November 30, 2017

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Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Analysis Says Bill Adds $1 Trillion to Deficit (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11/30/17)

The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation said Wednesday afternoon that the Senate tax bill would add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade, even after accounting for additional economic growth, a major blow to Republicans' contention that the $1.5 trillion tax cuts in the bill will pay for themselves through growth.

The committee, which serves as the scorekeeper for growth and revenue estimates in tax bills, estimated that the Senate bill would boost economic growth by 0.8 percent over a decade.

It's not easy to achieve that little, but, if anyone can, Donald will..

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM

THANKS, EARL (profanity alert):

How the sandwich consumed Britain : The world-beating British sandwich industry is worth £8bn a year. It transformed the way we eat lunch, then did the same for breakfast - and now it's coming for dinner. (Sam Knight, 24 November 2017, The Guardian)

The invention of the chilled packaged sandwich, an accessory of modern British life which is so influential, so multifarious and so close to hand that you are probably eating one right now, took place exactly 37 years ago. Like many things to do with the sandwich, this might seem, at first glance, to be improbable. But it is true. In the spring of 1980, Marks & Spencer, the nation's most powerful department store, began selling packaged sandwiches out on the shop floor. Nothing terribly fancy. Salmon and cucumber. Egg and cress. Triangles of white bread in plastic cartons, in the food aisles, along with everything else. Prices started at 43p.

Looking upon the nation's £8bn-a-year sandwich industrial complex in 2017, it seems inconceivable that this had not been tried before, but it hadn't. Britain in 1980 was a land of formica counters, fluorescent lighting and lunches under gravy. Sandwiches were thrown together from leftovers at home, constructed in front of you in a smoky cafe, or something sad and curled beneath the glass in a British Rail canteen. When I spoke recently to Andrew Mackenzie, who used to run the food department at M&S's Edinburgh store - one of the first five branches to stock the new, smart, ready-made sandwiches - he struggled to convey the lost novelty of it all. "You've got to bear in mind," he said. "It didn't exist, the idea."

If anything, it seemed outlandish. Who would pay for something they could just as easily make at home? "We all thought at the time it was a bit ridiculous," said Mackenzie. But following orders from head office, he turned a stockroom into a mini production line, with stainless steel surfaces and an early buttering machine. The first M&S sandwiches were made by shop staff in improvised kitchens and canteens. Prawns defrosted on trays overnight, and a team of five came in before dawn to start work on the day's order.

And, oh, they sold. They sold so fast that the sandwich experiment spread from five stores to 25, and then 105. Soon, Mackenzie was hiring more sandwich makers in Edinburgh. In the Croydon branch, a crew of seven was making a hundred sandwiches an hour. The first official M&S sandwich was salmon and tomato, but in truth it was a free-for-all. They sold so fast that staff made them out of whatever was lying around. In Cambridge, they made pilchard sandwiches, and people wanted those, too.

Without being designed to do so, the packaged sandwich spoke to a new way of living and working. Within a year, demand was so strong that M&S approached three suppliers to industrialise the process. (One of the world's first sandwich factories was a temporary wooden hut inside the Telfer's meat pie factory in Northampton.) In 1983, Margaret Thatcher visited the company's flagship store in Marble Arch and pronounced the prawn mayonnaise delicious.

Every supermarket jumped on the trend. Up and down the country, chefs and bakers and assorted wheeler-dealers stopped whatever they were doing and started making sandwiches on industrial estates. The sandwich stopped being an afterthought, or a snack bought out of despair, and became the fuel of a dynamic, go-getting existence. "At Amstrad the staff start early and finish late. Nobody takes lunches - they may get a sandwich slung on their desk," Alan Sugar told an audience at City University in 1987. "There's no small-talk. It's all action." By 1990, the British sandwich industry was worth £1bn.

A young economics graduate named Roger Whiteside was in charge of the M&S sandwich department by then. As a young buyer, Whiteside had come up with the idea of a set of four peeled oranges, to save customers time. He had read that apartments were being built in New York without kitchens, and he had a sense of where things were going. "Once you are time-strapped and you have got cash, the first thing you do is get food made for you," he told me. "Who is going to cook unless you are a hobbyist?"

In the sandwich department, he commissioned new prototypes every week, and devised an ultimately impractical scheme to bake baguettes in west London each morning and deliver them, still crusty, to stores around the capital. Baguettes go soft when they are refrigerated - one of a surprising number of technical challenges posed by sandwiches. Whiteside immersed himself in questions of "carriers" (bread), "barriers" (butter, mayonnaise), "inclusions" (things within the bread), "proteins" (tuna, chicken, bacon) until they bordered on the philosophical. "What is more important, the carrier or the filling?" he wondered. "How many tiers of price do you offer in prawn? How much stimulation do people need?"

In the early 90s, Whiteside developed M&S's first dedicated "food to go" section, with its own tills and checkouts, in Manchester. The innovation prefigured the layout of most contemporary supermarkets, and was fabulously successful. But it wasn't successful enough for Whiteside. He didn't understand why absolutely everyone in Manchester city centre wasn't coming in to M&S for their lunch.

One day, he went into a branch of Boots on the other side of the street. Like almost every major retail chain, the pharmacy had followed M&S into the sandwich business. (Boots established the country's first national distribution system - selling the same sandwiches in its all branches - in 1985, and pioneered the meal deal.) But Whiteside was convinced that its sandwiches weren't as good as M&S's, and that most customers knew that, too. He confronted the lunchtime queue in Boots and asked people why they weren't coming to his store. "They said: 'Well, I am not crossing the road'," he recalled.

The answer struck Whiteside with great force. Mass-producing a meal that you could, if necessary, rip open and consume in the street was transforming people's behaviour. "Instant gratification and total convenience and delivery," Whiteside said. "If you are not there, they are not going looking for you." He returned from Manchester and tried to persuade M&S to open hundreds of standalone sandwich shops in London. "It was so obviously an opportunity." M&S didn't go for the idea, but Whiteside was convinced that the future would belong to whoever was selling on every corner. He saw Pret and Starbucks and Costa and Subway coming a mile off. During the 1990s, the sandwich industry trebled in size. By the end of the 20th century, more people in Britain were making and selling sandwiches than working in agriculture.

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The NFL Is Dying; Here's Why : Forget about politics and injuries and technology. Look at the economics of the business. (JONATHAN V. LAST, 11/30/17, Weekly Standard)

This collapse of the NFL we're witnessing is not new. It's been happening for a long time just below the waterline. A buddy of mine, Steve Czaban, used to keep a running count on the waiting list for Redskins season tickets. When I first moved to Washington it was something like 35 years. Then it was 20 years. Then 15 years. Then 10 years.

Today the wait list for Redskins season tickets is 17 seconds. Not a typo. (And the team is even offering $100 gift cards to people who buy a season ticket package.)

So what's happened over the last 20 years? Lots of things, including high-definition television and the internet. But the most foundational shift as far as the NFL is concerned is the available supply of games for TV viewing.

As recently as 1986, you could watch three professional tackle football games a week. There was a 1 p.m. slot on Sunday. Another at 4 p.m. on Sunday. And then the bonus game on Monday night. That was it. Three games a week, tops. Football was a scarce commodity; watching it was special.

In 1987 the NFL added a Sunday night game. In 2005 they added a Thursday night game. Suddenly the supply of games had increased by 66 percent.

Then, in 2009, the NFL added the Red Zone Channel, which offers people wall-to-wall coverage of the league as a whole on Sunday afternoons--but only shows highlights, as they happen.

There are two ways to look at the Red Zone Channel. The first is as a high-energy, fast-moving experience which packages football for the modern audience. That's what the NFL thinks it's giving its audience.

But allow me to explain what the Red Zone really is: It's a seven-hour advertisement each week during which the NFL tells people, "Hey, football is mostly pretty boring. Come here and we'll just show you the good stuff."

What business would ever risk making that sort of statement that about its product? A business that is focused entirely on short-term profit maximization.

If you want another example of the NFL's short-term thinking, look at the rise of fantasy football. Gambling has always been inextricably linked to football--the game is such a perfect vehicle for betting that if it didn't exist, Las Vegas would have invented it. But the NFL was always militant in trying to deny and separate betting from its business.

Until fantasy football.

The NFL jumped into fantasy football with both feet, thinking either that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or that fantasy players would somehow broaden the sport's appeal. And maybe it worked for a spell. But fantasy football is essentially the same proposition as the Red Zone Channel: It encourages people to view the NFL product in a way that didn't necessarily mean watching NFL games.

Watching an NFL game in person is the American version of attending a Castro speech.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM



Republican Senator Lindsey Graham slammed the media on Thursday for trying to label President Donald Trump a "kook," but Graham had used the same word to insult Trump in 2016. [...]

"I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office," said Graham.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


John Kelly's losing battle with Trump's Twitter feed (ANNIE KARNI, 11/29/2017, Politico)

When John Kelly accepted the position of White House chief of staff last July, he framed his main function as imposing order, including instituting a formal process for the documents and news articles that reached the Resolute Desk.

But President Donald Trump's increasingly incendiary Twitter feed, which remains outside Kelly's control, has short-circuited that attempt at creating a functional system for controlling the flow of information into the Oval Office.

Twitter has allowed the president to continue accessing fringe websites and viewing racist videos simply by scanning his "mentions," according to two former aides who have observed how he uses the site. Trump doesn't use the direct-message function on the website, which would allow people he follows to privately share links with him -- but he often looks at tweets that mention his handle, and picks up links and videos there.

The conversation on Twitter then often dictates his thinking. "Everybody's talking about this," he will tell his top aides in the West Wing, referring to a clip or an article he saw circulating among the small group of Twitter users he follows.

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Conservatives Should Police Their Own (Matt Labash, NOV 30, 2017, Weekly Standard)

[W]hile we're finding jump seats in hell, alongside the facts, my vote goes for assigning one to evangelical folk hero and Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson, who recently cut a radio ad supporting Moore, saying:

Hello everyone, I'm Dr. James Dobson. You know, last November I believe God gave America another chance with the election of Donald J. Trump. But he now needs the presence and leadership of Judge Roy Moore to make America great again. And that's why I'm asking my friends in Alabama to elect Judge Roy Moore to the United States Senate. Judge Moore is a man of proven character and integrity, and he has served Alabama and this country very, very well. I've known him for over 15 years, but recently I've been dismayed and troubled about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment. Judge Moore has stood for our religious liberty and for the sanctity of marriage, when it seemed like the entire world was against him. I hope you'll vote for Judge Roy Moore for United States Senate.

One, of course, expects creepy politicians to do what politicians do best: to deny and dissemble and generally lie themselves blind in order to protect the only thing most of them truly value, which is political survival. Getting mad over a sleazy politician acting like a sleazy politician is like getting mad at an anteater for eating ants. It's not merely their tendency, but their biological imperative. But when purported men of God do the same--as everyone from Franklin Graham to a slate of Alabama pastors have done on Moore's behalf, all evidence notwithstanding--one doesn't have to physically hear the voice of God to imagine Him saying, "Hey guys, sully yourselves all you want, but do me a solid and leave my good name out of it."

I come after Dobson with a pick-axe not because I'm some "establishment" Christian-basher, but rather, a Christian. I grew up in an evangelical household, and still go to an evangelical church. My mom used to play Dobson's radio show every single morning in the car on the way to school. That and Christian rock were (sadly) the soundtrack of my childhood. And my father, who chose to abdicate his birds'n'bees-talk responsibilities, instead flung a book at me that instructed me on how it all went down. The book was "Preparing for Adolescence" by Dr. James Dobson, in which I pored over the sex chapter (titled "Something Crazy is Happening to My Body") like a Playboy without pictures.

All of which is to say that Dobson and me have some history, even if I started looking suspiciously at his increasing involvement in electoral politics. Who can forget in 2008, when he said of John McCain that he could not vote for him "as a matter of conscience"? This was back when Dobson presumably still had one. An affliction he suffers from no longer.

Nor do many of the people in his party. For rare is the day these days when you don't hear someone on the right--many of them the loudest moralistic cluckers of the '90s (think William Bennett and Sean Hannity)--pop their ligaments from twisting themselves into logic pretzels in order to rationalize behavior they once found inexcusable.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Pelosi calls on Conyers to resign, citing 'credible' sexual harassment allegations (Elise Viebeck and David Weigel November 30, 2017, Washington Post)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to resign Thursday, describing allegations of sexual harassment by multiple former aides as "credible" and "disappointing."

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Hackers Are Posting Porn on ISIS Websites (Mahmood Fazal, Nov 29 2017, VICE Australia)

In an effort to take down ISIS, Iraqi hackers "Daeshgram" have exploited the guilt and anxiety of fundamentalists by posting porn on their official communication channels. During an announcement that a media center will open in an Isis-controlled part of Syria, Daeshgram posted an image of a naked woman in a porno. A video of ISIS supporters watching the announcement was altered to appear as if the extremists were actually watching a porn projection.

The stunt ended up planting seeds of doubts in online forums. ISIS supporters began dismissing the websites where the video circulated with statements like "the crusaders of media say that Amaq [Islamic State's "News Agency"] is hacked." The announcements were overshadowed by the shameful shock of indecency. The porn stream severed trust with the group's most respected outlet.

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


GOP places risky bet on trickle-down tax cut : Counting on a corporate tax cut to spur the economy, Republicans face a slew of hurdles in delivering the promised benefits of their plan. (BEN WHITE, 11/30/2017, Politico)

Some economists and corporate executives are already warning that simply lowering tax bills won't necessarily cause companies to hire more people and pay them better. Instead, they could just wind up returning the extra cash to shareholders.

That could leave President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans celebrating a short-term legislative win that hurts them in the long run, with bigger deficits and little to show for it. And an already deeply unpopular bill -- that includes immediate hikes on some individual taxpayers -- could become a serious political headache in 2020 and beyond.

"Frankly, I think they are bonkers," David Mendels, former chief executive officer of software firm Brightcove, said of the GOP banking on a lower corporate rate to generate bigger worker paychecks. "It really doesn't work that way. No CEO sits there and says, 'When my tax rate goes down, I'm going to hire more people and pay them more.'"

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The Path to Affordable Health Care (Scott W. Atlas, November 30, 2017, dEFINING iDEAS)

For consumers to incorporate price into decisions to buy health care, they must pay directly for more of their own care, and they must also personally gain from paying less. Motivation by patients to consciously seek value and save money is the essential lever to force competition among health care providers.

One critical piece of the puzzle is widely available high deductible insurance plans (HDHPs). Higher deductibles necessitate direct patient payment for care up to the deductible. A second highly effective tool to motivate patients to consider price is large, liberalized health savings accounts (HSAs). These tax-sheltered accounts grow by contribution or investment and are generally used to pay for non-catastrophic expenses, which form the bulk of medical care. Better than tax deductions, HSAs introduce something unique--they incentivize saving.

The data reinforces that large HSAs with HDHPs motivate patients to consider prices more than they otherwise would. The spending of patients with HDHPs paired with HSAs decreased at least 15% annually, according to a March 2015 study. When people have savings to protect in HSAs, the cost of care comes down without harmful impact on health. More than one-third of the savings by enrollees in such coverage reflected value-based decision-making by consumers. According to a Health Affairs report, system-wide health expenditures would fall by an estimated $57 billion per year if even half of Americans with employer-sponsored insurance enrolled in plans combining HSAs with high deductibles.

HDHP premiums are typically less expensive, but ACA regulations counterproductively raised their premiums and limited their availability. My analysis of Employer Health Benefits Annual Survey data shows that premiums for HDHPs rose from two to five times faster than premium increases for any other type of coverage after ACA passage. Excessive coverage mandates that make HDHPs more expensive should be rolled back--including Obamacare's "essential benefits" that increased premiums by almost 10%, and the 2,270 state coverage mandates for everything from acupuncture to marriage therapy. To make HDHPs even more affordable, we should remove the ACA's 3:1 age rating that raised premiums for younger enrollees by 19-35%, many of whom would buy lower premium coverage.

To maximally drive down the price of care, HSAs should be available to all Americans, including seniors on Medicare, given that seniors are the biggest users of health care. Because life expectancy from age 65 has increased by 25% since 1972, today's seniors need to save for decades of future health care. Raising maximum contributions at least to those of IRA limits is one important step, as well as permitting tax-sheltered rollovers to surviving family members. HSA payments should also be allowed for the expenses of the holder's elderly parents.

The visibility of information that patients require for assessing value must also be radically improved.  Data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and outpatient surgery show that introducing price transparency encourages price comparisons by patients. Patients also need to have adequate information to assess quality, such as doctor qualifications and experience. The most compelling motivation for doctors and hospitals to post prices and qualifications would be their understanding that they are suddenly competing for price-conscious patients empowered with control of their money.

Availability is not sufficient.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Army veteran says Franken groped her during USO tour in 2003 (MJ Lee, 11/30/17, CNN)

An Army veteran says Sen. Al Franken groped her in December 2003, telling CNN that while she was deployed in Kuwait, the Minnesota Democrat cupped her breast during a photo op.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


White House has plan to replace top diplomat with CIA chief: U.S. official (John Walcott, 11/30/17, Reuters) 

The White House has developed a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, within weeks, a senior Trump administration official said on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Four Misleading Arguments against the Tax-Reform Bills (Brian Riedl, November 29, 2017, National Review)

The House and Senate tax-reform bills are open to legitimate criticism. The goal of deficit-neutrality is shattered by the $2 trillion price tag over a decade (adjusted for gimmicks). The goal of a stable, predictable tax code has been replaced with a mess of phase-ins, phase-outs, and expirations. The goal of tax simplification has taken a back seat to new tax provisions that are even more complicated than those eliminated. 

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Hezbollah emerges a winner from Mideast turmoil, alarming foes (Laila Bassam, Tom Perry, 11/30/17, Reuters) 

Hezbollah has emerged as a big winner in the turmoil that has swept the Arab world since the uprisings of 2011 that toppled governments in several countries. It has fought in Syria and Iraq, trained other groups in those countries and inspired other forces such as Iran-allied Houthis waging a war in Yemen. [...]

"Hezbollah has gained from the experience of working with armies and managing numerous weapons systems simultaneously - air power, armored vehicles, intelligence, and drones: all specialties of conventional armies," said a commander in a regional alliance fighting in Syria.

"Hezbollah is now a dynamic army, bringing together guerrilla and conventional warfare."

Every step of the WoT has empowered the Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Chasing Lions: Don Quixote in Pursuit of the Beautiful (Jacob Terneus, 11/30/17, Imaginative Conservative)

He conceived the strangest notion that ever took shape in a madman's head, considering it desirable and necessary, both for the increase of his honor and the common good, to become a knight errant, and to travel about the world with his armor and his arms and his horse in search of adventures.[1]

Cervantes's Don Quixote has an urgent desire to encounter beauty. Wishing to know essentially the most wonderful things of the world, and through those encounters to become more beautiful himself, he is drawn to act--to name, to fight, to love, to do something worth doing. Through difficult trials, his spirit remains indomitable, but not in the sense of William Ernest Henley's "unconquerable soul," for this strength is not autonomous, but instead rooted in a knowledge of the good.[2] To some, Don Quixote is "a madman" with strange notions and archaic tendencies. Indeed, he is mad. However, his actions arise from a madness of a certain sort, a madness for "honor and the common good." Unsatisfied with merely reading about feats of chivalry, Don Quixote quests after them, seeking a personal engagement, down to the glorious details of "his armor and his arms and his horse." His own beauty is caused by his mad desire for the beautiful. [...]

Recognition of beauty, if it does not lead to lion-fighting in every case--although it will for some--is always heroic. It requires two things: knowledge and love. When man pursues beauty, he takes it into himself and becomes beautiful through it; a perpetual beauty-seeker, such as Don Quixote, is, therefore, a beautiful man. In the course of naming Dulcinea de Toboso, Rocinante, and his other friends, Quixote becomes aware of what they really are and, knowing them as good and pleasing, embraces them. He leads a fantastical, errant life, but he does so by continually jumping into adventures for beauty, soaking in its pools wherever he can find them. Even if Don Quixote is insane, he causes the rest of us to rethink our sanity.

...that he is the sane one.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


The Christian Baker's Unanswered Legal Argument: Why the Strongest Objections Fail (Sherif Girgis, November 29th, 2017, Public Discourse)

[P]hillips's case is very strong. It is based on freedom-of-speech doctrines favored by conservatives and liberals alike. One argument for Phillips in particular survives the best objections leveled in briefs filed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, by the ACLU (on behalf of the couple who sought the cake), and by several constitutional law scholars.

That argument rests on the widely acknowledged principle that freedom of speech has to include the freedom not to speak. You aren't free to express your convictions authentically if the state can make you affirm its own orthodoxies. Thus, for more than seventy years, in cases widely seen as more American than apple pie, the Supreme Court has said government can't force you to say, do, or make something that carries a message you reject. Applying that principle, it has held that the government can't force Jehovah's Witnesses to salute the flag. It can't force newspapers to carry columns by politicians criticized in their pages. It can't force drivers to carry license plates with a state-imposed (though utterly banal) slogan ("Live Free or Die"). It can't force companies to include third-party messages in their billing envelopes. Political majorities are entitled to enact their beliefs into law, but not to force dissenting minorities to affirm those or anyone else's beliefs in word or deed. That would involve "compelled speech," which is generally unconstitutional.

Phillips argues that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission has compelled his artistic expression (which counts as "speech" under our law) by forcing him to create same-sex wedding cakes if he wants to stay in the wedding business. To be clear, Phillips serves all patrons, whatever their religion or sexual orientation. But he won't design cakes celebrating themes that go against his religious beliefs as an evangelical Christian. So he takes a hit to his business to avoid designing cakes for Halloween parties, which are big sellers, as well as lewd bachelor parties, divorce parties, and much else. And he won't design cakes that celebrate same-sex weddings since he believes that only a man and woman can form a true marriage.

It's bad public policy to compel them, but there's an obvious difference here. The state can and does compel education and car licensing.  It does not compel anyone--outside prison--to bake.

November 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


U.S. warns North Korean leadership will be 'utterly destroyed' in case of war (Michelle Nichols, Christine Kim, 11/29/17, Reuters) 

[S]peaking at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley warned:

"We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it.  If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday ... And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed."

Do it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Scientists Train Bacteria To Build Unnatural Proteins (Richard Harris, 11/29/17, NPR: All Things Considered)

The Scripps Research Institute's Floyd Romesberg and colleagues have been pushing toward this goal for well over a decade. Three years ago, they announced that they had added two more letters to the genetic alphabet of a bacterium: To DNA's familiar A, T, C, and G, they added X and Y.

That expanded genetic alphabet vastly increased the number of "words" that DNA could store, and so expanded the language of life.

Now they report in the journal Nature that they've engineered those bacterial cells to read that new code and to use it to assemble proteins that contain man-made parts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


AP source: Grand jury testimony in Flynn case put off (ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY, 11/29/17, AP) 

Prosecutors working with special counsel Robert Mueller have postponed grand jury testimony related to the private business dealings of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Trump Firms Must Save Records for AGs' Emoluments Lawsuit (Andrew M Harris, 11/29/17, Bloomberg)

Twenty-three Trump businesses including his Mar-a-Lago Club must retain records after they receive subpoenas from the attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia as part of a lawsuit accusing the president of profiting from his office.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte on Tuesday issued a two-paragraph order granting the Democratic officials' request to serve so-called preservation subpoenas, which require the businesses to retain documents but not to immediately produce them.

Attorneys General Karl Racine in Washington and Brian Frosh in Maryland claim in a lawsuit that the president's continued ownership of his business empire allows him to make money from foreign and domestic governments. Attorneys for President Donald Trump have asked the judge to toss the case over the Constitution's two emoluments clauses, saying Maryland and the District haven't been harmed and the clauses don't cover the presidents' business activities unrelated to government service. Oral argument is set for Jan. 25.

President Trump's hotel received $270,000 from Saudi Arabia (Fredreka Schouten, 6/05/17, USA TODAY)

 The Trump International Hotel recently took in about $270,000 in payments tied to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the country fights to roll back a U.S. terrorism law, according to newly filed lobbying reports.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Garrison Keillor fired by Minnesota Public Radio over claims of inappropriate behavior (Danielle Wiener-Bronner, November 29, 2017, CNN)

Keillor, in an op-ed for The Washington Post published on Tuesday, had defended Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken, who was recently accused by Leeann Tweeden of groping and kissing her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006.

Keillor wrote that calls for Franken to resign were "pure absurdity."

Speaking to the National Press Club in 1994 about his work on "A Prairie Home Companion," Keillor made an aside about sexual harassment. "We should be careful though not to make the world so fine and good that you and I can't enjoy living in it," he said. "A world in which there is no sexual harassment at all is a world in which there will not be any flirtation."

Matt Lauer Accused of Sexual Harassment by Multiple Women (EXCLUSIVE) (Ramin Setoodeh and Elizabeth Wagmeister, 11/29/17, Variety)

As the co-host of NBC's "Today," Matt Lauer once gave a colleague a sex toy as a present. It included an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her, which left her mortified.

On another day, he summoned a different female employee to his office, and then dropped his pants, showing her his penis. After the employee declined to do anything, visibly shaken, he reprimanded her for not engaging in a sexual act.

He would sometimes quiz female producers about who they'd slept with, offering to trade names. And he loved to engage in a crass quiz game with men and women in the office: "f--, marry, or kill," in which he would identify the female co-hosts that he'd most like to sleep with.

These accounts of Lauer's behavior at NBC are the result of a two-month investigation by Variety, with dozens of interviews with current and former staffers. Variety has talked to three women who identified themselves as victims of sexual harassment by Lauer, and their stories have been corroborated by friends or colleagues that they told at the time. They have asked for now to remain unnamed, fearing professional repercussions. [...]

Lauer, who was paranoid about being followed by tabloid reporters, grew more emboldened at 30 Rockefeller Center as his profile rose following Katie Couric's departure from "Today" in 2006. His office was in a secluded space, and he had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up. 

Our puritanism and our revulsion at Donald are paying off, biggly.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


U.S. third-quarter economic growth fastest in three years (Lucia Mutikani, 11/29/17, Reuters) 

The U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the third quarter, notching its quickest pace in three years, buoyed by robust business spending on equipment and an accumulation of inventories.

The status quo works.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Jewish groups slam Trump for anti-Muslim retweets  (JTA, 11/29/17)

An array of national Jewish groups condemned President Donald Trump for his retweet of three incendiary videos posted by a British anti-Muslim agitator.

"It is no longer alarming that our @POTUS is tweeting violent anti-Muslim videos created by far right extremists - it is a **four alarm fire.**," Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday on Twitter. "Of course this will embolden bigots in the US and abroad."

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Conyers should resign if accusations are 'founded': No. 2 House Democrat (Reuters, 11/29/17) 

Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Wednesday that Democratic representative John Conyers should resign if the sexual harassment allegations against him are found to be true.

Now we're doubting Cokie Roberts?

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


UK retail prices drop for third consecutive month (Andy Bruce, 11/29/17, Independent)

Shop prices in the UK edged down by an annual 0.1 per cent for the third month in a row during November, according to a survey that chimed with the Bank of England's thinking that inflation may have peaked around now.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Matt Lauer: NBC sacks Today Show host over 'inappropriate sexual behaviour' (BBC, 11/29/17)

US TV network NBC has sacked its star morning show host Matt Lauer over "inappropriate sexual behaviour".

On Twitter, the programme said: "On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace by Matt Lauer.
"As a result, we've decided to terminate his employment."

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


100 Years of Communism: Death and Deprivation (Marian L. Tupy, 11/28/17, Human Progress)

Between 1825 and 1917, wrote Stéphane Courtois from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the Tsarist regime in Russia "carried out 6,321 political executions ... whereas in two months of official 'Red Terror' in the fall of 1918 Bolshevism achieved some 15,000."

Or, consider the Inquisition. According to Professor Agostino Borromeo, a historian of Catholicism at the Sapienza University in Rome, "there were some 125,000 trials of suspected heretics in Spain ... (between 1478 and 1834, but only) about 1 percent of the defendants (i.e., 1,250) were executed."

Finally, consider the counterreformation. Queen "Bloody" Mary, who tried to restore Catholicism to England between 1553 and 1558, sent 280 dissenters to the stake. Between November 1917, when the communists came to power in Russia, and the North Korean famine in the mid-1990s, communists were responsible for deaths of at least 154 people every hour.

Consider, also, the economic legacy of communism. While socialist economies of Central and Eastern Europe continued to grow for much of the communist period, capitalist countries in Western Europe grew faster.

For example, look at East and West Germany. At the end of World War II, average incomes in Germany were, by definition, equal. By 1989, West German incomes were almost twice as high as those in East Germany.

Then there is North and South Korea. Once again, incomes in Korea were equal, on average, at the conclusion of World War II. Contemporary data for North Korea is tough to come by, but Professor Angus Maddison of Groningen University estimated that in 2008, South Koreans were 18 times richer than North Koreans.

Finally, those who are truly interested in the reality of daily life under socialism can see it for themselves by visiting Cuba and Venezuela.

No matter where it was tried, communism has always resulted in mountains of dead bodies. As for socialist economics, it has always resulted in shortages, inefficiency, poverty, and desperation. The verdict of history is clear, but only if people are willing to see it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


New Reports Suggest Trump Might Not Be a Liar at All, But Truly Delusional (Jonathan Chait, 11/29/17, New York)

[N]ew reporting has opened up a second possibility: The president has lost all touch with reality.

The Washington Post and New York Times have accounts from insiders suggesting Trump habitually insists upon the impossible in private. He does not merely tell lies in order to gull the public, or to manipulate allies. He tells lies in private that he has no reason to tell. He still questions the authenticity of Barack Obama's birth, despite the birth certificate. He insists voter fraud may have denied him a popular vote triumph. He tells people Robert Mueller will wrap up his investigation, with a total vindication of the president, by the end of the year.

He questions whether the Access Hollywood tape, on which he was recorded boasting of sexual assault, is even him. (Both the Post and the Times describe Trump repeatedly denying the validity of the tape in private, "stunning his advisers," as the Times puts it.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM



Researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard's Wyss Institute have developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It's essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1,000 times its own weight. By comparison, a more traditional robot arm like the super popular UR10, which weighs in at 64 pounds, can lift a third of its weight.

"That's really amazing, if you think about it, you lift 1,000 times more than what you weigh," says roboticist Daniela Rus of MIT CSAIL. "So we think that this will be really transformational for how we use soft robots in manufacturing, in homes, in everyday life."

November 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Conservative Media Give Up : A victim of its own success. (NOAH ROTHMAN / NOV. 28, 2017, Commentary)

If you've spent more than a half hour on the Internet, you've probably encountered a popular series of videos featuring amateur daredevils performing botched stunts, usually resulting in some slapstick comedy. These isolated incidents are spliced together into tightly edited "fail" compilations, in which one risk-taker after another careens into a variety of immovable objects in quick succession. That might be the best way to describe what it was like to watch the Washington Post dismantle an effort by James O'Keefe and Project Veritas to muddy the waters when it came to the accusations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The unrelenting cascade of incompetence, matched only by the false bravado of Project Veritas's proprietor, was difficult to watch. The whole sordid affair did, however, demonstrate the extent to which some conservative activist media haven't just become ineffective but exploitative. No longer are institutions like Veritas dedicated to combating ignorance in their audience. They're actively courting it. [...]

Over the course of two farcical hours, O'Keefe inadvertently established that the Washington Post's reporters were pros, that the Post's reporting on Moore was water-tight, and that his own organization--and Moore's supporters, by extension--had little regard for the victims of sexual assault. After all, they had hired an activist to portray one toward a petty and political end, thus cheapening the experience of legitimate survivors.

All this is rather loathsome, and O'Keefe's organization is due all the opprobrium it is receiving and more. But it also illustrates a condition that is rendering conservative activist media impotent: They have stopped caring about their audience.

...they demonstrated why the IRS story is bogus too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Dem Rep: 'There Is Only One Conclusion--Mr. Conyers Must Resign' (Paul Crookston, 11/28/17, Free Beacon)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.) on Tuesday called on fellow Democratic Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) to resign following accusations of sexual harassment levied against him. [...]

"It is not easy for me to reach this conclusion because, as a civil rights activist, I have looked up to Representative Conyers for decades," Jayapal said. "I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion--Rep. Conyers must resign."

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Actor Bambadjan Bamba comes out as undocumented: 'We just can't be scared anymore.' (Tre'vell Anderson, 11/28/17, LA Times)

Bambadjan Bamba has only the fondest memories of growing up in the African country of Cote D'Ivoire. But in 1993, after that nation's first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, died and it became politically unstable, Bamba's family fled to the United States for protection. At 10, America became his new home.

Twenty-five years later, however, the actor perhaps best known for his recurring role on NBC's "The Good Place" doesn't quite feel like an American. Sure, he's perfected the accent and erased every hint of foreign-born-ness from his speech. But since high school, he's carried around a secret burden he's ready to reveal: He's undocumented.

Bamba is one of the estimated 11 million undocumented Americans living in the United States, according to Pew research. He's told very few people of his citizenship status -- until now.

Motivated by the Trump administration's efforts to rescind the Deferrred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the Obama-era policy that protects the children of immigrants who didn't enter the country legally, the "Grey's Anatomy," "Suicide Squad" and "Black Panther" actor is breaking his silence.

"Immigrants are not criminals," said Bamba, 35. "We're not here to take away your jobs. We're here to give back. We're not just Mexicans or Latino. We're black, too."

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Why Are People in Red States Dropping Out of the Labor Force? (Sarah Chaney And Sharon Nunn, 11/28/17, WSJ)

Though the labor market has grown robustly nationwide this year, progress has been uneven across blue states and red states. An increasing number of people in red states have stopped looking for work, while a larger share of people in blue states are actively in the workforce.

The participation rate, which shows the number of people who are employed or are looking for work, fell in red states to 62% in September from 62.6% in April, while notching up in blue states  to 63.9% from 63.8% over the same period, according to research from the Institute of International Finance. The report categorized a state red if it voted for President Donald Trump in 2016′s presidential election and blue if it voted for Hillary Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Schumer, Pelosi cancel meeting with Trump after Twitter attack (ELANA SCHOR and SEUNG MIN KIM 11/28/2017, Politico)

House and Senate Democratic leaders on Tuesday abruptly withdrew from a scheduled White House meeting about averting a government shutdown after President Donald Trump publicly slammed them and cast doubt on the negotiations.

Trump tweeted early Tuesday that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes," adding, "I don't see a deal!"

If he'd been a settler, the Lenape would still own Manhattan.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Getting a fecal transplant in a pill might be just as effective as a colonoscopy (Angela Chen, 11/28/17, The Verge)

Getting a fecal transplant in a pill might be just as effective as getting one with a colonoscopy, according to new research. This could be very good news for people with a painful bowel infection, since taking a capsule by mouth is far less unpleasant than undergoing surgery.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Al Franken wants you to know he's very sorry. Even if it's not clear what he's sorry for. (Chris Cillizza, 11/28/17, CNN)

What Franken -- after more than a week of refusing to speak publicly about the accusations -- tried to do on Monday was buy himself some time -- both with his constituents and with his colleagues. With Congress back in session after a week-long break, Franken knew he would be confronted by reporters with questions about his conduct. As importantly, he knew his colleagues would face those same questions about him. And he wanted -- and really needed -- to give them something to say, some response that might quiet persistent questions about whether he should resign.

That's why Franken held the press conference. But the problem is that he didn't actually say much of anything.

Yes, he apologized. Or at least he said the words, "I am sorry."

What was way less clear was what, specifically, Franken was apologizing for -- since he reiterated that he simply didn't remember or remembered differently the incidents at the heart of this controversy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Global Growth in 2018 Will Be 'As Good As It Gets,' Goldman, Barclays Say (Keshia Hannam, 11/28/17, Fortune)

Outlooks for next year from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS, -0.38%) and Barclays Plc (BCS, -1.24%) predict global growth will reach 4%, with G7 economies expected to beat projections for the first time since 2010. One economist deemed that optimistic forecast "as good as it gets."

A global growth rate of 4% next year would be the strongest since 2011, and an increase from the 3.7% Goldman Sachs estimated for this year, reports Bloomberg. Most major economies are even running ahead of pre-financial crisis averages, said economist Jan Hatzius in Goldman's November Economic Outlook report. The Goldman report says the projected GDP growth for next year is "notably above consensus expectations and supported by still-easy financial conditions and fiscal policy."

In a separate November report, Barclays economists Ajay Rajadhyaksha and Michael Gavin wrote that "the ongoing economic expansion has substantial momentum.''

"It is not overly reliant on any single geographical region, industry, or source of demand," they said. "It does not seem to have generated economic or financial excesses that pose an immediate threat.''

If Donald can just stay stymied he has a shot at one of the most successful presidencies ever.  Only he can thwart himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Odds Are, Russia Owns Trump (Michelle Goldberg, Nov. 27, 2017, NY Times)

Three months ago, The Washington Post reported that even as Donald Trump ran for president, he pursued plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The next day, The New York Times published excerpts from emails between Felix Sater, a felon with ties to Russian organized crime, and Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump's lawyers and Sater's childhood friend, about the project. Sater was apparently an intermediary between Trump and Russia, and in a Nov. 3, 2015, email to Cohen, he made the strange argument that a successful deal would lead to Trump's becoming president. Boasting that he was close enough to Vladimir Putin to let Ivanka Trump sit in the Russian president's desk chair, Sater wrote, "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected."

These stories were, at the time, bombshells. At a minimum, they showed that Trump was lying when he said, repeatedly, that he had "nothing to do with Russia." Further, Sater's logic -- that Putin's buy-in on a real estate deal would result in Trump's election -- was bizarre, suggesting that some part of the proposed collaboration was left unsaid.

But three months feels like three decades in Trump years, and I mostly forgot about these reports until I read Luke Harding's new book, "Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win." One uncanny aspect of the investigations into Trump's Russia connections is that instead of too little evidence there's too much. It's impossible to keep it straight without the kind of chaotic wall charts that Carrie Mathison of "Homeland" assembled during her manic episodes. Incidents that would be major scandals in a normal administration -- like the mere fact of Trump's connection to Sater -- become minor subplots in this one.

That's why "Collusion" is so essential, and why I wish everyone who is skeptical that Russia has leverage over Trump would read it. This country -- at least the parts not wholly under the sway of right-wing propaganda -- needs to come to terms with substantial evidence that the president is in thrall to a foreign power.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Been listening to the series on my walk and just finished Far Side of the World, on which the film was partially based.
Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Grocery giant debuts picking and packing robot that uses computer vision to determine the best grasp (PAUL SAWERS, NOVEMBER 28, 2017, Venture Beat)

A British online supermarket chain is trialing a new automated grocery picking and packing system that uses computer vision to determine the best grasping mechanism to transfer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Romano Guardini's Diagnosis of the Modern World (Jeremy A. Kee, 11/28/17, Imaginative Conservative)

In a relatively few pages, Guardini traces the evolution of human nature itself from being focused on God and His order, to being about man and his disorder. In his furious attempt to transcend his own natural limits, man has imposed upon himself a metaphysical exile. He is adrift in the cosmos, having repudiated his natural home, which is to say his very nature. Living in discord and disharmony, believing himself to be master over nature, man walks upright with a false air of freedom and liberation. As Guardini writes,

This positive experience, however, was countered by man's loss of his objective sense of belonging to existence. With the breakdown of the old world picture, man came to feel now only that he had been placed in a life of strange contradictions.... Modern man awoke to that anxiety which menaces him to this day, an anxiety never found in the medieval world.

While the tide of medieval man's anxiety was turned easily enough away, owing to his awareness of his place in a limited universe, a belief in transcendence, and a still higher order than his own, modern man has since divested himself of all such beliefs. Guardini continues,

Modern anxiety... arises from man's deep-seated consciousness that he lacks either a 'real' or a symbolic place in reality. In spite of his actual position on earth he is a being without security. The very needs of man's senses are left unsatisfied, since he has ceased to experience a world which guarantees him a place in the total scheme of existence.

Man, in other words, has by his own choosing entered into a self-imposed existential exile. His view of what was natural shifted with his view of himself. No longer was nature something within which man lived by which he was defined; rather it was now something man created, directed, and to which he offered definition. What was once his highest faculty was now his contempt. What was "natural" was "whatever was given immediately to the mind and sensibilities of man... all those things which existed in the world prior to anything man did to them." Thus, man's more basic drives were taken as natural, and therefore as good, by simple virtue of being natural.

Writes Guardini,

Although man is intrinsically bound to nature in both body and spirit, as soon as he disposes of nature by coming to know nature he rises out of his natural milieu. He then places nature opposite himself as something completely 'other.' In the process of separating himself from nature, man underwent that second experience crucial for understanding the import of modern life. He underwent the experience of subjectivity.

Having placed himself in opposition with nature, man now opposes himself, the result of which is an incurable anxiety never to be solved save by a return to the old order, from which he so desperately wants to be free. Man is now homeless in the cosmos. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


America's Military Doesn't Have Enough Money to Do Its Job : Donald Trump promised a bigger defense budget, but the Pentagon is still waiting. (MAX BOOT,  NOVEMBER 22, 2017, Foreign Policy)

There are plenty of warning signs that the defense budget is too small to meet the United States' global commitments, and that military readiness is suffering with dangerous consequences. Back in June, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee that having returned to the military after four years of retirement, he was "shocked by what I've seen with our readiness to fight."

What shocks a hardened warrior like Mattis? Defense analyst Dan Goure notes: "the Army has only three brigade combat teams out of more than 50 fully manned, equipped and trained for major conflict.... Due to a lack of spare parts and insufficient maintenance dollars, only about half of Navy and Marine Corps front line fighters are currently available for combat. In addition, the Air Force is short some 1,000 pilots even though its size has shrunk significantly over the past decade."

Yet despite these shortcomings, the "operations tempo" for the military, especially the Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Forces, remains as high as ever. The Navy has seen its fleet reduced from 594 ships in 1987 to just 278 ships today, yet it still keeps roughly the same number of ships deployed outside of home waters. That means crews have to work at a frenetic pace; naval expert Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute says it's common for sailors to work 100-hour weeks.

This punishing ops tempo is believed to have contributed to two terrible accidents suffered by destroyers this summer -- both the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald collided with merchant ships, killing a total of 17 sailors. The ship shortfall will only be exacerbated by those collisions, with the Fitzgerald likely to be out of service for more than a year. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer says, "We have been punching way above our weight and possibly robbing Peter to pay Paul to get our missions done, and now the bills are coming home."

The Marine Corps is also paying a terrible price for the shortfall of defense dollars. According to data obtained by Breaking Defense, "aircraft accidents have killed 62 Marines in the last six years, compared to just 10 personnel from the much larger Navy." The deadly accidents include the crash of a MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in August, killing three, and of a KC-130T transport aircraft in July, killing 16. The problem is that the Marine Corps is flying aging aircraft such as AV-8 Harrier jump jets (which entered service in 1985), early models of the F/A-18 Hornet (1984), and the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter (1981). The money simply isn't there to rapidly phase out these aging aircraft with newer models such as the F-35.

Overall, the Heritage Foundation finds in its 2018 Index of U.S. Military Strength that "the United States' military posture is rated 'marginal' and is trending toward 'weak.'" Heritage analysts rate the Army and Marine Corps as "weak" and the Navy and Air Force as "marginal." The military has had to abandon its historic, post-1945 commitment to fight two major wars at once -- that is simply beyond its current capabilities.

When we are at peace we do not waste money on a military.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


We Have Not a Government: The Articles of Confederation and the Road to the Constitution By George William Van Cleve (Reviewed by David O. Stewart, November 28, 2017, Washington Independent Review of Books)

How did the architects of this structure of stalemate expect anything to get done?

The answer, of course, was that they didn't want a national government that could do very much. Republican theory, and their experience with the British empire, left many Americans hostile to centralized government powers, a hostility that could only be eroded by experience under the weak regime they thought they wanted.

With careful attention and rich research, this book examines in depth each of the ways that the Confederation failed. It could not pay its debts. It could not protect its people in conflicts with Indians or foreign powers, or even from pirates. It could not create a single currency or build prosperity after the terrible carnage and loss of the Revolutionary War.

Finally, it could not resolve conflicts between or within the states. After only a few years under the Articles, leading figures wondered when and how the United States would fall apart.

The lodestar of Van Cleve's story is George Washington, as he should be. In vivid language, Washington predicted that, without a stronger government, "Anarchy and confusion must prevail," and the United States "shall soon molder into dust and become contemptible."

The book argues persuasively that Washington diagnosed the core weakness of the Articles: that a government unable to levy a tax is not an actual government.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Margaret Thatcher's resignation: A career that did not die in vain : Twenty years after Mrs Thatcher's resignation, Charles Moore reflects on the coup that ousted her (Charles Moore,  22 Nov 2010, The Telegraph)

It is true that it was the unpopularity of the poll tax (though not the effect of the riot) that made backbench Tory MPs waver in their allegiance to Mrs Thatcher. They feared for their seats. But the process by which she was brought down was instigated not by the rank and file, but by the high command, and not because of the poll tax.

What concerned many of her ministerial colleagues were her views on Europe. What they feared even more than her losing them the next election was her winning it. Suppose she had got a fourth term. She would have had a mandate for the referendum on the European single currency (what is now the euro) which she wanted, and she would have won it in favour of Britain staying out. The euro dreams of Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine would have died.

The entire Anglospheric project is about decentralization into self-governing polities, while the European is into transnational centralism.  The Lady was simply, as always, well ahead of her time.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


A New Theory of the Universe : Biocentrism builds on quantum physics by putting life into the equation (Robert Lanza, MARCH 1, 2007, American Scholar)

Quantum mechanics describes the tiny world of the atom and its constituents with stunning accuracy. It is used to design and build much of the technology that drives modern society--transistors, lasers, and even wireless communication. But quantum mechanics in many ways threatens not only our essential and absolute notions of space and time, but indeed, all Newtonian-Darwinian conceptions of order and secure prediction.

"I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics," said Nobel physicist Richard Feynman. "Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?' because you will go 'down the drain' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped." The reason scientists go down the drain is that they refuse to accept the immediate and obvious implications of the experimental findings of quantum theory. Biocentrism is the only humanly comprehensible explanation for how the world can be the way it is. But, as the Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg admits, "It's an unpleasant thing to bring people into the basic laws of physics."

In order to account for why space and time were relative to the observer, Einstein assigned tortuous mathematical properties to an invisible, intangible entity that cannot be seen or touched. This folly continues with the advent of quantum mechanics. Despite the central role of the observer in this theory--extending it from space and time to the very properties of matter itself--scientists still dismiss the observer as an inconvenience to their theories. It has been proven experimentally that when studying subatomic particles, the observer actually alters and determines what is perceived. The work of the observer is hopelessly entangled in that which he is attempting to observe. An electron turns out to be both a particle and a wave. But how and where such a particle will be located remains entirely dependent upon the very act of observation.

Pre-quantum physicists thought that they could determine the trajectory of individual particles with complete certainty. They assumed that the behavior of particles would be predictable if everything were known at the outset--that there was no limit to the accuracy with which they could measure the physical properties of a particle. But Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle showed that this is not the case. You can know either the velocity of a particle or its location but not both. If you know one, you cannot know the other. Heisenberg compared this to the little man and woman in a weather house, an old folk art device that functions as a hygrometer, indicating the air's humidity. The two figures ride opposite each other on a balance bar. "If one comes out," Heisenberg said, "the other goes in."

Consider for a moment that you are watching a film of an archery tournament, with the Zeno's arrow paradox in mind. An archer shoots, and the arrow flies. The camera follows the arrow's trajectory from the archer's bow toward the target. Suddenly the projector stops on a single frame of a stilled arrow. You stare at the image of an arrow in midflight. The pause in the film enables you to know the position of the arrow--it's just beyond the grandstand, about 20 feet above the ground. But you have lost all information about its momentum. It is going nowhere; its velocity is zero. Its path is no longer known. It is uncertain.

To measure the position precisely at any given instant is to lock in on one static frame, to put the movie on pause, so to speak. Conversely, as soon as you observe momentum you can't isolate a frame, because momentum is the summation of many frames. You can't know one and the other with complete accuracy. There is uncertainty as you hone in, whether on motion or position.

All of this makes sense from a biocentric perspective: time is the inner form of animal sense that animates events--the still frames--of the spatial world. The mind animates the world like the motor and gears of a projector. Each weaves a series of still pictures into an order, into the "current" of life. Motion is created in our minds by running "film cells" together. Remember that everything you perceive, even this page, is being reconstructed inside your head. It's happening to you right now. All of experience is an organized whirl of information in your brain.

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has its root here: position (location in space) belongs to the outer world, and momentum (which involves the temporal) belongs to the inner world. By penetrating to the bottom of matter, scientists have reduced the universe to its most basic logic. Time is not a feature of the external spatial world. "Contemporary science," said Heisenberg, "today more than at any previous time, has been forced by nature herself to pose again the old question of the possibility of comprehending reality by mental processes, and to answer it in a slightly different way."

Twenty-five hundred years later, the Zeno arrow paradox finally makes sense. The Eleatic school of philosophy, which Zeno brilliantly defended, was right. So was Heisenberg when he said, "A path comes into existence only when you observe it." There is neither time nor motion without life. Reality is not "there" with definite properties waiting to be discovered but actually comes into being depending upon the actions of the observer.

Another aspect of modern physics, in addition to quantum uncertainty, also strikes at the core of Einstein's concept of discrete entities and spacetime. Einstein held that the speed of light is constant and that events in one place cannot influence events in another place simultaneously. In the relativity theory, the speed of light has to be taken into account for information to travel from one particle to another. However, experiment after experiment has shown that this is not the case. In 1965, Irish physicist John Bell created an experiment that showed that separate particles can influence each other instantaneously over great distances. The experiment has been performed numerous times and confirms that the properties of polarized light are correlated, or linked, no matter how far apart the particles are. There is some kind of instantaneous--faster than light--communication between them. All of this implies that Einstein's concept of spacetime, neatly divided into separate regions by light velocity, is untenable. Instead, the entities we observe are floating in a field of mind that is not limited by an external spacetime.

The experiments of Heisenberg and Bell call us back to experience itself, the immediacy of the infinite here and now, and shake our unexamined trust in objective reality. But another support for biocentrism is the famous two hole experiment, which demands that we go one step further: Zeno's arrow doesn't exist, much less fly, without an observer. The two-hole experiment goes straight to the core of quantum physics. Scientists have discovered that if they "watch" a subatomic particle pass through holes on a barrier, it behaves like a particle: like a tiny bullet, it passes through one or the other holes. But if the scientists do not observe the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of a wave. The two-hole experiment has many versions, but in short: If observed, particles behave like objects; if unobserved, they behave like waves and can go through more than one hole at the same time.

Dubbed quantum weirdness, this wave-particle duality has befuddled scientists for decades. Some of the greatest physicists have described it as impossible to intuit and impossible to formulate into words, and as invalidating common sense and ordinary perception. Science has essentially conceded that quantum physics is incomprehensible outside of complex mathematics. How can quantum physics be so impervious to metaphor, visualization, and language?

If we accept a life-created reality at face value, it becomes simple to understand. The key question is waves of what? Back in 1926, the Nobel laureate physicist Max Born demonstrated that quantum waves are waves of probability, not waves of material as the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger had theorized. They are statistical predictions. Thus a wave of probability is nothing but a likely outcome. In fact, outside of that idea, the wave is not there. It's nothing. As John Wheeler, the eminent theoretical physicist, once said, "No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon."

A particle cannot be thought of as having any definite existence--either duration or a position in space--until we observe it. Until the mind sets the scaffolding of an object in place, an object cannot be thought of as being either here or there. Thus, quantum waves merely define the potential location a particle can occupy. A wave of probability isn't an event or a phenomenon, it is a description of the likelihood of an event or phenomenon occurring. Nothing happens until the event is actually observed. If you watch it go through the barrier, then the wave function collapses and the particle goes through one hole or the other. If you don't watch it, then the particle detectors will show that it can go through more than one hole at the same time.

Science has been grappling with the implications of the wave-particle duality ever since its discovery in the first half of the 20th century. But few people accept this principle at face value. The Copenhagen interpretation, put in place by Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Born in the 1920s, set out to do just that. But it was too unsettling a shift in worldview to accept in full. At present, the implications of these experiments are conveniently ignored by limiting the notion of quantum behavior to the microscopic world. But doing this has no basis in reason, and it is being challenged in laboratories around the world. New experiments carried out with huge molecules called buckyballs show that quantum reality extends into the macroscopic world as well. Experiments make it clear that another weird quantum phenomenon known as entanglement, which is usually associated with the micro world, is also relevant on macro scales. An exciting experiment, recently proposed (so-called scaled-up superposition), would furnish the most powerful evidence to date that the biocentric view of the world is correct at the level of living organisms.

One of the main reasons most people reject the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory is that it leads to the dreaded doctrine of solipsism. The late Heinz Pagels once commented: "If you deny the objectivity of the world unless you observe it and are conscious of it, then you end up with solipsism--the belief that your consciousness is the only one." Indeed, I once had one of my articles challenged by a reader who took this exact position. "I would like to ask Robert Lanza," he wrote, "whether he feels the world will continue to exist after the death of his consciousness. If not, it'll be hard luck for all of us should we outlive him" (New Scientist, 1991).

What I would question, with respect to solipsism, is the assumption that our individual separateness is an absolute reality. Bell's experiment implies the existence of linkages that transcend our ordinary way of thinking. An old Hindu poem says, "Know in thyself and all one self-same soul; banish the dream that sunders part from whole." If time is only a stubbornly persistent illusion, as we have seen, then the same can be said about space. The distinction between here and there is also not an absolute reality. Without consciousness, we can take any person as our new frame of reference. It is not my consciousness or yours alone, but ours. That's the new solipsism the experiments mandate. The theorist Bernard d'Espagnat, a collaborator of Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi, has said that "non-separability is now one of the most certain general concepts in physics." This is not to say that our minds, like the particles in Bell's experiment, are linked in any way that can violate the laws of causality. In this same sense, there is a part of us connected to the glowworm by the pond near my house. It is the part that experiences consciousness, not in our external embodiments but in our inner being. We can only imagine and recollect things while in the body; this is for sure, because sensations and memories are molded into thought and knowledge in the brain. And although we identify ourselves with our thoughts and affections, it is an essential feature of reality that we experience the world piece by piece.

The sphere of physical reality for a glowworm and a human are decidedly different. However, the genome itself is carbon-based. Carbon is formed at the heart of stars and supernova explosions, formative processes of the universe. Life as we know it is limited by our spatio-temporal logic--that is, the genome traps us in the universe with which we are familiar. Animals (including those that evolved in the past) span part of the spectrum of that possibility. There are surely other information systems that correspond to other physical realities, universes based on logic completely different from ours and not based on space and time. The universe of space and time belong uniquely to us genome-based animals.

Eugene Wigner, one of the 20th century's greatest physicists, called it impossible "to formulate the laws of [physics] in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness [of the observer]." Indeed, quantum theory implies that consciousness must exist and that the content of the mind is the ultimate reality. If we do not look at it, the moon does not exist in a definite state. In this world, only an act of observation can confer shape and form to reality--to a dandelion in a meadow or a seed pod.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Walker Percy and the Politics of Deranged Times (BRIAN A. SMITH, 11/27/17, Law & Liberty)

In his 1971 novel Love in the Ruins, Percy offers a tragi-comic parable for our deranged times. Set in the "near future," the novel depicts Americans driven to extremes in much the same way we are today. Percy wrote:

The old Republican Party has become the Knothead Party, so named during the last Republican convention in Montgomery when a change of name was proposed, the first suggestion being the Christian Conservative Constitutional Party, and campaign buttons were even printed with the letters CCCP before an Eastern-liberal commentator noted the similarity to the initials printed on the backs of the Soviet cosmonauts and called it the most knotheaded political bungle of the century--which the conservatives, in the best tradition, turned to their own advantage, printing a million more buttons reading "Knotheads for America" and banners proclaiming "No Man Can Be Too Knotheaded in the Service of His Country."

The old Democrats gave way to the new Left Party. They too were stuck with a nickname not of their own devising and the nickname stuck: in this case a derisive acronym that the Right made up and the Left accepted, accepted in that same curious American tradition by which we allow our enemies to name us, give currency to their curses, perhaps from the need to concede the headstart they want and still beat them, perhaps also from the secret inkling that our enemies know the worst of us best and it's best for them to say it. LEFT usually it is, often LEFTPAPA, sometimes LEFTPAPASAN (with a little Jap bow), hardly ever the original LEFTPAPASANE, which stood for what, according to the Right, the Left believed in: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, The Pill, Atheism, Pot, Anti-Pollution, Sex, Abortion Now, Euthanasia.

Percy often said that the novelist aspires to be a prophet in reverse: he hoped that telling the truth about ourselves now might spare us future heartache. The comic sadness here is that this is a paragraph you might see today satirizing our own political life.

But the story itself offers more hope than this couple-paragraph snapshot of politics suggests: the protagonist, Dr. Thomas More, takes the reader on a wild ride through Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. A scientist with a tragic family history, More believes he's stumbled upon a world-changing invention with the possibility to save humanity or destroy it. And while that sounds like the groundwork for a dystopian thriller, Percy uses a few days in More's life to remind us that all the technological and medical fixes for our alienation evade what we really need from our family life, our community, and our churches - places of rest that give us the capacity to live well. From clues in the book and some help from Wikipedia, you can determine the main action of the novel is meant to take place on July 1-4, 1984. Percy's sense of humor here is telling: Tom More earns himself a new birth of freedom on July 4th, one against Orwell's prophecy.

Percy remains a guide to our times he offers us help in how to muddle through our ideologically divided times. He reminds us that we can never secure lasting victories in politics, indeed that the entire language of "problems and solutions" that we indulge in is a category error. Politics is the world of tensions and dilemmas that never fully resolve themselves. 

Politics is best thought of as follows: there is an eternal tension between the competing urges for personal Freedom and personal Security which the Republic seeks to resolve by engendering universal liberty instead of either. Our sense that history has cycles or pendulum swings is just a function of the continual motion between the extremes back towards the American middle, a motion driven by the Deep State which is to say our system, our institutions and our people. 

We have an emotional desire to be living in apocalyptic times or especially deranged ones, so that we can cast ourselves as remarkable too, even heroes for confronting the epoch. That's why Donald's supporters need to see him as a unique threat to the Establishment and the Left needs to see him and Vlad as an existential threat. The reality that he's just a racist nitwit who we elected accidentally and who can accomplish nothing is too anti-climactic to be borne. Of course, that's not much different than the past 8 years when the Left thought they'd summoned the Obamessiah and the Right saw a gay Muslim socialist while the rest of us enjoyed a continuation of the consensual governance of the past several decades.

November 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


U.S. Abortion Data from 2014 Show Pro-Life Progress (Michael J. New, November 27, 2017, National Review)

According to the CDC, both the number of abortions and the abortion rate declined by about 2 percent between 2013 and 2014. The decline was fairly consistent, as 30 of the 46 states reporting abortion data in both years saw their abortion numbers decline. This is undoubtedly good news.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


A woman approached The Post with dramatic -- and false -- tale about Roy Moore. She appears to be part of undercover sting operation. (Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites, November 27, 2017, The Washington Post)

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore's candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover "stings" that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.

The Right's only alternative to reality is "fake news."

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


A Legal Fight Donald Trump Should Win : The president is in the right in the battle over who should lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern, 11/27/17, Slate)

Given that two separate laws govern the replacement of an executive agency's director, the question is which one controls here. On the one hand, the FVRA states that when an officer like Cordray resigns, the president "may direct" an individual who has already received Senate confirmation for his or her current position to assume that officer's duties temporarily. In February, the Senate confirmed Mulvaney as director of OMB, so he would seem to fit this description, rendering his appointment legitimate.

But Dodd-Frank, the subsequent law that created the CFPB, provides a different mechanism for replacing the board's director. The statute declares that the deputy director "shall ... serve as acting director in the absence or unavailability of the Director." English argues that, upon his resignation, Cordray became "absent," allowing her to become "acting director." She also contends that this regulation was intended to insulate CFPB from presidential whims. That sounds right--but so does Mulvaney's argument on the FVRA. So which statute wins?

Slate contributor and University of Chicago Law School professor Daniel Hemel points to a provision in Dodd-Frank that weighs in Mulvaney's favor. The law states that "except as otherwise provided expressly by law," all federal laws "dealing with" federal officers "shall apply" to the CFPB. The FVRA is clearly such a law, so unless Dodd-Frank "expressly" overrides it, the statute applies here. And nothing in Dodd-Frank explicitly disavows the application of the FVRA to the CFPB. If the authors of the bill had intended to set up an exclusive line of succession for the agency, they could have. Instead, they included "a yield sign," as Hemel put it, allowing the FVRA to prevail.

There is another good reason to interpret the FVRA this way: English's argument raises serious constitutional concerns. The CFPB may be an "independent agency," but it is still part of the executive branch. Trump, in whom the Constitution vests "the executive power," must have some meaningful control over the bureau. Yet English--who was selected not by a president but by Cordray himself--claims Trump cannot even appoint the CFPB's acting director. As Jonathan Adler notes, her position "would take agency independence to a new level," placing the CFPB in the hands of a democratically unaccountable bureaucrat until the president formally replaces her. Bloomberg View's Noah Feldman makes a similar point, writing that English's argument "contradicts basic principles of democratic legitimacy."

Federal courts must attempt first and foremost to interpret ambiguous statutes in a manner that comports with the Constitution.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


How Conservatism Guided America's Founding  (Forrest McDonald, July 1983, Imprimis)

Conservatism is not an ideology or a program--its programmatic content varies with place and time--but a set of values and an attitude toward changes in the established social order. Its opposite is not any particular dogmatic secular religion--such as communism or socialism--but dogmatic secular religion itself.

Peter Viereck once defined conservatism as "the political secularization of the doctrine of original sin." Eric Voegelin defined its opposite as the political secularization of the heresy of gnosticism.

Edmund Burke distinguished between "abstraction," or a priori reasoning divorced from or contrary to history and experience, and "principles," or sound general ideas derived from observation of human nature throughout time and space. Thus, despite the diversity inherent in conservatism, some principles may be delineated as having been held in common by conservatives from the eighteenth century through the twentieth.

A fundamental principle concerns morality. Conservatives believe that there are basic, universal, and eternal moral truths. They are not unanimous as to the source of these moral truths: most believe that they are ordained by God, but non-theists among them attribute the origin to the natural order. All agree, however, that good and evil are equally real, that every adult human except the mentally enfeebled is endowed with a moral sense that enables him to distinguish right from wrong, and that man's universal religious instinct is the truest foundation of the social order.

Conservatives are also concerned with morality in another sense of the term: morality as mores or social custom. Many moral values are peculiar to individual societies, and even the transcending moral values may be delimited or refined by social norms. "Thou shalt not kill," for instance, is a universal mandate, but no society interprets it to forbid absolutely the destruction of any living thing, animal or vegetable. Moreover, virtually every society makes exceptions even within the human species; most conservatives would hold that the commandment does not apply to self-defense, to defense of family and the innocent, and to legally sanctioned defense of one's country. Similarly, though incest is universally prohibited, the degree of kinship necessary to invoke the injunction vales from society to society, as does the way kinship is reckoned. Thus there are both absolute and relative moral values. The two are inevitably and sometimes confusingly related, meaning that bona fide moral dilemmas do arise.

Conservative attitudes toward morality give rise to a profound concern for the necessity of freedom. As a creature with a moral sense and as one endowed with free will, man can choose between moral and immoral behavior--but he is responsible for the consequences of his actions. Government and society, to be moral, must allow individuals the freedom necessary for them to be responsible. How much liberty is desirable beyond this minimum varies with the force and nature of social custom in each political regime. In general, liberty flows not from the extent of popular participation in law-making but from the extent that a people is habitually law-abiding: law is the fountain of liberty.

The conservative believes in justice tempered by equity, and he does not confuse the two. At its core, justice has to do with predictability and with the sense of security it provides. There are rules of acceptable behavior, known or knowable to all, and the rules carry with them rewards and punishments, also known or knowable. Few conservatives are so confident of their own rectitude that they would prefer strict and unvarying justice ("I cry for my country," Jefferson is reported to have said, "when I contemplate the possibility that there may be a just God"), and accordingly they believe that justice should be tempered with mercy, compassion, equity. But they also believe, with Blackstone, that "the liberty of considering all cases in an equitable light must not be indulged too far, lest thereby we destroy all law--And law without equity, though hard and disagreeable, is much more desirable for the public good, than equity without law: which would make every judge a legislator, and introduce most infinite confusion."

Paralleling the conservative's attitude toward law and justice is his view of society. Conservatives believe that social continuity is crucial and that, while a just society must allow for the dignity of its individual members, the needs of society itself are primary. They base this position upon recognition of the human condition: the long period of dependency during infancy and childhood dictates that mankind cannot subsist without society. But there is an ever-present tension between the social instincts and the instincts for self-gratification. It is the function of social institutions to temper individual instincts in the interests of social instincts and to convince the citizen of the primacy of the needs of the group. That social institutions normally, if imperfectly, do perform this function is attested by history: when circumstances make it necessary people overcome even the powerful instinct of self-preservation and willingly sacrifice themselves to preserve the society of which they are a part.

The relationship between society and government evokes the conservative principle of the desirability of variety, diversity, plurality, inequality. People differ from one another in various ways--ethnicity, sex, age, ability, class, wealth. If the results of any of these group differences should jeopardize the health of the entire body politic, government may legitimately intervene; but otherwise such diversity and inequality, as natural concomitants of the human condition, are either outside the province of government or entitled to its protection.

Another conservative principle is that of prescription: that there are rights and obligations which rest upon "immemorial usage, so that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." Over the course of time, we have acquired habits, conventions, and customs which are woven unconsciously into the very fabric of our being. Conservatives believe that, in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, man tampers with these or replaces them with more "rational" substitutes at his mortal peril.

Indeed, conservatives apply the principle of prudence to all change. They recognize that not every ill of society can be cured and that an incautiously applied remedy can be worse than the disease. The need for prudence can be expressed in terms of the underlying law of ecology: you cannot change just one thing. To make any change, however rational, in an immensely diverse, intricate, and interconnected social organism is necessarily to make changes affecting other parts and the whole, often in entirely irrational and unforseen ways. Prudence requires that one take into account, as far as possible, the long-range multiple consequences of any proposed action.

Finally, the prudent conservative recognizes that concrete situations may sometimes make principles inconsistent, internally or one with another. In such circumstances one makes choices from the available options on the basis of a priority of values, and, if possible, leaves open the door to change the course if it turns out to be wrong. [...]

Conservatives were able to dominate the convention because the clash of interests and ideas necessitated numerous compromises, and they were tempermentally adaptable to compromise whereas the ideologues were not.

As the Constitution turned out, it accomplished what the conservatives had set out to accomplish: it left intact the diverse social and political arrangements that had evolved and provided for additional institutions whose purpose was to check and channel local forces so they might flow harmoniously in the national interest.

The genius of the system was that the power of government, though great and emanating ultimately from the people, was divided rather than concentrated in any single representation of the people. Vertically, power was distributed among local, state, and national governments, the last itself being only "partly national, partly federal." Horizontally, power at the state level was subjected to certain restraints, particularly as regarded property rights; power at the national level was subjected to division among the branches and to checks, one branch on another. Temporally, the several branches of the national government were to be chosen variously for two, four, six years, and for life or good behavior, which meant that they would represent the will of the people, directly or indirectly, as expressed at different times. [...]

The chief architect of the Washington administration's policies, and the chief target of Jefferson's and Madison's efforts, was Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton's fiscal system, which breathed life into the Consitution, was an example of conservatism--of constructive, prudential change--at its best. As Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton was assigned the task of devising a way to manage the staggering burden of public Revolutionary War debts. He had several options. The debts could be repudiated in whole or in part, but that would be both imprudent and immoral. They could be paid promptly and in full, but given the nation's limited resources that was impossible. Instead, Hamilton followed the British example and proposed to "fund" the debts in such a way as to make them the basis for banking currency, and thus them as material building-blocks for nationhood.

The essence of the Hamiltonian way was to make national authority dependent as little as possible upon coercion and as much as possible upon what economists call "the institutional structuring of market incentives." He would ensure the perdurance of the new national government by making commercial activity dependent upon the continued working of the system. The long-range consequences of the adoption of Hamilton's program were profound, for they included committing not only American conservatives but also the United States government to capitalism--which, for all the Framers' insistence upon the sanctity of property rights, had been left open by the Constitution.

It was not until the spring of 1791, after Hamilton's system had been enacted into law, that Jefferson and Madison reacted to it ideologically. The break turned on one celebrated dinner party at which Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams discussed political philosophy. Adams said that, "purge the British constitution of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would be the most perfect constitution ever devised by the wit of man." Hamilton's retort, echoing an essay by Hume, was, "purge it of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would become an impracticable government: as it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed."

When Jefferson heard that, his revulsion and fear were immediate and total. Forthwith, he was convinced that Hamilton had been "bewitched and perverted by the British example" and had formed a "mercenary phalanx" of money men and speculators in a conspiracy to poison America, even as Hamilton's evil idol Walpole had poisoned England. That this was pure fantasy is beside the point: to Jefferson it was real. Thenceforth, he saw Hamilton's every word and deed, past and present, as confirmation of his evil designs.

Jefferson's "discovery" radically changed Madison's perception of the Constitution. Heretofore the polestar of his political theory had been nationalism. But now, in light of Hamilton's supposed perfidy, Madison's dream of a perfect commonwealth was shattered: the safe-guards that were to have ensured the republic's immortality proved illusory.

Thenceforth, the central constitutional tenet in the faith of the Republicans--I shift to the capital R, for Jefferson and Madison promptly set out to recruit likeminded souls to form the Republican Party--became the doctrine of state sovereignty (not states' rights; which is essential to the equilibrium of the federal system, but state sovereignty).

Two aspects of this shift want special notice. First, it is not out of character for secular millenialists to make 180-degree turns. They can, and often do, undergo conversion experiences that lead them to embrace a diametrically opposed ideology. The only change they are incapable of making is to stop being ideologues.

Secondly, there was a tangible political ingredient involved in the shift. State sovereignty in Virginia meant Republican power under the leadership of Madison and Jefferson. This was not incompatible with republican ideology, it was complementary. Now that the scales had fallen from Madison's eyes he could see that the states must be sovereign, for only they were unencumbered by internal checks and restraints, and thus only in them was the public (read, "the gentry") at liberty to do its republican duty.

Totalitarian Ideologues Then and Now

When the Republicans spoke in praise of liberty, that was the kind of liberty they had in mind; even as, when they praised limited government, they were referring only to the national government. In regard to the "real" American republics, the sovereign states, they were totalitarian ideologues. In the words of Fisher Ames, "They cry liberty, but they mean, as party leaders always do, power."

When the Republicans came to power in 1801 they set out to emasculate the national government, and for a time they were strikingly successful. They repealed much of the Federalists' legislation, set Hamilton's fiscal system in train toward extinction, virtually destroyed the government's capacity to enforce its laws, and (in a world aflame with war) reduced the army and navy to miniscule proportions. But they failed in their efforts to destroy the Supreme Court, of course, and soon the inner logic of their ideology led them first to a wholesale suppression of American liberty and then to a nearly disastrous war.

Jefferson's last fifteen months in office were a nightmare of repression: to carry out an experimental notion that belligerents in Europe could be subdued by peaceful means--the embargo--Jefferson found it necessary to wage war upon the American people. Three years later Madison blundered the nation into a war for which it was calamitously unprepared. Finally, having learned the hard way that a country cannot fight wars without a government, the Republicans reluctantly put the whole Federalist system back together again.

The regime of liberty was back in place, and the republican dogma itself withered away. Dogmatic secular millenialism--modernity--did not, alas, die with it. It erupted with the Jacksonians, the abolitionists, the populists, the Wilsonians, the New Dealers, the Great Society. It erupts anew in the plague of isms that infests our own times.

Throughout our history, conservatism has been the fountain of liberty in America and modernity has been liberty's veriest enemy.

Beauty Is At the Heart of True Conservatism (GERALD J. RUSSELLO, 11/21/17, Crisis)

The school of conservatism that might be most fitted for this moment, is paradoxically, the one that is the one least inclined to modernity. This would be a form of conservatism known as traditionalist, espoused most prominently by Russell Kirk. James Matthew Wilson has grasped the Burkean insight that to love our country (or our culture) one must first make it lovely. And making things lovely is at the core of conservatism and must remain at the center of any true conservative revival. Wilson reminds us that "[t]he conservatism of Burke and Coleridge sought to remind modern man, in an age of revolutionary upheaval, that politics was an activity built on art, meaning, representation, and community." Because of this, there is, thankfully, little to nothing here about policy prescriptions or election prospects. If a culture is healthy, those things sort themselves; if it is not, those things do not ultimately matter.

Wilson is a poet, and literature is at the foundation of his conviction for a cultural revival. In years past, this has been the weakness of this school: other conservatives thought it fine to invoke the literary history of conservatism but preferred not to delve too much into what that might mean. At worst, these conservatives took the insights from the literary tradition and watered them down into a political program. Wilson addresses the central problem that many in the conservative "movement" see conservatism as "a static and received, putatively sacred, order before which life must kneel and growth must stultify." But that is not how the exemplars of modern conservatism have seen it. T.S. Eliot, for example, was quite firm that by entering into a tradition one also changes it; tradition is the dynamic relationship between what Wilson here calls mythos and logos. Wilson relies on Eliot in his marvelous opening salvo "the drama of cultural conservatism." Burke, for Wilson, presents the truly modern attack on the ahistorical revolutionaries. For Kirk, too, his project was very much attuned to our contemporary moment: he built an alternative history of conservatism to present a narrative of unity and tradition against the mass-age of liberalism and now postmodernity's fragmentation.

Liberalism, by contrast, was and remains primarily political. It was born in the thought of Locke and Hume, Hobbes and Rousseau. The French Revolution and all the schools afterward brought it forward. Its central characteristics have been an irrational rationality and an ahistorical utopianism. Even today, when liberalism has morphed into an extreme individualism, with "choice" at its center, politics is inescapable. For the new liberalism needs the state to protect the ever-expanding list of individual rights. Further, it always needs an enemy which it can condemn as reactionary and against which it must wage an eternal fight.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Trump refers to a 'Pocahontas' in Congress at meeting with veterans (Reuters, 11/27/17) 

President Donald Trump said there was a "Pocahontas" in the U.S. Congress on Monday during a meeting with Native American World War Two veterans in an apparent derogatory reference to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


ICE's Courthouse Arrests Undercut Democracy (César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, Nov. 26, 2017, NY Times)

At the door of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver one Friday in April, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents tackled a man to the ground. A chilling video shows the man -- who, according to his lawyer, was there to deal with a traffic ticket -- yelling "No!" "My hand!" and "Why?" in Spanish. Sheriff's deputies order passers-by to stand back, and the violent arrest continues.

The next month, ICE agents returned and arrested another man. His lawyer can be heard in a video of the incident asking the agents if they had a warrant. One responds, "Yes, sir." The lawyer asks, "Can I see it?"

The agent's response: "No, sir."

Both men, according to their lawyers, were taken to immigration detention centers.

This type of arrest is on the rise. Lawyers and judges in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington all reported in the first year of the Trump administration that immigration officials were breaking with tradition to descend upon their courthouses. Such arrests in New York have increased by 900 percent in 2017, according to the Immigration Defense Project.

This is a deeply worrisome trend because arrests at courthouses don't just derail the lives of the unsuspecting people who are detained, they threaten the very operation of our judicial system. Such arrests scare people away from the courts, keeping them, for example, from testifying at trials or seeking orders of protection. By using this tactic, the nation's lead immigration law enforcement agency is undermining a pillar of our democracy.

That's why California's top judicial official asked the Trump administration to stop this practice. "Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration laws," Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state's chief justice, wrote in March to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the homeland security secretary. "Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair."

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


Is Saudi crown prince winning or losing in the Middle East? (Al Monitor, November 26, 2017)

As the crown prince stumbles in the region, Iran continues to roll. The prince's intervention in Lebanon has revealed, again, the limits of his influence and the costs of his impulsive regional policies, which redound to Iran's benefit.

Yemen, for example, remains a failure and quagmire for the kingdom -- the "worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world," Bruce Riedel writes, with 7 million people on the verge of starvation.

"Riyadh does not have a strategy to win the war," Riedel continues. "The front lines have barely moved in months. The Houthis show no sign of giving up. More airstrikes are not likely to bring a decision. So the Saudi strategy by default is to rely on famine and disease to wear down the Yemeni people. All sides in this war are guilty of perpetuating a catastrophe, but the blockade and airstrikes are the principal cause of the famine and cholera. The Saudi government and leadership should be held accountable for their actions. A strategy of starvation is unacceptable."

Giorgio Cafiero adds that conflict in Yemen offers the Islamic State "new opportunities and grievances to exploit as the internationally recognized central government remains entirely ineffectual. Should IS-Yemen lure more highly trained and battle-hardened fighters from the Levant, the local offshoot of IS could become an increasingly ascendant force to be reckoned with in southern Yemen, adding new dimensions of complexity and instability to the country's civil war and growing famine threat."

The kingdom's isolation of Qatar has undermined Gulf Cooperation Council unity, another windfall for Iran. Cafiero explains the limitations of the "Anti-Terror Quartet" of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in building a new regional alignment, given differing perspectives on how best to deal with Turkey and Iran. Meanwhile, Iran -- allied with both the Syrian and Iraqi governments -- comes out a winner in both countries, while Saudi Arabia scrambles for a foothold.

Only Putin has stumbled nearly as badly.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


What Was the Inspiration for "The Murder on the Orient Express"? : Agatha Christie wrote her famous detective novel based on an even more famous kidnapping (Natalie Escobar, 11/22/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

The book was hugely popular when it was released, and Lindbergh expert Robert Zorn says that the parallels between Daisy and Charles Jr. must have been obvious to people. "The parallels are too striking," he says. Agatha Christie even had her own insights about the case. She suspected that the kidnapping was done by a foreigner--a hunch proved correct when the culprit was discovered to be German immigrant Richard Hauptmann. "I think she had a better sense of getting to the heart of this than a lot of the investigators," he says.

Like the novel's characters, Christie also knew what it was like to be stuck on a train. She loved traveling on the Orient Express and would bring her typewriter along. On one 1931 ride, the train stopped because of a flood. "My darling, what a journey!" she wrote in a letter to her second husband, Max Mallowan. "Started out from Istanbul in a violent thunder storm. We went very slowly during the night and about 3 a.m. stopped altogether." She was also inspired by an incident from 1929, when the Orient Express was trapped by snow for five days.

The story of the Lindbergh baby captured the popular imagination in a way that a book never could. As Joyce Milton wrote in her biography of the Lindberghs, Loss of Eden, 1932 was a terrifying time. The country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and Hoovervilles were a common sight. World War I, the "World to End All Wars," hadn't prevented the creeping rise of totalitarian regimes like fascism and Nazism. Americans couldn't help but wonder what the world had come to. [...]

As for Poirot himself, Christie never specified a real-life inspiration for her famous character. However, researcher Michael Clapp believes her Belgian detective might have lived right down the street from her. While looking into his own family history, Clapp discovered that Christie had met a retired Belgian policeman-turned-war refugee named Jacques Hornais at a charity event benefitting refugees from Belgium. It's not definitive proof, Clapp told The Telegraph, but it's quite the coincidence.

In the author's own autobiography, though, she says that Poirot was indeed inspired by one of her Belgian neighbors. "Why not make my detective a Belgian, I thought. There were all types of refugees," Christie wrote. "How about a refugee police officer?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


CBO: Senate tax bill would hurt poor (MALLORY SHELBOURNE, 11/27/17, The Hill)

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the proposed Senate tax legislation would hurt Americans in the lowest income brackets if passed, The Washington Post reported late Sunday.

The bill would negatively impact individuals who make less than $30,000 per year by 2019, the CBO said, while most of those making under $75,000 would be negatively affected by 2027.

November 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The bizarre alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia is finally fraying :As the conflict in Yemen rages, there are plenty of signs that times are changing. (MEHDI HASAN, 11/26/17, New Statesman)

How would you explain the long-standing and bizarre alliance between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the proverbial Martian who had landed on Earth for the first time? The close friendship between the secular republic and the Salafist theocracy? The unbreakable bond between the liberal democracy and the absolute monarchy? You would probably have to begin by going back to February 1945. That's when Franklin D Roosevelt met Saudi Arabia's founding king, Abdulaziz, on-board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal, to strike a Faustian bargain: Washington would provide the security while Riyadh would provide the oil.

No US president since FDR has deviated even slightly from these terms - not even Barack Obama who, while loathed by the Saudis for his Iran nuclear deal, agreed to sell an unprecedented $115bn worth of weapons to them during his eight years in office. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Iran Claims U.S. Responsible For 'Atrocities' Via Support for Saudi Arabia (Radio Free Europe, November 26, 2017)

Iran has accused the United States of being responsible for "atrocities" in Yemen through its support for Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition to fight Tehran-backed Huthi rebels.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said a White House statement on November 24 in support of Riyadh "clearly and without question proves America's participation and responsibility" in what Tehran described as "atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen."

That's one where we're clearly on the wrong side.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Rohani Tells Assad 'National Congress' A Step Toward Stability (Radio Free Europe, November 26, 2017)

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has told Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in a phone call that a proposed "national congress" involving opposing forces could help bring stability and security to the war-ravaged country.

Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Rohani on November 25 as telling Assad that a meeting of government and opposition forces could be "a step toward stability and security of Syria."

First elections are about destabilizing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Trump promotes conspiracy mill website that lauded his achievements (STUART WINER, 11/26/17, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump on Saturday drew attention to a fringe right-wing conspiracy theory website lauding his achievements, suggesting it was a better source of news than the mainstream media. [...]

MAGA Pill and its associated Twitter account have a history of promoting right-wing conspiracy theories about global Luciferianism cabals that keep the masses in a state of delusion about who is really controlling the world. It has also pushed stories and articles with a strong anti-illegal immigration agenda as well as peddling conspiracies about Hilary Clinton. [...]

On November 20, the MAGA Pill account tweeted a diagram purporting to show key conspiracy elements and how they control the world. Referring to financial cabals, the diagram says "certain bloodline families have dominated global financial institutions including: BIS, FED, imf, World Bank, Wall Street."

Who else would be fans of his?

November 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Trump derides CNN days after administration moves to block media merger (EMILY GOLDBERG, 11/25/2017, Politico)

Less than one week after the Department of Justice announced it would seek to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner, and after President Donald Trump pledged he wouldn't "get involved," the president tweeted out a familiar criticism of CNN, a subsidiary of Time Warner.

". @FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!" the president tweeted Saturday evening.

Trump's public comments against the merger, as well as CNN specifically, have called into question if he is imposing undue influence on the case.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


President Trump Now Says That Wasn't Him on Access Hollywood Tape (Benjamin Hart, 11/25/17, New York)

 As the Times reveals, though, Trump has gone way beyond mere denials. He has taken to contesting objective reality itself:

But something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous "Access Hollywood" tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women's genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. (In the hours after it was revealed in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the voice was his, and he apologized.)

So Trump is now not only insisting that the lies he spouts all day are true; he has created a new set of facts that contradict the ones he has already acknowledged.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


When We Say 'Conservative,' We Mean . . . (Jonah Goldberg, November 24, 2017, National Review)

 "What is conservatism?" Abraham Lincoln famously asked, "Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?" That's pithy, but it's less a definition than a rhetorical flourish.

Russell Kirk who, despite his brilliance and erudition, was never my cup of tea, offered "Six Canons of Conservatism." (I've edited them down, but you can follow this link to read them in their entirety.)

1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. . . . True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.

2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls "Logicalism" in society.

3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless society." With reason, conservatives have been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum.

4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Economic levelling, they maintain, is not economic progress.

5. Faith in prescription and distrust of "sophisters, calculators, and economists" who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man's anarchic impulse and upon the innovator's lust for power.

6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman's chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.  [...]

This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite meditations on conservatism from my friend Yuval Levin:

To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.

Gratitude captures so much of what conservatism is about because it highlights the philosophical difference between (American) conservatism and its foes on the left (and some of its friends among the libertarian camp). The yardstick against which human progress is measured shouldn't be the sentiments and yearnings that define some unattainable utopian future, but the knowable and real facts of our common past.

So-called liberals love to talk about how much they just want to do "what works," but it's amazing how often "what works" doesn't. Even more remarkable is how the mantra of "what works" is almost always a license to empower the "sophisters, calculators, and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs."

In contrast, the conservative belief in "what works" is grounded in reality, not hope.

Gratitude is just one facet of love, which is why conservatism is so inextricably bound up in patriotism. To be patriotic, one must love one's country for what it is, not what it can be if only the right people are put in charge and allowed to "fundamentally transform" it.

Which is why Donald Trump and the Right are not conservative: they hate the America that actually exists.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Trump supporters confuse LeVar Burton with LaVar Ball online (AP, 11/25/17)

Trump tweeted that Ball was an "ungrateful fool" for not being more appreciative of presidential intervention in LiAngelo Ball's case. Some of the president's followers in turn attacked Burton on Twitter, with one calling him a "has been actor with a thief for a son."

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


A historian on the myths of American trade : Douglas Irwin agrees that trade policy is important. But all manner of powers are wrongly laid at its door (The Economist, Nov 23rd 2017)

TRADE-policy wonks are gluttons for punishment. In good times, their pet topic is dismissed as dull. In bad, they find trade being faulted for everything. As Donald Trump blames America's economic woes on terrible trade deals, one geek is fighting back. In "Clashing over Commerce", Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College tells the history of American trade policy, showing that trade is neither dull nor deserving of the attacks on it. [...]

Readers may wonder whether 700 pages of debunking--some of them a slog--are worth it. But Mr Irwin does think that trade policies have consequences, just not the ones usually trumpeted. Such policies transfer wealth, sometimes by sizeable amounts. In 1885 an average tariff of 30% reshuffled around 9% of America's GDP from foreign exporters and domestic importers to domestic producers and the government. Trade policies also generate costs. In 1984, economists found that consumers were forking out more than $100,000 in the form of higher prices for each job protected in the clothing industry, where the average wage was around $12,000 per year.

The other reason to persist with Mr Irwin's tome is for protection against the foes of trade who have populated America's history and are in their pomp again. In 1824, Henry Clay, one of America's great senators, proposed an "American system" of tariffs, a national bank and "internal improvements" like roads and canals to strengthen the economy of the young country. He saw tariffs as a no-lose deal: raising money from foreigners, promoting American industry and creating a balanced, self-sufficient economy. The tariffs passed, but Clay failed to deliver on infrastructure, or on a plan for American industry. It is hard to see his rather less illustrious successors pulling off this tempting but difficult trick.

Of all the clashes Mr Irwin describes, the most important today is not between political parties, or between friends and foes of trade. It is between policymakers and the forces such as technology reshaping the global economy, in the process destroying many manufacturing jobs. At most, protectionism could shelter some of those jobs temporarily. But those jobs already lost are unlikely to come back.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


To Hell With the Witch-Hunt Debate : The post-Weinstein moment isn't a war on sex. It's a long-overdue revolution. (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, NOV 22, 2017, The Atlantic)

One reason the "witch hunt" argument falls flat is that the person advancing it, on behalf of Harvey Weinstein, was Woody Allen. Asked about Weinstein, he told a BBC reporter, "You ... don't want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That's not right either."

It seemed a pretty long way down the ladder from the violent rapes described by Weinstein's accusers to jail time for a winker, but Allen introduced early-on an important theme: scale.

Obviously there are terrible acts that God and man frown upon, but was every little unwanted bit of sexual energy directed at a woman--within the naturally romantic and flirtatious environment of an office--going to cost him his job? This led to the sex panic argument.

Advanced by the progressive, mainstream press--a notorious redoubt of mashers and grabbers--it started with The New Yorker asking the question, "When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?" and fretting that we might be on the verge of a "war on sex." Two days later, the first of Al Franken's two accusers came forward and it was clear that if a man apparently forced a wet kiss on you and took a sexual gag-photo of the two of you while you were asleep, you were going to have to walk it off. "Is This a 'Sex Panic' or a National Moment of Reckoning?" asked Salon, deciding that it was actually both. Poor Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times could barely contain her anxiety over wanting to be on the right side of history about Al Franken. On November 16, the paper published her column saying that he should be drummed out of the Senate, but then she had a bad weekend, apparently--had she said the right thing? Or the wrong thing?--and ran a second column in which she worried she was "participating in a sex panic."

You know the culture wars are a rout when Progressives are worried they're being too puritanical.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Hispanic dropout rate hits new low, college enrollment at new high (JOHN GRAMLICH, 11/25/17, Pew)

The overall high school dropout rate in the U.S. has also fallen substantially in recent decades, matching a record low of 6% in 2016. Hispanics have accounted for much of that decline. Since 1999, the earliest year for which data on all major races and ethnicities are available, the dropout rate among Hispanics has fallen by 24 percentage points, compared with 9 points among blacks, 3 points among whites and 2 points among Asians. (Hispanics, however, still have the highest dropout rate of these four groups.)

The decline in the Hispanic dropout rate is particularly noteworthy given the large increase in Hispanic enrollment in U.S. public and private schools. Between 1999 and 2016, the number of Hispanics enrolled in public and private nursery schools, K-12 schools and colleges increased 80%, from 9.9 million to 17.9 million. By comparison, enrollment during the same period increased 30% among Asians (from 3.6 million to 4.7 million) and 4% among blacks (from 11.3 million to 11.7 million) while falling 14% among whites (from 47.3 million to 40.6 million). Total public school enrollment grew 7%, from 72.4 million to 77.2 million.

November 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Anatomy of a Fake News Scandal : Inside the web of conspiracy theorists, Russian operatives, Trump campaigners and Twitter bots who manufactured the 'news' that Hillary Clinton ran a pizza-restaurant child-sex ring (Amanda Robb, November 16, 2017, Rolling Stone)

According to a sample of tweets with Pizzagate or related hashtags provided by Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics at Indiana University, Pizzagate was shared roughly 1.4 million times by more than a quarter of a million accounts in its first five weeks of life - from @DavidGoldbergNY's tweet to the day Welch showed up at Comet Ping Pong. The vast majority of tweeters in our sample, just 10 percent of all possible hits, posted about the story only a few times. But more than 3,000 accounts in our set tweeted about Pizzagate five times or more. Among these were dozens of users who tweet so frequently - up to 900 times a day - that experts believe they were likely highly automated. Even more striking: 22 percent of the tweets in our sample were later deleted by the user. This could be a sign, Woolley says, of "someone sweeping away everything so that we can't follow the trail."

Next, we decided to cross-reference the most frequent Pizzagate tweeters with a list of 139 handles associated with Trump campaign staffers, advisers and surrogates. We also ran our entire sample against the list of accounts linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency. We found that at least 14 Russia-linked accounts had tweeted about Pizzagate, including @Pamela_Moore13, whose avatar is, aptly, an anonymous figure wrapped in an American flag; that account has been retweeted by such prominent Trump supporters as Donald Trump Jr., Ann Coulter and Roger Stone, the political operative who recommended Paul Manafort as Trump's campaign manager. (Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently indicted Manafort for money laundering as part of his investigation into possible collusion with Russian efforts to influence the presidential race.) "Well! Well! Well!" "Pamela Moore" tweeted on November 19th, 2016, above the fake news headline "FBI: Rumors About Clinton Pedophile Ring Are True."

The campaign's engagement went far deeper. We found at least 66 Trump campaign figures who followed one or more of the most prolific Pizzagate tweeters. Michael Caputo, a Trump adviser who tweeted frequently about Clinton's e-mails, followed 146 of these accounts; Corey Stewart, Trump's campaign chair in Virginia, who lost a tight primary race for governor in June, followed 115; Paula White-Cain, Trump's spiritual adviser, followed 71; Pastor Darrell Scott, a prominent member of Trump's National Diversity Coalition, followed 33. Flynn's son, Michael Flynn Jr., who followed 58 of these accounts, famously took the bait and was ousted from the Trump transition team in early December after tweeting, "Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story."

Many of the Pizzagate tweeters had the characteristics of political bots - Twitter handles made up of random or semi-random letters and numbers and twin passions for conservative politics and pets (puppies and kitties win audience, Watts says). Others were all too human. Crystal Kemp, a 50-year-old grandmother who lives in Confluence, Pennsylvania, tweeted about the story more than 4,000 times in five weeks. I reached out to her via Facebook to ask why. "Didn't want Hillary to win at any cost," Kemp tells me, "but liked Trump from day one. I don't really know that much about the Pizzagate thing. Everything I tweeted or retweeted was stuff that I found through my own research or from another follower."

Kemp tweeted links to articles from well-known right-wing sites like Fox News and Breitbart. But she also shared stories from obscure outlets like, which appears to be among the fake-news sites that operated from Macedonia during the election. Buzzfeed had found that teenagers in the deindustrialized town of Veles published pro-Trump stories because they were profitable as click-bait. When I traveled to Macedonia last summer, Borce Pejcev, a computer programmer who has set up dozens of fake-news sites - for around 100 euros each - said it wasn't quite that simple. Macedonians don't invent fake news stories, he told me. "No one here knows anything about American politics. They copy and paste from American sites, maybe try to come up with more dramatic headline." Fox News,,, InfoWars and Breitbart, he said, were among the Macedonians' most common source material ("Breit-bart was best"). Macedonians would've happily copied anti-Trump fake news too, he said. "Unfortunately, there weren't any good U.S. pro-Clinton fake-news sites to copy and paste."

That was exactly how the right-wing-media ecosystem worked during the 2016 campaign, explains Yochai Benkler, who directs the Berkman-Klein Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard. After the election, he and his colleagues mapped about 2 million campaign-news stories. He found that far-right-media outlets were organized extremely tightly around Breitbart and, to a lesser degree, "The right paid attention to right-wing sites, and the more right-wing they were, the more attention they got," Benkler says. More extreme sites would distort and exaggerate the claims, but they would use a "relatively- credible source" such as Breitbart as a validator. "Because they were repeated not only on the very far-fringe sites but also by sites that are at the center of this cluster, the right-wing disinformation circulated and amplified very quickly." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


A Russian Journalist Explains How the Kremlin Instructed Him to Cover the 2016 Election (Ryan Lizza, November 22, 2017, The New Yorker)

In his telling, it was the 2011-2012 protests in Moscow that changed everything. Those protests, which Putin blamed on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spooked the Russian President, according to Skorobutov. "People were imprisoned. Media were taken under control of the State. Censorship introduced," he said. "It was a point of reflection for me. The state was against its people. Human freedoms, including freedom of speech, were gradually eliminated." (Others would note that this is a self-serving chronology, as Putin's dismantling of democracy began long before 2011, and that Skorobutov remained at state TV through the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, when Russian media propaganda was especially noxious.)

After the suppression of the 2012 protests, Skorobutov said, he became increasingly disturbed by his role in "helping the state to create this new and unpleasant reality," resigned his job as the press secretary at the Russian Geographical Society, and began looking for a new job, but without any luck.

As is often the case with state censorship, the workings of Kremlin-controlled media, as Skorobutov described them, were far more subtle than is popularly imagined. He described a system that depended on a news staff that knew what issues to avoid and what issues to highlight rather than one that had every decision dictated to it. "We knew what is allowed or forbidden to broadcast," he explained. Any event that included Putin or the Russian Prime Minister "must be broadcast," while events such as "terroristic attacks, airplane crashes, arrests of politicians and officials" had to be approved by the news director or his deputy. He offered a list of embargoed subjects: "critique of the State, coming from inside or outside of Russia; all kinds of social protests, strikes, discontent of people and so on; political protests and opposition leaders, especially Alexey Navalny," an anti-corruption figure despised by the Kremlin. Skorobutov said that he overcame censorship rules and convinced his network to cover stories only twice: for a story about a protest against the construction of a Siberian chemical plant and for one about the food poisoning of children at a kindergarten.

During the 2016 election, the directions from the Kremlin were less subtle than usual. "Me and my colleagues, we were given a clear instruction: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way," he said in his speech. In a later interview, he explained to me how the instructions were relayed. "Sometimes it was a phone call. Sometimes it was a conversation," he told me. "If Donald Trump has a successful press conference, we broadcast it for sure. And if something goes wrong with Clinton, we underline it."

Skorobutov said in his speech that the pro-Trump perspective extended from Kremlin-controlled media to the Moscow élite.

"There was even a slogan among Russian political élite," he said. " 'Trump is our president.' 

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM

THAT '70's SHOW:

Poll: Voters Not Interested in Tax Plan (Lisa Mascaro, 11/24/17, Tribune)

Republicans are investing enormous amounts of political capital and dollars to pump up support for their tax bill in a risky, last-ditch legislative undertaking ahead of next year's midterm elections.

A group aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has spent $20 million so far on ads and outreach in communities across the nation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is set to fast-track the bill through the chamber next week.

The problem is, voters just don't seem to be that interested.

Polls show most Americans view the tax bill as benefiting the wealthy and corporations, skeptical that it would do much for middle-class taxpayers. Outside analyses of the bill echo those assessments despite revisions.

The economy is and has been booming, taxes never go up, and deflation stretches your paycheck for you.  

November 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Galapagos finches caught in act of becoming new species (Rory Galloway, 11/23/17, BBC)

In 1981, the researchers noticed the arrival of a male of a non-native species, the large cactus finch.

Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant noticed that this male proceeded to mate with a female of one of the local species, a medium ground finch, producing fertile young. [...]

In the past, it was thought that two different species must be unable to produce fertile offspring in order to be defined as such. But in more recent years, it has been established that many birds and other animals that we consider to be unique species are in fact able to interbreed with others to produce fertile young.

"We tend not to argue about what defines a species anymore, because that doesn't get you anywhere," said Prof Butlin.

Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Hezbollah hails PM's suspension of resignation (Middle East Online, 11/23/17)

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah organisation on Thursday welcomed Prime Minister Saad Hariri's decision to suspend his resignation pending talks, after he returned from a mysterious, nearly three-week-long stay abroad. [...]

Hezbollah's parliamentary group said in a statement that the party was "very satisfied with the political developments".

"The return of the head of government, his positive comments and the consultations offer a glimpse of a return to normalcy," it said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


The Mayflower Compact's relevance to us today (Keene Sentinel, Nov 23, 2011)

 Consider the actual language:

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."

The meaning of those words that principally resonates today is this: We are all in the same boat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Motorcycle crashes are alarmingly common -- and incredibly costly (MEGAN THIELKING @meggophone NOVEMBER 20, 2017, STAT)
Here's a deeper look at the analysis, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

Motorcycle accidents are far more common than car accidents, relatively speaking. There were 2,194 motorcycle injuries each year per 100,000 registered motorcycles. That's triple the rate of automobile injury.

Those injuries were far more serious. There were 125 severe injuries each year per 100,000 motorcycles, compared to just 12 severe injuries per 100,000 cars. People injured in motorcycle accidents were much more likely than those injured in car crashes to be hospitalized. They were also more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

Motorcycle crashes are more often deadly. There were 14 deaths per year for every 100,000 motorcycles, compared to three deaths per 100,000 cars.

The mean cost of a motorcycle injury was $5,825. The mean cost of an automobile accident was $2,995.

Those numbers might be underestimating the costs. The study only followed people for 30 days after they were treated for an injury, which means the numbers don't take rehabilitation or other types of continuing care into account.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


THE FUTURE OF AMERICA'S SUBURBS LOOKS INFINITE (Joel Kotkin and Alan Berger 11/20/2017, New Geography)

Less than a decade since the housing crisis, notes demographer Wendell Cox, barely 1.3 percent of metropolitan regions live in the urban cores we associate with places like New York City, Boston, Washington or San Francisco.

Counting the inner ring communities built largely before 1950, the urban total rises to some 15 percent, leaving the vast majority of the population out in the periphery. More important still, the suburban areas have continued to grow faster than the more inner-city areas. Since 2010, the urban core has accounted for .8 percent of all population growth and the entire inner ring roughly 10 percent; all other growth has occurred in suburban and exurban areas.

Much of this has been driven by migration patterns. In 2016, core counties lost roughly over 300,000 net domestic migrants while outlying areas gained roughly 250,000. Increasingly, millennials seek out single-family homes; rather than the predicted glut of such homes, there's a severe shortage. Geographer Ali Modarres notes that minorities, the primary drivers of American population growth in the new century, now live in suburbs.

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The Real Refugees of Casablanca : When it came to gathering refugees, the waiting room of the U.S. consulate was probably the closest thing to Rick's Café Américain. (Meredith Hindley, November 2017, Longreads)

On Thanksgiving Day, 1942, an audience stuffed full of holiday cooking settled into the plush seats at the Hollywood Theatre on New York's Fifty-First Street to watch the premiere of Casablanca, a new film from Warner Brothers. During the summer, the studio had finished shooting the movie, which featured noir favorite Humphrey Bogart and up-and-coming Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, and made plans to release it in early 1943. With few Americans knowing Casablanca was a city in French Morocco -- let alone how to find it on a map -- the studio banked on audiences' love of wartime intrigue, along with the star power of Bogart and castmates Claude Rains and Paul Henreid, to sell the film.

But on November 8, reports began to trickle in that the Americans and British had launched Operation TORCH with the goal of seizing Algeria and French Morocco from Vichy France. The assault was a new phase in the war against Nazi Germany, one designed to help the Soviets, who fought a bloody battle against the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Over the next few days, headlines and radio reports buzzed about the fighting in and around Casablanca, as the U.S. Navy battled the French fleet and 33,000 American soldiers stormed Moroccan beaches under the command of Major General George S. Patton, Jr.

Warner Brothers could hardly believe its luck -- it had a movie in the can about a city that had just become the site of a major Allied victory. The studio couldn't buy that kind of publicity. Rather than premiering the film in 1943, Warner Brothers hastily arranged a screening in New York on November 26, 1942, two weeks after the French surrendered Casablanca to the Americans.

As the lights went down, viewers were thrust into cinematic Casablanca, an exotic city teeming with refugees, collaborators, and resistance fighters. They meet Rick Blaine, a jaded barman and sometimes gun runner; Ilsa Lund, an idealistic young woman torn between duty and love; and Victor Laszlo, a magnetic resistance leader anxious to evade the Nazis. Seeking a way to leave Casablanca, Victor and Ilsa find their way to Rick's Café Américain and inquire about purchasing two letters of transit, which would allow them to depart for Lisbon and then possibly, for America. Captain Louis Renault, a Vichy officer, also seeks the letters, which have been pilfered from the bodies of two dead German couriers. The Nazis soon arrive on the scene to threaten Victor with imprisonment in a concentration camp. But Ilsa's past relationship with Rick, however, may seal Victor's fate.

If audience members didn't become verklempt watching Victor lead the patrons of Rick's Café Américain in a stirring rendition of "La Marseillaise," they received another opportunity when the lights came up. Before the premiere, members of the Free French had marched down Fifth Avenue, and at the end of the movie, they assembled on stage and belted out the revolutionary anthem in front of a flag emblazoned with the Cross of Lorraine. "The occasion took the tone of a patriotic rally rather than the premiere of a timely motion picture," noted the Hollywood Reporter. Sentiments about Vichy France ran deep -- even in New York.

The Free French who raised their voices that day embraced the movie as a condemnation of the bastard regime that collaborated with the Nazis, but it's the plight of the refugees who find themselves in Casablanca and the choices they face that drives the movie's plot. Despite being the product of Hollywood backlot magic, the film contains elements of truth about how these refugees came to be stranded in a North African colonial city thousands of miles from their homes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


A Split From Trump Indicates That Flynn Is Moving to Cooperate With Mueller (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MATT APUZZO and MAGGIE HABERMAN, NOVEMBER 23, 2017, NY Times)

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, notified the president's legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel's investigation, according to four people involved in the case, an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating such a deal.

Mr. Flynn's lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump's lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

That agreement has been terminated, the four people said. Defense lawyers frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest. It is unethical for lawyers to work together when one client is cooperating with prosecutors and another is still under investigation.

The Trumpies are so inept, even Ty Cobb is batting .000

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


EXCLUSIVE: WHAT TRUMP REALLY TOLD KISLYAK AFTER COMEY WAS CANNED : During a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, the president betrayed his intelligence community by leaking the content of a classified, and highly sensitive, Israeli intelligence operation to two high-ranking Russian envoys, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. This is what he told them--and the ramifications. (HOWARD BLUM. NOVEMBER 22, 2017, vANITY fAIR)

It was against this reassuring backdrop of recent successes and shared history, an Israeli source told Vanity Fair, that a small group of Mossad officers and other Israeli intelligence officials took their seats in a Langley conference room on a January morning just weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump. The meeting proceeded uneventfully; updates on a variety of ongoing classified operations were dutifully shared. It was only as the meeting was about to break up that an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had "leverages of pressure" over Trump, he declared without offering further specifics, according to a report in the Israeli press. Israel, the American officials continued, should "be careful" after January 20--the date of Trump's inauguration. It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians. A moment later the officials added what many of the Israelis had already deduced: it was reasonable to presume that the Kremlin would share some of what they learned with their ally Iran, Israel's most dangerous adversary.

Currents of alarm and anger raced through those pres­ent at the meeting, says the Israeli source, but their superiors in Israel remained unconvinced--no supporting evidence, after all, had been provided--and chose to ignore the prognostication.

The covert mission into the forbidden plains of northern Syria was a "blue and white" undertaking, as Israel, referring to the colors of its flag, calls ops that are carried out solely by agents of the Jewish state.

Yet--and this is an ironclad operational rule--getting agents in and then swiftly out of enemy territory under the protection of the nighttime darkness can be accomplished only if there is sufficient reconnaissance: the units need to know exactly where to strike, what to expect, what might be out there waiting for them in the shadows. For the mission last winter that targeted a cell of terrorist bombers, according to ABC News, citing American officials, the dangerous groundwork was done by an Israeli spy planted deep inside ISIS territory. Whether he was a double agent Israel had either turned or infiltrated into the ISIS cell, or whether he was simply a local who'd happened to stumble upon some provocative information he realized he could sell--those details remain locked in the secret history of the mission.

What is apparent after interviews with intelligence sources both in Israel and the U.S. is that on the night of the infiltration the helicopters carrying the blue-and-white units came down several miles from their target. Two jeeps bearing Syrian Army markings were unloaded, the men hopped in, and, hearts racing, they drove as if it had been the most natural of patrols into the pre-dawn stillness of an enemy city.

"A shadow unit of ghosts" is what the generals of Aman, Israel's military-intelligence organization, envisioned when they set up Sayeret Matkal. And on this night the soldiers fanned out like ghosts in the shadows, armed and on protective alert, as the Mossad tech agents did their work.

Again, the operational details are sparse, and even contradictory. One source said the actual room where the ISIS cell would meet was spiked, a tiny marvel of a microphone placed where it would never be noticed. Another maintained that an adjacent telephone junction box had been ingeniously manipulated so that every word spoken in a specific location would be overheard.

The sources agree, however, that the teams got in and out that night, and, even before the returning choppers landed back in Israel, it was confirmed to the jubilant operatives that the audio intercept was already up and running.

Now the waiting began. From an antenna-strewn base near the summit of the Golan Heights, on Israel's border with Syria, listeners from Unit 8200 monitored the transmissions traveling across the ether from the target in northern Syria. Surveillance is a game played long, but after several wasted days 8200's analysts were starting to suspect that their colleagues had been misinformed, possibly deliberately, by the source in the field. They were beginning to fear that all the risk had been taken without any genuine prospect of reward.

Then what they'd been waiting for was suddenly coming in loud and clear, according to Israeli sources familiar with the operation: it was, as a sullen spy official described it, "a primer in constructing a terror weapon." With an unemotional precision, an ISIS soldier detailed how to turn a laptop computer into a terror weapon that could pass through airport security and be carried on board a passenger plane. ISIS had obtained a new way to cause airliners to explode suddenly, free-falling from the sky in flames. When the news of this frightening ISIS lecture arrived at Mossad's headquarters outside Tel Aviv, officials quickly decided to share the field intelligence with their American counterparts. The urgency of the highly classified information trumped any security misgivings. Still, as one senior Israeli military official suggested, the Israeli decision was also egged on by a professional vanity: they wanted their partners in Washington to marvel at the sort of impossible missions they could pull off.

They did. It was a much-admired, as well as appreciated, gift--and it scared the living hell out of the American spymasters who received it.

On the cloudy spring morning of May 10, just an uneasy day after the president's sudden firing of F.B.I. director James B. Comey, who had been leading the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, a beaming President Trump huddled in the Oval Office with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak.

And, no less improbably, Trump seemed not to notice, or feel restrained by, the unfortunate timing of his conversation with Russian officials who were quite possibly co-conspirators in a plot to undermine the U.S. electoral process. Instead, full of a chummy candor, the president turned to his Russian guests and blithely acknowledged the elephant lurking in the room. "I just fired the head of the F.B.I.," he said, according to a record of the meeting shared with The New York Times. "He was crazy, a real nut job." With the sort of gruff pragmatism a Mafia don would use to justify the necessity of a hit, he further explained, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." Yet that was only the morning's perplexing prelude. What had been an unseemly conversation between the president and two high-ranking Russian officials soon turned into something more dangerous.

"I get great intel," the president suddenly boasted, as prideful as if he were bragging about the amenities at one of his company's hotels. "I have people brief me on great intel every day."

He quickly went on to share with representatives of a foreign adversary not only the broad outlines of the plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs but also at least one highly classified operational detail--the sort of sensitive, locked-in-the-vault intel that was not shared with even Congress or friendly governments. The president did not name the U.S. partner who had spearheaded the operation. (Journalists, immediately all over the astonishing story, would soon out Israel). But, more problematic, President Trump cavalierly identified the specific city in ISIS-held territory where the threat had been detected.

The only safe assumption anyone can make is that Donald is an active Russian asset.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


The Nationalist's Delusion : Trump's supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination. (ADAM SERWER, NOV 20, 2017, The Atlantic)

Duke's strong showing, however, wasn't powered merely by poor or working-class whites--and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke "clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers," The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke's popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had "one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession," The Post stated.

By accepting the economic theory of Duke's success, the media were buying into the candidate's own vision of himself as a savior of the working class. He had appealed to voters in economic terms: He tore into welfare and foreign aid, affirmative action and outsourcing, and attacked political-action committees for subverting the interests of the common man. He even tried to appeal to black voters, buying a 30-minute ad in which he declared, "I'm not your enemy."

Duke's candidacy had initially seemed like a joke. He was a former Klan leader who had showed up to public events in a Nazi uniform and lied about having served in the Vietnam War, a cartoonishly vain supervillain whose belief in his own status as a genetic Übermensch was belied by his plastic surgeries. The joke soon soured, as many white Louisiana voters made clear that Duke's past didn't bother them.

Many of Duke's voters steadfastly denied that the former Klan leader was a racist. The St. Petersburg Times reported in 1990 that Duke supporters "are likely to blame the media for making him look like a racist." The paper quoted G. D. Miller, a "59-year-old oil-and-gas lease buyer," who said, "The way I understood the Klan, it's not anti-this or anti-that."

Duke's rejoinder to the ads framing him as a racist resonated with his supporters. "Remember," he told them at rallies, "when they smear me, they are really smearing you." [...]

A few days after Duke's strong showing, the Queens-born businessman Donald Trump appeared on CNN's Larry King Live.

"It's anger. I mean, that's an anger vote. People are angry about what's happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they're really in deep trouble," Trump told King.

Trump later predicted that Duke, if he ran for president, would siphon most of his votes away from the incumbent, George H. W. Bush--in the process revealing his own understanding of the effectiveness of white-nationalist appeals to the GOP base.

"Whether that be good or bad, David Duke is going to get a lot of votes. Pat Buchanan--who really has many of the same theories, except it's in a better package--Pat Buchanan is going to take a lot of votes away from George Bush," Trump said. "So if you have these two guys running, or even one of them running, I think George Bush could be in big trouble." Little more than a year later, Buchanan embarrassed Bush by drawing 37 percent of the vote in New Hampshire's Republican primary.

In February 2016, Trump was asked by a different CNN host about the former Klan leader's endorsement of his Republican presidential bid.

"Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. Okay?," Trump said. "I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know."

Less than three weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump declared himself "the least racist person you have ever met."

Even before he won, the United States was consumed by a debate over the nature of his appeal. Was racism the driving force behind Trump's candidacy? If so, how could Americans, the vast majority of whom say they oppose racism, back a racist candidate?

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate's remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans--those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue--had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters' most profound beliefs--combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump's supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation--outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety--to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump's most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.

Shame is, after all, a conservative construct.  Accept that there is no such thing as morality and there is no basis for shame.

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Islamic State beheads 15 of its own fighters: Afghan official (Reuters, 11/23/17) 

Islamic State beheaded 15 of its own fighters due to infighting in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, officials said, while a separate suicide attack on Thursday tore into a crowd in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, killing at least eight.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Trump, CNN, and the Corruption of Conservatism (NOAH ROTHMAN, NOV. 22, 2017, Commentary)

On Monday, Trump's DOJ announced that it would sue to prevent the "vertical merger" between AT&T, a content distributor, and Time Warner, a content provider and the company that owns CNN. It was a strange decision by an administration that has so far been unflappably friendly toward big business. It contradicts a move by the FCC last week, which made it easier for local-market media companies to consolidate by doing away with dated ownership restrictions. What's more, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted, this is the first effort by the Justice Department to sue to block a vertical merger since 1977's United States v. Hammermill Paper Co., which the government lost.

In a recent interview predating the DOJ's announcement, the Trump administration's top antitrust regulator, Makan Delrahim, insisted that politics must not interfere with enforcement matters. "That would be antithetical to everything I've stood for," he said, adding that the government could risk upsetting the marketplace by issuing abrupt changes to standing U.S. antitrust legal theory. Usually, the government seeks an out-of-court settlement that would mitigate a vertical deal's potentially negative consequences for consumers and competitors. Not in this case. For Trump, this deal must not go through.

He said as much himself. "I'm not going to get involved in litigation," Trump declared before promptly involving himself in litigation. "Personally," he added in the same breath, "I've always felt that was a deal that's not good for the country." Delrahim has since changed his tune on the potential threat to the marketplace posed by abrupt and seemingly arbitrary shifts in its antitrust theory. "[T]here is an instinctive reaction to big business these days," Delrahim said in the interview he now insists was taken out of context. "There are people who think big is just bad." Yes, those people are called liberals.

In January, a group of 13 Democratic senators signed a letter indicating that they were skeptical of how an AT&T/Time Warner merger would "serve the public interest." Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Cory Booker, and others demanded that these two companies demonstrate how their joining would benefit consumers and serve the "broader policy goals of the Communications Act."

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Rep. Joe Barton Apologizes After Lewd Photo Becomes Public (MAGGIE PENMAN, 11/23/17, NPR)

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, apologized to his constituents in a statement Wednesday for a lewd photo of him that was published anonymously Tuesday on Twitter. The congressman said that he sent the photo to a woman he was in a consensual relationship with while separated from his second wife.

"I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down," the statement read.

According to The Washington Post, Barton threatened to report the woman to the Capitol Police if any explicit materials became public. The Post reports that in a recorded phone call from 2015, he warned her against using the material "in a way that would negatively affect [his] career."

...why are we supposed to protect people from their decision to create the porn in the first place? Keep your junk hidden like a decent human being.

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


Sadat to Salman: Israel at the expense of Palestine (Marwan Bishara, 11/23/17, Al Jazeera)

The attraction between the Wahabi and Zionist leaders may be neither halal nor kosher, but it's nonetheless strong and getting stronger. And it's nothing new.

Their rapprochement is born out of necessity and driven, primarily, by mutual aversion rather than mutual attraction: aversion to the Iranian regime and fear of its expanding influence in the region. As those feelings grow, so does their relationship, in accordance with the realist proverb: my enemy's enemy is my friend.

Indeed, US President Donald Trump noticed with great satisfaction the "really good feeling towards Israel" in Saudi Arabia after his May visit to both countries. Since then he's been godfathering a trilateral arrangement with Israel and Saudi Arabia to confront Iran's "fanatical regime"and its regional aggression.

The Trump administration will fail to produce a credible and comprehensive peace strategy.
In an interview with the Saudi publication Elaph earlier this month - yet another sign of normalisation - Israel's military chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, explained how Iran threatens both Saudi Arabia and Israel through not one but two parallel (Shia) crescents of influence that cross the region. To the north, one goes through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea; and to the south, a second goes through the Gulf region, Yemen and to the banks of the Red Sea.

Marriages of convenience have been built on much less. 

Judging from their public declarations, Israelis are terribly impatient. They want to take the Saudi relationship to a whole new level; they want to "go steady" and they want to come out. And they want it yesterday. Their generation-old (wet) dream of public strategic engagement with moderate Sunni Arab regimes is finally coming true.

Israel has everything to gain and, if it can help it, nothing to lose, from the normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. It could see its relations improve dramatically with many of the other 55 Muslim-majority countries, just as it saw a huge spike in its diplomatic and economic relations around the world after the 1993 Oslo Accords, including with the likes of Jordan and Qatar. Doha shut down Israel's trade office in the Gulf country in 2009 after the Israeli offensive on Gaza.

For Israel, shared strategic interests and shared goals with Saudi Arabia should suffice to normalise their relations and strengthen their union. 

Opposed to them are those whose shared interest is self-determination for Arab peoples : the US and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Scientists Genetically Engineer a Form of Gluten-Free Wheat : Removing disease-causing proteins from the grain could make it safe for celiacs to consume (Yasemin Saplakoglu, November 23, 2017, Scientific American)

Genetically modified crops are the subject of fierce debate around the world; some countries, including France and Germany, outlaw their cultivation. The biggest concern involves the practice of inserting DNA from one species into another, says Francisco Barro, a plant biotechnologist at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Spain. To avoid this genetic crossover, Barro and his colleagues used the gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 to cut selected genes from a wheat genome.

Their study zeroed in on alpha-gliadins, gluten proteins believed to be wheat's major troublemakers in the immune system. The researchers designed bits of genetic material that directed the scissorlike Cas9 protein to cut out 35 of the 45 alpha-gliadin genes. When the modified wheat was tested in a petri dish, it produced an 85 percent weaker immune response, the team reported online in September in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

When your phoney-baloney gluten intolerance collides with your GMO hysteria....

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM



Having moved over from England a few years ago, Thanksgiving has taught me what it actually means to be American.

From the outside, all that most foreigners see of America is a stereotypically brash, greedy "number one!" mentality, with a giant soda-drinking mouse mascot, overly padded sportsmen, and an earnest desire to police the world. Sure -- you win lots of medals at all the Olympics. Congratulations! But is there any real need to be quite so LOUD about it?

At first, I was puzzled about why this holiday was even a thing -- with Christmas around the corner, why have two turkey-based holiday dinners in the space of two months? And WHY ON EARTH are we serving peas in vinegar and a whole artichoke? Where are the roast potatoes?

How naïve I was. I have worked out a few things since then (including the fact that most Americans don't eat turkey on December 25th, that's a British quirk.)

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


'Cheers' Has The Greatest (And Messiest) Thanksgiving Episode Of All Time (Brett White, Nov 23, 2017, Decider)

Written by Cheri Eichen and Bill Steinkellner and directed by multi-cam master James Burrows, "Thanksgiving Orphans" is a delicious sitcom turkey stuffed with the holiday spirit. It checks off all the holiday boxes while also saying something really profound about family-and there are also a dozen or more A+ jokes that hold up 31 Thanksgivings later.

As the title implies, this Cheers episode brings the entire cast together for a holiday dinner after they all realize they have nowhere else to go. Carla's (Rhea Perlman) kids are with their father, Frasier's (Kelsey Grammer) alone and bitter, Cliff's (John Ratzenberger) mom is volunteering at the rescue mission, and Woody's (Woody Harrelson) spending his first Thanksgiving away from home (if you don't count last year). Others have a place to be (Sam has a date on Thanksgiving!), but they would rather spend the day with their friends. Norm (George Wendt) just wants to get away from his in-laws' no-fun-zone (there's no beer, no TV and the heat is turned up to 80). Diane (Shelley Long), excited that she's been invited to spend the holiday with a stuffy professor she's keen on impressing, suggests that Carla host dinner for everyone else. Carla obliges, even allowing her archenemy Cliff to come over for yams (so long as he never tells anyone).

Plenty of sitcoms focus on friends and found families, and those resonate with me way more than any of the TGIF shows. But Cheers feels different from, say, Friends. The characters in Cheers really don't have anything in common outside of a place, whereas most of the Friends are lifelong buds and, in some cases, literal family. Would Woody and Carla ever hang out were it not for this bar? Or Frasier and Norm, or Cliff and Diane? The characters of Cheers are bonded together by a place. They're a subtly disparate bunch, a fact you don't consider until they're off their common ground. And just like IRL Thanksgivings, this episode, plucks everyone out of their comfort zone and drops them in a new context: Carla's house.

Once the episode relocates, the characters start to slowly fall into a familial rhythm. Carla plays host in her own aggressive way while her guests sit on the couch and alternate between football games and the parade. There's even a moment where Cliff musses a wonder-filled Woody's hair, a fatherly gesture between two men that are usually bartender and patron.

Now that they're spending a holiday together, these characters are connecting. Woody even asks "Who needs family?" Frasier responds with the episode's entire thesis, stating that family is more than just blood relations. That proves to be true as the rest of the cast shows up, having been abandoned by their plans. Norm couldn't convince Vera to come to Carla's, even though he said this was important to him. Sam (Ted Danson) shows up stag because his date's sister showed up in town (and they weren't into his suggestion of how to spend Thanksgiving). They're welcomed into Carla's house and immediately start drinking beer and subconsciously fighting over the TV-and then this makeshift family's "nutty old aunt" shows up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


...the End of History and the Deep State, which make our noisily partisan politics almost completely meaningless.

When historians of our era write, the thing they will emphasize is that an Evangelical Democrat, a New Deal Republican, a Realist liberal Republican, a conservative Democrat, an Evangelical Republican, a liberal Democrat and a Nationalist all oversaw virtually identical economic regimes.  And the triumph of capitalism, protestantism and democracy has been so comprehensive that the rest of the world has been converging on that same regime for those forty years.

The result is compelling, Chart of the day: US trade deficits vs. US household net worth -- they've risen in tandem over the last half century (Mark J. Perry, 11/13/17, AEI Ideas)

As can be seen in the chart, the steady increase in the US trade deficit over the last nearly half-century to a peak of $770 billion in 2006 before falling to an average of about $525 billion during the last seven years has been accompanied by a steady increase in the value of US household net worth, which has increased nearly four-fold in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1970. In dollar terms, America's household net worth last year rose to another fresh record high of almost $90 trillion, which is an average of more than $700,000 per US household and represents the total value of all household assets (real estate, vehicles, stock, savings, mutual funds, bonds, consumer durable goods, etc.) minus all debt (mortgages, car loans, consumer credit, etc.).

Thanks to the stock market rally to all-time record highs this year, household net worth topped $96 trillion in Q2 of this year, which was an $8.2 billion (and 9%) increase over a year ago. 

Why the world is more at peace (The Monitor's Editorial Board, JUNE 1, 2017, CS Monitor)

The causes of violence vary and are numerous. And scholars have long debated if humans are innately violent or peaceful. But Steven Pinker, the Harvard University scholar and author of the 2011 book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," says societies are becoming more "enmeshed" and seeking "a higher good," resulting in less violence.

Building on his work, a team of Spanish scientists published a study in the journal Nature last year that found a marked drop in violence over the past 500 years. The research estimates about 2 percent of prehistoric humans died from violence. But as societies became better organized, and handed over the control of violence to police, courts, and elected officials, the rate has fallen far below 1 percent. They attribute the decline to better "cultural practices."

Is democracy in a worldwide decline? Nope. Here's our data. (Mélida Jiménez November 15, 2017, Washington Post)

Data from the Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy show that in 2016, no less than 68 percent of the world's countries -- home to 62.2 percent of the world population -- government power is determined by genuinely contested elections. That's actually an increase from 62 percent in 2006. What's more, 56 percent of the democracies established after 1975 have not seen democratic reversals. No country with over 40 years of electoral democracy -- with the prominent exception of Venezuela -- has slid back into nondemocratic governance. Democracy remains the most widespread and legitimate form of government.

As Americans, we'd like to believe that those ideas that drive the Anglospheric consensus are so compelling that they'd be worth adopting regardless, but the fact that they've been so successful certainly hasn't hurt.

And the combination of their beauty and efficacy has made it so that our institutions are pretty nearly impervious to attempted deviations from the norm.  Even a president who despises America and those ideas can do nothing much to contravene them.  Donald Trump should be removed from office for moral/aesthetic reasons, not for existential ones.  But, in the meantime, he simply does not matter.  

This year we are particularly thankful that God has a Special Providence for America while also being cognizant of the fact that, unlike His grace,, we've earned it.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

The partisan divide in America is widening : But on some issues, and across party lines, agreement is growing (Democracy in America, Nov 22nd 2017, The Economist)

For all that Republicans and Democrats may increasingly dislike each other, meanwhile, the partisan divide over attitudes towards other social groupings is shrinking. Only 3% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans believe that increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in America makes the country a worse place to live. The proportion of Republican supporters who see immigrants as a burden on the country has fallen from 64% in 1994 to 44% today, which means that a majority in both parties now have positive views towards migrants. Democrats profess greater tolerance of sexual minorities, but the percentage of Republicans who think homosexuality should be accepted, at 54%, now matches the percentage of Democrats who favoured tolerance in 1994. According to analysis of the General Social Survey by Landon Schnabel and Eric Sevell of Indiana University, Republicans are also moving towards acceptance of gay marriage at similar rates to Democrats, if from a lower base level of support.   

On the importance of racism in determining outcomes for African Americans, partisan disagreement remains. Yet most supporters of the Republican Party back affirmative action (along with 84% of Democrats). Because of shifting attitudes that have spread across partisan divides, Gallup surveys also report that 87% of people backed inter-racial marriage by 2013; more recent statistics show 73% of Americans back divorce and 69% find unmarried sex morally acceptable. That suggests that whatever the marital history, colour, nationality or gender of the partner that Americans turn at up at home with for Thanksgiving, they are more likely to be welcomed with open arms than in the past. 

There also seems to be an improvement in the way that Americans think their own lives are going. Some 86% of Republicans believe they are on the way to achieving the "American Dream" or have achieved it, along with 80% of Democrats. In 2017 the proportion of Americans who reported they were satisfied with the way their life was going reached 87%, up from 78% in 2011 and only one percentage point below the highest number reported since the poll question was first asked by Gallup in 1979.

Sad songs have become less common all over the world (Ephrat Livni, 11/23/17, Quartz)

Researchers from Indiana University-Bloomington performed analyzed about 90,000 songs in English from different genres (such as classic rock, pop, punk, metal, R&B, and religious) written by musicians around the world, published since 1950, and posted on They assessed the chords used in the songs and judged the emotional valence of lyrics using a common social-science scale that rates 222 different words on a scale of 1-9 in terms of their emotional positivity. "Love" for example is a high-valence word that rates a 9, while "pain" is a low-valence word that rates a 1.

It turns out that worldwide, moody tunes are on the decline.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Deep fat fryers may help form cooling clouds (Matt McGrath, 11/23/17, BBC)

Molecules from deep fat frying may have a cooling effect on the climate

Fatty acids released into the air from cooking may help form clouds that limit global warming, say scientists.

Researchers believe these molecules arrange themselves into complex 3-D structures in atmospheric droplets.

These aerosols persist for longer than normal and can seed the formation of clouds which experts say can have a cooling effect on the climate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Palestinian factions agree on elections in 2018 (Al Jazeera, 11/23/17)

Palestinian factions led by Fatah and Hamas have agreed to hold general elections no later than at the end of 2018, as part of the latest round of reconciliation talks held in Cairo.

In a statement released after the conclusion of the talks on Wednesday, representatives of the factions urged the Central Election Commission to complete preparations for the presidential and legislative elections by the end of next year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


How a homeless man's selfless act paid off in ways he couldn't imagine (PRISCILLA DEGREGORY & DANIKA FEARS, 11/23/17, NY Post)

A homeless man used the last $20 in his pocket to buy gas for a stranded motorist because he feared for her safety -- and what she did next changed his life.

Kate McClure, 27, and her boyfriend, Mark D'Amico, 38, made it their mission to get ex-Marine and firefighter Johnny Bobbit Jr. back on his feet with a fundraising campaign that has raised more than $65,000.

Bobbit came to McClure's aid last month, when she ran out of gas on I-95 at night while driving to meet a pal in Philadelphia.

As she walked toward the nearest gas station, he told her to get back in her car and lock the doors.

Bobbit then spent his last $20 to buy her gas so she would get home safe.

"He came back and I was almost in shock," McClure told The Post.

Bobbit asked for nothing in return -- but McClure and her boyfriend stopped by his spot several times in recent weeks, repaying him for the gas money and dropping off clothes.

"We went to Target and got him a big backpack filled with stuff, and he opened the granola bars and offered us one," she said. "We are like, 'We just got this for you.' He's extremely generous."

Touched by his selflessness, they started the fundraising campaign for Bobbit with a goal of $10,000 -- enough to cover "first and last month's rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4 to 6 months worth of expenses."

They had no idea it would climb toward $70,000.

"This is nuts," McClure said of the money they've raised through GoFundMe. "It has changed my entire outlook about people, my outlook about people has skyrocketed. It's the best Thanksgiving that I've ever had."

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


'The Bad Food Bible' Says Your Eating Might Not Be So Sinful After All (Weekend Edition Sunday, 11/19/17)

Dr. Aaron Carroll is the director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University and author of The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully. In it, he explains that there might be less evidence against some notoriously bad foods than we think. In fact, maybe we should be eating some of them more often.

Weekend Edition host Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Carroll about why "bad" food may not be so bad after all. Excerpts of the interview follow, edited for length and clarity.

You cover a lot of foods in your book that get a bad rap - butter, salt, diet soda and even alcohol. What's your main advice when it comes to these sinful eats?

I think the best thing you can do is realize is that the evidence base, all the data that's behind making you think these foods are bad for you, is pretty weak. And that if you just take some sensible ideas and try to eat in moderation and to not worry about it too much, you'll probably be much healthier and certainly much happier.

When you say that basically there's no evidence that some of these foods are bad, is all the information we've been getting for all these years wrong? Or is it just that people, doctors in particular, don't know what they're talking about?

It's a little bit of both. Part of it is that for a long time we've just had a very weak evidence base when it comes to nutrition. We take studies that are done in animals, or we take studies that can really only show us associations, and then we extrapolate them to make it out to be that there's causation, that we know these foods are making us unhealthy. ... At the end of the day there's just not as much evidence for demonizing these foods as people would have you believe.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Why Wind and Solar Energy Costs Aren't Dropping Like They Used To : The costs of renewable energy projects aren't coming down like they did a decade ago, but that may not be as bad as it seems. (Travis Hoium (TMFFlushDraw) Nov 17, 2017, Motley Fool)

Falling costs are good for renewables, but costs don't really need to fall to be competitive. Another part of Lazard's report shows that wind and solar energy are actually lower cost than coal, nuclear, diesel, and in some cases natural gas power plants. As a result, a slower pace of cost reductions may not matter for the wind and solar energy industries. They've already won the most important factor: cost per MWh. 

What may change adoption in the future is energy storage, which can make wind and solar energy 24/7 energy sources. According to Lazard, solar plus storage is already competitive at 8.2 cents per kWh ($82 per MWh) for utility-scale projects, so a future with even more renewable energy may not be far off. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


The Serial-Killer Detector : A former journalist, equipped with an algorithm and the largest collection of murder records in the country, finds patterns in crime. (Alec Wilkinson, 11/27/17, The New Yorker)

The F.B.I. believes that less than one per cent of the killings each year are carried out by serial killers, but Hargrove thinks that the percentage is higher, and that there are probably around two thousand serial killers at large in the U.S. "How do I know?" he said. "A few years ago, I got some people at the F.B.I. to run the question of how many murders in their records are unsolved but have been linked through DNA." The answer was about fourteen hundred, slightly more than two per cent of the murders in the files they consulted. "Those are just the cases they were able to lock down with DNA," Hargrove said. "And killers don't always leave DNA--it's a gift when you get it. So two per cent is a floor, not a ceiling."
Hargrove is sixty-one. He is tall and slender, with a white beard and a skeptical regard. He lives with his wife and son in Alexandria, Virginia, and walks eight miles a day, to Mount Vernon or along the Potomac, while listening to recordings of books--usually mystery novels. He was born in Manhattan, but his parents moved to Yorktown, in Westchester County, when he was a boy. "I lived near Riverside Drive until I was four," he said. "Then one day I showed my mom what I learned on the playground, which is that you can make a switchblade out of Popsicle sticks, and next thing I knew I was living in Yorktown."

Hargrove's father wrote technical manuals on how to use mechanical calculators, and when Hargrove went to college, at the University of Missouri, he studied computational journalism and public opinion. He learned practices such as random-digit-dialling theory, which is used to conduct polls, and he was influenced by "Precision Journalism," a book by Philip Meyer that encourages journalists to learn survey methods from social science. After graduating, in 1977, he was hired by the Birmingham Post-Herald, in Alabama, with the understanding that he would conduct polls and do whatever else the paper needed. As it turned out, the paper needed a crime reporter. In 1978, Hargrove saw his first man die, the owner of a convenience store who had been shot during a robbery. He reported on a riot that began after police officers shot a sixteen-year-old African-American girl. Once, arriving at a standoff, he was shot at with a rifle by a drunk on a water tower. The bullet hit the gravel near his feet and made a sound that "was not quite a plink." He also covered the execution of a man named John Lewis Evans, the first inmate put to death in Alabama after a Supreme Court abrogation of capital punishment in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. "They electrocuted people in Alabama in an electric chair called the Yellow Mama, because it was painted bright yellow," Hargrove said. "Enough time had passed since the last execution that no one remembered how to do it. The first time, too much current went through too small a conduit, so everything caught fire. Everyone was crying, and I had trouble sleeping for days after."

In 1990, Hargrove moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Scripps Howard, where, he said, "my primary purpose was to use numbers to shock people." Studying the Social Security Administration's Death Master File--"where we will all end up one day," Hargrove said--he noticed that some people were included for a given year and dropped a few years later: people who had mistakenly been declared dead. From interviews, he learned that these people often have their bank accounts suddenly frozen, can't get credit cards or mortgages, and are refused jobs because they fail background checks. Comparing a list of federal grants for at-risk kids in inner-city schools against Census Bureau Zip Codes, he found that two-thirds of the grants were actually going to schools in the suburbs. "He did all this through really clever logic and programming," Isaac Wolf, a former journalist who had a desk near Hargrove's, told me. "A combination of resourceful thinking and an innovative approach to collecting and analyzing data through shoe-leather work."

In 2004, Hargrove was assigned a story about prostitution. To learn which cities enforced laws against the practice and which didn't, he requested a copy of the Uniform Crime Report, an annual compilation published by the F.B.I., and received a CD containing the most recent report, from 2002. "Along with it, at no extra cost, was something that said 'S.H.R. 2002,' " he said. It was the F.B.I.'s Supplementary Homicide Report, which includes all the murders reported to the Bureau, listing the age, race, sex, and ethnicity of the victim, along with the method and circumstances of the killing. As Hargrove looked through it, "the first thing I thought was, I wonder if it's possible to teach a computer to spot serial victims." Hargrove said that for six years he told each of his editors at Scripps Howard that he wanted to find serial killers using a computer, and the response was always, "You're kidding, right?"

In 2007, Hargrove did an investigation into sids, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, after wondering why, according to the Centers for Disease Control's infant-mortality records, so many more babies in Florida died from accidental suffocation than did babies in California, even though California had many more babies. During the following year, Hargrove interviewed coroners and pathologists around the country. "A growing number of them began saying, 'To be honest, I might get in trouble for saying this, but sids doesn't exist as such,' " he said. Hargrove concluded that sids wasn't a diagnosis or a mysterious disease but the result of people putting babies in their cribs in such a way that they suffocated during sleep. Florida tended to attribute these deaths to accidental suffocation, California to sids. In the aftermath of his story, the C.D.C. created the Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Case Registry to evaluate each death. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey senator, met with Hargrove and then introduced the Sudden Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act, which President Obama signed in 2014. After the sids story, Hargrove's stock rose "insanely high in the newsroom," he said. 
He told his boss that he still wanted to try to teach a computer to detect serial killers, and this time his boss said, "You've got a year."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Combating the Spread of Ineffective Medical Procedures : A Lesson Learned From Multiple Sclerosis (Ari J. Green, MD, MAS1,2,3,4; Hooman Kamel, MD4,5,6; S. Andrew Josephson, MD1,2,7, 11/17, JAMA Neurol. )

The Information Age has had a staggering effect on the spread and democratization of knowledge. The increased availability of cutting-edge data has accelerated the speed of breakthroughs. Faster communication of major discoveries in science has highlighted the need for scientists and physicians to hone their skills at simple and clear communication of their newfound knowledge to the general public. In medicine, we have realized significant gains by broadening international collaboration and widening the audience for medical knowledge.

However, these advances have come at a cost. The value of expertise has at times been degraded, and the careful judicious review of data has sometimes been compromised in the effort to quickly circulate new findings to the largest possible audience. At times, preliminary concepts that might have previously helped catalyze new thinking--but that still should have been considered provisional--have been inappropriately regarded as signaling a paradigm shift, without the requisite opportunity for expert appraisal. This is an important danger that we need to address.

In 2009, Zamboni et al concurrently published 2 studies1,2 on venous stasis in multiple sclerosis (MS). As part of this work, Paolo Zamboni, MD, coined the term chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) to describe a phenomena of hypoplasia, intraluminal defects in the internal jugular and azygous veins, and an ill-defined concept that he termed compression. The first study1 described the CCSVI pattern and reported an extraordinarily high frequency of CCSVI findings in patients with all types of MS, with greater than 70% of patients harboring different CCSVI features (compared with 0% to 11% of controls). Zamboni et al1 also reported that patients with MS had a more than an 1100-fold increase in the odds of having reflux in their internal jugular or vertebral veins. A sister publication2 described the observed benefits of an open-label study for percutaneous balloon venoplasty in patients with MS with identified CCSVI. These publications together suggested that the field had overlooked the possibility that venous pooling in the central nervous system contributed to the pathogenesis of MS. Zamboni, who had begun his foray into MS research as an established expert in vascular disease and treatment, freely acknowledged in later press coverage that the experience his wife had with MS helped motivate him to help to do something transformational. [...]

In this issue of JAMA Neurology, Zamboni and colleagues12 report the results of their definitive randomized, double-blind sham-controlled clinical trial. This trial of 115 participants (of whom 76 were randomized to receive percutaneous transluminal venous angioplasty and 39 to receive a sham procedure) finds no benefit for "liberation treatment" for patients with MS, including no benefit in a disability outcome measure that included assessments of walking, balance, hand function, urinary function, and visual acuity. No benefit was seen for treated patients with regards to the percentage of patients who were free of new lesions or the number of new brain lesions observed. The disability outcome measure was novel and not the typical Expanded Disability Status Score or Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite score, but this option was intentionally chosen by the investigators out of concern that the standard measures of disability would be insensitive to possible benefits. The study was smaller than initially intended, but the results suggested absolutely no benefit to treatment, with the primary end point actually favoring the sham procedure. [...]

As clinicians, we owe it to patients to protect them from false advances without appropriate efficacy and safety data, but we are often confronted with a wave of pressure from referring physicians, hospitals, advocacy groups, and the patients themselves. Zamboni et al should be applauded for their clear-eyed evaluation12 of their earlier theory1,2 in a rigorous and definitive fashion. It is difficult to refute one's own prior findings, but the authors have used the right methods to test the CCSVI theory and have yielded an unequivocal result.

We have an epidemic in medicine of these types of stories. As with infectious disease outbreaks, we can best learn how to control spread of ill-advised communicable ideas by reviewing what went wrong in the last occurrence. Hopefully, the field can use this lesson to identify what can be done to inoculate ourselves against similar future events.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Thanksgiving and the Constitution (Carson Holloway, November 26th, 2013, The Public Discourse)

If we seek evidence of the broadly shared public view of the meaning of the Establishment Clause at the time of the Founding, we find not an insistence on strict separation of church and state but instead a largely uncontroversial willingness to see the government act in a non-coercive and non-discriminatory manner to encourage religious belief and practice.

This brings us to Thanksgiving and the country's tradition of presidential proclamations of thanksgiving. As Rehnquist observes in his Wallace dissent, the First Congress--the same Congress that Madison led in drafting the Establishment Clause--passed a resolution asking President George Washington to proclaim a day of thanksgiving for the nation. Washington complied, and his proclamation of October 3, 1789, is as clear an example as one could wish of government encouragement of religion.

Washington began by claiming that it is "the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor." He then proceeded to "recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be." To believe that the original understanding of the Establishment Clause requires strict separation of church and state, or utter government neutrality between religion and irreligion, we would have to believe that the first Congress and the first president pursued a line of conduct that was inconsistent with the Constitution they were then in the process of implementing.

In response, defenders of strict separation have argued that Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation does not necessarily shed any light on the founding generation's understanding of the Establishment Clause. After all, they point out, although the First Amendment was being crafted at the same time as Congress requested the Thanksgiving Proclamation, it was not ratified for another two years. Washington's Proclamation, then, was not a violation of the Constitution because the Constitution at that time did not include the Establishment Clause. Therefore, the fact that these founding statesmen did not seem to be conscious of anything unconstitutional in their actions does not necessarily shed light on the meaning of the yet-to-be formalized Establishment Clause.

This argument is clever but unpersuasive. Clearly, the first Congress passed the Establishment Clause--adding it to the nation's fundamental law--because they thought it would be deeply improper for Congress to make any law respecting an establishment of religion. If strict separationism is a correct interpretation of the founders' understanding, then we must believe that they thought, in addition, that any government promotion of religious belief--no matter how non-discriminatory and non-coercive--was also deeply improper.

If that was in fact their belief, it is not credible that they would have sought the Thanksgiving Proclamation as they did, even if the Amendment formally prohibiting what they thought deeply improper had not yet been ratified. It is hardly reasonable to think of the leading statesmen of the founding period as the kind of men to eagerly seize the chance to get away with something they disapproved of and were in the process of forbidding. They would no more have done so than they would have tried to use unreasonable searches and seizures or deprive citizens of the right to confront their accusers while the rest of the Bill of Rights was still pending before the states.

In any case, this argument is also undercut by the fact that Washington issued a very similar proclamation in 1795, after the First Amendment had been ratified and was an operative part of the Constitution. In this pronouncement, Washington once again reminded Americans of their "duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience." Once again, Washington went on to recommend "to all persons whomsoever" in the United States to set aside a specified day "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer."

Similar proclamations of days of thanksgiving were issued by Washington's successor in the presidency, John Adams. And while Jefferson declined to issue any during his presidency, even James Madison, Jefferson's partner in disapproval of governmental support for religion, issued them during his tenure as president. It may well be that Madison did so against his better judgment to placate the public's expectations. Those expectations, however, once again confirm that the dominant sense of the founding generation was that there was nothing constitutionally improper in a governmental exhortation to religious activity.

[originally posted : 11/27/13]
Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Two additional women accuse Al Franken of sexual misconduct (AP and Times of Israel, 11/23/17)

Two women are alleging that Minnesota Democratic US Senator Al Franken touched their buttocks during events for his first campaign for Senate, bringing the number of women leveling charges against the lawmaker to four.

The women spoke to Huffington Post on condition of anonymity, in an article published late Wednesday. The women said the events occurred in Minneapolis in 2007 and 2008.

The website said neither women was aware of the others' story, but both had been recounting the incidents privately for years.

Always fun when partisans argue that these guys deserve the benefit of the doubt for an isolated incident. The other shoes are always just waiting to drop.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


The Mayflower Compact and the seeds of American democracy (Jeff Jacoby, 11/21/17, The Boston Globe)

Something had to be done to keep the group united. That something turned out to be the Mayflower Compact, the foundation stone of American democracy.

That may sound like an absurdly grand claim for a document barely 200 words long and improvised in haste. It contained no laws or blueprint for the governance of their new settlement. Some of those who signed were illiterate and made their mark with an 'X'. Many of the signers would be dead within the year.

And yet the Mayflower Compact was something new under the sun. More than a jerry-built expedient to keep the group together, it established the first government in the New World based on the voluntary consent of the governed. Every free man on the ship was invited to sign -- including those who in England, as mere uneducated laborers, would have had no political rights. Virtually all of them did so, forming what the Compact called "a civill body politick" with the power to elect leaders and make "just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices" for the general good of the colony.

To be sure, the signers professed their loyalty to "our dread soveraigne Lord, King James." But they claimed authority to rule themselves not in the king's name, but from their own free will. The agreement they signed off Provincetown Harbor declared their intention to "covenant and combine our selves togeather" for the purpose of self-government. When each man "promise[d] all due submission and obedience," it was to the colony they were poised to launch in America, not to the throne back in London.

In just 200 words, the Mayflower Compact foreshadowed the themes that would be enshrined in the Declaration of Independence many decades later: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with basic rights, that government derives legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

More than 180 years later, future president John Quincy Adams regarded what the Pilgrims had done with awe. Their shipboard agreement, he said in 1802, "is, perhaps, the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government." What Locke and Rousseau would theorize about, the men on the Mayflower actually did: "Here was a unanimous and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to the association by which they became a nation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


Sexual Misconduct Claims Against President Trump (Meg Kelly, 11/22/17, The Washington Post)
Here's a list of 13 women who have publicly come forward with claims that Trump had physically touched them inappropriately in some way, and the witnesses they provided. We did not include claims that were made only through Facebook posts or other social media, or in lawsuits that subsequently were withdrawn. We also did not include the accounts of former beauty contestants who say Trump walked in on them when they were half nude because there were no allegations of touching. Trump had bragged on the Howard Stern show of his "inspections" during the pageants: "You know they're standing there with no clothes. Is everybody OK? And you see these incredible looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that."
Trump has been accused of rape and attempted rape a total of three times, once involving an alleged victim who was a year younger than Moore's accuser.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


US Jews have it easy, don't send kids to war, top diplomat Hotovely says (JTA, 11/23/17)

Israel's deputy foreign minister Tzipi] Hotovely decried her disinvitation earlier this month from the Princeton University Hillel because of her past comments on Israeli Arabs.  [...]

"The other issue is not understanding the complexity of the region," she said. "People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don't have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don't feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis."

The most dangerous anti-Semitism in the world today is a function of Israeli politics.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 AM


The Greatness of Thanksgiving (PETER LAWLER, NOVEMBER 27, 2013, Big Think)

13. The homelessness that Thanksgiving is supposed to counter is not the existential homelessness described by Pascal or Sartre. It's not the homelessness that causes us to long for regression into the womb. Or, for that matter, for a personal savior. It's the homelessness of a person separated from or otherwise deprived of family and friends. And so it's about gratitude for being with--knowing and loving with--those emotionally closest to us. It can also be gratitude for having found a new friend and being taken into a new home. My favorite Thanksgiving movie right at the moment is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, in which the Steve Martin character experiences the first kind of gratitude, enhanced by his gift to the John Candy character of the second kind.  It's the loneliness often captured by John Candy in film--and by Roy Orbison in song--that's the enemy of Thanksgiving.

14. The greatness of Thanksgiving is that it doesn't aspire to greatness, but only to the shared experiences that make living worth living for each one of us.

[originally posted : 11/28/13]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


Thanking the Puritans on Thanksgiving (With, of Course, the Help of Tocqueville) (Peter Lawler, 11/24/10, First Things)

There's little less fashionable today than praising the Puritans, especially for their egalitarian political idealism, their promotion of genuinely humane and liberating learning, and their capacity for enjoyment and human happiness. Praising the Puritans is especially difficult for us because even most of our Protestants have abandoned them. When a European calls us Puritanical we don't say, "yes, thanks a lot, you're right." Instead, we either deny it, saying we're way beyond those days. Or we admit it, saying that, "yes, we should be less capitalistic, less repressed, and more free thinking, just like you." But the truth is that the Puritans remain the chief source of the American difference-our ability to live freely and prosperously without unduly slighting the longings of our souls. It's the Puritans' idealism that made and even makes Americans civilized.

Tocqueville's Democracy in America almost begins by showing us how much our democracy owes the Puritans. [...]

[T]he Puritans established colonies without lords or masters --without, in fact, economic classes. They weren't out to get rich or even improve their economic condition; they were in no way driven by material necessity. They "belonged to the well-to-do-classes of the mother country" and would have been better off in the most obvious ways staying home. Their lives were structured by resources and by morality; they came to America as family men, bringing their wives and children. They were models of social virtue. They were also extremely educated men--on the cutting edge, in many ways, of European enlightenment. They were, Tocqueville observes, animated by "a purely intellectual need." They aimed "to make an idea triumph" in this world.

The Puritans were, in fact, singularly distinguished by the nobility of their idealistic, intellectual goal. They willingly imposed themselves to "the inevitable miseries of exile" to live and pray freely as they believed God intended. Those called "the pilgrims," Tocqueville observes, were that way because their "austere principles" caused them to be called Puritans. Their pure standards-their excessive claims for freedom from the alleged corruption of bodily need and pleasure-caused them to be insufferable to all the governments and societies now in existence. The Puritans always seem to others to be "enemies of pleasures" (DA,2,3,19).

Puritan principles could become real only in a new world carved out of the wilderness, where they are the founders of "a great people" of God. They had no choice, they thought, but to be "pious adventurers," combining the spirits of religion, morality, family, and education with something like the restlessness that drove other "small troop[s] of adventurers going to seek fortune beyond the seas." Unlike the Americans Tocqueville observed himself, their restlessness led them to their true home and didn't leave them isolated or disoriented.

The first Americans of the North chose exile in America not for prosperity or physical liberty, but to satisfy an intellectual need that has nothing to do with their bodies. The Virginians, by contrast, were extremely moved by singularly materialistic-really, criminal-pursuits. (Most colonies, Tocqueville notices, originate in the lawless greed characteristic of pirates.) But that's not to say the men of New England thought of themselves as too good or too pure for this world.

All those democratic political freedoms that we Americans often trace to the social contract theory of the philosopher Locke the Puritans adopted "without discussion and in fact." Being clearly derived from Biblical principle, they didn't depend on or exist merely in the speculative dialogue of the philosophers. Even the Americans Tocqueville saw for himself in his visit understood that accepting some religious dogma "without discussion" turns out to be an indispensable foundation of the effective exercise of political freedom.

Because the Puritan conception of political freedom wasn't based on the apolitical, selfish, rights-obsessed, and duty negligent Lockean individual, it both not only demanded virtuous civic participation but also connected political freedom with the creature's charitable duty to the unfortunate. It set a high or virtuous standard for political competence and incorruptibility, and it didn't seem to need to rely on institutions with teeth in them to restrain the spirit of faction and boundless ambition of leaders.

Peace, Love and Puritanism (DAVID D. HALL, 11/23/10, NY Times)
[I]n Hawthorne's day, some people realized that he had things wrong. Notably, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer who visited the United States in 1831. Tocqueville may not have realized that the colonists had installed participatory governance in the towns they were founding by the dozens. Yet he did credit them for the political system he admired in 19th-century America.

After all, it was the Puritans who had introduced similar practices in colony governments -- mandating annual elections, insisting that legislatures could meet even if a governor refused to summon a new session and declaring that no law was valid unless the people or their representatives had consented to it. Well aware of how English kings abused their powers of office, the colonists wanted to keep their new leaders on a short leash.

Tocqueville did not cite the churches that the colonists had organized, but he should have. Like most of their fellow Puritans in England, the colonists turned away from all forms of hierarchy. Out went bishops, out went any centralized governance; in came Congregationalism, which gave lay church members the power to elect and dismiss ministers and decide other major matters of policy. As many observed at the time, the Congregational system did much to transfer authority from the clergy to the people.

Contrary to Hawthorne's assertions of self-righteousness, the colonists hungered to recreate the ethics of love and mutual obligation spelled out in the New Testament. Church members pledged to respect the common good and to care for one another. Celebrating the liberty they had gained by coming to the New World, they echoed St. Paul's assertion that true liberty was inseparable from the obligation to serve others.

For this reason, no Puritan would have agreed with the ethic of "self-reliance" advanced by Hawthorne's contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Instead, people should agree on what was right, and make it happen.

Albert J. Nock

Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

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[originally posted: 11/24/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


An English Thanksgiving, 1942: American soldiers followed in the footsteps of 17th-century Pilgrims and sat in the pew of Miles Standish. (THOMAS FLEMING, 11/24/11, WSJ)

Helping to win them over was an extraordinary act of generosity very much in keeping with the spirit of the holiday. Merchant ships had carried tons of frozen turkey across the submarine-infested Atlantic for the big day. Then the Yanks announced they would donate all of it to the thousands of British war wounded in hospitals. Instead they would dine on roast pork and eat plum pudding for desert, alas without the standard rum sauce. "The quartermaster failed to deliver the rum," a newsman reported.

Americans also took advantage of their holiday abroad to walk in the footsteps of the Pilgrims who created the first Thanksgiving in the New England wilderness in 1621. One officer sat in the pew once occupied by the legendary Miles Standish, the Pilgrim's military leader, in the small parish church at Chorley, in the county of Lancashire. The Chorley town hall flew an American flag on Thanksgiving Day--the first time in their long history that the citizens had ever honored the flag of another nation.

The Lord Mayor of Boston, in Lincolnshire, invited 100 American servicemen to be his guests for a modest wartime dinner. Afterward, a senior officer laid a wreath on a memorial to five pre-Revolutionary War royal governors who had been born in the historic city. An American private laid another wreath in the cold dark cells where some Pilgrims were confined in 1607 while trying to escape to religious freedom in Holland.

Even more thrilling to those with a sense of history was a visit to Southhampton, where a U.S. Army detachment stood at attention before the pier where the old freighter, Mayflower, was fitted out for her trans-Atlantic voyage. At Plymouth they visited the quay from which the Pilgrims boarded. Not far away, the Archbishop of Canterbury conducted a service in the ruins of St. Andrew's Church, where some of the Mayflower's passengers prayed before they began their 3,000-mile voyage. Virginia-born Lady Astor was on hand for these ceremonies, calling Americans "my compatriots" and joking with a Southerner from Georgia, Private Billy Harrison, about their superiority to "damn Yankees" from New York.

The most dramatic ceremony was in London's Westminster Abbey, where English kings and queens have been crowned for centuries. No British government had ever permitted any ritual on its altar except the prescribed devotions of the Church of England. But on Nov. 26, 1942, they made an exception for their American cousins.

[Originally posted: 11/24/11]
Posted by orrinj at 12:39 AM


Thanksgiving, 1789 (Melanie Kirkpatrick, 11/22/12, Wall Street Journal)

Rep. Thomas Tudor Tucker, also of South Carolina, raised two further objections. "Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?" he asked. "If a day of thanksgiving must take place," he said, "let it be done by the authority of the several States."

Tucker's second reservation had to do with separation of church and state. Proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving "is a religious matter," he said, "and, as such, proscribed to us." The Bill of Rights would not be ratified until 1791--but Congress had just approved the wording of First Amendment, and that debate was fresh in everyone's mind.

It fell to a New Englander to stand up in support of Thanksgiving. Connecticut's Roger Sherman praised Boudinot's resolution as "a laudable one in itself." It also was "warranted by a number of precedents" in the Bible, he said, "for instance the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon, after the building of the temple."

In the end, the Thanksgiving resolution passed--the precise vote is not recorded--and the House appointed a committee. The resolution moved to the Senate, which passed it and added its own members to the committee.

The committee took the resolution to the president, and on Oct. 3 George Washington issued his now-famous Thanksgiving Proclamation. In it, he designated Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789 as "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer." He asked Americans to render their "sincere and humble thanks" to God for "his kind care and protection of the People of this Country."

It was his first presidential proclamation, and it was well heeded.

(originally posted : 11/22/12)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


Thanksgiving and American Exceptionalism (Mark Tooley, 11.24.10, American Spectator)

The left-of-center Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Brookings Institution have released a post-election survey showing nearly 60 percent of Americans believe God has assigned America a "special role" in human history. Over 80 percent of white evangelicals believe in this special role for America, as do two thirds of minority Christians. Majorities of white Mainline Protestants and Catholics also agree. Two thirds of the religiously unaffiliated disbelieve in any special role for America.

Probably the surveyors were discomfited by the results, especially that the devotees of American exceptionalism were not confined to white evangelicals but were nearly as numerous among minority Christians, which presumably mostly means blacks and Hispanics. American exceptionalism essentially originated with the ancestors of Mainline Protestantism, who were America's earliest European settlers and America's primary religious pillars for most of our history. A half century of leftward drift by Mainline church elites unsurprisingly has dampened their confidence in exceptionalism, but most still adhere. Likewise for most Catholics. The survey frustratingly does not provide a detailed break-down, but almost certainly most religiously active Mainline Protestants and Catholics are more prone to American exceptionalism than the nominally affiliated.

Much and perhaps most of American exceptionalism originated with the Calvinist English religious dissenters who settled New England, the first wave of whom landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. With Thanksgiving, America celebrates those dissenters' founding holiday. Later waves of Puritan immigrants conceived of their American adventure as an "errand in the wilderness." And some metaphorically likened their new civilization to the Chosen People of the Old Testament, with special blessings but also special obligations, always under both God's gracious care and sometimes severe judgment. Subsequent immigrants were not always as religiously devout. But the Puritan conception of America on a special mission from God that would benefit not just Americans but all peoples was reinforced by the heroic and spiritually animated struggle for American independence. Later immigrants, though far removed from the British Protestant tradition, still often comfortably embraced the notion of America as a sort of Promised Land, especially when compared to the travails of the old country. The Calvinist conception of American exceptionalism expanded to include other Protestants, Catholics and Jews.

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[originally posted: 11/24/10]

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 AM


Thanksgiving and Puritan geopolitics in the New World : Puritan settlements in New England were part of a grand strategy for controlling the wealth of the Americas. (Stratfor | 27 November 2014)

Throughout the first half of the 17th century, England was wracked by internal divisions that would lead to civil war in 1642. Religion was a huge part of this. The dispute was over the direction of the Church of England. Some factions favored "high" church practices that involved elaborate ritual. The Puritans, by contrast, wanted to clear the national religion of what they considered Catholic traces. This religious crisis compounded a political crisis at the highest levels of government, pitting Parliament against the monarchy.

By the beginning of the 17th century, England had undergone centralizing reforms that gave the king and his Parliament unrestricted power to make laws. Balance was needed. The king had the power to call Parliament into session and dismiss it. Parliament had the power to grant him vital funds needed for war or to pay down debt. However, Parliament had powerful Puritan factions that sought not only to advance their sectarian cause but also to advance the power of Parliament beyond its constraints. Kings James I and his son Charles I, for their part, sought to gain an unrestrained hold on power that would enable them to make decisive strategic choices abroad. They relied, internally and externally, on Catholics, crypto-Catholics and high church advocates -- exacerbating the displeasure of Parliament.

In 1618, the Thirty Years' War broke out in the German states -- a war that, in part, pitted Protestants against Catholics and spread throughout Central Europe. James did not wish to become involved in the war. In 1620, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, a relative of Spain's King Philip III, pushed Frederick V, the Protestant son-in-law of England's King James, out of his lands in Bohemia, and Spain attacked Frederick in his other lands in the Rhineland. The English monarchy called for a defense of Frederick but was unwilling to commit to significant military action to aid him.

Puritan factions in Parliament, however, wanted England to strike at Spain directly by attacking Spanish shipments from the Americas, which could have paid for itself in captured goods. To make matters worse, from 1614 to 1623, James I pursued an unpopular plan to marry his son Charles to the Catholic daughter of Philip III of Spain -- a plan called the "Spanish Match." Instead, Charles I ended up marrying the Catholic daughter of the king of France in 1625. This contributed to the impression that James and Charles were too friendly with Spain and Catholicism, or even were secret Catholics. Many Puritans and other zealous promoters of the Protestant cause began to feel that they had to look outside of the English government to further their cause.

Amid this complex constellation of Continental powers and England's own internal incoherence, a group of Puritan leaders in Parliament, who would later play a pivotal role in the English Civil War, focused on the geopolitical factors that were troubling England. Issues of finance and Spanish power were at the core. A group of them struck on the idea of establishing a set of Puritan colonial ventures in the Americas that would simultaneously serve to unseat Spain from her colonial empire and enrich England, tipping the geopolitical balance.

In this they were continuing Elizabeth I's strategy of 1585, when she started a privateer war in the Atlantic and Caribbean to capture Spanish treasure ships bound from the Americas. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were part of this early vision, but they were both far too remote to challenge the Spanish, and the group believed that the area's climate precluded it from being a source of vast wealth from cash crops. New England, however, was safe from Spanish aggression and could serve as a suitable starting point for a colonial push into the heart of Spanish territory.

[originally posted 11/28/14]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 AM


Religious Freedom and Pluralism (Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Spring 2002, Markets & Morality)
Although no given religion is established in the United States, our national traditions are heavily imbued with religion. Abraham Kuyper, lecturing in 1874, maintained that the people of the United States "bear a clear-cut Christian stamp more than any other nation on earth." The separation between Church and State, he said, had a very different meaning for Americans than it did for Cavour. It stemmed "not from the desire to be liberated from the Church but from the realization that the well-being of the Church and the progress of Christianity demand it."

We have had in the United States a kind of "civil," "political," or "public" religion that neither affirms the particular beliefs of any denomination nor seeks to compete with any Church or synagogue. It does not deify the State but inculcates reverence to a God by whom all States are judged. This common patrimony has some affinities with the "natural religion" of the deists but goes beyond deism in professing various biblical beliefs: for example, that God is to be worshiped and obeyed, that he hears our prayers, rewards virtue, punishes vice, has mercy on the repentant, and governs the world with his providential care.

This "civil religion," as I call it, is not legally imposed but is officially encouraged. It makes regular appearances at the time of Presidential inaugurations, Thanksgiving Day proclamations, and State funerals. Incumbents of public office are regularly sworn in with their hand on the Bible. They are expected to profess the articles of civil religion and are, at the same time, limited by it insofar as, in their public pronouncements, they are cautioned against asserting a more specific faith. Not all citizens are required to share the civil religion, but it has hitherto enjoyed solid public support. It provides a kind of protective umbrella under which, more specific religious faiths can flourish. Another feature of the American system, which distinguishes it from the laicism of nineteenth-century Europe, is the limited scope of the national government. The First Amendment originally applied only to the Federal government; it did not prevent individual States from having established churches. Even when the First Amendment was applied to individual States through the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, allowance was made for schools, hospitals, and welfare agencies to maintain their specific religious identities.

The government, while not professing any particular form of theism, favored a situation in which religious groups had an effective cultural presence. Religious groups could take advantage of the institutions of free speech and a free press to disseminate their convictions. Many immigrant groups coming from Europe brought their denominational identity with them and settled in religiously homogeneous neighborhoods, whether Jewish or Christian. Thus, the environment in which Americans grew up was permeated with religious influences. Practically speaking, Americans reaped the benefits without the deficits of an established religion. [?]

The current retreat from engagement with truth exacts a heavy price. The American proposition, as Richard John Neuhaus reminds us, is no longer proposed. People do not know why they ought to be doing what the laws say that they should be doing. "The popularly accessible and vibrant belief systems and worldviews of our society are largely excluded from the public arena in which the decisions are made about how the society should be ordered."

Society, in the classical sense, presupposed a common purpose. The citizens of the State (or the vast majority of them) were expected to share a common vision concerning the good life. As diversity deepens, this consensus breaks down. Cognitive minorities go off in their own directions and cease to be concerned about the values dear to others. In the absence of a shared vision, shared meanings, and a common vocabulary, civil discourse collapses. Many Americans no longer adhere to the consensus enshrined in their founding documents. This alienation contributes to a weakening of patriotism and to what some refer to as an "eclipse of citizenship."

According to Michael Sandel, in his well-known Democracy's Discontent, the dominant tendency in political theory today is to exclude moral and religious arguments from the public realm for the sake of political harmony. The assumption is that reasonable people will always disagree about the nature of truth and justice; there are no criteria for deciding which of two contradictory opinions is true. This pragmatic relativism is manifest, Sandel reports, in the works of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, and Bruce Ackerman. The minimalist liberalism of these theorists, in Sandel's view, reduces all rights to the merely procedural rather than the substantive; it engenders what he calls "the procedural republic," in which toleration, freedom, and fairness are the supreme values. This procedural republic, he points out, leads to a moral void in which the citizens are deprived of the moral and intellectual vision needed to sustain a sense of national purpose and even to safeguard freedom itself.

To illustrate how minimalist liberalism fails to protect the most elemental human rights, issues such as slavery and abortion come to mind. Unless one acknowledges the inviolable value of the individual person-a postulate that defies justification on pragmatist grounds-it cannot be shown why slavery should not be legitimized by the will of the majority. The recent trend to sanction abortion when the mother chooses to do away with an unborn child violates the principle of the right to life-a principle that the Founding Fathers regarded as grounded in the eternal law of God. The sanctity of human life is further jeopardized by campaigns for infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. The American experiment started with a national consensus that offered, in the name of liberty, a common ground allowing for a good measure of religious diversity. The constitutional right to freedom, by allowing different positions to be held and propagated without external interference, protected and enhanced pluralism, but we now face the danger that extreme and unreconciled pluralism may turn against the principles that undergird religious freedom itself.

In the absence of any standard of truth by which right and wrong can be measured, decisions have no objective point of reference. Rights cease to have a firm foundation in the inviolable dignity of the person. Decisions about matters of right become, in the end, matters of self-interest or mere arbitrary whim. Nobody is secure, because everyone's rights become negotiable. As John Paul II puts it, "Freedom negates itself and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with truth."

In the world of agnostic relativism, religion loses its true character as a way of relating the human family to God. God himself is treated as a mere projection of human fantasy, to be exploited insofar as the idea proves interesting and socially useful. Religion becomes a psychological exercise-perhaps a form of therapy or entertainment. In the absence of a realist epistemology, in which God can be apprehended as a power beyond and above us, religion itself becomes as insecure as freedom. Religious freedom lacks any firm grounding because religion has lost its roots in transcendent reality.

Popes of the past century have often been criticized for their expressed reservations about religious freedom. They were referring to the militant secularism of their own day, but much of their criticism is applicable to the agnostic pragmatism that prevails in American society today. It is hard to refute the logic of the following words from Leo XIII:

The nature of human liberty, however it be considered, whether in individuals or in society, whether in those who command or in those who obey, supposes the necessity of obedience to some supreme and eternal law, which is no other than the authority of God, commanding good and forbidding evil. And, so far from this most just authority of God over men diminishing, or even destroying their liberty, it protects and perfects it; for the real perfection of all creatures is found in the prosecution and attainment of their respective ends. But the supreme end to which liberty must aspire is God.

If pluralism is taken to mean that the human mind will never be able to encompass the mystery of the divine, it is inevitable and justified. There will always be different points of view, different perspectives, limited insights, but where pluralism is cultivated for its own sake, as if all points of view were equally legitimate, the line must be drawn. We must agree with Murray that religious pluralism implies error and is "against the will of God." Pluralism, if it is not to become destructive, must be accompanied by fundamental agreements such as those embodied in what I have described as the American civil religion. Unless a solid majority of the citizens accept some such basic core of agreement, the prognosis for religion in the American republic is poor.

Those of us who have come to believe in the God of the Bible and of Judeo-Christian tradition, even without fully agreeing among ourselves about other points of doctrine, have an urgent, common task. We must join forces to give common testimony to the basic truths of natural and biblical religion. We must confess together the importance of declaring that God exists, that his goodness can be known, and that we have certain specifiable duties toward him. We must also insist on our right to bear witness to the further truths that we believe on the basis of Jewish and Christian revelation, as understood within our respective traditions. If many Americans fail to believe, it is partly because believers have failed to present their faith as something credible and important. If the question of religious truth is bracketed for the sake of a consensus that excludes no one, or is short-circuited by a lazy agnosticism, our pluralism may fall into suicidal excesses. Both freedom and religion are jeopardized by the skeptical relativism that threatens to become the dominant ideology of the nation.

This maintenance of fundamental truths seems the one project that any conservatism worthy of the name has to entail or we'll not be able to conserve anything. This does not mean that we need a less tolerant society but one that is based on a more traditional understanding of toleration, that practices toleration as a means to achieving a decent society without elevating the idea of tolerance to a purpose of the society. It is the difference between accepting that people believe things we must disagree with and pretending that their beliefs are as valid as ours. (originally posted: 5/03/03)
Posted by orrinj at 12:34 AM


Pilgrims & Baptists: the little known connection (David Roach, November 26, 2014, Baptist Press)

John Smyth, who often is credited with being the first Baptist, pastored a church where many of the Christians who later came to be known as Pilgrims were members. But when Smyth began to argue with the future Pilgrims over church government, they formed another church under the leadership of John Robinson. In 1620, a portion of Robinson's congregation sailed to Plymouth, Mass., aboard the Mayflower.

Following the split, Smyth became convinced that the Bible teaches believer's baptism and launched the Baptist movement.

"Most people don't realize how closely the Pilgrims and the first Baptists were related. John Smyth and [Plymouth Colony governor] William Bradford knew each other, and in fact Smyth pastored the church where many of the Pilgrims were members before they left England for Holland and then sailed to America," Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press in written comments. "The world of English Separatism was very intertwined. Those that became Baptists were a formative part of the story that led to the first Thanksgiving."

Smyth and the Pilgrims both emerged from a movement in England known as Separatism.

In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Church of England, which was controlled by the British monarch, was Protestant in its doctrine but largely followed Catholic worship practice. A group of Christians known as Puritans objected to Catholic rituals and thought worship should only include elements taught in the Bible.

[originally posted : 11/23/17]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 AM


The Pilgrims' Financial Crisis (Peter Ferrara, 11.26.08, American Spectator)

By 1623, four additional ships of settlers had arrived. The colony had initially prospered just collecting wild growing food, and securing plentiful game such as turkeys and deer providing venison, supplemented by their own agriculture. Given their religious devotion, their concern for personal wealth was not a top issue for them, and even in that time idealistic notions of communal property and sharing communal resources as offering an ideal society of happiness had a strong appeal for those striking out to start a new civilization from scratch.

But as the colony grew, this initial quasi-socialist community of share and share alike was not working to produce enough for essential basic needs, let alone the prosperity that was expected in the new world. Available wild supplies of food, in particular, were no longer enough. Bradford again wrote in his dairy,

All this while no supply [of wild corn] was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefist amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end....This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability, whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

As indicated, this experiment in private agriculture was hugely successful, with the colony's agricultural output soaring. But the settlers still increasingly complained that the colony's remaining communal practices and lack of complete private property were constraining and unfair. Bradford wrote further in his diary in 1623,

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded of by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing, as if they were wiser than God. For this community...was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice....And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery....Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course [meaning communal policy] itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

Thus was capitalism born in America, sentimental notions of socialism having been tried and failed, not only as a matter of economics, but also because it was seen as a regime of unjust restrictions on personal liberty. The colony adopted private property and free trade, ending its own critical financial crisis, and creating the trademark bountiful American prosperity, which drew waves of new settlers seeking the American dream that had already been born.

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{originally posted: 11/26/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


THANKSGIVING (Mark Steyn, November 18th 2007, The Orange County Register)

A lot has changed since I wrote these words, but I'll stand by them. Enjoy the turkey, and count your blessings: [...]

Even in a supposedly 50/50 nation, you're struck by the assumed stability underpinning even fundamental disputes. If you go into a bookstore, the display shelves offer a smorgasbord of leftist anti-Bush tracts claiming that he and Cheney have trashed, mangled, gutted, raped and tortured, sliced'n'diced the Constitution, put it in a cement overcoat and lowered it into the East River. Yet even this argument presupposes a shared veneration for tradition unknown to most Western political cultures: When Tony Blair wanted to abolish in effect the upper house of the national legislature, he just got on and did it. I don't believe the U.S. Constitution includes a right to abortion or gay marriage or a zillion other things the Left claims to detect emanating from the penumbra, but I find it sweetly touching that in America even political radicalism has to be framed as an appeal to constitutional tradition from the powdered-wig era. In Europe, by contrast, one reason why there's no politically significant pro-life movement is because, in a world where constitutions have the life expectancy of an Oldsmobile, great questions are just seen as part of the general tide, the way things are going, no sense trying to fight it. And, by the time you realize you have to, the tide's usually up to your neck.

So Americans should be thankful they have one of the last functioning nation states. Because they've been so inept at exercising it, Europeans no longer believe in national sovereignty, whereas it would never occur to Americans not to. This profoundly different attitude to the nation state underpins in turn Euro-American attitudes to transnational institutions such as the U.N. But on this Thanksgiving the rest of the world ought to give thanks to American national sovereignty, too. When something terrible and destructive happens -- a tsunami hits Indonesia, an earthquake devastates Pakistan -- the U.S. can project itself anywhere on the planet within hours and start saving lives, setting up hospitals and restoring the water supply. Aside from Britain and France, the Europeans cannot project power in any meaningful way anywhere. When they sign on to an enterprise they claim to believe in -- shoring up Afghanistan's fledgling post-Taliban democracy -- most of them send token forces under constrained rules of engagement that prevent them doing anything more than manning the photocopier back at the base. If America were to follow the Europeans and maintain only shriveled attenuated residual military capacity, the world would very quickly be nastier and bloodier, and far more unstable. It's not just Americans and Iraqis and Afghans who owe a debt of thanks to the U.S. soldier but all the Europeans grown plump and prosperous in a globalized economy guaranteed by the most benign hegemon in history.

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[originally posted: 11/26/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


Oration at Plymouth (Delivered at Plymouth Mass. December 22, 1802
in Commemoration of the Landing of the Pilgrims by John Quincy Adams)

Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our forefathers, and of love for our posterity.
They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions. By the fundamental principle of Christianity, the happiness of the individual is interwoven, by innumerable and imperceptible ties, with that of his contemporaries.
By power of filial reverence and parental affection, individual existence is extended beyond the limits of individual life, and the happiness of every age is chained in mutual dependence upon that of every other. Respect for his ancestors excites, in the breast of man, interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues.
Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example, and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare. Man, therefore, was not made for himself alone.
No, he was made for his country, by the obligations of the social compact; he was made for his species, by the Christian duties of universal charity; he was made for all ages past, by the sentiment of reverence for his forefathers; and he was made for all future times, by the impulse of affection for his progeny.
Under the influence of these principles, "Existence sees him spurn her bounded reign." They redeem his nature from the subjection of time and space; he is no longer a "puny insect shivering at a breeze"; he is the glory of creation, formed to occupy all time and all extent; bounded, during his residence upon earth, only to the boundaries of the world, and destined to life and immortality in brighter regions, when the fabric of nature itself shall dissolve and perish.
The voice of history has not, in all its compass, a note but answers in unison with these sentiments. The barbarian chieftain, who defended his country against the Roman invasion, driven to the remotest extremity of Britain, and stimulating his followers to battle by all that has power of persuasion upon the human heart, concluded his persuasion by an appeal to these irresistible feelings: "Think of your forefathers and of your posterity."
The Romans themselves, at the pinnacle of civilization, were actuated by the same impressions, and celebrated, in anniversary festivals, every great event which had signalized the annals of their forefathers.
To multiply instances where it were impossible to adduce an exception would be to waste your time and abuse your patience; but in the sacred volume, which contains the substances of our firmest faith and of our most precious hopes, these passions not only maintain their highest efficacy, but are sanctioned by the express injunctions of the Divine Legislator to his chosen people.
The revolutions of time furnish no previous example of a nation shooting up to maturity and expanding into greatness with the rapidity which has characterized the growth of the American people.
In the luxuriance of youth, and in the vigor of manhood, it is pleasing and instructive to look backward upon the helpless days of infancy; but in the continual and essential changes of a growing subject, the transactions of that early period would be soon obliterated from the memory but for some periodical call of attention to aid the silent records of the historian.
Such celebrations arouse and gratify the kindliest emotions of the bosom. They are faithful pledges of the respect we bear to the memory of our ancestors and of the tenderness with which we cherish the rising generation. They introduce the sages and heroes of ages past to the notice and emulation of succeeding times; they are at once testimonials of our gratitude, and schools of virtue to our children.
These sentiments are wise; they are honorable; they are virtuous; their cultivation is not merely innocent pleasure, it is incumbent duty. Obedient to their dictates, you, my fellow-citizens, have instituted and paid frequent observance to this annual solemnity. and what event of weightier intrinsic importance, or of more extensive consequences, was ever selected for this honorary distinction?
In reverting to the period of our origin, other nations have generally been compelled to plunge into the chaos of impenetrable antiquity, or to trace a lawless ancestry into the caverns of ravishers and robbers.
It is your peculiar privilege to commemorate, in this birthday of your nation, an event ascertained in its minutest details; an event of which the principal actors are known to you familiarly, as if belonging to your own age; an event of a magnitude before which imagination shrinks at the imperfection of her powers.
It is your further happiness to behold, in those eminent characters, who were most conspicuous in accomplishing the settlement of your country, men upon whose virtue you can dwell with honest exultation.
The founders of your race are not handed down to you, like the fathers of the Roman people, as the sucklings of a wolf. You are not descended from a nauseous compound of fanaticism and sensuality, whose only argument was the sword, and whose only paradise was a brothel.
No Gothic scourge of God, no Vandal pest of nations, no fabled fugitive from the flames of Troy, no bastard Norman tyrant, appears among the list of worthies who first landed on the rock, which your veneration has preserved as a lasting monument of their achievement.
The great actors of the day we now solemnize were illustrious by their intrepid valor no less than by their Christian graces, but the clarion of conquest has not blazoned forth their names to all the winds of heaven.
Their glory has not been wafted over oceans of blood to the remotest regions of the earth. They have not erected to themselves colossal statues upon pedestals of human bones, to provoke and insult the tardy hand of heavenly retribution.
But theirs was "the better fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom." Theirs was the gentle temper of Christian kindness; the rigorous observance of reciprocal justice; the unconquerable soul of conscious integrity.
Worldly fame has been parsimonious of her favor to the memory of those generous companions. Their numbers were small; their stations in life obscure; the object of their enterprise unostentatious; the theatre of their exploits remote; how could they possibly be favorites of worldly Fame--that common crier, whose existence is only known by the assemblage of multitudes; that pander of wealth and greatness, so eager to haunt the palaces of fortune, and so fastidious to the houseless dignity of virtue; that parasite of pride, ever scornful to meekness, and ever obsequious to insolent power; that heedless trumpeter, whose ears are deaf to modest merit, and whose eyes are blind to bloodless, distant excellence?
When the persecuted companions of Robinson, exiles from their native land, anxiously sued for the privilege of removing a thousand leagues more distant to an untried soil, a rigorous climate, and a savage wilderness, for the sake of reconciling their sense of religious duty with their affections for their country, few, perhaps none of them, formed a conception of what would be, within two centuries, the result of their undertaking.
When the jealous and niggardly policy of their British sovereign denied them even that humblest of requests, and instead of liberty would barely consent to promise connivance, neither he nor they might be aware that they were laying the foundations of a power, and that he was sowing the seeds of a spirit, which, in less than two hundred years, would stagger the throne of his descendants, and shake his united kingdoms to the centre.
So far is it from the ordinary habits of mankind to calculate the import of events in their elementary principles, that had the first colonists of our country ever intimated as a part of their designs the project of founding a great and mighty nation, the finger of scorn would have pointed them to the cells of Bedlam as an abode more suitable for hatching vain empires than the solitude of a transatlantic desert.
These consequences, then so little foreseen, have unfolded themselves, in all their grandeur, to the eyes of the present age. It is a common amusement of speculative minds to contrast the magnitude of the most important events with the minuteness of their primeval causes, and the records of mankind are full of examples for such contemplations.
It is, however, a more profitable employment to trace the constituent principles of future greatness in their kernel; to detect in the acorn at our feet the germ of that majestic oak, whose roots shoot down to the centre, and whose branches aspire to the skies.
Let it be, then, our present occupation to inquire and endeavor to ascertain the causes first put in operation at the period of our commemoration, and already productive of such magnificent effects; to examine with reiterated care and minute attention the characters of those men who gave the first impulse to a new series of events in the history of the world; to applaud and emulate those qualities of their minds which we shall find deserving of our admiration; to recognize with candor those features which forbid approbation or even require censure, and, finally, to lay alike their frailties and their perfections to our own hearts, either as warning or as example.
Of the various European settlements upon this continent, which have finally merged in one independent nation, the first establishments were made at various times, by several nations, and under the influence of different motives. In many instances, the conviction of religious obligation formed one and a powerful inducement of the adventures; but in none, excepting the settlement at Plymouth, did they constitute the sole and exclusive actuating cause.
Worldly interest and commercial speculation entered largely into the views of other settlers, but the commands of conscience were the only stimulus to the emigrants from Leyden. Previous to their expedition hither, they had endured a long banishment from their native country.
Under every species of discouragement, they undertook the voyage; they performed it in spite of numerous and almost insuperable obstacles; they arrived upon a wilderness bound with frost and hoary with snow, without the boundaries of their charter, outcasts from all human society, and coasted five weeks together, in the dead of winter, on this tempestuous shore, exposed at once to the fury of the elements, to the arrows of the native savage, and to the impending horrors of famine.
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. These qualities have ever been displayed in their mightiest perfection, as attendants in the retinue of strong passions.
From the first discovery of the Western Hemisphere by Columbus until the settlement of Virginia which immediately preceded that of Plymouth, the various adventurers from the ancient world had exhibited upon innumerable occasions that ardor of enterprise and that stubbornness of pursuit which set all danger at defiance, and chained the violence of nature at their feet. But they were all instigated by personal interests.
Avarice and ambition had tuned their souls to that pitch of exaltation. Selfish passions were the parents of their heroism. It was reserved for the first settlers of new England to perform achievements equally arduous, to trample down obstructions equally formidable, to dispel dangers equally terrific, under the single inspiration of conscience.
To them even liberty herself was but a subordinate and secondary consideration. They claimed exemption from the mandates of human authority, as militating with their subjection to a superior power. Before the voice of Heaven they silenced even the calls of their country.
Yet, while so deeply impressed with the sense of religious obligation, they felt, in all its energy, the force of that tender tie which binds the heart of every virtuous man to his native land.
It was to renew that connection with their country which had been severed by their compulsory expatriation, that they resolved to face all the hazards of a perilous navigation and all the labors of a toilsome distant settlement.
Under the mild protection of the Batavian Government, they enjoyed already that freedom of religious worship, for which they had resigned so many comforts and enjoyments at home; but their hearts panted for a restoration to the bosom of their country.
Invited and urged by the open-hearted and truly benevolent people who had given them an asylum from the persecution of their own kindred to form their settlement within the territories then under their jurisdiction, the love of their country predominated over every influence save that of conscience alone, and they preferred the precarious chance of relaxation from the bigoted rigor of the English Government to the certain liberality and alluring offers of the Hollanders.
Observe, my countrymen, the generous patriotism, the cordial union of soul, the conscious yet unaffected vigor which beam in their application to the British monarch: "They were well weaned from the delicate milk of their mother country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange land.
They were knit together in a strict and sacred bond, to take care of the good of each other and of the whole. It was not with them as with other men, whom small things could discourage, or small discontents cause to wish themselves again at home."
Children of these exalted Pilgrims! Is there one among you ho can hear the simple and pathetic energy of these expressions without tenderness and admiration?
Venerated shades of our forefathers! No, ye were, indeed, not ordinary men! That country which had ejected you so cruelly from her bosom you still delighted to contemplate in the character of an affectionate and beloved mother. The sacred bond which knit you together was indissoluble while you lived; and oh, may it be to your descendants the example and the pledge of harmony to the latest period of time!
The difficulties and dangers, which so often had defeated attempts of similar establishments, were unable to subdue souls tempered like yours. You heard the rigid interdictions; you saw the menacing forms of toil and danger, forbidding your access to this land of promise; but you heard without dismay; you saw and disdained retreat.
Firm and undaunted in the confidence of that sacred bond; conscious of the purity, and convinced of the importance of your motives, you put your trust in the protecting shield of Providence, and smiled defiance at the combining terrors of human malice and of elemental strife.
These, in the accomplishment of your undertaking, you were summoned to encounter in their most hideous forms; these you met with that fortitude, and combated with that perseverance, which you had promised in their anticipation; these you completely vanquished in establishing the foundations of New England, and the day which we now commemorate is the perpetual memorial of your triumph.
It were an occupation peculiarly pleasing to cull from our early historians, and exhibit before you every detail of this transaction; to carry you in imagination on board their bark at the first moment of her arrival in the bay; to accompany Carver, Winslow, Bradford, and Standish, in all their excursions upon the desolate coast; to follow them into every rivulet and creek where they endeavored to find a firm footing, and to fix, with a pause of delight and exultation, the instant when the first of these heroic adventurers alighted on the spot where you, their descendants, now enjoy the glorious and happy reward of their labors.
But in this grateful task, your former orators, on this anniversary, have anticipated all that the most ardent industry could collect, and gratified all that the most inquisitive curiosity could desire.
To you, my friends, every occurrence of that momentous period is already familiar. A transient allusion to a few characteristic instances, which mark the peculiar history of the Plymouth settlers, may properly supply the place of a narrative, which, to this auditory, must be superfluous.
One of these remarkable incidents is the execution of that instrument of government by which they formed themselves into a body politic, the day after their arrival upon the coast, and previous to their first landing.
That is, perhaps, the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government.
Here was a unanimous and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to the association by which they became a nation. It was the result of circumstances and discussions which had occurred during their passage from Europe, and is a full demonstration that the nature of civil government, abstracted from the political institutions of their native country, had been an object of their serious meditation.
The settlers of all the former European colonies had contented themselves with the powers conferred upon them by their respective charters, without looking beyond the seal of the royal parchment for the measure of their rights and the rule of their duties.
The founders of Plymouth had been impelled by the peculiarities of their situation to examine the subject with deeper and more comprehensive research. After twelve years of banishment from the land of their first allegiance, during which they had been under an adoptive and temporary subjection to another sovereign, they must naturally have been led to reflect upon the relative rights and duties of allegiance and subjection.
They had resided in a city, the seat of a university, where the polemical and political controversies of the time were pursued with uncommon fervor. In this period they had witnessed the deadly struggle between the two parties, into which the people of the United Provinces, after their separation from the crown of Spain, had divided themselves.
The contest embraced within its compass not only theological doctrines, but political principles, and Maurice and Barnevelt were the temporal leaders of the same rival factions, of which Episcopius and Polyander were the ecclesiastical champions.
That the investigation of the fundamental principles of government was deeply implicated in these dissensions is evident from the immortal work of Grotius, upon the rights of war and peace, which undoubtedly originated from them.
Grotius himself had been a most distinguished actor and sufferer in those important scenes of internal convulsion, and his work was first published very shortly after the departure of our forefathers from Leyden.
It is well known that in the course of the contest Mr. Robinson more than once appeared, with credit to himself, as a public disputant against Episcopius; and from the manner in which the fact is related by Governor Bradford, it is apparent that the whole English Church at Leyden took a zealous interest in the religious part of the controversy.
As strangers in the land, it is presumable that they wisely and honorably avoided entangling themselves in the political contentions involved with it.
Yet the theoretic principles, as they were drawn into discussion, could not fail to arrest their attention, and must have assisted them to form accurate ideas concerning the origin and extent of authority among men, independent of positive institutions.
The importance of these circumstances will not be duly weighed without taking into consideration the state of opinion then prevalent in England. The general principles of government were there little understood and less examined. The whole substance of human authority was centred in the simple doctrine of royal prerogative, the origin of which was always traced in theory to divine institution.
Twenty years later, the subject was more industriously sifted, and for half a century became one of the principal topics of controversy between the ablest and most enlightened men in the nation. The instrument of voluntary association executed on board the "Mayflower" testifies that the parties to it had anticipated the improvement of their nation.
Another incident, from which we may derive occasion for important reflections, was the attempt of these original settlers to establish among them that community of goods and of labor, which fanciful politicians, from the days of Plato to those of Rousseau, have recommended as the fundamental law of a perfect republic.
This theory results, it must be acknowledged, from principles of reasoning most flattering to the human character. If industry, frugality, and disinterested integrity were alike the virtues of all, there would, apparently, be more of the social spirit, in making all property a common stock, and giving to each individual a proportional title to the wealth of the whole. Such is the basis upon which Plato forbids, in his Republic, the division of property.
Such is the system upon which Rousseau pronounces the first man who inclosed a field with a fence, and said, "This is mine," a traitor to the human species. A wiser and more useful philosophy, however, directs us to consider man according to the nature in which he was formed; subject to infirmities, which no wisdom can remedy; to weaknesses, which no institution can strengthen; to vices, which no legislation can correct.
Hence, it becomes obvious that separate property is the natural and indisputable right of separate exertion; that community of goods without community of toil is oppressive and unjust; that it counteracts the laws of nature, which prescribe that he only who sows the seed shall reap the harvest; that it discourages all energy, by destroying its rewards; and makes the most virtuous and active members of society the slaves and drudges of the worst.
Such was the issue of this experiment among our forefathers, and the same event demonstrated the error of the system in the elder settlement of Virginia. Let us cherish that spirit of harmony which prompted our forefathers to make the attempt, under circumstances more favorable to its success than, perhaps, ever occurred upon earth.
Let us no less admire the candor with which they relinquished it, upon discovering its irremediable inefficacy. To found principles of government upon too advantageous an estimate of the human character is an error of inexperience, the source of which is so amiable that it is impossible to censure it with severity.
We have seen the same mistake committed in our own age, and upon a larger theatre. Happily for our ancestors, their situation allowed them to repair it before its effects had proved destructive. They had no pride of vain philosophy to support, no perfidious rage of faction to glut, by persevering in their mistakes until they should be extinguished in torrents of blood.
As the attempt to establish among themselves the community of goods was a seal of that sacred bond which knit them so closely together, so the conduct they observed toward the natives of the country displays their steadfast adherence to the rules of justice and their faithful attachment to those of benevolence and charity.
No European settlement ever formed upon this continent has been more distinguished for undeviating kindness and equity toward the savages. There are, indeed, moralists who have questioned the right of the Europeans to intrude upon the possessions of the aboriginals in any case, and under any limitations whatsoever.
But have they maturely considered the whole subject? The Indian right of possession itself stands, with regard to the greater part of the country, upon a questionable foundation.
Their cultivated fields; their constructed habitations; a space of ample sufficiency for their subsistence, and whatever they had annexed to themselves by personal labor, was undoubtedly, by the laws of nature, theirs.
But what is the right of a huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey?
Shall the liberal bounties of Providence to the race of man be monopolized by one of ten thousand for whom they were created?
Shall the exuberant bosom of the common mother, amply adequate to the nourishment of millions, be claimed exclusively by a few hundreds of her offspring?
Shall the lordly savage not only disdain the virtues and enjoyments of civilization himself, but shall he control the civilization of a world?
Shall he forbid the wilderness to blossom like a rose?
Shall he forbid the oaks of the forest to fall before the axe of industry, and to rise again, transformed into the habitations of ease and elegance?
Shall he doom an immense region of the globe to perpetual desolation, and to hear the howlings of the tiger and the wolf silence forever the voice of human gladness?
Shall the fields and the valleys, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness?
Shall the mighty rivers, poured out by the hand of nature, as channels of communication between numerous nations, roll their waters in sullen silence and eternal solitude of the deep?
Have hundreds of commodious harbors, a thousand leagues of coast, and a boundless ocean, been spread in the front of this land, and shall every purpose of utility to which they could apply be prohibited by the tenant of the woods?
No, generous philanthropists!
Heaven has not been thus inconsistent in the works of its hands. Heaven has not thus placed at irreconcilable strife its moral laws with its physical creation.
The Pilgrims of Plymouth obtained their right of possession to the territory on which they settled, by titles as fair and unequivocal as any human property can be held.
By their voluntary association they recognized their allegiance to the government of Britain, and in process of time received whatever powers and authorities could be conferred upon them by a charter from their sovereign.
The spot on which they fixed had belonged to an Indian tribe, totally extirpated by that devouring pestilence which had swept the country shortly before their arrival. The territory, thus free from all exclusive possession, they might have taken by the natural right of occupancy.
Desirous, however, of giving amply satisfaction to every pretence of prior right, by formal and solemn conventions with the chiefs of the neighboring tribes, they acquired the further security of a purchase. At their hands the children of the desert had no cause of complaint.
On the great day of retribution, what thousands, what millions of the American race will appear at the bar of judgment to arraign their European invading conquerors! Let us humbly hope that the fathers of the Plymouth Colony will then appear in the whiteness of innocence.
Let us indulge in the belief that they will not only be free from all accusation of injustice to these unfortunate sons of nature, but that the testimonials of their acts of kindness and benevolence toward them will plead the cause of their virtues, as they are now authenticated by the record of history upon earth.
Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons of theological warfare are antiquated; the field of politics supplies the alchemists of our times with materials of more fatal explosion, and the butchers of mankind no longer travel to another world for instruments of cruelty and destruction.
Our age is too enlightened to contend upon topics which concern only the interests of eternity; the men who hold in proper contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame their own passions, have made it a commonplace censure against your ancestors, that their zeal was enkindled by subjects of trivial importance; and that however aggrieved by the intolerance of others, they were alike intolerant themselves.
Against these objections, your candid judgment will not require an unqualified justification; but your respect and gratitude for the founders of the State may boldly claim an ample apology.
The original grounds of their separation from the Church of England were not objects of a magnitude to dissolve the bonds of communion, much less those of charity, between Christian brethren of the same essential principles. Some of them, however, were not inconsiderable, and numerous inducements concurred to give them an extraordinary interest in their eyes.
When that portentous system of abuses, the Papal dominion, was overturned, a great variety of religious sects arose in its stead in the several countries, which for many centuries before had been screwed beneath its subjection.
The fabric of the Reformation, first undertaken in England upon a contracted basis, by a capricious and sanguinary tyrant, had been successively overthrown and restored, renewed and altered, according to the varying humors and principles of four successive monarchs.
To ascertain the precise point of division between the genuine institutions of Christianity and the corruptions accumulated upon them in the progress of fifteen centuries, was found a task of extreme difficulty throughout the Christian world.
Men of the profoundest learning, of the sublimest genius, and of the purest integrity, after devoting their lives to the research, finally differed in their ideas upon many great points, both of doctrine and discipline.
The main question, it was admitted on all hands, most intimately concerned the highest interests of man, both temporal and eternal.
Can we wonder that men who felt their happiness here and their hopes of hereafter, their worldly welfare and the kingdom of heaven at stake, should sometimes attach an importance beyond their intrinsic weight to collateral points of controversy, connected with the all- involving object of the Reformation?
The changes in the forms and principles of religious worship were introduced and regulated in England by the hand of public authority. But that hand had not been uniform or steady in its operations.
During the persecutions inflicted in the interval of Popish restoration under the reign of Mary, upon all who favored the Reformation, many of the most zealous reformers had been compelled to fly their country. While residing on the continent of Europe, they had adopted the principles of the most complete and rigorous reformation, as taught and established by Calvin.
On returning afterward to their native country, they were dissatisfied with the partial reformation, at which, as they conceived, the English establishment had rested; and claiming the privilege of private conscience, upon which alone any departure from the Church of Rome could be justified, they insisted upon the right of adhering to the system of their own preference, and, of course, upon that of non-conformity to the establishment prescribed by the royal authority. The only means used to convince them of error and reclaim them from dissent was force, and force served but to confirm the opposition it was meant to suppress.
By driving the founders of the Plymouth Colony into exile, it constrained them to absolute separation irreconcilable. Viewing their religious liberties here, as held only by sufferance, yet bound to them by all the ties of conviction, and by all their sufferings for them, could they forbear to look upon every dissenter among themselves with a jealous eye?
Within two years after their landing, they beheld a rival settlement attempted in their immediate neighborhood; and not long after, the laws of self- preservation compelled them to break up a nest of revellers, who boasted of protection from the mother country, and who had recurred to the easy but pernicious resource of feeding their wanton idleness, by furnishing the savages with the means, the skill, and the instruments of European destruction. Toleration, in that instance, would have been self-murder, and many other examples might be alleged, in which their necessary measures of self-defence have been exaggerated into cruelty, and their most indispensable precautions distorted into persecution. Yet shall we not pretend that they were exempt from the common laws of mortality, or entirely free from all the errors of their age. Their zeal might sometimes be too ardent, but it was always sincere. At this day, religious indulgence is one of our clearest duties, because it is one of our undisputed rights. While we rejoice that the principles of genuine Christianity have so far triumphed over the prejudices of a former generation, let us fervently hope for the day when it will prove equally victorious over the malignant passions of our own.
In thus calling your attention to some of the peculiar features in the principles, the character, and the history of our forefathers, it is as wide from my design, as I know it would be from your approbation, to adorn their memory with a chaplet plucked from the domain of others.
The occasion and the day are more peculiarly devoted to them, and let it never be dishonored with a contracted and exclusive spirit. Our affections as citizens embrace the whole extent of the Union, and the names of Raleigh, Smith, Winthrop, Calvert, Penn and Oglethorpe excite in our minds recollections equally pleasing and gratitude equally fervent with those of Carver and Bradford.
Two centuries have not yet elapsed since the first European foot touched the soil which now constitutes the American Union. Two centuries more and our numbers must exceed those of Europe itself.
The destinies of their empire, as they appear in prospect before us, disdain the powers of human calculation. Yet, as the original founder of the Roman State is said once to have lifted upon his shoulders the fame and fortunes of all his posterity, so let us never forget that the glory and greatness of all our descendants is in our hands.
Preserve in all their purity, refine, if possible, from all their alloy, those virtues which we this day commemorate as the ornament of our forefathers. Adhere to them with inflexible resolution, as to the horns of the altar; instil them with unwearied perseverance into the minds of your children; bind your souls and theirs to the national Union as the chords of life are centred in the heart, and you shall soar with rapid and steady wing to the summit of human glory.
Nearly a century ago, one of those rare minds to whom it is given to discern future greatness in its seminal principles, upon contemplating the situation of this continent, pronounced, in a vein of poetic inspiration, "Westward the star of empire takes its way." Let us unite in ardent supplication to the Founder of nations and the Builder of worlds, that what then was prophecy may continue unfolding into history--that the dearest hopes of the human race may not be extinguished in disappointment, and that the last may prove the noblest empire of time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 AM


Private Enterprise Regained (Henry Hazlitt, The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty)

Governor Bradford�s own history of the Plymouth Bay Colony over which he presided is a story that deserves to be far better known�particularly in an age that has acquired a mania for socialism and communism, regards them as peculiarly "progressive" and entirely new, and is sure that they represent "the wave of the future."

Most of us have forgotten that when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of Massachusetts they established a communist system. Out of their common product and storehouse they set up a system of rationing, though it came to "but a quarter of a pound of bread a day to each person." Even when harvest came, "it arose to but a little." A vicious circle seemed to set in. The people complained that they were too weak from want of food to tend the crops as they should. Deeply religious though they were, they took to stealing from each other. "So as it well appeared," writes Governor Bradford, "that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented."

So the colonists, he continues, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length [in 1623] after much debate of things, the Gov. (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. . . .

"And so assigned to every family a parcel of land. . . .

A Great Success

"This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Gov. or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.

"The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that among godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato�s and other ancients, applauded by some of later times;�that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."

How different might the bloody history of the Enlightenment have been were rationalists as open-minded?

(originally posted: 11/25/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 AM


On Liberty (John Winthrop, 1645)

For the other point concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. The women's own choice makes such a man her husband; yet, being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him, yet in a way of liberty, not of bondage; and a true wife accounts her subjection her honor and freedom and would not think her condition safe and free but in her subjection to her husband's authority. Such is the liberty of the church under the authority of Christ, her king and husband; his yoke is so easy and sweet to her as a bride's ornaments; and if through forwardness or wantonness, etc., she shake it off, at any time, she is at no rest in her spirit, until she take it up again; and whether her lord smiles upon her and embraceth her in his arms, or whether he frowns, or rebukes, or smites her, she apprehends the sweetness of his love in all, and is refreshed, supported, and instructed by every such dispensation of his authority over her. On the other side, ye know who they are that complain of this yoke and say, Let us break their bands, etc.; we will not have this man to rule over us. Even so, brethren, it will be between you and your magistrates. If you want to stand for your natural corrupt liberties, and will do what is good in your own eyes, you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur, and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke; but if you will be satisfied to enjoy such civil and lawful liberties, such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you, in all the administrations of it, for your good. Wherein, if we fail at any time, we hope we shall be willing (by God's assistance) to hearken to good advice from any of you, or in any other way of God; so shall your liberties be preserved in upholding the honor and power of authority amongst you.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 AM


America The Valiant: Giving thanks for our prosperous, resilient and free nation. (Claudia Rosett, 11.26.09, Forbes)

[F]or America to choose decline would be to break faith with what this country is. America did not set out to become a great power and engineer a system to achieve it. Rather, America is built on principles of freedom that allow its citizens to make the most of their individual talents, energies and dreams. That is what earned America its place as No. 1.

There is nothing in that to apologize for, and everything to be proud of. How to translate that basic truth into action is a matter of individual choice. But here's one place to begin: It's time to luxuriate in patriotism and not be ashamed to spin legends again--not about our current politicians, who are already involved in quite enough spinning, but about American heroes, adventurers, the out-sized figures who years ago, imagined or real, populated American lore. [...]

I did some foraging on the bookshelves this week (though the Internet will also serve) and came away much refreshed by such classics as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The verses might not meet the brooding standards of the psychoanalytically inclined critics of our day. But they can still thrill and inspire, as the rider sets out to raise the alarm that the British are coming:

...a spark
Struck out by the steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet through the gleam and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night,

Longfellow had a marvelous confidence that this spirit would endure. He ended that poem with the lines:

... Borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The days of legend and valor need not be over. To be American is to be part of an extraordinary and noble adventure on the frontiers of freedom. From that arises the immense bounty for which Americans, over turkey and pie, give thanks. If that seems too proud and simple a message for complex times, it is anything but. It is the real bottom line and rallying point for a better world.

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[originally posted: 11/26/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


The faith of our fathers (Jay Tolson, Jun 19, 2004, US News)

Some say the mystery of American religiosity is contained in a paradox: America is a godly nation because it has kept church and state separate, at least in the sense set forth by the Constitution. "Congress," the First Amendment famously begins, "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . . " Perhaps the greater mystery, though, is that those two clauses did not produce conflicts during most of our history, even though religious sentiments and symbols liberally suffused the public square and much of civic life. But if most Americans have long approved of their civil religion, why have some in recent years found it so objectionable?

Much confusion and litigation have arisen from the perception that America's founders intended religion to be strictly a matter of private choice that should never impinge upon public life. That may be as much a misunderstanding of the founders' intent as the view that the founders intended to create an explicitly Christian nation. According to Purdue University historian Frank Lambert, in his book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, both extremes fail to acknowledge that America had two different sets of spiritual fathers. The "Planting Fathers," particularly the Puritans of New England, sought both to practice their own brand of Christianity and to found a Christian state. Establishing Congregationalism, they supported it with taxes and compelled their chief magistrates to govern "according to the rule of the word of God." The southern colonies, meanwhile, generally enforced Anglicanism, while the middle colonies worked out more pluralistic arrangements. But some 150 years after the Puritans signed their charters, a different group of national leaders, the Founding Fathers, hammered out a new national compact, this one guaranteeing that the state would have no voice in determining matters of conscience.

Clearly, much had happened in the years separating the Planting Fathers from the Founding Fathers. While many of the colonial elite had been touched by the skeptical scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment, even greater numbers of common folk were transformed by a powerful religious revival that swept through the colonies in the 1740s. Called the First Great Awakening, it emphasized individual religious experience and subtly challenged the authority of the established sects. By the time the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia, most of them knew that the people of the new United States were too diverse to be forced into conformity with a national church.

Yet the founders never sought to drive religion from the public realm. The words they spoke, the symbols they embraced, and the rituals they established--from state-declared days of thanksgiving to prayers at the start of Congress to military chaplaincies--all made clear that even semiofficial acknowledgment of divine providence was not only acceptable but good. This public piety was distinctly nonsectarian and centered upon what might be called a benevolent theism. But as James Hutson, chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, argues in his Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, whether they were old-line Calvinists or liberal deists, the Founders believed divine will legitimized their institutions and laws and made citizens more willing to respect them. Even Thomas Jefferson, who thought most Americans would become rationalist Unitarians within a generation or two, considered the acknowledgment of providential authority essential to public virtue.

Contrary to Jefferson's rationalist prediction, Americans became even more enthusiastically religious. [...]

Secularists often ignore the fact that civil religion has long served as a prod to civic conscience and as a check on national hubris. As McClay points out, "Expressions like 'under God' in the pledge suggest that the nation is under judgment and subject to higher moral principles. Even people deeply suspicious of civil religion ought to appreciate some sort of higher restraint."

In his classic, Democracy and Leadership, the great Irving Babbitt put the point well:
Not the least singular feature of the singular epoch in which we are living is that the very persons who are least willing to hear about the veto power are likewise the persons who are most certain that they stand for the virtues that depend upon its exercise--for example, peace and brotherhood. As against the expansionists of every kind, I do not hesitate to affirm that what is specifically human in man and ultimately divine is a certain quality of will, a will that is felt in its relation to his ordinary self as a will to refrain. The affirmation of this quality of will is nothing new: it is implied in the Pauline opposition between a law of the spirit and a law of the members. In general, the primacy accorded to will over intellect in Oriental. The idea of humility, the idea that man needs to defer to a higher will, came into Europe with an Oriental religion, Christianity. This idea has been losing ground in almost exact ratio to the decline of Christianity. Inasmuch as the recognition of the supremacy of will seems to me imperative in any wise view of life, I side in important respects with the Christian against those who have in the Occident, whether in ancient or in modern times, inclined to give first place either to the intellect or to the emotions.
Suffice it to say, Mr. Babbitt would have understood this phenomenon perfectly.

-LECTURE: Irving Babbitt and Cultural Renewal (James Seaton, April 13, 2002, The Philadelphia Society)
-REVIEW: of Democracy and Leadership by Irving Babbitt (John Attarian, The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty)

(originally posted: 6/23/04)

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Posted by orrinj at 12:13 AM


Pilgrims and the Roots of the American Thanksgiving (MALCOLM GASKILL, Nov. 26, 2014, WSJ)

But then why had anyone come in the first place? Their reasons were manifold. The Pilgrims wanted to worship freely outside the Church of England. Others wanted to reform English religion. Most Virginians simply wanted to find land where they could make a living.

All of the colonists were trying to recreate a better version of the Old World rather than inventing something new. In society and economy, politics and religion, England was changing, many felt for the worse, and nostalgia for a golden age of faith--based on scripture, healthy social relations and charity among neighbors--was a powerful incentive to emigrate.

Winthrop's "city upon a hill" speech, beloved of modern presidential speechwriters, was more of a reactionary manifesto than a radical one. It spoke of values that had decayed in English life to be resurrected across the Atlantic. This was revolution 17th-century style: a return to the status quo ante.

So the colonists set about building English houses, mixing arable farmland with pasture, approximating English meals and wearing their warm woolens, regardless of the weather. They behaved, so far as possible, as if nothing had changed. They imposed familiar hierarchies, enforced English laws and appointed magistrates and constables.

Wherever they went, they anglicized Indian place-names. Dozens of English towns and villages--Dorchester, Ipswich, Springfield--were reborn in America: Boston had been, and still is, a small Lincolnshire port. Long Island became "Yorkshire," split into three parts or "ridings," just like the English county.

America was the child, conceived and raised in the image of the parent--an extension of England, not its replacement. Writing in 1697, John Higginson, a minister at Salem, Mass., desired only "that the Little Daughter of New England in America may bow down herself to her Mother England."

In the end, however, pretending to be in England, like turning expectantly to a lost golden age, was futile. Many succumbed to homesickness. One woman faked an inheritance that, she said, had to be collected in person, just so that her husband would let her go home. Some returned for good--one in five New Englanders by 1640.

Nor were the English alone in America. The varied character of their colonies was due not just to the pressures of landscape and ecology but to tense relations with Native Americans and European neighbors.

Failing to retain a recognizably English identity caused anxiety and disappointment. But from failure emerged something truly striking, a spirit that resonates in America across the centuries. Colonial character was driven by a creative tension between lofty ideals and mundane desires. Trying to remain the same, it turned out, demanded a constant effort of industry and reinvention.

The liberties that many migrants felt were being abused at home, by royal contempt for the rights of freeborn Englishmen, ended up being defended in America through the bondage of others--both indentured servants and slaves--and the disinheritance and dispersal of Native Americans. And for all their inward-looking community spirit, the fortunes of many New England communities depended on their expansion. The Puritan idea of a "sufficiency"--having just enough land to be comfortable--was compromised by commercial greed and voracious land grabs.

American religion also evolved in a surprising way. In Philadelphia--"the city of brotherly love"--and other economic centers, Christian virtues were extolled in an expanding world of litigiousness and competition. The secularism in civil government propagated in Rhode Island has its legacy today in the constitutional separation of church and state, but this coexists with an intense religiosity in politics that the Pilgrim fathers would have recognized and admired.

Still, for all their diversity and contradictions, English migrants to America tended to conform to a single recognizable type: the intrepid, resilient, undaunted pioneer. In every colony, similar challenges were met with the same determination and optimism.

[originally posted 11/27/14]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


Footnote on Reagan�s �City on a Hill� phrase (L. John VanTil, 06/19/2004, Z Wire)

In recent days many Americans were deeply moved by the week-long farewell ceremony in honor of President Ronald Reagan. Among the many tributes were frequent references to his vision for America. Numerous speakers, including Vice President Cheney and Supreme Court Justice O�Connor, specifically referred to, and even quoted, John Winthrop�s lay-sermon on board the Arbella in 1630 as the prime example of President Reagan�s vision for America. Winthrop challenged his fellow settlers to work hard, to do the right thing and to carry out the purpose of their mission as they settled in New England. And why? Because, he said, �we shall be as a city upon a hill,� continuing with the observation that all the world would be watching to see how they did in their little experiment in America, ready to mock them if they failed. The networks replayed President Reagan�s delivery of this quotation many times during the week and numerous pundits cited the line as well. Every one of the dozens who quoted or commented on Winthrop�s phrase during the memorial events referred to him as a �Pilgrim� leader.

In the interest of historical accuracy it must be pointed out that John Winthrop was not a Pilgrim and that stating so on any decent history test would result in points being lost. Well, then, who was Winthrop if not a Pilgrim? It is no small point to state that he was, in fact, a Puritan and that Pilgrims and Puritans were not the same settlers at all. And, it must be said that Pilgrims are admired by Americans, even admired in some history texts, while queries about Puritans generally result in a frown and a negative opinion. [...]

If Winthrop was not a Pilgrim, how did it happen that he came to be called one by President Reagan and then by dozens who quoted him or quoted Winthrop from their own experience during the memorial ceremonies? The likely answer to this question involves a long-standing erroneous reputation of the Puritans.

During the first half of the twentieth century, history textbooks that commented on Puritans and Puritanism had a decidedly negative tone in their interpretation. This negative tone probably arose from the writer�s personal dislike for the strict Christian views held by the Puritans, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this piece. Puritanism has been rehabilitated by an outstanding group of Harvard and Yale historians beginning with the work of Samuel E. Morison in the 1930s (�The Builders of the Bay Colony�), continuing with major works by Perry Miller (�The New England Mind�) and Yale historian Edmond S. Morgan (The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop). Their students and their students� students have carried on this restoration of Puritanism, therein creating an accurate picture of it. Indeed, I would count my own �Liberty of Conscience: The History of a Puritan Idea� as a chapter in this reconstruction of Puritanism. In brief, it is clear that Puritans were generally witty, educated, hard working, and devout Christians. They certainly were not prudes as Edmond Morgan has pointed out.

�Cultural lag� and simple obstinacy, not to mention a continuing revisionism of American history, have prevented the more accurate picture of John Winthrop�s Boston from becoming the prevailing view of Puritanism. Hence, it is likely that whoever first gave President Reagan this quotation did not know the difference between Pilgrims and Puritans. Or, more likely, this person thought that using the name Puritan would undermine whatever positive message the �city on a hill� phrase had.

Heck, there are still folks who haven't figured out that Jonathan Edwards was one of our most important Founders.

Interesting to note though that when Ronald Reagan first famously used the "city on a hill" phrase, back when he was writing all his own material, he didn't make the Pilgrim mistake, We Will Be A City Upon A Hill (Ronald Reagan, January 25, 1974, First Conservative Political Action Conference):

Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, �We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.� Well, we have not dealt falsely with our God, even if He is temporarily suspended from the classroom.

He did though err when he had speechwriters, Farewell Address (Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1989):
The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And 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.

(originally posted: 6/25/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Plymouth Oration (Daniel Webster, December 22, 1820)

Standing in relation tour ancestors and our posterity, we are assembled on this memorable spot, to perform the duties which that relation and the present occasion impose upon us. We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labors; our admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety; and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease, exile, and famine, to enjoy and to establish. And we would leave here, also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our devotion to civil and religions liberty, in our regard for whatever advances human knowledge or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin.

There is a local feeling connected with this occasion, too strong to be resisted; a sort of genius of the place, which inspires and awes us. We feel that we are on the spot where the first scene of our history was laid; where the hearths and altars of New England were first places; where Christianity, and civilization, and letters made their first lodgement, in a vast extent of country, covered with a wilderness, and peopled by roving barbarians. We are here, at the season of the year at which the event took place. The imagination irresistibly and rapidly draws around us the principal features and the leading characters in the original scene. We cast our eyes abroad on the ocean, and we see where the little bark, with the interesting group upon its deck, made its slow progress to the shore. We look around us, and behold the hills and promontories where the anxious eyes of our fathers first saw the places of habitation and of rest. We feel the cold which benumbed, and listen to the winds which pierced them. Beneath us is the Rock, on which New England received the feet of the Pilgrrims. We seem even to behold them, as they struggle with the elements, and, with toilsome efforts, gain the shore. We listen to the chiefs in council; we see the unexampled exhibition of female fortitude and resignation; we hear the whisperings of youthful impatience, and we see, what a painter of our own has also represented by his pencil, chilled anbd shivering childhood, houseless, but for a mother's arms, couchless, but for a mother's breast, till our own blood almost freezes. The mild dignity of CARVER and of BRADFORD; the decisive and soldierlike air and manner of STANDISH; the devout BREWSTER; the enterprising ALLERTON; the general firmness and thoughtfulness of the whole band; their conscious joy for dangers escaped; their deep solicitude about danger to come; their trust in Heaven; their high religious faith, full of confidence and anticipation; all of these seem to belong to this place, and to be present upon this occasion, to fill us with reverence and admiration...

The nature and constitution of society and government in this country are interesting topics, to which I would devote what remains of the time allowed to this occasion. Of our system of government the first thing to be said is, that it is really and practically a free system. It originates entirely with the people and rests on no other foundation than their assent. To judge of its actual operation, it is not enough to look merely at the form of its construction. The practical character of government depends often on a variety of considerations, besides the abstract frame of its constitutional organization. Among these are the condition and tenure of property; the laws regulating its alienation and descent; the presence or absence of a military power; an armed or unarmed yeomanry; the spirit of the age, and the degree of general intelligence. In these respects it cannot be denied that the circumstances of this country are most favorable to the hope of maintaining a government of a great nation on principles entirely popular. In the absence of military power, the nature of government must essentially depend on the manner in which property is holden and distributed. There is a natural influence belonging to property, whether it exists in many hands or few; and it is on the rights of property that both despotism and unrestrained poppular violence ordinarily commence their attacks. Our ancestors began their system of government here under a condition of comparative equality in regard to wealth, and their early laws were of a nature to favor and continue this equality.

A republicon form of government rests not more on political constitutions, than on those laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property. Governments like ours could not have been maintained, where property was holden according to the principles of the feudal system; nor, on the other hand, could the feudal constitution possibly exist with us. Our New England ancestors brought hither no great capitals from Europe; and if they had, there was nothing productive in which they could have been invested. They left behind them the whole feudal policy of the other continent. They broke away at once from the system of military service established in the Dark Ages, and which continues, down even to the present time, more or less to affect the condition of property all over Europe. They came to a new country. There were, as yet, no lands yielding rent, and no tenants rendering service. The whole soil was unreclaimed from barbarism. They were themselves, either from their original condition, or from the necessity of their common interest, nearly on a general level in respect to property. Their situation demanded a parcelling out and division of hte lands, and it may be fairly siad, that this necessary ace fixed the future frame and form of their government. The character of their political institutions was determined by the fundamental laws respecting property. The laws rendered estates divisible among sons and daughters. The right of primogeniture, at first limited and curtailed, was afterwards abolished. The property was all freehold. The entailment of estates, long trustss, and the other processes for fettering and tying up inheritances, were not applicable to the condition of society, and seldom made use of.

The true principle of a free and popular government would seem to be, so to construct it as to give to all, or at least to a very great majority, an interest in its preservation; to round it, as other things are rounded, on men's interest. The stability of government demands that those who desire its continuance should be more powerful than those who desire its dissolution. This power, of course, is not always to be measured by mere numbers. Education, wealth, talents, are all parts and elements of the general aggregate of power; but numbers, nevertheless, constitute ordinarily the most important consideration, unless, indeed, there be a military force in the hands of the few, by which they can control the many. In this country we have actually existing systems of government, in the maintenance of which, it should seem, a great majority, both in numbers and in other means of power and influence must see their interest. But this state of things is not brought about solely by written political constitutions, or the mere manner of organizing government; but also by the laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property. The freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable, if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population dependent and penniless. In such a case, the popular power would be likely to break limit and control the exercise of popular power. Universal suffrage, for example, could not long exist in a community where there was great inequality of property. The holders of estates would be obliged, in such case, in some way to restrain the right of suffrage, or else such right of suffrage would, before, long, divide the property. In the nature of things, those who have not property, and see their neighbors possess much more than they think them need, cannot be favorable to laws made for the protection of property. WHen this class becomes numerous, it glows clamorous. It looks on property as its prey and plunder, and is naturally ready, at all times, for violence and revolution.

It would seem, then, to be the part of political wisdom to found government on property; and to establish such distribution of property, by the laws which regulate its transmission and alienation, as to interest the great majority of society in the support of the government. This is, I imagine, the true theory and the actual practice of our republican institutions...

I deem it my duty on this occasion to suggest, that the land is not yet wholly free from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must for ever revolt, - I mean the African slave-trade. Neither public sentiment, nor the law, has hitherto been able entirely to put an end tohis odious and abominable trade. At the moment when God in his mercy has blessed the Christian world with a universal peace, there is reason to fear, that, to the disgrace of the Christian name and character, new efforts are making for the extension of this trade by subjects and citizens of Christian states, in whose hearts there dwell no sentiments of humanity or of justice, and over whom neither the fear of God nor the fear of man exercises a control. In the sight of our law, the African slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt. There is no brighter page of our history, than that which records the measures which have been adopted by the government at an early day, and at different times since, for the suppression of this traffic; and I would call on all the true sons of New England to cooperate with the laws of man, and the justice of Heaven. If there be, within the extent of our knowledge or influence, any participation in this traffic, let us pledge ourselves here, upon the rock of Plymouth, to extirpate and destroy it. It is not fit that the land of the Pilgrims should bear the shame longer. I hear the sound of the hammer, I see the smoke of the furnaces where manacles and fetters are still forged for human limbs. I see the visages of those who by stealth and at midnight labor in this work of hell, foul and dark, as may become the artificers of such instruments of misery and torture. Let that spot be purified, or let it cease to be of New England. Let it be purified, or let it be set aside from the Christian world; let it be put out of the circle of human sympathies and human regards, and let civilized man henceforth have no communion with it...

The hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion will soon be passed. Neither we nor our children can be expected to behold its return. They are in the distant regions of futurity, they exist only in the all-creating power of God, who shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us, their descent from the Pilgrims and to survey, as we have now surveyed, the progress of their country, during the lapse of a century. We would anticipate their concurrence with us in our sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors. We would anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then recount the steps of New England's advancement. On the morning of that day, although it will not disturb us in our repose, the voice of acclamation and gratitude, commencing on the Rock of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the sons of the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.

We would leave for consideration of those who shall then occupy our places, some proof that we hold the blessings transmitted from our fathers in just estimation; some proof of our attachment to the cause of good government, and of civil and religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to promote every thing which may enlarge the understandings and improve the hearts of men. And when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back uopn us, they shall know, at least, that we possessed affections, which, running backward and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have done for our happiness, run forward also to our posterity, and meet them with cordial salutation, ere yet they have arrived on the shore of being.

Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in your long succession, to fill the places which we now fill, and to taste the blessings of existence where we are passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human duration. We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers. We bid you welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of New England. We greet your accession to the great inheritence which we have enjoyed. We welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty. We welcome you to me treasures of science and the delights of learning. We welcome you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


(via ef brown):
On Hating the Jews: The inextricable link between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. (NATAN SHARANSKY, November 17, 2003, Wall Street Journal)

[I]srael and the Jewish people share something essential with the United States. The Jews, after all, have long held that they were chosen to play a special role in history, to be what their prophets called "a light unto the nations." What precisely is meant by that phrase has always been a matter of debate, and I would be the last to deny the mischief that has sometimes been done, including to the best interests of the Jews, by some who have raised it as their banner. Nevertheless, over four millennia, the universal vision and moral precepts of the Jews have not only worked to secure the survival of the Jewish people themselves but have constituted a powerful force for good in the world, inspiring myriads to fight for the right even as in others they have aroused rivalry, enmity and unappeasable resentment.

It is similar with the United States--a nation that has long regarded itself as entrusted with a mission to be what John Winthrop in the 17th century called a "city on a hill" and Ronald Reagan in the 20th parsed as a "shining city on a hill." What precisely is meant by that phrase is likewise a matter of debate, but Americans who see their country in such terms certainly regard the advance of American values as central to American purpose. And, though the United States is still a very young nation, there can be no disputing that those values have likewise constituted an immense force for good in the world--even as they have earned America the enmity and resentment of many.

In resolving to face down enmity and hatred, an important source of strength is the lesson to be gained from contemplating the example of others. From Socrates to Churchill to Sakharov, there have been individuals whose voices and whose personal heroism have reinforced in others the resolve to stand firm for the good. But history has also been generous enough to offer, in the Jews, the example of an ancient people fired by the message of human freedom under God and, in the Americans, the example of a modern people who over the past century alone, acting in fidelity with their inmost beliefs, have confronted and defeated the greatest tyrannies ever known to man.

Fortunately for America, and fortunately for the world, the United States has been blessed by providence with the power to match its ideals. The Jewish state, by contrast, is a tiny island in an exceedingly dangerous sea, and its citizens will need every particle of strength they can muster for the trials ahead. It is their own people's astounding perseverance, despite centuries of suffering at the hands of faiths, ideologies, peoples, and individuals who have hated them and set out to do them in, that inspires one with confidence that the Jews will once again outlast their enemies.

Due to the problems of demographics and assimilation, we're less sanguine than Mr. Sharansky about the future of Judaism, but Judaism is so central to the West and to Christianity that so long as America remains Western/Christian, Judaism's legacy will endure.

[originally posted: 11/17/03]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's Letter
My fellow Americans, I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clear understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment, I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life's journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends.

Ronald Reagan

In one of those inordinately gracious moments that marked his grace-filled life, Ronald Reagan turned the announcement that he had Alzheimer's into a "Thank You" letter. He spoke, as he had so often, of an America infused with light, an America with a "bright dawn ahead". Perhaps his most famous such evocation came in his 1974 speech at the First Conservative Political Action Conference, when he summoned John Winthrop's image of America as a "City upon a Hill", an image Mr. Reagan returned to often and used finally in his 1989 Farewell Address:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And 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.

After family and friends, I think that's what I'm most thankful for, that we are blessed to live in the land that does remain Man's beacon of freedom, that does remain, for all its problems, the City upon a Hill. And so, on this Thanksgiving, as we thank all of you for your patronage, your comments, your e-mails, and your consideration, we offer the words of John Winthrop himself, his vision and his warning, City upon a Hill (John Winthrop, 1630):
Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us,
as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces ofmany of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell: Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;

Therefore lett us choose life,

that wee, and our Seede,

may live; by obeyeing his

voyce, and cleaveing to him,

for hee is our life, and

our prosperity.

(originally posted: November 28, 2002)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving: Of Puritans, prayer, and the Capitol dome. (David Gelernter, 11/28/2005, Weekly Standard)

FOUR THEMES FLOW TOGETHER AT one of the most remarkable points in American history--the evening when Abraham Lincoln for the last time proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. It was April 11, 1865: two days after the Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox; four days before the president was murdered. Our national Thanksgiving Day is a good time to remember the president who had more to do with the institution of Thanksgiving and the actual practice of thanking God than any other, and to recall his last public speech.

On that misty April evening, the world had a rare glimpse of the symbolism of a powerful prophecy literally fulfilled, if only for a few moments. The brilliant "city on a hill" that the 17th-century Puritan settlers spoke of seemed embodied in Washington, as the capital sprang to life in a blaze of gaslight. The president spoke of the nation's long-sought victory in terms not of triumph but of reconciliation, and of the nation's debt to God.

Some of Lincoln's friends and admirers, recalling that night, remembered the president as if he were Moses looking "into the Promised Land of Peace from the Pisgah summit," as one of them, the journalist Noah Brooks, wrote. Lincoln like Moses stood at the very brink of the promised land he would never enter. (It's hard not to see Lincoln as the greatest religious figure this country has ever produced.)

Thanksgiving itself is theme number one.

Except that Lincoln was no Jonathan Edwards.

(originally posted: 11/23/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Thanksgiving's Simple Meaning (Ken Masugi, November 24, 2004, Precepts)

We are all familiar with the Thanksgiving holiday as a time for family, feasting, and football. All of these are great American institutions, but we forget too easily the meaning of this national holiday as it was first established by George Washington on October 3, 1789 and reaffirmed as we know it today by Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, exactly 74 years later. A mere glance at their Thanksgiving proclamations reminds us of the noblest purposes of government, including its greatest ends�fighting war and educating its citizens�which fulfill all the objects of peace.

Moreover, the simplest meaning of Thanksgiving reminds us�contrary to secularist courts and professors�that these presidents were proclaiming a holy day, a day for prayer and recognition of Almighty God's authority over man. We are most human when we honor our duties, to our country and to our Creator, and the wisdom that unifies these duties. No understanding of the First Amendment, however crabbed, can possibly gainsay this official government acknowledgement of the power of the sacred in our lives.

A close reading of these two messages reveals a careful and subtle teaching about the higher purposes of government and of human life.

(originally posted: November 24, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mayflower Compact : 1620

Agreement Between the Settlers at New Plymouth : 1620

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Mr. John Carver,
Mr. William Bradford,
Mr Edward Winslow,
Mr. William Brewster.
Isaac Allerton,
Myles Standish,
John Alden,
John Turner,
Francis Eaton,
James Chilton,
John Craxton,
John Billington,
Joses Fletcher,
John Goodman,
Mr. Samuel Fuller,
Mr. Christopher Martin,
Mr. William Mullins,
Mr. William White,
Mr. Richard Warren,
John Howland,
Mr. Steven Hopkins,
Digery Priest,
Thomas Williams,
Gilbert Winslow,
Edmund Margesson,
Peter Brown,
Richard Britteridge
George Soule,
Edward Tilly,
John Tilly,
Francis Cooke,
Thomas Rogers,
Thomas Tinker,
John Ridgdale
Edward Fuller,
Richard Clark,
Richard Gardiner,
Mr. John Allerton,
Thomas English,
Edward Doten,
Edward Liester.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Thanksgiving for immigrants (Marvin Olasky, November 19, 2002, Townhall)
Let's look at the four major types of anti-immigration arguments.

Type one criticizes not the immigrants themselves but a culture no longer committed to helping them assimilate. [...]

Type two arguments emphasize homeland security. [...]

Type three arguments that favor restricting immigration to limit population growth are not as strong. [...]

Type four anti-immigration arguments are really anti-immigrant arguments. We don't want those people, some conservatives say or suggest: They're not our kind. Among the murmurs: They're not used to democratic government, so they'll be easy prey for potential dictators. They're used to big government, so they'll vote for Democrats. They'll undermine America's Christian traditions. [...]

Conservatives should pay more attention to surveys showing that three-fourths of Latinos, compared to 60 percent of Americans overall, say that religion (almost always Christianity) provides considerable guidance in their lives. Korean-Americans are 10 times more likely to be Christian than Buddhist, and other immigrants from Asia also often have Christian backgrounds.

We need to tend carefully to the concerns that underlie "type one" but then let them come. (originally posted: November 19, 2002)

November 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


He's a Member of Congress. The Kremlin Likes Him So Much It Gave Him a Code Name. (Nicholas Fandos, Nov. 21, 2017, NY Times)

For two decades, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has been of value to the Kremlin, so valuable in recent years that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name.

...when he protests that he's not a source of any intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Senator: Gary Cohn Faked Bad Reception to Hang Up on Trump (Adam K. Raymond, 11/22/17, New York)

After listening to the president ramble for far too long, Carper wanted to get back to the matter at hand.

"Fifteen minutes later the president is still talking and I said to Gary -- we're all sitting around this big square table and I said, Gary, why don't you do this, why don't you just take your cell phone back and just say 'Mr. President, you're brilliant but we're losing contact and I think we're gonna lose you now so good-bye.' And that's what he did, and he hung up," Carper said.

CNN's John Berman asked for clarification. Did Cohn actually pull the old "bad reception" trick and hang up on Trump? "Well, I wouldn't -- I don't want to throw him under the bus," Carper said. Then he did exactly that, adding, "But yes."

...but how little those who serve under him do.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Pixar's powerful stories aren't being told by diverse voices, critics say  (JESSICA SCHLADEBECK, 11/22/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Pixar's track record with racial and gender diversity is drawing new scrutiny after Rashida Jones blamed her departure as "Toy Story 4" co-writer on a lack of minority and female representation at the animation studio.

"There is so much talent at Pixar and we remain enormous fans of their films," Jones and Will McCormack wrote in a statement Tuesday. "However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice."

...given the undeniable quality and popularity of their product? 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


How the French have converted to America's 'Black Friday' shopping bonanza (The Local, 22 November 2017)

French shoppers will spend around €845 million online and €4.5 billion in shops this weekend, according to the study.

The reason for so much cash being splashed around is Black Friday, the shopping phenomenon imported from the US, which sees stores offer massive discounts to shoppers the day after Thanksgiving Thursday, which is on November 23rd.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM



As Kushner's Russia troubles mount--last Friday the Senate disclosed that he had not turned over e-mails about WikiLeaks, a claim his attorney, Abbe Lowell, denied--insiders are again speculating, as my colleague Emily Jane Fox reported last month, about how long Kushner and Ivanka Trump will remain in Washington. Despite Kushner's efforts to project confidence about Robert Mueller's probe, he expressed worry after the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates about how far the investigation could go. "Do you think they'll get the president?" Kushner asked a friend, according to a person briefed on the conversation. [...]

But as bad as the Russia investigation may be, it's not clear a New York homecoming would be much better for Kushner, given that his family's debt-ridden office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue could be headed for bankruptcy.

November 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


High-Ranking Male Primates Keep Wafting Their Sex Stink at Females, Who Hate It (Elizabeth Preston, November 21, 2017, Discover)

Researchers call it "stink flirting." A male ring-tailed lemur rubs his signature scent onto his long, fluffy tail, then waves it over his head in the direction of a nearby female. Males seem to intend this gesture as a sexual overture. But it often gets them into fights--with lemurs of both sexes. In fact, scientists aren't sure stink flirting helps male lemurs at all.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


The Value of Each Draft Pick: A Re-Examination of Massey-Thaler Surplus Value under the New CBA (Brian Burke, 15 January 2016, Advanced Football Analysis)

The green line is the surplus value. It ranges from under 1/2 a million to a peak of over $2M through the second round. The irregularities/discontinuities in the curve are due to the draftee salaries. The abrupt uptick in surplus value is at pick #33, where the second round begins. The general results are congruent with Massey-Thaler's original surplus value curve, but the particular magnitudes of the surplus are considerably different.

I expected that the new CBA would result in much more surplus value at the very top of the draft, but that's not the case. The timeframe of the Massey-Thaler paper did not include the Stafford-Bradford years, where very top draftee salaries exploded. It seems that the new CBA restored the balance of an earlier era, the era covered by Massey-Thaler, rather than radically altering the landscape. It seems that teams are now paying nearly market salaries for the very top picks.

These new results indicate much higher surplus value for "second day" picks of the 2nd and 3rd rounds than previously found. The causes of the difference are that the "FA Cost" curve (red curve above) is slightly flatter than before (compared to Massey-Thaler's "Performance Value" curve), and that the salaries of mid-round picks are noticeably depressed. The combination of both effects results in greater surplus.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


When Our Allies Are Accused of Harassment (Michelle Goldberg, 11/21/17, NY Times)

Last Thursday, after a photograph emerged of Senator Al Franken either groping or pretending to grope a sleeping woman, Leeann Tweeden, with whom he'd been traveling on a 2006 U.S.O. tour, I wrote that he should resign. Almost as soon as it was published I started having second thoughts. I spent all weekend feeling guilty that I'd called for the sacrifice of an otherwise decent man to make a political point.

It's cute when the wings pretend that the deviants contained themselves to one episode (maybe two).  

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Nearly half of U.S. cancer deaths blamed on unhealthy behavior (ASSOCIATED PRESS, NOVEMBER 21, 2017)

The study found that 45 percent of cancer deaths and 42 percent of diagnosed cancer cases could be attributed to what the authors call "modifiable" risk factors. These are risks that are not inherited, and mostly the result of behavior that can be changed, like exposure to sun, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, drinking alcohol, and, most importantly, smoking.

And another quarter is overdiagnosis.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Iran's president declares end of Islamic State (Babak Dehghanpisheh, 11/21/17, Reuters) 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared the end of Islamic State on Tuesday while a senior military commander thanked the "thousands of martyrs" killed in operations organized by Iran to defeat the militant group in Syria and Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


She Said A Powerful Congressman Harassed Her. Here's Why You Didn't Hear Her Story. (Paul McLeod & Lissandra Villa, 11/20/17, BuzzFeed News

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not "succumb to [his] sexual advances."

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

Now it gets fun.
Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM



INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES HAVE a limited number of trained human analysts looking for undeclared nuclear facilities, or secret military sites, hidden among terabytes of satellite images. But the same sort of deep learning artificial intelligence that enables Google and Facebook to automatically filter images of human faces and cats could also prove invaluable in the world of spy versus spy. An early example: US researchers have trained deep learning algorithms to identify Chinese surface-to-air missile sites--hundreds of times faster than their human counterparts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


France told it's not attractive enough to lure skilled foreign workers (The Local, 21 November 2017)

France has been criticized for not being attractive enough to skilled workers from outside the European Union in a new study which says the French government "must do more".

To attract skilled workers and meet the needs of the labor market, France must "modernize and improve" its economic immigration system, said the study by the global economics organization, the OECD. 

November 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The Trump-Russia-WikiLeaks Alliance and Campaign Finance Laws (Bob Bauer, November 20, 2017, Just Security)

This is a case in which, in the face of specific federal law prohibitions on foreign national contributions, a presidential campaign openly welcomed the intervention of a foreign power and communicated private encouragement and support of the specific steps Russia and its agents, including WikiLeaks, took to intervene. On further investigation into matters like the revisions in the GOP platform on Ukraine, it may turn out that the campaign rewarded its Russian ally with changes in policies for which the Putin regime was actively agitating. It seems that many of those unconvinced that there is a serious legal problem approach this case like a garden-variety campaign finance question, taking each disclosure in turn and trying to determine whether it somehow "makes the case."  The law prohibits a foreign national from providing a campaign with any "thing of value," but they are unsure that the materials the Russians stole and disseminated qualify as such.  The law prohibits coordination between a campaign and a foreign national, but they don't see the public appeals for Russian support, reinforced with private messaging such as Don Jr's emails with WikiLeaks, or meeting with Kremlin emissaries, as quite fitting within the statutory definition. Rather than judge Wikileaks as has the Director of the CIA-as a "hostile non-state intelligence service" -they picture it more as an informational site available for third-party posting.

But this is not a garden-variety campaign finance case. In such cases, the state's regulatory interests are painstakingly balanced against citizens' constitutional rights.  In the Trump-campaign Russia relationship, the balance is not the same, for the indisputable reason that Russia has no constitutional right to participate in a US election and the Trump campaign has no such right to solicit or receive the benefits of that participation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Sources: McMaster Mocked Trump's Intelligence At A Private Dinner (Joseph Bernstein, 11/20/17, BuzzFeed News)

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump's intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.

Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz -- who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs -- McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an "idiot" and a "dope" with the intelligence of a "kindergartner," the sources said.

A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump's intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Time to Stop the War Against Imports (Steven Globerman, November 17, 2017, Real Clear Policy)

Supporters claim that tariffs will create more jobs and higher incomes in the U.S. by substituting American-made products for foreign products. This claim is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, simply wrong. To be sure, tariffs on softwood lumber imports from Canada will likely create more employment in sawmills in the Pacific Northwest. However, it will also lead to higher costs for builders of new homes and renovators of existing homes. This will result in overall less employment of construction workers and those working in activities related to home construction, including mortgage brokers, title insurers, and architects. This does not create more employment. At best, it simply changes the mix of employment.

Since Boeing is not currently producing a direct substitute for Bombardier's C-Series plane, it is not even clear that the tariff proposed against Bombardier will lead to increased employment at Boeing. A tariff will certainly not encourage Boeing to improve its efficiency. However, if the proposed tariffs against Bombardier are finalized, they will almost certainly force Delta and other U.S. airlines to use planes that are less efficient for their businesses. This, in turn, suggests that U.S. airlines will pay lower wages to their employees than they otherwise would or raise prices to their customers. Either way, this will result in lower real incomes for Americans who work in the airline industry or consume its services.

When imposing countervailing and anti-dumping duties, U.S. trade authorities often focus on the effects imports have on specific domestic industries and thus the narrow economic interests of particular companies and their employees. Trade administrators should instead adopt a broader social benefit-cost perspective, as they are supposed to do when negotiating trade agreements. Very few actions to raise the price of specific imports would pass a test for positive net social benefits. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


More Immigrants Needed In Iceland (GEIR FINNSSON SOCIETY, 11/20/17, Icelandic Review)

In order to keep up the GDP growth, it is necessary for Iceland to have more people living there and working. According to Halldór, it is of vital importance to help immigrants learn Icelandic, in order to prevent them from becoming isolated.

"We need to make an effort to bring more people to the country to work. At the same time, we need to ensure that it's desirable to work here and that people can feel like they're doing something important. This is why it's highly important for us to accommodate foreign workers and help them be a part of the Icelandic community."

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


AIPAC-Sponsored Briefing Slams Trump Policy on Iran, Advocates Closer Ties to Islamic Republic (Adam Kredo, November 20, 2017, Free Beacon)

A policy expert at an off-the-record briefing for Capitol Hill staffers on Monday sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, slammed Trump administration efforts to crack down on Iran and advocated in favor of closer ties with the Islamic Republic, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the conversation.

AIPAC, the country's most prominent pro-Israel organization, sponsored an Iran briefing at its Washington, D.C., headquarters with policy experts Ilan Goldenberg and Michael Singh, according to those familiar with the event.

It's not too late to save Israel from itself...yet...
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


'A long winter': White House aides divided over scope, risks of Russia probe (Ashley Parker and Carol D. Leonnig, November 19, 2017, Washington Post)

The investigation reached a critical turning point in recent weeks, with a formal subpoena to the campaign, an expanding list of potential witnesses and the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Some within Trump's circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, have already been interviewed by Mueller's investigators, while others such as Hope Hicks -- the White House communications director and trusted confidant of the president -- and White House counsel Donald McGahn are expected in coming weeks. 

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller's team "working through the staff like Pac-Man."

"Of course they are worried," said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. "Anybody that ever had the words 'Russia' come out of their lips or in an email, they're going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It's going to be a long winter."  [...]

"The president says, 'This is all just an annoyance. I did nothing,' " said one person close to the administration. "He is somewhat arrogant about it. But this investigation is a classic Gambino-style roll-up. You have to anticipate this roll-up will reach everyone in this administration."

...the prosecution starts at the tail.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Mueller Wants to Know More About the Justice Department's Role in Comey's Firing (Margaret Hartmann, 11/20/17, New York)

Now the special counsel's team is requesting documents that make it sound a lot like they're looking into whether Trump himself obstructed justice by firing Comey, in addition to all the Russia contacts former campaign officials can't quite remember.

ABC News reported that in the last month, Mueller's team requested Justice Department emails and other documents related to the firing of Comey, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision to recuse himself from all investigations related to the Russia matter. Muller already sought White House documents related to the FBI director's dismissal, but this would be the first time he's directed a records request to the Justice Department - the department in charge of his entire probe.

November 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Can Lebanon handle truth about Hariri, Saudi Arabia? (aL mONITOR,  November 19, 2017)

"I am unable to convince anybody that you aren't a prisoner in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that you're not a hostage, that you're not under house arrest even though we are in your own house," said Paula Yacoubian in her interview with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week. "Even I myself am being accused of being part of this theater."

During the interview, conducted on his own Future TV, Hariri assured Yacoubian that all was fine and that he was not a captive in the kingdom, all the while drinking perhaps a quart of water and looking tired and at times on the verge of tears, saying at one point, "I have to think about my family, too. ... You know what I went through when my father died."

As one of the Marx Brothers once said, "Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" Not a single cab driver in Beirut or Cairo is buying Hariri's assurances that he has been acting of his own free will or that his visit to the kingdom was simply in the context of his special and brotherly relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Also not buying it are French President Emmanuel Macron, whose intervention led to Hariri's release, due to the good offices of United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed; German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who criticized Saudi interference in Lebanese affairs, prompting a crisis in German-Saudi relations; Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who said that he considered Hariri to "be held and detained, contrary to the Vienna Convention"; Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who called out Saudi Arabia for "irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region that is just trying to bully countries into submission."

Israeli minister reveals covert contacts with Saudi Arabia (Jeffrey Heller, Stephen Kalin, 11/19/17, Reuters) 

An Israeli cabinet minister said on Sunday that Israel has had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran, a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumoured secret dealings.

What's the point of secrecy when you have such an obvious shared desire to thwart Arab democracy?

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM

A THEOCON, NOT A NEOCON (profanity alert):

'I Want This for George' : Iraq, a family dynasty and George H.W. Bush's secret pain over his son's complicated legacy. (MARK K. UPDEGROVE, November 19, 2017, Politico)

Well after his son had left office, 41 observed that "Cheney had his own empire and marched to his own drummer." If so, it wasn't something 41 addressed with his son during his administration. Any feelings 41 had about the matter were outweighed by his confidence in his son and his inherent optimism that everything would turn out all right. He "didn't worry" about Cheney's influence on 43's presidency, he said in 2013. "It's true," Barbara Bush confirmed in the same interview, "he didn't worry about that. He had great faith in George." Instead, 41 used whatever sway he had with his son to gently question Cheney's recommendations, not Cheney himself.

"I never talked to him about it," Cheney reflected. "He never expressed views of it one way or the other. I've assumed that 41 and 43 talked about it, but I wasn't there. ... He didn't come in and say, 'Dick, you need to do X or Y.' That just wasn't his style." Tellingly, though, 41 said in a 2006 interview that he and Cheney "used to be close," while he remained more closely connected to other alumni in his administration who were then serving 43.

Barbara Bush was more vocal in her criticisms of Cheney, citing her belief that he had changed discernibly between her husband's administration and her son's due to the heart attacks he had suffered. "I think his heart operation made a difference," she maintained, indicating that her view was largely influenced by Baker and Scowcroft. "I always liked him, but I didn't like him so much for a while because I thought he hurt George. ... I think he pushed things a little too far right."

The president was aware of his parents' wariness of the influence of Cheney and the neocons on him. "I'm confident they concerned Dad and Mother," he said, believing that they, in turn, were influenced by the "inside-the-Beltway chatterers" he grew to disdain. Forty-three was appalled by his mother's privately stated belief that he was "unduly influenced" by the neocons "clearly steering him to the right." "Surely, you've got more confidence in your son that I would make up my own mind," he told her on more than one occasion. "If you don't agree with it, it's one thing, but I'm plenty capable of making my own decisions."

Barbara recalled her son's admonishment. "Mom, when you're criticizing someone in my administration, you're criticizing me," he had said. Afterward, she kept her doubts to herself.

Mom, when you're criticizing someone in my administration, you're criticizing me," Bush said. Afterward, she kept her doubts to herself.

Forty-three was incredulous that anyone--let alone his mother-- would believe that he wasn't the one calling the shots of his presidency. "I hear the voices and I read the front page and I hear the speculation," an exasperated Bush said in mid-April 2006, as Washington buzzed that he should replace Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. "But I'm the decider, and I decide what's best." As he put it six years after he left office, "The fact that there was any doubt in anyone's mind about who the president was blows my mind," adding that Cheney and Rumsfeld "didn't make one f[***]ing decision."

Still, why hadn't 43 further sought his father's advice on Iraq?

Because it was 41's mess he was fixing?  

When W won the nomination there were three mistakes his father had made that he was certain to rectify: Dan Quayle, hiking taxes and leaving Saddam in power. As to the last, W's case for the war was not just a devastating indictment of Saddam but of his own father's gullibility.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


The Magazine Interview: Rob Goldstone on setting up Trump Jr and Russia (ADAM BIRKAN, 11/19/17, THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE)

To recap, it was Goldstone who in early June 2016 fired off a hastily written and now forensically dissected email to his acquaintance Don Trump Jr, just days after his father had wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination. Goldstone outlined a striking proposal from a client of his, a Russian pop singer and oligarch's son who had once discussed Moscow property deals with Trump Jr after his family staged the Miss Universe pageant there in 2013. On offer were said to be "official documents" from the "crown prosecutor of Russia" that would "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father".

Their email exchange -- including the younger Trump's now famous response, "If it's what you say it is, I love it" -- has been a key focus for the Department of Justice's investigation into Russian interference in the election. So is the meeting that Goldstone attended a few days later in Trump Tower's glass-walled boardroom, with its sweeping views across Central Park. There, Trump's oldest son was joined by Jared Kushner, the candidate's son-in-law and close adviser, and Paul Manafort, then campaign chairman and now indicted for allegedly laundering millions of dollars from unrelated lobbying work for Ukraine's pro-Kremlin leader.

The three men had carved time out of packed schedules to meet a delegation promising "dirt" on Clinton -- a clear signal they were not surprised that the highest echelons of Russian government apparently wanted to intervene to help Trump. Across the table sat four Russians, including a high-powered female lawyer with Kremlin ties and a lobbyist who, it later emerged, was a former Soviet intelligence officer. [...]

Goldstone has had plenty of time to reflect on the events of June 2016. It started with a call from Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star and businessman whose singing career he managed and whose father, Aras, is a Moscow property magnate. Goldstone had worked with Emin on the deal to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013 -- and with it Trump, who co-owned the pageant, for a visit that is also now at the centre of US investigations. The Agalarovs staged the show at their Crocus property complex and, with other Russian entrepreneurs, laid out $20m to fund the event.

"So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps," Goldstone says.

Although he was accustomed to unusual requests from his celebrity clients, he says he was still taken aback when Emin called him about the now infamous Trump meeting.

"I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn't get involved in this. It's politics, it's Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It's not our forte. I deal with music. You're a singer and a businessman."

However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. "His mantra was always 'Rob can do it'. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much."

So Goldstone kicked into publicist mode, took the information supplied to him by Emin, "puffed up" the language, arranged the meeting -- and thought little of it for more than a year until American journalists started to call his phone as he finished lunch at a Greek taverna in mid-July.

"I should have listened to that little voice in my head," Goldstone says. "But I never thought in a million years that an email I wrote in about three minutes to Don Jr would be examined by the world many times over. I just needed to get him to respond. I could have said that the Russian attorney believes she found a black hole, or believes Santa is real, it didn't really matter. So when he replied, 'If it's what you say it is, I love it,' I just thought my teaser had worked. [...]

Goldstone's role in making this particular introduction will come under scrutiny when he is interviewed by investigators in Washington. Whatever the outcome, his view on the motives and mindset of Trump Jr, Kushner and Manafort is also expected to be under the spotlight.

It is an offence under American law for someone involved in a political campaign to receive material benefit -- normally a financial donation -- from a foreign national. There has been debate among legal scholars about whether the law also covers the intent to benefit from services such as "opposition research".

Trump Jr has since acknowledged that he went into the meeting expecting to hear such material about his father's rival. That is why he brought along Manafort and Kushner, after copying them into his email trail with Goldstone under the subject line "Russia -- Clinton -- private and confidential".

However, the White House's changing account of the purpose and contents of the meeting fuelled accusations that a cover-up was under way. An initial statement noted only that Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoption policy. The legislation, which was passed by Congress in 2012, froze the American bank accounts and imposed US travel bans for senior Russian officials held responsible for the death in a Moscow prison in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who was jailed and beaten after investigating high-level tax fraud.

The legislation is widely loathed by Putin and his inner circle, and the Kremlin ordered a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans as retaliation. Russian politicians, lawyers and lobbyists have long pushed for the sanctions to be ended. According to Goldstone, this appeared to be the true motive for Veselnitskaya's meeting with the Trump team. But US media has reported that she first made a series of allegations concerning contributions to Clinton and the Democrats from a well-known investment fund, linked to Bill Browder, a long-standing foe of Putin and driving force behind the Magnitsky acts in the US, Britain and Canada.

"Within minutes of starting, Jared said to her, 'Could you just get to the point? I'm not sure I'm following what you're saying,' " Goldstone says.

It was then that she started talking in detail about the provisions of the Magnitsky legislation and adoptions, he says. "I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else."

Goldstone described Kushner as "furious" and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


What if Ken Starr Was Right? (Ross Douthat, Nov. 18, 2017, N Y Times)

[W]ith Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, we know what happened: A president being sued for sexual harassment tried to buy off a mistress-turned-potential-witness with White House favors, and then committed perjury serious enough to merit disbarment. Which also brought forward a compelling allegation from Juanita Broaddrick that the president had raped her.

The longer I spent with these old stories, the more I came back to a question: If exploiting a willing intern is a serious enough abuse of power to warrant resignation, why is obstructing justice in a sexual harassment case not serious enough to warrant impeachment? Especially when the behavior is part of a longstanding pattern that also may extend to rape? Would any feminist today hesitate to take a similar opportunity to remove a predatory studio head or C.E.O.?

There is a common liberal argument that our present polarization is the result of constant partisan escalations on the right -- the rise of Newt Gingrich, the steady Hannitization of right-wing media.

Some of this is true. But returning to the impeachment imbroglio made me think that in that case the most important escalators were the Democrats. They had an opportunity, with Al Gore waiting in the wings, to show a predator the door and establish some moral common ground for a polarizing country.

And what they did instead -- turning their party into an accessory to Clinton's appetites, shamelessly abandoning feminist principle, smearing victims and blithely ignoring his most credible accuser, all because Republicans funded the investigations and they're prudes and it's all just Sexual McCarthyism  -- feels in the cold clarity of hindsight like a great act of partisan deformation. that either Bill, himself, or henchman Bruce Lindsey wrote the talking points memo. Just like firing Director Comey, it is obstruction of justice on its face.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Judaism Is The Star At A Bible Museum Built By Evangelicals (Ron Kampeas, November 19, 2017, The Forward)

The museum celebrates Jews and Judaism as the noble, beloved and even feared antecedents to Christianity, and argues that its best modern expression is in the State of Israel. And it makes the case that the Bible is not merely to be studied but to be believed.

Speaking at the dedication Friday, Steven Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and the museum's chairman of the board, said museumgoers should come away realizing that the Bible "has had a positive impact on their lives in so many different ways and when they leave they will be inspired to open it."

It especially celebrates the Bible's Jewish origins, notably those made manifest in modern Israel. The dedication included a rabbi, Israel's ambassador to the United States, the Israeli minister of tourism and the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

At times, the event seemed like a pro-Israel gala. Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, celebrated the museum as a signifier of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem. The Bible nurtured Jews through 2,000 years of exile until they were able to "rebuild the original DC -- David's Capital," he said.

Yariv Levin, the tourism minister, read a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sent "warm greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of Israel."

The deference to Judaism is evident in the museum logo, a B flat on its face resembling the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the museum store, where Star of David pendants glitter next to crucifixes. If you have $80 to spare, you can choose a crucifix or Hanukkah menorah made from Jerusalem stone facing each other on the same shelf.

The museum also makes the Bible as unmistakably American as someone named, well, Charlton Heston. One permanent exhibit is dedicated to the biblical underpinnings of the abolition of slavery and of the civil rights movement.

An American seder is indistinguishable from the 4th of July except for the quality of the eats. Of course, that's why Israel hates American Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach (Nicholas Kristof, Nov. 18, 2017, NY Times)

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 32 states, those with the highest percentage of high school students who say they have had sex are Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas. All but Delaware voted Republican in the last presidential election.

Meanwhile, the five states with the lowest proportion of high school students who have had sex were New York, California, Maryland, Nebraska and Connecticut. All but Nebraska voted Democratic.

When evangelical kids have sex, they're less likely to use birth control -- and that may be a reason (along with lower abortion rates) that red states have high teen birthrates.

Nine of the 10 states with the highest teen birthrates voted Republican in 2016. And nine of the 10 states with the lowest teen birthrates voted Democratic.

"Red regions of the country have higher teen pregnancy rates, more shotgun marriages and lower average ages at marriage and first birth," Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in their important 2010 book, "Red Families v. Blue Families."

The liberal impulse may be to gloat: Those conservatives thunder about "family values" but don't practice them. But there's also perhaps a measure of hypocrisy in the blue states. As Cahn and Carbone put it: "Blue family values bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage or the stigmatization of single parents. Their secret, however, is that they encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families."

Liberals, in other words, may be wary of strict moral codes, but they want to make damn sure that their own kids don't have babies while in high school. It helps that they believe in comprehensive sex education and reliable birth control. [...]

Divorce rates show a similar pattern: They tend to be higher in red states than in blue states, with Arkansas highest of all. "Individual religious conservatism is positively related to individual divorce risk," according to a 50-state study reported in the American Journal of Sociology.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Illinois Gov out to smash bankrupt 'blue model' (George F. Will, November 19, 2017, Boston Herald)

The strangeness of the contest between Rauner and the likely Democratic nominee (J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune) is that Rauner's real opponent is a Democrat who has been in the state assembly since Richard Nixon's first term (1971) and has been speaker all but two years since Ronald Reagan's first term (1983). Michael Madigan from Chicago is the "blue model" of government incarnate. This model is the iron alliance of the Democratic Party and government workers' unions. Madigan supports Pritzker, who is committed to the alliance. This is the state of the state under it:

Unfunded state and local government retirement debt is more than $260 billion and rising. Unfunded pension liabilities for the nation's highest-paid government workers (overtime starts at 37.5 hours) are $130 billion and are projected to increase for at least through the next decade. Nearly 25 percent of the state's general funds go to retirees (many living in Texas and Florida). Vendors are owed $9.5 billion. Every five minutes the population -- down 1.22 million in 16 years -- declines as another person, and an average of $30,000 more in taxable income, flees the nation's highest combined state and local taxes. Those leaving are earning $19,600 more than those moving in. The workforce has shrunk by 97,000 this year. There has not been an honestly balanced budget -- a constitutional requirement -- since 2001. The latest tax increase, forced by the legislature to end a two-year budget impasse, will raise more than $4 billion, but another $1.7 billion deficit has already appeared.

The one Democrat who did not vote for Madigan for speaker this year says he's since been bullied. Another Democratic legislator -- an African-American from Chicago's South Side, a supporter of school choice -- broke ranks to give Rauner a victory on legislation requiring arbitration of an impasse with a 30,000-member union. Madigan enlisted Barack Obama to campaign against the heretic, who was purged. These were warnings to judges, who must face retention elections. They -- including the one who refused to trigger arbitration by declaring a negotiation impasse -- are, Rauner says, "part of the machine" in this "very collectivist state."

Thuggishness has been normalized: Because Rauner favors allowing municipalities to pass right-to-work laws that prohibit requiring workers to join a union, Madigan's automatons passed a law (Rauner's veto stood) stipulating up to a year in jail for local lawmakers who enact them.

In 2018, Rauner will try to enlist voters in the constructive demolition of the "blue model." It is based on Madigan's docile herd of incumbent legislators, who are entrenched by campaign funds from government unions. Through them government, sitting on both sides of the table, negotiates with itself to expand itself. Term limits for legislators, which a large majority of Illinoisans favor, would dismantle the wall.

A 60 percent supermajority of the legislature is required for such a constitutional reform. So, next year voters will be urged to oppose any legislature candidate who will not pledge to vote to put term limits on the ballot. And all candidates will be asked how often they have voted for Madigan for speaker -- he has a 26 percent approval rating -- and to pledge not to sin again.

Illinois is essentially pre-thatcher Britain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


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The Hidden History of Trump's First Trip to Moscow : In 1987, a young real estate developer traveled to the Soviet Union. The KGB almost certainly made the trip happen. (LUKE HARDING November 19, 2017, Politico)

It was 1984 and General Vladimir Alexandrovich [...] Kryuchkov faced several challenges. First, a hawkish president, Ronald Reagan, was in power in Washington. The KGB regarded his two predecessors, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as weak. By contrast Reagan was seen as a potent adversary. The directorate was increasingly preoccupied with what it believed--wrongly--was an American plot to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR.

It was around this time that Donald Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence. How that happened, and where that relationship began, is an answer hidden somewhere in the KGB's secret archives. Assuming, that is, that the documents still exist.

Trump's first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987 looks, with hindsight, to be part of a pattern. The dossier by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele asserts that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for "at least five years" before his stunning victory in the 2016 US presidential election. This would take us back to around 2011 or 2012.

In fact, the Soviet Union was interested in him too, three decades earlier. The top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit. With assistance from the KGB. It took place while Kryuchkov was seeking to improve the KGB's operational techniques in one particular and sensitive area. The spy chief wanted KGB staff abroad to recruit more Americans.

In addition to shifting politics in Moscow, Kryuchkov's difficulty had to do with intelligence gathering. The results from KGB officers abroad had been disappointing. Too often they would pretend to have obtained information from secret sources. In reality, they had recycled material from newspapers or picked up gossip over lunch with a journalist. Too many residencies had "paper agents" on their books: targets for recruitment who had nothing to do with real intelligence.

Kryuchkov sent out a series of classified memos to KGB heads of station. Oleg Gordievsky--formerly based in Denmark and then in Great Britain--copied them and passed them to British intelligence. He later co-published them with the historian Christopher Andrew under the title Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations 1975-1985.

In January 1984 Kryuchkov addressed the problem during a biannual review held in Moscow, and at a special conference six months later. The urgent subject: how to improve agent recruitment. The general urged his officers to be more "creative." Previously they had relied on identifying candidates who showed ideological sympathy toward the USSR: leftists, trade unionists and so on. By the mid-1980s these were not so many. So KGB officers should "make bolder use of material incentives": money. And use flattery, an important tool.

There's a reason the only thing propping up the real estate business is oligarchs and money-launderers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Trump still loves polls : The president often decries surveys showing him with slumping support as fake, but advisers say he can't stop himself from obsessively keeping track. (JOSH DAWSEY and STEVEN SHEPARD 11/18/2017, Politico)

Aides in the White House often show Trump polls designed to make him feel good, according to aides and advisers. Usually they're the ones that focus just on voters who cast ballots for him in 2016 or are potential Trump supporters --Trump's base--but occasionally include public polls like Rasmussen, depending on what the numbers say. [...]

George W. Bush cared less about polling early in his term, said Ari Fleischer, his former press secretary.

"If you came into his office and said, 'The polls say this, the polls say that' -- it was the easiest way to get kicked out," said Bush's former press secretary Ari Fleischer. [...]

But while Trump's aides sometimes go out of their way to give him the rosiest view, Trump himself tracks the Gallup data almost every day, two advisers say, and always knows what the numbers say. When Trump decided to shake up his senior staff this summer, he frequently cited his sinking poll numbers to advisers and friends as a reason he needed to make a change.

It means Trump often has a complicated routine of keeping up with polls--which paint a dismal picture, giving him an average approval rating of 38 percent, according to RealClearPolitics--and getting upset privately, while blustering and calling them "fake" in public. ought to have been never to make anyone as insecure as LBJ and Nixon president again.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Jewish Home minister threatens to bolt coalition over Trump peace plan (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 11/19/17, Times of Israel)

"The National Union will not remain in a government that recognizes a Palestinian state," Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said in statement following a Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) report on the plan, referring to the faction he heads within the nationalist Jewish Home Party.

The ruling coalition has a narrow majority of 66 out of 120 MKs, leaving the government vulnerable to threats from junior partners. If the National Union, which is made up of just Ariel and MK Bezalel Smotrich, were to leave the coalition, it would not, however, eliminate the government's majority and trigger new elections.

But Ariel said he and Smotrich are not alone in their position and would be joined by other lawmakers in bringing the government down if the reports are true.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Finally Seeing the Forest for the Trees : After a spate of trauma and loss, Maura Kelly retreats to the Hudson Valley where she is converted into a nature person. (Maura Kelly | Longreads | November 2017, Longreads)

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I never got the whole nature thing. In my middle-class town, surrounded by neatly engineered housing developments, the little "nature" I knew was unnatural. The grass of the boxy lawns, stripped of dandelions, shined a uniform pesticide green. The most memorable tree of my youth lived like a caged beast in an indoor shopping mall; Shel Silverstein would've wept to see it, imprisoned between the food court escalator and a fake waterfall with wishful pennies glittering on its floor. In my state, even the ocean was tainted; the beaches of the Jersey Shore were a riot of oversized umbrellas and slick men in banana hammocks blasting their boomboxes. One summer, so much trash washed up on the sand that it made headlines, hypodermic needles and all. The Garden State, so-called, but it wasn't exactly Eden. Since I never went to summer camp, since my parents had no country hideaway, I was a kid who thought the Great Outdoors wasn't all that great. A tree by any other name was just as boring as every other tree.

All that began to change slowly during my undergraduate years in a postcard-perfect New England town. There I began to understand how beautiful nature could be. I still didn't want to commune with it or anything. (Camping seemed like a fantastically bad idea; why anyone would want to sleep on the cold hard ground in a place without a proper toilet was beyond me.) But the trees surrounding my campus and the mountains around my college town pleased my eye in a way that was new to me. There, in New Hampshire, I also went on the first hikes of my life. But despite my burgeoning Romantic sensibility, I saw those excursions up the mountain as little more than a chance to exercise while hanging out with friends. As for opportunities to stop and smell the pine needles, I was determined to avoid them. All I wanted was to rush to the top of Mount Cube and race back down again -- fast enough to burn some calories -- and I got annoyed when anyone tried to slow me down to ooh-and-ah over some dumb mushroom. [...]

One sticky day, I was jogging along a well-shaded stretch of blacktop when I noticed, on the rough trunk of a big red maple, a white slap of paint. A "blaze," a trail marker. Wasn't it? But no, it couldn't be. Because there was no trail anywhere around here. Or was there?

Looking closer, I saw it: a wide path there at the foot of the maple. I doubt I would've even stopped except that I'd been thinking for days how I should try to find an unpaved road where I could run. My knees were feeling squeaky, and dirt is easier on your joints than asphalt. Trying to make up my mind about whether I should try the trail, I treaded water, jogging in place, not wanting to sacrifice my elevated heart rate. But even just standing at the start of the trail, the cloud of colder air hovering around the trees was so deliciously cool that I had to dive in.

Because this path was so easy to miss, so vaguely marked as to be almost invisible, I expected it to be some skimpy thing. Surely, the wooded area I'd happened into could not be all that thick or deep; otherwise, it would be marked by a signpost and a dirt parking spot for cars. And yet, it sure seemed thick and deep. Fantastically tall trees were all I could see stretching ahead of me, and to my left and right. No more than a few minutes in it became clear that a vast wilderness was indeed hidden away right there, just beyond the road lined with wild raspberries where I jogged every morning. This alternate world that sprung up out of nowhere astounded me. I suddenly understood how a storyteller might conjure up a book like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

After a few minutes' jogging, I glanced back to where I'd begun and saw that the road had utterly vanished, swallowed up by verdant foliage. How strange, that I could so quickly leave behind what seemed like the whole world. It scared me a bit. And the path was so rocky and uneven, too, that I worried I'd twist an ankle. I hurried back to the safety of the road to finish my jog. Still, I'd seen enough of that Narnia that I had to see more, so I returned that night a couple hours before sunset, to take it slow and explore.

The trail went up, over, down, in an ever-changing landscape, through thick bushes, past vast shaded fern meadows, along a marsh brilliant with crimson flowers. Here and there meandered remnants of stonewalls, piled up by farmers hundreds of years ago, before they learned that the farming was better out west. Other than those lines of rock, though, I could see no civilization, hear no civilization, think no civilization. The whooshing birds, the humming brook, the whispering grasses, this miracle of silence, swept my head clean. The rich mineral smell of the air -- my lungs expanded with it, and my spirit too. "Who would have thought my shriveled heart/Could have recovered greenness?" as the poet George Herbert said. Not I, captain, not I!

I began taking short hikes every evening during what movie people call the "magic hour," when the light is most mercurial and affecting, soft and slowly dying. As I soon discovered, my walking spot was part of the mammoth Appalachian Trail, the longest hiker's footpath in the world. The Trail ran all through the town where I now lived, providing easy access to at least a dozen different entry points. I tried them all. Walking this bit or that, I got to know the names of things. The shrubs were mountain laurel, the slender red blooms were cardinal flowers, the trees with the pale bark like peeling paint were birch. One evening I saw a strange ornament hanging from a bush: an ashen gray pagoda, like a birdhouse, so intricate I was sure it had to be a work of human art. Yet it looked truly ancient. Had it survived some fire during the days of Lao-tze? I described this fascinating thing to anyone who would listen. (I'd once done the same with a song from a Chanel No. 5 commercial, asking and asking till I discovered it was Nina Simone singing.) I'd grope for ways to describe this objet d'art -- like an old lantern, almost? Origami, almost? Like it was made out of paper? Then someone said: "A paper wasp's nest." And yes, it was!

I had what I half-jokingly call "my nervous breakdown." Half-jokingly, though it was no joke. A perfect storm of events -- a break-up, a career disappointment, a professional trauma -- knocked me down.
But the real power of those woods came simply from the trees. Whatever effect Fort Greene Park had on me was multiplied exponentially in the seemingly endless forest that surrounded the A.T. All the pop guru talk of "being present" had done little more than chafe me before, but in the woods being present came, well, naturally. There, I wasn't thinking about the more fabulous places I could be or should be, or the more fabulous person. I was just so content to be there, in that restorative place, which re-charged my soul like sleep re-charges the body.

I never started hiking with any special plan or goal other than getting out of the woods before the dark set in. Very rarely did I walk to an outlook or vantage point. Maybe putting one foot in front of the other was enough to distract the anxious part of my mind, to trick it into feeling useful and busy, thereby freeing up some higher part of my consciousness for calm reflection on my life. In the woods, I didn't forget about all the things that were troubling me -- my existential loneliness, the crushing disappointments of my life -- but I could think about them without being knocked down by emotion. I began to effortlessly understand all this mindfulness stuff: The things that passed through my head weren't as much of a big deal as they so often seemed. My thoughts came from me, but were not me. They weren't permanent or final; they often weren't an accurate reflection of reality, either. All of which is to say that during my first summer in the Hudson Valley, I really started to get the whole nature thing -- just in time to help me withstand the tragedy speeding towards me from the future.

November 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


To Save Their Water Supply, Colorado Farmers Taxed Themselves (LUKE RUNYON, 11/18/17, All Things Considered)

Simpson recalls the thinking: "If we don't act, we might not be here. As early as the next 10 years. So it's not like something that's going to happen 100 years from now."

For farmers, the options were simple. Keep pumping until everyone's water ran out. Or cut back. After years of court cases and in-fighting, Simpson says the farmers eventually made a painful decision. They agreed that to save their livelihoods, everyone had to pay more for water.

"It incentivizes conservation efforts because it hits your pocketbook directly," Simpson says.

For six years now, farmers have been paying more every time they turn on their pump -- three or four times more. That can be tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for water. Farmers who manage some of the valley's most heavily irrigated fields end up paying $75 for every acre-foot of water that comes out of the ground, and another $8 for every acre of crops they're irrigating with the groundwater.

This was the first time in the U.S. that a group of farmers did something like this -- voting to tax their water use. And no one really knew if it would work.

Turns out, it does: Farmers who had to pay the fees cut their water pumping by 30 percent. "We were able to determine that yes, they've been able to reduce their groundwater extraction pretty substantially," says Kelsey Cody, part of a University of Colorado research team that analyzed pumping before and after the fees went into effect.

The researchers had another important finding: Those same farms aren't closing up shop because of the high cost of water.

Today, the aquifer in the San Luis Valley isn't quite re-charged, but Cody says the initial results are promising. Farmers are already talking about raising their fees even higher in an attempt to cut back their pumping even further. With aquifers in danger of running dry in many communities in the Midwest and West, the San Luis Valley could provide a model, says Cody.


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Palestine, but without expulsions (Arutz Sheva, 18/11/17)

Hadashot Sof Hashavua claimed to reveal US President Donald Trump's peace plan, as understood by senior Israeli officials who spoke to the US negotiation team.

According to the report, Trump intends to offer the Palestinian Authority (PA) its own country. The plan will include land swaps, but not necessarily along the pre-1967 borders.

In addition, the PA will receive millions of dollars to allow it to build a viable economy. Most of the funds will come from Sunni Arab countries, who will encourage PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to accept the offer.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Yellowstone eruption could plunge Earth into another ICE AGE (SEAN MARTIN, Nov 18, 2017, Daily Express)

A YELLOWSTONE eruption could plunge Earth into another ICE AGE, researchers have warned.

That calculation is based on the last time Yellowstone erupted, around 630,000 years ago, which cast a volcanic ash cloud over the globe and led to a massive decrease in temperatures worldwide.

Two separate eruptions 170 years apart each reduced the global temperature by three degrees celsius, according to a new study.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Danny Ainge recalls Bobby Doerr as a caring mentor (Adam Himmelsbach, NOVEMBER 17, 2017, Boston Globe)

When Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was a rookie with the team in 1981, he quickly became comfortable with the NBA game and did not feel far behind the veterans. But when he was a rookie infielder with the Blue Jays in 1979, he was much more inquisitive, much more green. So he was thankful to have Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr, who was then Toronto's hitting coach, as a mentor. [...]

"I learned a lot from him about just the mental part of hitting," Ainge said. "He would talk about that a lot. He would talk to me about strategies of most pitchers. It was just amazing how he was able to teach me about just thinking the game of baseball."

Ainge, who was just 20 years old during his rookie season with the Blue Jays, said that Doerr would often sit with him in the dugout and analyze games in real time. He had an uncanny ability to look at the pitcher, the batter, and the circumstance, and predict exactly what would happen next.

"He'd ask me what pitch was coming, and I'd say a high fastball out of the strike zone," Ainge said. "And he'd say, 'No, he's going to throw him a curve in the dirt.' And sure enough, it was a curve in the dirt. 'Now what pitch?' And I'd say, 'Fastball, outside.' And he'd say, 'No, it's going to be a fastball high and out of the strike zone.' And it was."

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Malcolm Young dead: AC/DC co-founder dies aged 64 (Roisin O'Connor, 11/18/17, Independent)

AC/DC's co-founder and creator Malcolm Young has died aged 64.

The legendary guitarist passed away surrounded by family, following a long battle with dementia.

Born 6 January 1953 in Glasgow, Scotland before emigrating with his family to Australia in 1963, Young was best know for being the driving force behind the band he co-founded with his younger brother Angus in 1973.

He wrote the band's material and came up with many of their biggest and best guitar riffs. AC/DC would go on to become one of the biggest rock bands in history, racking up hits including "Back In Black", "Highway to Hell", "You Shook Me All Night Long", and many more. The brothers were credited as co-writers on every song they recorded, from their 1975 debut High Voltage to 2014's Rock or Bust.

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Republican Governors' 2018 Dilemma: What to Do About Trump? (Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Nov. 18, 2017, NY Times)

"I do think Virginia was a wake-up call," said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who took over here as chairman of the governors association. "There's a pretty strong message there. When Republicans lose white married women, that's a strong message."

In a series of closed-door meetings, governors tangled over how best to avoid being tainted by Mr. Trump, and debated the delicate task of steering Mr. Trump's political activities away from states where he might be unhelpful. Several complained directly to Vice President Mike Pence, prodding him to ensure that the White House intervenes only in races in which its involvement is welcome.

A larger group of governors from agricultural and auto-producing states warned Mr. Pence that Mr. Trump's proposed withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement could damage them badly.

Republicans have long anticipated that the midterm campaign will prove difficult. But the drubbing they suffered in Virginia, where they lost the governorship by nine percentage points, along with at least 15 State House seats threaded throughout the state's suburbs, has the party's governors worried that 2018 could be worse than feared.

Voters appear eager to punish Mr. Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Ivanka and the fugitive from Panama (NED PARKER, STEPHEN GREY, STEFANIE ESCHENBACHER, ROMAN ANIN, BRAD BROOKS and CHRISTINE MURRAY Filed Nov. 17, 2017, Reuters)

In the spring of 2007, a succession of foreigners, many from Russia, arrived at Panama City airport to be greeted by a chauffeur who whisked them off in a white Cadillac with a Donald Trump logo on the side.

The limousine belonged to a business run by a Brazilian former car salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who was offering the visitors a chance to invest in Trump's latest project - a 70-floor tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. It was the future U.S. president's first international hotel venture, a complex including residential apartments and a casino in a waterfront building shaped like a sail.

"Mr Nogueira was an outgoing and lively young man," remembered Justine Pasek, who was crowned Miss Universe by Donald Trump in 2002 and was acting in 2007 as a spokesperson for Nogueira's company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. "Everybody was so impressed with Homes as they seemed to be riding the top of the real estate boom at the time," she said.

One of those Nogueira set out to impress was Ivanka, Trump's daughter. In an interview with Reuters, Nogueira said he met and spoke with Ivanka "many times" when she was handling the Trump Organization's involvement in the Panama development. "She would remember me," he said.

Ivanka was so taken with his sales skills, Nogueira said, that she helped him become a leading broker for the development and he appeared in a video with her promoting the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Judge and Altuve (Bill James, November 17, 2017)

 The bedrock assumption upon which all sabermetrics is founded is that the importance of each statistical accomplishment depends upon its connection to wins and losses.   It was a belief of sportswriters and baseball professionals, in the pre-analytical era, that individual player statistics could be dismissed because they had little to do with wins and losses.   The connection between individual player statistics and wins and losses was not well understood, in 1970, by any of us.  In 1974 the Oakland A's hit just .247, second-lowest average in the American League, but the team won the World Series and was third in the league in runs scored.  It was easy, at that time, for people to use statistical anomalies like that to dismiss the significance of individual batting statistics.   See here; here's a team that was just about the worst-hitting team in the league, but they won the World Series.   Batting stats don't mean nothin'. 

Without valid statistical analysis, they could make any argument that they wanted to make.   RBI are the game's most important stat. The stolen base is the key to the modern offense.  Walks are things that the pitcher does, not things that the batter does.  The sacrifice bunt is a great play.   Pitchers can be evaluated by won-lost records.  Johnny Bench is not an all-time great catcher because he never hit .300.  One argument was as good as another.

Modern analysis, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. . . .we overcame that kind of thinking by making two critical assumptions:  that each statistical accomplishment acquires its significance by its connection to wins and losses, and that every statistic must be looked at in the context of its outside influences.  The most critical assumption was the first one, that each statistic acquires its importance by its connection to wins and losses.   When we were moving out of the primordial soup, that was the first and most critical step. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM

CAT? (self-reference alert)(profanity alert):

These Elaborate Cardboard Boxes Are Exactly What Your Cat Needs (REBECCA OCONNELL APRIL 12, 2016, Mashable)

No matter how much money you spend on a well-made or elaborate piece of kitty furniture, they're always going to prefer to play or snooze in a regular old cardboard box. Bulgarian company Cacao Furniture knows this, and combines the best of both worlds, offering fun and creative cat shelters made from the feline's favorite material. Each cardboard box is beautifully crafted, making them an attractive alternative to the ones that house your internet purchases.

The Judd Spawn are always appalled when I tell them that it was a big deal in the 'hood when someone would get a new fridge or washer, because we would get the box to play with.  Of course, they're even more flabbergasted by the idea of our favorite game: "Get the Stick Stuck in the Tree".  [And we'll not mention the rules of "A-S-S"....]

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This country figured out how to stop teen substance abuse, so why has no one else? (EMMA YOUNG, 10/16/17, Bhekisisa)

At Metropolitan State College of Denver, Milkman was instrumental in developing the idea that people were getting addicted to changes in brain chemistry. Kids who were "active confronters" were after a rush - they'd get it by stealing hubcaps and radios and later cars, or through stimulant drugs. Alcohol also alters brain chemistry, of course. It's a sedative but it sedates the brain's control first, which  can remove inhibitions and, in limited doses, reduce anxiety.

"People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine - whatever," says Milkman. "The idea of behavioural addiction became our trademark."

This idea spawned another: "Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry - because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness - without the deleterious effects of drugs?"

By 1992, his team in Denver had won a $1.2-million government grant to form Project Self-Discovery, which offered teenagers natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime. They got referrals from teachers, school nurses and counsellors, taking in kids from the age of 14 who didn't see themselves as needing treatment but who had problems with drugs or petty crime.

"We didn't say to them, you're coming in for treatment. We said, we'll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts." The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids' brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life: some might crave an experience that could help reduce anxiety, others may be after a rush.

At the same time, the recruits got life-skills training, which focused on improving their thoughts about themselves and their lives, and the way they interacted with other people. "The main principle was that drug education doesn't work because nobody pays attention to it. What is needed are the life skills to act on that information," Milkman says. Kids were told it was a three-month programme. Some stayed five years.

In 1991, Milkman was invited to Iceland to talk about this work, his findings and ideas. He became a consultant to the first residential drug treatment centre for adolescents in Iceland, in a town called Tindar. "It was designed around the idea of giving kids better things to do," he explains. It was here that he met Gudberg, who was then a psychology undergraduate and a volunteer at Tindar. They have been close friends ever since.

Milkman started coming regularly to Iceland and giving talks. These talks, and Tindar, attracted the attention of a young researcher at the University of Iceland, called Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir. She wondered: what if you could use healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol as part of a programme not to treat kids with problems, but to stop kids drinking or taking drugs in the first place? 

In Iceland, a massive study revealed that teens who shied away from substances usually participated in organised activities, spent time with their parents and felt cared for at school.  

Have you ever tried alcohol? If so, when did you last have a drink? Have you ever been drunk? Have you tried cigarettes? If so, how often do you smoke? How much time do you spend with your parents? Do you have a close relationship with your parents? What kind of activities do you take part in?

In 1992, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds in every school in Iceland filled in a questionnaire with these kinds of questions. This process was then repeated in 1995 and 1997.

The results of these surveys were alarming. Nationally, almost 25% were smoking every day, over 40% had got drunk in the past month. But when the team drilled right down into the data, they could identify precisely which schools had the worst problems - and which had the least. 

Their analysis revealed clear differences between the lives of kids who took up drinking, smoking and other drugs, and those who didn't. A few factors emerged as strongly protective: participation in organised activities - especially sport - three or four times a week, total time spent with parents during the week, feeling cared about at school, and not being outdoors in the late evenings.

"At that time, there had been all kinds of substance prevention efforts and programmes," says Inga Dóra, who was a research assistant on the surveys. "Mostly they were built on education." Kids were being warned about the dangers of drink and drugs, but, as Milkman had observed in the US, these programmes were not working. "We wanted to come up with a different approach."

The mayor of Reykjavik, too, was interested in trying something new, and many parents felt the same, adds Jón Sigfússon, Inga Dóra's colleague and brother. Jón had young daughters at the time and joined her new Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis when it was set up in 1999. "The situation was bad," he says. "It was obvious something had to be done."

Using the survey data and insights from research including Milkman's, a new national plan was gradually introduced. It was called Youth in Iceland.

Laws were changed. It became illegal to buy tobacco under the age of 18 and alcohol under the age of 20, and tobacco and  alcohol advertising was banned. Links between parents and school were strengthened through parental organisations which by law had to be established in every school, along with school councils with parent representatives. Parents were encouraged to attend talks on the importance of spending a quantity of time with their children rather than occasional "quality time", on talking to their kids about their lives, on knowing who their kids were friends with, and on keeping their children home in the evenings.

A law was also passed prohibiting children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10pm in winter and midnight in summer. It's still in effect today.

Home and School, the national umbrella body for parental organisations, introduced agreements for parents to sign. The content varies depending on the age group, and individual organisations can decide what they want to include. For kids aged 13 and up, parents can pledge to follow all the recommendations, and also, for example, not to allow their kids to have unsupervised parties, not to buy alcohol for minors, and to keep an eye on the wellbeing of other children.

These agreements educate parents but also help to strengthen their authority in the home, argues Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, director of Home and School. "Then it becomes harder to use the oldest excuse in the book: 'But everybody else can!'"

State funding was increased for organised sport, music, art, dance and other clubs, to give kids alternative ways to feel part of a group, and to feel good, rather than through using alcohol and drugs, and kids from low-income families received help to take part. In Reykjavik, for instance, where more than a third of the country's population lives, a Leisure Card gives families 35,000 krona (£250) per year per child to pay for recreational activities.

Crucially, the surveys have continued. Each year, almost every child in Iceland completes one. This means up-to-date, reliable data is always available.

Between 1997 and 2012, the percentage of kids aged 15 and 16 who reported often or almost always spending time with their parents on weekdays doubled - from 23% to 46% - and the percentage who participated in organised sports at least four times a week increased from 24% to 42%. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking, drinking and cannabis use in this age group plummeted.

Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, developed a curfew for youth after large-scaled research showed an association between substance abuse and being out late. It's still in effect today.

"Although this cannot be shown in the form of a causal relationship - which is a good example of why primary prevention methods are sometimes hard to sell to scientists - the trend is very clear," notes Álfgeir Kristjánsson, who worked on the data and is now at the West Virginia University School of Public Health in the US. "Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down - and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country."

One of the things that conservatives sometimes have trouble grasping is that a government program that reduces social pathologies is conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Injured defector's parasites and diet hint at hard life in North Korea (Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin, 11/18/17, Reuters)

At a briefing on Wednesday, lead surgeon Lee Cook-jong displayed photos showing dozens of flesh-colored parasites - including one 27 cm (10.6 in) long - removed from the wounded soldier's digestive tract during a series of surgeries to save his life.

"In my over 20 year-long career as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a textbook," Lee said.

The parasites, along with kernels of corn in his stomach, may confirm what many experts and previous defectors have described about the food and hygiene situation for many North Koreans.

"Although we do not have solid figures showing health conditions of North Korea, medical experts assume that parasite infection problems and serious health issues have been prevalent in the country," said Choi Min-Ho, a professor at Seoul National University College of Medicine who specializes in parasites.

The soldier's condition was "not surprising at all considering the north's hygiene and parasite problems," he said.

How many more of them do we have to starve to show we aren't barbaric?

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM



300 days after becoming the 45th US President on January 20th, average prices of a luxury room at his hotels has dropped by 20 per cent, FairFX reveals. Of his 13 hotels, 10 are offering rooms at a lower rate this weekend than when he took office, a 26 per cent price cut. The cheapest rooms at his hotels saw such a drop, while prices for the most expensive rooms fell by 20 per cent, equivalent to roughly £1,400.

A two-night stay at Trump's Las Vegas hotel costs only £232 this weekend, a fall of 64 per cent from when the President took office. This is followed by Trump Panama, where prices have fallen 32 per cent. Losses at Trump's Scottish golf resorts have doubled since he took office, and room prices have fallen 28 per cent and eight per cent at his Macleod House & Lodge and Turnberry resorts respectively.

Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of travel money expert FairFX said: "When it comes to holidays timing is everything, and just 300 days after Trump's inauguration, prices for a weekend in one of his hotels have for the most part decreased.

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Ecstatic Zimbabweans celebrate expected Mugabe downfall (Joe Brock, MacDonald Dzirutwe, 11/18/17, Reuters)

Emotions ran over on Harare's streets as Zimbabweans spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

Mugabe's downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda's Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.

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The Manafort indictment is killing D.C.'s secret lobbying business (Christina Sterbenz and Alex Thompson, Nov 17, 2017, Vice)

For years, there's been an open secret in Washington power circles: It's highly profitable, if morally dubious, to secretly promote the interests of foreign governments, dictators, or oppressive regimes.   

Then came Paul Manafort's indictment.

At the end of October, Trump's former campaign manager was charged for working for Ukraine for nearly a decade without telling the U.S. government. Special Counsel Bob Mueller, who's overseeing the Russia investigation, could also bring a similar case against former Trump adviser Mike Flynn for over half a million dollars' worth of work he did as a foreign agent of Turkey, including writing an op-ed in strong support of the country on Election Day.

"That served as a wake-up call to current FARA registrants that they can't make errors that they know are errors."

Now, D.C. has snapped to attention. Lobbyists and media consultants working on behalf of foreign governments, known as foreign agents, are scrambling to lawyer up and tell the government, as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). And because of decades of non-disclosure, some congressional offices have even been going through their records to check who, exactly, they've been meeting with.

Information wants to be free.  Just make lobbyists (and investigators, if you want to reach Fusion) register all their clients.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


The Trials and Triumph of Trollope (Dwight Longenecker, 11/18/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Trollope began to write as he traveled around Ireland for his work. He wrote constantly and made himself a writing-desk so he could continue writing even while traveling by train. Persistent in his work he wrote in a letter during this period: "Pray know that when a man begins writing a book he never gives over.... The evil with which he is beset is as inveterate as drinking--as exciting as gambling." His determination, hard work, and eventual success makes him one of English literature's most prolific novelists and a prime candidate for patron saint of struggling writers.

Eventually, Trollope moved back to England, and after a spell working in Salisbury, he wrote his most famous work, the six-volume Chronicles of Barsetshire. Concerned with the intrigues of the cathedral clergy and the landed gentry, The Chronicles of Barsetshire portrays Victorian English life with all its high moral values and noble ideals as well as its greed, snobbery, and hypocrisy.

As a former priest of the Church of England, The Warden and Barchester Towers hold a favorite place in my library. The politics and personalities of the Victorian Church of England were still very much alive in the Church of England I inhabited in the 1980s and 1990s. I could name my own versions of the unctuous and ambitious Evangelical Rev. Mr. Slope (he added the 'e' to his name for euphony). I knew well the urbane and gentlemanly cathedral canons like Septimus Harding and the strident and striding Archdeacon Grantly. Anyone who had met a certain Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs. Archbishop would recognize the reincarnations of Bishop and Mrs. Proudie. My visits to the Church of England now are rare, but when I'm there I still espy the ghosts of Barchester haunting the towers of the Church of England today.

The third novel in Trollope's series is Doctor Thorne. This story veers away from the cathedral and deals with the hard times of the country doctor's niece, Mary. Having grown up with the children of the local squire, Gresham, she falls in love with his heir, Frank. Mary is lovely but illegitimate, and therefore an unworthy match for Frank. The Greshams are in dire straits because, while they are from the top drawer, their bottom line is blank. They are in debt to a local working-class man made good--the itchingly named Sir Roger Scratcherd. The plot unfolds with the poor aristocrats trying to marry money, and the rich parvenus longing for social acceptance. A fairly predictable plot twist means everyone lives happily ever after, but the work is a delightful turn on Victorian England, and for my money, is far more enjoyable than Dickens' often didactic and shallow fiction.

Amazon has launched into film production and recently hired the English Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes to produce a four-part film version of Trollope's tale. Filmed with the impeccable taste we have come to expect from British costume-dramas, the Amazon film features excellent acting, gorgeous British country homes, actors with cut-glass accents and drawing-room manners interrupted by boorish behavior and bold ambition.

Trollope's characters and plot are not cardboard cutouts. He is kind to all--observing the snobbery and greed with a tolerant, dry humor. Even the villains are shown to have some redeeming traits, and if they have faults they are caused by circumstances beyond their control. The terrible ones die humbly, and the frightful snobs are redeemed. And at the end of Fellowe's film version is a scene of repentance and forgiveness that is truly moving.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


UN 'seriously concerned' by Israeli plan to deport African migrants (Times of Israel, 11/18/17)

The UN refugee agency expressed "serious concern" Friday over Israel's plan to deport or jail thousands of African migrants in the coming months.

The proposal by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan would shutter the southern Israeli Holot detention center for African migrants within four months, in anticipation of "large-scale" deportations. Those who refuse deportation will be jailed.

The colour-coded Israeli ID system for Palestinians (Linah Alsaafin, 11/18/17, Al Jazeera)

As Israel expanded its control and occupation over four territories in the aftermath of the Six Day War, it devised a system of population control that remains in place five decades later.

After the 1967 war, the Israeli military declared the occupied territories to be closed areas, making it mandatory for Palestinian residents to obtain permits to enter or leave. Palestinians who were abroad during that time missed out on the subsequent population census and were not granted identification papers.

The clear delineator that has separated and dictated the lives of these Palestinians is the colour-coded identification system issued by the Israeli military and reinforced in 1981 through its Civil Administration branch. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip have green IDs - generally issued once they turn 16 - while Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Israel have blue IDs.

A tragic full circle from yellow stars.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


7 Questions with Mavis Staples (Raisa Bruner, November 9, 2017, TIME)

You have this persistent optimism. What's your secret to staying hopeful?

I just believe. It's not just for black people, what I'm singing about. It's to bring us all together. I've seen us have a black government; that's something I never thought I would see. As far as us coming together as one, I'm gonna keep on praying. But I don't think I'm going to see us coming together like that in my lifetime. When I saw that man marching in Charlottesville with torches, my mind was going, The next thing they're going to do is torch a cross. I've seen burning crosses. The only thing that's different is that the Charlottesville marchers didn't have white sheets over them. My heart gets heavy, but when I sing these songs, I get lifted.

What's it like to work with Jeff Tweedy as a producer and writer when you're making this music?

He didn't want to release the song "If All I Was Was Black." And he definitely didn't want it to be the title of the album. So I had to tell him, "Tweedy, you are black. You know me inside out, and I know you. You're black." Jeff Tweedy is a person who has beauty and good in his heart. This is my third album with him. He's a poet.

You're heading on tour with your longtime friend and collaborator Bob Dylan. Why do you like working with him?

We met when I was 17 and Bobby was 16. He's a good friend, and this is what friends do. We come together.

I've heard that you were once more than friends.

We were courting. And we would snuggle every now and then. He proposed, but I felt like I was too young. I'm older now. I just might propose to him! I don't know what might happen. The world would be shocked if Bob and I got married, so I won't do that. I'm just happy we're friends.

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A Great Migration From Puerto Rico Is Set to Transform Orlando (Lizette Alvarez, Nov. 17, 2017, NY Times)

Ten intolerable days after Hurricane Maria trounced Puerto Rico, Sahria Garcia finally got a call from her brother on the island. The call lasted three minutes and the news shook her: Her family had lost everything -- jobs, houses, possessions, cars -- and had spent days foraging for food, ice and water.

Ms. Garcia, who lives in a small Orlando apartment with her three children, did not hesitate: "Don't even ask," Ms. Garcia said she told her brother during their conversation. "This is your house."

Last week, they arrived -- two brothers, their wives and their four children -- and plopped onto newly bought bunk beds. The family is one small part of a sudden exodus of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans racing to Florida after Hurricane Maria, a migration so large it rivals those from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina and from Cuba to Miami during the Mariel boatlift.

The scale is larger than any previous movement of Puerto Ricans to the mainland, including the wave that arrived after World War II, said Jorge Duany, the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University and an expert on Puerto Rican migration. "It's a stampede."

More than 168,000 people have flown or sailed out of Puerto Rico to Florida since the hurricane, landing at airports in Orlando, Miami and Tampa, and the port in Fort Lauderdale. Nearly half are arriving in Orlando, where they are tapping their networks of family and friends. An additional 100,000 are booked on flights to Orlando through Dec. 31, county officials said. Large numbers are also settling in the Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach areas.

With so many arriving so abruptly, the migration is expected to transform Orlando, a city that has already become a stronghold of Puerto Ricans, many of them fleeing the island's economic crisis in recent years. The Puerto Rican population of Orlando has exploded from 479,000 in 2000 to well over one million this year, according to the Pew Research Center. The impact of this latest wave is likely to stretch from schools and housing to the work force and even politics. Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens and tilt Democratic, could sway the electoral results of one of the country's most pivotal swing states.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments (Middle East Online, 11/18/17) 

Earlier in the week Gabriel had said: "Lebanon has earned the right to decide on its fate by itself and not become a pinball of Syria or Saudi Arabia or other national interests".

November 17, 2017

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The Russia investigation's spectacular accumulation of lies (Michael Gerson, November 16, 2017, Washington Post)

I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation (which indicates, I suppose, a sickness of another sort). One, compiled by Politico, runs to nearly 12,000 words -- an almost book-length account of stupidity, cynicism, hubris and corruption at the highest levels of American politics.

The cumulative effect on the reader is a kind of nausea no pill can cure. Most recently, we learned about Donald Trump Jr.'s direct communications with WikiLeaks -- which CIA Director Mike Pompeo has called "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia" -- during its efforts to produce incriminating material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. But this is one sentence in an epic of corruption. There is the narrative of a campaign in which high-level operatives believed that Russian espionage could help secure the American presidency, and acted on that belief. There is the narrative of deception to conceal the nature and extent of Russian ties. And there is the narrative of a president attempting to prevent or shut down the investigation of those ties and soliciting others for help in that task.

In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing. [...]

We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion.

What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character -- without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle -- the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.

Kushner failed to disclose outreach from Putin ally to Trump campaign (KEN DILANIAN and CAROL E. LEE, 11/17/17, NBC)

One source familiar with Kushner's testimony before congressional intelligence committees said he specifically denied, under oath, that he was familiar with any attempts by WikiLeaks to contact the campaign. But, according to the source, Kushner was sent an email by Trump Jr. about his conversations on Twitter with WikiLeaks, which were first disclosed by the Atlantic this week. Kushner forwarded an email about the WikiLeaks conversations to communications director Hope Hicks, the source said. A second source familiar with Kushner's testimony did not dispute that account. 

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Kushner received emails from Sergei Millian -- an alleged dossier source who was in touch with George Papadopoulos (Natasha Bertrand , 11/17/17, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, was copied on emails sent to the Trump campaign last year from Sergei Millian, the Belarus-born businessman who has worked with the Trump Organization and was reportedly a key source in the explosive dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia.

Senate Judiciary Committee leaders said on Thursday that Trump campaign officials had handed over " communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner," that Kushner had apparently failed to disclose voluntarily. The center of that request, according to CBS News, is an apparent request from a Russian national to meet with Trump.

It is still unclear who was communicating with Millian, but a Washington Post profile of Millian from March could offer a clue: Millian told associates last year that he was in regular touch with George Papadopoulos -- a campaign foreign policy adviser who earlier this year pleaded guilty about making false statements to the FBI about the extent and nature of his contacts with Kremlin-linked foreign nationals.

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Gillibrand: Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned Over Lewinsky Affair (Conor Beck, November 16, 2017, Free Beacon)

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) said Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency due to his extramarital relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

When asked if Clinton should have resigned at the time, Gillibrand paused and told the New York Times, "Yes, I think that is the appropriate response."

November 16, 2017

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Kushner got emails about WikiLeaks, Russia in 2016, lawmakers say (KYLE CHENEY, 11/16/2017, Politico)

Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite" and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

Given the volume of water that Chairman Grassley has carried for the White House on these investigations that's a shocking admission.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Christopher Steele believes his dossier on Trump-Russia is 70-90% accurate : The respected ex-MI6 officer told Guardian journalist and author Luke Harding that his FBI contacts greeted his intelligence report with 'shock and horror' (Julian Borger, 15 November 2017, The Guardian)

One of the reasons his dossier was taken seriously in Washington in 2016 was Steele's reputation in the US for producing reliable reports on Russia, according to Harding's book.

Between 2014 and 2016, he authored more than a hundred reports on Russia and Ukraine, which were commissioned by private clients but shared widely within the state department and passed across the desks of the secretary of state, John Kerry, and the assistant secretary Victoria Nuland, who led the US response to the annexation of Crimea and the covert invasion of eastern Ukraine.

The sources for those reports were the same as those quoted in the dossier on Trump, which included allegations that the Kremlin had personally compromising material on the US president, including sex tapes recorded during a trip to Moscow in 2013, and that Trump and his associates actively colluded with Russian intelligence to influence the election in his favour.

Years earlier, Steele shared the results of his investigation of the global football organisation, Fifa, with a senior FBI official in Rome; that led to an investigation by US federal prosecutors, and ultimately the arrest of seven Fifa officials.

"The episode burnished Steele's reputation inside the US intelligence community and the FBI. Here was a pro, a well-connected Brit, who understood Russian espionage and its subterranean tricks. Steele was regarded as credible," Harding writes.

The book traces Steele's career as an MI6 officer, sent to Moscow in 1990 under cover of working as the second secretary in the UK chancery division at the embassy.

While there, the young spy was witness to the 1991 attempted coup and looked on when Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in central Moscow to denounce the plotters.

Steele left Moscow in 1993 and was later posted to Paris before taking a senior post on MI6's Russia desk in London in 2006. Because his name had been on a list of MI6 officers leaked and published in 1999, he was unable to return to Moscow. But he was chosen to lead the MI6 investigation of the assassination of the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive poisoning in 2006.

Steele left MI6 in 2009, to start up a commercial intelligence firm, Orbis, with a former colleague, Christopher Burrows. Soon after its founding, Orbis began working with Fusion GPS, a Washington-based company doing political and business research, which commissioned the investigation of Trump in 2016.

Steele delivered a total of 16 reports to Fusion between June and early November 2016, but his sources started to go quiet beginning in July, when Trump's ties to Russia came under scrutiny. According to Harding's account, Steele was shocked by the extent of collusion his sources were reporting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Something to be thankful for: the cost of a 2017 Thanksgiving dinner is lower than last year and 23% lower than 1986 (Mark J. Perry, November 16, 2017, AEI Ideas)

4. Compared to the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in 1986 of $63.87 (in 2017 dollars), today's classic turkey dinner is 23.1% cheaper at $49.12 this year.

5. Measured in time worked at the average hourly wage for all private production workers of $22.22 in October 2017, the "time cost" of this year's classic turkey dinner is only 2.21 hours, down by 3.5% from 2.29 hours last year and at the lowest level since 1986 when this annual AFBF report started (see bottom chart). Compared to 1986 when the average American would have worked 3.21 hours to earn the income necessary to purchase the turkey dinner for 10, the "time cost" for a worker today (2.21 hours) is 31.2% lower.

Bottom Line: The fact that a family in America can celebrate Thanksgiving with a classic turkey feast for less than $50 and at a "time cost" of only 2.21 hours of work at the average hourly wage for one person means that we really have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of cheap, affordable food. 

It's hard to overstate how much richer we are than we were at the end of the Cold War.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


This Trade Treaty Got Better when the US Bailed (Jeffrey A. Tucker, 11/16/17, FEE)

What is downright humiliating for Americans is that the treaty became better only after the US withdrew from it. 

What did this move portend for the cause of free trade? Some despaired that it would signal a new trend toward protectionism, not only for the US but the world. There is a certain nationalist myopia in this judgment. Americans are inclined to believe that if Washington is against something, that something won't happen at all. 

What many people did not expect is that the treaty would go ahead in any case, without US participation.

The remaining nations forged ahead and reached a new agreement on November 11. The US finds itself excluded, which could cause real problems for American exporters to countries like Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and Peru. Canada's lobster industry, for example, will soon have better access to the foreign marketplace than the U.S.'s, which could cause serious problems for an entire industry.

But here is what is most striking. The new draft of the agreement excludes the entire section on Intellectual Property - the most annoying and anti-freedom part of the deal that had huge prominence in all the treaty drafts.

Given the cost to America and the benefit to our allies, it's arguably the largest foreign aid spending deal in U.S. histor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Bannon: Stephen Miller Is 'The Last Man Behind Enemy Lines' (Aiden Pink, 11/16/17, The Forward)

Breitbart proprietor Steve Bannon has said that fellow nationalist Stephen Miller is the "last man behind enemy lines" at the White House.

Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist, was pushed out of the White House in August under pressure from new Chief of Staff John Kelly. Fellow-nationalists and Breitbart contributors like Sebastian Gorka also exited around that time.

Beauregard has to go too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Dem Senators Up for Reelection in 2018 Give Away Franken Contributions (Charles Russell, November 16, 2017, Free Beacon)

A growing list of Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 are donating to charity campaign money that they received from Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) or his leadership PAC, following allegations that Franken groped and kissed a woman without her consent in 2006.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.) joined that list on Thursday afternoon, saying on CNN that Franken's alleged behavior "isn't acceptable."

Beyond Baldwin, at leave five Democratic senators--Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.)--said they will give the contributions from Franken or his Midwest Values PAC to local charities, Politico reported Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


The new Bible museum tells a clear, powerful story. And it could change the museum business. (Philip Kennicott, 11/15/17, Washington Post)
The $500 million Museum of the Bible opens this weekend. (Essdras M Suarez for The Washington Post)
When the Museum of the Bible opens this weekend, it will set a new standard for how this country's museums fuse entertainment and education. The $500 million, privately funded project is as large as some of the Smithsonian's premier attractions, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is rich in content, stocked with historic treasures and carefully plotted to appeal to audiences of all ages. It brings to museum design the sophisticated marketing intelligence of the Oklahoma City-based Green family, who have used a fortune made from the Hobby Lobby retail chain to promote evangelical Christian causes. Their latest venture is a museum that offers a one-stop-shopping cultural experience, with history, art, architecture, theater and music conveniently packaged under one roof.

What it does well, it does as well or better than any museum in the country, and its failings, which are significant, will be difficult to detect for anyone who isn't a scholar, or firmly committed secularist.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Pentagon accidentally retweets call for Trump to resign (ROBERT BURNS, 16 November 2017, AP)

The tweet was posted Thursday by a person whose Twitter handle is @ProudResister. It said, "The solution is simple. Roy Moore: Step down from the race. Al Franken: Resign from congress. Donald Trump: Resign from the presidency. GOP: Stop making sexual assault a partisan issue. It's a crime as is your hypocrisy."

Manning says the person who had retweeted the item was an authorized operator of the official Defense Department Twitter account, which has 5.2 million followers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Before He Was Tapped By Donald Trump, Controversial Judicial Nominee Brett J. Talley Investigated Paranormal Activity (GIDEON RESNICK & SAM STEIN, 11.13.17, Daily Beast)

Brett J. Talley, nominated by President Donald Trump to the Federal District Court in Montgomery, Alabama, has never tried a case, is married to a White House lawyer, and has been dubbed as unqualified by the American Bar Association.

He also has a fervent interest in investigating and writing about paranormal activities.

On his questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee, a copy of which was provided to The Daily Beast, Talley says that he was part of The Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group from 2009-2010. The group, according to its website, searches for the truth "of the paranormal existence" in addition to helping "those who may be living with paranormal activity that can be disruptive and/or traumatic."

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Al Franken Should Resign Immediately : Democrats' credibility on sexual harassment is at stake.  (Mark Joseph Stern, 11/16/17, Slate)

On Thursday morning, Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden wrote a disturbing article alleging that Sen. Al Franken sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour. According to Tweeden, Franken coerced her into "rehearsing" a kiss for a skit, then forcefully stuck his tongue in her mouth. She also provided a photograph of Franken appearing to grope her while she slept.

There is no rational reason to doubt the truth of Tweeden's accusations, no legitimate defense of Franken's actions, and no ambiguity here at all: Franken should resign from the Senate immediately. Democrats should call for him to step down straightaway. This revelation is a test of the Democratic Party's consistency, honesty, and decency. If Democrats wish to preserve whatever moral standing they have today, they must exhort Franken to leave the Senate, with no hesitation or reservations.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Bill Clinton should have resigned (Matthew Yglesias,   Nov 15, 2017, vox)

At the time I, like most Americans, was glad to see Clinton prevail and regarded the whole sordid matter as primarily the fault of congressional Republicans' excessive scandal-mongering. Now, looking back after the election of Donald Trump, the revelations of massive sexual harassment scandals at Fox News, the stories about Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry, and the stories about Roy Moore's pursuit of sexual relationships with teenagers, I think we got it wrong. We argued about perjury and adultery and the meaning of the word "is." Republicans prosecuted a bad case against a president they'd been investigating for years.

What we should have talked about was men abusing their social and economic power over younger and less powerful women.

The United States, and perhaps the broader English-speaking world, is currently undergoing a much-needed accountability moment in which each wave of stories emboldens more people to come forward and more institutions to rethink their practices. Looking back, the 1998 revelation that the president of the United States carried on an affair with an intern could have been that moment.

It was far from the most egregious case of workplace sexual misconduct in American history. But it was unusually high-profile, the facts were not in dispute, the perpetrator had a lot of nominal feminist ideological commitments, and political leaders who shared those commitments had the power to force him from office. Had he resigned in shame, we all might have made a collective cultural and political decision that a person caught leveraging power over women in inappropriate ways ought to be fired. Instead, we lost nearly two decades.

The relationship with Lewinsky was a sideshow.  The core of the case for impeachment was that he obstructed justice in Paula Jones's civil suit, a case where his behavior was non-consensual. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Roy Moore to Mitch McConnell: 'Bring. It. On.' (The Associated Press, 11/16/17)

Ever defiant, Moore offered fighting words in a tweet addressed to the top Senate Republican: "Dear Mitch McConnell, Bring. It. On."

Chris Hansen, executive director of the national GOP's Senate campaign committee, fired back, "'Bring It On' is a movie about cheerleaders."

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Moderate Collins back in prominent role in Senate tax drama (Susan Cornwell, 11/16/17, Reuters) 

"I have data that demonstrates for certain middle-income individuals and couples, who do not qualify for subsidies under the ACA ... that the premium increase will outweigh the tax cut that they get," she said. "I suspected this, based on what I know about insurance markets, but now I have the actual data."

Collins was one of a handful of Republicans who voted in July to block a broader Republican attempt to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.

The failure of the final repeal effort, in which Collins was joined in opposition by fellow Republicans John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, was a stinging defeat for President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders eager to fulfill their campaign promise to scrap Obamacare.

Collins, 64, a senator since 1997, decided last month against running for governor of Maine in favor of staying in the Senate, where her status as a centrist Republican willing to work with Democrats has made her one of the most influential members of Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Go Ahead, Republicans. Investigate Hillary. Again. (Froma Harrop, 11/16/17, Creators.

Yes, that again. There was absolutely zero wrong with or troubling about the Uranium One transaction. Even Fox News viewers who heard Shep Smith dismiss the wild charges as nonsense know that.

And that's why Democrats should resist the urge to chase this non-scandal down the rabbit hole of Trumpian distraction. Provoking them to become players -- to angrily defend Hillary with their files of facts -- is the point of Trump's game.

So go ahead, investigate Hillary for the 10,000th time. Other than a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars, there's little harm in taking another look at the Uranium One sale. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


New editor of UK's Gay Times suspended for anti-Semitic, sexist, racist tweets (Times of Israel, 11/16/17)

The newly appointed editor of Britain's prominent Gay Times magazine was suspended this week after a series of anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist tweets emerged.

Josh Rivers's offending tweets exposed by BuzzFeed UK this week date back to 2010 and also disparage Africans, Asians, and overweight and homeless people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Iran pushing for Hamas-Hezbollah reconciliation : Observers said former allies are both likely to benefit from rapprochement. (Middle East Online, 11/16/17)

Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas's deputy political chief, had a rare public meeting with Hezbollah Secretary- General Hassan Nasrallah in Bei­rut on October 31. The meeting occurred soon after Arouri visited Iran.

Pro-Hezbollah al-Manar TV said Arouri and Nasrallah discussed "the Zionist aggression against Gaza and its ramifications" follow­ing an Israeli attack on a tunnel in the Gaza Strip that killed eight members of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh took part in a Hezbollah-sponsored con­ference on the Balfour Declaration on November 1 in Beirut, which kicked off with a message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other senior partici­pants included Hezbollah's deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem.

Observers said both sides were likely to benefit from rapproche­ment.

"It is no secret that Hamas, de­spite having different positions regarding the Syrian crisis, needs Hezbollah when it comes to fund­ing, training, securing supply lines for weapons and providing resi­dence for Hamas cadres in Leba­non," Adnan Abu Amer, wrote on the website Al-Monitor.

"For its part, Hezbollah needs a Palestinian movement, such as Hamas, to restore its popularity among Arab public opinion, which it lost after being involved in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen against Sunni Muslims. Hamas... may help dispel Hezbollah's sec­tarian image," Amer added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


If Saudi Arabia Reforms, What Happens to Islamists Elsewhere? (KAMEL DAOUD, NOV. 16, 2017, NY Times)

Some time ago, an Algerian cartoonist known as le Hic summarized the situation in Saudi Arabia with a few harsh strokes of his pen: In a drawing, the Saudi king announces his resolve to combat terrorism while pointing a gun at his own head. The entire Saudi paradox was distilled into that cartoon: The country produces, sponsors, shelters and feeds the Islamism that threatens its foundations and its future.

How could this be? One has to go back nearly three centuries to begin to answer this question. Around 1744, a tribal chieftain, Muhammad ibn Saud, formed an alliance with an ultraconservative preacher named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and created the first monarchical state on the Arabian Peninsula. On the one hand, there was the Saud family, governing the country by right of blood and succession; on the other, there was Wahhabism, an ultra-puritanical and extreme version of Islam it called the original Islam. A family and a clergy -- the whole welded together over the decades as much by oil revenues as by the legitimacy deriving from proximity to Islam's holiest sites.

But Wahhabism is also, of course, one of the matrices of global jihadism today: an ideological and financial source of the Islamists' power and their constellation of fundamentalist mosques, television networks dedicated to sermonizing, and various political parties throughout the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia feeds the hand that is killing it, little by little, and other countries as well.

It took the West being heavily hit by Islamist terrorism for it to appreciate fully the measure of this menace, long camouflaged. 

November 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


When Carl Sagan Warned the World About Nuclear Winter (Matthew R. Francis, 11/15/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

If you were one of the more than 10 million Americans receiving Parade magazine on October 30, 1983, you would have been confronted with a harrowing scenario. The Sunday news supplement's front cover featured an image of the world half-covered in gray shadows, dotted with white snow. Alongside this scene of devastation were the words: "Would nuclear war be the end of the world?"

This article marked the public's introduction to a concept that would drastically change the debate over nuclear war: "nuclear winter." The story detailed the previously unexpected consequences of nuclear war: prolonged dust and smoke, a precipitous drop in Earth's temperatures and widespread failure of crops, leading to deadly famine. "In a nuclear 'exchange,' more than a billion people would instantly be killed," read the cover. "But the long-term consequences could be much worse..."

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


With Trump Back In D.C., Mueller's Investigation Enters The West Wing (Tamara Keith, 11/15/17, NPR)

In addition to campaign activities like the June 2016 Trump tower meeting with a Russian delegation attended by the president's son and top aides, Mueller's investigation is also understood to be looking into the drafting of a misleading statement about that meeting, the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Pompeo emerges as favorite to succeed Tillerson (ELIANA JOHNSON and ANNIE KARNI, 11/15/2017, Politico)

The CIA director's favored status in the West Wing has made him the odds-on choice to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to more than half a dozen administration officials and outside advisers familiar with the White House's current plans. [...]

Pompeo has established himself as a Cabinet member willing to perform uncomfortable cleanup duty for the president, defending Trump at some of the lowest points of his presidency. He made the Sunday show rounds to defend the president's response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, even as other administration officials went silent. Last week, he took a meeting at Trump's request with Willian Binney, a conspiracy theorist who has denied any Russian interference in the 2016 election, which appeared to lend credence to a theory that has been discredited by the CIA and every other American intelligence agency.

Pompeo has, however, publicly broken with the president over the question of Russian interference in the election, making clear that the CIA's view differs from that of the president himself, who has steadfastly refused to say explicitly that he believes in Russian malfeasance. When Trump on Saturday said that he believed Vladimir Putin was sincere when he denied any meddling, the CIA reiterated that the agency stood by its assessment that the Kremlin was behind email hacks and social media campaigns designed to benefit Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


The Mysterious Origins of the Roman Republic (Bradley J. Birzer, 11/15/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Exactly how the Roman republic came into existence remains shrouded in mystery. Critically so. As with our tradition of English common law and the necessity of knowing that its origins are "beyond the memory of man," from "time immemorial," "ancient beyond memory or record," and "time out of mind," so it is with the best republics. If we could identify the exact moment of origin and the originator or originators, a republic would lose one of its most important components: that it is a reflection of cosmic nature and not of human will. Its continuation must be of the will--just as with a trial by jury and the presumption of innocence. These must be guarded by the will, but they cannot rest in their origins in the mind of man (or men). If they did, they would lose their power and their very essence.

The Roman Republic, then, arrived not by the hand of any one founder, but by the revolution of a whole people against the political tyranny and moral corruption of the rulers, the Etruscans. Of all the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean, modern scholars know very little about the Etruscan people, other than their language (not fully) and the art that remained long after the Romans overthrew them. In contrast to the rustic simplicity of the Latins, the Etruscans appear to be a soft, sensual, and decadent people. The Romans must have despised them not just for their intrusive governance, but for their sexual libertinism and their effete civilization.

Whatever their successes--and they were many, especially in art and engineering--the Etruscans lost favor with the Romans, and the Romans violently overthrew them in 510 B.C. The following year, the Romans established a republic, only the second in recorded history. The Carthaginians had beaten them to it, but the North Africans had established a commercial republic, while the Romans desired a virtuous one.

Certainly, the Roman republic was not a democratic one, but, rather, an aristocratic one, with most of the power residing in the Senate (meaning "wise old men"), a body of the ruling families that controlled the finances, internal security, and foreign affairs. In his history of Rome, the Greek thinker Polybius claimed that Rome had a tripartite balance of powers from the beginning, even if power resided in the aristocracy. Around the Senate, according to Polybius, the people as a whole provided checks and balances, as did the executives through various offices. Almost nothing is recorded of the first few centuries of Roman republican history, so one theory or one guess, generally, is as good as any other. One way or another, the Roman constitution evolved to incorporate formal institutions representing the aristocratic, the democratic, and the executive elements of government.

Hating virtue is why Left and Right hate the Republic.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Trump Returns From Asia With Little in Hand (Brian Bennett and Noah Bierman , November 15, 2017, Chicago Tribune)

 In the photo, President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the yellow-tiled palace where emperors ruled the Middle Kingdom, as China called itself for centuries.

It was the first time a U.S. president had stood for a portrait with the head of China's Communist Party in the middle of the ancient Forbidden City, what has long been the psychic heart of China. The next day the country's state-controlled newspapers ran the image across their front pages.

Trump had been in Beijing only for a few hours, but already Xi had gotten what he wanted: to be seen, inside China at least, as an equal to the American president. What remains unclear is what Trump has gotten.

Just hours after his arrival, the president had demonstrated how willing he was to be flattered and to flatter back, while getting little in return...

In fairness to Donald, if you assume that for him the point of the trip was to serve authoritarian regimes and not America, it was another ringing success.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Republicans' hilariously pathetic attempt to manufacture another Hillary Clinton scandal (Paul Waldman, November 15, 2017, The Week)

They've got her now, just you wait.

Republicans in Congress have Hillary Clinton in their sights, and it's all going to be different this time. They're demanding that the Justice Department appoint a special counsel to investigate Clinton, or more specifically, a couple of different matters relating to her, including the sale of a company that mines uranium and the Russia dossier, in which an opposition researcher assembled potentially damaging information on Donald Trump in 2016. What America obviously needs is a prosecutor with unlimited resources and subpoena power to get to the bottom of these matters, because ... because ... well because Hillary Damn Clinton, that's why! [...]

What is the point of all this? The answer is a bit complicated, but first let's quickly address the Republicans' complaint. In their fantasy world, what demands investigation is chiefly this: Hillary Clinton gave 20 percent of our uranium to Russia in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation, and there was obviously something fishy going on. However, every bit of the previous sentence is false, other than that there is a person named "Hillary Clinton," a thing called "uranium," a place called "Russia," and an organization called the "Clinton Foundation."

Fox News should really change their motto to "Hilariously pathetic!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


THE GRACEFUL LIFE OF BOBBY DOERR (Mike Lupica, 11/14/17, Sports on Earth)

You can still see the four of them, Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio, at the corner of Van Ness and Ipswich, near Gate B at Fenway Park, the statue that is simply known as "Teammates." They came from the West Coast, they all did, to play baseball in their youth for the Red Sox, before and after World War II, to become legends not just of Boston baseball and that time for the Red Sox, but also of lasting friendship.

The man who had become our oldest living ballplayer, Robert Pershing Doerr -- born in 1918 and named after a famous figure of World War I and who later would join the Army near the end of World War II despite a punctured eardrum -- died on Tuesday morning at the age of 99. Doerr died in Oregon, a state he came to love the way he loved baseball and his family.

He played second base for the Red Sox for 14 years and was an All-Star nine times and was finally elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, by what was still known as the Veterans Committee in those days. Williams, of course, was the great theatrical star of his Red Sox teams, the man still called the greatest pure hitter who ever lived, the game's last .400 hitter. But Doerr, in their time together, was a quiet star in Boston himself, the man whom Williams called "the silent captain" of their teams.

"Bobby Doerr was undoubtedly the greatest gentleman -- in every sense of the word -- in the constellation of all-time Red Sox stars," said former Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. "I will miss him, but I will not forget him or his graciousness."

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Iran's path to becoming an LNG exporter (Bijan Khajehpour November 14, 2017, Al Monitor)

By the late 2000s, however, the international partners in the first two ventures were forced to abandon the projects given the intensification of nuclear sanctions against Iran. What remained was the third project, Iran LNG, and the frustration in Tehran that massive investments in the LNG sector had gone to waste. In fact, in light of the withdrawal of international companies and potential technology providers, Iran excluded any role for LNG in its subsequent gas sector strategy.

Developments in a number of fields have since compelled Iranian petroleum sector strategists to reconsider and take a more serious look at LNG. The factors contributing to the shift in strategy include the following:

Growth in gas production: Iran's actual gas production and potential for exports have increased substantially, allowing the country to plan for major export activity.

Availability of Western technology: The lifting of nuclear sanctions has made it feasible for Tehran to again secure the needed technologies and equipment to construct LNG complexes. [...]

The first steps in the shift have already been taken. Tehran signed an agreement with Oman to export Iranian gas to Oman via pipeline and then to use excess capacity in Oman to produce LNG. This first step was designed to put Iran, as a small player, on the global LNG map. The second step was taken when Tehran signed an agreement with the Norwegian company Helma Vantage to provide it with FLNG capacity. The advantage of an FLNG facility is that it can be shifted if gas supply locations change due to the flow of projects. This means that a floating LNG unit can be installed depending on where new sources of gas become available. In the meantime, Total SA, the French company that signed the South Pars Phase 11 agreement with Tehran in July, is in talks with Iran to acquire Iran LNG, mentioned above.

November 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Justice Dept. to Weigh Inquiry Into Clinton Foundation (Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, Nov. 13, 2017, NY Times)

 The Justice Department said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate political rivals President Trump has singled out for scrutiny, including Hillary Clinton. [...]

The letter appeared to be a direct response to Mr. Trump's statement on Nov. 3, when he said he was disappointed with his beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and that longstanding unproven allegations about the Clintons and the Obama administration should be investigated.

Let us be the first to get on record as alleging that the Special Counsel is irreparably tainted as evidenced by his failure to indict.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Pool of negative yielding debt swells to nearly $11tn (Financial Times, 11/14/17)

Nearly $11tn of sovereign and corporate bonds trade with a yield below zero, according to data from Bloomberg Barclays Indices. The $10.9tn figure includes notes and bonds in the benchmark global aggregate index as well as Bloomberg Barclays' US, Euro, UK and Japanese short-Treasury indices at the end of October.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM



HACKING FACE ID, the facial recognition system built into Apple's iPhone X, isn't easy. Unless, it turns out, you're a very specific hacker--say, a rare 10-year-old kid, trying to break into the phone of whichever of your parents looks the most like you.

Attaullah Malik and Sana Sherwani made that discovery earlier this month, when their fifth-grade son, Ammar Malik, walked into the bedroom of their Staten Island home to admire their new pair of iPhone Xs just after they'd set up Face ID. "There's no way you're getting access to this phone," the older Malik remembers his wife telling her son, in a half-joking show of strictness.

Malik offered to let Ammar look at his phone instead, but the boy picked up his mother's, not knowing which was which. And a split second after he looked at it, the phone unlocked.

The boy who looks exactly like his Mom can obviously never go near a schoolyard again.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Secret Finding: 60 Russian Payments "To Finance Election Campaign Of 2016" (Jason Leopold (BuzzFeed News Reporter) Anthony Cormier (BuzzFeed News Reporter) Jessica Garrison (BuzzFeed News Reporter), 12/14/17, BuzzFeed News)

On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy's Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: "to finance election campaign of 2016."

That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM



In the wake of the Equifax scandal, Congress has been under pressure to act. But the price of modest reforms in Washington is often much larger giveaways elsewhere, and that pattern holds true in the agreement announced Monday between nine Senate Democrats and the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. [...]

Four Banking Committee Democrats -- Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mark Warner, D-Va. -- negotiated the bill with committee chair Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, after ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, broke off talks on a compromise bill with Crapo just last month. Warner's Virginia colleague Tim Kaine, last year's vice presidential nominee, signed on as an original co-sponsor of the bill, along with Joe Manchin D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Gary Peters D-Mich., and Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats. The Democratic support would give the legislation enough support to break a filibuster, if all Republicans signed on.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Publius' Conservative Values (GREG WEINE, 11/14/17, Law & Liberty)

[F]ederalist 6 isn't only about the nature of commercial republics or the proclivity of polities toward conflict, but also about the method of political science. Hamilton identifies his choices clearly. Suggestively, he dismisses as "projectors in politics" those who count on a pacific relationship between the states. Their plans and predictions are founded on air. Hamilton, by contrast, looks back into the concretely known, enjoining his reader: "Let experience, the least fallible guide of human opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries."

Hamilton returns repeatedly to the differences between off-the-cuff speculation and on-the-ground experience. In Federalist 8, still detailing the possibilities of interstate conflict, he declares that "these are not vague inferences deduced from speculative defects in a constitution . . . they are solid conclusions, drawn from the natural and necessary progress of human affairs." Federalist 15 calls experience "that best oracle of wisdom."

Nor does his writing partner, James Madison--author of some of The Federalist's boldest appeals to reason--much disagree. In the course of Federalist 14's famous appeal to reason, Madison writes:

Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to over-rule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience?

Notice that what Madison rejects is "a blind veneration" of the old and traditional, which conservatism does not require. Conservatism requires giving the past due deference as an accumulated storehouse of wisdom and experience. What Madison calls reason is not the abstract, speculative reason that repels the Burkean. It is, rather, rooted in "good sense," one's "situation"--that is, concrete circumstances--and in what "experience" teaches.

Similarly, Madison's Federalist 37, which delineates the difficulties the Philadelphia Convention faced, points to experience as a guide even as it acknowledges its limited scope in the American constitutional context:

The most that the convention could do in such a situation, was to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as of our own; and to provide a convenient mode of rectifying their own errors as future experience may unfold them.

The succeeding paper adds that any errors in the Constitution result from a lack of experience and, crucially, that only future experience will reveal them. Earlier, in Federalist 20, Madison had called experience "the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred." He proceeds in Federalist 52 to call experience "the guide that ought always to be followed whenever it can be found."

Any reader of The Federalist is familiar with Publius' method of historical inquiry, which ranges from the experience of Greek confederacies to that of medieval and contemporary Europe. By Federalist 85, the concluding paper, Hamilton--having begun the enterprise with a call to "reflection and choice"--has come full circle. There, referring to David Hume, Hamilton writes:

The zeal for attempts to amend, prior to the establishment of the constitution, must abate in every man, who is ready to accede to the truth of the following observations of a writer, equally solid and ingenious: "to balance a large state or society (says he) whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work: EXPERIENCE must guide their labour: TIME must bring it to perfection: and the FEELING OF inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into, in their first trials and experiments." (Emphasis in original.)

Hume rejects "mere" reason and reflection, by which he means the isolated individual speculating in the abstract. Such is the case for Hamilton too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Russia says U.S. providing cover for Islamic State in Syria (Reuters, 11/14/17) 

The United States is providing de-facto cover for Islamic State units in Syria and only pretending to fight terrorism in the Middle East, the Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

Only Vlad and his bots thought he could be in Syria without having to fight the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Qatari emir says 'thousand times better off' without Gulf allies (Middle East Online, 11/14/17)

Months into a dispute that has seen Doha cut off from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatar's emir said Tuesday his country was "a thousand times better off" without them.

In a speech to the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said his government had nonetheless put in place contingency plans as he expected the bitter political dispute with his neighbours and former allies to drag on. [...]

Iran, Turkey and most recently Spain have stepped in to help Qatar secure food imports amid a boycott by four Arab states.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June announced they had severed ties with Qatar, sealing off the emirate's only land border in the wide-ranging boycott.

They accuse Qatar's government of supporting Islamist extremism and fostering close ties with Iran.

November 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


The Fate of Rome (Charlotte Salley, NOVEMBER 13, 2017, aMERICAN sCHOLAR)

Recent scientific evidence suggests two of the forces that caused Rome to crumble were climate change and pandemic disease. Historian Kyle Harper examines how, even after hundreds of years as the powerhouse of the Mediterranean and beyond, Rome ultimately could not withstand the debilitating effects of a "little ice age" and a population dwindling from plague.

We are reliably told by our betters that climate is invariant in the absence of man-made change.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Bill Clinton: A Reckoning : Feminists saved the 42nd president of the United States in the 1990s. They were on the wrong side of history; is it finally time to make things right? (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 11/13/17, The Atlantic)

[L]et us not forget the sex crimes of which the younger, stronger Bill Clinton was very credibly accused in the 1990s. Juanita Broaddrick reported that when she was a volunteer on one of his gubernatorial campaigns, she had arranged to meet him in a hotel coffee shop. At the last minute, he had changed the location to her room in the hotel, where she says he very violently raped her. She said she fought against Clinton throughout a rape that left her bloodied. At a different Arkansas hotel, he caught sight of a minor state employee named Paula Jones, and, Jones says, he sent a couple of state troopers to invite her to his suite, where he exposed his penis to her and told her to kiss it. Kathleen Willey said that she met him in the Oval Office for personal and professional advice and that he groped her, rubbed his erect penis on her, and pushed her hand to his crotch.

It was a pattern of behavior; it included an alleged violent assault; the women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations that have come to light in the past five weeks. But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today's accused men have experienced. Rather, he was rescued by a surprising force: machine feminism. The movement had by then ossified into a partisan operation and it was willing--eager--to let this friend of the sisterhood enjoy a little droit de seigneur.

The notorious 1998 New York Times op-ed by Gloria Steinem must surely stand as one of the most regretted public actions of her life. It slut-shamed, victim-blamed, and age-shamed; it urged compassion for and gratitude to the man the women accused. Moreover (never write an op-ed in a hurry; you'll accidentally say what you really believe), it characterized contemporary feminism as a weaponized auxiliary of the Democratic Party.

Called "Feminists and the Clinton Question," it was written in March of 1998, when Paula Jones's harassment claim was working its way through court. It was printed seven days after Kathleen Willey's blockbuster 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley. If all the various allegations were true, wrote Steinem, Bill Clinton was "a candidate for sex addiction therapy." To her mind, the most "credible" accusations were those of Willey, whom she noted was "old enough to be Monica Lewinsky's mother." And then she wrote the fatal sentences that invalidated the new understanding of workplace sexual harassment as a moral and legal wrong: "Even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb, and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took 'no' for an answer."

Steinem said the same was true of Paula Jones. These were not crimes; they were "passes." Broaddrick was left out by Steinem, who revealed herself as a combination John and Bobby Kennedy of the feminist movement: the fair-haired girl and the bareknuckle fixer. The widespread liberal response to the sex crime accusations against Bill Clinton found their natural consequence 20 years later in the behavior of Harvey Weinstein: Stay loudly and publicly and extravagantly on the side of signal leftist causes and you can do what you want in the privacy of your offices and hotel rooms. But the mood of the country has changed. We are in a time when old monuments are coming down and when men are losing their careers over things they did to women a long time ago.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Saudis walk back escalation in Yemen, Lebanon as dramatic moves backfire (ZEINA KARAM, 13 November 2017, AP) 

Saudi Arabia's dramatic moves to counter Iran in the region appear to have backfired, significantly ratcheting up regional tensions and setting off a spiral of reactions and anger that seem to have caught the kingdom off guard.

Now it's trying to walk back its escalations in Lebanon and Yemen.

On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world's poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.

The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on November 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with the Shiite militants, his rivals in his coalition government.

...he should know better than to mess with our Shi'a allies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks (JULIA IOFFE, 11/13/17, The Atlantic)

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year's presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee's oldest son and campaign surrogate. "A PAC run anti-Trump site is about to launch," WikiLeaks wrote. "The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is 'putintrump.' See 'About' for who is behind it. Any comments?" (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. "Off the record I don't know who that is, but I'll ask around," he wrote on September 21, 2016. "Thanks." [...]

WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in the presidential campaign. In July 2016, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee's servers that spring. The emails showed DNC officials denigrating Bernie Sanders, renewing tensions on the eve of Clinton's acceptance of the nomination. On October 7, less than an hour after the Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Wikileaks released emails that hackers had pilfered from the personal email account of Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta.

On October 3, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote again. "Hiya, it'd be great if you guys could comment on/push this story," WikiLeaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to "just drone" WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

"Already did that earlier today," Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. "It's amazing what she can get away with."

Two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote again, asking, "What's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?" The day before, Roger Stone, an informal advisor to Donald Trump, had tweeted, "Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks."

WikiLeaks didn't respond to that message, but on October 12, 2016, the account again messaged Trump Jr. "Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications," WikiLeaks wrote. (At a rally on October 10, Donald Trump had proclaimed, "I love WikiLeaks!")

"Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us," WikiLeaks went on, pointing Trump Jr. to the link, which it said would help Trump's followers dig through the trove of stolen documents and find stories. "There's many great stories the press are missing and we're sure some of your follows [sic] will find it," WikiLeaks went on. "Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4."

Trump Jr. did not respond to this message. But just 15 minutes after it was sent, as The Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau pointed out, Donald Trump himself tweeted, "Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!"

Two days later, on October 14, 2016, Trump Jr. tweeted out the link WikiLeaks had provided him. "For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here:," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


A London Meeting of an Unlikely Group: How a Trump Adviser Came to Learn of Clinton 'Dirt' (SHARON LaFRANIERE, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, ANDREW HIGGINS and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZNOV. 10, 2017, NY Times)

At midday on March 24, 2016, an improbable group gathered in a London cafe to discuss setting up a meeting between Donald J. Trump, then a candidate, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

There was George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old from Chicago with an inflated résumé who just days earlier had been publicly named as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic in his mid-50s with a faltering career who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government.

And, perhaps most mysteriously, there was Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company. Mr. Mifsud introduced her to Mr. Papadopoulos as Mr. Putin's niece, according to court papers. Mr. Putin has no niece.

The interactions between the three players and a fourth man with contacts inside Russia's Foreign Ministry have become a central part of the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Kremlin's efforts to interfere with the presidential election. Recently released court documents suggest that the F.B.I. suspected that some of the people who showed interest in Mr. Papadopoulos were participants in a Russian intelligence operation.

The March 2016 meeting was followed by a breakfast the next month at a London hotel during which Mr. Mifsud revealed to Mr. Papadopoulos that the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." That was months before the theft of a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee by Russian-sponsored hackers became public.

Mr. Mueller's investigators are seeking to determine who -- if anyone -- in the Trump campaign Mr. Papadopoulos told about the stolen emails. Although there is no evidence that Mr. Papadopoulos emailed that information to the campaign, Mr. Papadopoulos was in regular contact that spring with top campaign officials, including Stephen Miller, now a senior adviser to President Trump, according to interviews and campaign documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The revelations about Mr. Papadopoulos's activities are part of a series of disclosures in the past two weeks about communications between Trump campaign advisers and Russian officials or self-described intermediaries for the Russian government. Taken together, they show not only that the contacts were more extensive than previously known, but also that senior campaign officials were aware of them.

There's nothing more likely than intercourse between the Alt-right and Putin proxies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Lawmakers allege State Dept. covering up U.S. military support to IRGC (Adam Kredo, November 13, 2017, Daily Beacon)

U.S. officials acknowledged Iranian-backed forces in Iraq could be using American-made arms, an admission that comes amid growing concern on Capitol Hill the U.S. government is quietly working with militia fighters in Iraq who are directly tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


New Pacific trade deal could leave U.S. playing catchup (Daniel Shane, 11/13/17, CNNMoney)

Brokered on the sidelines of a summit of Pacific nations in Vietnam, the initial accord is "a huge, huge step forward," said Alexander Capri, a senior fellow at National University of Singapore's Business School. [...]

Trump has expressed preference for negotiating one-on-one trade agreements with other countries, saying he can ensure a better deal for American workers.

But remaining TPP members like Japan and Vietnam, whom Trump visited on his Asia tour, will be less inclined to do one-on-one trade deals with the U.S. if the new TPP is finalized soon, according to Capri.

"The Trump team basically just wants to pound these guys into submission," he said. "No trade partner of the U.S. wants to do a bilateral with them."

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


After a Disciplined Week in Asia, Trump Unloads on Critics (Mark Landler, Nov. 12, 2017, NY Times)

It was hard to say what prompted the sudden change in the president's demeanor, though the first lady, Melania Trump, who often plays a moderating influence on her husband, dropped off the trip in Beijing, after visiting the Great Wall of China and stroking the paw of a panda bear at the Beijing Zoo.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM



Since early October, autonomous trucks built and operated by the startup Embark have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California. A human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur for now, but the ultimate goal of this (auto) pilot program is to dump the fleshbag and let the trucks rumble solo down the highway.

"This is the first time someone has demonstrated this end-to-end," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues says. "It showcases the way that we see self-driving playing into the logistics industry."

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM



Just months before Spencer was born, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened a casino near McCoy's home, and promised every one of its roughly 15,000 tribal members--among them Skooter and Michelle--an equal cut of the profits. The first payouts came to $595 each--a nice little bonus, McCoy says, just for being. "That was the first time we ever took a vacation," McCoy remembers. "We went to Myrtle Beach."

Once Spencer arrived, the checks covered the family's car payments and other bills. "It was huge," McCoy says. He graduated college and went on to coach football at the local high school for 11 years. Two decades later, McCoy still sets aside some of the money the tribe gives out twice a year to take his children--three of them, now--on vacation. (He and Michelle are separated.) And as the casino revenue has grown, so have the checks. In 2016, every tribal member received roughly $12,000. McCoy's kids, and all children in the community, have been accruing payments since the day they were born. The tribe sets the money aside and invests it, so the children cash out a substantial nest egg when they're 18. When Spencer's 18th birthday came three years ago, his so-called "minor's fund" amounted to $105,000 after taxes. His 12-year-old sister is projected to receive roughly twice that.

McCoy is now general manager of the Cherokee Boys Club, a nonprofit that provides day care, foster care, and other services to the tribe. At 41, he has a shaved head and wears a gray Under Armour T-shirt over his sturdy frame, along with a rubber bracelet around his wrist that reads, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

The casino money made it possible for him to support his young family, but the money his children will receive is potentially life-altering on a different scale. "If you've lived in a small rural community and never saw anybody leave, never saw anyone with a white-collar job or leading any organization, you always kind of keep your mindset right here," he says, forming a little circle with his hands in front of his face. "Our kids today? The kids at the high school?" He throws his arms out wide. "They believe the sky's the limit. It's really changed the entire mindset of the community these past 20 years."

These biannual, unconditional cash disbursements go by different names among the members of the tribe. Officially, they're called "per capita payments." McCoy's kids call it their "big money." But a certain kind of Silicon Valley idealist might call it something else: a universal basic income. [...]

It was here, in the quiet shadow of the mountain range, that a team of researchers including Jane Costello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, decided to ground the Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth. Costello wanted to find out about the need for mental health and psychiatric services for children in rural America, and in 1993 the researchers began studying 1,420 children, 350 of whom were members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They divided the group into three age cohorts--9-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 13-year-olds--and gave their parents thick, detailed personality surveys called the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment, which were completed every year until the kids turned 16 and then again every few years until they turned 30. Looking for indicators of behavioral or emotional troubles, the researchers asked questions about whether the children ever engaged in physical fights and whether they had trouble being away from home.

Costello and her team also recorded household data like parents' occupations, history of domestic violence, and, crucially, income. When the study began, about 67 percent of the American Indian kids were living below the poverty line. It wasn't until after the casino opened that Costello began to notice that household income among the Cherokee families was going up. It was subtle at first, but the trend turned sharply upward as time went on, eventually lifting 14 percent of the Cherokee children in the study above the poverty line. Household income for those families who were not Cherokee, meanwhile, grew at a slower rate.

It was an awakening for Costello, who had accidentally stumbled onto an entirely new line of inquiry on the impact of unconditional cash transfers on the poor. "I suddenly thought, 'Oh my god,'" Costello remembers. [...]

The Eastern Band's change in fortunes also shifted the course of Costello's research. "We thought it'd be interesting to see if it made any difference" to the children's mental health, she says. They also started comparing the younger Cherokee children, whose families started accruing money earlier in their lives, to the older ones. They wanted to answer a simple question: Would the cash infusion benefit these kids in measurable ways?

The answer defied Costello's initial hypothesis. "I thought, 'There's such a pit of poverty there that this isn't going to make any difference; it's trivial,'" she remembers. "But it wasn't." Now the body of research that she and other academics have built has become a favorite point of reference for universal basic income advocates, providing some of the most compelling evidence yet of the positive effects of bestowing unconditional sums of cash on the poor.

In two studies, one published in 2003 and a follow-up in 2010, Costello compared children who were lifted out of poverty after the casino opened to those who had never been poor. She scored them based on the presence of what researchers referred to as emotional disorders, like depression and anxiety, as well as behavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Before the casino opened, Costello found that poor children scored twice as high as those who were not poor for symptoms of psychiatric disorders. But after the casino opened, the children whose families' income rose above the poverty rate showed a 40 percent decrease in behavioral problems. Just four years after the casino opened, they were, behaviorally at least, no different from the kids who had never been poor at all. By the time the youngest cohort of children was at least 21, she found something else: The younger the Cherokee children were when the casino opened, the better they fared compared to the older Cherokee children and to rural whites. This was true for emotional and behavioral problems as well as drug and alcohol addiction.

Other researchers have used Costello's data to look at different effects of the casino payments. One fear about basic income is that people will be content living on their subsidies and stop working. But a 2010 analysis of the data, led by Randall Akee, who researches labor economics at the University of Southern California, found no impact on overall labor participation.

Of course, the casino also brought jobs to the area, and the majority of the roughly 2,500 people the casino employs are tribal members. This would seem to confound the question of whether the tribal payment or casino income made the difference in the children's lives, but Akee looked into this too. He found that, among the parents in Costello's study, employment didn't go up or down after the opening of the casino.

Akee also looked at the effects of the money on education and found that more money in the household meant children stayed in school longer. The impact on crime was just as profound: A $4,000 increase in household income reduced the poorest kids' chances of committing a minor crime by 22 percent.

All of this amounted to substantial financial benefits for the community as a whole. "This translates to fewer kids in jail, fewer kids in in-patient care," Costello says. "Then there are the other costs you can't calculate. The cost of people not killing themselves? That's a hard one."

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Was Vichy France a Puppet Government or a Willing Nazi Collaborator? : The authoritarian government led by Marshal Pétain participated in Jewish expulsions and turned France into a quasi-police state (Lorraine Boissoneault, 11/09/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

Did the regime collaborate with Nazis out of self-preservation, or did it have its own agenda? 

The misconception that the Vichy Regime was the lesser of two evils endured only for the first few decades after the war. Since then, as more archival material has come to light, historians have gradually come to see the collaborators as willing participants in the Holocaust. Before the Nazis ever demanded the Vichy government participate in anti-Semitic policies, the French had enacted policies that removed Jews from civil service and began seizing Jewish property. "The Vichy French government participated willingly in the deportations and did most of the arresting," Paxton says. "The arrests of foreign Jews often involved separating families from their children, sometimes in broad daylight, and it had a very powerful effect on public opinion and began to turn opinion against Pétain."

One particularly notable roundup was July 1942's Vel d'Hiv, the largest deportation of Jews from France that would occur during the war. Among the 13,000 Jews arrested and deported to Auschwitz were 4,000 children--removed with their parents for "humanitarian" reasons, according to French Prime Minister Pierre Laval. If they stayed behind, he reasoned, who would care for them? All told, the Vichy regime helped deport 75,721 Jewish refugees and French citizens to death camps, according to the BBC.

Did the French public support the Vichy leaders?

It's a complicated question, since the Vichy government was in power for four years. As Michael Curtis writes in Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, "The Vichy regime seemed to have early popular support, while the Resistance was at first limited. If there had been a public referendum, the French people, in a state of confusion after the military defeat, concerned with material interests, and distressed by the German occupation of the north of the country, might well have approved of Vichy. At one extreme there was great brutality, especially by the violently anti-Semitic paramilitary Milice, while on the hand the number of protestors and heroic resistors against Vichy and the Nazis grew larger throughout the war."

Paxton agrees that support waned over the course of the German occupation, but also points out the public overwhelmingly supported Pétain's regime at the start. And while the Resistance began early on in the start of the war, "resisters were always a minority," writes Robert Gildea in Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance. 

November 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


Dark-matter hunt fails to find the elusive particles (Elizabeth Gibney, 08 November 2017, Nature)

Physicists are growing ever more frustrated in their hunt for dark matter -- the massive but hard-to-detect substance that is thought to comprise 85% of the material Universe. Teams working with the world's most sensitive dark-matter detectors report that they have failed to find the particles, and that the ongoing drought has challenged theorists' prevailing views.

The latest results from an experiment called XENON1T at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, published on 30 October1, continue a dry spell stretching back 30 years in the quest to nab dark-matter particles. An attempt by a Chinese team to detect the elusive stuff, the results of which were published on the same day2, also came up empty-handed. Ongoing attempts by space-based telescopes, as well as at CERN, the European particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, have also not spotted any hints of dark-matter particles.

The findings have left researchers struggling for answers. "We do not understand how the Universe works at a deeper and more profound level than most of us care to admit," says Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


TV interview with Lebanon PM fuels rumors of Saudi coercion : Full of odd moments, Saad Hariri's first television appearance since shock resignation failed to present message of calm or control (AP, 11/12/17)

A much-awaited live interview was conducted with Hariri on Sunday night by Future TV, a channel associated with his political party. It sought to dispel those rumors, but also raised some new questions.

At one point during the interview, Hariri's eyes were wide open, moving to the back of the room. The camera caught a man in the back corner, behind the interviewer, who was holding what appeared to be a rolled paper. The man, whose face was outside the frame, soon disappeared but not before the camera moved back to Hariri, who was staring toward him with an angry and disgusted look. [...]

After his belligerent resignation speech last week, Hariri looked sad and tired on Sunday, at times holding back tears in the interview that went on for over an hour. He repeatedly drank water, finishing his glass and asking for more, prompting Yacoubian to hand him her own glass of water. He pleaded with her to finish the questioning after an hour has passed. "You made me tired," he said.

He repeatedly said he was ready to die for Lebanon -- his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005 -- but he added that he didn't want his children to go through that kind of ordeal. When asked about reports that he is not communicative and doesn't use his phone much, he said: "I am in a reflective state," adding that he didn't want any distractions amid a very busy schedule.

His demeanor triggered a new hashtag, #UnderPressure, reflecting that people were unconvinced he was a free man.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Surprise! Obamacare Enrollment Is Actually Rising : It's possible that Republican efforts to kill the program backfired and helped to save it (Megan McArdle, 11/12/17, Bloomberg View)

Donald Trump wants Obamacare to implode. That's not a mischievous inference from his legislative misadventures; that's a direct quote. "As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!"

It's thus somewhat surprising that on his watch, enrollment currently seems to be on track for its best year ever. In the first four days, 601,462 people signed up for insurance through the federal marketplace, a significantly faster pace than in earlier years. And almost a quarter of them were new to the exchanges.

This is probably not what you expected. It's not what I expected. Premiums are rising, insurers are pulling out, and the administration seems somewhat uninterested in encouraging people to enroll, having shortened the open enrollment period and defunded the cost-sharing subsidies for low-income enrollees. [...]

[T]he premium increases have fallen especially heavily on the "benchmark" plans, which are the second-lowest-cost Silver plan available on a given exchange. Premiums for Bronze, Gold and Platinum plans have also gone up, but not so much. But because the premium subsidies are calculated based on that benchmark plan, this has the odd side-effect of making the other plans more attractive, at least to folks who are eligible for a subsidy. For many of the subsidy-eligible, the cost of a Gold plan, which covers 80 percent of expected health-care expenses, may actually be cheaper this year than it was last year, not because the cost of the plan fell, but because the subsidies rose so much. And many young and healthy people will be able to get a Bronze plan, which covers 60 percent of "actuarial value," for practically peanuts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Dems in the driver's seat on DACA (Jonathan Swan, 11/12/17, Axios)

[B]ased on conversations with White House sources, top Hill aides from both parties, and immigration-restrictionist power-brokers, we have concluded that, at the moment, progressive Democrats hold a superior negotiating position to immigration hardliner Republicans.

This is because, on the DACA issue, President Trump has already blinked. Both publicly -- in a Sep. 5 tweet, when he hinted he may reinstate DACA unilaterally if Congress can't save it -- and privately, the president has indicated he doesn't have the stomach to let DACA die.

One conservative member of Congress, who has discussed DACA with the president, told me Trump made very clear to him he was prepared to keep the protections in place beyond March -- when the program is currently set to expire -- if Congress does nothing.

Roy Beck, an influential immigration hawk who runs NumbersUSA, said Trump's nominee for DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, further reduced the administration's leverage last week when she assuredin her confirmation hearing she would protect DACA recipients. "This doesn't strike me as being from the art of negotiations book, does it?" Beck told me.

Stephen Miller, one of the White House's only immigration hardliners, is telling conservative activists that Trump will back legislation giving current DACA recipients legal status -- aka amnesty -- in exchange for legislation ending chain, or family, migration. And Miller doesn't want the must-pass December spending bill to include a DACA fix.

That appears to be a non-starter. Top Democratic Senate aides have told me they think it's hilarious that Miller thinks he can get this deal, and that chain migration isn't going anywhere.

Grow the chains longer.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Breitbart aims to discredit Roy Moore's accusers (Jonathan Swan, 11/12/17, Axios)

Steve Bannon has sent two of Breitbart News' top reporters, Matt Boyle and Aaron Klein, to Alabama. Their mission: to discredit the Washington Post's reporting on Roy Moore's alleged sexual misconduct with teenagers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


How Trump Is Using Bush-Era Laws to Deport Christians : The plight of Indonesian Christians living in New Hampshire and New Jersey reveals the deep roots of the current immigration regime. (KRITHIKA VARAGUR, November 10, 2017, New Republic)

These deportees, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, didn't realize it, but they were all walking targets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And not just in the months that Donald Trump has been president, but for nearly 15 years. In 2003, dozens of undocumented Indonesians registered for a post-9/11 program that could qualify as a "Muslim registry" of sorts. That program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, was a database of adult male "noncitizens" from 25 countries, all Muslim-majority except North Korea, designed to monitor potential terrorists. The 83,000 entries, ironically, included a number of Christians, like David and John, who came from the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Six men from New Jersey were suddenly deported this year, while 47 in New Hampshire have been given orders to leave. They had all been living quietly in the United States for decades before being apprehended by an ICE that has been emboldened by the Trump administration. The New Jersey men were forced to board planes back to Indonesia, while those in New Hampshire have been granted a temporary stay of removal while a judge considers a lawsuit on their behalf. But the outlook is dim.

Indonesian Christians came to America in the 1990s partly because of flaring religious tensions as the Suharto regime collapsed in 1998. Today there's another wave of religious intolerance in Indonesia, which crested last spring when Jakarta's Chinese Christian governor was jailed for blasphemy, and continues to this day in a steady drip of anti-Christian actions.

Another grim irony of the deportations is that the Indonesian men in Central Jersey voluntarily registered themselves for NSEERS, under the encouragement of Kaper-Dale. They reasoned that doing so might improve their candidacy for legal status in the eyes of law enforcement if their asylum cases were ever reopened. "At the time, we thought honesty was the best policy. It turned out to be the very worst policy," said Kaper-Dale. "If I could go back I'd say no way, don't even register--that if there's any government program for immigrants, just assume it's something evil."

The deep roots of NSEERS show how the seemingly unprecedented immigration turmoil of the Trump era--which has been roundly condemned for being "not normal"--is, in fact, deeply precedented. The patchwork nature of immigration regulations means that any individual's legal status is subject to the whims of local, state, and federal authorities.

"The Indonesian community is an interesting case, as these are people originally identified by NSEERS who are now targeted for deportation precisely because of the fact that they have prior removal orders," said Shoba Wadhia, an immigration law professor at Pennsylvania State University. "It's fair to say there are parallels between some of the immigration policies developed after 9/11 and those of the present administration."

The New Jersey Indonesians' trials started long before Trump. They had a major scare in 2009, when 41 men received deportation orders based on their NSEERS registration. Kaper-Dale brokered a unique agreement with local immigration officials whereby 72 undocumented Indonesian men could remain in their homes if they checked in with ICE every month.

It was a tenuous agreement from the start. In 2011, a change of leadership in state ICE led to more deportation orders for those same men, leading five of them to seek sanctuary in Kaper-Dale's church. David, the man who was deported in May, said of that period, "Frankly, I almost gave up. It was very hard to live in the sanctuary for eight months as I had a family that depended on me to pay rent, take my kid to school, and so forth." They were eventually allowed to return to their families as long as they wore ankle monitors with GPS tracking.

After the 2016 election, the fragile set-up really started to disintegrate, starting with Trump voiding special ICE arrangements.

There's no mystery here. Donald is not a Christian.  He is a racist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Trump, Clinton camps both offered slice of dossier firm's work: sources (Mark Hosenball, 11/09/17, Reuters)

The White House and Republican lawmakers have attacked the firm, Fusion GPS, over the dossier compiled by a former British spy that is central to investigations in Congress and by a special counsel into conclusions by U.S. spy agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election and wanted to help Trump win.

The sources told Reuters that the negative information that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya wanted to give to Republican Trump's campaign at a June 2016 meeting in New York had been dug up by Fusion GPS in an unrelated investigation.

Like lobbyists, they'll investigate anyone you hire them to.  Because they're so good at it everyone wants to hire them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Bob Mueller Seems to Be Closing in on Mike Flynn -- and the Indictments Could Be Explosive (Cristian Farias, 11/11/17, New York)

The White House was reportedly relieved when Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in last year's presidential election, didn't announce federal charges against Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national-security adviser and the shortest-lived holder of that office. Instead, Mueller made his first public splash by indicting Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates and cutting a plea deal with foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos -- all for conduct during or predating the campaign.

But a new report in today's Wall Street Journal should rock the Trump administration, if not the president himself, because it deals with postelection conduct that may have continued even after the inauguration. Mueller is said to be investigating whether Flynn and his son were scheming with the government of Turkey to essentially kidnap Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania who has long been a thorn in the side of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The purported plot, if carried out, would've netted the Flynns up to $15 million. [...]

[T]he stakes for Trump are even higher. As much as the president likes to claim that the special counsel's work is a ruse and that he's not personally implicated in the fact-finding mission, it was this prong of the probe -- not Manafort's, not his son's meeting in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer -- that so worried him so as to instruct James Comey to drop it. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," the fired FBI director recalled Trump saying during his explosive Senate testimony. When Comey didn't do as told, Trump fired him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Superconducting quantum computer achieves ten-qubit entanglement (Physics World, Nov 10, 2017)

Physicists in China and the US have built a ten-qubit superconducting quantum processor that could be scaled up to tackle problems not solvable by classical computers. The performance of the device was verified using quantum tomography, which showed that the new approach can generate a true ten-partite Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger (GHZ) state - the largest yet achieved in a solid-state system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Former Salafist cleric stuns Morocco with calls for gender equality (Ilhem Rachidi, November 6, 2017, Al Monitor)

For years, Mohamed Abdelwahab al-Rafiqi, also known as Abu Hafs, was a hardcore Salafist defending a strict application of Sharia and jihadist ideas. But after spending nine years in jail for inciting terrorism, his discourse has changed dramatically. Since his release in 2012, he has spoken out in defense of individual liberties and on taboo topics in Moroccan society such as freedom of conscience and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

More recently, Abu Hafs outraged conservatives by addressing an extremely sensitive subject that many political and religious actors refuse to even discuss in the kingdom and throughout the Muslim world: equality in inheritance rights between men and women. Under current Moroccan law, a female inheritor is entitled to half of what her male counterpart gets.

"I think it is time to launch this dialogue because there is a great deal of injustice against women on this issue," Abu Hafs told Al-Monitor. "Moroccan society has witnessed great social and economic developments. The law must be adapted to these changes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Jerry Brown, President of the Independent Republic of California (DAVID SIDERS November 11, 2017, Politico)

The morning after the election, the leaders of the state Senate and assembly issued a joint statement in which they said they "woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land." Brown had joked before the election that if Trump were to become president, "We'd have to build a wall around California to defend ourselves from the rest of this country."

Now, the state Legislature and a large share of Brown's constituents expected him to hoist it up--to assert California's sovereignty in the Trump state. As Trump started dismantling his predecessor's climate policies, Brown helped organize an alliance of 14 states and the island of Puerto Rico, pledging to meet their share of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. He redoubled his efforts outside of the United States, expanding on a joint project with the German state of Baden-Württemberg: recruiting nearly 200 mostly subnational governments to sign a nonbinding pact to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which many scientists predict environmental catastrophe. On top of that, Brown negotiated legislation extending California's signature cap-and-trade program for an additional 10 years, then signed an agreement with leaders of Ontario and Quebec to integrate their cap-and-trade systems with California's.

Trump's election shook Brown and his home state in other ways, too: California relied on billions of dollars in federal health care funding that Trump threatened to undo, and the president's hard line on immigration sowed fear among California's large population of undocumented immigrants. When the Trump administration started conducting immigration sweeps in Los Angeles, protesters strung "No I.C.E" signs from freeway overpasses, and Brown--who had signed legislation granting undocumented immigrants driver's licenses and access to college financial aid--negotiated state legislation curbing local law enforcement officials' ability to cooperate with federal immigration agents.

By this fall, California's feuding with Washington had grown so routine that it barely registered as news when, during the span of seven hours one day last month, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced four separate lawsuits against the Trump administration on issues ranging from health care and education to immigration and oil extraction on public and tribal lands.

Before Trump's election, Brown existed largely at the margins outside California. When he returned to office in 2011, a fellow Democrat held the White House, and no one had to look West for an expression of leftist causes. In that context, Brown presented as a moderate, taking criticism from environmentalists for his permissiveness of hydraulic fracturing, while others dismissed as insignificant the nonbinding climate agreements he pursued.

But then Trump, less than a month in office, told a national TV audience, "California is in many ways out of control." Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, addressing California Republicans shortly after Brown signed legislation expanding protections for undocumented immigrants, said that if California kept this up, it would eventually "try to secede from the union." The governor factored so heavily in the specter of a civil war that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, himself a Californian, slipped in a speech last month in which he rebuked one "President Brown."

The nation's most populous state was cleaving from Washington, and Brown was its marshaling force.

"Trump is leaving many vacuums, and I think Jerry Brown has long imagined himself as a kind of global player," says Orville Schell, who wrote a biography of Brown in 1978 and remains in contact with him. "He does see California, as the sixth-largest economy of the world, as capable of playing more of a nation-state-like role."

The question is whether California is only one nation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Take Heed, GOP: Voters Like Medicaid (Paul Waldman, 11/12/17,  The Washington Post)

If you're looking for a microcosm of the national picture on what has become one of the most important functions the government serves, you couldn't do much better. The public wants Medicaid, but Republicans hate it and will do everything they can to undermine it.

Both sides of that coin have never been more apparent than they are now. Just Tuesday, Seema Verma, the Trump administration official who oversees Medicare and Medicaid, announced that the administration will now encourage states to adopt work requirements for the program, even though most Medicaid recipients already come from households where someone is employed.

The real point of this is to make recipients jump through more hoops and reduce the number of people on the program. In fact, the Trump administration is explicitly rejecting the idea that the purpose of Medicaid is to make sure people have health insurance. In Verma's speech, she said she wants to get people off Medicaid. "The thought that a program designed for our most vulnerable citizens should be used as a vehicle to serve working age, able-bodied adults does not make sense," she said. Allowing states more flexibility to kick people off the program will enhance "the dignity and respect of high expectations."

That's the GOP position, and Republicans do have reason to be worried about it. They've been alarmed by Medicaid's growth in recent years, since the program (along with the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is essentially a Medicaid subsidiary) now provides insurance to more than 74 million Americans. Since many Republicans would literally rather see someone have no insurance than get health coverage from the government, they find that to be an abomination.

Yet the public does not share these views. Polls show that Medicaid is spectacularly popular, even with Republican voters. In Kaiser Family Foundation polls, 74 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the program (including 61 percent of Republicans) and 87 percent want its funding increased or kept the same (including 76 percent of Republicans). In states that refused the expansion of Medicaid, 73 percent have a favorable view of the program. It was the fact that their bills would have slashed Medicaid as much as any other factor that led to their demise.

That brings us to the implications of the Maine vote for the future. Even though Republican officials in 19 states refused the expansion -- in which the federal government would pay for almost all the cost of insuring their poor citizens -- voters in those states don't seem to agree with the choice their representatives made. Which means that if activists can put measures on the ballots in those states to accept the expansion, they may succeed not only in changing the policy but also in shaping the debate and getting more Democratic-friendly voters to the polls.

Just because every electorate in a developed democracy considers health care a right does not mean the GOP can't craft a conservative universal health care system. It does mean that failure to do so will give us National Health.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Brennan: Trump 'Intimidated' by Putin, 'Fear' Driving His Behavior Toward Russians (David Rutz, November 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

"I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump's interest in being flattered, and also I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations," Brennan said. "So it's very worrisome, and I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes, as well. So it's either naiveté, ignorance or fear, in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians."

Tapper asked Brennan if he wondered if rumors that the Russians had "compromising material" about Trump were relevant, given his ambiguity about Putin.

"Well, I don't know if Mr. Trump is considering that," Brennan said. "I just know that he has been very determined to try to delegitimize any effort to come up with the truth in terms of this investigation. His attacks on the intelligence community, on the assessment, the attacks on the media, this is an effort to, again, try to undermine those quarters that could pose a serious threat to him."

"Also, I think it shows the insecurity that he still feels about the election, and how Russian interference may have contributed, in fact, to that election. So I think there's a combination of factors that are motivating the president at this time," he added.

Brennan also called Trump's language regarding the election interference "puzzling."

"It's very clear that the Russians interfered in the election, and it's still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin. The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real," Brennan said. [...]

Brennan also had sharp words for the "political hacks" attack by Trump.

"I found it particularly reprehensible that on Veterans Day that Donald Trump would attack and impugn the integrity and the character of Jim Clapper, who served in uniform for 35 years, who responded to the call of his country to go to Vietnam," Brennan said. "To impugn the character of somebody like Jim Clapper on Veterans Day, who has dedicated so much of his life to this country, I just find that outrageous, and I think it's something Mr. Trump should be ashamed of, but it doesn't seem as though anything he does he feels any shame whatsoever."

It is only fair that we anti-Donald types accept the possibility that he is genuinely anti-American and pro-Putin, like many of the alt-right..

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Companies Are Making Bigger Profits Than Expected (Stan Choe, 11/12/17, AP)

Corporate profits keep chugging along.

Companies have lined up in recent weeks to tell investors that they earned more during the summer than Wall Street had forecast, and the big numbers offer some reassurance for the market's skeptics.

Stock prices tend to track corporate profits over the long term, so the better-than-expected growth helps to validate the stock market's record-setting run, at least somewhat. Still, this earnings season also includes some signs the eight-plus-year rally is nearer the finish than the start.

Coming into this earnings reporting season, many analysts were forecasting a dud. Insurers forced to make big payout for hurricane damage would drag earnings sharply lower for the financial sector. Lower commodity prices would pull down profits for raw-material producers.

Just ahead of earnings season, analysts were penciling in only 3.2 percent growth in earnings per share for companies in the S&P 500. Those same companies produced a robust 11 percent growth in earnings per share in the spring.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Hariri 'held for refusing to confront Hezbollah' (Al Jazeera, 11/11/17)

From the moment his plane touched down in Saudi Arabia on Friday, November 3, Saad Hariri was in for a surprise.

There was no line-up of Saudi princes or ministry officials, as would typically greet a prime minister on an official visit to King Salman, senior sources close to Hariri and top Lebanese political and security officials said. His phone was confiscated, and the next day he was forced to resign as prime minister in a statement broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel. [...]

Sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia has concluded that the prime minister - a long-time Saudi ally and son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 - had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Medicaid Expansion Takes A Bite Out Of Medical Debt (ALEX SMITH, 11/10/17, NPR)

Researchers Aaron Sojourner and Ezra Golbertstein of the University of Minnesota studied financial data from 2012 to 2015 for people who would be eligible for Medicaid where it was expanded.

They found that in states that didn't expand, the percentage of low-income, nonelderly adults with unpaid medical bills dropped from 47 to 40 percent within three years.

"The economy improved and maybe other components of the ACA contributed to a 7 percentage point reduction," Sojourner says. "Where they did expand Medicaid, it fell by almost twice as much."

Those states saw an average drop of 13 percentage points, from 43 to 30 percent.

In Kansas, the rate of medical debt for nonelderly adults fell by 4 percentage points to 27 percent. In Missouri, the rate dropped 4 points to 31 percent, according to the Urban Institute. In Maine, it dropped only 1.4 percentage points between 2012 and 2015.

Medicaid, as opposed to private insurance, is the key, says The Urban Institute's Kyle Caswell, because it requires little out-of-pocket costs.

Even if Medicaid patients need lots of care, there aren't on the hook for big out-of-pocket costs in the same way someone with private insurance might be.

"We would certainly expect that their risk to out-of-pocket expenses to be much lower, and ultimately the risk of unpaid bills to ultimately be also lower," Caswell says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Trump's Mar-a-Lago looking for foreign workers after bosses say there are not enough qualified Americans  (Rozina Sabur, 10 NOVEMBER 2017, The Telegraph)

Donald Trump's upscale Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is looking to hire 70 foreign workers after its managers said there are not enough Americans qualified and willing to fill the jobs.

November 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Israel says downed Syrian spy drone over Golan Heights (Maayan Lubell, 11/11/17, Reuters) 

Israel shot down a Syrian spy drone over the Golan Heights on Saturday, the Israeli military said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Right as it joined the Trump campaign, this data firm reportedly contacted WikiLeaks . (THe Week, November 10, 2017

Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange about Hillary Clinton's leaked emails in early June 2016, as the company was in contract talks with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reports. In July 2016, WikiLeaks began posting thousands of Clinton- and DNC-related emails.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Roy Moore says he never dated young girls without their mother's permission (The Week, 11/11/17)

Moore, however, didn't deny that he dated teenagers when he was in his 30s, instead saying, "I don't remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Robert Mueller is reportedly digging into a meeting between Michael Flynn and a notoriously pro-Russia congressman (Kelly O'Meara Morales, 11/11/17,  Week)

For his part, Rohrabacher has long been viewed as a friend of Russia. In 2012, the FBI reportedly warned Rohrabacher that Russian spies were actively trying to recruit him. And in May, The Washington Post published audio of a conversation in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Republican lawmakers, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Putin: restriction on Russian media is attack on free speech (Denis Pinchuk, 11/11/17, REuters)

On Friday, the pro-Kremlin speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said legislation could be introduced next week designating U.S. and some other foreign media operating in Russia as foreign agents.

..that a free media is anti-Russian.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


How to win like (Bill) Clinton (Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed, November 8, 2017, Washington Post)

Show Americans what you're for. Clinton understood that ideas are the most underrated weapon in politics and the best chance a party has to change minds. He ran the wonkiest campaign in memory and made real solutions to real problems -- sending young people to college in return for national service, rewarding work with the earned-income tax credit, steering capital to poor neighborhoods through community development banks -- the test for his opponents. Attacking "the brain-dead politics of both parties," he declared: "Americans know what we're against. Let's show them what we're for."

A quarter-century later, President Trump seems to be against everyone and everything. Republicans need to remember that whatever Americans may feel about how many National Football League players take a knee, they care far more whether their children can afford college or their employer will give them a raise.

In the Trump era of fake policy and fun-house mirrors, Democrats must be more focused than ever on real answers. Opposition parties talk about problems. A majority party has to make clear how it will solve them.

Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, John Key, David Cameron, Barack Obama etc. all won the same way, by running on the Third Way--which focuses on using capitalist means to fund social welfare ends--and there is a wide opening there right now.  Here are a few policies they could make the center of a platform:

(1) Immigration reform--to allow the free movement of peoples subject to screening at borders

(2) Global free trade liberalization

(3) Universal health care based on HSAs

(4) Personal social security accounts

(5) Universal education savings accounts, government-funded from birth to 18

(6) Ending the taxation of income, profits, investment and savings

Of course, the key to the whole agenda is that Republicans can run on it and win too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM

IT'S A PURITAN NATION (profanity alert):

Bob Dylan and his vengeful, conservative God : The surprising thing about Dylan's evangelical Christian period? It isn't all bad. (YO ZUSHI, 11/09/17, New Statesman)

By the time he released Slow Train Coming (1979), his first album consisting of only devotional music, Christianity had become not just source material for Dylan but his monomaniacal focus. Jesus had once been invoked in his lyrics as a kind of cultural shorthand alongside Shakespeare, Achilles, Mr Clean, Aretha Franklin and TS Eliot - as one mythological character among a cast of many - but now he was "the way, the truth and the life". And the singer's Messiah wasn't the God of love, but an archly conservative God of vengeance.

Dylan the convert derided abortion and casually referred to San Francisco as "a dwelling place for homosexuals". He wrote nasty lyrics about Arabs "walkin' around like kings/Wearing fancy jewels and nose rings", and launched into lengthy, hectoring speeches at live performances in which he welcomed what he saw as the coming annihilation of mankind. "Don't be dismayed by what you read in the newspapers, about what's happening to the world," he said at a show in Tempe, Arizona. "The world as we know it is being destroyed... There's gonna be a war... called the War of Armageddon. It's gonna happen in the Middle East. Russia will come down and attack first. You watch for that sign." [...]

As in 1965, when he "went electric" and alienated folkies with his new rock combo, there were reports of walkouts and widespread heckling at his Christian concerts. Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, has long claimed to be a mere "song-and-dance man". Yet what first distinguished him from his peers were his words and the way he phrased them at the microphone. Now, in his worst gospel songs, he offered only a single message delivered in a series of uniformly shrill yelps: repent and convert, or else.

The problem, I think, was less his personal religious views than the narrowness of his new lyrical concerns. In much of his best work, he is thrillingly imprecise. In the late-1990s song "Red River Shore" (which for my money is the greatest thing he has ever written), he moves effortlessly from wishing he "could have spent every day of my life" with a lost love to a story of "a guy" who could raise the dead - Jesus again - with little need for explanation. What holds it all together is his committed vocal, the beauty of the music and the sense that beyond the song exists a larger world that we can only imagine.

Meanwhile, in the gospel-era "Do Right to Me Baby" we are instructed, "Do unto others like you have them... do unto you," over five verses that add little of any substance to the title. The poetry often died when the preaching began.

But Dylan was not to be deterred. Month after month he travelled across America and then across Europe with his Christian revue, which began with a backstage prayer meeting for the band, followed by a mini-set of hymns performed by the female backing singers. Then Dylan would take to the stage and present one Bible basher after another, ignoring his better-known and better-loved earlier material. Attempting to convert his entire audience, he interspersed the music with speeches that often sounded like the threats of a warlord or the witchfinder general: "Every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess!" When the response was hostile, he blamed it on the Devil, whom he claimed was "working all kinds of mischief in the crowds we visit". [...]

And that's the surprising thing about Dylan's evangelical Christian period: it isn't all bad. Some of it - the Blakean "Every Grain of Sand", the stirring hymns "Pressing On" and "Saving Grace", the powerful confessional "When He Returns" - is among the most deeply felt and affecting recordings of his career. Sifting through the new retrospective album Trouble No More, which covers the years 1979 to 1981, I found startlingly good live performances of songs such as "What Can I Do for You?", as well as previously unreleased gems such as "Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One".

Clinton Heylin's new book, Trouble in Mind, documents the tours and recording sessions with an obsessive detail that, at the very least, encourages the reader to come at it all afresh. Heylin claims that the gospel period "more than matches any commensurate era in [Dylan's] long and distinguished career", which is plainly a factual error. But his interrogation of what it was all for is, to fans like me, highly illuminating.

Despite being an atheist, I've always had a weird fondness for gospel-era Bob, even in his most disappointingly dogmatic moments. Just as I don't have to condone senseless murder to love Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"), I feel no compulsion to agree with anything Dylan has to say about God in order to be moved by his songs of praise and mean-spirited condemnation. But when, in "Saving Grace", he sings, "There's only one road and it leads to Calvary," his voice straining and the organ exploding in ecstatic joy, I am almost converted. Almost. In a 1997 Newsweek interview, a less aggressively spiritual Dylan said: "I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music... The songs are my lexicon. I believe in the songs." I suppose I believe in them, too.

November 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM



A PLAN FOR the United Arab Emirates to wage financial war against its Gulf rival Qatar was found in the task folder of an email account belonging to UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba and subsequently obtained by The Intercept.

The economic warfare involved an attack on Qatar's currency using bond and derivatives manipulation. The plan, laid out in a slide deck provided to The Intercept through the group Global Leaks, was aimed at tanking Qatar's economy, according to documents drawn up by a bank outlining the strategy.

The outline, prepared by Banque Havilland, a private Luxembourg-based bank owned by the family of controversial British financier David Rowland, laid out a scheme to drive down the value of Qatar's bonds and increase the cost of insuring them, with the ultimate goal of creating a currency crisis that would drain the country's cash reserves. [...]

THE NEW PROJECT comes amid -- and, if implemented, would escalate -- a regional crisis that reached new heights in June, when the UAE and Saudi Arabia led a bloc of Gulf nations in blockading and cutting off diplomatic relations with Qatar. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently faulted the blockading countries for intransigence, but President Donald Trump has largely taken the opposite approach, emboldening Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at the expense of Qatar, which is home to one of the largest overseas U.S. military bases in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM

TRADE IS DIFFERENT (self-reference alert):

The Trouble With Globalization : Undermined by the false narratives that have destabilized it, globalization is at risk. (Dani Rodrik , October 20, 2017, Milken Review)

Electorates around the world were told not only that globalization was inevitable, but also that it necessarily took the particular form they were witnessing. The nation-state, it was said, was the enemy of globalization, and therefore had to get out of the way. Globalization required ever-stronger global rules mandated by trade agreements, multilateral organizations and international networks of regulators. But not to worry: it would promote economic progress and political harmony, even if not for everyone right away.

None of this was quite true. There is nothing inevitable about advancing economic integration, nor about the route that globalization takes if it does move forward. And contrary to conventional wisdom, nation-states are absolutely essential to globalization because they provide the public services ranging from law enforcement to macroeconomic stabilization that are needed for open markets to thrive. By the same token, global governance is largely superfluous: proper trade, financial, monetary and regulatory policies required to sustain an open world economy do not require much coordination when governments do their jobs well.

One of the central arguments of Redefining Sovereignty was that while conservatives are perfectly right to be hostile to transnational political institutions, economics requires yielding some sovereignty where trade between nations is concerned.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Jumpin' Joe (Robert Silverman, Victory Journal)

In December 1974, while playing for the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis, Caldwell was placed on indefinite suspension. According to the Spirits, he'd convinced star rookie Marvin "Bad News" Barnes to jump the team, an allegation Caldwell has always denied. For this, Caldwell says he was placed on a reserve list by the Spirits, sending him into basketball limbo. He then spent decades in courtrooms trying to prove that the ABA and his old team had conspired to keep him from playing pro basketball. The question of whether he was blackballed--and if the ABA violated U.S. antitrust laws--was litigated for over twenty years. It was finally decided in 1996, when the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case.

"They made this one lie stand and it destroyed my career, my finances," he says.

It was far from Caldwell's only legal battle. He also spent nine years fighting Tedd Munchak, the one-time owner of the Carolina Cougars, who sued Caldwell in 1973 to avoid fulfilling the terms of a contract that would have paid Caldwell $6,600 per month pension--$600 for every season of his career--starting at age 55. According to Munchak, there was a typo in the deal and his intent actually was to pay Caldwell only $60 a month. He also spent an additional seven years enmeshed in a legal battle trying to recoup the $220,000 in salary the Spirits should have paid him, but had withheld, thanks to the 1974 suspension. And for an additional 14 years, he fought to extricate himself from a court-ordered bankruptcy that snatched away that last payment from the Spirits once he'd won it back.

Caldwell has a raconteur's ease, punctuated with a remarkable ability to recall specific dates and details. While he rarely waxes nostalgic about the games themselves, he'll recite chapter and verse about his post-basketball legal battles. He has kept all of the paperwork from the years winding through the legal system in his home outside Tempe. He originally bought the property for his mother but has lived there since 1978. Over the years, various members of his family have resided there too, including Caldwell's grandson and soon-to-be Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III, expected to be a top-3 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. 

Boxes filled to the brim with old and yellowing documents, all the contracts and supporting evidence, sit in Caldwell's bedroom. A letter sent by ESPN apologizing for its depiction of him in the 30 for 30 documentary High Spirits is framed and hung on on his wall with pride, as if the act of maintaining and cataloguing this personal legal library is a justification in and of itself.

But his stacks of files are important signifiers of another basketball era, when labor could be crushed by management, owners could casually sling racist epithets, and it was unclear if professional basketball would ever prove to be anything more than a fringe sport. And yet, on the court, "Pogo Joe" or "Jumpin' Joe,"--a long-limbed, athletic, defensive stopper--was the furthest thing from an anachronism. According to Curtis Harris, a doctoral student at American University focusing on basketball history, Caldwell is as good an avatar as you'll find of an athlete whose game foreshadowed the present.

"The way he jumped, the way he attacked, both on offense and defense," Harris explains, "You look at the court back then, like 1966, at a game with Joe Caldwell, after 30 seconds, you'd say, 'Yeah, Joe Caldwell's not just a guy that's not just existing out there; he's out there progressing what's going to happen in basketball.'"

His peers certainly agree. Walt Frazier cackles with joy when asked about Caldwell's game.

"Jumping Joe, Pogo Joe," he says, his high-wattage grin practically bursting through the phone, "This guy was a phenomenal leaper. He could run. He was like Westbrook on the court, man. Very athletic. From the half court, [he would] maybe take one dribble, go down, and dunk the ball ... His stupendous dunk shots, that was his trash talking symbol." Frazier likens that pose to the iconic silhouette of Michael Jordan, "Cause he would go up with one hand, just float through the air. Man, just a ferocious type of dunk."

Bob Costas, who served as play-by-play man for the Spirits at the ripe old age of 22, only got to see Caldwell play for a month, but he raves about his abilities.

"He could use his strength for positioning and he had leaping ability on top of it," Costas says. "He played bigger than 6-4, 6-5 the same way Charles Barkley did," a comparison that Caldwell echoed in a 1993 interview with The New York Times' Richard Sandomir, saying he played small forward like "Charles Barkley without the extra weight.

Costas recalls a game between the Spirits of St. Louis and Utah Stars in 1974 in which Caldwell faced off against 19-year-old Moses Malone. Caldwell shut Malone down, holding him to a four-point outing despite Moses' six-inch height advantage.

Harris says that Kawhi Leonard is the current player Caldwell reminds him of the most, even if Caldwell lacks Leonard's shooting and ball-handling skills. Caldwell rejected that idea outright. "If my hands were like [Leonard's] ... Man, I hate to think," he says, practically giggling at the thought. "I used to ask God all the time, 'God, why do you not give me long fingers?' And I'd hear a voice inside of my head say, 'Well, I can't give you everything.'"

If Caldwell's game has aged well, the series of events that prematurely ended his career have all but been forgotten. They shouldn't be. He not only fought for his own contractual rights; he worked tirelessly against the pending ABA-NBA merger, serving as a plaintiff in Oscar Robertson's class-action antitrust lawsuit that forced the NBA grant players the right to free agency. You can draw a straight line across time from his actions (and that of all the NBA's early labor pioneers) and the political and cultural agency wielded by the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Caldwell's story is one about a financially-strapped league trying to claw back a chunk of cash, or as Caldwell tells it, "They were trying to flim-flam me out of my money." But Caldwell's labor efforts were why a target had been placed on his back to begin with. Because he wanted players to be guaranteed a livable pension after their careers were over; because he wasn't willing to remain silent when allegations of rigged games arose; and because wouldn't continue play for an owner who threw around racial slurs, he was labeled a "troublemaker" and "clubhouse lawyer." He had to be punished, lest others follow his lead.

Because of that, Caldwell says, "They destroyed everything."

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM

PRO-ROBOT IS PRO-LIFE (profanity alert):

Las Vegas' self driving bus only needed 2 hours to prove human drivers suck (Matthew Hughes, 11/09/17, Next Web)

It's been a mixed week for self-driving vehicles, after an autonomous bus in Los Vegas collided with a truck just two hours after it hit the streets.

The vehicle didn't crash due to a software error. Rather, it was rear-ended by a human-driven truck. Fortunately the damage wasn't too severe, with a city official describing it as a "fender bender." There are no reports of any injuries or fatalities as a result of the crash, and the truck driver was lucky enough to walk away with a ticket. [...]

Ironically, the incident has served to highlight one of the best arguments in favor of self-driving cars: they're safe. Unlike humans, they don't get tired or get distracted. Autonomous busses can't impair their abilities by drinking alcohol or taking drugs. And overall, they're unbelievably cautious, and are hard-coded to drive within a set of parameters designed to ensure the safety of all passengers, and others on the road.

This tech can't come soon enough. In 2016, 37,461 people died in car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Many on the right can only cast themselves as pro-life by considering abortion in isolation from the rest of human existence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


The Illusionist : Daniel Dennett's latest book marks five decades of majestic failure to explain consciousness. (David Bentley Hart, Summer 2017, New Atlantis)

It seems to me that we have come this way before. Some of the signposts are new, perhaps -- "Bacteria," "Bach," and so on -- but the scenery looks very familiar, if now somewhat overgrown, and it is hard not to feel that the path is the same one that Daniel Dennett has been treading for five decades. I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else. As often as not, it is the questions we fail to ask -- and so the presuppositions we leave intact -- that determine the courses our arguments take; and Dennett has been studiously avoiding the same set of questions for most of his career.

In a sense, the entire logic of From Bacteria to Bach and Back (though not, of course, all the repetitious details) could be predicted simply from Dennett's implicit admission on page 364 that no philosopher of mind before Descartes is of any consequence to his thinking. The whole pre-modern tradition of speculation on the matter -- Aristotle, Plotinus, the Schoolmen, Ficino, and so on -- scarcely qualifies as prologue. And this means that, no matter how many times he sets out, all his journeys can traverse only the same small stretch of intellectual territory. [...]

In the pre-modern vision of things, the cosmos had been seen as an inherently purposive structure of diverse but integrally inseparable rational relations -- for instance, the Aristotelian aitia, which are conventionally translated as "causes," but which are nothing like the uniform material "causes" of the mechanistic philosophy. And so the natural order was seen as a reality already akin to intellect. Hence the mind, rather than an anomalous tenant of an alien universe, was instead the most concentrated and luminous expression of nature's deepest essence. This is why it could pass with such wanton liberty through the "veil of Isis" and ever deeper into nature's inner mysteries.

The Cartesian picture, by contrast, was a chimera, an ungainly and extrinsic alliance of antinomies. And reason abhors a dualism. Moreover, the sciences in their modern form aspire to universal explanation, ideally by way of the most comprehensive and parsimonious principles possible. So it was inevitable that what began as an imperfect method for studying concrete particulars would soon metastasize into a metaphysics of the whole of reality. The manifest image was soon demoted to sheer illusion, and the mind that perceived it to an emergent product of the real (which is to say, mindless) causal order.

Here, in this phantom space between the phenomenal and physical worlds, is just where the most interesting questions should probably be raised. But Dennett has no use for those. He is content with the stark choice with which the modern picture confronts us: to adopt either a Cartesian dualism or a thoroughgoing mechanistic monism. And this is rather a pity, since in fact both options are equally absurd.

Not that this is very surprising. After five decades, it would be astonishing if Dennett were to change direction now. But, by the same token, his project should over that time have acquired not only more complexity, but greater sophistication. And yet it has not. For instance, he still thinks it a solvent critique of Cartesianism to say that interactions between bodies and minds would violate the laws of physics. Apart from involving a particularly doctrinaire view of the causal closure of the physical (the positively Laplacian fantasy that all physical events constitute an inviolable continuum of purely physical causes), this argument clumsily assumes that such an interaction would constitute simply another mechanical exchange of energy in addition to material forces.

In the end, Dennett's approach has remained largely fixed. Rather than a sequence of careful logical arguments, his method remains, as ever, essentially fabulous: That is, he constructs a grand speculative narrative, comprising a disturbing number of sheer assertions, and an even more disturbing number of missing transitions between episodes. It is often quite a beguiling tale, but its power of persuasion lies in its sprawling relentlessness rather than its cogency. [...]

Admittedly, part of the problem bedeviling Dennett's narrative is the difficulty of making a case that seems so hard to reconcile with quotidian experience. But that difficulty is only exacerbated by his fierce adherence to an early modern style of materialism, according to whose tenets there can be no aspect of nature not reducible to blind physical forces. For him, the mechanistic picture, or its late modern equivalent, is absolute; it is convertible with truth as such, and whatever appears to escape its logic can never be more than a monstrosity of the imagination. But then the conscious mind constitutes a special dilemma, since this modern picture was produced precisely by excluding all mental properties from physical nature. And so, in this case, physicalist reduction means trying to explain one particular phenomenon -- uniquely among all the phenomena of nature -- by realities that are, in qualitative terms, quite literally its opposite.

Really, in this regard, we have progressed very little since Descartes's day. The classical problems that mental events pose for physicalism remain as numerous and seemingly insoluble as ever. Before all else, there is the enigma of consciousness itself, and of the qualia (direct subjective impressions, such as color or tone) that inhabit it. There is simply no causal narrative -- and probably never can be one -- capable of uniting the phenomenologically discontinuous regions of "third-person" electrochemical brain events and "first-person" experiences, nor any imaginable science logically capable of crossing that absolute qualitative chasm.

The dishonesty at the core of Cartesian Metaphysics--which relieves Rationalists of the obligation to demonstrated that Reason is rational--can obviously never be overcome.  And poor Mr. Dennett has spent years apologizing for his one moment of honesty.

November 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Lebanon FM demands return of Hariri from Saudi Arabia : Questions raised in Lebanon about fate of its prime minister Saad Hariri, as his retirement from Riyadh coincided with the announcement in Saudi Arabia of 'anti-corruption' purge. (Middle East Online, 11/09/17)

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday demanded the return of prime minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia, where he announced days ago his shock resignation.

"Today we demand the return to the nation of our Prime Minister Saad Hariri," tweeted Bassil.

The foreign minister is the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who has not yet accepted Hariri's resignation and is awaiting his return before taking any decision.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Partisans Have Starkly Different Opinions About How the World Views the U.S. (Pew Research, 11/09/17)

For many years, Republicans and Democrats generally shared the same views about whether Russia represented a major threat to the U.S. In 2014, 58% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats said "growing authoritarianism in Russia" was a major threat and as recently as last year, 37% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans described "tensions with Russia" as a major threat.

But partisan differences increased sharply after the presidential election, amid reports that Russia interfered in the campaign. In January, 67% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans said Russia's power and influence were a major threat. These views have changed little since January; currently, 63% of Democrats and 38% of Republicans say Russia is a major threat to the U.S.

Partisanship and thought are ever strangers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


White House chief of staff tried to pressure acting DHS secretary to expel thousands of Hondurans, officials say (Nick Miroff, November 9, 2017, NY Times)

On Monday, as the Department of Homeland Security prepared to extend the residency permits of tens of thousands of Honduran immigrants living in the United States, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called Acting Secretary Elaine Duke to pressure her to expel them, according to current and former administration officials.

 Duke refused to reverse her decision and was angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion by Kelly and Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, who also called her about the matter, according to officials with knowledge of Monday's events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Fortunately, the Deep State stopped them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


In China, Trump Places His Bets on Flattering Xi Jinping (MARK LANDLER, JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and JANE PERLEZ, NOV. 9, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's warm words, on a state visit to China replete with ceremony but short of tangible results, showed a president doubling down on his gamble that by cultivating a personal connection with Mr. Xi, he can push the Chinese leader to take meaningful steps on North Korea and trade.

In public, Mr. Trump projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting American president. Far from attacking Mr. Xi on trade, Mr. Trump saluted him for leading a country that he said had left the United States "so far behind." He said he could not blame the Chinese for taking advantage of weak American trade policy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters (Noah Browning, 11/09/17, Reuters) 

More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.

The dysfunction is a reminder to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his campaign to counter arch-enemy Iran in the Middle East, including threats against Tehran's ally Hezbollah, may be hard to implement.

During a rare visit to a large area of Yemeni territory controlled by the pro-Saudi government, journalists saw a patchwork of mutually suspicious army units, whose loyalty to disparate regions and commanders has hindered their war against Houthi fighters.

The Houthi are a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The Strange Pleasure of Seeing Carter Page Set Himself on Fire (Rick Wilson, 11.08.17, Daily Beast)

Legal scholars watching Page's borderline insane interviews, reviewing his bizarre public statements and reading the wackadoodle transcripts of his testimony to congressional investigators have expressed various levels of shock. His testimony this week must have dismayed his friends in Trump world; a long, rambling, performance art piece before the House which confirmed key sections of the Steele Dossier and opened up entirely new venues for investigation.

The emerging paper trail of his forays into Russia has been an amazing mosaic of comic-opera misunderstandings, grand and petty corruptions, grade-school category errors, and fundamental delusions about Putin's kleptocracy. In short, Page is a perfect example of the ad-hoc weirdness of the Trump campaign, Trumpism's deep, misplaced love of Putin's Russia, and the power of magical thinking among the coterie of misfit toys Trump calls his advisors. Page is weird and wrong and in most campaigns he'd be the weirdest, wrongest dog in the pack. In Trump world, Carter Page is in the middle quintile.

A bizarre fascination with Russia as an ally shaped the view of many of Trump's foreign policy advisors like Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Stephen Miller, Seb Gorka and the rest of the Foreign Policy Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Want To Read Good. Yes, a meaningful fraction of it is informed by an alt-rightish belief that the U.S. and Russia are white Christian allies in the global war on Islam and brown people in general, but some of it is just their natural inclination toward nationalist authoritarianism.

It's easier to have sympathy for the guys--like Manafort--who were just looking to cash in on the Donald/Vlad relationship than for the guys driven purely by hatred of Muslims, Jews, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Bad News For House Republicans: Clinton Won't Be On The Ballot In 2018 (Harry Enten, 7/24/17, 538)

[M]idterm elections are different from those that take place in presidential election years. And midterm elections that take place with an unpopular president in office are very different from presidential election years that have two historically unpopular candidates at the top of the major-party tickets.

Republican congressional candidates in 2016 may not have gotten much help from Trump, but they got a big boost from someone else: Hillary Clinton. Clinton, it's easy to forget, was only modestly more popular than Trump. According to Gallup, Clinton had the second-worst unfavorable rating of any major-party presidential candidate in modern history, behind only Trump. In the 2016 exit polls, 55 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of Clinton.

Clinton's unpopularity turned out to be a key factor in 2016 congressional races. Unsurprisingly, people who had a favorable view of Clinton primarily voted for Democrats in House races, while people with a favorable view of Trump primarily voted for Republican candidates. But among the 19 percent of voters who had an unfavorable view of both presidential candidates, House Republican candidates won by a margin of 30 percentage points. (Some voters may have cast a ballot for a Republican House candidate in the belief that a House controlled by the GOP would balance Clinton's power after what most Americans thought would be a Clinton win.)

Next year, though, Clinton won't be on the ballot (although Trump continues to tweet about her). That could be a big problem for House Republican candidates, especially if Trump remains unpopular. That's because realistically, the only way for Democrats to take back the House is to run up huge margins among voters who don't like Trump.

In part because of Clinton's unpopularity, Democrats in 2016 won among voters who had an unfavorable view of Trump by only 50 percentage points. That may seem like a lot, but Democrats will need to do much better if they want to take back the House. Based on Trump's current approval rating, House Democratic candidates probably need to win Trump disapprovers by something close to a 70- or 75-point margin in 2018.1

Two surveys conducted this spring by SurveyMonkey for FiveThirtyEight suggest that Democrats may get the margin they need among Trump disapprovers to take back the House.

'Winning' Isn't Winning : If the American electorate continues to have a low opinion of the president, then Republicans should calculate that drag into their electoral expectations. (Kevin D. Williamson, November 8, 2017, National Review)

So, here's the math: Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, won nine out of ten votes among Virginians who approve of President Donald Trump. He lost nine out of ten votes among those who disapprove. He lost by nine points.

Trump's approval rating in Virginia is 42 percent. His approval rating nationally is lower than that -- about 38 percent. Trump partisans like to sneer at opinion polling and proffer the cliché that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat, surely agrees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Voters just sent a message: Republicans are way out of step on health care (Editorial Board, November 8, 2017, Washington Post)

The health-care message was hammered home in Virginia and Maine by huge electoral margins. In exit polls across the Old Dominion, 2 out of 5 voters identified health care as their top concern -- more than twice as many as named any other issue. Among those health-care voters, 77 percent favored the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports Obamacare and expanding Virginia's Medicaid program under the law; just 23 percent backed the Republican, Ed Gillespie, who opposes both.

In Maine, a referendum to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which would extend health insurance to some 80,000 low-income adults, won in a landslide, 59 percent to 41 percent. That was a direct rebuke to the Republican governor, Paul LePage, who vetoed Medicaid expansion five times after it was approved, also five times, by the state legislature.

The outcome in Maine, which would become the 32nd state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare but the first to do so by referendum, may prompt similar ballot measures in other GOP-dominated holdout states. Nationwide, some 2.5 million uninsured adults who could gain access to Medicaid live in the remaining states that have balked at expansion; about 15 million Americans have signed up for Medicaid under the expansion. be crosswise with the electorate on the purposes for which government itself exists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Criticized for ship holdings, Ross owns more than previously known and the deals continue : Most of the 75 ships transport oil and gas products worldwide, presenting a conflict of interest for the commerce secretary as he negotiates trade deals. Records show 11 purchases since March. (Tom Scheck and Maria Curi, 11/08/17, American Public Media)

An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company -- Navigator Holdings Ltd. -- Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. The value of those ships stands to grow as Ross negotiates trade deals on behalf of the U.S. and advises on U.S. infrastructure policy. And one fund linked to Ross was still buying and selling ships after Ross was confirmed as Commerce secretary.

APM Reports compiled the list by combing through Ross' financial disclosure forms, relying on business filings in the U.S., Luxembourg, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, searches through shipping trade publications and through the internet domains of major shipping companies across the globe. [...]

Today as Commerce secretary, Ross is positioned to help shape the export practices of the U.S. He's forcefully advocated for reducing the nation's trade deficit across the globe, notably in China, Mexico and Canada. In May, he announced a deal that pushes China to buy more natural gas from U.S. exporters. A chief beneficiary of those increased exports is shipping.

Ross' first investments were stakes in Diamond S. Shipping, a crude oil carrier, and Navigator Holdings, a company that moves liquid petroleum products.

He invested at a time when the shipping industry appeared to have bottomed out after the Great Recession -- the industry had too many ships to move too few products. It was a classic investment strategy for Ross, who's made his money by buying and selling distressed companies in troubled sectors.

In 2002, for example, he scooped up steel companies LTV Corp., Acme Steel and Bethlehem Steel in bankruptcy. He cut costs by laying off workers, installing new work rules and stripping employee pension funds. Three years later, he sold the repackaged company for $4.5 billion, an investment strategy he used years later in the coal and textiles industries.

His hunch about shipping a few years later stemmed from the oil and gas boom in the U.S. A drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing in shale rock formations -- fracking -- in the U.S. produced large amounts of crude oil, natural gas and other petroleum products. His investment in Diamond S. Shipping and Navigator Holdings was a bet that energy exports would spur growth in the shipping industry.

"There is optimism that shale gas and oil will transform the U.S. economy and require unprecedented oceangoing capacity," Ross said at the Marine Money Asia Week forum in 2012.

Most of Ross' ships -- 80 percent -- move oil and gas products. But the stark reality is that Ross' investments haven't paid off.

The share price of Navigator Holdings declined 47 percent since it debuted in 2013 at $19 a share. His investment firm held a 61 percent stake in the company when Ross, the majority investor, took the company public in 2013, according to business filings.

Ross also shelved his attempts to take Diamond S. Shipping public in 2014 because he felt the stock price for the company was too low.

Shipping continues to have an overcapacity problem, according to Ben Nolan, managing director of Marine Transportation Research at Stifel Financial Group, and the sector is far from its high valuations of 15 years ago.

He said that while shipping is gradually recovering, many private equity investors who gambled on the industry five years ago have cut their losses. He said others, like Ross, continue to wait for the big return.

"A lot of the reason that they still have those positions is they anticipate at some point there is going to be a better exit," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Flynn worries about son in special counsel probe (Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen, 11/08/17, CNN)

Flynn's troubles extend to Congress, where his activities have attracted the attention of the House oversight committee. The panel's top Republican and Democrat made a stunning announcement in April after their own inquiry: Flynn likely broke federal law by taking a paid speaking engagement in Russia without US government approval, and he hid the payments from FBI investigators reviewing the security clearance he is afforded as a retired lieutenant general.

After that announcement, Flynn's attorney told CNN that Flynn wasn't hiding anything and that he had briefed the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency "both before and after" the trip to Moscow.
FBI investigators also have scrutinized a series of phone calls during the Trump transition between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak. The conversations centered on US sanctions against Russia and whether they would remain in place during the Trump administration.

When Trump took office in January 2017, Flynn served as his national security adviser, but he resigned after one month amid questions about the Kislyak calls and his other links to Russia.

The Logan Act, passed in 1799, bans private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, but it is hardly ever used in practice. More pressing for Flynn might be what he told the FBI about the calls.

CNN reported that Flynn initially told investigators sanctions weren't discussed but changed his answer to say he didn't remember. Mueller could use this to charge Flynn with making false statements -- the same charge that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to last month.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


RussiaGate Latest (WhoWhatWhy, 11/09/17)

Trump Aide Coordinated Moscow Trip with Campaign Officials

The transcript of Carter Page's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which includes details on his July 2016 trip to Moscow, has been made public Tuesday. Page, a former aide to then-candidate Donald Trump, initially claimed that the visit was unrelated to campaign business, but the newly-released records show that he had coordinated the trip with high-ranking Trump officials. Over email, Page informed then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and current White House communications director Hope Hicks that he met with Russian officials and said he had "insights and outreach" to share with the team.

Russian Twitter Backing for Trump Began Soon After Candidacy Announcement

Russian interference in the US election began just a few weeks after Donald Trump announced his bid for president. Analysis by the Wall Street Journal shows that these coordinated efforts were more strategic than previously thought, heavily skewing toward pro-Trump content by a 10:1 margin. Content critical of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican primarily contender Jeb Bush was generated at equal or greater margins.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Trump cooperates with Chinese effort to control image (Joe McDonald, 11/09/17, AP) 

U.S. President Donald Trump was a cooperative partner for Beijing's sweeping efforts to control the message of his heavily choreographed visit to China.

Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, took no questions at an event Thursday billed as a news briefing, a reduction of already minimal press interaction during previous visits by American leaders.

During a 2014 visit by then President Barack Obama, Xi took a symbolic single question from a reporter for a Chinese state newspaper. He brushed off an American reporter's question about whether Beijing might ease restrictions on journalist visas, saying vaguely that media outlets had to obey China's laws.

Trump, who has called the media the "enemy of the American people," also took no questions during an event at which Chinese companies signed contracts to buy American jetliners, soybeans and other goods. [...]

"Both of them are sensitive and vigilant about the media," said Zhang Lifan, an independent political analyst in Beijing. "They worry there might be some tricky questions that would embarrass them."

November 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


House panel drops effort to force testimony on Trump 'dossier' (Mark Hosenball, 11/08/17, Reuters)

Fusion GPS lawyer Joshua Levy said in a statement that Republican Representative Mike Conaway and Democrat Adam Schiff, leaders of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee's investigation of Trump campaign contacts with Russia, had "agreed to withdraw a subpoena" served on Glenn Simpson, a founder of the firm.

"Mr. Simpson will instead sit for a voluntary interview next week, and nothing will be said at that interview - per the agreement of Mr. Conaway and Mr. Schiff - shall interfere with Mr. Simpson's ability to assert privileges in this investigation," Levy said.

He said that under this agreement, Fusion GPS would be allowed to "cooperate while honoring its obligations to clients."

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Sheep 'trained to recognise celebrities' in Cambridge study (bbc, 11/08/17)

...they've been taught to defend collusion between Donald and Russia in an American experiment.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Highlights of Adam Schiff's AP Interview: Manafort's Kremlin Ties, Facebook Stonewalling, More (Ryan Goodman, November 8, 2017, Just Security)

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif) provided an in-depth interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. Schiff's remarks have an added weight this morning.[...]

Making connections: Manafort's reaching out to Kremlin-connected oligarchs in exchange for campaign information and Trump Tower meeting

SCHIFF: It's also been reported in The Washington Post and I can only talk about the public report that Manafort was reaching out to Oleg Deripaska while he was campaign manager, offering information about the campaign he's running in an effort to collect more of the money from Ukraine that he was laundering. And this is very significant because you have Manafort reaching out -- if these allegations are correct -- to the Kremlin essentially by reaching out to oligarchs close to the Kremlin, offering information in exchange for money. And you have the Kremlin reaching out to Manafort, Kushner and the president's son at the same time offering information on Hillary Clinton in exchange for help with sanctions. And those communications are running in opposite directions contemporaneously. Any intelligence agency worth their salt is going to put these things together. And the Russians have very competent intelligence agencies. So it's one issue about the degree to which these are being orchestrated by Russian intel. It's another about how aware Russian intel is. And it's another in terms of what actions the Russians concluded they would take on the basis of this outreach and this evident willingness passively to accept a meeting, aggressively to seek out a meeting with the object of exchanging information of value, to obtain something of value, so that I think is the significance of the matter for us.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Japan's Demographic Lessons for Europe (DANIEL GROS, Nov 8, 2017, Project Syndicate)

With real output - the key measure of economic performance - having risen by only about 15% since 2000, or less than 1% per year, Japan easily seems the least dynamic of the worlds' major economies. But given Japan's demographics - the country's working-age population has been shrinking by almost 1% per year since the start of this century - this result is remarkable.

In fact, Japan's growth rate per working-age person was close to 2% - much higher than in the US or in Europe. Though the US economy grew more than 35% since 2000, its working-age population also grew markedly, leaving the annual growth rate per working-age person at only about 1%.

That indicator - growth rate per working-age person - is not widely used by economists, who instead focus on GDP per capita. By that measure, Japan is doing about as well as Europe and the US. But, while per capita indicators are useful for assessing a country's consumption potential, they do not provide an adequate picture of growth potential, because they include the elderly and the young, who do not contribute to production. Even in Japan, with its high life expectancy, those over the age of 70 do not contribute much to output.

So, given its rapidly declining potential, Japan has been extraordinarily successful. A key reason is that it has put a growing proportion of its working-age population to work: unemployment is today at a record low of less than 3%, and almost 80% of those who could work have a job, compared to about 70% for Europe and the US.

Japan's achievement of full employment and high job growth over the last two decades is all the more noteworthy in view of near-permanent deflation during this period (most prices are still lower today than they were 15-20 years ago). This should give food for thought to those who maintain that deflation imposes unbearable economic costs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Trump rally: 3rd best since World War II (Matt Egan, November 8, 2017, CNN Money)

The S&P 500 has soared 21% since the close of trading on Election Day 2016. That's the third-best performance during a president's first year since World War II, behind only President George H. W. Bush and President John F. Kennedy, according to Sam Stovall of CFRA Research.

The stock market also hit a record number of records under Trump. The S&P 500's 60 all-time highs since the election is unmatched during a president's first year in office, according to CFRA.

That achievement underscores the fact that Trump inherited a stock market near all-time highs and an economy that was in solid shape. It also highlights how remarkably tranquil the rally has been. Sharp drops and steep gains have been rare.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Voters in Maine approve expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare (Brendan O'Brien, 11/08/17, Reuters) 

Voters in Maine on Tuesday approved a ballot initiative to expand the state's Medicaid program under Obamacare, sending a clear signal of support for the federal healthcare law to lawmakers in the state and Washington D.C.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


EU, U.S. affirm Lebanon support, diverging from Saudi (Tom Perry, 11/08/17, Reuters) 

The European Union on Wednesday affirmed support for Lebanon following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, echoing U.S. backing for the Beirut government which Saudi Arabia has accused of declaring war.

When the Sa'uds can order a PM to resign against his will, it's not really a difficult call.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Israel tells its envoys to back Saudis, Hariri against Hezbollah, Iran - report (STUART WINER, 11/08/17, Times of Israel)

Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been at odds and back feuding Shiite and Sunni forces throughout the region. Although they do not share formal diplomatic ties, Israel has reportedly forged ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states over a shared distrust of Iran.

They have an obvious shared desire to thwart self-determination.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer (MAX FISHER and JOSH KELLER, 11/07/17, NY Times)

[A]n ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world's guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people -- a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world's second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.

The staggering number I heard on Here and Now is that America has 5% of the minors in the developed world and 95% of the gun deaths among minors.

November 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Drugstore pain pills as effective as opioids in ER patients (ASSOCIATED PRESS, NOVEMBER 7, 2017)

Emergency rooms are where many patients are first introduced to powerful opioid painkillers, but what if doctors offered over-the-counter pills instead? A new study tested that approach on patients with broken bones and sprains and found pain relievers sold as Tylenol and Motrin worked as well as opioids at reducing severe pain.

The results challenge common ER practice for treating short-term, severe pain and could prompt changes that would help prevent new patients from becoming addicted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Forbes drops bombshell on Wilbur Ross -- and its own reporting (Tom Kludt, November 7, 2017, CNN)

A story published by Forbes on Tuesday tracked what it portrayed as a web of deception spun by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. But the story also cast a critical shadow over Forbes' own reporting, and raises serious questions about the credibility of the magazine's widely-cited ranking of billionaires.

The article, a 3,000-word feature written by Forbes reporter Dan Alexander, alleges that Ross repeatedly embellished his net worth by crediting himself with his investors' money. Alexander's digging apparently began last month, when the magazine told Ross that he was being taken off The Forbes 400, an annual ranking of the richest people in America.

Financial disclosure forms filed after Ross' nomination to the Commerce Department showed he had less than $700 million in assets, far lower than the $2.9 billion Forbes had listed as his net worth a year earlier. And Alexander claims he ultimately found that Ross had been inflating his worth dating back to 2004, when he had first cracked The Forbes 400.

"It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004," Alexander wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


CIA DIRECTOR MET ADVOCATE OF DISPUTED DNC HACK THEORY -- AT TRUMP'S REQUEST (Duncan Campbell, James Risen, November 7 2017, The Intercept)

CIA DIRECTOR MIKE Pompeo met late last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who has become an advocate for a disputed theory that the theft of the Democratic National Committee's emails during the 2016 presidential campaign was an inside job, rather than a hack by Russian intelligence.

That's even funnier than the American Conservative running a story by Scott Ritter, from the same pro-Russian front.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


U.S. lawmakers aim to comply with Iran nuclear deal: EU  (Reuters, 11/07/17) 

U.S. lawmakers signaled they plan to ensure the United States complies with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal despite U.S. President Donald Trump's misgivings about the pact, the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Trump Adviser Met With Russian Deputy Prime Minister During Campaign (Radio Free Europe, November 07, 2017)

Under repeated questions about the contact -- which he had at times denied in the past -- Page said that he had spoken to Dvorkovich after his speech at Moscow's New Economic School.

"It was a very brief interaction. It was some nice pleasantries. I cannot recall the precise words I said, but it was sort of best wishes, and, you know, that's about it," Page said.

Page, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker in Moscow, testified that he saw Dvorkovich again at a dinner during a second trip to Russia in December 2016.

When asked if he had a private meeting with Dvorkovich on that trip, Page replied: "We did."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Is Lebanon caught in a Saudi-Iran regional power play? (Linah Alsaafin & Farah Najjar, 11/07/17, Al Jazeera)

Hariri's business and political links to Saudi Arabia stretch back to his father, Rafik Hariri, a business tycoon and former prime minister who was assassinated in 2005, a year after resigning his premiership.

"Saad Hariri inherited his father's business across the kingdom, including partnerships and financial ties with some of the princes included in the purge," said Ibrahim Halawi, a lecturer in contemporary Middle East politics at the Royal Holloway University in London.

The government in Riyadh wanted to "kill two birds with one stone", Halawi told Al Jazeera - consolidating power locally, "which required moving Hariri to Riyadh and taking over his assets ... [and] simultaneously attempting to shake Hezbollah's comfortable seat in Hariri's 'unity government'."

Hariri's prime ministership lasted barely a year after a prolonged political deadlock left Lebanon without a president and parliament for 11 months.

The government was an unusual national unity coalition of pro- and anti-Syria government parties, including Hezbollah and Hariri's Future Movement.

But this underscored for Saudi Arabia the dangers of a coalition composed of parties with opposing interests, particularly when Hezbollah appeared to hold the most sway. 

Yemeni President Hadi 'under house arrest' in Riyadh (Al Jazeera, 11/07/17)

Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen's president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months, Yemeni officials told The Associated Press.

The officials said the ban was prompted by enmity between President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels and has come to dominate southern Yemen, the portion of the country not under rebel control. [...]

Hadi's inability to get back to southern Yemen underscores the president's loss of authority - even in the south that is nominally under his administration.

Since Hadi left Yemen in February, he has repeatedly sent written requests to Saudi King Salman asking to return. None were processed, said a Yemeni security commander.

In August, Hadi even went to Riyadh airport, planning to return to his temporary capital, Aden, in southern Yemen - but he was turned back from the airport, the commander said.

Two other Yemeni officials confirmed that Hadi, his sons and several ministers with him in Riyadh have been prevented from going to Yemen. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the situation.

"The Saudis have imposed a form of house arrest on them," the commander said. "When Hadi asks to go, they respond it's not safe for him to return as there are plotters who want to take his life and Saudis fear for his life."

November 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Trump's Government of One (Jonathan Swan, 11/06/17, Axios)

In late June, President Trump hosted a group of Native American tribal leaders at the White House[...]

The chiefs explained to Trump that there were regulatory barriers preventing them from getting at their energy. Trump replied: "But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here."

"So what I'm saying is, just do it."

There was a pause in the room and the tribal leaders looked at each other.

"Chief, chief," Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, "what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, chief, you've just got to do it."

The tribal leader looked back at one of the White House officials in the room -- perhaps somebody from the White House Counsel's office -- and he said "can we just do that?" The official equivocated, saying the administration is making progress and has a plan to roll back various regulations.

Trump interjected again: "Guys, I feel like you're not hearing me right now. We've just got to do it. I feel like we've got no choice; other countries are just doing it. China is not asking questions about all of this stuff. They're just doing it. And guys, we've just got to do it."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Russian lawyer claims Trump Jr. promised to reconsider anti-Russia law 'if we come to power' (The Week, 11/06/17)

Veselnitskaya claimed Donald Trump Jr. told her "looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it." He reportedly added: "I understand our side may have messed up, but it'll take a long time to get to the bottom of it." Trump Jr. had agreed to the meeting apparently because Veselnitskaya claimed Hillary Clinton's campaign was being funded in part by money that evaded United States tax laws. When Veselnitskaya failed to present any documented proof, the meeting allegedly fell apart.

November 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


With Manafort, It Really Is About Russia, Not Ukraine (EVELYN N. FARKAS, NOV. 5, 2017, NY Times)

In 2010, with Mr. Manafort's help, Mr. Yanukovych was elected president. His campaign, primarily targeting voters in the east, was based on opposition to NATO and advocacy for Russian-language rights. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates received tens of millions of dollars for this work. Vladimir Putin -- who had already invaded and occupied part of the Republic of Georgia -- made it clear that Moscow was determined to keep Ukraine out of NATO and firmly within Russia's sphere of influence.

In November 2013, after on-and-off flirtations with the West, Mr. Yanukovych rejected a pending agreement to join the European Union. The Ukrainian people took to the streets again, starting in a Kiev square known as the Maidan. Mr. Yanukovych ordered his special forces to shoot and kill over 100 unarmed demonstrators and subsequently fled the country, despite a political transition settlement brokered by the United States and European Union, with Russian assent.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014, annexed Crimea and shortly thereafter instigated a separatist movement in Mr. Yanukovych's home region, Donetsk. The result was a war between Russia and Ukraine that continues to this day.

Mr. Yanukovych was in exile in Russia, but Mr. Manafort continued to work in Ukraine for the Opposition Bloc, the successor party to the discredited Party of Regions, and indirectly, for Russia's interests, since this party continued to be pro-Moscow -- and anti-EU and anti-NATO. And then in March 2016 Mr. Manafort became Mr. Trump's campaign chairman. At the July Republican convention, his staff intervened to weaken the party platform concerning Ukraine, striking a clause advocating for lethal defensive military assistance for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump was praising Mr. Putin, advocating for greater cooperation with Russia and speaking skeptically about NATO and its collective defense mission.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Miners Aim 'Very Sci-fi' Drones at Dark, Dangerous Places (Mike Cherney, Nov. 5, 2017, WSJ)

Hundreds of feet underground here, scientists are experimenting with a technology that could transform how mining companies dig out rocks in dangerous, pitch-black caves: fully autonomous drones.

The drones would fly without any pilot assistance into areas too risky for human miners. Using a rotating laser similar to those on autonomous cars, they would create three-dimensional maps more detailed than what is available now, helping miners excavate more gold and other commodities that might otherwise be missed.

"It's very sci-fi," said Zachary McLeay, a production engineer for Australian gold producer Northern Star Resources Ltd. , after seeing a drone fly into a dark cavern during a recent test.

The trial, at Northern Star's Jundee gold mine in Western Australia, is part of a broader effort by the global mining industry to embrace automation, which is driving down costs and improving safety. It also might lead to fewer jobs. Companies from South Africa to Australia are already using technology such as driverless trucks, mechanized drilling and extra-long conveyor belts to improve productivity as they look to rebound from the recent downturn in commodity prices.

Automation can "save lives, and also save time and save money," said Mehmet Kizil, associate professor and mining-engineering program leader at the University of Queensland in Australia. "The industry's made a big jump in adopting this technology because the biggest cost in mining is labor."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Saudi Prince, Asserting Power, Brings Clerics to Heel (BEN HUBBARD, NOV. 5, 2017, NY Times)

For decades, Saudi Arabia's religious establishment wielded tremendous power, with bearded enforcers policing public behavior, prominent sheikhs defining right and wrong, and religious associations using the kingdom's oil wealth to promote their intolerant interpretation of Islam around the world.

Now, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing their power as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam.

Before the arrests on Saturday of his fellow royals and former ministers on corruption allegations, Prince Mohammed had stripped the religious police of their arrest powers and expanded the space for women in public life, including promising them the right to drive.

Dozens of hard-line clerics have been detained, while others were designated to speak publicly about respect for other religions, a topic once anathema to the kingdom's religious apparatus.

If the changes take hold, they could mean a historic reordering of the Saudi state by diminishing the role of hard-line clerics in shaping policy. That shift could reverberate abroad by moderating the exportation of the kingdom's uncompromising version of Islam, Wahhabism, which has been accused of fueling intolerance and terrorism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Trump said Japan should have shot down N. Korea missiles (KYODO NEWS, 11/05/17)

Trump questioned Japan's decision not to shoot down the missiles when he met or spoke by phone with leaders from Southeast Asian countries over recent months to discuss how to respond to the threats from North Korea, the sources said.

The U.S. president said he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles, according to the sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Why So Many People Choose the Wrong Health Plans (RICHARD H. THALER NOV. 4, 2017, The New York Times)

If you get health insurance from your employer, you have to make decision every year about which coverage to choose.

So here is a warning: If you are simply sticking with an old plan with a low deductible, that may well be a wrong and costly choice.

You might wonder how anyone could say that choosing one plan over another is "wrong." Surely such a choice depends on personal preferences about doctors, premiums, deductibles and other factors. And that's all true.

But the mistake I am referring to is different. Because of human quirks, lack of understanding and overly complicated plans, many people are paying more without getting anything extra in return.

Economists have a term for a situation like this, where one option is better than another under any circumstances, dominance. And that is what we see in many workplaces: The cheaper health care plan, at every level of medical spending, often has a higher deductible -- a higher spending hurdle that must be reached before reimbursements begin.

Because people tend to keep the older, low-deductible plans they already have -- and because they are often frightened by high deductibles -- large numbers of workers and their families are spending more than they need to on health care.

Employers--until the government does so--should just default everyone into the catastrophic/HSA plan.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


How Curious George's creators saved the beloved monkey from the Nazis (Gabe Friedman, 11/05/17, JTA)

Hans Augusto Rey (née Reyersbach) and Margret Waldstein first met in Hamburg in the 1920s. Margret, who had studied art at the influential Bauhaus school and whose father was a member of the German parliament, left Germany for Brazil in 1935 to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Hans had been working in Rio de Janeiro as a bathtub salesman. The pair, who had met over a decade before in Germany, married that year and moved to Paris.

Hans worked as a cartoon illustrator for a newspaper, and Margret wrote copy. A French publisher was impressed with some of Hans' animal drawings and suggested they work on a children's book. Their first work was "Raphael and the Nine Monkeys," and one of those monkeys would later become George.

By June 1940, the situation in Paris looked grim as Hitler's troops began to close in. Millions of people flocked to trains heading to the south of the country, and the Reys could not get a ticket.

They didn't own a car, so they decided to flee by bike, as Louise Borden explains in "The Journey That Saved Curious George." The only problem: They couldn't find a bike anywhere, either.

Somehow, Hans did something that sounds like a plot point in a children's fantasy book: He made two bikes that night using spare parts. That incredible act likely saved their lives, as well as the future of the monkey that would become Curious George.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Russia funded Facebook and Twitter investments through Kushner associate : Institutions with close links to Kremlin financed stakes through business associate of Trump's son-in-law, leaked files reveal (Jon Swaine and Luke Harding,  5 November 2017, tHE gUARDIAN)

Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal.

The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser. [...]

The money flowed through investment vehicles controlled by Milner, who also invested in a startup in New York that Kushner co-owns with his brother. Kushner initially failed to disclose his own holding in the startup, Cadre, when he joined Trump's White House. that the Trumpies even felt enough qualms not to disclose their ties.
Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Leaked Documents Show Wilbur Ross Concealed Ties to Putin Cronies (RICHARD ENGEL and AGGELOS PETROPOULOS, 11/05/17, NBC)

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin's immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross -- a billionaire industrialist -- retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator's most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin's son-in-law and other members of the Russian president's inner circle.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Robert Mueller's Brilliant Strategy for Outmaneuvering Trump Pardons : The president cannot save Paul Manafort. (Jed Handelsman Shugerman, 11/05/17, Slate)

Mueller's moves may make strategic sense because of a shadow hanging over the entire investigation: the potential that President Donald Trump might use his presidential pardon power to protect possible accomplices in potential crimes.

Mueller knows that Trump can pardon Manafort (or any defendant) in order to relieve the pressure to cooperate with Mueller and to keep them quiet. But Mueller also knows that presidential pardons affect only federal crimes and not state-level crimes. On the one hand, double jeopardy rules under the Fifth Amendment prevent a second prosecution for the same crime, but the doctrine of dual sovereignty allows a state to follow a federal prosecution (and vice versa). So in theory, Manafort and Papadopoulos can't rely on Trump's pardons to save them even after a conviction or a guilty plea.

But in practice, state rules can expand double jeopardy protections and limit prosecutions. In fact, New York is such a state. New York is the key state for Mueller because New York has jurisdiction over many alleged or potentially uncovered Trump-Russia crimes (conspiracy to hack/soliciting stolen goods/money laundering, etc.), and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York district attorneys are not politically constrained from pursuing charges.

New York's Criminal Procedure Law 40.20 states, "A person may not be twice prosecuted for the same offense." The issue is that New York defines "prosecution" broadly. Section 40.30 continues:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person "is prosecuted" for an offense, within the meaning of section 40.20, when he is charged therewith by an accusatory instrument filed in a court of this state or of any jurisdiction within the United States, and when the action either: (a) Terminates in a conviction upon a plea of guilty; or

(b) Proceeds to the trial stage and a jury has been impaneled and sworn or, in the case of a trial by the court without a jury, a witness is sworn.

The New York statute does not allow a state prosecution to follow a federal prosecution ("a court of any jurisdiction within the United States") for the same basic facts. The bottom line: If Mueller starts a trial on all of the potential charges, and then Trump pardons Manafort, Mueller will not be able to hand off the case to state prosecutors. And thus he would have lost leverage at the time of the indictment if he seemed headed toward losing the state prosecution as a backup.

Instead, Mueller wisely brought one set of charges (mostly financial crimes that preceded the campaign), and he is saving other charges that New York could also bring (tax fraud, soliciting stolen goods, soliciting/conspiring to hack computers). Mueller also knew that his indictment document on Monday would include a devastating amount of detail on paper without relying on any witnesses to testify, showing Mueller had the goods on a slam-dunk federal money laundering case. Then he dropped the hammer with the Papadopoulos plea agreement, showing Manafort and Gates that he has the goods on far more charges, both in federal and state court.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Poll: Trump's performance lags behind even tepid public expectations (Dan Balz and Scott Clement November 5, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump began his presidency with only modest expectations on the part of a public that was divided coming out of last year's contentious election. Roughly 100 days into his presidency, 42 percent said he had accomplished a great deal or a good amount while in office. Today, that has declined to 35 percent.

Meanwhile, 65 percent say he has accomplished "not much" or "little or nothing." This is up from 56 percent last spring. Forty-three percent of all Americans give him the lowest possible rating, saying he has accomplished "little or nothing."

The minimal expectations were key to his survival last November and his failure to fulfill even them a testimony to the Founders.
Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM



Osama bin Laden had funny YouTube videos of cats and babies delivered to his compound when he was hiding, according to a new release.

Bin Laden didn't have an internet connection when he was at the Abbottabad hideout, so that he couldn't be traced. That presumably means that the videos were instead brought to him on a hard drive or similar, and loaded onto his computer for watching later.

The videos include a compilation of funny cat videos and the viral hit Charlie Bit My Finger, in which a baby named Charlie bites a toddler's finger. They are named descriptively, apparently so that the man who planned the 9/11 attacks could access them later - one video is called "funy_cats", for instance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


James Franklin chases down his players to make sure they shake hands after loss (Sam Cooper, Nov 4, 2017, Yahoo)
Penn State suffered a brutal loss for a second straight week, but head coach James Franklin was not going to let his players leave the field without shaking hands.

Immediately after Michigan State's Matt Coghlin made the winning field goal as time expired, cameras panned to Franklin who was curiously sprinting toward some of his players, who were heading to the visitors locker room. It quickly became clear he wasn't happy linebacker Koa Farmer decided not to shake hands with any MSU players. Franklin instructed Farmer and others to turn around and do so.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Yemen's Houthis fire ballistic missile at Riyadh (Faisal Edroos , 11/05/17, Al Jazeera)

Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for a loud explosion in Riyadh, saying they fired a long-range ballistic missile that travelled more than 800km over the border with Saudi Arabia. [...]

In an interview with Al Jazeera earlier this month, Mohammed Abdul Salam, a spokesman for the Houthi rebels, threatened to escalate operations on the Yemeni-Saudi border and target deep inside the Kingdom.
"The Saudis started the war. Our response will continue and increase, whether it's targeting deep inside Saudi Arabia, targeting military positions where Saudi jets fly from, or military bases inside Yemeni territory," Abdul Salam said.

"Abu Dhabi and others that target Yemen, are as far as we're concerned, a fair military target. Any country that targets Yemen will be struck by our missiles."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Why Would Republicans Scrap the Adoption Tax Credit? (JOHN MCCORMACK, 11/04/17, The Weekly Standard)
The federal adoption tax credit is a tiny sliver of federal spending--the $300 million spent annually equals less than 0.01 percent of the federal budget. But the House GOP's proposal to scrap this little tax credit as part of their overhaul of the tax code is already receiving a lot of pushback.

"The adoption tax credit is not just one more policy issue. Vulnerable children ought to be a priority for us all," tweeted Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "Amen. Being pro-life means being pro-adoption. Congress must remember this as we work through the details of tax reform in the coming weeks," Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse replied. [...]

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, keeping the adoption tax credit would cost the federal government $3.8 billion over 10 years. That's a small amount of money in a multi-trillion-dollar tax overhaul. Over 10 years, the House GOP's proposed changes to the estate tax alone (immediately doubling the exempt amount to $11 million and then eliminating it after 2023) will reduce federal revenues by $172 billion--meaning that cutting the inheritance tax will cost 50 times more than eliminating the adoption tax credit.Mind you, adoption advocates argue that the adoption tax credit doesn't actually cost taxpayers $3.8 billion in practice. Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, points out that Republicans are always arguing that tax plans should be scored "dynamically" in order to account for the impact tax cuts will have on economic growth--but they have failed to consider the overall impact of the adoption tax credit on state and federal budgets.

"What they don't factor in is the total cost to society with a child in foster care," Johnson tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The costs to taxpayers of keeping a child in foster care--health care, food, housing, social workers, and administrators--are far greater than the one-time tax credit adoptive families may receive.

"Comparing the per-child cost of subsidized adoption from foster care with the cost of maintaining a child in foster care, one concludes that the child adopted from foster care costs the public only 40 percent as much as the child who remains in foster care," according to a report from the National Council for Adoption. "The difference in cost per child per year amounts to $15,480."

"You've got to look at the total cost. You've got to look at the future savings," says Johnson. Children who get out of foster care and into permanent families are better off, which is good for them and good for society. "Children get in families who help them become self-sufficient contributing members of society, instead of folks we have to provide care to for the rest of their lives," says Johnson.

You have to remember why the credit was adopted in the first place.
Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


The Trump Administration's Looming Political Crisis : It's been a chaotic year since the election. But the Mueller investigation signals that the most eventful days are still ahead. (Steve Coll, 11/05/17, The New Yorker)

Last week, congressional committees summoned representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to grill them about how they could possibly have allowed polarizing, race-baiting ads to be placed on their platforms by companies linked to the Kremlin. On Facebook alone, during the campaign, Russian ads reached more than a hundred million Americans. It is shocking that only now, and after early denials from Facebook that the ads were a serious problem, are we discovering the vast online spread of manipulative content linked to Russia. At a minimum, as Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, put it, "the Russians mounted what could be described as an independent expenditure campaign on Mr. Trump's behalf."

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Wait, did Bernie Sanders win the election? (Scott Sumner, 11/05/17, EconLog)

 After winning all the branches of government, you'd sort of expect the GOP to propose at least a token reduction in the top rate.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that the GOP plans to raise the top federal income tax rate to 49.4%:

The House GOP's reform proposal for individual taxes is a mess, but now we learn it also includes a stealthy 45.6% marginal tax rate on some high earners. This dishonest surcharge betrays the GOP's purposes of growing the economy and simplifying the code, and Republicans ought to kill this gift to the left that will be slapped on more Americans when Democrats return to power.
[I added the additional 3.8% income tax to the regular income tax, something our media always forgets to do.]

Now let's consider a wealthy person in California. Under Obama that person faced a top rate of roughly 50%, combining state and federal incomes taxes. Under the new GOP plan, the top rate for Californians would soar to 62.7%, a rate one associates more with Thomas Piketty or Bernie Sanders, rather than the Ronald Reagan GOP. 

Of course Donald is Bernie, but why would we tax income, profits, and returns at all?

November 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 PM


Hysterical mobs are crudely judging history. One book offers a better way. : a review of Grant by Ron Chernow  (George F. Will, November 3, 2017, Washington Post)

He was hopelessly naive regarding the rascality unleashed by the sudden postwar arrival of industrialism entangled with government. But the corruptions during his administration showed only his negligence, not his cupidity. More importantly, Grant, says Chernow, "showed a deep reservoir of courage in directing the fight against the Ku Klux Klan and crushing the largest wave of domestic terrorism in American history." He ranks behind only Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson as a presidential advancer of African American aspirations.

After the presidency, he was financially ruined by his characteristic misjudgment of the sort of miscreants who abused his trust when he was president. His rescuer from the wreckage inflicted by a 19th-century Madoff was Mark Twain, who got Grant launched on his memoirs. This taciturn, phlegmatic military man of few words, writing at a punishing pace during the agony of terminal cancer, produced the greatest military memoir in the English language, and the finest book published by any U.S. president.

Chernow is clear-eyed in examining and evenhanded in assessing Grant's defects. He had an episodic drinking problem but was not a problem drinker: He was rarely incapacitated, and never during military exigencies or when with Julia, his wife. Far from being an unimaginative military plodder profligate with soldiers' lives, he was by far the war's greatest soldier, tactically and strategically, and the percentage of casualties in his armies was, Chernow says, "often lower than those of many Confederate generals."

Sentimentality about Robert E. Lee has driven much disdain for Grant. Chernow's judgment about Lee is appropriately icy: Even after failing to dismember the nation, he "remained a southern partisan" who "never retreated from his retrograde views on slavery."

Geoffrey Perret makes the point, in his fine Grant bio, that his reputation as president suffers because he was the first to oversee the massively enlarged government that the Civil War left behind.  So the scandals of his administration, which seemed unique at the time, became routine in ensuing decades.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Justice was served in the Bergdahl case (Peter Bergen, 11/04/17, CNN)

Col. Nance had to weigh a number of mitigating factors as he determined Bergdahl's sentence. (Note: I have met with members of Bergdahl's family.)

The first factor, of course, is the five years Bergdahl spent as a prisoner of the Taliban.

Bergdahl mounted a number of escape attempts after which he spent years confined in a cage suitable for an animal.

He was also tortured, beaten with thick rubber hoses and copper wire.

The second, is Bergdahl's diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "People with schizotypal personality disorder are often described as odd or eccentric... the person with schizotypal personality disorder responds inappropriately to social cues and holds peculiar beliefs."
Given this diagnosis, it's not clear why Bergdahl was allowed into the military in the first place. Some evidence for Bergdahl's strange mindset is provided by his observation to the podcast "Serial" after he was released by the Taliban that when he had left his base in Afghanistan he believed he was embarking on some kind of "Jason Bourne" mission. Moving around alone in Taliban areas in Afghanistan, Bergdahl proved an easy target for Taliban foot soldiers, not some kind of action hero.

A third factor that the judge likely weighed in his decision was that Bergdahl provided useful information about the Taliban to US intelligence agencies when he was debriefed.

Finally, the judge said he would also weigh prejudicial statements made by President Trump about the case as a mitigating factor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Trump finally discovered he can't force the feds to prosecute Clinton -- and he's not happy (Dara Lind, Nov 3, 2017, Vox)

Trump opened up to talk-radio host and Mediaite contributor Larry O'Connor on Thursday, in an interview broadcast on Washington radio station WBAL. "The saddest thing," Trump told O'Connor, "is because I'm the president of the United States, I'm not supposed to be involved in the Justice Department."

The idea that the head of the government can't use his power to prosecute his enemies is literally at the core of the idea of the "rule of law" as it's understood in America. Outside legal experts and lawmakers from both parties have been making that argument for months.

But it seems that it came as a nasty surprise to President Donald Trump, and it's not clear when he found out that he couldn't manipulate the activity of the Justice Department -- of if he has, in fact, made a decision he won't try to soon reverse.

Remember that he certainly didn't seem to know that he wasn't "supposed to be involved" when he (allegedly) demanded the loyalty of FBI Director James Comey; fired Comey (ostensibly for being too harsh on Hillary Clinton), and later admitted that he'd fired Comey because he thought the FBI's investigation of ties between his campaign and the Russian government was "fake news."

And he certainly didn't know he wasn't "supposed to be involved" when for months he held a grudge against his own attorney general and close adviser Jeff Sessions, because Sessions felt that his entanglement in the Russia scandal was a reason to recuse himself from the federal investigation rather than trying to quash it. (That move led to the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort earlier this week.)

It is not ideal, to say the least, for a president to learn on the job about fundamental principles of American governance. But it appears that at some point, someone got through to him, and explained that Comey and Sessions weren't acting deliberately to spite the president but were trying to uphold the integrity of their offices. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM

THE 4%:

Territorial losses suffered by Islamic State in Syria, Iraq (SARAH EL DEEB and SUSANNAH GEORGE, 11/04/17,  Associated Press)

With new losses, the Islamic State group has been driven from more than 96 percent of the large parts of Iraq and Syria it once held, crushing its goal of establishing a "caliphate" in the region. [...]

The Syrian city of Boukamal is the last major urban center in the hands of IS.

The group also is spread along the Syria-Iraq border in villages in the provinces of Hassakeh and Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria.

There also are small IS cells in Iraq's Nineveh, Anbar and Salahudin provinces, where the central government has lacked strong control for years.

Along this thin line on the border of the two countries, the militants still have a presence in a region running west of the Euphrates River toward the Syrian desert, between Deir el-Zour and Homs provinces. There also is a small IS presence near Damascus.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Memo Reveals Details of Hillary Clinton-DNC Deal (ALEX SEITZ-WALD, 11/04/17, NBC)

In exchange for Hillary for America's (HFA) helping the cash-strapped DNC raise money, the party committee agreed "that HFA personnel will be consulted and have joint authority over strategic decisions over the staffing, budget, expenditures, and general election related communications, data, technology, analytics, and research."

Specifically, the DNC agreed to hire a communications director from "one of two candidates previously identified as acceptable to HFA." And while the DNC maintained "the authority to make the final decision" on senior staff in the communications, technology and research departments, the party organization said it would choose "between candidates acceptable to HFA."

The memo stipulates the DNC had to hire a communications director by September 11, 2015, months before the first nominating contests in early 2016.

However, the memo also made clear that the arrangement pertained to only the general election, not the primary season, and it left open the possibility that it would sign similar agreements with other candidates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


'The Coffee Boy' Spills It In Trump's Lap : George Papadopoulos was only trying to make the boss happy. Now he's working for Mueller. (JACK SHAFER November 04, 2017, Politico)

From a position of almost absolute powerlessness inside the Trump campaign, he made repeated attempts via his sketchy Russian and Russophile connections to consummate meetings between Trump and Putin or between Trump other Russian leaders in the months before the election. As a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe, the hapless and unaccomplished Papadopoulos may deliver doofus danger to the Trump: Depending on what he heard and saw inside the campaign, his testimony could spark a chain reaction capable of toppling the presidency.

You can't deny Papadopoulos' doofus bona fides. He lied to the FBI, doofus style, which easily caught him in his fibs. Before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016, he labored on the Ben Carson campaign, making him a doofus' doofus. When Trump met with the Washington Post editorial board on March 21, 2016, he presented Papadopoulos to the world, calling him "an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy." As we now know, being described in superlatives by Trump almost always marks the subject as an incompetent.

On March 31, 2016, Papadopoulos pitched the idea of a Trump-Putin meeting at a meeting of Trump's national security team, which including Papadopoulos and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump was so proud of the event, he captured and tweeted it. Mueller immortalized it this way: "When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin," the plea states. According to CNN, Trump didn't rule out such a meeting with the Russian leader, although Sessions is said to have batted the pitch down. He is reported to have said that such a meeting would look bad if it ever got out. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM

CITIES WERE A MISTAKE (self-reference alert):

Every person in London now breathes dangerous levels of toxic air (John McKenna, 10/06/17, WEF)

The population of London hit 8.8 million people this year and every one of them is breathing dangerous levels of polluted, toxic air.

Every district of the UK's capital city exceeds safe levels for the most dangerous type of air pollutants.

The Wife and I have been watching Escape to the Country on Netflix and growing increasingly bitter at the awesome country houses available super-cheap over there.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


You Asked, We Answered: What's Up With That 'Chicken Farmer I Still Love You' Rock? (PAIGE SUTHERLAND, 11/03/17, NHPR)

If you've ever driven on Route 103 heading up to Sunapee for some swimming or skiing, you might have seen this piece of graffiti on the side of the road in Newbury.

It's on this giant rock right off the highway and it reads: "Chicken Farmer I Still Love You" in big white letters. And it's been there for decades.

As part of our series Only in NH, in which we answer questions from around the state about New Hampshire oddities, NHPR's Paige Sutherland tries to solve the mystery behind the chicken farmer love rock.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The Education of Betsy DeVos : President Donald Trump's most controversial, ideological Cabinet pick is discovering the limits of her power. (TIM ALBERTA November/December 2017, Politico)

DeVos may have been Trump's most controversial Cabinet nominee--the first in American history to require a tiebreaking confirmation vote cast by the vice president. Yet she runs the administration's smallest and arguably least potent federal department; DeVos does not enforce America's laws like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or direct its international relations like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And after nine months in office, it has become apparent to the education secretary that she has limited power to transform the nation's schools. When it comes to the most contentious debates surrounding America's K-12 system--vouchers, standards, incentives, tests--DeVos had more tangible influence as a private citizen in Michigan than she does now in Washington.

Public schools receive little of their funding from the feds--roughly 9.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year, according to the National Education Association--giving Washington minimal leverage over states and localities. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), seen as a bipartisan rebuke to the perceived overreach of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, further decentralized much of K-12 decision-making to an unprecedented degree. It's true that the secretary has more autonomy when it comes to higher education: Student loans and regulatory guidance, among other things, are within her purview. But this is not where DeVos has focused her decades of advocacy work--nor was it the focus of the entrenched resistance warning of her plans to decimate the nation's public schools.

"It's ironic that she emerged as the Cabinet nominee to draw the strongest and most visceral opposition, given the constraints on the ability of any secretary of education to effect dramatic change in American education," says Martin West, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who served as Mitt Romney's top education adviser in 2012. "Those constraints are greater now than ever given the restrictions on the secretary's authority that were built into ESSA."

The bureaucracy is much more formidable and difficult than I had anticipated--and I expected it to be difficult."

This scaled-down role happens to square with DeVos' small-government worldview. "President Trump and I know our jobs," she told a Republican conference on Mackinac Island, Michigan, one week after visiting Kansas City Academy. "It's to get out of the way." But she clearly had more ambitious aims when taking the job--and has grown frustrated at her inability to achieve them. In several interviews this fall with Politico Magazine, DeVos repeatedly returns to the word "bureaucracy": how it smothers creativity, blocks innovation, slows change to a glacial pace. When I ask what has surprised her most about the job, DeVos does not hesitate. "The bureaucracy is much more formidable and difficult than I had anticipated--and I expected it to be difficult," she says. "It's even worse. And you know, in talking to a lot of the great career staff, it's like everybody nods their heads when you talk about this ... yet it seems like everyone is powerless to do anything about it."

Everyone except for her. DeVos is currently undertaking an administration-mandated review of the department, from the top down, hunting for inefficiency and excess. From what she has seen so far, DeVos tells me she will recommend a "significantly lighter footprint." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Sonny Rollins Spent A Mythical 'Night at the Village Vanguard' 60 Years Ago Today (Nat Chinen, 11/03/17, NPR)

One of the greatest jazz albums ever made was recorded 60 years ago today. It's A Night at the Village Vanguard, a live date by saxophonist Sonny Rollins, featuring a muscular backdrop of bass and drums. It's not a carefully plotted concept album, nor a manifesto, but a document with the slangy nonchalance of a conversation overheard on the street, extemporaneous and unburdened. It's a slice of musical vérité that captures a true master of the form on a good day, in a generous and jocular mood.

At 87, Rollins is an acknowledged eminence in American culture: Earlier this year his archives were acquired by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, and there's a serious effort afoot to rename the Williamsburg Bridge in his honor.

He's also legendarily self-effacing, the harshest critic and most reluctant listener of his own past work. By his estimation, he hasn't heard A Night at the Village Vanguard since shortly after it was released. But, when I asked him to talk about the album and the circumstances around its creation, he readily obliged.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Your Sentencing Advice Isn't Helpful, Mr. President (Andrew C. McCarthy, November 4, 2017, National Review)

The twaddle President Trump tweeted (here and here) in urging the "DEATH PENALTY!" for Sayfullo Saipov, the West Side Highway jihadist, is maddening -- and not just on its face. Only days earlier, the commander-in-chief had been chastised for intemperate remarks affecting another case, the court-martial of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

As we recounted in a recent column, Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop routine rumbled through the sentencing proceedings of the deserter and former Taliban prisoner. Unwilling (or is it unable?) to utter the words "no comment" when asked about the case during a press conference, the president reaffirmed his campaign-trail incitements about the "dirty, rotten traitor" (for whom he'd pantomimed a firing-squad execution).

Trump, or at least someone at the White House, must have known that the defense had already moved to get the case thrown out on the theory that Trump had prejudiced Bergdahl's fair-trial rights. When he denied this motion, the military judge explained that candidate Trump had not been in command authority when he made his remarks. The clear message to the White House was that this would be a much tougher call if Trump spewed such demagoguery as president. Seemingly taking this as a dare rather than prudent advice, he proceeded to spew it as president. Naturally, the defense renewed the motion. After a few days of hand-wringing, the manifestly irritated judge denied it, on grounds that were far less defensible. Yesterday, undoubtedly concerned that the president's comments could result in a reversal on appeal if a stiff sentence were imposed, the judge sentenced Bergdahl to no jail time -- notwithstanding that desertion can carry a lengthy term of imprisonment, and Bergdahl's desertion resulted in soldiers' being severely wounded in the search for him.

Earlier, aware of the problems his off-the-cuff remarks had already caused in the court-martial, the president nevertheless butted into the West Side Highway jihadist's legal proceedings. He was moved to do so, he said, because the justice system "is a joke and it's a laughingstock." Well, it is if the president turns it into one.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Two popular conservative Twitter personalities were just outed as Russian trolls (Rob Tornoe, 11/03/17,

Jenna Abrams was a popular figure in right-wing social media circles. Boasting nearly 70,000 followers, Abrams was featured in numerous news articles during the 2016 election, spotlighted by outlets as varied as USA Today, the Washington Post, the BBC, and Yahoo! Sports. Her tweet about CNN airing porn during Anthony Bourdain's show (it didn't) was reported by numerous outlets.

But Abrams never existed.

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a "troll farm" funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities -- @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP -- were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.

Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.

"To those people, who hate the Confederate flag. Did you know that the flag and the war wasn't about slavery, it was all about money," the Abrams account wrote in April of 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Inside story: How Russians hacked the Democrats' emails (RAPHAEL SATTER, JEFF DONN and CHAD DAY,  11/04/17, AP)

It was just before noon in Moscow on March 10, 2016, when the first volley of malicious messages hit the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The first 29 phishing emails were almost all misfires. Addressed to people who worked for Clinton during her first presidential run, the messages bounced back untouched.

Except one.

Within nine days, some of the campaign's most consequential secrets would be in the hackers' hands, part of a massive operation aimed at vacuuming up millions of messages from thousands of inboxes across the world.

An Associated Press investigation into the digital break-ins that disrupted the U.S. presidential contest has sketched out an anatomy of the hack that led to months of damaging disclosures about the Democratic Party's nominee. It wasn't just a few aides that the hackers went after; it was an all-out blitz across the Democratic Party. They tried to compromise Clinton's inner circle and more than 130 party employees, supporters and contractors.

While U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the email thefts, the AP drew on forensic data to report Thursday that the hackers known as Fancy Bear were closely aligned with the interests of the Russian government.

The AP's reconstruction-- based on a database of 19,000 malicious links recently shared by cybersecurity firm Secureworks -- shows how the hackers worked their way around the Clinton campaign's top-of-the-line digital security to steal chairman John Podesta's emails in March 2016.

It also helps explain how a Russian-linked intermediary could boast to a Trump policy adviser, a month later, that the Kremlin had "thousands of emails" worth of dirt on Clinton. [...]

By the second half of April, the DNC's senior leadership was beginning to realize something was amiss. One DNC consultant, Alexandra Chalupa, received an April 20 warning from Yahoo saying her account was under threat from state-sponsored hackers, according to a screengrab she circulated among colleagues.

The Trump campaign had gotten a whiff of Clinton email hacking, too. According to recently unsealed court documents, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said that it was at an April 26 meeting at a London hotel that he was told by a professor closely connected to the Russian government that the Kremlin had obtained compromising information about Clinton.

"They have dirt on her," Papadopoulos said he was told. "They have thousands of emails." [...]

The same afternoon, just as the American electorate was digesting a lewd audio tape of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, WikiLeaks began publishing the emails stolen from Podesta.

The publications sparked a media stampede as they were doled out one batch at a time, with many news organizations tasking reporters with scrolling through the thousands of emails being released in tranches. At the AP alone, as many as 30 journalists were assigned, at various times, to go through the material.

Guccifer 2.0 told one reporter he was thrilled that WikiLeaks had finally followed through.

"Together with Assange we'll make america great again," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The Sleazy Case Against Mueller's Probe (Bret Stephens, NOV. 3, 2017, NY Times)

The truth about Fusion is that it is paid to dig up dirt by whoever is willing to pay for the dirt. Its business model relies on the Beatles' timeless insight that "everybody's got something to hide except me and my monkey."

But questions about Fusion's credibility, client list or aggressive tactics are irrelevant. Fusion brokered the dossier but Steele produced it. What's relevant is his credibility, the reliability of his sources and the truthfulness of their claims.

These check out. Bill Browder, the anti-Putin campaigner who is an outspoken critic of Fusion, calls Steele "a top-class person whose reputation is beyond reproach." At least one of Steele's possible Russian sources was found dead and three others were charged with treason, suggesting, as one Wall Street Journal news account noted, that the Kremlin was cleaning out the moles who had betrayed its hand in last year's election meddling.

As for the allegations themselves, former C.I.A. station chief John Sipher laid out the decisive case for their broad truthfulness in a lengthy article in September in Just Security.

"Well before any public knowledge of these events," Sipher notes, Steele's report "identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents. Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate."

(After this column went to print, The Times reported that Trump foreign-policy adviser Carter Page met with Russian government officials in a July 2016 trip to Moscow, something he has long denied. This further confirms another claim made in the Steele dossier.)

There's more of this, but you get the point: The suggestion that the Steele dossier has been discredited is discreditable to the point of being dishonest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Relocated Hanover Bear Was Shot, Killed in Quebec (Jordan Cuddemi, 11/01/17, Valley News)

One of the three juvenile bears that raided trash cans and even entered a Hanover home under the watchful eye of their mother was shot and killed within weeks of being relocated to northern New Hampshire last spring, wildlife officials said.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins said he received confirmation on Wednesday that the yearling was lawfully shot and killed on June 16 by a hunter in Quebec, 18 days after the bears were captured and brought to Pittsburg, N.H.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Why MLB Is Hot, and the NFL Is Not (Thomas Boswell, 11/03/17, The Washington Post)

This World Series cast baseball in sharp relief against an NFL season that so far is drab, injury-filled, controversy-laden and so full of parity that almost nobody is worth watching. However, the difference between the directions of the two sports is deeper than that and follows long trend lines.

These days, baseball is smart, innovative, in love with change and so dynamic you can hardly keep up with it, while the NFL has been asleep for decades, collecting cash and becoming sclerotic.

MLB is broad-minded, inclusive, not just multicultural, but multi-continental and in touch with the best in traditional core American values. Yuli Gurriel didn't just get booed to the high heavens in Southern California for his racist gesture and remark toward the Dodgers' Yu Darvish in Game 5. The introduction of his name in the heart of Texas brought a strong undercurrent of boos and tepid cheers. And MLB's commissioner said any sort of racist gesture or remark had "no place" in his game and would be disciplined strongly.

These days, baseball is in sync with the lucrative digital world with its enormous marketable MLB data bank. MLB wishes for transformation and progress, while respecting its past.

The half-in-the-bag-before-kickoff NFL, in its often family-unfriendly venues, is cornball and square and doesn't know it has mustard on its forehead and beer spilled in its shoes. New ideas? Hey, congratulations on that zone blitz, 25 years ago. What, you stole the read option from college? That lasted 18 months.

Baseball evolves, sometimes so fast that your head swims. But it's change that is fun, controversial and infinitely debatable. Just five years ago, nobody thought that, by now, most teams would use radical defensive shifts leaving huge swaths of the field undefended, or that hitters would discover "launch angle," transform their value in one offseason and turn hitting theory on its head.

Back then, a blink ago, Stephen Strasburg's fastball was news. Now, in the age of "core strength" and study of biomechanics, most teams have relievers who touch 100 mph and maybe a starter or two as well. Oh, Lordy, what are hitters going to do? Maybe choke up three inches on the bat with two strikes like those bums Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. Or, disguised behind one stance, have multiple swing styles so that you can use the whole field like Daniel Murphy.

Who says you're a "starting pitcher" or a "reliever." Once you get to postseason, you're just "a pitcher." Be ready. Rich Hill got pounded on the back with congratulations after a pair of World Series starts in which he got just 12 and 14 outs. Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton, starters, got the final 11 and 12 outs in Houston's wins in Games 3 and 7.

"I'm not trying to bring back the three-inning save," said Astros Manager A.J. Hinch, a Stanford grad. But he was. Everybody from Firpo Marberry in the '20s to Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage would be proud. If the Dodgers had come back to win Game 7, one hero would have been that long reliever with 12 outs of shutout work: Clayton Kershaw.

We now have starters who, on occasion, are not even allowed to pitch long enough to qualify for a win, but we have "high-leverage" multi-inning relievers, such as Andrew Miller, who worked in the innings of most dire need in 2016 -- 19⅓ innings in 10 games -- and almost got Cleveland a World Series win.

Hello, NFL, are you around here anywhere? Speak up.

About what? The NFL hasn't had a new idea in 15 years, unless Bill Belichick had it. The NFL is just formulaic frat-house-on-the-lawn touch football with conservative five-yard passes that you could throw when you were 14 years old. Bubble screen, shallow pick route, draw, stretch sweep, quick hitch, punt. Yippee!

Unfortunately, popularity brings with it television and ads, prolonging games endlessly.  Soccer and rugby are the only sports you can watch a whole game of anymore.

November 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Iraqi Shi'ite militia says will fight IS in Syria border town (Reuters, 11/04/17) 

An Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighting Islamic State in Iraq near the border with Syria will also take on the jihadist group in the Syria border town of Albu Kamal, the militia's spokesman was quoted as saying on Friday.

Jaafar Hussaini, the spokesman for the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighting alongside the Iraqi army against Islamic State, was speaking to Lebanese television channel al-Mayadin.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Trump's Talent for Remaining Unpopular -- in This Economy -- Is Truly Impressive (Eric Levitz, 11/02/17, New York)

Last month, the American economy added 261,000 jobs -- payroll growth that pushed the unemployment rate down to 4.1 percent, a low unmatched since the end of the Clinton presidency. Over those same 31 days, Donald Trump's approval rating fell by 2.1 percent in RealClearPolitics' poll of polls, with just 39 percent of the public expressing a favorable opinion of their nation's leader on All Hallow's Eve.  [...]

It's hard to overstate what a remarkable achievement this is -- and not just for Trump himself. Generally speaking, the ruling party enjoys credit -- and suffers blame -- for America's macroeconomic conditions. And yet, despite inheriting one of the strongest economies the U.S. has seen this millennium, the Republican Party spent much of the past month trailing Democrats by double digits in the 2018 congressional race: By October's end, roughly 47 percent of Americans wanted Democrats to take over Congress next year, while just 38 percent wanted to see the GOP retain it, according to FiveThirtyEight's poll aggregator.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


NAFTA Withdrawal Would Increase, Not Lower, U.S. Trade Deficit With Mexico (John Brinkley , 11/02/17, Forbes)

There is no scenario under which withdrawing from NAFTA would benefit the United States economically. Most economists say it would reduce economic growth and increase the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and the world. It would not create jobs, particularly now with the United States at nearly full employment.

Mexico and Canada will continue pursuing free trade agreements with other countries, including the nine other parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump jettisoned on his second day in office. The 11 TPP countries are reportedly close to a deal. Canada has a new free trade agreement with the European Union. Mexico and the EU are negotiating one. The United States was negotiating an FTA with the EU, but that went into the ditch when Trump took office.

So "all our biggest competitors will have access to Canada and Mexico, and we won't," National Trade Council president Rufus Yerxa said. "This is more the U.S. withdrawing from the trend in the world than the U.S. joining the trend in the world."

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Unemployment Rate Drops to 4.1%, Lowest Level in 17 Years (Ali Meyer, November 3, 2017, dAILY bEACON)

The unemployment rate for all Americans declined from 4.2 percent in September to 4.1 percent in October, the lowest level in 17 years, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed individuals dropped from 6,801,000 to 6,520,000 in October.

The unemployment rate measures the percent of those who did not have a job and actively looked for one over the month.

The "real" unemployment rate, otherwise known as the U-6 measure, declined from 8.3 percent in September to 7.9 percent in October. [...]

The labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that has a job or actively looked for one in the past month, declined from 63.1 percent in September to 62.7 percent in October.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Most Counties Will Have Free 2018 Exchange Plans for Low-Income Enrollees (Caroline F. Pearson , Chris Sloan, Elizabeth Carpenter | Nov 02, 2017, aVALERE)

New analysis from Avalere finds that nearly 98% of counties with exchanges operated by will have free bronze plan options for low-income consumers aged 50 earning 150% of poverty or less ($18,090 for an individual or $36,900 for a family of four).

"This year, more than ever, it is important for consumers to shop around and compare their options across metal levels," said Chris Sloan, senior manager at Avalere. "The dramatically higher subsidies mean consumers could be getting much better deals for bronze and gold plans for 2018." 

In 2018, these highly-subsidized consumers will also have access to free silver plan options in 18% of counties. Further, 10% of counties will have free gold plan options available to individuals making $18,090, or 150% of poverty, per year. While availability of free subsidized options decreases for individuals with higher incomes, 2018 will have a high number of free subsidized options. 

Avalere experts link the increased availability of free plan options to the Administration's decision to end cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers. This decision has led to substantially higher premium subsidies in 2018, as insurers increase premium levels to make up for the lack of CSR payments. 

"The curious effect of the Administration's elimination of the cost-sharing reduction payments is that many subsidized individuals may find that they pay less for premiums in 2018," said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


DoD is Losing the Budget Endgame (JOHN CONGER, 11/03/17, Defense One)

It turns out that a budget deal has indeed been struck, but it left DoD out in the cold. The House and Senate just passed a concurrent budget resolution for fiscal year 2018, but they focused their negotiations on making sure they could pass a tax reform bill, and designated all of their budget flexibility toward that end. The defense budget was left at the BCA cap level: $52 billion below the budget request.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


The Sins of Leon Wieseltier : The climb and fall. (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 11/02/17, Weekly Standard)

Upon his quitting the New Republic, a famous think tank quickly took Leon on as its Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow (Daddy would have been proud) and the Atlantic appointed him a contributing editor. The wealthy widow of Steve Jobs stepped up to fund a new magazine he planned to edit called Idea. In a well-known anecdote, the conductor Herbert von Karajan is said to have got into a cab, and when the driver asked him where he wished to go, von Karajan replied, "It doesn't matter. They want me everywhere." Leon Wielseltier seemed to be in the same condition.

Even better punch-line : "No, that is Christ, He just thinks He's von Karajan"

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM



[A] funny thing happened on the way to a third Obama term. Winning endowed the things Trump said during the campaign with an import they'd previously lacked. He was, back then, a hopeless renegade, troubling but not threatening. Then, the returns from Florida and Wisconsin came in on the evening of November 8. And while many understood that his "rigged system" was just an excuse, "drain the swamp" sure sounded like a promise.So as the presidential inauguration approached, anticipation bubbled through the sulfurous nexus of Capitol Hill politicians, special interest groups and their K Street lobbyists, the media, the establishment and just about everyone else who had dismissed Trump and his slogans as a publicity stunt. There was now a question, rather urgently in need of an answer: Was he serious about all that "swamp" stuff?

Not really, revealed former House Speaker and loyal Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, admitting to NPR on December 21 that "drain the swamp" was never a genuine promise. "I'm told he now just disclaims that," Gingrich said a month before Trump was to assume the Oval Office. "He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore."

Someone from Trump Tower must have placed an angry call, because the former speaker soon tweeted that he'd overstated the case. But that didn't kill the story. That same day, Politico wondered if "drain the swamp" would be Trump's "first broken promise." It cited the access-peddling lobbying firm of Trump's first campaign manager, Corey R. Lewandowski, as well as the consulting firm with troubling foreign ties run by his incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. "Trump and his allies have engaged in some of the same practices they accused Hillary Clinton of exploiting and vowed to change," Politico wrote.

Now, a year after the election--and more than a year after Trump first made that pledge to the American people--many observers believe the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threatens to swallow the entire Trump administration. The number of White House officials currently facing questions, lawsuits or investigation is astonishing: Trump, being sued for violating the "emoluments clause" of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; Paul J. Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, indicted on money laundering charges in late October; Flynn, for undisclosed lobbying work done on behalf of the Turkish government; son-in-law and consigliere Jared Kushner, for failing to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real-estate company; and at least six Cabinet heads being investigated for or asked about exorbitant travel expenses, security details or business dealings. [...]

Trump friend Christopher Ruddy, the publisher of conservative outlet Newsmax, laughed off the suggestion that Trump would enter public service to enrich himself, as critics have suggested. At the same time, he added, "I don't think it's like they wake up in the morning and say, 'How can we drain the swamp today?'"

Ruddy thinks Trump can only do so much to fulfill his promise on ethics. "At the end of the day, the swamp rules," he told me, referencing the enormous class of unelected technocrats that will outlast Trump's presidency, as well as all the ones that come after.

But according to the presidential historian Robert Dallek, no American leader has acted with more unadulterated self-interest as Trump. Dallek says that in terms of outright corruption, Trump is worse than both Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, presidents who oversaw the most flagrant instances of graft in American political history. Grant's stellar reputation as a Civil War general is tarnished in part by the Whiskey Ring scandal, in which Treasury Department officials stole taxes from alcohol distillers; members of Harding's administration plundered oil reserves in Teapot Dome, a rock outcropping in Wyoming that has lent its name to the most notorious example of government corruption in American political history. In both cases, the fault of the president was in his lack of oversight. As far as Dallek is concerned, something more nefarious is at work in the White House of Donald Trump.

"What makes this different," Dallek says, "is that the president can't seem to speak the truth about a host of things." Trump isn't just allowing corruption, in Dallek's view, but encouraging it. "The fish rots from the head," he reminds.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


War of All Against All (Lindsey Hilsum NOVEMBER 23, 2017, New York Review of Books)

Syria was not the cradle of the Islamic State, but the revolution created a vacuum into which the militants stepped to impose their experiment in living. Their propaganda films show the glory of martyrdom for Allah, set to a soundtrack of heroic Koranic chanting, but reality is more banal: last year, a few days after Syrian government forces drove ISIS out of Qaryatayn, a largely Christian village near Homs, in the ruins of a desecrated monastery I found a notebook detailing payments to fighters, including a record of who had been on leave, extra money allocated to those with disabled relatives, a log of loan repayments, and a note about a fighter who had missed his wedding because he was with the tank division at the time.

Tadmur, the modern town adjacent to the ancient site of Palmyra, which had also been occupied by ISIS, was destroyed by Syrian regime and Russian bombing. Among the black flags and religious slogans was a sign reading "Department of Human Resources." In the rubble, I found advertisements for administrative jobs: ISIS had needed people skilled in Excel, Word, and Photoshop for their printing department. They replicated the most unlikely bureaucratic structures--in The Caliphate at War, Ahmed S. Hashim notes that an early attempt at government included the creation of a Ministry of Fisheries.

Pulling together speeches, other documents, and firsthand journalistic accounts, Hashim describes in detail the genesis of the group in Iraq, including the rift between the upstart caliphate and al-Qaeda, the first global jihadist movement. He traces much of the new, more extreme ideology back to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the "sheikh of slaughterers," who led al-Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed by a US air strike in 2006. A Sunni Arab chauvinist, Zarqawi was more interested in killing Iraqi Shias than those Osama bin Laden used to call "the far enemy," the Americans. In the end, the split between the two groups was less about ideology and more about territory and power. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, refused to obey an edict from the al-Qaeda high command demanding that he confine himself to Iraq. He claimed that, on principle, he would not recognize the Sykes-Picot line, the colonial boundary between Syria and Iraq imposed by the British and French in 1916. In fact, he accurately assessed the weakness of the forces ranged against him and realized that no one could stop him from declaring himself caliph of the entire region.

As a former "politico-military" adviser to US forces, Hashim has expertise in Iraq, not Syria, and he has little new to say about what it was like to live under ISIS in either country. He does, however, assemble interesting statistics on how they governed. In 2015, according to The Economist, the GDP of the Islamic State reached $6 billion, more than several Caribbean island states and small African countries. Income streams included kidnapping, human trafficking, extortion, taxation, confiscation of property as punishment, sales of antiquities, and sales of oil and gas. Contrary to widespread belief, donations from wealthy Gulf Arabs accounted for a very small part of ISIS financing. The move into Syria enabled it to seize oil fields around Deir Ezzor and Hasakah. Once Western governments realized that the best way to undermine ISIS was to disrupt the market for smuggled oil while launching air strikes on the oil fields it controlled, the days of jihadist government were numbered.

Exacerbating sectarianism necessarily diminishes the Alawite state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Exclusive: Carter Page testifies he told Sessions about Russia trip (Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, Thu November 2, 2017, CNN)

Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page privately testified Thursday that he mentioned to Jeff Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign -- as new questions emerge about the attorney general's comments to Congress about Russia and the Trump campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Mueller grand jury investigating top DC lobbyists (DESMOND BUTLER, 11/02/17, AP) 

Special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury is investigating a prominent Democratic lobbyist and a former GOP congressman for their involvement in an influence campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests tied to Paul Manafort, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

At the center of the widening probe are Tony Podesta, a longtime Democratic operative, and Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman and leader of his own high-powered lobbying firm, Mercury LLC. The two men were hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates.

With the emphasis on the Ukrainian lobbying efforts, Mueller's criminal probe is moving beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and is aggressively pursuing people who worked as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department. More witnesses are expected before the grand jury in coming weeks.

Representatives for Weber's firm and Podesta said they are cooperating with the special counsel's investigation.

No one actually gets prosecuted just for failing to register, but you can make their lives miserable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Census shows pervasive decline in 2016 minority voter turnout  (William H. Frey, May 18, 2017, Brookings)

Racial minorities, especially black Americans, played a pivotal role in Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential wins. Now, newly released Census Bureau data confirm what many have anticipated: that both minority and black voter turnout took a decided downturn in last November's elections-- helping to compound the impact of the lower than 2012 vote margins that Democrat Hillary Clinton received in her loss to Donald Trump. Minority and black turnout was not only lower in the national statistics but also in key swing states.

November 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Trump's chief economist says we need more immigrant workers, not less (Lydia DePillis, 11/02/17,   @CNNMoney)

Trump's top economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, has long maintained that the U.S. should embrace more immigrant workers, not fewer.

While a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013, Hassett wrote that the U.S. could add half a percentage point to economic growth by doubling the number of immigrants it lets into the country, especially if they come on employer-sponsored visas.

"Perhaps surprisingly for a country that has long thought of itself as a nation of immigrants, the U.S. falls far behind almost all the other countries in the number of immigrants it admitted in 2010 relative to its population size," Hassett wrote.
Hassett, who is now the chair of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, reiterated that position just last week in testimony before the Joint Economic Committee.

"As an economist, if you want more output, you need more input, and labor is one of those inputs," Hassett responded. "For any economy, immigration is an important source of labor."

There is no economic case to be made for Donald's side.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Trump nominee Sam Clovis withdraws after Russia probe link (dEUTSCHE-wELLE, 11/02/17)

US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) chief scientist withdrew from consideration for the post on Thursday after media reports linked him to an ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Alimony tax break killed in GOP tax plan (Jackie Wattles, November 2, 2017, CNN)

One tax break on the chopping block in the House Republicans' tax reform bill -- alimony payments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


How Robots Will Help the U.S. Navy Avoid Future Collisions (PATRICK TUCKER, 11/02/17, Defense One)

Japanese, Chinese, and Norwegian shipbuilders have announced plans to build self-driving robotic vessels. Google, working with Rolls Royce, is applying its Google Cloud Machine Learning Engine to develop autonomous ship driving techniques that any number of companies might adopt. In many ways, a robot helmsman has it easier than a self-driving car, so long as everybody is broadcasting enough data to be detectable to everyone else.

One key takeaway from the fatal collisions is that the Navy's problems are very human in nature. Talking about the new report and its conclusions on Thursday, Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, said the Navy has too few people with too little training driving too few ships. There was, he said, too much pressure on the crewmen of ships in the Pacific to be everywhere at once, and that led to sailors steering ships and operating sensors and navigational equipment without proper training.

"These were fundamental mistakes of ship driving," he said, mistakes compounded by issues related to operational pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill (Manu Raju, Evan Perez and Marshall Cohen, 11/02/17, CNN)

There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what's now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from both parties said Sessions needs to explain the discrepancies. And Democrats were sharply critical.

"Jeff Sessions concealed his meetings with the Russians and he had an obligation to be more forthcoming about meetings that involved Papadopoulos," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate judiciary committee.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, said that despite Sessions' testimony before the panel earlier this year, "it turns out he was at this meeting with George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos proposed meeting with Putin and Trump. He didn't disclose that to the committee."

Heinrich added it calls into question "whether he is being honest and forthright with the committee and what does that mean for the highest law enforcement officer in the country?"

Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 in Republican leadership who serves on the intelligence and judiciary panels, said he was unaware of Sessions' attendance at that meeting until now.
He added: "I certainly think it's a legitimate area of inquiry" for lawmakers to pursue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Mitch McConnell finally has something to brag about: Judicial appointments (Paul Kane November 2, 2017, Washington Post)

No Republican has voted against any of Trump's judicial nominees so far, and in some cases a handful or so of Democrats are willing to cross the aisle. On Tuesday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) joined two other Democrats and all 52 Republicans to confirm Amy Corey Barrett to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, after Republicans pounced on Democratic questioning about the University of Notre Dame law professor's Catholic faith.

And although McConnell hasn't done so yet, he has broad support in his caucus to abolish a traditional courtesy that allowed senators, even those in the minority, to block judicial appointments from their home states.

This man takes credit for Neil Gorsuch's appointment: Mitch McConnell

He's moving quickly. After this week, the Senate will have confirmed eight appellate-level judges, with enough time to move a couple more before the end of the year.

In contrast, in 2009, Obama's first year in office, he saw just three Circuit Court judges confirmed.

The one reason Evangelicals could vote for him is paying off thanks to Mitch. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM



As methods of gaining international recognition go, putting your sheep population to use is one of the more unusual. But in a country where there are seven sheep for every five humans, it might not be such a bad idea.

With a population of 70,000 sheep and just 50,000 people, the remote Faroe Islands have previously struggled to get international recognition on Google Maps. Wounded that their roadways haven't been documented for the rest of the world's perusal, one local resident (alongside the tourist board) decided it would be a good idea to employ the islands' woolly creatures in order to help visitors explore the landscape. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Special Report: Drowning in grain - How Big Ag sowed seeds of a profit-slashing glut (Rod Nickel, 9/27/17, Reuters) 

On Canada's fertile Prairies, dominated by the yellows and golds of canola and wheat, summers are too short to grow corn on a major scale.

Paul Gregoire, an Agronomic Research Specialist with Monsanto, examines corn on Monsanto's research farm near Carman, Manitoba, Canada August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Prong
But Monsanto Co (MON.N) is working to develop what it hopes will be North America's fastest-maturing corn, allowing farmers to grow more in Western Canada and other inhospitable climates, such as Ukraine.

The seed and chemical giant projects that western Canadian corn plantings could multiply 20 times to 10 million acres by 2025 - adding some 1.1 billion bushels, or nearly 3 percent to current global production.

The question, amid historically high supplies and low grain prices, is whether the world really needs more corn.

A global grains glut is now in its fourth year, with supplies bloated by favorable weather, increasingly high-tech farm practices and tougher plant breeds.

The bin-busting harvests of cheap corn, wheat and soybeans are undermining the business models of the world's largest agriculture firms and the farmers who use their products and services. Some analysts say the firms have effectively innovated their way into a stubbornly oversupplied market.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


U.S. Prosecutors Consider Charging Russian Officials in DNC Hacking Case (Aruna Viswanatha and  Del Quentin Wilber, Nov. 2, 2017, WSJ)

The Justice Department has identified more than six members of the Russian government involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee's computers and swiping sensitive information that became public during the 2016 presidential election, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors and agents have assembled evidence to charge the Russian officials and could bring a case next year, these people said. Discussions about the case are in the early stages, they said.

If filed, the case would provide the clearest picture yet of the actors behind the DNC intrusion. U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the attack to Russian intelligence services, but haven't provided detailed information about how they concluded those services were responsible, or any details about the individuals allegedly involved.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Inside the rise and fall of Gary Cohn's Fed dreams : President Donald Trump is set to nominate current Federal Reserve governor Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen. (BEN WHITE and NANCY COOK 11/02/2017, Politico)

The former Goldman Sachs president, now Trump's top economic adviser, was a front-runner for the Fed job until August, when he publicly broke with the president over his handling of fatal neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As recently as last month, the two still appeared at odds. Guests at a black-tie gala in Washington in mid-October honoring First Lady Melania Trump were treated to an awkward display between the two, as the president stared straight ahead and continued to make small talk with others while Cohn was trying talk to him, said an attendee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


HOW EX-SPY CHRISTOPHER STEELE COMPILED HIS EXPLOSIVE TRUMP-RUSSIA DOSSIER : The man behind the infamous dossier that raises the possibility that Donald Trump may be vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail is Russia expert Christopher Steele, formerly of M.I.6. Here's the story of his investigation. (HOWARD BLUM, APRIL 2017, Vanity Fair)

In September 2015, as the Republican primary campaign was heating up, he was hired to compile an opposition-research dossier on Donald Trump. Who wrote the check? Simpson, always secretive, won't reveal his client's identity. However, according to a friend who had spoken with Simpson at the time, the funding came from a "Never Trump" Republican and not directly from the campaign war chests of any of Trump's primary opponents.

But by mid-June 2016, despite all the revelations Simpson was digging up about the billionaire's roller-coaster career, two previously unimaginable events suddenly affected both the urgency and the focus of his research. First, Trump had apparently locked up the nomination, and his client, more pragmatic than combative, was done throwing good money after bad. And second, there was a new cycle of disturbing news stories wafting around Trump as the wordy headline splashed across the front page of The Washington Post on June 17 heralded, INSIDE TRUMP'S FINANCIAL TIES TO RUSSIA AND HIS UNUSUAL FLATTERY OF VLADIMIR PUTIN.

Simpson, as fellow journalists remembered, smelled fresh red meat. And anyway, after all he had discovered, he'd grown deeply concerned by the prospect of a Trump presidency. So he found Democratic donors whose checks would keep his oppo research going strong. And he made a call to London, to a partner at Orbis he had worked with in the past, an ex-spy who knew where all the bodies were buried in Russia, and who, as the wags liked to joke, had even buried some of them.

'Are there business ties in Russia?" That, Steele would offer to Mother Jones, was the bland initial thrust of his investigation after he was subcontracted by Fusion for a fee estimated by a source in the trade to be within the profession's going rate: $12,000 to $15,000 a month, plus expenses.

Steele had known Russia as a young spy, arriving in Moscow as a 26-year-old with his new wife and thin diplomatic cover in 1990. For nearly three years as a secret agent in enemy territory, he lived through the waning days of perestroika and witnessed the tumultuous disintegration of the Soviet Union under Boris Yeltsin's mercurial and often boozy leadership. The K.G.B. was onto him almost from the start: he inhabited the spy's uncertain life, where at any moment the lurking menace could turn into genuine danger. Yet even at the tail end of his peripatetic career at the service, Russia, the battleground of his youth, was still in his blood and on his operational mind: from 2004 to 2009 he headed M.I.6's Russia Station, the London deskman directing Her Majesty's covert penetration of Putin's resurgent motherland.

And so, as Steele threw himself into his new mission, he could count on an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years. There was no safe way he could return to Russia to do the actual digging; the vengeful F.S.B. would be watching him closely. But no doubt he had a working relationship with knowledgeable contacts in London and elsewhere in the West, from angry émigrés to wheeling-and-dealing oligarchs always eager to curry favor with a man with ties to the Secret Service, to political dissidents with well-honed axes to grind. And, perhaps most promising of all, he had access to the networks of well-placed Joes--to use the jargon of his former profession--he'd directed from his desk at London Station, assets who had their eyes and ears on the ground in Russia.

How good were these sources? Consider what Steele would write in the memos he filed with Simpson: Source A--to use the careful nomenclature of his dossier--was "a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure." Source B was "a former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin." And both of these insiders, after "speaking to a trusted compatriot," would claim that the Kremlin had spent years getting its hooks into Donald Trump.

Source E was "an ethnic Russian" and "close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump."

This individual proved to be a treasure trove of information. "Speaking in confidence to a compatriot," the talkative Source E "admitted there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership." Then this: "The Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the WikiLeaks platform." And finally: "In return the Trump team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltic and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine."

Then there was Source D, "a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow," and Source F, "a female staffer" at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel, who was co-opted into the network by an Orbis "ethnic Russian operative" working hand in hand with the loquacious Trump insider, Source E.

These two sources told quite a lurid story, the now infamous "golden showers" allegation, which, according to the dossier, was corroborated by others in his alphabet list of assets. It was an evening's entertainment, Steele, the old Russian hand, must have suspected, that had to have been produced by the ever helpful F.S.B. And since it was typical of Moscow Center's handwriting to have the suite wired up for sound and video (the hotel's Web site, with unintentional irony, boasts of its "cutting edge technological amenities"), Steele apparently began to suspect that locked in a Kremlin safe was a hell of a video, as well as photographs.

Steele's growing file must have left his mind cluttered with new doubts, new suspicions. And now, as he continued his chase, a sense of alarm hovered about the former spy. If Steele's sources were right, Putin had up his sleeve kompromat--Moscow Center's gleeful word for compromising material--that would make the Access Hollywood exchange between Trump and Billy Bush seem, as Trump insisted, as banal as "locker-room talk." Steele could only imagine how and when the Russians might try to use it.

What should he do? Steele dutifully filed his first incendiary report with Fusion on June 20, but was this the end of his responsibilities? He knew that what he had unearthed, he'd say in his anonymous conversation with Mother Jones, "was something of huge significance, way above party politics." Yet was it simply a vanity to think that a retired spy had to take it on his shoulders to save the world? And what about his contractual agreement with Simpson? Could the company sue, he no doubt wondered, if he disseminated information he'd collected on its dime?

In the end, Steele found the rationale that is every whistle-blower's sustaining philosophy: the greater good trumps all other concerns. And so, even while he kept working his sources in the field and continued to shoot new memos to Simpson, he settled on a plan of covert action.

The F.B.I.'s Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Squad--"Move Over, Mafia," the bureau's P.R. machine crowed after the unit had been created--was a particularly gung-ho team with whom Steele had done some heady things in the past. And in the course of their successful collaboration, the hard-driving F.B.I. agents and the former frontline spy evolved into a chummy mutual-admiration society.

It was only natural, then, that when he began mulling whom to turn to, Steele thought about his tough-minded friends on the Eurasian squad. And fortuitously, he discovered, as his scheme took on a solid operational commitment, that one of the agents was now assigned to the bureau office in Rome. By early August, a copy of his first two memos were shared with the F.B.I.'s man in Rome.

"Shock and horror"--that, Steele would say in his anonymous interview, was the bureau's reaction to the goodies he left on its doorstep. And it wanted copies of all his subsequent reports, the sooner the better.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Trump's surprisingly good choice for Fed chair (Jeff Spross, November 2, 2017, The Week)

To begin with, Powell may be a Republican, but he was actually first nominated to the Fed's board of governors by President Obama in 2012, as part of a compromise with the congressional GOP. Before that, Powell had racked up a long career in private equity, served as a Treasury Department official under President George H.W. Bush, and did a stint at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C. think tank. He's about as "safe" and nonideological a pick as they come.

Everyone also seems to agree that Powell's approach to interest rates will be almost indistinguishable from what Yellen would've done. "He's made relatively few public pronouncements on monetary policy since joining the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the statements he has made don't indicate any major disagreements with Yellen," Matt Yglesias summed up at Vox. 

November 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


NPR's Head Of News Resigns Following Harassment Allegations (MERRIT KENNEDY, 11/01/17, NPR)

NPR's senior vice president for news, Michael Oreskes, has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment from several women.

The accounts of two women, first published by The Washington Post, describe Oreskes unexpectedly kissing them during meetings in the late 1990s, while he was Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. An NPR employee has also come forward publicly about harassment that allegedly occurred during a business meeting-turned-dinner in 2015.

"This morning I asked Mike Oreskes for his resignation because of inappropriate behavior," NPR CEO Jarl Mohn wrote in an email to NPR staff on Wednesday. "I have received his resignation, effective immediately."

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Robert Mueller Will Never Get to the Bottom of Russia's Meddling (Ivan Krastev NOV. 1, 2017, NY Times)

Here, we can start with a simple observation: While Russia's meddling was a shock in the West, in Russia it was neither surprising nor scandalous. In my recent discussions with Russian foreign policy experts, they have made clear that if Moscow wants to be a world power, on an equal footing with Washington, it should be able and willing to match the United States. Russian leaders believe that Washington interferes in their domestic politics and that the United States intends to orchestrate a regime change in Moscow. So if they take that as given, the Kremlin should be able to similarly meddle and to show the world that it has the capabilities and will to do so. Reciprocal action is, after all, how you gain the respect of your enemies and the loyalty of your allies.

The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it. Speaking two weeks ago at the Valdai International Discussion Club, President Vladimir Putin declared that post-Communist Russia's gravest mistake was "putting its trust in the West." In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin's Russia wanted to imitate the West, its values and institutions; today Moscow is focused on mirroring Western policies with respect to Russia, doing to West what Russians believe the West is doing to them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Navy Says Deadly Ship Collisions Were 'Avoidable,' Faults Lack Of Preparation (COLIN DWYER, 11/01/17, NPR)

The U.S. Navy has completed its investigations into the deadly collisions that damaged two of its warships just months apart this summer, describing what went wrong in a report published Wednesday. The report is dozens of pages long, but if those errors could be described in a word, it would be "avoidable."

"Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents." the Navy's top officer, Adm. John Richardson, said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM

BLAME THE JEW! (profanity alert):


For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they're making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up. [...]

Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He's frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. "Trump wants to be critical of Mueller," one person who's been briefed on Trump's thinking says. "He thinks it's unfair criticism. Clinton hasn't gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?" According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller's appointment, according to a source briefed on the call. When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. "Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history," Nunberg said. "I'm only saying publicly what everyone says behind the scenes at Fox News, in conservative media, and the Senate and Congress." [...]

Bannon's sense of urgency is being fueled by his belief that Trump's hold on power is slipping. The collapse of Obamacare repeal, and the dimming chances that tax reform will pass soon--many Trump allies are deeply pessimistic about its prospects--have created the political climate for establishment Republicans to turn on Trump. Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office. Bannon recently told people he's not sure if Trump would survive such a vote.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Ex-British spy paid $168,000 for Trump dossier, U.S. firm discloses (Mark Hosenball, 11/01/17, Reuters) 

A Washington research firm paid a former British spy's company $168,000 for work on a dossier outlining Russian financial and personal links to Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign, the U.S. firm said in a statement on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


The South Only Embraced States' Rights as It Lost Control of the Federal Government (Caleb McDaniel, 11/01/17, The Atlantic)

That record shows loyalty to nation had long been important. A veteran of the Mexican-American War, Lee had no problem fighting for national glory 170 years ago. Nor did he see a conflict between national and state loyalty 158 years ago, when he suppressed the insurrection at Harpers Ferry upon the president's orders.

The truth is that Lee and his fellow slaveholders were ardent nationalists in the decades leading up to the Civil War, as the Princeton historian Matthew Karp described in his recent book This Vast Southern Empire. And no wonder: For most of its history, the nation had usually protected and served the interests of slaveholders. For example, in 1850, the draconian Fugitive Slave Law--passed as part of an attempted "compromise" to reduce sectional conflict--ensured that the federal government would assist in the return of runaway slaves from the North to the South. By then, the U.S. Supreme Court had already overturned laws passed by Northern states that sought to interfere with the capture of fugitive slaves. And as the scene at Harpers Ferry showed, slaveholders relied on the potential power of the national government to assist in putting down insurrections in their states that might threaten the system of slavery.

Secessionists chose treason when they realized the country would no longer give them what they wanted.
Essentially, the nation worked for slaveholders, even to the point of overruling Northern states' rights. Not surprisingly, those slaveholders were powerfully committed to the Union on whose power they depended. As long as the nation worked for them, they worked for the nation.

So what changed to make secessionists desert the country they loved? In brief: the rise of the Republican Party and the election of Abraham Lincoln, who refused to use national power to advance slavery any longer. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Jews for Jesus poll: 1/5 of Jewish millennials believe Christ was God (BEN SALES, 1 November 2017, TA) 

Are Jewish millennials the most religious generation?

And do one-fifth of them think Jesus was God in human form?

Yes and yes, says a new survey of 599 Jews born from 1984 to 1999. [...]

For those accustomed to thinking of millennials as religiously uninvolved and skeptical of traditional practices, the survey has some surprising news: Eighty percent of Jewish millennials self-identify as "religious Jews," as opposed to just a slim majority of all Jews. And nearly half say being Jewish is "very important" to them, higher than any other generation.

That commitment to Judaism comes through in specific practices as well. Almost a quarter of Jewish millennials attend religious services once a week, according to the survey, and one in three prays every day. A majority says "God loves people."

Ari Kelman, a Jewish studies professor at Stanford University who was interviewed as part of the report, said the study suggests a cohort distinct from all others.

"These don't look like Jews I recognize," he said of the millennials surveyed. "I was not willing to just write them off entirely. Maybe these are Jews we've never seen before. We know religion is changing, we know parameters of identity are changing, so why would we expect different generations to look exactly the same?"

The data on Jesus might be especially surprising to Jews who, if they agree on nothing else, believe that Jews for Jesus and its "messianic" philosophy are beyond the pale. The survey found that 21 percent of Jewish millennials believe Jesus was "God in human form who lived among people in the 1st century." And 28 percent "see him as a rabbi or spiritual leader, but not God."

The openness to non-Jewish practice extends beyond that: 42 percent of respondents say they celebrate Christmas. A majority says one can hold other faiths and still be Jewish. And the survey found that one-third of Jewish millennials believe "God desires a personal relationship with us." [...]

But Pew actually backs up some of the statistics on Christianity. It found that a third of all respondents had a Christmas tree at home, and 34 percent said belief in Jesus as the Messiah was compatible with being Jewish.

All the Jews in this household celebrate Christmas, but one suspects it's only for the carols, candlelight service and schwag.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Lebanese media: Israel bombed weapons depot in Syria (JUDAH ARI GROSS, 1 November 2017, Times of Israel)

Israeli jets destroyed a weapons facility in western Syria on Wednesday night, according to Lebanese media.

The Syrian army's 72nd Brigade was said to have fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli Air Force jets, though there were no reports of planes being shot down.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Health Insurance Suddenly Just Got Cheaper for a Lot of People (Beth Skwarecki, 11/01/17, Lifehacker)

[S]ome government funny business around CSR payments means silver plans are way more expensive than usual. But the government also gives subsidies to help low and middle income families pay for insurance--and the dollar amount of those subsidies is based on the price of silver plans. So the subsidies are now also huge.

This means that, if you get a subsidy, your silver plan will likely be about the same out-of-pocket price as last year. But that means you could also save money by buying a cheaper bronze plan instead. For many people, the subsidies are large enough they can get a bronze plan for free.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a 60-year-old making $36,000 a year could get a zero-premium plan in more than half of the nation's counties. Even at an income of $48,000, a 60-year-old could still get zero-premium insurance in more than 600 counties. In California, half a million people could pay the state's minimum charge of $1/month.

Even if you don't get a deal that good, a lot of people will find something cheap. For example, last year, 71 percent of people on the exchanges could get a plan for less than $75/month. This year, according to a report from the federal government, 80 percent of people can. And that's on average; in some states, like Alabama, more than 90 percent of people shopping on the exchanges will find a plan for $75 or less.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Watch a former Trump aide say incriminating things about Russia on live TV (Alex Ward, Oct 31, 2017, Vox)
Hayes asked Carter, who along with Papadopoulos served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, if he was ever on email chains with Papadopoulos. "Probably a few," Page responded. Hayes then pressed for more specifics, asking if Carter and Papadopoulos were on email chains about Russia. "It may have come up from time to time," Page said. "There's nothing major."

Let's stop right there for a moment. Papadopoulos admitted to lying about his interactions with Russians, and Carter didn't mind saying that he could possibly be on Russia-related emails. That's a startling admission -- and he said it on television.

And that's not all. Page also discussed his July 2016 trip to Russia, which came soon after Papadopoulos requested to set up a meeting between Russian officials and Trump campaign members. But Page told Hayes that he didn't represent the campaign during that journey and didn't know about Papadopoulos's efforts to broker a meeting.

Which demonstrates two things: the Trumpies may just be so corrupt that they genuinely don't see anything wrong with colluding with Russia; and, they are too incompetent to collude competently.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Iran Commanders Say Supreme Leader Limiting Ballistic Missile Range (Radio Free Europe, October 31, 2017)

Two top Iranian military commanders say that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in the country to 2,000 kilometers.

It is the first time that high-ranking Iranian officials have mentioned a range limitation imposed by Khamenei, the commander in chief of the country's armed forces.