April 30, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Mueller Has Dozens of Inquiries for Trump in Broad Quest on Russia Ties and Obstruction (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDTAPRIL 30, 2018, NY Times)

 Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia's election interference, has at least four dozen questions on an exhaustive array of subjects he wants to ask President Trump to learn more about his ties to Russia and determine whether he obstructed the inquiry itself, according to a list of the questions obtained by The New York Times.

The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president's thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president's high-profile firings of the F.B.I. director and his first national security adviser, his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But they also touch on the president's businesses; any discussions with his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, about a Moscow real estate deal; whether the president knew of any attempt by Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition; any contacts he had with Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser who claimed to have inside information about Democratic email hackings; and what happened during Mr. Trump's 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.

The questions provide the most detailed look yet inside Mr. Mueller's investigation, which has been shrouded in secrecy since he was appointed nearly a year ago. The majority relate to possible obstruction of justice, demonstrating how an investigation into Russia's election meddling grew to include an examination of the president's conduct in office. Among them are queries on any discussions Mr. Trump had about his attempts to fire Mr. Mueller himself and what the president knew about possible pardon offers to Mr. Flynn.

"What efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?" Mr. Mueller planned to ask, according to questions read by the special counsel investigators to the president's lawyers, who compiled them into a list. That document was provided to The Times by a person outside Mr. Trump's legal team.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


'There's No Reason to Apologize' for Muslim Ban Remarks, Trump Says (Adam Liptak, April 30, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump said on Monday that he would not apologize for campaign statements calling for a "Muslim ban," appearing to undercut an assertion at a Supreme Court argument last week from Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco. In defending Mr. Trump's efforts to restrict travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, Mr. Francisco said that the president had already disavowed the statements.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 PM


PM's Iran revelations unlikely to diminish global support for nuclear accord (Raphael Ahren, 4/30/18, Times of Israel)

[D]id his 20-minute presentation deliver the goods?

"The information in the documents Netanyahu revealed is not new," tweeted Dan Shapiro, who was US ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obam and is a supporter of the deal. "It confirms what we have long known. Iran had a nuclear weapons program, froze but preserved it in 2003, and continues to preserve it to restart at a time of its choosing."

Many analysts concurred, noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged as much years ago.

Even some Israeli officials staunchly opposed to the deal expressed a certain level of disappointment in private conversations with Netanyahu's much-hyped presentation, having expected tangible proof that Iran is violating the accord's terms.

All you really need to know about Iran's nuclear program is that the most daring spy operation in Israeli history proves they abandoned it in 2003 when they were trying to get W to let them in out of the Cold.
Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Exclusive: Pence's doctor alerted WH aides about Ronny Jackson concerns last fall (Manu Raju, 4/30/18, CNN)

Vice President Mike Pence's physician privately raised alarms within the White House last fall that President Donald Trump's doctor may have violated federal privacy protections for a key patient -- Pence's wife, Karen -- and intimidated the vice president's doctor during angry confrontations over the episode.

He can fire Kelly, but not Pence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Here's What Happens When You Take a Group of Teachers to a Gun Range  : The Chicago-Sun Times teamed up with Ogilvy & Mather Chicago (aD wEEK, 4/30/18)

,,,they all shoot the vice principal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


'Catastrophe': French museum discovers half of its collection are fakes (Agence France-Presse, 29 Apr 2018)

The tiny 8,000-strong community of Elne just outside Perpignan re-opened its Etienne Terrus Museum, dedicated to the works of the local artist who was born in 1857 and died in 1922, on Friday after extensive renovation work.

But an art historian brought in to reorganise the museum following the recent acquisition of around 80 paintings, found that nearly 60% of the entire collection was fake.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Trump campaign has paid portions of Michael Cohen's legal fees: Sources (KATHERINE FAULDERS, JOHN SANTUCCI SOO RIN KIM Apr 30, 2018, abc nEWS)

Federal Election Commission records show three payments made from the Trump campaign to a firm representing Cohen. The "legal consulting" payments were made to McDermott Will and Emery -- a law firm where Cohen's attorney Stephen Ryan is a partner -- between October 2017 and January 2018.

It was those three payments, sources tell ABC News, that were related to Cohen's legal defense.

Cohen has said that he did not have a formal role in the Trump campaign, and it is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal use - defined by the FEC as payments for expenses "that would exist irrespective of the candidate's campaign or responsibilities as a federal officeholder."

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Kelly thinks he's saving U.S. from disaster, calls Trump 'idiot,' say White House staffers (Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube, Kristen Welker and Stephanie Ruhle, Apr.30.2018, NBC News)

White House chief of staff John Kelly has eroded morale in the West Wing in recent months with comments to aides that include insulting the president's intelligence and casting himself as the savior of the country, according to eight current and former White House officials.

The officials said Kelly portrays himself to Trump administration aides as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government. He has referred to Trump as "an idiot" multiple times to underscore his point, according to four officials who say they've witnessed the comments.

As the Trumpbots say, "How is this news?"
Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Born In The USA: How America Created Iran's Nuclear Program (Steve Inskeep, 9/18/15, NPR)

"It started in 1957," he says, "and ironically, it is a creation of the United States. The U.S. provided Iran with its first research reactor -- a nuclear reactor, a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor that is still functioning and still operational in Tehran."

The U.S. built that nuclear reactor in 1967 on the campus of Tehran University. It also provided Iran with fuel for that reactor -- weapons-grade enriched uranium.

Ayatollah Khomeni famously said the unfinished nuclear power plants in Bushehr should be used as silos to store wheat.

Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It was part of President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program, an initiative to provide countries with peaceful, civilian nuclear technologies in the hope that they wouldn't pursue military nuclear programs.

The beneficiaries included Israel, India, Pakistan -- and Iran, then ruled by a U.S.-backed monarch, Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Under the program, many countries received what Iran did: their own small reactors, their own dollops of fuel. But, says Vaez, "as a result of the oil boom of the 1970s, that [Iranian] nuclear program morphed into a full-fledged civilian nuclear program."

Iran had money to exploit the knowledge it was given, and to develop scientific minds. The shah's government paid for dozens of Iranian students to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and study nuclear engineering in the mid-1970s, the university said.

"The majority of people who returned to the country and started running the nuclear program were trained at MIT," Vaez notes.

The trainees have been central to Iran's nuclear program ever since.

There was a moment in the 1970s when American officials thought they might be making a mistake. They feared Iran would become one of the nations seeking nuclear weapons.

U.S. diplomats began negotiating to limit Iran's nuclear program. They ran into a problem familiar to diplomats today: Iran under the shah insisted it had the same right to nuclear power as any nation.

"The shah famously said that unless it was clear Iran was not being treated as a second-class country, he would look for alternative vendors and he would not work with U.S. companies to acquire nuclear technology for Iran."

Iran bought nuclear plants from West Germany and France. The research reactor at Tehran University kept working. And then the campus became famous for something else.

The Father Of Iran's Nuclear Program Recalls How It All Began (Golnaz Esfandiari, 7/03/15, Radio Liberty)

It was late in 1973 when Akbar Etemad got the call -- the shah wanted to discuss ways to launch a nuclear program that would cement Iran's place among the world's modern nations.

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi had reached the conclusion that Iran needed to diversify its energy sources for the future in order to provide for a rising population.

The Swiss-educated Etemad, an expert on atomic energy and chancellor of Bu-Ali Sina University in Hamedan, set to work on preparing a feasibility study for the construction of several nuclear power plants.

A month later he personally delivered his findings to the shah, who immediately started reading the study.

"The shah read the report in about an hour and a half, while asking questions," Etemad told RFE/RL by telephone from France. "When he was done he handed the report to [Prime Minister Amir-Abbas] Hoveyda and said: 'I fully agree with Etemad's [assessment]. This has to be carefully implemented.'"

So it was decided. Iran was going nuclear, and Etemad would be the man to steer the program.

The first step -- getting the shah up to speed so he could make informed decisions. Every week, for half a year, Etemad personally gave the shah lectures on nuclear energy and nuclear technology.

Over the course of those discussions, Etemad says, he tried to get a feel for the shah's thinking. Did he seek a nuclear program entirely for peaceful purposes, or one that would also include a military dimension?

"It wasn't easy to understand his aim," he says.

After about six months of tutoring, Etemad cautiously broached the subject.

"One day I told the shah: 'Now that you know the difference between building a reactor and a bomb, enrichment, and so on, what do you want me to do?'"

Etemad says the shah told him that the priority was to gain access to nuclear energy, but he appeared to leave his options open for the future development of a nuclear weapon.

"Right now we don't need a nuclear weapon because Iran is a major regional power," Etemad recalls the shah saying. But if in the next 10, 15, or 20 years the regional military balance changed, the shah added, "then we would have to see what needs to be done."

As a result, Etemad worked to ensure that if Iran ever decided to build a bomb, it would be able to do so.

The IAEA's Iran Report: Assessment and Implications (PETER CRAIL, DARYL G. KIMBALL, GREG THIELMANN, Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011)

Because the IAEA report is based largely on intelligence the United States and other IAEA member states have been sharing with the agency for some time, in addition to the agency's own investigations, the information in the report likely provides greater insight into current U.S. assessments about Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. intelligence community appears to stand by the judgment made in the 2007 NIE that Iran had a nuclear weapons program that was halted in the fall of 2003. Moreover, in his testimony before a Senate committee in March 2011, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that the intelligence community still had a high level of confidence that Iran has not yet made a decision restart its nuclear weapons program.

Because the weapons program is believed to refer to the series of projects the IAEA report details, Clapper's statement is not inconsistent with the notion that some weapons-related R&D has resumed which is not part of a determined, integrated weapons-development program of the type that Iran maintained prior to 2003.

Consistent with the finding of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the IAEA report says that a comprehensive weapons program (known as the AMAD Plan) "was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a 'halt order,'" in late 2003, but that some of the program's activities were resumed later. Key personnel are still involved in those renewed activities apparently tying up loose ends regarding their prior research and development work.

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


The End of Intelligence (Michael V. Hayden, April 28, 2018, NY Times)

It was no accident that the Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year in 2016 was "post-truth," a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief. To adopt post-truth thinking is to depart from Enlightenment ideas, dominant in the West since the 17th century, that value experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and a respect for ideas.

President Trump both reflects and exploits this kind of thinking. It is fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree. There was the candidate's claim that legions of Arabs celebrated wildly in New Jersey as the World Trade Center collapsed. He defended his calls for the intentional killing of the Sept. 11 terrorists' families because "they knew what was happening" and had "watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center," something for which there is zero evidence. He insinuated that Senator Ted Cruz's father had a hand in John F. Kennedy's assassination and that the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia had been murdered.

When pressed on specifics, the president has routinely denigrated those who questioned him, whether the "fake" media, "so called" judges, Washington insiders or the "deep state." He has also condemned Obama-era intelligence officials as "political hacks."

David Priess, an intelligence officer who once gave presidential daily briefings, asked me whether I thought Mr. Trump could distinguish between truth and untruth. He raised the controversial speech Mr. Trump gave at a Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2017, a speech that was overly political and occasionally tasteless. In the face of sharp criticism, the president said that the Scouts' leader had called him to say it was "the greatest speech that was ever made to them."

Of course, no such call ever occurred. But was Mr. Trump actually able to draw a distinction between the past that had really happened and the past that he needed at that moment? Mr. Priess's point was that you could sometimes convince a liar that he was wrong. What do you do with someone who does not distinguish between truth and untruth?

We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn't matter. [...]

Intelligence work -- at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition -- reflects these threatened Enlightenment values: gathering, evaluating and analyzing information, and then disseminating conclusions for use, study or refutation.

The problem--a historical one, not a Donald one--is pretending that only a small group of people should be privy to "intelligence."  Just open source it all and Donald will hear about it on Fox News discussions.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Rep. Nancy Pelosi: President Trump Might Qualify For the Nobel Peace Prize (EMILY ZANOTTI, April 30, 2018, Daily Wire)

Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi admitted Saturday that she believes there's a chance President Donald Trump could qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in bringing an end to the Korean War.

It would be indistinguishable from the Cuban Missile Crisis, if Castro had been more murderous and totalitarian.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


IDEOLOGY ISN'T REALLY ABOUT ISSUES: New research finds our attachment to political labels is based more on social identity than policy positions. (TOM JACOBS, 4/30/18, Pacific Standard)

It's a puzzle: Average Americans aren't especially ideological, but our political polarization is intense and growing. If we're not driven by fierce convictions, why the disdain for the other side?

New research provides an unsettling answer. While most people aren't all that invested in public policy, we are all driven by a deep impulse to divide the world between "them" and "us." We instinctively identify with one side of the political divide, and view the other as the enemy.

"Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences," argues political psychologist Lilliana Mason of the University of Maryland. The roots of today's political polarization, she writes, "are largely based in our social attachments to ideological labels, not only to thoughtful collections of opinions."

Both wings are almost purely reactionary, though there are a couple issues that divide them from each other and the other 60% of us--tribe for the Right and opposition to capitalism for the Left.

The problem for both is that, at the End of History, there is a massive consensus that dismisses their distinctive concern in favor of protestantism, democracy and capitalism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Exclusive: U.S. EPA grants biofuels waiver to billionaire Icahn's oil refinery - sources (Jarrett Renshaw, Chris Prentice, 4/30/18, Reuters) 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted a financial hardship waiver to an oil refinery owned by billionaire Carl Icahn, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, exempting the Oklahoma facility from requirements under a federal biofuels law, according to two industry sources briefed on the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


BLASTED LIMBS, BROKEN DREAMS: Israeli gunfire is taking a severe toll on the lower limbs of Palestinian protesters (Erin Cunningham and Hazem Balousha, APRIL 28, 2018, Washington Post)

Mohammad al-Ajouri is a lanky teenager who loves to run, a medal-winning track star with ambitions to compete abroad.

But last month, while participating in a protest along Gaza's border, he was struck by a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. It penetrated his calf, shattering his leg before exiting the shin. Doctors tried to save the limb, but an infection soon spread. The leg had to be amputated.

During the past month of demonstrations along the border between Gaza and Israel, at least 17 Palestinians have suffered gunshot wounds that ultimately cost them their legs, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza.

In at least three of the cases, Israeli authorities rejected the transfer of wounded Gazans to the West Bank, where they could receive medical care that might have saved their limbs, according to lawyers and one of the patients' families.

Since the protests began, Israeli troops have killed 43 Palestinians and wounded more than 3,500 with live ammunition, rubber bullets or shrapnel, the Health Ministry said. Of those, about 2,200 have suffered injuries to the legs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


High-Paying Jobs Go Begging While High School Grads Line Up for Bachelor's Degrees (Jon Marcus, April 29, 2018, Washington Monthly)

Seventy-percent of construction companies nationwide are having trouble finding qualified workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America; in Washington, the proportion is 80 percent. There are already at least 3,259 more jobs than Washingtonians to fill them in such skilled trades as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, sheet-metal work and pipe-fitting, the state auditor reports. Many pay more than the Washington average annual wage of $54,000. Of 260,000 "career jobs" expected to become available here over the next five years, according to the Washington Roundtable, an association of employers, one-third will not require bachelor's degrees.

The number of workers needed in the construction trades nationally is expected to rise 11 percent through 2026, far faster than other occupations, or by 747,600 new jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Construction, along with health care and personal care, will account for one-third of all new jobs through 2022, the agency says.

It also predicts that, between now and 2022, there will be a need for 138,200 new plumbers. While 7,000 people become electricians every year, about 9,000 retire, according to the National Electrical Contractors Association; by 2021, the nation will have to turn out 17,557 new electricians annually. And as politicians debate a massive overhaul of the nation's roads, bridges and airports, the U.S. Department of Education reportsthat there will be 68 percent more job openings in infrastructure-related fields in the next five years than there are people training to fill them.

"The economy is definitely pushing this issue to the forefront," said Amy Morrison Goings, president of the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, which educates students in these fields. "There isn't a day that goes by that a business doesn't contact the college and ask the faculty who's ready to go to work."

In all, some 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year don't require bachelor's degrees, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Yet the march to bachelor's degrees continues. The number of bachelor's degrees conferred has more than doubled in the last five decades, from 839,730 in 1970 to nearly 1.9 million in 2014-15, the last period for which the figures are available, the U.S. Department of Education reports. And while people who get them still are more likely to be employed and make more money than those who don't, that premium appears to be softening; their median earnings were lower in 2015, when adjusted for inflation, than in 2010, the department says. Meanwhile, the number of students who borrow to pay for college has increased from half in 1989 to nearly 70 percent now, and their average debt has grown from $15,200 to $26,300.

"There's that perception of the bachelor's degree being the American dream, the best bang for your buck," said Kate Blosveren Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE, an association of state officials who work in career and technical education. "The challenge is that in many cases it's become the fallback. People are going to college without a plan, without a career in mind, because the mindset in high school is just, 'Go to college.'"

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


The mysterious Christian symbolism of Westworld (Lili Loofbourow, April 29, 2018, The Week)

Religion in Westworld has tended to function mostly as a bitter joke: The "gods" the hosts heard in their heads were a function of Arnold's bicameral mind theory, and the "spirits" Maeve drew (and children carried dolls of) were the repair techs from the lab. That's changing. The most prominent symbols in "Reunion," the second episode of Westworld's second season, are Christian as well as biological. And as with everything to do with this series' calculated ambiguity, the results are rich but confusing.

Biological parables are popping up all over the place. There's the stray Bengal tiger who came from another world and died, Giancarlo Esposito's chilling story about the elephant tied to a stake, and the "mesh network" that mimics ant colony communication. These are pretty powerful metaphors; the problem is that don't quite add up to anything like a coherent system or worldview.

On the other hand, there's the God question...

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 AM



Cultural influences are often absorbed unconsciously. So if the aim of cultural-appropriation accusers is an end to cultural appropriation in music, then they would have to limit people to listening to music of their own cultural heritage. How awful.

Which is why music is one of the best arguments for 'cultural appropriation'. We would never have had rock'n'roll greats like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones without the African-American musicians who came before them. The Rolling Stones have often cited Chuck Berry as one of their key influences.

Further back, in the classical-music world, composers from different cultures and countries constantly borrowed from each other to create masterpieces. French composer Debussy was inspired by Javanese gamelan music, and its influence can be heard in his piano compositions. Czech composer Dvorak's 'From the New World' symphony was not only about America -- it was also influenced by African-American spirituals.

Let's be honest, those who cry 'cultural appropriation' are merely whingers with too much time on their hands. Not only is this a non-problem, it is also an inherently First World, middle-class problem.  [...]

One of the greatest things about culture is its unifying power. One group borrowing cultural aspects of another is a sign of a diverse society that is proud and admiring of its many influences. As an Ashkenazi (of Eastern Europe descent) Jew, I take immense pleasure in hearing Yiddish words (the language of my grandparents and great-grandparents) being used so liberally in the US. You'd be hard pressed to find a New Yorker who doesn't know words like schmuck, bubbe and chutzpah. And the liberal littering of Yiddish phrases in Hollywood films always makes me smile. It breathes new life into an old language.

The rage against cultural appropriation sucks the fun out of culture, and, even worse, encourages a new kind of segregation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 AM


Most Israelis think bid to limit Supreme Court endangers democracy -- poll (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 4/30/18, Times of Israel)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition partners push for legislation to limit the Supreme Court's ability to disqualify Knesset legislation, a new poll released Sunday suggests that a majority of Israelis believe the law could endanger the country's democracy.

The survey, published by the Israel Democracy Institute, found that 65 percent of the Israeli public believes that if the Supreme Court is denied the power to strike down laws enacted by the Knesset, there will be no checks on the government and it will be granted "unlimited power."

You can't have both a racial state and an independent judiciary.

April 29, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Parkland Survivors Mock NRA for Banning Guns During Pence Speech at Convention (DANIEL POLITI, APRIL 29, 2018, Slate)

Guns will be banned from the premises when Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on Friday. Before and during the speech, attendees are prohibited from bringing "firearms and firearm accessories, knives or weapons of any kind," the NRA wrote as it announced Pence's presence at the conference.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Did Donald Trump Jr. Admit to Violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act? (Orin Kerr  Sunday, April 29, 2018, Lawfare)

We learned back in 2017 that Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages on Twitter with the Wikileaks account during the 2016 Presidential campaign.  We knew that Wikileaks had sent Trump Jr. a message that included guessed login credentials of a default account on an about-to-launch anti-Trump website, and that Wikileaks encouraged him to visit the site.  But we didn't know if Trump Jr. or anyone else had actually used the username and password. As Matt Ford at The Atlantic explained, with some explanation by me:

Trump Jr.'s messages also show WikiLeaks providing him with the login information of an anti-Trump website. "A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch," the account wrote to Trump Jr. "The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is 'putintrump.' See 'About' for who is behind it. Any comments?" Trump Jr. replied that he would "ask around" about the website's provenance.

But Trump Jr. doesn't indicate whether he actually used the password. Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor who specializes in computer-crime law, said that doing so would violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. "If anyone actually entered in the username and password or entered in the password to the website, that's a federal crime," he said.

The Minority report reprints an e-mail from Trump Jr. in which he admitted to just that.  As reprinted on the bottom of page 33, here's what he wrote:

Guys I got a weird Twitter DM from [W]ikileaks. See below. I tried the password and it works and the about section they reference contains the next pic in terms of who is behind it. Not sure if this is anything but it seems like it's really wikileaks asking me as I follow them and it is a DM. Do you know the people mentioned and what the conspiracy they are looking for could be? These are just screen shots but it's a bully built out page claiming to be a PAC let me know your thoughts and if we want to look into it.

This sounds a lot like an admission that he committed a federal crime, and in particular a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(c). 

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Kim Jong-un Wants U.S. Promise Not to Invade in Exchange for Nukes (Chas Danner, 4/29/18, New York)

Kim Jong-un reportedly told South Korea's president Moon Jae-in that he is willing to abandon his regime's nuclear weapons in exchange for a formal end to the Korean War and a U.S. promise to not invade North Korea.

They can keep the program if they liberate the country.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Trump's Ever-Mounting Scrap Heap (MICHAEL KRUSE April 26, 2018, Politico)

"It's a whole different world than he's used to. What he did as a CEO, if he hired somebody, who'd question it? That's not true on the world stage. He just wasn't ready for it," longtime New York lawyer and lobbyist Sid Davidoff said in an interview. "He was a CEO of a privately held corporation that did what he wanted to do. ... It's no news that he wasn't prepared for what was ahead of him. And obviously the learning curve isn't as sharp as it should be."

And others, far more than Trump, are paying the price. That much, at least, is not new.

Three and a half decades ago, he bought the New Jersey Generals of the upstart United States Football League. Riding high thanks to the new Trump Tower, Trump was dead-set on being a George Steinbrenner-like professional sports team owner. "Creating illusions, to an extent, is what has to be done," he told a reporter. Instead, it took him less than three years to effectively extinguish the USFL. One of his fellow owners, John Bassett of the Tampa Bay Bandits, threatened to punch Trump "right in the mouth" in a letter he wrote to Trump in 1986. "You are not only damaging yourself with your associates," he said, "but alienating them as well." Michael Tollin, the film director and producer, made a documentary for ESPN about the USFL. He called it Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? The answer to the question in the title was Trump. "He killed the USFL," said Tollin.

Four years after the Trump-led death of the football league, in early 1990, when his marriage was exploding and his finances were cratering, Trump let go or forced out most of his small cadre of key aides on Trump Tower's 26th floor--public-relations wizard Howard Rubenstein, government-relations point man Tony Gliedman, shrewd attorneys like Gerald Schrager and Harvey Freeman. [...]

On Thursday, former Trump Shuttle president Bruce Nobles recalled Freeman, one of Trump's most important attorneys. "I never went to a meeting that Harvey wasn't in," Nobles told me. "And he was sort of his sounding board. And when Donald got into his real financial trouble, he fired everybody--including Harvey."

"He certainly doesn't ever seem to be loyal to anybody except himself," Trump biographer Gwenda Blair added.

Then and since, Trump has left in his wake small-business wreckage, people who were harmed in measurable ways by their interactions with Trump. 

His father's money meant he was never held accountable.  He's not liking the sensation.

In court, Trump's fortunes are plummeting (Harry Litman, 4/29/18, CNN)

Why is it that Trump is having little success imposing his will on these various courts?

Until early March, when Daniels sued Trump claiming that her hush agreement was invalid, Trump's legal jeopardy seemed to reside entirely in the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller. All eyes were on that probe, and the possibility that Mueller and his team could marshal evidence that Trump and his associates had broken a wide range of criminal laws.

Now, however, we are witnessing the spectacle of Trump and Cohen trying to figure out how to prevail in individual courts of law, where they cannot browbeat their way through or threaten to fire the other side. And to Trump's likely great chagrin, they are losing -- not because of political opposition but rather because they are on the wrong side of the legal issues.

These cases subject Trump to an entirely different legal regime from the Mueller probe, which is a mixture of law and politics that allows Trump to try to leverage his political power and boorish personality to make mischief.

Mueller is a Department of Justice employee subject to the oversight of the department's political hierarchy, and thus the President. This feature has allowed Trump to rattle sabers and consider various political maneuvers to shut the probe down or at least clip its wings.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM



US President Donald Trump is "seriously considering" changing the parole conditions of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, in order to allow him to come to Israel, American and Israeli officials at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York said Sunday.

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Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Michael Anderson obituary: Film director best known for The Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 Days and Logan's Run (Ronald Bergan, 29 Apr 2018, The Guardian)

It was The Dam Busters (1955), a comparatively modest black-and-white British war film, that led to Michael Anderson becoming a bankable director of large, commercial pictures. And although he went on to direct such multimillion-dollar productions as Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Dam Busters remained the film of which Anderson, who has died aged 98, was most proud.

This gripping docudrama described the development of the "bouncing bomb" by the aviation engineer Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave) and its implementation by a special squadron led by Wg Cmdr Guy Gibson (Richard Todd), smashing the German dams in the Ruhr industrial region during the second world war. Although the film's special effects climax is rather disappointing, it gave the first indication of Anderson's leanings towards the spectacular, and it was a clear influence on Star Wars 20 years later.

He resists any flag-waving or noble speeches at the end. Instead, there is a slow pan around the mess hall, showing the places set for the men who would never return, and shots of their deserted rooms. Barnes Wallis is in tears ("All those boys! All those boys!"), while Gibson goes to his quarters to "write some letters".

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Nunes blames 'radical leftists' for his failing re-election campaign (Caroline Orr, April 28, 2018, Share Blue)

With his House seat no longer considered 'safe' by election forecasters, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is looking for someone to blame for his failing re-election campaign.

Instead of considering that his own failures may explain his sinking campaign, Nunes is pointing the finger at the right-wing's go-to boogeyman: "radical leftists."

Other than that how are you enjoying being Donald's prison wife?

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


A French revolution that pushed immigrants to the margins (Nabila Ramdani, 29 Apr 2018, The Guardian)

Revisionists have claimed that the 22 March student movement that occupied Nanterre's main administrative centre in 1968 was concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, but there is scant evidence to support this. Instead, the reasons for the action ranged from anger at the rough handling of anti-Vietnam war agitators to a demand for men and women to be able to sleep together in halls of residence. [...]

Yes, workers from minority communities participated in the strikes that accompanied the rioting, but lack of identity papers often excluded them from the trade unions that joined the students. As today, many from immigrant backgrounds stayed away from officialdom because of the constant menace of deportation.

They were particularly fearful of the police. Contrary to the misinformation, the brutal reputation of the armed and baton-wielding CRS was not earned in 1968, but during the Algerian war. After one peaceful pro-independence demonstration in Paris on 17 October 1961, up to 300 Algerians were murdered by the CRS. Many were thrown into the Seine and drowned, close to the Sorbonne. Thousands more were rounded up, beaten, even tortured. British historians Jim House and Neil MacMaster described this massacre as "the bloodiest act of state repression of street protest in western Europe in modern history".

In comparison, '68 was far less bloody. There were no fatalities and those arrested were generally well treated. Despite dramatic images of burning cars and smashed pavements, the riots were more of an early media spectacular than a genuine display of grievance.

The French economy was doing very well at the time, as the Trente Glorieuses - 30 boom years starting in 1945 - kept the traditional bourgeoisie replete with disposable cash and consumer goods. None had any real stomach for a fight. Some claim Charles de Gaulle's administration was threatened at one point, but a simple call for new parliamentary elections in June 1968 was enough to end all the trouble.

Paris is a city of illusion and those who watched the événements fizzle out as quickly as they started soon began to fantasise, awarding them a significance that was not warranted. Now bidonvilles like the one in Nanterre have turned into "ZUS" - state jargon for areas of decrepit housing, high unemployment and rampant discrimination.

Unlike in Britain, where integration and social mobility have been given a far higher priority, France's "apartheid" system persists, according to former minister Jean-Louis Borloo whose new report castigates a "national amnesia" and calls for a radical solution.

There is nothing for immigrants to be assimilated into.

Taking Religion Seriously (Pierre Manent and Rémi Brague, 4/27/18, Libertyy & Law)
Editor's Note: This exchange between French philosophers Pierre Manent and Rémi Brague originally appeared in the January issue of the French journal L'Incorrect as "Rémi Brague & Pierre Manent: Duel de Géants" in January. L'Incorrect is a new conservative-minded journal of ideas in France that challenges the presuppositions of political correctness. We are grateful to the editors of L'Incorrect for permission to reprint this important discussion and to Daniel J. Mahoney and Paul Seaton for their translation. [...]

Pierre Manent (PM): [...] We have made ourselves prisoners of a much too restrictive definition of the French regime, by reducing it to the categories of a rather aggressive secularism. We need to enlarge our understanding of ourselves and, in this enlargement, grant an adequate place to the Catholicism that played such a great role in French history and consciousness.  To be sure, that cannot take on an institutional or constitutional form, and that is where Houellebecq's proposition goes beyond the limits of a reasonable proposal, as he himself knows very well.

This would be an essential element in giving a definite physiognomy and consistency to the community that receives Muslims. Muslims have a very strong collective awareness of their religion, one which nourishes social affects and extremely significant shared mores. One cannot give them as their only destination a society exclusively defined by individual rights, by the neutrality of the State and other institutions vis-à-vis religion, this is to invite them into an empty space, into a wasteland. Whether the society of individuals repulses or tempts them, or both, it does not bring them any new principle of association, it gives them no reason to go beyond a total and complete identification with Islam, in order to participate in a new form of community, or communion. In order for Muslims to be decently received and live happily in France, it is important that they know that they are not in a Muslim nation, that this nation possesses a Christian mark, that Jews play an eminent role here, and that religion does not give commands to the State and the State does not give commands to religion.

These guys apparently slept through the Long War.  The confinement has lasted over 200 years--it is all empty space.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska retreats under US sanctions: Shares in firms controlled by Oleg Deripaska have plunged after the US imposed sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs. (Al Jazeera, 4/29/18)

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska is loosening control of two of his companies that have been hit by US sanctions against Russia. [...]

Deripaska was among a handful of Russian tycoons and corporate assets targeted in the latest US sanctions.

The measures affect seven oligarchs, 12 companies they own or control, as well as 17 senior Russian government officials.

U.S. slaps sanctions on Putin cronies for Russia's 'malign activity' (Lesley Wroughton, Patricia Zengerle, 4/06/18, Reuters)

The action, taken under pressure from the U.S. Congress, freezes the U.S. assets of oligarchs such as aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, a close associate of Putin, and lawmaker Suleiman Kerimov, whose family controls Russia's largest gold producer, Polyus.

The sanctions largely respond to what U.S. intelligence agencies have said was Russian interference in the presidential election, although the Treasury Department painted them as a response to a series of adversarial actions by Moscow.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been under fire for not taking strong action against Russia after a series of diplomatic disputes reminiscent of the Cold War era. The sanctions could complicate his hopes for good relations with Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Trump threatens government shutdown in September if no funding for wall (Reuters, 4/29/18) 

U.S. President Donald on Saturday threatened to shut down the federal government in September if Congress did not provide more funding to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Maybe he's colluding with the DNC too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


'Caravan' migrants weigh staying in Mexico or risking U.S. expulsion (Delphine Schrank, 4/29/18, Reuters)

Most of the group of about 400 travelers who arrived in border city Tijuana on buses over the past couple of days said they intended to legally seek asylum in San Diego later on Sunday, but lawyers advising the group gave them stark advice - not everyone will be successful.

After the grueling journey, a somber mood took hold as the reality sank in that many of them would be separated from their families. Lovers and parents with slightly older sons and daughters could be forced to split up.

At venues around the city, U.S. immigration lawyers working on a pro bono basis on Saturday listened to harrowing tales of life in the immigrants' home countries.

Death threats from local gangs, the murder of family members, retaliatory rape, and political persecution back home prompted them to flee, the migrants and lawyers say.

Many of the immigrants who spoke at length with Reuters at various points during their trip through Mexico had been short on knowledge of their legal rights, but at least 24 recounted detailed stories of facing death threats.

As poor migrants from Central America on a perilous route through Mexico, they feared they could be robbed, raped, arrested and assaulted, so traveling by caravan offered their only protection, they said.

The lawyers advised which cases had higher chances of passing the "credible fear" test required to enter the long and often difficult U.S. asylum process, said immigrant rights organization Al Otro Lado, Spanish for On the Other Side.

That's what they go through to become Americans while the Right hates what a multi-ethnic US has become.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Russian Twitter accounts tried to help opposition in UK election: report (Reuters, 4/29/18)

The research by Swansea University and The Sunday Times found about 6,500 automated accounts sent messages praising the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his policies in the closing stages of the election.

...though May not as anti as Hillary.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


After long history of defeats, Turkish opposition sees a chance to beat Erdogan (Thomas Seibert, 4/29/18, Middle East Online)

After more than a decade of being defeated by Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party at the polls, Turkey's opposition sees a strong chance to beat the president in early elections in June.

Buoyed by opinion polls that indicate Erdogan would struggle to reach more than 50% of the vote June 24 and win the presidential election in the first round, opposition parties have thrown themselves into a flurry of talks about possible alliances.

In political constellations unusual for Turkey, the talks brought together secularists, Islamists and nationalists bent on preventing Erdogan from winning a new 5-year term with vastly expanded executive powers. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round, the two highest finishing contenders would face a July 8 run-off.

Preparations for the elections included extraordinary political manoeuvres. In a move that enraged Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) had 15 of its lawmakers in parliament join the nationalist Iyi (Good) Party to give the newly formed Iyi enough deputies to take part in the election. The AKP, in power since 2002, could lose its majority in parliamentary elections, also scheduled for June 24, some polls indicate.

"There is a sense of hope and optimism within the opposition that is new," Washington-based Turkey analyst Selim Sazak said in an interview. "People feel like they might finally have a viable pathway to defeating Erdogan."

Erdogan has effectively preserved the democracy from the military/judiciary--like Iran, but, tragically, unlike Egypt--but now faces the democracy itself.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


How baseball will survive in the age of distraction  (Samantha Power, April 26, 2018, Washington Post)

I associate my deep attachment with immigrating to the United States from Dublin in 1979 and landing in Pittsburgh on the eve of the Willie Stargell-led Pirates' glorious playoff run. As I practiced an American accent in the mirror, I quickly understood the currency I would acquire if I could rattle off RBI, ERA and batting average statistics with the speed of the boys who lived on our block. Play ball!

As I grew up and, in my 20s and 30s, spent thousands and thousands of hours listening to or watching baseball games, I developed a more multidimensional rationalization for my passion. I described all the life lessons that baseball teaches: the importance of resilience in a game where the best hitters on Earth sit back down dejected 60 percent of the time; the centrality of teamwork and solidarity over individual feats, as playing on a winning team requires moving a runner over, hitting a cut-off man and calling the right pitch for one's battery mate; and the necessity (I made this argument even before Bill James and Billy Beane helped revolutionize baseball's front offices) of mastering data and history to make sensible judgments. [...]

Jacoby fell in love with the game in her grandfather's bar in a blue-collar community just south of Chicago. As patrons tuned in to games -- on the first color TV in the neighborhood -- Jacoby sat on her bar stool and found herself entering "the previous seven decades of American history." She was hooked. When she lived in Moscow in 1969, she phoned the U.S. Embassy regularly to get the latest Mets score. To this day, her remedy for insomnia is watching the Mets' Game 6 comeback in the 1986 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Because she, like all baseball fans, has experienced both heartbreak and triumph -- and because neither announces itself in advance -- she retains the sense, almost no matter what the score, that anything can happen, because at some point in history, it has. She believes that the slow pace of baseball provides a space for fans to feel involved in decision-making, something other sports do not allow. "Conversation, for every serious fan, is a part of the game itself," she writes, "and pauses are assets rather than liabilities."

Jacoby isn't thrilled with the efforts Major League Baseball has made to modernize itself. She points out that most of the adjustments designed to shorten the game have shaved off several minutes at most -- hardly enough to redeem those who want instant gratification and believe, to their core, that in baseball, most of the time, nothing happens. As she writes, "I do not think M.L.B. can institute any rule changes that would make real inroads into the shortened attention span of the young without fundamentally altering the game." She rightly worries that the league risks destroying the village to save it.

In the end, Jacoby fastens on the only real cure for the vulnerabilities she diagnoses. Baseball will not be saved by catering to the Age of Distraction -- by introducing more stingray tanks in the outfield (as the Tampa Bay Rays have done), serving the best sushi in concession stands (as Seattle and San Francisco do), or requiring fewer pitching changes or the equivalent of a pitcher's shot clock (as Major League Baseball is considering).

Instead baseball will retain its audience by doing what it is already doing -- tailoring more youth programming for demographics like girls and African Americans, who are less likely to watch as adults because they play the game far less as kids. But more than this, it will thrive by embracing its fundamentals, the very qualities that those in a hurry often shun: patience, concentration, and the alluring sense of possibility bounded not by a clock but simply by performance (and getting that last out). In other words, rather than contorting itself to accommodate our Age of Distraction, baseball should provide a sanctuary from a culture that needs to slow down. And it is baseball's timeless remove from the speeds and appetites of everything happening outside the stadium that will ensure its appeal.

"This," Jacoby writes, "is why baseball matters and why it matters even more today than it did in the past. The game stands up and out in the lowest-common-denominator American culture of distraction, disruption, and interruption."

The best thing that could happen to baseball would be for it to lose popularity and become more of a niche sport, so fewer games are televised on ad-dependent tv.  That's how you'd cut time of games.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


The silver spoon spy: how Cambridge double-agent Donald Maclean got away with it for so long: Tall, fair-haired and attractive, Maclean maintained a surface allure of charm that eventually failed to obscure the demons wrestling beneath. (WILLIAM BOYD, 4/29/18, New Statesman)

Spying has changed - it's all about surveillance and whistle-blowing now - and the privileged, intellectualised, haute bourgeoisie treason that the Cambridge Five represented seems almost passé - a curiosity, belonging to a different time and another world. But, as this superb biography makes clear, the story of Maclean and his fellow travellers is full of contemporary relevance, particularly for this country. The ideology - communism - that spurred these traitors on may be vanished or moribund but the attitudes, assumptions, patterns of behaviour and gross sins of omission that the Maclean and Burgess defection exposed are both timeless and very British.

Donald Maclean (1913-1983) was the son of a knighted cabinet minister. Every middle-class privilege - and curse - was his. Public school (Gresham's), Cambridge University (Trinity Hall) and early admission to the Foreign Office - he was only 22 when he became a third secretary - seemed part of that inevitable progression granted to those with silver spoons clamped firmly between their teeth.

Maclean joined the Foreign Office in 1934 and was almost immediately provided with access to secret information. By then he was fully engaged in his double life having being recruited and "run" by an Austrian émigré named Arnold Deutsch, the NKVD's rezident in London and the man who was largely responsible for recruiting the Cambridge Five in the 1930s. Maclean was from the outset an astonishingly diligent supplier of useful information, taking files home with him from the office and having them photographed for delivery to Moscow Centre.

Tall, fair-haired and attractive, Maclean maintained a surface allure of patrician charm and super-efficiency that, as time went by, failed to obscure the demons wrestling beneath. An ideological communist whose core ideals managed to survive the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, he was to become as valued a spy for Moscow as Kim Philby. When Maclean was posted to Washington DC towards the end of the war the flow of information became even more vitally useful. In late 1944, as the defeat of Nazi Germany loomed, Maclean was able to supply Stalin with the full minutes of the secret meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill in Quebec at which the two leaders pondered the shape of postwar Europe. Maclean, code-named "Homer" ("Orphan" had been his first pseudonym), was a massively important intelligence asset. More information followed: Stalin appeared mysteriously well briefed about the British and American positions at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 yet nobody suspected a thing. [...]

Roland Philipps relates the complex narrative of Maclean's treason - and those of his colleagues - with tremendous aplomb, limpidity and acuity. Despite his manifest torments, Maclean somehow always believed in what he was doing - not necessarily the case with the others. Intriguingly, he seemed happy in his Russian exile while Burgess and Philby drank themselves to death. What made the treason of the Cambridge Five so abidingly disturbing was the British establishment's purblind reluctance to give it credence. People like us just don't betray their country. Philby's treachery was equally devastating to this upper-class complacency. Not our Kim, surely? Only clever American code-breakers discovered the perpetrators and it took decades for the reputation of the British secret service to recover since the establishment's efforts to cover up and minimise the damage were as inept as its attempts at counter espionage.

What makes members of the privileged elite betray their country? My own belief is that it is, fundamentally, the result of a growing hatred of that very class into which they were born. General ideological reasons - the fight against fascism in the 1930s - were transformed over years into an ardent personal desire to foul the nest, to put it very simply. Interestingly, all these British traitors had remote, austere fathers with demanding or eccentric moral codes - and adoring mothers. Over to you, Dr Freud.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


What They Did in Spain: Review: Histories of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and Communist intervention in the Spanish Civil War (Ronald Radosh, April 29, 2018, Free Beacon)

This myth, however, is not confined to the left but has gone mainstream. Sen. John McCain wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled "John McCain: Salute to a Communist" after reading that Delmer Berg, the last living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, had died in March of 2016 at the age of 100. Acknowledging that Berg was an "unreconstructed Communist" his entire life, McCain nevertheless believes that Berg and the other volunteers "professed to fight for the preservation of democracy" and were part of groups of "idealistic freedom fighters from abroad."

Even the Communists, he wrote, "believed they were freedom fighters first, sacrificing life and limb in a country they knew little about, for a people they had never met." Knowing full well the horrendous record of terror inflicted upon the world by Communism, McCain nevertheless concluded that he still "harbored admiration for their courage and sacrifice in Spain." Indeed, he felt that way since age 12, when he read Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, whose hero, Robert Jordan, fought and died for the Spanish Republic.

McCain's heartfelt piece reveals that he, like so many others who have opinions about the Lincoln Battalion, in fact know little of the real motivations of so many of the volunteers. First, they did not decide on their own to volunteer to fight in Spain because they opposed the rebelling generals' attempt at a coup. They volunteered only after the Communist International (Comintern) made the call. Many, however, were not aware of how their efforts would be used to fulfill the Soviets' goals. The truth is, as historian R. Dan Richardson writes in his study of the battalion, the men were highly motivated, but above all were a "significant political, ideological and propaganda instrument ... used by the Comintern for its own purposes ... an integral part of that interlocking directorate which was the Soviet-Comintern apparatus in Spain."

Richardson's view was seconded by the last American commissar of the Lincolns, John Gates, a leader of the American Communist Party who would quit the party after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. His men, he said, "fought with the best of intentions, they held noble ideals, but they fought in a system controlled and run by the Russian Communist leadership, then under the control of Stalin." The result is that the Soviets insisted "on adherence to the policy advocated by the Spanish Communists," which meant eschewing revolution and, on the surface, supporting a bourgeois or middle-class left-tinted Republic that would be firmly under Communist control.

One wonders if Mr. Simon is aware of this, and whether he will take this crucial point into consideration in depicting the American volunteers and follows through on what happened to them in Spain. Undoubtedly the battles he portrays will be accurate. The press interviews inform us that he has gone to the major battlefields to look at them and to get an accurate picture of what the volunteers faced as they fought Franco's legions.

Has he read, I wonder, the single most important volume on the battalion, written by Cecil D. Eby--Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War? Stanley Payne, the leading American historian of Spain, calls it "the best book ever written about the Lincoln Battalion," and he writes that while Eby does not "accept the standard politically correct line,... neither does he go to the opposite extreme." Sympathetic to the volunteers on the human level, Payne writes, he at the "same time [shows] the real character of the politics involved."

For the myth to endure requires ignoring what the Communists did to Eastern Europe when they took over.  Nevermind that a fascist victory effectively kept Spain out of WWII and thwarted Hitler's ambitions at the mouth of the Med, consider how easily and peacefully Franco transitioned the nation to normalcy on his death and that even today its GDP per capita is 50% higher than the best performing former Soviet satellite. 

April 28, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


The Golden State Killer Is Tracked Through a Thicket of DNA, and Experts Shudder (GINA KOLATA and HEATHER MURPHYAPRIL 27, 2018, NY Times)

The detectives in the Golden State Killer case uploaded the suspect's DNA sample. But they would have had to check a box online certifying that the DNA was their own or belonged to someone for whom they were legal guardians, or that they had "obtained authorization" to upload the sample.

"The purpose was to make these connections and to find these relatives," said Blaine Bettinger, a lawyer affiliated with GEDmatch. "It was not intended to be used by law enforcement to identify suspects of crimes."

But joining for that purpose does not technically violate site policy, he added.

Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University and expert on DNA searches, said that using a fake identity might raise questions about the legality of the evidence.

The matches found in GEDmatch were to relatives of the suspect, not the suspect himself.

Since the site provides family trees, detectives also were able to look for relatives who might not have uploaded genetic data to the site themselves.

On GEDmatch, "it just happens they got lucky," said Dr. Ashley Hall, a forensics science expert at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

23andMe has more than 5 million customers, and Ancestry.com has 10 million. But the DNA in databases like these are relevant to tens of millions of others -- sisters, parents, children. A lot can be learned about a family simply by accessing one member's DNA.

"Suppose you are worried about genetic privacy," Ms. Murphy said. "If your sibling or parent or child engaged in this activity online, they are compromising your family for generations."

Genetic privacy?  That's not even a thing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


The Only People Who Aren't Using Instant Pots? Chefs  (Kate Krader, 4/27/18, Bloomberg)

One of the few professional chefs who admits to having an Instant Pot in his restaurant is Jonny Hunter of the Madison, Wisc.-based Underground Food Collective.  In fact, he has five. Hunter is a fan of the compressed cook times and precision that the device offers.

"Traditionally, it takes about 40 days to make black garlic," he says, referring to the intensely sticky Asian flavoring. "I can do it in six hours." 

Most dishes can't be sped up so rapidly by the Instant Pot, but Hunter argues that even modest time savings will add up for a busy cook. Take hard-boiled eggs, for example: "It takes you eight minutes in an Instant Pot; the regular way takes 12 minutes," he says. "Chefs say, 'Who cares about that difference?' But I save four minutes each time, and they're perfectly cooked."

Garrison Price, of New York's il Buco Alimentari, routinely does 250 covers a night, yet he still finds the low-yielding appliance useful for making goat-milk yogurt. He serves it as an accompaniment to leg of lamb with wild watercress and anchovies, as well as spice-roasted spring carrots with green almonds. Making yogurt the traditional way is "tricky," Price says. "You don't have to baby sit yogurt you're making in an Instant Pot."

Price believes chefs don't use the Instant Pot because of the message they associate with it. "I think it's the infomercial-ness," he says.

In Houston, James Beard award-winning chef Chris Shepherd  is experimenting with an Instant Pot to create batches of pho "dressing" for a carpaccio dish at his upcoming 80-seat restaurant, UB Preserve. "I got the idea from my manicurist; she's a big Instant Pot fan," says Shepherd. He first used one at a previous restaurant when he ran out of Korean-braised goat and dumplings. "My cook said: 'We should bust out that Instant Pot we have in storage.' We had more goat ready in 45 minutes." 

At the Latin restaurant Público in St. Louis, Mike Randolph cooks almost everything on an open hearth. Yet his Instant Pot has been used to produce items ranging from vegan chorizo stock to dulce de leche. Randolph agrees that a drawback for some chefs is perception. "There's a hesitation in having a brand name like that in your kitchen. A lot of chefs want to keep things more traditional, with a stovetop," says Randolph.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Trump's Role in Midterm Elections Roils Republicans (Jonathan Martin, Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, April 28, 2018, NY Times)

 President Trump is privately rejecting the growing consensus among Republican leaders that they may lose the House and possibly the Senate in November, leaving party officials and the president's advisers nervous that he does not grasp the gravity of the threat they face in the midterm elections.

Congressional and party leaders and even some Trump aides are concerned that the president's boundless self-assurance about politics will cause him to ignore or undermine their midterm strategy. In battleground states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada, Mr. Trump's proclivity to be a loose cannon could endanger the Republican incumbents and challengers who are already facing ferocious Democratic headwinds. [...]

What has stunned Republican veterans outside the White House is how, even 15 months into his presidency, Mr. Trump still lacks any unified political organization.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff and a retired Marine general, has scant political acumen. And while the White House political staff has sought to bring a measure of order, curbing some of the president's knee-jerk endorsement tendencies, Mr. Trump does not necessarily view them as his primary political counselors.

This vacuum has, as is often the case with this White House, triggered fierce internecine scrapping among those vying for Mr. Trump's ear.

The president's announcement that Brad Parscale, his 2016 digital guru, would manage his 2020 re-election campaign caught many of his most senior advisers by surprise, according to multiple Republicans. And the hasty decision immediately raised suspicions it was part of a power play by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law, to isolate Corey Lewandowski, the president's 2016 campaign manager and occasional adviser.

Mr. Parscale has rankled Trump advisers by giving the president a perpetually rosy assessment of his poll numbers. He often tells Mr. Trump his numbers have "never been higher," according to two advisers.

Mr. Parscale has also irritated some Trump officials by attempting to take over the political portfolio, with his scheduling of meetings to devise an as-yet-unformed midterm strategy getting back to other factions.

But his ascension marks only the newest power center in Mr. Trump's political orbit: There is his White House staff, his vice president, the Republican National Committee, his family, his campaign alumni, his super PAC, his congressional allies, his conservative media friends and now his re-election team.

All are expected to want a voice in Republican strategy for Mr. Trump in the midterms, adding only more chaos, as one White House official phrased it, to an already unruly presidency.

...is politics.  He somehow managed to lose the popular vote to the (second) most unpopular major nominee in history and was only carried into office on the coattails of the Republican congressional candidates who ran weell ahead of him nationally.  The only sensible strategy for the mid-term is the President Bill Mitchell option.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza -- And The Truth (Peter Beinart, April 26, 2018, The Forward)

[T]he actor with the greatest power over Gaza is Israel. Israeli policies are instrumental in denying Gaza's people the water, electricity, education and food they need to live decent lives.

How do kind, respectable, well-meaning American Jews defend this? How do they endorse the strangulation of 2 million human beings? Orwell provided the answer. They do so because Jewish leaders, in both Israel and the United States, encase Israel's actions in a fog of euphemism and lies. [...]

Start with "withdrew." Earlier this month, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, defended Israel's shooting of mostly unarmed protesters by declaring that, "We withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, removing every Israeli resident, home, factory and synagogue. We are not responsible for the well-being of the people of Gaza." American Jewish leaders echo the claim. "Israel withdrew totally" from Gaza, wrote Kenneth Bandler, the American Jewish Committee's director of media relations, last year. Thus, Palestinians rushing toward Gaza's fence with Israel are the equivalent of Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande. "No nation," insists the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, "would tolerate such a threat" to its "sovereignty."

These are anesthetizing fictions. Yes, Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers in 2005. But Israel still controls Gaza. It controls it in the way a prison guard might control a prison courtyard in which he never actually sets foot.

First, Israel declares parts of Gaza off-limits to the people who live there. Israel has established buffer zones -- it calls them Access Restricted Areas -- to keep Palestinians away from the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. According to the United Nations, this restricted area has ranged over the past decade from 100 to 500 meters, comprising as much as one-third of Gaza's arable land. People who enter these zones can -- and over the years have been -- shot.

In addition to barring Palestinians from much of Gaza's best land, Israel bars them from much of Gaza's water. In 1993, the Oslo Accords promised Gazan fisherman the right to fish 20 nautical miles off the coast. But since then, Israel has generally restricted fishing to between three and six nautical miles. (Occasionally, it has extended the boundary to nine nautical miles). Since sardines, which the United Nations calls Gaza's "most important catch," "flourish at the 6 NM boundary," these limitations have been disastrous for Gazan fisherman.

The second way in which Israel still controls Gaza is by controlling its borders. Israel controls the airspace above Gaza, and has not permitted the reopening of Gaza's airport, which it bombed in 2001. Neither does it allow travel to and from Gaza by sea.

Israel also controls most land access to Gaza. It's true that -- in addition to Gaza's two active border-crossing points with Israel -- it has a third, Rafah, with Egypt. But even here, Israel wields substantial influence. Asked this week about Hamas's desire to repatriate the body of a dead operative via Rafah, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett boasted, "Could we prevent it? The answer is yes."

This doesn't excuse Egyptian leader General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who to his discredit, has largely kept the Rafah crossing closed since he took power in 2013. But even when Rafah is open, it isn't a significant conduit for Gazan exports. As Sari Bashi of Human Rights Watch explained to me, there is little market in Egypt for goods from Gaza, both because those goods are expensive for Egyptian consumers and because transportation across the Sinai is difficult. So when it comes to goods leaving Gaza, the Strip is largely under Israeli control.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, Israel controls Gaza's population registry. When a child is born in Gaza, her parents register the birth, via the Palestinian Authority, with the Israeli military. If Israel doesn't enter her in its computer system, Israel won't recognize her Palestinian ID card. From Israel's perspective, she will not legally exist.

This control is not merely theoretical. If Israel doesn't recognize your Palestinian ID card, it's unlikely to allow you into, or out of, Gaza. And because Israel sees Palestinians as a demographic threat, it uses this power to keep the population in Gaza -- and especially the West Bank -- as low as possible. Israel rarely adds adults to the Palestinian population registry. That means that if you're, say, a Jordanian who marries someone from Gaza and wants to move there to live with her, you're probably out of luck. Israel won't let you in.

Israel is even more zealous about limiting the number of Palestinians in the West Bank, where it still has settlers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Africa's democratic 'laggards' must listen to calls for change - Liberia's Johnson Sirleaf (Clement Uwiringiyimana, 4/28/18, Reuters) 

African leaders resisting "democratic transformation" must heed their citizens' calls for change, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Saturday after receiving an award aimed at promoting good leadership on the continent.

Liberia's former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives to attend new President George Weah's swearing-in ceremony at Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon
Without naming specific countries or leaders, she referred to "laggard" countries in the region of one billion people who are "not meeting democratic transformation".

"Their own citizens are making the call for change and I don't think they can continue to resist or deny that call for change," Johnson Sirleaf told Reuters after accepting the award in Rwanda's capital Kigali.

Long-serving African leaders who have changed the law to stay in power include Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, 73, and Cameroon's President Paul Biya, in power for 35 years.

Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the 2017 Mo Ibrahim award, designed to improve the quality of African political leadership, after handing over power in her West African country's first peaceful democratic transition in seven decades.

"The pressure builds (for democracy)," she said. "The young people today are educated, skilful, demanding, and eventually we have to listen and I think that will happen to all those that are still lagging behind."

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


There's New Evidence Trump Obstructed Justice in the House Intelligence Committee's Minority Report (RYAN GOODMAN, APRIL 28, 2018, Slate)

One of the most important revelations is that Baker and FBI Director James Comey's chief of staff James Rybicki listened in on Comey's side of at least some phone conversations with the president, in which Trump reportedly attempted to alter the course of the Russia investigation.

"(Jim) Rybicki and (Jim) Baker also heard Comey's side of phone conversations with the President, in real time," the minority report states. It is, however, not clear which particular phone conversations with the president they were able to hear in this manner. Comey testified to Congress about six separate phone conversations he had with Trump.

Both Comey and McCabe interpreted one of the president's phone calls as threatening Comey if he did not lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. In a phone conversation on April 11, the president said he wanted Comey to lift the cloud, "because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know," according to Comey's written testimony and contemporaneous memo. But why would the president refer to his loyalty to Comey rather than Comey's "honest loyalty" to the president?

McCabe testified that the FBI director and he "weren't 100 percent sure what that was" but interpreted it as "a veiled threat." Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff asked McCabe to clarify:

SCHIFF: And in this case the veiled threat would be against Director Comey?

MCCABE: That's correct.

SCHIFF: Along the lines of, I the president have been very loyal to you. I want you to lift the cloud. Otherwise I might be less loyal to you. Is that the--

MCCABE: That's correct.

SCHIFF: That was the impression of Director Comey?

MCCABE: It was his and my impression.

Second, the FBI director and deputy director were also concerned that the president was threatening to take action against McCabe if the FBI director did not lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. According to Comey's testimony and contemporaneous memos, Trump repeatedly brought up McCabe in these conversations about the probe. McCabe testified that he and Comey were concerned that the president "was bringing it up as some sort of an almost a veiled threat."

Rep. Schiff again asked McCabe to clarify:

SCHIFF: That if the Director didn't lift the cloud of the Russian investigation, that he would take action against you?

MCCABE: That's correct. That was my concern, and as I understand it, that was Director Comey's concern as well.

Other observations in the minority report and in McCabe's testimony are perhaps less significant on their own, but also add to the case for obstruction and abuse of power. It is readily apparent that McCabe's testimony very closely tracks Comey's congressional testimony.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Sergey Lavrov: The US is trying to divide Syria (Al Jazeera, 4/28/18)

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, has accused the US of trying to divide Syria while ignoring international law by launching missiles into the country.

No wonder Putin got himself in such a mess there if he really didn't understand that self-determination for its peoples is our main interest.  The poor stooge must believe the Realists.

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


Nikki Haley's unique Trump Teflon (Aaron Blake April 25, 2018, The Washington Post)

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley may have had her authority undermined last week when the White House suggested she had botched a Russia sanctions announcement. But her response to the flap appears to have made her the most popular person in the Trump administration.

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Haley's approval rating at a sterling 63 percent, with 17 percent of Americans disapproving. Even Democrats approve of her 55 percent to 23 percent. [...]

Haley's trick here was she essentially called the White House a bunch of liars, avoided a rebuke from it or Trump, and still has overwhelming support among the Republican base. The Quinnipiac poll shows 75 percent of Republicans approve of her vs. 9 percent who disapprove.

And she has been here before. Before Trump tapped her as his envoy to the United Nations, the then-South Carolina governor made a name for herself in 2015 by pushing for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds after a racially motivated massacre at a black Charleston church. That had been an issue Republicans did their best to avoid. It was also the kind of issue on which many a Republican would worry about overestimating the urgency and political importance of the moment. At the time, very few Republicans viewed the flag as being racist. But Haley marshaled support for the measure from a GOP-controlled state legislature that hadn't always trusted her, and she convinced the public that now was the time.

Opposing the Right from the right--just like the Left from the left--is the normal path to the presidency. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Syrian army, Islamic State wage fierce battle in south Damascus (Reuters, 4/28/18) 

The Syrian army and its allies engaged in a fierce battle on Saturday with Islamic State fighters in an enclave south of Damascus held by the jihadist group.

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


Melania, the steely, dead-eyed trouper (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, APR 27, 2018, LA Times)

As the journalist Evgenia Peretz has observed, Melania once seemed poised to be the ideal "advertisement for Trump's virility." That ad seems like a faded bit of Melania's long-lost trousseau. Now she promotes his status as physically repellent.

When at the Macrons' arrival she resisted, in vain, her husband's efforts to hold her hand, it became plain: In her agonizingly high heels, she will hit her mark like a steely, dead-eyed cadet, but when it comes to actually touching her husband's skin, even our spirit-broken trouper won't fall in line. Especially on the biggest of stages.

Or perhaps instead of his virility Melania now advertises Trump's kinship with the "incel rebellion" -- a drastic internet movement among "involuntarily celibate" men who, according to CNN, believe that women have unfairly denied them the sex to which they're entitled. (Alek Minassian, who was charged with murder in the Toronto car rampage that left 10 dead, considered himself an incel and seems to have been radicalized into exterminationist misogyny by incel propaganda.)

In any case, it takes a hard heart to scorn Melania these days. Once she was spotted laughing with Barack Obama at the funeral for former First Lady Barbara Bush, it became clear that she still has the capacity to smile. Yoked to Donald Trump, she just lacks a reason.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Guests rebelled at Syria trip 'lunacy' (Dominic Kennedy, April 28 2018, The Times)

A British fact-finding mission to Syria led by sympathisers of President Assad backfired when guests on the trip rebelled against perceived pro-regime propaganda.

Baroness Cox, 80, who helped to run the trip, has become embroiled in a row with the BBC after Justin Webb, the Today programme host, claimed that she used the visit to have tea with mass murderers. In her complaint to Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC director-general, which was seen by The Times, she relied on a website notorious for conspiracy theories to challenge Webb.

Her tour of Syria coincided with western bombing in retaliation for Assad's forces having gassed civilians.

Lady Cox -- who began the trip by telling travellers: "Welcome to the Crazy Club!" -- helped to lead the trip, which was hosted by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. An international campaigner for persecuted religious minorities, Lady Cox believes that many Syrians regard Assad as a bulwark who will save them from being slaughtered by Islamist terrorists.

Members of the 18-strong party of clergy, academics, journalists and peers included the Rev Canon Giles Fraser, the broadcaster. Some became increasingly irritated at being subjected to people they considered Assad apologists.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


North Korea's phony peace ploy (Nicholas Eberstadt, April 25, 2018,  The New York Times)

If the past is any guide, the North will offer the South unenforceable verbiage. And if the South accepts a phony peace ploy, it will expose itself to more manipulation by the government in Pyongyang -- not only in its domestic politics, but potentially also in its alliance with the United States.

Let's begin with the obvious. A peace treaty between two countries is a legal document that requires one sovereign state to recognize the other sovereign state's right to exist. (Think Camp David accords of 1978, when Egypt agreed to recognize Israel.) Yet North Korea cannot commit to any such thing with South Korea, not least because the existential objective of its ruling family, the Kims, has been to wipe the state of South Korea off the face of the earth.

That goal was the reason for the North's surprise attack against the South in June 1950 that triggered the Korean War. And it has been the main focus of North Korea's external policy since the 1953 cease-fire in that still-unfinished conflict. It is a central duty, fused into the very identity of the state, indelibly registered in Pyongyang's institutions and ideology.

The 1980 charter of the Workers' Party of Korea, the ruling party, identified its "present task" as the "national liberation and people's democracy in the entire area of the country" -- meaning, the whole of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's Constitution declares "reunification of the country" to be "the supreme national task" and instructs the government to "carry the revolutionary cause of juche through to completion." Juche is the doctrine extolling the vision of the entire Korean people gathering together self-determinedly under an "independent socialist state" run by Pyongyang.

For North Korea to end its war on the South, and accept the South as a legitimate, coequal government on the peninsula, would mean abandoning the quest that has legitimized the Kim family's rule for three generations. The decision would call into question why, exactly, North Korea should hold power at all. It would be system-threatening -- a mistake on the scale of the string of blunders by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that doomed the Soviet Union.

And so the North, rather than committing to a legally binding (and potentially destabilizing) peace treaty, is likely to do again what it has gotten away with in previous meetings with the South: dangle aspirational goals in jointly signed, but totally unenforceable, official statements.

Seoul and Pyongyang have a long history of this.

The point of our confrontation with North Korea is neither peace nor denuclearization, it is regime change.   A free and fair election is the only acceptable subject of discussion between the two sides and the outcome we require.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM



THE JILL STEIN campaign is refusing to comply fully with a Senate intelligence committee request for documents and other correspondence, made as part of the committee's probe into Russian activities in the 2016 election, according to a letter to be delivered Thursday to the panel by an attorney for the campaign. [...]

Stein, who was also the party's presidential nominee in 2012, traveled to Russia in 2015 and attended a dinner marking the 10th anniversary of the Russian-backed news service RT. Russian President Vladmir Putin made an appearance at the event.

The committee also asked for communications related to any trips to Russia, including any discussion with Russian government officials, and the Stein campaign is willing to provide those.

The request also calls for "all communications with Russian persons, or representatives of Russian government, media, or business interests, including but not limited to any communications, discussions, or offers related to opposition research, from February 6, 2015 to the present."

Stein's campaign told The Intercept that they have already provided to the committee all communications with people affiliated with the Russian government and Russian media, but not with all people of Russian descent.

In the view of the Stein campaign, this is a request that unfairly puts all people of Russian descent under suspicion.

The Photo That May Help Unlock the Trump-Russia Scandal: Congressional investigators say Trump's former national security adviser lied about being paid to dine with Putin. (DAVE GILSONMAY. 23, 2017, Mother Jones)

Vladimir Putin's guests that night included Flynn and future Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein--an odd couple who reflected the Russian president's efforts to court fringe figures on both the right and the left and otherwise meddle in US politics. (Also at the table were Putin's spokesman, chief of staff, and deputy chief of staff.)

Stein said the soiree was "a great opportunity to lay out some of my foreign policy proposals and get Russian reactions to them." Flynn, who commanded a $45,000 fee to speak at the event, said he didn't ask to be seated next to Putin. "I found it a great learning opportunity," he told the Washington Post.

According to Cummings' letter, Flynn told security investigators that "I didn't take any money from Russia" in connection with the event. Yet Cummings wrote that his committee has documents showing how the $45,000 payment was transferred from RT to Flynn's lobbying firm, as well as an email in which an RT official states, "We will be covering the payment of General Flynn's fee."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Steel Tariffs Already Hurting Steel-Using Industries (Tori Whiting & Alec Fornwalt, April 27, 2018, Daily Signal)

In his testimony, Kennedy spoke about how the family-owned business survived many economic hardships, including the 2008 market crash, but said that the steel tariffs seem like the worst thing to happen to the company yet.

[W]ithout any competition, U.S. steel producers have raised prices over 40 percent. Why should we pay 40 percent more here than our foreign competitors pay in their countries?

This means that a company in China can now purchase a raw steel beam from a Chinese mill at a 40 percent discount, drill two holes in it, and ship it to the U.S. as a fabricated good without a tariff.

Furthermore, he added, "it's not just China. One of our Canadian competitors just went from a position of losing projects to us to now winning projects at our expense, because they can import raw steel to Canada without a tariff and purchase it 40 percent cheaper than we can from our own domestic suppliers."

Kennedy Fabricating isn't the only company being hit hard. In fact, many companies are appealing to the government for exemptions from the tariffs.

So many companies are being affected that many of them joined forces to form the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users. The coalition's spokesman, Paul Nathanson, explained the problems with the new tariffs:

These tariffs will do nothing to uphold their stated purpose of protecting U.S. national security. They will instead hurt U.S. manufacturers in the near term by raising the price of the essential inputs they need to make finished products, and do long-term harm to domestic steel producers by eroding their own customer base.

Another group similar to the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users had the opportunity to make its voice heard at the Ways and Means Committee hearing. The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association comprises more than 1,000 companies that manufacture vehicle parts.

Ann Wilson, senior vice president of the association, testified about the tariff-exclusion application process and the issues companies have experienced. The "[exclusion] process is already creating significant burdens on these companies," Wilson said. "The exclusion-request process lacks transparency and will be particularly burdensome for small manufacturers. It is unbalanced and appears to not allow for successful outcomes for downstream users."

The process established by the Commerce Department penalizes American companies for using imported goods as inputs, even if the source country is a free-trade partner and the imports in question are being sold at market value.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


Why were Alfie Evans' parents denied mercy? (Melanie McDonagh, 28 April 2018, The Spectator)

So, Alfie Evans has died. His father, Tom Evans, said on his Facebook page that his little boy had 'laid down his shield and taken up his wings'... and 'we are absolutely heartbroken'.

So, the judges have got their way; Alder Hey hospital has got its way; the child died on the terms of the authorities, not on those of his parents.

Almost certainly, Alfie would have died whatever course had been taken this week. No one disputes the severity of his neurological condition. And indeed, in previous generations, children in Alfie's conditions would have died long before this; his case is only possible because of medical advances. And obviously, withdrawing life support is not murder... using extraordinary means to sustain life goes beyond the duty of doctors.

But what we have seen is an ugly one-sided battle of Alfie's parents and their supporters - the inarticulate, the misguided, the fundamentalist as well as the decent, ordinary and well meaning - pitted against the medical establishment represented by Alder Hey hospital and the judges. [...]

I would just ask, again, just what would have been lost if Alfie had been flown to Rome to be treated at a Vatican hospital?

While patients (parents) have no right to demand extraordinary measures (unless privately contracted obligations obtain), when they or others are willing to provide such m,measures they should obviously be allowed to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Yemeni security forces kill senior Islamic State commander: statement (Reuters, 4/28/18)

Yemeni security forces said they killed a senior Islamic State commander in a gunbattle in the southern city of Aden on Saturday, dealing a blow to the group's powerful Yemen branch.

Saleh Nasser Fadhl al-Bakshi held the title of "Prince" for the Aden area in the militant group's Yemen affiliate, which has killed hundreds of people, mostly security forces in the country's south, in years of bombing and shooting attacks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Lawyer Who Was Said to Have Dirt on Clinton Had Closer Ties to Kremlin Than She Let On (ANDREW E. KRAMER and SHARON LaFRANIEREAPRIL 27, 2018, NY Times)

Ms. Veselnitskaya had long insisted that she met the president's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman in a private capacity, not as a representative of the Russian government.

"I operate independently of any governmental bodies," she wrote in a November statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives and his institutions other than those related to my professional functions as a lawyer."

But that claim had already been undercut last fall by revelations that her talking points for the Trump Tower meeting -- detailing tax and financial fraud accusations against two Democratic Party donors tied to a Kremlin opponent -- matched those in a confidential memorandum circulated by Mr. Chaika's office.

And a sheaf of Ms. Veselnitskaya's email correspondence released Friday appeared to show that her relationship with Mr. Chaika's office is far closer than she has described.

The emails were obtained by Dossier, an organization set up by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a former tycoon who was stripped of his oil holdings, imprisoned and then exiled from his native Russia. He has emerged as a leading opponent of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Shown copies of the emails by Richard Engel of NBC News, Ms. Veselnitskaya acknowledged that "many things included here are from my documents, my personal documents." She told the Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday that her email accounts were hacked this year by people determined to discredit her, and that she would report the hack to Russian authorities.

Russians followed up on Trump Tower meeting after election, Democrats say (Jeremy Herb,  April 27, 2018, CNN)

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, told CNN's Jim Sciutto on Friday that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya reached out to the Trump family after the election with a request to follow up on efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 Russian sanctions the US enacted over human rights abuses.

Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer at the center of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton but instead Veselnitskaya focused on the repeal of the sanctions.

"Clearly, there's an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act, given that the prior meeting and communications dealt with the offer of help," Schiff said. "It certainly seems like the Russians were ready for payback."

They hired the money.

How the Trump administration's secret efforts to ease Russia sanctions fell short (Michael Isikoff, 6/01/17,Yahoo News)

In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia, according to multiple sources familiar with the events.

Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.

April 27, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Thousands Were Sterilized Under California's Eugenics Law. Now Survivors Could Get Reparations. (Nicole Knight, 4/19/18, Rewire)

When Marsha was categorized because of her IQ score of 56 as a "low moron," the Sonoma State Home in California in 1926 suggested sterilization to stop her from having children.

The field of eugenics during that era was considered scientific. A 1909 California eugenics law permitted forced sterilizations of women and men whose ability to reproduce was deemed a public health threat, as University of Michigan Professor Alexandra Minna Stern and her co-authors described last year in the American Journal of Public Health. Eugenics laws in 32 states empowered government officials and medical professionals to sterilize those considered "unfit" to reproduce.

California's state homes and hospitals carried out one-third of the 60,000 sterilizations performed across the United States, Stern recounted. Among the chief targets were Latinas. Now California lawmakers are poised to make amends, following the examples set by legislators in North Carolina and Virginia, with legislation to pay reparations to the remaining few hundred survivors of eugenics.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Lincoln and Leo XIII against the Nietzscheans: Though from starkly different backgrounds, the two men remain pillars of the natural-law tradition, under assault from both the Left and the Right. (M. D. AESCHLIMAN, April 21, 2018, National Review)

We live in an unusually anomalous culture whose politics and economics are now dominated by Nietzscheans of both the Right and the Left, united particularly in their contempt for long-standing, traditional ideas of reason and ethics, which they believe they have "seen through" and exploded. With the plausibility implosion and waning of Marxism, their ascendancy has increased.

The Nietzscheans of the Right -- in-your-face social-Darwinist capitalists, or their servitors, whose Trumpery is now the national brand -- are the most obvious. The late Ayn Rand is one of their exemplars and heroines, and if they are literate enough to know her history among conservatives they bitterly resent the expulsion of her from their traditionalist ranks by William F. Buckley Jr. and his friend Whittaker Chambers, who denounced her in a notable essay in National Review in 1957. [...]

It was a tragedy of the first order for American history that the Union's and Lincoln's purging the nation of slavery and the restoration of a true, noble understanding of the theological-Lockean claims of the Declaration of Independence (all persons "created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"), achieved in the three post-Civil War constitutional amendments, were immediately succeeded by the emergence of social Darwinism, with its ruthless, amoral "robber barons" and segregationist and imperialist apologists for subordinating anew or eliminating allegedly "inferior races," a line of racialist-imperialist-immoralist belief and propaganda that was to find eloquent support in Nietzsche's ironic, temptingly transgressive rhetoric: "The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And we shall help them to do so. What is more harmful than any vice? Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak -- Christianity." Historian Richard Weikart's fine study From Darwin to Hitler is one of the most thorough and eloquent recent treatments of the tragic, apocalyptic career of this line of thought, belief, and behavior. (See my review of it in NR, March 28, 2005).

The enduring coherence and moral orthodoxy of Lincoln's correction of the original pro-slavery evil and hypocrisy of the American Founding has found its great contemporary expositor and defender in the recently deceased Harry V. Jaffa (1918-2015), in two of the greatest books of modern political thought, Crisis of the House Divided (1959) and A New Birth of Freedom (2000), and Jaffa has been a vitally important figure to natural-law-natural-rights conservatives. Praised by his friend William F. Buckley Jr., and shaping generations of students over his long life, Jaffa has often received high, eloquent, and discriminating tribute in the pages of National Review. Writing there in 1999, Michael Potemra praised Jaffa's Lincolnian universalism as "the lodestar" of his life: "The existence of America says to the whole world that every person has rights, and that when these rights are respected -- when liberty and justice prosper -- the human person flourishes." The late, brilliant, Niebuhrian American historian John Patrick Diggins (1935-2009) reviewed at some length Jaffa's second great Lincoln book, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, in National Review (February 5 , 2001), arguing that "no other scholar has scrutinized the main documents of early American political thought as thoroughly as Jaffa." Himself a distinguished historian and political theorist, Diggins calls Jaffa's book "as comprehensive as an encyclopedia and as exegetical as a scholastic treatise. Whether one agrees with him entirely or not, his argument that the ideas of Jefferson," purged of his hypocrisy, "and Lincoln represent an organic continuity is original and daring and deserves to be debated for years to come."

If Lincoln is the key American hero of the natural law, largely on the basis of his own experience, intuition, and reasoning powers, he is also the inheritor of it on the basis of his reading of the Bible, Euclid, Shakespeare, Blackstone's Commentaries, and the American Founding documents. From Shakespeare and life itself he knew the Machiavellian mind and tendency, in both political and economic life, at the latter of which he was notoriously late in success. And he was an anti-Nietzschean before Nietzsche wrote: avant la lettre. Obsessed with Shakespeare, whose Macbeth he was rereading in the last weeks of his life, he recognized the Machiavellian mind and sensibility: He warned early against the "Caesarism" that could usurp power and destroy the American republic. If Washington was an exemplary opponent and alternative to it, the serpentine Aaron Burr and the demagogic Andrew Jackson were dangerous illustrations of its perennial appeal.

One of the many ways in which Americans are well served by our anti-Intellectualism is in our hostility to Darwinism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


EPA inspector general opens new ethics reviews (Valerie Volcovici, 4/27/18, Reuters) 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general office told Democratic lawmakers it will open a probe of Administrator Scott Pruitt's controversial housing arrangement with a lobbyist and other matters, according to a letter they circulated on Friday.

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Lisée's border fence plan draws ridicule from opposition parties (Philip Authier, 4/26/18, Montreal Gazette)

Jean-François Lisée's plan to deter the arrival of asylum seekers entering Quebec by Roxham Rd. with a fence has earned him ridicule and criticism from his political opponents.

"He started with a fence, then it became a sign, then a cedar hedge," joked Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Jean-François Roberge. "What's next, a garden gnome?" [...]

Lisée, the leader of the Parti Québécois, touched off a controversy Wednesday when he suggested a fence be installed on Roxham Rd. near the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle crossing to deter the hundreds of asylum seekers crossing the border there into Canada and Quebec.

He said the fence would encourage asylum seekers to try other crossings on the border in other provinces. He proposed it could be erected in conjunction with a suspension of Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement, which the PQ has urged the Quebec government to press for. That agreement is being used by asylum seekers to gain access without going through the usual immigration application process.

Asked who would pay for the fence, Lisée cracked a joke, saying, "the Mexicans."

He later downgraded the fence "a sign, a cedar hedge or a police officer."

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Samantha Power Now Regrets Obama Going to Congress for Authority After Drawing Syrian 'Red Line' (Jack Heretik, April 26, 2018, Free Beacon)

"In retrospect, I wish we hadn't gone to Congress with the--in the red line moment, when we had already committed to using force," Power said. "You know, I think, that was actually really a pivotal moment where we knew, prior to that point, that many of Obama's critics were not at the level, you know, things they were for on a Monday if Obama was for them on a Tuesday they were then against them on a Wednesday."

Power then blamed those who were frequent critics and opponents of Obama for his lack of action in Syria.

We knew that and yet that decision to go to Congress was made--and a lot of people don't believe this, but in good faith, in believing that, given the number of people who in response to this monstrous attack on 1,500 people including several hundred kids, so many people come out kind of calling for the president to act, criticizing him for being feckless, and then the president turned around and said, "Okay, here, this is what I want to do. Now we can do this together," and they basically kind of ran for the exits.

"I think that was a misjudgment," she added.

April 26, 2018

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Natalie Portman and the Crisis of Liberal Zionism (Eric Levitz, 4/26/18, New York)

This month, Israeli snipers shot hundreds of Palestinian protesters -- including one journalist wearing a vest marked "PRESS" -- who posed no life-threatening danger to them, or to the people they're meant to protect. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman then justified these shootings on the grounds that "there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip," suggesting that the area's 1.8 million Palestinian men, women, and children are all legitimate targets of state violence. Meanwhile, Israel reneged on an agreement with the United Nations to grant legal status to 40,000 African asylum-seekers (whom the Netanyahu government had previously intended to jail en masse or deport), leaving those long-suffering refugees in a state of limbo.

And then, Natalie Portman did something controversial. [...]

Portman's statement is a model of liberal Zionist dissent. It focuses its fire on Israel's elected leadership, while evincing love for its people; insists that one need not choose between the Jewish value of empathy for the marginalized, and support for the Jewish state; and frames her criticism of Israeli policy as a defense of Israel's own best interests -- all while explicitly disavowing the BDS movement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Trump Humiliated Michael Cohen at His Son's Bar Mitzvah (Jonathan Chait, 4/26/18, New York)

The Wall Street Journal has a sad example of one of the ways in which Trump has previously embarrassed his fixer. Trump agreed to attend Cohen's son's bar mitzvah, but then showed up late, and Cohen humiliatingly delayed the ceremony to suit his boss's arrival. "After Mr. Trump arrived," the Journal reports, "he gave a speech, telling guests he hadn't planned to come, but he relented after Mr. Cohen had repeatedly called him, his secretary and his children begging him to appear, the attendee said."

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Trump's call to 'Fox and Friends' explains why we don't hear much from him (Brian Stelter, April 26, 2018, CNN)

His anger was palpable through the phone. He made troubling admissions that could affect him in court. Even the Fox hosts -- who are naturally sympathetic to his talking points -- seemed surprised by the stream of consciousness.

Later in the day, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times reported that the Fox interview was a cause for concern inside the White House.

"Trump aides fought for months to keep him from doing what he did this morning," she tweeted.

Related: Readers flock to 'A Higher Loyalty,' despite partisan criticism

"Just calling Fox and Friends and talking as if it was one of his private conversations" is the way she described it.

That's what aides had been trying to avoid.

They need to at least double his dose.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Americans trust Comey and the news media more than Trump (The Week, 4/26/18)

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found that 54 percent of Americans think Comey is more likely to tell them the truth about important issues than Trump. Only 35 percent think the president is more trustworthy. [...]

But Americans don't trust Comey because they like him. Forty-one percent view Comey unfavorably, while just 30 percent have a favorable view of the former FBI director.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Firing rocks from a cannon hints at how water reached Earth (Richard A Lovett, 4/26/18, Cosmos)

By firing marble-sized rocks from a giant cannon, scientists have found a way in which the infant Earth might have received much of the water that today makes life possible.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


The Iran Regime-Change Crew Is Back (Vali Nasr, Apr. 25th, 2018, The Atlantic)

Undoing the nuclear deal would pave the way for a return to punishing international economic sanctions on Tehran--this time, not only for its nuclear program, but for its pursuit of medium- and long-range missiles, and support for the Assad regime in Syria. Such a scenario would restrict trade, discourage foreign investment, and potentially force Iran out of the oil market. This would please Saudi Arabia, whose economy depends on high oil prices. During his visit to Washington, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman predicted that the price of oil could rise to $80 a barrel--a price he would need in order to realize his ambitious economic agenda and fulfill the kingdom's military and political aims. Excluding Iran from oil markets would certainly help realize that prediction.

With the Iranian economy on its knees, the Trump administration thinks Tehran would surrender to a better deal--one that the president, eager to flex his deal-making prowess and outshine Obama, would fancy. But this is a risky strategy. Washington led the negotiations for the nuclear deal, and swore off regime change in the process. If Trump scuttled it not only to improve its terms, but also to inch closer to regime change, it will be difficult to persuade other adversaries with dangerous weapons to seriously consider diplomatic engagement. Without credible diplomatic options, war would become the only path available to the United States to address thorny international issues--the very trajectory that the candidate Trump railed against.

Even if Trump gets regime change in Tehran, it may not be the sort he wants. Canceling the nuclear deal and increasing economic pressure on Iran would further marginalize the moderates and pragmatists who favor engagement with the West, while empowering the Revolutionary Guards and their hardline allies. But before that happened (if it happened at all) the instability Washington would hope to sow in Iran could instead surface in countries where it craves stability, most immediately in Iraq. This is because the nuclear deal has provided the United States and Iran with the tacit context to cooperate in Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State. Without the deal, Iraq could once again become a battleground for U.S.- and Iran-backed forces.

Donald and company naturally prefer regimes that repress the Middle East and hate the democratic ones. Like the Realists, they just want populations controlled and kept quiet.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


EXCLUSIVE: Michael Cohen May Have Had Taxi Business In Russia -- And Shady Ties (Ben Fractenberg, April 25, 2018, The Forward)

Even after Cohen started working for Trump in 2006, he boasted that most of his money came from his Russia cab business -- not from his job with the Trump Organization, according to two people who were at the same holiday party in the New York area suburbs with the lawyer in 2008, with about 50 other people. [...]

"We know that (Michael) Cohen came into the Trump organization because he was a conduit for money from Russia, from the Ukraine and immigrants from Russia, immigrants from the Ukraine," said Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, in a podcast. TPM has reported extensively on Cohen.

Indeed, some of Cohen's Russian contacts may have in fact been "organized crime figures," Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson testified before Congress late in 2017, about 11 months after his partner Christopher Steele's bombshell dossier was published by BuzzFeed. The report, according to this transcript of his testimony, laid out the extent of Trump's potential connections to the Kremlin that could compromise his presidency.

Cohen "was first bragging about medallions in New York City and then said, 'but the real money is in the cabs in Russia,'" according to another source at that 2008 party. "He seemed dirty. He seemed sleazy. It stuck with me all this time."

Cohen started to acquire cab licenses in the U.S. in the late 1990s after marrying Soviet emigre Laura Shusterman, whose father, Fima Shusterman, was already in the cab business and had pleaded guilty to defrauding the IRS, according to reports as well as state and federal records. Federal investigators told a Rolling Stone reporter that Cohen met Trump through an introduction by Shusterman.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


The Grand Theorist of Holocaust Denial, Robert Faurisson: A court decision in France finally ends one of the most dispiriting controversies in modern intellectual history. Or does it? (Paul Berman, April 25, 2018, The Tablet)

On April 12, just now, Robert Faurisson suffered one more minor legal defeat in a French court, which is good news, in a small way, for the world, and, in a bigger way, for the newspaper Le Monde. The court ruling means that, in France, you can denounce Faurisson as a "professional liar" and a "falsifier of history." And you do not have to worry about a defamation suit--which is good news for Le Monde because, back in 1978, the editors made the insane error of judging Faurisson to be a man-with-an-idea-worth-debating, and they welcomed him into their pages. Faurisson is of course the theoretician of Holocaust denial. He contributed to Le Monde an "ideas" piece titled "The Debate Over the 'Gas Chambers,' " with the extra quotation marks signifying his belief that Nazi gas chambers are a Zionist lie. And Le Monde has needed, ever since, to make the point over and again that publishing his article was a big mistake, and Faurisson is, in fact, a professional liar and a falsifier of history. The judicial ruling reinforces the point yet again. It is good. We should applaud. But it is sobering to reflect that, 40 years later, the point does need reinforcement, and Faurisson, who is a minor screwball, has had major successes in different corners of the world. And falsification of history turns out to be a factor in history.

The provenance of Faurisson's ideas is altogether curious. He derived them principally from a sad-sack leftwing pacifist in France named Paul Rassinier, whose misfortune during World War II was to be arrested and tortured by the Germans, which permanently ruined his health. He was jailed in two camps, Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora, where conditions were bad. He was beaten by the SS. When he emerged, though, he explained and re-explained at book length that, even if conditions in the camps were less than good, neither were they especially terrible, and Germany's conduct during the war was no worse than any other country's. Germany ought not to be demonized. And the truly evil people in the camps were the Communist prisoners. And the Jews were responsible for the war. [...]

Then again, Faurisson's successes came on the ultraleft, chiefly in France. A group of well-known veterans of the 1968 uprising in Paris, the Vieille Taupe or "Old Mole" group, led by someone named Pierre Guillaume, began to see in Faurisson's writings a tool for advancing the anti-imperialist cause (on the grounds that Western imperialism was the largest crime of the 20th century, but its criminality has been concealed under a cloud of accusations about the crimes of Nazism--which means that, if Nazi behavior can be shown to have been no worse than anybody else's, the scale of the imperialist crime can at last stand fully revealed). Guillaume ran a small publishing house, which he dedicated to bringing out Holocaust-denial literature, beginning with Rassinier's writings (which, in English, are best-known under the title Debunking the Genocide Myth: A Study of the Nazi Concentration Camps and the Alleged Extermination of European Jewry). And he published the dossier of the Faurisson affair that I have just quoted, together with Faurisson himself and still other authors on similar themes in a more classically Nazi vein. Faurisson's struggle was not a lonely one, then. Nor is it lonely today. In France and the United States both, he has enjoyed a small but fervent institutional backing.

But mostly his success came about among mainstream journalists and intellectuals--among people who were prompted to adopt their positions by the Old Moles, but knew how to avoid the shrill tone of the marginal ultraleft. Faurisson's triumph in persuading Le Monde to publish "The Debate Over the 'Gas Chambers' " marked the sensational high-point of this particular success. But the deeper success was to attract a number of well-known intellectuals and to convince those people to treat him as one of their own--as a thoughtful man, scientifically inclined, brave, and capable of seeing through the bigotries of the age. One of those well-known intellectuals was a scholar of Third World matters named Serge Thion, who was a specialist on Cambodia (with a subspecialty in arguing that Cambodia did not undergo a genocide under the Khmer Rouge). It was Serge Thion who edited the dossier of the Faurisson affair for Pierre Guillaume's publishing house. And, in Paris in 1979, at a conference on Cambodia, Thion succeeded in recruiting Noam Chomsky, who in those days was more than well-known--was, indeed, already a world figure. Chomsky struck up an alliance with Guillaume, as well. And he made a number of interventions into the affair, oddly and insistently sympathetic to Faurisson--which meant that Faurisson, the minor screwball, found himself, at last, standing at the absolute center of intellectual debate in France and in various countries around the world, reviled by some, admired by others, with the debate revolving not only around himself but also around his celebrated American champion, Chomsky, the genius.

Chomsky has always maintained that, in intervening into the Faurisson affair, he took an abstract position for free speech, and nothing more, and he did not bother much with the affair. Chomsky's defenders and biographers in print and film have repeated the claim, too, which means that probably a great majority of the people who know anything at all about the affair can only think of Chomsky's insistence as fact. And it is true that Chomsky spoke up for free speech. But the free-speech argument never attracted much attention, even if he has liked to pretend otherwise. What attracted attention was Chomsky's oddly respectful tone toward Faurisson. He left the clear implication that Faurisson is a scientific-minded researcher, with conclusions or findings that ought to be accorded the kind of respect that is accorded to any authentically scientific researcher. Chomsky left this impression in a petition that he signed in Faurisson's defense; and in an essay on the Faurisson affair that he composed, which ran as a preface to a book by Faurisson (though Chomsky has insisted that he never wanted his essay to run as a preface, about which there is further controversy); and in a series of responses to his critics, myself included, over several years and in several countries. And at the center of Chomsky's argument was the insistent claim that Faurisson is not, in fact, an anti-Semite.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


NY Times Reporter Admits She Was 'Unwitting Agent' Of Russians (Matt Gertz, April 26, 2018, MediaMatters)

New York Times reporter Amy Chozick's just-released memoir, Chasing Hillary, offers a detailed and direct admission that major media outlets played into Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands by devoting obsessive coverage to hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. It's a striking acknowledgment, given how defensive the Times and its campaign journalists have generally been about their work. [...]

In a chapter titled "How I Became an Unwitting Agent of Russian Intelligence," Chozick, who spent a decade covering Hillary Clinton for the Times and The Wall Street Journal, recounts the October afternoon when WikiLeaks began releasing a new set of documents obtained from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's Gmail account. By then, journalists had reason to suspect that hackers working for Russian intelligence services were the source of the emails. Nonetheless, Chozick writes that she "chose the byline" rather than urging her editors to consider the possibility that the paper was being used by a hostile government. She was not alone -- virtually every major publication devoted significant attention to the hacked emails.

Only after the election, when Times national security reporters detailed how the all-consuming reporting had aided the Russian plot, did Chozick come to grips with what she had done: "[N]othing hurt worse than my own colleagues calling me a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence. The worst part was they were right."

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Kim Jong-un could play Trump like a $10 fiddle. Here's how (The Spectator, 28 April 2018)

North Korea has shown it has the ability to create atomic explosions, and has demonstrated it can launch long-distance missiles, even if they have been a little wayward in their journeys into the Pacific. What we don't know is whether the country has the technology to put these two things together and produce a workable inter-continental nuclear weapon.

The new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, says he thinks that North Korea is nearly at the stage of producing a weapon which could reach the US. There is another interpretation, however: that North Korea is nowhere near doing this, and has pulled back on its nuclear programme before the extent of its competence becomes clear. Unless Kim Jong-un is prepared to dismantle his weapons programme and invite international weapons inspectors to verify this, there will always remain the prospect that design and development will continue, with tests set to resume at a later date. [...]

There is no sign that China has suddenly announced that it will address issues of intellectual property and other genuine concerns that the US has had about Chinese industry in recent years. All Trump has achieved is to leave markets jittery, make US firms more concerned about investing in China and vice versa. The global economy began this year on a high point of confidence. Much of that has dissipated with the threats of trade wars.

Kim Jong-un has been characterised as an unpredictable, unknown quantity capable of lashing out at other countries without reason and with little thought to the interests of his people. That is not unusual among dictators. Much the same description, however, could be applied to Donald Trump -- which is unusual among leaders of democratic nations.

Kim already won everything he wanted.  A meeting is just icing on the cake.

Geologists say North Korea's nuclear test site has collapsed (CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, 4/26/18, AP)

Research by Chinese geologists shows the mountain above North Korea's main nuclear test site has collapsed, rendering it unsafe for further testing and requiring that it be monitored for any leaking radiation.

The findings by the scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China may shed new light on North Korean President Kim Jong Un's announcement that his country was ceasing its testing program ahead of planned summit meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.

April 25, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 PM


Fox News poll: Majority think Mueller will find Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses (JACQUELINE THOMSEN, 04/25/18, The Hill)

A Fox News poll released Wednesday reported that a majority of Americans believe that special counsel Robert Mueller will find that President Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses.

Fifty-six of respondents in the poll said they believed Mueller's probe will find that Trump committed the offenses. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Hamilton: What the Musical Won't Tell You (Kelsey Holmberg, April 13, 2018, Intercollegiate Review)

Being a realist, Hamilton was pessimistic about human nature and skeptical of democracy. He believed "a nation without a national government" was "an awful spectacle." He knew that national power was necessary, and warned against modelling political systems on the basis of "lasting tranquility" in Federalist No. 34.

Hamilton's true political ideas might be too startling for audiences today, given America's current political climate. A New York Times journalist pointed to the irony of Hamilton's newfound popularity, noting, "It's an odd moment for the public to embrace an unabashed elitist who liked big banks, mistrusted the masses and at one point called for a monarchal presidency and a Senate that served for life."

An aggressive executive branch was central to his vision. In Federalist No. 70, Hamilton wrote, "Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government." A vigorous executive was precisely what would make America's system work well. The legitimacy and strength of the executive was so important that Hamilton insisted George Washington continue for a second term to provide stability in the early years of the nation.

It's the perfect time to celebrate someone who opposed populism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Wylie to House Dems: Bannon ordered Putin messaging tests (ASHLEY GOLD, 04/25/2018, Politico)

Former Trump campaign manager and administration official Steve Bannon ordered Cambridge Analytica staff to test messaging around Russian president Vladimir Putin and Russian expansion in 2014, Cambridge Analytica whisteblower Christopher Wylie told House Democrats this week.

"It was the only foreign issue, or foreign leader, I should say, being tested at the time I was there," Wylie told Democrats from the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, according to excerpts the lawmakers released today drawn from a Tuesday briefing with Wylie. Under Bannon's instruction, the firm discussed Putin with focus groups and was "also testing images of Vladimir Putin and asking questions about Russian expansion in Eastern Europe," Wylie said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Everybody likes Nikki Haley (Dave Lawler, 4/25/18, Axios)

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is the most popular member of President Trump's foreign policy team, surpassing Defense Secretary Mattis, and she even has widespread approval among Democrats, young people and minorities, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. [...]

Haley's approval/disapproval: Republicans (75/9), Democrats (55/23), Independents (63/19).

Her strategy has been brilliant, leaving the vp in her dust.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Inside the Confidential N.F.L. Meeting to Discuss National Anthem Protests (Ken Belson and Mark Leibovich, April 25, 2018, NY Times)

After discussing a proposal to finance nonprofit groups to address player concerns, they wanted to talk about why Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who started the anthem protests to highlight social injustice and police brutality against African-Americans, was, they believed, being blackballed by the owners. The owners sounded panicked about their business under attack, and wanted to focus on damage control.

"If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive," Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long said at the meeting.

Long said he did not wish to "lecture any team" on what quarterbacks to sign, but "we all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster." The owners' responses were noncommittal. The Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that fighting for social justice is not "about one person."

The New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft pointed to another "elephant in the room."

"This kneeling," he said.

"The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don't feel is in the best interests of America," said Kraft, who is a longtime supporter of Mr. Trump's.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


How Congressional Republicans Have Neutered the Trump Agenda (MATT GLASSMAN, April 25, 2018, weekly Standard)

Powerful political actors -- most notably the majority party leadership and president, but also committee chairmen -- not only can sway how rank-and-file members vote, but they can also influence what subjects are brought up for consideration and, perhaps more importantly, ensure undesired legislation never makes it to the floor. This latter practice -- negative agenda control -- is particularly powerful because when something doesn't happen, no evidence of it is left behind for observers, electoral challengers, or voters to attract scrutiny.

Agenda-setting also provides positive power, allowing leaders to set the party's legislative priorities. When party leaders clash over these priorities, the resulting agenda is a window into where power actually lies. By this measure, GOP legislative power mostly lies in Congress right now.  Republican leaders have almost completely ignored the policy priorities of President Trump.

To date, not one major piece of legislation has been taken up that ideologically reflects Trumpism rather than Republican orthodoxy.

One of the reason we can enjoy the clowshow so much is because he can't actually do anything.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Bob Dorough and the Magic Number (Tom Maxwell, 4/25/18, Longreads)

"Schoolhouse Rock!," and Bob Dorough as its musical director, presented these animated gems as just another Saturday morning cartoon, and we ate it up. The music was irresistible, bypassing the brain and heading straight for the heart. It expressed a casual mastery, a deep sense of connection, and -- to borrow a modern phrase -- "baked-in diversity."

"Verb: That's What's Happenin'" gives us not only an insanely catchy song, but a black superhero. The cartoon aired on September 22, 1973, a scant six years after the Black Panther debuted in the Fantastic Four comic book series. Zachary Sanders sang it, but Bob Dorough wrote it.

Blossom Dearie, Dorough's friend and collaborator since the mid-'50s, sang his delicate and melancholy "Figure Eight." Again, Bob looked for the meaning behind the number: "Place it on its side," he wrote, "and it's a symbol meaning infinity."

Before all that, though, Bob Dorough was a solid jazz player who managed a rare vocal on a Miles Davis record. His singing was vulnerable and idiosyncratic, expressed with a charming Southern drawl -- definitely not what was considered popular at the time, especially in the mid-1950s, when Dorough released his first solo album, Devil May Care (his own website describes one performance as having "the soft-spoken tones of a hip elf"). [...]

As one astute YouTube commenter (it can happen) pointed out, Bob Dorough's singing was demotic: "of or relating to the ordinary, everyday, current form of language [or] everyday people." He spoke to us, about some extraordinary things, as if we not only could understand, but wanted to.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


Institution shocks and economic outcomes: Allende's election, Pinochet's coup and the Santiago stock market (Daniele Girardia & Samuel Bowles, September 2018, Journal of Development Economics)

To study the effect of political and institutional changes on the economy, we look at share prices in the Santiago exchange during the tumultuous political events that characterized Chile in the early 1970s. We use a transparent empirical strategy, deploying previously unused daily data and exploiting two largely unexpected shocks which involved substantial variation in policies and institutions, providing a rare natural experiment. Allende's election and subsequent socialist experiment decreased share values, while the military coup and dictatorship that replaced him boosted them, in both cases by magnitudes unprecedented in the literature. The most parsimonious interpretation of these share price changes is that they reflected, respectively, the perceived threat to private ownership of the means of production under a socialist government, and its subsequent reversal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


A Republican Running For Governor In Michigan Is Using Unfounded Conspiracy Theories Against A Muslim American Rival (Talal Ansari, 4/24/18, BuzzFeed News)

Colbeck's presentation was loaded with false conspiracy theories that have been pushed by the far right to undermine Muslim Americans. A recent BuzzFeed News analysis found that state and local Republican politicians and officials have publicly attacked Islam in 49 states since 2015, typically with impunity.

"There's a lot of pressure being applied in our society right now. You're seeing Muslim legislators in the state legislature. And you're seeing also a push at the local level at city councils," Colbeck can be heard saying as a slide titled "Civilization Jihad Techniques" is up on a screen.

Well-funded anti-Muslim groups like the Center for Security Policy and ACT for America -- once fringe elements of the conservative movement that have recently risen to prominence in the Trump era -- have alleged for years that Muslim Americans are subverting US laws through the practice of Sharia and that it would replace or supercede the laws of the land.

Sharia -- often used as a fear-inducing term associated with anti-Western beliefs -- is simply a religious code of conduct, no different than those contained in other Abrahamic religions.

Oftentimes anti-Muslim conspiracy theories also involve the belief that the Muslim Brotherhood -- the oldest political Sunni Islamist group that began in Egypt and has since spread to many Arab nations -- is actually infiltrating every aspect of Muslim American society with nefarious intentions. There were unfounded allegations that Hillary Clinton's top aide, Huma Abedin, was a member, for example.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


France's Macron calls on U.S. to engage world, reject nationalism (Reuters, 4/25/18) 

French President Emmanuel Macron urged the United States to reject narrow nationalism and engage the world, telling U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that modern economic and security challenges must be a shared responsibility.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives to address a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Capping a three-day visit to the United States, Macron told a joint meeting of Congress that isolationism and nationalism were "a tempting remedy for our fears." But he said international engagement was the only solution.

"This requires -- more than ever -- the United States' involvement as your role was decisive for creating and guarding today's free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism. You are the one now who has to help preserve and reinvent it," he said.

Some bromance....

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Cosmological inflation reproduced in a lab (Lauren Fuge, 4/25/18, Cosmos)

US physicists have used ultra-cold atoms to model the universe's expansion in a lab, a process that could be used to test cosmological theories right here on Earth. [...]

"The nice thing is that from these results, we now know how to design experiments in the future to target the different effects that we hope to see," says Gretchen Campbell, co-author of the study and also from NIST.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


Hannity's shady real estate deals just came back to bite him in humiliating fashion (Grant Stern, Apr. 24th, 2018, Washington Press)

The latest shoe to drop is Sean Hannity's sketchy purchase of a dozen homes in Atlanta through Henssler Financial, the financial advisor he part-owns and pitches on his show without telling his audience about his financial stake, which itself is another major financial conflict of interest.

Now, the Guardian reveals that Sean Hannity's real estate company bought those homes from a major fraud ring convicted of perpetrating a criminal conspiracy to rig the bids in foreclosure auctions after the 2008 housing crash:

In 2012, a shell company linked to the Fox News host bought 11 homes in Georgia that had been purchased by the dealer, Jeff Brock, following foreclosures. Brock transferred the properties to corporate vehicles that sold them on to the Hannity-linked company at a profit.

Brock pleaded guilty in 2016 to federal charges of bank fraud and conspiracy for his role in an operation to rig foreclosure auctions between 2007 and 2012. He was sentenced to six months in prison and had to pay more than $166,000 in fines and restitution.

"By the very nature of this criminal act, the bank," said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI's Atlanta Division when the 20-person operation was busted, "and more importantly, the homeowner owner in financial distress, are the victims that these federal laws were created to protect."

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM

HIS LIPS WERE MOVING (degeneracy alert):

Miss Universe 2013 Host Thomas Roberts Confirms: Trump Stayed Overnight in Moscow (Andrew Kirell, 04.24.18, Daily Beast)

According to Comey's memos about that conversation, Trump claimed it was impossible for him to have done any such thing, because "he had spoken to people who had been on... the trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn't stay over night in Russia for that."

All available evidence proves otherwise--from flight records obtained by Politico to social media posts from the time to testimony from Trump's own bodyguard. And now there's more proof.

Thomas Roberts, host of that year's Miss Universe pageant, confirmed to The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Trump was in Moscow for one full night and at least part of another.

No one wonders why he's lying.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


After Toronto attack, online misogynists praise suspect as 'new saint' (Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny, Apr.24.2018, NBC News)

Before allegedly killing 10 people with a van in Toronto, Alek Minassian appeared to have posted a message on Facebook that linked him to a toxic online community of misogynists that has become the source of a growing pattern of violence.

The Facebook post, which authorities who spoke with NBC News believe came from Minassian, links Minassian to an online community known as "incels," short for involuntary celibates. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also reported that Facebook confirmed the authenticity of the post.

Self-described incels congregate mostly online, meeting in forums and message boards like Reddit and 4chan, and its offshoot site 8chan, to discuss their hopelessness with women in posts that are peppered with racist and misogynistic rants.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Cars Are Ruining Our Cities (Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey, April 25, 2018, NY Times)

[T]he public and a few of our bolder political leaders are waking up to the reality that we simply cannot keep jamming more cars into our cities.

A century of experience has taught us the folly of it. Three pathologies emerge. First, every car becomes the enemy of every other. The car you hate most is the one that's right in front of you not moving. As cars pile in, journey times and pollution rise.

Second, after a certain point, more cars make the city a less congenial place for strollers, bicyclists and people who take public transit to their destinations. The cars push out frolicking kids, quiet afternoons reading on a bench and sidewalk cafes. So we give up our public space, our neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and ultimately our personal mobility for the next car, and the next one.

And then there is the odd fact, counterintuitive as it is, that building more roads does not really cure congestion and can even make it worse. The problem, as experts realized starting in the 1930s, is that as soon as you build a highway or add lanes to a freeway, cars show up to fill the available capacity. The phenomenon is so well understood that it has a name: induced traffic demand. [...]

London now has 15 years of experience with a stiff "congestion charge" that discourages many drivers from entering the city center. In a virtuous cycle, the money goes to better public transit and more bike lanes. Early legislative discussions are underway about trying the same thing in Seattle and in some of California's more congested cities. New York has just turned down such a plan for the second time in a decade, but the idea is not going to die -- the city needs it too badly.

In the crowded cities of Asia, people are not allowed to get a car just because they want one. Shanghai residents must buy license plates that have gone for up to $13,000 at auction, and Beijing residents have to enter a lottery for a plate. 

Congestion tax and toll them to cover the externalities they impose.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


James Comey says Patrick Fitzgerald has been his lawyer 'since I was fired' (Lynn Sweet, 4/25/18, Chicago Sun-Times)

Comey told the Sun-Times that Fitzgerald is part of his three-member legal team that also includes David Kelley, a former deputy U.S. attorney under Comey in New York, and Dan Richman of Columbia Law School, another former federal prosecutor. [...]

Comey and Fitzgerald have been friends for decades, dating back to when they both worked as prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

Appointed to be the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in September 2001, Fitzgerald prosecuted former Illinois governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge as well as former Sun-Times owner Conrad Black.

In 2003, Comey -- then the deputy attorney general -- appointed Fitzgerald as the special counsel to investigate the leaked identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Former Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby was convicted, though he was pardoned by Trump last week.

Fitzgerald, who has been loath to comment on political matters since shifting to private practice, issued a rare statement after the pardon, saying the "facts have not changed."

At the Tuesday reception hosted by his literary agency Javelin, Comey said it was his "first book party ever." Playing on Comey's ongoing feud with the Trump administration, cocktails on the drink menu were named "Deep State," the "Southern District" and "[REDACTED]."

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Mick Mulvaney Tells Bankers to Pay Up If They Want Favors From Trump (Jonathan Chait, 4/25/18, New York)

Mick Mulvaney, the budget director and director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has gutted the latter agency's role in preventing consumer fraud. Tuesday, he met with lobbyists and executives from the banking industry, promising further steps to gut regulations to prevent them from cheating customers. That's not even the scandalous part! The scandalous part is that Mulvaney asked the executives and lobbyists to donate more money, and told them the more they donated, the more influence they would have. Mulvaney didn't offer this as a sad concession to reality but an actual principle of governance he had personally abided:

"We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress," Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lobbyists at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Blasting Trump Justice, Republican Federal Judge Fully Reinstates DACA (National Memo, April 24, 2018)

In another sharp blow to the Trump administration's immigration policy, US District Judge John Bates reinstated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was scheduled to end under a presidential order.

Expanding on previous judicial orders rejecting the Trump policy, he ordered the administration to accept new DACA applications as well as to continue processing renewal applications -- which could mean protection for hundreds of thousands of children and youth brought here by immigrant parents.

Denouncing the cancellation of DACA as "arbitrary and capricious" because the Department of Homeland Security had failed to adequately justify a policy that will severely disrupt millions of lives, the judge issued a harsh, 60 page opinion calling the Trump policy "particularly egregious."

A George W. Bush appointee who sits on the US District Court for the District of Columbia -- and once helped to write Kenneth Starr's indictment of Bill Clinton -- Bates described the administration's legal argument as "barebones," "implausible," "meager," and "doubly insufficient."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


Spotify just made its free tier way better (The Local, 25 April 2018)

"We know that it's the only way that we are going to be able to achieve our goal of getting billions of fans on the platform and getting the entire music industry to the size that we think it should be," Gustav Söderström, the Swedish company's chief research and development officer, told a news conference in New York.

In the first significant redesign of its free tier since 2014, Spotify said that non-paying users will be able to pick and choose which songs to play on up to 15 curated playlists - roughly 40 hours of music per day.

Non-subscribers previously had to settle for a shuffle of tracks.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 AM


Trump Tweets And Slurs Help Comey Sell 600,000 Books ( Eric Boehlert, 4/24/18, Shareblue.com)

After its first week in stores, the book has posted record numbers, selling 600,000 copies in all formats. That surpassed Hillary Clinton's memoir, "What Happened," which sold 300,000 copies in its first week.

Comey's book is now the biggest debut of 2018, and biggest debut for a non-fiction book in at least five years.

April 24, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Bob Dorough, Jazz Musician Best Known For 'Schoolhouse Rock!,' Dead At 94 (Andrew Flanagan, 4/24/18, NPR)

The Arkansas-born, Texas-raised Dorough began working in music in the army, serving as a composer, arranger and player in the Special Services Army Band between 1943 and '45, before getting a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Texas. In the late '40s, Dorough made his way to New York, working there as a pianist and singer.

He released his debut album, Devil May Care, in 1956 on Gus Wildi's Bethlehem label, also home to Nina Simone's first album. Devil May Care was a document of loungey bebop, with Dorough's windy, charming and idiosyncratically accented singing of buoyant lyrics that hinted at his success to come. "In a dream / the strangest and oddest things / appear / and what insane insane and silly things / we do," he sang on "I Had the Craziest Dream."

Not long after the release of Devil May Care, the legendary Miles Davis recorded his own interpretation of its title track, which would go on to become a jazz standard.

Dorough collaborated with Davis on the serrated holiday song "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)" and later sang on "Nothing Like You," the closing track of Davis' 1967 album Sorcerer. As critic Ben Ratliff wrote in notes accompanying a vinyl reissue of Sorcerer last fall: "The trumpeter Leron Thomas recently told me that he thinks of it as Miles's version of a Looney Tunes move: 'That's All, Folks.' "

Then, in 1971, with the jazz money running thin, Dorough was asked by his boss at the advertising company where he had a day job to set the multiplication tables to music; his boss cited his children's ability to remember Hendrix and Rolling Stones lyrics, but not their school lessons.

"I got the idea that three is a magic number," Dorough told NPR's Rachel Martin in 2013. "Then I looked in the magic book and sure enough, three is one of the magic numbers." That concept became the song "Three Is a Magic Number" and the project would become the Grammy-nominated Multiplication Rock. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Trump Praises North Korea's Kim as 'Very Honorable' (Justin Sink, April 24, 2018, Bloomberg)

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


People Voted for Trump Because They Were Anxious, Not Poor (Olga Khazan|Apr. 23rd, 2018, The Atlantic)

"For the first time since Europeans arrived in this country," [the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz] notes, "white Americans are being told that they will soon be a minority race." When members of a historically dominant group feel threatened, she explains, they go through some interesting psychological twists and turns to make themselves feel okay again. First, they get nostalgic and try to protect the status quo however they can. They defend their own group ("all lives matter"), they start behaving in more traditional ways, and they start to feel more negatively toward other groups.

This could be why in one study, whites who were presented with evidence of racial progress experienced lower self-esteem afterward. In another study, reminding whites who were high in "ethnic identification" that nonwhite groups will soon outnumber them revved up their support for Trump, their desire for anti-immigrant policies, and their opposition to political correctness. [...]

Mutz examined voters whose incomes declined, or didn't increase much, or who lost their jobs, or who were concerned about expenses, or who thought they had been personally hurt by trade. None of those things motivated people to switch from voting for Obama in 2012 to supporting Trump in 2016. Indeed, manufacturing employment in the United States has actually increased somewhat since 2010. And as my colleague Adam Serwer has pointed out, "Clinton defeated Trump handily among Americans making less than $50,000 a year."

Meanwhile, a few things did correlate with support for Trump: a voter's desire for their group to be dominant, as well as how much they disagreed with Clinton's views on trade and China. Trump supporters were also more likely than Clinton voters to feel that "the American way of life is threatened," and that high-status groups, like men, Christians, and whites, are discriminated against.

This sense of unfounded persecution is far from rare, and it seems to be heightened during moments of societal change. As my colleague Emma Green has written, white evangelicals see more discrimination against Christians than Muslims in the United States, and 79 percent of white working-class voters who had anxieties about the "American way of life" chose Trump over Clinton. As I pointed out in the fall of 2016, several surveys showed many men supported Trump because they felt their status in society was threatened, and that Trump would restore it. Even the education gap in support for Trump disappears, according to one analysis, if you account for the fact that non-college-educated whites are simply more likely to affirm racist views than those with college degrees. (At the most extreme end, white supremacists also use victimhood to further their cause.)

People have an overweening need to believe themselves special.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


How Devin Nunes Turned the House Intelligence Committee Inside Out (Jason Zengerle, Apr. 24th, 2018, NY Times Magazine)

In Late August 2016, Donald Trump paid a visit to Tulare, Calif., a small city in the agricultural Central Valley and an unlikely stop for a Republican presidential campaign. California is a solidly blue state, and although Trump was in Tulare to speak at a fund-raiser, the $2,700 that most guests ponied up to attend hardly seemed substantial enough to justify the presence of a busy candidate. (At a fund-raiser Trump attended in Silicon Valley the day before, guests paid $25,000 a head.) At least one senior Trump campaign official argued against the trip, deeming it a colossal waste of time.

But Trump had one very good reason for visiting Tulare: It is the hometown of Representative Devin Nunes. While many Republican elected officials had maintained a wary distance from their party's presidential nominee, Nunes, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was one of the few, not to mention one of the most prominent, to offer Trump his unequivocal support -- which included holding the fund-raiser. Better still, Trump liked Nunes. Although the 44-year-old congressman seems to wear a permanent grimace in public, as if trying to lend his boyish face some gravitas, in private he is a bit of a bon vivant. "He's a pretty easy guy to like," says Johnny Amaral, Nunes's longtime political consigliere and friend. "And he's fiercely loyal. I think Trump recognized that."

The day before the Tulare event, Nunes drove up to the Bay Area to meet Trump and brief him on his district. Nunes expected to drive back to Tulare that evening, but Trump invited Nunes to fly with him to Los Angeles instead and then on to Tulare the next morning. It is unclear just what they discussed over those 24 hours, but by all accounts they seem to have strengthened their bond, and Nunes soon entered Trump's inner circle -- cementing a political alliance that would become one of the most consequential of the Trump era.

In the beginning, it was Nunes who influenced Trump. During the campaign, he tutored the candidate on water policy -- a crucial issue to California agribusiness interests -- and Trump heeded his warnings about the perfidy of environmentalists and government bureaucrats who were creating a "man-made drought." At the Tulare fund-raiser, Trump promised the crowd that he would get their water back for them. Once Trump was elected, he appointed Nunes to the executive committee of his transition team, where Nunes helped shape the nascent Trump administration's foreign policy. "He just took a very proactive role," one Trump transition official recalls. "He was very aggressive and assertive about things and people we had to have." According to the Trump transition official, Nunes was among the strongest advocates for Mike Pompeo, a colleague of his on the Intelligence Committee, to become the C.I.A. director and for James Mattis to become the secretary of defense. He also recommended a number of staff members, including his Intelligence Committee aide Derek Harvey, for positions on the National Security Council. "If we didn't have Nunes," the transition official says, "we wouldn't have had anything stood up. He took the lead and was very important."

The Trump team was so impressed with Nunes that, according to the transition official, it considered bringing him into the administration. A few weeks after the election, the congressman traveled to Trump Tower, where, according to transition officials, he and Trump discussed the possibility of his becoming the director of national intelligence and overseeing an ambitious reorganization of the intelligence community. But Trump ultimately decided to shelve those plans and appoint as director a less disruptive figure, Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator. Besides, with Pompeo leaving Capitol Hill for Langley, Trump's circle believed that Nunes would be even more valuable to the administration if he remained in Congress, running the Intelligence Committee.

'Devin and I had a very good relationship until March 21,' Adam Schiff said. 'From that point on, I think that he considered it his primary mission to protect the White House no matter the cost.'

Some 17 months later, that looks to have been a remarkably prescient decision -- as Trump appears to have been able to influence Nunes to a remarkable degree. So much so that during Trump's time in the White House, Nunes has transformed the Intelligence Committee into a beachhead from which to rally his fellow Republicans in support of the president against his perceived enemies -- not just the Democratic Party but also the F.B.I., the Department of Justice and the entire intelligence community. [...]

While many Republicans on Capitol Hill may nurse private reservations about Trump but choose not to voice them or stand in his way out of political calculation and fear, Nunes is a true believer. Years before the Russia investigation, he was extremely skeptical of -- if not paranoid about -- the American military and intelligence establishments in a way that presaged Trump's denunciations of the "deep state." Now he and Trump are waging war against these foes, real and imagined, together.

Devin Nunes began his political career, appropriately enough, because he believed he had uncovered a sinister plot.

It's a valiant attempt to stop the functioning of the Republic, but a futile one.  The dramatic releases of documents that they don't understand are damning for Donald has been particularly amusing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Kellyanne Conway's Double Standard (David Frum, Apr. 23rd, 2018, The Atlantic)

First, some background. Conway's husband George is a highly distinguished and successful lawyer. He also operates a Twitter account on which he often posts cutting remarks about the Trump presidency. George Conway's comments do not deal with policy, but with more fundamental issues of character and integrity. For example, on the morning of Sunday April 22--just minutes before Kellyanne Conway's appearance on CNN--George Conway retweeted the following:

The most obvious interpretation of that message is that Conway shared the tweeter's implicit view that President Trump is not actuated by love of country, but instead by love of self.

Many people in government have spouses of course, and many of those spouses say things on social media. Why are George Conway's comments more interesting than most? The reason is captured in this New York Times report from May 15, 2017.

The hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" said on Monday that the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway complained extensively about President Trump in private conversations with them before he was elected.

Mika Brzezinski said during Monday's broadcast that she heard Ms. Conway denounce the candidate in private after promoting him on television.

"She would get off the air, the camera would be turned off, the microphone would be taken off, and she would say 'Blech, I need to take a shower,' because she disliked her candidate so much," Ms. Brzezinski said of Ms. Conway.

Joe Scarborough, Ms. Brzezinski's co-host and fiancé, echoed the statements, saying that Ms. Conway said after being interviewed that she had only taken the job for money and that she would soon be done defending Mr. Trump. "'But first I have to take a shower, because it feels so dirty to be saying what I'm saying,'" Ms. Brzezinski added, mocking what the hosts said was Ms. Conway's attitude at the time. "I guess she's just used to it now."

Conway has denied the story. But her husband's tweets suggest he currently holds views broadly similar to those attributed to Kellyanne by the Morning Joe hosts. And that, in turn, raises the possibility that she privately still feels the same way she allegedly did during the campaign: disgusted with the bad character of the man she helped elect to the presidency. If one of the most senior counselors of the United States does inwardly feel such acute disgust toward her boss, yet serves him anyway for her own personal advantage, that is important information both about the president and about the kind of people staffing his White House.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Watch NY Bargoers Force Out 'Nazi Scum' Milo Yiannopoulos (Dan Rozenblum, 23 APR 2018, The Pluralist)

The right-wing provocateur and former Breitbart News editor unwittingly walked into the lion's den. His pub of choice ​was hosting a Democratic Socialists of America meeting. Suffice it to say, his presence did not go unnoticed.
As seen in videos posted to Twitter, the bargoers chanted "Nazi scum get out!" eventually forcing Yiannopoulos and his friend out of the bar. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry (Bloomberg, April 23, 2018)

Electric buses were seen as a joke at an industry conference in Belgium seven years ago when the Chinese manufacturer BYD Co. showed an early model.

"Everyone was laughing at BYD for making a toy," recalled Isbrand Ho, the Shenzhen-based company's managing director in Europe. "And look now. Everyone has one."

Suddenly, buses with battery-powered motors are a serious matter with the potential to revolutionize city transport--and add to the forces reshaping the energy industry. With China leading the way, making the traditional smog-belching diesel behemoth run on electricity is starting to eat away at fossil fuel demand.

The numbers are staggering. China had about 99 percent of the 385,000 electric buses on the roads worldwide in 2017, accounting for 17 percent of the country's entire fleet. Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters--the equivalent of London's entire working fleet, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


The Jewish Bible's stand on migrants is unambiguous (Jeremiah Unterman, APRIL 24, 2018, Times of Israel)

The oft-pronounced goal of the State of Israel is to be a country comprised of the highest democratic and Jewish values. Unfortunately, in the national discourse on what is to be done concerning the approximately 40,000 non-Jewish Africans who have migrated to Israel in recent years, Jewish values have been mentioned primarily in generalities. It behooves us to take a serious look at what the founding document of Jewish ethics - our Bible, the Tanakh - has to say on what has become an extremely divisive issue. Indeed, although non-Jewish migrants per se are not a major issue of discussion in the Tanakh, the Torah and the Prophets have a great deal to say about the stranger who dwells among us - the ger, the resident alien. [...]

[I]t is important to pay attention to two phrases that are frequently repeated in the Torah: "for you were gerim (resident aliens) in the land of Egypt" (Exod. 22:20; 23:9; Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19), which shows empathy for the resident alien, and "there shall be one law for you and the ger" (or, "like the citizen, the ger" - Exod. 12:47-48; Lev. 24:16, 22; Num. 9:14; 15:15, 29-30, etc.), which exemplifies legal equality between the Israelite and the resident alien.

The prophets echoed the Torah's outcry against mistreatment of the resident alien (Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7, 29; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; see also Psalms 94:6; 146:9). The permission of Boaz to grant Ruth the migrant the right to glean in his field may well be based upon the commandments enabling the resident alien to glean from the harvest in Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; and Deut. 24:19.

The Biblical treatment of the ger resulted in many if not most resident aliens eventually converting to Judaism. Therefore, by the Hellenistic period the term ger had acquired a new meaning - the proselyte to Judaism. Today, they, as much as any other Jews, are our ancestors.

To summarize, it is clear from the Torah's laws, as well as the Prophets and the Writings, that the stranger/resident alien was a member of the disadvantaged elements of society. He is grouped together with the poor, the widow and the orphan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Missouri Senate Race Turns Against GOP Over Scandals (Matthew Chapman, April 24, 2018, Shareblue.com)

Republicans' political fortunes have taken a turn in Missouri. GOP officials in the state are panicking over the fiasco surrounding Gov. Eric Greitens. And polls show their commanding lead over Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri's U.S. Senate race has reversed .

Speaking to Politico, Missouri Republican consultant James Harris moaned that "all that's coming out in Missouri is about the scandals," while former Missouri GOP chairman John Hancock said that if Greitens stays in the news, "I think it will have a potentially debilitating effect on the Senate race."

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Trump ramps up personal cell phone use (Pamela Brown and Sarah Westwood, 4/24/18, CNN)

President Donald Trump is increasingly relying on his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, multiple sources inside and outside the White House told CNN, as Trump returns to the free-wheeling mode of operation that characterized the earliest days of his administration.

Information wants to be free.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Why atheists are true believers too: How atheisms are imitating the religions they claim to reject. (NOEL MALCOLM  , 4/24/18, New Statesman)

In his new book, Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray - who, I should mention, is no more a religious believer than I am - has little time for the so-called New Atheism of Dawkins and Co. The confusion of religion with science is only one of the points he objects to. Even if it can be shown that religion involves the creation of illusions, he argues, that does not mean that religion can or should be dispensed with; for "there is nothing in science that says illusion may not be useful, even indispensable, in life". As for the idea of the American New Atheist Sam Harris that we can develop "a science of good and evil" which will contain all the correct liberal values: Gray sees this as a piece of astonishing and culpable naivety, ignoring nearly two centuries' worth of evidence that scientism in ethics and illiberalism go happily hand-in-hand.

If this short book were just another intervention in the Dawkinsian "God debate", it would be very short indeed. In fact it would get no further than page 23 where, at the end of his brief opening chapter, Gray concludes damningly that "the organised atheism of the present century is mostly a media phenomenon, and best appreciated as a type of entertainment".

But the New Atheism is the least of the seven varieties that make up the subject-matter of this book. The others are all much more interesting, being connected with significant elements in our culture. And if the phrase "our culture" sounds parochial, well, that is an issue Gray deals with explicitly, pointing out that what we call "atheism" is something much more specific than just a rejection or absence of religion as such. It is a rejection of certain religious beliefs - and that narrows the field already, as many religions of the world are not primarily belief-systems at all. In particular, Gray argues, it is a rejection of belief in an omnipotent creator-god, which means that while atheism is Christianity's close relative, it bears no relation to Hinduism or Buddhism at all.

So this is a book about post-Christian thinking - most of it, in Gray's view, pretty bad thinking, too. One of his targets is secular humanism, which he describes as "a hollowed-out version of the Christian belief in salvation through history". Another is what he calls "making a religion from science", a delusion which he traces all the way from Mesmerism in the late 18th century, via dialectical materialism in the 19th and 20th, to those futurist thinkers today who dream of uploading a human being's consciousness to computer circuits, thereby rendering it immortal. And another is political religion, "from Jacobinism through communism and Nazism to contemporary evangelical liberalism".

...that they can arrive at a morality identical to Christianity without involving God--nor explaining why morality is desirable in His absence. Of course, the threshold problem for scientism is that the deeper science looks the more plausible the Creation story becomes.

April 23, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Why Is Bangladesh Booming? (Kaushik Basu, Apr. 23rd, 2018, Project Syndicate)

Since [2006], Bangladesh's annual GDP growth has exceeded Pakistan's by roughly 2.5 percentage points per year. And this year, its growth rate is likely to surpass India's (though this primarily reflects India's economic slowdown, which should be reversed barring gross policy mismanagement).

Moreover, at 1.1% per year, Bangladesh's population growth is well below Pakistan's 2% rate, which means that its per capita income is growing faster than Pakistan's by approximately 3.3 percentage points per year. By extrapolation, Bangladesh will overtake Pakistan in terms of per capita GDP in 2020, even with a correction for purchasing power parity.

To what does Bangladesh owe its quiet transformation? As with all large-scale historical phenomena, there can be no certain answers, only clues. Still, in my view, Bangladesh's economic transformation was driven in large part by social changes, starting with the empowerment of women.

Thanks to efforts by the nongovernmental organizations Grameen Bank and BRAC, along with more recent work by the government, Bangladesh has made significant strides toward educating girls and giving women a greater voice, both in the household and the public sphere. These efforts have translated into improvements in children's health and education, such that Bangladeshis' average life expectancy is now 72 years, compared to 68 years for Indians and 66 years for Pakistanis.

The Bangladesh government also deserves credit for supporting grassroots initiatives in economic inclusion, the positive effects of which are visible in recently released data from the World Bank. Among Bangladeshi adults with bank accounts, 34.1% made digital transactions in 2017, compared to an average rate of 27.8% for South Asia. Moreover, only 10.4% of Bangladeshi bank accounts are "dormant" (meaning there were no deposits or withdrawals in the previous year), compared to 48% of Indian bank accounts.

Another partial explanation for Bangladesh's progress is the success of its garment manufacturing industry. That success is itself driven by a number of factors. One notable point is that the main garment firms in Bangladesh are large - especially compared to those in India, owing largely to different labor laws.

All labor markets need regulation. But, in India, the 1947 Industrial Disputes Act imposes heavy restrictions on firms' ability to contract workers and expand their labor force, ultimately doing more harm than good. The law was enacted a few months before the August 1947 independence of India and Pakistan from British imperial rule, meaning that both new countries inherited it. But Pakistan's military regime, impatient with trade unions from the region that would become Bangladesh, repealed it in 1958.

Thus, having been born without the law, Bangladesh offered a better environment for manufacturing firms to achieve economies of scale and create a large number of jobs. And though Bangladesh still needs much stronger regulation to protect workers from occupational hazards, the absence of a law that explicitly curtails labor-market flexibility has been a boon for job creation and manufacturing success.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


ISIS Spokesman Calls for Attacks on Arab Nations (RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, APRIL 22, 2018, NY Times)

In his first statement in 10 months, the Islamic State's spokesman on Sunday called for violence against neighboring Arab nations, suggesting that the group's focus was turning closer to home.

The remarks were a departure from the last pronouncement issued by the spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, which aimed to incite attacks against Europe and North America. It comes as the group is retrenching in its core territory after losing all but 3 percent of the area it once held in Iraq and Syria.

In a nearly hourlong audio recording, released inside the group's chat rooms in the messaging app Telegram, the spokesman called on fighters to redirect their ire toward the leaders of Arab nations in the region, whom he described as "apostates," a term the group uses to refer to fellow Sunnis who have strayed from its extreme interpretation of the faith.

The spokesman said there was "no difference" between fighting the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and the Palestinians "and their American Crusader allies, or the Russians or the Europeans." He argued that they deserved to be treated even more harshly because "these are Arabs and are more fierce and vicious against Islam."

The key to winning the WoT has always been to shift their attention from the Far Enemy to the Near, so that it is eventually just Sunni totalitarian vs. Sunni democrat.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


The happiest point in a marriage might be later than you think -- here's why ( Lindsay Dodgson, Apr. 23rd, 2018, Business Insider)

A study, published in the journal Social Networks and the Life Course, found that couples were happiest when they reached the 20 year mark -- their China anniversary.

Researchers from the Pennsylvania State and Brigham Young Universities analysed the marriages of 2,034 couples, with an average age of 35-37, and how their satisfaction changed over the years.

The "seven-year itch" is commonly reported in marriages, but if the results of the study are correct, sticking it out could mean you're happier in the long run.

The study found that married couples who last 20 years spend more time doing activities together than those in the honeymoon period. Also, over time, they develop "deeper levels of appreciation" for each other.

It's not always an easy road, though. The results also found that happiness slowly declines up to the 20 year point, before picking up once you get over the hump.

"Although divorce is common these days, about half of all marriages last a lifetime," said the researchers. "And the long-term outlook for most of these marriages is upbeat, with happiness and interaction remaining high, and discord declining."

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Behind James Comey's 'A Higher Loyalty' (Benjamin Wittes, April 18, 2018, Lawfare)

Comey's efforts to break down the cult of the directorship--its successes and its limitations--offer an interesting window into one of the larger themes he struggles with in this book: the effort to insulate the FBI from the perception of intervention in politics when it is investigating both major parties' presidential nominees during an election campaign. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, turns out to have been even more impossible than eliminating the cult of the directorship. However earnestly one tries, the effort to act apolitically will be understood as politicization. The explanations one then offers of one's conduct and thinking will be interpreted as ego-driven self-justification. The steps one takes to keep the bureau out of politics in such a situation--however sincere, however open--become politicization.

The problem reminds me of Kierkegaard's famous passage on marriage:

If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it. . . . Laugh at the world's follies, you will regret it; weep over them and you will also regret that. . . . . Hang yourself, you will regret it, do not hang yourself, and you will also regret that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. . . . This, gentlemen, is the sum and substance of all philosophy.

That the steps designed to keep the FBI out of politics--and perceived as out of politics--will themselves be taken as political acts is not a reason not to undertake the effort. The effort itself is a sacred trust. But it is a reason to understand the inherent limits of the undertaking. Charge Hillary Clinton and you will regret it. Don't charge her and you will regret that too. Explain your reasoning and you will regret it. Don't explain your reasoning and you will regret it. Inform Congress of your actions immediately before an election, and you will regret that. Don't inform Congress and you will regret that too. I don't know if this is the sum and substance of all philosophy, but it is a good rule of thumb: The steps you take to remain apolitical will make you political.

Or as Comey describes it in the book:

"You know you are totally screwed, right?"

The FBI deputy director in the summer of 2015 was a plainspoken, smart, and darkly funny career special agent named Mark Giuliano.

I smiled tightly. "Yup," I said. "Nobody gets out alive."

In contrast to the famously tortured Kierkegaard, Comey describes it as liberating to accept in advance that there will be repercussions however one handles a fateful decision. But the problem--when that situation is not a personal one like marriage but a public one like investigating both presidential candidates--is that the decision maker won't be the only one with regrets and retroactive doubts. The public will have them, too, and may judge the decision maker's actions not just in light of the integrity of his or her processes and intentions but also in light of the action's consequences. Indeed, the public may judge only in light of consequences. In doing so, the public will have the benefit of hindsight. And it will be ruthless.

It is very hard for people to accept that bad outcomes arrived at by decent people acting in good faith are merely that. People need to believe, for example, that George W. Bush lied the United States into war in Iraq--a proposition for which there is zero evidence. People don't like multivariate causation either. There needs to be one explanation for Trump's victory. If you're not one of the people in the FBI cafeteria, people who have had cause to develop trust in institutional processes and in Comey himself, it is all too easy to personify the outcome in him.

It is a singular mark of the decency and moral seriousness of Barack Hussein Obama that he hasn't fallen into this trap. One striking feature of Comey's narrative is his evident admiration for Obama--as a leader, as a policy thinker and as a person. The right-wing fever swamp is likely to react to this with an "of course," having already priced Comey in as part of the Hillary-Obama-left-elite conspiracy against the president. That would be wrong. The relationship is surprising. Comey and Obama come from very different worlds politically. Comey was surprised that Obama would seriously consider him to run the FBI. He criticizes Obama at points in the book, such as for declaring publicly that Clinton had not damaged national security with her private email server. He also ruminates on whether Obama was overly confident intellectually. But the broader portrayal is extremely flattering. He praises the way Obama never sought a close relationship with him and contrasts this sharply with Trump's attempts to cultivate a patronage relationship with him. He praises at length the way that Obama listens. And when he recounts their final meeting, the emotion is still fresh:

President Obama then leaned forward, forearms on his knees. He started with a long preamble, explaining that he wasn't going to talk to me about any particular case or investigation.

"I just want to tell you something," he said.


"I picked you to be the FBI director because of your integrity and your ability," he said. Then he added something that struck me as remarkable.

"I want you to know that nothing--nothing--has happened in the last year to change my view."

He wasn't telling me he agreed with my decisions. He wasn't talking about the decisions. He was saying he understood where they came from. Boy, were those words I needed to hear.

I felt a wave of emotion, almost to the verge of tears. President Obama was not an outwardly emotional man in these kinds of meetings, but still I spoke in unusually emotional terms to him.

"That means a lot to me, Mr. President. I have hated the last year. The last thing we want is to be involved in an election. I'm just trying to do the right thing."

"I know, I know," he said.

When Comey first told me about this interaction, he emphasized his gratitude for a particular nuance in the exchange: Obama's emphasis that his comments applied to all investigations, not any particular one. Presidents, after all, shouldn't be talking to FBI directors about specific investigative matters. And it moved Comey that Obama, even in an emotional moment in which it would have been easy to blame him and get specific, understood and respected that.

Obama, incidentally, has been careful with his public words as well. Like so many people in the FBI, he has reason to have confidence in the integrity of Comey's decision making--if not to agree with his decisions--and that is disciplining in alleviating the Kierkegaardian problem. 


The general public does not have the benefit--or, if you prefer, the biasing influence of proximity--that either the people in the FBI cafeteria or Obama have in developing confidence in Comey's integrity to ameliorate the instinct to retroactively second-guess. This is a problem not because it causes an unfair judgment of Comey--who is a big boy and can take it--but because the obsessive focus on his decision making in the Clinton email investigation consistently distracts attention from the crisis at hand.

For a lot of readers, the easy part of the book will be Comey's discussion of his interactions with Trump. There is no moral complexity here. There are no serious questions of whether Comey should have behaved differently--not in the macro sense, at least. There is only the question of whether one believes Comey or Trump about the nature of their interactions. And to pose that question is also to answer it. One of them is a man who, whatever his flaws, is not a liar and who has numerous contemporaneous corroborating witnesses and documents. The other is Donald Trump. I suppose another question is whether one believes the president's behavior as described by Comey is acceptable. But to ask that question is to answer it too. Of course Comey is telling the truth. And of course the president's conduct is not acceptable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


How American Racism Influenced Hitler  : Scholars are mapping the international precursors of Nazism. (Alex Ross, 4/30/2018, The New Yorker)

Among recent books on Nazism, the one that may prove most disquieting for American readers is James Q. Whitman's "Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law" (Princeton). On the cover, the inevitable swastika is flanked by two red stars. Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in "Mein Kampf," Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by "excluding certain races from naturalization." Whitman writes that the discussion of such influences is almost taboo, because the crimes of the Third Reich are commonly defined as "the nefandum, the unspeakable descent into what we often call 'radical evil.' " But the kind of genocidal hatred that erupted in Germany had been seen before and has been seen since. Only by stripping away its national regalia and comprehending its essential human form do we have any hope of vanquishing it. [...]

As for Hitler and America, the issue goes beyond such obvious suspects as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Whitman's "Hitler's American Model," with its comparative analysis of American and Nazi race law, joins such previous studies as Carroll Kakel's "The American West and the Nazi East," a side-by-side discussion of Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum; and Stefan Kühl's "The Nazi Connection," which describes the impact of the American eugenics movement on Nazi thinking. This literature is provocative in tone and, at times, tendentious, but it engages in a necessary act of self-examination, of a kind that modern Germany has exemplified. [...]

Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler's regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy--an "everybody does it" justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. "Race Law in the United States," a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.

American eugenicists made no secret of their racist objectives, and their views were prevalent enough that F. Scott Fitzgerald featured them in "The Great Gatsby." (The cloddish Tom Buchanan, having evidently read Lothrop Stoddard's 1920 tract "The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy," says, "The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be--will be utterly submerged.") California's sterilization program directly inspired the Nazi sterilization law of 1934. There are also sinister, if mostly coincidental, similarities between American and German technologies of death. In 1924, the first execution by gas chamber took place, in Nevada. In a history of the American gas chamber, Scott Christianson states that the fumigating agent Zyklon-B, which was licensed to American Cyanamid by the German company I. G. Farben, was considered as a lethal agent but found to be impractical. Zyklon-B was, however, used to disinfect immigrants as they crossed the border at El Paso--a practice that did not go unnoticed by Gerhard Peters, the chemist who supplied a modified version of Zyklon-B to Auschwitz. Later, American gas chambers were outfitted with a chute down which poison pellets were dropped. Earl Liston, the inventor of the device, explained, "Pulling a lever to kill a man is hard work. Pouring acid down a tube is easier on the nerves, more like watering flowers." Much the same method was introduced at Auschwitz, to relieve stress on S.S. guards.

When Hitler praised American restrictions on naturalization, he had in mind the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed national quotas and barred most Asian people altogether. For Nazi observers, this was evidence that America was evolving in the right direction, despite its specious rhetoric about equality. The Immigration Act, too, played a facilitating role in the Holocaust, because the quotas prevented thousands of Jews, including Anne Frank and her family, from reaching America. In 1938, President Roosevelt called for an international conference on the plight of European refugees; this was held in Évian-les-Bains, France, but no substantive change resulted. The German Foreign Office, in a sardonic reply, found it "astounding" that other countries would decry Germany's treatment of Jews and then decline to admit them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


'People will revolt': workers say Russia must save sanctions-hit Rusal (Polina Ivanova, 4/23/18, Reuters) 

Workers at one of Russia's biggest aluminum smelters say their Siberian town is doomed unless Moscow mitigates U.S. sanctions against aluminum giant Rusal, a predicament mirrored across the company's sprawling operations.

Trapped by mortgages for apartments built on barren steppe under communism, residents of Sayanogorsk, one of a string of towns dominated by Rusal, have few options if a loss of customers for its aluminum leads the firm to cut jobs.

"The entire life of this city depends on Rusal," said Evgeny Ivanov, until recently a foreman at the plant in Sayanogorsk, where pockmarked asphalt recalls the harsh winters endured by its 60,000 inhabitants, and icy blue mountains line the horizon.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Man fought gunman: He 'was going to have to work to kill me' (SHEILA BURKE, 4/23/18, AP) 

Police are calling James Shaw Jr. a hero for saving lives in the busy restaurant, but the 29-year-old Nashville resident said he only made a split-second decision to challenge the shooter and called it a "selfish" act to avoid being killed.

Shaw said at a news conference Sunday he had spent an evening out at a nightclub and entered the restaurant minutes ahead of the gunman. He said he and another friend were seated at a counter when he heard gunshots, thinking at first that a stack of freshly washed plates had crashed down.

Then, he said, restaurant workers scattered and he turned and saw a body near the front door as the gunman burst in. It was then he realized he had heard gunshots.

"I looked back and I saw a person lying on the ground right at the entrance of the door, then I jumped and slid ... I went behind a push door -- a swivel door," Shaw said. "He shot through that door; I'm pretty sure he grazed my arm. At that time I made up my mind ... that he was going to have to work to kill me. When the gun jammed or whatever happened, I hit him with the swivel door."

April 22, 2018

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Mueller team said to be amused as Giuliani pledges to end Russia probe (Andrew Napolitano, Charles Gasparino, April 20, 2018, Fox Business)

Investigators inside the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller reacted with a mixture of skepticism and laughter at Rudy Giuliani's claim that he will negotiate a swift end to Mueller's probe of President Donald Trump and his alleged involvement in possible Russian election meddling and obstruction of justice, FOX Business has learned.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


State appeals court rules Texas' "revenge porn" law violates the First Amendment (EMMA PLATOFF APRIL 19, 2018, Texas Tribune)

An appeals court has struck down Texas' "revenge porn" law, ruling that the statute is overly broad and violates the First Amendment.

...maybe don't pose nude?  And, maybe question the wisdom of a relationship with someone who asks you to?

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


The Business Deals That Could Imperil Trump (Peter Fritsch and Glenn R. Simpson, April 21, 2018, NY Times)

[F]rom New York to Florida, Panama to Azerbaijan, we found that Trump projects have relied heavily on foreign cash -- including from wealthy individuals from Russia and elsewhere with questionable, and even criminal, backgrounds. We saw money traveling through offshore shell companies, entities often used to obscure ownership. Many news organizations have since dug deeply into the Trump Organization's projects and come away with similar findings.

This reporting has not uncovered conclusive evidence that the Trump Organization or its principals knowingly abetted criminal activity. And it's not reasonable to expect the company to keep track of every condo buyer in a Trump-branded building. But Mr. Trump's company routinely teamed up with individuals whose backgrounds should have raised red flags.

Consider the Bayrock Group, a developer that once had lavish offices in Trump Tower. The firm worked with Mr. Trump in the mid-2000s to build the Trump SoHo in Lower Manhattan, among other troubled projects. One of its principals was a Russian émigré, Felix Sater, linked to organized crime who served time for felony assault and who later pleaded guilty to racketeering involving a $40 million stock fraud scheme.

Belgian authorities accused a Kazakh financier recruited by Bayrock of carrying out a $55 million money-laundering scheme (that case was settled without an admission of guilt). Civil suits filed in Los Angeles and New York allege that a former mayor of the largest city in Kazakhstan and several of his family members laundered millions in stolen public funds, investing some of it in real estate, including units in Trump SoHo. (The family has denied wrongdoing and says it is the victim of political persecution.)

Then there is Sunny Isles Beach, where over 60 individuals with Russian passports or addresses bought nearly $100 million worth of units in Trump-branded condominium towers in a part of South Florida known as Little Moscow. Among them were Russian government officials who made million-dollar investments and a Ukrainian owner of two units who pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of stolen property in a money-laundering scheme involving a former Ukrainian prime minister.

In 2006, the sale of condos in the first international hotel venture under the Trump brand, the former Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama, fell, in large part, to a Brazilian named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira. He worked with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering. Mr. Nogueira told NBC News last year that he sold about half of his Trump condos to Russians, including some connected to the Russian mafia, and that some of his clients had "questionable backgrounds."

Three years later, as Reuters has reported, Panamanian authorities arrested Mr. Nogueira on charges of fraud and forgery unrelated to the Trump project. After getting out on bail, he fled to Brazil, where he faces a separate money-laundering investigation. In 2014, he fled Brazil, too.

Possibly the quaintest delusion that they feed the Trumpbots is that a couple rogue FBI agents are the source of all Donald's troubles.
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Americanisms are not a "corruption": the false superiority of British English: When we try to be more British we frequently end up sounding more French.  (SOPHIE MCBAIN, 4/22/18, New Statesman)

Lynne Murphy, an American professor of linguistics who has lived in the UK for almost 20 years, has decided to investigate this curious phenomenon. Her book, The Prodigal Tongue, offers an entertaining and sometimes gleeful riposte to the countless stories she has read complaining of the "creeping", "invading", "pointless" and "annoying" Americanisms that are corrupting British English.

Murphy has yet to find a list of supposed Americanisms or Britishisms that isn't at least partly poppycock (a word that sounds silly enough to be thought of as British, but in fact originated in North America). Our attitudes towards accents reflect our underlying prejudices, and don't hold up to rational scrutiny.

When Americans think of British English, they tend to think of received pronunciation, which conjures up images of sprawling country estates and bumbling eccentrics. The British actor and TV presenter James Corden was reportedly encouraged by the US television network CBS to use "charming" British words and to avoid "confusing" ones. "Willy", "shag", "bonkers" and "squiffy" were in; "bladdered" and "dodgy geezer" were out.

Brits often dismiss words they don't like as "Americanisms" and have a tendency to tie themselves in logical knots while trying to explain why Americans are "wrong". Murphy singles out Simon Heffer, who contributes to a "well-populated genre of writing guides by people who don't know a lot about language", for asserting that in saying "maths", rather than "math", Brits have "maintain[ed] the plural of the original word". In fact, mathematics is singular. Math is a clipping, like "lab" instead of laboratory, while "maths" is a contraction, like "attn". Both are grammatically correct.

We Brits often have ourselves to blame for the worst "Americanisms". Writing "might of" instead of "might've" is sometimes mislabelled an Americanism, but it's a grammar mistake - and one that occurs twice as often in British texts than in American ones. The US may have embraced management speak with gusto, but that awful phrase "blue-sky thinking" appears six times more frequently on British websites than on American ones.

Our shared language is demotic.

April 21, 2018

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Michael Cohen Has Said He Would Take a Bullet for Trump. Maybe Not Anymore. (MAGGIE HABERMAN, SHARON LaFRANIERE and DANNY HAKIM, APRIL 20, 2018, NY Times)

That one-sidedness has always been at the heart of President Trump's relationship with his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who has said he would "take a bullet" for Mr. Trump. For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship.

"Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage," said Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump's informal and longest-serving political adviser, who, along with Mr. Cohen, was one of five people originally surrounding the president when he was considering a presidential campaign before 2016.

Now, for the first time, the traffic may be going Mr. Cohen's way. Mr. Trump's lawyers and advisers have become resigned to the strong possibility that Mr. Cohen, who has a wife and two children and faces the prospect of devastating legal fees, if not criminal charges, could end up cooperating with federal officials who are investigating him for activity that could relate, at least in part, to work he did for Mr. Trump.

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Natalie Portman Says 'Jewish Values' Caused Her To Scrap Israel Visit For Genesis Prize (Dave Goldiner, Apr. 20th, 2018, The Forward)

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman has refused to travel for Israel to accept a $2 million award, citing her "Jewish values" as an imperative to stand up for justice amid an increasingly deadly conflict with the Palestinians.

The Hollywood superstar said she did not want to be seen as endorsing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom she accused of carrying out a wide variety of misdeeds.

"The mistreatment of those suffering from today's atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values," she said in a statement late Friday, just before the start of the Jewish sabbath. "Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power."

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Trump Criticizes Times Report About His Longtime Lawyer (Emily Cochrane, April 21, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump on Saturday criticized a report by The New York Times that described his years of poor treatment of his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and concerns among the president's advisers that Mr. Cohen will cooperate with the federal officials who are now investigating him.

It's the darndest thing, none of us worry that our lawyers will reveal our wrongdoing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Sessions warned White House he could quit if Trump fired Rosenstein: report (MAX GREENWOOD, 04/20/18, The Hill)

The Washington Post reported Friday that Sessions told White House counsel Don McGahn in a phone call last weekend that he could leave the Justice Department in the event of Rosenstein's ouster.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Controlled Burn Held At Manassas Battlefield Park To Restore Civil War Landscape (VANESSA ROMO & BARBARA CAMPBELL, 4/20/18, NPR)

The cannons were quiet this time but there was fire and smoke anyway at the Manassas National Battlefield Park during a prescribed burn intended to maintain the look of the area as Civil War soldiers would have known it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Putin, Kremlin were unprepared for a US-EU assault: The United States and its allies have decided to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a taste of his own medicine. It seems that the Kremlin is unprepared (Konstantin Eggert, 4/10/18, Deutsche-Welle)

It was anything but dull in the Security Council on Monday, when Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya faced off with his US and UK counterparts, Nikki Haley and Karen Pierce, respectively, and the representatives from Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland. There was a surprising reversal of roles in the discussion of Saturday's suspected chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces in the town of Douma: The United States and its EU allies pummeled Nebenzya with the rhetorical abandon that had always been the trademark of Russian diplomats.

The drama at the United Nations unfolded hours after the collapse of Moscow's stock exchange. Shares of Russia's state-owned enterprises and financial institutions such as Sberbank, as well as assets owned by the Kremlin-friendly billionaire Oleg Deripaska, took a nosedive. According to various estimates, the capitalization of companies belonging to Russian oligarchs fell by $12-16 billion (€9.7-13 billion) within a few hours. The ruble also took a plunge, losing about 10 percent of its value.

This was the result of the US Department of Treasury's decision on Friday to publish a new list of Russian individuals and companies to be punished under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The new sanctions struck Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle much harder than previous rounds had.

Which is why Vlad begged Donald to call her off.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Dear Humanities Profs: We Are the Problem: Dismayed about American politics? Look in the mirror (Eric Bennett, APRIL 13, 2018, tHE cHRONICLE rEVIEW)

Three generations ago, literature professors exchanged a rigorously defined sphere of expertise, to which they could speak with authority, for a much wider field to which they could speak with virtually no power at all. No longer refusing to allow politics to corrupt a human activity that transcends it, they reduced the literary to the political. The change was sharp. From World War I until the 1960s, their forerunners had theorized literature as a distinct practice, a fine art, a realm of its own. Whether in the scholarship of the Russian Formalists, in T.S. Eliot's archconservative essays, or in such midcentury monuments as Erich Auerbach's Mimesis (1946), René Wellek and Austin Warren's Theory of Literature (1948), and Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism (1957), literature was considered autonomous.

Then, starting in the 1970s, autonomy became a custom honored only in the breach. Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson were first among countless equals who argued that pure art was pure politics. In 1985, Jane Tompkins laid out what many scholars increasingly believed about the whole field -- that "works that have attained the status of classic, and are therefore believed to embody universal values, are in fact embodying only the interests of whatever parties or factions are responsible for maintaining them in their preeminent position." Porous boundaries, fluid categories, and demoted reputations redefined classic texts.

Beauty became ideology; poetry, a trick of power, no more essentially valuable than other such tricks -- sitcoms, campaign slogans, magazine ads -- and no less subject to critique. The focus of the discipline shifted toward the local, the little, the recent, and the demotic. "I find no contradiction in my writing about Henry James, bodybuilding, heavy metal, religion, and psychoanalytic theory," Marcia Ian stated in PMLA in 1997. In Classics and Trash: Traditions and Taboos in High Literature and Popular Modern Genres (1990), Harriet Hawkins argued that much pop culture "has in practice ... been a great deal more democratic and far less elitist, even as it has often been demonstrably less sexist than the academically closeted critical tradition." Within the bosky purlieus of a declining humanism, everything had become fair game for study: Madonna and Lost, Harry Potter and Mad Men.

The demographic exclusivity of the midcentury canon sanctified the insurrection. Who didn't feel righteous tossing Hawthorne on the bonfire? So many dead white men became so much majestic smoke. But now, decades later, the flames have dwindled to coals that warm the fingers of fewer and fewer majors. The midcentury ideal -- of literature as an aesthetically and philosophically complex activity, and of criticism as its engaged and admiring decoding -- is gone. In its place stands the idea that our capacity to shape our protean selves is the capacity most worth exercising, the thing to be defended at all costs, and the good that a literary inclination best serves.

Democratizing the canon did not have to mean abdicating authority over it, but this was how it played out. In PMLA in 1997 Lily Phillips celebrated a new dispensation in which "the interpreter is not automatically placed above either producers of texts or participants in events but is acknowledged as another subject involved in a cultural practice, with just as much or as little agency." This new dispensation -- cultural studies -- "emerged forcefully because the awareness of positionality, context, and difference is endemic to this historical period."

Having eaten the tail of the canonical beast they rode on, scholars devoured their own coccyges. To profess the humanities was to clarify one's situatedness, one's limited but crucial perspective, one's opinion and its contingent grounds. Yet if "opinion is always contingent," Louis Menand asked laconically, "why should we subsidize professionals to produce it?"

By the 1990s, many scholars equated expertise with power and power with oppression and malicious advantage. The humane gesture was not to fight on behalf of the humanities -- not to seek standing -- but rather to demonstrate that literary studies no longer posed a threat. Unmaking itself as a discipline, it could subtract at least one instance of ideological violence from the nation and world.

If the political events of 2016 proved anything, it's that our interventions have been toothless. The utopian clap in the cloistered air of the professional conference loses all thunder on a city street. Literature professors have affected America more by sleeping in its downtown hotels and eating in its fast-food restaurants than by telling one another where real prospects for freedom lay. Ten thousand political radicals, in town for the weekend, spend money no differently than ten thousand insurance agents.

Now that we have a culture of higher education in which business studies dominate; now that we face legislatures blind to the value of the liberal arts; now that we behold in the toxic briskness of the four-hour news cycle a president and party that share our disregard for expertise while making a travesty of our aversion to power, the consequences of our disavowal of expertise are becoming clear. The liquidation of literary authority partakes of a climate in which all expertise has been liquidated. In such a climate, nothing stands against demagoguery. What could?

This strikes us as completely backwards.  In the Anglosphere--with its universal literacy--literature is open to and consumed by everyone and a canon emerged naturally, composed of the very best of Western literature.  It inevitably includes the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne because he was both a great writer and his themes were eternal.

In order to "replace" such achievements--which were mainly, but certainly not exclusively, the product of white Christian men--with the works of authors who are obviously not selected for the quality of their work but for their identities, requires an assertion on the part of intellectuals that a certain expertise allows them to discern value in books that the rest of us find execrable.

This is where the actual guilt of the humanities profs lies: the elevation of pure identity over the quality of ideas and expression.

Even setting aside the fact that it is true, as Mr. Bennett suggests, that modern humanities is an extended attack on whiteness, maleness, straightness, Christianity, etc., making it impossible for any thoughtful human to listen to these ideologues, it also contributed to, and justified in their own minds, the adoption of ideological identitarianism by the very worst sorts of white males, who Donald Trump appeals to.

When Mr. Bennett's colleagues look in the mirror they see the Cheeto Jesus, because the Right is the Left, having shunned character in favor of identity.

April 20, 2018

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As Republicans dither on Obamacare, Democrats plot its expansion (Philip Klein, April 19, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Republicans could have spent their time in the Obama era wilderness doing the hard work of building consensus around an alternative vision for healthcare when the stakes were low. Instead, they squandered this opportunity by focusing their efforts on scoring daily messaging victories. In the short-term, the strategy seemed to pay off politically, as Republicans regained unified control of government. But when it comes to achieving longer-term policy victories, the strategy has proven a dismal failure.

When Republicans took over in 2017, they had to start largely from scratch to gain support for plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. Though healthcare is among the most complicated domestic issues, Republicans wanted to race through the issue as quickly as possible so they could get on with tax cuts. Despite seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare, they came up largely empty handed. (Repealing the individual mandate penalties is not the same as advancing a broad free market healthcare vision.)

Republicans seem to have resigned themselves to moving on. From a purely technical standpoint, it remains highly unlikely that Republicans will even pass a budget this year, let alone one that would include the reconciliation instructions that would be necessary to pass any sort of healthcare bill with a simple majority in the Senate. Of course, even if they had the procedural tool to pass a bill with a simple majority, they are no closer to getting 50 Republicans to agree on a plan than they were last fall. And if they don't address the issue this year, they aren't going to be able to in 2019, when even under the best case scenario they'd have a much narrower majority in the House.

It would be bad enough if Republican stumbles merely preserved an Obamacare status quo with rising premiums and dwindling choices. But by failing to deliver on an alternative, Republicans are providing the space that Democrats need to plot their next big expansion. And liberals have been using that space to develop competing plans all with the goal of completing the job that Obamacare started.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Exclusive: Trump pressed Sessions to fire 2 FBI officials who sent anti-Trump text messages: Trump also asked Attorney General Sessions and FBI Director Wray to find derogatory information on the officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. (Murray Waas  Apr 20, 2018, Vox)

President Donald Trump sharply questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray during a White House meeting on January 22 about why two senior FBI officials -- Peter Strzok and Lisa Page -- were still in their jobs despite allegations made by allies of the president that they had been disloyal to him and had unfairly targeted him and his administration, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The president also pressed his attorney general and FBI director to work more aggressively to uncover derogatory information within the FBI's files to turn over to congressional Republicans working to discredit the two FBI officials, according to the same sources.

The very next day, Trump met Sessions again, this time without Wray present, and even more aggressively advocated that Strzok and Page be fired, the sources said.

Trump's efforts to discredit Strzok and Page came after Trump was advised last summer by his then-criminal defense attorney John Dowd that Page was a likely witness against him in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, according to two senior administration officials. That Trump knew that Page might be a potential witness against him has not been previously reported or publicly known.

The effort to discredit Strzok and Page has been part of a broader effort by Trump and his allies to discredit and even fire FBI officials who they believe will be damaging witnesses against the president in Mueller's obstruction of justice probe.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM

NIKKI 2018!:

The war party is ready for its next campaign: Haley 2020 (Daniel McCarthy, 19 April 2018, Spectator UK)

Nikki Haley is at war with Donald Trump. She may be his ambassador to the United Nations, but she wants to set a foreign policy all her own, closer to the global interventionism of George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton than to the muscular but restrained foreign policy that Trump campaigned on in 2016. Her differences with the president were on stark display this week, as she first announced sanctions against Russia that Trump had not approved, then shot back at the new director of the national economic council, Larry Kudlow, when he offered a diplomatic interpretation of her mistake. Kudlow ascribed her off-message remarks to "some momentary confusion," to which Haley responded, "With all due respect, I don't get confused."

Haley is every Never Trumper's favourite member of the administration, and the esteem in which she is held by the president's sworn enemies in his own party ought to put the White House on guard. 

Haley, Integrity Intact, Is the Exception to the Trump Rule (A.B. Stoddard, April 20, 2018, RCP)

Nikki Haley's surprising remonstrance, issued this week from under the bus, earned huzzahs from both parties and showed the world what successfully surviving service in the administration of President Trump looks like. It also showed the lady can throw some damn good shade.

After she appeared last Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" and announced there would be new sanctions on Russia to follow recent airstrikes in Syria, the White House said the ambassador was mistaken. Larry Kudlow blamed it on "momentary confusion," to which Haley responded: "With all due respect, I don't get confused." Kudlow folded immediately and apologized. And the man of too many words used none -- a rare occasion when Trump himself held back.

Haley is an unlikely heroine in the ever unfolding drama that is the presidency of Donald Trump. She was an outspoken opponent of Trump during the 2016 campaign, and is the daughter of Sikh immigrants who smashed glass ceilings to become South Carolina's first female governor, the nation's first ever Sikh governor and the second ever Indian-descent governor. She has not stooped to the sycophancy most of her colleagues have, and without foreign policy chops has studied and worked her way to success in one of the highest-profile positions in U.S. government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Republicans Now Believe James Comey Used the Pee Tape to Set a Trap for Trump (Jonathan Chait, 4/20/18, New York)

Hemingway's theory is that CNN had the Steele dossier, and could not cover it unless it had a news hook to do so. Comey's meeting was designed to be the hook. He would tell Trump about the dossier, and then leak the fact that he told Trump to the news media, which "provided them the very news hook they sought and needed" to report on the dossier.

If you read the CNN report on the dossier that Hemingway describes, though, literally the first sentence describes the fact that President Obama was briefed on the dossier before Trump was told about it: "Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN." And then, if you go a few paragraphs down in the CNN story, you learn that the dossier's allegations were also "mentioned in classified briefings for congressional leaders last year."

So CNN knew Congress had been briefed on the dossier in 2017. And it also knew Obama had been briefed on the dossier. Hemingway's theory is that CNN would not have reported either of these facts without the additional revelation that Trump had also been briefed on the dossier. [...]

York's analysis is different than Hemmingway's, but possibly even less plausible. York argues that Trump's request for loyalty was not an attempt to suborn the FBI into an instrument of his personal control, but instead a defensive and completely reasonable response to what looked like Comey blackmailing him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


James Comey explains why he feels sorry for Trump (MARCUS BARAM, 4/19/18, Co.Exist)

During a discussion with New Yorker editor David Remnick, former FBI director James Comey was asked why he doesn't hate Donald Trump, even after getting fired and relentlessly lambasted by the president. Comey's answer drew gasps in the audience for the wide-ranging discussion at the Town Hall venue in New York City on Thursday night:

"I think he has an emptiness inside of him and a hunger for affirmation that I've never seen in an adult."

...who just wanted some racial hygiene and got stuck defending the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Putin bragged about Russian prostitutes on TV weeks before Trump told James Comey a similar anecdote (Peter Weber, 4/19/18, The Week)

"The president brought up the 'Golden Showers thing' and said it really bothered him if wife had any doubt about it," Comey recalled. "He then explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn't stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip. ... The president said 'the hookers thing' is nonsense but that Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.' He did not say when Putin had told him this."

That is a strange thing to say to an FBI director on your third-ever meeting -- in their first, Comey had briefed Trump on the Russia dossier compiled by British ex-spy Christopher Steele, which included the unsubstantiated "golden showers thing" -- but it is also odd because officially, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken only once, on a Jan. 28 phone call. Trump claimed to have met Putin several times between 2013 and 2016 -- as CNN meticulously documents -- including during a 2015 debate, though his story changed in 2016.

On Jan. 17, 2017, however, Putin said on TV: "I don't know Mr. Trump. ... I have never met him and I don't know what he will do on the international arena." And in that same speech, he made light of the Trump-prostitute allegation, saying Trump had met the most beautiful women in the world and so had no need for Moscow prostitutes, adding that "they are also the best in the world."

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Why Were Republicans So Desperate To Release the Embarrassing Comey Memos? Here's One Explanation. (JEREMY STAHL, APRIL 20, 2018, Slate)

Among other highlights, the documents showed:

• Comey's Senate testimony, the story in his book, and the interviews he's given during his publicity tour describing the details of conversations he had with Trump hew incredibly closely to what he wrote at the time of the conversations themselves.

• During a previously unreported Feb. 8 conversation with Trump--which had been recorded in a classified memo--the president allegedly said to him that Vladimir Putin had personally told Trump "we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world." This statement was allegedly made in front of former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

• According to that classified memo: Prior to that conversation, Priebus met Comey in his office and allegedly asked him if they were having a "private conversation." He then asked him: "Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?" Priebus, it should be noted, was seeking information about a criminal probe that would be useful to any of Flynn's potential confederates.

Part of the problem with insisting that the investigation is corrupt is that you can't actually afford to air the facts.

April 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Federal Judge Holds Kansas Elections Official In Contempt Of Court (Richard Gonzales, 4/18/18, NPR)

The judge found that the Kansas secretary of state, who has crusaded against voter fraud, failed to update his office's website informing some new voter applicants that they were still eligible to vote. She also found that Kobach's office did not send postcards to such voters, who had not shown proof-of-citizenship documents when they registered, as the judge required.

Kobach is a Republican who once led President Trump's now-disbanded commission on voter fraud.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM


Trump's Lawyer Forgets to Pretend He's Innocent, Also Compares Him to Mobster (Jonathan Chait, 4/19/18, New York)

In an interview with the Journal, Goldberg elucidated his concerns about Cohen's loyalty and the devastating impact it would have if he cooperated with the government. "The mob was broken by Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano caving in out of the prospect of a jail sentence," Goldberg explained.

Again, this makes a lot of sense as a legal defense strategy for a businessman who has probably done a lot of illegal stuff. But as a public relations strategy, isn't Trump's lawyer supposed to say he believes Cohen is innocent, and would be shocked to learn if he did something wrong, because of course Trump has never engaged in any illegal behavior and would never tolerate it among his employees? He's probably not supposed to casually liken the president of the United States to the boss of a criminal syndicate.

Trump allies worry Cohen will flip: Longtime Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen is fighting the seizure of his records by federal investigators in New York, but people close to the president are fretting he might fold if he faces severe charges. (DARREN SAMUELSOHN and ANDREW RESTUCCIA 04/18/2018, Politico)

President Donald Trump and his outside advisers are increasingly worried that his longtime personal attorney might be susceptible to cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Two sources close to the president said people in Trump's inner circle have in recent days been actively discussing the possibility that Michael Cohen -- long seen as one of Trump's most loyal personal allies -- might flip if he faces serious charges as a result of his work on behalf of Trump.

"That's what they'll threaten him with: life imprisonment," said Alan Dershowitz, the liberal lawyer and frequent Trump defender who met with the president and his staff over two days at the White House last week. "They're going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings."

April 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Sanctions Flap Erupts Into Open Conflict Between Haley and White House (PETER BAKER, JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MAGGIE HABERMAN, APRIL 17, 2018, NY Times)

Beyond the immediate disconnect, though, is a deeper strain between Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley, according to administration officials and other insiders. Ms. Haley has been perhaps the most hawkish voice on Russia on a team headed by a president who has emphasized his fervent desire for friendship with President Vladimir V. Putin.

At times, that serves the president's interests because she can say what he will not. But at other times, he has grown exasperated by her outspokenness.

At one point recently, he saw Ms. Haley on television sharply criticizing Russia over its intervention in Ukraine. "Who wrote that for her?" Mr. Trump yelled angrily at the screen, according to people briefed on the moment. "Who wrote that for her?"

A former governor of South Carolina, Ms. Haley has assumed a more prominent role than most of her predecessors, at times eclipsing the secretary of state. And along the way, Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson's position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job.

Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Ms. Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.


Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Mattis Wanted Congressional Approval Before Striking Syria. He Was Overruled. (Helene Cooper, April 17, 2018, Washington Post)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged President Trump to get congressional approval before the United States launched airstrikes against Syria last week, but was overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response, military and administration officials said.

Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action...

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM



Researchers report today in Science Robotics that they've used entirely off-the-shelf parts--two industrial robot arms with force sensors and a 3-D camera--to piece together one of those Stefan Ikea chairs we all had in college before it collapsed after two months of use. From planning to execution, it only took 20 minutes, compared to the human average of a lifetime of misery. It may all seem trivial, but this is in fact a big deal for robots, which struggle mightily to manipulate objects in a world built for human hands.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Three men convicted in Kansas plot to bomb Muslims (ROXANA HEGEMAN, 18 April 2018, AP) 

A federal jury on Wednesday found three men guilty of plotting to bomb a mosque and apartment complex housing Somali refugees in Kansas.

Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen were convicted of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiracy against civil rights. [...]

Wright is captured in one recording saying he hoped an attack on the Somalis would "wake people up" and inspire others to take similar action against Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever: Stakes are high in long-awaited May 6 poll, first test of Lebanon's 2017 voting law, that will carve out it's political and economic trajectory for years to come. (Middle East Online, 4/18/18)

The new list system has further ruptured Lebanon's bipolar political class, long split between the pro-Iran March 8 and pro-Saudi March 14 alliances.

Now parties are being "pragmatic," said Salamey, reaching across the aisle to form mutually-beneficial electoral blocs in some districts whilst opposing each other elsewhere.

"It's based on each candidate, how many votes he or she can get to the list and accordingly alliances are formulated," he said.

The only party not to ally with rivals is the powerful Tehran-backed Hezbollah, popular across Lebanon's south and centre but considered a "terror" group by the US.

"From a western perspective, there is a concern that Hezbollah may sweep electoral seats and turn the balance in its favour, making any government to be formed after the election a 'Hezbollah' government," said Salamey.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 AM


Michael Cohen, the World's Worst Fixer, Keeps Screwing Up (Michael Daly, 04.17.18, Daily Beast)

On Friday, Wood had instructed Cohen's lawyers to provide a list of his clients no later than Monday morning. She had added that she intended to make the names public unless doing so would in itself signal why exactly they had needed representation.

The document filed by Cohen's lawyers reported that he had exactly three legal clients since leaving the Trump organization in 2016.

"Mr. Cohen has more attorneys of his own than he has clients," prosecutor Tom McKay observed.

The three most prominently included President Trump, whom Cohen had once described as his only client. A second client had become known on the same day Wood asked for the list. Cohen the fixer had performed about as well keeping things confidential for GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy as he had for the president.  

As reported in The New York Times, Cohen facilitated a $1.6 million payment to a former Playboy model named Shera Bechard, who had become pregnant during a liaison with Broidy. The money was to be spaced out over two years, but could not have been for child support, as the woman is said to have chosen not to have the child. The contract Cohen drafted for Broidy and Bechard is said to have used the same aliases--"David Dennison" and "Peggy Peterson"--as in the contract between Trump and the woman who now sat in the courtroom within sight of the fixer who was supposed to have made it all go away.

That left a third client, but Cohen's lawyers had declined to name him in the document despite the judge's instructions. Cohen's lawyers had written:

"As to the one unnamed legal client, we do not believe that Mr. Cohen should be asked to reveal the name or can permissibly do so."

Now in court, Cohen's chief lawyer, Stephen Ryan, informed that judge that he was reluctant to reveal the name even under seal. Ryan said he had consulted over the weekend with the third client, who had asked to remain anonymous "because of the notoriety."

"At this point, no one would want to be associated with the case in that way," Ryan said. "I can give you the name right now in a sealed envelope and provide it to the court."

Ryan noted, "This client is a publicly prominent individual."

A word jumped out regarding how Ryan said the client would feel if he were associated with the case.


The judge remained the judge.

"I understand he doesn't want his name out there," she said. "That's not enough under the law."

Anybody who had heard the judge's instructions on Friday could not have been surprised by the words that followed.

"I rule that it must be made public now," Wood said.

Ryan asked if he should submit the name in an envelope as he had proposed or just announce it himself in open court.

"Whichever you are most comfortable with," Wood said.

Ryan rose.

"Your honor, the client's name is Sean Hannity," he said.

Then came the gasp and murmurs, joined in the next instant by laughs, joined by the thought that the ultimate Trump booster Hannity was embarrassed to be associated with a case involving President Trump's fixer.

Could a step of shame have entered Hannity's march of fame?

Hannity was quick to get on Twitter and deny that Cohen had ever really been his lawyer:

"Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective."

Hannity may have realized that a good many people were wondering if maybe there was a third contract, maybe even with those same pseudonyms, with Hannity as David Dennison.

"I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter," Hannity then tweeted.

Had Cohen instructed his lawyers to comply with the judge's order and named Hannity in the document submitted Monday morning, there no doubt would have been a bit of buzz. That would have been nothing compared to the attention generated by a Perry Mason moment complete with gasps seldom heard in real life.

The Fixer had struck again.

Cohen was now either zero-for-three or three-for-three, depending how you score it. The least secret of secret deals for the first client had been followed by the loudest of hush money for the second client and now the least anonymous of anonymities for the third.

The notion that a non-client is entitled to attorney privilege is at least novel.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 AM


With Passing Of Barbara Bush, Houston Astros Lose Toughest, Classiest Fan (Brad Kyle, April 17, 2018, TRS)

In a statement released by the Astros, Ryan said, "Today is a very sad day for our city and for our entire nation. As First Lady, Mrs. Bush epitomized grace, dignity, and strength. As a humanitarian, she impacted the lives of so many young people through the work of her Foundation for literacy, and more.

"As Houstonians and frequent visitors to Minute Maid Park to watch her beloved Astros, we had the great privilege of getting to know Mrs. Bush and President Bush personally. While at the ballpark, both always greeted everyone from the ticket takers to the ushers with a warm, friendly smile. On behalf of the Houston Astros, I send my heartfelt condolences to the entire Bush family, and to Mrs. Bush's many friends and admirers."

Thoughts and well wishes began appearing from the political and sports world immediately after the announcement of Mrs. Bush's passing Tuesday evening.

Longtime Astros correspondent and current MLB.com reporter, Alyson Footer tweeted: "Mrs. Bush was a delightful, witty woman. Before an NLCS game between HOU and STL at (Minute Maid Park) in '04 I asked her if her husband, a good friend to (Cardinals manager) Tony La Russa, was rooting for the Astros. She answered, 'If he wants to come home tonight, he will.' She loved baseball and the Astros. RIP"

The Bushes, married for 73 years, have been a large part of Texas baseball history for decades. From 1985-1994, George and Barbara's son, President George W. Bush, headed up a group that owned the Texas Rangers. Mrs. Bush threw the first pitch at a 1989 Texas Rangers game.

Mrs. Bush accompanied her husband to the mound during the 2015 American League Division Series when he threw a ceremonial first pitch to then-Astros infielder Jed Lowrie.

And since their own retirement, the senior Bushes have embraced Houston and her people and teams, appearing often at Astros and Houston Texans games, including the 2017 World Series, and making several first pitches before many Astros games. Mrs. Bush was known for faithfully keeping a scorecard, too, during Houston contests.

April 17, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


SCOTUS nixes part of law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of some crimes (Ariane de Vogue and Tal Kopan, 4/17/18, CNN)

The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, had originated during the Obama administration but had been closely watched to see if the justices would reveal how they will consider the Trump administration's overall push to both limit immigration and increase deportations.

As expected after the oral argument, Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices for the first time since joining the court to produce a 5-4 majority invalidating the federal statute. In doing so, Gorsuch was continuing the jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who also sided with liberals when it came to the vagueness of statutes used to convict criminal defendants.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


White House Admits James Comey Swung the Election to Trump (Jonathan Chait, 4/17/18, New York)

This morning, Kellyanne Conway made an accusation that she and her boss might not have thought through: "This guy swung an election," Conway told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. "He thought the wrong person would win." That is probably true, but also probably not something Conway should admit.

It's a Kinsley gaffe.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


The Definitive Report on What Immigrants Add to Australia's Economy (ADAM BAIDAWI, APRIL 17, 2018, NY Times)

The report, first published on Tuesday by Fairfax Media after journalists submitted multiple Freedom of Information requests, concluded that reducing immigration would cost the national budget billions of dollars and reduce job growth. [...]

Here are the four key takeaways from the report.

Immigrants contribute more than they consume

Immigrants help increase the country's overall gross domestic product, but they also are responsible for increasing the per capita G.D.P.

That is to say, immigrants have a net positive impact on the Australian economy because they typically contribute more in tax revenue than the amount they consume in government services.

Younger migrants mean younger workers

Seventy percent of migrants to Australia are skilled and of working age, a crucial antidote to the country's aging population.

"By slowing the aging of the population, migration allows the economy and society time to adjust," the report said.

Moreover, the document explains, higher levels of migration are also associated with less spending per person on social services like health care and education.

Immigrants do not depress wages

Mr. Abbott said early this year that limiting immigration was necessary because of the country's "stagnant wages."

The report, however, found that neither wages nor the unemployment rate was affected by migration.

"This is likely explained by the fact that migrants are generally seen as complements to the Australian-born labor force," the document said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Castro set to step aside as Cuban president, his reforms incomplete (Sarah Marsh, 4/17/18, Reuters) 

As president, Castro has trimmed the bloated state payroll, leased out fallow land and expanded the private sector.

The number of self-employed Cubans has more than tripled to around 580,000, out of a total population of more than 11 million. Some of those have started earning - and spending - conspicuously more than everyone else.

Castro also oversaw the creation of a Chinese-style industrial park and a new law offering foreign investors tax cuts. To advance Cuba's re-integration into global markets, he renegotiated its external debt, getting the Paris Club to forgive 76 percent of its $11.1 billion in official obligations.

The detente with long-time foe the United States, reached with former U.S. President Barack Obama and announced in 2014 sparked global investor interest in Cuba.

A surge in tourism boosted the private sector and remittances served as start-up capital for many Cubans forming small businesses, but that meant many of the emerging opportunities were for people in the right place, or with relatives abroad.

In rural areas, though, farmers remain dependent on the state to allocate scarce equipment like tractors. Agricultural output stagnated over the past decade, according to the Brookings Institution think tank, and Cuba still imports 60 to 70 percent of the food it consumes.

"What we need here is a decent irrigation system," said farmer Mario Cruzata, 45, who uses ox-drawn plows to work his fields of yucca, eggplant and lettuce in southeastern Santiago de Cuba province.

And while the reforms have had more success at stimulating the services sector, there are still lids on private business such as the lack of a wholesale market and the right to import or export.

"I wish they would let people grow," said Yusbely Andino, 40, who makes a living fixing computers in the eastern province of Holguin. He has to buy old PCs for spare parts.

Moreover Cuba has authorized self-employment only in certain, highly specific categories, and it stopped issuing new licenses last year for certain popular activities like running restaurants and bed and breakfasts.

In fact, a draft of new regulations seen by Reuters proposes curtailing the private sector. One measure would limit licenses to one business activity per person, hurting entrepreneurs like Condis.

The economy overall remains distorted by a byzantine dual currency system with multiple exchange rates that Castro had promised to unify.

Some analysts say his focus on generational change and attempt to foster more critical debate within the Communist Party may yield longer-term dividends. He has proposed age and term limits for leaders and deployed a more collective leadership style, after decades of dominance by a single figure, Fidel Castro.

If Raul Castro's successor continues on his reform path, he could still be remembered as Cuba's version of Deng Xiaoping, who transformed China from failed central planning to market socialism, said William Leogrande, a professor of government at American University.

"But if the updating fails, Raul will be remembered as just one more reform communist who couldn't force the system to change despite his best efforts."

As with Iran, we should pour in business opportunity and overwhelm the system.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles (Damian Carrington, Apr. 16th, 2018, The Guardian)

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. "What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock," said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. "It's great and a real finding."

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic - far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

"What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic," said McGeehan. "It means we won't need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment."

April 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Michael Cohen and the Busting of the Trump Crime Family (Jonathan Chait, 4/16/18, New York)

The most shocking-but-not-surprising aspect of James Comey's account of meeting Donald Trump is the ease with which he drew upon his experience prosecuting organized crime. Meeting Trump, he told George Stephanopoulos, "I had a flashback to my days investigating the Mafia, La Cosa Nostra." Trump's leadership style eerily tracked that of the mob bosses he had studied. "There's an expression in the Mafia -- there's a distinction between a friend of yours and a friend of ours. A friend of yours is someone on the outside of the family, a friend of ours, an 'amica nostra' is the way they talked about it in Sicilian, is part of the Family, capital F."

It is a pure coincidence, but a revealing one, that Comey's story has come out at the exact same time that Michael Cohen has emerged as a first-tier, and perhaps pivotal, figure in the prosecution of Trumpworld. Cohen has called himself Trump's consigliere and is the most palpably moblike character in Trump's orbit. The severe legal risks he poses to Trump help recenter the story as a mafialike drama that owes as much to The Sopranos and The Americans. Organized crime is somewhere between a metaphor for the ethos that Trump has imposed upon his world and a literal description of the way his business operates. The investigation of Cohen, in particular, will reveal just where along that continuum the truth lies.

One of the ways in which Trump's business closely resembles organized crime is that, because it relies so heavily on morally and legally dubious business ventures, its human-resource strategy de-emphasizes qualifications and relies heavily on loyalty. Or, to put it differently, a person's willingness to engage in, and keep one's mouth shut about, Trump's dubious activities is the most important qualification. This explains why Trump is not known for hiring bright young minds from leading business schools and relies so heavily on his children, as a mafia boss would. It also explains why he retained the legal (or quasi-legal) services of Michael Cohen, a graduate of the worst law school in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Before Trump was anti-Cuba, he wanted to open a hotel in Havana (William M. LeoGrande, 4/16/18, The Conversation)

Relations between the United States and Cuba have grown tense under the Trump administration, which tightened economic sanctions against the Communist Caribbean island in 2017.

"We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba," Trump declared in June 2017. "We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo."

Those who follow Cuba-U.S. relations closely, as I have for 40 years, may recall that Trump has not always been so antagonistic toward Havana. Back when he was a real estate mogul, he was happy to overlook the embargo - twice, in fact - for a chance to open a Trump-branded hotel or golf resort in Cuba.

In September 2016, when Trump was the Republican presidential candidate, Newsweek magazine revealed that in 1998, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts hired a consulting firm to explore business opportunities on the island.

Reportedly acting with Trump's knowledge, representatives from Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp. traveled to Cuba, which was then led by Fidel Castro.

There, they met with government officials and business leaders. The goal, a former official with Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts told Newsweek, was to get a jump on the competition if President Bill Clinton opened up Cuba to U.S. business. Ever since President John F. Kennedy imposed an economic embargo on Cuba in 1962, the Cuban market has been closed to most American companies, including the hospitality sector.

Because their business trip violated the embargo, Seven Arrows advised the Trump organization to disguise its payment to them as a charitable project, according to documents obtained by Newsweek.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Sean Hannity Is Michael Cohen's Secret Third Client. Why That Matters. (ISAAC CHOTINER, APRIL 16, 2018, Slate)

Longtime Fox watchers (at least those of us who watch ironically), as well as those who enjoy engaging in Kremlinology around the network, are no doubt giddy today, but this wasn't exactly predictable. For many years, Hannity was known as the "nice" alternative to Bill O'Reilly. Sure, Hannity was a cheap bigot who made millions by exploiting the racial resentment and stupidity of his audience; but he was also, by all accounts, a decent(ish) guy. While sex scandals brought down Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, and while both men were known for treating people around them like dirt, Hannity had a certain folksy charm that was known to arise whenever the camera turned off. Guests were apparently treated well; shouting was kept to a minimum. If you stopped him on the street, I was once told, he didn't care if you were a radical anarchist, and was always happy to take a photo.

But the last couple of years have been gruesome. There was a sexual harassment allegation. And his Twitter persona has gone from silly to borderline unbalanced, much like the persona of his political hero. We don't know exactly what Cohen did for Hannity, but given that his other two clients are the president and the disgraced Republican bigwig Elliott Broidy, it's unlikely to have been offering advice on anniversary gifts for the missus. (Hannity noted on his radio show that his ties to Cohen had become known, but did not directly address the matter; he told the Wall Street Journal, "We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael.")

Meanwhile, of course, Hannity has not only become increasingly fanatical in his defense of Trump, but also particularly deranged in his coverage of the FBI's investigations of various aspects of Trump world.

When a man publicly hates immigration and Islam, how can any of his private vileness surprise you?

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


Cohen Isn't the Biggest Catch from Trump World: Other players know far more about the president's dealings than his lawyer does. (Timothy L. O'Brien, April 16, 2018, Bloomberg)

The problem is that Cohen may not know many of those things. There was a lawyer at the Trump Organization who did have to sign off on almost every significant deal -- and that guy wasn't Cohen. His name was Jason Greenblatt.

Greenblatt specialized in real-estate law at a major New York firm before signing on with the Trump Organization in 1997. He soon became Trump's true in-house counsel and the company's executive vice president. Everything that mattered in the Trump Organization, every sizable deal or sensitive transaction, required Greenblatt's signature, not Cohen's. Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, has played a similar role when it comes to the company's finances.

At the end of 2016, Greenblatt left the Trump Organization after the president made him a special representative for international negotiations. Weisselberg still helps Trump's sons manage the business while Trump is in the Oval Office. Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for business records, his investigators may get around to interviewing Greenblatt and Weisselberg, who almost certainly have more expansive information on the president's business activities than Cohen does.

If that happens -- or if the U.S. attorney's office in New York takes a similar interest -- then the media might have to reassess its take on Cohen and the role he's playing in the broader drama surrounding the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


How Pep Guardiola stuck to his principles and was proven right at Manchester City (Jack Pitt-Brooke, 4/16/18, New Statesman)
English football has always been as anti-intellectual as any other aspect of our national life. Pragmatism and common sense have been the values, winning football matches the only goal. Woe betide the foreign manager who arrives talking about a 'philosophy' of football he intends to implement. Andre Villas Boas and Louis van Gaal had their faults but they were both always fighting a losing battle, for the temerity of having an idea.

This is nothing new and nor is it limited to football: it is part of who we are. "As Europeans go, the English are not intellectual," George Orwell wrote in 'The Lion and the Unicorn' in 1941. "They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic 'world-view'". Ideas, especially foreign ones, have never taken much root in our culture. Even the history of the Labour party, as Harold Wilson said, owed more to Methodism than to Karl Marx.

All of which explains why when Pep Guardiola arrived in England in 2016, with his own ideas and his own philosophy, so many people told him to compromise. Possession football might work abroad, he was told, but England was different. Every Premier League champion had power at the core of the team, as Gary Neville famously said. The revelation that Guardiola did not "train tackles" after his team had lost 4-2 to Leicester City despite having 78 per cent possession was met with incredulity. Jamie Redknapp described it as "one of the most bizarre statements" he had had ever heard in football, saying City could not win this way. [...]

Of course City do not play like the Barcelona team that won the 2009 and 2011 Champions Leagues. How could they without Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta? This team plays with wingers, and has found a route to goal that is difficult to stop: David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne through to a wide player, who cuts the ball back for a simple finish. 

Wingers crossing the ball back to the middle is the essence of British soccer.  The point is that he can't just walk the ball through the middle the way he'd prefer.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


The heir to Blair? Macron is more like the French Thatcher: The French president's agenda of tax cuts and privatisation is actively corrosive to the progressive dream of Europe. (MICHAEL CHESSUM, 4/15/18, New Statesman)

As a fresh faced, charismatic technocrat, he often draws comparisons to Tony Blair. In terms of his real ambitions and France's less neo-liberalised economy, he is more like a French Thatcher. As Francois Hollande's economy minister, he oversaw labour market reforms, which, among other things, made it easier for employers to sack workers.

Now, his policy is to increase taxes on pensions, undermine trade union representation and power in public services, and introduce performance-related pay for civil servants as a means of undermining general wage increases - all on top of reforms last year which attacked collective bargaining. Simultaneously, the French government has introduced controversial selection practices in higher education, and, perhaps most significantly, paved the way for the privatisation of French railways.

Thus far, most of the commentary in Britain has focused on a rather wonkish analysis of whether or not Macron can get his reforms through - whether he can "win". Like the British miners' strike, this is a race between the unity of the French labour movement and the government's resolve. But the reality is that, regardless of who wins, Macron's policies are a disaster for the ideals he claims to be fighting for - most obviously his Europeanism.

When introducing its package of reforms to the railways, the French government has argued that the dismantling of the working conditions of staff is simply a part of readying the state train network, SNCF, for being opened up to competition and liberalisation under the EU's latest railway directive.

The new EU rules do not really require Macron to do what he is doing - and in any case, the directive could simply be opposed and amended if the French government had the will to do so. And yet, when confronted with the privatisation of the railways, the average French worker finds themselves opposing not just the French government, but, seemingly, the concept of the EU as well.

This is a classic example of how technocratic neo-liberalism operates. Governments with an agenda of privatisation use their seat at the table of trade deals or transnational institutions (in this case the EU) to create rules which supposedly force them to privatise public services - and then claim merely to be following those rules. Fans of privatisation and opponents of state intervention are quite open about the role that state aid rules play - they provide the excuse for right wing governments to do what they want.

All recent successful governments of the left--Clinton, Blair, Obama, etc.--govern from the right. History Ended.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Comey, in Interview, Calls Trump 'Morally Unfit' and 'Stain' on All Around Him (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and PETER BAKERAPRIL 15, 2018, NY Times)

[M]r. Comey called Mr. Trump a serial liar who treated women like "meat," and described him as a "stain" on everyone who worked for him.

He said a salacious allegation that Mr. Trump had cavorted with prostitutes in Moscow had left him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government. And he asserted that the president was incinerating the country's crucial norms and traditions like a wildfire. He compared the president to a mafia boss.

"Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country," Mr. Comey told ABC's chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos, on the program "20/20." "The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president." 

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


The Most Newsworthy Part of ABC's Comey Interview Was an Unaired Detail About His Infamous Hillary Email Letter (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, APRIL 16, 2018, Slate)

What the FBI would discover in October 2016 was that it had inadvertently located a cache of Clinton emails on her aide Huma Abedin's computer during the unrelated investigation of Abedin's husband Anthony Weiner for sending obscene material to a minor. The detail that Comey explained to Stephanopoulos--which he had alluded to previously but never, to my knowledge, explained at this length--is that the Abedin cache specifically included emails from the period of Clinton's State tenure just before she set up the private server. That period would have been the exact time, Comey explained, when Clinton was most likely to have been warned not to set up a private server, because it would constitute mishandling classified material:

What [FBI investigators] told me was, "We have found, for reasons we can't explain, hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop. And something much more important than that. Thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton's Blackberry domain."

She used a Blackberry for the first three months or so of her tenure as secretary of State before setting up the personal server in the basement. And the reason that matters so much is, if there was gonna be a smoking gun, where Hillary Clinton was told, "Don't do this," or, "This is improper," it's highly likely to be at the beginning.

In other words, the Abedin cache wasn't just a random sampling of Clinton emails that weren't expected to differ in any relevant way from the thousands that had already been reviewed, but were rather from the exact period most likely to contain explicit, actionable content that could have convinced the FBI to reverse its recommendation that she should not be prosecuted.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Cops use stun grenades as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews riot in Jerusalem (Times of Israel, 4/15/18)

Four policemen were lightly injured as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews rioted outside the IDF draft office in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

Cops used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the protesters, after normal crowd control methods failed.

The protesters were demonstrating over rumors of the arrest of a young woman from the Har Nof neighborhood for draft-dodging, the ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrei Haredim reported.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Trump, a reluctant hawk, has battled his top aides on Russia and lost (Greg Jaffe, John Hudson and Philip Rucker, April 15, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump seemed distracted in March as his aides briefed him at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the administration's plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies.

The United States, they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies -- part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

"We'll match their numbers," Trump instructed, according to a senior administration official. "We're not taking the lead. We're matching."

The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials -- far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on.

The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.

Comic gold.

April 15, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Scoop: Trump tried to block Pence national security appointment (Jonathan Swan, 4/15/18, Axios)

Trump was furious when he learned Pence was bringing on Nikki Haley's deputy Jon Lerner, according to three sources familiar with the events. The President believed Lerner was a card-carrying member of the "Never Trump" movement because Lerner crafted brutal attack ads for Club for Growth's multimillion-dollar anti-Trump blitz during the Republican primaries.

"Why would Mike do that?" Trump wondered aloud about Pence's decision, according to two sources briefed on the President's private conversations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Nikki Haley says U.S. 'work in Syria is not done' (The Week, 4/15/18)
The United States' "work in Syria is not done," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Fox News Sunday. "Were not going to leave until we know we have accomplished [U.S. goals]," she continued. "Be very clear, if we leave -- when we leave -- it will be because we know that everything is moving forward."

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 1:17 PM


Happy Jackie Robinson Day...

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


Trump worried he screwed up on TPP (BEN WHITE & AUBREE ELIZA WEAVER,  04/13/2018, Politico)

On Thursday, Trump directed NEC Director Larry Kudlow and USTR Robert Lighthizer to study the idea of rejoining TPP, which is moving ahead without the world's largest economy.

Sources tell MM that Trump has been quizzing people for several weeks about whether they think he made a big mistake by dumping TPP, especially now that he is trying to put pressure on China to reform its practices on intellectual property, forced technology transfers and auto tariffs, among other things.

The way the sources describe it to MM, Trump realizes he'd have a much stronger position against China if he had the support of TPP's current 11 members, a group that includes Japan, Canada and Mexico. "He realizes he screwed it up but I don't see how he can get back in," one person close to the president said.

This all ends with him slapping tariffs on American-made goods...

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


How progressives got steamrolled in New Jersey: The party establishment flexes its muscles in a bid to flip a Republican House seat. (MATT FRIEDMAN 04/15/2018, Politico)

Jeff Van Drew has voted against raising the minimum wage and gay marriage. He often sides with industry on environmental issues and carries an A rating from the NRA. And he's the odds-on favorite to be New Jersey's newest Democratic congressman.

In the party's first real crack at winning the South Jersey-based district held by retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) for more than two decades, Democratic party establishment -- at every level -- is throwing its collective weight behind Van Drew, leaving local progressives baffled, frustrated and more than a little angry.

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The FBI's revenge (Mike Allen, 4/15/18, axios)

[T]he FBI is getting its revenge. All at once, Trump is being pounded by the bureau and its alumni, with a three-pronged threat.

The broadest narrative comes from fired FBI director James Comey, who concludes his piercing, detailed attacks in "A Higher Loyalty," out Tuesday: "There is reason to believe this fire will leave the presidency weaker and Congress and the courts stronger, just as the forest fire of Watergate did." On Monday, Comey spent nearly five hours with ABC's George Stephanopoulos (airing at 10 tonight as a "20/20" special). Sources familiar with the Comey interview say ABC has held back some of his strongest news-making bites. A source present at the taping said Comey's comments will "shock the president and his team" and "add more meat to the charges swirling around Trump."

The clearest and most immediate threat, in the view of some White House aides, comes from the New York feds' investigation into Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who joined the Trump Organization in 2006. Trump advisers worry Cohen could serve as a Rosetta stone to the past decade of Trump's high-wire business dealings. The raid on Cohen's office has rattled Trump like no previous twist in the investigation.

Robert Mueller's investigation has the potential to yield embarrassing revelations about Trump's campaign, transition and presidency, whether clumsy shortcuts or something more. Trump lawyers say the White House turned over more than 20,000 pages of documents, and the campaign provided more than 1.4 million.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Northwest States Do Best, Southeast Worst in New Social Capital Measure (Charles Fain Lehman, April 15, 2018, Free Beacon)

The SCP's latest project is meant to capture how social capital is spread throughout the United States, and where it's strongest and weakest. This work adds to previous indexes produced by researchers at Penn State University and by noted social scientist Robert Putnam. The SCP argues that these past efforts rely on out-of-date data, or under-include certain indicators.

"Our conclusion was that a better social capital index was needed than those currently available," the report reads.

To measure social capital, the project aggregated numerous publicly available statistics on America's states and counties. These included measures of family, like time spent together and out-of-wedlock births (on which the SCP has reported previously); measures of social support, like the average number of friends adults have; and measure of community and institutional health, like volunteer hours and voting habits.

The results indicate important variations in the regional distribution of social capital. The helpful, interactive maps provided by the project show that social capital concentrates mostly in the upper Midwest, spreading to the Pacific northwest and concentrating in states like Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. By contrast, measures of social capital are weakest in the south, but also in states like New York and California, and in states struck by the opioid crisis like West Virginia and Kentucky.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Anne Frank House employee says he was barred from wearing kippa (Times of Israel, 4/15/18)

For his first six months on the job, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam reportedly forbade a Jewish employee from wearing a kippa.

Twenty-five-year-old Barry Vingerling was told to remove his kippa upon showing up at his first day of work at the museum, according to a report Thursday in the NIW Dutch Jewish weekly.

Museum officials explained that the Anne Frank House had a policy against donning religious symbols that would break with their "neutrality" efforts, Vingerling relayed to the NIW.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Review: Chappaquiddick - Ted Kennedy and the Fall of Dickarus (Dominic Green, 15 April 2018, Spectator US)

Chappaquiddick is a drama not a legal indictment, but that makes it all the more devastating. Like the court that let him off with a slapped wrist, Chappaquiddick takes Ted at his word--his suspicious failure to report the accident, his apparent attempt to create an alibi, the falsifications in his written statement to the police, his bizarre behavior after the story broke, his falsifications of the record in court, and the further falsifications of his televised statement in the court of public opinion. We have only Ted's word that he repeatedly tried to save Mary Jo Kopechne. And Ted's word, Chappaquiddick shows, is worthless. Personally, I doubt he even tried to save her. I also doubt his claim that he could not recall how it was that he ended up on dry land, and she ended up trapped in an upended car.

In the New York Times, Neal Gabler has accused the makers of Chappaquiddick of character assassination. Admittedly, it's an embroidery to have Joe Kennedy, Sr., palsied by a stroke, gasping 'Alibi!' like an elderly Mafia don. But Gabler, an old-time liberal who is writing a biography of the 'white-maned senator', is protecting his professional and political investments. Ted assassinated whatever character he had. No one can complain about the necessary fictions of a film when its subject was in reality a proven liar.

Jason Clarke captures Ted's appeal and weakness perfectly. Like Elvis after the '68 Special or Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky affair, Kennedy is seedy and flabby, but he still has a shake in his hips and the confused, fascinating intensity of a petulant giant. When Ted breaks the news to Kopechne's parents, he launches into a politician's speech. They hang up, and he sobs--for himself and his weakness, and not for their dead daughter.

Two comedians play against type in this sorry tragedy. Ed Helms is superb as the Kennedy clan's Tom Hagen, Ted's cousin and fixer Joe Gargan. Jim Gaffigan, as Massachusetts attorney-general Paul Markham, is a moral and physical slob, a high official reduced to a drunken gofer for Ted Sorensen and the family lawyers as they conspire to cover up Ted's crime and then, when the story breaks, spin it so that Ted, not Mary Jo Kopechne, is the victim.

In his 1988 book Senatorial Privilege, Leo Damore reports an interview with Gargan in which Gargan claims that Ted Kennedy at first tried to pin the crash on Kopechne, by claiming that she was driving. Kennedy himself was unable to explain why he didn't report the accident for ten hours. As Chappaquiddick shows, his conduct is only explicable as that of a coward in search of an alibi. The same goes for his ludicrous donning of a neck brace for Kopechne's funeral -- the papers reported that he had no trouble turning around in his pew--and the claim by Kennedy lawyers that Ted couldn't speak to the press because he was sedated because of concussion. They dropped that line when it emerged that sedating a concussion can be fatal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


In Moscow, a Sense of Relief After a Limited Syria Attack (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, APRIL 14, 2018, NY Times)

The sun was barely up before the Defense Ministry, not famous for speedy reactions, pumped out a statement underscoring that none of the thousands of Russian troops garrisoned in Syria had been threatened by the American, British and French attack and that none of its air defense systems had been mobilized.

"It looks like both sides were playing according to their prescribed roles and managed to limit the harm from this kind of confrontation," said Aleksandr M. Golts, an independent Russian military analyst and deputy editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal, an online current affairs magazine. "Syria will not be the starting point for some kind of global confrontation."

The American ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., released a statement on Facebook on Saturday confirming that the two sides had taken steps before the assault to made sure they stayed out of each other's way. "Before we took action," he said, "the U.S. communicated with the R.F. to reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties."

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Theresa May shows steel while Donald Trump wobbles in final countdown (Tim Shipman, April 15 2018, The Sunday Times)

When Donald Trump spoke to Theresa May on Thursday to discuss their planned airstrikes on Syria, the US president was far more subdued than he had been three days earlier when he warned Russia and its client dictator, Bashar al-Assad, that his "nice and new and smart" missiles "will be coming".

That outburst exasperated ministers and highlighted the difficulty of standing shoulder to shoulder with an ally who shoots from the lip.

"When Trump started tweeting he hadn't even had his intelligence briefing," said one cabinet source. "He was speaking without having the first clue of what he was talking about."

When May gathered her cabinet on Wednesday at least two ministers called Trump's tweets "unhelpful". Throughout Whitehall there was frustration that the president had made it easier for Vladimir Putin to accuse the West of escalating the conflict and for Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, to condemn a rush to war. He was soon accusing May of awaiting "instructions from Trump".

Behind the scenes an effort was under way to rein in the president, led by his defence secretary, James Mattis. [...]

Trump told May: "We're going to do it and we're going to do it well." But those who had heard him said that he seemed nervous. "It was a bit of a wobble," one Whitehall official said.

Aides say May was in no doubt that military action was required after intelligence chiefs briefed her last Sunday about the attack on Douma, which killed 75 people. The prime minister, who is not given to overt displays of emotion, was shocked that Assad's regime had apparently used chlorine against civilians who were unable to escape. "That was what really struck home with the boss," said one aide.

"That these were people hiding in cellars underground with no means of escape and the regime used a weapon that could penetrate there and kill people who were in hiding. It's a straightforward instrument of fear. She was very struck by the sheer inhumanity of it."

A cabinet source said: "She's been very clear and tough from the beginning."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Meet The Teacher Whose Holocaust Class Is Inspiring Parkland's Student Activists (Ilene Prusher and Nikki Casey, 4/15/18, The Forward)

All year long, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Ivy Schamis teaches her students about the Holocaust: about perpetrators, victims and survivors both historical and contemporary.

She never imagined she would find herself using those words to describe her own students, her colleagues -- even herself. Eight weeks ago, when students had just finished presenting research about the hate groups operating today on American college campuses, that changed. Nikolas Cruz, an expelled student armed with an AR-15, thrust his semi-automatic assault rife through her window. Two of the 17 students who died that day were Schamis'; she'd taught another one the year before.

"One of [my students] said to me, 'We used to watch the news," Schamis explained in a conversation in a coffee shop less than a mile from the school, her eyes tight with sadness. "Now we've become the news."

The student activists forged in the crucible of the shooting have drawn on the lessons she taught in her classroom, decorated with barbed-wire painted on the walls, Never Forget posters and an "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign over her desk. She will never be allowed to go back there; the building is going to be destroyed. But she continues to teach, and they continue to learn. Life is just very different.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


How much proof do you need? (James Tapsfield, 15 April 2018, Daily Mail)

Jeremy Corbyn again refused to blame Russia for the Salisbury attack today saying he wants to see 'incontrovertible evidence'.

The Labour leader risked inflaming tensions with his own MPs by making clear he is still not convinced that Moscow was behind the attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia. 

Britain dramatically moved to counter Russian propaganda on Salisbury last week by releasing new evidence.

Some kids prefer the red Trumpbot.

April 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Legendary Writer Bill Nack Dies at Age 77: Seven-time media Eclipse Award winner was best known for coverage of Secretariat. (BloodHorse, 4/14/18)

William "Bill" Nack, a renowned sports journalist and author, died April 13 at his home in Washington D.C. after a lengthy illness, according to Secretariat.com. He was 77.

A seven-time media Eclipse Award winner, Nack was best known for his coverage of Secretariat. His acclaimed biography on "Big Red" is considered the definitive account chronicling the history of the Meadow Stable colt and his ascent to the 1973 Triple Crown. The book was used as the inspiration for the 2010 Disney movie "Secretariat."

Nack joined Sports Illustrated in 1978 and became one of the signature voices of the publication. He wrote on everything from racing to boxing to chess. Nack left the magazine in 2001 and freelanced for numerous publications, including ESPN and GQ.

Pure Heart (William Nack, 6/04/90, Sports Illustrated)

In the late afternoon of Monday, Oct. 2, 1989, as I headed my car from the driveway of Arthur Hancock's Stone Farm onto Winchester Road outside of Paris, Ky., I was seized by an impulse as beckoning as the wind that strums through the trees there, mingling the scents of new grass and old history.

For reasons as obscure to me then as now, I felt compelled to see Lawrence Robinson. For almost 30 years, until he suffered a stroke in March of 1983, Robinson was the head caretaker of stallions at Claiborne Farm. I had not seen him since his illness, but I knew he still lived on the farm, in a small white frame house set on a hill overlooking the lush stallion paddocks and the main stallion barn. In the first stall of that barn, in the same space that was once home to the great Bold Ruler, lived Secretariat, Bold Ruler's greatest son.

It was through Secretariat that I had met Robinson. On the bright, cold afternoon of Nov. 12, 1973, he was one of several hundred people gathered at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington to greet the horse on his flight from New York into retirement in Kentucky. I flew with the horse that day, and as the plane banked over the field, a voice from the tower crackled over the airplane radio: "There's more people out here to meet Secretariat than there was to greet the governor."

"Well, he's won more races than the governor," pilot Dan Neff replied.

An hour later, after a van ride out the Paris Pike behind a police escort with blue lights flashing, Robinson led Secretariat onto a ramp at Claiborne and toward his sire's old stall--out of racing and into history. For me, that final walk beneath a grove of trees, with the colt slanting like a buck through the autumn gloaming, brought to a melancholy close the richest, grandest, damnedest, most exhilarating time of my life. For eight months, first as the racing writer for Long Island, N.Y.'s Newsday and then as the designated chronicler of the horse's career, I had a daily front-row seat to watch Secretariat. I was at the barn in the morning and the racetrack in the afternoon for what turned out to be the year's greatest show in sports, at the heart of which lay a Triple Crown performance unmatched in the history of American racing.

Sixteen years had come and gone since then, and I had never attended a Kentucky Derby or a yearling sale at Keeneland without driving out to Claiborne to visit Secretariat, often in the company of friends who had never seen him. On the long ride from Louisville, I would regale them with stories about the horse--how on that early morning in March of '73 he had materialized out of the quickening blue darkness in the upper stretch at Belmont Park, his cars pinned back, running as fast as horses run: how he had lost the Wood Memorial and won the Derby, and how he had been bothered by a pigeon feather at Pimlico on the eve of the Preakness (at the end of this tale I would pluck the delicate, mashed feather out of my wallet, like a picture of my kids, to pass around the car); how on the morning of the Belmont Stakes he had burst from the barn like a stud horse going to the breeding shed and had walked around the outdoor ring on his hind legs, pawing at the sky; how he had once grabbed my notebook and refused to give it back, and how he had seized a rake in his teeth and begun raking the shed; and, finally, I told about that magical, unforgettable instant, frozen now in time, when he had turned for home, appearing out of a dark drizzle at Woodbine, near Toronto, in the last race of his career, 12 in front and steam puffing from his nostrils as from a factory whistle, bounding like some mythical beast out of Greek lore.

Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand, until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message. Dreamed them and turned them over like pillows in my rubbery sleep. Woke up with them, brushed my aging teeth with them, grinned at them in the mirror. Horses have a way of getting inside of you, and so it was that Secretariat became like a fifth child in our house, the older boy who was off at school and never around but who was as loved and true a part of the family as Muffin, our shaggy, epileptic dog.

The story I now tell begins on that Monday afternoon last October on the macadam outside of Stone Farm.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Pence didn't talk about wall with Mexican leader (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Apr 14, 2018)

Vice President Mike Pence says the topic of funding President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall did not come up in his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at an international summit in Peru.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


40 Sea Gulls Wrecked His Hotel Room. 17 Years Later, a Pepperoni Pardon. (YONETTE JOSEPH, APRIL 14, 2018, NY Times)

It all started, said Mr. Burchill, a 49-year-old salesman from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, when he went to Victoria 17 years ago for a conference hosted by his new employer. He planned to see friends from the Canadian Naval Reserves, and had promised to bring them a local delicacy from home: Chris Brothers TNT Pepperoni.

He filled a whole suitcase. "I brought enough for a ship," he wrote.

When he landed, the airline could not find the bag. But it arrived the next day, after he had checked into the Empress on the fourth floor. His room had no refrigerator, and he worried about keeping the meat cool.

But the room had a nicely appointed window, and there was a chill in the April air. A plan formed: Why not spread the meat on a table next to an open window and on the window sill to keep it cool? So he did.

Then he went for a walk.

The sight that greeted him when he returned to his room hours later can only be described as "an explosion," he wrote. About 40 sea gulls had sneaked in through a small opening in the window and were having a feast, he told the CBC radio show "As It Happens."

"They'd been eating Brothers TNT pepperoni -- I'm specific with the TNT because it's hot," he recalled. "They'd been eating that for about five hours, and you can imagine what the room looked like. They were carrying on their life processes in there."

Excrement, feathers and pepperoni chunks were everywhere.

"Brothers' TNT Pepperoni does NASTY things to a sea gull's digestive system," he wrote. "The smell," he recalled in the radio interview, "was overwhelming."

"The shocking thing for me was the saliva," he marveled. "I didn't know that sea gulls drooled. The slime was covering everything. They were whipping it up into the air. It was like a tornado."

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


The Strike May Have Hurt More than It Helped (BARRY PAVEL, 4/14/18, Defense One)

In fact, since Assad and others were led to believe that this would be a much bigger and more consequential attack than it was, especially by President Trump's own rhetoric, the very conscribed nature of the actual strikes might actually embolden the Syrian leader to use his remaining chemical weapons more frequently and with less restraint.

Here's why: The essence of deterrence is to threaten something of such value that the adversary will not want to incur the costs. Inherent in effective deterrence is instilling fear and uncertainty in the mind of the adversary -- fear that they would suffer unacceptable consequences for taking an action, and uncertainty about the exact parameters of the next retaliatory attack.

The strikes as conducted last night instill no fear nor uncertainty on the part of the Syrian regime.

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WHY MIGRANTS ARE GOOD FOR THE GLOBAL ECONOMY (Devon Van Houten Maldonado, 4/14/18, Ozy)

Populists, nationalists and xenophobes have it all wrong when it comes to immigration. The arguments for building border walls, reducing legal immigration (or eliminating it), deporting illegals and turning away migrants cost taxpayers in rich countries a lot of money, but eliminating these barriers could increase gross domestic product and wealth for everyone.

Despite populists' passionate and tenacious opinions, decades of research show that more immigration, not less, creates prosperity for wealthy nations, and that the plus side of people flow extends to nonimmigrants. According to a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report:

In economic terms, it's all about labor mobility. Contrary to popular belief, immigration barriers cost trillions in potential GDP. Economists agree that more newcomers equals more wealth, including for native-born workers, because immigrants occupy both the lowest-skill jobs and some of the most specialized, creating a more productive and competitive workforce.

"For the elimination of trade-policy barriers and capital-flow barriers, the estimated gains amount to less than a few percent of world GDP," says Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "For labor mobility barriers, the estimated gains are often in the range of 50 to 150 percent of world GDP."

...they're right about....well...nothing.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Republicans lose their favorite campaign message: Repealing Obamacare (Paige Winfield Cunningham, April 14, 2018, Washington Post)

For the first time in nearly a decade, Republican candidates across the country find themselves bereft of what was once their favorite talking point: repealing and replacing President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act -- and all the havoc they alleged it has wreaked.

That's because the GOP failed dramatically in its efforts last year to roll back the ACA as its first big legislative delivery on the promise of single-party control of Washington from Congress to the White House. That defeat has quickly turned attacks on Obamacare from centerpiece into pariah on the campaign trail, a sudden disappearing act that Democrats are looking to exploit as they seek to regain power in the midterms.

"Yeah, we probably can't talk credibly about repeal and replace anymore," said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a key negotiator of the House-passed version of an ACA rollback that failed in the Senate.

The "repeal and replace" mantra was a mainstay of Republican campaigns for four straight election cycles, propelling the GOP into the House majority in 2010, the Senate majority four years later and in 2016, helping to keep Republicans in power and elect President Trump. Getting rid of Obamacare was a proud theme for GOP party and conservative groups, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars beating Democrats over the head with charges the law was unaffordable. Trump repeatedly touted permanent elimination of the bill during the campaign and his first year in office, but doesn't often now mention it.

Eighty-four percent of Republican-affiliated health-care ads in 2014 attacked the ACA, while only 11 percent of Democrat-affiliated ads touted it, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Kantar Media. Out of 849 unique ads that referenced the ACA that year, 87 percent of them backed a Republican candidate and opposed the law.

But since the dramatic defeat of an ACA rollback bill in the Senate last July, many Republican candidates don't have much to say about health care at all.

They were opposing the sunrise.

About half of Americans support single-payer health care (Emily Guskin, April 12, 2018, Washington Post)

As President Trump's administration tries to chip away at the Affordable Care Act by giving more authority to states to regulate private insurance, a new poll finds a slight majority of Americans support a move in the opposite direction, with everyone getting health insurance from a national government-run program.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds a 51 percent majority of Americans support a national health plan, also known as a single-payer plan, while 43 percent oppose it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM

One-Pot Shakshuka Recipe (Outside)

Shakshuka is our latest camp meal obsession, and we've partnered with Fresh off the Grid to bring you an easy, one-pot recipe for this tasty Middle Eastern dish. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Quebec mosque shooter told police he was motivated by Canada's immigration policies (LES PERREAUX,  APRIL 13, 2018, Globe & Mail)

Alexandre Bissonnette has pleaded guilty to killing six men and seriously wounding five more in the attack. In an interview with police played at his sentencing hearing on Friday, he said he started thinking about taking action as his own fear and anxiety grew after a soldier was shot on Parliament Hill in 2014. He became obsessed with the idea after a 2016 vehicle attack killed 86 people in Nice, France.

He said during the interrogation that the final straw came on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, when he watched news coverage of Mr. Trump's new anti-Muslim policy and contrasted it with Canadian openness to immigration contained in one tweet seen around the world. Mr. Trudeau wrote: "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada."

Never let it be said that Donald can't inspire his base.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Wisconsin man who blew himself up might have been white supremacist making ISIS-style bombs (Marwa Eltagouri, April 13, 2018, Washington Post)

[E]vidence has emerged suggesting Morrow was a white supremacist whose apartment doubled as a "homemade explosives laboratory," and that he may have had plans for those explosives, according to an unsealed warrant application by the state's Department of Justice, which was obtained by the Daily Beast. Investigators said a "one-gallon metal container of acetone" was found at the scene -- an easy-to-procure substance that, when cooked, becomes highly volatile and potent.

The fatal explosion occurred around the same time that a weeks-long string of exploding packages terrorized Austin.

Acetone is typically found in the "Mother of Satan" bombs used by terrorists in Islamic State attacks. It was a primary ingredient, for example, in the bombs Islamic State operatives used in the 2015 attack in Paris and 2016 attacks in Brussels which killed 137 people and 31 people, respectively.

There were 40 gallons of acetone in the apartment of the suspected bomber. The attackers in Brussels could have purchased the ingredients without raising suspicion, especially if each member was responsible for buying just one element.

Investigators submitted the warrant application to search the contents of a storage unit Morrow was renting, as well as his computers, flash drives and phone, according to the Daily Beast.

[Austin bombing suspect Mark Conditt dies after blowing himself up as officers approached, police say]

On the day Morrow died, two white cardboard boxes labeled with the words "mix it, shake it, shoot it" sat in his apartment, along with three more packages labeled "sonic boom," according to state investigator Kevin Heimerl, who stated in the warrant application that he suspected the boxes contained materials that, when combined, were destructive. In addition to the bombmaking materials, Morrow also possessed guns and accessories, such as a rifle scope, masks, vests and thousands of rounds of ammunition, the Daily Beast reported.

In his bedroom, investigators found "white supremacist material," according to the warrant.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Paul Ryan and the End of an Era (STEPHEN F. HAYES, April 13, 2018, Weekly Standard)

Here's the irony: As Trump consolidates his hold on the party, he's losing his grip on the presidency. Even the strongest supporters of the president now quietly acknowledge fears of what comes next. White House staffers whisper that their boss appears increasingly unhinged. As one prominent Trump supporter recently put it to me: "It's falling apart." It's a view echoed by a former top administration official, who said this week: "It's never been worse. Nobody knows what to do."

The details beggar the imagination. On April 9, Trump held a meeting to consider how he might deepen U.S. involvement in the Syrian war that he had told top advisers five days earlier he wanted to end. He opened the war-planning meeting with a rambling, televised tirade about the FBI raid of the offices of Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, under scrutiny for having paid $130,000 in hush money to a porn performer just before the 2016 election. During his almost-10-minute rant, Trump attacked top law enforcement officials--including ones he'd chosen to serve in his administration--for their involvement in a "witch hunt" meant to damage his presidency. One moment he was lamenting having chosen Jeff Sessions as attorney general and complaining about Hillary Clinton's "acid-washed" emails, the next he was talking about the chemical weapons attack in Syria and the U.S. resolve to respond.

Sitting grimly at the side of the president as he expounded on the witch hunt was John Bolton, his third national security adviser in 15 months. As Trump's national security team ponders how to operationalize the president's constantly changing positions on Syria, it is simultaneously undergoing a top-to-bottom overhaul. In recent weeks, the following senior officials have left the administration, voluntarily or otherwise: secretary of state, national security adviser, deputy national security adviser, deputy national security adviser for strategy, homeland security adviser, undersecretary of state for public affairs, and national security council spokesman.

Beyond national security, the White House communications director, the top White House economic adviser, the White House staff secretary, a senior White House communications adviser, the secretary of veterans affairs, and the president's personal aide have all either headed for the exits or been pushed out.

It's worth noting that these were Trump people. Many of them were chosen for their loyalty to him and their belief in what they understood to be his agenda.

The turmoil extends well beyond the administration. Close observers of Trump's recent policy reversals look like the crowd at a tennis match, as he publicly declares himself for and against a clean vote on DACA, for and against reinstituting an assault-weapons ban, for and against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for and against war in Syria. A graph of stock market volatility looks like the Rocky Mountains, as the president one day announces unplanned tariffs and praises trade wars as "good and easy to win," only to turn around and carve out market-pleasing exemptions and suggest his previous proposals were mere bluster for the purposes of negotiation.

Trump's White House spent weeks rallying support among Capitol Hill Republicans for the reauthorization of a crucial intelligence collection program, only to have a last-minute Trump attack on the law nearly lead to its expiration. The president threatened to veto the execrable omnibus spending bill after it had passed and despite the fact that administration officials had worked closely with lawmakers to determine what was in it.

It's not at all clear what comes next.

Of course, it is: more fun.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM

ALWAYS BET ON THE dEEP sTATE (profanity alert):

WATCH: InfoWars' Alex Jones breaks down in tears after learning 'Trump c[***]ed all over us' by attacking Syria (Tom Boggioni, 14 APR 2018, Raw Story)

InfoWars founder Alex Jones had a weeping meltdown on Friday night after learning that President Donald Trump joined with France and the British to launch an attack on Syria in retaliation for a reported chemical attack on the residents of Douma.

Reacting to the news of the military incursion, the anti-interventionist Jones lamented that, "Trump is cr[***]ing all over us."

At least you got that fetish fulfilled for free--Donald pays for his...

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Only Two Companies Are Making Trump-Brand Products Now (Chavie Lieber,  Apr 13, 2018, Racked)

Three years ago, there were as many as 19 companies making Trump-branded merchandise. Today, only two -- one in Panama and one in Turkey -- are producing Trump products.

Trump began licensing his name in 2004; by 2009, the Trump brand was bringing in $215 million in sales worldwide. The Post reports that as of 2015, licensees were paying Trump $2.4 million a year to slap his name onto items as wide-ranging as suits and urine tests.

Trump reported in his 2017 financial disclosure that he had received just $370,000 from licensing deals that year. The Post reports this is because the majority of products are no longer being produced. Trump ties are not in production anymore; nor are Trump pillows, shoes, eyeglasses, mattresses, or chandeliers.

Some Trump licensing partners told the Post their agreements had merely expired, while others cited it as a "business decision," explaining that the merchandise wasn't selling. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Deported veteran becomes US citizen after California pardon (Elliot Spagat, 4/13/18, AP) 

A decorated former U.S. Army paratrooper whose work on behalf of deported veterans drew widespread attention to his cause became a U.S. citizen Friday, giving immigration advocates a rare reason to celebrate.

Hector Barajas, who was deported to Mexico in 2010, beamed after taking his citizenship oath in a small, private ceremony at a government office in San Diego in full military uniform.

"I get to live the American Dream for a second time," he said, holding a small American flag in his hand at a jubilant news conference.

Barajas founded the Deported Veterans Support Home in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, providing shelter and other services. Extensive media coverage, support from members of Congress and the American Civil Liberties Union's involvement raised his profile.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


I'm a Peeliever and You Should Be, Too (Jonathan Chait, 4/14/18, New York)

1. Christopher Steele is credible. Steele isn't just some gumshoe. He's an experienced intelligence collector whose work has been valued by the British and American governments. His sources seem to be serious, too, including "a former top-level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin," a "member of the staff at the hotel," a "female staffer at the hotel when Trump had stayed there," and "a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow."

Steele himself has said that probably not every fact compiled in his dossier is true. The dossier was not intended as solid intelligence, but as a collection of leads. Still, the fact that Russia almost certainly murdered some of the sources for his reporting in the immediate wake of the dossier's publication further attests to their credibility.

Update: One of the firmest denials Trump's orbit has made of the Steele dossier has been its report that Michael Cohen met with Russian agents in Prague in the summer of 2016. Cohen has produced a passport showing no Czech visit. But McClatchy reports that Robert Mueller has evidence he did go to Prague to meet with Russians then, going through Germany, which would avoid any mark on his passport. In addition to constituting important evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia, this is significant corroboration of Steele's work.

2. Trump is unhealthily obsessed with Obama. Trump's fixation with Barack Obama has been evident since his 2011 humiliation at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. But as we have mapped out the contours of Trump's unbalanced psyche over the course of his presidency to date, the centrality of Obama has grown even more evident. He would routinely tell guests touring the Oval Office that the previous president had ignored the room. "Obama never used the Oval, but Trump is different," he would say, in his customary third-person.

Obama hatred is the lodestar of Trump's often confused policy-making. "It's his only real position," a top European diplomat told BuzzFeed last year. "He will ask: 'Did Obama approve this?' And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: 'We don't.'" Even bizarrely self-defeating actions like sabotaging the health-care exchanges, which will cause premiums to spike right before this November's midterm elections, seem to be motivated by a desire to defile his predecessor's legacy. Getting prostitutes to pee on the bed Obama slept in seems to be very much in character.

There is, of course, a chance that this is the one thing Mr. Steele got wrong, but that's long odds.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Kakistocracy, a 374-year-old word that means 'government by the worst,' just broke the dictionary (Avi Selk, April 13, 2018, Washington Post)

Today was a productive vocabulary day in the United States of America.

The learning began in the morning, when former CIA director John O. Brennan tweeted at President Trump: "Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey."

The insult was part of a raging feud between Trump and various members of the intelligence community, some of whom suspect the president's inner circle of committing federal crimes, and many of whom Trump says are out to destroy him.

Brennan's tweet proved quite popular with Trump's critics, even if not everyone totally understood it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Gowdy expands probe into EPA's Pruitt (ANTHONY ADRAGNA and ALEX GUILLÉN, 04/13/2018, Politico)

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Friday he's expanding his probe into the alleged ethical and spending abuses by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt one day after his staff met for several hours with a former EPA aide who was pushed out of the agency.

Gowdy's latest letter is a further sign of the deepening bipartisan scrutiny facing President Donald Trump's environmental chief, whose critics accuse him of excessive spending on travel, vehicles, staff raises and luxe security features such as a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Milos Forman, Oscar-winning 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' director, dead at 86 (JESSICA CHIA, 4/14/18, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Forman, who was born in the small town of Caslav in 1932, moved to U.S. in the 1960s and became widely known for his humanism, dark humor, and fascination with rebellious characters.

He studied at the University of Prague's Film Institute before he kick-started his career -- and the Czech New Wave with three hits in as many years.

Black Peter, his first major feature in 1964, won Forman international acclaim and his star only continued to rise with "Loves of a Blonde."

The 1965 film is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that sold out in his home country before it was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Just two years later, Forman made "The Firemen's Ball", a satirical look at the country's communist regime. Despite being banned in Czechoslovakia, the film nabbed another Best Foreign Film nomination at the Academy Awards.

In a 2004 interview with the LA Times, Forman said, "When we started to make our films, they were really Czech films about Czech society and Czech little people -- and who cares about Czech little people? So it was satisfying to have people in other countries respond."

...his best film is quintessentially American.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


France fires cruise missiles from Med to punish Syria (AFP, 14 April 2018)

Defence Minister Florence Parly said said "these different assets fired cruise missiles in a perfectly coordinated way... closely synchronised  with our American and British allies."
She said the strikes had targeted "the main research centre" for chemical weapons and two 
production sites of "a clandestine chemical programme". 
"It's the capacity to develop and produce chemical weapons that has been hit," she said in a statement at the presidential palace. "The goal is simple: to stop the regime from using chemical weapons again."  
The United  States, Britain and France carried out the strikes in response to alleged chemical  weapons attacks that President Donald Trump branded the "crimes of a monster."

April 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Sources: Mueller has evidence Cohen was in Prague in 2016, confirming part of dossier (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, 4/13/18, mcclatchydc.com)
The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump's personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy's report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


James Comey Is No Hero (ADAM SERWER, 4/13/18, The Atlantic)

The most damning revelations in the published accounts of the memoir, however, are not Comey's condemnations of Trump, but his disclosures of his own thinking when he made the decisions that helped put the current president in office.

In July of 2016, Comey held a press conference excoriating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information, but announcing his decision to decline to prosecute her, said her actions were careless but inadvertent. Then, on October 28, 2016, days before the presidential election, Comey wrote a letter to Congress announcing publicly that the case was being reopened, a decision that experts have argued likely cost Clinton the election. At the same time that Comey was publicly discussing a federal investigation of Clinton, the FBI was investigating whether Trump's campaign was aiding a Russian influence operation aimed at putting the real-estate mogul in office. Comey kept the latter secret. The investigation into Clinton found nothing new--the inquiry into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia is ongoing and has already led to  guilty pleas from several former Trump campaign officials.

Why did Comey make that decision? His book, A Higher Loyalty, will be released on Tuesday. But accounts of its contents and excerpts published by outlets that have obtained copies of the book make clear that he concedes that he believed Clinton was going to win. "It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president," Comey wrote, "my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don't know."

This is an astonishing admission. Justice Department guidelines bar officials from making important disclosures related to investigations close to elections to avoid influencing them. Comey took it upon himself to decide that, based on his concern that keeping the news confidential could call the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency into question, he had to announce that the investigation was being restarted. But that was not his decision to make; the role of the FBI is to investigate crimes, it is not to use its authority to protect or harm the legitimacy of a given politician. A hypothetical Clinton administration's legitimacy should not have been a factor in Comey's decision whatsoever; Comey should only have been concerned with following the Justice Department's guidelines, which exist to protect the integrity of the democratic process, and which Comey followed in the case of the Republican candidate. [...]

Trump fired Comey for self-interested reasons, an act that may amount to obstruction of justice. But by that point, Comey had proven himself unfit to hold his office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller (MATT APUZZO, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MAGGIE HABERMAN and EILEEN SULLIVAN, APRIL 13, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump's advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel's investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

As his lawyers went to court in New York on Friday to try to block prosecutors from reading files that were seized from the personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, this week, Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves. [...]

Agents also demanded information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. Ms. Clifford has said she had sex with Mr. Trump while he was married. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged paying Ms. Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence days before Election Day.

Mr. Trump recently told reporters he knew nothing about the agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


A Former Russian Spy Worked On A Trump Moscow Deal While Trump Was Running For President (Jason Leopold & Anthony Cormier, 4/13/18, Buzz Feed)

A former Russian spy helped Donald Trump's business team seek financing for a Trump-branded tower in the heart of Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

This connection between Trump and Russian intelligence -- made public here for the first time -- is known to special counsel Robert Mueller's team and raises fresh questions about the president's connections to the Kremlin. The former agent, who had served in Russia's military intelligence arm known as the GRU and later worked as an arms dealer, negotiated for financing from a Russian state-owned bank that was under US sanctions at the time. [...]

Plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow were underway in late 2015 and early 2016, while Trump was running for president. A key player in the effort was Felix Sater, who had worked with Trump on real estate deals around the world.

In November 2015, Sater emailed Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, famously saying in one message that he would "get all of Putin's team to buy in" on the Trump tower deal, and boasting that he could get Putin to publicly praise the Republican candidate during the campaign. There is no evidence that Sater delivered on those promises. Sater previously told BuzzFeed News that his emails amounted to salesmanship, and the whole Trump Moscow project ultimately fizzled.

But a later message from Sater to Cohen, sent in early 2016, mentions a contact in Russia who could help facilitate the deal. That individual is a former colonel with Russia's military intelligence, the two sources told BuzzFeed News. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Cohen also did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent through his attorney. Sater told BuzzFeed News, "I will not comment on anything related to ongoing investigations."

Sater contacted the former GRU officer in 2015 to help arrange financing. In Russia, where the president himself is a former KGB officer, it isn't unusual for companies to work with former intelligence officers, who often retain key connections. To Sater, the former agent mentioned two banks: GenBank and VTB Bank. State-owned VTB was one of the top financial institutions in Russia for real estate projects at the time, but it was also on the US Treasury Department's sanctions list.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


U.S. lowers NAFTA key auto content demand (Anthony Esposito, David Lawder, 4/13/18, Reuters) 

U.S. trade negotiators have significantly softened their demands to increase regional automotive content under a reworked NAFTA trade pact in an effort to move more quickly towards a deal in the next few weeks, auto industry executives said on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Andrew McCabe Got Fired for Allegedly Misleading James Comey, Which Screws Up Pretty Much Everyone's Narrative (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, APRIL 13, 2018, Slate)

[H]ere's the gist of what is recounted and alleged:

• In October 2016, a Wall Street Journal reporter contacted the FBI and said he'd heard that McCabe was telling agents involved in the FBI's investigation of the Clinton Foundation to "stand down." (The agency investigated the Clintons' nonprofit for potential corruption; no charges were ever filed. McCabe was at that point the subject of public scrutiny regarding Clinton because his wife received significant fundraising assistance from Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe during an unsuccessful run for office.)

• McCabe authorized two FBI employees to convey to the WSJ reporter that McCabe had in fact vociferously defended the FBI's right to continue investigating the Clinton Foundation during an August 2016 conversation with a Department of Justice official.

• While McCabe did have the authority to make decisions about disclosures to the press, this particular disclosure didn't conform to the FBI's policies on when and how to comment on ongoing investigations, took place during a period when leaks had created high tension between the FBI and DOJ, and likely would not have been approved by then-FBI Director James Comey had he been apprised of it in advance.

• McCabe misled Comey after the Journal published its story, giving Comey the impression that he (McCabe) did not know how an account of the August 2016 conversation had ended up in the paper.

• McCabe then misled both internal FBI investigators (in May 2017) and inspector general investigators (in July 2017) who were looking into the source of the disclosure to the Journal. While McCabe did ultimately contact investigators in August 2017 to say that he'd authorized the disclosure, and gave further testimony about that disclosure in November 2017, he continued to be dishonest about having misled Comey.

Hillary was his white whale.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


R.N.C. Official Who Agreed to Pay Playboy Model $1.6 Million Resigns (REBECCA R. RUIZ and JIM RUTENBERG, APRIL 13, 2018, NY Times)

A major donor with close ties to the White House resigned on Friday as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after the revelation that he had agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair.

The deal was arranged by President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Immigrants Become Naturalized Citizens in Hanover High Ceremony (Matt Hongoltz-Hetling , 4/13/18, Valley News)

Hanover -- Standing in a cinder-block-lined hallway, Daria Trusova held a printed copy of The Star-Spangled Banner in her hand while a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official addressed the crowd.

"The back of that form is an immigration form," said Joshua Egli, the official. "It's the last immigration form you'll ever have to fill out."

Trusova, 28, moved to Hanover from Russia in 2015 to be with her husband, who became a citizen in 2013. She's one of 39 immigrants who came to Hanover High School to participate in a naturalization ceremony on Thursday morning. They stood in a line, waiting for a man wearing glasses to check over their green card and paperwork one last time. As each person came to the front of the line, the man made a mark next to their name on a clipboard and directed them up a flight of stairs.

Trusova's husband, Vladimir Chernov, is a math professor at Dartmouth College. All week, he'd been reminding her of the upcoming ceremony -- for the last three nights, he had sung The Star-Spangled Banner to her from the page she now held in her hand.

She worked as a dishwasher before having Ilya, her 6-month-old son. To her, America is living up to its reputation as a land of plenty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Boy plays hooky for Cubs' home opener, runs into principal at Wrigley Field (Mitch Dudek, 4/13/18,  Chicago Sun-Times)
Normally, if you ditch school to attend opening day at Wrigley Field, you keep a low profile.

Tucker Steckman, a fourth-grader at Wells Elementary School in East Moline, brought a cardboard sign that proclaimed: "Skipping school . . . Shhh. Don't tell Principal Versluis."

A photograph of the young outlaw fell into the hands of Major League Baseball, which tweeted the picture to 8.3 million followers.

And, oh, by the way, shortly after the picture was taken, Tucker ran into his principal, Pat Versluis, inside Wrigley Field.

"I saw him and I was kind of ducking down," Versluis said with a laugh during a cell phone call from inside Wrigley Field.

"I didn't want him to see me either," he said. "I'm here with my son, Aiden, who's in fifth grade and I called out sick for the day!"

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


A Celebration of John Fahey and American-Primitive Guitar (Amanda Petrusich, April 12, 2018, The New Yorker)

This weekend, the city of Takoma Park, Maryland, will host the Thousand Incarnations of the Rose, the first and only festival dedicated exclusively to American-primitive guitar music. Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington, D.C., is also the home town of the guitarist John Fahey, who, in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, helped to develop a particular and idiosyncratic style of fingerpicking that borrowed heavily from the country blues--then a dying music, but one which Fahey venerated, obsessed over--while incorporating prickly, dissonant elements more common to avant-garde composers. American primitive is generally instrumental, and performed by a solo, steel-string guitarist working in an open tuning. The feel is introspective, if not plainly melancholic--like gazing out over flat water.

Fahey took cues from his forebears (Elizabeth Cotten, Lena Hughes, Mississippi John Hurt), but his sadness was prodigious, and his own. It led him to write dozens of albums of odd yet breathtaking songs. The critic Byron Coley, writing in Spin, once compared Fahey's musical inventions to "those of John Coltrane and Harry Partch, for sheer transcendental American power." The essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan has described his songs as "harmonic chambers in which different dead styles spoke to one another." Fahey, who was famously cantankerous--it's been said that, in his later years, he grew increasingly bitter and choleric, like all men who know too much about things nobody else cares about--explained it only as an expression of his truth: "The pathos of the suburbs or whatever."

Fahey died in 2001, at the age of sixty-one, after undergoing a sextuple coronary bypass. He had a bum heart, and several decades of rapacious boozing behind him. He'd been renting a room in a Salvation Army in Salem, Oregon, eating gas-station sausages for dinner and occasionally pawning his guitars for cash. I wonder what it would have been like to spend time with him then. I'm nearly certain that he would have found me suspicious--an amateur and an interloper--but I like to think that I might've won him over for a minute or three, negotiating temporary access to whatever wild and tangled knowledge that he carried around. Fahey was repulsed by pretension, but he was an intellectual nonetheless, with an M.A. in folklore from U.C.L.A. (His field work included the tracking down and cultural resuscitation of Bukka White and Skip James, two titans of prewar blues.) For a while, he knew more than almost anyone about the music of Charley Patton. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


This is what Obama told Comey after Trump's election (Catherine Garcia, April 12, 2018, The Week)

It was just the two of them, Comey writes, and Obama told him, "I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing -- nothing -- has happened in the last year to change my view." Comey said he was close to tears, and responded, "I'm just trying to do the right thing." "I know," Obama replied. "I know." 

The difficulty for Left and Right is accepting that Mr. Comey was right to be distraught about what he'd done and Mr. Obama was right that he had tried to do the right thing.  We often do wrong meaning to do right.  The former defines us, not the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Brain-damaging lead found in tap water in hundreds of homes tested across Chicago, results show (Michael Hawthorne and Cecilia Reyes, 4/13/18, Chicago Tribune)

Amid renewed national attention to the dangers of lead poisoning, hundreds of Chicagoans have taken the city up on its offer of free testing kits to determine if they are drinking tap water contaminated with the brain-damaging metal.

A Tribune analysis of the results shows lead was found in water drawn from nearly 70 percent of the 2,797 homes tested during the past two years. Tap water in 3 of every 10 homes sampled had lead concentrations above 5 parts per billion, the maximum allowed in bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Alarming amounts of the toxic metal turned up in water samples collected throughout the city, the newspaper's analysis found, largely because Chicago required the use of lead service lines between street mains and homes until Congress banned the practice in 1986.

New evidence that lead exposure increases crime (Jennifer L. Doleac, June 1, 2017, Brookings)

A recent investigation by Reuters found that lead exposure affects kids in communities across the country -- not just in high-profile cities like Flint, Michigan. This is worrisome, because elevated blood lead levels in kids have been linked to an array of developmental delays and behavioral problems. More ominously, this could also increase crime. Kevin Drum and others have argued that lead exposure caused the high crime rates during the 1980s and early 1990s. There has been suggestive evidence of such a link for decades, though it hasn't gained much traction in research or policy circles. But the case that lead exposure causes crime recently became much stronger.

The "lead-crime hypothesis" is that (1) lead exposure at young ages leaves children with problems like learning disabilities, ADHD, and impulse control problems; and (2) those problems cause them to commit crime as adults -- particularly violent crime. For many years, the major source of lead in the environment was leaded gasoline: car exhaust left lead behind to settle into dust on the roads and nearby land. When lead was removed from gasoline, lead levels in the environment fell, and kids avoided the lead exposure that caused these developmental problems. About 20 years later, when those kids became young adults, crime rates fell. This, proponents say, is what explains the mysterious and persistent decline in crime beginning in the early 1990s.

It's an intriguing idea -- particularly since we don't have a better explanation for the big changes in crime rates during this period. Several studies have found correlations between lead exposure and crime, at varying levels of geography (from neighborhoods to nations). But correlation, as we all know by now, does not imply causation.

The main challenge in measuring the effect of lead on crime is that lead exposure is highly correlated with a variety of indicators related to poverty: poor schools, poor nutrition, poor health care, exposure to other environmental toxins, and so on. Those other factors could independently affect crime. The challenge for economists has been to separate the effect of lead exposure from the effects of all those other things that are correlated with lead exposure. A true experiment -- where some kids are randomized to grow up with high lead exposure and others not -- is out of the question. So economists have gone hunting for natural experiments -- events or policies that divide otherwise-similar kids into comparable treatment and control groups.

And they've found them. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Michael Cohen Routinely Taped Political and Business Conversations. (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 12, 2018, Slate)

Because the entire Trump organization operated as if they were characters in the Sopranos, it shouldn't be all that surprising to hear that Trump lawyer, confidante, and henchman Michael Cohen recorded conversations, reportedly as standard practice, in order to squeeze and blackmail people operating in the Trump universe, first in business but later within the campaign. According to the Washington Post, Cohen "wanted his business calls on tape so he could use them later as leverage" and "was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues." One of the people Cohen would play his tapes for just so happened to be Donald Trump.

We're gonna need more popcorn...

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Evangelicals to Meet in the Hope of Escaping Trump's Shadow (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, 4/12/18, The Washington Post)

The diverse group, which includes such nationally known pastors as Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard, is expected to include leaders of major ministries, denominations, colleges and seminaries. The gathering will take place at Wheaton College, an evangelical college outside of Chicago, according to organizer Doug Birdsall, honorary chairman of Lausanne, an international movement of evangelicals. [...]

The purpose of the Wheaton meeting is to try to shift the conversation back to core questions of the faith and Trump as an individual will not be the focus of discussion, Birdsall said. Nonetheless, the president will be the "elephant in the room," he said, because under his leadership the term "evangelical" has become associated in the minds of many American with topics such as racism and nationalism.

While the organizers said they are not trying to build a new coalition or launch a political agenda, the gathering shows how many key leaders of major institutions are concerned about the state of evangelicalism.

"When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump," Birdsall said. "When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical, people don't say evangelism or the gospel. There's a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical."

Those gathered will not necessarily oppose Trump and some may even be friendly to some of his policies, said Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, who is also helping to organize the event. But organizers said evangelicals need to return their focus to the term's true definition: a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus' work on the cross, personal conversion and the need for evangelism.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 AM


5 eye-popping revelations from James Comey's book excerpts: Trump was obsessed with the "pee tape," and more. (Jen Kirby,  Apr 12, 2018, Vox)

Comey writes that Trump was focused on one particularly sordid detail from the dossier: an allegation that a blackmail tape exists of Trump asking prostitutes to pee on a bed in a room the Obamas stayed in at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow. Per the Washington Post:

The president-elect quickly interrupted the FBI director. According to Comey's account in a new memoir, Trump "strongly denied the allegations, asking -- rhetorically, I assumed -- whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations."

The January 2017 conversation at Trump Tower in Manhattan "teetered toward disaster" -- until "I pulled the tool from my bag: 'We are not investigating you, sir.' That seemed to quiet him," Comey writes.

Comey said Trump followed up with him after the meeting in a phone call on January 11, saying the "pee tape" couldn't be real because he's a germaphobe. "There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me," Comey recounts Trump saying. "No way."

Trump complained the allegations were painful to his wife, Melania Trump, and that the logistics didn't make sense, according to the Post:

The president-elect argued that it could not be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow but had only used the hotel room to change his clothes. And after Trump explained that he would never allow people to urinate near him, Comey recalls laughing.

"I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants," Comey writes. "In fact, though I didn't know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity."

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


Trade war backfire: Steel tariff shrapnel hits U.S. farmers (Tom Polansek, P.J. Huffstutter, 4/13/18, Reuters) 

Throughout U.S. farm country, where Trump has enjoyed strong support, tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are boosting costs for equipment and infrastructure and causing some farmers and agricultural firms to scrap purchases and expansion plans, according to Reuters' interviews with farmers, manufacturers, construction firms and food shippers.

The impact of rising steel prices on agriculture illustrates the unintended and unpredictable consequences of aggressive protectionism in a global economy. And the blow comes as farmers fear a more direct hit from retaliatory tariffs threatened by China on crops such as sorghum and soybeans, the most valuable U.S. agricultural export.

It's a small price to pay for Donald's war on the Yellow Menace.

April 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Trump, Mueller teams prepare to move forward without presidential interview (Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley, Kristen Welker and Hallie Jackson,  Apr.12.2018, NBC News)

Three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump's attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent to fire former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump's dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Mueller would then likely send a confidential report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation. Rosenstein could decide whether to make the report public and send its findings to Congress. From there, Congress would then decide whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, said two of the sources.

James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It's Very Persuasive. (MICHIKO KAKUTANIAPRIL 12, 2018, NY Times)

In his absorbing new book, "A Higher Loyalty," the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey calls the Trump presidency a "forest fire" that is doing serious damage to the country's norms and traditions.

"This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values," Comey writes. "His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty."

Decades before he led the F.B.I.'s investigation into whether members of Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime family; and he doesn't hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal prosecutor facing off against the Mob: "The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth." An earlier visit to Trump Tower in January made Comey think about the New York Mafia social clubs he knew as a Manhattan prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s -- "The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. Café Giardino."

The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. Dishonesty, he writes, was central "to the entire enterprise of organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic," and so, too, were bullying, peer pressure and groupthink -- repellent traits shared by Trump and company, he suggests, and now infecting our culture.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


A Proposal To Split California Could Make The November Ballot (EMILY ZANOTTI, April 12, 2018, Daily Wire)

A proposal to split California into three states, effectively separating the state's northern and southern regions from its far more liberal middle, has enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot.

The "CAL 3" proposal would split off San Diego and southern regions into a separate state, quarantine Sacramento with Los Angeles and much of the Bay Area, and give northern Californians their own self-government. The three new states, according to the petition, would select their own capitals and elect their own legislatures.

This proposal is separate from two others, which are asking for complete secession -- one liberal, which would separate the full state of California from the rest of the union, and one conservative, which would break off the Orange County area into its own self-governing state. 

California is too large to be an effective nation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


10 Lawmakers In Louisiana Vote AGAINST Law To Ban Sex With Animals (JOSEPH CURL, April 12, 2018, Daily Wire)

The vote was 25-10 on Senate Bill 236, which will now be sent to the House for consideration.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Trump Discussed Firing Rosenstein But Denies Bid to Oust Mueller  (Jennifer Jacobs, Joshua Green & Shannon Pettypiece, April 12, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump discussed firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with White House aides on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter said, as a chorus of Trump's advisers and allies urged him to thwart the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. [...]

Steve Bannon, Trump's former strategist, said he has told White House officials that the president should fire both his lawyer Ty Cobb and Rosenstein to cripple Mueller's inquiry.

Bannon said that Trump should stop cooperating with Mueller and assert executive privilege to silence aides who might speak with the special counsel -- even retroactively, for those who've already been interviewed.

...they are at least being honest that the sole purpose of any of Donald's actions at this point is obstruction.  But I think I missed the section on retroactive privilege in law school....

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


California's governor agrees to deploy 400 National Guard troops at Trump's request (KCRA,  Apr 11, 2018)

Dear Secretary Nielsen and Secretary Mattis:

Pursuant to your request, the California National Guard will accept federal funding to add approximately 400 Guard members statewide to supplement the staffing of its ongoing program to combat transnational crime. This program is currently staffed by 250 personnel statewide, including 55 at the California border.

Your funding for new staffing will allow the Guard to do what it does best: support operations targeting transnational criminal gangs, human traffickers and illegal firearm and drug smugglers along the border, the coast and throughout the state. Combating these criminal threats are priorities for all Americans - Republicans and Democrats. That's why the state and the Guard have long supported this important work and agreed to similar targeted assistance in 2006 under President Bush and in 2010 under President Obama.

But let's be crystal clear on the scope of this mission. This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.

Here are the facts: there is no massive wave of migrants pouring into California. Overall immigrant apprehensions on the border last year were as low as they've been in nearly 50 years (and 85 percent of the apprehensions occurred outside of California).

I agree with the Catholic Bishops who have said that local, state and federal officials should "work collaboratively and prudently in the implementation of this deployment, ensuring that the presence of the National Guard is measured and not disruptive to community life."

I look forward to working with you on this important effort.


Edmund G. Brown Jr.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Why, as an Indian American, the Apu Simpsons Controversy Bothers Me (PRADHEEP J. SHANKER, April 11, 2018, National Review)

On the show, Apu is a strongly accented, traditional Indian immigrant. As such, he is the owner of a convenience store (obviously a nod to the many 7-11s and other small businesses owned by Indians throughout the northeastern United States), who later gets an arranged marriage, has octuplets, and is shown as a fantastic father and husband. He is also, among other things, a gun owner who is extremely religious and devoted to his Hindu culture.

Now . . . what in the above paragraph is insulting or demeaning? Literally nothing, to anyone with an ounce of common sense or perspective on reality. It takes a fantastic amount of intellectual gymnastics to blame such a character for any racial slights any of us Indians have experienced in our day-to-day lives. To be sure, Apu, like all of the characters on the show, has his moments of buffoonery, but none of it amounts in any significant way to racial animus.

Kondabolu's complaints about the repercussions of Apu's entrance into popular society abound. For example, he points to the fact that people yell catchphrases from the TV show at him during his comedy bits. He has even complained that Apu's most famous catchphrase -- "Thank you! Come again!" -- has been yelled at him at times by drunks on the street.

This is absurd.

For anyone who grew up in the U.S. as a minority, such supposed atrocities are the most minimalist racial affronts one could think of. I can just picture my African-American friends, who grew up being called the N-word on a regular basis, guffawing at the supposed outrage that Indians feel at having quotes from an American cartoon show shouted at them.

That isn't to say there isn't and wasn't racism against Indian Americans. I grew up in a mostly white, Protestant town, with almost no minorities (where the population of Indians in my school numbered exactly one: me). That said, I grew up largely before The Simpsons ever aired. Was I exempt from the random racial epithet? Of course not. And this is where Kondabolu's complaints are so ridiculous. Racists and bigots will find something to use to denigrate the ones they hate, regardless of the available source material. If Apu had never existed, would Kondabolu and his cohorts have gone through life exempt from any racial comments and insults? I think not.

Kondabolu compounds the ludicrousness of his complaints by saying that because The Simpsons was largely written by white Americans, and Apu was voiced by someone who is white (Hank Azaria), the character cannot be taken seriously. This adds to the hysteria; the portrayal of Apu, in and of itself, is what is relevant, regardless of who is writing or voicing the character. Is Kondabolu's argument that if I, as an Indian, had been chosen as the voice of Apu, using my even worse interpretation of an Indian accent instead of Azaria's, somehow that would have cleaned the slate?

To the credit of the writers of The Simpsons, they confronted this with comedy and nuance. In the scene that drew the ire of many liberals, Marge, speaking to Lisa, has rewritten an entire book, in order to make it inoffensive. In response, Lisa is largely left speechless:

"It's hard to say," Lisa responds. "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?"

(With that last rhetorical line, Lisa glances at a picture of Apu, which rests on her nightstand. "Don't have a cow," the autographed photo reads.)

"Some things will be dealt with at a later date," Marge then says.

In many ways, that clip nails it. Apu, like many of the characters on a show that is largely built on stereotypes, has himself grown from a single-dimensional character into one that is fleshed out with a family, profession, and personal desires and needs. What more can you ask for, in a storytelling venture?


Indian-Americans Pay a Price for Running Convenience Stores (Diaspora | Indo-Asian News Service,  September 01, 2014)

Back in 2006, Joe Biden, then a Senate candidate ran into trouble for a remark that "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

Gaffe-prone Biden got away by explaining that it wasn't a racial slur but "was meant as a compliment" for the "vibrant Indian-American community" making "a significant contribution to the national economy as well."

A spin or not, Biden who went on become vice president in 2008, was speaking a home truth as according to the Asian-American Convenience Store Owners Association its 50,000 members own over 80,000 convenience stores.

That's more than half the US convenience store count of 151,282 as of Dec 31, 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Brutus, the Noble Conspirator: A meticulously researched, beautifully written biography of Julius Caesar's high-minded assassin. (Matthew Leigh, 4/11/18, History Today)

Roman aristocrats of this period were acutely aware of the virtues of their ancestors. Brutus himself claimed descent on his father's side from Lucius Junius Brutus, who expelled Tarquin the Proud in 509 BC and was one of the two consuls for the first year of the Roman republic. Tracing the lineage of his mother, Servilia, Brutus could point to Servilius Ahala, who in 439 BC killed Spurius Maelius on the grounds that he was aspiring to tyranny. Yet in Brutus' own time it was not always so easy to decide who represented the better cause. When civil war broke out in 49 BC, Brutus was an instinctive supporter of the senate in its opposition to the demands of Julius Caesar. Yet to do so meant serving under a man - Pompeius Magnus - who had murdered Brutus' father when Brutus was no more than five and whom Brutus had openly attacked for his subversion of the republican constitution. If Caesar represented a worse cause still, he was also so close an intimate of Servilia that rumours circulated in antiquity that he was Brutus' true father.

After Pompey's defeat at the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, Brutus was among the first to make his peace with Caesar. He worked to secure reconciliation between the warring parties and in 46 BC accepted the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul. By 44 BC he was serving as urban praetor, a magistracy second in authority only to the consulship, and he must have seemed to Caesar a reliable friend and associate. Yet Caesar's ever more nakedly monarchical mode of government and pretensions to divinity could not but alienate those who had hoped that he would restore the old order after years of chaos. Brutus, Cassius and their fellow conspirators could see only one way forward: assassination. They styled themselves liberators but others saw them as traitors and parricides. Either way, their success was shortlived and their hopes died with them.

Kathryn Tempest's life of Brutus is both meticulously researched and elegantly constructed. This is no hagiography nor is it a desecration. Brutus' high-minded philosophy and determination to treat his fellow Romans justly are as much in evidence as his dubious financial dealings on Cyprus and his brutal subjection of the people of Xanthus. Incisively analytical when confronted with contradictions in the ancient sources, Tempest nevertheless avoids the temptation to present too univocal a picture of her subject. She recognises the complexity of his personality and his actions and shows how they relate to the confusion of the times in which he lived.

How far a republican must go to stop a tyrant is always a fascinating question.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Now You're Free, Paul Ryan. Fire Devin Nunes.: There's still time for the House speaker to redeem himself on Russiagate. (MIEKE EOYANG, April 11, 2018, Politico)

HPSCI is one of the few remaining "select" Committees in Congress, meaning the speaker alone picks the committee chair and the membership for the Republicans. (The minority leader does the same for the Democrats.) Under House rules, the speaker may, at any time, remove any member of a select committee at his or her discretion. In the past, members have been stripped of their committee assignments for causing problems for the leadership. Thus, unlike other committees, where the caucus or a steering committee has a say in the committee leadership, HPSCI is effectively under Ryan's thumb. So he owns Nunes' shameful handling of the Russia probe, and his hijinks on behalf of the White House.

Nunes wasn't always a bad egg. After Speaker John Boehner announced that he was relinquishing the job, he appointed the Fresno congressman to chair HPSCI. Nunes was known as a loyal partisan and a Ryan ally, but at the time he seemed like a traditional Republican when it came to intelligence oversight and had a good relationship with the members of his committee.

Unfortunately, something changed dramatically after Donald Trump won theelection. During the weeks before Trump took office, Chris Christie was removed as head of the transition team and with him, former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, a respected ex-chair of HPSCI who ran the committee in a serious, bipartisan fashion. In came Nunes, who helped select national security appointees and set up the administration's national security agenda. Unlike many who serve on transition teams, however, Nunes didn't enter the administration, but returned to HPSCI to run the committee and conduct oversight over the national security foundations that he had laid.

Then, three months after the inauguration, after Trump claimed that his predecessor had "wiretapped" Trump Tower during the election, Nunes dashed off to the White House in the middle the night and the next day, called two bizarre news conferences during which he accused President Barack Obama's team of improperly "unmasking" the identities of Trump associates. The claim never withstood close scrutiny...

Nor distant.

Trump Ordered DOJ to Hire Controversial Former Aide, Sources Say (Chris Strohm & Jennifer Jacobs, Apr. 11th, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump personally ordered the Department of Justice to hire a former White House official who departed after he was caught up in a controversy over the release of intelligence material to a member of Congress, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was forced out of the National Security Council last year, will advise Attorney General Jeff Sessions on national security matters. He left the White House in August for a job at Oracle Corp. following reports that he had shown House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes classified documents.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Parkland teacher faces charge after his gun is fired in public bathroom: Deputies report that it's fortunate nobody was hurt in mishap (Bob Norman, April 11, 2018, Local 10)

A pistol-packing Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher who said he'd be willing to be trained to carry a gun to protect the high school faces a criminal charge after he left his Glock 9mm in a public restroom where it was later fired by an drunk homeless man, according to the Broward Sheriff's Office. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The Manger, The Cross and The Resurrection: A Christian Interpretation of Our Time (Paul Ramsey, April 12, 2018, Providence)

In Christ, it has been said, are met in one man's ideal of what God ought to be, and God's ideal of what man ought to be. Christ is a revelation of the nature of God's love, and, at the same time, an ideal for human devotion and ethical endeavor. The Cross, moreover, is a disclosure of the fact that man who nailed Christ there is a sinner, and a revelation of the magnitude of human sin. At the Cross we know that man is a sinner, and that he is a great sinner. But we also receive through the Cross a profound insight into the nature of human sin when we hear Jesus saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23: 34)

His next insight was even more profound for Him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM



Now, pitchers have a surfeit of options at hand to fight back. There's FlightScope, a device that uses multifrequency 3D radar technology to track pitches and that 12 Major League teams were using in 2017, according to Fangraphs, a baseball website. PitchGrader uses a Doppler radar to gather pitch data. RevFire, which, like Rapsodo, launched a portable system that records data after every pitch, is coming up with an upgraded avatar. And Rapsodo -- which first started with a golf launch monitor in 2010 -- rolled out its pitching tool to MLB teams in 2017 and had 17 of the 30 big league organizations signed up on Opening Day this year. Three other MLB organizations are in negotiations.

While high-tech methods still earn a skeptical eye from some in the game who preach feel over numbers, many pitchers say pitch tracking gives them a chance to keep their competitive advantage. It allows them to change their grip, or change the pressure they put on the seams of the baseball, with instant analysis in a manner never seen in the sport before. "It's feedback right away," says Blair Lakso, 23, a minor league pitcher with the Minnesota Twins, speaking of Rapsodo. "You translate it right to the playing of the game. It's absolutely awesome."

For sure, tech in baseball isn't new. Stadiums across the country offer fans ball velocities on giant screens during games. In 2006, Sportvision devised PITCHf/x to measure spin -- this technology too is now available at most MLB stadiums. Two years later, Trackman, another firm, launched technology that uses a military-grade Doppler radar -- placed behind home plate -- to measure the location, spin, break, velocity and trajectory of pitches.

But the introduction of pitch-tracking technology in baseball is no longer incremental. There's a bouquet of options that has landed at the doorstep of teams, tailored not for fans but for training. "These are powerful tools that are giving meaningful data to the teams and players," says Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the research director for the American Sports Medicine Institute and a consultant to Major League Baseball. "It gives teams another tool for instruction and scouting, and that is all good for baseball."

At spring training this year, Rapsodo appeared the technology pitchers and coaches were most excited about. The data it churns out is not a labyrinth of numbers. The screen is straightforward and the data manageable. Many teams have added player-development personnel who specialize in performance science, which helps with the machine learning.

"It can show what works and doesn't work, as long as you know what the numbers mean," says Adam McCreery, a minor league pitcher with the Atlanta Braves. "You may think, 'Hey, my stuff is really good', but the machine might say, 'No, it's not as good as you think.'"

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


$30,000 rumor? Tabloid paid for, spiked, salacious Trump tip (JAKE PEARSON and JEFF HORWITZ, 4/12/18, AP)

The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer's payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin got $30,000 in exchange for signing over the rights, "in perpetuity," to a rumor he'd heard about Trump's sex life -- that the president had fathered an illegitimate child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations. The contract subjected Sajudin to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.

Cohen, the longtime Trump attorney, acknowledged to the AP that he had discussed Sajudin's story with the magazine when the tabloid was working on it. He said he was acting as a Trump spokesman when he did so and denied knowing anything beforehand about the Enquirer payment to the ex-doorman.

The parallel between the ex-Playmate's and the ex-doorman's dealings with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that the Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump's image during a hard-fought presidential election. Prosecutors are probing whether Cohen broke banking or campaign laws in connection with AMI's payment to McDougal and a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels that Cohen said he paid out of his own pocket.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


High stakes for Macron as France weighs up Syria strikes (AFP, 12 April 2018)

In laying his integrity on the line over Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons, French President Emmanuel Macron might be playing for even higher stakes -- maintaining the landmark Iran nuclear accord, analysts say.

The 40-year-old leader, weighing the first foreign military operation on his own initiative, has made clear he considers Damascus behind a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma last weekend that killed at least 40 people.

Macron's response is expected to be high on the agenda during a TV interview Thursday afternoon, only his third since the centrist swept to power
last year.

For many experts, he has no choice but to enforce his "red line" on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, which would prompt French military strikes.

April 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM

60-40 NATION:

Trade War With China Is Bad, U.S. Voters Say 3-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds (Quinnipiac University Polling, 4/11/18)

A trade war with China would be bad for the U.S. economy, American voters say 68 - 22 percent in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Every party, gender, education, age and racial group says a trade war would be bad.  [...]

American voters say 77 - 18 percent, including 59 - 35 percent among Republicans, that undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children - the so-called Dreamers - should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship. Support for Dreamers is strong in every listed group. Voters disapprove 57 - 35 percent of the way Trump is handling the dreamers and say all parties in Washington are exploiting this issue. Voters say:
63 percent that Trump and Republicans in Congress are using Dreamers for political gain while 25 percent say Trump and Republicans care about Dreamers; 57 percent that Democrats in Congress are using Dreamers for political gain, while 34 percent say Democrats care about Dreamers.

Undocumented immigrants do not take jobs from American citizens, voters say 59 - 37 percent. Undocumented immigrants are not more likely than American citizens to commit crimes, voters say 71 - 22 percent. "They won't take our jobs or commit more crimes than Americans, but it's clear that President Donald Trump's campaign mantra has legs. Americans see a wave of undocumented immigrants as troubling and they are just fine with posting the National Guard at the border to stop them," Malloy said. 

Gun Control 

American voters support 56 - 39 percent stricter gun laws in the U.S. 

But voters oppose 79 - 17 percent repealing the Second Amendment. 

The Parkland students campaigning for new gun laws are more popular than the National Rifle Assn. (NRA):

52 percent have a favorable opinion of the students, with 33 percent unfavorable and 13 percent who haven't heard enough about them to form an opinion of them;

The NRA gets a negative 39 - 43 percent favorability, with 16 percent who haven't heard enough.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


ABC: Comey compares Trump to mob boss (Axios, 4/11/18)

According to the source:

The Comey interview left people in the room stunned -- he told George things that he's never said before.

Some described the experience as surreal. The question will be how to fit it all into a one-hour show.

Comey answered every question.

If anyone wonders if Comey will go there, he goes there.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM

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Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


At the White House, Trump Takes Selfies and Seethes Over Mueller (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MAGGIE HABERMAN, APRIL 10, 2018, NY Times)

White House advisers were particularly alarmed by the president's tirade in front of reporters on Monday, when he called the raids on Mr. Cohen "an attack on our country" in far angrier terms than he has ever referred to the Russian assault on the 2016 election.

Few people still at the White House are able to restrain Mr. Trump from acting on his impulses after the departures of crucial staff members who were once able to join forces with other aides to do so. That included Hope Hicks, his former communications director; Rob Porter, his former staff secretary; and, in 2017, the chief of staff Reince Priebus and the chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

John F. Kelly, the current chief of staff whose influence over the president has waned for months, appeared beaten down and less hands-on, according to two White House officials. Mr. Kelly has told Mr. Trump it is frustrating for staff members that the president deems most news media stories fake news but believes the ones accusing various advisers of leaking, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It is not clear whether Mr. Trump can fire Mr. Mueller himself. Many legal experts believe the president would have to direct Mr. Rosenstein to do so because Mr. Sessions has recused himself from the case and Mr. Rosenstein technically oversees Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Rosenstein has told Congress that he would dismiss Mr. Mueller only for cause, and people close to Mr. Rosenstein have indicated he would resign if the president ordered him to fire Mr. Mueller. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced to protect Mr. Mueller, with senators urging the president to let it go forward "without impediment."

Republican leadership has dismissed such legislation as unnecessary. But the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, warned Mr. Trump on Tuesday to not fire Mr. Mueller, saying in an interview on Fox Business Network it would be "suicide" to continue to talk about firing him.

Doesn't this have to end with the Oval surrounded by authorities and Donald inside wearing a grenade vest?
Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Housing Was Undersupplied during the Great Housing Bubble (Kevin Erdmann, 4/10/18, , Mercatus Center)

The question that needs to be addressed about the housing bubble and the ensuing bust is not what caused prices to rise so sharply. That is a fairly straightforward question, with a standard economic answer. Fundamentally, there weren't enough houses.

What caused the massive out-migration from the Closed Access cities? The answer to that question is also, fundamentally, that there weren't enough houses.

This leaves one additional question that has been rarely asked, and which must be answered if we are to come to terms with the crisis that followed. If a lack of housing was fundamentally the cause of the housing bubble, then why had housing starts been collapsing for more than a year before the series of events occurred that we associate with the crisis, like nationally collapsing home prices, defaults, financial panics, and recession? And what caused the Closed Access migration event to suddenly stop at the same time as the collapse of housing starts?

For a decade, the collapse has been treated as if it was inevitable, and the important question seemed to be, What caused the bubble that led to the collapse? This needs to be flipped around. Given the urban housing shortage, it was rising prices that were inevitable. So the important question is, Why did prices and housing starts collapse even though the supply shortage remains? And why were housing starts still at depression levels in 2011?

The surprising answer to those questions may be that a housing bubble didn't lead to an inevitable recession. It may be that a moral panic developed about building and lending. The policies the public demanded as a result of that moral panic led to a recession that was largely self-inflicted and unnecessary. They also led to an unnecessary housing depression that continues to this day.

The crash was caused by the discovery of widespread fraud in the credit markets--tied to understating the risk involved in derivatives.  While there was nothing wrong with housing loans themselves, the ability to disguise riskier loans made the entire credit market unstable.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


How the Cohen Raids and Trump's Reactions Edge Us Toward Confrontation (Benjamin Wittes, April 10, 2018, LawFare)

I will put this as bluntly as I know how: There is no way that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York would have sought or executed a search warrant against the president's lawyer without overpowering evidence to support the action. The legal standard for such a search requires only probable cause that criminal activity is taking place. Under normal circumstances, which these are not, the prudential and policy factors counseling against such an action would be powerful.

For starters, the Justice Department is institutionally cautious about searches involving attorneys acting in their role as attorneys. As Paul Rosenzweig noted, "the U.S. Attorney's Manual has an entire section that limits how and when the offices of an attorney may be searched. Realizing full well that such searches are in derogation of the value of the [attorney-client] privilege, the manual requires high-level approvals, the exhaustion of other investigative avenues, and specifies procedures that are to be followed to limit the intrusion on privileged documents." Moreover, the Justice Department would have been additionally cautious about seeking any warrant against this particular lawyer--precisely because doing so makes clear that a ring is closing around the president. Going after a prominent person's lawyer for matters related to his representation of the client is, after all, an aggressive act toward the client, not just toward the lawyer. And Trump is, as he puts it, a counterpuncher.

This is the kind of step that would predictably elicit a reaction. The Justice Department simply would not take such an action lightly or without evidence that emphatically supports it. Add these prudential, legal and policy factors together and they cumulatively suggest that the evidence supporting the warrant application likely exceeds--probably by far--what is legally required.

Put another way, Cohen's situation, and thus Trump's situation, is grave.

This seriousness is not simply a function of the apparently advanced state of some of the evidence involved. The nature of the warrant shows that the investigation itself is spreading. According to the New York Times, "The F.B.I. agents who raided the office of President Trump's personal lawyer on Monday were looking for records about payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer's role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said."

In short, this search warrant is apparently not about L'Affaire Russe. The FBI raided the office of the president's personal lawyer on a matter related to L'Affaire Stormy. That means that prosecutors were able to show probable cause of criminal activity connected to Cohen's representation of the president on matters far removed from Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, obstruction of justice or any of the other matters within Mueller's purview. Notably, this subject matter metastasis coincides with a bureaucratic metastasis as well. It was not, after all, Mueller who sought or received the warrant. As Rosenzweig notes:

Muller referred the matter to the Justice Department, where the investigation was assigned to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. That office (run by a Trump appointee) then procured the warrant--with the approval of a magistrate judge--and worked with the FBI to conduct the search. In this regard, the special counsel's actions, and the Justice Department referral are completely unlike the Starr investigation on which I worked many years ago. There, Attorney General Janet Reno kept expanding the Starr investigation into new areas--mostly, I think, as a matter of convenience. Here, the department seems intent on cabining the Mueller investigation to the scope it was originally initiated for--and to also be willing to spin off unrelated matters to the relevant local U.S. attorney's office.

This bureaucratic distribution of the investigation is actually a good thing. It will have the effect of diffusing responsibility for the investigations as they develop away from Mueller. One of the problems with Reno's decision to concentrate so many investigative matters in Starr's hands was that Starr became the locus of all things related to investigations of Bill Clinton. This proved damaging to Starr's credibility, as people were able to accuse him of being on a far-flung series of vendettas against Clinton. He was also accused of mission creep, and there was some truth to that charge. But Starr also suffered from the repeated assignments of unrelated matters to his office by Reno and the Justice Department.

Rosenstein, who worked for Starr, does not appear to be making the error of concentrating things in Mueller's hands. Bloomberg reports that Rosenstein made the decision to refer the Cohen raid to the Southern District of New York, rather than keeping it within Mueller's exclusive purview. Likewise, the Times reports that Rosenstein "personally signed off on Monday's F.B.I. decision to raid the office of Mr. Cohen." Rosenstein, in other words, chose to spread responsibility around, taking some of the heat of the president's wrath off of Mueller. This was the right move. But it also carried risks--specifically, the danger of making Rosenstein himself so central to the investigations that he becomes a target of the president's ire. The metastasis may protect Mueller, but it also may endanger Rosenstein.

April 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Raid on Trump's Lawyer Sought Records of Payments to Women (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, MATT APUZZO, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, SHARON LaFRANIERE and MAGGIE HABERMAN, APRIL 10, 2018, NY Times)

Rod J. Rosenstein, the veteran Republican prosecutor handpicked by Mr. Trump to serve as deputy attorney general, personally signed off on Monday's F.B.I. decision to raid the office of Mr. Cohen, a longtime confidant of Mr. Trump, several government officials said.

The early-morning searches enraged Mr. Trump, associates said, setting off a public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Mr. Rosenstein.

As Mr. Trump has stewed over the developments, he has cast blame in many directions. Publicly, he has expressed frustration with his attorney general and deputy attorney general. Privately, people close to the president said, he has also blamed Mr. Cohen for publicly acknowledging the payments to Ms. Clifford.

The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

Searching a lawyer's files is among the most sensitive moves federal prosecutors can make as they pursue a criminal investigation. Mr. Rosenstein's personal involvement in the decision signals that the evidence seen by law enforcement officials was significant enough to convince the Justice Department's second in command that such an aggressive move was necessary.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Why Trump skipping Latin America matters (dAVE lAWLER, 4/10/18, Axios)

This is the 8th Summit of the Americas, and the first time the U.S. president has declined to attend. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all attended multiple summits.

Trump is deeply unpopular in Latin America. A Gallup poll sticks his approval across the region at 16%, and views of the U.S. have slumped more in South America than on any other continent since he took office.

The guy won't go to England because of the reception.  He was never going to Latin America.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


How Trump Misunderstands Trade (Veronique de Rugy, April 10, 2018, NY Times)

The notion that trade deficits are always bad for the economy is based on several fundamental mistakes. The first mistake is the assumption that trade is a zero-sum game, suggesting that the country selling products abroad is a winner while the one who buys is a loser. That's simply wrong.

Think about your own experience. Without ever worrying about it, we run up trade deficits on a daily basis with many merchants. When you shop at the grocery store, enjoy a drink at your favorite bar or get your hair cut, you run up a personal trade deficit with your grocer, bar and hair stylist. Do they ever buy anything from you in return? When you get paid by your employer, he runs up his trade deficit with you. Do you buy as much from your employer as he buys from you?

These examples illustrate how trade deficits with other economic entities are almost always nothing to fret about. They're unavoidable consequences of the specialization and trade on which our modern prosperity depends. To be sure, on rare occasions trade deficits are symptoms of underlying dysfunctions, but they are never themselves a cause of these dysfunctions.

Even if we were to ignore the counsel of nearly every economist and blindly accept the notion that a United States trade deficit with the rest of the planet is undesirable, it would still be completely untrue that a deficit with any single country is undesirable. In this world of nearly 200 countries, bilateral trade deficits are as unavoidable and as economically meaningless as your trade deficit with your grocer. If America's overall trade deficit were balanced, we'd still have deficits with some countries and surpluses with others.

More generally, we mustn't forget that the American dollars we spend on imports eventually return to America, either by foreigners purchasing American exports or making investments. Protectionists like Mr. Trump always complain about the United States' trade deficit for goods but mention neither the surplus of foreign investment capital that we get nor our trade surplus in services.

Here's how it works: The American dollars we use to buy imports are of little use to foreigners outside our borders. They are, however, of great use to foreigners who want to invest within the United States. And that's what happens with the dollars that aren't spent on American exports.

Foreign investment is key to our economic growth here at home. In other words, we Americans win when we get to buy the stuff we want from abroad and when those dollars are pumped back into our economy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Why Stormy Daniels is so dangerous (The Economist, Mar 24th 2018)

There are three big reasons for Ms Clifford's effectiveness as a Trump-mocker. The first is that the star of "Big Busted Goddesses of Las Vegas" appears, through no plan of hers, to have put the president in serious jeopardy. That is not because of her alleged months-long affair with him, which took place long ago and reveals nothing new about Mr Trump. Rather, in the usual way of political sex scandals, it is because of the blundering way he, or his retainers, tried to cover it up. Two weeks before Mr Trump's election his lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Ms Clifford $130,000 in return for an agreement not to speak of the alleged affair, which the president denies. When this was revealed, Mr Cohen claimed, almost incredibly, that he had taken the step on his own initiative, using his money. Ms Clifford then sued to be released from the non-disclosure agreement, claiming Mr Cohen had broken its terms by talking about it and the president had done so by failing to sign it. She has recorded an interview with CBS's show "60 Minutes", which is expected to air on March 25th.

This appears to have put Mr Trump in a bind. He can let Mr Cohen try to enforce the agreement with Ms Clifford, which might look like an admission of guilt and would risk her aggressive lawyer, Michael Avenatti, airing further revelations in court. Or he can let the matter lie. But that would signal to any other woman bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the president--and Mr Avenatti claims to know of two--that it can be safely ignored.

That would in turn risk highlighting Mr Trump's broader problem with women, including the 18 who have accused him of molesting them. Indeed, the striking degree to which Ms Clifford's case contains echoes of Mr Trump's wider legal troubles is another reason she is proving such a thorn in his flank. A hint that she might have certain mementoes of Mr Trump is also illustrative of this. It recalls speculation that Mr Trump's history of sexual indiscretion could leave him open to Russian blackmail, as was alleged by Christopher Steele, a former British spy. So too, the way Mr Trump seems to have used Mr Cohen as a blunt instrument, while keeping him at arm's length for plausible deniability, is a familiar pattern. This was evident last year in the president's cackhanded attempt to sack Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating him, through two stages of intermediary.

Yet the main reason Ms Clifford is running rings around the commander-in-chief reflects what a nightmarish matchup for him she is personally. The president's recipe for political success is to appear more down-to-earth than his effete critics in the media, and so robustly transactional that his political rivals appear hypocritical by comparison. Yet Ms Clifford is no smarmy British comic or slippery senator. She is a self-made Republican-voting woman from Louisiana who has sex for a living. In a pre-agreement interview, she suggested she had indulged Mr Trump not because she was attracted to him ("Would you be?"), but because he had promised to make her a TV star. She out-Trumps Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


The Ideology of Illegal Immigration (VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, April 10, 2018, National Review)

Illegal immigration has become so deeply embedded for so long within contemporary power politics, demography, and cultural change, so charged with accusations of racism, nativism, and xenophobia, that we have forgotten its intrinsic contradictions. [...]

The illegal-immigration project will ultimately fail because although its politics are transparent, its practice is incoherent, and chaos is therefore its only possible end. 

VDH is exactly right that illegal immigration is based on ideology; he's just exactly wrong about which part, the former or the latter.  Because, it is inescapably the fact that America had rathar open immigration until limits were imposed for racist reasons.

The 1965 Law That Gave the Republican Party Its Race Problem (JOSH ZEITZ, August 20, 2016, Politico)

Between 1820 and 1924, roughly 37 million European immigrants came to the United States, in addition to a much smaller number of immigrants from Asia. (To place that figure in context, it's helpful to consider that the population of the United States in 1850 was just 23 million.) For the first 60 years, Northern Europeans--Irish and Germans, especially--predominated. The second great wave drew newcomers from Southern and Eastern Europe, including large numbers of Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Poles and Jews from the Russian Empire. Smaller numbers of immigrants also came from China and other Asian countries. By the early 20th century, immigrants and the children of immigrants comprised upwards of 75 percent of the population in major cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit.

Since 1790, when Congress passed the nation's first immigration act, prevailing law had restricted naturalized citizenship to "free white persons." What constituted a white person was by no means clear. While today it is intuitive to classify German-, Irish- or Italian-Americans as white, in the mid-19th century, many native-born Protestants regarded newcomers as unwhite and therefore singularly unfit for citizenship. In establishment outlets like Harper's Magazine, editorialists lampooned Irish immigrants as drunken, lazy and idle, while cartoonists portrayed immigrants as possessing ape-like, subhuman physical attributes.

With "whiteness" being such a crucial attribute, it was little wonder that many immigrants--including many Irish Catholics in large, northeastern cities--worked aggressively to draw a sharp distinction between themselves, on the one hand, and free African-Americans, on the other. Blackface minstrelsy, a popular form of entertainment among new immigrants, enabled racially suspect Europeans to establish that they were, in fact, white (after all, only a white person need "black up" to play the part of an African-American) and to project onto African-Americans the same vicious stereotypes that American nativists ascribed to Catholic newcomers.

By the late 19th century, America's new cultural and civic diversity--a result of immigration from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia, and the emancipation of black slaves--resulted gradually in a popular classification of humans along hierarchal lines. In 1911, a government commission broke the population into "45 races or peoples among immigrants coming to the United States, and of these 36 are indigenous to Europe." Bohemians (which, in today's terms, would translate to citizens of the Czech Republic), the report determined, were "the most advanced of all" Slavic racial groups. "The ancient Greeks were preeminent in philosophy and science, a position not generally accredited to the modern Greeks as a race ... they compare with the Hebrew race as the best traders of the Orient." Further, "the Gypsy resents the restraint of higher social organization ... to him laws and statutes are persecutions to be evaded." The Southern Italian was "an individualist having little adaptability to highly organized society." Whereas German and Irish newcomers had seemed distinctly unfit for citizenship in the mid-19th century, scientific racial analysis now considered them a higher category of white than Southern and Eastern European newcomers, most of whom were Catholic or Jewish. 

The era's nativism rested on a complex bedrock of labor competition, religious intolerance and fear of anarchism and communism. But scientific racism was always at its core. It formed the intellectual basis of the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited the annual number of immigrants from any given country to just 2 percent of the total number of persons born in that country who resided in the United States in 1890. By using 1890 as a benchmark, the law favored older immigrant groups from Northern and Central Europe. For Jews, Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Poles, Croatians and Russians, the door effectively swung shut. (For the Chinese, that door had been closed since 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.)

The year 1924 was the high-water mark for scientific racism, which became increasingly unpopular in Depression-era America. Columbia University anthropologist Franz Boas and his protégés Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict were among the first to blast away at the edifice of "race," proving in a series of devastating monographs and articles that human behavior and intelligence were products of environment, not blood, and that no "pure" races could even be said to exist.

This shift in thinking also emerged as a response to the excesses of Nazi Germany.

He's right, again, that this illegal immigration project necessarily fails.  The very notion of immigration being illegal is anti-American and our natural decency always leads to eventual amnesty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


The Search of Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen's Office: What We Can Infer Immediately (KEN WHITE, 4/09/18, Popehat)

It's very early on, but here's some things we can already tell.

1. According to Cohen's own lawyer, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (widely regarded within itself as being the most important and prestigious U.S. Attorney's Office in the country) secured the search warrants for the FBI. Assuming this report is correct, that means that a very mainstream U.S. Attorney's Office -- not just Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office -- thought that there was enough for a search warrant here.

2. Moreover, it's not just that the office thought that there was enough for a search warrant. They thought there was enough for a search warrant of an attorney's office for that attorney's client communications. That's a very fraught and extraordinary move that requires multiple levels of authorization within the Department of Justice.  [...]

3. A Magistrate Judge signed off on this. Federal magistrate judges (appointed by local district judges, not by the President) review search warrant applications. A Magistrate Judge therefore reviewed this application and found probable cause -- that is, probable cause to believe that the subject premises (Cohen's office) contains specified evidence of a specified federal crime.

Pretty delicious that a series of his own appointees are driving this.


Why Robert Mueller Handed Off the Michael Cohen Raid (JED SHUGERMAN, APRIL 09, 2018, Slate)

First, remember that Mueller has learned that Trump has already tried to fire him, and the person who reportedly stopped him--White House counsel Don McGahn--is rumored to be on his way out of the administration.

The Post is reporting that the subject of the Cohen warrant was an investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, possibly related to a hush money contract with adult film performer Stormy Daniels. Mueller probably could have made a claim that Cohen already fell under his jurisdiction, which is to investigate Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." But it has been reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the call to involve the U.S. attorney, and perhaps Rosenstein made a strategic calculation about Trump, or they agreed together. It seems, though, that both men know they need to spread Mueller's work around as a hedge against his firing, and maybe even to try to deter Trump from firing him.

In comments after the raid, Trump attacked Mueller, Rosenstein, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, hinting ominously about what he might do next. Mueller and Rosenstein may have anticipated that this raid might have been the last straw for Trump, triggering their firings as they get closer and closer to Trump's inner circle and any potential personal criminal liability. Once other prosecutors' offices are involved and have gathered evidence of crimes, though, Trump receives less benefit from firing Mueller, and at an increasing cost. And even if Trump fires Mueller, more prosecutors can carry on the work, with access to some of the same material. Trump should not be able to fire Mueller under the DOJ's rules or under the Constitution, but Mueller and Rosenstein understand they need to have an emergency backup for a president who does not care about those rules.

Second, Mueller's move also suggests that he trusts some prosecutors to cooperate, that he trusts Rosenstein to keep up his supervision, and that he at least has sufficient hope that Sessions will stay out of the way. Sessions' firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe did not inspire confidence that he would recuse himself fully from the Russia investigation, but Mueller must have some assurances from Rosenstein that the investigation can proceed in the DOJ.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


The Medical Marketplace Is Changing Fast in Push for Value (Peter R. Orszag and David Gluckman, April 09, 2018, Bloomberg)

Four trends are driving the shift: an ongoing movement toward value-based payments; improved health care data analytics; innovations in medical science; and increasing demand from consumers for greater convenience and value.

Although health care costs have been growing more slowly than they once did, the U.S. still spends far too much, and there's great variation across the country in both prices (especially for employer-sponsored insurance) and utilization (especially for Medicare). Fee-for-service payment is a major reason spending is so high and varies so much from region to region. The shift toward value-based payments -- including bundled payments and accountable care organizations -- is a necessary though not complete solution.

The arrival of Alex Azar as secretary of Health and Human Services has offered hope that Medicare, which has sufficient presence in every local market to change how providers behave, will resume pushing toward these models, and a recent McKinsey analysis highlights their potential. To thrive under value-based payments, companies will need to reduce unwarranted variation across providers and sites of care and keep costs reasonable.

The point of universal HSAs is to ramp up the market forces.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Feds Are Treating Michael Cohen Like a Mob Lawyer, Trump Allies Say (BETSY WOODRUFF & ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, 04.09.18, Daily Beast)

Lawyers told The Daily Beast that raiding lawyers' offices isn't unheard of--but is generally used for lawyers who work with alleged members of organized crime, or for lawyers who are involved themselves in elaborate criminal schemes.

"It's a tactic generally used against organized crime, against very serious, very serious criminals and lawyers who are operating outside of the protections of the law," said Alan Dershowitz, a liberal attorney and frequent critic of Mueller's tactics.

It's a RICO case, Al.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Tucker Carlson scoffs at 'geniuses' who say Assad was behind chemical attack in Syria (The Week, April 9, 2018)
Fox News host Tucker Carlson told viewers on Monday night that while "the official story" is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government used chemical weapons to attack a rebel-held enclave near Damascus on Saturday, it "ought to make you nervous" that both Republicans and Democrats agree his regime was behind the attack that left at least 48 people dead, including several children.

Boy, the folks you have to defend to try and protect Donald/Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Mueller Reportedly Investigating $150,000 Payment to Trump Foundation by Ukrainian Billionaire During Campaign (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 09, 2018, Slate)
Adding to the list of Trump's questionable financial dealings, Robert Mueller is investigating a $150,000 donation to Trump's foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate, the New York Times reported Monday. The donation was made by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk in return for the then-GOP candidate delivering a 20-minute address via video link to a conference in Kiev. The timing of the transaction in September 2015 raises questions about whether the money was, in essence, a thinly veiled alternative campaign donation in an attempt to curry favor with the Republican frontrunner for president.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Amid ad boycott, Laura Ingraham says she won't be silenced by 'the left' (Brian Stelter, April 10, 2018, CNN)

On Monday night, Laura Ingraham cast the ongoing ad boycott against her show as part of "the left's plot to silence conservatives."

The Fox News prime time host said the "bullying on the left" is "desperate" and "Stalinist," but promised: "We will never relent and we will never give in. Never."

At no point did Ingraham mention the proximate cause of the ad boycott (her tweet mocking shooting survivor David Hogg) or the fact that she apologized for posting it.

Instead, she depicted herself as a warrior in a fight for free speech rights.

...about how this works.  Corporate America and viewers are not saying she isn't free to speak, just that they won't pay for her to speak.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


A Second Paul Manafort Associate Has Turned on Him (Betsy Woodruff, 4/09/18, Daily Beast)

Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort has trouble in his own house. According to court documents, one of Manafort's former employees led an FBI agent to a storage locker filled with paperwork on Manafort's businesses and finances. The person's name is redacted from the filings. But he's now at the center of a fight over evidence that could play a significant role in the government's case against Manafort.

"People do strange things when confronted with authoritative FBI agents," said Sol Wisenberg, a criminal defense attorney with Nelson Mullins.

This makes the second Manafort associate known to have aided the government in the sprawling investigation into foreign influence in U.S. politics. Rick Gates, Manafort's long-time right hand, began cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office in February.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Chuck McCann, Zany Comic in Early Children's TV, Dies at 83 (SAM ROBERTS, APRIL 9, 2018, NY Times)

He began by doing voice-overs on radio when he was 6 and struck up an enduring cross-country friendship by telephone with Stan Laurel when he was 12 -- leading to roles impersonating Laurel's huskier other half, Oliver Hardy. (He was a founder of the Laurel and Hardy fan club Sons of the Desert.)

He got his big break in his early 20s while performing on "The Sandy Becker Show," a children's TV show on what was then WABD in New York. Without advance notice, Mr. Becker left on a Friday for two weeks in South America and asked Mr. McCann to host his show beginning on Monday.

" 'So long!' " Mr. McCann recalled Mr. Becker saying. "The elevator doors close, and off he went. That was my baptism by fire. The first day was just disastrous."

Mr. McCann survived to become the host of his own children's programs and to voice cartoon characters in "DuckTales," "Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers," "Garfield and Friends," "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," "The Powerpuff Girls" and commercials for Cocoa Puffs cereal (as the cuckoo bird, crying, "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!"). He also appeared as a character actor on "Bonanza," "Columbo," "Little House on the Prairie" and other television series.

Along with Soupy Sales, Buffalo Bob Smith, Bob Keeshan (better known as Captain Kangaroo), Fran Allison and his mentor, the puppeteer Paul Ashley, Mr. McCann helped shape zany, impromptu preteen local programming in television's formative years.

In his book "Politics and the American Television Comedy: A Critical Survey from 'I Love Lucy' Through 'South Park' " (2008), Doyle Greene compared "The Chuck McCann Show" on WNEW in the mid-1960s to a blend of "Howdy Doody" and the spontaneous, experimental comedy of Ernie Kovacs.

To Mr. Greene, the McCann show represented a "deconstruction of TV taken to Dada levels (whether driving around the studio smashing into props on a scooter while lip-syncing a song, or doing a lengthy impersonation of Jack Benny playing screeching violin worthy of Stockhausen)."

April 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


In His Haste to Roll Back Rules, Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Chief, Risks His Agenda (CORAL DAVENPORT and LISA FRIEDMAN, APRIL 7, 2018, NY Times)

[L]egal experts and White House officials say that in Mr. Pruitt's haste to undo government rules and in his eagerness to hold high-profile political events promoting his agenda, he has often been less than rigorous in following important procedures, leading to poorly crafted legal efforts that risk being struck down in court.

The result, they say, is that the rollbacks, intended to fulfill one of the president's central campaign pledges, may ultimately be undercut or reversed.

"In their rush to get things done, they're failing to dot their i's and cross their t's. And they're starting to stumble over a lot of trip wires," said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. "They're producing a lot of short, poorly crafted rulemakings that are not likely to hold up in court."

Six of Mr. Pruitt's efforts to delay or roll back Obama-era regulations -- on issues including pesticides, lead paint and renewable-fuel requirements -- have been struck down by the courts. Mr. Pruitt also backed down on a proposal to delay implementing smog regulations and another to withdraw a regulation on mercury pollution.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Trump's company asked Panama president to help in hotel spat (JUAN ZAMORANO and STEPHEN BRAUN, 4/09/18, AP) 

U.S. President Donald Trump's company appealed directly to Panama's president to intervene in its fight over control of a luxury hotel, even invoking a treaty between the two countries, in what ethics experts say was a blatant mingling of Trump's business and government interests.

That appeal in a letter last month from lawyers for the Trump Organization to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela was apparently unsuccessful -- an emergency arbitrator days later declined to reinstate the Trump management team to the waterfront hotel in Panama City. But it provides hard proof of exactly the kind of conflict experts feared when Trump refused to divest from a sprawling empire that includes hotels, golf courses, licensing deals and other interests in more than 20 countries.

"This could be the clearest example we've seen of a conflict of interest stemming from the president's role as head of state in connection with other countries and his business interests," said Danielle Brian, executive director of The Project on Government Oversight, a Washington ethics and good government organization.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


FBI seizes records related to Stormy Daniels in raid of Trump attorney Michael Cohen's office (April 9, 2018, Washington Post)

FBI officials on Monday raided the Manhattan office of Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney of President Trump, seizing records related to a 2016 payment he made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.

No one even questions that this payment was illegal.
Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Exclusive: As elections near, many older, educated, white voters shift away from Trump's party (Sharon Bernstein, Chris Kahn, 4/09/18, Reuters) 

Nationwide, whites over the age of 60 with college degrees now favor Democrats over Republicans for Congress by a 2-point margin, according to Reuters/Ipsos opinion polling during the first three months of the year. During the same period in 2016, that same group favored Republicans for Congress by 10 percentage points. 

The 12-point swing is one of the largest shifts in support toward Democrats that the Reuters/Ipsos poll has measured over the past two years. If that trend continues, Republicans will struggle to keep control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, in the November elections, potentially dooming President Donald Trump's legislative agenda.

"The real core for the Republicans is white, older white, and if they're losing ground there, they're going to have a tsunami," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist who closely tracks political races. "If that continues to November, they're toast."

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM



Barzilai's big plan isn't necessarily less quixotic than those being dreamed up at Silicon Valley biotechs. It's just quixotic in a completely different way. Rather than trying to develop a wildly expensive, highly speculative therapy that will likely only benefit the billionaire-demigod set, Barzilai wants to convince the FDA to put its seal of approval on an antiaging drug for the rest of us: A cheap, generic, demonstrably safe pharmaceutical that has already shown, in a host of preliminary studies, that it may be able to help stave off many of the worst parts of growing old. Not only that, it would also shorten the duration of those awful parts. ("How To Die Young at a Very Old Age" was the title of his 2014 talk at TEDx Gramercy in New York City.)

The drug in question, metformin, costs about five cents a pill. It's a slightly modified version of a compound that was discovered in a plant, Galega officinalis. The plant, also known as French lilac and goat's rue, is hardly the stuff of cutting-edge science. Physicians have been prescribing it as an herbal remedy for centuries. In 1640, the great English herbalist John Parkinson wrote about goat's rue in his life's work, Theatrum Botanicum, recommending it for "the bitings or stings of any venomous creature," "the plague," "measells," "small pocks," and "wormes in children," among other conditions.

According to some sources, goat's rue was also a centuries-old remedy for frequent urination, now known to be a telltale sign of diabetes. Today, metformin, which helps keep blood sugar levels in check without serious side effects, is typically the first-choice treatment for type 2 diabetics, and it's sometimes prescribed for prediabetes as well. Together, the two conditions afflict half of American adults. In 2014 alone, Americans filled 76.9 million prescriptions for metformin, and some of those prescriptions went to Barzilai himself. (He's been taking the drug since he was diagnosed with prediabetes around six years ago.)

A native Israeli, Barzilai speaks English with an accent, never letting grammatical slipups slow him down. He has short, boyish bangs and a slightly rounded face. His thick glasses and natural exuberance give him the look of an actor typecast as an eccentric researcher. He traces his interest in aging to the Sabbath walks he took with his grandfather as a child. Barzilai could never quite reconcile the frailty of the old man with his grandfather's stories of draining swamps in prestate Israel. "I was looking and saying, 'This guy? This old guy could do that?'"

Barzilai first studied metformin in the late 1980s while doing a fellowship at Yale, never imagining the drug would later become his focus. When the FDA approved it as a diabetes treatment in 1994, there was little reason to think it would someday become one of the hottest topics in medicine. But in the following two decades, researchers started comparing the health of diabetics on metformin to those taking other diabetes drugs.

What they discovered was striking: The metformin-takers tended to be healthier in all sorts of ways. They lived longer and had fewer cardiovascular events, and in at least some studies they were less likely to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer's. Most surprising of all, they seemed to get cancer far less frequently--as much as 25 to 40 percent less than diabetics taking two other popular medications. When they did get cancer, they tended to outlive diabetics with cancer who were taking other medications.

As Lewis Cantley, the director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, once put it, "Metformin may have already saved more people from cancer deaths than any drug in history." Nobel laureate James Watson (of DNA-structure fame), who takes metformin off-label for cancer prevention, once suggested that the drug appeared to be "our only real clue into the business" of fighting the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Here are the 100 best Minor League player names heading into the 2018 season (Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, April 5, 2018, Cut4)

2. Sicnarf Loopstok -- Indians 1B -- Akron (Double-A)

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


14 said killed in attack on Syrian facility previously targeted by Israel (JUDAH ARI GROSS, 4/09/18, Times of Israel)

Missiles struck an air base in central Syria early Monday, killing 14 people, including Iranians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Syria's state-run news agency confirmed the strike, but did not comment on the number of casualties, saying only, "There are martyrs and wounded."

Although initially the agency said it was likely "an American aggression," following a denial by the United States, the Russian military and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's regime accused Israel of carrying out the attack.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


'Take That Down': Fox Show Displays Anti-Fox Polling Data (Caroline Orr, April 9, 2018, Shareblue.com)

"Speaking of fake news, there is a new poll out from Monmouth University. 'Do the media report fake news regularly or occasionally?' 77 percent say yes --" Kurtz said, as a graphic appeared onscreen.

But instead of showing the results of the 'fake news' poll, the graphic showed the brutally honest results of a question about Americans' trust in news sources -- or lack of trust, in the case of Fox News.

"That is not the graphic we are looking for. Hold off," Kurtz said as he realized the mistake. "Take that down, please."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


How Sweden and the UK are leading the global shift towards a cashless economy (GEORGE EATON, 4/03/18, New Statesman)

The idea of a cashless economy can appear utopian, the kind of "blue-sky" policy beloved of Cameron's erstwhile adviser Steve Hilton. Yet in Sweden this apparent fantasy is close to becoming a reality. Cash transactions account for only 1.4 per cent of the value of all payments and the country is forecast to become cashless by 2030. Market traders, churches and homeless magazine vendors all accept card and phone payments. More than 900 of Sweden's 1,600 bank branches no longer take cash deposits. The country's Riksbank, the world's oldest central bank, is considering launching a national cryptocurrency: the e-krona (inflation-ravaged Venezuela recently created the oil-backed petro).

Even without government support, the UK has become one of the world's most cashless societies: cash accounts for only 3.9 per cent of all payments by value (compared to 10.7 per cent in the eurozone and 8.1 per cent in the US). For Korski, this is an unambiguously positive trend. One of the benefits of a cashless system, he told Cameron, is significantly reduced crime. In his 2016 book, The Curse of Cash, the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff disparages paper currency for aiding tax evasion, theft, corruption, terrorism, the drugs trade, human trafficking and the rest of a burgeoning black economy. Though a digital system creates new forms of crime, illegal activity becomes easier to trace.

Other benefits include higher economic productivity. "We're still struggling to measure the productivity gain of the near-disappearance of high street travel agents," Korski told me. In 2015, the Bank of England's chief economist, Andrew Haldane, argued that a cashless system would aid monetary policy by allowing negative interest rates to be imposed in times of economic stagnation. At present, if charged by banks for storing money, consumers are able to hoard cash.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


AP sources: EPA chief spent millions on security and travel (MICHAEL BIESECKER, Apr. 07, 2018, AP) 

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessor's part-time security contingent.

New details in Pruitt's expansive spending for security and travel emerged from agency sources and documents reviewed by The Associated Press. [...]

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt. EPA's press office did not respond Friday to provide details of any specific threats or arrests.

April 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


Jimmy Kimmel apologizes for jabs at Sean Hannity (Jackie Wattles, April 8, 2018, CNN)

Kimmel took to Twitter Sunday to apologize to those he may have offended with his brash jabs at the conservative commentator during a week of verbal and social media sparring.

"While I admit I did have fun with our back and forth, after some thought, I realize that the level of vitriol from all sides (mine and me included) does nothing good for anyone and, in fact, is harmful to our country," Kimmel tweeted. [...]

Kimmel also made sexually suggestive comments about Hannity's devotion to President Donald Trump.

Sean must have invoked his safety word.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:38 AM


Maynard Ferguson - Chameleon (1974)

A week or so ago, OJ posted an article about how Miles Davis led Herbie Hancock to the Fender Rhodes (electric) piano, which was a big step in the electrification of jazz that took place in the 1960's and 70's.  In commenting on the post, I noted that I don't have an objection, per se, to the sound of the Fender, it's just that any time I hear it now (whether in a jazz performance or a Billy Joel tune), it immediately dates the recording in my mind to the 70's or 80's, regardless of its actual vintage.  Within 10 minutes after I posted that comment, Maynard Ferguson's recording of La Fiesta, with its opening Fender Rhodes vamp, began playing on my car radio, and I was immediately transported back to my sophomore year in high school...and I had the subject of my next ATJ. 

Maynard Ferguson was a Canadian-born jazz trumpet player, who came to the fore in the early 1950's with the Stan Kenton band.  A player of first-rate technique (he later performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic), he became particularly known - and popular (he won the top trumpet award in the Down Beat Reader's Poll in 1951, 1952 and 1953) - for his astounding ability to play high notes.  After a couple of decades doing studio work and playing in other big bands, Ferguson formed his own big band in 1971. 

Let's be clear, Maynard's big bands of the 1970's are not high art; rather, they are a guilty pleasure...and one that is probably only really enjoyed by those who were in their teens or early 20's during that time.  This wasn't the timeless blues-drenched elegance of Ellington or propulsive swing of Basie.  Maynard's band was loud, electrified (in addition to the Fender Rhodes, the guitar player relied heavily on a wah-wah pedal and reverb, and the bass was electric), and fronted by a guy seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of subtlety.  The band played more tunes with a rock beat or a quasi-Latin rhythm than with straight-ahead 4/4 swing.  And rather than relying on the Great American Songbook as the backbone of its repertoire, the band played mostly current pop and rock tunes (Stevie Wonder's Livin' for the City and Paul McCartney's Jet), movie and TV themes (The Way We Were, Flying High Now (from Rocky), Star Trek) and popular songs from the world of what was then called "jazz fusion" (Hancock's Chameleon, Chick Corea's La Fiesta, Wayne Shorter's Birdland).   The only standard on this album is I Can't Get Started, which features Maynard on trumpet and vocal (a la 1930's bandleader Bunny Berrigan, who had a huge hit in 1937 with this tune...although I don't think Bunny sang Maynard's lyric "I've been invited to tea by the Queen/Linda Lovelace thinks I'm obscene").

As a high school sophomore, I loved this album, Maynard's Live at Jimmy's and a handful of his others. The funky beats, the jet-engine decibels and the high notes...especially the high notes.  Hearing Maynard live reach for a high C was like watching an Olympic pole vaulter trying for a new record: sometimes he made it, sometimes he didn't, but it was always dramatic.  We played a lot of Ferguson arrangements in my high school jazz band (indeed, in the 70's, most suburban high schools didn't have "jazz bands" or "big bands", they had "jazz/rock ensembles")...so he was part of my introduction to the music.  In those same years, I was also getting my first tastes of the big bands of Basie, Ellington and Woody Herman, and trumpeters such as Miles, Dizzy, Clark Terry and Clifford Brown.  Over time, I drifted away from the guy in the jump suit and scarf, who played fast and loud, and then faster and louder.  But the arrangements are tight, the musicians execute it all with skill (Bruce Johnstone's bari sax solos never disappoint), and the music is fun (if locked in its era).  

After a long time away from these posts, I'm back with 2 in rapid succession, and, by coincidence, in both I'm quoting another writer whose experience with the subject is amazingly similar to mine (I started sketching out this post before a friend sent me this link...but note that it also discusses Ferguson from the perspective of a high school boy in the 1970's and finds a sports analogy to be apt).  In an appreciation of Ferguson that ran in the Washington Post after his death in August 2006, David von Drehle wrote: 

I was a high school boy at the time. This fact is not incidental. In the blogs and tribute pages devoted to memories of Maynard Ferguson yesterday, the two near-constants were adolescence and masculinity. Ferguson lit up thousands of young horn players, most of them boys, with pride and excitement. In a world often divided between jocks and band nerds, Ferguson crossed over, because he approached his music almost as an athletic event. On stage, he strained, sweated, heaved and roared. He nailed the upper registers like Shaq nailing a dunk or Lawrence Taylor nailing a running back -- and the audience reaction was exactly the same: the guttural shout, the leap to their feet, the fists in the air. We cheered Maynard as a gladiator, a combat soldier, a prize fighter, a circus strongman -- choose your masculine archetype.

...That's why he was the hero of the horn sections. When Ferguson reached the peak of his fame in the mid-1970s -- thanks to a hit recording of the theme from "Rocky" -- the world was full of manly guys whanging electric guitars and thrashing drums. But jazz? Our friends the Purists had just about drained the last drop of juice from the great American art form. In place of the old jump, stomp and jive, the Purists seemed to offer little but heroin chic, prissy intellectualism and monkish devotion to old 78s.

Maynard Ferguson did his best to blow some hormones back into the band room. Along the way, he turned a fair number of us on to the more subtle achievements of more refined musicians. For that, we forgive all the reverb and rayon, all the electronics, even the lamentable disco phase.

Post script: For those interested to hear what kind of player Maynard in his purer days, check out this recording of him going toe-to-toe-to-toe with 2 of the greatest straight-ahead jazz trumpeters, Clifford Brown and Clark Terry:

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:32 AM


Cecil Taylor (1929-2018)

As this website's jazz observer, I wish I had something wise to say about Cecil Taylor, the revolutionary pianist who died the other day at the age of 89.  Something that would help those of you who have never listened to him gain entry to his dense, percussive and raucous music; or, perhaps provide some new insight or perspective to someone who has.  But I've got nothing.  So many critics and musicians who I admire have sung Taylor's praises that I tried for years to listen to his recordings (large bands, small groups and solo) in the hope that I, too, would become enlightened. It never happened.  I could never understand (or even enjoy) his recordings, something I chalked up to my own failures as a listener, specifically, my own need for familiar "handles" to grab on to as his torrents of sound washed over me...a recognizable melody, a fixed beat, a home key, anything.  Of course, I'm guessing if it had any of those things, then it wouldn't have been Cecil's music.

In any event, about 20 years ago, Taylor was playing in my city, and more out of duty than enthusiasm, I bought a ticket to go hear him.  (By myself...I didn't want to subject any of my friends to what I was sure would be an hour or so of incomprehensible sound.)  Well, what happened that night astounded me.  In his tribute to Taylor this week, The New Yorker critic Richard Brody, describes his own night at a concert in the mid-80's that almost perfectly captures my experience...except that (1) Brody was already a fan; and (2) I've seen Sonny Rollins present some "musical exertions" that were equally mighty and generous:      

There was a piano onstage; at the scheduled time, some monosyllabic incantations could be heard from the wings, some shuffling of feet. The pianist poked himself out onto the hardwood stage, doing a sort of halting, tentative chant and dance, approaching the piano mysteriously, a Martian pondering a monolith. He tapped and rapped and knocked the instrument's solid wooden body; he probed it from all angles; then he found the keyboard, struck a note, and then another, and another; his theatrical probing gave way to radiant musical illumination.

Taylor had to have noticed, as he circumnavigated the instrument, the sparse audience; he pretended that it didn't matter. For the twenty lovers in attendance, Taylor approached the piano bench, sat down, struck a chord, crystallized a motif, and worked it out in thunder. For an hour, all by himself onstage and nearly by himself in the hall, he performed a colossal, exhausting, self-sacrificing concert of pianistic fury, filling the room with a torrential, polyrhythmic, rumbling, crashing, shattering whirlwind. It resembled the music that I had loved on records since I was a teen-ager a decade earlier, but now erupted, in my presence, with an improvisational explosion and a spontaneous compositional complexity that put it both at the forefront of modern jazz, of modern music as such. It was the mightiest and most generous musical exertion I had seen. To this day, I've only seen Taylor himself surpass it.

When Taylor finished, I was somehow emotionally elated and drained at the same time, physically energized and exhausted, burning to hear more yet feeling that I'd never again experience music as powerful and meaningful. After the concert, I went back to Taylor's recordings...and nothing,...the same inability to connect that I had always had.  After a few weeks of trying, I gave up for good and hadn't listened to Cecil Taylor again until I started writing this entry.

So, as I said at the top, I wish I had something wise or helpful to say about the great Cecil Taylor...but I don't (except that I still think it's my fault, not his).

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Washington's Farewell By John Avlon  (Reviewed by James A. Percoco, April 8, 2018, Washington Independent Book Review)

Both sides loved the United States but had different agendas for its future. The squabbles over how to interpret the Constitution, which nations to support abroad, and whose interests to address spilled over into Washington's cabinet, in which Jefferson, as head of the Republicans, served as secretary of state, and Hamilton, as head of the Federalists, served as secretary of the treasury.

Washington was caught in the middle of the sibling rivalry, and it did not sit well with him. Ironically, his tenure as president would outlast that of both Jefferson and Hamilton in their respective positions. As early as 1792, as the national rupture was becoming more apparent, Washington looked to retire, but Jefferson argued, "There will be a nation to hang on to if that nation can hang on you."

Convinced, Washington served a second term that proved to be more fractious than the first. During his second term, he was viciously assaulted in the Republican press by writers hired by Jefferson, and came to learn of a letter written by Jefferson to his friend Philip Mazzei in which Jefferson, without mentioning Washington by name, wrote, "Men who were once Sampsons in the field and Solomons in the councils have had their heads shorn by the harlot of England." Martha Washington never forgave Jefferson for his transgression.

Much of the rupture came to a head as the United States tried to steer a course of neutrality between England and France and their constant state of war. The Jeffersonians argued the U.S. was bound by its 1778 treaty with the French, who helped secure American independence, even though the French Revolution had devolved into the "reign of terror." The Hamiltonians, meanwhile, supported England, the nation's most important trading partner.

Washington, to the delight of the Federalists, supported a Neutrality Act, earning him the wrath of Republicans. Known for his temper, Washington exploded during a cabinet meeting when the secretary of war, Henry Knox, brought in a newspaper with a cartoon depicting Washington as a victim of the guillotine.

By 1796, he'd had enough, but before departing the public stage, Washington wanted to remind Americans of what was most important: unity among "citizens by birth or choice"; religious pluralism in all spheres of life; an educated citizenry; and a foreign policy rooted in independence.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Trump Tower fire is second 2018 blaze in sprinkler-free residential tower (Caroline Linton, 4/08/18, CBS News)

The fire on the 50th floor New York City's Trump Tower that left 67-year-old Todd Brassner dead and six firefighters injured was the second fire in the building in 2018 -- President Trump's centerpiece Manhattan skyscraper built that opened in 1984, but which does not have sprinklers on its residential floors. FDNY commissioner Daniel Nigro noted on Saturday that the upper, residential floors of Trump Tower do not have sprinklers -- a measure required in new buildings since 1999, but which President Trump, then a private citizen and property developer, lobbied to try and prevent. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Hamas official signals that Israeli boosting of Gaza economy could curb protests (AVI ISSACHAROFF, 6 April 2018, Times of Israel)

A senior official in the Hamas terrorist group on Sunday demanded that Israel ease some of its economic restrictions on the Gaza Strip and suggested that steps that "immediately improve the economic situation" in the Palestinian enclave would curtail a wave of violent protests on the Israel-Gaza border.

The official said the weekly demonstrations near the border will continue and lead to an escalation of hostilities, but that the atmosphere can "change" if Israel takes immediate action to improve the humanitarian situation in the Strip.

"Israel can take many such steps," the senior Hamas member told The Times of Israel.

But the point of Israel's war on Palestine is the opposite--it is to make democracy intolerable

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Israel defence minister says 'no innocent people' in Gaza (Middle East Online, 4/08/18)

"There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip," Lieberman told Israel's public radio.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


There's no good reason to stop felons from voting (George F. Will, April 6, 2018, Washington Post)

Intelligent and informed people of good will can strenuously disagree about the wisdom of policies that have produced mass incarceration. What is, however, indisputable is that this phenomenon creates an enormous problem of facilitating the reentry into society of released prisoners who were not improved by the experience of incarceration and who face discouraging impediments to employment and other facets of social normality. In 14 states and the District , released felons automatically recover their civil rights.

Recidivism among Florida's released felons has been approximately 30 percent for the five years 2011-2015. Of the 1,952 people whose civil rights were restored, five committed new offenses, an average recidivism rate of 0.4 percent. This sample is skewed by self-selection -- overrepresentation of those who had the financial resources and tenacity to navigate the complex restoration process that each year serves a few hundred of the 1.6 million. Still, the recidivism numbers are suggestive.

What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety? How? Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate? This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons -- who really do not require reminding -- of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully reentering the community.

Meade, like one-third of the 4.7 million current citizens nationwide who have reentered society from prison but cannot vote, is an African American. More than 1 in 13 African Americans nationally are similarly disenfranchised, as are 1 in 5 of Florida's African American adults. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


New Filing Indicates Robert Mueller May Have New Collusion Evidence (JEREMY STAHL, APRIL 06, 2018, Slate)

In a new court filing on Thursday, the special counsel's office revealed additional details of the probe that indicate he has recently expanded his investigation of Paul Manafort. The further implication of this filing is that Mueller is actively building a collusion case against the former Trump campaign chairman or other Trump campaign officials, and potentially basing it on the testimony of former Manafort deputy Rick Gates.

The new details show that Mueller's team acquired search warrants on five telephone numbers last month, just two weeks after Gates began to officially cooperate in Mueller's probe.

The filing was a response to a motion from Manafort's attorneys to see additional details of search warrants related to Manafort. For the most part, Mueller's team has turned over these details. But as it pertained to a warrant obtained on March 9 for the phone numbers, the special counsel's office insisted that the warrant be redacted because they are "relating to ongoing investigations that are not the subject of either of the current prosecutions involving Manafort."

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


April 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


'When you lose that power': How John Kelly faded as White House disciplinarian  (Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker April 7 , 2018, Washington Post)

After White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly pressured President Trump last fall to install his top deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, atop the Department of Homeland Security, the president lost his temper when conservative allies argued that she wasn't sufficiently hard line on immigration. "You didn't tell me she was a [expletive] George W. Bush person," Trump growled.

After Kelly told Fox News Channel's Bret Baier in a January interview that Trump's immigration views had not been "fully informed" during the campaign and had since "evolved," the president berated Kelly in the Oval Office -- his shouts so loud they could be heard through the doors.

And less than two weeks ago, Kelly grew so frustrated on the day that Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin that Nielsen and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis both tried to calm him and offered pep talks, according to three people with knowledge of the incident.

"I'm out of here, guys," Kelly said -- comments some interpreted as a resignation threat, but according to a senior administration official, he was venting his anger and leaving work an hour or two early to head home.  [...]

Kelly is the latest high-profile example of a West Wing Icarus -- swept high into Trump's orbit, only to be singed and cast low. Nearly everyone who has entered the White House has emerged battered -- rendered a punchline (former press secretary Sean Spicer), a Justice Department target (former national security adviser Michael Flynn) or a diminished shell, fired by presidential tweet (former secretary of state Rex Tillerson). 

No one knows how many days remain for Kelly, but when he leaves -- either by the president's hand or because of his own mounting frustration -- he is almost certain to limp away damaged.

Every single day of service to Donald has further blotted his escutcheon.
Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Hamilton and a lesson in citizenship (Greg Weeks, 4/07/18, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

I had been invited to speak at a naturalization ceremony in the Eagleton Courthouse. Forty-five people were given the oath of allegiance and became U.S. citizens.

This was one of the most inspiring events I'd ever witnessed. People from around the world, many with unpronounceable names, sat excitedly. They held small American flags in anticipation of the time they would take the oath. One young Asian man even wore patriotic socks: One sock had stripes and the other, stars. Most were smiling broadly, and some were even crying.

I looked into these faces and imagined what they'd gone through to get to this point. They'd left their land for a nation "conceived in liberty." They found themselves in a foreign culture along with a possibly foreign language. They studied our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and our government. They learned our history and heard the risks our forbears took to enable this experiment in democracy.

These soon-to-be citizens showed me how easy it is for us born-in-America citizens to take our country for granted. Growing up, American history was a bit boring for me, and civics was almost a near-death experience. For them, however, being a citizen of the United States was a coveted goal for which they had struggled. For me, it was something I was given. Being a citizen for them was a source of pride. For me, it was an entitlement.

This was humbling. All Americans have a civic duty. It's easy to abdicate that duty when we enjoy the fruits of living in this country without regarding the responsibilities necessary to maintain them.

Christians especially bear this obligation.

...and was bummed that they pass you once you have 6 right, because he wanted to get the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


The Pillars of Modern American Conservatism (Alfred S. Regnery, Spring 2012, Intercollegiate Review)

The basic foundations of American conservatism can be boiled down to four fundamental concepts. We might call them the four pillars of modern conservatism:

The first pillar of conservatism is liberty, or freedom. Conservatives believe that individuals possess the right to life, liberty, and property, and freedom from the restrictions of arbitrary force. They exercise these rights through the use of their natural free will. That means the ability to follow your own dreams, to do what you want to (so long as you don't harm others) and reap the rewards (or face the penalties). Above all, it means freedom from oppression by government--and the protection of government against oppression. It means political liberty, the freedom to speak your mind on matters of public policy. It means religious liberty--to worship as you please, or not to worship at all. It also means economic liberty, the freedom to own property and to allocate your own resources in a free market.

Conservatism is based on the idea that the pursuit of virtue is the purpose of our existence and that liberty is an essential component of the pursuit of virtue. Adherence to virtue is also a necessary condition of the pursuit of freedom. In other words, freedom must be pursued for the common good, and when it is abused for the benefit of one group at the expense of others, such abuse must be checked. Still, confronted with a choice of more security or more liberty, conservatives will usually opt for more liberty.

The second pillar of conservative philosophy is tradition and order. Conservatism is also about conserving the values that have been established over centuries and that have led to an orderly society. Conservatives believe in human nature; they believe in the ability of man to build a society that respects rights and that has the capacity to repel the forces of evil. Order means a systematic and harmonious arrangement, both within one's own character and within the commonwealth. It signifies the performance of certain duties and the enjoyment of certain rights within a community.

Order is perhaps more easily understood by looking at its opposite: disorder. A disordered existence is a confused and miserable existence. If a society falls into general disorder, many of its members will cease to exist at all. And if the members of a society are disordered in spirit, the outward order of society cannot long endure. Disorder describes well everything that conservatism is not.

The third pillar is the rule of law. Conservatism is based on the belief that it is crucial to have a legal system that is predictable, that allows people to know what the rules are and enforce those rules equally for all. This means that both governors and the governed are subject to the law. The rule of law promotes prosperity and protects liberty. Put simply, a government of laws and not of men is the only way to secure justice.

The fourth pillar is belief in God. Belief in God means adherence to the broad concepts of religious faith--such things as justice, virtue, fairness, charity, community, and duty. These are the concepts on which conservatives base their philosophy.

Conservative belief is tethered to the idea that there is an allegiance to God that transcends politics and that sets a standard for politics. For conservatives, there must be an authority greater than man, greater than any ruler, king, or government: no state can demand our absolute obedience or attempt to control every aspect of our lives. There must be a moral order, conservatives believe, that undergirds political order. This pillar of conservatism does not mean mixing up faith and politics, and it certainly does not mean settling religious disputes politically. It also does not mean that conservatives have a monopoly on faith, or even that all conservatives are necessarily believers.

The key in that first pillar is that it is liberty, not freedom, as reflected in the acknowledgement that it is only arbitrary force that we need be free from.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Trump, The Anti-Business President (Steve Chapman, April 7, 2018, Creators.com)

Economists Steven Davis (University of Chicago), Scott Baker (Northwestern) and Nicholas Bloom (Stanford) attributed weak growth and job creation to "extreme uncertainty" that Obama helped to create through "harmful rhetorical attacks on business and 'millionaires,' failure to tackle entitlement reforms and fiscal imbalances, and political brinkmanship."

Hmm. Does that sound like anyone else? Trump has also attacked businesses, failed to curb entitlements and, through tax cuts and spending bills, created ever-growing fiscal imbalances.

According to the index these economists devised, economic policy uncertainty was greater in Trump's first 13 months than in the same period under Obama -- and bigger than the average for all of Obama's tenure. And things are only getting worse.

Obama took the view that the private economy needed extensive regulation to avert assorted perceived harms, which didn't make him popular among capitalists. But he didn't make a habit of bullying corporations to make particular business decisions or demonizing executives who disagreed with him. Trump's idea of a good economy is one in which every company does his bidding -- because they are all afraid not to.

His unpredictability breeds anxiety, not confidence. He often sows confusion that makes bad policies even worse.

Davis cites the steel and aluminum tariffs, which Trump first said would apply to all countries, then revised to exempt Canada and Mexico, and then modified to spare several other countries -- but only till May 1, when all bets are off. The haphazard approach "causes businesses to step back and wait," says Davis, "and creates a free-for-all among lobbyists, which creates its own uncertainty."

Trump was supposed to understand the needs of American businesses. But he thinks their main function is to serve his needs.

...understood business?

Donald Trump Would Be Richer If He'd Have Invested in Index Funds (CLAIRE GRODEN August 20, 2015, Fortune)

The AP says that, if Trump had invested in an index fund in 1988, his net worth would be as much as $13 billion.

The S&P 500 has grown 1,336% since 1988.

Other billionaires' net worths have beaten the stock market's growth in that time. Bill Gates, for example, saw his increase 7,173%, to $80 billion, since 1988. Warren Buffett's wealth grew 2,612% in the same time period, to $67.8 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


The Guy Who Wrote The Book On The Deep State Wishes Trumpworld Would Shut Up About The Deep State (Joseph Bernstein, 4/05/18, BuzzFeed News)

From "fake news" to "bad faith," the Trump administration and its boosters have proven fantastically adept at expropriating the slogans of the political zeitgeist and redefining them with brutal partisan efficiency. And for the past 15 months, Lofgren has had a front-row seat to one such refurbishment, as the bipartisan phenomenon he carefully documented became, as he put it in an email to BuzzFeed News, the "ultimate 'dog ate my homework' excuse" for "the Trump regime and its pinhead allies." The transformation has been so thorough, it's left Lofgren wondering if it's possible to make a broad critique of power within America in 2018 without it being turned into a propagandistic caricature by the far right.

Though Lofgren's "Deep State," which he first described in a widely read 2014 essay for the website of longtime PBS host Bill Moyers, is influential, it bears little resemblance to the all-powerful cabal that the contemporary far-right has conjured. A former Fulbright scholar who studied contemporary European history, Lofgren spent 16 years as a senior analyst on the House and Senate budget committees, developing an expertise in the way the government pays for national security.

In that 2014 essay, after several appearances on Moyers' show, Lofgren gave his "Anatomy of the Deep State" thusly:

"...a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day."

That, according to Lofgren, is why Congress could seem hopelessly divided and deadlocked on President Obama's budget or political appointments, but offer no real sustained objection across either party to efforts to "liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant" and intervene in Libya.

The critique found a supporter in Moyers. "He added to the long and legitimate and losing argument that we're being governed by the military-industrial complex," Moyers told BuzzFeed News.

Of course, we do have a Deep State that resists mere democratic pressures, but it is inherent in the structure of the Republic and, for obvious reasons, one of the main bulwarks is insulated from political vicissitudes and electoral spasms:

Separation of Power: To make a more perfect union, don't look to the Founding Fathers. (William Hogeland, Lapham Quarterly)

Yet in lauding Federalist 78, resistance to Trump stumbles into divots, even potholes, in the landscape of an American civics on which any effective resistance would have to rely. The anti-Trump intelligentsia is reading Hamilton's essay out of historical and political contexts, the founders' and ours. Confusion begins in misconstruing the essay's purpose. Hamilton was writing neither a meditation on judiciaries nor a guide to ours. While generations of judges have treated The Federalist as scholarship, precedent, even transcendent truth, the essays are works of persuasion, cranked out in hopes of convincing the delegates of New York to support ratification of the proposed Constitution. There was no federal judiciary when Hamilton wrote essay 78, no high or low courts, no specified number of Supreme Court justices, no federal case law, nothing but a few sentences stating that such a system should exist and--the kicker--making it independent of the other two branches. Hamilton's goal in 78 was to demolish recently published arguments on the dangers of making the judiciary independent. He wanted to get the Constitution ratified, with the judicial branch a covalent part of government.

Context for that effort involves Hamilton's and his colleagues' perception that in judicial independence lay a mechanism not for promoting democracy but for the reverse: checking what seemed to be potential dangers posed by the lower house of the proposed national legislature. Hamilton's persistent concern was to defeat what he and others of his class called the "leveling" impulse: efforts by lower orders to equalize society economically by undermining the value of property and investment, and thus, went the prevailing line of elite thought, destroying liberty itself. Where modern liberal thinking tends to equate freedom with a high degree of social equality, to Adams, Hamilton, Washington, Madison, and others, equality already seemed, in 1789, to be shattering traditional norms, devaluing elite holdings, and paving the way for the despotism that, in their reading of history, inevitably follows from attacks on property. The 1780s had seen populist agitation for debt relief, price controls, progressive taxation, access to credit, and the abolition of property qualifications for the voting franchise. Under pressure from working-class populists, state legislatures had been passing monetary laws that gave advantage to debtors, artisans, small farmers, and laborers. In Pennsylvania, there had even been talk of capping by law the amount of property anyone could own. A desire to put an end to what elites saw as state-legislative abuse of that kind spurred the formation of a national government. Such abuse must certainly be prevented from infecting the proposed national legislature. Hence the pitch for judicial independence that Hamilton made in Federalist 78.

Making the judiciary so powerful was bound to be scary. Whig liberty types, reacting in the Harrington mode, feared any power that might defeat representation, traditionally the legal means of resisting sovereign encroachment on rights. What if a federal judge, for example, appointed for life by the executive, were to set aside a law passed by Congress on the basis that it was somehow "unconstitutional"? That scenario brought on nightmares of classic tyranny. These same men, however, were the elites of New York--that's why Hamilton was addressing them. As creditors of their poorer neighbors, they harbored a fear of the leveling instinct as great as their fear of authoritarianism. Such a fear was bolstered ideologically by their certainty that the former always leads to the latter anyway. Republican gentlemen of the founding generation loved the tradition of representation. They hated the democratic results of representation going on in some of the states. Hence their bind.
Hamilton offered a way out. Federalist 78 is characteristic of his brilliance not as a theoretician--he could take the most abstruse theory in a single bite and chew it any way he liked--but as a master of building paths to usher readers inevitably toward his conclusions. The historian Peter Charles Hoffer, reading Hamilton's essays on the judiciary as an adroit walking-in of the novel power of judges to set aside laws, shows how the founder widely considered the least politic was capable here of concealment, cushioning, and timely revealing for maximum effect. The essay is marked by classic Hamiltonian tactics, by no means consistent with the notion prevailing among liberal admirers today, that the essay offers protection for hard-won democratic progress now under threat.

The central argument in 78 begins with an insistence that the might of an independent judiciary, supposedly so scary, is chimerical. The judicial branch won't really be equal to the other two, Hamilton assures his readers; unlike Congress, it can't create laws, and it has to rely on the presidency to enforce rulings. If the branch can become fearsome only in collaboration with another branch, all the more reason for separating it. A court this weak can never make itself superior to the legislature. Having tiptoed up to the land mine--the court's controversial power to set aside legislative acts--Hamilton tells his readers there's nothing to see there. He conjures a hypothetical scenario in which Congress passes an act undermining due process of law itself: an ex post facto law or bill of attainder, old legal tricks of arbitrary power loathed axiomatically by readers of the liberty literature. Who but the federal courts, Hamilton asks, would be in a position to push Congress back within constitutional bounds? Such a role would in no way set the court above Congress: "The power of the people"--the Constitution itself--"is superior to both." So even in instances where this weakling court must flex its muscles, it can act only as an intermediary.

Hamilton has deftly dispelled fears. His judiciary is gasping for life in those areas where readers would be hypersensitive to arbitrary power and no more than an intermediary whenever invigorated temporarily for the sole purpose of preserving constitutionality. He now dangles before his audience certain potencies that he says have nothing to do with constitutionality. He notes, first, that an independent judiciary would stifle "legislative encroachments." His audience would read that term as referring to legislation benefiting debtors, artisans, and poor farmers at the expense of property.

Employing the favored language of his class for describing social agitation, Hamilton asserts that an independent judiciary will mitigate:

those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the people themselves, and which, though they speedily give place to better information, and more deliberate reflection, have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.

By dangerous innovations and serious oppressions he means populist fiscal laws; by the minor party he means the well-propertied. And he casts this judicial power to keep a stirred-up people down as the gift that keeps on giving. A legislature whose populist laws are repeatedly voided, Hamilton predicts, will give up even trying to pass them. That's a vision the elites of New York could get behind. Hamilton reminds them that all virtuous, disinterested, considerate people--them--are aware of the deleterious effects on stability and virtue of the bad spirit irresponsibly aroused by demagogues in an otherwise reasonable people. An independent judiciary can obstruct that spirit--elites called it both "the mob" and "the democracy"--and even crush it altogether via the rule of law.

Everybody knows, at least on reflection, that Hamilton, Adams, and their colleagues weren't democrats and egalitarians. The question is why today's embattled liberalism, seeking protection for essential American institutions promoting equality and democracy, lauds Hamilton's arguments for the legal suppression of equality and democracy. Just technically, most of 78 is immaterial at best to liberal hope and success. Blocking the attempted Muslim ban and the rescinding of DACA rely on a judicial power to check not Congress but the executive; in 78, Hamilton, a promoter of executive strength, only barely alludes to that power. Expanding equality came about in the twentieth century through the federal courts' power to set aside oppressive state laws. In 78, Hamilton didn't mention that power, referring only to potential excesses of Congress.

It is the conservatism of the Founding that enables us to defend the Republic from the progressivism of a Donald or a Bernie.
Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


White Sox groundskeeper back on job after 23 years in prison (Associated Press, April 5, 2018)

 Imprisoned 23 years for a crime he didn't commit, Nevest Coleman couldn't imagine a day like this.

He was back in his old job as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox, working the home opener against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday.

"When you sit back when you're locked up, you don't think about (a day like this)," Coleman said. "You just think about what's going on trying to move forward in life, trying to figure out what I'm gonna do when I get out, how I'm gonna support myself. The White Sox gave me the opportunity."

Coleman is getting another shot after he and another Illinois man named Darryl Fulton were exonerated in a 1994 rape and murder. They were convicted in the slaying of a 20-year-old woman after her body was found in the basement of a home on Chicago's South Side where Coleman lived. Both Coleman and Fulton confessed but quickly recanted.

After DNA testing linked the crime to a serial rapist, the two men were released from prison in November. A Cook County judge issued "certificates of innocence" in March, clearing their names. Soon after that, Coleman returned to his old job with the White Sox.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Is Queen Elizabeth descended from the Prophet Muhammad? (Times of Israel, 4/07/18)

The claim is not new, and was originally published in 1986 by Burke's Peerage, the noted guide to royal genealogy. The link was also reportedly verified by Ali Gomaa, the former grand mufti of Egypt, which would make Elizabeth a distant cousin of fellow monarchs King Abdullah II of Jordan and Mohammed VI of Morocco.

According to the family tree, she is descendant from the Prophet's daughter, Fatima.

According to the Economist much of the purported link revolves around a Muslim princess called Zaida, who fled an attack on Seville in Muslim Spain in the 11th century and found refuge in the court of Alfonso VI of Castille.

There, "she changed her name to Isabella, converted to Christianity and bore Alfonso a son, Sancho, one of whose descendants later married the Earl of Cambridge," the Economist said.

April 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


How 'Chappaquiddick' Distorts a Tragedy (Neal Gabler, April 6, 2018, NY Times)

Many scenes cross from dramatic interpretation to outright character assassination. In this version, the Kennedy character leaves Kopechne to die as she gasps for air, and then, with the aid of his brothers' old advisers, cooks up a scheme to salvage his presidential ambitions. A more callow, cunning, cowardly and self-interested yet moronic figure you couldn't find. His first words after the accident are: "I'm not going to be president." [...]

Contrary to the film's implications, Mr. Kennedy immediately and forever after felt deep remorse and responsibility for the accident; it haunted him. 

Chappaquiddick: No Profile in Kennedy Courage (SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES, Aug. 26, 2009, ABC News)

In the summer of 1969, consiglieres of the former John F. Kennedy administration -- Robert McNamara, Arthur Schlesinger and Ted Sorensen, among others -- convened in Hyannis Port, Mass., to write the apology that would save the young Sen. Ted Kennedy from himself.

Only days before, Kennedy had left the scene of a fatal car crash on the small island of Chappaquiddick on Martha's Vineyard, taking the life of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

The second-term senator waited nearly 10 hours to report the accident and offered virtually no explanation other than he "panicked."

"In those conclaves a speech, not unlike the 'Checkers' speech, was crafted for him to give on TV, throwing himself on the compassion of the American people to write and call in to keep him on the ticket," said Edward Klein, author of the new book, "Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died."

"All of the Kennedy acolytes were there," Klein told ABCNews.com. "His wife Joan was not allowed downstairs. They didn't want her to hear it."

The details of the July 19 accident were salacious: a Regatta Weekend reunion party at a friend's cottage with all married men (except one) and six women -- the "boiler room girls" -- who had worked together on Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.

After a day of sailing and heavy drinking, Kennedy drove his black Oldsmobile sedan off a small wooden bridge into Poucho Pond, trapping Kopechne in seven feet of water.

Edward Moore Kennedy -- only 38 and up for re-election the following year-- had violated one of the cardinal rules in politics: "Never get caught with a dead girl or a live boy."

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Exclusive: Trump adviser played key role in pursuit of possible Clinton emails from dark web before election (Jenna McLaughlin, Jim Sciutto and Carl Bernstein, 4/06/18, CNN)

Joseph Schmitz approached the FBI and other government agencies about material a client of his had discovered that Schmitz believed might have been Clinton's missing 30,000 emails from her private e-mail server, sources say. The material was never verified, and sources say they ultimately believed it was fake.

His push is the latest example of Trump advisers who were mixed up in efforts to find dirt on Clinton during the presidential campaign. Schmitz was one of the first people Trump named to his campaign's national security and foreign policy team. The team, showcased in a March 2016 photo, was thrown together early in Trump's successful run as he faced mounting pressure to prove his ability to pull in high-level advisers who could help prepare him for the White House.

Another adviser pictured in the photo, Trump's foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, was told by a Kremlin-connected professor that the Russian government had damaging material on Clinton. Six weeks later, Donald Trump Jr. got a message from a business associate offering similar information, leading to the Trump Tower meeting that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Federal judge upholds Mass. assault weapons ban (Maria Cramer,  APRIL 06, 2018, Boston Globe)

In his ruling, US District Judge William Young wrote the state's two-decade-old ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines do not violate the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.

"The AR-15 and its analogs, along with large capacity magazines, are simply not weapons within the original meaning of the individual constitutional right to 'bear Arms,' " Young wrote in a 47-page ruling. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


The Conscience of Ann Coulter: Donald Trump promised her a wall. She wants to know where it is. (CHARLES SYKES, 4/05/18, Weekly Standard)
Give her credit: Ann Coulter is a woman of strong convictions. Those convictions may be wrongheaded, bizarre, and even bigoted, but she knows what she believes and is willing to hold Donald Trump accountable. Unless he builds the wall (and not just some candy-ass fence) she's done with him--ready to turn on him with the white hot bitterness of the true believer who suddenly awakes to betrayal.

It's easy to mock Coulter, who wrote a book titled In Trump We Trust, for ever thinking she could trust Trump (and I will probably go on doing so), but at least something mattered to her. Unlike the cultists for whom Trump can do no wrong, and who will not hold him to any of his promises as long as he fights the right enemies, Coulter's politics have a very clear standard. "We have been betrayed over and over and over with presidents promising to do something about immigration," she explained to the New York Times's Frank Bruni. "If he played us for suckers, oh, you will not see rage like you have seen."

Trump does seem worried. After a few days pretending that he hadn't really been rolled on the border wall (Congress allocated only $1.6 billion of the $25 billion he had requested in the budget passed last month), Trump has ramped up his anti-immigrant rhetoric, killed the deal to regularize the status of so-called "dreamers," lashed out at Mexico, and authorized sending the National Guard to patrol the border.

Long gone are the days when he mused aloud about a "bill of love." Now he's reportedly listening intently to advice from a menagerie of misfit toys, including cable talking heads like Sean Hannity and immigration hardliner Lou Dobbs. And Ann is... unhappy. (By her account, they engaged in an "obscenity laced" shouting match in the Oval Office over his "betrayals.")

The message of the hardliners is simple: If he goes all squishy on immigration, he will lose his base. 

And the racists are his base.
Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


E.P.A. Officials Sidelined After Questioning Scott Pruitt (ERIC LIPTON, KENNETH P. VOGEL and LISA FRIEDMAN, APRIL 5, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Pruitt, who often ran late, wanted to use the lights and sirens to expedite local trips in Washington to the airport or to dinner, including at least one trip to Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant that he frequented. Such use was not consistent with agency policy, but Mr. Weese was unsuccessful in stopping it.

The agency said Mr. Pruitt played no role in deciding when the sirens and lights would be used. "The security detail for the past 15 years has used them in very limited fashion," Mr. Wilcox said.

Mr. Weese was also reluctant to sign off on requests for Mr. Pruitt to travel in first class based on security concerns. Mr. Allen, Mr. Chmielewski and Mr. Reeder, too, questioned the use of taxpayer money to pay for first-class airfare. Only after Mr. Weese was replaced by Mr. Perrotta did Mr. Pruitt regularly fly first class, agency staff members said.

There were also questions raised about a request that Mr. Pruitt be issued a bulletproof sport utility vehicle with so-called run flat tires, which keep a vehicle moving even when sustaining gunfire. And they challenged Mr. Pruitt's expanded security detail of approximately 20 members, three times the size of his predecessor's. Unlike his most recent counterpart under Mr. Obama, Gina McCarthy, Mr. Pruitt has security officials follow him wherever he travels, and also stay on duty overnight.

"He wanted to be treated like he was the president," said David Schnare, a prominent conservative lawyer and climate change skeptic, who served on the Trump administration transition team at the E.P.A., after an earlier 30-year stint at the agency that started in the late 1970s.

Mr. Wilcox, the agency spokesman, said the larger security team was justified, given threats against Mr. Pruitt. "They run the variety of direct death threats -- 'I'm going to put a bullet in your brain' -- to implied threats -- 'If you don't classify this particular chemical in this particular way, I'm going to hurt you.'"

There was a particularly intense dispute over a request to construct a special security booth in Mr. Pruitt's office so he could have confidential conversations without being overheard by career agency employees, according to interviews and public documents first reported by The Washington Post. [...]

The various challenges to Mr. Pruitt's spending and security priorities did not sit well with him, according to the people who worked with or for the E.P.A., and soon the offending aides were removed.

Mr. Allen, a decorated 30-year retired Army officer, was transferred to a different office within the E.P.A., where he mostly works alone, according to two agency officials, one of whom described the setup as "an unmarked grave." [...]

William K. Reilly, who led the E.P.A. under President George Bush, called Mr. Pruitt a "third-rate ideologue" and said he was aware of staff members who had been sidelined at the agency for raising questions about Mr. Pruitt's spending.

"I think he's well beyond his sell-by date," Mr. Reilly said. "Any administration but this one would have discharged him long ago."

Whereas Donald wants to make him AG....

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Ben Sasse says if Trump is 'even half-serious' on tariffs, his plan is 'nuts' (Catherine Garcia, April 5, 2018, The Week)

In a statement Thursday night, Sasse said he hopes Trump is "just blowing off steam again, but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts." In justifying the tariffs, Trump has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, and Sasse said that while "China is guilty of many things," Trump has "no actual plan to win" a trade war. "He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire," Sasse continued. "Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this." 

Don't bet on it.
Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


New Disclosures On Roger Stone's Ties To Assange (Cody Fenwick, April 6, 2018, AlterNet)

A new report this week from the Wall Street Journal found that Stone sent an email to his associate Sam Nunberg on Aug. 4, 2016, saying that said he had had dinner with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange the previous night. CNN reports that, on that same day, Stone went on the fringe online right-wing show InfoWars and predicted that Assange had major evidence of wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation.

"Let's remember that their defense to all the Clinton Foundation scandals is not that 'we didn't do,' but 'you have no proof, yes, but you have no proof,'" Stone said. "I think Julian Assange has that proof and I think he is going to furnish it for the American people."

The next day, he praised Assange on Twitter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Mueller probe tracking down Trump business partners, with Cohen a focus of queries (KEVIN G. HALL, BEN WIEDER AND GREG GORDON, April 06, 2018, McClatchy)

Armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller's team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate, who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump's effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings.

Investigators were particularly interested in interactions involving Michael D. Cohen, Trump's longtime personal attorney and a former Trump Organization employee. Among other things, Cohen was involved in business deals secured or sought by the Trump Organization in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

The move to question business associates of the president adds a significant new element to the Mueller investigation, which began by probing whether the Trump campaign and Russia colluded in an effort to get Trump elected but has branched far beyond that.

"I was in the Olive Oil business with his father but that was a long time ago."

Mueller (Quietly) Keeps Turning Up the Heat (Cristian Farias, 4/06/18, New York)

The filing is long but well worth the read, if only to get a better sense of Mueller's case-in-chief. Its biggest surprise, though, was an attachment from none other than Rod Rosenstein, Mueller's direct supervisor. It turns out that last August, three months into Mueller's appointment, the deputy attorney general -- who for purposes of the Russia probe serves as the acting attorney general because Jeff Sessions is recused -- sent a memorandum to the special counsel outlining the scope of his authority. A big chunk of it is classified, so we may never know, or won't know for some time, what the memo says. But the part that is public states unequivocally that Mueller has a green light to investigate whether Manafort "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian officials" in the run-up to 2016, and whether he engaged in wrongdoing stemming from his lobbying work with Russian-backed political actors in Ukraine.

In criminal law, that disclosure provides a rough outline of what's known as the theory of the case -- the set of facts and legal authority to support a prosecution. But what's remarkable about it is that, as presented by Dreeben and Mueller's office, this doesn't at all come across as some wild theory being pursued by an overzealous, overreaching prosecutor. If these filings tell us anything, it is that Mueller is running a tight ship and that he's keeping in close contact with Rosenstein to make sure that everything is being done by the book and according to law and departmental procedures. "For additional matters that otherwise may have arisen or may arise directly from the investigation, you should consult my office for a determination of whether such matters should be within the scope of your authority," Rosenstein tells Mueller in the August memo.

That was a long seven months ago. Public reporting since, that federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization and are now going after Russian oligarchs, to name just two developments, indicates that there may be other such written exchanges -- or "non-public dialogue," as Dreeben characterizes it -- between Rosenstein and his appointee that haven't seen the light of day. Think of them as two longtime federal prosecutors talking shop about what is or isn't appropriate to investigate. If there's someone in the federal law enforcement apparatus who knows a little bit about propriety, it's these two.

Flowing from this same set of authorities -- which include direct oversight from Rod Rosenstein, the person Mueller consults with for all "significant events" in the Russia probe -- is the special counsel's growing interest in sitting down with Trump face-to-face. As the Washington Post reported late Tuesday, lawyers for the president have been informed that their client is a "subject" in the growing inquiry, and Mueller may even release a report on whether the president tried to thwart his or the FBI's investigative efforts. That Trump is considered a subject is simply prosecutor-speak for the fact that Trump is a person of interest in an ongoing law enforcement matter -- he's more than just a witness to potential crimes and less than a full-blown target of a criminal investigation.

Subjects, who fall somewhere in the middle between witnesses and targets, are attractive to prosecutors because they know a lot about the incidents being investigated. And with many open questions about what Trump knew or his state of mind during key incidents under the microscope -- Was he aware Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and his son met with Russians during the campaign? Did he know Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired James Comey? -- it stands to reason that Mueller may want to get direct answers to those simple, yes-or-no questions. An affirmative or a negative to whether, say, Roger Stone gave Trump a heads-up about a soon-to-drop WikiLeaks trove damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign could be invaluable to federal investigators. (This tentacle of the Mueller inquiry remains a closely guarded secret.)

But even such basic questions could prove disastrous for the president, who isn't exactly a model of truthfulness or modesty when placed under oath. He may be damned whether he claims he did or didn't know about these things: Any prosecutor worth his salt, and Mueller is one, would be ready to put a document in front of him or someone else's testimony to contradict him or refresh his faulty recollection.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Trump Denies Knowing of Any Hush Money Paid to Porn Actress (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, APRIL 5, 2018, NY Times)

The president's comments on Thursday could create a predicament for him and his legal team. Ms. Clifford's case is based on the notion that the confidentiality agreement is invalid because Mr. Trump was not a party to it. By saying he was not aware of the agreement, Mr. Trump appeared to confirm that argument, which would mean neither party is legally bound by it, thus potentially paving the way for Ms. Clifford to break her silence without consequences.

Ms. Clifford's pugnacious lawyer, Michael J. Avenatti, quickly issued a statement to respond to Mr. Trump's claim. He said that the president's professed ignorance of the payment would improve his client's case, suggesting that he would use legal discovery to expose the back and forth around the payment.

"Our case just got that much better," Mr. Avenatti said in the statement. "We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump's feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130,000 as he stated on Air Force One."

"As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath," he added.

Later, Mr. Avenatti appeared to exult on Twitter about what he suggested were undisciplined comments by Mr. Trump that would give Ms. Clifford the upper hand in the legal dispute.

"Good (actually GREAT) things come to those who wait!!!" Mr. Avenatti wrote. "The strength of our case just went up exponentially. You can't have an agreement when one party claims to know nothing about it. #nodiscipline."

April 5, 2018

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Nearly 12 million people enrolled in 2018 health coverage under the ACA (Amy Goldstein April 3, 2018, Washington Post)

A total of 11.8 million Americans signed up for Affordable Care Act health insurance for 2018, a drop of just 400,000 from the previous year despite widespread predictions that enrollment would plummet amid political and insurance industry turbulence surrounding the law.

The final figures, released Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, show that the proportion of first-time customers for this year dipped slightly, from 31 percent to 27 percent, while the high proportion qualifying for government subsidies that help consumers afford their insurance premiums stayed level at 83 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


An airing of grievances: Trump spends days issuing a torrent of complaints against foes (Jenna Johnson, April 4, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump's venting in recent days has seemed excessive, even for him. His grievances have come in torrents, littered with inaccuracies he continues to state as facts. The pattern continued Wednesday morning, as he tweeted about the trade fight with China and "very weak" border security laws.

It started Saturday morning as he lashed out on Twitter at the "Fake Washington Post," the "Failing New York Times" and the governor of California while being driven to one of his golf courses in Florida. It continued on Easter, as he complained that Mexico was not doing enough to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States or a caravan of migrants from Honduras. He complained the border is protected by "ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws" and said Republicans needed to pass "tough laws."

He kept going Monday morning, as he tweeted about the Postal Service rates paid by Amazon.com -- which was founded by Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post -- and about his own "Department of 'Justice.' " Minutes later, at the White House Easter Egg Roll, Trump stood between his stoic wife and a bespectacled Easter Bunny -- whose face was frozen in an open-mouthed stare -- and bragged to a crowd of children about increasing military spending to $700 billion, one of the few bright points for him in the recently passed spending bill.

That night on Twitter, Trump called the country's immigration laws an "Obama joke" and accused Democrats of needlessly delaying his nominations. The next morning, he falsely accused CNN of requiring its employees to proclaim they are "totally anti-Trump" and labeled CNN chief Jeff Zucker as "little" while misspelling his name. He bragged that his approval rating "is higher than Cheatin' Obama at the same time" in his tenure; the White House has yet to explain what that nickname meant. He again lashed out at Amazon and accused federal postal workers of not having a clue.

Trump repeated many of those same points Tuesday afternoon as his guests waited for him to finish so they could eat lunch.

He mentioned the "caravan" 10 times, called the North American Free Trade Agreement "a cash cow" for Mexico and took swipes at both Obama and "crooked Hillary Clinton." He announced that he plans to send members of the military to the southern border, an apparent surprise to many Pentagon officials. It took the White House six hours to compose an explanation and announce that the administration plans to mobilize the National Guard.

"We're going to be doing some things militarily," Trump said while answering the question about the stock market and the brewing trade war with China. "Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step."

White House staffers tried a second time to lead reporters out of the room, but the president latched onto a question about the caravan. They tried a third time, but the president responded to a question related to his foreign guests. A fourth time, and he responded to a question about Russia's president: "Do you want Vladimir Putin to come to the White House, sir?"

"Ideally, we want to be able to get along with Russia," Trump said, without acknowledging the long-standing threat Russia poses to the Baltic countries represented by his guests.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Wage growth slows across the country (Steve LeVine, 4/05/18, Axios)

By the numbers: Wages should be rising an average of 3%-4% given the tightness of the job market, Chamberlain says.

According to official data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage growth was a lower 2.6% in February.

Yes, but: Glassdoor data -- based on a survey of 100,000 salaries posted by the jobs site every month -- show even lower growth, shrinking to just 1% last month.

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Planned Parenthood president claims she felt bribed by Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner (Veronica Stracqualursi, April 4, 2018, CNN)

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards accused Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner of making an offer that felt like a "bribe" during a meeting back in January 2017.

Richards, who is planning on stepping down as president in 2018, reveals in her new book that the President's daughter and son-in-law offered her an increase in federal funding for Planned Parenthood in exchange for its agreement to stop providing abortion services, according to People magazine.

Isn't it supposed to be about health?

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Israel faces historic decision as new population figures emerge (Yossi Beilin April 3, 2018, Al Monitor)

The Israeli political right was caught off guard by the surprising official figures presented on March 26 at the Knesset by a representative of the Civil Administration, the army unit coordinating the Israeli government's activities in the occupied territories. The representative indicated that the number of Jews and Arabs living under Israeli control in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean had reached parity at 6.5 million for each side.

Over the years, the Zionist left kept warning about the prospect of a Jewish minority in Israel controlling a Palestinian majority, with only a small number of them enjoying full civil rights. Yet the Israeli right kept dismissing these warnings. It countered with imaginary data showing that some 3 million Palestinians live in Israel and the occupied territories, compared with 6.5 million Jews. However, from the moment the true numbers were communicated to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with the new data last week by the Israel Defense Forces, the leadership of the political right can no longer argue that political bias is skewing the figures. It is now forced to confront the figures.

The updated population data have once again placed the inherent tension between Israel's Jewish and democratic nature in the forefront of the political arena.

...was Ariel Sharon's stroke.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM



On the third and final day of recording Miles Davis' transitional album Miles in the Sky, Herbie Hancock walked into Columbia Studio B on East 52nd Street in New York to find his instrument missing. A piano prodigy since age 11, Hancock scanned the room -- no keyboards. Confused, he turned to Davis, his mentor and band leader. "What do you want me to play?"

Davis nodded at a squat, almost frail-looking set of keys that were a far cry from the commanding presence of a Steinway -- instead, they belonged to a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Hancock thought, "You want me to play that toy?" But he'd been working with Davis since May 1963, almost five years to the day prior to the Miles in the Sky sessions, May 15-17, 1968. He trusted the man. And he'd heard other pianists talk about the Rhodes as a different instrument entirely from a standard piano. In fact, in the decades to come, that toy came to form an integral part of Hancock's pioneering blend of jazz, electro, funk and classical music.

It was the experimental jazz band leader Sun Ra who first used the electric piano, in 1954. Davis became aware of the instrument's potential for jazz compositions when Josef Zawinul played the Wurlitzer in 1966 for the Cannonball Adderley Quartet. Previously, the Wurlitzer's soulful electronic sustain was favored by gospel musicians, and later by R&B titans like Ray Charles.

Back in Studio B, Hancock tentatively approached the Fender Rhodes and played a chord. "Much to my surprise, I liked the sound," he said later in an interview with Dutch music writer Paul Tingen. "It sounded beautiful, with a really warm, bell-like sound."

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Shouldn't Police at Home Exhibit at Least as Much Discipline as Soldiers at War? (DAVID FRENCH, April 4, 2018, National Review)

Over the past three years, as the issue of police shootings has come to periodically dominate American discourse, I've noticed a disturbing pattern. While many controversial police shootings are lawful and justifiable, many others would be surprising to see in a war zone, much less in the streets of America's cities. [...]

First, it's important to understand that the mission must come before personal safety. When you sign up to wear the uniform, you're tacitly acknowledging as much. This doesn't mean you're required to be reckless with your own life, of course: Prudence and self-protection still matter. But they come behind the purpose of the police force itself. If you have any doubt about this fact, ask the Broward County Sheriff's office. The armed deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School certainly succeeded in protecting himself during Nikolas Cruz's massacre. But he failed to do his job, placing his own safety above the safety of the innocent kids he was sworn to protect, and he rightly had to face the consequences afterward.

Second, it's important to fully understand the mission. When your job is to preserve the safety, security, and -- crucially -- liberty of a community, each individual encounter is conducted against the backdrop of those broader, over-arching goals. So, a call to pursue a suspected vandal and trespasser (like in the Clark case) presents a multi-faceted challenge: Apprehend the suspect, protect his civil liberties, understand the community you're policing, and protect the liberties and security of those others who live there, as well. Every confrontation is potentially dangerous, sure, but every confrontation is also complicated by the multifaceted balancing act we ask of our cops. One may argue that we ask too much of our cops, but I don't think so; younger soldiers perform the same balancing act in more dangerous circumstances for less pay every day.

Third, the prudent rules of engagement should vary by the nature of the encounter. As I wrote in my initial piece about the Clark shooting, situational awareness demands different kinds of risk tolerance. Pursuit of an armed robber is different from pursuit of a vandal, and both are dramatically different from rolling up on an actual firefight, like the incident that claimed the life of a Sacramento sheriff's deputy in 2017. While each situation can potentially turn deadly, it's a simple fact that some kinds of encounters are more fraught with peril than others, and greater inherent peril demands greater latitude for police use of force.

Fourth, fear must be subject to reason. Public defenses of police shootings tend to revolve around questions of fear. Officers consistently escape conviction, prosecution, and sometimes even discipline altogether because they are able to effectively articulate why they were afraid for their lives the moment they fired the fateful shot. The legal standard to escape conviction, however, is that they must prove not just that they were afraid but also that their fear was "reasonable." Articulating reasons for your fear is not the same thing as articulating "reasonable fear."

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM

GRACE UNBIDDEN (profanity alert):

A Gift of Grace to the United States: Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr., 50 years after his assassination (Lance Morrow, April 2, 2018, City Journal)

I admired Martin Luther King as much as I admired any American in the twentieth century. I felt--still do--a reverence for him. Charisma is Greek for "a gift of grace." King was a gift of grace to the United States--a country that may have been unworthy of the gift, or else unable to understand it. Toward the end of his life, blacks had given up--a bit--on King and his ways. With amiable humor, they called him "De Lawd." Travis referred to him that way. Some even used the lethal term, "Uncle Tom." The Nobel Prize--a suspect apotheosis, bestowed by Whitey--subtly discredited him in contrast with black firebrands (H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael) to whom satyagraha was the wrong idea: they meant to take the passive out of passive resistance. King was getting to be passé-- your father's station wagon.

Few Americans have shown more courage than the civil rights workers in the South in the early 1960s: the Freedom Riders and others, those working for voter registration and access to public accommodations. One night in the summer of 1964, I was on a late shift at the old Washington Star. A long-distance call came in to the city desk from Sunflower County, Mississippi. I heard a frightened young voice coming from a house way out in the dark Mississippi countryside--a civil rights worker who told me that she just wanted someone to know that she was out there in the middle of the night and scared to death, and that now and then she heard a pickup truck. We talked for a long time. Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman had disappeared a few weeks earlier from Philadelphia, Mississippi. Their bodies would be found in the earthen dam where Klansmen buried them. 

The most conspicuous and vulnerable of them all was Martin Luther King. He saw it coming ("I may not get there with you"), but he never stopped. His gift to the country, apart from the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, was his miraculous example of grace and courage. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 AM


'You Hate America!': How 'the Caravan' Story Exploded on the Right (JEREMY W. PETERS, APRIL 4, 2018, NY Times)

It was the kind of story destined to take a dark turn through the conservative news media and grab President Trump's attention: A vast horde of migrants was making its way through Mexico toward the United States, and no one was stopping them.

"Mysterious group deploys 'caravan' of illegal aliens headed for U.S. border," warned Frontpage Mag, a site run by David Horowitz, a conservative commentator.

The Gateway Pundit, a website that was most recently in the news for spreading conspiracies about the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., suggested the real reason the migrants were trying to enter the United States was to collect social welfare benefits.

And as the president often does when immigration is at issue, he saw a reason for Americans to be afraid. "Getting more dangerous. 'Caravans' coming," a Twitter post from Mr. Trump read.

The story of "the caravan" followed an arc similar to many events -- whether real, embellished or entirely imagined -- involving refugees and migrants that have roused intense suspicion and outrage on the right. The coverage tends to play on the fears that hiding among mass groups of immigrants are many criminals, vectors of disease and agents of terror. And often the president, who announced his candidacy by blaming Mexico for sending rapists and drug dealers into the United States, acts as an accelerant to the hysteria.

"The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 AM


A Trail of 'Receipts' That Dogs the President (Virginia Heffernan, 4/04/18,  the Los Angeles Times)

Access Hollywood kept receipts. Long ago, Trump's desperate crowing about crotch-grabbing surfaced in audio and video. His weak denials since then mean nothing. The recording is a receipt.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., kept receipts. When Trump's waning Chief of Staff John F. Kelly conjured some lies a year ago about Wilson's remarks at the 2015 dedication of a new FBI building, her allies presented a video of her remarks that made Kelly look like a fabulist.

Colbie Holderness kept receipts. Her cache includes a memento related to her allegation that Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary, punched her in the face in 2005 while they were married. Trump had kept Porter on staff in spite of FBI warnings about his violent history, then Holderness submitted into evidence a photo of herself with a black eye. Porter's effort to extenuate the receipt -- "outrageous allegations," etc. etc.-- didn't help. He was fired.

Karen McDougal kept receipts. The former Playboy model's handwritten notes chronicle an alleged affair in 2006. These non-coy notes -- "we got naked + had sex" -- were published in The New Yorker. A White House rebuttal -- "more fake news" -- crashed on the shoals of receipts.

Stormy Daniels kept receipts. The adult-film actress has a copy of the nondisclosure agreement she signed, and Trump didn't, requiring her to keep silent about her alleged Trump tryst. This week the president's lawyer's lawyer finally denied Trump even knew about the contract. Legal experts, including former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, suggest the denial might void the contract and liberate Daniels to reveal more "material" she has hinted she has. Photos? Videos? In any case, receipts.

In the broader Trump circle -- the Russia wing -- a Nastya Rybka, a Belarussian escort, also kept receipts, including video footage apparently made while she was on a yacht with Sergei Prikhodko, Russia's deputy prime minister, and Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska. (Deripaska is former employer and current creditor to Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman; the video was posted by Russian dissident Aleksei Navalny.) Now Rybka claims to have audio receipts that show Russian meddling in the U.S. election. She's seeking asylum in the U.S. in return for telling all. Who knows if she has the goods, but Rybka's receipts are worth watching for.

Even Tiffany Trump, the president's younger daughter, has submitted a receipt. It's a small one, to be sure, but last week, she "liked" an Instagram image that showed a demonstrator with a sign that read, "Next Massacre Will Be the GOP in the Midterm Elections." It may be a record in the public square of her dissent from her father's party. And maybe from her father.

Notice anything consistent about these receipts? For the most part, they were kept by women.

...the b****es set him up!

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 AM


Zinke Rolls Over on National Park Fee Hikes (J. Weston Phippen, Apr 4, 2018, Outside)

Conservatives, liberals, 100,000 outraged public commenters--the interior secretary had trouble getting anyone behind his plan

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 AM


Jordan Peterson on Adam and Eve (Christopher Kaczor, April 4th, 2018, Public Discourse)

Perhaps the most important stories shaping Peterson's thought are those that are most controversial on the literal level: the first chapters of Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth in a chaotic and formless darkness. God says, "Let there be light." On Peterson's view, this truthful speech brings order out of the dark, formless chaos. Because they are made in the image of God, man and woman can also create order from chaos by the free choice of speaking and living the truth.

According to Peterson, the story of Adam and Eve contains enduring wisdom about the human condition. Why is the serpent in the garden? Chaos and order are omnipresent in human experience. Human life is unsustainable in pure chaos, but it is also stifled in pure order. The serpent represents the chaos in the otherwise orderly garden. Even if all the snakes could be banished from the garden, the snake of conflict between humans remains a possibility. And even if inter-human conflict could be eradicated, the snake within each person remains. Peterson's view of the human person is shaped by Alexander Solzhenitsyn's insight that "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either--but right through every human heart." For this reason, Peterson notes, "A serpent, metaphorically speaking, will inevitably appear." The lesson he draws is that it is better to make one's children strong and competent than to attempt in vain to protect them from all snakes. To protect loved ones from all dangers is to make them like infants, depriving them of what could make them strong.

The serpent tempts the original parents to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, an attempt to have complete understanding. As Peterson says in his first book, Maps of Meaning, "The presumption of absolute knowledge, which is the cardinal sin of the rational spirit, is therefore prima facie equivalent to rejection of the hero--to rejection of Christ, of the Word of God, of the (divine) process that mediates between order and chaos." Peterson cites Lynne A. Isbell's The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent: Why We See So Well in which she argues that both the snake and the fruit are associated in our evolutionary past with increased vision and increased self-consciousness.

Once Adam and Eve eat the fruit, "the eyes of both [are] opened," and they become self-conscious. They realize that they are naked, unprotected, and vulnerable. They realize how they can be hurt, how they will die, and how anyone like them is also vulnerable to death and suffering. With awareness of human vulnerability, the human choice of malevolence becomes possible. 

God became Man in order to experience that human vulnerability.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 AM


Republicans warned of 'blue wave' after liberal wins Wisconsin court race (Associated Press,  Apr.04.2018)

Liberal judge Rebecca Dallet's runaway victory in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race cheered Democrats eager for more evidence their party is ready for a winning fall in midterm elections.

And Dallet's hammering of conservative judge Michael Screnock on Tuesday prodded Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who had endorsed Screnock, to warn his fellow Republicans that more losses could be coming.

"Tonight's results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI," Walker, who is up for re-election in November, tweeted.

April 4, 2018

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Judge skewers Manafort's civil case challenging Mueller's powers (Sarah N. Lynch, 4/04/18, Reuters) 

"I don't really understand what is left of your case," U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said to Kevin Downing, Manafort's attorney, after peppering him with a lengthy series of questions.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Why Silicon Valley is obsessed with this $95 pair of sneakers (Jeanette Settembre, 4/04/18, Moneyish)
The kicks are among "the comfortable walking shoes for travel," according to Conde Nast Traveler, which raves that they're supersoft and made to feel like you're "walking on a cloud." They're crafted entirely from sustainable New Zealand merino wool, cooling eucalyptus fiber and flexible rubber; AllBirds' site says they're "naturally soft, cozy all over, and (fit) your every move." The brand suggests customers wear them sans socks to truly absorb their cooling properties.

AllBirds has sold one pair of Wool Runners shoes per second since its March debut, according to Business Insider. Now, the brand is partnering with Nordstrom for a pop-up as part of the Seattle-based retailer's effort to incorporate smaller, new startups in its stores.

The shoes -- available for men and women in gray, neutral, millennial pink, red, lavender and mint -- will be on sale through May 20 while supplies last.

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


"Close to tears, he left at the intermission": how Stanley Kubrick upset Arthur C Clarke:  The clash of wills behind 2001: a Space Odyssey reminds me that scientific education, not mystery, was always closest to my friend's heart. (MICHAEL MOORCOCK, 4/04/18, New Statesman) 

There are several published accounts of how the 1968 film 2001: a Space ­Odyssey came into being. I understood from Arthur that he was somewhat frustrated by the erratic schedule of its director, Stanley Kubrick. Consequently, the novel, which they were supposed to write before the film appeared, came out after the initial release date. But in the main he seemed happy with the collaboration, even up to the time that rough cuts were being shown. He was, I know, afraid that what with Kubrick's inability to settle down and collaborate on the novel, with the result that the book was due to come out after the cinematic release, it might look like a novelisation of the film rather than an ­original work.

Based primarily on his short story "The Sentinel", together with other published fact and fiction, the film was very much a joint effort, although Arthur was overly modest about his contribution. For his part, Kubrick seemed unable to come up with an ending that suited him. When I visited the set, the film was already about two years behind schedule and well over budget. I saw several alternative finale scenes constructed that were later abandoned. In one version, the monolith turned out to be some kind of alien spaceship. I also knew something that I don't think Arthur ever did: Kubrick was at some point dissatisfied with the collaboration, approaching other writers (including J G Ballard and myself) to work on the film. He knew neither Ballard nor me personally. We refused for several reasons. I felt it would be disloyal to accept.

I guessed the problem was a difference in personality. Arthur was a scientific educator. Explanations were his forte. He was uncomfortable with most forms of ambiguity. Kubrick, on the other hand, was an intuitive director, inclined to leave interpretation to the audience. These differences were barely acknowledged. Neither did Kubrick tell Arthur of his concerns regarding the final version. Where, thanks to Arthur, the film was heavy with voice-over explication and clarifications of scenes, Kubrick wanted the story to be told almost entirely visually.

Without consulting or confronting his co-creator, Kubrick cut a huge amount of Arthur's voice-over explanation during the final edit. This decision probably contributed significantly to the film's success but Arthur was unprepared for it. When he addressed MGM executives at a dinner in his honour before the premiere, he spoke warmly of Kubrick, declaring that there had been no serious disagreements between them in all the years they had worked together, but he had yet to see the final cut.

My own guess at the time was that Kubrick wasn't at ease with any proposed resolution but had nothing better to offer in place of his co-writer's "Star Child" ending. We know now that the long final sequence, offered without explanation, was probably what helped turn the film into the success it became, but the rather unresponsive expressions on the faces of the MGM executives whom Arthur had addressed in his speech showed that they were by no means convinced they had a winner.

What had impressed me on my visit to the set was the dedicated enthusiasm of the Nasa advisers, who had offices at the studios. You could walk into a room and find a fully equipped spacesuit hanging behind the door. There were star-charts and diagrams on the walls; exploded drawings, models, mock-ups and pictures of spaceships and equipment. I saw Roy Carnon's paintings of Jupiter and large sketches of scenes that would soon become every filmgoer's idea of what the future in space would look like. The main set was dominated by a huge, fully working centrifuge, built at vast cost by Vickers-Armstrongs, the British engineering firm. Every technician I met talked about the project with such commitment that I was soon infected by the conviction that we really were preparing an expedition to Jupiter. Computer-generated imagery did not yet exist, and so a great deal had to be built or painted close to full size.

With almost no interest in space exploration, I nonetheless found myself excited by the atmosphere. Yet I did wonder if all the "authenticity" I saw around me might not be overwhelming. Could Kubrick's singular imagination flourish in this atmosphere? Was that why it was taking so long to complete 2001 and the film was so heavily over budget? I had a slightly uncomfortable feeling that the considerable investment in establishing the reality of interplanetary space travel might produce a film more documentary than fiction.

As it turned out, Arthur did not get to see the completed film until the US private premiere. He was shocked by the transformation. Almost every element of explanation had been removed. Reams of voice-over narration had been cut. Far from being a pseudo-documentary, the film was now elusive, ambiguous and thoroughly unclear.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


A Day of Whiplash in the US's Syria Policy (CAROLINE HOUCK, APRIL 3, 2018, Defense One)

Trump, hosting three visiting Baltic heads-of-state at the White House, reiterated his desire to withdraw from Syria, three and a half years after the U.S. began fighting the Islamic State there.

"I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation," he said.

Simultaneously at the U.S. Institute of Peace, less than a mile away from that White House podium as the crow flies, top military and diplomatic leaders made the case for continuing the U.S. military mission against ISIS in Syria, a longer presence in Iraq, and significant non-military funding for stability operations and reconstruction for things like restarting electricity services and de-mining the booby-trapped rubble Iraqi and Syrian cities that were leveled in some part by American air strikes.

First among their concerns is the fact that ISIS still maintains a foothold in Syria.

"In Iraq I think we're in a pretty good place security-wise... the situation in Syria is a little bit different,"  said Gen. Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Central Command. "Well over 90 percent of the caliphate that they controlled, particularly in the north and eastern portions of the country, has been liberated. But there still are some areas where they are present and that we will continue to have to operate on."

The top diplomat leading America's counter-ISIS fight, State Department special envoy Brett McGurk, echoed that warning.

"I think we're ahead of where we thought we would be at this time, as Gen. Votel said, but we're not finished," he said. "And we have to work through some very difficult issues as we speak."

The 2,000 or so troops the Pentagon acknowledges it has in Syria have a role in solving those issues, Votel said.

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Mueller Finally Unmasked the Trump Campaign's Secret Russian Operative (John R. Schindler, 04/02/18, NY Observer)

Recent developments demonstrate that GRU played a clandestine role in the election of Donald Trump. Last week, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's team, which is investigating the White House's Kremlin connections, released a court filing relating to the imminent sentencing of Alex van der Zwaan, a London attorney who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates and a shadowy figure termed "Person A." Per the court filing:

That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel's Office assess that Person A has ties to Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel's Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with GRU.

To anyone acquainted with the Trump investigation, Person A is obviously Konstantin Kilimnik, a close friend and protégé of Paul Manafort (Trump's campaign manager in mid-2016), who has admitted he was once a Russian intelligence officer working for GRU. Our media went into overdrive, hailing this as the "most direct line to date" between President Trump's inner circle and the Kremlin. One must ask: Where have they been?

While it's certainly news that Mueller's prosecutors openly called out a barely-concealed Kilimnik for his GRU ties, this fact has been known for years. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/04/21097/In Defense of Originalism (Carson Holloway, lApril 3rd, 2018, Public Discourse)

[I]t does not go too far to say that originalism as an approach to constitutional interpretation is simply a matter of common sense--the approach we would certainly choose if we brought no political predispositions to the interpretive enterprise. This is the lesson of Ilan Wurman's fine study, A Debt Against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism. As his subtitle indicates, Wurman does not attempt a comprehensive account of and defense of originalism--a project that could grow to an enormous size, given the massive amount that has been written on this topic. Instead, he offers a helpfully brief, and an admirably clear and engaging, explanation and defense of originalism--drawing on, popularizing, but in some cases also deepening arguments made by earlier scholars.

Originalism seeks to understand the Constitution in light of its original public meaning. As Wurman shows, this is not a politically motivated choice so much as it is the ordinary way that we would seek to understand the meaning of any written document--and indeed any communication at all. Communication is a public act, and language is a public phenomenon, the means of conveying ideas to others in a shared world of discourse. Thus we ordinarily interpret any utterance in light of the public meaning of the words used in it. Accordingly, when we turn to interpreting a communication from the past, we seek the public meaning of the words during that time period, because that is the meaning we have to assume that the writer or speaker intended and that his listeners or readers would have understood.

Proponents of the living Constitution contend that the Constitution, a document written and ratified in the past, ought to be interpreted in light of contemporary conceptions. That can sound attractive based on the results that some might want to achieve. But if we put those results aside and ask only what is a sensible approach to understanding a document from the past, we know that we must seek the original public meaning and that we will be led into the most ridiculous blunders if we do not. To take one obvious example, if we read a letter from the seventeenth century and find someone referred to as "a gentleman," we will go far wrong if we think that this means he is a nice person--which is what we would mean today. It means rather than he belonged to a particular social class, that he came from a particular kind of family. We would, of course, go even more wrong if we applied a twenty-first-century meaning to a seventeenth-century description of a person as "gay."

If we are trying to interpret--to correctly grasp the meaning of--a document from the past, then originalism is clearly the right tool. Here, however, we are talking about not just any document but about a constitution, which is a kind of law. This raises another question and another difficulty. A law does not just communicate ideas and information to us but purports to exercise authority over us. A law tells us what we must do. And it immediately occurs to anyone--even to children, as parents know all too well--to ask: why should I do what you tell me to do?

This question is raised by the defenders of the living Constitution. As they have famously asked, why should we be governed by the "dead hand of the past?" Although originalism is certainly the founding-era approach to constitutional interpretation, the challenge posed by this question also has deep roots in our history. It was raised by no less a figure than Thomas Jefferson, who held that one generation has no authority to bind future generations. In 1789, Jefferson, in a letter to his friend James Madison, held it to be "self evident" that "'the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;' that the dead have neither powers nor rights over" it, and that "by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independent nation to another."

This Jeffersonian objection might appear decisive. After all, we live in a modern democracy, in which tradition has very little authority. Fortunately, Wurman provides an answer to Jefferson's challenge--an answer coming from no less a modern and American figure than James Madison.

Madison responded to his friend's claim by making an important distinction:

If the earth be the gift of nature to the living, their title can extend to the earth in its natural state only. The improvements made by the dead form a debt against the living, who take the benefit from them. This debt cannot be otherwise discharged than by a proportionate obedience to the will of the Authors of the improvements.

Of course, the political societies we inhabit, and the systems of law on which they are based, are not the gift of nature but "improvements" devised by our predecessors. Therefore, in Madison's view, they have a presumptive claim on our obedience.

This sounds rather Burkean. If Madison is to be taken as a guide--and who can deny his authority?--then a kind of conservative submission to inherited norms as binding on the living is compatible with our modern, democratic, and rights-based regime. Indeed, Wurman notes that Madison's conservatism is more consistent with the Declaration of Independence than is Jefferson's radicalism. After all, the Declaration says that men should cast off traditional authority not because it has no power to bind them at all, but only when necessity compels them to do so.

Once again, Wurman's argument reminds us that originalism--here meaning not just an interpretive approach, but the idea of being bound by the authoritative decisions of past generations--is not so much a politically motivated, partisan choice as it is simple common sense. The living constitutionalist asks: why should we be governed by the dead hand of the past? We may respond: it happens all the time. Being bound by the dead hand of the past is the most ordinary thing in the law, in the most commonplace private matters as in the grandest public ones.

...given that judicial review is anti-Constitutional.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Trump Says Americans Who Don't Want To Befriend Putin Are 'Very Stupid' (Tommy Christopher, April 4, 2018, Shareblue.com)

After thanking the press, Trump answered several more minutes worth of questions, including a lengthy digression about Russia that concluded with Trump saying "If we got along with Russia, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing."

"And just about everybody agrees with that, except very stupid people," Trump added.

Asked whether Vladimir Putin is a "friend or foe," Trump refused to renounce the dictator's friendship.

"We'll find out. I'll let you know," Trump replied.

Aside from his many offenses, Vladimir Putin has most recently carried out a chemical attack on the soil of United States' closest ally, Great Britain. That Trump refuses to denounce Putin as a foe -- while surrounded by other allies -- sends a terrible signal to the world.

That's our badge.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Stream a 144-Hour Discography of Classic Jazz Recordings from Blue Note Records: Miles Davis, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman & More (Open Culture, April 4th, 2018)

There have been many influential jazz record labels throughout the previous century and into the current one, but there is no more recognizable label than Blue Note Records. Blue Note is "unquestionably the most iconic jazz label there has ever been," claims the site Udiscover Music in a post on the "50 Greatest" Blue Note albums. Indeed, "it may well be the most iconic record label of all time... a brand recognized the world over for the 'finest in jazz.'" [...]

Created by Junior Bonner, the Blue Notes Records Discography playlist is not "complete" in that it contains every album the label ever released--an impossible expectation, surely, especially since Blue Note is still going strong. But, with a run time of 144 hours, it more than sufficiently covers the roster of the label's greatest players, including several many of us probably haven't heard before in much depth. Hardcore audiophile record collectors should visit LondonJazzCollector and Jazzdisco.org to get the full Blue Note catalog of every Blue Note artist and release. But lovers of jazz who don't mind digital streaming instead of precious vinyl and shellac will be thrilled with this impressive anthology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Can No Longer Play His Horn, But He's Still Searching for His Sound (ALEX HEIGL March 27, 2018, People)

Charles Mingus supposedly said that his gift for composition came from God, but that his talent on his instrument came from work. You've spoken about music as a kind of quest for you, so I'm interested to see what you make of that quote.

A lot of the people I grew up with in my early teens, we all wanted to be jazz musicians -- but we didn't have the talent. It was a gift. Music is a gift. Anybody can learn music, but it's only a few people who have a gift that are really talented enough -- especially these days -- to make it in this highly competitive world. So it's definitely a gift. However, you have to apply yourself, you have to work at it. I had a gift, but I didn't explore it enough, I feel, and that's why I was always the guy who practiced incessantly. I was always trying to catch up and learn things.

Is that a rare mindset? Do you feel like you were isolated from other musicians in that? The phrase "cross to bear" came up in an interview last year. 

Well, I don't want to put it quite that negatively. It was a cross to bear, but I was happily thrust upon that cross. And it's true, I could never achieve what I wanted to, especially since I had to stop playing some years ago. I felt that I was gaining on the knowledge that I wanted to get; I felt that I was getting there. But in truth, I'm sure that if I got to that place, I would still see another mountain to climb. I feel that there's always more to do. There's some musicians that feel that way, and there's some that don't -- and that's not a criticism. There's some guys that play and they have a natural gift and they don't have to play anymore once they've reached a point of acceptance from themselves or the public. Then they go out and play golf, which is okay. But I never had the luxury of feeling like that, if you could call it a luxury.

Yeah, I don't see you playing a lot of golf.

No, right. [laughs drily]

I know you studied a lot of Eastern religions -- how did those teachings fit into your quest as a musician?

It's all a never-ending quest for knowledge. I'm still learning, every day. I'm still reading stuff every day. One thing that I found out in my life is that there's only one truth, and that truth goes through every religion, every group of people, every color, every race: The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That's it. And no matter where you're raised or where you're from, if you can do that, you got it. And I'm going to paraphrase another quote I heard the other day: Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you. This is the universal truth. You can't deny that. And you know, I've heard people say it should be, "Do unto others before they can do unto you," guys saying, "I've got to make sure I get mine." If somebody feels like they've got to live that way, fine. I'm not going to criticize anybody. I'm just glad that I am where I am. This is what gives me a sense of a real peace.

April 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Racists Are Threatening to Take Over Paganism: The growing presence of racists in American Pagan communities threatens to tear the faith apart. (Sarah Lyons, Apr 2 2018, Vice)

There's a war going on in the American Pagan community. On one side are racists who see gods like Odin and Thor as an embodiment of the supremacy whites have over the rest of the planet. On the other are the practitioners who believe these gods transcend racial lines and belong to everyone. Recently, the contention between these two groups has reached a tipping point as anti-racist Pagans try to claim the narrative around their faith before it is overtaken by alt-right racists. 

Although the leaders of Nazi Germany were obsessed with Paganism and the occult, it has largely been associated with multiculturalism here in the United States. 

Where are they supposed to go?  It's not like you can be a faithful Christian and hate the other.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM



[W]hat if the source of this polarization has little do with where people actually fall on the issues, or what people actually believe in? What if people are simply polarized by political labels like "liberal" and "conservative" and what they imagine their opponents to be like more than they are by disagreements over issues like taxes, abortion, and immigration?

That news wouldn't surprise anybody who's spent time battling it out in a news outlet's comment section, and it's the firm conclusion of new research by Lilliana Mason, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Her paper, "Ideologues Without Issues: the Polarizing Consequences of Ideological Identities," published in late March by Public Opinion Quarterly, uses 2016 data from Survey Sampling International and American National Election Studies to study how and why Americans are politically polarized.

She used measures that identify both where people stand on issues and how they identify their political clan. For issues, she took six major ones from the survey: "immigration, the Affordable Care Act, abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, and the relative importance of reducing the deficit or unemployment." Additionally, she used their measurements of social identity on a range from liberal to conservative.

She then sought to correlate these answers with questions where respondents answered whether they would prefer to live next door to, marry, be friends with, or spend social time with someone who differs from them politically.

She found that the political identity people adopt was far more predictive of their preferences for social interaction.

For instance, "moving from the least identified to the most identified with an ideological label increases preference for marrying inside the ideological group by 30 percentage points." In other words, if you are a committed liberal, you're much more likely to want to live next to other committed liberals. But if you just disagree strongly with them about a specific issue like abortion, not so much.

She writes, "The effect of issue-based ideology is less than half the size of identity-based ideology in each element of social distance. ... These are sizable and significant effects, robust to controls for issue-based ideology, and they demonstrate that Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences."

"There's been a debate within political science for a long time about whether or not the American public is polarized," Mason said in an interview with The Intercept. "I'm sort of making this argument that as you have multiple social identities that line up together, people hate their out groups more regardless of their policy positions."

She noted, for instance, that Americans who identify most strongly as conservative, whether they hold more left-leaning or right-leaning positions on major issues, dislike liberals more than people who more weakly identify as conservatives but may hold very right-leaning issue positions.

It's a function of feeling, not thought, so it's as inexplicable to the rest of us as the enmity of Alabama and Auburn fans.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Arab population statistics renew charged debate on Israel's future (Mamoon Alabbasi, 4/03/18, Middle East Online)

Population figures released by Israeli and Palestinian officials indicate that the number of Arabs living in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is rising and will equal that of Jews within 20 years.

The numbers renewed debate on the nature of the Israeli state: Jewish or democratic, depending on whether Israel keeps control of the Palestinian territories or allows the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Israeli demographics expert Sergio Della-Pergola said the number of Jews in Israel and the Palestinian territories was 6.9 million, compared to 6.5 million Arabs in the same areas.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


The protesters of 1968 changed the world - but not in the way they hoped: In some ways, the revolutionaries of 1968 helped capitalism flourish. (JOHN GRAY, 4/02/18, New Statesman)

In some ways the 68ers helped capitalism overcome its cultural contradictions. "If it was to survive," Vinen observes, "capitalism needed to produce consumers as much as producers." The hedonistic lifestyle of the late Sixties produced consumers in large numbers. 

Actually, it was capitalism, not culture.  Consumption is a function of disposable wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM


How to Serve a Deranged Tyrant, Stoically (Ryan Holiday, April 2, 2018, NY Times)

[C]onsider the case of Seneca, a man whose political life mirrors much of the chaos of the Trump administration. In A.D. 49, the well-known writer and Stoic philosopher was recalled from exile to tutor the successor of the emperor Claudius, a promising teenager named Nero. Like many people today, Seneca entered public service with ideals mitigated by a pragmatic understanding of the reality of the politics of his time.

Although just a few generations earlier, the Stoics had been ardent defenders of the republican ideals (Cato, Seneca's hero, famously disemboweled himself rather than live under Julius Caesar), by Seneca's time most of these objections had become futile. As Emily Wilson, a translator and biographer of Seneca, writes: "Cicero hoped that he really could bring down Caesar and Mark Antony. Seneca, by contrast, had no hope that he could achieve anything by direct opposition to any of the emperors under whom he lived. His best hope was to moderate some of Nero's worst tendencies and to maximize his own sense of autonomy."

We can imagine, too, that he saw the inexperienced Nero as an opportunity to advance his own interests and influence. Only time would reveal that fusing his fate to Nero was a Faustian bargain.

Though Nero had good qualities, he was obsessed with fame and had an endless need for validation. He was also unstable and paranoid, and began to eliminate his rivals -- including murdering his own mother. Was Seneca personally involved in these decisions? We don't know. But he helped legitimize the regime with his presence, and profited from it as well, becoming one of Rome's richest men through his 13 years of service.

Seneca was torn. To the Stoics, contributing to public affairs was a critical duty of the philosopher. Could Seneca decline to serve because he disagreed with the emperor? Could he leave a deranged Nero unsupervised? In time, Seneca would also come to the conclusion that when "the state is so rotten as to be past helping, if evil has entire dominion over it, the wise man will not labor in vain or waste his strength in unprofitable efforts."

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


Trump Reportedly Suggested White House Visit to Putin During Congratulatory Call Last Month (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 02, 2018, Slate)

During a phone call last month congratulating Vladimir Putin on his reelection, President Trump went so far as to float the idea the Russian president visit the White House for talks. That piece of information about Trump's March 20th call that was made over the strenuous objections of his advisers had not previously been reported before a Russian official disclosed it to reporters in Moscow. "When our presidents spoke on the phone, it was Trump who proposed holding the first meeting in Washington, in the White House," Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Israel nixes UN migrant deal after protests (Deutsche-Welle, 4/03/18)

The country founded as a haven for Jews fleeing persecution and conflict has faced the moral dilemma of dealing with the migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, whom it says entered the country irregularly.

The issue has pitted right-wing nationalists, who argue that the presence of Christian and Muslim immigrants are a threat to the country's identity as a Jewish state, against progressives and Holocaust survivors who say Israel's history means it ought to take in refugees fleeing conflict and starvation.

Netanyahu, for his part, has referred to the asylum seekers as "illegal infiltrators."

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


The president attacked my reputation. It's time to set the record straight. (Jill McCabe, April 2, 2018, Washington Post)

I started to become more interested, thinking, "Here's a way I can really try to help people on a bigger scale than what I do every day." While I was considering the possibility, Andrew and I went to Richmond to meet with various politicians, including then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The subject of Hillary Clinton never came up -- the story about her emails had not even broken when I was first approached by Northam. All the governor asked of me was that I support Medicaid expansion.

Still, in thinking about running, one of my first concerns was Andrew and his job at the FBI, where he was the assistant director in charge of the Washington field office. I said to Andrew, "If you think this is going to be a problem for you professionally, even if it's allowed, I won't do it."

He consulted with the ethics experts at the FBI and committed to follow their advice. We tried to go even beyond what the rules required -- Andrew kept himself separate from my campaign. When the kids and I went door-knocking, he did not participate; he wouldn't even drive us. He could have attended one of my fundraisers but never did. One day he put on a campaign T-shirt so we could take a family picture and share it with my proud parents. You may have seen it -- it seems to have taken on a weird life of its own -- but that was it, just a family picture at a swim meet.

Meanwhile, my campaign received funding from the state Democratic Party and the governor's PAC -- on par with what other candidates in competitive races on both sides of the aisle received. All those contributions were publicly reported. And of course, again, Clinton's emails never came up -- if they had, I would have found that alarming, immediately reported it and likely pulled out of the campaign. I know enough from being married to Andrew for 20 years to know what is right and what is wrong.

I lost my race in November 2015. It was disappointing, and particularly hard for me because I have always been the kind of person who gives everything her all. But I felt good about my effort and enjoyed returning to normal life.

Almost a year later, everything changed. A reporter called my cellphone on a Sunday in October 2016, asking questions about contributions to my campaign and whether there had been any influence on Andrew's decisions at the FBI.

This could not be further from the truth. In fact, it makes no sense. Andrew's involvement in the Clinton investigation came not only after the contributions were made to my campaign but also after the race was over. Since that news report, there have been thousands more, repeating the false allegation that there was some connection between my campaign and my husband's role at the FBI.

After the 2016 election, I thought for a while that it was all over -- at least now that President-elect Trump won, he would stop coming after us. How naive that was. After then-FBI Director James B. Comey was fired, we knew that Andrew could be the next target of the president's wrath.

The big question is what Jeff Bezos's role was in covering up the Benghazi conspiracy...

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


New Poll: New Hampshire Republicans Aren't Totally Sold On Trump 2020 (Henry J. Gomez, 4/02/18, BuzzFeed News)

American Research Group found Gov. John Kasich of Ohio trailing Trump in a two-way race, 42% to 48%, among likely Republican primary voters, with 9% undecided. 

Not that he's going to make it to 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


Trump is wrong about Amazon on all counts (Rich Lowry, April 2, 2018, NY Post)

It's hard to think of a more pointlessly destructive act of presidential jawboning in our history. The online retailer is a jewel of our market economy that has delivered more choice and convenience at a lower cost.

The backdrop for Trump's animosity is that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, which, like much of the major media, is unrelentingly hostile to the president. WaPo's bias is nothing new, nor should it be taken out on the underlying business of its owner. [...]

Trump has two specific complaints about Amazon. One is that it's ripping off the US Postal Service, costing the government billions. Perhaps a better deal can be extracted -- a recent study by Citigroup concluded as much -- but the postal service says its arrangement with Amazon is profitable.

The second is that Amazon doesn't pay sales taxes. This once was true, but Amazon now collects sales taxes in all states that levy them.

"I slept with that?"
Posted by orrinj at 3:41 AM


More Cabinet trouble for Trump? EPA chief lived in condo tied to lobbyist 'power couple' (JOHN SANTUCCI, MATTHEW MOSK STEPHANIE EBBS, Mar 29, 2018, ABC News)

For much of his first year in Washington, President Trump's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt occupied prime real estate in a townhouse near the U.S. Capitol that is co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist, property records from 2017 show.

Neither the EPA nor the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, would say how much Pruitt paid to live at the prime Capitol Hill address, though Hart said he believed it to be the market rate. The price tag on Pruitt's rental arrangement is one key question when determining if it constitutes an improper gift, ethics experts told ABC News.

"I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency," said Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics. "That's why there is a gift rule."

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 AM


The Demographic Trends That Should Worry Republicans (Charles E. Cook, Jr., March 30, 2018, Cook Report)

We are now undergoing a period of transition for both parties, but it is more immediately pressing for the GOP, the party with the levers of power on both the federal and state levels--a lot to lose. A recent Pew Research Center analysis of over 10,000 interviews with registered voters over the course of last year found that 37 percent identify as independents, 33 percent are Democrats, and 26 percent are Republicans.

Keep in mind that generally 90 percent or more of people who identify with a party usually vote that way, and among those who initially claim to be independent but concede they lean toward one party, the number is usually upwards of 80 percent. The proportion of true independents, with no partisan leanings, is in single digits. Shifting patterns in party identification combined with developments over the last year or so threaten to fundamentally change the chemistry of American politics.

The Pew report observed that ,"For decades, women have been more likely than men to identify as Democrats or lean Democratic. But today, a 56% majority of women identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while 37% affiliate with or lean toward the GOP. The share of women identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic is up 4 percentage points since 2015 and is at one of its highest points since 1992." For Republicans, this lost ground among women has not been offset by a corresponding increase among men; the study found that 48 percent of men identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican, while 44 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic--all about the same as in 2014.

Then there is education. Those with just a high school diploma or less identify with or lean toward Republicans by 2 points, 47 to 45 percent, while those with some college but no degree tip toward Democrats by 2 points, 47 to 45 percent as well. But among those with a four-year college degree but no graduate school, Democrats have a 15-point lead, 54 to 39 percent. For those with postgraduate experience as well, the Democratic advantage expands to 32 points, 63 to 31 percent.

Among white voters with a high school diploma or less, the two parties were fairly evenly split until the beginning of this decade. Then the Republican share soared to a 23-point advantage, 58 to 35 percent. Republicans used to have a big lead among whites with just four-year college degrees, but the gap began narrowing during those Obama years and crossed last year: Democrats now have a 3-point edge, 49 to 46 percent. Among whites with postgraduate experience, Democrats began pulling away early in the last decade and now have a 22-point advantage.

One of the things that always worked in favor of the GOP was that women voted Republican once they married, but Donald and his politics are incompatible with that.

April 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Is President Donald Trump the Biggest White House Leaker? (Davis Richardson, 04/02/18, NY Observer)

"Trump phones Maggie Haberman of The New York Times directly, as well as Philip Rucker of The Washington Post, and Jonathan Swan of Axios, feeding them stories attributed to 'a senior White House official,' creating the impression that [the] White House leaks even more than it already does," wrote reporter Ronald Kessler in The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game.

Published on Monday, Kessler's book provides insight into how Trump manipulates media, and for what end. Despite an antagonistic relationship with The New York Times, the president reportedly courts positive coverage from reporter Maggie Haberman.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


The Virtue of Original Sin Liberalism (E. J. Dionne Jr., April 1, 2018, Commonweal)

[E]xtreme optimism about human nature is not, in fact, central to the liberal creed. On the contrary, especially since the 1930s and 1940s, liberals have been acutely aware of our fallen nature and our capacity for evil. The Holocaust, the Gulag, the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and the staggering death toll of World War II made thoroughly sunny perspectives about human goodness obsolete. The horrors in this period gave birth to a different kind of liberalism, distilled in the thinking of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. [...]

An Original Sin Liberal might go on to challenge conservatives who claim to be very conscious of human fallibility and our capacity for selfishness. Why do they so often oppose laws reducing the likelihood that individuals and companies will despoil the environment or take advantage of their employees?

A noble but guarded attitude toward human nature is prominent in James Madison's thinking, leading him to see the politics of a democratic republic as entailing an ongoing search for balance.

On the one hand, we need to pass laws because we know that men and women are not angels. But this also means that we should be wary of placing too much power in government, since it is run by flawed human beings who can be guilty of overreach. Many of our arguments involve not irreconcilable values but different assessments of where this balance should tilt at a given time on a given issue.

Our theology shielded us from the utopian/dystopian thinking of the Left and Right, who destroyed so much of Europe.
Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Foreign Ministry says it handled Gaza well. Michael Oren couldn't disagree more (Raphael Ahren, 4/02/18, Times of Israel)

Michael Oren, for one, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office who is responsible for diplomacy, said Israel was patently unprepared for the crisis on the diplomatic and media battlefield, and that the word he was getting from abroad was that the Israeli narrative is losing "big time" to the Palestinian narrative.

...Anglospheric powers always lose when they stand opposed.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


What a Country: Immigrants Serve US Military Well (Alan Dowd, April 2, 2018, Providence)

Guor Maker has led a remarkable life. He survived slavery and a brutal civil war in Sudan that claimed 28 members of his family, fled to a better life in America, graduated from college, and competed in two Olympics as a marathon runner. He even served as flag-bearer for South Sudan's first-ever Olympic team in the Rio Games. Today, he wears the flag of his new country and serves it in an even more important role, as an airman in the United States Air Force. In an era where old debates over immigration are resurfacing, Maker's only-in-America story is a reminder of how important immigrants are to this nation--and how much they sacrifice to serve and defend their new home.

Few Americans realize that 65,000 immigrants serve in the US military today. That number includes some 18,700 troops who hold green cards (in other words, legal permanent residents who are not yet naturalized citizens). According to the Pentagon, about 5,000 such residents enlist each year.

Since late 2001 when President George W. Bush implemented a new naturalization process for immigrant servicemembers, more than 109,300 US troops have been naturalized, according to the most up-to-date statistics from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). More than 11,000 of those military personnel became citizens during naturalization ceremonies in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq; in hot spots such as Jordan and Libya; in front-line posts such as Bahrain, Guantanamo Bay, Djibouti, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Immigrant military personnel are eligible for naturalization if they have "served honorably in the US Armed Forces for at least one year, obtained lawful permanent resident status and filed an application while still in the service or within six months of separation," USCIS explains.

Military service as a pathway to citizenship is not a new phenomenon. If anything, America's military was more immigrant-dependent in the past than it is today.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


Trump Opts Out Of Passover Seder For Second Year  (Nicole Goodkind, 4/02/18, Newsweek

President Donald Trump opted out of participating in a White House Seder to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover for the second year in a row.

The president broke with tradition set by his predecessor, Barack Obama, who hosted a Seder in the White House for all eight years of his presidency.

It's a holiday that celebrates immigration....

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


'A Bit of Divine Justice': Trump Vowed to Change Libel Law. But Not Like This. (ADAM LIPTAK APRIL 2, 2018, NY Times)

When Donald J. Trump was running for president, he promised to "open up our libel laws." No one quite knew what he meant.

Last month, Mr. Trump started to make good on his campaign pledge. But he did so inadvertently -- as a libel defendant on the losing side of a decision that will help victims of sexual misconduct sue when they are called liars.

"The irony is glaring," said Roy Gutterman, who teaches communications law and journalism at Syracuse University.

We're in for a lot of new legal precedents as he circles the drain.

April 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The real world is much better than the online world. <a href="https://t.co/1OHsBS25Cl">https://t.co/1OHsBS25Cl</a></p>&mdash; Damian J. Penny (@DamianPenny) <a href="https://twitter.com/DamianPenny/status/980147327653597184?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 31, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


'He had no gun, no molotov': Gaza families call for investigation into Israeli use of fatal force (Loveday Morris and Hazem Balousha, March 31, 2018, Washington Post)

The morning after burying 19-year-old Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi, his family gathered in a tent set up to receive mourners, watching and re-watching a video of the moment they say Israeli soldiers shot him in the back of the head.

The video appears to show the teenager, dressed in black, running away from Gaza's border fence with Israel carrying a tire. Just before reaching a crowd, he crumples under gunfire. 

"He had no gun, no molotov, a tire. Does that harm the Israelis, a tire?" asked his brother Mohamed Abdul Nabi, 22. "He wasn't going toward the Israeli side. He was running away." 

The teenager was one of at least 15 people killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces on Friday during what Palestinian factions billed as a peaceful "March of Return" to mark Land Day, the anniversary of the expropriation of Arab-owned land by the Israeli government in 1976. But it ended as the bloodiest day in the 140-square-mile territory since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Why I left Fox News (Ralph Peters, 4/01/18, Washington Post  

You could measure the decline of Fox News by the drop in the quality of guests waiting in the green room. A year and a half ago, you might have heard George Will discussing policy with a senator while a former Cabinet member listened in. Today, you would meet a Republican commissar with a steakhouse waistline and an eager young woman wearing too little fabric and too much makeup, immersed in memorizing her talking points.

This wasn't a case of the rats leaving a sinking ship. The best sailors were driven overboard by the rodents.

As I wrote in an internal Fox memo, leaked and widely disseminated, I declined to renew my contract as Fox News's strategic analyst because of the network's propagandizing for the Trump administration. Today's Fox prime-time lineup preaches paranoia, attacking processes and institutions vital to our republic and challenging the rule of law.

Four decades ago, as a U.S. Army second lieutenant, I took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution." In moral and ethical terms, that oath never expires. As Fox's assault on our constitutional order intensified, spearheaded by its after-dinner demagogues, I had no choice but to leave.

My error was waiting so long to walk away. 

How can the Right help but feel the rest of the world is biased when they purposely remain misinformed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Big Right-Wing TV Network Hired Reporter From Kremlin Propaganda Outlet  (Ryan Sit, 4/01/18, Newsweek)

The United States' largest owner of television stations, Sinclair Broadcast Group, mandated that its outlets run a segment on the so-called "Deep State" that was produced by a former reporter for the Russian propaganda outlet RT, according to a new report. 

The "must-run" piece aired on March 21 and featured Sebastian Gorka, the former adviser to President Donald Trump, lamenting the existence of a Deep State--a popular conspiracy theory among some circles that longtime career public servants in the government are working to subvert the U.S. government. Trump has repeatedly complained about such a mysterious rogue network. 

Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao produced the segment. Before joining Sinclair in 2013 she was an anchor/correspondent at RT, formerly Russia Today, for over three years, according to her LinkedIn page. RT is an international television network funded by the Russian government. The Columbia Journalism Review called it "the Kremlin's propaganda outlet."

If you're going to oppose immigration and Islam you're going to end up in bed with some unsavory partners.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


4 competing theories on the theological meaning of Easter (Bonnie Kristian, March 30, 2018, The Week)

This Sunday is Easter, the culmination of the week in which Christians commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrate what this means for our salvation. However, the connection between Christ's death and our salvation -- and how these events can reconcile God and humanity -- isn't exactly intuitive.

The basic story Christianity tells goes like this: God creates humans and wants to have a loving relationship with us. Instead, we sin and make that friendship impossible. So God comes to Earth to live as an ordinary human, die a terrible death, and rise again. That makes it so we can be friends with God.

Wait, what?

The Easter story seems so elementary, but some super-important details are missing in there. Like, how does Jesus' dying help anything? Why couldn't God just forgive us, like he's always telling us to do for other people? And if God is all-powerful, why did he need to live on Earth at all? Couldn't he just make a big announcement in the clouds or something?

We'll engage in any mental gymnastics to avoid the text, which says that He despaired on the Cross just as any mortal would. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


Why The Jews Did or Did Not Reject Jesus (Richard John Neuhaus, February 2005, First Things)

In his new book, [Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History], [David] Klinghoffer is admiring of Christianity's civilizational achievements, although not of its theology. He rebuts the claim that it is anti-Semitic to say that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, citing Maimonides and other Jewish authorities who say the Jews were right to eliminate a false messiah. He debunks the notion that Nazism and the Holocaust were a product of Christianity, and he underscores Nazi hatred of Christianity and the Judaism from which it came. He treats sympathetically Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, and is witheringly critical of the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations that thrive by exploiting irrational fears of anti-Semitism in America. In sum, Klinghoffer is in many respects Christian-friendly.

Except for the fact that Christianity itself is premised upon the fatal falsehood that Jesus is the Messiah. Much of the book is given to a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. These arguments will be of interest mainly to those who describe themselves as Hebrew Christians or Messianic Christians, and who believe they are fulfilled as Jews by becoming disciples of Jesus. The arch- villain in Klinghoffer's story is the apostle Paul who, he says, radically rejected Judaism and invented a new religion dressed up in "biblical trappings." Although Klinghoffer excoriates the liberal theological reductionisms of the nineteenth century, both Jewish and Christian, at this point his argument is oddly similar to a long liberal tradition of blaming Paul for distorting the more attractive religion of Jesus. Along with many Christians, he fails to appreciate the implications of the fact that Paul's epistles were written well before the gospel accounts of Jesus. In part because of their prior placement in the New Testament, it is a common error to think that the seemingly more straightforward gospel accounts were later and complicatedly "theologized" by Paul, whereas, in fact, Paul's writings reflect what was generally believed about Jesus in the community that later produced the gospel accounts.

This tendency to get things backwards is at the crux of Klinghoffer's argument. He writes, "We arrive here at the very heart of the difference between Judaism and the religion that Paul originated. The difference is still observable in the faith of Christians, as compared with that of Jews, down to our own time. Followers of Paul read and understand the Hebrew Bible through a certain philosophical lens--they bring to it the premise that Jesus is the savior, that salvation is from him. They read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. They prioritize the New over the Old."

Well, yes, of course. Only some Messianic Christians and Jews such as Klinghoffer think that the truth of Christianity stands or falls on whether, without knowing about Jesus in advance, one can begin with Genesis 1 and read through all the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture and then match them up with Jesus to determine whether he is or is not the Messiah. As with Saul on the road to Damascus, Christians begin, and Christianity begins, with the encounter with Christ. As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the first Christians, who were Jews, experienced in that encounter the opening of the Hebrew Scriptures, revealing, retrospectively, how they testify to Jesus as the Christ. Klinghoffer writes, "The resurrection works as a proof that Jesus was 'the Christ' only if you have already accepted his authority to render interpretations of Scripture contrary to the obvious meaning of the words. That is, it works only if you are already a Christian." The more one takes seriously Old Testament prophecy, writes Klinghoffer, "the more convinced he becomes that it is awfully hard to make Christian doctrine sit naturally on its presumed foundation, the Hebrew Bible. Yet even the arguments based on prophecies obviously aren't perfectly invulnerable to refutation. Otherwise there would be no Christians, or at least no thoughtful Christians. They would all be Jews."

This is, I'm afraid, gravely muddled. The argument, in effect, is that Jews reject Jesus because they are already Jews, and the mark of being a Jew is that one rejects Jesus. This is quite unconvincing in its circularity. Christian thinkers, including Paul, viewed Christ and the Church as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel not because they were engaged in tit-for-tat exegetical disputes with Jews over what Klinghoffer recognizes are often ambiguous and enigmatic Old Testament prophecies. Christians early on, and very importantly in engagement with Greek philosophy, developed a christology that entailed an understanding that all of reality, including the history of Israel, finds its center in Christ who is the Word of God (the Logos), the image of the invisible God in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1), and, finally, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. These philosophical and theological developments, almost totally ignored by Klinghoffer, form the matrix within which the Church--mainly Jewish in its beginnings--understood Israel and its Scriptures. For the early Christians, as for Christians today, the person of Jesus Christ was revelatory also of the history and sacred writings of Israel, of which he is the fulfillment.

You have to figure Paul takes the brunt of these criticisms because folks are afraid to attack Christ and Christianity directly.

[Originally posted: February 19, 2005]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


The Truth about Everything: Death on a Friday Afternoon (Charles Colson, March 24, 2005, BreakPoint)

As [Father Richard John Neuhaus] writes [in Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus], "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything." That "everything" starts with telling the truth about the human condition. How? By paradoxically punishing the offended party, instead of the guilty.

As Neuhaus tells us, we are all aware that "something has gone terribly wrong with the world, and with us in the world." It is not just history's best-known list of horribles. It's also "the habits of compromise . . . loves betrayed . . . lies excused . . . "

Yet, instead of acknowledging our complicity in the world's evil, we minimize our own faults and regard our sins as "small." Good Friday puts the lie to that claim. If the Son of God had to suffer such a horrible death, then our sins cannot have been "small."

The Cross reminds us that "our lives are measured," not by us or by our peers, but "by whom we are created and called to be, and the measuring is done by the One who creates and calls." Instead of glossing over our sin with an understanding nod, the Cross renders "the verdict on the gravity of our sin."

Our unwillingness to see our sins as they really are, as God sees them, leads us to embrace another falsehood: that is, that we can make things right. Even though our culture is, in many respects, post-Christian, it still clings to the idea of redemption. However, just as with our ideas about sin and guilt, our ideas about redemption are pitiful and impoverished.

On Good Friday, God made it clear "that we are incapable of setting things right." He made it clear by taking our place. On the Cross, "the Judge of the guilty is Himself judged guilty." This is, of course, the great scandal, one that paradoxically points to the great truth at the heart of Good Friday: We are powerless to set things right, and only God, the offended party, could undo the mess we created.

The Cross--God's way of bearing witness to the truth about our condition--is as offensive today as it was two thousand years ago. Now, as then, we insist on misinterpreting the events of that Friday afternoon, but to no avail. Our sin has been judged, and God Himself bore the punishment. And that is the truth about everything.

One need not believe directly in this truth to understand that it is the only basis for a decent state.

What's the matter with liberalism? (William Rusher, March 24, 2005, World Net Daily)

The truth is that liberalism's last two really big ideas - that government should micro-manage the economy to uplift the poor, and that fascism was unrelievedly evil but that communism should be appeased because its aims were noble - both lost resoundingly, in world competition, to the conservative propositions that a free market is the greatest engine of prosperity for everyone and that communism must be opposed and destroyed. The present happy condition of conservatism is simply more support for the old adage that nothing succeeds like success.

What, then, should liberals do? [...]

To be blunt, they must come to terms with reality. That means accepting the principles of the free market wholeheartedly - not simply with "mouth honor," as Macbeth put it. And it also means coming to terms with the world as it really is. Peretz warns that liberals have invested far too many hopes in the United Nations. He is absolutely right.

At a deeper level, liberals must give up the conviction, born of the Enlightenment, that humanity, by the use of reason alone, can design a happy future for itself and the planet. That will entail abandoning their long romance with atheism and accepting a more modest place and role for mankind in God's plan for His universe.

[originally posted: 3/24/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


Original Sin, the 'madness' of the Cross and the 'foolishness' of God's love (Fr Dennis Byrnes, April 2008, AD 200)

To help us gain some insight into sin we need to think about our faith which is based very much on what St Paul calls the 'madness' of the Cross. The saints through the ages describe it as the 'foolishness' of God's love.

To refer once more to the Compendium, 78: 'After the first sin the world was inundated with sin but God did not abandon man to the power of death. Rather he foretold in a mysterious way in the 'Protoevangelium' (Genesis, 3:15) that evil would be conquered and that man would be lifted from the fall. This was the first proclamation of the Messiah and Redeemer. Therefore, the fall would be called in the future a 'happy fault' because it 'gained for us so great a Redeemer' (Liturgy of Easter Vigil).'

The pictures we have presented certainly confront us with two extremes. It is difficult to understand God's love. We can only begin to understand it when we follow him in the way of the Cross, in his journey in the desert. As the Compendium, 85, informs us: 'The Son of God became man for us men and for our salvation. He did so to reconcile us sinners with God, to have us to learn of God's infinite love, to be our model of holiness and make us 'partakers in divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4).' It is only when we follow Christ in this 'foolishness' of his love that we can learn something of the madness of sin.

We are born with a fallen nature; in a state of separation from God. It is not a question of personal sin on our part at birth. The baby who is born cannot be guilty of any personal sin for it is not yet mature enough to make a personal choice which is necessary for sin. But it is born human, in a fallen state, with a nature that calls out for God, yet is incapable of reaching him by its own powers. It is in Christ we have hope.

When we realise in faith the depths of man's fallen state we in turn realise that we rise in hope to the glory of Christ's risen life. If we have failed to appreciate the extreme of God's love it is because we have not recognised the extreme of man's sin.

[originally posted: 1/11/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


Believing Is Seeing (Romano Guardini, Bruderhof.com)

Thomas declared, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." -John 20:25
Thomas appears to have been a realist - reserved, cool, perhaps a little obstinate.

The days went by, and the disciples went on living under this considerable tension.

Another week, and they were together again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. The same thing repeated itself. Jesus passed through closed doors, stepped into their midst, and spoke: "Peace be upon you!" Then he called the man who was struggling against faith: "Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe!" At this point Thomas was overwhelmed. The truth of it all came home to him: this man standing before him, so moving, arousing such deep feelings within him, this man so full of mystery, so different from all other men - He is the very same One they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered: "Thou art my Lord and my God!" Thomas believed.

Then we come upon the strange words: "And Jesus said to him, 'Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!'"

Such words as these are really extraordinary! Thomas believed because he saw. But our Lord did not call him blessed. He had been allowed to "see," to see the hands and the side, and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed!

Perhaps Thomas had a narrow escape from a great danger. He wanted proofs, wanted to see and touch; but then, too, it might have been rebellion deep within him, the vainglory of an intelligence that would not surrender, a sluggishness and coldness of heart. He got what he asked for: a look and a touch. But it must have been a concession he deplored having received, when he thought on it afterwards. He could have believed and been saved, not because he got what he demanded; he could have believed because God's mercy had touched his heart and given him the grace of interior vision, the gift of the opening of the heart, and of its surrender.

[originally posted: 3/27/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 AM


Why Was Jesus Crucified?: A historical perspective. (Larry Hurtado, April 9, 2009, Slate)

A central statement in traditional Christian creeds is that Jesus was crucified "under Pontius Pilate." But the majority of Christians have only the vaguest sense what the phrase represents, and most non-Christians probably can't imagine why it's such an integral part of Christian faith. "Crucified under Pontius Pilate" provides the Jesus story with its most obvious link to larger human history. Pilate was a historical figure, the Roman procurator of Judea; he was referred to in other sources of the time and even mentioned in an inscription found at the site of ancient Caesarea in Israel. Linking Jesus' death with Pilate represents the insistence that Jesus was a real person, not merely a figure of myth or legend. More than this, the phrase also communicates concisely some pretty important specifics of that historical event.

For one thing, the statement asserts that Jesus didn't simply die; he was killed. This was a young man's death in pain and public humiliation, not a peaceful end to a long life.

It's revealing that one of the chief objections to Mel Gibson's Passion was that Christ was shown to suffer.

[originally posted: 4/12/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


The 'Small' God Who Brought Heaven Down to Earth (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, December 22, 2010, Acton)

"Yet," she continued, "how is it that Christianity, whose priests invented the scientific method, and who built the institutions of the hospital and university, can hold to the idea of such a small God?"

The pugnacious New Yorker in me wanted to reply to the effect that, "Well even a small God is bigger than no god." But I knew that would not go down well, and that the issue was not about "size" after all, but about meaning and, ultimately, Truth.

Feeling something like I imagined Flannery O'Connor did when confronted with collapsed-Catholic Mary McCarthy's observation about the Eucharist as a impressive symbol, O'Connor retorted, "Well, if it's just a symbol, I say to hell with it."

Instead I swirled my shiraz and asked, "Whatever do you mean?"

She responded: "Well, all this stuff about God being born as a baby. This business about the ineffable inhabiting time and space. It just seems so small, so concrete, so ... improbable."

The lady had it right, or more precisely, she had it half right. The doctrine of the Incarnation is indeed a scandal, not to say improbable, to the modern mind that does not yet grasp the immensity of the concept or the enormity of its impact on all that would follow from it throughout history from that first Christmas to this one.

That the eternal God should deign to co-mingle in time and space with humanity does tell us something, not about the 'smallness' of God, but about the inestimable dignity of the human person who is created in the image of the Lord of History. Thus it tells us about the importance of human history to eternity; of the relation of the visible world to the invisible one; and of the way the mortal life we each live here and now determines our immortal destiny.

Big God never understood. He only gained insight by becoming small. The peculiar thing is that He cared enough to do so.

[oriuginally posted: 2/13/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Death on a Friday Afternoon: an excerpt from Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things)

Exploration into God is exploration into darkness, into the heart of darkness. Yes, to be sure, God is light. He is the light by which all light is light. In the words of the Psalm, "In your light we see light." Yet great mystics of the Christian tradition speak of the darkness in which the light is known, a darkness inextricably connected to the cross. At the heart of darkness the hope of the world is dying on a cross, and the longest stride of soul is to see in this a strange glory. In John's Gospel, the cross is the bridge from the first Passover on the way out of Egypt to the new Passover into glory. In his first chapter he writes, "We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." The cross is not the eclipse of that glory but its shining forth, its epiphany. In John's account, the death of Jesus is placed on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan, precisely the time when the Passover lambs were offered up in the temple in Jerusalem.

Lest anyone miss the point, John draws the parallel unmistakably. The legs of Jesus are not broken, the soldier pierces his side and John writes, "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken.' And again another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced.'" In the book of Exodus, God commands that no bone of the paschal lamb is to be broken. Then there is this magnificent passage from the prophet Zechariah: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."

Here on Calvary's hill, all is fulfilled. It is the glory of Jesus' cry, "it is finished." The cross is the moment of passover from the old covenant to the new. Weeping at the cross, Mary is both the mother of sorrows and the mother of hope. The resurrection glory is discerned in the way that Christ dies. Now the reason for the whole drama becomes clear in the Son's unqualified obedience to the Father, even to death, and the Father's promise to glorify the Son. John says nothing about the risen Christ appearing to his mother. The other disciples discovered the resurrection glory at the dawn of the third day. Mary had already discovered the glory in the cross. There she took "the longest stride of soul."

"In the Cross of Christ I Glory," declared the nineteenth-century hymn writer John Bowring. It seems a strange, even bizarre, glory. "We have beheld his glory," St. John wrote, meaning that he was there, with Mary, beholding the final and perfect sacrifice. In the churches of Asia Minor that were founded by John, Easter was celebrated not on Sunday, as with the other churches, but on 14 Nisan, the anniversary of Christ's death. This was his "hour" of glory.

Father Neuhaus's book is great not just for its exegesis on the Crucifixion and the Seven Last Words generally, but in particular for his explanation of what the events mean for the relationship between Jews and Christians.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Mercifully Forsaken: There is a reason Good Friday is called good, and why we can be thankful when God forsakes us. (Mark Galli, 4/21/2011, Christianity Today)

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" --Mark 15:33-34, ESV

Here Jesus speaks a word we could have spoken. Not always, not everywhere. But there are times when this word has become our word, words he may have taken right out of our mouths: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [...]

We often glibly say that we want to be like Jesus. We want our lives to be like his life. We want our values to be shaped by his values. We want our relationship with God to be like his relationship with God. So we pray to be like Jesus. But we're generally blind to the full reality of who Jesus is. We want be shaped by the glorious Jesus. We want to heal the sick and raise the dead; we don't want to feel his grief at the unbelief of Jerusalem. We want to speak eloquent words of wisdom, but we don't want to say to anyone, "Get thee behind me, Satan," or "You brood of hypocrites!" We want to be raised to new life, but go to great lengths to avoid the cross. We want an intimate life with God, but never want to know the experience of being forsaken.

But to share in the life of Jesus means to share in all of his life, and that means to share in his suffering.

Now, I'm about to venture into a deep mystery here. Who can say what Jesus experienced on the cross? What exactly was the nature of this forsakenness that he exclaimed? We know in one sense that Jesus' death, and his forsakenness, was utterly unique, never to be repeated. In his death and his death alone--and in nothing we experience--do we stand secure in our redemption. In him alone was God reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins. Period.

But if Christ's incarnation--which includes his forsaken crucifixion--is a participation in humanity and thus our participation in him, then all humanity shares in Christ's forsakenness, and to freely share in this forsakenness by faith becomes a way we grow fully into Christ-likeness. Whatever it meant for Jesus, it surely means this much for us: It means to know the abandonment that is the dead fruit of human sin and evil. It means to recognize the incomprehensible distance between us and an infinite and righteous God, to recognize again the terrors of life outside of life in him. It means also to grieve, not unlike Jesus, over our own and our world's hardness of heart ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!"). It is indeed a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for it means to suffer in ways not unlike the suffering of Jesus.

Again, let's not wax tragic here. This is not the end of the story. Forsakenness would be tragic had Jesus not risen from the grave. We would not have the courage to talk about this sobering reality if it were not Easter. Nor is this the constant refrain of our Christian lives. God is good and will not tempt us with forsakenness beyond our ability to endure.

Still, they come, these times of forsakenness. We are wise to remind ourselves that the cross is indeed part of the story of Jesus, and to the degree we would be like him, it becomes part of our story. You want to be like Jesus? "Okay," says God. "Good for you! Be prepared to know forsakenness!"

[originally posted: 4/24/11]