January 31, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


New wave of Iranian globetrotters hits the road (Ali NOORANI, 30 January 2018, AFP)

A travel frenzy is gripping young Iranians, who are inspiring each other through social media to overcome traditional constraints and expand their horizons.

The exploits of young Iranian travellers, hitchhiking and backpacking their way around the globe, have become immensely popular on Instagram and Telegram, the most widely used apps in Iran, with some gathering more than 200,000 followers.

Iran has long had a globetrotting elite thanks to the large diaspora that fled to the United States and Europe after the 1979 revolution, but now it is the turn of the emerging middle class to stretch their wings, overcoming cultural barriers and parental worries in the process. [...]

Last year, Iran recorded 9.2 million departures, a 38.5-percent increase on the previous year and almost double the numbers a decade ago.

The trend has been helped by President Hassan Rouhani, who came to power in 2013 promising to improve Iran's relations with the world.

Iranians are not welcome everywhere: the United States this year banned them from entry unless they have close family, and European countries have strict and laborious procedures for tourists designed to weed out poor people.

But much of the rest of the world is welcoming Iran's tourist boom, with 38 countries now waiving visas for Iranians.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The theory that helps explain today's political divide (JOE CARTER, January 31, 2018, Acton)

 While the left-right metaphor isn't totally obsolete, it seems to describe a range in an increasingly narrow center of American politics.

On the extreme ends it's easier to see how the far-left and far-right are closer together. Rather than placing them on extreme opposite ends, it's more accurate to consider them through the lens of the horseshoe theory, a concept in political science that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe. [...]

I'm a conservative who subscribes to a form of mistake theory: I believe that since most liberals have mistaken view of reality they endorse "solutions" that are unworkable because they are rooted in an imaginary perspective of how the world functions.

I assumed most people on the right were also mistake theorists and was shocked over the past few years to discover just how wrong I've been. I was confused about why people who I thought shared my conservative worldview were willing to embrace almost any anti-conservative political policy (i.e., economic protectionism, expansion of government power, identity politics) as long as they and the politicians in power were "making liberals cry."

I mistakenly assumed they had changed political views and had become "populists" (which is itself a form of progressivism). Now I realize they are a type of conflict theorists: they are much more concerned with winning the "war against the left" than in convincing the public to apply conservative solutions to political problems.

To the extent that we can say the Left is mistaken, in its identitarian worldview, the Right partakes of exactly the same mistake.  And that worldview is antithetical to the worldview that informs the Founding and the Republic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Will Iran's military really divest from business holdings? (Bijan Khajehpour, January 31, 2018, Al Monitor)

[T]here will be two important upsides: In the process of shifting ownerships, even if some assets move from the military institutions to SATA [the Armed Forces Social Welfare Investment Organization (SATA) -- an entity owned by the pensioners and active members of all military organizations in the country and fully controlled by the Ministry of Defense] and semi-state foundations, there would be a greater degree of transparency about ownership and a lower sanctions risk for targeted companies. In addition, one can expect the military institutions themselves to become more accountable. In the words of one Iranian website, one of the main advantages of shifting economic activity away from military organizations is the expectation that these organizations will not waste state resources with the excuse that they had generated the revenues themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Mexico's economic reforms take hold: Many of Mexico's small businesses don't pay taxes - or worker benefits, but more workers are stepping into formal jobs with steady paychecks indicating growth in the economy overall (Samantha Bronkar, JANUARY 31, 2018, CS Monitor)

[F]ive years after key fiscal and labor policy reforms were put into place, the nation's formal sector - including manufacturing and services - is beginning to grow. In the first half of 2017, a record number of workers joined Mexico's formal economy and were registered with the Mexican Social Security Institute, according to the institute's numbers. The uptick of 517,000 workers marks a 17 percent increase from last year, the biggest jump in two decades.

But these jobs aren't appearing out of nowhere. Many of them are transitioning out of the informal economy as employers offer work contracts with employee benefits, experts say. With formal jobs on the rise, the informal sector has dropped to 57.3 percent of Mexico's workforce, from its peak of 60 percent in 2009, reports Bloomberg.

These numbers show that "there actually is a transition occurring where a greater share of work is being done ... in the formal sector," says Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. This recent growth is part of a larger trend. "Since 2014, there have been over 2 million jobs created in the formal sector in Mexico," Mr. Wilson says.

Millions more companies are now paying tax in India (Rishi Iyengar, January 29, 2018, CNN Money)

An estimated 3.4 million businesses have registered to pay India's national goods and services tax since it was rolled out in July 2017, the government said in its annual economic survey released Monday.

That's in addition to the country's existing 6.4 million business taxpayers, the survey said. [...]

The tax overhaul -- one of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's key policy moves last year -- has been touted as a game changer for the Indian economy.

It replaced a complex web of tariffs -- which often differed from state to state -- with one set of nationwide tax brackets for products, effectively turning the country into a single market for the first time.

But the introduction of the new tax system was plagued by setbacks, with confusion over online filing and the various rates leaving some businesses, particularly smaller ones, struggling to adapt.

The teething pains, coupled with Modi's shock ban on 86% of the country's cash in November 2016, were blamed for dragging India's economic growth down from 7.1% to 5.7% in the first half of 2017. Growth has since ticked up slightly to 6.3% in the quarter ended September.

The government said Monday that it expects growth to recover to above 7% in 2017-2018 as the economy shrugs off the negative impact of the policy disruption. It listed the main goals for next year as privatizing national carrier Air India, completing a $32 billion bank bailout and stabilizing the new tax system.

The damnable thing about neo-liberalism is that it works.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Exclusive: Controversial FBI agent co-wrote initial draft of explosive Comey letter reopening Clinton email probe (Manu Raju, Laura Jarrett and Jeremy Herb, 1/31/18, CNN)

Emails obtained by CNN show the FBI agent at the center of a Capitol Hill storm played a key role in a controversial FBI decision that upended Hillary Clinton's campaign just days before the 2016 election: the letter to Congress by then-FBI Director James Comey announcing the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails.

Strzok, who co-wrote what appears to be the first draft that formed the basis of the letter Comey sent to Congress, also supported reopening the Clinton investigation once the emails were discovered on disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop, according to a source familiar with Strzok's thinking. The day after Strzok sent his draft to his colleagues, Comey released the letter to Congress, reigniting the email controversy in the final days of the campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Gowdy latest Republican to retire from U.S. Congress (Susan Cornwell, 1/31/18, Reuters)

Gowdy, who led the controversial House probe into the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, is in his fourth term. He became Oversight Committee chair last June, when his predecessor in that role, former Representative Jason Chaffetz, also retired from Congress.

One of Gowdy's first acts as Oversight chairman was to tell reporters the panel would not be investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election or questions about whether Trump obstructed justice.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Exclusive: Trump asked Rosenstein if he was 'on my team' (Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Laura Jarrett, 1/31/18, CNN)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House in December seeking President Donald Trump's help. The top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation wanted Trump's support in fighting off document demands from House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

But the President had other priorities ahead of a key appearance by Rosenstein on the Hill, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Trump wanted to know where the special counsel's Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was "on my team."

...other than Beauregard...

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


I'm a Republican. Why Is My Party Gaslighting America? (AMANDA CARPENTER,  January 30, 2018, Politico)

Riddle me this: If Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have smoking gun evidence of a deep-state conspiracy that threatens American democracy itself, wouldn't they be doing more than playing silly hashtag games, such as #ReleasetheMemo?

Hint: The answer is yes. If this were a serious undertaking, congressional investigators would be collaborating with the Department of Justice, FBI and relevant Senate committees to save America from the threat within. But we're no longer dealing in the realm of facts and reason when it comes to grave matters of security and justice. We are, at Donald Trump's behest, fully engulfed in a narrative explicitly designed to impugn and destroy the credibility of the law enforcement agency tasked with investigating the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia during the 2016 election.

...just red meat for the full-mooners.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


The Trump Administration's Accomplishments--in Spite of the Deep State (ALEXANDRA HUDSON, 1/31/18, Law & Liberty)

According to Lofgren, the Deep State is to blame for many of the aforementioned political maladies and is the explanation for the insubstantial variance between the Bush and Obama administrations: even if they had wanted to, newly elected officeholders were prevented from effecting meaningful change by the "shadow government" of technocrats.

In virtually every policy area he discusses, Lofgren states the status quo to be so foolish that it can only be explained by the maliciousness or greed of Deep State technocrats. But in failing to seriously engage in any of the policy areas he discusses, he shows himself to be out of his depth. He often neglects to show that the policies he condemns were bad in the first place, or if they were bad, he avoids discussion of the role that bad incentives and central planning had to play in the bad outcomes. He never comes close to showing that they were so self-evidently bad that they can be attributed to the the Deep State's self-serving and malevolent ways.

To take one example, Lofgren condemns the 2008 Wall Street bailouts as the inevitable outcome of a giant con played on the American people by high-flying financiers (who play one part of the multi-faceted Deep State). But he utterly avoids engaging with the arguments made in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, which authorized $700 billion to buy distressed assets and inject capital into banks and other financial institutions (the Dodd-Frank Act later reduced this authorization to $475 billion). There is a good argument that the bailouts were necessary to stabilize an economy on the verge of collapse, but Lofgren airily dismisses this as a mere "debatable counterfactual." Nor does Lofgren mention that the Treasury Department has received about $442 billion in repayments, dividends, and other proceeds under TARP, $7.5 billion more than the $435 billion it has disbursed with the program.

The difficulty that Left and Right face is that the Deep State is driven by the American people.  It is representative government itself that is their enemy, not a few bureaucrats.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Europe's multicultural fears hide an integration success story (Doug Saunders, JANUARY 27, 2018, Globe & Mail)

We now have very comprehensive data showing just how well-integrated Europe's minority groups are becoming. Most recent, published late last year, is a big study of Muslim populations by Germany-based Bertelsmann Foundation. It was preceded by an even larger-scale study of integration by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The German study found that "religious affiliation does not impede integration" in European countries. Not only that, but, as the OECD observed, "integration challenges do not increase with the share of immigrants in the population" - in fact, the countries with the largest immigrant populations tend to have the most total cultural and economic integration.

Immigrants and their offspring in Europe almost exclusively feel loyal to - and connected to - the country where they live; only 3 per cent of German and French Muslims and 8 per cent of British Muslims identify with their countries of ancestry (this is a lower rate than, say, European immigrants in Canada).

And they're not forming "parallel societies": Three-quarters of European Muslims spend their free time daily with European Christians, Jews and atheists - and that rate of contact increases with each generation.

Education is where Europe has often lagged: Its school systems often contain built-in incentives for minority children to fall behind or drop out. The Bertelsmann study found that the best educational integration is in France, where only 11 per cent of Muslims leave school before turning 18 (not much more than the ethnic-French population).

Germany and Switzerland, with their rigid and old-fashioned systems, have higher dropout rates - but they make up for this in employment, as immigrant-descended citizens in those booming economies have employment rates identical to the established population. Across Europe, the OECD says, immigrant employment is only three points lower than among the native-born.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


No Country for Oversimplifications : Understanding Iran's Views on the Future of Regional Security Dialogue and Architecture (DINA ESFANDIARY, 1/24/18, Century Foundation)

Iran is one of the dominant states of the Middle East. It is large, rich in resources, and a potentially powerful and relatively stable partner in an unstable area. It is the largest country in the Middle East with the capacity to pursue a serious international agenda. The Islamic Republic holds elections every four years, and although there have been irregularities and the list of individuals allowed to run must be vetted,5 there are also public debates, and the lead candidate emerges based on the population's preferences, much like elections elsewhere. The government is also relatively stable, and decisions are the product of discussion and debate, with a great deal of politicking among numerous, changing factions. This is in stark contrast to the Arab monarchies of the Gulf, which are more or less pure autocracies with opaque decision-making processes. Iran also is located in a strategically significant area. It has an extensive Gulf coastline in the south that culminates in the Strait of Hormuz, giving it strategic control over the waterways through which a huge proportion of the world's oil travels. As the easternmost country of the Middle East, it sits closer than its neighbors to trade partners in the rest of Asia.

By virtue of its size and location, Iran is also a major regional power broker, albeit a relatively isolated one. It is a reactive power, adept at responding to changing and difficult circumstances to get the best out of them. However, Iran's limited and outdated conventional military capabilities restrict its ability to project power. As a result, and to many Arab governments' dismay, Tehran has focused on developing its ballistic missile capability and rocket systems, and relies on proxy groups to advance its interests in the region. Iran is skillful at using soft power to gain influence, evidenced by the infrastructure it helped build in Lebanon and the high volumes of trade it has with Iraq--though Iran's support for the Assad regime in Syria and the perception that it is stoking sectarian tensions there have eroded its standing. As a result of Iran's efficient use of its limited military and diplomatic resources, the Arab countries of the Gulf perceive Iranian influence as being prevalent throughout the region, often overestimating Tehran's actual strength. Indeed, even though it seems that Iran's disruptive fingers are in every pie in the region, much of Iran's involvement in regional conflicts has not always played out in its favor. Syria is a good example: Iran has devoted an unprecedented amount of economic, military, and human resources to ensuring the Assad regime's survival. Today, Assad remains in power, but he has lost what regional credibility he had, and Iran has lost favor with other players on the ground, including the Kurds, despite its best attempts at cultivating ties with them.6 Further, Iran's role in Syria has become secondary to that of Russia, which means that while Tehran's acquiescence is necessary for a resolution of the crisis, it is not as indispensable as Moscow's. Many of Iran's other interventions in the region follow the same pattern. Tehran attempts to build ties with multiple players on the ground because it wants lasting influence in these arenas. But it sometimes comes up short because of either its proxies' overtly sectarian stance (not condoned by all factions in Tehran) or the Islamic Republic's shortsightedness and rhetoric--some Iranian leaders' bold statements about the extent of Iranian influence in the Middle East play into the perception that it is, or seeks to be, a regional hegemon.

Following the 2015 nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, political space for dialogue with Iran has emerged. The resolution of the nuclear weapons program issue removed a significant barrier to engagement with Iran, and its participation in the talks on Syria in Vienna in October-November 2015 and negotiations to free the American sailors captured by Iran in January 2016 are evidence of the new space for dialogue. But overall, the nuclear deal has had a mixed impact on Iranian regional policy. Although Tehran claims to want to mend the divide between itself and its neighbors, it has not scaled back its disruptive activities in the region. To the Arab countries of the Gulf, and many in the Western world, Iran continues to involve itself in Arab affairs in damaging ways: it stands by the discredited and brutal Assad regime in Syria, antagonizes Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen, and fosters discontent among Shia minorities throughout the region. [...]

Whether one agrees with Iran's foreign policies or not, it should be clear that they follow a logic grounded in its interests and its domestic political realities. But the common view in the region is that Iran is an expansionist, ideology driven country, bent on spreading its revolution. It is true that, after the 1979revolution, Iran attempted to establish ties with minority Shia communities throughout the region, including the Shia population of Saudi Arabia's oil-richEastern Province. But disagreements and differences between them made this relationship a difficult one.9 Today's Islamic Republic is different. It is an opportunistic country, involving itself in regional affairs after it has been presented with an opportunity to strengthen its position that is too good to pass up. Its involvement in Bahrain after the mass mobilizations and protest movement of 2011, and more recently, in the Yemen conflict, are examples of this activity. The discontent in Bahrain, contrary to what was sometimes argued, was not the product of Iranian meddling. Bahraini Shia have legitimate political grievances, including persistent discrimination by the ruling Sunni minority.10 Iran's involvement with the Bahraini Shia community grew gradually after the protests had begun, as the community turned to Tehran for assistance. The same can be said of the Houthis in Yemen.

To achieve its aims, and to compensate for its historically weak military, the Islamic Republic relies on its Revolutionary Guards and regional proxies. Iran's proxies deter conventionally superior forces from attacking Iran and from operating in its spheres of influence. Iranian control over its proxies is perceived as total, but this is not always the case, and partially autonomous actors can actually be a liability for Iranian leaders. This was the case in Yemen in 2014, when the Houthis took over the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, against Iran's advice.11 Iran's command and control over a proxy also depends on the level of trust it has in the group. Generally, when groups do not proclaim loyalty to Velayat-e Faqih-- the Shia principle that gives custodianship over the people to the "Islamic jurist" (a position filled by Iran's supreme leader)12--it means Iran has less control over that group's final decision-making. Also, proxies have an incentive to demonstrate their relative independence from Tehran and make their causes appear more grassroots and voluntary--an additional risk for Iran that emphasizes the precariousness of some of its regional activities. In Iraq, for example, the influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for the disbanding of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (al-Hashd al-Sha'abi), a Shia paramilitary umbrella organization, following their involvement in the fight against the Islamic State.13 Further, Sadr recently went to Riyadh to meet with Prince Mohammed in order to mend ties.14

Still, Iran's strides in cultivating deployable proxies allow it to boost its capacity to conduct unconventional warfare to advance its interests in the region. This often results in shaky central authorities in the states where Tehran deploys such proxies. But for Iran, spheres of overlapping and fragmented authority are not a problem; if anything, they allow it to achieve its objectives, provided the state and its borders remain intact. Managed instability is to Iran's advantage. This puts Tehran at odds with its regional rivals and their allies.

Just like us.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


PolitiFact crashed so hard during Trump's State of the Union speech (Fast Company, 1/31/18)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning site, which is run by a team of reporters at Florida's Tampa Bay Times and is owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, couldn't handle the traffic from viewers attempting to fact check some of the president's claims.

Too many searches for "and" and "the."

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Hillary Clinton Chose to Shield a Top Adviser Accused of Harassment in 2008 (MAGGIE HABERMAN and AMY CHOZICK, JAN. 26, 2018, NY Times)

A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young subordinate was kept on the campaign at Mrs. Clinton's request, according to four people familiar with what took place.

Mrs. Clinton's campaign manager at the time recommended that she fire the adviser, Burns Strider. But Mrs. Clinton did not. Instead, Mr. Strider was docked several weeks of pay and ordered to undergo counseling, and the young woman was moved to a new job.

Strange faith.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


The Dubious Legal Claim Behind #ReleaseTheMemo (Orin Kerr, January 31, 2018, LawFare)

Part of the problem is that judges figure that of course informants are often biased. Informants usually have ulterior motives, and judges don't need to be told that. A helpful case is United States v. Strifler, 851 F.2d 1197, 1201 (9th Cir. 1988), in which the government obtained a warrant to search a house for a meth lab inside. Probable cause was based largely on a confidential informant who told the police that he had not only seen a meth lab in the house but had even helped others to try to manufacture meth there. The magistrate judge issued the warrant based on the informant's detailed tip. The search was successful and charges followed.

The defendants challenged the warrant on the ground that the affidavit had failed to mention the remarkable ulterior motives of the informant. The affidavit didn't mention that the "informant" was actually a married couple that had been in a quarrel with the defendants; that the couple was facing criminal charges themselves and had been "guaranteed by the prosecutor that they would not be prosecuted if they provided information"; and that they had been paid by the government for giving the information. The affidavit didn't mention any of that. A big deal, right? 

According to the court, no. "It would have to be a very naive magistrate who would suppose that a confidential informant would drop in off the street with such detailed evidence and not have an ulterior motive," Judge Noonan wrote "The magistrate would naturally have assumed that the informant was not a disinterested citizen."  The fact that the magistrate wasn't told that the "informant" was guaranteed to go free and paid for the information didn't matter, as "the magistrate was given reason to think the informant knew a good deal about what was going on" inside the house.  

In some cases, omitted information about a witnesses's bias is irrelevant because there is enough evidence of the crime so that probable cause was not really in question. Consider Smith v. Edwards, 175 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 1999) (Sotomayor. J.), a horrible case involving allleged abuse of a child. A mother reported that her husband had sexually abused their daughter, and the judge issued the warrant for the husband's arrest. The husband was arrested but the charges were later dropped. The husband then sued the officer who obtained the warrant, claiming that the officer had obtained the warrant only because he had left out critical information in the affidavit. In particular, the affidavit did not inform the magistrate that the mother had instituted divorce proceedings against her husband, and it did not state  that she had come to the police only after having tried unsuccessfully to obtain a restraining orders to bar him from contacting her or her daughter. In the husband's telling, you needed to understand the wife's bias to know that she had made up the claims about him to get custody of their daughter.

The court held that the failure to disclose this information was irrelevant. The undisclosed information "was not material because there would have been probable cause to arrest" the husband even if the officer had included the omitted information. Even if the affidavit been "corrected"  by including the omitted information "nothing in the outcome of the Superior Court proceedings that would have negated probable cause." 

Importantly, that doesn't mean that an informant's bias never needs to be disclosed. It just depends on facts of the case. It depends on how important the informant's information was to establish probable cause,  and it depends on how much the alleged bias makes the information unreliable in context. If there are reasons to credit the informant despite the bias, based on the detail of the tip,  the informant's history of providing reliable tips, or other information, then the background informantion about bias isn't particularly relevant.

...the guy who helped them bring down FIFA and the Australian Intelligence Service.
Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Neo-Nazis and white supremacists celebrate Trump's SOTU  (Al Jazeera, 1/31/18)

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM



One of the most common charges against Peterson is that his style is too evangelical. He has been variously termed a 'crusader', a 'false messiah', and the 'new prophet' of the defenders of free speech. He seems to attract the kind of fanaticism more typical of rock stars than clinical psychologists. When I attended his recent talk at the Emmanuel Centre in London, he was greeted with a standing ovation before he had even opened his mouth.

Peterson's new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, owes a great debt to the stories of the Bible, and there is a patent religiosity to much of his rhetoric. 'Who knows what eternal heavens might be established by our spirits', he writes, 'purified by truth, aiming skyward, right here on the fallen Earth?'. Moreover, Peterson's emphasis on individual redemption has an undeniably spiritual quality, not unlike the Christian conception of metanoia.

Some will doubtless find this approach off-putting, but it's worth considering Peterson's rationale. He sees value in acting 'as if God exists', invoking scripture out of a belief in the wisdom of our ancestors and the Christian foundations of Western society. From this perspective, the truths to be found in Christian doctrine are unrelated to the matter of whether or not Jesus Christ was an authentic historical figure. If God is conceived as the principle of a transcendent morality, faith in the supernatural is beside the point.

12 Rules for Life is, as the title implies, a self-help book. It is deliberately accessible, mercifully avoiding the kind of obfuscating jargon that characterises so much academic writing. Peterson's 'rules' each provide a springboard from which he can dive into one of his preferred topics. For example, his first rule - 'Stand up straight with your shoulders back' - forms the basis of a discussion about human hierarchical structures and their origins in evolutionary history. His seventh rule - 'Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)' - becomes a meditation on the nature of evil and what Peterson describes as 'the tragedy of self-conscious being'.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Lebanon the Magnificent: An Inquiry into Exile and Terror (Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna, 1/31/18, Imaginative Conservative)

To back up a bit, a curious feature of the Lebanese system is the principle of "confessional distribution," as it is called, by which each religious community in the country is allotted a number of deputies in Parliament. Those communities consist of Christian and Muslim: Maronite Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic and Protestant, along with Sunni Muslims, Shi'a, Alawite and Druze. By law, the Prime Minister is Sunni; the President a Maronite Christian and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi'a. It is a strange kind of organically "politically correct" organization that has been the source of the country's relative (very relative) stability of the last decade even though originally the political outcome of the destructiveness wrought by the competing factions of these groups. Briefly, by the 1960s, Muslims had become dissatisfied with the prior system in view of their higher birthrate and higher emigration rate, yet Christian politicians were unwilling to abolish or alter the system of balanced ratios of power, one of many such related factors that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. The Taif Agreement of 1989, which ended that war, reapportioned the parliament so that there would be equal representation of Christians and Muslims. There are about twenty-two political parties in the Lebanese parliament (chamber of deputies), grouped into three blocks of alliances. It is an uncanny mix to observe from the outside, and one that has led to the most perilous of "enemy of my enemy" geopolitical relationships almost too complex to fathom. [...]

These self-exiling ideas--that our terrorist is someone else's "freedom fighter" and that today's radical organization may be tomorrow's moderate or "mainstream" political party is also what makes Lebanon such an extraordinary study in the dynamics of the Mideast mentality.

Specifically, let us look at the origins of Hezbollah, which grew up in the beautiful world of the Beqaa.

To do so, one must turn to the story of Amal, or "Hope" in Arabic, the peaceful organization of the Shi'a Muslims in Lebanon organized in the late sixties and early seventies, from which Hezbollah broke off in the 1980s.

The ideological origins of Amal can be traced to 1969 when its enigmatic founder, the Imam Musa al- Sadr, who established a pan-sectarian political movement that called for "peace and equality" among all Lebanese confessions and religions. At the same time, he made clear that the Shi'a were the poorest and the most neglected of these groups, and in their impoverishment formed what was known as the "Belt of Misery" in the outskirts of Beirut--a factor that was to become one of many elements in the origins of the Lebanese Civil War. The non-sectarian aspect of this movement was genuine: the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Beirut, Monseigneur Grégoire Haddad, was among one of its founders. Then, when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975, al-Sadr held sit-ins and fasts to protest against the violence and the loose association of peace movements led by him coalesced into an organization later political party, still known today as "Amal."

The precursor to what was to become Hezbollah was spun off by disenchanted leaders of Amal to become one of the world's most formidable and best-organized terror groups in history. That organization's precise origins are difficult to pinpoint, but its shadowy emergence dates from around the time of the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon in response to attacks by Palestinian militants in 1982, when Shi'a leaders favoring a militant response ended up breaking away from Amal. That organization, Amal, was itself opposed to the PLO being headquartered in Lebanon and to the Palestinian refugees who had settled there during the war (which lasted from 1975 until 1990). It is further interesting to realize that in addition to being opposed to the PLO, Amal was against the theological radicalization of Iran after the 1979 revolution and, though principally a Shi'a movement, reportedly received no aid from Tehran. Its roots were firmly secular and sought to remain such. [...]

Meanwhile, the new organization spun off from the peace-seeking Amal--called, simply, Islamic Amal--received considerable military and organizational support from Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Tehran's terror-militia now firmly based in the beautiful Beqaa Valley. From this association, the most prominent and effective of the Shi'a militias would emerge, forming what is known today as Hezbollah (or "Party of God"). Despite the original Amal's early call for peaceful coexistence and a non-violent outlook, they ended up waging a bloody battle against Hezbollah for control of Beirut (located about twenty miles from the Beqaa Valley), which then provoked Syrian military intervention. Both groups launched attacks on the Israeli military and its ally, the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

What was to follow sums up the Lebanon the Magnificent in about a line or two: that the country that once gave the Middle East, and therefore the world, Musa al Sadr--the Imam who called for peaceful co-existence among religions and addressed crowds gathered in breathtaking Eastern churches--was the same country that would now spawn a certain Mohammad Muqniyah, later to become the deadliest Mideast terrorist up until Osama bin Laden.

U.S. and Israeli officials accused Mughniyah of association with many bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations, beginning with the Beirut barracks bombing and US embassy bombings, both of which took place in 1983 and killed more than 350, as well as the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners in Lebanon in the 1980s. A former engineering student at the American University of Beirut fluent in German, English, French, and Farsi, he was indicted in Argentina for his alleged role in the 1992 Israeli embassy attack in Buenos Aires. The highest-profile attacks for which it is claimed he is responsible took place in the early 1980s, shortly after the founding of Hezbollah, when Mughniyah was in his early twenties. U.S. officials accused him of killing more U.S. citizens than any other militant prior to 9-11; Michael Chertoff, then secretary of homeland security, said Hezbollah under Mughniyah was a threat to national security. "To be honest, they make al-Qaeda look like a minor league team," he said. It has been said that Mughniyah was probably the most intelligent, most capable operative that the CIA or any agency had ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He was killed on the night of 12 February 2008 by a car bomb that detonated as he passed by on foot, in the Damascus, Syria, a U.S.-Israel complot.

Despite this outrageous history of terror, Hezbollah, its mystique intensified by the personality of this one man, took on a kind of local-hero role--here again, in the context of triangular geopolitical relationships that make the "truth" about the Mideast nearly impossible to discern. When Israeli forces finally withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah was credited with pushing them out. That group resisted pressure to disarm and maintained its military presence in the South, claiming as justification the continued Israeli presence in several disputed areas. In 2006, Hezbollah militants launched a cross-border attack in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped, triggering a massive Israeli response. To end the sectarian clashes that left dozens dead and brought Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war, the government backed down, and a power-sharing agreement gave Hezbollah and its allies the power to veto any cabinet decision. In the 2009 elections, it won ten seats in parliament. The terror group was now a respectable voice of representation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Rohani Says Iranian Leaders Must Listen To The People (Radio Liberty, January 31, 2018)

"The Iranian nation will never give up Imam Khomeini's legacy: Islamism and Republicanism. Return is impossible," Rohani said during a visit to the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic republic, near Tehran.

"As long as people love the culture of Islam and love their Iran and safeguard their national unity, no superpower can change the path of this nation," he also said, referring to the United States.

Rohani also hinted that popular support was at risk if the Iranian establishment did not listen to angry protests that have swept the country in recent weeks.

"All officials of the country should have a listening ear for people's demands and wishes," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


How a British Historian and Hungarian Writer Predicted the Soviet Fall and China's Rise
In the early 1970s, Arnold Toynbee and George Urban foresaw two of the developments that would shape the 21st century. (Francis P. Sempa, January 27, 2018, The Diplomat)

Urban and Toynbee recognized the "tragedy" of human events, the "fragility" of human institutions, the weaknesses and limitations of humans throughout history.

With that as background, Urban and Toynbee discussed the patterns of history; patterns that Toynbee spent a lifetime studying in his comparisons of civilizations.

Those patterns enabled Toynbee and Urban to suggest growing trouble within the Soviet empire and the possibility of China rising as a formidable world power.

Both sensed that the Eastern European satellites were in the long run "indigestible for Russia." Although dominated for decades by Russian military and political power, they remained "un-Russified" in a cultural sense. In Urban's words, "The Soviet Union's hegemony over Eastern Europe has expressed itself since 1947, in a great many important ways, but none ... has touched the 'soul and life-blood' of the East European nations." A decade after these words were spoken, those same East European nations started the process that led to the unraveling of the Soviet Empire.

Toynbee and Urban then speculated on what would happen in China after Mao's death. They foresaw Chinese "technocrats" opting for fast economic growth and technological advances. Such developments could make China a great power in a short time-span.

Toynbee spoke about the effect of China's humiliation in the Opium War of 1839-1842 -- a humiliation that lasted until the communists took power in 1949. "[I]f you have been humiliated," he explained, "you react by becoming aggressive." He continued: "One feeling in China must be that China must have power in the modern sense." Toynbee suggested that an enlightened Chinese might say to himself, "we have been kicked about by Japanese, by Europeans, by Americans -- everybody -- and our first priority must be to get even with the modern industrialized world."

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 AM


The Cabinet Files : Hundreds of top-secret and highly classified cabinet documents have been obtained by the ABC following an extraordinary breach of national security. (Ashlynne McGhee and Michael McKinnon, 1/30/18, ABC)

The Cabinet Files is one of the biggest breaches of cabinet security in Australian history and the story of their release is as gripping as it is alarming and revealing.

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians -- anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) lost nearly 400 national security files in five years, according to a secret government stocktake contained in The Cabinet Files.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet regularly audits all government departments and agencies that have access to the classified documents to ensure they are securely stored.

The missing documents are not the same files the ABC has obtained.

The classified documents lost by the AFP are from the powerful National Security Committee (NSC) of the cabinet, which controls the country's security, intelligence and defence agenda.

The secretive committee also deploys Australia's military and approves kill, capture or destroy missions.

Most of its documents are marked "top secret" and "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

The exchange does not reveal any investigation by either the secretariat or the AFP into how the documents were lost, who lost them, or where they might be now.

It also does not reveal the nature, nor the content of the missing NSC documents.

Troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, counter-terrorism operations, foreign relations and Australia's border protection were among the top-secret and sensitive issues decided in the five-year period.

The cabinet secretariat's general practice was to give up searching and write off lost documents if they could not be found after consecutive audits, according to another document in The Cabinet Files.

The exposure of such state secrets will be...absolutely non-consequential.

January 30, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


Melania Trump arrived at State of the Union separately from the President (Kate Bennett, 1/30/18, CNN)

In a break with longstanding tradition, Melania Trump opted to ride with the guests she invited to share her first lady's box during President Donald Trump's State of the Union address.

You thought he hated illegal immigrants before?

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Economic Impact of Immigration by State (https://wallethub.com/edu/economic-impact-of-immigration-by-state/32248/Richie Bernardo, 1/30/18, WalletHub)

Source: WalletHub

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Has Devin Nunes even seen the material his anti-DOJ memo is based upon? (Leon Wolf, Jan 25, 2018, The Blaze)

According to Boyd's letter, the classified documents upon which Nunes' memorandum is based were made available for review to the House Intelligence Committee in a "secure facility," which means that the Justice Department presumably controlled access to the room and knew who was present during the review process.

According to Footnote 1 of Boyd's letter, the Justice Department agreed to allow the Intelligence Committee to review the documents under the following access conditions: that one member from the majority and one member from the minority would review the documents, and that they would each be permitted to bring two staffers to assist in the review.

According to Boyd's letter, the member who reviewed the documents for the majority was Gowdy -- which is consistent with Nunes' earlier recusal from the investigation (although he later retracted the recusal in a confusing statement that seemed to claim that he never actually recused himself).

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Trump's Job Approval Is Underwater in 18 States He Carried in 2016 (Ed Kilgore, 1/30/18, New York)

Gallup has just published average state-by-state job-approval data for the president for 2017 as a whole. His national average for the year was 38 percent -- the lowest for a first-year president in Gallup's long polling history -- which happens to be exactly where he is today. Perhaps more importantly, he was under 50 percent for the last year in job approval in 38 of the 50 states, including 18 he carried in 2016. Trump was actually under 40 percent in Texas, and no better than 43 percent in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


The 'state' of Donald Trump? He thinks it couldn't be better. (HOWARD FINEMAN, 1/30/18, Newsweek)

[T]rump -- who trusts no one, or at least no one for long -- has now decided that he must have an alternative strategy that does not involve having Justice Department officials fire Mueller.

"I think he's been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller's hands," said another friend, "because it would give Mueller the moral high ground."

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

"Here's how it would work: 'We're sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won't be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury,'" said one Trump adviser.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


How the Swamp Drained Trump : A year after arriving in Washington promising to hand power back to the people, the president has instead given the city's insiders precisely what they wanted. (MCKAY COPPINS, 1/30/18, The Atlantic)

Ask Sam Nunberg who's to blame for the swampification of the Trump White House, and he'll bitterly rattle off a list of cabinet officials, family members, and presidential advisers.

A longtime Trump adviser who helped launch the billionaire's presidential campaign, Nunberg now sees establishment spies and sell-outs infecting every level of the administration. He refers derisively to the president's chief economic adviser as "Gary 'Carried Interest' Cohn," or alternately, "Mr. Goldman Sachs." He seethes that National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has "never missed giving a speech at a George Soros-funded event in his life." Defense Secretary James Mattis is, in his view, a "John McCain type of Republican (which is to say, the bad type); and Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and their cohort of cosmopolitan allies are "a bunch of Democrats." (If you're having trouble making sense of these insults, it's likely because you don't speak Breitbart--suffice it to say, they are not minor slurs.)

"It's Washington as usual!" Nunberg fumed to me in an interview. "It's a little perverse and Twilight Zone-ish."

It would be easy to dismiss this criticism as jealousy. Nunberg was unceremoniously pushed out of the campaign early on amid an internal power struggle, and despite years of advising Trump, he was never offered a job in the White House. But his grim diagnosis of the administration echoes the complaints of many early Trump-backers.

Among the nationalist ideologues who staked their hopes on his presidency, there's a widespread fear that Trump is being captured and co-opted by the "globalist elite." While his loyalists are quick to praise what they regard as his greatest accomplishments--such as withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and instituting a travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries--they also acknowledge that the population of true-believing Trumpists in the White House is shrinking. For every Stephen Miller or John Kelly in Trump's orbit, there are dozens of résumé-polishers and this-towners who have no interest whatsoever in draining the swamp. And without a robust policymaking apparatus dedicated to advancing the ideas formerly championed by the likes of Steve Bannon, it has only gotten easier for the establishment forces in the West Wing to handle the president.

As The Wall Street Journal recently outlined in its "How-To Guide" for dealing with the commander in chief, each would-be Trump-whisperer has developed his or her own technique. When Trump wants to take serious trade action against other countries, for example, advisers will sometimes come up with reasons to stall, "hoping he'll forget what he wanted done and move on to something else." When Trump is weighing defense options, Mattis will gently steer him with a combination of flattery and Jedi mind tricks. "He says, 'Your instincts are absolutely correct,' and then gets [Trump] to do the exact opposite of what his instincts say," a source told the Journal.

One person close to the White House, who requested anonymity to describe internal dynamics, told me that Trump is so fully buffeted by handlers like this that some days the best chance he has of hearing from an adviser who actually shares his instincts is a late-night phone call with one of the primetime Fox News hosts. "Unless he's talking to Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Laura Ingraham after their shows," the person said, the president's populist allies can't "get to him."

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Iranian Reformist Tells Khamenei To Bring Reforms, Stop Blaming Foreign 'Enemies' (Radio Liberty, January 30, 2018)

Mehdi Karrubi said on January 30 that Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needs to stop blaming foreign "enemies" for Iran's problems and, instead, "accept responsibility for your policies of the last three decades." [...]

"I urge you, before it is too late, to open the way to structural reforms of the system," Karrubi wrote in an open letter than was published on January 30 on Saham News, the official website of his reformist political party that is blocked in Iran.

"The system is going downhill to such an extent that it feels endangered by a few thousand people demonstrating," he wrote.

"Instead of repeating accusations of links with the enemy and instead of harsh confrontation, listen to them," Karrubi said.

"You have been Iran's top leader for three decades but still speak like an opposition,"

Karrubi also criticized the involvement of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a security force directly loyal to the Khamenei, in political and economic affairs.

The "catastrophic outcome is clear to everyone today," Karrubi wrote.

"More than 50 percent of the country's wealth is in the hands of state bodies over which there is no supervision," he said. "Poverty and unemployment are plaguing the country."

Karrubi also said Khamenei had reduced parliament to "an obedient assembly" under his thumb and the influence of IRGC lobbies by vetting candidates in elections.

He said the Assembly of Experts -- a council of clerics charged with electing, supervising, and even disqualifying Iran's Supreme Leader -- has turned into a "ceremonial council that only praises the Leader."

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Mnuchin promises more sanctions on Russia after outrage over report (SYLVAN LANE, 01/30/18, the Hill)

Mnuchin took heat from Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee over the administration's decision to not impose sanctions by a Monday deadline.

"This should in no way be interpreted as we're not putting sanctions on anyone in that report," Mnuchin said at a hearing. [...]

[S]en. John Kennedy (R-La.) told Mnuchin he feared the consequences of not cracking down harder on Putin, insisting the U.S. should "hit him [with sanctions] until he's coughing up bones."

"It's not getting any better, Mr. Secretary," Kennedy said. "I really think we're sending the wrong message with this critical challenge."

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Big Lies, Law Enforcement, and the Defense of Rod Rosenstein (Benjamin Wittes  Monday, January 29, 2018, LawFare)

 I refer to "Mein Kampf" because Hitler was extremely insightful in a pure-evil kind of way on the subject of lies. I'm quoting him, in other words, not as an analogy but as an authority.

The "Big Lie" passage from "Mein Kampf" is one of the turgid tome's most famous passages. It reads:

All this was inspired by the principle--which is quite true in itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Donald Trump lies more blatantly and outrageously than any other American politician who has attained the presidency. As David Frum puts it in his excellent new book, "Trumpocracy,"

No American president in history--no national political figure of any kind since at least Senator Joe McCarthy--has trafficked more in untruths that Donald Trump. He owed the start of his political career to the Birther hoax. He falsely insisted that he lost the popular vote only because of somewhere between three and five million ballots cast by illegal aliens. He repeated false stories about New Jersey Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks. He recited false statistics about the majors of terrorists since 9/11 entering the United States from foreign countries. He falsely denied that his campaign communicated with Russia about hacking the Hillary Clinton campaign. He falsely boasted that he enacted more bills in his first one hundred days and first six months than any previous president. He even told a false anecdote about an imaginary friend named "Jim" who never visits Paris anymore because "Paris is no longer Paris."

The Washington Post keeps a running tally of Trump's lies since entering office. As of Monday, Jan. 19, it documents 2,140 false or misleading claims.

Not all of Trump's lies are big lies. But some certainly are. And among the biggest, most audacious, most "colossal" or "grossly impudent" is the way he talks about federal law enforcement. To understand why the defense of Rosenstein has become so critical, let's take a step back and consider this big lie. And let's consider it beyond the almost-comical point that Rosenstein, a lifelong Republican appointed to Senate-confirmed positions by two Republican administrations, is being tarred as a "Democrat from Baltimore" with a vendetta against the president.

Trump wants to politicize law enforcement. He announces this himself. He talks openly about the job of the attorney general as protecting him and going after his political enemies. He says he admires Eric Holder's protection of Barack Obama--a supposed corruption that represents yet another conspiracy theory, but one that sheds enormous light on his thinking about how an attorney general should behave. Trump is many things, but on this point he is no hypocrite. He has said exactly what he thinks law enforcement should be: his political plaything, his tool for the crude form of justice Polemarchus describes in Plato's Republic: "rewarding friends and punishing enemies."

The trouble was that when Trump confronted the law enforcement apparatus of the United States, he discovered that it did not conform to his vision. He became aware, to his shock, that federal law enforcement actually had integrity. It included a set of institutions that did not work as simple arms of political power. There is no need to take my word for this: It was he who demanded loyalty of Comey. It was he who asked Comey to drop the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and who has publicly expressed his anger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation--as Sessions was certainly bound to do. It was Trump who has expressed surprise that he couldn't order up an investigation of his political opponent. Trump started discovering quickly that the FBI and the intelligence communities are not the janissaries of the powerful. And he didn't like it.

His response? First, try to change this reality quietly. Try to corrupt Comey and get a pledge of loyalty from him. Install an attorney general he expected to behave as he imagined Holder had for Obama. It was as that effort failed that the big lie emerged.

That big lie is the notion that federal law enforcement is already behaving as corruptly as the president aspires for it to.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


The Nunes Memo Kremlinology (Andrew Cohen, 1/30/18, NY Review of Books)

To believe that the memo undermines the work of the FBI, Justice Department, and Mueller is to disbelieve the mountain of independent evidence that corroborates, in whole or in part, material aspects of Steele's work. The world no longer needs to rely on Steele or his dossier to understand how deep and abiding were the ties between Team Trump and the Russians. It need only note how many of that team are already under criminal indictment or are actively cooperating with Mueller and company.

As a hearsay summary of a written report, the Republican memo would never be allowed into evidence in a trial unless the judge allowed the other side to cross-examine the memo's authors on the accuracy of the document. Under that scrutiny, by any competent lawyer, the credibility of its contents would soon be in tatters, and the ploy by House Republicans exposed for what it is. We will likely never see that cross-examination in a court of law. But we can and should see it in the coming days and weeks in the court of public opinion. 

The last headline of the day came when we learned that the White House would not impose the sanctions against Russian officials that a bipartisan Congress demanded last year. Another win for Russia; another loss for those Americans who believe that foreign states that meddle in our elections should be discouraged from doing so again (including, for example, during the mid-term elections this November). By refusing to accede to congressional directive here, by refusing to fully punish Russia for improper interference in our democratic process, the Trump White House didn't just veer from its "tough-on-crime" theme. It also showed us how emboldened it feels. 

The president evidently now sees no material risk in publicly ingratiating himself with the Kremlin even as Mueller and his investigators build their case that the Russians did the Trump team favors during the 2016 election. What the White House did on Monday, then--blowing off Congress on sanctions--is strong evidence of a quid in the quid pro quo, and it raises new questions about the extent of continuing undue Russian influence over the president and his administration. The White House tactic here is striking: rather than getting tough with the Russians to undermine Mueller's case, they have intensified their Russian romance. There is no attempt at a cover-up, no remorse or regret; instead, the ploy is to discredit the tried and true cops who are investigating a potential crime.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


Netanyahu is trying hard to court Putin.  (Cnaan Liphshiz, January 30, 2018, JTA) 

Almost alone among Western nations, the Jewish state has essentially maintained total radio silence, and therefore neutrality, on the invasion of Ukraine, which prompted the European Union to impose crippling sanctions on Russia. In fact, Israeli trade with Russia has only grown since, with an increase of 25 percent in the first six months of 2017 over the corresponding period the previous year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Second Trump-Russia dossier being assessed by FBI (Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins, 30 Jan 2018, The Guardian)

The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

Unlike Steele, Shearer does not have a background in espionage, and his memo was initially viewed with scepticism, not least because he had shared it with select media organisations before the election. [...]

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

It was handed to them by Steele - who had been given it by an American contact - after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

The Shearer memo cites an unnamed source within Russia's FSB, the state security service. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Trump Administration Admits It Cribbed Forbes Magazine To Create "Oligarch List" (John Hudson, 1/30/18, BuzzFeed News)

The striking similarity between a newly-released Treasury Department report of Russian oligarchs and a 2017 list of wealthy Russians published in Forbes Magazine is no coincidence.

On Tuesday, a Treasury Department spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the unclassified annex of the report was derived from Forbes' ranking of the "200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017."

The revelation is likely to invite criticisms of the thoroughness of the Treasury Department's report and reinforce the notion that the list is primarily a who's who of Russian elite rather than an official accounting of Kremlin-linked political corruption as some US lawmakers intended.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Julian Assange Thought He Was Messaging Sean Hannity When He Offered 'News' on Democrat Investigating Trump-Russia (Ben Collins, 01.29.18,  THE DAILY BEAST)

Gilliam, a technical writer from Texas, was bored with the flu when she created @SeanHannity__ early Saturday morning. The Fox News host's real account was temporarily deleted after cryptically tweeting the phrase "Form Submission 1649 | #Hannity" on Friday night. Twitter said the account had been "briefly compromised," according to a statement provided to The Daily Beast, and was back up on Sunday morning.

When Gilliam made the account, she did not expect to be setting up a meeting over "other channels" for Assange to send "some news about Warner," an apparent reference to Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

During the election, WikiLeaks' dumped Democratic emails stolen by Kremlin hackers, even leading President Donald Trump's CIA director to brand Assange's organization a "hostile intelligence service" last year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Europe's economy grew faster than the U.S. last year (Alanna Petroff, January 30, 2018, CNN Money)

Economic growth in the 19 countries that use the euro currency surged by 2.5% in 2017, according to official data published Tuesday. Growth in the 28-member European Union was also up 2.5% last year.

It's the best period of growth for both groupings since 2007, putting Europe just ahead of the 2.3% expansion posted by the U.S. in 2017.

Europe, which has suffered years of anemic growth caused by a series of debt crises, is part of a global economic resurgence that could continue in 2018.

"Anything the U.S. economy can do the eurozone economy can do, slightly better it seems," said Jacob Deppe, head of trading at online currency broker Infinox Capital.

"With both the U.S. and eurozone growing in tandem and with Asian economies on a roll, the hope is that 2018 delivers continued growth, further confidence and economic stability for the first time in a decade," he added.

We've contained most of the damage of this presidency, so far...

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM



Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


The Circumscribed Ethics Investigation Into Devin Nunes (NATASHA BERTRAND, JAN 29, 2018, The Atlantic)

[T]he committee was never able to obtain or review the classified information at the heart of the inquiry, according to three congressional sources briefed on the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. The panel's inability to determine for itself what may or may not have been classified--and what Nunes had actually been shown--likely contributed to its decision to close the investigation, according to one source.

Those restrictions cast doubt on whether the committee was able to authoritatively compare Nunes's statements to the press with what he had read in the classified intelligence reports. That, in turn, calls into question the thoroughness of the committee's investigation, and the accuracy of Nunes's claims of vindication. A spokesman for the Ethics Committee declined to comment. A spokesman for Nunes did not immediately respond.

Nunes said he would step aside from his committee's investigation into Russia's election interference until the Ethics Committee completed its inquiry, which marked the climax of a series of bizarre events that began with Nunes's late-night excursion to the White House last March.

Nunes spoke to reporters at least twice about the classified information he'd been shown by a source he characterized as a whistleblower. (The New York Times and The Washington Post later reported that three White House officials had helped Nunes gain access to the documents.)


Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Joe Arpaio Pushed His Senate Candidacy In Notorious Anti-Semitic Publication (Eric Hananoki, January 29, 2018, Media Matters)

The American Free Press wrote in its January 29 & February 5 issue that Arpaio "spoke to AFP Jan. 21 in an exclusive interview about his recently announced bid" for Arizona's Senate seat. During the interview with "roving editor" Mark Anderson, Arpaio promoted the viability of his candidacy and defended President Donald Trump's agenda.

Civil rights groups have heavily criticized American Free Press over the years. The Anti-Defamation League described American Free Press as "an anti-Semitic conspiracy-oriented publication." The Southern Poverty Law Center stated that the outlet is "racist and anti-Semitic."

The late Willis Carto, an infamous anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, helped found the newspaper.

Thus, Trumpism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Orestes Brownson, Being Catholic, and Being American (Nathan J. Beacom, January 29th, 2018, Public Discourse)

There is a great deal in Orestes Brownson's writing that recommends itself to the thoughtful observer of American political history and life. What concerns us here is chiefly his conception of the "twofold" American constitution. For him, the constitution is not primarily a document but the actual way in which the people itself is constituted. The critics to whom I allude above often express a concern that our country was brought into being by a document formed on the basis of erroneous enlightenment principles. For Brownson, this is a misreading of our nation's origins.

The written constitution did not materialize out of thin air. It was the expression and decision of an already constituted people, who codified and formalized the way they were to govern themselves. Brownson describes that pre-existing arrangement in this way:

The [organic] constitution is the intrinsic or inherent and actual constitution of the people or political community itself; that which makes the nation what it is, and distinguishes it from every other nation. . .  [it] is not a theory, nor is it drawn up and established in accordance with any preconceived theory. What is theoretic in a constitution is unreal.

To Brownson's way of thinking, some group within a given nation may attempt to impose a theoretic constitution on its people, but if what is proposed does not in fact match the way the people are actually constituted, doing so will require a great deal of force and will ultimately fail. Such was the effort of the French Revolution. The American constitution, by contrast, was not an imposition on the people but an expression of what already inhered in the nation's traditions, laws, principles, and organization.

This points at the same reality observed by the early American Church itself--namely, that this country and its government were not born brand-new out of Enlightenment principles. They were, rather, an organic development of traditions stretching from Athens, through Rome, Jerusalem, London, and on to Philadelphia. Alexander Hamilton himself expressly agreed with Brownson's later assessment. As Brownson wrote with regard to some expressions of James Madison's:

What binds is the thing done, not the theory on which it was done, or on which the actors explained their work either to themselves or to others . . . [theory] may sometimes affect the phraseology they adopt, but forms no rule for interpreting their work. Their work was inspired by and accords with the historical facts in the case, and is authorized and explained by them.

John Adams once called the common political language of the founding an expression of the "harmonizing sentiment of the day." That is, it was not so much a creature of the Enlightenment as an effort to extract what was valuable and practical from the whole tradition of political thought from Athens to the present, and to apply it to the given context of an already constituted people. As Brownson saw it, the United States was built as a development of a liberal tradition far older than and far different from the liberalism of Enlightenment Europe. As an heir to this great conversation, the American constitution seeks to unite in harmony the inviolability of the person and the priority of the public good--to strike a dialectical balance between liberty and order. This is why Brownson says that the United States is the most catholic of modern nations, because it is organized on real principles of human nature: principles that, being real, must also be catholic.

It is the nature of logos to reconcile all things in Himself, Brownson writes, and to take those things that seem to be in opposition and bring them into harmony. In a unique way, the American people is called by the same Word to reconcile the realities of freedom and order, unity and multiplicity. E pluribus unum; annuit coeptus. That we have often failed in this vocation does not obviate the original call.

The reason our Founding uniquely succeeded is because we were not so much seeking freedom from England, just English liberty.
Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Trump administration holds off on new Russia sanctions, despite law (Patricia Zengerle, 1/30/18, Reuters) 

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM



Fortunately, the actual moment that Buffalo chicken wings were invented has been described by Frank Bellissimo and his son, Dom, with the sort of rich detail that any historian would value; unfortunately, they use different details. Frank Bellissimo is in his eighties now, and more or less retired; he and his wife, Teressa, are pretty much confined to an apartment above the Anchor Bar. According to the account he has given many times over the years, the invention of the Buffalo chicken wing came about because of a mistake--the delivery of some chicken wings instead of the backs and necks that were ordinarily used in making spaghetti sauce. Frank Bellissimo thought it was a shame to use the wings for sauce. "They were looking at you, like saying, 'I don't belong in the sauce,' " he has often recalled. He implored his wife, who was doing the cooking, to figure out some more dignified end for the wings. Teressa Bellissimo decided to make some hors d'oeuvres for the bar--and the Buffalo chicken wing was born.

Dom Bellissimo--a short, effusive man who now acts as the bustling host of the Anchor Bar--tells a story that does not include a mistaken delivery or, for that matter, Frank Bellissimo. According to Dom, it was late on a Friday night in 1964, a time when Roman Catholics still confined themselves to fish and vegetables on Fridays. He was tending the bar. Some regulars had been spending a lot of money, and Dom asked his mother to make something special to pass around gratis at the stroke of midnight. Teressa Bellissimo picked up some chicken wings--parts of a chicken that most people do not consider even good enough to give away to barflies--and the Buffalo chicken wing was born.

Dom and Frank agree that Teressa Bellissimo chopped each wing in half and served two straight sections that the regulars at the bar could eat with their fingers. (The two straight pieces, one of which looks like a miniature drumstick and is known locally as a drumette, became one of the major characteristics of the dish; in Buffalo, a plate of wings does not look like a plate of wings but like an order of fried chicken that has, for some reason, been reduced drastically in scale.) She "deep-fried" them, applied some hot sauce, and served them on a plate that included some celery from the Anchor Bar's regular antipasto and some of the blue-cheese dressing normally used as the house dressing for salads. Dom and Frank also agree that the wings were an immediate success--famous throughout Buffalo within weeks. Before long, they say, chicken wings were on the dinner menu instead of being served gratis at the bar--and were beginning to nudge aside the Italian food that had always been the Anchor Bar's specialty. In the clipping libraries of the Buffalo newspapers, I could find only one article that dealt with the Bellissimo family and their restaurant in that period--a long piece on Frank and Teressa in the Courier-Express in 1969, five years after the invention of the chicken wing. It talks a lot about the musicians who had appeared at the Bellissimos' restaurant over the years and about the entertainers who used to drop in after road shows. It mentions the custom Teressa and Frank had in times gone by of offering a few songs themselves late on Saturday night--Teressa emerging from the kitchen to belt out ''Oh Marie" or "Tell Me That You Love Me." It does not mention chicken wings. Perhaps the interviewer simply happened to be more interested in jazz drummers than tasty experiments. Perhaps Frank and Dom Bellissimo are, like most people, funny on dates. By chance, my most trusted contemporary observers, the Katzes, were living out of the city during the crucial period; Linda Katz looked surprised to hear that there had ever been a time when people did not eat chicken wings. The exact date of the discovery seemed a small matter, though, compared to the central historical fact, common to both Bellissimo stories, that the first plate of Buffalo chicken wings emerged from the kitchen of the Anchor Bar. It seemed to me that if a pack of revisionist historians descended on Buffalo, itching to get their hands on some piece of conventional wisdom, they would have no serious quarrel with the basic story of how the Buffalo chicken wing was invented--although the feminists among them might point out that the City of Buffalo's proclamation would have been more exact if it had named as the inventor Teressa Bellissimo. The inventor of the airplane, after all, was not the person who told Wilbur and Orville Wright that it might he nice to have a machine that could fly.

"A blue-collar dish for a blue-collar town," one of the Buffalonians who joined the Katz family and me on our chicken-wing tour said, reminding me that historians are obligated to put events in the context of their setting. Buffalo does have the reputation of being a blue-collar town and, particularly after the extraordinary winter in 1977, of being a blue-collar town permanently white with snow. Buffalonians who do much travelling have resigned themselves to the fact that the standard response to hearing that someone comes from Buffalo is a Polish joke or some line like "Has the snow melted yet?" Buffalo has always had a civic-morale problem. Could the problem have been exacerbated by making a local specialty out of a part of the chicken that somebody in San Francisco or Houston might throw away? Frank Bellissimo seemed to argue against that interpretation. "Anybody can sell steak," he told me. "But if you can sell odds and ends of one thing or another, then you're doing something." The celebrated visitors who troop through the Anchor Bar are, after all, almost always favorably impressed by Buffalo chicken wings. Craig Claiborne proclaimed them "excellent" in one of his columns--although he may have undercut the compliment a bit by saying in the same paragraph that he had remained in Buffalo for only three hours.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Yemen separatists capture Aden (Reuters, 1/30/18) 

Southern Yemeni separatists took control of the port city of Aden after two days of fighting, residents said on Tuesday, confining the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to the presidential palace.

They said forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, a main component of the Saudi-led coalition, seized the last stronghold of its Presidential Protection forces rival in Dar Saad area in northern Aden on Tuesday after heavy fighting.

January 29, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


U.S. to resume refugee admissions from 11 'high-risk' countries (Yeganeh Torbati, 1/29/18, Reuters) 

The United States will resume admissions for refugees from 11 countries identified as presenting a high security risk, but with extra vetting for these mostly Middle Eastern and African nations, senior U.S. officials said on Monday. [...]

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would like officials to factor in risks to the United States other than terrorism, such as transnational organized crime, a senior administration official said.

During the briefing, officials said refugees will not be barred from admission to the United States solely on the basis of nationality.

"The big picture is that there is no longer a refugee pause on countries, including the 11 high-risk countries, with these measures taking effect," one senior administration official said in a briefing with reporters. "We'll be resuming admissions with the new security measures in place."

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Trump's gripes against McCabe included wife's politics, Comey's ride home (CAROL E. LEE, 1/29/18, NBC)

The day after he fired James Comey as director of the FBI, a furious President Donald Trump called the bureau's acting director, Andrew McCabe, demanding to know why Comey had been allowed to fly on an FBI plane from Los Angeles back to Washington after he was dismissed, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

McCabe told the president he hadn't been asked to authorize Comey's flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser -- an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe's wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied, "OK, sir."

On Flight to Davos, Trump Erupted Over DOJ Role in Russia Probe (Jennifer Jacobs, January 29, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's frustrations with the Russia investigation boiled over on Air Force One last week when he learned that a top Justice Department official had warned against releasing a memo that could undercut the probe, according to four people with knowledge of the matter. [...]

Trump's outburst capped a week where Trump and senior White House officials personally reproached Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to speak to others -- episodes that illustrate Trump's preoccupation with the Justice Department, according to two of the people.

Trump warned Sessions and others they need to excel at their jobs or go down as the worst in history, the two people said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


VW faces inquiry call over diesel fumes test on monkeys (Jan Schwartz, Edward Taylor, 1/29/18, Reuters) 

Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) supervisory board called for an immediate inquiry into who commissioned tests in which monkeys were exposed to toxic diesel fumes, while the German government said such studies were unjustifiable. [...]

In another related development, German daily Stuttgarter Zeitung reported on Sunday that EUGT also sponsored scientific studies testing nitrogen dioxide, a gas found in exhaust fumes, on people.

Aachen University's research hospital confirmed on Monday that EUGT had sponsored a study in 2013 and 2014 but said it was related to workplace safety, not diesel emissions.

As part of the study, 25 people were exposed to varying levels of nitrogen dioxide for three hours to investigate the possible health effects of the chemical compound in concentrations below the limit for workplaces, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen said in a statement.

The German government said on Monday that any auto emissions testing on monkeys or people was unjustifiable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Trump's Tariffs Are Statism on the March : They benefit a small number of producers while raising costs for everyone else. (Jonah Goldberg, January 26, 2018, National Review)

Sometimes the government protects certain industries in order to goose employment, or in the name of keeping prices low for the people or high for the producers (e.g. farmers, favored industries, etc.). But such subsidies not only stifle innovation, they also end up hurting consumers or taxpayers or both.

If the government promises cheap, below-cost bread for all, the bakeries will go bust unless they are subsidized. Those subsidies would come from taxpayers, so we'd be paying the real price anyway. If the government taxes cheap washing machines from abroad, the price of washing machines will go up, hurting consumers (which is exactly what happened after the White House announcement).

Every form of statism -- from absolute monarchy to socialism to fascism -- involves the state forming an alliance with some faction or another and giving it preferential treatment. Protectionism is simply statism applied to trade. In short, it is a conspiracy against the public to raise prices, and nothing more.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Sanders Backs Out of Interview After Failing to Dictate Conditions (PAUL HEINTZ, JAN 29, 2018, 7 Days)

A spokesman for Sanders, Daniel McLean, called the reporter Sunday evening to offer up an interview with his boss the next morning. McLean said Sanders could make time for a brief interview after appearing at a press conference at Burlington International Airport and before boarding a plane to Washington, D.C. 

But McLean made clear that two subjects would be off the table: Sanders, the spokesman said, was not interested in answering questions about "political gossip" nor about the senator's family. He did not elaborate on either condition. (Sanders' wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, has been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors over her role leading the now-defunct Burlington college. His stepdaughter, Carina Driscoll, is running for mayor of Burlington.)

The reporter informed McLean that Seven Days does not allow politicians to set such restrictions in exchange for access. He also noted that it would be impossible to ask substantive, policy-oriented questions in such a brief exchange. 

On Monday morning, as Sanders arrived at the airport press conference, McLean reneged on the offer. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


We Can't Win in Afghanistan Because We Don't Know Why We're There (STEVE COLL, JAN. 26, 2018, NY Times)

For years, almost every American general dispatched to command the Afghan war has conceded that the conflict must ultimately end with a political settlement, supported by regional powers, and that there is no purely military solution possible against the Taliban. Nonetheless, the United States continues to prioritize military action over diplomacy. Stalemated civil wars like Afghanistan's can last a very long time. They end only through negotiations with the enemy.

The Obama administration tried talking in secret to the Taliban and made some progress but was undone by the contradictions in its own strategy and by Inter-Services Intelligence, which wanted a hand in any deal, even though the Taliban's leadership preferred to be free from Pakistan's influence. Many Afghan government officials and former Taliban leaders have tried on their own to talk their way to peace during the past decade; some have been assassinated by hard-liners.

For the United States, an alternative to pursuing difficult and uncertain negotiations would be to give up and leave, but the most likely result of a unilateral military pullout now would be more violence and rising influence for the Taliban and the Islamic State.

The most rational course is one for which President Trump would seem poorly suited: to work closely with allies, prioritize high-level diplomacy, be smart in pressuring the Inter-Services Intelligence and accept that in Afghanistan, a starting point for any international policy is humility.

Trump rejects peace talks with Taliban in departure from Afghan strategy (Roberta Rampton, Jonathan Landay, 1/29/18, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday rejected the idea of talks with the Taliban after a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan, in an apparent contradiction of his own strategy to end America's longest foreign war.

Trump condemned the militant group for the carnage in Kabul and pledged to "finish what we have to finish."

Trump's comments suggest he sees a military victory over the Taliban, an outcome that military and diplomatic officials say cannot be achieved with the resources and manpower he has authorized.

When he announced an increase in U.S. troops to Afghanistan in August, U.S. officials said the goal was to force the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Russia is shrinking again (Meduza, 29 january 2018)

According to figures released by the Federal Statistics Agency, the number of people living in Russia fell by 134,000 in 2017. [...] Russia's birth rate fell to a 10-year low, hitting 1.69 million births in 2017 -- 203,000 fewer than a year before. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Israel supports Rwandan resolution, breaks with U.S. (Barak Ravid, 1/29/18, Axios)

"One of the reasons for co-sponsoring the resolution was the deportation deal with Rwanda," a senior Israeli official told me. "One line connects the Kagame government revisionism about the Genocide and the new revisionist law in Poland about the Holocaust. It is sad we are cooperating with Kagame on this"

Thousands of African asylum seekers are being deported from Israel to Rwanda. The deportation is set to begin in a few weeks.

Western diplomats told me the U.S., Canada and E.U. objected to the Rwandan draft resolution. They added that U.S. diplomats in New York even asked their Israeli counterparts to press their Rwandan allies to back off from the resolution.

The U.S. was amazed to find out that Israel refused to do so, per the same diplomats. Not only that -- Israeli diplomats told their American counterparts that Israel has decided to co-sponsor the resolution.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


'Expensive' placebos work better than 'cheap' ones, study finds (Karen Kaplan, JAN 28, 2015, Los Angeles Times)
How do you convert a simple saline solution into a useful treatment for people with Parkinson's disease? Tell them it's a drug that costs $100 per dose. And if you want to make it even more effective, tell them it costs $1,500 instead.

That's what researchers from the University of Cincinnati discovered in an unusual clinical trial. Instead of testing a placebo against an actual drug, they pitted two placebos against each other. The only difference between the two sham treatments was their purported price.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Study suggests Trump's "Muslim ban" actually improved attitudes toward Muslims (Tara Isabella Burton, Jan. 10th, 2018, Vox)

The team surveyed 423 people in early 2017, right before and then about a week after Trump signed the executive order. The study's authors concluded that the media backlash to the ban and the national conversation it prompted caused many participants to reevaluate their views. More than 30 percent of participants said they felt more negatively about the ban a week after its announcement than they did in the days leading up to it.

This is striking in part because, according to the study's authors, sudden significant shifts in public opinion tend to be rare. Second, those whose views shifted most radically were those who cited their identity as Americans as a major part of their self-conception overall. This suggests that public debate that centered on the Muslim ban being "un-American," or otherwise counter to American values of openness and hospitality toward foreigners, had contributed to this shift. Write the study's authors:

In the hours and days after the executive order was signed we also demonstrated that the information environment -- which overwhelmingly focused on the ban above other news events and executive orders -- painted the ban, to some degree, as inherently un-American. Challenges to the ban were numerous, with protesters, media commentators, and elites repeatedly and openly critiquing it as fundamentally incompatible with core American values.

In other words, when challenged by what the paper's authors describe as a media atmosphere focusing on what it "means" to be American, respondents generally found that "Americanness" meant inclusivity, not isolation.

They are American; Donald isn't.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


A cow escaped a farm to live with wild bison, but it could have devastating consequences (Darin Graham, 1/27/18, Independent)

A domesticated cow escaped her farm last Autumn and has been roaming with a herd of wild bison ever since, but her winter adventure must end soon. [...]

[B]iologist and bison expert Rafal Kowalcyzk reportedly spotted the cow again this week and said she seemed to be in good condition and was able to keep up with the bison. [...]

[T]he offspring could likely disrupt the genetics of the small and endangered bison population in Poland - a lot of work went into restoring them after they faced extinction following the First World War.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


How Trump may end up expanding Medicaid, whether he means to or not (Jeff Stein January 28, 2018, Washington Post)

Republican lawmakers in a half-dozen states are launching fresh efforts to expand Medicaid, the nation's health insurance program for the poor, as party holdouts who had blocked the expansion say they're now open to it because of Trump administration guidelines allowing states to impose new requirements that program recipients work to get benefits.

In Utah, a Republican legislator working with the GOP governor says he hopes to pass a Medicaid expansion plan with work requirements within the year. In Idaho, a conservative lawmaker who steadfastly opposed Medicaid expansion in the past says the new requirements make him more open to the idea. And in Wyoming, a Republican senator who previously opposed expansion -- a key part of President Barack Obama's health-care law -- says he's ready to take another look at fellow Republicans' expansion efforts in his state. [...]

The new Trump administration rules may also shake up the balance of power in state-level struggles over Medicaid expansion. Thirty-two states and the District have expanded Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, giving health care to approximately 13 million additional people. (Maine voters approved a Medicaid expansion in a November ballot referendum, but it has not yet taken effect.)

The other 17 states are overwhelmingly GOP-dominated. In many, Democrats and some moderate Republicans repeatedly have attempted expansions, hoping to take advantage of federal funding available to provide health insurance for low-income patients. But they've seen their efforts thwarted by conservative lawmakers and governors, who argue that expansion would give health care to "able-bodied" Americans and explode state budgets.

Now, moderate Republicans hope to win over their conservative colleagues by packaging the expansion with work requirements or other limits on who is eligible for the program, under what circumstances and for how long.

Their chances of success vary widely depending on the state. In Utah, a Republican lawmaker who has opposed a more generous Medicaid expansion is working with a supportive governor and leaders in the state's House and Senate on a version that would include work requirements. [...]

"There will be state legislators who were previously skeptical of Medicaid expansion, but who now think they can get behind it," said Akash Chougule, director of Americans for Prosperity, a right-leaning political advocacy group affiliated with the Koch brothers. "But for us, the fact remains that expanding eligibility will massively increase spending costs. That might be blunted a little bit by a work requirement, but we will continue to resist those calls to expand."

The GOP can't repeal Obamacare, only make it more expensive

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


In Article of Impeachment Against Donald J. Trump (David Leonhardt JAN. 28, 2018, NY Times)

1. During a dinner at the White House on Jan. 27, 2017, Trump asked for a pledge of "loyalty" from James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, who was overseeing the investigation of the Trump campaign.

2. On Feb. 14, Trump directed several other officials to leave the Oval Office so he could speak privately with Comey. He then told Comey to "let this go," referring to the investigation of Michael Flynn, who had resigned the previous day as Trump's national security adviser.

3. On March 22, Trump directed several other officials to leave a White House briefing so he could speak privately with Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director. Trump asked them to persuade Comey to back off investigating Flynn.

4. In March and April, Trump told Comey in phone calls that he wanted Comey to lift the "cloud" of the investigation.

5. On May 9, Trump fired Comey as F.B.I. director. On May 10, Trump told Russian officials that the firing had "taken off" the "great pressure" of the Russia investigation. On May 11, he told NBC News that the firing was because of "this Russia thing."

6. On May 17, shortly after hearing that the Justice Department had appointed Mueller to take over the Russia investigation, Trump berated Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. The appointment had caused the administration again to lose control over the investigation, and Trump accused Sessions of "disloyalty."

7. In June, Trump explored several options to retake control. At one point, he ordered the firing of Mueller, before the White House counsel resisted.

8. On July 8, aboard Air Force One, Trump helped draft a false public statement for his son, Donald Trump Jr. The statement claimed that a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer was about adoption policy. Trump Jr. later acknowledged that the meeting was to discuss damaging information the Russian government had about Hillary Clinton. ...

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Lawmakers call on Trump to drop bid for legal immigration cuts (David Nakamura January 28, 2018, Washington Post)

Congress members, including some Republicans, said Sunday that the negotiations have gone too far afield ahead of a March 5 deadline after which 690,000 dreamers in an Obama-era deferred action program could begin to lose their protections from deportation.

"It seems to me that the two important things to tackle right now . . . are to protect the dreamers and also to strengthen border security," Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

She called Trump's proposals to reform legal immigration "very important" but also "very complicated."

Appearing after Collins on the same show, Reps. Will Hurd (R-Tx.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) -- who have proposed a House bill to provide legal status to dreamers and bolster border security -- agreed that addressing the legal immigration system in the negotiations over dreamers is implausible.

"I still believe that a narrow bill is most important; the thing that we can get through our Congress, both houses, in the House and in the Senate," said Hurd, who represents a district with more than 800 miles of border with Mexico. "Because the more things you add, you start creating coalitions of opposition. And so let's keep this narrow."

The budget deal will legalize the Dreamers, retain chain migration for everyone they've ever met, and some token money for Donald to play with his wall.  We all win--except his base...

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Vermont Eyes Plan to Boost Its Population (Wilson Ring, 1/28/18, Associated Press)

Vermont officials are hoping a new program that would use cutting-edge, targeted marketing and a host of incentives, both economic and emotional, can attract new people to live in the Green Mountain State, helping to alleviate what is fast becoming a chronic labor shortage caused by a stagnant, aging population.

While similar efforts are underway in a number of states, the push to bring new people to Vermont is part of a broader economic program that would also help train people to fill hundreds of well-paying jobs and encourage people who have left the workforce to go back to work.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


GOP Governors Popular in Democratic States (Steve Leblanc, 1/28/18, Associated Press)

It seems to be working for Baker; the same poll found that while Warren is viewed favorably by 54 percent of Massachusetts voters, Baker is viewed favorably by a hefty 66 percent. And comparisons of the affable and unflappable Baker with the unpredictable Trump don't hurt, either.

Other Republican governors remain popular in Democratic states despite Trump.

A poll released in September found 62 percent of Maryland residents approve of the job Gov. Larry Hogan is doing. In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott, who recently signed a bill legalizing marijuana, also remains popular.

Scott is a favorite with voters in part by distancing himself from the more unpopular policies of the Trump administration and tactics of congressional Republicans, said Eric Davis, a professor emeritus of political science at Vermont's Middlebury College.

Hogan has maintained his popularity in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 by focusing on improving the business climate, lowering traffic tolls, pushing for tax relief and taking steps to stem climate change. And he kept his sense of humor while fighting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma his first year in office, participating in a minor-league baseball promotion that included two bobbleheads: one of him with hair and one without.

In Massachusetts, Trump's unpopularity has allowed Baker to reject the president's more extreme rhetoric while keeping communication open with the White House.

The tightrope-walking started well before Trump's election, when Baker vowed not to vote for Trump even after the presidential nomination. Baker said he voted for other offices on the November ballot but blanked the presidential tally.

Most recently, Baker called on Trump to apologize for vulgar language attributed to him during an Oval Office meeting, describing as "appalling and disgraceful" the comments Trump made while questioning why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and Africa, rather than places like Norway.

Baker told reporters Trump "owes an apology to all of the people who he broad-brushed with those statements."

The governor also took a jab during his annual State of the State address Tuesday. Without mentioning Trump, Baker said it's important to keep political debates civil.

"That doesn't mean we always have to agree. We won't," Baker said. "Some of us will agree with each other most of the time. Some will agree some of the time. And some will never agree at all. That's OK. That's called 'democracy,' and more often than not, it works."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Rep. Trey Gowdy Admits Republicans Are 'Overstating' Accusations Against FBI (Tommy Christopher, January 28, 2018, ShareBlue)

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace called Republicans out for their "secret society" lie, and Gowdy made a stunning admission.

"Don't Republicans hurt their credibility on real issues of bias when they make such a big deal about secret societies and palace coups?" Wallace asked.

"Yes," Gowdy replied, adding "Republicans are the best I've ever seen at taking good facts and overstating them, and therefore changing the narrative."

Dude's too honest for the moonbats' good.

Republican Investigator Trey Gowdy Stops Pretending, Admits 'This Is Politics' (Jonathan Chait, 10/23/17, New York)
Trey Gowdy has been running point for the House Republican investigation into the Russia scandal, at times going so far as to act like Jared Kushner's personal defense lawyer. Gowdy's response to the New York Times about the Russia probe is a world-weary pose of realism. "Congressional investigations unfortunately are usually overtly political investigations, where it is to one side's advantage to drag things out," says Gowdy. "The notion that one side is playing the part of defense attorney and that the other side is just these white-hat defenders of the truth is laughable ... This is politics."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Rep. Devin Nunes, Trump's stooge, attacks FBI (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, January 25, 2018, Fresno Bee)

It's no accident that this latest attempt to discredit the FBI and distract the public is happening at the same time special counsel Robert Mueller's probe appears to be picking up steam - and focusing on possible obstruction of justice by the president.

Reports this week say that Mueller's team has interviewed former FBI Director James Comey - fired by Trump over the Russia probe - and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the investigation. Reports also say that Mueller wants to soon interview Trump about the dismissal of Comey, as well as the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with investigators. [...]

Nunes of Tulare is sheltered in a relatively safe Republican district, and may believe he will pay no political price for unfairly attacking law enforcement and protecting Trump. But his performance as chairman of the highly sensitive House Intelligence Committee has been nothing short of embarrassing.

Instead of taking Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election seriously and leading an impartial and bipartisan inquiry, Nunes has colluded with the White House. Last March, Nunes said he'd seen secret intelligence reports backing Trump's claims that President Barack Obama had "wiretapped" his offices, but it turned out the documents came from the administration.

The blowback forced Nunes to step away from the Russia investigation. But he never fully recused himself and after the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee in December cleared him of disclosing classified information, he raised his profile again.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Secret Memo Hints at a New Republican Target: Rod Rosenstein (NICHOLAS FANDOS, ADAM GOLDMAN and SHARON LaFRANIEREJAN. 28, 2018, NY Times)

A secret, highly contentious Republican memo reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate shortly after taking office last spring, according to three people familiar with it.

The renewal shows that the Justice Department under President Trump saw reason to believe that the associate, Carter Page, was acting as a Russian agent. 

Investigation revealed that his trip to Moscow and speech were paid for by the Russians and that, while there, he met with officials about supporting Donald.  He was a Russian/Trump agent.

January 28, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Legislative staffers say pro-Trump supporters called them 'illegal' for being dark-skinned (Ben Giles and Paulina Pineda  January 26, 2018 , Arizonna Capitol Times)

Supporters of President Donald Trump singled out dark-skinned lawmakers, legislative staffers and children at the Capitol on Jan. 25 as they protested congressional efforts to pass immigration reform, according to staffers of the Arizona Legislature and two Democratic legislators.

Waving large flags in support of Trump while standing between the House and Senate buildings, the protesters, who were also armed, asked just about anyone who crossed their path if they "support illegal immigration."

They called some "illegal" and told them to "go home," barbs they reserved for those with brown skin, according to the staffers.

Two women who said they were part of the protest against illegal immigration at the Capitol vehemently denied accusations that they singled out dark-skinned people and accused them of being illegal immigrants.

But Lisette Flores and Selianna Robles, policy advisors for Senate Democrats, said they were yelled at when they walked from the Senate to the House lawn, directly passing the Trump supporters, to get lunch at a farmers market. Three white coworkers offered to escort Flores, Robles, and Democratic staffer Dora Ramirez back to their offices, Robles said.

"We're walking back, and they start yelling again, 'Get out of the country.' At that point, they pointed to Lisette, called her an illegal, and said, 'Get out, go back home!'" Robles said. "But they pointed at Jane (Ahern), who works for the House, and they said, 'No, you can stay.'"

Ahern, a policy advisor for House Democrats, is white.

"I was born in California," said Flores. "I'm obviously of Mexican descent, so I think in that group I'm the darkest one. Selianna and Dora, they're light-skinned Latinos. So, I think probably that's why they pointed at me out of a group of six."

"They assume things about you. There's not much we can do," said Robles, an Arizona native raised in the town of San Luis. "We work for the state, we're public servants, and we're just here to do our job."

Lawmakers said they were also questioned based on their appearance. Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle, said he was confronted by Trump supporters while helping defend a young student that he said was being harassed.

They asked Descheenie, a Navajo lawmaker, if he was in the United States illegally.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Deadline looms for Trump and Russia sanctions: The president has until Monday to implement stiff penalties targeting the Kremlin -- and lawmakers aren't sure he'll comply on time. (ELANA SCHOR, 01/28/2018, Politico)

President Donald Trump's willingness to crack down on Russia will be seriously tested come Monday.

Trump faces a major deadline to use the Russia sanctions power that Congress overwhelmingly voted to give him -- and it's anybody's guess as to whether he'll comply on time after missing the last deadline.

Scrutiny is high, amid lingering suspicion of Trump's eagerness to mend fences with Russia and with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation still digging into election meddling by Moscow. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remain keen to get tough on Vladimir Putin's government.

And they have reason to worry about whether the popular sanctions package Trump reluctantly signed in August will be implemented just as hesitantly.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


As Trump Prepares For Big Speech, State Of The Economy Is Strong (Scott Horsley, 1/28/18, NPR)

The U.S. economy is benefiting from a global recovery in which major markets around the world are expanding simultaneously for the first time in years. [...]


The stock market is surging. Last year, the Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all logged their biggest gains in four years, and the runup has continued in the first month of 2018. That's good news for investors and anyone with a stock-based retirement plan. The vast majority of gains, however, have gone to people who are already at the top of the income ladder. Nearly half of all Americans don't own any stocks at all.


Ordinary wage-earners have yet to see big pay raises, despite the steadily improving job market. Wages grew by an average of 2.5 percent last year, just barely ahead of inflation.

Gary Cohn, who directs the president's National Economic Council, acknowledged there is a lot of room for improvement.

"For the last three, four, five years, we've had no wage growth in the United States," Cohn told reporters last week. [...]

U.S. energy production is also booming. Domestic oil producers are expected to pump a record 10.4 million barrels per day this year, surpassing Saudi Arabia's output. The Trump administration has encouraged that growth by opening more land and offshore waters to drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. But the energy surge was already underway when Trump took office, largely driven by technological developments such as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."

"The global energy market has been turned upside down by what's happening in the United States in terms of shale gas and shale oil," said energy historian Daniel Yergin of IHS Markit.

That's having positive ripple effects far beyond the oil patch. "Inexpensive natural gas has led to well north of $100 billion of new investment in U.S. manufacturing and has made the U.S. a destination for manufacturing investment which was hardly the case a decade ago," said Yergin, author of The Prize and The Quest. [...]

Although Trump campaigned against America's rising trade deficit, it has only widened on his watch. In the first 11 months of 2017, the deficit was 12 percent larger than the year before.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Why Pats don't get tight when games do (Karen Guregian Sunday, January 28, 2018, Boston Herald)


There's being prepared. And then there's what happens when you're coached by Belichick. The Patriots know the rules, and they know what can and can't happen for every conceivable situation that could play out.

"We're just really prepared for each and every situation because in games like this it's usually one or two plays that dictate the game," safety Duron Harmon said Wednesday. "You can play a perfect game for 59 minutes and make one mistake in the last minute of the game and cost your team the win. We just do a great job of just preparing for situations. Making sure that whatever situation comes up that we're comfortable enough to get through it and play through it . . . when you practice it as much as we do, it becomes second nature."

Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison had no idea how many meetings could be squeezed into a day -- until he arrived in Foxboro. It's about knowing the opponent inside out, so you can play freely and without hesitation. As we know, Malcolm Butler practiced the situation for his Super Bowl XLIX-saving interception against Russell Wilson in the week leading up to the game many times.

"It's confidence, it's preparation, it's going over things time and time again. It's all the walkthroughs, the meetings, being able to see things on the field before they happen, because you've studied film, and you're so well-prepared. That's a key," former Patriots safety and two-time Super Bowl winner Rodney Harrison said. "So when you see the Malcolm Butler play, or the Stephon Gilmore play (against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game), or the Dont'a Hightower play (against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI), you're not surprised, because they prepared for that all season."

According to Matthew Slater, when you're as prepared as the Patriots, it allows you to play with a certain confidence and sense of calm -- whether it's the first minutes of the game, or the final anxious minutes with a Super Bowl weighing in the balance.

"When you prepare properly, it allows you to play with confidence, regardless of the situation," Slater said. "It allows you to play with poise, because you've done it before. You understand what's happening. I think that preparation is a big part of it."

Physical conditioning [...]

Former Patriots center Damien Woody offered a different angle on this.

"Belichick used to say fatigue would make a coward out of any player. If you're out of shape, that's when you lose your mental edge," Woody said. "So he was a stickler for you being in top shape, being smart, knowing your opponent, and knowing the situations. If you do those things, that's the difference. That's what gives you the edge over your opponents."

Mental conditioning [...]

"Coach (Belichick) makes it as hard on us during the course of the week, and that in turn mentally conditions us for the stressful situations," Slater said Thursday. "It allows us to go out and execute in those stressful situations."

Woody once described the Belichick environment as being "demanding" and "there's just no way you can be comfortable in that environment."

But, as former Patriots defensive end Andre Carter explained, there is a method behind the madness.

"There are going to be times in a game where it gets down to inches. Well, most guys who tighten up aren't able to perform to the best of their ability," said Carter, an assistant coach with the Dolphins this season. "So he'll put you in uncomfortable situations, so that teaches you to be mentally strong." [...]

Right personnel

Belichick always seems to find the right guys, and they're always in the right place, at the right time. They're selfless and hard working, and they're always making plays at the most critical moments. They may not be superstars, but the plays they make are significant just the same. [...]

Said Harrison: "When you win in Super Bowls, it's the stars that get all the credit, but it's the role players that get you to the championship. You have to have role players play well in big moments. And that's what they've been able to do, whether it's Dion Lewis, Amendola, it can't be all about your stars. Brady and (Rob Gronkowski) will always get the highlight. But when you're trying to win a championship, or close playoff games, it comes down to the role players."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Thousands of Syrians in the US await pivotal decision on protections : This week Trump's administration may revoke temporary protected status for thousands and send them back to dangerous conditions (Amanda Holpuch, 28 Jan 2018, The Guardian)

These Syrians have temporary protected status (TPS), which allows people to stay and work in the US because of dangerous conditions in their home country. The US government warned this month that no place in Syria is safe from violence, but humanitarian groups are concerned the administration's anti-immigrant policies - specifically towards people from Muslim-majority countries - suggest it will not renew TPS.

Three days before the 30 January deadline to decide, the lives of people like Michael Shakur, a 25-year-old who fled Aleppo in October 2014, hang in the balance.

Shakur traveled to the US legally in January 2015 and eventually qualified for TPS. He is alone in Brooklyn, where he has difficulty finding work because potential employers know his TPS could expire. He has applied for asylum, but the processing system is backlogged.

Despite the challenges, Shakur said he is grateful "every second" for TPS. "This is a chance at life, a chance to escape the pointless misery that was in Syria," Shakur told the Guardian.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Money for nothing: is Finland's universal basic income trial too good to be true? : Europe's first national experiment in giving citizens free cash has attracted huge media attention. But one year in, what does this project really hope to prove? (Jon Henley, 12 Jan 2018, The Guardian)

While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland's trial was launched - at a cost of around €20m (£17.7m) - by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland's stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work.

Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract.

"It's partly about removing disincentives," explained Marjukka Turunen, who heads the legal unit at Finland's social security agency, Kela, which is running the experiment. Kanerva describes the trial as "an experiment in smoothing out the system".

To maintain privacy and avoid bias, Kela is not contacting any of the 2,000 participants for the duration of the two-year trial. A handful have given interviews to journalists (several have said they feel less stressed thanks to the scheme), but no official conclusions are yet being drawn from these anecdotal experiences.

According to Kanerva, however, the core data the government is seeking - on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group - will be "robust, and usable in future economic modelling" when it is published in 2019.

Unintended benefits
The idea of UBI had been circulating in left-of-centre political circles in Finland since the 1980s, mainly as a way to combat the economic and social consequences of falling industrial employment by freeing all - from students to the elderly; stay-at-home parents to the unemployed - to make meaningful contributions to society by, for example, volunteering.

Appealing both to the left (who believe it can cut poverty and inequality) and, more recently, to the right (as a possible way to a leaner, less bureaucratic welfare system), UBI looks all the more attractive amid warnings that automation could threaten up to a third of current jobs in the west within 20 years. Other basic income schemes are now being tested from Ontario to rural Kenya, and Glasgow to Barcelona. [...]

The trial data may also allow the government to spend less on bureaucracy by simplifying Finland's complex social security system - currently, it offers more than 40 different means-tested benefits - which is struggling to cope with a 21st-century labour market of part timers, short-term contracts and start-ups.

The benefit system is simply "not suited to modern working patterns", Turunen said. "We have too many benefits. People don't understand what they're entitled to or how they can get it. Even experts don't understand. For example, it's very hard to be in the benefit system in Finland if you are self-employed - you have to prove your income time and time and time again."

Perhaps most significantly, the trial marks "a real breakthrough for field experiments", according to Kanerva. Rolled out in record time and after a brief, one-line pledge in the government's platform, it had to function alongside all existing social security laws and clear numerous legal obstacles - including Finland's constitution, which requires all citizens to be treated equally.

It's not a question of whether, but of how such programs will be implemented.  The more experimentation the better.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll - January 2018: The Public's Priorities and Next Steps for the Affordable Care Act (Ashley Kirzinger, Bryan Wu, and Mollyann Brodie, 1/28/18, KFF)

Health care is at the top of a group of issues that voters want 2018 midterm candidates to talk about, but it's a much higher priority for Democratic voters (39 percent) and independent voters (32 percent) than Republican voters (13 percent); and a lower priority than other issues among voters living in areas where there are competitive 2018 House, Senate, or Governor races.

The current debate in Congress is about passing a budget to keep the government funded beyond February 8, 2018, in return for a deal on immigration policy and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Providing federal funding for President Trump's plan to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico ranks the lowest (21 percent) among the public's priorities for the president and Congress, well behind other health-related priorities as well as passing DACA legislation. Passing federal funding for a border wall is tied for fourth (of eight priorities) among Republicans (43 percent). [..]

Most believe Medicaid is primarily a government health insurance program that helps people pay for health care while one-fourth (27 percent) believe it is primarily a welfare program. There are partisan differences; overwhelming majorities of Democrats (82 percent) and independents (72 percent) say it is a government health insurance program, while Republicans are divided with about half (51 percent) saying it is a government health insurance program and about half (46 percent) saying Medicaid is primarily a welfare program. [...]

At the start of 2018, the public is more favorable in their views of the ACA, with 50 percent saying they have a favorable view and 42 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. [...]

The majority of the public (61 percent) say since President Trump and Republicans in Congress have made changes to the ACA, they are responsible for any problems with it moving forward, compared to about three in ten (27 percent) who say that because President Obama and Democrats in Congress passed the law, they are responsible for any problems with it.  [...]

In terms of how the public views the legislative priorities for President Trump and Republicans in Congress, passing federal funding for President Trump's plan to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico ranks the lowest among the public (21 percent) - considerably lower than passing a federal budget to prevent a government shutdown (57 percent), stabilizing the ACA marketplaces where people who don't get health insurance through their employer can buy coverage (51 percent), addressing the prescription painkiller addiction epidemic (48 percent), and passing legislation to allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S. (45 percent). [...]

As Congress continues to work on a federal budget, some lawmakers have suggested making cuts to government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Few Americans - regardless of party identification - want to see Congress decrease spending on Social Security (5 percent), Medicare (7 percent), or Medicaid (12 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Ode to a Washing Machine : Trump's tariffs on solar panels are bad for the U.S. economy and the environment. Let us not forget: So are his tariffs on the hero of the laundry room. (Megan McArdle, January 26, 2018, Bloomberg)

Politics aside, let me state clearly: Raising the cost of solar panels will have an adverse impact on the jobs of solar panel installers, and mean more power generated from dirtier, limited resources. These tariffs are economically distortionary and bad for Americans, and they should be lifted.

But the impact on American consumers of higher washing machine prices is immensely greater than the impact of higher solar panel prices. By the end of 2016, there were something north of 1.3 million solar panel installations, total, in the U.S. By contrast, around 10 million washing machines are sold every year. LG has already told retailers that it will be raising prices as a result of the tariffs, which means that the next time consumers go to buy a new washer, their options will be less attractive than those they would have enjoyed in the absence of the tariffs.

When protectionism is not about protecting America at all (George F. Will, January 26, 2018, Washington Post)

Fomenting spurious anxieties about national security is the first refuge of rent-seeking scoundrels who tart up their protectionism as patriotism when they inveigle government into lining their pockets with money extracted from their fellow citizens. Sugar producers are ludicrously protected in the name of "food security." Most U.S. steel imports come from four important allies: Canada, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil. The coming steel tariffs/taxes will mean that defense dollars will buy fewer ships, tanks and armored vehicles, just as the trillion infrastructure dollars the administration talks about will buy fewer bridges and other steel-using projects. As Henry George said, with protectionism a nation does to itself in peacetime what an enemy tries to do to it in war.

Will the Liberals Take the Lead on Trade? : The populist Right turns its back on free enterprise. (Kevin D. Williamson, January 25, 2018, National Review)

[T]he Left's hostility to capitalism comes in colors other than red, from labor unions (some of them staunchly anti-Communist) seeking to put industrial production under political discipline to the progressive tendency to regard the pursuit of profit as inherently distasteful, especially when it is used to provide services such as education and infrastructure development, which they see as the moral property of the state. That leads to some strange outcomes, such as the American Left's obsession with privately operated prisons, as though the abuses at lockups such as Rikers Island were somehow less horrifying for having been conducted by government employees. The Left's opposition to doing things like helping poor black kids from Washington attend better schools is similarly rooted in revulsion to free-market alternatives to political duchies.

There also is a tradition, small but persistent, of anti-capitalism on the right, one that is bound up in primitive attitudes about shadowy "elites" -- very much back in fashion -- associated with big business, especially bankers, and especially especially Jewish bankers. From Henry Ford to Charles Lindbergh to Pat Buchanan to the so-called alt-right, right-wing anti-capitalism has been very closely associated with a belief that Jews exercise an occult and outsized influence on American affairs. Right-wing anti-capitalism is rooted in hostility toward foreigners and in a bias against economic interactions with them, which are believed to be necessarily impoverishing. (Left-wing anti-capitalism is not immune to this, but has a more developed ideological basis.) The anti-Semitism associated with right-wing anti-capitalism is a reflection of the fact that in the Western mind the Jew is simply a native foreigner, in Christendom but not of it. Like the anti-Semitism that almost invariably accompanies it, anti-capitalism is a superstition, a religious conviction that is absolutely impervious to argument and evidence. It has, at its extremes, effects that are indistinguishable from those of mental illness.

Opposition to free trade has long been at the center of populist and right-wing anti-capitalism, partly because it has long been associated in the right-wing mind with projects for one-world government. Here the Left and the Right exhibit similarities in their political imaginations...

January 27, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


This Is How You Escape a Cheetah, if You're an Impala : Years of study in Botswana yielded the first stride-by-stride data on how lions and cheetahs hunt zebras and impalas, and how these prey flee their predators. (STEPH YIN JAN. 24, 2018, NY Times)

In the new study, led by Alan Wilson, a professor of locomotor biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London, researchers captured thousands of high-speed runs by fitting five cheetahs, seven impalas, nine lions and seven zebras with custom collars that could record each animal's location, speed, acceleration, deceleration and turning performance many times per second. They also took tiny muscle biopsies from each animal.

Though cheetahs and impalas were universally more athletic than lions and zebras, both cheetahs and lions had a similar advantage over their prey -- they were 38 percent faster, 37 percent better at accelerating, 72 percent better at decelerating and their muscles were 20 percent more powerful.

This makes sense because the predators are always a step behind, Dr. Wilson said. They have to run faster to catch up, but they must also be able to decelerate quickly in case their targets decide to suddenly slow down and turn.

The data also showed that impalas and zebras were typically moving at only half their maximum speed when running from their pursuers. To confirm why, the scientists created a computer model that simulated the last moments of a hunt, after a predator has closed in enough to capture its prey within two strides.

A cheetah's claws are semi-retractable and give them more grip for better maneuvering. Credit Alan Wilson/Royal Veterinary College, London
The model showed that impalas and zebras have the best chance of making a getaway if they run at moderate speeds, because that leaves more options for maneuvering away at the last second.

"If you're running flat out, there's not much you can do to stop a lion from anticipating exactly where you're going to be in two strides' time," Dr. Wilson said.

Running at a lower speed, however, means an animal can speed up or slow down. It can also make far sharper twists and turns than if it were running at full steam.

The consistent difference in athleticism between the cats and their prey helps maintain balanced numbers of each group in the savanna, Dr. Wilson added. Generally, cheetahs and lions are successful at catching their prey one out of every three hunts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Trump sought release of classified Russia memo, putting him at odds with Justice Department (Ashley Parker, Rosalind S. Helderman, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig, January 27, 2018, Washington Post)

On Wednesday, as Republicans were clamoring to make public a secret document that they think will undercut the investigation into Russian meddling, President Trump made clear his desire: release the memo.

Trump's directive was at odds with his own Justice Department, which had warned that releasing the classified memo written by congressional Republicans would be "extraordinarily reckless" without an official review. Nevertheless, White House chief of staff John F. Kelly relayed the president's view to Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- though the decision to release the document ultimately lies with Congress.

Kelly and Sessions spoke twice that day -- in person during a small-group afternoon meeting and in a phone call later that evening, and Kelly conveyed Trump's desire, a senior administration official said.

If the Executive says something isn't classified, it isn't.  Release everything.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Tourism in the US collapses during first year of Trump: Latest government travel data described as "deeply concerning". (James Hetherington, January 26, 2018, IB Times)

The United States' bustling tourism sector has taken a considerable hit since Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017.

According to a new report, the US economy attracted four percent less tourists throughout 2017 than in Obama's final year in charge. May had the highest drop of tourism, falling by almost nine percent. According to CBS Connecticut, the US missed out on around $4.6 billion (£3.2 billion) in tourism revenue during the first six months of Trump's reign.

Foreign investors are also avoiding the United States, costing the country about 40,000 potential jobs.

Tourism Economics' Adam Sacks told the New York Times: "It's not a reach to say the rhetoric and policies of this administration are affecting sentiment around the world, creating antipathy toward the US and affecting travel behaviour."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Russian bots retweeted Trump nearly 500,000 times in final weeks of 2016 campaign (Donie O'Sullivan, 1/28/17, CNNMoney)

Russian-linked automated Twitter accounts, or bots, retweeted Donald Trump almost half a million times in the final weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Twitter told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The 50,000 automated accounts the company determined had ties to Russia sent more than 2 million election-related tweets between September 1 and November 15, 2016. [...]

The 50,000 accounts retweeted Wikileaks almost 200,000 times during the ten-week period, Twitter (TWTR)said.

When hacked emails from the personal accounts of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were first released by Wikileaks in October 2016, it prompted the hashtag #PodestaEmails. The automated accounts were responsible for nearly 5% of all tweets containing the hashtag, Twitter found.

Automated Twitter accounts that retweet or tweet the same thing en masse can create talking points that appear to have more support than they actually do.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Wynn resigns as RNC finance chair after sexual misconduct allegations (Steve Holland, 1/27/18, Reuters) 

Las Vegas cas[**]o mogul Steve Wynn resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee on Saturday, a day after the Wall Street Journal reported he routinely subjected women who worked for him to unwanted sexual advances.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Frustrated by Russia investigation, Trump turns ire toward Rosenstein (Sara Murray, Kara Scannell, Dana Bash and Pamela Brown, 1/27/18, CNN)

Months after his reported effort to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, President Donald Trump is still fuming over the Russia investigation and has Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his crosshairs.

The President has been venting about Rosenstein -- who oversees Mueller and the special counsel investigation -- in recent weeks, according to four sources familiar with the situation. At times, Trump even gripes about wanting Rosenstein removed, two of those sources said. One source said the President makes comments like "let's fire him, let's get rid of him" before his advisers convince him it's an ill-fated idea.

It's the same old fake news every day.  First the press and prosecutors discover more corruption and then Donald tries to fire someone in law enforcement.  When's this tired old story going to change?

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Intelligence Community Looking At Crowdsourcing For Predicting Geopolitical Events (Mary Louise Kelly, , January 26, 2018, All Things Considered)

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Seth Goldstein, a program manager for Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, about the $200,000 prize offered to anyone able to demonstrate accurate forecasting of a geopolitical event via crowdsourcing. [...]

GOLDSTEIN: So this program was about improving on what was then a very limited state of the art in crowdsourced forecasting. We achieved that in that program. We beat the existing state of the art by greater than 50 percent. You all did a story on it.

KELLY: Yeah.

GOLDSTEIN: And taking that method as the state of the art, IARPA is launching this Geopolitical Forecasting Challenge by giving those who are interested access to a data stream based on the method that was so successful there.

KELLY: So here's my question - why does a crowd of individuals stand a better chance of forecasting something accurately than one really smart person sitting there with a classified security clearance who has access to all of the information that the intelligence community has?

GOLDSTEIN: The problem with expert judgment generally is that it's difficult to know in advance which expert is going to make a correct forecast on any particular event.

KELLY: Inevitably, somebody might get it right, somebody might get it wrong.

GOLDSTEIN: Somebody might get it one time and they might get it wrong another time. The idea behind crowdsourcing is that if you assemble a reasonably sized crowd, a large crowd of hundreds or even thousands of people making judgments, the idea of there being any particular directional bias in some aggregate of that judgment is reduced. It's not to say experts can't make accurate forecasts. It's to say if you had to choose a method, this might serve you better.

KELLY: It seems like there's a conundrum inherent in here for you. If crowdsourcing by ordinary civilians can out-forecast, you know, the smartest minds of the intelligence community, if this project succeeds, do you risk putting yourself out of business?

One of W's big mistakes was making more stuff secret, in the wake of the massive failures of 9-11, instead of open-sourcing it all.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


ICE raids Days Inn in Colchester (Anne Galloway, Jan 22 2018, VT Digger)

ICE detained 14 construction workers, according to Will Lambek of Migrant Justice, a group that supports undocumented workers.

The raid was conducted at 5 a.m. on Jan. 18. Lambek said other construction workers who were not included in the sweep notified Migrant Justice.

The migrants were working for a contracting firm in the area. [...]

Gov. Phil Scott said Monday morning he was not aware of the raid.

"Obviously I have great concern about the overreach of the federal government in some respects and the direction we're moving," he said. "And while we have to protect our citizens, our border and so forth, there's got to be a path forward. We here in Vermont are desperate for workers. So I think that's unfortunate, for those that are here safely and peacefully. I have concerns."

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Revolutionary Guards clash with Islamic State in western Iran (Reuters, 1/27/18) 

Iran's Revolutionary Guards clashed with Islamic State militants in the western part of the country on Saturday, according to Sepah News, the official news site of the Guards.

A team of 21 Islamic State fighters crossed Iran's western border and were placed under surveillance before the Guards, the most powerful military force in the Islamic Republic, attacked them on Saturday morning, Sepah News reported.

January 26, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Trump Launched Campaign to Discredit Potential FBI Witnesses: The president targeted three bureau officials who could provide key testimony in the Mueller probe. (MURRAY WAAS, JANUARY 26, 2018, 5Foreign Policy)
President Donald Trump pressed senior aides last June to devise and carry out a campaign to discredit senior FBI officials after learning that those specific employees were likely to be witnesses against him as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, according to two people directly familiar with the matter. [...]

A person with direct knowledge of the matter said although Dowd explained the risks of senior FBI officials joining Comey in testifying against Trump, that information was part of a broader presentation to the president about Mueller's investigation. It is not improper, but in fact is a duty, for an attorney to explain to a client how they are at risk, the source said. What may have been improper, however, were actions Trump took upon learning that information.

Since Dowd gave him that information, Trump -- as well as his aides, surrogates, and some Republican members of Congress -- has engaged in an unprecedented campaign to discredit specific senior bureau officials and the FBI as an institution.

The FBI officials Trump has targeted are Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director and who was briefly acting FBI director after Comey's firing; Jim Rybicki, Comey's chief of staff and senior counselor; and James Baker, formerly the FBI's general counsel. Those same three officials were first identified as possible corroborating witnesses for Comey in a June 7 article in Vox. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony the following day that he confided in the three men.

In the past, presidents have attacked special counsels and prosecutors who have investigated them, calling them partisan and unfair. But no previous president has attacked a long-standing American institution such as the FBI -- or specific FBI agents and law enforcement officials.

Mueller has asked senior members of the administration questions in recent months indicating that prosecutors might consider Trump's actions also to be an effort to intimidate government officials -- in this case FBI officials -- from testifying against him.

The New York Times reported late Thursday that Trump also ordered the firing of Mueller last June. Trump reportedly changed his mind after White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign and two of the president's highest-ranking aides told him that it would have devastating effects on his presidency.

Press reports at the time said there were indications that Mueller was already investigating Trump for obstruction of justice, even though he was only recently appointed.

If we must hold Donald in contempt, which is a function of the capacity to think, then what must we think of those who are so easily duped by him? 

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


The One Patriots Stat That Eagles Fans Probably Don't Want To Hear (Scott Kacsmar, 1/26/18, 538)

Since 2001, the year that Tom Brady took over as starting quarterback, the Patriots are 15-0 in the playoffs against a new opponent and 12-9 in a rematch from the regular season. Every playoff exit in the Belichick era was a rematch, including season sweeps at the hands of the 2005 Broncos, 2006 Colts, 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens and 2015 Broncos. The 2010 Jets also beat the Patriots in the playoffs, despite losing 45-3 in Foxborough just six weeks prior.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


What Davos thought of Trump's speech (Alanna Petroff and Ivana Kottasová, January 26, 2018, CNN Money)

Deriding the "nasty, mean, and fake" news media, Trump drew boos and hisses from the crowd.

Steve Howard, co-chair of the We Mean Business coalition against climate change, estimated that 20% to 30% of attendees applauded Trump at the end of the speech.

"The rest of them just sat on their hands," he said.

The mood was less polite in the overflow rooms, where some attendees openly chuckled when Trump took the stage backed by a marching band.

The broader indicator is that he isn't big news there; TPP is.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Why international tourists are avoiding the U.S. as a whole but still coming to Los Angeles (Hugo Martin, 1/26/18, LA Times)

Los Angeles County set a tourism record of 48.3 million visitors in 2017, marking the seventh straight year it topped the previous record for both domestic and international visitors. But the increase comes as fewer foreign travelers come to the U.S. as a whole, led by a reduction from one of the nation's biggest sources of international visitors, Mexico.

The county, which draws about 15% of its visitors from foreign countries, escaped the downturn partly because of its geographic position as a major gateway to Asia and its decision last year to reach out to foreign travelers with a message of welcome.

"This message of humanity and inclusivity was the right message at the right time and helped to mitigate potential loss especially in markets like Mexico and Europe," said Ernest Wooden, chief executive of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


U.S trade body backs Canadian plane maker Bombardier against Boeing (Allison Lampert, David Shepardson, 1/26/18, Reuters) 

A U.S. trade commission on Friday handed an unexpected victory to Bombardier Inc (BBDb.TO) against Boeing Co , in a ruling that allows the Canadian plane-and-train maker to sell its newest jets to U.S. airlines without heavy duties, sending the company's shares up 15 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


It's Now Likely Mueller Thinks Trump Obstructed Justice : Thursday's bombshell news points toward one conclusion: The special counsel has the goods on the president. (RENATO MARIOTTI January 26, 2018, Politico)

[L]ast spring, Trump reportedly asked Sessions if the government could drop the criminal case against former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, whom Trump later pardoned. According to the Washington Post, Sessions told Trump that would be inappropriate, and Trump decided to let the case go to trial and pardon Arpaio if he was convicted. Mueller could argue that this suggests that Trump is serious about killing investigations of his friends. A pattern of behavior is always a stronger indicator of intent than a one-off action.

We also learned that, according to the New York Times, in March--two months before Trump fired Comey--he ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing himself. When McGahn was unsuccessful, Trump reportedly erupted in anger, saying he needed Sessions to "protect him" and "safeguard" him, as he believed other attorneys general had done for other presidents. These are very odd statements by Trump that Mueller could argue indicate that Trump wanted Sessions to impede or even end the Russia investigation to "protect him."

Then, according to the New York Times, Trump erupted at Sessions after Mueller was appointed, accusing him of "disloyalty" for recusing himself from the Russia investigation at the recommendation of career Justice Department staff. On its face, it corroborates Comey's testimony that Trump wanted "loyalty" from him. It is also a very odd reaction by Trump to recusal, which Sessions was advised to do and is a routine practice when there is a potential conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict. Mueller could argue that Trump's intense anger was due to his fear of the investigation and desire to impede it.

After Comey was fired and was temporarily replaced by Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Trump asked McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election, according to the Washington Post, and complained to staffers that McCabe was a Democrat, once again corroborating Comey's testimony regarding loyalty. Trump then pushed Sessions to pressure new FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire McCabe, which caused Wray to threaten to resign, according to Axios. McCabe told Congress that Comey recounted his conversations with Trump, including the "loyalty" conversation, which makes him a witness in the obstruction case. Mueller could use Trump's desire for loyalty from McCabe, and later desire to remove McCabe, as evidence that Trump wanted to undermine the Russia investigation.

Then, according to Politico, in August, Trump called Senator Thom Tillis and told him that he was unhappy with the legislation he was working on with Democratic Senator Chris Coons that was designed to protect Mueller from an attempt by Trump to fire him. That legislation--and other legislation designed to protect Mueller--stalled in the Senate after Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that there was no "need" to protect Mueller.

As we learned Thursday in the New York Times, there was indeed a need to protect Mueller back in June, when Trump ordered the firing of special counsel due to "conflicts of interest" that were not actually conflicts and appear to be thinly veiled excuses to get rid of Mueller. Trump also considered firing Rosenstein and replacing him with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the No. 3 Justice Department official, so she could oversee Mueller. According to the Times, Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mueller, which is an "omnipresent concern among his legal team and close aides."

This is an important piece of evidence because it comes after Trump fired Comey and learned that he was under investigation for obstruction of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Among the Globalists in Davos, Trump Warms to NAFTA and TPP (Adam K. Raymond, 1/26/18, New York)

The globalists are rubbing off on President Trump.

In Davos for the World Economic Forum on Thursday, the protectionist president signaled a willingness to rethink his opposition to NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, two trade pacts that he has loudly opposed both as a candidate and president.

Fun watching him try to get the other kids to play with him, once it turned out they didn't need him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Melania Trump Tours D.C. Holocaust Museum Ahead Of Remembrance Day (JTA, 1/26/18) 

Melania Trump toured the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a year after husband President Trump stirred controversy by releasing a statement on the day that did not mention Jews.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the people whose lives and families were broken by the horrors of the Holocaust," the First Lady said Thursday in a statement, two days before Jan. 27, set by the United Nations to commemorate the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. "Yet it is also through our shared humanity that we come together now in commemoration, strength, and love."

The statement from her office said the tour "recounted the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany from 1933 through 1939, the evolution of the party through the 1940s and its policies toward the Jewish people, and the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in 1945 by the Allied forces."

Wait'll you see her on Cinco de Mayo...

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Pennsylvania GOP Rep. associated with Holocaust deniers (JTA, 1/26/18) 

CNN's KFile, which delves into candidates' past, uncovered an interview that Rep. Lou Barletta gave in 2006 when he was mayor of the town of Hazleton with the American Free Press, a publication that peddles Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Barletta at the time was getting national attention for cracking down on illegal immigrants in his town, penalizing landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and businesses that hired them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Judge seems open to emoluments suit against Trump : A Maryland federal judge signals he's not persuaded by a New York colleague's decision tossing out parallel case. (JOSH GERSTEIN 01/25/2018, Politico)

Messitte said he thought U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels was too quick to cast aside arguments that competitors to Trump's businesses have legal standing to challenge benefits he's receiving from his hotels, buildings and other ventures.

"He just said that in a sentence. There was no analysis at all," Messitte said after Justice Department attorney Brett Shumate invoked Daniels' opinion. "There's very little analysis in his declarations. ... I'm not really bound by even the logic at this point, with all respect to Judge Daniels."

A short time later, Messitte took another swipe at Daniels' decision, suggesting it won't be of much benefit to Trump in the suit filed last June by the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Both Messitte and Daniels are appointees of President Bill Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Trump moved to fire Mueller in June, bringing White House counsel to the brink of leaving (Rosalind S. Helderman and Josh Dawsey January 26, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump sought the firing of Robert S. Mueller III last June, shortly after the special counsel took over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he backed off only after White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn threatened to resign over the move.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Trump says Republicans will accept citizenship for Dreamers (Reuters, 1/26/18)

In an interview with CNBC broadcast on Friday, Trump said Republican Senators Tom Cotton, John Cornyn and David Perdue and Representative Bob Goodlatte would be willing to shift some positions on immigration.

"They've really shifted a lot, and I think they're willing to shift more, and so am I," he told CNBC in an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos. 

All the humiliating positions these guys took in his defense and then he lets in the coloreds anyway....

January 25, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Trump says he would speak to Mueller under oath in Russia investigation (Josh Dawsey, David Nakamura and Devlin Barrett January 24, 2018, Washington Post)

People who have appeared before Mueller's team say prosecutors have detailed accounts of events, sometimes to the minute, and have surprised witnesses by showing them emails or documents they were unaware that the team had or that their colleagues had written. One person said Mueller's team has asked about Trump's private comments around key events and how he explained decisions.

"They are looking for a pattern," said this person, who has spoken with Mueller's team and requested anonymity to speak about a federal investigation. 

Among Trump's friends, there is a prevailing view that he could damage himself by testifying under oath because he often misrepresents events and that he is listening to lawyers who are not giving him good advice. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Dutch agencies provide crucial intel about Russia's interference in US-elections : Hackers from the Dutch intelligence service AIVD have provided the FBI with crucial information about Russian interference with the American elections. For years, AIVD had access to the infamous Russian hacker group Cozy Bear. That's what de Volkskrant and Nieuwsuur have uncovered in their investigation. (Huib Modderkolk 25 januari 2018, Volksrant)

It's the summer of 2014. A hacker from the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD has penetrated the computer network of a university building next to the Red Square in Moscow, oblivious to the implications. One year later, from the AIVD headquarters in Zoetermeer, he and his colleagues witness Russian hackers launching an attack on the Democratic Party in the United States. The AIVD hackers had not infiltrated just any building; they were in the computer network of the infamous Russian hacker group Cozy Bear. And unbeknownst to the Russians, they could see everything.

That's how the AIVD becomes witness to the Russian hackers harassing and penetrating the leaders of the Democratic Party, transferring thousands of emails and documents. It won't be the last time they alert their American counterparts. And yet, it will be months before the United States realize what this warning means: that with these hacks the Russians have interfered with the American elections. And the AIVD hackers have seen it happening before their very eyes. 

The Dutch access provides crucial evidence of the Russian involvement in the hacking of the Democratic Party, according to six American and Dutch sources who are familiar with the material, but wish to remain anonymous. It's also grounds for the FBI to start an investigation into the influence of the Russian interference on the election race between the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

After Trump's election in May 2017, this investigation was taken over by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. While it also aims to uncover contacts between Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government, the prime objective is bringing to light the Russian interference with the elections. An attempt to undermine the democratic process, and an act that caused tensions between the two superpowers to rise to new heights, bringing about a string of diplomatic acts of revenge. 

Three American intelligence services state with 'high confidence' that the Kremlin was behind the attack on the Democratic Party. That certainty, sources say, is derived from the AIVD hackers having had access to the office-like space in the center of Moscow for years. This is so exceptional that the directors of the foremost American intelligence services are all too happy to receive the Dutchmen. They provide technical evidence for the attack on the Democratic Party, and it becomes apparent that they know a lot more.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Trump plan to offer citizenship to 1.8 million illegal immigrants: senior officials (Reuters, 1/25/18) 

U.S. President Donald Trump is ready to sign on to a plan that would open a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million "Dreamers," who were brought illegally to the United States as children, senior White House officials said on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Jeremy Corbyn's Holocaust Memorial Day Statement Leaves Out the Jews (Yair Rosenberg, January 25, 2018, The Tablet)

Last January, Donald Trump infamously omitted mention of the Jews from his Holocaust Memorial Day statement, provoking a national scandal and withering criticism from liberals. Today, Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of the U.K. Labour party, released his Holocaust Memorial Day statement--and did the exact same thing.

As has been widely reported, Labour under Corbyn has been rocked by escalating anti-Semitism scandals, leading to the suspension of dozens of officials, and extending all the way up to Corbyn himself. Before the 2017 U.K. election, just 13 percent of British Jews said they would vote for Corbyn's Labour, the same as the percentage of Muslims who voted for Donald Trump. This Holocaust statement, then, offered Corbyn an easy opportunity to mend some fences with British Jews and show that he takes their concerns into account.

Instead, he managed to erase Jews from the story of their own genocide. Here is Corbyn's statement in its entirety:

We should never forget the Holocaust: The millions who died, the millions displaced and cruel hurt their descendants have suffered.

We should understand the way fascism arose in Germany and the circumstances that gave space for the Nazis to grow.

At this, and at all other times, we should reflect and make sure succeeding generations understand the power of words.

Their power to do immense good and inspire; and their power to promote hate and division.

Let us use their power to educate to inspire but above all to build values of trust and respect.

Corbyn was seemingly unaware of the irony of calling for people to be circumspect in using their "power of words" while utterly effacing the Holocaust's primary victims from his account of their murder.

All identity politics is the same.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Integrity Matters : Conspiracies kill credibility. (NOAH ROTHMAN, JAN. 25, 2018, Commentary)

You didn't have to be a professional cynic to think that it was unlikely for FBI counter-intelligence operatives to be plotting the sabotage of a presidency on their government-issued cell phones. A review of all the text messages Strzok sent, including the mitigating material, further undercut the idea that he was an anti-Trump saboteur wrecking the administration from within. But lawmakers threw caution to the breeze, and they surely regret it today. When ABC News discovered the infamous "secret society" text, it was exposed as entirely banal. Republicans like Johnson have since backed off the claim that Strzok and his mistress were engaging in anything other than playful bluster.

This was a credibility sapping debacle, and no one should be more livid at the Republicans who sacrificed their honor to it than those who believe in limited and good governance. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes allowed himself to be used last year by the White House to corroborate the president's baseless claim that he was personally spied upon by Obama-era law enforcement officials. As a result, he sacrificed his credibility and was forced to recuse himself from Russia-related investigations. But there was a FISA warrant granted to investigate the Trump campaign, and no one knows the extent to which flimsy and political evidence was used to grant that warrant. Trump administration officials were swept up in that surveillance, and subsequently "unmasked" by unknown sources when the transcript of that reconnaissance was improperly related to journalists. That, too, is an abuse of power about which only Republicans seem to care. These are serious causes that require equally serious advocates. Unfortunately, those advocates are all busy throwing their integrity away so that Trump can win a news cycle or two.

Impugning law enforcement professionals in service to a political narrative is unconscionable. Republicans should be equally frustrated by the willingness with which their allies are so willingly discrediting themselves. If they don't start vocally demanding better, Republicans will soon find themselves bereft of credible advocates. They'll have no one to blame but themselves for that condition, of course, but that should prove no obstacle to finding a scapegoat somewhere.

The poor Lefties use their identitarianism to win power in the sociology department at Snowflake U.; the Right at least is playing for higher stakes, if using exactly the same politics.

Limbaugh Sounds Like An Unhinged Conspiracy Theorist, And He's Not The Only One (Carl Arbogast, 1/24/18, Red State)

People are well aware of the deep end Sean Hannity dove from, but it's Rush Limbaugh stepping up to the plate recently with conspiracy garbage. His latest is a real hoot:

During his radio broadcast today, Rush Limbaugh took that idea one step further by suggesting that the intel community has had it out for Republicans for a while and may have deliberately led the United States into a war in order to sabotage President George W. Bush.

"You remember what the intelligence agencies were telling us about the War in Iraq?" The conservative host wondered aloud. "You remember what they were telling us? There is detail, there were photos, there was conclusive evidence Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and it wasn't just us. It was MI-5, it was MI-6, it was intelligence agencies all the world."

The radio host went on to state that Bush spent a long time convincing the world and US that it was necessary to invade Iraq due to the danger he felt was imminent due to the intelligence he received. Limbaugh then tied this into Al Gore losing the 2000 election and the Washington establishment being upset over it and looking for payback.

"What if the intel on the War in Iraq was another disinformation campaign to damage another Republican president?" Limbaugh pondered. "And boy did that work!"

This kind of tomfoolery would make for a great Oliver Stone film plot, but what in God's name is Rush Limbaugh doing even discussing the possibility? For people to have faith in the institutions that work to defend this nation from our enemies, they have to know that the work they do is in good faith, even if it is not always right.

When people like Limbaugh also float the idea those same people are concocting schemes merely to hurt a Republican president, the entire nation loses.

It's hardly a novel idea that the Right opposes Muslim democracy.
Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Sen. Johnson backs off 'secret society' claim (Manu Raju and Veronica Stracqualursi, 1/25/18, CNN)

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee acknowledged Thursday that a reference made between two FBI employees of a "secret society" could have been said in jest as opposed to evidence of an anti-Donald Trump plot.

"It's a real possibility," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told CNN. [...]

Johnson seized on the "secret society" reference to call into question the objectivity of Mueller's investigation earlier in the week. Speaking to Fox News on Tuesday, Johnson suggested bias and potential corruption at the upper echelons of the agency.

"What this is all about is further evidence of corruption -- more than bias -- but corruption at the highest levels of the FBI," Johnson said.

The Republican senator said at the time he obtained his information from an informant.

"And that secret society -- we have an informant talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There's so much smoke here, there's so much suspicion," Johnson said.

The Trumpbots wept.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Existing-Home Sales Fade in December; 2017 Sales Up 1.1 Percent (Adam DeSanctis, January 24, 2018, National Association of Realtors)

Total housing inventory3 at the end of December dropped 11.4 percent to 1.48 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 10.3 percent lower than a year ago (1.65 million) and has fallen year-over-year for 31 consecutive months. Unsold inventory is at a 3.2-month supply at the current sales pace, which is down from 3.6 months a year ago and is the lowest level since NAR began tracking in 1999.

"The lack of supply over the past year has been eye-opening and is why, even with strong job creation pushing wages higher, home price gains - at 5.8 percent nationally in 2017 - doubled the pace of income growth and were even swifter in several markets," said Yun.

We're going to need to import an awful lot of labor to build the homes we need.

On the other hand, it's perfectly obvious that there was never a housing bubble.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


McCabe did not vote in 2016 general election, but did vote in 2016 GOP presidential primary (Ryan Nobles,  January 24, 2018, CNN)

McCabe's voter participation is in question after a report by The Washington Post that President Donald Trump asked McCabe, who at that time was the acting FBI director, who he voted for in the 2016 election. According to the Post, McCabe told the President that he didn't vote.

McCabe did not vote in the general election, the first time he did not participate in a Virginia general election since 2007, but he did vote in the 2016 Republican primary.

...they're clinging to a moronic conspiracy theory.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Jordan Peterson: 'The pursuit of happiness is a pointless goal': Life is tragic, says the provocative Jordan Peterson, and we are all capable of turning into monsters. But this hasn't stopped millions from watching his online lectures. : Tim Lott meets him as he publishes 12 Rules for Life (Tim Lott,  21 Jan 2018, The Guardian)

[H]ow do we build meaning? By putting it before expediency. Which is quite close to simply "acting right". Peterson believes that everyone is born with an instinct for ethics and meaning. It is also a matter of responsibility - you need to have the courage to voluntarily shoulder the great burden of being in order to move towards that meaning. This is what the biblical stories tell us. The great world stories have a moral purpose - they teach us how to pursue meaning over narrow self-interest. Whether it's Pinocchio, The Lion King, Harry Potter or the Bible, they are all saying the same thing - take the highest path, pick up the heaviest rock and you will have the hope of being psychologically reborn despite the inevitable suffering that life brings.

Peterson's biggest analysis of story has been the Bible. He lays out how the Adam and Eve myth shows the coming of self-consciousness - and therefore an awareness of mortality, vulnerability, the future, and good and evil. Everyone in the story immediately starts to lie and dodge the blame - Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. Then they give birth to Cain and Abel, and the first act of human history is for Cain to murder his own brother out of resentment against him and God alike, and then lie about it: "Am I my brother's keeper?" [...]

"God", in Peterson's formulation, stands in for "reality" or "the future" or "the logos" or "being" or "everything that isn't you and that you don't know". And the principal discovery of early mankind is that "God" can be bargained with, through sacrifice - which is no more than saying if you sacrifice the pleasures of the present, reality is likely to reward you in the future. It's not guaranteed, but it's the best option you've got.

Having said that, and noting that his lectures are purely about the psychological rather than the theological value of the Bible, Peterson is a devout Christian. "Yes. Which is a form of insanity. The ethical burden is ridiculous. God might swipe you down even though you're doing the right thing. But it's your best bet. There is a great level of reality out there which we don't know and don't understand. We can bargain with it, but it doesn't guarantee you anything and God can turn on you. That is the thing about life. There's no guarantee of success."

Does he believe in life after death? "I don't know that I even believe in death! I'm not sure we understand anything about the role of consciousness in space and time. I don't think the world is the way we think it is. I'm not a materialist. Whatever is going on down there at the subatomic level of matter is so weird that the people who understand it don't understand it."

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Holocaust survivors urge Netanyahu not to deport African asylum seekers (times of Israel, 1/25/18)

In a letter sent to the prime minister on Thursday, the 36 survivors called on the prime minister to make a "historic decision" and reverse the controversial deportation plan, according to the Haaretz daily. [...]

They added, "Do the Jewish thing, like [former premier] Menachem Begin, who accepted refugees from the Vietnam War, and gave those asylum seekers life.

"As Jews, whom the world turned its back on in our most difficult time, we have a special obligation not to remain indifferent, and to prevent the expulsion of asylum seekers," they said. "The state must grant them a safe haven and not send them to their deaths in a foreign country."

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Campaign Donor Pleaded Guilty to Trying to Bribe Mayor de Blasio (WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM and WILLIAM NEUMAN, JAN. 24, 2018, The New York Times)

A campaign donor to Mayor Bill de Blasio secretly pleaded guilty in federal court to bribery, admitting that he used his contributions to the mayor to try to win favorable lease terms for a restaurant he owned on city property, newly unsealed court records show.

While the court papers included no charges against Mr. de Blasio or other city officials, a federal criminal information in the case makes it clear that the donor, Harendra Singh, got something in return.

The court documents said that the mayor took steps to benefit Mr. Singh in exchange for the contributions, and that an unnamed senior aide to Mr. de Blasio arranged a meeting to pressure a city agency to offer more favorable terms to Mr. Singh.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


The Russia Cover Up and Conspiring to Lie to Federal Authorities (Ryan Goodman, January 25, 2018, JustLaw)

The Trump team long engaged in a concerted effort to lie about campaign contacts with Russians during the 2016 election. Of this all reasonable observers know. Even some Trump supporters bemoan such a strategy ever took place, but it happened. The term for it is a cover up.

Senior Trump campaign officials did not just lie to the media and the public. They also lied to federal authorities or risked doing so. At least they were "chancing a very high risk for a perjury situation," as White House counsel John Dean put it to President Richard Nixon in plotting the Watergate cover up. The list of associates who apparently took this path includes, in chronological order: Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, K. T. McFarland, and Donald Trump Jr. That list is just based on current public information, and may grow. (I'm also excluding from the list Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who have been indicted for lying to federal authorities about their connections with Kremlin-linked Ukrainian parties).

If you closely examine the record, the puzzle is whether the decision of so many of Trump campaign officials to chance a very high risk of perjury in covering up Russian contacts involved a tacit or explicit understanding on their parts to do so, and encouragement by the others--potentially including encouragement by the president himself.

In a piece in the New York Times on Thursday, I put together the pieces of the puzzle, based on what we can infer from the circumstances and conduct of the relevant actors.

...the investigation is just to determine of how much.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why Can't People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying? (Conor Friedersdorf, Jan. 22nd, 2018, The Atlantic)

My first introduction to Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, came by way of an interview that began trending on social media last week. Peterson was pressed by the British journalist Cathy Newman to explain several of his controversial views. But what struck me, far more than any position he took, was the method his interviewer employed. It was the most prominent, striking example I've seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.

First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can't help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson's claims, instead of addressing what he actually said. [...]

The interviewer seemed eager to impute to Peterson a belief that a large, extant wage gap between men and women is a "fact of life" that women should just "put up with," though all those assertions are contrary to his real positions on the matter.  

Throughout this next section, the interviewer repeatedly tries to oversimplify Peterson's view, as if he believes one factor he discusses is all-important, and then she seems to assume that because Peterson believes that given factor helps to explain a pay gap between men and women, he doesn't support any actions that would bring about a more equal outcome.

Her surprised question near the end suggests earnest confusion:

Peterson: There's a personality trait known as agreeableness. Agreeable people are compassionate and polite. And agreeable people get paid less than disagreeable people for the same job. Women are more agreeable than men.

Newman: Again, a vast generalization. Some women are not more agreeable than men.

Peterson: That's true. And some women get paid more than men.

Newman: So you're saying by and large women are too agreeable to get the pay raises that they deserve.

Peterson: No, I'm saying that is one component of a multivariate equation that predicts salary. It accounts for maybe 5 percent of the variance. So you need another 18 factors, one of which is gender. And there is prejudice. There's no doubt about that. But it accounts for a much smaller portion of the variance in the pay gap than the radical feminists claim.

Newman: Okay, so rather than denying that the pay gap exists, which is what you did at the beginning of this conversation, shouldn't you say to women, rather than being agreeable and not asking for a pay raise, go ask for a pay raise. Make yourself disagreeable with your boss.

Peterson: But I didn't deny it existed, I denied that it existed because of gender. See, because I'm very, very, very careful with my words.

Newman: So the pay gap exists. You accept that. I mean the pay gap between men and women exists--but you're saying it's not because of gender, it's because women are too agreeable to ask for pay raises.

Peterson: That's one of the reasons.

Newman: Okay, so why not get them to ask for a pay raise? Wouldn't that be fairer?

Peterson: I've done that many, many, many times in my career. So one of the things you do as a clinical psychologist is assertiveness training. So you might say--often you treat people for anxiety, you treat them for depression, and maybe the next most common category after that would be assertiveness training. So I've had many, many women, extraordinarily competent women, in my clinical and consulting practice, and we've put together strategies for their career development that involved continual pushing, competing, for higher wages. And often tripled their wages within a five-year period.  

Newman: And you celebrate that?

Peterson: Of course! Of course!

Another passage on gender equality proceeded thusly:

Newman: Is gender equality a myth?

Peterson: I don't know what you mean by the question. Men and women aren't the same. And they won't be the same. That doesn't mean that they can't be treated fairly.

Newman: Is gender equality desirable?

Peterson: If it means equality of outcome then it is almost certainly undesirable. That's already been demonstrated in Scandinavia. Men and women won't sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them to do it of their own accord. It's 20 to 1 female nurses to male, something like that. And approximately the same male engineers to female engineers. That's a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are ineradicable differences--you can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure, and tyranny, but if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcomes.

Newman: So you're saying that anyone who believes in equality, whether you call them feminists or whatever you want to call them, should basically give up because it ain't going to happen.

Peterson: Only if they're aiming at equality of outcome.

Newman: So you're saying give people equality of opportunity, that's fine.

Peterson: It's not only fine, it's eminently desirable for everyone, for individuals as well as societies.

Newman: But still women aren't going to make it. That's what you're really saying.

That is not "what he's really saying"!

In this next passage Peterson shows more explicit frustration than at any other time in the program with being interviewed by someone who refuses to relay his actual beliefs:

Newman: So you don't believe in equal pay.

Peterson: No, I'm not saying that at all.

Newman: Because a lot of people listening to you will say, are we going back to the dark ages?

Peterson: That's because you're not listening, you're just projecting.

The problem is really that interviewers increasingly follow the Charlie Rose model, where
they think the point of an interview is their questions, not the subject's answers.  Rose and his ilk often even include the answer they want in the question, which tends to leave the subject nothing to say.  

What Right Not to Be Offended? (BEN SHAPIRO, January 24, 2018, National Review)

[T]he segment of the interview that grabbed the public's imagination wasn't Peterson's discussion of the wage gap or the biology of hierarchical relationships. It was a very simple exchange over the value of truth. Newman questioned Peterson on why he refused to go along with the trendy Leftist cause du jour: using pronouns chosen by individuals rather than pronouns that describe their biology. "Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person's right not to be offended?" Newman asked. Peterson, ever the gentleman, answered the question without guffawing: "Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we're having right now. You're certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It's been rather uncomfortable."

Newman misdirected: "Well, I'm very glad I've put you on the spot." But Peterson pursued: "Well, you get my point. You're doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you're exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that's fine. More power to you, as far as I'm concerned."

Newman had no answer. Point to Peterson.

January 24, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


New Study Finds Americans Need 6 Hours Of Sleep At Work (The Onion, 7/17/12)

A study published Monday in the Annals Of Internal Medicine concludes that the average American needs at least six full hours of uninterrupted sleep at work in order to leave the office feeling refreshed and alert.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Release the Memo and Release the Evidence : In a climate of increasing distrust and bitter partisanship, Americans need access to all the facts. (David French,  January 24, 2018, National Review)

Release the memo, but don't stop there. Release the memo, the underlying evidence that allegedly supports its conclusions, the FISA-court applications that launched the Russia investigation, any additional relevant FISA-court applications, any relevant FISA-court opinions and orders, and any other class or category of classified information that allegedly substantiated DOJ concerns about Trump-campaign collusion with Russia.

Releasing the memo alone isn't enough. Reportedly, it mainly consists of so-called top-line conclusions. In layman's terms, these are conclusions the authors reached based on evidence the authors don't include in the memo itself. In other words, it's reportedly a summary document. In my military life, I've seen memos like this, and they can have their uses, but they require not just a high degree of trust in the authors but also a level of accountability -- an ability to check the authors' work.

Absent trust in the authors or access to the underlying evidence, a conclusory memo can be worse than useless. If released, the fact that it was formerly "classified" gives it an air of authenticity and mystery that its contents might not deserve. There are copious amounts of mistaken or exaggerated classified information and conclusions circulating within the federal government, and a "classified" stamp is not a certification of accuracy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Israel's US envoy said to warn PM of fallout from expulsion of African migrants (TOI STAFF and JTA, 24 January 2018)

Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer has warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the public relations fallout that Israel will suffer if it goes ahead with a plan to expel tens of thousands of African migrants to a third country, Channel 10 reported Wednesday.

According to the report, Dermer told Netanyahu and senior cabinet ministers that press coverage about the deportations would cause great damage to Israel's international reputation.

To which Bibi responded: "Donald."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


What's So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson? (Tom Bartlett, Jan. 17th, 2018, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Figuring out what to make of Jordan Peterson's rise requires first rewinding a few decades. Peterson grew up in the tiny town of Fairview, Alberta, where the high temperature stays well below freezing in the winter months and where the closest city, Edmonton, is a five-hour drive away. It's a place where a teenage Peterson and his buddies drank too much, built bonfires, and cruised around the endless countryside.

Peterson attended the University of Alberta, earning degrees in psychology and political science before going on to get his doctorate in clinical psychology at McGill University. A fellow graduate student, Peter Finn, now a professor of psychology at Indiana University at Bloomington, remembers Peterson as quick-witted and confident. "He was an enjoyable person who liked to be different and thought highly of himself," Finn says. "I thought, Who the hell is he?"

Peterson's early research examined how alcoholism runs in families. When he wasn't conducting studies on the genetic predisposition for addictive behavior, he was plugging away on a side project that would become his manifesto: Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. He worked on that manuscript, he says, three hours a day for 15 years, rewriting it scores of times. It was not the sort of book that a psychological researcher following the well-trod path to academic success would take on. It does not zero in on a phenomenon or stake out unclaimed ground in a subfield. Instead the book is a sweeping attempt at making sense of man's inhumanity to man, the purpose of existence, and the significance of the divine. Peterson leaps from Wittgenstein to Northrop Frye to Grimm's Fairy Tales, then on to Hannah Arendt, B.F. Skinner, and Dante. The book is shot through with theories of religion ("God" appears several hundred times in the text) and informed by Carl Jung's archetypal view of the collective unconscious, an influence that's still evident in Peterson's work.

Maps of Meaning offers clues to the strongly held political stances that have turned Peterson into a controversial philosopher-pundit. In college, he writes, he espoused socialism almost by default. He tried to emulate the movement's leaders, dutifully attending meetings, absorbing their slogans and repeating their arguments. Over time, though, he found that he didn't respect his fellow activists, who struck him as perpetually aggrieved and suspiciously underemployed. "They had no career, frequently, and no family, no completed education -- nothing but ideology," he writes. He also discovered that he often didn't believe the things he was enthusiastically spouting. "Despite my verbal facility, I was not real," he writes. "I found this painful to admit." He also became obsessed with the looming prospect of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. He fell into a depression, suffered "apocalyptic dreams" several nights a week, and fought against "vaguely suicidal thoughts."

Carl Jung rode to the rescue. Peterson read a passage from one of Jung's essays about the importance of understanding "these fantastic images that rise up so strange and threatening before the mind's eye." According to Jung, the way you understand them is by framing your personal struggles in terms of ancient stories, embracing the "power of myth," as Joseph Campbell, another Jung disciple, put it. That epiphany made the bad dreams go away, and Peterson embarked on what has become a lifelong project of grappling with the strange and threatening images in his and other people's minds.

He continued writing Maps of Meaning after he was hired as an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, using the book-in-progress (at one point titled "The Gods of War") as a text for his classes. In 1995, Peterson was profiled in The Harvard Crimson, an article that reads like an award introduction. One undergraduate told the newspaper that Peterson was "teaching beyond the level of anyone else," and that even "philosophy students go to him for advice." A graduate student from back then, Shelley Carson, who now teaches at Harvard and writes about creativity, recalled that Peterson had "something akin to a cult following" in his Harvard days. "Taking a course from him was like taking psychedelic drugs without the drugs," Carson says. "I remember students crying on the last day of class because they wouldn't get to hear him anymore."

Eventually, in 1999, Maps of Meaning was published -- his magnum opus, the central preoccupation of his life to that point -- and no one cared.

Or nearly no one. The chairman of the psychology department at Harvard at the time, Sheldon White, was impressed, calling it a "brilliant enlargement of our understanding of human motivation." A few others chimed in with praise, but the response was mostly crickets. It sold fewer than 500 copies in hardcover. "I don't think people had any idea what to make of the book, and I still think they don't," Peterson says. "No one has attempted to critique it seriously."

He had considered using Maps of Meaning as the basis for his application for tenure at Harvard. When that moment came, though, he found he wasn't emotionally up to the task. "My mood at the time wasn't of sufficient stability to feel that I was in the position to make the strongest case for myself, unfortunately," he says. He received an offer from the University of Toronto, and he took it. By then he was married with two small kids, and the prospect of steady academic employment was attractive. Peterson moved back to Canada.

In the years since then, he's become a popular professor at the university. Typical comments on RateMyProfessors.com include "life-changing" and "he blew my mind" and "he is my spirit animal." He ran a private clinical-psychology practice, consulted for law firms, and developed his self-authoring website, which is based on ideas from psychologists like James Pennebaker and Gary Latham on the benefits of goal-setting and the therapeutic value of writing about emotion. He also offered occasional commentary on public television in Ontario, sometimes while wearing a fedora.

He continued to research topics like religion, creativity, and the effect of personality on political orientation. But he is not widely known as an expert on any of those topics, nor is he considered the pioneer of a game-changing concept. He hasn't frequently published in top journals. That may be, in part, because he is an old-fashioned generalist, more interested in understanding the connective tissue between seemingly disparate ideas than in tilling a small patch of disciplinary soil. Still, it seemed to some who knew him then that the promising professor who wowed them at Harvard in the 1990s had fallen off the map.

In the video that made Jordan Peterson famous, he can be seen sparring with a handful of transgender students about the use of pronouns. He is nattily attired in a white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves and dark red suspenders. Several supporters, all of them male, stand behind Peterson, amplifying his points. A transgender student accuses Peterson of being their enemy for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns. "I don't believe using your pronouns will do you any good in the long run," he says. "I believe it's quite the contrary." When another student asks what gives him the authority to determine which pronouns he uses when referring to someone else, Peterson spins to face that person.

"Why do I have the authority to determine what I say?" Peterson replies, his voice brimming with outrage, his fingers pressed to his own chest. "What kind of question is that?" [...]

Some of what Peterson says isn't discernibly different from the messages of conservative firebrands like Ben Shapiro or the liberal-baiting troublemaker Milo Yiannopoulos, both former Breitbart pundits. Like Shapiro, Peterson argues that the left is transforming the next generation into victims and whiners. Like Yiannopoulos, Peterson argues that the patriarchy is a boogeyman. But when he's been lumped in with what's come to be called the alt-right, as happens fairly regularly, Peterson has pushed back, calling it "seriously wrong." The erstwhile socialist considers himself a classic British liberal, and he has castigated the far right for engaging in the "pathology of racial pride."

Peterson's route to notoriety mirrors that of other professors like Nicholas Christakis and Bret Weinstein. In the fall of 2015, Christakis, a sociologist at Yale University, was encircled by students upset about an email his wife had sent questioning the need for Halloween-costume guidelines. Last spring Weinstein, then a biologist at Evergreen State College (he has since resigned), confronted a group of students furious that he had objected to a planned Day of Absence in which white professors and students were encouraged to leave campus. In both cases, those clashes were captured on video and widely shared online. In both cases, the professors were largely lauded as voices of reason, while the students were mostly mocked as overly sensitive and out of control.

Peterson has used his unexpected notoriety to express dissatisfaction with the state of the university in Canada and the United States. He believes that the humanities and the social sciences in particular have become corrupted -- a term he employs with relish -- by left-wing ideology, and that they are failing to adequately educate students. He lays much of the blame at the feet of the late Jacques Derrida and his disciples for replacing, as he sees it, a search for truth and meaning with grousing about identity and power structures.

His critique is broadly consistent with that of Jonathan Haidt, the New York University psychology professor and founder of Heterodox Academy, an organization whose goal is to increase ideological diversity at universities. Peterson and Haidt met in 1994, when Haidt interviewed for a position at Harvard and Peterson was an assistant professor there. Haidt remembers Peterson as "one of the most memorable professors" he spoke with that day. They didn't keep in touch, but they met again recently when Haidt appeared on Peterson's podcast. "Socrates would be aghast at how few of us are willing to stand up for academic freedom if it risks arousing an angry mob," Haidt wrote via email. "Jordan Peterson is one of the few fearless professors."

He also has a booster in Camille Paglia. Paglia, a professor of humanities and media at the University of the Arts, and a prominent cultural critic whose views don't fit neatly in political categories, identifies as transgender, though she has also been skeptical of what she calls the current "transgender wave." Like Peterson, Paglia condemns postmodernism as a malevolent movement. While she hadn't heard of him until recently, Paglia regards Peterson as a long-lost scholarly brother and sees a link between Maps of Meaning and the provocative 1990 book that made her reputation, Sexual Personae. "It is truly stunning to me how Prof. Peterson pursued his own totally independent path of scholarship in another discipline and yet how our intellectual paths would eventually converge!" she wrote in an email. Paglia blurbed Peterson's new book, calling him the most important Canadian intellectual since Marshall McLuhan. [...]

His lectures are largely improvised. He writes out a bare-bones outline, but he's never sure exactly what he'll say or how long he'll talk (90 minutes? Two hours? More?). His audience likes the no-frills urgency, the sense that he's digging to the heart of impossibly complex conundrums, the feeling that they're observing a bona fide philosopher sweat out the truth under pressure. His frenetic, freewheeling approach is the antithesis of a rehearsed TED talk. He describes his method as a high-wire act. "It's always a tossup as to whether I'm going to pull off the lecture, because I'm still wrestling with the material. Because the lecture in the theater is a performance -- it's a theater, for God's sake," he says. "What I'm trying to do is to embody the process of thinking deeply on stage." He pauses for a moment, then amends that last statement: "It's not that I'm trying to do that. That's what I'm doing."

Not long ago, Peterson had his picture taken with a couple of fans who were holding a Pepe banner. One of them was also forming the "OK" sign with his fingers, probably a reference to the "It's OK to Be White" meme created on 4Chan, one of the more offensive and irreverent corners of the internet. Pepe is a smirking cartoon frog that was originally conceived as an innocent illustration but has been appropriated as a tongue-in-cheek icon by aggressively pro-Trump types.

Peterson thinks pointing to that photo as evidence of his sympathy for white supremacy is silly. "I've had my picture taken with twenty-five hundred people in the last year, maybe more," he says. Peterson, who has written a lot about religious iconography, finds the mythos around Pepe fascinating, noting how Pepe is worshiped by the fictional cult of Kek in the made-up country of Kekistan. "It's satire," he says. "A lot of these things are weird jokes." They're poking fun, he contends, at the oversensitivity of those who would condemn images of frogs or benign statements about the OK-ness of white people. And Peterson has put his own spin on the joke: In a recent video, he held up a Kermit the Frog puppet with a Hitler mustache as a way of acknowledging the criticism, and also, perhaps, of showing his younger followers he's down with the latest memes.

Asked whether he worries that his association with these symbols and slogans, which have been employed by a number of avowed white supremacists, could be misunderstood, Peterson waves off the concern. "I know for a fact that I've moved far more people into the center," he says. "People write and say, 'Look I've been really attracted by these far-right ideas, and your lectures helped me figure out why that was a bad idea.' That also happens with people on the far left."

But he repeats himself...  It is unsurprising that his alt-right fans don't get that his criticism of Left identitarianism, nihilism and embrace of chaos over order all applies to them as well.

The lectures are immensely enjoyable and thought-provoking and all tied together by a few really important conservative themes, the most basic being that our civilization depends on being able to reliably predict each other's behavior, which necessarily entails a common morality, which derives from the shared mythology (non-pejorative) of Judeo-Christianity.  One of the most entertaining things about them is that he's actually thinking as he speaks and one can see that he has not yet fully engaged with the implications of his own ideas.  But it seems likely he eventually will.

Here's a good one to start with:

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Why John Edwards is Guilty (Hans A. von Spakovsky, 5/28/12, The Heritage Foundation)

[F]ederal law limits the amount that a donor can contribute to a federal candidate. That amount was $2,300 in 2008, when Edwards was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. The law defines "contribution" to include a gift or "deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office."

Most important, FEC regulations state that the payment of a personal expense by any person other than the candidate is considered a contribution to the candidate, unless the payment would have been made irrespective of the candidacy. As the FEC said in a prior advisory opinion, the key question is, "Would the third party pay the expense if the candidate was not running for Federal office?"

The testimony of government witnesses makes it pretty clear that the payments by these donors would not have been made if Edwards had not been running for office. Edwards is a multimillionaire; he could easily have afforded to make the payments (including legally obligated child support) out of his personal funds. But such personal payments would have blown up his candidacy and made it impossible to hide what he clearly wanted to keep hidden. The payments by his maxed-out campaign contributors were clearly intended to "influence" the 2008 presidential election by keeping Edwards in the race and protecting his reputation. [...]

My experience on the FEC led me to conclude that federal campaign-finance laws are too complex, too ambiguous, and too restrictive. They help ensure the safety of incumbents and make it much more difficult for challengers. We would be better served with a system that did not limit the amount of campaign contributions, but simply required full disclosure of all donations so that voters can make their own decisions on how important it is to them that candidates are receiving funds from particular contributors.

But the gifts made on behalf of Edwards by his campaign contributors to keep this potential scandal quiet were intended to help him stay in the 2008 presidential race as a viable candidate. They would not have been made if not for Edwards's status as a federal candidate, and they were linked to a federal election. They should be considered illegal campaign contributions under federal law and applicable FEC regulations and advisory opinions. A jury may end up disagreeing that Edwards knew that what he was doing was illegal, but if the government's facts are correct, then John Edwards should be held accountable for violating federal law.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Time for Conservatives to Break the Anti-Environmentalist Mold: They, of all people, should want to protect the planet for the living and unborn. (HENRY CHAPPELL, January 18, 2018, American Conservative)

Do conservatives have a predisposed hostility towards environmental concerns?

With their preference for order, regard for their ancestors' accomplishments, and instinctive revulsion towards Rousseauian notions of natural perfection, traditionalists recoil against what Pascal Bruckner called the environmentalist left's "numberless Cassandras...[who] do not intend to warn so much as to condemn us," while anointing the planet as the "new proletariat" that must be saved.

Yet when considered rationally, environmental issues actually call upon core conservative principles.

In How to Think Seriously About the Planet, philosopher Roger Scruton asserts that pollution and habitat destruction engage "a fundamental moral idea to which conservatives attach great importance: the idea that those responsible for damage should also repair it." Conservatives oppose externalization of the costs of poor sexual and financial decisions, and likewise should resent their descendants being burdened with someone else's environmental mess. [...]

Any sound conservative approach must acknowledge that stewardship--honoring the Burkean contract between the living, dead, and unborn--includes culture and economy as well as the environment. Nations with robust economies are more resilient and better able to cope with environmental problems. While the global poor are most vulnerable to climate change, economic calamity poses a more immediate threat. Wealth must exist before it can be used to ameliorate humanity's worst problems. Weakened industrial nations are less willing and able to develop and share clean technology with poor countries where smoke inhalation, filthy drinking water, and lack of medical care are currently more pressing than climate change.

Yet conservatives must admit that disbelief in utopia implies a belief in limits, including limits to the earth's carrying capacity, the atmosphere's ability to absorb pollutants, and what we can know and foresee. The profoundly conservative words of Aldo Leopold, the great hunter, forester, and naturalist, should resonate with the Burkean sensibility: "If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."

If, as Roger Scruton asserts, those responsible for damage should repair it, we must price carbon emissions. A cap-and-trade scheme, the basis of the ineffective Kyoto Treaty, places most of the burden on producers, not those most responsible for damage--consumers. Carbon taxation seems more prudent, either a Pigovian model in which tax revenue funds development of clean energy production, geoengineering, and other adaptive technologies--a revenue-neutral system, ably described by Andrew Moylan (TAC, Sept./Oct. 2013)--or a "fee and dividend" system supported by some climate advocates, including NASA's James Hansen.

Imperfections shouldn't dissuade conservatives, of all people. There's no denying vulnerabilities in a system in which a tax on destructive activity funds desirable enterprise. An approach that raises money to be returned to taxpayers invites pilfering by a government running a high deficit. While a revenue-neutral model, which substitutes carbon taxation for perceived onerous environmental regulations, is truest to free market principles, we should be extremely cautious about dismantling regulations that have been very effective. In A Climate of Crisis, Allitt writes, "Whatever the merits [of] arguments in the abstract, the historical record shows clearly enough that many manufacturers polluted the air and water until they were forbidden to do so, at which time they stopped."

It's a simple matter of taxing externalities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Trump's Solar-Panel Tariff Will Kill More Jobs Than It Can Possibly Create : America is great at solar-panel installation. But we'll probably never dominate in solar-panel manufacturing. (NEEL V. PATEL, JAN 24, 2018, Slate)

[T]he biggest reactions to the new tariffs have been anger and frustration, because while the decision will be good for solar-panel manufacturing in the U.S., it will not be good for installation. At stake is the continued growth of what is currently a $29 billion industry. The solar-energy industry relies on parts made abroad for about 80 percent of its supplies--and those cheap panels have been the main reason solar power is the fastest-growing source of new energy.

The solar industry has been growing at an annual rate of nearly 68 percent, putting somewhere between 260,000-374,000 Americans to work across the country. "Solar installer" is set to be the fastest-growing job in the U.S. for the next decade. With the cost of solar dropping nearly 70 percent since 2010, the industry has made incredible strides in the effort to expand, and solar no longer seems like a niche avenue for the environmentally concerned to meet their electricity needs. But now, there are strong fears the tariff is going to put this kind of growth to a screeching halt and lead to massive layoffs across the industry. At least 23,000 jobs could be lost this year alone according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and tens of thousands of more later on.

The solar-panel manufacturing sector won't be able to replace those jobs. The SEIA argues that of the 38,000 jobs in solar manufacturing in the U.S., only 2,000 are focused on actually making the cells and panels. Optimistic predictions suggest the tariff might be used to add just 6,400 jobs in solar manufacturing. "There's no doubt this decision will hurt U.S. manufacturing, not help it," Bill Vietas, president of RBI Solar in Cincinnati, said in an SEIA statement.

As it turns out, it's not China undercutting U.S. companies. The White House is doing that all on its own.

'Taking Us to the Cleaners' (Veronique de Rugy, January 24, 2018, National Review)

Bloomberg has an example of some consumers' responses to the tariff announcement:

The president's announcement has sent some homeowners hunting for panels before duties kick in.

"It got kind of hysterical around here," T.R. Ludwig, chief executive officer of Brooklyn Solarworks, said in an interview "A lot of people want to get in on the non-Trump-tariff panels."

The Brooklyn-based installer in December locked in $250,000 worth of panels from South Korea's LG Electronics Inc., which they'll store in a warehouse until needed. Even with tariffs, panels can still help homeowners save money on energy, Ludwig said. It will just take a little long to recover cover the cost of the systems, he said.

"It means a payback that was four to six years now takes five to eight years," Ludwig said. "On an asset that's guaranteed for 25 years."

On top of all that, commissioners can't take under consideration the U.S. jobs that may be lost in the U.S. factories of foreign competitors. On one hand, U.S. Whirlpool will add 200 new workers once the tariffs start hammering the competition. But what happens to the 600 workers hired by Samsung Electronics for its washer factory in South Carolina now that its costs of producing in the U.S. are increasing dramatically? According to SEIA, when all is said and done, 23,000 jobs will be lost this year alone. And commissioners can't take under consideration the loss of solar-panel-installer jobs or profits. Higher costs mean fewer investments, less growth, and fewer jobs in that industry.

Another consequence of the tariff may be the retaliation that U.S. exporters will face from some foreign countries. The ITC doesn't take that under consideration either. And of course, there is also the possibility that the World Trade Organization will rule Trump's tariffs illegal. That possibility alone could slow down investment in U.S. solar factories.

All this because our government made it a priority to protect the interests of a few domestic producers at the expense of thousands and thousands of consumers and other workers. That behavior is also called "cronyism."

For Donald, the economic harm is outweighed by the hygiene of not dealing with Asiatics.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Inside the Dysfunctional Relationship of Donald Trump and Theresa May (Tim Ross & Margaret Talev, 1/23/18, Bloomberg)

Over a meal of blue cheese salad and beef ribs in the White House banqueting room, Trump held forth on a wide range of topics. "The president had strong views on all of them," recalls Chris Wilkins, then May's strategy director, who was among the aides around the table. "He said Brexit's going to be the making of us. It's going to be a brilliant thing."

Trump turned to May and told her he believed there were parts of London that were effectively "no-go areas" due to the number of Islamic extremists. May chose to speak up to "correct him," Wilkins said.

Trump also discussed his British golf courses and his hopes that the relationship with May would be stronger than the Thatcher-Reagan alliance. "It was an hour of the president holding court and the PM being very diplomatic and not many other people saying anything," Wilkins said. [...]

During formal phone calls between the two leaders, May finds it almost impossible to make headway and get her points across, one person familiar with the matter said. Trump totally dominates the discussion, leaving the prime minister with five or ten seconds to speak before he interrupts and launches into another monologue.

In one phone conversation during 2017, Trump complained to May over the criticism he'd been getting in British newspapers. Amid warnings that Trump would face protests in the streets when he arrived, he told the prime minister he would not be coming to the U.K. until she could promise him a warm welcome.

May responded to say such treatment was simply the way the British press operate, and there wasn't much she could do. In the secure bunker underneath the prime minister's office, her advisers listened in to the call in astonishment at Trump's demand.

They won't wreck their democracy for him either?
Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Americans broadly embrace the Democratic immigration position -- but are divided on Trump's crackdown (Philip Bump,  January 22, 2018, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


The Economic Gains from Legalizing DREAMers (Francesc Ortega, January 23 , 2018, EconoFact)

Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) allows people brought to the United States illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in America. Those applying must have arrived in the United States prior to their 16th birthday, be born after 1980, be vetted for any criminal history or threat to national security and must be enrolled in school, hold a high school degree (or GED), or have been honorably discharged from the Armed Forces. DACA recipients obtain protection from deportation for renewable two-year periods, and become eligible for basic rights like obtaining a driving license and legal employment. To date, nearly 800,000 DREAMers have received DACA status. All those individuals have graduated from high school and many are either in college or have a college degree. [...]

More than half of DACA recipients moved to a better job, more in line with their skills, when granted DACA status. DACA also raises the proportion of DREAMers who are working. Part of this is a shift from college enrollment to take advantage of the improvement in labor market opportunities (as argued here and here). Another part of this is due to DACA recipients entering the labor force and becoming employed. When DACA was passed, the employment rate of eligible individuals increased from 65 to 70 percent (as shown here). Our analysis suggests that DACA increased national income by $7,454 per employed DACA recipient. About 75 percent of this increase in income is due to productivity gains and 25 percent to increases in employment among DACA beneficiaries. Overall, this amounts to a GDP increase of $3.5 billion per year.

The relatively small size of the eligible DREAMer population and their relatively high educational attainment means that legalization would be unlikely to affect natives' employment and wages in any significant manner. According to our estimates, native workers with some college education (but lacking a 4-year degree) may experience small wage declines of at most 0.2 percent, while the wages of U.S.-born workers with at most a high school degree are predicted to increase by around 0.1 percent, if DREAMers are legalized. Historical evidence supports the notion that negative effects on native employment are unlikely (for instance researchers have not found negative effects on the wages or employment of U.S. farmworkers during the removal of the Mexican Braceros in the 1960s). This lack of an adverse effect on the native born is particularly true now, at a time when unemployment is at historic lows (as argued here and here).

Compared with permanent legal status, granting undocumented youth temporary permits reduces the incentive to stay in college due to the temporarily improved labor market outcomes, making it difficult to get back to college and graduate at a later point in time (see here). Instead, the certainty of permanent legal status allows for better planning of long-term investments in education. In fact, the conditions stipulated in the DREAM Act raise the incentive for DREAMers to attend college by making it one of the conditions to gain lawful permanent residence (see here). According to our analysis, if merely half of the DREAMers that currently have a high school degree (but no college education) chose to obtain an associate's degree, the GDP gains from passing the DREAM Act would be $15.2 billion annually, or $15,371 per legalized worker  (as described here).

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Trump Reportedly Asked the Acting FBI Chief Who He Voted For, Didn't Like Answer (Margaret Hartmann, 1/24/18, New York) 

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who claims the president sought a loyalty pledge, the president asked his replacement who he voted for in the 2016 election.

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said he didn't vote - not the worst answer he could have given - but it seems that wasn't what the president wanted to hear. During the Oval Office meeting Trump expressed his anger toward McCabe about the nearly half a million dollars that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's political action committee donated to his wife's unsuccessful state Senate bid, several months before McCabe was promoted to deputy FBI director.

Though the donation was completely legal and McCabe followed FBI ethics protocols, this caused a frenzy on the right because McAuliffe has close ties to the Clintons. McCabe eventually recused himself from the investigation into Clinton's email server, and the Justice Department's inspector general is looking into his conduct. [...]

McCabe reportedly found the conversation "disturbing," and others in the FBI were upset that the president would attack a career civil servant for his wife's political affiliations. Unsurprisingly, the exchange has reportedly drawn the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


This Isn't the End of the Eastern Cougar (Wes Siler, Jan 23, 2018, Outside)

All North American cougars, pumas, catamounts, mountain lions, or whatever you want to call them, are actually the same species--Puma concolor. Eastern cougars had a little smaller heads than those of the ones we have out West, and they lived in the northeast. That's it. 

January 23, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Comey was reportedly interviewed by special counsel investigators in 2017 (DEBRA CASSENS WEISS,  JANUARY 23, 2018, ABA Journal)

Special counsel investigators reportedly interviewed fired FBI director James Comey last year about the memos he wrote describing meetings with President Donald Trump. [...]

Comey has described the memos in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The memos said that Trump had asked Comey for his loyalty, had said former national security adviser Michael Flynn was a good guy, and had said he hoped Comey could see his way to letting go of the investigation into Flynn's contacts with Russians.

Special counsel reportedly seeks to interview Trump about Flynn and Comey ousters (DEBRA CASSENS WEISS, JANUARY 23, 2018, ABA Journal).

Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly seeking to interview President Donald Trump about his decisions to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey, according to a report by the Washington Post. [...]

According to the Post, the developments indicate that Mueller's investigation "is intensifying its focus on possible efforts by the president or others to obstruct or blunt the special counsel's probe."

Flynn is reportedly cooperating after pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with Russia's then-ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Investigators who spoke with Comey reportedly asked about memos the then-FBI director wrote about his meetings with Trump, according to coverage on Tuesday by the New York Times. Comey has previously said his memos described Trump's request for his loyalty and the president's question about whether Comey could let go of the investigation into Flynn's contacts with Russians.

Not only has Donald previously admitted in public that he fired Comey to obstruct the investigation and knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he insisted Comey should drop the investigation, he's highly likely to perjure himself repeatedly in any interview.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Russia Doesn't See Dark Humor In 'Death Of Stalin' (Tom Balmforth, 1/23/18, Radio Liberty)

Two days before a black comedy on Josef Stalin's demise was due to premiere in Russia, the country's Culture Ministry has barred it -- arguing that the British film about the power struggle that followed the Soviet dictator's death in 1953 was extremist, mendacious, and insulting to the Russian nation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Top Half of Taxpayers Paid More Than 97% of Individual Income Taxes Collected in 2015 (Ali Meyer, January 23, 2018, Washington Free Beacon)

The top half of taxpayers paid more than 97 percent of the total individual income taxes collected in 2015, according to a report from the Tax Foundation.

The foundation evaluated the most recent data on tax year 2015 from the Internal Revenue Service, which shows a progressive tax system with taxes paid by mostly high-income earners.

The study splits taxpayers in half, with the top 50 percent of taxpayers classified as those earning more than $39,275 in adjusted gross income and the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers earning less than that.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


The Pacific trade deal Trump quit is back on (Alanna Petroff, January 23, 2018, CNN Money)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal that Trump ditched in January 2017 has been revived by the remaining 11 nations, who will work towards signing it in early March.

Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Singapore and the other nations wrapped up negotiations on the deal after two days of talks in Tokyo.

"The agreement reached in Tokyo today is the right deal," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Today is a great day for Canada, but it's also a great day for progressive trade around the world."

If only we had the UR back, lifting restrictions on the US economy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM

THE rIGHT IS THE lEFT (profanity alert):

St. Peters Company Sells Holocaust-Style Yellow Star for 'Gun Owners' (Danny Wicentowski, Jan 22, 2018, River Front Times)

The persecution of gun owners in America has an "uncanny" similarity to the abuses Jews suffered under Nazi rule -- at least, that's true according to a remarkable item description for a "morale patch" shaped like a yellow Star of David that's currently being sold by a St. Peters gun store.

The hysterical victimology of these guys is even more unappealing than most things about them.

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


If You're a Centrist, Be Proud of It : Germany, like France, shows how centrism can be an effective governing platform. (Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg)

Judging by the policies they pursue together, however, they're natural allies. Union stands for fiscal conservatism (as in deficit-free budgets) and supporting Germany's traditional, export-oriented industries. The SPD is for using the proceeds of Union frugality to fund moderate improvements to Germany's already strong social safety net, the integration of immigrants, and fixing the fragmented, obsolete education system. It, too, is a champion of traditional German companies, which allow workers' councils to play a major part in management. The two parties' policy objectives are, to an outside observer, complementary parts of a sensible program that could be put forward by the same centrist, strongly pro-European Union political force. There's not enough contradiction between them to create real competition on an ideological level. 

Perhaps the strongest reason Merkel's grouping and SPD aren't actually one party has to do with the parties' more radical wings. In Sunday's SPD vote, delegations from some former East German states and from Berlin were for an end to coalition talks and a new election. In the east, the SPD has a strong competitor in far-left Die Linke, and it has to fight for the leftist vote -- an effort an alliance with the center right can only undermine. For their part, the more conservative, anti-immigrant CDU-CSU members don't see the SPD as a desirable coalition partner -- they'd rather fight for their voters with the AfD.

One could argue, however, that politicians and activists on the centrist parties' fringes ought to decide what they want to do: beat the radicals on their flank or join them. If it's the former, it may make more sense to compete from a consciously, even defiantly moderate position. If it's the latter, the identity problem re-emerges. Today, the middle class is losing interest in traditional left-right distinctions because the traditionally defined blue-collar class is shrinking. It may be time for politicians who represent the middle class to admit the obvious: Centrism is an ideology in its own right. Even in the U.S., there's far more similarity between Hillary Clinton Democrats and Jeb Bush Republicans than between, say, the supporters of Clinton and Bernie Sanders, or those of Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. One can see how centrists from both parties are reluctantly making common cause against Trumpism. 

It's why all Anglospheric elections are won by the most Third Way party.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


U.S. attorney general questioned in special counsel Russia probe (Sarah N. Lynch, 1/23/18, Reuters) 

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned last week by the special counsel's office investigating potential collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Growth, Not Equality : American history shows that expanding the economy benefits everyone. (Amity Shlaes, Winter 2018, City Journal)

The modern American economic story starts with the 1920s, a decade worth dwelling on at some length because of the stunning evidence that it offers of growth's power. The winners of the 1920 election were two Republicans, Warren G. Harding of Ohio and his vice presidential candidate, Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts. Confronting these men and, indeed, Congress, was the same pressure to prioritize redistribution that weighs on us today. In the aftermath of World War I, commodity prices had plummeted; farmers could not pay the bills for equipment and land that they'd purchased in better years. The farmers demanded agricultural subsidies from Washington; veterans sought a federal pension, an early version of Social Security. Harding and Coolidge's 1920 opponent from the Socialist Party, Eugene Victor Debs, won only 3.5 percent of the popular vote. But the dignified Debs, in prison for noncompliance with the wartime draft, was becoming a national martyr to progressivism. An even greater force was the progressive wing within Harding and Coolidge's own party, the Republicans, led by Robert La Follette, senior senator from Wisconsin. La Follette advocated massive redistribution, including not only farm aid but also government seizure of national resources. Politically, La Follette was gaining in strength, looking to a 1924 presidential run. Dramatic moves by Woodrow Wilson's administration during the war, including the suspension of trading on the New York Stock Exchange and the nationalization of the chief means of transportation, the railroad, had strengthened the case for a big-spending government. Perhaps what had worked in war would also work in peacetime.

Meantime, however, business was slow--the early 1920s experienced a significant recession. At the end of World War I, the top income-tax rate stood at 77 percent. Business was accustomed to extraordinary burdens in war. But in autumn 1920, two years after the armistice, the top rate was still high, at 73 percent. The government's lack of clarity over the tax treatment of capital gains was also roiling markets. An official capital-gains tax rate had yet to be established. It was unclear whether, in the future, gains from the sale of equities would be taxed as income, or taxed at all. If capital gains were taxed as income, Americans would be trapped in an economy where it was almost impossible to make money legally.

In response, Wall Street and private companies mounted a "capital strike," dumping cash not into the most promising inventions but into humdrum municipal bonds. Bootlegging and any other illicit activity outside the purview of the Treasury's Bureau of Internal Revenue, the ancestor to our Internal Revenue Service, grew abnormally attractive. The high tax rates, designed to corral the resources of the rich, failed to achieve their purpose. In 1916, 206 families or individuals filed returns reporting income of $1 million or more; the next year, 1917, when Wilson's higher rates applied, only 141 families reported income of $1 million. By 1921, just 21 families reported to the Treasury that they had earned more than a million. This was ironic, for, as the financial titan Andrew Mellon would comment, the effect of tax progressivity was: "The idle man is relieved. The producer is penalized." The perverse situation contributed to public disillusionment, the kind captured by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, published in 1925--not, as commonly assumed today, after the crash of 1929.

Against this tide, Harding and Coolidge made their choice: markets first. Harding tapped the toughest free marketeer on the public landscape, Mellon himself, to head the Treasury. This was the 1920s equivalent of choosing a Warren Buffett, a hedge-fund star, or Peter Thiel of PayPal, rather than a more standard figure from, say, Goldman Sachs. From his railroad experience, Mellon had seen that high rail-freight charges drove businesses to find other means to transport their goods. To attract maximum business, a railroad could charge, Mellon said, only "what the traffic will bear." With a low enough freight rate, the railroad could even become popular, making up in volume what it lost when it lowered price. (Mellon spoke of railroads because that was what he knew; today we would use the Walmart example.) The Treasury secretary suggested applying the same theory to taxation: a lower rate, perhaps 25 percent, might foster more business activity, and so generate more revenue for federal coffers.

This figure drove Progressives wild. How could 25 percent for the rich be "good for the country as a whole?" demanded James Couzens, a maverick senator from Michigan. Couzens and others demanded that the amount of all taxpayers' payments be posted on the walls of town halls or post offices--the "Peeping Tom" provision, as it came to be known. Harding and Mellon got the top rate down to 58 percent. When Harding died suddenly in 1923, Coolidge promised to "bend all my energies" to pushing taxes down further. In a second round, stewarded by Coolidge, a bitter deal was cut: Mellon and conservatives would get a (somewhat) lower tax rate of 46 percent, and the Peeping Tom provision would become law--gossip for a thousand headlines.

But Coolidge was not satisfied. After winning election in his own right in 1924, Coolidge joined Mellon, and Congress, in yet another tax fight, eventually prevailing and cutting the top rate to the target 25 percent. Earlier, Mellon had managed to establish "his" capital-gains tax at a substantial but still reassuringly low 12.5 percent. Just in case there was any doubt about what he and Mellon were doing by putting business first, Coolidge underscored it in a 1925 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "The chief business of the American people is business," Coolidge said, adding that "the chief ideal of the American people is idealism."

Several features of the 1920s events deserve note. The first is the unapologetic tone of the pro-markets campaign. The leaders ignored their own Pikettys, and prevailed: in the 1924 presidential campaign, the Progressive La Follette did take a disruptive 16.6 percent of the vote. But the "icy," pro-business Coolidge took an absolute majority, beating La Follette and the Democratic candidate combined. Second, the tax-cutters did not back down--though several rounds of legislation were necessary. Third, and most important, the tax cuts worked--the government did draw more revenue than predicted, as business, relieved, revived. The rich earned more than the rest--the Gini coefficient rose--but when it came to tax payments, something interesting happened. The Statistics of Income, the Treasury's database, showed that the rich now paid a greater share of all taxes. Tax cuts for the rich made the rich pay taxes.

There were other positive outcomes. Today, politicians speak of 4 percent growth, but that's a frankly aspirational number; 3 percent growth is the goal that most policymakers hope for. In the 1920s, though, the United States did average 4 percent real growth. What's more, the quality of growth improved: money flowed no longer to war or tax breaks but rather to products with the most economic potential. The great signal of economic hope is the patent: the investment by an individual or a team in the future profitability of an idea. In the 1920s, patent applications for inventions exploded, reaching 89,752 in 1929--a level that they wouldn't see again until 1965.

Patent data can seem obscure to everyday Americans, but all that innovation resulted in productivity increases, which meant that factory employees could work five days a week, not six. Thus did Americans receive something new to them: Saturday. Luxuries became cheaper to make as new equipment came on line, and therefore more affordable: homes got electricity, most homes got indoor plumbing, and people could afford automobiles. Mellon budgeted so well that he made wartime inflation a memory; consumers found that their dollar went further. Finally, the 1920s economy gave workers something far more important than notional wage equality: a job. Unemployment averaged 5 percent or lower. Putting markets before equality had done much to improve the lives of regular Americans. This may be one reason that no one appeared to notice when Congress, in 1926, repealed the Peeping Tom provision in the tax code. Prosperity tastes better than envy.

The 1930s tell the opposite story. When the market crashed in 1929, Coolidge's successor, Herbert Hoover, was caught off-guard. So was everyone else, including Corrado Gini, who concluded that the worldwide slump that ensued was due to workaholic Americans--the American worker, the New York Times reported Gini saying, "does not know when to stop," resulting in the oversupply of goods and the ensuing slowdown. We don't know what Hoover made of Gini himself, but we do know that Hoover responded differently from the way predecessors had responded to previous crashes: he intervened. The monetary nature of the initial collapse would have been hard for him to address, though Hoover did recognize it. In every other area, Hoover changed policy to focus on social equality: "a chicken in every pot." Key was Hoover's emphasis (new for those times) on raising the labor price. Rather than allow prices to find their own level--in particular, wages--as presidents had in the past, Hoover hauled business leaders to Washington and bullied them into sustaining high wages, and he cajoled Congress into passing laws that pushed up compensation as well, the best-known being the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which boosted pay for all employment under government contract. The Norris-La Guardia Act likewise institutionalized higher wages by limiting recourse to the courts of employers who could not afford what unions demanded. In addition, Hoover bullied a rueful Mellon into undoing the tax cuts, raising the top rate to 63 percent. Finally, Hoover thoroughly intimidated business and markets, blaming them for hogging too much of the money.

He gets blame he doesn't deserve, for the Crash, but not "credit," for the New Deal.  Of course, the reality is that his massive interventions were no more successful than FDR's.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


A Year of Successes in Global Health: Progress on a number of human development indicators exceeded expectations in 2017, with global health benefiting from 18 major successes.  (Melvin Sanicas, Jan. 23rd, 2018, Project Syndicate)

India's elimination of active trachoma was another milestone, as it marked an important turning point in the global fight against a leading infectious cause of blindness. Last year, trachoma was also eradicated in Oman, Morocco, and Mexico.

A third key health trend in 2017 was further progress toward the elimination of human onchocerciasis, which causes blindness, impaired vision, and skin infections.

Fourth on my list is a dramatic drop in the number of guinea-worm disease infections. A mere 26 cases were recorded worldwide in 2017, down from 3.5 million cases in 1986.

Efforts to eradicate leprosy earned the fifth spot on my list, while vaccine advances in general were sixth. Highlights included a new typhoid vaccine, shown to improve protection for infants and young children, and a new shingles vaccine.

Number seven is the dramatic progress made in eliminating measles. Four countries - Bhutan, the Maldives, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom - were all declared measles-free last year.

The war on Zika is number eight on my list of health achievements in 2017. Thanks to coordinated global efforts, most people in Latin America and the Caribbean are now immune to the mosquito-borne virus, and experts believe transmission will continue to slow.

Number nine is polio eradication. Fewer than 20 new cases were reported globally, a 99% reduction since 1988. Although the year ended with reports of cases in Pakistan, health experts remain optimistic that polio can be fully eradicated in 2018.

Rounding out my top ten was the creation of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which was established to develop vaccines for infectious disease threats. Launched with nearly $600 million in funding from Germany, Japan, Norway, the UK charity Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CEPI aims to reduce sharply the time it takes to develop and produce vaccines.

Huge gains in disease control and prevention were made last year, and the next few items on my list (11 through 16) reflect progress on specific illnesses. 

Of course, the greatest gain is just the decline in extreme poverty, as health is generally a function of nutrition and sanitation as much as vaccines and antibiotics. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Roe v. Wade at 45: Most Americans Support Abortion Restrictions : Technology enabling parents to see and doctors to treat unborn children collides with the decades-old Supreme Court decision. (Alexandra DeSanctis, January 22, 2018, National Review)

The majority justices -- seven in all, and led by opinion author Harry Blackmun -- knew exactly what outcome they wanted before the case even began. They wished to resolve the issue quickly in the highest court, putting it to bed before it could spiral out of control in the court of public opinion.

They considered, then, not the text of the Constitution but rather how they could best justify what they viewed as a necessary pro-abortion decision to prevent a vicious public and legislative battle. This political motivation led them to provide a thin legal and constitutional basis for the amorphous right to abortion -- a fact that has been acknowledged by scholars on both sides of the issue.

If, as Blackmun's writings later revealed, their goal was to entrench abortion rights as publicly acceptable, the past 45 years have proven their grand strategy a complete failure. Almost half a century later, the abortion question has grown to take up immense space in public debate. While the percentage of Americans who say they support abortion rights has stayed largely the same since 1973, the percentage of those who describe themselves as "pro-life" has risen.

Today, rising numbers of Americans report that a candidate's abortion views are highly important in determining their vote. Abortion-rights and pro-life groups alike spend millions annually to elect candidates who will push their preferred abortion legislation. Over the last decade, the Left has demanded not only the unlimited right to an abortion but also government funding and the participation of anti-abortion health-care providers.

And none of these issues shows any sign of impending resolution.

Because it improperly plucked the issue out of the democratic process, Roe embroiled the judicial system in an endless struggle to demarcate the nebulous lines of the fabricated right to an abortion. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Israel's Hamas dilemma (Shlomi Eldar, January 22, 2018, Al Monitor)

An additional indicator of how dire things have become is the declining number of supply trucks entering the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Two years ago, some 2,000 trucks entered each day. Last year the number was down to 1,000, and last month it barely reached 400. The explanation lies in the sharply reduced purchasing power of Gaza's 2 million besieged residents, and the number of trucks reflects the bare minimum required to keep them alive.

"You're talking about purchasing power and I'm telling you that we're talking about dying and death," says a Gaza journalist who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity given the ban by Hamas on Palestinian contacts with Israelis. The journalist is in his 50s. He has been through two Palestinian uprisings against Israel and numerous military clashes between Gaza and Israel, and he has covered the distressing circumstances of Gaza's residents before the closure and since. His descriptions of recent days are a painful outcry to the world. "It doesn't get any worse than this; there's nowhere lower to go. It's worse than life in the Middle Ages," he says. "People are hoping to die because death is preferable to the life they are leading in Gaza."

Like all Gaza Palestinians, he blames Israel for the situation. Israel, on the other hand, blames the Islamist Hamas movement that has ruled Gaza since ousting Fatah in 2007. It ignores the findings of the state comptroller, who wrote in 2017 that Israel had never seriously examined the implications of its siege on Gaza and never made serious attempts to resolve the dangerous standoff.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has been trying for more than two years to advance a grandiose plan to build a port for Gaza on an artificial island across from its coast. The port could be used to bring food and other vital supplies into the Strip, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have consistently rejected the idea. Absent a fundamental, inherent solution to the problem, the Israel Defense Forces civil administration (for the West Bank and Gaza) keeps offering panaceas that are about as useful as an aspirin to a terminally ill patient.

For the past few months, as reported here, the professional echelons in Israel's military have been suggesting that Gaza residents be allowed to work in agricultural communities in Israel's south, but Liberman nixed this initiative too. They are now proposing that Israel ease the passage of Gaza merchants into Israel in light of the declining number of those coming to Israel for trade purposes.

A recent report by Gisha, an Israeli nongovernmental organization dedicated to freedom of movement for Palestinians, indicates that Israel tightened its closure in 2017 and the situation of Gaza residents had deteriorated. The report claims that the decision on tougher measures against Gaza was adopted without any public discourse and implemented without advance warning.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


A step closer to long-needed relief for Dreamers (Boston Globe, JANUARY 23, 2018)

Crucially, McConnell signaled a willingness to hold a vote even without sign-off from President Trump, whose shifting positions on immigration have made him a completely unreliable negotiating partner. "For the first time, we have the majority leader move off of 'we can only move something if the president agrees,' " said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who backs the immigration proposal and switched to a "yes" vote after McConnell made his promise.

The clarity of seeing who sides with Donald's 10% is useful.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Tensions swell between Sessions and FBI over senior personnel from Comey era (Devlin Barrett, Philip Rucker, January 22, 2018, Washington Post)

The tension over McCabe and other high-level FBI officials who served during James B. Comey's tenure has reached the White House, where counsel Donald McGahn has sought to mediate the issue, these people said.

As Sessions tried to push Wray to make personnel changes, Wray conveyed his frustration to the attorney general, these people said. Sessions then discussed the matter with McGahn, who advised him to ease off, which he did, these people said. [...]

On Monday night, Comey appeared to cheer the news that Wray was standing up to the administration, tweeting: "Good to read reports of people standing up for what they believe in."

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Feds: Man threatened to kill CNN employees (Jonathan Carlson, 1/23/18,CBS46) 

A Michigan man was arrested after an FBI investigation, accused of threatening to travel to Atlanta to commit mass murder at CNN headquarters. 

According to federal court documents, 19 year-old Brandon Griesemer made 22 calls to CNN about a week ago. 

It began with claims of "fake news" and ended with threats of violence. 

Griesemer told a CNN operator, among other things, "Fake news. I'm coming to gun you all down." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Yes, Your Ancestors Probably Did Come Here Legally -- Because 'Illegal' Immigration Is Less Than a Century Old (Kevin Jennings, 1/22/18,  Los Angeles Times)

When people say "my ancestors came here legally," they're probably right. For the first century of the country's existence, anyone could land here and walk right off the boat with no papers of any kind, just as Gumpertz did. Coming here "illegally" did not even exist as a concept.

The first federal general immigration law was enacted in 1882. It prohibited from entering the U.S. "any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge." In other words, unless you were physically or mentally incapable of taking care of yourself, you were in -- unless you were Chinese.

That's because the first sweeping federal restriction on immigration also came in 1882, in the form of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Troubled by the influx of Chinese workers -- who helped build the transcontinental railroads, among other things -- Congress enacted a wholesale ban on their further immigration that year. To enforce the ban, a bureaucracy had to be created, leading in 1891 to the establishment of the federal Bureau of Immigration, the first body charged with enforcing federal immigration law.

Beyond these restrictions, however, federal immigration laws remained relatively lax: If you were an able-bodied, non-Chinese person, you could come "legally" for several more decades. You didn't have to speak a word of English or be literate in any language at all. In fact, it was not until 1917 that Congress required that immigrants pass a literacy test, and even then they could pass in any language, not just English.

When a massive influx of new immigrant groups came at the turn of the 20th century -- Italians from Southern Europe and Jews from Eastern Europe, largely -- a backlash began to build. In 1924, President Coolidge signed into law the National Origins Act, the primary aim of which was to severely restrict the flow of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. The new law required for the first time that immigrants to the U.S. have visas, introducing the concept of "having papers" to American immigration policy.

The concept of being an "illegal" immigrant pretty much dates back to 1924 -- less than a century ago.

It's always and only been about race.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


U.S. funding deal keep stocks bulls on the charge (Marc Jones, 1/23/18, Reuters)

The International Monetary Fund revised up its global growth forecasts for 2018 and 2019 to 3.9 percent, which would be the highest since 2011. There was also a lift from Japan as its central bank said it would keep its stimulus flowing.

"We should not confuse a mature bull market with a decrepit one," Goldman Sachs said in its 2018 outlook to clients.

"For the first time in a decade, the major economies of the world are all expanding at the same time, providing a foundation for global profits that fundamentally support risk assets."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Common Cause: Feds Should Investigate Trump Payoff To Porn Star (Greg Price, 1/23/18, Newsweek)

The group, Common Cause, said the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission should investigate the $130,000 payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in October 2016 by Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. It said the payment  may have been an in-kind contribution, which would violate several campaign finance laws.

Because the payment reportedly was made about a month before voters headed to the polls, it could be seen as a campaign "expenditure" that affected the election's outcome in Trump's favor, according to the complaint.

January 22, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Rouhani moves to leverage unrest to loosen IRGC grip on economy (Mohammad Ali Shabani, January 22, 2018, Al Monitor)

In the aftermath of the recent protests in Iran, public announcements about a concerted effort to get the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian army (Artesh) to divest from the economy seem to signal that President Hassan Rouhani remains firmly committed to his agenda.

Indeed, unlike the past -- when civil unrest was quickly assumed by default to weaken moderates as the security state stepped in -- elite responses to the protests have this time acknowledged grievances. Believed to have initially been instigated by hard-line foes who sought to undermine him, Rouhani is now using the protests to leverage his efforts to restrict the influence of unaccountable centers of power.

The endeavor is not new; rather, it has been on Rouhani's agenda since he first took office. To achieve this objective, the administration has avoided confrontation aimed at wholly emptying the pockets of its rivals. Instead, the president's approach has been one of co-optation via the gradual opening of the books of his opponents, with the aim of one day demanding full accountability. His engagement with the IRGC is a case in point.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


George Papadopoulos is the 'John Dean' of the Russia investigation, his fiancee says (Rosalind S. Helderman, January 22, 2018, Washington Post)

"I believe history will remember him like John Dean," said Italian-born Simona Mangiante, referring to the former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to his role in the Watergate coverup and then became a key witness against other aides to President Richard Nixon.

Dean told Nixon in 1973 that Watergate was a "cancer on the presidency," warning him that it was an existential crisis that could imperil his term in office. [...]

Without offering specifics, Mangiante said there is much more that has not yet been told publicly about Papadopoulos' 10 months as an informal national security adviser to Trump and his interactions with a London-based professor who told Papadopoulos, according to court filings, that the Russians had "dirt" on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

"There's a lot to come," she said. "He was the first one to break a hole on all of this."

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


She Confronts Trump's Immigration Advisers With Their Own Immigrant Histories (Ben Sales, January 22, 2018, JTA)

[I]f English proficiency had been an immigration requirement a century ago, Miller's own great-grandmother may not have been allowed into the country.

That's what journalist Jennifer Mendelsohn discovered that same day while working on a new project she calls Resistance Genealogy. Using public records and genealogical websites like Ancestry.com, Mendelsohn wants to show immigration hard-liners their own immigrant family trees.

"When you do genealogy, you're constantly confronted with the reality of our immigrant past," Mendelsohn told JTA. "It appears from some of the attitudes and stances that people are taking publicly that they're forgetting that."

In Miller's case, Mendelsohn tracked down his great-grandmother's line item in the 1910 census. The entry noted that four years after arriving in the United States, she spoke only Yiddish, not English.

Mendelsohn has performed similar searches for the immigrant forbears of a handful of President Donald Trump's advisers and supporters, seeking hard data to support the idea that America is a nation of immigrants. She's found out about Fox News host Tucker Carlson's great-great-grandfather, conservative pundit Tomi Lahren's great-great-grandfather (who forged his immigration papers, no less) and U.S. Rep. Steve King's grandmother, who arrived in the United States from Germany at age 4. ("We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," the Iowa Republican tweeted in March.)

On Jan. 9, Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media, called for an end to "chain migration," which refers to immigrants bringing their relatives to live in the United States. But Mendelsohn discovered that the practice had brought Scavino's great-grandfather, Gildo, to the country.

"So Dan. Let's say Victor Scavino arrives from Canelli, Italy, in 1904, then brother Hector in 1905, brother Gildo in 1912, sister Esther in 1913, & sister Clotilde and their father Giuseppe in 1916, and they live together in NY," Mendelsohn tweeted, listing his family members. "Do you think that would count as chain migration?"

Indeed, the big change from then to now is how much more quickly immigrants assimilate, mostly due to mass media and globalization.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Scoop: FBI director threatened to resign amid Trump, Sessions pressure (Jonathan Swan, 1/22/18, Axios)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- at the public urging of President Donald Trump -- has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Science Is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost  (EMMA GREEN  JAN 18, 2018, The Atlantic)

The first time Ashley McGuire had a baby, she and her husband had to wait 20 weeks to learn its sex. By her third, they found out at 10 weeks with a blood test. Technology has defined her pregnancies, she told me, from the apps that track weekly development to the ultrasounds that show the growing child. "My generation has grown up under an entirely different world of science and technology than the Roe generation," she said. "We're in a culture that is science-obsessed."

Activists like McGuire believe it makes perfect sense to be pro-science and pro-life. While she opposes abortion on moral grounds, she believes studies of fetal development, improved medical techniques, and other advances anchor the movement's arguments in scientific fact. "The pro-life message has been, for the last 40-something years, that the fetus ... is a life, and it is a human life worthy of all the rights the rest of us have," she said. "That's been more of an abstract concept until the last decade or so." But, she added, "when you're seeing a baby sucking its thumb at 18 weeks, smiling, clapping," it becomes "harder to square the idea that that 20-week-old, that unborn baby or fetus, is discardable."

Scientific progress is remaking the debate around abortion. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the case that led the way to legal abortion, it pegged most fetuses' chance of viable life outside the womb at 28 weeks; after that point, it ruled, states could reasonably restrict women's access to the procedure. Now, with new medical techniques, doctors are debating whether that threshold should be closer to 22 weeks. Like McGuire, today's prospective moms and dads can learn more about their baby earlier into a pregnancy than their parents or grandparents. And like McGuire, when they see their fetus on an ultrasound, they may see humanizing qualities like smiles or claps, even if most scientists see random muscle movements.

These advances fundamentally shift the moral intuition around abortion. New technology makes it easier to apprehend the humanity of a growing child and imagine a fetus as a creature with moral status. Over the last several decades, pro-life leaders have increasingly recognized this and rallied the power of scientific evidence to promote their cause. They have built new institutions to produce, track, and distribute scientifically crafted information on abortion. They hungrily follow new research in embryology. They celebrate progress in neonatology as a means to save young lives. New science is "instilling a sense of awe that we never really had before at any point in human history," McGuire said. "We didn't know any of this."

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Trump voting commission bought Texas election data flagging Hispanic voters (Spencer S. Hsu and John Wagner January 22, 2018, Washington post)

President Trump's voting commission asked every state and the District for detailed voter registration data, but in Texas's case it took an additional step: It asked to see Texas records that identify all voters with Hispanic surnames, newly released documents show.

In buying nearly 50 million records from the state with the nation's second-largest Hispanic population, a researcher for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity checked a box on two Texas public voter data request forms explicitly asking for the "Hispanic surname flag notation," to be included in information sent to the voting commission, according to copies of the signed and notarized state forms.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Trump Slaps Steep Tariffs on Imported Washing Machines and Solar Products (ANA SWANSON, JAN. 22, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump has imposed steep tariffs on both washing machines and solar products, responding to two separate trade cases that sought to protect American industry from a flood of cheap imports, including from China, the United States trade representative said Monday.

Oh, for the days of the UR, removing restrictions on the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Chelsea Manning Went To A Far-Right Party Celebrating Trump (Aiden Pink, 1/22/18, The Forward)

BuzzFeed News reported that Manning was hobnobbing at a New York nightclub with Cassandra Fairbanks, who writes for the conspiracist website The Gateway Pundit.

Hundreds of other figures of the far-right were at the party, including many whom the the Anti-Defamation League placed on a "hate speech" watchlist, such as conspiracy theorists Mike Cernovich, Gateway Pundit reporter Lucian Wintrich, and Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, who once made a video titled "10 Things I Hate About Jews." [...]

Manning is running in a Democratic primary in Maryland to unseat incumbent senator Ben Cardin, who is Jewish.

Julian sent his regrets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Donald Trump's relationship with John Kelly, his chief of staff, fraught from the beginning, may finally have gone past the point of no return. Two prominent Republicans in frequent contact with the White House told me that Trump has discussed choosing Kelly's successor in recent days, asking a close friend what he thought about David Urban, a veteran Washington lobbyist and political operative who helped engineer Trump's victory in Pennsylvania. Ivanka is also playing a central role in the search, quietly field-testing ideas with people. "Ivanka is the most worried about it. She's trying to figure who replaces Kelly," a person who's spoken with her said.

Kelly's departure likely isn't imminent, sources said. "He wants to stay longer than Reince [Priebus]," an outside adviser said.

Perhaps the smallest ambition ever.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Women and independents drive advantage for Democrats ahead of midterm elections, Post-ABC poll finds (Scott Clement, January 22, 2018, Washington Post)

By 51 percent to 39 percent, more registered voters say they would support the Democratic candidate in their congressional district over the Republican. Democrats' 12 percentage-point advantage on this "generic ballot" question is the largest in Post-ABC polling since 2006, although it is slightly larger than other polls this month. [...]

The Post-ABC poll found more Americans saying they think Trump and Republicans were responsible for the shutdown, although Republican leaders have expressed confidence that Democrats will be blamed for insisting on concessions for young undocumented immigrants before backing a funding bill.

The Post-ABC poll finds Democrats holding a 57 percent to 31 percent advantage among female voters, double the size of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's margin in the 2016 election. Nonwhite women favor Democrats by a 53-point margin, somewhat smaller than Clinton's 63-point advantage over Trump in 2016. But white women have moved sharply in Democrats' direction, favoring them over Republicans by 12 points after supporting Trump by nine points in 2016 and Republican candidates by 14 points in the 2014 midterm election, according to network exit polls.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Trump administration's immigrant-crime hotline releases victims' personal information (Daniel González, 1/21/18, The Republic)

The same week the Trump administration opened a hotline last April to support victims of crimes by immigrants, Elena Maria Lopez called to report a complaint against her ex-husband.

At first, Lopez kept getting a busy signal.

But finally someone answered. For the next 20 minutes, Lopez provided a detailed account, accusing the Dutch immigrant of marrying her to get a green card and then threatening to harm her if she contacted immigration officials.

What happened next shocked Lopez.

Not only did Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that operates the hotline, decline to take action, but immigration authorities also released much of the private information she provided. This includes a confidential internet phone number she fears will now make it easier for anyone to locate her in New Jersey, where she has a protected address set up for domestic-violence victims.

Lopez is one of hundreds of people whose private information was inappropriately released by ICE when the agency posted call logs to the hotline on its website, a clear violation of the agency's own policies against divulging private information, as well as privacy laws intended to protect individuals who provide sensitive information to the government.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Up to 1,000 more U.S. troops could be headed to Afghanistan this spring (Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan, January 21, 2018, Washington Post)

Senior administration officials said that the president has been known to affect an Indian accent and imitate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi...

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Stop Calling It "Incidental" Collection of Americans' Emails: The Gov't's Renewed Surveillance Powers (Allyson Scher, January 22, 2018, LawFare)

We have been told that the acquisition of Americans' private communications through Section 702 program is "incidental" and that the law does not allow the government to "target" Americans' communications--but it's through the use of such language where the confusion begins. If anything, what the recent Section 702 debates reveal is that the FBI considers it vital to access Americans' communications that have been collected under Section 702 program at various stages of an investigation.

The scope of "incidental" collection is wide. The acquisition of American's communications occurs when Americans communicate with foreigners that are "targeted" under Section 702.

Here's an idea: don't befriend foreigners who are perceived as a threat to our security.  Or, if you absolutely feel compelled to truckle with them, don't incriminate yourself in the conversation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Bad Coffee Will Make You a Happier Person (Nick Douglas, 1/22/18, Lifehacker)

When you like something, it's not typical to voluntarily try a worse version. It's much more usual to try a better version, as a splurge. With coffee, where you don't have to be rich to enjoy the top of the line once or twice, it's easy to train yourself to appreciate a better version, and to come to crave it every day, until you've bought yourself a home pourover setup with a grinder and a scale for your single-origin beans, because anything less tastes like stomach acid run through a dishwasher.

You start to rely on specific coffeeshops; you visit friends and turn down an offered cup. A tier of coffee that used to please you now disappoints you. You've kicked the ladder out from under you. You're no longer backward compatible.

What if instead, you tried a downgrade? Acclimate yourself to a slightly inferior cup of coffee? Splurge on a cheap cup from McDonald's or Dunkin' or the bodega? Grab the pre-ground beans? Buy a fifteen-dollar coffee machine instead of fussing with pourover or French press? Your body still appreciates the caffeine. And thanks to the march of technology and infrastructure, that cheap cup of coffee is a lot better than you remember.

If it costs much over $3 a pound you're being fleeced, but an electric kettle and a french press are a must.  It's the quickest, easiest, cheapest way to enjoy coffee.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Patriots send yet another opponent home frustrated and frazzled (Ron Borges, January 22, 2018, bOSTON hERALD)

How, for example, can a team come out of a timeout and be flagged for delay of game on a third-and-7 situation that negated a 12-yard completion that would have allowed the Jags to keep the ball with 2:33 to play in the first half holding a 14-3 lead?

"Yeah, I just thought out of the timeout we lost track (of the play clock),'' Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said sheepishly. Lost track? Your team didn't lose track. It lost the game. Or at least began that process.

On the next play they got both sacked and flagged for holding. Then, after pinning the Patriots at their own 15 with 2:02 left, his defense committed 47 yards worth of penalties on what became a 85-yard touchdown "drive'' that cut the lead to 14-10.

"You know how it is in this league,'' Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "The margin for error is small. We had our opportunities and we didn't make them. They executed better when they had to than we did.''

Yes they did. The Patriots executed their plays. The Jaguars executed themselves.

The Jags were better by far on third down, dominated the time of possession and outgained the Patriots. Well, they did the latter until you add 98 yards in penalties Jacksonville committed. That's nearly the length of a football field ... or the margin of victory when you lose by four points.

What separated these two teams is what has separated the Patriots from their peers for nearly two decades. It's the little things.

Like Blake Bortles missing a wide-open Marqise Lee on first-and-10 from his own 10. The throw went out of bounds and on the next play Bortles was sacked and second-half field position began to tilt in the Patriots' favor. Little by little.

"The game is never over at halftime," Brady said. "You've got to go to the end.'' [...]

Why is this? Why, time and again do the Patriots make the plays and their opponents do not? Why does a defense that was best in the league in defending the red zone give up two touchdowns in that area in the final quarter? Maybe one reason is deciding to run a kickoff back from the goal line and getting stuffed at your own 16 instead of downing the ball in the end zone and starting at your 25? Might that have contributed to the fact Jacksonville's final two drives of the game began at its 16 and 10, the latter resulting in a punt that gave the Patriots the ball at the Jags 30 to begin the winning drive?

Why do the little things add up for the Patriots and not for their opponents? Devin McCourty isn't sure but he has an idea.

"It's so interesting with this team,'' McCourty explained. "Everything we have to go through that we absolutely hate, it comes back (when the pressure is highest).

"First week (James) Harrison was here he said one day, 'More meetings?' Bill drills us on every situation over and over. It's not always what you want to hear. But so many times the situation comes up. When it gets tough, it's calm for us. All week we talked about we got to play from ahead and we played from behind all game. But we kept playing.''

Watching his "peers" mismanage the clock, field position, strategy, etc,, Bill must kick himself for every year he didn't win the Super Bowl. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Husband of USWNT star going to the Super Bowl (Darin Gantt, January 22, 2018, Pro Football Talk)

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Senators reach deal to reopen government (Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, 1/22/18, Reuters)

Schumer said he had come to an arrangement with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on the funding bill to keep the government open until Feb. 8 and a plan to address the issue of the Dreamers.

As Donald says, his opposition to immigration was the only thing preventing a deal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


The Ugly, Unknown Story Behind Roe v. Wade (SCOTTIE HUGHES, SEP 25, 2013, LifeNews)

Second, abortion advocates at the time of Roe were caught up in the wake of two decades of fear about a growing world population. A widely popular 1968 book by Dr. Paul Ehrlich declared that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines - hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article warning "if we breed like rabbits, in the long run we have to live and die like rabbits." The titles of popular books spoke for themselves. Ehrlich's best-seller was called The Population Bomb. Another was titled Too Many Asians.

In this vortex of fear about a near future in which there would simply be too many people on earth to feed, abortion seemed almost scientific, at least to those short-sighted enough to believe Ehrlich and his ilk. But we now know there was no "population bomb" (nor are there "too many Asians"). Yes, the population has grown, but famines and starvation did not. Instead, life expectancy and average incomes rose due to trade, technology, and free enterprise - not population control.

Third, the Justices in Roe "thought they were riding a wave of cultural sentiment in favor of abortion," says Forsythe. They never anticipated the backlash - the push for constitutional amendments, the thousands of people who march on the Supreme Court every anniversary of Roe, or the way the decision dominates the nomination process for Supreme Court Justices.

How were they supposed to know that America was religious, not Darwinist?  Justice Ginsburg captured their eugenic enthusiasm nicely:

"Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."

It's why Donald has always supported abortion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


A President Not Sure of What He Wants Complicates the Shutdown Impasse (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JAN. 21, 2018, NY Times)

When President Trump mused last year about protecting immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, calling them "these incredible kids," aides implored him privately to stop talking about them so sympathetically.

When he batted around the idea of granting them citizenship over a Chinese dinner at the White House last year with Democratic leaders, Mr. Trump's advisers quickly drew up a list of hard-line demands to send to Capitol Hill that they said must be included in any such plan.

And twice over the past two weeks, Mr. Trump has privately told lawmakers he is eager to strike a deal to extend legal status to the so-called Dreamers, only to have his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, make clear afterward that such a compromise was not really in the offing -- unless it also included a host of stiffer immigration restrictions.

As the government shutdown continued for its second day on Sunday, one thing was clear to both sides of the negotiations to end it: The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve.

Both sides have reason to be confused. Each time Mr. Trump has edged toward compromise with Democrats, he has appeared to be reined in by his own staff, which shares the hawkish immigration stance that fueled his campaign. 

He ran on hate alone; what else does he have to offer his staff and base?

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


2018 Government Shutdown Report: Most & Least Affected States (John S Kiernan, 1/22/18, WalletHub)
Source: WalletHub

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Amazon Just Made a Huge Announcement That Will Completely Change the Future of Shopping (Betsy Mikel , 1/22/18, Inc.)
There are no cashiers. There aren't even checkout lanes. At Amazon's new grocery store, you just grab stuff off the shelves, bag it yourself and walk out. Everything gets automatically charged to your Amazon account.

It's called Amazon Go, and the store uses artificial intelligence and cameras to track what's being taken off the shelves. The 1,800 square foot store is located in the ground level of Amazon's new headquarters. Starting today, it's open to the public. All you need for entry is the Amazon Go app.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Advocacy group: #SchumerShutdown becomes top hashtag used by Russian bots (JACQUELINE THOMSEN - 01/21/18, The Hill)

#SchumerShutdown became the top trending topic promoted by Russian bots on social media on Sunday night, a national security group found.

January 21, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


FBI: Devin Nunes Won't Show Us Memo Alleging Surveillance Abuses (Betsy Woodruff, 01.21.18, Daily Beast)

"The FBI has requested to receive a copy of the memo in order to evaluate the information and take appropriate steps if necessary. To date, the request has been declined," said Andrew Ames, a spokesperson for the FBI.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Watching 'Fox & Friends,' Trump Sees a Two-Way Mirror (JAMES PONIEWOZIK, JULY 19, 2017, NY Times)

The producers of children's television know the key to holding a distractible audience's attention: interactivity.

Dora the Explorer asks kids to repeat after her ("Swiper, no swiping!"). Mister Rogers broke the fourth wall to welcome them to his neighborhood. The hosts of "Romper Room" pretended to see them through a "magic mirror," and read their names on the air.

It turns out you can apply the same formula to morning news. "Fox & Friends," the three-hour wake-up program on Fox News, is an interactive magic mirror for Donald J. Trump.

President Trump is the show's subject, its programmer, its publicist and its virtual fourth host. The stars offer him flattery, encouragement and advice. When he tweets, his words and image appear on a giant video wall. It's the illusion of children's TV -- that your favorite show is as aware of you as you are of it -- except that for Mr. Trump, it's real.

In January the hosts, "Romper Room"-style, even pretended to be watching Potus, showing a video feed of the White House and asking him to flash the lights on and off if he was watching. (Producers added an effect of the lights flickering, a "TV trick" the hosts later acknowledged.)

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Schumer Shutdown Makes Clear Democrats' Real Priorities (Genevieve Wood, January 21, 2018, Daily Signal)

[I]t's because their liberal base is demanding that in this election year they put the needs and desires of those who are here in this country illegally before anybody else.

That is, indeed, the entire basis of the shutdown--Donald's hatred of minorities and opposition to America.

Huge majority of Americans want Dreamers to stay in US: poll (Bob Fredericks January 11, 2018, NY Post)

Americans by an almost 8 to 1 margin -- 79 percent -- think Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the country and apply for citizenship -- putting most voters at odds with GOP immigration hardliners in Congress and the Trump administration, a new Quinnipiac poll said Thursday.

Another 7 percent say they should stay but not become citizens -- while only 11 percent say they should get the boot.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


The Government Shutdown Effect: Big In The Short Term, Small After That (Harry Enten, 1/20/18, 538)

[P]rior shutdowns haven't had long-term electoral implications. Republicans recovered on the generic ballot by February 1996, just a month after the final shutdown of that period ended. And in the elections later that year, they held onto their majorities in both the House and Senate. Clinton, meanwhile, recovered his lost support by March 1996. He would go on to easily win reelection later in 1996.

Basically, America put the same people who shut the government down back in office.

The 2013 shutdown tells the same story. Despite losing the blame game, Republicans jumped to a lead on the generic ballot by late November 2013 -- their first of the year. In the 2014 midterms, they expanded their majority in the House and won back the Senate. Meanwhile, Obama continued a long-term decline in his approval ratings in the months following the 2013 shutdown, but recovered to his pre-shutdown approval level by April 2014.

Obviously, we're dealing with a very small sample size in terms of historical examples. We don't have a ton of polling with which to examine the political effects of prior shutdowns. So, perhaps this shutdown will prove different. Americans list dissatisfaction with government as the most important problem facing the country. In such an environment, the government shutdown could, for example, be held up by Democrats during the midterm campaign as the ultimate demonstration of the inability of Republicans to get things done on an issue (DACA) that most Americans support.

But your safest bet right now -- at least until we get more polling as this story unfolds (or ends) -- is that the long-term electoral effects of the shutdown will be minimal.

Democrats have nothing to lose from the shutdown and important relief for immigrants to gain.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Efficiency is the goal for Cashman, Epstein and Friedman (Buster Olney, 1/21/18, ESPN)

When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has an idea for a trade, one of his staffers related the other day, he will wait days before raising the concept with the other team. In the interim, he and his staff will deliberate over all sides of the would-be proposal, assessing and reassessing, like geologists turning and studying each millimeter of a rock.

Only after he is wholly educated on value involved will he make the call, fully armed to discuss what he wants out of the deal, and prepared to anticipate what the other guy might want. After two decades of running the Yankees, Cashman tends to not be reflexive or reactive, if he ever was. His many years of experience -- the failures and the successes -- have made him better. The same is said of two of his big-market peers, the Cubs' Theo Epstein and the Dodgers' Andrew Friedman.

Many factors have contributed to the stagnant winter market, from the impact of the luxury-tax threshold to the growing trend of teams opting to be really bad rather than merely mediocre (i.e., tanking). Another is that three of the teams with greatest resources -- the Dodgers, Cubs and Yankees -- are run by baseball operations executives devoted to efficiency. [...]

With Greinke unsigned and hanging in the market, the Diamondbacks swooped in and quickly worked out a six-year, $206.5 million deal -- another classic example of an impetuous contract negotiated at the ownership level. In the days after the move went down, the Dodgers and Friedman absorbed a lot of negative reviews for allowing a great pitcher to get away (including from this writer), in spite of the franchise's spending power. Greinke is about to enter Year 3 of the contract and, the evaluator said, it's apparent that Friedman absolutely made the right call not to compete with the D-backs' offer.

Long-term contracts on veteran free agents, the evaluator said, "are -- at best -- a 50-50 outcome for the teams. They can be really harmful, and having the [financial] flexibility is really important as you're trying to put together a roster."

By the time a player, especially a pitcher, reaches his initial free agency, you probably shouldn't be signing them through later than their age 32/33 season, unless to one-year deals.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Iran may try to loosen Revolutionary Guard's grip on economy (JON GAMBRELL, 1/21/18, AP) 

Iran's supreme leader has ordered the Revolutionary Guard to loosen its hold on the economy, the country's defense minister says, raising the possibility that the paramilitary organization might privatize some of its vast holdings.

The comments this weekend by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami appear to be a trial balloon to test the reaction of the idea, long pushed by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Protests over the country's poor economy last month escalated into demonstrations directly challenging the government. [...]

Hatami, the first non-Guard-affiliated military officer to be made defense minister in nearly 25 years, made the comments in an interview published Saturday by the state-run IRAN newspaper. He said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered both the country's regular military and the Guard to get out of businesses not directly affiliated to their work.

"Our success depends on market conditions," the newspaper quoted Hatami as saying.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Why Are Social Conservatives Silent on Trump's Porn-Star Affair? (Jonah Goldberg, January 18, 2018, National Review)

It seems to me there are just two reasons why so many former professional finger-waggers refuse to do the minimal work necessary to protect their credibility. First, the president is incredibly thin-skinned and demands not only loyalty but flattery. Any criticism is seen as a betrayal. Second, the Trump base largely sees it the same way. It's a right-wing version of virtue signaling, or really, MAGA-signaling. If you're on board with Trump, you need to be all in. Can't have one foot on the Trump train. It's reminiscent of how Steve Bannon went around bragging that real MAGA-ers didn't flinch during "Billy Bush weekend." It's of a piece with the fact that you can vote 100 percent in favor of the "Trump agenda" but if you criticize Trump, you're a traitor. But if you vote against the Trump agenda but flatter the president, you'll be fine. It's why so much of the energy on the pro-Trump Right is channeled into the hypocrisy of liberals who also said sh**, or who defended adulterers, etc. Fine, many prominent liberals are hypocrites for suddenly caring about such things. But many prominent conservatives are hypocrites for suddenly not caring.

To be fair, much of the Left eschews even the notion of sexual mores, so they weren't being hypocritical about Bill's predation.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


After Vowing to Fix Washington, Trump Is Mired in a Familiar Crisis (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JAN. 20, 2018, NY Times)

 Irritated to have missed his big event in Florida, Mr. Trump spent much of his day watching old TV clips of him berating President Barack Obama for a lack of leadership during the 2013 government shutdown, a White House aide said, seeming content to sit back and watch the show.

All you need to know about this presidency is that it has turned Maggie Haberman into a worthy rival of Andrew Ferguson for comic writing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Trump So Far Is More Farce Than Tragedy (Ross Douthat, JAN. 20, 2018, NY Times)

[W]hatever the offenses may be, the real-world policy effects that Trump's critics have feared from l'Affaire Russe -- an alliance of strongmen, the subordination of American interests to Moscow, the unraveling of NATO -- haven't materialized at all. Trump may desire a détente, but instead we are escalating our proxy war with Russia in Ukraine even as sanctions remain in force and our troops train in Eastern Europe and the Pentagon's National Security Strategy treats Moscow as a major threat. If Trump is supposed to be advancing Kremlin interests from Washington, the bargain isn't working, and the Russians might as well just release the pee tape and have done with it.

And what's true with Russia is true on other fronts. A vast gulf between the things Trump says he wants -- which are, indeed, often authoritarian -- and the things that actually happen is the essential characteristic of his presidency's first year.

He promised to bring back waterboarding and worse; he was easily talked out of it. He promised a Muslim ban; a much more modest travel ban is now tied up in the courts. He launched a voter fraud commission, which his critics regarded as a step toward massive vote suppression; it was ineffective and broke up. He keeps threatening to change the libel laws; they aren't changing, and the anti-Trump press is thriving. NATO and Nafta are both still there; the trade war with China has been postponed; we are not at war with Iran or (yes, I know, yet) with North Korea; the scope of the Russia investigation has only widened since Trump's hamfisted intervention.

Before Trump took office, it was reasonable to worry that he would fill high offices with cronies, but the real cranks have rarely lasted and many appointments have been reasonable and conventional and even boring. The president is filling the courts with Federalist Society conservatives, not his sister or Ivanka or Newt Gingrich, and his cabinet looks a lot like a generic Republican administration, whose efforts liberals understandably oppose and sometimes deplore, but which are not remotely like the workings of a fascist cabal circa 1935.

And then legislatively, the story of the Trump era so far is failure on every front save tax cuts, an outsourcing of policymaking to Hill Republicans, and a general incompetence that is bringing us yet another government shutdown. 

The presidencies of Wilson and FDR were tragic; fighting for democracy but selling out to colonialism and communism, respectively. Donald's is pure comedy; fighting for Vlad and against capitalism but presiding over indictments, sanctions and the continuation of W and the UR's global boom. If the Electoral College had refused to seat a president for this term nothing significant would be different today.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Why are female athletes still paid less than males? (David Cox, 1/21/18, Al Jazeera)

The men's and women's champions at the Australian Open tennis event are set to pocket four million Australian dollars (US$3.2m) each later this month, an equity often cited as one of the great examples of gender equality in sport.

When Wimbledon agreed to offer equal prize-money a decade ago, only nine out of the 44 sports which remunerate athletes paid equally. That number is now 35.

However, the remaining nine are among the biggest and most lucrative in the world: Football, golf and cricket among them.

Serena Williams is the only female in the world's 100 highest-paid athletes. Recent studies suggested gender equality in football is worse than in politics, business and medicine.

No one pays much to watch women's sports, so what money are they supposed to get?

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Argentina's gamble on economic gradualism is working, so far (The Economist, Jan 18th 2018)

Mr Macri promised to open up Argentina's isolated economy and end controls imposed by his populist predecessors, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her husband, Néstor Kirchner, who governed for nearly 13 years between them. Under Mr Macri, Guapaletas has better access to credit, says Mr Manzuoli. A new online platform, Export Easy, makes it simpler to get export licences. Guapaletas started selling through three shops in Argentina and has now expanded to 69. It plans to start exporting to Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay in March.

But Mr Manzuoli's confidence is tinged with unease. Mr Macri's reforms have run into resistance. A protest against his plans to reduce spending on pensions led to the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets and tied up traffic in Buenos Aires on December 14th, delaying deliveries by two lolly-laden lorries. After a fast start, Mr Macri has slowed the pace of reforms. If he cannot finish the job, Mr Manzuoli fears, Argentina's economy will not prosper.

After taking office in December 2015, Mr Macri floated the peso, scrapped most taxes on exports and reduced energy and transport subsidies in an effort to restrain a rising budget deficit (see chart). He introduced targets for public borrowing, settled a long-running dispute with foreign creditors, which restored Argentina's access to international capital markets, and gave his blessing to inflation targeting by the central bank.

The economy is now moving in the right direction. It has recovered from a recession that began in 2015 and is expected to grow 2.5% this year. Inflation has fallen by more than a third from its peak of around 40% in July 2016. The IMF predicts that the primary budget deficit (excluding interest payments on debt) will shrink from 4.8% of GDP in 2016 to 1.9% by 2020.

Last October, Cambiemos, Mr Macri's party, won a decisive victory in legislative elections, giving the government the courage to continue reforms, albeit at a cautious pace.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


The Beauty of Order: review of The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition by James Matthew Wilson.  (MATTHEW M. ROBARE, Univversity Bookman)

For Wilson, the Western tradition is the Christian Platonist one, in which the two basic facts about existence are that the universe is ordered and that its order is intelligible to the human mind. These two facts are augmented by Christian belief in a personal God who loves us unconditionally and desires that we love him. This tradition, argues Wilson, has been overshadowed by the Enlightenment and the philosophies descended from it. The problem with the Enlightenment is that while it begins as an attempt to understand the universe, it has devolved into a crude materialism that denies objective reality. However, writers such as Edmund Burke and T. S. Eliot preserved this culture, despite the dominance of liberalism.

In fact, Wilson maintains that liberalism can never be an actual culture because "it has no positive content, its goods being mere negations," and so tends towards repetition and indifference. He says that liberal culture is moribund because its only goods are choice and equality, rendering quality and content irrelevant. The only thing that can be done is to transgress the established norms, but eventually there's nothing left to transgress, only subjective tastes.

The discussion of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain and Thomist aesthetics is the core of the book. "Only in the Christian Platonist tradition ... do we see beauty take on its full existential dimension, as a reality given to the senses, as drawing the mind to the perception of being and truth, and finally to a vision of beauty as the ordering principle of reality as a whole," Wilson writes. "Fine art takes on a new importance ... because it attunes us, awakens and habituates us, to the perception of the ordered whole of reality." 

Thus, the Puritan nation never fell for modern art.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria (Simon Speakman Cordall, 1/21/18, Middle East Online)

As the Syrian regime con­tinues its brutal assault into Idlib in northern Syria, much of what re­mains of the Syrian re­bel forces are fighting a desperate rearguard action against Damas­cus's inexorable advance.

Within the province, one of the region's dominant jihadist groups, the Turkish-funded Ahrar al-Sham, and its allies resist the regime's ad­vance. To their side stands another Syrian jihadist group, one that played a defining role not just in the history of Syria but within the world. [...]

By 2016, with the tide of the war turning against Syria's rebels, the value of Jabhat al-Nusra's al-Qaeda affiliation grew questionable. Who was doing that questioning is in dispute. What is less disputed is the toxicity al-Qaeda's brand had assumed.

While Jabhat al-Nusra managed to form various alliances with fac­tions in Syria's rebel groupings, the group's explicit ties to al-Qaeda always carried the risk of interna­tional blacklisting and, for groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and other internationally backed groups, the potential loss of funding. Some­thing had to change.

"The whole point was to achieve a shift in perception, without really changing much on the ground," Ja­son Burke, author of several books on al-Qaeda, wrote by e-mail.

"So, for example, though the nominal allegiance of the organi­sation changed, the personal alle­giance of individual leaders of the group, which is much more im­portant, did not. Many are sworn by a traditional bayat to be loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the [al-Qaeda] leader, and have in no way repudi­ated that loyalty. To do so would be virtually impossible anyway."

Despite the rebranding, old faces and ties remained and new alli­ances failed to materialise. As ISIS sucked the majority of the air from the room, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was only able to make limited headway in ingraining itself within Syria's wider rebel milieu.

It was only when rebel infight­ing near Aleppo broke out in Janu­ary 2017 that it drew other, more "mainstream" groups into its fold, with the Sunni Islamist group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, the jihadist alliance Jabhat Ansar al- Din and at least two other groups joining Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, call­ing itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

January 20, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


In the crowd at Trump's inauguration, members of Russia's elite anticipated a thaw between Moscow and Washington (Craig Timberg, Rosalind S. Helderman, Andrew Roth and Carol D. Leonnig, January 20, 2017, Washington Post)
Some prominent Russians came to Washington to witness Donald Trump's inauguration last year. Above is a section where some had ticketed seats in front of the U.S. Capitol. (CNN/Photo illustration by The Washington Post)
In the days before Donald Trump's inauguration, a wealthy Russian pharmaceutical executive named Alexey Repik arrived in Washington, expressing excitement about the new administration.

He posted a photo on Facebook of a clutch of inauguration credentials arranged next to a white "Make America Great Again" hat, writing in Russian: "I believe that President Donald Trump will open a new page in American history."

Throughout his trip, Repik had prime access. He wrote on Facebook that he got close enough to the president-elect at a pre-inaugural event to "check the handshake strength of Donald Trump." He and his wife, Polina Repik, witnessed Trump's swearing-in from ticketed seats in front of the U.S. Capitol. And he posed for a photo shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Pompeo, the president's nominee to head the CIA, although Repik later said he was not aware of Pompeo's intended role at the time.

The attendance of members of Russia's elite at Trump's inauguration was evidence of the high anticipation in Moscow for a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations following a campaign in which Trump stunned U.S. foreign-policy experts by repeatedly praising Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Buying Donald and thinking you had America in your pocket was like Donald paying off a porn star and thinking everything would stay under the rug.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Devin Nunes's Mystery Memo: Repeating the Cycle of Distraction (Quinta Jurecic, January 20, 2018, LawFare)

At this point, any work product from Devin Nunes concerning matters related to the Russia investigation should be taken with a healthy helping of salt. Although Nunes still chairs the House intelligence committee, he was forced to remove himself from its Russia probe after a bewildering March press conference in which he announced concern over possible incidental collection of Trump transition-team information. (Reports later showed that the White House had leaked Nunes the allegedly alarming material on "unmasking.") After months, Bloomberg's Eli Lake--originally sympathetic to Nunes's concerns--reported that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster had found no evidence to support Nunes's allegations of wrongdoing.

Moreover, Nunes's actions don't quite look like those of a House intelligence committee chairman earnestly horrified by his discovery of serious surveillance abuses. He didn't share any of the information he allegedly unearthed with his Democratic colleagues before drafting the memo. There's no evidence that he sought to call witnesses to investigate his concerns. He just wrote a document, declared it shocking and made it available to people likely to be shocked.

So what is this shocking document? Fox News describes Nunes's new memo as addressing "abuses of FISA," including Nunes's unmasking concerns. According to the New York Times, the memo's main focus is the FBI's alleged use of the Steele dossier to obtain a FISA warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. So the document seems likely to be a reiteration of Nunes's concerns over unmasking, presented alongside some other bugbears of the Trump defense. To put it another way: We've been here before.

At this point, the feedback loop of disinformation between Trump-friendly congressional Republicans, the White House and pro-Trump media has become familiar. The cycle runs like this: Congressional Republicans voice concerns about an alleged abuse of government authority under President Obama or an instance of anti-Trump bias; one of a small group of relatively marginal media outlets writes about their theories and investigations, drawing yawns from more traditional reporters; then Fox News--usually including Sean Hannity--devotes breathless attention to the story; President Trump tweets about it; Fox and Congress respond to the president's tweets; and around and around we go.

But the substantive focus of the cycle of obfuscation and confusion looks slightly different on each turn. Think back to March 2017, when Nunes first alleged abuse of unmasking authority. The drumbeat since then hasn't focused unceasingly on unmasking. Rather, this particular news cycle has moved from unmasking to the Steele dossier, to attacks on the credibility of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, to calls for a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton, to efforts to push out FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, to Uranium One, to the allegedly inflammatory text messages between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, to the Steele dossier, and back again. It's a roulette wheel of stories aimed at discrediting the special counsel and the FBI. Some of them are even true.

And stories often return, looking slightly different the second time around. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee first called for a duplicate special counsel to investigate a grab bag of alleged offenses by Clinton before later tying their request to Uranium One. Likewise, Nunes appears to have looped together his concerns over unmasking with Republican discontent over the Steele dossier in this latest memo.

Trump hasn't yet tweeted about the Nunes memo (though Donald Trump Jr. has). Otherwise, the mechanics of the #ReleasetheMemo media cycle look entirely familiar. 

On the positive side, they've conceded that the Steele dossier is accurate; now they're just complaining that it was used to gather more evidence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


'Negotiating with Jell-O': How Trump's shifting positions fueled the rush to a shutdown (Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Ed O'Keefe January 20, 2018, Washington Post)

After the president ordered cameras out of the Cabinet Room that day, the group delved into the details. Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump's homeland security secretary, and her staff passed out a four-page document on the administration's "must haves" for any immigration bill -- a hard-line list that included $18 billion for Trump's promised border wall, eliminating the diversity visa lottery program and ending "extended family chain migration," according to the document, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

But one person seemed surprised and alarmed by the memo: the president.

With Democrats and Republicans still in the room, Trump said that the document didn't represent all of his positions, that he wasn't familiar with its contents and that he didn't appreciate being caught off-guard. He instructed the group to disregard the summary and move on, according to one of the lawmakers in the room, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

"It's like the wedding where someone actually stands up and objects to the wedding," the lawmaker said. "It was that moment."  [...]

Trump is a self-proclaimed dealmaker who has struggled to close critical deals as president -- an unreliable negotiator who seems to promise one thing only to renege days, or even hours, later. He boasts of being "flexible" and has few core ideological convictions, yet often seems torn between his desire for a bipartisan "win" and the pull of the nationalist populism he ran on. In politics, he resembles at times an amateur jazz musician -- moody and improvisational, but without the technical chops to hold a piece together. [...]

"Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O," Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained on the Senate floor Saturday, some 12 hours into the shutdown.

Except Jello has spine.
Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Despite Russian Bot Campaign, #TrumpShutdown Hashtag Burns President (Caroline Orr, January 20, 2018, ShareBlue)

By just before midnight Friday evening, #TrumpShutdown was the top trending hashtag worldwide. The hashtag continued to dominate throughout the morning on Saturday, making for an unpleasant surprise when Trump awoke on the anniversary of his inauguration. [...]

Notably, by 11:30 AM Eastern time, #DemocratShutdown was the #2 trending hashtag -- not worldwide or in America, though. Rather, it was trending among a network of Russian-linked Twitter accounts tracked by the group Securing Democracy.


Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page (Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous, April 11, 2017, wASHINGTON pOST)
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page's communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump's favor.

Carter Page reveals new contacts with Trump campaign, Russians (Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Katelyn Polantz, 11/08/17, CNN)

Carter Page's six-plus hours of testimony before the House intelligence committee makes clear senior members of the Trump campaign were aware of the former Trump foreign policy adviser's July 2016 trip to Russia -- and Page may have had interactions with more Russian government officials beyond what he's previously acknowledged, according to a transcript of the interview released Monday night.

Page told the committee he was invited to speak in Russia after joining the campaign -- a similar pattern to foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was approached by a professor connected to the Russian government after the professor learned he was advising the campaign.

In the interview, Page says that he sought permission for his trip ahead of time and asked for advice about his remarks at a university, and afterward he offered to provide a readout to the campaign. Page also floated the idea that Trump travel to Russia in his place to give an Obama-like foreign speech.

The curious journey of Carter Page, the former Trump adviser who can't stay out of the spotlight (Dan Zak,  November 16, 2017 , wASHINGTON pOST)

In January 2013, Page met a Russian attaché named Victor Podobnyy at an energy symposium in New York. Podobnyy was actually an intelligence agent who was hitting up various American businesspeople as potential sources.

"He got hooked on Gazprom, thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up," Podobnyy said to a fellow agent in 2013, according to a federal complaint against members of an alleged spy ring. "It's obvious that he wants to earn lots of money." (Page today says this exchange "doesn't even warrant a comment.")

The FBI debriefed him about the meeting, and Page cooperated. It would not be their last interaction.

In December 2015, Page asked Ed Cox, chairman of the New York state Republican Party, to recommend him to the Trump campaign, which Page saw as a movement aligned with some of his ideas.

That's pretty much all it took.

"Anyone who came to us with a pulse, a résumé and seemed legit would be welcomed," a Trump campaign official told The Post in May.

Within weeks, Trump casually announced Page's name to the world.

Trump's foreign-policy committee met once with the candidate, on March 31, 2016, according to Page. He did not attend, but his name was already out there.

That summer, about the time the FBI obtained a secret court order to monitor his communications, Page flew to Moscow to give a speech at the New Economic School -- a private institute where President Barack Obama also spoke, in 2009 -- about "fundamental trends in the world economy." The speech was critical of U.S. foreign policy in parts, though Page disclaimed that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a representative of the campaign.

His trip drew attention apart from his speech: Yahoo reported that intelligence officials had been told that Page met with a Russian oil titan and discussed U.S. sanctions, which Page heatedly denies. (He has since filed a defamation suit.) Harry Reid, then the Senate minority leader, asked the FBI to look into the matter, prompting Page to leave the Trump campaign.

In December, after the election, Page returned to Moscow to give another speech and appear on state-sponsored Russia Today, where the host seemed to pooh-pooh his relevance to the Trump campaign while nonetheless devoting 26 minutes of airtime to him.

Days before the inauguration, BuzzFeed released a dossier of unverified dirt on the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with the Russian government. Page's name appeared throughout the 35-page document, whose research had been funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Younger Republicans want an alternative to Trump (Axios, 1/20/18)

The numbers are revelatory.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Trump Accuses Democrats of Playing 'Shutdown Politics' on Anniversary (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, JAN. 20, 2018, NY Times)

"Democrats are far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants than they are with our great Military or Safety at our dangerous Southern Border," the president said. [...]

In fact, it was Mr. Trump who opted not to accept a deal that he and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, had hashed out over lunch at the White House on Friday, which would have kept the government open, funded a border wall, and extended legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, later called Mr. Schumer to say the agreement lacked sufficient immigration restrictions.

The correct message for Democrats is that Donald is exactly right.  The only reason for the shutdown is his hostility to immigrants and health care for children.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


The President and "the People" (Matthew Sitman, February 7, 2017, Commonweal)

Trump's "oath of allegiance to all Americans" underscores a worrisome feature of how authoritarian populism works, and is a troubling expression of its inner logic. Note that Trump did not say he had taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States; his allegiance, instead, is to the American people. (In fact, he didn't utter the word "Constitution" in his speech.) That strikes me as revealing.

The point isn't that Trump was sending an esoteric message about his intentions to violate or ignore the constitutional limits on his power. (Of course, he very well might violate and ignore the Constitution.) Instead, by affirming this allegiance and invoking "the people" again and again, Trump was rationalizing an imperious, authoritarian style of governance. This was a transfer of power with "a very special meaning," he told us, a corrective to our system that goes deeper than the usual administrative and political turnover. Trump will be a strongman of and for "the people," supposedly exerting his power on their behalf, the man at the top claiming a blank check from the masses below.

It is a commonplace for our politicians to invoke "the people" or "ordinary Americans" or "the will of the people." But Trump's appeal to "the people," his allegiance to them, set over and against a parasitic establishment, goes well beyond that. It certainly was the most distinctive aspect of his inaugural address, hammered at again and again. The people would be put first instead of being ignored. "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer," Trump said. "Everyone is listening to you now." Though he did not recycle the "I alone" language of his speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump clearly presented himself as the people's tribune. [...]

"The people" functions here as a restrictive term, a way of distinguishing insider from outsider, the Real America from decadent coastal enclaves, "us" from the Other. Trump's use of "the people" conjures a kind of "imagined community," to use Benedict Anderson's famous term, the mythological America that used to be great. It was whiter, it was more overtly Christian, and everyone--especially women and racial minorities--knew their place. Given Trump's consistent record of racism and bigotry, we don't really need to speculate about what he means by "the people." This type of appeal to "the people" is fundamentally anti-pluralist; it is the rhetoric of reaction in the face of change. (Jan-Werner Muller's recent polemic, What is Populism?, is excellent on the dangers of "the people" being deployed in this fashion, and it has informed my understanding Trump, even if Muller mostly focused on Europe.) The term reduces the capacious diversity of the United States to a specific understanding of what it means to really be American. Trump spoke of unity, yes; but he spoke more emphatically of loyalty: "At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other."

What finally matters, Trump asserted, is whether or not "our government is controlled by the people." And what else could "controlled by the people" mean but commanded by Trump? He, after all, is their voice and champion. It is Trump and the people against both political parties, the wasteful bureaucracies, even the other branches of government. He is effectively claiming--or at least intimating--an extra-constitutional mandate to act in the name of "the people."

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


How Trump and Schumer Came Close to a Deal Over Cheeseburgers (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JAN. 19, 2018, NY Times)

On Friday afternoon, when Mr. Schumer was back on Capitol Hill, Mr. Trump called Mr. Schumer, a person familiar with the call said, and told him that he understood they had agreed on a three-week spending deal, not three or four days. Mr. Schumer told the president, the person said, that Democrats would oppose a three-week measure because they saw it as a delaying tactic.

A White House official said that Mr. Schumer raised the possibility of a one- or two-day extension, but Mr. Trump told Mr. Schumer to work out the details of a short-term measure with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

A short time later, Mr. Schumer called the president, the person said, but the conversation drove the pair even further apart. The immigration concessions from Democrats were not conservative enough, Mr. Trump told Mr. Schumer. The president said he needed more border security measures as well as more enforcement of illegal immigration in parts of the country far from the border.

As the evening wore on, Mr. Schumer got a call from Mr. Kelly that dashed all hopes for a Trump-Schumer deal before the shutdown deadline of midnight. Mr. Kelly, a hard-liner on immigration, the person familiar with the call said, outlined a long list of White House objections to the deal.

Why would Democrats have voted for the deal Mr. Schumer had agreed too?  He'd already given away too much.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Jared Kushner Is China's Trump Card (Adam Entous and Evan Osnos, Jan. 12th, 2018, The New Yorker)

As months passed, some members of the White House received their permanent security clearances, but Kushner continued to wait. For high-level appointees, the process is normally "expedited," a former senior U.S. official said. It can be completed in several months, unless "derogatory information" pops up during the review.

Kushner had an interim clearance that gave him access to intelligence. He was also added to a list of recipients of the President's Daily Brief, or P.D.B., a top-secret digest of the U.S. government's most closely held and compartmentalized intelligence reports. By the end of the Obama Administration, seven White House officials were authorized to receive the same version of the P.D.B. that appeared on the President's iPad. The Trump Administration expanded the number to as many as fourteen people, including Kushner. A former senior official said, of the growing P.D.B. distribution list, "It got out of control. Everybody thought it was cool. They wanted to be cool."

Some people in the office of the director of National Intelligence questioned the expansion, but officials who reported to Trump didn't want to risk irritating him by trying to exclude his son-in-law and other new additions. David Priess, a former C.I.A. officer who delivered the P.D.B. during the George W. Bush Administration and is the author of "The President's Book of Secrets," said that Kushner's situation was unprecedented: "Having studied the President's Daily Brief's six-decade history, I have not come across another case of a White House official being a designated recipient of the P.D.B., for that length of time, without having a full security clearance."

Among national-security specialists, Kushner's difficulty obtaining a permanent security clearance has become a subject of fascination. Was it his early failure to disclose foreign contacts? Or did it have something to do with the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections? As the Administration finished its first year, some clues to Kushner's security troubles have come into sharper focus, giving a new perspective on his encounters with China. [...]

During the transition, Kushner met with a range of foreign officials to discuss the incoming Administration. At the same time, as the head of his family's business, he was urgently seeking an infusion of cash to repay a debt totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2007, the Kushner Companies had bought 666 Fifth Avenue, a forty-one-story office tower, for $1.8 billion, the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan at that time. The deal turned out to be a potential disaster for Kushner. Demand for office space had fallen short, and he was hunting for investors, in Asia and the Middle East, among other places, to shore up the building's finances.

On November 16, 2016, Kushner had a private dinner with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of China's Anbang Insurance Group, to discuss Wu's possible investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. Months later, when the meeting was revealed, and Bloomberg News reported that the Kushner family stood to make as much as four hundred million dollars from the agreement with Anbang, Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, criticized it as a possible conflict of interest. The companies abandoned the negotiations.

In some cases, it was unclear whether Kushner was representing the transition or his business. On December 13th, at the recommendation of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, or V.E.B., a Russian state bank. [...]

By the spring of 2017, investigators in charge of evaluating whether to give Kushner a permanent security clearance had new information to consider. U.S. intelligence agencies aggressively target Chinese government communications, including Cui's reports to Beijing about his meetings in the United States.

According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner's business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner's views. The intelligence wasn't conclusive, according to those briefed on the matter. "I never saw any indication that it was successful," a former senior official said, of Chinese efforts to compromise Kushner. The Chinese could have mischaracterized their discussions with Kushner. But the intelligence reports triggered alarms that Chinese officials were attempting to exploit Kushner's close relationship with the President, which could yield benefits over time. "They're in it for the long haul," the former official said. [...]

In the months after Priestap briefed Kushner on the counterintelligence threat, Kushner and Ivanka Trump made some adjustments. In May, the Kushner Companies issued an apology after reporters observed Nicole Kushner Meyer, Jared Kushner's sister, speaking about his White House position while promoting real estate to potential investors in China. In September, Kushner and Ivanka declined an invitation to visit China, amid criticism from some American scholars that they were ill-equipped to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the United States.

Other plans remained unchanged. In November, Kushner travelled to China as part of the President's delegation for a summit with Xi Jinping. In Beijing, Kushner had lunch at the home of Wendi Murdoch, an occasion that went unmentioned in briefings and public schedules. (A White House spokesman said that Kushner attended the lunch "in a personal capacity," after the President's official business was complete.) Kushner saw no reason to curtail their friendship. In the seven months since Kushner's meeting with Priestap, Wendi Murdoch had done nothing that raised his suspicions, according to a person close to Kushner. "Why do I have more of a risk of telling her state secrets than anyone else?" Kushner asked recently. "Either I'm qualified to handle state secrets or I'm not qualified to handle state secrets. I think I understand my responsibilities."

In December, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed a wider circle of officials, saying that "a member of the president's family" was being targeted by a Chinese influence operation, echoing earlier warnings. It was not clear if that family member was Kushner or someone else.

The President's children resist the argument that their undivested assets, their behavior, and their willingness to mix government service and personal profit present a target to adversaries and allies alike. The senior transition official believes that's a mistake. "They're going to slowly, over time, get what they want out of him, and it's not going to be obvious," the official said. "Sure, you'll take the meeting, but you're giving them a real investment opportunity that's 'good for them,' and 'everyone wins.' Meanwhile, they're just trying to get their teeth into him."

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


A Double Scoop of Dossier Dirt : Glenn Simpson's latest testimony was almost as titillating as the Stormy Daniels pillow talk. (JACK SHAFER, January 20, 2018, Politico)

In a statement released this week, Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee who would easily win best supporting actor if this drama was a movie, noted that the allegations of money laundering harmonized with what former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sang to Michael Wolff for his book Fire and Fury. "You realize where this is going," Bannon said. "This is all about money laundering."

"There were a lot of real estate deals where you couldn't really tell who was buying the property," Simpson claimed. "And sometimes properties would be bought and sold, and they would be bought for one price and sold for a loss shortly thereafter, and it really didn't make sense to us."

Simpson expressed bafflement in his interview at Trump's repeated trips to Russia--at least five dating back to the Soviet years--from which he returned without signing development deals.

"One of the reasons the whole thing struck me as mysterious, because it seemed like he had been there, you know, numerous times and never come back with a deal," Simpson said. "There could be an innocent explanation for that, which is that he could never find somebody that--you know, an honest partner." Simpson surmised that Trump used his high-profile Russian proposals--like trying to build a Trump Tower Moscow--to develop "different kinds of business relationships with the Russians" from which he could profit, like the Miss Universe pageant, his vodka business, condo developments not in Russia, and alternative financing.

The Simpson interview made headlines worthy of a scene out of Dr. Strangelove when he told the committee that the Russians had infiltrated the National Rifle Association. That's right, one of the most extreme right-wing organizations in the world appears to have been tainted by former Commie scum despite the fact, Simpson said, that "Vladimir Putin is not in favor of universal gun ownership for Russians." Schiff told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg that his committee hopes to investigate whether there was "an effort to either create a back channel through the NRA, or provide funding through the NRA."

Russian penetration of the NRA is only the beginning, Simpson told the committee, inadvertently echoing Strangelove's General Jack D. Ripper. "They targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise," Simpson said without specifying which ones, thus leaving ample room for a sequel to this sequel should Congress request another interview.

Simpson indicated that years of dealings with Russians might have given them blackmail-quality leverage over Trump. But in that regard, they're not necessarily alone. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen used a private Delaware company to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels, who purportedly had a sexual affair with Trump. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 via Cohen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


A robot can print this house in as little as 8 hours (Leanna Garfield, 12/18/17, WEF)

A new Ukrainian homebuilding startup called PassivDom uses a 3D printing robot that can print parts for tiny houses. The machine can print the walls, roof, and floor of PassivDom's 410-square-foot model in about eight hours. The windows, doors, plumbing, and electrical systems are then added by a human worker.

When complete, the homes are autonomous and mobile, meaning they don't need to connect to external electrical and plumbing systems. Solar energy is stored in a battery connected to the houses, and water is collected and filtered from humidity in the air (or you can pour water into the system yourself). The houses also feature independent sewage systems.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Deutsche Bank flags 'suspicious transactions' tied to Kushners: report (JOHN BOWDEN, 01/19/18, The Hill)

A bank account tied to President Trump's son-in-law and aide Jared Kushner has been flagged by officials at Deutsche Bank for "suspicious transactions," according to a German business magazine.

Officials at the German bank told Manager Magazin, as reported by English-language outlets, that a review of company accounts related to the Kushner family was sent to a German bank regulator for further investigation. Information may also be released to special counsel Robert Mueller's federal probe. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The next supreme leader could transform Iran (Saeid Golkar, 1/20/18, Al Jazeera)

However, the current Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who is also a senior Muslim leader and considered a pragmatist, also stands a chance of being selected as the next supreme leader. This likelihood is even higher if Khamenei leaves office or dies, while Rouhani is still president (his term ends in 2020). 

As a member of the Assembly of Experts, President Rouhani has more power to lobby and influence the selection process. As a recently leaked video of the session in which the Assembly of Experts chose Khamenei in 1989 shows, a small group of members can wield a lot of power in selecting the leader. Rouhani is the most powerful man among the current members of the assembly. As president of the republic, he can co-opt and coerce the others and his bureaucratic, security and clerical background could help him set up alliances with different groups and power blocs. 

He is the most experienced and respected Muslim leader on the international arena and is less ideological compared with the other members of the assembly. As a pragmatist, he has the support of technocrats and Iran's bureaucracy. He also has the backing of traditional Muslim leaders, who support the separation of religion and politics in seminaries.  

Although the IRGC commanders mainly belong to the hardliner camp, the IRGC itself is not a monolithic entity. There are a number of pragmatists in high positions within the corps, including Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Rouhani himself has extensive experience in Iran's military and security apparatus. He used to be deputy to second-in-command of Iran's joint chiefs of staff, member of the Supreme Defence Council and deputy commander of war in the 1980s. He was also national security adviser under Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami.

Although Iranians who want to see a transition from theocracy to a democratic state know that Rouhani would not push for such radical change, they would still prefer to see him as supreme leader than a hardliner.

If he indeed makes it to the position of supreme leader, hardliners would be sidelined and technocrats and apolitical Muslim leaders would be empowered. Rouhani has adopted his mentor Rafsanjani's model of development for Iran; he wants to see this country become the "Islamic version" of China with a strong military and economy. He wants Iran to be a country which operates independently of the West but has a good relationship with it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


In the government shutdown standoff, Democrats have all the leverage (David Faris, January 20, 2018, The Week)

As Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said on Twitter, "Republicans set multiple fires that they cannot put out."

Instead of providing water to their self-immolating counterparts, Democrats have rightly decided to let them burn. The politics and morality line up seamlessly. Despite theatrically cancelling what would have been his 39th weekend jaunt to a Trump-branded property and summoning Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to the White House yesterday, the president clearly prefers sending an endless series of tweets accusing the 'Dems' of hating the military over calling for his allies to pass the compromise legislation that already exists. He is incapable of mustering the political courage to get anything done.

The president's party, which is already staring down an epic and richly deserved repudiation in November, can ill afford to get blamed for yet another episode of government dysfunction. That means Democrats have maximum leverage, and they have thus far succeeded in not kicking it away. The polling is unambiguous: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday found that respondents would blame Republicans for the shutdown by a 20-point margin. The public is not buying the sad GOP spin that Democrats are willing to sacrifice CHIP for the DREAMers. Memories are short, but not non-existent, and most people will remember that it is Republicans which have decided, month after month after month, not to fund CHIP so that they could focus their full malignant energy on their donor appreciation act.

With Republicans badly divided over both immigration and the general direction of spending, they will ultimately need Democratic votes in both the House and Senate to achieve a long-term spending deal. To make matters worse for the GOP, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) admitted on Wednesday that he has no idea what the president's position is on a bipartisan immigration compromise should such a thing happen to land on his desk.

At a minimum, political parties try not to get at cross-purposes with the citizenry...usually...

January 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


More States Turning To Toll Roads To Raise Cash For Infrastructure (David Schaper, 1/18/18, NPR: All things Considered)

"I think 2018 is going to be a very good year for tolling," says Pat Jones, executive director of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, which represents toll facility owners and operators.

"We're seeing a number of states that do not currently have tolls express an interest in doing so. States like Connecticut, Michigan, Wyoming and others," Jones says.

And some states are beyond considering it. New toll roads or toll lanes are opening this year in Texas, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Oregon will be adding congestion pricing to highways to help manage congestion in and around Portland later this year.

Austin, Texas, has two new toll road projects slated to open next year and the highway tunnel beneath Seattle begins charging tolls in 2019.

And rates on many existing toll roads and bridges around the country went up on the first of the year, including on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, on the Triangle Expressway in Raleigh, N.C., and for the tunnels in Hampton Roads, Va., while voters in the San Francisco area may be asked later this year to raise tolls on bay area bridges.

The reason for this surge? Many states' transportation budgets are tight and highway funding from Washington is lacking: the federal highway trust fund is nearly insolvent, as the federal gas tax hasn't been increased in 24 years.

"So states are in many cases on their own," Jones says. "They are looking for revenues and tolling is a powerful and effective way and a very specific way to pay for new infrastructure as well as generate funds to pay for existing infrastructure."

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


More States Turning To Toll Roads To Raise Cash For Infrastructure (David Schaper, 1/18/18, NPR: All things Considered)

"I think 2018 is going to be a very good year for tolling," says Pat Jones, executive director of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, which represents toll facility owners and operators.

"We're seeing a number of states that do not currently have tolls express an interest in doing so. States like Connecticut, Michigan, Wyoming and others," Jones says.

And some states are beyond considering it. New toll roads or toll lanes are opening this year in Texas, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Oregon will be adding congestion pricing to highways to help manage congestion in and around Portland later this year.

Austin, Texas, has two new toll road projects slated to open next year and the highway tunnel beneath Seattle begins charging tolls in 2019.

And rates on many existing toll roads and bridges around the country went up on the first of the year, including on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, on the Triangle Expressway in Raleigh, N.C., and for the tunnels in Hampton Roads, Va., while voters in the San Francisco area may be asked later this year to raise tolls on bay area bridges.

The reason for this surge? Many states' transportation budgets are tight and highway funding from Washington is lacking: the federal highway trust fund is nearly insolvent, as the federal gas tax hasn't been increased in 24 years.

"So states are in many cases on their own," Jones says. "They are looking for revenues and tolling is a powerful and effective way and a very specific way to pay for new infrastructure as well as generate funds to pay for existing infrastructure."

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM

BILBO LIVES (not the hobbit):

Graham calls Tom Cotton 'the Steve King of the Senate' (MAX GREENWOOD,  01/19/18, The Hill)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has become "sort of the Steve King of the Senate," a reference to one of the House's most ardent immigration hard-liners.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


African nations set to approve huge free trade deal (Alanna Petroff, January 19, 2018, CNN Money)

The African continent is on the cusp of something big.

Fifty-five nations are negotiating a free trade deal that will cover more than 1.2 billion people across Africa, from Morocco all the way to South Africa.

Their leaders are planning to give political backing to the deal in late March, and launch a free trade zone for goods and services before the end of 2018, according to a spokesperson for the African Union, an organization that represents all 55 countries.

The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) could eventually be extended to create common policies on investment, competition and intellectual property.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Lawbreakers : A startling new report shows how Customs and Border Protection violated court orders to enforce Trump's first travel ban. (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 19, 2018, Slate)

CBP ran into legal trouble almost as soon as U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly barred the government from deporting individuals covered by the executive order. By the time Donnelly issued her ruling in Darweesh v. Trump on Jan. 28 of last year, CBP had detained an Iranian national with a student visa at Los Angeles International Airport for 23 hours. When Donnelly's decision came down, the student was in the process of being placed on a flight out of the country. She promptly informed a pair of CBP officers that a judge had issued a restraining order blocking the ban. The officers did not halt her deportation or ask a supervisor about the ruling. Instead, they forced her to board the plane. (Several days later, she obtained permission to fly back.) [...]

[T]he next day, Jan. 29, CBP crossed a clear legal line. That morning, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs issued a decision in Louhghalam v. Trump barring CBP officers at Boston Logan International Airport from detaining or removing anyone covered by the order. She also explicitly directed CBP to "notify airlines that have flights arriving at Logan Airport" that "individuals on those flights will not be detained or returned based solely on the basis of the Executive Order."

CBP did the exact opposite of what Burroughs' ruling required. The OIG investigation found that the agency continued to call airlines and instruct them not to let travelers board planes to the United States if they were covered by the order. It did so despite having full knowledge of Burroughs' restraining order. Indeed, OIG found that CBP did "everything in its power to block [these] travelers" from boarding flights bound for the United States. Officers threatened airline representatives, asserting that the government would fine them $50,000 and bar their planes from landing if they ignored CBP's (unlawful) orders.

This flat contradiction of Burroughs' ruling led to a remarkable standoff in Frankfurt. Lufthansa, a major German airline, was preparing to begin the boarding of a flight to Boston that included multiple passengers covered by the ban. A CBP officer stationed at the airport personally delivered an instruction to the Lufthansa flight manager at the departing gate forbidding these passengers from boarding. The airline consulted its legal department and concluded, correctly, that CBP was violating a court order. It therefore rejected CBP's instruction and permitted the passengers to board.

The OIG report states that "CBP was not pleased with Lufthansa's actions." The next few sentences of the report were redacted by the Department of Homeland Security, so it's unclear exactly what happened next. But in the end, Lufthansa secured entry into the United States for a total of 20 people across multiple flights--people who would've otherwise been stranded in Frankfurt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Public backs legal status for immigrants brought to U.S. illegally as children, but not a bigger border wall (ALEC TYSON, 1/19/18, Pew Research)

The American public has clear-cut opinions on both issues at the center of the current debate on immigration policy. A large majority (74%) favors granting permanent legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children, but 60% oppose a proposal to "substantially expand the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico" - a longtime goal of President Donald Trump.

Donald is an aberration.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


They're Waiting Longer, but U.S. Women Today More Likely to Have Children Than a Decade Ago (GRETCHEN LIVINGSTON, 1/18/18, Pew Research)

The share of U.S. women at the end of their childbearing years who have ever given birth was higher in 2016 than it had been 10 years earlier. Some 86% of women ages 40 to 44 are mothers, compared with 80% in 2006, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.1 The share of women in this age group who are mothers is similar to what it was in the early 1990s.

Not only are women more likely to be mothers than in the past, but they are having more children. Overall, women have 2.07 children during their lives on average - up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest number on record. And among those who are mothers, family size has also ticked up. In 2016, mothers at the end of their childbearing years had had about 2.42 children, compared with a low of 2.31 in 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Russia-linked Twitter accounts are working overtime to help Devin Nunes and WikiLeaks (Natasha Bertrand , 1/19/18, Business Insider)

Republican lawmakers are pushing for the House Intelligence Committee to release a memo written by the panel's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, that outlines purported surveillance during the transition period against President-elect Donald Trump by former President Barack Obama's administration.

And Russia-linked Twitter bots have jumped on the bandwagon.

#ReleaseTheMemo is the top-trending hashtag among Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations, according to Hamilton 68, a website launched last year that says it tracks Russian propaganda in near-real time.

The frequency with which the accounts have been promoting the hashtag has spiked by 233,000% over the past 48 hours, according to the site. The accounts' references to the "memo," meanwhile, have increased by 68,000%.

The most-shared domain among the accounts has been WikiLeaks, and the most-shared URL has been a link to WikiLeaks' "submit" page.

There's hauntingly little difference between Trumpbots and Vladbots as they defend their boy.

That said, don't just release the memo, accompany it with the name of every individual unmasked for truckling with Russia.

Just in case anyone takes seriously the notion that the program is systematically abused, Trump Signs Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (Dustin Volz, 1/18/19, Reuters)


Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo -- and the Evidence for It. Not Doing So Will Prove Them to Be Shameless Frauds. (Glenn Greenwald & Jon Schwarz, January 19 2018, The Intercept)

Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public -- and not just the memo itself. The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, as Bart Gellman amply documented, and prior claims from Nunes about "unmasking" have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes - or anyone else - are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

President Trump and congressional Republicans have the power, working together or separately, to immediately declassify all the relevant information. And if indeed the GOP's explosive claims are accurate - if, as HPSCI member Steve King, R.-Iowa., says, this is "worse than Watergate" -- they obviously have every incentive to get it into the public's hands as soon as possible. Indeed, one could argue that they have the duty to do so.

On the other hand, if the GOP's claims are false or significantly misleading - if they are, with the deepest cynicism imaginable, simply using these crucial issues to whip up their base or discredit the Mueller investigation, or exaggerating or making claims that lack any evidentiary support, or trying to have the best of all worlds by making explosive claims about the memo but never having to prove their truth -- then they will either not release the memo or they will release it without any supporting documentation, making it impossible for Americans to judge its accuracy for themselves. [...]

The good news is there are at least four easy ways for congressional Republicans and/or President Trump to definitively prove that all the right's darkest suspicions about the Obama administration are true. If this memo and the underlying documents prove even a fraction of what GOP politicians and media figures are claiming about them, then what could possibly justify its ongoing concealment?

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


In Russia, Trump inauguration euphoria leaves lasting hangover (Andrew Osborn, 1/19/18, Reuters) 

A year ago on Saturday, Russian nationalists partied in central Moscow to celebrate Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States.

Euphoria has given way to dismay as the man they expected to end U.S. sanctions against Russia reluctantly reinforced the penalties and allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election, denied by Moscow, eroded political ties.

Beyond their other ties, Donald and Vlad are linked by their misunderstanding of America.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


The Mueller effect: FARA filings soar in shadow of Manafort, Flynn probes (JULIA AINSLEY, ANDREW LEHREN and ANNA R. SCHECTER, 1/19/18, NBC)

The data firm whose work for Donald Trump's campaign attracted the interest of Robert Mueller's investigators recently filed paperwork showing it had helped spread negative information about Qatar, the Gulf nation targeted by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates in a bitter propaganda battle.

The parent company of Cambridge Analytica filed documents with the U.S. Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Unit disclosing $333,000 in payments by the UAE for a 2017 social media campaign linking the Qataris to terrorism. In June the Trump administration endorsed the aggressive Saudi and UAE stance against Qatar, and their decision to cut diplomatic ties. [...]

Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica who is listed on the filing, reached out to Julian Assange in July 2016 seeking access to emails from Hillary Clinton's private email server so he could use them as part of Trump's election efforts, according to multiple media reports.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM

BE THE TRADITION (self-reference alert):

Celebrate Winter with These Traditions (Brendan Leonard, Jan 18, 2018, Outside)

Be "the Guy in Shorts"

You've seen him, now be him. Any time the temperature dips below freezing and you're bundling yourself up for a few minutes in the frigid outdoors, there he is: the guy wearing shorts. If you're standing near him, you might hear him say something about "being warm-blooded" or "I just don't get cold." Well, if you haven't experienced it, this might be your year. Get a pair of cargo shorts, a warm jacket (or not), and go for a walk around the city while acting as if nothing is amiss.

Delivering bread last Tuesday a.m. amidst a warming trend [non-negative numbers].  

A new guy at the restaurant said: "Wow, shorts are aggressive."

O: "Speedos by Friday!"

Guy: "Promises, promises..."

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Stormy Daniels' Explosive Full Interview on Donald Trump Affair: "I Can Describe His Junk Perfectly" (EIn Touch Weekly, Jan. 19th, 2018)

IT: What happened next?

Stormy: So I went up to the room and I was met outside by his bodyguard, Keith, who I met every time I saw him. Keith was always with him. That's how I got in touch with him. I never had Donald's cellphone number. I always used Keith's. I went up to the room and he said, "Oh yeah, he's waiting for you inside."

Trump Bodyguard Keith Schiller Testifies Russian Offered Trump Women, Was Turned Down (KEN DILANIAN and JONATHAN ALLEN, 11/09/17, NBC))

After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to "send five women" to Donald Trump's hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.

Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, "We don't do that type of stuff."

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Former Trump aide Omarosa may have taped White House discussions, fears Mueller wants to talk to her (FLO ANTHONY DENIS SLATTERY, 1/19/18, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The 43-year-old apparently believes she may become a fixture in Mueller's investigation into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia's election meddling.

"Everyone knows Omarosa loves to record people and meetings using the voice notes app on her iPhone," a source disclosed. "Don't be surprised if she has secret audio files on everyone in that White House, past and present staffers included."

A recent ban on personal cell phones in the West Wing, which followed the release of Michael Wolff's explosive White House tell-all was related to Manigault-Newman's track record of recording conversations, the source added.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Driving a Car in Manhattan Could Cost $11.52 Under Congestion Plan (JIM DWYER and WINNIE HU, JAN. 18, 2018, NY Times)

Driving a car into the busiest parts of Manhattan could cost $11.52 under a major proposal prepared for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that would make New York the first city in the United States with a pay-to-drive plan.

Similar traffic charges are already used in cities like Singapore, Stockholm, London and Milan, but New York has rejected or ignored versions of them dating to at least the 1970s. The newest plan embraces the twin goals of easing Manhattan's choking traffic while raising badly needed revenue for the city's failing subways and buses.

Trucks would pay $25.34, and taxis and for-hire vehicles could see surcharges of $2 to $5 per ride. The pricing zone would cover Manhattan south of 60th Street. In a key change from past efforts, drivers would not have to pay if they entered Manhattan by all but two of the city-owned East River bridges, which are now free to cross, as long as they bypassed the congestion zone.

Seems like those charges are insufficient to cover the externalities.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


NAFTA talks seen ending happily, despite growls from Trump (Anu Bararia, Bruno Federowski, 1/19/18, Reuters) 

The North American Free Trade Agreement will probably be renegotiated successfully with only marginal changes, said a large majority of economists in a Reuters poll, despite the Trump administration's saber-rattling.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


OMR: Is seventy plenty? (IEA, 14 December 2017)

A judgement as to whether the recent price strength is sustainable must take into account the rapid growth in global oil supply seen recently and which will continue through 2018. Short-cycle production from the US is reacting to rising prices and in this Report we have raised our forecast for crude oil growth there in 2018 from 870 kb/d to 1.1 mb/d. It is possible that very soon US crude production could overtake that of Saudi Arabia and also rival Russia's. After adding in barrels from Brazil, Canada and other growth countries, and allowing for falls in Mexico, China and elsewhere, total non-OPEC production will increase by 1.7 mb/d. This represents, after the downturn in 2016 and the steady recovery in 2017, a return to the heady days of 2013-2015 when US-led growth averaged 1.9 mb/d.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


The Chessman : Yes, he had deep flaws. But Bobby Fischer should be remembered for his genius (Garry Kasparov, Jan. 26, 2008, TIME)

It was Fischer's attitude on and off the board that infused his play with unrivaled power. Before Fischer, no one was ready to fight to the death in every game. No one was willing to work around the clock to push chess to a new level. But Fischer was, and he became the detonator of an avalanche of new chess ideas, a revolutionary whose revolution is still in progress.

At Fischer's peak, even his adversaries had to admire his game. At the hallowed Moscow Central Chess Club, top Soviet players gathered to analyze Fischer's crushing 1971 match defeat of one of their colleagues, Mark Taimanov. Someone suggested that Taimanov could have gained the upper hand with a queen move, to which David Bronstein, a world-championship challenger in 1951, replied, "Ah, but we don't know what Fischer would have done."

Not long afterward, the grim Soviet sports authorities dragged in Taimanov and his peers to discuss Taimanov's inability to defeat the American. How had he failed? Was he not a worthy representative of the state? Spassky finally spoke up: "When we all lose to Fischer, will we be interrogated here as well?"

By World War II, the once strong U.S. chess tradition had largely faded. There was little chess culture, few schools to nurture and train young talent. So for an American player to reach world-championship level in the 1950s required an obsessive degree of personal dedication. Fischer's triumph over the Soviet chess machine, culminating in his 1972 victory over Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland, demanded even more.

Fischer declined to defend his title in 1975, and by forfeit, it passed back into the embrace of the Soviets, in the person of Anatoly Karpov. According to all accounts, Fischer had descended into isolation and anger after winning that final match game against Spassky. Fischer didn't play again until a brief and disturbing reappearance in 1992, after which his genius never again touched a piece in public. Having conquered the chess Olympus, he was unable to find a new target for his power and passion.

The film Pawn Sacrifice--which I must have missed when it was released--is terrific.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


'The Purpose of This From the Beginning Has Been to Cut Legal Immigration' (RONALD BROWNSTEIN  JAN 18, 2018, The Atlantic)

President Trump and his Senate allies are now presenting their goal for immigration reform as increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants allowed into the United States. But the immigration legislation from Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that Trump has endorsed would almost certainly reduce the total number of high-skilled immigrants.

That stark contradiction has been overshadowed by reports that Trump used a vulgarity to describe immigrants from Africa and Haiti during a private White House meeting last week--and by the widely disputed accusation from Cotton and Perdue, who attended, that their colleague Dick Durbin lied when he recounted the president's language.

But by trumpeting high-skilled immigration, Trump, Cotton, and Perdue are also obscuring the most significant impact of their proposal: a 50 percent cut in legal immigration. Within that smaller pool of immigrants, high-skilled workers could very well comprise a larger share than they do now. But if that shift were to happen, it would only be because immigration levels would fall even faster for those who are lower-skilled.

"They are not talking about immigrating 1 million scientists and engineers," said Stuart Anderson, the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy and a former immigration aide to two Republican senators. "It's completely untrue that it would bring in more skilled immigrants. The purpose of this from the beginning has been to cut legal immigration."

...when your end is racist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Trump appointee Carl Higbie resigns as public face of agency that runs AmeriCorps after KFile review of racist, sexist, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT comments on the radio (Andrew Kaczynski,  1/18/18, CNN)

Trump administration appointee Carl Higbie resigned Thursday as chief of external affairs for the federal government's volunteer service organization after a CNN KFile review of racist, sexist, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT comments he made on the radio. [...]

In one of the comments unearthed by KFile, Higbie said you could "guess the color" of a family he described that lived in his condo association.

"I told this story the other day on my show. Somebody who lives in my condo association that has five kids, and it's her and her husband with the five kids and the mother, the grandmother of the kids, and they don't have jobs, they're there all the time -- I bet you can guess what color they are -- and they have no job," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Nikki Haley voices regret to African UN envoys after Trump slur (AFP, 1/19/18)

Haley asked to meet the African ambassadors at the United Nations after they released a joint statement on Friday demanding an apology from Trump for his "outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks."

Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea, who chairs the Africa Group, said the US ambassador did not offer an apology during the closed-door meeting, but she did express regret.

Haley told the meeting that "she was not there at the White House, she is not sure what was said, but she regretted all this situation that has been created," the ambassador said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM

STEELE WENT TOO EASY (profanity alert):

Stormy Daniels Once Claimed She Spanked Donald Trump With a Forbes Magazine : At his request. (DAN FRIEDMAN, JAN. 18, 2018, Mother Jones)

Daniels was serious enough about running that she embarked on a May 2009 "listening tour" of the state and held discussions with local political consultants. Those conversations included coming up with possible campaign contributors. According to a May 8, 2009, email written by an operative advising Daniels, who asked not to be identified, Daniels at one point scrolled through her cellphone contacts to provide her consultants with a list of names. The email noted that the potential donors included Steve Hirsch, the founder of an adult entertainment company; Theresa Flynt, the daughter of Hustler's Larry Flynt; Frazier Boyd, the owner of a strip club chain; and Jenna Jameson, the so-called "Queen of Porn." Also on the list: Donald Trump.

This email was sent to Andrea Dubé, a Democratic political consultant based in New Orleans. In response, Dubé expressed surprise that Daniels was friendly with Trump. "Donald Trump?" she wrote. "In her cell phone?" 

"Yep," the other consultant replied. "She says one time he made her sit with him for three hours watching 'shark week.' Another time he had her spank him with a Forbes magazine." 

Dubé and the other consultant confirmed to Mother Jones they exchanged these emails.

The campaign consultant who wrote the email to Dubé tells Mother Jones that Daniels said the spanking came during a series of sexual and romantic encounters with Trump and that it involved a copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover.

A fall 2006 cover of Forbes does feature Trump and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka. 

What kind of deviant makes a woman watch Shark Week?

January 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Fusion GPS interview with House panel leaves huge pile of breadcrumbs for Trump-Russia investigators (Natasha Bertrand , 1/18/18, Business Insider)

Simpson explained that "real estate deals" were a common Russian method of hiding and moving money. Asked whether Fusion had found "evidence" of corruption and illicit finance related to the purchase of Trump properties, Simpson replied that his firm had seen "patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering."

Schiff pounced: "What facts came to your attention that concerned you that the buying and selling of properties - the buying and selling of Trump properties might indicate money laundering?" he asked.

"There was -- well, for one thing, there was various criminals were buying the properties," Simpson replied. "So there was a gangster -- a Russian gangster living in Trump Tower."

The gangster went by Taiwanchik, and he'd been running a "high-stakes gambling ring" out of Trump Tower, Simpson said. The gangster also "rigged the skating competition at the Salt Lake Olympics" and sat in the VIP section of the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013 along with Trump "and lots of other Kremlin biggies," Simpson said. [...]

Other concerning patterns, Simpson said, included "fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer."

Specifically, he said, "a project in Panama, the one in Toronto. Those both got a lot of fraud associated with them, a lot of fraud allegations, a lot of activity that I would say smacks of fraud, and a lot of Russia mafia figures listed as buyers who may or may not have actually put money into it." 

NBC News reported in November that Trump's Panama hotel had organized crime ties. 

A Russian state-owned bank under US sanctions, whose CEO met with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner in December 2016, helped finance the construction of the president's 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto.

The bank, Vnesheconombank, or VEB, bought $850 million of stock in a Ukrainian steelmaker from the billionaire Russian-Canadian developer Alexander Shnaider, who was constructing the hotel at the time. Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier asked Simpson about Schnaider during the interview.

"Schnaider had no previous hotel or condo development experience," she said. "His most apparent qualification seemed to be that he made a lot of money quickly." 

Simpson called Schnaider among "the most interesting" of the Trump-Russia characters, noting that his father-in-law was a "very important figure in the history of the KGB-Mafia alliance."

"I think that there is a lot of information to be had from Canadian law enforcement and from Belgian law enforcement about some of these characters," Simpson said.

Simpson said Trump's golf courses in Scotland and Ireland were also "concerning" because financial statements obtained by Fusion showed "enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources."

"At least on paper it says it's from The Trump Organization, but it's hundreds of millions of dollars," Simpson said.

"And these golf course are just, you know, they're sinks. They don't actually make any money."

GOP Rep. Tom Rooney said "the story about [Trump] financing Doonbeg in Ireland through money that we can't really trace but has sort of the fingerprints of Russian mobsters" was "fascinating."

Doonbeg is the home of Trump's hotel and golf course in Ireland.

"If we knew that Donald Trump was working with the Russian mafia to fund Doonbeg in Ireland, then there's no way he would be President," Rooney said. "So, I mean, that's why it's so fascinating."

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Trump pushes back on chief of staff's claims that border wall pledges are 'uninformed' (John Wagner, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa, January 18, 2018, Washington Post)

[T]rump associates said the president was furious with his chief of staff both for what he said and for the tone he used, which Trump thought made it appear he was a child who had to be managed.

One Trump associate who spoke to the president Wednesday night said Trump thought Kelly's comments made him look bad and like he was giving in to Democrats.

The president, this person said, particularly disliked the word "uninformed" that appeared in news reports and has chafed for weeks at the characterization of himself as not intelligent and flighty in the best-selling book about his presidency by Michael Wolff.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, January 18, 2018, McClatchy)
The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. [...]

[T]he NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump - triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.

Two people with close connections to the powerful gun lobby said its total election spending actually approached or exceeded $70 million. The reporting gap could be explained by the fact that independent groups are not required to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or field operations, including get-out-the-vote efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Trump: Government Shutdown Would Hurt Military Most of All (Graham Piro, January 18, 2018, Free Beacon)

President Donald Trump said Thursday that a government shutdown would hurt the U.S. military worse than any other sector of the government as lawmakers scramble to reach a spending deal to avert such an outcome.

Little he could do would be more useful than cashing in the Peace Dividend.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


The Case for the Health Taxes (David Leonhardt, JAN. 18, 2018, NY Times)

The argument for these taxes is compelling. Sweetened beverages are the single largest contributor to the obesity epidemic, scientists say, and that epidemic exacts a big toll, in both health problems and medical costs.

Soda taxes are modeled on tobacco taxes, which have been hugely successful in reducing smoking and improving public health. But even tobacco taxes are still not high enough, as the economist Robert H. Frank explained recently. And taxes on soda could do far more good if they were higher and more widespread.

Today, Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, and Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, are announcing a new global group to advocate for these kinds of taxes. I think of them as "health taxes," and they can also cover alcohol and forms of sugar beyond soda. The group includes the president of Uruguay and the former prime minister of New Zealand, as well as leaders from Britain, China and Nigeria.

Consumers should pay for externalities.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Trump administration bars Haitians from U.S. visas for low-skilled work (Yeganeh Torbati, 1/18/18, Reuters) 

Haitians will no longer be eligible for U.S. visas given to low-skilled workers, the Trump administration said on Wednesday, bringing an end to a small-scale effort to employ Haitians in the United States after a catastrophic 2010 earthquake. [...]

Humanitarian groups and Republican and Democratic members of Congress lobbied the Obama administration to make Haiti eligible for the short-term worker visas, arguing that remittances to family in Haiti would help the country recover from the earthquake. Without H-2A and H-2B visas, there are few legal avenues for most Haitians to go to the United States.

"The post-earthquake reconstruction efforts ignored migration and remittances entirely," said Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who was heavily involved in the efforts to allow Haitian workers to come to the United States. "We saw it as an opportunity to help Haiti rebuild after the earthquake."

The Obama administration added Haiti to the list of approved countries in 2012, and PTP Consulting stepped in to screen and match Haitian workers with farmers in the United States.

In countries with more experience sending workers to the United States, such as Jamaica, the home-country government typically does much of that work and regulates the H-2A process heavily, Williamson said.

Jon Hegeman, who operates a commercial greenhouse in Alabama, brought in eight Haitian H-2A workers in 2015 through the consultancy, and nine workers in 2016.

Before Hegeman hired Haitians, his business had trouble finding local workers. Within a three-month period, they went through 300 people for eight positions, he said. When he was approached by PTP to participate in the program, he agreed.

"These guys were awesome. They worked hard, you see a smile on their face every day," said Hegeman, who as the child of a missionary was born and largely raised in the Dominican Republic, which neighbors Haiti. "We've changed or impacted communities in Haiti."

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Nearly Half of Americans Consider Russian Investigation to be Fair (Marist Poll, January 17, 2018)

A plurality of Americans (48%) perceive Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to be fair. 28% do not think it is, and a notable 23% are unsure. By nearly three to one, Democrats (72%) are more likely than Republicans (26%) to consider the probe to be fair. In fact, half of Republicans (50%) say the investigation is not fair.

More than two-thirds of Americans (68%) think Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation. Only 14% think he should be fired, and 18% are unsure. Bipartisan agreement exists. 76% of Democrats, 71% of independents, and 59% of Republicans think Mueller should see the investigation to its conclusion.

More than four in ten Americans (42%) have little or no knowledge of Robert Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


How Rouhani can combat corruption in Iran's budget (Bijan Khajehpour, January 17, 2018, Al Monitor)

On Dec. 10, when Rouhani presented his new budget bill to parliament, many focused on the disclosure of information about the allocations to various cultural and religious institutions. While that transparency deserves to be noticed, there are more important nuances, especially structural reforms, that should be appreciated. One noteworthy aspect of the new budget was its reference to "performance-based budgeting [PBB]," which is one of the best tools to prevent corrupt dealings with state allocations. In fact, the author of the new budget bill, the Management and Planning Organization (MPO), was quick to highlight this important nuance. Concurrent with the presentation of the budget to parliament, MPO expert Nematollah Akbari named PBB, transparency, financial discipline and decentralization as the main features of the new budget bill. He also underlined the fact that the budget framework has been simplified and that more budgetary control has been transferred to the provinces.

Parliament member Mohammad Hosseini, a member of the planning and budget commission, has also commented that the PBB approach is the main strength of the new budget bill. Now that the bill is being debated in parliamentary commissions, it is important for lawmakers to maintain the provisions of the bill to increase the overall efficiency of government allocations.

Within state structures, PBB is an administrative methodology through which public funds are released to programs and projects based on their performance and the actual achievement of defined goals. As such, PBB allows funds to move toward projects that are achieving their goals as opposed to allocating resources to half-finished projects and programs that may draw resources without producing the desired results. The PBB system does not intend to penalize or reward state institutions or agencies, but rather maximize the use of available resources. PBB also introduces a higher degree of flexibility into shifting priorities due to new needs on a regional level. This is why the introduction of PBB makes more sense if it is accompanied by genuine decentralization in budgetary affairs.

In a country like Iran, where allocations have rarely focused on actual performance, billions of dollars of state budgets have flown into projects that have never been finalized, partly due to corrupt dealings or mismanagement and partly due to the changing nature of actual needs. The best example for such a scheme has been the Mehr housing project that started under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), where a large segment of the original investments is unfinished, having wasted public and private investments in the process. Generally, tackling unfinished projects has always been a challenge to Iranian administrations.

According to the MPO, if the structural provisions of the new budget bill are passed by the parliament, about 34% of the national allotments will be supervised and released based on the PBB approach. This is an important first step in preventing the misappropriation of the country's resources. Furthermore, 868 national projects have been transferred to provincial management, facilitating the regional allocation of funds and better control on the actual performance of these projects.

Looking at international benchmarks, there is ample evidence that a PBB approach can help prevent corruption and increase accountability. PBB has also been an ingredient of the United Nations Development Program's anti-corruption initiatives in different countries. As a case study, the anti-corruption campaign in Chile is another good example where so-called performance-based incentives pushed back against corruption.

January 17, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Spokesman for Trump's legal team left because he worried Trump obstructed justice, Wolff book claims (Tucker Higgins, 4 Jan 2018, CNBC)

"Mark Corallo was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not to even answer his phone," Wolff writes. "Later that week, Corallo, seeing no good outcome -- and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice -- quit."

The statement the president reportedly dictated concerned the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., senior advisor Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer. 

That initial explanation suggested the primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss Russian adoptions. That was later shown to be misleading, and Trump Jr. has said that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss potential dirt on political rival Hillary Clinton. 

Advisors to the president told The Washington Post in July that the initial statement could raise questions about whether the president is attempting to hide something.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Stephen Bannon did the one thing he wasn't supposed to do during his House Intelligence Committee hearing (Kelly O'Meara Morales, 1/17/18, The Week)

It apparently only took an hour and a half for Stephen Bannon to crack himself like an egg during his hearing with the House Intelligence Committee.

Axios reported Wednesday that Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, accidentally told congressional investigators about his time working for the Trump administration, despite the fact that he'd been instructed not to by the White House. Bannon was less than 90 minutes into his hearing, Axios claimed, when he mentioned discussions he had with White House officials about the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr. tried to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer.

The Trump Tower meeting "has become one of the most important focal points of the Russia investigation," Axios explained, given reports that President Trump himself helped draft a misleading statement responding to the news after the meeting was first revealed by The New York Times last July. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Higher Education Is Drowning in BS : And it's mortally corrosive to society (Christian Smith, JANUARY 09, 2018, The Chronicle Review)

BS is the university's loss of capacity to grapple with life's Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.

BS is the farce of what are actually "fragmentversities" claiming to be universities, of hyperspecialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.

BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls -- that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.

BS is universities hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous "excellence" peddled by recruitment and "advancement" offices in every run-of-the-mill university).

BS is the ideologically infused jargon deployed by various fields to stake out in-group self-importance and insulate them from accountability to those not fluent in such solipsistic language games.

BS is a tenure system that provides guaranteed lifetime employment to faculty who are lousy teachers and inactive scholars, not because they espouse unpopular viewpoints that need the protection of "academic freedom," but only because years ago they somehow were granted tenure.

BS is the shifting of the "burden" of teaching undergraduate courses from traditional tenure-track faculty to miscellaneous, often-underpaid adjunct faculty and graduate students.

BS is states pounding their chests over their great public universities even while their legislatures cut higher-education budgets year after year after year.....

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Owning An Electric Car Is Twice As Cheap As Owning A Gas Vehicle (BEN SCHILLER, 1/17/18, Co.exist)

Electric cars are generally more expensive to buy than conventional vehicles. The suggested retail price for a 2018 Nissan Leaf, the world's best selling EV, is about $30,000 in the U.S. You can pick up a new Honda Civic 2018 for less than $19,000 (though this excludes the still-available federal tax credit for new EVs, worth $7,500).

But running an EV is almost always cheaper-sometimes dramatically so. A new analysis shows EV costs are on average 2.3 times lower than for gasoline vehicles nationally, though the numbers vary a lot state to state. In Washington and Oregon, where electricity is relatively cheap, EV drivers have a third of the energy costs of conventional drivers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Kelly calls some of Trump's campaign pledges on immigration, wall 'uninformed,' meeting attendees say (Ed O'Keefe, January 17, 2018, The Washington Post)

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that the United States will never construct a physical wall along the entire stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and that some of President Trump's campaign promises on immigration were "uninformed." [...]

Kelly's comments, made in a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), also show that senior administration officials know that Trump will not be able to fulfill two key campaign promises  -- the construction of a wall along the southern border that is paid for by Mexico.


Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


The Patriots' Super Bowl Path Is The Easiest In Modern NFL History (Neil Paine, 1/17/18, 538)

For one thing, the AFC was exceptionally weak this year. In inter-conference play during the regular season, NFC teams went 41-23 against their AFC counterparts, which was the second-best record for one conference against the other in a season since 1990. (Only the 2004 season, in which the AFC went 44-20 against the NFC, saw a wider split.) As a result, the AFC playoff field contained only two teams with more than 10 regular-season wins, as opposed to five in the NFC. That meant a path was already forming for the top-seeded Pats to sail through to another Super Bowl.

Then a few key upsets boosted New England's advantage. First, the Tennessee Titans toppled the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card game, setting up a huge divisional-round mismatch at Gillette Stadium. According to Elo, the Pats were favored by 12, since Tennessee rated at 1499 -- below the league average rating of 1505 -- even after knocking off K.C. That made it the third-most lopsided divisional matchup since 1990, trailing only the Pats vs. the Tim Tebow Broncos in the 2011 season and Minnesota vs. Arizona in 1998. The Titans hung with the Pats for about a quarter, but New England eventually dropped 35 unanswered points on Tennessee and rolled to victory.

The next day, another upset further cleared the way for New England. The Jaguars went into Heinz Field and took a quick 28-7 lead over the stunned Pittsburgh Steelers, then hung on for a 45-42 win. Elo had only given the Jags a 24 percent chance of winning -- even lower than Tennessee's chances at Kansas City -- and it still only ranks Jacksonville as the 12th-best team in football, below five teams that were knocked out of the playoffs and three that didn't even make it to the playoffs.

Just like that, the two AFC teams Elo thought had the best chance of beating the Pats going into the playoffs -- the Chiefs and the Steelers -- were gone, and in their place were a below-average team and another that doesn't rate much higher. According to Elo, New England is a 10-point favorite to beat Jacksonville, with an 81 percent chance of winning the Lamar Hunt Trophy yet again.

If we multiply together the Patriots' pregame odds of beating the Titans (85 percent) with that of the Jaguars (81 percent), we could say they had a staggering 69 percent chance of making the Super Bowl before they ever played a game. (This is assuming we'd somehow know that both of their opponents would pull off the upsets they did.) That's easily the best number for any conference title-game participant since 1990.

...that the "difficult" path would have required only beating Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin, which Rich Kotite might manage.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The C.I.A.'s Maddening Relationship with Pakistan (Nicholas Schmidle, January 12, 2018, The New Yorker)

By 2015, the C.I.A. had begun to run out of Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan; there were ten drone strikes reported in Pakistan that year, compared to a hundred and twenty-two in 2010. "The center of gravity for Al Qaeda was in the process of a fundamental shift from Pakistan to Syria," Joshua Geltzer, the former senior director for counterterrorism on Obama's national-security council, told me. And though the Trump Administration has presented its new policy as a correction to America's past failings in Pakistan, current and former national-security officials said it was the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism successes there, and Al Qaeda's corresponding weakness in Pakistan, which have enabled Trump to take a harder line. In short, Al Qaeda's operation in Pakistan just does not represent the threat it once did. The former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden declined to comment on, or even acknowledge, the C.I.A.'s drone program, but he told me that he applauded Trump's decision, and said, "He may be confident enough that we have sufficiently shaped the environment that the downsides are manageable."

Al Qaeda, however, is not the only terrorist group in Pakistan. Militants based there, particularly the Haqqani network, continue to carry out deadly attacks on civilians and Afghan and American forces in Afghanistan. White, the former South Asia adviser, said, "The outstanding list of Al Qaeda-affiliated figures is small. But the Haqqani list is moving in the other direction." And when American officials have asked the Pakistani military and intelligence officials to pressure the Haqqanis, White said, "They were at times minimally responsive, but we always hit a wall."

Trump's national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, has endorsed a harder line against Pakistan as part of a plan to reinvigorate the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Last year, McMaster saw a report by Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. (and of no relation to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan), titled "A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan." In it, Curtis and Haqqani argue that the Trump Administration should "stop chasing the mirage" that Pakistan might change its approach to confronting certain terrorist groups without the threat of withholding aid. "Pakistan is not an American ally," they write.

McMaster asked Curtis--an experienced Pakistan analyst who had worked at the C.I.A. and the State Department--to join the national-security council as the senior director for South and Central Asia. The paper she co-wrote with Haqqani has become the "blueprint" for Trump's Pakistan policy, according to a source familiar with the Administration's deliberations. After last week's suspension of aid, the question is, what next? In their paper, Curtis and Haqqani propose that the U.S. might threaten to designate Pakistan a "state sponsor of terrorism," which could cause a near-total rupture in relations between the two countries and, perhaps, even the sanctioning of current and former Pakistani officials.
Pentagon and State Department officials have resisted the new hard-line approach, citing the risk that Pakistan could cut off the land and air routes that the U.S. uses to supply American forces in Afghanistan. State Department officials were also reportedly blindsided by Trump's tweets last week. (Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly discouraged other Administration officials from issuing ultimatums. A senior defense official told me, of Mattis, "He's still making his case.") The senior Administration official disputed claims that the Defense and State Departments were not part of developing the new approach, and the characterization of Curtis and Haqqani's paper as the "blueprint" for the policy change. "There is a robust interagency process," the official told me. "There are many people involved in the policy process. There is a deliberative process."

More importantly, the official said, last week's announcement reflected the Trump Administration's "broader strategy" in Afghanistan: a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But, the official added, "We believe that so long as the Taliban and the Haqqani network feel they have a safe haven in Pakistan, they will be less motivated to come to the negotiating table."

Taliban leader approved Islamabad meeting on Afghan peace talks: sources (Sami Yousafzai, 1/17/18, Reuters) 

A delegation approved by the Taliban's supreme leader visited the Pakistani capital this week for exploratory talks on restarting peace negotiations to end Afghanistan's 16-year war, two senior officials in the movement said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Desperate ISIS fanatics forced to use FAKE terror images in new budget 'Photoshop jihad' as fanboys pine for 'the good old days' (The Sun, Jan. 9th, 2018)

ONCE upon a time ISIS' propaganda unit was a slick operation, pumping out professionally produced snuff videos to scare the world - or recruit psychos to their ranks.

But now the terrorists are currently in the middle of a media crisis after losing their main media in the centre in the brutal battle for Raqqa last year.

Efforts to produce their gruesome murder videos have been curbed and they are now reduced to "crowd sourcing" new ideas for Photoshopped propaganda.

In a frantic recruitment bid on Telegram, sicko supporters are encouraging members to fake images to drive fear into the West in an attempt to "freak out the kuffar (non muslims)".

Jihadis believed to be in New York, claim they will now fake images as part of "Photoshop jihad".

The group's terror output has plummeted since Raqqa - their terror capital and media hub - was captured by Kurdish led forces.

Several key members of the terrorists' media team are believed to have perished in the downfall of the regime.

Sun Online previously reported how ISIS supporters shared an image of a man on a snowy New Yorks street claiming he was a member of the terror group.

Nowadays propaganda from the embattled state is now peppered with spelling mistakes - including one which vowed to "cuddle necks".

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force' (Middle East Online, 1/17/18)

The exiled Syrian National Council opposition group, in a statement, condemned the "US plan for a border force" and said "it was unacceptable" for areas liberated from IS to fall under Kurdish control.

The Kurds have sought to remain neutral in Syria's nearly seven-year-old war between rebels and the government.

With US backing, the YPG, the main element of the SDF, has seized swathes of territory in northern and eastern Syria from IS and established semi-autonomous rule in those areas.

The US-led coalition insists the border force would be responsible for stopping a resurgence of IS.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


How Michael Wolff Got Into the White House for His Tell-All Book (Jennifer Jacobs, 1/17/18, Bloomberg)

He called it "The Great Transition: The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration." And in part due to that title, Wolff was able to exploit an inexperienced White House staff who mistakenly believed they could shape the book to the president's liking.

Nearly everyone who spoke with Wolff thought someone else in the White House had approved their participation. And it appears that not a single person in a position of authority to halt cooperation with the book -- including Trump himself -- raised any red flags, despite Wolff's well documented history. His previous work included a critical book on Trump confidant Rupert Murdoch, the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. co-chairman. [...]

Wolff's entree began with Trump himself, who phoned the author in early February to compliment him on a CNN appearance in which Wolff criticized media coverage of the new president.

Wolff told Trump during the call that he wanted to write a book on the president's first 100 days in office. Many people want to write books about me, Trump replied -- talk to my staff. Aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks listened to Wolff's pitch in a West Wing meeting the next day, but were noncommittal. 

Several aides said Hicks later informally endorsed talking with Wolff as long as they made "positive" comments for the book, which they said Wolff told them would counter the media's unfair narrative.

It wasn't until late August that alarm bells were raised in the White House -- when Hicks, Jared Kushner and their allies realized that fellow aides who had spoken with Wolff, especially Bannon, may have provided damaging anecdotes about them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Sens. Cotton and Perdue are outed for lying on Trump's behalf (Jennifer Rubin January 16, 2018, Washington Post)

There is no honor among anti-immigrant advocates and liars, I suppose. After dutifully lying on behalf of the president regarding his abhorrent language ("shithole countries"), Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) were outed by the White House. The Post reports:

Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard "s[***]house" rather than "s[***]hole," allowing them to deny the president's comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said.

Not only did these two repeatedly lie, but Cotton also impugned the integrity of Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who told the truth. Asked whether the accusation that Trump spoke the offending words or the sentiment was phony, Cotton lied, "Yes." He went on to say, "Senator Durbin has misrepresented what happened in White House meetings before, and he was corrected by Obama administration officials by it."

Honorable men would resign after such a remarkable revelation of their crummy character; neither Cotton nor Perdue will. 

One of the more Trumpbot moves was to try and make it about Senator Durbin.  By their methods do we know them.
Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Steve Bannon Will Tell All to Robert Mueller, Source Says (Betsy Woodruff, 01.16.18, Daily Beast)

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon broke some bad news to House investigators Tuesday, announcing that the White House had invoked executive privilege to keep him from answering many of their questions.

But executive privilege--the president's right to keep certain information from the public so he can have frank conversations with aides--will not keep Steve Bannon from sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller's team, according to a person familiar with the situation.

"Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say," said the source, who is familiar with Bannon's thinking.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Chamber of Commerce To Push Gas Tax Increase (John Wagner, 1/16/18, The Washington Post)

With President Donald Trump and Congress turning their attention to infrastructure in the coming weeks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is preparing for an uphill battle: a push to raise the federal gas tax by 25 cents per gallon to help pay for the initiative.

The proposal by the nation's largest business lobby, which will be formally unveiled later this week, is part of a series of principles it will offer in a bid to help shape the debate over upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, airports and other critical infrastructure.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Democrats Pick Up Wisconsin State Senate Seat in District Trump Won by 17 Points (Margaret Hartmann, 1/17/18, New York)

Thanks to predictions of a Democratic wave in 2018, a record number of House Republicans have announced they're retiring, and some likely candidates have opted not to run. The year's first contests, a handful of statehouse special elections held on Tuesday, seemed to confirm that they made the right call.

The biggest news is an upset in Wisconsin's 10th Senate District, where Democrat Patty Schachtner, a medical examiner, beat Republican Adam Jarchow, a member of the state Assembly, by 9 points.

The rural district's voting history did not suggest an easy win for Democrats. For the last 17 years, the seat was held by Republican state Senator Sheila Harsdorf, who stepped down in November to serve as Governor Scott Walker's agriculture secretary. In the 2016 election Harsdorf won by 26 points and Donald Trump won by 17 points; Romney easily took the district in 2012, though Wisconsin went to Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Why We Are a Republic, Not a Democracy (Walter Williams, Jan. 17th, 2018, Daily Signal)

In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wanted to prevent rule by majority faction, saying, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."

John Adams warned in a letter, "Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide."

Edmund Randolph said, "That in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy."

Then-Chief Justice John Marshall observed, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

The Founders expressed contempt for the tyranny of majority rule, and throughout our Constitution, they placed impediments to that tyranny. Two houses of Congress pose one obstacle to majority rule. That is, 51 senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators.

The president can veto the wishes of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto.

To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both houses, and if an amendment is approved, it requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Finally, the Electoral College is yet another measure that thwarts majority rule. It makes sure that the highly populated states--today, mainly 12 on the east and west coasts, cannot run roughshod over the rest of the nation. That forces a presidential candidate to take into consideration the wishes of the other 38 states.

January 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Confrontation between Rouhani, hard-line clerics heats up (Al-Monitor, January 16, 2018)

[R]ouhani has come under attack for his remarks that no one is above criticism, not even the 12th Shiite imam, the Mahdi.

Twelver Shiite Islam holds that the Mahdi is in a state referred to as the "greater occultation" and is waiting to reappear to rule the world. 

In a speech believed to have been influenced by the protests across Iran, Rouhani sought not to dismiss the protesters, saying Jan. 8, "Everyone should be criticized and there is no exception [to this principle]. All the officials in the country can be criticized. No one in the country is infallible. If one day the Hidden Imam [Mahdi] reappears, then we can criticize [him] too. ... The Prophet [Muhammad] allowed [others] to criticize him. We don't have anyone above the prophet in history."

Following these remarks, hard-line clerics said that criticizing Shiite imams, who are deemed infallible, would in effect mean that they are not in fact infallible. Rouhani's defenders, however, said the president was trying to say that people can question imams in order to get an answer, just as the president and other officials in Iran can be questioned. Moderate Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian said Jan. 15, "The goal of Mr. Rouhani in his recent remarks involving the critique of the infallible imams wasn't equivalent to rejecting them, but rather meant the possibility of questioning them."

In marked contrast, the influential Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, headed by powerful cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, issued a statement Jan. 14 saying the rejection of Muhammad and the imams' infallibility "is in explicit opposition to Islam and the Shiite faith. ... We strongly recommend that some officials refrain from entering issues related to [people's] beliefs in their speeches."

Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, considered to be the spiritual father of the hard-liners -- including conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who lost to Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election -- tweeted Jan. 15, "They are saying that people can criticize the infallible imams. ... They said this not in [a distant country] but in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now, with the presence of such [figures on the public stage], how much more should the Hidden Imam [Mahdi] suffer?"

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM

LAUGHINGSTOCK (profanity alert):

Constituents laugh out loud at GOP Senator Joni Ernst's defense of Trump (Tommy Christopher, JANUARY 15, 2018, ShareBlue)

At the otherwise friendly "Coffee with Joni" event, constituent Barb Melson confronted Ernst about "the damage that Trump is doing to our neighbors around the world with his white supremacy talk."

Ernst insisted that Trump enjoys support from other world leaders.

"He is standing up for a lot of the countries," Ernst told the crowd.

Ernst was then asked to "name a few."

Her response drew a big laugh from the crowd.

"Norway," Ernst replied unironically.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Trump says he wants more immigrants from 'everywhere' (Reuters, 1/16/18) 

U.S. President Donald Trump, asked whether he wanted more immigrants from Norway, said on Tuesday that he wanted the United States to draw immigrants from nations around the world.

The nativist folks who claim this always follow that be discussing how few we should take from everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


If We Ever Get to Mars, the Beer Might Not Be Bad (KENNETH CHANG JAN. 12, 2018, NY Times)

Here's an interplanetary botany discovery that took college students and not NASA scientists to find: Hops -- the flowers used to add a pleasant bitterness to beer -- grow well in Martian soil.

"I don't know if it's a practical plant, but it's doing fairly well," said Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University. [...]

Martian soil is very dense and dries out quickly -- perhaps better for making bricks than growing plants, which have trouble pushing their roots through. That includes potatoes, the savior food for the fictional Mark Watney in "The Martian," the book by Andy Weir and later a movie starring Matt Damon about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars.

For the most part, the students chose practical, nutritious plants like soy beans and kale in addition to potatoes. Some added herbs like basil and mint so that astronauts could enjoy more flavorful food on thesolar system's fourth world.

And one group chose hops.

"Because they're students," Dr. Guinan said. "Martian beer." (He vetoed marijuana.) [...]

One group of students hypothesized that coffee grinds could similarly be used as a filler to loosen up the soil. They figured the astronauts would be drinking coffee anyway, and coffee would also be a natural fertilizer. "Also, it may help acidify Martian soil," said Elizabeth Johnson, a Villanova senior who took the class. Mars soil is alkaline, with a pH of 8 to 9, she said, compared to 6 to 7 on Earth.

"We think the coffee has a lot of potential," Ms. Johnson said.

Her team's carrots, spinach and scallions sprouted quickly in the mix of coffee grounds and Martian soil, initially growing faster than even plants in a control planter full of Earth potting mix.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM

LAUGHINGSTOCK (self-reference alert):


A prominent Zambia tourism website appears to have been inspired by President Donald Trump, launching an ad that invites tourists to "visit ****hole Zambia."

The ad, posted on the Zambiatourism.com's Facebook page, features a stunning sunset vista and the slogan: "Visit ****hole Zambia ... Where the only stars and stripes you'll have to see are in the sky and on a zebra." 

Zambiatourism.com, which operates independently of the official Zambia Tourism Board, also advertised the country as a destination "where beautiful vistas and breathtaking wildlife are our trump card!"

The Wife and younger two kids went last year, to work with the Circus Zambia, which helps kids from the Chibolya slum in Lusaka, and one of the performers has stayed with us.  They'd all love to move here, but the family was overwhelmed by the welcome they received in the midst of grinding poverty too. The more of this human capital we could transfer here the richer we'd be.

Zambian Circus Artists Build Links to Upper Valley (David Corriveau, 7/20/16, Valley News Staff Writer)

The first time he watched the six members of Circus Zambia walking over each other's heads and shoulders and abdominals, somersaulting over each other in single bounds and otherwise defying gravity and credulity this summer, Barry Lubin noticed two things.

"They came with a huge vocabulary of acrobatics," Lubin, whom fans of the Big Apple Circus might remember as the clown Grandma, said during the Tuesday afternoon session of the Van Lodostov Family Circus camp at Marion Cross School. "They also came with a sense of humor."

For the tour of their show, "Discover Home," Gift Chansa, Amos Malokwa, Benard Kaumba, John Mwansa, Thomas Banda and Patrick Chikoloma also brought a sense of mission to the Upper Valley this summer -- to learn life skills as well as additional circus tricks and showmanship before returning to Zambia's capital city of Lusaka to teach them to kids in the slums where they grew up.

The ensemble's visit is part of a budding exchange between two unlikely hotbeds of circus education: the Upper Valley and Chibolya, a Lusaka slum. Students from the Upper Valley performed in Zambia in February, and their Zambian counterparts arrived here June 19. This is circus with a social, as well as physical uplift. The Zambian acrobats perform this afternoon at 3 at Lebanon's Colburn Park.

"It's so much to take in," the 24-year-old Chansa, who cofounded Circus Zambia with Malokwa and Kaumba, said between a tutoring session in math and bookkeeping with local volunteers and working with Van Lodostov campers. "But we have to take whatever opportunity we find and take it back home.

"We want to allow young people to dare to dream."

As children, Chansa, Malokwa and Kaumba rarely dreamed about exploring beyond the mean streets and alleys of Chibolya -- which in the Nyanja language means "abandoned" -- while daring each other to outdo their impromptu acrobatic feats.

Then their vision broadened, with an invitation to sharpen their skills with Lusaka's Barefeet Theatre Company. That opportunity led to a year of training at an acrobatics school in China, and eventually to the re-creation late in 2015 of Circus Zambia as a non-governmental organization, with a British-born logistics manager, a Dutch program manager -- and Northern Stage founder Brooke Ciardelli as its producer in the United States.

"They're really grabbing the bull by the horns, taking every opportunity they have," logistics manager Charlie Hall said at Marion Cross School on Tuesday. "Not only to learn the physical skills, but to learn all kinds of life skills that they can pass on to the younger kids."

This past February, Ciardelli, who previously did producing work for Barefeet Theatre, and Van Lodostov founder Ted Lawrence led a delegation of 15 Upper Valley teens and adults to Zambia for a youth circus exchange.

"That was an eye-opener," Lawrence said on Tuesday at Marion Cross, while Mwansa pedaled a bicycle on which campers balanced on the front axle. "How little resources they have, and how much they've accomplished, is incredible."

To help the Zambians build a circus school beyond its current programs for children ages 6 and older, the families who visited Chibolya in February arranged for the Circus Zambia members to come to the Upper Valley and stay with local families this summer while they learn language and math skills, teach circus skills, raise money and fine-tune their own act.

"It keeps getting better and better every time we do a show," said Chikoloma, at 17 the company's youngest member. "Every day we learn things, and do something new."

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Revenge of the Unduly Reprieved (NOAH ROTHMAN, JAN. 15, 2018, Commentary)

Neither Joe Arpaio nor Chelsea Manning deserved their reprieves. The legitimacy these two blights on the American political ethos enjoy today is a product of the most reckless, self-indulgent impulses of the presidents who gave them clemency. They are funhouse mirror reflections of their respective party's base voters. These candidacies are not aberrations; they are the wages of a partisan political culture that values provoking adversaries over substantive engagement. It's up to responsible voices within both parties' political establishments to ensure that these candidacies aren't harbingers of things to come.

The singular legislative achievement of the UR was passing the Heritage Foundation's health care plan, of Donald, a corporate tax cut that the UR proposed and Hillary planned to enact.  The parties are divided by partisanship, not policy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Edward Lansdale and America's Vietnam Demons : A new book explores a legendary advisor who may have had the secret to success in Vietnam -- and in winning today's forever war. (CARTER MALKASIAN, JANUARY 16, 2018, Foreign Policy)
Max Boot's newest book chronicles the life and impact of Edward Lansdale, the famous American advisor and CIA officer sometimes hailed as the "Lawrence of Asia." A near-legend alternately seen as a kingmaker or an oddball, Lansdale helped trailblaze one American approach to fighting communist insurgents during the early days of the Cold War -- an approach that was soon scorned by policymakers at the top. Deeply researched and evenhanded, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam is a superb scholarly achievement.

Boot, a historian and columnist for Foreign Policy, comes at Lansdale having already written two major books on small wars and counterinsurgency, a solid foundation that he takes to a new level here with rigorous research and dogged investigation into little-known corners of Lansdale's life. He taps the most up-to-date scholarly sources, such as Lien-Hang Nguyen's Hanoi's War and Fredrik Logevall's Embers of War, and his own primary research is most impressive. He conducted more than 20 interviews with people who knew Lansdale and visited more than 30 archives, including in the Philippines and Vietnam. He makes use of the most recently declassified material. And Boot is the first author to gain access to the letters Lansdale wrote to his wife and his Filipina lover (and future second wife), which reveal copious details about his thinking and motivation.

The thrust of Boot's argument is that the United States missed an opportunity for a less traumatic outcome in Vietnam, and again in today's long wars, by neglecting Lansdale's example. Eschewing Lansdale's deep local knowledge, trust with leaders, and skepticism of the value of large numbers of troops on the ground is, for Boot, the "road not taken."

The argument is relevant both for America's revisiting of Vietnam and for how it handles strategy today. Boot's takeaway is that skilled advisors with a bias toward democratic reforms could have yielded better results not only in Vietnam but also in America's more recent wars.

It's the lesson W should have learned before occupying Iraq and rejecting elected Islamists in Palestine, the Lebanon and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The good news about Hawaii's false alarm : As failures go, what happened in Hawaii was a success. (Daniel W. Drezner January 16, 2018, Washington Post)

First, and most important, was that Hawaii did not descend into chaos. The Atlantic's Alia Wong focuses on the sheer terror the alert created, but also noted that, "As of Sunday, there haven't been any official reports of deaths or injuries attributed to Saturday's emergency alert." Think about this for a second: residents of an entire state were told by authorities that the world as they knew it might be coming to an end. It is extraordinary that this account from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser contains the worst breakdown of law and order that I have seen from the event:

Celeste Russell was driving near the 7-Eleven in Waimanalo.

"There was a red light and people were beeping their horns for people to go through it, instead of stopping, because obviously, they wanted to get home themselves. So it was bad," she said.

That's actually not that bad!! This was partly due to the time of the alert (a little after eight in the morning on a weekend), partly due to the lack of supporting evidence for an actual attack (no air-raid sirens). Still, there was no breakdown in social order. No grocery stores or hardware stores or any stores whatsoever appear to have been looted.

This is important to stress, because it represents a sharp contrast with how situations like this tend to be fictionalized. As someone who has argued that certain genres have exaggerated the fragility of society, it is a nice piece of confirming evidence.

A related piece of good news is that, in contrast to Fisher's concerns, there is no evidence that North Korea was provoked by the Hawaii alert. This might be due to luck. It might be due to the recent thaw in North-South Korean relations. It could also be that the alert was not offensive in nature. Or it could mean, as Michael Horowitz and Elizabeth Saunders have argued, that the Korean peninsula is not quite the hair-trigger situation that yours truly some have suggested.

The most important piece of good news, however, is that this mistake will lead to improvements in the system.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM

THE WOGS START AT 1630 (profanity alert):

Of Course Most Immigrants Come from [S***house?] Countries. So What? : The whole point of America is that it doesn't matter where you come from. It matters what you do when you're here. (Nick Gillespie|Jan. 12, 2018 , Reason)

The promise of America, since before its founding as a country, is precisely that you can start over here. Even within the country, the ability to strike out for the territory and begin again motivated many of our most mythic figures, from Natty Bumppo to Sam Houston to Huck Finn to Pa Ingalls in the Little House books. I apologize for dragging my family history into every goddamn post I write these days, but their experience speaks directly to the current nativist moment. When my grandparents left Ireland and Italy in the early 20th century, they were leaving [S***house?] countries if such things have ever existed. They weren't starving because they worked on farms and in fishing towns, but they had no future and not much of a present in those places. Like millions of others, they left farms in the old country and packed themselves like sardines into cities in the new. That was 100 years ago and, as every yahoo on Twitter has seen fit to tell me in the past 24 hours, Things were different back then! No welfare state! Those countries were part of the "West," which is best!

Well, there was a welfare state, at least as it pertains to what today's immigrants (legal and illegal) qualify for, which is basically school for your kids and emergency medical care. Since the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton was re-elected partly on the strength of his promises to end illegal immigration, illegals don't qualify for transfer payments (to the extent that immigrants, legal or otherwise, manage to cadge food stamps and the like, it's a rounding error in federal and state budgets). My mother, the daughter of Italians, didn't speak English until she went to public school (for free!) in Waterbury, Connecticut. My father, the son of Irish immigrants, went to St. Augustine's in Brooklyn for free because the Catholic order running the place during the Depression had a glancing familiarity with the New Testament and Christ's injunctions to help the poor and downtrodden. More important, the whole argument about the welfare state being overloaded is a regular laff riot, isn't it? The mostly conservative types who are anti-immigrant are always (and often rightly) bitching and moaning about welfare suddenly become its biggest defenders when a goddamn Haitian or Salvadoran shows up here to work long hours pulling Slurpees at the local 7-11. And that Milton Friedman chestnut about how you can't simultaneously "have free immigration and a welfare state"? He was, uncharacteristically, wrong, as a matter of fact and on principle. Lots of countries have both.

Then there's the argument that runs along the "but your grandparents and parents came from Europe and a tradition of limited government and soap and Winston Churchill and didn't vote Democrat..." Let's be clear: America has always been highly ambivalent about immigration, at least since Ben Franklin fretted that German-speaking Catholics could never really fit in to the culture of colonial Pennsylvania. I imagine that native Americans, including and maybe especially Squanto, who met the Mayflower and greeted them in English(!), felt this disquiet even earlier. In my family's case, being Catholic in pre-World War II America was not a point in their favor, because being Catholic meant that you worshiped the Whore of Babylon, ate fish on Friday, and practiced ritual cannibalism while having a lot of brats (all true). Catholics are the single-largest religious affiliation in the U.S. now but back then they were scary enough to "real" Americans in the 1910s and '20s that the Ku Klux Klan reformed in large part to fight against their willingness to booze it up and ball like rabbits in increasingly mongrelized cities (read The Great Gatsby again!). Prohibition, supported by the Klan and other WASP elites, was as much about keeping the Catholics--the wops and the micks especially--down. Italy sent only anarchists and wasn't even a real country until it became a dangerous imperial power under Mussolini, right, and for god's sake, Ireland was run by a bunch of potato-snorting apes prone to violence and singing and bomb-throwing.

Oh, and one more thing: The wretched refuse washing up on the East Coast had it easy compared to the Asians flooding the West Coast. The very first broad-based (which is to say racist) immigration restrictions were leveled against Chinese migrants in 1882. Back then, euphemisms were less common so a complete ban on Chinese people coming here to work was simply called The Chinese Exclusion Act. Anti-Chinese animus was virulent enough that it underwrote the single-biggest mass lynching in American history, which took place in Los Angeles in 1871. It was followed by less overt but no less sweeping legislation to keep Japanese out. Long before they became "model minorities," Asians were barred from coming here. They persisted, though, and America is a better place for their willingness to route around racism and attempts to keep them out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The Lessons of the First Gulf War Still Linger 25 Years on (Kenneth T. Walsh, Jan. 17, 2016, US News)

Bush sat down on Dec. 31, 1990, New Year's Eve, and wrote an emotional letter to his five children reflecting a father's desire to reassure his children about the rightness of what he was about to do, and a commander in chief's worries about those he was about to send into battle.

Addressing the letter to "Dear George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Doro," he wrote (with his customary disregard to spelling and grammar), "When I came into this job I vowed that I would never ring my hands and talk about 'the loneliest job in the world' or ring my hands about the 'pressures or the trials.'

"Having said that I have been concerned about what lies ahead. There is no 'loneliness' though, because I am backed by a first rate team of knowledgeable and committed people. No president has been more blessed in this regard."

President Bush added: "We have waited to give sanctions a chance, we have moved a tremendous force so as to reduce the risk to every American soldier if force has to be used; but the question of loss of life still lingers and plagues the heart.

"My mind goes back to history: How many lives might have been saved if appeasement had given way to force earlier on in the late '30s or earliest '40s? How many Jews might have been spared the gas chambers, or how many Polish patriots might be alive today? I look at today's crisis as 'good' vs. 'evil' - yes, it is that clear." [...]

Political scientist Al Felzenberg in his 2008 book "The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game," summed up the pros and cons. "After Iraq invaded the kingdom of Kuwait," Felzenberg wrote, "Bush preserved Kuwait's independence through his brilliant execution of Operation Desert Storm. His masterful use of multiple international contacts he had made during previous service in diplomatic and intelligence posts created the appearance and the reality of a truly multinational endeavor to enforce a U.N. resolution. But the military victory Bush obtained, which allowed Saddam Hussein to remain in power, assured that the United States would continue to engage with Saddam militarily. Furthermore, Bush did little to press the liberated Kuwait, or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia which requested American arms and troops to defend it, to improve their human rights record, adopt democratic institutions, or reduce their support for Islamic extremists."  

If GHWB had been able to process what he wrote, he never could have left genocidal evil in place.  If the Left and Right could process it, they would understand why W liberated the Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Trump's Latest Target Is No Puppet for the Democratic Party (Dana Milbank, 1/15/18,  The Washington Post)

This is the same Journal editorial page that repeatedly praised Simpson's work when he was bringing down Democrats. It hailed "enterprising reporters such as the Journal's own Glenn Simpson" for exposing the hypocrisy of the Clinton fundraising operation.

Also attempting to paint Simpson as a leftist contract killer is Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and his Judiciary Committee staff. The newly released transcript of the staff interview with Simpson is full of suggestions that Simpson was politically motivated. Grassley has suggested that Fusion's work is "dirty," not "reliable" and "Russian propaganda."

But surely Grassley knows that Simpson spent years probing Clinton money scandals as a journalist and at Fusion, looking into whether they took official actions in exchange for contributions and whether the Clintons (and the Obama administration) abused EB-5 visas, which essentially allow wealthy foreigners (and potential contributors) to buy U.S. citizenship.

If Grassley doesn't know this, he might want to check with Jason Foster, Grassley's chief investigative counsel, who has received information Simpson dug up during Foster's time on Judiciary and Foster's previous stint as an investigator for Republican Rep. Dan Burton's House Government Reform Committee. [...]

David Bossie, a conservative activist who worked with Foster on the Burton committee, praised Simpson to Bill O'Reilly back then for exposing that McAuliffe protected himself from probes by giving "a lot of information to reporters." Simpson had shown how McAuliffe "cashed in" on labor ties.

Simpson's foreign-money investigations infuriated politicians of all stripes. With Jill Abramson (later top editor at The New York Times), he helped break key stories about John Huang, Webb Hubbell and overseas Asian interests giving big campaign gifts to Democrats.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Simpson probed terrorism financing. Then he went to Brussels under Journal bureau chief Peter Fritsch (now his Fusion partner) and became fascinated with Russian money. In March 2007, he wrote to Paul Manafort with a prescient inquiry, saying he had "credible information" that the future Trump campaign manager represented Ukrainian official Viktor Yanukovych without registering as a foreign agent. A decade later, Robert Mueller indicted Manafort over exactly that.

At Fusion, Simpson has investigated political money for clients of all persuasions, including a hedge-fund manager and more than a few Trump supporters. So it follows that when conservative Paul Singer's Washington Free Beacon webiste and then the Democrats wanted Trump research, Simpson used his intelligence contacts from Brussels to probe Trump's financial ties to Russia.

I don't share Simpson's interest in journalism for hire, nor do I approve of his willingness to take distasteful clients.

But I do know he's a dogged gumshoe with one overriding ideology: distrust of all politicians.

Gotta love when the capitalist party thinks it's a black mark against Fusion that everyone wants to hire them at top dollar.
Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


US-purchased cranes arrive at Yemen rebel-held port (Middle East Online, 1/16/18)

Four mobile cranes purchased by the United States arrived Monday at a rebel-held port in Yemen, the United Nations said, after months of delays imposed by the Saudi-led coalition.

The cranes will boost the capacity of the Huthi-controlled Hodeida port to receive food, fuel and medical supplies as Yemen remains on the brink of famine after nearly three years of war. [...]

Coalition planes destroyed the cranes at Hodeida in a 2015 attack and Saudi Arabia has for months held up the delivery of the new cranes, which had been kept at a Dubai storage depot.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


'Oh Happy Day' singer Edwin Hawkins dies at 74 (Deutsche-Welle, 1/16/18)

Edwin Hawkins, who helped launch the gospel and inspirational music scene during the turbulent era of the late 1960s and went on to win four Grammys, has died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 74.

A composer, keyboardist, arranger and choir master from Oakland, Hawkins had been performing with his family and in church groups since childhood. In his 20s, he helped form the Northern California State Youth Choir, which released its first album, "Let Us Go into the House of the Lord," in 1968.

Radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area picked up one of the album's songs, the call-and-response style "Oh Happy Day," and a crossover hit was born. Featuring the vocals of Dorothy Combs Morrison, the song was released as a single credited to the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969 and sold more than a million copies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Inside the tense, profane White House meeting on immigration (Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker January 15, 2017, Washington Post)

When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin's outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat's efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was "fired up" and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump told the group he wasn't interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together. And as he shrugged off suggestions from Durbin and others, the president called nations from Africa "s[***]hole countries," denigrated Haiti and grew angry. [...]

At one point, Graham told Trump he should use different language to discuss immigration, people briefed on the meeting said.  [...]

Trump was not particularly upset by the coverage of the meeting and his vulgarity after it was first reported by The Washington Post, calling friends and asking how they expected it to play with his political supporters, aides said.

"Everyone was saying it would help with the base," which would agree with his characterization, one person who spoke with the president said.

By Thursday evening, many White House aides were concerned that the story was exploding beyond the usual level for a Trump controversy, but they carried on with their plans for the night: a send-off for deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ally of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Nearly every top official ducked into the exclusive Italian restaurant Cafe Milano in Georgetown to toast Powell. There was little effort to significantly push back on the story that night because aides knew that Trump had said it and that the president wasn't even too upset, according to people involved in the talks.

Then Friday morning, Trump appeared to suggest in a tweet that he had not used the objectionable word at all: "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."

Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard "s[***]house" rather than "s[***]hole," allowing them to deny the president's comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said.

by their belief that hole or house is what matters in Donald's racism

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM



Trump supporters, or "believers," fell from 22 percent to 18 percent over the last year, according to the poll. [...]

Sixty-seven percent said they felt Trump was "working against me."

You know he's in trouble when he can't even maintain that anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim core that supported him no matter what.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


"Red-Faced" Pence Humiliated By Trump's Racism At Church Service Honoring MLK (Matthew Chapman, January 16, 2018, Shareblue.com)

After calling Trump's rhetoric "hurtful, dehumanizing, visceral, guttural [and] ugly" Watson proclaimed, "I stand today as your Pastor to vehemently denounce and reject any such characterizations of the nations of Africa and of our brothers and sisters in Haiti."

"Whoever made such a statement, and whoever used such a visceral, disrespectful, dehumanizing adjective to characterize the nations of Africa, whoever -- do you hear me, Church? --whoever said it is wrong, and they ought to be held accountable."

To those from Haiti and Africa, Watson said, "I, as your Pastor, and your Metropolitan family, will stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and breast to breast with you as we acknowledge your worth, your dignity, your humanness."

"I think the best way to honor Dr. King's legacy," Watson said, "is to speak up for, and stand up for, the values for which he spoke and stood. And the main value Dr. King stood for is the value of love." [...]

According to WUSA9, "The Vice President reportedly became visibly red-faced at times throughout the speech."

Meanwhile, other worshippers in the church "rose out of their seats in support."

Faced with the real lessons of King's uplifting use of his Christian faith to call for equal justice in America, and Watson's righteous condemnation of Trump's hateful rhetoric, Pence had no response but shamed silence.

January 15, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Aspiring agents learn from mistakes of FBI's 'shameful' investigation of Martin Luther King Jr. (Del Quentin Wilber, 8/11/16, LA Times)
Dressed in plainclothes to blend in with tourists at the National Mall, a few dozen FBI agents in training fanned out across the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on an unusual mission. 

Their months-long training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., covers target practice, boxing, surveillance and self-defense.

But these trainees were dispatched on a more personal quest at the Washington memorial: pick the most inspirational King quote among those etched into stone slabs and then share their insights during a brief, touchy-feely rap session in the shadow of the slain civil rights leader's statue. 

The field trip capped one of the newest exercises added to the training for aspiring agents and analysts. It's a daylong dive into the FBI's questionable investigation into King, including a surprisingly frank review into improper wiretapping, harassment, abuse of power and racially motivated double standards.

The training is the brainchild of FBI Director James B. Comey, who in 2014 began mandating this institutional introspection into what he called the "shameful" probe of King by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, including delving into King's sex life and secretly trying to destroy his reputation. 

FBI trainees already received other forms of cultural-sensitivity training, such as a visit to the National Holocaust Museum to examine the role German law enforcement played in one of humanity's greatest crimes. 

But Comey felt that didn't adequately address issues of power and corruption in a way "that would hit home," said Cynthia DeWitte, a curriculum manager at the FBI academy. By directly and openly confronting the agency's own struggles against racism, Comey hoped to prevent the FBI from repeating its past mistakes.

"We wanted to provide a lesson of what happens when power is abused and the responsibility that comes with being in the FBI," DeWitte said. "We wanted this to be more than a field trip."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Airbus may stop A380 production as orders dry up (Deutsche-Welle, 1/15/18)

Airbus's decision in 2007 to pursue the 853-seat A380 was diametrically opposed to Boeing's bet on the Dreamliner, marketed as a more efficient plane that could be used for both medium and long-distance flights.

Despite Airbus's insistence that larger planes costing 535 million euros ($437 million) were the best way to tackle higher oil prices and environmental concerns, the A380's order book has always been lacking. [...]

Abandoning the superjumbo would be a disappointing defeat for the Toulouse, France-based firm, which spent many years and many billions developing the behemoth, while forcing airports to build longer runways to allow it to land.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Altering A Species: Darwin's Shopping List (JIMENA CANALES, 1/15/18, NPR)

Charles Darwin was in such awe of breeders who could alter flora and fauna in the span of 30 or 40 years that he used the word "plastic" to describe the extreme pliability of reproductive species. "Breeders," he wrote in On the Origin of the Species, "habitually speak of an animal's organization as something quite plastic, which they can model almost as they please."

During Darwin's time, husbandry was more of an art than a science. Making perfect matches concerned the haute bourgeoisie as much as the breeders who worked for the landed gentry.

Could Darwin push nature's plasticity further than they had by approaching it scientifically?

"The pear," he wrote, "though cultivated in classical times, appears, from Pliny's description, to have been a fruit of very inferior quality." Since ancient times, the fruit had been slowly bred to become much more juicy and savory. Botanists plumped up the gooseberry over generations, created many admirable varieties of strawberries, and enhanced the beauty of cultivated flowers. According to his biographer Janet Browne, Darwin looked at nature as would an "all-seeing farmer in the sky."

The masters of this ancient art sold their genetic wonders at a pretty penny. Their very livelihood depended on keeping the secrets of their practice out of scientific journals.

Darwin speculated about the possible existence of a being who could produce even more wonderful creations than those so far created by European breeders. This being could adapt "living beings to his wants -- may be said to make the wool of one sheep good for carpets, of another for cloth." Darwin offered few details about how such a talented being would go about his business, since no one, not even he, knew the precise laws governing genetic inheritance. "Your imagination must fill up very wide blanks," he told the American naturalist and Harvard professor Asa Gray, with whom he discussed this possibility.

The worm at the core of Darwinism was that he based it on the processes of breeders.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


New alarm among Republicans that Democrats could win big this year (Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Sean Sullivan January 14, 2018, Washington Post)

In the Camp David presentation, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described scenarios to the president ranging from a bloodbath where Republicans lost the House "and lost it big," in the words of one official, to an outcome in which they keep control while losing some seats.

McCarthy outlined trends over recent decades for parties in power and spotlighted vulnerable Republican seats where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Eight years ago, before the 2010 midterms swept the GOP to power, he had drafted a similar presentation with the opposite message for his party.

Republicans hold the advantage of a historically favorable electoral map, with more House seats than ever benefiting from Republican-friendly redistricting and a Senate landscape that puts 26 Democratic seats in play, including 10 states that Trump won in 2016, and only eight Republican seats.

But other indicators are clearly flashing GOP warning signs. Democrats have benefited from significant recruitment advantages -- there are at least a half dozen former Army Rangers and Navy SEALs running as Democrats this year, for example -- as Republicans struggle to convince incumbents to run for reelection.

At least 29 House seats held by Republicans will be open in November following announced retirements, a greater number for the majority party than in each of the past three midterm elections when control of Congress flipped.

The president's own job approval, a traditional harbinger of his party's midterm performance, is at record lows as he approaches a year in office, according to Gallup. Polls asking which party Americans want to see control Congress in 2019 show a double-digit advantage for Democrats.

"When the wave comes, it's always underestimated in the polls," said a conservative political strategist who has met with GOP candidates. "That is the reason that Republicans are ducking for cover."

The GOP won last year be ignoring Donald and dragging him over the line in their wake.  They need to restore Haley-like distance ASAP.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Jews and Their Jokes (Joseph Epstein, Jan. 12th, 2018, Weekly Standard)

The Old Testament, to put it gently, is not notable for humor. As Dauber notes, the first of its paucity of laughs is given to Sarah, wife of the 100-year-old Abraham, who informs her she is to have his child. Dauber early considers, and frequently harkens back to, the book of Esther, which he cites as "the first work to feature the joyful celebration and comic pleasure that comes with an anti-Semite's downfall and the frustration of that form of persecutory intent." After a recent rereading, I must report that the book of Esther is less than uproarious. But the book does record a resounding Jewish victory, and such victories, until the advent of the Israel Defense Forces, were only slightly less rare for the Jews than Super Bowl appearances for the Cleveland Browns.

Humor has not been without its dreary analysts and theorists. Along with so much else, Freud got the impulse behind comedy wrong, arguing that a joke is chiefly an act of aggression. 

The estimable Mr. Epstein is wrong on both counts there: (1) Humor is nearly always an act of aggression, and, (2) the Old Testament is a comedy, beginning at least with Genesis...:

And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

...if not earlier:

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.


Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Hezbollah's popular support jeopardises Lebanon's alliances (Nicholas Blanford, 1/15/18, Arab Weekly)

Lebanon enters 2018 enjoy­ing a period of relative un­accustomed stability over the past year that has al­lowed the government to act normally, a parliament to func­tion unhindered and long-awaited legislation to be passed.

The reason for this rare harmo­ny among Lebanon's traditionally fractious politicians is, paradoxi­cally, down to Hezbollah and its al­lies having triumphed over a rival Sunni, Christian and Druze parlia­mentary bloc, known as the March 14 coalition. The Hezbollah victory ended a power struggle that po­litically and economically crippled the country for more than a decade and in 2008 came close to trigger­ing a civil war.

The March 14 coalition has crumbled and its political leaders have cut unilateral deals to suit their respective interests, having accepted, reluctantly in most cas­es, that Hezbollah is too powerful a force to confront. [...]

Lebanon is to have elections in May, the first nationwide vote since 2009. Political parties are mulling potential electoral allianc­es with former political opponents. Lebanese media reports claimed that Hariri's Future Movement was in talks with two Christian parties that are allied with Hezbollah.

Regardless of what alliances eventually emerge, there is a broad belief that the election will result in Hezbollah and its allies increas­ing their share in the 128-seat par­liament.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


At an Underground Harvard Lizard Colony, Scientists Study Speciation  (GEOFFREY GILLER JANUARY 08, 2018, Atlas Obscura)

THE SMALL PROPELLER PLANE VIBRATES alarmingly as it takes off from the main airport in the Bahamas. It's carrying unusual cargo: besides the eight human passengers, there's a large white cooler, over three feet long. Inside, in dozens of round plastic deli containers, are 120 live lizards, collected over the previous days on another Bahamian island. They range in size from less than three inches long (the smallest adult females) to over seven inches, including the tail, for the biggest males, and are varying shades of rust, brown, beige, and gray. These are lizards in the Anolis genus--Anolis sagrei, to be exact, also known as brown anoles--and ultimately they're bound for a large, underground room full of specially made acrylic tanks at Harvard University that houses hundreds of other lizards.

One of the goals of that lizard colony--and the reason for expeditions like this one to bring back live anoles--is to quantify an especially tricky aspect of evolutionary biology: How do you determine when two groups of similar animals are becoming separate species?

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


I watched a 17-hour broadcast of a train crossing Australia. It didn't disappoint (Naaman Zhou, 14 Jan 2018, The Guardian)

In the three-hour version, my favourite bits were the historical facts which pop up above the scenery, telling the story of Indigenous history and early European and Asian immigration. How Australia's first mosque was built in the 1860s, by the tracks in Maree, for Muslim cameleers from Pakistan, India and Iran. Or Port Pirie's short-lived Mussolini-inspired fascist group, founded by Italian residents in the 1920s.

But in the longer version, the rate of facts is slowed, coming maybe twice an hour. I feel bereft. For some reason, the train driver appears about 10 times in one hour. I have decided he is the villain of the piece. He does nothing, and does not seem to move, even as the landscape does. I did not sign up for this.

After an hour though, my laments have given way to a slow sense of creeping beauty and small changes. I see the hated ovals slowly turn to redder dirt, and buildings I don't recognise, which are small joys.

Time really does seem to pass quickly. At two hours, I decide to take a nap, but when I go to turn off the TV I realise we are passing some kind of farm - an arrangement of small, mysterious fruit-bearing shrubs in a perfect and monotony-breaking pattern. The ground looks different. I immediately turn it back on to watch a little more. This is how it gets you.

Viewed occasionally as something to pop in and out of, slow TV is relaxing, inoffensive. Viewed intensely, it becomes a journey of highs and lows, more stark the closer you zoom in. If you engage with it, it pushes back. As the timeframe approaches infinity, the odds of something becoming interesting becomes certain.

I decide to go to sleep, which has the sensation of stepping off a treadmill. Everything seems to keep gliding forwards for a little while.

After five hours, I wake up to Port Augusta. The sky is a beautiful dark bruised purple - the land too, like milled jacaranda flowers. It matches my sunrise. The show is in sync with my circadian rhythms. It is unlike anything I have seen, or will see for the next 12 hours. At the very least, the beauty of slow TV is that I could fall asleep for three hours and still not miss the moment.

One of the best Alexa skills is you can fall asleep to train sounds.

January 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM

HE IS CURIOUS ORANGE (profanity alert):

The Porn President : It takes a Wolff to know a wolf. (Kevin D. Williamson, January 14, 2018, National Review)

Trump sold himself as a nationalist-populist. What Trump is, in fact, is the porn president.

Melania Trump, asked whether she would have attached herself to Donald if he weren't wealthy, scoffed at the question and frankly acknowledged the transactional nature of their relationship: "If I weren't beautiful, do you think he'd be with me?" Trump, for his part, has been equally frank at times about the instrumental role Melania plays in his life: She's a good advertisement for his brand. "When we walk into a restaurant, I watch grown men weep," he said. It is worth keeping in mind that the Third Lady was an employee of Trump's modeling agency before their marriage. Business is business.

Trump appreciates the power of fantasy. Con artists sell their too-good-to-be-true stories with such great ease because people want to believe them. The eagnerness to believe is what make's a con artist's mark a mark -- the mark always participates in his own deception. Bernie Madoff ripped off a lot of well-off and financially sophisticated people and institutions who really should have known better than to trust his unwavering above-market returns, but they wanted to believe. Every basically literate person who goes to Las Vegas knows what the odds are, that past results are no guarantee of future returns, and that the stripper isn't really in her last year of nursing school and doesn't really think you're a really interesting guy.

Pornography works in precisely the same way. It is an invitation to insert yourself into the fantasy of your choosing. (The migration of pornography to the Internet has made all sorts of data about our sexual fantasies readily available, and the results are not encouraging.) And that is the secret to Trump's success both in marketing and in politics -- which are, in the end, the same thing. With his phony gilt Louis XV chairs, his casinos and beauty pageants, and his succession of prom-queen-jerky paramours, Trump has spent his career performing, and the role he has chosen is that of a poor man's idea of a rich man. He went so far as to create an imaginary friend, John Barron, to lie to the New York press about his sex life. He claimed, falsely, to have been involved with Carla Bruni, a fantasy the former first lady of France publicly ridiculed. He boasts in his memoirs about his involvement with "top women," writing: "Oftentimes, when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world, I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, 'Can you believe what I am getting?'"

Who is "you" in that sentence? Marks. The people to whom he wants to sell ugly polyester ties and third-rate condos, with his name on the building in big gold letters.

To his credit, the persona he adopted obscures how unsuccessful he's been in business.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


In Which World Would You Rather Live? (DON BOUDREAUX, JANUARY 14, 2018, Cafe Hayek)

 While saving and investment are not sufficient for economic growth and mass flourishing - market-tested innovation is indispensable, as is security of property rights - saving and investment are among the many necessary conditions.  And I believe that, among all of the many necessary conditions, savings and investment are especially important to emphasize given the man-in-the-street's naive, Keynesian conviction that the great driver of economic prosperity is consumer spending.

For non-rich people it's a blessing, not a curse, that rich people save.  Saving (rather than consuming) releases resources to be used, among other ways, to produce capital goods, to refurbish factories and stores, and - importantly - to fund and sustain research and development and other innovative institutions and efforts.  It is simply untrue that the economy "slows" or otherwise suffers insofar as money is not spent buying consumption goods and services.

So here's a mental experiment, one that probes cases that, while admittedly extreme, are instructive.  Ask yourself in which world would you prefer to live: Smithworld or Keynesworld?

These two worlds are remarkably like each other except for one feature.  In Smithworld, many people save, while in Keynesworld no one saves. 

This is why we will eventually tax only consumption and will fund universal HSA/SS/O'Neill accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Business leaders are hopeful for rebounds in Iranian economy despite uncertainty from US (Agence France-Presse, January 14, 2018)

The real problem in Iran right now, everyone in the international business community agrees, is uncertainty. 

That was not helped by Trump's announcement on Friday that he would waive nuclear-related sanctions, but only once more and that Europe must work with Washington to "fix the deal's disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw".

"No one has any idea what's going on. Trump has introduced so many layers of uncertainty," a Western trade official in Tehran said on condition of anonymity.  "That's not necessarily negative. Things could actually improve if Trump pulls out of the deal. The Europeans could stay and the EU could provide protections for its industries against US sanctions."

"Or things could get even worse. We just don't know," he said.

On the surface, Trump's vitriolic stance appears disastrous for the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which lifted many sanctions in exchange for curbs to the country's nuclear program. 

Even as he confirmed the waiver of nuclear sanctions on Friday, Trump added yet more sanctions related to human rights and Iran's missile program, adding to a vast web of restrictions that have scared off many Western companies.

Major foreign banks have been particularly cautious of re-entering Iran, dreading a repeat of the record-breaking $8.9 billion penalty leveled on France's BNP Paribas for breaching US sanctions on Iran and other countries. 

There seems little hope of hitting the government target of $50 billion in foreign investment per year, with the government saying less than  $3.4 billion was achieved in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


With Trump in power, emboldened Israelis make move to expand Jerusalem's boundaries (Loveday Morris & Ruth Eglash, 1/12/18, The Washington Post)

His settlement is around four miles east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Most of the international community considers its construction to be illegal, built on land captured during the 1967 war.

Still, it has steadily grown from what began as a cluster of prefabricated buildings erected by 23 families in the 1970s into a burgeoning satellite city of Jerusalem. Palm trees line the wide roads of what looks like a Florida suburb. Red-roofed houses and high-rises are home to 42,000 people, who are served by all of the accoutrements of a modern city: schools, restaurants, cafes and a shopping mall.

Expansion here is particularly contentious because it could cut off Arab areas of East Jerusalem from other Palestinian territory and hobble the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Still, Maale Adumim keeps growing. In the industrial park on its outskirts, already home to 360 businesses, ground has just been broken on "Design City," a nearly 600,000-square-foot, 160-outlet interior-design retail mall.

While previous U.S. administrations called settlements an obstacle to the peace process, the Trump administration has been more restrained in publicly criticizing them, a clear break from the frequent censure under President Barack Obama of Israeli settlement activity.

Emboldened by a more supportive White House, Israeli leaders have proposed a flurry of bills and resolutions that, in part, would annex areas of the West Bank and re-engineer Jerusalem's demographic balance by redrawing the city's map to exclude Arab neighborhoods and include Israeli settlements.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Rich Lowry, Jan. 12, 2018, JWR)

There is a very easy way for Democrats to get major concessions from President Donald Trump on immigration: Give him his Wall.

This is the key to a deal codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers. All it takes is giving Trump a plausible start to the Wall that the president can then, in his inimitable way, promote as the greatest structure built on a border since Hadrian began his famous handiwork at the northern limit of the Roman Empire in 122.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Instead of 'Infrastructure Investment,' How About Killing Davis-Bacon? (Larry Elder, Jan. 4, 2018, JWR)

The Davis-Bacon Act, a Depression-era measure, was designed to thwart black workers from competing against white workers. It requires federal contractors to pay "prevailing union wages." This act sought to shut out black workers from competing for construction jobs after white workers protested that Southern blacks were hired to build a Veterans Bureau hospital in Long Island, New York -- the district of Rep. Robert Bacon, one of the bill's sponsors. It is remarkable the Davis-Bacon still lives despite its racist intent and its discriminatory effect -- to this day -- on black workers. Passed in 1931, two Republicans teamed up to sponsor it.

In a labor market dominated by exclusionary unions that demanded above-market wages, blacks, at the time, competed by working for less money than the unionists. Davis-Bacon stopped this by requiring federal contractors to pay prevailing local union wages, causing massive black unemployment. Lawmakers made no secret of the law's goal.

In the House of Representatives, Congressman William Upshaw, D-Ga., said: "You will not think that a Southern man is more than human if he smiles over the fact of your reaction to that real problem you are confronted with in any community with a superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor." Rep. Miles Clayton Allgood, D-Ala., supported the bill and complained of "cheap colored labor" that "is in competition with white labor throughout the country." Rep. John J. Cochran, D-Mo., stated that he had "received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South."

Davis-Bacon adds as much as 20 percent more to the cost of any federal project. And most states have enacted local Davis-Bacon laws that similarly jack up the price of those government construction projects.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Unheralded defensive trio delivers in Patriots' playoff victory (Adam Kurkjian, January 14, 2018, Boston Herald)

Back when the local temperatures were sweltering hot, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean Francois and Marquis Flowers were busy being left off media-projected 53-man rosters or suiting up for other teams.

But as has been the case for years now under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the snow comes, the wind whips thermometers at or below 0, and his team's defensive standouts crystalize from outside the casual fan's view to ice opposing offenses. [...]

The three players are known quantities by now, but Butler is an undrafted rookie free agent. Flowers was acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals in August and largely a special teams player until late in the season. Jean Francois has been cut five times by three different teams -- including once by the Patriots -- since March. [...]

Yet as was the case with the likes of cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas three years ago, or any number of surprise standouts in a season, it doesn't matter when, how or from where the players arrive in Foxboro. If they learn a spot, they'll earn one, and that can change from week to week.

"Everybody on the roster's going to have a role," Adam Butler said. "Your role might be different the next week. Your role might change. There's not definite spots for each position. Anybody can go."

Two of the things that hamstring organizations are giving endless opportunities to high draft picks, highly-paid players and "stars," because cutting them is somehow embarrassing and not giving larger roles to marginal guys who earn them because they are "nobodys." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


The willingness of senators Cotton and Perdue to lie for the racist-in-chief because they oppose immigration too tells you all you need to know about the souls of his supporters: they're for sale.
Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


California's Brown Raises Prospect of Pension Cuts in Downturn (Romy Varghese, 1/14/18, Bloomberg)

California Governor Jerry Brown said legal rulings may clear the way for making cuts to public pension benefits, which would go against long-standing assumptions and potentially provide financial relief to the state and its local governments. [...]

That would be a major shift in California, where municipal officials have long believed they couldn't adjust the benefits even as they struggle to cover the cost. They have raised taxes and dipped into reserves to meet rising contributions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension, has about 68 percent of assets needed to cover its liabilities. For the fiscal year beginning in July, the state's contribution to Calpers is double what it was in fiscal 2009.

Across the country, states and local governments have about $1.7 trillion less than what they need to cover retirement benefits -- the result of investment losses, the failure by governments to make adequate contributions and perks granted in boom times.

It's not fair to wait for a downturn.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


How economic theory explains the Tim Hortons wage debate (MICHAEL FARREN, 1/10/18, THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Over the past few months, the minimum wage has risen in nearly every province, with Ontario's 23 per cent increase since September - up to $14 per hour - the largest. Now the controversy surrounding the changes has resurfaced, thanks to a number of Tim Hortons franchises telling employees they will cut benefits in response.

Many have condemned the franchise owners for putting profit before employee welfare. However, we should not be the least bit surprised: Economic theory predicts this exact result when the government mandates a wage increase.

Economists call it the "law of demand." As the price of something rises, the quantity demanded tends to fall. And much like the law of gravity, the higher you go, the harder you hit the ground.

Most of the time, the minimum wage's effect is hard to see. It's usually hidden in shorter employee hours and increased workloads, price increases and cost-cutting by reducing the quality of service provided. In this case, however, the company that owns Tim Hortons limits franchise owners' ability to raise prices and hasn't lowered the cost of the supplies that franchises have to purchase.

So instead, franchisees' short-term alternative is to push down labour costs.

Was I the only one who assumed the point of the $15 minimum wage campaign was to force the replacement of human labor by machines and, thereby, drive higher productivity and profits?  It's a simple matter of taxing what you don't want.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Mueller's obstruction of justice case against Trump looks damning : This should worry Trump even more than allegations of collusion. (Zack Beauchamp, 1/10/18, vox.com)

[T]here's another kind of case against the president -- the argument that his various attempts to undermine the Russia investigation, like firing FBI Director James Comey, constitute criminal obstruction of justice. If Mueller feels he has enough evidence, then he could seek permission to indict and prosecute Trump. It's not clear that charges can actually be brought against a sitting president, but Mueller's findings could nevertheless be turned over to Congress -- and serve as the centerpiece of any impeachment proceedings against Trump.

That means it's obstruction, not collusion, that poses the biggest legal and political threat to President Trump.

"If Trump exercises his power -- even his lawful power -- with a corrupt motive of interfering with an investigation, that's obstruction," says Lisa Kern Griffin, an expert on criminal law at Duke University. "The attempt is sufficient, and it seems to be a matter of public record already."

There are basically two reasons Griffin and other legal observers believe Mueller has such a good case obstruction case. First, the evidence of obstruction is, from what we know publicly, far stronger than the evidence that Trump himself was involved in with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Second, the crime of obstruction is legally straightforward, whereas it's not obvious which laws Trump would have violated by accepting Russian assistance during the election.

The public, obviously, doesn't know everything Mueller does. It could be that the collusion case is a lot clearer, or the obstruction case a lot murkier, than it appears from the outside.

But what we do know suggests that Mueller is taking the obstruction charge seriously, and that his chances of making his case are quite good -- unless Trump decides to fire him or his boss.

...but alleged that he can't be held accountable for it, a view which both Democrat and Republican Congresses have dismissed:

Articles of Impeachment Adopted by the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary (July 27, 1974)


In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his consitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice...

H.Res.611 -- 105th Congress (1997-1998)

Article I: States that in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration, impeding the administration of justice, in that William Jefferson Clinton swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth before a Federal grand jury of the United States. States that contrary to that oath, William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury.

Article II: States that in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration, impeding the administration of justice in that William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony as part of a Federal civil rights action brought against him.

Article III: States that in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, and has to that end engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up, and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to a Federal civil rights action brought against him in a duly instituted judicial proceeding.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Q&A: Tunisia's protest leaders vow to keep up pressure (Jillian Kestler-D'Amours , 1/14/18, Al Jazeera)

Rallies have been held in Tunis, the capital, and elsewhere across the country, led by the civil movement "Fech Nestannew" (What are we waiting for?). Nearly 800 protesters have been arrested, according to United Nations figures, including 200 people between the ages of 15 and 20.

A 2016 deal between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a large reason behind the austerity measures, critics say. The four-year, $2.8bn IMF loan is tied to a promise by the Tunisian government to carry out economic and social reforms.

The government's 2018 budgetary law, which came into effect this month, has been the focus of protesters' anger, as it brought price hikes to basic goods, such as food and gas, and the value-added tax.

...they wouldn't have made such a mess of it in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Asian Immigrants in the United States: On average, Asian immigrants are more educated and have higher household incomes than the overall immigrant and U.S.-born populations  (Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, 1/06/16, MPI)

Migration from Asia to the United States rose dramatically with passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed national-origin quotas established in 1921 barring immigration from Asian and Arab countries and sharply limiting arrivals from Africa and eastern and southern Europe. The number of Asian immigrants grew from 491,000 in 1960 to about 12.8 million in 2014, representing a 2,597 percent increase. In 1960, Asians represented 5 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population; by 2014, their share grew to 30 percent of the nation's 42.4 million immigrants.

As of 2014, the top five origin countries of Asian immigrants were India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea. The migration motivations and demographic characteristics of Asian immigrants have varied greatly over time and by country of origin, ranging from employment and family reunification to educational or investment opportunities and humanitarian protection. While the size of the Asian immigrant population in the United States continues to increase, the population's growth rate has slowed since 1980. Between 1970 and 1980, the number of Asian immigrants grew 308 percent from 825,000 to 2.5 million, then by 196 percent to 4.9 million in 1990. From 65 percent in the 1990s, the growth rate dropped to 37 percent in the 2000s and 12 percent from 2010 to 2014 (see Figure 1). Asia is the second-largest region of birth (after Latin America) of U.S. immigrants. As immigration from Latin America has declined in recent years--with China and India overtaking Mexico in flows of recent arrivals--Asian immigrants are projected to comprise a greater share of all immigrants, becoming the largest foreign-born group by 2055, according to Pew Research Center estimates. [...]

Asian immigrants have significantly higher incomes than the total foreign- and U.S.-born populations. In 2014, the median income of households headed by an Asian immigrant was $70,000, compared to $49,000 and $55,000 for overall immigrant and native-born households, respectively. Households headed by Indian ($105,000), Taiwanese ($91,000), Filipino ($82,000), and Malaysian ($80,000) immigrants had the highest median income among all Asian immigrant groups, while Saudi ($22,000), Iraqi ($27,000), and Burmese ($38,000) households had the lowest median incomes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Iran unblocks Telegram messenger service shut down during country-wide protests (Deutsche-Welle, 1/14/18)

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, reportedly pushed back against demands to block Telegram indefinitely, arguing that doing so would undermine citizens' rights and exacerbate job losses associated with the restrictions.

Rouhani favored open access before the protests, saying in December: "We will not seek to filter social media. Our telecoms minister promises the people he will never touch the filtering button."

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Porn Star: Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels Invited Me to Their Hotel Room (MARLOW STERN & AURORA SNOW, 01.12.18, Daily Beast)

"Stormy calls me four or five times, by the last two phone calls she's with Donald [Trump] and I can hear him, and he's talking through the phone to me saying, 'Oh come on Alana, let's have some fun! Let's have some fun! Come to the party, we're waiting for you.' And I was like, 'OMG it's Donald Trump!' Men like him scare me because they have so much power and this was way before his presidential nomination. So I bailed on them and turned my phone off."

Evans said she talked to Daniels the next day, apologized for bailing, and asked her how the night went. "She tells me, 'All I'm going to say is: I ended up with Donald in his hotel room. Picture him chasing me around his hotel room in his tighty-whities.' I was like, 'Oh I really didn't need to hear that!' 

Even the most salacious stuff in the Dossier is likely.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Government to resume processing DACA renewals, citing judge's ruling (RICHIE DUCHON, 1/14/18, NBC News)

The Department of Homeland Security announced Saturday it would resume processing renewal applications for young undocumented immigrants seeking protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. [...]

The White House and President Donald Trump initially blasted the decision. But in a statement Saturday, DHS said: "Until further notice, and unless otherwise provided in this guidance, the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017."

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Secret Money: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos To Unknown Buyers (Thomas Frank, 1/14/18,  BuzzFeed News)

More than one-fifth of Donald Trump's US condominiums have been purchased since the 1980s in secretive, all-cash transactions that enable buyers to avoid legal scrutiny by shielding their finances and identities, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found.

Records show that more than 1,300 Trump condominiums were bought not by people but by shell companies, and that the purchases were made without a mortgage, avoiding inquiries from lenders.

Those two characteristics signal that a buyer may be laundering money, the Treasury Department has said in a series of statements since 2016. Treasury's financial-crimes unit has, in recent years, launched investigations around the country into all-cash shell-company real-estate purchases amid concerns that some such sales may involve money laundering. The agency is considering requiring real-estate professionals to adopt anti-money-laundering programs.

All-cash purchases by shell companies do not by themselves indicate illegal or improper activity, and they have become more common in recent years in both Trump buildings and other luxury home sales across the United States. Developers such as Trump have no obligation to scrutinize their purchasers or their funding sources.

But federal investigations "continue to reveal corrupt politicians, drug traffickers and other criminals using shell companies to purchase luxury real estate with cash," Treasury's former financial-crimes chief Jennifer Shasky Calvery said at a Capitol Hill hearing in 2016.

Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) broadcast that concern in an August 2017 advisory to the real-estate industry warning that all-cash real-estate purchases by shell companies are "an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities."

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to repeated requests for comment. A former longtime Trump Organization official who asked not to be named said that all-cash shell-company purchases are common among rich buyers, particularly foreigners trying to put their money in safe investments.

Trump condo sales that match Treasury's characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion, BuzzFeed News calculated. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US. Those figures include condos that Trump developed as well as condos that others developed in his name under licensing deals that pay Trump a fee or a percentage of sales.

Some of the secretive sales date back more than three decades, long before recent worries that Russians tried to influence Trump by pouring millions of dollars into his businesses.

But a months-long BuzzFeed News examination of every Trump condominium sale in the US shows that such sales surged in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when some Trump businesses were in financial trouble and when Donald Trump Jr. made his now-famous remark about the Trump Organization seeing "a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Chosen People and American Exceptionalism (Ian Lindquist, January 14, 2018, Free Beacon)

Americans are exceptional in many ways but perhaps their greatest exceptional characteristic is their neighborliness. Americans are a private people dedicated to the proposition that all homes are created equal no matter the customs, rituals, and beliefs that guide and comprise them. In dealing with his neighbor, the American follows the rule: Be cheerful and helpful, be polite, and leave my neighbor alone to his home.

But in leaving one's neighbors alone, Americans don't simply forget about them. If those strange customs, rituals, and beliefs enrich and cultivate a neighbor's home, then they are worthy of respect, even if we know nothing about them. Our neighbor might dance round the fire with his young children nine times each night before bed or eat a birthday cake every day while running five miles each morning. This might even worry us a bit and make us clutch at the curtains or peer out the window (for Americans, though private, are not incurious). But if the fire-dancers and the cake-eaters appear in public, shake hands, and treat us and our family fairly, their homes are worthy of not only privacy but also respect. What strange things my neighbor does is not my business--yet I respect his strange business because I respect him, and I defend his privacy to conduct it.

The American Neighbor's attitude derives from a fundamental tenet of America, held since its founding: Americans are united through difference. Going further, Americans are united not by simply tolerating the differences of others but by embracing them and thereby protecting the ability and right of one's neighbor to bring precisely what makes him strange to me into the public square. America made each man the guardian of his neighbor's strangeness and thereby turned strangers into neighbors without destroying or whitewashing what makes each man strange to another. This was an innovation, a new solution to one of the oldest, most fundamental political challenges in man's history and the heart of American exceptionalism.

Opponents of immigration believe whiteness to be the only exception worth defending.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Why potential investor says Jeter plan is badly flawed and will fail (BARRY JACKSON,  January 11, 2018, Miami Herald)

New Marlins CEO Derek Jeter slashed payroll largely because investors were assured they would not be asked to cover losses. Jeter also cited the fact Miami hasn't been to the postseason since 2003.

But one investor who was asked to join Jeter's group and decided against it said Jeter's plan has a fatal flaw.

He said Jeter made a miscalculation by trading popular players including National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, angering many of the team's fans and believing he could nevertheless increase attendance by 4000 per game in 2018 and by an additional 3000 in 2019, as one version of his Project Wolverine business model projects.

"The Derek Jeter plan all along was to crush payroll to reduce expenses and somehow magically have ticket sales go up," the Northeast-based businessman said. "Can't happen. This is entertainment. Fans come to see players they identify with, not Triple A players.

"Ticket sales will collapse even more under this plan. Nobody [in his group] really looked at this. It shows lack of business acumen. You will still need to rebuild with top players at some point and they will be more expensive and harder to bring to Miami, especially under this new management team and the reputation" established during cost-cutting.

The plan--getting rid of your best young players--only makes sense if you're destroying interest in the team so you can move it.  They were basically just two starting pitchers away from being a playoff team, which might have kept them from losing money in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Hiring Remote Workers Made My Entire Team More Productive : One CEO explains how surprised he was to find the remote teams he hired reshaping his company's in-office work culture for the better. (DAN SINES, 1/14/18, Fast Company)

We didn't want to lose excellent talent based on location, so eventually we decided to give remote workers a shot. It was a risk considering the culture issues we were already dealing with onsite, but it paid off-and then some. Here's how.

We started slow at first, by hiring our first CTO into a remote role. This led to the hiring of another remote developer, and another. Many of our hires came through referrals, so they had ties to the company already. And to our surprise, integrating them was incredibly easy.

In fact, we realized after a few months that hiring remote workers helped lessen our office divide. The remote workers we hired displayed high levels of self-motivation and responsibility, and were generally less antagonistic and better team players. Over time, those traits ended up rubbing off on other team members. (Of course, it doesn't hurt when you can measure an applicants' personality before hiring them; we build a product that lets us do exactly that.)

Productivity is a top concern for companies considering remote workers. But we found that they actually made us more productive overall. For starters, we're forced to use Slack to its maximum potential to make that sure our team members, whether they're in the office or around the country, feel like they're sitting next to each other all day. While Slack can be a distraction, it can lead to fewer interruptions if your whole team uses it properly (i.e. not for every single thing). For instance, we have a policy that if an update requires more than a quick Slack message or email, we get on a video call. Facetime makes it feel similar to being in the same room as your colleagues, but it forces the requestor to think about priority level (Is it urgent? Can it wait until my colleague says she's free?) and ultimately boosts efficiency.

There are challenges, too. If you're not sitting across from someone, you can miss nonverbal communication like body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and posture, all of which build camaraderie and trust. But we've worked to mitigate that risk by planning team off-sites, work-away trips, and occasional company-wide gatherings, which we hope to make more frequent over time.

There's ample evidence that it is precisely these things--communication generally, informal communication, working on discrete projects, etc.--that make groups more productive.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


'Every era gets the Boswell it deserves' (Nausicaa Renner and Pete Vernon, JANUARY 5, 2018, CJR)

Access journalism, at its best, does not replace other forms of journalism--it augments it. And one could argue that Wolff never could have written his book without the hard work of journalists over the past year; the fire he catalogs was often fueled by stories from mainstream reporters.

Wolff deserves credit for producing a thoroughly readable portrait of the Trump administration's chaos and lack of preparedness.

Journalists in 2017 experienced, in many ways, a boom period and also an incredibly unusual one. Times reporters--and many others at outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, Axios, and The Daily Beast--have become something like celebrities. The top levels of the mainstream press have enjoyed far more money and attention than in recent history. Trump's attacks are a badge of honor for those trying to hold him accountable. Maggie Haberman, the breakout star of the Trump era, was characterized as a snake charmer by Slate.

Access journalism is often disparaged because of the compromises it requires, but concerns that Wolff's access to Trump would result in pulled punches have proven unfounded. Switch out the name of the subject, and the venerable media critic David Carr's begrudging approval of the author's 2008 biography of Rupert Murdoch could be printed today: "Much was made of Wolff's alliance with Murdoch, that it would lead to complicity and sycophancy, but Wolff remains true to his nature, which is joyously nasty."

Wolff deserves credit for producing a thoroughly readable portrait of the Trump administration's chaos and lack of preparedness. He appears to have played a monster hand of access journalism poker, bluffing his way into the good graces of the administration by attacking mainstream reporters for critical reporting in the early months of the Trump presidency only to rake in the pot by producing a devastating account of those who considered him a sympathetic observer. He's going to gain a lot of notoriety and make a ton of money.

But he also played a nefarious role in discrediting real reporting by hardworking journalists through his self-interested critiques. Just after the 2016 election, Wolff lambasted the entire industry, telling Digiday, "The media hasn't done its job. It's abdicated its responsibility, has lost itself somewhere." After Trump's inauguration, he wrote a column blaming journalists for abandoning basic principles, and followed that up by going on CNN and calling Brian Stelter, "quite a ridiculous figure." In that same conversation, Wolff admitted he was "sucking up a bit to get access." That brown-nosing seems to have paid off, as Wolff acknowledges in a passage describing Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks confiding in "a journalist they regarded as sympathetic."

It is because he does not have to cover the Oval on a daily basis that he could compromise his sources so flagrantly.  He's done with them. Beat journalists have to get the next story, so they end up compromising themselves to some degree. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Republicans are pretending Trump's 's--thole' doesn't stink (MAX BOOT, 1/12/18, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It's hard to be truly angry at Trump because he hasn't made any secret of his white supremacist views. In the years before his presidential campaign, after all, he was America's leading "birther," spreading the conspiracy theory that our first African-American President wasn't born in this country. And when he did announce his run for the presidency, the very first thing he did was to denounce Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

Trump was unrepentant and unapologetic about his racist views long before he hired white nationalist Stephen Bannon to run his campaign, tried to ban Muslims from coming here, praised white supremacists in Charlottesville as "fine people,: pardoned racial-profiling sheriff Joe Arpaio -- and before he described Haiti and African countries as "s--tholes." No one has been alive the last two years could have any reasonable doubt about whether he is a racist.

GOP, Dem senators confirm Trump used racist language at meeting
White supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer have been outspoken in praising Trump for normalizing their repugnant views. Those who denied Trump's racism were either willfully blind or, more likely, disingenuous.

Yet to his base, it didn't matter. Some voted for him because of his racism, others despite it. Either way they were accepting the unacceptable.

This is the most racist president that nativists and Islamophobes can ever hope for, so they're with him to the bitter end, but no one else is.

January 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


Trump criticism dominates Chuck Grassley town meeting in rural Iowa (Jason Noble, Jan. 12, 2018, Des Moines Register)

"Are you not personally concerned about his fitness to serve? If not, why not? Because I'm very concerned," Mary Mikels, a retired 67-year-old from nearby Portsmouth, asked Grassley.

Grassley deflected that question, saying he wasn't qualified to make a psychiatric assessment, but Mikels persisted.

"He gets on Twitter and says the last thing that Fox News told him to say," she said. "That's not presidential. It's concerning. Are you personally concerned?" [...]

It was a striking scene, not least because of where it was playing out: in a rural western Iowa county where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two-to-one and where Trump carried 65 percent of the vote in 2016.

And in contrast to the crowds that packed into lawmakers' town meetings last year, the anti-Trump contingent was not obviously organized. There were no young clipboard-carrying organizers from political groups, and none of the attendees carried the red-and-green agree-disagree signs made famous by the liberal Indivisible movement. They appeared, by and large, to be from Logan and the small communities immediately surrounding.

Sheila Ryan, a 72-year-old nurse from Underwood, challenged Grassley for "sliding" on the Russia investigation. Grassley, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is overseeing one of several congressional inquiries into how Russia meddled in the 2016 election and whether there was collusion between Russian interests and the Trump campaign.

Sen. Chuck Grassley held a town meeting in Logan, Iowa, Friday morning. Several questioners asked about President Trump and his fitness for office. Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register

"I think you're protecting the president and protecting his game about shifting the attention away from Russia," Ryan said, noting Grassley's call for a criminal investigation into a private investigator who compiled a now-famous dossier on Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Our Nine Elms US embassy is the most advanced we've ever built (ROBERT JOHNSON US Ambassador , 1/13/18, Evening Standard)

Designed by Philadelphia architects KieranTimberlake, the new embassy is not just bigger, it is better and capable of meeting the complex challenges of the 21st century and beyond. It is the most secure, hi-tech and environmentally friendly embassy that the United States has ever built. Purchased and built from the sale of our London properties, the new embassy did not cost the US taxpayer a cent. Yet is one of the most advanced embassies we have ever built.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Proud to Live in a Nation of Holers (Bret Stephens JAN. 12, 2018, WSJ)

America is a nation of holers. It is an improbable yet wildly successful experiment in the transformation -- by means of hope, opportunity and ambition -- of holers into doers, makers, thinkers and givers. Are you of Irish descent? Italian? Polish? Scottish? Chinese? Chances are, your ancestors did not get on a boat because life in the old country was placid and prosperous and grandpa owned a bank. With few exceptions, Americans are the dregs of the wine, the chaff of the wheat. If you don't know this by now, it makes you the wax in the ear.

Donald Trump is the wax in the ear.

Some of the fury -- and most of the apologetics -- surrounding the president's alleged remark about "all these people from s[***]hole countries" concerns the nature of the countries themselves. Liberals can be squeamish about calling poor countries bad names, while conservatives such as Mark Steyn chortle that "nobody voluntarily moves to Haiti." Which, let's be real, is basically right.

Yet that's beside the point. We are not talking about Haiti, El Salvador, Nigeria or any other country on the president's insult list. What counts are the people from these countries, both those who are already in the United States as well as those who wish to come. Why should the president think they are any less fit to become Americans than the Norwegians he seems to fancy?

The obvious answer is racism, the same "textbook" case that Paul Ryan spoke of in June 2016 after Trump called a federal judge's fitness into question on account of his ethnic heritage.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Lock Your Doors (SafeHome.org)

We surveyed over 1,000 people across the U.S. to find out. Keep reading to see who keeps their most cherished things behind closed - and locked - doors.

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Puerto Rico is taking a big step toward revamping how it gets power -- and it could be a model for the rest of the US (Erin Brodwin, Jan. 13th, 2018, Business Insider)

Sonnen's batteries capture and store the power made by solar panels when the sun is shining so that it can be used later when it's cloudy or dark. 

Richetta and a handful of Sonnen staff set up half a dozen solar microgrids in communal areas in some of Puerto Rico's hardest-hit neighborhoods, in partnership with a company called Pura Energia.

In Humacao, a blacked-out province where people were using bacteria-infested streams for washing and laundry, Sonnen and Pura Energia helped set up washing machines powered by the sun. In another part of the island, the companies used the microgrids to set up cellphone-charging stations so that people could attempt to reach out to loved ones on other parts of the island or in the mainland US.

Microgrid systems are already helping provide some coverage to various parts of the mainland US -- but most of these projects are still in the early stages.

In Southern California, a company called Advanced Microgrid Solutions is spearheading a project that involves replacing the energy that was once provided by a large (now decommissioned) nuclear power plant with a series of solar arrays and batteries that AMS can turn on and off based on when the prices for conventional energy are low and when there's the most demand.

"We take hundreds of buildings -- picture entire city blocks -- and each building has a battery. We get the information from each battery, each building, and operate the whole fleet of buildings like one virtual power plant," Manal Yamout, a vice president at Advanced Microgrid Solutions, told Business Insider.

The AMS system is still connected to the wider grid, and it isn't designed to provide stand-alone power. But it could.

Islanded microgrids -- systems that can run independently of the wider grid -- can power entire communities.

Ta'u Island in American Samoa is one example of this. There, Elon Musk's energy company, Tesla, has built a network of 5,328 solar panels and 60 Powerpack batteries that supply the entire island with clean energy. On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, a Tesla solar farm accounts for a fifth of the island's peak energy demand.

The way Yamout sees it, it's less about various individual projects and more about a bigger movement towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more balanced grid. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Too much business travel can lead to depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping, study says (Hugo Martin, 1/13/18, LA Times)

[A] study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health confirms that people who travel for business two weeks or more a month are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping than those who travel less than one week a month.

And if you drink, extensive travel is likely to lead to alcohol dependence, the study found.

The study was based on the health records of 18,328 employees who underwent checkups in 2015.

thus, the State Border Rule.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Feds indict Dragon Distillery owner for international financial crimes tied to previous business (Cameron Dodd,  Jan 12, 2018, fREDERICK nEWS-pOST)

Lambert, who owns Dragon Distillery in Frederick, is the former co-president, along with Daren Condrey, of a Maryland-based nuclear fuel transportation company. The company, referred to as Transportation Company A in the indictment, provided logistical support for transporting nuclear materials in the United States and to foreign clients.

In the indictment unsealed Friday, prosecutors allege that Lambert and others concealed corrupt and fraudulent payments with fake invoices, offshore bank accounts and shell companies in Latvia, Cyprus and Switzerland, the release states.

Authorities believe that from at least 2009 to October 2014 Lambert and other company executives conspired to bribe Vadim Mikerin, an official at the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation subsidiary JSC Techsnabexport (TENEX), in order to secure contracts for transporting nuclear fuel, according to the Justice Department release.

TENEX, which supplies uranium and uranium enrichment services to international companies, wholly owned a U.S.-based company called TENAM Corporation, according to the indictment.

The case is being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Energy and FBI.

Around 2009, Lambert and Condrey began working with a third, unnamed executive at Transportation Company A to bribe Mikerin, according to the indictment. In exchange, Mikerin would help steer contracts to the transportation company.

At last, the Uranium One chickens are coming home to roost...

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


The American middle class is absolutely better off now than it was decades ago (James Pethokoukis, January 10, 2018, AEIdeas)

I wanted to highlight another bit from my recent interview with Bruce Meyer, a visiting scholar here at AEI and a professor at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy, on inequality and poverty.

In this exchange, we discuss whether US living standards have really been stagnant for decades as some researchers claim:

Pethokoukis: When people talk about inequality, usually in the next breath they'll say, "Listen, that top 1% is now getting a lot of the income, and at the same time, incomes for the middle class have been stagnant for 30, 40, maybe 50 years." Those two facts are used together, I think, to show a relationship between the two. Is that right? Because to me it seems intuitively, how could that possibly be right that the median American is no better off than he was sometime in the 1960s?

Meyer: I think you're right to not believe it, I think that statistic is wrong. If you look at the consumption of the median household, it's gone up a lot over the last 30 years. Part of the explanation for the difference between what I am saying and some of the conventional statistics that you might see from the census bureau is that we often use a way of adjusting for price changes that overstates the extent of inflation. So it makes it look like we are not doing well in the middle of the distribution even when we are.

There are very tangible things that you can look at to see that people in the middle of the distribution are better off than they were 20, 30 years ago. For example, if you look at the share of people in the middle of the income distribution that have central air conditioning, or maybe only a couple of room air conditioners, or have a dishwasher, or a washer and a dryer in their house or apartment -- those numbers for the middle look like the numbers for the top 20% as of 20 or 30 years ago. So there's been quite dramatic improvements if you look at tangible things like what kinds of appliances have in the house. You can also look at the size of people's houses or apartments -- square footage, number of rooms -- those things have gone up quite sharply for people in the middle of the distribution.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Bring on the Conservative Debate for Immigration (BRADLEY J. BIRZER,  January 12, 2018, American Conservative)

As Christians around the world celebrated the arrival of the Three Kings--the Magi of the Orient--on Epiphany, the president of the United States called for $33 billion to shore up America's borders with $18 billion for the wall.  

Would the Magi have been admitted in 2018? "Excuse me, Balthasar, but I need to see that your papers are in order.  Oh, I'm sorry, but your gift of myrrh exceeds our 3.2 ounces of liquid allowed."  

Perhaps, President Trump simply chose his timing poorly, but it would be impossible for the Christian to miss the irony.

As a professor of the western canon, the Great Ideas of the West, and the western tradition, I find it nearly impossible to claim that there is a long tradition of excluding those who "aren't us." Even the most cursory examination of the issue reveals that the best of western thinkers have considered political borders a form of selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person.  The free movement of peoples has not only been seen as a natural right throughout much of the western tradition, but it has also been seen as a sacred one.

Props to American Conservative for an essay antithetical to its founding.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Republicans Are About to Lose an Election About Values (NOAH ROTHMAN, JAN. 12, 2018, Commentary)

As of this writing, the United States is embroiled in two concurrent international incidents that have almost nothing to do with American policy or U.S. interests. On Friday morning, President Trump canceled a scheduled trip to the United Kingdom, America's closest and most pivotal ally, because he simply wasn't welcome. Trump offered a variety of unconvincing explanations for his scrapped visit, but the truth is that his reckless tweeting promoted some of the U.K.'s most racist elements, sparking a feud with Prime Minister Teresa May. His presence simply couldn't be tolerated. Likewise, the president apparently (according to the non-denials of his communications staff) used an ugly expletive to describe half of the world. Many of the slighted countries are now issuing bristling protests and requesting formal clarification as to whether the leader of the free world views them as "shitholes."

At home, the controversy over Trump's latest verbal evacuation is once again sucking up all the available oxygen. Cable news is consumed with the debate over whether or not Trump was right to declare some 54 nations fetid cavities on the global landscape. More crippling for the president, the national-media landscape is equally enlivened by the debate over whether Trump's comments--in which he apparently contended that "skilled" migrants could only come from European nations and not the developing world--represent rank bigotry. Whatever the GOP agenda was yesterday is once again derailed by Trump's big mouth.

Trump-friendly Republicans will convince themselves that these are distractions that are of interest only to a hopelessly biased political press, but they're not. Not to voters. According to polling over the course of the last month, registered voters would prefer to see Democrats retake Congress by anywhere from a 7- to 18-point margin. The number of House Republicans looking for the exits in 2018 outpaces events in both 2010 and 1994, two wave years when the party in power suffered a drubbing.

What's driving this kind of anti-Republican sentiment? It's not foreign affairs. Despite Trump-instigated diplomatic furors, the world is at relative peace. The ISIS threat has receded dramatically, and U.S.-led sorties are being reduced accordingly. It's not the economy. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. The labor market is tightening, and wages in sectors like manufacturing are up. The economy is growing at a sustainable 3 percent, and near daily new stock market highs ensure that retirement investments are seeing a substantial return. Republicans who think voters are going to fall on their knees in gratitude to the GOP when they see a tax code reform-related 2 percent withholding reduction in their paycheck come February are kidding themselves.

The driving force behind the coming backlash is Trump, the man, more so than Trump, the president.

Donald's values are not America's.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Take it from this conservative: Trump is unfit for office and always has been (Quin Hillyer, Jan 12, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Yes, I know the gorilla story was satire, but it almost rang true. It was semi-believable because it, along with the real set of concerns about President Trump that it satirizes, is par for the Trump course by now.

I missed nothing by paying little attention for two weeks and needed no journalistically iffy new book to explain our president's multitudinous deficiencies. I already knew -- all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, already knew -- that Trump is and always has been unfit for office. Not just unfit in a 25th Amendment "mental capacity" way (although he may well be that, too), but emotionally and temperamentally unfit, experientially unfit, and morally unfit as well.

We already knew Trump was a dishonest businessman, shortchanging contractors as a matter of course and deliberately using bankruptcy laws multiple times to walk away from debts to literally tens of thousands of small-business contractors, vendors, and workers -- people he never even tried to "make whole" after he recovered his financial footing enough to boast a (supposed) $10 billion fortune.

We know Trump oversaw a bogus "university" that bilked participants of thousands of dollars each. We know Trump failed at an airline business, a steak business, the casino business, at vodka sales and necktie sales and a mortgage brokerage and pro football team ownership. We know he used illegal workers at big construction projects and then lost numerous court rounds for years in a lawsuit quite credibly alleging that he shorted worker pay and benefits.

We know that Trump is a serial adulterer. We know from his own admission (or boasts) and the highly believable accounts of numerous others that he has ogled teenage girls and insulted, harassed, and even assaulted numerous women. We know that he has made bigoted comments about blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Native Americans; that he had to be browbeaten for days before agreeing to denounce former Klan leader David Duke; that he has retweeted white supremacist garbage and given verbal cover to neo-Nazi marchers; and that he has repeatedly encouraged violence at his own rallies.

Trump traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories and incontinently spreads falsehoods with either knowing or reckless disregard for technical accuracy or underlying truth. He feigns a faith he clearly does not even begin to understand, belittles American prisoners of war, mocks the disabled, and repeatedly praises international thugs and dictators.

He is self-indulgent; he has bad judgment, little (or no) intellectual curiosity, no apparent self-control, and not a shred of discernible empathy for others. He chooses plenty of poor staffers and drives good staff away; he barely understands even the basics of key legislation; and he stabs allies in the back and torpedoes his own legislative agenda.

Trump has horrid temper tantrums, demands toadyism from his aides, rarely reads anything, is grossly ignorant of history and of the Constitution, insults American allies, and scares just about everybody with his casual comments about nuclear weapons -- even asking, rhetorically, why we have them if we don't intend to use them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The Tragedy of Laura Ingraham's LifeZette (Mark Judge, 9/06/17, Splice Today)

As reported by the Daily Beast, LifeZette, the website founded and run by conservative radio host and author Laura Ingraham, is in trouble. Several staffers have complained about sexually inappropriate comments by the site's chief executive Peter Anthony. Traffic is minuscule. There are complaints of not getting paid.

LifeZette's troubles are especially tragic because Ingraham is a brilliant commentator who understands popular culture, and her failure will only reconfirm that conservatives are incapable of providing decent coverage of arts and culture--the things that, as Andrew Breitbart noted, feed politics.

It didn't have to be this way. In the summer of 2015 I was contacted by an editor who'd just been hired by LifeZette, which was about to launch. He wanted to know if I was interested in writing for them. I was. We met in Georgetown for lunch and he showed me the LifeZette offices, which were gorgeously housed in a modern building right off the C & O canal. They were even building a radio studio for Ingraham. You could see there was money behind LifeZette--specifically, the multimillionaire T. Boone Pickens, who, staffers have claimed, is funding Ingraham's venture.

More than once, the editor mentioned The New Yorker as a guide. Of course, LifeZette would be a conservative site and have conservative blogs and articles. But they wanted to produce noteworthy journalism. More and more it seemed like a dream come true. I've long complained about the lousy nature of conservative coverage of the arts, from the obsession with the 1960s and Lena Dunham to the terrible movie reviews of John Podhoretz and Ben Shapiro's tone-deaf dismissal of Kurt Cobain. Here was a chance to blast the Hollywood left when they inevitably did or said something stupid, but present real journalism--to interview actors, screenwriters and directors. Ingraham had gotten a BA from Dartmouth and gone to law school at UVA. Surely she would be receptive to not only trashing Alec Baldwin, but also talking to him.

A couple of weeks after our meeting, I got a call from the friend who had offered me a job. He was leaving LifeZette. Ingraham was a tyrant, and there was no freedom to do any of the things we had talked about. He was out, and I'd be wise to stay away.

Then LifeZette launched. It was awful.

Conservative media should, above all else, be funny (Andrew Ferguson is the archetype).  Existence supplies us with endless material.  Instead, it's mostly just as hysterical and apocalyptic as leftwing media.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM

ALL RACE, ALL THE TIME (profanity alert):

Trump's history of breaking decorum with remarks on race, ethnicity (VIVIAN SALAMA, 1/12/18, NBC News)

A career intelligence analyst who is an expert in hostage policy stood before President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last fall to brief him on the impending release of a family long held in Pakistan under uncertain circumstances.

It was her first time meeting the president, and when she was done briefing, he had a question for her.

"Where are you from?" the president asked, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.

New York, she replied.

Trump was unsatisfied and asked again, the officials said. Referring to the president's hometown, she offered that she, too, was from Manhattan. But that's not what the president was after.

He wanted to know where "your people" are from, according to the officials, who spoke under condition of anonymity due to the nature of the internal discussions.

After the analyst revealed that her parents are Korean, Trump turned to an adviser in the room and seemed to suggest her ethnicity should determine her career path, asking why the "pretty Korean lady" isn't negotiating with North Korea on his administration's behalf, the officials said. [...]

At a March meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump asked the elected officials if they personally knew just one member of his incoming cabinet -- Ben Carson -- according to two people in the room.

Carson, the only black member of Trump's Cabinet, had never served in Congress and spent his career as a surgeon. Trump found that surprising that no one said they knew him, the attendees said.

During that same meeting, a member relayed to Trump that potential welfare cuts would harm her constituents, "not all of whom are black." The president replied: "Really? Then what are they?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Check out this web game where all you do is dunk on Donald Trump over and over again (Nick Statt,  Jan 12, 2018, The Verge)

One brave soul went ahead and distilled the United States' new national pastime into a simple web game in which you slam dunk over President Donald Trump over and over again until you simply lose interest in the activity.

We need an add-on where Bob Mueller is Kermit Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Africa Is Sending Us Its Best and Brightest : Simple economics explains why the U.S. can accept many more migrants from poorer countries. (Tyler Cowen, January 12, 2018, Bloomberg)

One of the most striking facts about immigration to the U.S., unbeknownst even to many immigration advocates, is the superior education of Africans coming to this country. If we consider adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and living in the U.S., 41.7 of them have a bachelor's degree or more, according to 2009 data. For contrast, the native-born population has a bachelor's degree or more at the much lower rate of only 28.1 percent in these estimates, and foreign-born adults as a whole have a college degree at the rate of 26.8 percent, both well below the African rate.

How about high school degrees? About one-third of immigrants overall lack this credential, but only 11.7 percent of African-born migrants don't have a high school degree. That's remarkably close to the rate for native-born Americans, estimated at 11.4 percent.

Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master's degree.

In addition, about three-quarters of African migrants speak English, and they have higher than average rates of labor force participation. They are also much less likely to commit violent crimes than individuals born in the U.S.

That's all good news of course, and it implies we could accept more African immigrants with mutual benefit. Subjectively, I would also note sub-Saharan Africa is the region where I encounter the least anti-American sentiment. That's broadly consistent with these poll results.

As a resident of the Washington, D.C., area, I live alongside an especially high number and proportion of African immigrants. It is well known in this region that African immigration outcomes in terms of education, starting new businesses, safety, and assimilation are quite positive.

"They're not sending us their best people" is a claim I hear from Trump in his speeches and news conferences. Yet that's the opposite of the truth when it comes to Africa.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


At UN, diplomats are watching potential White House candidate Haley : Envoys say star of Trump administration is playing to a domestic audience as she positions herself for presidential bid in 2020 or 2024 (CAROLE LANDRY/1/13/18, Times of Israel)

Over the past year, she has pushed through three new sets of sanctions against North Korea, bringing China and Russia on side to tackle what Trump sees as his administration's number one security threat.

Those sanctions won the unanimous backing of the council, where finding common ground with Haley is testing diplomatic skills.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is hawkish on Iran, fiercely pro-Israel and a strong advocate of cost-cutting at the United Nations.

That those three signature issues play well with the US Republican voter base is not lost on most diplomats.

"What matters above all are perceptions internally, in the US," said another council diplomat, who like many declined to be quoted.

Haley was among the first administration officials to take a hard line on Russia, declaring that sanctions over Crimea would remain in place until Moscow gave the territory back to Ukraine. [...]

For months, Haley had been tipped as a possible replacement to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom she has upstaged with her media appearances and statements that at times appear to break new ground.

In October, she put that speculation to rest, telling reporters that she wasn't interested.

"I would not take it," Haley told reporters on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. "I want to be where I'm most effective."

She is seen as a possible vice president to Mike Pence, should he take over the presidency.

Author Michael Wolff, whose book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" has become a national sensation, claims Haley has set her sights higher and is eyeing the presidency.

According to published excerpts, Haley began positioning herself as Trump's heir after concluding in October that he was a one-term president.

Developing foreign policy chops while staying out of the dumpster fire in the Oval demonstrates genuine nous and separates her from the other 2020 contenders.

January 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM



In October 2016, President Donald Trump's lawyer arranged a payment of $130,000 to former adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, the Wall Street Journal reports. The payment was part of an agreement that Clifford, who performed under the name Stormy Daniels, would refrain from making public comment about an alleged sexual encounter she had with Donald Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006, according to the Journal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Spy Bosses Helped Trump Draft Tweet Backing Surveillance Program (RYAN LUCAS, 1/12/17, npr)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and national security adviser H.R. McMaster all convened in the Oval Office with the president to urge him to row back his criticism. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also joined in by telephone.

The men helped coach the president in wording the conclusion of a thread that began with a condemnation of the law that the president's administration supports.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Television Is Showing Us the Dark Side of Trying to Play God (Noah Berlatsky, 1/11/18, The Washington Post)

In each of these shows, a powerful creator sets up a complex plot to torment humans for sadistic entertainment. This metaphorical setup presents television as a complicated and intricate act of creation, requiring a divine spark. But it's a divine spark that panders to humanity's worst impulses.

The divine plan, as seen on TV, is a world in which God designs fiendish plot arcs to eviscerate us all. Michael tells Eleanor and her friends that they're cockroaches: Small, disgusting creatures that he delights in exterminating.

Religion used to provide society with a shared communal point of reference -- a common well of stories and ethical examples. Now, that point of reference largely comes through popular entertainment in general, and television in particular.

The Good Place is a comedy, but it takes the ramifications of television as moral landscape seriously. Eleanor's efforts to become less selfish and kinder seem straightforward, but other characters get into more intricate ethical issues.

Chidi, for example, ends up in the Bad Place because he's so obsessed with being a moral person that he's paralyzed with indecision. He's so absorbed in doing the right thing that he can't take the time to be kind, or even marginally humane, to others. Ethics without love is still sin -- which is why, as Michael gleefully informs Chidi, all the philosophers from Kant to Foucault are in hell. (That's an insight Christian author C.S. Lewis might have appreciated.)

But while The Good Place tries to take on religious themes, it's also hesitant about its ability to do so. Michael, the architect, is a demon, and an incompetent demon at that. If God's a showrunner, The Good Place says, we're all in a lot of trouble -- which, in fact, we are.

There is hardly a more enduring theme in Western literature (and sadly in human reality) than that attempts to create utopia end in dystopia. Television and film repeat the trope because it's a Puritan Nation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


A Bad Idea on Immigration (John Kasich and Jeb Bush Jr., JAN. 11, 2018, NY Times)

Regardless of your views of the underlying legal arguments in the case, the image of a small, frightened boy being pulled from the arms of a sheltering adult by a team of heavily armed federal agents remains seared in the minds of many people as a low point in the immigration debate.

Brace yourself for the possibility of seeing this kind of scene again.

As Republicans, whose party has consistently and rightly advanced policies to support the essential role of families in America, we are deeply troubled by the harm that is about to be done to hundreds of thousands of families that have legally called America home for more than two decades.

In the wake of the 2001 earthquake in El Salvador that claimed more than 1,000 lives and destroyed 100,000 homes, the United States allowed hard-hit families to live and work in America. This merciful act was one of many that America took to relieve the suffering of a natural disaster in one of the hemisphere's most troubled, impoverished nations.

Now, after almost two decades, the nation that showed that kindness is poised to revoke it and force approximately 200,000 Salvadorans to leave the United States, even those whose children are American citizens. (Together, they have about 190,000 American-born children.)

It is wrong to potentially break up so many families that have for so long made the United States their home -- legally and at our invitation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Trump to extend Iran sanctions relief, keeping nuclear deal intact: source (Steve Holland, 1/12/18, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump will extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under its 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers, leaving the accord intact for now, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


What the Iran Protests Were Not  (VALI NASR  JAN 10, 2018, The Atlantic)

The important factor in the recent protests, and why they did not resemble the fight against tyranny Trump tried to portray in his tweets, is the dog that did not bark. The urban dissident voices did not join the populist call for economic justice. Why? First, urbanites, as note by the economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, have been the main beneficiaries of President Hassan Rouhani's economic liberalization policies, like his talk of moderation, and have been the main backers of his pursuit of a nuclear deal. They had expected that the deal would end Iran's international isolation, yield economic benefits, and also improve the political climate at home.

They saw in Rouhani an orderly path to change. Many among these urbanites actually feared that the protests could lead to chaos, or tilt Iranian politics in favor of their nemesis, the populist demagogue and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Without Tehran joining the protests, they never really posed an existential threat to the Islamic Republic.

This is the time to accelerate the economic reintegration of Iran into the world economy, in exchange they could insist on elections in Alawistan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


French told not to say 'smartphone' in ongoing battle against English (The Local, 12 January 2018)

After banishing the likes of "email", "hashtag" and "dark web", to much hilarity -- and without much success it must be said -- they have now turned their attention to the "smartphone".

The body known as the Commission d'enrichissement de la langue française, which works alongside the famously proud and often grouchy Academie Française, is urging French speakers to use the word "mobile multifonction" instead. 

It takes a lot of work to keep a language as ugly as French.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Trump cancels London trip amid threats of mass protests (AFP and TOI STAFF, 1/12/18, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump said late Thursday he no longer plans to attend the opening of a new US embassy in London.

January 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


GOP's crazy Russia probe conspiracies are crushed in Fusion GPS transcript (Tom Nichols, Jan. 11, 2018, USA Today)

Let's start by piecing together, as best we can, what various critics of the investigation, including the most vociferous Trump supporters, think is going on. 

By now we're all familiar with the "Steele dossier," a raw -- in every way -- report from a British spy who was engaged by an opposition research firm called Fusion GPS. It makes sensational claims about years of Russian operations against President Donald Trump. 

If not for Steele's file, the GOP reasoning goes, the FBI would never have started down the path of investigating Trump, which would never have led to FBI Director James Comey approaching Trump about the file; absent this, Comey would never have been fired, there would be no Mueller probe, and all would be right with the world.

But what about Trump officials meeting with the Russians during the campaign? Indeed, in the telling of at least some Trump defenders, these were the result of orders issued from Clinton's volcano lair for Fusion to lure Donald Trump Jr. and others into a room with shady Russians for meetings that were unwise -- or even "treasonous," if banished Trump advisor Steve Bannon is to be believed. Somehow, after all this slick tradecraft, Clinton's people never saw it coming when the Russians betrayed them and hacked the DNC anyway.

Think about the size of the claim here: the Clinton campaign, which was convinced it was going to beat Trump in a landslide, funded an espionage-laden high-wire act with a firm whose clients included some unsavory Russians themselves, in which a highly experienced British spook got suckered by the Democrats into weaponizing some Russian disinformation. (Steele could outplay the Russians, but he couldn't outplay Robby Mook?)

There are other variations on this theme, but central to all of them was the idea that without Fusion there would be nothing, and that we would know this if only we could know what Simpson said to the Senate investigators. But since the Senate intelligence committee wouldn't release the transcript, we couldn't know just how much Simpson had spilled his guts.

So now we know, and none of it supports the rickety Jenga pile of Republican conspiracy theories. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Putin Charges U.S. Is Backing Navalny Bid For Russian President  (RADIO lIBERTY, January 11, 2018)

Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny was being supported by the United States in his election bid.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


U.S. envoy erred in comments about Muslims in Netherlands: State Department  (Reuters, 1/11/18) 

The new U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands made mistakes and feels great remorse for falsely saying two years ago that Muslim migrants had "burned" politicians and created "no-go zones" in Holland, a State Department official said on Thursday. [...]

Hoekstra, who was born in the Netherlands, said during a recorded panel discussion sponsored by the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center in 2015 that "the Islamic movement is now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos."

"Chaos in the Netherlands - there are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned and, yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands," he added.

In December, Hoekstra denied making the 2015 remarks, telling the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur it was "an incorrect statement ... fake news." Later, after being played a recording of his comment, he denied calling it fake news.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


The Boston Celtics Might Be Unprecedented : Given how rarely in NBA history a team this young has been this competitive, it's not a stretch to argue that these Celtics could finish as the best young team in league history (Zach Kram  Jan 11, 2018, The Ringer)

The Celtics aren't just an anomaly this season, though; as a team this young and competitive, they're a historical aberration as well. Before this season, 142 teams since the advent of the shot clock played with a weighted average age younger than 25, and they were generally awful, finishing with an average .365 winning percentage, which translates to a 30-52 record.

Few were anywhere near as good as these Celtics, with only 21 of those 142 teams finishing with a winning record, and only four winning at least 50 games: Milwaukee with 56 in 1969-70, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's rookie season; Portland with 54 in 2008-09, Brandon Roy's peak; and Oklahoma City with 50 in 2009-10 and 55 in 2010-11, pre-James Harden trade. [...]

Several factors interact to produce this potentially unprecedented result. An outlier team starts with an outlier player, and the Celtics' youngest, 19-year-old Jayson Tatum, has played with the panache of a seasoned veteran. The no. 3 pick in the 2017 draft looks like he's been scooting by NBA defenders for years, and he's shattering teenage efficiency records, with a 62.6 percent true-shooting mark that's more than 5 percentage points better than every other qualified teen in league history. Tatum isn't a perfect player -- look at his ratio of 57 assists to 54 turnovers -- but it's hard to imagine a smoother start to his NBA career. He's in the 98th percentile in points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and his shooting exploits have exceeded all reasonable expectations. After ranking fifth on his own college team in 3-point percentage (34.2) last year, he ranks fourth in the NBA in long-range accuracy (46.2) halfway through this season.

His predecessor as the no. 3 overall pick, teammate Jaylen Brown, is 21 years old and producing nearly identical per-game totals to Tatum. Tatum averages 13.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists each night in 31.1 minutes; Brown averages 14.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 31.3 minutes. The sophomore wing has managed the tricky double of increasing his efficiency and usage rate in tandem, and his stalwart involvement on both offense and defense has helped fill the void left by Gordon Hayward since the prized summer signee broke his leg and dislocated his ankle five minutes into the season.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Trump attacks protections for immigrants from 's[***]hole' countries (Josh Dawsey January 11, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

"Why are we having all these people from s[***]hole countries come here?" Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Trump lauded delivery of F-52s to Norway. The planes only exist in 'Call of Duty.' (Alex Horton January 11, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Trump says 'probably' has a good relationship with North Korea's Kim: WSJ (Reuters, 1/11/18) 

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he "probably" has a very good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


House Passes Bill to Renew NSA Internet Surveillance Program (Dustin Volz, 1/11/18, Reuters) 

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program, overcoming objections from privacy advocates and confusion prompted by morning tweets from President Donald Trump that initially questioned the spying tool.

The legislation, which passed 256-164 and split party lines, is the culmination of a yearslong debate in Congress on the proper scope of U.S. intelligence collection--one fueled by the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives had urged cancellation of the vote after Trump appeared to cast doubt on the merits of the program, but Republicans forged ahead.

This is what happens when a partisan president and justice apparatus use surveillance to expose a plot by our enemies and collusion by their opponents...

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Dreamers Should Stay, American Voters Say 8-1 (Quinnipiac University Polling, 1/11/18)

Undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, so-called "Dreamers," should be allowed to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship, 79 percent of American voters say in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Another 7 percent say Dreamers should be allowed to stay but not apply for citizenship, and 11 percent say Dreamers should be required to leave the U.S. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


A sign from GOD? Christians claim divine intervention saved bible in church arson attack : CHRISTIANS believe they have seen a "sign from God" after their church was destroyed in a firebomb - but an open bible escaped without any fire damage (CHLOE KERR, Jan 11, 2018, Daily Express)

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


SF cop who hunted Zodiac killer dies. Dave Toschi was 86 (Kevin Fagan, January 10, 2018, SF Chronicle)

His penchant for bow ties, snappy trench coats and the quick-draw holster for his .38-caliber pistol drew the attention of Steve McQueen, who patterned his character in the 1968 movie "Bullitt" after Toschi. Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" character was also partially inspired by him.

But it was the Zodiac case for which Toschi was best known. He worked the clues until 1978, when he was taken off the case after admitting he sent fan notes with fictitious names to then-Chronicle writer Armistead Maupin praising himself. Toschi told the San Francisco Examiner that the notes were an "ill-advised indulgence."

In the brouhaha that resulted, there were suspicions that he might have also written a letter to The Chronicle that purported to be from the Zodiac. However, nothing was proved, Toschi denied it and he remained with the department as a homicide inspector until his retirement. He was portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the 2007 movie "Zodiac."

"I always looked up to him because he was this Italian guy who got this crazy case," said Gianrico Pierucci, who retired in November after being the latest in a long line of homicide inspectors to head up the still-alive Zodiac investigation. "He was a good cop. He said he was always happy to get up and do his job."

Of the Zodiac case, Pierucci said: "Dave did the best he could. He was always very pleasant and charming, and dapper, and Zodiac is a tough case."

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


U.S. producer prices fall; jobless claims up for fourth straight week (Lucia Mutikani, 1/11/18, Reuters) 

U.S. producer prices fell for the first time in nearly 1-1/2 years in December amid declining costs for services, which could temper expectations that inflation will accelerate in 2018.

Central banks are following ideology, not reality.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Tunisia protests: Another heavy dose of austerity (Max Gallien, 11 January 2018, Middle East Eye)

Protesters are rallying against rapidly rising prices, high unemployment and the austerity policies of the Tunisian government. The primary demand is the revision of the new finance law, which came into power on 1 January, and is primarily held responsible for the recent dramatic increase in prices.

A group of young Tunisians launched the campaign فاش_نستناو "what are we waiting for". The group did not call for protests during the past few days, however, they are calling for a new protest on Friday in Tunis.

The law is an unfortunate climax of the economic policies that have shaped Tunisia's post-revolutionary era. Largely driven by the demands of the International Monetary Fund, of which it has historically been a dutiful student, Tunisia's government has been pursuing a strategy of economic reform geared towards cutting government expenditure and devaluing its currency.

There's a high cost for historic misgovernance.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


GOP may skip budget, kneecapping 2018 ambitions : Lacking the votes and fearing political blowback, Republicans are unlikely to deploy powerful budget procedures to enact their agenda. (RACHAEL BADE and SARAH FERRIS 01/10/2018, Politico)

Republican leaders are considering skipping passage of a GOP budget this year -- a blow to the party's weakened fiscal hawks that would squash all 2018 efforts to revamp entitlements or repeal Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Trump bashes FISA bill, then supports it, in baffling Twitter tirade (Jeva Lange, 1/11/18, The Week)

President Trump on Thursday appeared bewildered by his own administration's goals, tweeting out his disapproval of a House bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- a contradiction of the White House's official position -- before tacking his support back onto it an hour and a half later.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


The Digger Who Commissioned the Trump-Russia Dossier Speaks (John Cassidy, Jan. 11th, 2018, The New Yorker)

 In "May or June of 2016," Simpson recalled, he engaged Christopher Steele, an old associate of his, who was the former head of the Russia desk at the British foreign-intelligence agency, MI6. He and Steele, who was by then running his own intelligence consultancy in the U.K., shared an interest in the Russian kleptocracy and in organized-crime issues, Simpson said.

Asked about the methods Steele used to compile his reports, Simpson said that, rather than visiting Moscow himself, Steele relied on "a network of people, sources" that he had in Russia, which gathered information for him. "What people call the dossier is not really a dossier," Simpson said. "It's a collection of field memoranda, of field interviews, a collection that accumulates over a period of months . . . . He'd reach a point in the reporting where he had enough to send a new memo; so he'd send one." In response to a question about whether Steele paid any of his sources, Simpson said that he hadn't asked him that question.

In any case, when Steele sent in his first memorandum, which was thirty-five pages long and dated June 20, 2016, it contained some explosive allegations, including claims that the Russian regime had been carefully cultivating Trump, and that the F.S.B., the Kremlin's domestic-intelligence agency, had "compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him." The memorandum also quoted Steele's "Source A . . . a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure," as saying, "the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable information on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, for years."

It was about this time, Simpson said, that Steele first contacted the F.B.I. In Simpson's telling, taking this step was Steele's idea. Shortly after filing his first memo, Simpson recounted, "Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national-security threat and said he wanted to--he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government, about this information. He thought from his perspective there was an issue--a security issue about whether a Presidential candidate was being blackmailed." Simpson said that he didn't agree or disagree with Steele's suggestion, but said he'd think about it. "Then he raised it again with me. I don't remember the exact sequence of these events, but my recollection is that I questioned how we would do that because I don't know anyone there that I could report something like this to and be believed, and I didn't really think it was necessarily appropriate for me to do that. In any event, he said, 'Don't worry about that, I know the perfect person, I have a contact there, they'll listen to me, they know who I am, I'll take care of it.' I said O.K."

It was in early July, 2016, that Steele spoke with his F.B.I. contact and relayed the Russia allegations, Simpson said. After that, Steele continued his work for Fusion GPS, which led to more memos, including one that addressed the activities of Carter Page, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. To Simpson's chagrin, however, neither Steele nor Fusion GPS heard anything more from the F.B.I. for months. During that time, Simpson pointed out, the hacking of the D.N.C. was revealed, the Republican Party's platform was changed to be friendlier to Russia on the issue of Ukraine, and Trump continued to speak positively about Vladimir Putin. "So I vaguely recall that these external events prompted us to say, I wonder what the F.B.I. did, whoops, haven't heard from them. . . . That was basically the state of things through September," Simpson said.

Finally, Steele informed Simpson that the F.B.I. had contacted him again. At that stage, Simpson told the questioners, "I was very concerned because Chris had delivered a lot of information and by this time we had, you know, stood up a good bit of it. Various things he had written about in his memos corresponded quite closely with other events, and I began, you know, to view his reporting in this case as, you know, really serious and really credible." Simpson said that Steele told him he would have to go to Rome to meet with someone from the F.B.I. "I said O.K. He went to Rome. Then afterwards he came back and said, you know, 'I gave them a full briefing.' "

Simpson also said Steele told him that the F.B.I. already had another source on Russia, one inside the Trump campaign. This is important because some of Trump's defenders have been suggesting that without the dossier there wouldn't have been any Russia investigation. "My understanding was that they believed Chris at this point--that they believed Chris's information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization," Simpson said. The New York Times reported on Tuesday evening that Steele, "after being questioned by the F.B.I., came to believe that the bureau's human source was George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign adviser. In fact, the source was an Australian diplomat who had spent a night drinking in London with Mr. Papadopoulos in the spring, and then shared with American officials what he had learned from the Trump aide." Two weeks ago, the Times reported that it was the tip-off from the Australian diplomat that prompted the F.B.I. to open its investigation, in June, 2016.

The transcript also provides new details of the dealings that Fusion GPS and Steele had with journalists before the election. During the summer of 2016, Simpson said, he spoke with reporters about "alleged connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians," adding: "Some of what we discussed was informed by Chris's reporting." A lawyer for the Republican members of the committee then presented Simpson with an affidavit from Steele's lawyers, which had been presented in a lawsuit filed against Steele and his firm, and which said that, at the end of September, Steele, "at Fusion's instruction," had briefed journalists "from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, The New Yorker, and CNN."

The lawyer went on to quote the affidavit saying that Steele "subsequently participated in further meetings, at Fusion's instruction, with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News, which took place in mid-October, 2016. In each of those cases the briefing was conducted verbally in person. In addition, and again at Fusion's instruction, in late October, 2016, (Steele) briefed the journalist from Mother Jones by Skype."

When Simpson was asked if the affidavit from Steele's lawyer presented a "full and accurate account of all the news organizations with which Fusion and Mr. Steele shared information from the memoranda," he replied, "I'd say that's largely right," but added that he thought the broadcast network was ABC News rather than CNN. The lawyer also asked Simpson if Fusion GPS had disclosed any hard copies of Steele's memoranda to journalists. At this point, Simpson's lawyer interrupted and said he wasn't going to answer that question.

From Simpson's perspective, it seems fair to assume, these behind-the-scenes media briefings didn't have their desired effect. The Mother Jones reporter David Corn was the only journalist to publish a big story based on Steele's research before the election, and most of the mainstream media didn't pick it up. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Something's gone badly right with the world economy (The Spectator, 13 January 2018)

It is only a few months since gloomy economic commentators were confidently predicting that the world was about to plunge into a dark era of protectionism. Yet the global economy begins this year in its healthiest state ever, growing faster than any time since 2011. There has been a change in political rhetoric, but not in the willingness of people around the world to trade with each other. According to the OECD's most-recent projection, made in November, world trade grew at 4.8 per cent last year. Something seems to be going badly right.

Negative sentiments about the world economy echo those which have hung over Britain's economy ever since the Brexit referendum. A month before that event, it should never be forgotten, a Treasury paper signed by George Osborne forecast that 'a vote to leave would cause an immediate and profound economic shock', causing a recession with half a million more on the dole. Instead, employment has risen by almost 400,000 -- and a lack of workers has become one of the UK economy's biggest problems. Britain's biggest jobs website says vacancies are up 20 per cent year-on-year, while unemployment sits at a 40-year low. These are the conditions for pay rises to accelerate.

People tend to think the worst. As a species, we have evolved to focus on what is wrong. We are forever telling ourselves that something dreadful is about to happen, whether it be economic Armageddon or climate catastrophe. As the foreign secretary points out on page 20, mankind has never been richer, healthier or less inclined to fight wars. If you could choose any time to be born, not knowing your social position or even nationality, you would choose now.

...that we will come to appreciate the world-altering magnitude of the September 25, 2008 deal and the pivotal roles played by just three men: W, the UR and Ben Bernanke.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Expanding cosmos hints at new physics (Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News)

To calculate the Hubble Constant, Prof Riess and others use the "cosmic ladder" approach, which relies on known quantities - so-called "standard candles" - such as the brightness of certain types of supernova to calibrate distances across space.

However, a different approach uses a combination of the afterglow of the Big Bang, known as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), as measured by the Planck spacecraft and a cosmological model known as Lambda-CDM.

The Hubble Constant obtained using these data is 66.9 kilometres per second per megaparsec. (A megaparsec is 3.26 million light-years, so it follows that cosmic expansion increases by 66.9km/second for every 3.26 million light-years we look further out into space).

The gap between the two is now at a confidence level of about 3.4 sigma. The sigma level describes the probability that a particular finding is not down to chance. For example, three sigma is often described as the equivalent of repeatedly tossing a coin and getting nine heads in a row.

A level of five sigma is usually considered the threshold for claiming a discovery.

However, Prof Riess said that at the three sigma level "this starts to get pretty serious I would say".

"In fact, in both cases of measurements, these are very mature measurements... both projects have done their utmost to reduce systematic errors," he added.

Indeed, a recent measurement of time delays in quasars that is completely independent of the cosmic distance ladder data gets very similar results to Prof Riess's late Universe Hubble Constant. For the early Universe, a 2017 analysis using the density of baryonic (normal) matter in the cosmos yields a very similar value as the one obtained by the Planck team.

What this all suggested, he said, was that the Universe is now expanding 9% faster than expected based on the data - a result he described as "remarkable".

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM

PLUS THE HR's....:

KEEPING SCORE : 'The Last Thing You Want to Do Is Hit the Ball to Center Field' (Benjamin Hoffman, Jan. 10, 2018, NY Times)

Glavine, a fairly old-school player with an affinity for traditional statistics like wins and saves, made a surprising suggestion: Perhaps the number-crunchers of the game could build an argument for Jones.

"I think he's one of those guys that you really have to start to take a look at how he impacted the game on the defensive side of the ball," Glavine said. "How the Hall of Fame voting committee goes about doing that, I don't know, but there are certainly all kinds of sabermetrics in today's game that I think could be applied to Andruw."

Glavine is right that analysis of defense has been refined in recent years. The most precise measure is a statistic called defensive runs saved, which was devised by Sports Info Solutions. The company uses game data and video to assess the quality and value of a fielder's plays. For example, did he make a diving catch of a sinking line drive or did he break the wrong way, then trap a ball that he should have caught easily?

Jones's defensive peak, from 1997 to 2002, came just before Sports Info Solutions started tracking that statistic. While the number of runs Jones saved during those years is unknown, it is a testament to his excellence that from 2003 to 2007, as he began to decline, Jones still saved 67 runs. In the same time period, the second- and third-best defensive outfielders in baseball, Torii Hunter and Willy Taveras, combined for 68 (Hunter had 39, Taveras 29). Even after he had slowed down, Jones put a Babe Ruth-like distance between himself and his defensive competition.

In another effort to assign a numeric value to a player's defensive contributions, Baseball Reference created a formula for defensive WAR. The statistic has been tracked to 1871 -- five seasons before the National League was created. By Baseball Reference's assessment, Jones is the best defensive outfielder in history, his 24.1 defensive WAR trumping Paul Blair's 18.6 and Mays's 18.1. He led all players, regardless of position, in defensive WAR in 1998.

Although runs saved has become a critical component of defensive WAR's formula, John Dewan, the owner of Sports Info Solutions and the author of "The Fielding Bible," said the best statistic for comparing players across eras was Bill James's fielding win shares. It is part of James's system of measuring a player's contribution to his team's wins, and it relies on a consistent formula through the years. By that measure, Jones ranks fourth among outfielders with 85.5 career fielding win shares, trailing only Tris Speaker (117.8), Mays (103.6) and Max Carey (94.8).

Jones led the majors in the statistic for five consecutive seasons, from 1998 to 2002, and he was in the top six for fielding win shares 10 times in 11 seasons.

For his part, James, regardless of what his statistic indicates, has publicly stated that he does not feel Jones's defense has been proven to be worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but Dewan came to a different conclusion.

"There is no question that Andruw Jones was one of the best defensive outfielders of all time," Dewan said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Israel Isn't The Only One That Blacklists 'Enemy' Critics -- Russia And China Do Too (Josh Nathan-Kazis, January 11, 2018, The Forward)

A new entry ban for the leaders of 20 international not-for-profit organizations puts Israel in the company of a group of mostly authoritarian nations that are cracking down on foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Germany logs biggest growth in 6 years (Deutsche-Welle, 1/11/18)

Europe's largest economy expanded by 2.2 percent in 2017, the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) reported Thursday.

The figure was up from the 1.9-percent growth rate recorded for the previous year, despite a lower number of working days in 2017.

January 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


A new study says much of the rise in inequality is an illusion. Should you believe it? (Dylan Matthews, 1/10/18, vox.com)

Gerald Auten and David Splinter, economists at Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Analysis, used the same IRS tax data as Piketty, Saez, and Zucman. They found that the top 1 percent's share of after-tax income rose from 8.4 percent in 1979 to 10.1 percent in 2015 -- an increase less than a third as large.

What looks on paper like a big increase in inequality in the 1980s and onward, Auten and Splinter argue, is really just money being shuffled around in response to Ronald Reagan-era changes to tax law. In 1980, the top individual income tax rate was 69.13 percent; by 1989, it had fallen by more than half, to 28 percent.

In the 1960s and 1970s, companies usually reinvested their profits rather than giving raises to executives -- the high tax rates meant those salaries would be largely taxed away. Reinvesting the money ultimately benefited shareholders in the company by increasing the company's value, and benefiting shareholders means benefiting rich people. Owning corporate shares was much rarer for middle-class people in the '60s and '70s before the rise of 401(k)s and IRAs.

After the tax cuts, companies started directing more money to raises. Rather than exploding actual inequality, Auten and Splinter write, the Reagan tax changes mostly shifted money that used to go to rich people through stocks so that it instead went to rich people in the form of salary.

That looks like a big increase in the rich's slice of the pie on paper, because the higher salaries show up on tax returns, but the increasing value to shareholders doesn't, at least until the shares are sold.

Auten and Splinter argue that the salary boost is largely an illusion. These compensation changes and other measurement issues, they find, account for 85 percent of the apparent rise in the top 1 percent's share of after-tax income since 1960.

...as we universalize and broaden stock ownership, should we bring back confiscatory rates at some threshold?

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Israel is paying its citizens to help deport asylum seekers (Rosie Perper , 1/10/18, Business Insider)

Israel will offer a cash reward to civilians who temporarily join a new government unit created to deport its asylum seekers, Haaretz has reported.

The Population and Immigration Authority published a notice on Sunday that it will offer up to a 30,000 shekel bonus ($8,700) to citizens who become "inspectors" for the unit that manages asylum requests. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


ISIS Declares War on Hamas, and Gaza Families Disown Sons in Sinai (IYAD ABUHEWEILA and ISABEL KERSHNER, JAN. 10, 2018, NY Times)

The video exposed new levels of enmity between Hamas and the Sinai branch of the Islamic State, injecting another layer of instability into an already volatile region. And it has roiled Gaza, prompting two families whose sons are shown in the video to disown them.

The video accuses Hamas of betraying Palestinians by imprisoning extremists in Gaza, failing to prevent the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and being supported by Iran.

It urges attacks on Hamas's members, courts and security positions, as well as on Shiites and Christians in Gaza, according to the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic State propaganda.

Tensions have long simmered between the two groups, even as common interests have led to cross-border cooperation in the past, particularly in arms smuggling, according to officials and experts in the region. But in declaring war against Hamas, the Sinai group has surrounded itself with enemies -- Egypt, Israel and now Hamas -- and given Hamas a common cause with Israel.

One of Hamas's main crimes, Islamic State argues, is its participation in Palestinian elections, which the Islamic State views as putting man-made law above God's law.

...was failing to comprehend the difference between Islamicists and Islamists, the latter being democratic political movements and the inevitable governors of Muslim societies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Mueller adds veteran cyber prosecutor to special-counsel team (Matt Zapotosky, 1/10/18, Washington Post)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes.

Ryan K. Dickey was assigned to Mueller's team in early November from the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel's office. [...]

Mueller's work has long had an important cybersecurity component -- central to the probe is Russia's hacking of Democrats' emails in an effort to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system and help Trump win. The original FBI counterintelligence probe was launched in part because a Trump campaign adviser was said to have told an Australian diplomat that Russia had emails that could embarrass Democrats, and in July 2016, private Democratic messages thought to have been hacked by Russia began appearing online.

Mueller also is in possession of information from Facebook about politically themed advertisements bought through Russian accounts.

Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump's team conspired in Russia's hacking effort to influence the election.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Trump Is Intelligent, But Not Fit Or Level-Headed (Quinnipiac University Polling, 1/10/18)

President Donald Trump is intelligent, American voters say 53 - 44 percent, one of his lowest scores since Inauguration day, but voters say 69 - 28 percent that he is not level-headed and 57 - 40 percent that he is not fit to serve as president, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.  [...]

President Trump's grades on most character traits are down significantly since his first post-inaugural poll January 26, 2017, as voters say:

63 - 34 percent that he is not honest;
59 - 39 percent that he does not have good leadership skills;
59 - 38 percent, that he does not care about average Americans;
59 - 39 percent that he is a strong person;
65 - 32 percent that he does not share their values.

...wealth is not a function of intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


U.S. import prices barely rise (Lucia Mutikani, 1/10/18, Reuters) 

U.S. import prices recorded their smallest increase in five months in December and underlying imported price pressures were muted amid declining costs for food and consumer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


The ideological roots of Israel's troubles (Ryan Cooper, January 10, 2018, The Week)

As Tony Judt wrote over a decade ago, the idea of a particularly Jewish homeland is rooted in nationalist ideology from the late 19th and early 20th century. This ideology that has been progressively discredited since that time. The modern nation-state often retains some nationalist flavor, but the standard basis of nations today today is citizenship defined through membership in national institutions, not ethnicity, religion, or race. "Israel, in short, is an anachronism," he put it. [...]

The major problem with Israel is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is a tyrannical domination of a subject population, the source of endless conflict, and arguably the greatest long-term threat to Israel's security (despite its military superiority). If the problem can't be resolved, the international animus it inspires will continue to fuel the pressure for boycotts and sanctions, and will someday probably lose Israel free access to America's United Nations Security Council veto.

In all the territory controlled by Israel, there are over 6.2 million Palestinian Arabs, and about 6.5 million Jews. The Israeli birthrate is high, but the Palestinian birthrate is higher. Someday soon, Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israeli-controlled territory.

This leads directly to the dilemma of liberal Zionists: If Israel wants to remain democratic, it can either divest itself of the occupied territories, and thus retain its Jewish majority, or it can become one single state that is half Jewish and half Arab. The former is all but impossible to imagine, given the total collapse of the peace process. The latter would mean abandoning the idea of a particularly Jewish nation.

If Israel continues the occupation without giving Palestinians full citizenship, it will have abandoned democracy. This seems the most likely outcome. Indeed, by most definitions of the term Israel has been a de facto apartheid state for decades now -- in the 2015 election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu overtly promised that he would prevent the formation of a Palestinian state while he was prime minister. The demographic balance tipping to an Israeli minority would merely check one of the last boxes on the apartheid checklist.

Ignoring your friend's problem doesn't make it better.

January 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Mashhad's Rebuke to Rouhani (Mohammad Ali Shabani, 1/08/18, CEP)

Mashhad is also home to Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric hand-picked by the Supreme Leader to preside over the Friday prayers in the city. When the longstanding custodian of al-Ridha's shrine passed away in March 2016, the conservative camp--still soul searching with only one year until Hassan Rouhani's expected bid for reelection--saw an opportunity to appoint as its head Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric largely unknown to the public, and who just so happens to be Alamolhoda's son-in-law. Showered with coverage from conservative outlets, he suddenly shot to fame. Just over a year later, having coopted fellow Mashhad-born Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the longtime mayor of Tehran, Raisi presented a serious challenge to Hassan Rouhani. Though he lost the election, Raisi did get close to 16 million votes, a real feat considering the deep divisions among the conservatives. 

Entering his second term, Rouhani had no intentions of giving his rivals a free pass. When he addressed parliament about next year's budget bill on December 10, he pulled no punches. He spoke openly of unaccountable centers of power in an animated tone, attacking their grip on everything from real estate to the foreign currency market. This seems to have been the straw that broke the (conservative) camel's back. 

With U.S. President Donald Trump decertifying the nuclear deal in October and threatening to refuse to issue sanctions waivers, the duo from Mashhad and some of their conservative allies are said to have smelled an opportunity. Although there is no concrete evidence, in Tehran, everyone seems to "know" that Alamolhoda, his son-in-law and some of their associates plotted to undermine and embarrass Rouhani by instigating protests planned to build up to Dey 9 (December 30), the official anniversary of the "defeat" of the 2009 Green Movement. 

They oppose reform for the same reason western Shiaphobes do.
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


New rechargeable batteries that use iron instead of cobalt could be a game changer for electric cars (Irina Slav, 1/09/18, OilPrice.com)

The idea of using iron in batteries isn't new, but so far, attempts to substitute the cheap metal for costlier cobalt and other metals have ended in disaster. Christopher Wolverton, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, had two problems to solve to make his battery work. First, replace cobalt with iron. Second, trick oxygen into taking part in the reaction that moves the lithium ions from the anode to the cathode and back again as the battery is charged and discharged.

The second challenge was the bigger one. The widespread opinion in science circles is that using oxygen in the reaction taking place in a rechargeable battery makes the concoction inside unstable and oxygen escapes, making the reaction irreversible and the battery non-rechargeable. That's why Wolverton and his team first made the battery on a computer to see if it would work. Surprisingly for all, it did--and better than the most popular lithium-ion batteries.

The iron battery uses four lithium ions instead of just one like current batteries do. For now, it can only utilize one of these, but there's potential for making use of all four, considerably increasing the battery's efficiency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


The Ghan: three-hour train epic on track for ratings record but some viewers rail against 'slow TV' (Naaman Zhou,  9 Jan '18, The Guardian)

The experimental SBS documentary The Ghan divided opinion on its way to nabbing half a million viewers across the country.

Marketed as Australia's first foray into the Norwegian genre of slow TV, the program followed the famous passenger train on its 3,000km trip from Adelaide to Darwin, and has been so popular SBS is planning to release an extended 17-hour cut.

Aired on Sunday night without ad breaks, the documentary showed a driver's seat view of outback scenery, train tracks and text explaining the local history of each new area - with a focus on Indigenous history and early European, Chinese and Afghan immigrants.

It became SBS's highest-performing program of the past 12 months, according to the station's director of TV and online content, Marshall Heald.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Who is attacking Russia's main base in Syria? A new mystery emerges in the war. (Liz Sly, January 9, 2018, Washington Post)

In the most recent and unusual of the attacks, more than a dozen armed drones descended from an unknown location onto Russia's vast Kmeimim air base in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia's military operations in Syria, and on the nearby Russian naval base at Tartus. [...]

"They thought the base was secure, but now it seems it is vulnerable," he said. Among the questions being asked in Moscow, he said, are whether the Russian military had adequately secured the base and whether it had failed to detect the acquisition of new technology by its adversaries.

The attacks also raise questions about the sustainability of Russia's gains in Syria, said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. In December, Putin visited the Khmeimim base and said Russia would start to wind its presence down because the war in Syria is essentially over.

The events of recent days are a demonstration "that whoever conducted these attacks can still penetrate regime areas and impose costs on the Russians," she said. "The gains the regime has made are not secure and are at high risk of being temporary."

Perhaps the biggest question of all, however, is who was responsible. What makes the attacks especially unusual is that there has been no claim, triggering a frenzy of speculation in the Russian and Syrian news media over who may have carried them out.

Russia's Defense Ministry on Tuesday appeared to accuse the United States for supplying the technology for the drone attack, saying that assault required a higher level of expertise than any armed group in Syria is known to possess. Compounding the suspicions, the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page that a U.S. Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft was in the skies above the area for four hours during the drone assault.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Trump Plans to Attend the World Economic Forum in Davos (MAGGIE HABERMAN and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, JAN. 9, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's planned appearance at an event that is synonymous with wealth and elite prestige comes as he enters the second year of a term he won on a message of economic populism.

Presidents have rarely attended the forum in Davos, in part out of a concern that it would send the wrong message to be rubbing shoulders with some of the world's richest individuals.

Mr. Trump won the 2016 election in part by attacking elites in the United States and promising to "drain the swamp" in Washington of lobbyists, corporate influence and members of the establishment -- the very description of those who regularly attend the Davos forum.

The event in Switzerland is a global symbol of everything that Mr. Trump's former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, railed against during the presidential campaign and the first seven months in the administration.

But Mr. Trump has also spent a lifetime as a real estate mogul and television personality seeking to be accepted by the financial and media elite in New York and around the world. His decision to travel to Davos as president may represent his desire to prove that he has achieved that goal.

Some of Mr. Trump's advisers were befuddled by his planned trip, coming a year after his team decided not to send a representative to the 2017 gathering.

It's only the 9th and this is the most hilarious year in the history of the presidency already. Hopefully, he brings that glowing ball the sheiks gave him, so he can be illuminated with the Illuminati.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Trump Holds Meeting to Show He's in Charge, Instead Proves Opposite (Jonathan Chait, 1/09/18, New York)

Michael Wolff had reported that Mitch McConnell said of the president, "He'll sign anything we put in front of him." (The line, intentionally or not, echoes a joke about Will Ferrell's clueless, pompous Ron Burgundy character: "Anything you put on that 'prompter, Burgundy will read.")

During the meeting, Trump put on full display his lack of interest in, or understanding of, public policy. The meeting centered on Trump's signature policy issue, immigration, which his staff no doubt considered safe. (Imagine if they had to talk about something like health care.) At one point, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein proposes that they pass a bill to formalize deferred action for child arrivals (DACA). Trump gives his enthusiastic ascent.

This promise so alarms his fellow Republicans that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is forced to interject with an explanation that, actually, Trump doesn't like this idea at all.

At another point, Trump echoes McConnell's assessment by saying he will sign anything they put before him...

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


From Sea to Shining Sea : Why have conservatives abandoned the coasts? (Kevin D. Williamson, January 7, 2018, National Review)

In 2018, our politics isn't about policy. It's about Kulturkampf, which means it is about enemies. For contemporary Republicans, especially those of the Trump-oriented persuasion, that means the people they denounce as "elites" and "globalists." Trump denounces "elites" and "globalists," and his partisans find this satisfying. He also spent his first year in office giving those "elites" and "globalists" practically everything they wanted in terms of his policy agenda, including a very large corporate tax cut and the imposition of a territorial tax system -- two proposals near and dear to the pinstriped hearts of multinational executives around the world but of relatively little interest to pissed-off underemployed white guys in Garbutt.

The self-respecting nationalist-populist might ask why it is that Lloyd Blankfein got his tax cut before they got their wall -- if politics were about policy. But it isn't. The self-respecting nationalist-populist might wonder why Trump is talking about how great the stock market is doing when 2017 saw the weakest growth in jobs since 2010. They might wonder why two of the most important figures in Trumpworld -- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and recently exiled consigliere Steve Bannon -- both are products of Goldman Sachs and Hollywood, detestable coastal elites if ever there were any.

Oh, but let's talk about Rosie O'Donnell . . . 

Politics can be about policy, and the Democratic-dominated parts of the country could use a dose of good conservative thinking when it comes to improving their terrible public schools, reducing crime, sorting out their pension messes, and improving the standard of living for non-billionaires in high-priced coastal states. The cities need Republicans, and Republicans need the cities -- assuming that they do not want to be a political party that dominates only those parts of the country where the people aren't. Some will say: "California -- let it burn!" Considering the cultural excesses of the tech industry, my colleague Heather Wilhelm suggested in these pages last week that we "Wall Off Silicon Valley." She was being funny, but not everybody is joking.

The "Real American" sneering at New York and California is tied up in silly and romantic notions about virtue. Not that virtue is silly or that venerating it is romantic. Far from it: Virtue is essential to the healthy and peaceful functioning of a free republic. What's silly is the notion that virtue cannot be found, practiced, or taught in Los Angeles, and what's daftly romantic is the notion that it somehow sprouts up out of the ground wherever corn and wheat do. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


As Electric Cars' Prospects Brighten, Japan Fears Being Left Behind (JONATHAN SOBLE, JAN. 9, 2018, NY Times)

Japan is scrambling to ensure it has a future in an electric-car world. Toyota, the country's largest automaker, pioneered gasoline-electric hybrids but has long been skeptical about consumers' appetite for cars that run on batteries alone. Now, under pressure from foreign rivals like Tesla, the company says it is developing a batch of new electric models.

The Japanese government has made managing the shift to next-generation vehicles a priority, but critics say its approach lacks focus. It has bet big on hydrogen fuel cells, an alternative technology to plug-in rechargeable batteries that is struggling to win widespread support.

The fear is that, once again, Japan will miss a big technological shift.

In the consumer electronics sector, the transition to new products like flat-screen televisions and digital music players undermined once-ubiquitous Japanese brands. Innovation in the digital era became the domain of Silicon Valley, while mass production shifted to China.

As a result, some storied names in the world of technology -- Sharp, Toshiba, Sanyo -- have either disappeared or no longer resonate with the world's consumers the way they once did.

"What really puts Japan on the defensive is the idea that the tech revolution is coming to the car industry," said James Kondo, a visiting professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo who has worked with technology companies in the United States and Japan.

"The industry is at the center of everything, not just economically but psychologically, and it's facing fundamental change," he added.

Cars that don't burn gasoline or diesel account for a tiny sliver of the world market today, but their prospects are looking brighter.

Batteries are becoming more powerful even as their prices tumble. China, the world's biggest automobile market, is betting big on electric cars. France and Britain have announced they will phase out fossil-fuel-burning vehicles in an effort to fight climate change.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Fusion co-founder: Dossier author feared Trump was being blackmailed (Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen, 1/09/18, CNN)

Simpson's testimony was released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who posted the transcript of the August 2017 Senate Judiciary Committee interview that took place behind closed doors.

Feinstein issued the transcript of the 10-hour interview without the support of committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who had argued the committee needed to temporarily protect certain information while an investigation was ongoing.

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said that Feinstein released the transcript without consulting Grassley and suggested it could jeopardize the committee's ability to interview future witnesses.

"Feinstein's unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner," Foy said in a statement. "Her action undermines the integrity of the committee's oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses."

The transcript is likely to provide Democrats a counterargument to the Republican charges that the dossier was a political document paid for by Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

In a statement, California's senior senator said she was releasing the transcript with the support of the committee's Democrats.

"After speaking with majority and minority committee staff for 10 hours, Glenn Simpson requested the transcript of his interview be released publicly. The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves," said Feinstein. "The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public."

In a statement, Fusion GPS said it "commends Sen. Feinstein for her courage. The transcript of Glenn Simpson's lengthy responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee's questioning speaks for itself."

It's our nickel; all the testimony should be public.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM



The coal industry says that thousands of miners will lose their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands could lose their pensions and healthcare, thanks to a ruling by an obscure energy panel that defied President Donald Trump.

The Federal Energy Regulation Committee, a group of regulators comprised mostly of Trump appointees, rejected a request by the Department of Energy to prop up coal and nuclear power plants with a new rule that would underwrite some fuel costs.

Hard to believe we could find a more status quo president than the UR, but we managed it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks, JAN. 8, 2018, NY Times)

The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don't know anybody who works with him or supports him. 


Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Putin's road from Damascus: After the "victory," what? (Pavel K. Baev, January 8, 2018, Brookings)

It was somewhat incongruous, therefore, that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to declare Russian victory in Syria last month--Russia hasn't even met the very narrow definition of "victory" as ensuring the survival of the Bashar Assad regime. He ordered the withdrawal of the main part of Russia's military grouping, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that 38 planes and some support units had returned home. The thing is: This amounts to less than half of total Russian forces there, not even counting the private contractors. The planned expansion of Russian air and naval bases demands more troops for keeping them secure, and it is necessary to increase the number of Russian advisers if the Syrian army aims at launching new offensives, for instance against the Idlib enclave.

Russia remains stuck in the Syrian trap and at best, its perceived success will gradually fade into a stalemate. Meanwhile, the variety of bad options is rich, and the worst-case scenario of a sudden collapse of the Assad regime is not far-fetched.

Greatest War Ever.
Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


The perfect MLB GIF for every occasion  (Ted Berg, January 9, 2018, For the Win)

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM



Dossier Allegation: Russia sought the lifting of U.S. sanctions imposed in the aftermath of Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine. According to the Dossier, multiple Russian individuals discussed "lifting of western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine."

Subsequent Reporting: In January, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen reportedly delivered a plan to Michael Flynn under which the United States would lift its sanctions against Russia in exchange for Russia temporarily withdrawing its forces from Crimea pending a Ukrainian referendum on whether to "lease" Crimea to Russia. Furthermore, the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who attended the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower alleges that Donald Trump, Jr. suggested that a future Trump administration would consider lifting the sanctions placed on Russia under the Magnitsky Act. Since becoming president, Trump has repeatedly undermined U.S. sanctions against Russia, both by questioning the utility of sanctions already in place and by delaying the implementation of newly passed legislation.

Moscow Project assessment: Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Russia was behind the DNC hack. In July 2016, Steele reported that a source "acknowledged that 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."

Subsequent Reporting: The U.S. intelligence committee publicly detailed its conclusion as to the provenance of the emails in January 2017, several months after Steele first reported on it.

Moscow Project assessment: Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: One proposed quid pro quo for Russian email hacking was the Trump campaign's removal of support for lethal weapons to Ukraine in the GOP platform.  Steele wrote that "the operation [to leak emails via WikiLeaks] had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. 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 Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine."

Subsequent Reporting: In his recently-unsealed plea deal with the FBI, George Papadopoulos says that "the Professor" informed him that the Russian government possessed thousands of emails that would be potentially damaging to Clinton, a fact Papadopoulos relayed to multiple senior campaign officials. In his testimony before Congress, Carter Page appeared to confirm that the Trump campaign successfully lobbied to soften language in the Republican Party platform regarding lethal assistance to Ukraine, which the campaign had previously denied. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly questioned the U.S.'s financial commitment to NATO both during the campaign and during his administration.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Carter Page met with an official in the Russian presidential administration. The dossier claimed that an official who was close to Sergey Ivanov told a colleague that Igor Diveykin, Putin's deputy chief for internal policy, had secretly met with Page in Moscow; the dossier alleges that during this meeting, Diveykin claimed he wanted to give the Trump campaign kompromat on Clinton.

Subsequent Reporting: In his testimony, Page denied meeting with Diveykin but did admit to a "chat" with a different high-ranking Russian official, the deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: The Russian government's efforts to cultivate Trump involved his business. Along with the offer of opposition research on Clinton, Steele reports that "The Kremlin's cultivation on TRUMP also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia ... However, so far, for reasons unknown, TRUMP had not taken up any of these."

Subsequent Reporting: The Washington Post reported in August 2017 that the Trump Organization pursued a deal to develop Trump Tower Moscow during his run for president. According to The New York Times, the real-estate developer Felix Sater wrote to the Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen, "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected." CNN later reported that the Trump Organization signed a letter of intent to develop the project, but ultimately pulled out of the deal.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Manafort and Page served as key conduits to Russia. The dossier notes that the "well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [the TRUMP campaign] and the Russian leadership ... was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries."

Subsequent Reporting: In July 2017, Manafort was identified as one of three high-level Trump campaign officials (along with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.) to attend the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower, which was described in an email setting up the meeting as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Page has admitted that he met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich on his July 2016 trip. Manafort also reportedly suggested to his longtime deputy Konstantin Kilimnik that they set up secret campaign briefings for the Russian oligarch and known Putin associate Oleg Deripaska.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Carter Page met with Rosneft. The Dossier claimed that a source close to Putin ally Igor Sechin reported on a secret meeting between Sechin and Page in July 2016, during which they discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia. It also claimed that Sechin offered Page the brokerage fee for the sale of 19% of Rosneft, in exchange for lifting sanctions. 

Subsequent Reporting: Page admitted to having met with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft; he denied discussing sanctions with Baranov, but said that Baranov "may have briefly mentioned" the Rosneft sale. Page denies meeting with Igor Sechin and no further reporting has contradicted his statements.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Along with Trump, the Russian government engaged with "several high profile US players, including [Jill] STEIN, [Carter] PAGE and (former DIA Director Michael Flynn), and fund[ed] their recent visits to Moscow."

Subsequent Reporting: By the time of Steele's report, Michael Flynn and Jill Stein had already attended the RT Gala in December 2015, where they sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin; Carter Page's July 2016 trip to Moscow was also public knowledge. Whether the Russian government paid for their trips remains unknown. Documents released to the public in March 2017 revealed that Flynn was paid by Russian government-linked entities in 2015. Stein also frequently appeared on the Russian propaganda news channel RT during the 2016 election.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The Secret to Understanding Kamala Harris : And why it's making her a flash point in the Democratic Party. (JAMILAH KING, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018, Mother Jones)

Harris has long tried to bridge the tricky divide between social progressivism and the work required as a prosecutor--sometimes more successfully than others. As San Francisco's district attorney, for instance, she steadfastly refused to seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing a police officer, but later, as California's attorney general, she defended the state's right to use capital punishment. In 2012, she helped win a massive, $25 billion settlement with Wells Fargo and other financial institutions for foreclosure abuses, but a year later she declined to prosecute Steven Mnuchin's OneWest Bank for foreclosure violations. In 2014, she co-sponsored a bill to outlaw the so-called gay-panic defense in California, a legal strategy that often shielded perpetrators of violent crimes against LGBT people from serious punishment, but a year later she sought to block gender reassignment surgery for a transgender prison inmate.

As a woman of color, she embodies two key Democratic constituencies, and she is beloved by the wing of the party that broke for Hillary Clinton. But among those on the far left, including many die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters, she's an object of disdain, a Hillary-bot with weak progressive credentials. While that segment of the left might oppose anyone who isn't one particular septuagenarian, the Week summed up this critique when it slammed Harris for her "rather Hillary Clinton-esque tendency to say the right thing but not follow through."

The contradiction boils down to this: Harris is not interested in crusading from the outside; her mission is to reform the system from within. And no chapter of her life better reveals this dynamic than her days as a newly elected district attorney in San Francisco, working to get one radical program off the ground. [...]

In 2004, after Harris defeated two-term incumbent Terence Hallinan to become San Francisco's district attorney--the first woman and the first person of color to hold the position--she approached Simon about joining that office.

"I never wanted to work for The Man," Simon says. "And she was like, 'You'd be working for this black woman.'" When Simon demurred, Harris made her case more plainly: "You can bring your advocacy into the office, but do you forever want to be on the stairs yelling and begging for people to support you, your cause? Why can't you fix it from the inside?"

It's a Democratic party where she lacks Bernie's street cred.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Hamas Co-Founder Accidentally Shoots Himself In The Head (Aiden Pink, 1/09/18, The Forward)

One of the founders of the Palestinian terror group Hamas has been hospitalized after being shot in the head while inspecting his gun.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Fusion GPS Founder's Senate Judiciary Testimony Released (TIM MAK, 1/09/18, NPR)

The former British intelligence officer who authored the infamous Russia dossier wanted to show it to the FBI because he was concerned that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was being "blackmailed."

Christopher Steele told the political research firm that hired him, Fusion GPS, that what he uncovered from Russian sources was serious enough to bring to the attention of U.S. law enforcement authorities, according to a transcript released on Tuesday.

The transcript, of an interview that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson did with the Senate Judiciary Committee, was released on Tuesday by the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Steele went to the FBI with the initial reports that would later form the dossier on alleged Trump-Russia ties as early as late June or early July of 2016, Simpson testified.

"Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said ... he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government," Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"He thought from his perspective there was ... a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed."

Simpson said he neither encouraged nor discouraged Steele about going to the FBI.

"This was like, you know, you're driving to work and you see something happen and you call 911," Simpson told investigators. He likened the sense of responsibility he said Steele felt to the professional duties that attorneys have in some cases to report a crime if they learn of one.

Steele eventually met with an FBI legal attache in Rome in September 2016, more than two months after the initial outreach.

Steele later told to Simpson that he believed the FBI would consider his information credible because the Bureau had corroborating intelligence, including from a human source within the Trump organization.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


The Steele Dossier in 2018: Everyone's Favorite Weapon (John Sipher, January 9, 2018, Just Security)

At first glance, there is not a lot of new information since I last wrote to help us come to a definitive conclusion.  However, continued patterns of behavior by the Trump team and leaks of information over the past few months have added a bit more credibility to the dossier, particularly with respect to the overarching narrative of collusion.  Mr. Steele himself was quoted in a book by Guardian journalist Luke Harding, offering his assessment that 70-90% of the dossier is accurate.

At the same time - and this point deserves special emphasis - there is nothing new to disprove the allegations.  As far as I'm aware, nobody has produced any serious evidence besmirching Mr. Steele or Orbis.  Aside from instances such as personal protestations by Carter Page and Michael Cohen and comments that Mr. Steele had made spelling mistakes in his reports, there has yet to be any proof that the events described in the dossier did not happen.  Efforts to ascribe personal bias to Mr. Steele are undercut by an understanding of the basics tenets of clandestine intelligence collection.  Raw intelligence reports, like those produced by Mr. Steele, are not finished analytical products or a means to share commentary or personal views.  The reports are merely efforts to accurately pass on information from sources with direct access to the information.

A few have suggested that the material might be part and parcel of a Russian disinformation and deception campaign.  I personally find it plausible that at some point in 2016 the Russians could have become aware Mr. Steele was fishing for information and, concerned with what he was finding, successfully seeded some material to his sources.  However, I find it highly unlikely that they could have controlled the entire effort from the start.  The Russians are very good at these "wilderness of mirrors" games but they are not ten feet tall.  A more robust discussion of that issue will have to be left for another time.  At the very least we need to ask ourselves why would the Russians attempt to mislead Steele unless they thought he was onto something?

More Recent Revelations

So, what new information do we have to evaluate the dossier?

On the side of adding credibility to the Orbis reporting, the Papadopoulos revelations, the Harding book, and Fusion GPS op-ed provide additional context that bolsters Mr. Steele's reporting.  We learned that Mr. Steele's sources were not paid, and that he felt so strongly about the information he uncovered, that he chose to go directly to the FBI.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, I take seriously the fact that Mr. Steele chose to share his work with the British and U.S. intelligence community.  The Harding book and the Simpson and Fritsch op-ed confirmed that it was Steele who approached the FBI in an effort to report his concerns and validate his reporting.  From my experience, there are a lot of groups providing some form of business intelligence.  However, very little of their information would stand up to serious scrutiny by professional intelligence services with access to legal collection tools and worldwide scope.  Most would probably only stand behind their material to a limited extent.  However, the fact that Mr. Steele was more than willing to expose his reporting to scrutiny and accountability by the best in the world, suggests that he was confident in his sources.  If there was nothing there, the FBI would gladly send him packing.

Jared Kushner's failure to turn over to Senate investigators an e-mail exchange - with the subject line "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite" - also hinted at possible efforts by the campaign to collude with Russia.  Although Kushner initially told campaign staff to turn down a request from Putin crony and alleged criminal Alexander Torshin to meet with then-candidate Trump, Donald Trump Jr. ultimately met the Russian at a May 2016 NRA dinner event.  Again, we only learned this only after Kushner was confronted with previously withheld material.

What's more, Harding's book reports that Mr. Steele utilized several of the same sources that he had relied on for previous work in support of clients in Ukraine and the FBI's FIFA investigation, which led to high-profile indictments.  The fact that these sources had demonstrated reliability in significant prior cases is important.  Orbis' record of success with clients depended on accurate reporting, and a proven track record is part of the process involved in validating and vetting sources.  Of course, we still don't have enough information on Steele's sources to have confidence in their reliability and their access to information on the Kremlin, but their having reported accurately over time provides us greater confidence than we had previously.  Steele's faith in his sources is probably why he himself attributes a high level of confidence to the dossier.

While the new information is only a sliver of what we would need to reach any conclusive assessments, it nonetheless helps to refute those partisan critics who claim that Mr. Steele's work is essentially contrived.  If he invented information from his sources, or his sources invented information, it follows that he also likely did so in his previous work with the FBI on the 2015 FIFA investigation.  Since that relationship led to the successful indictment of 14 leaders of the world soccer governing body for money laundering and collusion, it is hard to conclude that he is a swindler.

The Steele information first proved useful as a means to understand the now well-known June 2016 meeting between senior members of the Trump campaign and the Russian team including the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.  It provided some context to Russian intelligence efforts to seek a quid-pro-quo with the Trump team.  While we do not have many more details about the meeting since my earlier piece, we have more input from key players who ascribe a level of concern to the meeting.  The offer of stolen or comprising material on Ms. Clinton that was downplayed by the Trump team, was nonetheless seen in a wholly different light by some associates.  Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has called the meeting "treasonous," and, in terms of demonstrated loyalties, both Mr. Steele and the Australian government approached the FBI when they became aware of Russia's possession of derogatory information.  Again, it is not proof, but it bolsters the possibility that Mr. Steele got wind of a possible "conspiracy of cooperation" before it was public knowledge.

The revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was engaged in communication with Wikileaks also supports this thesis.  As I noted in a separate article, Trump Jr.'s communication with Wikileaks can be read as yet another means to support a conspiratorial relationship with Russia.  If the Russians had stolen material and the Trump team was interested in weaponizing it, Wikileaks was a ready vehicle to provide both sides with plausible deniability.  At the very least, it is troubling that Donald Trump Jr. was willing to engage with WikiLeaks even though it had known ties to Russia, and the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security had only recently implicated the organization in aiding the dissemination of stolen material from U.S. persons and institutions in the election.

While there is less information arguing against the dossier, it is impossible to be confident in many of the allegations in the reports.  We still don't have enough information on the sources, their level of access and reliability, and how Mr. Steele gathered the information.  While he was trained in the tools of clandestine collection, he no longer had access to the powerful capabilities of the British or American intelligence agencies.  He could not travel to Russia and meet sources without finding himself under heavy surveillance (even if he could get a visa).  As a private citizen, he was unlikely to travel in alias.  E-mail and electronic communication in and out of Russia is heavily monitored.  I suspect that Mr. Steele used cut-outs to contact his sources, or met them when they traveled outside Russia.  In any case, we just don't have nearly enough public information to validate his sources.

Instead, we have to do all we can to look at the allegations themselves.  As noted in various reports, some of the allegations have proven to be true, or at least likely.  At the same time, a large portion of the information is yet unverified.  Of course, this is not surprising because we do not have the tools of professional investigators that can help run the leads to ground (travel and phone records, access to foreign partners, eavesdropping or means to compel cooperation).  More importantly perhaps, we cannot uncover the information because it was part of a secret effort by a hostile foreign intelligence service in the first place.

In any event, at this point it's less about using public information to validate the dossier, than it is the complete inability of Trump supporters to provide an alternate narrative. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Michael Wolff: Trump 'Aware Of Who's Jewish In A Way That Feels Creepy' (Aiden Pink, 1/08/18, The Forward)

The author of the bombshell new book exposing the inner workings of the White House said in an interview on Monday that President Trump is "aware of who is Jewish in a way that feels creepy." [...]

When asked by host Katy Tur whether he thinks Trump is anti-Semitic, Wolff demurred, saying that former White House chief advisor Steve Bannon -- himself accused of anti-Semitism -- thought Trump was a racist but not an anti-Semite.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Nervous Trump Lawyers Worry He'll Commit Perjury In Front Of Mueller (Eric Boehlert, January 9, 2018, Shareblue.com)

Mueller is also reportedly investigating whether Trump tried to obstruct justice when he fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Trump quickly announced on national television that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Russia investigation.

That occurred last May. Since then, Trump's aides have not allowed him to sit down for a one-on-one interview with a legitimate TV news reporter since he blurted out his reasoning for firing Comey.

In other words, that's likely what Trump's lawyers are trying to avoid with a Mueller interrogation -- Trump accidentally telling the truth, or Trump simply making stuff up.

TRUMP: A TRUE STORY : The mogul, in a 2007 deposition, had to face up to a series of falsehoods and exaggerations. And he did. Sort of. (David A. Fahrenthold and Robert O'Harrow Jr.,  August 10, 2016, Washington Post)

For the first of many times that day, Trump was about to be caught saying something that wasn't true.

It was a mid-December morning in 2007 -- the start of an interrogation unlike anything else in the public record of Trump's life.

Trump had brought it on himself. He had sued a reporter, accusing him of being reckless and dishonest in a book that raised questions about Trump's net worth. The reporter's attorneys turned the tables and brought Trump in for a deposition.

For two straight days, they asked Trump question after question that touched on the same theme: Trump's honesty.

The lawyers confronted the mogul with his past statements -- and with his company's internal documents, which often showed those statements had been incorrect or invented. The lawyers were relentless. Trump, the bigger-than-life mogul, was vulnerable -- cornered, out-prepared and under oath.

Thirty times, they caught him.

Trump had misstated sales at his condo buildings. Inflated the price of membership at one of his golf clubs. Overstated the depth of his past debts and the number of his employees.

That deposition -- 170 transcribed pages -- offers extraordinary insights into Trump's relationship with the truth. Trump's falsehoods were unstrategic -- needless, highly specific, easy to disprove. When caught, Trump sometimes blamed others for the error or explained that the untrue thing really was true, in his mind, because he saw the situation more positively than others did.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Kellyanne Conway Disappears Amid 'Fire And Fury' (Eric Boehlert, January 9, 2018, Shareblue.com)

[C]onway was one of the key Trump aides who helped secure Wolff's exclusive access to the White House in the first place. In other words, Conway helped Wolff write a book that completely trashes Trump.

Appearing on "Morning Joe" on Monday and speaking with Mike Barnicle, Wolff confirmed that it was Conway and Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon who opened doors for him:

BARNICLE: Who was the original contact for you to get you into the White House?

WOLFF: Beyond Trump himself who was completely, you know, "Sure." It seemed like he didn't care that much. But then it was Bannon and Kellyanne.

This isn't surprising. "He was seen having lunch at the fading Manhattan media power lunch joint Michael's with special counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, which turned heads even at a restaurant known for star sightings," Buzzfeed reported last winter, when Wolff was angling for White House access.

As for the contents of the finished book, Wolff did Conway no favors either, portraying her as someone who was privately aware of the Trump administration absurdities, but who publicly cheered them on:

In private, in the Off position, she seemed to regard Trump as a figure of exhausting exaggeration or even absurdity--or, at least, if you regarded him that way, she seemed to suggest that she might, too. She illustrated her opinion of her boss with a whole series of facial expressions: eyes rolling, mouth agape, head snapping back. But in the On position, she metamorphosed into believer, protector, defender, and handler.

At times, Conway's fulsome defense of Trump last year was too much even for some top aides to take, according to Wolff, and she was temporarily taken off the air.

...and replace them with this insert on the Conway Scenic Railway...

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Google and Others Are Building AI Systems That Doubt Themselves : AI will make better decisions by embracing uncertainty. (Will Knight  January 9, 2018, MIT Technology Review)

The most powerful approach in AI, deep learning, is gaining a new capability: a sense of uncertainty.

Researchers at Uber and Google are working on modifications to the two most popular deep-learning frameworks that will enable them to handle probability. This will provide a way for the smartest AI programs to measure their confidence in a prediction or a decision--essentially, to know when they should doubt themselves.

Deep learning, which involves feeding example data to a large and powerful neural network, has been an enormous success over the past few years, enabling machines to recognize objects in images or transcribe speech almost perfectly. But it requires lots of training data and computing power, and it can be surprisingly brittle.

Somewhat counterintuitively, this self-doubt offers one fix. The new approach could be useful in critical scenarios involving self-driving cars and other autonomous machines.

 "You would like a system that gives you a measure of how certain it is," says Dustin Tran, who is working on this problem at Google. "If a self-driving car doesn't know its level of uncertainty, it can make a fatal error, and that can be catastrophic."

The work reflects the realization that uncertainty is a key aspect of human reasoning and intelligence. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Is Liberal Zionism Dead? (Michelle Goldberg, JAN. 8, 2018, NY Times)

[T]he alternative to a two-state solution is one state, a greater Israel that includes the occupied territories. That state can be Jewish or it can be democratic, but it cannot be both. Trump's embassy decision was thus another nail in the coffin of liberal Zionism. [...]

[I]f the possibility of Palestinian statehood is foreclosed, Israel will be responsible for all the territory under its control. There will be one state; the question is what sort of state it will be. Some on the Israeli right foresee a system in which most Palestinians will remain stateless indefinitely, living under a set of laws different from those governing Israeli citizens. Yoav Kish, a Likud member of Parliament, has drawn up a plan in which Palestinians in the West Bank will have limited local administrative sovereignty; rather than citizens they will be "Residents of the Autonomy." Supporters of Israel hate it when people use the word "apartheid" to describe the country, but we don't have another term for a political system in which one ethnic group rules over another, confining it to small islands of territory and denying it full political representation.

The word "apartheid" will become increasingly inescapable as a small but growing number of Palestinians turn from fighting for independence to demanding equal rights in the system they are living under. "If the Israelis insist now on finishing the process of killing the two-state solution, the only alternative we have as Palestinians is one fully democratic, one-state solution," Barghouti says, in which everyone has "totally equal rights."

Needless to say, Israel will accept no such thing. Though demographics in the region are as contested as everything else, Palestinians are likely to soon become a majority of the population in Israel and the occupied territories. If all of them were given the right to vote, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.

But most of the world -- including most of the Jewish diaspora -- will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights. Israel's apologists will be left mimicking the argument that William F. Buckley once made about the Jim Crow South. In 1957, he asked rhetorically whether the white South was entitled to prevail "politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically." The "sobering answer," he concluded, was yes, given the white community's superior civilization.

It's impossible to say how long Israel could sustain such a system. But the dream of liberal Zionism would be dead. Maybe, with the far right in power both here and there, it already is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Trump Ends U.S. Status for Salvadorans (Franco Ordonez And Anita Kumar, 1/09/18, McClatchy)

The Trump administration is ending a special immigration status for about 200,000 Salvadorans who were allowed to live and work legally in the United States since the 2001 earthquakes that killed 1,100 people and displaced more than 1 million.

The Department of Homeland Security said the conditions in El Salvador that had been used to justify the special protections, known as Temporary Protective Status, are no longer applicable.

The benefit will be extended 18 more months until September 2019, to give Salvadorans time to prepare to return home.

The tighter the noose gets the more red meat he needs to feed his nativist core to keep defending him.

January 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Economist James K. Galbraith isn't celebrating Dow 25,000 (Market Watch,  Jan 8, 2018)

The Fed seems to be stumped by the lack of inflation.

There hasn't been inflation in the economy since the early 1980s. It collapsed with the end of the Soviet Union and with the rise of China as a supplier for consumer goods. So the Fed has been patting itself on its back for decades [of] holding back a phenomenon that doesn't exist. [The Fed is like] the little Dutch boy with the finger in the dike who never troubles himself to look over the levy to see that the lake is dry. Economists have fed into that with this completely made-up view that it is the central bank that drives the inflation process -- it is not.

The Fed is trying to inch up interest rates. It this wise in your view?

What they're doing now, I think, is driven by their sense that it is historically normal to have a higher short-term interest rate. The problem is that having had the short rates low for such a long time, the long rates have come down. So what was historically normal before is no longer relevant. As they raise the short rates, they are going to cause trouble. The main trouble they've been causing is the rise of the dollar with respect to everything else. And that is going to make imports cheaper, exports harder. It is going to diminish the internal competitiveness of the economy, diminish internal employment. I suspect the Fed will be reluctant to cause too much chaos because they recognize that, once you have a very flat yield curve, you destabilize the financial markets. But to the extent that they pursue this particular line, they are going to run into that difficulty.

The central bank thinks the long-term unemployment rate is 4.6%.

There is no Phillips Curve, and there hasn't been for decades. The supply of labor is not a constraint. If you wish to pay people higher wages, you could lure people back out of retirement. Net immigration has basically stopped. If you needed more workers, it would start up again. So we don't have a real labor-force constraint. We are not going to get inflationary pressure from the labor markets. It has been 40 years. Economists are slow learners, and central bankers are a slow-learning subset. They should recognize that things did change in the 1980s.

Workers cannot bargain for higher wages?

There is none of the bargaining power that existed in the 1950s and '60s when you had a union-driven manufacturing sector that could negotiate steady increases in wages. That hasn't existed since the 1980s.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Bannon group shopped anti-Trump document in 2015 (Sara Murray, Evan Perez and Jeremy Diamond, 1/08/18, CNN)

A conservative watchdog group led by Bannon tried to discredit Trump in the early stages of the 2016 Republican presidential primary by shopping a document alleging that Trump had ties to mobsters, according to conservative sources and a copy of the document reviewed by CNN.

The anti-Trump opposition research was the work of author Peter Schweizer for the Government Accountability Institute, which he cofounded with Bannon in 2012. It described years of alleged business connections between Trump companies and organized crime figures, allegations that have circulated among Trump detractors for years.

The New York Times reported on the document on Friday.

The GAI is backed by the Mercer family, one of the largest benefactors for Trump's campaign. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is listed as the group's chairwoman on its website. But in 2015, when the document was produced, the Mercers were backing the campaign of one of Trump's rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bannon had not yet joined the Trump campaign.

In early 2016, at the height of the Republican primary fight, Cruz cited possible mob ties as one reason for Trump to release his taxes. Cruz and his campaign cited published news accounts at the time as the basis for making the charge.

The document offers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes efforts by conservatives to derail Trump's presidential bid. The document is similar to opposition research produced for both Republicans and Democrats targeting Trump. The best known of those is one produced by the Washington firm Fusion GPS alleging ties between Trump and Russians, which now has helped spawn a broad investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We research political figures from all political parties and our basic premise is follow the money. That's what guides our research approach," Schweizer told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


If You Find Yourself Automated Out Of A Job, Blame The New Tax Plan (BROOKS RAINWATER, 1/08/18, Fast Company)

Tax policy will now make it easier and cheaper to invest in software, automation, and robots, rather than all of us. Before, capital investments had to be depreciated over a series of years, but now businesses can write them off right away. Imagine a warehouse owner in Southern California is faced with increased demand and must hire to meet those needs. They now face a choice to immediately buy a tax-advantaged robot or instead hire a human to make sure they can ship out more kitchen sinks and ramen noodles. With the tax plan in place, it shifts the balance and makes it a much easier choice to invest in a new robot that can slide goods across the floor. Should a business that does not want to pay a competitive wage to attract employees be incentivized to do so by the government through tax policy?


Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


In states that didn't expand Medicaid, hospital closures have spiked (CASEY ROSS, JANUARY 8, 2018, STAT)

In recent years Obamacare's Medicaid expansion has created a financial fault line in American health care. Hospitals in states that enacted the expansion got a wave of newly insured patients, while those in states that rejected it were left with large numbers of uninsured individuals.

A new study released Monday reports a crucial consequence of that divide: Nonexpansion states have suffered a significant increase in hospital closures. States that expanded benefits, on the other hand, saw their rate of closures decline. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


When a North Korean Missile Accidentally Hit a North Korean City (Ankit Panda and Dave Schmerler, January 03, 2018, The Diplomat)

What happens when a North Korean ballistic missile test fails in flight and explodes in a populated area? On April 28, 2017, North Korea launched a single Hwasong-12/KN17 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) from Pukchang Airfield in South Pyongan Province (the Korean People's Army's Air and Anti-Air Force Unit 447 in Ryongak-dong, Sunchon City, to be more precise). That missile failed shortly after launch and crashed in the Chongsin-dong, in North Korean city of Tokchon, causing considerable damage to a complex of industrial or agricultural buildings.

According to a U.S. government source with knowledge of North Korea's weapons programs who spoke to The Diplomat, the missile's first stage engines failed after approximately one minute of powered flight, resulting in catastrophic failure. The missile never flew higher than approximately 70 kilometers. The location of the missile's eventual impact was revealed exclusively to The Diplomat and evidence of the incident can be independently corroborated in commercially available satellite imagery from April and May 2017.

Do them now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


US conveys 'concrete' steps for Pakistan: Pentagon (AFP, January 8, 2018)

The United States has told Pakistan what it must do if it wants Washington to resume paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid, the Pentagon said Monday.

"Our expectations are straightforward," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told reporters.

"Taliban and Haqqani leadership and attack planners should no longer be able to find safe haven or conduct operations from Pakistani soil."

It's not really their soil though.  No one exercises sovereignty there.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


The Company of Trump's Pick for Health Secretary Tested Cialis on Kids (Gabriella Paiella, 1/08/18, The Cut)

On Tuesday morning, Alex Azar -- President Trump's nominee for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) -- will appear before the Senate Finance Committee for his confirmation hearing. In advance of this, Politico brings us a fun fact about Azar: his old drug company once tested Cialis, the erectile dysfunction medication known for those weird bathtub commercials, on children.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Seattle's sugary drink tax nearly doubles cost of Gatorade (Travis Pittman , January 08, 2018, KING5)

Jason Mercier from Washington Policy Center, which opposed the tax, shot a photo from inside a Seattle Costco that showed the price for a Gatorade 35-bottle variety pack was $15.99. That is until you add the new tax, which bumps it up by $10.34 for a total of $26.33. [...]

The city says the tax is expected to raise $15 million in its first year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Don't believe Michael Wolff's book about Trump if you want the truth (SEBASTIAN GORKA,  01/08/18, The Hill)

[W]hen I met Michael Wolff in Reince Priebus' office, where he was waiting to talk to Steve Bannon, and after I had been told to also speak to him for his book, my attitude was polite but firm: "Thanks but no thanks." Our brief encounter reinforced my gut feeling that this oleaginous scribe had no interest in being fair and unbiased.

When you attack the underling but strike the boss.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


WikiLeaks Steals Michael Wolff's Book (Martin Longman, January 8, 2018, Washington Monthly)

As a writer and editor, I am appalled that WikiLeaks decided to publish Michael Wolff's new book Fire and Fury. If you want to do the right thing, you'll go buy it rather than stealing it from the WikiLeaks link. It isn't a suppressed piece of government information of vital interest to the public. It's a book that is for sale, and offering it to everyone for free is not Julian Assange's decision to make. He's a crook, and he should be prosecuted for doing this.

This is a way for Assange and his patrons to strike back at Wolff and send a message to any publisher who thinks they'll make a lot of money selling tell-all books from inside TrumpWorld.

The three of them don't understand how information works very well.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


House Intelligence Committee's Section 702 Bill: Surveillance Expansion and No Meaningful Reform (Robyn Greene, JAN. 8, 2018, New America)

On Thursday, the House of Representatives will likely vote on a stand-alone measure to reauthorize and expand Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire on January 19, 2018. The bill to be voted on is a modified version of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4478; now S. 139), which was reported out of the House Intelligence Committee on a party line vote, with at least four members voting "no" because of privacy concerns. OTI and a coalition of dozens of leading privacy groups strongly oppose the bill. The modifications to this bill reflected in the draft posted to the House Rules website are wholly insufficient to address the many concerns it raises.

Although its proponents seek to sell the bill as a reform measure, it contains no meaningful reforms to Section 702, and in several respects, it expands surveillance authorities and codifies the worst intelligence community practices rather than reforming them. As a result, this bill is worse than a clean reauthorization with a sunset.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


It's time for Democrats to take this drastic step on Trump and Russia (Greg Sargent January 8, 2018, Washington Post)

Democrats need to ensure that the transcripts of testimony delivered to Congress by the co-founders of the firm that commissioned the so-called Steele Dossier are made public. Hardball procedural tactics toward this end do exist: A Democratic senator can try to make the transcripts public by reading them into the congressional record on the floor.

This morning, two Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee -- Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) -- sent a letter to GOP committee chair Charles Grassley demanding the release of the transcripts. A Democratic leadership aide tells me that if the GOP majority refuses, Democrats will escalate calls for the transcripts' release in coming days.

The entire notion that it matters how Justice found out Donald and Vlad were colluding is inherently odd.  All that matters is that the campaign didn't inform authorities themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Racing the Machine (ROBERT SKIDELSKY, 12/22/17, Project Syndicate)

Economists have always believed that previous waves of job destruction led to an equilibrium between supply and demand in the labor market at a higher level of both employment and earnings. But if robots can actually replace, not just displace, humans, it is hard to see an equilibrium point until the human race itself becomes redundant. [...]

[T]here is the assumption running through the report that automation is not just desirable, but irreversible. Once we have learned to do something more efficiently (at lower cost), there is no possibility of going back to doing it less efficiently. The only question left is how humans can best adapt to the demands of a higher standard of efficiency.

Philosophically, this is confused, because it conflates doing something more efficiently with doing it better. It mixes up a technical argument with a moral one. Of the world promised us by the apostles of technology, it is both possible and necessary to ask: Is it good?

Is a world in which we are condemned to race with machines to produce ever-larger quantities of consumption goods a world worth having? And if we cannot hope to control this world, what is the value of being human? These questions may be outside McKinsey remit, but they should not be off limits to public discussion.

It is Mr. Skidelsky's assumption that seems off the mark here; that the fundamental purpose of an economy is to create jobs.  He carries this mistake so far as to suggest that we might want to reduce efficiency to maximize employment, which was quite literally the original demand of the Luddites.

It seems more accurate to say that the point of an economy is to create wealth.

And while that could be cast as a technical discussion, consider this: if you ask people whether they prefer more work and less wealth or more wealth and less work, which do we think they'd choose? 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


African migrants in Israel face mass deportation - or imprisonment (Tania Krämer, 1/08/18, Deutsche-Welle)

"It is very frightening and many people are simply panicking," says Ghebrihiwet Tekle. He comes from Eritrea, has applied for asylum in Israel and is now volunteering in the office of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli NGO based in Tel Aviv. The 37-year-old works here as a Tigrinya translator, a language spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The mood is gloomy: A few days earlier, the Israeli immigration and border authorities launched a controversial campaign. The aim is to either get Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to go to a third country or to imprison them indefinitely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Will Iran's Protests Help the Hard-Liners? (NAZILA FATHI, JAN. 8, 2018, NY Times)

Even more than the Green Movement of 2009, the recent protests -- and the reaction to them -- recalled those of the early 2000s. Both then and now, moderate political forces controlled Iran's presidency and its Parliament. And in both cases, the country's conservatives deployed intimidation, violence and deceit to undermine the moderates.

The question now is whether the conservatives will succeed in dominating politics and crushing the Iranian people's desires for reform. This time, they have some help on the world stage -- from an American president with a prolific Twitter account. But they also face a persistent challenge: The people seem more determined than ever. [...]

The recent protests seem to have been started in the city of Mashhad by conservative opponents of the reformist President Hassan Rouhani to undermine his government. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


After spat over Trump book, White House adviser said ousted from CNN by security (SUE SURKES, 1/08/18, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump's special adviser Stephen Miller was escorted off a CNN set by security after he refused to leave the "State of the Union" studio following a fiery interview with host Jake Tapper, the Business Insider reported Monday.

Good idea; practicing his perp walk.

January 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


What's the Cure for Ailing Nations? More Kings and Queens, Monarchists Say (LESLIE WAYNE, JAN. 6, 2018, NY Times)

From the comfort of his country estate in Oxford, a distant relative of the Russian literary giant Tolstoy says he has the perfect solution for what ails the United States.

America, he declares, needs a monarchy.

In fact, Count Nikolai Tolstoy says, more kings, queens and all the frippery that royalty brings would be not just a salve for a superpower in political turmoil, but also a stabilizing force for the world at large.

"I love the monarchy," Count Tolstoy, 82, said as he sat in his lush garden behind an expansive stone house. "Most people think the monarchy is just decorative and filled with splendor and personalities. They do not appreciate the important ideological reasons for a monarchy." [...]

A recent study that examined the economic performance of monarchies versus republics bolsters their views. Led by Mauro F. Guillén, a management professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the study found "robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence" that monarchies outperform other forms of government.

Far from being a dying system, the study said, "monarchies are surprisingly prevalent around the world." They provide a "stability that often translates into economic gains"; they are better at protecting property rights and checking abuses of power by elected officials; and they have higher per-capita national incomes, the study said.

Mr. Guillén says he was "shocked" by the results, which have not yet been published. "Most people think monarchies are something anachronistic," he said. "They think that modern forms of government are superior and have trouble accepting that monarchies have advantages."

When he presents his findings, "there is more skepticism in the room than with the average paper," said Mr. Guillén, who is not a monarchist. "It's been an uphill battle."

His findings come as no surprise, however, to monarchists, who aim to preserve existing monarchies and to support royals who live in exile. They believe that countries with exiled royals should return them to the throne, and that nations without monarchies should consider a switch.

"We support the retention and restoration of monarchies anywhere in the world," Count Tolstoy said. "Our goal is to persuade people."

History books, of course, are replete with examples of monarchies that became symbols of repression and rapacious, cloistered wealth. Some were ousted by bloody rebellions (the American and French Revolutions) or collapsed in ruins (the Hapsburg Empire), and many have ruthlessly marginalized whole classes of people.

But Count Tolstoy insists that monarchists are not pining for the days of absolute rulers and the divine right of kings, when Henry VIII of England could order up the execution of unwanted wives and political foes.

Instead, his group advocates constitutional monarchies, in which a king or queen is head of state and the real power rests with an elected Parliament -- much like those in Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain (although demonstrators in 2014 demanded a referendum on the Spanish royal family after King Juan Carlos abdicated).

All of those countries, the monarchists note, have relatively strong economies.

The usefulness of a monarchic republic is obvious in a situation like ours, where the king could dismiss Donald and order a new presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The Book That Incited a Worldwide Fear of Overpopulation (Charles C. Mann, January 2018, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

Ehrlich, now 85, told me recently that the book's main contribution was to make population control "acceptable" as "a topic to debate." But the book did far more than that. It gave a huge jolt to the nascent environmental movement and fueled an anti-population-growth crusade that led to human rights abuses around the world. [...]

Consider the opening scene of The Population Bomb. It describes a cab ride that Ehrlich and his family experienced in Delhi. In the "ancient taxi," its seats "hopping with fleas," the Ehr­lichs entered "a crowded slum area."

The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrust their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. . . . [S]ince that night, I've known the feel of overpopulation.

The Ehrlichs took the cab ride in 1966. How many people lived in Delhi then? A bit more than 2.8 million, according to the United Nations. By comparison, the 1966 population of Paris was about 8 million. No matter how carefully one searches through archives, it is not easy to find expressions of alarm about how the Champs-Élysées was "alive with people." Instead, Paris in 1966 was an emblem of elegance and sophistication.

Parisians were white.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Nikki Haley downplays Trump's suggestion of negotiations with Kim Jong Un (Bonnie Kristian, 1/07/18, The Week)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Sunday downplayed the import of President Trump's Saturday indication he is willing to directly negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if certain prerequisites are met.

"There is no turnaround" in Washington's position on North Korea, Haley said in an interview on ABC's This Week.

Refusing to even acknowledge Donald's existence and staying away from Washington is keeping her the only one untainted by the moral cesspit. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Negativity is Natural but Life is Amazing : As a species, we are willing to believe in doomsday scenarios that virtually never materialize. (Marian L. Tupy, 1/07/18, FEE)

The Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker has noted that the nature of cognition and nature of news interact in ways that make us think that the world is worse than it really is. News, after all, is about things that happen. Things that did not happen go unreported. As Pinker points out, we "never see a reporter saying to the camera, 'Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.'" Newspapers and other media, in other words, tend to focus on the negative. As the old journalistic adage goes, "If it bleeds, it leads."

To make matters worse, the arrival of social media makes bad news immediate and more intimate. Until relatively recently, most people knew very little about the countless wars, plagues, famines and natural catastrophes happening in distant parts of the world. Contrast that with the 2011 Japanese tsunami disaster, which people throughout the world watched unfold in real time on their smartphones.

The human brain also tends to overestimate danger due to what psychologists call "the availability heuristic" or a process of estimating the probability of an event based on the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. Unfortunately, human memory recalls events for reasons other than their rate of recurrence. When an event turns up because it is traumatic, the human brain will overestimate how likely it is to reoccur.

Consider our fear of terror. According to John Mueller, a political scientist from the Ohio State University, "In the years since 9/11, Islamist terrorists have managed to kill about seven people a year within the United States. All those deaths are tragic of course, but some comparisons are warranted: lightning kills about 46 people a year, accident-causing deer another 150, and drownings in bathtubs around 300." Yet, Americans continue to fear terror much more than drowning in a bathtub.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


When it comes to walking in a park or down a city street, a study finds not all exercise is created equal (Stephen Schmidt, January 07, 2018, PRI)

New research, though, that was published earlier this month in The Lancelet suggests that, in fact, not all walks may produce the same benefits when factoring where the walk is taking place and the state of health of the participant before he or she went for the walk.

For the study, a team of researchers -- mostly based out of England -- monitored 135 volunteers, all of whom were over the age of 60, between October 2012 and June 2014. Out of those people, 40 were categorized as being healthy, 40 had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 39 had ischaemic heart disease (in which a blockage in the coronary arteries reduces blood supply to the heart muscle).

The participants were then randomly assigned to walk for two hours either in London's highly trafficked Oxford Street or the city's Hyde Park, which would be an equivalent to New York City's Central Park.

By looking at a wide spectrum of physiologic factors -- vascular function, in particular -- the researchers found that those participants who walked in the park all showed increased beneficial effects regarding the function of their arteries from walking. Those who strolled down the busy street, though, had weakened effects. In some cases, the benefits were even reversed.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Is everything you think you know about depression wrong? : In this extract from his new book, Johann Hari, who took antidepressants for 14 years, calls for a new approach (Johann Hari, Sun 7 Jan '18, The Guardian)

We all know that when you take selfies, you take 30 pictures, throw away the 29 where you look bleary-eyed or double-chinned, and pick out the best one to be your Tinder profile picture. It turned out that the drug companies - who fund almost all the research into these drugs - were taking this approach to studying chemical antidepressants. They would fund huge numbers of studies, throw away all the ones that suggested the drugs had very limited effects, and then only release the ones that showed success. To give one example: in one trial, the drug was given to 245 patients, but the drug company published the results for only 27 of them. Those 27 patients happened to be the ones the drug seemed to work for. Suddenly, Professor Kirsch realised that the 70% figure couldn't be right.

It turns out that between 65 and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. I had thought that I was freakish for remaining depressed while on these drugs. In fact, Kirsch explained to me in Massachusetts, I was totally typical. These drugs are having a positive effect for some people - but they clearly can't be the main solution for the majority of us, because we're still depressed even when we take them. At the moment, we offer depressed people a menu with only one option on it. I certainly don't want to take anything off the menu - but I realised, as I spent time with him, that we would have to expand the menu.

This led Professor Kirsch to ask a more basic question, one he was surprised to be asking. How do we know depression is even caused by low serotonin at all? When he began to dig, it turned out that the evidence was strikingly shaky. Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is "deeply misleading and unscientific". Dr David Healy told me: "There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy."

I didn't want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldn't ignore it.

So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world - from São Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London - I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we're good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn't meeting those psychological needs for many - perhaps most - people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.

Let's look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful - that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It's a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing - our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are "engaged" in their work - they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are "not engaged", which is defined as "sleepwalking through their workday". And 24% are "actively disengaged": they hate it.

Most of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realised, are in the 87% who don't like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed he'd found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: who's more likely to have a stress-related heart attack - the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?

Everybody told him: you're wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because he's got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?

And that's when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed - and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. 

Labor was a punishment from God, and that was productive labor.  Your make-work job in the modern economy is the last place you should look for meaning.

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History (Nicholas Kristof, JAN. 6, 2018, NY Times)

A smaller share of the world's people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. [...]

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.

Readers often assume that because I cover war, poverty and human rights abuses, I must be gloomy, an Eeyore with a pen. But I'm actually upbeat, because I've witnessed transformational change.

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

Just since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, diarrhea treatment, breast-feeding promotion and other simple steps.

Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychology professor, explores the gains in a terrific book due out next month, "Enlightenment Now," in which he recounts the progress across a broad array of metrics, from health to wars, the environment to happiness, equal rights to quality of life. "Intellectuals hate progress," he writes, referring to the reluctance to acknowledge gains, and I know it feels uncomfortable to highlight progress at a time of global threats. But this pessimism is counterproductive and simply empowers the forces of backwardness.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Palestinians in Kufr Aqab: 'We live here just to wait' (Jaclynn Ashly , 1/07/18, Al Jazeera)

Piles of rubbish cover roadsides in Kufr Aqab and overflow from dumpsters, growing larger each day as residents wait for the municipality's infrequent rubbish collection services.

Munir Zaghayer, who heads Kufr Aqab's neighbourhood committee, remembers when Kufr Aqab was a scenic and upscale Jerusalem neighborhood. "We used to have a beautiful life here," he said.

Zaghayer moved to Kufr Aqab from Jerusalem's Old City in 1962. Before the wall was built, the population in Kufr Aqab did not exceed 12,000, he said.

However, when Israel constructed the separation wall, the neighbourhood started transforming. Israel had implemented policies more than a half-century ago that would determine Kufr Aqab's fate.

In 1967, when Israel occupied and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinians in East Jerusalem were not granted Israeli citizenship, but were instead issued Jerusalem residency status.

Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs must consistently prove to Israel that Jerusalem is the centre of their life, or else face the revocation of their residency. Almost 15,000 Palestinians have had their Jerusalem IDs revoked since 1967, according to Human Rights Watch.

Following its takeover of East Jerusalem, Israel reduced the land zoned for Palestinian construction to some 13 percent, most of which was already built up. A housing crisis in Palestinian neighbourhoods ensued, followed by routine Israeli demolition campaigns carried out on Palestinian homes and structures, as residents were forced to build without permits.

But in Kufr Aqab, Israel ceased enforcing its municipal regulations once the wall was built, making home demolitions extremely rare. Coupled with the cheaper cost of living, this prompted tens of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalem residents to flock to the neighbourhood. Since Kufr Aqab is still within Jerusalem's municipal borders, Palestinians moving there can maintain their Jerusalem residency.

Yet the municipality fails to provide basic services to the neighbourhoods beyond the wall, including education, waste removal and road maintenance. The residents receive just two days of running water a week, despite paying municipal and other taxes.

Odeh says Israel's neglect has reached a "discriminatory" level, noting that as of 2015, the entire budget for improving infrastructure in Jerusalem was 880 million shekels ($256m) - but Kufr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp were allocated just 800,000 shekels ($233,000) between them.

Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


Chiefs, somehow, found a new way to break your heart: 'This one's for real' (SAM MELLINGER, JANUARY 06, 2018, Kansas City Star)

Chiefs fans don't deserve this, and that's not really a compliment to Chiefs fans, either. Nobody deserves this. Not the guy who cut you off in traffic, not the lady who wouldn't hold the elevator door for you, not even the punk kid who won't stop kicking your seat on the plane.

Sports are supposed to be fun. They're supposed to be a reason to get together with your family, or call a friend you haven't talked to in a while, or just forget about your bills and your problems and that weird noise your car is making.

They're not supposed to kick you in the teeth. They're not supposed to make you hurt, and make you wonder why the hell you put up with it. They're not supposed to mock you for caring, for investing in a team that's done nothing but let you down for 48 -- wait, nope, make that 49 -- years.

The Chiefs are an original franchise, their founder an irreplaceable part of NFL history, and the one thing they've done better than anyone is find new ways to stomp the joy from your heart.

You have to give them credit, though. Even for the Chiefs, this 22-21 blown ball of shame loss to the mediocre Titans in a wild-card playoff game on Saturday was expert-level teeth kicking.

You never know exactly how the Chiefs will let you down. You just know they will, and it will hurt.

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Taiwan isn't China, and Taiwanese aren't Chinese (Jeff Jacoby, 1/07/18, The Boston Globe)

On the rare occasions when Taiwan attracts media attention in the United States -- for example, when then-president-elect Donald Trump made a point of taking a congratulatory phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's president -- there is always much talk of the "One-China" policy, the old dogma that Taiwan and the mainland are inextricable elements of a single country.

The Communist regime in Beijing clings fiercely to that claim, in effect maintaining that Taiwan is a renegade Chinese province and not a unique country. During the decades when Taiwan was an authoritarian state under Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party, Taipei's government echoed the "One-China" fiction, claiming that it was the sole rightful ruler of all China.

Taiwan abandoned that delusion when it became a democracy in the 1980s. But relations with China still cast a giant shadow over Taiwanese politics and society. Beijing goes to great lengths to blackball Taiwan in international forums, reacting menacingly to any suggestion that Taiwan be treated as sovereign. At times China has resorted to naked intimidation: In 1995 and 1996, as Taiwan prepared to hold its first freely contested presidential election, China launched missiles at Taiwan's shores -- a warning to voters not to support the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

At the same time, China and Taiwan are economically intertwined. China is Taiwan's biggest trade partner, absorbing 40 percent of the island's exports. Some 2 million Taiwanese live and work in China, and Taiwan's foreign direct investment in China has surpassed $10 billion a year. Moreover, millions of tourists from the mainland visit Taiwan each year.

But neither China's military threats nor its economic pull -- nor the fact that 95 percent of Taiwan's population is ethnically Han Chinese -- induces my dinner companions to describe themselves as anything but Taiwanese. None feels any emotional affinity for China. None wishes to see China and Taiwan reunited. All three reject the "One China" posture.

There's no such thing as race.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


50 Reasons We're Living Through the Greatest Period in World History  : Everyone should be thankful for how far we've come. (Morgan Housel,  Jan 29, 2014, Motley Fool)

39. The average American car got 13 miles per gallon in 1975, and more than 26 miles per gallon in 2013, according to the Energy Protection Agency. This has an effect identical to cutting the cost of gasoline in half.

40. Annual inflation in the United States hasn't been above 10% since 1981 and has been below 5% in 77% of years over the past seven decades. When you consider all the hatred directed toward the Federal Reserve, this is astounding.

41. The percentage of Americans age 65 and older who live in poverty has dropped from nearly 30% in 1966 to less than 10% by 2010. For the elderly, the war on poverty has pretty much been won.

42. Adjusted for inflation, the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees has increased from $378 in 1940 to $1,277 by 2010. What used to be a safety net is now a proper pension.

43. If you think Americans aren't prepared for retirement today, you should have seen what it was like a century ago. In 1900, 65% of men over age 65 were still in the labor force. By 2010, that figure was down to 22%. The entire concept of retirement is unique to the past few decades. Half a century ago, most Americans worked until they died.

44. From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade. During the 2000s, that fell to three per 100,000, according to The Economist.

45. The cost of solar panels has declined by 75% since 2008, according to the Department of Energy. Last I checked, the sun is offering its services for free. 

46. As recently as 1950, nearly 40% of American homes didn't have a telephone. Today, there are 500 million Internet-connected devices in America, or enough for 5.7 per household.

47. According to AT&T archives and the Dallas Fed, a three-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost $341 in 1915, and $12.66 in 1960, adjusted for inflation. Today, Republic Wireless offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $5 a month.

48. In 1990, the American auto industry produced 7.15 vehicles per auto employee. In 2010 it produced 11.2 vehicles per employee. Manufacturing efficiency has improved dramatically.

49. You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic's 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it's $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America's poorest are some of the world's richest. 

50. Only 4% of humans get to live in America. Odds are you're one of them. We've got it made. Be thankful. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


Canada's Unemployment Rate Lowest in 4 Years (Theophilos Argitis, 1/06/18, Bloomberg News)

Canada's unemployment rate plunged to the lowest in more than 40 years, suddenly raising the odds of a Bank of Canada rate hike this month.

The jobless rate fell to 5.7 percent in December, Statistics Canada said Friday in Ottawa, the lowest in the current data series that begins in 1976. The number of jobs rose by 78,600, beating expectations and bringing the full-year employment gain to 422,500. That's the best annual increase since 2002.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


In Winter, More Raccoons Fall Through Ceilings (Karin Brulliard, 1/06/18, The Washington Post)

Nov. 23 was not a typical workday at one Toronto-area office building. When employees showed up, there was a gaping hole in the ceiling above one desk. Underneath the desk, near the legs of a red chair, sat a masked intruder looking remarkably relaxed.

It was a raccoon, and it had crashed through the ceiling.

For Brad Gates and his team, the event was a typical workday. The wildlife control company he's run for three decades fields such a call -- about a raccoon plummeting through a ceiling, stunning the people below -- about every month, making this little fellow a usual suspect, if a bit heftier at 40 pounds. Also, Gates recalled, because it was morning, the nocturnal animal was "fast asleep under the desk."

Such incidents occur year-round. But wildlife professionals say they are a bit more common in the cold of winter, when raccoons, which are adept at locating and squeezing through even small crevices in buildings and houses, cozy down in nooks of human shelters for longer stretches of time. Squirrels love attics, too, but when testing the load-bearing limits of ceilings, raccoons have a weight disadvantage. That is particularly true in commercial buildings, which often feature dropped ceilings meant to hide infrastructure, not serve as raccoon terrain.

"They may have been living in the building for a long period of time and may have found the one tile that wasn't set in as it should be," Gates said. "And everything just comes tumbling down under the raccoon."

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Trump Campaign Digital Director Throws Jared Kushner, Eric Trump Under The Bus (Caroline Orr, January 7, 2018, Shareblue.com

Brad Parscale, digital director for the Trump campaign, took to Twitter Friday to hit back at claims made by author Michael Wolff in the book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," an explosive new tell-all about the Trump administration. But while Parscale was trying to defend Donald Trump, he ended up throwing two members of Trump's own family under the bus instead.

"Jared Kushner and Eric Trump were joint deputy campaign managers" whose approval was needed before any decisions were made about the campaign's operations, Parscale said in a tweet.

"Nobody else. Not one person made a decision without their approval," he wrote.

These cats are using this bus at this point:

Image result for mad max bus

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Spinning the hits: quantum radio comes one step closer : How do you communicate in environments that radio waves can't penetrate? By harnessing the power of magnetism. (Andrew P Street , 1/07/18, Cosmos)

We take easy communication for granted in our globally-connected world, but there are plenty of places where the environment hinders the straightforward use of radio signals: under water, for example, or underground, or in areas of high electromagnetic interference. This also poses challenges for mapping the oceans or inside mines, where GPS cannot penetrate.

The issue is that the higher the radio frequency, the less good the signal is at penetrating matter. This is why your phone cuts out while you're driving in tunnels, while the lower frequency FM radio reception gets patchy but the even lower frequency AM radio continues to be reasonably audible.

A solution, however, may be at hand. Researchers at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, US, have managed a proof-of-concept for "quantum radio", manipulating the magnetic field of rubidium atoms to send digital signals. The work is described in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Suspected alien probe turns out to be lump of rock : An unusual asteroid thought by many to be evidence of ET has been identified as natural in origin. (Andrew Masterson, 1/07/18, Cosmos)

Nup, still not an alien craft. That's the central finding of a review of a near-Earth asteroid first sighted in 1991 and which has been sparking stories of extraterrestrial fly-bys ever since.

The 20 metre-diameter object, dubbed 1991 VG, was first spotted by US astronomer James Scotti in November of that year. It immediately attracted a lot of attention for two reasons. First, it was awfully close to Earth - astronomers calculated that within a few weeks of discovery it would pass just 450,000 kilometres from the planet.

Second, it exhibited a heliocentric orbit very similar to that of Earth, which was unusual, not to say unprecedented. 

At the time, these observations led to a flurry of theories attempting to explain its appearance and behaviour. Some astronomers considered that 1991 VG was simply a newly discovered type of small asteroid, but others weren't convinced.

Scotti himself suggested that based on its orbital pattern it might be a spacecraft returning to Earth. Other researchers looked at its light curve - the way light reflected off it in multiple images - and concluded that it may well possess reflective side panels. It was possibly a tumbling satellite, they suggested.

From there, it was only a short narrative distance from the possibility of a human-made satellite to an alien-made one, and theories that 1991 VG was an extraterrestrial probe emerged. They have proven remarkably resilient.

The object disappeared from earth orbit in 1992. Based on its trajectory, however, astronomers were confident it would return at some point in 2017. When news of its expected arrival surfaced in 2015, all the old alien theories were dusted off and received a surprising amount of coverage in rather a lot of publications, some wackier than others.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM



THE NAVIER-STOKES EQUATIONS capture in a few succinct terms one of the most ubiquitous features of the physical world: the flow of fluids. The equations, which date to the 1820s, are today used to model everything from ocean currents to turbulence in the wake of an airplane to the flow of blood in the heart.

While physicists consider the equations to be as reliable as a hammer, mathematicians eye them warily. To a mathematician, it means little that the equations appear to work. They want proof that the equations are unfailing: that no matter the fluid, and no matter how far into the future you forecast its flow, the mathematics of the equations will still hold.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The Russia Investigations: Sessions On Edge, Bannon Exiled And Internecine Combat (PHILIP EWING, 1/06/18, NPR)

An explosive New York Times scoop revealed that Sessions tried to smear then-FBI Director James Comey before he was fired. The report, by Michael Schmidt, also said President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and when Sessions did recuse, the president fustigated him. Sessions offered to quit but Trump said no.

So not only is Sessions persona non grata with the president -- that's been the case for months. Now the public and people inside the Justice Department know Sessions was actively trying to undermine his own FBI director, as part of a pattern of conduct directed by Trump -- who himself had asked Comey to lay off then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, then fired Comey, etc.

All this could make life very uncomfortable for Sessions inside DOJ and with the FBI. A small but vocal coterie of House Republicans has already been calling for Sessions' head. (They have no vote but they do keep the anti-Sessions drumbeat going inside the conservative sphere.)

Plus Trump did not invite Sessions to a retreat he's holding over the weekend at Camp David. Plus EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt felt comfortable enough with this state of play to wink and nod to Politico about how he'd be interested in becoming attorney general ... if the job were open.

January 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM

OUR GODFATHER (self-reference alert)

The Moral Conservatism of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

That part of the American past which was his especial province, Puritan New England, exerted an influence in the long run substantially conservative. Though born of a stern dissent, Puritanism in America soon displayed a character more demandingly orthodox, according to its own canons, than the comparative leniency from which it had fled. In The Scarlet Letter, retrospectively in The House of Seven Gables, in many of the Twice Told Tales and Mosses from an Old Manse, that Puritan spirit is described with inimitable perspicacity: fiercely censorious, resolute, industrious, allied with free political institutions, introspective, repressive of emotion, seeking after godliness with a zeal that does not spare self-pity or even worldly ambition. The Puritan character, for all its lasting influence upon the American mind, stands poles apart from the common aspirations and impulses of modern American life. Suspicious of alteration and expansion, repressive of self, Puritanism detests the hedonistic appetites that predominate. Puritanism is moral conservatism in its most unbending form: and of all the varieties of mutiny that the modern world suffers, moral revolution is the most violent. Because of Hawthorne, America has not been able to forget wholly the Puritans, either their vices or their virtues.

Yet this achievement, magnificent in a lesser man, is merely incidental to Hawthorne's chief accomplishment: impressing the idea of sin upon a nation which would like to forget it. Hawthorne was never mainly an historical romancer; his burning interest was morality. Writing such artful moral allegories as had not been produced since Bunyan, he chastened American optimism by declaring that sin, in quality and in quantity, is virtually constant; that projects of reform must begin and end with the human heart; that our real enemy is not social institutions but the devil within us; that the fanatical improver of mankind through alteration is, commonly, in truth a destroyer of souls.

Belief in the dogma of original sin has been prominent in the system of every great conservative thinker--in the Christian resignation of Burke, the hard-headed pessimism of John Adams, the "Calvinistic Catholicism" of Newman, the stern vigour of J. F. Stephen. With Hawthorne the contemplation of sin is his obsession, almost his life. "True civilization," wrote Baudelaire in his journal, "does not lie in progress or steam or table-turning. It lies in the diminution of the marks of original sin." Though so radically different in mind and heart, Hawthorne and Baudelaire were close together in this view. By heroic effort, Hawthorne suggests, men may diminish the influence of original sin in the world, but this struggle requires nearly their undivided attention. Not that Hawthorne is a true Puritan, or perhaps even a strict Christian. His novels are not tracts. He dissects the anatomy of sin with a curiosity insatiable and even cruel. In The Scarlet Letter, and again in The Marble Faun, he suggests that sin, for all its consequences, may be an enlightening influence upon certain natures: although it burns, it wakens. Perhaps our regeneration is impossible without sin's agency. "Is Sin, then--which we deem such a fearful blackness in the universe--" he makes Kenyon speculate in The Marble Faun--"is it, like Sorrow, merely an element of human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained? Did Adam fall that we might ultimately rise to a loftier paradise than his?"

But whatever sin affects, we must reckon with it as the greatest force which agitates society. In The Blithedale Romance, as in a half-dozen short stories, Hawthorne describes the catastrophe of well-intentioned humanitarianism between moral blinkers. He did not convince America of the necessity for taking sin into every social calculation. It remains merely an uncomfortable theory to men of the twentieth century, and an age that has beheld human beings consumed in the furnaces of Auschwitz or worked to death like old horses in the Siberian arctic, still pretends that it is no more than a theological sham. Even a critic like Mr. R. C. Churchill, often astute, an inheritor of the old English Liberal tradition, writes doggedly (in his recent Disagreements) of "the barbarous, pre-civilised notion of Original Sin"--although a Fabian like Mr. Grossman now admits its reality. Hawthorne did not make the doctrine of sin popular, but he left a good many people uneasily mindful that it is possibly true. This is his powerful conservative achievement.

"A revolution, or anything that interrupts social order, may afford opportunities for the individual display of eminent virtues," wrote Hawthorne in his sketch The Old Tory; "but its effects are pernicious to general morality. Most people are so constituted that they can be virtuous only in a certain routine." This is Burke's mind, through and through. Hawthorne returns to this theme of moral conservatism throughout his works, but his most lengthy analysis of the destroying power of sinful impulse, once revolutionary moral precepts are practised, is The Blithedale Romance. In that novel, he turned his back, with good-natured contempt, upon the idealists and radicals of Brook Farm, upon Emerson and Alcott and Ripley and Margaret Fuller and "all that knot of dreamers." For they had forgotten the sinfulness of man, and with it, the proper functions and limits of moral action. When the story is done, the fanatic reformer who is its chief character, Hollingsworth, is grimly resigned to attempting the reformation of one criminal only--himself. "The besetting sin of a philanthropist, it appears to me," Hawthorne says through the mouth of Coverdale, "is apt to be a moral obliquity. His sense of honour ceases to be the sense of other honourable men. At some point of his course--I know not exactly when or where--he is tempted to potter with the right, and can scarcely forbear persuading himself that the importance of his public ends renders it allowable to throw aside his private conscience."

The kerfuffle over Leon Kass and Hawthorne's story The Birthmark was the proximate cause of this blog. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


This town voted for Trump and welcomes hundreds of refugees (Salena Zito, January 6, 2018, The New York Post

Erie, Pa . -- After taking his oath of citizenship late last year, Fidel Bahati walked straight out of the Erie federal courthouse and into the offices of the Army Reserves to enlist.

"God bless America. I am an American now, and I will now serve my country who has provided me so much opportunity to better myself," he said.

Bahati, who arrived in this northwestern Pennsylvania city seven years ago after spending nearly five years in a refugee camp in Kenya, will now serve the Army part-time while studying for a degree in electrical and computer-engineering technology at Penn State's Behrend campus. "It's a double major. It is hard. My first semester I had a 4.0, my second semester the same, this time I might only get a 3.9," he said.

His dream? "Work at General Electric of course," he said of the company that has been Erie's largest employer for over 100 years.

Bahati's work ethic, drive to succeed, connection to community and willingness to assimilate and serve his country are all linked to the virtues of American exceptionalism. Seven years ago he spoke not a word of English. Born in the Congo, his family was taken by rebels and disappeared before his eyes. He had never left Africa, rode on a plane, been to a foreign country or even seen a snowflake until he moved to Erie in 2010 when he was 21, chosen by a local resettlement program.

Last week there were snowflakes piled nearly six feet high all around him. "Erie is my hometown now. Many people try to encourage me to go big cities like New York, but I don't want to. I have roots here, the people here are family, they have treated me well," he said, beaming with pride.

Erie County seems like a contradiction to many outsiders. It voted by 17 percentage points for Barack Obama in 2012 and then turned around four years later and supported Donald Trump in 2016. It's also home to the one of the largest refugee populations in Pennsylvania, which took in 3,219 refugees in 2016 -- ranking ninth among all states in the union. [...]

Sitting in his office, located in a former synagogue, Ferati explains how he knows he has truly made it in his new homeland. "I am a Muslim, working in a Jewish synagogue, in a majority Catholic town, with much of my education coming through Catholic schools, who is married to an Albanian Russian.

"You know what I think about that? Two words. It's American, very American."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


An Eyelash-Freezing 'Icy Hell': The One Spot That Could Feel Like Minus 100 (JESS BIDGOOD, KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and JACK HEALY, JAN. 5, 2018, NY Times)

The moment you step out into the frozen air on the way up Mount Washington -- one of the most frigid spots in the lower 48 -- the icy wind steals your breath and freezes your eyelashes. You can't blink. The cold stabs your face and numbs your earlobes to rubber.

"It's an icy hell," said Amy Loughlin, 50, who was visiting from Austin, Tex., and scaling the mountain, the highest in the Northeast, in the back of a SnowCoach -- a van retrofitted with tanklike treads to handle the blowing snow and treacherous roads.

With much of the Northeast and Midwest feeling like a block of ice, the temperature here in the high peaks of New Hampshire's White Mountains was forecast to drop to 40 degrees below zero overnight Friday. The wind chill could make the air feel as cold as 100 below zero. That is not a typo. Negative. 100. [...]

The temperature on Mount Washington had plunged to 26 below on Friday afternoon -- 70 degrees below with wind chill factored in. The wind had gusted up to 122 miles per hour. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Trump, Defending His Mental Fitness, Says He's a 'Very Stable Genius' (PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JAN. 6, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories have generated endless op-ed columns, magazine articles, books, professional panel discussions and cable television speculation. [...]

"These amateurs shouldn't be diagnosing at a distance, and they don't know what they're talking about," said Allen Frances, a former psychiatry department chairman at Duke University School of Medicine who helped develop the profession's diagnostic standards for mental disorders.

Dr. Frances, author of "Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump," said the president's bad behavior should not be blamed on mental illness. "He is definitely unstable," Dr. Frances said. "He is definitely impulsive. He is world-class narcissistic not just for our day but for the ages. You can't say enough about how incompetent and unqualified he is to be leader of the free world. But that does not make him mentally ill."

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Donald Trump Goes Full Fredo (DAVID FRUM, 1/06/18, The Atlantic)

"I can handle things. I'm smart! Not like everybody says, like dumb. I'm smart and I want respect!"

This morning's presidential Twitter outburst recalls those words of Fredo Corleone's in one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather series. Trump tweeted that his "two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," and in a subsequent tweet called himself a "very stable genius."

Trump may imagine that he's Michael Corleone, the tough and canny rightful heir--or even Sonny Corleone, the terrifyingly violent but at least powerful heir apparent--but after today he is Fredo forever.

There's a key difference between film and reality, though: The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.

...but this week has been pure joy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Can Washington Be Automated? : An algorithmic lobbyist sounds like a joke. But it's already here. Here's who the robots are coming for next. (NANCY SCOLA January/February 2018, Politico)

Hatch's varied career is the longest ever for a Senate Republican; he's been a video-game critic and an advocate for the "Ground Zero Mosque," and in his four decades on Capitol Hill he has championed hundreds of bills and taken thousands of votes both obscure and important. Figuring out Orrin Hatch isn't a trivial job, even for a seasoned D.C. hand. But FiscalNote has all that data distilled, analyzed and weaponized. The display tells us that Hatch is formidable not just for his seniority, but because he's in the top 3 percent of all legislators when it comes to effectiveness--or at least he was, before he announced his impending retirement. When he throws his weight behind a bill, it's likely to become law. What's more, his effectiveness varies: It's high when the topic is health, but drops some on tech issues.

The software drills deeper. One immediate surprise it delivers is that the lawmaker most similar to Hatch's interests and patterns is Louisiana's John Kennedy, a 66-year-old Republican who's been on Capitol Hill all of 11 months. Then, with a few more clicks, it's crunching the woeful record of a shall-remain-nameless member of Congress who occupies the bottom third of legislators in the house, and who, the software dryly notes, is "fairly ineffective as a primary co-sponsor."

There's more. Much more. Hwang's system analyzes interests, not just people, and quickly summarizes everything knowable about who is trying to pass what kind of rules about the most obscure topic I can come up with on the spot: "dairy." A couple more clicks after that, and we're looking at a summarized version of a bill tackling cybersecurity that the software has considered and rendered a judgment on, when it comes to the probability that it will become law. We're not talking a rough estimate. There's a decimal: 78.1 percent.

This kind of data-crunching might sound hopelessly wonky, a kind of baseball-stats-geek approach to Washington. But if you've spent years attempting to make sense of the Washington information ecosystem--which can often feel like a swirling mass of partially baked ideas, misunderstandings and half-truths--the effect is mesmerizing. FiscalNote takes a morass of documents and history and conventional wisdom and distills it into a precise serving of understanding, the kind on which decisions are made. Here, the software is telling us that if we're looking for an up-and-coming Republican to get on board a health bill Hatch is pushing, Kennedy's a good bet. Want it bipartisan? The system will suggest likely Democratic backers, too.

If you're an aide, one of the people walking on the street outside from a power breakfast to a meeting on the Hill, there's another way to think about what FiscalNote is doing: It's doing your job.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Did Trump Obstruct Justice? (BARRY BERKE, NOAH BOOKBINDER and NORMAN L. EISENJAN. 5, 2018, NY Times)

We now know, for example, that the president took aggressive steps to prevent Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department's investigation because he needed Mr. Sessions to protect and safeguard him, as he believed Eric Holder Jr. and Robert Kennedy did for their presidents. This shows that from the outset the president was concerned that he needed protection from the impact of any investigation. In fact, when the president's efforts were unsuccessful, he purportedly responded by saying, "Where's my Roy Cohn?" perhaps suggesting that Mr. Trump wanted the attorney general of the United States to act as his personal criminal defense lawyer -- a startling view into his state of mind.

Equally significant are new revelations that the president had drafted a letter to the F.B.I. director at the time, James Comey, describing the Russian investigation as "fabricated and politically motivated." Those disclosures support that the president's statements to the press and the public in connection with firing Mr. Comey were misleading. The president, of course, publicly claimed that Mr. Comey was fired because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. This matters because attempts to cover up the truth are classic indicators of a culpable state of mind under the obstruction statutes.

In this same vein, the Wolff book claims that the president's lawyers believed that his efforts aboard Air Force One last summer to shape his son Donald Jr.'s statement about a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians was "an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears." Mr. Wolff also asserts that one of Mr. Trump's spokesmen quit over the incident because of a concern that it was obstruction of justice. That was a wise move. If the president knowingly caused his son to make a false statement to interfere with the investigations or cover up the facts, that alone could constitute obstruction of justice.

Another ominous note for the president is The Times's reporting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has substantiated Mr. Comey's narrative of his dealings with the president, including through notes maintained by members of the White House staff. Whatever one may think of some of Mr. Comey's decisions, he has a spotless reputation for candor. The president's reputation is the opposite. But in a swearing contest between two witnesses, a responsible prosecutor looks for independent corroboration no matter who those witnesses are. It seems Mr. Mueller is finding it.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Causes behind Iran's protests: A preliminary account (Ali Fathollah-Nejad, 1/06/18, Al Jazeera)

Since March 2016, Iran has seen 1,700 social protests, according to the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-e Isargara-e Enqelqb-e Eslami), a conservative party of which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a founding member. Over the course of 2017, hundreds of protests took place by workers, pensioners, teachers, and students. Labour protests continued due to unpaid salaries, neoliberal economic policies and resistance towards labour organising, which were confronted with harsh repression by security forces and sanctioned by arbitrary layoffs.

The Right and Left don't want Rouhani to Westernize.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


US Trade Deficit Rises To Near Six-Year High On Record Imports (Reuters, 1/05/18)

The U.S. trade deficit increased more than expected in November as imports of goods surged to a record high amid strong domestic demand, making it likely that trade will subtract from economic growth in the fourth quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Friday the trade gap widened 3.2 percent to $50.5 billion. That was the highest level since January 2012 and followed an upwardly revised $48.9 billion shortfall in October.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Fire and Fury Is Much Ado about Nothing New (Jonah Goldberg, January 5, 2018, National Review)

As for Trump himself, Wolff describes the president as an easily bored narcissist with a hair-trigger attention span and a thin-skinned ego.

But this has been reported countless times already. Last month, the New York Times described a president who spends, daily, somewhere between four and eight hours "in front of a television," albeit sometimes with it muted.

You can call such things "fake news" -- as the president himself often does. But even a normal citizen can follow Trump's Twitter feed or listen to him speak and see that he is, by any conventional standard, obsessed with TV coverage. We've known for years -- and the White House has never denied -- that the only print-news clips the president regularly reads are the curated stories about himself.

Similarly, if you've watched or read virtually any interview with the president -- never mind listened to him at a rally -- you've observed how the president struggles to complete a line of thought without being distracted. Diagramming his sentences often requires a grammatical Rube Goldberg machine to connect verbs and nouns, subjects and predicates.

In short, even discounting for hearsay and exaggeration, the Trump in Fire and Fury seems utterly plausible save for those who have chosen not to believe their own lying eyes.

...is that the Gorilla Channel story was indistinguishable as satire.  If it weren't for the dehumanizing on immigrants,. the comedy alone would make this presidency worthwhile.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


THE LOST LADY 'Inconsolable' Melania Trump couldn't cope with marriage to 'chronically unfaithful' President according to shocking White House book Fire and Fury (Grant Rollings, 6th January 2018, The Sun)

DISTRAUGHT and broken, Melania Trump told her husband  she simply could not bear the pressure of being First Lady, according to the sensational  book that has laid  the White House bare.

"Is this the future?" the "inconsolable" ex-model reportedly asked mogul Donald after the publication of nude pictures taken early in her career.

She then told him she "wouldn't be able to take it", according to the explosive work, Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House, by author Michael Wolff.

But Trump, who the book claims was "chronically unfaithful", calmed her down, assuring  her that what she saw as a nightmare would be over soon.

At that stage he was still just running for the top office and he made his wife "a solemn  guarantee: There was simply no way he would win".

According the book, he urged: "Just a little longer . . . it would all be over in November."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Trump's Recusal Directive Adds to Obstruction Questions (Eric Tucker and Chad Day, 1/05/18, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump's effort to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid, in