ESPN's profits will dwindle even more. If it does the latter, fewer sports fans will want to subscribe.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Mysterious Origins of Hanover's Mona Lisa (Teresa Johnston Oden, 8/11/17, The Valley News)

Shortly after the close of the American Revolution, William Henry Vernon of Newport, R.I., graduated from Princeton University. He was only 18 years old and not ready to assume a place in the world. His father, a prosperous merchant who had held a post akin to the secretary of the Navy during the revolution, had many connections with men of influence, and he looked to them to help his son grow into a man who could be useful to his country. In 1778, Vernon's father sent him off to Paris with letters of introduction to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who were living there at the time, and to the Marquis de Lafayette.

The elder Vernon hoped his son would return, a couple years older and more worldly wise, to join the family firm. However, after Benjamin Franklin introduced him at the royal court, the young man had no taste for business. He plunged into life among the aristocrats with pure delight. He adopted their dress and imitated their manners and made himself useful whenever he could. Two years stretched into five and then 10.

By then Vernon could easily pass for a French nobleman. But what had been his delight took a sinister turn as the populace began to rise up against the king. Vernon continued to live among the nobility through the Reign of Terror and beyond, but finally he was swept up with members of the French aristocracy and imprisoned. Unable to prove his American citizenship, he was facing execution when a group of Americans living in France successfully petitioned for his release. Vernon fled the country and returned to the States.  

Along with his fancy dress clothes, he packed up more than 50 Old Master paintings. They included works by Titian, Van Dyck, Murillo, Veronese, Michelangelo -- and a portrait of the Mona Lisa that Vernon believed was painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

How did William Vernon come by such a glorious trove of art? A folder of newspaper and magazine clippings in Dartmouth's Rauner Library offers some answers, and other questions. [...]

When Ambrose White Vernon moved to Hanover, he hung the Mona Lisa in his home on Downing Road. He shared possession with another family member, and after enjoying it for six months, he shipped it off to the other owner for the rest of the year. But the world-wide fame of the Louvre's Mona Lisa led the family to wonder whether such casual treatment of their painting was wise. Just how valuable was it, anyway? 

In 1950 the Princeton Club of New York exhibited the Vernon Mona Lisa for one day. A report in the Nov. 10, 1950, Princeton Alumni Weekly provides a wealth of information about the Vernon family's efforts to learn more about their painting. Experts at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum had examined it in the 1930s and declared it from the same era as the Louvre painting.  

Years later a renowned historian, Thomas M. Judson, visited Professor Vernon's home to examine the work. He was convinced by the brushwork that Leonardo himself painted the face, if not the entire portrait. But he also noted that the Vernon painting shows a woman who is younger and thinner, one whose expression seems sadder in comparison. Lest it be written off as a poor copy, these differences would have to be explained. Judson offered a startling theory.

It is known that the sitter, Lisa Gherardini, lost a child in 1499, and Judson thought it likely that da Vinci began the Vernon portrait at around that time, and that the grieving mother became too ill to continue. A few years later, when the sittings began again, the woman's appearance had changed so much that da Vinci abandoned the earlier portrait and started another painting, the one that hangs in the Louvre. The Vernon portrait was finished by someone else, perhaps da Vinci's pupil Bernardino Luini.

If this is the true story of the origin of the Vernon Mona Lisa, it gives the painting a certain distinction. Rather than being one of many, many copies of the Louvre portrait, it is actually a forerunner.

Judson's theory was neither widely embraced nor rejected. But William Vernon's heirs had learned enough; they realized that their Mona Lisa was far too valuable to hang in a private home in Hanover.  She was trundled into a vault in New Jersey and seldom saw the light of day.

For Ambrose White Vernon, it was a grievous loss. "The Mona Lisa has been with us so long that it has seemed more like a dearly loved member of the family than a material possession," he told Woman's Day magazine for an article published in October 1955.

For a while she was remembered fondly in the Upper Valley. On Feb. 14, 1963, while the Louvre's Mona Lisa was touring New York and Washington, D.C., Margaret Beck McCallum wrote in the Hanover Gazette, "It was nice of the French Government to send her over, but as far as Hanover is concerned it's sort of coals to Newcastle."  

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


The world's best Dota 2 players just got destroyed by a killer AI from Elon Musk's startup (T.C. Sottek,  Aug 11, 2017, The Verge)
Tonight during Valve's yearly Dota 2 tournament, a surprise segment introduced what could be the best new player in the world -- a bot from Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI. Engineers from the nonprofit say the bot learned enough to beat Dota 2 pros in just two weeks of real-time learning, though in that training period they say it amassed "lifetimes" of experience, likely using a neural network judging by the company's prior efforts. Musk is hailing the achievement as the first time artificial intelligence has been able to beat pros in competitive e-sports.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM



As President Donald Trump escalates his war of words against North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, a team of independent rocket experts has asserted that the two rockets the rogue regime launched in July and described as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are incapable of delivering a nuclear payload to the continental United States, and probably not even to Anchorage, Alaska.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology rocket expert Ted Postol and two German experts, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Schmucker Technologie, published their findings Friday in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a paper they titled "North Korea's 'Not Quite' ICBM Can't Hit the Lower 48 States." Newsweek saw an early version of the paper.

Postol is professor of science, technology and national security policy at MIT who has advised the Pentagon and Congress on missile-related defense projects. Schiller and Schmucker are missile engineers with the Munich-based company who have previously analyzed North Korean missiles, and in 2012 determined that the country's supposed ICBMs were "fakes." Schiller has worked on missile analyses for NATO, the EU, the German and Austrian armed forces and other institutions in Europe. Schmucker has worked at NASA and served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. 

"From the point of view of North Korean political leadership, the general reaction to the July 4 and July 28 launches could not have been better," the authors wrote. "The world suddenly believed that the North Koreans had an ICBM that could reach the West Coast of the United States and beyond. But calculations we have made--based on detailed study of the type and size of the rocket motors used, the flight times of the stages of the rockets, the propellant likely used, and other technical factors--indicate that these rockets actually carried very small payloads that were nowhere near the weight of a nuclear warhead of the type North Korea could have, or could eventually have. These small payloads allowed the rockets to be lofted to far higher altitudes than they would have if loaded with a much-heavier warhead, creating the impression that North Korea was on the cusp of achieving ICBM capability."

August 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM



The Statue of Liberty continues to inspire controversy, the latest being its appearance on the September cover of fashion magazine Vogue, serving as the backdrop to a portrait of movie star Jennifer Lawrence.

Breitbart economics and finance editor John Carney complained in a tweet about the cover and proposed a new fashion section for Breitbart's news website. "We're going to have to create a full #MAGA shadow cultural industry because the Opposition Media can't even do fashion without attacking us," he wrote on Thursday.

Do you really want to whinge about how Lady Liberty stands for everything you oppose?

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM



IF YOU ASK Steve Bannon how he got the idea that Muslims in the Middle East are a civilizational threat to America, he will say that his eyes were first opened when he served on a Navy destroyer in the Arabian Sea. At least that's what he told the journalist Joshua Green, whose new book about President Donald Trump's senior counselor is a best-seller.

 "It was not hard to see, as a junior officer, sitting there, that [the threat] was just going to be huge," Bannon said. He went on:

We'd pull into a place like Karachi, Pakistan - this is 1979, and I'll never forget it - the British guys came on board, because they still ran the port. The city had 10 million people at the time. We'd get out there, and 8 million of them had to be below the age of fifteen. It was an eye-opener. We'd been other places like the Philippines where there was mass poverty. But it was nothing like the Middle East. It was just a complete eye-opener. It was the other end of the earth.

That's Bannon's version. There are a few problems with it, however.

The port of Karachi was not run by the British in 1979. Karachi, which is the commercial hub of Pakistan, had a population that was well short of 10 million (it was about half that) and is not usually considered part of the Middle East. But the biggest problem is that the destroyer Bannon served on, the USS Paul F. Foster, never visited Karachi while Bannon was aboard.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Freedom Caucus leader is flirting with saving Obamacare (Tara Golshan and Dylan Scott,  Aug 11, 2017, Vox)

Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Meadows has started negotiating a deal with a top House moderate, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), which would work to stabilize Obamacare's individual markets, funding key payments to insurers while giving states more flexibility for their own health care programs.

The outline of the emerging deal is pretty simple, per the aide:

* Congress would authorize cost-sharing reduction payments, which compensate insurers for providing discounts on out-of-pocket costs for lower-income customers.

* In exchange, states would be given more flexibility under an existing Obamacare waiver program to pursue their own health care policies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


How America Forged Philip Glass (MARK JUDGE, 8/11/17, Liberty & Law)

At age 15, Glass was admitted to a special, accelerated program at the University of Chicago. He recalled that on a train to the Windy City, hearing the rhythm of the train's movement on the tracks, "the sounds of daily life were entering me almost unnoticed." In Words Without Music, Glass cites Chicago itself as a major influence on his work. Glass went to symphonies that only cost 50 cents, visited modern art exhibits, and was exposed to bebop jazz greats, including Charlie Parker, whose brilliant and wild soloing broke established rules of harmony. At the University of Chicago, Glass was also required to read the Western canon in a program begun by philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler. It had a profound and lasting effect on the young composer:

I mentioned earlier the influence of the Great Books on the curriculum, but it extended far beyond that. Whenever possible, which turned out to be all the time, the books we studied would be first hand, primary sources. . . . The same primary-source method was carried out in social science, history and philosophy. Learning American history meant reading the Federalist papers and other late-eighteenth century essays by the men who wrote the Constitution. Of course, humanities meant theater and literature from ancient to modern. Poetry, same thing. The effect on me was to cultivate and understand in a  firsthand way the lineage of culture. The men and women who created the stepping-stones from earliest times became familiar to us--not something "handed down" but actually known in a most immediate and personal way.

Glass's eclectic subject matter and primary source immersion included the study of science. This would be the subject of his breakthrough opera, 1976's Einstein on the Beach, which was based on the life of Albert Einstein and would establish Glass as a major cultural figure. [...]

Early in life and in fact right up until the late 1970s, when he was an established composer and even a celebrity, Glass worked blue-collar jobs to pay the bills. In the 1950s, during summer breaks as a Julliard student, he punched the clock at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. He also worked as a plumber. At the time that Einstein on the Beach premiered in the Metropolitan Opera House, he was driving a taxi, in which job he once picked up a criminal and was almost murdered by the man. Asked by director Martin Scorsese if he had seen Scorsese's film Taxi Driver, Glass replied that he had been too busy actually being one.

Glass's experience in the real world might explain why the composer never developed a taste for the brand of European nihilism that became fashionable after World War II. He was unimpressed when he came across the French Existentialists:

Their work was heavily nihilistic and oddly narcissistic, and these sentiments simply did not play well to the aspirations of a new and powerful generation of Americans who came up after World War II. Their books struck me as full of self-pity and despair at the meanness of their lives and the inability to find meaning therein, and my generation was impatient with all that.

By the same token, Glass gave short shrift to the criticism he faced in 1982 for appearing in a Cutty Sark whiskey ad. He was accused of selling out. "I called it 'selling in,' because the money went right into my work," writes the composer. "It seemed to me that people who didn't have to sell out, or in, must have had rich parents."

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll - August 2017: The Politics of ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts (Ashley Kirzinger, Bianca DiJulio, Bryan Wu, and Mollyann Brodie, 8/11/17, Kaiser)

The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that the majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a "good thing" that the Senate did not pass the bill that would have repealed and replaced the ACA. Since then, President Trump has suggested Congress not take on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA, but six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with this approach, while one-third (34 percent) agree with it.

A majority of the public (57 percent) want to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law, while smaller shares say they want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). However, about half of Republicans and Trump supporters would like to see Republicans in Congress keep working on a plan to repeal the ACA.

A large share of Americans (78 percent) think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while few (17 percent) say they should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively)...

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Fired Google engineer compares high-paid tech job to Soviet forced labor (T.C. Sottek,  Aug 10, 2017, The Verge)

In what appears to be his new Twitter account, Damore can be seen wearing a shirt with the word "Goolag," a play on "Google" that means to suggest the Silicon Valley search company is something like the infamous Soviet camps where prisoners were worked and starved to death as part of one of the 20th century's worst genocides.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Is Saudi Arabia waging war on its Shiite minority? (Deutsche-Welle, 8/11/17)

Largely ignored by the rest of the world, heavy fighting has been going on in the tiny city of Awamiya in eastern Saudi Arabia for three months: Satellite images show that entire sections of the city have been destroyed. Images of firefights and flattened buildings are making the rounds on social media. Independent reporting is not possible because the government has denied foreign journalists access to the area.

The center of the fighting appears to be Al-Masora, the city's old quarter. Militant Shiites are engaged in firefights with Saudi security forces there, in the neighborhood's narrow alleys. Heavy artillery is being used in the fighting and at least 15 people are said to have been killed so far. After images of Canadian-made armored vehicles being deployed against civilians became public, Ottawa reportedly began considering a halt of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The conflict arose in part from Saudi plans to demolish areas of the historic city in order to build a new shopping mall - something that the city's residents strongly opposed. In April, the United Nations called for Saudi Arabia to halt forced relocations and the demolition of the old quarter. UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, fears "the planned demolition would erase this unique regional heritage in an irreversible manner." [...]

Repression and marginalization are the deeper roots of the conflict. Some 10 percent of Saudi Arabia's 30 million citizens are Shiites. They mostly live in the east of the country - where much of its oil is located. But Shiites have profited little from the country's wealth, and they have been denied access to participation in political life in the kingdom. They are also put under increased pressure by the fact that the majority of Saudis are adherents of Wahhabism - and therefore view Shiites as apostates.

Minority Shiites last voiced their strong displeasure with the government during the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Awamiya became a center of protest - especially after the revolt of the Shia minority in neighboring Bahrain was crushed by its Sunni king, with military help from Saudi Arabia. Awamiya was also the home of Nimr al-Nimr, a popular Shiite sheikh who became a figurehead during protests in eastern Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr paid for the stand he made against the discrimination of Shiites with his life when he was executed, supposedly for being a terrorist, in early 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Nikki Haley: Trump's Cabinet Superstar (Suzanne Fields, August 11, 2017, RCP)

[S]he has prospered at the U.N., working hard to build close relationships with other delegations, particularly those of America's European allies. Over the first months of her tenure, she earned the respect of other delegates that enabled her to rally support for American positions on Syria and North Korea.

Her frequent and aggressive scolding of Russian support for Syrian President Bashar Assad earned her a reputation for leading, as well as following, American policy. She squelched the long-standing Russian goal of making Russia the moral actor in the Syrian civil war. And she still won Russian support for the sanctions vote.

Little more than a year ago, she seemed unlikely to be a part of a Trump administration. She clashed with then-candidate Trump on the eve of the South Carolina primary, having said sharp things about him and endorsed Sen. Mario Rubio. "During anxious times," she said, "it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation."

Trump unleashed a Twitter attack. "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!" he tweeted angrily. But that was forgotten by both of them when Trump assembled his Cabinet. He needed someone who knew how to speak up, even to him. She learned in South Carolina, as only a governor can, how to twist arms to rally support.

Someone asked her the other day whether she had to twist a lot of arms to bring Russia and China along on the sanctions vote. She replied: "Yes, we did."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


President Likes Tweet About Trump Sex-Trafficking Conspiracy Theory (Margaret Hartmann, 8/11/17, New York)

 While President Trump is fan of conspiracy theories, the idea floated by @AHamiltonSpirit is basically the opposite of Pizzagate. The accompanying thread suggests that Trump, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin are coordinating to distract from looming indictments for underage sex trafficking at Trump's former modeling agency.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC  (Jana Winter and Elias Groll, 8/11/17, Foreign Policy)

After the memo was discovered, McMaster's deputy, Ricky Waddell, summoned Higgins, who was told he could resign -- or be fired, and risk losing his security clearance, according to two sources.

Higgins, who agreed to resign, was escorted out of the building. He later learned from his colleagues still at the NSC that his association to this now-infamous memo was the reason he was removed.

Following Higgins's departure, McMaster set out to clean house, a source close the White House said -- getting rid of NSC staffers linked to the memo, perceived as loyal to his predecessor, Michael Flynn, or simply those with whom he'd butted heads over foreign policy. Among those fired was Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the NSC's top intelligence official, and Derek Harvey, who handled the NSC's Middle East portfolio.

In the meantime, however, the memo had been working its way through the Trump White House. Among those who received the memo, according to two sources, was Donald Trump Jr.

Trump Jr., at that time in the glare of media scrutiny around his meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign, gave the memo to his father, who gushed over it, according to sources.

In a comedy of errors, Trump later learned from Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and close friend of the president, that the memo's author had been fired. Trump was "furious," the senior administration official said. "He is still furious."

The memo lays out what it described as a concerted campaign to undermine the president.

"The administration has been maneuvered into a constant back-pedal by relentless political warfare attacks structured to force him to assume a reactive posture that assures inadequate responses," it reads. "The president can either drive or be driven by events; it's time for him to drive them."

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Reformists Unanimously Elect Next Tehran Mayor (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/11./17)

Tehran's municipal council named on Thursday the final candidate for mayor behind closed doors, replacing incumbent Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf with a pronounced reformist.

The reformist majority council agreed to elect presidential economic advisor Mohammad-Ali Najafi instead of the current conservative mayor Ghalibaf. The incoming mayor is expected to boost Tehran social programs. [...]

The reformist bloc won a majority of the council's seats, with the most outstanding winners being the son of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohsen Hashemi, as well as the culture minister of the reformist government Ahmed Masjid Jamami.

Iranian media reported that Najafi , a former education minister, will formally submit necessary documents for the post to the interior ministry, followed by the swearing in after the official vote in the Tehran municipality.

The post of mayor of Iran's biggest city, which has a population of more than 12m, has often been used as a platform to launch more ambitious political careers: Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the populist president who was in power from 2005 to 2013, was Qalibaf's predecessor as Tehran's mayor.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Donald Trump's "brain" Stephen Miller is also obsessed with Muslims and Mexicans (MEHDI HASAN, 8/11/17, New Statesman)

In the teeming cast of White House grotesques, the dead-eyed Miller - "He looks like the hitchhiker other hitchhikers stay away from," joked the late-night talk show host Seth Meyers - stands out as a paradoxical figure. Though he is Jewish and was born and raised in liberal Los Angeles County, Miller has the most extensive ties to the white nationalist movement of any White House adviser, Steve Bannon included.

It would not be an exaggeration to call Miller an extremist - and one whose extremism goes back to his teenage years. "He believes multiculturalism is a weakness, that when we celebrate our differences we are ignoring our 'American culture'," his former high school classmate Nick Silverman recalled on Facebook in February. "He didn't like someone from El Salvador celebrating their homeland, or someone from Vietnam bringing in food from their country of origin. He wanted everyone to celebrate one culture. One country."

Other former classmates told the US Spanish-language news network Univision that Miller "used to make fun of the children of Latino and Asian immigrants who did not speak English well". One student, Jason Islas, claims that Miller told him they could not be friends because of the former's "Latino heritage".

In a high school newspaper column written three months after 9/11 and entitled "A Time to Kill", Miller also mocked the idea of Islam as "peaceful" or "benign" and demanded a violent response to "millions of radical Muslims". Later, he worked with David Horowitz - dubbed an "anti-Muslim extremist" by the Southern Poverty Law Center - to organise "Islamofascism Awareness Week" on college campuses.

To recap: for more than a decade, Miller's biggest obsessions have been race and culture; Mexicans and Muslims. Who does that remind you of? The truth is that his boss - who has retweeted neo-Nazis and received the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan - has recruited a motley crew of far-right nativists to serve in his White House. Bannon, the chief strategist, has bragged about how he turned Breitbart News into "the platform for the alt-right". Sebastian Gorka, who serves as a "deputy assistant" to the president, is alleged to have once been a member of a far-right Hungarian group.

Miller is a former university pal of the white supremacist Richard Spencer, who has called for "peaceful ethnic cleansing". Spencer referred to himself as a "mentor" to Miller, telling the Daily Beast that he "spent a lot of time with him at Duke [University]... I hope I expanded his thinking."

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Moqtada al-Sadr: We don't Want Two Armies in Iraq (Sa'ed Al-Abyadh, 8/11/17, Al Monitor)

Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of Iraq's Sadrist movement, underlined the importance to integrate government forces with the fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces under the leadership of the prime minister and the commander of the armed forces, pointing out that he refuses to have two armies in the country.

"The presence of the Popular Mobilization Forces outside the state is causing many problems," he said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

Sadr did not rule out allying with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the head of the National Coalition Ammar al-Hakim in the upcoming elections, saying: "I have no objection to the alliance (with them), not as a person, but as the Sadrist movement, especially as we are about to form a bloc of independent technocrats to take Iraq to safety while providing services to citizens."

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Can a Crowdsourced AI Medical Diagnosis App Outperform Your Doctor? : The Human Dx platform aims to improve the accuracy of individual physicians (Jeremy Hsu on August 11, 2017, Scientific American)

Human Dx advocates the use of machine learning--a popular AI technique that automatically learns from classifying patterns in data--to crowdsource and build on the best medical knowledge from thousands of physicians across 70 countries. Physicians at several major medical research centers have shown early interest in the app. Human Dx on Thursday announced a new partnership with top medical profession organizations including the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges to promote and scale up Human Dx's system. The goal is to provide timely and affordable specialist advice to general practitioners serving millions of people worldwide, in particular so-called "safety net" hospitals and clinics throughout the U.S. that offer access to care regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

"We need to find solutions that scale the capacity of existing doctors to serve more patients at the same or cheaper cost," says Jay Komarneni, founder and chair of Human Dx. Roughly 30 million uninsured Americans rely on safety net facilities, which generally have limited or no access to medical specialists. Those patients often face the stark choice of either paying out of pocket for an expensive in-person consultation or waiting for months to be seen by the few specialists working at public hospitals, which receive government funding to help pay for patient care, Komarneni says. Meanwhile studies have shown that between 25 percent and 30 percent (pdf) of such expensive specialist visits could be conducted by online consultations between physicians while sparing patients the additional costs or long wait times.

Komarneni envisions "augmenting or extending physician capacity with AI" to close this "specialist gap." Within five years Human Dx aims to become available to all 1,300 safety net community health centers and free clinics in the U.S. The same remote consultation services could also be made available to millions of people around the world who lack access to medical specialists, Komarneni says.

August 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


The forgotten story of when Trump got destroyed by an 11-year-old boy (Greg Evans, 8/05/17, Independent)

Back in 1997 Donald Trump became the principal of a public school in New York City. [...]

Addressing the school's population, most of whom were from ethnic minorities, Trump reportedly announced via a megaphone:

First of all who likes Nike sneakers?

Predictably, every hand of every child shot into the air. Then Trump unveiled his plan which sounds more like one of his old challenges on The Apprentice.

If everybody puts their name on a piece of paper right now, I will pick 15 people and I'll take you to the new Nike store that I just opened at Trump Tower.

According to the article, Trump's plan went down pretty well with the kids.

Sensing an opportunity, the future President launched into a speech about how to get rich and live the American dream.

Is there anyone here that doesn't want to live in a big, beautiful mansion?

You know what you have to do to live in a big beautiful mansion?

'You have to be rich,' a voice from the crowd replied.

That's right.

You have to work hard, get through school. You have to go out and get a great job, make a lot of money and you live the American dream.

And you're going to have fun doing it. It's a lot of fun. 

So, you have a man who inherited a fair amount from his father telling a group of kids, who mostly came from poor backgrounds, that working hard will make them rich. So far, so Trump.

The property developer's lecture quickly fell apart however, when he began taking questions from the students.

11-year-old Andres Rodriguez seemingly saw through Trump and expertly challenged him. 

Ocala report that she asked:

Why did you offer us sneakers if you could give us scholarships?


Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM

THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS (self-reference alert):

Trump poised to nominate Christie ally for U.S. attorney in complex political deal (Andrew Seidman & Jonathan Tamari, 8/10/17,

The selection of the state's top federal law enforcement officer is part of a broader game of political horse trading playing out behind the scenes in Washington, Trenton, and New York. At the end of it, a half-dozen people will win jobs in law enforcement and on the federal courts that affect millions.

President Trump, a Republican, is expected to nominate federal District Court judges favored by New Jersey's two Democratic U.S. senators, Cory A. Booker and Bob Menendez. In turn, the two senators are expected to sign off on the nomination of criminal defense attorney Craig Carpenito as U.S. attorney, and another Christie ally is also in line for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

We've told the story before about how the Grandfather Judd owed his federal bench seat to Ted Kennedy.  RFK and Jake Javits had a deal, when they served as NY senators, whereby the Republican got to choose a judge for every couple that the Democrat got.  They'd submitted the name before RFK was assassinated, but afterword, Johnson tried pulling it.  Javits went to the other brother and got him to intervene with the Administration.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Trump called for acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to be fired on day of Paul Manafort raid (Kelly Cohen | Aug 9, 2017, washington Examiner)

President Trump complained about the then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe just hours after FBI agents raided the Virginia home of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort late last month.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


How to Not Get Fired by Elon Musk -- And Be Indispensable at Work (Business Insider, 8/10/17)

In his 2015 book, "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future," Ashlee Vance shares the story of how Musk stopped working with his longtime executive assistant in early 2014.

According to Vance, the assistant, Mary Beth Brown, asked Musk for a significant raise after she'd been working with him for 12 years. In response, Musk told Brown to take two weeks off, during which he would assume her responsibilities and see whether she was critical to his success.

When Brown returned, Musk told her he didn't need her anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Trump thanks Russia's Putin for slashing U.S. diplomatic staff (Jonathan Ernst, 8/10/17, Reuters) 

"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down our payroll and as far as I'm concerned I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people," Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. "There's no real reason for them to go back."

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Sebastian Gorka, the West Wing's Phony Foreign-Policy Guru : Gorka's a former Breitbart editor with Islamophobic views and ties to neo-Nazi extremists - and he has the ear of the president (Bob Dreyfuss, 8/10/17, Rolling Stone)

Insisting everywhere that he be referred to as "doctor," Gorka began his rise with a 2008 Ph.D. awarded by little-known Corvinus University of Budapest, an institution that several scholars who spoke to Rolling Stone described as having a questionable reputation. "Corvinus is pretty low-tier, maybe third- or fourth-tier," says Daniel Nexon, a scholar at Georgetown University who has reviewed Gorka's dissertation. "He might as well have mail-ordered his Ph.D." Nexon ran its text through plagiarism software and found that portions of it were "repurposed."

"Gorka's thesis is about as legitimate as if he had been awarded it by Trump University," says Andrew Reynolds, a professor at the University of North Carolina who looked into Gorka's background. He says that of the three people who served as endorsers of Gorka's Ph.D., two didn't have any academic credentials whatsoever, and a third was György Schöpflin, a right-wing Hungarian politician who, Reynolds adds, was a Gorka family friend and once suggested studding a Hungarian border fence with pig heads to send a message to Muslim refugees. (Gorka said later that Schöpflin was "making a joke"; Gorka, whom Rolling Stone reached out to repeatedly, declined to comment for this article.)

Perhaps even more worrisome, Gorka's thesis proposed a dramatic restructuring of the national-security apparatus to create a police state. He suggests a radical reform of "internal barriers between the police force, the army and various intelligence services." This could also be seen as the start of a Gestapo-like, all-powerful national system of repression. "That's about as Nazi Germany- or Soviet Union-like a proposal as I've ever heard," says Patrick Eddington of the conservative Cato Institute. "The net effect would be to suspend the Bill of Rights, if his proposal ever saw the light of day."

During the decade and a half Gorka spent in Hungary, he was enmeshed in a web of ultraright, anti-Semitic and even Nazi-like parties, politicians and media outlets. For most of the 2000s, the Gorkas ran a think tank in Budapest called the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (ITDIS). For funding, Gorka received at least $27,650 in U.S. federal grants, according to government records. "We worked for ourselves," Katharine Gorka tells Rolling Stone.

In the mid-2000s, Hungary's left-leaning government found itself besieged by right-wing street protests. Many of the protesters were affiliated with ultranationalist leader Viktor Orbán, who's been called a "neo-fascist dictator" by Sen. John McCain, and who leads Hungary today. Gorka served as adviser to Orbán, and later wrote for an overtly anti-Semitic newspaper, Magyar Demokrata. By all accounts, Gorka's own writing and statements at the time included no anti-Semitic comments, and neither The Forward nor other reporters who've investigated his background in Hungary have turned up any evidence that Gorka himself participated in anything that could be called anti-Jewish. "What you can say for sure is that he was allied with people who have very extremist views," says Péter Krekó of the Political Capital Institute in Hungary. "He was an opportunist, and he cooperated with figures who were very marginal."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM



Speculation about Vice President Mike Pence's political aspirations will likely get another jolt next week as he heads off for a high-profile trip to Latin America.

The State Department requested "nearly 700" visas for the security and protocol teams traveling in advance to one Latin American country alone to prepare for Pence's arrival, said a diplomatic source. (Like most others who spoke to Newsweek on the matter, the person asked for anonymity because such details are normally very closely held.)

He and others with long experience in preparing for diplomatic trips say they have never seen numbers like that and couldn't understand the unprecedented visa requests. The diplomatic source called it a "curious" number that dwarfed even the advance teams for President Barack Obama's trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador combined in 2011.

Forget the numbers; it's the distance he keeps between him and Little Finger.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Islamic State threatens new attacks in Iran in video (Reuters, 8/10/17) 

A man wearing a black ski mask and holding an AK-47, seated alongside two others, made the threat in a video bearing the Islamic State's Amaq news agency logo and showing footage of two attacks in Tehran in June claimed by the militant group.

"The same way we are cutting the necks of your dogs in Iraq and Syria we will cut your necks in the center of Tehran," the man said, speaking accented Farsi.

Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim group which has sought to establish a caliphate in parts of the Gulf but is now under pressure from national armies and international groups in Syria and Iraq, sees Iran, which is predominantly Shi'ite, as one of its biggest enemies in the region.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM

THE lEFT IS THE rIGHT (profanity alert):

The Rise of the Violent Left : Antifa's activists say they're battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead? (PETER BEINART,  SEPTEMBER 2017,  The Atlantic)

What's eroding in Portland is the quality Max Weber considered essential to a functioning state: a monopoly on legitimate violence. As members of a largely anarchist movement, antifascists don't want the government to stop white supremacists from gathering. They want to do so themselves, rendering the government impotent. With help from other left-wing activists, they're already having some success at disrupting government. Demonstrators have interrupted so many city-council meetings that in February, the council met behind locked doors. In February and March, activists protesting police violence and the city's investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline hounded Mayor Ted Wheeler so persistently at his home that he took refuge in a hotel. The fateful email to parade organizers warned, "The police cannot stop us from shutting down roads."

All of this fuels the fears of Trump supporters, who suspect that liberal bastions are refusing to protect their right to free speech. Joey Gibson, a Trump supporter who organized the June 4 Portland rally, told me that his "biggest pet peeve is when mayors have police stand down ... They don't want conservatives to be coming together and speaking." To provide security at the rally, Gibson brought in a far-right militia called the Oath Keepers. In late June, James Buchal, the chair of the Multnomah County Republican Party, announced that it too would use militia members for security, because "volunteers don't feel safe on the streets of Portland."

Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation. Unlike the politicians they revile, the men and women of antifa cannot be voted out of office. Generally, they don't even disclose their names.

Antifa's perceived legitimacy is inversely correlated with the government's. Which is why, in the Trump era, the movement is growing like never before. As the president derides and subverts liberal-democratic norms, progressives face a choice. They can recommit to the rules of fair play, and try to limit the president's corrosive effect, though they will often fail. Or they can, in revulsion or fear or righteous rage, try to deny racists and Trump supporters their political rights. From Middlebury to Berkeley to Portland, the latter approach is on the rise, especially among young people.

Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Robots to replace Disneyland Actors (DEEPAK GUPTA, 8/10/17, Next Web)

Over 1200 character actors portray Mickey, Goofy and other characters at Disneyland and they might lose their jobs soon.

A patent application reveals Disney's plans to create children-friendly "Soft" Robots. The soft-bodied robots are adapted for physical interaction with humans, particularly children. The robots also incorporate sensors and control software intended to reduce impacts on collision during human interaction.

August 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Walmart apologizes for sign marketing guns as back-to-school items (Jackie Wattles, August 9, 2017, CNN Money)

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


James Damore's Legal Case Against Google Isn't So Clear (CALE GUTHRIE WEISSMAN, 8/09/17, Fast Company)

"I think it's interesting that he filed a claim with the NLRB," says Miriam Cherry, a law professor at Saint Louis University who specializes in employment law. "That's maybe not the typical route that most people would take." This claim invokes a certain section-8(a)1-which prohibits employers from interfering with workers who are organizing to advocate for their own labor rights, or, as Cherry (and the law) describes it, "protected concerted activity." Often, NLRB claims involve unions, and Google-along with nearly every other tech company-is not unionized.

The idea is that if someone is making an appeal to workers on behalf of workers, the company cannot retaliate and fire that person. Though workers represented by unions are given more protections, section 8(a)1 protects everyone. Cherry offers herself as an example, explaining that she's a professor who's not in a union, but she still has the right to reach out to other employees about working conditions. That action, she says, would be protected. Because Damore wrote his memo in the style of a call to action to his coworkers to discuss Google, it could potentially be protected under section 8(a)1.

Cherry's colleague, professor Matt Bodie, who specializes in labor law and the NLRB, is also intrigued by her interpretation of Damore's situation. "From a workplace perspective, you can say [Damore] was trying to rally his fellow employees to oppose certain diversity initiates that Google has taken up," says Bodie. Those types of claims, Bodie adds, are generally brought by more than one person-for example, a group of people who collectively complain about their wages or conditions. This complaint is different: While he's reaching out to other employees, Bodie notes that the memo is "still personal." And this is a situation that the Labor Board hasn't really addressed yet.

Another route, which Damore has yet to take up in court, is his protection of free speech. This is a claim that will likely be even harder to prove. Law professor David Yamada of Suffolk University in the U.K. puts it plainly: "Private sector employees do not have general free speech rights."

If speech had no consequences it would hardly be worth protecting from government interference.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Saudi Arabia Is Trying to Remake the Middle East In Its Image (MICHAEL HORTON, August 8, 2017, American Conservative)

No country has done more to spread radical Islam than Saudi Arabia. For the better part of four decades, the oil rich nation has--through public and private institutions--funded a multiplicity of organizations dedicated to spreading the most radical and reductionist interpretations of Islam.

In short, the weaponization of Islam is a core part of Saudi foreign policy. It is the primary means by which the country projects power and secures influence in countries across the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. So far, with U.S. complicity, the strategy has enjoyed great success.

Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser degree other Gulf nations, are engaged in a kind of cultural terraforming. Centuries of diverse and divergent religious traditions within Islam--in countries like Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq--have been swept away by an influx of Saudi-educated clerics and Saudi-produced religious materials. These Saudi-influenced imams and religious literature teach the radical brand of Islam that predominates in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism. [...]

The current grand mufti, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah al ash Sheikh, has issued fatwas (religious proclamations) that have called for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula, upheld the rights of men to take ten year old girls as brides, banned the playing of chess, and declared the entire population of Iran to be apostates.

Beliefs like these do little to help a country, even an extraordinarily wealthy one, modernize and empower its citizenry, most especially women. Despite its wealth, Saudi Arabia is struggling with a booming population, increasing levels of poverty and unemployment, and bloody sectarian divisions. The country, much like its Gulf-based neighbors, remains dependent on foreign workers. This is particularly the case for jobs that require high levels of technical expertise. Manufacturing in Saudi Arabia is limited and the economy remains almost entirely dependent on oil exports.

These internal issues contribute to Saudi Arabia's fear of what it views as growing Iranian influence in the region. These fears are not unjustified. In contrast with Saudi Arabia, Iran possesses a formidable military, a relatively diverse economy with a comparatively vibrant manufacturing sector, and a growing well-educated middle class. Perhaps most critically, Iraq--thanks to the US invasion of that country--is now firmly within the Iranian sphere of influence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Trump clings to control his Twitter account as John Kelly consolidates authority (Sarah Westwood, 8/09/17, Washington Examiner)

[A] handful of top advisers --including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, and chief strategist Steve Bannon -- were exempted from Kelly's reach by requiring Trump's permission to remove or reassign, a source close to the White House said.

But while the president has offered Kelly a level of control Priebus never managed to obtain, Trump has resisted giving his new chief of staff veto power over the spontaneous and provocative tweets that often serve as a distraction for his administration.

A series of news reports suggesting Kelly had sought oversight of Trump's Twitter account, including a report that claimed Kelly wanted to know in advance what the president planned to post, made their way to Trump's desk last week, a person familiar with the situation told the Washington Examiner.

Trump "was pissed when he read Kelly wanted to control his Twitter feed," the person said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM



In the Arab world, where freedom of expression and opposing voices have traditionally been silenced either through censorship, threat, imprisonment, or death, Al Jazeera has been an ongoing revolutionary act for nearly two decades.

As George Orwell famously put it, "In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  

In many ways, our mission at Al Jazeera mirrors Orwell's quote, giving voice to the dreams, frustrations, dissent, opinions, and aspirations of the millions of voiceless and faceless people from some of the most repressive places on earth.  

When Al Jazeera first came on the scene over two decades ago, media in the Arab region was completely dominated by Arab dictators. The sycophantic propaganda and the stranglehold on free expression exercised by these regimes promoted a one-sided view aimed at protecting their own power status. No room was left for the voices of opposition and dissent.

Our uncompromising pursuit of the truth and raw reality on the ground has made Al Jazeera loved by its audiences, but hated by governments.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


White House Watch: Who's Trying to Knife H.R. McMaster? : Someone in the White House is working overtime to drive a wedge between the president and his national security adviser. (MICHAEL WARREN, 8/07/17, Weekly Standard)

McMaster recently fired two National Security Council staff members--Derek Harvey and Ezra Cohen-Watnick--in part because both aides regularly met with Bannon without notifying McMaster. Bannon is senior counselor to the president and initially had a seat on the National Security Council before President Trump removed him in April. A third Bannon ally at the NSC, Rich Higgins, was fired by McMaster's deputy Ricky Waddell.

Soon after the firings, the critical articles and posts about McMaster ramped up, several of which have White House sourcing. Caroline Glick, a conservative columnist at the Jerusalem Post, posted on her Facebook page late on August 2 that McMaster is "deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump" and implied he was sympathetic to Islamist ideology. Citing senior White House officials "aware of his behavior," Glick wrote that McMaster "constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews."

At Circa on August 3, Sara Carter provided a leaked copy of a letter McMaster sent to Obama national security adviser Susan Rice notifying her that her security clearance had been extended. Carter quoted an unnamed "senior West Wing official" who said the letter "in effect is a White House pardon" for Rice's possible violations of unmasking guidelines. But it turns out McMaster signed similar letters for other living national security advisers from both parties, a pro-forma practice to allow the former officials to legally discuss classified information with current government officials. Sources told the Daily Beast, and I have confirmed, that Cohen-Watnick was the person who earlier this year provided McMaster with these letters for his signature. Only the Rice letter was leaked. A White House source told the Beast "Cohen-Watnick's office did not handle such matters, and that his office would not have had access to such a letter regarding Rice" but I'm told by two sources that Cohen-Watnick was the NSC staffer who got McMaster to sign the letters.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Trump Falls Under the Shadow of Spiro Agnew (Jeffrey Frank, August 7, 2017, The New Yorker)

On August 7, 1973, the Wall Street Journal published a startling story: Spiro Agnew, elected in 1968 as Richard Nixon's Vice-President, was under investigation for tax evasion, bribery, and various corrupt practices, most dating back to 1967, when Agnew became the governor of Maryland. Agnew's first reaction was a relatively restrained statement: "I am under investigation for possible violations of the criminal statutes," he said, adding, "I am innocent of any wrongdoing."
Then, at a press conference a day later, Agnew called the allegations "damned lies," as well as "false and scurrilous and malicious"; he certainly wasn't going to resign. A few days after that, he said, "I will fight, I will fight to prove my innocence," and over the next sixty-five days he never stopped attacking leaks and fighting what he called "smear publicity." The Agnew case, briefly, got as much attention as the Watergate scandal, which was then closing in on President Nixon following the start of televised Senate Watergate hearings, in mid-May, and the revelation, in mid-July, that a voice-activated taping system had been installed in the White House.

All this comes to mind when considering questions surrounding President Trump, his family, and his business associates. As the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the team he's hired investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, the Watergate investigation is often invoked. But what's known so far seems to bear more resemblance to the Agnew investigation. [...]

The Agnew investigation had been under way for more than six months when U.S. Attorney George Beall informed Agnew's lawyer of the allegations and, without issuing a formal subpoena, asked for Agnew's bank statements, cancelled checks, deposit tickets, and savings-account books dating back to 1967. Mueller's team appears to be taking a similarly thorough approach; investigators so far have asked the White House for documents connected to Flynn, and to preserve communications concerning a meeting, in June, 2016, that included Donald Trump, Jr.; Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser; and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. It may not be possible to learn what's going on inside a grand-jury room, but the credentials of Mueller's expanding legal team carry strong hints. One recent addition, Greg Andres, a defense lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime, had been a former deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Justice Department; there, as Reuters reported, he was in charge of a program focussed on foreign bribery.

A Trump lawyer, John Dowd, told Bloomberg News that Trump's businesses lie beyond the bounds of Mueller's mandate, but Mueller's mandate is Russian collusion, and Trump's companies have had ties to Russia for at least thirty years. While Trump has made a number of untrue statements on that subject, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, recounting that history, reminded readers that, in 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., said that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Conservative Koch Brothers Are Secret Investors in 'Wonder Woman' (Exclusive) (Tatiana Siegel, 8/09/17, Hollywood Reporter)

Sources say Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch -- who are worth a combined $96.2 billion and wield enormous power in political circles as major backers of right-wing politicians -- took a significant stake valued at tens of millions of dollars in RatPac-Dune Entertainment. Now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brought the brothers in as investors as part of a $450 million deal struck in 2013 -- a move that was never disclosed because RatPac-Dune is a private company.

Though Mnuchin is no longer involved with the slate financing facility, having recently put his stake into a blind trust in order to avoid a conflict of interest, the Koch brothers continue to be stakeholders in such films as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk and Steven Spielberg's upcoming Ready Player One.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


FBI conducted predawn raid of former Trump campaign chairman Manafort's home (Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, August 9, 2017, Washington Post)

Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort's home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, confirmed that agents executed a warrant at one of the political consultant's homes and that Manafort cooperated with the search.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 10:54 AM


Happy Birthday, King

Symphony in Riffs: 

Benny Carter would have turned 110 yesterday.  (Sorry this is a day late, but we're traveling.)  14 years after his passing, his music...both his own recordings and performances of his tunes and arrangements by others...lives on.  (Photos by Benny's great friend, Ed Berger who died earlier this year.)

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The Paradox of Google's Diversity Disaster (JOSEPHINE LIVINGSTONE, August 9, 2017, New Republic)

Arguments that cite innate biological differences between the minds of men and women are incorrect, and they're not an acceptable part of a public discourse about gender.

So I get that we're all supposed to consider gender just a choice nowadays, but it's worth noting that it takes pretty radical surgery and chemical treatments to make it so that folks can even pretend to change.

How likely is it that our mental processes are identical if our physical forms aren't?

And did 6000 years of evolution really render the two genders indistinguishable?

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Trump Campaign Turns Over Thousands of Documents in Russia Probe (Steven T. Dennis, 8/09/17, Bloomberg)

The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on Aug. 2, committee spokesman George Hartmann said Tuesday. Manafort provided about 400 pages on Aug. 2, including his foreign-advocacy filing, while Trump Jr. gave about 250 pages on Aug. 4, Hartmann said. The committee had asked them last month to start producing the documents by Aug. 2.  [...]

The committee asked for all records regarding any attempts or interest in obtaining information about Hillary Clinton from Russian government or affiliated sources, including the June 2016 meeting of Trump Jr., Manafort, Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and a group of Russians including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The committee asked for documents related to any attempt to coordinate or use information related to Russia's attempts to influence the election. It sought Manafort's registration filings and contacts with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Trump Is Losing His Battle With the Republican Party : The president's major achievements all dovetail with longstanding GOP priorities, while nearly all of his distinctive policy proposals have stalled or failed. (DAVID A. GRAHAM  AUG 8, 2017, The Atlantic)

Why has Trump failed to push his own pet causes through, even as conservative Republican policies prosper? Wasn't this the Trump who had bent the GOP to his will and overcome the fearsome party establishment? One culprit is Trump's lack of discipline and short attention span, and his manifest lack of interest in the details and mechanics of policymaking. But some of his failures are rooted in the very same party takeover. Because he captured the GOP by blitzkrieg, having little experience in politics, he arrived in Washington not only without his own experience to draw on but also without the benefit of the exterior structures--think-tanks, lobbying concerns, outside-spending groups--upon which most presidents can rely. Though most Oval Office occupants have more experience than Trump, they also don't usually need to do all the work of pushing policies through Congress.

Building that support structure requires time, capturing existing institutions, or both. The closest Trump had to that was the Heritage Foundation, a venerable conservative think tank that had taken a turn away from providing intellectual heft for the GOP to becoming, under the leadership of former Senator Jim DeMint, a gadfly that pushed Tea Party concepts on the party and punished any renegades. Heritage embraced Trump early on.

But the awkward fit was clear. In response to Trump's call for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, Heritage produced a plan that downplayed direct federal projects, relying heavily instead on tax credits and public-private partnerships to have private-sector companies do the work, rather than the government. What little detail Trump has offered on his infrastructure plan since the election seems close to the Heritage blueprint, but that means it's a long way from what he seemed to be promising on the trail, and in any case it's going nowhere. Meanwhile, Heritage's board pushed DeMint out and the think tank seems to be reinventing itself.

So it's not just Trump's infrastructure plan that has failed to materialize; it's also the metaphorical infrastructure Trump requires to advance his agenda. The president promised during the campaign that "I alone can fix it," and despite his struggles so far, he shows no signs of wavering from the insistence on going it alone.

It isn't hard to see a line between these struggles and a New York Times report over the weekend about the shadow 2020 contest arising between Republicans who are quietly preparing presidential runs if Trump decides, or is forced, not to run for reelection in three years--or perhaps even if he does. One of those potential candidates is Vice President Pence, whom the Times noted has taken a variety of preparatory steps, even while maintaining his allegiance to Trump. (Indeed, Pence fiercely denied the report, despite the steps he has taken.) A few months ago, it looked like Trump had successfully conducted a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Two-hundred days into his presidency, things look a little different. Having stymied his distinctive policy innovations and successfully implemented their own, why wouldn't GOP mandarins finish the job off and shove Trump aside in favor of a Republican who can do all the same things--and without the chaos and embarrassment that Trump lugs along with him?

He nominates whichever judges we tell him to and he gets to star in a reality show where he pretends to be president : it's a pretty good deal.

August 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM

INSIDE THE BUBBLE (profanity alert):

Trump gets a folder full of positive news about himself twice a day (Alex Thompson, Aug 8, 2017, Vice)

Twice a day since the beginning of the Trump administration, a special folder is prepared for the president. The first document is prepared around 9:30 a.m. and the follow-up, around 4:30 p.m. Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer both wanted the privilege of delivering the 20-to-25-page packet to President Trump personally, White House sources say.

These sensitive papers, described to VICE News by three current and former White House officials, don't contain top-secret intelligence or updates on legislative initiatives. Instead, the folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Glen Campbell, Country Music Legend, Is Dead At 81 (BLAKE FARMER, 8/08/17, All Things Considered)

Long before he was a household name, Campbell was a studio musician in Los Angeles, part of the famous "Wrecking Crew," a loose cluster of studio players who backed stars on many hits of the day.

Campbell was a self-taught guitarist whose training consisted mostly of informal lessons in the lap of his Uncle Boo back in Arkansas. Campbell couldn't read music, but Rumble says he could play anything.

"Glen just fit right in, he was so doggone good," Rumble recalls.

The exact scope of Campbell's output in the '50s and '60s is unknown, because producers cloaked who actually played on a session. But he provided guitar parts for records by Jan and Dean, The Monkees, Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. Campbell even became a Beach Boy for about six months, replacing front-man Brian Wilson on tour. Years later, Campbell mentioned it in his own concerts.

"It was fun, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my musical career playing bass and singing the high part," he joked.

His solo career got off to a slow start. But after a few minor hits, he found a groove. He began a long-term collaboration with songwriter Jimmy Webb, who says he grew up daydreaming about working with Glen Campbell. The two would become musical partners. And Webb says Campbell doesn't get enough credit for his contributions beyond performing.

"Nobody compared with him when it came to picking a song and then arranging it," Webb said. "He left his stamp on whatever material he did."

Together, Webb and Campbell produced such Top 40 hits as "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman."

Campbell's chart success led to opportunities in film and TV, including a stint on network television, where he hosted Glen Campbell's Good Time Hour. Guests ranged from actor John Wayne to The Monkees to his own family. But at the height of his fame, Campbell hit personal lows -- divorces and a drug and alcohol problem. His struggle with cocaine surprised those who knew him best, considering his Christian upbringing and outspoken faith.

Eventually, though, he got his life back in order and continued performing. Then, in 2011, he announced he'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And instead of receding into the shadows, he planned a tour. For more than a year, he played shows around the country, backed by a band that included some of his children.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


US-led raids in Syria said to kill 29 civilians in 24 hours (AFP, August 8, 2017)

US-led coalition raids on Raqqa in northern Syria have killed 29 civilians over the past 24 hours as American-backed forces battle the Islamic State group, a monitor said Tuesday.

A better leader would leave it to the Russians and Alawites to kill civilians. Of course, for Donald, the only good Muslim is a dead one anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Arrests, Crackdown Put Spotlight On Islamic State Threat In Iran (Golnaz Esfandiari, 8/08/17, Radio Liberty)

In July, a Judiciary official in Mashhad said a total of 27 IS members were arrested in the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi.

On June 9, two days after the attacks in the Iranian capital that left 17 dead, the Intelligence Ministry said its forces had arrested 41 IS members.

Even before the Tehran attacks, Iranian authorities had said on separate occasions that they had arrested dozens of "terrorists," some with links to IS, and thwarted several planned attacks.

The Islamic republic is seen as an enemy by IS, which considers Shi'a to be heretics.

Iran has been heavily involved in the fight against IS in Syria, where Tehran has sent hundreds of military advisers and is believed to have sent fighters or Iran-backed soldiers to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Assad has been fighting both Western-backed forces -- who seek his ouster and are also engaged in fighting IS -- as well as Islamic State itself for more than six years in a brutal civil war.

Iran has also been active in anti-IS efforts in Iraq, where the IRGC has reportedly advised Iraqi forces and helped mobilize Shi'ite militias.

There is only Near War now.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Democrats Are in Deep Trouble (Peter Roff, Aug. 7, 2017, US News)

If the Democrats and Republicans were engaged in a real war - what they're all doing now is just political combat of the messiest kind - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice's defection to the GOP after just a few months in office might be a signal it's time to sue for peace. [...]

Say what you want, governors don't change parties every day. The last to do it was Lincoln Chaffee, the governor of Rhode Island, who had been elected as an independent but joined the Democrats midway through his single term in office as a prelude to an all-too-brief flirtation with his new party's 2016 presidential nomination. Before that is was Buddy Roemer who, as governor of Louisiana, joined the GOP back when George Herbert Walker Bush was president.

Justice's decision to join in the GOP while chief executive of a state the Democrats as recently as 10 years ago owned from top to bottom is a huge, Las Vegas strip-style neon sign telling the Democrats they're in more trouble than they know.

With Justice, the number of Republican governors is up to 34, the highest in history. The number of states where the GOP has control of the governorship and the state legislature is up to 26, including Nebraska where the legislature, while unicameral and officially non-partisan, is dominated by registered Republicans. By comparison there are just six states - California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii and Connecticut - where the Democrats are in charge (and the clock is running on a few of those).

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Former Ted Cruz spokesman suggests Trump should be on '24-hour suicide watch' because of his poll numbers (Becca Stanek, 8/08/18, The week)
Amid President Trump's free-falling approval ratings, Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) former presidential campaign spokesman Rick Tyler recommended that Trump be put on "suicide watch." "[I]f I were a political consultant looking at a candidate who had these kind of numbers, I'd have him on 24-hour suicide watch. These numbers are not good," Tyler said during a Tuesday appearance on Morning Joe.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Trump Retweets Story That Haley Says Contains Classified Info, Won't Discuss (Jack Heretik, August 8, 2017, Free Beacon)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning retweeted a news report on North Korea that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley refused to comment on because she said it contains "classified" information.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Source: Trump Is Upset With New Book About Bannon's Role On Campaign (Alex Pfeiffer, 8/07/17, Daily Caller)

A source who spoke with the president recently told TheDC that Trump complained about the new book as well as the cover of a November copy of Forbes that claimed Jared Kushner was the campaign's mastermind. "I hate it when people take credit for an election I won," Trump said, according to the source.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


As Mueller closes in, Trump prepares his base for the worst (Greg Sargent August 7, 2017, Washington Post)

Because Trump is undermining our democratic norms and processes in so many ways, it is often easy to focus on each of them in isolation, rather than as part of the same larger story. But, taken together, they point to a possible climax in which Trump, cornered by revelations unearthed by Robert S. Mueller III's probe and by ongoing media scrutiny, seeks to rally his supporters behind the idea that this outcome represents not the imposition of accountability by functioning civic institutions, but rather an effort to steal the election from him -- and from them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


59% of Americans think Trump's presidency has been a failure (Dave Lawler, 8/07/17, Axios)

Most Americans (59%) believe Donald Trump's presidency thus far has been a failure, while 36% say it has been a success according to a new CNN poll to mark his 200th day in office.  [...]

Strong approval among Republicans has dropped from 73% in February to 59% now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Israel slammed over Al-Jazeera 'repressive clampdown' (Deutsche-Welle, 8/08/17)

On Sunday, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara announced the government's intention to shutter the Qatari-owned broadcaster's operations in Israel.

Kara said he requested that the Government Press Office, responsible for press accreditation in Israel, revoke Al-Jazeera's operating license and withdraw credentials from journalists working for the channel. However, the move was met with condemnation..

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Consumption and Income Inequality in the U.S. Since the 1960s (Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan, 8/17, NBER Working Paper No. 23655)

We examine income inequality between 1963 and 2014 using the Current Population Survey and consumption inequality between 1960 and 2014 using the Consumer Expenditure Survey. We construct improved measures of consumption, focusing on its well-measured components that are reported at a high and stable rate relative to national accounts. While overall income inequality (as measured by the 90/10 ratio) rose over the past five decades, the rise in overall consumption inequality was small.

August 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


This insanely fast robot will make Adidas shirts cheaper - and kill hundreds of jobs (Rachel Kaser, 8/07/17, The Next Web)

A robotic sewing system will soon produce hundreds of thousands of shirts for Adidas, which could potentially change textile manufacture.

The machine -- called a "Sewbot" uses cameras and bots to cut and sew the soft fabric, a task which has eluded other forms of automation. Until now, the task was still best-suited to humans with sewing machines. According to Softwear:

The machines use a combination of cameras and needles to track the placement of a fabric before sewing the apparel at a reported higher level of accuracy than the human eye.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Peter Thiel Has Been Hedging His Bet On Donald Trump (Ryan Mac, 8/07/17, BuzzFeed News)

Donald Trump's most prominent Silicon Valley supporter has distanced himself from the president in multiple private conversations, describing at different points this year an "incompetent" administration, and one that may well end in "disaster."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


GM is selling a $5,000 electric car in China (Peter Valdes-Dapena, August 7, 2017, CNN Money)

General Motors will start selling a tiny electric car in China this week that will cost about $5,300 after national and local electric vehicle incentives, according to GM.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Trump says his political base is 'stronger than ever' despite polling to the contrary (John Wagner August 7, 2017, Washington Post)

Among the questions Trump posed to his supporters: "Do you find the news to be generally negative/hateful?" and "Do you feel that you cannot publically admit that you support Trump?"

A poll last week from Quinnipiac University found that just 33 percent of voters overall approve of Trump's job performance, a new low. Notably, support among white voters without a college degree -- a key Trump demographic -- had fallen off as well.

Just 43 percent of that group approved of Trump's job performance while 50 percent disapproved, the Quinnipiac poll found. In June, 53 percent of white voters without a college degree approved of the president.

In last year's election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, 66 percent of whites with no college degree voted for Trump, according to exit polls.

None of the racial stuff works as policy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Three Renewable Energy Numbers to Impress Your Friends With: 7, 43, 50 (John Rogers, 8/06/17, Ecowatch)

Wind's Growth = 7 [...]

Growth in renewable energy in recent years has meant we produced almost seven times as much wind-powered electricity in the U.S. in 2016 as we did in 2007. And wind's share of our national electricity generation increased from 0.8 percent to 5.5 percent.

All told, the tens of thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape generate enough to cover the electricity needs of some 25 million typical American homes. [...]

Solar's Growth = 43

Recent gains have in some ways been even more impressive for solar. The baseline is maybe a little tough to pin down (and our own calculations suggest an even greater growth), but the new report says that we got 43 times as much electricity from solar in 2016 as in 2007. [...]

States Involved = 50

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


With Trump in the White House, Obama science experts operate shadow network to press their positions (LEV FACHER, AUGUST 7, 2017, Stat)

Nearly all of the Obama administration's science staff has departed the White House since January, and the Trump administration has moved slowly to replace them. In the meantime, however, an unofficial shadow office, stocked with Obama loyalists, is quietly at work.

The network, described to STAT by officials from the previous administration who are involved, is informal yet organized, allowing for a far-reaching if largely inconspicuous effort to continue advocating for the Obama science agenda.

Participants have provided counsel to Democratic lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill, and they have held group-wide strategy sessions much in the same fashion as they did when they worked out of a fourth-floor wing in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House.

At a time when the Trump administration has flouted the advice of the broader scientific community, they see themselves as filling a void within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has been serving the president since 1976.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


BELICHICK HACKS NFL TRAINING CAMP (Ross Tucker, 8/07/17, Sports on Earth)

Three joint practice sessions with other teams during one training camp? It appears to be unprecedented, although accurate records aren't really kept in that regard.

The reasoning traces back to the new CBA with the NFL players union that was signed back in 2011. It cut back significantly on the amount of practice time each team could have with its players, including eliminating infamous two-a-day padded practices.

Belichick's solution? Make the most of the limited available time that you do have by getting better work in against other opponents.

The intensity of a joint practice far exceeds that of a regular practice, because the guys you are hitting are no longer your teammates. They're the "other guys."

Plus, it gives the coaches for both teams the chance to better evaluate their personnel against a larger sample size of opponents, whether that is during the one-on-one periods, seven-on-seven periods, or even in the eleven-on-eleven team periods. The more players you can watch compete against the competition, the better idea you have of what they can do in a game.

The fact that different opponents have different schemes and fronts only adds to the number of variables you can introduce to your team to get them ready for the season and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.

As the expression goes, don't work harder, work smarter.

Or in Belichick's case, he has his teams working better because they aren't allowed to work longer. It's smart and something more teams should strongly consider to get the best quality work possible within the confines of the current CBA.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Russia's Perpetual Geopolitics (Stephen Kotkin, May/June 2016, Foreign Affairs)

Throughout, the country has been haunted by its relative backwardness, particularly in the military and industrial spheres. This has led to repeated frenzies of government activity designed to help the country catch up, with a familiar cycle of coercive state-led industrial growth followed by stagnation. Most analysts had assumed that this pattern had ended for good in the 1990s, with the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism and the arrival of competitive elections and a buccaneer capitalist economy. But the impetus behind Russian grand strategy had not changed. And over the last decade, Russian President Vladimir Putin has returned to the trend of relying on the state to manage the gulf between Russia and the more powerful West.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow lost some two million square miles of sovereign territory--more than the equivalent of the entire European Union (1.7 million square miles) or India (1.3 million). Russia forfeited the share of Germany it had conquered in World War II and its other satellites in Eastern Europe--all of which are now inside the Western military alliance, along with some advanced former regions of the Soviet Union, such as the Baltic states. Other former Soviet possessions, such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine, cooperate closely with the West on security matters. Notwithstanding the forcible annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, and the de facto occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia has had to retreat from most of Catherine the Great's so-called New Russia, in the southern steppes, and from Transcaucasia. And apart from a few military bases, Russia is out of Central Asia, too.

Russia is still the largest country in the world, but it is much smaller than it was, and the extent of a country's territory matters less for great-power status these days than economic dynamism and human capital--spheres in which Russia has also declined. Russian dollar-denominated GDP peaked in 2013 at slightly more than $2 trillion and has now dropped to about $1.2 trillion thanks to cratering oil prices and ruble exchange rates. To be sure, the contraction measured in purchasing power parity has been far less dramatic. But in comparative dollar-denominated terms, Russia's economy amounts to a mere 1.5 percent of global GDP and is just one-15th the size of the U.S. economy. Russia also suffers the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt developed country in the world, and its resource-extracting, rent-seeking economic system has reached a dead end.

The geopolitical environment, meanwhile, has become only more challenging over time, with continuing U.S. global supremacy and the dramatic rise of China. And the spread of radical political Islam poses concerns, as about 15 percent of Russia's 142 million citizens are Muslim and some of the country's predominantly Muslim regions are seething with unrest and lawlessness. For Russian elites who assume that their country's status and even survival depend on matching the West, the limits of the current course should be evident.

They never get tired of losing nor we of beating them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Renault forms new joint venture company in Iran (Reuters, 8/07/17) 

French carmaker Renault (RENA.PA) said on Monday it had signed a new joint venture deal in Iran following an initial partnership agreement struck last year, which Renault said would boost its growth in the country.

Western companies, including Renault and French rival PSA (PEUP.PA), returned to do business in Iran last year after an international deal to lift sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear activities.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The Congressional Map Is Historically Biased Toward The GOP (David Wasserman, 8/07/17, 538)

When Democrats think about their party's problems on the political map, they tend to think of President Trump's ability to win the White House despite losing the popular vote and Republicans' potent efforts to gerrymander congressional districts. But their problems extend beyond the Electoral College and the House: The Senate hasn't had such a strong pro-GOP bias since the ratification of direct Senate elections in 1913.

Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points -- a pretty good midterm by historical standards -- they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.

August 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Rouhani uses inauguration to send message of moderation (Ali Hashem, August 6, 2017, Al Monitor)

"On behalf of the Iranian people and authorities, I explicitly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not start violating the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] but will not remain quiet against the United States' continuing to wriggle out of its commitments," said Rouhani, who addressed Trump without naming him. "We have no business with novice politicians, but we announce to those more experienced that the process of the JCPOA can be used as a model for relations and international law."

Rouhani explained that his government is a peace-seeking administration in domestic and foreign affairs and prefers peace over war and reform over the status quo. He said, "We stretch a hand of friendship to our neighboring countries."

While three of the six Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries were present at the ceremony -- the aforementioned Kuwait, Oman and Qatar -- the remaining three GCC members -- mainly Saudi Arabia -- were nonetheless indirectly present in Rouhani's speech. When Rouhani noted that "foreign powers intensify instability and chaos in the region by selling billions of dollars of weapons," he implied that there are no real problems among the region's states and all that is happening is because of foreign hands. It was significant that Rouhani preserved a moderate rhetoric in tackling regional issues; even when he spoke of Syria and Yemen, he clearly indicated that the war on terror should continue, yet the best tool to combat terrorism is democratic governance -- a message that could have several meanings. He also stressed that intra-Syrian dialogue and similarly dialogue between the parties in Yemen are the only way out of those crises.

War against the salafi and democratization of the Middle East is our shared commitment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Pence denies eyeing presidential bid amid distance with Trump over Russia (Susan Cornwell8/06/17, Reuters) 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday denied that he is preparing for a presidential election run in 2020, saying the suggestion is "disgraceful and offensive." [...]

[A]s investigations deepen into Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible ties to members of Trump's campaign, Pence has put some distance between himself and the president on the best way to approach Moscow.

On a trip to Eastern Europe last week, Pence condemned Russia's presence in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, with which Moscow fought a brief war in 2008. He also said ties with Russia would not improve until Moscow changed its stance on Ukraine and withdrew support for countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea.

The only reason one even acknowledges the story is to give it legs.  He has to fend of plenty of others who have legitimate distance from Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Saudi Arabia still sees no role for Assad in Syrian transition  (Reuters, 8/06/17) 

Saudi Arabia, a main backer of Syrian rebels, said on Sunday it still supported an international agreement on the future of Syria and President Bashar al-Assad should have no role in any transition to bring the war there to an end.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Russia slaps the U.S., but Trump won't slap back. Sad (Max Boot, 8/03/17, LA Times)

His silence suggests he remains wedded to the fantasy that Putin is an admirable leader and a potential American ally in Syria and beyond, and his long-standing affection for the Russian dictator seems to have only grown stronger after the two men spent hours bonding with one another in Hamburg.

The only anti-Russian measures [Trump] has taken are those that have been forced on him by Congress.
Just imagine if Rosie O'Donnell, "Crooked Hillary," the "failing New York Times" or one of the president's other supposed enemies had insulted him, however slightly. He would surely have gone ballistic on Twitter by now. But there is not a word about Russia or Putin in Trump's Twitter feed, nor in his public comments, save for his ritualistic (and increasingly unconvincing) denials of any collusion between his campaign and Russia in the election.

The only official U.S. response to Putin's act was a perfunctory State Department statement saying the expulsion was "regrettable and uncalled for." Vice President Mike Pence is talking tough on Russia while in Estonia, but Trump continues his streak of never speaking ill of Putin, a streak all the more remarkable given how many other people Trump routinely disparages. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a recipient of the Order of Friendship from Putin, also has been thunderously silent about this unwarranted affront to the department he leads.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


The Ghost of Hillary Still Haunts Evangelicals : She's gone. It's time to stop fighting the old war. (David French, August 5, 2017, National Review)

It almost never fails. When I'm asked to speak to Evangelical audiences about politics, I can predict the reaction to the speech based almost entirely on the age of the audience. If a Christian is older than me, he's often angry. If younger, usually grateful.

A recent interaction is typical. After being asked in a question-and-answer session about Trump's use of Twitter, I argued that Christians should be just as concerned about falsehoods and unpresidential behavior as they were during the Obama administration. The same people who launched extended diatribes about various Obama offenses against decorum (feet up on the Oval Office desk, a sloppy salute before entering Marine One) were laughing at Trump's gifs, memes, and insults. Deceptions and misconduct aren't cleansed by partisan affiliation. The blood of Jesus can wash away sins. A red political jersey cannot.

After the speech, I was speaking to a small group of younger Christians when an older man walked up, glared at me, and said, "You just wanted Hillary." (I did not.) Conversations like this have happened time and again. It's the answer to all critiques. Worried that Trump's team has lied about the extent of their contacts with Russia? "Hillary." Concerned about chaos in the West Wing? "Hillary." Alarmed at the failure of Obamacare repeal and the obvious lack of presidential leadership? "Hillary."

Oddly enough, this ongoing older-generation Hillary obsession makes me less pessimistic about the long-term future of Evangelical political engagement. When committed support for Trump is both generational and situational, there's less chance that we're looking at a permanent Evangelical shift towards "by any means necessary" political combat. There's a better chance that we're looking at the sad by-product of the worst presidential choice in living American memory.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Can Israel transfer its Palestinian population? (Patrick Strickland, 8/06/17, Al Jazeera)

Palestinian politicians and rights groups have condemned a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to transfer some Arab-populated villages to the Palestinian Authority's control and strip residents of their citizenship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


IS THE NEW YORK TIMES VS. THE WASHINGTON POST VS. TRUMP THE LAST GREAT NEWSPAPER WAR? : Breaking story after story, two great American newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, are resurgent, with record readerships. One has greater global reach and fifth-generation family ownership; the other has Jeff Bezos as its deep-pocketed proprietor and a technological advantage. Both, however, still face an existential foe. (JAMES WARREN, SEPTEMBER 2017, Vanity Fair)

It was wheels-up at Joint Base Andrews as Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, settled into the Air Force One press cabin on May 19 at the start of a presidential flight to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Then his cell phone rang with a heads-up from his boss, Washington-bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller, that the paper was about to break a big story: Donald Trump had denounced James Comey--whom he had just fired as F.B.I. director--as a "nut job" during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. He had also told the Russians that Comey's ouster relieved "great pressure" on him just as the F.B.I. investigation of the Trump campaign and contacts with Russian officials seemed to be gathering momentum.

The airplane was aloft when the two television sets in the aft cabin, both turned to the Fox News channel, flashed bulletins about the story. But moments later, the same TV sets were touting another revelation, this one from The Washington Post--Baker's alma mater. The Post was reporting that the F.B.I. probe had identified "a current White House official as a significant person of interest."

"It wasn't even five minutes," recalled Baker, who has trouble, like most people, keeping track of the competing Post-Times exclusives about the Trump administration that have dominated the media world for months. Two revived bastions of Old Media are engaged in a duel that resembles the World War II rivalry of American general George S. Patton and British general Sir Bernard Montgomery as they scrambled to be first to capture Messina. There is a sense, too, that something fundamental about the nation is at stake. The Washington Post now proclaims every day in its print and online editions, "Democracy Dies in Darkness."

The ongoing tit for tat helps explain the online-traffic records for both newspapers and why they are, more than ever, the tip sheets and storyboards for cable and broadcast news. So the Post discloses that Trump revealed classified information to the Russians; then the Times discloses that Comey memorialized an Oval Office meeting in which the president allegedly pressured him to end the F.B.I.'s investigation into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian officials. In headlines, they both question the honesty of Trump, even using the once taboo words "lie" and "lies." Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, traces the use of those words in his newspaper to Trump's lies about Barack Obama's place of birth. To have not used them, he told me, "would have been screwing around with the English language." At the Post, Glenn Kessler's interactive Fact Checker graphic keeps a tally of Trump's false and misleading claims as president. (As of late July: 836.) It was a Post story which broke the news that fake Time magazine covers of a pre-presidential Trump ("HITTING ON ALL FRONTS . . . EVEN TV!") had been hung prominently at some of his resorts. Meanwhile, a Times bombshell revealed that Trump's son Donald junior, along with campaign chairman Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had met, two weeks after Trump's nomination, with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who was said to be offering dirt on Hillary Clinton--leaving himself open to charges of attempted collusion with a foreign government. Both papers are windows on--and vehicles for--the animus between Trump and the intelligence community, and thus for what Baquet concedes have been unceasing leaks from a Trump-wary bureaucracy. ("Remarkably easy" is how he described some of the reporting.)

If you miss the stories in print or online, reporters from the two newspapers are beckoned for regular cable-news duty. And there's always Snapchat, Facebook, and other social tools, part of a subterranean war for survival that marries scoops and computer engineering. It is a contest in which the geeks supplement shoe-leather reporting, a contest that both could win or both could lose, given the vagaries of media fragmentation. The two papers are battling amid a dramatic, decade-plus industry free fall. After hitting a high of more than $49 billion in 2006, total newspaper ad revenues nationwide fell to $18 billion in 2016. According to industry analyst Alan Mutter, print circulation has plunged by half. At the Times and the Post, there is talk internally about a world without the print edition.

Call it the Last Newspaper War, as two great survivors face off with different strategies and different economic realities but the same audacity; an impressive array of talent; and two highly competitive leaders--Baquet and his counterpart at the Post, Marty Baron (who, says one observer, would "rather beat the Times than eat"). Both papers receive lacerating criticism from the White House almost every day. The underlying passion offers the Internet Age version of The Front Page, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 tribute to an indomitable craft in which editor Walter Burns responds to one reporter's request to know how much space he has for an exclusive by telling him he wants every goddamn word the reporter can give him.

There are days when you can swear that the Post and the Times are giving you every goddamn word on Trump. The Post's "Democracy Dies in Darkness" may seem a bit overwrought as a slogan--"like the next Batman movie," Baquet has said--but crusty Walter Burns would probably pound a table, slam down a candlestick telephone, utter a few choice words, and growl, But it's true!

The remarkable thing is that, within very recent memory, the resurgence of the Times and the Post seemed hard to imagine. Even harder to imagine was that assistance would come from a boorish blowhard and real-estate developer who decided to enter politics.

The same dynamic that made it impossible to contend with him in the primaries was always going to make it impossible for him to govern.

August 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Trump's CEO 'Brain Trust' Seems Stalled (Matt Townsend, Shannon Pettypiece and Joe Deaux, 8/05/17, Bloomberg)

Elon Musk of Tesla and Walt Disney's Bob Iger have quit. Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon have dissented.

President Donald Trump's business brain trust -- originally these executives, plus some 50 other chief executive officers chosen to help shape White House policy -- has so far come up short on big ideas.

In fact, there's been little activity for the strategy and policy forum and the manufacturing group, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. After initial meetings early in Trump's presidency -- which the White House promoted with great fanfare -- his administration hasn't convened the groups for months or set firm dates for future meetings, according to the people.

As turmoil has engulfed Washington, some prominent business leaders, including several of these informal advisers, have begun to distance themselves from the president. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


The Mueller Firing: A Prescripting (Jay Nordlinger -- August 5, 2017, National Review)

It seems sure the president will fire him. I think it's a question of when, not if. Trump's surrogates have been preparing the ground for months -- I mean, his surrogates both in the White House and in the media.

They are doing to him what the Clintonistas did to Kenneth Starr. I have seen this movie before, only the teams are different.

For years, Robert Mueller was a sterling Republican lawman, the model of an FBI chief. But then he appeared to threaten Donald J. Trump -- and he had to wear the villain's black hat and the twirly mustache. Russian bots are hard at work, along with their American partners.

Okay, my radical (and whimsical) proposal: Everyone should simply write his reaction to the Mueller firing now. I feel I could write the reactions of one and all, including my own. Couldn't you? It's easy, right?

Die-hard Trumpers will repeat every talking point, every rationale, of the White House. Then there will be anti-anti-Trump people, who will criticize the "hysterical" reaction of the Left, the "MSM," and the "NeverTrumpers." Other people will offer legalistic defenses. Still others will point out the donations to Democrats made by members of Mueller's team. (Much less than Trump himself gave.) "Mueller overreached. Should have stuck to his knitting."

Blah blah blah.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


White House 'Enemies List' Drove McMaster-Bannon Feud (LACHLAN MARKAY, ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, KIMBERLY DOZIER, SPENCER ACKERMAN, 08.05.17, Daily Beast)

An internal White House enemies list of alleged Obama loyalists to be fired early in the Trump administration is a key contributor to a long-running feud between the National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, two senior administration officials tell The Daily Beast.

Team Trump never acted on the list, the officials said, and now those employees have finished their tenure at the National Security Council and returned to their home agencies.

But fallout over the list--and questions about loyalty to Bannon versus McMaster--led the three-star general to fire two of his top aides, an act that's landed McMaster in the firing line of Bannon's alt-right media allies and Russian troll bots, both calling for his ouster. [...]

Bannon, for his part, is a huge fan of Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser--a man who was far more sympathetic to the less restrained, right-wing nationalist elements of the Trump administration. President Trump himself has been known to express regret for the need for Flynn's departure, and has privately expressed his hope that a resolution of the FBI's investigation in Flynn's favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity--a scenario Trump's closest advisers in and outside of the West Wing have stressed to him is politically untenable, as The Daily Beast previously reported.

And now, some of Flynn's acolytes appear to be striking back, through leaks to nationalist and America-First-leaning media outlets, leading to yet another guerilla war against McMaster and his allies in recent days influential arms of pro-Trump media. Breitbart, the right-wing news outlet formerly run by Bannon, blared headlines across its homepage on Thursday accusing McMaster of being "deeply hostile" to Trump's agenda. Gateway Pundit, another prominent pro-Trump news site, derisively dubbed McMaster an arch "globalist."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


NEW FIREHOUSE/0PTIMUS SURVEY: Trump's Shrinking Base (Firehouse Strategies, Aug 4, 2017)
Key Findings:

Trump's base of support has shrunk from 35.3% of voters who have a "strongly favorable" view of him in April to only 28.6% today. Notably, much of that erosion is among Republicans: Strongly favorable views among GOP voters dropped from 54.1% to 44.9%, while unfavorable views increased from 20.5% to 27.9%.

KEY POINT: Trump's base is shrinking. He cannot take continued GOP support for granted in swing states.
Nearly half of voters (48.3%) believe Trump lies intentionally to mislead people, up from 43.4% in April. [...]
In April, one third of voters (33.8%) said President Trump had been successful, 35.8% said unsuccessful, and 30.6% said it was too soon to tell. Now, 27.4% say he has been successful, 44.9% say unsuccessful, and 27.7% say it is too soon to tell. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM

How to Spatchcock (Butterfly) a Chicken (Emma Christensen, August 5, 2017, Simply Recipes)

There are two major advantages to spatchcocking a chicken that, for me, put this method head and shoulders above all others.

First of all, even cooking. For a spatchcocked chicken, you remove the backbone and open up the chicken so it lies it flat for cooking. This means that the breast meat and the thigh meat are on the same horizontal plane, so both cook at pretty much the same rate.

This means no more waiting around for the thighs to finish cooking while the chicken breasts dry out. Which means that the white meat and the dark meat lovers in your family will all be very happy.

Second, lots and lots of crispy skin. Since the vast majority of the skin is exposed and facing upward, you don't wind up with those flabby, sad areas on the undersides of the thighs and drumsticks. All crispy, all the time. [...]

1 Lay the chicken breast side down on a cutting surface. You should be looking down at the chicken's backbone.

2 Using kitchen shears, cut out the backbone. You can start from the top of the chicken or the bottom. Cut slightly to one side of the backbone, so that you're cutting through rib bones and not  the backbone itself.

If it feels very difficult to cut through the bones, try repositioning your scissors slightly further away from the backbone.

Cut all the way up one side of the backbone and then all the way up the other. Remove the backbone and set it aside.

3 Use your hands to open up the bird slightly, then flip it breast side up. Now the breast of the chicken should be facing up. Fold the legs so they are facing inward and the majority of the meat is facing up.

4 Flatten the chicken: Use the palm of your hand and press down firmly over the breast bone.

The aim is to flatten the chicken so the breast meat and the thighs are at roughly the same level. You will likely hear some crunching (though it's ok if you don't). You can also pick up the chicken and use your hands if that feels more comfortable.

5 Tuck the wings under (optional): The tips of the tiny, thin wings tend to cook quickly and burn during cooking. Tuck them behind the body of the chicken to help slow down their cooking and keep the tips protected.

 Roast or grill the chicken. If roasting, place the chicken in a roasting pan, rub it all over with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 450F for 35 to 45 minutes, until the chicken registers at least 165F in both the thighs and the breast.

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Driving Tesla's Model 3 Changes Everything : We took one out for a spin, and have little doubt the age of electric cars has arrived. (Tom Randall, July 31, 2017, Bloomberg)

After taking one of the first drives of Tesla's new Model 3 last week, I came away thinking that CEO Elon Musk has finally delivered an electric car for the everyday road tripper like me.

The Model 3 still has plenty of pickup, effortlessly jumping from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds in the upgraded version I test drove, which gets a stunning 310 miles on a charge. It's nimble, comfortable, and has tight steering that'll keep you grinning. The seats embrace you in a gentle hug that feels a bit more geared for road trip than racetrack. It's the Model S on a diet, making up in practicality what it loses in extravagance. 

And I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet. 

The fact that this car still looks, drives, and feels like a Tesla--at a starting price of $35,000--shows how far the Silicon Valley automaker has come. It's still an expensive vehicle for many of Tesla's biggest fans, and compelling options packages will drag a lot of stretch spenders into uncomfortable territory. But at current battery prices, Tesla is setting a new standard for value in an electric car--which of course was Musk's plan all along.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


The War Against H.R. McMaster (ROSIE GRAY  AUG 4, 2017, The Atlantic)

[M]cMaster's show of force has set off alarm bells among Bannon allies in the pro-Trump media sphere, who favored Flynn and regard the national-security adviser as a globalist interloper. Other White House officials have in the past been targets of theirs--Priebus was, for example--but the vitriol against McMaster has been notable for its speed and intensity.

"It's noticed, how can you not notice it?" said a source close to McMaster, when asked if the former Army general is registering the pushback.

It's come from all corners. Breitbart News, the website Bannon controlled as executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign, has produced a flurry of negative stories about McMaster over the past two days, accusing him of "purging" dissenters and kowtowing to "holdovers" from the Obama administration. Fox News host Sean Hannity has tweeted about McMaster, saying he might need to go. Radio host Laura Ingraham has also weighed in, tweeting that "Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept who are leaking shd do real time for these leaks. Why has McMasters fired actual Trump supporters?" The Daily Caller published an interview with two former NSC officials attacking him, accusing him of undermining the president's foreign-policy agenda. Circa, a site owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting company, published a letter Thursday that McMaster sent months ago to his predecessor Susan Rice, in which he informed her that she could keep her security clearance. It's a standard letter, but it has caused a furor in light of the ongoing controversy over unmasking.

The provocative right-wing blogger and activist Mike Cernovich has launched a sustained attack on McMaster, including setting up a website called When it launched, the main page displayed a large cartoon of the Rothschilds controlling a George Soros puppet, which in turn controlled puppets representing McMaster and former CIA director David Petraeus. (The hand labeled "Rothschilds" has since been relabeled "Saudis." Cernovich told me he changed it because complaints about the cartoon's anti-Semitism are "not a hill to die on," and "if everybody wants to complain, then fine--I'll just put the Saudis at the top.")

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Based on the immigration system he endorsed, Trump would not get a green card (Catherine Rampell, August 3, 2017, Washington Post)

Here's how Trump -- or at least, a foreign national with roughly his qualifications -- would do.

Age: zero points. People older than 51 don't earn points. Trump is 71. The best ages to be under this system, by the way, are 26 to 30. (Darn millennials.)

Education: six.  Trump has a bachelor's degree from a U.S. university.

Record of extraordinary achievement: zero. Trump may have starred in a network reality show and (allegedly) sunk 30-foot putts, but what counts as "extraordinary achievement" is limited to two categories.

One is winning a Nobel Prize or comparable recognition in a science or social science field. No luck there, though a certain pseudo-Kenyan predecessor would benefit.

The other is recently winning an Olympic medal (individual event only, no relays!) or placing first in another comparable international athletic event.

English-language ability: zero. To receive points here, you need to score in the top half of those taking an officially sanctioned English proficiency exam, such as the TOEFL.

Success on this exam's writing section requires using "appropriate word choice," effectively addressing a topic and displaying "unity, progression and coherence." Consider how the coiner of "covfefe" might perform.

The TOEFL speaking section includes responding to a simple question prompt. Scoring well requires staying on topic, being intelligible and exhibiting "sustained, coherent discourse."

Peruse the transcript of Trump's recent interview with the Wall Street Journal -- or any other unscripted conversation, really -- to judge how he fares.

Entrepreneurial initiative: 12. Trump gets this for investing at least $1.8 million in a new commercial enterprise in the United States, maintaining this investment for at least three years and playing an active role in the company's management.

The Trump Organization is not exactly a "new commercial enterprise" -- it was founded by Trump's grandmother, before he was born -- but he has a long list of more-recently-created LLCs and other corporations that probably count.

High-paying job offer: zero. This involves the ambiguous legislative language I flagged earlier.

Trump reports having a lot of income from his companies. But two immigration experts I consulted said that the "entrepreneurial initiative" and "high-paying job offer" points are likely mutually exclusive. That is, to get points for the entrepreneurial initiative category, the commercial enterprise you invest in must be one you help manage as your primary occupation; and you can't claim you made yourself a high-paying job offer. Even the measly $400,000 offered him as president (which as a foreigner, he couldn't be, but whatever) might not help him here, if he's claiming entrepreneurial points.

Trump's total: 18. To be eligible to join the applicant pool of those trying for a points-based immigrant visa, you need a minimum score of 30.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Republican Shadow Campaign for 2020 Takes Shape as Trump Doubts Grow (JONATHAN MARTIN and ALEXANDER BURNS, AUGUST 5, 2017, NY Tiimes)

Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence's schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

President Trump's first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 -- as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren't involved.

Given the unlikelihood of Donald finishing a full term, Mr. Pence is in pole position. Were he to name Ms Haley vp the succession would be settled for a generation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Don Quixote: Saintly Knight (Brittany Guzman, 8/04/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Critics and fellow characters see Don Quixote as insane, but Don Quixote's "madness" actually follows Jesuit practices, which support the idea of his sainthood. As Don Quixote begins his transformation into a knight, the historian-narrator tells us that Don Quixote's avid reading and resultant lack of sleep cause Don Quixote "to lose his mind." Don Quixote clearly leaves the world of reality that the other characters inhabit, so he is easily identified as insane both by the book's characters and by many literary scholars. Henry W. Sullivan, for instance, subjects Don Quixote to modern psychoanalysis by using Lacanian diagnostics and determines that Don Quixote suffered a "psychotic break" due to a predisposed psychic structure.

However, readers must not forget that Don Quixote is not actually a patient but a complex literary character. The previously described characterization and diagnosis are not wholly accurate because they ignore a hagiographic reading. If the world were simply material, then Don Quixote would simply be insane. But, as a saint, Don Quixote would be aware of a spiritual realm to which others may not be attuned. St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual Exercises, a book that teaches his method of meditation and prayer, where imagination is used as a place to train the mind and soul in order to "see the face of evil and...recognize it in the outside world."[3] If the reader views Don Quixote's "madness" in the context of St. Ignatius's teachings, then it could be argued that Don Quixote's alternative world is really a spiritual training ground. Just as he educates himself in the ways of knight-errantry, Don Quixote prepares himself spiritually with St. Ignatius's practices. In this training, the Jesuit exercises give Don Quixote a new type of vision that allows him to see the world at a spiritual level. As a saint, Don Quixote ignores others' ridicule, and his "madness" allows him to recognize evil and see a deeper truth about sin that the other characters cannot.

For instance, Don Quixote is able to recognize evil where others cannot when he sees corruption within the Church. In one of his adventures, Don Quixote comes across a "procession of penitents" who are carrying "the holy image of the Blessed Virgin," but he perceives the group as a band of villains who have kidnapped "a noble lady" and accordingly ambushes them. At first, this appears to contradict the idea of Don Quixote as a saint because he is attacking a religious group. A saint follows Christ and the Church; he does not harm them. However, Don Quixote's attack does make sense if the reader views it as a criticism or an attack on a corrupt body of the Church. Once again, Frédéric Conrod provides insight; here he sheds light on the religious and political situation during Cervantes's life, especially during the period when Don Quixote was written. Cervantes held the reformist Jesuits in high regard during the Counter-Reformation, in contrast to the "obviously corrupted hierarchies of the Roman institution." [4] Don Quixote thus aligns himself with St. Ignatius of Loyola by exposing corrupt religious orders through insights gleaned through Jesuit spiritual exercises. Don Quixote's actions are justified in the scene described by the understanding that the penitents may actually represent incorrect Church teachings or corruption.

Further supporting this theory, Don Quixote commands the penitents to "release that beauteous lady [the image of Mary] whose tears and melancholy countenance are clear signs that [they] take her against her will, and have done her some notable wrong." In Don Quixote's mind, the penitents have offended the Virgin Mary to the point that she weeps profusely, and yet they continue to abuse her. By appropriating Mary, they could actually be seen as kidnapping Mary in order to use her for their own unholy purposes. Don Quixote does his duty as a saint by rescuing the Blessed Virgin from this corrupted procession. Through his "madness," or rather imaginative spiritual ability, Don Quixote recognizes the evil being committed and sets out to right it when no one else can see it.

Additionally, Don Quixote acts almost as a redeemer because he sees the inner good and potential in people who live sinfully. On his first adventure, Don Quixote meets two noble maidens waiting leisurely in front of a castle; they are actually two women of "easy virtue"--prostitutes--standing by an inn. Even though these women have a perverse occupation that leads others to sin, Don Quixote sees them as washed clean of their trespasses. Don Quixote treats them with respect, and through his actions, he attempts to remind the women of who they can be. With Christ, their sins can be forgiven, and they can find themselves once again clean. Despite their current state, the women could become, by faith, like maidens again. Despite their lowborn status--they are daughters "of a cobbler" and of a miller--Don Quixote's beautiful imagination allows them to transcend the barriers of reality and to achieve a status higher than what they actually could in this world. 

Inevitably, the Don is betrayed by those around him who repent when they realize what they have done.

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Why Is Donald Trump Still So Horribly Witless About the World? (Robin Wright, August 4, 2017, The New Yorker)

Max Boot, a lifelong conservative who advised three Republican Presidential candidates on foreign policy, keeps a folder labelled "Trump Stupidity File" on his computer. It's next to his "Trump Lies" file. "Not sure which is larger at this point," he told me this week. "It's neck-and-neck."

Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world. "He seems as clueless today as he was on January 20th," Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Trump's painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he's not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.

"Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did," Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. "He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on." [...]

I asked top Republican and intelligence officials from eight Administrations what they thought was the one thing the President needs to grasp to succeed on the world stage. Their various replies: embrace the fact that the Russians are not America's friends. Don't further alienate the Europeans, who are our friends. Encourage human rights--a founding principle of American identity--and don't make priority visits to governments that curtail them, such as Poland and Saudi Arabia. Understand that North Korea's nuclear program can't be outsourced to China, which can't or won't singlehandedly fix the problem anyway, and realize that military options are limited. Pulling out of innovative trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will boost China's economy and secure its global influence--to America's disadvantage. Stop bullying his counterparts. And put the Russia case behind him by coöperating with the investigation rather than trying to discredit it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


Are Iran and Qatar reshuffling energy geopolitics in the Gulf? (Rémi Piet, 7/11/17, TRT World)

On Tuesday, Qatar announced a 30 percent hike in its output of liquefied natural gas over the next five to seven years. This decision by the country that is already the world's largest producer of LNG will further increase the developing supply glut, pull prices down, and seriously harm the balance sheets of energy companies, particularly those in North America.

The announcement was not the only blow to Donald Trump's hope for American energy dominance as it came just one day after French oil company Total S.A. signed a historic agreement with Iran - by far the most important investment contract since the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions. This contract foresees the development of phase 11 of "South Pars" , the largest gas field in the world, straddling Iran and Qatar.

With this decision, Total became the first Western oil company to reinvest in Iran two years after the lifting of sanctions against the country in 2015. The contract allows the French major to own 50.1% of a consortium gathering the Chinese national company CNPC (30%) and the Iranian company Petropars.

Evaluated at 4.8 billion dollars, this investment provides Iran with a much needed financial boost and demonstrates the positive output of the nuclear negotiations and liberalisation of its economy. It also offers a breath of fresh air to President Hassan Rouhani, re-elected on the promise that the opening of the country he advocates for, would lead to a steady improvement of the country's economy thanks to an expected $50 billion in foreign investment. Yet, several years after his arrival to power, investments have remained scarce, in particular due to the fear of retaliation from the United States.

Among the opponents to the deal were also the hard liners of the Iranian regime who intensified their criticism of the president in recent weeks and operated in the background to solidify the control of the Revolutionary Guards over part of the economic apparatus.

During the last decade of sanctions, the Pasdarans, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, had taken advantage of the isolation of the country to strengthen their positions in key sectors, especially those of construction, oil and gas. Not surprisingly, Iranian oil companies linked to the Revolutionary Guards continuously insisted on managing its oil and gas industry autonomously without the participation of a foreign company.

But as Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh confirmed, the country does not have the money nor the technological knowledge to develop a natural gas field that can place Iran back at centre stage of energy geopolitics. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Rays pitcher Chris Archer's feud with Astros' Orbit escalates (Michelle R. Martinelli, August 5, 2017, MLB)'
The ridiculous feud between Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer and the Astros' mascot, Orbit, escalated this week when the teams played a four-game series this week in Houston. It ended with a fantastic final prank from Orbit as Archer headed to the team bus after the last game Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM



Two days before the presidential inauguration, Trump tweeted a picture of himself seated at a desk, pen hovering above a stack of papers. On his face was the faraway look of a great man lost in deep thought: Pericles pondering the Athenian dead, Churchill surveying a blitzkrieged London. The accompanying text revealed that the president-elect was composing his inaugural address at the Mar-a-Lago resort, which he'd already rebranded "the Winter White House."The tweet was supposed to show leadership at work, but it instead revealed the lengths to which Trump will go to foster the image of diligent leadership. It didn't take a team of CIA digital forensicists to figure out that the Spanish tile wall behind Trump in the photograph matched the one in the reception area at Mar-a-Lago. A photograph soon surfaced of a young woman at the very same desk, looking like she was ready to confirm your dinner reservation. Further scrutiny--that is, clicking a magnifying glass icon to zoom in--revealed that the papers on the desk were seemingly blank, while the writing instrument in Trump's hand appeared to be a Sharpie, not especially useful for writing out a lengthy speech. Wanting to look like a head of state, Trump instead ended up looking like a concierge-in-training.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Trump's Fledgling Presidency Has Already Collapsed (Jonathan Chait, 8/04/17, New York)

After half a year of comic internal disarray, even in the face of broad public dismay, Trump's administration had, through most of July, managed to hold together some basic level of partisan cohesion with a still-enthusiastic base and supportive partners in Congress. This has quickly collapsed.

Signs of the disintegration have popped up everywhere. The usual staff turmoil came to a boil in the course of ten days, during which the following occurred: The president denounced his own attorney general in public, the press secretary quit, a new communications director came aboard, the chief of staff was fired, the communications director accused the chief strategist of auto-fellatio in an interview, then he was himself fired. Meanwhile, the secretary of State and national-security adviser were both reported to be eyeing the exits. (Against this colorful backdrop, the ominous news that Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury barely registered.)

More disturbingly for Trump, Republicans in Congress have openly broken ranks. When the Senate voted down the latest (and weakest) proposal to repeal Obamacare, Trump demanded the chamber resume the effort, as he has before. This time, Republican leaders defied him and declared the question settled for the year. When the president threatened to withhold promised payments to insurers in retribution, Republicans in Congress proposed to continue making them. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley, responding to the president's threat to sack Jeff Sessions, announced he had no time to confirm a new attorney general. Many Republican senators have endorsed bills to block the president from firing the special counsel.

From his views on NATO to his policies regarding U.S.-Russia relations, Trump has proven again and again that he's a "very flexible person."
The most humiliating rebuke came in the form of a bill to lock in sanctions on Russia, passed by Congress without the president's consent. The premise of the sanctions law is that Congress cannot trust the president to safeguard the national interest, treating him as a potential Russian dupe.

All you really need to know about the complete negation of Donald and everything he stands for is that the economy continues to thrive.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Irish writer says he deserved to be fired for anti-Semitic column (JTA, August 5, 2017)

The Irish journalist fired for writing what critics called an anti-Semitic newspaper column apologized and acknowledged that he deserved to be sacked.

But Kevin Myers said in an interview with an Irish radio station Friday that he was not anti-Semitic.

"It was stupid of me, the encapsulation of such a complex issue in a single sentence," Myers said, referring to a line in a July 30 column that played on the stereotype of Jews as hard bargainers. "One of my flaws is to deal with major issues with throwaway lines." [...]

"I am very very sorry to them, I really mean it, I'm not rescuing anything as far as I can see, it's over for me," he said, referring to the two BBC broadcasters mentioned in his column. "I am issuing an apology for no other reason than contrition of the hurt I have caused them."

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


The War over H. R. McMaster (Curt Mills, August 4, 2017, National Interest)

"McMaster, On 'Warpath,' Purges Key Trump Allies From White House NSC," reads The Washington Free Beacon. "McMaster Goes to War--Against His White House Enemies," reads The Daily Beast. And the accusations against McMaster are getting nasty, floating him as just short of anti-Semitic. "'Everything The President Wants To Do, McMaster Opposes,' Former NSC Officials Say," reads a headline Thursday in The Daily Caller. And Breitbart prominently covered a Facebook post by right-wing Jerusalem Post writer Caroline Glick in which she alleges the National Security Adviser is "deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump" and that he disagrees and actively undermines Trump's agenda on just about every salient issue on his agenda."

"He fires all of Trump's loyalists and replaces them with Trump's opponents," Glick continued. "MCMASTER'S NSC COUP AGAINST TRUMP PURGES CRITICS OF ISLAM AND OBAMA," reads FrontPage Magazine, in an article retweeted by Laura Ingraham, a frequent Fox News personality with ties to the White House. Jordan Schachtel, who has been after McMaster for some time, writes that a senior administration official told him that McMaster purportedly constantly refers to Israel as an "occupying power." Though the campaign has not been provably linked to Bannon, the ex-Breitbart chief, his feud with McMaster has been long reported. Mr. Schachtel is also formally of Breitbart.

More radical elements have come to loggerheads with McMaster. One of the dismissed NSC staffers, Rich Higgins, had circulated a memo before his sacking alleging  "deep state" forces of aligning with "Islamists" and "globalists" to destroy the president. And Mike Cernovich, a member of the "alt-right" or "alt-light" (depending on who you ask), has been continually agitating on Twitter for McMaster's ouster.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


What if the South had won the Civil War? 4 sci-fi scenarios for HBO's 'Confederate' (Allen C. Guelzo, July 31, 2017, USA Today)

A successful Confederacy would be an imperial Confederacy. Aggressive Southerners before 1860 made no secret of their ambitions to spread a slave-labor cotton empire into Central and South America. [...]

A successful Confederacy would have found ways for slavery to evolve, from cotton-picking to cotton-manufacturing, and beyond. The Gone With the Wind image of the South as agricultural has become so fixed that it's easy to miss how steadily black slaves were being slipped into the South's industrial workforce in the decade before the Civil War. More than half of the workers in the iron furnaces along the Cumberland River in Tennessee were slaves; most of the ironworkers in the Richmond iron furnaces in Virginia were slaves as well. They are, argued one slave-owner, "cheaper than freemen, who are often refractory and dissipated; who waste much time by frequenting public places ... which the operative slave is not permitted to frequent."

A successful Confederacy would be a zero-sum economy. In the world of Confederate, the economy would be a hierarchy, with no social mobility, since mobility among economic classes would open the door to economic mobility across racial lines. At the top would be the elite slave-owning families, which owned not only assets but labor, and at the bottom, legally-enslaved African Americans, holding down most of the working-class jobs. There would be no middle class, apart from a thin stratum of professionals: doctors, clergy and lawyers. Beyond that would be only a vast reservoir of restless and unemployable whites, free but bribed into cooperation by Confederate government subsidies and racist propaganda.

The South was just one in a series of nations that refused to accept the End of History, so we imposed it on them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Mueller Seeks White House Documents on Flynn (MATTHEW ROSENBERG, MATT APUZZO and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, AUG. 4, 2017, NY Times)

Investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently asked the White House for documents related to the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, and have questioned witnesses about whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the final months of the presidential campaign, according to people close to the investigation. [...]

After Mr. Flynn's dismissal, Mr. Trump tried to get James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, to drop the investigation, Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Mr. Trump committed obstruction of justice in pressing for an end to the Flynn inquiry. The president fired Mr. Comey on May 9.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Insurer wins $52 million in ACA payment lawsuit (Bob Herman, 8/05/17, Axios)

A federal judge ruled late Friday in favor of Molina Healthcare, declaring the health insurer is owed $52.4 million under the Affordable Care Act's risk corridor program, which was created to help insurance companies manage their unpredictable costs in the law's early years. Molina, which has been crushed by the ACA so far this year, filed suit in January after congressional Republicans blocked the payments, calling them a "bailout" for the industry.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Bernie, Kamala, and the Left's War of Mutually Assured Destruction (David Atkins, August 5, 2017, Washington Monthly)

The latest conflagration was ignited in part by Washington Monthly alum Ryan Cooper's piece establishing the reasons for economic populist distrust of establishment favorite 2020 hopefuls Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick. Cooper made some valid points about the histories of all three candidates that make many Occupy-aligned Democrats shudder: Booker's defense of Wall Street and charter schools, Harris' failure to charge now-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for his crimes with One West Bank, and Deval Patrick's employment as managing director with Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, for starters. These are not minor complaints.

The obvious problem, of course, is that in targeting black candidates Booker, Harris and Patrick specifically, Cooper only gives further fuel to those who claim that Sanders-aligned economic progressives have racist motivations-or at least that they are tone-deaf and poor allies on matters of identity and social justice. That the writers of these critiques tend to be predominantly white and male certainly doesn't help, either. Regardless of the motivations, it's self-defeating for the democratic socialist left to take this particular tack: as our own Martin Longman pointed out, economic populists will not win the the argument within the party if they openly antagonize not only the wealthy donor base but also older and minority voters.

On the other hand, there is a substantial faction of establishment players who, rather than seeking to repair and mitigate the causes the conflict in the Sanders-Clinton primary, are eagerly hoping to perpetuate it. They see the young, insurgent, aggressively anti-Wall Street wing as illegitimate interlopers, easily propagandized dupes, and overprivileged "alt left" bigots. 

There's a reason that the only recent major party nominee that Bernie resembles is Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Rouhani's inauguration raises hopes for more democracy in Iran : The start of Hassan Rouhani's second term as president signals the extension of Iran's moderate direction. But how much power does he have? DW talks to Iran expert Adnan Tabatabai. (Deutsche-Welle, 8/05/17)

DW: Iran's political system is complicated. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the supreme leader for life, and he approves all policy. However, the president changes every four years. What can the president really do?

Adnan Tabatabai: It's important here to differentiate between political decision-makers and political shapers. The leader of the revolution, the religious leader, has ultimate decision-making authority along with an advising council. There are, however, a number of other councils in the Islamic Republic where policy is shaped. Some are elected - for example parliament, the Council of Experts, and city and municipal councils. Others are comprised of the elite, like the Guardian Council, the assessment council, also known as the Expediency Discernment Council, and the Supreme National Security Council. The better connected a president is with these councils, the more influence he can have on the shaping of policy.

The revolutionary leader is a cornerstone for important questions. How these questions are answered is up to the government. The nuclear agreement is a good example. Khamenei set the overall conditions for such an agreement. The specific steps and how the deal was designed, however, was up to the government with the president in the lead.

President Hassan Rouhani promised his followers a great deal four years ago. He called for a release of political prisoners, the creation of a bill of rights, more freedom of expression and equality for women. He was unable to do much of this in his first term. What concrete changes did he make?

In my view, the most important change during the Rouhani government is in trends, and we should differentiate between the status of change and the trend towards change. Political participation is just one example: Women are seriously underrepresented. However, the trend since Rouhani's term has been more women in parliament and the cabinet. The same with ethnic minorities: For the first time there are Kurdish Iranians as members of parliament and a Sunni vice minister.

The number of executions is particularly terrifying, but it is also trending positive given a change to the law that removes drug convicts, who comprise two-thirds of all death sentences, from death row. That would amount to about 4,000 stayed executions, should the law come into force. The death penalty has not been abolished, but the number of executions has been drastically reduced. Overall, the government has to invest more political will on these issues to counter conservative hardliners. It is a long process that would surely be part of a second term for Rohani.

It's a pretty basic choice for the West : assist the Reform and normalize an inherent ally or oppose it and retain a mistaken enemy. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Republican Discontent With Trump Rising Like A River (Jamie Stiehm, August 5, 2017, Creators)

If you listen, you can hear it coming closer.

The rumble of resistance to President Trump is rising faster than a river this summer. It's not the Democratic minority in Congress. What's new, at the seven-month stretch, is Republican rebellion growing within the government. Even the rock-ribbed Republican House approved a Russian sanctions bill Trump unwillingly signed.

Anxious thoughts on the Senate side of the Capitol dome shadow Republicans. What have we wrought? Can we govern going forward? Tell us how this president ends.

The sea change is, they don't fear Trump's power anymore. Now they're running scared of his plummeting unpopularity.

Typically, you damage your own electoral chances if you run against a president of your party, as the GOP did by opposing immigration and SS reform in '06 and the economic rescue of '08.  But W is the very definition of a Republican and a conservative.  Donald is neither, so there is no damage to opposing him. Indeed, they all ran ahead of him in their states and districts and carried him in incidentally.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Pakistan's traditional third gender isn't happy with the trans movement (Mobeen Azhar, 7/29/17, PRI)

Bindiya Rana is the grand matriarch of the third gender community in Karachi. She doesn't prescribe to the transgender identity. She is a Khawaja Sira, so revered that she is a guru (teacher) to more than 50 chelahs or apprentices. 

This relationship has a parental element and is a cornerstone of Khawaja Sira culture. Each chelah pledges allegiance to their guru, as they did to their guru before them. These family trees provide acceptance, social support and financial backing. Most chelahs give a percentage of their income to their gurus. It's a lifetime commitment that allows the establishment of families that often replaces biological lineage. 

But those who identify as transgender, like Choudary, don't prescribe to the guru-chelah system. As a result, Rana and her chelahs view the transgender identity as alien and even immoral.  

"If you don't have a guru, we don't recognize you. These people who say they are transgender; that concept is just wrong," says Rana. "They can never be women. They cannot give birth. Even if they change their bodies they can't change who they are. We are not women. We are what Allah has made."    

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


'Cosmopolitan' is a dog whistle word once used in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia (Amulya Shankar, 8/03/17, PRI)

"Cosmopolitan" isn't a word that's frequently heard in American politics ("elite" is much more common), but it wouldn't be out of place in Adolf Hitler's Germany or Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union.

It was an "anti-Semitic fighting term," Volker Ullrich writes in his biography, Hitler: Ascent, "used against the Jews by Nazis and Bolsheviks alike." Ullrich writes that the Jewish diaspora in Europe was "considered not only cosmopolitan, but also rootless, and in the late 1940s the term became a code word for Jews who insisted on their Jewish identity."

Today, as Politico notes, the definition has expanded -- "in the eyes of their foes, 'cosmopolitans' tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with 'untraditional' ideas and lives."

But its ugly history means that the word "cosmopolitan" still serves as a dog whistle within the white nationalist movement in the United States.

"Dog whistles work kind of like Easter eggs," said Cristina López, who studies trends in alt-right language at the media watchdog group Media Matters. "You have to know what you're looking for to find it -- and therefore they land with a very specific kind of audience and fly over the heads of everyone else."

Dog whistles can be insidious -- they seem innocuous, and give the speaker a buffer against accusations of racism, sexism or worse, while simultaneously energizing the base. That's why they've been so popular in political speeches throughout history.

It's hard to prove a dog whistle, says López, but the use of the word "cosmopolitan" has struck a nerve. "Miller is right now being celebrated in the corners of the alt-right, white nationalistic internet as a hero."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Atomic Blonde Is a Serious Anti-Communist Historical Drama (Jeffrey A. Tucker, August 01, 2017, FEE)

At the start of the film, all Cold War dynamics are in place, with state actors killing anyone who tries to escape and spies and counterspies working their networks. To seek an end to the wall or to attempt to transverse it brought a death sentence. Real-life figures list 134 deaths trying to escape, but many estimate far more. The toll on civilization where it once thrived was far higher.

The poverty, despotism, corruption, and despair are palpable in the scenes from socialist/communist East Germany. The film tells the bitter truth that today's fashionable socialist left so conveniently forgets. You can talk all you want about glorious socialist ideals but, in practice, socialism (because it is literally impossible to realize as an ideal) degenerates into top-down control by a police state charged with suppressing dissent. It's not fancy; it's just life lived on the other side of a huge wall, staring down the barrel of a gun everywhere you turned.

It matters because the East/West division after World War II provided a case study in free vs unfree economies. The West experienced what later came to be called a miracle of prosperity. The East became frozen in time just like every other case of socialism, a land of misery, statism, and impoverishment. One would think that observing this would be enough to settle this debate. But in order to learn lessons, you have to know about the experience. 

The film opens with Ronald Reagan's famous speech demanding: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." A text follows assuring the viewer that this movie is not about that. But actually, as it turns out, this is precisely what the film is about.

We are introduced to the East German underground with its obsessions over punk rock, blue jeans, and illicit contraband of all sorts. You can call it corruption if you want, but it is the way revolt looked in those days: personal, not institutional. The total state had broken whatever faith people might have developed in normal codes of civility and morality and this is what remained.

They craved a free life, whatever that meant.

In the mid-1980s, not much about this movement was known by those of us in the United States. There was no news of daily life and very little contact, just as with North Korea today. We knew there was a tyrannical regime ruling the East Side of a once-united Germany, but we had little knowledge of the rise of a resistance movement that would eventually assist in the demolition of the wall.

The Atomic Blonde is Lorraine Broughton, an agent of British intelligence who enters the East to find a list of double agents in Russia and Germany slated to be brought over to the West before they are slaughtered. She learns quickly that she can trust no one and faces a constant stream of lies, betrayals, violence, and death, right in the midst of emerging political chaos.

All the action seems to take place in a matter of weeks, and we are given a front-row seat to some of the strategies used by the resistance movement to foil the violence of a cruel regime.

Here's what's particularly interesting. The film is about spies and states. But they are not the actors that are driving the political narrative forward. The spooks did not cause the upheaval. They were there to adapt and move within the action, protecting their own as best they are able given fast-changing events. We are shown a revolution from below, how a people united in the goal of freedom will never be defeated. No matter how mighty and bloody a regime may be, it is powerless in the face of a population that refuses to submit.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The Anti-Slavery Campaign in Britain (Marjie Bloy, Ph. D., Senior Research Fellow, the Victorian Web)

In 1793 Britain went to war against the French following the French Revolution and the cause of the slave-traders appeared to be a patriotic cause: the trade was seen as the "nursery of seamen." Abolition of the trade was postponed although Wilberforce regularly continued to propose legislation for abolition. His moral case was very strong and the evils of the trade were generally admitted. In 1807 the slave trade in the British colonies was abolished and it became illegal to carry slaves in British ships. This was only the beginning: the ultimate aim was the abolition of slavery itself.

In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, European statesmen condemned slavery but nothing was done to improve the conditions of slaves. The campaign to abolish slavery continued in Britain. Wilberforce and his co-workers held meetings all over the country to try to persuade people that abolition should be supported. They discovered that many people were unaware of the horrors of slavery and that others were not interested in something which happened thousands of miles away. They also met opposition from the West India lobby.

After 1830 when the mood of the nation changed in favour of a variety of types of reform, the antislavery campaign gathered momentum. In 1833 Wilberforce's efforts were finally rewarded when the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed. Wilberforce, on his death-bed, was informed of the passing of the Act in the nick of time. The main terms of the Act were:

all slaves under the age of six were to be freed immediately

slaves over the age of six were to remain as part slave and part free for a further four years. In that time they would have to be paid a wage for the work they did in the quarter of the week when they were "free"

the government was to provide £20 million in compensation to the slave-owners who had lost their "property."

In the West Indies the economic results of the Act were disastrous. The islands depended on the sugar trade which in turn depended on slave labour. Ultimately, the planters were unable to make the West Indies the thriving centres of trade which they had been in the eighteenth century. However, a moral victory had been won, and the 1833 Act marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the New World.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Are We Nearing the Endgame with ISIS? (Robin Wright, July 27, 2017, The New Yorker)

The American diplomat Brett McGurk is the central player in the seventy-two-nation coalition fighting the Islamic State, a disparate array of countries twice the size of nato. He has now worked all of America's major wars against extremism--in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria--under three very different Presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump. McGurk served in Baghdad after the ouster of Saddam Hussein; he used his experience clerking for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court to help draft Iraq's new constitution. President Bush brought McGurk back to Washington to serve on the National Security Council and help run the campaign against Al Qaeda. President Obama tapped him to work Iraq and Iran at the State Department. McGurk was visiting Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, when isis seized nearby Mosul. In 2015, he became Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter isis. President Trump kept him on.

In a sign of how fast the Islamic State is shrinking, McGurk last month visited northern Syria. I called on him Wednesday, at his small whitewashed office on the ground floor of the State Department, to assess the future of isis and the world's most unconventional nation. McGurk is an optimist, long-term, despite the chorus of skeptics in Washington about extremism, Iraq and Syria, and U.S. foreign policy in the volatile Middle East. The interview has been edited and condensed. McGurk's most chilling answer was when he talked about how many isis fighters are still alive. [...]

Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the isis caliph, alive? And what is he doing?

This is someone who cannot show his face. He communicates by audiotapes, like we are back in the nineteen-nineties. He has dramatically tainted his claim to any legitimacy. Whether or not he is alive, we do not know. But his command and control over this organization is severed.

What is the U.S. military role after the caliphate collapses?

Our coalition has trained a hundred thousand members of the Iraqi security force that had collapsed in 2014. They have now fought some of the most difficult battles since the Second World War. We are in discussions with the Iraqi government about a future role for the coalition training and advising. In Syria, we have also pioneered this model of working by, with, and through local forces. It's local Syrians retaking their areas. Our footprint is small, it's light, but it is effective. We will want to be able to keep the pressure so that isis can't regenerate. [...]

Since 2003, Iran has played an increasing role in Iraq. How do you assess their intentions down the road and their power compared to the U.S.?

Iran likes to be flattered with the view that everything that happens in Iraq and Syria happens because Iran is pulling the strings. That's just not true. Do they have enormous influence? Yes. Just look at a map and you can understand why. But the differences, even within the Shia community in Iraq and the Shia community in Iran, are profound. The vision of [Iraq's] Grand Ayatollah Sistani --of quietism and a civil state, meaning not a state governed by clerics--is totally different from the vision of [Iran's] Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Iranians tried to do a number of things in Iraq that simply have not worked, because the Iraqis rejected it. Their influence is not dominant. I never discount the ability of the Iraqis to chart their own course.

Sadr Calls Authorities to Place 'Hashd Al-Shaabi' Under Command Of State (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/05/17)

Baghdad- Head of the Sadrist Movement, Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on the authorities Friday to seize the arsenals of all armed groups, adding that the government is the sole entity assigned to maintain security and possess arms.

In a speech broadcasted on huge screens, Sadr urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to dismantle Hashd al-Shaabi and "integrate into the army the disciplined members" of the paramilitary force, an AFP reporter said.

"The Hashd al-Shaabi should function under the command of the state. And weapons should be in the hands of the state too," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Conservative Millennial Women Are Here For Female Empowerment--Just Don't Call Them Feminists (SAMANTHA LEACH, AUGUST 4, 2017Glamour)

[B]y the end of lunch I found myself engaged in complex conversations about their hopes for female empowerment within the conservative party.

"I want equality of opportunity, and they want equality of outcome," said Emily Hall, the president of her NeW chapter at Harvard, when I called her a week later, curious to hear more about her problem conservative women have with modern feminism. The "they" she's referring to, in case you haven't caught on, are liberal women.

Hall's point is the backbone of what Agness calls "opportunity feminism," which touts the belief that as long as women have the ability to enter fields like STEM, it doesn't matter how many actually do.

Another fundamental problem NeW attendees expressed with the feminist movement is its focus on women's reproductive rights, particularly--of course--abortion.

Jessica Martinez, the founder of her NeW chapter at UNC Charlotte, told me, "I have a strong Christian faith. I understand women want the right to do whatever they want with their body, but if it's at the cost of another's life, even though they don't consider it a life--if it has a heartbeat--then I [abortion] to be illegal." Other women admitted the left's laser-focus on Planned Parenthood was the primary reason they didn't participate in January's Women's March.

Outside divisive issues like abortion, another common complaint women at the conference shared with me was what they perceive to be the left's "victimhood" culture. "Feminism is focusing on an intersectionality that seems to be a competition to see who's the biggest victim," Hall said. "I think feminism should focus on empowering women, not just focusing on the ways that they've been disadvantaged."  [...]

Yet, even though these women don't identify with feminism as I define it, I came to find that they can still be--for lack of a better phrase--woke as hell. For example, Martinez told me about how, as a conservative Hispanic woman, she's fighting for Republicans to embrace more diversity in the party. Another attendee, Amy Dunham, a rising senior at the University of Alabama, proudly told me that she's studying engineering and plans to work in STEM. In one of the most emotional moments of the conference, a sexual assault survivor and advocate stood up and questioned whether she could defend Trump after the comments he's made towards women. Later, I saw many of the attendees thank her, and others tell her about their own work in sexual assault awareness community.

Now that I had a better understanding of the problems millennial conservative women have with feminism, I still wanted to know what their ideal movement would look like, and how it would better serve women. When I asked Hall how she'd envision it, she told me this: "[It would] include all women and [our] male allies as well, because I think that the vast majority of people, women and men, absolutely support political and otherwise equality of women. I think we should capitalize on the support of [the] many people [who] want women to be equal. I think it would be important to make that feminism into a network of women who are empowering women to run for office. Something that crosses ideological lines."

August 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Hezbollah chief says ready to battle IS on Lebanon-Syria border (AFP August 5, 2017)

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Friday he was ready to launch an offensive against the Islamic State terror group on the Lebanon-Syria border, days after forcing Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch from the area.

In a televised speech broadcast on the Hezbollah terror group's Al-Manar television channel, Nasrallah also demanded news within days about the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by IS in 2014.

Nasrallah said "eliminating" IS from the mountainous area known as Jurud along the Lebanon-Syria border "is in the interests of both Lebanon and Syria."

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud : Two tax lawyers break down the president's sale of two condos to his son. (David Herzig and Bridget Crawford August 4, 2017, Washington Post)

According to a recent story by ProPublica and the Real Deal, in April 2016 a limited liability company managed by Trump sold two condominium apartments to a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump. They were on the 13th and 14th floors of a 14-story, full-service, doorman building at 100 Central Park South in Manhattan. This is a prime Midtown neighborhood, yet the sale price for each condo was just $350,000. Although the condition and square footage of apartments 13G and 14G are not readily known, a popular real estate website shows that G-line apartments on both the fifth and eighth floors are one-bedroom, one-bath units of just over 500 square feet. Two years before the Trump transaction, apartment 5G sold for $690,000. Maybe the two units in question were in terrible shape, but two months before the sale to Eric Trump's LLC, they were advertised for $790,000 (on the 13th floor) and $800,000 (on the 14th floor), according to ProPublica.

If a sale between a parent and child is for fair market value, it does not trigger a gift tax. But if a parent sells two expensive condominiums to his son at a highly discounted price, for example, then the parent makes a taxable gift in part. In that case, the seller must pay a gift tax of up to 40 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Obama and Trump: Polar Opposites (Nancy LeTourneau, August 4, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Today is Barack Obama's 56th birthday, and so there's a lot of chatter about him. As a result, I just read a story about his relationship with the secret service (and other staffers) that I hadn't heard before. It comes from Michael Lewis, who spent 6 months hanging around Obama to write a profile in Vanity Fair back in 2012. You can watch him tell the story at about 26:30.

Here's a transcript provided by Jason Cham: [...]

"The Secret Service that protect him love him. He wears this watch that's this goofy looking watch. It looks like a scuba diving watch. Its got all the knobs and you look over it and you expect to see an odometer on it. It is so out of character because everything about him is so spare and minimalist. At some point I said, 'You know, your watch just doesn't fit you. It is an odd thing that you have that watch. That watch is a geeky, dorky watch. And you're kind of cool and that's kind of odd.' And he said, 'I'll tell you about this watch. When I was running the campaign-the first campaign-Michelle and I just started inviting the Secret Service in. They weren't getting fed when they were watching me. So we would have them in.' And they said-I don't know if I can say this-previous Presidents didn't treat them that way. And the Secret Service pooled their money to give him this watch. And he wore it because of that.

"He has that kind of loyalty. Not just from the people who protect him but the people who work for him feel that way too. He creates-and I watched him do this for me-a safe place for people to operate in. They don't feel like they are going to be backstabbed or they are going to be subject to the whims of some kind of whimsical leader. They feel safe with him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


How a poet brought the Statue of Liberty to life : Esther Schon, biographer of Emma Lazarus, talks about what she means today. (Randy Dotinga, AUGUST 4, 2017, CS Monitor)

While Lazarus wrote her poem "The New Colossus" before the statue came to the US in the late 19th century, it took years for the words to be inscribed and decades to become famous. These gaps allow modern-day critics like White House policy adviser Stephen Miller to dismiss the poet's words as an irrelevant add-on, as he did during a now-famous press conference.

The critics, says Schon in an interview with the Monitor, are wrong.

Q: How did Emma Lazarus come to transform the meaning of the Statue of Liberty?

At first, the statue was ostensibly a tribute to Franco-American friendship. Édouard de Laboulaye [a French political thinker known as the  "Father of the Statue of Liberty"] wanted to honor the American emancipation of the slaves and show that it came out of the French Enlightenment.

The Americans revealed what they thought of the statue by not donating to a fund to pay for a pedestal. As part of an effort to raise money, Emma Lazarus wrote the poem to be auctioned off at an art exhibition, and it was published the following month in early 1884 by a small magazine.

She reinvisioned the statue as a Mother of Exiles. For her, the statue was an emblem of the nation's mission to welcome and absorb immigrants and to flourish with their arrival.

Q: What happened to the poem after she wrote it?

It wasn't well known even after the inscription was installed in the statue in 1903, 15 years after she died at the age of 38. But in the 1930s, pro-immigrationists realized the poem was an eloquent statement of their cause. Since then, the poem and the statue have been inextricably linked.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Iran hawks, Bannon loyalists booted in White House purge (Laura Rozen, August 3, 2017, Al Monitor)

A civil war for the soul of the Donald Trump administration has emerged into the open, pitting a motley array of anti-globalists and Iran hawks against more moderate national security professionals.

Among them are NSC senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was removed Aug. 2; NSC senior director for the Middle East Derek Harvey, who was asked to resign last week; and NSC director for strategic planning Rich Higgins, reportedly for writing and circulating a bizarre memo alleging a conspiracy of globalists, leftists and Islamists trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic.

The arrival on Monday of new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who previously served as Trump's secretary of homeland security, appears to have bolstered the authority of national security adviser H.R. McMaster to make such firing decisions, which he has long sought. Combined, the personnel moves aim to bring more coherence and discipline to a sometimes chaotic, unpredictable foreign policy-making process that has often seemed undermined by competing power centers inside the administration as well as by Trump's own personality.

Though McMaster officially removed Bannon from the NSC principals committee after taking over from Mike Flynn in February, recent reports and sources indicate that Bannon has continued to operate a kind of parallel power center that has drawn in fringe thinkers who favor regime change in Tehran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Donald Trump, meet the Founding Fathers :  On one level, it seems individuals are thwarting the president's legislative agenda. But seen more broadly, it's America's system of governance that the president is running up against. (Francine Kiefer, AUGUST 4, 2017, CS Monitor)

[I]n the broadest sense, the resistance he's encountering is due to America's system of governance. The story of his early presidency might easily be called "Donald Trump meets the Founding Fathers," as a beginner politician runs up against the checks and balances that are designed to prevent tyranny and forge consensus.

Trump and his team are "surprised at the intransigence and resistance they're meeting, when in fact, every other president has met them," says Don Ritchie, former Senate historian. This outsider White House "didn't anticipate these things because they hadn't experienced these things," as former governors or legislators, like other presidents and senior White House officials.

During the honeymoon phase of a new administration, presidents can make significant headway. Barack Obama and George W. Bush scored some major legislative wins, when their parties, too, controlled both the House and Senate.

By the first August recess, a Democratic Congress had passed President Obama's big economic stimulus package, confirmed a Supreme Court justice, and was deep into the policy weeds of health care, which would become law early the next year. In his first year, President Bush got a $1.35 trillion tax cut and Congress passed landmark education reform with bipartisan support. [...]

The common notion is that it's presidents versus the opposition party in Congress, "but it's really presidents versus Congress as an institution," says Mr. Ritchie, the former Senate historian, recalling President Kennedy's observation that he didn't realize how powerful Congress was until he was no longer just one of its 535 members.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


U.S. employers add 209,000 jobs in July; unemployment rate ticks down to 4.3%  (Samantha Masunaga, 8/04/17, LA Times)

With jobs numbers coming in slightly above expectations and wage growth and the unemployment rate charting nearly lateral moves, Joseph Seydl, capital markets economist with J.P. Morgan Private Bank, described the report as "business as usual."

"There's a demand for labor, but it's not overheating on the wage front," he said.

If he can only preserve complete stasis for a couple more years his presidency will have been a success at the expense of only the failure of his agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


The Email That Gives Away The Pro-Trump Media's Seth Rich Game (Matt Gertz, August 4, 2017, Media Matters)

Wheeler's lawsuit reveals that Butowsky's concern with the Rich investigation had little to do with getting elusive justice for the murdered DNC staffer. It was a political operation aimed at protecting the president from the Russia scandal -- one that Fox was eager to support.

Butowsky made that clear in an email he sent to a list of Fox staff hours before the's story's publication. "One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails," he wrote, "and there was no collusion like trump with the Russians." The pro-Trump press had been searching for a way to defuse the collusion bomb, and Butowsky hoped he had found it.

In the days that followed, pro-Trump Fox hosts Steve Doocy, who had received Butowsky's email, and Sean Hannity, the most prominent champion of Rich conspiracy theories, promoted the story using Butowsky's language (emphasis added):

May 16: Doocy reports, "For a long time on the internet and elsewhere, he has been rumored to have been the one who gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails. So, if that is true, and we don't know yet, it looks like Russia didn't give it to WikiLeaks. It was Seth Rich, perhaps."

May 16: Hannity claims that "explosive developments" in the Rich story "could completely shatter the narrative that in fact WikiLeaks was working with the Russians, or there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians."

May 18: Hannity claims: "If Rich, in fact, was WikiLeaks' source for DNC email leaks, it would confirm Russia was not involved. ... Wouldn't that blow the Russian collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?"

May 19: Hannity claims: "What if it was somebody that was so disgruntled in the DNC at how they cheated Bernie and how the fix was in, if that turned out to be true that somebody did that, wouldn't that completely wipe out the entire Russia lie we've heard for months and months?"

The lawsuit also adds new details that suggest that the story, published amid a slew of negative stories about the president and Russia, was deliberately timed to blunt the Russia debacle...

Someone has to lead the sheep.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Trump Blames Congress for Deteriorating Relationship with Russia (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/04/17)

US President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out at Congress for the country's deteriorating relationship with Russia, which he characterized in a tweet as "at an all-time and very dangerous low."

He added, "you can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!" referencing the failure of the Senate to pass legislation overhauling the Affordable Care Act.

August 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


One year into the FBI's Russia investigation, Mueller is on the Trump money trail (Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz, August 3, 2017,  CNN)

Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.

One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Putin's interference in our election clearly backfired (MARC A. THIESSEN, AUGUST 03, 2017, Washington Post)

[R]ussia's election meddling has boxed Trump in to this aggressive stance for the foreseeable future. Trump's best defense against charges of collusion with Russia is: Look at my policies. There has been no president this tough on Moscow since Ronald Reagan. Even if Trump wanted to pursue detente with Russia, he cannot, because any concessions to Putin will be seen through the prism of the Russia investigation. Every step taken that benefits Moscow will cost him politically at home, while tough stances will insulate him from accusations that he is Putin's puppet.

Third, Russia's election meddling has achieved something no Russian leader has previously been able to do: It has turned Democrats into modern-day Cold Warriors. In 2012, after Mitt Romney called Russia our No. 1 geopolitical foe, Democrats cheered Barack Obama for mocking him by saying, "The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back." Today, five years later, Democrats are suddenly channeling their inner Reagan.

It's ironic. During the Cold War, when the Kremlin was throwing people into the gulag and threatening the United States with nuclear annihilation, many Democrats were all for accommodating Moscow. They opposed the Reagan defense buildup, the Strategic Defense Initiative and aid to anti-Soviet freedom fighters and chafed when Reagan declared the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire."

But the Kremlin finally crossed a line when it messed with Hillary Clinton's campaign. None of this is what Putin was hoping for when he decided to interfere in the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


A letter from H.R. McMaster said Susan Rice will keep her top-secret security clearance (Sara A. Carter, 8/03/17, Circa)

Almost one month after it was disclosed that former President Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice was unmasking members of President Trump's team and other Americans, Trump's own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, sent an official letter giving her unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her "need-to-know" requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure, Circa has confirmed.

The undated and unclassified letter from McMaster was sent in the mail to Rice's home during the last week of April. [...]

"Basically, this letter which was signed in the last week of April undercuts the president's assertion that Susan Rice's unmasking activity was inappropriate. [...]," said a senior West Wing official, who was shown the document by Circa and verified its authenticity. 

Duh? No one takes Donald seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet : Surprise, surprise--the insult has its roots in Soviet anti-Semitism. (JEFF GREENFIELD August 03, 2017, Politico)
When TV news viewers saw Trump adviser Stephen Miller accuse Jim Acosta of harboring a "cosmopolitan bias" during Wednesday's news conference, they might have wondered whether he was accusing the CNN White House reporter of an excessive fondness for the cocktail made famous on "Sex and the City." It's a term that's seldom been heard in American political discourse. But to supporters of the Miller-Bannon worldview, it was a cause for celebration. Breitbart, where Steve Bannon reigned before becoming Trump's chief political strategist, trumpeted Miller's "evisceration" of Acosta and put the term in its headline. So did white nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Miller's dust-up with Acosta as "a triumph."

Why does it matter? Because it reflects a central premise of one key element of President Donald Trump's constituency--a premise with a dark past and an unsettling present. [...]

One reason why "cosmopolitan" is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which "the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded." It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with "bourgeois Western influences." Not so incidentally, many of these "cosmopolitans" were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into "unmasking" the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments--usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism--to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM



"The Right Stuff" is often called a historical epic, but it's a film that defies labels, just like its star, actor-playwright Sam Shepard, who died last week at 72. Based on New Journalism pioneer Tom Wolfe's book about the Mercury 7 program and the early days of the space race, the movie mixed a satire of patriotism with a rugged individualistic sensibility that has been both esteemed and parodied. This combination of elements was never again captured onscreen. It worked because of Shepard's portrayal of test pilot Chuck Yeager, which embodied the mysterious quality alluded to in the title of Wolfe's book. [...]

"The Right Stuff" is one of the great movies of the 1980s. The cast is impeccable, the script and direction by Philip Kaufman are up to the task, and the score, by Bill Conti of "Rocky" fame, is one of the best of its era. But it's the story of Shepherd's Yeager that secures "The Right Stuff" a spot in America's film canon. Shepard's Yeager is stout, his chemistry opposite Barbara Hershey as Glennis Yeager is just about perfect, and his interplay with The Band's Levon Helm as Yeager's best friend Jack Ridley is palpable: the two look and sound as if they just walked in off the taxiway into the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

Shepard's performance as Yeager put to film one of humankind's great achievements, juxtaposed with a storyline that was also a metaphor of the end of the West. In Wolfe's account, translated to the big screen by Kaufman, the rugged element typified by Shepard was polished out of the Mercury 7 program. This marked the end of the frontier not just as a historical event (that had already happened at the end of the 19th century) but as a way of living and thinking. And it happened, ironically, just as America was reaching for the greatest frontier of all. Countless classic westerns, including "Shane," "The Wild Bunch," "The Shootist," "The Gunfighter" and "Unforgiven," have all dealt with this theme, to varying degrees. It is embedded in the genre itself. But not many movies have conveyed it as viscerally as "The Right Stuff," which extended the idea of the end of the West into the mid-20th century and showed it playing out through the space program, the media, and the characters' personalities. Shepard's Yeager was the heart of it all. The character didn't change, but the world around him did.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


First Golfer: Donald Trump's relationship with golf has never been more complicated (Alan Shipnuck, August 1st, 2017, Sports Illustrated)

Playing golf with the 45th President of the United States offers a revealing character study of him. Donald Trump's private clubs are where he feels most comfortable, and holding court with members and guests and employees is an important part of the ritual--in the pro shop, at the driving range and especially on the 1st tee, where Trump traditionally announces the teams for a friendly wager and will typically take the best player available for his partner. Some earnest person in the group will typically keep score, though the terms of the match are usually unstated and Trump's interest in the ebb and flow of the match is modest at best. Yet he somehow knows when his putt is meaningful, and he attempts those putts with a certain amount of fanfare.

SI spoke with numerous people who have teed it up with Trump over the years and all report that he doesn't play a round of golf so much as narrate it, his commentary peppered with hyperbole. "Is this not the most beautiful asphalt you've ever seen in your life?" he'll say of an ordinary cart path. At the turn he'll ask, "Have you ever had a better burger?" Years ago Trump was mid-round when he took a long call from Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice. He put down his phone just long enough to play his shots, at one point saying, "Wait one second here while I blast this 250-yard 3-wood." Trump also lavishes attention on his playing partners. "We didn't talk any business because there wasn't time," says Ernie Els, who last February played golf alongside Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. "He was more focused on making sure me and the Japanese prime minister had a good time. He kept on the two of us, making sure we had a proper introduction, making conversation, just being a good host."

Trump always takes a cart and a caddie, whom he pays well. He insists on driving. Recent footage that showed him navigating his cart across a green at his club in Bedminster, N.J., generated horror in the golf press, but this is old news at Trump's clubs, where he has been known to drive onto tee boxes too. [...]

Trump will sometimes respond to a shot he duffed by simply playing a second ball and carrying on as if the first shot never happened. In the parlance of the game, Trump takes floating mulligans, usually more than one during a round.  [...]

During election season, Bedminster morphed into a kind of permanent campaign rally site. Trump posters and bumper stickers were plastered across the property, and an anti-Hillary shrine was built in a bar in the men's locker room. The club held a Ryder Cup-style competition in which the teams wore either red or black Make America Great Again hats. At most other golf courses in America the TV is tuned to Golf Channel, on mute, but throughout last summer and fall, the television in Trump Bedminster's shop was on Fox News, with the sound blaring. As President, Trump has already made four visits to the club. He has his own cottage adjacent to the pool; it was recently given a secure perimeter by the Secret Service, leading to the inevitable joke that it's the only wall Trump has successfully built. Chatting with some members before a recent round of golf, he explained his frequent appearances: "That White House is a real dump."

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Exclusive: top FBI officials could testify against Trump : The acting head of the bureau told top officials to prepare. (Murray Waas  Aug 3, 2017, Vox)

Shortly after the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller in May, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told several of the highest-ranking managers of the bureau they should consider themselves possible witnesses in any investigation into whether President Donald Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, according to two senior federal law enforcement officials.

McCabe has told colleagues that he too is a potential witness in the probe of whether Trump broke the law by trying to thwart the FBI's Russia investigation and the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Two senior federal law enforcement officials have told me that the new revelations illustrate why they believe the potential case against Trump is stronger than outsiders have thought.

"What you are going to have is the potential for a powerful obstruction case," a senior law enforcement official said. "You are going to have the [former] FBI director testify, and then the acting director, the chief of staff to the FBI director, the FBI's general counsel, and then others, one right after another. This has never been the word of Trump against what [James Comey] has had to say. This is more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation versus Donald Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Those Calls to Trump? White House Admits They Didn't Happen (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, AUG. 2, 2017, NY Times)

Has President Trump told you about the time the head of the Boy Scouts called to say his was the best speech ever delivered to the more than century-old organization? What about when the president of Mexico picked up the telephone to let him know that his tough enforcement efforts at the border were paying off handsomely?

The anecdotes, both of which Mr. Trump told over the last week, were similar in that they appeared to be efforts to showcase broad support for the president when his White House has been mired in turmoil. But they also had another thing in common, the White House conceded on Wednesday: Neither was true.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, confirmed at her daily briefing what the Boy Scouts and the Mexican government had already asserted publicly, which is that neither phone call that Mr. Trump referred to had occurred.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Rouhani vows to end isolation amid fresh US sanctions (Al Jazeera, 8/03/17)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed to continue his efforts to end the country's isolation as he was sworn in for a second term, a day after US President Donald Trump signed a bill increasing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

"We will never accept isolation," Rouhani told a packed audience of Iranian political and military officials in Tehran on Thursday.

"The nuclear deal is a sign of Iran's goodwill on the international stage," he said, referring to the 2015 agreement to curb its atomic programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

The US agreed the deal with world powers including  Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany.

Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate who has faced fierce criticism from conservatives for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, issued a call for unity.

"I declare once again that with the election concluded, the time for unity and cooperation has begun," he said. 

"I extend my hand to all those who seek the greatness of the country."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Trump Hits New Low With White Non-College Voters (Danielle Kurtzleben, 8/03/17, NPR)

Because of their stalwart support of Trump, especially as opposed to their college-graduate peers, whites without college degrees (or "blue-collar whites" or "working-class whites") became an obsession during the presidential election. Indeed, whites without a college degree have sharply shifted Republican over the last two presidential election cycles.

But last week, that support slipped. The poll, conducted July 27 through Aug. 1, showed that only 43 percent of non-college white Americans say they approve of Trump, compared to 50 percent who disapprove, yielding a net approval of -7 points.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Humans cause most self-driving car accidents (Kia Kokalitcheva, 8/03/17, Axios)

[H]umans will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. A closer look at those accident reports reveals stark differences between how self-driving cars interpret the rules of the road and how humans behave behind the wheel. For example, human drivers make sudden lane changes or run red lights -- not the way self-driving cars are taught to behave on the road. These awkward interactions between self-driving and human-driven cars will probably result in more fender-benders as more autonomous vehicles arrive on the roads.

The self-driving cars were at fault in only four incidents, and in autonomous mode in only one of those four. In six out of the 10 incidents in which the cars were in manual mode (with human drivers in control) at the time of the collision, the cars were previously in autonomous mode until drivers took over for safety reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Confusion, anger inside Fox News over lack of answers in network's Seth Rich probe (Oliver Darcy, 8/02/17, CNNMoney)

A person with knowledge of the situation told CNN that employees have been left puzzled as to why no one has been held accountable for one of Fox News' most high-profile mistakes.

"No one knows," the person said. "This is like a huge question mark internally. This is a giant mystery."

When the story was deleted in May, a statement was left in its place that said the network would "continue to investigate" the situation and "provide updates as warranted." More than two months have gone by, but no updates have been made available. After Wheeler's lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, Jay Wallace, Fox News' president of news, said the network's probe was still ongoing. [...]

According to half a dozen people spread throughout Fox News who spoke with CNN, all this has left employees at the network wondering what is going on with the investigation -- and why there has not been an announcement either of disciplinary action or a finding that there was no wrongdoing.

"People need to start getting canned over the [Seth Rich] thing," an employee told CNN. "What a mess." [...]

"It stirs up the same embarrassment as when the story first got peddled," added another on-air personality. "It makes people doubt Fox."

That said, employees recognize the secretive nature that has characterized the probe into the Rich story, and lack of disciplinary action, seems to fit into the normal operating procedures for Fox News.

"I think the lack of transparency is not that surprising," the senior Fox News employee said. "But it really forces the question, how much journalistic integrity does Fox News really have? Because most other news outlets, these situations come up, but they are dealt with appropriately. People are held accountable. People are fired, they are disciplined or whatever. But this is like classic Fox. No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true."

CNN held people accountable for a true story, improperly sourced.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


MORE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, FEWER DUIS : A study finds fewer drug and drunk-driving arrests as the immigrant population increases. (TOM JACOBS, 8/02/17, Pacific Standard)

Pandering politicians regularly insist that undocumented immigrants are a danger to society.

"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime," Donald Trump famously declared in announcing his candidacy for president. A decade earlier, Iowa congressman Steve King said 13 Americans die each day as a result of undocumented drunk drivers.

A just-released study suggests such claims are hacia atrás--exactly backwards. Looking at state-level data, it finds three major drug-related problems are apparently mitigated as the population of undocumented immigrants grows.

Specifically, states with an increasing concentration of non-citizen residents lacking proper papers experienced "reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests," writes a research team led by sociologist Michael Light of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


McMaster ousts fourth Flynn, Bannon ally from National Security Council in recent weeks (Peter Weber, 8/02/17, The Week)

On Wednesday night, the White House announced that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the head of the National Security Council's intelligence programs, had been sacked, the latest of what The New York Times calls National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's "slow-motion purge of hard-line officials" at the NSC, especially those appointed by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and allied with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and his antiglobalist views. [...]

McMaster had tried to fire Cohen-Watnick earlier this year, but was blocked by Bannon and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, dropped his objection this week, The New York Times reports. Cohen-Watnick gained some notoriety for briefing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on classified information about incidental surveillance of Trump campaign officials.

August 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 PM


An NSC Staffer Is Forced Out Over a Controversial Memo (ROSIE GRAY, 8/02/17, The Atlantic)

A top official of the National Security Council was fired last month after arguing in a memo that President Trump is under sustained attack from subversive forces both within and outside the government who are deploying Maoist tactics to defeat President Trump's nationalist agenda.

His dismissal marks the latest victory by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in the ongoing war within Trump's White House between those who believe that the president is under threat from dark forces plotting to undermine him, and those like McMaster who dismiss this as conspiratorial thinking.

Rich Higgins, a former Pentagon official who served in the NSC's strategic-planning office as a director for strategic planning, was let go on July 21. Higgins's memo describes supposed domestic and international threats to Trump's presidency, including globalists, bankers, the "deep state," and Islamists. The memo characterizes the Russia story as a plot to sabotage Trump's nationalist agenda. It asserts that globalists and Islamists are seeking to destroy America. 

Of course, for the Right his firing just proves the conspiracy...

Posted by orrinj at 10:48 PM


Russian Premier Says U.S. Sanctions Bill Ends Hope For Better Ties (rADIO lIBERTY, August 03, 2017)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sharply denounced the sanctions bill signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump on August 2, saying it ends hope for improving relations and ignites "an all-out trade war with Russia."

Always bet on the Deep State.
Posted by orrinj at 10:46 PM


Lebanese PM Saad Hariri Joins With Hezbollah to Con Donald Trump (Tony Badran, August 2, 2017, tABLET)

The day after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with President Trump at the White House, a member of his delegation saluted Hezbollah on social media from Washington. Last Wednesday, former minister, and current advisor to the Lebanese president (a Hezbollah ally), Elias Bou Saab, tweeted a salute to "every resister"--a euphemism for Hezbollah fighter--and "every soldier" fighting in the outback of the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, on the border with Syria. Later that same day, Bou Saab, who is the Executive Vice President of The American University in Dubai, and is widely seen in Lebanon as a sympathizer of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, posed for a picture with a journalist from the pro-Hezbollah TV channel, NBN. The journalist posted the photo on her Facebook page. It shows Bou Saab and the journalist on a street in Washington, holding a placard with another salute to Hezbollah. It reads: "From the outback of Washington, a salute to the heroes in the outback of Arsal."

Bou Saab's boss, Hariri, was only slightly more reserved in his public alliance with the Lebanese terror army--aka "the resistance." After his press conference with President Trump, in which the U.S. president described Hezbollah as regional menace and long arm of Iran, the prime minister told Lebanese reporters, "We fight ISIS and al-Qaida. Hezbollah is in the government and part of parliament and we have an understanding with it."

An understanding with Hezbollah sounds about right. Hariri's visit with Trump was part of a coordinated, multifaceted information campaign to swindle the U.S. government into continuing its military support and extending political cover for the evolving pro-Iran order in Lebanon and Syria. Everyone--Hariri, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and its supporters and publicists in Washington--is in on the con.

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 PM


Cash-strapped Baghdad drops Podesta  (Bryant Harris, August 2, 2017, Al Monitor)

Iraq's cash-strapped central government has parted ways with Democratic super-lobbyist Tony Podesta, according to a lobbying disclosure form made public today.

The brother of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Podesta would have had powerful influence if the Democratic candidate had won the presidency in November. Instead, his firm's stock appears to have fallen since Republican Donald Trump's election, with three other clients, including Vietnam and Kosovo, ending their relationship over the past few months. [...]

"With the new administration, we wanted more of a bipartisan approach in our lobbying," the Iraqi official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. But with "the glut in the oil crisis [and] the cost of war [against the Islamic State] the government took measures to reduce financing for certain activities for Iraqi ministries in general and that directly affected us. So we had to cut the spending for the lobbying efforts for the time being."

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Oh, Wait. Maybe It Was Collusion. (JOHN SIPHER and STEVE HALL, AUG. 2, 2017, NY Times)

The goal of the Russian spy game is to nudge a person to step over the line into an increasingly conspiratorial relationship. First, for a Russian intelligence recruitment operation to work, they would have had some sense that Donald Trump Jr. was a promising target. Next, as the Russians often do, they made a "soft" approach, setting the bait for their target via the June email sent by Rob Goldstone, a British publicist, on behalf of a Russian pop star, Emin Agalarov.

They then employed a cover story -- adoptions -- to make it believable to the outside world that there was nothing amiss with the proposed meetings. They bolstered this idea by using cutouts, nonofficial Russians, for the actual meeting, enabling the Trump team to claim -- truthfully -- that there were no Russian government employees at the meeting and that it was just former business contacts of the Trump empire who were present.

When the Trump associates failed to do the right thing by informing the F.B.I., the Russians probably understood that they could take the next step toward a more conspiratorial relationship. They knew what bait to use and had a plan to reel in the fish once it bit.

While we don't know for sure whether the email solicitation was part of an intelligence ploy, there are some clues. A month after the June meeting at Trump Tower, WikiLeaks, a veritable Russian front, released a dump of stolen D.N.C. emails. The candidate and campaign surrogates increasingly mouthed talking points that seemed taken directly from Russian propaganda outlets, such as that there had been a terrorist attack on a Turkish military base, when no such attack had occurred. Also, at this time United States intelligence reportedly received indications from European intelligence counterparts about odd meetings between Russians and Trump campaign representatives overseas.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Why Congress is ignoring Trump (Peter Grier, AUGUST 2, 2017, CS monitor)

Is President Trump evolving into a figurehead, increasingly ignored by Congress and even some members of his own executive branch of government? [...]

[T]o see why some political scientists would call Trump ineffective, look at what's happening in Congress this week. The president has railed on Twitter that Senators will be "quitters" if they don't redouble efforts to repeal Obamacare. His budget director has said that the Senate shouldn't vote on anything else until they vote again on health care.

Senators are apparently treating those words as empty threats. Majority leader Mitch McConnell has outlined legislative plans leading up to the August recess, and health care isn't in them.

Then there's the Russia sanctions bill. In a statement, Trump excoriated that legislation on Wednesday as partially unconstitutional. Yet as he did so, he signed it into law. He effectively had no choice, since it passed the House and Senate with large majorities, which could have overridden a presidential veto.

Asked Wednesday about Trump's criticisms of the sanctions law, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, answered simply, "that's fine."

Pressed by a reporter on the president's complaint that the sanctions law infringed on executive branch authority, Senator Corker, by now in an elevator, just shrugged his shoulders as the doors closed, ending the conversation. [...]

As Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor, points out on the blog Lawfare, one of the most remarkable aspects of the entire Trump presidency has been the extent to which senior officials treat Trump as if he were not chief executive.

They regularly contradict his statements, whether it is UN Ambassador Nikki Haley saying that the US "absolutely" supports a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, to the many top security officials who have testified there is no evidence that President Barack Obama directed wiretapping of Trump in Trump Tower, as Trump charged.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has been quietly reassuring allies that Trump is not in fact rejecting NATO's common defense, as he sometimes seems to do.

'Time to Move On': Senate G.O.P. Flouts Trump After Health Care Defeat (MATT FLEGENHEIMER and THOMAS KAPLANAUG. 1, 2017, NY Times)

They have abandoned well-worn phrases, like "growing pains" and "sea legs," that sustained them through the endless winter and spring.

And if a few months ago President Trump's scattershot demands might have sent the chamber into a lather, compelling lawmakers to honor his megaphone, the collective shrugs at his rage over last week's failed health care repeal vote have signaled a new phase in this shotgun marriage of unified Republican rule.

Congressional fear is low. Eyes are rolling with greater velocity. Executive instructions on how to proceed are being ignored as a matter of course.

"We've got other things to do," Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said after Mr. Trump insisted that the party refuse to take up other issues with the repeal pledge unfulfilled.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM



[A] 2011 presentation to the NSA and its foreign partners by Canada's signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment, undermines the notion of a foreign hacker so skilled that a victim would never know their identity. The document calls Russian hackers "morons" for routinely compromising the security of a "really well designed" system intended to cover their tracks; for example, the hackers logged into their personal social and email accounts through the same anonymizing system used to attack their targets, comparable to getting an anonymous burner phone for illicit use and then placing calls to your girlfriend, parents, and roommate.

In fairness, from Donald's vantage a moron is a genius.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Iran outflanking Saudi Arabia in Yemen (Bruce Riedel, August 1, 2017, Al Monitor)

Iran is gradually increasing its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Rather than eliminating the Iranian presence in the country, the Saudi-led war is giving Tehran the opportunity to become more influential there than ever. The Houthis remain fiercely independent of Iran, but they will need Tehran's backing more as the stalemate continues. [...]

Iran reportedly discouraged the Houthis from seizing Sanaa in September 2015, fearing that would provoke civil war. With the help of former President Saleh, who switched sides by 2015, the Houthis did take the capital, which precipitated the crisis leading to the Saudi intervention. So far from being pawns of Iran, the rebels ignored its advice.

The rebels have also been quick to deny any plans for a future permanent Iranian military base in the country.

The Houthi are a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Trump Reluctantly Signs Russia Sanctions Bill (Jack Crowe, August 02, 2017, Daily Signal)

The new law limits the president's autonomy with respect to Russia policy with a provision requiring congressional approval for any revisions. (Photo: Sipa USA/Newscom)
President Donald Trump signed a sweeping sanctions bill Wednesday that is intended to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

In doing so, Trump criticized the legislation as "seriously flawed--particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate." [...]

The new law limits Trump's autonomy with respect to Russia policy in a provision that requires congressional approval for any revisions.  Bipartisan support in Congress ensured a veto-proof majority, effectively forcing Trump to abandon his conciliatory approach toward Russia by signing the legislation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


It Looks Like Trump and Putin Colluded on Adoption Story (Martin Longman August 2, 2017, New York)

When the New York Times initially reported the story of Donald Trump having a second unplanned meeting on July 7th with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, they also reported that the next day, on the return trip on Air Force One, a statement was drafted for Donald Trump Jr. so he could respond to questions about an undisclosed meeting he had organized between himself, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer.

Here's how that early reporting looked:

The evening after his two meetings with Mr. Putin -- the first lasting 135 minutes and the second an hour -- Mr. Trump returned to Washington. On the Air Force One flight back, his top advisers helped draft a statement about a meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. attended last year with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

The statement said that the meeting was primarily about the Russian ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans. Sometime later, on July 19th, the president explained in an interview with the New York Times what he had talked about with Putin during his unscheduled meeting at the G20 dinner.

"We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump's son] had in that meeting."

In this time period, Trump and his lawyers and surrogates denied that Donald Trump had been aware that the story about Donald Jr. was coming and only learned about it when everyone else did after the story broke in the New York Times. They also denied (necessarily) that Trump had any role in crafting the statement on Air Force One.

There turned out to be quite a few problems with this story.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Tesla's stock is spiking after it crushed Q2 earnings estimates (Fast Company, 8/02/17)

Tesla shares are up over 4% in after-hours trading today, thanks to stellar earnings for the second quarter of 2017. The electric carmaker pulled in revenue of $2.78 billion, high above estimates of $2.55 billion. Earnings were similarly rosy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Exclusive: Former Justice Department official joins Mueller team (Karen Freifeld, 8/02/17, Reuters) 

Most recently a white-collar criminal defense lawyer with New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, Andres, 50, served at the Justice Department from 2010 to 2012. He was deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, where he oversaw the fraud unit and managed the program that targeted illegal foreign bribery.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Tehran Transfers Weapons to Houthis across Gulf (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/02/17)

Iranian and western sources uncovered Tuesday that Iran's Revolutionary Guards have started using a new route across the Gulf to transfer weapons to their Houthi allies in Yemen.

"Parts of missiles, launchers and drugs are smuggled into Yemen via Kuwaiti waters. The route sometimes is used for transferring cash as well," a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

The official added that "what is especially smuggled recently, or to be precise in the past six months, are parts of missiles that cannot be produced in Yemen."

August 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Robots are replacing managers, too (Sarah Kessler, July 31, 2017, Quartz)

As its name implies, Orchestra conducts a swarm of workers, most of whom are freelancers, and other "robots" to complete projects. When a client requests website improvements, which B12 sells a la carte, Orchestra generates a new Slack group, identifies team members who are both available and appropriate to complete specific tasks, and hands off work to humans and automated processes in the appropriate order. It constructs a hierarchy of workers who can check and provide feedback on each other's work.

Automation is often associated with repetitive work such as torquing a bolt or combing through contracts during an audit. Orchestra and other systems like it demonstrate that the management of that work, and even work too complex to fully automate, also involves tasks with high automation potential. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Republican makes first move to work with Democrats on healthcare (Susan Cornwell, 8/01/17, Reuters) 

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander on Tuesday made the first move by a senior Republican to work with Democrats on repairing Obamacare after his party failed to repeal and replace the healthcare law, announcing work on bipartisan legislation to stabilize the individual health insurance market.

Alexander, who chairs the Senate health committee, urged U.S. President Donald Trump to drop his threat to cut government subsidy payments to insurers that make Obamacare plans affordable and to allow the payments through September. The senator also said fellow lawmakers should fund those payments for one year.

Governors May Have a Bipartisan Fix for Obamacare (Kevin Lamarque, 8/01/17, Fiscal Times)

The apparent demise of the Republican drive to scrap the Affordable Care Act may open the door to bipartisan fixes to the law. If it does, some of the proposals being touted by a bipartisan group of governors may get a hearing on Capitol Hill.

The seven Democrats and six Republican governors who crafted the proposals want federal money to stabilize the ACA's health insurance marketplaces, and greater power to manage them. They argue it should be easier for states to customize Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance for the poor, and they want new tools to curb fast-rising drug prices. And they insist that states should continue to regulate the health policies sold within their borders.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


McConnell brushes off Trump's call to get rid of Senate filibuster rule (Lisa Mascaro, 8/01/17, LA Times)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear Tuesday that he does not side with the president's approach to Senate procedures.

"It's pretty obvious on healthcare our problem was not the Democrats," McConnell said Tuesday. "The votes were simply not there."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


The Conservative Case for Universal Healthcare : Why in five years, the American right will embrace socialized medicine. (CHASE MADAR • July 25, 2017, American Conservative)

Don't tell anyone, but American conservatives will soon be embracing single-payer healthcare, or some other form of socialized healthcare.

Yes, that's a bold claim given that a GOP-controlled Congress and President are poised to un-socialize a great deal of healthcare, and may even pull it off. But within five years, plenty of Republicans will be loudly supporting or quietly assenting to universal Medicare.

And that's a good thing, because socializing healthcare is the only demonstrably effective way to control costs and cover everyone. It results in a healthier country and it saves a ton of money.

That may seem offensively counterintuitive. It's generally assumed that universal healthcare will by definition cost more.

In fact, in every first-world nation that has socialized medicine-whether it be  a heavily regulated multi-insurer system like Germany, single-payer like Canada, or a purely socialized system like the United Kingdom--it costs less. A lot, lot less, in fact: While healthcare eats up nearly 18 percent of U.S. GDP, for other nations, from Australia and Canada to Germany and Japan, the figure hovers around 11 percent. (It's no wonder that smarter capitalists like Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway are bemoaning the drag on U.S. firm competitiveness from high healthcare costs.) Nor are healthcare results in America anything to brag about: lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and poor scores on a wide range of important public health indicators.

Why does socialized healthcare cost less? Getting rid of private insurers, which suck up a lot money without adding any value, would result in a huge savings, as much as 15 percent by one academic estimate published in the American Journal of Public Health. When the government flexing its monopsony muscle as the overwhelmingly largest buyer of medical services, drugs and technology, it would also lower prices--that's what happens in nearly every other country.

The more conservative alternative--universal HSAs--is better because it is a surreptitious way of building wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


Acting DEA chief: Trump "condoned police misconduct" (Alayna Treene, 8/01/17, Axios)
America's top drug enforcement officer, acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration Chuck Rosenberg, shot down President Trump's remarks about police use of force in a worldwide memo to DEA agents Saturday, stating that they should disregard any suggestion that roughing up suspects is okay, per the WSJ. [...]

A longtime Justice Department official, Rosenberg perviously served George W. Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft. He also worked for the now-Special Prosecutor in the Russia probe, Robert Mueller, when he was FBI director; and ex-FBI Director James Comey, first when he was deputy AG and again when he became FBI director.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Behind Fox News' Baseless Seth Rich Story: The Untold Tale (David Folkenflik, 8/01/17, Morning Edition)

The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the death of a young Democratic National Committee aide, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The explosive claim is part of the lawsuit filed against Fox News by Rod Wheeler, a longtime paid commentator for the news network. The suit was obtained exclusively by NPR.

Wheeler alleges Fox News and the Trump supporter intended to deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration's ties to the Russian government. His suit charges that a Fox News reporter created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him to propel her story. [...]

The lawsuit focuses particular attention on the role of the Trump supporter, Ed Butowsky, in weaving the story. He is a wealthy Dallas investor and unpaid Fox commentator on financial matters who has emerged as a reliable Republican surrogate in recent years. Butowsky offered to pay for Wheeler to investigate the death of the DNC aide, Seth Rich, on behalf of his grieving parents in Omaha, Neb.

On April 20, a month before the story ran, Butowsky and Wheeler -- the investor and the investigator -- met at the White House with then-press secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering.

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


Solid earnings drive stock indexes higher (Associated Press, 8/01/17)

More solid earnings reports from U.S. companies are sending stocks higher in early trading on Wall Street.

Banks, technology companies and retailers were among the early winners Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM

NICELY PLAYED (profanity alert):

The Scaramucci Show (TONY LEE, 27 Jul 2017, Breitbart)

Move over President Donald Trump. You are yesterday's news. It seems like this is now The Anthony Scaramucci Show. And Trump better get used to it.

They certainly knew how to get Little Finger to fire him.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Why people prefer unequal societies (Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin & Paul Bloom, 4/07/17, Nature Human Behaviour)

[W]hen people are asked about the ideal distribution of wealth in their country, they actually prefer unequal societies. We suggest that these two phenomena can be reconciled by noticing that, despite appearances to the contrary, there is no evidence that people are bothered by economic inequality itself. Rather, they are bothered by something that is often confounded with inequality: economic unfairness. Drawing upon laboratory studies, cross-cultural research, and experiments with babies and young children, we argue that humans naturally favour fair distributions, not equal ones, and that when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality. 

Which is why a universal basic minimum will work.
Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Senate Democrats offer Republicans help on tax reform - with conditions (David Morgan 8/01/17, Reuters) 

U.S. Senate Democrats offered to work with Republicans on a bipartisan tax reform package on Tuesday but only if it does not cut taxes for the wealthy, add to the federal deficit or allow Republicans to enact legislation on their own.

The conditional offer may not attract immediate response from Republicans. But it adds to growing signs of interest in bipartisan cooperation since the collapse of Republican healthcare legislation in the Senate last week.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


EXCLUSIVE: Kelly called Comey to express anger over firing, sources say (Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown, July 31, 2017, CNN)

New White House chief of staff John Kelly was so upset with how President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning, according to two sources familiar with a conversation between Kelly and Comey. [...]

"John was angry and hurt by what he saw and the way (Comey) was treated," one of the sources said.

Comey learned of his dismissal on May 9 from televisions tuned to the news as he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said at the time. Comey made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation.

Comey, who took Kelly's call while traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington, responded to Kelly by telling him not to resign, one of the sources said.

The sources said Comey and Kelly are not close friends but that they had a professional relationship and a deep mutual respect for each other.

All we really need to know about the man is that not only did he not resign, he's become Donald's factotum.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Ron Swanson's Lesson in Property Rights (Joy Buchanan, July 31, 2017, FEE)

When a local school takes a field trip to city hall on an episode of the show Parks & Recreation, Ron Swanson, a freedom-loving curmudgeon who works for the local government, meets a 9-year-old girl named Lauren. He is uninterested in engaging with her, until he learns that she's writing an essay on why government matters.

Wanting to help her, Ron begins with a lesson in property.

"This is your lunch," Ron says to Lauren as he empties her lunchbox onto the table. "Now, you should be able to do whatever you want to with this, right?" Lauren nods.

"... But here I come, the government," Ron says, picking up her sandwich and chomping into it. "And I get to take 40% of your lunch," he says as he shoves a handful of her chips into his mouth and washes it all down with a slurp from her juice box.

"And that, Lauren, is how taxes work," Ron concludes. "That's not fair!" Lauren protests.

The hilarious scene ends when Ron gives the girl a landmine as a parting gift to protect her property.